Monday, August 26, 2013

The Call of the Wild?

There is no boredom like rural boredom. The heat avails little entertainment.

But certain wild pigeons which live in our roof amuse me greatly. During the day the resident couple go flying around with other wild-pigeon-friends of theirs, often returning to array themselves in a line on our roof,scanning the landscape, cooing commentary to one another. The amusing part is, whenever they see a person walking towards the house on which they are perched, they get all upset and fidgety, like "what's that human being looking for in these quarters?" Any sudden movement makes the whole flock of them fly for their lives. At any rate, they always take flight before anyone gets close enough to demonstrate how harmless he/she is. In their heads, it is THEIR house, we are the unwelcome pests.

It just goes to show you. All those travel brochures talking about tourism as a response to the call of the wild? They don't know what they're talking about. Take it from me: the wild is not calling you, or anyone. In fact the wild doesn't even want you anywhere near it, or even looking at it for that matter, because you're probably up to no good, and it's not going to be grateful for any good you may attempt. And if you mess with certain wild, it'll kill you.

Mid morning. I hid from the harsh sunlight and struggled to stay awake by reading outdated newspapers in the verandah.

Along came a lizard too big and too fast to be a common gecko. The very look of it spelt "wild." The alert eyes in its raised head depicted a decidedly predatory creature. Its rough scaly skin was at once beautiful and alarming. Using clawed feet at the ends of squat legs, the animal moved in sharp bursts of speed, coming to sudden dead standstills in which it seemed frozen on the spot, only flashing its forked tongue at the world.  I was oddly entranced by this ugly and yet rapacious hunter, entranced for a brief instant.

And then I realized that the animal was closing in on a brood of grazing chickens with each burst of speed. So I got up to chase after the animal, it raced towards a nearby tree, and that was the last I saw of it.  As I circled the tree to try and see it so I could know where to aim my missiles, it too was circling the same tree, ensuring it kept the tree trunk ever between us, climbing the trunk the whole time! I could hear its claws scraping the trunk on its upward way, it could hear my feet running about in circles around the tree. Soon it was too high up to follow, and I hadn't even seen it, so I gave up. Let's just say that lizard outwitted me entirely.

Nature is the artwork of GOD. The birds, the fishes and all the animals are of particular beauty, with minds of their own besides, to think their own brand of intelligent thoughts, to live their lives and bear young after their own kind.

We serve an awesome Creator.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hope Ever Springs Anew... Hopefully

What is hope but a thought in the mind, entirely divorced from grim reality?

Having too much time on my hands, I went strolling in my former neighbourhood, in which I transitioned from childhood to adulthood. Nostalgia propelled me from one event landmark to the next: the stony soccer pitch that scraped my skin and bruised my body almost every weekday, old friends' former residences, the café at which we often hung out and learnt early to spend money we didn't have, trees we met under and occasionally climbed, the dusty streets on which cheeky children played non-stop, random mad wanderers.

My walk inspired some good memories, like all the years The Ex and I shared in these places, alternately 'single together' (that's what we told people) or in a relationship. Mostly "it was complicated" as we circled each other like butterflies in hot pursuit, or spied on one another like CIA and KGB. We relied on informant networks - family and friends - all the while we acted, and claimed to be, disinterested/disillusioned.

Certain bad memories stood out as well, especially of alternately running and hiding in long misadventures, searching for food during the seige that post election violence (December 2007) turned out to be. Angry faces scowled everwhere, raging fires lit spontaneously, columns of thick black smoke poured skyward, gunshots rang out from near and afar. Mobs of livid men and women held sticks and stones aloft as their eyes looked to destroy something. Often, stampedes of panicked runners swept into view and vanished round the next turn as they fled from either of two known dangers. First, there were wild-eyed dedicated looters in those days who roamed about, raping and robbing. Nights were nightmares of apprehension. I had the misfortune of spotting the bloody corpse of one of their newly-killed victims, laid out in the street in grisly display. Twisted. Secondly, one could cross paths with armed cops wound up tight after running battles with these young Kisumu louts, self-styled Ninjas. The cops were said to disregard all bystanders' pleas of innocence, their modus operandi was allegedly to shoot key suspects, arrest the rest and then clobber only a few lucky survivors who escaped on foot with a furious dog hot on their trail. Either way, if a stampede in the open street came your way, you tried to outrun or overtake them - the danger, whatever it was, was at the back.

The few retailers who dared to trade in such a battleground quadrupled their prices.

One did well to stay indoors, even if the TV exclusively broadcast images of angry political lieutenants taking hardline positions in the face of eminent international mediators.

Yet even in those dark days I had hope. I was just starting university: one semester down, nine to go. The electoral fracas found me in Kisumu on holiday. The Ex and all our friends were available as well. Amidst the violence all around us, we found that we had too much unsupervised time on our hands. We managed to make an instrumental album, despite hunger pangs from skipping meals as a food rationing measure. One couple went the family way during this period. But those were happy days in our little enthusiastic perhaps ignorantly relatively carefree corner of Kisumu. (We were not demonstrating, peacefully or otherwise; just waiting it out.) The fracas would pass, the future would shine again with alluring prospects.
Six years later, when nostalgia lured me back to the scenes of my adolescence, I found that the biggest change that had changed was me. I have finished my undergrad only to get disillusioned with myself, the future don't look too bright no more, I'd probably go out and demonstrate for democracy and human rights now.

I forget: what is hope?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Length of Days

My paternal grandparents both died before I was born. However, I do have a "step-grandmother" - my grandfather's second wife. She is a jovial and likeable old lady, plump, sparsely wrinkled, very boisterous and enthusiastic, and simple in her tastes. And wise. I suppose becoming a widow decades ago toughened her some, having already gotten a head start in the school of hard knocks by growing up in the tough colonial era.

It took me a while to get to know grandma personally, because my ineptitude in speaking Dholuo made our conversations awkward. I was stuck to my city ways and languages like they were a badge of honor. But even in my younger days she often ventured to meet me halfway by struggling to speak Swahili. Over the years, however, my dholuo improved, and we have come to know and understand one another better. She often calls me aside to chat, most often on a certain bench, in her compound, under the shade of trees. From there we are sure to see any potential overhearers while they are still a long way off. I am still not fluent in Luo, but most of the time I'm only required to listen.

Humor usually crops up.

Grandma is not afraid to confess that she never once stepped in a classroom. She laughs about it: "In our days girls did not read. We were just herding cattle every day, every day herding cattle, until one day someone came and married you."

Talk of marriage quickly turns on me. "Take care not to marry a girl who knows too much. I have already instructed your mother that if you bring a girl here who crumples her nose at her or talks back to her, she should slap that girl's cheek and let her go back to her mother. You hear? And you should not bring for us a girl here who will make us struggle to speak a lot of Kiswahili. Just look for a good Luo girl who we can tell stories with. See your uncle, he married outside, now he never comes home, never sends money..."

At length her concerns turn to members of the extended family over which she is the matriarch. It is an empty title; few accord her the respect. Out of the blue, she questions me about why one of my cousins is "becoming hard-headed". In halting Dholuo I attempt to explain to her that the lad is merely in the hormonal doldrums of adolescence, that he will eventually pass that phase unscathed. The idea annoys her deeply, she dismisses the concept out of hand. "So that is how he wants to grow up? With craftiness and crookedness?" (Her exact words were "ojanja gi okora!" I had to suppress laughter, especially when she bent forward, lowered her palm to the grass and while raising her hand to the level of her head to signify a child growing up, chanted "ojanja okora ojanja okora ojanja." And then indignantly asked me, "what kind of adult will that one become?" Clicked her tongue. "And he has already begun this business of girls. The other day he went and bought lunch for himself and two girls at the market! He is okora! Why didn't he take the money home to buy soap?"

I nod. Everyone could use some soap at home.

Grandma continues: "Even nowadays when he is told something he makes his face angry. He thinks people are his agemates. Even if somebody's parents are good or bad, you have to persevere and obey them. That boy wants to get spoilt. He has grown horns like a bull. You should go and talk to him or he will become like [another cousin] who can no longer be helped now because it is too late."

I promise to advise the lad to leave craftiness and crookedness behind.

Grandma's opinions bear a certain practical wisdom, at least from her perspective and experience. Therefore when she speaks I listen, if only because she speaks with the absolute certainty of one who knows exactly what she is saying.