w a sardine rush in Diani led to a strange story
From the beach, Shabir hears a stir he's never heard before. Many men, shouting and barking. In a frenzy. What's going on? So early in the day? Shabir goes to the edge of the veranda of his Diani Beach cottage, and peers at the beach. A ﬁght? No, too many voices. There are about thirty men. And they're loud. Gang warfare? There's no rage, and Diani
has no history of gang violence.
So what's the commotion? And so close to the white sandy beach? Shabir is wary, but his curiosity drives him onto the beach. There are dozens of men, about 30 meters away, up to their chests in the turquoise shallows. In the shouting, there is purpose. And through the chaos, a rhythm. All the men shouting are holding up nets. There are four nets all facing each other, forming a rough and moving square. The nets are closing in on each other, driving the square smaller and smaller. What's in the middle? Shabir can't see. The beach itself is quiet, just bystanders muttering. Shabir walks on the white, powdery sand to the edge of the warm water, and joins the mutterers to ﬁnd out.
He nods at Mwadzikobe, Tortoise, who explains what's happening. "Sometimes a lot of small ﬁsh come from the reef and get near the beach. Everyone has to work quickly to catch them, because they move in a group, and can suddenly escape.”
“Why all the excitement?""A lot of ﬁsh, small ﬁsh. Fish for everyone. Anyone can join, but they must work together, and fast. So that every one gets something." Shabir looks at the huddle on the beach, and spots the middle-men who regularly come to his place to sell the daily catch. They get their cut from the ﬁshermen, and any ﬁshermen who sells directly is cut out. Why are these middlemen just standing by? Then Shabir sees the reason for the urgency. Silvery, slippery sardines in a huge school. Caught in the shallows. The ﬁsh are brisk and coordinated, and sense the trap. In a moment, they could turn en masse back toward the ocean. They must be surrounded, and quickly. The men, all young, are holding up the four nets closing in. Four groups, full of excitement, matching the frothing in the centre. Each group frantically clutches their nets, everyone shouting instructions. Soon, each net jerkily converges into a small square about 5 meters on each side. And the sardines know the trap is closing. Their shiny bodies froth the surface. They struggle up because zipping out is not an option.
Buckets appear as the frothing reaches a pitch. As men grab the buckets, the shouting stops. They start to scoop the writhing silver. Shabir counts the buckets. Dozens. He wants to buy. In the water, Shabir spots Matokeo, and orders two kilos. Within the hour, Shabir is back in his beach cottage, writing. He sees Matokeo walking up the path toward the veranda with his bucket, eager to turn ﬁsh into cash.
"How did you share the ﬁsh?"
"We younger men told the older ones not to get involved. We said there would be fewer ﬁghts if we shared things our way. They let us, and nobody fought,” he said with a quick smile. "How much do I pay you for this?" asked Shabir.
"You tell me," he said, looking down. Pliant cunning, hoping for an absurdly high bid. Shabir is sharp and decisive. They quickly agree on a price. “My housekeeper is on leave. How do
I clean these sardines?" Shabir says. "Just cut the head with a knife and pull out the insides,"
Matoeko says. Shabir ﬂinches. He's an engineer. He can work tools, but this is messy. The image of eviscerating scores of large sardines, some still moving, turns his stomach. Matokeo
sees him ﬂinch, and softens. "Bring me a small sharp knife," says Matokeo. Soon, Matokeo is squatting beside the bucket, cleaning each sardine. Each move both decapitates and
eviscerates the ﬁsh. Heads with gooey trails ﬂy into a separate bowl. Shabir sits by, and ﬁnally gets his chance. For a question he was waiting to ask ever since he ﬁrst met Matokeo.
“Matokeo. How did you get this name? It means consequence, right?”
“I was given this name by my uncles, because I was the consequence of something.” “Of what?”
“I don't know who my father was,” Matokeo says quite blandly. “Are you interested to ﬁnd out,” asks Shabir, expecting the spillage of wounded words. “I did as a child I did, but not now,” says Matokeo, with ease.
“How old was your mother when you were born?” “About twenty years old.” Shabir stares at Matokeo, full of questions. Matokeo is illegitimate. Why did this twenty-year old girl allow her transgression get embedded in her sons name? This name was a very public and permanent punishment for her, but wasn't it also for the child? Does Matokeo feel the consequence of his mother's mistake every time he hears his name?
“How did this happen,” Matokeo? asks Shabir.
“She owned her own business, and could aﬀord to live alone. Then she got pregnant. She had to sell the business and stay with relatives. Before me, she was a successful businesswoman. After I was born she became a poor farmer, until today.” says Matokeo.
“I'm so sorry, Matokeo. How did this happen? Please tell me the whole story.” says Shabir
Matokeo was the man who brought a bucket of sardines to Shabir in his Diani beach cottage and began eviscerating them as he told his story. Matokeo. His name means consequence in Swahili. A name bearing shame and transgression, the consequence of his mother's
transgression, for which he paid in a name, a lifelong price. His mother, as a young woman, ran her own business and had an aﬀair, then lost everything when she became pregnant. This is Shabir's story of her fall.
Matokeo's mother, young Fatma had a sharp intelligence and a practical mind. But she never ﬁnished high school. Fatma's mum sighed. Soon she will be ready to marry. But the money for a decent wedding just wasn't there. Fatma knew this and wanted to escape to a faster world. The world of handsome Yasin. Yasin grew up in their village and had a good job in a hotel. Yasin was tall, muscular, with magnetic eyes. He never noticed her bright eyes,
full of longing. How to get him? The only way she knew was food. He passed her sitting by a pile of mkatisinia her soft, delicious, love-ﬁlled coconut rice-cakes. She reached up and gave him one. Ten steps later, the taste hit him, but that was all. Then came the night of the ﬁre. Kerosene and makuti, dried palm-frond rooﬁng, make quick and ﬁerce friends.
This night the wind was strong. Sparks rushed up, rooﬁng burst into ﬂame and sped from roof to roof. Men scattered about in panic, shouting for useless buckets. Fatma felt the wind and quickly ordered the smashing of a house farther downwind. Poles smashed down the
palm-frond roof. A ﬁre-break. And it worked. To Yasin, who was watching, this was a revelation. Soon, he invited her out. To a restaurant. Her ﬁrst. She took Yasin's advice, and her coconut cakes became wildly popular in Diani. She saved every penny. Soon she bought a small plot and a house and started a cafe. Fatma, at last, won her independence. Yasin came on opening day, and when he left, she stroked his arm. In the deep of the night, he came. Fatma hoped his caresses would be the beginning. Poor thing. For Yasin, this was the end. If she would be with him, she could be others. But there was a consequence. Her bulge began. His visits to the cafe petered out.
Her mother confronted Fatma.
“Who did this?”
Fatma told her mother, who was not surprised. “What's he doing about this?” “He comes less often.” “You have to come home,” said her mother in a furious whisper. “You have to shut down your cafe,” said her father with a steely decision.
So she slunk back home, abandoned by the man she wanted too quickly. Eventually, the pains came, and with screams and deft hands, the result was pushed out. A boy. In a vengeful reminder, the family called him Consequence, Matokeo. A permanent reminder that he resulted from a transgression.
“My mother returned to farming and became poor. As I
grew, I played football well,” says Matokeo, picking up
another sardine that he was cleaning for Shabir. “Because I could score goals, I got money for fees, books, and uniforms.”
“I ﬁnished high school in the 1990s. Tourism was doing well, and I got a job as a waiter in a large, fancy hotel. I was one of the few locals. Usually, the best jobs went to the 'Wabara,' the people from up-country. One day, I was asked by my manager to train a young man.
“If he asked me to train someone, then I must have been good, right?" Matoeko says to Shabir, poised with his knife in one hand, shaking the sardine in the other.
Clearly, a point that Shabir must grasp.Shabir nods. Matokeo resumes the evisceration of the sardine. "As soon as this young man was trained, the manager ﬁred me, then replaced me with the trainee, who was from his own up-country tribe." His eyes shows feeling, but
no rancour. Strange reaction to a common outrage. No wonder there is this movement to separate the Coast from the rest of Kenya, thinks Shabir. Shabir often sees Matokeo at a nearby local seaside restaurant at Diani beach. He's now a waiter, slapping plates full of seafood onto tables, saying with Swahili gusto reserved for well-known guests, “Haya, kula”, here your are, eat.