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Sunday, April 17, 2011

mzinga

A few weeks ago I was sitting and drinking with a couple of my cousins. It was a lazy Saturday afternoon, no-one had any monumental plans so just a chilled kind of day. Later in the afternoon our niece came over to wait to go home since her school is closer to our place than her's. She sat down beside us am thinking in the false hope of hearing wise words tumbling out of our mouths with every syllable. I once read this article about how children(us too when we were) think that adults are some kind of superhumans with all the knowledge of the world existing within them but the truth is we are just thrust into the world ill prepared to face it and forced to learn on the job.

Anyway my niece is 12 years old and in class 7 one year away from doing the most important exam of her young life. I have a problem with that definition of KCPE there is too much gravitas attached to a paper that doesn't really determine much except where you go to high school, and because of this paper my niece at 12 has to go to school on Saturday. Taking away the few years of sublime joy that human beings have. Her bag was huge. Packed into it were textbooks of all the subjects she studies in school. Every single one. Then there were the exercise books that she has to carry every day since the timetables are made with the sole aim of messing up shoulder blades. I have a pretty heavy laptop, scratch that there is nothing pretty about it. It is a machine. I like to think about it as a land rover defender. Metal everywhere, a weight to lug around, a second thought accompanies every time I leave the house with it when the flash disk is almost just as useful companion. On the days I have to carry it I put it in my bag and pull the bag over my shoulder and before i have taken one step out of the house my shoulders begins to ache. I tire like I have diabetes, stopping for a drink wherever I can. I tried to lift my niece's bag and shit I felt like such a whiner, a little girl carries more weight than I do to school everyday.

Being tipsy none of our conversations were tumbling with wisdom the only tumblers there were filled with ice to cool down the alcohol. The ghost that reminisces soon came to sit among us and we asked her for a Swahili textbook. For anyone who doesn't know(anyone who didn't learn in Kenya) yes Swahili is this huge force for nationalism, some say the glue that holds our nation together by allowing all our various tribes a medium of communication. It is the language of the youth but in a form that is evolving with every spoken word, this form of Swahili is called sheng and it is nearly an organic life form drawing its life force from thousands of experiences, nside jokes and songs, it changes so rapidly I gave up any thoughts I entertained about understanding all of it. I can get by but just barely. This is not the Swahili taught in schools.

The Swahili taught in schools is a horror of rules and words that no-one ever uses. A grammatical structure that divides all words into about ten groupings which all have their own subrules, plurals and interactions. It is without a doubt the hardest subject I have ever had to do. Some people think that people from my tribe have a genetic predilection to favour English over Swahili and I know I am perpetuating the stereotype by using the word predilection.

For kicks we picked up this Swahili book to give each other quizzes on it. Being right in the middle of the Arab revolutions we went straight to the page about weapons. This probably had less to do with the Arab revolutions than it did this was one of the only pages with pictures in it. They would draw a weapon and ask you to match it with it's name below. We went through this laughing at our ignorance till we found a gem. Right there on the page was the word “mzinga” this is a word that has signified pleasure on the cheap for most of my post high school life. A mzinga is a 750ml bottle of liquor It's what you get when you are broke and when you are not. It's what you get when you are sober, when you are going to a party, when you have a few hours to kill. A mzinga is usually only used to describe cheap liquor and it is the main reason punch at parties isn't mixed in front of the female guests preferring the kitchen or a room full of mystery where it leaves fully formed. A mzinga is what we had hidden as soon as our niece came into sight.

We were understandably excited about learning its real definition. We called her down and asked her to point out the answer to that question for us. Turns out it is a canon. Cool metaphor for something that has knocked down so many walls. But she knew that we couldn't be that happy over the finding of a canon, she knew that it probably meant something else in our minds but she had no idea what, which is why she said:

“i can never understand your middle aged talk.”

What? I have never felt so old.