FOR an almost scandalously long period, spanning phases ranging from when I was a legal drinker of milk, to a similarly legal drinker (but not becoming excessively drunk) of the senior waters of Mchikichini in Dar and Kijenge in Arusha, I have been considerably starved of something that is invisible, that is almost as precious as the visible tanzanite gemstone.
It is called intelligence or wisdom, over the difference between which I am as ignorant as distinguishing between manure and fertilizer. When the state of intelligence- starvation hits critical enough dimensions to warrant my brain being admitted to a hospital ICU, and nearzero survival chances, I can shout from the tallest building in Dar, that an orange and a lemon have a similar taste.
I am almost as sure as it will rain one of these days, that I don’t know the difference between ‘homo Habilis’ and ‘Zinjanthropus’. I encountered those strange words, over which I would die of a heart attack if you forced me to force my brain to give scientific definitions, when I was a student.
That was way back in the days when, up to three years after Tanganyika’s independence in 1961, the walls of many sitting rooms of houses in my probably blessed home village, were graced with giant-size portraits of a British lady exuding with aristocratic elegance, captioned ‘God bless the queen’.
It was when, furthermore, my feet were technically banned from wearing shoes and underpants were as exclusive to girls, as longsleeved shirts were for male adults. It was also around the time when, as I regularly remember not to forget to brief you as a free-of-charge history tutorial, tiny illegal immigrants called jiggers (of which embunza is the ugly kihaya name) migrated into our feet.
They lodged there happily, and, not knowing how to cook, they chewed the flesh raw, mistaking it for beef. During our school days, memorizing complicated words, which we characterized ‘bombastic’ , was trendy. We spoke Kihaya, Kiswahili, and a very tiny portion of English, and as such, we were speakers of three languages. On that basis, we could have branded ourselves ‘tri-lingualists’ if we had known the meaning of the two-in-one word over 50 years ago.
English fascinated us most, and we tried our level best to master it because it was the hardest. It also sounded the ‘sweetest’, judging by how stylishly students in higher classes in boarding school on holiday in the village, spoke it. They often liberated us from speaking ‘Englishless English’, some expressions of which we inherited from our grandpas.
Topping the list was ‘Bilalifulu’ for bloody fool, which is how they branded us when we misbehaved! Thanks to being a bunch of idiots (the word ‘group’ here would be misplaced), we memorized complicated English words, often twisting their meaning. We smiled at each other sheepishly in the process, by imagining that we were intellectuals, and since one idiot could not brand another an idiot, the idiocy was perpetuated.
‘Homo Habilis’ and ‘Zinjanthropus’ were in that category. Superficially, we knew that they stood for creatures that preceded the human beings into which we eventually evolved. I strongly suspect that chimpanzees lie somewhere along that process. When they gaze at me sheepishly rather than ‘chimpanzeezily’ during visits to zoos, I feel uneasy, as I feel that they are my very distant relatives, and are delighted to see me.
A certain chimpanzee made lip movements which seemed to constitute a sentence along the lines of an invitation to me to pay it a visit. At that visit, we would probably chat about a few things, including a question centred on why we, post-chimpanzee creatures, defied nature by wearing clothes, instead of appearing in our natural form. As usual when evening dawns, two parts of my body begin to protest, but silently, not in the style of noisy human peace disrupters.
The legs demand to be stretched so that they don’t die of boredom, and the throat , pretending to be a seedling, alleges that, if it is not irrigated, it may die. It was under that spirit that, passport-less-visa-less, I entered Mambo Iko Huku Bar, at the distantly independent Republic of Kinyerezi. Its owner, Babu Mapengo, lost 85 per cent of his teeth, under circumstances that he, his wife, children, and grandchildren, are never in the mood to disclose.