It’s been a minute since I last wrote on this blog. A lot of things have happened, not to excuse my complacency, but some of which directly or indirectly affected my writing. A plethora of these ‘things’ have been emotional, circumstantial or some which I could not quite wrap my head around. Since I last wrote, I have met new people, moved around a lot, come to the appreciation of the fact that I’m my happiness, learnt a lot of things about myself and the world around me – things I am unpacking a day at a time, got used to wearing face masks, got tired of them but still wore them anyway, and so much more. I will be keen to share some of them through my writing if The Big Guy wills it.
I’m a man of art. I’ll, therefore, start by briefing you on my escapades in this front. I have developed some interest in woodwork lately. How the contours merge over the surface edges and the feel of glossy varnish on wood spike my desire to learn one or two things about the art of wood. Or maybe it’s just that my carpenter does an (insert expletive) job that I’d better do it myself. At this rate, I might just enroll for carpentry classes. Sii TVET zilifunguliwa na Magoha (weren’t TVET institutions opened my Magoha)?
I have also gone to great lengths to learn Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. A little knowledge of graphic design won’t shock my brain. Would it? I’m also collecting acorns and placing them in random patterns in the house. For what good, I know not yet. I might be the low budget Picasso of interior design Kenya might have been looking for.
Speaking of art, my brother – Brian Andanje – has embarked on a socializing cards project that might revolutionize how you bond with your workmates, friends, and for the toddlers, fellow kids. ChiLL-WeLL Icebreaker Cards are designed with human interaction in mind meant to break social barriers and invoke meaningful engagements for an awesome creative, and fun learning opportunity.
And no. It won’t cost you an arm or a foot either. I will append contact details at the bottom of the article for order placing purposes. Meanwhile, stick with me.
My life balance is good if not better. My love life is fine, thanks for asking and my health has been great save for a recurring tonsils problem. Typing it then reading it aloud makes me admit that I need to have them checked out. Careerwise, I’m at a place where I feel like my job isn’t as fulfilling as it should. I’ll be damned if my boss read this but by ‘fulfilling’ I mean: it is not fertile ground for growth for reasons best known to me.
Anyway, rarely in life do we get what we ask for. But that doesn’t mean that we stop working towards attaining them. You better catch my drift lest I incriminate myself further and be back in the house Monday before mid-day.
My dad took his charm with him to heaven when I was shy of my fourth birthday. All that is left of him is his pictures, a hazy memory of him walking me to the hospital to sew the nick on my lip, and his name. The rest is grey and blurry. I couldn’t tell his face from a caricature because not much of him is registered in memory.
In his dated pictures, he is seen sporting neatly pressed suits with white socks peeking from his loafers. That guy must have been the ambassador for white socks because, boy, he wore his neatly. With a little moustache to seal the ensemble, he was quite trendy if you asked me. I bet my mom – a high-school teacher of Geography and English by then – had it rough warding off desperate girls drooling for her chiseled army man.
Not to brag but Brian – my elder brother – has a deep voice as do I. I wonder if he had a deep voice too. I never quite registered it in memory. He looks tall in his pictures and so do we. Your guess is as good as mine that he might have also had a heavy bass. I often wonder how his touch felt. Did he touch at all? Was he even good with emotions? Was his handshake firm and shaky like a bob sledge hammer handle or soft and gentle? I always wonder how much of him – beside the name – was passed down to me.
With memories of him falling further back in my mind, the one thing time can’t rub off is the identity he left behind and the power it has drawn into us ever since.
I was writing this article whilst listening to Shalom Manasseh’s ‘Asyai’. If you fancy decent Neo-Soul you best give this young lad a listening ear. It’s not too late to be in spirit through till the end.
Some people call me Innocent. Some, Sarowiwa. Most, Andanje. My mother calls me Enoch. Like any other mother, she hoped (and still does) that I would walk in the ways of The LORD like the Biblical Enoch did. What better way to affirm it?
I have had a rough childhood with ‘Sarowiwa’. Kids laughed at me and taunted me a big one citing the name ‘difficult’ or even ‘impossible’ to call out. ‘Who names their child Sarowiwa?’ they’d ask. My mind was built on Kevlar thanks to a strong mom so I eased through adolescence fairly well despite the jibes. It’s my heart that took a beating sometimes. I thought of going to court to have them changed to something fancy like ‘Branley’ or ‘Seth’. If only I could voice it to Mom without a whooping following close.
If you’re asking, which I know you’re not, they also called me ‘Guilty’ – the opposite of ‘Innocent’. As a child, anyone would agree that such little things come as a huge challenge. It was more difficult for I who was raised without a father and I had to answer all the time when asked why I didn’t know my father-tongue (if such exists).
But that’s nothing tough skin can’t beat. It took some balls to get over the mockery. It was like getting the ocean to sit for a portrait but I somehow did it. Silence could really be a weapon sometimes. I might have had it rough with people who don’t know the appropriate questions to ask but what really boggled my mind was what value was in my name.
I now Identify as ‘Sarowiwa Andanje’. Mostly, it’s plain and simple ‘Andanje’ – my father’s name – all the way. Let me not get started with the misspellings I have to deal with.
“Hio jina yako ni ngumu (Your name is difficult). Hauna rahsi (Don’t you have an easier alternative)?”
“I am a Pan-African. But hio jina ingine ni (the other name is) ‘Innocent’,” I reply.
The same goes for Brian. Most of his friends (at least those that I have heard) call him Andanje too. I’ve heard my little sister Deborah identify herself with the name. Although, I notice, she has taken up my step dad’s name with much ease. It’s hard to tell whether my mom wants us to do away with his (my dad’s) name entirely. She has it on documents but has taken up my step-dad’s name on special platforms and occasions.
I wonder if she would find it in her to change her name for a second time. How was it the first time? How is it for any of you who change names for spouses, children, etcetera? What informs this decision? What does one lose if any? What does one gain? Does one become less of a human being if they didn’t have a name? What’s in an identity? Hell, is being nameless an identity too?
I am less as uptight, as I am religiously conservative. I, equally, don’t know if I would change my name to my spouse’s. At least not yet. Not until I get to know the beginnings of it. Not until I know why it wields so much power. I wouldn’t want to lose a part of me I am still a stranger to.
The road to Malaha
Brian and I have never openly talked about our father. Between you and me, we are partly strangers because we have never gotten to share on the man whose identity we so jealously guard. We joke about things we have in common be it Arsenal Football Club, prospects, home, Mom, but never about our name and the man who passed it down to us.
We had a quick chat once about paying our ancestral home a visit but it was one of those topics whose succeeding asphyxiating silence is smothered by talk about the weather or how annoyingly disrespectful Boda-boda guys are. He is eleven years older than me so he must have pretty fond memories of my old man. I, however, haven’t found the balls to ask him to give me his account of the Myth and the Legend that was my dad. Did he stroke the sun with his touch like I thought he did? Did he make ‘white socks Ambassador’? Was this mountain of a man adamant to appear on the cover of Vogue Magazine? What was it like for him being an ‘Andanje’?
I’m sure he turned down the offer of a Glock when he joined the army. Why the hell would he need it? Mobutu ain’t got nothing on him!
Every other day I own my name to the very last letter, I try to peek behind the canvas of my innocence only to see nothing but darkness. Brian mentioned that my dad hailed from somewhere in Kakamega County called Malaha. A disagreement with my paternal family after my dad’s death, life, and many years later, we settled in Bungoma County, Tulienge village. A locality with a diesel posho-mill sending echoes through the valley and residents shouting from a distance in a thick Bukusu accent. So, whenever someone asks me where I come from, I’m torn between telling them where I spend my Christmas or where my identity is rooted.
One Jackson Biko, whose writing I am an ardent fan of, recently did a narration about a guy who spent a fortune in search of his dad. The two-part series called Bastard I & II sought to offer in-depth insight into a man’s journey to finding his long-gone father. The story spoke tonnes about me and to me. It’s like he had me in mind all along. It probably fuelled the drive to write this article. You better read it sometime.
Hell, I know why I am but who I am? That’s a question only time would answer. “If you want to know the nature of a man, look how he carries his father’s name,” they say. I carry this name with so much honour but between us, it remains just a name the further this legend of a man fades further from my memory.
The name, I have no problem carrying. But what’s in a name if one can’t draw meaning from it?
Here I come.
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Photo by Sebastián León Prado on Unsplash.