She is petite. . .small boned, with a delicate structure and a fragile demeanor that makes me afraid of her. . .I sat next to her today in the bus, she must have been tired because she slept on my shoulder. . . The whole time I did not move, I simply sat still and let her sleep. She is my mother

I know her, I used to see her around the estate many times, back when I lived with my parents. Sometimes hauling market produce on her head. On Sundays I saw her in pretty clothes rushing to go to church. Sometimes alone, other times with her husband. She is my mother

Today she is sited right next to me. She has a gold watch on her wrist and a soft cotton crème shawl placed around her shoulders. She said that she was feeling cold, something I found astonishing given how hot I am feeling. I am slightly irritated at her for closing the window, but I swallow the irritation and watch her some more. She is my mother

She has a remarkably smooth face, chocolate brown complexion. . .on the darker side, very smooth and soft looking. Everything about her looks soft and fragile. . .I can’t help but marvel at how she was ever able to carry such heavy loads from the market. She is my mother

The hair on her head is curly and cotton like, with grey discretely visible at the side. She starts to wake up, I am still looking at her and I notice the slightly rheumy eyes. I watch her wrinkly, childlike hands as she rummages in her handbag stopping once she finds what she is looking for. She lifts her hand out of her bag and on it she is clutching a white handkerchief. She raises it to her eyes and roughly cleans them. With the forcefulness of one who already expects them to need cleaning. She is my mother

She looks at me shyly then turns away.
Hers has not been an easy life. It never is for those of her disposition. They too readily accept the cards dished out to them by life. She has always been accepting of her situation. She works with what she has without a pinch of ambition. An air of contentment hangs around her. I do not know whether this is part of what irritates me about her. How genuinely accepting and almost naïve she is. She is my mother

You see I know her better than she is aware. I have watched her for many years . . . masking my curiosity towards her quite well. She taught me in school. I was not a student that stood out, so I’m not surprised that she does not remember me. I was a silent, rebellious, average student, that sat at the back of the class and was always in search of new exciting things do outside the classroom. I liked her though. She was a patient teacher and not judgmental, she cared about us more than she should have bothered. The bunch of rascals we were. We never missed her classes but ran away from most of the rest. I think I stayed for her lessons because I liked watching her, and because she would definitely follow up on us if we dared to miss any of her lessons. She is my mother

We were neighbors, I knew her five sons and husband. She worshipped the ground her husband walked on. I could always tell from how she rushed home to cook for him daily and how well kept he and his sons looked. Even when she looked a bit shabby and winded, they were always perfect. I don’t know how she raised five boys and taught a class full of hormonal teenagers at the same time. I can’t stand even one teen for too long, I’m always giving my nephew and niece money to get away from them. She is my mother

I remember the rumors around the neighborhood about her, that she gave her full salary to her husband and had to ask him for money for her necessities . . . That he sometimes neglected them for his other wife. I’m sure that was when I began hating the man. Not that she would ever look angry though. . . Just tired and sometimes sad. She frustrated my nosey self to no end. I wanted her to fight for herself. She never did. . .

She remained with him, having the tools to be independent but never the heart to break free, shutting out her thoughts for his. I know she is an intelligent woman, I know she is kind and generous . . . But I don’t know her. . . I have never seen her beyond her kindness and her nurturing nature, beyond her outward sense of organization and propriety, I know nothing else.
Does she love the smell of rain? does she love chapatis ?. . . Is she afraid of the dark?. . . After her husband there is nothing, nothing, but the patient nurturer, who does not get angry and turns a blind eye to things that would upset her husband. She is my mother

Even now as I watch her I can sense her hidden depth. I do not kid myself however, her depth is only hers, maybe she shares it with those very close to her but I doubt it. Save for her sons and husband I never saw her around friends. . . Maybe her sons know her. As for the husband. . . Does he even have the capacity to see anything? She only ever shares the bits of herself that she has allowed herself to . . . That she dares to. The rest of her she has kept to herself, her humor, her sense of style, her passion, these only unexpectedly show up, on rare occasions. I wonder if she even really knows who she is beyond the nurturer. She has done much, much. . . but I have always seen that hidden capacity for more. . . The more she chose to bury for the sake of her husband. A husband that does not let her be anything more than his good wife. She is my mother


We are halfway through our journey, the bus makes a quick stop at a petrol station. She asks me to excuse her, she wants to alight, after a brief feeling of panic I also alight, this is not my stop and I am probably an idiot for doing this . . . Well, I guess I’ll be one today. I approach her, my lanky self towering above her, I am smiling in what I hope is a non threatening way and ask to help her with her bags.

At first she looks skeptical, but she finally agrees to let me carry them after I go on a tale of how I live close by and my mother would not stand any discourtesy shown towards anyone from me. I don’t think she bought my story but she decides to let me carry one of her bags.
We start to walk in silence and the whole while I am wondering if I should tell her that she was once my teacher. . . Do I really want her to start recollecting my colorful teen years. . . I think not. She is my mother

We approach a kiosk and I offer to buy her a soda, I actually insist on it. ‘Mami hiyo jua ni kali, ka soda baridi tu alafu tuende?’

She needs more convincing, she tells me her family is waiting for her, she cannot wait, but she agrees to a take away, warm fanta orange, and buys apple juice for her husband, telling me quite understandably that she wouldn’t want to enjoy her drink alone. We are approaching her home and reason almost wins out leading me to introduce myself . . . But I don’t. I hand her back her bag and stand aside. . .

As she moves towards her gate, she turns to me, fixing her calm eyes on my face,

‘I always knew you were a good boy Almasi’

There is a twinkle in her eye as she smiles at me then turns to knock on her gate. I turn to leave, speechless as I hear somebody opening the gate on the inside. I turn to look, she simply waves at me and disappears into the structure. I walk back to the bus station, full of mixed feelings, wondering at my actions, and feeling more enamored by her. . . She was my teacher at school and my mother in my heart. . . throughout my troubled youth she was my patient selfless instructor, who saved my life with her belief in me. She is my unsung hero.

Unsung hero by King and Country

Disclaimer: this piece is not about my actual mother, some physical features of the character do mimic my real mother’s but the rest of the persona of the character is a collective of stories from people I love and my imagination

❤️ This character felt suppressed, all through the process of writing about her. I kept on wondering when to incorporate her own responsibility to break free, whether I should make that her hero arch. I decided not too, giving it somewhat more a neutral progression, there was reason for this, I wanted to see the light in an obscure character. To try and show that the path of consistency, compassion, and quietness in adversity, requires just as much mental fortitude, as the more popular ‘breaking free or even’ story arch. I know it felt claustrophobic 😅😊. It was meant to, she maintains consistency, showing empathy towards her students, drawing them into learning. She finds a way to let her light shine. That is her hero arch. Adversity failed to steal her light from her, and she has instead, with quiet courage, passed on her light to her students.





Image downloaded from Wikipedia

I have always held a fascination for the late President Moi. My earliest memories of Him were from the year 2000, when he came to Mombasa. At the time I was in primary school. The school was situated right next to the Nyali bridge, next to a major highway. Drivers tend to speed up at this particular spot, maybe because it is at the cusp of a bridge, and a subconscious human instinct to survive triggers the speedy driving. . .Or maybe it is simply the awareness that one is driving above a massive water mass, that freaks people out, the several tons of concrete between your car and the ocean be damned. On that particular day however there was no traffic, the road was as clear as the horizon of the ocean at dusk. Massive, deep, blue and everlasting.

To give context, at the time of his excellency’s presidency, whenever he visited a city, the roads were cleared out for him hours before his arrival. On the day of his arrival and the day of his departure, you would be sure that motorists would be stuck in unmoving, terrible traffic. On this particular day, roads had been cleared out hours before the president arrived as was the tradition. Our teachers however, only released us from our classes a few minutes before the presidents arrival.

The air was of excitement, the teachers were excited, the students, glad to be outside the classroom for once. For my young mind that romanticized even the most mundane of situations, this was a treat! My imagination took over and painted a plethora of colorful scenes, weaving them into a fantastic, thrilling, adventure.

Everything I saw and experienced on that day took on a momentous sheen. Everything looked proper, an air of importance had taken over and given meaning to the activities of that day. The sky was as always a deep rich blue, the sun a bright yellow, the breeze gentle enough and the deep blue of the ocean called to me as it regularly did. . .

Oh how seriously I took Kenya Kenya inchi yetu on that day. My little face contorted in seriousness as we practiced the song last minute. Pushing my little arms to my right side then to my left in a simple routine we practiced for the song. It was a last minute call by our music teacher. Just so we would have a song to present to the President, should the need arise. He had not been scheduled to make any stops. As such, no serious consideration had been given to presentations and the usual fanfare that accompanied a visit from an important guest at the school. Kenya Kenya inchi yetu was practiced just in case. It was a good pick, most students were familiar with the song, given that it was always heard on radio on Independence day, and the stanzas of the song were repetitive, catchy, easy to learn and follow.

I will never forget how we were lined up on the pavement of the Mombasa-Malindi highway, waiting for the arrival of the president. We were quite the sight. Arranged in a straight line from the lower primary junior classes to the upper primary senior classes. Our white and red uniforms reflecting the bright sun.

A last minute instruction was given by our teachers that as the president passed we were to wave our handkerchiefs at him, for those of us who had handkerchiefs. Given that some of us were lower primary students, our teachers did not expect coordination I now believe. The lack of coordination went unnoticed however, for our childish, open, excitement fully made up for it. The mood was electric almost euphoric, and when the first of the presidential escort vehicles was noticed, the place erupted in a loud cheer. So vibrant, loud and lively were our cheers. When the president’s vehicle finally appeared, it immediately slowed down, and the distinguished, elderly man who I remember had a remarkably strong grip on his ivory, white looking fimbo, turned to us and raised it in acknowledgement. . .iconic.

The president did not stop for an improntu speech as he sometimes did, but he had his handlers slow his vehicle down for him to wave and acknowledge the young coastal citizens. I still remember how excited I was, later in the day when my mother picked me up from school, I narrated the day to her in detail, giving every word a magical hue. Mum bought me ice cream on our way home, and honestly that just cemented the fantastical events of that day in my mind, my little heart was full.

These are my memories of the late former president, embellished by my then baby mind. Untainted by politics or the economic realities of the time. Later on, as I grew older, I got a better understanding of what was really going on in the country. The optimistic air of the year 2002 and the fervor for change created a disingenuity with the fantastic image from my childhood. . .though I sometimes wondered, why people did not like the tall grey haired gentleman who held the white rungu.

I got an opportunity to contrast my experience, after 2002, same setting, different president, and less time spent closing of the road. This time round most motorists were happy, the new president changed the tradition of blocking off roads for hours. Traffic build up was at a minimum. The new president at the time never slowed his vehicle down, never opened his window, but he waved at us from inside his vehicle. . . I think. . .on second thought he probably did slow down, just not for a long a time as the former president. There had been no fanfare, little grandiose but the expectant euphoria was the same. Power must come with its own charismatic pull.

I don’t remember being quite as overtaken with excitement. I was older, and the event no longer benefited from the excitement of being my first, so that might have been the reason for my calmer feelings that day. He felt. . . efficient, borderline cold, lacking the fantastic grandeur and charisma of the former president. I remember telling my mum later that day that the new president hadn`t feel like a president . . .

My mother responded to my assertion with a laugh, and gently reminded me that the two were different people. My mother likely disagreed with me, given the fact that there was the promise of economic growth and hope of a better government with the new president. In her heart, mother, like many other Kenyans at the time, probably felt a lot more hope in the new dispensation. Hope that the economy would do better, corruption would be dealt with, infrastructure would develop, and opportunities would be in the offing for her growing children.

This piece is not about the politics of the late former president, but his strong man legacy. Good or bad, corrupt or not. Given that I later become staunchly anti establishment, sold out for the politics of independent thinking, de-centralization of power and lowering government recurrent expenditure. Critical of the ballooning wage bill and luxury spending on senior civil servants. . . I was never one with the late former president in spirit, and definitely not a supporter of the darker parts of his legacy.

image downloaded from google, archives of Kenya.

As I relived that fantastic memory through older, maybe jaded eyes I realized something about the late former president. The undeniable fact that he wielded a lot of influence over his party and most of government when he was president. I do not think that any of the presidents that were elected after him have been able to match the energy he gave off. In truth, he single handedly carried the political party KANU which he belonged to with his charisma and personality. I wouldn’t call him likeable or even popular, but the fact that he wielded influence and power over the government and the people, is undeniable.

The people that chose him, chose him for who he was. He is a politician whose influence has outlasted his candidature, age, even death. There was always a feeling of firmness about him, like what you saw was what you would get, the good and the bad. I have come to genuinely believe that this firmness was what made this president outlast the wind populism, the masses, whose loyalty and love was unpredictable and fickle. The masses who now feed predominantly on the fickle politics of prejudice (read tribalism) and crowd euphoria.

Today’s class of politician is a word technician, lacking any particular proclivity towards any path, any in built firmness. They are creatures of opportunity, smooth on the outside and rudderless on the inside. Instinctually sniffing the politics of the time, and morphing themselves with every election. To quote Sansa Stark- ‘Bloody wind vanes.’

True, some may say that his influence was borderline coercive and authoritarian. It probably was, no Authoritarian leader can be properly authoritarian without instilling some fear. I do not however believe that fear was his only currency of influence as president. He also had an inexplicable je ne sais quoi about him. . . and a fatherly aura. I believe he embodied the African idea of a father of that generation. Fathers were strong, distant and effervescent figures of wisdom and power. Rocks of Gibraltor, unyielding, active and enduring.

He was no liar, he believed a one political party state was wise and good to him and so he vocally advocated for it. Whether a chunk of the western powers would agree with him or not, even when it was not a popular stance in his own country. You truly knew the devil at hand. Better him in some way over the oily, rudderless Kenyan politician of the new, who speaks in double tongues, whose chief interest is to plunder the country and sow air and nothingness. Whose underlying goal will always be lining his pockets, all else be damned.

Most of the politicians, men and women of the late former president’s generation, had been brought up by fathers who were either men of war; freedom fighters or shrewd deal cutters; the home guard. Both these classes of men did not have the space to be anything but hard men. They were likely ‘strong men’ and that would explain why their children and grandchildren would later intrinsically look to the late former president for leadership.

I am not applauding the idea of ‘strong men’ I instead acknowledge that they served their purpose when they were needed the most. The birth of our nation from the dredge of colonialism required a level of violence and aggression that created the men of that time.

Whether we still need hardened men and women now. . .I do not know. That I miss that reliable sort of leadership, I do. Knowing exactly what a leader stands for, good or bad is missed.

The concept of democracy is truly populist, if the dominant parts of society are just, selflessly motivated and fair minded, then the leadership is truly democratic, in upholding the rule of law and justice.

A country can only be democratic if the leaders in its executive, its legislature and its judiciary truly uphold the rule of law. Depraved, selfish leaders create depraved systems of governance and succession.

Maybe the problem is not the masses. I’ve always thought that better attitude and understanding within the masses would lead to electing better leaders and good governance.

You cannot trust the masses to be prudent and just, these are qualities for a reason. . .they are rare. You can trust the masses to be colored by prejudices and fear. Bad leadership aggravates the vices of society while good leadership brings out the best in people.

People will not stop being people, but the prudent in society must rise and be dominant. The inception of good leadership only requires one seed, seed that is stubborn in its prudence, un afraid of its virtues and vices. . . ready to expose both, in its fight to create a better society.

An indomitable fighter, who clings to his or her cause is a good leader. Leadership is not about perfection. . . perfection is a myth. . .Good leadership is fighting to remain in the fray, and being bold enough while at it, to raise your voice, high like blind Bartimaeus, above all the forces that would attempt to silence your light. Good leadership is also creating space for succession, being a good leader is mentoring those that follow you in order to ensure a legacy is maintained, hopefully, a good legacy.