When the Bud is Ready to Flower
A visit to most African rural settings is always welcomed with all sorts of noise and a combination of rich, diverse cultural and economic activities. The majority of communities depend on farming for their livelihood. The farm-related activities rotate sequentially around the calendar of the year and these define who the people are and where a particular community is situated geographically. It is either a season to prepare the farms for the next season’s planting, the actual planting, the weeding of crops, harvesting, storing, etc.
When I think about the rural Kenya, I get a nostalgic emotion that is just so special to me and me alone. This is a community that raised me and shaped most of my thoughts, ambitions, attitudes, and decisions about life. It is in this very rural home somewhere deep in the western region of beautiful Kenya that I played my first Kati ,molded mud dolls and houses, skipped ropes, played amateur soccer with a ball made of plastic papers and sisal strings, and I ran around with other small girls doing our favorite Tapo (hide and seek game). Oh my God! How I miss those childhood days.
With the exception of about ten tribes, most Kenyan communities are patriarchal in setting, which makes the father the head of the family. This is the kind of family that I come from. My good dad (may his soul rest in peace), like most other men of his days, believed that the wealth of an African man was measured in the number of wives he had. He proudly owned seven wives with no apologies to anyone, my mother being the third one. With her eight children, my mother was ‘happily married’ and nothing could be better to her than the fact the she was the wife of my papa.
You may find this weird, but I get a feeling that my dad was not so sure how many children he had fathered from his seven wives, or more. I also believe he did not know some of the names of these children, and from which specific mother they were. How could he know the number of children he had when during his mother’s funeral he adamantly dodged the question, yet he knew that it is relevant that they sum up the number of grandchildren that his late mother had? Do not let this bother you so much, this was a common observable fact among men of those days and it never seemed to worry anyone so much.
Growing up in this environment seemed easy and enjoyable for most of us. I then thought, but not anymore. Everything was communal and we somehow loved it so much. Although there were clear social and cultural demarcations of the expected roles that boys and girls played in the community, we still enjoyed the co-existence of each member. We did not have the ‘blue and pink’ kind of dressing; neither did our parents buy the toy cars and Barbie dolls, but all the same a child had a way to know that he is either boy or girl. Our culture had its own way of ensuring that children are aware of their sexuality as well as societal gender roles early enough.
One aspect that clearly separated boys from girls, like in many other communities was the naming system. All the names were given according to the season, place of birth, the circumstance under which the child was born, or even after some a relative who had passed on. However, most of the boys’ names started with a ‘W’ while the rhyming female one started with an ‘N’, although there are a few names that do not adhere to this rule. This is how I am a Nafula, and if I were male I would be a Wafula which both mean a child born during the rainy season. I have never asked my mum why she christened me that, but I assume that either I was born on a day when it was raining cats and dogs, or probably she named me after some old and dead relative whose fond memories linger in her mind. Do not ask about children born with both sexual organs because they never existed or if they did they must have been killed at birth or thrown away to be feasted on by the wild animals in the forests.
When thinking along this line I realize that contemporary society is quite tolerant. Not so many years ago, any woman who bore twins as her first born was an outcast and the children would either be hacked to death, or left to die in the forests. The woman was believed to have bad luck and therefore she was sent away from her marital home back to her parents. Such a woman was never ever to be named after by her people. She was supposed to be forgotten as fast as possible.
Our culture had it that if children are named after people who had died, then those people should have passed a specific communal test of naming. You could not wake up one day and just decide to call your baby boy Wekesa and it is not a harvesting season; just because you think it s a ‘cool’ name. No way! It was mandatory that the set cultural criteria must be followed otherwise it would be an abomination. This norm has been violated so much these days, and in fact I named my first daughter after my mum who is very much alive and kicking, hehe! (I simply love you mama).
There were duties that were naturally for women in our community, and those meant to be done just by our brothers. From birth, a woman was destined for the kitchen and all the other roles associate with the cooking. This means that she had to ensure that she had a garden full of all sorts of vegetable that should be able to feed the family the year round. It was her responsibility to ensure that the garden was well tendered and that the vegetables in season were there and weeded frequently.
Although my brothers took the cows for grazing in the field each morning, but it was my mother who always did the milking of these cows. I never saw daddy or any of the men struggling with the udders of these cows to get milk. When mama got ill or traveled (which she rarely did), we always had to ask Mayi Fronika (Mummy Veronica) to come do the milking for us. She was mama’s best friend in the village (RIP).
I also realized that I was never allowed to take the cows in the field to graze. Anytime I asked if I could go with the boys, mama always reminded me that I was a girl. I never got to understand this at the time, and I guess she too had no answer to the rules she found existing. One day curiosity got the better of me and I decided to follow the boys because I wished to get the preferential treatment of milk and sweet potatoes that they always got for lunch. That is the day I realized that I was a girl, and that I had better embrace that fact as soon as possible. I had never known that my mum can spank that mercilessly. Even with my bruises all over the body, nobody seemed to empathize. Everyone condemned me so much and I felt like an outcast.
I kept wondering why it is just us girls who had to do the family laundry all the time. This sucked, really! Imagine the whole heap of dirty clothes that had been kept for weeks on being gracefully handed to three weak girls and their old mother for washing. The clothes stunk because of the amount of dirt that they had accumulated. Imagine those boys in the field with cows rolling themselves in grey soil by the riverside because they have no idea what washing clothes means! To make this worse, there was never enough soap to wash these clothes. It was actually not cleaning, but just reducing the amount of filth. I do not think we were that poor as not to afford enough soap, but mama always thought soap was luxury and also that she believed we needed to learn to be economical if we are to be responsible potential wives.
Our own clothes were equally dirty as those of our brothers, and always smelled foul because of the amount of sweat we accumulated while carrying leaking gallons of water uphill at least seven times a day. How could our clothes not stink when we had to split the firewood using an axe that more often than not was very blunt? You looked at my skirts and tops and you are not sure of the original colors because of the sooth that rubs on it every morning, midday and evening while washing dishes and black pots that are typical of firewood village cooking. There were no scouring pads and gentle soaps that make the dish washing exercise fancy. We just had to use sisal fiber and sand to scrub the pots. Those black pots ate up my finger nails each time I did it, and turned them into a horrible sight.
I always complained about this and everyone told me to accept my destiny as a woman. In fact my concerns prompted people to keep questioning my ability to become a wife. They thought I was very ‘mouthy’. *They ought to know that I am now grown up and happily married to a content man who considers me a very responsible wife and a caring mother to his children.