We shall rise

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One morning in the fall of September 2001, Andreas’ father left home, only never to return. For a period of twelve years, Mr Harrington had worked for the FBI under a special branch of covert operatives who penetrated gangs, drug empires, criminal organizations and other syndicates to collect intelligence. The FBI would then use this intel to bring down cartels and empires, then prosecute the unsubs. To Harrington, this was his call.  His life’s mission and purpose was to ensure that perpetrators of crime, violence and terrorism were brought to justice.

It is in this line of work that he went in as an undercover agent, becoming part of the Gambino Crime Family, which was known for its criminal and gang-related activities. He was only six months old in the family when the early morning call came through, requiring him to present himself to the meeting premises as soon as possible. With the job, there were no questions asked – You only followed orders and presented yourself with the loyalty of a dog to its master. And when he left that morning, he never came back.

“Where did he go?” I ask my interviewee.

“No one knows. He just went off the grid, even the FBI themselves couldn’t find him,” she shares while fondling her fingers.

“What do you think happened to him?”

“You know I never knew that he worked for the FBI. I just thought he worked for the police because that is what he told everyone around him. The story of him working for the FBI and the undercover operation was revealed by the media when he suddenly went missing. From that point on I started asking myself so many questions… questions that lacked answers, you know,” she says in retrospect.

My interviewee is Andreas Harrington. Her mother, who passed on when she was five, was from Brazil.  So she grew up under her father’s wings until he disappeared. Until that moment in 2001, she had never thought of living in a different dimension. There is no time she ever imagined of growing up an orphan or living in a foster home. But that morning brought along what she calls “terrible winds of change” that carved a new life path for her, now that she was the only kid.

She was 10 when Harrington disappeared. And from the age of 11, she started living with a foster family in Virginia. With new parents and a new environment, things changed rapidly. The family did not have kids, making her the only kid.

“It was odd, you know… Getting comfortable with new people at that young age when you’re extremely needy. When dad came home, I had no problem running to him for a tight hug. He would then toss me up the air and tickle me, play with me and sit with me as I did my homework. With the Cummings, it was just tough. There was a wall between us that nothing could knock down. I missed my dad in every inch.

“They tried their best. They did not try to take up the position of my biological parents and I loved them for that. They were just nice people, trying their best to bring me up as any parent would.”

She stops to sip her drink. I don’t know what kind of drink she’s having. My brain has aged and for the life of me, cannot keep up with the new wines or beers that people imbibe. I am happy with the tall glass of milk before me.When she is not looking, or when I sense that I might join  in her sobbing, I sip my milk to divert my feelings.

The Sony recorder I had borrowed is sitting on the small table, where our drinks are dancing on.  There’s an umbrella over us and the seats have very nice ass-hugging cushions designed with excellent ergonomics. We are in the backyard, at her home in Gigiri. There is a swimming pool on my left and her two kids are having fun jumping up and down in trampoline metres away. All I smell is grandeur and posh living.

In 2010 they landed in Kenya. The Cummings have a rare and funny sense of fun, which is to travel to the remotest parts of the world. Their wanderlust overcomes them and they can’t stay in one place for too long.

When they landed in Kenya, Andreas was already tired of roaming.

“My head was going crazy,” she says. “I am not like the ants that  keep migrating to find a perfect home for each season. So I told them I’ll stay in Kenya.”

“What was their reaction?”

“I think they were relieved. They said ‘so long as you’re happy.’ Furthermore, I was a huge impediment to their plans to get to see the world. Every time they said we were going to Greece or Italy or to see some caves in Egypt, I detested. I wanted them to meet their desires.”

“Don’t you enjoy travelling yourself?” I ask, trying to sound polite but then awkwardly catch myself dabbing my huge beard. She observes my beard as if seeing it for the first time then gazes into space momentarily.

“I don’t really know. It is something I have never thought… of thinking about,” she says absentmindedly. I laugh because it is a funny answer.

For the next few moments, I don’t know what to say or ask her. So I recline to my seat and let the cool breeze hit my face. It has been a while since I had such a feeling of relaxation. I close my eyes and let my head fall back into the headrest. I don’t know for how long I stay in that position. I just hear her speaking when my senses alert.

“Did you ask yourself why I called you here?” she asks. My mind is temporarily zonked out so I hear something else. What I hear is, “Do you know why I call you dear?” So I laugh, and laugh, and laugh, until she joins in, again in awkwardness.

“Why you called me dear? I honestly don’t know,” I reply genuinely. Now it is her turn to laugh. She laughs in a manner that I feel that she’s laughing at me, though she is not.

She repeats her question.

“I am sorry for hearing my own things. You got me. I honestly don’t know why you called me here. If it is to see your home, I most certainly  love it. I didn’t like the two ‘mad-dogs’ at the front porch though. They scared me shitless.”

She chuckles.

“I read your last week’s article. And…”

“No way!” I interject with a huge grin on my lips.

“Believe me I did. Your story is close to mine. And I thought it would be time I shared it as I have never told anyone,” she continues. My ears shoot up like an antenna.

When she sent me an email, she left out the specifics. It was something classic and formal requiring me to go to her home for a chat. It was not a request. When someone sends an email and includes their home address, phone number, date and time, that person has already made a decision for you. You don’t have an option. People with home addresses are people you can’ turn down. They are the ones who can change your life by the push of one button. They can offer you an assignment of a lifetime.

I didn’t have anything to do on Sunday. Living in my current hole, all I do is binge on movies all day. So it was no big deal going over.She sent her chauffeur to pick me up from town. I thought it was extreme but who was I to turn down such a privilege?

From my experience, there is one thing with Kenyans working for the rich folks. If they discover, for some reason, that you’re a nobody, they treat you with contempt. They might not show it openly, but if you’re keen enough, you will spot it.The best way is to treat them more humanly, connecting with them amiably and ensuring you’re knowledgeable. If you cannot manage these three, just stay quiet, and say less about yourself. Do not be like any Dick and Tom from the streets. The last thing you want is someone serving you a meal while thinking you don’t deserve it.

The chauffer’s name was Dennis. I called him Denno. Denno knows his Range Rover from A-Z. He has driven it for the longest time. This was his fifth Range Rover since he started off as a driver. So he has gathered so much about the car over those years. I discovered he loves talking about cars. That was his weak point. So I also knocked him off with my knowledge of BMWs. My cousin owns  a BMW garage, and way back when he started, I was his mtu wa mkonoso. I possess a great deal of information on BMW cars.

We laughed and talked cheerily all the way. He did not perceive me differently; neither  did I. Our social classes didn’t appear anywhere and no one felt austere. That is how I got to where I am right now. A a large compound, with a glorious mansion smiling at the world; hidden in the green and healthy vegetation of the encompassing hood. There are trees inside and around the compound. Seems like a place where people never have serious problems, only deeply concerned about manicuring their lawns and maintaining the hedges. ‘A haven of abundant hope, overflowing laughter, and immeasurable happiness.’ Everything is serene, quiet and cool. This is perfect because I could use a break.

“I got married to the love of my life in 2012, a man I met in a bar in town. He was the most charming man I’ve ever loved. After our wedding, I moved out of the apartment I was living in along Ngong Road and we bought this place. It was the happiest time of my life,” she narrates. I can trace a smile on her lips even though her head is trained on the table.

“A year later we were blessed with these twins you see playing over there. I was a proud mother, and he was just beyond joyous.” She suddenly leaves for the house. I watch her as she disappears into the house. I pause my recorder as I wait. She emerges with a bottle of Bloody Mary and two huge cheeseburgers. I look at those burgers with gluttonous proclivity. I stand and wash my hands in the sinks near the rear door.

“One day he also disappeared,” she says out of nowhere. It hits me by surprise that I even hesitate from picking the burger. I look at her for a little while, imagining the sadness she must feel, losing both parents and now this. I’m transfixed and have no clue what to say. Fortunately  I recover from the shock fast enough, assume my seat and grab a bite waiting to hear more.

“I didn’t know he was also working undercover. All along I knew he was a businessman. He went for trips overseas and he owned two companies. But just like my dad, he received a phone call and never came back.” She pours herself the Bloody Mary to the brim. She gulps half of it before picking up the conversation.

“He came back as a corpse. It is the time I discovered he was a detective working for the US government.”

I manage to mumble a sorry. She goes on talking of the discoveries she made after that, the shell companies that existed on paper but not under his name, the numerous fake passports, the guns hidden in their home and other stuff that can’t be mentioned here for obvious reasons. He was given a proper military send-off back in the US.

Days after that, she plunged into a hole. In there, the darkness was her light. She didn’t know what to do. She had lost two men that she loved to the same devil. It was even hard to imagine being a widow with two kids at 25.

Life had started taking shape but now that shape had been distorted. The future was blurry and her dreams of having a great family were dashed. The Cummings came over to help with the kids because she was losing herself. She boozed all day. She didn’t go to work even after her leave elapsed. She just stressed and drank. She didn’t bathe at all. She stank. She didn’t change clothes.

Her life was more miserable than mine. She didn’t breastfeed her kids. There was no milk because she hardly ate. The Cummings even hired a shrink to come over and talk to her, but when the shrink got there Andreas was already out. She was out of control, so the Cummings emptied all the booze and anything that could make her high from the house.

One morning she woke up and her mini bar was staring at her, empty. She was nursing a terrible hangover and she really needed some liquor to tame it (funny how a disease can cure a disease). She was furious. She jumped into her car and ran through her gate. At the liquor store, she drank from the shelf. She was in shit when she discovered she had no money on herself.

From the way she looked, awry, dirty and disorganized, the owner called the police on her. She was taken to Muthaiga Police station where she spent the weekend in the cells. She was bailed out by her foster parents on a Monday. The police thought she was a madwoman.

The same day, she went back to the liquor store, grabbed a bottle and smashed it on the owners head. She grabbed two bottles of gin and drove off. It was not long before the police knocked on her door and asked her to step out. The Cummings were able to settle the case with the police off court. They paid the liquor store owner for all the damages and apologized. They promised to take Andreas to a mental facility to get checked up.

“I saw days of utter darkness, days when I was distraught, sad and lost. I feared I was beyond reach. There was no redemption for me when I was in there. I wanted to jump ship. I was lonely and torn. I wanted to forget everything, so I drunk all the time. When I sobered, I just cried.”

If the Cummings had left her alone, she would have died. “Were it up to me, I’d never have come out alive. They stood up for me, cleaned me up, fed me, and devised ways to see me through. They did not condemn me; they understood that I was grieving and that I needed time to do so. They didn’t give up even when I wanted them to.”

“When exactly was this?” I ask. “It was in 2015. I was holed up in my distress for eleven months. I came out as an alcoholic.”

“Really? Were you drinking for a living?” I joke. Funny in my head but comes out dry.

“Booze was my main meal. It became part of my system. It was the blood in my veins. If I lacked it, I was dysfunctional. I got emaciated, became withdrawn and my eyes became empty. Life almost left me. When my foster parents managed to curb my way of getting booze, life worsened. The withdrawal effects were extremely painful. And in one of those days when I was groaning in pain and untold misery, the Cummings tossed me into a rehabilitation facility where I spent another year. No one ever came to check on me. I only got a letter from them saying, ‘it is for your own good.’ I was all alone, the only white girl in that facility,” she narrates, more collected.

I look at her Bloody Mary.

“Did it work?”

“Well, what do you think?” she kicks a question at me.

“I am glad. You look well so I suppose it did well to you.” She smiles. “It did.”

“And what did the whole ordeal teach you?” I ask as a matter of winding up.

“That we rise at the end if we were to rise. Challenges will always knock us down, and at times, they will teach us lessons when we get up. So when I read your story and what you’re going through, I completely understood what you were talking about. What you need is love and support. And I’ll be a supportive friend if you want me to be.”

I looked deep into her eyes. It was my weak moment, and I sobbed.



I am still in need of a quiet and cool place for my book project. If you’re kind enough, let me know .Contact me: info@mzangila.com/ 0736015845.

A shout out to Hannah Kageche, the editor of this and many other articles on this blog, for clocking a new year. Happy birthday and we wish you all the best. Cheers to new beginnings!

Mzangila Snr,

The supreme hunter in captivity

Where shall we go, we who wander in this wasteland in search of better selves

Photo Credit: Goalcast


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