Aunt Joyce Moraa
She makes the word resilient seem like an understatement when describing her. Living 50bob away from Cheblat town her home is the last of Kisii land for the rest is inhibited by Kalenjins. Entering her house, one feels this embrace of welcome-home-child just from the cool atmosphere exuded by the yet to be finished three bed roomed house. The living room is big and chairs covered in white seem to contrast the red mud covering the ground outside. She treats us (Joy, her niece that is and I) like these lost prodigal daughters. And goes on to bring us lunch.
This late lunch is composed of ugali,made of directly processed unga from the posho mill, sukuma that are distinctly fresh and lacking the many spices that are a must for urban people and meat that is simply cooked with little salt. On top of that is Kisii fermented milk. The reason I call it Kisii is because, in Kamba land where I come from our fermented milk looks different and tastes sourer than this. I hear the Kalenjins also have their own version of maziwa mala or lala (depending on the town you were raised in). This Kisii maziwa mala has two distinct layers. The top layer looks like pure water with some yellow tinge to it while the bottom layer looks like huge ugali particles that have not yet joined into one. From my taste buds it tastes almost similar to the packaged fresha maziwa mala with the difference being the two non-mixing layers. Apparently theirs is prepared by simply adding lemon to fresh milk and it’s now ready to drink. The Kamba one takes three days after putting fresh milk in a calabash and looks thinner or lighter than the fresh milk and tastes much sour.
Having eaten way beyond how much girls of character should, we go to the shamba where the sweet avocado I had eaten as we awaited lunch was plucked from. The avocado tree is full of uncountable unripe avocados. I have never seen such a huge avocado tree but my excitement is cut short by Aunt Joyce informing us that the tree is going to be cut down to pave way for a road. The many banana plants here have grown in clusters of around six plants per cluster. Each has a ‘mgunga wa ndizi’ some still growing, some ready to pluck for matoke lovers.
Besides the banana plants are managu vegetables mixed with muhogo plants. The managu vegetables are ready for eating while the muhogo plants will take a while to be ready. Next is overgrown dania. Aunt Moraa informs us that she did not feel like selling it since it would have brought peanuts yet she can eat it slowly. A meter away from the dania is cabbage. Just enough for her use and to send to her children’s families in the urban towns, she informs us. Next are sweet potatoes. And the way I love them. They have a month to be ready apparently.
Mixed in between cabbages a keen eye can notice potatoes. Took her pointing them out for us to see them. But the tomatoes almost being destroyed by the excess January rains are quite noticeable in a section of their own. She laments that for Kisii El Niño is doing harm to their crops since they had planted using the previous seasons timing. Rain in January was seen a very long time ago.
Grown sugarcane intertwines in the next section. Yellow tall, some thin some thick sugarcane plants seduce our excessively full stomachs. Maybe tomorrow, we decide about feasting on them. The red pepper plants next to the sugarcane leave one wondering why the Indians are the only ones claimed to love pepper. This section is directly behind her house. Sukuma wiki plants now separate this section of Aunt Moraa’s shamba from the next one.
The shamba now takes me from this Garden of Eden that had mesmerized me to a local farm that you would expect to find anywhere besides north eastern and Ukambani. Maize and beans cover this whole side. The upper part has a lemon tree and a growing avocado tree. As we go back to the house we notice a log wart tree and a mango tree that are close to the cow shed. Talking of the cow shed, we stand our ground and refuse to eat supper even upon Aunt Moraa’s insistence, this then prompts her to boil all the milk from her cow and imagine she expects us to finish the whole two jugs. The gods have mercy on us and two of her neighbours come to our rescue in the form of buying milk. What remains sees me take three huge cups of tea made purely from milk and purity take three cups of milk while our host takes a small cup of each, eti anatusaidia.
It is night time and i have seen no one else come to the house. I am wondering this aloud when our host informs me that she lives alone besides her shamba man who is now at her other shamba and will sleep there. I at this point think her husband is dead but I’m not exactly sure. Thinking of it, there is no single picture in this living room. Just a lonely calendar on the wall. Not even a dysfunctional clock as is found in many homes. She has neither TV nor radio yet there is electricity. She explains that the lack of TV or radio is due to her habit of sleeping as soon as the sun sets. And lest you think she sleeps at 6, at 7.00pm one can clearly see outside as though it’s five in the evening. This sees her sleep at almost eight.
They leave me to my thoughts and continue to speak in Kisii. This language is spoken in a high pitch and has a lot of exclamations or is it because what they are speaking about is surprising? I notice that they do not look at each other as they speak. Aunt Moraa can be totally into a story she’s telling but she is facing the opposite wall. Yet she is using hand gestures. Reminds me of a play i once acted when I was a child in my church. I was the Pharisee in the play and during rehearsals i was advised to not face or look at Jesus when talking. Apparently bright people like lawyers of today who equated the Pharisees of then, need not face somebody for their arguments’ to hold weight. After all they know everything about their field meaning no one can find fault in their thinking.
It is at this point that Joy informs me that the ruins of the house we saw near where the huge avocado tree stands was once Aunt Moraa’s house. It was burnt to ruins during the 2007/2008 post election violence. She and her husband (so he is not dead) first of all built a house in Cheblat town since he works there. There the house is finished and fully furnished for they have been living there since 2008. She then of her own volition came to build a bigger house here which is where we are. The house is almost through for it only needs to be painted and the kitchen tiled then it’s good as new.
“What if they burn your house again should violence erupt?” We ask her. Without hesitation or flinching she answers, “I shall build another one. But this time round a storey mansion. Last time they burnt my house, they made me build two, and this time round I shall build a ghorofa. And since the ruins are located at the far end of my compound, and this house is at the opposite side bordering the shamba, the next one will now be in the middle. Bado hapo sijajenga.”
That is the most resilient answer i have ever heard in my life. Yet it was said with no bitterness or regret. Just a matter of fact. And when I’m thinking she must be crazy, she breaks our ribs by telling us what her husband always prays for when she has gone to visit him in Cheblat town. His prayers always end with “na Mungu akusaidie ukirudi huko kwako.” He also thinks she is a little crazy to live right at the border of Kisii and Kalenjins even after her house was burnt in the last skirmishes.
What a woman!! That is all I’m thinking as I go to sleep.
Aunt Joyce Moraa