I recently travelled to my hometown for the holidays. Like I
mentioned here, I’m not overly enthusiastic about Christmas but I’ve friends
and loved ones who hold it in high regard..so let’s just say a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
The better part of my childhood was spent here. In a small
town on the windward side of Mt. Kenya. The place I resided was fondly referred
to as the ‘Base’ or ‘Kambi’- a hub for military professionals. I’ve both fond
and gross memories of this place!
As a very objective young girl(
as I rain praises on
), I loved and loathed this place in equal measure. Loved it because
somehow, within these walls, it always felt so safe, so warm..nothing posed a
threat to safety. There was a sense of community. Most people, if not everyone,
knew each other. The community was small with housing segregated into;
for young recruits just joining the camp and with no family- at least not in
sight. These were situated quite a distance from the main living areas. Small neatly
arranged blocks with neat lawns. I never got a chance to actually go into one
of them. They were quite popular with hormone-raged teenage girls- many a tale
has been told of ‘love’ stories gone wrong in those quarters which were 99%
male populated in the ‘90s.
like the name suggests, these were built of wood. Small houses by the outlook.
There were just three blocks of them. By
the side of a road- they stuck out like a sore thumb.
Mzee’- this literally translates to ‘old blocks’. These houses were 2-bedroomed
mid-sized flats. Most had a sickening pale orange colour, others were awash
with light brown, others pale green- I never liked those colours. Their
stairways were dark, windows were minimal, shattered easily. The spaces were
just right. These belonged to junior officers in the military; corporals and
senior privates with small families. Irony was, though, they always had
children in the droves. I never quite understood the numbering of these but I
know there was Block 1-21, and some numbers were missing e.g. I don’t quite
recall a block 11 or 12. Ps..i’ve
nothing against block ‘mzee’. In fact, my best friend lived at ‘Block 18’ of
‘labour camp’- this were self-contained bed-sitters for constables and their
Quarters- these were 3-bedroomed, houses. There were 6 flats in each block and
they belonged to mid-level officers; sergeants, Snr. Sergeants, 2nd
grade warrant officers. There were 15 of them; block 30-45.
these was actually ‘warrants’ but what I’ve written there was how everyone
pronounced and still pronounces it. Spacious houses for warrant officers. These
were close to most amenities; the church, supermarket (AFCO), shops, the dairy,
the pool, the barber, the cobbler etc. If you lived anywhere else and had your
parents send you, say to the mend a shoe at the cobblers, you always had the
chance to stop by the church to say a prayer and hope your Snr. Private dad
would rise through the ranks so you could move house to warans and avoid the
long trek to the cobblers!
sincerely have no idea what this ‘k’ meant or stood(
will ask tomorrow)
for but I assume these were for older warrant officers.
these were maisonettes and bungalows for junior and senior officers who’d begun
their service at cadet level. This was also where the ‘Base Commander’ resided.
I think you get the segregation picture
without going into too much detail.
I also loved this place because
apart from the high security zones and aircrafts which I loved to watch, there
were values held or at the very least implied. The many cultures of Kenya were
adequately represented and this is partly the reason I’m rather unbothered by
tribalism- I’ve mingled with all. Off course stereotypes existed
rumour about my Turkana friends mum being a night runner or the Kamba guy
called Kwinga who’d bewitch you if you picked fruit from his trees at the
. Also, living in the base somehow molded us into very
resilient personalities able to adapt to most situations.
Kids were respectful to their
smh..like they had a choice with all the military discipline wafting
in the air
). Parents other than your own treated you like one of their own.
People attended weddings for the food and to give their 2-cents on the bridal
parades gowns and pitched tent at funeral wakes to give support to the
deceased’s family. Tw’s a like small city, self-contained, to say the least. I loved
some of the base rituals such as the bugle call during which the flag was
lowered and all were expected to stop their activities and stand at
ok, perhaps loathe is
a bit too strong
) it for many a reason. Sometimes, parent’s had to move
from one base to another and this, for a growing girl like me, meant loss of
some dear friend’s (off course by then I barely understood seasonality nor
longevity of friendships). Also, there was a revocation of base privileges upon
reaching certain ages or if your folks left the service which basically meant
access to the base to reminisce or reconnect with one’s places of growing up
However, the ranks and divisions which ran down right to the
kids were my biggest headache. Military classism. It’s almost as if you were
always safe ‘within your own ranks’. Wives always breathed a sigh of relief
when their husbands were given a promotion which entailed moving house to match
your rank. Ranks were(I believe, still are) a serious thing. Today, though, I’ll
focus on what they did to my Christmas’.
At Christmas, there’d be annual
ball for the parents and a ‘kids party’ for their children.
There would be a kid’s party for
each level of the ranks. Nothing bothered me as much as this did. I had friends
in all ranks and this just meant I’d not be seeing them at the party if our
dads were in different ranks.
Also; they wouldn’t get to see my fab
‘princessy’ dress while it still reeked of its new scent or my mini face-lift
from the tight pigtails on my head! (Narcissism becomes me).
This was and
still is very wrong, if it’s not been amended; we attended school together,
went to the same churches, drank milk from the same ‘boma’, played the same
games on the weekend, consumed the same supplies(
Darn I miss those
), received the same healthcare at BMC(base medical
centre), went through the same check-point at the ‘main gate’, got our hair
braided by the same women,
or Mama Munira
, or shaven by the same barber etc etc
My friends were a lot of fun and it’s such
a pity we never partied together as kids because of conditioned lifestyles
imposed by societal ranks.
Ranks are great. We all strive
pretty hard to get to the top of our games. Ranks are a responsibility- the
higher the rank, the more the responsibility. However, kids are just that, KIDS
and it’s pretty irresponsible that
we should drag them into those ranks when it comes to things as trivial as
parties. Parties are celebrations, meant to draw people closer not segregate
them into hierarchies and especially not kids- don’t spoil it for them; they
should be let free to be the kids they are especially if living in a community
as ‘closed’ as the one I and many others lived in.
Merry Christmas folks. Thanks for
keeping me company on the blog.
The military brat- Kazini Daily!