Woman reunites with family after 35 years in Tanzania : The Standard

Cecilia Muthoni being welcomed by a neighbour at home in Gichobo village,Njoro sub-county on May 28,2019.

On Tuesday, May 28, a small motorcade snaked from Nakuru town through hills and valleys to Gichobo village, in Njoro.

On arrival, it was welcomed with song and dance.
From one of the vehicles emerged a 70-year-old woman wearing a grey hood over a purple dress, a red patterned headscarf and a white necklace.
The singing and dancing went an octave higher, and women burst into ululations. Everyone craned to see her.
No, the woman was not a politician. It was Cecilia Muthoni, the most prodigal daughter of Gichobo village.
Muthoni was coming back home for the first time after 35 years. She left in 1984.
Though aged, Muthoni’s mother, Mary Wanjiku, still recalls the morning her daughter said goodbye.
“She said she was going to Tanzania to look for a job and would return soon,” she says.
“Soon” turned out to be 35 years. 
So what transpired between that morning 35 years ago and now?
Months before she left for Dar es Salaam, Muthoni, a single mother trying to fend for two teenage daughters, had quit working in Kisumu, saying life had become difficult in the lakeside town. 
She then relocated to Nairobi in search of a job and from there plotted her way to Dar es Salaam.
But life in Tanzania became even more difficult. Months after arrival, she met a man with whom she had a daughter in 1986.
The “soon” that she had promised to return home had just begun to get complicated.
“I wanted to come back home, but my husband wouldn’t let me. In the process I misplaced my all my documents and could not communicate with my family back home,” she says.
There were no mobile phones then.
Six years
In 1992, six years after she left home and just as she was finalising plans to go back, Muthoni was involved in a road accident and admitted in hospital for months.
By then, her husband, determined to thwart her attempts to go back home, had taken away her Tanzanian daughter.
“He gave me one condition- that I would only see my daughter if I stayed behind,” she says.
During the same period, Tanzania started a crackdown on Kenyans living in Dar es Salaam illegally, and Muthoni found herself between a rock and a hard place: she could allow herself to be arrested and repatriated to Kenya and forget about her daughter or play hide and seek games with Tanzanian authorities and stay with her girl.
She chose to stay. She had left two daughters back in Kenya and was not about to leave another one in Tanzania.
“There is a Meru tribe living in Tanzania, so whenever I was arrested for lack of documents I said I was one of them. This was the only way I would continue being with my daughter. I also acquired Tanzanian citizenship,” said Muthoni.
In 2017 — 33 years after she left home — Muthoni’s Tanzanian husband died. By then, her Tanzanian daughter was 31 and no longer the small girl that the mother could not leave behind. She even had two granddaughters.
Then the urge to go back home to see her other two daughters in Kenya returned.
Her journey back home began in August 2017. Then she wrote a letter to her family back in Kenya, using the address of the nearby Gichobo Primary School. 
In the letter, she indicated her address in Tanzania and her mobile phone. She also wrote that she missed her family and wanted to come back home but had no fare.
For ten months, she received no reply, and Muthoni began to think that either her family did not want her back or the letter got lost somewhere between Dar es Slaam and Njoro.
Then early this month, her daughter called from Njoro. The letter had finally arrived, after 10 months!
For the first time after 35 years, mother and daughter spoke, or rather half-sobbed and half-spoke.
It was an emotional moment.
Back in Njoro, family, friends and neighbours immediately joined hands and pooled funds to bring the prodigal daughter back home, and quickly sent her the money via MPesa.
The rest is history.
On Tuesday, the prodigal daughter of  Gichobo village in Njoro returned home. Her mother, now 100 years old, was waiting for her. So were her two daughters. Lucy Wanjiku, now 51, is a mother of four, while Julia Nyambura, 48, is a mother of five.
The nine grandchildren had never seen their grandmother all their life.  Her father had since died before setting eyes on his daughter.
“It was painful to know that my father died in 1990. I never knew that he died. I was really hoping to see him again but I am too late,” she says.
Muthoni had left for Dar es Salaam in search of greener pastures. She returned with only three bags of her clothes.
But to her two daughters, this did not matter. What mattered was that mother was back home to stay.
“We missed her, but we have forgiven her for deserting us and understand why she had to go,” says Wanjiku.
Nyambura, who would not leave her mother’s side during the interview, said although she had been missing for 35 years, something always told her she was still alive.
“Even in her long silence I still felt that she was still alive. I always prayed that I get a chance to meet her again. This is now a new chapter in our lives,” she says.
Tanzanian family
The two sisters now say they are eager to meet their Tanzanian sister and her family. 
“They couldn’t accompany me back home because my two grandchildren are in school until November,” said Muthoni.
Through a representative, Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika offered to assist Muthoni’s Tanzanian family acquire Kenyan citizenship and join her in Kenya. Then the reunion will be complete.
Some of Muthoni’s neighbours had never seen her all their lives and had only heard different versions of her disappearance depending on who told about it.
“We grew up hearing about her disappearance in so many versions that we got confused. We never believed that she existed,”said Stephen Mwaura.

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