People say that I look exactly like my mom. I don’t see it at all. In fact, when I was younger, for some reason, I was convinced I was adopted. The older I got, the more I see that we are photocopies. Or rather, I am the photocopy. She is just shorter than me, and a bit round after having seven children. Understandably so. When I look at my mom, I see someone completely separate from me, larger than life, with more energy than anyone I’ve ever met, and also funnier than anyone I’ve ever met. When my mother turns her jokes on other people, they’re hilarious, but when she turns them on you, sometimes less so. I remember when I cut my hair, she told me I looked like a poor basketball – because my head is so round. But joke’s on her, right? I got the head shape from her, so!
I aspire to be at her level, though. My mom has no filter. She says exactly what she thinks at all times to anyone who will listen, and then laughs about it after. After a certain breakup, during which she was my first confidante, by the end of the crying and the praying she was reminding me that I can’t mourn forever. Of course it was too soon. Of course she didn’t care. She was trying to keep it real – she always says ‘Everyone can lie to you, but not your mother. Okanyal wondi. I can’t lie to you.’ When I went on a date after that, the first one in a long time, she asked me what I was wearing (because she knows my whole wardrobe, obviously), and she asked me why I chose to wear a maternity dress to the date as if I am not on the market. Whueeew!
And, she thinks I talk about her too much, which means when she reads this she will call me immediately. She’ll ask me, ‘What did you write e Facebook?’ And I’ll laugh and be like, nothing, mama. Which will be a lie, and she’ll know. ‘Jamrambio, koth bro goi!’ – a cautionary Luo proverb about lying that I have never adhered to. I can just see her pursing her lips at her last born who she can see right through.
I wish I could see her right now, so I could get her commentary on my life in real time. ‘Pod in single?’ Yes, mama, I am still single. And no, I’m not having any grandchildren for you. No, I’m not going to get a 9 to 5 job. Yes, I sleep too late. You know? The usual mother daughter stuff. And then she’ll walk me outside as I leave to giggle and shake her head at how old my car is, even though hers is older. And she’ll envelop me in a big hug, and a little squeeze, before I go.
Those hugs are going to have to wait. I remember when this whole COVID situation started, I was freaking out, but not ati a lot. I was like, si it is in China? They’re an efficient autocracy. They’ll nip it in the bud. Then they didn’t, and then the closer it came, the more I started panicking for my folks. At some point the siblings were talking about it and about how my parents should make haste and move to dala for a bit. One of them, a doctor, said it would make more sense for them to be further from the epicentre. The only thing is, we didn’t know how long this was going to go, or how much bigger it was going to blow up.
It’s been a couple of weeks now, which means I haven’t been to my parents’ house in a while, which means I haven’t eaten good chapati in a whiiiiile (if only I had known that that last chapati was going to be The Last Chapati!). I’ve had to figure out a way to still get a commentary on my life in real time. Only now, it’s going to be over the phone. But now, because they’re in dala, the commentary goes a little like this – ‘Koth chwe Nairobi kanyo? Really? It’s very sunny here…ing’eo ni nitie a harambee for the church…send MPESA so that we write your name on the list…’ Dala is a whole different and equally funny world. There’s always something going on, even though I don’t know how they’re going to do a harambee for the church with all the social distancing going on. But be sure the funds for the church can still be collected, and the tithe, because everyone has a Buy Goods number now, whether it’s your worship centre, your local bookstore or the chips guy downstairs.
Then there’s the ‘Are you still working?’ question, to which I have to answer yes. My mom always ask how I manage to work in spite of this crisis, and I tell her that I have enough data to still do my work, send emails, interview people for my column – and still have some leftover for Netflix, mostly because Safaricom doubled the bandwidth for fixed data customers. So I can work, and play, and obviously, talk to my mom.
Today she was going to the local market to buy fruits for the house, so she video-called me on Whatsapp. ‘We are not even exchanging money in Kala (the local market). Aoronegi pesa e simu.’ Even the mboga guys and vendors in our tumakeshift stalls are trying to keep safe by only using MPESA to transact. Helps that they decided to slash out sending charges for less than a thousand bob. So it only makes sense, I suppose. These are tough and strange times we’re living in, and it’s important to do everything we can to flatten the curve, right? Even if it means sanitizing the phone you’re using to send that money!
She has data too, so she sent me a picture of the homemade masks they’ve been making over there – because something is better than nothing, so we’re told. Then she called me so that she could laugh about that, too – about how much the times have changed, and now she looks like a ninja. ‘Gochna ka isetieko,’ she said, when she saw I was working.
So yeah…it’s not the same right now, but we are trying to adapt to the new normal, right? I don’t think I’ll ever go anywhere without hand sanitizer ever again, post COVID-19. But we’re all trying to do our best and see our loved ones every day, and if bundles and data are going to help me do that, then that works for me. If it means I can send cash for church harambees and fruits at the market too, so be it. At least I can still see my mom. Until I can hold her hand and not put her in danger, this is more than enough.