I remember one hot afternoon in 1999 when I was out grazing my father’s cows at a nearby stream in our rural village. This was a compulsory chore for all boys especially during weekends and school holidays. In our household, one other thing was compulsory: going to school every day without fail unless there is a genuine reason not to. Loitering around the village footpaths was highly prohibited.
On this particular day I was feeling unwell since I had a severe headache which made me lie down under the shade of the eucalyptus trees near the river as I watched the cows graze. This was necessary to make sure the cows do not invade nearby maize farms for greener pasture. The headache was so severe that immediately I raised my head off the ground it became sever. Therefore, I was forced to sleep on the green grass.
After a few hours of my tribulations I heard a funny sound like that of an animal slithering on the dry leaves. Danger was rooming on this particular day. I opened my eyes and turned my face towards the source of that slithering noise and to my great surprise a huge green snake was slithering towards me at my head level. This means if I was deep asleep it would have probably bitten my head or neck. I am also told that it would have rolled over me if I did not pose any danger to its existence. I am informed that snakes bite people when they feel threatened.
However on that day, my reflex reaction was: flight. It was later on while I was in secondary school that I learned that I had two options during the snake encounter: fight of flight. I choose flight (ran away) because I did not have any experience of dealing with deadly reptiles like snakes. I am told that I was running away from a delicacy for some people. My instincts told me to run for safety.
If you can imagine, that day I dazed away like an antelope escaping the deadly leopard. I was surprised on how fast I forgot that I was sick. In fact I did not feel the headache until several moments later when I was at a safe distance from the reptile. The entire process of rushing from my sleeping position to jumping across the stream took nano-seconds. On getting to the other side of the river, my heart was pounding me hard. I think my heart beat on that day must have short to 1,000 beats per minutes!
While safely on the other side of the river I forgot all lessons we learnt in church that since Adam ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, he will be bitten by snakes and him and his descendants like us should crash the heads of the serpents whenever we come across them. On this particular day out of fear I momentarily lost my compass direction and just stood by the river wondering what might have happened had I not run as fast.
After like 10 minutes of confusion I gathered my courage, looked for a huge stick and started looking for the serpent. I promised myself that it must meet its Waterloo on that day. I was determined for complete victory over the reptile. I was determined to destroy it forever. However, I found it had disappeared into some rocks by the river banks. Since that day, I always stayed alert whenever I took the cows to the river. I emerged the winner from this brief encounter with the serpent.
My second encounter with another serpent was a decade later in 2009. This time round it was not as dramatic as the above encounter. On this particular occasion, it was a few months before the national census exercise was conducted and youth like me who had the qualifications to officiate the important national exercise had gone to Rigoma divisional headquarters to apply for jobs as enumerators. During those days most of the trips in the village were undertaken on foot. From my home to Rigoma Divisional Headquarters is quite a distance it would take 2 to 3 hours of normal walking.
In fact on that day I was accompanied with another applicant from my neighborhood. There were many other school leavers walking with us but we were the last ones following from far behind considering that were immersed our own stories.
It seems that we were walking unaware of what was happening in our environment. We had reached a rural village which was mid-way to our home village. Then suddenly, as we made a step together up the hill, we nearly stepped on a huge black python. The serpent was crossing the footpath from one homestead to the nearby farm. It was long and fat. In fact it was so large that its length had covered the entire footpath which was approximately two meters in width and its tail and head was on the opposite sides of the two live fences which defined the footpath.
We quickly stepped back and waited for a few minutes to make sure it has crossed the footpath and it was safe for us to continue with our journey home. At this point, I did not even think of killing the snake on my own because I was shocked by its mere size. Secondly, the fact that it was crossing from a homestead to a farm of maize and not a forest, I thought it might have been someone’s pet. Therefore, even if I had the means of killing it I would not dare. I was too shocked how a snake could come out of someone’s compound at the middle of the day considering there was no forest or bushes nearby we continued with our journey. This was a matter for Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to handle.
On making a few steps up the hill along the homestead we peeped through the live fence and raised our concerns for their safety. We asked the people in that compounded to be aware that a huge python is loitering around and might cause them harm.
Our aim of raising the alarm was to make sure that they are vigilant in case the serpent came back to hunt them down. Our warning was not heeded at all because an elderly woman who was seated outside the house admonished as by saying “you kids shut up, there is no snake here!” At that point we started doubting everything we saw. Was it a nightmare? But would a nightmare or bad dream happen while we were clearly walking up the hill?
Later on during my days at university as an undergraduate philosophy help me make sense of that encounter. Our lecturer at that time, Dr. Tom Destiny Namwamba, encouraged us to doubt everything including everyday objects like tables and chairs. If we can doubt table whether they are table, then I say that I doubt whether the snake. It might have been an illusion in our minds. It was one Rene Descartes who came up with the method of doubt in the field of Philosophy. He doubted all his beliefs in order to establish which ones are true. He even doubted his own existence but later concluded that “I think, therefore I am,” I have a voluminous book on Western Philosophy which I will read later to sharpen my arguments on Western Philosophy.
Back to our dreaded story of serpents. After the old woman admonished us for spreading “unfounded rumors and propaganda” about a huge snake near her home, I started doubting everything! This must have been a bad dream.
That was a polite way of being told to mind our own business and stop poking our noses into people’s affairs. We obeyed and moved on. We concluded that we had nothing to lose. We continued climbing the hill on our way home and assumed we had seen nothing or heard nothing!