Reuben Kigame: On life, losing a loved one and finding love again

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Reuben Kagame playing his guitar

I met Reuben Kigame at African International University, where he is pursuing his PHD, on a Friday afternoon. Mr Kigame, is the musician behind the popular hit, Enda Nasi; a song that is somber and calming all in one breathe. The song seems to relate to all occasions and you are likely to hear it at a funeral, before the beginning of a journey or even when wishing candidates success in their examinations. For me though, one of the songs I remember so nostalgically is Sweet Bunyore; where Kigame asks his childhood village to be kind to him should he ever go back.

As I settle down he offers to serve me some refreshment. You would expect me to be a little nuanced but I ask him the most obvious question. “Can you see anything?” I ask. His response, “I can only see a little bit of light. I judge objects and people from ambience and proximity.”

Being the month of love I begin the interview by delving a little into Kigame’s love life.
Are you married?

I am re-married and I have four children; three girls with my late wife Mercy and the last born a boy with my wife Julie. Mercy passed away after a tragic road accident on 5th December, 2006. It is the most traumatic event of my life. I have learned how to live with
the loss but I cannot say I have healed because you never heal from the loss of a loved one. My wife and children have been my source of strength.

How soon after did you remarry?
After one year or thereabout, and that’s because Julie was a very close friend of Mercy’s. I already knew her so there wasn’t such a steep learning curve, except for the romantic side which we nurtured within a year. I never thought we would end up together because she was a friend and was also in my music team. Being Mercy’s friend she would check up on my family on several occasions and my children were very fond of her. Slowly a relationship
blossomed.

What was the general feel and talk of the people around you about dating your late wife’s best friend and so soon after she had died?
I was still grieving at the time. I really didn’t know whether someone would handle me at my worst because I was not at a good place. I am a religious man and I asked God questions like: Is this your doing God? Can I really fall in love again? Is this the right time? Is this the right person for my children? My youngest daughter at that time was only two years old. I needed so much support at that time. I was older and more settled so it took longer to commit because my priorities were already set. It was easier with Julie because we were already familiar.

Didn’t you think that people would accuse you of having an affair prior to your first wife’s death?
I thought about it but I was a little older and my conscious was clear. See Kendi,you don’t need to be married to have an affair. If I wanted to have one nothing would have stopped me, but I have principles and I also thought about the second party in this case; my wife Julie. Not thinking about how your actions affect your partner is selfish. If I date someone I want to date them openly I don’t want to have a secret relationship. So to answer your question no it didn’t bother me. Even if it had taken me two or three years to remarry people would still talk. The price of an affair is too high if you think about it.

How did your children take their mother’s loss?

They can answer for themselves you know (chuckles). It was hard for them that I am certain; I cannot get into details because that’s really their narrative to tell but it wasn’t easy. The younger one was none the wiser and it is just now occurring to her that her
mother died when she was just a toddler. She was two years then.

How was the relationship with your late wife?
Mercy Wanderwa was my college sweetheart, we met at Kenyatta University. We matured together, had a great friendship t hat blossomed to love. So in sync were we that if something was going on with me she would almost point it out without me telling her about
it. We were able to sit in comfortable silence without looking for words to fill up any silent spaces. I do miss her.

Were there any obstacles in your relationship with Mercy especially with you being visually impaired?
She was Kikuyu and I am Luhya but that wasn’t a problem for us. However, many people kept asking her if she was sure about me because I am visually impaired. She always answered, “This is the man I want”. I also had build a name already through music but Mercy liked me for me. People always pity the women in my life in that they have
to live with a person who is visually impaired. Out there some people think I can’t pick a glass from the table. Society looks at me at me with eyes of pity like I am helpless. You can almost see it, feel it I mean. I am a blind man but not helpless,” he says emphatically.

Apart from music what else do you do?
When I sing people think that it’s the only thing I can do. I play the guitar or the piano and many people are surprised to see me doing it but all I did was learn. Even with my visual impairment I was not going to be begging for bread, I knew early on I had to work hard and not expect handouts.

I cook too and do a lot of other things. I am in my normal. Normal is what you make it. You know people can make you feel as if you are useless for no reason. You have to be comfortable with yourself and accept who you are. If people don’t like something about you, that’s their problem not yours. You can always become a better version of you but that
doesn’t mean you go get “Beyoncé hair” but if that works for you by all means go ahead just be comfortable with yourself.

How difficult was it for your current wife to transition to your family?
She wasn’t married before but it wasn’t very difficult as she was familiar with us.
We can call her and ask (laughing.) I notice that Mr Kigame has a very calm
aura about him even as we ease into the chat.

Tell me about your academic life?
Currently I am taking my PHd. I have three more years to complete it because
I am doing it in modules and hopefully should be done by 2021. My first degree is a Bachelor in education specializing in history, philosophy and religion. I am just completing another one in Apologetics. This will be my fourth degree now.

What makes you tick?
I love radio so much. I worked with Citizen, Family and Hope Media as they were starting out and then I started my own station Fish FM but it is currently off the air. I also ran for
office in 2013 but I lost. Out of six candidates I was a measly position four. I was only interested in the first term because I thought there was a chance to start well and institute structures that work. Recently I told media personality Jeff Koinange that I would like to be
president for a short term in office, just to fix the systems and help implement
homemade solutions. I don’t really want to get into politics but it is just very
frustrating when systems don’t work in this country.

Is your music still profitable with you juggling all these?
Music plays a very small part in my life. I am very appreciative of how impactful it has been over the years. Music goes before you and that is the case for me. However, it doesn’t describe me, It is just a part of me but not my entirety. For example here in school, I wake up at 5:30am, exercise a little as it keeps mealert, take a shower, do my devotion and
read a little before taking my breakfast as I catch up on the news. I then go to  class. I work till around 1:00 am then sleep. In Eldoret I work from my home compound as that’s where my office is and this includes a music school-Kigame Music Academy. Many times I work till5:00 pm then spend time with my son, then read a little and retire to bed.

So you mentioned you went blind at three years. Did it faze you?
Yes, I became blind at the age of three–he says with a finality.I was child so there is very little I understood at the time. I gradually discovered that I was going blind. It occurred to my family one evening as I reached out for Ugali and missed the plate. I had contracted a cataract and the medical services during that time were very wanting so we sought treatment to no avail. I think what helped me a lot is my family’s acceptance of my loss of my sight. No one gave me any special treatment except being taken to a school for the
blind.

You seem to have so much zeal in life judging from your achievements. What drives you?
Blame it on the exercises I do in the morning. God is one of the things, as long as I am on earth I know God has a purpose for me to be here on earth. My family too drives me, I want to provide for them and protect them. People – I love people, I respect that people have time for me, I respect that they ask for my time in any way. I am thankful for all the people who make my life what it is, they make me who I am. The soldier by the gate, the milkman in Eldoret, the Uber driver, my lectures, my fellow students my family anyone who touches my life is worth my respect at that time.

What keeps you so grounded even with all your achievements/accolades such that you remain humble?
I don’t really know. I could say if you are a people person then you must respect people for whom they are. Life is about service, it doesn’t matter what you do or whom you are, I will respect you. I think I derive my humility from my respect for people and fear of the Lord. Taking the time to relate with people really helps.

The environment at African International University is very chill and serene is that why you choose it for your PHD?
I wouldn’t say that was the reason but I love nature; I take long walks and take in the fresh air. I generally enjoy things for what they are. For Instance, I can Uber to Java and take my favorite cup of coffee; a freshly brewed cappuccino and relish in the moment. Part of the enjoyment is from the aroma, it just lingers around and I will drink it all in.
If I touch a leaf I will savor the feeling, chirping of birds and the breeze on my face.

Would you say being blind makes you feel things more deeply?
In a sense yes and no. It is just who I am, I enjoy things people don’t necessarily enjoy. For instance I love the smell of decomposed manure in the Shamba. I love the smell of the first rain drops on dry ground, that earthy scent. I have a nostalgic attachment to nature. I could sit for hours and savor it. Even if I had sight I believe I would immensely enjoy the outdoors, except maybe I would be more adventurous like mountain climbing, hiking and other dangerous outdoor activities. The glow and flow of things gives me joy.

Your phone has been beeping nonstop since we started talking so let’s talk about technology especially for someone like you who is living with a visual disability.
If you look at the Nokia on my table it has a cracked screen. That was my first good phone, it is ten years old. I keep it to remind myself where I came from. It is a Nokia E63, it must be the best device Nokia ever made, at least in my opinion. I keep it to remind myself that
there are people who think about others out there. The iPhone is probably the best technical gadget I have owned, it is revolutionary in that it has given me a lot of independence. I can Uber to wherever I want to go like everyone else. I am friends with Siri ; a web based voice assistant App that you can only use with wifi. The iPhone iOS also allows you to use voice over without having internet access. As he shows me exactly
how he uses his iPhone he fields a few urgent missed calls and messages and calls back an urgent number and I get to see exactly what he means by being independent. I notice he wears a watch and I ask how he tells time. He informs me that it’s a braille watch!

Before iPhone how did you survive?
I would use predictive texts but that must be the most horrible innovation, it can mess you up thoroughly. I don’t really know but you adapt to your circumstances.

How do you navigate romance as a person living disability?
(Chuckling) Like any other person, Ihave all human feelings and urges I am just visually impaired Kendi. But as humans we are a little limited in how we choose to describe love you know. In the Greek language, there is Agape love is love of the soul, like how God loves you even when you don’t deserve it. Phileo love is sibling love, it’s fraternal love. Storge love is the love between a parent and a child. Ero is romantic love or the love of the body. Eros is basically feeling love and I guess that’s what most people celebrate on valentines. It’s not lust, lust is bushfire love, you have no reason to love it’s just like a blow of wind. With Eros there is something that charms you. So yes as a guy living with a disability also has feelings and I celebrate it with my wife. I treat her to a romantic dinner,
I buy her chocolate and basically treat her like the queen she is.

What your opinion on the LGBTQ community in regard to love?
If someone identifies with a certain sexual orientation, you have no right to judge them. I will not treat them as less than because of their sexual orientation. Some conditions are congenital and others are sociological but that doesn’tmean I will respect you any less. Your choices are yours to make as much as I might not respect them but as long as they are not infringing on anyone’s freedom then that has nothing to do with how I treat you.
Article 27, clause 4 of our constitution forbids against any form of discrimination. It states: the State shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against any person on any ground,
including race, sex, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, color, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language or birth.
You cannot legislate morality you see.

Story by Kendi Gikunda.

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