Kericho man reunites with family after 57 years
One night back in 1964, Mr Simon Kipsigei Mibei Chumo stepped out of his house in Bureti constituency, Kericho County.
His wife, who was breastfeeding their young daughter, assumed he had gone to answer a call of nature.
However, the man vanished into the darkness, never to be seen for nearly six decades.
His family agonised over whether he was alive or had died and been buried in a foreign land as “an unknown male”.
The search for Mr Chumo, who is now 85 years old, saw the family turn up at one morgue after another, hoping to find closure among hundreds of unclaimed bodies.
They also visited hospitals, prisons and police cells around the country, but all in vain.
Some 57 years later, however, the family has received back their loved one in an emotional reunion.
Hundreds of residents of Kimenderit/Sebet village in Cheplanget location thronged Mr Chumo’s homestead to catch a glimpse of the man they had heard of for years but neither knew nor settled their eyes on.
Even his age mates were keen to confirm that indeed the much-talked-about man, who now enjoyed a temporary celebrity status, was their long-lost neighbour.
After days of apprehension, tears of joy however flowed freely on Monday afternoon when the octogenarian, like the biblical prodigal son, was driven home in a convoy of three vehicles – two 14-seater vans and a saloon car with countless ululating youths aboard motorcycles.
“It is unbelievable that our brother is home after all these years of waiting and searching without success. It is God’s will that he is still alive and in good health,” said Mrs Alice Koech, the old man’s youngest sister.
Ms Koech, who is 67 years old, said it was unfortunate that their parents – Mzee Cheruiyot arap Kalya alias Taplotin and Mama Taputant Kalya – died years ago before reuniting with their prodigal son.
His grandchildren – Rendy Kimutai, Debra Chepkoech and Jackline Chelangat – said they were excited to meet the old man whom they had only heard of from their parents.
Villagers in their hundreds lined up along the Cheplanget-Kapkatet road to catch a glimpse of the old man they only knew by name.
When he arrived, the residents mobbed him, hardly allowing him to disembark from the front seat of the matatu amid song and dance.
The youths had a field day taking videos and selfies with the man of the moment.
With a clean-shaven head and clad in a new black suit, a dark-blue sweater, a white striped shirt, a grey dotted pair of socks and a pair of swanky safari boots, the old man enthralled locals as he walked with the support of a cane to the dais and sat on a blue plastic chair reserved for him.
His youngest stepbrother, Mr Samwel Cheruiyot, never left his side. His wife, Ms Lydia Chepngeno Mibei, was lost for words.
After a fleeting handshake, she walked with the old man to the dais, which had been erected by residents with the help of a local church, and sat a row directly behind him.
She kept staring at him, her head resting on her arms, hardly paying attention to what the speakers were saying, even with the sound system amplified for the benefit of those who were far from the dais.
When she was called upon to speak, she could only say, “You are all welcome”, before handing back the microphone to the master of ceremonies.
“When we heard a few months ago that he had been spotted in Konoin, we did not believe it but chose to go and authenticate the claim. We were shocked to discover that all along he had been hiding in plain sight,” said Mr Andrew Langat, an uncle of the old man and a former councillor representing Cheplanget civic ward.
Mr Langat said a few family members were the first to travel to Konoin.
Later, more relatives followed, before taking on board local church members, and they all confirmed that indeed the old man was Mzee Chumo.
“Although he was a bit hesitant at the start, he yielded to pressure from both his immediate family and the host family that had employed him. The church members also played a key role in making the reunion a success,” said Mr Langat.
The reasons for the old man’s disappearance were not clear. Some claim he had disagreed with his family and attempted to torch his house before disappearing.
Others had it that he had an issue with an age mate – but all these theories were drowned by the ecstasy that greeted the village upon his return.
“I travelled around Africa with a white man I was working for as a chef. We went to Tanzania, DRC Congo, Egypt, Zambia and Malawi, before returning to Kenya,” said Mzee Chumo in a brief statement.
He, however, did not reveal much of his encounters, choosing to only greet the people for less than 30 seconds before taking his seat.
He had, however, made it clear from the outset that he would not want drunks to sit around him.
“If you are drunk or indulge in alcohol, please do not come near me. I am a born-again Christian,” charged Mzee Chumo.
It emerged Mzee Chumo had been working as a farmhand for some families in Satiet village, Konoin constituency, in the neighbouring Bomet County.
Pastor Erick Bett of Jerusalem Seventh Day Church in Cheptalal location, Konoin Constituency, who was among those who escorted the old man home, said Mr Chumo coexisted well with the residents of his host village.
The cleric revealed Mzee Chumo was baptised on October 31 last year after coming forward in church and expressing his willingness to start leading a true Christian life.
“Many family members and villagers had given up on the search. But some of us soldiered on and we are here today to witness this miracle,” said Mr David Tonui, the retired chief of Tebesonik location in Bureti sub-county, who is also a family member.
Satiet senior assistant chief Kimutai Maritim led the delegation that brought the old man home.
He said he had known Mr Chumo from the mid-1970s.
“We are happy to have handed him over to his family today,” said Mr Maritim. “I am here to set the record straight and without fear of contradiction that for the years we have known Mzee Chumo, he did not have another family. He also did not engage in affairs with women.”
Cheplanget assistant chief Wycliff Chepkwony welcomed the old man back and promised to work with the church and other administrators to ensure he is properly integrated.
“We are happy he is back and have come here to witness the ceremony and ensure it is done smoothly,” said Cheplanget chief Elijah Sigei.
The old man said he was in good health and had neither been on medication nor fallen sick over the years.