The epitome of selfless love

Friday May 17 2019

A mother shows appreciation to her child. Mother’s Day was set aside to honour and celebrate mothers and motherhood. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


When he talks about his mother and what she has done for them, you want to cry. You want her to be your mother for a month.

Last weekend was Mother’s Day, and I didn’t write anything about it because Jane, my beloved, rests.

But I will tell you about another mother I’ve never met. But to tell you about this mother, I have to tell you about his son.

This guy grew up in the village. He was pulled from his mother’s womb by an old village midwife with gnarly but steady hands and deep-set eyes.

His umbilical cord was cut by a crude but efficient instrument. This was in the late 60s. So, he was born in their grass-thatched house at high noon.

He grew up poor. Dirt poor. When he was barely conscious of his environment, his father took off, left them in the hands of poverty.


He doesn’t remember him. Never seen a picture of him. In fact, he has no pictures of himself or his elder brother as a baby. Poverty did not allow the privilege of documentation.


What he remembers, though, was his mother being not only his mother but also his father.

He remembers fetching firewood before he could barely string words together.

He remembers his mother cutting an exercise book in two and breaking the pencil in two for him and his brother so that they could go to school.

School was stones for desk and a hole in the mud-wall. They shared everything, and everything here means nothing because they had nothing to their name, not even shirts on their backs. But they had each other.

He remembers his father’s parents kicking them out from the boma after he abandoned them, and them starting off as squatters in a land far away.

So, what does a landless single woman with two children do? She works her bones off.


In the village during that time, the well-off had grass thatch on their roofs.

They were not poor, they were the class below poor and so they had twigs and a polythene paper as a roof.

And when it rained, it leaked and they would collect the water on pots and take turns to empty it outside.

They were so poor their neighbours never talked to them. They were outcasts among the poor.

Their mother sold chang’aa to send them to school. She would brew it from darkness dawn and they would be right next to her before sunrise helping her mix, and stir, and stoke, and then they would wear their one tattered uniform that was drying overnight and walk for two hours to school with no food in their stomach.

During lunch time, they would sit together under a tree, two brothers, chewing on sour plants or a wild mango for lunch.


At home there were always men in their boma, drinking their mother’s chang’aa.

Sometimes the men would taunt their mother but when his brother was around 12 years and he was eight, they once ganged up and beat up a drunk man who abused his mother.

Then it never happened again. They fiercely protected their mother against loutish drunks.

Growing up in this abject poverty, they never once saw their mother cry or look dejected, no matter how tough it got.

And it got tough plenty. She always protected them from her harsh reality.

Over time, chang’aa built them a grass-thatched roof. The villagers would now say hello to them and not sit far away from them in church.


They were bright kids. His brother passed with “flying colours” (that’s how people passed well back in the day, with flying colours) and went to Starehe Boys.

His brother scored an A in KCSE and was sponsored to the United States by a religious organisation. “I remember that we couldn’t afford to go to Nairobi to see my brother leave for America,” he told me.

He joined Maseno School (and started wearing shoes for the first time) and his mother started burning charcoal to subsidise the chang’aa business, struggling to see him through.

Then his brother in the US (now a space scientist of sorts) started sending home money, and they built a permanent house with an iron sheet, a big step! His mother could now afford one shoe herself, and three meals a day.

He scored an A-, went to university, became an engineer, and the rest his history.


They bought his mother land and built her a lovely house. They proved everybody wrong, everybody who thought his mother could never make it alone with two boys.

When he talks about his mother and what she has done for them, you want to cry. You want her to be your mother for a month.

He talks about her with such passion, loyalty and love.

He said, “Biko, I always promised my mother that one day I would write about her in a book and let the world know about her, but I quickly realised that I can’t write.

"Do you mind writing about her in your column? She can’t read English but I will take that newspaper to shags and translate it for her.

"This will make her so happy. She will think she is famous because you wrote about her in the very same newspaper that writes about Raila.” Now who would say no to an opportunity to make mama happy?

To Mama Risper Dande, Happy Mother’s Day. May God grant you happiness and an abundant healthy life ahead.