To Lilian with All My Love
My Dear Sister,
It is sad that you did not live long enough to read this. I have wracked my brain for women who shaped my life, but none of all the ones I know holds a candle to you. You took me to school, and would wait to help me cross the road and ensure I had someone to escort me home while you returned to school for your afternoon classes. I was a slow one, I hated waking up in the morning, yet you were very patient with me, ensuring that I had something to eat, before going to school, even if it was just a cup of water, because Mama seldom had enough, if any food, for us to eat. I was tiny in stature, so I got my share of bullies who never wasted a moment to be mean to me. You always dealt with them, but taught me never to use my fists to settle scores. When I was 9 years old, I remember seeing you with money, with which you used to buy us all some snacks to eat. You never allowed us to take the food home because in as much as Mama had no food in the house, she was a principled woman, and had raised us never to ask for money in exchange for anything whatsoever. So I understood your reluctance in sharing with her anything you brought in from your boyfriends.
It took me a long time to understand why you always used to tell me that if you ever found me with a boyfriend, you’d skin me alive. I was naïve and because I respected and looked up to you, I was never tempted. You kept tabs on my studies, encouraging me to read, read and read. You were in your final year of primary school when we were thrown out of the house and forced to leave the city for upcountry. I remember you passed your exams very well and even got admitted to one of the best schools in Western Kenya. Unfortunately, you only stayed in school for one term before dropping out for lack of fees.
You did not falter in your resolve to encourage me to read, read and read. It was not long before you got pregnant with Kimberly at 19 years of age. Her father disowned you and besides carrying the burden of a single mother, you still took care of us whenever you could. Four years later, you got married to Ken, and had Minah. You guys were so happy, and this was around the time I lost out on my bursary to finish my last year of high school. I remember you telling me not to lose hope, that all was not lost. You told me that I was so bright, and could do odd jobs and pay for my final year. You really wanted me to complete my high school education. Nothing was forthcoming, and I decided to get married.
I can still hear the outrage in your voice as you admonished what you termed my choices in life. Nevertheless, you let me lean on and cry on your shoulder even as my marriage life got tougher. You were the first person who applauded my decision to register for my final high school exams as a private candidate, five years later.
It is unfortunate that you’d left Ken, who later died mysteriously. You were now with Peter, with whom you had Arafat and Faridah. Life was tough for you, but you never failed to support and encourage my own. You taught me not to do what you did, never to walk out on my marriage, but wait for the light at the end of the tunnel. You redefined the value of education, when you told me you would never be able to educate your kids, that you needed me to do that for you. I did the best I could, sweetheart. Kimberly is now a single mother of two, Minah has a son, and is married, though not to the baby’s father.
Am sad that HIV/AIDS caught up with you and robbed us of your life at your prime. You were still young at 35. Arafat and Faridah are in school, and I hope that in as much as Arafat was born HIV+, he will live a full life, he is 15 now. Am also sorry that Peter also died a month ago, and it was such a blow to the kids, though Arafat was hit hardest.
You are the reason I am who and where I am, and I thank God you inspired me to set up the Centre for Disadvantaged Girls.
I love you so much, my sister and second mother.