Flora gets home at 5.30 pm, as she usually does. She finds her youngest sister Ruth watching a movie in the sitting room. Flora is the first born in a family of five, while Ruth is the last born. Ruth has just completed her undergraduate studies, and she is staying with Flora and her husband Jerome as she looks for a job. Their parents, Musa and Truphena, struggled to bring up the children, amidst biting poverty. Flora, as the first born, was always informed that it was up to her to set the pace for her siblings. And she did.
Amidst all the hardship that came with being a girl in a poor, rural household, Flora excelled in her studies. She topped her class from Std. 1 all the way to Std. 8. She obviously did not exploit her full potential in primary school, but that was because of two main reasons. The first is that her school, Kamuongo Primary School did not have the facilities that would have helped reach the zenith of her academic prowess. This was a run-down public primary school, the same school her parents had attended some thirty years before. The classes were built of stone, but there were no windows. Concentrating in class, especially in the cold season, was difficult. The toilets were filthy and unhygienic. There was no library, and the only text book available in any subject was owned by the teacher. The teachers themselves were lax, and seemed to have convinced themselves that it was futile to try and get results from the children.
The second reason is that at home, Flora had responsibilities that precluded her from private study. Right from the age of ten, she was the family’s official cook. Cooking in a poor homestead is not simply putting foodstuff in a pot, switching on the gas or electric cooker and going to watch TV as the food cooks itself. It is a process. She had to first prepare the firewood that she would be using to cook. That involved getting dry twigs from the bushes, and then using an axe to split logs of wood into usable firewood. The twigs would light the fire, the logs would sustain it. She would have to stay nearby, so that if and when the fire went out, she would blow it until the flames burst forth again. She would also have to go to the river to fetch the water that she would use to cook and clean dishes later.
Flora was also her siblings’ baby sitter. She was also the laundry person, and every Saturday she would be the one to go down to the river to wash everybody’s clothes. She couldn’t study at night, even if she was willing and able to. The home did not have electricity, and her parents watched the use of kerosene like hawks, so studying at night after her parents and siblings went to bed was out of question.
Still, she managed to cruise through school with relative ease. She passed well enough in KCPE to get admission to a boarding secondary school. It wasn’t a top school, but getting there was a big achievement for Flora. And it was a boarding school, meaning that she could now focus on her studies, because in school she would be free of the domestic chores that burdened her in upper primary school.
But there was a problem: school fees.
That problem was solved when she got a bursary from CDF. The CDF bursary helped all the way to form four. The school did not have all the facilities that a secondary school should have. The school library was small and only had the most basic of the textbooks; the laboratories were understocked and the classes and dormitories was crammed. Still, for Flora it was a far better place to be than at home. She easily became the best student in the school, and at the end of the four years she became the first student in the history of the school to score a B+.
She went to the University to pursue Bachelor’s degree in Education. It is while she was at the university that she started educating her siblings. The second and third born of the family had already dropped out of school, but the fourth born, William, was in form one while the fifth born, Ruth, was in class four. Flora was surviving campus through the HELB loan and the CDF bursary, which she was still getting. When her parents came to know about the HELB loan, they demanded that she should educate her siblings. Her siblings are not as hardworking as she was, and therefore they did not secure bursaries.
Flora’s money was hardly enough. Flora was using her entire of the bursary to pay her tuition fees. HELB was paying eight thousand shillings per year directly to the university to cover her tuition fees, and the balance would be deposited to her account. The CDF bursary would cover the rest of the tuition fees. The bursary cheque would always be drawn in favor of the university, so the money was not even getting to her.
Flora was using the balance of her HELB loan to pay for the school hostel, food and other personal expenses. When her parents demanded that she educate her siblings, she knew she would have to find a way to make money. She started cooking and selling chapatis from her hostel room. She also started skipping meals so save on costs.
Fortunately for Flora, she got a job almost as soon as she completed her studies. She had done CPA packages privately, and so while her university classmates were earning peanuts as employees of school boards, Flora was hired by a manufacturing company in Thika as an accountant. The money was good, but it was hardly enough for her needs. Her brother William had just gotten admitted to a teacher’s training college and she is the one who was expected to foot the bill. Her sister Ruth had also joined secondary school.
And her parents were also demanding financial assistance, now that she had “become rich”. Her two siblings, the ones who had dropped out of school, were also demanding financial aid, but she ignored them. She barely had enough for herself, leave alone to spare.
Flora got married around the same time William graduated with his P1 certificate. Although she had been dating Jerome since they were in college, they had agreed to hold off the marriage because of financial constraints. Jerome did not have a stable job, while Flora was bogged down by the responsibilities her family had bestowed upon her. But when she paid for William’s last semester in college, she told Jerome that they could now take a step of faith and start their own family. Ruth was still in school but Flora was confident that she could handle it.
After their wedding, they moved to Jerome’s two-roomed wooden house and began life as a married couple. A year into the marriage, Jerome announced that he could hear God calling him to be a pastor. Their church was all the way in Thika, and Jerome wanted to open a branch in Kenol, which is their home area. But there was a hitch: their Bishop had told Jerome that although he had a degree in education, he would need at least a diploma in theology before he could be ordained as a pastor. As a BoM teacher, Jerome was earning fourteen thousand shillings, and he did not have any savings. He would also have to quit his job because college would be full time.
As a good Christian wife, he told Flora, it was her duty to support his call to ministry. Flora agreed even though she was financially constrained. At that point, she was paying Ruth’s school fees, was supporting her parents financially, and she was supporting his parents as well. She was also servicing a loan: she had taken a loan from her Sacco so that they could construct a decent house for themselves. The house was almost complete, save for the finishing touches, but they had already moved in.
Flora was earning a good salary, but money was tight.
She took a top-up loan from the Sacco and paid Jerome’s Bible school fees. Jerome enrolled at a Bible School in Nairobi, which happened to be owned by the Bishop, and he commuted daily from their home in Kenol. As a good wife, Flora usually packed his lunch and snacks, and whenever he came home in the evening, he would find dinner ready and his clothes for the next day prepared. She is also the one who gave him fare to school. Flora had a full time corporate job, but she was also taking her duties as a wife seriously.
Jerome completed his studies and opened the church. As usual, it was Flora who leased land for a year and built the mabati structure that was the first sanctuary. This time she took a bank loan that further depressed her pay slip. She also rented out the plastic seats that would be used by the congregants, and bought old furniture for her husband’s use in his makeshift office.
The congregation had a total of five people to begin with. Flora was the worship leader, the intercessor, the usher and the Sunday school teacher. She was fully committed to her husband’s work of ministry.
A few years down the line, things are better now. Ruth has completed her undergraduate studies which means the pressure on Flora’s finances has reduced. She is staying with them as she tries to find a job. Flora has also been promoted several times at her work place. She is now the Deputy Head of Finance. This comes with a fatter pay cheque, of course, plus several other perks. She has also paid off the bank loan. She cleared the Sacco loan as well, but she took another and used it to buy a car for her husband and to complete the house.
The church has also grown to a membership of about four hundred, largely because Jerome has proved to be a very charismatic pastor. He is well beloved by Kenol’s Christian middle-class population; his teachings seem to resonate with them. The church was able to buy the piece of land on which it stands, and is in the process of constructing a modern, stone sanctuary. Of course the growth of the church has also come with financial benefits for Jerome. He now earns more than Flora, thanks to his congregation’s generosity.
The Beatitudes Apostolic Church is a full and very vibrant church.
Flora is still actively involved in the running of the church affairs, but she no longer has to everything because the church now has enough volunteers. There is a praise and worship team with about fifteen members and with their own leader. Ruth is actually a member of that team. There are about eleven Sunday school teachers. There are congregants who have volunteered as ushers, parking attendants, hospitality team and so forth. Flora sits in the Church Board and is the leader of the Ladies Fellowship.
“Have you prepared dinner, Ruth?” Flora her sister. Flora has noticed a certain coldness that borders on rudeness in her sister. She doesn’t understand it. Ruth has been like a daughter to her and for the most part they have had an excellent relationship. That is why Flora did not have a problem with her coming to live in her house as she hunts for a job. In fact, Flora is trying to see if she can get her a place in the company where she works, even if it is just an internship position.
“I am not your house maid, Flora. Go and cook for your husband,” Ruth retorts.
Flora is stunned.
“What did you say?”
“You heard me very well. You can’t fail to give Jerome babies and refuse to cook for him at the same time.”
Those words cut through Flora’s soul like a hot knife. She knows she is a blessed woman. She has nice career and a loving husband; she has been healthy all her life. There are a lot of things to be grateful to God for. But if there is one thing that she has been praying for but has not received, it is children. She has always yearned to be a mother, but try as she might, she has not conceived all these years.
“How could you say that to me Ruth? I have educated you, I am now housing you…”
“This is Jerome’s house, not yours.”
“This is my house Ruth and I can kick you out if I want to. In fact, that is what I should do. Tomorrow morning I want you to go back to the village…”
“Cut the nonsense, Flora. I am not going anywhere because I am your co-wife now. I have done for Jerome the one thing that you failed to. I am pregnant for him.”
“What? You are saying…”
“Yes, sister. Jerome told me he loved me and he wanted me to carry his baby and I agreed because I love him too. But I cannot carry his baby and also cook for him while you are here. If you want me to do all the wifely duties, then pack your bags and get out of my house.”
(To be continued on Saturday)
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