By Moraa Gitaa (Kenya)
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By Moraa Gitaa
‘Armed with a vagina and the will to survive, she knew that destitution
would never lay claim to her.’
Brian Chikwava’s – 7thStreet Alchemy
* * * * *
Everything in Malindi starts with the wind. To know whether it is going to rain or if there is enough fish for the days catch we test the direction of the wind. For hundreds of years the sailors of the eastern lands harnessed the power of the winds to sail to the east coast of Africa. They found riches on the islands of Lamu and Malindi which gave rise to the great dhow trade. The northeast monsoons carried the small and big dhows the jahazis and mashuas to and from the Indian Ocean. Arab and Indian sailors traded spices, porcelain and cloth for timber, ivory and hides. Many of the sailors settled and intermarried along our Kenyan coast. It was the birth of our great Swahili culture…
I come down to earth from day-dreaming as if I am hearing papa’s voice beside me. The burdens I carry make me forget that I’m only 14 years-old and still a katsanga kenye1 in our Mijikenda2 dialect.
Tuma is my name. It is short for Fatuma, which means ‘abstinence’ in Swahili, a name I curse because I have been forced by circumstances to abandon its characteristics. As I sip my cold Coca Cola in the humid coastal heat, my bar stool becomes wet yet I’ve not hit the beach. Neither is the source of the spot of wetness a spilled drink. It is my diaper that has gotten wet. At least today I could afford an adult diaper. On the days that I can’t afford one, I use toilet papers I steal from the beach hotels. My two years on the beach have been full of sexual abuse, mostly anal, a favorite with the Italians. Long labor due to my tender age during childbirth to my son has made my condition worse. I can’t control my bladder and bowel. The only way I know how to contain the stinking mixture is to stuff toilet papers into my anal opening. If I cough or laugh, I urinate and sometimes defecate on myself.
The doctor at Malindi district hospital told me that I need an operation to repair the holes in my birth canal and anus. I can’t afford it. He’d said the hole I was suffering from was called Obstetric Fistula and was causing Urine Incontinence. Big words that I couldn’t understand. He had to write them down for me on a paper. In Swahili we call this painful condition nasori.
The operation will have to wait until I get my mzungu3 who will give me money. Mama knows what I go through, but talking to her on sexual issues is mwiko4. As I grew up, anytime I opened my mouth to ask her about boys and sex, she would pretend like she’d not heard. Any embarrassing topic to my Mijikenda community is considered mwiko.
I was always taught to be submissive. At the slightest sign of deviating from the Holy teachings I was threatened with dire consequences. Mama and my shangazis5 taught me that girls are supposed to get married and have babies. Mama constantly told me that on the Day of Judgment, Allâh will make sure that brimstone and hell fire consume me if I don’t follow the directives! To the Madrassa School where we learnt the Qur’anic verses, we girls had to be escorted by a male relative. The revered family name was not to be tarnished at any cost.
All the women in my life hid their emotions behind the hijab head veil. When papa suffered a stroke and stopped going out to fish, all responsibilities fell on me as we had no other source of income. I became a katsanga kenye who slept with older wazungu6 men. The Qur’anic teachings were conveniently forgotten as my parents turned a blind eye when I started going out at night. It is true what my late babu7 used to say, that ‘samaki huoza kuanzia kichwa chini.’8Our family had started to rot. At times I thought to survive my life I would need tambikos9 to be offered on my behalf so that my life would not be cursed.
* * * * *
It is two years since papa had the stroke and a year since I had my baby. I have become a prostitute on the beach. I can’t blame men for mistaking me for an adult. Once I put on one of my cheap wigs with my near perfect makeup, I look like I’m twenty and appear more mature in my tops and mini-skirts bought from the mtumba10 markets. At closer inspection, the cops can tell that I look as if I could fit better in a class-room with other teenagers. When they demand for my national ID,11 I lie that I’ve forgotten it at home. Some of the cops are my clients and I’m never arrested on charges they call, ‘loitering with intent to prostitute’ because I have sex with them at the police station’s yard in the back of vehicles held for traffic offences.
My mind wanders back to when I was abandoned by my family…
…I was twelve but already a child prostitute. Mama knew that the hunger at home had driven me to the beach. Papa retired from fishing because half his body was paralyzed. He didn’t care where I got the money from as long as in the mornings I brought money back home. Mama is the third wife and papa was trying to get another one despite our poverty. Our faith didn’t forbid him from getting a fourth wife. I got pregnant and dropped out of class five at Malindi Primary School and had my son, who is almost two years now. I named him Tamwa12, which sounds like my name and because he made me happy. I hardly spent time at home and Tamwa started calling me by my name Tuma, he thought his grandmother, my mama was his mother! The villagers gossiped because Tamwa was a pointy13. He looked like many of the Italians I’d slept with and I didn’t know who the father was. Despite the fact that baby was always sick, no one helped me take him to hospital. By the time Tamwa was one year-old, he’d lost nearly all his weight. He didn’t have enough breath to move a blade of elephant grass. Only a soft whisper and slow whizzing rattle escaped from deep down his chest cavity with almost visible ribs poking through. Then I too fell sick. Mama thought it was malaria and gave me a dose of bitter muarubaini14leaf juice.
Diarrhea attacks weakened me. I assumed it was typhoid because of the untreated water we fetched from the village borehole for use. The kilos I lost were attributed to not eating well. The ulcers in my mouth I kept to myself. But not for long because mama noticed I wasn’t eating as I couldn’t chew properly. Tuberculosis gave me persistent coughs and terrible chest pains.
The sores on my body made the doctors ask me to take the test. The test scared everyone in our village. There was only one test, especially when pronounced with a capital T by the always serious-faced government doctors. It was the HIV test. Mine turned out positive. I had contracted the HIV virus. Tamwa was tested too and was found to also be positive and put on dosages of Septrin and Multivitamins. I wish I’d known there was a way to prevent my infecting him, but it was now too late. All I could do was pray for him to be healed. A miracle from Allâh happened after a few months. Baby Tamwa was tested and was negative. The doctors said he’d sero-converted. Another big word like fistula that I didn’t understand.
Papa was shocked with my status. AIDS is one of the mwiko subjects in my community. My people fear disclosure of one’s status. They believe that tambikos poured to the ancestors can cure you. Being HIV positive coupled with famine and poverty, is not the best combination for good neighborliness because you always go begging for food.
Papa suspected what I was doing to bring food back home, yet he disowned me when I fell sick. After several admissions at the hospital, papa decided to get rid of me. One market day, he took me to Bamba market. It is the central market place in our home village in Kilifi district though we had moved years back to live in Maarafa in Magarini division of Malindi district. It is an annual event like the slave trade we had been taught at school that had passed through our Shimoni caves almost a century ago, yet this is the twenty-first century. Young girls are paraded in the market. Elderly men ogle them and pick young wives some still katsanga kenyes.
It was a long day standing in the open air market under the sun. Nobody bid for me. No one wanted a sickly-looking girl. In the evening papa gave up and decided to hire two boda boda15 cyclists.
I thought we were going home, but he asked the cyclists to go in the opposite direction off the Mombasa-Malindi highway. Papa abandoned me in the Arabuko Sokoke Forest16. I was too weak to resist as he dragged me into the forest with his good arm. He hobbled away and told me never to go back home again! The cyclists probably thought I was being taken to one of the waganga17 who reside in the forest. When papa went back to the cyclists alone, they must have assumed I was spending the night with the medicine man. It was common for katsanga kenyes from my village to spend nights with medicine men or witchdoctors, as payment for services rendered to the girls’ families and end up becoming their wives.
I sensed the pregnant silence of the forest, swollen with mystery. I could almost touch with my hands the eerie silence from the Kaya18 forest. As an Angolan Colobus monkey dashed past me chasing a gengi19, I dragged myself through the dense palm trees. After a while I realized I’d reached the forests’ edge and tarmac road that leads to Watamu. I dragged myself to the Kijipwa police post whose lights twinkled in the distance. The officers on duty were shocked at my state and story. That night I slept in one police woman’s quarters.
The following day the policewoman called the MSF20 doctors who came and picked me up and took me to their medical camp. They nursed me back to health. They counseled me on how to take care of myself. I felt encouraged by an advert printed by the MOH21 and GOK22. It is of a poster of a young man called Joseph in a ‘before’ and ‘after’ pose. In the first he looks sickly and in the other he is healthy after being put on ARV’s for six months.
While at the MSF facility, many nights I woke up shaken by the same nightmare. Papa putting me on a boda boda and abandoning me in the Kaya.
After I was discharged from the MSF camp, I didn’t press charges against papa. I would be committing an abominable mwiko. Whoever heard of a daughter taking her papa to court? If I did such a thing the elders would insist on tambikos being performed to avert curses befalling our homestead. I never went back home, but occasionally got word from friends that Tamwa was doing fine.
I tried washing clothes for people, but the pay was not worth the huge bundles of laundry. Thrice I worked as a house maid but got frustrated because the men of the house wanted sex from me. At night I hit the beach. I became what the locals call wasichana wa rodi23. I needed money to pay rent for a tiny shack I’d gotten in the slums of the prostitute’s quarters in Majengo Ndogo.
We called our shacks ‘six-by-six’ because they were six feet by six feet. To make ourselves feel better we even called them self-confused apartments, instead of self-contained! Sitting on the tiny bed made with tyre strips and mangrove poles, I could touch the four corners of the shack if I stretched my arms wide. Another nickname was four-by-four because our tiny spaces contained our living room, storage, bedroom, and a plastic pail for our bathroom. For shitting we used plastic bags called flying toilets because we shitted and hurled them into the bushes! Our life was tough. That was why we couldn’t understand why the National Census officials who came to count us were asking if we had a television and radio. Was the government going to buy them for us? They also asked if family members had died recently. My baby Tamwa almost had I told them. They finally wrote in chalk on my rotten door, KNBS/0026/09.24
I changed my look by shaving off my hair that was in patches due to what the MSF doctors had called Herpes Zoster that had afflicted my scalp.
I finally got a job at the Coco Cabana beach pub but the four thousand shillings I earned monthly wasn’t enough for basic needs. Coco Cabana was a different world made up of loud music, a DJ and a red and blue neon flashing sign. A plasma screen filled one wall. A jetty led out to speed boats rocking on the waves. One of my clients introduced me to Kahn the German owner one evening and the next day I had a job as a waitress. Satan, the muscled chief barman was a young man from my village. He was to teach me everything.
I learnt that bar stools come in different shapes. I stared in wonder. Some went round and round on metal rods. Some were covered in leather while others were wooden. Satan took me through the different glasses. Beer mugs, Pint glasses, Spirit glasses, Martini glasses, Brandy snifters, Margarita glasses, highball glasses.
Things I should never forget to have ready were ice-buckets, tongs, how to pour the wine, how to hold my bar towel, white clean and warm moist hand towels for patrons. Satan kept repeating that our boss never allowed mistakes. I was soon perfect. I also became an expert at pouring down my throat shots of Sambuca, Amarula, Tequilla, Jack Daniels, Tusker, Smirnoff Ice and many other alcoholic drinks.
* * * * *
Every beach girl in Malindi was trying to hook a mzungu, and all the cyber cafés tried to help. American flags were pasted on windows screaming, ‘APPLY FOR YOUR AMERICAN GREEN CARD HERE!’ All the girls were crazy about this card. I wondered why it was green and not any other color. The older girls told me that green represents a better life. I was told that it was a sort of bahati na sibu25and those who get it go to America! It was the first time I had seen a computer. The Ministry of Education had said that they would start what they called an ICT project at my school before I dropped out. But when? Our school didn’t even have electricity or solar panels! I was introduced by one attendant to what he called the Internet and what looked like a plastic eye stuck above the computer. He called the eye a webcam and said that once I get a mzungu, we can talk as we look at one another even though he is far away! The girls called the talking chatting. Some girls I met at the cyber introduced me on the Internet to sites called ‘Adult Friend Finder’ and ‘Meet Men Here.’ I was so excited!
An older girlfriend I made on the beach called Kanini told me to forget about the Internet and said that I will attract the wrong type of men. She introduced me to a mganga to help me hook a good mzungu. All girls on the beach know that a mzungu is their ticket to riches. Prostitutes, both local and from upcountry use the wagangas or even wachawis26 regularly. Kanini told me that the tourism sector is sometimes unstable and a good mganga is believed to ensure, through witchcraft, a steady supply of tourists to support you. Kanini told me that her mganga receives a commission every time she receives cash and she even keeps him on what she told me is called a retainer.
Our mganga asked me to give him money to buy three chickens he would need for my next visit. He asked me without blinking to come back to him with the kuma of a female mamba. I was shocked. A vagina of a crocodile? Kanini told me she’d also been requested for the same by the mganga and that she’d gotten hers from the Mamba Village in Mombasa, the largest crocodile farm in Africa.
For fear of the Al-Badiri27, I’d always vowed never to steal. It gives the person who has committed the crime a number of days to own up and return the goods stolen. If the deadline reaches with no confession, the prayer takes effect and the culprits can’t urinate or shit! Some go mad and die. During the recent post-election violence one looter had a home-theater stuck to his back that couldn’t be removed. He roamed the beach with the screen on his back and eventually collapsed and died. I couldn’t imagine such a fate befalling me because of money I may have stolen! The Swahili say, Njia mwongo fupi28, hooking a mzungu via a crocodile’s vagina without hurting anyone seemed safer.
We planned a day trip and went to Mombasa to buy the crocodile’s vagina. We got into a matatu29. As usual, the matatu was overloaded and over-speeding. Women with babies strapped to their backs and others covered in leso wrappers on their thighs struggled for space in the fourteen-sitter; their fingers clutched broken arm rests because of the over-speeding. Besides me in the front, the driver not much older than myself gripped the steering wheel and hurtled the matatu right and left. At one time he lit a joint of bhang30 with his hands as he controlled the wheel with his elbows, despite the plastic cross on a pink glass rosary looped over the sun visor tapping against the cracked windshield that might at one time been caused by his carelessness! The rear view mirror was missing and a picture of Jesus was stuck next to the speedometer above a sticker reading, ‘DON’T JUST SIT THERE AS HE DRIVES DANGEROUSLY! STAND UP. SPEAK UP, NOW.’ Beside me I saw what the man beside me was reading in the Daily Nation. It carried a report on the stickers. Though slow in reading I managed to understand that an America-based centre had published a paper titled; ‘Heckle and Chide: Results of a Randomised Road Safety Intervention in Kenya.’
I prayed for a safe journey as my seat belt was broken. Hot black oil was cooking in the matatu’s engine and the seat was hot. I felt like I was sitting on mama’s blazing firewood. The engine clanged like cooking sufurias clapping together. The gear teeth joined in the noise by banging together and caught as the teenage driver shifted gear to second and then clamped his foot hard on the brake pedal, tilting me forward until I banged my forehead on the windshield. He jammed into first gear suddenly and took off at high speed. He kept jiggling the gear shift from side to side before ramming it into high.
Fortunately soon, Kanini shouted from a back seat, ‘Bwaga hapo!’ in Swahili slang requesting the conductor to let us off on the Malindi-Mombasa highway, at the junction of Kenol petrol station, Nakumatt Nyali supermarket and Tembo International Discotheque. It was now only a ten-minute walking distance to the crocodile farm. The driver impatiently switched gears again, applied the brake and bumped the matatu onto the pavement. We smelt burning rubber as the tyres screeched to a stop. An hour’s journey had taken 40 minutes!
* * * * *
It cost me ten thousand shillings to buy the vagina. I went back to the wizard’s boma31. Mama would be shocked. She says it is mwiko to visit wizards and witches. The old stooped man with a face like an over-ripe passion fruit was dressed in a white singlet with a red, black and white checked kikoi wrapper around his hips, colors believed by my people to appease ancestral gods. He wore a calico bag dangling from his neck and a monkey headgear. His wife took me to a hut in the boma and gave me a red and black shuka wrapper which she said should cover my bust and lower part of my body after I take off my clothes. After changing I was directed to another mud grass-thatched hut and given a mangrove mat to sit on.
I gave the wizard my crocodile vagina. He lit a fire and added udi32and ubani33. He placed an earthen pot on the three firestones. Smoky smell of burning incense filled the hut. On the earthen floor he’d arranged rattle gourds near the hearth and drawn a square using white chalk on which he placed another earthen pot containing my crocodile’s vagina. Scattered around the pot were three chicken’s slaughtered heads, cowrie shells and a tiny mirror. My people call the mirror ritual kusoma ramli34. I could see the chickens slaughtered were red, white and black. He asked me to straddle with my legs across the pot, urinate into it, then bend forwards and write my name in the box with a piece of chalk. The wizard rattled the gourds in his hands and trotted around me, chanting loudly. I heard him mention Italy, Germany, UK and the United States. He kept glancing into the mirror as he chanted. He took a new razor blade he’d requested I come with and made tiny cuts in three rows on my forehead, chest, waistline to my lower back, base of my spinal cord, back of my shoulders, feet near the toes, back of my hands and on my tongue, deep enough to draw a little blood.
He danced around me singing in Mijikenda. He told me to jog around my box. The blood and entrails of the slaughtered chickens were brought to him in a pot. He took some mixture from the gourds and mixed with the blood. He took a bottle of maji ya Zam Zam35 and poured into the pot. He spit into the pot and asked me to sip the mixture and swallow. I forced myself to. He put his fly whisk into the pot and sprayed me with the mixture. He then sat me cross-legged near the fire, covered me with a black shuka ensuring I choked on the smoke telling me, ‘Jifukuze na uvumba. Sema yaliyo moyoni na nafsi yako. Inshallah mungu atakujalia.’36 He made me whisper my wishes in my heart.
He instructed me not to bathe for 3 days. I was given the black powder in a piece of paper and told to lick a little everyday for 3 days. He told me to follow his instructions to succeed. He took the crocodile’s vagina from the mixture in the pot and wrapped it in an old newspaper.
He gave it me saying that soon a white man will come my way and I was to befriend him and make him stew with the piece of crocodile meat. But before cooking the piece of meat, I had to insert the piece into my own vagina and remove it and then cook it! I was to mix the piece with other pieces of crocodile meat, a delicacy in Malindi. I was not to taste it and should think up an excuse of why I wasn’t sharing the meal with the man. He suggested that I lie that I was fasting mfungo saba37as the Holy month of Ramadhan was recently over. Lastly, he gave me an irizi38 stringed with colorful Masai beads he’d prepared for me. I was to always tie it around my waist as protection against evil eyes of other beach girls who might want to steal my mzungu. I paid him. He asked me to go to the hut, change and leave the homestead without looking back. Once home and having no fridge I traditionally smoked the piece of meat and stored it for future use.
* * * * *
During my night outs, I have my battles with the cops from the TPD39. The roles have been reversed and for our prostitution to go on, we pay the police for protection and for them to look the other way.
We all have what Kanini calls pimps who obtain clients for us. Most of us being Muslims have to do this as we face a greater risk of being stigmatized by society if seen soliciting in public, than girls like Kanini who aren’t Muslim. Most of the men I sleep with refuse to use condoms. They say that immediately after sex if they have a cold shower the HIV virus dies.
I try to persevere, but it is difficult. Whenever I make money, I send one of my cousins, a beach boy to take some to mama so that she can feed Tamwa and my sisters and also repair the leaking coconut thatch roof of our house now that the rainy season is about to start. As I walk from the beach I stare at the Vasco Da Gama pillar we were taught in school was built out at sea many centuries ago by the Portuguese explorer. I pray that I can get as far away from this shore as that pillar. Instead I hit the highway.
My age is young but my hunger is as old as our Swahili culture. As a small girl when my fingers explored my body and discovered a spot of pleasure, that was when I realized I could use this spot to put food on the table! I remember how two years ago as we starved at home, I started feeding on my hunger, thinking of how to appease it. Even my teachers tried punishing my sexuality out of me which was evident from the time I was 10. I decided to exploit this sexuality I’d seen younger girls than I use on the beach to get money. I thank God that I’ve caught the eye of Antonio Cellini, the Italian consul. It is time to use my crocodile’s vagina.
I’m Italian and Malindi my second home, is a mini Milan just the way Eastleigh in Nairobi has become mini Mogadishu courtesy of laundered American dollars via piracy being invested there through proxy. In Kenya everyone has their own way of making money whether legit or not. It is a country under siege from aliens and foreign nationals as is obvious from the online websites selling the Kenyan coast. Germans have taken over the South and Italians reign in the North. I’ve never witnessed so much spoken German and Italian outside of the two countries.
I’ve been the Italian Consul for ten years but it’s just a social and honorary position. Occasionally I fly my private jet to Monaco for the Grand Prix to watch the Formula One races. For tax purposes in Malindi I run Antonio’s Aquadrome Water sports Facility, Cellini’s Italian Gelati Ice Cream Parlor and the Shark Attack Discotheque. The locals say that I am a drug baron. People will talk no matter what you do. I’ve seen Kenyan lunatics who would bet their mama if the English Premier League was a casino, so we all have our indulgencies. I do insist though that our Italian Seria ‘A’ is ‘il campionato piu bello del mondo!’40 Despite the fact that during the 1938 France World Cup, our Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini sent a telegram to the Azzuri reading, ‘’Vincere O Morire!41’’and of course our team wearing all-black Fascist uniforms thrashed Hungary 4-2! Who wouldn’t with the threat of death?
One aspect of the Kenyan coast that stands out are the child prostitutes. The locals call them katsanga kenye because most have not reached puberty. That’s why they are viewed as wabichi sana42! No one ever seems to know their real names. They use nicknames like Beyonce. They are always at the beach clubs looking for wazungu. As I sit and watch their clients, I search for a sign of conscience from these pubs of weighty sins. I find none. I have seen these katsanga kenyes lurking like stray dogs in Malindi’s dark alleys. I’ve seen them at the pubs with the neon flashing lights playing hide and seek with the emotions on their desperate faces when they fail to turn a trick for the night. I’ve seen many of these katsanga kenyes in their overly made-up faces wrapped in unnatural beauty with huge Tyra Banks weaves, tiny exposed breasts peeping out of wrong size bras.
The katsanga kenye know the men lust after them so they smile baby smiles trying to be sensual. A hand with fake nails screaming red that would look better holding pencils in a classroom, instead reaches out to caress a drunken face old enough to be her grandfather, clad in an Arsenal jersey in a misplaced bid to appear younger with a pathetic expression and eagerness to please for the sake of instant gratification. The katsanga kenye holds the gaze of the man for a few minutes flirting and openly engaging in foreplay. The old mzungu pensioner cajoles and serenades her with silent promises, sweet-nothings, hands unashamedly roving all over her body making sure his wallet is open showing dollars and Euros. The katsanga kenye knows she has landed a good trick. The grandfather pensioner stammers incoherently, driven to the point of insanity by the hot blood of the girl-child. ‘’Wie heissen sie?43’’ he purrs into her ear as if he doesn’t know she prefers to remain nameless, faceless and voiceless. She starts bargaining provocatively. I’ve listened to many of these girls talk. Their voices are tinged with nostalgia, pain and regret laced with shades of emotions that speak of many things gone wrong. Voices that talk and cry at the same time.
I listen to them negotiate and hear the old man say, ‘’Zwei-hundert Euro.44’’
The katsanga kenye looks at him expressionlessly and says unemotionally, ‘’Funf-hundert Euro!45’’
It is in these pubs that katsanga kenyes are forced to sign deals with the devil otherwise they will starve to death. The lives of precocious teenagers compromised under the assault of groping hands and carelessly spilled sperm. The girls are world class performers worthy of winning the Oscars. They twist their shapely bodies and roll their eyelids fluttering fake eyelashes. I have watched them wear looks in their eyes as distant as the stars sparkling in the Malindi night sky.
I viewed men who chase after katsanga kenyes as perverts. So it came as a shock when I was attracted to one of these nameless, faceless and voiceless girls. On outings to check out the competition for my discotheque, I’d seen her at the Coco Cabana where she worked. For days I oscillated between shots of Red Label and Southern Comfort watching her. I made it a point to go there every night. One day I found her with her head bowed, wiping tears, watched lustfully by several men. I’d been told by the barman called Satan whom I’d befriended that her name was Tuma. Another day I ordered a cold Tusker and she served me. A little while later one belligerent African man I’d been told was a TPD cop picked a quarrel with her and he abused her, ‘Malaya wewe!46’ Tuma who is as lovely as her musical name started to cry. She approached me saying, ‘Soddista il Signore Antonio, la supplico per mi portare via da lei!47’ I wasn’t surprised at her fluency because everyone in Malindi speaks Italian.
She was crying softly, avoiding my eyes studiously the way girls brought up as Muslims are taught to. I’d caught her overpowering scent and was almost knocked out like a feather. Invaded from every side my body shivered in the cool of the night as if hit by an attack of malaria! I knew it was wrong and that she was underage, but I couldn’t help the lust that engulfed me. She promised to come back after closing up the bar, but didn’t.
* * * * *
That was why today I’ve gathered courage and followed her home without her noticing. She stops at mama mboga’s48 stall and buys sukumawiki49 of five shillings. I see her hesitating over onions and tomatoes but decides against buying them. She is barely fifteen. I know she’s engaged in prostitution. Innocent looking she is with large eyes almost too far apart on her beautiful clean-shaven head, eyes which look like they will fall off if she so much as nods her head. She is famous on the beach line. She can never shake her head in a ‘no’ every time amorous expatriate wazungus prey on her. Bar men say she has such loose panties it is as if she walks around holding them in her hand and no sooner than she reaches her hand out to say ‘Guten Morgen’ 50 or ‘Buon Giorno’51 then they fall to the ground. Maybe in some of us the destitute girls see their future. In them some of us see our dark pasts full of secrets. Tuma laughs as she talks to mama mboga. A tinkling laugh that echoes ethos of pain. I wince inside.
She enters a kiosk and asks for samli of ten shillings - unrefined cooking fat weighed in 5 grams. Next she buys for three shillings a slice of sabuni ya panga52. Lastly she buys maize meal flour for fifteen shillings. The poor have become innovative and everything is sold to you according to the weight of your pocket. They call it the kadogoo53 economy. I watch as she buys a teaspoonful of sugar, another of tea leaves and a squeeze of toothpaste for two shillings – just enough for the following morning. I’m shocked! To someone who has plenty of money and power, everything that is forbidden elsewhere is permissible and possible in Kenya. All it takes is to dare it because it has become a country of fragmenting of everything into affordable sellable sizes including memories.
My mind wanders back. When placing my order of Tusker at Coco Cabana, I always say something to soothe Tuma. She is so beautiful I feel inadequate and yet I’m thrice her age, worldly and can have any woman I want. What can I do for her? Nothing. Except give her money. Sophisticated and enlightened as I am, if me a white, consider myself unprejudiced and free of preconceived ideas then why am I thinking of Tuma as an easy catch because I have the money to lure her? But then on the other hand I know that the poor masses in Malindi are a miserable lot, and we all know that misery loves good company so most of us foreigners have settled here to honor these ‘friendly requests.’ One needs to be ingenious because the only crime Kenyans will never, ever forgive you for is being poor. Why be poor when there are so many channels for corruption?
I watch her reach her home; a cardboard-polythene shack in the slum. I believe that an inherent generosity lingers in all humans; an innate ability to reach out to others. Uncanny then how, when confronted with ills of our society, your inability to help everyone rushes back at you, so apropos. I still want her. After all, Italians say chi non istima vien stimato.54 She might come to regard me highly soon. My nerves fail me despite puffing away at my Cuban cigar. I can’t approach her. I drop my eyes from curious African’s stares and walk away to where I’d parked my Ferrari 458 Italia.
One Sunday I go to my former school near the market square to watch a skit by a local NGO55 who research on HIV and AIDS. The theater group perform using a pen to symbolize a man’s penis. It’s the opening ceremony for the computer lab funded by the NGO, UNICEF56 and one of Malindi’s five-star beach hotels.
I clutch in my hand an envelope. It is a letter I’ve written to the guest of honor, the Director of UNICEF, asking him to help me go back to school. People say he is a good person. Kanini says what I have written is not a letter, but a petition. Mr. Laikonen is heading a campaign that ensures hotel owners sign a paper promising to help fight child prostitution. I’ve also written that the Indian director of the sponsoring hotel is a double-faced liar. He sleeps with me and other beach girls yet pretends to be fighting child prostitution!
I move towards the podium and then I see someone! I put the letter in my mini-skirt pocket. It is our area MP57 and Cabinet Minister. We hardly see him in our constituency which he is representing in parliament. I remember last year when he promised me five thousand shillings to spend two days with him in his hotel. On the third morning he’d sneaked out of the hotel, paid the bill and left me sleeping. He’d not left my five thousand shillings and I hadn’t seen him again. Now here he was. He was going to pay me!
I squeezed through the crowd and broke past the security shouting at the top of my voice that the MP had been my man last year and I’d been his katsanga kenye before he’d won in the general elections and that he owed me five thousand shillings! All hell broke loose at my disturbance and I could see the MP sweating. I shouted louder. His security men grasped my arms and dragged me away. There were whispers of ‘katsanga Kenye’ from the crowd. Outside the perimeter wall of the market, the head of security for the MP gave me a brown envelope filled with one thousand shilling notes and ordered me never to bother ‘Mheshimiwa’58 again! Counting the notes, I realized I had Kenya shillings fifty thousand.
* * * * *
It’s evening and I’ve alighted from a matatu where I had to kick-box my way through sweating armpits and mouths smelling of stale beer. The usual group of youth at the jobless corner whistle at me. I stare at the outdated ‘VOTE FOR RAILA – THE PEOPLE’S PRESIDENT’ poster. Kenya has become a country not wanting to show embarrassments. We have elected our leaders but the joblessness remains. I am one of the hopeless youths. To read me is to read the scars on my entire body.
My friend Kanini tells me, ‘Keenyu na keenyu cioyanagira nda59.’ She says that she is working hard to have a fat bank account. She says that every time she fucks a white man she is getting even for being a barmaid because she is a poor black girl. Kanini is also HIV positive and has taught me a lot. When my clients demand that we use a condom and the man doesn’t have any and neither do I, I produce a forged photocopy of an HIV negative certificate printed on the district hospital’s letterhead – a secret Kanini has let me into. We bribed the government doctor to get the certificate which tricks the men into trusting me.
Sometimes I can’t hide the real depth of my hatred as we splash in the wazungu’s jacuzzis. I’ve learnt that at the white men’s cottages, sex is a game. Kanini says that by infecting the white men with HIV, we are giving back to the white people a disease that had been inflicted on our black people. Our white clients will go away to their countries not knowing that they are infected with HIV. Kanini is so wise. Who’d have thought of walking around with a forged HIV negative certificate yet you are HIV positive?
Tuma and Antonio’s story…
Tuma sits before Antonio in his office at the Aquadrome thinking of the different men she has slept with. An always discontented German. An always drunk but love-struck Kenyan African civil servant. A stingy infatuated Indian dukawallah. One very proper British diplomat. An exciting, passing in-transit American Marine. An extremely generous and romantic French man. She was sorry for any she might have infected but all of them never hid the fact that they wanted to possess her physically. Yet this Italian Antonio was different. It seemed you couldn’t fully get to know him. It was like trying to hold the beach water in your hands.
‘You are nice with me Antonio. You call me mio va bene.60 You are loving and you never ask anything of me. You have introduced me to Italian foods like Mozza, Prosciuto di Parma and real Italian wine. Yet you are the only man who hasn’t asked me to sleep with him. What do you want?”
She wanted to thank him for his respect, for never having groped her. She also needed to tell him that she was HIV positive.
‘Tuma. I’m not different from these other men. I want you too.’ Antonio felt trapped by his frankness. The only difference was that he wasn’t like the others who never hid the way they ate her up, sucked at her with their tongues, touched her on the hip on the sly as if by accident and offered her drinks.
‘You want to be with me? You want to sleep with me just like them?’ Had she misplaced her trust? Like all the others, was he undressing her with his eyes and already sleeping with her?
Antonio stared at her upright breasts and tiny backside. Dewy-morning café-au-lait skin and deep black eyes. Voice: always the last to start laughing and the first to stop sub-consciously. Timid in speech, tentative in action. The scent of her hovered over him; a mixture of an exciting perfume, not a designer label but a heady village scent of exotic spices of coastal cooking like garam masala, turmeric and the dark smell of a woman’s flesh. No wonder coastal cooking is said to be an act of communal piety.
‘And I thought you didn’t want me that way. You can have me whenever you want. I’d like to be loved by a nice mzungu like you.’ Tuma continued. Exactly what she shouldn’t have said, Antonio thought to himself. She was looking for a white man like the other prostitutes; a promise of wealth and visas to European countries. An escape from the rabid prostitute’s quarters in Watamu where poverty restricted her to - anything to leave this god-forsaken country where if you are not rich you are as good as dead. Sex with a white man to these girls was like the lifebuoys that floated in the Indian Ocean. They saved your life and threw in a huge beach mansion.
‘Tuma, I don’t want to be a mzungu who gives gifts,’ Antonio said, ‘If you want to, there is some work you can do for me and earn good money.’
‘I’m not a little girl. I’m almost fifteen and in Malindi fifteen is like yesterday’s twenty-five. I don’t know anything about white men’s love. The African men will go straight to the point. ‘You’re beautiful. Will you come with me tonight?’ And they will pat my buttocks. If I say no, they continue pinching my bottom and arguing over their bills. But the white man stops smiling and orders another drink by pointing at his empty bottle. He leaves without saying thank you. From that day he stops leaving me a tip and acts like he never asked me to sleep with him.’
Later, Tuma says she is fasting. Antonio eats alone the delicious smoked crocodile stew she’d prepared at her place and brought to him.
Did I tell you that I got fired from a high profile government job in Italy before I landed here in Kenya? It was the best thing to ever happen to me. Being appointed the Italian Consul here in Malindi was a bonus.
Every morning I’d leave my beach villa and look at the sea view with a Margarita in hand, Cuban cigar in the other. I’d take the boardwalk to the jetty and stare at the different hues of the Indian Ocean, the southerly wind lightly feathering the waves as they grew giant against the jutting limestone corals. I’d be captivated by the purple-green network of seaweed plaiting the white sand like braids with Plastic Dasani bottles green wedges of limestone still in them scattered over the sand. I’d be startled by the gnarling surf and the fiercely shining sun. Sometimes the sea would be in green turmoil and would change to azure in early evening and emerald green at dusk. I was hooked and also got addicted to fried pweza61, not only because it is delicious but that the locals believe it to be an aphrodisiac!
I became the suave mzungu fluent in seven international languages. Then I met Satan with his opening line to all newcomers to Malindi, ‘If you need anyone, anything, anytime, anywhere, just let me know.’ And he delivers. For him there is no color bar as old mzungu women pensioners from Europe who have read ‘The White Masai’ fall over themselves attracted to his chiseled cheekbones, dreadlocks and biceps. There is no language barrier for him as one will not survive on coastal Kenya if you can’t speak Italian and German. Satan has learnt to speak with the whites. He knows how to adjust his syllables, speak in the steady modulated mono-tones like he has beach sand in the mouth.
I got hooked to the culture of the Swahili, their fabled generosity and humility where civil behavior is the rule rather than exception.
As I think of Tuma, I remember one night, in the Msufi Mkavu lane. I saw one katsanga kenye drop her panties to her ankles, hitch her skirt for a local man to heft her by her thighs and force himself into her. Am I any different from that man? Malindi, a beach paradise for some, yet at the same time filled with hard-up locals selling beautiful handicrafts, in-season fruits, vegetables and bargains of the hijacked kind; from vehicle hazards to Firestone tyres being hawked by out-of-school six year-old African kids talking fluent Italian and German with runny noses, who come up to you and tug at your trousers looking at you with beseeching eyes.
One incident with Satan completely won me over to Kenya. On his off-days, he’d go deep-sea fishing. I accompanied him and his pals one day.
Satan had killed the motor of my yacht and handed me flippers and a face mask half-eroded by salt. I was the first into the ocean. I was amazed at how the boys handled the sea without masks or flippers but only with their hunting spears, twisting like dolphins around corals and infant sponges. After a few minutes I went up for air. Five minutes passed before any of them surfaced! They finally did with a swordfish that trailed shreds of blood. I dove to the belly of the sea and bumped into a colony of intricate lavender and swam through a school of calamari that broke apart at my intrusion and then rejoined into one school once my fleeting presence was gone. I stroked further past a terrace of black brain corals to the floor of sand. I found a Stingray almost hidden in the sand its yellow eyes flashing with irritation, with a fluff of its iron gray wing-like fins the sand floated away like smoke and the Stingray was in fast flight.
The first surge from the Stingray took me by surprise but I managed to dodge its deadly arsenal. I remembered how Australian naturalist Steve Irwin had been stung by a Stingray and died. Then in all its sovereignty the Stingray glided to the bottom gently until the sandy floor settled over it and covered it again. In a split second a plaque of Stingrays majestically soared in from nowhere. They wrestled against me in a thrall of motion, their tails frantically flaring against my flesh, showing their white undersides their toothless mouths seeming to smile. They jostled into me and held me under them. One of their blunt heads knocked my facemask off! I was near to suffocating as I held in air. Satan and his friends came to my rescue and churned the water with their legs fighting off the Stingrays.
I’d almost died but I was more hooked on staying in Kenya, though I do miss our tavola calda62of back home! It didn’t take long before I poached both Satan and Tuma from Cabana to work at my discotheque
* * * * *
The first time Tuma and Antonio made love at his apartment it was gentle because she seemed in pain. Later he was shocked to see on the duvet the mixture of urine and faeces. She told him about the fistula but didn’t disclose her HIV status to him because he didn’t ask her. Neither did she ask him about his status. She hid herself anytime she had to take her anti-retrovirals. The following week he arranged for her to have corrective surgery at a private hospital in Mombasa. After her healing, the subsequent times they had sex it was wild and rough. She seemed to wield a strange power over him to the point that they used no protection. It was a dangerous obsession that he had no control over.
Like now his eyes were glued on her. He couldn’t wait for the club to shut down but gulped his whiskey and took home the girl who had him bewitched by some unseen force. He left Satan, now his manager in charge. He had sex more than thrice with her that night. The minute he thought he’d had enough of her, he hungered for her again.
His need of her was so great that she spent most of her time at his villa. He experimented his excesses and she obliged. Even in repose her smooth baby face never grumbled about anything. She would switch off mentally and pretend to be swimming in the depths of the ocean; this oddity weighed more on Tuma’s mind than the burdens of her life.
Tuma and Antonio’s story…
In the wake of Antonio’s interest in her, Tuma had come to believe in the power of a crocodile’s vagina but was doubting Kanini’s wisdom. It was only recently that she’d discovered that Kanini ‘knew’ Antonio, before she did and that Kanini was helping him out in his ‘business.’ Their latest conversation at Antonio’s villa still echoed in her head.
‘I can’t Kanini. We’ve heard of people dying when drug pellets burst in their stomachs.’ Tuma had said.
Kanini had swiftly countered, ‘I’ll promise you one thing. You don’t have to swallow pellets. We can arrange for you to have a suitcase with a false bottom and the cocaine disguised as face cream or concealed in the linings of brand new leather jackets you will be importing for business! You’ll earn millions for a single run. We have our network and your luggage won’t have to go through security.’
All this while Antonio had watched them silently, knowing that in the end Tuma would give in, because without money in Malindi one is like a criminal and dregs of society. To most young girls the promise of quick money without working hard for years is an irresistible temptation. The company they keep makes them easy prey for criminals. Drug trafficking has become the number one income earner for school dropouts. He remembered how he’d rescued Kanini once. She’d alighted from a flight from a trip abroad. The man she was with had excused himself to go to the forex bureau. He’d asked her to take his luggage across customs for him. Little did she know that he had heroine concealed as face moisturizers in his luggage. She’d been arrested by anti-narcotics cops. Antonio managed to get her a good lawyer who got her a sentence of a few months in juvenile remand.
Antonio comes down to earth in time to see Tuma glancing once more at the cocaine. His mind switches to another consignment. Frozen papa63 meat had just come in from the high seas. The meat was a delicacy for the locals and the shark fin soup a must try for every tourist. He had a front as he traded in shark meat. It was in demand also due to the fact that since ancient times, oil extracted from sharks livers was considered vital for the fishermen and their families because the oil boosts production of white blood cells and enhances immunity. He had to supervise the slabs of cocaine that were to be concealed in the thirty frozen sharks destined for the United States. Drug enforcement agencies never suspect that dead sharks have become the latest drug mules!
* * * * *
The hooting of a ship entering the harbor and glimmering sky-blue sea were background to the slender silhouette staring at the horizon. Tuma has changed into a beautiful young lady. Last month a friend in Cologne had sent her an invitation letter. She’d parted with a million shillings for an official of immigration at Sheria House in Nairobi to avail forged papers as she was under-age. She’d made up her mind to go to Germany as it is easier. She would then find her way to her dream destination of America.
Today she was in Mombasa to fly to Berlin. Friends who’d been there said that life in Germany was not easy but not as hard as in Kenya. As she was fluent in Italian but not German, she would have to learn the language. She’d been told that she would have to enroll for studies to avoid deportation. Another alternative was to get a German man to marry her and make her pregnant, to get her citizenship. Tuma sighed listlessly. It was better she leave Kenya. She wanted to earn good money and help her mama, Tamwa and younger siblings who despite the FPE64 and SFP65 still slaved away harvesting salt at the Malindi salt mines earning peanuts. She’d chosen to put Antonio in her past because though she’d smuggled narcotics thrice, the few millions she’d made was enough. She didn’t want to end up in jail.
She was happy though that she’d gone to her parent’s ancestral home in Marafa village 30 kilometres North of Malindi to pray for safe passage. All one needs is faith to visit the Jiko la Shetani66. She had the courage to descend into the gullies to beseech the spirits for protection. Written at the entrance was;
‘ATTENZIENE: MOVEMENTE OLTREQUE STA BARRIEDA SONO PROIBITI. PRECO CHIELERE UNA GUIDA ALLUFICIO.’67
Germany is just a transit point. Ever since Antonio had told her what was inscribed on the American Statue of Lady Liberty’s pedestal at the mouth of the New York harbor her flaming torch held aloft, Tuma had been moved by the words that beckoned her to the land of opportunity; ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores. Send these homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’
The evening light crouched over the city skyline. Farther from the eastern horizon, a freighter came into view. The glow of the few functioning street lamps formed a yellow haze, giving the encroaching night a pale underbelly.
Lately life for Tuma had hung on other people’s whims, yet at the same time she has learnt to keep unshed tears deep in her heart and now knows that in this life it is better to be without a name, face and voice because no name, face and voice means no life and that is the logic that is the mindset of the many girlfriends she’d left back home.
© Moraa Gitaa – September 2010
1A very young girl.
2 Nine sub-tribes of coastal Kenya.
3Swahili-European or Caucasian
6Check previous(3) - plural of Mzungu
8Swahili proverb-‘A fish rots from the head down.’
9Swahili-Libations / Sacrificial offerings
12An extinct Swahili word-Means a state of extreme happiness to almost euphoric levels.
13Swahili slang-Nickname given to children born of mixed parentage, especially an African mother and a white father or vice versa.
14 Neem tree.
15 Bicycle taxis
16The only remaining tropical rain forest on the East African coast
18Mijikenda-Means ‘homestead’(Revered sacred shrines because of significance in culture as a resting place for the souls of the departed)
19Swahili-Golden-rumped elephant shrew
20Médecins Sans Frontiéres (Doctors without Borders)
21Ministry of Health
22Government of Kenya
23Swahili-‘The girls of the roads’ a polite euphemism for prostitutes.
24Kenya National Bureau of Statistics
27Powerful Islamic prayer invoked by a Muslim elder under extreme circumstances especially theft of a high nature
28Swahili proverb-‘The path of a liar is short’
29Swahili-Colorful public service mini-vans, the preferred mode of transport with street art hand-painted on them, blaring hip-hop from loud speakers. Sometimes referred to as mathree in Swahili slang.
34Swahili-A sort of crystal ball reading using a mirror
36Swahili-‘Let the smoke fill you. Ask for what is in your heart and soul. God willing, He shall grant your wishes.’
37Swahili-Means seven extra days of fasting(The Muslim Faithful compensate fasting days missed due to illness or menstruation.)
38Swahili-A (lucky) Charm
39Tourist Police Department-Police unit formed to protect the tourists and to enforce law and order.
40Italian-‘The most beautiful championship in the world.’
41Italian- ‘Win or Die!’
42Swahili-Still very green/immature
43German-‘What is your name?’
44German-‘Two hundred Euros’
45German-‘Five hundred Euros’
46Swahili-‘You slut / prostitute!’
47Italian-‘Mr Antonio, I beg you to get me out of here! Please sir, help me!’
52Swahili-Coarse brown homemade caustic soda soap
54Italian proverb-To disregard is to win regard
55Non Governmental Organization
56United Nations Children’s Fund
57Member of Parliament
59Kikuyu proverb-‘Tiny grains of sand build into an anthill.’
60Italian-‘My pretty little thing.’
62Italian-Buffet Restaurants offering authentic Italian menus.
64Free Primary Education
65School Feeding Program
66Swahili-Devil’s Kitchen (Locals believe silent, invisible powers reside in the spectacular mythical rocks and grounds gullied centuries ago to the entrails of the earth by erosions and landslides. Site also called Nyari.)
67Italian-‘ATTENTION: MOVEMENT BEYOND THIS SAFETY BARRIER IS
PROHIBITED. PLEASE ASK FOR A TOUR GUIDE FROM THE OFFICE.’