“Kuishi kwingi, ni kuona mengi” a famous saying in Kenya that warns young people to wait their turn for wisdom to be bestowed on them accompanied with grey hair and wrinkled skin. The lady seated next to Amani in a matatu could not agree with this statement, she fumbled with the little English words she knew, to communicate with her five year old granddaughter. From the look of things, she had been visiting her daughter in the big city of Nairobi from a humble rural home, and was shocked to be dealing with a child her greying hair could not save her from.
Amani finally got to Mbale the unknown destination at the end of the long nine hours of gathered tales and endless eating. Amani who was in the company of three other friends could not help but nib on popcorn, fried peas and biscuits that her friends provided, with her eyes still stuck on her novel. Among her friends was one guy with a demeanour of a bad boy who spent all his time picking on every passenger in the matatu which was mostly followed by a series of thunderous laughter.
She regretted having taken a friend’s advice of taking at least three litres of water every day to heal her cracked skin. The skin sure is supple but she had to make-do with filthy and used toilets at random stopovers.
During breaks, she was glad to stretch her legs and study the culture of the people she would meet in Mbale. Luckily a matatu that belonged to the same Sacco as the one she had boarded pulled into the parking. The passengers were mostly “big boned”, with butts and bellies extending on either sides of the body. Women were pleased to have conformed to the standards of their new destination, Nairobi. They wore wigs that seemed misplaced on their heads and high heeled shoes they could hardly walk in and for this they rewarded themselves with a soda as they surveyed the level of attention they had brought upon themselves.
She buried her head into her novel as soon as they left and only lifted it when they got to an unfamiliar place. The break from her novel was not disappointing. She was glad to encounter the confusion wrapped in the crops that were either cane or napier grass, millet or sorghum, sisal or the ornamental cousin. She sank into her seat to have a better view of the pairs of rollers, sparrows, sterling and weavers perched on the electricity lines with occasional dives at flies and crops for their feed.
In less than one kilometre, she had crossed three bridges, each with different activities. The first one harboured throngs of naked kids who intently covered their groins with one hand as they washed with the other free hand. The soapy kids took alternating dives in the river and went straight to hang on guava trees with bare butts. The second bridge is where the driver amid crunching sounds of gravel, almost exchanged jabs with a careless driver who wanted to overtake them yet the laws of traffic in Kenya forbids overtaking on a bridge. The third bridge was under construction, and so they were forced to take a diversion.
The three bridges may belong to a meandering river, because the scattered shrubs and the euphorbia species that stood untamed gave the town away to semi-arid, that three whole rivers cannot allow. She had for a long time thought, the condition was only prevalent in the east, north and coastal parts of Kenya, she was seeing the threats of famine and drought, if water land and food were not utilized carefully.
“Whine your waist” played in the background leading Amani to a siesta that put an end to the story recording.
Amani together with her three friends were received and taken to their home for the next three adventurous days. Day one saw the four friends interact with jolly women who required that they speak the local language. The scene of the granny in the matatu came rushing to Amani’s confused mind. She could not use the languages she was accustomed to, because the eager women did not make a word of it. It was their turn to mumble foreign words that left the bad boy bemused as he in turn threw a few Luo words to the ladies. His muscular body fit closely to his casual shirt which made him even more popular with the old women.
Later on, Amani and her friends visited the next village and were surprised to see scores of children pounding rocks. Western Kenya is well known for its gigantic rocks including one that produces water earning it the name “crying stone”. The tale of the “crying stone” somewhat resembles that of Moses in the Bible. It is said, the locals were suffering from a long drought, and it took a very powerful prayer to get the water to ooze out of the rock to quench the thirst of the villagers. Another tale was that of Luanda Magere, the Luo legend who turned into a rock when his enemy pieced his shadow. The Western part of Kenya is therefore well endowed with rocks, the rocks that are giving the road construction contractors the hardest time.
Although the rocks that stand erect even in shambas give the area unique scenery, they pose a major challenge to the locals. The rocks however earn revenue for the locals who break them into small pieces that are used to construct houses. In return some space is freed for mrere, managu and saga which are the famous traditional vegetables consumed in this region. The people of western are mostly farmers, who farm maize, potatoes, beans and even tea leaves. This is the area stereotypically known for its love of Ugali, chicken and tea. Visitors look forward to the well prepared ugali, and chicken that is keenly dissected to fit every aspiring eater. Tea is served after every meal; they currently have a tea factory to support their lifestyle.
Matatu and motorcycle rides are filled with drama, Amani discovered. Matatus exceed passenger limits but the unwilling seated passengers harden the wrinkles on their foreheads to let the unsuspecting Amani know that she was not welcome to squeeze. However this was not applicable to the bad boy, who insisted on sitting wherever he could, noting wryly that “the conductor was not stupid to stop for us.” He went on to push and pull and create space for Amani together with the other friends. He seemed to truly believe in the matatu adage that ‘there is always space for one more.’ This motto also applied to the boda bodas (public motorbikes), which bundled three happy riders at the back and roared on at breath neck speed.
Amani was glad to be in the company of her friends when night won the battle against sunshine. Her butterfly filled stomach, could not stop rumbling when, a night runner was reported to be taking rounds in the compound. She fell asleep immediately after the night runner was literally turned into the hunted. The unknown person was left with no option but to allow Amani and her hosts to have a goodnight rest when bad boy came of the house with a machete and pretended to sharpen it in order to use of the culprit. She was ready to leave for her home early the next morning to avoid a repeat of the night runner incident.
The tranquillity the rural area awed Amani. Despite the presence of a few polythene bags whirling on her feet, plant and animal waste were out of sight. Not even the overflowing sewers made an attempt to appear with a foul stench in the middle of the decent environment. Amani regretted that her visit had come to an end and that Nairobi full of blocked drainage systems awaited her. The robin chats in the bush that had confidence in their wings and hardly flew away on the sight of intruders would be replaced with marabou stocks and crows in Nairobi. The situation made her wonder if she preferred the green pastures in the city or the actual vegetation in the rural areas she visited.