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‘This is the happiest day of life’

BUSINESS
By | March 30th 2010

By Mosota Mang’oa

This might sound stranger than fiction, but it is true in both fact and substance. Forty one years ago, a young Kenyan student won a scholarship to study in Germany.

While there, he befriended a German girl whom he put in the family way. But the politics of the day disapproved of children born out of wedlock, even more, those born out of mixed-race relationships.

Lund meets stepmother Mary Kalegi Odida, who invited him to build a house at their home near Kisumu. Photo: James Keyi/Standard

It appears the latter was the motivation for the young woman’s concealment of the pregnancy from her young lover, who would remain unaware of the life that sprouted from the union.

The young mother delivered a boy that she surrendered for adoption. A few months later a Danish couple came calling and adopted the boy, taking him with them to Denmark.

Lifelong questioning

Last weekend, Jesper Lund arrived in a homesteade, just outside Kisumu to meet the father he had never met, and whose presence has offered closure to life-long questioning about his past and his unique heritage.

The search lasted seven years, ending last week who gladly accepted as his sixth child, and pointed to the spot where, in keeping with tradition, he should build his house.

In an emotional reunion, Lund stood smiling, fighting back tears of joy, and the pain of meeting his biological father, Emman Odida, 74.

Odida, a former journalist, has been in retirement since 1990, having had a tour of duty in Germany and Nairobi as a press attachÈ and information officer, after earning a diploma through a scholarship from Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

His personal data from that foundation would form the basis of Lund’s investigation, which lasted seven years.

"It is fantastic, it is unbelievable. This is the happiest day of life," Lund, a biologist, beams, standing next to his father that he clearly resembles. The Kisumu reunion was dramatic. It started at a Kisumu hotel on Saturday at around 3pm. Lund travelled from Denmark on Friday, and arrived in Kisumu accompanied by lawyer Kakai Kissinger, whose firm helped him trace his father after seven months. The bespectacled, six feet tall man wearing a dark-grey pair trousers and a light-grey shirt kept shaking his head in disbelief as a short, rotund man grey-haired man slouched in his directions and extended a hand in greeting.

Amazingly, Odida had no idea whatsoever why he has been summoned by a Nairobi law firm to the Kisumu hotel, neither was he aware that a child had come out of relationship in Germany long time ago.

After a sumptuous meal lasting about one hour, Lund was then escorted home to Kamobon Village in South Nandi District where Odida lives.

The 10-kilometre journey seems to take more hours. As the two-car convoy makes is way into the compound, there is an eerie, the tention almost palpable, no doubt because nobody knows Odida’s wife, Mary Kalegi Odida, 69, will respond to the news.

Light-skinned man

"Karibu wageni (welcome visitors)," Mary says brightly, putting everyone at ease. Her eyes are riveted on the light-skinned man in the group.

Kissinger turns to Odida. Some introductions are in order, as I were, to put everything in perspective.

Odida stands up and clears his throat. He had scrutinised the documents that Lund had brought with him, including earlier pictures. History has caught up with him and he knows has to speak nothing but the truth.

"In March 1968," he starts, "while taking a journalism course in West Germany (now Germany), I befriended a local woman. She later gave birth to this man," he says pointing to Lund.

His gaze shifts from his son to his wife. His voice falters and tears come streaming.

"People always want to know their roots. And this is want Lund has done," he says, gathering himself together, "He has arrived home and is my seventh born. He is going to put up his house there," Kalegi interjects, as she points at a section of her compound.

Odida proposes that Lund be named Kihira, after his late grandfather, as the son rises up to share his experiences about his search for his father.

Mzee Emman Odida, 74, with his son Jesper Lund, 42, who traced him after seven years, and

"In 2003, I decided to make an effort to meet my biological parents. I knew it was a daunting task, but I was determined and had some clues," he says.

Lund adds that through the Internet and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation, which offers college scholarships to foreign students, he got to know that his biological father studied and worked in Germany. More crucially, he knew his father was Kenyan.

Odida once worked at the Kenyan Embassy in German as press attachÈ. When he returned to Kenya in late 1968, he worked as district information officer before moving to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from where he was posted to Germany as press attachÈ, before returning to Nairobi where he worked as an information officer until his retirement in 1990.

But while Odida was enjoyed his sunset years, his son was struggling to locate him.

"In 2004, I got my biological mother postal address. I wrote to her, but she replied and told me never to write to her. In short, she told me to sever links with her," explains Lund, with a tinge of sadness.

He says that Silole Mpoke, a Kenyan who has been living in Copenhagen, Denmark, and a friend to his foster parents, now deceased, provided the link to Kakai Mugalo Advocates.

Mpoke, a cultural-sociologist told Kissinger and Mugalo about Lund’s predicament.

"I am very excited for Lund," Mpoke says.

Lund says he started the painstaking search for his father in Bearch-a town in Germany where Odida first lived.

"I searched through around a library, and managed to get some important documents," he reveals.

Kissinger and Mugalo started the investigation in October last year, and assured their client that they would do their best.

They hired eight investigators to cover all the country’s provinces, and put adverts put in the local newspapers with the pictures of the old man.

Odida failed to see the notices. The investigators’ big break came last December, when they got information that Odida’s home was somewhere near Kisumu.

 

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