Bare feet pilgrims bitter waters drink...
These words are for Renee Mboya; that she may flourish and be a world leader. I bless her as only a Mother can.....
With out shoes off and our toes caressing the sands and soils of my village, Linda Cracknell, author of The Searching Glance, Renee Akitelek Mboya and my sister Monica walked some six kilometers along village paths. The grass still tries to grow on the footpaths that run parallel to the tarmac road that leads to Nairobi from here. On both sides of the elevated road trajectory the grass paths are always split into two. They are split by the feet of those who walk along the path their feet killing the grass. So, are we being too romantic about the blessing of having our feet on the ground? If bare feet wear away grass what about booted feet? But we were excited and feel like children playing a new game.
Off the main road we walked left into a very narrow path walled by rough bush with little black berries growing on it. It is thick enough for you to wonder what might be a meter away. I can see what must have been someone’s under garment there! And then that lonely plastic slipper, the ones that people call pata pata here. It is well worn out. But it was owned by some resilient soul who had got a cobbler to put a small round patch where the loop that separates the big toe from the other five with neat equal stitches. They are so neat. They remind me of the white stitches on my blue Montego Bay sandals that I bought in a second hand shop. They are made in Brazil. I wonder how the cobbler stitched a little circle of reinforcement leather onto this plastic pata pata now without its right foot partner. I wonder how he could do such a neat thing with a circle of about two centimeters… the lonely slipper on a lonely path in a place that was being hit by the coming rush of the so called progress.
"This little river, I can promise you Linda, used to be so big. I know it. There were frogs eggs there I promise. I saw river snakes there too. I saw a fast dashing black beetle there. The one whose name I always forget even after being told by my friend Dipesh whose mum studied the ecosystems of my part of the world… The black untiring beetle always dashing over water in such high speed…"
The river has shrunk.
Shrunk so much I did not think a river could shrink this far. I can now cross it stepping out without parting my feet much. Environment destruction. Someone has planted eucalyptus trees on the hill opposite the path that one climbs up to return to the village after fetching water. The river is almost gone. At this stage, if we were talking about a human being only the kiss of life would do! But we are talking about a river. People still scrape her for water. Scrape and fetch, fetch and scrape. Can you hear the sound: whooooosh, scrrrr.. and into the yellow plastic container which will go just like forty years ago onto a little girls back. Forty years ago, it went on my back. I want to help her now. I want to remind myself of the times I used to do this. We all knew it was a big achievement to fetch water from down there in river Gitau. Everyone acknowledged me for that. But the river is almost dead and I do not know how to revive it. It is best that I help this little girl. There is a difference though. The little progress. We carried water in a tin barrel; everyone now does it with plastic and smaller ones. It felt very bad to have a tin barrel on one’s back.
We walk on. The villagers are amazed. How can she make a mzungu walk on bare feet? “This woman will one day show us a miracle,” I am told they comment only after we have passed. I am their child who will show them a miracle! We are now at the village cemetery. Well, well. Some crosses here have been pulled out and thrown into a pile. The cemetery is neglected. But I remember where we put little Mary to sleep. I tell her story and cry. For indeed the disappearance of the little girl had been announced on local radios constantly even as the thin waters of my village continuously wept out of the rocks. Finally, we found her. Why did someone abuse little Mary and after throw her in an old woman’s well? God save us. I had to leave a paid up writers’ course and go to my village. I first went to help look for her. But on the day I went part of her little body was brought up by a bucket let down to pull up water. The village convulsed. We stayed on until we found all of her.
I watched her family 'die' with her. A wordless mum. Two brothers blacked out, never reaching the new grave yard. It is three years since. I tell the story and my skin crawls with goosebumps. My soul-daughter Renee stares at me with her moon dew filled eyes larger every moment.
Then we go on. Then we go on. A week later, she has written a story about how little Mary still innocent in life as in death plays and asks why she cannot see her friends any more…. A week later, I get a text message from her brother whom I rushed to hospital in his blackout in my little car called Fatima. He tells me I have not been to see them for too long. What he means to say is that he heard I was in the village and I did not go by their home.
I tell him that I visited little Mary's grave. He texts back: “I am grateful. I really appreciate. Thanx in advance!” 21st Feb- 2009 from +254 72...... He also means to say that he saw me arrested and everyone is talking about it. But he never says what he meant to say. He probably lost his expression when his little sister was brutalised, raped, murdered and thrown into a well. There are some things that should never happen. They take away our collective being. On the day his little sister was laid to rest, he blacked out. And so did his brother. His Mother stood by mumbling as if she was not there. Bed rest was prescribed for the boys. Their mother went on to receive threats. So they could not follow up who killed Mary. Fear set in. What he means to say? That is almost superfluous now.
But I wanted to share with you something I know. There is something about walking barefoot that takes us all the way back to our ancestors but first of all, to ourselves. Open your heart my sister. Open your heart my brother. Open your heart my daughter: Thanks Akitelek for bringing me back to her alive. I had stopped far from there in my shock!
Akitelek, Akitelek, Akitelek, study hard and lead! The big moon you showed me outside the national theatre, the one that peeps behind the trees is waving at you to tower up higher with that power of woman!