In PHILADELPHIA, PA
The body of a Kenyan man who died in the United States two months ago and who was almost declared ‘unclaimed’, finally, will be buried in Mumias, Kakamega County.
For close to two months, no relative or friend had shown up to claim the body.
According to the committee that raised money for transporting the remains of the late Omar Mmubango, the body is likely to leave Jersey City, New Jersey as soon as the necessary certification is completed.
“For now, we really can’t say when the body will ship because we are working on the paperwork but we want everybody to know that we have raised enough money to transport our compatriot back home for burial,” said Kennedy Chesoli, a member of the ad hoc committee that coordinated the fundraising carried out on online platform Gofundme.
Mr Omar Mmubango, originally from Mumias, but who had lived an almost isolated life in the US for over three decades without most Kenyans, even those who lived in his neighbourhood, knowing him or anything about him died on February 9 while undergoing treatment at the University of Philadelphia Hospital.
He was suffering from complications associated with cancer.
But because he had no family or relatives living in the US and since he led a solitary life, Kenyans living in the US were not aware of his illness and subsequent death until the University Hospital Mortuary reached out to his daughter living in Kenya.
The hospital informed her that plans were being made to declare the body ‘unclaimed’ and therefore discard it “the way they saw fit” unless she made arrangements to collect it immediately.
Mr Mmubango’s daughter, Shassy Mwajuma, had been listed by the deceased as the next of kin in the contacts he had given the hospital at his admission.
Out of desperation, and because she could not immediately raise money to book a ticket to the US, Ms Mwajuma took to social media and contacted the people she was “friends” with on Facebook especially Luhyias living in the US and highlighted her family’s plight.
“And this is really how the news broke out. A tweet at first, a WhatsApp and Facebook messages went out and we were like, wow wait a minute! this person, whoever he is, is one us and as always, we burry our own so immediately a few of us came together and established a Gofundme donation link and the money started coming in,” said Kennedy Chesoni, a member of the team that is now being credited for raising enough money to send the late Mmubango’s remains home to Mumias for interment.
The Gofundme post was widely publicised in popular Kenyan news aggregating sites like Diaspora Messenger, Mwakilishi, Jambonewspot among others.
Mr Chesoni, a Policy expert at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs at the United Nations headquarters in New York, told the Nation.co.ke that immediately the news of the impending disposal of the remains of the late Mmubango broke, the Kenyan community in the US sprung into action and started contributing to the fund.
By Sunday, when the fundraising closed, the team had managed to raise enough funds to accord the deceased a sad but ‘heartwarming’ send-off and also to clear his mortuary and funeral expenses.
“As we speak right now, the remains of the late Mmubango have been moved from the University of Philadelphia hospital mortuary and are now preserved at Watson Funeral Home in Jersey City, New Jersey awaiting transportation to Nairobi and then on to Mumias for burial in the course of this week,” Mr Chesoli said.
He added: “We ended our campaign Sunday — 14 day since we started this initiative. We managed to raise $14,416 from some 263 individuals. Our Abeingo Boston brothers raised $2,360.
“We received support from all over the United States…we even received a message of condolence and donation from South Africa,” he added.
But even as the remains of the late Mmubango make their way over the Atlantic to Kenya for his final resting place, certain aspects of his life in the US are emerging that provide a subtext to the dangers of living a secluded life in a foreign land.
Information available on the internet, public libraries and personal accounts of the few people who knew the late Mmubango reveal a very mysterious person, indeed.
Originally, he was known as Omar Murunga Mubango. Nobody seem to know exactly why and when he changed to Omar Mmubango.
Records show that he was born in Mumias and arrived in the US in September 1976 on a F1 Student visa.
He enrolled for Food Science and Technology study at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls.
In early 1980s, he graduated from University of Minnesota with a Degree in International Relations; he also held an MBA (2015), and was enrolled in a PhD programme (International Economics) at the North Central University.
Even though it is said that the late had no known immediate relatives in the US, public reports indicate that Mmubango was once married though he later divorced.
However, if and whether that marriage bore any children, their whereabouts remain a mystery.
But his Kenyan daughter Mwajuma is reported to have said that indeed her father had two children, both of who died on the same day in a car accident nearly 10 years ago.
This was collaborated by Mr George Karanja, a Kenyan born resident of Delaware who claims to have known the late Mmubango well.
Mr Karanja confirmed to the Nation that indeed Mr Mmubango had mentioned to him that he had kids in the US.
“I personally never saw them and he certainly didn’t disclose to me that they had died. He also mentioned severally that he had been involved in an accident even though he didn’t bear any physical scars.
“If indeed it happened, then it is perhaps in this accident that the children passed away,” Mr Karanja said.
Mr Karanja believes that if in fact Mr Mmubango had kids and family then they lived in the South, most likely West Virginia.
“The late Mmubango was a very very private man who didn’t talk much about himself or his life,” added Mr Karanja.
“The late Mmubango appears to have had a normal and loving father-daughter relation with Mwajuma. She knows most of the finer details about her father, including when he became an American citizen.
“He had tried to petition the US government to legally have her come to the United States. Omar reportedly authored a book, a status of which remains unclear. It is essential for Mwajuma to come look into this and other leads,” said Mr Chesoli.
Mr Chesoli says that over 250 Kenyans living abroad contributed an average of $40 to facilitate the transportation of Mmubango’s body to Kenya because they had very little information about his financial resources and support available to his family.
“All of us had no prior knowledge and contact with Mwajuma and the late Omar. We used social media, crowd sourcing and managed to collect $14,000 in an organic movement that had no leadership structures, just volunteers,” he said.
“We achieved our target without a Harambee because none of the Kenyan churches or Kenyan community groups were willing to sponsor the funds drive,” revealed Mr Chesoli.
Mr Chesoli says that the greatest take away from the late Mmubango’s episode is the reality that one can never burry themselves.
At some point, they need friends and family and the community at large.
“It is very important to belong to some group or association otherwise one can die and rot away without the community knowing about it,” he said.