Thank you Lord for the life of my gran (cucu pronounced shosho) who last night came home to be with you.
Martha Wanjiru Ngari was mostly known as Mwara a’ Weru (daughter of Weru) or Maritha as the Kikuyu tongue gets creative because it never quite knows what to do with letter ‘r’. The story goes that in her day she was a beauty to behold. Light skinned and musically gifted, it is said that when she would solo at the traditional dances (kibata) it was so impossibly beautiful that tears would roll down my Grandpa Michael’s cheeks.
She was unstintingly generous and selflessness to a fault. Her children remember her serving all the food that was available and pretending there was some left over in the pot for herself and proceeding to make pretense of eating out of the pot. Her home in later years was on a main road where a lot of people would pop in and out in the course of their business and her children’s everlasting dismay and annoyance was how she would share out all she had with those passersby leaving nothing for herself.
Am sure most children consider themselves their grandmas favourite and that’s how I feel in this circle of twenty grandkids. I remember when we went to the shamba to weed the maize and beans with her. Those who have done it know that you stand in a row, measure out a strip (mbere) and all bent on hoes or pangas weed your way together all the way to the end. For us, the idea was to pick as narrow a strip as possible. However wise Maritha would always insist on being at the end and she kept widening her strip forcing the rest of us to widen ours because it was not the thing to do to let anyone lag behind.
The hunger and hardship she went through especially during the colonial times was a topic she never discussed with us. We however saw its effects in the way she could not abide waste. We especially remember being sent back to the shamba after a long day of harvesting beans to collect any stray grains that could have fallen out of the bean pods. Often after going through the whole garden we barely collected more than a handful and when we dared ask her why all the trouble she quietly told us, “twana tutu, niui mutiui ng’aragu nikii”. Yes, we would never understand why the trouble as we had never experienced hunger or famine ourselves.
A visit to or from Maritha as with many Kikuyu grandmas was synonymous with green bananas (marigu) and yams (ikwa) but from her there was also the especially sweet arrow root tubers (nduma). She lived all her life on the slopes of Mount Kenya where tea and coffee picking was the main occupation. Among the many snapshots that keep popping in mind are of her visiting us in boarding school or sending someone with ripe bananas to deliver during the school visiting days and even more clearly is her presenting me with a gift on my wedding day. The gift was a blue thermos flask for chai and a set of brown ceramic cups. She then whispered to me, “Wairimu, muthuri niendaga kurorwo”. Yes, gran, I do my best to take care of the husband, I especially don’t let him go without his beloved cup of tea.
Cucu never stepped foot into a classroom as far as I know. It was therefore a source of bafflement and amusement to us how she managed her life in our modern economy. I remember her having a stand in the local market selling arrowroots and yams but even more curious is that she was at some point treasurer of a women’s group. How I pray did she keep those books? Who paid what amount and when did they pay it? Sometimes we would playfully give her money and ask her if she knew how much it was. And she would indulge us and respond, “Ni matano, tiguo (Its five hundred, isn’t it)?” Equally interesting to me was her ability to keep track of the days of the week and I was always amazed when she confidently said something like, “fifth is on Tuesday next week” and it turned out it was!
How do you capture a life in such brief words? We can only do snapshots here and there. She hated to be caught unprepared and whenever we met I would threaten to surprise her with a visit something that never amused her. She would make me promise not to show up without enough advance warning because, what if she has nothing worthy to put on the table, especially now that I had a husband and children? In the end, I did pay her a surprise visit in hospital, a scant two weeks before she passed on and sadly this time she could not recognize me and give me a hard time for showing up unannounced.
The story of Maritha would be incomplete without reference to her (in)famous love for the drink in her earlier life. With her husband Michael, they ran a brewery out of their home where barrels of the kikuyu local brew (muratina) vied for space with the residents and where hordes of thirsty folk congregated to quench their thirst. The story of the story however is that Maritha “saw the light” and by the grace of God stepped away from that life of drunkenness. A diminutive and softly spoken woman, she loudly and passionately testified of her deliverance and her resolve to never turn back. Her love and commitment to her savior was without doubt and obvious to all. I fondly remember nights spent in her home and hearing her in her room at the crack of dawn loudly praying for all of us.
When I listened to her witness, testimony and prayers, I often wondered how she who could not read the Bible or any Christian book for herself had grasped her faith so clearly and so well. It sends me back to the witness of Peter and John before the rulers, elders and teachers of the law in Jerusalem. Acts 4:13 when they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. Maritha indeed had met her savior, she had been with Jesus!
And so, cucu Maritha, Mwara a’ Weru, fare thee well. We rejoice to know that now you stand at Jesus feet and that you have seen him clearly, the one in whose presence we long to one day stand. You who went through so much pain in this life, you now stand healed and whole, and what is a sunset to us is but sunrise into eternity for you.
We miss you mami, cucu, tata, maitu and look forward to be reunited with you in that city that does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the lamb is its lamp.
Maritha, Mwara a’ Weru, fare thee well.
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