Britman arrived just in time to rescue Oyieya after struggling for long stretching up to pull his Masters pair of specks from a high shelf in his Masters bedroom. It wasn’t a rescue as such; Oyieya wished he could have stretched himself to death instead. Britman grabbed the tattered boy to the balcony where he always keeps stalk of bamboo rods and coated with lion’s skin used for disciplining errant slaves. He ordered Oyieya to lie down and gave him several strokes each for every minute he had stood there watching him try to steal his specs.
“This”, Britman hummed to Oyieya, “and every mark on your scratched legs and back are to remind you that your Master’s bungalow is a no go zone unless assigned duties. Oyieya was taken ill for several days. There’s nothing his parents could do, after all, Oyieya had broken a sacred code.
Oyeiya was just aged 5 when he officially joined his parents Mr. and Mrs. Midega in laboring for Mr. Britman and his family during days of slavery in a small town called Matengano. The Midega family was one of the families in slavery during that era, who worked for the white about 73 years ago and lived in dilapidated structures built at Matengano village situated 3 kilometers away from Matengano town. The families walked for 3km every morning to their Masters residential to catch up with their daily duties and still ensured that breakfast was served by 6AM, and worked late past midnight, before walking back home.
Mr. Britman was a very ruthless Master who never allowed his slaves eat anything from his store apart from remnants from his dining table which was meant to sustain all the workers however little it could be. Whether this was ruthlessness or greed is hard to tell.
One day Oyula when he was one month old into slavery stole from his Master to remedy his long-term starvation. When the Master realized what had happened he ordered for Oyula to be summoned before him and all other slaves and was shot dead in a broad daylight. “Try this and you’re next”, shouted Britman. This frightened all other slaves. From then henceforth, they preferred to work without food; causing many to die of hunger and disease.
At 8, Oyieya did all the work assigned to him raging from cleaning the Whiteman’s kids, playing with them the whole day, serving them meals, taking them to bed, and cleaning the compound every morning. He enjoyed the moments at his Master’s compound despite the workload assigned to him at his tender age because he loved being close to the adorable lifestyle of his Master. Even inside his tattered clothes he happily played with his Master’s kids who had no heart close to their father’s or mother’s. But Oyieya never failed to notice the difference between himself and his Master’s kids.
He wished to live his Master’s life, admired the big cars, elegant house with every kind of entertainment; the spacious bedrooms and the toys; he wished he adorned the nice clothes, ate the good food, and walked in Britman’s silver stick. Ever since he grew up he worked his fingers to the bone to finish earlier enough so that he could spend some time enjoying the luxury. The more his Masters realized how soon he finished his chores, the more duties they assigned him. He never liked leaving his Masters’ palace and you could tell by the way he made faces the moment the bell rung for the slaves’ day break. That bell was meant to order all the slaves to queue in their respective groups at the entrance to get tied up so that they could be walked down to their homes. The homes were congested, stinky poor structure that Oyieya really hated to go back to.
Every morning Oyieya was the first one to wake up and prepare for work. He would run from the slavery chains to his duty post and commence his tasks as he always did. The Masters’ kids liked him very much to an extent that they cried for him to accompany them to school. At times the kids could go to school and sneak out of their lessons to go back home and play with Oyieya. This forced the Britman to enroll him to school so that he could help play with the kids.
At 16 Oyieya lost both parents. Despite the support and friendless he continued to receive from his Master’s kids, you could not fail to see the loneliness in his face. To make matters worse, the exclusive treatment he had received following his enrollment in school shrunk when he took over all of his parents’ obligations and duties. His workload tripled. His food ration halved. Many kids lost their parents too and they really got down in the dumps. They had to buckle down without choice since slavery was their last resort.
On his 18th birthday, Britman died and his eldest son, Chomnely, took charge. The young Chomnley loved Oyeiya more and as a favor he released him from slavery alongside other slaves about a year and a half later. Oyieya went gung ho. For the first time in his life he felt free and believed he could fly. Feeling the beauty of walking alone in freedom without anyone commanding him was something he never experienced throughout his lifetime.
It wasn’t long before he realized that free life isn’t free. He needed income and to get one he had to get a job, and so he had to report to a boss, the difference being that the new boss would remunerate him for his hard tiring work. His job search led him to be employed as a teacher in a government school.
At the beginning he worked like a donkey just to fulfill his dreams and ambition of living his Masters’ life but then he got married and got married again. From one wife he had seven children one year apart and from the second he got 5 kids one year apart too. By the time he was 32 he had a family fit for a football team and raising the kids wasn’t easy. To enforce discipline, he remembered his Master’s bamboo rod. He made several like those.
And like father like sons and daughters, his kids got marks all over their bodies too. Two succumbed to the strokes and died. His meager income could not sustain him and the big family so he practiced his Master’s ruthlessness and greed, eating first and the kids and wives last.
It wasn’t long before he realized that his big family needs could not allow him to build a bungalow like his Master’s, ride in a car and walk in a silver stick. He remembered the friendship he had with his Master’s kids and so he went back to Chomnley for some loans. Chomnley listened to his story and sympathized with him. And that’s how he started receiving loans one after the other.
But every time he was loaned he was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of money he had in his disposal. The site of large amount of money made him forget the “development projects” he had budgeted for but remembered his drinking friends and the local pub. The two helped him eat out the loans and by the time he was required to pay back, he hadn’t done anything worth setting an eye on.
Days went by and some of the kids got jobs. Chomnely started to put pressure on him to pay for the loans he had borrowed threatening legal action. The pressure made him to also pressurize his kids to help him pay back part of the loans, and after he managed to get his kids become fully responsible for the loans, the more he was able to convince his former Masters to loan him even more.
One day the kids got together and talked over their dad’s loaning habit and the responsibility they had in repaying those loans. They all got frustrated then decided to sit their father down to express their disappointments about his unbecoming behaviors and treatment towards them, despite being raised in a hostile environment where everyone could only remember work or more work. As they were the ones required to pay the loans, they demanded for involvement on how the loans were managed. Oyieya felt guilty out of old age and listened to the complaints. He agreed to give them freedom to manage part of the loans. To the kids, managing the loans meant helping their father pocket a large chunk of the kitty. Having learnt from their father, the kids enrolled their children into helping to repay the loans. And there was a cycle.
Oyieya could no more feed his family who worked all their energy off to pay their father’s manners. A big part of his family now depended on relief food and aid from other concerned families and friends both within and without for survival. The little they could raise paid for the endless loans, the relief foods and the high cost of living.
Tomorrow is December the 12th, 50 years since Oyieya was released from slavery. Oyieya has made it a routine that every year he must celebrate the memories of the day he was released from slavery but since 50 years is half a century long, a Jubilee year, he wants to celebrate his 50th anniversary of freedom big and in style.
He wants to remember the fifty years he has spent as a teacher, an achievement he never imagined possible during his childhood life of slavery. He wants to remember how the death of Britman enabled him to have a wife – two wives, and kids. He wants to remember how good a father he has been but more so he wants to celebrate that his lifelong dream of owning a bungalow, good clothes and silver walking stick all came true. To commemorate this special day, Oyieya has organized for a party.
On his invitation list are his former Masters, their families and friends, his best friends and even fellow slaves and those who were freed prior to his freedom, his neighbors and international friends. He has not just invited them to a party, but he is funding for the trips. He has paid for their return tickets, booked them in seven star hotels and hired the best limos to ferry them to the party venues. He has paid for the two biggest venues in town, taken an initiative of repairing the venues to look like they have never been used before, and bought ad spaces in the biggest billboards, TVs, radios, and online to talk about the celebrations dubbed Oyieya at 50.
Oyieya has not forgotten his kids and grand kids either. The venues bought have been petitioned into two each. There is the special pavilion that will host his guests and himself and the large open ground where his kids and their children will walk into and sit to listen to the guests’ speeches. The kids and their children won’t just listen; they will also deliver speeches in songs and dances in praise of their father, recite poems and perform skits demonstrating how united in love they are.
The guests have been asked to speak about their survival in slavery, the brutality they received from their Master Britman, and how Chomnley was able to come to their rescue. They will speak about the big development projects they have been able to achieve in their respective families and the hardships they are yet to overcome.
The speeches, not just by the guests and Oyieya himself, but also in the songs and poems and skits have been scripted. None will talk of the tortures Oyeiya meted on his children, the loans he borrowed and drunk, the loans burden he has laid on his children and grandchildren to bear, and the dependency he has on relief food for his many kids’ and numerous grandchildren’s survival. No, no one will mention that close to a hundred percent of the loans went, not to initiate business projects for sustaining his kids as was the requirement, but ended up in the local pubs, buying expensive cars and giving Oyeiya that coveted piece of silver stick.
No one will mention that fact that Oyieya’s working family has never had any chance to enjoy the fruits of their labor or even create something worth their time. And sadly, no one will mention that it is the kids and grand kids invited to the celebrations to bask in the sun and listen to the orchestrated speeches are the funders of the guests’ return tickets, the luxurious hotels, the millions worth of Oyeiya at 50 ads, the executively made venues, the musicians, the food, the cars, the fuel, and the luncheon at State House. Forget mentioning, none of the guests will have a moment to think and appreciate the fact that the funders of the celebrations, after cheering their father and his guests, will walk back to their shanty houses to wait for another 50 years to celebrate 100 years of independence, albeit with hope, a hope coined by the father in the name of Vision 2030. Before Vision 2030 though, many of them will go for days not having an idea if they will ever receive their next meal.
And that’s Kenya at 50.