A kid swimming in River Sio
Writing this for my beautiful girlfriend who has been complaining to me that of late I’m writing too much political stuff. Babe this for you. Hope you will enjoy it and at the end of the day learn some few things about my childhood that I have never told anyone before. Also hope by the end of your read, you can appreciate my roots.
I once said we all have stories from our worlds that we never ever want to forget, and this is mine. One day my kids, if I will be honored enough to have them, will read this and hope they will be proud of its content. I want them to be proudly part of my roots. I don’t want them to just know about their grandma but their great grandma too and how I wish someone had told me about my great-grandmother as well.
Welcome to Khadoda, a small village in Nambale, Busia County, Western Kenya. This is where dad was born and raised by grandma who was the third of grandpa Madekesi’s four wives. Before moving to our present home in Musoma village across the furious River Sio, this where my parents lived and where most of my extended family members still live. This is the place I used to spend most of my school holidays as a kid and allow me to tell you a little bit about it.
It’s been years since we lost my paternal grandmother, Redemter Barasa Wanzala but her image, her voice still lives on in my head. Kukhu, a once beautiful, medium-sized dark-skinned woman of Iteso descend was from a place called Atrait, some few kilometers from Malaba. God blessed her with 4 kids, dad being the first-born. Kukhu was nice but too strict for my liking, and also too nagging. Growing up used to hear mom complain that grandma just had too many issues. As she aged, just like many old people she was a job on her own. I remember how dad used to visit her almost on daily basis to check up on her. In one such impromptu visit, he found me there enjoying late breakfast on a school day. Don’t ask me how that meeting ended.
All in all, to me Kukhu was a rare stone. When she died I myself was just a kid and remember not even shading a tear, how callous of me! Standing by her grave as they laid her to rest, I watched mom, my siblings and other mourners cry including my young cousin, Babu who was barely out of diapers then.
I can still remember the mranda (nyama choma) aroma from her grass-thatched kitchen. It was a nice small mud-walled round hut that also served as a chicken coop and at times, especially during the rainy season did for a pen, sheltering kukhu’s stubborn goats. Before I forget, I once milked one of her lactating goat after she had left on her Legio Maria missions (she was a staunch Catholic and sometimes dragged me along, I think for fear of leaving me to make a mess of her tidy house. Loved the bananas she bought me after the service), and poured all the milk, about half a litre of it in the porridge she had left me behind. Babe I remember once telling you this and actually is part of the reasons I decided to write about granny.
Inside the kitchen, was soot all over and above the three-stoned hearth was well-arranged split firewood, tightly tied on two strong polls using rattans and sisal ropes. Kukhu used to say the firewood was for the rainy day, how brilliant.
Before her health started deteriorating she had a small space, a café sort of thing in Nambale town where she sold food on market days-Tuesday and Saturday with the help of my aunt, her only daughter. She served customers sour uji that customers took with githeri (boiled mixture of maize and beans), bread, mandazi or chapati and sometimes sweat potatoes and even arrowroots. During lunch hours there was ready ugali. Maize and also cassava-sorghum ugali that some customer “teremushaad” with meat stew, others with sukuma wiki and others mboga za kienyeji. Sometimes there was mushrooms on the menu, usually during the April rain. On the menu was also malasire (blood soup) and on other market days she had chiswa, white ants for her customers. This was my favorite.
Granny used to catch chiswa, especially the ones that came out during the night, by herself with the help of my older cousins. Armed with a lamp, a matchbox and one of my cousins following closely with a huge sufuria and another with a machete for clearing the bushes, she would lead the way to her favorite anthill before dawn came about. The following day after she had dried the chiswa over fire, I would spend it chewing the now turned-brown insects like they were some sort of snack then spend the next two days sick with diarrhoea. Granny would just be there ready with her bitter herbs. To date I still shudder with the mention of that dark green concoction prepared with a certain shrub known as khalulu in my native Luhya.
I remember a certain incident on a Saturday morning when granny found the githeri she had left cooking on the fire the previous night, missing. A thief had made a hole through the wall and took the githeri along with the sufuria. That day she went to the market without her nyoyo and she was so furious, narrating the incident to every familiar face she ran into on her path. Later on we found out that it was Akong’o the psycho who was behind granny’s miserable day. Akong’o for sure was quite a character. Can you imagine one night he entered another home, this time round in our village, again boring through the wall and killed about 20 chicken and ducks by strangling? You would think it was a leopard that was behind the havoc! He made a fire and roasted some, ate and left the rest lying there. Thank God the destroyer is now dead.
Whenever mum allowed me to visit granny, usually during school holidays, it was strictly for not more than a week but I always extended to her fury. She kept saying that if I get used to living with kukhu I won’t finish school. But who can blame me for loving kukhu’s place. That place was crazy, I tell you.
In the morning I would wake up, sometimes straight outta her bed where she used to let me sleep but only if I promised not to wet the bed, hurriedly wash my face ( forget brushing my teeth, that rarely happened when I was at my grandma’s), take breakfast under granny’s watchful eye and after emptying my mug of either tea or porridge, I took off. It was never easy getting out of her sight by the way, but I had my own tricks like that one of changing my moods like I want to cry. When she asked,
“Khalano wenya khulira si-na?”
I would lie that I want to pee, before she would chase me out. Once outside I would bolt off to join my friends. I played all day, only sneaking back to drink water and quickly bite something and again sneak away long before khukhu got wind of my presence.
In the afternoon me and my cousins, Edwin, Oscar, Nick, Chrispinus, Okoth, and the late Simon used to go swimming in river Sio. Swam till our skins were pale, as we played water games where one volunteer searches others in water and the first person he touches resumes the search. I was never fond of that game, especially when I was chased to deep waters in a river that harboured crocodiles, monitor lizards and dangerous snakes including the black mamba. So whenever I felt like I was done being in water, I would get some soft clay from the river bank and still nude, sit on a rock and create many things but mostly guns. I would make a machine gun, exactly like the one Commando (Arnold Schwarzenegger) had in Predator, that action movie I had watched at my step mom’s. Sometimes I just went and watched people harvesting sand down stream or those fishing using hooks.
If not swimming, we would join the hunting caravan which was a group made up of my older cousins (guys who used to give us those ugly nicknames) and some village boys with tens of mongrels, armed with crude weapons going into the jungle to hunt for hares, squirrels and even dik dik. One look at the troop and you would be left wondering which village was being raided (there’s war and you never heard wardrums). It was fun watching my cousin Edgar’s dogs (the only that didn’t leave a mongrel impression by the way) tear apart a poor squirrel. I would just be there behind the guys, already with a thorn or two in my feet, taking in the scene hungry with curiosity. Thank God I have an opportunity to write about it today.
At the end of the day they would get together and share the sweat amongst themselves, and sometimes made a fire there in the bushes and roasted some meat which they shared around.The dogs had only the bones and other unwanted parts such as the head for their “sweat”. The hides would be taken by guys who said they would sell them to the isukuti musicians for making ingalave drums. Later on I would limp back to kukhu’s house tired and dirty with clothes covered in black jack seeds and lots of other foreign dirt only to find her as angry as a rattlesnake.
“Mwana wa Peter uno!”She would start shouting as soon as she spotted me hiding behind the omsiola tree by the entrance to her compound. It was dusk.
” Orula-ena sai?” She will continue asking where I’ve been all day. When I said I was from hunting she would go ahead and ask, “na siduyu siao siri-ena?”
“Mbula!” I would respond, innocently displaying my empty palms. For a moment kukhu’s eyes would brighten and she would smile.
Of course I was empty-handed. The guys didn’t give us anything to take home. So mean of them. She would threaten to send me back home if I continue giving her headaches as she poured me cold water to bathe and later on serve me ugali with mboga (soup made from leaves-which I hated).
The next day I would wake up feeling fresh and the cycle continued. Poor grandma! I would follow Chris (now a GSU officer), to hit birds using catapults. He had made me one too which I proudly hanged down my neck like Bryan ” Birdman” Williams’s bling bling. We rolled marble from clay which we dried in the sun and used to hit birds from up the trees. Other days it was just watching the village guys set snares in the field for hares, some for quails and guinea fowls for soup.
One day with Oscar my cousin, we stole kukhu’s eggs, four of them and sold at Modi’s shop along the Mumias-Busia highway. We sold each egg for ksh.5 which we used to buy mandazis and sweets. In the evening when she asked, I denied and she believed but suspected Oscar who at the time was safe at their home, some few metres from Kukhu’s compound.
On another day, Oscar was nowhere to be found so her mum sent me to fetch her milk from a certain home. I remember with me I carried one of Kukhu’s new matchbox (don’t know why) and so on the way decided to set some grass along the village path on fire, and it was during the August holiday, when there was no rain and everything was so dry. The small fire in no time had broken into an unmanageable inferno that was spreading at a scary speed. I was frightened. I started running but it was too late. People caught up with me and I could see them all around me, threatening to take me to the scary village chief, Obela so that I can be whipped. How I cried that day. After putting out the fire, they took me to kukhu, thank God she was not around. She had left for shamba to check on her crops. That’s another day I don’t think I will ever forget.
Life at kukhu was so much fun and how I used to dread school opening days! Now that part of my life is gone, just like the rest of my childhood, together with kukhu and now all I’m left with is memories. Beautiful memories.
Rest in Peace Kukhu!
Now with this, not only my future kids and my future grand children and the rest of the generation who will have an idea about who you were, but hundreds of other people who I’ve never or will never meet in my lifetime. I don’t remember ever telling you, but today in your afterlife want you to know that I loved you so much. (Damn! I feel tears. Is this for real?)