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A friend in need, a friend indeed

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By SONI KANAKE
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There are many times when life throws us a curveball and we are left navigating on our own. Soni Kanake speaks to four women who confess that if it were not for their friends, they would probably never have made it through the most challenging season of their lives.

They say you get to know your real friends during the lowest moment of your life. Life’s challenges open up our eyes to who’s gold and who’s gold-plated. Some are fortunate to meet people who act like their guardian angels.

Two weeks ago, a senior journalist in one of the local broadcasting houses, Jacque Maribe, was granted bail in an on-going criminal case. What, however, stood out among the online community was how one of her friends, Dennis Itumbi, stood with her.

From posting prayers for his friend on his Facebook page, which has a following of over 200,000 followers, to an assurance of his undying support to all and sundry, he did only what a true friend could do – he was physically present despite the weighty situation. A big number of social media commentators concluded that they wished they had just one friend like him.

We talk to four women who share the undying support they got from their friends in their hour of need.

At 32, Terry Nzau has been to hell and back but she is still standing tall. “We lost our parents when we were young,” says Terry. She comes from a family of four, who were aged between two months and 16 years when their parents died. Her dad had passed on earlier as a result of liver cirrhosis and left their mother pregnant with their last-born sister.

Unfortunately, one day, Terry, who was then in Standard Eight, came home to find her mum had taken her life. “Mum had committed suicide and nobody wanted to tell me until I overheard the women whispering in the kitchen,” she says.

After the burial, they were taken up by their elderly paternal grandmother who could barely raise them. The old lady sold a piece of land to pay for Terry’s high school fees but the money was only enough for the first term. Meanwhile, an uncle who Terry’s dad had confided in about his benefits and property swindled them and left them with nothing to fend for themselves.

As a result, Terry and her elder sister, who was then in Form Two, dropped out of school and started begging for food from the neighbours. “We would help out with manual work in the ‘shamba’ in exchange for food,” she says. When they could no longer get help from those around them, they hit the streets of Tala and started begging for food and money.

“Our guardian angel came in the form of Dr Charles Muli, who runs the Mully Children’s Family (MCF) that has branches in various towns in the country and deals with child rescue, rehabilitation, education among others,” explains Terry. “He rescued my brother and I and took us to school. My elder sister could not join us as she had to be left at home with our baby sister, who was still an infant.”

Dr Muli, however, took care of all their needs. When their littlest was old enough to join Class One, he took her in and educated her too. Dr Muli educated Terry through high school, all the way to Daystar University. Her elder sister got married but her other two siblings were also educated by Dr Muli.

Holie Omoso.

Holie Omoso. PHOTO | COURTESY

Holie Omoso knows all too well the shame and embarrassment of having your rental house locked up due to non-payment of rent. “I had just lost my kibarua (a temporary job) as the small firm I had been working for had collapsed,” she explains.

“My one-bedroomed mabati (iron sheet) house in Kawangware, which I paid Sh1,800 per month, was locked due to rent arrears and I was literally homeless,” says Holie. “Life became a big struggle and I would hop from one friend’s house to another with a paper bag that contained the only change of clothes I had,” she says. “That was way back between 2000 and 2002. I soon realised my friends were getting tired of my regular visits, apart from one.”

Nancy Favour was that friend. She housed Holie, bought her sanitary towels, took care of her salon needs and gave her bus fare to go to church. “But what touched my heart was that she was on her knees every morning at 3am crying to God to remember me,” says Holie. On the days she didn’t have anything to share, she’d talk to her friends. “She always made sure she got me going and has remained my friend to date,” Holie says.

Nancy did this despite her own precarious living situation. “Her husband was not too excited about my presence in his house but Nancy took the risk for a long time. I’m forever indebted! She has made countless sacrifices for me,” explains Holie. “My friend knew I had nowhere to go and so she somewhat convinced him, one day at a time.

“Nancy has even paid debts for me. I remember we were in a ‘chama’, and since I couldn’t raise my monthly contributions any more, she paid every coin I owed. It was a disgraceful affair but she bore the entire burden for me.” Holie is full of praise for her friend, Nancy, who stood with her until she finally got a job.” In a nutshell, she has never missed any remarkable moment of my life, good and bad.”

Wandia Karago.

Wandia Karago. PHOTO | COURTESY

On November 10, 2015, Wandia Karago, 43, was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a mother to two young children, her world was thrown into disarray. “I had to leave for India to start my treatment on two occasions, both of which lasted two months on average,” explains Wandia. Granted, that was a tough time for the Karagos, especially since their children were 10 and three at the time.

“Our house-help, Jane Wamaitha, who had been with us for 10 years stepped in to take care of my children. She kept the house running while I was away in India for eight weeks and seven weeks respectively during my cancer treatment journey,” she explains.

Wandia considers Jane like family. Having been with the family for a decade and having literally raised both kids since infancy, the 53-year-old was the perfect fit to fill the gap when Wandia was seeking treatment abroad. “She was extremely supportive. She prepared the kids for school on the mornings that I could not due to attending to my chemo sessions or feeling unwell post-chemo. She compiled shopping lists in advance to ensure nothing ran out. My husband was around but wouldn’t have coped well if she wasn’t there.

“The children were well taken care of and it allowed me to deal with my treatment. She closely monitored my refrigerated medicines in the event of power outages and would take them out and put them in a cool box to ensure they maintained their potency. She took her job really seriously.”

Unfortunately, Jane’s mum passed on last year in November as a result of a late diagnosis of advanced stomach cancer and Jane had to leave earlier this year to look after family property. “We have a new house-help now but still feel lost without Wamaitha. The kids and all of us miss her terribly. The feeling is mutual and she has come to visit. The kids have been to visit her too.”

Janet Latema.

Janet Latema. PHOTO | COURTESY

On June 10, 2017, Janet Latema, in her early 40s, accompanied her husband to see a doctor in Karatina, Nyeri, owing to a chronic backache. The X-ray results weren’t clear and they were referred for an MRI at a different hospital. “The day we went for the MRI his legs went numb,” says Janet.

Janet is lucky to have two extremely supportive friends who have walked with her through her husband’s cancer journey. “I have known Esther Njeri for most of my adult life,” Janet says of one, “while I met Jayne Pierra (JP) Murugi two years ago – her husband was my husband’s boss.

Njeri works in Ngara where she runs a fruit stall. She is a down-to-earth and practical, hands-on type of person with a big heart. She has had a tough life and there’s a time she was a hawking smokies and bras.

“We’ve hustled together and when hubby fell ill, after my mum she was the next person I called.

I just told her we’d be in Nairobi by 10am and she did not ask questions. We met at Kenyatta National Hospital, (KNH). I was dazed and scared throughout that period but Njeri kept me sane,” says Janet, who has been battling Type 1 diabetes since she was 10.

While attending to her husband, she would forget to eat but Njeri always carried food for her. “We consulted nearly 10 doctors seeking a second and tenth opinion and Njeri was always there. I remember she’d book appointments for us and we’d find her queuing at 6am at the Radiotherapy Centre. Njeri sends us fruits every single week.

“JP is a rare gem too; one of those people who do not rest until a problem is resolved. While at KNH, the urologist told us my husband was as good as dead. JP decided to walk around KNH and ask for help and that’s when she found out KNH has a palliative care unit that that helps in pain management and issues pertaining to cancer treatment,” explains Janet.

“In addition to supporting my husband, I also need to take care of myself. If I miss a meal, my sugars could dip, which is dangerous. I am on insulin jabs daily and sometimes it gets depressing. JP and Njeri have always stood with me and they always carry foods and drinks for me.”

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