The Two Carolines


Once upon a time, Caroline loved reading. Maybe it was the curiosity that comes with childhood. Maybe she was just different. Whatever the case, the fact is she loved reading. She read everything. At the beginning, it was short stories about hares tricking other wild animals into funny situations. Then there was the whole lot of Phoenix Young Readers Library books. You remember them… Beautiful Nyakio, Mzee Nyachote, Tales of Wamugumo and Jimmy the Jeep. Then a bit later in upper primary, there was Truphena Student Nurse, Pamela the Probation Officer and Anna the Air Hostess. At some point, the Western fairy tales became more appealing, you know, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Goldilocks and all those tales that end with ‘and they lived happily ever after’.

The interesting thing is, when you think about it now, the African tales were a bit more realistic. They always had a moral lesson.
‘To this day, hyenas limp…’
‘…he had learnt a very painful lesson from the cunning hare.’
‘…that is why the zebra has stripes’

The Western ones on the other hand took me away to another world. A world of houses made of candy, fairy Godmothers that made your wishes come true, and geese that laid golden eggs and handsome princes who had magical kisses that would break curses, raise dead and sleeping beauties. There was my all time favourite, ‘The Famous Five’ by Enid Blyton; those four kids and the dog. I loved them! They would go for camps, islands and farms and solve mysteries. Pair that with Scooby doo and half my childhood was spent in the book world.

I will not forget the books we read as part of the curriculum. There was Mary and Tom. I loved the bags they carried to school, little green bags strung over the shoulder. Why did mine have to be a bagpack! There was this time they went to Mombasa by train. That was epic! I literally put myself in their shoes. Sadly, up to this day, I have never set foot on a train.

Primary English! In my humble opinion, that was the greatest book ever written. Every chapter began with a story. I can remember one particular one about a boy called Nuru who went blind. Sometimes there were plays in the last chapter. Then of course there was Kiswahili Kwa Darasa (or was it Kiswahili Kitukuzwe?). One shairi I will never forget went something like,

Kila mwana mwema huwa na heshima
Kwa baba na mama uwe na heshima…

We may say 8-4-4 is a flop but I beg to differ. These books made me so proud to be Kenyan; the diversity of the stories was entertaining. Plus I know all I do because of what I read.

Years went by, high school happened and all I can say is, I have never been the same again. The new Caroline only reads stuff on the Internet, the occasional newspaper and the Bible. The only novel I can read is by John Grisham. Having said that, I have one right now; ‘The King of Torts’ and I have not gone beyond chapter one. Sometimes, I blame the Internet. Other times I blame this dynamic 21st century for making everything electronic and more interesting than good old books. But really there is no one or nothing to blame. At the moment, I am not sure what to do about it.

The only thing am sure about is, the two Carolines are not that different and maybe one day they will meet somewhere in the middle.

Update (26/10/2013):
I realize a lot of people end up on this post because they were looking for the Swahili poem above, which I did not complete. Let me help you out and complete it if you are one of them. It was a true classic. 

Kila mwana mwema,
Huwa na heshima,
Kwa baba na mama,
Uwe na heshima.
Mwalimu hutaka,
Heshima kupata.
Bila ya matata,
Uwe na heshima.
Ukiwa njiani,
Fikiri moyoni,
Ujue jirani,
Uwe na heshima.
Mtu situkane,
Mabaya siseme,
Maneno yapime,
Uwe na heshima.
Mzee mpishe,
Njiani mvushe.
Pekee usimuache,
Uwe na heshima.

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