When people talk about death, they speak of the empty void it leaves in its path. The inconceivable grief one feels. But when death came knocking on my door, I got to experience the other side of loss. The side that people do not talk about. The story that unfolds long after the burial date has been set, the handful of soil has been tossed and people go back to their daily lives. It had been two weeks since mum’s burial. My sister, my twin brothers and I were just walking my aunt to the bus station.
“You know I could stay a little longer if you like,’’ auntie Marsha said turning to my sister.
“Thank you but you have already done enough. Besides, I am sure Uncle Ken and the kids miss you enough already. We will be fine,’’ my sister replied smiling.
“Alright. If you say so. But if you need anything you call me okay’’ my auntie said with a concerned look on her face.
“Yes, auntie. I will,’’ my sister said to close the discussion.
We all hugged her and waved goodbye as she got into the matatu. We then walked back to the house in silence. When we got into the house, it was so quiet. It was certainly not the same atmosphere that had been in our home for the last two weeks. My sister and I walked into the living room while my younger brothers proceeded to play their games along the corridor. They were too young to fully grasp what had just happened and in a way I envied them. I sat on the couch, a thousand thoughts racing through my mind. I looked across the room. My older sister, sitting on mum’s favourite seat, seemed to be wrapped up in her thoughts too.
Jackie was the spitting image of our mother. She reminded me so much of her. I was not sure if that made me feel better or worse. Staring at her, I could only imagine what was going on in her head. Knowing her I am sure she was thinking about how she was going to take care of us. In the wake of an absentee father and now the loss of our mother, she had just been thrust into the role of breadwinner. At only 26, she needed to find a way to take care of, two young boys in the nursery and one teenager in the campus. I wanted to tell her that she was not alone. That she did not need to bear that burden by herself but all I could do was walk to her, hug her and burst into tears. That is what death does. Piles on the pile of loss with the agony of watching your loved ones in pain.
The next few months were tough. Life changed drastically. We moved into a smaller house, my brothers switched schools, pocket money reduced significantly, small luxuries such as eating out were a thing of the past and my sister got a job. To be honest, I could handle sharing a bedroom with two tiny energetic brothers. I could even work around the pocket money. The thing that bugged me was my sister getting a job. Do not get me wrong, the job helped quite a bit financially but it was against everything my mother had wanted for my sister. From the moment she had cleared the school, she had urged her to get into a field she was passionate about.
For Jackie, that was styling and braiding hair. She was not only passionate about but she was damn good at it. So much so, that Nyambura, the salon owner across the road from our home took a keen interest in her and given her a part-time job. It was not much but mum constantly reminded her it was a great place to start. But the income from the salon was not enough going to support us so the clerical job just had to do. Unfortunately, an 8-5 job did not leave much room for Jackie to work on anyone’s hair but mine and the boys.
By the end of the year, we had gone through most of my mum’s savings. The clerical job did not pay much and those savings were the only thing boosting my sister’s income. Jackie did not like to talk about how bad things were. She was like my mum in that way. She wanted to fill the house with joy. She made sure the twins were always happy. She even teased me about potential boyfriends. But I could see things were bad. I was angry at the world. Angry at my mother for drying. Angry that all the people that showed up during the burial were nowhere to be found. Auntie Marsha checked in on us from time to time. She tried to help where she could but she too had financial worries of her own. I wanted to help. I just did not know-how.
Earlier in the year, I had suggested quitting school to Jackie so I could get a job and help out with the bills. The response was what you would expect from a loving sister who knew the importance of a good education. It is safe to say I did not bring it up again. Getting a part-time job had proven futile with my hectic school schedule but I wasn’t going to give up. Jackie was fighting for us and I was right in there in the fight with her.
The Christmas holiday was terrible. The New Year celebrations just made things worse. It was just another reminder that mum was no longer with us. So I strapped down and got ready for what I believed would be the toughest year yet. In mid-January, as people were getting back to their normal routines, Nyambura, the salon owner stopped me as I was walking home. She told me to tell Jackie that she would be coming over for dinner and share some great news. Like I good messenger I delivered the news and we all anxiously waited for Nyambura to find out what good tidings she had for us.
“Jackie I am sure you know about my ‘Chama cha Kariku’. We want to apply for a loan and we were wondering if you would like to join us,’’ Nyambura started, ‘’It could really help you out,’’
“How do you plan on doing this? I thought you had been turned down by a couple of financial institutions,’’ Jackie replied.
“That is just it. This doesn’t work that way,’’ Nyambura replied. She went on to explain further. One of the ladies who worked in the salon had come across some volunteers who worked for the Women Enterprise Fund (WEF). The organization she explained, had partnered with Coca Cola Central, East and West Africa Limited (CEWA) were not only offering interest-free loans but they did not require any security.
Nyambura did not know it but she had Jackie hooked from the moment she mentioned the magic phrase, ‘interest-free and no security required’. Since the ladies already ran a simple table banking kitty, the loan would significantly increase the amount of money the members could access. For the first time in a long time, I saw my sister smile. Not the forced one she plastered on her face to assure us that everything would be okay. A genuine smile filled with hope. It was like someone had lit a fire that had burnt out ages ago. She did not even mind working overtime so she could attend the training provided by the WEF volunteers. I tried to help out with some extra work at home so she could get as much time as she needed. We were working harder than before but for the first time, things were looking up.
I remember the day that Nyambura came over to tell us that they had received the first Kshs 100,000, we broke out in tears. It had been a hard, long year. Things were not going to magically get better but this was more than we could have hoped for. Jackie’s first loan gave her some breathing room. She was able to quit her job and get a part-time job as an administrative assistant. When she was not working, she was in Nyambura’s salon doing what she did best. Her clients were so understanding of her schedule. The magic she created was enough to make up for the late-night braiding sessions.
The business was doing great and clients were in plenty. In a few months, Jackie was able to pay back her initial loan and she could now work as a hairdresser fulltime. Nyambura was able to hire a couple of more people and start a Kinyozi extension in her salon. The next year when Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) gave Kshs 200,000, to Chama Cha Kariku they used the money to open a chicken business which is doing great.
Sometimes all you need is a boost to get you off your feet and that is what the partnership between Coca Cola and Women’s Enterprise Fund aims to do. Not only did they provide Jackie and Nyambura’s Chama a chance, but it also provided them with training which most of the women used to start their side businesses. For us, a year of grief had quickly turned to a year of hope.
Featured image from https://buff.ly/2UeRuxU