The night before you take on your train ride out of Nairobi you cannot sleep. You lay there on your bed half-awake thinking about the one hundred and one reasons why and how you might miss the 8 am train ride. Nairobi is the city where nothing is a guarantee. You might make it in time or you might get on time only to watch the diesel powered train breaking into life and crawling away from you.

The first time I took the standard gauge railway, I spent the night before my scheduled ride with friends doing the things friends often do when they have not seen each other in a long while. One story led to another and the next thing we know its 5 am, we have to get ready, have a cup of tea or maybe two. A good day is determined by the amount of tea you take in the morning. To be able to take on a new day, you need to have an adequate amount of tea. We all have our vices and tea is mine. 

7.55 am we were seated in our carriage, feeling lucky we made it on time despite the God forsaken Nairobi traffic. See, being a verified African timer and re-known late comer (trust me i am always running late), it’s always a relief when i make it on time. Everyone in the carriage was quiet, either Kenyans are not morning people or we all did not get the adequate amount of caffeine to get the day started on blast mode. Except for the three year old girl, doing head stands on the seat and constantly interrogating her mum on every strange thing that comes before her eyes; most of us laid back with our eyes closed. Are they like me, hoping to fall asleep or are they meditating? 

Sleeping on the train seats is not an easy task. First, each seat was made with such precision you actually seat upright. They must have overlooked the anthropometric measures of the average Kenyan because for a voluminous lady like me, the seats are pretty much like kiti moto, you know, the traditional stools stationed right in front of the three stoned cooking area. These stools were perfectly made for the kitchen, when you sat on them you knew hapa hakuna kulala, you are here to work!

The train seats in the standard class carriages were not made for sleeping, after an hour or two you give up on your desire to catch a nap. By this time the entire carriage has turned into a tiny moving village. Children have already befriended one another; parents are taking turns watching their kids play and making sure the children are fair and kind to one another. Those who are determined to nap have secured their place on the tiny tables attached to the train walls. Working really hard to get some decent sleep.

I am seated opposite this girl; she might be 6 or 7 years old. She asks if I am OK. “You look exhausted,” she says. I nod in agreement, I am exhausted, the seats are annoyingly symmetric and they don’t have any safety mechanism. Do trains have safety belts or anything to hold on to when hell breaks loose? I am on ten different levels of pissed! “Why did they have to make it this way?” I wonder, “If they asked me, I would not encourage anyone to make kiti moto seats, I hated them when I was a kid, being forced to seat on one while my elder siblings sat on the couches. I hated it, I hate uncomfortable seats. Maybe we should have paid for first class. But who pays 30 dollars to Mombasa? Who? No wonder they said cheap is expensive! Man! This seat!”

The pretty young girl placed a gentle slap on my arm “Can I recite a memory verse for you?” She asks, I nod, I am too tired, and she is too polite, how can I say no? I lean in to give her my full attention. The tea did not work like it should have, I should have had coffee or a third cup of tea. Some life struggles! She began by reciting John 3:16 that I can remember for sure. I too know the verse by heart. Then she recited some verse from the book of Psalms and one from Relevation. She is an intelligent well-spoken young lady. We talked about the Bible and about her school experience, her school term had just ended and they were going to spend their holiday in Mombasa. “Can I tell you a secret?” She said while leaning towards me and whispered. “I do not have a father! Kids in school talk about their dads. I wish I knew mine!”

Dear girl on the train,

Do you remember me? The young lady who begged you to let her sleep for a minute? The lady whom you recited memory verses to and a Swahili poem on HIV/AIDs? I left some things unsaid. I told you how amazing your mom is, although I do not know her. I think she is an awesome mom. You recite the Bible verses so well and have a good grasp of events from the Biblical times. She has raised you right. You are well spoken, confident and well mannered. She has educated you right.

The feeling of being abandoned sucks, but lacking a father does not define you. Do you know how many amazing people were raised by their mothers alone? President Barack Obama, the musician Alicia Keys, the rapper Jay-Z and Angelina Jolie, you must know her, the world famous Actress. When a grown man chooses not to be in the life of their children that does not define you, it says so much about them.

All you need in the world is to love and be loved. Having a mother who loves you to the moon and back, a mother who stands by you and gives you the best she possibly can is the best thing God can gift a human being. So, do not sulk over what you do not have, look at what you have been blessed with. You are blessed.

Kids tease you for not having a dad. You have an awesome mum you know that, right? She does what moms do and what dads do all in 24 hours, only to wake up the following day to do it all over again! Well, when they praise their dads, praise your mom. How many people have a super mom like yours?

Does it get easy? Yes it does. As you grow older you will see how beautiful your life is. You will learn its OK to just have a mom. And there are those days when it will be hard, like when you have to sign up for some opportunities, they will ask for your dad’s name and details or his death certificate. You might not have his personal information; sometimes you might not access these opportunities because it requires you to have a father or have proof that he once existed.  The society, strangers, those we know and institutions both public and private will try to remind you of the fact you do not have a father. They might try to punish you for it by denying you access to opportunities you might need. Do not let them get into your head; do not let them project their fears on you. Do not let them make you feel less worthy.

And when the time comes for you to start your own family, you will wonder who will walk you down the aisle. At this moment you will think about him, wonder if he is OK and if he is in good health. You will weep for the father you do not know. And its OK, every child longs for a complete family. Even elephants, the majestic wild beings weep when they are separated from their parents. They are known to go back to places where they last saw their loved ones in the hopes of seeing them again.

Dear pretty young girl with a beautiful voice, having a mom is amazing. But having a mom who gives the world to you and makes you the best you can be is the best gift the heavens can give us. Do not focus on what you lack, always and I mean always focus on what you have and be happy. We are our own source of happiness. And remember, be the best daughter you can be. Some people have mom and dads, some have moms and its OK. We are all different and different is not always a bad thing. Remember, God could not take care of each and every one on earth so he created mothers. And mothers like ours must be God’s most precious work yet!


The girl on the train.

Image By London Scout

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