To laugh often, heartily and much. This is what makes life beautiful.
If you know me, you know that I love to seek laughter wherever it can be found. I usually find it everywhere, and often in little things. This morning, like many other mornings before it, I have found many things to make me laugh.
And boy have I laughed.
Every morning after breakfast, I love to walk around the village. I love to go into other people’s compounds uninvited in the morning because this is home and you don’t need invites. Everyone knows me and I am welcome in many homes. I am notorius at this and my mother has complained about it for years. Nowadays, I am usually accompanied by my daughter Wangarí. These are well known facts around Thanda Maria.
There are days I will go to drink tea in the adjacent homestead with an old lady, Nyina wa Múigua. She is in her late eighties and she is a dear friend of mine. I am also a dear friend of hers because she often says of me, “úyú agakua ndí úgeni”. It loses it’s beauty in translation, but it reads a little something like this, “this one will only die when I am far away in foreign land”. I always find her words simple and touching.
There are days I will go across the road to my friend Nyina wa Joisi’s home. The stories there are always hilarious. I always take aloe Vera from her garden because I am some sort of health freak. I also get a lowdown on many things happening around this thicket.
On some days, like today for instance, I go to another neighbour’s home, Ithe wa Toni. His age-mates call him Thakaria. That is Zachary for you. He tells me many things. He usually tells me that he was born Circa 1936 not far from where we live. He lives in the same homestead with a gentleman by the nom de guerre, or street name if you may, Bobby. Bobby is a good friend of mine and a leading customer at my bar; Kommittee of experts; the local experts on throat irrigation.
Bobby is one of the most revered users of intoxicating fluids of the throat wetting variety in Thanda Maria. He is a world class talent by any metric.
As we say around here, ‘aumaga thandí’ around alcohol. There is no English equivalent for that, he is just very talented at swallowing alcoholic beverages.
Bobby Calls himself many things when his larynx is hydrated. Bobby is not his real name, it’s a nickname he gave himself. He was a decent footballer in his day and he named himself after Bobby Ogolla, a legendary Kenyan Footballer. When he shouts it when he is lit, it comes out as Bombi ongora.
His real name is Isaac and there are days he calls himself, usually melodically and at the top of his voice, Isaac Okoronko! He claims that he borrowed the name for a Nigerian footballer in the nineties. There are days he goes by the name Kùringa Kúrekia. It all depends on how moist the tonsils are.
One of the many reasons I go to Thakaria’s home is because he is a tailor and owns a measuring tape which I frequently borrow. I am a fitness enthusiast that sometimes requires a measuring tape to measure my body fat percentage. I could buy my own but it would suck the joy out of my mornings.
So I went to Thakaria’s home earlier today to borrow his measuring tape as usual. We struck a conversation as we always do. At some point he complained bitterly that this whole Covid19 mess has made his throat irreparably arid and he wished that it would it would go away soon so that he can salvage whatever remains of his larynx.
Our conversation got very interesting. He told me of his time in pre-colonial Kenya when he served as a houseboy for an Italian Priest , the Rev. Father Gianni Casorati at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. It might interest you to know that our village, Thanda Maria, takes it’s name from this church.
He told me that Fr. Casorati was a builder that built what is now the Seat of the Catholic diocese of Murang’a in Thanda Maria. He told me that Fr. Casorati spotted a futuristic beard that stretched all the way to the bottom of his thorax, right where his diaphragm was located. From the way he described it, I have a feeling it was more state-of-the-art than the One spotted by the Prophet Dr. Owuor. He also told me that the Priest used to be a very good friend of his.
He told me many things about pre-colonial and post colonial life, specifically the part that concerned the church. He told me that a white man was a very feared thing. You could attract a beating from one for all manner of transgressions. He told me that a white man could stop his car and slap you for not removing your cap as he drove by.
He told me that mass was only said in Latin though the congregants were primarily Africans who had no working knowledge of Latin. He frequently served mass for Fr. Casorati. He remarked that a majority of these Africans were illiterate. Mass was still said in Latin all the same. I said that that could not be possibly true. He spontaneously broke into a recitation of the the Trinitarian formula in Latin to prove his point and he went, “In nomine patris, et filli, et spiritus sancti, amen”. That is the sign of the cross if you are not a Catholic with a flair for the dramatic.
I forthwith believed his assertion unconditionally.
He told me that there used to be a small book that contained the rites of mass in both Latin and Gíkùyù, which I found redundant on account of all the illiteracy that abounded.
I asked him whether he was familiar with Latin at the time and he told me that he was more than just familiar with it. He claimed that he had enjoyed more than just a casual relationship with the dead language. He said that he had even composed a song in Latin.
I told him, “Aca we!” “No way!”
He looked at me and smiled. He then proceeded to sing an entire song in Latin. I am a nerd that knows many Latin words and whatever he sang was in Latin. Then just for show, he broke into the Gíkùyù version of his composition. He told me that he used to play it as a guitar solo. He also claimed to have been quite the artistic attraction around the village with his Latin composition.
I asked him how he managed to do a thing as remarkable thing as composing a song in a language that had no speakers. In a nutshell, he told me that the secret ingredient was crime. He told me that he used to help himself to many things that belonged to Fr. Casorati. He didn’t sugar coat things, he told me that he would steal many fine things from him, most especially, church wine. He has obviously suffered from an arid throat for the better part of seven decades.
He, by his own admission, he stole many books that translated many Gíkùyù words into Italian and Latin. It is from these books that he composed his hit.
He also told me of a popular phrase at the time, “gùtirí mùbía na mùthùngù”. It meant that there was no distinction between the Italian priest and the colonial British officer. The African converts were very devout and went dutifully to confession. If one went for confession for a crime, an act that is premised on confidentiality, the priest would immediately report you to the colonial administration. The priest would act as an intelligence officer for the colonial administration. He told me that he has held a particular disdain for confession since then.
I asked him what language he used with Fr. Casorati . He told me that most of the priests and sisters there spoke Gíkùyù. They spoke this melodic version of Gíkùyù that sounded like Italian and most were fluent. This I have experienced first hand. This dialect of Gíkùyù is known in many places where there were catholic missionaries as Gí Bía, or the language of the Italian mùbía. Mùbía is a Friar or Priest in Gíkùyù.
He told me that the only priest who did not speak Gíkùyù was Fr. Rico. His full name was Enrico but they shortened it to Rico. He was an old man that didn’t speak English either. This was inconvenient every time alarm was raised around the village during Mau Mau raids. When the white soldiers would come to his rescue, there would be a complete breakdown in communication. He could only scream to the English soldiers “mbu! mbu! Macengo!” While gesturing frantically towards the village of Macengo. Mbu, is wailing in Gíkùyù.
He also told me that Fr. Casorati was later moved to a village called Gíkondi to build another church. He was replaced by a very troublesome Italian, Fr. Clamasco. He told me that he and Fr. Clamasco nearly exchanged blows after the latter called him pumbavu because Thakaria had had an altercation with some Italian sisters. Thakaria resigned after the incident. He also said that Fr. Clamasco’s sharp tongue and bad temper attracted the ire of some Mau Mau Ninjas during a raid at his church house in the Catholic church at Tuthù on the foothills of the Nyandarùa ranges. The Mau Mau Ninjas beat him to within an inch of a permanent vegetative state.
When Fr. Casorati heard of his altercation with Fr. Clamasco, and Thakaria’s subsequent resignation, he invited him to Gíkondi as his houseboy. He had a very soft spot for him. He told me no woman, African nor European, ordained or lay, would enter Fr. Casorato’s house without being accompanied by Thakaria; both in Thanda Maria and in Gíkondi. He told me that Fr. Casorati was always very keen not to appear improper.
Fr. Casorati however issued him with standard instructions to follow during a Mau Mau raid to avoid the fate that befell Fr. Clamasco. He told him that if attackers ever came in search of him, Thakaria was to direct them to his door, and call out his name in a particular way. After that, he was to step aside and Casorato’s Beretta pistol would do the rest.
His stay at Gíkondi did not last long because Thakaria’s philandering ways led to him engaging in acts of the intimate variety with Fr. Casorato’s cook. This resulted in an unplanned pregnancy that landed Thakaria at the ‘Igoti ría mítugo’ at Kíng’ong’o. Simply translated this means court of good behavior but nothing in English quite does the phrase justice.
His transgressions attracted a fine of 800 bob or a jail term in lieu of the fine. Since he could not raise the fine and he did not want Fr. Casorati to know since the latter had officiated at his wedding earlier in 1958, Thakaria became a fugitive from justice.
He told me that his good friend Fr. Casorati would later die enroute to Italy.
I cannot tell you all that we spoke about, but I can tell you that I have laughed heartily today. I told Thakaria that since it is said that laughter adds years to one’s life, he has definitely added a year to mine.
I owe the gentleman a drink on general principle.
As I was later writing this seated with my daughter on plastic kenpoly chairs outside my Cùcù’s gate, a very familiar Lexus Lx 570 beloging to the county governer just went leisurely by us. He is a daily fixture on this road. The Governer was seated in the front seat with the window down as always. Unsolicited, he stretched out his hand and waved at Wangarí and I I waved back.
“What an interesting morning “, I thought as I chuckled to myself.
To laugh often and much, that is all I want from this one life of mine.
Now I have a strong compulsion to write about a hilariously unfortunate incident involving Thakaria, Bobby, a Ninja named Wafula, illicit alcohol and a prison sentence.