Wake up! The firm, deep voice would roar as the hazy sun rose. “You are not a sultan to be asleep when the sun has risen’’.
This was our regular wake-up call which I nostalgically keep remember. Mzee, as we fondly refer to him today, then an alert and energetic middle-aged father, would scold us for oversleeping.
My father Kithinji Mutura was an early riser, and most days he would be up long before the sun had risen, even after spending half the night at a local tea collection centre.
The morning chill was nothing as he cut Napier grass and hefted the heavy load on his shoulder – tying it with ropes was too feminine for him.
Today, as a father too, I reflect on the lessons learnt and celebrate my old and now sickly father. He is a shadow of his former self but I will still sing his praises.
This is what I want to tell him today.
Mzee, you abhorred laziness. You would milk, sell milk, gather fodder for animals and still join the rest of us in the tea bushes for harvesting when not engaged in your masonry work.
You told us about the time you were imprisoned by the colonialists for fighting for freedom, and there you learnt masonry. It shows that something good can come out of any trying moment one is undergoing. You taught us to never give up and to see the silver lining in every cloud. Dad, I salute you.
The callouses on your hands, almost 10 years after you stopped erecting buildings, are a testament of your hard work. You gladly undertook difficult, punishing work so you could provide for us. Not once did I see you ‘relax’ or just sit down during the day and do nothing.
Over and above, you managed to invest in several acres of land for your retirement and posterity. You are amazing.
I will never understand – and can never attempt to replicate – how you took care of and raised 10 plus of us. With no formal education or steady source of income, you managed to feed, educate and house us all.
You were passionate about education and you have seen several of your children graduate. And although a number of us failed to proceed beyond primary school, it wasn’t your fault – you were willing to sacrifice for us and never abandoned your duty.
Although we walked barefoot in our primary school years, although we lived in a mud-walled house with a corrugated iron sheet roof, we never slept hungry. Our tin oil lamps and, later, our lanterns never lacked paraffin – we saw, we read and here we are celebrating you. Mzee, you are in a class of your own.
HONEST AND CALM
You were honest when honesty was not the norm. You would always rather be cheated that cheat. You never ‘ate’ anyone’s coin and to date, I have never heard anyone accuse you of any wrongdoing or dishonest deed.
You were a model fundi who never stole his clients’ materials or overcharged them. Your quality works stand strong to date and most of them are as good as new. If only the thieves and tenderpreneurs of today had a dad like you…
Mzee, on reflection, you were and still are calm and collected. I can count the number of times I have heard you shout out. Despite the heat of the moment, despite the level of irritation and despite the cheekiness, you hardly raised your voice or a finger.
Mother would tell you not to let us grow horns or be cheeky but we knew you were our haven.
Mzee, today I’m surprised that lifestyle diseases caught up with you. I don’t understand how diabetes and blood pressure have managed to put you down. I know it was never about lifestyle choices.
Our choice food, githeri, was plain and simple; and it was always available, marinated with traditional vegetables.
I’m sure the nyama choma you ate in your whole life is equivalent of what I eat every month. The number of kilometres you have walked is the equivalent of what the 10 of us have walked in our lifetime. Yet these diseases are here.
Mzee, you walked with us when we were young. You were there during all the moments that mattered. When we were undergoing the rites of passage, you never lectured me on how to be a man, you simply set an example – of courage, of compassion, honesty and providing for one’s family. You never blew your horn, but everybody recognised and appreciated you for who you are.
Mzee Evans Kithinji Mutura, you are our superstar.