I am from a small town, Marsabit , it is a beautiful place, beautiful not in the sense of scenic aesthetics- you know the flowery lanes, clean streets, tarmacked roads and the sort but beautiful nonetheless. The beauty of small towns like Marsabit is its people, the smallness of their beliefs, the depth of their small convictions, the communal sense of being, the extent of their hate and love, their gossip, their pretenses, their lies and truths, laughter and tears- the simplicity of even their complex issues and Ideas, of daily living. The ease with which one can assume many things and just be okay, the seriousness with which even the slightest of things can be brought to life...one minute an issue is just a small murmur in the air, then it becomes a quasi-secret gossip to be whispered, then a few hours later, a full blown concern, truth with people swearing, phone calls are made, and confirmations sought…from the villages where the issue is rumored to have happened, then phone calls from the villages to the town to seek for more information.
|A section of Marsabit Town|
I am touched by the communal side of my small town. I have on more than one occasion been confronted by people, strangers who have without a care let me in on the darkest sides of their lives, their problems, their challenges and the gate pass into their lives, into their dreams and fears is just their knowing me…knowing somebody I know….knowing I am so and so’ s son, brother, lover, father, mother or niece; friendship is kindled ….with just your name you can have cousins, uncles, clansmen, in-laws materializing out of total strangers. This is community. You can walk into people’s homes and have free lunch, free bed and engage in a long talk with the members of this household and walk out as easy as you came. Or strike lifelong friendships by just a few minutes of talking.
Yet, this communal outlook is this town’s greatest challenge. There is something sinister that lurks behind the welcoming smiles, their too trusting loyalty, and the ease with which people can take in convictions and clasp it tightly with their lives. This loyalty, the undivided love that is offered too freely, it can be seen everywhere, in schools, in the market, in the village, in households- it has been passed on like an infectious flu- like something necessary, like fashion and any kind of dissent is frowned upon- if it’s against the communal think- keep it to yourself.
There is some mild sycophancy, an instantaneous unshakable fanaticism, rumors and speculations, spontaneous worries fly back and forth and in just a few minutes various versions, modified for various ears- the conspiratorial, the impressionable, the doubters, the fanatics each of them blowing like hot airs rife and palpably in the air! The fodder that feeds propaganda and in this way suspicion is bred, nourished and nurtured to live whole lives- lives bigger than human life, and the suspicion supersedes propaganda and transcends into hatred, into blood, into murder, revenge- crosses border and grows into an international crisis- the Oromoland, into the Burjilands, into the Gabra areas of Ethiopia. Cousins and relatives in Ethiopia wonder what is happening in Kenya and send a few guns and horses to go fight off aggression to the respective community- then the buzz dies down, slowly, the angst goes silent for a few hours, a few weeks, months and possibly a few years- then the rumor begins and previous scars are piqued, rancor boils and the suspicion grows into propaganda, the propaganda into suspicion, suspicion into fear, fear into hatred and hatred into impulsive wars and on and on ad infinitum goes the reign of rumor in the land of the gossip. Gossip and rumors have a way of growing wings to fly, have some mutable characteristics in my small town, the capacity to remake itself into funny tales, into shocking news, into war cries, into songs even.
And when my friend often says “you will run mad, reading so many books” I will never take those words seriously than my worry about who hears it because I may wake up two weeks later to people’s sympathy or a distant relative coming all the way from the village asking my mum
“How is he now? We heard he ran mad after reading so many books?”
Or just wake up a new person, with strangers regarding me in a new light, with awe because they heard that I read so many books and I am supposed to behave in a certain bookish way.
And somehow this communal naivete, this too trusting loyalty is in the hands of a few, it is easily manipulated, it is a switch box that can effectively unleash raging currents of hate, love, sympathy, contempt, love and life- those who thrive on anarchy are using it- a few months ago the local leaders gave a simple decree- do not buy from two communities and do not work for them- then the loyal people, communally decided in that mob way of thinking followed the decree and overnight we had meat, whole steaks, fillets and entire goats rotting in the butcheries and people being beaten by hooded goons in the evening for defying the decree to buy from “marked shops, butcheries, wholesalers” there were hushed whispers, fear of unseen eyes watching, one women was beaten while her husband watched because she had a “concubine” from the “marked” communities, there were more cases of tearing of shopping bags and open pouring of purchased goods from the marked shops. The poor suffered, business men suffered, casual workers lost their jobs and daily wages, they returned home to face their hungry children, then slowly life came back and business is now returning almost to normalcy.
And just yesterday I was walking around the villages, and the many settlements around town for a simple exercise, a polio monitoring drive. I walked into many compounds and homes and walked out. In all the homesteads I was more than welcome; I was kindly treated, served tea and ate those small tumandazis, popular in our town…sweet. I ate lunch in one of the households and then my host talked about peace in general for a while, then not realizing my feigned interest, she leaned closer and in that conniving way of crafty elderly women she said almost whispering
“You know so many of them have died, everyone is hiding their shame”
|A picture of the backside Marsabit|
“I was in Moyale recently, believe me there is more to the war in Moyale than you know…..they are using spirits…jinn…. They tried burning the house of one of them and it could not catch fire…..can you imagine they even bombed it and it could not catch fire…..”
Surprise on my face
“Yes!!….every attempt at burning failed until they had to call the sheikh….a sheikh who came and in front of everyone cast out the jinn….11 of them…can you believe….Jinn…11..”
I listened carefully, putting all the oohs and aahs and mmmhs as demanded by her dramatic narration; she delved into details of exorcising the jinn…she painted the picture of a jar of fresh blood found under the bed….the sheikh standing in the middle of the house while cats appeared and disappeared, with unseen dogs barking from the many rooms….I endured all her talk until the jinn finally disappeared and the onlookers looted and burnt down the house….with just one bomb….boom!!
I sat there trying to act normal, refusing to psycho-analyze her, trying to believe that she too did not believe what she was saying and that maybe she was high on something she accidentally took. That maybe this is a lie….and she may say something like….heyy stop listening…am just pulling your leg. But believe me she is not alone, I have heard this talk more than once but I have always banished it to the back of my mind, locking all those tales into a tight cage somewhere in the past. The other time, a sheikh was accused of casting demons into six madrassa going children, (there is even a video clip of this somewhere), the local leaders, chiefs, councilors and a local MP were present…the crowd was a big one, the sheikh and demon possessed girls sat on opposite sides with the crowd watching them in awe. Then the girls began talking in funny tones and the crowd almost ran away….the demons/jinn in the girls were confessing before a powerful sheikh….how they came from Somalia and they were treated to chicken blood or something like that! And that they were here for some sinister affair!!
Unbelievable is your thought now….but this is something that is happening, this directionless-ness, and confusion, this murky, voodoo, fanatical, primitive, ungodly ways belong to this century. To this present; It is a village in a supposedly post modern city. This village will endure- this traditionalism will mutate into another form, an amorphous state of our backwardness, it is the intersection of primitive traditionalism shifting into something more sinister, more traditional, more backward and obsessive; imprisoning our thoughts, caging our minds into small cages of aggression, irrationality, fanaticism especially of the region-political nature, propaganda, confusion and anarchic gossip. I avoid some of my childhood friends who have stuck in some state of mental quick sand because in one way or the other they will delve into that irksome Illuminati talk, they will vent their anti-west, anti-American supremacy sentiments, talk about the new world order as if that matters then say a few things about Jesus….about Prophet Issah and eventually narrow down and zero-in on me
“Please do not die a Christian” they will say.