Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Best Foot Forward

Every family has its unique traditions. Maybe lunch every Sunday afternoon or a get together every once a year. They are grounded on events, like birthdays, weddings and even funerals. My family's most profound tradition is grounded on the New Year. Precisely the New Year’s Eve which was started years ago by dad. Yes, family traditions are started by someone and dare I say ended by someone too and for the longest time, this has been a mandatory time for every Muthama to be home.

During the good old days my mother would bake cake that we munched as we sat around a jiko in one of the rooms. This would normally be after some serious nyama choma devouring, courtesy of my brother's phenomenal skills. Then as the heat in the jiko radiated to our bodies we would have a family meeting where dad- main speaker of the event would caution anyone who seemed not serious with life. Anyone who exuded the following- bad grades, bad company, disrespect and all the nasty things that comes with being a teenager. He would also throw in some encouraging words in between. Over time the routine has become quite boring and being around the people I love has been the silver lining, the same goes for my brother and two sisters.

At some point we were so fed up with routine that we protested it and suggested that our parents organize a family holiday. This was when we were old enough to read on newspapers and see on TV that families went on vacations. We mapped out a mass action of four against two and our main strategy was to speak ill of what we did on the eve of New Year, making sure that one of our parents heard us and threaten never to partake in it. I can't remember who was the architect of the cockamamie idea but am pretty sure it was neither my big sister nor me. With a lion for a father and a iron Lady for a mother, our idea was doomed from the onset. The grievance got their attention and they did exactly as they had done when they promised to allow my sister and I to chemically straighten out hair when we were 13, or when everyone in the estate had a bicycle and they promised us ours, or when they promised us new clothes in the 2005 Christmas- they did nothing. Absolutely nothing to achieve our desired results. Any follow up questions were met with quick lucid answers designed to put the listener in his or her place; "mtalipiwa holiday ama school fees?" Who would dare ask a second after such an answer? No one! Lest you were labeled a joker who was not serious with academics, an offense that was punishable by whacking and mental torment by words. You would be sitted, doing nothing, just breathing in and out and from no where either mum or dad would say- "unakaa tu hapa ukipumua badala ya kuchukua vitabu usome?" This would be followed by a tirade of how bad your grades were and how much you were filling your head with frivolous wants instead of books. Sooner rather than later, we realized no holiday was manifesting, all our defiance strategy did for us was provide a Lee way for mental teasing and made us stick in books (which were more boring than the routine tradition). So we held our peace, forever.

Time has without a doubt done quite a number on our tradition- may be when things refuse to work out sometimes it's good to leave it to Mr. Time! For example mom doesn't bake anymore, not on New Year’s Eve not ever. She just stopped doing it and none of her daughters picked up the skill. So home baked cake on New Year’s Eve is a distinct distant memory.

Needless to say, all my new year celebrations have been pretty much been the same. But as I have grown older, I've come to appreciate more being around my family that time of the year. It has become a reflective time, one worth being grateful for and I always look forward to it. Our tradition hasn't changed much, we have just grown up and grasped that life is so much more than material stuff and doing what your neighbour is doing.

2016 was quite a year for my family, it unveiled dark surprises that none of us expected. In January my dad fell sick and was admitted for two weeks. You know I never thought ulcers could bed rid anyone especially my dad; and it was not until he was sick that we realized how much we relied on him for support. It was real agony as the shoulder we were sure of leaning on now needed us. My dad himself was devastated, we could tell he hated that the tables had turned. He believed we should rely on him and not the other way around. I remember every time we went to visit him, none of us wanted to leave him behind. We wanted him to be home where he belonged. For days we woke up to a nightmare and went to bed afraid. It seemed like the agony would be endless and makes it the most trying time of my year. Finally though he was discharged, we all sighed relief and hoped and prayed that nothing of that nature would befall us. Then in August we revisited the script as my big sister went down with tuberculosis. There are times when a human being starts to think that somehow fate has conspired against them and this was ours. Having an ailing family member is one of the hardest things to have to go through in life and it's harder when that member has already been to the rock bottom and back. My sister in the preceding days had taken enough punches from life and we all couldn't make head or tail of why one human being would go through so much. So we did what we do best as the Muthama’s, despite the distance between us, we formed a little circle with our hearts and prayed and kept each other warmed and encouraged. And good God never abandoned us.

2016 was also the year I didn't have a source of income but later in the year I got a hustle that turned my time up side down. Before starting it, I consciously organized my time so I would have some to do writing. Who said that having an 8- 5Pm job and being a writer at the same time is easy? Because it's not. I was fine squeezing few hours early morning and late evening to bang copy. After two months of a crazy ass schedule I was burnt down and fatigued, I thought too much and slept too little- a bad combination for creativity. In the third month, I would stare at the laptop and words would disappear in the intricate networks of my brain. One minute I would create a story in my mind, words choking me up, eager to be put on paper and in the next, I would be blank unable to move past the first line. I could barely write and the struggle stifled me off any happiness. I quickly become the writer who never writes. The writer who was only one on her Twitter and Instagram bio. Thoughts of how much I was failing in life tormented me like a vindictive ghost. I became angry like a jilted lover who stared through the cracks of a wall watching his only love locked in another man's arms. This man telling her the things he believed only he would tell her. Doing to her things that he jealously wanted to be the only one doing to her. Words became elusive.
I was sad and moody most times. I had looked forward to getting a job, but I never anticipated it would rob me of the very thing that made me, me! So when the end of 2016 drew near, I knew I needed more than ever to take some time out and figure things out. So I took an early leave and booked one way ticket to Yatta where I would get tranquil times to put my creative house in order. And boy! They were really tranquil. I spent much of my time either walking around our farm or under a huge mango tree; where i would read, write, think and munch some raw mangoes dipped in salt. It was so peaceful; the only noise I heard was of crickets or grass clapping their strands.

When change happens sometimes it's so subtle and others very loud. On the eve of 2017, my brother was out in one of our cousin's home who had become a father. He was there to say congratulations. The main man who made nyama choma happen was therefore nowhere in sight! I was tucked in my blankets going through my new plan to keep me sane in 2017.  My big sister was nursing a terrible cold and my twin sister was in bed thinking about God knows what and texting God knows who. My parents were in their bedroom listening to brief tales from their two grandkids and were soon left to themselves when the two musketeers fell asleep. Dinner had been served so early and once we ate, there was no much reason to stay up. And just like that a tradition was broken. In the quiet wee hours of the night, a decade old tradition was altered.

I have come to learn that sometimes things break so they can become better. That what might look like the end is actually a fresh beginning. This lesson was revisited on the 2nd of January. Seems like my parents had ideas about making a little changes to our tradition, it was their idea so implementation was not a problem. That morning, on the 2nd they informed us we would have our sit-down over lunch. Everyone was allocated a role to play. I worked on- kachumbari and fried meat. The main nyama choma guy did his thing. My two sisters worked on rice and few other things. By 11:30am we were sitted around a table under a tree doing what we did every once a year. Soon thereafter we had our meeting. Dad as usual made the first remarks, followed by mum then the rest of us beginning with the one who left our mother's womb first. The table was filled with so much hope like I had never seen before. It wasn't just my dad that talked much, everyone did. 2016 had been in so many ways a hard nut to crack, our hearts had been burdened but the inspiration that sprung from our conversation was enough to heal and restore hope. We were all very grateful to God for healing when there was sickness. For hope when there was despair. In short, I think at the end of the day we kept our tradition but in a refreshed way.

What happened that day was exactly what I needed to oil up my wheels as I give everything another shot this year. Everyone in my family was rejuvenated and that's what families should do for each other. We all are already taking advantage of the hope that lingers every New Year.

Do you know January was named after the Roman god Janus? Janus had two faces so that he could look ahead toward the future and back at the past at the same time. As we get rid of an old year and look forward to a new one, we all try to be a little like Janus. We look at the things we did wrong in the past and with the help of some resolutions work towards doing it again and doing it better.

I love stories of second, third and even fourth shots. Stories of hope where the starring stumbles but picks him/ herself up, dusts off and takes aim.
In 2016 I watched a mother stand by the coffin of her 17 year old daughter eyes dry but words drenched with emotions, she said "I thank God for giving me time to love and be with my daughter and now He has taken her and I say thank you because I know He has given her eternal peace."
I cried myself silly that moment, one because I was saying goodbye to my niece and two because I was just struck by the courage and confidence her mother (my cousin) exuded. Yes she had a lot of questions for God. She didn't fathom why he took away her daughter so young. But in between she found courage to utter the word 'grateful’. It was a quiet moment that no words can articulate with precision. I was touched. I never even imagined such kind of courage existed.
Still in 2016 I met a girl who pretty much worked to put herself through primary school in one of the local schools. She is one of seven kids raised by a single mum. When I met her she had accrued 1,200 shillings and spent 1,100 to clear fee balance to get her results and ready herself for high school. But getting ready for high school also meant she needed to work more at least to get started well. She scored 348 marks despite working against all odds and received a calling letter from one of the national schools. But she is headed to the local secondary school, one of the ones we bundle up in the CDF schools cluster; because that's what she can afford. Such odds you would think would dull her shine. But allow me to tell that she is the brightest light I have met in a long time. She boasts of her intelligence and believes she will make something out of her life. Something that will change her story.

These stories touched my heart and reminded me that good can bud after breakage. I can't even imagine what my cousin's year will be like without her first born daughter. But it counts that she is putting her courageous foot forward. She needs it and her three other daughters need it more.
And this girl that I met, my mum told me she has already shopped for a few school items and is ready for school.

And this is my wish for you. That in 2017 despite your loss and failures in 2016 you will somehow dig dip and find strength to put your best foot forward one more time. Not forgetting that as is ordinary about life you will face challenges, we all will. We’ve got God and then there is also that inner strength and will that we have muscled through hard times. So we’ll be alright.

Happy New Year 

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Best Foot Forward