My neighbourhood is Sichei, a princely village in Bungoma. Bungoma, though it is ten kilometers from Bungoma town. That’s how it goes down anyway. If people 200km from Mombasa can say they come from the city, why not I with my Bungoma? If the ocean besieging Madagascar down there can still be said to be Indian, thousands of miles from India, Indiana and West Indies, what is 10km?
A dusty road runs by my village, which is made use of by the people who go on foot, ride on donkeys, bicycles and motorbikes. The road is, however, uneven and full of ruts, and becomes a disaster management client when the rains fall.
Sichei prides itself in the heritage of mud-walled houses. Most of these have low roofs, a single door and no windows. Usually, these houses have only one room, which serves as a kitchen, bed-room, reception-room, store-room, and nursery.
Some of the houses have a court-yard also, where the cattle are kept. You can say that the lanes are very dirty and that will not be criminal. They are littered with the left-overs from homes of careless wives and even much more careless husbands. They have puddles of dirty water that breeds swarms of undisciplined mosquitoes. So to us, malaria and cholera are kin and kith.
My neighbourhood is inhabited mostly by farmers. These men are models of industry. The village has barbers with none too keen wits and dull razors; carpenters with primitive instruments; cobblers whose shoes are known more for history and durability than beauty; and blacksmiths who make ploughs and sickles. My village has a dispensary where sore eyes are cured, fever is treated, and where the government dumps unused pain-killers from the national hospital.
The centres of interest, however, include the school, to which most of the boys go; several churches with innocent souls and a mosque where the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer five times a day. The village has a couple of canteens where the villagers buy their salt and soap. It has hotels too where bicycle engineers, barbers and a few travelers stop by to exercise their abdominal rights. It also has the tomb mother to the late VP, Michael Kijana Wamalwa and another for the late great seer of the Bukusu, Omung’osi Walumoli.
The most important men in my village are teachers and a few military men. Most boys in our village are afraid of approaching their daughters because they are harsh. No. This is not unfounded. African men don’t squander their fear just like that.
One day, Msumbichi burst into my simba breathing no breath. I laboured to make him speak and when he did, the news wasn’t good. Apparently, Simiyu was dying. Where? Under the mango tree in the soldier’s home. That was itself danger twofold. He said that they had hidden in the fence of the soldier’s home and were busy whistling at Nastanjia, first born daughter of the military man, when trouble came. Their attention had been so much on her topography that when the father stopped his bicycle behind them, they did not hear. It only downed on them when their hands were tied at the carrier of his bicycle and were dragged to hell itself. I don’t even remember how Msumbichi said he had escaped.
So when we got there, it was just in time to get the soldier giving military drills to Simiyu. The young man was still tied at the carrier of the bicycle. Now the soldier’s work was to peddle round his compound, through the roughest places, and Simiyu was to follow in trail. The soldier stopped only once – when Simiyu’s father came. He got off his bike, moved near the man, beat him up, ripped off his shirt and tied him under the mango tree before coming back to peddle. It was only the pleading of his second wife and mother to Nastanjia, and the preaching of a pastor standing at the gate, that pacified the man. Father and son were later seen running from the soldier’s compound without, as they say, looking back. You’d wonder how Simiyu’s father managed in the bush without a shirt on.
So we all have the right to fear military men.
The Head Master of the school is a worthy man, and the adult school run by him contains pupils from the ages of 20 to 35. Next year, Paulo Simiyu and Ponfenja Msumbichi will graduate to form three. Because they are among the youngest in the school, the head has promised to waive half their school fees if they stop taking alcohol. Let’s wait and see.
Teachers and soldiers aside, the fertility of our land is what motivates and inspires my village mates. Farmers were one time advised by our village elder not to use foreign fertilizer from the shops since it would corrupt the sweetness of their land. I hope they heed. Otherwise the number of shortwires is going to shoot.