The Firstbones

Posted May 18, 2009 by Silvano Ateka
Categories: Uncategorized

 

I used to put up with my aunt who had a set of rules I considered Draconian. Reviewing them later, I realize that they were aimed at shaping my life for the better.

 

Though she was unable to read and write, she ensured I studied every evening.

I recall how she used to request me to read and write letters for her. She even made some neighbors who could not read and write to seek my assistance.

 That ignited my early writing fire. I grew up yearning to become a writer so I could write and read many letters for my people! 

 The point is – we are all indebted to society. Since a lot was invested in us, much is expected from us!!

 The village spent its resources on us. It took us in the education kiln so we could be baked on its behalf. Goats, chicken, dogs and other domestic animals were sold to secure a place for us in the academic kiln.

 Isukuti dancers swung their bottoms in response to the heat. Old men spat their blessings on our hands to wish us success. We made our parents to earn an early respect from the community.

 The children were trusted as future problem-solvers. They were being taken to Harvard so they could rebuild the falling huts and built better bridges.

 But upon graduation, the scholars vanished! The city is now their home. They own palatial bungalows and sleek cars. We only watch them on TV discussing about the progress of their businesses.

 They have forgotten their rural homes completely. The huts they used to live in are derelict. The path they followed on their way to school is bushy and thorny. Their people in the village are still using the old koroboi for light

 Poverty is a huge ugly picture down there. Kids are clad in shreds. There are jiggers in their toes. They yawn desperately. They beg for something to bite.

 Their parents are busy toiling on the farm. From dawn to dusk, they are busy digging and planting. But will the dwarfed yellow maize on the tiny farm feed the large and still enlarging family?

 Then there are graves. Big graves and small graves. Fresh graves and old graves. Most of the departing souls are victims of the deadly AIDS. But it is not AIDS in the village. It is witchcraft.

 The problem is glaring but the problem-solvers have turned into trouble makers.

I have interacted with many youngsters who have taken an oath never to step in the village after gaining some education and financial success.

 Sometimes I am puzzled whenever I pass near a deserted home only to be told much about the place: “Dr. So and So comes from the home.” Someone reveals. “It is also the home of a senior director in a certain company abroad.”

 Why ran away from the rural home? Greener pastures? Jobs in the city? May be. But is it the reason of hating the village altogether?

 Most of our people still believe in witchcraft. On arrival in the village, you are supposed to put a huge padlock on your plans or else you will end up giving an easy time to the village’s witchdoctors.

 In fact, some people arrive late at night and leave at dawn to avoid the witchdoctor’s evil eye. And for the relatives who floods in to request for sukari, one is advised to give them real sukari and not money!

 So we uproot ourselves from the rootstalk. Our people could be witches. They could be poor and ugly and uncivilized but they brought us forth!

 We belong to them, and furthermore, we bear their ugly mark! Something else – we never realized their witchcraft in our childhood! We loved and depended on them. We disclosed our ambitions and sought their blessings.

Now that we are on the highway to success, we are saying “Man for himself, God for us all.”  It is until now that we have realized the ugliness of our mother’s breast, the breast we suckled all our youth!

 Yes, it could be so sooty, so uncivilized a breast; now that we are guzzling beer and other intoxicating liquids in town. But has it occurred to us that mother’s milk remains the most nutritious food for our health?

 By de-linking ourselves from our umbilical chord, we are making a big dent in our identity. It is right here in the village where we played hide and seek. Right here where we hunted for squirrels and hares and porcupines for an evening stew.

 Sometimes there was little to bite. Sometimes nothing at all. Then mama could attend a wedding and bring home some leftovers which we ate happily and had sound sleep on smelly rags.

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It was time to talk

Posted May 13, 2009 by Silvano Ateka
Categories: Fiction

 

You separate with the one you love. You swear not to go back to him. Later, circumstances force  you to re-unite. Love? Here is a piece based on a true story. ..

No fooling around with men again! Tina had sworn after breaking up with Seth. She had married him unaware of his true nature. They had lived a happy life until he resumed heavy drinking.

It all began with a claim that his colleagues had forced him to take some ‘mild’ drinks in a party. Then it came to taking a tot. Just a tot to enable him finish his job at the office.

Tina never argued much with him. She never questioned much. He had a way of preventing one from challenging him. He stared hard in a way that belittled and silenced you.

Hell broke loose when she tried. She only advised him to avoid the mild drinks – but he exploded and went up in arms.

“Are you trying to control me?” He thundered. Tina tried to calm him down but he shot a punch that almost disfigured her face. He intended to beat her thoroughly but Tina escaped. She grabbed Maureen and left to the countryside to begin a new life.

As time passed by, she tried her best to push him off her mind. She ignored the letters that he wrote begging her to change her mind and go back to him. After all, she was happy in the countryside. No fooling around with men again.

The day came when she had to fool with men again. It was during Maureen’s graduation day at college and the girl invited both parents to the ceremony.
The thought of meeting Seth after a long time made blood to race in her veins. She almost turned down the invitation but her love for Maureen forced her to attend the ceremony.

Seth…he must have sunk headlong into alcohol. He must be skinny and miserable with a strong alcoholic odor…

She was wrong. Seth was new. He had a new radiance too – not belittling and fiery but calm and friendly.

They talked to each other briefly and went on to pretend that that they were very keen on what was going on at the ceremony. Maureen watched them closely. She knew that even though they kept nodding to what the guest speaker was saying, deep; very deep in their minds; they were politely addressing each other.

“Tina, I know you believe that I am still an irresponsible drunkard.” Seth was saying silently. “I am sorry for what I did to you but believe me, I have changed!”

“I regret to have lost you.” Tina was responding. “You have changed a great deal. You are a new lovable Seth. But I still have some fears about the old Seth hiding somewhere within you.”

“I would like to talk to you.” Seth broke the silence when they later went in a restaurant.

“Is it necessary really?” Tina responded, looking into his eyes which spelt love and honesty. Was he really changed?

She was still thinking when she found her lips on his. His kiss had changed too. It was a long, warm, passionate kiss that made one to crave for more. It even made an excited Maureen to forget about her drink and think about her boyfriend.

Yes; it was necessary to talk!

The Gate Pass

Posted May 12, 2009 by Silvano Ateka
Categories: Fiction

 

Birds are flying leisurely around the heavily guarded jail. Lucky beings. How I wish the inmates inside the facility could breathe such fine air and enjoy such cool weather…

The officer at the Naivash Maximum Security Prison main gate takes light years to enter my identification details in the dog-eared official visitor’s book.

 “Name of prisoner you are going to visit?” He asks angrily.

 I tell him the name and he takes another eternity to scribble it in the book.

 “You look like a Luhya person. Which tribe do you come from?”

 I tell him my tribe but there is a doubtful expression on his face. To him, I am Luhya. I don’t know why he has stuck to that.

  “What crime did your relative commit?” He asks.

  “He is in Block A” I reply.

 Block ‘A’ is for those on death row. I notice a sympathetic expression on the faces of the people around.

 A call interrupts the job. He takes a long time chatting with his friend about the good weekend they had the previous week, the fat lady who fell in love with him and so on.

 When he finishes the call to our relief, he complains about his lunch. I think I am dumb here for I only nod when he says that his favorite meal of chapatti and beans only costs fifty shillings. In response, the officer abandons my case by requesting that I wait for a while as he goes on to serve other visitors.

 They are clever visitors. They do not just nod as I did– they dish out some dirty notes for the man, what makes him sign their gate passes faster.

 I make up my mind to be served faster by shaking his hand with a fifty shilling note. Gate Pass Number 13 is issued instantly with a broad smile. But there is another obstacle at Block A’s…

 “You will have to wait.” This one says casually, slipping the piece of paper bearing my details carelessly in his pocket. “Can’t you see it is lunch time?”

 The jail’s walls are tall and thick. Armed policemen all over. Tight security here. The birds flying around the complex do not know how lucky they are. How I wish my relative was able to fly away like the chattering birds…

 Many thoughts are racing in my mind as I wait for an hour. Two. Three…

  “I have been waiting for the last three hours sir.”I remind the officer guarding the jail gate. “I think lunch is over.”

 The officer seems to have forgotten me. He has even forgotten where he kept the paper I gave him but his memory comes back to life when I sneak a fifty shilling note in is hand.

 At last, I am allowed to visit my relative. We shed tears as we great each other through the glass that separates our physical contact. He has been here for three years now. He is skinny and shabby after exhausting the last resources we brought him.

 Of course I have carried some money for him. He needs food and soap and razors blades for shaving. He needs many other basic things. Some of these things like razor blades are contraband but I know how they will get to him. After all, the police who is monitoring our conversation is yawning. Isn’t it a sign that he wants some lunch?

Mabuka is my hero

Posted April 1, 2009 by Silvano Ateka
Categories: Uncategorized

Justine Mabuka’s story appeared in the news in April (1st). He was freed from Naivasha prison where he had been serving a seven year jail term for burglary. Thanks to A- grade that he scored in KCSE he became a free man.

 Bravo Justine for your good job! The fact that you studied under the most challenging conditions in Kenya makes you my hero. You have sent an important message out there – that failure is just but success turned inside out.

I am even glad that a certain organization has promised to assist you attain your college education. Being the hero that you are, the government should consider giving you a scholarship. You have proved that with proper reform in our jails, the inmates can still retrace their tracks in life.

 

You are an intelligent, brave and determined person. I should invite you to talk to a bunch of young people I know who are about to jettison their determination away just because they are encountering a few obstacles on their path to success.

Your good performance while in prison is commendable owing to the pathetic conditions in there which are not conducive for learning.You must have relied heavily on your colleagues and a few dog-eared books. You must have been determined – very much determined since anyone else facing such a long sentence would not have seen the need to hope for pursuing his life-long dream again.

I therefore salute you young man. Yours is an inspirational story. You have made the point clear – that one is not supposed to quit easily however thick the situation may become. That sometimes when things get harder and thicker, success is always around the corner peeping patiently.

Nothing good comes from prison these days. I still remember the sickening clip that came from Naivasha… but at least your performance has sent a clear message out there. Those jails should be correctional institutes and not torture centers.

As bees make honey from thyme – the driest of herbs, you turned your challenges into an opportunity. I therefore trust that you will maintain the same driving force, the same spark, the same determination that put on the plate your fine grades. I have no doubt that you will apply yourself to hard work in your future studies and that success will always follow you.

Your achievement has motivated me. You see, I am certainly luckier. The facilities at our college are state-of-the art. But I must also admit that these things are like good health. Sometimes you have to fall sick to value its importance.

Thanks for inspiring me and other readers. I will take advantage of the resources at my disposal and work hard!

Faith Matters

Posted March 25, 2009 by Silvano Ateka
Categories: Uncategorized

In search of spiritual nourishment, I attend a church service in Kawangware. It is a new experience. Here is a part of the soft underbelly of Nairobi.

They call it Christ’s Charismatic Church – CCC. That reminded me of another church my friend Mack and I came across in the village. It was called Christ’s Tabernacle International Center.

Don’t forget that it was in the heart of the village  – a dilapidated grass-thatched building with a handful of villagers as its members. Nothing international about it.

But I loved CCC. They are decent – though planted right into the poverty stricken part of Kawangware. They play good music too.

The sermon was uplifting too. That Sunday, the message was about accomplishing great things by faith – or simply kuzaa (giving birth as the pastor put it).

 So he narrated to us all the stories of men and women who had given birth to greater things in the bible and requested us to yell repeatedly at some point: nitazaa!(I will give birth).

Now, I must admit that it turned to be quite interesting. There was a beautiful lady sitting close to me. She had a beautiful voice too. But the way she declared right into my ear that she would give birth no matter what…

 There were other ladies around but I obviously seemed to be the target of her conviction. I thus  wondered what I had done to the pretty lady. Her ‘nitazaa’ was belligerent and explosive…

I was thus glad when the sermon ended. Next was a stroll around the place. It struck me that Kawangware in its decrepit state is such a fertile ground for faith matters. Churches all over. It must be a lucrative business in this part of the city – I thought.

We Miss Uncle Ted Roberts

Posted March 25, 2009 by Silvano Ateka
Categories: Uncategorized

Ted Roberts has retired from VOA and Night Line Africa, the program that he used to host is nolonger the same. Here is a piece about the presenter whose baritone voice and passion for his job used to beckon me closer to the radio whenever he was on air.

The VoA’s Night Line Africa Program that comes on air every Saturday and Sunday evening is never the same again. It cannot be the same without its former presenter Uncle Ted Roberts. Just like other members of the Night Line Africa family, I loved Uncle Ted so much. It was his baritone voice; his proffessionalism, his warm sense of humor and passion for his work that kept me and other members of “Nightline Family” hooked to the radio whenever he was on the air.

He is a talented broacaster who spiced up  my weekend. “All was always well. Everything was always all right.” I could pick up my phone and send text messages or call friends to announce that Uncle Ted Roberts was on the air. That ‘the people’s program’ was live from Washington.

I really miss the good oldies that he played on the program. He called them a “blast from the past – music among my souvenirs’. Then, whenever he signed off, Ted always had a quote that inspired us. I used to record most of the quotes and apply them later in my conversation with friends at college.

“After you have laboriously accomplished your daily task,” he could say, “go to bed. Your creator is awake.”

“You know what,” he could pose in another edition of the program. “You will never get a second chance to make a first impression. And that: “Life is like a bank account. You only get what you put in; and experience is your interest.”

When Barrack Obama was inaugurated as the US first Black president, he had a good one for us – that: “Rosa Parks sat so that Martin Luther could walk. Martin Luther walked so that Barrack Obama could ran. Barrack Obama ran so that our children could fly.”

He could then ask us to think about it… “Think about it my friend, take good care of yourself and I will see you on Saturday…is that alright?

The program was synonymous to him. Although Akwe, Imbuga and Shaka Ssali are doing a good job in the program, Night line Africa is never the same as it was when the Howard University communications professor was in charge. The responses from the Night line fans when he announced his retirement proved that he was a darling of many people. I was among those who could rush home to listen to the radio just to listen to his friendly, fatherly baritone voice that was always full of enthusiasm. His professionalism also manifested itself in the way he hosted the program – nice retirement don, we miss you!

Nairobi’s security is at stake

Posted March 24, 2009 by Silvano Ateka
Categories: Uncategorized

Nairobi is nolonger safe these days. Muggers have courage to attack in broad day light!

Seen the pictures in today’s Daily Nation? How they mercilessly descended on the young man? Reports indicated that it even gets fatal. They even take life.

Chilling, isn’t it? So that is how bad Nairobi has deteriorated. Is there any plan of action? What is in store from the ministry of internal security? We want to maintain law and order in the city – are the police going to act on the pictures?

Yes – they were clear. Quite horrific to see how criminals usually do their thing. One thug’s hand I could see was searching the victim’s inner pants…

That testifies to the fact that Nairobi is becoming increasingly insecure. Why isn’t something being done? Are we waiting for these muggers to turn into a form of Mungiki for the police to act?

Hey, if there is someome in that docket with any will to act, do it now. Hunt for those goons. They will end up thumping their chests in victory if you do not go for them. They will claim to be celebrities for the media attention they got apart from their loot from the innocent victim.

So, hunt them down and arrest them. The pictures were clear – they never made any effort to hide their faces. Secondly,  keep vigil in those blacklisted areas. Keep vigil with loaded guns because those young goons can be very dangerous – reports indicate they that they can be too brave to take life. So increase patrols in those areas and save the innocent Nairobians from these thugs.

It is better we do these thins now before the city is taken over by these goons. Now that can attack from an open area such as Globe Round about sends home a loaded message – that something ought to be done.