She lay on a piece of a bag of maize. Her frail frame covered only by a piece of cloth so tattered one could no longer tell whether it was a dress or a sheet once upon a time. For a pillow, she has made a tiny ball out of rugs.
Among her possessions were two sufurias, a metal box and nothing else. Her kitchen consisted of three stones and some sticks. Poverty to the West is spending less than two dollars a day, she clearly had never spent half a dollar in any day of her life.
She lay down that previous night to die. To let life sip through her breath. Her chest was congested, her frame frail and her hope faded. Her stomach had stopped rumbling days ago, her hunger so severe that she couldn’t move. Her body had eaten itself, leaving only skin and bone to represent life and existence.
She lived in a beautiful valley, between rolling hills and such beautiful shrubbery. She lived as her ancestors lived and was dying just as if she lived in those early years.
She had not been to hospital, the nearest one was 30km away. If she walked the heat and hunger would kill her and if she rode on a motorbike her bones would break. So she lay down to die. In her beautiful valley in her acres of dry parched earth.
Her son had left for the local town to drink chang’aa. The town consisted of two shops and a posho mill. The main economic activity was waiting for a miracle. He woke up every day hoping a well-wisher would come by to give him work or food or a few coins. There were no phones so news of his mother’s state was slow in reaching him and mostly he didn’t want to know how she was. In this poverty, the old are a chore one would rather avoid for their own survival. It was a tough choice but chang’aa would help dull the pain.
She turned on her bed and remembered and worried about her daughter who had just given birth. She was elated at the news, but at the same time worried. How would she breast feed a child on a diet that was most likely a meal every two or so days?
She wished she were in better health. She would have walked the 15km to fetch some water and the other 3km to get the water to her daughter. She remembered how her first born daughter had survived on ugali and salt for months. And when the flour was about to run out, she would mix in soil so that the hunger pangs would not be as severe.
She remembered her grandson who was not admitted at the school, which was 12km away, for the very grave issue of lacking uniform. Never mind that the school neither has enough text books nor teachers. Their biggest concern was that the young man needed uniform. Perhaps uniform was a prerequisite to understanding and knowledge absorption, she didn’t know. All she knew is that uniforms cost money and the coins she had were not enough.
She had made peace with God, to send an angel to save her or to let her die, in her valley on her piece of gunia on her land and her terms. She was at her wits end. Hope had faded, this twilight would be the twilight of her life.
We struggled to enter her small hut - my frame was too big for its door. We had been told about her, that villagers hadn’t seen her for days and the elders feared that she may have died. We struggled to wake her, hoping she wasn’t dead. She sat up, nothing covering her chest. I was scandalised, my city decency had met with reality. I sat on one of her stones and tried to keep the tears from rolling down my cheeks.
She didn’t have a seasonal famine problem, her entire existence was riddled with insurmountable challenges for a person of her education and means. In good times she ate one unbalanced meal a day. Very good times were when she had a cup of tea with ugali and if she was lucky a piece of meat donated by a neighbour in the wake of a feast that ended the life of a precious goat.
She worried not about electricity, roads or ballot boxes. Yet she wondered how ballot boxes and exam papers got to the next village, where the school was, but never any help. Was it more important that they voted than they lived, more important they failed exams than they ate?
Nothing made sense, Nairobi and Kenya were distant realities. As I sat there in silence and she narrated her life between long pauses and sips of the milk we had brought her, it dawned on me; this was the state of our nation.
For indeed a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and I had found our weakest, our most disadvantaged.
Her village gave me a message to send, and I hope I can do that message justice. They told me to tell you, they are not lazy and they are not thieves. Some of them steal cattle yes, but that doesn’t make all of them thieves. Just like you have thieves in Nairobi they have thieves too. Little do they know that the Nairobi thieves had stolen their water programmes, their aid and their future. Their death and dying is the wealth in our politics.
Mr Bichachi is a communication consultant. [email protected]
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