The Nyeri War Cemetery in Kiganjo is part of the Commonwealth War Graves. At this cemetery, you will find a tombstone marked, “Eden Cromwell, Sunrise 1916 – Sunset 1941, Son, Husband, and Hero.” In this grave lays a man I do not know in person, who died during the Second World War. Yet, almost a century later, this man would cost me the most influential position in our village; the chance to be the administrator of our village WhatsApp group.
This is a story about chance and there are many ways to tell it. No matter the starting point, the story always goes back to Eden Cromwell. In the 20th century, Eden Cromwell was among the thousands of young men who enlisted in the British Army to fight in the Second World War. Eden, a soldier in the African Pioneer Auxiliary Corps, fought in the East Africa Campaign at the Horn of Africa against the Italians. Unfortunately, Eden lost his life before the war ended. The British government delineated areas to act as war memorial cemeteries for the fallen soldiers. As fate would have it, Eden Cromwell was interred at the Nyeri War Cemetery, a few miles from our village, WarazoJet.
In 2000, sixty years later, Marie, Eden’s granddaughter traveled to Kenya on a Safari. As part of her exploration, she decided to visit her grandfather’s grave. It was there that she met Don Bosco. Every village has a Casanova. In WarazoJet, Don Bosco was Romeo, a playboy feared and loved in equal measures. Not once had the chief and the village council summoned him for impregnating village girls. At one point, there was an accusation of impregnating two village women at a go; a mother and her daughter.
The chief and the elders eventually gave up trying to deal with Bosco. They must have figured out that the problem was on the demand side. Don Bosco was just a willing supplier. The issue was that the women in WarazoJet could not help themselves falling for Don Bosco. They considered themselves lucky to be wooed by him. Of all men who have lived before, mighty Kings and prophets, the Bible recognizes one of them for his looks. The holy book says, “Now there was not a man in all Israel as handsome and highly praised as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the top of his head, he did not have a single flaw.” Don Bosco was the Absalom of WarazoJet. Some villagers believed the creator took his time to mold him. Yet there has been another explanation to his good looks.
Two other people met twenty-five years before Don Bosco met Marie. An Italian Catholic priest named Father Mia Kefa got posted to the Catholic parish in our village. Father Mia Kefa was the last white man to live in our village after independence. No wonder he was somewhat of a fascination in WarazoJet. It is said that many villagers converted to Catholicism to attend the services he presided. At times in Latin.
Speaking of Latin, there was a funny story about how Father Mia Kefa earned his name. In reality, his real name was Father Pedro Matteo. There was an unexpected accident on the first day he presided over mass at WarazoJet Catholic church. An altar boy was so fascinated by his looks that he stumbled on the altar table and sent the Holy Communion tumbling on the floor. The congregation reacted in shock at the abomination. However, the priest quickly took the blame. In a quick reaction, he had uttered in Latin, “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” The Latin phrase translates to, “My fault, my fault, my most grievous fault.” Instead, the congregation heard Mia Kefa, Mia Kefa, Mia Mathima Kefa. That is how Father Pedro Matteo became Father Mia Kefa.
A few months after Father Mia Kefa posting, a real abomination occurred. The ordained priest fell in love with a local girl. Nonetheless, it was no ordinary girl. Mumbi was the most beautiful girl WarazoJet ever produced, probably up-to-date. She was tall with an hourglass figure that suggested she did not have a bad bone in her body. Her hair was midnight black, and she had sweeping eyelashes that framed her blossom soft lips. When she smiled, her angel-white teeth gleamed. In her prime, she won inter-village beauty contests back-to-back. At some point, other villages pulled out of the competition arguing that it was a futile exercise. Therefore, one cannot blame Father Mia Kefa for falling for Mumbi. It was bound to happen. In short, the priest had a love affair with Mumbi, which resulted in her pregnancy. At first, Father Mia Kefa denied responsibility for the pregnancy, but after nine months, even the Vatican admitted “illic est a forsit” (there is a problem) in WarazoJet.
The baby born out of the affair was a mulatto. Also, the most beautiful baby that WarazoJet had produced. Two weeks after the birth of the baby boy, Rome recalled Father Mia Kefa. He left without saying goodbye, perhaps in a hurry to conceal the scandal. No other white priest has ever been posted to WarazoJet. That baby was Don Bosco. The mother must have settled for the most common Italian name. Now in her sixties, Mumbi still looks two months short of nineteen.
Don Bosco was a half-caste of an Italian and an African beauty queen. His chocolate brown skin, green eyes, and shoulder-length straight hair captured the eyes of many women in WarazoJet. More so, he was a biker. How he had come to acquire the most dazzling motorbike is still a puzzle. Most people believed the superbike was a gift from his Italian father, our priest. The bike was a Harley-Davidson Sportster. Don Bosco enjoyed going for epic rides holding the bike at an aggressive angle as the engine pistons fired at each revolution. Like a father-like son, Bosco amazed the village girls. He always wore fancy leather half-coats, eager to expose the eagle tattoos on his neck and arms.
Beyond being a biker, an art ambassador, and a master courtier, Don Bosco was the village photographer. In those days, hard copy photos were fashionable, and family albums a must-have. I warmly remember the Christmas photoshoots we took religiously. On a material day, we would dress up in our Sunday best clothing, smear ourselves with cooking oil, and shine bright like diamonds. Don Bosco was the designated cameraman. I suspect his Canon vintage film camera came as a gift from Father Mia Kefa.
Photography jobs were rare in between the holidays. Thus, Don Bosco became creative. He soon discovered that he could make money from whites by posing as a pop artist, photographer, and tour guide. There were three places he could find white people near WarazoJet. These spaces were at the British Army Barracks, Aberdare’s National Park, and the War Cemetery. On that fateful day, Don Bosco chanced upon Marie at the cemetery. On that occasion, he assumed the identity of a photographer and a tour guide. Bosco guided Marie to the cemetery and took photos of her at her grandfather’s grave. Something else happened. Don Bosco took Eden to his house in WarazoJet. We would later learn that she went there willingly, but Bosco kept her under duress.
Marie was declared a missing person two weeks after meeting Bosco. The British High Commission released a public notice in media outlets calling for information. A month after her disappearance, the diplomatic community criticized the national government for inaction. Then the British government called for a press conference and resolved to find Marie dead or alive. The foreign power pushed our government into action by threatening to deploy their security agencies in the country.
The frantic search had earlier on always ended at the war cemetery. Marie seemed to have disappeared in thin air from the scene. Our government extended the search to the neighboring localities. Posters were distributed and posted in all villages including WarazoJet. This move paid off for the government and one village girl. Her name is Ngima, and she was my schoolmate. Ngima solved the puzzle of the biggest search for a missing person in our nation. As a coincidence, Ngima had chanced upon Don Bosco and Marie on the day the two met. She remembered seeing Don Bosco with a white woman on his Harley Davidson. Upon seeing the poster of the missing British woman, Ngima had a recollection. She volunteered the information to our headteacher, who alerted the chief, and the information cascaded up the command chain.
On that day, our village played host to one of the biggest army raids I have ever seen. Well, army battalions did besiege WarazoJet a year later on a day that the elderly men in our village ran. That is a story for another day. An elite Special Forces unit conducted the raid at Don Bosco’s home. In the end, the soldiers arrested Don Bosco and rescued Marie. Accused and convicted for kidnapping, Bosco received a 30 years prison sentence. To date, he is still at Kamiti Maximum Prison.
A good thing did come out of the ordeal. Marie visited our primary school to appreciate the schoolgirl who led her to her rescue. In honor of Ngima, she promised two things. Today, if you visit WarazoJet primary school, you would find a big water tank built to harvest rainwater. Marie donated the funds to construct the tank. In so doing, she ended our slavery to years of child labor carrying water to school. On the stone tank is a silver plaque that reads, “In Loving Memory of Eden Cromwell.” The second promise benefited Ngima. Marie offered her an invitation to England with a full education scholarship upon completing her primary school education.
In December 2001, Ngima became the second person from WarazoJet to travel abroad. Our village organized a send-off party the week before her travel. The gathering was memorable for the speeches and the feasting. On that day, three speakers stood out for the very reason they had been included in the program. The first one was my uncle Kibe. Having worked at a tourist hotel on the Kenyan coast, he was considered a source of reference for European etiquette. Somehow he got high on his supply, having supplied the Muratina brew at the ceremony. Uncle Kibe’s speech was incoherent. Everyone knew he was drunk the minute he started talking.
“Ngima! If you ever attend a bucket, don’t walk while eating and don’t sit while you’re standing.” Uncle Kibe had said before the master of ceremony snatched the microphone.
Kimani spoke next. Having worked as a janitor at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, he was there to talk about airplanes. After all, Ngima was to have her maiden flight. Years later, when I took my first flight, I realized Kimani misinformed all of us. I recall Ngima asking what to do in case of motion sickness during the flight. Kimani advised that since the airplane cannot stop mid-air, the best action was to open the plane’s window and vomit outside. The last speaker was General Mugathe, the first person from WarazoJet to travel abroad. General Mugathe was a Field Marshal who had fought in the Second World War. Having fought in Europe, the event organizers thought it wise he shares how to live abroad. However, due to old age, the General had a stuttering disorder.
“Aaaaaa I! Waaaaaah waaaaas! Booboooo boboo booorn! Iiiiiii Iiiii In! Naaaa Naanaah Nineneteen twe twe twenty!” The General stammered.
At that instant, we realized his speech would never end. The master of the ceremony came to our aid, perhaps as eager to start the feasting part of the event. He humbly requested Ngima to visit General Mugathe for a lengthy one-on-one talk. The General was seemingly offended to be cut short, but all too happy to continue sipping his muratina. A week later, Ngima traveled to the United Kingdom where she eventually became a citizen. She comes visiting once in a while, and the villagers receive her like a goddess.
A vital vacancy arose in our village in 2017. Thuo, the administrator of our village WhatsApp group quit, to vie for the political seat of Member of County Assembly for WarazoJet Ward. He clinched the seat unopposed. Suddenly, WarazoJet WhatsApp group needed an admin. Just like Bibliophiles’ Lounge, joining our WhatsApp group is like gaining a pass to heaven. Firstly, the platform is the leading source of local news, some true, but mostly fake. It is usual for a member to falsely announce a villager is dead, only for the “dead” person to post red-face emojis, and the “killer” to demand an overdue debt. The group has the power to use death as a debt collection strategy. Secondly, the group is a medium for social mobilization. I remember we fundraised for Munuhe’s air ticket after “winning” the Green Card, only for him to be found selling clothes in the Gikomba market a year later. More so, members use the group to advertise products. Uncle Kibe even tried selling muratina to the local priest proposing it was cheaper than altar wine. For such reasons, the group admin is a demigod. He or she wields the power to include or banish a member of this community. There was a time when Thuo removed the village chief on account of previously delaying his national identity card. The chief had to beg for readmission.
I was among the two people who expressed their interest in the post of the new admin. My sole motivation was misplaced. I simply wanted the power to expel Mr. Kabue, the teacher who made my primary school days unbearable. To my surprise, Ngima also declared her interest. There was a charged campaign. My slogan was, “Posts You Can Believe In, and hers’ was Tried and Tested.” She cited her role as the Chairperson of the WarazoJet Diaspora community. Never mind that she is the only person in our village living in the diaspora. Her profile was convincing. It was like the power of an umbrella on a rainy day. She garnered ninety-nine percent of the votes. I refused to accept the outcome on the account of vote-rigging. Nderitu, the only person who voted for me posted a comforting message on the WhatsApp group before Ngima removed him.
“KaRuita! This is a grave matter, Accept and Move On. Your fate was sealed in 1941 when Eden Cromwell died in the Second World War.” The message read.