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Nairobi
September 23, 2020
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A first-hand witness account of bizarre tricks used by an African witch doctor as thieves break into a Meru chemist

I grew up in a largely religious environment. Weekly mass at the village chapel, interspersed with evening prayer sessions in the congregation’s homesteads. Occasionally, neighborhood tiffs would erupt, and someone would be accused of sorcery, or wizardly. It would end without much ado, but it would linger in my mind.

Who is a wizard?

Who is a sorcerer?

What’s the difference?

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In the village, no one watched Harry. But am glad we didn’t. That series made it seem cool, and it ain’t. Anyone accused of sorcery in the village usually ended up as an outcast, miserable and lonely.

Well, we did grow up and moved to the city. It now seemed that the clique also did move to the city. Every electric pole had a poster advertising services of a traditional doctor – a fancy name for a wizard or a sorcerer. Its common knowledge that is an urban fraudster’s beckoning call.

I later came to know, though, that real wizards exist. I wouldn’t have believed if this case was narrated to me. Thomas, the eccentric Jesus disciple, had to plunge his finger through the hole in the Messiah’s hand to believe He had arisen.

I understand why.

A chemist shop in my neighborhood gets burgled in the night – curfew hours are silent, and police patrols are few and far apart. The burglars clean the shop of drugs and equipment worth millions of money.

The owner is not flustered. He hails from a region in Kenya with the infamous tag of being the hotbed of sorcery and wizardry. After reporting the case at the local police post, he makes a few posters warning of dire consequences if the burglars do not return his stock within 2 days.

Everyone shrugs off the warning. This is Nairobi, after all. The drugs will most probably be getting re-sold in pharmacies across the city, in 2 days.

Dawn, third day.

An oddly-dressed man arrives at the premises. Could be in his 40’s, 50’ or 60’s. He has a monkey-skin headdress common with traditional dancers, complete with peacock and ostrich feathers. There’s a live black cock, and an assortment of other weird paraphernalia. It doesn’t need a graduate to figure out this is a ‘traditional doctor’.

A crowd gathers. A lot of people miss their buses to work – who cares? This comes once in a life time.

After some intelligible chants, the man shrugs off his jacket. It’s a normal blazer, with leather patches on the elbows – like my college math’s professor’s.

He hangs it up. Wait for it….in mid-air.

Yes. Hangs it up on some invisible hook in the air.

The crowd gushes, and moves a couple of steps backwards.

I rub my eyes. I ain’t dreaming – someone even steps on my toes, soiling my shoe shine.

The man now scoops a handful of what seems like maize grains, and start tossing them one by one onto the slab above the burgled chemist. The slab is bare, like most owners build in phases from ground floor up. He tosses seven grains up on the slab.

He then grabs the live, black cock and whispers something to it.

The cock flutters its wings and flies to the slab. He doesn’t toss it, no. The cock flies of its own accord to the slab above the premises. It pecks up one grain. Then, it stands still – staring at something across the road.

The crowd is frozen. No one dares utter a word.

The wizard clears his throat.

“Hawa wezi wako na siku saba” He says, in ethnic-tainted Swahili.

“Huyu jogoo kila siku atakula mahindi moja. Zikiisha siku saba kama hawajitokeza, wajilaumu wenyewe”.

He pulls out a felt-marker pen and scribbles a mobile number on the burgled door.

He squeezes past the crowd and beckons a passing bike, and hops on.

It’s now the third day.

The jacket is still fluttering in the breeze, hooked on something invisible mid-air. Even dust is beginning to settle on it.

The cock is still live, and standing still on the slab above the chemist. It’s now become the most popular tourist attraction in the city!

If the innocents aren’t getting any sleep about this, I wonder how well the thieves are doing.

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