A few days ago, I travelled to my roots, that is to say the place other folks call ancestral land, to respond to a tea invite from three of my uncles.
Lest you forget, the venue was one of those village outfits, which locals refer to as hoteri, nestled in between similar joints, mostly wooden.
A little transformation has occurred at the eatery since I was last there, I noticed. Cushioned seats made from fake leather have replaced the old and creaking wooden benches, and the stiff-legged tables are covered by brightly coloured PVC. The menu is still on the wall, done in chalk (local teachers know where old, broken pieces end up).
In fact, calling them eateries is a sort of misnomer, since villagers hardly eat there, unless you are talking about mandazi (to go with the tea) or other locally made snacks such as the famous mutura, whose content and cultural background we shall discuss another day.
It was here that I joined the old folk, who are rather exposed, as you will see shortly. One apologised that I may not get city stuff such as what he referred to as kafuthino. I explained that I was at home with the normal tea, served in an ordinary glass normally.
The tea is served from a tin kettle, which is kept on a jiko, so it is boiling hot any time a customer asks for it. If halfway you reckon the tea has grown cold, your host will top it up with the hot stuff, at no extra cost. The service is reffered to as choma.
Presently, the discussion drifted to fish fingers, you know, the stuff they told us Youth Affairs PS, Lilian Omolo is being fed on while in remand custody at the Kenyatta National Hospital.
“You city folk will show us stories,” one uncle said. He was translating directly from my mother tongue, and trying to say what the Swahili would mouth as “nyinyi watu wa mjini mtatuonyesha mambo”.
“Tell me,” he went on. “Since when did fish get to have fingers?” I was at a loss about that one, but explained that it was fillet done in strips that resembled fingers.
I thought of explaining that the fingers are normally dipped in tartar sauce, but decided otherwise, knowing that would be another entire debate. But they were not done with me.
“Tell us, and explain slowly, why a person who should be in remand is eating fish fingers and enjoying four-course meals,” said another.
Before I could answer, another chimed in, asking me why courts should labour to put suspects in remand only for the latter to end up in executive wings of hospitals, where they were treated as if they were on holiday.
I explained that the suspect in question was unwell, and that she was under guard. The cynical looks I got were enough to tell me I was not making sense at all.
“If I was the one charged with such offences, and with my low station in life, would I be treated the same way?” asked the first one.
To tell you the truth, I started feeling as if I was under cross-examination but kept a straight face. I got away with telling them that the question was hypothetical and that courts deal with cases depending on facts.
Just when I thought we could discuss local politics, or the usual village talk about what had happened since my last visit, I was asked why the government had been stopped from vetting its workers by a bloke called Matata (I thought that must be Omtata, and I was right).
“Please tell us why a court would listen to an individual, most likely paid by unseen forces, and proceed to stop the government vetting people who handle money,” came the request.
I told my folk that although courts are the last port of call for aggrieved parties, at times individual interest could override public interest, based on the Bill of Rights in the Constitution.
I was compelled to admit that it sounded like turning justice upside down, at least in terms of perception by the public.
“Although you went to good schools with good teachers, you have not convinced us that our courts are acting in our best interests. Is the law not clear on some of these things?” asked one uncle.
I said the law was tricky because it was subject to many interpretations, which could create the impression that it was not clear. I had just made a deliberate attempt to do what lawyers call obfuscate, meaning to explain a point in such a way it sounded correct without being so.
My tea had grown cold and I asked for another glassful, which, at the insistence of my hosts, came with a mandazi big enough to obscure my face as I took a generous bite. From their looks, the discussion was far from over, and they were far from convinced! – The writer is the special projects editor, People Daily