What you need to know:
- She was, indeed, a farmer whom you would find in gumboots and garden gloves on her shamba whenever she could get away from her hospital duties.
- Regina Kitula was a committed Christian, but her faith was different from the current fashionable flaunts of salvation in the face of all and sundry.
I have just lost a friend whom I valued and respected more than I realised while she was still with us. That friend is Regina Mukai Kitula, “Mama Tabitha”, who is being laid to rest this weekend at her home in Tulia, Mutonguni, Kitui County.
You may not have heard much of Regina Kitula before this, unless you are part of our close-knit KU-Ruiru-Kitui family or of the few other circles which she nursed and mothered with saintly care.
She was not a politician, a tycoon or a media influencer. Yet role model per excellence she was, an icon of that second generation of post-independence Kenyans, now in their early and middle 60s, whom I regard as the backbone and torch-bearers of what is noblest in this land.
These are also the people I first taught when I landed here in the heady 1970s. So my assessment of them may not be entirely objective. I did not teach Regina Kitula herself. But I know from my long friendship with her that she lived out to the full the values on which we raised her generation, and which her agemates, now in key positions across the country, continue to uphold and practise in their lives and work, to my deep admiration and hope for the future. This is a tribute to them, too.
Briefly, we assumed a national perspective and meritocracy, each individual’s human worth, as the basic operating systems of the country. So, we inculcated in our charges the values of a sincere faith, professional service, hard work, social care and concern and an ardent commitment to the family.
Regina Kitula was a national professional, a senior health practitioner, who rendered lifelong sterling service to Kenyans at facilities ranging from rural clinics to institutions like Nairobi’s M.P. Shah and the Ruiru County Hospital in Kiambu.
Just like hundreds of her contemporaries running institutions all over Kenya, Regina was meticulous in discharging her duties, and all her workmates testified to her diligence.
I know she would have been at the frontline in the current battle against Covid-19. But, as fate would have it, she was forced out of service just before the pandemic hit us, a victim of a stomach malignancy that eventually claimed her life.
This is a reminder of the worrying number of Regina’s agemates whom we have lost and are losing to cancer and of the need not to relent in our fight against this epidemic in its own right.
Perhaps few of those who normally saw Regina Kitula in her Senior Nurse’s uniform knew that she was also a grassroots worker. She was, indeed, a farmer whom you would find in gumboots and garden gloves on her shamba whenever she could get away from her hospital duties.
How many of us office and industry-bound urbanites have taken seriously that age-old advice “kurudi mashambani” (to go back to the land) and make it yield, alongside our other careers? Regina did not have to wait for the coronavirus to teach her the importance of this.
Nor were her “co-curricular” activities limited to tilling the land. In her later years, she was also a health and marriage counsellor, rendering priceless help and advice to young individuals and couples on how to cope with life’s challenges.
I should not fail to pay due respect to her and her living contemporaries, including many of my former students, who are engaged in such redemptive ministries.
This brings me to the two main fountains from which, I think, Regina Kitula’s inspiring beauty and strength sprang. The two are related, the first being her spiritual faith and the second her profound commitment to her family and family values.
Regina Kitula was a committed Christian, but her faith was different from the current fashionable flaunts of salvation in the face of all and sundry. Regina’s spirituality struck you, and indeed convinced you, through her tranquil and confident trust in God and in her joyful eagerness to share His goodness with others.
But maybe these are differences of style, over which we should talk with friendly generosity. After all, as my friend and KU teacher, Professor Geoffrey Kitula-King’ei, Regina’s husband, confided in me in our sharing shortly after Regina passed away on July 2, although she was naturally a woman of few words, she would “not shy away from a controversy or debate about which she felt strongly.”
I could not dispute that, although I never saw or heard Regina in a controversy. In any case, Prof soon capped his sharing with the sincere tribute, “Although I have lost an angel, Heaven must have gained a saint.”
Mention of Prof Kitula King’ei at this point obliges me to answer a question that I am sure most of you who know us have been mulling over as you read along. Why had I not mentioned the Prof earlier as Regina Kitula’s husband?
This was not out of negligence or disrespect for Mwalimu Kitula King’ei, and he no doubt understands this. It is a tactic in gender-sensitive discourse that when we write about a woman, we try and consciously avoid the stereotypical tendency of regarding her as a mere “appendage” of her husband.
A person who has achieved distinction in her or his life should be primarily recognised as that person, not as so-and-so’s wife or partner, as we often do with women.
That said, however, I cannot properly hail Regina Kitula as a great mother and wife without duly acknowledging her family, and especially her husband of 43 years, Prof Kitula King’ei. All I can say is that they made a great team. I know how great a teacher and how accomplished a writer Mwalimu King’ei is. What I will never is how enormously Regina contributed to his achievements.
All we can say with Prof King’ei, as he has it in one of his poems in Miale ya Uzalendo (flashes of patriotism), is “mwanakwetu shukurani, nitakuenzi daima” (daughter of our home, thank you, I will always cherish you).
Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and literature; [email protected]