It is a Friday evening, and I’ve just been on the phone with my old man. It’s a time-honored ritual that started way back when I was in campus. He would call every Friday evening; most of the time when I had logged in at the Frakaz to cool the embers of smoldering engineering knowledge that had fried my brain during the week. Frakaz, ladies and gentlemen, is a place where Moi University students go to hypothesize that liquor is the lubricant that keep the moving parts of their mental faculties working well, engage in fist fights while pretending to be under the influence and drown their sorrows.
He, perhaps having had a glass of wine too much-at least that’s what I suspected- always began the conversation with, “Wuod Anyango!” That, for those who don’t understand the French dialect of the Kavirondo people of Lake Victoria, means Son of Anyango. Anyango is my mother’s maiden name, just in case you still haven’t gotten it. A salutation I’d respond by referring to him as Wuod Merab. See, my old man is not those fathers with tight sphincters who want you to put the word “Mzee” at the end of every sentence when addressing them. We are on a mother’s name basis. He is not a yo-yo dad, either. He doesn’t have pet names for any of his kids. Hell, the only time he came close to hugging me was on my graduation. And by close, I mean he gave me a firm handshake and told me that I could now sit at the table of men.
Today we talked about dewormers. I’m the deworming expert for the family. Come to think of it, that’s the only thing I out-excel everyone else in my family-deworming. Not one to let my trumpet be blown by someone else for reasons hygiene, I deworm as doctors and nutritionists recommend. I choose to overlook the fact that that’s the only doctor’s advice I follow. So we had a 10 minutes conversation on deworming. Just when I’m about to hang up, he reminds of the bottle of wine I had promised to send him. I tell him I’m at Mpeketoni and I’ll look into it once I return to Mombasa. Oops! The cat is out of the bag. He wasn’t supposed to know that I’m in Mpeketoni.
From experience, I know better than to trust married men and friends in serious relationships with secrets. Can’t keep secrets, these ones. And Wuod Merab is a married man with a wife who happens to be my mother. Like all good and responsible mothers, Anyango worries about my safety. And like dutiful sons should, I don’t like worrying her. It is for this reason that I chose not tell her or my old man that I was in Mpeketoni especially given the security history of the place. She thinks that Coast, generally, is a security high risk so telling her that I was headed to Mpeketoni would have shot up her blood pressure. Yes, yes, I know a mother is always right but on this one, she is not.
I have been in Mpeketoni for three days and it is not bad as everyone thinks it is. Even the people who sent me here were worried about my safety. Granted, the security threat still exists. But Mpeketoni is not all gloom and doom.
Here’s is what I’ve learnt in the time I’ve been here.
The women here are hardworking. I am here to collect information on agriculture and most of the farms here are managed by women. The women here do not wait for their husbands to bring the daily bread home or look for sponsors. These ones till cotton plantations, spray pesticides and negotiate prices of their produce with middlemen. They have no time for powdering their noses. The women in Mpeketoni wear replica football shirts, fake of course, but then again, you can’t expect too much from a farming community and ride motorcycles in skirts. I found this mildly erotic. Not because they have their genitals exposed (they don’t, just in case you were wondering) but because of the symbolism of it all. I find women riding motorcycles, in skirts, quite powerful. And I find powerful women immensely attractive.
Two, the residents of Mpeketoni are incredibly friendly to the security forces. They have learnt from experience that the police and the military are their friends. And the security forces return the favor. Like the KDF officers who came with their Armored Personnel Carrier and packed it next to the hotel I was staying in. They were chatty, made small talk with us and wished my friend Ramadhan and I a goodnight. The residents, on the other hand, offer them foodstuffs. There’s is a mutual understanding that both need each other to neutralize the ever present Alshabaab threat. Perhaps this is something those of us who incessantly complain about the Kenya police could learn.
Finally, you’ll get your pelvic girdle squeezed to the point of near fracture if you opt to travel out of Mpeketoni. Travelling to the nearby market centers of Witu and Mokowe is a punishment straight from hell. You’ll get packed into a probox that will hold the entire town. Unlucky on your part if you get to sit on the front next to the driver, like I did today. I sat next to the driver with gearstick in between my legs (no pun intended) in a manually driven vehicle. Big mistake…