A couple of years ago, if I remember correctly, there was a serious sugar shortage — so serious, in fact, we had to queue for it in supermarkets, and could only buy one packet to allow the ones behind to also get one.
To make matters worse, the little that was available cost an arm and a leg — okay, not exactly — but never before in Kenya’s history had the price of sugar gone that high.
During that period, I no longer recall how long the shortage lasted, numerous households resigned themselves to taking sugarless tea, some because they could not bring themselves to queue for hours for the commodity, others because they were put off by the price.
I still lived with my parents at the time and we, too, gave sugarless tea a shot, but it was too bland an experience. My mother resigned herself to standing on those endless queues and painfully paying too much for something that should be readily available to all.
But since queuing for hours for just one packet of sugar which would be over in a week did not make sense, considering the energy used and time wasted, my brother and I tagged along and joined the queue – voila! We had three packets of sugar instead of one which, if used sparingly, would last us a month. Wasn’t that clever?
Anyway, that was when I knew without a shred of doubt that my life would be beyond miserable if I were forced to take tea without sugar. I love tea, but this love would immediately fade if I had to take it sugarless.
In fact, my worst recurring nightmare is that of a doctor in no-nonsense spectacles telling me that I can no longer take sugar with my tea, otherwise I will drop dead.
Whenever I have this dreadful nightmare, I wake up with a start, drenched in sweat, my heart beating hard and fast. Interestingly, I am not tempted by sweets, chocolates, biscuits, juice and all the other sweet stuff that women are supposed to like.
The only other thing I am averse to, besides sugarless tea, is cold water. Were the sun to drop down a couple of kilometres and start melting stuff, I still couldn’t bring myself to take a shower or a bath with cold water.
This is why: I went to high school in Kijabe, where bitterly cold winds howl with abandon at night, threatening to uproot whole buildings. Our dormitories had numerous spaces, including a couple of broken window panes, where the determined wind forced its way inside. The result is that even though you were snuggled in bed with a sweater, jacket, cap, socks and legwarmers, as well as two blankets, it felt as if you had been stashed in a freezer, with the door firmly closed.
The school had an acute shortage of water, and most times, we would troop to a lazy river near the school to fetch bathing and washing water. We were elated during the rainy season because we wouldn’t have to make trips to the river — water we shared with neighbourhood cows.
To trap the rainwater, we would place our buckets outside, below the jutting iron-roof. If, by bad luck, it didn’t rain during the day, we would leave our buckets outside overnight to collect bathing water. Of course the water would be ice-cold, the kind that turns your fingers and lips blue.
The administration was not magnanimous enough to heat our water, and so you had to take a bath with ice. Then President Daniel Moi one day came visiting and ordered someone to dig a borehole but, unfortunately, I was in my last year at the school, so I did not get to enjoy the gushing clean water for long.
Though I bathed with cold water throughout my four years in high school, I never got used to it, and every single day of those four years, I dreaded waking up in the morning because I knew what awaited me. Bathing with cold water, to me, is akin to punishment.
Thinking about it though, I have a feeling that my aversion to it is purely psychological, caused by the trauma that comes with lack of choice.