Al Kags

A grand old man passes away, leaving life-long lessons behind.


When I met Mungai Gatoro in 2009, I was awed by his simple eloquence – regardless of what language he was speaking. He spoke Gikuyu, Kimeru, Kiembu, Kiswahili, English and French flawlessly. It was interesting to watch him outside his homestead speaking with different people in the different local tongues spoken in Kiamuthambi near Kerugoya-Kutus. He would then turn to me and continue his story in English or Kiswahili and I marvelled at his clarity – of accent, of thought and of memory.

“Fame is not important, my good man,” he said to me then. “You just need to do what you do well and fame will come – when it comes.” He told me to be calm and steady when I deal with people – even when I am inwardly seething and screaming. He told me to remind myself that things always have a bright side to them.

“There is always that proverbial silver lining. You just have to be keen.”

I think the most important thing that he said to me those days (and it only recently made sense) was, “Look here, my good man, if you ever come by a lot of money – and you will – remind yourself that you are still you. Before you spend it on things that you really really want, wait a week. Continue about your life as you normally would have and if at the end of that week you feel as strongly about it, then buy it and enjoy it. If that strong sense of want or lust has waned even just a little, then don’t buy it. Wait another week. Often, in these two weeks, something better comes into view – or you discover that you didn’t need it at anyway!”

Today, I learnt that Mzee Gatoro passed away in his sleep three weeks ago at the age of 96. He wasn’t ill, I’m told. He went to his usual haunt by the market place where he whiled away his afternoons with his friends. He went back home, where he had asked his family – great-grandkids and all to join him in “nibbling a charred leg of goat” as he liked to phrase it. They ate and laughed at his stories and advice. It was a happy evening.

He then excused himself, leaving them laughing the evening away and said in that precise way of his that he must sleep just then. And so he did.

Mzee Gatoro never told me his living memories. “They are just too dark, these tales,” he said. “They should be left behind. That maneno of history repeating itself is a matter of interpretation.” But he did give me some gems that he gathered from his many years.

To him, I say, Thank you and God Speed.

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