Joel Khasiani is the lead hand here, the day watchman. He’s knowledgeable, articulate, he gets things done.
He was born in Kakamega in 1965, fourth of six children from his father’s first wife. A polygamist, his father had three wives and 12 children. His father abandoned his first family. He died of cancer in October, 2012, at 87 and until four years ago, he was still strong, still cycling. Joel’s older brother died at 39 from malaria left untreated. As a brother can inherit a wife, Joel’s mother was given a hut on his uncle’s shamba where she worked for the grandparents growing food. She now lives with one of her grandsons.
Though Joel grew without a father, without a secure home and with no secondary education, he was mobile within an extended family and was neither unloved nor abused. Joel says that such abandonment is common as is the age old favouring of boys. ‘Boys stay around, girls get married off, but society is shifting, it’s beginning to value girls.’
At fourteen, after primary school, knowing the ‘forest was free’, he went to work making charcoal to sell. Then he worked for several years with his brother who had a matatu. Joel was the tout or fare collector on this small bus. But work here is ‘up and down’ and Joel joined a brother in Nairobi where, for many years, he was employed as a housekeeper for Kenyans. From 2001-2002 he worked for two English beekeepers. In his free time Joel had a ‘boda boda’ taxi, ferrying pedestrians on his bicycle. When the beekeepers left they referred Joel to the Harambee Centre.
With pressure from his father, he married his first wife at 25, because, ‘even if abandoned, respect is still due a father.‘ Not a successful marriage, Joel has married again. He has four girls and two boys.
His oldest son is 26 and has completed primary school. He has a duka or small roadside store where he sells sugar and the like. Joel says he is good at assessing the credit needs of the local community and so his small business is successful. He is not married and has no children.
His younger children are in primary school. His hope is that they will work hard, get good marks, earn scholarships with the Harambee, and go to university.
Joel likes reading English newspapers and books; refers to his ability with English as a ‘talent.’ It certainly is.
[With permission. Photo: Norm Filipenko]