I stood still staring at the tree hoping it was clean. I had just washed it. I hoped the sun would shine. I had been instructed to wash it because, out of the blues, Sospeter wanted to climb every day……

After coming back from the shop he dropped the package in the house, picked our nine-month old son, Gizzard Matumbo, and went straight up the tree, with him held tightly against his waist. I walked to the tree, looked up and shouted….

“My darlin Sospeter!!!!!” …..

“Yes, wife!” he answered looking down, almost slipping….

I jumped back very fast because I did not think Sospeter’s weight would have spared my life…… and there was this meat that he had brought.

I did not want to die before eating it…

“What are you doing up there?” I asked, “Can I join you?” ….

“No! Women do not climb trees! Go and do what you do best, gossip!”

Sospeter said looking over the fence at Mama Mwikali’s compound….

I did not say anything. I walked back to the house and cleaned the dishes. From where I was I could see Sospeter through the window. He was rocking the baby, singing…

Shhhh baby don’t cry,” he sang rocking Gizzard, smiling down at him.

(the baby was not crying)

“Daddy loves you….

But if you will not be a good boy….

Daddy will feed you to the crocodiles…

Try and see, try and see…”

Ai Sospeter!” I shouted, “What is that you are telling Matumbo…?”

Sospeter turned his head slowly to face me and shouted, “Let us see who loves him more. If you love him get him.”

He placed the baby between two branches on the tree, looked over the fence at Mama Mwikali’s compound and climbed down the tree….


My heart was in my mouth. I was short of breath…… Matumbo was quiet. Thank goodness. I walked very fast towards the tree. Very angrily I thought of how I would put chili in Sospeter’s mouth tonight when he falls asleep on the sofa…

I climbed up the tree, carefully stepping on the branches towards Gizzard

I was only a few inches away from Matumbo when the branch I was standing on gave way and I fell….

Whatever Angel directed me to wear a dress that morning was truly God sent… The hem of my dress was caught on a branch saving me from sudden death….

I was swinging clockwise………stop.

Then anti clockwise………stop.


Gizzard chuckled. “I will not scream…” I whispered to my heart. “I will not give Sospeter the satisfaction of seeing me suffer….”

I looked towards the house in time to see my husband’s hand placed over his mouth. He looked very scared. He pretended to yawn and entered the house…. I stretched my arms as far out as I could and got hold of a branch. I pushed myself up the tree and moved towards Gizzard in little steps….

He looked up at me, smiled and held out his arms… I picked him up, kissed and held him tight….

I looked for a nice place to sit on and breastfeed my child….

My eyes wondered over the fence into Mama Mwikali‘s compound. And therein was a ball….

A football….

Sospeter stepped out of the house carrying a mattress. He placed it exactly under the branch I was sitting on.

“There!” he shouted. I ignored him…

He left…

‘Maybe this is what Sospeter was looking at…’ I thought, ‘He is planning to steal that ball…. No way…. I must get to it first…. My children need something to play with….’

After a while Matumbo was full and we climbed down the tree. I did not feel like I wanted Sospeter’s help so I jumped clear of the mattress on to the grass….

“Wooooi.” I whispered as I felt the tiny painful needle pricks from the soles of my feet to my ankles…

“My ancestors wake up! your daughter is in pain…!!!” I lamented and kicked the mattress very hard. I kicked again, but this time I missed and hit the uncovered root of the tree with my big toe. I almost dropped Gizzard… “Oooooh…. my ancestors!” I screamed, “how long does it take you to wake up…. Oooooh come with everybody! Your cows, dogs and cats…. The angel that saved me by the hem of my yellow, green flowered dress! Where are you…???” I was shaking my foot, my mouth blowing fhoooo fhoooo!! Which was useless because my toe was nowhere near my mouth….

Gizzard was smiling….

Sospeter was at the door again, looking at me in amusement…

After a while I knocked on Mama Trevor’s door….

“Mama Trevor! Mama Trevor! Quick!” I whispered, “Finally! Our kids will no longer get bored.” Mama Trevor was excited. She raised her eyebrows at me in puzzlement, “Come, let me show you……”

We knew Mama Mwikali‘s family had gone to visit their relatives in Machakos….

This was easy….

No one would find us…

I kicked the small gate open with the sole of my foot and went in very excited, with Mama Trevor behind me. I ran towards the ball….

Matumbo was happy too. He chuckled again…. I was preparing to kick the ball with my left foot when it screamed….

“Uuuuuiiiii!! Do not kill me!” I was so startled I took a step back, tripped over the root of a tree and fell backwards throwing Gizzard into the air…. I was already preparing an imaginary funeral for the child when Mama Trevor jumped forward and caught him……

Asiii!Mwikali exclaimed. “Achi! Achi! Achi!”

I stood up rubbing my sitting muscles.

“Goodness!! Mama Mwikali you scared me!!! What are you doing there buried in the ground…?” I asked, very shocked….

“Get me out! Quick!” Mama Mwikali seemed quite frightened. “The jembe and panga are there behind the door….!!”


“I thought we stopped curing skin diseases like this…Is it serious….?” I said looking at Mama Mwikali’s face to see if there was any rash or big pimples…. She was silent…

I walked towards the house and got the jembe…. Mama Trevor was where I had left her. Frozen like a statue and staring…. I walked towards Mama Mwikali and hit the ground with the jembe once…. Then stopped.

“Why are you planted here?” I asked.

“It is Sospeter” Mama Mwikali said angrily in a low voice…”I was supposed to go home and join my husband yesterday but he buried me here and said I’d never leave… I must stay here and cook the fermented porridge for him everyday…”

I turned to look at Mama Trevor to see if maybe she knew something I did not know… She seemed confused like I was….

“Is there a kitchen underground…?” I asked, looking around to see if I was missing something…. I hit the ground again, dropped the jembe… “Do you have a rope?”, I asked….

“It is in the kitchen, hanging on a nail behind the door.” Mama Mwikali answered. I rushed to the house to get the rope… I tied the rope around Mama Mwikali’s chest and pulled and pulled… I wanted to give her a piece of my mind about my throbbing toe that was beginning to turn purple, but I changed my mind….

“Mama Trevor come and help me!”, I shouted, “This is not a human being…… this is a rock. I think she has grown roots…”

“Mama Trevor, don’t move!” Mama Mwikali shouted with fear, Mama Matumbo is going to tear me apart…” I realized I had not dug deep enough….

I stopped pulling, picked up the jembe and continued digging. I heard a faint sound of a branch about to break and the rustling of leaves… I stopped, looked back over the fence towards the tree…. and…. there was Sospeter watching us… Mama Trevor looked at me, worried….

I went back to digging…. “Promise me….. (dig)… that you will never…. (dig)…. call my husband …. (dig)….. at four o’clock …. (dig)…. to take your rotten porridge….” I stopped and stood upright, looking at Mama Mwikali, waiting….

“I promise,” she said slowly….

“And….. (dig)…. if he gives you…. (dig)… an avocado…. (dig)…. you will not even look at it…. (dig)….. promise, promise….” I stopped and pointed the jembe at Mama Mwikali, “You! You! You will know you don’t know!”

“I promise”, Mama Mwikali in a shaky voice….

I placed the jembe aside and stretched my hand. Mama Mwikali held it firmly and climbed out of the hole….

The three of us turned and looked at Sospeter….. He was still up the tree staring…. I looked at Gizzard and wanted to breastfeed him, but my hands were not clean…

Mama Trevor and I got out of Mama Mwikali’s compound and parted ways. Sospeter was already in the house. He seemed angry, but it did not bother me. I walked to the kitchen, washed my hands and sat on my three legged stool…..

I was deep in thought, wondering why Sospeter was such a bad man sometimes…. At the back of my mind, I knew there was something I was supposed to do, but could not remember….

After a few minutes….. There it was, hitting my mind like a stone shot from a catapult….. I had not changed Matumbo’s nappy…. I stood, got a fresh nappy and rushed to Mama Trevor’s house…

Art by Ken Omollo from


Till Keg Do Us Part


I was suddenly woken up by a scream that sounded louder than it should, in the morning silence….

I rushed out of the house to the road. Trevor was standing outside their gate, screaming at the top of his voice, and his mum, with her head out of the left window, was trying to shut Trevor up…

“Shhhhhhh… Shhhhhhh…. you will wake up the neighbors!” she whispered harshly. “Look, one is already up.” she said turning her head to my direction… I looked at Mama Trevor with my arms folded across my chest.

Trevor ran towards me, wrapped his little arms around my legs, buried his head and sobbed quietly. Mama Trevor mouthed the words, “Take him inside pleeeeeese…” I pointed at the man on the wheel, bit my finger and passed it across my neck (the murder sign)…. Then pretended to hold a bow and shoot an imaginary arrow at the man….

I bent slightly, took Trevor’s hand in mine and went into the house. My husband Sospeter was already awake. I placed Trevor on one of the chairs at the dining table, kissed Sospeter on the forehead and rushed to the kitchen…

I fried two eggs for Trevor.

Sospeter stretched his hand across the table and wiped Trevor’s tears…

“Stop crying,” he said, “Eat.”, as I placed a glass of milk next to Trevor’s plate….

“Why doesn’t my new Baba stay at home with me like you stay with akina Nyakundi…?” Trevor asked, with sadness….

Sospeter looked at me with the expression, ‘help me out here’. With my eyes wide, I made a gesture towards Trevor, who was now enjoying his breakfast….

“You know Trevor,”, Sospeter began, paused and continued, “your new Baba and your mama have been going to the church for marriage lessons…. and I am sure new Baba goes to work to get money…” Trevor was silent, not so sad anymore…

Since Mama Trevor met Baba she had stopped drinking because Baba too had stopped now that he wanted a serious life and also wanted to start a family. They wished to have their wedding in church and were encouraged by the church elders to get saved which they did with no qualms at all. They loved each other so this was a small sacrifice….

Baba bought nice things for Mama Trevor… Mama Trevor did not wear trousers all the time now… Her hair was longer and neat all the time. Trevor rarely ate chips and Pizza. He had healthy meals. Mama Trevor was becoming a good mother. The wedding ended splendidly with a long kiss and three beautiful smiles, Trevor’s included. I loved every part of it. A honeymoon in Lokichogio crowned it all…

After a while they were back. Two nights passed by then Baba wanted to go out and meet his old friends, “You know, I do not want them to to think I don’t like them anymore now I am married. A man has to continue to be a man” and he left for the club. Mama Trevor told me this over a maize roasting get together we had that evening….

Mama Trevor was getting anxious. It was late and Baba was not back yet…




Suddenly a car pulled up outside the gate. “I believe I can fly…” someone sang at the top of his voice, “I believe I can touch the sky…..” the drunken voice went on as we rushed out of the gate, “I think about it every night and day….” It was Baba, arms spread wide with a bottle of alcohol in one hand…sip…. sip … “Spread my wings and fly awaaaay…” Baba went on, looking up, swaying on his feet….

By now Mama Trevor had reached where Baba was and she was attempting to turn him round so he would go into the house…

“Don’t touch me!” Baba shouted. He tripped over the iron bar across the bottom of the gate and fell on his stomach….

I rushed into my house and pulled Sospeter out to where Baba was…

We lifted him up and dragged him into the house…. And that is how life was for Mama Trevor for some time…

Baba had gone back to his old drinking habit. But his wife kept away from the drink…

Then one morning I was woken up by Mama Trevor’s singing. Her voice was trembling.

“I hit a wall,” she sang, “I never felt so low, so low.” I walked towards the fence and peeped. “Mama Trevor” I whispered. She sat on the stairs, her legs bent in her arms, head resting on her knees. Tears streaming down her face. She went on as if she had not heard me, “Like a waterfall, my tears dropped to the floor, the floor..” beside her was a bottle of whiskey which she sipped after every sentence. I walked up to her and picked the bottle…

“This is not happening.” I told her shaking the bottle, “You can’t do this. He is not worth it.” I threw the bottle over the fence onto the road….

“I did not open the door for him last night,” Mama Trevor sobbed… “I don’t want him anymore.” The door opened. Trevor appeared, hugged his mother and whispered a soft “good morning mum.” and a “good morning Aunty” to me…

“Good morning Trevor. Come…both of you.” I said smiling, “Lets go make breakfast. Then we will roast some maize in the afternoon.”

“Yeeeeeeah!” Trevor shouted and went skipping out of the gate. His mama walking slowly behind him.



When I was 19 my neighbor asked me to attend his wedding night celebration in a certain club… When I say celebration I do not mean accompanying him and the wife to a room in a hotel… It was to the wedding night party..

So when we arrived and had settled down… [I can not remember if I had any money on me..] A guy of Asian origin approached me and asked.. “What would you like to take..” [No no no no no, let me rewind…. let me say exactly how he said it.] “Wee takunywa nini?“..

I answered, “sprite…”

You should see the look he gave me.. You see that look that someone gives you when you tell them…

“I have not been feeling well since Monday.. I have been having a headache.. Feeling dizzy.. Hot… Vomiting.. Severe stomach ache.. Red teary eyes..”

Then the person asks you.. “Have you seen the doctor…?” You answer, “No. I have been eating apples. I’ll be okay” You see the way the person looks at you?

That is the look the Asian gave me and left.. I think he had vodka or whiskey in his hand.. I could not differentiate them at that time…

So I sat alone on the sofa listening to music… Knowing that I could not go home because it was already 10 pm… And that was not a place matatus traveled.. Only Taxi…

After a while a friend noticed that I was not taking anything.. She bought me sprite..

At another club, many years later… Two men approached us and offered to buy my friend and I a drink… My friend took beer and I krest.. The man I was with told me.. “You are a complicated woman. I wish I took your friend.. It is women like you who wait for men to get drunk and steal from them later..” I laughed… After two sodas morning came…

When I reached the road and broke off from him to take a taxi he shouted.. “You stupid woman, you think I am foolish?” I did not look back… That is how it is when you do not take alcohol… I have always noticed when I am in a group of people, it is very easy for them… to buy alcohol for 5 thousand shillings than buy that one soda that costs 50.. I must carry my own money for drinks when I go out, because if I do not… I will die of thirst….

Woe unto you if you are invited to a party that is in a bush, where shops are far, far away.. And then you see the car that went to town to get drinks coming back with crates of beer only… And you want sugar… Soda sugar…

I have taken Redds many times… Not in clubs though… At home and at private parties… it is my favorite alcoholic drink… But I stopped… I stopped because I discovered that coffee, juice and chips taste better than alcohol… These days you ask me, “what do you take? ” I’ll ask, “Do they sell chips here?”

I kept thinking, ‘men find me boring because I do not drink. That is why I do not have a boyfriend…’ And I tried very much not to tell any person I was dating…… to stop drinking… Because I was afraid he would leave me… The smell of alcohol is not very pleasant…

But God works in mysterious ways… I learnt that you do not have to drink to get a man… Or keep a man… There are so many men who do not drink.. I also learnt it is not wrong to not drink… Alcohol will cause people to make the wrong decisions..

I mix with a lot of people who drink… Because I do not hate them.. But I will take soda or juice only… In every party… Because I know… I do not have to mess my life to fit in a group…

Unconditional Compassion


God said, before you pray [I’ll put it in simple English] clean your heart. To me, I think God says, be kind.

I led a very quiet, peaceful life. That is why I found life difficult when I started living in a house full of noisy kids. They irritated me but…

I learnt to see God through the eyes of these kids. Every time they made a lot of noise I would keep calm and think, ‘I have to train myself to be patient and if it is too much I’ll ask them politely to keep it down. There is no shortcut therefore if I want my prayers answered I have to be human.’ Loving everyone is difficult, but I must….let me rewind and come again… must be kind and caring to everybody.


They say that children sense evil spirits and negative energy, that is why they keep away from bad people. My nephew opened the door and said a loud hallo to me today. He has called my name more than six times. I have also noticed my four year old niece likes to ask me questions and tell me stories. It melts my heart to know that I have improved in handling the kids in the house.

What I have written above does not make me think I have been horrible at all. In fact, when I used to have a place of my own, it is outside my house that all the children of the estate came to play. My ‘estatemates‘ told them to keep it down or go away but I did not because I decided not to.

Now where was I? I was in answered prayers, Love and kindness. What happened to us.To me especially? There was a time I’d alight from a matatu and give my seat to someone who is very old, pregnant or is carrying a baby. These days I get my seat and watch these burdened people enter the matatu miss a seat and walk out then I think, ‘Another matatu will come, they will get in.’ I will continue to sit comfortably.

Why do I pass by the beggars in the street? Is it because they are not genuine anymore? Why do I think that a twenty shilling coin will destroy my future dream? I know very well that not all beggars are fake but I do not take time to look deep into that child’s eyes and read what they say. So what if the beggars collect more money than I have in my purse? Why do I not remember that it is the thought that counts? God says “Give, no matter how little it is. There is more.” Why is my faith so little? Why am I afraid to give? Why do I fear that more will not come? Why do I even pray?”.

So I dropped everything that I thought was preventing my prayers from being answered. Remember when God said that whatever comes out of your mouth is what will save you or finish you? I have tried very much not to make people feel bad. I am trying to surprise people by doing good things for them now and then. Even to the ones I do not like. Remember… God said, “Clean your heart before you come to me”.

I can not approach a woman older than me and offer to help her carry her luggage.. she will refuse because we all look like thieves to her.. Even when we know the person might accept your offer for help we do not ask. How many times does someone ask you for directions? If very few have you ever wondered why? My neighbor asked me a long time ago, “Berina, why are you always annoyed? Why do you walk as if you are going to beat someone? Why don’t you smile?” I thought, ‘Why should I smile, men will think I want them, they will think I am easy.’ I was very young with many responsibilities living with working parents. As I grew older and joined college I started to smile and I realized my hardened heart was softer.

If you do not have anything to give get up and give a hand. Make someone’s work easier by doing it with them or for them. Make God smile. People get tired of asking, learn to do things without being asked. It becomes a habit and becomes easier with time.

I was talking to a friend some time back and complaining about how we live without caring to ask if someone is okay or not, and she replied, “You know, you must always remember the many times people have helped you so if they do not help you now the help they gave you in the past counts.” My stomach churned. I was nauseated and thought. ‘So if someone is starving now you can not give them food because you gave them food some years ago?’ Kindness has no limit. Kindness does not wait for a reward. Give…give…give. I preach all the time that is why you are alive.. and do not give for fame or popularity.

Learn to keep promises because God will never give you what you ask for if you do not keep them. Be kind, let go, give that which you value so much and give wisely. God will give you better. God will give you a thousand fold. The bible speaks the truth because I have watched things unfold and I am still watching.

Be kind. If you think of giving, give, do not change your mind, let people see hope in you. Show people that God lives.

God is real, and He answers prayers that come from a kind heart.

The Snake Soup & The Wedding


Sospeter opened the door. “Can I use this skin to make two pairs of shoes for my wife?” The gentleman at the door asked. Sospeter was surprised! He looked at the skin confused.

“Where did you get that snake skin from?” Sospeter asked looking at the skin like the pit latrine had just burst. “Do not move any closer” he said gesturing the guy to move back. That is a bad omen you are bringing to my house. The gentleman almost tripped on the stairs.

“I got it from the well. Your well, the one you asked us to clean.” the gentleman said very quickly. Sospeter spit on the stairs, moved back and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, then stretched his hands and waved the man away.

“You may have the skin, all of it, and all the snakes of this land” Sospeter shouted as he closed the door. He rushed around the house opening all the taps to drain all the water from the tanks.

I was drinking my last cup of cocoa when he passed by me like a gazelle that was being chased by a cheetah. Suddenly he rushed back, grabbed the cup off my hand and poured my cocoa in the sink.

‘We have been poisoned!’ I thought.

“Where are the children?” I shouted. “My children are dead.” I rushed towards the door.    I was breathing heavily and my heartbeat was fast. I felt Sospeter’s firm hand grab my arm and pull me towards him. “Stop!” he tried to speak calmly. “You were drinking snake soup” he continued. “What?” I asked spitting on floor. I pulled the neck of my T-shirt up and used it to wipe my lips and tongue vigorously. Sospeter rushed to the bathroom, then the toilet to turn on the taps.

We sat down at the table. ‘All that water wasted…’ I thought. We were sad. I turned to look at Sospeter.

“We have been bewitched…” I complained. “The other day we found a lizard at the bottom of our water clay pot, the other day snail in our tea flask and…..and….”

“Please be silent.” Sospeter said. “I want to think. How can these things happen to us? Someone is trying to finish us.”

He raised up his head and turned to face me. I took his hand in mine and caressed it with the other.” Do you think it is our children? Do they hate us?”

I held his face in my hands, looked him in the eye and answered, “No” shaking my head slowly.

“It is just bad luck.” I dropped my hands to my lap. “This I am sure because of the day we bought that African sausage that was so chewy then we discovered a used Elastoplast inside.

Wah!” Sospeter exclaimed, almost standing, “I had forgotten about that. Let us go and prepare for the wedding. We will be late.”  I packed two sodas and a cake in my bag. Sospeter switched on the pump so that fresh water would be pumped into the house tanks. We said goodbye to our darling children and left.

We bought two packets of chips on the way and headed to the wedding venue.


When we arrived at the venue we found the photographers busy doing what they do best. “We are in trouble…..” I whispered as I put my arm around Sospeter’s neck to pull him closer for a kiss on the cheek for the first photo we took.

Sospeter grinned. Still holding on to Sospeter, I lifted one leg and opened my mouth to ‘aaaaaah‘.

Soon our very important photo session was over and we were seated. Soon the lorry that carried the food, which was the reason we were here entered the gates. And just as soon, we were on the queue that was going to make our day complete. That queue where the servers look at your face first then determine what to put on your plate.

“One of the photographers has already delivered the photos to the food team.” I whispered to Sospeter.

“Do you see how they look at our faces before they serve?”

“I can see, but we don’t care, do we?” My husband whispered back.

“No”, I answered.

It was our turn to be served. There was pilau, chapati, matoke and chicken. Sospeter’s plate was served with chicken neck and my plate had something that looked like a tiny TV aerial or that thing that rotates at the top of the tower at the airport. We were disappointed. Usually, when we are pleased with the food on our plates, we pick two serviettes each to cover our foods from the crows. On these disappointing day, we did not care, we carried our plates, all caution thrown to the wind. I even put my plate on my head at one time. The crows did not attempt to snatch the chicken. That is how unappetizing the chicken was.

Soon we were seated. I picked the spoon and pushed the mysterious chicken part (or was it a small spare part from the music system), off my plate to the ground. Sospeter did the same. I took out two packets of chips from my bag and handed it over to my sweet husband. “One of the photographers must have taken our photos to the kitchen” I said, feeling annoyed. “Did you see how they looked at us before they served us? Like the photographer told them we were suffering from a stomach-ache, or losing weight.” The ushers walked around distributing envelopes. Sospeter took one. He was silent, seriously attacking the food on his plate, you would think the food had said something offensive.

“I wish we had carried tomato and chili sauce,” Sospeter said as he cleared his plate. “That food was just full of spices with no tomato or onion.” He picked the envelope and put 5000 shillings inside. I snatched it from him and removed the 5000 and put it in my bag.

“We are not giving them anything” I said, “The food was horrible and little.” I complained. When the time came for giving presents and returning the envelope, I hugged the bride and shook the groom’s hand firmly and gave them the empty envelope. We went back to our seats and ate our cake with soda. It was already going to 5 pm. If we waited for the wedding cake our dinner would be late. We walked towards the gate and out we were when we heard kssss kssss! We looked back.

“You have left your photos!!” one of the paparazzi shouted.

“We don’t want them!!” I shouted back.

Sospeter looked back and added.”You may cut up the photos into small pieces and mix them with the food that  has remained in the lorry and serving table, you traitors!”

Sospeter put his hand around my waist and we walked home to our children.

Water Tings


We have not had water for six days… We learnt that the water people went on strike because they have not been paid.. So they closed it at the main.. As Africans would say, “walifunga kwa main“.

All the people in the compound panicked and fetched water… To store in their houses. The tanks are empty now.

When you are used to water, then it disappears, the whole house seems to stink.. So I walk around with jik bleach, so I can pour it in the water that I fetch for the loo, I can pour it in the sinks and bathroom drainage to get rid of these stench.. That is when I remember the pit latrine is a treasure. No flashing..

My mind goes back to all the times I have watched the movie ‘Exodus, or ‘The Ten commandments. I have never really thought how Egypt was when the water was turned into blood… I have been thinking about it the last two days.

To make matters worse, Egypt was stinking because animals had died in the blood, and the blood was rotten. But Pharaoh was still stubborn and did not let the Israelites go. I love when there is water, even if it is in a jerry-can of 5 litres.. I want to know that I can rinse my spoon, my cup and wash my hands now and then. That is, if I want to make tea, I can make tea..

If I was pharaoh, believe me, I would have let the Israelites go even before Moses held his stick over the waters. There is something about water that is alive. There is this river, about 50 metres from here. But I can not fetch water it.

23 years ago, the river was clean. We fetched water from there, cooking water and water for cleaning. But as the place became densely populated, people started pumping sewage to the roads, so that the rain would wash the waste to the river. The rain causes the river to flow, so by mid morning the water is cleaner. It is not raining now, the river is not flowing and is half dry, the stagnant water can not be used.

Even if it rains, I would not go down to the river. Sometime back a friend of mine went to the river to wash her clothes. As she was busy doing so, a naked man suddenly appeared. The lady did not wait to know what the man wanted, she ran like she never thought she could.

From her story, I could imagine how fast she ran. Maybe a helicopter was overhead. Maybe a pilot saw how fast she dashed to the house and informed the government that Kenya has a potential Olympic athlete. So I was in front of the TV all the time this Olympic season to see if I could spot her, because I have not seen her around lately.

I wondered why her first instinct was to run from the naked man. Maybe the man had good news, like wishing to pay her rent from then on, or her boy’s school-fees, or he wanted to help her wash the clothes, now we will never know.

I know you are asking yourself, “Has Berina ever gone down to the river to find out what the naked man wanted?” the answer is NO! “Will she ever go down the river to find out?” NO! “Why?” you ask.. Because the water might be pumped today.

I am still thinking of how stubborn the pharaoh was. There is always this one housefly that visits when there is no water… Even with my small bottle of jik, the housefly lingers.. And I am not at ease. Pharaoh had frogs, he had gnats, he had flies and boils. It did not shake him.

I used a shower while cleaning my skin. Then I started using a big basin, then I used a pail, now I do not want to think about my next bath, because I can see myself bathing from a cup.

Oooooh come water come!

In Pursuit Of The Grade


My secondary school life was heaven… Of course there were bad students who monolised us now and then… And two female teachers who hated me because of my walking style.. You know my shoulders are broad so I walk with my hands a few centimeters away from my body… My chest is always in front.. And I have heavy, strong, fast steps..

That aside..

My secondary school was run by the British and Germans.. The Germans were very kind, did not shout and listened to an explanation before punishing you.. The British were very strict.. A word that was not well pronounced.. If you spoke very fast without thinking.. If you sneezed or yawned without placing your hand over your mouth.. If you did not have a handkerchief, you got a lecture..

In spite of all these the prefects ran the school.. The teachers came in when it was bad… Bad like mistreating someone until that someone cries.. Like there was this girl who came home from her school holidays fatter than fat.. Me and about eight other girls found ourselves in the principal’s office.. Explaining why we were spreading rumors that this fat girl was pregnant… And I thank God that it turned into a discussion with a little bit of counseling.. We were genuinely sorry. We knew it was wrong and we apologized..

My school was not a national school.. but it was very very beautiful.. With very well trimmed grass and trees along the paths.. If I remember very well, we had one prep time only from 7 to 9 in the evening… We had classes from 8 to 4. There was no ‘Do not step on the grass’ sign so every lunch time the students who did not need to read hard… Lay down on the grass.. At four the dormitories were open up to 7 pm… For those who did not want to eat the school supper and had something to eat in the dorm.. Bread and blue-band… Biscuits and juice.. We had three hours of freedom between 4 to 7..

Nobody cared how you spent your free time.. Behind the pit latrines.. Behind the dorms.. Behind the dining hall, near the convent.. Behind the church.. No one looked for you, because there was no fear of sneaking out of school or doing drugs…

We slept in cubicles.. Six people per cube… We had lockers that looked like cabinets.. Our bathrooms, toilets and sinks were beautiful.. We did not have showers, but the floors were decorated and well finished.. We had air fresheners in the toilets.. We had scouring powder and we scrubbed our toilets using steel wool..

Our food was excellent..the food was well cooked.. It had a lot of Onions, tomatoes, and spices.. We ate bread every breakfast with blue-band and jam.. Except on Saturdays and Mondays when we ate porridge made from Grade one maize flour.. There were eggs and fruits everyday.. We took tea at supper time.. And watched TV while we ate..

We did not have mid terms… but we did not mind, because life was wonderful.. We had visiting days… The parents who could afford… Brought the whole supermarket to school… Our friends shared the goodies with us.. We had very little pocket money because there was nothing to buy…

We sneaked out of the dorm at night to watch weekend movies in the dining hall.. Others sneaked to the dining cellar to play the turntable and dance… We had a girl who went to kiss a male teacher.. We had another who met the watchman at night.. There was a gentleman who sold us mandazi through the fence.. And not one person in authority knew.. Not the matron, nor the Principal. Not the deputy, nor the cateress [sp]… No one talked….

I hated mathematics.. I remember refusing to attend maths classes for three days because the teacher was boring.. I was not punished… The class teacher called me to the staffroom and told me that one day I’ll regret for not wanting to do maths.. [Failing mathematics at that time, automatically gave you a division 2… I failed of course]

The only textbooks we bought were the bible and dictionary.. The rest were issued by the school..

The school was perfect.. But I cried every opening day until I reached form four because I knew that was the last year…

Did my parents know the school was good? YES.. Did they know I cried every opening day? NO.. Why? because they left for work very early in the morning… before I left for school… Then I was called to hell, for ‘A levels’…

If tears were diamonds as a certain song says.. I would be very rich… I got unlucky and was taken to the oldest dorm in the school.. I think the bathroom and toilets were built before Kenya got its independence.. The walls of the bathroom were incomplete, shoulder high.. dusty, brown, full of scum.. Those days, morning prep had been introduced to schools.. It was difficult to take a bath early in the morning because there was no bulb.. I can not remember how the toilets looked because… there was no time I even imagined using them.. I went across the compound to other dorms, to take a bath and use the toilets.. Even in the middle of the night..

We never ate rice, we never ate fruits.. There was no bread.. Only grade 2 maize flour porridge and maize full of weevils… We were forced to eat the maize.. All of it.. If after meals a pile of maize was found on the table.. The student would be sent home to come with a sack of maize.. Woe unto you if you looked liked you came from a minister’s home.. You would be asked to bring more than two sacks..

I was a prefect… second term, in form five, my deputy was in form four.. We were supposed to take the pads out to the pit latrine every week.. Everybody in the dorm had their turn… But my deputy and I never had the courage to go to the loo or bathroom to inspect…

I do not know what side of the bed the principal got out that morning… But that was our unlucky day… We were called into her office.. That is when I learned, that the thick steel rods at the center of the original umbrellas… had wire cords from the top to bottom..

The deputy prefect entered the office.. She was whipped twice, started crying and was sent away… I had been informed that the Principal will never stop whipping you until you cry..

When I entered the office I forgot.. I never cry when I am beaten… So I forgot to cry.. She asked me to pull my skirt up to my knees.. She whipped my beautiful legs.. And whipped.. I was her favorite student.. That made me angry, shocked and confused.. I was whipped.. 10, 20, 30, countless times.. Then covered my face and pretended to cry.. She sent me away after whipping my back twice.. I walked very fast to class and sat on my chair.. I spoke, I told the other children I was beaten, and continued to stare at my desk..

Two days after, on closing day.. I checked my legs, and discovered that I had dark lines across my legs.. Clear liquid was oozing out some lines.. It was painful.. A student informed me that at the end of the principal’s cord were protruding copper wires.. That cut into the skin every time the principal pulled the whip back..

When I went for my school holiday in December, anyone who saw my legs never believed my story… They thought I’d committed a very bad crime.. Like sucking people’s blood like a vampire.. Murdering a teacher.. Or locking the principal in her office and spraying the office with fire ants..

Some suggested that I report the principal to the Education officer… But I knew I’d be wasting my time.. Because some students had tried in vain, because the principal and officer were friends..

We avoided getting sick at all costs… The staff thought we were pregnant or missing our boyfriends.. Students got hysterical now and then.. There was a rumor that the principal was mentally ill.. That if her head snapped when she was near you, you got a beating of a lifetime..

Two days to opening day, my last year in school.. I told mum that I did not want to go on with education.. I was tired and bored.. But she convinced me to finish school.. I remember I entered the Overland quick bus at 1.00, crying… Walked the three kilometers to school crying.. There was a boy who met me on the way and helped me carry my luggage to school.. He thought I was crying because my luggage was heavy… I entered the school gate, late, still crying.. I was happy to be sent home for two weeks the next day…

Anyway, I attended the last terms in the school like a robot.. I shortened notes for others to read just to pass time.. I dropped from As to Ds and Es.. I finished school.. I failed..

I met the principal in Nairobi, 4 years later and almost burst with anger.. I asked myself why she still lives… such people are supposed to die quickly so that the world would be a happy place..

At my age… If I went back to that school.. As a student.. And I found it just the way I left it, with the same principal.. I would burn it.. I would build a petrol station outside the school to make sure that every time they try to renovate it, I burn it.. That is my reason. What’s your child’s reason?

I have been informed that the school has been renovated and better now.. My heaven secondary school was handed over to Kenyans.. Things changed…

The experiences that I had in school.. Are what made me sit down with my daughter and have a long talk with her about boarding schools.. My daughter was called to Limuru.. The place is very very cold.. She has a chest problem… I assured her that I understood her problem, and anytime it was too much, and the school could not handle it, she could come home.

I could not imagine how life would be in the school.. I was upset.. I cried for two days.. Visiting day had already passed… And we were not allowed to call and ask how our girls were doing.. A friend of mine was happy that her daughter’s school did not have visiting days.. I could not understand how a parent could not miss his or her child..

But God is very very faithful.. His promises are true.. When my daughter came home for mid term, she was okay, and did not mind going back to school..

At the end of second term, she started complaining about school.. I waited for her every closing day to listen to her problems.. She did not like waking up at 4.30.. I did not get annoyed with her or shout at her.. Like I have heard some teenagers telling me their parents do.. I did not tell her that I survived, she will also survive.. Or she is lucky she went to a National school and some missed.. Or not to be lazy and turn out like me… I told her, I understood.. I told her about my heaven secondary school life.. We compared our lives in school.. I explained to her why the school introduced a thousand Prep times.. I was open and told her how I hated boarding schools.. And I knew they were uncomfortable..

Every time she came home, every time I visited her, we would talk about the hardships and I told her if she felt that she was not getting enough sleep, she would take her bath in the evenings..

When she told me that their brown uniform was a blessing from God.. They rarely washed it.. I did not shout and tell her she was dirty.. We laughed about it.. When she told me that, if they were caught sneaking anything into the school, they were not punished it was just confiscated.. I told her I did not mind her risking, I did not give her a long lecture about discipline and how hard I am struggling to pay school fees..

When she was sent home for school fees.. I went everywhere with her… I did not order her to hide at home. I was not ashamed.. I wanted her to know that it was normal for people to not be able to do some things… It was normal to be broke..

She almost gave up during mocks.. They had lessons from 6 in morning, to 9 at night.. On visiting day, she told me that her head was tired.. They were overworking.. That after the night preps, they were given topics to discuss which they had to do in the dorms at night.. They did not have enough time during the day.

I was uncomfortable because I also love to sleep so so so much.. I told her, August was a holiday month.. So she had only three months.. On visiting day, the last term.. I urged her to go on… On prayer day, I reminded her to be comfortable… I assured her that whatever grade she got, I was not going to scold her or think that she did not work for it.. That she had been sent home many times for school fees and had missed many lessons.. And I understood.. But as I said, God is faithful..

I am not a perfect mother.. But I tried..

One time 20 years ago, I attended a party where teenagers were doing drugs. That was the first time I saw cocaine.. The father did not know because he was always in the bar with women.. The mother did not know because she was always out for prayer meetings.. Recently.. I spoke to another teenager.. This girl was born out of wedlock.. After the mother was married and had children by a different man.. The girl who was born out of wedlock was not loved anymore.. So the only place she would get love was from young men around the estate.. Every time the mother found her speaking to these boys, she would beat her with so much anger…

Teenager number three was taken to a school that did not have enough water.. The people who woke up earlier used up all the water at the expense of the ones that woke up late.. If you made the mistake of arriving in the dining hall late you missed breakfast, because the students who woke up earlier ate your bread.. There was very little food served… and we expect the kids to learn on an empty stomach.. Some parents advice others that pocket money is not important.. Especially in boys’ schools.. One parent cried when she visited her son in school and the first thing the son asked for was forty shillings for bread.. The parent almost left the school with the son..

In another school a boy in form one never slept on a mattress the whole of that year.. Because a boy in a senior class always took his mattress away to sleep on two.. The parents of the form one boy did not know until the boy opened up to a doctor…

Another one never took his beddings out after wetting the bed because the other students were laughing at him… When the parent visited his dorm she discovered that the mattress had maggots..

When your child complains about the school.. About anything, please take some time to discuss.. Do not just brush it off and say that, that is how boarding schools are.. Or tell him or her that the other children are doing OK and that he or she is not special..

I know some of you do not even know what subjects your children are taking in school.. Have you ever sat down to compare the subjects you did in school with your child’s.. Do you openly show your child that education is not your business.. How do you expect your child to think that school is not a punishment if you are not interested in what they do…

When your child complains about school.. Instead of talking it out with your child in order to try and know where the problem is… you call the teachers and tell them to make sure your child is comfortable.. Do not try to tell me that is why you pay school fees.. So that the teachers can take over your duty as a parent..? Shame on you..

That money you pay for school-fees is for tuition and food… Nothing more..

So many of you are saying, schools are burning because there will be no leakage.. You mean to say… that you took a stupid child to high school..? Do not lie to yourself.. By the time mocks are on the syllabus is over.. Everything has been taught and learnt.. That child you call stupid is the one who fixes your TV when something goes wrong.. The child is the one that memorizes the lyrics of a five minute song.. Is the child who shows you where the problem is on your phone..

You get an admission letter for your child to a high school.. You throw it in a drawer or shelf and wait.. A few days to reporting to school.. You shop very quickly and take your child to school on the first day.. The child is admitted and you leave.. You do not assure the child of anything.. You don’t give advise.. You do not comfort.. Like you have taken a goat for slaughter.. Your work is done.

On visiting day, you are there five minutes to the deadline.. Or do not visit at all.. Your child stands at the gate from morning to evening waiting.. During the parents meeting you write a note to the principal to scrap off visiting days.. On midterms you are never at home… Don’t you think your child wants to see you and talk..

If your child is not afraid to commit a crime.. You as a parent has failed.. If your child feels like he can never pass exams without leakage, you have failed as a parent by telling your child that education is the key to a lot lot lot lot of money and a good wife…

It is not the teachers… It is not the government… It is not the Matiang’i rules, it is you.. Ask yourself why your child never tells you anything personal.. And ask yourself, if what is making you too busy to listen to your child is more valuable than your child…

A child who is not afraid to come home after burning a school.. Reveals an irresponsible parent.. A child who does not open up to the parent, reveals a careless parent..

Be there for your child.. Be there to assure your child that, though life is full of corruption… Your child can still make it.. So that they may have hope.. Even when school life is hard.. And the food is little.. And the terms are long.. And the books are many.. It will all come to an end..

A child who is shown love by the parent will never wish to offend the parent… The child will always try to avoid mistakes…