Mwanahamisi is one of the Headwomen at Hola Town, specifically, she’s the Headwoman for Kibuyu ward, Hola. She was the first person I interviewed individually and I was nervous, wasn’t sure how she’d take the questions I had jotted down and what I’d do if she answered in monosyllables and all I had to show for my 10 questions with 15 follow ups was a 4 minute dull interview.
When our photographer and I got to her house, she served us piping hot tea, (did I mention how hot it is in Tana?), they drink it very sweet there, for those who can afford sugar, and for guests, they add ‘iliki’ (cardamom) to make it extra special. With my tea cooling beside me, I started the interview and amid sips of tea, I found that we both relaxed and settled in to the conversation.
First question I asked was what her job as a Headwoman entails on a day to day. “I start at 10:00am when the first group of people come with their disputes, present their case, and it’s up to me to figure out what side is on the wrong and what dues they have to pay. If the case is above her jurisdiction, she refers them to the chief, who handles higher level cases.
She’s a jack of many trades, she runs a business that sells vegetables, viazi karai (potatoes dipped in flour and turmeric then deep fried), mandazi, chapati and fried beans. Her business supplements her husband’s farming and various contract jobs to put food on the table and keep their children in school. I cautiously sip my tea and get pleasantly surprised at the sweet, spicy taste in my mouth.
She’s her husband’s first wife, he married her when she got pregnant after dating a few months, and have been together 19 years. For 10 of the 19 years, it was just the two of them, before he picked a second wife, and built her a house about a km away. “How is your relationship with your co-wife?” I asked tentatively. “It’s a regular co-wife relationship,” she saw my blank expression, laughed, and elaborated, “Sometimes we get along, other times we clash and fight, scream abuses at each other, but we eventually apologise and makeup.”
She has 3 children, all boys, two of them are in high school, form 1 and 2, her last born in his second year of primary school. I was impressed, not many families we had encountered in the introductory meet had children in high school, and boarding school for that matter. I asked what type of mum she was, the laid back one or the mum that had the entire school staff numbers on speed dial to constantly check on progress and discipline. She’s the latter, all her boys’ teachers’ numbers are saved on her phone, including the matron and principal, I was hit by a wave of homesickness right there, she reminded me a lot of my mother.
Every night before she goes to bed, she gets down on her knees and makes a plea to God to enable her and her husband to take their boys through till university, so they can have opportunities that they never had a chance of getting with what little education her and her husband had. I asked how she envisions her life would be like, if she got better education. “An office job, I’ve always wanted to have a job behind a computer or laptop, typing furiously in a suit, with a ringing telephone beside her on the desk, and those chairs that swing round in circles. I would use my salary to send more money than I do right now to my struggling widowed mother, and afford a better life for herself and her family.
My tea cup sat empty beside me as we concluded the interview and MJ, our photographer took photos of her in her compound and about her shop. Her husband watched silently as we took the photos and stood beside her in some. I said a silent prayer as we hugged and walked away that in a few years her boys would do her proud and make it to university and she would have the funds to fulfil her dream.