By Wr. Dismas Okombo, on 1st March 2020
In the early evening, there were patches of light showers. And now, in the still warmth of my room, I endeavor to search for the right words to capture the magnificent smiles, the heartily laughs and beautiful, yet sometimes surprising, cross-cultural stories that have warmed my heart on the first day of residence.
The excited voices from downstairs are Afrikan voices. I hesitate and listen, amidst the uproar from around the table, I can discern Twinomugisha’s warm and carefree laugh. [If the name’s pronunciation has twisted your tongue to a near break, find consolation in knowing that, since our arrival yesterday evening, I am still struggling to get it right too.] Kola, in his controlled laidback manner and heavy Nigerian accent, must have made another joke. With the highest probability, I bet Fiske is broadly smiling. But if she’s laughing, then it’s a gentle laugh. And Nzabonimpa is stroking his two strands of beards; his jaws wide apart, jollity lighting his countenance.
My interactions with the excited Afrikan voices now replay in my mind. The gaiety voice of Gambia, through Fiske, explaining the preparation of Munkoyo. In a coy smile, she had warned: “But if you leave the drink to ferment far too long…” The calm voice of Rwanda, through Nzabonimpa, clarify to the puzzled me how Rwanda is in both East and Central Afrika. I won’t forgive my ignorance; to imagine that before I had thought Rwanda was a West Afrikan country! The firm voice of Kenya, as Hassan refute Mombasa ghost stories. “They are just fabrications that have, with time, gathered the weight of reality.” “We must visit Mombasa!” Onugba had insisted, his voice was high-pitched with the desire for adventure. It was in the climax of narrating ghosts’ stories that I came up here. No, I wasn’t scared. All right, maybe a little.
On the first night of our stay, the excited Afrikan voices narrated of the Fulani’s sharo custom; the initiation rite of caning young boys. “A hundred serious strokes to welcome you to adulthood. Weeh, that this wasn’t for the faint of heart” I had quipped. Past the midnight hour, the different Afrikan marriage customs were shared; the emphasis on girls’ virginity, even to the point of having ‘inspectors’ during the newlywed’s marriage consummation in some cultures, highlighted. The boarders around every subject imaginable to the mind fell; the concept of consent in relationships was extensively discussed. And as the hour clock neared one, the conversation shifted to love and sex. The hour late, but excitement still burning in the eyes.
Another uproar from downstairs. Around that table are persons I am meeting for the first time in my life, persons from cultures vastly different and minutely similar to mine. Around that table are accents I strain to understand, and, sometimes forgetting our language differences, I often blurt out ‘ati?’[pardon?] several times over. Most times words confuse, descriptions long and, compared to the original intent of phrases in the mother tongue, translations unsatisfactory. But above the differences, a spontaneous and easy conversation emerges. Conservation around Afrika, life and every other thing. Around that table are kindred spirits. In this pen, my heart has found a home. From this pen, beguiling Afrikan narrators will emerge.
Twinomugisha has just come for cards. It’s poker time!
The writer is an incubate of Writers Guild Kenya and current participant in the PenPen Writers Residency Program. Emailemail@example.com