What a read!
Halfway between Nairobi and Dundori by Muthoni Garland is a Kenyan short story, published by Story Moja Publications. It provides a small peak into the life of Wanjeri who lives in Naivasha with her husband Murage. She has a sister – Gladys, who has been keeping the couple afloat from money she acquires from her Anglo-American lover. It is a heaping mess of a life which Wanjeri must live. The lack of rent money, jobs and a husband who has essentially dug a grave for the couple creates a tangible and reeking reality.
There are no sugar-coated gardens or lush rose plantations described. No mention of the beauty of the landscape or the weather. Tourist things.
The biting itch of working on the plantation, plucking buds without protective gloves and abysmal working conditions are nonchalantly thrown in. This serves to portray how accustomed the workers are to such conditions that they are no longer outraged.
This story is raw and real. It is a story which explores the suffering that a University graduate from the rural area can face in todays Kenya. Highlighting the drowning effect which lack of a job, squandering resources and under-the-table deals can have on the lives of local people.
There are many theme’s, unique to Kenya which have been masterfully weaved into the story which makes for an intricate cacophony of glaring truths. The themes of poverty, family, betrayal and hardship are clearly brought forth.
Wanjeri has suffered constant betrayal in her life, be it from her family or her husband. She eventually stops betraying herself and stands up to face her demons full in the face at a party in front of Anglo-American tourists and local women who accompany them.
A small gathering of people who have no way of understanding her pain. But, the local girls who have sacrificed their dignity to be in a different version of her hell are sympathetic. Somehow there is a twisted sense of unity in their shared ill fate.
Another particularly glaring motif in the story is that women need men to get by. Wanjeri marries Murage despite knowing he had a girlfriend when they met. She by passes the fact and he leaves the other girl with no comment. Wanjeri chides her husband and staves off telling him that he has sunk their ship straight up to his face. She dances around it, cajoles his ego and soothes him instead to get her way. Gladys is reliant on a “Mzungu” to attain a life of luxury. The other local girls, one of whom was also a plantation picker, latch on to the same kind of men who fulfill their needs for money in exchange for freely given physical pleasure.
None of the women in the story stand up and become self-sufficient entirely without having a man in the mix. Whether it be for monetary gain or simply to feel wanted, the women give in to men.
A callous tale of a blistered woman who has suffered innumerable hardships to the point of cynicism. She tells her tale just before meeting with an accident at the end. If you want a peak into the heart of a real story, told from the perspective of an unfortunate soul who travels through a terrain of things that construct the reality of some in Kenya – this is a must read.
I was able to purchase the book at the Story Moja Festival held this week in Nairobi. It was a great mix of people who came together to promote reading, writing and creative expression in the country.