Monday, January 5, 2009


It's amazing how diverse we celebrate the Christmas and new year holidays. I for one have had all manner of celebrations, from the traditional Church overnight 'keshas' to spending the eves in night clubs, literally drowning my money on frothy substances courtesy of a Sin Factory along Thika Road, to house parties laden with food and friends, to the one I'll always want to forget- sitting pensively day and night over the Christmas period of 2009 in Oyugis awaiting progress reports on how my dad was doing in a Hospital ward back in Nairobi. When the progress report finally arrived on December 30th, it was quite progressive- Daddy had progresses to Heaven. How I spent that new year is anyone's guess.

Anyway, enuff of sentiment. I've decided to put on record the little detail I remember of this past 2008 Festive season. I choose to filter some of the detail for obvious reasons- this is the internet!

Christmas was what a journalist would describe as a normal day at work- long and tedious. Satusfying at the end of the day, but they key word here is work. I was working. Enuff said.

The real story starts when I took my new year holiday vacation. As a family of four siblings(our parents are in heaven, booking front row seats for the entire family on judgement day, bless them), we decided to come together for the first time in 2 years and jus be together. Anyone who knows Kenya's travelling patterns will attest to the fact that travelling up-country during the December festive season is as delightful as getting caught in a mid-moring Jam along Thika Road.

My own sister was visiting me here in Nairobi tried to travel to Oyugis on the 24th. The normal cost is normally 600 shillings. She was charged 1800. She came back and used that extra money demanded to make me a sumptuous Christmas dinner!

Did I mention that on 24th, 25th and 26th December, I arrived home a little past 3AM on all occasions? Dont ask. Suffice it to say that on 24th night I started by going for the Church Service as IT REALLY SHOULD BE THE CASE. After giving to God what belongs to God, Caesar came calling....

But I digress. My turn to travel came on the night of 30th December. I had to use guerilla tactics to avoid paying 1800 bob to Oyugis. This I achieved by using a two-way travel system- Take a Homabay-bound Akamba Bus which maintained its fares at 800 bob, alight at Kisii town, then pay 70 bob to Oyugis. Savings- 930 bob. Hail the Economist!

You know you are bound to Western Kenya when you are carrying an oversize travelling bag whose weight is pulling you down with lots of shopping that ranges from Unga ya Chapati to Bar Soap. I had bought a new travelling bag( thank you Royal Media for the Shopping Vouchers) whose tow-wheels cracked under the weight of its content within 10 minutes of leaving the supermarket. I should have realised that even pavements have potholes.

Anyway, I realised that prejudice in society is so deep its been accepted as the norm. While Akamba buses bound for more 'prestigious' destinations like Kisumu or Kampala were relatively new and well maintained, Homabay-bound buses are always KAL or older. Ours bore all the details of a bus that has seen better days- from its torn, smelly curtains that must have last seen the launderer on Fools Day of 1999, to the creaking windows that couldnt lock properly- and, wait, did I just feel some wetness on the Chair?

Turned out that more luggage than passengers were travelling in that bus that nite, and the extra luggage,my suitcase included, enjoyed the luxury of the empty seats once the luggage lockers beamed red for overloaded. Apprently everyone else wanted to travel on 31st, hence the empty seats. And we wonder why 600 bob routes eventually end up charging 3000!

Thankfully, the shock absorbers were still as good as new, and the now permanently reclined seats helped me snooze through most of the 8-hour journey. If only the windows would shut properly- the cold night wind seeping in was seething cold!

Thus the 30-minute stopover in Nakuru was most welcome. Some hot coffee and mandazi. Have u noticed that of late, the mandazi has graduated from its fixed 5-shilling price tag? Before, the price of mandazi would always stick at 5 bob as the size consistently reduced. But there comes a time that further reduction in prize would reduce it to a (find your own noun), so I respectfully paid 25 bob for mine.

The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful, and we duly arrived in Kisii a few minutes after 5.30 AM. A pub adjacent to the Akamba Bus Booking office was blaring tunes from the latest Ohangla Sensation, Osogo Winyo. The motorbike bodabodas had increased fourfold since my last visit almost a year ago. And look at that Safaricom Billboard- they are still advertising the Saasa Tariff!

I get into a hotel and order a hot cuppa and- u guessed it- two mandazis. Citizen TV is clear as dvd up-country and is the number one Choice in 95% of the joints here. I stare at the Body-n-Soul programme airing as I sip and wait for the dusk to pave way for brother Sun. Once I'm done, the bill comes to the table- 30 shillings! Welcome to rural Kenya.

Daybreak. i get a quick ride to oyugis, and that too with no big story to tell. I arrive at Oyugis by 7.30 AM. The newspapers havent arrived yet, and the one i brought from Kisii attracts a huge crowd. The KCSE results are out and they are always a must read. Too bad only pupils are ranked this time- who cares about obscure names save for those who know or associate with them?

10 minutes later, after they are satisfied that a substancial number of pupils with the 'O' prefix are in the top 100, they reluctantly hand the paper back(chief, there were no form-16 As used in the tallying of KCPE...). I head to the bus-stage that will take me to my village, Gamba, 7km off Oyugis town towards the border with Kisii District.

I find there's no ready transport because it is not a market day. Thankfully, the motorbikes have faithfully invaded this route as well. But they charge 100bob. For 7 kilometres. Bah! But who can blame them, the pot-holes are laden with murram road.

A few grunts later, I arrive home. My dog Pinto died last year, so ma sis will lead the welcoming party this time round. Louis ma kid-bro takes over the bag( Oh, the good ol times) and we walk home, where more tea is waiting. Why on earth isnt Ketepa making billions?

The maize harvest will be the worst in recent times. Rains failed and the stalks have no cobs to sing home about. The stalks shall be fodder for our hybrid cattle, which have also suffered a little from disease but survived to tell the tale several vets later. But the guavas are thriving! Boy, did I miss the indigestible fruit. No wonder every bush in the village has a guava seedling sprouting proudly among the otherwise choking shrubs.

Tea, shower, snoooooooooooooze till 3pm. Lunch. Omena. I hadnt taken that for over a year. I love home. Snoooze some more till 5.30. Wake up to catch up with family. Then the cash starts disappearing from my wallet.

The shamba boy asks for 100 bob so he can go hire a car battery to power his humongous speaker for the entertainment of his Christmas guests, read us. I do not have that so I produce a 500bob note. Suddenly it emerges that the heifer had not finished its anti-worm dose, the spotlights need new batteries, the generator needs fuelling so we can watch TV, I forgot to buy juice, everyone wants sugarcane...before i know it the 500 bob is actually less!

We spend the better part of New year's eve chatting, catching up on the latest gossip- who got married, who died, who illegally sold off land, which villager is now a sworn thief, who has become an irreversible cheap-liquor drunk, how early we need to start planting next season...all this as the boys diminish the sugarcane as big sis sets about preparing the template Festive dish- chapati and chicken. Oh, free groundnuts in plenty too here.

A few of my friends back in Oyugis town who knew I was up-country send me text messages, urging me to find ma way to the Meeting Point Bar (how apt), where they are 'cleansing ourselves of 2008'. I politely decline, for I am not about to walk seven kilometres into the darkness to drink beer. the village pub 400 metres away is probably littered with rowdy peasant youth wasting their hard earned and saved farm wages on cheap rum. They can smell a ja-Nairobi (a guy from Nairobi) from a mile away, and the notion that we are always loaded leaves them with no choice but to sing your praises for as long as it takes till you throw them a round, like it or not. I choose to stay home.

The clock strikes midnight. All the radio stations are cheering. Hundreds of fans calling in to wish loved ones happy new year. i get out to shout HAAPPPY NEEEW YEAAAR! My lone voice reverberates into the darkness. No fireworks. Just fireflies. Good riddance 2008. Welcome aboard 2009.