Village life musings (Part 1) The Chickens!

Every so often, we want to go back to the village. We go to the village for holidays, weekends or Christmas breaks. There is something about village life that is appealing, serene and inviting, but only if you are not living in the village! I don’t think those who live in the village from January to December get the same feeling of awe. May be it is the difference between the often hassles of urban life that makes us miss the village. But somehow we want to be in the village for short periods of time, and those in the village want to escape the village life.

I have been thinking about the joy of being a ‘villager’. This implies, belonging to a group, having people around. It is no wonder that with some close friends we keep reminding each other about being “a village’ and getting to remind ourselves that we can building our small villages in Nairobi. It got me musing about village life, the good, beautiful, the bad and the ugly.

I grew up in the village and I loved the experience. That is lie, I did not love everything. In fact I hated most of what it meant to grow up in the village. It is only later in life that I got to appreciate joys of being brought up in the village. Growing up in the village meant household chores. The task of having to catch chicken to shift them in the morning and in the evening was particularly troubling for me. It must be the chore I hated most. Not exactly hate, more like fear. My mother would assign my siblings and I specific number of chickens each. There were different cages, where one cage allowed the chickens to get sun shine during the day while another one kept them safe during the night. I don’t remember catching any chicken. I don’t recall how, most likely my siblings have some story around how I escaped that. Most likely I swapped the chores with someone. Catching a chicken that is flapping its wing is something I don’t plan to do any time soon. It gives me a weird feeling. Like goosebumps…chicken-bumps? There must be a name of some phobia for flapping wings. It is even worse to hold a tiny chick. It is so delicate and soft. I like chicken when served as a meal. I will comfortably make a meal from a chicken as long as its wings are not flapping. Dead.

I recall after form four when I was taking care of my late sister’s kids. My late sister Jane passed on some weeks after my form four exams, leaving behind young kids. I took care of them during that pre- university period. Their dad shifted them from the rural home where they had only moved a year before back to Thika. One of the uncles was taking care of the rural home and as a reward he made sure to bring the farm products. One day he brought this large cockerel! Alive and kicking! He happily dropped the cockerel in the house and he was on his way.

I was meant to cook for my nephews, which was not a problem. But the cockerel was alive and kicking. Their dad (my brother in law) was away in a training so I was the young head of household that week. I felt very mature then, surprised to realize I was barely 19 years. The uncle thought he had done us a huge favor, not knowing the dilemma he had created. We kept the cockerel in the kitchen area, tied with a string. Chickens have a habit of being very silent if they choose to, you can forget them. Wait until they get scared and start flapping their wings and making noise. In Africa the cockerels are used to tell time as they crow at a specific hour. There is also a saying that kuku wa shamba hawiki mjini (the village chicken does not crow in town) so I don’t recall if this one obeyed that rule. I only recall wondering how to get rid of this cockerel soonest possible. I had two options. Wait for my brother in law to kill the chicken over the weekend or kill and cook the chicken. If I chose to wait that also meant the chicken would poop around the house, and who cleans? You guessed right. Me. Option two was to kill chicken. There is no way on earth I would kill a chicken.

I hatched a plan. My seven and eight year old nephews would do the work. This is not child labor, it is called socialization. They were very excited. See, it was not child labor! I knew the theories of rearing and attending to a chicken, we did that a lot in the village. I knew how to make the chicken into a delicious meal as long as it was not alive and kicking. My plan was therefore to have the two young boys hold the chicken as I tied the wings and legs very tightly. They then went outside the compound and cut the poor thing’s neck. I had instructed the boys to cut it very fast and completely separate the head and wait till it stopped flapping around. We were to do this in a humane way… or rather chicken-caring way. I could then take the process from there, and we had a wonderful meal. And some two boys were well socialized.

Years later I had a second attempt at a live chicken. I worked in Nakuru and we had gone to work in a neighboring district. Everyone was buying chickens so I was not left behind. I knew my younger sister was in the house so I assumed she would do the necessary. I was wrong, she had me as a role mode. I ended up taking the chicken to a friend’s house as a gift. The friend did not know this gift was by chance…but it does not matter, right?

agriculture animals avian beaks
Photo by on
That was my last attempt with alive chicken. Luckily, many chicken sellers have figured out that customers prefer chicken just ready for cooking. I don’t think I missed much for not learning the particular skill in the village.

I am the child of the universe, striving to leave foot prints, however faint they seem. A step at a time.
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Sophie Ngugi


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.
Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

Multiple roles, one soul

“Motherhood is the greatest thing and the hardest thing”. Ricki Lake

It was a beautiful Sunday morning. Sundays mornings are usually beautiful. Serene. It is like the weather knows it is a Sunday and even if it rains, the day has a sunny demeanor. May be because there is less traffic in Nairobi. Less pollution unless you neighbor some Church with blaring noise.  I have never understood why they do this. The megaphones outside the Church preaching to everyone who is not interested in the preaching. Anyway, as usual, I had plans to start the day with Sunday Mass, but his plans…well he had different plans. I ended up spending part of the Sunday Mass time outside the Church when my terrific two son decided there was more interesting stuff outside.  Despite the accommodating section for lactating mothers and young babies in the Church, he was uncooperative.

“Enough is enough.”  He said …through tantrums.

He wanted to play, not pray. Sometimes, most times, he is more cooperative. To be fair to him, after some rains that week, the grass was so green, alive and inviting, sort of calling to be enjoyed. It was truly a beautiful day to be outdoors, but the wrong timing. I resigned myself to the fate as he explored. That is where I met this lady, fellow mom in a similar situation. We got talking as her daughter and my son discovered the surroundings. The two children were about the same age. Well, may be the two young ones had planned it all along! Children really get adults talking.

Somehow the issue of travel came up. Her profession demands travel as part of the everyday roles. She mentioned the challenge of having to travel when her child was about seven months old, and so stopped breastfeeding. We ended up talking about the balancing act of being a mother and a professional when the children are too young to understand.  This is a shared concern for many women in particular. I started travelling when my son was 13 months old. I had planned for it, but that did not make it easier. Sometimes there is a sparkle in the drab.  This was an easy way for getting him off the boob. He had reduced breastfeeding and the travel sealed it. He stopped breastfeeding and he forgot about it. For some mothers, this is a struggle. If I was not travelling I had no idea how long he would have breastfed as that decision was off my hands. I think he had already had his fair share anyway.

As a parent, one often has to make tough decisions around the different roles that one plays. Travelling and leaving the family is not easy, yet this is often required of many parents, in employment or business.

“How do you manage?” I often get the question.

I do not have an answer. Just doing what I got to do and getting a lot of support in that. I grew up with an ever present mother who worked in the homestead. But, my dad worked and resided in Thika, coming home over the weekends. I doubt if anyone ever asked him how he managed being away from the family five (or sometimes six) out of the seven days in a week. That does not mean that the men do not necessarily find it difficult to leave the families, but the world has accepted men as the species that work away from the home. Not so for women.

Many professionals have had to make decisions around various issues related to work and their parenting role. Travelling away is a sometimes quite tough. The anxiety of leaving one’s family, more so when there is a young child, almost robs one the excitement of exploring a new place.  When the time difference is many hours apart, it becomes even trickier.   You want to hear the positive message when you call, “we are doing well.” That is a standard reassuring response. Sometimes I wonder if it is rehearsed and ask many questions to verify.

The first time, I travelled away from my home for work after my baby was born was difficult. I was away for two weeks and every day felt like torture. This was quite different before I became a parent. It was easier to stay away for longer. This was a different experience. Despite occupying myself with the tasks at hand, I practically counted days, every morning and every evening. I felt like my heart was being torn apart. I kept wondering what his little mind is telling him. Was he feeling abandoned? I ached to be back. When I arrive back home, he was confused. He looked at me and became so emotional, tears welled in both of our eyes.  May be he thought he was dreaming. As he gets older, his reactions are different. He will clap and run for a hug. That is easier to manage.

In some situations, the work environment does not support the roles of being a parent. Many women face the challenge of biased employers or supervisors or colleagues. I recall experience of a friend in her first few years of work in her first job working for a government department. The parental leave period was about two months, and she was expected to be in the office from 8.00 am to 5.00PM and working at 100%. There was no allowance for the lactating mothers to have more flexibility back to work. Her supervisor could not understand her need to go home earlier. That was when breast pumps were not quite known and acceptable in Kenya. I recall many agonising days as we would skim no how she left the office without her employer knowing in the afternoon, and she could not take any meals during the day as that would mean spending time expressing milk into the sink/ and in pain. She had a rough time struggling with painful breasts every day and literally fasting to reduce her milk production. Ironically, she had so much milk, but her baby could not benefit fully from. At one time her supervisor told her to “find out how other women manage”. In other words, this young woman’s need to take care of a child should not impact the work schedule.

While we have gained quite some steps in getting more women to the offices, getting the offices accommodate the parental responsibilities is still a struggle. Many offices are buildings without a soul. There are also beautiful stories of how many employers have made strides in making the working environment more humane. One should not have to choose and feel that the multiple roles are in conflict.