House Of Wonders Painting – Forodhani-zanzibar by Juma Hassan

The village never changes.

It is us who have been away in the city who change.

There is no doubt that I have changed.

I have been here only 2 days and some things which appeared normal to me, slightly over a year ago before I left, now look absurd to me. Take today morning, for example.

I caught two of my siblings walking out barefeet and can you imagine I scolded them. I even went as far as demanding to know where they had kept the sandals I had brought for them from the city. Before, that would not have been an issue to me. I also used to sometimes walk around the homestead barefoot.

But the city has a way of changing someone. I am not sure whether it is a good or bad thing. The looks on my siblings’ faces told me straight away that they were wondering who I was at that moment. I didn’t seem like the sister they knew previously.

Mother mentioned that I have added weight when I arrived. I know I have. I cannot even fit in some of the clothes I went to the city with. But I like how I look. I even feel more feminine. Like a grown woman now not a young 18 year old girl.

Mama Ken gave me a two week leave from work. I wish she had extended that period, but I know she cannot do without me, picking up after her house occupants.

Since it is the April holiday season, Mama Ken’s family will be traveling to Zanzibar for a week. I heard her tell her children that they have been to Mombasa so many times already. Zanzibar would make for a good change.

I only have a slight idea where Zanzibar is. Somewhere outside of Kenya.

Last year, I did not come home for Christmas. This year too, it seems I will also miss Christmas in the village. I doubt if Mama Ken can give me two leave periods in a single year.

You know, I complained about this to uncle at the bus stage as I was about to board a bus to the village, but he silenced me. This is unfair. Even uncle’s boss lets him travel home for Christmas. Why not me? This I asked uncle to which he accused me of “beginning to grow horns”. The term they use to describe a child who is getting spoilt or a wife who is suddenly changing for the worst.

I kept quiet.

However, I’m growing increasingly tired of not saying anything. It is not like I’m mute or something. I also have opinions. Why is it that uncle is the one who always gets to have the last say in my affairs?

I wanted to complain about this last fact to mother, but could not form the words to, when she showed me the developments, the money I send home has helped her do. We now even have a wooden chicken coop, 3 hens that regularly lay eggs and a big cock, all thanks to the money. Mother says that, she no longer has to work in other people’s farms and that my being in the city, has transformed into a huge blessing.

I am glad that mother feels this way. I have been a witness to her struggle after father’s death. I am also happy that my brother, the one who follows me, is also in the process of getting a secondary school education. In a year’s time, he has grown very tall, I was surprised. Nowadays, he repairs bicycles over the school holidays and gets paid for it. My other siblings are equally doing well. At least my brother and I have eased mother’s burden.

It is Priscilla, my best friend, whom I have not yet seen. I hear she is heavily pregnant now and will get a baby anytime soon. I want to pay her a visit and congratulate her in person. Mother promised to show me where she now lives with her husband.

Can you believe Priscilla married the Carpenter’s apprentice?! Who would have thought that these two had eyes for each other? The young man could barely look Priscilla and I in the eye whenever we visited the shopping center. Priscilla must tell me how he gathered enough courage to even propose to her.


‘Supper Preparation’ – African Realist  Painting

Although I have suffered in this house, I must admit that there has been some positives. When I first came to Mama Ken’s house, I could only cook what mother had taught me. I did not know how to cook sausages, chips, pilau, meatballs and all those luxury foods that city dwellers indulge in. At least I could make mandazi and chapati. But not  to Mama Ken’s standards!

For a long while, I had to put up with her constant criticism of my mandazi and chapati making skills. If it wasn’t the amount of oil I used, it would be the shape of the chapatis or the taste of the mandazis that she would be complaining about. Tea had to be served in a certain way. The cups and plates arranged on the shelves in a certain way. It’s like Mama Ken had rules and regulations to how everything should be done in her house.

Surprisingly, I had over time grasped the routine perfectly and especially in the kitchen, just as she liked. She was not one to openly congratulate you for your efforts, but I could tell that she was pleased with my cooking and kitchen cleaning efforts. She rarely complained nowadays about my food.

Mama Ken is not your typical woman. She is well traveled. I hear she used to be an air hostess in her younger years before she had her kids. This I learned from Angie on those rare occasions, when she is not glued to her phone screen and seems to be in the mood for a chat.

“Mum was once an air hostess” She announced, out of the blues, one day.

“What kind of work is that?” I quickly inquired.

“The guys who work in an aeroplane.” Angie informed in that twang’ of hers. You would think this girl has lived among White people, for she always insists on speaking and acting like them.

“Oh,” I gasped, not knowing what else to say.

“But she quit when she had us.” Angie now switched to Kiswahili, noticing the apparent confusion on my face.

Sometimes I wondered if the only topics this girl was good at, were the ones with an intention to boast and remind one of how privileged she was.

“If I had been her, I wouldn’t have quit. Can you imagine mum has been to so many countries abroad? She tells us she couldn’t have been able to travel like that once she had kids. That’s why she settled for a job at the airport…” Angie carried on breezily.

I said nothing. What was there to say anyway? The only aeroplanes I had seen were the ones that flew overhead rather noisily. I had certainly never been in one. Only the privileged in society flew in those things not village girls like me employed as house helps.

But Angie’s revelation about her mother kind of explained some things to me.

Only a person who has been abroad acted the way that Mama Ken did. The insistence on neatness, the manicured nails, well done make up, smart clothes, neat hair, her love for spending, the way she carried herself.

I have had the privilege to see some of her friends whenever they come visiting. Well refined ladies who insist on conversing in English. Even if I tried to eavesdrop on their conversations, I cannot make out much. They speak of the schools they send their children to, the bosses they have to put up with at work, nice places to take the family on a vacation and such kinds of topics.

Nothing of much interest to me. But sometimes, I find myself admiring them and this lifestyle. I wonder if a simple girl like me can be able to lead such a kind of lifestyle. It happens in the Nigerian movies I have been watching though! Village girls with unkempt hair and drab clothes, who end up in the city and become refined ladies such as Mama Ken’s friends. But that is just acting. Acting is not real.

Or maybe it is! In Nigeria, perhaps.

But mother has always advised us to be content with our lot in life. She says that had she not been content with her life, she would have probably ended up married again after father’s death. But her only desire has been to raise her children. My mother is such a strong woman. However, being in the city for a year already, it is hard not to notice that there is a different kind of life, to that which I had grown accustomed to in the village. One that I’m increasingly getting drawn to.