18 June 2017

Tanzania: My Heroic Father Sold Firewood to Ensure I Went to University

Photo: The Citizen
Joseph Kimanzi, left, worked hard at various odd jobs to take his three children to school. On the right is the writer, Nthenya Joseph, who is today a graduate from JKUAT.
opinion

If you Google my father's name, Joseph Kimanzi, you will find... nothing. There has never been an article or book written about him but for us, he is a hero.

My prayers to God for the man who literally sacrificed everything for us are to make him live long enough to one day just relax and comfortably enjoy the fruits of his labour.

Never held a steady job

As far back as I can remember, he has never had a steady job but he did any odd job that came his way as long as it gave him something to take back home in the evening. We lived in a semi-arid area so it was not as if we had any food on the farm to depend on. Dad worked in people's homes and sold firewood, charcoal and anything that came his way. He was never picky. Not that he had much choice, anyway.

Dad has never known the sweetness of sleeping past the light of dawn. There is no single day I woke up to find dad at home, let alone in bed. Dawn always found him already miles away from home.

The morning dew washed him as he penetrated the thickets in search of fine wood to sell or to burn charcoal. Or he would be on his way to look for water, the scarcest commodity in the area at that time, or maybe he would be working at a construction site.

Sometimes, he would be injured when his panga missed its target and decided to cut his toe, or when a brick fell on him. Nevertheless, that was never an excuse to wake up late or stay home; he limped his way out of the compound to earn a living, the hard way.

He never complained

The interesting thing is that he never complained, even when he was hurting, even when he was so tired that his bones ached. He always put a brave smile for us and encouraged us to study hard. The struggles he was going through made me resolve to work hard in school. He always told me that God has blessed us with good health and brains too, all we needed to do is make use of them and I believed him.

His confidence kept me hopeful

I sat for my KCPE exam when everybody around me was sure my father could not afford my secondary school fees and they did not hesitate to tell me so.

I felt dejected but a few weeks to the exam, he told me:

"Don't listen to them, don't look at where you come from, just give your best and I will take you to school."

And he meant it.

I was the second-highest student in my class and top female candidate when the exams results were released.

I was under no illusion about our financial status and I could clearly see that my dad had no money to take me to school but somehow, his confidence kept me hopeful.

I may have reported later than the rest of my classmates, and I may not have gone to my dream school, but finally I was there. Dad managed to gather at least a quarter of the fees and took me to school. I don't know how he managed to convince the principal to keep me in school but I was so happy!

Worked for the school

To clear the school fees balance, dad had to work for the school, mostly by supplying firewood. I remember how he would hire a big lorry and load it with firewood and then bring it to school. On reaching the school, the loaders would just throw the firewood down, not caring to arrange the logs. My dad would always be left to arrange the firewood in neat piles.

Sometimes, during breaks, I would pass near the place and wonder how one man could manage to cut all that firewood, let alone arrange it. The scorching sun descended on him mercilessly but he never gave up. I would pass by and say hi and he would put up a smile but I saw it all: the fatigue and the sleepiness.But he still continued working.

At the end of the day, he would trudge home completely worn out, hungry and nursing injuries sustained at work from the firewood pricking his arms and legs. The worst part is that he never received a cent, not even fare to take him back home. All the money was channelled to pay my schools fees. He went home empty-handed but happy that I stayed in school. I wished I could help him, sometimes I cried when alone, I pitied him. I questioned God on letting him go through all that but I remembered his words: "God blessed us with good health and brains, all we needed to do is make use of them". His wish for me was that I would go abroad to further my studies. He really believed in me more than I did in myself.

Confidence again

His confidence, again, gave me hope and made me resolve to study as hard as I could, emerging as the top KCSE candidate in my district. I may not have flown abroad as my father had wished but I secured admission into a local university.Today, I am a graduate with a purchasing and supplies management degree from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and my little brother and sister are in high school thanks to dad. He is my hero and I celebrate him every day.

Happy Father's Day, dad.

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