Category: Conversations with my Father

I am thankful for the sun, because it’s rays inspire me to shine as bright. I am glad when it rains because, I feel like I am not the only one who cries but the clouds too have a story to tell. Wet earth smelling of chocolates reminds me of freshness. It reminds me of the careless disregard we sometimes have for life’s simple pleasures. I am thankful for the morning breeze, swift and whispering, it tells me that it’s a brand new day and that tomorrow will not be the same but a better day.

I am thankful that everything is interconnected and that our essence is the appreciation that we are all brothers and sisters. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, or if you are right or wrong. It only matters that we are all humans, prone to fault and fall. But like Maya says, we rise. The sunset makes me aspire to rest easy and gracefully. It lasts just minutes or seconds but leaves a profound feeling that lasts till daybreak. I want to leave that kind of impression, for our lives are brief, yet filled with beauty and awe and pain and lessons, that don’t really matter at the end of the day. What matters is how our light illuminates.

I am thankful for family and friends. I am thankful for fans and black roses readers. Your little thank you’s and comments make me want to walk more on this path of life. They make me want to write you more and more sweet nothings. Your smiles and little gestures make my heart big. You make my heart beat. Because of that my soul gets inspired to dance to the beat of the music that everyday endeavours plays me. I am thankful for the music that inspires me, for the books that taught me, how little can be more and how less is more. I am grateful for the man whose interests were cemented in mine, and mine echoed his, even when is gone. I shine in his absence and therefore make him present in me.

“What’s the best age to be?” Intelligent Life’s Big Question (Sept/Oct 2013). It’s too much a coincidence that I would read this big subject on the eve of my birthday (yesterday); and it would make absolutely no sense if I didn’t blog about this. So here goes;

Growing up, my mother was very strict. My siblings and I were not allowed to play outside or attend any parties/functions that were not family related. That made it awkward every time the ‘Home Time’ school bell rang, because I was caught in between wanting to play more with friends and running home to watch Gargoyles, my favourite cartoon of all time. Mum’s rules also restricted us from inviting friends at home. The only ones allowed would never exceed two; and they would have to come from the same class as the host. In addition, she would have to have known of their class performance and parents, prior to giving a green light. This is exactly the life you live, when your mother was a teacher and a school head teacher for that matter. Because of those high principles, I would be afraid to introduce my friends to my mother, in fear that they wouldn’t be good enough or pass the test. It would be worse, if you had friends who literally failed class tests.

So I resorted to my books, friendships that existed just as far as the school gate and my siblings company, that’s why my three sisters are by far my closest friends. Because we didn’t get out much, we kept ourselves busy with movies, music and cooking. Because I am the last born, nobody would have me cooking. I would just stare at the rest of the girls and mum making magic and if given work, it would only be to make salad, prepare the dining table for meals or change the music playing in the background. Staying indoors too much made music our sole escape.

The 90s was all about “Makarena” versions, Tupac, Brandy, Monica, Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men and R. Kelly music. I remember vividly Tupac‘s “Me Against the World” album (in tape). The one we had was yellowish in colour and released around the time Tupac had jail drama. After seeing Death Row inscribed on the tape, I remember feeling sad thinking he had been jailed for life; little did I know it was a label. At the time, my family owned a video library that stocked all sorts of movies and music videos, the likes of recorded episodes of MTV Base music countdowns and classics like Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Sound of Music and Boyz N Da Hood. Some of my earliest favourite music videos include “Break Up to Make Ups” by Method Man & D’Angelo, “Young Thug” by Bone Thugs N Harmony & Ice Cube and “Be Careful” by R. Kelly & Sparkle. We would listen to songs, over and over, till there was nothing left to do other than start to play/pause music videos, to write down lyrics (there wasn’t Google Lyrics then, trust me) then play to sing over. And when we were done with that, we would play the audio on the big radio (I remember it was a GoldStar make that had an LP on the top) and then try to play the video of the song on the VCR, so the both would run simultaneously—just for kicks!

My sisters, especially Emma and Jackie, probably baked a cake every fortnight and holiday. We had cakes for everything, from birthdays, Christmas to whatever we felt like. We would stay up late, mixing ingredients while chatting about everything and nothing. I can almost still smell and taste that yucky mixture of flour, blue band, sugar and eggs. We would bake the cakes in the big jiko oven, that mum bought specifically to bake cakes, which would make breakfast the following morning, so much more awesome. I still haven’t eaten a cake half as good as what my sisters made back in the day, maybe that’s why my last memory of loving cake, was then. I hate cake. My eldest sister, Pollyne, recently bought a ready-to-bake cake mix at the supermarket and it just made me sad at how dead all those lasting memories are today.

My earliest memory of our household coming alive was times when my mother was away and my sisters invited their friends over for dinner or a chat. But these times, didn’t matter much to me because I would be asked to go sleep and if I stayed up, I wouldn’t understand half the things they talked about. The only other time I recall, was around my 13th bday celebration merged with my sister Emma’s 19th bday (Our bdays fall 10 days apart- Sept 4th and 14th). That was the only time in my childhood that my mother allowed us to hold a party at home. It was fabulous! There were lots of food, drinks, music, decorations and people (lots of them) in the house. I remember inviting all my friends from school, including a boy (whose name I can’t remember) I was crushing on. But the best part of it, was sharing a bday party with someone I was very close to (at the time and now). Of all my sisters, I took after Emma’s hobbies and interests. Apart from our identical laughter, we love the same food, music and movies; she even named her first daughter after me! Shucks. Now, looking back at that day, it wasn’t so much about the party but the joint effort and having to share a special moment with someone special. I have never had another bday that left me as content as that one did. At that point in life, I didn’t know that my sister would, in a few years, leave Kenya, to permanently settle in the USA.

Later in life, we look back and appreciate memories afresh. I now appreciate my mum’s severity, as it made for a few golden moments, as opposed to too many nondescript memories. Every fortnight, mum would take us out to Highlands Hotel, formerly owned by the late Njenga Karume. An image of the grandiose white hotel with cathedral walls and larger than life sparkling windows surrounded by perfectly manicured green lawns will forever be engraved in my mind. An hour or so of horse riding and endless table tennis games at the hotel used to be my favourite sport. The only horse I rode was called Shadrack. He was coal dark, shiny and stout. The riding instructor said that Shadrack would go wild sometimes and throw riders over, but we were forever friends. Well, till one day, after schools closed, when mum took me over to ride, and they broke the news that all horses had been sold off or taken by an Association, can’t remember much. I miss that home away from home. The other day, while at Karen Country Club I got sick of déjà vu. The place is a mirror of Highlands Hotel and left me so nostalgic for my childhood days. The last time I inquired about the hotel, I found out that it had been given over to the Internally Displaced Persons following the Post Election Violence. A lot of people were left homeless in Molo. They are now planting maize on what used-to-be Highlands golf course.

Before my vagabond and full-of-life father died, I am told, things were very different at home, as he would take the family out to trips and the like, out-of-town. When you grew up in a little town like Molo, there weren’t too many places to visit or so many things to do. So when I think about my best years so far, it would have to be between around the age of eight and sixteen. Even though I lost my Dad then, nothing else mattered but cakes, good music, horse riding, playing tennis and spending time with my sisters. I am a little frustrated today when I turn on the radio and stupid pop comes blaring out; I miss that good old school hip hop and R&B music. I miss eating that fresh not-too-sweet homemade cake. I miss a lot.

Which of your successive selves do you look back on most fondly, with a sense of being most in harmony with the world? As Intelligence Life’s six wise heads pick the best age of all, this September, some went for the octogenarian and middle ages, with others touting teen years as the rock of ages “poised for a brief moment between innocence and transgression—we had it all,” Edward Carr stirs up his debate on why being 12 was the best. Just like him, when I look back, I miss the days when we didn’t have a lot, of freedom and friends, yet we made the best of it all. A lot is yet to come but those were certainly my best years, so far. Happy Birthday to me and my late Dad (Yes, we share a birthday)!

BONUS: Happy Birthday Emma, miss you and love you.

Dear Dad,

I have been thinking about you. I always do, I even wrote you a poem recently. I am today writing to deliver great news! I made a discovery so grand, the oil discovery in Turkana last year (You must have been to Turkana during the time when you were staying in Maralal) has got nothing on my discovery. Allow me to explain how it all unfolded … It was a boring Saturday afternoon and I was in my room, at home alone reading the Daily Nation. A special feature spread on a former MP-now a squatter suffering from diabetes and the fear of dying before getting compensated by the Kenyan government for having been in detention for five years while innocent and ostracized as among those who orchestrated the infamous 1982 coup, told by a brilliant writer Roy Gachuhi enthralled me.

While multi-tasking feelings of sympathy for the poor old man and marveling at how one writer could manage to balance the misery of a man with an impressive twist of a powerful literary style that could put me in the same room with the subject and then take me back into time to meet him again; somewhere along the story line I fell into the name of a former politician, Oloo Aringo and immediately wondered why that name echoed something inside me. I could not remember if I ever met Oloo Aringo while a young girl (probably 5 or 6 years old) but I should have. However, I can’t forget that this man was your confidant. That bleak memory immediately brought me a sudden vision. Inside that limbo world, I found myself stuck in a big white empty house with many mirrored doors. I had been running around tired and wanting out but in vain. And then all of a sudden there appeared a black door with a shinning knob made of silver. The joy of entering a new place was overwhelming and as soon as I walked through, I saw you sitting there smiling at me though silent. What happened made me afraid. I saw you through the newspaper, through the mention of your friend’s name. As freaky as that sounds, it  had to mean something. Immediately I knew and realized that you are the title of the book many people have urged me to write on, the one I have always wanted.

It would take the coincidence of me being engrossed in someone else’s work to know that all this time, you were the topic to write on I had been searching for. This must already sound so complicated, try explaining that to the writer whose work led me to the topic of you. Brave and hopeful; I drafted Roy an email first thing on Monday morning to commend him on his luminous literary style, and explain how through his article he lead me to you. That wouldn’t be easy from the look of Roy’s command and the kind of emails he must be receiving from all kinds of people. But he would respond to me the same day in a sharp, precise and sane tone, granting me a meeting next week to advice on my new-found discovery—the decision to write your biography. “Fortuitously, this is a journey that many people, some famous, others not, have undertaken and documented. You will not have a shortage of reference and inspiration,” he wrote to me in a powerful and encouraging email.

This year, the heavens have absolutely opened wide for me. People have been so good to me yet I have done nothing to deserve it. Life has been good, words wouldn’t even start to describe the grace and goodness of things around me. I now anticipate to dissect though the roads you treaded, places you worked and visited, people you touched, kids you brought up, the women of your life, the numerous letters you wrote to mum and just about anything that might have made you the kind of man you were up to the point where you passed on and then started living on in my dreams and beyond. Dad I pray that you bless me and my endeavor.

Dear Dad,

While you silently smile and shine down on me like a star; not a single day passes without missing you. While you never visited me in my dreams for nearly a decade, not a single day passed without me daydreaming about the kind of man you must have been, to have touched all the lives you did and still gave me one. While your graveyard grew old and ragged, your epitaph stood strong like your legacy and my faith that soon you will meet me, even if only in my dreams. So we can talk about how it seems like it was just yesterday when a 7-year-old girl tightly held your hand while you were lying inside the cold mortuary as she wondered, why Dad wouldn’t wake up. Since you’ve been gone, I never changed. I am still 25 and dreaming of you; waking up and your infectious laugh. I dream of stroking your soft skin, picking up your calls just to vex you, and marveling at your graceful eyes and smile. While you were away, I was still your  HUGE fan.

Dear mother,

There’s none other like you. And it’s really cool that for nine months, you carried me inside you. Like an innocent fool I came into the world and you taught me what school couldn’t. That respect is earned not demanded. Am always reminded of your humility and agility. And that to succeed I have to maintain my authenticity.

Mum, you’re beautiful. Your eyes sparkle like the sunray’s reflection on water. I am honoured to be your daughter. Your affection is priceless. You always love regardless. You are the provider of wise counsel. You are the divider of food in the house. You are the arbitrator when people disagree. You are as strong as a rock.

You are inspirational. When I am irrational, you always provide the voice of reason. Of all seasons, you work hard. Your laugh is infectious. Your heart is golden. Even in olden age, you still exude youthfulness. Your generosity exceeds the ordinary. Your simplicity is to reckon. You give extra attention. You are selfless.

When restless, you told me to practice patience. Thus haste or hate don’t exist in your dictionary. You have the power over the world. Despite your humble itinerary, wherever you go, you command attention without asking. The air around you always feels ample & safe. It’s like an angel surrounds you. Even though I didn’t get to know Dad well, i know that’s why he adored you. He still does. You’re cool peeps ma.

And for all these things & more, thank you.

Dear Dad,

I am writing you this letter because I want to free myself of the fear of talking about you, talking to you. Thought that you should also know that I am no longer afraid of the huge mad cow with untrimmed horns that would start to chase after kids for no apparent reason, Dad that was around 16 years ago! Glad to report that I have now grown up and thus less afraid of cows, I however still have fears that are not necessarily bigger or lesser since you left. Every day I wonder how my life would have been with you around, it’s been a collective struggle without you but mum and I have been very close. She would have used your support, more importantly your shoulder to lean on but I have to say congrats for having chosen her as your wife. She is by far the strongest woman who ever walked this earth. She hasn’t changed much apart from the part where she recently turned 60. She is still a hot chic, still dresses well. She still got that sparkle in her eye when she smiles, still as hardworking, retired but still farming, she still got that sexy phone voice, ok Dad will do you another blog post on mum vibes.

On the flipside, a lot has changed since you left, gosh where do I start? I grew up so fast, everyone did. Bonn stayed in India for a very long time, after his graduation he came back to Kenya. Between us, I think he can speak fluent Hindu but he never wants to for some strange reason. He got married, he recently got blessed with an adorable daughter called Cate. Pollyne is still as tough as she used to be when you left, it’s really helped her in this tough world, I look up to her. She has a lovely daughter named after you, Francy, who is now 11. Guess what? She took after your light skin :-) Emma ended up studying hotel management, she is still a neat freak, oh she also moved to Miami where she manages a hotel resort (You must be a proud Dad huh?) She got married to a good white man, they have two lovely daughters, Laika Rose and Zuri. Jackie is still a-ka softie, remember Freddy? Your good friend Obiero’s son? He (Freddy) used to be in the same primary school with Jackie, well they ended up together. They now have a cute litu son holistically named after you, Francis Owoko Ong’etch. He is soooo cute and worships Ben 10 (a new toon that has taken the kid world by storm) Well, I still don’t have a baby seeing everyone in the family went the recreational way :-) but Dad I have a degree in Journalism! I graduated from University last December, man I know you would have been proud of me, mum was sooooo happy! P.s thanks for the shares you hoarded years back to help clear my school fees, they really came handy at the very end. And I looked so cool in my  graduation gown, I made sure I asked mum not to bring those things for the xmas tree, she is cool people so she didn’t :-)

I was only 8 or so when you left so I don’t remember much of our relationship but it’s funny how livid  I remember your hilarious pranks, it’s no wonder that to date I love playing pranks, just like you. I remember that you had wired our bedrooms with speakers connected to the microphone in your bedroom. You would then come home late from your escapades and start to sing to us from your room, Dad that was annoying! But I miss it, I miss you :-( Remember when cousins would visit, early morning you would wake up everyone around the house via your proverbial radio then call Alicia and I to join you and mum in bed? You would then order the big girls Sharon and Jackie (who were only like 13 years or so) to bring us milk in bed? Alicia and I still remember the royal treatment, we talk about it to this day, at that time we felt like we were princesses and we deserved such kind of treatment. Its 20 years later but not too late to say that we appreciate! I remember how I was always strategically sitting next to the house  phone, like a lioness eyeing its prey. I was waiting for it to ring so I could answer the calls. It was very appraising if not gratifying to say “Hello” into an actual phone that wasn’t a call booth then.  I remember you always pinching me asking, “Who told you that this is your phone?” Dad, what you didn’t realize then was that I was just a curious girl who happened to also be chatter box, I was eager to get a chance just to chat, well I am still that same girl kabisa! As a matter of fact, I am now a TV host/ reporter/radio reporter/ writer/ In summary, if I am not chatting and writing am trying to communicate constructively :-)  Mum is glad, I hope I make you proud.

I however still want to know so much about you, like how you met my mother. Well, she already gave her story, it sounded like a fairytale how a lot of things were against you guys, like responsibilities bestowed upon you as you were the first born of the soccer team, the distance and need for you to impress her bourgeoisie parents, am glad that in the end you left a legacy that says that you were a good man. It was so bonnie & Clyde how mum kicked some rich politicians niece’s ass and got in trouble with the law but you stood right by her till thanks to Jomo Kenyatta’s sudden death the case got withdrawn. Tough Love! I saw pictures of your Volkswagen and motorbike, you was really cool people! Mum now drives a pickup Peugeot 504, it helps a lot with the farm work. P.s it’s the first automobile I ever drove :-) Remember Mwaura, the mechanic? Well, he still fixes mum’s pickup, he’s the one who taught me how to drive that valuable junk that I suspect is older than I am while mum was away in Nigeria, that was about 5 years ago.

I love colour as much as the life you guys gave me so I strive to colour my life. Mum says you really loved to unwind while listening to music, same here! I love varied genres, from Dobet Gnahore, Laura Izibor to Franco (Heard you loved him!) I love dogs, I heard you did too! A year after you left, I had a cat that I adored, I accidentally left it at granny’s (Your ma) while visiting, about a year later heard it fell in a pit latrine, still heartbroken. I also love to read books, I found your library, have read quite a number from your collection. I really enjoyed reading the Trial of Jomo Kenyata. I am now reading Facing Mount Kenya and a new release that I recently got, The Politics of Betrayal. It’s a 2011 publication, sort of a sequel to all the previous political books, you would enjoy its style that’s constantly quoting from the earlier political publications like Not yet Uhuru et al.. while at the same time trying to compare and contrast the current socio-economic situation to the previous year’s scenario.

Nway, one day while coming from work, I met uncle Owino right outside the Norfolk hotel. So we went inside and ended up having a hearty chat about you over a cup of coffee and several bitings. Oh FYI he is now the deputy police spokesperson in the country, yup you would be very proud of him. He told me a lot about you, like how you coerced him into getting into the police force against his will. How you schooled him and took him in after his parents passed on, that was so kind of you. Sometimes I meet kids in such circumstances and wanna help, at least I now know where I get it from. Uncle Owino was tearing while talking about you, he says that if it wasn’t for you he wouldn’t have been where he is today, Dad= WIN! He told me how you and mum were the first to introduce him to beer after he completed form 6, surely Dad! He told me how much you loved mum and that you would always do just about anything for her, how sweet! He said a lot of things about you, that you loved to have a good laugh with friends, trips and visiting different places, adventure and to help people where you could. Guess what? That’s a photocopy of my life!

“In all the years I have lived, I have never met a man of your Dad’s caliber or charisma, you sure did miss to meet a great man”, said Uncle Owino with a distant gaze as if he was trying to re-live the moments he shared with you! That broke my heart but wait, I met you already!  I now figure that I shouldn’t be afraid of talking about you, to you and even writing to you. I share not only a birthday with you but a lot more Dad, I now  realize that you vicariously live in me. I am writing you a letter but in the reality  of a shrinks’ head, in pursuit of emancipation, I just wrote myself a letter.

I might be all grown up now but am still your litu girl, still trying to impress you, still fussing for your attention, still hoping to make you proud, still keen on your blessings, still in consideration of your preferences before making decisions, still dependent on you Dad. Rest in peace.

Love,  Anyiko.

(p.s started using the name you gave me, my friends love it, thanks :-)

%d bloggers like this: