Deadbeat Turtles

I have been living in Mombasa for close to 9 years now. (It sounds like a century when I say it aloud.) The night before we left Nairobi, I had vivid dreams of the house I’d be living in. It was expansive, with windows the size of Brexit and light rainbow curtains that blew in the wind to the roof. It had large glass sliding doors and windows, an open plan kitchen, and a fridge wider than river Ewaso Nyiro. Oh, it was also all white.

Fun costs money. Although many Kenyans love to have fun, the plans die like a mushroom at midday when we realise how much it will cost. However, the problem isn’t money; we don’t know where to have fun for little money. And I’m bringing you the cheat sheet.

Instead, I landed in a tiny apartment with a toilet so tiny I couldn’t shower and think at the same time. It had only one window, and it was neither glass nor sliding – it was by a wire mesh to keep away mosquitoes. That wire must have been manufactured at the same time as the Nyayo car. The house was white all right, but with Indomie advert all over on the outside walls.

I don’t need to tell you I wasn’t balling in that house. It was so hot that we had to leave and stay outside when we cooked. We didn’t live there for long, but it took a few years (and a few houses) to get a house that I remotely loved living in.

The best part of that life was, we went to the beach DAILY. It was new and fun and cheap – we just needed fare. After a while, the beach gets old. You need something new, and new things mean having money. You most definitely have established by now that we didn’t have much of that by then. What I didn’t know is you can have lots of fun for little money in Mombasa.

On Sunday, we decided we were going for a picnic. We wanted a picnic at the beach, but with some shade and green. We didn’t know where we’d get that, but one of us suggested we go to Jumba ruins in Mtwapa.

I’m not a fan of history. I dropped it in form two after learning about Agrarian Revolution and donkeys in Mesopotamia. I wasn’t sure this was a good idea for me. But I was excited to go out. So we agreed to make it a potluck and have a good time out.

I made popcorn and packed water. After the church service, we bought bananas from a hawker and waited for chips to be ready. We waited for so long; it left like we were helping Mandela finish his prison sentence. That is one thing that I’m yet to get used to as an ex-Nairobian. My people in Mombasa don’t count their chicks before they hatch. Even in the hotels, they start cooking when they see the mouths that will be eating. I grew white hair and developed arthritis while waiting for those potatoes.

And then we took the drive to Jumba la Mtwana. It’s a bit past Mtwapa town if you’re coming from Mombasa town. After the bridge, take a right turn and keep driving down until you see the signage. You’ll know you have arrived when you see Akothee’s white house. That house was the house in my dreams! I didn’t think it existed until I saw it! Heee, madam boss, I have seen my dreams with my own two eyes. If you’re reading this and need someone to manage it for you, say the word. My people will be in contact with your people.

We had hoped to bypass the ruins because we didn’t think we’d afford to pay the fees needed. We just wanted to access the beach. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that it only costs Ksh. 100 for adults and Ksh 50 for kids. We were two families with two children each. That was just Ksh. 600.

We parked and started our walk around. I may have hated history, but Jumba ruins aren’t history – it’s nostalgia. It’s stepping back into time and seeing a life far different from what you’re living that happened at the very place you’re stepping. I wasn’t prepared to be so moved by coral and cement from the 14th century.

The ruins are strategically set up on a raised part of the beach as a security strategy. The inhabitants needed to see the enemy ships approaching. Who else feels like we need something like this today? An app that identifies the pretenders and narcissists in your life and sounds a siren when you meet them?  

I was ready to die of boredom, but I was so pleasantly surprised. The grounds are green and perfect for a picnic. We spread our Maasai shawls on the ground and unpacked our lunch. One of the men on the trip had made samosas that were so good; I wanted to ask if manna was part of the ingredients. The view of the beach was perfect for melting problems, real and imagined.

The kids had a fantastic time in the waters. The best part of the trip was when we witnessed baby turtles being released into the water. Mommy turtles come to shore to lay their eggs, and when the eggs hatch, the tiny turtles scuttle away to the waters at night.

But the crabs know this, so they lay in wait. As the little turtles run to begin their lives, each crab grabs one. The turtles are now endangered. Because of this, the Kenya Wildlife Service and other conservation enthusiasts carefully remove the turtles, put them in a bucket, and release them into the water. The turtles need to walk to the water by themselves because the females have to find their way back to the beach they were hatched to lay their eggs when they are of age —talk of finding their true North. The males never come back on land. (deadbeat turtles!)

I couldn’t imagine we had had fun in Mombasa for so little. Clearly, all you need to have a great time in Mombasa is a means of transport and heavenly samosas. Watching the little turtles struggle to take their first walk home is a different type of Nirvana.

This room

My rainbow shoes and I have sat in this room with another Mom, a grandpa and daddy Peppa every day since school reopenned.

Every day at around 11:30, I have dropped miss T’s lunch in the classroom next door and listened to baby banter, cries and things falling. Where there are kids, things will fall; things will break and people will sometimes cry or return an eye for an eye.

There are days I have sat here with a book — I finished Maya Angelou’s ‘I know why the caged bird sings’ here. Here, I discovered that the funny chinese-looking English comedian has written a book. I downloaded it on AllBooks App, read it and didn’t like it. I haven’t finished it so it may be a good one eventually.

I have sat down with my laptop to finish an article whose deadline is slowly coming at me like a haka dancer. I have tried to plan my days when it looks like several days are coming at me at once.

This room has been a bus stop of sorts, where I sit and wait for Miss T to finish her food and then we move on with the business of growing up. I have always desired to be a present Mom. To just be there to do the minutest and ‘mundanest’ of things for my two girls.

One time, while I was still fumbling under the waters of the corporate world to find a footing, I was asked by a colleague what my life goal was. I said, ” To be there for my children and bring up godly children.” Long after that, I kicked myself repeatedly for giving such an ambitionless answer. I mean, I should have said something intelligent like, ‘Be a CEO’ by the time I’m 40.” I battled with it. Was being “Mom” glorious enough? I asked myself many times if indeed I believed this to be the best job yet.

Every day, when Miss T is done with her lunch, she runs to this room. She peeps at the door and I pretend not to see her. And then she jumps and says, “Boom!” I give an exaggerated startle, turn sharply, jump up and pretend how much she scared me. She brightens, her eyes twinkle, her smile stretches to Madagascar and her laughter is like baby thunder.

Today is the last day I’m sitting in this room waiting for her. It’s the last day of her Foundation Stage One class and of going home at midday. When we come back in September, she’ll be a big girl, she’ll be wearing uniform, and she’ll be going home at 2:50 PM.

She has grown. I have seen her grow, in this room. Today, when she appeared and peeped again in readiness for a startle, I knew, it’s still the best job ever. I have many jobs, but this one tops them all.

Hold on mama. The good news is, they grow so fast. The bad news is, they grow so fast!

Salut, GOAT

In February 2014, we got onto a motorbike and chased a Mash Cool bus down Mombasa road from River rd to Bellevue. That’s how our life in Mombasa started – fast and furious. When we arrived, we went to one of the houses we had secured, took one look at it and decided, “I’m never living here.”

We went back to house hunting at 5 PM with an impatient pick-up driver running the meter on our charges. We finally settled for a bedsitter the size of a shoe – I was literally the woman who lived in a shoe – minus the kids. It was so hot in that bedsitter that you couldn’t cook and breathe at the same time; you ran the risk of scalding your lung tissue.

We stayed there for a month and moved to a one-bedroom house that was shaped like a trapezoid. We didn’t even know how and where we’d put seats in that house, so we never bought any. (We were also stray dog broke, we couldn’t afford it, so we blamed the house.)

The house rent was also above our depth; we were amateurs swimming in the deep end here, so one fine Saturday morning, K left and came back after a few hours with fantastic news – he had found us a new house! This was our second month there, and we were already onto house number 3!

We moved immediately and forgave the fact that it was right in the middle of a village where I had to jump over duckling and baby goats on my way to work. Also, the house was painted green; it nauseatingly reminded me of the amoeba pills – Flagyl. I’d get a stomachache just sitting in the living room with the green walls. To be fair to the house, I was in my first trimester and averse to almost everything. But that shade of green gave me retches.

Four months later, some good friends of ours who lived in a two-bedroomed house with a master ensuite were moving countries. They asked if we wanted to inherit their house. They had paid the rent for the month anyway, and it wasn’t being refunded regardless, so we moved. It was bigger, much bigger than any house I had ever lived in. And it had a bathroom in the bedroom. People!  The rent was twice what we were paying in the Flagyl house.

I had just found a job, and in my calculations, we’d make the rent with my new money. (Chop my moneeeey) We did. Until I quit one Wednesday morning in the middle of August, I couldn’t even wait for the month to end; my mental health was at stake. Toxic team leaders can drive you nuts faster than it takes Carl Tundo to win the safari rally. (Did he win? Who won? I just It wasn’t a Subaru guy)

I comforted myself that I would start writing, it’d make me some money, and we’d be swimming in cash before cockcrow. Writers don’t tell you that it can take years before your words on paper make you a coin. I made nothing. By the end of the month, it was clear – I needed to help K with the bills, or we would have to eat ash. He was working very hard for us, paying all the bills, saving a lot and financing insurance policies for us and the baby.

When there was so much more month at the end of the money than we’d have desired, we sat down again. We needed to downscale. It pained me to lose the bathroom in the bedroom, but we eventually moved out to a one-bedroom house. At least this one was in a shape I had seen in my high school class, and the seats could fit. My next-door neighbour was a call girl who left for work at 10 PM and came back at 6 AM drunk and spewing cuss words like she swallowed a toilet. She also had a little girl who she’d leave alone in the house the whole night.

It was within our means, and we loved that we could sustain ourselves very well from there. As fate would have it, a few weeks into that house, someone wanted K to tutor their child after school. The pay was good and a welcome augments to our income. On the week they started learning, she asked where we lived.

“In Mtwapa”

“Really? I have houses in Mtwapa; you can move in for free and keep tutoring my kid!”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we ended up in an apartment with a swimming pool! It wasn’t free because it was paid for by tutoring, but the money was way less than the rent, so we held the long end of this stick. We lived there until they sold the houses, and “a new king who didn’t know Joseph came to power.” We moved out. But by now, we could have paid rent anywhere we wanted. (Ok, not anywhere, but I could afford a bathroom in my bedroom.)

In February 2020, we made heavy investments in the transport industry. As per our calculations, we’d be swapping business cards with Ariko Dangote in a few months. Ok. That’s a little far-fetched, but we were hopeful. Then March 2020 came, and the transport was grounded. We had not even been inspected when NTSA announced that they would be closing their offices indefinitely.

I saw that, and I felt my heart fall inside my large intestines. My pancreas shifted, and I swear I heard the mitochondria in my body conversing in Spanish. If I didn’t get a cardiac arrest in 2020, nothing will ever arrest me. We watched as no money came in, yet we had poured lots of ours into this business. Nothing was happening for months, and I began to fear I’d have to leave my house with a bathroom in the bedroom again.

Things got thicker than yesterday’s porridge. At one point, we had a conversation with the landlady to look upon us with mercy like the blind Bartimaeus. I think she reads the gospel according to St. Mark because she listened and gave us a slight reprieve for a little while. It didn’t last long, but it saved us from sleeping on Ugali and salt.

We’re still not where our 2019 vision board projected, but we’re holding on. Every time I see the prices of commodities go up, I can feel the blood sugar barometer teetering. When I see celebs crying on social media because they were given less than they thought they should have; or they got ringworms and are now crying about how they have a hospital bill of 2 Million that we should help pay, I ask myself, “Is their blood also comprised of 55% plasma and 45% platelets like the rest of us?”

That person walking in town with a shoe bent at the heels, and hidden holes in his pocket is battling things they can’t even begin to write about. Most of us don’t have the fans and the following to ask for bail-outs; we just crouch and trudge on until we emerge from the sewers. These ordinary Kenyans who know it’s God for us all are the real celebs. You are the real OG.

Today I just want to say to you who’s just deleting items from the budget: “Salut, GOAT!” Things will get better, believe me.

Babaa

She stands there, with the mic on her hand precariously close to her mouth, making OCD people in the room get instant fevers and the shakes as they think of all the germs on the mic’s head – and this was before a short man with a conical rice-hat ate a bat in Wuhan.

Her headgear is higher than Kenya’s loans and more colourful than a butterfly farm in autumn. She’s wearing a kitenge outfit that she picked from the tailor this morning, although he had sworn by his great-grandfather’s grave that it’d be ready a week to the wedding. Tailors will be assigned the toilet duty in heaven if they manage to fool St. Peter at the gate.

The dress has loose threads under the arms – which is now giving the OCD people a fit. But, it’s still shining in its newness like a freshly roofed house. Unfortunately, it’s also now slightly creased from behind, like it’s showing people the paradox that’s life – new, shiny, but creased. If this dress were human, it’d be a philosopher. Or a jilted lover who instantly becomes a motivational speaker.

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Grace for the Clumsy

Early this week, I made French fries and chicken marinated with a mother’s love. I hurried through it like I hurry through everything nowadays, there doesn’t seem to be enough time for anything.

I feel like an I need to be a human mom with an elephant’s brain, octopus’ hands and the patience of a hunting cheetah. The food was on the school menu, and I always strive to make for the kids what’s on the school menu.

I garnished the food with the pride I feel for my little queens and topped it with some more love. I even wrote a note for miss Z on her lunch box, but only sent Miss T’s Z with good wishes because girl can’t differentiate a T from a Z. I hurried to school and presented it to her teacher just in time.

As the other kids sat down to eat, I saw a boy extend his hand to the little purple and white lunch box. The lid on the lunch box is loose, I prayed to the trinity that he wont touch it. Before my prayer reached the ceiling, he touched it. Then he grabbed it with one hand and dangled it between his index finger and thumb like you would dangle a bug you aren’t sure bites.

Before I could blink, potato wedges, pieces of chicken, orange slices and my left ventricle were on the floor. Miss T rushed to it when she realised it was chips and chicken and asked if she could collect it and eat it anyway. My heart cracked a little. She was given the school food which wasn’t marinated with a mother’s love but was good anyway.

I silently moaned my wasted efforts, all my dreams for my baby’s full stomach now lay trodden on the dirty Foundation Stage One floor. It’s the little things that break a mother’s heart, but the hearts of mothers are made of slime — we are malleable and easy to mend.

Also, I saw myself in that child.

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YOU

My love for coffee is stronger than Museveni’s grip on power. You can’t separate us, ask the doctor in Pandya; he tried, but we will not let haters rain on our love parade. We are stuck together like chewing gum on hair.

A couple of days ago, I put some water on the cooker to boil some coffee. I didn’t want to stand there and watch it come to a boil. Do you know how boring that is; just standing there waiting for the endothermic reaction to complete? I decided to do other world-saving activities such as scrubbing toilets bowls and screaming at tiny humans to pick their toys from the floor.

My world-saving acts were very fruitful, but I forgot about the simmering pot of coffee as promptly as politicians forget their promises. The water evaporated, and my silver aluminum Kaluworks pot was now white.

Another minute and it’d have probably melted; I don’t know the melting point of metals. My mind blocked during the mole concepts class, and it hasn’t opened up.

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What shall we call her?

My name is Kambura. I was born on a rainy Friday in November in Nazareth Hospital. My dad couldn’t remember what it was called; he’d say he’s going to Jerusalem to see his newborn daughter. It still tickles Mom thirty-five years later.

My mother’s creativity had drained out in the labor that ended up being a Cesarean Section. Losing your creativity in delivery is no mean feat. The labor room is filled with uninhibited creativity —women who have never sang become choir soloists. Two-left feet swollen with edema break into dances, and the hapless husbands and nurses have to watch them do a naked Azonto. Peaceful women who can’t hurt a fly throw punches like boxers and insults like Mombasa touts. These sins are not recorded in God’s book; he did this to us.

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Smoothie

It has become a matter of national concern that people with more than one stomach are a threat to the national health agenda as stipulated in the millennium development goals.

As a result, I have found myself and my three stomachs isolated and threatened. I do not particularly have a problem with these recent findings; I have been trying to divorce from the said stomachs for a while now. But visceral fat and I are Siamese twins; someone needs to call Ben Carson asap.

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Majid

He was like fudge – sweet to the tongue but bad for your teeth. The only reason I remember him is that he once said very bad-mannered things to me when we met during music festivals, stuff I’d not repeat here because I’m a former Presbyterian – confirmed and irrigated. I keeled over in shock, which also sent the message that I was cool but not as cool as THAT. That relationship was as strong as boiled spaghetti; we didn’t go far.

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Karma is a child

My mother was (is?) a teacher. Teachers don’t retire; they just change the venue from the classroom to your everyday life. Have you seen older people who used to be teachers? They exude the same authority they did when they were teachers. You meet them as you drive home to greet your folks with your kids in the backseat, and you start wondering if you have finished your art and craft homework yet. You still feel like you want to duck into a bush until they pass

Everyone still calls them ‘Mwalimu,’ and they hold your hand with both of theirs when they greet you. They still remind you that these fingers that are now signing deals and contracts with abandon trained them to hold a pencil.  

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