Stend Chang’aa

If you are going to the heart of the kingdom using the western frontier, you will pass through a village still making amends with the rapid passing of time. It looks at you with sad drooling eyes and begs to be looked at. It is tired. Even the wind walks here with great caution. The village stands on your way just before you reach Emayoni. But if you are going away to the neighbouring kingdom of Buganda, you will greet its wrinkled face before you get to Ejinja on before Ebusia. It is bowed. It is silent. It is dull. Its name is Stend Chang’aa.

Now how does someone begin to talk of Stend Chang’aa to a complete stranger? Eh? Where you come from, how do folks talk of a segregated village, a village pushed to the edge of civilisation because it refused to sing the song of conformity?

And yet when you look at the present day Stend Chang’aa you may be fooled. The shell you see hides the vibrancy that once rattled even the hardest of hearts. Stend Chang’aa was a rude village which allowed the mighty to reign before sending them where they belonged. It contained mountains and folded imaginary horns off the foreheads of the youth. But it was the older generation that saw it dance the dance of life and attract attention of all beholders.

A story is told of Mzee Akapenzo. He was among the first locals to make a name – breaking all odds to become a renowned worker at Pukas. Those days, being the driver of a sugarcane tractor was more than being the father of a Malia today. Akapenzo would come with his Chondia tractor, park it along the Ebusia-Elureko highway and then walk home to take maize or rabbit meat to his third wife. All along he would be flagged with villagers who wanted this or that.

People fought for respect till old age. Akapenzo earned it early in the morning of his life. His name was Akapenzo because he also knew how to write using a penzo, and he could read and write. So respected was he that he was included in almost every affair of Stend Chang’aa. He sat on every committee. When a man wanted to marry, Akapenzo was consulted. When a person wanted to send his child to school, it was Akapenzo who was tasked with approving the move. He sat on every dowry negotiation committee. Stray boys were taken to his home every Saturday to be disciplined. He was a commander of the small world that was Stend Chang’aa.

But he was a feared man too. Nobody talked to his daughters anyhow. Not even Manyasa the boy who had lived in Nakuru working in the kitchen of a Whiteman for seven months and twelve days. Nobody walked near his home beyond six because you would not only be beaten, but the villagers would also task you to run for your miserable life.

Just as life is life, he grew old and retirement age flung its doors for him. Others say that Pukas had a new manager who was cutting the number of workers. Whatever it was, Omukofu Akapenzo was relieved of his work. They gave him his FAS money, whatever Pukas meant with FAS, and home he went.

Every man has a dream. Just before the FAS had rested in his pocket, the dream that had eaten his head to give him a bald suddenly surfaced. This was a few days after checking in the bank. He knocked at the door of Kandia, a respected village smelter and self-declared mechanic one restless morning and they disappeared through the path winding in Wesaya’s cane plantation and took a Mawingo Bus to Nairobi. When they came back, they did not come back on a Mawingo. They weren’t walking either. Akapenzo had many stories about his new old Chevrolet and people came from far and wide to listen to him. Village children were even allowed to say it was theirs.

The second week he again talked to Kandia that evening. The following morning they awoke the village with a mad revving of the Chevrolet as children cheered and called themselves the blood of Akapenzo. In the evening, driver and mechanic revved back. At the back of the pickup was an old posho mill engine he would install in his home and name it after his mother-in-law, proud mother to his Makneta. Villagers had envied this man’s outstanding success once he bought the Chevrolet. But a posho mill made matters complicated because not even the area chief had attained the level of buying a posho mill and planting it in his home to rumble the village with the rumble of food, health and life. His fellow men agreed he was in a different league and it was rumoured that some women were already regretting why they had married their respective husbands when Akapenzo was still alive.

Week three, he took Makneta to Mombasa Makneta, his youngest wife. He said he was going to say sorry to his soul after working so hard so long for Pukas. Those days, the best sorry was to go and bathe in the water with salt. And true enough, he came days later looking better and carrying an extra kilo of himself. That was the week we saw words.

The father of Otwori sent out word that he was throwing a big bash. It travelled quick-quick like news of war. Soon elders were tricking in. I am the one who carried Kuka Aineah’s bag and so I was there with my eyes. Kuka Weyama was also there. Kuka Imondo was there. And two big pots of the water of the gods were also made to sit side by side with elders in that meeting of merry. And wasn’t that Omukhulundu Kweyu at the edge of the group? Omukhulundu Kweyu was a man who in one stride had given a son to the Arabs, built a big church in his compound and still never said no to invites for the water of the gods when elders invited. People respected him a lot and so in any meeting you had to ask yourself thrice if it was him you had seen or his caricature angel.

After blessing the water, elders began to do whatever it was they would do best that evening. The notorious young men who had unwisely responded to the call of elders were given a pot and a gourd of the water and strictly warned to go home immediately the drink was over.

It was not drinking that happened. People drank. People drank. And yet they drank again. That day water was like the water of swollen Nzioa. It was like the air we breathed. And soon the elders began to surrender, one after another. When you say Kuka Aineah dropped his head to the ground in a fruitless battle against the conquest of water, you are not playing with words. And he was not alone. The grandfather of that other boy even showed people his thighs and said that his wife loved urinating at the mukuru of their house. And the young men at the entrance scolded their greed and staggered to rest in the bushes near Akapenzo’s home, for it was a forbidden thing of a young man to rest on Akapenzo’s compound when he still had unmarried girls.

All this while, Akapenzo was just looking.

When it was clear the water had defeated both man and boy, he asked his second wife and mother to Makokha to bring a basin. Nabakolwe being the quick-footed mother ran to her Big House and came with one. Akapenzo ordered her to order Puchi to collect the remaining drink in the basin. Because Puchi was not around, she did it herself, constantly looking in the direction of her Whiteman for approval. The basin was now very full.

He called Nashibe, the wife with big legs. She brought soap and carried the trough to her Whiteman’s bathroom, a leaf-walled structure hidden next to the banana plantation behind the house. Not even Nashibe the mother of seven sons would ask him why he was bathing in the water of the gods. Well, he came out clean. Supported between the shoulders of two elderly men who were passing by when Nashibe and Nabakolwe first rend the air with wails of a dyeing husband. The other elders were dead in their sleep and if these passers-by had not rushed him to Mishen Hospital, bad things would have befallen the kingdom.

He is still alive today. You can visit him.

Another story is told of a teacher. This one was young. But he had change. He lived far away from Stend Chang’aa. But he was the son of the village and it was known where his umbilical cord rested. He came home whenever schools closed. This was one such time.

So when Mwalimu Fanueli went to the market to watch his team play, he found wonders at Sakwa’s video show. Young men and a few misguided ageing elders were there watching a European match when Ingwe was playing. He asked the owner to switch the channel to the one where Ingwe was playing. Being a respected man, his word was heeded and Sakwa did as commanded. But the boys had not seen Mwalimu well, so they resisted. Mwalimu Fanuel being a man of few words stood up and addressed them. Boys, he said, you are very young. Let me tell you that we shall not under this roof watch A Whiteman when Ingwe is playing.

Mumble. Murmur.

Okay, whoever doesn’t want to watch this, I will refund your money tenfold. And Mwalimu Fanuel was not broke that day. He gave then their multiplied refund, one after another, one after the other, and remained watching the game alone. Sakwa’s video show is nowadays called the Video Shop of Mwalimu. Being rich is euphemised as being Mwalimu. And being broke? Boys, find a new name.

Stend Chang’aa has honed talents. But now it looks so quiet you may think a city can be a nun. There was that famous night-runner called Oroya. Though he came from the east of the kingdom, he served the entire kingdom in equal measure. But when he visited Stend Chang’aa he did his work super well. Sleep was not as boring as it is today. Oroya would meet you near Mayoni or Matungu. He would officially tell you in his low voice that he would be your guest tonight. Before you understood it, he would be gone. Only to return during the night and be true to his word. Catch who? You would never trap him however much you tried. He would night-run you until it quenched his body, and then he would run back east before dawn. What a gone talent! Good old Oroya, the naked spice to the sleep of Stend Chang’aa.

Stend Chang’aa sits on stories.

Next week….