A LONG LINE OF PAIN
My name is Hassan Hamza and I come from a long line of pain.
I grew up where distinguishing dinner from danger, was an essential life skill. A stone’s throw away from Korogocho one of the largest and deadliest slums in Kenya.
Luckily, for me, I had two angelic mothers, I feel like Abraham Lincoln who said “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother” for me after God I owe to my mother Mary Katunge and my grandmother Justina Mwikali.
Where it all started
My grandma was born in Kitui in the 1900s, the firstborn in a family of five children. At a very young age grandma witnessed her father’s horrendous death. She vividly narrated to me how one day as he was walking by the roadside, a car came rushing in his direction. He tried to avoid it by diverging into the bush, it followed him there and crushed him. He did not meet his death, death literally followed him into the bush.
From there on her mum and her, had to do whatever they had to do to survive. A while later her mum died leaving her with no option than to become the head of the family. She was around ten years old.
You already know what happened next but I will tell you anyway.
As a young girl barely into puberty, her family married her off, as the fourth wife to an old man that had children old enough to be her parents. She had no choice as the head of the family her siblings had to eat, and go to the toilet and bathe and her brothers had to go to school.
This was taken care off by the small dowry and sacks of Muthokoi that exchanged hands. And with that grandma was sold. She simply became an object for the old man to amuse himself with.
I am literally in tears as I write this trying to find the courage to narrate to you the pain she went through in that family that believed in and practiced witchcraft.
She told me how the remnants of the water she and her kids used to wash their faces in the morning would be taken by the co-wives. She didn’t know where it was taken to, but results don’t lie.
Deaths and more deaths
Grandma started losing her children in mysterious deaths not one, not two, not three but five children died the last one of whom died while sleeping on the same bed as my mother who was also sickly.
By now grandma had been completely overwhelmed, in between sobs she asked those around to bury this one too, pointing at my mother. Luckily, they understood it’s her pain talking, or else the person writing this wouldn’t have existed.
My mum, my first love Mary Katunge, remains the only child out of six. Grandma had seen it all, she decided to go back home where they say it’s better than east or west.
She was wrong her younger brothers the one she had taken to school met her with a resistance she had not anticipated. They insisted she had to go back.
They had been accustomed to the small portions of Muthokoi that used to come from the other end. When she refused one of them literally broke her back with firewood and she had to leave. She told me she forgave them for they didn’t know what they were doing and times were tough for them too.
A change of environment
With a broken back, a little girl and no money, grandma left with a determination to go to Nairobi on foot. She didn’t know where, how, and what but she had no other option.
She walked a pretty long distance until a “ not so good Samaritan” appeared in the form of a truck driver. He served his purpose. He even got her a house in the famous Mathare slums. But the man was extremely violent. Grandma could take the blows but when it came to her little girl, she said to him “ Slowly you man, you have come too much” but in reality, she said to herself because she didn’t wait for him to come back.
She took her little baby girl upcountry and decided to swim in the sea of Nairobi shamba ya mawe alone. She got a job as a waiter in a bar, found a friend who hired her a small space to place a mattress, and used to send most of the little she got for the welfare of her young girl upcountry.
My mom suffered upcountry in the hands of relatives and family friends she tells me she used to go for days without food and when she was lucky to get a warm plate the kids of that family would pour soil into the food and make it not fit for human consumption. At one point she had gone for three days without eating and she fainted on the road as she was returning home from school.
Grandma had, had enough decided to live with her only child in Nairobi as now she had become a bit of age.
Nairobi welcomed her (my mum) and it was so kind to her, that it introduced her to motherhood. Just like that, my mom had become a teenage mother to a bouncing baby boy my elder brother.
A few years later mom took a deep breath of warm south coast air and there I was born. While the area is known for its cool sea breeze the marriage was the extreme opposite. It was known for alcoholism and extreme domestic violence. One time she says he came home drunk found her cooking chapati, he removed his shoes and placed them on top of the chapati in a pan and with that she was done. Like he couldn’t even do it on another food?
Mum would later remarry and got five other children. My grandma couldn’t be happier. It was like she had gotten back her lost children.
But it was not all smiles. Whereas the man was generous with giving his seed, he was not generous with providing for the kids. And so mum had to singlehandedly take care of her mother and 7 children on her own.
She literally took matters into her hands. At times she was forced to fight women and even men who threatened her dignity and that of her children and those who would refuse to pay her hard-earned sweat.
She started a small scale milk business. We used to walk 3-5km every morning before school and evening after school delivering milk door to door across the informal settlements of the Eastland’s of Nairobi from Lakiisama, Korogocho, Babadogo, Kasabuni, Kariadudu Kariobangi to Huruma.
When my classmates were dancing to the tune of the bell ringing to signal we had learnt enough for the day I wore my sad face for I knew the task ahead of me. We would sell milk up to 11 pm. My younger brother Ali and I went the same route. We would sleepwalk our way back home, get home light the jiko, and start cooking supper.
If it was ready by 1 am, we were very lucky.
What do you think were cooking? Sometimes 30 ksh githeri for a family of 9, or quarter kilo of meat which got lost in a sack of Sukuma wiki BUT MUM MADE SURE WE NEVER SLEPT HUNGRY.
My brother arrested
When I was 12yrs old, my elder brother 5yrs older was arrested. All because a neighbor who had lost his safari boots said “ maybe the son of this woman stole them”.
We lived in a mabati house, so we heard everything. But the next day he insisted and even went to the police and without a bribe to pat with my brother was taken to Industrial area Remand prison.
I still remember the color of the book I walked with on my right hand and the pen on the left trying to fundraise for his bail 3,000ksh (make sure you don’t add another zero).
I walked for 9 months. I couldn’t raise the amount and my brother my hero the first father figure I knew, the one I learnt how to wear trousers from spent 9 months in remand for a crime he did not commit and a whole village could not raise 3K to bail him out.
When he finally came out he was a different person. A young innocent boy full of face, full of faith, full of future had been thrown into a sea to swim with murderers, rapists, and all sorts of criminals and when he came out he had a fit of anger for society stored in a polythene bag to preserve it and a mission to repay the society for what it did for him.
Suddenly we started receiving complaints from people who had suffered at his hands. Most of his friends were killed either by the bullet or mob justice stoning or burnt alive using tyres and petrol all of which he escaped by a whisker.
Then one day he had crossed paths with a gang of rival youths one of whom swung his panga to claim his neck and finish him off. He tilted his head a bit and the panga landed on his left ear and chopped it off. It fell into what we called mtaro [drainage trench] and was washed away
All this happened as my mother watched helplessly.
He resorted to the bottle to drink his pain away. But I don’t think he has ever been drunk enough to forget, he is still trying. But we are thankful he is alive.
I had no option other than to assume his birth rite. I became the big brother for my siblings. I also assumed the role of C.E.O of our small scale hand to mouth milk delivery business that our family of nine depended on.
When my mum took, a maternity leave I would take paternity leave too from school for that was the only way the mouth would remain good friends with the hand. A relationship that benefited the stomach more.
Grandma and mum’s motivation made sure I always had the audacity of hope for a brighter future. They often told us walking barefoot today will never prevent you from walking in shoes one day” ( I thought they only said that not `to buy me shoes)
I fought a good fight with the books armed with only a pen. I used to do my homework in the houses of customers who had kids in the same class I was. I didn’t have any other time to do it was a better excuse than we couldn’t afford the textbooks.
In 2003 I sat for my K.C.P.E. It was the only year in my schooling life that I was not sent home for school fees arrears, thanks to president Kibaki’s free primary education policy. Mark you Ngunyumu primary school in Korogocho was as cheap as a ball gum not even PK.
Joining high school
My KCPE registration fees were paid by a political aspirant. My mum’s love for education was always in conflict with her empty pockets.
I remember the day I joined high school it was a cold Tuesday morning. I walked behind my mother, my head lowered, my face frowned and shoulders dropped. The question on my mind was huku tunaenda wapi ? (Where are we going? )
We walked past houses made of iron sheets, mud, and some just nylon. Korogocho Glory High School was our destination. Deep in the intestines of Korogocho almost at the exit. Next to it was the sewage sugar-coated as Nairobi River and after it is the largest dumping site in Africa known simply as Mukuru.
Just 4 students
The school had just been opened in fact when I arrived I found only four students I was the fifth in the entire school.
Our school fees was 2500/- a term, not a month. Still by the time I finished high school I had outstanding arrears that I was denied the school leaving certificate. Instead, the principal wrote a letter “To whom it may concern, I confirm that Hassan Hamza was a student at this school he cannot be given his certificate because of his 12,000ksh school fees balance, Stamped” It was official. I presented it whenever I went looking for manual labor or college sponsorship opportunity.
Life after school
Life after high school was not easy in a community full of crime, drugs, and other vices. I was about to indulge in such when a friend of mine introduced me to community-based organizations.
I joined as a volunteer, where I met people and opportunities. From this I got networks, experience, knowledge and even sponsorships and joined college. I went to Unity college, did a diploma in social work and also joined
NairoBits Digital Design School
where I did certificate in web design.
In 2015 I was in my tiny bachelor’s single room that I paid 1500 a month. I was debating my options whether to attend a youth motivational event that I had been invited to at K.I.C.C. I decided to go, a decision that changed my life forever.
I watched in awe as various speakers wowed the audience with their speeches and I was introduced to the concept of motivational speaking. One of the speakers Pepe Minambo gave out a book he had authored where he talked about an academy he started for public speaking and knew this was it.
I was burning with a passion I would have boiled an egg. The problem was the course was forty thousand Ksh. Where was I to get that amount? I went to several of my friends who promised to lend me the cash only to disappear into thin air.
An Angel’s hand
Frustrated but with a strong desire, I approached a lady I had just been recently introduced to – Amina, an elder sister figure to me with a heart so big that it barely fits in a room.
She counted for me 28K cash and even refused to hold my laptop as collateral and with that I got into the academy like a duck to water and a motivational speaker was born.
Little did I know that a time will come when I will join the dots going backward and be grateful for every experience I was subjected to, for it created the man I am today. A man who understands that we are a sum of our experiences. A man who understands that tough times don’t last but tough people do. A man who understands that “My life is my message to the world all I got to do is know an inspiring way to tell it” a man who believes that The rest of my life can the best of my life, only if I make it, in shaa Allah.
I mentioned my younger brother Ali, what I didn’t mention is he kept moving from school to school because teachers and fellow pupils used to laugh at him for being uneducable, mentally retarded or simply mjinga [ foolish].
He finally quit school at class 7 and joined Jua Kali sector as a welder and its like he wasn’t created for anything else.
He did so well he was the first to own a Tv and sofa set [ at the time it was talk of town in our neirborhood] in our family.
Last year he bought a piece of land away and far from any family we know of. We came together and constructed a one bedroomed house for grandma. In February of this year, we opened it and relocated her there. You should have seen the joy on her face and the words of blessings that came out of her mouth.
No one would have convinced her that this kids that she brought up in tears blood and sweat would one day build a brick house for her in a land where no one would bother her.
The joy was short lived as 2 weeks later grandma passed away. Just as we were getting to experience the other side of life. Just as we were preparing to get grandma enjoy the fine things of life in our small way to try and appreciate her SHE LEFT US ALL ALONE. meeehn, we cried and cried and cried a river at her burial.
On the day she died, she woke up in the middle of the night, woke up my mum and told her in Kamba “ tell my children, I love them, I have no problem with a single one of them, tell them to love each other, they should work hard and I leave them my blessings” she took a sip of milk and she closed her eyes never to open them again.
Grandma did not leave much for us but she sure did leave a lot in us.
Her words are still fresh in my mind “ Hassan, hakuna mtu hukua amewekelewa mawe kwa kichwa
” which means; everyone can make it, or simply put:#UNAWEZA
Today mum lives in that house. With her business mind and experience, she did a market survey and found out no one sells mabuyu and spices like pilau masala, cinnamon, clove seeds etc.
The business picked like bush fire and she now supplies almost half of the County. She is doing so well that she took up extension of the house and sometimes when a message comes from her its Mpesa with nunulia msichana wangu na mjukuu kuku. [ buy my daughter in law and granddaughter chiken]
My elder brother is doing better. I was able to take him to Mombasa where he took a break from the bottle I pray its permanent he dreams of being a driver something that I am working towards.
My other siblings are doing very great. Ali my immediate follower is a father of two. The one that everyone thought was foolish is now very skilled at his craft.
He specializes in building posho mill machines and anything metallic.
My beautiful sister Justina is an amazing businesswoman at only 24yrs. She beat the curse of teenage pregnancy in the ghetto. She travels within and without Kenyan border doing business very proud of her.
James who is after her is an amazing poet and graphic designer. The rest Regina is in form 3 and Richard our last born is in form 2. They currently live with mum.
Looking back from where I have come from I sometimes go back home and can’t believe I have my own house, and can take care of a family. I have a wife I love so much and a young daughter who keeps me hopeful fo a brighter future.
The world breaks everyone but some are stronger in the broken places. I am one of those and so are you.
As I was starting I said I come from a long line of pain. It’s my mission to change that now into a long line of success, purpose, passion, and happiness not only for my family but for everyone that I am blessed to cross paths with,
I do this through my company House of Hope that deals in motivational speaking, mentorship, Training and Team Building. I am passionate to inspire through my motivational videos on FB, IG and YouTube also through talks in public.
I have a project where I go to the slums targeting young boys who are facing the life I have been through I motivate them and provide for them vests, boxers, shoes and most importantly hope.
To do this I sell merchandise branded Unaweza [Yesyoucan], this includes, Hoodies, T-shirt’s, caps, pens and books.
On my day job I am also a journalist I specialize on Human interest documentaries that inspire and also informercials and adverts.
I am determined to spread the salt of my energy and passion to the meat of people’s lives.
I believe :