I wrote this article knowing in mind that writing it would span two crucial months for me; February and March. It feels like eating supper at 1157 hours and getting done at 0013 hours, and you are torn in between calling it late dinner or early breakfast. So February is a month of love. But we of colored skins know well that love is an illusion, so we called it a month of history. Black history. March is all about women. A whole month of celebrating women to be specific. As a patriotic Kenyan, I decided to marry the two. We’ve been marrying the government and the opposition without opposition, haven’t we? I write about black women. African women.
Black history is not associated with time spent riding white stallions, childhood memories of Christmas in a warm den or falling in love. Black history speaks struggle against apartheid, against slavery, against racism and white men with dark souls. Black history speaks of a fight for a chance, for an audience, for recognition, and for social justice. In all these, what was the place of the women? Basing this argument on what we have been socialised, women took the back seat and sired boys to continue with the struggle. Personally I feel that these women formed a backline of the very best soldiers; the castles, the knights and the bishops.
My late grandmother’s best friend lives in a house made of red cedar wood but which has turned dark with age. It is a three bedroomed house, initially with a thatched roof now replaced with wrought iron. Ino nyumba irerete anake ke- kenda. (This house has brought up nine gentlemen.) She tells me each time I ask how old the house is. The home also brought up six ladies but nobody mentions them anyway, they are women with no place in history. Our old lady, let’s call her Grace for she has seen grace unbounded, is the subject of our story. She stays most of the time indoors since her eyes are too clouded to enjoy the beauty of life, and a fire blazes in her hips with each step she takes. Grace has arthritis which she is very proud of. The doctor also told her she has cataract eyes. “My age mates whom we were cut together died a long time ago of diabetes, cancer, BP and old age. I only got arthritis and bad eyes. What a Blessing!”
Grace’s sunset has lasted a day. She thinks she is over a hundred years old, has buried most of her children, and her two living sons are eighty and seventy-six respectively. For her daughters, she doesn’t know. Her husband built her a house, a man she looks to with both admiration and love even though he died a long time ago. He made her a cedar house on a hill. What else could be called love? On the slopes grows tea, at the foot of the hill by the stream grow arrowroots, vegetables and bananas. Behind the house, there is a giant avocado tree, and a cowshed. A grade cow moos as milking time approaches. She- the cow- calved down recently and a healthy calf is restrained in pen next to the chicken perch. You do not allow calves to run about kicking the air with their back legs.
Grace is now awake after a long afternoon nap. Old people sleep a lot. It is evening, and the sun sets inside Mt. Longonot’s crater like a big ball of fire. It is a view to behold- a mountain swallowing the sun. Old age is beautiful; it comes with creases, bright eyes which do not see far, painful joints and endless dreams. Beautiful is not always pleasant. A young woman calls us in for tea, and we enter the sitting room through an opened door. The house is surprisingly well furnished, complete with a 32 inch color TV. Grace looks lively under the yellow light of the bulb, the AC is on to keep out the cold of Ngarariga and tea in a flask is waiting for us. Grace welcomes us happily. She calls us by name. Grace must have dreamt of God and the twenty-four elders. Or she saw death in her sleep. Death apparently plays a game of hard to get with the old longing for it. Or she just remembered 1928. Memories at that age are hard to come flooding-by or are entirely mixed up. When they do, they are enjoyed to the last drop. Drop because good things happen dropwise. A drop of honey. A drop of rain.
“Women were not created to be heroic. They were not created to take the honour. Women are by all definitions the salt. The white man came and fought our men. They drove our husbands to the bushes and caves, but each day we fell pregnant and made lots of babies. It takes a woman to fall pregnant in battle- leave alone just to want a man’s touch. These warriors, our men, trembled and wept in our laps when they managed to sneak back to our houses at night. Could we weep with them? No. We held them in our arms like young babies, rocked them, and caressed their locks and bushy beards. We sang sad songs in their ears, told them of how the white men will rape us if they gave up the fight. It wasn’t easy to walk around the villages with pregnant stomachs during the colonial period especially during the state of emergency, but we still got babies. The women of our time were strong though they never wielded swords. Much may not be said about them but they sustained a generation,” she said and closed her eyes. What a powerful way to die! I thought.
Grace opened her eyes after a couple of minutes. She wasn’t dead yet but suddenly she looked weary, like part of her had gone with the soliloquy. She tapped on her walking stick and pointed at our cups. We filled them with tea and held them in our laps. She studied our posture for a while and sank back into her seat.
“Every day I answer questions. The press and politicians pass by all the time showering me with gifts and praise for being a freedom fighter. But I never fought for freedom even for a single day. They take our role for granted by masking us with the term Maumau. We should be appreciated for sticking to our purpose during the time of war. Men ceased to be fathers to become fighters, but women kept on being women, wives and mothers. We acclaim the noble sacrifice men took but women should also be appreciated for a bigger sacrifice they owned,” Grace hammered point after point into our heads.
It was all silence and reflection as we drank our tea and ate the scones served to us by the younger woman. Outside, the mountain had swallowed the sun completely.