“Dawa ya Mende! Ya Panya! Ya Mende! Ya Panya! Cockroach Murderer! Cockroach Killer! Ya Mende! Ya Panya! Ua Mende! Ua Panya!” the man standing outside Muthurwa market screams all day. Unlike his colleagues in the business who have acquire a small public address system and then recorded themselves so they can just stand there as the pitch loops all day long, he likes to play it old school. To him, what he does is more than just a business to fend for himself and his family, it is a service to a growing middle class that has little or no time to clean the house. The house helps entrusted with the duty are also entrusted with nursing babies and a whole house alone, and have little or no time to themselves. Except if they are random like this one who decided there was no better time to engage in self-pleasuring activities than when taking care of a two-year old, or this one, who decided that the boy does not have to wait years to know coitus. But I digress… The mama mboga is no longer a monopoly for agriculture products in the estate.
She no longer has a single kibanda made of twigs, sticks, a few nails , a polythene roof and a lot of sisal rope. Instead, she now has a full kibanda next to the M-pesa guy. She deals in greens and other kitchen vegetables, and the fruit-vegetable of Kenya, the avocado. Her product differentiation was occasioned by the emergence of the fruit-seller, an independent vendor who specializes in fruits. The most captivating fruit here, from afar at least, is always the banana. Suspended from the roof of the kibanda at different points, bananas are the ones that are most likely to send subliminal messages to your brain as you walk past and tempt you to eat a melon or some other ugly fruit. Melons are ugly, and they are crunchy; they are like wet waffles with seeds.
Okay, where was I? Oranges are too random, they seem undecided as to whether they want to be ripe or otherwise, sweet or sour. Grapes are easy because you can pop them like pills, but they are a waste of would-be wine, even those that are not used for wine. Grapes in Kenya are also ridiculously expensive, and you can tell the people who sell them make money by the fact that they almost never sell anything else. It’s always one guy, or lady seated on the same gunia (sack) on which the grapes are placed. He or she never sells anything else, and the grapes are placed in descending order and have random prices like ’35, 52, 78, 99.9” and so on depending on the size and health of each bunch. Lemons are fruits only in definition, very few people buy lemons just to eat lemons. I suspect the majority of lemons are bought as herbal medicine for colds, hangovers and sore throats. A good number are bought for culinary purposes, and a few sadists but them as the best sour/bitter thing with which to wean a baby.
A typical Kenyan mother can be a savage at times, although I again suspect it is a mother instinct coupled with some dark sadism-where the mother weans the baby off breast milk by applying pepper or lemon juice, or basically anything a toddler would think is disgusting, on the nipple. I do not think it is effective, because most of us go back to ‘breast-feeding’ when we become adults. The fruit seller is a master advertiser, perhaps only beaten in Kenya by the guy who sells cockroach paste and the one who sells mtumba clothes and yells “BRRRRRROOOOOUSSEE NI FEFTE, BROUSE NI FEFTE, BEI NI YA REO! NI YA REO! NI YA REO!’ When you get to buying you realize he only mentioned the clothes from the cheapest bunch, but since you are too embarrassed to place the item back after rummaging through a pile of imported bacteria, you just pay the 100 bob and leave. Conductors used to be masters of this art but the price-sensitive, tongue-lashing passenger has forced them to get disciplined.
The modern conductor is most likely to make sure you know the correct price by the time you get comfortable, or to delegate the work of lying to you to one of those ‘jaza jaza’ conductors who hang around at bus stops. They are an interesting bunch, this breed of erstwhile jobless Kenyans. They are almost always high on cheap liquor but the pungent smell from their clothes masks the would-be refreshing smell of ethanol. They always have scars, or open wounds on their faces and run to ask you if you are boarding the matatu even when you have clearly just alighted from one.
Back to the kibanda and modern elements of advertising, the fruit-seller has mangoes, which are messy when ripe and boring when raw, and random fruits which he will always claim are from Tanzania. The banana is perhaps the only fruit you can trust him to know the origin and African name because it is a fruit that bespeaks ‘Africanness’.
It is easy and inviting, warm perhaps, and probably foolish. It always hangs out in crowds, ripens there even.
When you remove it from the bunch the insects attack, and you peel it and leave it in the open and it starts to oxidize. It is sensitive inside but has a yellow color just to exude fake machismo.
Its over-sensitive nature means that it has scars from fights with other bananas, and from random groping by other customers and the fruit-seller.
The banana is African to the core, with its inability to survive outside its core ethnic group without changing color or withering. It does not demand anything from the person who eats it, the few things it requires are accidental. The payoff is lost because the eater takes his time, and every time he bites and peels some more, the banana just sits there as if it enjoys it. Its apathy is legendary, and perhaps disastrous to its own survival. Where the mango would be staining the shirt of the eater, and the melon or pineapple would be stinging the wounds of anyone with buccal wounds, the banana is the fruit anyone, including the toothless man, can eat without help.
The banana hides behind the cocoon of its own grouping because it figures there is safety in numbers. Some hide below others, as if shy, but support them by keeping them in the same position even when they rot. They figure they will survive any invasion, any violation, because the assailant will be too tired, or will have reached the point of satiety, by the time he or she reaches for the fruit under. It allows itself to be used by all and sundry, and provides a haven for insets seeking to hide from the sun but interested in a fruit that does not ask much in return.
The banana is an easy fruit that makes very few demands when you are having it. All you have to remember to do is to remove the peel, even halfway, and if you are the meticulous type, to peel off the fibers before eating. It requires very little of your attention and almost always lets you have another fruit. It is one of the few fruits you can have at any time of the day; it has no liquids so spillage is kept at zero and its scent is not strong enough to follow you all day.
It just sits there and waits to be piked, unless it is too ripe when it simply hangs on until it falls off and is forgotten. Its an African herd mentality that does seems to operate on the same primal instincts as wildebeests during migration; that the weak and sickly, and elderly, slow down the herd and can be left behind for predators. The banana does not seem to care much for individuality, it seems to just want to get by with its day without harming anyone but itself, unless others want to harm, when it will just hang there again and allow them to grope it and move it without any furore. Other fruits are sure to leave a stain on you or the napkin, but you can never go wrong with a good banana, and all bananas are good, except the few that decide to rot first and must be removed, with the passive support of the other bananas.
The only thing you should never do, even at the pain and threat of death, is to make eye contact with another person while eating a banana. There’s no way of eating it without looking like you are practicing for activities that waste vital seed we need to propagate our species.