Winged Cacophony

I am an optimistic person. Yes, it’s 2020, a.k.a The Ten Plagues of Egypt- The Sequel. And so, when we planned a family vacation for early September, it was in the hope that even in this year of elevated racial strife, endless fires and Coronavirus, we would find relief in an idyllic glamping site in California. We made reservations weeks in advance, not knowing that extremely destructive fires were on the horizon. On the eve of our departure, a new fire was started by a couple who decided to throw a gender reveal party by launching a pyrotechnic device. No word on what gender is represented by fire and smoke. I have some name suggestions: Fire, Smoke, Flame, Fuego, Calor, Mach, Liet, Wang (the last three being fire, hot and burn in my native DhoLuo, a language you might want to learn for its poetry)

Not be deterred by the fiery gender reveal and other ongoing fires, we departed on Monday afternoon and arrived at our destination in under two hours. The sky was much clearer than the smoky skies we left behind, and things were finally starting to look up.

Now, I love being in nature as much as the next person, but camping is just not for me. Sleeping on the ground, practically a snack for whatever python, bear, lion, tiger or cheetah (or, all the above in my overactive imagination) that strolls by is not my idea of a relaxing time. The views of the night sky and crisp air are amazing, but they are not to die for, literally.

I know, I know, it runs in people’s families etc. etc., it did in mine too, before we had houses, and beds, and indoor plumbing. Come on people.  

We entered our tent, which I must say was very nicely laid out, and came with an en-suite bathroom. It even had a fan, which was very nice considering the 115F (46.1C) fry-your-egg-on-the-pavement temperature.

We left the tent door and window vents open to expedite the cooling process, alas, it would prove to be a costly mistake. Once the sun set, we sat outside gazing at the night sky, the pitch blackness of the night offering a mesmerizing array of dazzling stars. My husband and son went into the tent for their showers while I continued to be dazzled by the glittering sky. I was so enthralled by the view that I did not notice the SEAL unit of mosquitoes who, upon finally finding a human target, descended on me like a mute blanket. It was only when a particularly thirsty one bit me particularly hard that I snapped out of my reverie to find myself covered in bite marks.

People, we are living in the end times. Mosquitoes do not like me. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. Rumor has it that they too have a preference when it comes to the buffet that is human blood types, mine being at the very bottom of their list. They will literally attack everyone around me before they take a very grudging sip of my unappealing blood. I can only assume that due to very limited options brought about by lock-down, these mosquitoes cannot afford to be choosers, seeing as they don’t exactly get their pick of targets. I immediately ran inside the tent and we closed the door. Little did I know that Mosquito SEAL Unit 2 lay in wait, their shift about to start. As soon as I settled in, they descended on my head, biting my neck, ears and even my scalp, my scalp! My family had wisely completely covered their heads with their blankets, so the mosquitoes, once again, had to sink to the lows of targeting me. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Temperatures had dropped to around 68F (20C) when I finally started to drift off to sleep with my mosquito-chewed head covered in a cloyingly perfumed blanket (which would normally be a problem, but was now my only defense from the ravenous SEAL Unit 3 which I was certain was on its way to suck whatever was left of my blood). I may have slept for five minutes before I was rudely awakened by a dueling cacophony of bird noises. You see, long before we arrived at the glamping site, a simmering rivalry between a resident rooster and horn-bill had reached a crescendo, and seeing as I am not a coma level sleeper like the rest of my family, I was the lucky person to receive a front row seat to the screaming match of September 2020. I am not sure what time zone that rooster operates in. Actually, I think that rooster might be an import from the farms of upstate New York, seeing as it started its exuberant crowing at 1am Pacific (4am Eastern) and would not stop until almost four hours later. Not to be outdone, the cantankerous horn-bill responded to the crowing at a decibel level carefully curated to keep me awake, but not loud enough to, say, cause real harm like rupture my eardrums. Hand-crafted artisanal cacophony, was what it was.

To say that I was groggy the next morning is an understatement. Add to that winds changing direction and bringing with them ashes from far flung fires, so that white specks of ash were now falling on my mosquito mangled flesh while we toasted in the glow of an eerily orange sun, and we decided to cut our losses and return home posthaste.

Home, sweet home, where the mosquitoes, roosters and horn-bills are not.

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’s 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 real estate lawyer who had brokered the purchase. A friendship blossomed and they sporadically kept in touch when 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.

Majini

Legio Maria is a religion in my neck of the woods, the shores of Lake Victoria. The adherents of this religion are some of the most devout and close-knit group of believers I have ever seen. When entering the home of a brother or sister of the Legio Maria, you will be sprinkled with Holy Water, and a crucifix will be in full display, usually alongside a photo of their founder and Pope, also known as the Black Son of God, Simeo Ondeto.

Susanna had lived in the village of Mabungo her entire life. Therefore, she was no stranger to tales of the majini, alleged spirits who chose not to rest in peace and instead roamed the hills of Mabungo, scaring the living daylights out of locals, delivering hot slaps to those who would not move out of their way, and causing general mayhem. Susanna had never personally encountered the majini, but she was not one to deny their existence and dare them to pay her a visit.

Decades later, when Susanna was a married woman with children, she found that her husband’s income was not sufficient to pay for their children’s tuition, and being a resourceful woman, she found work as a maid, or Domestic Manager, in a nearby town. Since her youngest daughter Nyangweso was 19, Susanna didn’t need to be home tending to children anymore. Susanna’s employer, a retired university professor, was kind enough to give Susanna plenty of flexibility so Susanna could visit her family quite often.

Last December, Susanna went back to Mabungo to spend Christmas holidays with her family. While there, Nyangweso developed what the village medicine man immediately diagnosed as a case of majini. In other words, Nyangweso had been possessed by the infamous majini of Mabungo hills. She was manic, frantically running from one part of the village to the next at speeds Usain Bolt would envy. When possessed, Nyangweso became so strong that not even the village strongman could restrain her.

A desperate Susanna asked her local pastor to pray over Nyangweso as she slept. But after much praying in various tongues and screaming at the majini until he was hoarse, the pastor declared Nyangweso healed, collected payment and went on his merry way.

The next morning, Nyangweso woke up and took off again, but this time, she was speaking in tongues. All who saw her decided that even though she exhibited the same symptoms as she had before, she must be healed because she was speaking in tongues. When Susanna called her employer with the update, her employer advised her to have Nyangweso examined by a medical doctor to determine if what she had was a case of cerebral Malaria. Susanna declined, stating that her pastor was the eminent authority in spiritual matters and since he had not diagnosed Nyangweso with Malaria, then it was definitely a case of the majini.

A day later, Nyangweso had stopped speaking in tongues and was back to wreaking havoc in the village, overturning furniture, slapping strangers and causing general mayhem, before taking off at lighting speed. When Susanna called the pastor for a secondary consultation, he conceded that these majini were above his pay grade, and advised Susanna that a problem of that magnitude required a week of prayer and fasting. And so it was that Susanna called her employer to inform her that she would not be returning to work in January as planned because she would be incommunicado for a week while she fasted and prayed at a nearby cave commonly used by pilgrims for exactly that purpose.

A week later, a filthy, famished but hopeful Susanna emerged from the cave, eager to see the fruit of her prayer. To her dismay, there had been no improvement, in fact, Nyangweso had taken to throwing stones at strangers, which was a new and disheartening development.

It was time to call in the big guns. And when one needs to banish majini, who does one call? The Legio Maria, that’s who. Susanna restrained Nyangweso while she was asleep and awaited the arrival of the Legio Maria. They arrived in a row of flowing white and blue gowns, Holy Water and crucifixes in hand, solemn expressions on their faces, Rosary beads hanging loosely from their necks.  They were not there to make friends or small talk. They came for one thing and one thing only. The removal and banishment of the majini.

A small crowd gathered as Susanna led them to Nyangweso, who was struggling to break free from her restrains. They set up a makeshift altar next to Nyangweso’s bed and formed a circle around her, chanting and singing. Suddenly, Nyangweso went limp, as if the rage had been sucked out of her. The Legio Maria advised Susanna to let her sleep, as she had not rested in a very long time. They packed up their makeshift altar and left in the same manner in which they had arrived.

Later that evening, a renewed and calmer Nyangweso awoke, the majini nowhere in sight.

CoronaVirus

Mungu shuka na usitumane is a KiSwahili plea, used in very desperate times. The direct translation is “God come down and don’t send a messenger”.

My thoughts and prayers go to the deceased, the bereaved and the infected.

Silver Dollar Pancakes

Happy New Year! I realize it is March, but we have not spoken this year so, Happy New Year! Donge?

I have lived in this country long enough to understand that the States in this country are sometimes so different, they might as well be 50 different countries.  That said, I am proud to note that I now understand some common Americanisms, such as the peculiar threatening phrases used to wish each other luck.

American: Knock ‘em dead!

Me: Ah, excuse me, I am not a murderer. Also, who do you want dead? Never mind, the less I know, the better.

American : Break a leg!

Me: Again with the violence. Also, why just one leg? How do you choose the leg? FYI, I will not be breaking any leg, mine or anyone else’s.

It is this confusion that has led to some rather amusing and awkward interactions. For example, in Kenya, when someone invites you to join them for lunch, they will be paying for the meal. In the USA, you will each pay for your meal. Why then invite someone to join you for lunch when you have no intention of paying for the lunch? For the pleasure of their company of course! I once attended a presentation scheduled at lunchtime, titled “brown bag lunch”. I wondered why they would tell us the color of the bag they served lunch in. Did brown have a particular meaning? Of course, once I was at the presentation, it dawned on me that everyone had brought their own lunch, and I was the sole hangry attendee who did not know that a brown bag lunch meant to bring your own lunch. Now, when I see anything including a brown bag lunch, I do not attend. No thank you. Fool me once.

I have fully adopted the American tea drinking experience. In Kenya, there are two types of tea: with milk and without milk. The first kind, with milk, is the preferred kind. The latter, called sturungi  is what Americans call tea. Water and tea. That’s it. No milk, no sugar, ginger etc. The tea of suffering. The tea that says, look at me, I have no milk. I have no sugar. I am all alone in this miserable cup.

The milky version has lots of fancy names here, my favorite being chai tea, or in Kiswahili (tea tea). Note to all immigrants from milk tea drinking countries- brown bag your milk. (see above for brown bag definition)

There is a common Kenyan joke about a visit to one of my tribes-men’s houses that goes like this:

A visitor is offered many drinks, but leaves without partaking of any.

Would you like something to drink?

Yes, I’d like water please

Still or sparkling?

Sparkling please

Chilled or room temperature?

Chilled please.

Flavored or unflavored?

Unflavored please.

Would you like it in a cup or glass?

Cup please

Large or small cup?

I’ll just have bottled still water please!

Plastic bottle or glass bottle?

Glass please

Flavored or unflavored?

Unflavored please

Chilled or room temperature?

Chilled please.

Large or small bottle?

Large please

With a bottle holder or without?

The exasperated guest left despite being offered similar choices for tea, coffee and every other drink imaginable.

That is how I feel when I go shopping sometimes. I just want yogurt. Why do we need 50 different types, flavors and packaging? And then there are the eggs. Free range, organic, all-natural, pasture raised, large brown, large white, small brown, just brown.  Did they all come from chicken? Yes? ok. Just eggs then. It is mind-numbing.

Which brings me to the Silver Dollar Pancakes. Once I browsed shelves upon shelves of pancake options, including their close cousins waffles, I settled on an enticing box labelled “Silver dollar pancakes”. The box promised large, fluffy pancakes, piled on top of each other, blueberry syrup enticingly pouring down their side. I scanned the ingredient’s list and was satisfied that I would not be ingesting unidentifiable ingredients certain to cause diseases which, to quote my mother, even the doctor cannot pronounce. I was practically salivating at the thought of getting home, turning on the oven, sticking the pancakes in there and voila! I would unveil freshly baked fluffy pancakes and my family would rejoice and declare it all a roaring success and me the queen of pancakes.

What happened instead, was when I got home and opened the package, out rolled the tiniest pancakes known to man, woman and child. When I say they were tiny I mean TINY. You could eat these pancakes like you would popcorn. The disappointment felt in our hearts and stomachs after devouring the entire pack was palpable. It was then that my husband pointed out the obvious. A silver dollar is a large coin, from which the pancakes derive their name. Large, that is, for a coin- not so much for pancakes. Turns out there was one more American open secret I did not know of, much to the chagrin of my rumbling stomach.

 

 

Rainy Chronicles

Last night, my husband and I went to see the South African comedian Trevor Noah in San Francisco. We had looked forward to the show since tickets went on sale a few months ago, and bought our tickets and parking pass beforehand.

Since it was raining, we checked Waze beforehand to see how long it would take us to get to San Francisco. For the uninitiated, California has lovely weather almost year-round, which means that rain is A BIG DEAL. Although we get quite a bit of rainfall each year, people forget how to drive at the first sign of rain. Cars that can go upwards of 140 mph suddenly develop an inability to go past 25mph.

Certain bats from hell, who, I assume, are brain surgeons racing to perform life-saving procedures, fly past everyone, darting in and out of lanes, cutting in front of cars and braking suddenly when confronted with the reality of the rain-paralyzed drivers. This, of course, results in enraged drivers lowering their windows, angrily flipping out the offending bat from hell. Because, make no mistake, the rain may have paralyzed their driving skills, but their fine motor skills are weather-proof. Whenever incidents of road rage appear to start around me, I usually slow down and move away from that hot mess because this girl did not fly all the way from Kenya to become embroiled in road rage incidents that have nothing to do with her.

After a very long drive, we finally arrived at the swanky Chase center (new home of the Golden State Warriors), which was bedazzled in Christmas decorations. A ginormous Christmas tree greeted us at the entrance, with hundreds of selfie-taking couples crowding the area around it. Instagram will be lit- literally.

It was while we were standing in line ready to get into the arena that the comedy began. The security guard checked the ticket app on my phone and asked me, “Who are you here to see?” I responded, “Trevor Noah.”

“Oh, he’s in Oakland today.” the guard deadpanned.

I wanted to scream. We had looked forward to this day, hired a babysitter, driven in the rain for hours, had our car sniffed by a dog at the security check, finally found parking, only to find out that we were in the wrong city? Naturally, this alarmist train of thought was not a soliloquy. Outwardly, I froze and stared at my phone to make sure we had the right tickets. They were the right tickets, I looked up to find my husband and the guard laughing. They got me good.

Next, we went through airport type security and stood in a line where there were two very interesting characters. One was what we would call “mtu wa vitabu” back home. Meaning, a bookworm. Because who shows up to a comedy show bearing multiple tomes, requiring multiple passes on the scanner before they were cleared. I wondered if at some point during the show, while the rest of us were laughing so hard our faces hurt, this scholarly gentleman would open up one of his books and start to read, or if he would wait until the we, the general public, left, to lose himself in the latest volume of “The mind of the gentrified modernite” (he looked like the kind of person to read such esoteric literature).

I have encountered cheap people in my life. But the gentleman who was screened after the scholarly one takes the cake. If the cake is free of course. This guy had a water bottle, and as we all know, water bottles are not allowed past modern security screening stations. At first, I thought that maybe he hadn’t traveled anywhere before, and was unaware of this very basic rule. But I would very quickly be disabused of that notion.

He spent the next few minutes arguing with the security guard, asking why he couldn’t bring his water. She patiently answered his questions before giving up and rolling her eyes. She told him that he was holding up the security line ,and delaying others from entering the arena (I will take this moment to applaud Trevor Noah fans. Despite this inconvenience, no curse words were uttered, no middle fingers were flipped, and no fists were shaken in anyone’s direction.)

The guard told  the thirsty man that there was water for sale inside the arena, which finally revealed his real pain point. You see, the water inside the arena is very expensive (true, also San Francisco is a very expensive city to live in), and he wasn’t willing to pay for it (also true), and so he had brought his own water (not vitamin, ionized, sparkling) to drink. I should also add that the contentious water bottle was a plain plastic bottle- not the fancy UV light self-cleaning and self- sanitizing variety. The combination of the non-special water and the standard-issue plastic bottle added to the confoundment of all who witnessed the drama unfold. He was strongly encouraged to dispose of his water- and by strongly encouraged I mean two burly security guards showed up and assisted him in the task. He sullenly walked away from his beloved water bottle, ambling towards the arena, where, I hope, Trevor Noah was able to cheer him up.

Have a happy Holiday season, see you in 2020!

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?