Munira Hussein

The Nostalgia that Sprouted on my Balcony

I am a very sentimental person. I value things that remind me of places and people, especially those that I remember fondly, sometimes even the ones that bear memory of certain specific pains that I can’t move past. The symbol of my healing then, is when I get to finally throw the object away, whatever it is, often amid tears of gratitude. Very dramatic; I know. But this is not about symbols of pain or healing.

I have always been fond of farming. Whenever the rains allowed in Marsabit, I was always within the shamba, either weeding, or harvesting, or planting. And when the rains went away for long periods, I busied myself sun-drying orange and pawpaw seeds for when the rains returned, planting flowers and watering them with used water from dishwashing or laundry, and my father always said I had a blessed hand because everything I planted grew. Case in point, I planted some orange seeds in my succulent pots and I now have about six orange seedlings that I don’t know what to do with. But I am jumping the gun.

Back up a little. Sometime last year, on an impulse, I bought six succulents and most of my friends were very skeptical about my ability to take on such a huge responsibility. I am happy to announce that all six plants are thriving. To prove how serious I am about the plants, I once asked my sister to bring the soil from our farm in Marsabit, fertilized with goat and chicken manure, because some of my succulents were drooping. I resulted to the only remedy I knew. When the soil arrived, I did the thing and the plants began to look like they would live.

A few months later, a different seedling took root. Now, this plant, we call muukh ree (goat tree) because we feed it to the goats when the grass is not enough. We grow it as a backup for when the rains start fading. The plant is also a great introduction for baby goats to feeding because there often is no soft grass or it is a long distance away.

So when the tree started growing in my pot, a result of the soil that my sister had brought from Marsabit, I said I’d let it grow a little, and then pluck it out but the bigger it got, the harder it became for me to uproot it. A friend even offered to do it for me because how can one be attached to a plant? And I said to let it stay. Now its growing into a tree on my balcony and I know I’ll have to take it out at some point but I know I am going to transplant in someone’s farm because I just can’t throw it away.

I remember climbing up the trees when the bigger goats had been taken out to herd so that I could pick the softest parts for the kids. I would then tie them into a bunch and stand there, in the middle of six to ten little beautiful, playful, kids, holding it for them like flowers out to a loved one, as they fed. Of course, I could have tied it to the wall of their pen (there are points around the pen for that) but I just enjoyed watching them feed for the first time, then grow into it such that they surrounded me at the door the moment walked in.

After a short while, they’d be let out to go feed with the slightly older kids but this tradition, this transition marks a point in my life that created a bond between me and goats. I watched them grow into goats that we would either sell or slaughter, watched them have their own babies and continue generations, watched them get sick and recover or die…and I understand why my nomadic people are so attached to their livestock, it is beyond the animals being a source of livelihood. It is a bond, a relationship, a family, and because I am no longer a herder, that plant in a pot with my succulents is a memory of that time. The time I became one with my people.

PS: If you know its name, educate me.

2 Responses

  1. am happy for yours’ sukumawiki at the balcony is not doing well and am sad..uprooting it feels painful too..i will keep hoping for a better day for them

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