5 Seconds

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was a day full of meetings and low on time to eat a proper meal. So, having been heads down working non-stop, I didn’t notice it was almost lunchtime until nature’s alarm clock, also known as my rumbling stomach, reminded me of this fact in its typical rambunctious fashion. 

Suddenly, I had an epiphany. A fried chicken burger would be nice, I thought. My famished brain added fuel to this thought by conjuring the tastiest, crispiest, juiciest burger that ever burgered.  This burger was going to have the works. Crispy brioche bread, juicy yet crunchy fried chicken, freshly sliced onions, wisps of jalapeno pepper, freshly made honey mustard sauce dripping over the chicken, lettuce so crisp I could practically feel the crunch as I bit into it. I mean, this burger was going to be the epitome of burger perfection, a hall of famer.

Naturally, the next step was to order this magical burger from my favorite burger restaurant, followed by obsessively tracking the delivery status on my app. Exactly 15 minutes later, my doorbell rang, informing me that the moment I had been eagerly anticipating was finally here. I grabbed the package, and channeling my inner Shelly-Ann Fraser, I sprinted to the kitchen for the grand unveiling and ribbon cutting ceremony.

I unwrapped the package and the delicious aroma of the burger and fries wafted towards my hungry face, and in a delayed flash of genius, I decided to re-crisp the burger so it would be just so. Peak level of crispiness must be achieved after all. 

It was when I was retrieving my now crisped-to-perfection burger that the devil struck. Yes, I will blame this one on Saitan

You see, I was distracted by a text message while reaching for the food, and suddenly, as if in slow motion, I watched my beloved crispy juicy burger tumble to the floor, slowly deconstructing itself midair, landing in a mess of splattered honey mustard, lettuce, onions, brioche and finally and to my great dismay, crispy fried chicken.

“Nooooooooooooooooooooooo!” I yelled, horrified, realizing that in these days of COVID, the 5 second rule does not apply. And it does not apply because COVID probably latched onto my burger mid-air, sinking its tentacles in it before the lowly germs of the floor ever got a chance to bite into it. And so, in a funereal sequence, I gathered the possibly COVID infested remains of my beloved burger, and committed them to the compost bin. The text message that started all this? It was a spam text, Saitan asindwe!

Fare thee well my beloved burger, rest with the ants who I am sure had the feast to end all feasts.

Flighty Fingers

Mtaka cha mvunguni sharti ainame. This sliver of wisdom, dispensed by one of those Swahili sages of old as his agemates huddled in a circle, kanzus firmly in place, deeply-veined shaky hands tenuously grasping small cups of kahawa tungu. Their milky eyes held far-away looks as they fondly remembered their glory days, sweet-talking lasses with ample curves,  as their now wizened faces with dune-like wrinkles slowly nodded in agreement, even though their bodies were decades past their bending days. I imagine his name was Mzee Abdalah. And hours later, when Mzee Abdalah was finally done speaking, because a good methali must first marinate, besides, what else is there to do in that sweltering heat but talk? His compeers simply said, “Doh!Umenena kama wazee elfu!”

This saying recently came to mind when I encountered, shall we say, an interesting character. You see, even though I am a daughter of Nam Lolwe, the benevolent Swahili gods occasionally take pity on me, bringing to mind a methali that perfectly captures my current situation; which is quite generous, considering my people have allegedly so bastardized that language that in its final throes it simply gave up the ghost, surrendering to its new name, Oswahili.

Whether we like to admit it or not, many of us would gleefully jump at the chance to grab the mvunguni goodies if we could bypass the kuinama part. And it was under such circumstances that I encountered this man, let’s call him Mteche. You see, I had recently booked a flight with Kenya Airways, but because life whips you with a nyaunyo harder in these times of COVID, I had to cancel the flight. In the process of trying to get a hold of KQ on Twirra, this enterprising fellow saw a loophole and decided to exploit it. 

YouTube is laden with a cornucopia of videos on various flavors of scams, ranging from vintage 90s barrister-with-a-windfall left by a recently deceased relative you’ve never heard of, to the slightly more savvy 2010s call centers targeting senior and not-so-senior citizens, all the way up to the truly scary COVID era ones, those you never hear from, shadowy figures who thrive on identity theft, dissipating after the deed is done, leaving not even a wisp of their existence, save for a gaping hole where your bank account once struggled to find footing. 

And so when I encountered my very own scammer, my newly minted virtual diploma from YouTube scam-buster academy in hand, I decided to have some fun with it. Because in these days of COVID, we must spark our joy where it finds us, donge?

This enterprising fellow, Mteche, must have scoured the internet, seeking the best scam artistry education no money could buy. I imagine in a previous life, the barrister scam may have worked with modest success, earning him enough to buy a mandazi or two, and tea without milk. Seeing as he wanted some milk in his tea, he decided to enroll in slightly more advanced level II courses, which led him to  create a Twirra Account and handle mimicking the KQ logo and handle , complete with a business account on Whatsapp. His M.O was quite simple really. Search Twirra for a disgruntled customer, preferably one inquiring about their refund, promptly inbox said person, obtain their phone number, and that is where the fun and games began.

I imagine his heart was beating excitedly, the hunter in him sensing gullible prey ahead. But this daughter of Alego was also equally excited, ready to put her YouTube Scam-Buster Academy skills to use. As our venerable tutors on YouTube told us, the first step is always to get the victim to save the scammer’s number on their phone, and then direct the victim to a money transfer service. 

Mteche tried, several times, to get me to send him money through MPESA, Western Union,World Remit, a homing pigeon, a donkey, anything, to no avail. At some point, he got so frustrated and asked me if I could name relatives whose numbers could be used instead. I explained, in my most doleful voice, that I was born alone in this world, like a penguin hatched from an abandoned egg in the frigid gusts of Antarctica. He had no sympathy for this penguin, he had a job to do. So he tried something else, and this is where my YouTube Academy education came in handy. 

You see, the latest scam is to direct the victim to a money sending service and then coerce them to enter the scammer’s name as the recipient, and then, in the amount section, to enter what appear to be random numbers like 0008875, but in reality, those zeros don’t count. Once you select continue, you have just sent them 8,875 of whatever currency you typically transact in. I wrote all this information on a piece of paper, because YouTube Scam- Buster Academy graduates no fools.

Mteche: Have you entered the name and that number?

Me: Yes

Mteche: What does it say

Me: It says this is fraud

Long, awkward pause, followed by another pause

Me: Are you there?

Mteche: garbling noise

Me: You know, this scam where you ask people to enter a phone number in their phone book and then to enter many zeros followed by a number is a well known scam

Mteche: I’m not a scammer

Me: Why isn’t your account verified, if you are with KQ? Where is your little tick?

Mteche: They forgot

Me: Who are they?

Mteche: Twirra

Me: Ok, no problem, what’s your manager’s name (checks LinkedIn, no such names exist)

Mteche: Have you entered the number in your phone?

Me: Of course

Mteche, impatiently: I don’t see any money, can you check?

Me, rather dramatically, in the fashion of my people’s professional mourners: Mayo! You tricked me! My money! it’s gone!

Mteche, excitedly checking his phone: there’s no money here! Are you sure you entered the instructions in your phone?

Me: chortling

Mteche: Why are you laughing!

At this point, I was roaring with laughter, what people like to caption as “I’m dead” while still being very much alive.

The line went dead, I’m not sure why. 

I did of course send him a message to wish him a great day, I am after all, a lady, but I am also a lady from Alego, and we know our rights, so I let him know that I would be forwarding his numbers to various authorities(in his desperation to get me to send him money, he kept providing alternative phone numbers because he thought that the actual problem was one of his lines and not the fact that he was up against a YouTube Scam-Buster Academy graduate)

I don’t know if anything will come of my reports to Twirra, the real Kenya Airways  and the authorities, but in the meantime, should you encounter Mteche and his scam-mates, feel free to quote Mzee Abdalah. 

YOLO

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” so says the Good Book. This quote rang true as I sat courtside, proudly watching our son take his first basketball class. 

I am not athletic, well, not overtly so. Maybe deep, deep inside, in another life, I will be athletic. And by athletic I mean I have never participated in any competitive sports, unless you count the one time I showed up to basketball practice at an ungodly hour, and in the dim light of dawn, got whacked in the face by a flying basketball. It goes without saying that that ended any hopes I had of participating in that violent game. I mean, if something whacks you in the face once, it’s an accident. If it happens again, well, you know what W says about fool me once, or was it fool you once? He couldn’t figure it out either. Point is, someone got fooled and it ended badly. 

I don’t own any athletic medals, not even the sympathy ones I’m told they give people just for showing up, to massage their bruised egos; this scam ensures that the hapless optimists keep paying to take classes for something they have no hope of ever being even mediocre at. Also, they award these medals so the disappointed participants don’t go home wailing like they are at a Luo funeral where the food and alcohol have run out, which, as you can imagine, is very bad for business. 

Imagine walking into a building to enroll in a sport only to be met by an exodus of wailing faces, you would be forgiven for thinking that a nyaunyo wielding Kenyan policeman runs the show, at which point anyone would understand why you hightailed it out of there, in the style of our Jamaican brethren.

I digress. We enrolled our son in basketball. We rolled up to the court, meeting a family of three first timers on our way in. We were a flurry of first timers, if you will, or maybe a school? I don’t know, the point is, there were many of us. As we entered the building, with its massive courts and spotless, shiny floors, we watched as some older kids practiced, their coordinated movements proof that they were not likely to end up in the sympathy medal crew. (SMC)

Classes started, the coach guiding the kids through handling, dribbling and passing the ball. Our son scored right away, beginner’s luck boosting his confidence and giving me hope that his face would not be meeting the business end of a basketball on his first try. About ten minutes into the hour-long class, one of the kids, who had been curiously watching the coach and the gaggle of budding basketballers, slowly started to step away from the court, moonwalk style. He did it so stealthily that, had he not been in my immediate line of sight, I would not have noticed this stealth-mode escape in action. The kid may have a future in clandestine operations.

You see, in the spirit of living his best life, he decided that he had given the game of basketball a fair shake, and seeing as YOLO, he proceeded to lay down on the spotless floor and snuggle a basketball. Now there’s an untapped market- snuggle ball, send me royalties when that idea blows up and makes you bazillions, will ya? The YOLO boy’s siesta persisted through the cacophony of dribbling basketballs, sneaker soles squeaking on the shiny floor, the occasional meltdown when scores were missed, and high fives when scores were made. He woke up just as the final whistle blew, made a beeline for the bleachers and left with his parents without so much as a backward glance.

15 Items

It sat there, sullen, seemingly forgotten, like the last kid to be picked up from school. It was almost full to the brim with an assortment of groceries. I looked at it again, and then checked the sign above me. “Express Lane, 15 items or less”, the sign warned us, frowning at the blatant disrespect of the fully laden cart in this lane. The nerve.

That was the first sign. The universe’s first whisper, warning me to flee. But did I? No. I am from Alego. We do not cower at the first sign of adversity. I joined the line, my kombucha and kale, 8 items in total, toeing the line. After a moment, I looked at the cashier, who was looking around impatiently, adjusting her glasses while tapping her long acrylic nails on the counter, ‘tap tap tap’. 

“Is this cart checking out?” I asked

“Yep, she’s just getting a few more things.” She replied, sighing deeply, the long suffering sigh of obligation mixed with disappointment and held together by the duct tape of the almighty paycheck.

I looked at the full cart and then at the cashier, and in that moment, we bonded over our frustration. The frustration of watching a cart full of at least 50 items hold the line hostage while the culprit went to look for more items, because why stop at 50?

My Kombucha, unaccustomed to life on these streets, started to sweat like cold bottles do when ripped from the cool safety of the fridge. The organic kale, mortified, sneered at the sweaty bottle, shook its leaves and shuddered at the indignity of it all.

Finally, a few minutes later, she appeared. She was a very well dressed woman, sporting an expensive looking watch, diamond earrings and a very pricey purse. She swept past me, a cloud of perfume floating around her perfectly coiffed gray hair. We shall call her Madam. True to her word, Madam had forgotten a few items. The sweaty kombucha, the snooty kale and I all breathed a sigh of relief. Our wait was coming to an end. She would pay for her 50 items and move on with her merry life. But the universe had other plans. I had ignored its warning, and so it was lesson time. 

She reached into her purse, fished out a wallet and handed the cashier a few gift cards to pay for the purchase. Fair enough. The cashier, eager to move the line along, quickly started to check out her small mountain of items, and was almost halfway through the process when Madam’s face perked up, a Eureka moment! She reached into her bottomless purse, and after a frantic search, her fist emerged victorious, with the mother lode of coupons in tow. I lauded her savvy, inflation being what it is, she had found ways to slash her grocery bill significantly. My cheer leading of this seemingly kindred financially literate spirit was brought to a screeching halt in seconds. You see, coupons were not the only thing she had in abundance. It turns out she had trust issues of Leviathan proportions. 

She asked to calculate the coupon totals alongside the cashier, and for the cashier to check if the coupons actually said they were single use only. She debated why the coffee coupons couldn’t apply to vodka (a few bottles dotted the heaped cart), seeing as they were both drinks, and why the expired coupons could not be accepted. Then the cash register jammed. Even it had reached its limit with Madam. The frustrated cashier looked up to the sky, seemingly praying for divine intervention. What had she done to deserve this? 

The kale in my cart was asking itself the exact same question. Slathered in kombucha sweat, it had given up distancing itself from its clammy neighbor. At this point, kombucha, having run out of apologies, stewed in a pool of self pity. 

And then, amid all this gloom, appeared a deus ex machina. Mercedes was her name. With the wave of her hand, I was freed from the depths of Madam hell, upgraded to a new lane and checked out within minutes. On my way out, I cast a fleeting sympathetic glance at the cashier on the Express lane, who was still embroiled in Coupongate with Madam. I said a silent prayer for her, and for all the souls who have to deal with irate customers all day long.

I am happy to report that the kombucha and kale made it home safely. Once the kombucha was wiped down and its dignity restored, kale found it not to be so bad after all. Safely ensconced within the cool confines of my refrigerator, all was well with the world again. 

Próspero Año Nuevo!

2020. The Plagues of Egypt part 2. THAT was 2020. Brought to us by someone who may or may not have found a bat minding its own business and decided that it belonged in his stomach. They don’t seem very meaty to me, but then who are we to tell people what to eat within the confines of their homes? Or maybe it was manufactured in a lab. No one knows.


What I know is, once 2020 had grabbed us by our ankles, turned us upside down, shaken everything loose, and then, just for good measure given us a slap that would make a Kenyan policeman blush, 2020 ghosted us, leaving us staring at our bloodied, black-eyed, toothless mugs in a basin of water (yes, 2020 was the kind of spiteful person who takes everything with them when they leave, including your cracked mirror and changes the Netflix password ).

And so when 2021 arrived, we were understandably shook. Because 2020 also took the Thermos and cups, 2021 received a rather lukewarm welcome. But 2021 was not spiteful, she didn’t hold it against us, she did her best to bandage our wounds, to soothe our broken hearts. She was one of those huggers whose hugs feel like home. She tried her best to wrestle the madimoni of 2020, even though they clung to her clothes like a film of sweat.

And just like that, 2020 is finally fading away, and 2021 is wishing us well as she walks out the door, leaving us with hope that 2022 will finally bring new mirrors, a Thermos full of hot tea and maybe even return our Netflix password.

Próspero Año Nuevo!

2020 Toffee Beds 

2020. The mere mention of it conjures bad vibes. The Plague of Rona. If 2020 were an animal, it would be the demon spawn of a rabid tiger and a malicious shark. And it would smell like a clan of exiled skunks. But, we lived through it, and lived to tell the horrid tale. 2020 is what preachers like to cast away, chanting: pepo mbaya. Shindwe!

Fast forward to 2021, the year that was supposed to be the calm after the storm, we decided it was time to get out of the house and out of our pajamas, and go on vacation. Well, 2020 had a small meeting with itself, asking itself why everyone dragged its name through the mud. Like the vindictive year it is, it heard us planning to have fun and decided that since we had joined the rest of the world in being haters and not remembering it fondly, it was going to show us.

The trip started innocently enough. We had our sanitizer and N95 masks, arrived at the airport early, went past security, and on to our gate. Our flight departure time was supposed to be 4.30PM. Well, 2020 arrived at the airport, frothing at the mouth, malice at full throttle, and decided to make things interesting. 

Earlier that morning, before we left the house, a friend who lives in Colorado had warned us that a storm was brewing there, and it wasn’t looking good. But anyone who knows Colorado weather knows that it could storm at 2PM, followed by a bright blue sky at 4PM, and then a raging snowstorm a few hours later. A blue sky-storm sandwich if you will. You know what Colorado is? A Gemini. It cannot make up its mind. Is it hot? Is it cold? Why not have all four seasons in one day? Wait, what are we doing again? 

2020 watched the approaching flight time, sharpening its claws. A few minutes to our boarding time, we were informed that the flight had been delayed, and then shortly after, we were informed that it had been cancelled. 2020 broke out its vindictive pompoms and rejoiced.

But 2020 was no match for Alego grit. Let me tell you about my people. If we set our sights on something, we are unstoppable. Some might even say unbwogable. Come hell or high water. Come malice or saltiness. And so, 2020 was not prepared for this daughter of Alego, or her equally determined husband, who, though he is not born of Alego, belongs by association. Our son, well, he is Alego by blood, the kid is a trooper.

We soldiered on, finding a connecting flight through a different state, Arizona. We landed at 10PM, and headed straight to our gate, hoping to catch our Colorado flight shortly. We were literally standing in line to board when 2020 reared its ugly head again, this time in the form of the flight crew, to inform us that our flight had been cancelled. 2020 did a happy dance. One of the other passengers, a teenage girl, broke down in tears. I don’t know what her day had been like, but by the looks of it, 2020 had visited her too, adding her tears to its malevolent chalice, which overflowed with the grief and tears shed in 2020.

The airline declined to put us up in a hotel, but offered to take us to Colorado via Tucson early the next morning. We declined this extended airport tour of the southwestern states, and scrambled to find an alternative airline with a direct flight to Colorado, this one departing at the crack of dawn. In the meantime, we stayed at a nearby hotel, barely getting 3 hours of sleep, but getting much needed showers. Of course, this had to happen the one time I forgot to pack a change of clothes in my carry-on, figuring I wouldn’t need it for the short flight to Colorado. 2020 rubbed its crusty hands in glee.

The storm cleared the next morning, clearing our morning flight for takeoff. We touched down in Colorado, and were met by clear blue skies and scenic mountains. I hoped that 2020 had been swept away by the storm, alas, I spoke too soon. When we arrived at baggage claim, we were informed that our luggage had not travelled to Colorado since we ‘elected to use a different airline’. Did they mean to say that they did not understand why we would decline their extended tour of the Southwestern part of the United States? And all this after they declined to put us up in a hotel? And this great offer coming almost 16 hours after our initial flight was supposed to take off? Jeez, we really should be more adventurous.

Anyway, since Southwest airlines decided that they would not be delivering our luggage to our address, and we had a memorial service to attend, we hightailed it to a store and bought clothes to wear to the service, seeing as we felt that the fellow mourners would not appreciate the 1 day old clothes we were wearing, probably smelling like 2020. The look on one of the attendants’ faces when we asked her to give us scissors so we could cut off the tags so we could change into the new clothes was priceless. I could see the gears turning in her mind. Were we serial killers on the run, changing clothes to throw off the cops? Did we not have a home, a place to wear our clothes later? Were we insane? These and other thoughts flashed over her face, her mind racing. When we told her that we had a memorial service to attend, she sprang into action, scissors magically materializing. In no time at all, we were dressed in our new clothes, looking spiffy, not a whiff of 2020 on us, and headed to the memorial service for a 99 year old family friend. Yes, you read that right. 99 Years old! And she was one of the kindest ladies I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. She lived independently, driving and hiking well into her 90s. She didn’t want a big fuss made at her memorial, she wanted all of us to get on with the business of living, and to honor that, we did.

Memorial over, we were finally reunited with our luggage. I almost hugged my suitcases. Almost. But I didn’t know where they had been so I refrained. To Southwest’s credit, they did issue refunds and vouchers for our troubles. We then started our vacation, heading to beautiful Steamboat Springs in Colorado. And so began two weeks of an idyllic vacation, where our son got spoiled rotten by his grandparents, Babu and Tutu. If you were a fan of Redykulass back when Baba Moi was president, you may remember their skit on Murphy beds, immortalized in their parody of the president’s encounter with a Murphy bed while on a trip to the United States. Kitanda toka, kitanda rudi, kitanda toka tena, kitanda rudi tena. Turns out Baba na Mama, mwalimu number 1, Mkulima number 1 and Doktari number 1 was not the only person to be fascinated by these beds. So was our son, he couldn’t get enough of it. We told him it was called a Murphy Bed, but he had a cooler name for it. Toffee Bed. 

Kansas

He smelled like a goat. Not a sweet, fluffy California goat that smells like fresh mint and runs on yogi’s backs. No. He smelled like a rancid goat. One that had spent hot days under the unrelenting sun, packed with hundreds of other even more odiferous goats, bleating for relief, for someone, anyone to save them from the fate that awaited them at the nyama choma joints. 

He had the kind of body odor that permeated any space he occupied, seeping into walls, flooring, the furniture; indeed,  not even the plants in his office were spared. The fetid air sat around Emilia like a heavy blanket, and even though she had swam competitively in her college years and was therefore accustomed to holding her breath longer than the average person, her breath-holding abilities were no match for this man’s putridness. She watched as he sank into his seat, his considerable girth barely fitting in the armless standard issue office chair. His face was a shade of red she had never seen on a human being before. When he finally looked up at her, he spoke in an extremely high pitched voice, which was surprising considering how big the man was.

“What do you want?” he squeaked by way of introduction.

Emilia, struggling to breathe, explained that she was the analyst sent over to update the branch’s web security settings in light of a recent spike in suspicious activity. 

“Did I tell you what he was wearing?” she asks me. 

“No. What was he wearing?”

She grabs her head with both hands, as if she can’t quite rid herself of the image.

“Picture a very tall, very large man, about this big.” She stretches her hands wide to demonstrate how big he was. Emilia is not given to exaggeration, so I believe her.

“Now picture this giant wearing a wife beater, in an office. As in, his place of work. And this wife beater must have belonged to his child or something because it was basically a tank top. And pants so tight I was afraid the zipper would pop. Some things just cannot be unseen.” She shudders.

My amused look spurs her on. I picture a man with what my mum would call “tumbo kama ya politician” wearing what we call a ‘tumbo cut’ back home, squeezing himself into a chair that is too small, and doing all this while smelling like a goat in marikiti.

“Oh and that’s not the worst part. It had stains on it.”

“What kind of stains?” I ask.

“They appeared to be barbecue sauce or blood, I couldn’t tell which one. Maybe both.”

I shake my head in amusement. I mean, I work in California, and things are very casual here. Some people go to work in shorts and flip flops. But even they wear t-shirts with sleeves. 

“And then he reached into his desk drawer and retrieved a leg of something.” Emilia continues.

“A what?” I ask, wondering what on earth is going on in Kansas.

“Yep, he basically reaches into a drawer, grabs a leg of something, I’m guessing turkey or lamb by its size, reaches back into that same drawer, and retrieves barbecue sauce, slathers it all over the leg, takes a huge bite out of it, and burps so loudly, I jumped in my chair.”

I burst out laughing. This sounds like a bad movie.

“While he is chewing this leg, he asks me, mouth full of whatever it is he is wolfing down, barbecue sauce dripping all over his tank top wife beater, ‘why did they send a girl over. Don’t you have men left in California?’. And then he burped again. Really loudly.”

“I looked at him and the leg, now mostly bone, and asked myself what crimes I had committed in my previous lives to deserve this fate.” she muses. 

“I explained in detail what my assignment was and how long it would take. I didn’t think it was possible, but he got redder and redder as he finally understood what my job was. By the time I was done, he was apoplectic. In my experience, when clients are defensive from the get go, they have something to hide.” 

“Here in Kansas, we trust each other, not like you all over there in California, every man for himself. What I do on my computer is nobody’s business but my own” he raged as he finished devouring the mysterious leg and started to chew on the bones quite loudly, spitting shards across his desk.

“I didn’t ask anyone to send some Californian here to breathe down my neck! Get the hell out of my office, and out of my town. Go back to that damned California and don’t let the door hit you on the way out!” 

“At this point, he was breathing very heavily, shaking what remained of the bone at me. I hightailed it out of there, and back to my hotel. Good thing about coding is you can do it anywhere. My trip out there was just to introduce myself and see if it was a malicious attack on their software, but since the man outed himself, it made my job pretty easy. I was mostly relieved to be away from that stench and the flying shards of bone. Did I tell you about the food there?”

“No, tell me about the food.” I ask.

Emilia is a beef snob. She only eats Wagyu beef, but after a few days of eating vegetables, she decided to ask a local for steakhouse recommendations. The well meaning Kansan recommended a restaurant that offered what Emilia describes as ‘unique’ beef, which was of questionable origin because it glistened with a shimmer never before seen on beef. And it tasted like cardboard. After that experience, she was done with Kansas.

But Kansas wasn’t done with her. On her way to the airport, she was treated to the deafening sound of cicadas emerging from their 17 year underground residency, the grating sound getting on her last nerve. And just a few minutes before her flight started to board, she felt the tell-tale gurgling of her stomach that told her that her Wagyu beef-seasoned digestive system was violently rejecting the mysteriously glistening, rancid beef she had consumed in Kansas. It was a very long trip home.

Emilia has never returned to Kansas. 

NyarSiaya

I was made on a Monday, my mom says, when everyone was well rested, having had a great weekend, all the materials  had just been freshly delivered and not picked over, all the helpers were in a great mood, and voila! NyarSiaya, her pet name for me, was made. 

As a little girl, mom told me this often, when trimming my nails and complimenting how beautiful they were, or giving me a bath, or cleaning my ears, or attempting to braid my hair, whose bountifulness she constantly marveled at. I say attempting because even though my mom is a woman of many talents, a heart of gold and formidable intellect, braiding hair is not her thing. It’s fine, we all have weaknesses. Braiding hair is hers, and as weaknesses go, it’s not a bad one to have. “You were made on a Monday for sure,” she would say as she tried to tame my hair, “when hair had just arrived and God was trying to cram as much of it on one head as possible.” 

Since I was made on a Monday, I can braid hair to perfection, having inherited those skills from mom’s mother, Dana Athieno, a master weaver. Mom and I agree though, that the one part of us that was made on a Friday afternoon was our foreheads. It was Friday afternoon, and God had given foreheads to the early Monday morning crowd, making them so large they are called fiveheads. Said fiveheads were made to provide runways and continental breakfasts for mosquitos, as well as a shiny, beaming light for lost moths (God looks out for all creatures). By late Friday afternoon, only a sliver of foreheads remained, and God decided that it would be an act of mercy to grant mom and me the miniscule foreheads that remained rather than send us on our way without any foreheads. And so we ended up with purely functional foreheads, which is to say, enough to separate our hairlines from our eyebrows.

Mom tried, and failed to get me to wear dresses or anything girly, watching in dismay as her long awaited daughter tossed the mommy and me dresses she had made for me in favor of the tomboy hand-me-downs I got from my older brothers. I was going to climb trees and roll in mud, and I needed to be attired accordingly. Despite my tomboy ways, she didn’t waver in affirming me. She would tell me I was beautiful, teaching me self love, self confidence and knowing that I was enough, just as I was.

Recently, I was watching a Sauti Sol video where the group hosted a session with their fans, and one of the fans shared that she’d never felt beautiful, and felt invisible because the media and the music and film industry glorified light skin over dark skin. And apparently it crosses over to dating too, where, she said, men flocked towards light skinned women like moths to a  light bulb, making her feel like her dark skin was a cloak of invisibility. At that moment, she looked so defeated, and my heart went out to her. No one should have to endure scorn of any kind because of the abundance of melanin in their skin, and I hope that we all appreciate each other whether we are as melanated as the midnight sky, or as melanin deprived as Joe Biden’s teeth. Look them up, they are the whitest thing you will ever see. The glare might blind you.

I’m very grateful for a mother who affirmed me as a child, giving me the assurance to grow up into a self-confident, proudly African woman whose favorite feature is my melanated skin. 

Love the skin you’re in.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

“Someni vijana, muongeze pia bidii, mwisho wa kusoma, mutapata kazi nzuri sana. Remember that song?” She asks animatedly. I nod, instantly transported back to my childhood, the then ubiquitous track now an ear worm, Henry Makobi’s gravelly voice exhorting us to study diligently, extolling the virtues of the rewards that awaited those of us who heeded his words of wisdom.

“I was a kid of the system. You know that girl who always had neatly plaited lines, clean, perfectly ironed school uniform, shiny shoes, and covered books?” I nod, recalling my tomboy self at that age, and knowing I was definitely not that girl since being a tomboy and possessing lady-like tendencies at the tender age of six were mutually exclusive.

“Anyway, I was that kid. I was a rule follower, still was until very recently.” She pauses to take a big scoop of her hot sundae mint chocolate ice cream, examining it briefly before savoring it. “ Now I just do what feels good to my soul. I was the top student in my KCPE class, top ten nationwide. So I went to school in Kikuyu.” She says this in the same obnoxiously casual manner people use to say “I went to college in Boston” (Code for Harvard).

“Remember, I was a kid of the system, nose in books, no extracurriculars to speak of, no monkey business with Busherians. Not after my mother had scared me half to death by saying, and I quote, “If you play with boys you will get pregnant.”

So after four years of studiously devouring my books, dissecting frogs in the name of Biology, handling corrosive chemicals during Chemistry labs, enduring countless Physics theories, and suffering through many hours of chapel to help us walk in the light and save us from eternal damnation, I sat for and, naturally, aced my KCSE alongside many other bright girls, and that was the end of my four years at Alliance Girls High School. 

From a very early age, I always knew I wanted to leave Kenya. One of my uncles had been part of the Tom Mboya airlift, spoke with a very American sounding accent, and shared inspirational stories of the endless possibilities in that land of opportunity for those willing to put in the work. I looked forward to his visits because he brought us fun toys, and once showed me a laptop and let me use it.I fell in love with computers then. The next time he came back to Kenya, he brought me my very own laptop. You don’t understand how excited I was. It’s literally the equivalent of…” She pauses, trying to find an equivalent, something that will capture the enormity of the moment. She comes up empty.

“Being given ten acres of land?” I venture a guess.

“Bigger!” she responds

“Winning the lottery?” I ask tongue in cheek.

We both burst out laughing, knowing that the odds of winning the lottery are lower than being struck by lightning while being bitten by a shark while wearing sequins.

“No, it was literally like discovering a whole new universe, one you had never heard of before, but you were intuitively attuned to. Fluent in their language, ingrained in their ways. That is what coding was to me. I was a natural.”

“Luckily for me, my uncle returned to Kenya to live there permanently, and I now had a coding tutor. It was later on that I found out the unfortunate circumstances of his return. A nasty divorce had rendered him almost penniless, and he had decided to return home, rather than be destitute in the United States. He was an inventive guy, hustling before it became fashionable, and soon, he had started a computer college just when they were becoming all the rage. When I was in form four, he told me about all these scholarships I could apply for, to study Computer Science. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for that man.”

“Where is he now?” I ask.

“He’s retired, his business was very successful, he got out of the computer classes business and went into selling land. Matter of fact, I buy most of my land from him. Original hustler,that guy. Still has a hint of an American accent after all these years. He married a Kenyan chic and their kids are in college now, matter of fact one of my cousins stays with me in the summer. Good people, that family.”

“So anyway, I aced my KCSE, got into UCLA, on a full scholarship, like everything paid for. Nakuambia, I am blessed. Very blessed.So there I was, a kid of the system, on my way to my dream degree, but still very sheltered. I land in LA, and head nose first into my books. My grades were great in my first year. Then I met them.” She pauses, a faraway look in her eyes.

“Them?” I ask ominously, are we talking about the white walkers?

“Oh come on, you know them. They are everywhere. She waves her hands for dramatic effect. 

“The people who come here to go to school and hop on the party bus and never get off. That crowd that’s been here since God was a boy and have nothing to show for their time here.” 

I nod, I know them, everyone does. Well, unless you are them, in which case, I wish you well.

“So I partied hard. For the first time in my life, I had freedom. Gai! I have never had that much booze in my entire life. Parents really shouldn’t let their kids come out here straight out of high school. Bad idea. And the more sheltered the kid, the worse they get. Luckily for me, my uncle had a good friend who lived in LA, and she sat me down and gave me a very stern talking-to. That woman saved me from dropping out of school and becoming one of them. She would also randomly drop in at my hostel to check on me. By the time I was in my third year I had met my coding tribe and was so deep into coding that no one needed to worry about me joining the partying hordes. Fast forward, two years later, cap and gown in place, I graduated, first with my Bachelors’, then my Masters, and then I went all in for Permanent Head Damage, or PhD, known in certain circles as ‘no class ahead’.”

Then tech came calling. I was a nerd in a sea of nerds. My friends back home think I lead a very flashy life. I mean, here I am, a single successful female, making what seems like a bazillion to people back home. I have achieved everything I ever wanted professionally. I lead teams at work, I travel internationally, I can vacation anywhere I want. But something is missing. My mom thinks she knows what, or should I say who, is missing. A husband. Now, there’s something I knew I never wanted. Marriage just doesn’t make sense to me. I am in my twenties, meet this guy, and promise to love him forever? I don’t even know what I want to wear next week, how can I promise to love someone forever? Plus I like my space, and I like my house silent. This society and its KPIs.”

“KPIs?” I repeat, as I have never heard it used socially.

“You’re in corporate America, you know KPIs.”

I nod, waiting for her to continue.

“Go to school and make good grades. Check. Don’t play with boys. Check. Go to university. Check. Get a good job. Check. Where is your husband? Huh? At what point should I have met this husband while not “playing with boys”? Also, why must I have a husband? Awino, this world is a hard place if you are single. People automatically assume I am defective. Let’s not even get into the 50% divorce rate in these United States. Or the stranger than fiction stories I hear from back home of spouses competing to see who can sleep with one half of Nairobi before the other one sleeps with the other half. Or the domestic violence cases globally. But you know what I like? Women of our generation are not taking responsibility for failed marriages. Or sitting down and pining for errant husbands. They are not going the prayer warrior, fight for your marriage route. If marriage is war, then weddings should be at army boot camp training grounds, not in church. Some men are on the receiving end too. They are beaten, cheated on, stolen from, it’s a jungle out there. By the way, do you listen to Patanisho?” She asks.

I burst out laughing. This is the second time in as many months that that show has been recommended to me. A friend of mine recommended it a couple months ago. Yes, I am now a Patanisho addict. It is hilarious, it is heartbreaking, it is life. Ghost Mulei’s laughter gives me life.

“Yes, I listen to it on YouTube, usually when making dinner for my family.” She high fives me. Two Kenyans far away from home, connecting on having found a piece of home, courtesy of YouTube, whose offices are less than an hour away from where we are having this conversation.

“What do you tell your family now? When they ask you about marriage?” I ask her.

“I tell them the truth. That I need my space. That I don’t want a husband in my house. That ‘leave me alone’ is my love language. Motherhood is not something that appeals to me. The way I see it, my nieces and nephews stand to inherit all my money, so what’s the problem? More for them, right?”

“I finally found the missing piece after I called myself for a series of small meetings. I want out of corporate America. It is financially great, but it is a grind. So I will keep at it for a few more years, then I will quit and go teach coding to kids. That’s what I really want to do. Once I identified it, I felt at peace. Now I do it once a week and it brings me so much joy, way more than the job that pays me a ton of money. I told my family back home and they thought I had lost my marbles. But I am not living my life by anyone’s KPIs anymore. I’m doing me.”

We finish our ice cream pensively, two Kenyan women so far away from home, having taken somewhat similar career paths, but diametrically opposite relationship paths. 

She asks me if I always wanted to be a mom. I nod emphatically. I didn’t know much about what I wanted for my future, but I knew that I definitely wanted to have a child.

“Oh, one more thing,” she adds, “can you believe that with all the education we strive to attain, no one stops to tell us to invest our money and generate wealth? Like, no one. It’s a travesty, I tell you.” She says emphatically, as I nod vigorously.

“Some might even call it an abomination.” I chime in.

She continues, “and that’s why we have so many high income cliff spenders, they make a ton of money but are living paycheck to paycheck. It is tragic, if you ask me. Richness and brokenness are two sides of the same coin. Both are temporary, both can become permanent poverty or wealth. I love this quote “The rich invest their money and spend what is left; the poor spend their money and invest what is left”. 

I chew on that for a minute. It makes perfect sense. She drops another one, “We Buy Things We Don’t Need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

As a voracious consumer of investment articles, I am always appreciative of finding kindred spirits when it comes to investment ideas. One of my favorite quotes is “Would you rather look rich but be broke, or look broke but be wealthy?” And so we spend some more time talking about the almost mandatory land purchase that every Kenyan investor feels obligated to make, trading notes and contacts.

“What would you tell your younger self?” I ask her.

“Can I swear?” she asks

“Sure, why not.”

“To hell with the KPIs. And to hell with those who think less of my accomplishments because I don’t have a Mrs. in front of my name. Life is short, live it unapologetically.”