Every African household has utensils reserved for visitors, especially if your parents were born in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. If you happen to pick a mug from the reserved section, mama would shout, ‘”usishike vyombo za wageni wewe!” (i.e. Kenyan mums)
We grew up knowing that there were vyombo vya wageni (visitors’ utensils) and the rest, in short for you commoners. The latter were either cracked porcelain or plastic, if you lucky melamine. When a visitor came, the utensils displayed before them were those nice chinas that were stored at the back of the cupboard not to be used regularly. Once in a while, my tongue would slip and I would ask mum where she borrowed that beautiful flask, cups, etc. yet they were right within our house only I had never seen them probably.
One day, mum had ushirika. Ushirika are fellowships where women visit homes to share the word of God and pray together. So it was my mum’s turn to host. She had asked me in advance to assist her in the kitchen, cooking and serving the guests since I was the only girl in the family. That’s how girls learn the art of hospitality by the way, from their mothers; it is that transition of nakufunza ndo ukienda kwako utajua kukaribisha wageni
So, the visitors came, about six or seven women from our church. Mum was in the kitchen, so I ushered them into the sitting room. “Karibuni,” I told them in a soft, polite voice, while smiling at them. I then, rushed to the kitchen and notified mum of their arrival.
According to my mum I was to welcome a guest with a glass of water. So my obedient self-took out the new sparkling glasses with labels on them, and took water to the guests. The women were smiling beaming and commenting on how well-mannered I was.
I went back to the kitchen to take over the chores remaining and give mum some free time to go and talk with her guests. It was common during these times to hear, “endeni mkacheza nje”, this was the sign the elders wanted to have a serious discussion. So technically by being in the kitchen I was showing the highest form of decorum by tending to other things as the elders did whatever they used to do when they sent us out.
In a short while the tea was ready and I began setting the table. First, I placed the table mats, then brought in the mugs and the flask on a serving tray and took them to the table.
After arranging all the mugs and pouring in tea, I handed each visitor a mug. I then noticed there was one missing – my mother’s. I thought I had counted accurately, but then it dawned on me that I had forgotten to count my mum. She realized I was worried and sniffed her nose saying that the visitors are the priority, the host can eat last.
I rushed to the kitchen and came back carrying her cup – a big, yellow plastic cup, her usual one. She sternly asked me in front of the visitors, “Kwani yangu iko wapi?”(Where is my cup?)
“Here it is,” I innocently replied pointing to it.
She glared at me, it was that warning that says one more embarrassing word from you and I will bury you. The warning had been sent but at this juncture I was very clueless on what I had done wrong. My conscience was clean so I went ahead to place the big yellow plastic cup on the table and began to serve tea, until she stopped me.
There was an awkward silence in the house as the guests gave one another side glances, and waited for mum’s next move. My embarrassed mother quietly said to me, “Fetch me a cup like these ones. “
To the amusement of the guests, I asked, “Za wageni?”
She nodded, with further mortification.
I rushed quickly to the kitchen and brought her the cup.
“Let children use all utensils, even these ones.” I overheard a woman telling my mother.
My mother never replied, but her actions did, as the Vyombo za Wageni culture came to a halt in our household.
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