Christmas in Kilifi

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The coastal town of Kilifi was just waking up but I was still in dreamland. My young face was a peaceful picture of sleep. My twelve-year-old heart was beating in anticipation of the sumptuous breakfast that mama and my ten-year old sister Nashibe were preparing. Our two-room kitchen had three fireplaces, and they were all busy.

One of the fireplaces was frying pancakes, with Nashibe, deftly flipping them over on the rugged frying pan, another one was unmanned as it was cooking tea and the other one, the biggest of all, was merrily heating a large, darkened pot. It was half filled with hot sand that bore a yellow bowl that bore a round cake that was almost fully baked.

The traditional oven was responsible for a very sweet smell that was coursing through the kitchen.

“Merry Christmas honey!” mama called out to papa when he emerged from the main house disheveled and smiling.

It is indeed Christmas, Nashibe thought. It’s not every day that mama calls papa ‘honey.’

Kenyans are not particularly fond of wearing their hearts on their sleeves. But they are quite fond of wearing Gucci-like attire on Christmas day.

“Where is my kitenge?” papa asked mama.

Kitenge is African wear that boasts of many colors aesthetically intertwined into designs and occasional wording. The previous Christmas, Jemimah, one of papa’s favorite niece had bought for him the kitenge attire he was now asking for. This Christmas, she had bought for him flawless safari boots that he planned to wear later in the day.

I awoke to the smell and sight of heaven.

The aroma of fresh cake sauntered into my nostrils as my bleary eyes made out a brand new Liverpool Football Club T-shirt. It was draped over a sack of maize on the floor. I closed my eyes again and said ‘thank you’ to Jesus. Even at that tender age, I was already addicted to two things – football and food.

Both were well tended for this Christmas morning. Mama was responsible for the latter and papa for the former. The T-shirt had cost papa five hundred shillings and he still frowned in recollection of the costly price tag. During breakfast, all the presents were officially handed out.

My seven-year old brother Kuka got a sleek, silk football short. If he had watched enough Hollywood movies by then, he would have hugged papa and mama. But he expressed his sheer gratitude, by flashing a smile so joyous it melted mama’s already mellow heart. My four year old sister Jane and Nashibe got pretty pinkish, reddish dresses that sent them into squeals of delight.

Mpari, our first born brother got a spanking new black jeans. His thanks were profuse.  

People are so smartly dressed that Christ must be smiling wherever he is, the Pastor thought and even commented about it in his sermon.

Rubbish, a rotund middle-aged lady in the front row thought. Christ is more concerned with our inner selves. She pointed this out to mama after the service. Mama just flashed her sunny smile and hurried home. She was hosting grandma plus her brother in-law Lenny for lunch.

It was a lunch that left all the diners sighing with gratification. They feasted on two fully-grown jogoos, cockerels, that mama had been overfeeding for the entire year, steamed white rice, steaming ugali, maize meal and diverse, plenteous helpings of traditional vegetables.  

The beefy cocks were roasted, fried, and boiled together with tomatoes, onions, coriander and a host of other delicious tidbits.

“Nimekuvulia kofia ya upishi mama Mpari!” Lenny said to mama as he smacked his lips.

“But you are not wearing any cap” Grandma innocently observed.

Old age and childhood are full of innocence, Lenny’s wife Betty thought as she cleared the table and helped mama to serve dessert of papaya and nanasi, pineapple.

The same quorum gathered again for dinner. This time, Lenny removed two caps for mama. He had devoured five big, round chapattis and licked away the green grammes stew that according to me, tasted like heaven.

And so the heavenly day came to a close, with a word of prayer from grandma. “Dear father in heaven,” she prayed, “thank you for your great love and the great food we ate today and for this great headscarf that my son bought for me, though he should have chosen a different color…”

Grandma’s prayers were so chatty that a few super-spiritual people found them irreverent. “…and finally, help us not to oversleep tomorrow.”


The prayer was over and Christmas was over.

DJ Bwakali

Words can inspire action and change the world

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