On December 12th, 1963 Kenya became independent from the British. So we grew up together, Kenya and I. The day I was born, it started raining heavily in the early morning and never stopped for the rest of the day. People loved and worshipped the rain in Kenya as it meant the crops would grow well. Mum had eaten black passion fruits the day before I was born, scooping out the pulp with a spoon straight into her mouth in a pregnancy craving. They always said I was a naughty girl because of it. The sour fruit made her stomach ache the next day so when the contractions started she ignored them.
Then Ma felt Mum’s belly, “Raazia, this isn’t tummy ache. You are having the baby; we have to go to hospital. Hussein, we need to go! Jaaldi, jaaldi,” she shouted. There was so much traffic and puddles of muddy water due to the nonstop rain which was still falling in heavy sheets, that made it impossible for my father to see the road.
They made it to the hospital just in time and I was born on a Sunday morning on June 17th, 1962. As my family tells it, it stopped raining and a rainbow came out. As tradition dictates, Ma held me and put honey on my tongue after the delivery so my first taste would be sweetness while she said the Shahada, the Muslim proclamation of the faith. “La illah ha illah Allah Mohammed in Rasulilah.”
Then Ma cleaned me and handed me over to Mum. In her exhaustion she didn’t notice the rainbow and held the small, brown creature swaddled in a blanket. Ma looked outside and said, “This daughter will be lucky. She has brought her naseeb with her; she brought a rainbow.” Since it was a Sunday, all the relatives came over to eat sweetmeats — baarfi and ladoos and see the new baby. So I was born into a traditional Indian party.
Kenya’s birth as an independent country the next year was even more dramatic. Kenya’s so called White Highlands had been settled by the English aristocracy after World War I. This area, the interior highland, was said to be cool and fertile. The colonial English planted coffee and created tea plantations often uprooting local tribes who did not have formal titles to the land. This colonization was immortalized in films like White Mischief about the “Happy Valley” near Naivasha. Of course, only a few of the white settlers were hard-drinking, wifeswapping, swinging partiers and most of them worked hard at farming.
The Mau Mau Guerrilla War from 1952 to 1956 was against the English settlers and the Kikuyu who collaborated with them. There were vicious killings by the Mau Mau followed by even more vicious reprisals from the colonial police. We were taught in school that Kenya would not have achieved its Independence in 1963 without the actions of the Mau Mau and that the English settlers had hoped to keep Kenya for themselves.
However, the tide was turning all over the world and the colonial government in London wanted to let Kenya go as well as its other colonies. India had become independent in 1947, a shift that inspired the African colonies. Many Africans fought in World War II against the Germans in Europe and in Africa and they came back politicized by their years abroad. The momentum kept building up for freedom from the white overseers.
The British Government offered to buy out the white settlers and many of them left Kenya after 1963. The ones who stayed kept farming and ran businesses. Some of the Indians kept their British passports rather than take Kenyan citizenship but many still stayed in Kenya. Often in one family, half the brothers got Kenyan passports and half kept their British passports, hedging their bets. Indians had never been allowed to buy farmland and could only run businesses or work for the Government to make a living.
My entire family, the whole clan opted to get Kenyan citizenship throwing caution to the winds. We had moved to Kenya from India a hundred years ago and this had been our home for generations. We chose to be a part of the new Kenya, we were going to stay here and build the new country; we were wanainchi, part of the people. Mum told me how they all went to parties the night Kenya became independent. There were parades and galas the whole weekend, everyone was so excited and happy. “Kenya for Kenyans” they said. We had finally won independence, Uhuru. Freedom. Only the sky was the limit to what an Independent Kenya could achieve.
Our first president was Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Simba Wa Africa, the Lion of Africa. He had been accused of being part of the Mau Mau Guerilla War and was sent to prison from 1953 to 1961. Kenyatta always denied that he was part of the Mau Mau and after 1961 he preached racial tolerance reaching out to the whites and Indians. His most famous oration called “The Settlers Speech,” invited the English settlers to stay in Kenya and use their skills to build the new country. His message of racial reconciliation gave the English and Indian minorities hope for the future. We called him “Mzee Kenyatta” meaning old man as a form of respect. He wasn’t bitter even after years of prison, we felt that with him leading Kenya the country would accomplish so much.
In the 1960’s, Mzee Kenyatta often drove by our road in his presidential motorcade on his way to the Airport or Statehouse. When that happened, the gardener would shout to Ma to come and see him, revved up motorcycles would come a few minutes before to clear the road.