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Retain that accent, it can save you from trouble

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 A couple talking in a cafe. (Courtesy/iStock)

Some years back, I found myself stationed in the then Al-Shabaab held county of Wajir, chasing after the elusive legal tender. I was there for so long that my uncle started saying that there was a bui bui clad daughter of a sheikh who was cooking anjera for me.

My auntie, true to herself, prayed daily for me to be delivered from “the wilderness,” as she used to call it-until my tour of duty ended.

Unknown to them, I was having a ball up north. Despite the perceived difficulties of the region, the place came with its exotic package of experiences.

My duties involved working with marginalised communities in the vast county, doing good for people who weren’t used to having good things done for them. Occasionally, we’d return from fieldwork with a prized he-goat in our pickup, a gift from thankful wananchi.

If there wasn’t a goat to feast on under a tree over the weekend, then there was chicken. Up north, locals, who are used to slaughtering camels weighing tonnes, are rarely bothered with little fowls. Every Saturday, some lads would appear at our gates, cocks tucked under their armpits. Bogol koton.

They’d announce with the solemnity of an auctioneer. One hundred and fifty bob. Bogol. I would retort with a straight face. Fifty bob. A

A few minutes later, a fat kienyenji cock would be simmering in my kitchen, all acquired at a mere hundred bob.

But as they say, not all things run smoothly. One day, I was on an assignment near the Kenya-Somali border. Al-Shabaab militants liked to ride into town in run-down Cruisers, shoot randomly, and hoist their black flag on any government flagpole they could find.

To counter this, the area was teeming with many army officers on patrol.

We bumped into a group of army boys, their muzzles pointed at us. ‘Kitambulisho!’ Barked one towering chap, his face fully covered with a green balaclava. As Murphy’s law would have it, I had forgotten my ID in the office.

For what felt like an eternity, I argued my case, insisting that I was a law abiding citizen.

The soldiers weren’t buying it. Eventually, they handed me over to their boss a composed square shouldered man who looked used to the peace of danger. In a language that was more Gikuyu and less of English, he barked at me: muthee, tero me, where do you come from?

This was my make or break moment. I puffed out my chest which sadly, was followed by my kitambi.

In very crisp Gikuyu spiced with rare idioms, I explained to the man my origins down to the village with a funny name where I was born and brought up. I even added the full name of my area chief. A total guesswork since I hadn’t been home for a while.

My friend adjusted his potbelly, smiled then called one of his juniors aside and told him: wacha huyu muthee aende. It was clear from his accent that he was my county mate.

Since we don’t give chai to the army guys, the best thing I could do was to wish the benevolent muthee a long life. And maybe, just maybe, hope he’d get a HSC on his wide shoulders in the Mashujaa Day that followed.

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