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Memories of mum: Gone but never forgotten

By Tony Mochama | May 9th 2021
Khalai Jimase, who lives in Saudi Arabia, lost her mother Mrs Edah Khavokha Manyonyi (pictured), earlier this week

I still remember it like it was yesterday.

One of the neighbourhood boys, Eric Mwangi, ringing the doorbell of another jirani’s house at about 8.30pm, back in the days when children (and even teenagers like myself, then) would eat lunch/supper or even breakfast at whichever home your adventures found you in; back in the early 1990s.

I cannot recall the exact words he used, but Mwangi had tears rolling down his cheeks.

And I gathered that my mother had collapsed in the house (stroke)!

I barged past Eric and ran till I ran out of breath; and found myself in a field we called ‘Bombay’ in Nairobi West (because it was a crescent full of Kenyan Asians), and that white moon orb filled the world.

I wept myself to a world of dreams where she was everywhere, then woke up to a chasm where she was nowhere.
And the sun on that early eastern horizon looked like gigantic blood-red egg yolk, smeared all over the azure.

Later, I returned to ‘Bombay.’ Lay on the ground in a field of short grass, willing it to grow over me, so I too turn into a skeleton as she will. And stared at the sky that was like a deep blue sea of air, a sky whose blue was a merciless scream into Eternity.

I find it ironic that this year my birthday falls on Mother’s Day, because mums bring us into this world. And when they leave, and leave the world and its deviousness and devices, those of us without mothers are often left feeling lost.

Mothers and memories, these are the(ir) stories that those who have lost their mothers tell to live, re-live, love and even laugh.

Khalai Jimase, who lives in Saudi Arabia, lost her mother Edah Khavokha Manyonyi, earlier this week. Edah was  from Shamakhokho village in Vihiga County, and after leaving Kaimosi Teachers’ College in 1956, she became the first female teacher in the location.

“Knit one, purl one, knit two together,” Khalai remembers her mother teaching her how to follow a pattern to knit a sweater, and thereafter embroidering flowers into table clothes.

“My mother was a teacher by week, and a tailor entrepreneur on weekends,” Khalai says. “She taught me how to work with my hands, and made the whole process enjoyable.”

When Khalai pictures her childhood, the image that comes is of her mother Edah bent over a sewing machine, and the constant soundtrack is of the machine needles, gently humming in the background like metronome.

Peter Nyaga, an author whose mother passed away when he was young, remembers their compound “always full of people, like a politician’s homestead” because his mother ran what in America they would call a ‘soup kitchen’ – where hungry folks are given food for free.

Chantal Adero says the biggest lesson she learned from her mother was that there’s no perfect time to begin any project. “Just start, she always said. God will meet you halfway into it ...”

Naima Omondi concurs, saying her late mother taught her that the world owes one nothing. “You have to go out there and hustle for it.” Her mother also loathed self-pity

“Two days to her death, as I wept by her sick bed, she said: ‘Mtaishi tuu. Si pia Martha (their cousin who was orphaned at five years old) ameishi?’” 

Naima says every time life gets rough, especially in these Covid-19 times, and she feels tempted to throw herself a pity party, she remembers those hard words from her dying mother. 

Also on the light side of lessons from late mothers, journalist Mutinda Munyao says his mother taught him to “never advice fools; they may become clever(er) than you,” while another journalist and humour columnist Ted Malanda says his mother taught him ‘common sense’ because as a child, “she said I didn’t have any, and she was right.”

How we coped

When one loses their mother, they have different coping and memory mechanisms.

Clara recalls with crystal clear alacrity every May 9 – because that is when her mother passed away, in 1995. “My child is almost the same age now, and I cannot begin to fathom her surviving without me. Yet I did! Mothers hold us first in their palms. They are supposed to be our immortal beings, like angels. They are not supposed to die.”

Dora Wambua says her mother was her to go to person on every big decision. She remembers how paralysed she felt for months after her passing.

“Then one day I had a huge career decision to make, and the idea came to take the big framed photo from her funeral and just talk to her about it.”

Writer Chimamanda Adichie, who lost her mother recently, observed how, after a while “condolences become glib mutterings in the grave matter of a mother’s loss.”

Perhaps the hardest thing for those who have lost their mothers is that aching vacuous feeling that she will never be there for you again, for your highs or lows – perhaps selfish, but natural considering our mothers are our first ever nurturers, which is why even a person in mortal danger, like George Floyd was when that police officer knelt on his neck, whimpered that ‘I want my mommy ...’

No dying person, with the exception of Christ, ever cried for their Father.

In his book, A Promised Land, Barack Obama speaks of the day he signed the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) after a long battle in both Congress and the Senate – a huge bill close to his heart because his own mother had passed away of cancer years before, unable to afford more cycles of treatment because her insurance was shot out, and so that was that for her.

“After everyone had left the celebration party, well past midnight, I walked down the hallway to the Treaty Room. Bo (their dog) was curled up on the floor, and looked pleasantly fatigued (from all the canapes he’d snacked on), ready to sleep.  It had been a good day. I leaned in and (absent-mindedly) gave him a scratch behind the ears. I thought of my mom.”

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