1. How to talk to a fox
My grandfather was always telling us how he had climbed Kilimanjaro in his twenties. He would stop midway through swirling his ugali through his stew and declare that none of us had ever known real cold. “We got to the base camp, and once there, none of us showered.“ His cheeks would glisten and his eyes would glint. “Let me tell you, me I didn’t even drink the water on Kilimanjaro; it was too cold!” Having said this, he would proceed to regale us with stories of his mountain-climbing exploits, as if we hadn’t heard the stories several times before.
In hearing and rehearing this story, what stuck with me wasn’t a picture of my grandfather as an all-conquering mountaineer, but rather images of my grandmother’s face as she welcomed home the stink of this unshowered man. “Eh, Wuod Patila, was there no water? What will people say if they smell you like this? Dhiang’, today is the day I leave you.” In my imaginings of the two of them, my grandmother was the slick, sassy, no-holds-barred one. In another version of this story, my grandfather claims she was to climb the mountain with him, but, once in Arusha, remained holed up in the hotel, defeated by the cold. I don’t know which version of my grandmother is more real, or which one I prefer to be real.
2. What language does a fox dream in?
My grandfather refuses to sleep in our house. He will be in Kisumu for a conference, but he will stay in a hotel, because it is taboo to sleep in his son’s house. “Wuon Omolo,” he sneers at my father. “Did I not raise you right? Or will you turn around and sleep in Omolo’s house when he has built his simba and bedded a woman?”
3. I saw a fox in my dream, once, and it talked to me.
My aunt comes to Kenya for a work visit that is also a holiday, and on her last day here we go for lunch at a posh hotel in Nairobi— me, her, my grandmother, and my grandfather. This hotel, from whose lobby Lord Delamare, Colonel Grogan and other white men shot at protestors trying to free Harry Thuku in 1922, is so white that our little table is the only enclave of blackness in the room. There are the waiters, of course, but one must never notice these…