Wheels

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs


We had a new night guard, and he turned out to be a good man.

Submitted: June 29, 2018

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Submitted: June 29, 2018

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Mbise wasn’t keen on being our night guard and we weren’t fussed on having one, we hadn’t had one in two years at Sanawari, so why should we need one now? We were working in my usual environmental role, but this time under the auspices of a church outfit, DME. The house and farm it sat on belonged to DME, Mbise was an employee of DME and it was DME’s policy to guard their property. So we acquiesced, and so did Mbise, although he had less choice than we did. He wasn’t keen because the previous Kiwi couple had caused a lot of trouble for him, for DME and for the secondary school, who were close neighbours. He didn’t want another round of trouble or ugomvi, bad feeling!

Our setup was going to be a bit different to his previous experience. Mbise hadn’t been paid for a year, in fact none of his fellow farm workers had. It was just three years since the end of an internal war, a real fair dinkum war with killing and property burning that the army was sent quell. DME barely had two bob to rub together, running pretty much on empty, so the farm workers were at the bottom of the pay-list. There was no allowance for security in my project funds so I couldn’t pay Mbise for night guard duties either, but I could pay him as a nursery worker, which amounted to more than he’d receive if DME were paying anyway. So after a few weeks he became our night guard and during the day, a main-stay nursery worker.

At first though, Mbise was disgruntled so he had a few demands before he would start his night guarding duties. I had the distinct impression he was testing my mettle. He wanted a filimbi, a word that I hadn’t heard before, so with him peering over my shoulder, I checked the dictionary. It said a flute or a whistle, and I realised he meant one of those policeman’s whistles I had seen in the market. I’d carved many a whistle with willow sticks at home, so using my secateurs and a sharp knife, I made one out a stick of hibiscus. I was hoping the bark would come off intact like willow, and it did! It made a shrill sound and Mbise seemed gobsmacked, he didn’t expect me to produce such a thing and at short notice. He wanted a pair of gumboots so I gave him a pair of Red Bands that I brought over from home. I hadn’t used them since I’d arrived anyway. He was expecting a shiny new pair so was disappointed with the half-worn-out pair and surprised that I had them on hand, but they fitted purpose, and he was getting the message. He also wanted a bow and a few arrows for protection. I had seen them at the Maasai markets. Cheap-shod things!  As for protection, we had an archery competition on the lawn and neither of us could hit a barn door, let alone fling an arrow with enough force to stick one in! I also bought him a torch and kept him in batteries; a set didn’t last him a week!

The Kiwi guy before us had rigged lights outside to deter bandits and Mbise wanted me to rehabilitate them. It was dud bulbs mainly, but I rigged the wiring so he had the switch outside, making him able to turn the lights on and off as he pleased. But really! Any baddie worth his salt would’ve waited for the next powercut, because half the time there was no electricity!  From the start, we gave Mbise the same meal as ours. We didn’t eat it together, just supplied it to him when he arrived for his evening duty, but as time went on, I often sat with him while he ate, yarning. We also gave him a Thermos of tea or coffee with milk and sugar. The other bloke didn’t want Mbise to go to sleep, so supplied him with a Thermos of black, sugarless coffee, so strong that his gums receded! He wasn’t supplied food either.

Mbise’s home place was high up the mountain over roads that were little more than tracks, and from time to time I drove him up there, never able to get out of second gear. It took forty five minutes. We met his family and steadily a warm relationship grew. There was another route. By following a track across to the Nkoaranga road, which was a tarred road, and following it up to the hospital and then taking another track on towards Mbise’s, but there must have been a spring there because it was a treacherous, mucky area and I preferred not to take it unless there were no other options.

My co-worker scored a new pikipiki, motorbike! A little Honda step-through job. Mo and Jo noticed the need and applied for the funds, which was lucky Loti and our project! But when Mbise saw it the hints came thick and fast, however when he reduced his wish list to a bicycle we became more amenable. I had checked them out and knew we would be up for about Tsh 30 000/-, which was affordable for us, but you don’t jump to it on the first request. Mbise too had been to check bikes out, so one day I surprised him by taking him into the Arusha main market, where there was a big bicycle shop. They were mostly Chinese bikes, about 1950’s Western models. I was still dubious, because for our water projects, ordinary one inch Chinese brass taps are half the price of British taps, but the Chinese ones failed very quickly. Anyway we bought a top-of-the-range, double-barred bike for Mbise and had to pay extra for a bike pump. Mbise was over the moon!

He was down to Kilala with his bike the next Saturday to the bicycle fundi and arrived back with mudguards front and back. They were shiny black rubber and each had a white-painted logo. On the front was, Maisha ya muda mrefu kwa Baba na Mama and on the back, Asante Baba na Mama. Long life Father and Mother and Thank you Father and Mother. He was sincere about those sentiments and wanted to advertise it.

Over the years he added adornments of coloured reflectors and mirrors, changed the seat, pedals, wheels, and handlebars. The bike was his pride and joy. He had to push it all the way home, up those steep hills, but rocketed down via the tarred road at dizzying speeds! He also carried some heavy loads for people, hoping to make some extra money, but nobody paid him and his generous nature didn’t allow him to refuse.

There came a spate of bandit attacks throughout the area, a German pastor near us was invaded and robbed of USD1 000, so the village chairman made the rule that if anyone made the trouble call that woman use, ooowhee, ooowhee, neighbours would be fined if they failed to respond. I happened upon some fancy horns that were designed for bicycles, they had battery operated flashing lights, bells, whistles and sirens, all very loud. We kept one, gave one to the headmaster of the secondary school (which he promptly took home), I gave one to our close friend Mama Fulani. And the last one, I gave to Mbise. I told them all the story of the boy who called ‘wolf’ and that the horn wasn’t a toy.

The danger passed quickly and of course Mbise put his horn on his bike! All the village kids loved it as much as he did and they would signal him to switch it on as he tore past them! He was certainly never lost! We could hear him from miles away! Never in his life did he have a toy, and now he did!


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