Of Unknown Siblings…And the politics of African families

00229_hdAs you grow older, you discover things about yourself that you previously were not aware of. As I think is the nature of growth generally. For instance the other day i realized i take an unhealthy amount of time to process things. I can receive the worst news today, and it won’t register that same day. Or even the next. Not even the next week. But a month later, you shall find me in very deep thought or sobbing in a corner somewhere. What’s wrong? I’ll be asked. It’s news that was received approximately a month ago or more.

Its really frustrating because it seems like i take unusually long to grieve. When everyone else is done grieving, that’s when i begin- or a short while later. I don’t understand why but looking back this is how I’ve always been and it’s odd that i never noticed.

When my parents split up over reasons unknown to me at the time, there was a whole lot of shouting, fighting and throwing of kitchen dinnerware sets. I was 11. This went on for an entire year; and bit by bit it left scars (and trauma) that never healed. To this day my anxiety (entwined with occasional panic attacks) could probably win awards for how frequent and dramatic they are. Everything puts me on edge which is why something as trivial as being late anywhere gives me panic attacks. I over-analyse and obsess over everything. The smallest noise in the house or the neighbourhood throws me into an absolute tailspin. In one word- i am hypersensitive. A word i learnt while researching my battle with depression. It is vital to be extremely self aware because now, i can easily identify not only that i am ‘hypersensitive’ but where it originated from as well. It doesn’t make things easier, but it does make you less frustrated when a door-slam ruins your entire day. You learn to be patient with yourself, give yourself time, give time…time.

So when my mother accidentally let it slip during Easter weekend, that my father has yet another child that i was unaware of- this time a very recent 2 year old, it hasn’t quite hit home yet. My first thought was well well well.. that’s no surprise. And my second, this puts the count up to five (that i know of). These are all children  that if you dare muster enough guts to ask him about, he will blatantly deny. Some are older than me, some younger. But his siblings, distant relatives, acquaintances and my own mother-are all aware of them. A couple even showed up to hospital when he had his heart-attack and demanded to know who the heck my mother was as they eyed her both suspiciously and disgustedly. I was abroad for uni at the time so all i heard were stories, of which i wondered whether ignorance is indeed bliss. The saddest thing about all of this is I know with irrefutable certainty that the day i will find out the actual number of children this man has, is during his funeral. Which i will bluntly state, is not too far away. I cannot estimate the number of years- because no one really knows when their time will come- but his workaholism coupled with a heart problem, and his age, it shouldn’t be very long. I have already started preparing myself mentally and emotionally. And of course, financially.

Financial preparation is the reason i started this post in the first place. One day driving home, i found myself unwillingly listening to Classic FM- which if you don’t know is a terrible Kenyan radio station with sensationalist stories from people calling in with their domestic drama. Not to mention their base genre is meant to be classic music from the 80’s and 90’s but my iTunes has better old school music and i’m a supposed ‘millennial’. That rant aside. The topic of the day was on men and their will’s and whether Kenyan men actually write wills not only for their peace of mind but more so for their families peace of mind. Your Will ensures that your entire family is taken care of when your’e gone, legitimate and illegitimate children included. It is to ensure that your family isn’t left fighting over property in the midst of grief, tears and funeral preparations. If you love or really give a shit about your family you will write a Will.  A large percentage of the callers were men, who did not understand the purpose of a Will. In fact, most of them said they would NEVER write a Will because it is the equivalent of calling your death. The same crop of men claimed it will only give their wives incentive to kill them so that they may receive their share of their inheritance (with that kind of reasoning i’d kill you too). Those who admitted to having one said it is so well hidden some of them cannot even remember where they put it. Others had kept theirs with their lawyers and instructed to only reveal its existence upon their demise. Which i respected.

Now, over several dinners i have asked my father repeatedly if he has a Will, a question he has brushed also repeatedly. One time he did admit that it is the equivalent of summoning your own death. Feel free to identify the crop of men he comes from, from the story above. I made it clear to him that his second  heart attack was literally a warning from God himself- let us highlight that i am not even very religious in the first place. But if that is not a sign from God what is? This sign was a sort of bell, to get his affairs in order because i can already see it. Me grieving; my mother unnmoved except for her concern over her land, cars and house and which illegitimate mother and child are coming to claim it. Me, wondering what this means for the rest of his properties, his cars and his 20 year old + company (his legacy) and anything else i am unaware that he owns. What comes to mind -if you follow Kenyan news- is those publicized families like the Karume’s and the Kung’u’s who’s children turned against each other and fought tooth-and nail with lawyers to back them, for wealth their father left behind. Who years later are still embroiled in court battles and their lawyers are only getting richer. This is not to say my father is nearly anywhere as wealthy- but then again I wouldn’t know because he’s very good at hiding things that i only hear about through other people.

And i have to ask, why do African men do this? Why are they so shockingly selfish? Putting their families through the absolute ringer once they are gone with their children and unknown women left to scramble and fight over wealth left behind? The secrecy of it all doesn’t help things either. I applaud men who, even though they decide to go sprout children all over the place, either divvy up properties equally between the children with only their lawyers’ knowledge. Or introduce all the children to each other and ensure their is harmony between them- this however does not negate the possibility of them fighting over property after the funeral as i have seen even blood related siblings turn against each other. But maybe, just maybe it lessens the chances of a bloodbath later.

I would like to believe my father has written a very comprehensive Will and stashed it somewhere and everything will go over peacefully when the time comes. But 1. I am not the most optimistic person,and 2. my luck has never been that great so why pretend? The best thing i can do for myself is prepare mentally, emotionally and financially. So that when the day comes i can happily walk away unscathed from the scramble between unknown children, with what is incontestably mine. And be left to grieve in peace.

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