“To be in your children’s memories tomorrow,
you have to be in their lives today.”
― Barbara Johnson
Before I could answer John’s question about who is to blame for the existence of single mothers and wayward children, I thought about death. Death happened a lot in our village. Young men died – right, left and centre – leaving young widows and orphans behind. There was no month that passed without us burying someone as the hand of death swept across that part of Luo Nyanza we called home.
And because we believed we were living in a Crazy World we begun singing this prayer…
Oh Lord Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
And if I die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take
Grave diggers and sowers of illegitimate seeds
With time, we came to believe that dying young and growing with widowed mothers was a reality. Of course, with that many deaths, something had to happen. Most of the orphans died way before their actual physical deaths happened. As for the boy-child, we became dead men walking, waiting for our burials.
Every time a person died, our duty was to dig graves at night. Our compensation, which was our right, was the chicken, hot ugali and chang’aa that our uncles demanded we must have. The night after the dead had been buried we would all gather for the Disco Matanga that was also a must have and a must attend for young men and women – barely in their teens and under 20.
Most of us would arrive for the disco matanga drunk and standing in the darkness, we would engage in what mischievous teens engaged in. The boys touched the girls in places a brother shouldn’t have been allowed to touch his sister – for in the village, that is what all boys and girls are to each other. Siblings.
Yet, despite the folly and dangerous games we played, none of the male adults in our village cared enough to lift a finger. With the passage of time, the village started filling up with illegitimate children – fathered and mothered by blood brothers and sisters – as the whole village watched. Those who could afford it, had their daughters abort while those who couldn’t bowed their heads in shame.
Many of us became domestic workers for our relatives who lived in the big cities. Our sisters became house helps while the boy-child became shepherds, diggers of more graves and sowers of more illegitimate seeds. Those who couldn’t help it also found themselves inheriting widows whose husbands had died in their early 20’s.
We realized we had found ourselves in a trap that wasn’t of our own making. They say it takes a whole village to raise up a child. In our case, the whole village was silently watching as its children kept dying, wallowing in self pity and becoming adults who went on to die without knowing who they really were. It was a sad situation. A messed up world where no child should be allowed to grow up in.
The tukutendereza movement
However, God had better plans. He shielded the children belonging to the widows who had chosen to remain firm in their salvation and walk with Christ. I remember hearing a statement my mom made concerning her faith. It was such a profound statement of faith it made me want to know more about Jesus Christ.
My dad had just been buried. The particles of soil on his grave were yet to settle down. They each tried to find a foothold – a strong foundation – yet with each attempt, they found themselves raising towards the bottom. A roughly made cross adorned my dad’s last resting place. After awhile, we all gathered inside our grass-thatched and mud-walled hut.
“You can leave your Christ for a few days as you follow our traditions and customs,” one of our uncles said. “getting inherited and shaving your hair and that of your children is part and parcel of Luo culture. If you don’t do this, you and your children will die from chira!”
“I’ve heard what all of you have said,” my mom said. “However, I’m a born again Christian who has been washed by the blood of Jesus. I’m not going to cut my hair neither am I going to get inherited. Now that my husband – whom I loved with all my heart has died – Jesus is now going to be my husband.”
Running for My Life continues tomorrow…
This is an excerpt from Running for My Life, a book I am writing about my experiences after I quit my job as TV producer to focus on mentoring boys in juvenile prison. I will be including parts of it in my daily posts.