In her younger, activist days, Priscilla Nyokabi used to spot a curiously worded tee-shirt. “Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls go everywhere”.
My memory of the picture that accompanied the writing has atrophied over the years but I think it had something to do with a free-spirited, loose-haired curvy girl.
Even then, she was too brainy to be innocent about the message. I recall teasing her about it and specifically asking her whether she considered herself a “good girl” meriting the chosen few membership club in heaven. She quipped about optimizing options. “Everywhere” presumably included heaven. Why board a one-stop bus when an alternative ride with fun stopovers existed?
In those days, Priscilla, now the Nyeri County Women Representative, was a program officer with the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). Her business card helpfully offered that she worked for the Kenyan Chapter. Anyone unfamiliar with NGO lingo would have been forgiven for imagining her colleagues working in the ICJ head office probably replaced the “chapter” with “book” in their business cards. So you would have a card reading: “Patrick Mathews, Accounts Desk, ICJ-Global Book!”
Priscilla had immersed herself in the lobbying for the legislation of the Freedom of Information (FoI) bill with the gusto of the possessed. There may have been many disciples spreading the gospel of the importance of the FoI bill. But the campaign had only one high priestess: Priscilla!
Journalists loved her passion. But they loved even more her and her employer’s junkets in Naivasha for their rich mix of business and adventure. It is in this seminar town where the architecture of the FoI was drawn and refined. Naivasha was also instrumental in rallying disparate but critical voices to the bill’s cause.
My memories of these retreats are flavoured with the quirky side of some of the MPs who graced them. For instance, Prof Anyang Nyong’o would amaze me with his ability to follow the discussions keenly despite seemingly being in deep sleep.
He would be slouching in his seat, his head lying on his shoulder at an obtuse angle and often with his mouth open. Sometimes, and depending on his last meal or drink, saliva would ooze out of his mouth on to his beard. If he dosed long enough, there would be enough saliva to snake into his shirt.
Without an observable time lag to warm up his mental engine, he would suddenly sprout to life by picking up the debate from the last contributor. His would be reasoned arguments delivered in eloquence that sensibly referred to earlier contributors. The evidence that he had been following the conversations was unarguable. I thought it was remarkable feat that was unique to professors.
The last evenings of such retreats would feature a bush dinner. As the name implies, this was an open space set up away from the usual hotel restaurant with improvised lighting and bushfire. Here, food and alcohol would literally flow and sometimes, there would be music. These happen to be the perfect unwinding ingredients for journalists and MPs.
The scramble for the few female journalists available heightened with the night and the rising levels of intoxication. I recall in one of those nights, a journalist and an MP nearly traded punches over a damsel. But the dinners were also useful in unleashing the unknown talents of some of the participants.
For instance, Oloo Aringo, then a Nominated MP, tended to be the last man standing in such events. He could out drink the most accomplished drunkard and still have enough gumption to help his fallen mates to their respective hotel rooms.
Aringo loved his vodka that he would “dilute” with Pilsner as he eased himself into the evening mood. Upon hitting the right tempo, he preferred it neat while reflecting on Leninism and his role in oiling the Nyayo era sycophancy machine!
On one such occasion, the evening belonged to him and tales of his Kanu era indulgences. He was scheduled to travel to South Africa the following day on an early morning flight. He claimed he did not want to risk sleeping because he would be certain to be late.
So he called his driver early in the evening, asked him to pick him from the bush dinner venue at 5 the following morning, dismissed him and asked for a bottle of vodka. When I gave up keeping up with him at 3am, he was still looking as strong as ever. His company had dwindled to just two journalists who were intermittently drifting in and out of sleep.
I have revisited Priscilla’s tee-shirt for two reasons. One, the FoI has since been passed into law. But considering the tortuous efforts and the labyrinthine journey it took to realise this, the muted reception for the eventual enactment surprised me. A law that will, at least in theory, force the government to share information when asked to should excite the media. I must have missed the excitement.
Secondly, I think Priscilla has remained faithful to her tee-shirt. I read the other day that she recently became a proud mother to a new born. I think that is a remarkable achievement and not because I possess knowledge of any reason that would cast doubts of her relevant abilities.
Rather, it is because of her apparent ability to juggle many balls. By virtue of her position as the Women Rep for Nyeri County, you can reasonably brand her the top woman in a county famous for its no-nonsense women. I guess that suggests Priscilla is as tough as they get!
Her achievement is even more outstanding considering that she clinched the seat on her first political venture. I admire her resistance against being wowed by her feat. It would have been tempting for her to be drunk with the ego of being saluted as ‘Hon Nyokabi’ and making some good money while at it.
Priscilla is not a flower girl softening the macho image of Parliament. She has been arguably one of the few outstanding women legislators who have earned their keep. That she has managed to do this even when her political opponents kept her busy with an insidious vilification campaign back in Nyeri speaks of her abilities to weather the inevitable political storms.
I don’t know which will be her next stop in her ‘everywhere’ journey. I haven’t checked with her whether heaven still remains her desired final destination. It is possible for a new mother to have new priorities. But whichever direction her winds blow, I expect there will be more important stopovers in her life.
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