TYSON

I was six years old when I experienced my fist lock-down. Every morning, we would walk a short distance to the street where our school bus would pick us up for the half hour ride to school. We had made our own short cut (or panya route in common parlance), through the grass as we didn’t want to follow the slightly longer paved path. For the uninitiated, a panya route is a foot-trodden path similar to a narrow hiking trail. Our panya route was partially obscured by overgrown grass, but the dewy grass wasn’t enough of a deterrent to motivate us to use the proper path. Taking the panya route had consequences. The most obvious being that our shiny polished brown leather school shoes would acquire debris from the unpaved path, leading to a panicked emergency shoe-shining session when we finally got to school. The shoe shining was facilitated by using the sock-clad opposite foot to quickly shine each shoe, restoring it to its former glory. The second consequence, as you can guess, was that the bottom of our socks now carried the panya route debris and pocked the soles of our feet all day, but hey, our shoes shone and met the school’s rigorous shoe cleanliness standards set by a long departed colonialist. Had I had an entrepreneurial bone in my body, I would have come up with a shoe-shining business. I would have trademarked “Panya Route’s Shoe Shining”. Business would’ve been booming, I would have been a tycoon at the tender age of 6, retired at thirteen, but alas, my entrepreneurial bones were yet to be formed.

It is common for some Kenyan families to keep guard dogs, usually German Shepherd Dogs. I love GSDs. They are highly intelligent, beautiful and loyal. They are very gentle with babies, but extremely fierce against adversaries. They are your ride or die canine.

One of our neighbors had a GSD named Tyson. Now, Tyson was no ordinary dog. He was a dog among dogs. He was a huge dog whose reputation preceded him. He was the kind of dog all female dogs wanted to mate with, because that superior gene pool had to be passed onto little Tysons. He was extremely ferocious and because of that, he was kept under lock and key during the day and left to roam at night. But since we were always indoors at night, we never encountered Tyson.

In Kenya, if one was found wandering outside late at night, the Kenyan police would typically ask one to confirm if they were:

  1. A dog
  2. A prostitute
  3. A thief
  4. A policeman

The unseen option above, written in invisible ink, was an offer you could not refuse, to spend the night in a jail cell, offering you a space to cool your heels until dawn. This courtesy was funded by the very generous Kenyan taxpayer and supplemented by you because you had to bribe your way out of the jail cell. You would be motivated to do so because of the company in the cell, which comprised of actual prostitutes, thieves, and a very odorous bucket that served the purpose of a toilet.

Anyway, all was well in my little academia suburb until one day, Tyson went missing. To say that we were gripped with fear is an understatement. The thought of running into Tyson’s gigantic teeth kept us inside. Even indoors, any sudden noises caused immense anxiety. I have always had a vivid imagination, and in my mind, Tyson may have snuck into our house when we opened one of the doors. I was a dyed in the wool mischievous tomboy, but the specter of Tyson’s bark and bite kept me indoors. My partners in crime and I were under no illusion about what would happen to us if we ran into him.

The fear of Tyson transformed us into the most paved-route-abiding children known to man and woman. Call us Dini ya Pavement (Religion of the Pavement). Like new converts to Christianity, we left our heathen panya route ways behind us, walking in groups, eyes peeled for any tell-tale signs of the missing canine terror. Conversation was kept to a minimum, lest Tyson hear us badmouthing him and pounce upon us, and in my overactive imagination, tearing our limbs apart, leaving our parents bereft. I am not sure if there is an afterlife for newly reformed Panya route users, but I imagine we would gain entry due to the Damascene conversion we had just experienced.

The Panya route was completely abandoned, seeing as the sand colored grass may have been harboring a sand colored Tyson. I imagine that the grasshoppers and ants who had to run (and hop) for their lives upon our arrival on the panya route each morning must have had a block party, dancing the night away into the morning with no fear of being trodden upon by scofflaw school children. They must have remarked upon the beauty of the dewed grass and gotten to know each other better, perhaps even planned for the permanent liberation of the panya route from marauding feet. I should say that I also recognize that Tyson’s disappearance would have marked the demise of my imaginary yet flourishing Panya Route’s Shoe Shining enterprise.

After school, we again coalesced into the newly formed Dini Ya Pavement. We went straight home from school, meaning, my mischievous tom-boy self could not play in the mud and climb trees freely, lest I meet Tyson on a tree branch. Yes, we believed that Tyson could climb trees, swim, fly, squeeze under doors and materialize out of thin air.

Two long days later, to the jubilation of all, a nonchalant Tyson wandered back to his home, unaware of the terror his disappearance had caused. Where had Tyson been? What had he seen? Had he eloped with a lush GSD female only to realize that life on the run was not for him? We will never know. But since Tyson did not speak human and we didn’t speak bark, he took that secret to his grave. Also, we valued our lives so we were not going to approach him.

In case you are wondering, we quickly backslid to our panya route ways, Dini Ya Panya route abandoned.

Sartorial Chronicles

“How you dey? I will make you the most beautiful dresses you have ever seen ooooo. I am well known back home you know! God don butta my bread. The President’s relatives were my customers, I can even show you photos of the clothes I made them. When you see your dresses, you will not believe it!” This animated proclamation was made to Abeni, a bride to be, and her two sisters. With a month to go before the wedding, the siblings wanted to believe that this time they would be lucky. They nodded slowly, hopeful that this tailor, or “Telo”, as tailors were known locally, would be true to his word.

The last two Telos they had worked with had stolen their fabric and vanished into thin air, in that order. But since they needed to have their dresses made, they had no choice but to keep on trying. After all, a girl’s broken heart could hope once more, especially when Presidential service was dangled before them.

“Which relatives did you sew for?” asked Abeni’s younger sister Abioye, envisioning herself in a regal dress, custom made by Telo to the President’s relatives.

“Sorry?” the Telo asked.

“Which of the President’s relatives did you sew clothes for?” she repeated.

“Oh, right, right! the President’s brothers and sisters. Yes, I made all of their clothes”

“I thought that the President was an only son? I didn’t know that he had brothers” Ayomide, the third sister, questioned. For one whose name meant “my joy has come”, she sure asked a lot of questions, and not those of the joyous kind.

“Why you dey give me wahala? In Africa, brothers be cousins and cousins be brothers, all join.” the Telo laughed nervously. Ayomide was not impressed. But like her sisters, she was stuck between the Telos who stole from them and this self-aggrandizing Telo. In other words, they were stuck between a rock and a hard place.

He took their measurements in record time, not stopping to write them down. They left, assured that in two weeks he would have their clothes ready for their first fitting.

Exactly two weeks later, they listened as the Telo told them that he had not gotten to their dresses because he was fasting.

Abeni and Abioye were stunned into silence. Not so Ayomide.

“What did you say? When did you decide to start fasting?”

“Listen well well, young lady, this is why you no get husband ooo”

“I am here to ask about dresses, not husbands! When will your fast end?” she asked the Telo.

He shrugged, as if he had no idea when he would eat again. Just then, he let out a loud belch.

“Fasting, huh?” Ayomide countered. “What is that stuck in your teeth? It looks like meat to me.”

“Make you no vex me ooooo. I never chop all week!” the Telo, caught in a lie, became defiant.

The three sisters looked at each other, wondering what to do. They were at this “fasting” man’s mercy, and he knew it. When asked if he had any questions about measurements and design, he was so offended by their lack of faith in his abilities that he reminded them once again that he had clients in high places and was not fazed by their inquisition.

“Is there any way you can make our dresses in a week?” Abeni, the bride to be and the family peacemaker, gently asked. The thought of not having new clothes to wear at her wedding reception filled her with disappointment. She had lost a lot of weight for the wedding, and none of her previously made dresses would fit her as is. She fully expected to gain the weight back after her wedding because she was marrying a “big man” and as the wife of a rich man, thinness was an indicator of suffering.

One week later, they returned, and to their profound shock, found their dresses complete. When Abeni tried her dress on, it fit perfectly, which was shocking considering that  the Telo had not written down any of their measurements.

“You know say, my head dey there. Writing na for fools.” He bragged.

Abioye’s dress fit perfectly as well. But when Ayomide, who had called the Telo out on his “fasting” a week earlier tried hers on, the top half was too baggy and the short half was too tight.

“It doesn’t fit!” she exclaimed.

“Look at this one. She has been eating a lot  and became fat ooo. Ehe! Ehe! You ask me, a whole me, if I dey tell you the truth when I tell you say I never chop! And now you come back bigger than you were and blaming me. I did not put the food in your mouth ooo. I am done ooo, pay me for the two dresses, you can have yours for half price.”

“I’m not giving you a penny for this hot mess!” Ayomide countered.

For the sake of peace, Abeni intervened and they finally settled on paying for the two well made dresses and only a quarter of the price for Ayomide’s catastrophic dress. The Telo told them that the dresses used up all the fabric they brought, and nothing, not even scraps, were left over.

The man had stayed true to his word. When they first met him, he told them that when they saw their dresses, they would not believe it. Those words proved prophetic for Ayomide’s dress.

Ayomide was seething when they left. She found another Telo to adjust the disastrous dress and looked radiant at Abeni’s wedding later that month. With the fixed dress, maybe she would find a husband so people like the Telo would get off her back. The day was young.

Black Lives Matter

It has been a year. And it’s only June. I certainly hope that the rest of this decade will not be a repeat of this year. 2020 has been a year straight out of the end times depicted in the many religious texts. 2020 is the year that saw all the other catastrophes in previous years and said to them, “hold my beer”

You may have heard of a guy named Pharaoh who sat on a grand throne and enslaved Israelites, so the story goes. This fellow had enslaved the Israelites for over 430 years. Four Hundred and Thirty years! So, after 430 years, the Israelite God decided to send a heavily bearded man named Moses to have a chat with Pharaoh, and get him to #letmypeoplego.

Since Pharaoh was a king with a king-sized ego to boot, he decided not to join the #letmypeoplego movement.

So the Israelite’s God sent the infamous ten plagues:

Water turned to blood- note that this was quite different from the water to wine transformation that would take place many centuries later.

Frogs were next. This was before people discovered frog legs as a delicacy, and considered them to be pests. I have not personally partaken of frog legs, but I hear they are very tasty.

Lice were next. There is no denying that if I was the Pharaoh, I would have relented at this point. But the Pharaoh did not blink. He did not blink because he had people to pick the lice off of his hair, so that was a peasant problem, not his.

Wild animals and pestilence aka Coronavirus’ ancestors followed closely, but still, the Pharaoh refused to  #letmypeoplego

Next were boils, which, while painful and revolting, did nothing to free the enslaved Israelites. You see, that Pharaoh was what we call a kichwa ngumu (hard headed person)

Locusts were next. Full disclosure, these unwelcome visitors invited themselves to my homeland, Kenya. Let me tell you something about locusts. They are destructive with a capital D. If a hyena and a vulture had a child, it would be a locust. With everything else going on in the world, even the most hardened atheist had to wonder if this was all a coincidence.

Then there was darkness for three days, also known as living in a developing country where power is shut off for no apparent reason, so this would not necessarily have alerted a Pharaoh as to the presence of a campaign to #letmypeoplego. also, the Pharaoh had people whose job was literally holding lamps so he could see. So there was another peasant problem.

It was at this point that the Israelite God made the Pharaoh an offer he couldn’t refuse. He killed all the Egyptian first-born sons. After that, every Egyptian and their grandmother wanted the Israelites freed.

It is not lost on me that it is just over 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were kidnapped, chained and brought to the United States aboard cargo ships. 401 years to be precise. Millions of Africans died during the passage, alternately referred to as the African Holocaust, or Maafa.

Those who survived were sold like cattle, mothers separated from their young children, never to see them again. They were worked to the bone, beaten, raped, murdered, as if their lives did not matter. When Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves in 1863, it took two years for the enslaved people of Galveston Texas, to know that they were free. This day is now celebrated as Juneteenth  (originally June 19, 1865).

The physical chains of slavery may be broken, but the mentality that sustained slavery persists. Jim Crow laws ensured that discrimination persisted in housing, education, policing and every aspect of American life. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and countless others championed equality for all. They made some strides, but the work was not done. The work is not done. It is not done because on May 25, 2020, we all watched in horror as a white policeman knelt on a black man’s neck, even while the black man, George Floyd, pleaded for his life. He said he couldn’t breathe several times. During his final seconds, he cried for his mother. His dead mother. He knew he was dying.

8 minutes 46 seconds. They knelt on him for Eight minutes and forty-six seconds. In the United States of America. The land of the free. The home of the brave.

Not for George Floyd. Not for Breonna Taylor. Not for Ahmaud Arbery. Not for Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice, children murdered in cold blood. Not for Eric Garner or Philando Castile. Not for the multitudes of victims whose names we will never know.

401 years after the first enslaved Africans landed on these shores, the majority of the non-black American public is now just becoming aware of the inequalities that still exist. Amid the barbecue Becky and bird-watching Karen stories, there have been hundreds of thousands more people who have peacefully rallied, chanting Black Lives Matter. Doctors, nurses, teachers, students, people of all ethnicities around the world have joined the cause. Japan, a historically reserved nation, has joined in the cause. It gives me hope to see so many people moved by the senseless murders of melanated people across the world. It gives me hope to see the tide of public opinion turning. If this energy and momentum results in a higher voter turnout, I hope we will see systemic change in this country. The work must continue, so their deaths are not in vain.

Say their names. And vote.

Black Lives Matter.

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.

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.

Canadian Bear

A few weeks ago, we decided to fly to Washington State’s Bellingham Airport and drive into Canada. Why? Well, I had never been to Canada and my husband said I would like it there, so, passports in hand, we packed our suitcases and set off for the airport. We flew Allegiant, which won the “how to fly” debate by offering free flights for children. And seeing as I am still not speaking to SouthWest, I didn’t bother to check if they fly there. That’s right, that grudge is alive and well.

We arrived at the airport early and very quickly discovered why Allegiant is a cheap as it is. After waiting for almost an hour, the sole check-in agent finally collected our luggage, and politely informed us that we were above the 40 pound per suitcase limit. Now, anyone with a child will tell you that 40 pounds is just not doable, but luckily, the nice lady waived the fees (we did not think to check because most airlines have a 50-pound limit).

Once we cleared security, we arrived at our gate where, you guessed it, the same lady was now at the boarding desk and would be helping us board the plane. Pretty smart strategy, which works great if you travel very light. I will say that their planes are more spacious than your average plane. No snacks were offered on the approximately 2-hour flight, so again, you get what you pay for.

Bellingham airport is either brand new or very well maintained. Baggage claim is right next to the car rental station, with the actual cars right outside. No shuttles needed. We headed to our rental car after we collected our baggage, and after our son assisted other passengers to collect theirs (he took great pride in guiding passengers and they were very good-natured about following his “directions”- gotta love small airports).

Early the next morning, we drove north and shortly came across bilingual English – French signs and the Maple Leaf, signalling our entry into Canada. The Canadian border agent was, as advertised, very polite and wished us a nice visit in her homeland. We took the ferry at Tsawwassen (named for the Tsawwassen First Nation, one of the peoples who inhabited the land long before any of us were here) and headed into Vancouver Island, whose capital Victoria is named for the British Monarch (coincidentally, Nam Lolwe, a lake in my home town was also named Lake Victoria after Queen Victoria. You say Lake Victoria, I say Nam Lolwe). While on the ferry, we saw a humpback whale, probably on his way to his pod before curfew, which was a nice surprise.

Our ferry guide, called a marine naturalist, gave us a tutorial of the different kinds of sea life native to the area. She also informed our son that orcas are also known as killer whales, which fascinated him to no end. It would become a refrain every time he heard the word “orca” during our trip. Thanks to him, many of the guests we encountered at restaurants, the hotel, the ferry, the elevator and at the airport are now aware that an orca is a killer whale. Feel free to educate your public as well. You are welcome.

Victoria is the seat of British Columbia, as is evidenced by an imposing parliamentary building with perfectly manicured lawns and an impressive statue of  Britain’s Queen Victoria. The formality is softened by oodles of colorful hanging plants, nearby horse carriage tours and a gorgeous waterfront from where ferries and water taxis ply their routes. Hundreds of tourists can be found taking in the sights via water taxi,  at the numerous restaurants and visiting the nearby Royal BC Museum (I highly recommend visiting this museum, it has authentic pieces that pay tribute to the originators of the art, and acknowledges partnership with the First Nations native to the area). The museum also has a life size replica of a mammoth. It is a awesome sight.

Masterfully carved and towering totem poles occupied an arena-like room. I am firmly divorced from my chakras, auras and other energy fields, therefore I usually have no ability to read the “energy” of a room full of inanimate objects. That was, until I felt a certain hesitation to approach those totem poles. The air in that room felt heavy, like a weight had been placed upon my shoulders when I walked in. Perhaps it was the totem’s seemingly all-seeing eyes or the dimness of the room. Perhaps it was because they were steeped in a sometimes gruesome history so deep, I could never fully comprehend the profoundness of what they had seen.

On day 3 of our trip, we decided to take a road trip to Port Renfrew. It was on this road trip that I got a real sense of what the island was about. I got a sense of deja vu when I saw distance in Km and measurements in Kg and meters. Living in the United States, I have become accustomed to miles, pounds and feet. So I had a brief re-introduction into the metric system, just like we have in Kenya.

Canada, the land of maple syrup, ice hockey and polite people has legalized marijuana, or bhangi as it is called in my neck of the woods. Marijuana has a very different reputation where I am from. It has been blamed for everything from the medical-mental illness, to the cosmetic- bloodshot eyes and unkempt hair. I was very interested to see its effects on the stereotypically polite Canadians. I can report that they were polite as advertised, except for one Canadian man, who upon hearing that I was from the United States, delivered his condolences for our political climate. He was very passionate about US politics, and his wife finally rescued me from his rant, telling him that I was on vacation, and probably did not want to discuss politics. She was right. I thanked her profusely.

We stopped by a convenience store to buy some snacks, and noticed a sushi restaurant called “I am Sushi”. See? No guess work. Across the street was a marijuana store called Earth to Sky. This reminded me of a spirits maker in Kenya who promised that if you partook of their products, you would understand why birds fly. We did not try out the products so I guess we will never experience the earth to sky experience, nor will we understand why birds fly via liquor. We also drove past a building named Roof (no mention of the doors, windows and other parts of the building) and a farm named ‘living the life’ farm. I will assume that is the farm where all the old cats and dogs go to live out their days. Other travelers mention hiking the strait of Juan de Fuca. There’s a name filled with potentially offensive mispronunciations. A vitamin shop with a mutant logo, promising good health to all those who patronized it, was right next door to a car oil-change shop, which got me thinking about the mutant logo. Vitamins + car oil= mutant vitamins aka borderline subliminal messaging.

We stopped by the tiny town of Jordan river, where the sole business, Cold Shoulder, announced to the weary travelers that they did not have restroom facilities. It was in their name you see, you will receive a cold shoulder as advertised. In other words, you can relieve yourself of all your sins in River Jordan, but do not relieve yourself at the Cold Shoulder in Jordan River, BC.

A few minutes later, while driving in the thickly forested area just past Jordan River, we saw A LARGE BLACK BEAR CROSS THE ROAD ahead of us. I couldn’t believe it. I had never seen a bear in the wild. Our child had never seen one either. My husband had, and assured us that that was a medium sized one. I shudder to think of what a fully grown one looks like. I have seen Revenant. If you haven’t, please do. It will instill a healthy fear of bears in you.  Maybe this bear had just visited Earth to Sky to get his weekly stash of Marijuana. Maybe he was late for a date. He seemed to be in a great hurry to cross the road. He disappeared into the foliage, never to be seen or heard from again. He probably went home and told his family about these weird people who were gawking at him as if they had never seen a bear before. It was the highlight of our trip.

When I went back to work and told my colleagues about my trip, one of them was more shocked by the fact that we flew Allegiant (had I not read about all the emergencies their planes seem to have?) than by the fact that I had seen a Canadian bear crossing the street in broad daylight. Eh?

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!

Sneaky Paws

My friend Gigi has never been a fan of camping. She is firmly in the “camping ran in my family until houses were invented” camp (pun intended). But, Gigi has children, and children like camping. So, like the good parents they are, Gigi and her husband went to a sporting goods store, encountered a very enthusiastic salesman, fell for his sales pitch hook, line and sinker, and ended up purchasing expensive fishing rods and other paraphernalia (including organic bait- nothing but the best for the campsite fish’s last meal). When Gigi’s brother heard about the camping trip, he convinced his wife that it was time for a family reunion under the stars.

The highly anticipated day arrived, and the convoy arrived at the camp site, with Gigi’s brother and his wife bringing up the rear. Once the ice filled food cooler was set up, smores and other camping artifacts unpacked, children settled and organic fish bait properly stored, it was time to chop some wood for the camp fire. Before the arduous task of wood-chopping began, Gigi’s husband (hereafter known as Husband) and Gigi’s brother (hereafter known as Brother) decided that it would be a great idea to fortify themselves with a few ice-cold bottles of beer. After all, liquid courage makes any chore fun, right?

A few bottles later, vision possibly blurry, Brother picked up an axe and started chopping wood. He was nothing if not determined. From Gigi’s perspective, Brother swung the axe really high, and it landed with a “thunk”. Gigi thought nothing of it, until Brother started to sway slightly, looking faint. Gigi dropped her own beer and ran over to where Brother was, and that was when she saw a pool of blood collecting at his feet. Now, Gigi is no shrinking violet. She jumped into action and, with the help of Husband, helped a limping Brother into Brother’s car.

They rushed Brother to the Emergency Room, where they found people with ailments ranging from broken toe nails to life threatening injuries. When the nurse asked what had happened, Brother suddenly looked at his hand as if he was just then becoming aware of his bleeding hand. The nurse shook her head, bandaged Brother’s arm and sent them on their way.

At this point, it was quite late at night, and as they approached the campsite, they noticed a locked gate. Bad things happen in threes. The butchered arm was strike one, the locked gate was strike two. At this point, Gigi was tired, cranky and wondering why she left her perfectly comfortable house to go and live in the wilderness like a bear. They finally managed to get Brother’s wife to wake up and drive all the way to the gate and let them into the campsite. Gigi was smart enough to use the bathrooms at the hospital, as she was not willing to walk outside at night to use the campsite bathroom, where she might meet a mountain lion who would thank his lucky stars that his snack walked right into his jaws. Gigi was smarter than that, thank you very much!

Early the next morning, a starving Gigi woke up to get her children some breakfast. Strike three became immediately apparent. At some point in the night, while Gigi’s Brother was fighting for his life (okay, maybe not, but still, bleeding profusely) they’d had some guests. Gigi noticed muddy paws on the white cover of the cooler, and a sense of foreboding descended over her. She opened the cooler to find that all the organic, free range chicken, organic gluten free bread, organic low-fat milk and artisanal cheese had been mauled by the sneaky pawed raccoons who lived in the campsite. The raccoons were kind enough to leave some organic crumbs behind, but not before they took the organic fish bait with them, perhaps to go fishing?

Tired, hangry and dirty, Gigi took a deep breath and calmly informed her family that the trip was over and it was time to head back home and live in a house like the civilized human beings they were. The Sneaky pawed residents of the campsite were sad to see them go, and wondered if they would visit again. It wasn’t every day that they got to eat hand crafted, ethically sourced organic food.