Near death experience- Cassava cyanide.

One Saturday morning, mother sends us (me and young bro) to go and apply DAP fertilizer to her maize crop in a shamba she had leased in the valleys of Thagana river, lower Mathira.

We divide the 30 or so kgs of fertilizer between us and carry it to Thagana which was quite a distance.

The job didn’t take us long as it only involved spreading a table-spoonful of the fertilizer granules around the base of the maize plants without covering it with soil because the ground was wet enough.

By midday, we were on our way back home having completed the task. Along the way, we caught up with a guy from our village who, too, was on his way back home from his shamba. He was carrying a sackload that was visibly too heavy given his puffing, sweating and stretched sinews.

We said hi as we overtook him and he responded amid gasps. Upon recognizing us, he put the load down and said, “Mwangi nyita haha.” (I am unable to translate this one but he simply asked my bro the to “take this”)

He untied the string fastening the sack to reveal three humongous cassava bigger than what you can possibly imagine. We could not believe what we were seeing with our own eyes. Those roots could have won a world agricultural show award hands down. I wonder to date how on earth he had excavated them in one piece. We can only say excavating because you don’t dig up such monolithic tubers.

“Kuai mwanga”, he said.
He gave a cassava to my brother, one to myself and remained with one.
Let me tell you, carrying those things home was the most difficult task we had carried out at that age.
We arrived home with shoulders stooping from the weight of the cassava. Had it not been the man’s presence as he tagged along taking a break every time we did so , we would have thrown the damn tubers away.

Upon getting home, we fell into deep sleep due to exhaustion. When we woke up about 4 o’clock, we embarked on cooking the cassava. We cut a tenth of one of the tubers (a size that could fit in one of mum’s sufuria for boiling stuff ) peeled it, cleaned it, cut it into pieces and boiled it.

When ready, we feasted on the cassava properly making sure to remove the “pith.” Cassava was known to be potentially deadly thus you were required to cut and throw away anything that came within an inch close to the central vascular bundle (pith). You employed a maker-checker mechanism where you removed the pith and asked someone else to do a confirmation before putting the cooked tuber into your mouth.

We ate to our fill and hid away the left overs. “Anyone who wants to, and feels like eating cassava should cook their own cassava. It is here in plenty. More plenty than anyone would need. We can’t go through the tribulations of bringing home the biggest cassava in the history of big tubers and go ahead to cook it for people.”

Sunday Morning.

I woke up very tired, Sunday. Mum had prepared my younger brothers for church and she was almost leaving. She ordered me to prepare very quickly but left before I was done bathing.
“Tukinye kanithainí mbere yaku ukungunda unjathimure” (let’s get to the church before you. You will sniff me like snuff and sneeze me”
She didn’t mean to say that she would ask Sunday school to give me a standing ovation and do a song dedicated to myself if I got to the church way after she had arrived. I therefore, like a bat out of hell, bathed, dressed up and took a shortcut that would place me ahead of them.

I didn’t manage get to the main road. My knees turned into jelly and I started seeing vimulimuli. I couldn’t walk any further and I sat on the dewy grass. I was not feeling any pain but I was too weak.
I started feeling too hot and sweating profusely despite it being a cold June morning. I even removed my sweater and shirt and remained shirtless in that sitting position.
I would black-out in intervals of about two minutes but within those two minutes my mind would subconsciously go on a dream-like journey that seemed to last an year.
The setting was in a desert. A very expansive place with golden yellowish sand and a meandering path. Today when i see images from Chalbi desert I feel like this is the place that was featuring in that dream years back.

I could see my tiny self from very far up walking in the meandering path in the desert. The “observing me” was very huge as compared to the “walking me”. The observing me was feeling like he was bursting out of the confines of wherever it was he was sitting.

This lapsing into sleep and back to consciousness went on for quite sometime. Occasionally, when I came to, I would find myself lying flat out on the grass. I would gather myself only to fall back asleep. Then, suddenly, this thing went away but I was unable to stand on my feet.

I fell asleep (normal sleep this time) and woke up in the afternoon. I gathered myself, picked my sweater and the shirt and walked pole pole towards home.

At home I would find mum and other church women who had come to check how my brother was faring. He had fallen very sick on the way to church prompting mum to take him to the dispensary.