My grandfather always wanted his tea served steaming hot. On a metallic mug. You’d be damned if you took the sufuria off the jiko before serving his tea. If you put it in a kettle or a thermos flask first, you’d have to boil it all over again. Like his nose could tell the tea had lost 2° Celsius in the process. You have to try pouring boiling tea straight from the jiko into a metallic cup to appreciate how difficult this was. Oh sorry, they don’t make metallic cups anymore. So we had to fill his metallic cup and then dash along the corridor before the tea lost just enough temperature to be rendered unfit for human consumption.
I didn’t in the least bit mind the scalding because it served as irrefutable evidence when I would regale my peers with stories of how my grandfather was badass when the school holidays were over. If it wasn’t a story about my grandfather inhaling steam for breakfast, then it was about his collection spears and assortment of what I now know, thanks to boundary clashes among Kenyan communities, are crude weapons. If they remained unimpressed then I would talk about his unorthodox means of polishing his shoes or how we could hear his cough from a mile away when he was from raundimwenda every evening. My emphasis was on the loudness of his voice than the symbolism of the cough. It was the roar of a warlock.
I was full of filial admiration as any 8 year old could. But even a peculiar man like my grandfather can only offer so much fodder for Class 3 stories. Thankfully, we moved to a new area because I was running out of cool stories to tell from our holiday trips to the old timer. I would have resorted to plucking off the acknowledgment pages of the Geography books he had co-authored or nipped a photo of him addressing a school assembly because photos were as precious and rare as A plains in the pre-selfie era.
On the onset of adolescence, grandpa or Jaujimbe as we fondly called him- also because it was abominable to call your grandfather by his name back then, breathed or rather coughed his last. You’d have to find alternative accommodation if you referred to your parents by name( because if you were man enough to call them by name then you were man enough to pay rent or build your own house) and you’d experience the methods the CIA employ to extract information from terror suspects if you omitted titles when mentioning your teachers. How times change! But I digress.
This is not a eulogy over a decade late. Neither is it a biography for the retired high school principal. Or about hot steaming tea. It is a lesson on manhood, fatherhood and everything in between.
A self-respecting man must have, for lack of a better word, a pet peeve; quirks that no one else except you gets. You know those things that you can as well do without or just ignore but you choose not to. The habits that don’t even make sense to you either but you still do them. The insane routines that the uninitiated may describe as diva demands. The rituals that are part of your identity. Your friends, children and wife respect them, or at least wait till you die to make fun of them.
See, Jaujimbe never drank that hot steaming tea. He would narrate to us tales of his expeditions till the tea went cold. Stories about capturing night runners, thwarting strikes and dealing with Indians. Tales of defiance to authority and overcoming adversity. Stories about his sons, my old man included, and relatives. Stories about his spear, bow and arrows. When he had told just enough stories for the tea to go cold, he would then take a quick swig of the tea like it was a shot of vodka. I always wondered why he insisted on subjecting us to first degree burns if he was going to drink the tea at about the same temperature as a witch’s heart. Maybe he wanted to fill the house with steam from evaporating milk. Maybe not…
He didn’t need the 48 Laws of Power to understand fatherhood is all about inspiring respect and loyalty from your family and whims is just the tool to it. I have been around a lot of fathers to know this. To be a respectable father and husband you have to be a whimsical as you can without bordering on mental illness or pushing your family to bury your remains under the kitchen sink. Jaujimbe knew that if we could burn our wrists without complaining or attempting to poison his tea then we were loyal enough to get a share of his hard-earned fortune. We were loyal.
As I came to learn a couple of years after his death,he also never used his arsenal of crude weapons. Well, except once. One night when he was alone in the homestead, because his wife had travelled, someone attempted to steal the solar panel from the roof and he shot arrows at him. From inside the house. His plan was for the arrows to pass through the iron roofing and hit the robber. What they hit however was my grandmother’s funny bone when she came back and found the arrows dangling from the roof. But he had done just enough for the robber to run away while presumably shaking his head at what his career had become. Being a man who protected his family and his pride even more, he got the solar panel uninstalled. How brave.
Fatherhood is also about symbolisms. In Jaujimbe’s world, there had to be left over ugali for it symbolized abundance, and more importantly, his ability to feed his family. If you cleared the plate that had been served,then another plate of ugali had to be cooked because the docket of left over ugali could not be left vacant. Even the constitution doesn’t allow power vacuums. Heck, the man even had weapons as symbols of security even he couldn’t quite venture into the dark to use them. We were full and felt secure.
He roared when he approached his home as a warning sign to any rascal that might have overstayed his welcome and to inform my grandmother to prepare his evening tea. It is particularly noteworthy that there was nothing about surprise entries through the fence or sending emissaries to find out if his wife was entertaining the village rumormonger.
His was a home built on trust.
Granted, most of us live in apartments and flats where a mild clearing of the throat warrants a summon from the caretaker so bleating like a pig is out of the question,but what’s with the surprise visits?It’s perplexing that a generation with access to a variety of communication gadgets findit hard to give a heads up when they are visiting their girl friends and wives. Tweet her, Facebook her, whatsapp her, text her, call her. If her phone is off, tell a neighbor, best friend, sister or brother to let her know you are on your way. Anything but arriving unannounced.
A man worth his name shouldn’t visit his wife or girlfriend unannounced. Even if you want to surprise her. Surprise her by croaking at the door instead of knocking. You can even hire a bunch of traditional dancers to accompany youif surprise is what you are after. Or wear skinny jeans.