The man with the accent

Police cannot help but laugh at the spectacle

In Summary

• A man comes to report his thieving son, but there is a slight communication problem


Mzee Karumba has come to the Post with a complaint about his son. Inspector Tembo and I are fighting really hard to stay professional and not laugh.

Hiki kijana kinaimba,” Mzee Karumba says. “Kila mahali kinaimba. Nyumbani, kinaimba. Kwa shamba, kinaimba. Hata kanisani, kinaimba.

“I don’t think kuimba kanisani is such a bad thing, Mzee Karumba,” Inspector Tembo says.

“He means kuiba,” I explain. “Stealing. Do you have evidence of whatever he has stolen?”

Nyumbani aliimbia mamake.

“And in church aliimbia nani?” asks Inspector Tembo, who, unable to hold it anymore, bursts out with laughter.

Mzee Karumba is hurt.

Kwa nini huyu anasheka? Hii mambo ni serious. Ama ni lugha yangu? Najua kiswahili yangu ni ya beberu.”

“No, Mzee Karumba,” I assure him. “He laughs at his own memories. He probably just remembered when he could run. Do you know what your son stole from the church?”

Kanisani aliimba nyimbo.”

This time Inspector Tembo cups his mouth and steps out of the building. I ignore his bellows and try to concentrate on the complainant.

“By nyimbo I assume you mean hymnals?

Si hivyo mno. Vitambu chache za wibo. Lakini Bwana Yesu anasema kuimba ni kuimba, iwe mno ama si mno.”

My eyes pop.

“Jesus said that in the bible?”

“Of course, hapana!” Mzee Karumba makes a frustrated sound. “Yesu hayuko dani ya Bibilia. Bibilia ni kitambu tu. Yesu alikuwa mwizi raeli.”

“I think you mean Muisraeli.

Si nimesema hivyo. Mwizi raeli. Sasa mtafanya nini hii kijana yangu kitabo auliwo na watu? Ama ashapwo na radi?”

“I think we should hatch a plan where you call me when he comes home, then I can arrest him and interrogate him here.”

Mzee Karumba shakes his head.

Hiyo itakuwa ngumu.”


Mamake hatakumbali. Bando anamyonyesha.

Now, I start to get worried. A young woman had once brought her baby to the Post because he wasn’t eating. The baby was two.

“Mzee Karumba,” I say, “exactly how old is your son?”

The old man laughs for the first time.

Ah, sisemi kunyonyeshwo matiti. Ananyonyeshwo kidefu. Yaani, mama yake anamfanya mtoto.”

“Oh, she babies him. I get it. Then she doesn’t have to know.”

Inspector Tembo returns, his eyes red from laughter.

“Have you solved this man’s issue?” he asks.

“We’ll have a talk with the son,” I say.

“Good.” My boss remains professional. For now. “Mzee Karumba, I don’t entertain thieves under my watch. I’ll make sure your son stops that habit, or we make him a guest of the state.”

Hat on his chest, Mzee Karumba bows slightly in gratitude.

Asante sana. Ni kijana yangu na hakuna mzazi hupeda kuzika mtoto yake.

“Very true,” I agree. “We’ll do the best we can.”

“Did you talk evidence?” Inspector Tembo asks. “Anything to tie the young man to these accusations?”

“We don’t have much to go on, apart from eye witnesses. But once he’s in custody, we can execute a search of his room.”

Hapo kwa execute… si mtoto yangu mta…” Mzee Karumba makes a sign of cutting the neck off, complete with the accompanying sound.

“Oh no,” I assure him. “It means to ‘carry out’ in police lingo. Nothing serious.”

Nashukuru sana. Wacha niende. Ng’ombe zangu zingine bado ziko inje.

As Mzee Karumba leaves, I turn to my boss.

“With all due respect sir, that wasn’t very professional.”

“I’m sorry, couldn’t help it. The man is just too funny.”

Mzee Karumba comes back.

Niko na swali ingine moja. Kijana akienda jela aimbe, halafu? Sifikiri watu wa jela hupenda kuimbiwa.”

Inspector Tembo literally falls on the floor laughing.