Dad’s younger brother passed away last week on Wednesday in shags. Uncle Joe as we fondly referred to him has been ailing for some years. As sad as it was that he passed away, we see it as resting from his pain and discomfort. As expected memories of my dad are vivid this week. He would be leading his larger family in planning his brother’s send-off. His youngest brother went to Nyeri on Monday to plan as he’s the only one currently strong enough to do it. I felt obliged to go the day after and help my uncle with preparations. It’s what Dad would have done and now expected of me so happy to do it. Plus it’s what family does right? Rally together…

Uncle Joe was always the funny uncle from when I was much younger. He would never fail to make you laugh when you met him. He seemed to take life lightly even when things didn’t seem to go well for him, which was a lot of times. We didn’t keep in touch much but earlier this year I visited him with my son in Kasarani where he was living as he sought treatment for his illness. He lived alone and it was a sorry picture. I went with my son so that he could meet one of his Gukas (granddad) but also to expose him to the harshness of life. I hoped that he would catch some life lessons as we chatted with Uncle Joe. I wasn’t sure what that would be but I’m glad I took him along. Some life lessons are caught not taught.

Uncle Joe was jovial when we visited him. He was particularly happy to meet my son whom he called his brother (named after my dad). That was the last time we were to see him as he was moved to shags a few weeks later. We planned to visit him in Nyeri but it never happened. Now we have visited but to bury him. My boy even wanted to accompany me. That touched me. Maybe he took away something from that interaction with his baba mdogo (younger grandfather).

I arrived in Nyeri on Tuesday and met with my uncle in town. We did the rounds at the hospital and morgue and tied up the remaining loose ends. We then met up with my aunts at the IBIS hotel, one of the landmark establishments in Nyeri town. I remember drinking tea and mandazi with a sausage inside as a small boy. We called it combi (short for combination). After chai, we all left for home as there was a prayer meeting in the homestead.

The funeral the next day was a short one. We met early at the morgue, picked up our beloved and snaked our convoy through the small towns into the village where Uncle Joe grew up together with my mzee and the rest of the Kibuka family. The service was in the compound at home under a blue and white tent with blue plastic seats lined inside. They had been donated by the nearby PCEA church where my grandfather was a founding member.

Family and villagers gathered after placing the casket at the front of the tent and we all sat down. The clergy then walked in and the service began. The eulogy was a short update by my uncle on his brother’s illness and subsequent demise. There was no program with stories and pictures. Neither were tributes given. His family was absent and maybe that’s what gave the pastor his message. He dwelt on the importance of healthy family relations.

Homes are smoke. That’s a common saying in my mother tongue. Loosely translated it means that when you see smoke billowing from a chimney, you don’t know what’s burning inside. My understanding of it is that family relationships can be complex and it’s hard to tell what’s burning from outside the house. There’s always more than meets the eye. Only those inside the smoking home know what’s causing the moshi (smoke). Uncle Joe’s family was conspicuously absent at the funeral. My uncle used the smoke quote to tell the gathering without saying much that all wasn’t well with his late brother.

I wondered if reconciliation efforts had been attempted by the larger family. Should the wife and sons have set apart their pain and come to pay their last respects? Will they regret neglecting their father in life as in death? Was there a valid reason that warranted the neglect? Would Uncle Joe have been surprised at his family’s absence or not? Only he knew why the animosity. Those were the questions running through my mind and I’m sure many others.

As we grow older we choose to think longer before we speak. We accumulate some wisdom that informs us that we were not present when cracks were forming that led to high garrison walls being put up between father and child or spouse. Reminds me of a quote by the Greek philosopher, Socrates – “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”. I don’t know what hard battles my late uncle and his family fought that led to this very smoky funeral. So, I will restrain myself from being a mjuaji (know-it-all) and passing judgement.

We all go through life smelling of smoke. Some more than others. We try to hide it with expensive perfumes and colognes but situations like funerals or other significant life events smell us out. The goal therefore is to go through life trying to keep the smoke at a minimum lest it chokes the life out of us. Relationships are hard. Life is hard. A lot of work is required to keep them green and smoke-free. But it is inevitable for something to burn one way or another. And some fires are also good. They purify us and cause new growth.

What smoke is coming out of your life’s chimney folks?  Do you like it? If not, how can you light good fires so the smoke we see is warming your home, heart and significant relations? May our words and actions produce fresh fragrances so that our interactions don’t leave others smelling of smoke. Folks may we continuously attempt to make our lives smoke-free zones. As far as it depends on us, as the Good Book says.

Photo by my pal Shiro at Mara. she’s really good.

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4 thoughts on “A Smoky Life.”

  1. Nelly Ngunguru says:

    Great read Lucas! Glad that we gave Uncle Joe a befitting send off. He lived his life the best way he knew and he was always very humorous. As you rightfully say ‘homes are smoke’ each home has some form of smoke. May Uncle Joe rest in eternal peace.

  2. Regina Birgen says:

    Good job Lucas you stood in the gap. I love my mother’s quote “we share sunshine, but we don’t share homes”. meaning we have no idea what really takes place in homes. However I wish families can forgive each other and reconcile. After all this life is really short.

  3. Lucas Marang'a says:

    I love your mum’s quote. Allow me to use it at some point please 🙃

  4. Lucas Marang'a says:

    True Nelly. He lived how he knew best. I owe you bigly for making that visit happen. Asante sis

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