First, I will admit that this is not the post that I wanted to write this week. I had another story that had been brewing in my head since Saturday. Plus there is another story that a reader asked me to write, and it is cooking in my head. Mideva, I have not forgotten. I will publish it when I feel it is ready. Anyway, as I settled on my desk just after supper on Wednesday night to make a draft for Friday, I received a phone call from a relative. Cut the long story short, he wanted money. The problem is, this is not the only time he is calling. It has become a hobby. And that changed this week’s story.
And he is not the only one. Since I graduated from the University of Nairobi in 2014, a number of relatives have emerged from the caves and have started showering me with attention. They have suddenly discovered my number and are calling regularly. Some are subtle about it. They inquire after my health, then ask how work is going on, then declare their undying love for me and finally start the narrative about their financial woes. Very predictable. I can even say their exact words before I pick their calls. But these ones are easy to deal with. If I have some cash to spare, I give them. If I don’t, I just sympathize and tell them to cast their burdens on Jesus for he cares for them. Which is true.
Then there is the more complicated category that brazenly demands I give them money. Now, my two articles on weddings that I wrote the last couple of Fridays may have given you the impression that I am a bare-knuckled fighter. Far from it. My battles are fought with diplomatic and intellectual tactics. Guerilla tactics if you may. So I resist the urge to tell them to hitch a ride to the everlasting furnace, and instead tell them that my financial caravan broke down in Timbuktu. But they are stubborn. They demand to know the steps I am taking to get it fixed. I mean, I am now accountable to them over my finances because they are the ones who discovered me. You know, the way Ludwig Krapf was the first man to see Mount Kenya. Even Chief Kivoi who took him there was doing guesswork. And when they got there, Chief Kivoi closed his eyes to allow Dr. Krapf see the mountain first. Or maybe Chief Kivoi was a woman, how would I know and I wasn’t there? So it is with these relatives. They were the first to discover the young lawyer, who had all the while been flourishing for a quarter of a century in the bushes of Tharaka Nithi thanks to the wonders of Mother Nature and the magic of photosynthesis. But I am careful not to say when I will get the caravan fixed. After all, the journey to Timbuktu is a perilous one. I may encounter battle hardened Tuaregs and the occasional Bedouin who uses his sword more than his mouth.
The thing is, I am not a fool. I can tell a vulture from a kilometer away. You know, flying in huge numbers trying to scare away the lion who has done the hard work of capturing the prey. And the thing with vultures is, if some misfortune, and God forbid, befalls you, they will vanish into the thin air. Bitange Ndemo said it. They will suddenly misplace your number. And when you call them they will not pick. But this Friday I am not talking about vultures. I want to talk about the Mother Lioness herself, the woman who has made me the man I am today. Her name is Mrs Joyce Maroncha, my maternal grandmother.
This woman pretty much brought me up. My parents were very young when they got me. I think they were both 24. Ok, thats two years younger than I am today, I probably should also be having my own heir by now. So when I was about three years of age, they both came to this city of Nairobi to further their education. So they left me under the care of Mrs Maroncha, who happily took me under her wing. As I grew up, we became so close that some people thought that I am her son. To date some people hold that thought. And the fact that my 50 year old mother looks 35 and that I have become bald at 26 doesn’t help. It confirms the notion that my mother is my sister. Not that I mind. Except once last year when I met a former high school classmate and he asked me if my mother is my girlfriend. Mom, maybe you should start tying a headscarf on your head. And start wearing those wide skirts with pleats. And dump those handbags for traditional kiondos. Just so people are clear.
Anyway, living with Mrs Maroncha was fun. Make no mistake, Mrs Maroncha is not one of those grandmothers with dyed hair, manicured nails and a scent of exotic perfume having retired from their managerial jobs at Barclays Bank. Those you find driving the old model Mercedes Benz registration number KXZ 002. No, my grandmother is a woman of the farm. She spent her childhood tending to her father’s cattle before getting married to a teacher. But to his credit, Murianki did send his daughter to school, which is how she met the young teacher in the first place. But by the time her letter of admission to a teachers training college came, she was already married and pregnant with her first born. So she shelved her ambition and concentrated on raising her young family and tilling her husband’s farm.
But her husband later discovered he could sell the ancestral land and entertain younger women, and so Mrs Maroncha got kicked out of the matrimonial home. By the time I was born, she was living in a rented house and working as a secondary school cook. Which is where she received me three years later. Her in-laws admired her strength, and so they arm-twisted her husband to give her an acre of land before he sold the rest. And with retirement benefits from the school where she had been cooking, she built a wooden house where I spent the larger part of my childhood.
Mrs Maroncha’s house was filled with laughter. We did not have much, but we were absolutely happy. I think I have the best childhood memories. I can’t now start claiming that I had a difficult childhood. That would be an insult to the sacrifices my mom and grandma made to ensure I had what I needed.We may not have been rich, but my mother and my grandmother ensured I got most of my necessities. Despite the hardships she faced, Mrs Maroncha is one of the most optimistic persons I know. You will not find her whining to get sympathy. She faces her challenges head on, and relays them to the Lord in prayer. She is a very prayerful woman. When people talk about self-made women, I think Mrs Maroncha.
My grandma taught me to speak Kiswahili and English when I was in preschool. She may not have furthered her education, but she kept herself busy reading when she was not in the farm or cooking for the family. Up to today if you irritate her enough she will rebuke you in English. Irritation has a way of drawing out the Queen’s language from her, at a time when her teacher husband seems to be losing grasp of the language. She was also a strict disciplinarian who instilled the fear of God in me. But she was also very loving, especially because I did not take the trouble to be rebellious.
When I was in high school, my mother’s business got into financial trouble. My grandma would chip in to ensure I kept my academic dream alive. She would sell her bananas and napier grass and give us a few thousand shillings to take to the principal so that I could stay in school. Just last year, when I was struggling to raise 190k to pay my Kenya School of Law fees, Mrs Maroncha sold her napier grass and sent me a few thousand shillings. This past Tuesday I called her just to find out how she is. She was in a good mood as always. But when I mentioned I was eating chapati and sukuma wiki, her mood suddenly changed:
“Nika ntara jii nteme?” Now, I don’t know how to translate that. It is a question based on a Kimeru proverb, so the translation of those words may not help much. But she was basically asking if I was okay financially. I had to quickly reassure her that I was okay, only that I had come from work tired and didn’t want to cook, and so I had bought chapati and made the sukuma wiki because they are easy and quick to prepare. I scored a point there because I had avoided chips or noodles. But such is the concern Mrs Maroncha has over my welfare.
Mrs Maroncha has every right to demand money from me. But she doesn’t. She is too respectable for that. But I would have to be very wicked not to help her out, whether she asks or not. She doesn’t have to say she loves me, that I already know. I have known since I was young. My prayer is that the Lord grants her a long life, so that my children can get to interact with this phenomenal woman. And since I want my own grandchildren and my other descendants to meet her, my first book will be a biographical novel based on her life. Meanwhile, mom please print this article and give her to read.