The Childhood Days and the Long Journey to School
Introduction to Part 1:
In part 1, I will attempt to show my background. I will pick it from what I can remember. This means that I may not involve some details that could only have been available if I had to interview my parents. At this moment, that is technically not possible.
I talk about the challenges I faced from my childhood days and how things unfolded with Divine protection keeping me from disasters.
I have tried my best to put things chronologically. Nevertheless, there are some things that read well in a context away from the time they happened. When this is the case, I will use “fast forward” or “back tracking” to show that what I am talking about belong to a different period of time. This is not only in part one but in the whole book. In some cases, the reader will be in a position to tell which period something happened as I will try to give good context to help in this.
SETTING THE STAGE:
I am giving you a block: Will it be a stumbling block or a building block?—the choice is yours!
May I Be the One to Tell My Story
When I decided to tell my story, and in the process tell God’s story in my life, it wasn’t difficult doing so. As I have indicated in the preface, the difficulty was how much to say and how much to hold back. There are some issues that I would be very reluctant to let into the public, yet my story wouldn’t be complete without them. This is not to claim that after including them my story would be complete. The completeness I am referring to is that which would give the reader the gist of where I have come from and why I have gone through what I have gone through. What I was contemplating leaving out explains why I had some dreams: why I live where I live, etc.
In my book, The Pursuit of Commitment, while expounding on the fact that an encounter with Christ is not to be kept secret, I maintained that we have to tell the public if we have touched the Lord or if He has touched us. I will come back to this in chapter 21.
There are some issues in my life that I would have loved to keep “secret” but this will not give God the glory. I earnestly and desperately shouted to God to hear me. When He did, it is only consistent that I “shout” my gratitude. And there is no way I can shout out something and still keep it secret. When you shout people hear. Some of the things written in this book are the “shoutings” that I have done to appreciate what God has done in my life and the life of the whole of my family.
In The Pursuit of Commitment, I asked people to 'shout' whatever God has done in their lives. That is how God prepared me into shouting my secret. Based on this, I don’t want to be wilfully hypocritical—asking people to do what I am unwilling to do. Because of this, I may tell some things that some people would say: You didn’t need to make that public!
I believe Jesus has touched me and I have also pressed my way to touch Him—I just have to tell the story. It is my way of shouting my gratitude to Him. I would have succumbed to the “warnings” to keep quiet about certain things but the Lord had me “cornered” when He first gave me the revelations I referred to in the above book. Little did I know that I was being “set up.” After I had written the book and equally loved the revelations that were given to me, I felt compelled to personally identify with all the things God revealed to me to share with His people. That is when an inner voice made a case that I could neither silence nor dispute:
You have asked people not to keep secret their encounter with Christ—whether He has touched them or they have touched Him. Have you touched Him, or has He touched you in any way and you are succumbing to the comfort and strict warning not to talk about it?
Your guess is as good as my knowledge of the things I would have wanted to keep away from the public.
I want to tell my own story with my own words; pulling the right cords and setting everything into context. This will help people who can be helped but stumble those who don’t have the Spirit of Christ. The reason is that some cases will be “juicy” enough to provoke gossiping appetite; they will be greasy to lubricate the wheels of slander, and they will be “spicy” to make a vilifying mouth salivate with libel. I wish I could say that it doesn’t matter to me but the truth is that it matters to me what the reader will choose to do, for I care and that is why I have done this chapter. I also know that there are people who will be humbled. Such people will sober and reflect on the intricate relationship with Christ and the fact that He still does His wonders albeit in ways that may not capture the attention of the lofty and the carnally minded. It matters to me only for the sake of the reader, but it doesn’t matter to me the ills that may be directed to me. God has placed me above trading in malevolence. You throw a ball at me, I don’t become a wall that will make it come back to you. Instead, I will always ask God for grace to be like a mattress. When the ball hits me, it will be cooled by the softness of the mattress.
However itchy your tongue is; regardless of how part of what you are about to read burns in your bones, don’t tell this story for me. If there is someone you’d really love to hear this story, let the person hear it from me, that is, let the person read this book for himself/herself. If the person is not the reading type, then probably this story is not for him/her—for now.
If you are told a secret and asked to keep it but you instead decide to tell it to one person and you in turn ask him to keep it, you shall have told that person not to tell you a secret if he has one?
Certain things that I would have loved to keep secret and of which I decided to share in this book are still “strictly confidential” until further notice. The only people allowed to get access to my secrets are those that are willing to get it “first hand”, that is, sit at my feet and listen to me tell the story. The reader is “free” to breach this solemn request, but I have to state that I have appended my disclaimer: I will not be held accountable for any possible repercussions.
At this point, someone is asking: If you still want to keep your story confidential, why tell it then? I may not go into details to justify my position, but believe you me, there is a credible reason for it. There is, however, no need to take space here to talk about this.
After giving the restriction above, may I also digress a bit and say something about secret management. Secrets are not like words. You can give your word and keep it—this is positive, but you can’t give away a secret and keep it.
After giving your word, it depends on you to keep it. Secret, however, after being given away, it depends on the trustworthiness and good will of the recipient to keep it. When someone tells us a secret and asks us not to pass it on, would it still be a secret when we tell it to someone and equally ask that person not to tell it to anyone?
The essence of a secret is its absence from “the public domain.” The more people know about something, the more it ceases to be a secret, but what is the yardstick? How many people ought to know a secret before it ceases to be one? A secret ceases to be one when you tell it to your next even after having been asked not to tell it to anyone.
The way we handle confidential things tell so much about us. When you tell other people’s secrets they asked you not to disseminate, you may be telling your listeners about yourself more than you are telling them of the secret. Did you know that if you are told a secret and asked to keep it but you decide to tell it to one more person and you in turn ask him to keep it, you shall have told that person not to tell you a secret if he had one? The reason is that if you were asked not to tell anybody and you told him, he will know that his secret will not be secure with you. A secret will soon lose its “name” if it is given away to people who warn others to do what they themselves failed to do. Most people may not say it with words but they will act it thus: If the secret is so “juicy” that you failed to keep it yourself, how do you expect me to keep it?
If you tell me someone’s secret which he asked you not to tell to tell to anyone and ask me to keep it, you need to trust me enough to know that I will do what you failed to do—i.e. keeping the secret. Many a time we tell people about whether we are trustworthy or not without realising it.
Secret management is like the management of freewill—there is always someone who would not benevolently manage it. When God gave mankind freewill and asked him to be responsible with his choices, mankind chose to misuse the gift of choice and after doing so, he has ever since tried to run away from responsibility.
A friend of mine shared with me some very disturbing secrets in his marriage. They were so bad that for him to share them with me, it was truly a sign how much he trusted me. This trust was so precious. The things he told me are surely not meant for circulation.
It is good to be trusted by a friend, but we always want to have it both ways—that is, we want to be trusted while at the same time betray the trust. There are people who would be hurt to realise that you don’t trust them but at the same time the very people wouldn’t think it is acting untrustworthy to share your secrets to at least one person. There are people that we may trust so much that we entrust them with what was not originally meant for them. There is always an urge to tell a secret to at least one more “trustworthy” person. That trustworthy person also has another “trustworthy” friend or relative to whom he will tell the secret. Before you know it, the secret will be securely in the public domain, sometimes with very damaging versions. The reason is that some of the so-called “trusted friends” are not trustworthy at all. There is nothing as difficult to manage as a secret. But this is not a licence to betray the trust. Betraying a trust and still demanding to be trusted is an insane insensitivity.
I decided not to lean on a mistake but to learn from it.
On a number of occasions, I have got very “convenient”, “suitable” and “relevant” circumstances that would justify telling the story of my friend’s marital problems. The authenticity and potency of the story would be enhanced if the identity of my friend was revealed. In this way, one would underscore the axiom that there is more than meets the eye. If only you can help people get to know what lies under the surface! Sometimes the “suitability” of telling someone’s secret is premised on good intentions, that is, to ‘help’ the person it is being told to.
I have never and will never identify my friend’s marriage woes with him. I learnt firsthand how it feels to confide in a friend only for him to pass it on. I will tell more about this in chapter 21. My friend who betrayed me made a mistake but mistakes also have positive side, namely, they teach powerful lessons. Anyone who cannot learn from mistakes is in a serious condition.
Learning from what my friend did to me, helped me maintain that I will not do the same to a friend. I decided not to lean on a mistake but to learn from it. If only we can keep the golden rule into perspective! Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t have them do to you!
With that, may your conscience help you manage the things you read here in a responsible way. I will, in the process of telling some sensitive parts of my story, tell the reader specifically what I would not encourage him/her to do. Have I asked for impossibility? Maybe I have.
With that, here we go, this is my story!
MACALDER TOWNSHIP, NYATIKE
A new born baby greets the world he is entering into by an emotional expression of pain—crying; when his life is lived, people mourn on his behalf at his death—hence, pain at birth and pain at death!
I Was There but I Can’t Remember a Thing
However sharp we are as far as memory is concerned, our entry into this world is something we can’t have recollections about. I was there when I was being born but I can’t remember a thing about it. I wish I could remember the facial expressions of my parents as they beheld me at my birth. I would have described the joy, or the indifference or melancholy on their faces.
The day was Thursday; the date, 25th April; the year, 1963; the place, Macalder Township in Nyatike, South Nyanza, Kenya; the parents, Musa Ogweno Gati and Elizabeth Anyango; the occurrence, a new life ushered into the world.
Somebody must have shouted, or rather announced, “It’s a baby boy!” My first communication to the world must have been the emotional expression, a cry—an innate response that signified that I had been born to a cruel world; a world of pain. The world that was ours but which we relinquished its control to Satan when our first parents traded their loyalty to God with an affinity to the devil. They had misused the best gift that was given to man—the free choice.
My father was working as a miner in Macalder—mining copper among other minerals. I was the third born after a brother and a sister respectively. The sister died, at birth. Behind me was a girl who also passed on. I don’t know how old she was when she passed on. In fact, I don’t even remember seeing her. This means she must have died during the early days of her life. At a time when photos were not common in our part of the world, there is no chance to see how they looked. I wonder how they looked and what they could have grown up to be.
Initially I was called Hosea. I was named after the good doctor who helped my mother during my delivery. This name was officially used on me until I was six years old when we travelled back to our rural home. After some unfortunate incidences, as I will explain below, I went to stay at my uncle’s home. He never liked the name “Hosea”. My uncle, the elder brother of my father, made me hate the name. He pejoratively referred to it as a name belonging to a jamwa (an African none Luo—the latter is my tribe). Luos are very proud people. Being “isolated” from being Luo, even by name, was something we would do everything to avoid.
Too young to know the origin of this name or what it meant, I started distancing myself from it. I wouldn’t want to be identified with a jamwa. My uncle told me that I shouldn’t let anyone call me by that name. My interpretation of “not letting anyone” was that I should sort it out with anyone who tried to use the name on me. This led to many fights with my peers. When they realised I didn’t like the name, they used to taunt me with it. But because I was an ardent fighter, they soon gave up. I never used to intentionally wrong anybody but if anyone wronged me, the person had to brace for a fight. I was the type who wouldn’t let anyone get away with crossing my line. And my peers hated fighting with me because, as one person once described my valour after I had overwhelmed a boy who was much older than me, Owino kiro adhon’g ka tie punda machien (Owino sprays punches in the manner of a donkey’s hind kicks). The only people who continued using this name were the adults, but when they also noticed that I never liked the name, its use dwindled and soon died. In its stead, Owino picked up. The latter was the name of one of my uncles who died long before I was born.
Three Days with Leopards in a Hole
In Macalder, things were generally normal in our family until tragedy struck. It must have been mid or late 1968. My father got an accident. He fell into one of the abandoned mines. The mine had turned to be a deep wide hole, residence for leopards and other wild animals.
Since he fell at night and was alone, nobody knew his whereabouts, let alone the fact that he had fallen into a hole. My mother had contacted all the people who could have known his whereabouts but all was to no avail. He had been to some place and all those people could say was that he left at night—the night of his disappearance. For the three days he was in that hole, it was a traumatic and anxious time for us in the family. Although my brother and I were young, the chill in the house and the mood of our mother told us that something was really bad. We had also begun missing our father whom we couldn’t remember being away that long. Nobody knew what had become of him—whether he was alive or dead.
He was unconscious until the early morning drizzle on the third day revived him. Wounded, hungry, weak and disoriented, it was a puzzle how he climbed out of that hole and got his way home. Nobody even attempted a theory to speculate on how he got out of the hole—it could only be described as a miracle. And this was not all. Another thread of miracle was the mystery of leopards and other wild animals not finishing him off.
He could have been the one to describe how he got out of the hole but even him he didn’t know how he got out. He could only say that he knew he fell in the hole because of the pitch darkness on the night of the accident. He didn’t even know that he had been in that hole for three days. To him, it was like he was out of the hole as soon as he fell. How he came out of the hole is something he didn’t understand himself.
Although my brother and I were young, the chill in the house and the mood of our mother told us that something was really bad.
God gifted me with a good memory even from that tender age. I still remember my father tumbling into the house one afternoon; his body covered with blood that had dried and turned black; I still remember the smell that wasn’t that offensive but all the same “scaringly bizarre”—a smell that I can only describe as ‘the smell of death’. I remember my mother boiling water and arduously washing away the dry blood. My father writhed in pain as my mother tried her tender hands to massage him and in the process wash away the blood that had securely cemented itself on his body. Even the dew and the drizzle of that morning couldn’t wash away the dry blood.
There was another strange thing about his coming home. Although it was believed that if he was unconscious for the three days, he must have been revived by the drizzle of rain that fell at dawn, why did it take him the whole day to reach home? If he took all that time struggling to come out of the hole he could have remembered. For a normal walking pace, it could take less than an hour to walk from where he fell in the hole to reach home. Because he was hurt, hungry and weak, it was understandable for him to have taken so many hours on the way home. But this also brings another brand of brainteaser: how could he struggle the whole day on the way without meeting anyone to help walk him home? He had come home alone.
My father was short but very athletic. He was a fast-runner that if he lived his youth in this age, he could have picked a spot at the Olympics, and probably won a medal. Long after his death, his peers used to remind me of how he would chase an antelope and catch up with it. Whether this was literal or not, I don’t know. These were things that happened well before I was born. If it is not true, it must be a way of emphasising how fast he was. What I know is that apart from mining he used to light dynamite at the mines and run to safety before the explosion.
After the accident my father’s health was poor and he couldn’t work at the mine anymore. He was understandably incapacitated. The work in the mines needed physical fitness and good health. When he stopped working, it was time for us to go back to the countryside—back to our rural home in Kisui, Mbita, where we would lead a humble subsistence life thereafter.
What I didn’t know was the fact that our journey to Mbita was the beginning of the disintegration of a family and a commencement of an uncertain, cruel and tricky future—one of the most difficult life one can imagine had just begun. How could life be so ruthless to subject “untrained” small boy to face cruelty at its crudity!
My Mother Left
It was soon (must have been two months later) after we left Macalder that my mother went away, abandoning us. Reasons for her leaving I didn’t know, I still don’t. She left us with our ailing father.
My father was not in a position to fend for us. Because of this, we naturally, slipped into the home of his elder brother (our uncle) and took refuge there—thanks to strong extended family ties in the rural Kenyan Luo communities.
The little he could struggle was now to take care of himself. Caring for two boys was understandably too much for the ailing father. He died in 1975; six years after my mother left us.
I was 12 when he died. We used to attend Sunday School in a PAG (Pentecostal Assemblies of God) church before it was overtaken by the dubious New Apostolic Church.
I wouldn’t claim that the teachings about resurrection meant any practical dimension that far. The general knowledge was that if someone died, that was the ultimate end—gone for ever.
When my father died, however, I convinced myself that his case was a special one. He couldn’t just die and be done with. I waited eagerly that he would resurrect before he could be buried. I sat next to his body for the three days before he was buried, waiting that he would start breathing again.
Usually people would run when a body that has been dead for a while begins to move, but for me, I wouldn’t have run if he began moving because that was what I was eagerly waiting for. The kind of expectation one has would influence the kind of response one gives when things happen. Expectation is one of the ways to get prepared. Although he was not directly caring over us, my father loved us and his humble mien used to tone down hostilities that we were then facing. Personally, I loved my father deeply.
In our new home, Mama Nora received us as her own children—she was a real mother, a God given gift. I found a special favour with her. No sooner had I joined her home than there developed a special bond between her and me. Life could have been normal despite being raised up by foster parents had it not been for our cousins in this home.
Though we found refuge in this home, our welfare was undermined by the extreme violence we had to go through—it made life not worth living.
I took it upon myself to help Mama Nora with the domestic chores. Regardless of how hard I worked—milking at least four cows before going to school; fetching both firewood and water; fishing; digging, looking after the cattle after school, etc., one of my cousins counted me as a worthless boy. He always reminded me that there was nothing I was helping with in the home. Interestingly, he was the one who used to do nothing except, roaming around and only coming home to eat.
If I say that our cousins were hostile, it would be understatement, maybe “wild” can paint a faint picture, but still inadequate. It was so bad my brother (the first born) couldn’t cope with the cruelty and physical abuse in this home. He ran away; went to stay with some distant relatives some far away place. I stayed behind. All the beatings were now concentrated on me. Because of the closeness I had with my new mother, I never thought of running away, though later I almost took my own life (as I will explain later).
The cruelty and abuse started even before my father died. Our non-confrontational humble and ailing father couldn’t do anything to help us. Mama Nora was overwhelmed by her sons, especially the younger of the two. They wouldn’t listen to her to ease out on me. My uncle Andrea meant that my cousins were “teaching” me. He meant that the beatings would help me be disciplined.
Since 1969 when my mother left, I never saw her until 1981 when I took the initiative to meet her. I travelled to Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, for the first time. Nairobi is about 400 km south west from our rural home in Mbita. It was not difficult getting her because my elder brother by this time was in the city working as a watchman in one of the security firms. They even lived in the same area.
For whatever reason she left, it must not have been initiated by my father, except it be something that was either unintentional or one he had no power to control. People used to call my father, Ogweno toto: “Toto”, is a Luo expression referring to a baby. My father was as humble as a little baby. The 12 years I had a privilege to relate with him as a father and a son, I can only say one thing—he was a good man; one of the most humble persons I have ever known.
When he died people said, “Ogweno must have gone straight to heaven.” The culture around which I grew up maintained generally that good people are headed for heaven. Though goodness always has some religious overtones, there are many good people out there who may not necessarily make it to heaven. But the possibility that my father didn’t know Christ enough to be redeemed is something I cannot deal with.
I usually tell people to face situations and overcome them, but one thing I have tried to play escapism with is the thought about my father generally and his fate in particular. More than 30 years later, I still shed tears any time memories of him either force or sneak their way into my mind. The memory of my father is my emotional weakest point. That makes writing this part of the chapter very difficult. Actually, as I write this, I can’t hold my tears back. I would have been okay if I knew for sure that the Lord received him into paradise. This, however, is something I don’t know, and regrettably, there is nothing I can do about it—and that is what makes it painful. I realise why the (false) doctrine of purgatory as taught by Catholicism was a hit. If it were true that some souls are in purgatory waiting to be “bought” out of that place, I would deny myself, including the most basic things, so that I could save enough money to buy him out of an uncertain destiny.
Despite all the difficulties I have personally gone through and the general unfairness of life, I have decided not to question God and His wisdom. Nevertheless, one thing I get tempted to ask God why, is the uncertainty of my father’s destiny. This is something that I find extremely unsettling, something that if I didn’t play “escapism” I may not have coped with. Why did my father die at a time when I cannot be sure that he knew Christ in a personal way? If God knew that He’d save me, why didn’t He spare him so that I could lead him to Christ? But somehow, I know that God knows how my father was important to me that He must have done something in his life so that a sweet surprise is awaiting me. Sometimes I fear that this might be a wishful thinking.
Humanly speaking, sometimes I feel that some people may fail to get to know Christ due to lack of exposure to the right Gospel. My father was religious enough to even thank God for water. This is something I remember very well: any time he was taking water, he would always remember to thank God for it. All the same, there were things like smoking a pipe that I find odd for a committed Christian.
Long after his death, his peers used to remind me of how he would chase an antelope and catch up with it.
I care for everybody and I love mankind with an undivided steadfastness. If it was within my power, I’d love to see everyone make it to heaven. Nevertheless, meeting my father in heaven would be something more than I have words to express. As at now, I would but leave it there. I let God be God even if it is at the expense of “common sense”. I have decided to relax my rational leanings and affinities. This is because the Bible advises me not to bother struggling with it; that “the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Cor. 1:25 NIV). What this means is that when I am at the best of my reasoning, God wouldn’t be “challenged” enough to make Him start reasoning to justify Himself or His ways. His most banal act is swathed in infinite codes of wisdom that no man can decode without God Himself providing the insight.
At one time when I was overwhelmed by compassion over human suffering, to the extent that I felt God could have done better, an attitude that was in a way implying that I could do better if I was in a position, a voice spoke within me saying:
However much you think you love people and care for their welfare, you don’t love and care for them more than God does.
That was simple enough to understand but difficult to practice. How does someone just relax when overwhelmed by concern? Nevertheless, I have since retreated and adopted a solace stance—I don’t love people more than God loves them.
My Father and my elder brother, Lucas.
Something to Thank God for
About four years after I got saved, God laid it in my heart to intercede for the salvation of my mother. I called on God for over ten years for her case. She finally got saved and I can see her doing to people what she didn’t do to us. The fact that she is caring for other children in itself could have been a problem. It is easy to get jealousy over the fact that she failed to be a mother to us, only to be a mother to others.
My mother has been taking care of her nephews, even struggling to give them money to pay school fees. Twice she has approached me to pay fees for them.
I remember going through primary and secondary schools in extreme poverty without receiving any help from her at all. To me, it was like she never existed. The fact that I experienced dearth in the most acute manner; the idea that my mother never made any attempt to show goodwill even if she was not doing well herself, is something that could have left a permanent sore in my heart. But I thank the Lord God for Jesus! The heart and attitude of Christ which has become the primary pursuit of my pleasure has made it possible for me to see something positive in my mother—the transformation in her life. With the attitude of Christ revealed in my heart, it is not a problem for me to see her being a mother to somebody to compensate for the lost opportunity to be a mother to us—her own children. It is important for her to make up for what she lost even if we, her children, are not the direct beneficiaries.
I have come to learn that people see what they want to see. Bad or good things that happen, people have the trait to gratify their leanings. My gratification comes from seeing transformation.
I have been trying to get my mother out of Nairobi and back to the countryside where life is manageable, surrounded and secured by extended family ties. This would be very important for her because as she ages, it will come a time when she would depend completely on people around her. In our developing countries we still don’t have old people’s homes where the government would take care of them. When someone gets old to the extent that she cannot manage things by herself, there have to be relatives around to help in every way. Being jobless and yet living in the capital city can be tricky. This is why until recently she was living in a slum part of the town.
One of the things that have stood in the way of getting her out of Nairobi is the fact that she is staying with an old man who also had his fair deal of life’s tragedies.
The man was doing well in the pre-Amin years Uganda. When the Ugandan dictator came to power, it turned out that this man was doing well at the wrong place, or rather at the wrong political dispensation. He was a Kenyan working in Uganda. One day he came home to find that his wife and children had been burned to death in the house. Idi Amin’s agents of wickedness had picked a bone with this man even though the latter didn’t even know about it. To get him, Amin’s agents had politicised his presence and dealings in Uganda. He never knew a thing about this. Has he known he could have left for his home country, Kenya, in good time.
This man was told by sympathisers that he was actually the one the killers were looking for. He escaped from Uganda back to Kenya empty-handed and worst of all, without his family.
This is the man that was now staying with my mother. Taking my mother back home where she left us forty years ago means that she leaves this man.
Knowing what happened to this man in Uganda, my mother’s compassion was stirred. She told me that she had a problem abandoning the man and subjecting him to another round of loneliness and disorientation.
When my mother told me this, the impulsive thought that hit my mind was: “She never had that compassion to my humble, yet ailing and incapacitated father. Now she looks so concerned about a man with whom she is not even formally married!” That was a flash of a thought—I never entertained it long enough to influence what I would tell my mother. I could almost imagine a voice telling me that the thought that had just crossed my mind was not the right way of looking at it—there would be a better way of looking at it. But, really, was there anything good in this? Isn’t it only scratching open an old wound—the wound of being abandoned with an ailing Father?
Without any premeditation and with words that I believe were not mine, a voice whispered within me: “Wow, what a change! My mother has really changed; she is compassionate. If she wasn’t compassionate then, she is now—what a positive change, a true mien of a transformed life!” This kind of observation was compatible with the heart of Christ that the Holy Spirit testifies to and identifies with in my heart. My face beamed with joy to know that I finally have a mother who is compassionate.
The heart and attitude of Christ has become the primary pursuit of my pleasure.
With the attitude of Christ, it doesn’t matter to me who benefits from an act of compassion, it matters that someone benefits from this invaluable virtue of Christ. Isn’t this one of the deep insights the Prodigal Son’s story teaches (Lk. 15:11-32)—the response we give when what belongs to us is passed on to someone else—more so to someone who doesn’t deserve it? The elder son who had all along done everything right failed by taking offence when his father passed on favours to the wayward son.
The Spirit of Christ has taught me that my mother being a mother to someone when she was never there for us is not something to arouse jealousy. Taking care of a man when she wasn’t there to comfort my father in the evening years of his life and bury him when he passed on is not something to stir bitterness in me. What I see, may I repeat, is her transformed life—I give God the glory for this! I love her deeply. I know she has her reasons for leaving but she has never talked to me about them. Whether the reasons are excusable or not is not my concern. My concern is that I have a mother whom I love and whom God has shown mercy and saved. Praise God!
If I harboured bitterness and embraced unforgiving spirit in my heart against her, she wouldn’t have seen Christ in me—she probably may not have received the Lord in her life. I have solemnly decided not to give anyone, including people that may be perceived as my enemies, a credible excuse to reject Christ. That is my mission in life.
My mother and my sons: Jim-Jif and Victor
CHILD LABOUR OR LABOURING FOR SURVIVAL?
Being sick and yet not even aware of it is a life-threatening condition, but being poor and not even conscious about it is a life-lightening position. While sickness is definitive, poverty is relative.
Toiling for Survival
In many parts of the world children work arduously in order to survive. In most of these cases, working or not working spells the difference between eating and going hungry; putting on cloths and going naked.
The world criticizes child labour—and rightly so, but what has it done to address the underlying reasons for child labour? The focus is on the skewed capitalism where there is organised and structured exploitation of the labour of the disadvantaged child. Whether a child labours because of exploitation by those who own the means of production, or because of necessity (for survival), that small children toil long hours instead of doing what children do best, namely, playing, is one of the major failures of mankind.
If we talk of stopping child labour, it would be moral to provide an alternative for their survival. The basic things to do include stopping exploitation; cutting on the long hours and generally improving on the working conditions and also making sure that no work is allowed to come between the child and schooling. The other alternative is to address their basic needs so that they don’t have to work to survive.
For a child who works out of necessity, it may not be morally plausible to derogate his work when an alternative means for survival is not available. In some cases, the child labour that results from the need for survival may be much heavier than those of capitalistic exploitation.
There are thousands of ways that resources on planet earth can be distributed so that nobody agonises in extreme poverty. That is by the way—definitely not what I am pursuing in this book.
When my mother left and my father was not in physical shape to fend for us, it meant that there were several things we had to either forgo or work hard and for a stretch of time in order to acquire. For me, and this was not exclusive, working was natural. The difference, however, was that those who had their parents didn’t have to completely rely on themselves to acquire what they needed.
A Sack for a Blanket
One thing I thank God for is that though we were desperately poor, we were not even aware of it. The reason is that almost everybody was in the same level. It was also good that there was no spirit of comparison so that even some of us who happened to be at the very base were not looked down upon. The claws of poverty are sharpened by the spirit of comparing oneself with the rich. Poverty bites more if the poor is exposed to riches and yet having none of it.
Another good thing was that though we lacked those necessary things that money could buy, we always had enough to eat. With enough fish in the lake (Lake Victoria); with fertile soil and adequate rainfall during crop seasons, and with a hardworking foster mother, we never went without food one day. Life in the countryside was not monetary based. With subsistence kind of life, rain was all we needed. We only needed money to buy clothes and the likes. And thank God for the tropical part of the world. Here nobody dies because of nakedness. At times it could be extremely cold but there had never been a talk of someone freezing to death. In this sense, it was almost conceivable that clothes were luxuries. With food in our stomach, we could survive.
For a child who works out of necessity, it may not be morally plausible to derogate his work when an alternative means for survival is not available.
Apart from three occasions, I don’t remember anybody buying me a cloth from the time we came from Macalder at age 6. I toiled in order to get clothes. After saving money for a good stretch of time, I would buy mitumba (second hand clothes). At times, I would go with tattered clothes for a long period of time.
I survived with the blanket I came with from Macalder for a time. Long before my father died, it had outlived its name of being a blanket. After it was dilapidated, I used to coil myself inside a brown cotton sack for a good night’s sleep.
When my father died, I inherited his blanket. It kept me going for a while. When it also got into pieces, I reverted to a sack. I can’t remember for how long I used a sack for blanket. I only remember that I acquired my “first” new blanket when I was going to Form 1 (the first year in a Secondary School). That was in 1979, I was 16 years old. The feel and the smell of a new blanket was something reviving to the soul. When the body is comforted, the soul is revitalized.
I am the little boy in tattered clothes in the middle. This is the same canoe that we had used with my bother to go and get the plough in Mirunda
Working Was Natural
At the time I was growing up, there was no girl in the family. The only daughter in my uncle’s home had been married. She got married about a year before I was born. In our culture, there was a clear division of labour. There were some duties that were meant for the girls. These included, fetching firewood and water; grinding the cereals for floor, washing utensils, fetching both wild and cultured vegetables and cooking. Boys were expected to clear the farms for ploughing; ploughing itself; milking the cows; fishing; hunting, felling trees, etc. The neutral chores included: weeding, harvesting and grazing the livestock.
Because there was no girl in the home, I had to help with virtually every kind of work: I cooked; fetched firewood; fetched water; ground cereals—I did it all. For a boy to do these things, it was a mark of humility but sometimes it could turn out to be the subject of mockery by peers, worse so if the teasing was done by the girls.
Though at one time we were three boys among whom I was the youngest, the other two—my own brother and a nephew, the son to the only daughter of the home—were not as involved as I was.
During ploughing season we used to wake up at 4 am. to go ploughing with oxen. At 6:30, we would be released to go prepare for school which used to begin at 7:30. While the two—Lucas, my brother and John, my nephew—would wash their face and legs and run off to school, I would remain behind milking four cows. By the time I was through, it would be few minutes to 7:30, sometimes even past the time already. The distance from home to school was about 2 km.
Because of the milking assignment, I was always late for school. During my school days, corporal punishment was the order of the day for misconduct, lateness and any other punishable offence. Because I was regularly late, I was routinely getting the strokes of the cane. I even remember being relieved of my duties as a class prefect. The reason was that as a prefect, I was supposed to set a good example. What manner of prefect was I, always late! The painful thing was that my prefect job was given to my own brother. Though he was older than me, he had had a break from school when he left home and lived with a relative some far place. This explains why I caught up with him.
I raised the issue of my perennial lateness with Mama Nora. She was the only adult I could say something that may sound like a complaint. She never understood the concept of punctuality in terms of the clock. According to her, as long as one was not the last person, one couldn’t be accused of lateness. A popular path to school happened to pass just few metres in front of our home. As long as she spotted any school going child after I had left, I wouldn’t convince her that I was late when I raised the issue with her after school. To her, lateness was relative ordinally, that is, one’s arrival in relation to others and not in relation to the clock.
At one time, I had had enough of caning. I had to device a way of dodging the punishment. At home, I had to work. There was no way around it; at school, punctuality was not negotiable. I was a victim—torn between two equal forces. To avoid punishment, I worked on making a hidden opening at one side of the fence so that when I was late, as usual, I would crawl through the shrubs and get to the fence where no one would see me. I would then cross into the school compound through the fence. If I managed to get to the school compound without passing through the main gate, I would avoid the cane. There was always someone at the gate to write the names of late-comers. As long as my name was not picked at the gate, I would be safe. It was however strictly prohibited to cross the fence.
My sneaking into the school went well for some time until one day Ouma, one of my close friends, was also late. Being extremely scared of caning, he pleaded with me to let him accompany me as I made for my hidden entry point into the school. Being a close friend, I allowed him. Things were going on well until Mr. Apiyo Adian’g, the master on duty who also happened to be the most feared teacher in the school, appeared at the wrong time and place. Being an amateur in sneaking—it was going to be his first time to sneak through the fence—Ouma panicked and literally emerged from the shrubs and started running away. I had no choice but to follow suit. Our sneaking operation had been foiled.
Sometimes forgiveness is more effective as a corrective measure than punitive methods.
What we were doing was so serious; we couldn’t face any teacher, let alone Mr. Apiyo. One mistake led to another. We ran away and went back home. That was another unheard of mistake. We would also be marked absent in the roll call. What I have learnt with mistakes (or call them, sin) is their compounding tendency, that is, you make one mistake and you attempt to cover it by making another. All this is done in disregard to the age-old adage: Two wrongs don’t make a right.
Initially, it looked like the teacher launched a man-haunt to get us. We played hide-and-seek until the week ended. After the end of the week, another teacher would be on duty. This would minimise Mr. Apiyo’s involvement with the supervisory routines of the week. We were also lucky that during that term he wasn’t teaching any subject in our class. We got away with it—or so we thought.
At first, we thought we made it because we were shrewd. Later, however, we came to learn that our getting away with misdemeanour had nothing to do with our slyness. The teacher had deliberately decided to forgive us.
Mr. Apiyo, of all the teachers, forgiving us! If you knew Mr. Apiyo, you’d agree with me that it was a miracle of sorts. You would also agree that there may be a hidden compassionate spot in people who may seem not to have any compassion.
Since it was unheard of that pupils would run away from a teacher in his full view, he understood the trauma we went through by the imminence of facing him with the kind of offence he caught us committing. He reasoned that the trauma was enough punishment and would relent in causing us further distress. It was Mr. Apiyo himself who told me months later that he was well capable of getting us but decided to let it go. Ouma and I were not known to be naughty in any other way. He warned us not to repeat what we did. That was the end of the story of crossing the fence. Sometimes forgiveness is more effective as a corrective measure than punitive methods.
Sources of Income
As I mentioned earlier, by age 6 after leaving Macalder, I was on my own in terms of getting something that only money could buy. If I had to get a cloth on by back I had to work for it. I don’t remember anyone buying me clothes except on three occasions.
The task of accumulating enough money to buy clothes took a long period and was an arduous job. Sources of income included gleaning. After harvesting, especially maize, I would go behind the harvesters and pick up what they left behind. I would then thresh the maize that I picked before taking it to the gristmill to be round in flour. I would then sell the flour and accumulate the money—so much floor for so little money.
I also raised money from fishing. Mostly going to where they were howling a trolley. What we used to do is to help them draw the net. When the net came ashore, the owners of the fishing gear would give us some fish. We would supplement this by positioning ourselves in the escape routes so that we could catch the fish that jumped out of the net. Some children were in this just to get fish for their consumption. For me, I didn’t have to worry about fish to be eaten at home, Mama Nora always catered for this. I used to smoke the fish and sell—again, like floor, so much fish for so little money.
Another source of income was making sisal fibres. I would cut the sisal leaves—they were plenty; process them, stripping off the fleshy leaves and remaining with the fibres. I used to sell the fibres to middlemen who would further sell the fibres to industries. Alternatively, I could weave ropes and sell—a very slow process indeed and with very minimal returns.
I also used to weave mats. There was plenty of papyrus (locally known as togo) at the lake. I would cut, split and then weave a mat. There was always stiff competition for the market for this ware. The reason was that there were many adult “professionals” who could make far much better mats. The only way to beat them in the market was do charge extremely low price. Considering the demanding process of this work, it was more often not worth it.
There was also otong’o. This was where one would weed a measured out portion of a farm (or garden) and get paid according to the size of the portion one managed to weed—too big a portion for too little money.
One more source of income was grass. When time allowed, I would cut grass and then dry it in the sun. After drying, I would tie the grass into bundles and sell to fishmongers. Dry grass was used by the latter to smoke fish in order to preserve them—here as well, you guessed it, too much grass for so little money.
Mama Nora never understood the concept of punctuality in terms of the clock. According to her, as long as one was not the last person, one couldn’t be accused of lateness.
Though there were many ways of making money as outlined above, the reader needs to understand that there were many odds working against any attempt to making money:
The first was that there were always competing tasks:
Because of this there wasn’t always sufficient time to do enough to make meaningful amount of money. There was school which stretched from 7:30 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon; there were home-works to be done; home errands to be attended to—fetching water and firewood, farm works, grazing the livestock, etc.
The second category of odds was market oriented:
There was not always market for the things I would wish to sell. There was also this idea of doing so much work for so little money. There was competition with the adults—both for the market and taking advantage of us. At times, for example, one of my cousins, Okomo (in whose parents’ home I lived) would ask me to do for him the very things I would have done for myself to earn some money. When he got the money out of the things I did for him, he would tell me that I am such a bad boy that he wouldn’t give me a thing. He is the cousin who almost made me take my own life—I will come back to this later.
Lastly, as a kid, sometimes I just needed to play.
Playing football and swimming in the lake among others, proved to be more attractive than the need to make money and buy the “necessities”.
Proceed to Chapters 4-6