I snapped out of my sour line of thought to see the woman beckoning for me to follow her. Well, I was in a foul mood and would have walked on if it wasn’t for her demeanour. I couldn’t put my finger on it but she had somehow called me over with no guile. Following her seemed like the most natural reaction. Or was it the fact that she was carrying a child on her back?
For whatever reason, I took a few steps forward and realized that she had a basket of merchandise on the ground in front of her. And she proceeded to ask,
“Kaka, naomba unitwishe.” (“Brother, please help me lift this”)
And I did so without hesitation! She thanked me with a cheerful smile and walked away. I was left standing by the side of the dusty road with a small smile of my own and my melancholic thoughts behind my ears.
I continued my now short walk home thinking about my assignment. I needed to find a fascinating Kiswahili word and write an essay explaining why. There were many possibilities of course, but nothing I would call fascinating. I was still thinking of that when the woman’s sentence replayed in my head,
“Kaka, naomba unitwishe!”
She had used the word TWISHA! I found myself thinking of the word for the rest of my walk.
TWISHA, which can also be alternated as TWIKA is a noun. It means the process of helping someone bear or lift a burden. It is usually done by two (sometimes three) people. The most common form is for people who want to carry something on their head, but the item is too heavy for them to lift it all the way up.
It starts with the two people, (a carrier and a helper), bending to pick the heavy item and here they all bear the same weight.
Then they lift it to the upper abdomen level, after which the helper will bear all the weight briefly so that the carrier can shift positions and lower their heads by slightly bending.
The helper will then place the item upon the carrier’s head, who will slowly straighten and proceed to carry it to its destination.
If done by three people, there will be two helpers and one carrier, the helpers will lift the item and swiftly place it on the carrier’s head.
This is such a simple word that needs a long explanation in a different language! That fact amazed me as I kept contemplating. The person who helps can be said to act out the noun TWISHA or TWIKA, and the one being helped will call the complete tense of the act TWISHWA or TWIKWA. The opposite of it is the word TUA which basically means the reverse, putting down the carried item. Both TWISHA and TUA can also be performed by the carrier alone if the burden isn’t too heavy. A close translation of the two words; Twisha and Tua, would be; burdening and unburdening.
It occurred to me as I neared home that I had found the perfect subject for my upcoming paper! I could use this word to tell a story! I reached my room and could finally kick or peel off the terribly pinching shoes and start writing. My mood was considerably lighter, and I was shocked to realize that it lifted right after I helped the lady with her selling basket…
I was up until meeting her feeling drained and tired from people always wanting something from me. I wondered why that was since she had also wanted something from me. She had asked for my help on the road, and I had obliged with no qualms. I was willing to stop from the moment she called out… why was that?
And the lightbulb! An incredible moment was when I realized that she had simply called out for assistance. And her call was so light and easy to respond to because it had no strings attached. See, when you TWISHA someone, you bear the burden for just a few seconds and then you swiftly set it on the owner’s head. You do not lift their burden and transfer it to your own head, then proceed to ask them where to take it and if they’d like to chat away while you carry it for them. You do not take ownership of other people’s burdens! And that is why of all things that weighed me down that evening, the woman’s basket wasn’t one of them!
I froze with my pen paused when this realization hit me. And I suddenly saw and felt the weight on my own head in all its saddening glory. I don’t TWISHA. I NEVER TWISHA! Instead, I have been lifting other people’s burdens; emotions, finances, opinions…; and placing them all on my own head. The heaviness that extended through my chest all the way to my knees was from walking around with the burdens.
I had carried my uncle’s disappointment for him for as long as I could remember. I’ve been lifting all the responsibilities and expectations of my relations and neatly placing them on top of my head. I have added a pile of heavy bills from a few distant relatives to this burden. Then topped it with the confusion and manipulation I lifted from a pretty girl who didn’t bother to study for her papers. I have been lifting other people’s burdens and piling them on myself instead of helping them carry them on their own. And as a result, I was dwindling into a tired Old-Man-Boy with a prematurely receding hairline and a sour expression. I was so weighed down that there was no space left for my own dreams. I travelled home every evening so heavy; with a swollen brain, heart and even bladder but a hollow empty chest.
I needed, for the first time in my life, to TUA all these burdens from myself. No, actually, I need to find some people and return their burdens! And that very night when my phone vibrated with a call from my uncle and a text from the fruity-scented girl, I picked it up with a smile. I was ready to refuse me some burdens and return old ones that I had unfairly claimed as my own.