The Ghosts of Iten
One remarkable difference between Nairobi and Iten is the absence of ghosts. There were ghosts everywhere in Iten, though most of them were benign and kind. The ghosts of Kapsio river cared for nothing more than to sing beautiful songs in the dead of the night as they cooked such lovely stews that if one was to smell them they would yearn for no other food. Then there was Chemarinda, the girl who had drowned in a well before marriage, and now walked in the dark in a wedding dress looking for her husband. I remember clearly a dead grandfather who refused to rest and would come and sit on the rooftop of his son’s house, doing bizarre dances whenever there was moonlight. The daughter-in-law, a fervent Christian, put a stop to this by fasting for two weeks and reading out aloud at night from the Book of Psalms.
But the most frightening, angry and vengeful of these specters were the ghosts of the white missionaries at Saint Patrick’s High School. One had been buried at the school’s playground and we always avoided staring at the rusted metal contraption that defined his grave. He turned angry one night, when I was in form three, and beat up the cooks in the kitchen so badly that supper delayed. He gathered his friends to make loud, frightening sounds in the outdoor toilets (conveniently located under the shade of immensely tall groves of eucalyptus trees). Everyone began holding it in till morning. They began the habit of bringing power blackouts so that they could waylay us on our way to the dormitories and if our kind principal had not bought a generator we would not have survived. The C.U boys tried to sing gospel songs at night but the ghosts sang back louder, with more rhythm and soul. No one could outdo them when it came to singing the hymn My Soul Has Found A Resting Place.
Only one boy, called O, was unafraid. He told us all ghosts feared pig fat and that he always kept a lump of it in his locker. He advised us not to move an inch in our beds at night, for ghosts detested movement, and would beat us thoroughly if we dared curl a finger. So despite the agonies of our restless joints and oddly twisted necks, we lay like stillborn lambs and woke up sore in the morning. During sports day, when a Tambach boy kicked a soccer ball past the field to land at the center of the missionary’s grave, it was only O who walked calmly to the grave, leaned against the metal walls and picked up the ball. Everyone else, including the teachers were like ‘aah-aah, siwezi karibia hapo’.