Mutuma Mathiu: Two tribes in Kenya: The Marquee and us

Imagine that you live in Kangemi. Your name is Jackton Shokoloko. You and your lovely wife, Mama Shok, are fighting to raise your six children. Your neighbour, Stephen Bangushe, is also putting up a spirited fight with his wife, the lovely Mama Bang, to raise their four. You don’t work for the same firm in Industrial Area, but your employers are on the same street.

You are in trouble; little Shok’s fees are in arrears, and the school has been acting up. You need to raise Sh3,000 urgently, but it is only the 21st of the month.

You are moody as you walk to Industrial with Baba Bang. He knows there is something on your mind but being an African man, he does not ask. He knows you will tell him in your own time, if there is need.

AT WORK, YOU ASK TO SEE THE DIRECTOR. You wait the whole day, until, after much insistence, you are ushered into his presence. You have had to explain to 10 people that you are asking for a salary advance.

“We we taka nini?” he shouts the moment you enter his office, cap in hand. “Wewe jinga kabisa. Hapana weja panga pesa yako. Ile kitu najua tu ni kula and kwenda choo kwa jumba tuu. Hakuna pesa. Kama hapana taka kaji, ambia mimi. Iko watu wengi nataka hiyo kaji yako.”

You are shouted out of the door, empty-handed. But you are not angry, you knew that your employer was not going to help. But you had to try.

After work, you don’t head home. An African man is as strong as his kinsmen. A man is built by his own people, a man rises on the shoulders of his kinsmen. So you go to your cousin Peter’s, the organiser of your party, you sit him down and explain your predicament.

He listens with care, he knows the pain of a father whose child is out of school. So he quickly organises three more elders and the five of you head to see yet another cousin, who is an MP and one of the leaders of your party.

At the gate you explain to the armed guard that you have arrived to see Mheshimiwa. The guard keeps you out there for an hour as he consults Mzee, Mama and others you can’t see. Finally you are admitted into the compound and as usual you are awed by the 27-bedroom villa.

A marquee has been set up in the compound and a flask of weak tea is waiting. So you serve yourselves and discuss politics in low tones. You are passionate about politics.

Unknown to you, Mzee, in his dressing gown, is watching the US Masters on Dstv. Finally, during a commercial break, he throws on some clothes and steps out. Looking at him warms your heart, you know your problems, those of your extended family, Kenya and Africa, are solved.

HE SHOUTS IN DELIGHT WHEN HE SEES your group, walks over and gives all of you a hug. The warmth in his eyes and his smile are so reassuring. He pours himself a cup of tea and asks after your families. He tells you a little about his daughter, mother and other members of his family. Then he launches into politics and speaks with clarity, intelligence and conviction. His mastery of your language, his wisdom and eloquence are simply amazing. He pauses in mid-eloquence and fishes a Blackberry from the innards of his sports jacket, “Excuse me,” he beams and stands up.

You all do. Then you panic, the big man will go away before tackling your issue. “My brother,” you start, “ I needed to speak to you….”

NEITHER THE SMILE NOR THE WARMTH in the eye falters as he shakes hands and gives one or two bear hugs, all the while speaking into the phone. Apparently it is his friend the party leader on the line. He waves and heads for the house.

As you sit down, you notice that he has not touched his tea. Ten minutes later, an aide comes over. Mzee is on a teleconference with other leaders, something had come up. But he will have some time tomorrow and will call for you. In the meantime, here is Sh500 for fare.

As you file out, you know in the pit of your stomach that Shok will be kicked out of school before the end of the week, so she will be sitting all alone in the house, eyed (or worse) by every pervert on your plot.

At 5 a.m. the following morning, you knock on Baba Bang’s door. Mama Bang opens for you, “Is everyone ok?” she asks in alarm. “Everyone is fine,” you answer. Her husband is just sitting down for breakfast.

There is a tray on top of the cupboard with a flask of tea, two cups, half a loaf and a satchet of margarine.

The bread is measured with precision into three equal parts, the margarine squeezed on. The two of you are poured tea, served and Mama Bang withdraws behind the curtain so that you can explain the purpose of your visit without an audience.

After clearing your throat 10 times, you begin. “It’s about Shok…”. Your neighbour carefully averts his eyes so as not to embarrass you by seeing the anxiety and desperation in yours. But he encourages you along with a series of “ii”, “aaassright” and “kweli”. When you have finished he smiles and asks, “Na hii mutu yenu kwani anataka bibi ngapi?” The sudden change of topic tells you that you need say no more.

“DON’T PAY ME AT THE END OF THIS month,” your neighbour tells you as he hands you the money. “Pay me next month.” He knows that you will need a month of austerity to save up the Sh3,000.

The world is at peace in the evening, Baba Bang has invited you for a quiet drink of busaa, he knows you are broke and in urgent need of “removing stress”.

Then you get an urgent message from your cousin, the MP: All members of the “enemy” tribe, such as Baba Bang, are to be cleared out of the neighbourhood by force.

And, if I may ask, which is your tribe?

Mutuma Mathiu is the Sunday Nation managing editor.

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