Celebrating East African Writing!
Lost identity…..Lessons from life by Marie Karanja: Part Two
My relationship was over, but my life went on, however lonely.
From that point – my early twenties forward, my way of dealing with trouble, any kind of trouble, was to focus my attention else where (usually work) and pray that the emotions will go away. I got a place to call home in Ikoyi, the only leafy neighborhood of Lagos.
In the course of my journey, a year after Alex and Anna had cracked and crumbled, I found myself in a place where every possible pathway seemed just a blind alley leading nowhere. I was trapped in my own loneliness and emotional prison. Each night, I’d lie in bed, sleepless, trying to imagine my way out until – Simon came along.
I felt alone and trapped; Simon offered the silver threads I desperately needed. Simon had just graduated from university, a lawyer, and doing his one year mandatory youth service. He had a magic of his own which attracted me, so we started a relationship not long after. I valued this relationship in the sense that it offered a chance to trust.
Simon would move in with me. And we lived as man and wife. Looking back, learning to take care of us, I also learned to take care of me.
I discovered I was pregnant early in 1994. I was soon to learn, with pain and difficulty precisely what it means and what it costs to choose your own path. Simon had gradually become different.
My son was born healthy and safe on November 1, 1994. Having never traveled the path and with no motherly advice, I couldn’t and didn’t know the unexpected ways in which motherhood would test me, and the terrific joy it brings.
Having my son was just a step in a much longer, difficult process I’d like to be able to say that the loving relationship that was Simon and Anna, as he fondly called me, was true. However his family chose to live his life for him. Of course, I was sure they were wrong but like everything else important in human life, my relationship did not come in a quick – fix format.
And so reverting to old ways, I move back home with my baby. Simon came home 100kms away every weekend for a couple of months and then gave in to family. I was badly bruised from the separation. My bank had gone under ground and my job with it. Jobless and with a baby, I put on a brave face but, inside, I was forlorn, lonely, worn out from sleepless nights.
Real growth is painful and difficult, for me it was tortuous – I left my son with his grandparents and father and headed for Kenya. My son’s grand parents passed on while I was in Kenya.
I had acted on impulse to return to Kenya, my separation, my younger sister Waithera’s death and my joblessness triggered a decision I would always regret to a great deal.
My Kenyan family in bus loads were at the airport to welcome me and Dawn, my 8 year old niece – Waithera’s baby. Dawn would later join her father, a Cameroonian, in England. In my minds eye, I was going ‘home’ to a place where life wouldn’t be so damn hard. I’d get a job, I thought, and start fresh. But with the forlorn look of poverty on my welcome entourage, my heart told me, “It won’t be that easy Anna, life doesn’t work that way.” I wanted to return on the next plane, cargo or otherwise. That was all and is all I want – return to my son.
My journey from this point on was challenged in the deepest sense, I found myself at an intersection and discovering the meaning of hope, I lived on hope.
Hoping for a job that came 3 years after arrival, with a better one 11 months later, I knew I had failed as a mother, leaving my son behind.
Images of the perfect mother haunt me every day – questioning my rationale for coming to Kenya without him. The shadow of the perfect mother continued to loom large and my want to return even larger. Just at this time the worse happens. I am arrested.
The memory is so vivid that I wish to tell it as it happened, only that the pain to put it in pen and paper is enormous. It is an ordeal that will last 9 months resulting in the loss of all my possessions to Legal fees and finding myself living on hand outs.
It is not simply the path that changes but the traveler on it. Parts of us grow stronger, more informed, through experience. Looking back, I realize that I will never feel the pain that plagued me through my twenties and in my thirties in precisely the same way. This doesn’t mean I have a ready answer to every problem life hands me, but I have an inner compass now, a sense of direction. My goals have become less diffuse and more focused and my priorities clearer.
If you had not read how Anna’s life begun, read it below.
Lost identity…..Lessons from life by Marie Karanja
I am sitting outside, at 08.36am, in Mountain View estate, Nairobi, Kenya. It has taken me years to put this pen to paper.
“You have a story to tell, Anna.” Shelley, my friend, would say.
“I never expected life to be so messy.” Would be my reply
My life has been a bit of this hell in the shadow of the morning light beauty. I simply assumed that my life would be just neat and orderly.
1972….sitting outside, morning, no idea of time, a village, central Kenya, at the top of a hill where my parents lived….waiting for my mother and sisters as they go down slope for water.
Sometime later, there is wailing and weeping; my mother has passed on.
Those are the only memories I have of my very early child hood. There are two reasons that would in part influence my return to Kenya 26 years later.
1. Kamau and Eudiah, my parents, farmers in the slopes of central Kenya planted coffee, tea and maize for cash and also vegetables including pineapples, for the family. They had five daughters and one son. I am fourth in line.
1972, is the year my mother died and the time I left the rural for the urban….NIGERIA. Now that time living in rural Kenya during my early years, is a time that is distant, almost non-existent.
2. My maternal grandmother bore two daughters, my mother and her younger sister Christie. Christie was educated in the United States, while my mother chose to get married…. but brilliant she was. Christie in the USA fell in love and married a Harvard, Princeton and Yale graduate, Nobert. Nobert and Christie relocated from the USA to Nigeria, Nobert’s home.
With the death of my mother, Nobert, then a commissioner with the Nigerian Government and Christie, a secondary school Principal sent for my younger sister and me. James, being my father’s only son then was left behind. My father remarried and James was raised in very difficult conditions.
My new home was blissful. Uncle Nobert and Aunty Christie (Dad and Mum, as they came to be) had 3 children of their own Eto, Tara and Jamo. Adiela, Dad’s daughter from a previous relationship joined us sometime later. A happy home it was, at least from the eyes of a child.
My rural stay in Kenya brought some hilarious moments in my new life. I never saw the need for shoes and would take off my shoes in the back seat of the car without the knowledge of the driver and head for class bare foot – rural Kenya style. It did take me time understand why we needed an air conditioner especially with the over ventilated home I lived inback in Kenya. With a Kikuyu, my native language, accent, and in faulting English I would say ‘kamu luku water kamu down.’
Eto could not understand why my English was that bad and why water from a cooling Air conditioner was such a big deal. I started school pretty late due to my poor English and was in a class with younger children.
Home was an all-American affair,picnics, movies( cartoons on the big screen), swimming, eggs, bacons and sausages with your favorite variety of cereal for breakfast, gifts under the Christmas tree at Christmas helicopter rides, boat and ship rides etc. However, in all of these, I would grow up to learn all was not well with dad and mum. The marriage was failing and mum was sick with breast cancer.
Love and happiness are two words to describe my life at this point in 1974 until daddy returned home from England without mum. He was unkempt, with an over grown beard and long hair. This was a far cry from what dad looked like. He was perfectly groomed and smelt of Oil of Ulay –fresh all the time. But on this day and many days after, dad was a stranger. Mum had died.
Mum apparently had traveled to London on medical grounds. Dad told us that mummy had gone to be with God because God liked good people. That stayed with me for years. Her funeral was well attended by her students and senior government officials. My maternal grandparents and my older sister’s husband were present…. and then all seemed to have screeched to a halt.
In the years that followed, General Muritala Muhammed becomes Nigerian president and with the change of guard….dad was sacked from his job. Our daily life was however uninterrupted.
We moved to relatives for a month or so allowing daddy to change residence from the large government house we had come to call home, to a flat, 800kms away at the University of Ibadan. Daddy returned to lecturing, his love.
Ibadan, an unplanned city said to be one of the dirtiest towns in Africa at the time was a far cry from our GRA (government reserved area) in Port Harcourt. We moved once more to a 3 bed roomed bungalow with a study. This was home for my years in primary school to the end of my secondary school. My first visit to the USA was sometime during these years.
In 1974 and 1975, dad had had two children from two separate relationships. And as the days, weeks and years went by, schools in and out, Christmas and summer holidays, sickness and health, joy and laughter so did our home became larger. – 14 children. One was more special, he was the last child of dad’s father – a child of his old age. Andrew was asthmatic and died of the disease when he was 8 years old. Years later, there were born 5 more children. The youngest drowning at our pool in Cote d’ivoire, at 9 months old.
School was uneventful, average grades and catholic nuns.
ABIDJAN. COTE D’IVOIRE
Cote’Ivoire was my next destination. Dad was made the Nigeria Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire – initially for a 4 year term and then a second tenure of 4 year. We had a beautiful furnished residence in the rich neighborhood of Abidjan, swimming pool. Tennis courts, cooks, steward, maids, drivers were at hand. Dinners and cocktails were regular.It was at this time I got to study French at the University of Abidjan centre for foreign students.
First hand, I experience the emotion called love or so I thought at that point, my life took a new turn in my minds eye. Alex was an officer at the embassy and a very good looking one. I thought he was all I needed. I woke up loving him and sleep the same. He on the other hand showed no emotions. We spoke on phone regularly but had no physical contact. I was too caged or naïve. 3 years after arriving in Cote d’Ivoire, Alex’s tenure came to an end and he had to return to Nigeria.
Well, I thought the world had come to an end for me. In the period he was in Abidjan, I had made him a lovely gift sprinkled with my perfume anais anais-a mat made of pure wool in white and his name in Black. Alex and I met briefly in Nigeria a year later just before he left for the United States. The best I got? A kiss.
20 years later, Alex would email to say he kept the mat until it was too old to use, not on the floor but on his bed. It was beautiful to know.
Yaba College of technology was where I returned to after Abidjan. My world had come to a stand still after Alex left and going after him was my only option. Dad had insisted Alex was not the option at the time that education was the most important thing. The glamour of the diplomatic service was left behind. Richard occupied my thinking, but we met a few times and then it was over.
In time Dad’s voiced concern ruled. Alex would not see me. My heart sunk. Amazingly, I managed to go on but getting out of the attachment was easier said than done.
But I did, out of that emptiness, I found a new life. I got a job first as an intern then a fulltime employee at a Merchant Bank in Lagos.
Alex came once to my office preceded by a post card from Australia to say he was leaving for the USA for good. My relationship was over, but my life went on, however lonely.
Read more about Anna’s courage to survive life from Marie Karanja next week