Saturday, May 15, 2004

ombaka wuod gem was here...

abrupt passage
pierced me
like an unseen
shard of glass
jutting suddenly
from a rural path
to claw at
an unsuspecting
bare foot

gushing crimson
into my innards
as I come
face to face
the shock of
our profound loss
at your unannounced
trip to the other side
It is too trite
to mutter
the over-worn phrase
“you may be gone but your ideas will live on”

says that
about every single person
who dies each day

don’t want
to mouth
another cliché
by remarking about
the unfillable gap
you have left behind

to break away
from the waist high
of cookie cutter
obituary stand bys
to cheapen and demean
all human sentiment

struggling to ensure
that my voice
and my fingers
bear witness
to my tears and joys

about you
a person
I never ever shared
tea or a tete- a- tete with
A church going
boy of fifteen
coming of age
in a history drenched
coastal town
was what I was
when you made headlines
expulsion from U of N
for your indomitable spirit
of courageous advocacy

unknown to you
you had joined Che, Castro, Muhammad Ali and Pele
among my short-listed heroes
felt proud
that you were
a Kenyan
just like me
that like me
you were also
a Jakagola from Gem
only made the admiration
sweeter and more personal

meandering through
the inevitable adolescent pressure points
and intermittent teen rebellions
I opened my eyes and sniffed
The political storms brewing
On the national horizon
And in my quest for clarity and insight
I found you
Along with the Miceres, Ngugis, Koigis,
Seroneys,Jaramogis, Guttos
Kihoros, Mwachofis and Orengos
I found all of you
valuable chapters
in an essential encyclopedia
of resistance knowledge
about our beloved motherland
You, Ombaka along with the other comrades
You gave me a reason to live
A motivation to grow up politically

You opened a window from
Which I glimpsed
A vision of a New Kenyan possibility
Through all of you
I was introduced
To aunts, uncles and grandparents
Like Jaramogi Oginga Odinga
Bildad Kaggia
Makhan Singh
Pio da gama Pinto
Cege Kibacia
Kimathi wa Waciuri
Mary Nyanjiru
Me Katilili
Koitalel arap Samoei
And Elijah Masinde

Growing up in Mombasa
Was forever impatient
For the day I too would set foot
On that tortured campus in Nairobi
Over there in Tononoka,
Tudor 4,Kisauni,
Majengo Sidiria, Shimanzi and Mwandoni
Whether we were in Allidina or Shimo,
Aga Khan or Sacred Heart,
Coast Girls or Star of the Sea

Those of us who were coming into political consciousness
Had become avid readers of the Weekly Review
And therefore
Knew of
Anyang Nyongo and Katama Mkangi
Odindo Opiata and Rubik
We were already hearing about you
From our older cousins, friends and neighbours
Who told us about CCU and the Box
Hall 13 and Mary’s Hall
Tom Mboya Hall and Ufungamano House
The Senior Common Room and Nyanjiru Court
Yes, you were already part of our urban folklore
Sustained by oral tradition by university students
Homebound more often than they cared to count
Because of frequent clashes with the powers that be
Then one day I woke up
And there I was with my father at a doctor’s office in downtown Mombasa
Clutching a bottle of urine ready for my medical examination
And in the twinkling of an eye I had survived orientation week
And was fast evolving
into the despicable creature
the “boxers” called a “cockroach” on campus

And there was this evening
when I was down at Mary’s Hall
flirting with the cute first year from LGS
and there you were, doing your rounds as well
and there was a whisper
“That’s Dr. Ombaka!”
And I shyly waved and said hi
And continued with my futile amorous pursuit
You see
I had read about you
Heard about you
Had visions of following
In your footsteps
And here we were
red blooded
sons of Gem
Passing each other
in the women’s hall of residence
Contemporary cavemen
treading the path
of our Neanderthal forebears
Seeking warm feminine arms to embrace us and moist lips to suck on our own…..

I was able to see up close
Evidence of your considerable charisma, intelligence, defiance and generosity of spirit
Speaking at symposia and delivering papers at seminars

Years went by
Transformed by the magic of time to decades
And I became a man in my own right
With my own stubborn ideas
I found my voice and did my little
To contribute towards
the struggle against imperialism in Kenya

I even became a little impatient with you
Somewhat disappointed
with how mellow you had become over time
Because I was still holding on to the image
Of the fire breathing radical
Who inspired my own youthful awakening

Right now, as I furiously jot these lines
on a fast moving passenger coach
shuttling and hurtling
Betwixt Montreal and Toronto
On the day Nelson Mandela turned eighty-four
I have to walk mentally to the mirror
And ask the person who stares back at me:

Did Dr. Ombaka really change
Or did Onyango Oloo wake up?
Did you change
Or did I grow up ?

Dr Ombaka,
You like Ngugi, Jaramogi, Micere and others
Provided an important role model
For an entire generation of Kenya’s militant youth
Disgusted by the excesses of the Kenyatta and Moi regimes

It was inevitable that
A little idol worship would creep into our hearts
As we imagined your legendary exploits in Technicolor far brighter
Than the mere sunshine you experienced in real life
For being an icon
I want to thank you….

Itn is with a touch of melancholic irony
That the task of knowing who you really was
now has to begin with your actual demise

You remained an icon
A symbol of probity and integrity
In an overburdened land encrusted with crass corruption
Even without your eyesight
You remained a bright beacon….

Now that you are dead
Is when I ask
Who were you JaGem
Who were you Wuod Kagola?
Who were you Ja Ulumbi?
Who were you Jathur Gi Okero?
Who was Oki?
Who was Ooko?
Who was Ombaka?

Onyango Oloo
July 18/19 2002