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. 

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.

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.

Gathoni

10 years. That was how long Gathoni gave herself to work as a respiratory care nurse in New York before returning home to Nairobi. She lived with two roommates to save as much money as she could. She lived with them even though one of them ate Gathoni’s cereal straight out of the box and left the sticky spoon she had licked in the cereal box. She persevered the long, grueling hours at work, squirreling away her earnings, saving to buy land back home and set herself up for an early retirement.

Five years into her stay in New York, she had saved enough money to buy land and build a mansion in Athi River, where the newly affluent were buying homes. Athi river’s proximity to the City Center made it a more attractive option than farther flung areas with cheaper land. Her parents had found a trustworthy land seller, which was no mean feat in a city crawling with con men and women who would separate you from your hard-earned money in a New York minute.

In a world where new careers are formed daily, conmanship has established itself as one of the few professions uninhibited by common barriers to entry, other than the little matter of the law. The only prerequisite being a loose grasp of one’s morals and a tongue that, as my lakeside brethren would say, “anaweza toa nyako pangoni” (an Oswahili bastardization of the Kiswahili reference to a snake charmer)

When Gathoni flew to Nairobi to view the land, her father introduced her to a dashing gentleman named Getau, the conveyance lawyer who had brokered the purchase. A friendship blossomed and they sporadically kept in touch after Gathoni flew back to New York.

Four years later, her mansion was complete and Gathoni had accumulated enough money to purchase additional pieces of land and was a budding mushroom farmer. She reconnected with Getau, and seeing as they were both in their thirties and too old to play games, they started to plan their future together.

When, at last, her 10th year work anniversary arrived, Gathoni walked out of the hospital for the last time, free as a bird, her waist length dreadlocks swaying in the wind. She sold most of her belongings, excited to be moving in with Getau, who had proposed to her a few months before when he had visited her in New York.

She flew from New York to Beijing, her destination being Huairou District, to see the Great Wall of China, a bucket list item she had been itching to check off. She spent the next four days touring the Great Wall among other attractions, and then boarded a flight to Nairobi.

She arrived in Nairobi to a rousing welcome from her family and Getau. She was finally home. Two days after her return, she developed a dry cough and thought nothing of it. Getau got her some cough medicine and a humidifier, which relieved her symptoms. Two days later, Getau awoke to find a lifeless Gathoni next to him. His attempts at CPR failed, and in a panic, he called for an ambulance, informing her family that they were headed to the nearest hospital. The emergency room doctor grimly confirmed what they all knew. Gathoni was dead.

In that moment, the world lost all color and went silent. Out of the corner of his eye, as if in slow motion, Getau and Gathoni’s family watched in disbelief as a security team whispered something to the doctor who quickly distanced himself from the family. They were unceremoniously bundled into a waiting car and taken to a government medical training center, where they were brusquely informed that Gathoni’s symptoms were consistent with those of the novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, therefore, they would be quarantined.  They were interrogated about their movements and known associations since Gathoni had arrived in the country. They provided a list of all individuals they had interacted with and were informed that those individuals would be quarantined as well.

They were then abandoned, and the only outside contact they had was that of faceless gloved hands leaving food outside their rooms followed by the sound of feet quickly padding away for fear of contracting COVID-19.

Where there is mystery, the mind goes to the darkest place. They wondered if they would ever see the light of day again. No one would tell them when they would be released.

Despair clung to them like a second skin. They had no information on where the hospital had taken Gathoni’s remains. Getau, beside himself with grief, withdrew into silence, barely eating or sleeping. Attempts to reach the hospital for information were thwarted by the overzealous security guards who had neither the empathy nor the expertise needed to comfort the shell-shocked, grieving family.

After their release, Getau and Gathoni’s family were given 24 hours to bury her. As they threw the dirt on her coffin, Gathoni’s parents and Getau still could not believe the cruel hand that fate had dealt them. Her mother collapsed, the reality of burying her child too much to bear.

Gathoni was buried on what would have been her 35th birthday.

“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.