By KHAINGA O’OKWEMBA
Among Kenya’s finest parliamentary debaters today — and there are just about a handful in the National Assembly — is Meru women’s representative, or if we stick to the more appropriate feminist jargon, ‘County MP’ Florence Kajuju. Yes, “appropriate” to the chagrin of other parliamentarians, especially, the shy ones who have never spoken in parliament.
In the book, 86 and Counting: Women Leaders in Kenya’s 11th Parliament (2014) published by Association of Media Women in Kenya, Kajuju is in her element: “We shall be fighting to have “it” recognised as a cash crop. Recognition by the government will make “it” to be managed better and if there are any side effects on its growth and consumption, then recommendations will be made.”
The pronoun “it” refers to miraa (marijuana), a major source of income in Meru. The flipside is that young boys are dropping out of school to venture into miraa business by demanding their small portion of family land because they believe that there are quick bucks to be made by having a few miraa plants in their name!
Kajuju does not concede that “consumption” of miraa has side effects; that is a matter that should be addressed by a motion seeking the establishment of a task force on miraa. Muna Ahmed Omar, the promising Somaliland writer whom we introduced on this page last week, stands on the opposite end of the Kenyan MP.
In the story, He Wasn’t Like This, Muna writes that those who consume “khat” as miraa is called in Somali language suffer from insomnia, boredom, hallucination, irascibility, self-neglect. Chewing miraa causes psychological and social problems. The unnamed character in Muna’s story “no longer has those beautiful eyes, nor does he have that beautiful smile. His once white teeth, whiter than fresh milk, have turned into mud, and all that he is left with is af-qashuush (bad mouth).” Chewing khat is addictive, and “destructive” as alluded to by the title.
This story is instructively short, perhaps brutal, yet it draws from the same building block that the reader encounters in the other stories by Muna in the anthology, Looking For! These stories at first may look like the writer was flirting with the quotidian. A closer look, however, reveals that they are rooted in a genuine “search for” the beauty that is always hidden in what we are wont to rubbish with a wave of the hand as antediluvian. The story The Old Man and The City, also translated simply as ‘Strange World’, affirms this point: “In the first few days when he arrived in the city, he could not even understand what the people were saying — what language do the city dwellers speak? All he could hear is broken dialect which sounded alien to him. The women in the city dress differently from those of the countryside.” The old man is the custodian of his people’s culture, a “wise man”, the “arbitrator”, who would never leave the countryside out of choice. Values priced in the countryside — simplicity, piety — are alien in the city.
Muna also directs the tip of her imaginative pen to arranged marriages. Do they work? Every married woman would suffer the anguish of Ebado — motherly, amiable, sociable, respectful woman — who is deserted by her husband who finds man’s lost rib in a young lady’s embrace!
*Muna will be in Nairobi next week attending Young African Leaders Initiative at KU.