Mark Kaigwa

Posts Tagged ‘family’

Uncovered Roots: The Journey of My Grandparents

In History's Future, Perspective on January 6, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Today was an amazing day as far as rediscovering and tracking back in time to find out about the family tree.

My cucu (grandma) on my Dad’s side took the family on a tour of where life began for her, and how it developed from the 1950’s when they first moved to Nairobi. We visited the very place that my aunt, Tata Bush, was born. Which was a house just off Jogoo Road in Kaloleni at a small 1 bedroom bungalow known as D16. We also went through Ofafa Jericho, Maringo, Buru Buru, Hamza, Maendeleo and a host of other nooks and crannies of Eastlands area of Nairobi.

It was amazing to see where my grandma first stayed, to see the shop my grandfather first opened here in the city. The story behind that is actually pretty amazing. It goes that they owned one of some 20 shops that form a cul-de-sac  of shops encircling a space that functions as the parking lot. At this shop, my grandfather would sell amenities and kerosene. The shop was called Kaigwa General Stores and sold groceries, sugar, salt, marbles for the kids and everything in between.

We met a man who was 2nd Generation butchery owner, and he recognized my father, and some of his siblings.  They had been running his butchery for fifty years now, and they had a dark room of sorts on the inside. The dark room being the room we passed through to get through to the back. It was lit by lonely streaks of light through the fifty year old corrugated fiberglass on the roof. It lit conspicuously onto a tray of matumbo that four middle-aged men were happily sharing over banter. We slid through the dim corridoor to the other side where we found the back wall. The story behind the back wall was equally amazing.

At the famed Kaigwa General Stores and all the other stores like it in the cul-de-sac, there was a practice less spoken of, yet practiced quite regularly. And it ought to be, considering what it was. Back in these days, the mid to late 50’s the sewerage system had not been fully developed in the African quarters that were Eastlands. All Africans would stay in Eastlands, from Kaloleni to Makadara. From what I’m told Makadara was comparable to the finest estates in the city now, and you had to somebody to stay there. Makadara is where the shop was, and remains to this day, though under a different name – Nyagachuhi General Store. The complex where it’s located is now called Hamza Shopping Centre, in Hamza Estate, on Hamza Road, off Jogoo Road. I should Google Map this, just so you can get the aerial view. I will.

So, back to this practice. Basically all they had for a sewerage system was a bucket. Yes, a bucket. The bathroom contained a bucket, and you would do your business, number 1 or number 2, and leave it be. At the end of the day, a handful of city council men with a truck would come round the back, and collect the buckets. The funny thing, because I asked the stupid question ” What happened if you weren’t done yet?”, was that you had to hold whatever you were doing once they grabbed the bucket. You could never for any reason continue to do your do-do once you heard a hand stick through the wall and grab the bucket.

The back wall of the complex had about two-by-two bricks missing at the bottom of the wall. They would stick their hands through the wall, mostly  unannounced, to grab your bucket. As I said, if you were halfway, you would hold, and wait until the bucket was returned. If you dared to continue what you were doing, ignored them or told them to wait, you were in trouble, big smelly trouble; they would either throw the bucket back or pour the contents over your floor, and consequently your feet. You didn’t want to mess with them. And so, you didn’t. God forbid you ever, for any reason got anything on the hand that grabs your bucket. You’ll be sorry.

One of the most amazing stories of the day, was how at the Kaigwa General Stores at Makadara, My late grandfather got the first Kerosene pump in the whole complex and one of the only ones in Eastlands. With it, he got ahead of the curve by creating one of the first neon signs that side of town. Here’s what I mean by neon: it was an electric box that hung from the canopy right outside the door of the store. On the outside it had a message written with little yellow lights and it read ‘Ukai mwone uriru’ which translates from Kikuyu to English to read ‘Come and See the Amazing Wonders’ and it didn’t just bring customers, it helped keep them.

At the bottom of the electric box were two yellow light bulbs, and these would flicker on and off every couple seconds. The real story comes from how all the kids would react, my father recalls watching a drove of young 3-8 year olds, among them his sister, my aunt, gaze dreamily at the sign for long periods of time. When the light would go on they would all shout ‘Menoooo!!!’ which has no direct English translation, but refers to when something goes bright suddenly.

When the bulbs would go off momentarily they would then shout ‘Bucha!!!’ which roughly means ‘blink’ in Gikuyu. As soon as dusk would approach, like moths to a lamp as it glows, they would begin to converge around the shop, even before it went on, waiting. They would wait, and then go ‘Meno!!!’ and ‘Bucha!!!’in unison as it flickered on and off. I just imagine it like one of these zombie movies with the last remaining humans, and they converge around the place. They never got tired, and they never got bored of singing.

Our trip today started with Makadara, went to Ofafa Maringo, where they had the Hodi Hodi Club, which  then Ofafa Jericho, then Bahati, then to Kaloleni where Tata Bush was gone. WE missed out on going to Bondeni, where Cucu and Guka moved to next, then they went to Makadara. From there to Ofafa Maringo, and from Ofafa to Garden Estate. Where we’ve been for the past 20 odd years. When my grandfather changed Kaigwa General stores to a bar – the Hodi Hodi club, he got a pair of gentlemen to run it, and they eventually bought it off him, as he began a farm on the land here in Garden Estate, our current residence.

It was a great privilege to see where my relatives were born and track the life and times of my grandparents as they began to work their way up in life. My late grandfather became deputy mayor of Nairobi, my grandmother, a businesswoman. All in all it’s been a blessing, and the perfect way to celebrate family in a new way.

Amen to that.

Christmas: Turkey, Tradition and the Passing of a Great Woman

In Perspective, Real Talk on December 27, 2008 at 2:23 pm

What a bittersweet holiday. It’s been amazing to be able to give, to receive, to continue to help those less fortunate, to deny little luxuries, while indulging in others. It’s been an immersion in the true meaning of Christmas, exploring Christ, continuing the walk, affirming oneself. Humbling oneself before Jesus and surrendering more, while being thankful for the spiritual development made.

This has been the most amazing year of my life, I feel like I’ve savoured it rather than it just blazing through. Like it’s about time it ended, and yet already nostalgic, and wishing I could relive some of the experiences that made it what it was.

But bringing all this to the context of today, it’s been bittersweet. I found out that my great-grandmother Maitu Bella passed away this morning. The word Maitu is a Kikuyu word that figuratively means ‘mother’ but since Cucu is grandmother, there’s no word for great-grandma, so it starts all over again. She was 92 years old. And she was amazing.

She still had all her teeth, dressed up every once in a while. She was physically fit, loved to stroll around, and would love to tell stories, or just kick it with you under a beautiful leaning tree in the front parking lot on her red chair, as she basked in the swaying rays of sun underneath the shade. Though old age had it’s effect on her, in some ways, with her suffering a stroke sometime back – she’d never exactly been the same – but she’d always been so much fun to be around. I consider it one of the greatest blessings bestowed upon me to be able to see, hang out, and interact with my great-grandma, and I’m happy she’s moved on. Happy for her because I’m sure of where she’s headed to. Knowing she had accepted Christ personally.

When I tell people that my shags or rural home is in South B – a popular suburb in the city – people get shocked, or think I’m joking. But it’s true. My grandparents, a pair of real town folk if there ever were some, have lived in South B since the 50’s or 60’s and my mother and siblings grew up there. They also have made some developments around their land, some 4-storey flats being their best achievement. I come over ever other week to chill, they have a great spot for me there that’s real nice, and they are fantastic company to be with. There’s little goings on in this city that’s news to them.

Besides Maitu Bella’s passing on ,there was also the 17 year old tradition fulfilled this year. My mother’s side of the family goes to the Railway Club at the Railway Station here in Nairobi for lunch every year. And I’ve never been more glad to celebrate tradition than I was today. It was amazing, I felt a part of something great, being there and having the same meal – the buffet – for 17 years might sound old hat, but it enchants me.

To see family, cousins and relatives I hadn’t seen in a while, others visiting, and being able to share that meal with them was a blessing. To reminisce over times we’d fought in the past, us younger ones, or times we were disciplined for something someone did. Or even over how my cousin would always ask for tomato sauce and whether they had chips, everywhere they went. From how I can’t get enough of their croquette potatoes.

Besides that there’s what happens the night before that really tells you it’s Christmas. For as long as I can remember, My Tata always would have a great dinner on Christmas Eve. All of my Dad’s family would sit outside on the patio, with all the creepers crawling down its sides, and make merry under the stars. She’d make stuffed turkey, pork, grated carrots peppered with raisins and honey, salads and do not get me started on the desserts. Just rich, lip-licking, overindulgence under the stars. And afterwards, there’s the familiar sugarcane, and sweet bananas from my Dad’s shags to ease our already full stomachs.

It was so funny this time, I was with cousins outside at around midnight and everyone was so drowsy from all the eating, and we were all cracking up from talking randomly. We came up with classic lines such as ‘ Just one piece of sugarcane? Such a lie!’ and ‘ Here, just one sweet banana… Such a lie!’ Because we were all so full, but couldn’t understand what could be causing our hands to work so mechanically to ensure that the sugarcane, nicely diced, was all but over chewed.

With all this said, it’s too easy to come to the conclusion that this is the norm. It may be over these two days, but in between all this, generosity – and I don’t mean just fiscal – but that of time, love, and compliments has been at an all time high. I met a lady the other day outside the Uchumi with her beautiful baby strapped to her back, asleep, unaware of her Mum’s plight, and needless to say me and Mum had a nice little chat agreeing to make things better for the little one.

Lucas, my friend, wasn’t anywhere to be seen today, I assume he’s with the wife and kids. But God knows how I love the guy. He has the most amazing smile you ever saw, and even just coming up to him to chat with him for a bit makes him just fill you with the contagious joy he possesses. A father of six, his being blind hasn’t stopped him from being a great Dad to his children, and I admire him so much.

Christmas for me is about reflection, looking and examining oneself and one’s relationship with Jesus, acknowledging shortfalls, putting things at the foot of the cross. And celebrating Christ’s birth, while ensuring that you begin to develop consistent charity and generosity, making it less seasonal, and more personal and intimate with those you aid.

Be blessed, and don’t forget what Christmas is all about.