Book: Eat Drink & Blame The Ancestors
Publisher: Two Dogs
Year of publication: 2014
Number of pages: 287
Genre: Satire, essays
In Kenya for many years, the most looked forward read in the newspapers was a column called “Whispers” in the Sunday Nation written by a gentleman called Wahome Mutahi. The column was about a man who came from a village on the slopes of Mt Kenya and had moved to the big city that was Nairobi. Every week we would be introduced to the characters in his life like his mother who still lived in the village Apep, his wife Thatcher and their kids, Investment, Pajero and the Whis Jr or the thug. This column was an accessible read that showed the challenges of living in a big city as a former villager. Some of the best columns over the years were compiled into a book called How To Be A Kenyan.
The people of the Southern African nation of South Africa (by the time they got independence, the names had run out so they are stuck with that locational moniker) have their own Whispers and he goes by the name of Ndumiso Ngcobo. Now many Kenyans who follow the Scandal! show on ETV have heard “Ndumiso Ngcobo” before as it is the character of a smart aleck from Kwazulu Natal who runs a restaurant. The real life Ndumiso has a radio show on Power FM and has one of the funnier columns in The Sunday Times a leading newspaper in that part of the world. His column just like our Whispers talks about the challenges of navigating a rapidly changing South Africa from the view of one of its urban dwellers. The difference is he hasn’t come from a village but from a less affluent part of the city and now lives a bit better off part while maintaining roots with his Zulu background.
Ndumiso recently launched Eat Drink and Blame the Ancestors a compilation of the best of his columns from 2009-2014. It is his third book with similar books Some of My Best Friends Are White and Is it because I’m Black having being released earlier.
This new book is a no holds barred look at living in South Africa as he navigates through race, child rearing, tradition and other aspects of life in that country in an enriching and hilarious manner. He uses the techniques that Whispers had perfected so long ago using himself as the butt of the joke and one is left laughing outright. As one is laughing at this “fool” one starts to realise that they were in actual fact laughing at themselves. Take for instance Close Shave at Taxi Rank where he talks about the experience of his tendency to cut his hair at some less than high end place at the local matatu stop. His experience of cutting hair in a kinyozi is something any Nairobi fellow will relate to. Or Taxi Violence, Golden Girls Style where, I’m laughing as I remember this story, a matatu driver so exasperates a senior citizen on the road that she pulls down her car window and throws some yogurt on him in anger. I can just imagine a pissed of old lady here unleashing her vengeance on the idiot. Or Take Your Rap and Run where he explains that looking down on the music of people of a younger generation is par for the course where older folks are concerned. We are all familiar with how our parents hated our musical heroes yet we are very happy to hate on Justin Beiber and ilk (although who really doesn’t?).
He is able to weave real life experiences like years of being a vegetarian (Chops and Changing), the death of a pet (RIP Superman This Man’s Best Friend) and hoarding underwear (Those Old Drawers in My Cabinet) to devastating effect. The beauty about it is that he is able to show a mirror to our own lives using comedy and anyone who lives in a large African city will be familiar with the dynamic of the cultural interspersed with the different needs within that environment.
For those who love the big picture, as a collective this collection, the author’s best in my opinion, could be seen some of the best snippets of wisdom on African living. Wisdom so good we could easily quote this writer in the future alongside Confucius. If you don’t want to think too much, I’m firmly in this camp, this is as Grade A as humour gets. In fact as one reads the book I was subject to fits of laughter so much I nearly peed myself on numerous occasions. Its that good.
So should you buy it? Duh? Who doesn’t like laughing? If you are those laughter detesters then I suggest you stay away this book. And stay away from me while you are at it.