The Naughty Cousins

I grew up in a rural area together with my cousin Bob. My grandmother took care of us because our mothers had to work in the city. We got to have a wonderful childhood full of memories that we cherish to this day. My grandmother was the kindest person I have ever seen. It was a blessing knowing her and learning from her all those years ago. May she continue to rest in eternal peace. We called her ‘Apesa’.

Bob and I were inseparable. We did everything together. I remember him scrubbing my back as we took a bath and I scrubbing his. In my village, our grandmother was among the few people who owned a water tank. Bob was a member of Plan International. So the tank was one of those gifts that Plan gave some of the kids they were sponsoring. In the evenings, Bob and I preferred to bath behind the water tank rather than in the bathroom.

Life in the village was quite fun. Apesa would tell us stories by the fire as she prepared dinner. In a typical Kenyan village then, we used firewood to cook. During maize/corn harvesting season, we would listen to her stories as we roasted maize. It was a simple life but full of little joys.

Our school was a few kilometres away, so we had to wake up early to start our journey. We went on foot of course. There were no ‘bodaboda’-that’s what motorbikes are known as here-. Like most children, waking up early was a big challenge for us. Apesa had a hard time in the mornings. She would wake us up more than four times before we would get out of bed. Breakfast was always tea and Sima/Ugali-a traditional Kenyan food-. We always went to school feeling energetic. Ugali is a portion of heavy and nutritious food. It always prepared us for the journey ahead. Although we did not see it as such.

Apesa had the most difficult time with us when it came to eating. We would look at each other’s food and start to complain. If I thought my food was too much, I would complain to her telling her that she loved Bob more that’s why she gave him little food. There was no time either of us wouldn’t complain. When Bob or I couldn’t go to school due to sickness, she had a hard time convincing the healthy grandchild to go to school. It was always a competition. She must have been used to that. She had a way of making us feel loved despite all the trouble.

Although we had fun times with her, she did not spare us when we did anything wrong. Her nails did the work, she would look for the soft and tender meat in the inner thigh and pinch us until we call our ancestors. She did not discipline us much because my uncle was the disciplinarian. Apesa taught us a lot of things. She was a prayerful woman. She taught us how to pray, how to plough and plant, how to cook, how to wash utensils and many other things. We are who we are today because of her teachings. Although we were naughty, we also were well behaved and well mannered. We followed instructions and respected our elders.

My uncle lived at home when we were growing up. He had a girlfriend who lived on the other side of our village. We were separated by a hill and a river. He always had a special kind of whistle he used to call his girlfriend. There were no mobile phones then. Whenever he did the whistle, we would see her running down the hill so that they would meet at the river. One day, Bob and I decided to do the whistle and see what she would do. As always, we saw her run down the hill and we burst out laughing. We did it to her three times. She would come down and when she didn’t find anyone, she would climb back and go home.

I don’t know how my uncle found out about it. Let’s call him uncle John. He was furious. He asked why we did that and we denied it all. At that time, we were eleven years old. He asked each of us to go pluck a cane. We got a thorough beating. Needless to say, we never did it again. Although later on we still laughed about it. We were known as the trouble makers.

Uncle John had a radio that would play cassettes. Occasionally, he would ask us to sing then he would tape us. Sometimes he did it while we played and he would later play it back for us and we would burst out laughing. Our voices sounded funny on the recorded cassette. Although uncle John would beat us daily, we are thankful to him. Had he not beaten us, we would have grown up to be spoilt children. Every day we did something that warranted a beating.

I remember climbing a very young tree. It was thin and delicate. We would wait for a strong wind to blow then we start to swing the tree left and right while on top. One day, the tree broke while I was on top and I fell onto another cut tree stump. I got an especially deep cut on my thigh. Another time, Bob broke his arm while we were playing a complicated and totally made up game. I don’t know how to describe it because it was made up. We always came up with dangerous games. It’s a miracle we are still here today.

One day we went swimming in the river. Next to that river, was an exceptionally long waterfall. We put stones at the edge of the river near the waterfall to form a sort of water pool. If those stones were to fall due to water pressure, none of us would ever have survived. When I look back now, I know for sure I wouldn’t dare do it. Those were dangerous times. our childhood was full of entertainment. I have left a lot unsaid because it is way too much. It would take a book to cover our childhood adventures. For now, let’s end here. More stories to come.