￼ I want to state the most obvious thing in this world. Before I got a name, I had to be born.
I was born in Kisumu city, at Lumumba Hospital. Back then, we stayed in Nubian, before my dad became his other side and we had to move back to the village. I was born at a time when pressure was piling up on my parents on the need to have a baby. If the royal families can give the prince a period of one year after the wedding to pave the succession way, imagine an African set up, deep in the village, back when kids in itself were a symbol of prosperity. My dad being the first-born boy, he needed to be quick. Four years into marriage with nothing to show for it. In the fifth year a white baby (I was extra light skin at birth) appeared. Being a pride of my dad, a relief to my mum and a source of joy to my grandparents, my birth was cemented by naming me after the abled head of the family, my grandfather (paternal).
We moved back to the village in 2001, just when I was starting my primary school. I was a small, short boy. Most people would say I was at the mouth of the ground, with a head looking like a hammer (this head!). It is in the village that I had very good interactions with the man I was named after.
I used to watch my grandfather take his seat; a wooden version of the seats used in WWE Wrestling. He always sat in front of the house under the scorching sun next to a black water tank while facing the compound as if he was watching over his home. He shaved his beards every Saturday. Assembling his shaving tool was the most technical thing I saw. He would dismantle it from the handle, separate the head and put the Panda Razors (my head would be shaved using razor blades) in between. He would then apply soap on his grey beards after which he would keenly shave them. All this time I would be on standby, in case he needed something. I was an assistant. The process made me want beards too. I thought that shaving ones’ own beards was sacred. I didn’t know that when I would have mine I would be going to an executive barbershop (after much pressure) and have a cut after which three different liquids would be used by some cute lady to massage my face. At that point, I usually feel like I have it all in life. When in real life my competition, at the moment, is the church mouse.
My grandfather owned a black radio. It hung above his official seat in the house. He would set the radio at a particular channel and you could not dare change it. Even a slight movement of the tuner and return to the exact point would be noticed. I thought he had a special way of communicating to the gadget. Back before Ramogi FM even appeared, he mostly put KBC Kisumu. Every Kenyan listened to KBC, we had no option. It was suicidal to talk during news time. We would religiously keep quiet. Apart from the radio, his other most guarded property was his bicycle. I never saw anyone touching the bike. The bike was respected in the same way men respect their balls.
That man was full of wisdom. In his counsel, he held the whole family together. I learnt that in 1995, the year I was born, my dad got a Visa to further his studies in the USA. Grandfather could hear none of it. According to him, he knew it would be the last time he would ever see his son; it was like selling his son to America. The first time I was told the story I felt bad. I thought going abroad was the real deal. I believed that people could only make it abroad. I had not seen any of my people make it in Kenya, like I can see at the moment. I had no one to look up to. All the good stories told were of people who lived in America. My mum kept telling my dad how her people were in America, whenever they had some heated exchange. It is only until later that I realized the wisdom in my grandpa’s decision. I mean he made the decision for me. Otherwise, from the dad I knew, I would have been born into this world a son who did not know his dad. Someone who would only hear stories about his dad. I wouldn’t take that for anything in the world.
I was born after the old man had retired. He used to work in Uganda, back when East Africa Community was still intact. He returned to Kenya to take care of his home and livestock. That man loved animals. He would talk with passion about a cow as if he was taking about human beings. He had a specific way he would want his animals handled and any different move would make you collide. In the whole village, his cows would be the first to be taken out to the fields and last to be returned. One time I saw him shed tears when a donkey died. It was a very old donkey that to me I felt it was high time it died; to him it felt so sad. I am yet to learn how people get attached to animals that much. Personally, I don’t even like pets. He really liked my kid brother because he also liked to look after cattle. The day I saw him angered the most was when someone beat up my brother. That person ‘alilala ndani’ and he hated him forever.
This man held tradition at heart; he knew what was right or wrong in the society, together with a remedy. In his words, he would have wanted me to have a Simba when in class eight. One of the reasons why I liked him. As said earlier, he was the voice of wisdom among us. He held our family together soundly. The go to guy in case of any dilemma. He was also religious, he had an Apostolic Church build just next to the gate of the home. Even though of late it looks more of abandoned. It looks so lonely to me. I wonder if people still worship in it, personally I moved.
My old man never took alcohol and he always took pride in that. He hated alcohol and every other hard drugs with passion. Just as much as he hated dreadlocks. You can imagine the disappointment he had when all his sons turned out drunkards. I would hear him talk of it especially when an uncle would return home so wasted. Sometimes I wish I would be able to talk to him and tell him, “it is not your fault; all you can do is be a good parent, which you are and give the children the ability to make their own independent decisions, so don’t beat yourself over it.” Too bad, he is not around to hear me say that to him. I am yet to experience parenthood meaning every advice I will give at first, will be drawn from hearsay. I am not that wise.
I was named after a great man (don’t worry about the fact that I at times can be an asshole of a being). This name, I will preciously guard. If I were to change my name, I would retain Martin but gladly let go of the last one, not because I don’t like it, but because my name betrays me. It is hard being a Luo in this country. I am sure if he could see me now he would be proud of his name.