Of all the people I look up to I recently came to the realization that my late mum is the number one influence in my life. Not Michelle Obama or any of those inspiring men and women I stalk on the internet, listening to their every speech, admiring what they wear, and considering their exercise regimens. It is the go-getting attitude which I borrow from mum that gets me up every morning excited about life and what difference I can make. It is Isabella’s progressive nature that makes me want to constantly measure what progress I have made from “then to now”.
Mum was a teacher. It is for this reason that I find myself telling my two young daughters that “every parent is a teacher” and trying to live those words. It is her sense of humour that had us hurdling around her every evening to savour her witty jokes and musings about the happenings of her day. And her scent….ahh, that soothing scent of her Limara lotion. If I live to be 100, I will never forget that scent. It was the scent that said “mum is home, everything is okay”.
Isabella was a case study in tenacity. She always found a way to bounce back from difficulties she encountered and as far as I remember, she had no time to feel sorry for herself. “My daughter”, she once told me. “Those who have no one to wipe their tears, don’t (even bother to) cry!” When something didn’t work, she re-strategized and found another approach, another way. When she fell sick two years ago and started to dialyze, I was sure she would as usual bounce back somehow. And she was too. She had plans for “after this awful condition leaves my body”. That is why a piece of me died when this time, she didn’t bounce back. Yet, a fire was lit in my soul – an urge to live and embody the great qualities that she taught us.
This Mother’s Day , I pay tribute to a towering matriarch who ensured that as long as we were home, my siblings and I woke up at the crack of dawn every morning – a habit I have been unable to shake off (even on weekend mornings!). She loved to say that in this world you will find all sorts of competitions – even eating competitions – but there is no sleeping competition (well, things have changed mom – they now hold an annual siesta championship in Spain!). The lesson was however well learnt: you’ve got to get up and do something with your time, while you still have it.
The woman I am today is informed by my late mother. Even before I knew there was a word like “feminist”, I was one thanks to mum. She believed and raised us to believe in equal opportunities for men and women. I was 13 years old in 1997 when Kenya saw its first female presidential candidate. It was an exciting time. “Mum, surely you will vote for our first female presidential candidate!” She chuckled and calmly said that indeed it was a great step for women in Kenya. However she was not going to vote for any candidate because of their gender only! That right there was one of the greatest lessons for me – that as a woman I was not to expect any preferential treatment because of my gender.
When we lost her, we lost not just our mum but a beacon of hope for so many people who knew her. From far and wide, hundreds came to eulogize their friend , their teacher, their sponsor, their counselor, their community leader, and the founder of the school their children went to – a school she had founded when she retired. At times when I can’t sleep at night, I think of Isabella and what a privilege it was to have be raised by such a great woman.