There are moments I wish I was a woman. Many moments, actually. Like when I walk into a banking hall to deposit a cheque and I only have ten minutes but then I get there and realise my ticket number is 179, while the person being served has ticket number 98. In those moments I wish I was a pregnant woman in flat shoes and a big nose, because I strike myself as the kind of woman who would grow a really massive nose if I was preggers. I would stand there in the middle of the banking hall dramatically dabbing my brow with a handkerchief, the tip of my swollen nose reflecting a lot of light and looking like shone brass, and I’d wait for someone – a member of staff – to come and gently lead me by the elbow to the next free teller or seat me in the manager’s office and offer me a cold beverage.
I’d get to mischief too. I’d go to a restaurant and after eating half my food I’d call the manager and looking horrified ask, “Did you put nuts in this food?” And the manager would say, “No, ma’am. We don’t put nuts in our hummus.”
“Well, I can taste nuts in this hummus!”
“Uhm, I’m sorry but I’m pretty certain certain that we -”
“I can taste nuts in this hummus!” (Almost in tears now.)
He would be at a loss because he wouldn’t wish to upset a pregnant woman even though he was 100 percent certain there were no nuts in the hummus.
I would act distraught, taking deep breaths.
“Are you allergic to nuts, ma’am?”
“Of course I am allergic to nuts! It makes my tongue swell!” I would shriek, close to tears now.
The manager would panic and look at my nose and wonder if the swelling had already started from my engorged nose and would move down to the tongue. They would quickly clear the offending hummus from my sight and he would go to the kitchen and ask the chef if they put nuts in the bloody hummus, and the chef would say nobody in their right mind would do that. A brief heated exchange would ensue with the chef screaming at him: “I have been a chef for 23 years, 10 of those in Dubai and I have never been accused of putting nuts in hummus! That woman – and her unborn baby – is a liar!” An intern in the kitchen would laugh so hard at the sink he’d be sent home for the day to think about his choices in life; whether he wants to cook or open a comedy club.
When the manager finally shows up at my table, his hat firmly in hand, he’d say, “We are terribly sorry, ma’am. Is there anything we can do to save your experience here?” I’d be sad for him, so I’d think about it for a second and say with a heavy lisp, “Iths okay, iths noth that theriouth,” as if my tongue were swollen already.
In fact all the times I have wished I was a woman, I have wished I was a pregnant one. Men would scramble to push my trolley in the supermarket or load my shopping in the boot. In restaurants, waiters would ask me if I wanted a cushion and I would smile and ask, “Will it also cushion the bill for two large pizzas?” and they would laugh and go to the kitchen and say, “That pregnant lady on table 34 is hilarious! Ebu we give her extra guacamole.”
I’d never queue anywhere. Seats would be pulled for me, water offered, elevator doors held for me as intentionally waddle towards the lift like a grey seal, everybody in the elevator car waiting patiently, pretending not to mind waiting at all. At zebra crossings cars would stop and I would deliberately walk so slowly across the road, just like a pregnant zebra would.
I’d only hate two things about being a pregnant woman, one of them being people everywhere telling me “congratulations,” as if I got a promotion. What if it was an oops baby? What if I didn’t want the baby and I wanted to chuck it because it was conceived during a night of careless passion with the father of the baby, a deadbeat guy with a British accent whom I’d met on a boat in Malindi who had lied to me that he was a stockbroker visiting from Manchester, kumbe he was just a Lunje guy who hadn’t held a job in years? What if I was having such a difficult pregnancy; a faceful of pimples, a ruined back, breasts that blew up in my face like a fighter-jet parachute and sleeping sickness…then you tell me congratulations? For what, for an enlarged nose?
Secondly, the thought of people touching my bump. I think it’s rude and intrusive to imagine that you can just touch my bump because I’m pregnant. Besides you never know what people touch out there. People will let dogs smell their hands with their wet noses and then touch your bump. Then there are those people who ask you, “Will you be breastfeeding?” Then as if that is not enough, proceed to give you advice on how long you should breastfeed for. Or those who ask you if you are having a heartburn and then say, “It’s because the baby has a lot of hair.” Who comes up with these things?
Last week I used the Southern Bypass from Langata Road. I was meeting some thugs at 3D restaurant for fish. Try their choma fish which comes with some pilipili and lemons and ugali. It’s insane. (And nobody will put nuts in it).
While on the bypass I take one of the exits but then realise after driving in that I was headed to Karen, so what would you do? What would Jesus have done? Go ahead and make pretend to get into a gate, but then turn back. Which I executed and just when I was headed towards Ngong Road, a cop on a motorbike comes up to my window and waving frantically for me to pull over, like I had a boot full of illegal migrants. I’m like “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”
I pull over and put my hazard lights on, because I went to a proper driving school unlike some people I know. He rides back to my window and stops, planting one authoritative leg on the ground. He’s a thin cop. Thin cops generally make terrible cops, merciless. If you are pulled over by a thin cop you are going to have a bad day; they are constantly angry. This one looked like a vegetarian. I’m very suspicious of vegetarians.
He’s wearing a sweater in the mad heat. His uniform is discoloured from numerous washes, as well as the sun and the toils that come with his job. His helmet looks like it is often lent to those lorry guys whose trucks breakdown on highways to be placed behind the rear wheel in order to prevent the truck from rolling back. He peers at me angrily through the hole of his helmet. I wear my best SDA-repentant look but I suspect I look sheepish.
“Habari ya ofisa?” I say with deference. He ignores my respectful salutation.
“Sasa ni madharau gani hii unafanya?” he barks from his helmet.
“Madharau gani ofisa?” I ask even though I already suspect my sin.
He reminds me that I just did an illegal turn. He’s harsh like pino. I don’t know what pino is in English, but you can ask a Jang’o with better English than mine to tell you what that is. I tell him that I’m sorry, that I didn’t know which road would take me back to Ngong Road. He glares at me and asks if I can’t read the “big signs on the main highway indicating clearly that this road led to Karen!”
I murmur, “I’m sorry, officer. I’m just ignorant.” He snorts and says, “Ignorant? Utauwa watu na hiyo ignorance yako!” Then he takes his mobile phone and calls someone, “Lete hiyo kitabu hapa!” He tells me that he will book me and I will appear in court on Monday.
Now this is the perfect moment I wished I was a pregnant woman, because I would have broken down in loud tears. And sobbed. And sobbed. I would have lamented how I’m so unlucky in life, how I just meet men who don’t have any heart at all. How the father of this child, for instance, just left me with bills and three children. He went to the carwash one Sunday afternoon and never came back. Left even his beloved iPad that nobody touched in the house. Then this? This! Why can’t I meet men who are compassionate, God? Why, me? Don’t I go to church? Don’t I tithe, Lord?
I would cry and cry and the cop, poor guy, would just stand there under his helmet, lost, tongue-tied, feeling like a jerk for stressing a pregnant woman. He would murmur, “Ni sawa, mama. Ni sawa.”
“Ati ni sawa? You want me to go to court on Monday!? How is that sawa?” I would cry, reaching for my handkerchief and blowing my nose so loudly my side mirror would shift slightly. “You want me to stand before a judge in this pregnancy and face the law? My poor unborn child, what kind of world is this I’m bringing you to, a world where policemen send you to court because you made a U-turn, not even that you knocked someone’s cow, a U-turn!” Baaha baaah. I’d bawl. He’d get off his motorbike and touch my shoulder gently.
“Mama, it’s fine. It’s fine. Here, have your licence back, it’s OK, don’t stress the baby over this. Go.”
“I’m just so unhappy, so, so unhappy, how this world is going for me.” I would snivel.
He’d get on his bike and quickly ride off incase I start crowing right there.
I got away from that cop in Karen without paying a cent. I can’t remember a cop who caught me and we couldn’t come to an agreement. I’m a police charmer; you pull me over and you will just end up making a friend. Here is my secret.
It’s simple really: Talking To Cops for Dummies. Here are three things you shouldn’t do to a traffic cop.
Don’t ask them, “Do you know who I am?”
He doesn’t know or care who you are. Actually, 99.9% of the world doesn’t know or care who you are. Nobody hands their driver’s licence and it shows the number of followers they have on Twirra. People who ask people if they know who they are are nobodys who only know one important person at KRA’s horticulture department. Cops and hubris don’t mix. Generally, once you have asked a cop that, you are essentially telling him that HE is a nobody, not worth knowing. Then he will show you that he is somebody.
A cop is like a woman with big feet; you have to tell her you love her feet even if you don’t.
So like this cop on the bypass, he told me, “I can’t have a conversation with you, you will have a conversation with the government of Kenya on Monday.” I said, “I don’t know any government of Kenya, officer, to me you are the government of Kenya right now, right here, so please lets have that conversation together.” He shook his head but I knew I was wearing him down.
Don’t argue with the police.
This is not a primo debate club. This is the long arm of the law, and it is never wrong, at least technically. Quickly admit liability, self deprecate, agree that you are a complete idiot and you are wrong. Most cops will not budge easily, but everybody has a breaking point. Everybody. I once met a very obstinate cop at the Kenyatta Avenue-Uhuru highway roundabout who had pulled me over for being on the wrong lane. After I had tried every trick, I said, “You are a man like me, I have apologised many times, don’t destroy my ego any longer by making me sound pathetic, you can save me from humiliation.” He stopped looking at me like an annoying private car motorist but as a fellow man.
He let me go.
Don’t sit in your car.
Never have a conversation with a traffic cop while seated inside, because you remain disadvantaged by looking up to him through your window. Besides it seemed privileged to be seated there in your air condition while he stands out in the sun. So step out of the car. It also shows respect.
Ask him his name, not his force number.
He has your driver’s licence, he knows your name. Ask him his. Then keep using his name in conversation. People love to hear their own name, it also creates familiarity. “Ah Korir bwana, hii mambo tumalize tu hapa kama wanaume., ama unasemaje mkubwa?” Or “Bosire, sister yangu ameolewa hapo karibu na ile tangi kubwa iko Suneka. Sisi ni kama shemeji, bwana.” Or, “Yaye Otieno, in ja dhot, ofisa ma’duong Narobi kae, koro idwa keta asayii kaa alafu asaa jo Jubilee omiya tich kendo yawa? Ne, akoso baba, nguon’na. We’ adhi amany mogo ne nyithindo.”
Never raise your voice.
This doesn’t need a diagram, does it?
Many private motorists on Nairobi with their air conditioned cars think they are gods: They have more important places to go, more important people to meet, better usage of their precious time than sit there talking to a policeman. They think they know people with more clout. That maybe so.
Or you could eliminate problems with traffic police in this way.
Whenever you see a traffic cop at a roundabout, or just parked by the roadside, and it’s blazing hot, stop near him and offer him lunch, tell him, “Ofisa, shika hiyo tukule lunch nusu nusu.” Then make small talk as you save his face and name in your memory. Do that to the cops on Mombasa Road, Ngong Road, Waiyaki way, Uhuru Highway, Valley Road, you see a cop you make contact…randomly stop and buy them lunch or hand them airtime or just ask them how jobo is. Won’t cost you shit. If it’s about to rain and you have an umbrella at the back, stop and hand it to a cop. Invest in the law.
Guess what will happen one day when you are pulled over or you find yourself in a tight traffic offense with the Government of Kenya? Guess what happens when a cop comes to your window and you look and he’s the guy you gave airtime on Uhuru Highway five months ago? He will be like, “Ahhh, kumbe ni wewe munene?” Then you will talk about the weather and politics and you will ask him if his son finally joined high school and then he will send you on your way.
Now that is knowing people.