On the Heels of the Hill

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Chapter 1: It's Raining Grasshoppers

The buzzing started off very faintly and it kept increasing momentum until suddenly, they heard showers on their newly iron-sheet roofed house. The down pour was too much that the noise on the iron sheets became terrifyingly unbearable. Almost everybody pulled their dirty blankets and covered their heads well knowing that was the very best time and day to miss school on a heavy rainy day. Ruth however, did not pull her blanket; she had always wanted to experience the very first rains on their new iron sheet roofed house since the grass thatch was removed. She had imagined very clean water falling off the edges of the shiny iron sheets and how she would tap it and save herself and her siblings the trouble of fetching water from the river some miles down in the valley. She had imagined the sound each drop would make on hitting the iron sheets and how she would never have to relocate her bed whenever it rained.

Their bedroom had faint morning light that peeped in from the outside through the holes in the window. In one corner was the boys’ bed and the in the other was the girls’. Their beds had been earthed into the dry hard ground and fastened tightly at the corners with strong nails and complemented with sisal ropes. It was fancy for them not sleeping on the ground like their friends in the village. At the lower parts of the beds stood erect sacks of dry cassava and beans on top of which they always threw their dirty clothes before going to bed. Ruth jumped out of her bed, picked her dress from the top of a sack of beans at the bottom of her bed. She slid into her dress in haste and cantered to the window. She climbed on a mortar and flung the window open, and what she saw sent her mouth wide open, her hair raised, and her eyes popped out.

“Wake up! Everybody! Pronto!” she exclaimed.

“Go to hell!” A distraught voice immediately came from under one of the blankets, and that was Darius. Ronah peeped through her blanket with one eye and she too told Ruth to close the window because there was too much light and she still needed to sleep. Her voice really sounded weak and sleepy and shaky.

Brian on the other hand, figured Ruth wasn’t surprised by the rain on the new iron sheets. The shock in her voice signified something else, something that wasn’t bad either. It must have been something really good, which had come as a surprise, bigger than the rain she had endlessly waited for, for the past one month. He slowly pushed off his blanket, rose gently and slowly like a submarine rising from the waters. He stretched his arms, legs and yawned, almost like a cow, put on his shirt, and started off for the window to see what Ruth wanted them to see. Before he could reach the window where Ruth stood in awe, their bedroom door flung open, it was Nalongo, in her sleeping dress, with a lesso around her waist, holding a bunch of grasshoppers in her hands.

“Oh, I see you are already up. Good morning everybody” The replies came all at once “Good morning mama”

Ronah and Darius immediately got out of their sacks, hurriedly dressed up and Ronah started, with all her innocence and an excited tone,

“Mama, where did you pick ensenene from?” Nalongo didn’t say a word, but on hearing the word ensenene, Darius rushed to peep through the window and see if ensenene were out there.

“Now listen boys and girls, if you know you haven’t finished your exams, or you still have classes to attend, I can’t see you on Buzina picking ensenene. Am I clear?” she asked and the answers were, “Yes Mama.”

“Good,” said Nalongo as she banged the door on the way out.

Nalongo was a woman very highly respected, not only by her children, but also by everybody in the village and all the surrounding areas. Women had come to her so she could teach them the basics of some of her skills which included but were not limited to hair styling, knitting, farming, building, and cooking. Men too discussed ideas with Nalongo because to them, she was The Man, an Irina Derevko of sorts. Children and some other people’s definition of respect was however that of fear and most of them feared even passing by her home. You see, Nalongo was a foreigner in Buzina. Everybody called her a Mukooko (meaning an animal) just like they termed everybody else from the east and the north of the country. Children literally took it that animals eat people and would never want to come close to her, her family or her property.

“Guys, I thought it was rain!” Exclaimed Darius.

“Ah, me too,” said Ronah and Ruth in unison.

“You heard what mama said. Ronah, Darius, you know what to do. Ruth, pick as many buveras as you find in the pot in the kitchen corner” Brian said these as he was running out to collect the falling stars.

The buzzing and falling and showering and pouring of ensenene had now lessened, but a new sound was deafening. It was whistles, hisses everywhere. Nalongo’s eight weeks old Tyson couldn’t stop crying due to the deafening whistles and hisses of ensenene. Brian and Ronah started picking ensenene very fast amongst those that had fallen off the roof to the ground. Small white buveras got full and they were emptied into a big can in the kitchen. Meanwhile Nalongo was making sure that Darius and Ronah were going to school as she held her cry baby Tyson, trying to calm him down.

“I don’t want to hear that any of you missed an exam because of nsenene. I guess you already know what that means,” warned Nalongo.

“Of course mama, I know you are so resolute,” affirmed Ronah.

“Careful with those heavy words my dear” noted Nalongo.

She then came closer to Ronah, smiled, knelt down on one knee with one arm holding her baby, she raised the other to Ronah’s face as she tidied her up with a firm smear on her face as she said faintly,

“You know when you are an educated and successful young woman, and you use such heavy Whiteman’s words correctly, you can only be leveled by men of a very high caliber, chasing away all those meager mediocre men. But there comes a problem when you use them wrong, the high caliber, more educated men will not like you and remember you will have rebuffed all the other suitors, which leaves you to being a lonely old mediocre woman, and don’t forget your traditions; spinsters are a curse. So I will say, go to school, don’t think about nsenene, make good grades and be what you have always wanted to be, a teacher, and that goes for you too.” Nalongo then turned her head to Darius who had then finished packing up his bags and was playing with two nsenene in his hands.

“Don’t worry about him mama; I am sure he understands you. And Darius, please don’t eat your potatoes on the way,” Ronah noted as they headed out to school. Nalongo walked slowly whistling to the back of her house, threw her baby at her back. She slowly unwrapped her lesso around her waist and tied the baby firm on her back and she whispered. “Time to get out the animals!”

“Ensenene, ensenene, ensenene ikohireeee,” ululations were heard from a distance on Buzina hill, the place known for its too much nsenene during their season. This was usually done to inform and call everybody to come and pick ensenene. It had been the norm every time the presence of ensenene was confirmed in any area in Ankole. Ululations usually had to be done by individuals on top of their voices on the highest peaks of the hills so everybody on and around the hills heard the message clearly.

By this time, Ruth and Brian had picked enough nsenene but didn’t seem to be satisfied. They instead looked for more black, white, green, blue and all other colours of buveras and set for the higher heels of the hill where they were slowly by slowly joined by all forms of people, black, brown, tall, short, young, old, some men, women and children, some of whom were in their torn old “pajamas”, with unwashed faces showing clear white-ish saliva spots from their last night slumbers, running from their mouths to the ears. They held buveras, tins, sacks, baskets, small pots, and so on. Some women carried crying babies on their backs tied with lessos. For some of those toddlers, you could easily see it on their naked innocent faces that they had been whisked out of their sacks before the morning fleas could take a last suck on them.

Kenyonyozi was one of those women, her other four children were all over her like flies swarming over a carcass. Kenyonyozi’s youngest child that she carried on her back in a torn old lesso had never felt the smooth soothe of baby powder, but four of her older siblings had always had fancy powdered bodies, even after they bathed. Their black skin colour was compromised by a layer of some whitish flour-ish substance that made them look like they had been dipped into a sack of millet flour or worked at a cereal grinding factory. They were not quadruplets but it was too complex to tell who was older than whom. Clad in their natural uniform overalls, the puppies crossed their arms on their chests to generate some body temperature to fight the deadly morning cold.

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