Kiboko travels



Swahili noun

  1. Little stick used to smack naughty girls and boys on their bottom or legs (wherever said naughty girls’ and boys’ mother deems appropriate)
  2. Hippopotamus (nobody is interested in this definition today)

My Aunty Subira used to be known as ‘fast fingers’. She would slap you as she asked, ‘who spilled this water here and didn’t mop it up?’ If it wasn’t you, you’d grab your cheek and shout back, ‘it wasn’t me’ and she would proceed to slap the next person, ‘was it you?’ It was hilarious (in retrospect; and if it wasn’t you on the other end of the slap). It’s almost as if she didn’t want to waste the time figuring out who it was before she disciplined them. Besides, I think she also wanted to foster responsibility for each other- If you witnessed someone spilling something, you needed to tell them immediately, ‘mop that up, I’m not trying to get a slap from Aunty Sub!’

Another thing I learned from her is the radical-never-been-heard-of-before concept; there is no break from good behavior. Wherever you are, you must behave according to pre-agreed upon rules and regulations, or else, the same discipline you get at home, will promptly be delivered there. There was no place where you would not receive a slap- not the supermarket, church, theme park. If you misbehaved, you were going to get it. And how did you know this- Aunty Sub always packed the kiboko into her handbag or carry on luggage and called you all to see that she had packed it.

So, Kendi has a rough idea of kiboko. I have not had reason or want to hit her many times before, but the times that I have given her a smart smack on her hands as she’s about to touch something for the 13th time after I have asked her not to, she has responded with crying and whining and sniffling and puppy dog eyes. I on the other hand have explained that, ‘ne anyisi mond kik i mul gino. Kik i mul kendo. Ibiro yudo kiboko. Aheri‘ (I told you not to touch that. Don’t touch it again. You will get kiboko. I love you) This usually does the trick.

Kendi is now very well aware that misbehavior is not a thing of home only. So far, she has gotten kiboko in a restaurant, at church, and at her grandmothers (children somehow know that grandmothers will ‘save’ them if they are naughty, and thus, use the opportunity to do everything that they are not allowed to at home).

When she gets older, she will be able to recognize that I am packing kiboko in my handbag, and our trip to the coast will not be interrupted by crazy behavior. It is not kiboko that disciplines, it is Mama (and in some cases, Baba).

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