Mathé, since you left a lot has changed, but for some strange reason, I feel it will not surprise you when I get to tell you my story. But before that time comes, I will tell those who know me because you defined who I am today. One of my readers recently told me you would be proud of me if I continue to dedicate some time to what I like. And you surely knew that I loved football.
Mathé encouraged me to play, “It’s good for your chest”, she would remark. Back then, my acute bronchitis, which later graduated to asthma, was the only thing that stopped me from a kick around in the dusty pitches of Nairobi. On the positive, it would also mean skipping school for a day or two, whenever I was ill. Sometimes I would get better without having to see a doctor, but more often, mathé would have to take me to the small estate clinic to see Dr Mayabi…the man who had endless stories. After an injection to relieve my discomfort, the stories would begin, and mathé was a very active audience. Well, I just sat there whizzing waiting for that occasional involvement:
“Kijana (young man), how is school?”
“Good…”, I would lazily reply.
“You are still playing football?”
“Yes.” slightly excited
The conversation would then switch back to ingluhya (Luhya with a tinge of English).
“I think it is good that he plays”, the doctor would quip
“Yes”, mathé would agree. “But some of these pitches they play on are very dusty, and I think he is allergic…” she would continue.
And they went on and on until I heightened my whizzing or feigned shortness of breath. At this point, the doctor would realise he had other people in the waiting room and kijana also needed to rest. Mathé would then switch to her bargaining tone (at least the doctor did not charge by the minute), and soon we were on our way home. I would struggle to keep up with her steady pace, and on occasion, she had to hurry me up, “It’s late, I have been on my feet all day, and I need to get home and cook for your siblings!” she narrated. “Well, I wasn’t the one telling the stories,” I muttered to myself careful that she does not hear a word. My trips to the doctor were a regular feature of my younger years and mathé was always there, like most mothers would!
During my childhood, I also used to wear an undervest, pale green and white stripes. I wore it almost every day because when mathé first saw it, she said, “…that’s for Steve. It will protect your chest.” And so I religiously wore this undergarment almost daily never mind the personal hygiene – I needed to protect my chest and mathé understood that more than everyone else. On occasion, as I walked out of the house, she would ask if I was wearing my vest. My answer was always to the positive though sometimes it was a false positive to avoid mathé’s wrath wrapped with love.
As I progressed into my teenage years, I became more active in sports, football specifically, and mathé encouraged me to play on. Sometimes she would air her reservations, insisting that I had to keep up with my school work. On occasions that I had to be away on weekends, she worried that I was missing out on Christian meetings and other more important family activities. But she knew that I loved playing and it was good for my chest, and therefore she never stopped me.
Upon joining high school, I enlisted in the football team. Being part of the school team meant training daily usually after school and sometimes on weekends. I would regularly get home late, well after dinner, but thanks to mathé, there was always something kept aside for Steve. Mathé always insisted that I take a shower first before indulging, but often her words fell on a roaring stomach, so the kitchen was my first stop. As I sat there alone, face fixed on the plate, body covered in dry sweat, she would often ask if what was left was enough. It usually was, but sometimes my appetite prompted her to go back to the kitchen and make some more. The other option was to wait until fathé got home so she could prepare food for the two of us. This went on throughout my high school and even in my college days. At times I also brought home a couple of teammates after training and mathé would be more than happy to serve “my sons”.
Sometimes when I look back at the support I received from my mathé, I can’t help but be grateful. Though mathé’s main concern was my chest (read health), through football, I learnt many other life skills that I continue to use down to this day. She never saw me play, but I am sure if she had the time and energy to spare, she would have come to watch me. Or maybe if she saw the prospect of me earning a living from the sport, she would have taken an interest in my progress.
However, as things stood and still stand, I don’t think the average Kenyan parent imagines their son or daughter pursuing a career in football. Perhaps a mentality we need to adjust to encourage youth development and expand the employment space. For this to happen, the country will need to invest a lot in the development of the sport. For example, build quality infrastructure so that parents do not have to worry about their children getting sick or injured; have well-trained coaches to whom parents can entrust their children and so forth.
So as I wait to tell mathé about my adventures, I have a couple of stories that I am excited to share with her. First, I got on a plane and went to live abroad just like she always wanted me to. Even though she had never seen the doors of a plane (her words not mine), she insisted that I go abroad after my studies. I am looking forward to knowing why! Second I am no longer sickly, and I thank God, but I am not sure whether it’s because I continued to play or that I no longer play on dusty (or muddy) pitches. I miss playing on those pitches: Spain, Bombay, Prisons, to name a few of my favourites. Thirdly, that I defied her wise counsel and went ahead to “scout for a wife in bars and night clubs…”
I miss you, Mathé.
Clementine Mulindi Wesaala
(November 23, 1953 – November 7, 2008).
Featured Image: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré