I pray that you are keeping sane in these interesting times that we have found ourselves in. In recent days, the spread of Corona Virus (COVID-19) has had a significant shift in the way we live our lives. Think of all the things we take for granted. Think of all the freedoms we enjoy, and now, those are progressively coming to a halt as we watch. While at it, we must condemn police brutality witnessed in Kenya over the weekend. It is UNACCEPTABLE!
A month ago, I stayed glued on my laptop to follow the burial proceedings for Kenya’s second President, the late Daniel Arap Moi. Little did I know that attending burials virtually will be my new normal. Last Saturday I woke up, earlier than it is for my Saturdays. I needed to attend a burial ceremony that was taking place in Mbale, Taita Taveta County. A beautiful soul, a woman who had a deep love for humanity and who diligently served the people of Wundanyi/ Mbale Ward was being laid to rest. Cancer, has yet again, robbed us of the only elected woman Member of the County Assembly (MCA) in Taita. This is barely months after another female MCA Anastasia Wakesho died of breast cancer in the same county.
I was told, an excellent way to deal with grief is to write about the deceased, so here I go. Madam Beatrice Mwabili died at Coptic Hospital in Nairobi on Sunday 22nd March at 6pm thereabout, following a short battle with gallbladder cancer. Wow, I can’t believe that I just typed that. Since I got the news, I have been going to bed, praying that I will wake up to a consolation that it was only but a bad dream. My heart is too delicate, and I don’t think I have enough life experience on how to deal with death. Family deaths, drain me, they take me a few steps back in life. I will explain.
You see, while many may remember Beatrice for her role as an MCA, I have a different story altogether. Beatrice was my sister and my mentor. She was my friend. She was a woman I looked up to and genuinely loved. One of those women who long after they are gone, they will remain alive, because there is a way you cannot write my life story without the mention of Beatrice. She was my dad’s favourite niece, and she knew it.
As I tried to digest the news, my heart broke. I cannot mourn Beatrice without mourning my father hence life has been tough for me the past week. Over the years I have been picking myself from the loss of my father, and as such, it is not helping that I am miles away, so I have had to deal with this somehow, all alone.
In April 2014, during my dad’s burial, Beatrice read his eulogy and said “The body that lies in front of us today is of a man I called my confidant. My uncle and I had a special relationship. We are many, but I know, I had a special place in his life, and I have always been his favourite.” And yes, she had a lot to say about my father. She was part of my parent’s bridal party when they got married in 1981, and she vividly remembered the day, many years down the line.
My parents made a lot of decisions for my siblings and I. At times they had to consult with other people. Beatrice was one such person. She was always on my dad’s speed dial.
In 2002, I had just cleared high school, and our results were out. I was excited that I had performed well enough for a chance to join university. But I wasn’t bothered about one thing. I wasn’t making the decision on the choice of college or university to go to. I had quickly transferred that hurdle to my parents. Typical of those who grew during my age, right?
But there was a problem. I did not have many options in life. All I knew is, I wanted to become a journalist and I wasn’t taking plan B. In my entire extended family, no one had ventured into journalism yet, so I did not have anyone to look up to or to seek advice from. My parents were as clueless as I was. The only journalists we knew were the presenters on the radio and the news anchors we saw on TV.
An evening tea with my dad went like this, “Patience, apart from journalism, what else would you like to pursue?” He asked. I could feel that the poor man was feeling lost because he didn’t seem to have an option of the schools to take me to. “No dad, (Aboo) as we would call him. At this point in my life, I am not entertaining option B. All I want in life is become a journalist. That’s the only option I have.” I responded. He looked thoughtful then looked at me again.
“Patience, do you have ideas of which schools you would like to go to?” He asked. The truth is, I had not done any research. I didn’t know. It wasn’t my job. I had left that job to my parents, and my father needed to figure it out for me.
“Well, I have no clue. I will call Beatrice; I am sure she will have an idea.” He said. He then picked his phone and rung Beatrice. Explained our situation and asked if she had any recommendations to make. My dad was always right as far as Beatrice was concerned. She always had solutions to my dad’s problems. Parenting is hard, even for people who look like they have it all figured out.
“Interesting profession. Finally, we will have a journalist in this family. There are three options for you to consider. There is the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, the University of Nairobi and Daystar University. There is a reason I know about all this; a colleague has been searching for a journalism school for her daughter, so I happen to know that these three institutions offer journalism courses.” She told my father. A long conversation ensued while she explained the merits and demerits for each, making a case for Daystar University. My dad and I were learning about Daystar University for the very first time. She also warned that it was way too expensive, however, insisted that money can be found where there is a will.
After the conversation was over, Beatrice had promised to go to Daystar University the following day and get me the application forms. She had also promised to have them sent to my dad in in the shortest time possible. Two days later we had received the application forms complete with the fee structure but, there was a big problem again. My parents were both civil servants though running small businesses on the side. I wasn’t convinced that they would afford my school fees. My dream of joining Daystar University had just died. I could see it on my dad’s face. He did not say a word after going through the fee structure. I didn’t ask because I knew the answer. I am the second born in a family of five, and yes, it was going to be very risky for my parents to spend all their savings on one child. It wasn’t making sense, not even for me.
He picked up his phone and called Beatrice. Before he could make any comment, Beatrice said, “Don’t let the school fees bother you. Yes, it looks scary at a glance. But I assure you, you will afford it. I asked the University if there is a provision for payment in instalments and yes, you can pay in instalments. You might have to go to school and sign the instalment plan, but do not worried, the school confirmed I could sign on your behalf, that way, you do not have to come to Nairobi to do it yourself. I will do it for you at the beginning of each semester.”
The long conversation went on, and after that, I saw my dad sign a relief. Then he looked at me and said “Your education is the most important thing to me. It’s all I live for. It’s the only foundation I have for you. If I must spend more sleepless nights to see you at Daystar University, I will do so. Start preparing to go to school.”
Going to Daystar University for my undergraduate is one of the most significant sacrifices that my parents made. It is the best recommendation that Beatrice made for me, when my parents and I were clueless about journalism. This is because, deep down I was convinced that my calling and purpose lay in journalism. Beatrice, believed, without a shadow of a doubt that education is the best equaliser in life. She did not care that she was almost risking the chances of my other siblings going to school. She believed that, just like my elder brother who was already in a public university, consuming a quarter of what my parents had to pay for me, I too deserved the best chances in life. She wasn’t mincing her words while making a case for Daystar University. For that, I am forever grateful.
A day before I reported to campus, my mum and I travelled to Nairobi. Beatrice received us, took us to her home in Langata and gave us the best hospitality for the night. Hosting people and making them feel at home, was one of her joys in life. The following day, together with my mother, they took me to school; Daystar University, Athi River Campus. I remember the day as if it was yesterday. The entrance to Daystar University was dusty, and the scorching sun made the place look very unfriendly. I could feel some sadness within me. Somehow, I wasn’t prepared for this. I wanted to go back home.
Doulos, the student support organisation, received us. Took my suitcases out of the car and assured my mum and Beatrice that they had done their part and they were free to go back. I was devastated. You guessed it right. I cried. Please don’t judge me, I was only 18 years old. Beatrice hugged me, then said; “Trust me, you will be fine. Your mum will go back home, and from now, I will take over this responsibility. In case of anything, I am a phone call away.” I bid them farewell, and off they went. I was left to fend for my life in the wilderness, all alone. I felt young, alone and lonely before I met people, I could call friends. She will then step in temporarily taking the responsibility of being my parent for the three and half years I was in campus. A role, she, my aunties and my cousins played with great joy.
Two weeks later, I realised that I needed some stuff from home. Honestly, I can’t remember what it was. Maybe, one more pair of shoes. I can’t recall. I called my dad and said I was unwell and that I needed to go home briefly. I didn’t receive a clear answer. A day later, Beatrice was in school to pick me for the weekend. My dad had asked her to check on me. I spent the weekend at her place, which finally became a place my friends and I could freely visit for weekend sleepovers. She took me back on Sunday and called my dad to say.” I don’t think she’s unwell she must be suffering from homesickness. She will be fine.” I felt busted.
Well, I must cut my stories short. If given a chance to write about Beatrice, I need time and a few more blog posts dedicated to her. To me, she is the woman that Taita Taveta County never appreciated. She was the most genuine leader that Taita Taveta County will ever have. Beatrice was too good for the county politics. She detested corruption and the cartels that run the county.
While I know that the will of God has been done upon her life and that she is now at a better place, a part of me is convinced that the tough politics in Taita Taveta County indeed took a toll on her. Java South C, Nairobi was our meeting place. I lived the tales of Taita Taveta politics through Beatrice. The same way she has been present in all my life’s journey, I have been present and listened to her frustrations during her service as an MCA. Unlike most of my cousins, I would feel guilty of encouraging her to pursue politics in Taita.
Taita Taveta County is too prejudiced and chauvinistic; not ready for women leadership just yet. We want leaders who will give us quick-deals, quick gratification and those who will give us a chance to reap where we did not put any effort. Leaders driven by the need to amass as much as they can before their term is over, seeing that the second term is only but an illusion. This is the leadership we subscribe to. Good politics doesn’t sell, and not when such leaders are women. Not Taita Taveta County politics in its current state. We detest people who make us uncomfortable. Those who make us think outside the box. Those who disrupt the status quo. That was Beatrice. We frustrate them and sabotage their efforts.
I prayed and asked God to give her a chance to finalise her term. I really wanted to see her genuine desire to uplift the lives of my countymen through her dedication.
As the year began, I had this persistent urge to go back home and see Beatrice. Late February, I was in Kenya, and I had a chance to see her again. We hugged, and we couldn’t let each other go. I was so happy to see her. She was equally delighted to see me. Even in her sickbed, she still had things yet to be done in Wundanyi/Mbale ward. Her to-do list was still intact. The very push that made her join politics was still alive. Though she looked like she was in real pain, I did not see the possibilities of her curtains closing this soon. If only I knew, that would be my last chance to see her alive; then, I should have said more. I should have said, ‘Thankyou’ for the real influence she had in my life, in my family, our clan and the community at large.
Education, women empowerment and early childhood development were her pet projects. “She had a deep love for humanity and served the people of Wundanyi/Mbale ward with unwavering diligence,” read a tribute from the County Government. Her work here on earth is complete. A beautiful soul has ascended to heaven, away from us but now closer to God, leaving us in loneliness and sadness.
With a heavy heart, I pray for the eternal repose of one who was a woman of distinguished humanity, go well Madam Beatrice. Just in case you meet your friend (my father) let him know that I miss him, dearly. Tutaonana tena.Follow me on Social Media