Browsing articles from "July, 2013"

‘Stan’s Story’ – Coping Strategies – A collection of short stories by Hugh Harrison

Eldoret

Stan’s Story by Hugh Harrison

 

I’m free-floating like a like an oyster that’s lost its shell, drifting amidst murky, slippery saltiness. I’m on my own and waiting reluctantly to be born. Up to now I’ve been feeling safe and warm held in this mysterious, silky womb. Yet something’s happening. I’m being pushed and thrust this way and that, and sense that I’m being propelled into an uncertain world.

 

However attractive the prospect of being free from this womb space appears, I hesitate. Something in me, and my mother, is hinting of catastrophe. There’s a lurking sense of dread, like an irregular beat. So, I hang on in here, and no amount of pushing by my mum seems to make a difference. Her waters just get inkier, and my space cramped and distorted in surprising ways.

 

I feel panicky and breathless, and I notice it’s flowing into a darker, more cramped tunnel, and I’m being squeezed in every part of my being. I can’t imagine coming to the end of this convoluted tube. I breathe quickly and swallow gobbets of fluid. There are lights in my eyes, and when I stop breathing, they get brighter. The swallowing increases, and before I’m ready, I’m floundering, splashing and gasping, becoming a slippery pink blob screaming for all I’m worth, Mum picks me up and places me on her tummy where I recover some calming, yet grasping balance. At last I’m born. This is life; let’s just get on with it.

 

What I remember most is staring at this endlessly white ceiling in which there seems to be a rotating blade. The breeze calms me for a while, and then it dawns on me: I’m alone. The sense, touch and smell of her presence are gone, and I’m bereft, and the waves of convulsing crying are to no avail. I have a picture of long, grey, squat buildings joined by concrete ramps, and men in white coats with snakes around there necks leaning over beds.

‘You must take some milk, Master Standish’, I hear a voice say. Although I feel a gnawing in my guts, the bottle seems a poor substitute for my mother’s breast with its reassuring warmth, comfort and taste.

 

Each night I would lie there, waiting for her return, but she never came. Instead, I had the sporadic visitations of Catholic nurses sweeping up and down the endless, Dettol- smelling corridors with their fleeting smiles and starched white linen.

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I missed her smell, voice and presence with each passing day. This sprawling concrete prison became a constantly growing menace and I can’t exactly remember when my imprisonment there came to an end.

 

Kingston Farm

 

The next thing I knew, I had arrived at Kingston Farm, but two other boys, older than me, had beaten me to it. They were my brothers, Hen and Bob, and they introduced me to my new home which was a large wooden bungalow with an extensive veranda overhung with beautiful yellow and blue climbing flowers, Bougainvillea, which seemed to cool the Equatorial sun that constantly blazed. Compared to my former white prison, here there was so much going on, and much of it seemed to centre on me, and our two canine friends, Cleo and Rex. Bob used to spend a lot of his time singing me nursery rhymes, while Hen tempted me into numerous adventures at the Farm.

 

The thing I liked most at Kingston Farm was sleeping all together in the same bed, and waking up to the incredible views of Kere Nyaga (Mount Kenya) where the Kikuyu God, Ngai, lived. It was Elena, our maid, who first told me about terrifying Ngai, and his anger at the interfering ways of human beings. Elena had such a sweet face and soft, round form. I loved it when she fed me, or bounced me on her knee. She even sneaked me into her hut on her back one day. The Kikuyu watoto had never seen a mzungu (white) baby on a black woman’s back before, so they were greatly amused when I appeared around their hut fire one day. I also loved Elena’s sweet, acrid smell, and the gentleness of her touch which was permeated with wood smoke, like her milk.

‘Kuja, bwana kidogo, suck up’, she would often say. Of course, it was such a satisfying pleasure and I would suckle for all I was worth some days. With Elena, I was never hungry or bored.

 

When I saw Mum and Elena together, I noticed that they spoke and smelled differently. Mum’s smell was definitely frangipani and her voice was quite musical, like an Irish ballad; with Elena, there was wood smoke and a lilting rhythm and richness, like the Kikuyu tongue.

 She also taught me how to dance to a drum, which I loved.           

‘More hips, bwana kidogo, like this,’ and Elena would gyrate herself out of the room. With Mum, it was ‘Oh the Days of the Kerry Dancing’ or ‘Que sera, sera’. Each of them fostering my eclectic musical tastes in turn.

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One of my favourite playmates, apart from Bob and Hen, was Joseph, whose father, Eliud, was our gardener from Kakamega, near Lake Kisumu, which seemed like a long way away to me. He told me that his dad used to cultivate his shamba , and craft bows and arrows like his grandfather who hunted elephant with the Ndorobo tribe. I was first drawn to Joseph because of his kind and inquisitive nature. I would often find him studying small creatures with a magnifying glass, but without setting fire to them like Hen, Bob and I.

‘All God’s creatures have a purpose, rafikiangu, he would often say to us. I’ll always remember our first meal with him in his mother’s hut at the back of Kingston Farm. The hut was filled with smoke as Bob, Hen and I went inside, and after our eyes got used to the dim light, we found a spot to settle down. In the centre of the hut was a charcoal fire, and suspended over it was a large blackened pot, with a thick white mass boiling away inside it.

 

‘Watoto wanapenda chakula, would you like some food, children? she said. Then Mama mzee reached over with a long stick and hooked it onto the pot, and with an amazingly deft movement, she lifted it off the fire and put it to her side.

‘Ndio, Mama Mzee,’ the three of us chorused.

I saw Joseph smile as Bob watched him take a handful of the white paste and begin moulding it into a ball.

‘You see, rafikiangu, do it like this!’

Bob looked a little puzzled but followed suit at the first opportunity. He dropped the ugali ball on the floor of the hut and howled with pain as he blew on his hand frantically.

‘Pole rafikiangu, your hands are as soft as a baby’s’.

Bob looked at Hen and I with a little shame and we commiserated with him. However, we decided to wait longer for the ugali to cool.

It puzzled me that the villagers could live on such simple food, especially when I thought of our chicken, sausages and bacon. Nevertheless, they seemed content and mostly happy from what I could see.

 

The Mill of Fate

 

After we had eaten our ugali na mboga , maize and vegetables, Mama Mzee  would give each of us a small gourd of boiled milk which had a sweet, smoky taste, like Elena’s milk…

Our most exciting adventure at Kingston Farm began one morning as the cock crowed, even before the sun’s rays had peeped above the forests of Kere Nyaga . I called out:

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‘Hen! Bob! Quick, let’s get up and go!’

They stirred reluctantly from their sleep.

‘Is it time to get up already?’ Hen said.

‘Yes, look at Kere Nyaga’.

They both peered out at the growing light, and slowly began climbing into yesterday’s tee shirts and shorts, and putting on our sandals. As we slid down the wooden staircase, we were rehearsing our plans for the expedition we had planned. Stepping outside the back door, I noticed the sun was climbing into the sky, and I felt excited by the smell of wood smoke, and the sounds of breakfast being prepared in the servants’ quarters. The taste of adventure had been savoured, but just as we thought we had a clear run to our destination, Juma’s voice called out:

 

‘Wenda wapi, watoto, where are you going, children?’

The three of us stopped in our tracks, and whispered to each other conspiratorially. Bob was the first to speak:

‘We’re going to the Mill, Juma, but please don’t tell any one!’

‘This I cannot promise, bwana Bob, but go well’.

With that blessing, we were off like a shot, weaving our way along a sandy, scrub-covered, windy path. On our way we encountered Kikuyu mothers and daughters going to fetch water with great big tin drums on their heads. We were amazed that they could carry such terrible weights, and with such seeming elegance, too.

 

Within a short while of alternatively running and walking, the three of us stood in front of the Mill. Bob, being the oldest, volunteered to stand guard, whilst Hen and I headed for the quickest way up on to the Mill. Hen and I had agreed that our mission was that of ‘chief explorers’ – like Livingston and Stanley – with a brief to climb the highest building on the horizon. Hen had chosen the particular task of repairing holes in the slate roof.

 

Getting to the top was the first challenge, which we met by climbing up the vine-covered exterior of the Mill. As we climbed, my heart flew into my mouth as chunks of debris, dust, twigs, leaves drifted into my face. Dodging and spluttering my way up, I noticed a small red-brown scorpion next to my right hand grip. I began trembling uncontrollably and only managed to hold my nerve by changing my route of ascent.

 

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Eventually, Hen and I reached our objective, and celebrated our ascent with a banana each from our rations. We both looked down at Bob’s diminutive figure, which blended in with the surrounding native village with its brown and dusty hues. As we waved to him below, we could hear the sounds and sights of village boys chasing each other with bows and arrows in their pretend battle. Living inAfricawas proving to be a great adventure indeed.

 

As agreed, Hen moved ahead and began removing loose shingles from around the slate roof. I followed behind him cautiously. Within a short time, Hen was surrounded by a sea of slowly shifting slates which seemed to be receding downwards at an alarming rate.

 

‘Hen!’ I shouted desperately. He let out an almighty scream and went hurtling downwards and disappeared from my view. Momentarily, I sat on the edge of the abyss, stunned into disbelieving shock. All I could hear and see looking down into the black chasm was an inky, eerie silence. I started to cry despairingly. Finally, I came to my senses, and shouted down to Bob in between my convulsive sobs.

‘He’s dead!’ I shouted down.

‘Who’s dead?’ Bob shouted back.

‘Henry’s dead!’ I shouted back.

Within a trice, I was scrambling down the ivy-clad Mill and planting my feet on the sandy soil.

‘Stay here Bob, while I run and get some help!’

‘Sure, quick as you can’, he said, and I ran off as fast as my legs would carry me.

I burst into the kitchen at Kingston Farm, breathless, and shouted:

‘Bwana Henry’s dead!’

At first, there was a stunned silence and then Juma and Elena approached me.

 

 Juma knelt down in front of me and held my convulsing shoulders with his big hands.

‘Una fanya nini, what’s happening, Bwana Stan’?’

I spluttered my incoherent reply:

‘Haraka, Juma, Bwana Henry nataka kufa, he’s dying inside the Mill. Help us! Tafadhali! Haraka!’

‘Ndio, Bwana Stan. Twende! Let’s go!’

 

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The three of us made an improbable and incongruous sight as we raced, helter skelter, all the way to the Mill of Fate. Soon we had a snake-like following of watoto from the nearby Kikuyu village.

 

When we arrived at the Mill, Bob was standing with his face next to the cracked Mill door shouting for Hen in ever desperate tones. Sadly, no response greeted his cries. Without a moment’s hesitation, Juma had obtained an axe from one of the local village men and began smashing down the rotten Mill door. A great cry of relief went up when the door was finally demolished and the village men poured in. They carried him out on a pallet, more dead than alive and placed him on the rusty sand outside the Mill. As his limp and bloodied body lay there inert, patches of blue began to form all over his exposed flesh. I don’t remember another thing……

When I woke up later in Kingston Farm in my cotton cocoon, Elena was looking at me anxiously when I stirred and said that Bwana Doctor had been and we had been given some pills to help calm us down.

 

Wenda Bwana Henry, Elena?’ I said drowsily. At that moment, Mum came into the bedroom, and I cried with guilt and relief.

‘How is he, Mum?’ I asked anxiously.

‘Don’t worry, Stan. Hen’s in hospital inNairobi’.

 ‘Thank God’, I said to myself, and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

I sat up in bed and said:

 ‘I’m very sorry, Mum, it’s all my fault!’

‘Don’t worry, my darling, I’m sure it’s not all your fault, and we’ll find out what really happened, later. Get some more rest, please’.

I breathed a great sigh of relief as I reflected that I may not carry the entire blame for Hen’s death. In my heart, however, I knew that ‘Judgement Day’ would soon follow, whatever promises my dear mother would make me.

 

Mbare ya Malaika

 

Retribution followed, as night follows day, and Bob and I were grounded for weeks on end. During that fraught time, we often talked about that expedition to the ‘Mill of Fate’. Dad was furious with rage, and took the horse whip to us. Thankfully, Mum’s quick intervention and Celtic courage saved our backsides for another day. Eventually, we were forgiven our crimes and Juma was instructed to keep a better watch over us in future. I remember a conversation that I had with Bob and Hen at that time.

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‘What if Hen dies?’ I asked.

‘I can’t imagine it happening’.

‘But what if he does, I mean’.

‘That’s too terrible to think about.

‘So, what shall we do?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean about keeping Hen alive’.

‘What can we do?’

‘I’m going to talk to Juma and Elena, and ask if they can give us some magic medicine to keep Hen alive,’ I concluded.

‘That’s a good idea’, agreed Bob.

So, Bwana Stan was delegated to getting hold of some healing herbs or charms that would keep Hen with us at Kingston Farm. I waited till the next day when I began the execution of our plan.

 

I woke early so that I could talk to Juma in the kitchen before the round of daily activities began. When I met him next the kitchen entrance, he was bringing in the firewood for our stove.

Habara za asabui, good morning, Juma!

Habari za asabui, Bwana Stan’.

 

‘Juma, may I ask you a favour?’

‘Ndio, Bwana Stan’.

‘I need some herbs or charms’.

Kwa nini, Bwana Stan?’

‘To keep Bwana Hen with us’, I replied.

Kwele, Bwana?’

‘Kwele, I’m worried that he may not come back fromNairobiHospital’.

‘So what kind of charms or magic are you seeking?’

‘Something that will heal him, Juma, tafadhali’.

 

‘So, tell me, what does Bwana Henry most love?’

I immediately thought ‘Mum’, but hesitated, as there was someone else that Hen loved most.

Bwana Henry napenda Cleo na Rex’, I replied.

‘Ndio, Bwana Stan. Ndio’, he nodded his head vigorously.

With that emphatic response, Juma placed the logs by the kitchen stove and approached me.

‘Bwana Stan, I have an idea’.

Gani, Juma?’ I asked.

‘Today I will go to the Mondo Mogo, medicine man, and ask him to make this charm for Bwana Henry.’

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‘Asante sana, Juma’, I said with huge relief in my voice. I knew at that moment that Juma could help us and that he could obtain just the right charm or medicine for Hen.

 

A few days, and sleepless nights later, I met Juma in the kitchen and asked him if the Mondo Mogo had prepared the right charms for Hen. Juma regarded me with a serious and studied look, and beckoned me to come with him, which I did.

The path behind Kingston Farm led, in a roundabout way, to the Mondo Mogo’s hut. As a mzungu mtoto, white European child, I was not allowed into the Mzee’s hut. So, I waited patiently while Juma conferred with the Mondo Mogo . After what seemed like an eternity of time, Juma emerged with a broad smile and carrying a small parcel, wrapped in leaves.

Mzee asked me to give you this’, Bwana Stan’.

Asante sana, Juma. Please thank the Mondo Mogo for me.

Ndio, Bwana Stan. I will.’

My heart was pounding with joy as I ran all the way back to Kingston Farm carrying the deftly wrapped package in my right hand. That evening, under the cover of darkness, Bob and I opened our magic package, which was the gift of the Mondo

Mogu.                                              

‘Can you guess what’s inside it, Bob?’ I asked excitedly.

‘I’ve no idea’, he replied.

Together we began to tease out our mysterious, leaf-clad parcel. When we unwrapped it, we found two carved wooden dogs, whittled out of a black, hard wood.

‘Aren’t they amazing?’ I said to Bob as I held one out.

‘They’re so real, aren’t they’, he replied.

 

As we studied them together, I noticed that the effigies had fat tummies and short, thin legs. And one of them was smaller than the other, like Cleo and Rex. We hugged each other with relief at the arrival of this Kikuyu magic from which we had great hopes.

‘So, how do you think it works?’ Bob asked me.

‘I think it works by the magic carried in the dogs’, I replied..

‘Hmm, I see’ said Bob, as we smiled at each other conspiratorially.

Fortunately, the next day, we were due to visit Hen in Nairobi Hospital, and we decided to secrete the charmed dogs on our person. Bob carried Rex, as he was the oldest, and I carried Cleo, as the youngest. Going back toNairobihospital temporarily brought back all my horrible memories of being abandoned inEldoretHospital, so our new environment took some getting used to.

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When we eventually got to Hen’s bedside, there were all these octopus-like tentacles hanging down into his arms, like they were feeding on him. And the smell of iodine and surgical spirit made me very nauseous, too. After a long and worrisome interval, Hen eventually stirred and was able to say a few words through his bruised face and broken teeth.

‘It’s good to see you, Bob and Stan,’ he said very quietly.

After Dad and Mum had given Hen a hug, Bob and I positioned ourselves either side of his bed, and put our hands on his. Hen continued:

‘How is everyone at Kingston Farm?’ he asked almost inaudibly.

‘Everyone’s fine,’ Bob replied.

‘What about Cleo and Rex?’ Hen asked.

Instead of answering his question, both Bob and I placed our left hands on Hen’s bed. Bob said:

‘We’ve got something for you, Hen’.

‘What’s that?’ He asked.

‘We’ve brought magic from the Mondo Mogo ‘, I said.

‘Show me!’ said Hen with a little more life and enthusiasm.

Bob and I simultaneously opened our left hands, and the two wooden dogs fell out on to his white sheet.

‘Amazing!’ Hen said.

We knew, there and then, like Hen, that the magic dogs would bring him home to Kingston farm. I could almost imagine Hen running his hands down Cleo and Rex’s hairy spines, breathing in their doggy smell, and whispering secrets in their attentive but discrete ears.

 

A couple of weeks later, Hen was sitting on his bed at Kingston Farm, and we asked him what had happened after we had given him the Mondo Mogo’s magic charms.

‘Well, it all happened very quickly’, he began. ‘One moment I could hardly lift myself off my pillow, and the next I was walking down the hospital corridor to the lavatory on my own. It was the smell of the bed pans that finally drove me to it,’ he joked.

We all laughed out loud at Hen’s good fortune.

‘So, tell us what happened after that?’ Bob asked.

‘Well, one night while I was lying in my bed trying to sleep, an angel came to the end of my bed. He was very tall and dressed in a bluish-white light robe. At first, I thought I must have been dreaming, and then, as I waited, I’m sure he spoke to me’.

‘What did he say?’ I asked eagerly.

‘He said I had a choice’, Hen replied.

‘What kind of choice?’ Bob asked.

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‘He said, I want you to decide whether you want to come with me, or stay with your family and dogs at Kingston Farm’, Hen replied.

‘Crickey!’ Bob and I chorused.

‘Who do you think he was?’ Bob asked.

Hen hesitated a little, before he replied:

‘He was my Guardian Angel’.

‘My God!’ said Bob and I.

‘So, what made you to stay?’ Asked Bob.

‘It was Cleo and Rex, and you, too’, Hen replied.

‘You mean it was the magic dogs that brought you back?’ I added.

‘Yes’, Hen said emphatically, and we gave each other our triumvirate group hug on Hen’s bed.

 

When I saw Juma again, he was standing upright, with a huge sack of ugali at his feet in the kitchen.

‘Juma! You won’t believe it!’

Gani, Bwana Stan’?

Bwana Hen is home!’

‘Vizuri sana, Bwana Stan’.

‘Asante sana na gethiito, Juma, thank you for your healing charms’.

‘Hata kidogo, Bwana Stan’.

‘Juma, please tell me how your Kikuyu magic works?’ I asked.

Ndio, Bwana Stan. It was the Mbare ya Malaika, the family of angels who helped Bwana Henry’, Juma replied.

‘Hen said it was his Guardian Angel that came to him’.

Ndio, Bwana Stan. It was the Chief of the Angels, working with the spirits of Bwana Henry’s favourite dogs’.

‘So, do all spirits, animal and human, work with Mbare ya Malaika?’

‘Ndio, Bwana Stan, and remember that Ngai, God, is Chief of the Mbare ya Malaika,’ Juma said emphatically.

I merely regarded Juma with even greater awe than before, and returned to our bedroom to contemplate this deepening mystery of life and spirit.

 

Fortunately, the three of us would not have to invoke Mbare ya Malaika for quite some time. The adventure of the Mill had proved too costly in terms of life and limb….

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What is the point of thorn bushes?

 

It was some months before we planned our next adventure, which was to include our rafikiangu, Joseph. One morning, as we were playing ‘hide and seek’ on the Farm, Joseph said he wanted to introduce us to his uncle, Hamid, who had a big shamba in one of the nearby villages.

 When Joseph talked about Hamid, in my youthful eyes he conjured up an elder, or Mzee cultured in one of the many mysterious Kikuyu arts.

 

Hen and Bob were excited, too, as we rendezvoused at the gate exiting Kingston Farm. After his last reprimand by Bwana Judge, Juma’s discretion barely permitted him to ‘overlook’ our departure that stunningly bright and glorious January morning. In spite of the growing heat of the day, there was still a vague memory of this morning’s crisp dawn overlooked by the snows of Kere Nyaga.

 

Joseph was turned out in his best white shirt, and ironed shorts, whilst Bob, Hen and I were, once again, wearing yesterday’s expedition gear.

We set off in single file, with Joseph leading, and followed by Bob, Hen and I, in order of age. As soon as we were out of sight of Kingston Farm, we began to run and walk, in turns, in order to cover more ground, and before we were subdued by the heat of the day. I was always a little fearful of losing my way in the Bush, but one of the many things that impressed me about Joseph was that he weaved his way to his destination like a gazelle. It was as if he had some kind of inner compass, or eye, which never let him down. He loped across the long, brown, erect stalks of the savannah, whilst we waded more modestly in his wake.

‘So, tell me about your uncle Hamid’, Bob asked Joseph.

‘He’s my oldest uncle, by my father’s side’, replied Joseph.

‘Why are you so fond of him?’ asked Hen.

‘Well, he has always told us good stories from his safari ndefu ‘, replied Joseph.

‘You mean he was a traveller?’ I asked.

‘Ndio, Bwana Stan’, he replied.

‘Where’s he been?’ asked Hen, as he circumvented a dead tree trunk on our path.

‘He told me he went toLakeKisumuin one evening’, Joseph replied.

‘But that’s impossible’, Bob said.

‘Kwele, Bwana Bob’, uncle Hamid said he had important business to do back home’, Joseph continued. We looked at each other incredulously.

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The heat of the day was gaining the upper hand, and the pace of rafikiangu Joseph had sapped our energy, so we decided to stop under a cluster of thorn trees. We each took huge gulps of our ‘water rations’ and consumed a banana each. This was turning out to be one of our finest adventures. After refreshing myself, I decided to do a little recce on my own among the large rocks scattered around us.I was just losing sight of my companions as I poked around in the undergrowth with a stick, when I was overcome by the most searing pain I had ever experienced.

 

 I shouted out and instinctively lifted my left foot into the air and fell against a large boulder. As I examined my foot, I noticed a long thorn sticking out of the sole of my sandal, which had been penetrated like it was butter.

 

The pain in my foot was searing and pulsating, and I nearly passed out. Fortunately, Joseph, Bob and Hen were at my side in a jiffy, and Joseph said:

‘Una fanya nini, what’s wrong?’

I indicated my bloodied left foot, and the huge thorn sticking out of my sole.

Pole rafikiangu. Pole, I’m sorry my friend. I’m sorry,’ Joseph muttered. Your brother has trodden on a terrible thorn. Now he will need some medicine’, Joseph addressed Bob and Hen.

They nodded their heads in agreement, and commiserated with me as I lay beside the boulder in a bloodied, crumpled mess.

It was then that a tall and slightly gangling figure appeared over the brow of the parched and stony hill, wearing a white fez on his head, walking with a wooden staff and carrying a leather pouch at his waist.

‘Marahaba watoto’, the stranger addressed us.

Shikamo mzee’, we  responded.

‘Hujambo, baba mdogo’, Joseph addressed his uncle, Hamid.

‘Sijambo, mpwa’, Hamid replied.

‘Una fanya nini, what’s up?’ Hamid asked.

 

Joseph proceeded to tell Hamid everything that had happened, at which point he reached into his leather pouch and brought out a bunch of leaves, which he instructed me to apply to the wound caused by the thorn in my foot. With great deliberation and an intensely furrowed brow, I slowly removed the giant thorn, and began rubbing the leaves gently around the wound and swelling.

 

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 After a short while, the pain subsided and I felt immensely relieved and grateful to this Hakim Mwislamu, Muslim healer.

 

 

Honey-gathering

 

For the Masai Morani, or young warrior, honey-gathering is an important ‘coming of age’ ritual, and for the Kikuyu tribe, bees have a magical quality in their ability to gauge when to establish a new hive, or where and when to migrate to different areas. But when Joseph suggested that we join him and his Dad, Mzee Eliud, Bob, Hen and I were somewhat reluctant.

 

The reason for our reluctance was that we had heard stories of people falling from trees sustaining broken limbs, or unfortunate honey-gatherers who were stung by a frenzy of fierce African bees. Yet Hen and Joseph had the knack of winning over my confidence when their cause seemed almost lost.

‘Do you reckon we could get away with just a few stings?’ he asked me innocently.

‘I’d rather we’d none at all, thanks’, I replied.

‘Well let’s aim for that, shall we?’ Hen ventured, and took my silence for agreement.

 

          The snows of Kere Nyaga gleamed in the dawn light as we abseiled down the bannisters at Kingston Farm, and my first port of call was the kitchen where Elena had kindly agreed to secrete our pack lunches for the forthcoming expedition.

‘Come you slackers!’ Hen hissed so as not to be overheard by Mum and Dad.

‘Okay, I’ve got our lunches. Let’s go’, I replied.

‘Where are we meeting Joseph?’ Bob asked as we slinked out of the porch at Kingston Farm.

‘We agreed to meet at his uncle, Hamid’s place, don’t you remember, Hen said impatiently.

‘Fine, we’re on our way, Bob replied.

 

          Wending our way along the feet-hardened, windy village paths, we stepped gingerly aside when we were approached by doubled over women carrying either huge stacks of wood on their backs or giant drums of water on their heads. The strength and endurance of these mama mzees never ceased to amaze me.

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          When we reached Joseph’s village after about half an hour, perspiring heavily and swatting flies, he was there to greet us:

Habari asabui, rafikiangu, Good morning, my friends?’

‘Vizuri  sana, well, Joseph’, we chorused happily.

Leo tena safari ndefu’, today we are going to take a long journey’, he reminded us.

Vizuri sana, twende! Great, let’s go’, Bob said jokingly.

 

          The four of us set off at a good pace in the direction of the water hole where there were a few scattered cedar trees with bee hives a plenty. My feelings were a mixture of extreme excitement mixed with anxiety, as I knew the reputation of African bees, which nearly as bad as that of the soldier ants, which we avoided at all costs. But here we were challenging our fears together, which I knew would lend us strength and resolve.

 

          An hour and a half later, having traversed gullies, thorn bushes, termite mounds, dried-up river beds and a family of warthogs, we arrived at the oasis sweltering, parched, thirsty and hungry. Joseph was the first to speak:

‘Unahitaji chakula, rafikiangu, do you need some food, my friends?’

‘Ndio, kabisa, you bet’, we chorus.

‘Ukuwana kula gani’  do you have something to eat?’ Joseph asks.

‘Ndio, yes’, we reply as we begin to unpack our sandwiches and fruit that Elena kindly made for us.

 

          I noticed that whilst we were eating our finely-made sandwiches, Eliud and Joseph had produced an enormously long knife – a panga- from somewhere and were disembowelling coconuts with it, savouring each mouthful with beaming smiles. I envied them their fruit lunch with its delicious, fresh milk.

 

          After we had eaten and satisfied our thirst from the oasis, which was fun, we began to examine the stand of cedar trees surrounding it. We couldn’t see any traditional beehives anywhere, until Eliud pointed out that in each of the trees were suspended logs around which could be seen a constant coming and going of worker bees with their characteristic buzzing sound as they returned to their hives with the pollen they had collected.

 

 

 

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          Eliud then signalled to Joseph to prepare a firebrand from brushwood around the oasis, so we all joined into to accomplish the task more quickly. Very soon, it was ready to be bound with sisal strips and Eliud proceeded to light it from the ashes of a slowly smouldering fire pit near the edge of the clearing. Soon it was smouldering nicely, with our excitement growing apace.  Eliud and Joseph both donned their leather satchels and climbed nimbly into the first cedar tree.

‘That’s amazing’, Bob called out.

‘Wow’, Hen said, ‘I wish I could climb so easily as them’.

‘You bet’, I said.

 

          Then something really amazing happened. Eliud stuck the smoking brushwood as far into the log as he could, and we were anticipating a vengeful cloud of lethal African bees attacking him. Instead, there was an unearthly lull in the buzzing, apart from a few drowsy worker bees circling their nest in a protective way. But they didn’t attack Eliud and Joseph. We wondered quietly what their secret was. Perhaps it was something like the ‘magic dogs’ which healed Hen.

 

          Whilst we were gaping open-mouthed at this dramatic scene, Eliud grasped his panga and inserted it into the log, all the way in. Finally, we could see his strong right arm move in a sawing motion and after a brief moment he had fished out oodles of honey comb and dripping honey which he dropped neatly into Joseph’s leather pouch. The invincible father and son team then proceeded to collect honey in this daring way from three more trees whilst their heroic stature increased accordingly in our eyes.

 

          When the honey-harvesting was all over, Eliud turned to us and said:

‘Kujaribu watoto would you like to try?’

‘Hapana kabisa, absolutely not’, we chorused, and laughed.

 

 

 

 

Eldoret

(To be integrated with ‘Isabel’s Story & ‘The Rift’)

 

I’m free-floating like a like an oyster that’s lost its shell, drifting amidst murky, slippery saltiness. I’m on my own and waiting reluctantly to be born. Up to now I’ve been feeling safe and warm held in this mysterious, silky womb. Yet something’s happening. I’m being pushed and thrust this way and that, and sense that I’m being propelled into an uncertain world.

 

However attractive the prospect of being free from this womb space appears, I hesitate. Something in me, and my mother, is hinting of catastrophe. There’s a lurking sense of dread, like an irregular beat. So, I hang on in here, and no amount of pushing by my mum seems to make a difference. Her waters just get inkier, and my space cramped and distorted in surprising ways.

 

I feel panicky and breathless, and I notice it’s flowing into a darker, more cramped tunnel, and I’m being squeezed in every part of my being. I can’t imagine coming to the end of this convoluted tube. I breathe quickly and swallow gobbets of fluid. There are lights in my eyes, and when I stop breathing, they get brighter. The swallowing increases, and before I’m ready, I’m floundering, splashing and gasping, becoming a slippery pink blob screaming for all I’m worth, Mum picks me up and places me on her tummy where I recover some calming, yet grasping balance. At last I’m born. This is life; let’s just get on with it.

 

What I remember most is staring at this endlessly white ceiling in which there seems to be a rotating blade. The breeze calms me for a while, and then it dawns on me: I’m alone. The sense, touch and smell of her presence are gone, and I’m bereft, and the waves of convulsing crying are to no avail. I have a picture of long, grey, squat buildings joined by concrete ramps, and men in white coats with snakes around there necks leaning over beds.

‘You must take some milk, Master Standish’, I hear a voice say. Although I feel a gnawing in my guts, the bottle seems a poor substitute for my mother’s breast with its reassuring warmth, comfort and taste.

 

Each night I would lie there, waiting for her return, but she never came. Instead, I had the sporadic visitations of Catholic nurses sweeping up and down the endless, Dettol- smelling corridors with their fleeting smiles and starched white linen.

1

I missed her smell, voice and presence with each passing day. This sprawling concrete prison became a constantly growing menace and I can’t exactly remember when my imprisonment there came to an end.

 

Kingston Farm

 

The next thing I knew, I had arrived at Kingston Farm, but two other boys, older than me, had beaten me to it. They were my brothers, Hen and Bob, and they introduced me to my new home which was a large wooden bungalow with an extensive veranda overhung with beautiful yellow and blue climbing flowers, Bougainvillea, which seemed to cool the Equatorial sun that constantly blazed. Compared to my former white prison, here there was so much going on, and much of it seemed to centre on me, and our two canine friends, Cleo and Rex. Bob used to spend a lot of his time singing me nursery rhymes, while Hen tempted me into numerous adventures at the Farm.

 

The thing I liked most at Kingston Farm was sleeping all together in the same bed, and waking up to the incredible views of Kere Nyaga (Mount Kenya) where the Kikuyu God, Ngai, lived. It was Elena, our maid, who first told me about terrifying Ngai, and his anger at the interfering ways of human beings. Elena had such a sweet face and soft, round form. I loved it when she fed me, or bounced me on her knee. She even sneaked me into her hut on her back one day. The Kikuyu watoto had never seen a mzungu (white) baby on a black woman’s back before, so they were greatly amused when I appeared around their hut fire one day. I also loved Elena’s sweet, acrid smell, and the gentleness of her touch which was permeated with wood smoke, like her milk.

‘Kuja, bwana kidogo, suck up’, she would often say. Of course, it was such a satisfying pleasure and I would suckle for all I was worth some days. With Elena, I was never hungry or bored.

 

When I saw Mum and Elena together, I noticed that they spoke and smelled differently. Mum’s smell was definitely frangipani and her voice was quite musical, like an Irish ballad; with Elena, there was wood smoke and a lilting rhythm and richness, like the Kikuyu tongue.

 She also taught me how to dance to a drum, which I loved.           

‘More hips, bwana kidogo, like this,’ and Elena would gyrate herself out of the room. With Mum, it was ‘Oh the Days of the Kerry Dancing’ or ‘Que sera, sera’. Each of them fostering my eclectic musical tastes in turn.

2

 

One of my favourite playmates, apart from Bob and Hen, was Joseph, whose father, Eliud, was our gardener from Kakamega, near Lake Kisumu, which seemed like a long way away to me. He told me that his dad used to cultivate his shamba , and craft bows and arrows like his grandfather who hunted elephant with the Ndorobo tribe. I was first drawn to Joseph because of his kind and inquisitive nature. I would often find him studying small creatures with a magnifying glass, but without setting fire to them like Hen, Bob and I.

‘All God’s creatures have a purpose, rafikiangu, he would often say to us. I’ll always remember our first meal with him in his mother’s hut at the back of Kingston Farm. The hut was filled with smoke as Bob, Hen and I went inside, and after our eyes got used to the dim light, we found a spot to settle down. In the centre of the hut was a charcoal fire, and suspended over it was a large blackened pot, with a thick white mass boiling away inside it.

 

‘Watoto wanapenda chakula, would you like some food, children? she said. Then Mama mzee reached over with a long stick and hooked it onto the pot, and with an amazingly deft movement, she lifted it off the fire and put it to her side.

‘Ndio, Mama Mzee,’ the three of us chorused.

I saw Joseph smile as Bob watched him take a handful of the white paste and begin moulding it into a ball.

‘You see, rafikiangu, do it like this!’

Bob looked a little puzzled but followed suit at the first opportunity. He dropped the ugali ball on the floor of the hut and howled with pain as he blew on his hand frantically.

‘Pole rafikiangu, your hands are as soft as a baby’s’.

Bob looked at Hen and I with a little shame and we commiserated with him. However, we decided to wait longer for the ugali to cool.

It puzzled me that the villagers could live on such simple food, especially when I thought of our chicken, sausages and bacon. Nevertheless, they seemed content and mostly happy from what I could see.

 

The Mill of Fate

 

After we had eaten our ugali na mboga , maize and vegetables, Mama Mzee  would give each of us a small gourd of boiled milk which had a sweet, smoky taste, like Elena’s milk…

Our most exciting adventure at Kingston Farm began one morning as the cock crowed, even before the sun’s rays had peeped above the forests of Kere Nyaga . I called out:

3

 

‘Hen! Bob! Quick, let’s get up and go!’

They stirred reluctantly from their sleep.

‘Is it time to get up already?’ Hen said.

‘Yes, look at Kere Nyaga’.

They both peered out at the growing light, and slowly began climbing into yesterday’s tee shirts and shorts, and putting on our sandals. As we slid down the wooden staircase, we were rehearsing our plans for the expedition we had planned. Stepping outside the back door, I noticed the sun was climbing into the sky, and I felt excited by the smell of wood smoke, and the sounds of breakfast being prepared in the servants’ quarters. The taste of adventure had been savoured, but just as we thought we had a clear run to our destination, Juma’s voice called out:

 

‘Wenda wapi, watoto, where are you going, children?’

The three of us stopped in our tracks, and whispered to each other conspiratorially. Bob was the first to speak:

‘We’re going to the Mill, Juma, but please don’t tell any one!’

‘This I cannot promise, bwana Bob, but go well’.

With that blessing, we were off like a shot, weaving our way along a sandy, scrub-covered, windy path. On our way we encountered Kikuyu mothers and daughters going to fetch water with great big tin drums on their heads. We were amazed that they could carry such terrible weights, and with such seeming elegance, too.

 

Within a short while of alternatively running and walking, the three of us stood in front of the Mill. Bob, being the oldest, volunteered to stand guard, whilst Hen and I headed for the quickest way up on to the Mill. Hen and I had agreed that our mission was that of ‘chief explorers’ – like Livingston and Stanley – with a brief to climb the highest building on the horizon. Hen had chosen the particular task of repairing holes in the slate roof.

 

Getting to the top was the first challenge, which we met by climbing up the vine-covered exterior of the Mill. As we climbed, my heart flew into my mouth as chunks of debris, dust, twigs, leaves drifted into my face. Dodging and spluttering my way up, I noticed a small red-brown scorpion next to my right hand grip. I began trembling uncontrollably and only managed to hold my nerve by changing my route of ascent.

 

4

 

Eventually, Hen and I reached our objective, and celebrated our ascent with a banana each from our rations. We both looked down at Bob’s diminutive figure, which blended in with the surrounding native village with its brown and dusty hues. As we waved to him below, we could hear the sounds and sights of village boys chasing each other with bows and arrows in their pretend battle. Living inAfricawas proving to be a great adventure indeed.

 

As agreed, Hen moved ahead and began removing loose shingles from around the slate roof. I followed behind him cautiously. Within a short time, Hen was surrounded by a sea of slowly shifting slates which seemed to be receding downwards at an alarming rate.

 

‘Hen!’ I shouted desperately. He let out an almighty scream and went hurtling downwards and disappeared from my view. Momentarily, I sat on the edge of the abyss, stunned into disbelieving shock. All I could hear and see looking down into the black chasm was an inky, eerie silence. I started to cry despairingly. Finally, I came to my senses, and shouted down to Bob in between my convulsive sobs.

‘He’s dead!’ I shouted down.

‘Who’s dead?’ Bob shouted back.

‘Henry’s dead!’ I shouted back.

Within a trice, I was scrambling down the ivy-clad Mill and planting my feet on the sandy soil.

‘Stay here Bob, while I run and get some help!’

‘Sure, quick as you can’, he said, and I ran off as fast as my legs would carry me.

I burst into the kitchen at Kingston Farm, breathless, and shouted:

‘Bwana Henry’s dead!’

At first, there was a stunned silence and then Juma and Elena approached me.

 

 Juma knelt down in front of me and held my convulsing shoulders with his big hands.

‘Una fanya nini, what’s happening, Bwana Stan’?’

I spluttered my incoherent reply:

‘Haraka, Juma, Bwana Henry nataka kufa, he’s dying inside the Mill. Help us! Tafadhali! Haraka!’

‘Ndio, Bwana Stan. Twende! Let’s go!’

 

5

The three of us made an improbable and incongruous sight as we raced, helter skelter, all the way to the Mill of Fate. Soon we had a snake-like following of watoto from the nearby Kikuyu village.

 

When we arrived at the Mill, Bob was standing with his face next to the cracked Mill door shouting for Hen in ever desperate tones. Sadly, no response greeted his cries. Without a moment’s hesitation, Juma had obtained an axe from one of the local village men and began smashing down the rotten Mill door. A great cry of relief went up when the door was finally demolished and the village men poured in. They carried him out on a pallet, more dead than alive and placed him on the rusty sand outside the Mill. As his limp and bloodied body lay there inert, patches of blue began to form all over his exposed flesh. I don’t remember another thing……

When I woke up later in Kingston Farm in my cotton cocoon, Elena was looking at me anxiously when I stirred and said that Bwana Doctor had been and we had been given some pills to help calm us down.

 

Wenda Bwana Henry, Elena?’ I said drowsily. At that moment, Mum came into the bedroom, and I cried with guilt and relief.

‘How is he, Mum?’ I asked anxiously.

‘Don’t worry, Stan. Hen’s in hospital inNairobi’.

 ‘Thank God’, I said to myself, and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

I sat up in bed and said:

 ‘I’m very sorry, Mum, it’s all my fault!’

‘Don’t worry, my darling, I’m sure it’s not all your fault, and we’ll find out what really happened, later. Get some more rest, please’.

I breathed a great sigh of relief as I reflected that I may not carry the entire blame for Hen’s death. In my heart, however, I knew that ‘Judgement Day’ would soon follow, whatever promises my dear mother would make me.

 

Mbare ya Malaika

 

Retribution followed, as night follows day, and Bob and I were grounded for weeks on end. During that fraught time, we often talked about that expedition to the ‘Mill of Fate’. Dad was furious with rage, and took the horse whip to us. Thankfully, Mum’s quick intervention and Celtic courage saved our backsides for another day. Eventually, we were forgiven our crimes and Juma was instructed to keep a better watch over us in future. I remember a conversation that I had with Bob and Hen at that time.

6

‘What if Hen dies?’ I asked.

‘I can’t imagine it happening’.

‘But what if he does, I mean’.

‘That’s too terrible to think about.

‘So, what shall we do?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean about keeping Hen alive’.

‘What can we do?’

‘I’m going to talk to Juma and Elena, and ask if they can give us some magic medicine to keep Hen alive,’ I concluded.

‘That’s a good idea’, agreed Bob.

So, Bwana Stan was delegated to getting hold of some healing herbs or charms that would keep Hen with us at Kingston Farm. I waited till the next day when I began the execution of our plan.

 

I woke early so that I could talk to Juma in the kitchen before the round of daily activities began. When I met him next the kitchen entrance, he was bringing in the firewood for our stove.

Habara za asabui, good morning, Juma!

Habari za asabui, Bwana Stan’.

 

‘Juma, may I ask you a favour?’

‘Ndio, Bwana Stan’.

‘I need some herbs or charms’.

Kwa nini, Bwana Stan?’

‘To keep Bwana Hen with us’, I replied.

Kwele, Bwana?’

‘Kwele, I’m worried that he may not come back fromNairobiHospital’.

‘So what kind of charms or magic are you seeking?’

‘Something that will heal him, Juma, tafadhali’.

 

‘So, tell me, what does Bwana Henry most love?’

I immediately thought ‘Mum’, but hesitated, as there was someone else that Hen loved most.

Bwana Henry napenda Cleo na Rex’, I replied.

‘Ndio, Bwana Stan. Ndio’, he nodded his head vigorously.

With that emphatic response, Juma placed the logs by the kitchen stove and approached me.

‘Bwana Stan, I have an idea’.

Gani, Juma?’ I asked.

‘Today I will go to the Mondo Mogo, medicine man, and ask him to make this charm for Bwana Henry.’

7

‘Asante sana, Juma’, I said with huge relief in my voice. I knew at that moment that Juma could help us and that he could obtain just the right charm or medicine for Hen.

 

A few days, and sleepless nights later, I met Juma in the kitchen and asked him if the Mondo Mogo had prepared the right charms for Hen. Juma regarded me with a serious and studied look, and beckoned me to come with him, which I did.

The path behind Kingston Farm led, in a roundabout way, to the Mondo Mogo’s hut. As a mzungu mtoto, white European child, I was not allowed into the Mzee’s hut. So, I waited patiently while Juma conferred with the Mondo Mogo . After what seemed like an eternity of time, Juma emerged with a broad smile and carrying a small parcel, wrapped in leaves.

Mzee asked me to give you this’, Bwana Stan’.

Asante sana, Juma. Please thank the Mondo Mogo for me.

Ndio, Bwana Stan. I will.’

My heart was pounding with joy as I ran all the way back to Kingston Farm carrying the deftly wrapped package in my right hand. That evening, under the cover of darkness, Bob and I opened our magic package, which was the gift of the Mondo

Mogu.                                              

‘Can you guess what’s inside it, Bob?’ I asked excitedly.

‘I’ve no idea’, he replied.

Together we began to tease out our mysterious, leaf-clad parcel. When we unwrapped it, we found two carved wooden dogs, whittled out of a black, hard wood.

‘Aren’t they amazing?’ I said to Bob as I held one out.

‘They’re so real, aren’t they’, he replied.

 

As we studied them together, I noticed that the effigies had fat tummies and short, thin legs. And one of them was smaller than the other, like Cleo and Rex. We hugged each other with relief at the arrival of this Kikuyu magic from which we had great hopes.

‘So, how do you think it works?’ Bob asked me.

‘I think it works by the magic carried in the dogs’, I replied..

‘Hmm, I see’ said Bob, as we smiled at each other conspiratorially.

Fortunately, the next day, we were due to visit Hen in Nairobi Hospital, and we decided to secrete the charmed dogs on our person. Bob carried Rex, as he was the oldest, and I carried Cleo, as the youngest. Going back toNairobihospital temporarily brought back all my horrible memories of being abandoned inEldoretHospital, so our new environment took some getting used to.

8

When we eventually got to Hen’s bedside, there were all these octopus-like tentacles hanging down into his arms, like they were feeding on him. And the smell of iodine and surgical spirit made me very nauseous, too. After a long and worrisome interval, Hen eventually stirred and was able to say a few words through his bruised face and broken teeth.

‘It’s good to see you, Bob and Stan,’ he said very quietly.

After Dad and Mum had given Hen a hug, Bob and I positioned ourselves either side of his bed, and put our hands on his. Hen continued:

‘How is everyone at Kingston Farm?’ he asked almost inaudibly.

‘Everyone’s fine,’ Bob replied.

‘What about Cleo and Rex?’ Hen asked.

Instead of answering his question, both Bob and I placed our left hands on Hen’s bed. Bob said:

‘We’ve got something for you, Hen’.

‘What’s that?’ He asked.

‘We’ve brought magic from the Mondo Mogo ‘, I said.

‘Show me!’ said Hen with a little more life and enthusiasm.

Bob and I simultaneously opened our left hands, and the two wooden dogs fell out on to his white sheet.

‘Amazing!’ Hen said.

We knew, there and then, like Hen, that the magic dogs would bring him home to Kingston farm. I could almost imagine Hen running his hands down Cleo and Rex’s hairy spines, breathing in their doggy smell, and whispering secrets in their attentive but discrete ears.

 

A couple of weeks later, Hen was sitting on his bed at Kingston Farm, and we asked him what had happened after we had given him the Mondo Mogo’s magic charms.

‘Well, it all happened very quickly’, he began. ‘One moment I could hardly lift myself off my pillow, and the next I was walking down the hospital corridor to the lavatory on my own. It was the smell of the bed pans that finally drove me to it,’ he joked.

We all laughed out loud at Hen’s good fortune.

‘So, tell us what happened after that?’ Bob asked.

‘Well, one night while I was lying in my bed trying to sleep, an angel came to the end of my bed. He was very tall and dressed in a bluish-white light robe. At first, I thought I must have been dreaming, and then, as I waited, I’m sure he spoke to me’.

‘What did he say?’ I asked eagerly.

‘He said I had a choice’, Hen replied.

‘What kind of choice?’ Bob asked.

9

‘He said, I want you to decide whether you want to come with me, or stay with your family and dogs at Kingston Farm’, Hen replied.

‘Crickey!’ Bob and I chorused.

‘Who do you think he was?’ Bob asked.

Hen hesitated a little, before he replied:

‘He was my Guardian Angel’.

‘My God!’ said Bob and I.

‘So, what made you to stay?’ Asked Bob.

‘It was Cleo and Rex, and you, too’, Hen replied.

‘You mean it was the magic dogs that brought you back?’ I added.

‘Yes’, Hen said emphatically, and we gave each other our triumvirate group hug on Hen’s bed.

 

When I saw Juma again, he was standing upright, with a huge sack of ugali at his feet in the kitchen.

‘Juma! You won’t believe it!’

Gani, Bwana Stan’?

Bwana Hen is home!’

‘Vizuri sana, Bwana Stan’.

‘Asante sana na gethiito, Juma, thank you for your healing charms’.

‘Hata kidogo, Bwana Stan’.

‘Juma, please tell me how your Kikuyu magic works?’ I asked.

Ndio, Bwana Stan. It was the Mbare ya Malaika, the family of angels who helped Bwana Henry’, Juma replied.

‘Hen said it was his Guardian Angel that came to him’.

Ndio, Bwana Stan. It was the Chief of the Angels, working with the spirits of Bwana Henry’s favourite dogs’.

‘So, do all spirits, animal and human, work with Mbare ya Malaika?’

‘Ndio, Bwana Stan, and remember that Ngai, God, is Chief of the Mbare ya Malaika,’ Juma said emphatically.

I merely regarded Juma with even greater awe than before, and returned to our bedroom to contemplate this deepening mystery of life and spirit.

 

Fortunately, the three of us would not have to invoke Mbare ya Malaika for quite some time. The adventure of the Mill had proved too costly in terms of life and limb….

 

 

 

 

 

 

10

What is the point of thorn bushes?

 

It was some months before we planned our next adventure, which was to include our rafikiangu, Joseph. One morning, as we were playing ‘hide and seek’ on the Farm, Joseph said he wanted to introduce us to his uncle, Hamid, who had a big shamba in one of the nearby villages.

 When Joseph talked about Hamid, in my youthful eyes he conjured up an elder, or Mzee cultured in one of the many mysterious Kikuyu arts.

 

Hen and Bob were excited, too, as we rendezvoused at the gate exiting Kingston Farm. After his last reprimand by Bwana Judge, Juma’s discretion barely permitted him to ‘overlook’ our departure that stunningly bright and glorious January morning. In spite of the growing heat of the day, there was still a vague memory of this morning’s crisp dawn overlooked by the snows of Kere Nyaga.

 

Joseph was turned out in his best white shirt, and ironed shorts, whilst Bob, Hen and I were, once again, wearing yesterday’s expedition gear.

We set off in single file, with Joseph leading, and followed by Bob, Hen and I, in order of age. As soon as we were out of sight of Kingston Farm, we began to run and walk, in turns, in order to cover more ground, and before we were subdued by the heat of the day. I was always a little fearful of losing my way in the Bush, but one of the many things that impressed me about Joseph was that he weaved his way to his destination like a gazelle. It was as if he had some kind of inner compass, or eye, which never let him down. He loped across the long, brown, erect stalks of the savannah, whilst we waded more modestly in his wake.

‘So, tell me about your uncle Hamid’, Bob asked Joseph.

‘He’s my oldest uncle, by my father’s side’, replied Joseph.

‘Why are you so fond of him?’ asked Hen.

‘Well, he has always told us good stories from his safari ndefu ‘, replied Joseph.

‘You mean he was a traveller?’ I asked.

‘Ndio, Bwana Stan’, he replied.

‘Where’s he been?’ asked Hen, as he circumvented a dead tree trunk on our path.

‘He told me he went toLakeKisumuin one evening’, Joseph replied.

‘But that’s impossible’, Bob said.

‘Kwele, Bwana Bob’, uncle Hamid said he had important business to do back home’, Joseph continued. We looked at each other incredulously.

11

The heat of the day was gaining the upper hand, and the pace of rafikiangu Joseph had sapped our energy, so we decided to stop under a cluster of thorn trees. We each took huge gulps of our ‘water rations’ and consumed a banana each. This was turning out to be one of our finest adventures. After refreshing myself, I decided to do a little recce on my own among the large rocks scattered around us.I was just losing sight of my companions as I poked around in the undergrowth with a stick, when I was overcome by the most searing pain I had ever experienced.

 

 I shouted out and instinctively lifted my left foot into the air and fell against a large boulder. As I examined my foot, I noticed a long thorn sticking out of the sole of my sandal, which had been penetrated like it was butter.

 

The pain in my foot was searing and pulsating, and I nearly passed out. Fortunately, Joseph, Bob and Hen were at my side in a jiffy, and Joseph said:

‘Una fanya nini, what’s wrong?’

I indicated my bloodied left foot, and the huge thorn sticking out of my sole.

Pole rafikiangu. Pole, I’m sorry my friend. I’m sorry,’ Joseph muttered. Your brother has trodden on a terrible thorn. Now he will need some medicine’, Joseph addressed Bob and Hen.

They nodded their heads in agreement, and commiserated with me as I lay beside the boulder in a bloodied, crumpled mess.

It was then that a tall and slightly gangling figure appeared over the brow of the parched and stony hill, wearing a white fez on his head, walking with a wooden staff and carrying a leather pouch at his waist.

‘Marahaba watoto’, the stranger addressed us.

Shikamo mzee’, we  responded.

‘Hujambo, baba mdogo’, Joseph addressed his uncle, Hamid.

‘Sijambo, mpwa’, Hamid replied.

‘Una fanya nini, what’s up?’ Hamid asked.

 

Joseph proceeded to tell Hamid everything that had happened, at which point he reached into his leather pouch and brought out a bunch of leaves, which he instructed me to apply to the wound caused by the thorn in my foot. With great deliberation and an intensely furrowed brow, I slowly removed the giant thorn, and began rubbing the leaves gently around the wound and swelling.

 

12

 After a short while, the pain subsided and I felt immensely relieved and grateful to this Hakim Mwislamu, Muslim healer.

 

 

Honey-gathering

 

For the Masai Morani, or young warrior, honey-gathering is an important ‘coming of age’ ritual, and for the Kikuyu tribe, bees have a magical quality in their ability to gauge when to establish a new hive, or where and when to migrate to different areas. But when Joseph suggested that we join him and his Dad, Mzee Eliud, Bob, Hen and I were somewhat reluctant.

 

The reason for our reluctance was that we had heard stories of people falling from trees sustaining broken limbs, or unfortunate honey-gatherers who were stung by a frenzy of fierce African bees. Yet Hen and Joseph had the knack of winning over my confidence when their cause seemed almost lost.

‘Do you reckon we could get away with just a few stings?’ he asked me innocently.

‘I’d rather we’d none at all, thanks’, I replied.

‘Well let’s aim for that, shall we?’ Hen ventured, and took my silence for agreement.

 

          The snows of Kere Nyaga gleamed in the dawn light as we abseiled down the bannisters at Kingston Farm, and my first port of call was the kitchen where Elena had kindly agreed to secrete our pack lunches for the forthcoming expedition.

‘Come you slackers!’ Hen hissed so as not to be overheard by Mum and Dad.

‘Okay, I’ve got our lunches. Let’s go’, I replied.

‘Where are we meeting Joseph?’ Bob asked as we slinked out of the porch at Kingston Farm.

‘We agreed to meet at his uncle, Hamid’s place, don’t you remember, Hen said impatiently.

‘Fine, we’re on our way, Bob replied.

 

          Wending our way along the feet-hardened, windy village paths, we stepped gingerly aside when we were approached by doubled over women carrying either huge stacks of wood on their backs or giant drums of water on their heads. The strength and endurance of these mama mzees never ceased to amaze me.

13

          When we reached Joseph’s village after about half an hour, perspiring heavily and swatting flies, he was there to greet us:

Habari asabui, rafikiangu, Good morning, my friends?’

‘Vizuri  sana, well, Joseph’, we chorused happily.

Leo tena safari ndefu’, today we are going to take a long journey’, he reminded us.

Vizuri sana, twende! Great, let’s go’, Bob said jokingly.

 

          The four of us set off at a good pace in the direction of the water hole where there were a few scattered cedar trees with bee hives a plenty. My feelings were a mixture of extreme excitement mixed with anxiety, as I knew the reputation of African bees, which nearly as bad as that of the soldier ants, which we avoided at all costs. But here we were challenging our fears together, which I knew would lend us strength and resolve.

 

          An hour and a half later, having traversed gullies, thorn bushes, termite mounds, dried-up river beds and a family of warthogs, we arrived at the oasis sweltering, parched, thirsty and hungry. Joseph was the first to speak:

‘Unahitaji chakula, rafikiangu, do you need some food, my friends?’

‘Ndio, kabisa, you bet’, we chorus.

‘Ukuwana kula gani’  do you have something to eat?’ Joseph asks.

‘Ndio, yes’, we reply as we begin to unpack our sandwiches and fruit that Elena kindly made for us.

 

          I noticed that whilst we were eating our finely-made sandwiches, Eliud and Joseph had produced an enormously long knife – a panga- from somewhere and were disembowelling coconuts with it, savouring each mouthful with beaming smiles. I envied them their fruit lunch with its delicious, fresh milk.

 

          After we had eaten and satisfied our thirst from the oasis, which was fun, we began to examine the stand of cedar trees surrounding it. We couldn’t see any traditional beehives anywhere, until Eliud pointed out that in each of the trees were suspended logs around which could be seen a constant coming and going of worker bees with their characteristic buzzing sound as they returned to their hives with the pollen they had collected.

 

 

 

14

          Eliud then signalled to Joseph to prepare a firebrand from brushwood around the oasis, so we all joined into to accomplish the task more quickly. Very soon, it was ready to be bound with sisal strips and Eliud proceeded to light it from the ashes of a slowly smouldering fire pit near the edge of the clearing. Soon it was smouldering nicely, with our excitement growing apace.  Eliud and Joseph both donned their leather satchels and climbed nimbly into the first cedar tree.

‘That’s amazing’, Bob called out.

‘Wow’, Hen said, ‘I wish I could climb so easily as them’.

‘You bet’, I said.

 

          Then something really amazing happened. Eliud stuck the smoking brushwood as far into the log as he could, and we were anticipating a vengeful cloud of lethal African bees attacking him. Instead, there was an unearthly lull in the buzzing, apart from a few drowsy worker bees circling their nest in a protective way. But they didn’t attack Eliud and Joseph. We wondered quietly what their secret was. Perhaps it was something like the ‘magic dogs’ which healed Hen.

 

          Whilst we were gaping open-mouthed at this dramatic scene, Eliud grasped his panga and inserted it into the log, all the way in. Finally, we could see his strong right arm move in a sawing motion and after a brief moment he had fished out oodles of honey comb and dripping honey which he dropped neatly into Joseph’s leather pouch. The invincible father and son team then proceeded to collect honey in this daring way from three more trees whilst their heroic stature increased accordingly in our eyes.

 

          When the honey-harvesting was all over, Eliud turned to us and said:

‘Kujaribu watoto would you like to try?’

‘Hapana kabisa, absolutely not’, we chorused, and laughed.

 

 

 

 

I’m free-floating like a like an oyster that’s lost its shell, drifting amidst murky, slippery saltiness. I’m on my own and waiting reluctantly to be born. Up to now I’ve been feeling safe and warm held in this mysterious, silky womb. Yet something’s happening. I’m being pushed and thrust this way and that, and sense that I’m being propelled into an uncertain world.

 

However attractive the prospect of being free from this womb space appears, I hesitate. Something in me, and my mother, is hinting of catastrophe. There’s a lurking sense of dread, like an irregular beat. So, I hang on in here, and no amount of pushing by my mum seems to make a difference. Her waters just get inkier, and my space cramped and distorted in surprising ways.

 

I feel panicky and breathless, and I notice it’s flowing into a darker, more cramped tunnel, and I’m being squeezed in every part of my being. I can’t imagine coming to the end of this convoluted tube. I breathe quickly and swallow gobbets of fluid. There are lights in my eyes, and when I stop breathing, they get brighter. The swallowing increases, and before I’m ready, I’m floundering, splashing and gasping, becoming a slippery pink blob screaming for all I’m worth, Mum picks me up and places me on her tummy where I recover some calming, yet grasping balance. At last I’m born. This is life; let’s just get on with it.

 

What I remember most is staring at this endlessly white ceiling in which there seems to be a rotating blade. The breeze calms me for a while, and then it dawns on me: I’m alone. The sense, touch and smell of her presence are gone, and I’m bereft, and the waves of convulsing crying are to no avail. I have a picture of long, grey, squat buildings joined by concrete ramps, and men in white coats with snakes around there necks leaning over beds.

‘You must take some milk, Master Standish’, I hear a voice say. Although I feel a gnawing in my guts, the bottle seems a poor substitute for my mother’s breast with its reassuring warmth, comfort and taste.

 

Each night I would lie there, waiting for her return, but she never came. Instead, I had the sporadic visitations of Catholic nurses sweeping up and down the endless, Dettol- smelling corridors with their fleeting smiles and starched white linen.

1

I missed her smell, voice and presence with each passing day. This sprawling concrete prison became a constantly growing menace and I can’t exactly remember when my imprisonment there came to an end.

 

Kingston Farm

 

The next thing I knew, I had arrived at Kingston Farm, but two other boys, older than me, had beaten me to it. They were my brothers, Hen and Bob, and they introduced me to my new home which was a large wooden bungalow with an extensive veranda overhung with beautiful yellow and blue climbing flowers, Bougainvillea, which seemed to cool the Equatorial sun that constantly blazed. Compared to my former white prison, here there was so much going on, and much of it seemed to centre on me, and our two canine friends, Cleo and Rex. Bob used to spend a lot of his time singing me nursery rhymes, while Hen tempted me into numerous adventures at the Farm.

 

The thing I liked most at Kingston Farm was sleeping all together in the same bed, and waking up to the incredible views of Kere Nyaga (Mount Kenya) where the Kikuyu God, Ngai, lived. It was Elena, our maid, who first told me about terrifying Ngai, and his anger at the interfering ways of human beings. Elena had such a sweet face and soft, round form. I loved it when she fed me, or bounced me on her knee. She even sneaked me into her hut on her back one day. The Kikuyu watoto had never seen a mzungu (white) baby on a black woman’s back before, so they were greatly amused when I appeared around their hut fire one day. I also loved Elena’s sweet, acrid smell, and the gentleness of her touch which was permeated with wood smoke, like her milk.

‘Kuja, bwana kidogo, suck up’, she would often say. Of course, it was such a satisfying pleasure and I would suckle for all I was worth some days. With Elena, I was never hungry or bored.

 

When I saw Mum and Elena together, I noticed that they spoke and smelled differently. Mum’s smell was definitely frangipani and her voice was quite musical, like an Irish ballad; with Elena, there was wood smoke and a lilting rhythm and richness, like the Kikuyu tongue.

 She also taught me how to dance to a drum, which I loved.           

‘More hips, bwana kidogo, like this,’ and Elena would gyrate herself out of the room. With Mum, it was ‘Oh the Days of the Kerry Dancing’ or ‘Que sera, sera’. Each of them fostering my eclectic musical tastes in turn.

2

 

One of my favourite playmates, apart from Bob and Hen, was Joseph, whose father, Eliud, was our gardener from Kakamega, near Lake Kisumu, which seemed like a long way away to me. He told me that his dad used to cultivate his shamba , and craft bows and arrows like his grandfather who hunted elephant with the Ndorobo tribe. I was first drawn to Joseph because of his kind and inquisitive nature. I would often find him studying small creatures with a magnifying glass, but without setting fire to them like Hen, Bob and I.

‘All God’s creatures have a purpose, rafikiangu, he would often say to us. I’ll always remember our first meal with him in his mother’s hut at the back of Kingston Farm. The hut was filled with smoke as Bob, Hen and I went inside, and after our eyes got used to the dim light, we found a spot to settle down. In the centre of the hut was a charcoal fire, and suspended over it was a large blackened pot, with a thick white mass boiling away inside it.

 

‘Watoto wanapenda chakula, would you like some food, children? she said. Then Mama mzee reached over with a long stick and hooked it onto the pot, and with an amazingly deft movement, she lifted it off the fire and put it to her side.

‘Ndio, Mama Mzee,’ the three of us chorused.

I saw Joseph smile as Bob watched him take a handful of the white paste and begin moulding it into a ball.

‘You see, rafikiangu, do it like this!’

Bob looked a little puzzled but followed suit at the first opportunity. He dropped the ugali ball on the floor of the hut and howled with pain as he blew on his hand frantically.

‘Pole rafikiangu, your hands are as soft as a baby’s’.

Bob looked at Hen and I with a little shame and we commiserated with him. However, we decided to wait longer for the ugali to cool.

It puzzled me that the villagers could live on such simple food, especially when I thought of our chicken, sausages and bacon. Nevertheless, they seemed content and mostly happy from what I could see.

 

The Mill of Fate

 

After we had eaten our ugali na mboga , maize and vegetables, Mama Mzee  would give each of us a small gourd of boiled milk which had a sweet, smoky taste, like Elena’s milk…

Our most exciting adventure at Kingston Farm began one morning as the cock crowed, even before the sun’s rays had peeped above the forests of Kere Nyaga . I called out:

3

 

‘Hen! Bob! Quick, let’s get up and go!’

They stirred reluctantly from their sleep.

‘Is it time to get up already?’ Hen said.

‘Yes, look at Kere Nyaga’.

They both peered out at the growing light, and slowly began climbing into yesterday’s tee shirts and shorts, and putting on our sandals. As we slid down the wooden staircase, we were rehearsing our plans for the expedition we had planned. Stepping outside the back door, I noticed the sun was climbing into the sky, and I felt excited by the smell of wood smoke, and the sounds of breakfast being prepared in the servants’ quarters. The taste of adventure had been savoured, but just as we thought we had a clear run to our destination, Juma’s voice called out:

 

‘Wenda wapi, watoto, where are you going, children?’

The three of us stopped in our tracks, and whispered to each other conspiratorially. Bob was the first to speak:

‘We’re going to the Mill, Juma, but please don’t tell any one!’

‘This I cannot promise, bwana Bob, but go well’.

With that blessing, we were off like a shot, weaving our way along a sandy, scrub-covered, windy path. On our way we encountered Kikuyu mothers and daughters going to fetch water with great big tin drums on their heads. We were amazed that they could carry such terrible weights, and with such seeming elegance, too.

 

Within a short while of alternatively running and walking, the three of us stood in front of the Mill. Bob, being the oldest, volunteered to stand guard, whilst Hen and I headed for the quickest way up on to the Mill. Hen and I had agreed that our mission was that of ‘chief explorers’ – like Livingston and Stanley – with a brief to climb the highest building on the horizon. Hen had chosen the particular task of repairing holes in the slate roof.

 

Getting to the top was the first challenge, which we met by climbing up the vine-covered exterior of the Mill. As we climbed, my heart flew into my mouth as chunks of debris, dust, twigs, leaves drifted into my face. Dodging and spluttering my way up, I noticed a small red-brown scorpion next to my right hand grip. I began trembling uncontrollably and only managed to hold my nerve by changing my route of ascent.

 

4

 

Eventually, Hen and I reached our objective, and celebrated our ascent with a banana each from our rations. We both looked down at Bob’s diminutive figure, which blended in with the surrounding native village with its brown and dusty hues. As we waved to him below, we could hear the sounds and sights of village boys chasing each other with bows and arrows in their pretend battle. Living inAfricawas proving to be a great adventure indeed.

 

As agreed, Hen moved ahead and began removing loose shingles from around the slate roof. I followed behind him cautiously. Within a short time, Hen was surrounded by a sea of slowly shifting slates which seemed to be receding downwards at an alarming rate.

 

‘Hen!’ I shouted desperately. He let out an almighty scream and went hurtling downwards and disappeared from my view. Momentarily, I sat on the edge of the abyss, stunned into disbelieving shock. All I could hear and see looking down into the black chasm was an inky, eerie silence. I started to cry despairingly. Finally, I came to my senses, and shouted down to Bob in between my convulsive sobs.

‘He’s dead!’ I shouted down.

‘Who’s dead?’ Bob shouted back.

‘Henry’s dead!’ I shouted back.

Within a trice, I was scrambling down the ivy-clad Mill and planting my feet on the sandy soil.

‘Stay here Bob, while I run and get some help!’

‘Sure, quick as you can’, he said, and I ran off as fast as my legs would carry me.

I burst into the kitchen at Kingston Farm, breathless, and shouted:

‘Bwana Henry’s dead!’

At first, there was a stunned silence and then Juma and Elena approached me.

 

 Juma knelt down in front of me and held my convulsing shoulders with his big hands.

‘Una fanya nini, what’s happening, Bwana Stan’?’

I spluttered my incoherent reply:

‘Haraka, Juma, Bwana Henry nataka kufa, he’s dying inside the Mill. Help us! Tafadhali! Haraka!’

‘Ndio, Bwana Stan. Twende! Let’s go!’

 

5

The three of us made an improbable and incongruous sight as we raced, helter skelter, all the way to the Mill of Fate. Soon we had a snake-like following of watoto from the nearby Kikuyu village.

 

When we arrived at the Mill, Bob was standing with his face next to the cracked Mill door shouting for Hen in ever desperate tones. Sadly, no response greeted his cries. Without a moment’s hesitation, Juma had obtained an axe from one of the local village men and began smashing down the rotten Mill door. A great cry of relief went up when the door was finally demolished and the village men poured in. They carried him out on a pallet, more dead than alive and placed him on the rusty sand outside the Mill. As his limp and bloodied body lay there inert, patches of blue began to form all over his exposed flesh. I don’t remember another thing……

When I woke up later in Kingston Farm in my cotton cocoon, Elena was looking at me anxiously when I stirred and said that Bwana Doctor had been and we had been given some pills to help calm us down.

 

Wenda Bwana Henry, Elena?’ I said drowsily. At that moment, Mum came into the bedroom, and I cried with guilt and relief.

‘How is he, Mum?’ I asked anxiously.

‘Don’t worry, Stan. Hen’s in hospital inNairobi’.

 ‘Thank God’, I said to myself, and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

I sat up in bed and said:

 ‘I’m very sorry, Mum, it’s all my fault!’

‘Don’t worry, my darling, I’m sure it’s not all your fault, and we’ll find out what really happened, later. Get some more rest, please’.

I breathed a great sigh of relief as I reflected that I may not carry the entire blame for Hen’s death. In my heart, however, I knew that ‘Judgement Day’ would soon follow, whatever promises my dear mother would make me.

 

Mbare ya Malaika

 

Retribution followed, as night follows day, and Bob and I were grounded for weeks on end. During that fraught time, we often talked about that expedition to the ‘Mill of Fate’. Dad was furious with rage, and took the horse whip to us. Thankfully, Mum’s quick intervention and Celtic courage saved our backsides for another day. Eventually, we were forgiven our crimes and Juma was instructed to keep a better watch over us in future. I remember a conversation that I had with Bob and Hen at that time.

6

‘What if Hen dies?’ I asked.

‘I can’t imagine it happening’.

‘But what if he does, I mean’.

‘That’s too terrible to think about.

‘So, what shall we do?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean about keeping Hen alive’.

‘What can we do?’

‘I’m going to talk to Juma and Elena, and ask if they can give us some magic medicine to keep Hen alive,’ I concluded.

‘That’s a good idea’, agreed Bob.

So, Bwana Stan was delegated to getting hold of some healing herbs or charms that would keep Hen with us at Kingston Farm. I waited till the next day when I began the execution of our plan.

 

I woke early so that I could talk to Juma in the kitchen before the round of daily activities began. When I met him next the kitchen entrance, he was bringing in the firewood for our stove.

Habara za asabui, good morning, Juma!

Habari za asabui, Bwana Stan’.

 

‘Juma, may I ask you a favour?’

‘Ndio, Bwana Stan’.

‘I need some herbs or charms’.

Kwa nini, Bwana Stan?’

‘To keep Bwana Hen with us’, I replied.

Kwele, Bwana?’

‘Kwele, I’m worried that he may not come back fromNairobiHospital’.

‘So what kind of charms or magic are you seeking?’

‘Something that will heal him, Juma, tafadhali’.

 

‘So, tell me, what does Bwana Henry most love?’

I immediately thought ‘Mum’, but hesitated, as there was someone else that Hen loved most.

Bwana Henry napenda Cleo na Rex’, I replied.

‘Ndio, Bwana Stan. Ndio’, he nodded his head vigorously.

With that emphatic response, Juma placed the logs by the kitchen stove and approached me.

‘Bwana Stan, I have an idea’.

Gani, Juma?’ I asked.

‘Today I will go to the Mondo Mogo, medicine man, and ask him to make this charm for Bwana Henry.’

7

‘Asante sana, Juma’, I said with huge relief in my voice. I knew at that moment that Juma could help us and that he could obtain just the right charm or medicine for Hen.

 

A few days, and sleepless nights later, I met Juma in the kitchen and asked him if the Mondo Mogo had prepared the right charms for Hen. Juma regarded me with a serious and studied look, and beckoned me to come with him, which I did.

The path behind Kingston Farm led, in a roundabout way, to the Mondo Mogo’s hut. As a mzungu mtoto, white European child, I was not allowed into the Mzee’s hut. So, I waited patiently while Juma conferred with the Mondo Mogo . After what seemed like an eternity of time, Juma emerged with a broad smile and carrying a small parcel, wrapped in leaves.

Mzee asked me to give you this’, Bwana Stan’.

Asante sana, Juma. Please thank the Mondo Mogo for me.

Ndio, Bwana Stan. I will.’

My heart was pounding with joy as I ran all the way back to Kingston Farm carrying the deftly wrapped package in my right hand. That evening, under the cover of darkness, Bob and I opened our magic package, which was the gift of the Mondo

Mogu.                                              

‘Can you guess what’s inside it, Bob?’ I asked excitedly.

‘I’ve no idea’, he replied.

Together we began to tease out our mysterious, leaf-clad parcel. When we unwrapped it, we found two carved wooden dogs, whittled out of a black, hard wood.

‘Aren’t they amazing?’ I said to Bob as I held one out.

‘They’re so real, aren’t they’, he replied.

 

As we studied them together, I noticed that the effigies had fat tummies and short, thin legs. And one of them was smaller than the other, like Cleo and Rex. We hugged each other with relief at the arrival of this Kikuyu magic from which we had great hopes.

‘So, how do you think it works?’ Bob asked me.

‘I think it works by the magic carried in the dogs’, I replied..

‘Hmm, I see’ said Bob, as we smiled at each other conspiratorially.

Fortunately, the next day, we were due to visit Hen in Nairobi Hospital, and we decided to secrete the charmed dogs on our person. Bob carried Rex, as he was the oldest, and I carried Cleo, as the youngest. Going back toNairobihospital temporarily brought back all my horrible memories of being abandoned inEldoretHospital, so our new environment took some getting used to.

8

When we eventually got to Hen’s bedside, there were all these octopus-like tentacles hanging down into his arms, like they were feeding on him. And the smell of iodine and surgical spirit made me very nauseous, too. After a long and worrisome interval, Hen eventually stirred and was able to say a few words through his bruised face and broken teeth.

‘It’s good to see you, Bob and Stan,’ he said very quietly.

After Dad and Mum had given Hen a hug, Bob and I positioned ourselves either side of his bed, and put our hands on his. Hen continued:

‘How is everyone at Kingston Farm?’ he asked almost inaudibly.

‘Everyone’s fine,’ Bob replied.

‘What about Cleo and Rex?’ Hen asked.

Instead of answering his question, both Bob and I placed our left hands on Hen’s bed. Bob said:

‘We’ve got something for you, Hen’.

‘What’s that?’ He asked.

‘We’ve brought magic from the Mondo Mogo ‘, I said.

‘Show me!’ said Hen with a little more life and enthusiasm.

Bob and I simultaneously opened our left hands, and the two wooden dogs fell out on to his white sheet.

‘Amazing!’ Hen said.

We knew, there and then, like Hen, that the magic dogs would bring him home to Kingston farm. I could almost imagine Hen running his hands down Cleo and Rex’s hairy spines, breathing in their doggy smell, and whispering secrets in their attentive but discrete ears.

 

A couple of weeks later, Hen was sitting on his bed at Kingston Farm, and we asked him what had happened after we had given him the Mondo Mogo’s magic charms.

‘Well, it all happened very quickly’, he began. ‘One moment I could hardly lift myself off my pillow, and the next I was walking down the hospital corridor to the lavatory on my own. It was the smell of the bed pans that finally drove me to it,’ he joked.

We all laughed out loud at Hen’s good fortune.

‘So, tell us what happened after that?’ Bob asked.

‘Well, one night while I was lying in my bed trying to sleep, an angel came to the end of my bed. He was very tall and dressed in a bluish-white light robe. At first, I thought I must have been dreaming, and then, as I waited, I’m sure he spoke to me’.

‘What did he say?’ I asked eagerly.

‘He said I had a choice’, Hen replied.

‘What kind of choice?’ Bob asked.

9

‘He said, I want you to decide whether you want to come with me, or stay with your family and dogs at Kingston Farm’, Hen replied.

‘Crickey!’ Bob and I chorused.

‘Who do you think he was?’ Bob asked.

Hen hesitated a little, before he replied:

‘He was my Guardian Angel’.

‘My God!’ said Bob and I.

‘So, what made you to stay?’ Asked Bob.

‘It was Cleo and Rex, and you, too’, Hen replied.

‘You mean it was the magic dogs that brought you back?’ I added.

‘Yes’, Hen said emphatically, and we gave each other our triumvirate group hug on Hen’s bed.

 

When I saw Juma again, he was standing upright, with a huge sack of ugali at his feet in the kitchen.

‘Juma! You won’t believe it!’

Gani, Bwana Stan’?

Bwana Hen is home!’

‘Vizuri sana, Bwana Stan’.

‘Asante sana na gethiito, Juma, thank you for your healing charms’.

‘Hata kidogo, Bwana Stan’.

‘Juma, please tell me how your Kikuyu magic works?’ I asked.

Ndio, Bwana Stan. It was the Mbare ya Malaika, the family of angels who helped Bwana Henry’, Juma replied.

‘Hen said it was his Guardian Angel that came to him’.

Ndio, Bwana Stan. It was the Chief of the Angels, working with the spirits of Bwana Henry’s favourite dogs’.

‘So, do all spirits, animal and human, work with Mbare ya Malaika?’

‘Ndio, Bwana Stan, and remember that Ngai, God, is Chief of the Mbare ya Malaika,’ Juma said emphatically.

I merely regarded Juma with even greater awe than before, and returned to our bedroom to contemplate this deepening mystery of life and spirit.

 

Fortunately, the three of us would not have to invoke Mbare ya Malaika for quite some time. The adventure of the Mill had proved too costly in terms of life and limb….

 

 

 

 

 

 

10

What is the point of thorn bushes?

 

It was some months before we planned our next adventure, which was to include our rafikiangu, Joseph. One morning, as we were playing ‘hide and seek’ on the Farm, Joseph said he wanted to introduce us to his uncle, Hamid, who had a big shamba in one of the nearby villages.

 When Joseph talked about Hamid, in my youthful eyes he conjured up an elder, or Mzee cultured in one of the many mysterious Kikuyu arts.

 

Hen and Bob were excited, too, as we rendezvoused at the gate exiting Kingston Farm. After his last reprimand by Bwana Judge, Juma’s discretion barely permitted him to ‘overlook’ our departure that stunningly bright and glorious January morning. In spite of the growing heat of the day, there was still a vague memory of this morning’s crisp dawn overlooked by the snows of Kere Nyaga.

 

Joseph was turned out in his best white shirt, and ironed shorts, whilst Bob, Hen and I were, once again, wearing yesterday’s expedition gear.

We set off in single file, with Joseph leading, and followed by Bob, Hen and I, in order of age. As soon as we were out of sight of Kingston Farm, we began to run and walk, in turns, in order to cover more ground, and before we were subdued by the heat of the day. I was always a little fearful of losing my way in the Bush, but one of the many things that impressed me about Joseph was that he weaved his way to his destination like a gazelle. It was as if he had some kind of inner compass, or eye, which never let him down. He loped across the long, brown, erect stalks of the savannah, whilst we waded more modestly in his wake.

‘So, tell me about your uncle Hamid’, Bob asked Joseph.

‘He’s my oldest uncle, by my father’s side’, replied Joseph.

‘Why are you so fond of him?’ asked Hen.

‘Well, he has always told us good stories from his safari ndefu ‘, replied Joseph.

‘You mean he was a traveller?’ I asked.

‘Ndio, Bwana Stan’, he replied.

‘Where’s he been?’ asked Hen, as he circumvented a dead tree trunk on our path.

‘He told me he went toLakeKisumuin one evening’, Joseph replied.

‘But that’s impossible’, Bob said.

‘Kwele, Bwana Bob’, uncle Hamid said he had important business to do back home’, Joseph continued. We looked at each other incredulously.

11

The heat of the day was gaining the upper hand, and the pace of rafikiangu Joseph had sapped our energy, so we decided to stop under a cluster of thorn trees. We each took huge gulps of our ‘water rations’ and consumed a banana each. This was turning out to be one of our finest adventures. After refreshing myself, I decided to do a little recce on my own among the large rocks scattered around us.I was just losing sight of my companions as I poked around in the undergrowth with a stick, when I was overcome by the most searing pain I had ever experienced.

 

 I shouted out and instinctively lifted my left foot into the air and fell against a large boulder. As I examined my foot, I noticed a long thorn sticking out of the sole of my sandal, which had been penetrated like it was butter.

 

The pain in my foot was searing and pulsating, and I nearly passed out. Fortunately, Joseph, Bob and Hen were at my side in a jiffy, and Joseph said:

‘Una fanya nini, what’s wrong?’

I indicated my bloodied left foot, and the huge thorn sticking out of my sole.

Pole rafikiangu. Pole, I’m sorry my friend. I’m sorry,’ Joseph muttered. Your brother has trodden on a terrible thorn. Now he will need some medicine’, Joseph addressed Bob and Hen.

They nodded their heads in agreement, and commiserated with me as I lay beside the boulder in a bloodied, crumpled mess.

It was then that a tall and slightly gangling figure appeared over the brow of the parched and stony hill, wearing a white fez on his head, walking with a wooden staff and carrying a leather pouch at his waist.

‘Marahaba watoto’, the stranger addressed us.

Shikamo mzee’, we  responded.

‘Hujambo, baba mdogo’, Joseph addressed his uncle, Hamid.

‘Sijambo, mpwa’, Hamid replied.

‘Una fanya nini, what’s up?’ Hamid asked.

 

Joseph proceeded to tell Hamid everything that had happened, at which point he reached into his leather pouch and brought out a bunch of leaves, which he instructed me to apply to the wound caused by the thorn in my foot. With great deliberation and an intensely furrowed brow, I slowly removed the giant thorn, and began rubbing the leaves gently around the wound and swelling.

 

12

 After a short while, the pain subsided and I felt immensely relieved and grateful to this Hakim Mwislamu, Muslim healer.

 

 

Honey-gathering

 

For the Masai Morani, or young warrior, honey-gathering is an important ‘coming of age’ ritual, and for the Kikuyu tribe, bees have a magical quality in their ability to gauge when to establish a new hive, or where and when to migrate to different areas. But when Joseph suggested that we join him and his Dad, Mzee Eliud, Bob, Hen and I were somewhat reluctant.

 

The reason for our reluctance was that we had heard stories of people falling from trees sustaining broken limbs, or unfortunate honey-gatherers who were stung by a frenzy of fierce African bees. Yet Hen and Joseph had the knack of winning over my confidence when their cause seemed almost lost.

‘Do you reckon we could get away with just a few stings?’ he asked me innocently.

‘I’d rather we’d none at all, thanks’, I replied.

‘Well let’s aim for that, shall we?’ Hen ventured, and took my silence for agreement.

 

          The snows of Kere Nyaga gleamed in the dawn light as we abseiled down the bannisters at Kingston Farm, and my first port of call was the kitchen where Elena had kindly agreed to secrete our pack lunches for the forthcoming expedition.

‘Come you slackers!’ Hen hissed so as not to be overheard by Mum and Dad.

‘Okay, I’ve got our lunches. Let’s go’, I replied.

‘Where are we meeting Joseph?’ Bob asked as we slinked out of the porch at Kingston Farm.

‘We agreed to meet at his uncle, Hamid’s place, don’t you remember, Hen said impatiently.

‘Fine, we’re on our way, Bob replied.

 

          Wending our way along the feet-hardened, windy village paths, we stepped gingerly aside when we were approached by doubled over women carrying either huge stacks of wood on their backs or giant drums of water on their heads. The strength and endurance of these mama mzees never ceased to amaze me.

13

          When we reached Joseph’s village after about half an hour, perspiring heavily and swatting flies, he was there to greet us:

Habari asabui, rafikiangu, Good morning, my friends?’

‘Vizuri  sana, well, Joseph’, we chorused happily.

Leo tena safari ndefu’, today we are going to take a long journey’, he reminded us.

Vizuri sana, twende! Great, let’s go’, Bob said jokingly.

 

          The four of us set off at a good pace in the direction of the water hole where there were a few scattered cedar trees with bee hives a plenty. My feelings were a mixture of extreme excitement mixed with anxiety, as I knew the reputation of African bees, which nearly as bad as that of the soldier ants, which we avoided at all costs. But here we were challenging our fears together, which I knew would lend us strength and resolve.

 

          An hour and a half later, having traversed gullies, thorn bushes, termite mounds, dried-up river beds and a family of warthogs, we arrived at the oasis sweltering, parched, thirsty and hungry. Joseph was the first to speak:

‘Unahitaji chakula, rafikiangu, do you need some food, my friends?’

‘Ndio, kabisa, you bet’, we chorus.

‘Ukuwana kula gani’  do you have something to eat?’ Joseph asks.

‘Ndio, yes’, we reply as we begin to unpack our sandwiches and fruit that Elena kindly made for us.

 

          I noticed that whilst we were eating our finely-made sandwiches, Eliud and Joseph had produced an enormously long knife – a panga- from somewhere and were disembowelling coconuts with it, savouring each mouthful with beaming smiles. I envied them their fruit lunch with its delicious, fresh milk.

 

          After we had eaten and satisfied our thirst from the oasis, which was fun, we began to examine the stand of cedar trees surrounding it. We couldn’t see any traditional beehives anywhere, until Eliud pointed out that in each of the trees were suspended logs around which could be seen a constant coming and going of worker bees with their characteristic buzzing sound as they returned to their hives with the pollen they had collected.

 

 

 

14

          Eliud then signalled to Joseph to prepare a firebrand from brushwood around the oasis, so we all joined into to accomplish the task more quickly. Very soon, it was ready to be bound with sisal strips and Eliud proceeded to light it from the ashes of a slowly smouldering fire pit near the edge of the clearing. Soon it was smouldering nicely, with our excitement growing apace.  Eliud and Joseph both donned their leather satchels and climbed nimbly into the first cedar tree.

‘That’s amazing’, Bob called out.

‘Wow’, Hen said, ‘I wish I could climb so easily as them’.

‘You bet’, I said.

 

          Then something really amazing happened. Eliud stuck the smoking brushwood as far into the log as he could, and we were anticipating a vengeful cloud of lethal African bees attacking him. Instead, there was an unearthly lull in the buzzing, apart from a few drowsy worker bees circling their nest in a protective way. But they didn’t attack Eliud and Joseph. We wondered quietly what their secret was. Perhaps it was something like the ‘magic dogs’ which healed Hen.

 

          Whilst we were gaping open-mouthed at this dramatic scene, Eliud grasped his panga and inserted it into the log, all the way in. Finally, we could see his strong right arm move in a sawing motion and after a brief moment he had fished out oodles of honey comb and dripping honey which he dropped neatly into Joseph’s leather pouch. The invincible father and son team then proceeded to collect honey in this daring way from three more trees whilst their heroic stature increased accordingly in our eyes.

 

          When the honey-harvesting was all over, Eliud turned to us and said:

‘Kujaribu watoto would you like to try?’

‘Hapana kabisa, absolutely not’, we chorused, and laughed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you directionless? ‘Life Happens’ from Life Coach – Maggie Currie!

 Life Coach Maggie Currie asks, ‘Are you directionless?’

Many people are working in professions, careers and even their own businesses that they really didn’t consciously plan to pursue.   Many people are in relationships where they are not truly happy.  This they take to be the norm and they think they are a victim of circumstance.  So they take on roles they think are tolerable or expected of them.  

Each one of us has a life purpose.  Your life’s direction and purpose is the culmination of various activities that allow you to express your intelligence and creativity. That allow you to live in accordance with your own core values, and to experience the profound joy of simply being yourself.

Unlike traditional work, your life’s work demands nothing from you but your intent and passion for that work. Interestingly,  nobody is born with a complete understanding of the range of their life purpose.  

It may be that you have drifted through your life, and now feel you are directionless. Discovering what your life’s work might be can help you to realise your true potential and live a more authentic, happy and driven life.

But I hear you asking ‘How do you make this discovery?’  Think about what interests you now, in the present. Also think about the passions you remember that moved you in the past.  

May be you were attracted to a certain discipline or profession throughout your young life, only to have been steered away from your aspirations as you matured.  Maybe you are secretly harbouring a secret passion and would love to explore it.

Think about what is calling to you.  There may be several things, write them down and then narrow your list down to the one that is calling the loudest.  

If you want to work with your hands, ask yourself what work will allow you to do that.  If you want to change the world, consider where you would start and whether you have the skills and talents to undertake philanthropic work.  What do you have to do to gain or hone the skills you will need to fulfil your dream?

Proudly write down all of your strengths, passions, beliefs and values to help you refine your search for purpose.  Additionally, look for the signs pointing you in the right direction, but be sure to pay attention by opening your mind to all possibilities and really noticing the signs.

You will probably need to redefine your direction several times throughout your lifetime.  For instance, being an amazing parent could be your life’s work for 18 years or so, then perhaps you may find you want different work to do.  

 

Your life’s work may not be something you are recognised or paid for, such as parenting, a hobby, or a variety of other activities typically considered by others to be inconsequential. Your love for your life’s work, however, gives it enormous meaning. You’ll know you have discovered your life’s work when you wake up and are eager to face each day and you feel really good about, not only what you do, but also who you are!

 

If you need help with any of the above, contact me.  

 

I am helping people to become the very best version of themselves and would love to work with you.

 

 

Jul 10, 2013

Follow our journey as we start work with the TV Production Teams!

Just to keep RC Bridgestock followers in the’ loop’, we have just returned from two’ whistle stop’ trips to Manchester for meetings with Red Production Company this month. Here is a link for you to see the award winning work they have done so far http://www.redproductioncompany.com/ 

To say they are brilliant and we are loving working with two amazingly talented teams is an understatement!!!!

We will update you when we’re allowed.

In the meantime for those who will never get to see the Granada Studios now it has closed it’s doors, or neable to visit the new Media City, there are some pictures for you included in our ‘trip’ blog.

After a lovely smooth crossing, from the Island, via Wightlink ,we  had a short train journey from Lymington Pier to Brockenhurst Station and as you can see it was very quiet – fingers crossed for a nice quiet journey cross country to Manchester Piccadilly!

Just short of five hours later Manchester Piccadilly Station looks very different…

But thanks to a black cab taxi we are sat drinking something nice and cool at the Victoria & Albert Marriot Hotel in Manchester ten minutes later! ;-)

 

Yes, it was so warm we even managed our evening meal outside.

Across the road from the Victoria and Albert Marriot Hotel http://www.marriott.co.uk/hotels/travel/manva-manchester-marriott-victoria-and-albert-hotel/ is the old Granada Studios which is still owned by ITV. This is where our meeting is tomorrow! Giddy with excitement!

 

Too excited to sleep in we took a walk around Manchester before our meeting at 12 o’clock with Red Production Companies Executive Producer and the production team.

Bob & Carol just outside the security gates – being a real tourists!!

Passed security we were led into the foyer – I can only imagine the ‘stars’ that have passed through these doors… 

Our meeting was held in one of the Green rooms where ‘Stars in Your Eyes’ amongst other fabulous shows were filmed. Fantastic place to ’story & plot’! Come with us into the foyer and down the corridors of Granada Land…

 This picture of our ‘Hilda’ from the long running ITV soap opera Coronation Street  is for sale  for £350.00!

The Jeremy Kyle show is/was filmed here since it started.

And who can remember these fiesty ladies in the picture below?

Yes, my guilty face obviously! Caught in the ‘act’ on the way out by one of the very famous actors following us down the steps! I guess I’ll never live this one down. ;-/

Our second trip gave us a three day turnaround before driving up to Manchester for a meeting this time with the production team for BBC 1 commissioned kidnap drama series  ’Happy Valley’ that we are working on  http://www.cultbox.co.uk/news/headlines/5778-bbc-one-orders-happy-valley-kidnap-drama including the very talented  BAFTA  winning scriptwriter Sally Wainwright. 

This time we stayed at the ‘Holiday Inn in the brand new complexin Manchester they’ve nameded ‘Media City’ http://www.mediacityuk.co.uk/ I can’t begin to recreate the quality of these shots http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Manchester+Media+City&qpvt=Manchester+Media+City&FORM=IGRE but below are some of our own.

A view from one of the windows in our hotel room… excited or what? If you look carefully some people have spotted spaceships in the sky… but why not in the BBC building are the Daleks and Dr Who’s police box!

See…

&

 

Looking over the bridge to the ITV studios at night.

 

Our hotel room had a wall full of windows! We could see Manchester City Football Ground!

You have to be there to appreciate the size of this place.

 

And another view…

And so to bed… again too excited to sleep…

Half a day spare we managed to pop over the boarder to see our two grand daughters and have a meal with the children. Magic or what? :-)

Since the journey home is over three hundred miles we decided to stay over at Eynsham Hall Hotel in Witney. Yes, it was as lovely as it looks http://www.eynshamhall.com/

Well guys, here is our ferry home so until we can update you! Keep well and safe!

Carol & Bob xx

 

‘Unjolly Hockeysticks’ – installment 2 – ‘Coping Strategies’ by Hugh Harrison

Unjolly Hockeysticks’

 

            Once I had parted with my life savings hidden in my pencil box to Hen for his escape bid to London two days before, I was left praying for the success of his brave endeavours. After all, one of the few benefits of Catholicism is the belief in the ‘power of prayer’. So, every night following Hen’s heroic departure for Salisbury Railway Station via many miles of circuitous hedgerows, I pictured him in my mind’s eye avoiding the all-pervading preying eyes of the Bird in his pursuing black Riley car.

            Fortunately, like me, Hen was a good cross-country runner, and I had every faith he would succeed in his mission to find Dad in London and appeal to him for refuge. I even imagined him arriving at Waterloo Station and being greeted by a tall, jovial Bobby who would escort him, hand-in-hand, to the ground floor flat in Mayfair where Dad lived. The policeman would stand at Dad’s door and say:

‘Ah, Mr Harrison, how fortunate to have found you home! I’m delighted to return your son, Henry, to your safe custody’, And Dad would reply:

‘Thank you so much, officer, for all your trouble. Come inside, my dear boy’.

And that’s how I pictured it might be. All of this, of course, was a complete fantasy on my part. Magical thinking, however, had become my default frame of mind  within the regimented confines of Cheam Hall.

The School, and its draconian hierarchy, had been unnaturally quiet the last two days as we all awaited positive news of Henry’s successful bid for freedom and safety. No reports, either positive or negative, however, had penetrated the ivy-clad walls of Cheam Hall. So, we continued to undertake our morning cross-country runs, cold showers, rifle drills and muted meals whilst we watched for fluttering signs of activity from the Birds.

Needless to say, there was no response, except for the ominous silences at morning assembly as their  penetrating eyes scanned us for give-away signals, or secret codes. It was on the evening of the second day of Hen’s absence that we heard a commotion at the tradesmen’s entrance whilst we were finishing our tasteless meal. I heard Hen screaming and crying as he was pushed roughly and ruthlessly along the main corridor like a captured convict by the crowing Bird.

We sat, glued to our chairs, unable to swallow or move. I felt sick and nauseous as it dawned on me that Hen’s heroic bid for freedom had failed. I wept internally for his misfortune, but the sounds of his wailing were overwhelming as I realised that the Bird had selected the ultimate instrument of violence and torture: the hockey stick.

I couldn’t remain seated anymore, so I rose from my seat and proceeded to the dining room entrance, ignoring Mrs Bird’s demands to ‘sit down’. As I walked into the corridor I could see Henry cowering in a corner by the Study door being beaten to a pulp by the merciless Bird in his black gown. He almost grinned as he rained countless blows on Henry’s broken body and head like a demented eagle.

I froze with fear and hatred, but couldn’t move. Everything had frozen, apart from the raining blows and constant screaming. My powerlessness and cowardice were complete. The feelings resonate still.