Morsels

I stared at it in disbelief. I looked at my husband, who stared back at me, and in unison and dumbfounded silence, we stared at it. It sat there, unabashedly mocking us, daring us to send it back, to denigrate its proportions. To tell it that it was not enough, that even though we had let it into our home, we would send it back into that cold, scary world. 

We speak 4.5 languages between us, but those languages, having assessed the situation, to borrow a Primary school favorite phrase, took off as fast as their thin legs could carry them. We were on our own. Even I was lost for words, and if you know me, you know that is nearly impossible. Yet, here I was, shaking my head in disbelief. It was what we call a mako dhoga situation. It had literally gripped my mouth in a vice of silence.

I am part Luhya. You know what that means. For the uninitiated, my Luhya handiz and hankoz (aunties and uncles) are known for their close affiliation with all things food. To be Luhya is to love to eat. Facts. Ask any Kenyan. They will confirm these facts.

And while this child of the Abandu definitely inherited that gastronome gene, albeit a slightly modified one, interested only in food that falls in the delicious and moderately sized category, nothing prepared me for the sight before me.

You see, a good friend presented me with a gift card to a fancy restaurant in town, and so, after perusing their online menu filled with exotic descriptions like Gruyere and Emmenthaler, we ordered what appeared to be a delicious array of food.

Mungu halali. The first sign should have been that the restaurant’s online menu did not contain photos of their food. Online reviews yielded fuzzy photos, which really should have been the second and final warning. But did we listen? No. Why? Because, free food from a fancy restaurant, also, when else will I get my smoked gouda via gift card?

I waited patiently while my husband went to collect the food, and since it had been a few hours and a workout since my last proper meal, my hungry brain conjured images of a chef in starched whites, hat delicately balanced atop her head, delicately preparing our feast, barking at the sous chef to make sure the ravioli was al dente and the pollo’s internal temperature was at a perfect 165F.  And then the maître di sala, who insisted that everyone refer to him as “Signor Francisco Jacobo-Giovanni”, dressed in funereal head-to-toe black, embracing a post COVID world and pivoting to ensure the food was perfectly packed for delivery, wishing us,’Buon Appetito’ in an nasal accent vague enough to sound Italian to the untrained ear, but equally baffling to those familiar with that country.

My dreams appeared to materialize when my husband walked in carrying the feast, the aroma of the garlic braised chicken and ravioli filling the kitchen, propelling me towards the source.

Mapipi na Mapwana, ladies and gentlemen, that is when the Luhya in me, let’s call her Nakhumicha, stopped in her tracks, and my dreams died before my eyes.

“Vane!” she exclaimed, before all language deserted her.

There, before me, were three tiny boxes of chicken. T-I-N-Y. This food had cost almost $50. $50! Fine, it wasn’t $50 of our money, but still. It was an atrocity.  It was literally the size of two handfuls of a class three child. And not one who will grow up to become a Kenyan policeman with hands the size of an industrial fan. No, these portions were equivalent to a tiny pair of eight year old handfuls. 

Some may say, “Awino yawa, you didn’t even pay for the food, what is?” please read that in a Luo accent.

It was the injustice of it all. Who, in their right mind, does this? And to Nakhumicha of all people? Serves a tiny handful of chicken, without rice, pasta or any other food that would “hold the stomach”? I was hungry. I had been saving my appetite, pardon me, appetito,  for this feast. I mean, I wasn’t hoping for ukari, I didn’t expect mrenda to accompany this atrocity. Nakhumicha, was outraged. Outraged enough to write this article, but not enough to forgo the handful of chicken. To add insult to injury, it was some of the most delicious chicken I have ever eaten. All three bites of it. Pinyni tek.

TMI

“But why does he have to call it The Gonorrhea?”

I was roaming the aisles of my local supermarket, grocery shopping, when I happened to overhear this obnoxiously loud and TMIous conversation that was unraveling over speaker phone.

You have to understand, this is a normal supermarket. The kind that sells things like milk, bread, fruit, kombucha and kids clothes. More specifically, I was in the hair products aisle, because, team natural.

When I walked in that afternoon, I thought the most exciting thing that would happen was that I would find my favorite products on sale. I was bummed that I had forgotten my earpods at home, and would have to shop to the generic music the store played, which is definitely not Afrobeats.  Little did I know that the universe saw my frowny face and decided to turn that frown upside down, courtesy of she who shall not be named. Scratch that, she who I named The Voice.

As I was holding two competing deep conditioner brands in hand, contemplating the virtues of Jojoba and vanilla, The Voice returned.

“I mean, why not call it Gonorrhea like a normal person?”

Eyebrows raised, I turned my head, scanning the area around me, eager to locate the source of this voice that roamed free, unencumbered by the societal straitjackets of propriety and inside voices. The deep conditioners, which until that moment had commanded my undivided attention, were urgently returned to their shelves, moisturized hair falling far below this new development on the totem pole. You see, when you live in a suburb as quiet as the one I live in, where the most exciting thing that happens is NIMBY protests, this conversation was the UFO of occurrences.

At this point, The Voice had moved closer to my aisle, I imagine, at the urging of the universe.

“Go there,” The Universe whispered

“Where?” The Voice bellowed

“Closer to the hair products aisle, your roots could use a touch-up or two.”

“You’re right! Thank you Universe!”

And so, I heard The Voice drawing closer.

“I mean,” I noticed she said ‘I mean’ a lot.

“I mean, remember when he had Syphilis? Which he also insisted on calling The Syphilis??? As if he had the grand finale of the disease? Like dude, how many lives do you have?”

At this point, I also wondered how many lives Dude had, and how many more he had left in the bag. It sounded like having discovered that no one leaves this world alive, he was living his best life in these streets, painting each corner every color known and unknown to womankind, and would take zero regrets to his grave. Diseases, many, but regrets? Zilch.

Since The Voice was practically on the next aisle, I could hear her companion’s voice over speaker phone, saying something about amends.

“He is making amends? So now we all have to hear about all the diseases he has? Do you know how many countries he has been to? Is he gonna make amends around the world???” The Voice asked incredulously, releasing the long-suffering sigh of one who has seen and heard it all.

At this point, I was dying of curiosity, I wanted to see this woman who felt the need to have such a deeply private conversation in such a public space, and sure enough, the universe delivered. She rounded the corner, talking about how Dude got so many women because he also spoke French and Spanish. A real man of the world, this Dude. She popped up on my aisle, where I was rooted to the spot, having been so engrossed in eavesdropping that I did not even bother to conceal my nosiness. Now, standing face to face with her, I immediately switched back to apparent shopping mode, staring at the array of conditioners and masks, wondering how anyone was supposed to choose any one of them when they all promised luscious, bouncy hair. I maintained this pose, the labels before me a blur, as The Voice moved closer to me, examining the array of products, and finding the selection of over 200 options wanting.

“Why don’t they carry black hair dye, I’m blonde but blondes like to dye their hair other colors too!” she exclaimed, looking at me for commiseration, in a ‘ do you feel my pain’ vibe, even though I am neither blonde, nor do I dye my hair. I nodded noncommittally, gave her the standard 1 second American smile, and continued to appear to examine the products ahead of me, afraid that if I responded, I would be voluntold into being an active participant of the Dude Commission of Inquiry. Disappointed by my lack of empathy, she moved on to the next aisle, telling the person she was speaking to that she would have to call them back, and went in search of an acceptable hair dye, or perhaps someone who was a bit more simpatico.

At this point, a victim of analysis paralysis courtesy of the rows and rows of choices before me, and having experienced quite the exciting shopping trip, I gave up on selecting a deep conditioner, loaded up on my probiotic drink, and headed home, where there was peace, quiet and no Voices.

Carpenaum

“Bro!” Nadab called.

“Dude, what?” an irritated Amasa responded.

“Come check this guy out, I heard he has like, 5000 followers, and he just showed up!”

“Bro, 5000 followers? Really? I’ve been hustling for years and I have like 200! Plus, I have the most followers in this town, so, nice try ha ha ha”

“Ok, get this, this guy is morbid. I mean mooorbiiid.” Nadab whispered dramatically, drawing out the word morbid for so long, Amasa wondered if he would pass out for lack of air.

Amasa sighed, shaking his head, and continued to vigorously brush his ass. The kind that has four legs and brays. Get your mind out of the gutter.

You see, Nadab was the king of drama. He could make the simple act of drinking water sound like a near death choking experience. Nadab was so dramatic, even his own mother did not believe him anymore, and you know mothers and their sons. It is harder for a mother to disbelieve her son than it is for a camel to enter the eye of a needle. But Nadab’s mom had heard such tall tales, she no longer had it in her to absorb any more. 

“Dude! This guy is basically putting up an ad for cannibals!” Nadab exclaimed.

That got Amasa’s attention. You see, there were rumors of cannibalistic tribes many many seas away, but how far away does a cannibal have to be for one to comfortably sleep at night, safe in the knowledge that they won’t be nibbled on while they sleep?

“Cannibals?” Amasa repeated.

“Dude!” that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you! This dude is inviting cannibals to town!”

“Ok…” Amasa replied slowly, not wanting to attract attention in case said cannibals were in town. They were rumored to have exceptional smelling abilities, fear being their preferred scent.

“What exactly did he say? Direct quote please Nadab, this is not the time to insert one of your ‘scintillating’ details”

Nadab responded dramatically, “He said, and I quote, ‘My flesh is real food, and My blood is real drink. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him.’”

Amasa dropped the brush, startling his ass, which made a very loud noise. Not a fart, people, a braying noise. 

“What? He said what???” A stunned Amasa asked. Even his ass gave Nadab the side-eye.

“Bro, I’m telling you, there was pandemonium. People ran away, some started screaming, others looked around to see who the cannibals among us were. I definitely caught Absalom, the butcher, looking at this guy a little more closely than I was comfortable with, dude, I’m never buying meat from Absalom. Who knows what he’s been feeding us.”

“Nadab! Focus!” Amasa shouted, a cold sweat trickling down his back. He was a rather large man, and by his estimation, if there were cannibals in town, and it very much sounded like there might be, then he would be next, after this 5000 follower guy was eaten.

“Who is this guy? And I need you to answer this very carefully. When did you last see him alive?”

But Nadab seemed transfixed to the spot, staring at something just behind Amasa. Slowly, dreading what he would find behind him, Amasa turned to see The Man. He had brown skin, rather tall, with long hair parted in the middle. He looked familiar, but in that moment, all Amasa could hear was Nadab’s eerie whisper.

“That’s him, thaaa thaaaa that’s the ggggguy…” Nadab never stammered. He was terrified. The trickle that traveled down his leg onto his dusty sandals pretty much guaranteed no cannibal would want to eat him, leaving Amasa and The Man on the menu.

The Man approached the two men and the donkey. One of them, who seemed to have a liquid of unknown origin trickling down his leg, keeled over, out cold. The other one, with dexterity belying his rotund frame, jumped on the donkey and took off at a speed that would put Lewis Hamilton to shame.

Meanwhile, Jesus, who was just chilling in Capernaum, shooting the breeze with his followers, figured he’d get to the runaway guy eventually.

Torta Torture

I sit here, as I have all these years, so far away from home, patiently waiting to receive the multitudes of visitors who visit me every year. I look on with what I have heard described as a mysterious smile, the subject of much speculation. Scholars and novices alike claim to understand me, what I’m thinking, the secret behind my smile. They come in groups, tall ones, short ones, chubby cheeked ones and sharp cheeked ones, some elegantly dressed, perhaps Italian, and those in baggy sweatpants and fanny packs, definitely American. The room is a cacophony of languages and accents, twangs, drawls, ethnic clothes and elaborate bead-work the likes of which can only originate from Africa.

Some of them are security, I can tell, in plainclothes, attempting to mingle with the crowd. They fool the crowds, but they can never fool me, for their gazes continuously sweep the room, zoning in on anyone who stares at me a little too long, inappropriately, anyone who appears to have gears turning in their head, spinning elaborate wheels to ferry me to a different place, including back to my native Italy.

I can tell a lot by their gazes. The awestruck looks on the faces of those who have finally, finally after years and years of dreaming, begging, borrowing and maybe even stealing, arrived before me. I am right in front of them, their hearts beat faster, as they reverently gaze upon my subtle smile, absorbing every detail, so they can describe this moment in vivid detail to their children, grandchildren, neighbors, fishmongers, Taxi driver, really, anyone they come into contact with for the rest of their lives. I have been known to be so moving as to bring a tear to an African man, Englishman or German’s eye, surprising some of them as they thought their tear ducts were long obsolete. Some will even use their visit as a pickup line, fancying themselves extremely cultured, seeing as they will now have genuine bragging rights, having walked the hallowed ground that is my abode.

And then there are the disappointed lot, muttering, “Oh, this is it?” As if I am not good enough for them. As if their journey to see me was a complete waste of their time. Their crestfallen faces leave no doubt in my mind that, in their estimation, watching paint dry would have been a better use of their precious time. They had built up this image of me in their minds, an impossibly surreal image no one could ever match, certainly not me, I’m but a woman. 

Occasionally a VERY very important person will have the whole place shut down so they can have a private tour. There are those true lovers of art who want an undisturbed moment with me, and then there are the obnoxious ones who “don’t do crowds”, because heaven forbid they breathe the same air as the hoi polloi.

No visitor, no matter how important, can escape the watchful eye of my security detail. I never have an unguarded moment. Well, not since my compatriot decided to “free” me all those years ago. You see, he decided that I needed to return to Italy, where I would wake up to the sounds of “ciao bella”, and the aroma of home-made pasta. Enough was enough, he decided. My prolonged stay here bothered him to no end, and so he bided his time, waiting for the opportune moment, even getting a job as a security guard in my home, and then one day, he snatched me, spiriting me to my native land, to the consternation of multitudes of security organizations and self proclaimed aficionados.

Sheathed in musty boxes, he plunged me into the underground, a world of shadowy figures, bats of the human race, who only showed their sinister faces at night, unsavory brokers who peeked at me, discussing my worth, their deep pocketed greedy masters tugging at invisible strings, determined to pawn me off to the highest bidder.

My hijacker’s quest was cut short when the long arm of the law caught up with him, and I was returned to my home, looking forward to some peace and quiet. A lady can only deal with so much excitement after all. 

Alas, peace and quiet would prove elusive. Years later, a man would claim to be madly in love with me, and in a deranged display of devotion, cut me with a razor, and an equally bizarre subsequent fanatic threw a stone at me, hitting my elbow in the process, and so security was stepped up to RED, meaning, fart near me and you will be welcomed into the tender, loving care of the Gendarmerie posthaste. I’ve seen things kids, I’ve seen things. I mean, 2020, amiright?

I had some more peace and quiet, until today,that is. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love cake as much as the next person, but today’s incident literally took the cake. You see, I was minding my own business, mysterious smile in place, watching the crowd of visitors, when a very old woman, bent over with the ravages of time, was wheeled in to see me, probably as a dying wish. My heart melted, touched by the kindness of her chaperone, because such kindness is so rare in this world. I watched as the woman gazed upon me, and with a speed that belied her old age, stood up, revealing a whole cake, momentarily exciting me, thinking that someone had finally decided to very belatedly celebrate my birthday! This hopeful moment was short-lived when uncharacteristically manly hands lobbed the cake, unsliced, straight at me, whacking me smack in the face! Mio Dio! The savagery!

Luckily for the cake lobber, the Kenyan police were not in the building, and so he was spared that indelible slap that can only be meted by the lead-palmed hand of a Kenyan policeman.

The saddest part? I didn’t get a slice of that cake, it looked quite delicious.

5 Seconds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flighty Fingers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mteche: Have you entered the name and that number?

Me: Yes

Mteche: What does it say

Me: It says this is fraud

Long, awkward pause, followed by another pause

Me: Are you there?

Mteche: garbling noise

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

Mteche: I’m not a scammer

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

Mteche: They forgot

Me: Who are they?

Mteche: Twirra

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

Mteche: Have you entered the number in your phone?

Me: Of course

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

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

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

Me: chortling

Mteche: Why are you laughing!

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

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

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

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

15 Items

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

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

“Is this cart checking out?” I asked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Toffee Beds 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NyarSiaya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love the skin you’re in.

It takes a village

The late great Tupac Shakur’s song ‘keep your head up’ came to mind this past week when I was walking to my car after picking my son up from school. Just ahead of us was a little girl I frequently see during the daily pick-up rituals of masking up, bringing your own pen to sign your child out, and hearing about your child’s day from the teacher.

On that typically bright sunny day, she was walking just ahead of us, her hair in a very intricate hairstyle reminiscent of Alicia Keys’ hairdo in Fallin’. She wore hers with a lot of pink beads, which bobbed back and forth as she held her mother’s hand and walked to their car. Come to think of it, she did look like a mini–Alicia Keys, matching complexion and all.

I pointed out that I loved her hairstyle as it is extremely rare to:

1. Encounter braided hair where I live and

2. Encounter anyone with black ancestry in that particular school. As of the time of this article, the school has just over 60 students and only 3 have black parentage.

Still, I was taken aback when the girl’s mother told me that her daughter did not want to wear the braids to school because she was afraid the other kids would tease her and call her ugly. To use an often-misused metaphor, I was so shocked, my jaw dropped to the ground. When I had collected myself and my jaw, I squatted, placing me at eye level with the little girl. I told her the truth.

“You are enough just as you are, you are beautiful, your braids are beautiful, your curly hair is beautiful and being different is ok.”

At this point she was smiling and moving her head from side to side so I could see the rest of the hairstyle.

Then I asked her, “Do you know how to braid hair?”

“No, I’m only four!” she declared in a manner suggesting she seriously wanted to withdraw my adult card because what kind of adult expects a four-year-old child to know how to braid hair, let alone such an intricate hairstyle?

Undeterred, I asked her, “Will you be willing to braid my hair in that style when you are older?”

At this point, she was openly laughing at me, amazed at my silliness. Didn’t I know that she had things to do, people to see and planets to conquer? But she was smiling and laughing, and that was enough for me. Her mother, a teacher at the school, mentioned that her child was very shy. Fortunately, the school has a zero-tolerance policy against bullying, and to the mother’s knowledge, her daughter was not being bullied. Also, the only comments she received about her hairstyle so far had been around how she got the beads in her hair, as the other kids were taking notes. I got the distinct feeling that we will be seeing a lot of beaded hairstyles in that school. Turns out, she is a trendsetter, who would have thought.

Fact is children tease other children. Even in my native Kenya where we were mostly African, kids would tease others over the size of one’s head, or the shape of a nose, or ears that stuck out (ala Barack Obama) or unique height, body weight, skin tone, bow legs, wobbly knees etc. It could be anything. And even though this child’s parents constantly affirm her and tell her that she is beautiful, the child could use reinforcing messages from society. Enter all of us. Let us affirm the children in our lives, because an affirmed child knows who they are, and that they are enough, and that they are beautiful and loved just the way they are.