Airplane Parenting and Stranger Things

“Can you literally take those headphone plugs and plug it them INTO your phones, so we don’t have to listen to that nonsense? THANK YOU!” shouted the Fed-Up Airline Dad (FUAD), who, alongside the rest of us, was looking at the obnoxious teenagers sitting in the row ahead of ours. You see, the teens were listening to somethings that, I suppose, could be referred to as music, with their headphones perched atop their heads, but not connected to their phones. So, we all had the pleasure of listening to this cacophony just after boarding a SouthWest Airlines flight that was a few hours late (I have unfriended SWA, more on that below).

The teenagers on this flight slowly turned around, rolled their eyes at a glacial pace, and plugged their headphones in, and there was peace on earth again, to all men, good and bad.

FUAD-1: Grumpy teenagers -0

Ps: A note for SouthWest Airlines (SWA).

SouthWest Airlines. We are going to have to take a break. You are not treating me right. Because of you, I have spent hours and hours at airports, waiting for my plane to arrive. And when one finally does, you nonchalantly inform me that that plane is not flying to my destination. Instead, you casually inform me that it is going to Amarillo, Texas. Texas, where, by the way, I was going a few months ago, and at the time, you informed me that my plane was going to La Guardia, New York. How is it that your planes are always going where I am not? Add to that the events that unfolded below AND the anxiety of having to check in exactly 24 hours before boarding time, lest I am cast into the purgatory of the C Boarding Group, and I have reached the end of my rope. Your flights have resulted in my very very late-night arrivals, hours when the only people walking outside are what the Kenyan police would categorize as thieves, dogs, or ladies of the night (I am none of the aforementioned)

I can take a hint SWA. Goodbye!!!

While on one of my flights on a rival airline, a gentleman who was sitting next to me decided to get comfortable. He removed his shoes and arranged himself so that his smelly feet were resting in my foot space. I nudged him a few times and eventually gave up, resigned to sharing my space with a complete stranger. Before we departed from the gate, the flight attendant came over and asked him what his name was. She then informed him that he was sitting in the wrong seat, and would he like to move. At this moment, I felt like the heavens had pre-emptively answered my prayers. My pesky seatmate was moving! Alas, he looked over to where he was supposed to sit, and found another gentleman deep in conversation with a woman, he then made the decision to be an aerial wingman and let the potential couple get to know each other a bit better. And that is how I ended up sitting next to the World’s most rigorous nose picker. I was surprised he had a nose left when we landed.

On my return journey, I decided to grab a bite to eat at the Austin Airport. A couple asked if they could sit at my table, as the other tables were taken. Sharing is caring so I said why not. I then had the pleasure of eating my lunch while watching an Oscar-worthy groveling performance by the man. It is a testament to the woman’s nerves of steel that she was able to resist the charms of what I learned was her ex-boyfriend who may or may not have cheated on her. Speaking of cheating spouses, a man in Miami was hit over the head by a laptop while aboard a flight to California (his wife may have thrown it at him- Google it, it’s true)

On my way back from Texas, the seat next to mine was empty, and that was very exciting. As the flight attendants were getting ready to close the door, a man rushed in, sweat pouring down his face, and in that moment, I knew I was being punished for being disloyal to SWA. The sweaty man deposited himself on the seat next to mine and immediately removed his shoes and belt. He then proceeded to sporadically flap his shirt to cool himself off, each flapping motion wafting sweaty body odor my way. No amount of air blasting could mask that smell, and any attempts I made at finding another seat were unsuccessful as it was a fully booked flight. Just as I was finally getting respite from the odor and settling in, he would flap his shirt again, releasing a new wave of rancid odor. I will say, though, that this flight was on time, always the optimist, see?

While we are on the subject of strange occurrences,

Our HOA recently decided to give our homes a fresh coat of paint and other bells and whistles. They requested that we move any outdoor furniture to facilitate the painting sessions. We dutifully removed the furniture and then returned it outside once the painting was done. One afternoon, as I was sitting on the patio and attempting to paint my nails, I took a close look at the patio paint job and found it to be wanting. Now, I am nitpicky about paint jobs. I can’t paint to save my life, but I can critique the heck out of a paint job. I looked at my nails and it looked like I was painting them in the dark, using a very large brush. Oh well, such is life when you are a paint critic who cannot paint.

I wrote to the HOA about the shoddy paint job (not the one I did on my toes, the other one). HOA guy assured me that he would ask the contractor to come back and finish the job. One sunny afternoon, two weeks later, my husband went out on the patio and returned inside, remarking, “looks like the painters came back and finished the job. It also appears that our furniture is missing.” He said it so casually that I thought he was joking.

“What do you mean our furniture is missing???” I asked, shocked, and walking outside to see this disappearance for myself. Sure enough, the patio was as empty as it had been when we moved in, and there was no ransom note left behind.

One afternoon, as I was working from home, I heard a scraping noise just outside my window, followed by a sharp knock on the patio door.  Two gentlemen had replaced our furniture, and seeing as my Spanish is very limited, as was their English, we resorted to sign language. After much signaling and arm waving, I gathered that our furniture had been stored somewhere below us, seeing us that would be the flowers, I didn’t bother to figure out any further details. With an Adios and a Muchas Gracias, I bade the men goodbye and wished them well.

Happy Birthday, love, DMV

My driver’s license expired on my birthday. Like a law-abiding person, three months to the expiration date, I visited the Department of Motor Vehicle’s (DMV) website and booked an appointment to visit the DMV and replace my Driver’s License with the Real ID (required for Domestic USA travel after October 2020). To obtain a Real ID, one cannot simply apply online/ mail an application. No, one must present oneself in person, with supporting documents. For more information on this enthralling subject, please visit the DMV in person if you’re feeling brave, or online if you are not.

Perhaps it was a sign from the universe that the only available appointment was on my actual birthday. As anyone who has been to the DMV knows, it really is one of the last places you would want to visit on your birthday. If we’re being honest, it’s not a place you want to visit, period. But there I was, starting my next trip around the sun standing in line at the DMV, ready for my 10.20 am appointment.

Sign numero dos from the universe was that the non-appointment line (people who woke up that morning and decided to go to the DMV), was moving faster than the appointment line (people who planned ahead and made appointments). Among the ten or so people standing ahead of me was a very tall gentleman (I use the word gentleman very loosely here, more on this lovely Original Gentleman (O.G) ahead).  A quick time check informed me that it was now 10.30 a.m (did I mention that I have a job and was hoping to actually get some work done that day?)

Finally, at 10.40 am, a lady (again, loose use of the word Lady here), wearing an iPad around her neck ( a la Flavor Flav) , stood at the front of the line and loudly asked us to arrange ourselves in order of our appointment time, which, I thought, was a reasonable ask. This is how I came to find myself standing right behind the aforementioned lovely gentleman.

The following conversation is not paraphrased, taken out of context, or in any way exaggerated.

Lady : Okay, everyone who has a 10.00 am appointment is now at the front of the line, followed by 10.20 am, 10.40 am and 11.00 am appointments, CORRECT? (the CORRECT was yelled)

Line of antsy appointment- makers who were now at least 40 minutes late:  YES! (also shouted)

Original Gentleman (O.G) : I got here early, I’m not moving.

Lady: (to Gentleman). Sir, what time is your appointment?

O.G: 11.00 am

Lady: Sir, I’m going to need you to move to the back of the line, as you cannot be ahead of the earlier appointments.

O.G: Well, it is 11.00 am, my appointment is for 11.00 am, so I am on time.

A staring context ensued, with the barely 5 ft Lady unblinkingly staring at the approx 6ft 6ins tall O.G.

The Lady won. The O.G mumbled something under his breath and moved to the 11.00 am (soon to be noon) section.

Lady 1: O.G- 0

Next up was a real gentleman (RG) who was also applying for a Real Id. Unfortunately for this gentleman, life had not prepared him for the Lady.

Lady: Sir, how can I help you?

RG: I applied for the Real ID a few months ago, unfortunately, it was not correctly done, because the Department of Homeland Security has notified the DMV that its process for providing residents with federally recognized identification cards is not adequate. So I am back to do it correctly this time.

Lady: So, (deep sigh), you’re saying WE messed it up? (asked in a tone suggesting the answer better not be yes, you messed it up)

RG: (takes a step away from Lady and is wisely silent)

Lady: Here’s your number, go sit over there.

Next up was another Real ID applicant.

Lady: Can I help you? (notice she did not address him as sir, she had maxed out on her daily politeness quota)

Applicant: I would like to apply for Real ID, here is my paperwork.

Lady: (examines paperwork, slowly shakes her head and returns the paperwork to the Applicant)

Lady:  No.

Applicant: No?

Lady: NO!

Applicant: No……??? (apprehensively anticipating the rest of that sentence)

At this point, we are all, including the Original Gentleman (O.G), craning our necks to see what happens next.

Lady: Listen, you are missing ONE more document. Something like a bill with your address on it, your AAA  bill is not enough. Maybe a phone bill, maybe another bill”

Applicant: Ok, I can go to my car and search for something like a bill, I’ll be right back (his car was literally outside the door)

As the Applicant walked to his car, Lady looked at us, her face a mask of derision, as if  we were most disappointing group of people she has ever had the misfortune of dealing with. She let out a dramatic sigh and called for the next person in line.

The next person in line was not a native English speaker and when Lady asked him, in what I had come to know as her “Welcome to the DMV, I wish you weren’t here” tone:

“WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

“To drive”, the unfortunate soul responded.

That was the last straw. Lady dramatically announced:

“I can’t work like this! I cannot do it. You people are making my life so hard!”

And then she casually turned around and walked away through a maze of desks into a dark room, from whence no one returns.

As she was walking away, the Original Gentleman, aka O.G, shouted:

“Yep, walk away, DO IT! I bet you’re Unionized. WAAAAALLLLLKKK off the job and still have a job. Try that at my job. Must be nice!”

I was internally shaking my head. No no no no no. Please do not make it worse O.G. Let Lady be. She spoke her truth. She can’t work like this, she said. Let her disappear into the dark room of escapism. Leave her alone!

We stood there in awkward suspense  for about 10 minutes, quietly discussing the merits and demerits of walking away from our jobs, before Lady’s replacement arrived. We will call her Hero. Hero was nice. Hero was kind. Hero had a bad cold and had lost her voice.

She had a clipboard with a form on it, and needed us to write what we needed help with. To this day, it remains a mystery why we needed to write our requests on paper, when it was Hero who had lost her voice, and would be the one writing her responses to our inquiries. Details details. Hero is nice. Hero is kind.

Hero found a translator for the unfortunate soul, and he was able to apply for his Driver’s License.

It was finally my turn. I did not have the “Bill-like” document printed out, so I ended up getting a regular license (which I could have applied for online), and will have to return to the DMV at a later date, with every type of printed document I can lay my hands on, to apply for the Real ID. I will kill a few trees in the process because if  the DMV attendants cannot physically hold the document and feel and smell the paper it is printed on, your document does not exist. Lovely.

As I was applying for my license, I overheard this conversation, also not paraphrased, exaggerated or taken out of context.

20-something year old Lost soul to DMV attendant: Can you tell me my address?

DMV Attendant to Lost soul: Ma’am, I do not know your address, YOU know your address.

Lost soul (rolls eyes): you don’t know MY ADDRESS? (shouting always motivates people to help, we all know this )

DMV attendant: No, I do not. You know where you live. That is your address.

Lost Soul: (deeply sighs) FINE!

I finally understood why the ladies and Gentlemen of the DMV are not all sunshine and rainbows. They are asked for things even Santa Claus would have difficulty providing. But sometimes, they are having a bad day, and then you get to spend your birthday with them and get a Birthday wish you would never make in this lifetime. Or the next.

Feliz Cumpleanos!

 

 

 

Habeas Dente

“It was him your honor! That man reached into my mouth and plucked my tooth!” the young woman said, her slight frame shaking as she gave the target of her accusation a death glare. A loud gasp was heard among the court audience, quickly followed by tightly shut mouths, in case there were other tooth pirates in the court room scouting for potential victims.

The well-toothed audience had heard of thieves, con-men and other people who specialized in separating people from their belongings, but they had never come across a tooth pirate before. What did this mean? Should they password protect their teeth? Buy locks for their mouths? Have security cameras trained on their mouths to alert them if any moves were made toward their pearly whites? This was an alarming development, Muy Alarmante!

Eyes turned toward the alleged criminal, expecting to see a heavily tattooed, pliers wielding, tooth-jewelry wearing mercenary. Instead, what they saw was a lanky, dark haired man who appeared to be in his mid forties, no tattoos or tooth jewelry in sight.

The alleged tooth pirate calmly stared ahead at the judge, giving no indication of having heard a word the woman had yelled, or the hundreds of eyes trained on him, trying to figure out what kind of messed up childhood led one to become a tooth pirate. Said eyes included those of the wife of a colleague who witnessed this event in living color.

After order was restored, the small claims court judge asked the parties to narrate the sequence of events to his court. (yes, no matter how valuable your pearly whites are to you, in the eyes of the law, they aren’t worth much, hence the small claims court)

“Dr. Sun, kindly explain why you extracted the tooth in question?” the judge asked.

“Your Honor, the patient’s tooth was decayed beyond repair. I had no choice but to extract it. I explained the reasons why to…”

“It was my tooth! MY TOOTH” exclaimed the patient, in case anyone in court thought that she too was a client of the tooth pirate mafia.

“Ma’am, I understand that all the teeth in your mouth are yours, thank you, kindly let Dr. Sun finish his testimony.” The judge patiently explained.

The dentist continued, “I showed the patient x-rays of her teeth, and as you can clearly see from the x-rays, this was a very unhealthy tooth.”

The judge examined the xray, and slowly nodded. He addressed the patient.

“Ma’am, the dentist extracted your tooth because it was decayed. You knew this, and that is why you went to the dentist…”

“Do you have all your teeth? Huh? I bet you do. You have the smug look of a person who still has all his teeth and is judging me for having a decayed tooth or two. That was MY tooth, do you know how hard it is to eat ribs without your back teeth? Do you? DO YOU?” the woman raged at the dentist.

The dentist sighed a sigh of the long-suffering. Before the patient had dragged him before the court, she had accosted him at his clinic, demanding to have her tooth re-instated. Dr. Sun dreamed of the day when he would be retired and not have to deal with random writs of habeas dente.

Have a Happy, prosperous and toothy 2019!

Sneaky Paws

My friend Gigi has never been a fan of camping. She is firmly in the “camping ran in my family until houses were invented” camp (pun intended). But, Gigi has children, and children like camping. So, like the good parents they are, Gigi and her husband went to a sporting goods store, encountered a very enthusiastic salesman, fell for his sales pitch hook, line and sinker, and ended up purchasing expensive fishing rods and other paraphernalia (including organic bait- nothing but the best for the campsite fish’s last meal). When Gigi’s brother heard about the camping trip, he convinced his wife that it was time for a family reunion under the stars.

The highly anticipated day arrived, and the convoy arrived at the camp site, with Gigi’s brother and his wife bringing up the rear. Once the ice filled food cooler was set up, smores and other camping artifacts unpacked, children settled and organic fish bait properly stored, it was time to chop some wood for the camp fire. Before the arduous task of wood-chopping began, Gigi’s husband (hereafter known as Husband) and Gigi’s brother (hereafter known as Brother) decided that it would be a great idea to fortify themselves with a few ice-cold bottles of beer. After all, liquid courage makes any chore fun, right?

A few bottles later, vision possibly blurry, Brother picked up an axe and started chopping wood. He was nothing if not determined. From Gigi’s perspective, Brother swung the axe really high, and it landed with a “thunk”. Gigi thought nothing of it, until Brother started to sway slightly, looking faint. Gigi dropped her own beer and ran over to where Brother was, and that was when she saw a pool of blood collecting at his feet. Now, Gigi is no shrinking violet. She jumped into action and, with the help of Husband, helped a limping Brother into Brother’s car.

They rushed Brother to the Emergency Room, where they found people with ailments ranging from broken toe nails to life threatening injuries. When the nurse asked what had happened, Brother suddenly looked at his hand as if he was just then becoming aware of his bleeding hand. The nurse shook her head, bandaged Brother’s arm and sent them on their way.

At this point, it was quite late at night, and as they approached the campsite, they noticed a locked gate. Bad things happen in threes. The butchered arm was strike one, the locked gate was strike two. At this point, Gigi was tired, cranky and wondering why she left her perfectly comfortable house to go and live in the wilderness like a bear. They finally managed to get Brother’s wife to wake up and drive all the way to the gate and let them into the campsite. Gigi was smart enough to use the bathrooms at the hospital, as she was not willing to walk outside at night to use the campsite bathroom, where she might meet a mountain lion who would thank his lucky stars that his snack walked right into his jaws. Gigi was smarter than that, thank you very much!

Early the next morning, a starving Gigi woke up to get her children some breakfast. Strike three became immediately apparent. At some point in the night, while Gigi’s Brother was fighting for his life (okay, maybe not, but still, bleeding profusely) they’d had some guests. Gigi noticed muddy paws on the white cover of the cooler, and a sense of foreboding descended over her. She opened the cooler to find that all the organic, free range chicken, organic gluten free bread, organic low-fat milk and artisanal cheese had been mauled by the sneaky pawed raccoons who lived in the campsite. The raccoons were kind enough to leave some organic crumbs behind, but not before they took the organic fish bait with them, perhaps to go fishing?

Tired, hangry and dirty, Gigi took a deep breath and calmly informed her family that the trip was over and it was time to head back home and live in a house like the civilized human beings they were. The Sneaky pawed residents of the campsite were sad to see them go, and wondered if they would visit again. It wasn’t every day that they got to eat hand crafted, ethically sourced organic food.

 

Yoga with Goats

A few weeks ago I was on a flight, casually browsing through the in-flight magazine when I happened upon a page advertising Yoga with Goats. You read that right. That ancient ascetic discipline, touted for its amazing health benefits- only with a caprine flavor. So, there you are, completely relaxed in the downward dog position, when suddenly, little round balls of goat poop roll down your back into your freshly washed hair, goat stench firmly entrenched in your clothing and skin. Maybe the yoga goats go to a goat spa and get soaked in pot pourri. Maybe they smell like baby powder. Maybe they poop little balls of ice-cream. Maybe this will be renamed the dog and goat pose. So many unknowns.

A few years ago, my mother had some goats on her property. Now, in Kenya, goats are to Christmas what turkey is to Thanksgiving in the United States. A. Big. Deal.

My mother took great pride in her goats, ensuring they had plenty to eat and room to roam. One side of my mother’s property is bordered by a river, and she hired a local goat herder, who touted himself as a goat whisperer of sorts, to watch her prized goats. Having found this man who would keep her goats happy and fed, my mother was sure that they were in good hands. So you can imagine her shock when a few weeks later, the goat whisperer called her to inform her that some of the goats had committed suicide. Eh? Committed suicide? Correct, he confirmed. No note either. How had they chosen to do it? They had thrown themselves into the river. These goats, who had the best grass and trees a goat could ever hope for, fresh water to drink and clean air to breathe, decided to just end it? Were they too happy? Should my mother not have been as generous as she had been and let them hustle like all the other goats from the school of hard knocks? Something did not add up. That is, until my mother remembered that these suicidal goats all disappeared around holiday season, when goat meat is sold at a premium. Then it all made sense. And so went the goat whisperer’s job.

When I read the article about the Yoga goats, I thought about my mother’s goats, and what a missed opportunity that was. Assuming the goat whisperer was telling the truth, what if we had let those goats walk on our backs? Would they have been happier? Would we be more relaxed today? Smelling like goats, but not caring? Walking in public, goat stench wafting around us, but happy as clams because our little goats were wrapped around our necks like our emotional support animals? We will never know. Because Christmas came, and with it, Nyama Choma, barbecue meat was eaten by all. Joy to the World!

Speaking of emotional support animals, airlines recently banned those. Why? A woman showed up to the airport, pig in hand and not far behind her another woman with a peacock wrapped around her neck. The peacock was such a frequent flyer that it even knew to hang onto the luggage cart handle while its parent navigated the airport terminal. Google it. It’s true. What was the women’s excuse? They could not handle the emotional landmine that is flying without their emotional support animals. The pig companion literally gave credence to the phrase “when pigs fly”.

TSA, the agency charged with the task of screening passengers before they board their flights, has had the difficult task of turning away pigs, peacocks, pythons, mice and other “emotional support” animals. The TSA agents have also confiscated an astounding number of face tenderizers. Yep. An implement made with the sole purpose of pummeling your facial muscles into submission. Why, you might ask, would anyone’s face need tenderizing? Do they smile too much? Frown too much? What could possibly cause a person to have such tense facial muscles that they need to purchase and travel with a face tenderizer? If you find out, please let me know. Maybe I will check if one is available for sale on NextDoor, a place where neighbors are supposed to share information, sell items and become more aware of neighborhood goings on. What it mostly is, is a place for wannabe Sherlock Holmes’ to report their suspicions and dubious findings, both real and imagined ( I see you reporter of all new cars driving by your home)

When I last logged into my NextDoor account, I came across an animated discussion. A woman in my neighborhood had come across a field mouse, and wanted to adopt it. A hundred plus comments later, she finally decided to return the mouse to the field. Responses ranged from ‘aw how sweet’, to ‘are you insane- they carry the plague. THE plague’. The most memorable one was that of a man informing the kind-hearted mouse mother that his cat would find a permanent home for her field mouse. Mouse mother did not take kindly to that particular suggestion and decided to return the mouse from whence it came because her vetinary doctor told her-wait for it- that a field mouse belonged in a field!

Have a tender-faced day, won’t you!

According to Your Wisdom

A few months ago, my family and I took a weekend trip to Bodega bay, California. While there, we encountered a restaurant name Russia House #1. I imagined a group of Russians sitting at a table, sampling foods from different parts of their vast homeland, vodka glasses in hand, saying nyet to many of the samples presented before them. Towards the end of this exhausting exercise, their flavor-weary tongues perked up at the delicious flavors of a particular sample, and a chorus of Da was heard all around the table, vodka glasses raised in the air as they universally announced the winner as Russia House #1. No telling how Russia House #2 and #3 took the news.  I don’t know what the real story behind the restaurant’s name is, but I like my version better. Za Zdarovje!

Upon entering Russia House #1, I immediately noticed the very new-agey signage posted on the walls. A ‘help wanted’ sign was phrased as ‘looking for students’- who would be offered work, and a loving community. I wondered what the pay structure was, but upon reading the fine print, that really was it. Fulfillment through the work of your hands in a close-knit community. So, if you or someone you know is willing to work for a sense of community and has a hankering for the simple life, drive on up to Russia House #1. If the work does not fulfill you, the stunning view of the Russian river surely will. Tucked in one corner of the restaurant are a grand piano and a harp. A gentleman played the piano beautifully, but left soon after because he lived in the mountains and as we all know, mountain roads are treacherous in the dark.

Food is served buffet style, no menu is available. The food was amazing. As a neophyte to Slavic cuisine, I liberally sampled the Shchi, a delicious soup, and kasha, a millet cardamom-flavored meal. Now, I believe that beets are an abomination. A blight upon this earth. But the borscht, a.k.a beet soup, was divine. So, the only good beet is in borscht. Even the dishes with raisins in them were delicious. This, in my book, makes this place #1. You see, I abhor raisins. Raisins are failed grapes. In the grape world, the elite grapes are used to make the best wines, and the semi-pro grapes are served at meals. But what happens to the grapes that could never bring themselves to rise to the level of their wine and table grape caliber peers? They become raisins. The insidious fruit then sneaks into cookies, fooling innocent pastry lovers into thinking they are chocolate chips, and the cookie craving clients don’t realize their mistake until it is too late and they already purchased what appeared to be a delicious chocolate chip  cookie. (I see you oatmeal raisin cookies).

What stood out the most was that there was no bill at this restaurant. A sign by the door read “Pay according to your wisdom”. Huh? Now that’s just brilliant. You see, if a customer pays a small amount of money, does it mean that they are unwise? Am I wise? How wise am I? How is said wisdom measured?  Will the restaurateur look at my payment and agree that I am wise? So many questions!

Having thoroughly examined ourselves and unanimously agreed that we are indeed wise, we left some money on the table and departed. I have often thought of that phrase “according to your wisdom”, it applies to every aspect of our lives.

Here’s to a great life, lived according to your wisdom!

The Potter (Fiction Series)

Mueni was a potter among potters. She was a soft-spoken, diminutive woman who smiled a lot and was well loved in her village. Her distinctive handiwork was sought after by the shop owners of Nairobi, who then sold the pottery to tourists at exorbitant prices.

Each morning, Mueni woke up at the crack of dawn and went to collect clay from her shamba. She watched the village women, sleeping infants strapped to their backs, toil on the unyielding land, their puny arms lifting their jembe up and bringing the jembe down,the thunk thunk noise revealing the hardness of the ground. Mueni saw the disappointment written on their faces when the mean skies refused to open and give them the rain they so desperately needed.

Mueni’s own grandmother had been a master potter as well. It was under her patient guidance that a young Mueni had learned that one must treat the clay kindly, greeting it each morning, asking that it allow her hands to take it from its home, mold it, put it in the kiln. Mueni believed that her kinship with the clay was part of the reason for her success.

One day, when Mueni was finishing up her work for the day, her younger brother Musyoka stopped by to tell her that he had found a way for Mueni to sell her pottery directly in Nairobi. It was simple really, all she had to do was open a roadside stall in one of Nairobi’s suburbs where well-to-do Kenyans and expatriates lived. They would pay a lot of money for her pottery, much more than she was receiving from the buyers who came to buy from her home. Musyoka was a shrewd businessman who had done very well for himself, and wanted to help his sister earn the most she could from her talents. Musyoka’s only concern was finding an honest employee who would remit the full amount of money to Mueni, and night time storage for the pots.

“Mueni, Nairobi is a big city, and as you know, every port has its thieves. I need to find an absolutely trustworthy person, because you won’t be there manning the stall”

“Musyoka, don’t worry about thieves. I have been making pots for a very long time, I leave them outside my house, and not one has been stolen. Just find me a stall and a reasonably honest worker, that’s all you need to do. Musyoka shook his head at his sister’s naivete.

“Mueni, Nairobi is not a small village. You cannot leave your pots by the roadside and expect to find them there in the morning”

“They will not be stolen Musyoka, trust me.” So Musyoka went back to Nairobi, found a reasonably trustworthy employee, Moses, a roadside stall in Kitisuru and just like that, Mueni was in business. As Musyoka predicted, business was booming. Wealthy Kenyans and expatriates bought the pottery in such large numbers that Mueni was having difficulty keeping up with demand. Some of her customers requested custom pieces, and were willing to pay more than double the normal price for their one-of a kind pottery.

One particular customer, a British gentleman sporting the very sun-burned red face of the newly arrived expatriate seemed very keen on a few of the pieces. He introduced himself as Sinclair, and asked Moses very detailed questions about the workmanship, duration of molding, firing and other minutiae of pottery. He said that he would be back later that day to purchase a few pieces, and wanted to know what time the stall closed. “We close at 7pm” said Moses. “Oh, does that mean that you cart the pots away at that time?” asked Sinclair. “No, we don’t, the pottery stays right here until I come back the next morning” “How strange, aren’t you afraid that someone will steal such fine pottery?” asked Sinclair, amazed at Moses’ naivete. “This is a safe area, and we have been very fortunate not to have had any pieces stolen from us” Moses replied. “Well, that’s a comfort, I just arrived from Reading, and I was nervous about safety here.” Moses nodded, not telling Sinclair that he already knew this because Sinclair’s very red face had “recently arrived mzungu” written all over it. The African sun was a shock on skin used to the gloomy climes of England.

Hours later, when Moses had closed shop for the day and headed home, a dark car pulled up to the stall. A shadowy figure stepped out of the stall and quickly grabbed one of the bigger pots. He clutched it to his chest and tip toed toward the dark car.

*       *      *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *        *          *         *        *         *         *             *

Early the next morning Moses off-boarded the matatu he used to commute to work, to find a large crowd at his stall. “Mwizi amepatikana, ameshikwa” murmured some in the crowd, cell phones recording something near the stall. A dark car was parked by the road. Moses craned his neck to see what the crowd was filming, but he couldn’t elbow his way in. He asked one of the men in the crowd what was going on.

“Huyu alikuja kuiba amekwama”, Moses nodded, not understanding what the man meant. A thief came to steal from his stall and was stuck? Stuck to what? Moses called Musyoka who arrived within minutes. Musyoka managed to shout above the crowd. “Excuse me, this is my stall, please let me pass, let me pass!” Moses followed right behind him and what he saw next would stay with him for the rest of his life. Sinclair, the red faced British man, stood holding one of the big pots, his stride frozen mid-step. His red face was covered in sweat, his hands gripping the pot. Veins stuck out in his neck, the strain of holding the pot evident in his bulging eyes. His face seemed frozen mid-scream. Musyoka walked up to him and touched his neck. “Yu hai.” Musyoka said, declaring that Sinclair was still alive. He whipped out his cell phone and called Mueni.

“Someone tried to steal one of your pots and he appears to be stuck here, pot in hand” It was then that it dawned on Musyoka. Mueni was not worried for the safety of her pots because they could not be stolen. The crowd was in awe. Over the years, they had all heard tales of spells cast on things so they could not be stolen. Thieves were stilled, loot in hand, but those were the fortunate ones. The unfortunate ones were turned into animals, or hoisted onto the tops of coconut trees by imaginary hands, and would not be released until they confessed to their crimes. Until then, most people in the crowd believed these to be moral tales aimed at scaring them, but now, they could all see, in broad daylight that these tales were true.

Mueni told Musyoka that she would be there in five hours. She needed to finish making some pots, have breakfast, and then she would come and free the thief. By the time Mueni arrived, the crowds had swollen to the opposite side of the road, blocking all traffic. News crews had huge cameras and microphones pointed at the crowd. Some international reporters were present as well, unable to pass up such a sensational story. The seemingly accomplished expatriate by day who was a pottery thief by night receiving instant justice.

Musyoka asked the crowd to make way for Mueni. She walked up to Sinclair and gently touched the pot. He released his grip on the pot, which Mueni put on the ground. Next, she touched his face, her lips moving as she recited something unintelligible. Sinclair seemed to come out of the trance and was stunned to see the crowd and media gathered around him. His driver materialized out of thin air and grabbed Sinclair’s hand. They took off running to a waiting car which sped off. Mueni asked Musyoka to take her back to her home. There were pots to be made. Her grandmother had taught her well.

Christina Amolo

My earliest memories of Dana (grandmother) Christina are of us playing in the grass outside our home. Despite being my paternal grandmother Asin’s youngest sister, and therefore my grandmother as well, she possessed joie de vivre so infectious that as a child of about five, I found it completely normal for her to be rolling around the grass with me.  When she laughed, the deep, throaty sound brought a smile to those of us fortunate enough to call her grandmother. I was named for her older sister, and she always referred to me as Nyamin, sister.

She was also quite stubborn and strong-willed. There were several times when we would have a conversation, and, due to generational differences, we would have varying opinions. She was never one to shush me simply because I was her grandchild. She heard me out, but eventually would remind me that she had lived with her older sister (my namesake) and her husband, and had helped raise my father, and therefore had seen more things than I had. I, being a child of the 80s had not seen enough things, therefore the conversation was over. She chided with a gleam in her eye, a smile never too far from her wrinkled face.

The gleam in her eye belied the blows that life had dealt her. She truly lived with a “glass full perspective. Asin, Christina’s older sister and my namesake, died suddenly, leaving Christina without her best friend. Because Dana Asin passed away before I was born, I was named after her, and Christina’s vivid narration brought her to life. “You look exactly like my sister!” Christina would exclaim when she saw me.

As old age crept in, Dana Christina suffered the aches and pains that come with time. She complained about her leg, it hurt. She couldn’t walk as fast as she could in her youth, but she found humor in the aging process. You see, the reason you couldn’t walk as fast in your old age was because you had grandchildren to send. When I was getting married, her main concern was, who would come and get me if something happened to me all the way in America?

She was very close with my mother. She always said that she found a daughter in her. “Kama si yeye, sijui” (if not for her, I wouldn’t manage).

In 2014, she suffered a debilitating stroke that left her unable to walk or speak. Nothing could be done, other than for her to receive care at home. She wanted to be in her home, not anyone else’s. Family and friends rallied and chipped in. Mama Diana, a family friend, devoted herself to sending me constant updates.

On the morning of February 20, I awoke to several missed calls and messages. I knew in my heart that something was wrong. Then I heard the news. Dana had gone to her rest. Fare thee well Nyamin. Your laugh, your joie de vivre and the gleam in your eye live on in those of us who were fortunate enough to call you our own. And when these tears dry, we will be at peace, assured that our world is a better place because you were in it.

Opak Ruoth

We laid Dana Christina to rest on Thursday, March 8, 2018. Fare Thee Well Dana.

The Watchman’s Son Part II (Fiction Series)

All the major TV stations were present, cameras flashing, as Mheshimiwa cut the ribbon to mark the opening of his latest venture. His wife and children stood beside him as he smiled for the cameras, and walked into Nani Bank of Kenya. The past decade had been kind to Mheshimiwa. He had been re-elected twice, unchallenged. During the recent campaign season, there had been some noise about a long-dead watchman who had worked for him, and allegations that Mheshimiwa had not provided any compensation to care for the man’s family. He had denied knowledge of the matter, convinced that money had been poured to finish him.

Mheshimiwa had secured the business of several local companies, and with the marketing campaign he had run to promote his bank, hundreds of thousands of new customers had already opened accounts at Nani Bank. Business would be great, and with his political career soaring, Mheshimiwa saw nothing but bright horizons ahead. There were even whispers that he would one day run for president, and he had the assurances of those deep pocketed supporters who mattered that, come that day, he could count on their financial and networking support.

*                             *                             *                             *                             *                             *                             *

Three months later

Mheshimiwa’s least favorite part of his job as a politician was the wananchi visits. These constituents, having believed that he would fulfill all of his campaign promises, constantly hounded him for free food, free education, free healthcare, free, free, free. How could they actually have believed that he alone would be able to fulfil those promises? He had made them in the heat of the moment, warding off opponents who used the dilapidated hospital as Exhibit A of his failed leadership. However, once he promised that he would give everyone free things, the opposition noise had been drowned in the wave of “Mheshimiwa daima!”, which was also fueled by the wads of money he had paid to strategic community members, who then spread the wealth and voted for him en masse.

Today, an elderly woman was at his office, complaining about the lack of medical care at the local hospital. Mheshimiwa had promised to make it a priority if re-elected, but one year later, the hospital staff remained on strike for lack of pay, leaving patients with nowhere to turn. Mheshimiwa promised to look into the matter. When the old woman left, he called his assistant and asked her to tell the remaining constituents that an urgent matter had come up, and he could not meet with them. He had heard enough for one day.

When the office was silent, he put his feet up on his desk and took a deep breath. If everything went as planned with the bank, he would retire from politics and focus on his businesses. Then he wouldn’t have to sit through the litany of constituent problems that were part of being a politician. These people thought he was a magician who would magically wave a wand and solve their myriad of problems.

His cell phone rang, and he noticed that he had over twenty missed calls, all from his bank’s head of cyber-fraud. He answered the phone,

“Hello, Mike, kuna nini?”

“Mheshimiwa, we noticed that you requested that funds be transferred to several offshore accounts, we made the first three, but received additional requests. I was calling to confirm that these emails are coming from you.”

“Mike, it’s my money, transfer it!”

“Yes Sir!”

Mheshimiwa sighed and disconnected the call. Mike was extremely good at his job, if somewhat overzealous in his quest to ensure no fraudulent transfers occurred at Nani Bank. Mheshimiwa did not appreciate Mike’s lectures on the need to make phone calls to accompany requests for international wire transfers to authenticate his identity. It was his money, and he would transfer it as he wished.

Later that evening, Mheshimiwa was heading home after having a few drinks with his friends. Important people who would contribute to his wealth; poor people were a complete waste of his time. Even though he had grown up poor, he had left that life behind and he did not want to be near poverty.

As his driver headed towards Mheshimiwa’s imposing gate, Mike called again. An irritated Mheshimiwa answered the phone, the alcohol emboldening him.

“You idiot! Did I not tell you to stop questioning my decisions?”

“Mheshimi…”

“Shut up! If this is about a wire transfer, it’s my money, and if you don’t stop calling me, you won’t have a job tomorrow. Mark my words Mike.”

He hung up and switched his phone off.

Early the next morning, Mheshimiwa woke up and turned on the TV. He watched the news in disbelief. The police were having great difficulty keeping angry crowds in control outside Nani Bank. From what he could gather, customers had found their money missing from their accounts, and they were livid. A handcuffed Mike was being escorted to an unmarked car by what he presumed were Criminal Investigations Department (CID) officers.

Mheshimiwa quickly turned on his cell phone and saw over 20 voicemails from Mike. Each one detailed the series of wire transfers that were taking place to different offshore accounts, with the last one stating that the bank had almost run out of funds. As he listened to the last voicemail, Mheshimiwa heard a loud bang outside his bedroom door. He knew without being told that the five burly men in suits who barged into his bedroom were CID officers. He was not alarmed, because he was “somebody”, and they would soon realize the folly of their ways and release him.

He was hustled into a helicopter and flown to Nairobi’s CID headquarters. There, he found Mike detailing his conversations with Mheshimiwa the previous day, and Mheshimiwa’s admonishments for Mike to leave his wire transfers alone. It became clear that Mheshimiwa had intentionally ordered the transfer of his customers’ money to his personal off-shore accounts. Mike was released, and despite Mheshimiwa’s combination of threats, pleas and offers of bribery, the CID officers did not cave. Mheshimiwa was held in jail without bail, while awaiting arraignment for wire fraud. The local news channels had a field day reporting on the story.

Over the years, there had been whispers as to the source of Mheshimiwa’s vast wealth, and the news story was spiced with salacious rumors, leaving the viewer to believe that Mheshimiwa, contrary to his name, was not an honorable man. His lawyers informed him that Nani Bank’s insurance would reimburse part of the lost money, but because Mheshimiwa had waived full insurance, his personal assets would be sold to cover the difference. Attempts to recover the wired funds had hit a wall, as they had immediately been converted to various cryptocurrencies, which were intentionally murky, and would be next to impossible to recover, especially with the limited knowledge of how to trace funds that had gone down that wormhole. Mheshimiwa had joined the miserable ranks of people who had gone from rags to riches and back to rags.

*                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                 *

The man sat at his computer and watched the transfer into Bitcoin complete. He then distributed the Bitcoin to various currency exchanges, and waited a month before selling the cryptocurrency and withdrawing the US Dollar equivalents. He then anonymously donated funds to a certain local hospital, careful to use different accounts. In aggregate, the funds would be enough to rebuild the hospital, pay the staff for years to come while they negotiated their salary with the Government, and provide free basic healthcare for the locals. He stood up and walked to his car, his slight limp not slowing him down.

*                 *                 *                 *                 *                 *                 *

Eleven Years after Johnstone Kinyanjui’s death, his widow Waithera and her two children Wanjiku and Wacira stood alongside the other villagers to witness the re-opening of the brand new local hospital. Waithera, a beautiful twenty year old, studied Medicine at Nairobi University and was especially excited to see accessible healthcare available at her village. It was bittersweet, because it was not available when her father had needed it most, but no one else would have to lose a loved one because they lacked access to healthcare. Waithera kept saying what a miracle it was that funding had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, to rebuild this hospital. Her son Wacira, who at twenty three already had a master’s degree in computer science, and was a highly sought after cybercrime consultant, simply smiled.

Had it not been for the kindness of strangers, Waithera thought, her children would have dropped out of school for non payment of tuition fees. She held her children’s hands as they all walked away hand in hand, Wacira slightly limping.

 

The Watchman’s son- Part 1 (fiction series)

Johnstone Kinyanjui  was startled awake by the loud clap of thunder outside his corrugated iron-roofed watchman’s post. The skies had opened and dumped sheets of rain on the red earth of the path leading up to the steel gates of the Honorable Minister’s, or Mheshimiwa’s, mansion. The red earth, unprepared for such a deluge on what was supposed to be a dry month, passed the water onto the grass that grew by the path. Johnstone had worked for Mheshimiwa for ten years. The salary was not good, but it was consistent, and Mheshimiwa promised him a salary increase in the coming year.

Johnstone typically had an early supper with his wife Waithera and their two children Wanjiku and Wacira. Johnstone considered his marriage to be one of the great joys of his life. Waithera ran the household flawlessly, even though their only source of income was Johnstone’s meagre salary. His house was always clean, the children well cared for, and, when he arrived home early in the morning after a long night at work, Waithera always welcomed him with a smile and a warm meal.

Wanjiku, named after his own mother, was, like his mother, a very strong-willed person. Even though she was only ten years old, she spoke with the conviction of one much older and wiser. He jokingly called her “mama”. His son Wacira, named after Johnstone’s father, had been born with a slightly weak left leg, and at thirteen, walked with a slight limp. What he lacked in physical strength he made up for in intellectual prowess. Wacira had consistently been the top student in the entire county, and all the teachers agreed that great things lay ahead for the brilliant child. He was due to sit his KCPE in one year, and everyone looked forward to his admission to one of Kenya’s top secondary schools.

That evening, Wanjiku had cried when her father left for work. She did that sometimes, wanting him to stay home instead of going to work so he could tell them folk stories his own grandmother had narrated to him as a child. He bid his family goodnight, promising Wanjiku that he would tell her many stories when he returned the next morning.

Now at his watchman’s post, Johnstone thought he heard a car driving nearby. He wondered if Mheshimiwa was expecting relatives at this late hour. Mheshimiwa had all sorts of visitors, most of them constituents coming to ask for financial assistance. It was rare for them to come by this late, unless it was a for medical emergency requiring more money than they could afford. To say that Mheshimiwa was not a very generous person would be a gross understatement. The man was so tightfisted, even his own family was denied fairly reasonable requests. Most of the time, Johnstone was under strict instructions not to allow anyone in the compound after sunset. The daytime watchman told Johnstone that it was not the lateness of the hour that stopped Mheshimiwa from seeing his constituents, rather, it was the tightness of his fist that would not allow him to help those in need. Both watchmen hoped that they would not be in a position where they would need urgent assistance from Mheshimiwa.

Johnstone looked around to see if anyone would approach the gate, but when no one showed up, he tuned his small radio to kameme fm, settling into a long night of watching and waiting. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw movement. He immediately grabbed his rungu, the club he carried to protect the big man inside the mansion and turned on his flashlight. He had just walked out of the watchman’s post, wading into the red earth-stained water, when seemingly out of nowhere, three men surrounded him. Johnstone blew his whistle to alert Mheshimiwa’s family about the intruders, but the loud storm muffled the sound of the whistle. He swung his rungu at the first man and hit him on the head. The man fell, groaning in pain. The remaining two men pounced on Johnstone, hitting him with rungus and demanding that he let them in the compound. The beating continued for a while, but Johnstone would not give up the keys.

As fate would have it, one of Mheshimiwa’s friends was coming to visit, and three card swung into view, driving up to the gate. The first car was a private security company car, with flashing lights, protecting Mheshimiwa’s friend, and the thugs, thinking someone had called the police to arrest them, grabbed their wounded colleague and fled, leaving an unconscious Johnstone on the ground. The driver of the security car jumped out of the car and, seeing Johnstone lying on the ground, carried him and put him in the car. He then ran to Mheshimiwa’s friend’s car, and asked him to call Mheshimiwa so they could administer First Aid to Johnstone in Mheshimiwa’s house. Mheshimiwa refused, saying he did not want his house muddied by a mere watchman. Mheshimiwa’s friend instructed his security to drive Johnstone to the nearest hospital.

Unfortunately, that was an hour away, on very muddy and slippery roads. When they finally arrived at the hospital, the doctor had left for the night, and the receptionist asked how they would pay for Johnstone’s treatment. The security guard informed the receptionist that Mheshimiwa would pay for the treatment, as Johnstone was his watchman. Johnstone was admitted into the General ward, and the nurses got to work cleaning his very swollen head and body. The next morning, a series of xrays showed that Johnstone has suffered multiple fractures from the beating he had received and that he would need emergency surgery to remove some bone fragments from his lungs. This surgery would be performed in Nairobi, and he needed to be airlifted to Nairobi Hospital.

Waithera was becoming concerned because Johnstone had not returned from work, which was highly unusual. Her children Wacira and Wanjiku kept asking when their father would return. It was at that moment that their neighbor, a nurse at the hospital, broke the news to them. They were devastated. Waithera asked the neighbor to watch the children while she went to ask Mheshimiwa for financial help. When she arrived at Mheshimiwa’s home, she was met with hostility, and was told that Mheshimiwa had already found a new watchman, and would not be needing Johnstone’s services anymore. Her pleas for mercy fell on deaf ears.

Waithera went home, collected her children and together they made the one hour trek to the hospital to see Johnstone. He was unconscious, and the doctor explained to them that if he was not airlifted to Nairobi immediately, he would not survive the night. Waithera explained that she did not have the funds to pay for the helicopter ride, and pleaded with the doctor to find an alternative way to help Johnstone, but the doctor did not have the equipment or expertise needed to treat Johnstone. That night, Johnstone breathed his last.