Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to the phenomenal women who birthed us, and whose love for us is unconditional.

Happy Mother’s Day to the phenomenal people who did not birth children, but loved and raised those around them as their own.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the phenomenal men, who have, for various reasons, filled a mother’s role in their children lives.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the hard-working mothers and mother-figures who toil all day and sacrifice time with their families so they can provide for their children.

Happy Mother’s Day to the brave women who serve in the Armed Forces, often in countries far away from home, for months at a time. Thank you for your service, we salute you.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers who are ill and fighting for their lives, may they recover and be reunited with their families soon.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers who have survived Cancer, we celebrate you.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers who are expecting their first children, welcome to the club. Motherhood is to know what it feels like to have your heart live outside your body.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers who suit up every day to work in medical facilities and risk their lives to treat Coronavirus patients, you are superheroes.

“Straight A” students

“Mom, didn’t you tell us that you were always number 1 in your class and that you always got straight As in all subjects?” Nekesa’s son asked her, a very puzzled expression on his face.

“This coronavirus!” Nekesa muttered, her palms starting to sweat. You see, in this time of Coronavirus, parents have become teachers. Until now, some parents were safe in the knowledge that their alleged straight A, top of the class, walked 13 miles to school, uphill both ways and all done barefoot stories would never be tested. Once, Nekesa’s son had questioned the veracity of the uphill both ways story, seeing as unless Nekesa’s childhood home moved farther uphill each morning, then that story was a physical improbability. Nekesa had pulled the ukali card and that had shut him up.

The truth of the matter was that Nekesa and numbers were like oil and water. She had never liked or trusted math. Something about math did not make sense to her, and the minute she completed her math paper in her secondary school finals, she had walked away from math and never looked back. It was a toxic relationship and she was done. When her father had seen her dismal F in math, he had remarked that she must have earned that grade by correctly spelling her name and nothing else.

Thirty odd years after the nightmare of her final math exam, she thought of ways to save face in front of her child. Silence stretched between them, her son looking at her expectantly, mistaking the frown on her face for deep concentration. Little did he know that the specter of calculus had resurrected long buried nightmares she wished to keep that way. In that moment, she wished that her husband, a doctor at Nairobi hospital, who was fighting to keep patients alive, was home. He and his son were numbers people. When they saw numbers, they did not run for the nearest exit. They gravitated towards them, probed them, re-arranged them, tried to make sense of them. Nekesa did not possess any of these inclinations. And so she stood there, staring at the book, when a miracle happened.

Nimepata toilet paper** na mkate!” Her housekeeper, a stocky lady who had worked for Nekesa’s family since her son was a baby, announced triumphantly, holding the toilet paper and bread up high, like a prize she had won in a bitterly fought contest. And knowing her, one or two people may have been elbowed out of the way in the process, in direct contravention of social distancing rules extolled by Dr Fauci and his well-informed brethren in all countries. Nekesa suddenly became engrossed in the storage of the toilet paper and upcoming dinner plans. Coronavirus had robbed her of her right to congregate, move freely and sing in her church choir, but she would be damned if she would also let it rob her of her dignity.

Her son decided to wait for his father to get home, after all, numbers zina wenyewe.

**You see, in the days of Coronavirus, when we hang on to every word Dr Fauci and his brethren spoke, and like the good students we were, sheltered in place, toilet paper was a prized possession. It was almost a status symbol to say, “I have 20 rolls”, to which I imagine those not so lucky would cluck their tongues in envy, amazed at the big roller’s planning skills.

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.

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.

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!