Growing up in rural Kenya was a struggle. My parents took us out of the City, to avoid the gang influences that we were subjected to in Nairobi, at a time when there was little to look forward to in the rural areas. Nevertheless, I had parents who had taken the responsibility to protect me from hunger so that every day I never went to bed hungry – no matter how hard the situation.
My parents were not harder working than my friends’ parents, nor were they financially well off. I just happened to have been favored by the currents of life and for that I had taken for granted a good part of my childhood.
When the 1998 famine hit the Republic, I witnessed first-hand how my mother’s close friends would come for some assistance, since we were a family of eight with relative plenty in our food basket from a good harvest the previous year. It was also during this period that my own friends faced this predicament of having to go without food. The first time I witnessed this was when I went to visit one of my friends in the evening and heard him asking for even a little food for a friend who had visited him. The mother told him she couldn’t even provide for him and his siblings that night. As I watched around I saw the despair in the faces of my friend’s ten siblings, looking weary and tired without any sign of hope. In the end he escorted me as we talked about small issues till the time we were saying goodbye. It was then he told me he wouldn’t be coming to school the whole week since he had to help look for food for the family along with his brothers. The following day I hid some flour and sent it to him in the dark as they were coming from a fishing expedition, which had also not gone that well considering the tools they had. He looked at me and wanted to convince me to take it back until I told him the best lie I could figure out at the time. I told him that “I missed having him in school so I decided to help so that he could be back to school the following day”.
The reality was that for the first time I was moved by someone’s suffering. However, it happens that my mother had seen everything I did and when I got back she told me the next time I want to do something like that it is better to ask first. My friend came to school the following day and never missed a school again that week. He later taught me how to fish, hunt, and we still share life’s experiences whenever we get an opportunity to. Through him, I learnt about hunger and how to care.
I remember this incident to date not because I assisted a friend, but because I realized my humanity was connected to his and that I could only realize it by sharing our experiences. Today, this incident reminds me that it is not always the ability to right the wrongs that make us different, but the ability to share the experiences of the process, for they allow us to grow in this God given earth.
For this reason alone, I care because fighting the good fight is always far better than the memory of the alternative, for it distinguishes our humanity and provides hope, builds bridges, and seeks solutions.
Written by Simeon Ogonda