I don’t know why the dates escape me now but it was sometime in 2005. A powerful preacher was going to hold a 3-day crusade at the Siaya stadium and the leaders of Siaya Pastors Fellowship through Apostle Martin Odhiambo (Shiloh Ministries) placed a paid advert in a budding Christian Magazine which I ran as a side hustle called Lakeside Glory.
When he finally showed up, he took Siaya by storm, even the Siaya Pastors Fellowship which had claimed in the advert to be his hosts were ignored. The man of God was more influential than they had imagined.
He booked the whole of Siaya Villa Hotel for his team and had a police aide-de-camp on call throughout. I’m reliably informed even today he moves around with a policeman shadowing him.
Like everyone else, I was intrigued. But the media were not allowed to cover his event. The human shield alone was prohibitive, two layers of groups of young ladies dressed in pink and perpetually chanting some religious mantra; one layer of mature women dressed in blue robes before you reached the final layer of Bishops, Cardinals and minders, including the uniformed police officer.
The best the regional director of Kenya News Agency could do was to get a freelance photographer to take a shot while climbing up the branch of a tree. Even then I had something that many people in my trade lack today, rock-hard confidence.
So on the first day of the crusade, I approached one of the Bishops who appeared to gravitate around the mighty apostle and having introduced myself with a gold-embossed business card, asked for an interview. The Bishop said it was impossible but he would inquire from someone higher up the pecking order.
That day I watched, like everyone else, from a distance as the apostle danced to one of his newly released crowd-pulling hits and then gave a controversial sermon.
The second day I presented myself to Villa Hotel just a little before noon thinking that it would be easier to get closer to the apostle in a social setting than I had managed the previous day to no avail. Bishop after Bishop interviewed me. They wanted to know what was the purpose of my intended interview; why not provide a questionnaire to which someone called Barrister Otieno would respond in writing; was I being sponsored by the apostle’s enemies to continue with the bad press he had lately been subjected to?
By the time four Bishops finished probing me, it was already 1:30 pm, time for the 14 Toyota Corolla C-90s which made his official entourage snake its way to the stadium. Courteously one of the Bishops asked me to ride with them to the venue as he was yet to receive a response from the Barrister whether I was a worthy creature to appear before the apostle, or not.
As we snaked our way through Siaya town with police outriders blaring sirens business came to a standstill. All roads leading to the stadium. The crowd was so thick that a human cordon of his faithful had to peel off the crowd for the vehicles to progress.
When we got to the stadium the vehicle I was travelling in, incidentally carried the most powerful bishops. It stopped right in front of the main podium. And there was only one way out – up the ramp and onto the dais.
We were seated quickly because immediately behind us rode the apostle. For the next two hours, I would share the podium (only two seats away from the famous man). For the next two hours, I would sweat and mimic the action of the Bishops around me, who now and then would holler and show by throwing their hands in the air that they were returning some invincible power to the apostle.
At one point our eyes met and I could see the glee and laughter of his brown eyes through the coloured lenses of his trendy sunglasses. Between me and the great man was his son who was titled Prince and one Cardinal who was so stiff with authority and religious presence. On the other side was his mother who was viewed as a holy matriarch of some sort in the Organization.
When the time for the sermon came he was led out to a ramp and onto an extended platform. Just like on the previous day, he jumped this way and that way as he preached and in the excitement, nobody noticed that I was moving freely around the stage taking shots. He was a showman and he gave me all angles; lifting his dress this way, turning broadside to the camera, and yes I got some of my greatest shots with the old Canon X-35.
Sermon over and we trooped back to the vehicles and onto Villa Hotel. Now I was determined more than ever to nail the interview.
Just how it would eventually occur would floor even me with my self-proclaimed professional hardiness.
From 5:30 to 8:00 p.m., we went through a repeat of the earlier interrogations. This time though there was a sense of affability with the interviewers trying to impress it upon me to make positive copy. Unknown to me, then, the hardest part of the evening had just begun.
Now came Barrister Otieno, who then was the Apostle’s right-hand man. A thorough background check had been done on me and it transpired Otieno had attended the same college as myself three years behind. He even could remember the name I used in college since I was in the Student Council. After old-time banter, he seriously suggested he fields the questions on behalf of the apostle.
It was getting late and I was feeling overstretched having played religion and the good guy all afternoon. I told the barrister, point blank, that it would be unfortunate if I projected to the world the cultic exclusivity of the denomination rather than whatever positive aspects I could glean from a personal interview.
Abruptly, Otieno stood up and told me to follow him. I was taken into the main dining room of the hotel and told to order supper.
Immediately after I was through eating the uniformed police officer appeared and stood at a discreet corner. The dining room cleared of all humanity and the regally dressed man whom it had taken me two days to meet appeared.
He waved his retinue of Bishops away and we remained on the table just the two of us.
What struck me at close quarters were his eyes. They were shifty, large brown oblongs that can only be described as lady-like. His skin tone was a natural light brown. His attire was most disconcerting; a headscarf tied in the Bedouin fashion (reminding me of Muammar Gaddafi, whom I had only met on TV) and a skirt-like Scottish kilt for the lower region. He was wearing some moderately priced perfume but I could also smell the odour of fear on him. Right away I made a resolve to be compassionate with him during the interview.
I wanted to get up for the greetings but he caught my hand and when I squeezed back he flinched. It was then that it came to me; all that media talk that the guy was transgender was true. In that instant, he knew that I knew and that’s how we began our interview.
Mark Ngau: It’s all anyone wants to know, my sexuality. They are blinded to the truth that I’ve come to fulfil scripture
Lawrence: Sir, I’m not here to pursue that line. Recently I was invited to attend a convention of the Kenya Clergy Fellowship at Karen Nairobi. I did not see you there when everyone who claims to be someone in religious circles was present. There’s also this matter of a spiritual awakening of the Charismatic Movement not just in the country but globally. What role do you think you play in these momentous events?
Mark Ngau: I’ll begin with those clergy whatever; they know me. They know that I wouldn’t approve of their avarice and hypocrisy. They won’t dare to invite me to their so-called religious symposia (she responded in a scintillating soprano, speaking mostly in Swahili with a Tanzanian accent)
Lawrence: What are your full names Sir and probably date and year of birth?
Mark Ngau: My name is Mark Otieno Ngau. My father was also Mark and due to the miraculous events of my birth I was named Moses, the One who comes to Deliver people from servitude. I was born in 1974 but my mother says it could be later, even 76.
Lawrence: And what exactly were the miraculous events surrounding your birth?
Mark Ngau: My father had travelled to Mombasa. You see I was born in a small village around Sori, Karungu. But (please stop recording me. We can just talk, you take notes or you do something but don’t record). [I turn off my Blackberry phone wondering how he had noticed I was discreetly recording him]. As I was saying I spent much of my childhood in Tanzania….
The interview largely took that vein – slightly appearing to despise men, complaining about growing up with an absentee father, hating boys for stigmatization during childhood, believing that he is some godsend solution to mankind’s problems. When we got through I was certain about two things:- One: here was a fairly intelligent person who despite the birth anomaly had tactfully manoeuvred (I don’t want to say, brainwashed) his followers to see something I had failed to perceive in forty-five minutes of curious conversation. Two: that he had the potential to exponentially grow his Organization. Over 20 years now and my surmising has come true.
The gentleman changed his name to Dalan Rukhi and is held by his adherents with deity esteem. Later we met with his Denominational Overseer in Nairobi and (for some reason) he insisted on buying the SD card containing all the pictures I took at the stadium.