We are living badly, owada

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When the first person to shorten your name to G says to you, at the age of 14, “You, my son, are the one who is going to unite my family,” in Dholuo, of course the first thing you are going to do is compartmentalize it. Lock it away in that chamber that is never opened, until you begin to doubt your own secrets. What you remember, 12 years later, is you getting embarrassed at first. Because this man with an incandescent halo in his eyes, keeps on pakoing you. Your mother thinks he is spoiling you, but that’s just because she is jealous that there is another person who lights a brighter fire in you with his words.

But even then, such responsibilities mathoth make you feel shy. You are a little girl being reminded that her skin is smooth like a baby’s butt. Yom poyi. You look away from him and your eyes find themselves inside the full-length mirror on your mother’s wardrobe. She says the wardrobe is older than you, but in your head, there is no way that can be true. Same way there is no way you are the one who is destined to unite your father’s family.

First of all, everything is fine. What does he mean by Uniting? Unite what? Iloso gima nyien dibo? And if anything needs fixing, donge he has three other sons?

Another set eyes find you. Waya. He is the one who lives with you so you have to call him Uncle. Even though he is not really your father’s or mother’s brother. Even though you do not know how exactly you are related to him. All you know is that he is one of the sons of the old lady from dala. The one whose house is just mwalo of the Legion Maria church. Her church. Well, not really her church. She does not like own it. She just goes there. The person who must own the church is a man who walks around the church compound holding a msalaba marabora, and people crawl on their knees every time they see him. You never go to  the church that Waya’s mother goes to. Waya does not seem to go to his mother’s church either. If he did, he would have half of his lower teeth knocked out, walk around with a msalaba that can change into a sword, wear dresses and ridiculous hats whose shape only Ondeto knows, and then once in a while when the Lord spoke to him, he would burst into tongues of flames.

Seche moko when your siblings are beating stories, they talk about Osaha. William’s mother. She was a foot soldier in the legion of Maria. They say that the reason my mother named my sister Regina is because a few weeks after she was born, she started crying. No, she was not sick. No, she was not hungry. No, the napkin was not wrapped too tight. She just cried acrieda nonstop. Then my old man said that this must be someone calling her from dala.

All the way from Nairobi to Siaya, the little diva kept bawling. And she did not stop until they got to Komenya Kokango and Osaha took her in her arms.

None of those who beat this story were ever there when it actually ‘happened’. You always say that whoever told it first just added chumbi and a little miriasya. Because how could a baby just cry on the bus without other passengers suspecting that it had been stolen? Or was perhaps being taken to the evil forest for sacrifice?

Another story that people have beaten about Osaha is that being a Nyalejo, she did not take medicine. This mbaka it is just your ears that gave you when your mother was talking. She said that Osaha refused dawe to take anything for the malaria. She believed that holy water would cure her. That Prophet Baba Simeo Lodvikus Melkio Ondeto would ensure that her good health was restored. This small sickness was nothing for Ondeto. And then when it turned out to be something, they sent her back to her people the way Luos do it. In celebration. They cried, at first, bathed in earth and took the dust to chase away evil spirits.

Later on, her death was declared part of Nyasaye’s mysterious plans. Wakwe kwuom Kristus.

William does not think you know how bad it is, but you do. Even on that day as Waya brings in his evening porridge sweetened only with lemon and honey, he keeps dipping you in praises to distract you from the plastic pipe running from his stomach into the bedsheets. Every time he calls you ‘Baba na’ and then adds leopard testicles, confusion and shame sing dirges that swell your head. It’s hard to understand when your father calls you Baba Na. How can you be his father? His hands do not fit into yours. He does not sit on your lap, rub your rough chin like he has seen you do when you are thinking and talking to yourself. He has never asked you ‘Daddy, do you also use Always?’ during commercials in between watching Wrestling with the entire family. And you have never ignored the laughter from his siblings and told him, ‘Yes, my father,’ moments before he passes out locked under your bosom, then releases a hot string of pee.

Maybe William calls you his father because he is scared of silence. Often, when you have no clue of what to do with the space between you two, you fill them with questions. Perhaps he is worried that one day you will ask him why his kidneys failed. And if there is any chance they can be allowed to try again. Perhaps you already have, but just not with words. With your eyes when you stare at the plastic pipe coming out of his stomach as he irrigates his throat with porridge.

JaKaruoth Clan

Mother Karua and William flanking Uncle Philip and Aunty Mariana

Waya walks out of the bedroom, and after William is reunited with Osaha, out of your life. Just like the rest of the uncles who used to visit. Death does not only take away just one person. You do not even remember Waya or his face or whatever was going on that day. Everything is locked up the way your mother used to lock the TV in the wall-unit when her demons became restless. Until the day you order pizza for your fam, the doorbell rings, and a man with a midnight face stands on the other side.

So, this one ends the way all the others end. Badly. What is even worse, is that when you come to think of it, you had not imagined that it could go south that horribly, that quickly. You are left with reminders of how delicious stolen things are, and how they are just as toxic. And you take your L as a man and move on…until that day you meet her, months later, with a belly that is clearly full of something. Or someone. The first thing dichuo in your position does is the mathematics, and we ang’isi gimoro, this is one exam that you are happy to fail.

Fast forward seven years later, you log into Facebook check the comments. You have made it a habit to turn off notifications for every post you do because those things do not let your head rest. The phone is always crying…mara ni ng’ato has commented, mara ni ng’ato has liked akia ni ang’owa, mara ni someone said you were with him and 300 others – which is miriambo, huge lies, given the fact that you have never even met that someone. Also, ever since you got three followers you started hearing yourself Mumias Sugar and swelling your head for people. So yeah, no notification alerts you to the comment that she has put on your post. Not that it would have helped anyway.

The moment you read it, you shout at your phone, “Ati!!!! Mayooooowe. This is chira. Abomination.” You put that Samsung down and step away from it, then you clap your hands in disbelief.

She had said that she is also from Kalkada. Well, technically, not her. Her mother. Her father is from the other side of the lake, so that is where you had always imagined she is from. Because si we are from where our fathers are? As the ways of the world before we knew it declared, women leave their father’s houses to go cook for their husbands, and wherever it is that the husbands have beaten a home, is where her children will be from.

For instance. Your mother is from Alego Kalkada. Your father is from Alego Komenya. Donge? Now, the people of your father have never called your mother NyaKomenya. No. They call her Nyalkada. The land of her father. But you are JaKomenya, and never JaKalkada because nobody ever really belongs to their mother’s people(until they fail in exams, when you will be quickly reminded that the failure is not your father’s kodhi).

But even then, there is no way you are allowed to sero or nindo with women from your mother’s land. That is still chira. That is why you exclaimed at her comment. Because you had done things way back in 2010 yet your mother and her mother have the same blood running in their veins. So essentially, you did chira way before the Targaryens made it cool.

Perhaps that is why when you later called her to ask, “Are you serious?” she chuckled as if she already knew what you wanted to say.

That Facebook post said like this….

Dominos Kenya, Pizza“Everybody in the house was feeling lazy for cooking. So you order pizza. A man delivers pizza. He is late, apologizing so profusely on behalf of his company. Then we get to talking. I do that sometimes, talk to delivery guys. Ask them how work is, because I reckon they have some of the most interesting stories. Like this one, who says he has been here before but thought these [our apartment units]are lodgings – a tale about how he once delivered pizza to a naked couple.

 Jaber says she can never tell a person’s tribe when they speak. I think she is lying. Sure, I can never tell a Meru, a Kyuk and an Embu apart (because where I come from, they are all the same to us), but really, how can I miss a Luo accent? Even more befuddling, how can I miss an Alego accent? That poetic way in which words come out like songs, rising gingerly at the end of syllables; a feat that South Nyanza people can only wish to achieve.

 Anyway, we get to talking to this man and I ask him, “Ijaluo?” and he says yes.


In Nairobi you ask somebody where s/he is from and you get branded a closet tribal bigot. These are precautions I learnt in this city, but in Luoland, when you meet somebody you snitch on your name (ifulo nyingi), your father’s name, and where he was born. Now that is introduction.

“Siaya.” He says.

I knew it. 

“Siaya kanye?”


I knew it.

 “Alego ma kanye?”

“Alego Komenya.”

 Oh, I knew it!

“Alego Komenya gi kanye?”

 “Alego Komenya Rabar.” 


 What are the chances that the person who is sent to deliver food to you is your neighbor from shagz? That he lives right behind Malomba school – a school that villagers used to cross your father’s compound to get to, much to the annoyance of your mother? He knows the Legion Maria church – the one you have never understood because old women crawl on their knees when the priest appears. Hell, his brother is the assistant chief of your village.

Leave alone neighbours from shagz. We live in this city with relatives we do not even know. I am talking first cousins. There are relations I met on Facebook! Right here on this app!

Mother Karua, every time she introduces me to a relative I do not know, says “Wadak marach Narobi ka.” We are living badly in this Narobi.”

Then she commented saying that her mother is from Alego and that she (her mother) went to Malomba Primary.


Every Jumapil ka Jumapil, Jaber’s friends come to the house to shoot this YouTube Show that has been running for gimoro two years kama. Y DoWeDoIt, it is so called. You must have heard about it. Your loss if you haven’t.

Y Do WeDoIt YouTube Show

Anyway, what happens is that sometimes these friends string along their friends and we have a sit around before and after the shooting of the show. That is how Caleb finds his way past the door marked House 27. It is the first time you are meeting him and so when everyone else is talking to everyone else, you say hello to ease the awkwardness between the two of you. The first thing you notice is the accent. The kind that is very heavy on the tongue and is renowned for replacing ts with rs. Magi e joka N’aaaaamin?

Caleb is attractive in the way men from Western are known to be good looking. Average height. A body that once saw the gym. Short tough hair. Dark and smooth skin, and eyes whose whites have been tinted with roses. Meaning, like beer (or the NASA Coalition), he is an acquired taste.

You guys vibe for close to an hour and never once are you able to place his ethnicity, because of his tongue. Until the most unexpected thing happens. He asks me if he can pull nyasore in the house. Only that he doesn’t say it directly, he calls it Duba. And I am like, “What?”

He probably thinks I am judging him, only that you do not know what Duba is. That is when Onyi, the show’s co-host, who is also responsible for Caleb’s attendance today, joins you two and Caleb asks him, “Bwana ng’ani kia Duba en ang’o.”

Waaaaaait a minute. Kumbe this man is jeng’ over here and he was just enslaving you with his ng’weeee ng’weee English? Who even cares what Duba is. The most important question at the time was, “What the fuck, omera? You are Luo?”

Do you know what this guy says? He says, rather flippantly, ati “I am Luo bwaaaaana. An wuod Alego Komenya Rabar.”

“Lies!!!” You yell in disbelief so loudly, someone who was not privy to you conversation would imagine he had claimed Uhuru’s eyes are not photoshopped in the campaign posters. Or that Raila doesn’t dye his hair.

“Aiya!” He says as he whips out his wallet, slides out his ID card and hands it to you. “Read.”

True. This Caleb may be weird like a broken watch but like the a broken watch, he tells the truth at least two times a day. And this was one of those times. His ID card says he is from Komenya Kowalla. Which is basically where you are from. That is your village location.

Remember the pizza guy from up there? Well, fun fact, his brother Modes is the assistant chief of that location. An unconstitutional institution but that is far from the point.

“Boss, that is exactly where I am from as well.” You tell Caleb handing him back his ID.

“Now YOU are lying.”

You also brandish your ID card and truly, thanks to the Kenyan Government, you are able to prove that you are who you claim to be. Caleb’s relative. And not just relative, his second cousin, if such a thing exists. To fact check this script, you call Mother Karua to tell her what just happened. She asks to speak to Caleb, and the moment he snitches his father’s name, Karua namedrops his mother’s name, his grandmother’s name and his uncle. Turns out, Caleb’s old man and William were cousins. Are cousins, because in Alego, the dead never die.

You are descendants of the fearless men of the Iron Islands. What is dead may never die.

But rise again.

Harder and Stronger.

As Father’s Day approaches, it brings with it memories from long long time ago. Usually, these reminisces are laden with salt and sadness, but this year, they come alone. You lie on your bed, Jaber’s breath growing soft and steady as she drifts to sleep and for the first time in twelve years, TWELVE FUCKING YEARS LATER, a vault is opened. Out of it spill these words, “You, my son, are the one who is going to unite my family.” Words so old you even doubt whether they were actually spoken or you dreamed them up.

Young William, Young Karua

Young William in a Tour De France tee and Young Karua in the middle. I have no clue who the other guy is.

William and Karua

Mother Karua and William circa 2000

You remember Waya serving the old William his porridge and you remember how embarrassed you felt when those words were said. At that time, you did not think much of them. They were ramblings from an old man. Today they are whispers from a ghost who should be sleeping. They remind you of duties given to you. Duties you have neglected. Even worse, forgotten.

When Mother Karua says we are living badly, to you it is not just that you do not know your people. It is that you are not living up to the expectations long bestowed on you by someone who looked at a 14-year-old boy and in him saw the hope for his legacy.

That says a lot about William, and nothing about you.

Because you are living badly.

You, you are just sitting over there, waiting for the next doorbell ring that will announce the arrival of yet another relative you have never met. How long will these accidents keep happening until you realize that these are deliberate? My friend. Those are dead men speaking. And they will keep speaking until you pay attention.

When will you understand that the dead have all the time in the world to whisper, but you don’t have all the time in the world to listen?


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  1. Ogaye Omondi on

    Omera we are living badly ja M.M.Shah….a soothing peace to read,as always..Best blogger Tibim!!

  2. I love how those Luo words ‘enter’ the statements hehehe.
    Lakini we are living badly Narobi kae adieri.
    Keep writing G.

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