15 June 2012

Kenya: Relative Values - My Rapper Brother Took Up the Parenting Role When Our Mother Died


Henry Ochieng, commonly known as Octopizzo is a hip hop artist from Kibera. Ochieng, 25, is the first-born in a family of four and his sister Elizabeth Adhyambo says he is a father figure, not only to his daughter Tracy but also to the rest of his siblings. Henry and Elizabeth spoke to Catherine Mukei.

Henry Ochieng ,25

I was three years old when Eliza was born. At that age, I didn't know much about children. I only knew that babies were bought in town and soon after my sister, my mother would buy more. Life was very different then. Giving birth was not a big deal and life went on as if nothing had happened. It was not like in the modern, posh families where everything is calculated and you know when to get another baby.

My sister and I have been close since childhood. There was a time when the two of us lived upcountry alone. Our parents were in Nairobi working while we studied upcountry. They also had disagreements that led to a separation and our mother found it better for us to study there. Eliza and I did everything together. We would fetch firewood from the forest, water from the river and cook together.

We also made baskets which we would sell at the market on Tuesdays and Friday. It would take us a whole week to make two baskets which we would sell at Sh30 each. We had to wake up very early and miss school on these particular days to go to the market. This experience taught me a lot. I was not brought up like most boys; I grew up doing most of the chores that girls do. To date, my sister cannot beat me when it comes to cooking and doing any other household chore.

She was also lucky that she never got bullied. I was a very tough person; feared by my peers and there was no way they were going to touch my sister. I also remember us making changaa with our mother to make a living. We would wake up at 4am, fetch water and other ingredients and start brewing it. We would later take a sample of it to my grandmother who would confirm whether it was ready because my mother did not take alcohol.

At that time, I realised that the science of making the so-called illegal brew required brains. It was pure chemistry and even most teachers who thought they were perfect in the subject could not make it. I have a lot of respect for people who make the brew and I believe with the right packaging it would beat most brands. Losing our mother later in life brought us closer although we went separate ways for a while before reuniting last year when I started making money out of music.

Right now,even though I'm not yet where I want to be, I'm glad we are back together. My family comes first, I even tell my fiancee that I'd never ask her what she thinks of my sister but would get my sister's opinion of her. I'm glad that they relate well.

Elizabeth Adhyambo, 22

I remember Ochieng as a bully. He would beat me while playing and our mother would intervene, telling him to be responsible. She kept reminding him that as the first born, he was supposed to take care of his younger siblings, not bully them. We never had time to play as children as our mother was very strict and we were always busy doing something to put food on the table.

Our mother was an expert in basket weaving and as we grew older, she taught us how to do it. She would weave them halfway and allow us to do the finishing. If she ever found one of us playing yet the housework was not done, that would automatically mean war.

After her death, I had to go live with my uncle in Malindi. I did some salon work but things did now work out as I had planned. Ochieng then asked me to come back home as his music had started paying off. Our younger siblings are still in school and so it is upto us to work hard and keep them there.

Ochieng has always been like a father to us. When my mother died, he took over as the parent. He was quite responsible. I always knew that he could make a good musician because when we were younger, he would play water containers as drums and request my mother and I to sit and watch. I'm glad that his dreams are now coming true and occasionally when I can, I attend his shows, especially at the weekends.

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