You have 40 minutes to write this composition. Go! Cue in the heart palpitating like the tom-tom drums of West Africa. You have to make sure you create a situation where that simile will apply in your composition, right? If you remember those times, you are Kenyan. Congratulations. If you remember that simile, you are definitely a millennial, Generation Y species. Pat yourself on the back. You wrote about being lost in a forest. You wrote about being kidnapped. You wrote about a fire at your neighbour’s. You wrote about the day you would never forget. And that day was always about some cheesy event where you either won something or toured some special place. This is where you went all out, whether in truth or in fiction. There was no Instagram or Facebook to show people. You could only do it in paper and only your teacher could see it.
(By the way, there is no such thing as the tom-tom drums of West Africa. Some Kenyan somewhere came up with that all on his own. I figure it was a he. Tom-tom drums are, in fact, very modern instruments. Very Western. There are, however talking drums of West Africa. You know, how drums were used for communication…)
We are always told not to dwell on past glories. If what you did in the past seems big, you are not doing enough now. True. But if you can remember something that jolts you to action, to do something much bigger, then remember it alright! That is what I am doing here. I am just proving to you that it is always a journey to get somewhere, one step at a time. Other times, you forget stuff and want to pursue other things but the passion persists. Even when you pursue majors that are not really you, you could end up going in the direction you need to go.
Throwback Thursday is about my first written piece in public. I had just cleared class eight. I was having the time of my life just being idle and waiting for my results. No pressure. Then the Young Nation peeps announced a writing competition. I was like, meh. Whatever. But my mum was all up in my space. You have to do this Shiku. You were made for this.
Mum knows best, right? So I grab some foolscaps and write on. I was not even sure if I should have done it in pen or pencil. But I used a black bic biro pen. And I wrote as I was used to in primary school. A little make-believe story. More like composition really. Same difference. There was nothing like computers in my little world back in ’03. My first experience in front of one was in my Form One Computer Studies class in that cold laboratory on the first floor overlooking the tuition block.
The competition was to write Chapter Two of a story that someone in the Young Nation team had already started. I thought that was pretty cool. I always enjoyed writing compositions. In fact, it was the most enjoyable part of the examination period. Letting your pencil take you to another world where you made the rules and made things happen. Sometimes, I could surprise myself. And somehow, I never got below 30/40. 30/40 was the highest you could get in Kidfarmaco Primary School. Never understood why though. The system remains to date.
In high school, compositions became essays. We were told to ditch those weird idioms, similes and whatever flowery language we had been taught all through our upper primary lives. Smh. Anyway, I owe a lot of what I do now to those compositions. And my teachers of English. Ms Kagiri, my primary school teacher. Mr Nangulu, my high school teacher. Somehow, he always loved my essays. And a lecturer I listened to for three months in my first semester at Moi University. Mr. Furaha. He commended an essay I co-wrote with group members in a class of about 1000 students. I am not exaggerating by the way. In first year, we took electives with thousands of peeps from the School of Arts and Social Sciences. Sometimes, we just went to LH1 to chill out. It would get so full, the lecturer at the front looked like a figment of my imagination and his voice like a distant drone of a tiny radio whose batteries were giving up on life. I would imagine having to umauma them for him to shout louder or something.
Apparently in the past, those lecture halls required lecturers to have a microphone. But who cares about that in the 21st century education system? Half the people signed up for the class never showed up until it was CAT time. Then you would wonder if the earth had opened up and regurgitated a whole new breed of students and then eaten them up again until the next exam. Anyway, Mr Furaha was a debonair man who wore his pants at a height slightly above that which your average Kenyan man would. The height that exudes confidence and neatness maybe because there is no protruding belly or hideous belt. And if you are thinking I am describing that weird Congolese way of wearing pants above the waist, I am not. Tafadhali. Most importantly he knew his English well. He inspired me to be better. (Calm down person. This was not a crush.)
Let’s just say your parents and teachers determine what you will believe you can do years down the line. And that is why it sucked to listen to teachers talk down kids who could not answer questions in class or do well in exams. I am pretty certain that is why half of them are out there with a low self-worth. Words can build you up, words can break you down. I am where I am because of words. You are here because of words. Words, words, words.
Anyway, I will leave you with that piece I wrote back then. See if you can count the number of times I used the word heart in it. 😀 It made my settling in in high school a bit easier because somehow, the chicks in there saw the picture of me receiving the winner’s cheque. It was published the Sunday before we reported to the new school. My first friend talked to me because of that picture. My house mum pinned it on the Dorcas Luseno house noticeboard where it stuck for ages until the house got a paint job. Tumetoka mbali na mbali tunaenda. To many more pieces in the coming years. And books.
Have you abandoned a passion of yours because you thought it was not who you are but it somehow keeps beckoning at you? Hmmm… Are you seated at home reading this because there is no job for you with your degree? Perhaps it’s time you stopped looking for jobs armed with only a degree certificate. Think about it. You probably have some gem tucked up your sleeves that could help you eke out a living while having fun at it. Pretty soon, the eke will turn to prosper. Don’t sit back and wait for something that will never give in a million years. Peace!
Sunday Nation DECEMBER 21, 2003 YOUNG, NATION.
Crocodile!” Juma shrieked his heart out. “Crocodile!’
His heart palpitated threateningly, almost breaking but of its ribcage. His dark hair stood on end as he tried to figure out what to do. Juma marshalled his energies and made his way to the riverbank. The big black thing drifted towards him and he was just in time to find a safe haven on some rocks in the water.
As he stood on the rocks; he shook with fear. Teacher Wamani had said that crocodiles are very dangerous animals. That they break human beings into small pieces before finally swallowing them.
As he imagined what the crocodile could do to him, he opened his mouth to cry for help but no words could form. For a second, he thought of going back where he had come from, but his legs could not move. His heart was pounding heavily. From the corner of his eye, he could see the crocodile getting closer. Juma’s eyes popped out, his mouth wide open. Then the reality hit him. It wasn’t a crocodile! A log of wood!
In disbelief,he looked keenly at it as it drifted by until it disappeared down the river. Then something hit his head. He jumped. “Crocodile!” he shouted in a state of mixed feelings. A leaf fell off his head and, as he came to his senses, he breathed a sigh of relief. He stepped into the river again and as the morning cold water came into contact with his legs, he thanked God that he was still alive. His Mother had taught him to thank God for all the good things that happened to him.
He crossed the river easily and stepped on dry ground. Suddenly, he realised he was very tired. “Today, I have escaped death twice. Thank you, God!” he whispered as he sat down to catch his breath. As he pondered over his fateful morning, he remembered. Rovina’s letter!
“It must be 8 o’clock now,” Juma said to himself. He got up and started running up towards Rovina’s homestead. He dug into his pockets for the letter but it felt wet. He tried to get it out but it tore easily when held. Juma was on the verge of tears at this juncture.
“Oh no!” Juma exclaimed. “What will I do now?”
He knew that honesty was the best way out at that time and always but could also recall the many times his friend, Sammi had lied to get away from trouble. He tried to cook a tale in his boggled mind but he could not seem to think of anything. Juma adored Ambuka. He knew that she would have loved to be entertained by Rovina, her favourite celebrity, but now it was impossible and it was all his fault.
What could he do, he wondered. A thought crossed his mind.
He would just go to Rovina’s home and tell him what was written in the letter. He would guess, of course. After trudging up the hill, he arrived at Rovina’s homestead. The home seemed strangely quiet. Nevertheless, he walked along the path towards the door. He breathed in heavily and knocked at the door. Nothing happened. He knocked again, but nobody answered.
“Rovina must have left,” Juma concluded: “But we would have met…” He decided to try opening the door. Surprisingly, it was not locked. Juma got in timidly but cautiously. Light streamed from the door and Juma looked around. There was no one in sight. The room was so untidy, with items strewn all dyer the place-and the floor, Then he called out severally. “Any body home?’ No reply. When he was almost giving up, he heard a groan from the corner of the disorganised room.
Slowly he tiptoed towards the corner, his heart pulsating heavily. To his utter astonishment; it was Rovina lying on the floor. Blood oozed out of his body. He seemed to be in excruciating pain as he was writhing and wincing. What had happened? But before Juma could think of his next move, he felt a strong hand seize him and the muzzle of a gun against his back. What was happening? Who was his assailant?
From the corner of his eye,he could see a strong man covered by a mask on his face. The man started pulling him towards the dark part of the room. As they passed through the inner door, the side of the mask stuck on the door. The mask fell off. The man quickly pulled it up, but Juma had seen his face
“Anjangoo!” he shouted in surprise.
Then he received a sharp slap on his face which sent him tumbling down… He fainted.