​“Clothed and Shielded”

I was having a chat with an old friend from campus the other day. Deep into the conversation he asked;
“What was up with you back then by the way? You looked super satisfied with life!”

I was taken aback. Me? Super satisfied? Ha!

(I think satisfied here would mean content, at peace)

Looking back, I would not say I was super satisfied with life, as he put it. I always had my plate full. Every semester, I would take the maximum number of credit hours allowed. This meant a lot of course work. The tuition fee was always a cloud hanging right above my head, and to ease things up for my folks, I took up the work study program which meant working for a couple of hours every week. The ‘salary’ I earned would go a long way in covering a certain percentage of the fee balance. Then there was basketball, which I like to say kept me sane. I would go to the court every week day evening at 5pm without fail. Tournaments and league games would take up most of the weekends. This while working at the campus radio station and trying to have a social life while at it. 

I wasn’t complaining. I had reconciled with the fact that it was a lot, but it had to be done. My fear was that I thought I ‘looked’ like a wreck. I wanted to believe that I cleaned up well, but I was convinced that everyone could see right through me, only that they were too polite to mention it. 

My prayer life wasn’t stellar, but I did have conversations with the father. I remember praying for strength, wisdom, peace of mind and most of all joy. Oh, and I loved this verse in Philippians, “I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me.” This alone barricaded any thoughts of giving in or a mental breakdown. There were times I prayed for the lecturer to get stuck in traffic so I could have the morning or afternoon off to sleep (Imagine this request was granted more times than I can count!) Oh of the times I began praying at night only to wake up with an Amen in the AM! Then there were times I would go for days on end without what I like to call structured prayers. Thank God for ‘The Grace’ prayer that stood in the gap. Prayer was done conveniently to suit the state of mind and body, rarely the soul. I know better now. 

So for four years, I worked and hustled my way to my undergraduate degree. It was a beautiful roller coaster. Sometimes I look back and thank God that phone cameras were not as advanced and therefore the urge to constantly take photos was suppressed. Man! The evidence against me would have been super incriminating…I think.

Let me just tell you now, God is amazing…

…and his timing is perfect. 

“Don’t know about being satisfied. God is so good. He probably clothed me like that to protect me.” I answered him.

Just like that, God, at a time when I was having certain feelings of inadequacy reminded me why He is shalom. WhiIe I worried about my outward appearance and how people perceived me, He was at work, clothing me with radiance and contentment. He caused others to see confidence and purpose. Come to think of it, even in times when I felt like I was crumbling, there was someone near me to attend to the very need I had. I found people I could laugh with. People who would have probably been put off if it were not for the robe of peace and joy that God had elegantly draped over my shoulders and zipped tight. 

What a revelation!

Ladies, you know when we are obsessing about a solitary pimple somewhere on our faces and someone tells you, “Eh! You are glowing!” Most of us, instead of the good ol’ thank you, will likely point out to that pimple and ask the person if they did not see it before they gave the compliment. God causes people to marvel at your glow, but you won’t let yourself prosper. You just have to bring up that flaw you think will dim that light you are radiating.  Self – sabotage…

Here is some encouragement for you as you swim through this week’s waters, God is listening. He heard you yesterday when you shouted for help. Today, when you said thank you for prayers answered, he heard that too! You don’t have to say complex prayers or speak in tongues. Psalms 119:80 “Let my heart be sound (sincere and wholehearted and blameless) in your statutes, that I may not be put to shame.” I love these prayers that David made, recognizing that we can be so inadequate but since Jesus ushered us into the reign of grace, it is definitely sufficient in our walk of faith. I think it is pretty refreshing that we can be naked before God, as we can’t with man, as the father ‘covers’ for us on the outside. It is important that you read God’s word. It offers such a sweet reassurance that He is the custodian of all that we need; peace from the prince of peace, strength from the lion of Judah, joy in his presence and sanctuary, and so forth. Talk to Him, and when you can’t, let your heart remind Him of ‘your stock chats,’ of promises made. You might not even see or feel it, but God’s unconditional, unbelievable, undeniable, indescribable love is present; shielding and clothing you. You will wear that gown with the dignity and confidence it deserves and demands. You will not make any justifications for it, because there is none; only unmerited favor.

Blessings!!

When did you last see your mother?

Rambanya, when did the gap between your two front teeth get so wide?

Oh dear.

Your neck…It used to be longer. Longer than that palm tree you told me you liked to climb when you were thirteen.

Ati you don’t like milk that much anymore?

Heee! Mummy! Remember when you would let me do matutas on your hair and I would freak out about those three silver strands? Why were you growing old? I wanted to pull them out, but you stopped me. Uproot one, and three would grow back in its place, you said. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, twenty…I can’t count them all. Wow, mother. Why did you let them near your strands?

Around your eyes…Are those wrinkl…No. I won’t say it.

Grace is not just the middle name you don’t use, it is the way you seem to be aging, gracefully.

You have changed a lot Min Okiso. Right before my eyes.

Where have I been?

I have missed so much.

But;

This your  unveiling is the most important event I have attended in the recent past.

I thought, no…knew, yours to be the purest, most perfect soul. Who would have thought that it would further evolve to achieve even greater perfection?

I am in awe, Da Skylar gi Don.

It is richer. It radiates and smells of a refreshing newness. You know, like deep fried omena after a long fast.

Believe me…

I feel it in your hugs. They are tighter.

I taste it in your chapatis. They have always been the best, but now, there are layers and layers of tenderness. A heartfelt nostalgia of chapati Sundays.

I see it in your eyes. The way they light up when you talk about your grandchildren and your home back in the village. You want to live. Live longer. Better.

I hear it in your voice. Well, apart from your commentaries during the Naija movies 😂 It is in the way you laugh. The brief playful giggles too. Once upon a time, there was this little girl called Carren…

Carren. What a beautiful name.

Can you smell that mum? No, not what The Rock is cooking! (I see you rolling your eyes! Stop it!) There is love in the air. What does love smell like? I guess one will know when the aroma passes your nose. Perception.

There is an unfolding. A process of rediscovering the love of self. A relearning. I truly admire your glow! See your glow!

Hashtag #Following.

I am following for myself.

You will not lose me this time around ma.

I see you. Every bit.

God bless you.

Happy #MothersDay!

When did you last see your mother? Not for what she was, but who she is and becoming? 

Glossary.

Rambanya- The Dholuo word for Diastema.

Da- Short for Dani, grandmother.

Gi- and

A Toothache, blind date and other stories

Why do toothaches get worse at night? Do they feel the need to fill up the silence and peace that take over from the day’s madness with their stinging conversations with the nerves? Or it it punishment for all the days we (read I) eat Oreo cookies in bed, then get too lazy to go brush? Needless to say, I did not get an ounce of sleep last night. I stayed up reading ‘Dust,’ by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, listening to the water pump humming the night away and judging (mostly cursing) those wretched neighbors walking in at three and not even trying to be discreet. At dawn’s first light, I ran into the bathroom a tired mess thinking of one person, the dentist.

On another day, I would have double checked the contents of my bag. I would have made sure I had the office keys, wallet, kindle and the lemon and strawberry water. Not today. All I could think of was getting that monster away from me. 

The matatu pulled up and the five of us waiting at the stop scrambled in, never mind that it was literally empty. From my seat behind the driver, I thought about how we had gotten so used to fighting our way through everything that even when a situation needed no force, we felt the need to assert our might. When I was not too preoccupied with the pain, I actually noticed what a beautiful morning it was. The sun’s rays sliced through the thick mist making it quite obvious that a takeover was imminent. Little hands locked into bigger ones as mothers walked their children to school. I felt my mood lift as the air got lighter, until the suited guy next to me motioned me to shut the window. I rolled my eyes and took a few seconds before I slid it shut. I winced as at that very moment, someone let out a series of hollow coughs. A toothache from hell was not enough, I had to get TB too?

The conductor was collecting the fare. I reached into my bag, calmly searching the first compartment for my purse. Then the second. Then panic when I couldn’t find it in the third. I repeated the process, almost emptying the contents of the bag onto my lap. Then I saw it. It was lying casually on my bedside table, oblivious of the trouble I was in because of its position. I sighed and looked helplessly at the conductor, “I think I have left my wallet at home. Do you take M-pesa?” He looked at me as if I was the most annoying thing he had ever come across. “Madam unataka kulipa fifty bob na Mpesa? Aii. Tiga wana weh!” He wasn’t going to let me pay through mobile money transfer. His knuckles knocked on the window alerting the driver to stop. “Shuka utafute Mpesa utoe hiyo doe.” No one flinched as I alighted to look for an Mpesa shop at eight thirty in the morning. I watched the matatu speed away as I took in my surroundings. No Mpesa shops. I wanted to cry, but no tears would come out. I just felt my insides flood. 

I must have been a most awful sight, because a man stopped and asked me if I was alright. He listened as I explained my predicament, eyeballing me for potential con woman qualities (I assumed). I could hardly believe my luck when he offered me some cash, enough to get me to town. When I told him I could refund him immediately through Mpesa, he declined and walked away, wishing me a much better day than the crappy morning I was having. I made a mental note to do a Facebook post later to celebrate this rare species of a human being.

I had no appointment, so I sat at the reception hoping for a miracle. The receptionist had already made it clear that the morning slots were all taken, but I wouldn’t budge. Every now and then, she would remind me that they wouldn’t bend the rules just because my tooth was “giving me a little trouble.” Little trouble? Lately I feel like some of these receptionists need to be given a high five, with a chair, on their faces. Little trouble indeed. There was no one else waiting with me. I preoccupied myself with the interior design, wondering why this had not been placed there and that there. When the doctor finally walked out, I gave him the most pitiful look. He asked what procedure I was there for and I said “This tooth is killing me!” The last couple of days had been terrible, so much so that when I walked out of the operating room an hour and a half later, the relief felt like something foreign; like a holiday in Hawaii after a busy year digging up minerals at a quarry in Homabay.

I was suddenly so upbeat that when a client requested a lunch time meeting, I accepted. I never do impromptu meetings but the new burst of life gave me such a confidence boost. I made my way towards the Yala Mall and settled into the leather seats at the Africana restaurant where we had agreed to meet. I ordered a drink then took to sizing up the place. Ever since the the attack on Westgate happened, I always look for possible escape routes available in and around an establishment. It now comes ever so naturally that I don’t think it unusual that I still live in fear of something that happened a while back. Better safe than sorry, is my mantra. I note only one exit and decide to push the anxiety to the back of my mind and focus instead on the people at the lunch tables. I recall one of my writing mentors telling me, “…stories are everywhere. You just need to look, snoop and spy a little…or a lot!” 

I had never met this client before, so I had no idea how she looked. She had however described what she was wearing so I would recognize her when she walked in. A few minutes later, I stood to receive her as she walked towards me, only for her to walk past me to the table next to mine. Confused, I looked at the text she had sent me and then at her. The description was spot on. I stole glances at her every few seconds then finally decided to go ask her if she was Molyne. 

“Get away from me!” She jumped, instinctively picking up the steak knife. “I have seen the way you have been looking at me. What do want?” 

More than the look of terror on her face was the look on mine, shock.

Are you Molyne?

She was Carol

Mercy Nairobi, Mercy.

Nairobi is unashamedly brutal.

Gitonga thinks so, and quite frankly, I agree.

Why? I’ll explain in a bit. Let me begin by telling you how I met Gitonga…

The Nakuru Whole sellers Market has not changed much. It is still the market of my childhood. My siblings and I would fight for a chance to come to the market to help mama with Saturday shopping. Not that we loved the experience. If anything, it was quite tiring, but the allure of a Lyons Maid ice-cream treat after shopping was incentive enough. My visits here are now far and in between, mostly in December when I am home for the holidays. I am here today to buy some fresh green maize for nyoyo, a popular Kenyan dish made by boiling a mixture of maize and beans. I am trying out mother’s recipe, replacing beans with chick peas. It is healthier and a welcome reprieve from the beans that always leave me bloated. I ask a woman wearing an apron in a material strangely similar to my primary school uniform where the maize section is.

Habari Madam? Naweza pata wapi mahindi mbichi?

She points out and adds. “Na uchunge usifungiwe huko ndani” I look at my watch. 2:30pm

As I make my way towards the maize dealers, I suddenly become aware of my look; too clean. I am conspicuous in my orange knee length dress and sea blue sandals. One does not simply clean up this well when heading to a farmer’s market. The more well dressed you are, the more you will be charged. It is a proven concept. The sellers size you up from head to toe then determine the market price. Reminds me of the Engarasha (also bend over boutique) hawkers who change the price of the shoe as soon as they see my number 9 self approaching. One minute he is hollering “Mia biri, mia biri! Kiatu mia biri. Camera!” As soon as I express interest in a rare No.9 shoe he did not even know he had, the story changes. “Msupa si unajua tu hii size vire ni ngumu kuget? Nimekufanyia bei poa. Chukua na soo nane. Nayo ni kitu sawa. Itakuserve.” How the price shot up from Ksh. 200 to Ksh. 800 is not quite the mystery. Shopping for us #BigFootInc, a team I have chaired since I was 10, can get quite frustrating. Anyway, I make peace with the fact that today, I fall victim to that misguided formula. But it is Sunday, the 1st day of January 2017. One must hope. The seller is probably a Catholic faithful who visited the confession booth this morning and told the priest how sorry he was for taking (read stealing) from his brothers and sisters this past year under the economy dip guise. The priest, after listening patiently had assured him that his sins had been forgiven.

“Go and sin no more.”

This side of the market is mostly abandoned. My nose soon gets used to the smell. It is a fusion of fresh onions, rotting tomatoes, sweet overripe mangoes and dampness. A light breeze throws my rosy perfume into the mix. For a brief second, I notice a man doing I don’t know what. I keep moving. The men at the maize section do not seem too eager to make a sale. Maybe it is the heat. Though offering some reprieve, the heat under the iron roofed shelter is almost as unforgiving as the one beyond. I ask again and someone points me to a small hill of green maize.

“Tatu twenty-five hapo madam, Chagua.” Three cobs for twenty-five shillings seems fair.

A young man speaking with a slight lisp offers me a gunny bag for twenty shillings. I decline. I start my selection process. I want maize worth a hundred shillings. I pick one, part the fresh green covers and feel the maize inside. If it is too hard or too soft, I throw it back. I put the chosen ones next to my right foot and repeat. That man I saw doing I don’t know what approaches me and offers to help. I know he will ask for some sort of payment when done, so I tell him I am alright. This is the season Kenyans like to call ‘Njaanuary,’ loosely translated to mean ‘a starving January.’ The hustle is real. The wallet dry spell is common during this first month of the year, coming hot in the heels of an extravagant festive season.

“Ah, utaninunulia tu chai.” He says with a smile.

I know that he does not literally mean chai. Who, except my brothers and sisters from Western Kenya, can drink tea in this heat? Anyway, it is New Year’s Day; I should be able to buy a stranger a cup of tea.

“So what’s your name?”

“Gitonga”

Minutes later, he offers to carry the load for me, again, ‘free of charge.’

“Wewe hukuenda nyumbani mwaka mpya?”

“Aii. Going home between Christmas and New Year is a waste of money. The fare to Meru, my home is double the normal price. Then when I get home, everyone expects this working class of a man to share his wealth. What wealth? Anyway, I would rather go when status quo resumes. These matatu guys will soon be begging us to travel home.”

I nod in agreement, thinking of the extra two hundred shillings I had to pay from Nairobi.

“Haiya! Georgie amefunga gate!” It is a few minutes past three. The gate is closed. The woman had warned not me to stay too long.

“Georgie is a stickler for rules. He will not open this gate till 3.30pm. We’ll have to wait.” Gitonga adds that the wholesale market hours have to be regulated to allow the retailers to sell their goods. Customers are aware of the price difference between the two sections so naturally, they throng the wholesale area deserting the retailers.

I look at my watch again. Ten minutes past three. Gitonga sits on a dirty crate. He reaches into a black polythene bag he just fished from his pocket. Miraa. I should have guessed. Merus and Miraa are like Luhyas and tea. Inseparable. A green leaf finds its way into his mouth. I notice his dry, slightly cracked lips. Maybe he does need that tea. Unlike other miraa consumers I have come across, he does not have  any drink with him. I watch, a little intrigued as he continues chewing on his Khat. I admire his carefree nature. I still have a long way home, so I remain standing. We do not want to mess up our Sunday Best now, do we?

“Miraa is better than alcohol. A man who eats miraa never fails in bed. I can’t say the same for an alcoholic.” He says when I inquire about this habit.

I try not to look bothered by the high jump our conversation had taken. I had simply asked him why he felt the need to eat miraa. Sex drive tena? Ghai! I successfully shift the conversation to livelihood, but not before he makes it clear that Meru men never need a “10 Natural Ways to Boost Your Libido” article because they never fall short in the first place.

“So what exactly do you do here in the market?”

“My day starts early. I am always here by 5:30 am. There are truck loads of food arriving from different parts of the country. I offload the goods then stick around the whole day for odd jobs here and there. Sometimes, these traders give me goods they feel would not be as fresh the following day, at a reduced price of course. I then wait till rush hour when I head over to the bus stages and sell them to the ones who were too busy to come to the market. I can make up to Ksh. 2000 on a good day. On a bad day, I walk home and hope my wife had better luck. She is a good woman, that one. Are you buying anything else? You had better make use of this time. There are tomatoes and mangoes there.”

I assure him I have all I need.

There are three other men waiting for the gates to open. One of them says, “Ni vile tu nina njaa, ningekuwa nimeruka gate.” The other one warns him against it, and goes on to narrate an incident where a man lost his ring finger while trying to jump over the gate.

Gitonga asks why he has never seen me in the market before.

“You can’t possibly know everyone who comes to this market.”

“I know, but you are hard to miss.”

I smile. Gitonga is on a mission.

“I work in Nairobi”

“Really? I have worked in Nairobi before. Weh! That city is not for the weak. Even the strong are not strong enough for Nairobi and her tribulations. I used to be a hawker. We would engage the City Council officers in running battles. When you are caught, you are either beaten to a pulp or shoved into their old rickety vans and transported to the council cells. The lucky ones would negotiate and bribe their way out before they get to the cursed holding cells. When you allow yourself to get to that point, there is no telling what they will charge you with. God help you. But we always went back to the streets. Watoto lazima wakule. You get used to it. I think no one should have to get used to such a life. I’m glad I got out. Weh! Nairobi showed me!”

hawkers-running

Hawkers in running battles with city council officers.  (Photo: Internet)

I have a feeling I have not heard half of what this man went through. Just then, the gates fly open, and a man standing tall at over 6 feet and wearing a faded brown coat calls out, “Haya, watu waende nyumbani.”

Tom Mboya Street is its usual chaotic self. The new year did not bring any surprises. Different commuter buses still pack here. People queue up waiting for buses still stuck in Nairobi’s notorious traffic jams. There is one particularly long winding queue. The Kikuyu one is always like that. There is never a queue with the matatus I use. Only two seats left at the back of the one that’s waiting. I opt to wait for the next one.

I look around to see what wares the hawkers have today. There are fruits, clothes, shoes, toys, among other things. They are all laid out on both sides of the pavement, making it very hard for pedestrians to navigate through. Suddenly, a mini commotion. A group of men, one of them dread-locked, is moving from one hawker to another demanding something. Two of the guys in the group are carrying big polythene bags. If someone resists, they take a few pieces of their wares and move along. They get closer and I hear the guy with the locs, seemingly the leader say, “Fifty bob!” A woman places the money into his palm and he goes to the next one. As they pass by, I see a woman tugging at one of the paper bags. She is screaming.

“..but I have paid! Rasta? Si nimekulipa na huyu amechukuwa vitu zangu. Mwambie anirudishie.”

Rasta is too busy collecting money to hear. Now a few meters ahead, he notices that someone in his entourage is not with him. The woman is still putting up a fight. Rasta runs back, quite agitated and starts roughing up the woman. She is relentless. Rasta is getting impatient. He gives her a final shove that almost sends her to the ground. The group moves on. The woman, not more than 5 ft tall is at a loss. She stands rooted to the spot and says over and over again, “I paid them. 50 bob! And they still took my stuff.” Heartbreaking. Her colleagues just look at her, faces empathetic but mostly helpless. Their loud wooing calls to customers soon drown out her voice.

Meanwhile, rasta is quarreling with a man. They are now standing nose to nose, and I fear a fight will break out. It doesn’t. They both head out in opposite directions. As the man walks past me in a huff, I ask him, “Kwani Kanjo wanafanya job usiku?”

“Hawa si kanjo. Nkt! Mafala hao”

I have seen enough. I get into the bus, now halfway full. If rasta and his troupe are not the city council, who are they? Thugs terrorizing and milking people of their hard earned 50 shillings? Are they any different from Mungiki and other criminal groups who controlled the transport industry in selected hoods in Nairobi a while back? I can’t shake off that woman’s high pitched cry for help. But this is Nairobi. Every. Man. For. Himself. Everyone else is too busy avoiding the trap to help. Even our President does not know what do. Mercy Nairobi, Mercy.

 

Does Kenya Need a New Independence Day?

12th December is Jamhuri Day in Kenya.

Jamhuri is the Swahili word for “republic” and the holiday is meant to officially mark the date of Kenya’s independence which happened on 12 December 1963.

A majority of Kenyans however, do not feel like the past 53 years offer much in celebration, what with corruption scandals being the order of the day. The health sector is in crisis, and the country mourns the death of at least 40 people killed in a highway explosion this past Saturday. In fact, as the President leads the country in celebration at the Nyayo National Stadium in nation’s capital, a group is at the City Centre, protesting. According to a poster doing rounds online, they are urging citizens to “#TakeBackKenya and take a stand against corruption.”

(As Reported by Standard Media on Twitter) BREAKING NEWS: Police use teargas to disperse a protest dubbed #TakeBackKenya along Moi Avenue, Nairobi; three people arrested

So is Kenya really free? One Dr. Wandia Njoya, a lecturer at a local university, offers her thoughts.

“Jamhuri Day, 2016. We’re supposed to be celebrating independence and nationhood. But Kenya feels less like a nation and more like a den of hustlers and crooks. The majority hustle while the minority loot. Nationhood is supposed to affirm our maturity and our ability to plan and run our own lives. Instead, we now suffer a medical strike about which we were forewarned, and 40 people have died in a road disaster that was shocking, but that has been in the making. We Kenyans have been unable to build a civilization, planting trees under whose shade we will not sit.

The United States celebrates its independence on 4th July, when some white men, some of them slaveholders, wrote a declaration of independence. France commemorates its revolution on 14th July, when French citizens stormed the Bastille prison, an icon of the monarchy. Haiti celebrates independence on 1st January, when Dessalines declared the nation of slaves to be free, and renamed the country after the indigenous people who had been wiped out. It is only in Africa where independence is celebrated on the date when the oppressors shook our hands and pretended to “hand over” nationhood to us. No wonder Lumumba had to remind the Congolese that they were not receiving independence from Belgium; they were commemorating their struggle.

We need a new date for independence.1 One whose pictures are of Kenyans raising fists in the air, or asserting their own freedom, not of Prince Philip handing over a paper to Kenyatta because the head of state, Queen Elizabeth, did not even consider Kenya a state with a head whose hand was worth shaking.

When Kenya has the revolution, I hope she will change the date of independence from the date when Prince somebody handed over the colonial mantel to Kenyatta, to a date when Kenyans asserted their freedom and humanity. A day besides the 12th of December whose fruits of independence are not even bitter. They’re poisonous.”

Dr. Wandia Njoya

An egg and a bangle

There is nothing as satisfying as gradually seeing a child’s face go from “I really don’t know what you are talking about” to lighting up with understanding. To see eager hands raised ready to answer questions or ask some more. For anyone charged with passing out knowledge and skills, this (in my opinion) is the ultimate.

We were out on an education trip in Samburu County, an area called Chumviere. As usual, I was there to document, in photos and video, the mobile education lessons that Save the Elephants conducts up north.  My back was killing me, thanks to the rocky path that we like to call a road. I enjoy these sessions, but on this particular day, I simply wanted to get back to camp and rest. Just before we ended the lesson, my colleagues suggested I take over the question and answer session, to test the students’ comprehension and grasp of the topic. We had gifts too. So anyone who answered correctly got some sort of stationery item. Soon, the classroom was a delightful spectacle; with  hands flying, students running to the chalkboard to label something and trying to outdo each other on speed tests.

rjwalter_save-the-elephants_samburu-kenya_march-2015-6871

Photo: R.J Walters

It wasn’t long before we had run out of gifts. To wrap up, I decided to give a short pep talk on sharing and gratitude. I love it when I have a chance to impart more than curriculum to the kids. Values will take you further than anything you might learn from the normal school syllabus. I think.

 

“Teacher Trezer!”

I heard someone call out as I walked back to the car. I turned to see a tall, slender boy running towards me. I wondered what I had forgotten. I felt my pocket for my mobile phone and did a quick scan inside the brown box I was carrying; I couldn’t tell, so I waited.

He was almost out of breath when he got to me. I sensed some hesitation as he reached into his pocket and held out towards me a yellow bangle and an egg. I looked at the contents of his hand, then at his face. What was this?

As if sensing my unspoken need for clarification, the timid smile on his lips gave way to these words…

“I thought about what you said in class, about giving even when you could do with more yourself, and always saying thank you. Please accept this as my thank you to you for coming to Chumviere today.”

I stood there, lost for words, as his eyes pleaded with me to accept the gifts. I did. It took a lot not to tear up…(I can be a cry baby :D)…because this was, and still is the sweetest gesture anyone has ever extended to me. Raw and genuine. A bangle and an egg don’t seem like much, but coming from this young man, they spoke volumes. Eggs are such a luxury in these parts. I could even imagine the kind of meal he had envisioned  having after school, but here he was giving it to me. I don’t know why he chose the bangle though; maybe he thought the egg would be too little a gift by itself. Whatever his reasons were, I was moved.

I wore my bangle immediately and didn’t take it off for the duration of the week long trip. Every time I got frustrated about the heat, dust storms and long days, my yellow bangle would remind me about the ‘why’ and the impact on these great minds. This young man’s small act had succeeded in getting me to appreciate that what would seem like ‘just another day at work,’ is in fact an opportunity to inspire.

What a world it would be, if everyone of us was as receptive as this boy was! If each one of us acted out on what we know as right, and strive to see, do and commend the good around us. What a world it would be! How about I start practicing what I preach? Here, catch!

“Thank you for stopping by and taking time to read 🙂 I hope it was worth your time. Remember,  you’ve got the ammunition to make someone smile today. Do it! You will be happy you did :)”

 

 

Remembering Tom

Everyone knew Tom. He was the dark-skinned guy who sat outside a tailoring shop along the infamous Kanu Street in Nakuru County. He sat on the ground, always surrounded by heaps and piles of shoes.  His little space was fenced by three wooden benches, where clients waited while he worked. Next to him was a shoe shiner.

Tom owned a bicycle, which to me was the only indication that he was not crippled. Not once did I see him up on his feet. He worked on the shoes throughout the day. His hands had over the years been darkened and hardened by the leather and glue. His index finger was like a glue stick, he could never wash that stuff off. I knew he came from my tribe, because sometimes, I heard him speak the same language my mum and dad spoke.

Tom was a constant. I think he went to church on Sundays… I am not sure, but other than that, he never missed a day of work. He would be there when I came home from school and on Saturdays too when the neighborhood kids ran round the dusty Freehold Estate. In the evenings, men would gather at his base and discuss politics. My father was one of the men. At dusk, Tom would pack all the shoes into a sack and store them inside that tailoring shop.

My family was neither poor nor rich. We were not average either. If there is a class between poor and average, we were it. My siblings and I would be required, by circumstances, to be extra careful with our school shoes. School shoes would by extension serve as Sunday best, especially for the boys. It was therefore paramount that they last till we outgrew them. We loved playing football, so we found a way to play bare feet. No hustle. But kids will always be kids, and we would forget and kick at rocks and climb trees till the shoes laughed. We would get a good beating, and then get sent to Tom with two shillings, sometimes more, depending on how hard the shoe had laughed. Our shoes survived the 90s because, Tom.

Once, my father, who worked for the government, got a transfer to Oyugis town. We parked our bags and moved from the Rift Valley to Nyanza province.  When we moved back two years later, Tom was still there. For over 15 years, he sat with the shoes during the day, entertained guests in the evenings and then went home when the sun went down.

Then Tom died.

I was in the university when I got the news. I didn’t cry. I can’t quite describe what I felt, but if I am to try, I would say a profound sense of loss. When Tom died, he took with him a chunk of my childhood. He was one of the few connections I still had with a childhood I treasure so much. In hindsight, no one ever said they wanted to be Tom when they grew up. We all wanted to be doctors and engineers and pilots. We did not think anyone could do Tom’s job. It was his. Tom was an institution.

People like Tom are not supposed to die.

I found out today, while reminiscing about Tom with my mum, that he was Ja Kano (one from the Kano plains in Nyanza). That is where he was buried. My father is Ja Kano too, which makes me Nya Kano. Mum says Tom’s work was so good; there wasn’t another cobbler for miles. Everyone brought their shoes to him. He was diligent, faithful. During the weekends, a cobbler friend of his, Ja Alego, would move from his base in the Central Business District and come sit with Tom. The unspoken truth was that Tom was king, and he had quite a following.

Today, as I sat on a bench in Nairobi, waiting for Onyango to repair my blue sandals, I missed Tom. It is six years since he passed on. I see him now, his long experienced fingers intricately stitching my Bata shoes. He doesn’t say much. His short hair is brown from the notorious Nakuru dust. Now I notice the lines on his forehead. I think of his throne back home. His son sits on it. He lives.

Today, 20th October, is Mashujaa Day in Kenya; Heroes Day. Today I remember Tom.

 

**First published on akomanet.com on 20th October 2016