What better way than to give a Case Study of my County people.
I told you that I come from Taita Taveta, right? One of the most beautiful Counties in Kenya that is also home to Kenya’s largest National Parks – Tsavo East and Tsavo West. Which explains the cases of human – wildlife conflict that have been reported for a while now, but that is content for another day. We are not many of us, you can easily count us and guess what, you will be done counting before you get to 400,000 people. This is according to the National Census done in 2019. It’s that serious – our population – that some few years back our leaders started motivating us to get many babies if we truly wanted to secure a larger portion of the National Cake.
Which reminds me, I am learning how to bake cakes. I’ve always wanted to learn but somehow never tried. Not even learning through You-tube. And I’ve realized for those with sweet tooth like mine, it’s not the best thing to learn. The days I was trying to lose some weight, I would strictly be on diet for say two weeks, then congratulate myself with a nice cake for work well done. I would then proceed to congratulate myself everyday with junk for a whole month. The guilt that follows thereafter is unexplainable. So heavy. I have now resolved to eating my food from a place of peace until I decide to be serious with diet again. If that day will come anyway.
Back to my County people, the unspoken rule during our functions is that ‘Kimanga’ must be cooked, but it’s not the only food which will be cooked. Kimanga is like Mukimo, for the Kikuyus, only more sweeter. It’s a mixture of beans, cassava and green bananas. It’s boiled until all the water dries up then it’s mashed. No cooking oil should be added; Kimanga should be as natural as it can possibly be. Served with Kachumbari, you will have experienced a true Taita experience.
We can not talk about food without acknowledging the presence of the designated cooks for different delicacies. For instance, there is an aunt for Chapatis; another one who looks at a bag of rice and concludes it will be enough for the occasion but minus two cups – she will be right; and another one who sorts out tomatoes and onions. The most respected one is the aunt who supervises chicken meat. In other words, she controls the high table. You are lucky if that aunt is your mother.
Before people dress up for the occasion, be it weddings or funerals, there is attire for different roles, worn during the morning hours, which is anything old for the men and anything extra large for the women. There will be the cousin/neighbour with white ‘pair of overalls’ that are slowly becoming brown; he is responsible for meat. He walks with his head high since he knows this activity cannot continue if he decides to run away with the meat. Or give it to the dogs.
Then there are the young cousins in campus, persuing internships or entry level jobs, now enjoying their little income by slaying in wigs and beautiful dresses. These ones will be the last to dress up and when they finally do, the whole function lights up with sweet perfumes, beautiful dresses and wigs that will be pushed to the back after every 2 minutes. I would fit in this category if I had a wig.
Our mothers will put on their deras or old clothes and order us around as they complain how we act like we gave birth to them. Complaining how you think you are so learned more than everyone else in the village. Your friend, who is your neighbour, will ask her mom a small question like why she is pouring water on the cooking spinach, even going ahead to explain how vegetables taste better without soup. That will be reverted with ‘Hmm, mnajiskia mmesoma sana.’ She will silently go back wondering which part of her question had a smell of education in it. Because she will find no answer, later on you will see her silently eating the boiled spinach because well, that’s the nature of life – it humbles us.
There is something about a mother in a group of other mothers. They are very confident, loud and aggressive. Especially to their children. You will pass-by and they will burst out laughing about how they were all there when you were born and now you walk like you own the world. You will only hear ‘Hmm. Hmm. Hahaha,’ followed by whispers as their eyes follow you until you get out of their sight. But you will soon realize that they mean no harm.
Do you have an idea how juicy gossip is when your mind is busy elsewhere? Say, when you are busy cooking or mopping the floor, and someone else is silently listening to your story. The gossip is usually raw and it flows naturally since you are not trying too hard to compose the events that took place. The story tells itself.
In any gathering, there are signs which show that a story has reached it’s climax. Case in study, when aunties are cooking and a juicy story comes up, you will see one of them unwrapping her lesso, then loosely wrap it again; all this while pretending not to follow the story but she is the one enjoying the most. This behaviour is to show solidarity with the ‘sharer’ of the gossip while acting natural to avoid being seen that she is too curious. That is a sign.
When the fire is almost going off (assuming it’s a big event and food is being cooked some place away from where the tents are), one auntie will add some more firewood and if it complies by becoming a fully blown fire, another one will be motivated to drop a top secret she’s been keeping for a while, to match the fire that’s burning, figuratively, and that right there, is another sign. Everything burns at this point. No details will be left ‘unburned.’
Sometimes your favourite aunt will be told an embarrassing detail about you, by your mom. And you will understand, since they are sisters first before they are mothers. And sisters share many things including embarrassments. You will pass by and you will see them high-fiving each other and you will hear her say “kusenizere,” (No, she didn’t do that. In other words: tell me more). She may sound like she is begging your mother to stop telling the story, but she is asking for more juice. That’s a major sign. Again, everything will burn. Because what’s better than sisters laughing about things they find fascinating about their children?
Until I attended a funeral in another County where people were silently crying, I had thought all communities will have people wailing deeply in funerals, like it is in Taita. I understand loss is personal and someone will wail depending on their personal feelings about losing their loved one, but we can wail. Seriously wail. More like screaming, but it’s okay. This might come as a culture shock to our visitors but we are okay with ourselves – we will be fine.
Leaving the party.
If you are like me, sometimes you leave without giving any formal goodbye. You simply hint on how good the party was and find a reason to rush away. If you are the host – like I am the host here – I can also decide not to give any lengthy goodbye to my guests by simply thanking them for passing by and inviting them to visit us again, in this context – our beautiful County, then leave them at that.
You ask how? Like this.ss