Two weeks ago I had never heard of the phrase “crowd funding.” I didn’t know its mechanism.
I was going through my life as a writer, chasing deadlines, sitting down with interesting (and some not so interesting) interviewees, drinking my whisky over the weekend and keeping my head low, as only writers do. I hadn’t raised one red cent in my life before.
I don’t even tweet often, for Chrissake — I find tweeting so laborious and consuming, especially after I have banged an average of 9,000 words in a week.
So when people ask me, “how did you help raise Sh6.4 million for a boy battling cancer in under 48 hours?” I don’t know what to say because they expect a formula, a methodology. I have none.
I just told the touching story of a boy battling cancer and someone shared it to many people on Twitter and God did the rest. Actually, God did everything.
It still feels surreal how it all unfolded. Five hours after I posted the story of Emmanuel Otieno, known as Jadudi, on my blog (bikozulu) Kenyans had contributed Sh1 million towards his brain surgery scheduled in India.
The next day, by 4pm, only 46 hours in, there was a cool Sh6.1 million in the account. The final amount is now standing at a little of Sh6.4 million. I can’t tell you what happened on social media for this to happen, I can only speak about my role as the one who wrote the story.
There are stories that tell themselves, this was one of them.
A 22-year-old university student from a humble background who has undergone three brain surgeries, who still has a lot of fight in him and seeks financial help to go under the knife for the fourth time. Who wouldn’t be drawn to a story like that? Would it have been different if he were going for his first and not fourth surgery? Possibly.
Would it have been different if he was 34-years-old and a father of one? Who knows? Of course his humble background coupled with his condition helped. Everyone roots for the underdog.
If he were from a wealthy family he would probably be in the private wing of a hospital in Switzerland, eating waffles as he awaits a knot of surgeons to open his head up. Rich people generally make for tiring profiles, unless they are stories of them talking about the secret of their wealth, or tumbling from grace to grass because we — humans — love to dance on the graves of those who fail.
I love stories that seduce my emotions. Stories that you write in your heart before they come alive on paper. Before I sat down to write this story one thing was clear; people needed to feel connected to this boy and his tribulations in order to empathise with his plight.
They needed to walk a mile in his shoes, to use an embarrassing cliche. The story had to come alive, it had to come with smells. And so we had numerous phone conversations, from which I took small details of his history: How did all this start, the headaches?
How did you find out? Which day was it? What specifics of that day can you recall? How was the weather like? Describe the radiologist.
What were you wearing? Describe that exact feeling when you found out about the tumour in your brain. Did you cry? What went through your mind that night? Can you remember the shirt you were wearing during the radiology? How did your mom sound when she heard? Are you scared? How does it feel to have a tumour in your head? Do you actually feel it? What is your dream in life? When are you at your lowest battling with cancer? Do you have regrets?
We would talk for 10 minutes then we hang up because it would sap his energy and emotions then I would call again and ask him all these questions as I took notes on my notepad. The devil is in the detail.
This line of questioning for small details basically made me get immersed in the story, offered that three-dimension and gave it texture. Texture offers traction. Readers needed to feel the coarseness of his story.
Nobody ever gave anyone money if they didn’t trust them. They trusted Jadudi and I want to believe they trusted me. My job ideally ended when I posted that story. If nobody connected to it I would have failed Jadudi. I would have misrepresented his struggle and plea.
After the roaring success of this funds drive many people called and SMSed and told me how kind I was, how blessed I am. One even called me an “angel.” I cringed. I was flattered of course, but deep down I knew it wasn’t all me.
You know when the ball hits the left calf of a footballer and then bounces off the opponent and into the net and technically that makes it your goal but you know it isn’t? That’s how I feel about this whole Jadudi thing.
I know it’s a higher power at work here. I know it’s a much bigger hand at play; that I was used as a vessel, as a pawn, to answer the persistent prayers of a desperate family at the end of their tether. A family that only wanted to save their sick son. I’m no angel, I was a means to an end. And that realisation both scares and humbles me.
I first met Jadudi last Saturday after he flew down from Kisumu. I prayed that the meeting wouldn’t involve tears (mine). He landed at midday and had a frenzy of media interviews and pressers. I kept away because crowds overwhelm me; I choke when I find myself in a group of people.
Then of course I avoid attention and cameras and media guys sticking things in your mouth and asking, “So how do you feel knowing that you have helped this boy?” And I want to say sarcastically, “Oh I feel that I deserve 40 virgins. Wouldn’t you?”
I sneaked into his hotel at 11.30pm in the night, after all the media and well-wishers had long cleared out of the hotel. He was staying at The Sarova Panafric who had generously offered to house him and his parents on a full complimentary until they jet out to India this weekend.
I took the lift to the fourth floor. He opened the door wearing a white bathrobe, hotel slip-ons and tracksuit pants underneath. He had a stubble. His right hand, now immobile, hang lifeless by his side. He shuffled, dragging his feet on the floor but his eyes, my God, his eyes, sparkled with life.
He smiled broadly and we embraced like brothers reconnecting after many years. “I don’t know how to thank you!” he said and I stammered and I said, “Oh come on, don’t say that, you will make me cry.” And he laughed. He talked about his love for philosophy and what he called “World Music” while I nodded encouragingly and ate all the strawberries and olives from his fruit basket.
People ask me, how does it feel to do this for him? It feels divine. I feel that I was chosen amongst many to fulfil their prayers. I feel humbled. I feel proud to be a human being and to be a Kenyan who showed that they can come together for a common good. I feel purposeful.
I feel that writing a blog for many years for a pittance has suddenly impacted hugely on someone’s life. Life made sense last week, albeit briefly.
My seven-year-old daughter asked me, “Papa, why are they saying your name on TV as a blogger, what is a blogger?” I told her it’s someone who writes.
“Remember how I told you that I’m a writer, I’m also a blogger.” Then she asked me, if I have a boss. She’s always asking people if they have a boss. I do actually have a boss, the audience is the boss. They proved it when they came through for Jadudi.
Mr Biko, a Business Daily writer, highlighted Emmanuel Otieno aka Jadudi’s battle with cancer on his personal blog, bikozulu