The philosopher’s tone

The privilege  to know him, listen to him and share his story will always be one of the most defining moments of my life.  He gave me the courage to do a lot of things and as such this blog will always be dedicated to him.

Now, Mr.Wachira is a man of many things, the kind of man who much can be said about and much more can be learnt from. A man of many words, many stories, many years, and most importantly many truths. Now 91 years old , he comes across as frail but in spirit he remains as strong as ever.

I first met Mr.Wachira in February 2013, it was ingloriously hot, it was dusty but it was a fine Saturday afternoon nonetheless. I had decided to go and visit the Voi War Cemetery, something I had been saying I would do for the longest time and after a long pitiful streak of endless procrastination, I finally  did.

The cemetery is an approximate five minute walk from Voi town center and is located right by the road side hence not at all hard to find.

When I got there, the gate was locked and for a brief moment I stood there half bemused, contemplating whether I should go back to town or just wait and see if anyone would come. Eventually, I decided to wait, occasionally peering through the fence, curious to see what enrapturing beauty silently lay in there. Ten minutes…Fifteen minutes…twenty minutes and any hopes of being attended to thawed away in that blasted heat. Reluctantly, I began to make my way back to town.

There was a lady selling groceries under a tree  nearby and as I was leaving, I decided to take my chances and ask her whether she knew the person who was taking care of the place. She said yes and nonchalantly continued cutting up her sukuma wiki. Determined not to leave just yet, I went ahead and asked her if there was a number I could maybe call or someone I could reach. She looked up at me in mild disarray as if she hadn’t heard what I had said then she took out her phone and read out some numbers in muffled tones.

The phone rang, once…twice…thrice…I was just about to hang up when someone picked up. The voice at the other end was raspy and there was so much noise in the background it was nearly incomprehensible. So I tried my best to shout and in between saying “Hallo” and “…..Cemetery…..”, they promptly replied that they were coming and hang up. The lady didn’t look like she was up for much of a conversation, so I figured I should probably save my “So what do you think about the weather “ pleasantries for another day.

A couple of minutes later a boda boda pulled up and at the back, sat an old man in sandals, oversized clothes and a jaded sun hat.  I watched him struggle to get off the bike, mastering every ounce of energy he had in his body, and once he did, he used that same energy to smile. He was charming from the get go, asking me if I was the one who had called. I said yes.

In my mind it still hadn’t registered that he was the one who was taking care of the place and once it did click, I was overcome by a strange sense of guilt. I apologized for any inconveniences or distraction I may have caused. At which point he replied in the most assuring of ways,” Aaaa hakuna shida, hii ni kazi yangu hakuna mtu mwingine ataifanya, ni mimi tu” .

He opened the gate and as he walked in, there was something ceremonious about how he took each step carefully and how he swung his arms to indicate that I was welcome. The place was faultlessly clean, as if each and every stone had been assigned to its designated area. As I went round viewing the graves he would tell me stories of some of the men,  this one was just a child..this one was killed by a lion…this one’s stone was erected by his wife… and many more.

Once I had finished viewing all the graves I went to sit down with him under the shade. There’s a nice little tree right at the back and a container of sorts where you can sit just in case you get tired of standing.

voiwarcemetry20

Here he gave me the visitors book to sign.  And told me to read through it and see the comments that had been previously written, as he proudly begun to boast of how none of the visitors had written a negative comment and how most of them had said that the place was well maintained.

He talked proudly of how well he did his job and in that state of nostalgic reverie he would say that it wasn’t the government that had employed him or commonwealth commission it was the people who lay in that cemetery to whom he owed his job. Because he was there to take care of them and that is what he did to the best of his ability.

Something he had done diligently for the past 50 years.

Then we began to talk about life and then we talked about politics and he asked me why politicians behaved the way they did. Why they would speak in Swahili when they were campaigning and once they had won their respective seats they would return to their constituencies speaking a horribly pompous form of English that the locals could not resonate with.

He looked at me earnestly and asked why they behave this way, why whenever you go to their offices to see them, they are quick to say they are in a hurry because they are going to meet “some people” as if you yourself were an animal.  He asked me in a solemn tone, what can be done to rid the country of these people who have no respect for the “Mama Mboga”  other than when they are asking for her vote. These questions were rhetorical to me but to him he expected an answer, something that I was not able to give to a man who had been troubled for so long.

As we left the cemetery and headed for town I felt a warm feeling of familiarity  as if this was someone I had known for a long time and his stories were ones that I had heard many times before.I promised to come back again and I did, three weeks later, which was actually when I took these  photos.

As I walked back to my room that day, I knew that I had met a remarkable man who was not remarkable because of his money or the clothes he wore or the property he owned, a man who was remarkable simply because of who he was.

When I was leaving Voi that day , I told Mr.Wachira that I was going to write about him , and he laughed and said that there was not much to write about, something that I  openly disagreed with.

I started writing this article because I wanted to share with the world the story of an ordinary man with an extraordinary heart , but now I realize that there’s not enough words or photos to describe certain instances in life. Instances which are unquantifiable and undeniably one of a kind. Instances which we can not fully bring back to life but we can always try.

Chao

UPDATE:

It is with great sadness that I share that Mr.Wachira passed away in August of 2015. I had the pleasure to know him for 3 years in which we became the best  of friends. I’d make sure I visited him once a month if I could. We would talk for hours. About his life, how he ended up in Voi after his detention during the state of emergency.  His reaction the first time he saw an airplane as  a young boy. His view on the present day situation of the country…and then sometimes we would just sit and laugh.

I wish I had had a chance to  said good bye to him. I spent days after his death wishing I had. But I guess there’s no such thing as a good ‘good bye’ ….maybe that’s what life is all about …our everyday actions to people  just contributing to a final send off.

The privilege  to know him, listen to him and share his story will always be one of the most defining moments of my life.  He gave me the courage to do a lot of things and as such this blog will always be dedicated to him.

Thank you Babu.

 To view some more photos of Mr.Wachira click here