I drafted this note at the Philadelphia International Airport on Thursday. It’s always nice to come to Philly because this is where my US journey started 12 summers ago.
This time however, my trip to Philly was not for the usual fun reasons. I came to say goodbye to a good friend, a great man, husband, father, grandfather, uncle, etc . Christopher Osano Gekonge.
I met the Gekonge family through Dr. Betsy Gekonge in 2011. Betsy was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania where I did my undergraduate studies. Her family became my family in a new land. It was at their home that I enjoyed ugali and chapati and Kenyan vegetables that I hadn’t eaten all semester long. It was at their home that I spent weeks during the summers I was not working on campus or studying abroad. The grand babies became my ‘little’ friends and Betsy’s siblings – Moraa Gekonge, Jeremy, Seba and later Brigitta and Charles Gekonge all became my family too. Uncle Chris thought me calling him Mr. Gekonge was too formal and asked me very early on to call him “uncle Chris’.
A library burned
There’s an African proverb that says “when an old man dies, a library burns to the ground”. As we remembered uncle Chris’ life, some of Jared and I’s regrets were that we did not ask him enough questions about living in pre and early post independence Kenya.
Uncle Chris represented a class of Kenyans who were missionary educated and who became business pioneers in Kenya and Africa. His life reminds me of another Kenyan great, Charles Mulli. He created a wonderful life for his family and made an impact on his 42 siblings’ lives, encouraging and helping his nieces and nephews to complete their education.
As I listened to others eulogize him, I realized we all said the same things. He always checked in, always pushed you to get more education, and always loved his family and friends and made sure to tell them so. He was a person you could not forget and he never forgot anyone to his last breath.
I’ll miss the man who pushed me to get my PhD or at least my Masters. Even though I did not choose that path, he was always happy for me in my journey as a mother. Uncle Chris would call to ask how the children, my husband, and my family from here to Kenya were. In hindsight, I wonder if I told him when I became a published author. I know he would have loved to read my books and he would have been very proud of me.
Uncle Chris was a scholar. He published a textbook to encourage firms to invest in Africa. There is an informative interview he had with the publisher here. He often sent emails to the Kenya & African diaspora community exhorting African governments to create ideal environments for investment such as upholding the rule of law and dealing with corruption. I had many fun conversations with him since I took economic development and international relations classes at UPenn. I especially remember our discussions on the book Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond which we had both read.
My favorite memories of uncle Chris live on in his children, grandchildren and aunt Truphosah (Phossie) Gekonge. Uncle Chris was a gentleman. He was always dressed up in slacks and a shirt even when he was at home. More importantly he was a gentleman in word and deed. He kept his word and would help however he could. His sons and daughters are considerate and well mannered. They are people who will make conversation with you and keep up with you and be fun to be around. I am so thrilled to see the grandchildren all turn out the same. Such a great impact this great patriarch left.
Grieving with hope
Uncle Chris was a believer. That gave me immediate relief after I found out about his death. At his memorial, his granddaughter, Mokeira Gekonge, read from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. It was good to be reminded of God’s promises in the Scriptures that those who die in Christ will rise again. Until heaven, uncle Chris.
Happy new year my friends. Thank you for allowing me to share this story.
My goal this year is to be productive for at least 15 minutes a day outside of my roles as wife and mother. That should allow me to write another book or two this year. What’s your hope for this year?