It is 1 in the morning. I have not blinked an eye and it does look like that is going to happen soon. So I am singing loudly to Donna Summer and Seal’s chemistry-laden version of Seal’s Crazy. As I shake my head to the pulsating drum beat, I am looking at the pictures of my latest designs. I like the way I look in this red dress. I’ll be damned! Is it me, the dress, the photographer or the camera? You can check the designs in my Facebook page here and buy a piece.It looks awkward to say, Verah wearing a Verah Okeyo but I am wearing my own design PHOTO/Lameck Ododo, Odo Gallery
As my brain struggles to slow itself down from overdrive 500kilometres-per-hour mode that it is on now, a thought stands erect on my mind: that story I wrote about antimicrobial resistance needs a sexually transmitted infections angle. Maybe that will foster some public discussion on the magnitude of the danger of drugs losing their ability to cure. As I am thinking of the lead to take on the story, my phone vibrates. It is a text from my friend. Her date ended badly. Again. I know where this conversation is headed. It will metastasize into what her father would or not do. Bluntly, I would tell her to put her big girl pants and other dismissive statements. Today, I refrain from that because I just remembered how my own father affects how I perceive people on a daily basis.
My father—may his soul rest in eternal peace—was an uneducated class three drop out who wore nothing else on his lapels except his big generous heart and integrity. Working in the flower farms in Naivasha, Mr Okeyo watched the perks of being educated through his Dutch employers. Unable to afford the newspaper daily, he would go to his employer’s mansion to get magazines and old newspapers which he always brought home for me read. I am now working for the paper I started reading those days. There is an older editor whose writing I disliked then and it tickles me today when we meet in the lift and I crack jokes about his 1998 articles.
In the late 90s, my father and I spent our evenings in the quiet environment Naivasha ambience like disgruntled lovers. We listened to Mukami Gioshe’s voice –or was it Bill Odidi’s?—on Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) as we criticise each other on singing off key. I would have those magazines sprawled in front of me on the concrete floor. Once a week, he would ask me to join him to listen to Chris Kubasu on KBC TV’s In search of An answer. “These people are smart they must be saying something important”, he would say. Occasionally,he would ask me to translate some parts that escaped his little grasp of the English language. Not once, but many times, I would watch a boring documentary about the history of the company he worked for—Sher Agencies, then the world’s largest flower producer but now under receivership— and because I had to obey him, I would sit and listen to him explain why the flower stems were refrigerated in that particular way among many other things. You can imagine how important this background is to me 20 years later when I am assigned to write about how the collapse of this company has affected livelihoods and ecosystems.
So back to our memories. The television was, of course,a Greatwall black and white TV with that hideous detachable “coloured” screen. Once in a month, the old man would buy me a music tape—the very first one was Shania Twain’s Come on over in 1998, and Celine Dion’s Let’s talk about Love. To this, add many Congolese bands like Soukous Stars, Madilu System and my native Luo bands like Collela Mazee, Omore Kings…Damn those old times. Do they bring up children the way they brought me up?
At 29, I am appreciating that while living in the modest estates in the flower farms in Naivasha, as the daughter of a peasant worker, I had access to the latest copies of OK! Vogue, Reader’s Digest, Vanity Fair, The Times and other high end magazines. I am not certain I would afford them regularly at a go now even though I am on salary now. Therein, I read about everything from medicine, commerce, psychology, fashion, philosophy… hell even quantum physics. The knowledge, subconsciously gathered in those books and magazines, give me such insight right now when I report about the older versions of the characters therein. The books and magazines uprooted my mind from the remote tracts of land in Naivasha and perched me inside designer Karen Millen’s shop in London; into the musicianship and troubled relationships life of Veronica Lourdes Madonna Ciccone; into the palace of the late Princess of Wales distress over how the British media covered her life from the affair the prince had with Camilla Parker; into the discussions tables in New York as the United Nations talked about Aids bleed the economies of Africa from the deaths the morbidity.
There is nothing going to Tribeka and dancing to “Bend over”. Nothing at all. I just would not know what to do because my vision of a man listened and danced to Madilu System’s Jean and did all he could to leave me a better human being. The only way he knew was giving me books.
*Excerpts from my memoir.