Beautiful Flame from Cold Ash

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Seems like just yesterday when my mom and dad went into ‘divorce’ and mom had packed her bags for her motherland. Evans, my youngest brother was about eight months old and I would be turning fifteen that October 2007. It’s been several years now since that divorce, but the events are still clear. These still remain the toughest days of my life!

Immediate divorce impact

Immediately my mom left, my dad planned his safari too. Back to work in Mandera. He left behind very clear instructions. “Hakuna kwenda shule tena, nani atakaa na ndugu yako?”, “Ile gate ndio mwisho. Wacha niskie umepita hapo!” and “Staki watu hapa. Nikipata mtu yeyote hapa utaniona.” Which loosely translates into dire warnings that should I dare step out of the compound, go to school or let anyone in there would be consequences, and that I should stop going to school and look after my little brother.

Looking into my Dad’s eyes, I knew he meant exactly that.

I remember crying for days

I thank God my uncle used to stay with us. And although he wasn’t of much help to us being a terrible drunkard, he could at least be sent! I remember crying for days after dad had left until my eyes were very swollen and the headache could not be contained. I was in mourning about everything. My ruined future, my poor little brother, my mother dearest….everything!

I was extremely green on matters concerning running a home

I was in form one at the time, in a girls boarding school straight from another boarding school where I had attended my upper primary. This was my first holiday since joining high school and I was therefore extremely green on matters concerning running a home as I was barely at home. Yet here I was, with no money, no access to the outside world and a little boy who was fully dependent on me!

I must confess that the saying ‘you never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have’ was one that got proven over and over. I had to do something if we were to survive. And something I did.

Beautiful garden of sukuma wiki, spinach and tomatoes

I transplanted some seedlings mom had left in seedbeds and made a beautiful garden of sukuma wiki, spinach and tomatoes. And although Isiolo is plagued by very very dry spells we were lucky in that mom had a generator she used for pumping water from the borehole. I made use of it.

All I had to do was get up very early each morning before the sun came up and have the crops well watered. The sun would soon dry up all the water and so I would wait until it was cool in the evening; my few months-old bro Evans and I would then water the crops all over again. It wasn’t long before they stated doing really well.

In no time, our little business was doing well

All this time we managed with the small shopping mom had left behind, reminding ourselves that we had to be very careful. The vegetables were ready by the end of the second month and Uncle came in handy. He got buyers and in no time, our little business was doing well. We would also send him to get stuff we needed from the shops. God bless him!

Evans and I cried all night…

Being a pseudo-mother – forced into it by my parent’s divorce – was quite trying. One night, I was awakened by Evans’ wailing. I felt him and he was running a very high fever! I begged him to stop crying but he would not. I remember feeling so afraid and so helpless. All I knew best was cry too! So Evans and I cried all night…

Early the next morning, I sneaked out and went to one of my mom’s friends in the neighbourhood who gave us some drugs to bring down the fever. She also gave us some painkillers. The fever disappeared immediately after administering the donated medicine. God was with us and Evans became healthy once again.

I knew mom would be proud too

By this time, I had forgotten about school. Six months had elapsed and still no sign of mom or dad. Neighbours, well-wishers – as well as some ill-wishers – had started realizing that we were home alone. This was not good at all! I learnt a lot during this period; yes, I really learnt a lot. When I was not worrying about everything else I gave Evans my all. At 10 months he was running up and about and by November, we were having a conversation. This made me proud. I knew mom would be proud too.

Looking up….daddy. I was speechless

One chilly evening early December 2007, as I was watering the ripening tomatoes while Evans chased grasshoppers not far from where I was, I heard him wail. Then he hid behind me. Looking up….daddy. I was speechless; I felt my tummy rumble with hate bubbling up to my throat, choking me. I was unable to respond to his greetings.


The bold escape

My mind was made up. I had to escape

That night, I did not sleep a wink. Time had come for me to implement the escape plan I had hatched months ago. Thanks to my good behaviour, I was never able to leave the house with no one around. With his return the time had come! I packed a small bag with a few clothes and necessities for Evans and I waited for the first light. I knew I wanted to go to mommy but there was the small problem that I didn’t know the way. The last time I had seen my grandma was close to seven years earlier. But my mind was made up. I had to escape. I had to get to mom. This was the only way I could go back to school!

The tweets of birds were sweeter that morning

Early morning, we said a long prayer and set off with Evans. I kept to the bushes so that no one would see me. I was terribly afraid of the drastic consequences should my dad get hold of me. I have never been to prison but somewhere inside of me, I knew how one feels once they step outside those huge steel gates for the first time in many years. That’s exactly how I felt on that day. Everything felt different – the air, the wind. The tweets of birds were sweeter that morning. It the best feeling I’d ever had.

We wandered about the whole day, getting lost while trying to remember where mom hailed from. Until we finally succeeded! At a few minutes past seven pm we arrived. Mom cried when she saw us – dark, malnourished and helpless.

Divorce - Beautiful flame from cold ash

I have never uttered a single word about it till this day

My grandma cursed most part of the night and my aunties cried with mom. I have never had the heart to date to share with them what we had been through during those past months. I have never uttered a single word about it till this day. All they know is that we ran away from Dad. As Mom was already depressed I figured knowing nothing was best for her. She is fine now 🙂 Time heals wounds, you know!

I went back!

It was hard to believe my dad would have the guts to sell them.

In January, I went back to my dad’s place. It took a lot of courage to walk back to what had been my nine-month prison. But I was determined. All I wanted from him was to ‘take me back to school’. At our gate I was greeted by the sight of a pick-up being loaded with ripe juicy tomatoes. The tomatoes we’d laboured to water late in the night and each day at dawn. Sometimes while sick and broken!

It was hard to believe my dad would have the guts to sell them. But well, I have since concluded we are all different and operate on different principles. Right?

Where would I go? What would I do about school?

‘Rudi penye umetoka. I don’t ever want to see your face again!’ my dad burst out when he saw me. His eyes boring into me like two small coals of fire. I knew right then that it was best if I disappeared immediately. When I was sure I had gone as far away as possible, I sat down and cried my heart out. Where would I go? What would I do about school? Darkness was settling pretty fast and I had to go somewhere especially bearing in mind the nasty stories told of how hyenas came out in that area to hunt.

I entered into the District Education Officers compound

I remembered a cousin, who gladly took me in. I knew I could not stay with her for long as she could barely raise enough for her little boy being a single mom and without a job. The following day I woke up early and set off to an unknown destination. I was lost in my own thoughts and did not realize it when I accidentally entered into what turned out to be – by pure fate – the District Education Officers compound. I was startled when I heard a voice saying ‘Good morning, young lady’. Startled, I almost fell and started crying.

I have never met such a kind man to date!

The man took me into his office and asked his secretary to get me a glass of warm milk. I have never met such a kind man to date! Mr. Okwatsa Newton – I can never forget his name. He was the DEO Isiolo and my chance encounter with him completely changed my life! He drafted a letter that saw me though high school with the help of school fees bursary and any other help that came along.

I worked in a salon to raise cash for my house rent, food and other basic needs. God never left my side. He has always walked with me. Always!

Grown up after all!

I went looking for him but he wouldn’t see me.

Today, Evans is a little genius in class four. My Mom is alright, living like a queen. Unlike her distraught stature when she went into divorce. As for my Dad… am not sure! Went looking for him but he wouldn’t see me. I am a working IT student, a strong believer of possibilities because God has seen and continues to see me through.

It is my encouragement that no matter how difficult your circumstance and no matter how low things may have sunk, that you forge forwards, never give up hope and keep trying. You may be down at the moment with things looking very dismal, but you are not out. And just like me, have hope that you will rise out of the cold ashes to burn bright and beautiful again.

Karen Thuranira, the author of this true story of her life, works as an Office Administrator at a consulting firm in Nairobi. She continues to pursue her studies in IT and business administration, while still taking care of her mom and little brother.

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