There are two Mama Oliechs, one owns a fine eatery and the other is deep in the slums of Kibera, the mother to a notorious thief. I have always asked my fellow women friends what they have to thank God for and most say, my son, my daughter, my loving husband, a roof on my head, food and provision etc. Well, unlike them I had nothing to thank God for.
I was married to Oluoch in our early Nairobi days. I came to Nairobi to work as a househelp and I have been from one home to another, wiping childrens’ butt and resisting sexual favours from the man of the house. Oluoch was a handsome man, finely built, mascular, his muscles well tucked between his bones. Yes, he made all the women go crazy. Like me, he was also unskilled. He was industrious and loved spending time with me. He was one of a kind, a gentleman who knew exactly what his woman wanted. I idolized him. He had a job, he banged scrap metals in Industrial area.
Oluoch loved me to death. He would take a bullet for me. This was evident in the many dates he took me at Uhuru Park and how he took pride in introducing me to his friends. We were happy. We were poor, we saved everything for our future. The fact that our love was like a koala in craze, we forgot that we rarely survived on two meals a day. We never yearned for the worldly, we just knew that so long as we had each other everything was just okay.
We got married and we had our first born girl Akinyi. Our second born son Oliech came a year and a half later and Akello closed the chapter 5 years after Oliech was born. I had to operate my small kibanda (kiosk) in the slum as I now had my kids to take care of. These kids never lacked anything. We worked hard to provide for them, they were never chased from school, had everything they needed and we ensured that they were well-fed. Sometimes Oluoch thought that I spoilt them. They never missed Sunday school. They were good kids who topped the classes. None of them ever became number two in class. The teachers praised us for bringing up little geniuses.
March 16, 5.17 am. This date is forever stamped in my heart. Oluoch woke up in deep pain on his chest. I told him to rest but he insisted on going to work. At around mid day, I was done with my house chores. I visited Akello to school and was back to my kiosk when I got this call from Masinde, a colleague to Oluoch. He told me that I should get to Kenyatta Hospital as Oluoch was hospitalized. I was there in no time and I saw the face of death. He looked weak, his eyes were pale and milk white. I went to his bed and cried like a baby, praying, asking God not to take him. He looked at me and said, ‘Hey baby, nothing is wrong with me, am just having a flu. I will get better. The doctors are just about to get me the results.’
Like the prophet of doom, this doctor came into the room and asked me who I was to the patient. I told him that I was the wife. He called me to the side and broke the news. He told me that my husband was suffering from cancer, pancreatic cancer to be precise. I gave up a wail that could bring dead bones to life and passed out. I woke up in the same hospital bed with Masinde’s wife beside me. I was discharged and went to see my husband right away. He still looked weak. He grabbed my arm and told me that everything was going to be okay and that I should lean on God for trust. The doctors advised that he should start medication right away.
Over the next 18 months, life was never the same again. I woke up every morning to go to the hospital. I didn’t know how to tell my kids that their dad had cancer. They would still ask me when he would come back. I lost the taste of life, the petals of love that blossomed withered to shreds of brokenness. I was going mad. I had everyone pray, my family, friends, church members, my pastor and everyone I had encountered with in life. The first 5 months drained all our life savings. All Ksh. 574,000 rose like the dust and faded into thin air. I remember asking my pastor what business God has with the poor, why He takes pleasure in making us more poor and taking the ones we love. I asked him to tell God to take everything we have but not my Oluoch.
The next 13 months was gruesome. We had spent everything on the hospital bills and I still had to be in the hospital daily. Akinyi was to join form one. I vividly remember her showing her father her name in the dailies as she was listed among Kenya’s top candidates. The sight of his father kissing his forehead brought me to tears. We sold everything that had value to pay for this bill. Friends and family did the best they could in their contributi0n but Oluoch wasn’t getting any better. We had tons of prayer meetings at different churches, houses and even the village. Nairobi Arboretum was home to me. Deep in the forest I would cry to God to heal my husband. Friends and family had already given up on me. I owed everyone. I forgot that I even had kids. Akinyi deferred her form one intake by a year. I cared less about what my kids would eat. I remember Oliech asking me for food and I told him that he was now man enough he should fend for himself. He was in class six.
Akello was still very young to understand. Life moved from bad to worst and I blamed God for everything; my life, my husband, my kids, my fate, my state of life etc. I ceased praying. I went blank. Yes, he finally died. After 18 months of visiting the hospital. After walking daily from Kibera to Kenyatta hospital to Arboretum, back to the hospital and to Kibera to fend for my family. What would I have to thank God for? Life? Two working feet and eyes? Good health? All depleted in 18 months of trekking? Did I do anything to deserve this? Was I that evil? Did I make a pact with the devil that God decided to repay me this way? Why do the evil and corrupt have their good lives while I linger in pain? The dead buried their dead, it was no longer my husband’s body but their beloved’s. They are the family anyway. After they stamped all names on me, that I killed my husband to be wealthy and that I did not have their beloved brother’s interest at heart, I was told never to set foot in Ugenya.
I was lost. I could not think. My mind was empty. For days I sat on my bed crying clutching his picture in my arms. One day, I asked myself, “Where are my kids?” I stormed outside shouting, “Someone stole my kids! Please help!” It was then that one mouthy neighbor came out of her house and said, “Do you think that life will pity you? Now that you have lost a man? What of we who have lost everyone? Get a life Mama Oliech. This is life!” She got into her house and slammed the door behind her. Mama Joni came out holding Akello in her arms. I was happy to see my last born daughter. I got her in my arms and asked where the rest of my kids were.
“Akinyi works at Mbugua’s pub these days as a waiter as she has to fend for herself. Oliech is hard to trace these days but I occasionally see him with Billy and Natty.” Mama Joni said, sadly looking at me.
I rushed to Mbugua’s and found Akinyi dressed like a whore serving drunks. She was also high. I grabbed her pulling her out when she shouted, “Hey woman! You neglected us, you left us alone, the man you chose instead of us is long gone. Move on mum. I am busy working here, can’t you see?” Tears welled up my eyes as these words pierced through my heart. I saw men spank my little girl and touching her boobies as she smiled. I went back home just to find Oliech with rugged hair eating at Mama Joni’s.
“Oliech where have you been?”
“Woman, next time you ask me such a question, I will put a bullet on your head. I am a grown up, I can fend up for myself, remember?” He said these as he pulled out a gun just to show off that he was now a criminal.
I was scared. ‘How long has it been since my husband died?’ I asked myself. ‘Oliech is only 15. He has been hanging out with Billy and Natty, the notorious criminals around. How do I fix this? Where was I? Did I spoil these kids?’ Mama Joni explained to me that I went mad after Oluoch’s death. I never talked to anyone. I just sat at my bed wailing. She did everything for me. Took care of my kids and gave me food. She told me of how she has been talking to Oliech and Akinyi about good paths in life to no avail. She told me of how they refused to hear anything about God asking her whether that God helped their mother who neglected them and is currently depressed. I was out of tears.
I spent the next week in Arboretum. Not praying but contemplating suicide. Many times I had my noose ready but this voice in me stopped me. I rededicated my life to Christ and committed my kids to Him. I worked hard to fend for them but things never got the way they used to be. Natty and Billy were shot dead by the police and Oliech became the gang leader. He totally refused to change. He commanded an army of young armed boys who stole from local shoppers and who demanded taxes in the name of Oliech. Yes, I was stamped, Mama Oliech, ‘The mother of thieves.’ Nobody could buy from me and my business fell. In another gruesome moment in my life, Oliech was hunted down by the community and cut into pieces as I watched. They then summoned all the stray dogs to feed on his remains and lick his blood. All these I watched as the police took his remains to the morgue.
What do I have to thank God for? The remains of my genius boy Oliech? My failure in parenting? This time I tied my noose on my bedroom and sent Akello to Mama Joni to get some salt. Just as I was yoking myself to the rope, Akello was looking at me. Her sad watery eyes kept a straight gaze at me and I couldn’t do it again. I clutched my baby on my bed and cried all night. Akinyi loved Oliech to death, she was really traumatized by her brother’s death. She went into drugs and became an addict. She moved to Nigeria. Well, Nigeria is not a country, but it is a nasty place in Eastlands where drug addicts like my beloved daughter spend their eternity in. She brought me a son, young and weak and I devoted to raise the child. There was something in this kid. Every time I looked into its eyes, there was a spark in me. I saw the Oluoch I lost. I felt as if God had replaced him. Later that year, I got news that my daughter had passed on. I can say that I was mentally prepared for that. I was used to crying myself to sleep so my daughter’s death was soaked in my sheets as usual. Again, what do I have to thank God for? Three lost souls? A new title? ‘The mother of the criminal?
I could no longer get a job in Kibera. I could no longer sell wares or fruits or grocery and so I moved to Mathare 4C. I felt sad leaving Mama Joni. She had been so instrumental in my life. I used to get odd jobs in Muthaiga across the road. One day as I was crossing the road, the police caught me crossing the highway as I was not using the footbridge. Akello and I and my new Oluoch on my back were taken to the police station. I cried a lot that day, telling them that I was rushing to make a living. Harsh words were said upon me. I was told of how arrogant I was because I threatened three lives. I blamed myself for being a bad parent. They told me that they could help me with Akello. They told me that she would get into a children’s home. I resisted this as she was the only hope in my life but they told me that it was either that way or they arraign me in court. I had to bear with the loss of custody of my Akello. I would often visit her in the children’s home. Most clients in Muthaiga never wanted someone who carried young ones to their homes and so young girls beat me in taking the washing jobs. Life became hard. Harder than a nut. One day I was robbed off everything in my house. I was rendered useless. Sleeping on the cold floor with a newborn baby was hectic. I couldn’t pay my rent and had to now live in the streets. Begging became a career. At this point in my life, what do I have to thank God for? Life on the streets? A wailing newborn? Tucking myself in polythene bags and sniffing glue to forget the hunger, cold, pain and suffering?
Some young well dressed Nairobi kids from a group calling themselves Kkrew came to tell me about Christ. Telling me about how He saves, how sovereign He is and how He will really impact my life if I accept Him. I concurred with them so that I may beg them something to eat but deep inside I was like, ‘I wish you little kids knew.’ They gave me something. Their preaching of Christ fell on deaf ears as I had lost faith in every deity there was. But there was this young man who maintained eye contact all through the conversation. He said nothing but he looked at me as if he knew all what I had gone through. He said four words to me as they left, ‘There is a reason.’ That night these words kept ringing in my ears till dawn.
People no longer put coins in our cups and I had to change strategy. I had to quit sniffing glue, dress like a muslim and seat near mosques to as to look responsible. One day, I was sitting on a bench in Central Park. I was worn out and was dozing off when a woman tapped me. She was well-dressed and had this smile on her face. It was Mama Joni. I wondered what happened in her life. She looked wonderful. She was scared to see me beaten up like that. Tears started flowing from her eyes. She asked me why I converted to Islam. She asked me why I gave up hope in Christ. She asked me where Akello was and after a long pause, she cried. She sat on the bench with me. Other women joined us and she narrated them my story. They were from a chama meeting and were in Central Park to pray for a farming project they were starting. Maybe now, I had something to thank God for, someone cared.
Mama Joni was still living in Kibera. It was very weird and funny that the house I used to live in was still intact. Nobody wanted to live in a witch’s house. She rented the house out for me, bought clothes and all household items for me. She asked the other women if I could work for the chama‘s farming project. I asked why she was doing all these and said that I inspired her life, just in the way I loved my husband. She told me that had she loved her husband the same way, Joni could have a father figure. Finally I got somewhere to work as little Oluoch was growing up. In the garden, I would think of what the boy had told me, ‘There is a reason.’ I did my work earnestly as I reflected upon my life. I started going to church again and this time round I didn’t ask questions, I just listened. There was this time that a woman from church asked me how I handled my husband’s death. I told her how horrible it was and how I can handle it again with what life has taught me. In the next few months, I was telling my testimony in church. Everyone cried including the little kids who saw their parents cry. One day, still toiling in the garden, this little boy came to hide in the greenhouse. He had stolen food. I cannot remember what I told him but I remember going with him to apologize as I bought him food. This little boy was coming to say hi to me daily since then. It was then that I thought, ‘What if my Oliech had this such of guidance?’ I now sat to ponder, ‘I have something to thank God for. I am gifted in talking to people.
I thought of a mentorship programme. I asked for space in church where I would speak to the young boys and girls in the slums during my free times. It was full to capacity over the next few months and I prayed over it. Criminal gangs flooded the place, many to take advantage of the young girls coming to church but most of them found Christ even in their evil motives. The mentorship programme did not just become a programme for kids but for the old as well all learning from my life story. I have helped solve more cases than I could imagine, women battery, sibling conflict and the tons of people who were suicidal. All these were effected by the truths of the word of God. Partners came in. They run my story in all media but I told them of one thing, it is not by my own power nor for my own glory but for God’s glory. Yes, there was now a Mama Oliech mentorship programme, school and children’s home. There were runs and campaigns for the destitute, orphans, the poor and the society’s good cause. My Akello pursued her tertiary education abroad and came to plug in in unimaginable ways. For once I was happy with my life. Happier than my Oluoch days. Happy that my little Oluoch’s passion was to change Kibera. Wealth kicked in but that was no big deal to me. I could never leave the slum. I was just getting started. I wanted to make a million Mama Joni’s in the area. With her good English, she represented the foundation everywhere. She took the lead, I was the silent worker. So do I still have nothing to thank God for?
What did I learn in life?
1. I never knew God. I just accepted His truth in my brain and not in my heart. My external conditions changed the truths in my brain.
2. I idolized everything. Oluoch was my god. I never imagined a life without him. I thought my savings could cover me even when I had lacked. Half a million plus in Kibera is quite an amount but all was vapor. All was vanity.
3. I wanted my will to be done. I wanted my Oluoch healed. My kids to live a life I desired and things to work my way. Never did I ask God that His will may be done.
4. I took too much time to ask rather than give thanks.
5. I made a lot of noise. I cried a lot. In fear and in anxiety that things may work out. I never took time to listen.
6. Sometimes God doesn’t change your situation because He is trying to change your heart
7. I blamed everything around me for my misfortunes.
8. I prayed for the wrong things. If maybe I prayed for a new mindset, I would not have been such a hard head.
9. Everything will happen for a purpose. For the perfect will and glory of His name.
10. I only worshipped God when the storm was rough. God is to be worshipped in all seasons.
11. The simple things really matter. Mama Joni helped me in life just because I loved my husband Oluoch. She was inspired by my good acts.
Most of all I learned that we have everything to thank God for. I also learnt that, “We should be ashamed to die unless we make a meaningful contribution to mankind” and that, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. ” So, do you give your gift away or do you rot with it?
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