One day, less than a decade ago, a close pal asked me who between Dr Margaret Ogola and Grace Ogot had written the award-winning book ‘The River and the Source’. Read a powerful review here
“Dr Ogola,” I said, but then he had some doubts. I finally got a copy of the book and showed it to him. I had read ‘The River and the Source’ as a setbook back in Kakamega High School and I enjoyed it immensely. Apart from the gripping narrative about the life, influence, aspirations and the successes of a matriarch, Akoko, I really did enjoy learning a few Luo words like juok, nyadhi and wuod lando.
That episode came to my mind as I sat at the back of Nairobi’s Holy Family Basillica this afternoon (Thursday, September 29, 2011) in a requiem mass for the famous Kenyan author.
It is difficult to talk about her without mentioning her many works. That’s for the simple reason that Margaret was a super author, and I heard also that she was an astute doctor, a very nice mother, sister and spouse.
You think about her and your mind switches to the country’s greats like Ogot, Marjorie Oludhe MacGoye and yes, after you touch on Marjorie, there’s no way you won’t think of Wole Soyinka and the father of African literature one Chinua Achebe.
I learnt of her death this morning as I represented my boss at a meeting with the National Cohesion and Integration Commission . I was shocked, annoyed, frustrated, angry and just defeated. On the week that she died, I had blacked out all news to chill out. When I came back, to the city, I was greeted with the bad news that Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai was dead.
So, just when I was about to begin digging about the background to her book “The Place of Destiny” and to find out if I could meet her for a chat about it, I learn that she’s no more. It can be pretty annoying. The book is at the Catholic Bookshop and it costs less that Sh500, can’t remember if it was Sh350 or Sh450. But if you can’t afford, enjoy this copy that Google has seen fit to avail to you.
She’s the other ‘stranger’ whose works have had an impact on my life. I know because, she’s an inspiration. How else does a doctor write books? I mean, fiction? Okay, I know there’s the fabulous Yusuf Dawood and then there’s Dr Ogola. I am told she once said that “she was born an author who went on to become a doctor”. I agree.
If I hadn’t read “The Place of Destiny”, I’d not have been this sad. But then, there’s a way the universe conspires to show you that ‘there’s nothing new in this universe’. The way she describes the suffering of Amor, her main character who dies of cancer in the book, has so many parallels with the last days when I watched my mum at her bedside. She’s a doctor, I know. She’d know it from palliative care she gave to hospice patients, but from reading it, you get a sense that it was a little bit too personal.
In church today, her son mentioned something along the lines it was a kind of “personal diary” about her affliction; but her nephew, a colleague, noted that she wrote it before her diagnosis...talk about (morbid) serendipity!). But that aside, it is a story well told... I find it a kind of prophecy.
She died of cancer after a long long fight. She’s been to hell (on earth) and back. She even had a mastectomy. I know very few people who have done chemotherapy and radiotherapy as many times as she did. But that’s Margaret for you.
The priest even said that she was such a woman of courage, hope and fortitude that she said she’ll only take enough painkillers to make the pain less severe, but that she wasn’t going to take that much to make her numb to an extent.
“I don’t want to be asleep; I want to be awake,” the Priest recalled her saying one day to ward off the strong painkillers.
The church was full. I’ve only seen it that full on Sunday for the 11.30am mass. I know she knew many people. Some, like me, knew her because of her books. Others worked with her. Others knew her.
Her pal, together with whom they wrote a biography of Cardinal Otunga, said that she had “colour and a sense of (witty) mischief” in her manner. Her intellect was intense and that she was fun to be with.
She may be gone, but she’s left a mark to a stranger like me.
As I left the church, I got to sign the condolence book for Wangari Maathai, another woman, who I have met twice as we jumped trenches and planted trees or protested against some construction on a wetland.
Now, well, because I didn’t get to meet Margaret, see what those who spent enough days with her said about her death.