Eighty five years ago, a heroine of love was laid to rest. As her remains lay at the Mathari Church in Nyeri, she never knew her journey to sainthood would later on begin. Sister Irene Stefani, (Aurelia Giacomina Mercede) was born in 1891 in Italy. Her Christian family formed the foundation of her extraordinary heart.
She had worn many hats, being a nurse during the First World War, a lead cook and most importantly, a missionary. With her worn out boots she would make speedy apostolic runs to wherever she was needed. These boots at times gave her pain with every step, but she walked on. They were her boots of Glory.
When she was sent to the Gikondi Mission in Kenya from Italy, her love continued blooming and her thirst to save souls increased. By the time of her death, she had already baptized 4,000 people.
She fervently served God and her humility and mercy was pronounced. The Kikuyu community in Gikondi nicknamed her ‘Nyaatha’, meaning one of mercy. She was even willing to sacrifice her own life to save the souls of many.
“She is love personified.” These were the words of Doctor Tibsone, a protestant at Voi Hospital where Irene served as a nurse. Her love was exceptional; the kind of love that killed her.
Sister Stefani died after contracting pneumonia from Julius Ngare, a teacher. She had provided comfort to Julius, compromising her own health. She had totally lost herself in her love for mankind.
It is because of this and many other deeds that Pope Francis approved the promulgation for the Beatification of Sister Irene on 12th June 2014 after thorough research was done to determine whether she qualified for sainthood. The Beatification was then set for 22nd May in Nyeri. I couldn’t miss.
I had never seen Nyeri town so lit up and beautiful. In fact, it was the first time I walked home from town at 7.30 PM, feeling all courageous. There were so many people on the streets, taking advantage of the new developments. The town was so clean! After and interval of roughly two meters, a streetlight glowing so bright had been put up. “Nyaatha City,” I thought to myself.
There were also banners posted all over the town with photos of a pretty white lady with a pronounced hat. They were all about the much anticipated for beatification. I actually had to forego my Friday afternoon class, so as to catch a matatu to Nyeri. Fortunately, the fare had not hiked by the time I was leaving Karatina town, forty five minutes away from Nyeri.
When I got home, my mum was equally excited about the event. She had even visited Gikondi, where Sister Irene used to stay while in Kenya. Not only that, but she had bought two scarves which had a picture of Irene at the back. Of course we would wear them to the event.
The scarves and the many t-shirts I had seen people wearing in the past few days got me thinking. There are people who had really found a great business opportunity out of this. Everyone wanted to have something with Sister Irene on it. Talk of scarves, t-shirts, caps, umbrellas and even mugs. Every business wanted to pocket something, while every believer wanted to identify with something.
“We leave at 4.00 AM,” mum said sipping her cup of coffee. I almost chocked on mine!
“We leave, or wake up at 4.00AM?” I asked. I had heard her the first time but wanted to confirm. The last time I woke up that early was three years earlier in high school! Mum gave me a plain look and immediately I knew she meant what she said. I dashed to bed since I knew waking up that early would be a tale.
Just when I was taking a turn in my warm blankets, the door flew open. “Wake up. It’s 3.00AM,” mum called. But I had just slept! I thought to myself. Lazily, I got out of bed and took my shower with my eyes half open.
After getting ready, we met other members of our church at the meeting point. Everyone was in warm clothing and of course none lacked a mark of Sister Irene. Those who did not have it physically had it in their hearts.
We began our journey on foot to the Dedan Kimathi University grounds. I still couldn’t believe I was on the road at 4.00am. But all through, Sister Irene’s theme had been repeating itself in my mind… “All for Jesus, nothing for me.” With this, I felt the urge to forge on.
With our rosaries in our hands, we said our prayers as we walked, in the bid to increase our faith. The women, my mother included, led from the front with my two friends and I trailed at the back.
After walking for about an hour, we arrived at the grounds. I was surprised by the number of vehicles and people who had already lined up for screening. And here I was complaining we woke up too early. We stood behind the last person in the queue, hardly talking to each other due to the fatigue and cold we had just battled with. Everyone had really high expectations for the day. Whenever they arrived and saw the queue, most would recite Irene’s theme. So it did not work for me only. I was impressed.
In every market, there never lacks a mad man. Just when we were about to get to the gate, around 7.00AM, (yes, from 5.00 AM) some five huge men and one lady came and fixed themselves between my friend and I, and pushed those who were in front. In between this commotion, those who were at the back ran to the front, and there was a state of total mayhem. The police who were at the gate watched and just threw heavy tantrums, doing nothing helpful.
From this point I could tell security had really been compromised from the beginning. Sister Irene had to protect us since the police didn’t seem up to the task. After being stepped on, pushed and some even losing their weaves, we finally made it in. It was survival for the fittest, but later I came to realize it was pointless since everyone got a chance to get in.
When we got to the grounds, I was astonished. I had never seen so many people in my entire 21 years! I held on to my mother’s scarf, knowing once I let it go we would meet each other again in the house since I had no phone.
We took our plastic seats and positioned them strategically. There was one big screen in front of us, so we would catch all the action. The sun had already started rising, and we were prepared for it. Most of us had umbrellas, so the scorching sun was the least of our worries.
At 9.00AM, arrivals of important dignitaries began. Nyeri County Member of parliament Esther Murugi among other MPs and senators were present. The former president, Vice President and the President accompanied by the first lady crowned the arrivals. I was seeing His Excellency President Uhuru for the first time ever. My mind started battling between politics and religion but I had to focus on the purpose of the day.
Pope Francis’ representative Cardinal Polycarp Pengo was as well present to ensure the Beatification of Sister Irene, which was done is a span of less than five minutes. Bishops and priests from Italy, Mozambique, India, Liberia and Colombia were not left behind. When he made this declaration, my heart skipped a beat. I felt excited, challenged and blessed. She had been so young yet had given her all to Christ and service.
A canvas with Irene’s picture was propelled and shouts of joy could be heard from all over. She was now officially “Blessed Irene Stefani.”
People had travelled from all over the country to witness this. Some had also travelled from abroad, but they were countable. They had been overestimated to arrive in huge numbers. Actually, this was a huge disappointment to the hotel owners who had expected a total bloom from these visitors.
Why ‘Blessed’. Some asked. Quoting from a writing by Reuben Kigame, a Kenyan gospel artist and evangelist, even Mary, mother of Jesus, shouldn’t be called ‘Blessed.’ From my own knowledge, Mary gave birth to Jesus, the son of God. The same Jesus who died and resurrected. Why wouldn’t she be blessed?
All Sister Irene went through was out of the normal. Declaring her a saint is out of the recognition that she had followed the ways of Jesus. Giving her all, out of love. It is in no way blasphemous. Anyone who understands her story understands she was indeed special. An angel in human flesh.
At the end of the day, I was feeling exhausted but fulfilled. It had been a success. There is nothing impossible under the sun. Being good and kind even to those who do the opposite is quite possible. I was ready to follow Blessed Irene’s footsteps with taking every challenge as my boot of Glory. All for Jesus, Nothing for me.
Mukuru ghetto is only a ten-minute drive away from Nairobi city center. Residents of Mukuru know that their slum dwellings call for strong wills and tough spirits. Edu had lived in this ghetto for most of the twenty years of his life. Half of this time was spent in the same single-room structure. He lived in this mud-walled, rusty tin-roof room with his father and older brother.
His ailing father was a casual laborer in a nearby factory while Nyash, his brother had just completed high school the previous year and was now looking for casual work. This was a venture akin to looking for a needle in a haystack. The closest Nyash came to finding this needle was when a local wholesale promised him a cleaning job. When Nyash showed up the following morning to inquire about the job, two people were already sweeping and scrubbing the shop’s verandah. The needle just couldn’t be found.
One morning, Nyash woke up with a throbbing headache, so he decided to go and search for aspirin. He jumped over the drench at their doorstep and almost slid on a toddler’s faeces.
“Good morning Ninja!” he shouted through the tiny window of a room that was four feet away from their room.
“Yo!” Ninja answered drowsily.
Ninja was one of Nyash’s closest friends. He never slept before three and never woke up after seven. If he wasn’t in the ramshackle one-room gym, he was in the ‘old men’s den.’
This was the nickname given to the small room that served as a bar for chang’aa, the local brew. Nyash walked up the slight incline that led to a tiny shop owned by their landlord. He wanted to get some aspirin on credit.
Nyash saw his brother Edu conversing loudly with the shopkeeper and quickened his steps. If his noisy brother was negotiating to take some item on credit, then Nyash stood no chance with his aspirins. Indeed, as soon as he arrived at the shop, Edu stretched out his hand through the counter and received a loaf of bread. Nyash overheard him promising the shopkeeper that he would pay him in the evening. So much for the aspirins, Nyash thought. His headache would have to heal naturally.
Edu grinned at his brother and shot past him. Moments later, he sauntered into their tiny room, and proclaimed proudly to his father, “I have bought some bread for you papa!”
Papa was just leaving for work. “That is good. Make sure that you share with your brother. I am late, so I have to leave now.”
With that, the frail looking man left. He hadn’t eaten dinner the previous evening as he had returned home so drunk that all he could do was to slump into his mattress on the ground and sleep. He was feeling hungry, and would have loved to stay and munch some bread but he knew that his boys could use the munch too.
Edu had dropped out of school at age thirteen, when he was in the final year of primary school. One evening, he had returned home from school and announced to his papa that he was not going back to school the following day.
“But why my son?” papa wondered.
“I just don’t like school anymore,” Edu had told him.
Counseling and threats from his father all fell on deaf ears. His mother was even summoned from upcountry to advice him but the stubborn teenager remained adamant. So for seven years, Edu just stayed at home and did everything in general but nothing in particular. It was difficult to know what he did.
“Stay away from crime if you want to outlive me,” papa always told him, to which Edu would retort that, “survival should not be mistaken for crime.”
His propensity for brawls quickly gained him a reputation as ‘Tyson.’ Papa even advised him to become a boxer, hoping that this would help to channel his pent-up energies into a constructive activity. For once, his son listened to him.
Ninja, their neighbor, was already an amateur boxer so Edu sat at his feet and began learning the art of boxing. Every morning, Edu went to the gym together with the master. This gym comprised of two skipping ropes and a suspended sack of sand. This sack served as the punching bag. Like Ninja, Edu began spending hours in this tiny, windowless room. Fighting for a better tomorrow in which he wouldn’t have to negotiate with the shopkeeper for ten minutes, to be sold a loaf of bread on credit.
I stood quietly in the soft grass on the edge of the beach and watched quietly as the sun crept along the blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Blue was everywhere. Above was the soft blue of the sky. In front of me was the dark blue of the ocean. Far away on the horizon, I could see gentle waves dancing in silent rustles towards me. I breathed in deeply and opened my arms wide as I pretended that the waves were eager to race towards me and jump into my embrace.
I heard a sound. It was like a bird but quite soft. It filtered into my ears from above me, causing me to glance upwards. Apart from the vast, blue sky, I couldn’t see anything else up there. So where was that sound coming from? Soft like a bird’s chirp and calm like a… ‘Breeze!’ I whispered. It was a breeze. I closed my eyes and moved my head slowly, from side to side. It felt as if the morning breeze was gently pushing and pulling my head from right to left.
After a few blissful moments, the gentle push and pull became stronger as the breeze began transitioning into a serene wind. As if on cue, my eyes fluttered open and cast a long gaze at the waves. Their jog had become a sprint leaving rough waters in their wake. At that moment, I heed the call of the ocean and began a slow stride from the edge of the beach towards the ocean.
Although still on dry sand, I could already feel the wet water encircling my ankles. As the salty wind enveloped my face, I closed my eyes gain but continued walking. One step at a time, one breath at a time, I approached the Indian Ocean.
My bare feet were gently pressing into the soft beach of Lamu Island, in the Zanzibar archipelago, leaving behind a zig-zag pattern of my footsteps. Like continuous rows of the letter Z, the footsteps pattern descended along the gentle incline that I was walking on. Another gust of wind blew onto my face, swinging them open.
My eye pupils, brown like some of the bigger sand particles beneath me, registered a gigantic wave that had begun forming on the horizon. It had the outlines of a great racing horse and dazzling beauty of a zebra. I could almost feel its watery gallop as it leapt back into the depths and emerged a few metres ahead. Hot on its heels was another even bigger wave whose roar whose roar mingled with the wind to form an ocean orchestra of divine music.
I don’t remember how I ended up on my knees. But I do recall stretching out my arms again and diving into the ocean to give the ocean a hug. As I swam towards the embrace of the galloping waves, smile on my face was wider than the sky above me.
The embrace when it came left me with deep sighs of joy.
She lay on her bed recapping the sweet whispers and romances she had enjoyed a month ago. She couldn't stop thinking of the light touch of his skin against hers. This brought a mixture of emotions. She massaged her belly in a perplexed web of confusion.
It was a new month. May. She had missed her last period. Her periods always brought her misery. She'd coil herself on the floor, wake up in the middle of the night to boil some water, skip classes and well, everything that comes with period cramps. April was a painless month.
She phoned and texted her lover every minute she got hold of her phone. He remained calm, almost certain there was no cause of alarm. This would get into her nerves. She felt like he was enjoying every bit of it. Anyway, he wouldn't have to carry a lovechild for nine months, bearing the shame and the short lived campus dreams, she thought.
It was those times when everything would signify pregnancy. A lecturer would come to class and spend more than ten minutes advising on pregnancy, she would walk in town and come across more than five expectant women in a day... I mean, everything was getting pregnancy into her head!
She would constantly fish in the internet, searching for the early signs of pregnancy. Every time she washed her clothes, she'd end up with a back ache. That was a first sign. She'd also have cravings for foods (like fries) which she had never been a fan of. This made her get ‘love handles' which to her, her belly was growing bigger.
She'd thought of testing, but did not know how she would react if the results came out positive. She decided to wait a little bit longer. She would constantly dial her mother's number desperately searching for someone to talk to. But her guts wouldn't let her. She couldn't imagine the stress she'd instill in her. She therefore kept to herself and of course, her seemingly less concerned lover.
She had started contemplating abortion. But again, her mother gave birth to her when she was almost her age, so she had no right. The famous Sauti Sol's hit 'Nerea' would also play in her mind repeatedly. In the song, Kenya’s hottest boy band pleads with a girlfriend known as Nerea not to abort, since the baby would be well taken care of.
She was also almost certain her lover would support her, but still she was afraid. She'd recall the many 'dead beat' fathers out there and her bubble would burst.
It was mid May and still she'd seen nothing close to her periods. Not even the sharp ovulation pains she often felt. She was now almost cock sure she was expectant. She started saying it jokingly to her classmates, just to see the reaction if indeed it was true.
“No way. You are too responsible for that,” they would say.
“Of course am kidding,” she would counter, guilt written all over her face.
One hot afternoon as she was lying on the green grass of the campus field, she felt a sharp pain run across her abdomen. She ignored it at first. After some minutes the pain came back even sharper. It was more like the cramps pain. She had almost forgotten how the pain felt like.
She jumped to her feet and rushed to the washroom, hoping against all hope that it was what she thought it was.
Never had she been so happy to feel those sharp cramps pains, because they signified that she wouldn’t be in Nerea’s shoes after all.
The night was pitch dark and the road was chronically bumpy. Unlike me, my brother Msonobari is a fast driver and was hurtling down the murram road as if he was practicing for the Safari rally. I was leaning on the cold window, half-asleep. We had eaten lunch six hours earlier at Malindi and the roast chicken that I had gobbled was already gone, leaving in its trail hunger pangs that were keeping me from sleeping soundly.
The loud screech of our Subaru Forrester chased away the sleep that had started accumulating in my eyes. Right in front of us were dozens of what appeared to be flashlights. But what surprised both of us was the fact that the flashlights were moving across the road on their own, with no human beings behind them whatsoever.
For a moment, I was sure that I had finally come face to face with the famous coastal genies. But before I could voice this fear or even utter a prayer, my brother let out one emphatic word – ‘nyati!’ Buffaloes!
Indeed, the ‘flashlights’ were but bright eyes that belonged to a herd of buffaloes that was crossing the road. I had seen buffaloes before in Maasai Mara National Reserve and Nakuru National Park. Their resemblance to cows robbed them off the wild attraction of leopards, lions and even gazelles. But seeing them in the dark with their eyes shining bright like a diamond was a sight to behold. I was both scared and excited as was my brother. Although he is a photo freak, he didn’t dare roll down the windows to take photos. Instead, we both watched in silent awe as the buffaloes took their time to cross the road.
We were between the Lamu County towns of Witu and Mkunumbi in an area that is not a national reserve but the buffaloes respond to nature’s push and pull, not gazetted boundaries. The nearest national reserves from this area are Dodori and Boni. Both are 38 years old, having been gazetted in 1976. They are neighbours and consequently host mostly similar flora and fauna.
One of the animals that grazes here is the coastal topi, a medium-sized antelope. It is famous for its graceful pose on top of termite mounds as it scans the horizon with a steadfast gaze. Clothed in its red-brown coat, with black patches spotting its face and legs, the topi adds immense color to the Boni and Dodori Reserves.
Also living in this region is the hirola, a lesser known sibling of the topi. The hirola is considered to be the most endangered antelope in sub-Saharan Africa. Less than five hundred remain despite having more than 14,000 in the 1970s. The future doesn’t look bright for them, partly because of stubborn insecurity in the area. Between June and August when militia gangs launched several attacks in Lamu County, they would retreat to Boni forest.
In early August, I drove as fast as I could past the forest as I fled from Lamu. When I looked nervously at the silent forest, I thought of the topi and hirola and felt quite sad that they were now caught in the middle of a senseless conflict.
I also thought of the Boni people, who have lived in the forests for centuries, all along co-existing harmoniously with the wildlife. What would happen to them now?
As I passed by the location where my brother and I had met with the buffaloes, I found myself wishing that Bob Marley’s song would literally come true.
‘I wish that the buffaloes would become soldiers that can protect the forests and the animals that call it home,’ I muttered to myself as I glanced at Boni forest winked at it, praying that all would be well.
She sighed. Her rough hands clasped the jembe, hoe in her hands tightly as a rapid song replaced the sigh. Every swing of the jembe was in sync with the fast beats of her song. Her bare feet found solace in the soft, wet loam soil of Butere in western Kenya.
A few feet away from her were ten other women, all donning lesos, linen wrappers around their waists and digging their own neat rows. Every now and then, they would all break into a chorus to which they would dance to as they dug. Then they would retreat back into silence punctuated only by a sneeze, a sigh, a cough or a hum.
Alice Ochami, also known as Mwalimu (teacher) Alice, sighed again and stretched her 5,2 frame to its full length. It was 10 AM and the sun was still gentle on her skin. This was her farm and the ten women were paid hands who would each receive a payment of 100 Kenya shillings (1.5 US dollars) for six hours of intense labor that entailed digging holes, throwing maize seedlings into them and covering them properly with enough soil.
The following morning at 10.30, the women assembled again in the farm. For six hours, they sang, danced, dag, talked, ate lunch, resumed digging, sighed, stifled yawns and ululated when they completed the planting.
After three days, they had completed the task.
Mama Nebungo wrapped her 300 shillings (4.5 US dollars) into a crumpled red handkerchief and placed it in her bosom. Her wide forehead and slender chin broke into a smile as she stepped out of Mwalimu Alice’s living room where they had just been served tea and sweet potatoes. I will buy a new green short for my son’s school uniform. I will also buy 3 gorogoros (2kilogramme tin) of maize. That should leave me with about one hundred shillings for saving. But even as she budgeted, there was a gnawing realization that the maize would last her seven-member family for barely two days.
Mama Namiru left the living room with a frown. She had five children, including her husband. Her smooth chocolate complexion and oval face gave her a distinct attractiveness that not even the forty years of her life could conceal.
There were ten items on her to-buy list: 2 gorogoros of maize; 100 grammes of cooking fat; half a kilo of sugar; 100 grammes of salt; five bunches of omurere (local traditional vegetables); 4 pairs of panadol; chaguo langu contraceptive pills; 4 pencils for her four sons; one 200-gramme sachet of Royco cooking flavor and a 200-gramme bottle of cough syrup. She needed 620 shillings to buy all these essentials. With 300 shillings in her small brown purse, she was halfway there. The frown turned into a half-smile that lit up her face.
Mama Bwibo and Mama Omutsoi left together. They were cousins who were married to brothers. A tomato-colored cow by the gate seemed to nod at them as they eased themselves through the green metallic gate. Just a few feet away was the one and a half acre farm that had earned them 300 shillings each.
That farm was bequeathed to Willy Ochami, Mwalimu Alice’s husband, by his father. He was one of six brothers who got an equal share of their father’s six acres of land.
After she finished paying all the ten women, Mwalimu Alice tied the leso tighter around her waist and broke into a hum of ‘Amazing Grace’ as she walked back to her farm. She stood at its edge, near the gate and gave it a long, keen and tender gaze. The previous year of 2010, it had given her a paltry 10 sacks of maize and 2 sacks of beans. Yet twelve years earlier in 1998, her harvest had been three times as much.
Why? What had she done back then that she was no longer doing? It wasn’t just the rain because in 2010, the rain came at the right time, just like it did in 1998. She scanned the long rows in her farm and smiled, wondering if 2011 would be a repeat of 2010 or 1998?
‘For this year’s harvest to match 1998’s bumper harvest, I have to repeat what I did back then,’ she murmured to herself. But what is it that she had done back then?
She had been a member of the teacher’s cooperative union in her district. In December 1997, this cooperative awarded her a low interest loan of 30,000 shillings (500 USD – 1997 rate). Armed with this amount, she used January 1998 to plough her farm in a thorough and timely fashion. By the end of February, planting was complete. First-class maize and bean seeds were safely ensconced in the earth, perched in the midst of soft wet soil and chubby pieces of manure.
The rains didn’t disappoint and it wasn’t long before smiling shoots of maize and beans germinated. When the inevitable weeds reared their ugly heads, they were promptly pulled out by a team of dedicated farmhands who received punctual payment for their labors. Among them was Mama Namiru who always did farm work with one of her babies strapped on her back. When it was time for top dressing, she was among the ten women that sprinkled fertilizer around the plants adeptly.
Then came the bumper harvest in early June 1998 – 30 sacks of maize and 6 sacks of beans.
Clearly, the difference between 1998 and 2010 could be summed up in one word – timing. She had tilled her farm when she was supposed to; planted at the right time; weeded at the right time; applied manure at the right time; top dressed at the right time; weeded at the right time and harvested at the right time. The reason she had done all these things at the right time was because she had the resources to do so.
Then came 2010. Mwalimu Alice had already retired from teaching and most of her pension had been spent in paying school fees for her children. So when January 2010 showed up at her doorstep, she didn’t have the seven thousand shillings that was needed for oxen-ploughing. It wasn’t until mid-February that she was able to pay for this initial farming activity.
Though her tilled land was now ready for planting, she wasn’t ready to pay the planters. She had to wait for mid-March when the combined sum of her monthly pension, together with her husband’s monthly pension, was channeled towards the planters’ remuneration in its entirety. Consequently, the farm wasn’t ready when for the rains that showed up on time. As a result, the shoots that heaved and sighed to the surface were skeletal and gloomy.
It was no surprise that the harvest which followed in July was totally dismal – 10 sacks of maize and 2 sacks of beans from land that had once given her three times as much.
When 2011 came, she was hopeful, but apprehensive. If only she could get the resources that would enable her to replicate 1998! With sufficient resources, she would be able to till at the right time; plant at the right time; weed at the right time; top-dress at the right time; harvest at the right time and store at the right time, in the right way.
If only, Mwalimu Alice thought as she walked into the weekly meeting of Rising Star women group.
The meeting started with a word of prayer from the plump chairlady. She thanked God for His unfailing love and pleaded with Him not to forget the hardworking mothers who were gathered there that day. The prayer ended with a collective proclamation from fifteen women that, ‘together, we are going to rise from poverty!’
A few minutes after the meeting started, the gathered women were informed about a new farmers’ initiative known as One Acre Fund.
Seriously, that river was something else. Kept me cool when it was hot. And boy, it sure was hot during the August holidays.
You see, every holiday, the day after the schools closed, Papa would see to it that we boarded the train for a fifteen hour journey that would deposit us right into our local town.
‘100 years ago,’ papa usually told us whenever the train hooted as it approached the dusty, green town, ‘the railway was so tired when it arrived here that it stopped here and refused to go further.’ I believed him then and even today, I still get the sense that the poor railway just had to call it a day when it arrived there. Fifteen hours from Nairobi. This is the time the journey from the capital city to the village town took. Fifteen fun-filled hours.
The first thing I did within an hour of arriving in the village was to sprint to the shy whistling river. It was right where I had left it three months earlier. In the middle of trees whose names I still don’t know. The trees towered over thickets from which they grew.
I stood there, unable to move forward. My legs, hands, nostrils and my entire body parts were mesmerized by the transparent brownish waters before me. It was whistling. Sssshhhh... the waters whistled. My, my, my.. I had missed that whistle. I closed my brown eyes. Clenched my fists as if afraid of something. But it wasn’t fear. It was awe.
Sssshhh...the whistle was even louder with my eyes closed. The thought that soon, I would be right in the middle of that whistle flicked open my eyes. Rustling. This is the word that best describes what I had at that moment.
“To make a succession of slight, soft sounds, as of parts rubbing gentlyone on another, as leaves, silks, or papers.” This is the description I got when I entered ‘rustling’ into the search box of dictionary.com
It is a description that brings back what I would feel a quarter a century ago whenever I stepped into the hallowed banks of River Firatsi. There was a succession of sounds – crackling leaves as thicket creatures crawled left and right; distant mows of cows approaching the river to quench their thirst; soft thuds of fellow boys as they raced to the river to do what I was about to do; hushed sounds of leaves kissing each other as the river breeze brushed by them. And the staccato beat of my heart as it danced at the utter joy of the flowing river.
Finally, I step forward. My fists unclench; my heartbeat mellows; my lips part into a wide smile; my brown denim shorts drop to the moist riverbank sand; the Kimbo T-shirt covering my eleven-year old chest is yanked over my head and thrown behind me as I jump gleefully into the shy whistling waters of the river.
The climax comes when I dip my head into the cool waters. For a few moments, I can see and feel nothing. Zero. I am in the arms of the river and everything else ceases to exist. A moment later, my head bursts back to the surface and I feel as if the little grey bird that is perched on the branch of a nearby tree is cheering my union with the shy, whistling river.
The river Firatsi has at least fifty-six other siblings across Kenya. There are many more but these are the ones I know. Sadly, some are no longer whistling consistently. That’s a story for another day. For now, meet these queens of refreshment:
Gura River. Nzoia River. Yala River. Nyando River. Sondu Miriu River. Awach River. Itare River. Kitare River aka South Awach River. Gucha River aka Kuja River. Migori River. Riana River. Mogonga River. Mara River. Suguta River. Kerio River. Lokichar River aka Lomenyangaparat. Turkwel River. Suam River. Olarabel River aka Ngusero River. Molo River. Perkerra River. Njoro River. Gilgil River. Malewa River. Turasha River. Southern Ewaso Ng'iro. Seyabei River. Lagh Dera. Lak Bor. Lagh Kutulo. Lagh Bogal. Ewaso Ng'iro. Isiolo River. Naro Moru river. Milgis. Dawa River. Tana River. Kathita River. Mutonga River. Thiba River. Thika River. Kiama River. Ragati River. Kururu River. Muhuhi River. Galana River. Athi River. Mbagathi River. Ruiru River. Nairobi River. Tsavo River. Tudor Creek. Voi River aka Goshi River. Umba River. Jipe Ruvu River. Lumi River.