Climb every mountain. Swim every ocean. Just to be with you…” Is the background song that he accords the season in his life that made him richer in wives than a typical 25 year old in these modern times. Well the song is not necessarily a dedication to the wives but the song that played in the stereo system on Classic 105 as he left Nairobi in a bus to Garissa. A bus called Garissa Coach.
The year is 2018. Sometime in May. The time on his watch is 6.25am and the air around him smells of nothing but a mixture of male and female Somali cologne. More female cologne however because he sat next to a Somali woman with a child. The kid no more than a year old was dead asleep, the freshest of air he had ever known since birth being that unfading cologne.
It was by chance that Classic 105 was playing in a bus to Northern Kenya, he thought. But the fact that even after the driver coughed the engine and the station did not change until it lost frequency past Thika means the driver was indeed a classic man. He however blacked out after the song and woke up to loud Somali music overriding the roar of the engine.
The air was freaking stuffy. It was by chance that he didn’t suffocate. Nobody around seemed to be bothered and what came to his mind was, “Kwani these people?” As he fought to open the window next to him. Shit it was stuck. Or he was just not strong enough to open it. Made harder by the fact that the two holes on the window where the handle is supposed to be is the only way to open it. And so he does what anyone in his shoes would do, stick his nose on those two holes.
For all he knew, he had a job opportunity he was not going to miss by dying in a stuffy Garissa bus. If it was dying, it had already crossed his mind that the journey he was taking carried that possibility in higher rates than other journeys. The first possibility was a road accident which evens out across all journeys on land. Now the second one raises the stakes. When he told his friends and family that he’d be going for a job in Somalia, they feared for him.
“You don’t fear for your life?” Asked his mom.
“Do you really have to take that job?” Went his dad.
“Soma soma Qur’an incase tu bro. Inaeza kusave.” Said his friend, referencing the times passenger buses have been ambushed by terrorists targeting ‘Makafiri.’
“We will be in the midst of security detail,” He told them but still, that was not convincing.
His dad nearly went bananas when he heard that the pick up point had changed from Nairobi to Garissa in the eleventh hour. The organisation that was hiring him as an engineer was to cater for his transport from Nairobi, past the boarder and into (Somali Town), Somalia. Now he was to meet them in Garissa at 2pm.
His girlfriend wore a heart of glass probably more than anyone else. The day before his departure, she skipped work to spend the day at his house. But that was not the entire agenda. The agenda was to seduce him to rounds and rounds to make sure she got pregnant.
“Don’t leave me without someone.” She whispered in his ears as she grinded her waist on his at midnight. He was half asleep. That’s all he remembers.
But he also remembers that he made sure he replaced some of her antidepressants with P2 tablets on his way out. She puts them in a glass and takes them altogether every morning after breakfast. Well it’d look sweet that on that morning, he’d do it for her alongside fixing her breakfast.
Well nobody with guns stopped the bus, yet. He alighted and followed a pin on Google maps dropped in his WhatsApp. Now he smelled of cologne by association. He’d later come to appreciate the intense 6 hour orientation to that cologne.
He met Jack, the designated driver. He apologized for the change of plans as he guided him to a food joint where the others were. Two guys and two ladies. One of them was very pretty. He learnt that she was in charge of their security when he saw a pistol sticking out of her trouser as she laughed loudly amidst eating. One of the dude’s and the other lady were engineers like him. The second guy, a Somali who he later learns is safe to drive around with incase of anything. He was a diplomat of some sort. A decorated one. Enough to be employed by the military because they need someone like him, maybe more than they need engineers. He goes by the name Ali.
Apparently, he is a story teller and a comedian. Very witty in nature and loves to play mind games. Friendly too. No wonder him and Ali started off on a good note. Ali helped him break from his shell which was pretty important if he was to survive in Somalia for three months.
“It’s not a land for the light-hearted,” Ali said in his slight Somali accent as the van raced with the sun towards (the boarder). He’s actually very fluent in English, Swahili and Arabic save for the accent that he joked saying he hasn’t been able to get rid off even with mouth wash.
The hair of their conversation catches fire. Ali tells him that he was born in Ethiopia but raised in Somalia. His mother was Ethiopian and she died when he was two. The devastated Somalian dad moved back to his homeland and married a Somali woman who he grew up calling mother. The new mother was actually sold off to his father when she was 17. She was unable to get children so the second time devastated man married another woman. The then 18 year old who had none of her own held on to Ali as her child. Something he lives to appreciate because the third wife was an Alpha wife. She had the favour of the husband and fertile womb. Fertile is nothing less than four children. His father and the Alpha wife used to mistreat his new mom until she ran off. He was 8 by then. In anger, little Ali ran off too and she found him by chance wondering in the streets of Mogadishu.
She had found salvation through a young white man who worked for UN. She had gone to look for a job and he offered her a job as a maid. Took her in later because of love or dry spell. But yea, love it was. Bringing Ali into the white man’s house was a serious risk but he understood her since she had always talked about a young boy she really loved like a son.
She loved school but her dream to pursue education past high school was short-lived after her father, a teacher died. Now she had met a man who believed in the system and was welcome to the idea of a Somali child he had not sired. Ali went to a local school but every weekend, he’d be in a white man’s class learning English and history. He taught Ali everything he knew like his son also since the woman he loved was unable to give him one.
Seeing his foster father doing a diplomatic job inspired him alot. He loved to help young girls get a better life and young boys evade the jaws of terrorism. At 16, they relocated to Kenya. That was his first time in Kenya. They lived in Mombasa until he was 20. His foster dad died after a short illness while in the States, the place he was set to go for further studies. They were forced to go back to Somalia. From the recommendations of his foster father, some UN folks took him to be their spokesperson to people in local communities. He had been doing so for 10 years. Helping the local community connect with the international community.
He has been in between community clashes, blazing guns between militia and the military such as the AU, cheated death when he casually chose to board the second vehicle in a caravan of two that saw the first vehicle drive on a landmine and explode right before their eyes among many more bowel lightening situations the journey from Garissa, past Liboi, the boarder to their stop in Afmadow, Somalia was not enough for him to finish.
“That’s how I became friends with Ali. He’s a guy with a true coarse. All he loves to do is help people. People he doesn’t know even. Because he was helped by a foreign man who didn’t even know where he had come from.”
Nevertheless, Ali is a free spirit. They went for a drink on their second weekend and he said in the middle of the brawl,
“My brother enjoy! It takes only one militia bullet to take this moment away. Come on drink some more.”
It’s amusing how he’d make jokes like that with the awareness that such a reality may not be so far away. A reality that was not scary to him since he has lived with it all his life. In Kenya, the only time you’d see a gun is with a police officer. God forbid that you may stare at the nozzle of one while it’s pointed at you by a gangster ordering the money and accessories out of you without a single sound from your mouth. But in the land that stands as the horn of Africa? And even some nomadic parts of Kenya, you’d see men walk with them like a Masai would a rungu and a machete.
“The following day after we went drinking, I can never forget, we got to work very early in the morning. Setting up boosters and all in the middle of no man’s land.” He said. “A vehicle drove so damn fast towards our direction from a distance. The other engineer guy saw it first and mentioned it after he came from taking a piss. Lieutenant Bior, the pretty lady heard and you could see how the adrenaline suddenly flowed to her face. I could see the fright through her sun glasses. I knew this couldn’t be good. Just like in the movies where a militia pickup with a machine gun sticking out of its back would drive with fury to ambush a military base or something.
“Vehicles don’t just speed towards us everyday,” She said as she raced to the trunk of our rover and drew out bullet proof vests, threw them at us while barking that we should quickly put them on and take cover.
Shit I didn’t think approaching death tasted so sour like that. We were confused but we did as she said. I saw her draw out a machine gun, fix the magazine and she spoke into her walkie talkie. Jack joined her and they quickly drafted a plan. That’s when I knew Jack was no ordinary driver. The vehicle was still approaching and was now in clear sight, followed by a thick cloud of dust behind it.
From there, we had our orders to get out of sight so we ducked behind a mounted pavement and waited for the worst to get it over with. I heard some of the locals that were working with us say it could be a suicide bomber. Damn I thought about my girlfriend and began to pray that she didn’t take those meds. In her by then would have been another me, yet to be reborn.
Then everything went silent.” He says.
Nothing had been fired. No vehicle sounded like it was approaching anymore.
“Were we dead already?”
His heart was beating too fast that it interrupted his breathing. It was worse for the lady engineer. She had taken out a rosary but was unable to mumble a prayer because she was short of breath and seconds away from passing out.
Then they heard people talk back at each other. Yelling this and yelling back. Like a negotiation gone wrong. Then a short laughter.
He decided to peep, or rather peep at the face of death and saw Ali at the gate. Ali? He thought.
“Jack came by to tell us we could go back to work. It was just Ali.”
They didn’t know whether to laugh or be angry. Like waiting in an exam room for an exam that’s not arriving. The tension builds up and when the exam doesn’t eventually come, you get angry because you wasted your tension.
He found Bior rebuking Ali saying he should never do that again. And Ali was like, “Do what?” Jack pulled her away and sent her off to cool down.
Good thing with Ali is that he doesn’t easily take offence but he still looked like something was not okay.
Ali signalled to see him at the side. He placed his vest back and went outside the gate to hear what Ali had to say.
“I came quickly because this is important. At least for me.” Ali said.
“Okay, what is it?”
“I need a favour. And I know it’s asking a lot from you but you’re the only one I could think of right now. You know we’ve rolled like bros since we met and now man, only you.”
His intestines were now coiling and tightening together. He began to get the impression that it seems the danger they were waiting for behind the pavement was not going to come in form of bullets but words that were now seconds away from knocking the life out of him.
“I need you to get married.”
“How now? To who? And why?” He stuttered.
“It’s urgent. I don’t have time to explain now. But it’s not putting you in danger. I just need you to get married.”
“The f*** Ali! What are you not telling me?”
“Relax bro. Just five women. I need you to marry five women. Today!”
“You see, in the Muslim culture, a man is allowed to be polygamous. So Ali almost didn’t get why I was reacting like that. Like I had swallowed a thorn.”
Ali told him that he was helping some women, through his numerous connections, to leave Somalia in the least suspicious of ways. Life in Somalia is hard. Especially for women. The air there even just smells of it’s own form of hardship. People are baptised in deep cultural beliefs made worse by the rampant state of poverty affecting some communities. In Somalia, if you’re rich, you’re rich. If you’re poor, you’re poor. At least that’s his observation in the southern side of Somalia he has been to. Now add all that to the handicapped civil state of the country. The law is there, yet it’s not there. Normally, we know the arm of the law to be very long. In those sides of the world? That’s quite debatable. Sometimes it slaps you hard on the bam, sometimes you shake hands with it then it cuffs you and sometimes, it’s just nowhere to be seen.
To the people in Somalia, a country like Kenya is like abroad. In Kenya we consider the United States and the likes as abroad. Well, thank your God because some people on the right hand of our map consider where you stay mjango, as their dream western world. In fact, not just Somalia. He tells me that he has been to some parts in Uganda and Malawi and those people there worship Kenya. The tales go that Nairobi has streets of gold. Well before you say “Aai!” In your Kenyanese way, they mean that our streets as so damn clean. That’s gold enough to some people mjango.
So people in Somalia die to go to Kenya. More especially the ones who have relatives in Kenya stand to be luckier. Now all dreams are valid you say? Well, the only thing in between their dreams and the validation is the Kenyan arm of the law. Rather a part of the arm called immigration. You can’t just match out of Somalia into Kenya like animals grazing naively. Or if you manage to, chances are you will always be looking over your shoulder, “Na serikali itakuweka bahali yake!”
“So this is not the first time I’m doing this bro,” Ali said. “All that’s needed for you is to sign marriage certificates affirming your marriage to five Somali women. They know the rules and they know they are in need of help. So they can’t mess you up bro.”
Silence. He held his chin in deep thought. The mind of a man is not complicated. It was simple math. One plus one plus one plus one plus one is equals to five women in his quarters for the rest of the two months. Cross the boarder on the way to Kenya with them like the big polygamous family you will be, when they get to Eastleigh, the capital city of Somalia in Kenya, they know their cues and off they will go to their people who will be eagerly waiting for them like long lost daughters.
“Okay, so essentially they are my wives? We can do everything that husband and wife do?”
“Husband and WIVES. You can do everything that husband and wives do bro.”
He nods his head in downloading excitement. Five wives? Woah! This has never even happened in the movies.
“Shit yeah! Marry them off to me bro!” He said.
Ali, now worry fading off his face forwarded his right hand and a vigorous manly clap-handshake ensued.
“I knew I could count on you bro.” Ali said.
“Ah, besides what kind of a man would I be not to help five women in need.”
“Drop that shit with me bro. I know you just thinking of five booties.”
They broke into laughter.
“But no Ali, for real, you know me. I don’t like taking advantage of people and I have a soft spot for the less fortunate, especially women who are disadvantaged in the society.”
“You’re a good man.” Ali said. “Let me rush. This has to be done today. I’d have called you but you know the signal in no man’s land…” As he reverse walked to his rover. “I’ll look for you after work. Everything will be ready by then.”
He stood hands akimbo as he watched Ali drive off like a mad militia in a police chase. He still couldn’t fathom that he was getting married to not just one, not two and certainly not three wives but five! At a go mjango!
He was a happy man. Even his colleagues noticed there was a change in the stature of his spirits after meeting Ali. That was while they were still recovering from the tension.
Later that evening after work, Ali looked for him and drove him to a local court. The women, his soon to be women were already waiting. Some had come from quite far and there was no way they were going to go back without a ring on it? Ali said the youngest of them, a 20 year old had journeyed for three days. He narrated their stories like he had come with them.
“This one,” pointing at the fairest of them all, “Zainab Omar, comes from my hometown. Her Aunt was my father’s friend. Three months ago she stopped me somewhere after hearing my name. She asked,
“Wiilkayga. Ma waxaad tahay wiilkii odaygii hore ee ka soo jeeda Itoobiya,”
To mean, “Are you the son of the Old Sheikh from Ethiopia?
He was my friend.” She then talked about her health issues saying when she dies she doesn’t know where her sister’s daughter will go because she’s all the family she has left. Now I had to organize for her to go to Kenya to her only living cousin. If she stays, she’ll either be married off or recruited.”
He signed the papers and it was done. Happily married? Maybe.
“It didn’t feel like it. I had started getting second thoughts like what if I get caught? Prisons in Kenya are not good, how about in that God forsaken country? But I got the hang of it.
The second day, or rather the fourth day after work, since we had gone for about two nights without coming back, work was too much – I remember I had even forgotten I had gotten married. Damn I was so tired I just wanted to sleep. I got to my house, took out the keys, opened like usual only to find the lights on and ten eyes staring at me. They were frightened but seconds later happy to see me because they’d been hungry. For a while I freaked out, like shit who are these people! And the bang, it hit me, nigga these are your wives! You forgot about them and left them hungry like chicken. F*** I felt terrible.
Surprisingly, they didn’t take offence. Like, those girls had seen the ass of life too much that hunger was nearly normal. They had bigger things to worry about like whether they really stood a chance at ever finding themselves abroad, in Kenya. It didn’t matter to them what it took. They just wanted out.
Now I apologised and all but the one who knew Swahili better than the rest, Zainab said it was okay. And she insisted. But I had to make her tell them that I was so sorry I didn’t mean to treat them that way. It’s not who I am. So immediately, I gave her money to buy food. They went out. All of them. Like a team. Zainab later told me they divided on what to buy and everybody went and came back having faithfully bought what they had agreed to. I was like, wah manzeh.
Alafu si I had blacked out on my bed. One of them came and woke me up, saying some things in Somali that I couldn’t get. I actually thought something was wrong so I got up quickly. Manzeh kumbe she was calling me for supper.
I was touched manzeh. I didn’t have dishes mahn! I found that they had bought a, is it called a sinia? That big plate, like three of them. Food, smelling so nice was set on those sinias on the floor. They were seated waiting. They couldn’t eat before I ate first. You guy I have never been humbled like that in my life. I had my own sinia. I thought of getting a spoon but ah, what the heck! Let’s eat like a family yoh! Sat my ass down on the floor like them and… It hit me that we take life for granted. These were very nice women whose only mistake was to be born in a disadvantaged place like that. Imagine they even handed be the balance. You guy you don’t know.”
He was treated like the king they deemed him to be. He was more than just a short time husband. He was their life saver. And so the best they could do, is treat him like the best husband they will ever have and be the best wives he could ever have. They understood that as much as it was an agreement, they were still married. So they played their part like wives.
There’s no day he washed his own clothes, cleaned the house, warmed his own bath water.
“In fact, if I wanted them to bathe me, bro, they could and I kid you not.”
Never cooked food, never made himself feel at home for they did that better than he did and probably most memorably,
“I’ve never known dry spell since I got married bro. Up to the time we filed for divorce. Because it was part of the agreement that after they got to Kenya, we’d file for a divorce and everyone would go their own ways. And by the way the type of marriage was that which you both agree that it’s purely marriage and not including my property.
You guy every night I was in the hands of my wife man. They took turns faithfully even when I said they didn’t have to. Two of them were virgins.” He chuckled. “Tight stuff like a new soda bottle.”
He got intimate with Zainab more than the others. She’s the only one among them who spoke bearable Swahili so they got to connect. That was the icing. The cake itself was that she was so damn pretty.
His stay in Somalia came to an end and just as planned, they travelled together as family. They, by marriage, were now Kenyan citizens. He walked through that boarder head held high with his pride of Somali lionesses faithfully following him. It had graduated, rather miraculously, from just an agreement to an actual family. But the reality after touching down in Nairobi were that the family had to be disbanded. He had a life to live and so did they. But Zainab, unlike the rest, was willing to make a compromise. She truly had found herself a worthy husband.
“I agree that I had also found a worthy wife. But bro atakama ni wewe, her Swahili was like patches woven on Somali fabric. Say this say that probably it’d make sense. Half of the times it did, but I doubt whether I could bear with half of the times it didn’t. It’d get better with time, you might say. Okay. But consider her total illiteracy, having only gone to school up to around grade seven. That’s not easy to live with in the world you and I come from. Anyway, my kids through her would have been very beautiful.
Ali still tells me that he owes me a big one. He offered to get me a good wife from there. It’s still a no. But never say never?
My girlfriend? We broke up shortly after I came back.
Oh about her knowing?” Laughs. “No, she never got to know that I got married while we were still dating. Five wives is not easy news Mjango.”