I never wanted to write this piece but here I am, maybe because I am traveling to my village and I can’t sleep in the bus as much as I am trying to .This piece reminds me so much about my family in particular. But I got inspired by the events that happened at my grandmother’s funeral a few months ago when some of my cousin’s friends came to help lay her to rest.
Unfortunately for you, to grieve with a Luo you have to travel to the Luo land. In future, as a rule of thumb, you have to ask a Luo where they come from before starting a friendship. As a general rule, and for your own sanity, do not befriend Luos that come from those far-flung areas. It’s costly when you have to go to a funeral in their shagz. I’m talking about places like Kabuoch, Lambwe Valley, Rusinga, Mfangano, and Karateng. These are places that you drive to for so long until the road suddenly gives up. Then you drive some more in a thicket until your car suddenly gives up.
You know you are far deep in Luo-land when a horde of shrieking and excited half naked Luo children run after your car, wanting to touch it. By this time you will be too tired and too hungry to bother lifting your android phone to Instagram this moment. And whatever you do, don’t ask your hosts “aren’t these kids supposed to be in school?” It’s brash. It’s also none of your business. But should you feel you just have to (because you are one of those NGO types yoked with humanitarian piousness) you will be told, deservedly, that, “Luo children are born learned, they only go to school to calibrate their brilliance.” And you would have deserved that answer
Leave your vintage car behind. If it struggles to Mukoma Road it won’t ace Luo-land. You know how when people are planning on attending a Luo funeral and you ask them if their roads in Kabondo Kasipul are OK. Most Luo’s will glorify the state of their infrastructure in shags: “Roads?” they will say, “of course, surely, what kind of a question is that? We have tarmacked road right up to the granary! There is lots of tarmac, we can even pack for you something you bring back to Nairobi.” You will pack something all right; you will pack your bumper in the boot when the roads are done with you.
For all the perils of this kind of travel, Luo-land is beautiful. It might not be scenic as Central Kenya, but it’s beatific in a very earthy way and a very modest salt-of-the-earth kind of way. You will go to places that seem to have successfully resisted the hand of time.
As you drive, huts run back alongside the road, huts and trees and goats and guys burning charcoal or shoveling sand and cattle and herds boys with ashen knees, leaning on sticks. It’s a tableau that totally relaxes you, opens you to a world of stoic, pride and endurance. If you are lucky and you happen to drive alongside the lake you will see how it shimmers in the sun like a million diamonds and you will struck at how a sun-soaked place like this can stir so much in you.
Nyanza wasn’t blessed with meadows and a soil bearing basket of life, but you won’t see its true silver lining if you insist on comparing it with where you are from. So as you transverse the land, headed to the funerals, look around, soak it all in. Open your mind, yes, but most importantly open your car windows and kill your AC and let the smells of Nyanza waft in. You will smell dried millet, hooves in the dust, a month-old promise of rains, drying cow-dung…A purged smell. Nyanza smells of earth that has refused to birth again. But let it all in your car and take a lungful of it. Keep a bit of Nyanza in your lungs if it doesn’t have space in your heart.
But Luos deep in the boondocks are truly warm folk, that hot sun thaws the coldest of hearts. And Luo-land is the only place in Kenya where you will travel deep inland and speak to anyone in English, anyone at all, and you will be answered back in English. True story, like. Pick a cassava farmer, or a herd’s boy and ask him where Ukwala Health Center is and they will retort, “You took the wrong turn, two kilometers down that road, my good friend. What you need to do is swing this bebi around (the baby here is your car) and do a kilometer until you get to a T-junction then turn right. Are we together, class…?” (They picked that “are we together class” from their brief session in primary school and always insist on using it in every sentence.) What’s my point? English is more than just a language for the Luo; it’s a natural instinct. (Hehe)
You have finally landed in Luo-land. You remembered to carry your mineral water, torch, kikoi and mosquito repellent. Be warned; if you are really light, people will definitely stare at you.
In Luo funerals people don’t cry, they wail. There will be lots of wailing. Most will be tearless wails, it’s like watching a muted TV. You have to remember that crying in funerals in Luo-land is less about grief than it is about clan politics. Close members of family of the deceased have to cry to show their unified grief, those who don’t will be victimized for not mourning enough. And that story can be held against one and talked about for many moons and generations! There is a lot of underlying politics in funerals; most of them have nothing to do with the deceased. So ignore the crying and worry about where you will sleep.
You won’t get a warm bed and scented candles in your room that I can assure you. In fact, you won’t get a room. Rooms are reserved for the elderly in the family and the visiting in-laws. You will sleep in the car. Or on a tree, because you are a bird (…see what I just did there…no you can’t sleep in a tree just kidding? OK). Or you will sleep on your chair. It’s called a wake for a reason. If there is a local lodging, your host might book for you a room, one of those lodgings with mismatched slippers. Don’t ask for hot-shower. Should there be no lodging you can be sure that a church choir will keep you company the whole night or (disco matanga) loud music playing in a funeral. And, no, there are no night-runners!