How I wish I could speak Kamba. I hear jokes made in Kamba are funnier than Swahili or English jokes. There are jokes made in Kamba that when translated, the joke would get lost in the effort to amputate and conjoin word for word from one language to the other. There is something about nativity. Some originality that it has. It is unseen, intangible but still tangible. I think you can taste it too. What does your native language taste like when you speak? I don’t have any experience in native languages. But the little Kamba I know has it tasting like guacamole. Oh guacamole and crisps. That’s a perfect combination. You should try it.
I start having the taste sensation of guacamole in my mouth when I board that mini bus that has water tanks, bundles of jerricans and suitcases tied on the carrier on its roof. The water tanks and jerricans explains the problems our Kamba community has. Water. But not lately. We prayed too hard for the heavens to send rain and not long ago, we were using the buckets and water tanks we bought from Nairobi to drive the water out of our houses. God bless the souls and families who were affected. But anyway, we still ferry them there in case the rain turns its back against us again. It’s not the first time Kamba land has suffered the wrath of the rain by the way.
Back in the days when I was still a long distance dream to a high school girl at Limuru Girls’ – that one day she’d get married to the man of her dreams and she’d bear children. She is not sure how many, but definitely not seventeen like her mother. She didn’t believe she was that strong. And with the century closing in quickly, such cases were being suffocated to inexistence with the rise of family planning and more, modernity. You would be considered outdated and backward if you bore so many children like that later in the years up to this day.
A question my age mates ask one another when they are dating in hopes for a future together is, “How many kids would you want us to have?” The girl is the one who asks the question first in most cases. A proof that they are more mature and long-term oriented than boys. The guy would say, “Aahm, three or four.” Maybe he says that knowing he has the physical agility to produce and the substantial capability to manage that. Not forgetting an esteem with a cowboy hat, a smoking pipe and a beard. Well, let’s call this spade what it deserves to be called. It’s an ego. What’s a man without some ego? So the girl would say, “Ai! Eti four? Who will carry four children? Me I can’t!” (Yea, Kenyan English says ‘Me’ followed by ‘I’ is correct.) “I want two.” I hear women are the ones who decide the number of children in the family. So yea, they bear two kids but only until they get the third one. I guess that’s how manipulative men are. Not to say it is not a good thing to bear seventeen mjangos.
It is actually a good thing if it is seventeen from one man and of course, one very strong woman. I mean, she enjoys having almost sixty grandchildren and great grandchildren. I sound like one of them grandkids don’t I?
The young girl who is now my mum, tells me of how hectic life used to be when it rained during their school holidays. With undeveloped roads and scarce means of transport by then, the journey back to school would be like that of the Israelites running away from the brutal hands of the Egyptians. The journey to school had more theoretical similarities to that of the Israelites than practical ones. The only practical one that was similar is the Red Sea ordeal. There is this river that scared the hell out of them in those days.
“There is a seasonal river some distance after Kavuthu. You know it?”
Little me, trying to fight the oblivion about my native home, “Yes. I know it. The one that has a lot of sand? And a bridge?”
“Yes that one.” She says. “But in our days the bridge hadn’t been built yet. The sand is there when it dries up. But when it rains, that river flows with a lot of water very rapidly.”
I have a terrified look on my face by now. I have only been seeing angry rivers on TV.
“That was the only way to Sultan along Mombasa Road where the vehicles were.” She says.
“You guys used to cross that river?” I ask.
“Yes!” She would have rolled her eyes if she knew how to do that. “We had to. But being kids, we couldn’t cross alone. In our days people used to be very courteous and willing to help. So elderly men helped us cross. We would make a line by holding hands. The first person in line would be an elderly man and the last person too. The rest of us in the middle would close our eyes while crossing.”
“Because you’d get dizzy if you’re not used to it. And if you get dizzy, you can easily drift off and break the human train.”
“Oh that means you’d be putting the rest in danger too.”
“Correct. The water levels reached our waist or even sometimes the tummy height.”
I’m tempted to touch my tummy in imagination of walking through a rapid flowing river in my school uniform. Speaking of school uniforms,
“You people were in school uniform?” I ask.
“Yes. Wah! You had to put it on so that people would identify you as a student. Student used to be given the priority when boarding matatus. Besides, madhee could not allow us to leave home with home clothes. She’d ask you, “Na utavaa nini ukirudi?” We laugh.
“And you never had so many clothes either.” I laugh even the more.
“You see. Not like these days we have bought you people so many clothes and you don’t wear them. Our times clothes were worn to patches!” She giggles while shaking her head.
“How did you dry your uniforms after crossing the Red sea?” I ask after a chuckle.
“Ai!” Laughs, “Red Sea indeed. They dried up on their own as the journey continued. People in those times understood these things without asking. By the way I remember madhee used to cook for us chapos to carry to school.”
“Really?” I giggle, “No wonder you cooked chapos for me too. It runs in the family eh?”
We laugh together, “Not really. I was in a very prominent school. My classmates were girls from prominent or rich families. I think madhee knew that we’d feel bad to see our friends from those families carrying goodies like snacks to school while we didn’t have anything. So she made chapatis. It’s the best she could do and I must say we were happy enough knowing we won’t be embarrassed.”
By the time she was done I was in stitches. You think you have seen life until you hear how someone else had it. I wonder whether she’d call that the good old days though. I have reason to believe she appreciates where she comes from. Because again like the Israelites, they had to cross the river after Kavuthu with a lot of trouble while going to school so that someday, they’d live better lives than the one they had back at home. Get the theory now?
Hope you haven’t forgotten we were boarding a mini bus to Kamba land at Machakos country bus. Don’t tell me you have never been to Machakos Country Bus. That’s another haven of drama you don’t want to know about. This bus has upto three or four touts howling where the bus is headed. You may even find the actual tout of the vehicle is not among them. You will get to know when the vehicle starts to leave town. When I hear them shouting things in a mixture of Kamba and Swahili and Swahili that you can’t tell apart from Kamba, I know upcountry is not so far up anymore.
If you’re lucky you will find it half full already. They take ages to fill up if it’s not Christmas season. Mjangos seated under the loud Kamba music. Some peeling off bananas. I know better than to eat a banana while travelling. When you eat a banana, if nature was to call you for a long one in one hour, she will call you in twenty or thirty. Depends on how fast you pick your calls. Maybe after a voice mail or something. Others buying boiled eggs (another master of disaster while travelling) and smokies from a hawker. A man is talking on phone very loudly. I suppose it’s because of the music. But that’s not talking. Three quarters of the phone call all I heard from him were exclamations. You know Kambas have the best exclamations by the way. Exaggerated ones in fact. Though I can’t speak the language so well, at least I can exclaim in Kamba which I often do. I could have said the same for their insults but insults are not good.
After a three hour journey of listening to Kamba musicians call their lovers’ names through every song, I alight at Sultan Hamud. Maybe I should say the names of the girls I heard them mention, see whether I got them right. There was Anita, aahm, I heard Mwende and Josephine, Wakesho and Wakatimba. I am not sure about the last one though. Doesn’t sound like someone’s name I have ever heard. Ah anyway. Yea. I could have asked the guy who sat next to me. But he seemed to enjoy the music. I didn’t want to disturb him. Especially the song that had many mentions of ‘kasululu’ in it. He couldn’t help but shake a limb or two until he woke me from my sleep. The level of loyalty. This is what I am missing for not knowing this beautiful language. And there is some song that got him laughing or was it everyone in the bus? A part where the singer said ‘masulumbumbu.’ Now I asked my cousin later what that is and she said, “You don’t want to know.” So my guess, it is a very bad thing that shouldn’t be said anywhere and on my blog especially.
I alight. Now I have to board a motorbike. Here is what I think. When I approach one bodaboda mjango and he hears me speak Swahili that doesn’t even have a trace of Kamba accent, he will know that I am a born town. He will play me on the fares to a place called Ngoto. That’s our home. If I knew Kamba, I’d start with my nice Swahili that typically gets interrupted by too much English. He’d think I am a born town who doesn’t know the prices or even where exactly I am going. And when he tries to play me, I’d break the conversation with a perfect rebuke in Kamba. I’ve seen my mum do that. We’d go shopping in the streets in those days I didn’t have a beard yet. When she discovers the stubborn seller is a fellow tribemate, she’d gently switch to Kamba and the seller would slowly humble up and take in her bargain. Just like magic. Or smooth like guacamole.
Ah! Worry not. He didn’t charge me much. In fact, he knew the homestead and my uncle too. After I paid him I told him “Asanda muno.” That’s Kamba for “Asante sana.” I can’t remember what he responded saying. I turn my head. She is standing there amazed at how her grandson came all the way from Nairobi without mum and dad this time. Under her breath she says, “He is a big boy now. I’m glad he wants to trace his roots.”


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Written by The Mjango

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5 years ago

kizungu ?✋

5 years ago

I love your writing. I will be reading a lot of you…

Cynthia Kandie
Cynthia Kandie
3 years ago

When I was a kid, I thought learning my native language was a hoax “ushamba they said”
It’s the one thing I wanna learn now?