Celebrating East African Writing!
I remember the few years that we shared that spacious flat in Buru – those years that made us bond and understand each other, gradually and gracefully accepting our different lifestyles and philosophies of life. For me it was like the first and only time after our sibling-rivalry ridden childhood that we took time to live together and take deep interest and stock of how we had deceived the hurdles that almost always cropped up in our paths as we grew up….
I have been through so much since you left dear bro. I got over working in Korogocho and moved on to another project in Kibera. You would have reckoned that I have just relocated from a smaller slum to a bigger one, yet things are so different, really. My heart never got into the Kibera project as it was into Korogocho. I guess Korogocho was my first calling, and being the young and idealistic fresh graduate that I was, I took too much time trying to experiment on the Sociological theories that I so intimately espoused, and the Koch community was more than receptive in that respect. It’s only that the more experience I get, the more disillusioned I become with some literally suicidal approaches to development prescribed by Western partners for Korogocho and Co.
I still toy with the idea of making that radical switch to say, journalism or academia. With time, I have become more and more engrossed in books, less and less happy and more than ever curious about the small yet weighty philosophical queries that your unexpected demise planted in my head. Queries like whether everyone has a definite pre-arranged and divinely sanctioned departure time….….whether some people have the liberty and discretion to choose when, where and how to alight from life. ……… whether happy and radiant as you seemingly were during those last weeks, you could have been imploding with a rage and sadness so deep and sealed, fed up with the earth and its lot so as to want to take flight so violently….whether your suicide was just that, or you used it to make a statement or a point in defiance…..
Life has changed radically since you left bro. Your departure gives me a heightened sense of abstract poverty. Our family meetings froze instantly, and people’s sorrow poured out in different forms. Vivian lamented eternally ………wondering why on earth you did not confide in her whatever it was that tormented you literally to death. Athena became so evasive whenever someone mentioned your name, her eye wandering into an unseen horizon. Charlotte was evidently torn between God and her gods, momentarily abandoning her strong Christianity for the traditional remedies perpetrated by traditional healers posing as effective prayer warriors. Bryan, the British brother whose prosaic lectures you loved to avoid, overreacted and caused so much trouble, suspecting every frowning relative for your death.
Your last born brother just lost it, weeping and cursing your spirit, and occasionally sitting alone on the cold floor in the house for eons, tears streaking down his cheeks, sometimes sipping undiluted whisky reflecting on the volume of raw pain you must have inflicted on yourself in those last minutes….wondering what your last thoughts were…….silently protesting at the thought that you did not find any reason to want to share what was eating you up……
The multiple condolences I got from my friends in Korogocho reminded me of how alienated you were from such communities, though we happily grew up in Nairobi’s poverty-stricken eastlands. I suddenly realized how much more humane and real and emotional my constituents in Korogocho were. I awoke to the stark reality of the constant blizzards of daily challenges facing the people I worked for…..the constant crying of hungry children were more pronounced in my ears……..the random supplication of the Muslim folk in Highridge village provoked my faith like never before……….every client’s painful cough became firmly imprinted my very heart and punctuated my prayers. I came to believe more in humanity than ever before…….and every death I hear of means much more to me than a statistic……….
Anyway, we got home at eleven. The rain made the microphone malfunction, making it harder for the preacher’s slow words to seep through the mainly rural mourners’ wetting ears. Then I had to read the eulogy……..…….. I dreamily went through that path of your life that was so very similar to mine, never wanting to accept that for you, it was the end, that we would never ever compare notes on life again…..by the time I was done, my numbness was told.
I thought discrimination existed only in the city and in my work…..….in the many forums we held in Korogocho pitting the development conscious and visionary government officers against their perennially yawning and visibly marginalized subjects. …….. There were twenty-plus wreaths placed on your grave, but none from the dusty villagers. After the assistant chief’s dull emphasis on how important a citizen the government had lost, uncle Bartholomew made an announcement that froze my tears momentarily. He hinted that the people from the city should get into the big house to be served, while the villagers were to queue outside for the two or three big sufurias of githeri. O what irony! My few friends who had travelled with me from Korogocho could not get into the big house, and ended up eating the githeri outside with their fellow commoners in solidarity, while inside, the city residents feasted on chicken and rice.
So the queries we posed to each other still rankle my mind, as I stare at the impending mass deaths of Korogocho residents riding on the wave of an economic crunch whose heat tears my very being apart.
© Pascal Mailu 2009
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