I remember the days, the days I remember….
The days when I was a resident in my own domain, the world where my kicking and heart beats were the only connection I had with the outside world….only the kicks on the wall of my host’s body and the heartbeat detected by what the doctors’ call a ‘Fetoscope’. Sometimes I would assume any comfortable position whenever my host changed her’s, or sometimes I would stand and at that time my host would complain, trying to touch the surface of my world asking me to stay calm. I brought joy to my outside God…..for me he was a God though I came to learn that I should call him Father! Inside my world I would hear this God of mine putting his hand on the surface of my world…and I would also move closer to the direction of his palm…and move around quickly……leaving him overflowing with joy!
I was a full parasite of my host, depending on her for food, security and shelter. Although I was in my own world, I didn’t have the capacity to generate my own food…I couldn’t because in my world there were neither farms nor seeds - just an extensive network of irrigation. I couldn’t buy food as in my world there were neither shops nor markets! So I would always depend on my host; whenever she ate, I ate, whatever she ate, I ate. Yes, I had to…..I was a result of my host’s behavior of ‘adulthood’. But of course I did not feel hungry if she did not eat..What a wonderful parasite. I didn’t complain even when she chose not to take me to my seer, a nurse at a Clinic nearby. I hear that my host didn’t want me to get used to hospitals because upon coming into your world I’ll have to face lots of natural parasites, the diseases or Amarwei, on my own…..so she wanted me to be strong!.
I would always hear people outside my world talking to themselves,.. It’s gonna be a girl’’, By that time I felt as if someone was trying to take my heart away. I was furious, why would ‘they’ want me to be a girl? I sensed that the girls outside my world were only meant for marriage…..Yes, marriage, marriage and serving their husbands. Girls or women like my host, my mother, were always waking up early in the morning, they will always carry ‘Jembe’, on their shoulder, a machete or Panga in their hands and Bucket full of the utensils used during last night’s dinner, Clothes of other siblings – Amatati – as well as her husband and herself on her head. They would always go to clear fields and farms, pulling the sand from one side to the other and joining them to make an elevated line of sand, ‘Mugoka” where they would always put pieces of Cassava and sweat potatoes stacks in the prepared sand and wait to cultivate after several months. There was a belief that if you start pulling sand from one side for making a cropping line, a Mugoka, you need to finish pulling the sand from another side to form a complete Mugoka. This is because if you leave it unfinished and a hyena or ‘enghiti’ passes over it during night hours, you’ll become very lazy, such that you can’t support your family. I’m not sure about that, but I think I’ll have to finish mine when I come into your world.
The women would also make a harvest of Cassava on the very same day..and then go to the shore of Lake Victoria, wash the clothes, utensils and themselves, then take the clothes, utensils and a bucket full of water for use at home. Upon reaching home they would always begin preparing food for the family. Having just made a lunch of cassava, they would make Ugali or Bhukima served with fish or sometimes cassava leaves. These are the ‘go’ foods, the foods that only makes us alive to go on living. Remembering that they left harvested cassava in the farm, they would go back to pick them. However, on the way they would look for fire wood, taking a locally-made container, a Ruhungo, full of cassava on their head and fire wood on top.
There were no milling machines in the village, so at evening hours, women would go to a nearby big flat stone, sit on top, put some dry cassava between their legs, and pound the cassava into tiny pieces using a piece of wood, a Ehore. They then take this flour and filter it using a local item called a chekecheo, repeating the exercise until enough flour is obtained. This flour is used to cook the family meals of Bhukima or Ugali. I would always smell the cassava flour near the door of my world, when my host would separate her legs to create a barrier to stop the cassava from escaping; I would often hear sweat flowing along the surface of my world. And the bad thing was that the daily timetable was very rigid for girls and women in their village. For example, one day before I joined this new world of yours my host had undergone that stressful routine, just before forcibly pushing me from my world into yours. So why would I want to be born a Girl in this new world? No..No…No…..I am better as I am …a boy!.
In my culture a boy would always be considered as precious gift, Just after escaping my realm and coming into your world, a father or ‘God’ would always stand outside the grass-covered hut, shared with animals ‘Ebhimoli’ and birds ‘engoko’ and a host like mine would always force the boy from his nine-month dwelling, into this unfair world of yours, with grandmother around encouraging the host to push, The host would push and push and push, with a very long and thick mucus pouring from her nose ‘ekimila’ or ‘kamasi’. She would be sweating and crying, and when the baby escapes from his world into this world of yours, the first thing the people would look for is not the resemblance to the parents or any defect. Rather, they would always rush to look for the genitalia, screaming, “it’s a Boy!”
Then a father would come, hold him in his hands higher and higher and even forgetting my tired and possibly bleeding postnatal host. The Father would name the infant, perhaps with the name of a deceased person, or other times with the season, a current event, or a friend’s family name. Thus, surprisingly you can hear someone being called night or Butiku or Uchaguzi during General Election, Mapinduzi during Zanzibar Revolution, Osama during 9/11, Obama during USA campaigns, or even Shwaziniga if a father had recently seen a movie starring the Californian governor. The whole community would always support him to become a responsible man. If there are cows he would always protect them since he would have been promised some as payment for a bride-price. When he wants to marry, however, and there are no cows in the family, he would be promised the cows from one of his sisters’ marriages. I remember one day when I was about half a year old, I overhead women saying that there was a time when the whole village was hit by hunger, and girls were exchanged for food. In that time, a boy in a family with no cows would not get married. For example, my prospective uncle, a young brother of my father who didn’t get married. My aunt, whose bride price cows could have been used by my uncle to get himself a wife, was exchanged for ten sacks of millet, leaving my uncle a bachelor to his death. What an unfortunate Uncle!
This is the world of yours I came to live in! Such an unfair world towards women!
I was really frightened to come into this world of yours, when I thought it over. Nonetheless, despite the burden of being born, here I am at the end of the day with almost 31 years since my birth. My host decided not to continue hosting me in my former world; she decided that I was to be thrown into this wicked world, accompanied by her screams and lots of blood in a dirty house. My host, my mother, made sure that I entered this world despite its bitterness and unfairness, to have a taste of life as a boy. That’s when I came to realize that I’ve to write another new story of my life. Not the one I just told you, about my emergence from my mother’s womb, my own world, but another story...not the old one.
Thirty-one years ago…thirty-one years ago my only way of expressing my feelings or fear was just crying! If I was hungry I would cry until my mom put me on her mastit. Whenever I was bitten by a mosquito, following sleeping on the edge of my parent’s bed as they were playing ‘adulthood games’ during the night, I would cry. Whenever I was tired of the smell and taste of the sweat on my mother’s back as she was coming from the farm hanging me on her back using a piece of old cloth or mbeleko, I would cry! Even whenever I was being hanged on pants of the weighing scale at the Village Clinic, I would cry! Whenever I was given a tasteless or sugarless Cassava made porridge Ekilongoli, I would cry! Crying! Crying! Crying! It was my only way of communicating, my only language! Thank God that, crying or not crying, my life went on. At four months of age, they started giving me cassava-based ugali with a very sticky and mucoid vegetable, mlenda or enkurila. I hear that sometimes the very same mlenda was being used as glue in schools, so you can imagine how young I was when I started gluing the walls of my intestine with cassava-based ugali. I hear that sometimes I would even finish a day without passing flatus or stool, only my abdomen extending more and more as long as I keep on consuming the glue! In that case my Grandma would be very happy cerebrating how good I am at eating…then they would give me a cup full of a reddish brown juice made of boiled skins of the mango tree, helping me to expel the ‘glue’ from my intestine. After half an hour or more, I would pass a lot of foul smelling intestinally processed glue – Ugali sandwich – and days kept on going, with me growing older and older.
Before I forget to tell you, I was given a name. I was named after a famous tree which produces tiny reddish brown fruits that we used to call obhusangula. I hear that my first generation grandfather was found in the Bush, lying unconscious below the omusangula tree. They didn’t know where he was from and his host family nursed him and later they gave him cows and got him a wife; now we are his descendants. I don’t believe the story. As my grandfather once told me, we are descendents of Ithuri, father of Nsansi and Salabha. Nsansi was a famous fisherman who travelled from Sudan via Kenya and settled himself at Busurwa along the shore of Lake Victoria, where he continued with the fishing carrier. He is my great grandfather, and his brother Salabha, a millet farmer, remained in Buturi, the Luo Land where he continued with his ‘Cain’ work, or farming.
I was also told that Nsansi was deaf, a result of an event that happened one day when he was going to the lake. On the way a group of bees attacked him, and he ran into the water to save himself. Unfortunately the bees did not leave him, and they were on the top of water waiting for him to show his head and whenever he tried to show his head up for air, they would bite him. So he stayed inside the water until the darkness fell and bees couldn’t see him, However, the water damaged his ears and that defect was carried to the following generation. So when my mother called me and I pretended not to hear her, there was no offense as it was our genetic defect! Deafness! But I wasn’t deaf!
At the age of five, I was very sick, and my stomach became swollen to the extent that I would consume two litres of porridge. My appetite was increasing day after day, but I was losing weight. My parents were not aware of the disease called Marasmus, So my father created a small sample boat and brought it to me with several traditional weapons thought to be used by my great grandfather for fishing activities. Grandfather once used some of the weapons to kill a hippo, which was believed to be owned by a famous sorcerer in our village. The sorcerer frightened him by saying that he would not leave his family alone. My father believed that my sickness was the inherited curse of the sorcerer to our great grandfather, so he brought the entire bunch of weapons to break the curse…but at the end I didn’t get better! I think only God knows how I survived.
Then came the time when I needed to be circumcised. I was very worried as I heard people talking of how painful it was. I heard that a person was not supposed to touch the hand of the Ngariba a person who performs the act. You will always be fined to pay a cow or a goat if you touch the hand of Ngariba, so no matter how painful it is, one must not touch the hand of this person.
I also heard that there was one man who was not circumcised, and when he died, the culture didn’t allow the village to bury uncircumcised man. Therefore, they circumcised the dead body! As you can see, there is no running from it, and even if I don’t agree to be circumcised, they will circumcise my dead body anyway…
So I went to the circumcision ground, just after an overnight ceremony of tradition dances and drinks to cerebrate the day that my uncles and I were turning to adulthood. It was a very painful process, with neither anesthesia nor antipain. And I’m not able to tell you the pain I felt. By that time girls also were being circumcised. We were circumcised by several girls and we shared a house. It was not easy of course.. Sharing a house with girls while you’re already a man! Sometime later I came to realize that it was a toughness test. We were being prepared to become strong men! After a week or so, I regained my energy and life continued.
As time went on, I grew up. Sometimes I would go with my father, a fisherman, on the lake, and on our way we would find some women cooking a local brew called obulandi, or what our neighbors in Kenya call Chang’aa. I hear that it is a prohibited drink, and that whenever the police come, all the women and people involved would run into water and swim and swim to the extent that the police cannot find them. It is cooked using a local distillation method similar to what I came to realize is the same model was used in practical studies in secondary school chemistry. Then they would give me a small cup full of Chang’aa, they called it a ‘Pegi’. It’s about quarter of a litre. Sometimes they would give me three pegis, and I would drink them all!
Then we would go into the lake in a small boat; my father would say, “If you see anything floating don’t speak of it.” I asked why, and he would reply, ‘The lake is a mysterious and magical thing, when you see and start shouting, for sure we’ll sink’ Then he told me lots of more stories about the lake. When people would be travelling on the lake and see a floating dead body, they would always remove the air in the abdomen by a sharp object and the dead body would sink…That’s a way of burying them . And when you go ashore and find a dead body brought by waves, you must talk to it, tell it that you cannot handle it yourself and ask it to wait for you until you find help. And of course when you come back you will find it there and bury it with respect, but If you find a dead body and run away, its curse will not leave your family. At last I came to realize that the lake, Lake Victoria is very mysterious indeed.
But what I remember most about fishing was the day I caught a tilapia fish for the first time at the age of six, and as a sign of respect I was offered the head, and I was supposed to eat the gills, eyes, brain; I was supposed to eat all of it. And luckily I did it!
I started primary school without a shirt. I had only shorts, and I had no shoes! Do you believe that not wearing shoes poses a risk to helminthic infections? I didn’t. My leg would contain several tunnels of all kinds of sharp objects which pierce the skin, some time I would rub it on a very big rock to at least remove the separated ridges, called amang’a or machacha on the palms of my foot; I was usually not successful. I heard that my great grandmother has a very big ridged tunnel on the palm of her left leg that she could even use to hide a local cigar. However, at the end she died after the tunnel got infected with a serious incurable bacterial infection. My only chance of survival came after my sister’s shoes became too small for her feet. I inherited the crocodile skin made shoes which of course I later passed on to my young brother after my feet became bigger. It was a wonderful method of sharing resources!
I witnessed my father marrying a second wife; she was my elder sister’s age but what could I have done? I just enjoyed the cow’s meat on the wedding day. She was from Rukuba, one of the island of Lake Victoria. She came in a boat and was then transported on a bicycle to her husband. However, when they reached a river that they had to cross, the bride refused until she was paid half a dollar. By that time, the eighties, that was a large amount of money. It is common in our culture for the bride to refuse doing something until paid some money. I don’t know how it in your own culture ,The very same day we saw a white person, or Mzungu. I was really frightened as I couldn’t imagine that there are people who are so white in this world. A lot of children surrounded him trying to touch him and touch themselves to see if they will become white like him. For me I didn’t even dare to touch him. Even after my father introduced him as a missionary and asked me to greet him, I ran into the kitchen. Poor me. But when it was the time for him to leave, all children ran to the road, and they formed a line on the road bending to smell the diesel in the tire marks on the road. By that time I would join them to feel the smell left by the car tyres. We would even fight for the space!
That same year, my cousin discovered my extraordinary academic performance and decided to send me to Shinyanga to finish my primary education.
There, another story begins…….
To be continued……