ART CHECK

A tale of Kibaki legacies and Sino-Kenyan ties

Children born of Chinese road constructors are a reminder of his time

In Summary

• Makokha relishes how he has had a rebirth in more ways than one

Thika Superhighway
LEGACY: Thika Superhighway
Image: FILE

Abdikadir Makokha felt elated. It was not just the feel of his new Chinese-made Haojin motorbike which he won at a lottery last week. It was not the elation of this first day of setting it to the road on this holy day of Idd-ul-Fitr.

It was not even the fact that his wife had finally given him his first tot. On Easter Sunday, she had finally overcome the name “mother of graves”, having lost six kids in stillbirth in a row. Two sets of triplets. One all-males, one all-females.

His elation, curiously, was not that of the new man he was becoming: a born-again Muslim, survivor of addiction to mugging and an illegal plant.

His elation had more to do with the news that he helped the late President Kibaki cement his legacy as a builder of modern roads.

Makokha felt a small bird perch on his empty motorbike like a passenger. It was a weaverbird with beady eyes that were ill at ease. Before he caught its blue and yellow tail feathers, it soared into the skies like the price of petrol in recent times.

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The Chinese are full of wisdom. They upgraded to world-class status, the ancient road connecting Trans Nzoia county and Bungoma county via Kitale and Webuye. Makokha thought about them today as he sat on his shiny, petrol-less nduthi.

Today, his revelries by this tarmac road built by the Chinese under the late President Mwai Kibaki made him happy. Was he not one of the labourers who worked for that company here?

His boss Pek Jeng Bazeng had been the lively bald headed engineer who always talked about Confucius. Boss called him the father of common sense and used his wisdom to inspire his Kenyan manpower as they built this road.

Some say Pek was a randy jailbird from Peking, a big city in faraway China. They used to whisper so behind his back. This resulted in him being nicknamed Pekejeng Peking, or simply Double P.

The old man had a flair for mixing with the locals, unlike most of his kinsmen. He had a soft spot for the local lasses, too.

Makokha knew of rumours here that some of the children born with local blood, and eyes that are not local in shape, resemble Pek Jeng.

In fact, men have fought in the illicit brew beer dens of here about this matter. Two are serving prison sentences in Kitale for untoothing a woman. She had claimed Double P was a master of nocturnal gymnastics like none ever seen in these parts.

Whatever the saga, whatever the story, Makokha has never forgotten his years of service with the men from China in the Kibaki era.

They taught him how to operate a vehicle. They taught him without words on how to become an engineer. He understands many things about how to build roads made of tar.

Double P once visited Makokha's widowed mother and slept in his bachelor hut of mud and thatch. He had given Makokha sufficient lessons in Chinese in exchange for tit bits of saucy Kibukusu.

This is the reason many mocked Makokha by calling him an in-law to Pekejeng Peking. One of the new children of the village who had unique eyes in terms of shape was Makokha’s new niece. Makokha loved this child. Is he not the one who named her Mandarina Nasipwondi?

On the day the Chinese company left after finishing the job here, Makokha cried. He remembers his hand in the air in bye-bye sign. He remembers the echoes of his departing boss uttered in Mandarin, a parting shot.

Bèn rén xiān qǐshēn. Bèn niǎo zǎo chūlín! If they work hard, even the stupid can get things done and succeed. Or more expressly, stupid people get up first and stupid birds leave the forest early. Yet both achieve success because of this strategy.

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The wise Chinese had left these parts. The wise president who had brought them to build huge roads across Kenya had left power, too. He has left us now in this life. Forever.

The people of here in faraway western Kenya continue to tell tales of how golden the years of the Chinese and Kibaki were as they followed the funeral ceremony of the latter. Abdikadir Makokha, too.

He remembers Kibaki and Pek Jeng from Peking whenever he sees the lass Mandarina. He enjoys taking her to school to pursue Free Primary Education at Kauka DEB. He feeds her with wise stories of a msakhulu called Confucius.

He is her special uncle; the only one who never mocks the shape of her unlocal eyes. Time without count, she tells him this.

Since he won the bike recently, he has taken to biking her all the 10 miles to and fro. He wants her to be the civil engineer she wants to be when she grows up.

He recalls how she always talked to his wife’s protruding belly in this successful pregnancy. She would say: “Cousin, grow. Be born quickly, we do your father proud.”

A wise old woman, with gums that chewed sugarcane as well as her former teeth would, once looked at Mandarina’s yellow palm and said: “You will make life abound with your words of your life.” Makokha recalled, now.