She roasted some potatoes and ate them when they were still hot. As soon as she swallowed, I moved in her stomach and she knew I had been burnt. When I was born with a mark on one of my eye lids, she was sure that was where the potato had landed. I believed that story until I learned in my biology class that a baby is too well protected to be burned. This, however, did not explain where the mark had come from, so it remained a mystery. Some people told me I was going to develop freckles, but instead the mark continued to grow until it covered almost the whole of my left side.
When others suggested that I should go to see a dermatologist, I decided I would go if it became painful, but it never did. At the age of four, like most little girls of my age, I had many strange dreams. Sometimes I would dream that a huge giant with two mouths, one at the back, was chasing me and I could not move. I would try to scream but no voice would come out of my mouth.
Then suddenly I would wake up, eyes red and full of tears, and find there was nothing. The stories were supposed to frighten the children so that they would not make a habit of entertaining strangers in the absence of adults. Ten Kikuyu girls decided one day to go on a long journey to avoid being troubled by the boys who annoyed and insulted them every time they missed a dance. With a good supply of food, they started the journey.. One of them had a little brother: he by no means wished to abandon her, and joined the party.
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The journey lasted one month, after which they found themselves in the middle of a large plain, where a big hut had been built. There they met a man-eater whom they believed to be a respectable man. He was very rich and he slaughtered ten goats that the girls might eat their fill. In the evening he showed them a large bed for the night. The little boy was satisfied to sleep by the door.
At midnight the man-eater sharpened a knife with which he wished to behead the girls so as to devour them. The noise awakened the boy who cried: Mother, what do you want that you have got up at midnight? The man-eater was surprised and responded: My son, are you hungry that you have not gone to sleep? The boy said, Yes, mother. The man-eater killed a goat, roasted it and gave it to the boy that he might eat and sleep. The boy refused to eat it alone, but shared it with the girls, so as not to be overpowered by sleep. So they lived together several months, and the girls got enormously fat.
One day the man-eater went to call other man-eaters, friends of his in the neighborhood and said to them: Come to my house the day after tomorrow, with knives, water and firewood, because I have a big goat to slaughter. The girls and the boy had gone to enjoy the morning sunshine. A fly rested on the face of one of the girls, as if it would speak to her.
The girl got vexed and wished to drive it away, but it came back and said: I want some blood from you, but if you refuse, I will not tell you what I have come to tell you, and if you meet bad luck, it will be your fault.
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The boy persuaded her sister to prick her finger. The fly sucked at the drop of blood, and then it spoke and said: Your destiny has been decided; the day after tomorrow all of you are to be devoured by the man-eaters. Do this: go quickly into the forest, cut boughs and much tall grass, and with these wrap your bodies. Thus they did and the boy masked all the girls. They looked like bundles of green grass walking about.
The man-eaters who had been invited met them on their way and, surprised at the strange procession, they called out, Even the grass walks today; it will be a great feast. They did not pay much heed to them and they went their way.
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The man-eater and the master of the house, arrived at the hut the night before the appointment and saw with regret that the girls had run away, and many of his things had disappeared. He became frightened, thinking that his friends would think he had fooled them and kill him. So, he dug a big hole in the place occupied by the fire; he worked at it all the day long and at night he lay in it, covering the opening with a large piece of a broken clay pot.
The guests came and found the house deserted. They searched everywhere and found nothing but skulls and bones which the man-eater had left over from his feasts. During the search a skull rolled down from the fire place and broke the piece of pot which covered the hole. They found the man-eater, killed him and roasted him for their feast. Meanwhile the girls and the boy reached home safely, thanks to the fly.
Their relatives welcomed them happily, because they thought they would never see them again. So do not do to others what you do not wish to be done to you. I would then try to hold onto any plant on the side of the river and it would cut off. I would continue until only the first syllable could be heard, as follows, Mutindu…Muti…Mu… and just when I was about to drown, I would wake up as usual. Again I would relate the story to my mother, and she would tell me that the dream was the result of my fear of crossing rivers. One day I had a different kind of dream, one I had never dreamed before.
I saw myself running in front of my father, trying to catch up with my mother, who was carrying a big basket on her back, with many things in it. After some time I was put down again and encouraged to run ahead of my mother, after which I would be given a ripe banana. Thinking that was a dream like all the others, I did not bother to tell my mother about it because I knew what would be the answer to my question, All children have such dreams.
However, this latter dream became so persistent that I finally decided to tell my mother about it. To my great surprise, my mother seemed to take special interest and asked me more details about the dream. I told her everything with great enthusiasm. My mother then told me that what I had told her was an exact description of what had happened to me when I was about two years old. This raised my curiosity and I wanted to know all about the journey. Why had we gone to Naivasha?
Who were our friends there? Why did we come back? Were we going to return to Naivasha? I asked these questions over and over until my mother and father answered some of them. I never forgot the dream about the journey home. I would always listen with interest when my father or mother spoke about it. Over the years I came to learn that the journey had marked a very important stage of life in our family. My father had left home as a young boy but had come back with a wife, Wambui, and one child, Nyambura.
They had no land or house, so they depended on the good will of their neighbors and relatives. Wambui, like Ruth in the Bible, would wake up each morning and ask the one who had housed them whether there was any work she wanted done in her garden. She would then take her little daughter, and a roasted banana and milk for her lunch and go to work as early as possible.
At lunch time, she would chew the banana and feed it to the baby using her index finger, as was the custom. She would then use an ordinary bottle for the milk since baby bottles did not exist then. She would work the whole day without expecting any payment, except some food and a place for her family to sleep in. It was rumored that she had been a street girl, as all Kiambu women were supposed to be, and so she was not expected to work in the garden for long.
To the great surprise of everyone, she worked even harder than most of the local girls. The main difference between her and the other women was her cleanliness. She had only two dresses at any one time but she would use one for all her work, washing it at night and using the fire to dry it for the next day, so that she had the other one spotless for Sunday. She could not understand how one went to church with a dress full of stains from the sweet potato vines! Another noticeable difference was her freedom from superstition.
For example, her young daughter was very healthy and, according to Gikuyu culture, she should have been kept covered all the time in case someone with an evil eye cast a spell on her. Even later on when she had obtained her own garden, she surprised people because she never believed that a person with an evil eye would make her bananas fall, and they never fell. Her free attitude was associated with her early contact with Christian missionaries who had come to her area and built a church known as The Church of the Torch at Thogoto Mission, near where she had been born and brought up.
She named me after her mother, Nyambura, according to the Gikuyu naming system. The personal names among the girls are those of the nine clans. These, according to a popular creation myth, were given by the mother and father of the tribe, Gikuyu and Mumbi , to their nine daughters. Since they did not have any sons, they prayed and Ngai God, the divider brought to them nine handsome young men who married the daughters. Custom demands that the first girl be named after the mother of the husband and the second after the mother of the wife.
The first boy is named after the father of the husband and the second the father of the wife. After that brothers and sisters are named. If that one dies, an animal or other funny name is used to frighten death from taking him or her away again. As Cagnoro 66 explains, if death of children persists, There is only one remedy for this: to move elsewhere.
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