The tale of the goodies from Europe
It was on the eve of Jacinta’s wedding. Everyone was equally upbeat about the not-so-common happening; In-laws from Europe! Jacinta, my aunt, was getting married to the only man who made sense in her entire life. She had turned down many offers for a hand in marriage, especially from the polygamous men in our village. Some were overheard saying that she only deserved a man of her caliber, a graduate with flaming grades and accolades. No man in Kotur was a match. Since primary school, she had trounced them all fair and square in matters academic. As a matter of fact, most of them gave up along the way.
Reduced numbers of chicken and the more than plenty local brew, ebusaa, would not fully describe the situation back at home. Jubilation filled the air. Narrow bushy pathways leading to our home had been cleared just in time for the eagerly awaited occasion of the century. Of all the villagers, I noticed some new form of energy in Ipalinyang’, a contender for the following years’ ‘okironjoo’ elections. This was a highly coveted post in the village whose title simply translates to ‘meat caller.’ A person bearing this title had to be highly influential with a voice that could wake the dead. They would then be tasked with announcing the availability of meat in the local butchery. Perhaps, it was his opportunity to call for votes and beat Okada, Emeje and Ekisa, who had all signed up for the challenge.
Being the floor manager, I had to make sure everything was in order. I left for the neighboring Malaba town, leaving Ipalinyang’ in charge. Rumor has it that he not only took charge of the kitchen activity, but also the control of the villagers’ guest list. None of his co-contenders was allowed in. The bodaboda guy made a few turns here and there and within no time, we had sneaked our way past Kiriko village, into Uganda. Motorcycles are the preferred means of transport here, since the border is usually parked with vehicles in transit.
Malaba is usually a busy town. Huge sacks of cassava can be spotted in almost every corner, with women calling up customers amid their noisy rants, as they always fight for selling space. Most of their goods are quite expensive, so this was indeed not the best place for me to shop. I had a few ‘missing items’ that I had to buy. Even tight security in my grandmother’s granary, edulaa, was not preventive enough to avoid petty acts of theft. After shopping for the items on the other side of the border, I found a nice stone under a mango tree, where I sat enjoying a glass of kumbikumbi, spiced with a pinch of salt. This is more than a delicacy and indeed one of the reasons why my people love the rainy season.
Some relatives were set to arrive at Malaba from Soroti, Uganda. I had hardly finished my second glass when I saw a Manyanga Matatu, with the inscriptions ‘Lion of Judah’ on the windscreen. I knew the whole lot from Soroti somehow fitted in this car. I wanted to sneak my way behind the tree to find a bodaboda home, before my aunt, Imigisit, called out my name with such energy that would deafen the ranting market women. “Papa, come with us! What is this boy doing all alone in the city?” I overheard her murmuring to a lady next to her- probably a neighbor to the folks from Soroti. Definition of a city was what I least worried about at this point. We left for the village.
The last time folks from Soroti visited was when they had to urgently solve a little misunderstanding between a neighbor and one of my cousins, regarding their children’s late night rendezvous. The girl’s father, who is my neighbor, threatened to cut down the young man’s ‘privates’ if he dared pass by his compound. Sensing the impending danger to their generation, Soroti folks rushed to solve the case; for a whole one month! The rest is history.
Everything was now set. Our vehicle received a low profile welcome, as we were only noticed by playful children who had since left their homes for the big day. D-day was finally here. I received a call amid anxious looks from those around me. It was my uncle Tito, who was keen on making sure things went well as per the plans made in Nairobi a few months ago, during the ever-scandalous wedding committee meetings. Soon as I let out the news about the arrival of the visitors, people aligned themselves on the roadside, just to catch a glimpse of the fleet of cars.
Everyone was at their best poses. Young and old folks alike, you would not tell that their birth certificates read different decades. Some defined some bit of off-the-hook class though. From where I stood, I spotted a sharply dressed old man, with a white whip, a well-fitting white suit matched with the famous ‘god papa’ hat. This was Uncle Christopher. Everyone calls him Topher, a shortened version of his not-so-long name. His is a story to tell another day. Songs of jubilation rented the acrid weather, playing down any probability that the big party would be nothing but a fairytale. School girls formed a long queue from the main road, all dressed in their games kit t-shirts with their faces shining in a uniform pattern. This was indeed a clear indication that the Solea petroleum jelly I bought served its purpose with no strings attached.
There was no doubt that the dew on the grass would dry way before the arrival of the visitors. Much to my amusement, some of the villagers had already set camp; with their local football club t-shirts as their makeshift roofs. Nothing was left to chance. By the time the first car made its turn past the last junction leading to the venue, the whole village was in joy. Pomp and color was evident. Suddenly, everyone turned out to be busy. What left me in stitches though was the name calling that ignited whenever someone would selfishly position themselves to catch a better glimpse of the fleet of the cars snaking their way in. Of all the people I could spot, the local church catechist was the most vocal. He had a tussle with one of the village ‘bouncers’ who claimed that even with the money the catechist extorts every Sunday, he still couldn’t manage a decent suit. We quelled it on time, before more secrets could be let out. To my understanding, some would go beyond explaining how the church mice pay rent and how the ‘bouncers’ highly contribute to the village population. Then the posh cars drove in…………………
These rare car species confused my village comrades. I spotted the area chief, who had since appointed himself to the post of ‘director of cars’, making himself busy with ensuring parking space was available. There was no doubt that the old man had already set his mind on the goodies from Europe. Elegance, class and undoubted aura were on display. No one wanted to miss a second of this rare opportunity. Aunt Jacinta was dressed like a princess. She was certainly the envy of all the women at that particular moment. Low murmurs could be heard coming from a group of women who had their Sunday bests on. Whatever they were discussing must have had something to do with the length of the in-law’s noses, as one lady was seen mimicking a pointed nose with her index finger. You can never take the village out of the villager!
Food was ready by noon and queues had long been made. I had resorted to buying paper and plastic plates, since the last time we had an event of equal measure, utensils and cutlery were literally on the run. I saw some in the local makeshift hotels, with the ‘owner’s’ name inscribed with almost fresh paint. This time, I had no reason to worry about such funny behavior. Celebrations in my village are incomplete without a big pot of ebusaain the middle. That had been sorted already. There was no ceremony as such, since the exchange of rings and promises of life had been made in the other end of the world- Europe. Ours was to welcome the goodies from Europe. Huge boxes were quickly taken to the main house, an indication that something small was indeed brought.
Everyone ate to their fill. Birds of prey were all over the place, until one of my uncles directed children to get rid of the ‘bad image.’ I nearly had my ribs breaking when it got to the introduction bit. Well, one thing I know about my village is that only a few men and women can speak fluent English. Broken English is recessive, and then there is the dormant poor choice of words. There was an order of speeches, where every important person would be given a chance on the floor. Ejakait, the local deputy head teacher was struck off the list, for having dressed like he was on a teachers’ salary payment demonstration. He walked away in anger, but was later spotted at a corner, sipping ebusaa calmly. By the end of the night he was supposedly voted the best dancer, throwing patented moves that involved skill and vigor.
I however regretted that he had been struck off the list, since he was the most fluent. I thought to myself that this must have been an act of Akiswelet, the senior teacher, who has always disputed the election of Ejakait to the post of Deputy Head teacher. Well, this is a school where power means more than the salary. The history is quite interesting, and it’s a probable narration in the kitchen. The first man who made a brief welcoming speech was fairly good. I later on came to understand that he had once asked for my aunt’s hand in marriage, only to be turned down for his ‘repetitive and illegible letter’ let alone his protruding teeth that would have literally defined the meaning of happy family in a family photo. He had done ‘justice’ if the applause from the crowd was anything to go by. He may have had his intentions, but would have done better had he paid attention during his poetry classes. But word has it that the old man spent half his school life talking to women in the nearby waterhole.
Disaster struck when the chief’s brother stood up. Smartly dressed in his brother’s other pair of official trousers and a matching shirt, he cleared his throat. “Ladies and men….we want congratulate my brada for seeing a girl in my sister.” He had such command in his voice that made everyone quiet. “When I see Jecenta (meant Jacinta), I see hard work, not like women of the market. Not like Ejakait’s bad heart wife. She talks as she chew bone, she brings not good presents but half dead thin aakor (translated chicken). I want for her good happy marriage, with black and white childs….” We could not let him finish. He sat down with claps and cheers from half the room, where the market women had made themselves comfortable. Ejakait’s wife was among those who clapped with joy, raising eyebrows as to whether they least comprehended something from the short speech.
Somehow, I had to intervene to save the face of my dear aunt, who had since buried her head in her hands. I introduced all the guests to the eager crowd, and cut short the speeches amid cheers from the uninvited guests who could not hold their thirst for the beer in plenty. With everyone set for the party, we ensured music was ready. One of the highlights of the night was music by Obasie, an excellent accordionist. The old man showed skill and mastery Ugandan hit songs from lady Mariam, chameleone and Juliana made the night. The dancing was so entertaining that the guests dashed out a few dollars as a congratulatory token. Everyone danced the night away in celebration; or probably just so they would receive the Goodies from Europe.