Love and Bananas #ThisIsMyKenya

Life has its miseries wherever you may be.

Into each life some rain must fall it floods onto the poor. They try to darn it somewhat. These lines from Hama Tumas The Case of the Prison-Monger started running through my head yesterday when we walked into a mans homestead somewhere between Igoji and Embu. Maureen spotted a team of Akorino girls playing football in a field next to the road. She startled Njoro, and he pulled an impressive U-turn onto a side road. Kokan walked into the nearby homesteads, and found a man who lives for his girls.

Men handle pain differently. We can go to war and take bullets, and suffer immense amounts of pain. But emotional pain, that one is a struggle most of us go on alone. Loss is not easy on anyone, but for a man, the idea that masculinity is about pure astuteness in the face of pain and anguish. The adage that a man should only cry when he loses his mother makes one important assumption. That that man will outlive his wife and daughter (s). This is what happens most of the time. In those years, theres really little reason to shed a tear. A mans wife may make him cry once in a while, inside, into a bottle of fermented barley or a long drive to no particular destination. His daughter may break his heart a few times before she turns 25, like when she sneaks out of the window and goes to sleep at a boys. Or when she brings home another girl. But none of those can really properly break a mans heart.

If you are keen enough, the first thing you see when you walk into Julius homestead is a simple stone house. A green lawn and a patch of cabbages fill the space between the gate and the door. You walk past the house, and the first thing you see is a brown cross at the end of another patch of cabbages. Its an aging grave, a symbol that the soils of time have began eating away onto these last physical memory of someone who was important to this home.

Two small girls hang around Julius, tugging on his pants and playing with each other. The younger one is more curious, but shy. The older one, dressed in a black skirt and a flowery blouse, looks like she has reached that age where children are not impressed by anything. Even a photographer with a big camera and a cameras assistant with struggling to hold up umbrella lights. At some point, she actually disappears, presumably to do her homework or catch her favorite soap opera.

The younger girl stays close to her father. She only moves just far back enough to be out of Kokans frame, and is constantly smiling and cheeky. When Julius sits, she rests on his knees with her elbow, staring at this strange group of people who are intruding into their home at dusk. She wants to see the photos of him milking but she is too shy to ask us, so she whispers it into her fathers ear.

Julius was one of those casts who melt the heart. A skinny man with a wrinkled face, he is friendly and almost disturbingly calm. He shows little emotion but for a signature smile we hope to capture. He talks about his cows with passion, and is eager to teach, even these people who he has let into his home. From his friendly mien, his welcoming face and how he seems to have achieved a certain zen, you feel something different. He is not like the other men we have interacted with on this odyssey. Not like the Turkana man with his ekicholong who got agitated with us after posing for ten minutes. Or even the man farming at Igoji who said yes to a shoot only to turn and throw us out of his farm. Julius feels different, like a mother.

Nature abhors vacuums, even in human relationships. In Julius, some rain fell long before we got here. From the calmness and rhythm, he and his little girls are making do with the pain that remained. When a man loses his love, and has to make a decision for his children, he can choose between falling in love again or working to fill that role. Julius chose the latter, which means that at some point in the future, he will have to sit them down and talk about menstruation and love, and sex and boys. He will have to listen to them complain about heartbreak, and live every moment of his life working to help them achieve his dreams and hopes. He will have to listen to them chide him for not taking care of himself, and maybe once tell him he should have found someone else so he wasnt so lonely.

Julius daughters seem to be all he cares about, and they hang around him with a certain concern that borders on worry. It could be that he overworks, or that he doesnt eat enough. Or that he cries himself to sleep, hoping they do not hear him. For them he has a mask, one that is strong and held together by sheer will. He provides, he protects and loves, and hugs his girls everyday so they know they have him. From them he learns how to have an immense sense of patience, and he sits milking his cow as the photographers hover in the dark, trying to find the perfect shot. He constantly encourages them, as if they were his kids, telling them not to worry. They will find the perfect shot. It will work. All is well. They sound almost rehearsed, things he has to constantly tell his girls to remind them that nothing in life is deserved.

How do you ask a man how he lost his wife? The truth is, if he doesnt offer that information, you dont. You dont ask him how life is now that he has to be both mother and father to his young girls. What would you even say? Youll find someone else? Itll get better? This is just a rough and painful patch? All these sets of things we tell people who are going through pain are basic ethics, but they do not suffice in a situation like this. Pain is one of those things that no one else can understand. Even when two people lose the same person, each experiences it differently, because the rain in each life is different. So you read his story without asking him, you catch the random comment he makes about cooking, and see beyond the mask. Theres loneliness, and abundant love, theres determination, and a desire to walk those little girls down the aisle, one day. To have them sit their children on his lap, and run to him for protection.

As we leave, he gets us a bucketful of bananas. He offers more, smiling as the Dream Team, ravished from a day of exploring Meru, digs into the bananas. This is the second time someone is loading us with the fruits of the land, the first was a coffee factory manager who got us more avocados than we can eat in a week. Julius brings out more bananas, and is ready to fill our boot with as many of those yellow delicacies as we need. Some rain fell into his life, but he is not letting it define what goes on with his life. Men like Julius remind us a valuable lesson, that life is a daily fete at adaptation. That love is a decision everyday. Waking up each day should be an opportunity to fend for those you love, and to keep them close.

The line itself Into each life some rain must fall is the title of Ella Fitzgeralds 1944 song. It goes, But too much is falling in mine/Into each heart some tears must fall/ But some day the sun will shine/Some folks can lose the blues in their hearts/But when I think of you another shower starts.`

Owaahh, 2015

One story is good,

till Another is told.