Loose Stitches

Dear Fundis, why are you like this? Why do you take our dreams and visions and send them crashing into a heap of bitter disappointment, poor stitching and empty wallets? When did you become the dons of Character Development University?

Why do you take our clothing measurements, without writing them down, knowing full well that you don’t have the time, energy, ability or inclination to make outfits that fit us, or that bear even a passing resemblance to what we ordered? Sometimes, ours are the very first pair of trousers you are making, why do you let us find out when we collect a pair of pants which look like they quarreled and one leg decided to puff its chest out, kama dume, causing the other leg to sulk and ghost the dume leg? And when we are shocked, why do you tell us our left leg must have gotten bigger? How, unless we have been hopping atop the Bunyore hills on one leg, is that possible?

Why, even when we have important occasions to attend, do you suddenly start working on our clothes when we show up to pick them up? And why is some fabric always missing? Do you not care that this ridiculousness will be immortalized in our friend’s wedding photos? That, years later, when the happy couple has children, the children will ruefully shake their heads, looking at the photos and ask, “Mom, why are your bridesmaids dressed like this? Was this a thing back then?” and her blood will boil all over again when she remembers the poor stitching that forced her maid of honor to tie a leso over her dress when it ripped the minute she wore it simply because she dared to walk in her dress.

Why does the stitching on the clothes look like something that was done using a blunt wooden splinter, while you were running away from Kanjo? And why does the skirt, which was supposed to be a mermaid skirt, look like a deflated balloon? Why does his shirt hang high above his belly? Has inflation gotten so bad that we can no longer cover our bellies?

And you, fundi wa mjengo, who promised me that you have constructed and painted many houses before, complete with photos. I now realize you cobbled these pictures together by going around construction sites and taking photos, like a mjengo slay queen.  Why can’t my window close properly? And why is my friend’s bathroom floor slanting away from the drain hole instead of towards it? Are you a jajuok, greater than those of my neck of the woods, Alego, or their equally formidable comrades in Kitui, who can cause the water to defy gravity and drain towards higher ground?

And you, fundi who constructed my friend’s sky high bathroom sink, are you related to the one who constructed a sky high bathtub in my mother’s house? Are you secretly trying to turn all of us into high vault jumpers?

And then there are you who save your character development for our beds, the place we lay our heads to rest after surviving another day in these mean streets. You who assured us that making a bed was a simple affair. After all, how hard can it be to cut wood and make it stand on a wooden box, or on four legs? Sounds simple enough, no? Well, tell me why this bed has one leg that doesn’t touch the ground? As if it has too much pedho to touch the floor? And why do you claim it is because my floor is uneven, and not because you made one leg shorter?

I won’t even get into the horrors of paying an arm, a leg, and a piece of liver for curtains, only for the fabric to disappear, or of bakers who deliver the cake very late, and to show it’s solidarity with your own disappointment, the cake literally collapses into itself, like a sinkhole. 

I will not because this daughter of Alego cannot even.

Morsels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TMI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go there,” The Universe whispered

“Where?” The Voice bellowed

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

“You’re right! Thank you Universe!”

And so, I heard The Voice drawing closer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carpenaum

“Bro!” Nadab called.

“Dude, what?” an irritated Amasa responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cannibals?” Amasa repeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Torta Torture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Seconds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flighty Fingers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mteche: Have you entered the name and that number?

Me: Yes

Mteche: What does it say

Me: It says this is fraud

Long, awkward pause, followed by another pause

Me: Are you there?

Mteche: garbling noise

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

Mteche: I’m not a scammer

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

Mteche: They forgot

Me: Who are they?

Mteche: Twirra

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

Mteche: Have you entered the number in your phone?

Me: Of course

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

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

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

Me: chortling

Mteche: Why are you laughing!

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

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

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

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

15 Items

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

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

“Is this cart checking out?” I asked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NyarSiaya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love the skin you’re in.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

“Someni vijana, muongeze pia bidii, mwisho wa kusoma, mutapata kazi nzuri sana. Remember that song?” She asks animatedly. I nod, instantly transported back to my childhood, the then ubiquitous track now an ear worm, Henry Makobi’s gravelly voice exhorting us to study diligently, extolling the virtues of the rewards that awaited those of us who heeded his words of wisdom.

“I was a kid of the system. You know that girl who always had neatly plaited lines, clean, perfectly ironed school uniform, shiny shoes, and covered books?” I nod, recalling my tomboy self at that age, and knowing I was definitely not that girl since being a tomboy and possessing lady-like tendencies at the tender age of six were mutually exclusive.

“Anyway, I was that kid. I was a rule follower, still was until very recently.” She pauses to take a big scoop of her hot sundae mint chocolate ice cream, examining it briefly before savoring it. “ Now I just do what feels good to my soul. I was the top student in my KCPE class, top ten nationwide. So I went to school in Kikuyu.” She says this in the same obnoxiously casual manner people use to say “I went to college in Boston” (Code for Harvard).

“Remember, I was a kid of the system, nose in books, no extracurriculars to speak of, no monkey business with Busherians. Not after my mother had scared me half to death by saying, and I quote, “If you play with boys you will get pregnant.”

So after four years of studiously devouring my books, dissecting frogs in the name of Biology, handling corrosive chemicals during Chemistry labs, enduring countless Physics theories, and suffering through many hours of chapel to help us walk in the light and save us from eternal damnation, I sat for and, naturally, aced my KCSE alongside many other bright girls, and that was the end of my four years at Alliance Girls High School. 

From a very early age, I always knew I wanted to leave Kenya. One of my uncles had been part of the Tom Mboya airlift, spoke with a very American sounding accent, and shared inspirational stories of the endless possibilities in that land of opportunity for those willing to put in the work. I looked forward to his visits because he brought us fun toys, and once showed me a laptop and let me use it.I fell in love with computers then. The next time he came back to Kenya, he brought me my very own laptop. You don’t understand how excited I was. It’s literally the equivalent of…” She pauses, trying to find an equivalent, something that will capture the enormity of the moment. She comes up empty.

“Being given ten acres of land?” I venture a guess.

“Bigger!” she responds

“Winning the lottery?” I ask tongue in cheek.

We both burst out laughing, knowing that the odds of winning the lottery are lower than being struck by lightning while being bitten by a shark while wearing sequins.

“No, it was literally like discovering a whole new universe, one you had never heard of before, but you were intuitively attuned to. Fluent in their language, ingrained in their ways. That is what coding was to me. I was a natural.”

“Luckily for me, my uncle returned to Kenya to live there permanently, and I now had a coding tutor. It was later on that I found out the unfortunate circumstances of his return. A nasty divorce had rendered him almost penniless, and he had decided to return home, rather than be destitute in the United States. He was an inventive guy, hustling before it became fashionable, and soon, he had started a computer college just when they were becoming all the rage. When I was in form four, he told me about all these scholarships I could apply for, to study Computer Science. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for that man.”

“Where is he now?” I ask.

“He’s retired, his business was very successful, he got out of the computer classes business and went into selling land. Matter of fact, I buy most of my land from him. Original hustler,that guy. Still has a hint of an American accent after all these years. He married a Kenyan chic and their kids are in college now, matter of fact one of my cousins stays with me in the summer. Good people, that family.”

“So anyway, I aced my KCSE, got into UCLA, on a full scholarship, like everything paid for. Nakuambia, I am blessed. Very blessed.So there I was, a kid of the system, on my way to my dream degree, but still very sheltered. I land in LA, and head nose first into my books. My grades were great in my first year. Then I met them.” She pauses, a faraway look in her eyes.

“Them?” I ask ominously, are we talking about the white walkers?

“Oh come on, you know them. They are everywhere. She waves her hands for dramatic effect. 

“The people who come here to go to school and hop on the party bus and never get off. That crowd that’s been here since God was a boy and have nothing to show for their time here.” 

I nod, I know them, everyone does. Well, unless you are them, in which case, I wish you well.

“So I partied hard. For the first time in my life, I had freedom. Gai! I have never had that much booze in my entire life. Parents really shouldn’t let their kids come out here straight out of high school. Bad idea. And the more sheltered the kid, the worse they get. Luckily for me, my uncle had a good friend who lived in LA, and she sat me down and gave me a very stern talking-to. That woman saved me from dropping out of school and becoming one of them. She would also randomly drop in at my hostel to check on me. By the time I was in my third year I had met my coding tribe and was so deep into coding that no one needed to worry about me joining the partying hordes. Fast forward, two years later, cap and gown in place, I graduated, first with my Bachelors’, then my Masters, and then I went all in for Permanent Head Damage, or PhD, known in certain circles as ‘no class ahead’.”

Then tech came calling. I was a nerd in a sea of nerds. My friends back home think I lead a very flashy life. I mean, here I am, a single successful female, making what seems like a bazillion to people back home. I have achieved everything I ever wanted professionally. I lead teams at work, I travel internationally, I can vacation anywhere I want. But something is missing. My mom thinks she knows what, or should I say who, is missing. A husband. Now, there’s something I knew I never wanted. Marriage just doesn’t make sense to me. I am in my twenties, meet this guy, and promise to love him forever? I don’t even know what I want to wear next week, how can I promise to love someone forever? Plus I like my space, and I like my house silent. This society and its KPIs.”

“KPIs?” I repeat, as I have never heard it used socially.

“You’re in corporate America, you know KPIs.”

I nod, waiting for her to continue.

“Go to school and make good grades. Check. Don’t play with boys. Check. Go to university. Check. Get a good job. Check. Where is your husband? Huh? At what point should I have met this husband while not “playing with boys”? Also, why must I have a husband? Awino, this world is a hard place if you are single. People automatically assume I am defective. Let’s not even get into the 50% divorce rate in these United States. Or the stranger than fiction stories I hear from back home of spouses competing to see who can sleep with one half of Nairobi before the other one sleeps with the other half. Or the domestic violence cases globally. But you know what I like? Women of our generation are not taking responsibility for failed marriages. Or sitting down and pining for errant husbands. They are not going the prayer warrior, fight for your marriage route. If marriage is war, then weddings should be at army boot camp training grounds, not in church. Some men are on the receiving end too. They are beaten, cheated on, stolen from, it’s a jungle out there. By the way, do you listen to Patanisho?” She asks.

I burst out laughing. This is the second time in as many months that that show has been recommended to me. A friend of mine recommended it a couple months ago. Yes, I am now a Patanisho addict. It is hilarious, it is heartbreaking, it is life. Ghost Mulei’s laughter gives me life.

“Yes, I listen to it on YouTube, usually when making dinner for my family.” She high fives me. Two Kenyans far away from home, connecting on having found a piece of home, courtesy of YouTube, whose offices are less than an hour away from where we are having this conversation.

“What do you tell your family now? When they ask you about marriage?” I ask her.

“I tell them the truth. That I need my space. That I don’t want a husband in my house. That ‘leave me alone’ is my love language. Motherhood is not something that appeals to me. The way I see it, my nieces and nephews stand to inherit all my money, so what’s the problem? More for them, right?”

“I finally found the missing piece after I called myself for a series of small meetings. I want out of corporate America. It is financially great, but it is a grind. So I will keep at it for a few more years, then I will quit and go teach coding to kids. That’s what I really want to do. Once I identified it, I felt at peace. Now I do it once a week and it brings me so much joy, way more than the job that pays me a ton of money. I told my family back home and they thought I had lost my marbles. But I am not living my life by anyone’s KPIs anymore. I’m doing me.”

We finish our ice cream pensively, two Kenyan women so far away from home, having taken somewhat similar career paths, but diametrically opposite relationship paths. 

She asks me if I always wanted to be a mom. I nod emphatically. I didn’t know much about what I wanted for my future, but I knew that I definitely wanted to have a child.

“Oh, one more thing,” she adds, “can you believe that with all the education we strive to attain, no one stops to tell us to invest our money and generate wealth? Like, no one. It’s a travesty, I tell you.” She says emphatically, as I nod vigorously.

“Some might even call it an abomination.” I chime in.

She continues, “and that’s why we have so many high income cliff spenders, they make a ton of money but are living paycheck to paycheck. It is tragic, if you ask me. Richness and brokenness are two sides of the same coin. Both are temporary, both can become permanent poverty or wealth. I love this quote “The rich invest their money and spend what is left; the poor spend their money and invest what is left”. 

I chew on that for a minute. It makes perfect sense. She drops another one, “We Buy Things We Don’t Need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

As a voracious consumer of investment articles, I am always appreciative of finding kindred spirits when it comes to investment ideas. One of my favorite quotes is “Would you rather look rich but be broke, or look broke but be wealthy?” And so we spend some more time talking about the almost mandatory land purchase that every Kenyan investor feels obligated to make, trading notes and contacts.

“What would you tell your younger self?” I ask her.

“Can I swear?” she asks

“Sure, why not.”

“To hell with the KPIs. And to hell with those who think less of my accomplishments because I don’t have a Mrs. in front of my name. Life is short, live it unapologetically.”