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Fare Thee Well Mary Ted,Your Battle Against Cancer Was Not In Vain


Mary Ted Onyango at her wake in her house in Jambo Estate, Lang’ata.

Story and pictures by Omwa Ombara
I hid my face from friends and family when you died. It took me time to attend your wake at your house in Lang’ata. Our friendship was such that you had to call me on Wednesday and prepare me for your departure. You asked whether we could meet and have a quick cup of coffee, but I was too busy at Sheria House chasing my registration certificate.
“Omwa, I don’t have long to live,” you chuckled. “I am travelling to Simenya for a  Board meeting then I will pass by to see my mother. In case I do not make it back to Nairobi, just remind my family that I want a beautiful funeral. Make sure they dress me well and put red lipstick on my lips.” We laughed and made jokes over that. I did not believe she would be dead by Saturday morning.
Veronica had asked for red lipstick too. I preferred purple while Veronica loved pink. But in one of our regular dinners at Yaya Centre, Mary, being the most adventurous of us trio had often told us off and insisted that red was the professional colour. So after arguing over our Pizzas, we agreed to turn to red nails and toes and of course, red lipstick. I remember we buried Veronica in red lipstick too.
I saw you lying in your beautiful coffin at the Don Bosco Shrine during your requiem Mass and said I would not cry. You, Veronica Mburu and I had promised each other that we would not cry if any of us died first. But we cried when Veronica died and yesterday I cried as if my heart would break. I cried when all I wanted to do was smile. I tried to smile through my tears but forgive me my dear friend. I could not let you go without a tear, knowing what you had gone through, knowing the deep secrets we shared.

Caren Ochele, our dear friend ushers the Congregation at the Don Bosco Shrine during Mary Ted’s Requiem Mass,
It took our friend Caren Ochele, who was an usher to calm me down. “It is well!” She repeated as she hugged me and wiped my tears. “It is well with our friend!”
Mary Ted wanted me to be an accountant. I remember Mary Ted mentoring me at the Agricultural Finance Corporation where I did my attachment after my ‘A’ Levels. She was the Financial Controller. Caren was our Secretary. After patiently trying me out with figures, balancing sheets with Shakila and Mrs Mwangoda, and with some goading from Mumo Matemu, the lawyer, Mary and Caren finally gave up on me. “Omwa has too many stories to tell, she does not have a Mathematical mind, so we declare you a Journalist,” she said. We were another trio, Mary Ted, Caren and I. So when I joined University, I opted for Literature and Linguistics, with Mary pushing me to master my Language ahead of my Journalism career…
When Mary Ted started her Kenya Breast Health Programme in Lang’ata, she picked me from Nation Centre where I debuted as a Freelance Correspondent. The Breast Health office was still bare. It lacked curtains, the wiring was not yet done and there were cables all over the floor. There was no electricity yet and one computer. Two young ladies, volunteers poured for us two cups of home-made tea from a white flask. The proud smile on Mary Ted’s face was infectious. “This is just a start. I want to reach as many women with cancer as possible. I want to stop as many women from getting cancer by encouraging them to go for the test early.”She said. The dream made her eyes glitter with hope. It was an exciting evening and we toasted Champaign to a Cancer-less future. Mary was diagnosed with Cancer on January 5, 1999. True to her dreams, Mary Ted spearheaded and championed a nationwide campaign on breast cancer awareness. She was a counsellor and a great support system to Cancer survivors, allowing them to stay in her house when they lacked accomodation. Mary Ted was indeed instrumental in pushing the Government to install Cancer support equipment in Provincial Hospital. Her mobile clinic on cancer screening became the face of hope in Kenya.

Breast Cancer survivors show up in style at the Requiem Mass. Their powerful message was,”what is your purpose in life?”
Mary Ted wanted a Breast Cancer Journalist who could break Cancer stories and break the stigma that enshrouded Cancer then. The media would not touch it and there was a general contempt by society for women with one breast. Mary Ted’s first assignment was that I go for a Mammography. After much reluctant persuasion, Mary Ted, Vero and I went to Nairobi Hospital. My tests were fine and of course we celebrated the results.
My first Cancer story was Veronica Mburu. I did the interview as Mary Ted and Vero tried on the latest prosthesis (artificial breast) in town down at Kijabe Street. I had not seen prosthesis before and I did not know women wore it after they lost their breasts to Cancer surgery. Despite my ignorance and shock, Mary Ted and Vero cat- walked up and down the shop making the salesman and I burst into hysterical laughter. And so I got into the Breast Cancer family as a Journalist and not as a survivor.
When I did Vero’s story, the challenge was whether we should show the Prosthesis to the public or not. My then editor, Rhoda Orengo took the bull by the horn and published the picture that shocked Kenyans to the reality of Cancer. The response was overwhelming and Vero had a rough time directing women to Kijabe Street.
At the fundraising dinner for the Breast Health Programme, I played both roles of Musician and Journalist as I performed with my Kalamindi band at the Panafric Hotel, Nairobi, backed up by Kenge Kenge Orutu System and Osogo Winyo.

Mary Ted was democratic with her daughters in a very special way. When I got an assignment from my then Editor, Betty Muriuki, to do a story on families with daughters only and boys only, Mary Ted asked me to talk to the girls and get their approval. We went to her sister’s house in Kariakor and found about 50 of her relatives ready to interrogate me.

From Left: Mary Ted’s sisters Margaret Alacoque ‘Koki’ and Dorothy Tsalwa at the Requiem Mass in Nairobi.

We sat in the kitchen where Mary Ted’s sister Margaret Koki made hundreds of Chapatis. Mary Ted sent her daughters one by one to the kitchen, sent Koki out and left me alone with the girls to persuade them on why they should appear in the papers. Such wonderful girls, Anne Marie, Amanda and Adelle allowed me to interview them and take their pictures. After lunch, The girls’ aunties interrogated and playfully teased  me and finally allowed me to carry out the interview.

Catholic Priests, led by Father Emmanuel  perform final rituals at the Don Bosco Shrine as they ask God to grant Mary Ted eternal rest.

The women danced themselves lame and our ever supportive friend George Otieno of Barclays Bank, whom Mary had nicknamed “Our Husband”, made the evening warm and cheerful.
Then Veronica died, creating a gap in our trio company. Vero died when I was out of the country on assignment. When I got back, Mary Ted and “Our Husband” took me to Vero’s grave in Lang’ata. The grave was well kept by Mary Ted and George with lots of lovely flowers. That had been Vero’s death wish.
So now Mary Ted will be buried tomorrow. She died in the arms of her mother Christine. Mary Ted made a difference to the Cancer community. She had passion for her battle against Cancer. So my two close friends are gone; Veronica Mburu and Mary Ted – two friends whose mark of friendship passed the test of time.


Sweet Farewell, Mum. From Right to Left: Ted’s three lovely daughters Adelle, Anne Marie and Amanda sing a Hymn at the Shrine.

Your Eulogy was beautiful yesterday. And the Church was all so pink with brave faces. All your friends were there. The girls were brave. They smiled as you would have wished. For me, you were not the Vice Chairperson of the National Cohesion and Integration Committee or Chairperson, Nyanza Economic Forum. You were just Ted, my friend and bossom buddy. The Godmother to my great niece and friend Monica. Mary Ted, it was indeed a celebration of your life; the celebration of an achiever. Till we meet on the other shore, Mary Ted – Fare Thee well, my friend!

Mrs Ida Odinga, Patron Kenya Breast Health Programme and wife to Kenya’s Prime Minister, Raila Amolo Odinga at the Requiem Mass. Ida payed glowing tribute to Mary and asked Kenyans to make a difference in their own little ways.


Happy Comes Home tra la la la la

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Happy came home last night. I am just so excited I do not know how to tell this story. One minute please, I need to breathe slowly. In…out…in…out. Phew! I have screamed and danced and cried till I cannot dance any more. I am happy once more. Happy is back home. He sniffed his way back after he disappeared from home three weeks ago. It has been a torturous time, with sleepless nights and nightmares. I have heard neighbourhood dogs bark and ran to the window, thinking, hoping that it was Happy Dog, but no.

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Happy came home looking dirty and starved. He had been bitten all over the body by some stray dogs, I guess. Someone had taken away his collar and chain. He sneaked in at 3 am and came to my bedroom window. He did not bark, but kept scratching the window sill. It was as if his return was a secret between us and he did not want anybody to know about it. I was fast asleep and I thought I had been attacked by thugs. It was Happy. Oh, how we hugged in joy. If he could talk, Happy could have told me what happened. It does not matter, though. The important thing is that Happy is back home, safe and sound. Happy gobbled all the milk and all the food it could get hold of. For one moment I though Happy had turned into a greedy Hyena.

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Happy is sick. I took him to the Veterinary doctor down the road, next to Donna. The doctor knows Happy’s history and Happy knows him too so he will be happy to be near someone he knows. He vaccinated Happy against rabbies a while back. So Happy will stay at the clinic for a few days as he undergoes treatment. But I will be visiting him. I have to take some time off work. Lucky has bad wounds so I will not take his pictures. It would be violation of his privacy and a little cruel and insensitive on my part. So the pictures I have posted above are older ones of Happy’s taken in January and February 2012. I showed him the pictures and he liked them, well at least he licked the laptop.

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Happy is a great grandchild of the group of police sniffer dogs. He came home five years ago when he was only one week old. A lady family friend brought him to give me company as I could not get over my father’s death long after he was gone. We were talking about my father, who died in a car crash in 1998, when I burst into tears and everyone realised how raw the pain still was to me. Happy became my constant companion, always there for me, always so faithful and true. Through all life’s ups and downs, Happy stayed on. It hurt me deeply when he went missing. Happy knows how to climb high walls too and I believe he must have inherited this trait from his parents. So he climbed his way up the walls and into his kennel.

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What a happy day. The sun seems much brighter today, the coffee tastes sweeter and everything seems happy. Thanks to all friends and family who gave me their support through phone calls, text messages, posts. Welcome Home Happy Dog. Welcome Home. I love you!

 


Am A Hopeless Facebook Addict

I am a hopless facebook addict in desperate need of rehabilitation. And I need a facebook doctor to save me lest I perish. I have become such a hopeless wreck that if nobody helps me, I might get locked up in a facebook institution.

I am usually the first one to get into facebook in the morning and the last to leave at night. Sometimes I fall asleep on the laptop only to wake up and continue with this facebook business. This addiction of mine has turned me into a lurker and when my friends have gone to sleep, I sneak into their pages and profiles and read everything…everything I need to know about them. I started feeling I needed help when I discovered that sometimes I am on facebook alone at 1 am with no one to chat with.

Facebook impresses me, I must admit. Never in my life have I had so many friends. It is not easy to make friends, you know, especially for a shy person like me. Can you believe it? I have 499 friends although to tell the truth, I only communicate with three or four daily. And only one or two, sometimes respond to my posts. This makes me so miserable and when this happens I tell myself, “I have no friends. I have no friends at all!” I have only had two sincere friends in my life and this facebook thing had given me great hopes to have so many friends.

Some of my friends are so popular that whenever they post something, over 50 people respond at once. This makes me so jealous that I feel like erasing their posts. So, to contain my jealousy, I sign out immediately. But because of my addiction, I am soon back on facebook again to monitor if the comments are going up. I get consolation from a blog I read recently that people who are popular on facebook are not normal.

My facebook addiction is pathetic. There are times I thought I would instil some discipline on myself. I deleted 200 friends from my post, hoping to retain 50. But the more friends I deleted, the more friend requests I accepted and now I have 499 friends. Some people have over 1000 friends and this makes me so jealous.

My addiction has been progressing over the years. After blocking some of my friends from the Friends’ list, I soon started asking them to be my friends again. Some fellow facebook addicts understood my condition and agreed to be friends with me again. But some dimissed me with the contempt I deserve and I have been begging them to take me back on facebook.

Some of the friends on facebook are very intelligent and well read. The more I read their posts , the wiser I become. Some are quite thick skinned and obnoxious. Quite a number live in their own world and only talk to themselves. Some are sober and some are wild. Some friends make me laugh, some make me cry. Like my poet friend who after posting every comment accompanies it with an adjecture,”only poets understand what I mean”. This makes tears of laughter roll down my eyes. Some friends, however suffer from verbal diarrhoea and this puts me off. Some are patronising, some condescending and some act as if they know everything. Yet some are so humble.

There are names that facinate me on facebook, especially the fake ones. Kenyans are very creative with names. Sometimes I spend the whole night just reading everybody’s name and trying to work out what they mean.

Who will treat this facebook addiction of mine? Sometimes, I read very annoying comments and I promise myself I will never go back to facebook again. Some comments are so demeaning, some tribalistic and some very vulgar. I have received love requests and job requests. I have received in-boxes for one night stands.

The group of friends I hate most are the political sycophants that encourage tribalism on facebook. They pretend that their tribal leaders are better than others, forgetting that one man’s meat is another man’s poison. So I do not understand why I still read their nonsense. Addiction is a bad thing, it makes one do things one hates.

I have once unsubscribed from facebook. But I got so lonely after that. I missed my friends. I felt left out of the facebook family. And very soon, as you might guess, I was back again, filling in my details and rejoining the facebook community. So when people say they are leaving facebook and wish everyone goodbye, only to surface a few days later, I truly understand. That is a fellow addict and the sooner I make friends with them, the faster I will be in good company.

Facebook is nice. If you miss one friend you can always talk to another. It is not like a mobile phone where some friends refuse to pick calls, others fail to return calls while others ignore your smses. I can communicate with strangers and still feel fulfilled.

Facebook has been kind to me though. Without facebook I would be jobless. Kind friends on facebook give me work and pay me for it and that is how I manage to pay my rent.

Facebook doctor, can you hear me?

A satire copyright Omwa Ombara, 2012