Memories Of My Mother Dorka Owino Nyong’o (Nyar Kolunje)

My name is Anyang’. I was baptized Peter in the Anglican Church when I was a baby by my parents. My God parents were Mr. and Mrs. Dishon Angero of Seme Kolunje, the clan where my mother came from.

All throughout my life I never asked my mother—or my father for that matter—why they gave me the name “Peter” as my so-called Christian name. But my mother explained to me one day why I was called “Anyang’”.

When I was born an old man called “Anyang’ Obwanga Nyadhako” had just died in our clan. Apparently he had been widowed and he never remarried. So he used to cook for himself and do all other house chores himself. He was a hard worker. He was also very kind and very generous. My mother admired his fortitude, self reliance and sense of self respect. So I was named after him. I was the new Anyang’ Obwanga Nyadhako; this was my “jwok” name. But my mum and other women in the village also added me other names associated with the original Anyang’: names such as “Nyagundi’” and “Wuon Opolo”.

I was the fourth child to be born after Mary Anyango, Samuel Otieno and Aggrey Omondi, all of whom were delivered at Maseno Mission Hospital not too far from our home. I was however, in a hurry to come into this world and gave my mother no time to prepare to go to Maseno when the birth pangs started. An old grandma had to be called to deliver me in the middle of the night at home; but she didn’t do a very good job, leaving mum in excruciating pain after what the grandma had sworn was a safe delivery. That grandma had not extracted the placenta. Mama and I were eventually rescued when a nurse friend of hers was called to step in and ensure both the baby and the placenta were safely out of the womb. My mother first told me this story when I was in intermediate school in the late fifties. Coming into this world in a hurry I almost killed my mother!

We lived in a three roomed grass thatched bungalow in our village Ratta. As a clergy man my father was always travelling, serving the church wherever he was posted. It was my mother who was always at home, doing garden work, preparing meals for us and ensuring we helped in house work as well as gardening.

I remember some time later when I was 10 or so years old mother decided to grow the kind of vegetables that the white missionaries, teachers and administrators at Maseno liked. Things like cauliflower, cabbages, onions, Irish potatoes and French beans. My brother Aggrey and I used to walk 6 or so kilometers to Maseno to deliver these farm produce to the whites. Mama would give us an allowance of ten cents (otonglo) to buy whatever we liked from the proceeds of the farm produce. Our favorite was a cup of tea and chapatti at one of the markets on the way back home!

Between 1958 and 1961, while my other siblings went with father to his new station in Ng’iya to go to school there, I stayed at home to go to school in Ndiru, as a day scholar, walking the four kilometers to and fro everyday. Every morning I had to milk the cows before going to school, on coming back in the evening I had to do the same. But that was not all: what of making coffee for mama every evening after dinner; ensuring that the cows and sheep are properly grazed on weekends, going to the posho mill two kilometers away to grind maize into flour and bring the flour home; etc, etc. I was mama’s errand boy. In turn, however, I enjoyed all the love and attention a child could expect of a mother. I progressively forgot how heavy the chores were and just enjoyed monopolizing the attention of mama.

Mama was a leader and teacher in the Maendeleo ya Wanawake movement. She even rose to be the treasurer at the district level. Mother had a Singer sewing hand machine which she used to make and repair our clothes. She also used this machine to teach other women how to sew at the location offices in Kombewa once a week. The chief of Seme, Senior Chief Melkazedek Nindo, “ang’wani wuon Nyangaga”, lived in Ratta and used to give mama a lift in his pick up whenever she was going to or coming from Kombewa.

Mama and Baba brought us up under strict discipline and tutelage not assume that we were any better than other children. One day after school was over and I was walking from Ndiru to Ratta, I noticed the chief was on his way home and I waved him down to give me a lift. The chief obliged, gave me a lift on the back of the pick up and delivered both mama and I at home. As was always the case I took off my school uniform ready to wear my home clothes. But that mission was not accomplished. No sooner was I naked than mama seized me and caned me thoroughly! Why? Because I dared seek a lift from the chief while other children were walking home. That feeling of privilege, or exceptional treatment, she will never tolerate among her kids!

Some time in the fifties, mama fell ill and underwent an operation at Maseno Mission Hospital under the charge of Dr. Leach and Dr. Green. After being discharged, mama took a long time to recuperate at home. She had to be given very special food. We the kids were very worried. She was most of the time in bed. But somewhere she gradually got better but had to stick to her very special diet for the rest of her life: only boiled food, no oily and sizzling things, organic food as much as possible. But strangely enough mama drank very little water!

Mama has always made home such a wonderful place to spend time in, with family, friends and relatives. There was never a time when mama did not have a girl staying with her and going to school in Ratta, first in the primary school and later in the high school. The primary school, started in 1957 under the auspices of the ACK church and the Ratta community, consumed a lot of her attention and time until its success was guaranteed. In 1977, when I started teaching at the University of Nairobi, mama reminded me that we needed to start a secondary school. It was not until 1987 that earnestly embarked on this task. But with it also came the passion that 9 members of the Ratta Mothers’ Union had of putting up a girls’ hostel.

When I joined electoral politics in the early nineties and became the MP for Kisumu Rural, my mother was my most ardent supporter, offering useful advice as well as criticism. Expressing skepticism at some of the pronouncements we made. But she was always ready to welcome my fellow politicians home with prayers, meals and occasional advice. Raila Amolo Odinga, James Orengo, P.K. Muiruri, Omar Hassan, Mutahi Kagwe, Charity Ngilu, Mukhisa Kituyi, Farah Maalim, the late Robert Ouko, the late Ndolo Ayah, James Nyikal and many more have dined in my mother’s house at one time or another.

I remember at one time when we were right in the middle of some campaign, my mother called me to see her urgently, she had something for me. When I got there I was surprised to get from her a campaign contribution of KShs 20,000; in 1997 that was a hell lot of money!

I don’t think I can exhaust memories of the many years mama has been in our lives. Let me assure you we children were determined to keep mama with us for ever, however sick she was. The two and a half years she has spent in bed in our house under strict medical care has been a time of great fellowship among members of the family, the clan and our friends. Mama brought us together every so often, praying for her and singing Christian songs from “Wende Luo” till we could sing them off head. Mama has been a solid rock on which we have all stood, a permanent inspiration when we were gripped with fear that she may leave us and a lingering light that will never fade as long as we cherish those happy days she gave us as a loving mother. A love that showered kindness on all, passion and care for the disadvantaged and hope for the disenchanted.

Adios mama.

We all love you. But where you now are, enveloped in the love of God that passeth all understanding, is in the final analysis, what you have always prayed for whenever you said, ANGIMA GI YESU. Indeed Mama Nyar Kolunje, INGIMA GI YESU for ever and ever.”

May her soul eternally rest in peace

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