“Oh death…Where is thy sting…?”…It stings a lot…and it hurts til you are one big lump of pain! I am almost numb everywhere, after receiving the news of the passing of my hero, friend, mentor and brother. Eric Luseno…or Ilichi as he was fondly called by villagers for whom the Norse name was a tongue twister…was a lantern…A bright lamp whose presence and company made an event, even just a casual encounter, a not to be missed one. He was the kind of guy that walked into a room and a big aura of “look who’s here!” descended into the room.
The hallmark of his persona was kindness and compassion. He was a born diplomat. He listened well and when he got the chance to speak, he chose his spoken word ever so carefully. Those who think Barack Obama has too many “er’s” and “um’s” in his speeches…then you never heard Eric speak. When that happened you knew good advice was about to be dispensed! You could hear him think, before the words were uttered. He always deployed tact and it always came through not dripping spin and sneak but more with sagacity and great intellect!
Eric “opened” the swing doors to college education for our section of the Luseno clan. When he left to go to college, we were so happy and yet felt desolate because the guy who would speak up (gently) to mum and dad when your butt was on the line…was gone! When he came home to visit…dressed like a college dude in Che Guevara-like / Black Panther polo necks, bell-bottoms, wide at the point where the trouser met the shoe (platforms thank you very much!) and just amply huggy at the waist…and his Brylcream-glistening Afro patted down to just the right level…we were mouth agape. This was transformation! Education was truly the key to all round awesomeness!
He would usually come accompanied by one or two close college buddies like Jared “Obengele” Ogutu, who later became the best-man at his wedding to our sister-in-law, the lovely Maria…or Barry Osome (one of the grooms-men and who looked like Richard Roundtree as far as we were concerned)…Or Oyando (who when they arrived at our house always promptly asked for my “Beryl The Peril” annuals / comic books in which he immersed himself and occasionally let out loud guffaws of laughter).
Then after a sumptuous special lunch prepared by my mum for the “Plato” of the family and his friends, they would sit outside on the back veranda and hold these high falutin’ discourses from which we heard snatches of words like “Australopithecus…Zinjanthropus…Kenyapithecus-Africanus…” Good Lord!…I at that point knew I had to go to college by hook or by crook…More hook really! People say that you can be judged by the company you keep. Eric had good friends.
Eric was such a devoted son, brother, father, uncle and friend. He respected loyalty and returned the same whenever an opportunity presented itself. He was patient and sometimes you wished that he would get angry and tell the person bugging him to beat it! I remember a time when, in our halcyon childhood days of growing up, a musu from a gated community, the Sister and Doctors Mess / housing for the spillover from colonial, stiff upper lipped staff, who worked at the Kenyatta National Hospital…formerly King George Hospital, across from where we lived in Kenyatta Estate, came to our house..Flat 4 Door A1, with his dog on a leash in tow, to complain that our kid bro, Boyi was among the cruel little estate brats that had beat his dog.
Toby, the dog, had broken leash and when master wasn’t looking had crossed boundaries into hostile territory, where the brats had on spotting him, pelted him with stones and then ran for dear life when the dog turned on them! Fortunately for Boyi but unfortunate for the complainant, both our harsh parents, Dad, who we had nicnamed “Blackbelt” and mum (she of the cheek and thigh pinching discipline and also known as “Mazenga“), were away from home and Eric was the one in charge. Double unfortunate for the guy again because Eric had just come home from the local pub with his buddies, slightly tipsy and so the stage was set for a local “courtroom drama”!
Eric was the judge and his pose of two equally “Tusker-happy” buddies were the biased, non-speaking jury…who only nodded and “ahemmed” in chorus in agreement with whatever Eric said. A ragtag of Boyi’s bash street kids looking friends stood on one side, ourselves included and together we made up the crowd in the courtroom. After the poor and haplessly overwhelmed dog owner had finished his opening statement, Eric cross-examined him and then launched into an anthropological elocution to him, of the African and his paradoxical affinity to animals…and especially of the variety that are not expected to end up on our plate as dinner…like the dog!
He juxtaposed that with the wazungu ‘s love for dogs and cats which in African homesteads had very specific duties as guards (usually barking only!) and rodent / pest catchers of the mice variety. In the process he explained how we just beat cows and goats and dogs with really no remorse because that is all the animals know!
Cut a long story short, Eric and his buddies were soon engrossed in a most interesting discussion (in good English of the university variety) with the good medical doctor and by the time he left, he was cool! He shook hands with Eric and his friends and he “praised” them as brilliant boys who in his estimation “will do very well in life!”…And with a nasal “jolly good!” said only in the way a Brit would, he was on his way home with Toby in tow again! Hilarious and brilliant…the way Eric diffussed that situation! And just one of the many instances of hilarity Eric gave us and I could quote many more as I am sure each of everybody else who met him could do too!
I can’t resist quoting our cousin Beeson (aka Bee) Avugwi who we related to more as a first bro than a cousin, and who I have always felt has the same kind, friendly and also listeningest disposition as Eric had. He said…
“Eric brought so many gifts to my life from the time we were kids to his days in Kangaru, UoN, Mombasa and finally and perhaps more importantly when we worked together at the Posta Training School in Mbagathi. Virtually every Friday evening, Eric and I would be found at the College pub just sharing. A very soft spoken man who had the response of a sage to every situation. It was while I was sitting with him and his uncle Ndungu (Freddie) at Kenyatta Market that he introduced me to Jane Avugwi”.
Jane is bee’s wife and our childhood friend (The Wandakas), growing up! That sort of thing was typical of Eric…Bringing people together! He brought us together and it is small wonder that he did just that, to the Elijah Kilaya branch of the Luseno clan just before his passing.
He, Maria and the boys…Alec, Nash and Mash, hosted us at his splendid new home in Ongata Rongai where we ate a lot of mbuzi, danced to lunje music which we sang, led by the family music maestro of “malago” fame, our sis / aunt Hellen Mudagale Luseno-Majani. The tribe came in from everywhere..States-side, on one end, to Manama Bahrain…and Mombasa and Kampala and everywhere. It was a jolly good show of jollification I tell you!
Eric and Mary put that party together and for some…it was the last time they would see Eric in person again. My hubby, Olu, is full of remorse at not having been able to have met him in person, during our last sojourn to the old country, last year (2012) over Christmas. He had to leave before me as duty and job called.
I and a few others like sis aunt Eddy, Kasmall, Flossie & Dennis Kashero and a gaggle of nieces and nephews and cousins were lucky and had the opportunity to meet with him and other relas at our Cucu Muthoni’s house, also in Rongai, where she had hosted a Sunday after church lunch so that I can get to meet those other of my relas, that I was going to miss seeing during my seemingly short 7 week visit to code 254. I was set to leave back to States-side, in less than a weeks time. Again it was a great kikao where we did a down memory lane story time, punctuated with anecdotes and the words rolling off our tongues easy, helped by the malt and that Grousy bird!
This started off as a homily to Eric but what he would really deserve is an epic ode. The stories are legion and being the kind of guy he was, a story about him always ends up digressing into other winding paths because he was all about people. He would have made a lousy politician though…He was too kind! But he made a great teacher, leader and administrator as he epitomized, in the course of his professional career.
We are all joined together in mourning this gentle, always calm and full of humor man. His laughter was infectious and his affinity for a good joke was what made him such terrific company. We miss him already til it hurts. We will funika Maria and the boys and hold them up like the omundu strong we are!…They are ours and though Eric is gone, they will know that he is just a breath and a gust of wind away in us who he mentored and taught to value family as not just being important but the only important thing! But his pain is now gone and only a gentle peace in repose remains. I choose to remember him in happiness, rather than in the sting and sadness, of the shroud of death. The good memories of yesterday will ameliorate the pain and sorrow of today and tomorrow.
“However long the night…the dawn will break”…And we will find you in the fresh dew on the grass, in streams and rivulets, in the music of rustling leaves, the oboe of the wind…in the quiet still of the dusky twilight and the stillness of a placid lake…
So long Eric…
©njeriOsaak is a trained journalist, a Public Relations professional and a College Speech Communication teacher, currently based in the United States.