I miss Tatu. She transitioned to the distant shores on August 18, 2017. Baba and Mama officially named her, Mary Aluoch Ombara.
I was not there when God called her home. I am told the moment her spirit left her body in Intensive Care Unit) ICU, the rains fell hard and ruthless as had never been witnessed in Kisumu for decades. The city by the Lake turned dark like the eclipse of the sun. The storm ripped off the roof of our house in Kondele, above the room where Tatu had stayed before she left for The Aga Khan Hospital, Kisumu. Mama felt her death in her bones before they told her the news. These who believe in signs from above say it was an apparition, reminiscent of the day Jesus died on the cross. Darkness fell and the curtains of the temple tore into two from top to bottom.
I miss Tatu. The best doctors would not save her.
Every morning, I wake up with a heavy heart. I have a smile on my face but the radiance is gone. Anger and guilt eat me up. Then sorrow floods my soul. I bite back my tears and say, “It is well.” But is it? Some things, you’ve got to suffer alone. Sometimes a writer’s tears flow only through the pen. Today, my ink is red. Tatu disappeared on us, the journalist in me died.
When Tatu died, I had not seen her for five years. As a political asylee, burdened by the aftermaths of Kenya’s post-election violence and indictments of our leaders at the International Criminal Court (ICC), I was in Witness Protection Program in 2012 before I fled to the US in 2013. I did not visit as she ailed in hospital, surrounded by family. I did not attend her funeral. I am yet to see where her body lays.
I would love to watch the videos of her funeral, perhaps as a way of closure but no one will show them to me. It is still too raw for the family.
Tatu and I, two journalists in the family on opposite sides of the divide but bound by a strong love for each other – family. She would have died for me and I would have done the same for her. She attended School of Journalism in the University of New Delhi India, I followed suit but at The University of Nairobi, Kenya. She talked about Indira Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi and Buddha. I talked about Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki.
She worked for the Government of Kenya in different capacities with the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology as a Public Relations Officer, Acting Director, then Prime Minister’s Office, Chairperson National Steering Committee. She loved to write minutes and speeches for her bosses. I worked as a journalist for independent media, The Nation, my first love and then The Standard Group, my second love.
We often had hot discussions and at times got set up by colleagues who may interview her and come back and interview me on the same topic.
I stood up to power. Tatu stood up for government. I vigorously fought corruption by writing exposes on high profile government officials and politicians. I fought corruption from the outside, she fought corruption from within and sought to have government give a good public image. Our values were the same, having been raised by dad to find comfort only in the sweat of our own hands.
Tatu’s questioning of government authority made her be transferred from one ministry to another. As soon as she unearthed a corruption scandal in her office, she would be issued with a transfer letter. By the time of her death, she had been transferred to umpteenth ministries including cooperative, lands, roads, foreign affairs, sometimes without portfolio or a desk. She worked too hard and never gave up on government, although they gave up on her.
What images flash across my mind when I remember my sister Tatu? Joy, laughter, humor, determination, sense of purpose, charm, playfulness but above all love for family and people in general. She cared deeply cared, loved passionately, worked hard, laughed at herself and was not afraid to face hardships. She loved to dance. I love to dance. We all sang and danced as hard as we could, outwitting each other with creative moves.
Of all my four older siblings who attended Alliance Girls High School, Tatu brought home her six years of her detailed experience there with Mrs. Waithaka and Miss Mulindi home to us. She shared with us one of her favorite hymns, ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Creatures Great And Small. All Things Wise And Wonderful, The Lord God Gave Them All.” Her memories of Makerere University in Uganda and experiences crossing the Busia border, are vividly etched in my mind.
In ADC government quarters where we lived, she was just a child but was very particular about being tidy and neat. She swept our yard spotless clean repetitively. She ensured the place remained very clean. And kept everything in perfect order. She enjoyed housework well into adulthood putting me to shame. After work at the Ministry, she got into her sweat pants, folded clothes like a dobby, did thorough cleaning of the house, shelves, crockery. When she died, she left everything neatly arranged, clothes folded to perfections, all relevant documents neatly arranged on the shelf.
Tatu was very creative and quite poetic at an early age. The whole family will remember that she composed her first poem we visited our grandmother. At the age of 6, she was already composing songs about the environment.
She loved reading and writing. Her favorite childhood books were “Heidi” and “The New First Aid in English.” She kept the two books safely among her clothes in the closet.
Tatu started writing early and she did influence my creative writing. She had a manuscript by the time she was in Form 2. The script was based in a hospital in London and her main character was a doctor McAvoy who was romantically involved with her patient. She would read for me chapters out of her script and left me salivating for more. I don’t know what happened to the manuscript but then we did not know anything about publishing then. I do hope however that nobody lit the fire with it.
Tatu, she cherished the kids’ birthdays and savored each with a special birthday cake, great food and invited all family for the occasion.
She wrote books while at the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) which will hopefully be published posthumously. One of her books talks about ‘empowering and ‘uplifting’ the boy child, given that Kenya has in the past overemphasized reforms around girl child.
Rest Tatu, Rest dearest sister!