“Are these your girls?” his friends would ask.
“This is my first-born daughter,” he would say, indicating my younger sister, Lillian. “And this one is my wife’s child,” he would add casually.
My name is Linda Miriam. I was not anybody’s girl. Do you know what that means?
His friends didn’t ask for that kind of explicit distinction, but for some reason, he felt he had to make it clear that I was not his girl.
Did he really have to rub it in?
I have asked myself some of these questions for more than 20 years now, and no matter how hard I try to rationalise his action, it just makes no sense.
He was my step-father, married to my mother as her first and only husband to this day.
And I was the step-daughter, born out of wedlock, in a different country.
My father was a man who told my mother that he did not want anyone in his family to know that he had got a woman pregnant.
My step-father never treated me badly or harshly. When I was a child, he bought me things and came to school when we had parents’ days or when I got into trouble.
But although he provided for me and showed up when I needed a father figure, there are certain things he did, like that distinctive introduction, that drew the line between me and my sisters.
He discriminated against me. That hurt me more than anything I have experienced.
Well, now I am here in Nairobi, Kenya. I am 26 years old, and for the first time in my life, I crossed the border to from Uganda to Kenya on a journey that I have always felt I needed to make because I’ve always wanted to find my father.
It all began in 1985 when my mother, Kunihira Enid, then a young woman, travelled from western Uganda to Kenya to live with her older sister in Nairobi’s Buru Buru Phase IV estate so that she could pursue a catering course in the city.
In 1986, she met a Kenyan man, and on November 10, 1987, I was born.
She told me that I was born at the Pumwani Maternity Hospital. I have not been there yet, but I will.
After I was born, my mother took me back to Uganda and left me with her aunt while she returned to Kenya, where she lived until 1990 before returning to Uganda.
Shortly after she returned, we packed our bags one morning and left her aunt’s house.
I didn’t know where we were going, but when we stopped, it was at the door of a house in Fort Portal in Kabarole District, Western Uganda.
A man welcomed us and his house became our home. He was a businessman, and he became my step father.
I often tell God that if I never find my father, then He has wasted my life. In fact, I will not get married. No one will respect a woman without a proper identity.
And although I am happy with my mum for being both a mother and father to me, I need to know my real father, or maybe even just find out whether he is alive or dead.
Whenever I attended a party with my mother, especially where most people were new to us, they would ask, “Whose daughter is she?” On one such occasion, some guest pointed at my mother but the questioner was not satisfied, “I mean the father…”
Like I said, my father was a businessman and our life was as comfortable as he could make it. I don’t remember a lot from my childhood, but when I spoke with my mother later, she told me that he had some reservations about me.
But my mother was adamant that he either accept both of us or we would leave. I guess he chose to take us both, but grudgingly.
He was nice but on some occasions, I felt that he was not being sincere.
In December 1991, my first sister, Lillian Kasemire, was born. We were friends from a young age and we still get along well, although temperamentally, we are different.
LUCKY TO BE DIFFERENT
She is a lovely girl who can’t stop cracking jokes about anything around her, while I am the rebellious type who takes jokes only up to a certain point.
After Lillian, came Daphine, Dorothy, Leila and Lulu, our lastborn. I like all my sisters, but I love Lulu very much.
My step-father took me to school; Kyebambe Model Primary School in Fort Portal, where I finished in 2001, then to Standard High School Zzana on Entebbe road in Kampala, where I finished in 2008.
I later went to Career Institute College, where I took a course in international air travel. While in secondary school, I started openly questioning his thinly-veiled discrimination against me.
There was this time when I was in Secondary Three when I got expelled for sneaking out of school.
When he came to school before I was kicked out, he was furious and chastised me like any father would.
Right there in school, I told him that I was tired of him pretending that he cared for me when I knew he felt otherwise.
“I think I just need to get away from this family,” I told him. “I think I am not at home here.” I guess I was just being stupid, or maybe I had just had enough of the pretence.
Moving into his house from my aunt’s place was, to me, what raised the first flag. He was more like a stranger with whom we were living.
But by the time I was in Primary Six, I had become curious about the whole situation.
I remember one afternoon when my mother and the house-help, who happened to be from my step-father’s clan, were making fun of certain aspects and behaviour of people from that clan.
As they were laughing, I told them it was a good thing that I was not from that clan. My mother was startled since she thought she had shielded me from any knowledge of my parentage.
That night, after the house-help had left, she asked why I had said what I had said earlier.
“You know he is your dad…” she said, but I answered that he wasn’t.
“Who told you that he is not your dad? Did Aunt Jolly — my aunt — tell you that?”
I told her that I had always known that he was not my father. Then in an offhand manner, I asked who my father was. She told me that when the time was right, she would tell me. That was in 2000.
The following year, I asked again. I was in Primary Seven and she didn’t argue with me. She just went to her bedroom and came back with a black notebook and opened it. It had entries of Kenyan addresses and Kenyan telephone numbers.
“Your father’s name is Benson Muthoka. He is from Kenya. I met him in Nairobi.” She said it like it was a far-removed fact from the reality of my existence.
Then she pulled out a picture from inside the notebook. “This is he,” she said as she handed me the picture.
The man in the picture had short hair and was casually but smartly dressed. He had a silver chain around his neck and a bracelet (those two really impressed me).
He was of medium height and not very light skinned but with a long face and a nose just like mine. He was young but looked relaxed and calm.
She said he had graduated from the Kenya Police Training College and had been posted to the Central Police Station in Nairobi.
According to her, their relationship — although I don’t think it was a relationship but more like boyfriend/girlfriend stuff — lasted from 1986 to 1987. He came from Machakos.
How did I feel when I saw him?
I thought, so this is my father! I was thrilled and relieved. At least I knew that I had a father somewhere out there and I had an image in my mind.
He had been living with his older brother when my mother had me but for some reason — which I didn’t want to know — he did not want his family to know that he’d made a woman pregnant, hence the silence.
Since she left Kenya in 1990, my mother has never come back and they stopped communicating.
When I was 14 and in secondary school, I started introducing myself as a Kenyan and stopped calling my step-father dad.
I switched to step-father. It was also around this time that I started wondering what my life would have been like had I lived in Kenya with my real father. That is when the urge to look for him began.
I have that picture, a scanned version — the real one is under lock and key — maybe you want to see it…. Alright, but I walk with it everywhere I go.
It is always in my purse. My mother gave it to me and I feel protected when I have it.
KENYA IS MY HOME
On Saturday December 8, I took an Easy Coach bus in Kampala and came to Kenya. It was my first time in Kenya, but I have a Kenyan friend, Candace Ikata, who lives in Doonholm.
We met in Kampala a few years ago. She picked me up from the bus stop and I have lived with her family since.
The most important thing for me is to find my roots. Sometimes as I walk the streets I wonder, if something were to happen to me, would my relatives identify me as a Ugandan while looking for me?
But I don’t think that is who I am. I need to know my dad. I need to know if he ever cared. I need to know if he ever looked for me. I need to know if he regrets not having been there when I was growing up. I need to know these things.
When I came to Kenya, my plan was to go to Central Police Station because, knowing that my father was a police officer, going through their files would reveal his whereabouts and maybe give me some address.
I have been to the Central Police Station and met both the OCS and OCPD. They listened to my story but told me that it was such a long time ago that they couldn’t help. So far, that is all I have managed to do.
Am I prepared for the possibilities? Yes I am.
If we meet and he regrets not having looked for me and welcomes me, I will forgive him and see if I can get Kenyan citizenship and live here. If he rejects me, I will leave him alone and either go back to Uganda or live in Kenya’, I’m not too sure which.
But I would like to live in Kenya. Uganda is not my home. If he has passed on, well, I will say I looked for him and found where he was buried.
Everyone back in Uganda — my sisters and mother— would be happy if I found him. I think it would change my life.
You know, I would like to be somebody’s girl, somebody’s daughter. I would like to fill this emptiness I have had for the past 26 years. I would like to find my real roots.
UPDATED: Look no further…, man tells daughter
When Linda Miriam crossed the Kenya-Uganda border on December 8, last year, armed only with a name— Mr Benson Muthoka— and a picture, she was hopeful but also unsure of what she would come up with.
The 26-year-old was looking for her father, Mr Muthoka, a man she had never met her entire life.
When Miriam, who was born in 1987, got to Nairobi, her first stop was Central Police Station. There, the officers found it hard (if not impossible) to help as that happened so long ago.
She then walked to Nation offices at Nation Centre and related her story and why she was looking for her father.
She provided his name only, and the circumstances surrounding her birth back in November 1987. The article was published in Monday’s DN2 and by midday, Miriam had spoken to her father.
Speaking from Kampala, Uganda, Miriam said she could not believe that what she had always dreamt of — the meeting — was now becoming a reality.
An overjoyed Miriam talked of wanting to meet Mr Muthoka now more than ever.
Mr Muthoka, who is a police officer based at Gathoge Police Post in Kirinyaga County, was also relieved and happy about the turn of events.
“I am arranging to meet her very soon. I look forward to meeting her. When I come back from college (he is right now at Kiganjo Police Training College for a short refresher course), it will be the first thing that I will embark on.”
He said after Miriam’s mother left, he tried to look for both of them but the trail went cold.
He added that when the two (Miriam and her mother) moved to Uganda, his search did not bear much fruit. He did not lose hope though.
Even though seeing the story in the paper was shocking to him, it was a welcome surprise.