14 AMINI: Phena…

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2.30 p.m. found six of us seated in the Chairman’s living room. I wore a yellow dirac. Yellow because fashion psychologists say it helps diffuse tense interactions. I also hoped that Mama Clevens, who had always met me late in the evenings, would see me in better material. Material she wouldn’t mind wrapped around her Emmanuel. Wife material. Mama Frosa, seated by me, chatted with other ladies of the Council who occasionally glanced at the ‘bad’ girl. Kayamba and the Professor went on and on about the doctors strike that had headlined news for 5 days running. “It is very wrong…” they lamented. I simply cast my gaze on the ‘No weapons fashioned against me shall prosper’ plaque that rested peacefully on the fading blue walls.

Mama Clevens walked in a few minutes past 3. “I am so sorry for coming this late. You know how these matatus keep kupandisha na kushikisha. One day my Clevens will buy me a car Oh.” “Ehe now…” The other ladies applauded. Naija movies had not only changed the intonation in their speech but every mama now wanted to dress like Patience Ozokwor and there was even a Mama G’s kitenge stall that provided the very service.

So what do you have to say for yourself young girl?” Kayamba inquired after bring the meeting to order.

Well Phena has been pouring water from their balcony dirtying my already washed clothes and she has been repeating this every single day of the week.

And why did you come to speak to me about it?

I have come to your place several times but she said you were not to be disturbed

And so you went ahead and decided to call her all sorts of names.

Never an abuse but I told her that she behaved like one lacking common sense

Common sense? I see you also lack it! Do you think being well read, making your own rent, fueling your own car makes you better than her.

I kept silent. If they only knew the insults their Precious Phena had hurled, they would understand my common sense and not take musical turns in ‘spanking’ me.

My girl is now so disturbed and always crying. I have my own fair share of troubles and I suggest you go and apologize immediately. Kayamba what do you say?

An apology is good but not good enough. You will have to buy her a set of lessos to completely settle the matter.

Nikuteleza tu. I’m sure it will never happen again.” Mama Frosa finally put in the good word I had been hoping for. And because I wanted to get over with the whole fiasco, I agreed – without question – to the council’s humbling demands. But just as I was about to serve the porridge Mrs. Kayamba had already prepared, Mama Juma stormed in.

Mama Clevens, I was told you were here. I have warned your girl several times not to pour water over the balcony but today she’s soaked my grandchild’s mattress. You tell me where he is going to sleep? Just tell me how I am going to wash off dirty oily water from a mattress? But no no no you must give me another mattress. You just but must!

Mama Juma. Karibu kiti…” Professor Lach interrupted. “My dear girl, can you run up and call that foolish girl…

Holding my dress by the side, I gallivanted up the stairs and told Phena that Mama Clevens needed some quick help. “Naufunge mlango.” I reminded. She sneered, pulled the door and dashed down to finish the trouble she had started. I looked to the heavens in relief. Day had broken. It had surely broken.

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13 AMINI: Yesterday…

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Have you ever dreaded the wake of day? Not deadlines, not debt, not dreams but thoughts that have tormented you through a better part of a less starry night? Have you ever wanted to plead with the moon to linger a little longer, move a little closer until it eclipsed the sun? Not for a moment but for an entire of what could have been a brighter day? Have you ever wished that your bed would hold you captive demanding you kept it warm? And with every attempt to escape it strangled with the knotted agreement of its purple cotton sheets?

Well that was my yesterday…

Not even once have my relatives ever summoned me to answer to errant behaviour. Yes I still get a reprimand but never too often. They are more enthused with their daughters meeting sons of their friends and friends to their sons friends. Men whispered to be exemplary in deed and polite in speech. Men whose fathers toiled hard to earn the lands that now dignify its labourers. Men whose mothers mix a really mean ugali. “Spaghetti,” they gloat, “has never satisfied an African man’s belly.

But here I was summoned by the Amini Council of Elders to answer to the misdemeanor of meddling in the affairs of Mama Clevens. My relatives would be so ever ashamed if they got wind of the said meeting. I imagine they would pull one of my adult ears to expel the foolish child that never left. “Manze hapo ulikosea…” Peter, the shopkeeper, rebuked as he handed me the half kilo of brown sugar. Mama Clevens – a retired midwife – was well respected and like Kayamba, gave herself to the affairs of the community. He didn’t even give me a chance to state my case but Mama Frosa did. “Don’t worry too much…“She encouraged, “I’ll see how to support you.

With breakfast done, I took to the ceiling attacking the cobwebs now threatening my canvas. Things were seemingly getting dark for me at Amini and I contemplated changing the hues in the painting and instead colour it bad. For a few minutes I set my dusting feather aside, and sank into my 3-legged-one seater sofa supported by a stack of forgotten books, to think through my defense. The company insists on preparing for tough meetings. The goal – restore the client’s faith. Win more business!

How could I convince the plaintiff  I was right when the entire jury thought I was wrong? How could I make her advocates break sweat in their attempt to prove me wrong? How could I motion the already prejudiced magistrate to dismiss the case? Nothing, absolutely nothing, came to mind that could work to my advantage. I had been rude, rightfully so but it was just me against the world.

12 AMINI: Manu…

The evening found my phone switched off after sending a very strong message about our company policies. Kara is a really good person and I knew better than to compete with my boss. Really she deserved him, all of him. In fact, they both came from the same leafy suburb of Nairobi and would make a good fit. Maybe that was it! They were neighbours. I moved from my last box of tissues to a roll of paper towels. Where exactly was I when all these emotions were getting concocted? Truly matters of the heart are a mystery.

A knock on the door interrupted the blowing of my sorry nose. Aargh! Not on this day of life. I ignored it but the pounding got louder and louder and louder forcing me to attend to the reinforced steel. There he was with what looked like a very hot sufuria of lumpy porridge. He jumped in explaining his gas had ran out and needed to finish mixing his ugali. “Please grab the eggs and Mala in my fridge.” I laughed – Manu’s fridge was so much like mine and probably every other single soul in Amini.

As my friend whipped his magic, I rid the living room of the wet tissues dumped at the corner of my derelict sofa. Quickly, I ran to douse my face with the hope that it would conceal the truth of my afflictions. By the time I was done, a decent dinner for two awaited. He ate quietly, respecting the promise of what these nutrients do for our bodies. My attention was grabbed by the highlighting of cobwebs that stretched from the ceiling into my unfinished canvas. I wanted to get annoyed at Pendo, my once-in-a-week housekeeper, but remembered the many times Kara has covered my shortcomings.

As soon as I took the last sip of milk, Manu picked his sufuria thanking me for saving his evening. “But this is the thing…” He now said in a sober voice, “…It is never that serious.” Never that serious! The woman that usually isn’t me flared up in tearful anger accusing the poor guy of selfishness and insensitivity. Manu, who by this time had stepped out of the flat, turned back and held me. I wept like a most wounded gazelle.  Thirty minutes it took to detox before we finally sat down at the steps adjacent to my door. Manu stretched his hand across my shoulders, I leaned my head against one of his. Just what I needed. A friend. Everybody needs a sufuria wielding friend.

Ehe! Are you the one who is going to spoil our boys now?” It was Mama Clevens. We were so engrossed in the moment we didn’t hear her come. And being that the stairway was dimly lit, a whole lot must have gone to her imagination. Manu and I stood up, quickly moving to the opposite sides of passage in the hope that the chair of Amini’s Womens Welfare Group would find a way up to her flat.

Instead, she chose a tongue-lashing where she accusingly spoke of crafty lasses whose sole intent was to trick innocent lads like her Emmanuel into pregnancy and thereafter leech, out of their souls, every bit of goodness. Manu tried to explain the situation but Mama Clevens warned not to raise his voice against the woman who helped bring him to the world. “And do you know from whom your father used to borrow money when his disorganized employer delayed salaries?” We stood stiff. “Get into your cubicles and let me never catch the 2 of you together again!” With hands akimbo , Mama Clevens waited up at the next landing to ensure we were all locked up.

It was definitely not meant to be a good day. Definitely…
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11 AMINI: Today…

Today should have been a fantastic day.

I got to work on time and for the first time in ages the B14 needed not a jumpstart.

Naona leo iko sawa.” Manu (short for Emmanuel) my next door neighbour chirped.

Iko sawa.” I smiled.

To add to the good fortune, I got a slot within the office block sparing me the hefty council fee. But did they really put thought into this charge or was it an arbitrary figure? 300 bob is a tad too much for parking considering it buys 6 packets of milk (or loaves of bread) and an egg to crown it. Surely there must be more creativity put into income streams. Amini’s newly constructed perimeter wall is brandished with some ugly ua-mende and vote-for-mimi posters which could make for good penalties. Capacity issues I guess.

Today should have been a fantastic day.

Instead of Dora’s usual gestures that the big guy had checked in, she jumped off her high-back mesh chair to hug me. Confused, my 88 kilo self followed to her flat screen monitor. The promotions listing had been sent for her action in readiness of Friday’s staff meeting. “Top secret mami. Top secret!” She said. I was over the moon. Couldn’t hide my joy. Caleb and SaraMarie assumed that my early arrival spurred the aura. I said a quick hello mentioning there was hardly any traffic then rushed to the washroom to do a private Hallelujah dance. My God is good Oh! So good Oh!

At my desk, I quickly pulled out a spreadsheet and the permutations and combinations begun. Finally I would be able to request Dominik wa Phase V to import a red Polo or better still a wine red Golf. And he would say “yes they have decent engines” but question why a fine lady like myself wouldn’t want to consider the Benz A-Class series. The projections would also include reupholstering my hand-me-down sofas. Finally a junior manager. Finally…

And when he walked in, I knew it was going to be an extremely fantastic day.

Ty, the Geneva visiting client, was here! We could finally speak without flouting any company rules. He was carrying a black gift bag with what I am sure was chocolate. For me – to share with everyone. Clever way not to raise eyebrows. And with a smile he would say, candy for my favourite professionals and I would carefully blush a thank you.

Then she rose from her seat, I could swear she run and thrust her arms around Mister Man. His discomfort was the only assurance of me being the only recipient of his suggestive messages. I sort solace in my spreadsheet. Iris was my manager and, til now, had generously shown me the ropes in this promising establishment. There was no way I was going to bite the hand that fed me. Absolutely no way!

It was a large tin of Lindor. Iris took a few for herself and motioned me to distribute the rest. I tried to conceal my disappointment; Ty seemed to blink some sort of apology. How did I not see it? The many single applicants in this office? The spreadsheet became blurry. A tear was trying to burst its way out of my duct. And for a second time, I rushed passed Caleb and SaraMarie’s desk and inside the washrooms was an Unikumbuke lament!

Today should really have been a fantastic day.2

 

10 AMINI: The Oath…

I swear by Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius the surgeon, likewise Hygeia and Panacea, and call all the gods and goddesses to witness, that I will observe and keep this underwritten oath, to the utmost of my power and judgment.

I will reverence my master who taught me the art. Equally with my parents, will I allow him things necessary for his support, and will consider his sons as brothers. I will teach them my art without reward or agreement; and I will impart all my acquirement, instructions, and whatever I know, to my master’s children, as to my own; and likewise to all my pupils, who shall bind and tie themselves by a professional oath, but to none else.

With regard to healing the sick, I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means; and I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage.

Nor shall any man’s entreaty prevail upon me to administer poison to anyone; neither will I counsel any man to do so. Moreover, I will give no sort of medicine to any pregnant woman, with a view to destroy the child.

Further, I will comport myself and use my knowledge in a godly manner.

I will not cut for the stone, but will commit that affair entirely to the surgeons.

Whatsoever house I may enter, my visit shall be for the convenience and advantage of the patient; and I will willingly refrain from doing any injury or wrong from falsehood, and (in an especial manner) from acts of an amorous nature, whatever may be the rank of those who it may be my duty to cure, whether mistress or servant, bond or free.

Whatever, in the course of my practice, I may see or hear (even when not invited), whatever I may happen to obtain knowledge of, if it be not proper to repeat it, I will keep sacred and secret within my own breast.

If I faithfully observe this oath, may I thrive and prosper in my fortune and profession, and live in the estimation of posterity; or on breach thereof, may the reverse be my fate!

These sacred writings proudly hang in the patients’ lounge of Professor Ludwik Lachowski’s clinic. Alongside – and all in solid black frames – are his practicing licence, a fraying graduation certificate from some school of medicine in Poland, and two photos of his graduation – a much younger man distinguishly robed with award in hand and the other with his proud but now long departed parents. His father Eusebius Lachowski, Anglo-Polish, met his mother Sabina Chawema, during the colonial era and together they had 2 children. His sister Eugenia Marahaba, lives in the leafier Lovingtown of Nairobi with her husband and son Theo. Lach, short for Lachowski, pronounced Lax is the Professor’s preferred byname and those in Amini are most careful to enunciate as so because it has a not very pleasant translation in one of the local dialects.

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09 AMINI: Woman…

You must give it to the Professor for being able to explain medical conditions in a very humorous way. What better medicine! When a clinician uses the terms leiomyoma, dysmenorrhea or ovarian apoplexy, the affected is left feeling like the end is nigh. Worse when the prescription is a unilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. Something that sounds like only a team of high specialized surgeons in Mumbai or Delhi can comfortably handle. Where will the air fare even come from?

Lach offers practical suggestions on how these maladies can be avoided and stresses the need for proper diet, consistent exercise and – most importantly – annual pelvic checks. Mama Clara, who has incessantly been cheering every point that resonates with her, can no longer contain herself. She stands to testify how the doctor’s recommendations also helped her lose weight. “Look at me! Just look at me!” She does a 360◦ spin in her obviously 1980 ndege-round skirt and continues to testify how a 35 kilograms loss in the last 2 years has made her desire another baby. An uproarious laughter fills the school compound. Mama Clara is about 60.

Question after question begs a response from this man truly covenanted to the Oath.  I’m sure Hippocrates would be proud of him. “I usually advise patients diagnosed with endometrial cancer to consider having their uterus removed. The anger that meets me is something I have had to get used to. Women of Amini, the intent is not to put out the very essence of your womanhood but protract your very existence!” I too – initially bewildered by the doctor’s theatrical opening performance of the fourth chapter of The Good Book of Solomon – raise my hand with questions. No shame at all. Redemption is here!

The next session is facilitated by a representative from Faydar Pharmaceuticals – one of the largest multinationals in the industry. They’ve just introduced a new napkin and the enthusiastic employee together with her sales colleagues display its greater advantages. Each of us receives a hamper. O what joy when the women discover purple t-shirts in their pack. I will never wear it! Nairobi has fashion rules for women my age.

Woman! Never did I think I would be proud to be called a woman. Growing up it seemed highly unacceptable to be referred to as one. I was young, it meant old. Seemed to signify a weakness – a shameful weakness. A someone almost insignificant! Now I bask in the joys of embracing the bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh. Divinely breathed into life. A most fearfully and wonderfully made being. And like David, the Psalmist, I now know that full well.

Its 6.00pm, a whistle blows. We all stand at attention. A group of scouts can be seen lowering the Black-Red-Green Flag. These students are here every Saturday afternoon for their clubs activities. You should see how proudly they march in their cotton khakis complete with tilted velvet green berets. Another whistle marks the end of this government protocol. The professor stands by the gate, greeting the hands of the almost 250 ladies who attended his baraza.  A most rewarding afternoon it has been. Professor Sir, I will definitely be speaking to management to include you in our company’s list of approved practitioners.2

08 AMINI: The Flower…

I open the door. It’s Professor Lach! I almost jump out of my skin. The president himself is here and I am in paint-stained pajamas. The lesso, quickly strewn across my chest at the knock of the door, is the only decent hope of ever being introduced to his heart-melting nephew, Theo.

Come in…” My confused self invites. I begin to unlatch the outer burglar-proof  door.

Not to worry my daughter, I’ll only be a moment.” He hands me a flier – the same pink flier that, a few days back, was slipped under my door. “I just thought to make a personal invitation. Too many people missed out last year…

A 60 year old man climbs 5 flights up to reach out to me. How can I possibly not be there? “I will be present…” I confirm. I know fully understand why Amini reveres this gentleman.

I apologize for my unkempt look. “Not to worry my daughter and anyway if you cannot be free in your house, no other place can ever liberate you.

2:30 p.m. Cheery strides of the women towards Amini Primary School can be heard from afar. I rush down the stairs to join them.

I see you neither carried a lesso nor an umbrella…” Mama Frosa explains that the Professor’s talks can get long and windy making it necessary to always carry the paraphernalia. “In any case the grass stains can be a royal pain but don’t worry…” Her strong left hand squeezes mine, “We will share…

Amini is shaped like a flower, with each phase representing 1 of the 8 petals of its well thought out design. At the heart of it is the vibrant Amini Shopping Centre complete with a supermarket, butchery, hair salon, pharmacy, restaurant, movie store and of course the very popular Amini Veranda Bar. An aerial view of this floret reveals 2 access roads; one leading cars in and out of the trading area, and the other allowing residents and their guests to directly access their homes. The school – shaped like a leaf – is built off-road and boasts of having the largest playing field in Nairobi. The only sad thing is that the silver faucets that once jetted clean drinking water for pupils are all a dusty dry. Nonetheless, Amini’s architecture remains undoubtedly ingenious.

We arrive at the school. The anticipation is at its climax. Hugs and high-fives make the mood all the more exciting. I never knew Amini had these many women. Mama Frosa quickly introduces me to her friends and the daughters to her friends. “She is the one who drives the old white Nissan.” “Ile inasimama simama?” another of her comrades seeks to ascertain. That is it! I have to get rid of the godforsaken vehicle. Frosa’s mum sets camp right at the front. I hand her the extra bottle of water purchased at the gate entrance. “Asante sana!” We quickly submit to our thirst.The Professor, newspaper in hand as always, arrives. The crowd ululates. An interesting afternoon awaits us.2