If there is something I have learnt from very early in life, it is to keep away from fitina. Fitina is a social disease that wrecks relationships, destroys families and leads to serious crimes of passion. Woe unto you if someone within your circles (and there will always be somebody) who is a mfitini.
To start, I must distinguish between wafitini and people who, in my village, are known as abamonyi. The literal translation of the word abamonyi is whisperers. The actual meaning is., gossipers or rumour mongers. Abamonyi are always welcome in people’s homes. This is because they bring news (be it true or false) and entertainment to their listeners. Wafitini on the other hand, are unwelcome because they bring anger and discord among family and friends.
Our village, in fact, has professional abamonyi. They invest a lot of time talking to people in the markets, shopping centres and other public and private gatherings, collecting and sharing news with their peers. They then go to ‘visit’ people in their homes sharing the news that they have collected.
Some people have made obumonyi a family business. Such families can go for weeks or even months without lighting fires in their kitchens. Mother will take daughter, father will take son, and they will go their separate ways every morning, spreading their news like some kind of rumour-vangelists (if there exists such a profession).
This they will do from dawn until dusk in several homesteads, partaking of all their daily meals with their hosts. At the end of the day, they will reconvene in their home and debrief on how the rumour-vangelism went. They will take careful note of who the believers are, accepting the word with no questions and who the non-believers are, questioning the word at every turn. They then target the non-believers, not because they are interested in making them believe but because their questions lead to further discussions which merge nicely into the next meal and the next, reducing the need of the abamonyi to seek meals in several homes.
Dear reader, I know you are thinking that this winding tale has so far only described the abamonyi but not distinguished between the abamonyi and the wafitini. Patience is all I ask of you as I enter into the distinguishing factors of the two characters here below.
“So why are abamonyi welcome and not the wafitini?” you argue. “After all, they spread the same news, gossip and rumours!”
Well, here is the difference. An omumonyi (singular for abamonyi) will come to your home and tell you, “Oguda’s wife has threatened to run away from him again and this time, I think she is serious. Oguda is a very stingy fellow and cannot buy her or the children anything. She was complaining that since she got married ten years ago, he has never bought her a new dress or even a chupi!”
You will give your views on the matter and say, “Last harvest when we went to help Oguda’s wife to shell the maize, I did not see a single chupi of hers hanging out on the lines to dry. We were there for two whole weeks, and I did not see any. Maybe as you say, Oguda has never bought her a new chupi and what she has must be a tattered rag which she is forced to hide indoors. This is not good because if you do not air you chupi in the sun, you will get an infection.”
“Hmm,” the omumonyi will remark and that will be the end of that story. The omumonyi will then go from home to home spreading pretty much the same rumour about Oguda’s wife’s impeding desertion with a few more exaggerations here and there.
If you had the same conversation with the mfitini, they would take what you have told them as fodder to create a rift between you and you friend, Oguda’s wife.
“You said Mama Tindi is your friend?” the mfitini will open the conversation.
“Yes,” Oguda’s wife will respond. “She always supports me, especially when I need extra hands to help with the planting, weeding or harvest. Why do you ask?”
“I think you should choose your friends carefully,” the mfitini will advise sagaciously and then maintain a long and thoughtful silence as a deliberate tactic to whet the appetite of her listener.
Oguda’s wife will now be curious to know why Mama Tindi is not a true friend, “What has she done that I cannot trust her as a friend?”
“The other day, we went for chama at her home,” the mfitini will say. “We were almost twelve women in the home. Akundabweni’s wife asked why you had not come. Mama Tindi with her kiherehere stood up and said that you are leaving Oguda for good. She said that Oguda was so stingy he has never bought you a chupi since you got married. Your chupi is now a tattered rag and does not hold your buttocks properly.”
The mfitini will pause dramatically at this point, grab a handful of amaenjera, which she will toss into her mouth and chew slowly and calculatedly. This will be followed by a loud and dramatic sip of her strungi to escort the amaenjera smoothly into her belly while she reads your reaction to the news she has given you thus far.
The mfitini will now clear her throat loudly and continue, “Mama Tindi then said that because you have no chupi, you walk around the village sichula with your buttocks going pwata, mbudho, pwata, mbudho in the hopes of attracting other people’s husbands so that they can buy you a new chupi.
The mfitini will pause again, to read her listener’s reaction and see whether her words have caused the deep wound that they are intended to.
“She actually stood up to demonstrate your walk,” the mfitini will say, also standing up to show Oguda’s wife how Mama Tindi demonstrated the walk. “And then went on to say that since your chupi is a pile of rags, you never air it out in the sun and hence you have a serious disease which you want to spread to people’s husbands by showing them your pwata, mbudho buttocks!”
Oguda’s wife will, of course, be angered by these words. If she does not react to her anger immediately, the mfitini will keep on bringing more and more twisted stories to fan Oguda’s wife’s anger. Oguda’s wife will eventually snap and confront Mama Tindi in the market square. The two will fight each other, tooth and nail and this may end their friendship forever!
Dear Reader, now that you understand the difference between the omumonyi and the omufitini, I will risk the retention of your attention as I describe to you my very first encounter with fitina.
As earlier stated, this happened at a young age. I may have been in Standard Four or Standard Five. I do not clearly remember but I know I was at that sweet pre-adolescent stage when all boys were filthy, disgusting creatures that did not deserve to take up space on our beautiful planet.
Next in line to the boys in the list of the undeserving, were those terrible and ill-mannered girls who talked to boys, carried their sweaters while they played football in the field and held their hands as they walked home. Much like the way the girls in Standard Eight behaved. They were very dirty girls and my big sister was one of them.
For girls my age in those days, it was plain evil and disgusting to touch a boy’s desk or a boy’s book. If the teacher assigned you to collect the homework books, you would hold the boys’ books by pinching the smallest corner possible between forefinger and thumb and dumping it disgustedly onto the rest of the pile.
Sometimes, our P.E. teacher would be cruel and tell us to make a big circle in the field by holding one another’s hands. We would fight to be in between the girls and if you were forced to come into contact with a boy’s hands, you would run and grab a broad leaf to use as a protective glove that would prevent the boy’s skin from touching yours.
We used to have lunch in that field that was encircled with trees for shade. Groups of students would sit under a tree and enjoy their packed lunches. My clique of friends and I always sat at the same spot under a nicely shaded jacaranda tree. We called our spot the purple hotel because during the dry season, the tree dropped its lovely purple flowers all over the ground around it, giving us a lovely purple carpet to sit on and enjoy our lunch. Student cliques were territorial of their lunch spots and guarded them with their very lives as we did ours.
One of our lunchtime past times was singing the tunes of advertisement jingles whose lyrics we crammed studiously. A new advertisement by Farmers’ Choice Limited had come onto our screens and captured our imaginations. It featured a family of four where the girl and boy begged their father to take them out for a picnic.
The father then sang to their mother, “Quick Mama, slam in the ham!” and the mother obediently did so. They then miraculously landed at a beautiful picnic spot near the ponds in Uhuru Park where they each took one bite of their sandwiches and then held one another’s hands and danced round and round in a circle while the background jingle continued playing, “Quick Mama, slam in the ham!”
I always fantasized about being the girl in the advert. If it were me, I would have gobbled up the entire ham sandwich before holding hands and dancing. I would not waste such a delicious sandwich like the people in the advert did by taking only one bite and then putting it down!
Anyway, that is beside the point.
One afternoon, just a few days after the advert had first aired, I amazed my clique of friends by singing the entire jingle to them. I was very good at memorising things from a very early age, and that is why perhaps I drifted into the legal profession.
So, that day our friend Agatha said, “Who has heard the new Quick Mama advert? It is amazing. I will memorise the words by next week!”
“I already know the words,” I bragged. “Even my Daddy knows them. I held hands with him and we danced round and round the sitting room singing the jingle. And then when my Mummy came from the market and asked what was going on, my Daddy told her, ‘Quick Mama, slam in the ham!’”
“You are lying,” said Nanzu. “Sing the entire song to us right now if you know it!”
I drew in a deep breath and sang,
“Quick Mama slam in the ham,
Slam it in your sandwich and salad too!
Quick Mama slam in the ham,
Healthy for school lunch and picnics too!
Quick Mama slam in the ham,
It goes easy on your waistline too!
Quick Mama slam in the ham,
Go tell your neighbour the secret, do!”
My friends clapped and cheered when I completed the rendition and the rest of our lunch hour was spent with me teaching them the lyrics to the jingle.
A few days later, while were seating in our purple hotel and enjoying our lunch, Priscilla told us that she had a secret to tell us about Edwin. We were all ears!
“You all know Edwin is my neighbour,” she said.
“Well, on Saturday they came to play in our compound and they were bragging about how they know the ‘Quick Mama’ advert. I told them that Didi knows the entire advert and even her Daddy knows it and they sing and dance together.”
She paused dramatically at this point, took a spoonful of her rice and ndengu and proceeded to chew slowly and calculatedly. This was followed by a loud and dramatic sip of Tree Top from her juice bottle, to escort the rice and ndengu smoothly into her belly while she read my reaction to the news she had delivered thus far.
Addressing me directly, she cleared her throat loudly and continued, “That is when he told me that last weekend, when he came to your estate to play with akina Owen who are your neighbours, he saw your Mummy and Daddy holding hands and dancing in the compound while singing ‘Quick Mama, slam in the ham!”
Priscilla paused again to read my reaction and see if her words had caused the deep wound that they were intended to.
“Edwin actually stood up to demonstrate how your Mummy and Daddy were holding hands and dancing,” She said, also standing up and taking Nanzu with her to demonstrate what Edwin showed her.
“And then he went on to say that your Mummy is a bad girl because she danced with your Daddy who is a boy and that it is your Mummy who taught your big sister how to be a bad girl,” Priscilla continued. “He said that when we reach Standard Eight, you will be a bad girl and you will dance with him, ‘Quick Mama, slam in the ham.’ He will then become your boyfriend and you will carry his sweater while he is playing football and hold his hand as you walk home from school the way your sister holds Ahmed’s hand and carries his sweater.”
I was angry and, unlike Oguda’s wife, reacted immediately to defend my mother’s honour. Taking up my lunchbox, I went to where the boys were kicking a ball around. I called Edwin and when he turned to respond to my call, I slammed my lunchbox into his face.
He recovered quickly from my assault and kicked me in the ribs. Because I was taller than him, he lost balance after kicking me and fell to the ground. The kick landed painfully but I reacted quickly to his disadvantaged position, straddling his torso and punching him all over his face and chest.
This all happened in a very short space of time, that is, the time it took the teacher on duty to run across the field to the scene of our war and separate us. The teacher called the Head Boy who was also racing to the scene and handed us over to him with strict instructions to take us directly to the Discipline Master.
The Head Boy led us both by the ears to the Discipline Master’s office. As we sat down in the hallway waiting for the Discipline Master to summon us into his office, I kept my head down in pain and embarrassment. As I did so, I could not help noticing that the Head Boy’s sheens were very dry with the skin cracked into small patterns like a graph book. I felt sure that I could plot a nice bar graph or line graph on his sheens. As I was busy contemplating if I could plot a pie chart on his sheens, the Discipline Master peeped out of his office and motioned us to go in.
“Fighting, are we?” were his first words when we sat down.
“Edwin, why would you fight a girl?” he asked.
“She attacked me with her lunchbox for nothing while I was playing football with my friends,” he explained sulkily.
“Didi?” the Discipline Master turned to me. “Why did you attack Edwin?”
I narrated the whole story that Priscilla had told me. I concluded by saying that my Mummy was not a bad girl and would never dance with my Daddy, let alone hold his hand, because my Daddy was a boy. (Funnily, it was never wrong or evil for us girls to dance with our dads or hold their hands but our mums could not hold our dads’ hands without us judging them as bad girls)!
The Discipline Master struggled to maintain a straight face and then turned to Edwin, “Why would you say these things about Didi’s mother?”
“I did not say that,” Edwin said angrily. “When Priscilla told me that Didi and her Daddy knew ‘Quick Mama, slam in the ham’ and they sang it and danced together, I told her that for us, our whole family knew the song and we sang it as I held hands and danced around with my Mummy and my sister held hands and danced around with my Daddy. I told her that even when we went to akina Owen’s place to play with them, Owen and his brother were singing the song and dancing with their Mummy and Daddy!”
The Head Boy was told to go and bring Priscilla.
When Priscilla arrived, the Discipline Master asked her why she had told me a lie about Edwin. Priscilla was at a loss.
“Now children,” said the Discipline Master. “What you have heard today from Priscilla is what is known as fitina. It is a very bad thing and none of you should engage in it. If somebody tells you that your friend said something bad about you, call your friend and ask the person to repeat the story in the presence of your friend. That way, you will know if the person is telling the truth or merely perpetuating fitina.”
Priscilla received an appropriate punishment. She had to sweep the office at games time while the rest of us enjoyed ourselves in the field. Edwin and I did not go unpunished as we were forced to shake hands and make amends. My skin crawled as his naked palm touched mine and I rushed to the water taps to wash away the dirty boy touch, forgetting that a few minutes earlier I had been straddling him!
I had learnt a great life lesson from Priscilla and the Discipline Master that day. I now knew how to deal with fitina.
How did the story end?
In Standard Eight, when all the boys grew tall, became cleaner and more handsome, they stopped being dirty evil things in our eyes. As predicted by Priscilla in her fitina, Edwin became my ‘boyfriend’ and I held his sweater and water bottle while he played football and we held hands while walking home.
We are now married!