Our Shared Humanity
Mr. Ferguson was angry on Wednesday morning when he saw Kamandu and his men. The men drove through the gate and found him making culling decisions. Culling as Nderitu learned was simply taking out undesirable animals from one’s herd with the intention of improving the overall quality. The cattle was shepherded to stroll in front of the rancher by five native men for his inspection and decision. Mr. Ferguson would point out a bull that didn't look strong or a cow that didn't produce a lot of milk and these animals would be seperated from the rest, for sale or the slaughterhouse.
"One day on the job and you already got yourselves arrested," Mr. Ferguson hissed, throwing back an angry glance at Kamandu. "It was all over the newspaper and it reflects badly on me as your employer."
Nderitu had seen the paper. Is this the final straw for The Last Mau Mau? The paper read.
Kamandu stood calm behind the white man and glanced casually at the cattle. "When you hired us you agreed to let us use our own methods, didn't you?"
Mr. Ferguson span with a red face. "And getting arrested is one of them?"
"Its part of the plan if you will allow me explain." Kamandu's voice was firm and he refused to be talked down to.
Mr. Ferguson raised a hand, telling his men to hold. “Ngojea!” he yelled in Swahili.
One of the men ran in front of the animals and stopped them from strolling on. In that moment of pause, the high pitch whistling of an eagle pierced the air. Nderitu looked up and saw the bird aiming for a branch.
"I'm listening," the white man said.
"In order to protect you, we must control the people," Kamandu said. "All the burglaries on this ranch are committed by residents of Amka Town. People don't come from Nairobi or far places to rob you. It’s the people closest to you that do it. Yesterday we beat up the chief's henchmen in front of the whole town. We beat them very badly and moral boundaries were crossed to do what needed to be done. When the policemen came, we refused to run and allowed them to arrest us in front of everybody. The whole town knows that ‘The Last Mau Mau’ members were arrested yesterday but today they will see us walk on the streets as free men in your company."
Mr. Ferguson looked startled. "With me? I'm not going to town."
"Yes you are," Kamandu said firmly. "There is nothing the people of Kenya fear more than a man above the law. Yesterday we were arrested, today they will see us strolling in the market to prove to them that we are untouchable."
"With me?" Mr. Ferguson repeated.
"The people will know today that Nyati Ranch is under the protection of ‘The Last Mau Mau’ and nobody will dare rob this ranch again. We humans have more control of the future than we think. We can sit here and wait for the ranch to be attacked or we can take the fight to them."
A light appeared in Mr. Ferguson's eyes. "Let's go," he said, with a new spring to his step.
Nderitu smiled and watched the white man strutting towards his horse. The horse shifted when Mr. Ferguson mounted it. Nderitu sighed as the horse galloped away. "That went well," he said.
"Yes it did," Kamandu agreed as he placed a foot on the wooden fence that enclosed the cattle. "He looks sold."
Patrick and Silas excused themselves and rushed over to their houses. Patrick wanted to use the restroom and Silas wanted to change his clothes. Nderitu and Kamandu waited by the fence, watching the cows and enjoying the morning sun.
The workers on the ranch took a break as soon as the white man rode away. They leaned on their tools, wiped the sweat from their brows and talked about the weather. Mr. Ferguson mostly treated them with respect, but sometimes he yelled at them in bad words. Like the man he caught smoking next to the propane tank. The white man had cursed him in words no human being could ever repeat. The following day, a big ‘Danger!’ sign had appeared in front of the propane tank to warn people to keep away.
“There’s something I don’t understand Kamandu,” Nderitu said with a frown. “Why did you help the people of Amka Town? Why bother to get the chief’s men out of the equation. The plan was to beat them up and make people afraid of us. But you took it a step further and now Lumumba and his men can’t collect bribes from the people. I mean, our goal is to protect the ranch and not the whole town, isn’t it?”
Kamandu shrugged. “I don’t know what got into me.”
In the distance Nderitu noticed a man sitting on a green tractor in the middle of a corn field; a production system highly dependent on soil, sunlight, rainfall and inventiveness.
Nderitu continued. “Are you getting soft on me, or old?” The two men smiled without making eye contact. The sun was getting too hot.
“I don’t know Nderitu. There is something about this place that reminds me of … I don’t know.”
“Yes. It reminds me of home, where I grew up. The women in this town remind me of my mother and the men talk to me with their eyes. I can hear their voices you know, guiding me and telling me not to give up on my dreams. It’s very confusing. It’s like I’m finally getting a perspective of my purpose in life. My whole life I have been told to fight, but now I have a chance to choose what I fight for, and that blows my mind.”
Nderitu nodded. “It’s called getting old.” The two men chuckled although deep within they were processing the conversation in their own way – they were trying to save the town from Lumumba and his men, and they did not know why.
The wind carried the sound of a hammer to their ears and Nderitu saw five men driving nails into a fence, chatting and laughing with sweat pouring down their faces. The sheer comraderie was obvious; the willingness of people able and wanting to help each other humbling.
Patrick and Silas came back shortly, breathing hard. It was obvious they had rushed to get back before the white man returned.
"Who's the guy on the brown horse?" Patrick asked and all the men turned to stare. The man turned the horse around and headed in their direction. On each side of the horse ran a brown retriever, each barking in joy of a good run.
The sound of galloping grew louder as the horse trotted closer. The black man on top looked huge in size, but it was the scar on his face that stood out amongst other features. The horse stopped in front of the men, reared up noisily, and kicked dust into the air. Someone coughed.
"Easy boy!" the big man said as he rubbed a soft hand over the animal's neck. The dogs barked around the men before calming themselves down.
"You must be Mr. Ferguson's new security," the scar face man said loudly without dismounting. His voice was deep and booming.
"My name is Kamandu, this is Nderitu, Silas and Patrick," Kamandu said without taking a step forward. "And you are?"
"Tegu," the man bellowed above the sound of the neighing horse. "I'm the foreman. Been here for over ten years you know?"
It was the way he said it that made the men dislike him. It was as though he was claiming territory ... yet still, he commanded an air of authority that made the men pay attention.
"I will need to speak with you later," Kamandu said. "I need to know what's been going on around here and why there are so many break-ins."
Tegu shrugged. "People are hungry, that's the way I see it."
"Or greedy," Kamandu said, studying the foreman.
The foreman turned his horse and gave the men a final glance. "My men are very busy. Try not to keep them from their work."
Kamandu finally took a step forward. "My first priority is to keep this ranch safe and everything else including chores will come second."
The two men glared at each other before Tegu looked away. "We play cards every wednesday night at the staffing houses. You are welcome."
"Thank you," Kamandu said with a straight face.
The foreman whistled loudly and road away. The two retreiver dogs barked and sped after the horse.
"Charming guy," Nderitu said.
"He was sizing us up," Kamandu replied. "His ranch, his move."
A jeep came roaring around the corner and it was Wanjau the driver. Beside him sat Mr. Ferguson, with a fresh hair style and a clean face.
“Give me the keys Wanjau,” Mr. Ferguson said as he stepped down. “You are staying. I’m driving.”
Wanjau didn’t look too happy as he handed the keys over. The men jumped in with Mr. Ferguson and Kamandu in front, Nderitu, Patrick and Silas in the back. The game rangers opened the gate and the vehicle roared down the gravel road headed towards Amka Town.
Mr. Ferguson was dressed in white pants and a white shirt and didn't have a spot of dirt on his clothes. His sun glasses looked cool mostly because they tinted under sunlight and made him look younger than his age. The men in the back seat wore their usual overcoats despite the heat or time of day.
"We met Tegu your foreman," Kamandu said.
"You did? I meant to introduce you," Mr. Ferguson said. "Mfanyi kazi mzuri. (He's a good worker) He runs the ranch but mostly takes care of the horses so they are in good health and sound condition to work cattle when needed. He came to my ranch only as a boy and knows every corner of this land. I don't know what I would do without him."
Kamandu said nothing after that because he didn't really know the foreman. Mr. Ferguson seemed to have a very high opinion of the scar-faced man.
The trees looked beautiful with the sun rays bursting between the trunks. There was peace here, the kind that calmed hearts and brought a sigh.
"This land is my life you know?” The white man said. “I wouldn't know what else to do without it.” He sighed. “Soon the rains will stop and the rivers will fall. Food for the animals will be scarce and expensive. But we will have hay in storage and the animals will be fed. Did any of you men grow up on a farm?"
The wind pushed through the topless Jeep and brushed hard against faces. "We did, but we were too young to learn anything," Kamandu said, elbow hanging through the window.
"Any one of you good in math?" Mr. Ferguson glanced at the miles of fence englufing his ranch.
"Nderitu and Silas are," Kamandu said and Mr. Ferguson turned to make eye contact with the two men.
"I never fell in love with mathematics," Nderitu said truthfully, "but I always found it easy to pass the exams."
"I love maths," Silas said with a shrug. "I just never had the opportunity to pursue my education to the full extent of my abilities."
“Kamandu told me how you bailed them out of jail. Where did you learn that? I was very impressed.”
“It was my father,” Silas explained with a sheepish grin. “He used to work as a clerk for a law firm in Nairobi before independence. Sometimes he took me with him to work and left me with the secretary. I grew up listening to the language and the law became a part of my every day life. It did not intimidate me.”
“That’s a great story that needs a good ending,” Mr. Ferguson said. “You must not give up on your dream. Nobody should give up on their dreams. In life, we regret about things we didn’t do mostly, that we could have done.”
“Thank you sir,” Silas mumbled. “I will not give up.”
The white man smiled into the rearview mirror. "I may need your help then. Both of you, and Nderitu. We have to check our cattle several times a week throughout the year. We have to check them daily during calving season. Most of my men didn’t finish high school and I have to do everything myself."
"Small farms are easier to manage," Nderitu said and Mr. Ferguson laughed.
"You are right. The overhead cost and paperwork for small farms is managable. I have to keep and maintain spreadsheet records of health, breeding, calving, culling, weaning, purchases and sales records. Then there's also purchases made for equipment, machinery, feed, hay, repairs and fencing supplies."
"And the wildlife?" Patrick asked in a hesitant voice, not wanting to be left out of the conversation.
"That too," Mr. Ferguson said as he turned the steering wheel. "The wildlife was here before us, so we have to try and manage the land and cattle so as not to disrupt the natural patterns of these wild animals."
There was a period of silence in the jeep which was broken by Kamandu, who took the liberty of filling in Mr. Ferguson with the happenings of Amka Town.
"The people are not united," Mr. Ferguson said conclusively. "It’s the same mistake this country has been making for decades. If the traders in the market formed a Sacco or a group with representatives who can speak on their behalf, people like Lumumba would have a difficult time taking money from shops and stalls."
Kamandu looked thoughtful as he pondered the white man's words.
Amka Town appeared around a bend on tarmacked road. Nderitu looked up and saw the dust covered shopping centers with furniture lined outside on the grass for sale. A few bored natives could be seen sitting on stools waiting for customers. Amka Market though was a place to get lost for a few hours. Mr. Ferguson parked the jeep in front of a warehouse and gave a young man some money to watch over it. In front of the market was an array of Lorries laden with farm produce that must have arrived at night. The men stepped out and strolled through the streets with a casual air to their pace. Kamandu and Mr. Ferguson led the way while the other men followed.
The sun rose high and burnt like a lense. The smell of rotten farm produce hang heavily in the market but nobody seemed to care. Men and women lined their produce on the ground while others who could afford it, lined their impressive variety of fruit and vegetables on wooden tables. Space had become a prime currency that was shared and inherited amongst friends and family. The lucky few were those who had plied their trade from the same shaded, dry spot, for over a decade.
The murmurs started when the men neared the open air restaurant/bar and people suddenly recognized Kamandu and ... the dreadlocks.
"It's The Last Mau Mau!" someone yelled.
A few people walked over and before they knew it, they were surrounded by a cheering crowd. "Thank you for saving us from the chief's men," someone said. "We have not seen them today and there is hope in the market. Our families can eat if we don't have to pay bribes."
A man in a blue faded suit stepped forward and the crowd hushed. He stood in front of Kamandu and Mr. Ferguson, and seemed anxious for an audience. "There is a high level of corruption in this town and over the years we have not seen the fruits of the fees we pay to the henchmen," he said.
"And who are you?" Kamandu asked, studying the man.
The man extended a hand and Kamandu shook it. "Mr. Gichuru. I'm the rightful chairman of the traders in this market. I speak for them."
"And you have their backing?" Kamandu asked loudly still shaking the hand.
"They elected me to lead them. Yes, I have their support."
Kamandu released the hand and pointed at Mr. Ferguson who looked very uncomfortable, being the only white person in the market. "You all know Mr. Ferguson the owner of Nyati Ranch. He may have some advice for you."
Mr. Ferguson looked up quickly and Nderitu saw a flash of fear in the white man's eyes. He was unprepared and Kamandu had just thrown him to the wolves. More people arrived and stared at the white man with anticipation.
"Tell them what you told me in the jeep," Kamandu whispered.
The white man looked red under the sun and perspiration could be seen dripping down his face. He cleared his voice and looked up in bravado.
"You are the chairman of the traders?" he asked Mr. Gichuru.
Mr. Ferguson touched his chin with his left hand. "The first thing you have to do is make sure that everybody in the market is registered, and their shops and stalls are registered in their names." He spoke loudly so all could hear.
"Most of us are already registered," Mr. Gichuru said.
Mr. Ferguson straightened his back. "I'm not talking about most of you. It must be everybody. Make a list of everybody and have them register their spot, no matter how small. After that is done, we will draft a policy to be tabled before the chief and county, designating where traders will be allowed to conduct their businesses and what action will be taken on those contravening."
"You are asking us to tie ourselves down," someone in the crowd yelled.
Mr. Ferguson raised his eyes and saw a middle aged woman with a suka around her waist. He took a step towards the woman, and the lady shrunk a little. "I'm asking you to follow the law and be legitimate," Mr. Ferguson said, his voice getting stronger. "Everybody must have his or her own spot. We will then get into an agreement with the county that if anybody is found operating outside the designated areas, they will be arrested and fined by the county askaris."
A cry of protest errupted and Mr. Ferguson raised a hand to hush people down. They ignored him until Kamandu intervened.
"Silence!" People stopped talking and turned to look at Kamandu. "Give him time to finish!"
The crowd settled down and turned their attention back to the white man.
Mr. Ferguson paused and tilted his head as though in deep thought. "You are being harrassed now because you are scared to say no. You are afraid that if you don't give money to the chief's henchmen, they will take your businesses away from you – they will take your spot from you. The boundaries am talking about will keep the traders in, yes, but they will also keep the henchmen out. With or without a bribe the spot you register will belong to you. This market will belong to you within established boundaries and no henchmen will come asking for money."
There was a long silence and Nderitu saw the people pondering the words. What Mr. Ferguson had said made a lot of sense. The henchmen had sowed seeds of doubt in the minds of the people about the legitimacy of their businesses. People bribed out of fear, and they continued to bribe until they forgot why they were bribing. Taking ownership of their businesses was the best way forward.
"Who will help us draft and table a policy for the Chief and county, you?" Mr. Gichuru asked staring into the white man's eyes.
"I will," Mr. Ferguson said to everyone's surprise. A loud murmur filled the air and with it came new energy. With a white man on their side, the people felt victorious. Even Mr. Ferguson managed a smile. He raised a hand and this time the people followed his every cue like a choir. He was in control.
"I will meet with all the representantives in the market by the end of next week and we will get to work right away."
Nderitu was surprised by the turn of events. He studied Mr. Ferguson's face and realised that he had been right about the white man. Mr. Ferguson was a compassionate and caring man. He looked and sounded like he wanted to help. It was beautiful to watch – the story of white and black people working together against a common enemy – oppression.
Mr. Ferguson shook hands and kissed babies. The people quickly made up a song for him and sang his praises. He got carried away by the excitement and ordered ten crates of sodas from the nearest shop and people lined up for a drink. The sound of clanking bottles and laughter filled the air, and the people of Amka Town stood a little taller. Here was the sign they had been waiting for – the wrongs of the past being righted, not through revenge but by the people’s shared humanity.
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...