The New Times (Kigali)

30 December 2012

Rwanda: Of Passing Wind and More

Which is worse, or more gross, so to speak; passing wind, or that other activity that is the extreme of passing wind? I mean, that unmentionable activity for which people lock themselves up in toilet cubicles for many long minutes, hence the diplomatic-sounding reference to it as a "long call". Is there something you know that is even half as gross?

When I was a little boy, we talked as freely about farting (we called it 'gassing' then) as we did a football match. It was never something to be ashamed about. It was not just talking we were not timid about, but the actual act too. Yes, were not really afraid to let rip once the need arose.

As we played in a group, or sat in conversation, one would actually pause in the middle of their narrative and beg to be granted what I will term a 'fart break', for want of a better description. And they would not drift off to a nearby bush to be able to do this. On the contrary, they just moved a step or two back, and let rip, usually complete with a goofy grin on their face. On a good day, once the farting had been done, and the dust literally settled down, the rest of the group would take to analyzing and describing to minute detail the generic group and perhaps even chemical composition of the fart. By then we as yet did not know of such lethal chemical compounds as Manganese IV Oxide, which we later discovered in Chemistry class in high school. We characterized farts by their smell and the food that we deemed most likely to have given rise to it. Suffice it to say, beans were the usual suspects for the more lethal farts. Or mukene, which I'm told are called fishlets in english.

Like you can see, passing wind offered its own comic relief. After bouts upon bouts of laughter, calm would prevail and a manhunt be instituted to positively identify the naughty and offending person. There was that popular song that would be invoked to identify the culprit. It went something like; "Obote, talina mpale...(Obote has got no pants), that would be sung while fingers were pointed successively at the pool of suspects. The person at whom the finger pointed at the end of the song would automatically be victimized, and there was no appeal against the ruling!

While all this happened, we never stopped to wonder if big people also went rip. If so, how come we never ever caught them at it? One of our foremost suspicions was that they went about it discreetly, avoiding the noise-pollution bit of it. Another suspicion we had was that "big people's" farts were non-lethal, or at least substantially less lethal than our own, hence our inability to catch them at it.

Such was the comic effect passing wind had upon us. Not anymore! When one grows up, their mental disposition apparently goes through some mix up of priorities. The end result is that, in adult hood, people would rather talk about 'easing themselves' and 'long calls' and 'answering nature's call', even 'shitting', while farting remains a taboo word. When was the last time someone told you they were going to fart in the next three seconds, or even about an embarrassing incident in church, in the taxi, or while on a date? Yet, how many times do people delve into the graphic details of the runny belly they developed, and the endless trips to the loos after wolfing down a whole heap of nsenene?!

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