Canadian Bear

A few weeks ago, we decided to fly to Washington State’s Bellingham Airport and drive into Canada. Why? Well, I had never been to Canada and my husband said I would like it there, so, passports in hand, we packed our suitcases and set off for the airport. We flew Allegiant, which won the “how to fly” debate by offering free flights for children. And seeing as I am still not speaking to SouthWest, I didn’t bother to check if they fly there. That’s right, that grudge is alive and well.

We arrived at the airport early and very quickly discovered why Allegiant is a cheap as it is. After waiting for almost an hour, the sole check-in agent finally collected our luggage, and politely informed us that we were above the 40 pound per suitcase limit. Now, anyone with a child will tell you that 40 pounds is just not doable, but luckily, the nice lady waived the fees (we did not think to check because most airlines have a 50-pound limit).

Once we cleared security, we arrived at our gate where, you guessed it, the same lady was now at the boarding desk and would be helping us board the plane. Pretty smart strategy, which works great if you travel very light. I will say that their planes are more spacious than your average plane. No snacks were offered on the approximately 2-hour flight, so again, you get what you pay for.

Bellingham airport is either brand new or very well maintained. Baggage claim is right next to the car rental station, with the actual cars right outside. No shuttles needed. We headed to our rental car after we collected our baggage, and after our son assisted other passengers to collect theirs (he took great pride in guiding passengers and they were very good-natured about following his “directions”- gotta love small airports).

Early the next morning, we drove north and shortly came across bilingual English – French signs and the Maple Leaf, signalling our entry into Canada. The Canadian border agent was, as advertised, very polite and wished us a nice visit in her homeland. We took the ferry at Tsawwassen (named for the Tsawwassen First Nation, one of the peoples who inhabited the land long before any of us were here) and headed into Vancouver Island, whose capital Victoria is named for the British Monarch (coincidentally, Nam Lolwe, a lake in my home town was also named Lake Victoria after Queen Victoria. You say Lake Victoria, I say Nam Lolwe). While on the ferry, we saw a humpback whale, probably on his way to his pod before curfew, which was a nice surprise.

Our ferry guide, called a marine naturalist, gave us a tutorial of the different kinds of sea life native to the area. She also informed our son that orcas are also known as killer whales, which fascinated him to no end. It would become a refrain every time he heard the word “orca” during our trip. Thanks to him, many of the guests we encountered at restaurants, the hotel, the ferry, the elevator and at the airport are now aware that an orca is a killer whale. Feel free to educate your public as well. You are welcome.

Victoria is the seat of British Columbia, as is evidenced by an imposing parliamentary building with perfectly manicured lawns and an impressive statue of  Britain’s Queen Victoria. The formality is softened by oodles of colorful hanging plants, nearby horse carriage tours and a gorgeous waterfront from where ferries and water taxis ply their routes. Hundreds of tourists can be found taking in the sights via water taxi,  at the numerous restaurants and visiting the nearby Royal BC Museum (I highly recommend visiting this museum, it has authentic pieces that pay tribute to the originators of the art, and acknowledges partnership with the First Nations native to the area). The museum also has a life size replica of a mammoth. It is a awesome sight.

Masterfully carved and towering totem poles occupied an arena-like room. I am firmly divorced from my chakras, auras and other energy fields, therefore I usually have no ability to read the “energy” of a room full of inanimate objects. That was, until I felt a certain hesitation to approach those totem poles. The air in that room felt heavy, like a weight had been placed upon my shoulders when I walked in. Perhaps it was the totem’s seemingly all-seeing eyes or the dimness of the room. Perhaps it was because they were steeped in a sometimes gruesome history so deep, I could never fully comprehend the profoundness of what they had seen.

On day 3 of our trip, we decided to take a road trip to Port Renfrew. It was on this road trip that I got a real sense of what the island was about. I got a sense of deja vu when I saw distance in Km and measurements in Kg and meters. Living in the United States, I have become accustomed to miles, pounds and feet. So I had a brief re-introduction into the metric system, just like we have in Kenya.

Canada, the land of maple syrup, ice hockey and polite people has legalized marijuana, or bhangi as it is called in my neck of the woods. Marijuana has a very different reputation where I am from. It has been blamed for everything from the medical-mental illness, to the cosmetic- bloodshot eyes and unkempt hair. I was very interested to see its effects on the stereotypically polite Canadians. I can report that they were polite as advertised, except for one Canadian man, who upon hearing that I was from the United States, delivered his condolences for our political climate. He was very passionate about US politics, and his wife finally rescued me from his rant, telling him that I was on vacation, and probably did not want to discuss politics. She was right. I thanked her profusely.

We stopped by a convenience store to buy some snacks, and noticed a sushi restaurant called “I am Sushi”. See? No guess work. Across the street was a marijuana store called Earth to Sky. This reminded me of a spirits maker in Kenya who promised that if you partook of their products, you would understand why birds fly. We did not try out the products so I guess we will never experience the earth to sky experience, nor will we understand why birds fly via liquor. We also drove past a building named Roof (no mention of the doors, windows and other parts of the building) and a farm named ‘living the life’ farm. I will assume that is the farm where all the old cats and dogs go to live out their days. Other travelers mention hiking the strait of Juan de Fuca. There’s a name filled with potentially offensive mispronunciations. A vitamin shop with a mutant logo, promising good health to all those who patronized it, was right next door to a car oil-change shop, which got me thinking about the mutant logo. Vitamins + car oil= mutant vitamins aka borderline subliminal messaging.

We stopped by the tiny town of Jordan river, where the sole business, Cold Shoulder, announced to the weary travelers that they did not have restroom facilities. It was in their name you see, you will receive a cold shoulder as advertised. In other words, you can relieve yourself of all your sins in River Jordan, but do not relieve yourself at the Cold Shoulder in Jordan River, BC.

A few minutes later, while driving in the thickly forested area just past Jordan River, we saw A LARGE BLACK BEAR CROSS THE ROAD ahead of us. I couldn’t believe it. I had never seen a bear in the wild. Our child had never seen one either. My husband had, and assured us that that was a medium sized one. I shudder to think of what a fully grown one looks like. I have seen Revenant. If you haven’t, please do. It will instill a healthy fear of bears in you.  Maybe this bear had just visited Earth to Sky to get his weekly stash of Marijuana. Maybe he was late for a date. He seemed to be in a great hurry to cross the road. He disappeared into the foliage, never to be seen or heard from again. He probably went home and told his family about these weird people who were gawking at him as if they had never seen a bear before. It was the highlight of our trip.

When I went back to work and told my colleagues about my trip, one of them was more shocked by the fact that we flew Allegiant (had I not read about all the emergencies their planes seem to have?) than by the fact that I had seen a Canadian bear crossing the street in broad daylight. Eh?

Money Can’t Buy You Love

I meet up with my friend Charlotte (not her real name) on a Saturday morning. Charlotte is a beautiful blond woman, with a heart of gold. Orphans need tuition? She’ll pay for it. A remote village needs a well? She’ll fund it. Daughter has a dog she can’t take care of? She’ll adopt him, and be the best dog mama on the planet. One day, she was speeding on the freeway, when a cop car appeared behind her, no flashing lights or anything, but she pulled over to the road shoulder, and the cop asked her why she stopped. She self- confessed to speeding, which the cop found hilarious, because he was simply driving behind her car, and hadn’t even noticed that she was speeding. He thanked her for her honesty and assured her that his colleagues would be hearing about this encounter. That’s Charlotte in a nutshell, good people.

The usual pleasantries out of the way, I ask how she is doing, because she is in the process of planning to leave Jeff (not his real name), her husband of 13 years, as in exactly 13 years. She is leaving him, not because he is violent, or is running a drug cartel (that she knows of), but because he is, in her words, “detached”. This man has no emotional connection to anyone or anything, except his cat. More on that later.

Charlotte and Jeff dated for a few years before getting married. Charlotte has a daughter from a previous marriage, Jeff does not have any children. He is a very successful businessman. Their dating years were ordinary, with the most excitement being on the one night when Jeff came home extremely drunk and Charlotte read him the riot act, resulting in Jeff abstaining from repeating that behavior. They got married, and settled into domestic bliss with their daughter, a dog and a few cats completing their family. Every night, the cats would settle in bed with them for the night.

Due to medical complications, Charlotte needed to undergo a hysterectomy. Because their house is quite large, she decided to spend her recovery days in one of the spare bedrooms, so the cats wouldn’t use her recuperating abdomen as a pillow when they slept at night. After she had sufficiently recovered, Charlotte moved back into their bedroom, and asked Jeff if the cats could be moved to the hallway to sleep at night.

I have to pause here and explain how strange I, a small-town Kenyan, find it that American pets sleep in their parents’ (owner is too harsh) beds. To be fair, my only interaction with domestic animals when I was growing up was either as food (cows, goats, chicken, sheep, fish) or as protection (German Shepherd Dogs). So the concept of an animal being inside a home, let alone a bedroom, is something I am slowly acclimatizing to.

So, as you can imagine, I did not find it strange that Charlotte would request some personal space from the cats. You know who found it strange? Jeff. Actually, strange doesn’t quite capture his reaction. Charlotte says he looked at her in a manner suggesting she wanted to amputate his arm. She told him that if she was to sleep in that bedroom, then the cats would have to move to cat beds. One of her geriatric cats sleeps on a heated cat bed (the struggle is real). Also, this just shows that she truly cared for the cats, just not to the extent that Jeff did, obviously. When faced with the choice of no wife or no cats sharing his bed, Jeff chose, you guessed it, the cats. And so began their 9 year separate bedrooms arrangement.

Charlotte’s relationship with her Mother In Law (MIL) has been complicated. At first, her MIL didn’t approve of Charlotte because Charlotte was not educated enough (her MIL is quite wealthy and on the lookout for gold diggers). MIL is Eastern European, and is very unemotional and detached, whereas Charlotte is warm and caring, so it was an oil meets water situation.

As they years have gone by, Charlotte has become the closest to her MIL, as both Jeff and his brother have minimal contact with her. Case in point, when MIL was admitted to hospital with heart problems, Charlotte was the one to call the hospital and speak to MIL, when both sons couldn’t be bothered. Pilot and his educated wife (who MIL loved due to her education), only contact MIL when in need of a loan, usually in the hundreds of thousands. When asked why they don’t go to see their mother, Pilot and Mrs Pilot, say they don’t have time (he is literally a pilot! And he can’t get on a plane to go and see his ailing mother? But he can call her up for a loan?). At this point, I am shaking my head in disbelief. How can people be so callous to the woman who gave them life (and money in case of pilot)? To Pilot’s credit, he calls Charlotte and thanks her for caring about his parents, because, and this is a direct quote, “my brother and I are jerks”.

Jeff, on the other hand, was avoiding dictatorial MIL because he has some explaining to do regarding a last-minute trip he decided to take.

Many months ago, Jeff, Charlotte, their daughter and a gaggle of family members were planning to fly to Fiji and have a two-week vacation (sans the kitties). The day before they were supposed to leave, Cruz, their rambunctious dog, tore his ACL and his meniscus. Someone was going to have to stay behind and care for him. Charlotte decided to forgo Fiji. Jeff offered to stay with her to help take Cruz to the dog surgeon. This gave Charlotte hope that deep inside, maybe the man she married still existed. A couple of days into what would have been their vacation, Charlotte scheduled surgery for Cruz, and that was when Jeff casually informed her that he would be going on a “last minute” business trip to Austria. “Too many balls to juggle, I had to drop one. Oh, could you please water the flowers while I’m away?” he said, shrugging like, no big deal. She was the ball he had decided to drop.

“Well, you dropped the wrong ball.” Charlotte warned him, wondering how such an intelligent man could be so stupid and short-sighted. So off Jeff went, a mother and wife free globetrotting businessman.

On the evening after the surgery, Jeff called Charlotte from Vienna, asking about her day. To recap, Charlotte had been dealing with:

  • Cruz’s surgery and resulting crying (have you ever seen a dog cry? It is a pitiful sight)
  • Bruises on her legs because cruise had the cone of shame, which he kept bumping into Charlotte’s legs.
  • Cranky cats
  • A MIA husband
  • A hospitalized MIL
  • A father in law who suffers from Alzheimers and had just been admitted to hospice care (again, neither son had reached out to find out how he was doing)

So, she told him that she had had a long day, to which he responded, “If I was there I would have helped you.” That was the last straw. The death knell on their 13 year marriage, 9 of which were spent in separate quarters. Money can’t buy you love.

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 something 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.