The year is AD 2008, or thereabouts. The persona a scrawny barely-teen with a snotty attitude to boot. The setting, Ramasha campgrounds. Ramasha, if memory serves me right (it’s slowly dawning on me that I am slowly becoming antiquated… *sob sob) is a land that is between Kisii and Maasai land. My Pathfinder Club at the time- Baraton English Church Pathfinders- had been invited as guests of the camporee hosted by this conference (South Kenya? South Nyanza?… I’m just certain it was South something. Antiquated, see?!)
Now now, at that point in my development, nothing drove my adolescent excitement into overdrive like traveling and camping with my club. Some of my best memories from my formative years were forged in the company of these amazing people. Sometimes, it is in the shadow of these unforgettable moments that I unwaveringly declare, “growing up is a trap!” I wish we had the option to abort mission and revert to these simpler, happier times. I wish adulthood had a return policy, where after the first few free years, you could cancel your subscription, like Netflix. Because let’s be honest, adulting SUCKS! But, I digress.
So, there we were. Ramasha will always be etched in my memory for three reasons:
1. The weather was so capricious! It never would make up its mind where it stood. In the morning it would be suuuuuper hot that our skins would begin chaffing and then boom! Literally out of nowhere it would rain rhinos, elephants and hippos, so much so that we’d remind God He left us a rainbow for a reason. It didn’t help matters that we were camping near a river.
2. It was my first (and last) time indulging in the experience of bathing in the river. No buckets, no nothing, straight from the river. I have to admit this brought a frenzied excitement to all in the camp. It was often an extreme sport, between keeping an eye out for the boys who decided to be impudent, to trying to keep our soaps and flannels from swimming downstream, to trying to keep our feet firmly planted on the rocks beneath to keep OURSELVES from taking an unpleasant swim downhill. Suffice to say, 90% of us ended up going home without either our bathing soaps or flannels or both.
3. It was the first time my hand was sought out in marriage. YES! My 14-year-old hand was sought out in marriage. By a Maasai man! They started quite early I tell you, the proposals!
(Where are they now though, when you need them? Look at life having the last laugh, after I have consistently slighted all the opportunities presented in the past. Anyhow, (I am a strong, independent woman) x3/hour. Somehow, singing this chorus at that specified rate makes everything all better, y’know? But again, I digress.)
Him: Habari yako mschana? (How are you young girl?)
Me: Mzuri (Fine)
Him: ‘naitwa nani? (What’s your name?)
Me: … I honestly don’t remember what name I gave, but of one thing I am certain. I lied.
Him: Wewe ni mzuri sana, nataka kukuoa. (You’re so fine, I want to marry you.)
Me: Asante, lakini mimi sitaki kukuoa. Bado mi ni mdogo na bado niko shule. (Thank you, but I don’t want to marry you. I am still young, and I’m still in school.)
Him: Nitangojea wewe. (I will wait for you.)
All this while, I am speaking with (ironically) a very unchristian condescending air, my nose as high up in the air as it can go, hands crossed over my barely-there bosom. I must have been such a sight! Just so you know, by then I had this scrawny nondescript figure. The amount of attitude I had though! Pharoah of yore had nothing on me! You see, this is a guy who, not only did he not fit my mould of Alejandro-handsome (Philipino/Mexican telenovelas were my guilty pleasure), but also only girded himself with a shuka that was tied across one shoulder and secured across the waist with a belt. And, he herded sheep and cows for a living. HERDED! Granted, it was his own flock, but still! He hardly fit the neurosurgeon husband I had in mind (at this stage in my life, Ben Carson was the ultimate #goals). I was sooooooooo done before I even began. But the truly nagging fear that ate at me beneath all the superficiality was that one night I would be sleeping in the tent when during the heart of the night ululations would pierce the stillness of the night air, and I would be plucked from the tent forcefully, thrown over a bony shoulder and carried into the darkness, never to be seen again. Or, only to be seen much later with children on my lap. Hyperactive imagination, I know. But this was a really rural area. And we were surrounded by Maasai. It would only take little rallying to set the plan in motion. At least that was what my 14yo brain thought. And I would have panic attacks and terrors.
The cognitive process that facilitated comprehension seemed to have taken a time-out. It wasn’t understanding. I wasn’t grasping.
And any time we would meet, he would always be like, “bibi yangu, nitangojea wewe (my wife, I will wait for you)”. And my levels of stressocity would go into overdrive. But one day, I decided enough was enough! I would no longer be a slave to fear! My friend came up with a brilliant plan, to tell the Maasai guy that I was betrothed to one of the guys in our club. The problem was, getting the guy to go along with the plan. I mean, what was in it for him to help out this tiny 14yo? But, he did agree!
The guy in question, Barry Walela. I remember when my friend Carol suggested him I was beyond skeptical. He was waaay older than me, and we were hardly friends. That he accepted rendered me speechless. My 14yo heart was moved beyond words. And so it would happen that whenever that Maasai guy came around, I would scramble to find Barry and cling onto him like my life depended on it (it did, to me). And I would courageously face the Maasai guy and tell him, “bwana yangu (my husband)”. And Barry would be there staring him down, sort of like silently daring him to try anything. A few repetitions of this act and the guy stopped bothering me. I always would hang around Barry though, just in case. The one week of camp ended, and we went back home and back to our usual life. Barry and I never spoke again, except probably occasionally during club meetings or when we happened to meet in a group of mutual friends or the occasional “hi” when we bumped into each other on the road. That memory, however, lives on within me.
Earlier this year when Barry suddenly took ill, I remember I prayed so hard that day. And when I later heard there were improvements, I was overjoyed! You see, it was about three days shy of my late uncle’s first anniversary, and I don’t think I was ready to deal with another loss, especially being so far from home. I told God as much. Hardly a couple of hours after I had gotten word that he was okay, I get word that he is no more. I don’t remember what I thought through the haze and confusion, but the one thing I do remember, I wept. Bitterly. Painfully. All night. It simply wasn’t fair. And I was sure to give God a piece of my mind. Oh, how angry I was! How triggered I was! I gave God a good scolding. And a cold shoulder for a bit. I just couldn’t understand why. I recalled how after a long while, he had just graduated and was finally making something for and of himself. It was just the other day that I had congratulated him on his wall, to which he had replied: “thank you”. The cognitive process that facilitated comprehension seemed to have taken a time-out. It wasn’t understanding. I wasn’t grasping.
But as time wore on, I became my own enemy. You see, Barry and I hardly ever spoke. And apart from that one instance, hardly had a connection. We were never in the same circles, apart from being in the same club. Not to mention the age gap in between. Logging into Facebook and on WhatsApp, everyone seemed to have been close to him or at least kept some form of communication with him. And so it happened that I convinced myself I had no right to mourn him as much as everyone else, that it would be hypocritical of me. That it was more THEIR loss than mine. And so I felt so lost in my grief because I forced myself to be okay, because it seemed logical to be okay. How do you mourn a person you weren’t close to, a person you hadn’t seen or spoken to in ages? I convinced myself it wasn’t my place to mourn. And so I followed the proceedings silently on social media and held my peace.
I never knew what an impact it had on me, this subconscious quashing of grief, not until I found myself sitting across the University Counsellor. Only then was I forced to face the fault in my thinking. Only then was I able to let myself fully feel the impact of grief because although we never did talk or keep in touch, that one connection we shared ten or so odd years ago was a connection of a lifetime. It made such an impact on my childhood heart and mind. At such a young age, I recognized that not all princes wear royal robes. Not all knights wear armours. Not all heroes wear capes. Some just simply come in the form of that elder boy in the club who stands up for you, no questions asked, no favours asked for in return. He taught me that sometimes, you find that elder brother in the person you least expect. He taught my young heart that chivalry is indeed still very much alive and breathing. It was such a powerful statement he engraved on my juvenile heart, and for the loss of that physical connection, I wept and grieved. I still do.
My knowledge of Barry may have been severely stunted and outdated but of this I am certain. He was a good man, a good influence, a good leader, a good brother, a good friend. The kind of person you would want around you. The kind of friend you could count on, come hell or high water. The kind of person who would help you out, no questions asked. His loss was such a blow, one people are still reeling from. He, however, lives on. In our hearts, minds, and memories. I strive to fight the good fight every day so that I will make it to that bright and cloudless morning because I am almost certain he’ll be there.
Until then, VIVA BARRY!
ION, had I married that Maasai guy, do y’all think I’d be a rich Maasai (first) wife right now, with an elongated neck, a sagging bosom and red locks on half my head? Do y’all think I’d have my own manyatta and would be the chief advisor to my husband in all matters home affairs, and even help him pick his subsequent wife(ves)? Would I be a responsible mother to children who came in the order akin to solfa ladder? No?
Please, pay no heed to the above paragraph. That is my biological clock gone rogue. I hear there is such a thing- biological clock!