On a mild thursday morning, just as the darkness was surrendering to the light, with the sun yawning and stretching it’s orange hues upon the earth, a child was born. It was the fourteenth day of the new year and routine had resumed back in people’s lives. They were back to work, the christmas trees had been dumped out and the newness of the year had dissipated. To my parents, a new addition to the family was nothing short of a joyous continuation for the new year. I would like to think that I came to this world laughing probably giving the doctors and nurses a tiny fist bump but like all babies, I introduced myself by wailing to my heart's content. My toothless mouth gulping oxygen in gasps to fill my tiny little lungs. It must have been a pleasure to meet me. Mother must have taken a sigh of relief, smiled with tears of joy streaming down her face as she gently laid her head back on the pillow in exhaustion after observing the nurses and doctor fuss over me.
By now I was probably placed under fluorescent lights with the nurses methodically fussing over me. I would then be gently laid upon my mother’s arms. A round little human ball with a pair of really fat legs.
I was named after my mother’s mother. A name bestowed upon the second daughter of the family as our kikuyu tradition decreed. The first daughter is always named after the father’s mother. My Grandmother was called Hannah Wanjiru. Wanjiru in kikuyu means “dark” or “black”. I always get interesting looks whenever someone asks the meaning of my name. My grandmother passed away fifteen years ago but I remember her as a resilient woman. Being a tomboy, I always seem to straighten my dresses and skirts whenever she was around. There wasn't a wall I couldn't scale nor a tree I couldn't climb. I proudly wore the scars and scrapes on my body as badges of honor. As a kid, I never said much to her other than quietly observing her as she moved about. She had an air of quiet grace about her. We aptly called her shosho, which means grandmother in my mother tongue. On occasion, especially during the holidays, I would spend a few nights at my grandmothers. Shosho was always up at the crack of dawn, tending to the fields (Shamba) or overseeing the cows being milked or some harvest. Her compound was always buzzing with activity. By the time we woke up to enjoy a nice cup of tea and feast on breakfast, she was already in the granary or overseeing something else. I always wondered when she ever stopped to rest or take a breather.
In the early 2000s, my shosho got into an accident injured her fingers. She was a diabetic at the time and due to poor blood flow, her wounds did not heal well. The fingers got infected, festered and started spreading to the other fingers. The doctors advised on amputation. I can only imagine the distress she went through. She was a farmer and most importantly, a business woman who relied on both hands to do her work. Here were doctors telling her in order to save her hand and her life, she had to let go of a part of her. She acquiesced. The surgery left her with an arm that stopped a few inches past her elbow. It was that elbow that several months later I would see her hooking a little bucket with corn and chicken feed. Using her right hand, she would dip her hand into the bucket and scattered feed to the chicken ambling about on the compound. It was with that arm that she was able to wrap her lesso around her waist using her full right hand to tuck it in. It was with arm that she carried a little jembe hoe. She would use her right hand to dig holes into the earth, dump a few seeds and cover the seeds simultaneously having a discussion. The first time I saw her do this I gaped. I couldn’t not stop watching her move in tandem. It had rythm about it. It showed me how nothing was really impossible if you put your mind to it. I shall digress before I start to wax poetic.
I would love to have a sit down with her today, ask her questions, get to know her even better. Woman to woman, no longer a wide eyed teenager. However, I believe she is smiling down at me.
This year, as the days dragged it’s feet toward my birthday, I found myself thinking of her. My grandmother. This incomparable woman whose name I carry.
I was on the phone with my mother last night and who not better to ask than her. Mother remembers her mum as a hardworking and strong- willed woman. She was very focused in life and one of the most God fearing women she knew. I asked my mum if she saw me in her and she gave me a definite yes. Then she added jokingly that we also share the same body structure especially the legs. They were fat. I burst out laughing.
(Apparently when I was a baby, people wanted to see the baby with the fat legs. I was a michelin baby. With rolls everywhere.)
“ Shosho was really a phenomenal woman wasn’t she?” I said continuing with our conversation.
“Phenomenal indeed.” Mother says softly.
We are quiet for sometime and to break our silence I jokingly asked.
“So mum, now that I am turning twenty nine. Any words of wisdom.”
“Pray and stay focused. You will do well.”
Just like mum to keep things short and sweet.
I was never been a fan of headshots. I shied away from them. I found the very much in your face and would force me to look at my strong kenyan features. Last year I promised myself to try out new things, experiment with photography. My photographer is amazing at what he does and I was blown when these pictures came out. I saw my grandmother in these pictures. A woman whose name I carry with me on my wallet, on my passport, in my blood and veins.
Strong-willed, optimistic, focused and God-fearing.
It’s a blessing to see another year. My grandmother left a legacy that we still revere today. My prayer is I may continue to follow the footsteps my phenomenal grandmother laid out for me.
Photography: Nestle Snipes