Christina Amolo

My earliest memories of Dana (grandmother) Christina are of us playing in the grass outside our home. Despite being my paternal grandmother Asin’s youngest sister, and therefore my grandmother as well, she possessed joie de vivre so infectious that as a child of about five, I found it completely normal for her to be rolling around the grass with me.  When she laughed, the deep, throaty sound brought a smile to those of us fortunate enough to call her grandmother. I was named for her older sister, and she always referred to me as Nyamin, sister.

She was also quite stubborn and strong-willed. There were several times when we would have a conversation, and, due to generational differences, we would have varying opinions. She was never one to shush me simply because I was her grandchild. She heard me out, but eventually would remind me that she had lived with her older sister (my namesake) and her husband, and had helped raise my father, and therefore had seen more things than I had. I, being a child of the 80s had not seen enough things, therefore the conversation was over. She chided with a gleam in her eye, a smile never too far from her wrinkled face.

The gleam in her eye belied the blows that life had dealt her. She truly lived with a “glass full perspective. Asin, Christina’s older sister and my namesake, died suddenly, leaving Christina without her best friend. Because Dana Asin passed away before I was born, I was named after her, and Christina’s vivid narration brought her to life. “You look exactly like my sister!” Christina would exclaim when she saw me.

As old age crept in, Dana Christina suffered the aches and pains that come with time. She complained about her leg, it hurt. She couldn’t walk as fast as she could in her youth, but she found humor in the aging process. You see, the reason you couldn’t walk as fast in your old age was because you had grandchildren to send. When I was getting married, her main concern was, who would come and get me if something happened to me all the way in America?

She was very close with my mother. She always said that she found a daughter in her. “Kama si yeye, sijui” (if not for her, I wouldn’t manage).

In 2014, she suffered a debilitating stroke that left her unable to walk or speak. Nothing could be done, other than for her to receive care at home. She wanted to be in her home, not anyone else’s. Family and friends rallied and chipped in. Mama Diana, a family friend, devoted herself to sending me constant updates.

On the morning of February 20, I awoke to several missed calls and messages. I knew in my heart that something was wrong. Then I heard the news. Dana had gone to her rest. Fare thee well Nyamin. Your laugh, your joie de vivre and the gleam in your eye live on in those of us who were fortunate enough to call you our own. And when these tears dry, we will be at peace, assured that our world is a better place because you were in it.

Opak Ruoth

We laid Dana Christina to rest on Thursday, March 8, 2018. Fare Thee Well Dana.

The Watchman’s Son Part II (Fiction Series)

All the major TV stations were present, cameras flashing, as Mheshimiwa cut the ribbon to mark the opening of his latest venture. His wife and children stood beside him as he smiled for the cameras, and walked into Nani Bank of Kenya. The past decade had been kind to Mheshimiwa. He had been re-elected twice, unchallenged. During the recent campaign season, there had been some noise about a long-dead watchman who had worked for him, and allegations that Mheshimiwa had not provided any compensation to care for the man’s family. He had denied knowledge of the matter, convinced that money had been poured to finish him.

Mheshimiwa had secured the business of several local companies, and with the marketing campaign he had run to promote his bank, hundreds of thousands of new customers had already opened accounts at Nani Bank. Business would be great, and with his political career soaring, Mheshimiwa saw nothing but bright horizons ahead. There were even whispers that he would one day run for president, and he had the assurances of those deep pocketed supporters who mattered that, come that day, he could count on their financial and networking support.

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Three months later

Mheshimiwa’s least favorite part of his job as a politician was the wananchi visits. These constituents, having believed that he would fulfill all of his campaign promises, constantly hounded him for free food, free education, free healthcare, free, free, free. How could they actually have believed that he alone would be able to fulfil those promises? He had made them in the heat of the moment, warding off opponents who used the dilapidated hospital as Exhibit A of his failed leadership. However, once he promised that he would give everyone free things, the opposition noise had been drowned in the wave of “Mheshimiwa daima!”, which was also fueled by the wads of money he had paid to strategic community members, who then spread the wealth and voted for him en masse.

Today, an elderly woman was at his office, complaining about the lack of medical care at the local hospital. Mheshimiwa had promised to make it a priority if re-elected, but one year later, the hospital staff remained on strike for lack of pay, leaving patients with nowhere to turn. Mheshimiwa promised to look into the matter. When the old woman left, he called his assistant and asked her to tell the remaining constituents that an urgent matter had come up, and he could not meet with them. He had heard enough for one day.

When the office was silent, he put his feet up on his desk and took a deep breath. If everything went as planned with the bank, he would retire from politics and focus on his businesses. Then he wouldn’t have to sit through the litany of constituent problems that were part of being a politician. These people thought he was a magician who would magically wave a wand and solve their myriad of problems.

His cell phone rang, and he noticed that he had over twenty missed calls, all from his bank’s head of cyber-fraud. He answered the phone,

“Hello, Mike, kuna nini?”

“Mheshimiwa, we noticed that you requested that funds be transferred to several offshore accounts, we made the first three, but received additional requests. I was calling to confirm that these emails are coming from you.”

“Mike, it’s my money, transfer it!”

“Yes Sir!”

Mheshimiwa sighed and disconnected the call. Mike was extremely good at his job, if somewhat overzealous in his quest to ensure no fraudulent transfers occurred at Nani Bank. Mheshimiwa did not appreciate Mike’s lectures on the need to make phone calls to accompany requests for international wire transfers to authenticate his identity. It was his money, and he would transfer it as he wished.

Later that evening, Mheshimiwa was heading home after having a few drinks with his friends. Important people who would contribute to his wealth; poor people were a complete waste of his time. Even though he had grown up poor, he had left that life behind and he did not want to be near poverty.

As his driver headed towards Mheshimiwa’s imposing gate, Mike called again. An irritated Mheshimiwa answered the phone, the alcohol emboldening him.

“You idiot! Did I not tell you to stop questioning my decisions?”

“Mheshimi…”

“Shut up! If this is about a wire transfer, it’s my money, and if you don’t stop calling me, you won’t have a job tomorrow. Mark my words Mike.”

He hung up and switched his phone off.

Early the next morning, Mheshimiwa woke up and turned on the TV. He watched the news in disbelief. The police were having great difficulty keeping angry crowds in control outside Nani Bank. From what he could gather, customers had found their money missing from their accounts, and they were livid. A handcuffed Mike was being escorted to an unmarked car by what he presumed were Criminal Investigations Department (CID) officers.

Mheshimiwa quickly turned on his cell phone and saw over 20 voicemails from Mike. Each one detailed the series of wire transfers that were taking place to different offshore accounts, with the last one stating that the bank had almost run out of funds. As he listened to the last voicemail, Mheshimiwa heard a loud bang outside his bedroom door. He knew without being told that the five burly men in suits who barged into his bedroom were CID officers. He was not alarmed, because he was “somebody”, and they would soon realize the folly of their ways and release him.

He was hustled into a helicopter and flown to Nairobi’s CID headquarters. There, he found Mike detailing his conversations with Mheshimiwa the previous day, and Mheshimiwa’s admonishments for Mike to leave his wire transfers alone. It became clear that Mheshimiwa had intentionally ordered the transfer of his customers’ money to his personal off-shore accounts. Mike was released, and despite Mheshimiwa’s combination of threats, pleas and offers of bribery, the CID officers did not cave. Mheshimiwa was held in jail without bail, while awaiting arraignment for wire fraud. The local news channels had a field day reporting on the story.

Over the years, there had been whispers as to the source of Mheshimiwa’s vast wealth, and the news story was spiced with salacious rumors, leaving the viewer to believe that Mheshimiwa, contrary to his name, was not an honorable man. His lawyers informed him that Nani Bank’s insurance would reimburse part of the lost money, but because Mheshimiwa had waived full insurance, his personal assets would be sold to cover the difference. Attempts to recover the wired funds had hit a wall, as they had immediately been converted to various cryptocurrencies, which were intentionally murky, and would be next to impossible to recover, especially with the limited knowledge of how to trace funds that had gone down that wormhole. Mheshimiwa had joined the miserable ranks of people who had gone from rags to riches and back to rags.

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The man sat at his computer and watched the transfer into Bitcoin complete. He then distributed the Bitcoin to various currency exchanges, and waited a month before selling the cryptocurrency and withdrawing the US Dollar equivalents. He then anonymously donated funds to a certain local hospital, careful to use different accounts. In aggregate, the funds would be enough to rebuild the hospital, pay the staff for years to come while they negotiated their salary with the Government, and provide free basic healthcare for the locals. He stood up and walked to his car, his slight limp not slowing him down.

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Eleven Years after Johnstone Kinyanjui’s death, his widow Waithera and her two children Wanjiku and Wacira stood alongside the other villagers to witness the re-opening of the brand new local hospital. Waithera, a beautiful twenty year old, studied Medicine at Nairobi University and was especially excited to see accessible healthcare available at her village. It was bittersweet, because it was not available when her father had needed it most, but no one else would have to lose a loved one because they lacked access to healthcare. Waithera kept saying what a miracle it was that funding had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, to rebuild this hospital. Her son Wacira, who at twenty three already had a master’s degree in computer science, and was a highly sought after cybercrime consultant, simply smiled.

Had it not been for the kindness of strangers, Waithera thought, her children would have dropped out of school for non payment of tuition fees. She held her children’s hands as they all walked away hand in hand, Wacira slightly limping.