My mum has been blessed to visit the US eight times, five of which she has traveled unaccompanied. Every time she has traveled, depending on the airline, she has connected through Europe, variously through Istanbul, (Turkey), Zurich (Switzerland), Paris (France), Amsterdam (Netherlands), Brussels (Belgium) and London (United Kingdom).
My mum hails from a polygamous family. My maternal grandfather had three wives. My mum’s mother was the youngest. During her childhood, many families, especially the polygamous ones with many children, boys were chosen over girls to attend school. As a result my mum’s education was terminated at primary four. She had just learned the basic fundamentals in education. She had no further interaction with school.
Nonetheless, she is a very brilliant lady, very outgoing and can approach and effortlessly crack up a conversation with complete strangers without reservations. When I think of an ideal woman representative or leader, my mum comes to mind. Friends and family opine, and believably so, that my outgoing personality is inherited from her, and that my looks are traceable to my Dad.
Her first trip to the U.S was back in 1999. She had come to help me with my daughter. She stayed with us for six months. That trip was uneventful as she was accompanied by my sister’s husband. Unlike my fright in that famous “commando” flight I narrated about, her flight was easy. She had someone to ask all the questions and be properly guided on anything and everything. That gave her all the confidence, preparing her for subsequent unaccompanied flying.
Being a fast learner and blessed with a superb memory, she mastered everything like a real champion. I recall narrating to her about my tribulations on my first flight (of course conveniently leaving out the commando saga). I also warned her not to be excited about food and drinks as the airline toilets were very tiny. She took everything in stride, even dismissively saying: “Njeri kaî ûrona tandîrathiî ndege-inî kûrîa na kûnyua? (Njeri you think I am boarding a plane to eat and drink?). I backed off.
This particular trip though, gave her lifetime fear of escalators. Apparently, she had missed her step’s sync with the escalator and fell badly on her first arrival in Europe (I can’t quite recall her initial airline). What I do recall though, is that she adamantly refused “to board” an escalator when we went to the mall. She was like:
“Ici Njeri ndîciîtigîrîte mûno ndaririkana ûrîa
ciandamûrithirie thî Randani.” (Njeri I fear these things especially when I remember how hard they made me fall in London). To my mum, any city in Europe prior to her international traveling was simply London.
Every time she hilariously narrated how hard she hit the ground, nose first, I would laugh myself into tears. (And by the way, mum has a way with words, like a good comedian). As a result, our frequent visits to the mall were planned with the caveat that we shall not use the escalators.
Her first unaccompanied trip was via Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, Netherlands and then onward to Chicago’s O’hare International. In preparing her for the trip, my sisters who reside in different states, and I would get into a conference call and kept teasing mom how she should learn common English words to get by on her own.
For those whose parents don’t speak English, don’t be deceived. They know much more than you can imagine but conveniently play dumb. My mom at one time, when we were teenagers, attended Ngumbaru (Adult Learners) School where she was usually at the top of her class. My sister and I would steal her exercise book and read it while hiding. We would be jazzed with how funny her handwriting looked.
So on this trip, I suggested flash cards reading WATER, TOILET, FOOD, etc for her to use on the plane and at the connecting airport in Europe. She outrightly rejected the idea stating:
“Kaî muonaga ndî ng’ombe atîa? Nûû ûtoî maaî metagwa “water” na kîoro gîtagwo “toilet?” Tiganai na maratathi macio manyu niî ndirî na thîna!
We all burst out into teary laughter. Somehow her statement solved most of the mysteries that lingered on since when we were in high school. Mum could pick up our girl talk here and there and be up to speed on what we were up to.
As in any average family growing up, my sisters and I always switched into English when we did not want her to know the details of what we were talking about. How wrong we were! Kumbe she was always playing dumb so that she could know our every teenage mischief and act accordingly?
In retrospect, we knew why, on many a day or hour of planned mischief, we would find ourselves assigned chores that would keep us engaged within her sight and earshot. And she would be busy singing her worship songs with a permanent wry smile on her face.
……. to be continued.