Cynthia Irandu

Cynthia Irandu

Sunday, 22 July 2018 07:37

Vanity's Enthralling Whisper

Nicki Asante worked as a receptionist during the day. She worked as a bartender at night. Both her jobs were in the up market Westlands area in Nairobi, Kenya. Westlands had a very lively night scene. The club scene was lively from Monday to Saturday. It was quite an electric district.

Nicki worked at one of the biggest technology firms. She received clients, scheduled appointments and booked trips for everyone: from the CEO to the company’s manager. It was the month of October. It was time for the short rains. The meteorologists had predicted that this was the month of El Niño. Oh well! Kenyan meteorologists could not be trusted with their predictions. It was unusually cold however. Nicki went to an Art Café, which was near her office block. The mocha warmed her up instantly. A few minutes later, she walked out of the posh coffee house and bumped into a street urchin. He was dirty and unkempt. He reeked of dirt and glue. A housefly hovered around him desperately.

During Moi’s era, just before he retired, the street urchins and beggars were relocated to rehabilitation centres. They had however found their way back to the streets in their large numbers.

“Hi aunty, you look good. Help me with some money I have breakfast,” the tiny street boy pleaded.

 “Leave me alone. Dirty boy,” she retorted.

“Only Ksh 50, then give me Ksh 100,” he insisted.

She was now annoyed. She reached into her Louis Vuitton imitation bag and threw some rusty coins on the road. The boy reminded her of her childhood. Growing up, Nicki did not have much. Nicki had fought tooth and nail to get out of her impoverished surroundings. First, she got a rich boyfriend during her college years. Second, she secured a job but left her boyfriend to cater for her expenses. She saved her money.

Finally, it was seven p.m. It was time for her night job. She applied heavy makeup and drove to the location at the exquisite upscale Capital Club. The club was for members only. Executives and expatriates frequented the club with the gorgeous chandeliers and marble floors. They also tipped well. The previous month, her friend Nuru had been written for a Ksh 75,000 cheque for her good service.

Nuru was a waitress. She was Swahili. She had curves in all the right places. All the ladies there were curvy apart from Nicki. Nicki was thin as a rake. The previous night, she had overheard one of her customers complaining to her manager. He accused the manager of overworking Nicki. Maybe that is why she did not have time to eat. Although it was a joke, Nicki was embarrassed. Every night, the bouncer would ask for her identification card. With her small frame, she easily passed for a Form Three student. Lately, she spent most of her money on vitamins and supplements. Some of those pills had led to skin breakouts. She needed another solution.

Facebook was proving to be very helpful. There was a group exclusively dedicated to skinny women like her. She sat on her king-size bed in her elegant room. Her Apple laptop was on top of her Persian duvet. On her face, was an avocado facial mask. Anytime she applied it, her boyfriend Mbugua could not keep a straight face. Today he was out with the boys at Tribeka, near Nation Centre watching an English Premier League match between Chelsea and South Hampton. That is what he told her. She didn’t know and didn’t care because soccer was not a sport that she enjoyed.

One of the girls in her Facebook group had uploaded her before and after photos. The photo on the right showed a more voluptuous frame. The trick was chicken feed. She had been injected with chicken feed in her hips and the change was drastic. There was a clinic at River Road, which offered that service for only Ksh 1000.

Nicki was excited. She took down the location’s details. The next morning, she ate Weetabix and prepared a heavy breakfast for Mbugua who had a major hangover. She took a tray upstairs for him. She then lied to him that she had an appointment with a nutritionist at Yaya Centre. He insisted on taking her but she declined. Mbugua was too tired to argue. He had drunk like a fish the previous night. He was also engaged in a bar brawl with Oti after his team Chelsea lost the game. Now his body ached all over. He rolled over and slept like a log while Nicki prepared for work.

Mbugua had bought her a BMW convertible for her 25th birthday. She drove at a snail’s pace. She reached her workplace on the dot. Nicki worked robotically. She went for an early lunch break. Usually, she went for lunch with her colleagues but today she was on a mission.

At River Road, there were many black market shops. The lady in her Facebook group had said Healthspan Medical Centre was the place to go. At the end of the street, she saw an illegible, dusty signboard. Nicki went up a flight of stairs into a small crowded clinic. Someone directed her to a minuscule office with a blood-red hospital bed. A stout man called Bonny excitedly introduced her to all the services the hospital provided. She said she wanted the chicken feed injection. Bonny told her that at Healthspan, the services were highly professional. The chicken feed injection was provided at the clinic next door.

A few months later, Mbugua was the envy of his friends. He had an African beauty with rich chocolate skin and a well-endowed figure. He was celebrating his engagement to Nicki at Heron’s Portico. Her friends had started calling her Nicki Minaj. She had the enviable 36-26-46 measurements. A month before her wedding, Nicki noticed some painless swellings around her left hip area. When she went to the doctor, he referred her to an Oncologist. The Cancer doctor had a grave expression on his face. He had seen many cancer patients in his career but it was never easy relaying the news. He first asked her general questions but then Nicki felt the urge to come clean with him and tell him about the chicken feed injection. The doctor was astonished. In his 20-year career, he had never heard anything that bizarre. Most, if not all of his cancer cases were caused naturally. Before giving her the news, he gave her a long lecture. He told her that some chicken feed contain feed additives called 3-Nitro or Roxarsone which contain the carcinogenic poison substance, arsenic. He told her that unfortunately, she had cancer. High levels of arsenic were found in her blood and that, she had abnormal cell growth in her leg and that the swellings on her left hip were malignant. She had cancer. If her leg was not amputated, the cancer would spread to other parts of her body.

It was as though someone had stabbed her. Oh no, what would she do? What else was in that chicken feed injection? Her skin paled, she felt lightheaded. Darkness engulfed her. When she came to, the loyal Mbugua was beside her in the hospital ward. He promised that the wedding would go on as planned. Nicki had no choice but to confess to Mbugua. She told him the naked truth. Mbugua was really angry but he tried to conceal it. He could not leave her at a time like this. It was a shame what her vanity had done to her. It had cost her a leg. Nicki would have to start loving herself.

Sunday, 22 July 2018 07:14

Kenya's Sacred Valley

Subukia Valley is a valley within the great wonder that is the Great Rift Valley. It is quite fascinating. The steep curves and meanders of the valley are magic to the eyes and the hilly landscape abundant with a cocktail of indigenous trees and vegetation reminds you of Mother Nature.

The sky above is a dome of azure. Birds spiral high up in the sky oblivious of the abundant beauty below. Located 210 kilometers West of Nairobi, Subukia is geographically at the centre of the country. The Equator also runs through Subukia, a meeting point of the northern and southern hemispheres. Places on the equator experience the quickest sunrises and sunsets.

No matter the time of day, the beauty of Subukia is timeless. The Subukia Valley was the Maasai’s beautiful place (Ol Momoi Sidai). Subukia is a Maasai word pronounced “isupuku”, meaning “higher grounds”. After the Maasai were evicted in 1911, other settlers came here. It is not hard to see why they preferred this valley. It has a serene, utopian beauty removed from the windy plateaus above it and the hot surface of the Rift Valley floor below.

In the years 1980 and 1985, the late Pope John Paul II came to Kenya for the Eucharistic Congress. After the holy encounter with His Holiness the Pope, the Kenya Episcopal Conference decided that a shrine to the Virgin Mary should be put up in the country. A request to the Nakuru Diocese was made. It was to facilitate the project.

Being in the middle of the country and therefore reachable from all parts of the country, it was very accessible. The shrine was then built on a 12-acre piece of land. In 1989, a special committee was selected to manage the affairs of the shrine. It was agreed that the original site of the shrine was too small, and an idea was proposed to have a larger site.

Within two days, an offer of 50 acres of free land was made. However, 200 acres would have to be bought for further development. The eve of 8th December 1991 was rather special and monumental.  The 8th of December is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The previous day, the headman of the workers Mr. Henry Muthuku was very busy. It was an ordinary day for him. What he did not know though, was that something extraordinary was about to happen.

The thick bush atop the hill was proving to be very cumbersome. He spent most of the day clearing it. On deciding to take a short break, Henry happened to see a wet patch of ground, which had a small spring of clear water in it. The greatest discoveries are made when people are taking breaks. Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree when he saw a falling apple while he thought about the forces of nature .He discovered gravity.

On opening a small gully down the slope, the water started flowing beautifully. This water makes visitors to make pilgrim visits to the shrine. It is said to be holy water, miraculous water. All you have to do is carry empty bottles and fill them to the brim.

Not everyone who visits the site is a pilgrim however. On 19th April 1998, religious fanaticism was at its highest. Some people believe that Catholics worship idols as per the statue of the Virgin Mary that is found in the site.

 Goons raided the shrine and burned down the shelter for the statue, the shelter over the altar area and the altar itself. An overzealous, turbaned religious fanatic descended on the shrine unleashing his anger on the statue. Mary’s head was later found in the bush .Hundreds of people continue with their pilgrimage to the site nonetheless.

It was the year 2007, around three months to the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education Examinations in November. My primary school was a day and boarding. In the final year, class eight, everybody enrolled in boarding. On one Saturday evening, the matron, a Catholic, called for a meeting of all Catholic class eight girls. She told us that we would visit the Subukia Shrine named Village of Mary Shrine by the late Cardinal Maurice Otunga. I am not overly religious but I was rather happy to be Catholic because I would get to leave school for the better part of the day.

Most Sundays in boarding were spent doing assignments, washing huge mountains of clothes or for those who valued relaxation like me, in the entertainment room watching repeats of the Australian television series, Neighbors. We left school at 11.00 a.m. It was going to be a spiritual drive so our matron made sure we sang Catholic hymns practically the whole way. This was hardly what my friends and I had anticipated but it was better than spending the day indoors.

Lake Nakuru was in view; the picturesque and enchanting lake with the pink flamingoes. We also saw the Great Rift Valley. Nyahururu Town is not far from Subukia. There is a viewpoint situated about 2,500 meters above sea level from where the expansive escarpments can be viewed. Below the rugged and hilly landscape, overlooking the fertile lands of Subukia stands a magnificent white cross that ushers you to the sacred grounds of the Village of Mary.

The shrine is eerily enchanting and fascinating. It makes you feel at one with nature and all things divine. There is a rock from the Grotto at Lourdes in France buried at the foot of the cross. There is also a stone from the Marian Shrine at Medjugorge, Bosnia-Herzegovina and another holy stone from the River Jordan in Israel.

The shrine, serene and tranquil, provided the right aura for prayer. We needed lots of prayers to pass our KCPE. Other than last-minute revision and Mr.Oduor’s traumatizing “brainstorming” where we were asked quick-fire questions, which we were to answer correctly, if, wrong, “kiboko”, lashes, we really needed prayers. We had already eaten lunch in the school bus. We ate fries, which was a rare treat in boarding. We set off for the hill, reciting the holy rosary.

We walked ten kilometers from the Subukia-Nyahururu road, before climbing a footpath, which meanders leading to a spring, our journey being marked by the Mysteries of the Way of the cross. We took the 12 steps- a symbol of Christ’s suffering before his crucifixion. Surely, we were not physically prepared for all that slimpossible exercise.

On top of the hill, we were greeted by a wellspring of cool waters and yet another shrine. We had carried empty bottles to fetch this holy water. Some had even donated their juice the previous night so that they would have empty bottles. We also saw a beautiful statue of the virgin.

The wooded rocky hill, where the statue of Mary is housed in a tiny hut, has a rich biodiversity- with more than 250 species of insects and over 200 grass species. There are also numerous indigenous trees, which are home to playful monkeys.

As the monkeys hopped from tree to tree whooping in delight, I was amazed at their agility. The tall trees with the chattering monkeys were African olea. Perched on one of the branches of the tree was the most fascinating bird. It aroused my interest with its rich color. On further enquiry, I was told it was an amethyst sunbird, a male. As I stood there watching it, it flew away.

With almost cat-like curiosity, I followed it through the thick maze of hardy cedar trees. It perched on a leafy Dombea tree, another one of the indigenous trees in the area. From where I stood, I could see the charming statue of the virgin. She seemed aware of her surroundings. No, it was just my imagination. The sun would set soon and the colorful birds would retire to their intricately designed nests. Just then, I heard someone calling me. It was time to go. Oh well, I knew I would go back to the shrine soon. By the time we went back to the sun, the sun was disappearing beneath the valley, the sacred valley.

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