I grew up in my grandmom house. She didn’t know my two names. She knew one of my names which everyone knew.She probably didn’t know me well. I don’t blame her though. So when I joined nursery school, there was the need for me to have several names which I didn’t have. My teacher, Ms. Agnes Kwamboka insisted that I should have a second name if not third and fourth. No one has one name.
She asked me, “Where do you come from? What’s your father’s name?”
Obviously, I didn’t know, and the answer I could give was…keep quiet until she speaks again. I wasn’t planning to speak anything because I did not know anything. That was back in 1993.
She asked me to come with my grandma the following day. Luckily grandma wasn’t far from school at that time. So after class, I went and passed the message that the teacher wanted to see her. She couldn’t wait until the next day.
She met my teacher, and the problem was I didn’t know my second name. No one in the class knew. To my amazement, my grandmother didn’t know. She couldn’t answer the question either because my mother calls me Musa, that’s all.
My grandmother asked my uncle to send a telegram to my mom seeking details about her son who was now starting school. My uncle agreed to do, but he didn’t see any sense being out of class because I didn’t have a name. He said, “let him use mine, He will be called Musa Wafula.”
Ms. Kwamboka said “Well that’s okay, but Musa is a Swahili name and its better for him to have an English name. I am changing his name to Moses.” She turned to me, “ So because your uncle agreed to share his name with you, you will be Moses Wafula” and I agreed. That’s how I got my name.
My mother came after about a year, and when asked, she gave me a different set of names that never existed in the whole village, Musa not being one of them. That was crazy. WTF is Bethwell Molenje. People are named after people in my community. My uncle Patrick was equally astonished though we couldn’t change anything.
Then came time to be registered for lower Primary. There was no birthdate, no cell phones and the only way to get my birth details was to wait for my mother. What Mr. Likavo does is to look at me said,
“ You are almost the same age as my son Alphonse. I will use the same year he was born, the precise birthdate you will figure out in future”.
I nodded in agreement and said, “yes teacher.” Those days teachers explained and taught in mother tongue, Although I was brought up in a cosmopolitan county where people communicated in Swahili, my native language was a must lest I lose my identity. The county hosted different tribes who coexisted well then. So my teacher explained in both languages. My native Luhya and Swahili to make sure I understood.
When my mother came from Mombasa where she had been working, no one remembered to ask my birthday, and she went back. After finishing primary school, I had to get leaving certificate which had to bear my correct birthdate. My mom wasn’t there, my grandmother had joined her in Mombasa, and I had no means to reach them. My uncle was married then and was away working in Nairobi.
I stayed in the village with his wife and son. Hypothetically, I was on my own. I had to figure out a birth date and stick to it the rest of my life. I chose 22 September because most of my friends were born that month, I couldn’t copy their dates, so I chose 22. The standard birth year for most of us was 87, so I stuck with 87. Hence 22/09/1987.
That stuck in my head and when I joined high school down the coast. I realized most people fancied their birthdays. I had a makeshift birthday, so birthdays never meant anything to me. I found people enjoyed that day. I asked my mom what my birthdate is and she said,
“The day I went to be registered for my ID. That should be 19th or 20th. Because after leaving the Chief’s office, I got labor pains and you were born” I tried to convince her that it should be 22 and she said no. I had failed the first test.
“which month?” I asked curiously because this was going to make the difference.
“ You were conceived when I was on holiday from school. That was the end of December during those festivities, so the correct month is September because that is the month I took my ID.” I was like “Yeaaaaaa’’ At least I got the month.
“So which year Mom?” I asked this time I was sure I got it right.
I joined form one in 1985; I came home for a holiday then I was expectant. You were born the year I was supposed to be in form two.”
I got the year wrong too. But I managed to get the month right. So both my birthdays, adopted and real birthday, happened last month. Now I work as a salesman with a local bank, and I have a son, Ethan, who will be celebrating his first birthday this month.
At least he won’t go through the hustles I went through to fix my names. And by the way, I had to get another name, because the guy registering for IDs had refused to give me an ID without my father’s ID. And you realized I hadn’t mentioned my father anywhere. So I got my stepfathers ID and fixed the name thing.