LUKUYU — Angelica Oluoch
Today is warm. It is morning. The sun is out, but my hands are cold. Mama says if you have cold hands then your heart is warm. She is wrong. My heart feels cold, too. I swing my feet below the bench I sit on. I watch the children play in front of me. The playground is filled with sand. They are happy. I know this because I see their faces and hear them laugh. I hear them speak, too. I cannot understand what they say, so I cannot play with them. I remain on the bench. Watching them.
Today is cold. This side of the country, it rains a lot. I like the tea farms I saw on my way here. Kericho is the name of the place where the green farms lay. Now, we are in Gem. I am in the kitchen, helping. Or trying to. I keep alert, looking around to see what the women need. Someone calls my name and asks me to do something. I frown because I do not understand what she says. Agitation is clear on her face when I do not act. Finally, one of the women laughs and stares at my face as she speaks. “This one knows nothing. She cannot speak her father’s language. She is not from here; she only stole the name.”
The women around her stop working for a moment and let out peals of laughter at my disability. I understand a word of two of Dholuo, you see. Enough to know what her statement meant.
My head is heavy. From the rings upon rings filled with bright beads, which hang above my ears. I have to bend to pass through the door entrance. I remember this door being too large for me as a child. I find the other women outside, chanting a song they all know. I cannot understand the words, but I see their faces. They are smiling because they are happy. I join the moving circle and try to dance like they do.
Once in a while, I find my mother staring at me, at my motionless lips. She is disappointed and feels bad for me.
I avoid my grandmother because she will expect me to greet and speak to her in fluent Gikuyu. I fail each time.
Mom, in fluent Gikuyu, explains that I refused to learn her language because I favor my father’s more. I can only stare at the exchange. I walk away, leaving the women to gossip about this alien Dholuo girl who thinks she can fit in with the Gikuyu.
“She is not ours,” is the unanimous whisper that spills forth from their lips.
I am staring at the ground, hoping that I will die any minute now. The lady at the desk is getting impatient. She smacks the pen away from my grip. She gives me instructions: I cannot be both, I have to choose one. And she will not tolerate my persistent stubbornness. I nod and bend to stare at the form on the desk. It reads: Ethnicity: _____. I look back at her face. I wish so badly that I could ask her: Am I allowed to write ‘None,’ or better yet ‘Confused,’ and the best option ‘I Belong Nowhere’? Somehow, I know she will not be amused, so I choose to remain silent. Hoping I will die any minute now.
It is 2017, and my country has begun to question the color of her blood. She wonders how it is that her people do not seem to understand how finite their nature is as humans, how fast the lessons have been forgotten. “And how are you all at home? Has the millet grown and has the drought subsided? Are the young children happy in school?” The e-mails come in droves from our cousins in America and Canada and Australia. “Are you safe? Is it like ten years before once more?” is what they all seem to whisper through the colorful words and warm greetings. I am aware that these are the real answers that they wait for. Of course, they know the children will grow; the millet will ripen. The rain will fall when the ground is ready for it—who knows when that shall be.
So that evening, I sit down and I write back: “The political conversations in our house are . . . tense and conflicting and confusing because my siblings and I have to keep choosing whose side to take on tribal lines, unconscious as it may be, and unwilling as we are to recognize that the divide exists within us, and without, too. My reigning statement to make both sides ‘happy’ is that ‘none of them deserve the presidency.’ My people are being attacked because they are protesting Raila’s loss. I am sad for and with them because I am a part of them. I am them. But also, my people are euphoric because Uhuru won. I am happy because they are me—they speak a language I understand. Do you see the dilemma? I am both and none at once. I cannot abandon either tribe; it’s a horrible, gray place to be in.”
Postscript: “Our minds are not safe. It is like fifty years before once more.”