On that day, we had been hungry for a few days. We were seven kids, born to one mother in close successions. All of us had downtrodden faces with stomachs that were flatter than a piece of paper lying on the floor. Hunger was a close friend whom we had known very well as a family.

Francisca Aketch in her home.


It was a daily occurrence like the dew on the grass. Our stomachs had been forced into submission and accepted their fate that food was a luxury.

In fact, I even suspect that if at all we had worms in our stomachs (would any sane worm choose a hungry stomach as home?), first of all, they must have been thinner than kitambi ya stove. Maybe they had activist tendencies especially when the food took too long to drop down. I imagine that they would carry placards and protest till they collapsed from exhaustion. They would wake up a few hours later and still find nothing to eat and the frustration would have them throw tantrums and roll on the floor like a kid who has been denied candy.

They would wake up a few hours later and still find nothing to eat and the frustration would have them throw tantrums and roll on the floor like a kid who has been denied candy.

If they could, a group of starved hungry pigs and empty coffins would have been swiftly brought in my stomach to aid them in demonstrating against the severity of hunger situation, Boniface Mwangi style.

Come to think of it, what if they actually did call a kamukunji in my stomach and discussed their fate and probably discussed possibilities of consulting a witch doctor from Pemba?

“You guys, things are thick here,” they would murmur in silence. “We need to urgently find plan B. Either we stay put & die or we get out and try another stomach. Either way, our options are limited here,” the leader would suggest with a clenched fist.

“But first, we need to urgently start munching on the walls of this kid asap,” a radical member of the group would suggest. But another one, who probably is not a risk taker, would calm them down and interject, “Guys!! Guys!! Stay calm. There is no need to adopt such drastic measures. Food is rare here but we are safe.”

And another one would probably shut him down and remind him how he has failed them over time and then suggest, “Do any of you have a number of a witchdoctor from Tanzania? We might need to call one urgently before we die.”

Back to my story; we were so accustomed to hunger pangs that we only noticed when it got stretched longer than a marathon. My mother, Nyadudi, the hero she always is, woke up very early in the morning on that day. Our energies had gone on vacation courtesy of the days of hunger we had endured.

That day looked like a thousand Mondays packed in a day. It was long, boring and exhausting. It was like a bad nightmare that crawled out of your dream to haunt you during the day.  It wasn’t just ending. We were waiting for our mother to return with food and nothing is as bad as waiting on an empty stomach.

We counted all the birds that were flying around and when we were done, we counted more. We managed to study all the grasshoppers that were in our compound. Yet the sun was stubbornly still like it was during Joshua’s time. When the sun had tortured us enough and eventually agreed to set, my mother came back a few minutes past midnight drenched in mud, wrapped in exhaustion and overwhelmed with hunger.

That scene has never left my memory.

While she had gone to work in the rice fields, she had hoped that she would leave the rice paddies early, sell the rice and buy food. But by the time she was leaving the field, it was already dark and all the buyers had left. The only option was to bring the raw rice home with her from the fields’.

She came past midnight and she still had the energy to help us wash the rice with its husks, fry it literally in a sufuria then use the traditional pestle and mortar to crush it. By the time we were done a few minutes to 2 am, the 7 of us were gathered around the table eating rice mixed with husks but thanking God for the provision nonetheless.

The year was 1998. My mother had not been home for days. I didn’t know much about pregnancy and conception. I certainly did not know that children were born through a process. A few days later, my mother appeared with a bundle of joy wrapped in an old-school shawl. She was accompanied by an old lady whom I later came to learn was her midwife. My mother had given birth to our last born (Frida) at home. The midwife did not believe that she would walk out alive, only that she did.

As she was walking into the compound, we almost broke down. It’s like she was being escorted by an aura of anguish and pain. That aura was thicker than Limuru’s fog. It was like her legs had been broken in several places but she was forced to walk on them still. I was very young but I swear I could touch the thick aura of pain that was surrounding her.

In her life, my mother has known deep trenches of pain, sorrow and misfortunes known to man. She has been a long time resident in the deserted alleys of loneliness.

She has buried a 25-year-old son from a brutal road accident. She has known anxiety as a close friend. She has talked to herself on the road because of worry. Yet when I ask her what she feels about the experiences she has gone through, she tells me that she would do it all over again.

I have to admit that writing this article gave me a new insight into the character that makes my mother a hero. She has gone through so much yet she is intact, she is the bond that forever holds our family. She taught us values that have kept us safe in the wild world.

“Don’t steal even if you are hungry or poor. Honour God with your life if you want to prosper. You do not stand in the middle, it’s either you are cold or hot,” she would religiously drill them in our minds.

Every time I look at the wrinkles that cover my mother’s face, I salute her. At the same time, I feel woefully inadequate. My mother reminds me why men should never compete with women. She reminds me that there is a deep level of resilience that you need to be a mother.

She taught me the art of appreciating small things. It doesn’t matter how much you have, what defines a man is his character. Your word is your bond, she would remind me. She would tell us that poverty did not make us lesser human beings. From her, I learnt compassion, empathy and a heart that stands for the lowly in society.

Sometimes we have angels among us but we can’t recognise them because they aren’t dressed in the glorious white robes that the movies have shown us.

In my life, there is no one who has shown me the depth of resilience and patience like my mother. In fact, my words fail miserably at any attempt to describe who she is. I cannot even begin to capture a tiny fraction of who she even if I tried. As a son, the reality that she will one day be no more scares the hell out of me.

My prayer is that I would be even a quarter the kind of person she is. I would have succeeded if I even attempt to be as sacrificial as she is.

Looking at my life, there are things that I have taken for granted. A small inconvenience sets are back. A tiny opposition discourages me. Yet nothing comes easy. It takes being forged in the hot furnace to receive a crown. It takes decades in prison to build a character that can save a nation.

My mother is my hero!

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