My Gogo (grandmother) often says to me that unless I leave my mother’s house, I will grow up believing she is the best cook in the world.
One cool morning, looked at my mirror and saw a monkey staring back. Unsure of whether I was awake or in a trance, I blinked once and then once more. When I opened my eyes, there was not only the monkey but a meerkat had joined the peep show.
They say mirrors are a reflection of the heart just like water in a stream; they show you things that the ordinary eye cannot see.
I was anxious to know what these images meant, but I was in a fix. If I went to my elders, they would say I am deranged. If I went to my friends, they would jokingly say I need to stop smoking that herb and if I went to the preacher man, he would attempt an exorcism on my innocent brown soul. So I decided to visit a Sangoma to help me demystify my vision.
A Sangoma is a diviner; a prophet of some sort; a healer; a visionary who can see things that ordinary people cannot see. A Sangoma is more often a woman, a very old one, with a dreadful appearance and mystical voice that will frighten your spirit to death. My Gogo told me that a Sangoma can smell death from a mile away; she can also see evil spirits just like a cat. According to tradition, evil spirits like to inhabit the bodies of rats. Rats move around stealthily and freely; they cause diseases and chew down your most valued possessions. In our Afrikan culture, if you have rats in your house, you are deemed poor or cursed or both. That is why most households will have a cat which they believe will chase away the evil spirits of death, disease and poverty. I have two cats, each presently nursing three kittens. I think I am well protected; but I am also a graduate with a degree in a scientific field. I am your enigmatic highly educated African with a heightened belief in indigenous spirituality; the westerner just calls it uninformed superstition. I am a mystery even to my own self. I am at the front seat during the Sunday sermon, I am awed at the science behind the work of Surgeons and I acknowledge the power of a Sangoma.
The Sangoma I visited had a battalion of cats patrolling her frazzled yard. When I recited to her my ordeal, she laughed mockingly just like the monkey in the mirror. “Young man, why do you want to crack the tired ribs of an old woman?” Her breathing sounded like a distant deranged echo. My imaginary mind envisioned how her rib cage must be ruggedly held together by dirty bushy cobwebs and her lungs coated with thick layers of dark dust and grey ash.
My Gogo says a Sangoma cannot be arrested by death. Anytime death comes knocking at her tiny congested hut, she welcomes him with a concoction of hot water spiced with mint and tangawizi. The concoction has a calming effect similar to that of Cannabis. Upon gulping down the drink, Death slowly turns drowsy and the Sangoma seduces him to her mahogany warped bed. After two half-moons, Death departs back to hell with his face all lit up but no soul in his hand; nothing to prove he has done any work while visiting earth. Sangomas are the custodians of the earth. They are the first born of time, older than the eldest ancestor, hence the name Inkulu nkulu. Not even the insatiable tummy of death has a grip on them.
“Only a fisherman knows where a fish lays its eggs. Now go!”
That was all the Sangoma said to me. She is the typical elder speaking in parables and sayings that don’t make any sense to a young educated graduate. If she only knew the kind of nonsense they teach us in school nowadays, she would have given me a chemical equation to balance or an algebra question to solve. They don’t teach us to solve parables in college. They don’t show us how to unravel sayings in secondary school.
A Sangoma and a Gogo are the finest teachers you can find anywhere; they show you where to look but not what to see. They leave the seeing to you.
So here I was trailing and watching monkeys and meerkats from can’t see in the morning to can’t see at night, trying to figure out why they appeared as my reflection. I was as observant as an owl yet saw nothing to report about, until one day I sighted something unbelievable. I saw a meerkat, as harmless as it is, jolting a sleeping rattle snake. Anytime the rattle snake would rattle its tale, the meerkat would just sit back and watch keenly. When the snake went silent, the meerkat would disturb it again just to hear the rattling. I too was fascinated by the rattle snake’s rattling tail. It sounds exactly like a shekere or Kayamba. If you have ever put beads or hard seeds inside a calabash and then shaken it, then you know what a rattle snake tails sound like.
Monkeys are even more fascinating. I had come to observe that wherever monkeys were, other animals would parade around. The monkey is indeed the maestro of the wild; it knows where to find the sweetest leaves and fruits, the purest water and the most succulent roots. If you are around a monkey, you will probably never grow hungry or become angry. Just watching monkeys and meerkats will make your ribs crack and lungs cough.
When I think about it, my Gogo has compared me to a monkey on several occasions, saying that I like jumping from tree to tree; always curios to know something about everything. My professor says it’s quite a task for me to keep a single trail of thought; I diverge more than a chameleon’s camouflage. My friends always smile when I walk into the room or open my mouth to speak; they are sure I will say something cheeky.
I am learning to take life a little more serious while still holding on to the belief that comedy is a funny way of being serious. Nonetheless, until such a time as then, anytime I see these two fascinating animals staring back in my mirror every morning, I’m just gonna continue looking, seeing and learning about the many things that I don’t know I don’t know.
I also hope one of these days you too will find some strange creature staring back at you in your bathroom mirror; my Sangoma is in need of more clients and more laughter to clear her dusty lungs…..