Yesterday was Christmas! Before you start calling me Captain Obvious, let me point out that I saw a woman weeding her garden yesterday. 365 days and a quarter more in a year, and she had to go gardening on Christmas? What’s wrong with some people? Can’t they show some respect, you know like this guy actually saved the world? As far as I am concerned, Christmas is more important than Sunday. Remember when Jesus said that you cannot leave your donkey in a hole on a Sunday just because it is the Sabbath? Well, he did not once make light of the importance of Christmas in similar manner. That should be enough to tell you that Christmas is not to be messed with. It is with that spirit that I decided to pay some relatives a visit on Christmas. Imagine my shock and horror upon finding my aunt buried ankle deep in loose soil digging up potatoes. A load of Napier grass was lying a few feet away from her, further revealing the true extent of her indiscretion. It is really true what the Swahili say, mcheka kilema, kwao kipo. To make it worse, the handicap of dishonouring Christmas managed to end up afflicting me too. Being a gentleman, I was forced to carry her load of potatoes and animal feed as I accompanied her to her home. Yes, I ended up working on Christmas day despite my deep rooted aversion to doing any work other than bring down mountains of rare cuisine on this divinely ordained day.
It is said that the first time is the hardest, after that you get used to it and even begin to enjoy it. And to the perverts amongst you, I am talking about your first time working on Christmas day; something I was almost used to by the time I finally bade my aunt goodbye and hoisted the load of bananas she insisted I carry to my shoulders. But let’s backtrack a little, I did not just arrive and then leave immediately. I got to hang out with my uncle, who finally decided to ask me what I study at the university, three years after I was admitted. I refrained from pointing out the fact the he was three years too late in asking and simply told him, “I study engineering.”
“What does that entail?” He asked, confirming what I had suspected – he does not know the difference between a mechanic and an engineer, much less that between a civil and an electrical engineer.
I had to humour him, “There are different fields of study in engineering.” I explained and he shook his head in understanding. This encouraged me to go on, “I will be a Mechatronics engineer upon graduation.”
He looked at a point on the ceiling directly above my head in deep thought; I was sitting across the width of the table from him. After almost a minute of silence and some very serious contemplation on his part, he said, “Can you put that in mother tongue?”
I almost laughed out loud. Not because he did not know what Mechatronics is, but because all that time we were actually already speaking in mother tongue, with only the exception of the occasional English word or phrase for which I could not find a direct or ready equivalent in mother tongue. Anyway, it was now my turn to think. I tried to imagine how I could explain words and concepts like automation, computer programs, engineering design, robots, artificial intelligence, etc. in mother tongue. When I saw him still looking expectantly at me, I concluded that he probably did not care a single piece of his goats’ droppings what Mechatronics is all about. What was more important was the reassurance that my course will be able to land me a job and put a descent meal on my table, which translates to our table, mine and his. I gave him that reassurance in the simplest way I know how.
“Mechatronics deals with a lot of things related to different types of machines.” He nodded his understanding and I continued to tell him what he wanted to hear, “But the reason I love it is that it will buy me a plot and a wife one day.”
That made him smile. I have come to learn that the two things most men who are my uncle’s age value most are a prime plot in some urban or semi-urban area and a fully paid for wife, I am talking dowry here. There are reasons for this. A plot, just like a car to most Kenyans, is a symbol of wealth. It earns a man respect among his peers as one with the financial acumen to accumulate wealth. A wife completes the picture; she is what makes a male worthy of the title man, especially after she has borne him children. Finally, paying the dowry serves to give the man that inner pride and esteem of knowing that the woman is fully his, both in accordance to customs and whichever romantic barter trades of love that brought and bound them together.
Our discussion was cut short by my aunt who came to join us at the table room. She noticed the half-empty cups of muratina on the table and saw it fit to give my uncle a lecture about mixing medication with alcohol. The grown sissy sat there staring at me sheepishly as he got told off by his wife. That’s when I learnt the truth; he is not free to drink whenever he wants regardless of how much his throat needs some oiling. Boy was I grateful I am not married! But that was not the only thing I learnt from that encounter. It also dawned on me that when you pay dowry and finally ‘own’ your wife, she also owns you in equal measure. The only difference is that she was useful at her parents’ home and so they wouldn’t let her go for free. Conversely, all you did at home was steal sugar, ruin stuff by tinkering with it and come home late. In short, you were as much a headache as you were useful, and your parents couldn’t wait for the day you left their home to make one for yourself. That’s why you pay dowry and she doesn’t, according to some African folklores.
Witnessing that scene left me confused somehow. The thing is, my uncle’s masculinity is not in question here. He is the very definition of masculinity. To prove it, he drowned his cup before corking the brewing gourd and taking it back to where he hides it. I took it that that was his way of telling his wife, “I have heard you, but there are reasons why I filled this cup up in the first place. For those reasons, I’ll finish it and drink no more today.” My aunt was wise enough not to say anything. After that scene played itself out, we all settled in a kind of comfortable calm and made small conversation. I observed the kind of companionship which ‘owning’ each other had developed between those two and was quite impressed. That’s when it occurred to me that if indeed Mechatronics will buy me a wife, it will also sell me out to her. They have a name for this type of trade but it is not taught at school alongside barter and cash trades. That name is marriage.
P.S.: Mr. Mututho don’t think I’ll ever snitch on my uncle, so don’t waste your time coming after me hoping I’ll lead you to the muratina. But if your wife is making it difficult to drink at home, you can hit me up on my twitter and I’ll teach you how to sneak around strict spouses. In exchange, I’ll request that you put my name as an exception to all your laws and regulations alongside such persons as the president, Otieno Kajwang’, Bonny Khalwale, the cardinal and catholic priests, etc. I am referring here to people who may need a drink, at hours which might be at odds with yours, so as to perform the functions of their offices (president, priests and cardinal) or to maintain the eccentricities of their personalities, salute Dr. K. My favourite quote of yours still remains, “For fun to survive, and men of all ages to enjoy themselves, he must go. KiMututh… Oh! Hic! Sorry, Kimunya must go!!”
Happy Festivities before Mututho’s compassion wears thin!
Kay Qube, staggers out!