The Acholi have a saying that only dogs sneak off without saying goodbye. Dano pe lwi, gwok aye lwi. And the Acholi in Mucwini, and anywhere else are special at doing this ciko dano thing.
One will never just walk back to their home or wherever they came from without bidding farewell, unless of course, their sudden or unplanned departure is triggered by some sinister deed, which deed could range from picking something they aren’t supposed to pick, a fight; especially with the children, a child who is unhappy with their current living arrangement in a home, or a troublesome wife who has been told not to leave the homestead by her husband after a tiff.
Apart from the above, there are always these series of good-byes; punctuated by a lot of talk. It is even worse when you are a teenage girl heading back to boarding school.
First, gathering both your parents under the family mango tree to say their cik at the same time is like trying to send letters to the various clan leaders to gather for a Kacoke madit; a grand meeting. Their universe is never on the same course when it comes to this. So, you start this venture 2 days before your set date of departure.
Once you announce to the family head that you are now leaving before which you would have told him the previous hot afternoon while he was enjoying his Kom Rwot-Onino that you are leaving tomorrow. He would say a mumblish something about you leaving too soon. “Hmmmmm wudok con kuman pingo?” And close the discussion with finality without letting you know that it is okay.
You are unsure whether he is fine with you going back on the stated day or not. But he has given you part of his afternoon nap so you recede like the waters of Kulu Aringa in the dry season to your mother who would also probably be napping on that beaten goat skin in the kitchen hut. She’s partly asleep and partly awake. Kore nono. She’s half dressed. Only her burst is covered. She seems not in the mood to talk too. I mean it’s been a long morning and the afternoon nap in this hot January is what she needs.
You tell her that you have told your father and she merely sends you a bored hmmmmmmnh; her eyes closed in this unbothered way.
They are not being very friendly parents right now so you head out to your friend’s home or join your younger siblings. They are dusty and playing Bur coro; a sort of board game with the in dug out holes in the ground looking smooth from a series of fingers going through them and moving the nyig coro. You normally would proceed to your friend’s place but you don’t because your parents may wake up and finally give you a proper response to your earlier announcement.
Two days later, you wake up early, wash your clothes, dust your metal case clean, and do a final check on your packing. You take a bath. You dress up in your favourite Sunday best. Then you proceed to your dad for a second announcement.
“Baba, cawa me wot na dong oromo woko” You say, as you refuse to plant your clean knees on the heavy dust below. You are in this half squat half kneel position; your right hand firmly holding you in position. You have assertively planted the tips of your five fingers on the ground in a slight bend like the spike of a teardrop flag.
All this effort will be rewarded with a slow and lazy “Aya” as he tunes his radio lazily with this unfazed look on his face. You head back to the kitchen again.
Your mother has decided to wear an old beaten hand me down NGO collared t-shirt that her sister working with that arm of the UN you have trouble remembering gave her last Easter. It’s this disturbing shade of orange, some faded parts turned light brown and a smudge of light-ish green planted like the poop of a bat. It’s lodged in the space between her burst and her belly. It’s a stain from yesterday’s lunch of dek boo. It had odii in it. Your eyes don’t leave the stain. She’s seated in the middle of the cokon. She looks like she’s about to remove it and get on the laa dyel for her nap.
You ask the gods of Got Ogili and God of heaven to give you favor in her eyes. God hears you. He stops her from ridding her chest of the disturbing shade of orange t-shirt; positioning it atop the laa dyel for a pillow and starting her nap.
She reluctantly sits up and motions you to sit. She will then go into a series of advise and how you need to work hard at school because let’s admit it, your father’s family, unlike hers have no one that has gone beyond Archbishop Luwum memorial secondary school.
She repeats her warnings that you to stay away from that spoilt son of the LC because he has no future and will get you pregnant me nono. She reminds you that if you bring her shame by getting pregnant at school she will banish you from her homestead. She wants a degree and another one like her brother the Profesa at Makerere got. Kwan wang ma dong kwan pe. Study until there’s nothing else to study she asserts.
She goes on and on about how my father’s relatives see no reason in educating lotino anyira – girls, how they say she’s proud because her first daughter is in siniya abic; S.5 at one of the best schools, how they are not happy about all her other siblings being in school and doing well.
She tells you about what they are going to plant when you are away and how your siblings are looking up to you as the firstborn and you shouldn’t disappoint them. As she’s heading to her 4th chapter of an Acholi mother’s lamentations you hear your father’s voice. He is calling you. Your mother has talked for an hour already. You head out. Half way through the homestead to the tree your father is seated under, he tells you ni lwong mama ni bene; call your mother.
She has heard him but you still head back to her and tell her. She will come with you with her laa dyel in tow. She places it down and sits on it. You pick the mat leaning against the mango tree, spread it out and plant yourself atop it, readying yourself for the fatherly advice and chapter 5 of motherly lamentations.
Your father’s advice is different from your mother’s. His is more supportive. No warnings about the LC’s spoilt son or the reverend’s son who has refused to follow in his father’s footsteps by joining that Theological seminary in Gulu and chosen to go to Sir Sam B. He tells you the importance of education. How he wants you to have a future and life better than his. That all he wants is you focusing on school and use that school fees they got after selling last season’s simsim to the fullest.
“Ask questions in class. Don’t be timid. Anyira Bura pe wi gi ngic. Don’t miss class. Don’t sneak out of school. Respect the teachers. I will be coming to Gulu on visitation day. Use your pocket money wisely. Join school clubs ma loko kwo ni in a good way” he says as your mother throws in a chorus with a en gin ma abedo ka tite bene enu…. hmmmmmnh. That’s what I have been telling her. Hmmmmmnh.
Eventually you are let go. You start your journey to the new term on a serious note. You have been encouraged, motivated by your father, and warned by your mother. She’s good at that and it’s effective.
You promise yourself to do better than last term. To work hard. If not for yourself then for them; for the hard work they put in to give you an education. You also make a mental note to keep the LC’s dangerously handsome boy in St. Joseph’s Layibi college at a healthy distance. Your mother has promised to beat him up if she as much as gets a wind of you two hanging out. She’s beaten up the reverend’s boy before because of you and made every relative know. You don’t want a repeat of that.
So you make mental notes on how to nicely turn him down as you hug your siblings and say your good byes.
Alas, you have successfully bid them farewell. The next school term will still have a ciko cik. Maybe as you age, your mother will probably tone it down ….. this warning against boys. But you love that she does that. Because it keeps you grounded.
You head out to school to school muling over this whole exercise that seems redundant yet quite vital for you; because at the end of the day dano omyero ki cik. You just can’t leave home without saying goodbye.