The In-between Period

Beginnings. These we understand to be the point at which something begins. They come to us in many different ways. Some are joyfully anticipated. Like the birth of a child. When he finally pops the question. The long awaited promotion to the corner office. An alcoholic pours the final bottle of booze down the drain. The laying of the foundation stone for your dream home.

Other beginnings, however, can be daunting or sad. Like starting a new job or relocating to a new country. The death of a loved one and learning to live without them. The loss of a job or the end of a relationship. A deadly virus declared a global pandemic. Such beginnings may seem like the end rather than a beginning. But Seneca was inspired in declaring: Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Life is a cycle of beginnings and endings and unless you’re dead (the permanent ending), the ending is usually the beginning of something else. Every story has an end, but in life every ending is a new beginning. The beginning of a fresh story. Indeed, every new day is an opportunity for a beautiful new beginning.

Enough with the beginnings and endings. What about the in-between period? The interim time? The time between “here” and “there”? The journey from “Story A” to “Story B”? The long dash in your life? Oftentimes, we do not realize we are in the in-between period, but the truth is that the high or low of a beginning does not last forever. You soon realize the new baby is a lot of work. The excitement of marriage settles down and you discover marriage is not a bed of roses. You move into that new house and you have to contend with additional maintenance and utility costs. The intense feelings of despair characteristic of grief over the death of a loved one soon diminish to more positive memories of the deceased person. You adapt to the “new normal” of living with the Coronavirus. We are always in the in-between period. In-betweenness is a necessary human condition – the quintessential human condition to living. It is where everyday life happens.

Today is Good Friday. I thought about how Jesus’ followers must have felt when he was crucified and the world fell dark and silent. Did they consider it a beginning or the end? Imagine them going back to their homes with their spirits crushed to the core. They had given up their livelihoods to follow this guy for three years and now he was dead. Where were they to start again? For three years, Jesus had taught and guided them. He had even miraculously provided for their daily needs. Now what? Those three days between the crucifixion and resurrection must have felt like the end for them. Not forgetting they risked being hunted down and killed by the same people that killed Jesus. Without the full knowledge we now have that Good Friday would give way to Easter, the followers of Jesus must have been in a state of despair during that in-between period.

Then there is Joseph. The teenager with a coat of many colors. Favored by his father Jacob over his eleven brothers, he dreamt that one day his brothers would bow down to him. And for that, they conspired to get rid of him. They sold him off to some merchants for less than what a common slave was worth. That’s how bad they despised him! You know the story. After many years, thirteen to be precise, his dreams came true and the brothers bowed down to him when he was promoted to be the second most powerful man in Egypt. Yet the in-between period was not a walk in the park. He had to contend with tramped up charges by a crazy Potiphar’s wife. He had to do jail time. He had to deal with people forgetting to return a favor. All this while he was living in a foreign land, away from his family and way of life. Without knowing how and when his dreams would be fulfilled, the in-between period must have been difficult for Joseph.

It doesn’t help that the in-between period is often undefined. The followers of Jesus waited three days for a new dawn. Joseph waited thirteen years. But this was not known to them. The waiting was hard, as it is for us all. We do not enjoy waiting. We do not enjoy the in-between period. Even when the beginning is a good one, we soon tire of it and get anxious for the next high. It is human nature. The impatience at traffic lights or check out queues or waiting at a doctor’s clinic is just a glimpse of who we really are.

So, what to do during the in-between period?

It may sound stupid, but waiting is all you can do. What matters is how you wait. How you spend the in-between time. Your attitude during the in-between period. We can learn a lot from Joseph.

Do what you can with what you have, wherever you are.

Joseph was not in Egypt by choice. He had no idea what would become of him. But whatever he did, he did it with excellence. He performed his duties in Potiphar’s house so well, the guy put him in charge of everything. Well, except the wife! When in prison, he continued to excel and the warden put him in charge of all the other prisoners. It is amazing that he even excelled in the interpretation of dreams. Picture this. A foreigner in prison has the guts to tell a high-ranking prisoner, Pharaoh’s own chief baker, that he shouldn’t expect to leave the prison alive! He said it as it was even though he didn’t know his own fate. Throughout the thirteen years, Joseph did what he could to the best of his ability.

Many theologians agree that Joseph is a type of Christ. Jesus endured much suffering but he was faithful till the end. And as Jesus would declare at the cross, “Fatherforgive them; for they know not what they do“, Joseph forgave his brothers, declaring, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Forgiveness is the flipside of gratitude. It involves choosing to release things like offenses, hurt feelings, judgments, and condemning thoughts. Gratitude, on the other hand, involves choosing to focus on the positive and good things in life and giving thanks for them. Forgiveness is about letting go of the things that weigh us down. Gratitude is about giving thanks for the things that lift us up.

During the in-between, a grateful heart makes the waiting bearable. Even worthwhile. Psychologists tell us the person who feels gratitude is thankful for what they have, and does not constantly seek more. That’s contentment with the here and now. And even in the worst circumstances, there is always something to be grateful for:

“The world has enough beautiful mountains and meadows, spectacular skies and serene lakes. It has enough lush forests, flowered fields, and sandy beaches. It has plenty of stars and the promise of a new sunrise and sunset every day. What the world needs more of is people to appreciate and enjoy it.” – Michael Josephson

Another thing to do during the in-between is to let go of Story A in order for Story B to emerge. Many of us are tied up in the past. We specialize in the “if onlys”. Imagine if Joseph had remained stuck in his father’s household where he had everything he needed. Where he was his father’s favorite, remaining at home when his brothers went away to graze the flocks. His story would definitely have been different. The in-between story we now read wouldn’t have taken three chapters to tell. We must break away from the things that keep us stuck in the old story. This calls for courage to seek what we need to get through whatever our in-between entails. It will often mean saying “No, this is not what I need right now”.

Joseph’s story is our story. His hope that kept him going during the in-between period is also our hope. We individually wait in whatever narrative that is unfolding in our lives but we mustn’t miss the forest for the trees – God’s purpose in the in-between. He prepared Joseph to save his brethren for thirteen years. He let His own beloved Son die a shameful death for the fulfilment of His redemption plan.

Your in-between period may be hard but if you trust God, He will work all things for your own good. Live in integrity and be confident that He will come through for you at His perfect timing.

After all, Good Friday gives way to Easter.

Judah and Tamar

“You know what I learnt from this IVF experience?” He says. “Forget everything else man, forget buying a house, or passing an exam or building a new roof in shags, life is biological and it all boils down to continuity.” – Baba Milan

I will come straight out with it and say I am a huge Bikozulu fan. I always look forward to his regular blog posts on Tuesdays and today’s post written in his characteristic style was captivating. The quote above was by the interviewee in the story. Life is biological and it all boils down to continuity. Mmmhhh…

That one sentence took me back to a story I read recently of a woman named Tamar. She was the daughter-in-law of Judah, one of twelve sons of Jacob. I hope you know Jacob was the grandson of Father Abraham. The story is documented in Genesis chapter 38.

This woman suffered a great injustice in the hands of Judah’s family. She was first married to Judah’s first-born son, Er, who did some wicked stuff and God said: “Enough is enough.” He died before he could have heirs, and in keeping with tradition, Tamar was “inherited” by Er’s younger brother, Onan. This is where the story takes a twist – Onan knew about coitus interruptus long before the act was given a fancy name. Due to his own selfish reasons, he didn’t want his dead brother to have any offspring, and he thought he would fool everybody by having his cake and eating it too. Wait a minute – the Duke of Hastings must be from Onan’s lineage! (All ye Bridgerton fans know what I am talking about, don’t you?). Anyway, you can fool others but you cannot fool God. Because of this wicked behavior, God put him to death also.

Judah had three sons. Two are now dead at the hands of the same woman. In my community, such a woman would have been in the league of “atumia a ciero ndune“, which translates to “women of the red thigh”. These femme fatales were to be avoided at all cost unless as a man, you wanted to end up in an early grave. You can therefore sympathise with Judah for wanting to spare his youngest son, Shelah. He thought he would trick Tamar by sending her back to her father’s household to wait for Shelah to grow up.

I need to summarize this story but Tamar knew she had been tricked when Shelah grew up but she was not invited to procreate with him. She deviced her own trick and my oh my! Judah ends up being the father of her twins! I watched The Bold and the Beautiful back in the day and it was scandalous the way Brooke Logan-Forrester moved from one Forrester man to the next. We now know she took lessons with Tamar!

Life is biological and it all boils down to continuity.

Human beings have been able to create many things but life remains elusive. Yet, that is the main purpose for which we live. “Be ye fruitful and multiply“, was the order given by the Creator of all life. One’s offspring remains their greatest heritage; the arrows in the hands of a warrior. They continue shooting off when everything else has fallen silent. The greatest heritage but no one can obtain it by themselves. People will go to great lengths; not even counting the cost involved. Look at Tamar – she could have been killed (burned to death, in fact) if she hadn’t been clever to retain evidence from Judah’s escapades. All for want of an heir to carry on the bloodline!

Baba Milan is right. No achievement compares to procreation. Do you agree?

Jannes and Jambres

Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. 2 Timothy 3: 8-9

We are living in perilous times and one almost always has to question and find different versions before settling for one’s truth. Fake news and disinformation is the order of the day and reality isn’t always clear. The internet, of course only exacerbates the problem and depending on who you follow, you and I could have opposite versions of the same matter, begging the question, “What is the truth?” If only things were right or wrong. True or false. Black or white!

Today however, my question was, “Who are Jannes and Jambres?”. I was reading the book that is the source of my truth. But how come I have never heard of these fellows? I thought I knew the story of Moses! You know, the helpless baby found floating in a basket on the River Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter? Brought up as an Egyptian Prince, later turned Pharaoh’s foe? The guy of the burning bush who delivered the Hebrews out of slavery? Not forgetting the plagues and parting of the Red Sea. The ten commandments. Oh! I even know his brother was Aaron and sister Miriam (I forget the parents’ names though). Who are these guys being associated with Moses?

Anyway, as any good student should do when faced with a challenge, I looked up Jannes and Jambres – thank God for the internet despite its fake news! By the way, I wish I was a student in this internet era! With just a click, you get so much information from varying sources than you know what to do with. It is a whole world of knowledge and my search for Jannes and Jambres did not disappoint.

Apparently, these guys were the Egyptian magicians/ sorcerers that tried to outdo Moses during the plagues. Paul who wrote the passage I was reading today must have been a pretty good Torah scholar to bring up their names even though Moses failed to mention them when he wrote the earlier account. Anywho, they were able to mimic the plagues of the bloody river and frogs but for some reason they were defeated by gnats (or lice) and could do no more. You might wonder, like I did, why they couldn’t manage gnats but their failure was such a let-down for Pharaoh who, out of frustration, eventually agreed to let the Hebrews go.

With that body of knowledge, I could now relate the fake news to Jannes and Jambres. These type of people are just hot air with no substance – they just create distractions from the real story, the truth. More like the ultracrepidarians I wrote about here. They will seem to be winning for a while, but their luck will eventually run out. Woe unto those who believe them! Woe unto you if you are a Jannes of Jambres! What you gonna do when there’s gnats all over?

My friend, do not wait for when your folly will be clear to everyone. Find the truth. There is only one truth, the One who says, “I am The Way, The Truth and The Life. Follow Him. Forget the likes of Jannes and Jambres!

Five Years Gone

Five years ago today, the man I called baba bowed out of this life. He had a heart problem – an enlarged heart, the doctors said. There wasn’t much that could be done for him – it was left too late. But five years ago, we, his family, didn’t know that. Or maybe we knew but still thought the vibrant man we saw could weather any breathing problems, heart palpitations, fluid retention – all classic symptoms that had him admitted in hospital just four months before his demise. Baba never complained. Never said he was feeling unwell. A month or so earlier, he had come for a checkup with his doctor, himself deceased now thanks to Corona. I met him at the doctor’s. We had a late lunch at a nearby restaurant. He made his usual jokes. I drove him home – it was late in the evening and it was threatening to rain. Nothing in that interaction told me it was the last time I would see baba.

Monday 15th February 2016. 7.30am. I receive a call just as I am parking my car in the office basement. It is my brother Dave. He seems to be laughing and I cannot understand a word he is saying. I am walking towards the lift when I finally get the message. He is crying hysterically. Something about baba. We must go home…immediately. Two colleagues get in the lift with me. I look confused and maybe I tell them what I just heard. One takes my phone and calls my husband, as he settles me at a desk. I am in a daze. Soon we are driving off, first to pick my sister and then head home. Home, where baba’s lifeless body is still lying on his bed. He is still warm. I have never been that close to death. He doesn’t look dead. He is just asleep. And I finally have my moment of hysterical grief.

Five years it has taken to recount the events of that day. They say grief comes in waves, sometimes out of nowhere. Yesterday my sister shared a picture of her four year old son. He was born in 2016 – 7 months after baba left us. He is named after his grandpa. A man he never met. Someone commented how much he is turning out like his senior namesake. That gutted me. But I now have the courage to remember the man that was the pillar of not only our immediate family, but the extended family too. I may not put it as well as my brother did in this tribute but Mukabi is a name I am proud to be associated. A legacy from baba.

Life has taken its twists and turns for the past five years. Faced with some challenges, I sometimes wish he was around to offer some sound advice. Baba was a man of few words. But you didn’t forget what he said. He would say it and the next minute when you are looking for some clarification, he is nowhere to be found – you could say he was a master at the naenda hivi na-come lingual! Which sometimes made him stubborn as a mule. Once baba was convinced of something, hell could freeze over before he could change his mind.

The reason the heart problem was left too late was because of this stubbornness. At least ten years earlier, a doctor in a major hospital had suggested surgery to implant a pacemaker. Baba was in hospital then for a totally different problem – knee replacement. His few days in hospital had left him feeling too confined, and the fact that he was leaving hospital using crutches only made him more agitated. The doctor’s recommendation to follow up with a heart checkup therefore made baba fly off the handle and convinced that the doctor didn’t know what he was talking about for there was no way his heart was going to be opened up! Bringing up that subject later would only invite a naenda hivi na-come moment. I am just grateful for the ten years we got with baba after that diagnosis. He lived life to the fullest and any discomfort he might have felt was hidden well or explained away.

I have no doubt that baba loved his family and people in general. Like many men of his generation, he didn’t say it in words but his actions did. The closest I came to see baba cry was when my brother and I were being prepped for surgery, one to give a life-saving organ to the other. He later commented that not knowing whether both of us would make it out alive was the most excruciatingly painful experience he had to live through. For a man who feared hospitals enough to live with a heart problem rather than go through a surgical procedure, I can only imagine how that was like.

It’s five years today. Another Monday. I wish I could call baba and hear some joke. An off-the-cuff remark that will take me an hour to stew over. I miss his silent wisdom…I miss Mr Mukabi.

…to be continued (maybe)…

The Virtuous Woman

The speech that kick-started my journey with Toastmasters. The Ice Breaker, they call it, because it literally breaks the ice on what is often a confusing time for many new members. What with all the Toastmasters lingo thrown about by seasoned members? I remember being terrified to log onto Pathways and choose a Path…it felt like the first day of kindergarten all over again! (Ok, I didn’t attend kindergarten but having brought up three children, I know the feeling, right?)

Anyway, the Ice Breaker is the Toastmaster’s foundational project designed for a new member to introduce themselves to their club and learn the basic structure of a public speech. It is the easiest of speeches, if you ask me, as it is your personal story. You choose what and how to tell it – it could be humorous, informational, or any other style that appeals to you. You have 4 – 6 minutes to deliver your speech.

I delivered my Ice Breaker speech on 2 April 2019. I remembered it recently as I prepared for another project that required me to reflect on why I joined Toastmasters in the first place. I look back at the strides I have made and I am glad for that first step. Enjoy my story…

For the love of Economics

Some free advice to all freshmen in colleges.

Especially the fresh-faced young girls from county schools who are all too eager to get an education and prove to the world that the place JAB offered them was well deserved. Danger lurks. Even with all your good intentions. Danger lurks. Do not for one minute think that since you attend all your classes, go to the library in the evening, do all your assignments on time, after which you head straight to your room, have dinner then read some more before turning in, that you are safe. No. The fact that you are not one of those girls whose sole aim of being in campus is to have unbridled, endless partying does not exempt you from danger.

It sucks, doesn’t it?

You watch them in fascination. Wondering who bore them. They are in your face every single day. With their loud behaviors who would miss them? They treat the hostels as their palace. The rest of you are the Royal domestics. It’s unfortunate the janitor when allocating rooms did not check the students’ backgrounds.  So you are stuck with one of such girls for a roommate. To make matters worse, you are taking the same course. Which means you are the official Note Taker. This roomie of yours has no idea where to find the lecture hall for Communications 101, a mandatory class for all first years. But she knows the lecturer by his first name. Never mind that in a class of over two hundred regular attendant students, that you have never missed and in which you always secure a front row seat, you have never conversed with the young, swaggerific lecturer that most girls swoon over. When exams are around the corner, your roomie for once struts into your side of the room and borrows your notes.  To your dismay, they lie untouched on her table and she does not return them to you. And when you ask for them two days later, she asks if you could please photocopy them for her. She even shoves  a two hundred bob note into your hands and say you can keep the change. You know how far that kind of cash will take you. So you take it, photocopy the notes and place them on her table hoping she will find them some time.

But this is not about your roomie. It’s about danger. And Economics. Not the subject – no! The Elements of Mathematical Economics that the good old Professor Mukras or the Economic Theory taught by Dr Samanta, while still somewhat relevant  in my day-to-day life have been overtaken by other interests. This post is about loving your books too much that you fail to acknowledge the changing circumstances that you are now thrust into. Circumstances that are very different from the sheltered life you knew in high school especially if your school was like mine. With nuns hovering above like a helicopter, it was impossible to even raise the tiniest spec of dust without being caught. And during those four years, you developed a highly disciplined, strong values and morals character that you expected everyone in the real world to abide by.

My love back then was Economics. A love affair that was kindled by two Ugandan teachers back in the nun’s orchard. Mr Bite, Sir! who probably loved the queen’s language more than he loved economics, and Mr Busiku whose burst of laughter could make the strictest nun lose her veil for a moment. It is the same laughter and mirth injected into the Business studies lesson that made most girls, yours truly included, make it a choice subject in the final K.C.S.E. exams.

The simple Demand & Supply and Markets & Prices theories taught back then ignited a thirst for more knowledge about making choices. And when the time came to study the subject at the grand, awe-inspiring, resplendent higher learning institution that is The University of Nairobi, I put my all into it. I followed the timetable, attended all lectures, all along carrying my books in that infamous academic angle. I knew what had brought me to this big city, and nothing would persuade me otherwise.

I have said before that I have a phobia for libraries. And for an academic hoping to excel, that does not augur well. Back then, computers were rare and research was done using real, paper books; voluminous texts that you obtained from the Jomo Kenyatta Memorial library at the main campus. And the lecturers shocked, nay, scared us that without reading the many books they recommended at the end of each lesson, there would be no passing exams. And I had not come this far to fail my first exam in campus. No, Sir! This megalibrophobia (the fear of libraries until I am educated otherwise), coupled with the fact that before the lecturer could pronounce the author of The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, some able bodied souls were already sprinting to gather the few copies available in the library, meant I had to devise other means of acquiring this knowledge.

The opportunity presented itself unexpectedly one day. A green-horn friend of mine decided we could still try our luck in the library. We had an assignment to complete and things were thickening as the first batch of CATs were just round the corner. It was my first time to set my foot in that place and the sheer size of it was enough to put me off. We didn’t know where to begin and the cataloging system my friend’s roommate had tried to explain seemed too complicated. So we stood outside wondering whether to drop our bags and get in or not. And that’s when Isaac (let’s call him that because I cannot be sure the name he proffered was his real name) came along.

The thing with most freshmen in campus is that they can be noticed from a mile away. It must be the air around them that forms a halo around their heads. Isaac was the kind with tiger eyes and could see the light of the halo shining through the darkest night, better than Knowles. He introduced himself as a fourth year student at the university’s Kikuyu campus and promised he would get us the book we needed. We made plans to meet in two days’ time, hike a ride on the university bus to his campus, collect the book, and hike a ride back to the main campus. It was all too simple.

When the deal is too good, think thrice! Like why would he not bring the book to you if he’s coming your way, anyway? Was he listening to your conversation to know the book you needed? And why was he too eager to help two strangers? These are questions the two greenhorns in this case did not ask, or even think about.

On the appointed Tuesday, Isaac, like clockwork was waiting at the appointed meeting place this time with his friend. With a bunch of other campus students, my best friend and I got on the bus which left for Kikuyu campus at about 5 pm. This meant dusk was quickly gathering in by the time we got to Kikuyu campus and between being ‘entertained’ with a cup of strong tea in their room (they were roomates apparently, or one roommate had been exiled – difficult to know), going for dinner in the Mess and the make-believe that someone was bringing the book from wherever, the clock struck 10 pm. By then, we learnt the bus had already left for the main campus at 9 pm and there were no other means of transport back.

The short of this tale is that, that was the night I could either have been a murderer or an accomplice to murder. A simple nail clipper can be a real weapon, girls – always have one in your bag!  We survived the night unscathed and 5.30 am found us at the Serena bus-stop heading back to our hostels. And made a pact to never talk about that night. Since I have not been in touch with my friend for a very long time to ask for permission to break that pact, I will leave it at that. The fact that no newspaper had headlines screaming, UNIVERSITY STUDENT FOUND DEAD IN CAMPUS ROOM, is testament that whereas blood was spilled, no further damage was done.

Be warned. Danger lurks in the least expected places!

 

 

A train station and a marathon

It was seven-thirty in the evening. The biting Uplands chill was creeping up on her but she was feeling hot. She did not understand what those who accompanied her were talking about. She kept looking right then left then right again. Not that she was about to cross a road. Instead, she was searching the faces of the light evening human traffic. The train station was not busy – just a handful of people expecting their kith and kin. A few others waiting to board the Naivasha bound train. It was expected at 8 o’clock and normally would be on time. In fact, the neighbourhood relied on its ‘whistle’ or king’oora to tell the time. That train was her last hope. If her eight year old daughter did not alight from it, she had no idea where to start looking for her.

Yes. Her daughter was missing. And even as she waited for her to alight from a train, she had no idea how she would have got on it in the first place. She had left home earlier in the day without a penny to her name. Well, at least that is what she thought. According to older daughter, her younger sister had insisted on attending the divisional musical festival after they were released from school. She had begged her not to go, reminding her that “Mother had warned us to come home straight from school”. But she was obstinate and she knew not to argue. Being two years older did not seem to make a difference. In the end, she would do what she wanted. So she helped her as only a sister can. There was some five shillings note around which she told her to use in case she needed it. Then they raided the kitchen of whatever could be carried as lunch. Add some pears from the shamba and she was good for the adventure of a lifetime.

Off she went as happy as a kite. She followed other bigger cousins and schoolmates making their way to the Bata Shoe Factory in Limuru town where the festival was being held.  That is a distance of at least 18 kilometres, my dear friends! How would an eight-year old walk to and fro? But that was the least of worries for the determined lass. All she could think of was the display of colour and dance and watching the performances. She loved music. Especially the traditional kind – the kind where you dressed up in traditional attire and carried flywhisks and jingle bells. The year before she had been a soloist and had gone up to divisional level. This year her class did not make it but that did not mean she would not go watch those who had. So here she was, like the prodigal son, taking step after step, away from home.

What her mother did not know was that she had not walked to Limuru. With other children, they had thronged the same train station where she now hopefully waited and had taken the 12 o’clock train to Limuru. It was jam-packed  with kids going for the festival and the attendant had a difficult time collecting the fares. She had managed to save her five shillings and gotten to Limuru from where she lost track of time and most importantly, her neighbours. She had paid the one bob entrance fee into the hall and gotten carried away by the performances. That is, untill 5 o’clock when the activities seemed to slow down and the hall was getting quieter as the audience filtered away.

She managed to trace some children with the same school uniform as hers and decided those would lead her home. She heard them conversing how they could not wait for the 8 o’clock  train and since they had no money for matatu fare, route 11 would have to do. She had no idea how long a journey it was but it seemed like fun. So, like the children who left Egypt without really comprehending why or what lay ahead, she followed the trekkers. Dusk and fatigue soon conspired and fell on the forlorn group but there was no giving up. By seven, they had covered quite a distance and the crowd of children was getting thinner as each arrived at the path leading home. That is when one of the older children noticed her and started asking police questions (maswali kama ya polisi).

“What is your name?”

“Of who?” (That only comes out right in vernacular – Wa uu?)

“Who are you with?”

“Where do you live?”

Apparently, they were nearing home and did not know of a neighbour like the young girl. Fortunately, they had the wisdom to bring her along and let their parents decide what to do with her. By then it was seven thirty.

The same police questions were repeated by the mama of the house. It turns out the “Of who?” question can be a real saviour. The mention of Mukabi was Njoroge wa Mahinda opened eyes. And doors. And the dinner pot. She was in the midst of her relatives. Her father’s cousins. And they would take her home, which was still about five kilometres away. But first, to matters of the stomach. Dinner was ready, and she was famished! How could she say no? In any case, how would that help her? There were no mobile phones back then and so the sequence of events was to eat then find the way home, whatever time that was. She still did not grasp the gravity of her actions, at least in her mother’s eyes. These people, who she did not even know existed until now, would take her home. Such is the innocence of a child.

An hour later and with a full stomach, jackets and torches in hand, it was back on the road again. Now she was really tired. And sleepy. For once, she wished she had stayed home.

As they approached the train station, they heard people approaching. They were enquiring  from whomever they met whether they had seen a young girl in school uniform.

The eight o’clock train had come and gone. No way was she going home without her daughter. She would report to the police station. Maybe they could help. And as the four or five people that accompanied her headed in that direction, they met the group headed in the opposite direction. With the young girl in their midst. I am not sure I can describe the outpouring of emotions but relief would be an understatement.

That young girl happened to be yours truly. I would never describe myself as a rebellious child but adventure was not a strange word to me back in the day.

Now to the marathon connection.

The last week was training week for the Stanchart Nairobi Marathon that took place yesterday. I had registered for the half marathon but try as I could, I did not feel ready for it right up to the last minute. I had no intention of competing for the prize money but at least I thought I could tackle that distance in three hours tops. But the runner’s manual that came with the marathon kit was not helping. The words ‘stragglers bus’ could not leave me alone. I could see myself being forced off the track to clear way for mid-afternoon traffic. Worse still, being whisked off in an ambulance after fainting in the unforgiving Nairobi sun. I freaked out. Truth be told, I am scared of running. I am pretty sure that any nightmare I have had has been of me running away from something and my legs giving up on me. It is a fear I am determined to conquer and this marathon was going to be the beginning.

So, I remembered the courageous, young girl who could take on the bull by the horns. She may have been foolish, maybe ignorant. Still, she took the first step.  Knowing what she wanted, she did not wait for the perfect situation. She did not wait for others to agree with her. She did not wait to grow older. Instead, she took the first step even when she couldn’t see the whole staircase (trust Martin Luther King, Jr to leave us such quotes). I long to go back to that time. To be that little girl once more. To be carefree. To care less what others think when I am on course to my achieving my dream.

As for the marathon, come back. I promise to tell you how it went.

First Crush

The Six Million Dollar Man, we called him. He waltzed (more like kung fu-ed) into our lives on a nondescript day as we played kati and branda and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. You see, it was break time. Break time, when pupils as young as five years or some old enough to be their parents, were all out in different corners of the school compound taking a breather from the harsh reality of books and teachers. Break time, when gossip and rumors took the blink of an eye to reach even the ears of the truants smoking behind the ablution blocks. Break time, when most teachers congregated in the staff room to sip tea from huge thermos flasks that mysteriously emerged from the female teachers’ large baskets. Break time, the twenty minutes in between lessons that the often corporal punishment-inclined teachers let children be children.

It didn’t help that he came in a car, a rare spectacle at this village school tucked in the midst of a piggery and the largest bacon factory in the country at the time. It had earned itself a reputation of sorts. The school, that is. Topped the charts, eh, Divisional CPE listing. For those not in the know, CPE was the predecessor of the current KCPE exam and it was completed after only seven years of primary education. Unlike KCPE, CPE was a three-paper affair that was devoid of hair-raising subjects such as GHC or Social Studies or Kiswahili or Music or Arts & Craft (I would love to know what the crafters of the early 8-4-4 system were on, but that’s a story for another day). Anyway, any proud holder of a CPE certificate will tell you that theirs was the real deal – the real curriculum that prepared boys to be men and girls to be women. They will regale you with stories of how school was fun back then, with only three subjects to worry about – Maths, English and General paper. You will hear how scoring thirty-six points was the epitome of success. But before I digress too far, this village school did very well in the CPE exams that parents from far and wide brought their children to dispense off their ignorance under the capable hands of the corporal punishment-inclined teachers I mentioned earlier.

And this is how The Six Million Dollar Man joined the act. The gossip and rumour mills at the school had it that he was the son of a Minister (not the tpye that preach fire and brimstone but the law-making type). The play is set back in the Nyayo era when milk flowed in schools and with it sweet voices singing praises for the powerful and mighty that made it (the milk) possible. A son of a minister in our humble school was therefore not something anyone could ignore. Expectations were raised. The pupils for one, hoped for more packets of milk, never mind the rumor that it was laced with chemicals that would make us sterile or that some finger tips had been found in it. There was also expectation that our smelly neighbour, the bacon factory would be forced to give each pupil some lard to take home as compensation for the foul learning environment we endured. And I am pretty sure the teachers could taste promotions and they must have rubbed their hands in glee even as they dreamed of ways to instill sense into their charges. Overall, life in this rural scene could only get better with the minister’s son around.

Anyway, that was as far as the gossip and rumours  went. The Six Million Dollar Man soon became part of our community and in particular, part of my class. There was nothing much to write home about in the looks department. Anyway, they all look the same at that age. In any case, gender differences only make greater the Chinese wall as each tries hard to keep to their ilk. But our man had something the girls, or even his fellow boys could not resist – his story telling ability. Back then, televisions, let alone cinemas were a preserve of the very priveleged in society. It could well be that only a handful of pupils in the entire school had tv sets back at home. Most boys lived for the once-a-month open air cinema events that happened at the nearby shopping center. I say boys because most mothers, mine included would have died first before letting their girls attend these events. The action-packed, martial arts movies were the favourites and the boys lived in between each event trying their level best to outdo each other’s memories of the escapades of their heroes.

Without fear of being labelled a feminist, there is a way boys (men included) can go on and on about a particular subject they have an interest in. A case in point is my nephew who flew in an aeroplane for the first time this last August holidays. Todate, if you mention the word aeroplane, or he sees one up in the sky, you will be treated to the most graphic, entertaining description that his five-year old self can muster, including the exact noises the engines made. And so it was with my boy classmates. Some of the discussions would be so heated that fists would land on hapless faces of enchanted listeners. That was until The Six Million Dollar Man happened. It seemed he had watched more movies than all the rest of the boys combined had watched in their lifetimes. His were more current and the way he told the stories was captivating even to the teachers, who often pretended not to be listening. It helped that he could imitate the heroes’ voices perfectly and his master of the English language was way better than most of the others. At first, the girls feigned disinterest but the boys’ mirth drew us closer like moths to a flame. Our kati long forgotten, our break pasttime became joining the boys to listen to their tales and watch the only version of kung fu that we had ever been exposed to. And that is when I paid a keen interest to the one they sometimes called Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan.

I decided he wouldn’t bite as my mother was wont to say. He was human after all, and funny and sweet (Ok, maybe not). And I loved his stories. He seemed to know so many places and often came to school with sweets that he shared freely with the other boys. Of course we were envious but you do not walk up to a group of boys and ask to share the loot unless you wish to be trampled on. I should have mentioned the sharing was more like the scrabble for Africa. Oh! And The Six Million Dollar Man had a tee shirt with the same print that they drooled over. Never mind the tee which anyway was worn under the shirt and the girls were never allowed to see but I am pretty sure he sometimes appeared in my dreams. However, I do not remember ever having a personal conversation with him. I would know because such a conversation between a boy and a girl was more often than not the butt of many a jokes. I was happy though listening to his stories that transported me to the fantastic world of heroes with more than the proverbial cat’s nine lives. He stayed around for exactly two school terms and just as he had appeared, my Six Million Dollar Man waltzed out of my life. When he failed to turn up for the third term, the gossip and rumours had it that he had gone to a school in America. And just like a bad dream, my fairy tale wedding vanished.

I was only six years old.

My first post as a blogger

Hello world!

They say a journey of  a thousand miles start with the first step. Here goes my first step…

I have procrastinated on this project for one year…for a myriad of reasons. First, would I have enough to write about? Yet each night as I lay to sleep, thoughts and dreams invaded my mind and I longed to release them…to all and sundry…to the world. Which brings me to the second reason. Was I ready to share my innermost thoughts to the world? The internet is a scary place. Especially to some of us born before it’s advent. However, the freedom that comes with sharing was a far greater force than the fear of exposure. So, here I am.

I dedicate to share as frequently as I can and trust that you shall come back as frequently.

Yours truly,

mukibs