I’ve been postponing this post far too long. I met her last week. Frail. Old. She had to be helped into the bus because according to her ‘kids’ she couldn’t manage the bus’ stairs. She told me the kids fear too much. That even if it took 20 mins she is sure she could get in to the bus herself, find a seat and relax. We had a wonderful 6 hour chat as Easy Coach slowly found its way. She looked 80 something. And her wisdom never ceased to amaze me. She talked in Luo. I in English or Swahili or Luo sometimes. I know Luo so well (and a little Kikuyu and Embu), but I can’t pronounce the words clearly at times. Nobody is allowed to be fluent in so many languages.
I don’t know her name. She didn’t tell me. I didn’t tell her mine either. The introduction bit was forgotten. Maybe she knew introductions can be a pain sometimes. Most times. Especially for us young people. Or am I the only one who finds introducing myself a problem? Telling someone who I am and blah blah… meh. No. I didn’t talk about myself to her. We didn’t introduce ourselves. We just got off chatting. And somehow I have her life story in my head. Somehow I now know all her kids and grandkids and whatever name you give to the next generation. She has seen 3 generations arise from her bloodline. And in her words, “God is good, we men are but nothing”. I’ve translated her words obviously.
This mama is Kenyan. Born sometime before the Second World War, I guess, as I can deduct from her stories. When she was a teen, she met a wonderful young man, she says to me. The man was so brilliant a business man, and if I got it right, that is not the only thing that attracted her to him. Much else did. And she tells me this smiling. She tells me that the man asked for her hand in marriage, and thereafter they moved to Tanganyika. If you know a little history, you’ll know that current Tanzania before merging with Zanzibar was known as Tanganyika. The husband’s businesses were so successful, she says. Happy and prosperous was their life. They had so much property. She doesn’t put it like “We were rich”. No she puts it like “We were blessed”. And from her descriptions of how they used to travel and their house, I can clearly see how rich they were. Very.
When he asked to marry her, she had not finished her education. And perhaps she couldn’t have without marrying him. Their successes together allowed for her to further her studies. She rose to become a teacher and many other titles I must have missed due to the deep Luo she spoke. Immediately she mentions her success in education and the fact that she was a teacher, she asks me what I do. I tell her I am a student. I’m going to Nairobi for a meeting. She tells me not to give up on education. Her son wanted to travel from Nairobi for her. She has not been to Nairobi since 1968. But she told her son that she is an educated woman who can find her way through. She laughs. I am educated. Educated people never get lost in life. Then the smile fades. I notice there is something.
She has a grand-daughter who decided to quit school in form 2. She got pregnant. She said school was a waste of time. She tells me this shaking her head. I wondered why a girl could be blinded by foolish lust like that, she tells me. I had nothing I could do to her. I left her to be. 4 years later after the baby had grown the girl came to her senses. She is now in form 4. She wasted so much of her life. But education is everything nyathina. If I hadn’t read my family would be nowhere right now, she continues. You can see in her eyes that she is saying this with deep conviction. She looks through the window. Kenya is really beautiful. Things have really changed, she continues.
They used to travel to Tanzania through the Lake. There was a ship that connected Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania through Lake Victoria. She doesn’t shy from telling me that they always used the 1st class cabin when travelling. She lived with the Sukuma. She tells me she is fluent in Kisukuma. Her home in Kenya is in Seme. They are called Wasukuma or Watanzania over there because of their Swahili and their Kisumkuma. She tells me that after the collapse of the East African community in the early 70’s they had to sell all their property and relocated to Kenya. That was a hard time for everybody she says. But God had given them somewhat a vision, and years before they had started moving some of their property back home. So when the order to move out of Tz was made, they had very little to move with and only sold the things one cannot carry home. Wherever you go nyathina, don’t forget home. If we had forgotten our home, like I see people do nowadays, I wouldn’t have had a place to go back to when Kenyatta and Nyerere started arguing.
God is good. He has given me life. Long life. And I have seen so much. My kids should understand that when the time for a person comes, they should be left to go. Now I am going to Nairobi for the 10th chest x-ray. They never find a thing but my chest keeps paining. They told me I should not cease looking for a way of ending the pain and I told them they should not cease trusting in God with whom all things work out for the good. I serve God even now in my old age. Because with Him everything is assured. This life is not ours. We just pass through. I wish the younger generation understood this, she says.
There was a time when she had her second or third born, she was crossing the lake from Luanda K’otieno to Mbita. The means then was by boat. She was already settled safely at one end of the boat when some drunk girls forcibly boarded the boat despite the cries of those already seated. She had an intuition to get off the boat but she ignored it. When they were almost halfway through their journey, a storm approached. The boat was sure sinking. She held on to her child with all her heart singing. She sings the song to me. I know people in the bus (who weren’t sleeping or minding their own business) heard her sing. She sang a whole 3 minutes or more. She sang it so deeply, her eyes closed. I think she was picturing the storm approaching. When she is done singing she opens her eyes and smiles. The drunk girls were screaming and cursing and regretting why they’d boarded the boat, she tells me. But I was busy praying in my heart and singing to God. And he heard me.
The traffic in Nairobi astounds her. We find our way through the jam and she is amazed by the roads. When we finally alight she gives me her phone to call her son. I leave her in the Waiting Room, waiting for her son. She holds my right hand with both her hands. “Good bye my son. We will see each other soon”. She knows what soon means better than I do.