I’m on a one-week travel assignment along the Kenyan coastline – from Lamu to Diani. I’m also taking this opportunity to ask men about fatherhood, and about their fathers, sometimes over whisky – Johnnie Walker Black. In Part I, I spoke to an American in Africa looking for a place to hang his hat, met Satan in Part II and lastly, I talk to a man who carries around his father’s secret. DAY 5: WATAMU EDWARD OLUMOLA, 33, RESIDENT MANAGER, MEDINA PALMS Medina Palms is easily one of the snazziest places I’ve had a chance to stay in a while (that and Leopard Beach’s The Residence, from where I write this). It’s how I pictured the Garden of Eden with its Moorish and Swahili features; suspended private pools, luxury penthouses with inner courtyards, a white sandy beach line with sand that feels like Egyptian cotton under your soles and then the female staff ensemble that looks like the damned place is a modelling agency. Then there was Edward. I saw him as I was having breakfast, traipsing around in a familiar swagger, a hat perched on his crown. Goodness, I thought to myself, yaani these jangos can’t leave their hats at home? So I asked a waitress who the spy in the hat was and she – giggling- said that he was the resident manager. Blimey. Ask him to come around when he gets a moment from his covert duties, I told her. A moment later Edward was casting a shadow over my bacon, behind him, sitting obediently on its hind legs, was his large personality waiting for a command from him. “Baba,” I tell him rising up, “only a jango would wear a kofia like that to jobo.” He laughs while shaking my hand and says, “…or a lunje!” And just like that the ice was broken. We get talking. The only time my father saw the scalp of his own father is when his old man was at his deathbed. My dad was 11, then. His father always had a hat on his head, like it was an extension of him. My father took to wearing hats too. And so have I. I’m my father’s first son and this hat was a gift from him. In all my former jobs I wasn’t allowed to wear a hat. Here I am. Generally, hats mean a lot to me but this particular hat means everything to me because it came from a man I deeply respect and admire. My father is a patriarch in every sense of that word. A cut above the rest. He grew up in Butere, extreme poverty. He barely had clothes, barely had enough food. But he worked his way to school and against insurmountable odds became a pharmacist. Self-made man. He has all the answers, dad. I come from a very large extended family; one of my late uncles had seven wives and over 78 kids. All his brothers are dead. The only reason we have all stayed close is because my father holds the family together, he takes care of everyone. Like the Godfather, anybody who has a conundrum goes to him, and he always has a solution. I could mull over a problem for months, I could be in a cloud of chaos in my life, but the moment I pick up my phone and call him it all quietens down. Dad will fix anything broken. Anything! And he will do it diplomatically, and with great patience and wisdom. If ever I lose my father that’s the day I will know the true meaning of loss. Let me tell you a story that happened five years ago in shags. This story elevated my father in a place that no man has ever reached. There is this time my auntie was feuding with her daughter-in-law. The fight escalated and in a fit of rage, my auntie hurled a lantern at her, she missed, it smashed on the curtain and the house caught fire. There were two kids sleeping in the bedroom. They all burnt to death that night. We couldn’t save them. The villagers were furious, they wanted to lynch my aunt, but my dad interceded and took her away from the village. She was then banned from the village, if she ever stepped foot back they would kill her. My dad started meeting elders, and villagers, for many months. He works in Kakamega but he would make trips back to the village, talking to these people, smoothening things, for months until finally my aunt was accepted back into the community. Nobody thought it would happen. Nobody thought he would calm a whole village. Not even me. But he did, because he’s that guy who doesn’t stop until everything is fixed. He isn’t perfect though, dad. He has two illegitimate children outside. He‘s struggling on how to introduce them to the family. It’s something that he is really struggling with. Do you know how I learnt of these kids? The cunning of the man! In 2003, right after campus, I was looking for a job. He sends me to coast and says, Go to this lady who I used to work with at KPA, she will introduce you to a few people who will connect you to other people. So I land in coasto and I go to this lady’s house who was to host me for a night before I head out to some relative’s place. It’s morning when I get to her house and while I’m there I see this girl who looks exactly as one of my siblings! I’m talking spitting resemblance. So I’m sitting there, staring at this girl who was preparing to go to work and I’m thinking, what the hell? This chick looks like us! Then I started thinking about it; dad sends me to a woman who he used to work with, a woman who hosts me for a night with two daughters who one looks like us! It made sense. So I go back to home. And dad asks me how the trip was and he is observing me as I speak, and I’m observing him. Then he finally asks me, “Did you meet your sisters” And I say I did. How are they? He asks. One resembles Shaban, I say. He just looks at me and with a reluctant smile then says, “You have
a big family, my friend.” That’s the last time we ever spoke about it. [Edward is a father of two; Jeremy 3, and Maya 7]. So I go back home.