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KISUMU

Okang’a Ooko was born in Rusinga Island, Lake Victoria

in Kenya and grew up in the seventies and eighties in

Kisumu. He is the author of Businesswoman’s Fault,

When You Sing To The Fishes and Tandawuoya.

Find out more about Okang’a Ooko by

looking at his own author website

www.okangaooko.com

Also by Okang’a Ooko

Businesswoman's Fault

When You Sing To The Fishes

Tandawuoya


OBA KUNTA OCTOPUS




AUTHOR’S NOTE

This book is a work of fiction. All names and characters are either invented or used fictitiously. Because some of the stories play against the historical backdrop of the last three decades, the reader may recognize certain actual figures that played their parts in the 1970s and 1980s. It is my hope that none of these figures have been misrepresented. The historical events and accounts based on real occurrences are merely used to enrich the plot. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

KISUMU Copyright © Okang’a Ooko 2018

The right of Okang’a Ooko to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. Printed in the Republic of Kenya. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

Typeset in Nairobi by Mikozaba

For further information regarding special discounts for

bulk purchases, please contact Okang’a Ooko Special Sales

at +254 733 826 811 email address: info@okangaooko.com


For my fellow Kisumuans.

For the life we Live here.

Living for the next day.

For childhood and fun and growing up.

We’re old men today after all these years.

Kisumuans still we are.



Contents

Part One: Pandpieri

Part Two: 1975

Part Three: KDF In Kondele

Part Four: But This Is Nairobi

Part Five: Victoria For Victory

Part Six: Lake Victoria Breeze

Part Seven: Live Recordings of Euro African Tour

Part Eight: The Great Defection

Part Nine: There’s No Mathematics In Love

Part Ten: Brotherly Love

Part Eleven: 8th Anniversary

Most Heartfelt Thanks and Appreciation

Other Books By Okang’a Ooko











Part One:

Pandpieri

RUSSIA. You are probably thinking of that old and cold country up there somewhere in the map: you’re wrong; it’s not that one. It’s our very own Russia down here in Kisumu. Well, it’s our biggest hospital and my father says the Russians made it.

The year was coming to an end; it was now October, the 25th day. The year hadn’t gone unabashed, er—Tom Mboya’s shooting in Nairobi two months ago felt like yesterday and hearts were still heavy. Kisumuans couldn’t wait to step into 1970 and forget. We were singing Kenya Nchi Yetu Tunaipenda Sana on the side of the big lam road near Kibuye and waving. Our President Mzee Kenyatta was here in Kisumu this day to open Russia. The great and legendary Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was in Russia too. We were singing but with these two mighty men, things were still and tense. To say the least it was intriguing. There was a sound. Suddenly. A sound bigger than one thousand voices singing. A terrifying sound. A sound which broke the harmony of ten thousand singing voices and broke hell loose.

Bang!

Then another bang. And more bangs.

Magak grabbed me by my shirt collar and sent me flying. “Run!” He then grabbed Oliver and did him likewise.

I ran. We ran.

Screams erupted suddenly, tore into the jubilant air and started leashing out loudly, propelling me to bolt faster just as a gray cloud of confusion closed up the roadside to Russia. I saw Magak’s afuong’o swirl as he dived through a small opening in the ojuok, his shoulder hitting/ skidding on the ground. He came up with a stout tree limb and bashed the first higher vertebrate he landed into. He spun around, rolled double on his feet and scurried away.

I followed, Oliver followed me.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

And suddenly everyone was running for their lives. People were running as fast as they could. The air was filled with swishing sounds over our heads. I saw two fellow Std 4 pupils fall onto the ground but I couldn’t stop to find out what had happened to them. The sound of blasting terror was getting nearer and nearer. I looked back and saw a long convoy of fast moving cars and army trucks rushing towards Nyamasaria and Ahero on the great Nairobi Highway. Pupils, some hurt and bleeding, kept falling down as we continued to run through the town towards our school.

Chaos ruled Kisumu. Confusion set in rudely… lots and lots and lots (and lots!) of confusion crushed in with crying and groaning and wailing and mad running. In the sky there were planes. Military planes. Ndeke jolweny, the kind we normally saw at Kandege. Pupils were screeching and screaming and running amok. Dogs were barking and cows were mooing and goats were bleating. The skies, too, had taken on a strange color. The sun looked down and got so scared it hid behind the clouds.

Turning around, I dashed my foot over a tree limb which snagged me, spraining my ankle somewhat as well as pinning me. Suddenly, a major disturbance erupted—an ugly noise of something coming. Oliver shouted at me. I barely had time to duck out of the way, seriously wrenching my ankle as I did so. I rolled over and pressed my back against Magak and Oliver. It came close! It was a truck. A big truck, not one of those big yellow MOW trucks, no. This one was a huge over-sized army truck. And watch out! It was going to run us down. I struggled wildly like an animal in a snare, pulled my foot lose and rolled double.

The behemoth Mercedes Benz truck roared past with its rack blaring fire and belching smoke and dust. In it were men in army uniform with guns, firing. The men shrieked and made horrible hissing sounds. Along with the shrieks, they sprayed bullets at us school children.

Magak picked up a small Kimbo tin and hurled it at the firing men as the truck drew away.

“Who are those? What are those things?” asked Oliver in an excited girlish voice after the vehicle has passed.

“Guns. Soldiers,” Magak decreed. “And they kill people. Run.”

As we took to, something suddenly fell in front of us with a plop. It was a black plastic can. It fell with a warbling sound and started fizzling and producing a lot of smoke.

“Tear gas!” Magak shouted. “Tear gas!”

More cans landed. They were burbling and spitting real bad. They were covered with a reddish funky slime; they were gross and speckled with dark specks and smelled horrendous and a lot like those burst MCK sewers near Anderson. The air begun to stifle and become unbearable. People were coughing and sputtering, gagging and choking. I’d heard of tear gas before, had seen them in mobile filims at Nyalenda Railway open grounds. Didn’t ever dream I’d have these terrifying things thrown at me. We were wiping our eyes and coughing our lungs out. Men were on their hands and knees sputtering, cursing and coughing and hurling and trying their best to get their senses back.

Oliver lost his ability to breathe.

My eyes bulged out. Magak went ballistic.

There was nothing we could do about this nightmare, though. Trying to gasp was no use. Trying to gag was no use. Trying to scream was no use. I flung my head to and fro crying “No! No! No!” To no avail.

We kids coughed our lungs out. Afterwards we were trembling and frightened out of our wits.

Kisumu was abuzz with bedlam. It was horrendous. And it was boiling and billowing over. There was a tad bit more.

When finally the truck had gone and the sounds of guns died and calm returned, we came back to our senses and begun to inquire excitedly about what had happened. Many pupils had been shot, many of them badly.

How did this happen? I remember education officers having brought miniature “Kenya Nchi Yetu” paper flags which were given to every upper primary school pupils who were requested to go and line by the roadside to wave at the President who had come around to Kisumu to open Russia.

My father had been unhappy about Mzee Kenyatta’s coming here. You see, it was barely three months since they shot and killed Mboya on a Nairobi street like a dog. People were still angry and groggy and sad. Mboya’s body was still fresh in the ground in Rusinga. We were still mourning here in Kisumu. My father had a bad about feeling the President’s coming. “There will be bloodshed,” he had said. “Yawa ji biro tho yawa.” He was right.

On my way back home I met many injured people who appeared to be lost and dazed. People were talking and asking questions. “Call it official opening of Russia by the President,” one man said.

His colleague answered. “For sure there is to be a story about it in the newspapers and on the radio. But Oginga…”

“Is he killed?”

“I don’t know, yawa, I don’t know. Ma masira mang’ongo.

Owada.”

I hurried home to find my brothers looking for me. They hastily grabbed me and hushed me up.



2.

But just before midnight—

It was no better.

Terror had always reigned here in Nyalenda and Pandpieri. Tonight it was horror. Mama had a horrible headache. It took a few minutes to gain some semblance of her senses. Then she sat up and started praying. Fear held its grip. The night was accompanied with occasional ugly sounds and wailing. We could hear sounds of doors being kicked and crashed and heart-rending screams of women and children. Our father was not home and with her eyes shut, our mother prayed with great emotion, all blame heaped on the good deed our father had committed himself to as one of Oginga’s men. But there was no denying the fear that was hanging over Kisumu like a wet blanket, no denying the feeling or the compulsion to pray.

My mouth was dry, sticky, and downright icky. The only sounds to be heard were those of the whining gnats and mosquitoes playing havoc on us. A slight feeling of nausea begun to surge and the pesky need to go pee began to pressure me, but I dared not get up.

Where was our father? This was the question my brothers kept asking. Ouru was weeping. Odingo tried to comfort him. Keya kept clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. A slight ringing in my ear confounded me, my eyes were itching, and my body was on fire. Nothing concrete came to me about what had happened and why I was lucky to be alive.

As the webs of cob became untangled, I realized Mama was scared (and it horrified me). Had the men with guns tracked our father down? Was he killed? Killed with a gun? Arrested?

Too many questions, no answers.

After a time, Mama got up, checked on us then left to go back on her knees in the dark in the sitting room and resume her silent but intense prayers. There was the realization of the horrendous impact the Russia shooting could have on our family especially if our father was killed. I blinked my eyes excessively and stared into Odingo’s calm stoic face. I knew how bad death was, today I had seen it. It was an unfortunate thing to have happened, but the other results would have been more disastrous had Magak not been available—like getting arrested or getting shot dead near Kibuye. Now the unpleasant reality chilled my blood, the thought that our father may have been killed. I knew that wherever my father was, he was alive—and of course he wouldn’t dare die and leave us. He couldn’t dare die… he was a strong man with six lower front teeth removed in our ritual of manhood. He was too big to die. But he delved into dirk-and-blood affairs that put his life at risk. Over the years he had entered into many abhorred occupations, first as Tom Mboya’s youth winger and now as Oginga’s operative in KPU (Oginga’s party). Wuora loved politics. He was tough and rough and he loved to take active part in things.

The death of many people I had seen today was upsetting and I couldn’t understand what it was but right now I had bigger worries: was our father safe? Something was wrong. My heart pounded and my mind conjured up all sorts of things. Surely, though, if something serious had happened to our father then we will be in serious trouble.

Mama had stopped her prayers for a breathing spell. She came to the dark room where we boys lay wide-eyed. She talked to us softly, told us to pray. I didn’t want to pray. I wanted to be mad.

Then we heard something. Suddenly we all froze. We all crept into the living room. Fading moonlight drenched the room in just enough light to allow us to see the time on the grandfather clock on the wall: it was now 1pm.

“I hear something,” Ouru whispered.

Then footsteps. Then nothing.

Pausing for a long while we listened intently, nothing was heard. Nothing. Then footsteps again, loud enough. We knew it was our father and Mama hastily got up to open the front door. Our father entered huffing and sweating, he hastily told us all not to fear.

Mama was shaking. Shaking real bad, not crying; just shaking as if in a trance. “Wuon Keya,” she kept saying. “God is merciful.” The cobwebs of deadly fear still inundated her creating a blind spot (literally) blocking her peripheral vision allowing her to only see directly ahead in a hazy shape kind of view. Apart from her faith in God, it was dark everywhere else.

Our father tried to get a grip on the situation. Trying to gather himself was difficult. He failed. He tried to hold Mama but she wouldn’t let him. She was too confused; she could scarcely move—scarcely think.

Then we knew what was to follow: Ogwang and his men. Senior Chief Ogwang was everyone’s pet peeve here in Pandpieri, in Nyalenda and other parts of rural Kisumu. I remember seeing him once when he came for our father in a sirkal Land Rover. He was a stout man with large arms and hawk eyes and he carried a two-headed boka rao (hippo skin whip). It was widely known with terror that if he caned you once he would have caned you twice. We had grown up under the terrifying spell of the great chief. Our father’s association with Kapu had made him Ogwang’s favourite fiend. At this time, Oginga was the most awesome being that lived. Oginga was big and enormous and he had a new name: Jaramogi. He was legendary and mystical and larger than our world. According to our father, Oginga was bigger than sirkal (the Government).

Ogwang was the great fearsome chief and on the side of the Government. To us, he was the enemy.

And as expected, Ogwang and his men came. There were two Land Rovers, one belonging to kanga, the administration police; the other was Ogwang’s. We were shocked beyond disbelief to see Ogwang himself alighting from the Landy. I saw him. I saw his big arms and his two-headed boka rao whip and his evil grin.

In the darkness, the great Senior Chief swept the haphazard throng of people thronging outside aside like odundu reeds as panic begun to surge due to his appearance. The policemen accompanying him made a search, conducted an “investigation” which was chasing away the onlookers and scaring our barking dogs. Then our father was ordered to lie down. Our father did so—but not first taking in Ogwang, giving him a look full of hate.

Ogwang spoke. “Ne akweri, wuod Mbaja K’Odundo ni iweri gi siasa Oginga Ajuma Ja-Kang’o. Siasa mar kech.” He spoke softly and kindly, but we could all see the devil. His very presence evoked diabolical fear. This night, as we watched, us boys screaming at the top of our voices and Mama wailing, and our dogs barking, Ogwang made our father, Odundo son of Nyangao, lie down and severely caned him with his boka rao. Twenty strokes. I counted. I saw my father, a strong man who worked long nights in the lake… a real onagi Luo male with six missing lower front teeth totally humiliated. We saw him wailing like a woman.

Senior Chief Ogwang was a land-dwelling monster. I was convinced. I hated him. We all hated him. Everybody in Nyalenda and Pandpieri hated him. But I never hated him the way I hated him now.

They took our father away and locked him in Kodiaga, the dreaded GK prison. Two nights later, Ogwang returned. He returned to tell my mother to warn my father to keep off Oginga’s politics.

Our father was released two weeks later and Mama praised God. You see, Mama was pregnant and there were horrible rumours and whispers about what they did to political prisoners at Kodiaga that freaked everybody here in Kisumu. Mama’s fear had swelled (to new heights) with the fear that her husband’s proper lack of faith was surely leading him down a path of darkness and indignity among other things. She had a duty to save him, to save her children, her family as a whole. Well, our father returned and Mama made him sit down. We saw Mama with tears streaming down her face screaming at him to stop all his associations with Kapu; she had given him five boys to take care of, hadn’t she? And now there was a sixth child coming: this one in her belly. What did he want from this life creating danger for himself and putting his family in danger engaging in Oginga’s siasa ma onge tich (useless politics)? Being picked up by Ogwang’s men all the time and locked up? Where was this politics thing with Oginga taking him? She wanted him to stop all political associations with Kapu and she wanted him to swear to her that he won’t go back into discreet night meetings with Kapu’s men. And she wanted him to start keeping Sabbath like he used to. Failure to which she will leave him. Yes, she will take her five boys and go back to Kanyakwar, to her parents. On and on Mama ranted, her voice pitching higher and higher amid tears and she terrified us to death. And each time I saw my mother quarrel my father like this, I felt rotten.

Odundo said not a word, he sat there on his favourite sofa, head down, and shoulder slouched, elbows on his knees.

Kisumu, days later.

The nightmare continued; the confusion and the absurdity had our town on edge. The large contingent of GSU camping at the Stadium after the President’s departure scared ignoble Kisumuans out of their living daylights. To clinch it all, a curfew was imposed on our town and with it came police brutality. Things went southwards. It could have been good to hear Kisumu the beautiful town getting back to normal or what would apparently pass for normal. That was an illusion. There was still ‘stuff’ going on across the town and, yes, the country. The GSU that came to manage the curfew sucked everything (one) into its void of dread and made the top news. But the sexual depravity of these majoni men took second after the initial beatings where men had their balls smashed and made permanently sterile. There were horrifying tales told about these majoni men; about what they did to men and women in their houses. We heard blood chilling tales of what the majonis did to women in front of their children!

In many areas of Kisumu town and the surrounding villages there were majoni sighting. The majonis were marauding thugs in uniforms and did not usually spring up until it was dark. These were killers on the rampage and they maimed, raped and killed.

But, thank God, a semblance of “normalcy” was returning. It just took time. During which time staying indoors was just the ticket. Despite the earlier warnings and depravity of the brutal majonis, there were ‘real thieves’ roaming the villages willy-nilly. It gave Magak, Oliver and other boys a time to be “snoopy” themselves and make observations, too.

Things settled somewhat and we returned to school with many stories about President Kenyatta, the Russia shootings and about Mboya assassination and about Oginga. In our school, many stories were swapped about the Russia fracas. One boy had a bullet shot through his buttocks, the other was shot across the mouth while shouting and two others got shot on the arms. Others had suffered injuries ranging from sprained ankles, cuts from barbed wires etc. Many pupils had gotten lost with the fleeing crowds. We heard it said that on the day following massacre, people saw the largest pile of shoes never before seen here in Kisumu.

There was a very sad story told of a man who had run to his home several kilometers away only to collapse and die on reaching home due to exhaustion. Indians had been watching the fracas from their balconies, they got shot too. But those shot most were school children who had turned out to welcome the President. Most of them had refused to go away from the road when the ministry of education personnel, on realising that all was not well, drove along Nairobi Highway asking the children to go home.

Stories came, spewed forth. We heard many weird stories about how Oginga turned himself into a bird and flew when the gunmen wanted to shoot him. Other boys said he turned into a housefly. Earlier on in the year when they had shot and killed Tom Mboya, we heard many stories about how it happened and who did it and why they did it.

Well, Kisumuans soon put it behind. Mama went back to her routine of walking twenty kilometers each day to work at our family shop, Rusinga Island General Store, on the corner of Kendu Lane and Odera Street and my father went back to riding his bicycle to Ogongo to work as fishing net artisan and going to watch football matches between Kisumu Hot Stars and Black Stars at the Kisumu Municipal Stadium during Saturday afternoons. He never stopped his activities with Kapu.

3.

My eyes opened to the world and I found myself here in Kisumo. Here at home. Kisumu was a beginning. That much I came to understand in 1970 when I turned eight; I was old enough to understand things. My days were an expedition into a new environment and a new experience. In Pandpieri I could make friends with kids from differing backgrounds, similar tastes, different goals and different families.

I started liking to read books. I wanted to learn about Kisumu and I started to rummage through the books of Luo lore in any place I could find books. There were times I was unable to comprehend, let alone read. Mama loved to tell stories and had led my insight to the tongue of Obong’o Were Nyakalaga, the supreme god of the Luos, but there were still stories, words, phrases and myths that remained elusive. Probably for a good reason. In one particular book there was telling/describing of Luo Kitgi Gi Timbegi. For several pages it described an inner passageway between Were Nyakalaga and other great ancestors like Podho and many ancestors of the Luo. The mighty men who led the Luo from Got Ramogi to the shores of Lake Victoria were Podho, Kolo (jo-Shilluk), Pari, Babito, Alur, Abwor, Achol, Langi, Akwa, Adhola, Owiny, Jok and Omolo. The worthy patriarchs led these Ji-speaking people who are now collectively known as the Luo.

To say the least a lot of research was needed to find the significance of the influence of Were Nyakalaga who had led the Luo people from cradle of Ramogi in Sudan. It meant, in the archaic language of Luo Elders of the First Age world (in Sudan), that movement of the Luo had been significantly prophesied. The prophecy directed them to ‘the place of waters’ for permanent settlement. Then it made sense. A “passageway” existed between the Got Ramogi prophesy and the New Worlds where the Luo now dwell. It was undetectable and completely hidden.

Well, here is the story of the Luos in the New Worlds. In the turn of the 19th Century, the Ugandan Railway reached a busy marketplace in the old and wild flat land on the tip of the gulf of a magnificent lake in Western Kenya called Kisumo. The Explorers had already been here and named this great lake after the Queen of England. The railway line made a significant stopover at this market place and the British decided to make it a terminal port for connecting regional trade. It was strategic because Kisumo had a tradition as a place for trade, driving a thriving barter trade that attracted the various communities living there. The British railroad workers named it Port Florence in 1900 when Florence Preston, the wife of the Railway line engineer, drove the last nail in the last sleeper. For centuries the various communities living here had maintained a peaceful co-existence; the Luo people and the neighbouring Nandi, Kipsigis, Kisiis, Tirki, Banyore and Maragoli had been immersed in profitable trading tradition in the marketplace. They called the place Kisumo. Kisumo means “to trade in.” Sumo means barter trade in DhoLuo. A young Mnyore woman with a basket of millet going to trade it over with a basket of dried fish would say, “Adhi sumo benda.” Meaning she was going to trade it in her millet for fish.

Then the third wave of the Colonialist appeared and Oppression was encountered. The natives found this new breed of White people to be bizarre; so different from the Explorers and Missionaries who had appeared in the first and second waves. In the fact that the Explorers never tried to convince the new encounters to adopt their (Explorer’s) way of life. The Missionaries did try to introduce new changes but in subtle persuasive ways. As communities grew from infancy to whole societies, moral things became an issue to the Missionaries. There was usually the standard norm of acceptable behavior in regards to decency and civilisation, but in many cultures, this was not so due to African hostility to change. The idea of Christianity was getting accepted because with it came many goodies. Doctors came ‘On Her Majesty’s Service’ and cured sicknesses; diseases were eradicated. Teachers came and brought education; blankets and clothes were given and so a whole wave of newness was experienced. And as populated societies grew tenfold and beyond, the old African ways took a drastic beating.

But the new breed of White people who came with the Railway were very different with ideas and views about what was correct, the norm, pleasant and unpleasant, rude and polite, backward and civilised, true and false and right and wrong. These were the Colonialists. These were the Oppressors and the Grabbers. The first two groups had paved way for them; for Total Takeover of the Great Continent of Africa. But white people they were, created by one biological species, expressions of oppressive human culture.

Years later in 1963, Kenya fought and got Independence.

And now here we were in 1970 but it was the same world here in Kisumu just seven years into Independence. Life was the same, people continued to milk fear out of their recovery and Kisumuans tried hard to move on with their problems. The town was of a moderate size—it was swelling and there were more people, more buildings, more businesses, more problems. My father used to say that since 1963, this tidy town of ours didn’t see itself “advancing” or backtracking further into history. 1970 Kisumu town was a nice place to be. Many people were moving in from the rural areas. To serve mankind, the new Kisumu gave room for more people and it meant more work—more food, houses, good cloths, essentials for living.

There was a little apprehensiveness when in the company of Magak and other Pandpieri kids, I didn’t know how to tell the Kisumu story because it was of no interest to them. I was a curious kid, yeah. There was a Jamhuri Day we went to Kandege to see the World War II vintage airfield staging air shows and we watched old airplanes doing acrobatics over the lake. The event was also a big boon because the few white men who were still remaining in town after Independence were the ones who performed those acrobatic air shows. We delighted in seeing the old noisy Beechcraft airplanes landing in the lake.

Once in a while when I needed a break from the wrecking yard of Fort Jesus (our home) and a break from everyone else, I loved to venture out of Pandpieri to go into Kisumu. It was a sprawling town of 20,000 people—so said the sign supported by various organizations at the entrance near Nyamasaria. The town was nestled against rustic hills; the great lake to one side. East African Community waterfront depot and an inland Naval Installation were the top prizes for the small town. The streets were clean and rolled up early. There were wondrous Indian dukas with nice things in them. Hotels, bars with music, two cinemas, the Post Office, banks, huge buildings, churches and such as the likes that there was—so much for a town. Kisumu tried to maintain its small town appeal, keeping out the riffraff and maintaining the “family-orientated” atmosphere. Many folks were indifferent to the growing-town appeal, except of; course, us kids. And there were new things to gape at. There was a new television at Kisumu Social Centre. There were new cars we loved to stand at the roadside gaping at—Cortinas, Citroens, Peugeot 404! And Mercedes Benz! They were mostly driven by rich wahindis (Indians) and some wazungu (white people) although wazungus mostly drove Land Rovers.

A trip to Kisumu town was an adventure of a life time. There were lots of good things to see. Africans rode bicycles or walked; a few were driving cars!

Our family was a growing family in Pandpieri as were some other families—we had cousins and many, many relatives staying with us. We had friends in school. We loved to gate-crash nice weekly Indian parties and got to eat chili fries, roti, biscuits and other treats which were the nicest foods we’d ever eaten, full of spices but tasting like heaven. Indians were amazingly colorful people in colorful clothes; their weekend parties were large colorful events on grounds decorated with very large ornamental flowers and adorned with fruits. There were songs playing, sung by men and women who wore bright yellow shirts and long flowing dresses. To the left and right of the singers were their fellow members on an upraised small stage wearing electric guitars and shaking things and singing so beautifully.

One bright morning, our little brother was born in Russia and our father named him Tom. He was named so to remind us of the horrific and vile, vile, vile, poignant torture we went through after they killed Tom Mboya in Nairobi on the street! Mboya’s death had brought blessings. Mama said that, judging by the baby boy boom in Nyanza this year, our Mboya had not really died. He had returned to us in many forms. Many of the children were boys; all were Tom Mboyas by default. Nearly every household had a Tom Mboya. For many it was just Tom, for others it was Thomas Joseph Mboya while for others it was Tom Mboya Odhiambo. We even had T.J. Mboyas.

Another boy was named Russia and he reminded us of how school kids were shot here in Kisumu during the opening of our hospital. Another kid was called Kenyatta; his parents changed his name to Onyata.

We heard it in the news that Kapu had been banned because of the Russia riots. Our father took it badly. When they had the chance, my father and his colleague Dimba got their friends and they attended Kapu’s meetings where they bad-mouthed the Government and Tosha Party all day. Nobody could come to terms with the fact that what happened in Russia that day last year really happened. It riled our father, but his mind was clearing and so maybe he could accept it—fake being normal. Mama used to advise him to decide whether he was going walk the pipe dream to escort Oginga to be president or be a realist and go to church and repent, forget politics. Then he’ll be on the right footing as a father and a husband.

Anyway, growing up on the outskirts of Kisumu, I was your typical corky boy. Maybe even atrocious. I was just another wee-wee bare foot, horny-toed boy growing up with my dusty feet and bare chest here in Pandpieri. Days of our lives were made up of going to the lake to swim or fish, throwing stones at crocs and jeering at hippos, chasing wild ducks and geese the whole day and watching naked women bathing (as long as it wasn’t our mother!) It was cool to hide with the boys in the bushes near Dunga shores watching women as they bathed in the lake, getting excited seeing all the naked female bodies.

Also I loved going hunting in the bush with our dogs, then coming back home for a beating. I got many of Mama’s harsh scolding and cheek slaps. Mama did not call me dense, stubborn and hard-headed for nothing. She claimed they were my father’s traits and I seemed to have gotten them in greater quantities than the rest of my brothers. I never understood Mama. She was the most philandering lady of the house; she was mean, ornery and cantankerous. My mother was from Kanyakwar, the place where strong women of Kano were made. Kano people had fought battles with the Kipsigis and were warlike. Mama was particularly harsh on me and my brothers Ouru and Agwenge. The three of us were a pack and seemed to cause most trouble. My two older brothers, Keya and Odingo were the first pair. They were much older than us… there was a three year gap between me (the third born) and Odingo (the second born). Keya and Odingo had manners, they were reserved and, being teenagers, they had the respect of my parents. The one who was respected most was Odingo and it was decided that he had good brains. But Odingo and Keya were close, independent and had their freedom. They had their own room and they never ate with us, they ate together on their own. The second pack (me, Ouru and Agwenge) were always watched. Hardly a day passed without one of us causing trouble and Keya and Odingo had been given permission by Mama to punish us in case we caused trouble both inside and outside the home.

We lived in this rumbling relic we called “Fort Jesus”. It was our home, really… the only home we knew. My father’s family had long moved from Rusinga Island in South Nyanza, down to Pandpieri here in Kisumu, or, in the vernacular of old sailors of wind and water, they arrived aboard abuoro floating islands or jahazi dhows to Pandpieri shores—(as the Dunga shores more or less favoured the prevailing South Nyanza winds). Until the post-Colonial dawn of the new era, one didn’t have to go down into the depths of South Nyanza unless they were nuts and wanted to die. South Nyanza was a deep, wild and primitive land teeming with diseases and epidemics and wild animals.

Life was modest; it was like we were faced with a lifetime of genteel penury. We still preserved fire (because Mama said match sticks were expensive). Our night visitors were night runners and mosquitoes. We still had to trek many miles to Sosial to watch television; we had no electricity! And there were rats; there indeed were these pesky rodents in Fort Jesus. Hundreds. We had a rat trap and our cat, but it didn’t help. The rats kept breeding. And there are bugs. They were loud and unseen and just a little spooky—along with being annoying. Mosquitoes and other insects loved to make their presence known along with assorted pesky pests. Chwarni, olwenda…. you know them. Rats, roaches and bugs. Kimbo was the only cooking fat we knew and there were many things we couldn’t make with the tin once the cooking fat in it was used up. We could turn into a drinking cup, we could flatten the tin and cut it into pieces and make Safari Rally cars. Or we could sell it to Njoroge the scrap metal dealer of Kamas.

Growing up here in Pandpieri, really, singled out the joy of living very close to Lake Victoria and more experiences came in form of many bizarre stories our parents told us. The favourite one was the tale of my grandfather Nyangao and our house in Pandpieri.

Parts of Mama’s fantastic story began to resurface. As fresh air unlocked doors, as dark night skies opened for us to see the stars, darker stories came from the lips of our mother about our house to haunt us for years.

Coming from Dunga you passed Nyamedha Centre as you headed to a small bushland on the bosom of Nanga. Up on a lofty hilltop you saw a white house that stood tall. That was Fort Jesus. Many found Dunga wastelands incorrigible. But you’d be something of a fool to judge an apparent wasteland by its narrow, humpy bridge. For all most people knew, the white house on the hill with its trimmest dooryards sheltered the darkest secrets because for many years a lonely white man lived there. Take it as an article of faith that the house on the hill, indeed, harboured deep dark secrets. I’m about to tell you about Fort Jesus, our house.

Odundo son of Mbaja, son of Nyangao had inherited this house from his father, Nyangao K’Odundo, who had fought in the Second World War. When he came back after the war, my grandfather was not very right in the head and he didn’t live long. When I was born in Old Nyanza General in 1960, my grandfather was already on the brink of retirement from the same hospital and, by the time I was old enough to communicate with him, we both had shocks of weak thin hair: mine burgeoning, sun-bleached and vibrant; his weary, washed-out yet worldly and wise.

According to my father, my grandfather Nyangao was a very strong man, well-built and muscular during his youth. He had been born on a leopard skin and lived his entire life in the town of Port Florence, eventually seeing its name changed from Port Florence to Kisumu. He had extraordinary powers that baffled the wazungu who had only a few years ago reached Kisumu with the completion of the Uganda Railway line. He was also known as Nyangao Magere, a name he gave to himself after the legendary Lwanda Magere. He claimed he had been a very tough warrior in Lwanda Magere’s army and would boast of the many jolang’o people he had killed during the Luo-Kipsigis wars. Indians who had been used by the British to build the railway had settled in the small town of Port Florence by then and set up shops where they were selling sugar, salt, flour, grains and textiles to Africans.

When Nyangao’s first wife gave birth to her first born Okal Bongo, it was said my grandfather went to one of the Indian shops and carried one sack of sugar and a sack of unga which he brought to my grandmother who was manyuru. Nyangao then went to a herd of cattle kept by the wasungu for dairy products and chose a huge bull which he strangled and carried on his head to my grandmother. Then came Nyangao’s time to marry his second wife. He was escorted to his in-laws by a few of his age mates where they were to sleep overnight. It was said that the following day Nyangao could not be seen anywhere and the granary was also missing. Nyangao had disappeared with the granary and the marriage had to be called off. He continued to steal thereafter from the Indian shops until one day he was arrested by the white and Indian police. He was given his wish to sleep with his second wife and my father was conceived.

For his punishment, grandpa Nyangao was forced to join the British army. He fought in Egypt, Burma, India and some countries whose names I have forgotten. Like many others who had fought the British wars, grandpa was mentally unstable right from the time I knew him when I was a small child. When he returned, he went to work for a wealthy Englishman known as Mr. Patterson as a cook. Mr. Patterson was; himself, a Second World War veteran and was very fond of my grandfather. He had acquired many acres of land near Lake Victoria and built his home in Pandpieri.

When Mr. Patterson died, grandpa inherited large tracts of land which were later grabbed by his first son, my uncle Okal Bongo. Grandpa’s second wife (my real grandmother) Mbaja Nyar Ogam had run away to go and live with her brother Okech Ominde when my grandpa went bonkers and his sons became hostile to her since she had only one child (my father) who was very young. Our aunt, Binda and her husband had also inherited a large part of grandpa’s land which they later sold to the Kisiis and that’s why a large number of pesky Kisiis lived in our village. Okal also did the same. The two later migrated to Kabondo and Kajulu respectively after disposing of my grandfather’s land for as cheap as 600 Shillings for an acre. Okal migrated to South Nyanza after his home was struck by lightning killing several of his children. He later died in Migori where by the time of his death he had no land.

By the time my father Odundo son of Mbaja of had come of age, the only thing he got was the ten acre parcel upon which our house stands. The house and the land upon which it stands survived because my grandfather was still alive and was said to be a lunatic. I remember as young boys we used to provoke grandpa into outbursts by calling his name loud. Calling him Magere was something that would make him go ballistic. He would give chase whenever he met you in the village path. He lived for a long time until his death in 1966. Unfortunately grandpa’s grave cannot be traced now because his cousins sold the grave along with the land where the Kisiis later built the low-income tenement dwellings of Pandpieri. Those who sold grandpa Nyangao’s land to the Kisiis have since all died mysterious deaths. Was it a curse?

Well, we got the house.

Patterson’s house on hill overlooking the shores became the family gaff. The mansion was not a modern day abode, it was rundown and gothic. We called it Fort Jesus because it resembled something we had seen in history books. The huge fortress sat on a nice lot with lots of room for our animals. On one side was a large corral enclosure while the other had mostly black cotton soil and some lawn, a few fruit trees, a cactus garden, and a lot of openness where we kept livestock.

We had now accommodated the new arrival into our family of seven; Tom the little, noisy infant. Tom Mboya Odhiambo became the eighth member and the sixth child. Another boy! All over Pandpieri, people whispered and wondered after Odundo son of Mbaja’s virility. To keep on getting boys year after year! The family was growing, many of our cousins and aunts had come to stay with us, so baby-sitting Tom was not a problem and Mama had no need for a japidi.

4.

And it came to pass—

Schools were closed for long December holidays and whenever schools closed, it was time to play. With school finally a done deal, it was time to frolic. Not like we hadn’t been frolicking already, but. There were family issues and romping with the family for that togetherness routine, then, as the parents returned to their jobs, the kids romped on their own.

As it happened, a few things happened.

The gang was made of Magak, Tut, Oliver, Opoko Kiguru (who was a disabled moron), Joginder, Onyango Shika Dame, Anton Othwele, Gonzaga, Otieno “Kachweya”, my kid bro Ouru, Rose Bonyo and Okello Mariko. These were not just school friends; they were not just Pandpieri kids. They were Kisumu kids. Otieno “Kachweya” came from Makasembo, Gonzaga lived in Pembe Tatu near Kibuye and Onyango Shika Dame came all the way from Nairobi Area in Kondele.

But Pandpieri was the center of action. All the boys down here were troublemakers or got into trouble in various assorted ways like stone throwing; window breaking; raiding the homes of Indians and stealing fruits—with real umbwa kali dogs in hot pursuit (I mean very fierce big dogs); bike riding—also not their own but borrowed for the use of their joyriding; watching bathing women at Dunga; pushing freaky little kids in the water and laughing as we watched them drink adila and then saving them from near-death experiences (I didn’t know how to swim myself); scavenging for edibles at kataka; fighting; transporting liquor; shoplifting. None of the previous offenses were outlandish, just “good ‘ole boys” in the back-country trying to have some fun.

Magak was a jadak. He was a stout boy with pug face and bad teeth. He was aggressive in nature, a bully, no nonsense, a sneak, a liar, talk smacker, sassy and a whole line of extras to follow. He was from far away and had no relatives besides his parents. He actually hailed from South Nyanza and had only moved with his parents to Kisumu at an early age just prior to his teen years.

All but me, Anton and Rose Bonyo were eight year old totos. Rose Bonyo was nine and could pass for eight. She was the skinniest and tallest. Magak was the so-so leader of the group, although Gonza tried to assert himself as the boss one time. Got one hell of a wallop. Magak and Onyango Shika Dame were cousins. Oliver and his sister Achi were twins. Joginder, who most often went by the name “Poker Joker” and was always in trouble with his parents or teachers, was the whiner of the group—over cautious. He also delved into being a bit of a rebel, ran away from school to catch wild ducks at the lake, etc. Did a short spell at the Children’s Remand Home near Rotary.

Oliver and Achi. Oliver was older by two minutes. He was a bit bossy at times, but deeply cared for his sister. He and sis Achi got into some hellacious arguments—but always made up—usually by a food fight. Achienge (full name) was beginning to admire fashions and sensible shoes at Kashmir next to Nyanza Cinema.

There were nicknames and then there were kiddy names—some were cute, some were curt, some were horrible! Some names were descriptive; like, Magak “Lwanda”—’cause the kid was built like The Incredible Hulk. Or Joginder, because the kid from Makasembo liked mimicking Safari Rally cars, imagined he was a Rally driver. One moment he was Bjorn Waldergard, the next he was Vic Preston Jnr. We called him Joginder. We used nicknames to fool our teachers and parents. Other names were forms of affection or derogatory in nature. For instance do you know how Panyako Onyango became known as Onyango Shika Dame? Orchestra Lipua Lipua from Zaïre had a hit song called “Nouvelle Generation” which had a sweet dance sequence in its sebene and an animation chant that went like: Koyaka pamba te, sukuma ha! We didn’t know what the words meant, so we twisted them in our own language and now it went like this: Onyango shika dame, kamata ha! Ae Mama! Other names were associated to the owner’s physique. Omondi “Wiye Duong” belonged to that large-headed kid from Upper Railway. “Kachweya” meant “Fatso” and was for Otieno who, apart from being overweight, was a boy of “weighty” issues. We also called him “Fat and Furious” because he was easily flared up. Nyadundo was for any person who was height challenged.

OTC encountered a young lad who was unaware his nickname referred to something most of us here in Kisumu found disgusting. OTC. It was actually the initials of his three names, Owen Timothy Chacha. He was part Kuria part Luo; a happy kid of nine, seriously into soccer, liked adventure, and was just starting to “notice” girls. OTC, ha! To us his name meant Onyango Twende Choo. OTC was the serious one of the gang; jolly mannered, easy to get along with. Both parents were Kuria-Luos with his grandparents being directly from Kuria land and living with their children, OTC’s parents in Suna. He spoke the language of both lands, played soccer like Pele, and was keenly interested in music; strumming imaginary guitar and whistling with his eyes closed… stuff like that.

Magak “Lwanda” was a happy-go-lucky kid, hard as a nail, a fighter—liked to bully kids—and ate as many gobits as grow-ups. A rough kid, he volunteered to help out others wherever there was any beating to be done and food to be grabbed or some cents to be made. Yeah. He liked to use us to make the extra shilling. Nearly killed my brother Ouru once.

Dorothy “Dorry” Adhiambo was a nice looking girl who had beautiful features; supple beginning titties, a very pretty face, a curious girl who was going to be a beautiful woman one day. Her cousin Okello Mariko, tall, slim, big-head, ten, was the oldest boy in the pack. He looked like a Somali; actually I could have sworn he was a Somali who was raised as one of us. Thick-headed and nearly always at the bottom of the class, he repeated class four every successive year. We found him in class four and by the time we moved to class five this year, he luckily came with us. Okello was a troubled kid, a quasi-orphan. His father, Otieno Ja Yien, was a renowned tree cutter from Nanga. Otieno was a buddy of our father. He worked in entire logs, focusing so exquisitely on the twines and twists of wood grain and you wondered how anyone so skinny had the temerity to cut down such huge tress and dismember them, sort out the stuff, much less the snarled-up birds, snakes, squirrels and bugs that came down with the falling trees. He normally carried the dismembered pieces in his othiwi to Kibuye where he had a yard. He was a good humoured man who told us great stories about old Kisumu. And he knew all the places: Nyalenda, Pandpieri, Kabakran, Kasale, Kamas, Obaria, Kichinjio, Dho Chiro, Otonglo, Nyawita, Mamboleo, Kodiaga, Obunga, Pap Ndege, Kibuye, Dunga, Dho Nam, Kamakoha and Manyatta Gonda… these were the newest features and names in Kisumu town and these were the places we loved to plod the dust to in the midday sun.

Thick headed as he was, Okello was the perfect host whenever we visited him at their home and not only set his father’s watch dogs at ease with his witty chatter and charming ways, but his cheerful stepmother cooked ogira for us, too. His family lived in the perfect human habitation, a ramshackle timber house in Nyalenda that managed to bore a visitor off the face of the earth ten seconds after stepping through the front door. It was clean and neat enough to assure the guest that all personal belongings were kept out of doors due to lack of space, and, if the housekeeping could otherwise be called low-key, the reason seemed to be that the home was furnished with wooden furniture and wooden beds and wooden coffee table. Everything was made of wood. Obviously the family was more into making its living from wood, which was a good thing because selling omena (which everyone was doing) was a crowded occupation and a smart Kisumu woman really didn’t want to be on the beck and call of randy omena fishers. Okello’s step mother was a married woman of virtue. That was why she sold charcoal in Nyalenda. Okello’s older brother, Olwande, was a carpenter while his other brother, Sagam, made kiira out of wooden sticks, sold them to fishermen for trapping fish. You see, this was a pretty woody family.

Now with schools nearly opening, December holidays were seeping away past Christmas and a new year was coming around the corner. We had no time. We hated the idea of school again. Soon all the fun would disappear and there would be homework to be done and mean-gutted teachers to obey. These last days of freedom were good… outings were good with clear skies, a light breeze, and a flat out landscape to trudge out to in the outer boundary.

When we didn’t want to go to the lake, we found ourselves going down to the Kachok playground and generally doing things other Kisumu kids did. Trips across Nyalenda Railway flats to the kataka dumping ground near the Municipal Stadium to scavenge were a special treat for us.

Today it was Oliver’s idea that we “adventure” across the Nanga meadow to some nearby hills and forest searching for Nanga EAR on New Year’s eve.

Warm sunshine filtered through the thick heavy tree tops; the day was bliss, kind of boring, but bliss just the same. Magak squinted his eyes and made rude facial expressions, nodding that the idea did sound appealing. In this company of best friends were Tut, me, OTC, Otieno “Kachweya”, Anton, Oliver, Gonza and Rose. Plus some special girls—Susy Anyango and Dorry. Normally, usually, girls of any age, just didn’t “go off” adventuring. Normally, usually, things didn’t turn out well for those who did. But this was Dunga country, not the town of Kisumu. Most “bad things” didn’t happen in Dunga. Sure, bad elements were just about everywhere but in the countryside it was deemed “safe enough.” So, we ventured off across a huge well overgrown meadow to seek fortune. We ventured off looking for some hidden or abandoned train depot called Nanga EAR.

The landscape out from the Fort Jesus hill was mostly flat, a few dips and small-small hills; large tracts of meadows with multiple vegetation in various forms, including shrubs and small diameter trees. The lake was out that way, out past Nanga Canyon—another 50 kilometres or so. A colonial military base was still here, a small “town”, a rinky-dink Leyland truck nestled up against the lake land (sound odd?) and not much else. A new direction was needed. The derelict military base was a no-go zone. We could miss the cabin by the creepy bush land. There was that abandoned mine, too. It was certain there was a story there, a mystery to solve.

A few boulders, too, dotted the landscape within the distance surrounding the entire sector rolling lush hills on three sides with an incredible dense forest in the fourth position. It was to the forest that Magak was leading us, each time out he wanted to go a little further, if only one or two hours further.

The girls being girls, picked flowers, giggled incessantly and brushed up against one another as girls do. The boys were some feet ahead chasing a lizard. Young Tut scrambled up a granite rock/boulder not caring about the skints to his knees and hands or the rips to his pants. The rips to his pants he’d care about later (when at home in front of his mother explaining “I was just playing.”) It wouldn’t work and a butt spanking would soon ensue.

Anton circled the boulder; “I don’t see it,” he called out.

“It should be around here somewhere.”

“It probably went under.”

Anton not dejected picked at the tree limb debris on top of the great boulder, peering into the cracks, “here ere i olele-olele-olele,” he called. There was no olele but there was a snake. The flash of the snake marginally missed striking the young foolhardy adventurer; he dashed back quickly enough but tumbled down the boulder just the same.

He struck the almost soft earth losing his ability to breathe. We rushed to him quickly in alarm. The boy had tears and spittle spewing from his young face.

Chieth!” he yelled out when at last he got his breath.

“What happened?” Oliver asked.

“A s-snake, I saw a snake.”

“Where?” asked Tut in slight fright.

“Under that stupid rock,” Anton answered feeling foolish, “I guess I disturbed him when I was looking for that stupid lizard.”

Anton remained sitting for a moment continuing to gather himself.

“You could have gotten really hurt,” said Magak squatting down beside him askew.

“Yeah, yeah,” returned Anton who stared at the ground feeling miserable and embarrassed. Mostly embarrassed. Losing composure in the midst of friends wasn’t cool. We went silent for a moment watching the various bugs and insects, butterflies. Dorry sat on a small boulder, adjusted her skirt some more, “I hate snakes !” she announced.

“Snakes are very smart,” I replied. I yawned and saw the creature Anton and Tut had been chasing. It slithered quickly along into the underbrush of the meadow’s wild flowers. I smiled and leaned against an old fence post.

“Wait,” Gonza said. “I hear something.”

We strained our ears but heard nothing. Gonza said he needed to pee; his stomach was growling, it was late in the day—the anticipatory growling from his parents was going to be worse, though.

“Go into the bush,” somebody told him, “Hurry, we’ll wait for you.”

Gonza disappeared into the bush, his eyes peering steadily into the woods.


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