In Summary
  • I do not have clear memories of my mother cuddling me. However, every time I wrap a lesso around myself, I feel warm.
  • Whenever I was late getting home, mother would meet me halfway with a lesso and wrap it round my shoulders.

My mother’s voice used to make chickens scatter. As a child, I instinctively knew that she was an unusual woman and often got embarrassed by her antics. During the chief’s barazas, women would spread their lessos on the ground to sit on while the men sat on chairs. But not my mother. She would take a seat in front while people whispered and sniggered about this blatant flouting of tradition.

The state of emergency had been declared in Kenya soon after my mother had enrolled in school, forcing her to drop out. When my elder brother was in Standard Six, she told him to teach her what he had learned.


My mother was a Parents and Teachers Association member at Tigithi Primary, where I went to school. When she came for meetings, her voice would carry through the thin walls of our classrooms, creating an echo. I would cringe as she announced when she was leaving that she was hurrying home to cook githeri. My classmates teased me endlessly that all we ever ate at home was githeri!

During a particularly dry season, my friends and I heard children crying inside a locked house. The crying turned into whimpering as the day wore on. My mother had gone to the market that day and when she came back, there was a group of women gathered outside, listening to the children. My mother used a piece of metal to pry open the padlock on the door. It was not the only door my mother would break down.

The two girls who had been locked in the house were gaunt, their ribs sticking through the threadbare dresses they wore. The women who had gathered melted into the gathering darkness. The girls stayed with us, sharing what little food we had, until their relatives could be traced.


Unlike my father, my mother was not content with her children acquiring just basic education. If one did well in primary school, livestock was sold to pay secondary school fees.  Mother also burned and sold charcoal to raise money.

My elder sister and I were a year apart and she turned a teenager with me snapping at her heels. There were incidences in the village of older men prying on young girls. My mother said she would kill anyone who preyed on her daughters. Her voice must have carried for quite a distance and my sister and I were left well alone.

Cheera, our neighbour’s daughter,was not as lucky. Her parents could not afford to take her to secondary school. She joined a religious sect whose teaching forbade people from seeking medical care. Part of the sect’s doctrine was that a man would claim to have been shown the woman he was supposed to marry in a dream. A short while later, I heard that a man had seen Cheera in his dream.

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