By Bernard Wainaina
It used to be said that the Great Wall of China is the only human artefact seen from the moon.
Even if this legend has been debunked by astronauts, the wall is indeed great.
It stretches an extensive 7,200 kilometres.
The Chinese have something to be proud of, marking how developed they were even in the pre-Christian era.
In my private thoughts,walls desecrate the environment.
They destroy wonderful panoramic views.
These days, I sometimes take an academic writing break in Kiambu,my hometown to my former village,my birthplace, a cosy little town at the
heart of central Kenya.
Twenty years ago when I left my birthplace to settle in my new home,it was indeed a village.
Don’t you misunderstand me: I am not really a crazy, romantic “ruralist” living up in the clouds,nor am I hypocritical GreenPeace member, not even an animal rights activist who concerns more about orphaned cats and dogs than the man dying on the
roadside;I’m just a moderate environmental conservationist.
I occasionally visit my birthplace village,but I miss its old rural setting.
I’m currently contracted to write an Agribusiness Best Practices manual by a client.
I normally take time off to go and do the writing from a friends home back in my birthplace village,if only to get inspiration from my past during the writers ‘block’.
Now I might begin to sound like Vasco da Gama!
Or I might sound very nostalgic showing wrinkles of ageing.
But what does a village mean to me, anyway: African mud huts, homes amidst farm lands, no cars or pikipiki’s (motorcyles), and most of all, no walls and gates.
NO WALLS, IMAGINE!
Those old days, when I was younger in the green Village – green it still is, most houses were just mud put around dry sticks, and you saw those
huts, there was nothing even to hide them from miles and miles of open view from all sides.
No walls, I mean.
Yes, there would be some stray marks of boundaries of farms with some thornyless plants of the euphorbia family, including
the “Gitooka”,a special succulent plant used to mark the four corners of farm boundaries.
I must hurry to add that the Kikuyu people have a sentimental attachment to the “Gitooka”,it not only marked boundaries but also lineage.
I was born long after my paternal grandfather,whom I’m named after, had already died in the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya during the struggle for independence.
I had no idea about who he was or even a spiritual connection with his life.
As a curious young boy,I one day asked and old man who was my grand dad’s agemate to tell me about my grand dad who I never met.
I saw him almost coming to tears as he stood up silently,held my hand and led me to a far flung farm that used to belong to grand dad,but was lost during the long armed struggle for our country’s independence.
When we got to the corner of the farm boundary,he told me to pluck a succulent leave from the “gitooka” plant and wring it with my feasts;it produced some sap that he told me to rub on my face.
I was just amused,following his ritualistic instructions.
Then he solemnly said,”your grand father planted this particular “Gitooka” with his own hands. You almost resemble him. The sap you pasted on your face now spiritually connects you to his departed soul. Now you know him!”
I was moved by that experience,its spiritual connection with the past,and a plant that could connect three different generations,some who were already dead.
These days I take some long walks along the dusty village pathways of my former village, between my tight writing schedule: just to exercise my otherwise numbed hands at the laptop, to stretch my swollen feet, to feed my eyes with some green, and to get some fresh air – I am allergic to open windows while within my room!
What wounds my eyes when I am out of the hurting screen of the laptop are WALLS.
Yes, traditional boundary markers are replaced by walls, these days.
There are walls and walls.
Some,tall live hedges, are still growing up.
Others are a mix of bricks and grills, you could still have a peek through to admire the new mansions.
Most of them have a gate, some of which have large arches over them – Greek, Romanesque,Baroque, Neo-gothic, Persian, you name it.
Still other walls are high and tight – they can almost compete with the Great Modern Wall of Israel put
up by the wounded Israelis (I am afraid to use the ‘J’ word, lest I be blamed for anti-Semitism) on the
property of their helpless neighbours.
All in the name of sovereignty and security!
They have forgotten the story of the Berlin Wall,and why it had to come down.
I keep praying every day that this wall of Israeli insecurity too, should come down and like in my birthplace, should come down and free long range views of my old village!
It makes me angry.
I only pray that it will happen in my life-time.
All that it will take to bring that heartless wall will be one new Joshua – by the way, that is Hebrew for
That aside, coming back to the bourgeoning walls of my former village, they say, this is maendeleo
(Swahili for progress or development)!
After all, I work for holistic development, I am not against maendeleo: education, access to health-care, water, electricity, means of communication and transport.
NOLLYWOOD’S WALLS AND NAIJA MOVIES
I do care about quality of life!
My agonising question is: do we need walls and gates to celebrate maendeleo – advancement, that is a
Now I understand why the Nollywood (Nigerian)movies are full of high walls and tall dark gates!
In the Nigerian productions, there would be that large lipped lady with a flashy red lipstick or the XXXL sized gentleman, steering their Mercedes
Benz with one hand and pretend to be attending to an important call holding the mobile phone with
the other hand, would hoot at a tall black gate that breaks the monotony of an equally soaring high wall, and there would be that house-boy who would leave his snaky watering hose aside and run to drag that heavy gate open.
Someone once said if you cut the walls and the gates out of the Nollywood movies, their humdrum
plots wouldn’t fill the time for a feature film.
Besides, how else will the Nigerians show off their affluence and extravagance?
To me the decision is simple, if walls mean advancement, I then prefer an underdeveloped world with no walls at all.
“The African Story as told by Africans”.©African News Digest®