He asked me to marry him over tea.The proposal came as a surprise but he did not go down on one knee with a ring in one hand. A typical Maasai home is mostly quiet, life is slow and easy. “This is my youngest wife” .Ole Nkapapa said with utmost pride. He looks very old probably in his late seventies but has the strength of a Belgian draft horse. For three hours we were ascending and descending the mountains encompassing his home. I will not bore you with the details of what we were looking for. When we first arrived at his home, I extended my hand to greet the old Mzee but he didn’t respond in the way one would expect. I learnt, you don’t greet a Maasai elder with your hands, you bend and let him tap your upper back with his walking stick…in case you’re confused, it’s not a spank.
“I have over seven hundred cattle, some of which are in Tanzania as we speak, on the other side of this mountain, as the grass on this side is almost drying out.”He says while ushering us to what he fondly refers to as his favorite spot in the homestead, where there stood a group of children, some looking like twins, with running noses, no shorts, just undersized T-shirts and smiles that say “You only live once”. Not a care in the world .There is a reason the good book stipulates that we must be like children in order to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Suddenly there’s a queue of nineteen children before me and I’m supposed to tap each one of them on the back. Culture shock…but I did my due diligence. I had been nibbling on some groundnuts and I handed some of it to one of the children. They all moved away like flies do from a dead rat, you could be forgiven for thinking that they all had been connected to one knob that activated everything they did, in sync.
|photo courtesy :wikimedia|
“Sasa?” I retorted .No response. The only language they comprehend and speak is their vernacular. His home is not fenced, and just a few meters from where we are standing, sits what looks like a dilapidated stand-alone building, it looks like a Manyatta and he tells us that this is a school…and the only kids who go to the school are his nineteen children bore by his five wives. “Why is that?” I vaguely ask. “Look around, how many homes can you see other than this? “There’s no other home in sight, just small hills graced by shrubs and stunted grass. Yea, the ones your geography teacher used to bore you with. Savannah grasslands. Something like that.
I was halfway through asking him what happens when they are attacked, when I was interrupted by a soft tap on my left hand. I was met with a little man’s innocent looking eyes and a wry smile. He wasn’t talking but he extended his right hand. ‘Groundnuts?’ I asked myself as I extended him the small polythene paper that I was holding. He grabbed it and ran off to his other siblings. From where I was, I read excitement, the kind of excitement you feel when you watch a movie in 3D for the first time. I kept shifting my head, so that I am not hit by the bullets or stone fragments from explosions. There’s some fear, but you get used to it. Turns out my little kids had never seen or even eaten groundnuts. After the first taste, they kept coming for more.
Lemaiyan’s wives looked “tight” .They were seated together at the same place on three legged stools waiting on their husband who kept giving orders. I kept wondering what they were talking about, but I can imagine one or two things. The first wife is probably giving instructions to the rest on how to treat their husband in the following week. “I will be cooking for him” “I will be warming his bed” “I will be washing his feet” “I will be sterilizing his ears, ” The good book says that he who finds a wife finds a good thing. I wonder how much goodness comes with finding five wives. In another life, I want to be a Maasai man. An elderly Maasai Moran. His wives look much younger than he is and it appears like they could protect him if their empire was attacked. They looked like cougars. Slim, slender, physically fit, fierce, yet so submissive cougars.
It’s 4pm, our business here is done and we’re seated on a wooden bench that is stained with cow dung, bird poop and decorated with tree leaves. One of his wives arrives with a metallic “birika” full of hot tea…actually more of milk and less of everything else. She hands each of us a metallic cup and proceeds to fill each with tea then she places a plate of something that resembles a chapati and yet looks like a pancake on one of the wooden benches. “Poeshea mtoto chai” The old man tells Antaeta as I later learnt she was called, while pointing in my direction. They say that the one time you should not say anything is when you really feel like you have to say something .For crying out loud, I am a woman. My bosom is fully developed and I’m confident that I can push a 3.5 kg baby out of my baby bag. I swallowed my words and handed my cup to the lady.
We spent the next few minutes in silence; munching, chewing, sipping, “whistling “.If you went to a public secondary school then you definitely understand what it means to whistle while taking tea. Then out of nowhere the old man says he wants to marry a sixth wife. We all turn our heads in shock. You should have seen the look on my face. ‘He’s 79’, I thought to myself, and then I remembered how he traversed those mountains. Silence. “Nitakuja kwenu nikuoe” Then I realize he didn’t just say he owned 700 cows for nothing. More deafening silence. Then I look at him and I realize that he’s not joking. after an awkward two minutes of no words, one of the guys we’re with offers to be the one to give the girl away. He demands 300 goats and it’s all fun and jokes until the old man asks me to honestly confirm if I’m not married, that he doesn’t want his head dismembered from his body. Dude is serious. More silence. And then I said yes to this marriage proposal. No, actually the guy said yes on my behalf. We spent the next ten minutes chowing down our something in between pancakes and chapati in silence and washed it down with the tea. So I got engaged…just like that.