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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tunga Sentensi

Happy New Year! I hope you and yours had a great ending to the “interesting” year that was 2017. I use the word “interesting” in the American sense, which means not good/ weird. More on this and other translations to follow in a future article.

As a child of the 8-4-4 system, I had to write compositions in English and Kiswahili (Insha). In Kiswahili class, one was often called upon to “tunga sentensi”, or compose a sentence. Now, as you can imagine, some of the sentences were “interesting”. For example, one would be asked to compose a sentence using the phrase “as fast as my thin legs could carry me”. Those of us who have Luhya genes definitely did not inherit thin legs. Not even in a heavy fog would our legs be confused for skinny. But since we were participating in creative writing, I wrote many a sentence detailing how my thin legs ferried me from an “interesting” situation, at superhuman speed, icy sweat trickling down my back (that was another favorite).

It was while reminiscing about my composition writing days that I decided to write more short fiction stories this year . These will be under the Tunga Sentensi Category, and will be written alongside my regular blog. Here’s to a great year full of good health and creativity!


Unfriendly Skies

It’s that time of year when families get together for Thanksgiving, stuff themselves full of turkey and other Thanksgiving yummies, and then wistfully look at those jeans they fit in two years prior and promise themselves that next year they will do better. Next year, they tell themselves, they will not reach for that piece of pie calling out to them.

Last year, my family and I were traveling home and were seated at an airport lounge waiting for our flight when I noticed a woman trying, but failing, to whisper into her cell phone. She was failing because, well, I could hear her quite clearly, and I wasn’t sitting close by. From what I could gather, her grandmother had waited until the family was gathered at the dinner table, where she revealed her political leanings, and this did not sit well with a good number of the family members, who walked out in protest, turkey and stuffing orphaned at the dinner table. To add insult to injury, said grandmother texted them (technologically savvy, grandma), asking them to come for left overs, as she, being a child of the Great Depression, was not one to waste food, political dichotomy aside. I never found out if the loud whisperer went to collect left overs or not, as our flight was called and we had to get going.

Speaking of loud whisperers, I love the Godfather. The book, that is. The movies, well, 1 was good, 2 was ok. 3. Where do I begin? WHY DID THEY DO IT? Why? There is not a logical reason why that movie was made. It was horrible. It was pointless. It was the kale chips of movies. Completely unnecessary. If I want to eat Sukuma wiki (kale), I will pluck it and I will cut it and I will eat it. Ok? Don’t sell me bitter chips wrapped in trendiness. But I digress. Many years ago, while on an overnight “red-eye” flight, I was reading the Godfather under low light, as most of the other passengers were asleep. Across the aisle from me was a gentleman. Please note that I use the word “gentleman” very loosely here. This “gentleman” was sitting with his two daughters, who were maybe 8 and 10. Out of the corner of my eye, I see this “gentleman” lean over to look in my direction, and then what must be the world’s loudest whisper followed. Think a whisper via megaphone.

“GET OUT OF HERE! Is that the Godfather? Don Corleone himself?”

At this point, the man’s two daughters were imploring him to stay calm, and, in the words of the older one, “Daddy please sit down, please don’t embarrass us!”

At first, I found it odd that such a young child would speak to her parent that way, but it would become apparent that the child in this relationship was not the 8 or 10 year old. My perception would soon prove prophetic.

At this point, the man had stood up from his seat and was very loudly whispering across the aisle to me, asking about different characters in the book. Had so and so been murdered yet? What about this other character? Had Fredo betrayed Michael yet? It was the Corleone Inquisition, albeit whispered. Yes, the whispered inquisition. His daughters tried, unsuccessfully, to get their father to go back to his seat, with the  ‘gentleman” yelling about Sicily and Don Corleone. Meanwhile, the sleeping passengers around us were being unceremoniously woken by the commotion. The man, who was well over 6 ft tall, and now past whispering, was loudly asking about Don Corleone’s father. I don’t think Don Corleone’s own children were as dedicated to him as this man was.

At this point, I could smell the vodka-scented liquid courage that had propelled him to Corleone Inquisitor-In-Chief. A woman who had been sleeping in the seat ahead of me and had been  awoken by Corleone-gate, was now an enraged red-eyed tigress, and her diminutive under 5ft frame was not going to stop her from confronting the over 6 ft tall Corleone Inquisitor. She asked him to sit down immediately, and the Corleone Inquisitor took it as well as we all expected him to. He lunged at her, his daughters attempting to stop him, and failing. The newly awakened tigress did not passively look on. She screamed at him, daring him to “fight if he was a man!” It took multiple air stewards to stop him and contain him to his seat. At this point, I closed my book and hid it away. Don Corleone needed a break.

*             *             *             *             *             *             *               *             *

Traveling with a baby takes a village. And not just the baby’s parents and immediate family, you see. It’s the other passengers I am talking about. If you want extra seats, travel with a baby. If your airline doesn’t offer family pre-boarding (which, is amazing), then you’re stuck heading towards your seat alongside everyone else. It is interesting to see the unblinking stares of passengers as you approach their seats, as if blinking magically assigns you to the seat next to theirs; and then the sighs of relief as you walk past them. One would be forgiven for thinking that the baby would firmly attach himself to the passenger’s back, who will be forced to carry this baby for the rest of his natural life, no vacations or retirement allowed, ever. However, you have to sit somewhere, and the look of dread, and finally resignation, which registers on the face of your seatmate when they realize that they are doomed to share close quarters with your offspring is actually quite amusing.

Many years ago, before I became a mother, I was traveling back to Kenya for Christmas, and I had the fortune (I will let you decide what kind), of being on a plane with a cranky baby. I don’t know if it was the air pressure, gas, the way the stars were aligned, the moon or simply the side of the bed on which the baby woke up, that caused her to cry as much as she did. She literally started to cry as we took off from San Francisco, continued as we stopped over in Seattle, and reached a crescendo as we flew over the icy isles of Iceland. This child, whose name I do not know, has a future as a singer. No, that doesn’t quite describe her vocal range. Mariah Carey has nothing on this child.

At some point, I could hear her mother comfort her, “hush baby, hush baby”. It did not work. I sympathized with the woman. What was she to do? They were trapped in this metallic object flying hundreds of miles an hour, several thousand feet above the Atlantic Ocean. She was doing her best to calm her child down, unsuccessfully so, but trying nonetheless. When we got to Amsterdam, I immediately went to my connecting gate, heading to Nairobi.

I like Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport. Do you know who does not have passengers showing up late to flights? Schipol Airport. Why, you ask? Well, a very very stern Dutch-accented voice announces “Passenger X, you are delaying your flight! Your luggage will be off-boarded!” That voice sounds like it belongs to someone with a very large, strong hand, which can slap you hard, leaving your face forever imprinted with a Dutch palm-print. Years later, when travellers at Schipol see you, they will slowly shake their heads, point at you and tell their children, “he delayed his flight at Schipol.” The children will pitifully sneak glances at your Dutch-palm-print-tattoed face and hurry along with their parents lest they suffer the same fate.

If you are ever late for your flight at Schipol, you will be wise to do one of two things:

1. Sprint to the your gate at speeds that would put Usain Bolt to shame. Or,

2. Hide deep, deep in the recesses of the terminal, so the stern voice (and face-scarring strong hand) do not locate you and your offloaded luggage.

There are also moments of excitement at Schipol, such as the time I was sitting at my gate, listening to music and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman leap onto her chair, at which point I instinctively put my feet on my chair. I removed my headphones and saw her point at something on the floor and scream in what I imagine sounded like Russian. Now, you don’t need to speak Russian to understand a terrified voice screaming in a foreign language. Sure enough, the squeaking culprits sprinted across the floor, leaving a Kenyan, a Russian, and a few Americans standing on chairs. See, mice can unite people.

At Schipol, connection time is brief, customer service is direct (see above), and, most importantly, they don’t separate you from your lotion like they do over at Charles De Gaulle in Paris, claiming it exceeds carry-on limits. If you ask what the liquid weight limits are, they respond in French, and as you can imagine, that is the end of that conversation. Oui Oui. But, I still remember my lotion. My dry hands remembered that lotion all the way to Nairobi.

When I arrived at the Kenya Airways gate, I saw my fellow Kenyan summer bunnies. I saw the school kids, massive headphones around their necks, wearing heavily logoed clothing, effectively walking billboards for what I assume were the latest fashion trends.

I turned around and I didn’t want to believe my eyes, but there she was. Baby I-can-out-scream Mariah Carey, with her exasperated mother. She was playing happily now, and it seemed her father had joined them at Amsterdam. I hoped that the nine hour flight to Nairobi would be more comfortable for that poor child (and by extension, me). As soon as we boarded the flight to Nairobi, the baby resumed her screaming. Her mother, having reached the end of her rope, yelled in DhoLuo “Ling’! Ibaro wiya! Choke!” (shut up! You are giving me a headache! Eh!). Gone was the soothing “hush baby” whisperer of San Francisco. She was left behind with the off-boarded luggage at the airport. In her place, a lioness known as NyarGem had emerged. And NyarGem didn’t play. Baby Mariah Carey was immediately quiet. I had to ask myself why NyarGem did not simply employ this tactic in San Francisco, and then I remembered that here on the plane to Nairobi, no one would call Child Protective Services if you scolded your child.

We arrived in Nairobi safe and sound, happy to be home. Happy Holidays!


Dogs are man’s best friend. In this age of equality, they are woman’s best friend too. That’s how egalitarian our canine friends are. The English phrase “A dog’s life” depicts misery and undue hardship. Whoever coined this phrase has clearly never met the Fur Babies (it is offensive to call them dogs) of California and New York. I do not believe in re-incarnation, but if it is a thing, I would not mind, in fact, I would love to come back as one of these Fur Babies. To call them pampered is an understatement. They have manicures, pedicures, dental visits (to make sure their pearly whites are sparkling), massages (’tis a stressful life) and dog whisperers to guide them through Fur Baby problems. The struggle is real y’all.

The petite Fur Babies of San Francisco, for example, wear jackets and shoes to match their parents’ purses (owner sounds too much like a forced relationship). I have stood in line next to a woman carrying a rather nice purse only to be startled when a furry head popped out of said fancy purse, pink bow in hair and frilly jacket covering it’s torso, big round eyes judging me. No self-respecting petite fur baby walks au naturel in San Francisco.

My friend, who will remain anonymous for this story, and who I will refer to as DS (Dog Searcher), has wanted a dog for a while. She is not looking for a petite fur baby who comes with a list of demands that would put divas to shame. No, she wants a dog. A barking, bone-hiding, tail chasing dog with some street credibility. Where, you ask would she find this street-wise dog? The pound of course.

Now, her search for a dog did not start at the pound. She knew that she did not want to spend the rest of her dog’s natural life sneezing due to fur shedding (some dogs shed enough to make a decent rug and a winter coat). She did her research and found a mid-sized labradoodle breeder, and seeing as labradoodles have hair and not fur, their shedding is negligible. Also, this breeder promised mid-sized labradoodles, and not the horse-sized version that is quite adorable as well- it was a match made in doggy heaven. She went home, excited at the upcoming puppy birth, and patiently waited for a few months. The breeder would call her once the puppies were born and she would pick one, and thus her dog search would come to a happy conclusion.

The promised due date came and went, with no word from the breeder. DS waited…and waited…and waited…for a few days. She figured it might take the breeder a few more days to get the paperwork and other minutiae out of the way. When she couldn’t wait any longer, she called the breeder. The breeder non-chalantly informed DS, after months of waiting for the puppy arrival, that the bitch (female dog), was not even pregnant in the first place. Where I’m from, we would say come srowry??? Meaning, WHAT???!!! Long story short, DS’ theory is that the breeder found a better deal and sold her puppy to someone else. And that is how DS came to find herself online, searching, not for the right man to spend her life with, but for a dog with street credibility. There’s an opportunity out there for a dog tinder. Swipe. Woof. Swipe.

Applying to adopt a dog in California is no joke. Your name, address, occupation. Why do you want a dog? What happens if you can’t care for the dog. Who is the next of kin. Do they know they are the next of kin? And if something happens to the next of kin, who comes next? (It is at this point that she should have started to question if this dog had madimoni. (Demons) that would cause so many owner deaths hence necessitating the string of next of kin). The chosen next of kin would have to fill a form longer than a mortgage application. But DS was determined to get a dog, and so she filled the form and submitted it. The waiting process to find out if she had been accepted by the pound was as nerve-wracking as waiting for a college acceptance letter.

The pound finally deemed her worthy to visit their dogs, and she went in, eager to meet this labradoodle she had seen online. Luckily for her, this puppy did not post a fake photo taken ten years and fifty pounds prior. He looked exactly like he did on his online profile and lived where he said he did. As DS approached the pen holding her puppy (she was that optimistic), she noticed that he was one of several puppies. She walked into the pen to hold him and was almost tackled by two women who apparently had their eyes set on some of the puppies. These women would put some linebackers to shame. They grabbed their desired puppies and clutched them close to their chest lest DS snatch them out of their grasp. DS picked her puppy and instantly felt a connection. The puppy hadn’t been fazed by the linebackers grabbing the other puppies- if that’s not street cred, I don’t know what is.

DS was very excited. This was finally happening! The dog search had come to a beautiful end. Next up, paperwork and then home with the puppy. Squiggly puppy in her arms, she headed towards the office, where she found the linebackers signing their paperwork and being waved out of the office, their new puppies in strong arms. DS approached the desk and found a very formidable woman (FW) staring at her. The following is the conversation that occurred. Names have been concealed to protect identities.

FW: What is your occupation?

DS: Answers.

FW: How many hours a day will this puppy be in the house by himself?

DS: Seven hours.

FW: (frowns and twirls pen) hmmmm…

DS: I will hire a dog-sitter to come and walk him at lunch time and take him out.

FW: Hmmmm…

DS: Is there a recommended occupation for dog owners?

FW: Most of our clients work from home, work part-time, are unemployed or retired.

DS: I work full-time but the puppy will have his meals and everything he needs.

FW: Here’s the thing. You will go to work and leave this dog in the house by himself. He will pee on your carpet. He will poop on your carpet. He will chew your furniture and you shoes. He will bark loudly all day and your neighbors will hate him and they will hate you. You and your dog will both be hated by your neighbors (she repeated for good measure, in case DS missed it the first time). And then you will come home after a long day at work and you will find a mess, your carpet will smell like pee (she didn’t specify whose), your walls will be smeared with poop (again, with the ambiguity about the origin of the poop, plus this puppy must be a poop picasso) and you too will be angry at this dog. Do you know what happens when a dog is left alone all day, he becomes an Angry Dog!

FW asked DS to hand the puppy back, as she was too gainfully employed for their taste. If she was willing to resign from her job, or change occupations, or find a way to stay home with this puppy, then they would reconsider her application. Anything to prevent the existence of another Angry Dog.

PS: DS’ search for a puppy with street credibility continues…

A sandwich named Kevin

My friend, let’s call her Fatima, loves Laotian food. Perhaps ‘loves’ is not the right word. It doesn’t quite capture the extent of her affinity to the culinary contributions of Laos to this world. As someone who has had the pleasure of enjoying this extraordinary cuisine, I completely understand Fatima’s appreciation, yes that’s what we’ll call it, ‘appreciation’, for Laotian food.

One Monday, Fatima worked from home, and therefore missed her then employer’s free catered Monday lunch, which she was ok with. She was ok with her choice to miss the lunch until she arrived at work the next morning to be told that she had missed Laotian food. Now, as you can imagine, Fatima was not pleased with this news. And this might be the understatement of the month. But, luckily for her, one of her colleagues informed her that there were leftovers in the communal refrigerator, and she was welcome to them. As you can imagine, this sudden turn of events brightened up Fatima’s dismayed spirits, and may I say, added a pep to her step.

Come lunchtime, peppy step in place, Fatima walked over to the kitchen, opened the communal refrigerator as instructed, and reached for the container she had been told contained the Laotian food. Perhaps the first indicator that something was not quite kosher should have been that it was in a plastic container, and not the usual styrofoam/ hard paper food packages that restaurants tend to pack their takeout in. However, seeing as she worked in a very ‘green’ and environmentally conscious company, it would not have been unheard of for one of her colleagues to find a clean plastic container to package the left overs. This would not only ensure that the food stayed fresh, it also kept the plastic container out of the landfill, therefore saving the environment one leftover container at a time.

Fatima took the food to her desk and found that it appeared to be a sushi-like roll. Who was she to question the Laoatian people as to their decision to start making rolls? She was but a religious appreciator of their cuisine. Whatever they chose to cook, she would appreciate immensely. Halfway through her meal, she heard a loud exclamation come from the kitchen. “Oh my goodness! someone ate my lunch!”

Maybe it was the tone of the exclamation, or the fact that deep deep inside, Fatima had her doubts about the existence of Laoatian rolls, but in that moment, she knew she was the “someone” who had eaten someone else’s lunch.

Now, we’ve all been the victim, or known someone who has been the victim of the heinous crime known as lunch theft. You slave over the stove and make what you consider edible, maybe great food. You can’t eat it all, so you pack some for lunch the next day. You leave it in the communal fridge and assume it will be there at lunch. At lunch time, your rumbling stomach leads you to the fridge, and you do a double take. Your lunch container is MIA. Gone. No goodbye, nothing. Hunger and anger marry in a quickie ceremony that would put Vegas chapels to shame, and hanger is born. You curse the thief in a string of four letter words. You even throw in insults in other languages. You hope they get explosive diarrhea and worms all at once. Everyone is a suspect. Come to think of it, Mandy’s lunch did smell suspiciously familiar. Brandon looked unusually full today, or was it the chronically dieting Liz who, at the sight of your delicious meal, broke her 2 day juicing stretch to indulge in your amazing cooking? Like I said, trust no one. Such are the workings of a hungry mind.

A mortified Fatima shot a quick email to her close circle of friends. “Omg. Oh! M! G! I have eaten Tess’ lunch”. Yes, the surprised voice coming out of the kitchen belonged to Tess, a colleague from a different department. “What should I do? Should I tell her?”

Note that at this time, it was too late to return the food as she had already started eating it, and she hoped that Tess didn’t conduct an impromptu check around people’s desks to see if she would catch the culprit In flagrant delicate. Fatima nervously checked her email, and on seeing no response from her friends, relied on what she calls ‘too many morals’ to make her decision. She stood up and walked to the kitchen, with significantly less pep in her step, to perform her mea culpa.

When she arrived at the scene of the crime, she approached Tess and below is the dialogue that followed:

F: I’m sorry I ate your lunch, I thought it was….

T: Grrrrrrrrr (looks at ground,deep breath)

After three more tries, Tess finally stopped interrupting Fatima long enough to let her finish her sentence.

F: I’m sorry, I really am, I thought they were left overs. I am happy to buy you lunch at any restaurant of your choice.

T: Leftovers? LEFTOVERS??? Those were hand-crushed sunflower seeds soaked in olive oil and hand-rolled in ORGANIC sea-weed.

F: I’m sorry. I really am, I will buy you lunch…

T: Grrrr (deep breath, avoids looking at Fatima). I am gluten free.

Tess stomped off and left Fatima standing there. When Fatima returned to her desk, her email was blowing up. The unanimous advice, which would have been super-helpful ten minutes prior, was “Do not say anything. Do not do it. Hide the container in the trash. Cover it with paper. Do not, under any circumstances admit to being the lunch thief. Eat the evidence and bury the container”

Well, it was too late. Fatima’s email pinged and Tess had sent a curt one liner also known as a nastygram.

“And you had better return my container.”

Right, return the container, in case Fatima was planning to eat it for dessert, like you do.

A few minutes later, Fatima saw Tess carrying takeout from a nearby restaurant, this after declining Fatima’s offer to buy her lunch in place of the pilfered hand crushed sunflower seed rolls. This restaurant was definitely not gluten free. But hanger is a strange thing. It can cause your body to forget that it is gluten free and happily digest wheat based food.

When Fatima’s friends finally met up with her that afternoon, she told them about her mea culpa. They were incredulous. What was she thinking, they asked. Had she lost her mind? Stealing lunch was no biggie, confessed one of her friends, let’s call her Alice. Alice habitually shopped the communal fridge for lunch. She informed her appalled friends that she had found food ranging from curries to dessert right there in the communal fridge. It was like a daily food fair, with different culinary experiences awaiting the daring palette. The highlight of her fridge browsing? A sandwich named Kevin.

Dear First Time Parents

Congratulations! Your bundle of joy is on his/her/their way. Whether this is the culmination of many years of peeing on pregnancy sticks, doctors visits, fertility treatments etc, and getting that sinking feeling because the tests were negative, or whether it was the culmination of peeing on multiple pregnancy sticks because you just cannot believe you are in fact pregnant (oops baby), and your first reaction was a string of four letter words, your bundle of joy is definitely still on their way. So buckle up!

Depending on your age, you might have had family and friends ask, sometimes subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, when you plan to have children. This same set of well-meaning family and friends will be over-joyed when they hear the news, so over-joyed in fact that you should prepare yourself for a deluge of unsolicited advice. It is all well-meaning, I have caught myself doing this to friends, so we are all guilty.

You will hear everything from don’t eat too many eggs, your baby will be too big to give birth to unless you opt for a C-Section. Or, do eat many eggs, they will make your baby smarter. No pineapples or cinnamon in your third trimester- those are a recipe for an early labor.

Lay on your left side, it will increase blood flow to the baby (see? I just plugged in unsolicited advice)

Speaking of labor, you will be amazed at how strongly people feel about whether you should get an epidural or not. Will said people take the labor pain on your behalf? No. Will they still tell you not to take the epidural? Yes. Understand that they are well-meaning and want you to experience labor like they did, and not take the ‘coward’s way out’. Also, all the anti-epidural literature out there says that if you do not take an epidural, you ‘fully’ experience labor. I am yet to meet anyone who has experienced labor say, “I wish I could have prolonged the labor experience. It really was enjoyable”. That said, you will also meet the pro-epidural camp who will look at you like you have two heads when you indicate that you will not be taking an epidural. Again, they are well meaning, and do not want you to experience what will be the most excruciating pain of your life. I actually don’t think excruciating fully describes labor. But I won’t ruin the surprise:)

Just remember, do what you feel comfortable doing- with the advice of you doctor/ nurse/midwife. That goes for who you allow to be present for the birth. Labor is not pretty. Nor is it the SuperBowl where all your dear ones should have a front row seat. Pregnancy forums online have horror stories of uninvited friends and family appearing in the delivery room. It is your child and you can limit guests until you feel comfortable seeing visitors. Whatever you decide, remember that women have been giving birth for a long long time, there are not gold/silver/bronze medals for bravest mother who labored the longest.

By now, you must have consulted the interwebs to figure out what to buy your tot. The interwebs is a dangerous place, and the baby industry is a billion-plus dollar one for a reason. The sellers know just how to pull at your heart-strings. You must play classical music to your baby in-utero. It makes them smarter. To help you bring the next Einstein into the world are several gadgets ranging in price and complexity. I know many hightly intelligent people whose mothers were toiling under the hot sun farming while pregnant. Maybe I should record that sound, package it in a fancy recorder and sell it as the genius producer.

Your tot must have the safest car seat out there. This seat must be able to withstand everything short of a meteor shower. A few hundred dollars later, you sleep well in the comfort that you will bring your new addition home in a destruction-proof car seat. I won’t go into all the other swings, baskets, organic bedsheets, clothing , creams and baby accessories that will set you back a few thousand dollars. Some items however, deserve a special shout-out. Do you want your tot’s eyes protected while bathing them? A flimsy foam hat which sets you back about $5 does the job, according to the adverts. In reality, you baby removes it, in the process ripping a hole into it while soap pours into his eyes, thanks foam hat maker. Another shout-out to the pee cover, supposed to protect you from the fountain of pee. In reality, the fountain of pee lifts the cover so you are still covered in pee, and $10 broker for it.

When you finally bring your baby home, be prepared for sleep deprivation like you’ve never felt before. You will want to find the person who coined the phrase “sleep like a baby”, look them in the eye, and ask them why they coined such a cruel phrase. Babies do not sleep. To give you an idea, set an alarm clock to wake you every hour on the hour, every day for 3 months. That’s right. A newborn wakes up to eat so often, you will forget what sleep was like before. I now understand why sleep deprivation is a form of torture. Try surviving on 40 minutes of sleep at a time, waking up at 2am to change an infant who manages to pee on your sleep-deprived face (thanks pee cover), and while you get your bearing and get new pajamas, said infant poops on the changing table. You finally get them in new pajamas and clean up the changing table in time for the baby to spit up on you and his new pajamas.

As a first time parent, there will be times when you will rush your baby to the hospital because you are just sure something is wrong. Your baby is grunting in his sleep, when all the newborns in the commercials sleep quietly. Newborns don’t open their eyes wide open, so of course you rush him to the optometrist to make sure his eyes are ok. Did she not react to a loud sound? Hearing specialist, here we come!

Speaking of doctors, feel free to change doctors if you do not feel comfortable with the one you have. Some have a gentle manner which is great and calming. Some are rushed and talk so fast they would put rappers and auctioneers to shame. Find one who is a good fit for you and your baby. Babies fall sick quite often, and it can be an alarming experience when your baby has a fever, but, they bounce back faster than we do. They are resilient little beings.

In your journey as a parent, especially as a mother, you will encounter a group of people known as sanctimommies. They are perfect mothers. You gave your child formula? The horror! You don’t use cloth diapers? You are poisoning your baby. You don’t co-sleep? Your child will have emotional attachment issues. You didn’t play classical music to your baby in-utero? My goodness this child will be intellectually delayed! You are not staying home with your child? You’re a bad and lazy mother.

What should you do when you encounter a sanctimommy? Wish her well and gently but firmly let her know that you will raise your child as you see best.

Say goodbye to TV and socializing for a while. Sleep is more important. Where there are people willing to help, accept all the help you can get. Also, if you are a stickler for planning, throw that out the window. Plans are constantly changing, and you will just have to take things as they come.

Another parenting “perk” ? When your bundle of joy starts daycare/ school, he/she will bring home all manner of bugs. An immune system bootcamp, if you will. Babies are more resilient than they seem. And modern medicine is great. Some of the bootcamp germs will make their way to you, so be prepared for pink eye, ear infections and my least favorite, stomach bugs.

If you were a squeamish person before baby came along, that will go out the window. Babies are messy. They poop, they pee, they puke, they spit up. Accept it, embrace it. You will leave the house and notice spit-up on your shirt. Wear it like a badge of honor. Your home will not be as tidy as it was before. It’s fine. Enjoy your baby, they grow so fast, other things can wait.

Why do people still have babies? Because they are the greatest thing that will ever happen to you. Nothing, no pain, or mess or discomfort will ever make you change your mind about being a parent. It is in our DNA to love our children more than we love ourselves. Elizabeth Stone said of parenthood “It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body” Truer words have never been spoken.




Fiery Avocado

It is said that you can remove the girl from the village, but you cannot remove the village from the girl. I grew up in a very small town in Kenya. Maybe you grew up in a small town too. But my small town is better than yours. How do I know this? How many Olympic and World record winners hail from your small town? I grew up in Eldoret, the home of too many Olympic medals to count. As you can see, I am very modest about my small town. Despite its world-class athletes, there are certain worldly things that had not made their way to Eldoret when I lived there.

When I moved to the United States, my brother decided to take me to a sushi restaurant. Prior to this, I had no experience eating Sushi. It wasn’t the chopsticks that phased me.Anyone who has gone through the 8-4-4 system and has had classes ranging from tailoring, cooking,carpentry and animal husbandry will not be intimidated by two wooden sticks. The fact that I cannot sew, draw, or make furniture just goes to show that despite Baba Moi’s best efforts, some students just cannot be helped. My sincere apologies to Baba Moi*.

When it came to sushi, the thought of eating raw fish, whether wrapped in rice and seaweed or not, just did not sit well with me. Nonetheless, I decided to try something new. I am glad I did, because the sushi was actually quite tasty, and remains one of my favorite foods to this day.. One of the side dishes was thinly sliced, pickled ginger. I added that to my sushi and it was even better. Next to the ginger was what appeared to be a small lump of avocado. I found it odd that the restaurant served avocado in such small quantities. But, being new to Japanese dining, I assumed that it might be a cultural thing. I scooped a spoonful of “avocado” and put it in my mouth.

Perhaps the first inkling that something was wrong should have been the fact that one of the patrons, an old lady, who saw me put the “avocado” in my mouth, instantly tensed and gasped. The next few minutes seemingly occurred in slow motion. While I was trying to figure out why the old lady had had such a strong reaction to my eating an avocado, I finally understood what the phrase “to drink from a firehose” meant.

It felt like a firehose had been forced into my mouth, and with nowhere to escape, the fire had gone up my nose and ears. My eyes watered, my ears, for lack of a better word, screamed. My throat was on fire. I reached for a glass of water, desperately trying to calm the wasabi induced inferno in my head. The old lady who had seen me ingest the whole thing had this pitiful look on her face. The kind you have when you wish you could have stopped something from happening- even though it happened so fast that you couldn’t possibly have.

To this day, I steer clear of Wasabi. It has been more than a decade since that incident occurred. But I remember, my throat, nose and eyes remember. The girl who grew up in the small town will not go anywhere near the innocuous-looking fiery Avocado.

*Baba Moi was an alias used by most Kenyans to describe President Moi, Kenya’s second president.

When Nature Strikes

Siku njema huonekana asubuhi, a Swahili saying, literally translated- a good day can be seen in the morning. Recent experience tells me the same is true for, well, strange days.
We were sleeping soundly, having spent the afternoon at Lydgate Beach, Kauai. It is a beautiful beach with a baby-friendly shallow section cordoned off, and a nearby deeper section for adults.

And so it passed that while we were in the midst of sunny dreams, a piercing crow shook us out our slumber. Now, I am no stranger to the wake up call of a rooster. I grew up in a small town, so I am quite familiar with nature’s feathered alarm clock.  However, I haven’t heard a rooster crow in over 10 years, and I certainly was not expecting to hear one at the ungodly hour of 4 am while vacationing in Hawaii.

A few year back while vacationing on Maui, I learned about the Chicken Gone Wild (CGW). Sounds like the Real Housewives Franchise, doesn’t it? Local lore has it that the CGW were previously domesticated, but, when nature struck in the form of a couple of hurricanes, the CGW fled their coops and have roamed free since. These chickens put the ‘road’ in Road Runner. Free range chicken ain’t got nothin’ on these CGW. Our tour guide informed us that due to the CGW’s toned muscles, the recipe for cooking them is simple. Find a rock, drop it in the pot with the CGW. When the rock is fully cooked and soft enough to chew, your CGW is ready. Bon Apetit!

Later that evening, we signed up for a gong yoga class. I was curious about the gong, and so my MIL, SIL and husband drove over to the local community center for the class. We were welcomed by our instructor Diane, a petite lady dressed in all white. She pointed us to our yoga mats on the floor and we walked into the room of approximately twenty participants. Diane explained that we would be meditating to the sound of crystal singing bowls and then she would play the gong. She informed us that Kundalini warriors played the gong to obtain clarity of mind before going to war.

Crystal singing bowls are hard to describe. They are very calming, and soon the darkened room was silent, each of us focusing on our breathing and calming our thoughts. As it turned out, some of us were more relaxed than others, so much so that a few of the participants fell soundly asleep and began to snore. The instructor calmly asked everyone to be considerate and keep the train-like snoring down, to enable everyone’s mind to achieve a zen like state.

Alas, there was to be no zen-ness in that room. As Diane played the gong, the snorer struck again, and soon the room was filled with his guttural snore. I looked over at my SIL Claire, and we shared a frustrated look, but, determined to find our inner zen, went back to meditating.

What happened next cannot really be put into words, but I will try. You see, we had expected the gong to provide clarity of mind. But clearly, one participant had reached the next level of enlightenment and achieved clarity of the digestive system. I was trying to calm my thoughts when I heard what sounded like a tear, or a rip. Actually maybe it sounded more like a series of pop pop pop sounds. Like the unshackled Chicken Gone Wild, this farticipant (so named by my FIL), moved by the ancient gong, let loose, and so here we were, trapped in a small room, with the Usain Bolt of farting, trying really hard to stay zen. I couldn’t hold my laughter in anymore. Tears streamed down my face as the instructor chose that moment to ask us if “anyone experienced something they didn’t expect”. While I was processing that, she added, ” Would anyone would like to feel like this for six days”. With the snorer on one side and the farticipant on the other, the timing of her marketing plug couldn’t have been worse. I chose not to pay to have a repeat of that experience. Thank you Mother Nature. Oooooooom.

Hangry travels

I had been looking forward to our Kauai trip for weeks, so much so that the week before we left, I changed my work email signature to a cheerful Mahalo!

On the morning of the flight, we woke up dark and early and headed to the San Jose International airport. We took a shuttle to our terminal and had just enough time left to grab a muffin and a bottle of water before we boarded our flight at 7.30 am.

In my culture, rubbing your eyes/ twitchy eyes indicate some kind of misfortune ahead. My eyes had been itchy since that morning, but I attributed it to allergies. I was sleep deprived and looking forward to some shut eye on the flight. Little did I know that my skepticism of superstition would cause me much misery.

The flight departed on time, and before long we were banking over the bay area. I love take off time, the weightless feeling during lift-off. I especially like it when a plane banks, it adds to the flying experience.

Two hours into our flight, a passenger suffered a medical emergency. I have to commend the ladies and gentlemen of Alaska Airlines for their prompt response to the emergency. They summoned a doctor and two nurses who happened to be on the flight to assist, and immediately made the decision to divert the flight to San Francisco Airport (SFO) where the patient would be quickly sent to an emergency hospital to receive medical care.

Two hours later, we landed at SFO and the patient was quickly evacuated. The pilot explained that because we had landed with an almost full tank of fuel, the airplane’s emergency landing system had to be inspected. The crew also had to replace the medical equipment, snacks, drinks and other amenities. This process took about four hours, and like most passengers, I assumed that a meal would be provided, since an extra six hours had been added to our flight time.

Our son got to make a few friends on the grounded plane. He is quite tall for his age, and we noticed that two of the other babies were equally tall for their respective ages. All the tall babies go to Kauai in April-May methinks.

Finally, we were ready for takeoff again, with the crew offering profuse thanks for our immense patience. Once we had reached cruising altitude, the flight attendants offered light snacks, and by light I mean light. There was a piece of chocolate, some crackers, a few nuts and a small drink. There was no mention of a complimentary meal for the passengers who were stuck on the plane at SFO and not allowed to off board to purchase our own meals.

On a typical day, I have breakfast at six, brunch at 9, lunch at noon…. you get the drift. I love to eat. Hunger + anger = Hanger. My son had his milk and snacks, and my husband, being the laid back guy he was, got by by eating some honey roasted peanuts and graham crackers we had brought with us. I needed something a bit more solid, and so we flagged the flight attendant to order a meal. She calmly told us that they were out of food, and would we like some crackers? I wanted to smack her with those crackers (hanger), but I politely declined to purchase crackers for $7. Daylight robbery I tell you.

We managed to subsist on the honey roasted peanuts and soda, and finally, after a long and painful flight, we landed in beautiful Kauai. My in-laws, who we were vacationing with, were kind enough to greet us with home-made sandwiches, which I munched down in record time. Hanger partially sated, it was time to get a car rental.

Everything in Kauai is on what I call “hakuna matata” time. It means no worries, take your time. No, really, take your sweet time. We got in line, and with four people ahead of us, I thought it would take 15 minutes maximum to collect our car. How wrong I was. One hour later, we were still waiting as we heard the typewriter like printing noises of the printer, and the admonitions of the Avis attendants trying to get passengers to upgrade their vehicle of choice and/or purchase insurance because “anything can happen”. What is this, Game of Thrones?

Our turn finally came and the lady at the counter tried to offer us a minivan, which I turned down immediately. She then offered us an upgrade, which we gladly took and were finally off on our way.

Kauai is a tropical paradise, it really is. The water is a deep blue, the weather tropical and the fruit great. Hakuna matata indeed.

Foul Creature

It is Lent. While I am aware that we are not supposed to ‘wear our sorrows on our heads’, and announce what we are giving up for lent, allow me to break with tradition to tell you about a foul creature who wandered into my life on this beautiful sunny California Sunday.

On Ash Wednesday, I chose to give up my daily ration of sweets and limit myself to eating sweets once a week. Now, anyone who knows me understands that I don’t just have a sweet tooth, no no no… I have sweet teeth, all 32 of them. So, as you can imagine, limiting myself to once weekly sweets has been a challenge that has tested my Catholic upbringing to its limits. To call this sweets Semi-fast (SSF) an uphill battle does not even begin to describe the magnitude of my love of all things sweet and the intense cravings that assailed me on the first week of my SSF. By the time my first weekly ration of sweets day (Sunday) arrived, I was ready for my sweets. I went and purchased what looked like a very tasty French-named pastry. That pastry should be renamed disappointment (pronounced Dees-aah-poh-eent-moh in an ode to its French roots).

Fast forward a few weeks later, and my husband and I decided to join some friends at the local Sunday Farmers’ market. We took our son with us and being the social boy he is, he quickly found other babies with whom to commiserate over the lack of muddy puddles to play in.

I told my friend that this was my sweets day, and she pointed out that a new crepe stand had been added to the usual fruit and pastries stands, and we decided to try it out. I ordered a banana-nutella crepe, which was divine gooey goodness. I am new to the world of Nutella, and I am still very much in the oh-my-goodness-where-have-you-been-all-my-life stage with this sugary goodness. So, as you can imagine, I was thrilled to have come across Nutella in a crepe for the second time in as many months.

Once my crepe was ready, I artfully arranged it on my plate, took a few bites and savored the warm banana-chocolate taste. I was so engrossed in singing praises of my crepe, and talking to my friend that I did not notice that a coup was underway. You see, while I was extolling the virtues of the right mix of Nutella and banana served at the right temperature, a foul creature was finalizing its plans to invade my beloved crepe. And so it was with profound shock and horror that I noticed the foul creature, newly landed on my crepe, its long legs sticking out of the melted Nutella.

In that moment, a few thoughts crossed my mind. Well, technically germs are in a state of shock, and Nutella is quite thick, so the germs can’t travel to the other side of the crepe, right? Wrong. The foul creature, having read my mind, stretched its long spindly limbs in a gravity defying motion and walked across my crepe! Any efforts to curtail the foul creature’s movement were immediately thwarted by the creature’s other limbs. In that moment, I had a reality check. My crepe was a lost cause. And there in lay a life lesson. Sometimes, life hands you lemons you can make into lemonade. But sometimes, life just sticks a foul creature in your Nutella banana crepe, and there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it. I tossed the entire crepe, foul creature included, into the trash can. May that foul creature rest in Nutella banana bliss.