Wanjiru frowned and walked away sulkily from the kitchen. Once again she had received a tongue lashing from her mother. ‘You need to watch that sharp mouth of yours’ she had said. ‘How will find a husband?’ Eh?’ she had continued. Then she went on to remind her that sharp tongued women did not make good wives. She did not argue with her mother for she knew how that always ended. Instead she ventured over to her grandmother who sat on the veranda chewing tobacco. ‘You know, she’s wrong’ her grandmother said to her as she sat on the ground next to her. ‘Don’t bend the truth to make others happy. It never serves you or them in the end’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t forgive you if you ended up with that little twit.’ Wanjiru had spurned the attention of the village chief’s obnoxious only son in front of his friends. When she told her grandmother how he had scurried back to his father’s compound and locked himself inside the chicken coop, they both laughed uncontrollably.
For many being Kenyan is synonymous with being a runner. So as you can imagine I have been asked more times than I can remember if I run. I almost believed the hype myself when three years ago I decided that I must run at least one marathon in my life. On my first training day I reached deep and run a whole five minutes on the treadmill before my legs and lungs almost gave up. I trained on and off for a few months and then run what was to be my first of many short races that would build up to a marathon. I even recruited my sister to run a 10K race with me. When I received my medal for finishing that race I was ecstatic. It now hangs proudly from my temperature control box in my living room. Now when they ask me if I run, I say yes.
The idea of spending hours absorbing and memorizing information for the sole purpose of testing still makes me shudder. I got my start very early in my teen years when I was admitted to a boarding school whose sole purpose was to produce the university candidates with highest scores in the national exam. Wake, study, eat, study, learn, eat, learn, study, you get the point. It was a study bootcamp. There was very little time for recreation of any sort and it was so regimented. The desired results were achieved. Our school was always in the top three. Most of us went on to the top universities locally and around the world and excelled in our chosen fields. But there was a price to pay for this. We missed out on other important things, those that cannot be learned from behind walls and in study halls. We have spent our lives so far trying catch up.
Muthoni grew up a tiny village hidden in the dense forests of Mount Kenya. She was one of ten children. As a middle child she felt lost and neglected. Muthoni had a keen sense of adventure often easily bored by the things that captured the attention of the other children around her. She would steal away disappearing into the forest for long periods of time only to return to find that no one had noticed her absence. On one of those solo adventures she ventured out so far that she could not find her way back. After going round and round the same area she finally sat down at the bottom of large tree and started think of her family. She was cold, alone and afraid. She wept as she pictured her siblings all huddled around the fire in her grandmother’s hut listening to her stories of old then she cried herself to sleep. Some time later she woke up in a jolt to find herself cradled in her father’s strong arms as he carried through the forest accompanied by men from her village. She hugged him tightly in gratitude and relief for she thought she was lost forever. All the rest of the villagers who gathered in their homestead let out large cries of jubilation upon their arrival. He looked up at her father and apologized for causing so much trouble. ‘I did not think you would know I was missing?’ she said. He shook his head. ‘You foolish little girl how could I not miss one of my jewels? he asked. She was confused. ‘But I go out everyday and no one notices’ she replied. ‘That’s what you think but today you went too far and you brother lost you’ he said. That was when she found out how much her father had liked her sense of adventure and had charged her brother with watching over her every time she went out. Indeed she had been a very foolish little girl.