The phone call to inform him that his brother in the US had finally succumbed to injuries he sustained nearly five years ago from a carjacking incident gone wrong came early in the morning.
And, as he picked up his mobile phone still hooked to a charger besides his bed and saw the now familiar US number saved under his sister-in-law’s name, Mr Fidelis Wasike Wekulo instinctively knew this was a call he has been waiting for since his younger brother, Matanda Mike Wasike, was attacked and left for the dead. He had always known that one day, a phone call would come from the US informing him his brother had passed on.
“Since he was attacked almost five years ago, my brother had not made any significant progress and, therefore, we have always hoped for the best while expecting the worst. So, the news came not as a shock to me, but rather as an elevated throbbing pain in the heart,” said Mr Wekulo.
But even as he and his sister-in-law cried and consoled each other during the phone conversation, his mind was already pre-occupied with two things: one, how he was going to break the awful news to his mother who, even at 81 years old had recently travelled to the US to see her son and, two, where the family would get the money, estimated to be in millions of shillings, to ship the remains of his brother back home in Lwandeti, in Lugari for burial!
“My mother loved Mike and she prayed every day for him to get well. She never gave up on him or wavered in her belief that one day, her son would talk, walk and perform normal chores just like he used to before he was attacked. So, I knew the news of his passing was going to break her heart,” added Mr Wekulo in a phone conversation with the Sunday Nation from their Lwandeti home in Lugari, Kakamega County.
“It is one thing to mourn your loved one who went abroad but never returned alive. It is another if you have to worry about how and where you will get the money to ship the body back home,” Mr Wekulo said.
But, Mr Wekulo may have been a little at peace had he known that Kenyans living abroad always embrace the responsibilities of raising money to ship one of their own back home for burial.
“Kenyans abroad may not contribute to your hospital bills, give you money for your charity or even buy you food but they will always contribute money to ship your remains back home for burial,” said Andrew Simiyu, a Kenyan resident of South Philly.
And, indeed, it was a pleasant surprise to Mr Wekulo when early in the week he was told that the memorial service-cum-fundraising held over the weekend in Des Moines had realised more money than they had budgeted for.
“You can imagine our joy when we heard that Kenyans living in the US had raised a little more than the Sh2.5 million we had budgeted for,” he said.
Mike died after nearly five years of trying to recover from a beating that left him unable to walk or talk. He was eulogised at the memorial service on Saturday as a loving father and a Kenyan who, not only loved his family but also liked to participate in community activities.
On Saturday, more about 200 people, mostly Kenyans living in Iowa turned up at the Imani Family Church in West Des Moines to not only bid him farewell but also to raise money to ship his body back home for burial.
“We achieved our budget and for that, I am grateful to all those who turned up to bid Mike farewell,” said Ms Joan Matanda, the deceased’s wife.
The deceased suffered life-altering injuries after he was brutally beaten during a February 26, 2013, carjacking in which three teenagers were involved in stealing his car because one needed to make it home before curfew. The attack left him unable to walk, talk or feed himself.
Mike moved to Des Moines in 2009 to live with his wife, daughter and son, who had left Kenya for the US six years earlier.
“I came to the US in 2003 on a Green Card program and embarked on filing papers for Mike to join us. He finally joined us in 2009. Mike was a good husband and father who cared for us,” says Joan.
His daughter, Sandra, while eulogising her father confirmed this to the crowd when, with tears streaming down her face, told the crowd that she was “daddy’s girl.”
According to Joan, her late husband had looked forward to visiting his mother in Kenya in the summer of 2013, a trip he would have made had he not been violently carjacked months earlier.
“That is why I felt it was important for Mike to go back home and be buried next to his father. He has left so many people who loved him and so burying him at home would provide some sense of closure.” she said.
She said that plans were under way to ship the body home probably early next week.
“There is so much paper work involved in releasing his remains because of the cause of his death. There are so many state and federal agencies involved by virtue of him having been assaulted. That’s why there is a delay,” she said.
The teenagers involved in the carjacking, Kenneth Barry (22), Terrance Cheeks Jr (22) and Leshaun Murray (21), were convicted for the offence and are serving prison sentences. Murray and Cheeks are serving 50-year sentences, while Barry is serving 20 years after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Prosecutors told court that on the fateful night, the three teens blocked Mike’s car by walking in the middle of the road.
When Mike exited his vehicle, Murray struck him on the back of the head with a handgun, fracturing his skull, according to testimony in court.
He spent months in a Des Moines hospital before he was transferred to a treatment facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he regained ability to make sounds and show facial expressions that helped him communicate with his family. But his condition soon deteriorated.