This Kalenjin Woman

“If I ask you something, will you lose your train of thought?” she asked. I was typing furiously trying to come up with a decent word count for an article that was to be posted in an hour.

“Yes I will” I said. Then I smiled when I realized that she had already asked me something, I had already answered and yes, I had already lost my train of thought.

“It’s just that guys have been wondering…” she continued

“Wondering? Wondering about what?” I asked. I looked around cautiously, hoping desperately that I wasn’t emitting bad odor, or harboring a morsel of sukuma wiki between my front teeth.

“…guys have been asking, why it is that you have a Mzungu name”

Oh, that! I exhaled. This wasn’t the first time that someone ‘wondered’ about my name.

I remember a time when I was scheduled to have a meeting with a representative from one of the Insurance companies. We had communicated via email and had agreed to meet at my former workplace for me to sign some documents. As soon as we sat down for the meeting, she goes “Oh boy, I thought you are Mzungu. Your names…”

Renee Murrey sounds Mzungu-ish doesn’t it? Now what have we always been told about judging a book by its cover? Well, I have precisely zero Mzungu blood in me and 100% Kalenjin blood instead. Sorry to burst anyone else’s bubble.

I am so Kalenjin that when I am annoyed, I sometimes curse in Kalenjin. I once was so offended by some supervisor at some workplace and I really needed to vent. I wanted to tell her off and yell and curse but when I am angry, really angry, I can barely speak. I have to cool down first. I therefore decided to do what any young (at the time) scorned woman would do. I went to facebook and wrote one word: “CHEBIYWET!” and immediately felt better. I really did.

And I am not just a Kalenjin by name. I am not just a Kalenjin because my parents are Kalenjin. I speak the language fluently. I know how to prepare the most important delicacy known to the Kalenjins (Mursik anyone?) I can cook good Mukimo too! –  just thought I should throw that in there somewhere. There is a thing like ‘good Mukimo’ right? I digress. What’s more, the Kalenjin history interests me a lot. Kina Koitalel Arap Samoei – dude just fascinates me.

All this is because I have a mother who epitomizes the profundity of the Kalenjin woman. I admire her for not just what she has taught me, but for the fact that she grounded me to know exactly who I am. She gave me an identity that I embrace now, in my adulthood, than ever before.

Having schooled in the city, I could very easily have turned out to be that woman who only communicates in English and Kiswahili (and poor basic French) because she does not know her mother tongue. I could have been that woman who just recognizes Kalenjin as one of the 42 tribes of Kenya. I could have grown up not knowing who I am, let alone being proud of who I am.

Thanks to my mother I do, and I am. I have recently observed that there are so many lessons that I have learnt from her. Lessons that have played a big part in forming the woman I am today. Then again she was that woman who was liberal about using the cane. You would do something wrong and then she would find out. You would be outside playing and would see her coming at you with a cane. Sensing that you were in trouble, clever you would decide to run away instead of waiting to be thrashed – who sits and waits to be thrashed anyway? Si you start running for dear life? Si she takes off her shoes, lifts her long dress up to her knees with one hand? Si she runs after you? Really runs after you? Si she catches you (Oh, best believe she would always catch you – that woman should have run the marathon) and gives you a proper beating! You would pay for the mistake and for making her run after you.

My mother taught me how to be a Kalenjin. She gave me an identity. She built me from an empty shell of nothingness, to wholesomeness. I always wonder if I could ever be half the mother she has been to me.

She has this way of instilling lessons in you that you can never forget. She goes and tells you something like; As long as I am still alive, it is my job to worry about you. You should never hide something from me on the pretext that you don’t want to worry me. If not me, who else will you go to? Then you get teary because you know that she is right and you are dumb for even using that as an excuse. Who else, really? If not your mother, who dumbass?

That strong Kalenjin woman instilled a sense of pride in me. To know what I know today, to be who I am today, is because of that woman who made sure that I knew where I come from. For that, I respect her to no end.

Don’t let the names fool you. This woman is no Mzungu. She is Kalenjin to the core. Simply a product of another formidable Kalenjin woman.


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