The Initiation


Kapsoit town is green with grass, trees, weeds and most notably, tea plantations. The air around smells of fresh rain and the sky holds a dark loose cloud, awaiting a trigger by wild winds from the south, for downpour. The town has noticeable wood houses harboring various informal businesses; a man roasts maize under a Britam Insurance branded umbrella, another hawks sweets on a hand woven basket; his cloth is wet by drizzles and his teeth are bigger than his mouth can cover. There is an old woman in the middle of the busy Nairobi highway holding a bucket full with cheap energy drinks. She is ignorant of the road safety rules. Do not stand in the middle of the road! And she certainly doesn’t know that the dotted continuous yellow lines mean motorists can overta

ke to either side, at any time or she just does not care. She must be a widow, the wife of a drunkard or something, I don’t know, but there must be something to explain why she runs after cars slowing down towards the large bumps. Something has to keep her here, uncovered, in the risks of road accidents, God forbid!

On the left side of the road, to the direction of Kisumu city, there is a yellow booth, branded toto649. A boy tuck sits in front of that closed kiosk; he is sad and lonely, and cold and hungry. Everything in his sight goes blurry and his feet continue to swell by the minute, he is exhausted and yawning, probably by anxiety, lack of sleep or certainly a cerebral tumor he hasn’t discovered yet. He is on, a black pairs of jogging shorts, an oversize grey shirt and flip-flops. He shivers in cold, his teeth chattering uncontrollably. He could use some warmth. A man stands in front of him; he is tall and just as ugly as the other, selling sweets. Do you remember him? He must have had 64 pair of teeth.

This man’s name is Joseph. That’s how he introduces himself to the kid and says, ‘‘I have made 3 trips to Kisumu, Chemelil and Awasi towns today, and each of the times you were either walking in haste or running. What’s your destination?’’

The kid sneers, silent and angered and feeling intimidated by that long yet polite question. He wants to ask Joseph why he did not stop to give him a lift but he can’t talk between the chatters. He lets tears drop down his cheeks and Joseph by sense feels he can do more to help and to make up for earlier.

He says, ‘‘Look kid, this town sleeps early. Darkness will settle and when it does, the town becomes ghostly. Everything goes to sleep and the cold of the night pierces more than what you can already feel and mosquitoes buzz and bite and bruise and leave rushes, if you want to talk, we can, and I should find a way to help.’’

The kid keeps silent trying to gasp a still and stable breath and when he finally feels fit to engage, his voice cracks with emotions, ‘‘I’m, am sorry, I never meant to leave, help me sir, please, help me’’

Joseph thinks it is not best to talk while emotions run high; he removes his red coloured high neck jacket and drapes it over the cold teen then invites him for a walk that leads to a home fenced with untrimmed English ivy. That rescued skinny kid is me.

In the compound, there is a cattle shed with dairy cow towards the sloppy hill leading to the mansion lower. It’s a stand-alone old stone house with a tall chimney and an even taller earth rod clamped parallel. On the left to the old house is a grass thatched hut with grey cow dung plaster finish on both interior and exterior walls. The hut is surrounded by various decorative plants; red mirror plants here, deer grass there and golden feverfew everywhere.

Ochieng’ who had been trailing our backs from town props his black mamba bicycle against the wall (do you know that bicycle breed? Huh?). He walks into the hut and we follow to two metal beds, well spread with old blankets and nothing else to admire aparts from light cracks that begin to form from the curved window. I love imperfections in art.

‘‘You can have a rest here.’’ Joseph says pointing to the smaller bed and they leave to conspire on how they’d cut my throat and drink from a bowl filled with my blood, by dark.

Afterthought! No such thoughts flash my mind. Not the thought of checking under the beds for the skeleton remains of earlier victims, or the thought of the small pot in the room carrying more human blood than drinking water; I sink into the bed shown and sleep.

Sleep without interruption to dusk and dawn and the bright midday sun standing still in the middle of the village and when I wake, the cattle of the home have been milked and fed and milked again and again; by the kid, Ochieng’. Joseph is not around. He is a busy man; today he’s taken his produce to a town even further, Ochieng says it’s the market day for Chepsion. Oh little Chepsion town. I only heard of it before from my mum, never been there though until two days later. She too was a business person, she bought groceries in wholesale form this town and sold to Kisumu at better profits and it paid well, always.

Come to think of it, the lady running after cars in Kapsoit is another business person fending for her family, I guess we were even when I wrote, “she has a drunkard for a husband.” Well, my Dad doesn’t drink, but my mother did business. Which brings us here? Will you find it in your heart to forgive me for judging her?

Ochieng passes me a half calabash gourd of cold traditional milk, “Mursik” in my dialect it means, “Apuoya” a translation for fermented milk. We are a different people by culture and naming but we share finished products, only Mursik is sourer with that mixed traditional smell; of charcoal dust and a distant cattle pee, I’m not sure, I can’t tell, I stand corrected but that was my experience.

Ochieng is younger than me and he has more than settled into this tradition. He says he was a lone kid, he lost his parents at five and two years later, he left home to become a street boy in Kericho.

I hold the gourd with both my hands, the milk is sourer than I’m used, but there is a little secret to it, drink with ugali and you’ll feel it taste like lemonade. Not literally! But I promise, there will be a difference. We can hear birds persistently singing behind the hut, it’s like they are competing for something that we haven’t quite figured out, it maybe a beauty contest, it may be nothing at all or maybe they are communicating just danger. Whereas the loudest continuously says, cheep!! Cheep!!! Cheep!; there are two more singing, tra-la-la, tra-la-la, tra-la-la and another tweet, tweet, tweet.

Could it be, they want us to guess which specie is a specific bird for what it sings? They may not say it loud but Ochieng knows our guess is close to what they drive at. After all he’s been here for 5 years, he says, “the one that sings, hum-hum-hum is the humming bird.” And the one that chirps is the sparrow but remember; cats, crickets and dolphins chirp too, even human beings but that depends; if you are South African I guess. Hehe… This guy, he had a special way with words. I guess that’s what literal suffering gives you.

The hunger in me doesn’t allow bit sips, I have gulped the mursik and he notices this to fill the calabash again. I haven’t eaten in two days.

The mood in the room is social and I continue to ask question, “don’t you have kins who’d have taken care of you better, back home. I mean for school and basic needs?” He smells filthy but I am a visitor, as a matter of fact, a refugee and my opinion should not count so I hold it. In other circumstances I would have demanded that he baths twice a day.

“After my parents I had my grandmother but she too passed away. That’s what triggered my decision to leave. None of my other relatives would have taken me in, poverty looms in their houses, I’d have been a burden.” he says.

“You know what; we’ve talked a lot about me. Let’s talk about who you are, what brings you to Kapsoit.” Jesus! The interviewer becomes the interviewee

Where do I begin? The part where Joseph saw me walk like a mad man along the highway, the part before that or to where I’m headed! It’s a tough question, it evokes emotions, I can’t imagine what my mother is thinking at the moment, and my father? He must have cursed everything but my siblings? I don’t know.

I must be a bad brother to have left or worse, a stupid favourite son to have done what I did. The initiation, circumcision. I am from a community that loves to keep every of their things whole, be it the female genitalia or the foreskin, we value it like we value our dead and our new born and the living.

You want me to talk about my dead mama (May her soul rest in peace), you’ll walk away with a complete memoir; you want to hear about my daughter, the story may never end. By the way I named her after the most revered feminine literature icon Maya Angelou. Some day she may write about us if wishes are to go by. And my dad, huh! More stories. Horror about him though! Hehe…

After circumcision, I walked with a limp; it felt like I had a boil between my thighs such that the change was duly noticeable. If it felt better, I wouldn’t have mentioned the cut to anyone and the crotchety walk would have remained a disease of the private organ, anyone can get it, they’d understand but for the pain and the wound that peeled off my skin to the tight briefs, someone had to know, lest I died of an infected wound. And that person would be mum but, happens fathers know their sons better, he suspected it too and mentioned it to her earlier except, this is Africa, you don’t embarrass your sons to see what’s wrong with their genitals, you don’t grab their balls and feel prostate cancer lumps unless you are a male doctor and you certainly don’t look at our manhood longer, while bathing in the river, lest we slit your throat for being gay. This is Africa my friend, A-F-R-I-C-A and we hold our heads high to our customs and culture something my father didn’t think I did, when his suspicions were confirmed. I’d got the cut which is not our thing as a community. My people remove six lower teeth, just like the Sudanese people have incisions on the forehead and the Swahili skin tattoos. However, this is area code +254, why not try all of them. I mean you only live once. Why not try being Kikuyu (circumcise), a Masai (kill a Lion), Luo (remove your lower teeth) , Hindu (resist meat) all at the same time but most importantly don’t lose yourself in the act. I’d love to see how all that turns out with green inked tattoos on dark African skin.

He (my dad) went irate, infuriated by my foolish action. Who did I think I was to remove the skin? Part of his soul felt like I was a stranger in his strange land. Maybe he felt that if I had been born to the hills of Kapsoit, Chemlil, Fort tenan or Nandi it would have been OK. It would have hurt less. But since I was his son, it was not OK. NOT OK AT ALL! And it hurt more. And he hated me for that, and he didn’t speak to me about it again for the anger that blinded his sight of the benefits. But that’s not why I left home. I left because I feared he’d beat me to death if ever his anger rose while I was at home, alone, with him and he thought about the betrayal and the girl-next-door who now felt I was man enough to have intimate time with her. He didn’t approve of it. He wanted me to complete my high school education before I could engage. You’d understand him as a parent and me as a stubborn teenager, wouldn’t you?

Speaking of girls, Hehe… Ehi! You don’t want to know how bleak my journey to different paradises would have been if I hadn’t got this cut and how different it has been because I took it.

Alindi, “You know you didn’t have to remove the skin but since you did what else can I say, have it your way Master.”

Njeri, “If you didn’t have the cut you would not have seen as much as the colour of my pants.” Woi!

Nekesa, “I have had this and that and just about everything and they all taste and feel the same, maybe the difference is the sizes.”

A comment Hezborn Miggot would have replied to and said, “My dear sister, you were born to elasticity but if it gets to the point you use adjectives like big, small, medium or XXL, then congratulations, you’ve earned a place in #WhoreNation… Hehe” except he spells his whore with an H at the beginning which makes me think the joke is on him.

Who do you believe? Who cares anyway, let’s not talk about that👆 today.

Back to how I walked from Kisumu to Chepsion in 1 week for the fear of the unknown. Meeting different people on that great treek, people I’d most certainly have viewed as, from the other tribe, a people who maim and destroy and kill any being with a name that begins with O, an Owl, Omollo, Opiyo or Oyoo. But sometimes your judgement is wrong about what you don’t know. Take a look at Ochieng and Joseph and Joseph’s mother, they lived in harmony like one people, though Kalenjins and Luo and myself. They didn’t owe us any obligation but they took us in as their own. I was probably a kid who lost his tracks and needed help and Ochieng, another orphan who needed a family. When I felt I’d had enough of the rest and stay, they released me to my journey that ended with me reuniting with my family. Happy endings!

But then there is that other tribe of the hill, the tiriki sub-tribe of the Luyha tribe. Along Eldoret – Kisumu highway. Did I mention that during one of their circumcision ceremonies I happened to be passing by the route? The Tirirki were chanting and dancing and cheering totally blocking the roads to vehicles that jammed up to a waiting. The long wait for the welcome of new initiates! And all women on either commuter or personal vehicles were forced to bury their heads to car seats (do you know why), as the hailed initiates jogged in happiness and hopes of greater respect by the community, women to begin with.

Then there was that other rogue group that forced men with O names and faces to close their eyes too and I didn’t and they threatened to cut my throat with a hacksaw and I didn’t blink and they forced me out of the car. Unzipped by fly and release my boyhood to the warmth of the sun, still I didn’t blink and they carried me high and celebrated in my honor. What doesn’t kill only makes you stronger. Circumcision is that thing, try it out.