Majini

Legio Maria is a religion in my neck of the woods, the shores of Lake Victoria. The adherents of this religion are some of the most devout and close-knit group of believers I have ever seen. When entering the home of a brother or sister of the Legio Maria, you will be sprinkled with Holy Water, and a crucifix will be in full display, usually alongside a photo of their founder and Pope, also known as the Black Son of God, Simeo Ondeto.

Susanna had lived in the village of Mabungo her entire life. Therefore, she was no stranger to tales of the majini, alleged spirits who chose not to rest in peace and instead roamed the hills of Mabungo, scaring the living daylights out of locals, delivering hot slaps to those who would not move out of their way, and causing general mayhem. Susanna had never personally encountered the majini, but she was not one to deny their existence and dare them to pay her a visit.

Decades later, when Susanna was a married woman with children, she found that her husband’s income was not sufficient to pay for their children’s tuition, and being a resourceful woman, she found work as a maid, or Domestic Manager, in a nearby town. Since her youngest daughter Nyangweso was 19, Susanna didn’t need to be home tending to children anymore. Susanna’s employer, a retired university professor, was kind enough to give Susanna plenty of flexibility so Susanna could visit her family quite often.

Last December, Susanna went back to Mabungo to spend Christmas holidays with her family. While there, Nyangweso developed what the village medicine man immediately diagnosed as a case of majini. In other words, Nyangweso had been possessed by the infamous majini of Mabungo hills. She was manic, frantically running from one part of the village to the next at speeds Usain Bolt would envy. When possessed, Nyangweso became so strong that not even the village strongman could restrain her.

A desperate Susanna asked her local pastor to pray over Nyangweso as she slept. But after much praying in various tongues and screaming at the majini until he was hoarse, the pastor declared Nyangweso healed, collected payment and went on his merry way.

The next morning, Nyangweso woke up and took off again, but this time, she was speaking in tongues. All who saw her decided that even though she exhibited the same symptoms as she had before, she must be healed because she was speaking in tongues. When Susanna called her employer with the update, her employer advised her to have Nyangweso examined by a medical doctor to determine if what she had was a case of cerebral Malaria. Susanna declined, stating that her pastor was the eminent authority in spiritual matters and since he had not diagnosed Nyangweso with Malaria, then it was definitely a case of the majini.

A day later, Nyangweso had stopped speaking in tongues and was back to wreaking havoc in the village, overturning furniture, slapping strangers and causing general mayhem, before taking off at lighting speed. When Susanna called the pastor for a secondary consultation, he conceded that these majini were above his pay grade, and advised Susanna that a problem of that magnitude required a week of prayer and fasting. And so it was that Susanna called her employer to inform her that she would not be returning to work in January as planned because she would be incommunicado for a week while she fasted and prayed at a nearby cave commonly used by pilgrims for exactly that purpose.

A week later, a filthy, famished but hopeful Susanna emerged from the cave, eager to see the fruit of her prayer. To her dismay, there had been no improvement, in fact, Nyangweso had taken to throwing stones at strangers, which was a new and disheartening development.

It was time to call in the big guns. And when one needs to banish majini, who does one call? The Legio Maria, that’s who. Susanna restrained Nyangweso while she was asleep and awaited the arrival of the Legio Maria. They arrived in a row of flowing white and blue gowns, Holy Water and crucifixes in hand, solemn expressions on their faces, Rosary beads hanging loosely from their necks.  They were not there to make friends or small talk. They came for one thing and one thing only. The removal and banishment of the majini.

A small crowd gathered as Susanna led them to Nyangweso, who was struggling to break free from her restrains. They set up a makeshift altar next to Nyangweso’s bed and formed a circle around her, chanting and singing. Suddenly, Nyangweso went limp, as if the rage had been sucked out of her. The Legio Maria advised Susanna to let her sleep, as she had not rested in a very long time. They packed up their makeshift altar and left in the same manner in which they had arrived.

Later that evening, a renewed and calmer Nyangweso awoke, the majini nowhere in sight.

CoronaVirus

Mungu shuka na usitumane is a KiSwahili plea, used in very desperate times. The direct translation is “God come down and don’t send a messenger”.

My thoughts and prayers go to the deceased, the bereaved and the infected.

Silver Dollar Pancakes

Happy New Year! I realize it is March, but we have not spoken this year so, Happy New Year! Donge?

I have lived in this country long enough to understand that the States in this country are sometimes so different, they might as well be 50 different countries.  That said, I am proud to note that I now understand some common Americanisms, such as the peculiar threatening phrases used to wish each other luck.

American: Knock ‘em dead!

Me: Ah, excuse me, I am not a murderer. Also, who do you want dead? Never mind, the less I know, the better.

American : Break a leg!

Me: Again with the violence. Also, why just one leg? How do you choose the leg? FYI, I will not be breaking any leg, mine or anyone else’s.

It is this confusion that has led to some rather amusing and awkward interactions. For example, in Kenya, when someone invites you to join them for lunch, they will be paying for the meal. In the USA, you will each pay for your meal. Why then invite someone to join you for lunch when you have no intention of paying for the lunch? For the pleasure of their company of course! I once attended a presentation scheduled at lunchtime, titled “brown bag lunch”. I wondered why they would tell us the color of the bag they served lunch in. Did brown have a particular meaning? Of course, once I was at the presentation, it dawned on me that everyone had brought their own lunch, and I was the sole hangry attendee who did not know that a brown bag lunch meant to bring your own lunch. Now, when I see anything including a brown bag lunch, I do not attend. No thank you. Fool me once.

I have fully adopted the American tea drinking experience. In Kenya, there are two types of tea: with milk and without milk. The first kind, with milk, is the preferred kind. The latter, called sturungi  is what Americans call tea. Water and tea. That’s it. No milk, no sugar, ginger etc. The tea of suffering. The tea that says, look at me, I have no milk. I have no sugar. I am all alone in this miserable cup.

The milky version has lots of fancy names here, my favorite being chai tea, or in Kiswahili (tea tea). Note to all immigrants from milk tea drinking countries- brown bag your milk. (see above for brown bag definition)

There is a common Kenyan joke about a visit to one of my tribes-men’s houses that goes like this:

A visitor is offered many drinks, but leaves without partaking of any.

Would you like something to drink?

Yes, I’d like water please

Still or sparkling?

Sparkling please

Chilled or room temperature?

Chilled please.

Flavored or unflavored?

Unflavored please.

Would you like it in a cup or glass?

Cup please

Large or small cup?

I’ll just have bottled still water please!

Plastic bottle or glass bottle?

Glass please

Flavored or unflavored?

Unflavored please

Chilled or room temperature?

Chilled please.

Large or small bottle?

Large please

With a bottle holder or without?

The exasperated guest left despite being offered similar choices for tea, coffee and every other drink imaginable.

That is how I feel when I go shopping sometimes. I just want yogurt. Why do we need 50 different types, flavors and packaging? And then there are the eggs. Free range, organic, all-natural, pasture raised, large brown, large white, small brown, just brown.  Did they all come from chicken? Yes? ok. Just eggs then. It is mind-numbing.

Which brings me to the Silver Dollar Pancakes. Once I browsed shelves upon shelves of pancake options, including their close cousins waffles, I settled on an enticing box labelled “Silver dollar pancakes”. The box promised large, fluffy pancakes, piled on top of each other, blueberry syrup enticingly pouring down their side. I scanned the ingredient’s list and was satisfied that I would not be ingesting unidentifiable ingredients certain to cause diseases which, to quote my mother, even the doctor cannot pronounce. I was practically salivating at the thought of getting home, turning on the oven, sticking the pancakes in there and voila! I would unveil freshly baked fluffy pancakes and my family would rejoice and declare it all a roaring success and me the queen of pancakes.

What happened instead, was when I got home and opened the package, out rolled the tiniest pancakes known to man, woman and child. When I say they were tiny I mean TINY. You could eat these pancakes like you would popcorn. The disappointment felt in our hearts and stomachs after devouring the entire pack was palpable. It was then that my husband pointed out the obvious. A silver dollar is a large coin, from which the pancakes derive their name. Large, that is, for a coin- not so much for pancakes. Turns out there was one more American open secret I did not know of, much to the chagrin of my rumbling stomach.

 

 

Rainy Chronicles

Last night, my husband and I went to see the South African comedian Trevor Noah in San Francisco. We had looked forward to the show since tickets went on sale a few months ago, and bought our tickets and parking pass beforehand.

Since it was raining, we checked Waze beforehand to see how long it would take us to get to San Francisco. For the uninitiated, California has lovely weather almost year-round, which means that rain is A BIG DEAL. Although we get quite a bit of rainfall each year, people forget how to drive at the first sign of rain. Cars that can go upwards of 140 mph suddenly develop an inability to go past 25mph.

Certain bats from hell, who, I assume, are brain surgeons racing to perform life-saving procedures, fly past everyone, darting in and out of lanes, cutting in front of cars and braking suddenly when confronted with the reality of the rain-paralyzed drivers. This, of course, results in enraged drivers lowering their windows, angrily flipping out the offending bat from hell. Because, make no mistake, the rain may have paralyzed their driving skills, but their fine motor skills are weather-proof. Whenever incidents of road rage appear to start around me, I usually slow down and move away from that hot mess because this girl did not fly all the way from Kenya to become embroiled in road rage incidents that have nothing to do with her.

After a very long drive, we finally arrived at the swanky Chase center (new home of the Golden State Warriors), which was bedazzled in Christmas decorations. A ginormous Christmas tree greeted us at the entrance, with hundreds of selfie-taking couples crowding the area around it. Instagram will be lit- literally.

It was while we were standing in line ready to get into the arena that the comedy began. The security guard checked the ticket app on my phone and asked me, “Who are you here to see?” I responded, “Trevor Noah.”

“Oh, he’s in Oakland today.” the guard deadpanned.

I wanted to scream. We had looked forward to this day, hired a babysitter, driven in the rain for hours, had our car sniffed by a dog at the security check, finally found parking, only to find out that we were in the wrong city? Naturally, this alarmist train of thought was not a soliloquy. Outwardly, I froze and stared at my phone to make sure we had the right tickets. They were the right tickets, I looked up to find my husband and the guard laughing. They got me good.

Next, we went through airport type security and stood in a line where there were two very interesting characters. One was what we would call “mtu wa vitabu” back home. Meaning, a bookworm. Because who shows up to a comedy show bearing multiple tomes, requiring multiple passes on the scanner before they were cleared. I wondered if at some point during the show, while the rest of us were laughing so hard our faces hurt, this scholarly gentleman would open up one of his books and start to read, or if he would wait until the we, the general public, left, to lose himself in the latest volume of “The mind of the gentrified modernite” (he looked like the kind of person to read such esoteric literature).

I have encountered cheap people in my life. But the gentleman who was screened after the scholarly one takes the cake. If the cake is free of course. This guy had a water bottle, and as we all know, water bottles are not allowed past modern security screening stations. At first, I thought that maybe he hadn’t traveled anywhere before, and was unaware of this very basic rule. But I would very quickly be disabused of that notion.

He spent the next few minutes arguing with the security guard, asking why he couldn’t bring his water. She patiently answered his questions before giving up and rolling her eyes. She told him that he was holding up the security line ,and delaying others from entering the arena (I will take this moment to applaud Trevor Noah fans. Despite this inconvenience, no curse words were uttered, no middle fingers were flipped, and no fists were shaken in anyone’s direction.)

The guard told  the thirsty man that there was water for sale inside the arena, which finally revealed his real pain point. You see, the water inside the arena is very expensive (true, also San Francisco is a very expensive city to live in), and he wasn’t willing to pay for it (also true), and so he had brought his own water (not vitamin, ionized, sparkling) to drink. I should also add that the contentious water bottle was a plain plastic bottle- not the fancy UV light self-cleaning and self- sanitizing variety. The combination of the non-special water and the standard-issue plastic bottle added to the confoundment of all who witnessed the drama unfold. He was strongly encouraged to dispose of his water- and by strongly encouraged I mean two burly security guards showed up and assisted him in the task. He sullenly walked away from his beloved water bottle, ambling towards the arena, where, I hope, Trevor Noah was able to cheer him up.

Have a happy Holiday season, see you in 2020!

Miliki

Mabibi na Mabwana (ladies and gentlemen) welcome to the inaugural edition of my First World Problems series. In this series, I will write about things that are problems only because I live in the United States. Meaning, if I tell my mother about this “problem”, she will shake her head and say, “you people don’t have real problems”. And she will be telling the truth. Donge?

Like most boys his age, our son is obsessed with all things engine and/or wheels related. Construction trucks, trains, planes, bicycles, and even motorcycles (which he constantly reminds me he cannot wait to ride, much to my chagrin) occupy most of his play time.

This past weekend, we took our son to Tilden Park’s steam train and animal farm, so he could enjoy two of his favorite things. Trains and domestic animals. As a child being raised in the Bay Area, his interaction with chicken, cows, goats, sheep, geese, rabbits, pigs and other domestic animals is limited to various forms of media, as illustrated in the following paragraph.

Last week, while playing at the park, he found a dandelion and proceeded to make a wish before he blew its seed-head away. I asked him what his wish was. His very confident response was that he wanted a chicken riding a unicycle. So, if, in your travels, you encounter this acrobatic chicken, please send her my way, I will win the award of Supermom of the century, and may generate some income from this once in a lifetime oddity, thank you very much.

As you can imagine, my son’s non-exposure to domestic animals seems unfortunate to me, seeing as I grew up in close proximity to chicken, turkeys, ducks, goats, sheep and cows. I was very familiar with the annoying jogoo who would crow at the crack of dawn, unceremoniously waking me up from deep slumber.

Avid sports fans know Kenya for its world-class long-distance runners. They are unaware of Kenya’s other class of elite runners, the chickens known as “road runners”. These birds are always on high alert at lunch-time, dinner-time, and on double high alert when guests arrive at their host’s home. Case in point, a few years ago, while staying in Nairobi, our host could not make us chicken for dinner because our dinner had run away, as in, high speed, jumping obstacles, turning the corner without slowing down – literally running for their lives. And they succeeded that night. Let’s have a moment of silence to recognize the immense abilities of the steeplechase road-runners of Kenya.

Since a petting zoo is our only avenue  for our child to meet a ng’ombe and hear a moo live (or IRL as the kids say), then to the petting zoo we shall go. And so it was that we found ourselves at the petting zoo, feeding the cows, goats and sheep (who I must point out, are very finicky eaters- perhaps next time we should bring air chilled lettuce instead of the bunch we received from another parent at the zoo?)

When all of our lettuce was gone, and all the animals seen, our rumbling stomachs informed us that it was lunchtime. Because the zoo is located in what my lakeside relatives call the bungu (bush), there was no cell phone reception. We had planned to visit my brother after our zoo visit, and as we were getting hungry, I wanted to see what we would have for lunch. My brother lives alone, so one knows not to ask if he will make a hearty meal. He makes healthy yet delicious juices though. We all have our strengths.

Ten minutes later, we finally had bars on our phones!!! Shangwe na vigelegele (joy all around). I quickly texted to ask my brother if we could order lunch for delivery. He recommended Miliki, a Nigerian restaurant located in Oakland. Having had their delicious food before, I began salivating in anticipation of the jollof rice, pepper chicken, iyan and puff-puff (donuts) that were about to arrive in my empty stomach.

I want to state for the record that I love Jollof rice, whether it be Nigerian, Ghanaian or Cameroonian (I will not become mired in the Great Jollof Rice Debate). This love of Jollof rice makes sense to me, seeing as my DNA tests show a healthy amount of West African blood flowing through my veins. They are my cousins oooooooo.

It was around 1 pm, an hour later than our usual lunchtime, and we hungrily searched a popular food delivery app for Miliki’s menu, only to find less than ten items on their menu, none of which were my beloved Jollof rice. Not to be deterred, we Googled the restaurant, and their online menu was the same abbreviated version we had seen before. At this point, I asked my brother to place the order for us, and he assured us that it wouldn’t take long to get the food, so we should proceed to his house and we would order then. Twenty minutes later, both my husband and my brother were repeating the order to the lady on the phone- It was almost as if they were reading from two separate menus. After three rounds of repeated requests, made in two different accents (Kenyan and Colorado), they gave up.

My husband then decided to take matters into his own hands and personally collect the food while we waited. Forty minutes came and went, but still the no scent of jollof rice. My brother occupied my son by giving him a tour of his nascent orchard. My son helped himself to some goji berries and mint, as well as an insanely delicious vegan avocado chocolate chip cookie freshly baked and procured from the farmer’s market that morning.

Hunger comes in phases. First there is anticipation, then hope, followed by hanger, then, when your energy reserves are waning, the heavy weight of despair settles in your stomach, the food you were anticipating a disappearing mirage. Your body loses its impetus to fuel the anger, and instead goes into hibernation mode, not knowing when and/or if nourishment will arrive.

Seemingly hours later, my husband appeared out of that mirage, bearing our food. There was a lot of it. Jollof rice, chicken, tilapia, puff-puff (donuts), bean fritters (delicious- tastes like bajia), and iyan, a cassava flour fufu, completed the feast before us. My brother ordered tripe (and can my Nigerian cousins confirm this please- is tripe supposed to be really hard and chewy? In Kenya we boil it first and then fry it so it’s not hard when bitten). We sat down and devoured the delicious food.

Miliki in KiSwahili means to own, or to possess. And that is exactly what Miliki’s food will do to you. The smooth texture of the iyan accompanied by the peppery chicken dulls the bitter taste of disappointment that had settled on your tongue. They accompany the satisfyingly crunchy yet moist bean fritters, making their way down your parched throat, landing on the desert that is your stomach, nourishing it, so that the previous tenants, hanger and despair turn into a warm fuzzy feeling, and bloom into forgiveness. And that, my friends, is why I will be returning to Miliki. They might just have the answer to world peace.

Squashaggedon

My friend Ani is petite: five-foot-one on a good day, (and early in the morning before gravity compresses her vertebrae during the day) and very recently had her second child.

Ani is what I would describe as a nature lover. She eats all-organic food (including pasture raised and finished hotdogs), she receives acupuncture, cupping, sacral adjustments, detoxing foot baths, you get the picture. Ani is one with the earth.

The pesticide-steeped shadow of non-organic produce has never darkened the shelves of the store where Ani does her grocery shopping. One fine afternoon, a few weeks before her due date, Ani purchased spaghetti squash that was the very picture of health. Anyone who looked at this squash would have agreed that it was the exemplification of healthy squash. Ani was intent on making gluten-free spaghetti for her family that afternoon, and excitedly set about her task when she got home.

Almost an hour later, Ani sat down to enjoy the fruit of her labor, and when she took the first bite of the gluten-free, organic squash, it was very bitter. She did what we would all do. She stopped eating her meal and Googled reasons why squash would be bitter. Dr. Google, M.D, immediately informed her of a condition known as Toxic Squash Syndrome, a.k.a TSS (anything ending in Syndrome always sounds more ominous) that can be caused by consuming squash containing a group of chemicals called cucurbitacins. These cucurbitacins will result in what my doctor calls Gastrointestinal discomfort (extreme diarrhea) and excessive hair loss (also known as kipara ngoto in my neck of the woods).

Naturally, Ani, who was almost 9 months pregnant at this point, panicked, halted all squash-eating activity and proceeded to stick her finger down her throat to induce vomiting (to rid herself of the impending squashaggedon), when she ended up peeing herself in the process. Yes, she actually peed her pants. As one does when confronted by TSS. While she was processing this unfortunate turn of events, her doorbell rang. She quickly changed into dry shorts and went to answer the door. It was her colleagues, who had very thoughtfully surprised her with a group gift basket containing every imaginable goody a baby would need.

Ani was so frazzled by the thought of the potential side effects of TSS, that she blurted, “I peed my pants!” to the group gathered at her doorstep. After all, what’s pee among friends? It was in that moment that she realized the whole exchange was being recorded by one of her colleagues and would live on in iCloud infamy, not to mention the memories of the actual witnesses and all who would hear of squashaggedon .

Ani had a beautiful baby girl, she who survived squashaggedon and lives to one day hear the tale.

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!