Saturday, May 15, 2004

Mother's Day, 2003

It is mothers’ day everyday for many of us
After all, it is only when we got here that some of us
Found out that there is a special day set aside for mothers
To feel special for once in the whole year

I will try not to compete with hallmarks
In creating another treacly sweet trite paean
To motherhood that guilt-ridden offspring
Will grab off the shelves after work to scribble something deep
Through weary hands exhausted by the nine to five grind

This rather, is an ode to the real mothers we know, the mothers in our lives
Not the ethereal being constructed by card company hacks

I am thinking of the woman
Who brought me into this world
Who is no longer in this world
I am looking at the picture of a beautiful
Nineteen year old African woman staring out from a fading photograph next to an equally striking young man

She has just been married and even though it does not show
She is already with child, expecting her first born
She is so beautiful and serene in that picture

I am to be the first of many children and to this day
I can not tell who my mother loved most because she loved us all equally
Hardworking, fiercely independent, my mother, one of six siblings
Five sisters and a lone brother
Was brilliant beyond compare
Taught me how to read and write
Yet she never saw the inside of a classroom
Thanks to her father, my grandfather
Who preferred to educate the lone boy
Until he became the chief accountant of a parastatal
While all his sisters ended up as unemployed home based teachers
Guiding their children through their arithmetic, geography and other subjects
Knowledge gleaned defiantly by the kitchen fire and via the flickering light
Of the nyangile(koroboi) lamp

I remember my mother today
And I thank her for bringing me to this world
And teaching me compassion and generosity of spirit
And righteousness

I remember my mother today
And I thank her for teaching me independence
And refraining from enjoining me to be a born again
Like her, even though I taught Sunday school and was expected
By the Anglican preachers to grow up and become a bishop

I thank my mother for giving me my wonderful siblings
My brothers and sisters
The ones who are living and the ones who are dead
I thank my mother for giving me a warm, happy and rambunctious family
My son looks like his mother; he also looks very much like my mother
And they say we will have to get him his own line in a couple of years
Because the teenage girls will be calling off the hook
I thank my mother for so many joys, even amidst so many tribulations

My mother suddenly went away from us when she was two years younger than I am now
Another victim of botched mastectomy operations at the Kenyatta National Hospital

That night in early December 1980 is still seared into my mind
There lies Jennifer radiant and cracking jokes affectionately playing with her mother
And she is telling us
Hey, make sure you have everything ready because I am ready to leave this hospital and enjoy a wonderful Christmas
And we are all joking back and falling over each other laughing
We are the very last people to be dragged from the ward in Mombasa
By the impatient nurses who remind us over and over again
That visiting hours are over
We go home with smiles tearing our faces apart and hope pulsating in our rib cages

We are asleep when my father’s elder brother knocks on our door way after midnight
He has traveled all night from Luanda Dudi on the Akamba Bus Service
To pay homage to the woman who he used to terrorize after she had sent her sons to pick him by a road somewhere where he had fallen down, once again
In a drunken stupor
My father’s elder brother is contrite, vaguely anxious, unsure about how my mother will receive him in the morning
We all assure him that it is all good, our mom is never one to keep a grudge
My father directs me to take his brother to see my mom at the crack of dawn;

We live near the hospital, so we walk, and we get there sooner because I know all the short-cuts
Like bees we make for my mom’s ward and head for the familiar figure on the bed close to the door

Only there is no bed

And my mom is nowhere to be seen!

In a panic we scream for help
Soon a bored cynical nurse with infinite patience orders us to follow her
And here we are in the mortuary
And they have dumped my mother on the floor, lifeless!

Today I remember my mother with a smile on my face and tears flickering in my eye sockets…..

Today is a day to remember the other mothers in my life
I remember KK the mother of my son
And I thank her for being a wonderful mother and a steadfast friend and comrade all these 15 years that I have known her
She has taught my son most of what he knows
She is clearly the better parent

I remember JM, my partner and confidant
She is a mother too
And her child is tens of thousands of miles away with her mother
While she struggles day and night week in and month out
To pave the way for a mother and child reunion
I send her the warmest mother’s day’s greetings accompanied by a long distance hug and the deepest thoughts of intimate solidarity

I say kudos to WM and her mother FM and her daughter SM
For creating one of the tightest and healthiest matrilineal households in southern Ontario
I say shukran to my entrepreneur buddy SW who named her second business after her first born( with whom we share a birthday)

I say hongera to my lifelong friends LB, AB and DS who have all succeeded in raising wonderful and well-adjusted boys and girls on the cusp of young adulthood

My long lost comrade NK whose son shares a nickname with mine;
My teacher and mentor MM and her two strong and intelligent daughters;
My poet/musician/publisher friend SA whose two sons are following in her artistic and creative footsteps;
My late Ohio based lover, comrade and collaborator KJ claimed by cancer suddenly at the tail end of the year just ended;

I salute you all, I send you warm mother’s day greetings!

And how could I forget my three surviving sisters- they are all mothers now
And I can hardly believe it!
And how could I forget my sister Beatrice condemned to an early grave by an abusive husband who died without being brought to justice- every time I talk to your daughter, dear departed sister, I hear your unmistakable voice, the voice and tone you used to have when you were her age head-butting boy bullies in the school yard

And how could I forget all the wonderful sisters and aunts in Utah, Worcestershire, Dar es Salaam, Nakuru, Homa Bay, Maputo and elsewhere
And how could I forget the cyber sisters I have met online- at Kenyaonline, Mashada, RC Bowen, Kenyaniyetu, KCO, Africa-oped, Kisii.Com, Kikuyu.Com and even the defunct FROKUSA
If you are a mother please accept these greetings
If you have a mother( in this world or elsewhere) please pass on these greetings

Happy Mothers’ Day!

Onyango Oloo
Friday, May 09, 2003
7:33 PM Eastern Standard Time