Last year around October, after I graduated from my PhD program, I went home to Kenya for a brief holiday of about two weeks. I visited both my grandmothers, on my mother’s side and on my father’s side, spending a night at each. I didn’t have time to stay longer.
When I visited my grandmother from my dad’s side, she was fascinated by Jeremy. She spoke Kisii and a bit of Swahili, languages Jeremy couldn’t understand. He spoke Japanese as his primary language and English as a secondary language (he understood both languages but was better at expressing himself in Japanese). So she just fed him and watched him run around with the twin calves that had been born recently.
My grandma then asked me, umepata bwana? (Have you found a husband). I laughed and told her, no, not yet but the search is ongoing. She then proceeded to catch me up on the latest in the village. It was hard to keep up because I don’t remember a lot of people from my childhood and it’s hard to keep track of everyone, with our ever expanding extended family.
The following morning when I woke up at 7:30am, she had already milked the cow, made breakfast, had breakfast and washed the dishes! That’s the kind of woman she was. Hardworking every single day. I remember a neighbour had passed away and we went to pay our respects, after which we came back and she proceeded to make us a delicious lunch. I feasted on avocados, knowing how much a precious commodity they are in Japan with a small one going for approximately Ksh. 150-200.
In the afternoon, she escorted Jeremy and I as we were heading to Kisii town to meet my younger brother. I said goodbye to her and she asked me to call more often.
Somehow a year has already passed.
Fast forward to late October 2019. For reasons to be blogged about later, I had to make a quick decision take Jeremy to Kenya to stay with my parents for a while.
At the time, my grandma was suffering from a second stroke she had suffered in a span of two months. When I took Jeremy to Kenya, I hadn’t taken much time off from work, and I was to return to Japan just four days later. Still, I knew I had to go see my grandma. So Jeremy and I landed at JKIA on a Saturday morning, and on Sunday we were on the road to Kisii.
When we arrived, my grandma recognized us right away. She hadn’t known I was coming and must have been shocked. She said my name “Nyanchama…”, looked at Jeremy, and tried to say something. Her speech was slurred and largely incomprehensible. It was hard to imagine this was the same grandmother that always woke up before sunrise and finished her chores, including farm-work on some days, while many people slept. She was frustrated because we couldn’t understand what she was trying to say, and a tear rolled down her face. My father loved his mother very much, and I could tell that he too was struggling to come to terms with his mother’s illness. My mother took a handkerchief out of her pocket and wiped my grandma’s face.
My grandma was always a jovial, talkative person. Stubborn and determined, she brought up her 7 children as a single parent. She fought against many who wanted the little piece of land on which she farmed to feed her family and raise school fees. Sometimes I think I take after her. Her brutal honesty (she was never one to mince her words), her determination, her hard work. (Except I haven’t figured out the early mornings yet. I’m still a night owl.) She never cared what people thought about her. She also couldn’t stand the pettiness of a lot of em.. church people so I didn’t see her go to church often.
She still took care of her youngest grandchildren until the time of her illness, as she had taken care of us when we were younger and our mother had gone off to college.
When she fell sick, my younger brother Samora, who is a doctor working in Kisii, was by default put in charge of her care. He is basically the only one who understood most what was going on in medical terms. What a heavy task on a 29 year old. He actually kept some of the devastating truth about the gravity of her condition from the rest of the family, including me. When I went back to Japan just a couple of days later, I had though that she was going to recover.
I think it was her first time to fly that following weekend. Samora drove my aunt and my grandmother to Nairobi, after which my aunt and grandma flew to Mombasa, where my aunt lives with her family. My grandma was to stay with my aunt in Mombasa and my aunt was to take care of her as she recovered. Ironically, her final journey will follow the same route: Flight to Nairobi followed a drive to Kisii.
Just last week, dad texted in the family whatsapp group that grandma was gone. She was 74 years old.
We’ve been trying to find pictures of her from our archives for the funeral program. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend it even though I do want to be with my family right now. I guess that without knowing it, I must have said goodbye a few weeks ago.
Here are is a picture of my grandma at my master’s graduation ceremony 5 years ago. This is how I choose to remember: her sense of humour and vitality for life, as well as her steely determination.