It was a great safari

Narrator: Hadithi hadithi

Audience: Hadithi njoo

Narrator: Paukwa

Audience: Pakawa

Narrator: Maziwa

Audience: Ya watoto wa nyayo

Narrator: Kiboko

Audience: ya watoto wakorofi

Hapo zamani za kale, paliishi…. no, but I get ahead of myself.

I want to tell you a story of my recent safari to Puntland, Federal Republic of Somalia. And as good stories go, they must have a beginning. What I am not promising you is to be a good story teller, I am a good listener, not talker and definitely not a writer. If it were that it was writing that was standing between me and my killer, they stand a chance of winning, but that’s a story of another day.

The story begins at JKIA (code for Jomo Kenyatta International Airport- I think they should rename it to something friendly like Mak Airport). Where else would it start. It is possible that two cultures can exist side by side without affecting the other. And I think this is true for some of the airlines that fly to Somali because how do you explain paying for two seats, arriving early at the check in counters only to be told, no my friends (in Trevor Noah accent) there is no seat for one of you. And they are not joking. Our story ends here 😦

Since I am telling you a story about Puntland, you must have already surmised that we traveled without a hitch.

Our layover at Mogadishu was short and uneventful. Those of us who were proceeding to Garowe were checked in to our connecting flight while standing in the hot sun in the air side of the airport. Landing at Garowe is almost a culture shock of sorts. The runway is murram, though the landing is quite smooth. Their passenger terminal, if we can call it that is as good as non existent. The immigration desk, well, the little said about it the better and safer too, because you see, I must return to this beautiful country, maybe even settle.

I want to believe there was a welcoming troupe at the airport assembled just for me. No, they didn’t talk to me. Didn’t even notice me. I think we had traveled with a famous person who was to be received with pomp and flair. When this story is retold, it must be emphasized they were at the airport to meet me.

Garowe is a beautiful town. I think Nairobi could learn a few tips from them. Government offices are conveniently located out of the CBD but walking or taxi distance, well it still a small town, but there is a thought there. It is quiet, peaceful and would do with a breeze especially during the afternoons. But it is also a strange place. Yours truly went to a bank, a bank my people, to get dollars and the lady who I found there looked at me as you would an alien and said something to the effect they don’t trade forex. I am hoping, to her advantage, that she didn’t understand me.

If there is a diabetes capital of the world, it must be Puntland and the greater Somalia. My request for white tea no sugar was always met with very astonished looks. And whenever I was so unlucky to find myself in places where such luxuries were unavailable, they served you sugar that had some tea. The camel meat was however great and the fish at Eyl was delicious. It’s a paradox that they take so little salt believing, I think, that salt is not good. If they could, they would add sugar to the meat.

It is driving through Puntland, in Mudug and Nugaal districts that was the greatest joy. In the open grassland, almost desert like, every tree or shrub that was tall enough stood majestically as if marking and watching over its territory. One felt someone had planted them at those regular intervals to mark their place. They almost demanded your respect. At the same time, it felt like it was a flat earther’s paradise. Everywhere, well, almost everywhere you looked around you was flat. There were a few interruptions though. A small hill here and another there but perhaps the majestic cover of the blue cloudless sky that delineated our existential space.

I talk of driving in Puntland and your imagination drives you, I know, I can see it to think of road, long and winding tarmac. We would have give quite a lot even to have murram road. Our drivers, oh goodness, they were good, drove mostly by instinct. It felt like hunting squirrel and following their trail. That we didn’t get lost severally is still a wonder to me. On one of the days, darkness caught up with us or we caught up with it. One can’t be too sure of these things. And so, just like sea men hoping to see a lighthouse, we- this might just mean me- looked forward to any lights emanating from a small town as a sign that we were not totally lost.

We were in Garacad, a former pirates town or port. Or so our host said. It is a paradox that the people in the town abandoned hotels they suspect were built with proceeds from piracy because that’s haram.

We were in Galcayo where I think we were the only people without guns. Everyone seemed to have one. Maybe that’s how they know how to feel safe. I thought of getting one for myself but didn’t complete the thought. You see I am a pacifist and I don’t hunt. My only motivation to have a gun would be to take a life. I don’t think I am ready for that yet. I would reconsider if I met any one of our thieving political class and their tenderprenuer relathieves. About that, another day.

I said we didn’t get lost. I lied it. We did, it was only once and it was for the best I think. Maybe I am even glad we did get lost. We had driven almost the whole day. We were to go to Tawfiq a district that from all I gathered, is working on breaking off from Puntland and they said it wasn’t quite safe. We joked about it. We said maybe Al Shabaab lived there. But it was all jokes, you see and that is why I am happy we didn’t go. But that is where happiness ended or maybe it didn’t.

It has been raining in Puntland last several weeks or months, I can’t tell. And so with the nature of the roads, one is bound once in a while to find themselves in the thick of it. It happened to us too. It was under a quiet, dark, moonlight sky that our lead vehicle got stuck in mud. It was also ten pm. It was a silent night. I am not sure it was holy. But here we were, enveloped in darkness in the middle of nowhere. We tried to get the car unstuck for a while and when it continued to sink in the soft ground, that project was abandoned. We were going to sleep in the middle of nowhere. We were 8 of us. We had 2 cars. To say we didn’t sleep peacefully would be an understatement. Some slept outside the cars and some slept in the cars but we all slept. And when we woke up, all of us seemed to have been well rested. It was better than some of the places we had slept in.

And finally we went to Eyl, a paradise in the midst of ruins, two beautiful villages tucked in between mountain ranges or should I call them hills and valleys. I missed my bicycle. I would have loved to cycle in Eyl. The roads meander and turn sharply. The slopes stand there daring you to go to them.

Our politicians in Nairobi are a ridiculous lot. Most times when they head to the toilet, the path must be cleared of mortals and VVIP toilet installed somewhere. I think they shit gold. The president for Puntland state was meeting some dignitaries, I suppose, at the restaurant hotel where we stayed and between us and him was a short hedge. For all intents and purposes, we were oblivious to his presence. I want such a life as a public representative.

When one has lived in Nairobi following the juala ban, one becomes almost nostalgic at the site of juala everywhere and the convenience it brings. And for a long moment as I packed my small baggage I thought about carrying juala if only to piss off the migration officials in Nairobi. Maybe next time I will act on it. Our lives have been ruined without juala.

They said to understand the value of a minute talk to an athlete. What they didn’t say is to lose any attachment to time and live every moment as it comes, visit Somalia, a land where time stops.

In Kenya we really were totally colonized. Each of us, and yours truly, for shame, compete in how well we can speak in English. Mara grammar mara lexicon mara punctuation. One comes to Somalia and they are proudly Somali. Either learn Somali or talk to the birds. I want to believe the Somalis have been unfairly treated among us but they should be an inspiration to us. That while we acknowledge the brutal years of the colonizer, we can maintain our languages and what remains of our cultures. Whoever wants to do business with us should learn our vernacular or ship out.

In all, it was an interesting trip. I decided that you will read this and look at the photos and match up the stories.

See you when I am back in Nairobi or at any rate, I could be back already.

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on marriage, I think

Mbiti, in African Religion and Philosophy, writing about dowry, bride price or bride gift writes

This marriage gift is an important institution in African societies. It is a token of gratitude on the part of groom’s people to those of the bride, for their care of over her and allowing her to become his wife. At her home the gift ‘replaces’ her….. The gifts elevates the value attached to her both as a person and as a wife.

which if read together with

[…]In others, the bridegroom (and his relatives) must in addition contribute labour; and in matricidal societies the man lives with his parents in-law working for them for some years in order to ‘earn’ his wife.

contradicts the claim that

Under no circumstance is this custom a form of ‘payment’, as outsiders have so often mistakenly said.

And on virginity he writes

The blood of virginity is the symbol that life has been preserved, that the spring of life has not already been flowing wastefully, and that both the girl and her relatives have preserved the sanctity of human reproduction. Only marriage may shed this sacred blood, for in so doing it unlocks the door for members of the family in the loins to come forward and join both the living and the living-dead.

He adds

Virginity symbolises purity not only of body but also of moral life; and a virgin bride is the greatest glory and crown to her parents, husband and relatives.

As you weigh in below, does your culture dictate bride price? And how does it treat female virginity?

 

 

Man Vs the men or just breasts

No, I am not talking about Mencken’s letters to La Monte by the same title. I am writing about man as he is in the African setting, or rather in traditional African setting.

John Mbiti writes

Only in terms of other people does the individual become conscious of his own being, his own duties, his privileges and responsibilities towards himself and towards other people.

[…] Whatever happens to the individual, happens to the whole group, and whatever happens to the whole group happens to the individual. The individual can only say; I am because we are and since we are, therefore I am.

Elsewhere, commenting not about relationship between men and others, but on breasts and breastfeeding moms, he writes

African women, as a rule, suckle their children anywhere taking out their breasts  openly and without any feeling of embarrassment or shame. Breasts are the symbols of life, and the bigger they are, the more people appreciate them; they are a sign that the woman has an amply supply of milk for the child. There is nothing naked or sexy about nursing mothers exposing their breasts to suckle their children in market places etc; those who judge such mothers as being indecent must revise their understanding of African concept of what constitutes nakedness.

Mark Twain on various issues

First on conscience

If I had the remaking of man, he wouldn’t have any conscience. It is one of the most disagreeable things connected with a person, and although it certainly does a great deal of good, it cannot be said to pay, in the long run; it would be much better to have less good and more comfort.

On how we are generally alike

If you were to strip the nation naked and send a stranger through the crowd, he couldn’t tell the king from a quack doctor nor a duke from a hotel clerk

how da women lost da power

to da men.

In Joseph Campbell’s The masks of god: primitive mythology, he writes of this myth  of  the Ona of Tierra del Fuego,of the origin legend of the lodge or Hain of the men’s secret society.

In the days when all the forest was evergreen, before Kerrhprrh the parakeet painted the autumn leaves red with the color from his breast, before the giants Kwonyipe and Chashkilchesh wandered through the woods with their heads above the tree-tops; in the days when Krren (the sun) and Kreeh (the moon) walked the earth as man and wife, and many of the great sleeping mountains were human beings: in those far-off days witchcraft was known only to the women of Ona-land.

They kept their own particular Lodge, which no man dared approach. The girls, as they neared womanhood, were instructed in the magic arts, learning how to bring sickness and even death to all those who displeased them.

The men lived in abject fear and subjection. Certainly they had bows and arrows with which to supply the camp with meat, yet, they asked, what use were such weapons against witchcraft and sickness? This tyranny of the women grew from bad to worse until it occurred to the men that a dead witch was less dangerous than a live one. They conspired together to kill off all the women; and there ensued a great massacre, from which not one woman escaped in human form.

Even the young girls only just beginning their studies in witchcraft were killed with the rest, so the men now found themselves without wives. For these they must wait until the little girls grew into women. Meanwhile the great question arose: How could men keep the upper hand now they had got it? One day, when these girl children reached maturity, they might band together and regain their old ascendancy. To forestall this, the men inaugurated a secret society of their own and banished for ever the women’s Lodge in which so many wicked plots had been hatched against them.

No woman was allowed to come near the Hain, under penalty of death. To make quite certain that this decree was respected by their womenfolk, the men invented a new branch of Ona demonology; a collection of strange beings—drawn partly from their own imaginations and partly from folk-lore and ancient legends—who would take visible shape by being impersonated by members of the Lodge and thus scare the women away from the secret councils of the Hain.

It was given out that these creatures hated women, but were well-disposed towards men, even supplying them with mysterious food during the often protracted proceedings of the Lodge. Sometimes, however, these beings were short-tempered and hasty. Their irritability was manifested to the women of the encampment by the shouts and uncanny cries arising from the Hain, and, it might be, the scratched faces and bleeding noses with which the men returned home when some especially exciting session was over.

He writes also of the Yahgans (or Yamana) who are neighbours to the Ona, that

it was not so very long ago that the men assumed control. This was apparently done by mutual consent; there is no indication of a wholesale massacre of the women such as took place—judging from that tribe’s mythology—among the Ona. There is, not far from Ushuaia, every sign of a once vast village where, it is said, a great gathering of natives took place. Such a concourse was never seen before or since, canoes arriving from the farthest frontiers of Yahgan-land. It was at that momentous conference that the Yahgan men took authority into their own hands.”

and this my friends is why we are where we are today 🙂

 

On African time

Many times I have heard visitors to Africa and even educated Africans complain about our seeming inability to keep time. All these complaints are born of ignorance of the African and their conception of time. It should be understood, as Mbiti writes in African Religions and Philosophy (1969), that time is simply a composition of events which have occurred, those which are taking place now and those which will immediately occur. In our conception, the future is virtually absent because events which lie in it have not taken place, they have not taken place and cannot, therefore, constitute time.

For us, then, time has to be experienced in order to make sense or to become real.

How, then, do we reckon time? We reckon time for a concrete and specific purpose, in connection with events but not just for the sake of mathematics. It is for this reason we had phenomenal calendars, in which events or phenomena which constitute time are reckoned in their relation with one another and as they take place writes Mbiti.

It is for this reason, therefore, it doesn’t what time the sun rises- whether at 5am or at 7am- as long as it rises.

For the technological mind, time is a commodity which must be utilised, sold and bought; but in traditional African life, time has to be created or produced. Man is not a slave of time, instead, he makes as much time as he wants.

As I said in the beginning of this post, many foreigners when they say Africans are always late or wasting time, they are talking from ignorance of what time is in Africa. We are not wasting time, we are either waiting for time or are in the process of producing time.

Next time you are visiting Africa or scheduling an appointment with one, don’t depend too much on your wrist watch, relax. We are never late. Morning is any time between sunrise and midday so be sure we will honour that appointment.

Here is a case of educated African reckoning time linearly 🙂