Meru men do not cry. As a matter of fact, a grown up man is not supposed to show any kind of emotion. Okay, in his younger days, he is allowed to express anger. Anger that can only be matched by the viciousness of his dog. The anger to be directed at maitha-enemies of the tribe. Anger that translates into raw courage when the maitha come in the dead of the night to raid cattle and women. Anger that is directed at anybody who attempts to steal from the miraa plantation. But as he grows older, even the anger is supposed to go away. Replaced by a calm, emotionless and authoritative mien.
Forget my generation of men who take to Facebook to gush out feelings in a manner that would make our ancestors groan painfully in their eternal sleep. All because we have seen a pretty girl with a dimple. And we know she has a dimple because she smiled at us, making our knees wobbly and our pulse rate hit the roof. And it’s all we talk about for days on end. We, the crybabies who insult the sanctity of anger by carelessly unleashing it online, just because the dimpled Angela took a selfie with Albert, and put it as her profile photo on WhatsApp. We who, at 29, still ask for hand-outs from daddy so that we can take Angela out for dinner. And dump her just because on the day she came home for lunch mommy said her perfume is cheap. We, the wimps who will refuse to eat and will sulk for days just because Arsenal or Man U lost to Aston Villa.
No, I am talking about the men I observed while growing up in the village. The cold, emotionless men whose mouths got painful sores whenever they attempted to make requests. These men made only orders. Period. They only laughed when they were together, because serious humor can only come from other men. You wondered how these men got married. The older ones we know. They simply spotted a girl, told their kinsmen, and arrangements were made to go see the girl’s kinsmen and a deal would be struck. But these men are not in that generation. These men were born after the white man had brought the inconvenience called love. The dubious system where you have to ask the woman to marry you first, before involving the kinsmen. Yet these men had remained emotionless. So how did they get married? Maybe they just timed the girl at the river. Then as she tried to lift the jerry can, they would step in and help her place it gracefully on her head. Then they would cough twice and say:
“Lundia, (that’s Lydia, by the way) you will be my wife.”
That would not be a question, it would be a statement of fact. Lundia would not reply. She would race all the way home to speak to her mother.
“Maitu (mother), I met Stebano (Stephen) at the river and he told me something,” she would say shyly.
The older woman would understand. The girl was grown up now. So she should sit her down and they would talk about Stebano. Later that evening, when her husband came back from the village square, they would talk as he ate. About Lundia. And Stebano.
Maybe these men expressed their emotions after all. To their wives. Maybe at night they would sob silently in the dark as their wives pretended to be asleep. You can’t hide much from a woman you have been making babies with. You might act all tough and cold in the house. You may even talk to her rudely. But she can see through you. Because yesterday you were involved in that scuffle with the neighbor over the boundary, and he threatened to teach you a lesson. You had laughed it off and told him to do his worst. But at night you had been turning restlessly in bed, sighing every five minutes. You had mumbled in your sleep, mentioning the neighbour’s name. All this while your wife was silent in bed, wide awake. She knew you were scared. She knew the pretense of emotionlessness was a show to make the society feel safe under the protection of the men. So she would say nothing. Because nobody should hear that men, or more specifically her Stebano, was an emotional wimp. Nobody. And so the men would remain tough and dignified. At least in public.
That is why my heart reached out to him. I could see he was struggling to control his emotions. He sits still, his elbows resting on his thighs and his palms supporting his bowed head. The conversation around the table is in low tones, but he says nothing. When he finally lifts his head, I can see tears rolling down his cheeks. Which is not common for a Meru man. He stands up and silently leaves the table. The conversation stops as he leaves, as everyone watches him go. Then it resumes in earnest.
It is a Sunday afternoon. The man’s wife had passed away that morning. I can only imagine what was going on in his mind. The one person to whom he was vulnerable had departed. The mother of his children. The person who had shared his bed for several years. The one person who sort of understood him. Who knew when he needed to be left alone, and when he wanted to talk. Because as a real Meru man, it is not easy to speak out emotions. Yet she would know, and understand him. And it helped. The woman he had heard so many times singing in the kitchen as she cooked. But now she was gone. How was he supposed to go on from here? How would he bring up the kids alone? Would the ache in his heart ever disappear?
Yet, even as he mourned his partner, another problem was facing him. There was an outstanding bill of almost half a million at the hospital. And that does not include funeral expenses. His savings, his family and the insurance had helped pay another almost half a million. Approximately half of the bill. Now he didn’t know where else to turn. But he needed to go home to see his children. They had also lost a mother you know. So he left his relatives and friends discussing the bill, and walked away, fresh tears on his cheeks.
My head was spinning as I watched this man. Sure, there is nothing we can do to stop death from coming. But does a mourning man have to contend with high hospital bills which he has to pay to be allowed to bury his wife? Is it really true that the country cannot subsidize health care? May be it cannot. You see, the government is broke. It only has a little money to buy automatic wheelbarrows. Those hilarious things that we laugh about on social media. Creating memes that go viral.
Meanwhile, the dialysis queue at Kenyatta National Hospital would be getting longer. And the radiation machines would break down for the second time in the month, and cancer patients would have to continue playing hide and seek with the grim reaper for a while longer. The few oncologists around would be overworked and tired. See, the government can’t afford to train, leave alone hire more. As a matter of fact, it is too broke to even pay the current ones properly. Because it has just a little money. Which should be used for only the most important tasks. Like sending MCAs to study the soil structure of Israel. The people at Kenyatta should stop whining. The dialysis and radiation machines will be realized progressively. It’s not like it’s an emergency.
Our roads are full of old, unroadworthy, overloaded, overlapping and over speeding matatus, driven by semi drunk maniacs. Yet at a price of Kshs. 50, put neatly in a driving license, they get away with it. Because there and then, a contract is signed. A contract to kill human beings in exchange for 50 shillings. Sorry. I got it wrong. It is an agricultural contract that is signed. To rear guinea fowl and ducks. The type that yield returns of 5 million per month.
Buildings are collapsing left right and centre. Because the government bureaucrat who is supposed to do the approval was too busy to even go through the building plans. But if the developers talk nicely, a signature can be arranged. And developers by nature have smooth tongues. Smooth tongues that will also enable them build with cheap material. So that they can increase the profit margin. They can also supplement the income by selling pencils to the government at a cost of 1500 per pencil. See, like we said, the government is broke, and bureaucrats need good pencils to doodle with as they figure out where to get cash for the government. Cash to buy essentials that keep the government running. Like sex toys and pianos.
Let’s be honest with ourselves peeps. Corruption is not just an economic crime. It is a capital offence. Because however you look at it, people ultimately die. We get repulsed by murderers and armed robbers. We rant for ages about extra-judicial killings. Yet there are other murderers who get away with it so easily. The murderers who deny the government a chance to equip hospitals and make health care affordable. Murderers who look the other side as road accidents kill daily. Murderers who deny young people a chance to get employed because money meant for supporting industries and enterprises cannot be traced. And therefore their families die of hunger. And disease. Assuming their houses will not already have collapsed over their heads and killed them. And we are those murderers peeps. Either directly by stealing from the government, or indirectly by condoning it.