You probably are wondering what Mokong’ is or what it means. I don’t know what it means but I’ll tell you about when I first came across the name. Mokong’ is a little known tea estate in Kenya’s Nandi hills. My mother and I moved to Mokong’ when I was three and her nineteen. She had been asked to leave home after high school and take care of her business(me). A friend of hers had told her that at Nandi hills she could easily get a job as a tea picker and so we moved.
I did not start school until when I was five years old. Our neighbors children began at three but I couldn’t because mother said she was saving up money for that and that it would only be enough when I get to five years. She always tagged me along when going to work. She never trusted the women who sold maize by the roadside to keep watch on me. So she took me along and when working she would put her lesso down and ask me to sit. There I learnt to play with my imaginary friends and sing myself to sleep.
She worked from 8:00am to 3:00pm and then we would go home. Most of the time she would not eat anything but she made sure I got a cup of porridge from some women who came selling a cup at 5 shillings daily at around 12:00pm. She only ate once a day and that was in the evenings. Whenever I asked why she only eats once she’d say she doesn’t want to grow fat. So I grew up knowing fat women were those who ate all the time and that being fat was not beautiful.
When I got to five years I asked about school. “ma’ you said I will start school when I am faif iyas”. She smiled and confirmed that indeed I would go to nursery school in January. The school I was to go to was Mokong academy. There,one did not have to do an interview and so mother knew I would go straight to nursery and not baby class then top class. She had taught me the alphabet and counting. That’s what we did before going to sleep everyday. We’d also read a verse from the bible. She had an old Gideon bible; a white one.
I could tell mother was so happy as she walked me to school that 6th of January. She told me of her first day at school and how she did not cry. I bet she was trying to prepare me psychologically for the part where she would have to go back to work and leave me behind. I understood and promised her that I too just like her would not cry. I kept that promise. I didn’t but she did; I noticed tears in her eyes after she hugged me and waved goodbye.
Mokong academy sat on an eighth of an acre piece of land. All classes were three in total and they all were made of iron sheet and earthen floor. Those days that was a school to die for. The public schools there were made of mud and the pupils were so many in one classroom. At the academy we were nine in one classroom. We had chairs and colored pencils. I loved it. Our head teacher was an old retired primary school teacher who was also the owner of the school.
After a few weeks I learnt what routes to take in the tea plantations on my way from and to school. There were so many routes in the plantation and many kids would get lost, sit on the ground and cry till someone found them. I was smart, I never once forgot the way to my mothers workplace. After school I would join her then keep her company till 3pm when we’d go home together.
On my way from school I made friends with some children who went to the public school next to ours. They had no shoes and that was normal. Sometimes I would remove mine too just so we would be the same though secretly it was because they were made of plastic and when hit by the sun my tiny feet would literally ‘bake’ in them. Its a no wonder people called the shoes ‘utanijua saa nane’ which translates to “you’ll get to know me at 2pm when the sun fully shines”
My mother worked hard and when I was 11 in primary 6,she got promoted to work as a manager of the other tea pickers. She would now go to work at noon and take records of how much tea the workers had picked then report to the office. She managed to open a small eatery where the workers would come to eat sometimes on loan. From money she made I got better shoes and a new school uniform every year.
I was always top in class thanks to the early lessons I got daily before bed. I loved school. Teachers loved me.
That’s how it is when you are good academically . Years went by fast and I went to the prestigious Kapsabet girls’ high school; the Alliance of Nandi county. Mother was so proud. She wanted to call home and inform everyone but changed her mind remembering how she had been cut off. All these years there had never been contact with family. I was her only family and she mine. F orget my father, I’ll talk about the He-goat in another story .
School went on fine. My mothers hugs and smile and joke about her hands being as tough as her feet (picking tea had corroded her palms)are what I looked forward to more than her perfectly made chapattis every visiting day. She was my strength and reason for working hard; I wanted to pay her back in the biggest way. I did well and joined a public university to study veterinary science. On my graduation it was only she who attended. It was fun. She was so happy she cried. We took pictures, ate cake, thanked God in prayer and cried again.
Having graduated top in my class, the university offered me a masters scholarship and gave me a few classes to teach the undergraduates. Life was good. I managed years later to buy my mother a house in Eldoret. She moved from Mokong but insisted on running her eatery business. It’s all that kept her busy. So every fortnight she travels to Nandi hills to see how her business is doing.
Just ten minutes ago an old couple walked into my office and introduced themselves as my grandparents. They came in smiling and mentioning how I look exactly as I did at three. All the while I’ve worn half a smile. In my mind thinking ’30yrs!!?’ who throws you out at 3yrs and smiles in your face when you are 33? Insane.
I could stab the both of them Recalling my life at Mokong’ built a painful lump in my throat and I excused myself and cried in the washroom. I have just called my mother about it and there is still silence on her end…