By Annah Nafula
It is the only way African mothers knew how to get busy, they had no Facebook, twitter, Instagram or any of those things you do for fun lately. They had their own version of Mama Tendo and Kilimani.
A batch of women sat together under a tree after lunch with their rolls of crochet thread to kneat table cloths. In an African setting, one would wonder why they were called table clothes, because they covered tables and everything else, I mean everything else. From chair arms, to the real chairs, to TV sets to utensils in the kitchen to stoves, to clothes in the Bedrooms, I mean everything else.
While the women went about their business, it was always the perfect time to put out what we would call our present day statuses. “Taata Naki hasn’t come home for a week but I know who I Am.” mama Naki would go first. “Eh! I am so freak in fed up of my husband bringing bunches of matooke,”Nalongo would interrupt. I grew up in an urban poor surburb of this city. By then having a bunch of matooke was a status symbol. It meant you were wealthy. The women would go and on about their statuses, while others liked, and commented as well. At the same time, it was productive social media because they would be suggesting to each other latest trends in their bitambaala craft.
Apart from making the perfect bitambaala, keeping them clean and in their original color was also a status symbol. Then the women could tell who can afford omo, by then it was blue, the woman could also tell who had rats at her house. Oh! How the olden days rats loved bitambaala and children’s teeth.
My mother a passionate teacher, apart from giving me an education she thought it wise for me to learn the craft. I was pretty naughty, I loved to play with my friends and age mates, sitting in the tree shade and listening to an assemblage of women throwing words around and calling it big people’s talk was not about to be my business. Mother tried as much as she could but I failed to learn. After all the sight of crochet made my teeth sensitive, it was like one of those feelings, when one uses a rough paper to clean a chalk board. It was irritating. I couldn’t stand it. But mother never understood. She thought I was being a silly child; it earned me standard African mother’s beating on several occasions.
Every time I remember the old days, I remember mama Naki, a woman whom mother had severally complained about. I had heard other women in the group complain about her too. Amongst them all she was auntie Mundaala’s friend. The women often suspected her of breaching the privacy settings of the group. She would go to borrow tomatoes at the mundaala yet she had a previous debt of the 50UGX cooking oil she took before lunch. So she would relay what transpired in the small meeting she had with the ladies after lunch, to buy time so that auntie mundaala doesn’t demand for the 50UGX for cooking oil. Auntie Mundaala, the small temporary grocery shop owner, would now literary tell the entire village. Her mudaala served the entire village, what would you expect?
At the sight of bitambaala these days, I just remember how our mothers didn’t miss anything about social media because they had it all in three dimensions.
*bitambaala: A luganda word meaning table cloths