Families feel the pinch of love and death in adversity
By Amos Kareithi | March 28th 2020
For the first time in generations, matters of the heart are being dictated by the cold, hard world of science. Love, death and everything in between is being decided by the phrase: self-isolation.
In a world battling to save itself from the coronavirus pandemic, humanity is relearning what love really is, the loneliness that death can truly bring and the fears that every mother has of bringing a child into a world full of uncertainties.
The dead are being sent off unceremoniously with no time to mourn or celebrate them. In one clean sweep, the dead have become anonymous, with no eulogies or elaborate ceremonies to mark their passing.
Those seeking to tie the knot and make their relationship intimate, officially, have to put their plans on hold. Neither a hug, let alone a kiss is safe anymore. There are no more baby showers and the sick are battling their bugs without expecting a visitor, a flower or a get-well-soon card.
Sense of urgency
When we trace Francis Kamanga to his abode in Kajiado, notes from Bobby McFerrin's uplifting song, Don't Worry Be Happy, float around his sitting room. They are from his phone and they communicate a sense of urgency. His love life is in turmoil, the melodies contradict the atmosphere in the compound.
As the phone rings, the owner is carefully anointing his hands with surgical spirit before he answers the phone. From snippets of Kamanga's answers to the caller, it is evident the subject of the call is his impending wedding.
He and his fiancee, Caroline Pere have spent some nail-biting days which seem never to end. And yet there appears to be no silver lining in sight.
"We are waiting for Sunday. By that time, I will communicate. Right now, we do not know whether to hold the wedding or not. Yes, I know but there is nothing we can do right now," he tells the party on the other end of the line.
And with a sigh, Kamanga terminates the call, sanitises his hands and then focuses on the problem that has been gnawing on his mind for the last two weeks.
"I wanted to give her the dream wedding. She deserves it and we had started planning our wedding quite early. But all our plans have been laid to waste by this coronavirus," Kamanga explains.
Caroline too is devastated. It has been a long wait since her childhood friend Kamanga proposed to her on October 2 last year. Her smile is infectious when she recalls the day she agreed to marry her love.
"We had known each other for 15 years. We first met when we were "monos" during the holiday tuition in 2004 in Kajiado town. I was a First Former at Senior Chief Koinange then and Kamanga was at Kiambu High School. From then on, we would meet during school holidays in Kajiado."
Even after secondary school, the two never lost touch and it was only natural that after clearing university education the lovebirds would be united as one in holy matrimony.
At first, they intended to hold their wedding on April 15 but when they approached Rev Micheal Njige, of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, Kitengela parish, they learnt that another couple had already booked the date. That is how they settled on April 25.
"We were planning a modest wedding. We had in mind 700 guests but we knew that this number could increase. After all a wedding is a celebration for friends, relatives and the church," Caroline said.
And to ensure that everything went according to plan, the couple had scheduled a pre-wedding party tomorrow at PCEA Kajiado. Another one was to be held on April 4 in Kitengela.
"When the government announced coronavirus cases in Kenya, I was disturbed. I realised there was no way the wedding could go on as planned unless things normalised," Caroline said.
But even as she prays for a miracle, she is afraid that she either has to put the wedding plans on hold or have a mock one which will be attended by only five people.
"The church has said it cannot allow a gathering of more than five. That is the bride, groom the best couple and the presiding minister. The ceremony should not take more than 30 minutes," Kamanga explained.
Although he had already bought the wedding rings and made a down payment for the grounds and some of the services like photography, he counts himself lucky because his love can wait.
He has heard of hair-raising tales where a couple which had spent close Sh500,000 in procuring services like outside catering, photography, seats and bridal gowns and transport ended up having a 30-minute ceremony.
"There were no flower girls. Only ten people attended the wedding. The couple was joined by parents from both sides. After the ceremony, they just went home as they could not go for a honeymoon," Kamanga said.
He said rather than hold a sham wedding, he would wait and see whether by the end of the 30 day-ban announced by the church, things will have normalised. That is why the wedding committees were still holding virtual meetings, just in case the situation improves.
"I am still hopeful that the wedding can go on but looking at how long China took before lifting the lockdown, chances of postponing the wedding are still very high," he added.
But even as Kamanga and Caroline hold their collective breath, praying for their big day, those who have lost their loved ones during this period have undergone untold suffering.
There is no perfect time to die. But for those currently in mourning it is not just the waiting that eats them up. It is more than that. It is the solitude. It is not having as many shoulders to lean on as would have been. It is the sitting around and answering calls from well-wishers who would ordinarily condole with them in person.
On Friday, when Peter Munyasia, a Ford Kenya supporter was buried in Saboti, there were no political speeches. His friends too were missing while some brave villagers peered at his low key send off from a distance. Only his immediate relatives were at the graveside in one of the shortest burial ceremonies ever held in the area.
Hundreds of kilometers away, in Murang'a, when Michael Gathekia lost his brother, Athony Ngewa (39), he expected that he could lean on the clan's shoulder for assistance in order to give his sibling a decent send off.
This was not to be. Only 15 relatives would be allowed at the burial ceremony. There were no meetings to plan Ngewa's burial or to remind each other in hushed tones of the times they spent together. There were no photographers to immortalise the sombre ceremony.
"The chief had told us not to exceed this number. We had to turn away some cousins. This was the weirdest burial I have ever attended," Mr Gathekia said.
Another family in Gikambura, Kiambu County too will live to remember the coronavirus pandemic after they were ordered to inter a relative who had died two days earlier in a record 30 minutes. Like Gathekia's family, in the second burial, only 15 relatives were allowed to participate in the final rites.
The predicament of families who have lost their relatives is best captured by death notices which are being published in the newspapers in the wake of the pandemic.
While announcing the death of Perminus Ngugi Mburu, the family told their friends: "Burial preparations are taking place at his home in Nyororo, Lanet farm, Nakuru. Due to Covid-19 outbreak, the government directives for burial service is limited to only 15 immediate family members."
The same fate befell friends of Christine Angila Omulando, a long-serving journalist who died in a road accident in Nairobi. Most of her friends could not attend the burial on March 25 at Soi farm in Likuyani. They were strictly observing the government's directive concerning public gathering.
Another family, still in Kiambu has however taken advantage of coronavirus to outwit another branch they had been feuding with over the ownership of a piece of land. When one of the family members succumbed to an illness, his immediate relatives removed his body very early on a Wednesday and interred him next to his grandfather on a disputed piece of land.
By the time the other branch of the family realised what was happening, the burial had already taken place in Kabuku and all they could do was complain and demand that the body be exhumed.
Life under the shadow of the pandemic is teaching humanity what really matters. That it is not the wealth. Neither is it the title deeds nor the high walls that build around us. It is the little moments of intimacy that define us.
The simple acts of holding a lover’s hand down the aisle as overzealous aunts ululate. Or of drying a friend's tears after the loss of a loved one. Or just cooing at a new born’s face, trying to figure out whether the ears on them come from the father’s or mother’s side.
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