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Ode to Mama: Her narrative is about why I tell many stories

By | April 13th 2012

Yesterday, my son would have left the Kenyan soil - for the first time in his life - to visit me in Houston city, US. Instead, as you read this, I shall be returning to Kenya to bury my mother. Thankfully, Tumaini still has two other grannies, but the one he identified from the hymn she sang whenever they met, is gone from us.

I wanted to take a break from writing, give myself time to mourn. But in the solitude of this space in Houston where I have no one to talk to, sharing her story is the only way to redeem my soul from drowning in sorrow.

Instead of bogging you with the details of the passing of the woman who bore me, and the eerie coincidence of having spoken with her just an hour before her passing, I will instead share some of the stories, all true, that she liked telling.

Bodyguard and taxi

One of the stories was about the village man who developed weird habits after winning the lottery.

Having drunk to his fill, the man would hop on to the back of a waiting man, and be ferried home. The human "carrier" served as bodyguard and taxi. Those were the days before boda boda. The ritual of the drink and the rides home is repeated until the lottery money is finished.

Then there was the story of the man enslaved by the siren from a nearby coffee plantation, and who had strict instructions to his wife on how lunch would be served – exactly at 12.30, neither cold, nor hot.

The prospects of having his meal later than the prescribed time or heat levels would arouse heat waves that ruptured in free lunchtime cinema.

Messy walk

Then there was the story of the day my mother bought her first pair of shoes as a young girl, after months of toil, and almost slept in them to relish her accomplishment.

These stories may have been offered as cautionary tales, or for sheer entertainment, but what my mother enjoyed was sharing a good story.

One of my stories that she liked to tell other family members was about the night my cousin and I demolished a large pot of rice meant for several people, then spent the night pleading to be taken to an outside toilet.

I did not make the trip to the loo and my wobbly, messy walk back, as described by her, still evoked fresh laughter even after a thousand retakes.

My cousins and I crowned our notoriety that December holiday by fleeing from the city, back to the village. I was only eight, and repeated the feat when I was 13. I have been running ever since.

I don’t know if I have been a good son to my mother. But I know that she gave her all, steering me and my siblings through the maze, and the mess in Eastlands – to ensure we all turned out fine. All that I am is because of her.

Honesty and integrity

As I write this, 10,000 miles away, the air fan pans its silent song, blowing away the tears of pain lingering in my eyes. But they are also tears of thankfulness for the woman who gave me life, and the gift of hearing and sharing other people’s stories with honesty and integrity, even joy.

Finding the strength to share her story is the affirmation that her work was not in vain. Rest in peace, Mama.

Comrade Bob’s gone, so goes the

Rumour spinning the mill

"I have died many times. I have actually beaten Jesus Christ because he only died once," Zimbabwean Prezzo Bob Mugabe once memorably quipped.

It was not an attempt at morbid humour; it was a jibe at those who spread rumours of his passing every time he leaves his country.

Comrade Bob’s detractors are many. A common joke in Harare is that when the Pope visited Harare in 1988, people thronged to cheer the motorcade snaking its way through the city.

People noticed those waving were also shedding tears. "These are tears of joy," some said, "We are glad Bob is gone."

The rumour that the "Pope is gone" to indicate the pontiff’s departure from Harare had gained a life of its own to become "Bob’s gone" to signify his death. Two decades on, the rumour that "Bob is gone" is still doing their rounds.

Early in February, as Mugabe marked his 88th birthday, he told Zimbabwean state radio he compared himself to Jesus Christ as he had died and resurrected many times.

Heavy slaps

Comrade Bob added he expected to live longer because he steered away from alcohol and tobacco, and could afford to eat a balanced diet and have regular exercises.

I should have added a much younger wife, but I remembered Grace can be so vindictive; she is reported to have once ordered her bodyguards to pin a photographer to the wall as she administered adequate doses of heavy slaps.

Small mercies that allow us a reconnection with the past

The Bible says everything happen for good. I can’t quite convey my gratitude that in this hour of need, my worry is not about how to get home, but when.

At least I have an airline ticket I can use, and an office to authorise my travel documents.

Of the dozen Kenyans I know in America, half the number have had to monitor key events in their lives from a distance, apparently because their trip home would mean the end of their American "dream."

Illusions of wealth

This often entails two or three jobs to keep their heads above water, in an oppressive environment where the prospects for an education diminish by the day, and the anxieties about returning home "empty-handed" heighten. Thankfully, I have no illusions of wealth that’s to be found within the shores of the US. And since my doctorate degree is still a long way, one can say I’m returning "empty handed."

I tremble at the sense of helplessness everyone must suffer when those closest to you are so distant. Such thoughts would no doubt whelm me to the point of not function. That’s why I feel fortunate to make the trip home and touch the soil, to reconnect to the place I call home.

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