When I Grew Up…


By Dickson Otieno

I have written this for the longest time possible. In my mind. I didn’t know I was doing it. The pieces just came together. Slowly. One day at a time. Bringing together memories and thoughts from the past and from the present. Building up dreams of the future too. My brain has been full of activity. This story and that story. This thought and that thought. This memory and that memory. Fragments here and there. Piecing up together. Joining each other like Lego. Coming to birth.

I really wouldn’t have an answer right now if you ask me what I want to be. To be thoroughly honest with you, my friend, I don’t have a clue what I want to be. I just am. Here. Finishing my degree. Trying to be someone. Trying to make a life. Build something. Leave a mark. I don’t go with the wind wherever it takes me. I am sure of that. The wind just takes me wherever I go.

Every day I ask myself, am I in truth living to my full potential? Doing everything that I am supposed to?

I go. And the wind blows.

Seven years ago I was in class 8. A tiny little boy. I always felt like I owned the world. And to be absolutely candid with you, I think I did. I could jump over fences. Run around and hurt myself. I could talk to whomever and had answers (or thoughts) for whatsoever the questions. I had the littlest care in the world. The future lay ahead. Clean and bright. I didn’t stress myself a bit. Not with academics. Not with success. Not with fears. Neither with acceptance. I loved being me and doing me. Living me.

All I wanted to be then was a neurosurgeon. I remember reading Ben Carson and finding me in his books. Right when I finished the very last words of his book, I closed it, put it over my locker and shut my eyes, I knew I wanted to save lives. To matter to people. To be their hope. To help. To break down barriers and to be an epitome of hope. For a tiny moment, I remember, that night I was a neurosurgeon. I looked up ‘surgical’ words in the dictionary and even walked like I pictured doctors in ERs. I dreamt of running in my white coat attending to emergencies with the stethoscope round my neck. It was beautiful.

The neurosurgery dream came tumbling down. I don’t know exactly when or why. That probably wasn’t my portion. I just remember that suddenly I was back to my all-time dream: being a lawyer. I had (and have) always, since class 3, wanted to be a lawyer. Maybe it is because I was told lawyers have brilliant cunning minds and that sounded (and still sounds) awesome to me A. because I loved stories about how the Hare was cunning and B. because the Hare, though small, always won against big cruel animals. I thought of myself as a Hare. Always getting a way out of situations. The perfect lawyer, I said to myself.

It was in June 2007. I was 12 going 13. Short and naïve. Her lips dark red with lipstick. Her hair toughly heated in all the right places, combed and oiled that it glittered in the sunlight. She was taller than tall. She was impossibly brown.

“He can’t pass Kiswahili. Si ni Otieno? Haijawaifanyika watu kama hawa wakapita Kiswahili”, she said with a smile on her face to my parents. She looked at us contented. Like she has said something so awesome.

My father wanted to say something to her. I could see this wouldn’t turn out good. So I walked away. My parents followed me. Not a word to the Miss.

“If this Kendi thinks because I am a Luo then I can’t pass Swahili, I’ll show her!” I almost shouted with anger. I wish she knew of my grandma in Embu who wakes up every morning singing “…nii ningwenda Ngai umenyage…”

That night during preps, I started reading “Siku Njema” by Ken Walibora. This was the very first time in my life I was reading a Swahili book/novel. I tucked ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ deeper into my locker and only concentrated on the soon-to-be-revealed masterpiece. Yes. Siku Njema is a masterpiece! The book changed me. It changed my perception of Kiswahili. It made me. Then I remember wanting,, from then on, to be able to write. To be able to tell stories. To impact and to change. This book made me fall in love with the written word. With poetry. With stories.

I have encountered millions through literature. I have lived thousands of lives and gone through uncountable situations through the power of stories. I have found out that I am not the only one not sure of myself. And maybe that’s life: That we are all unsure of ourselves, of our journeys and of who we are meant to be.

I do not know where my ‘full potential’ lies. Maybe you do not too.

We often rush through life like it is a competition. Like we are in a race. And maybe that’s why we stress ourselves out. Looking for how to fit in and prove ourselves.  As if everything is coming to an end tomorrow. As if we’d die if we don’t make it in certain areas of our lives. See this, we are all dying. Time is slowly killing us. Oh time, how thou art heartless! But that’s not an excuse to sit back and do nothing because, on the other hand, “we have all the time in the world”! We think we do not, but we do.

If today you’re better than yesterday, then I believe you’re headed somewhere. Maybe that is the general purpose in life: realising who you are. Maybe that’s why the stars shine so bright at night. Maybe ‘tis the reason waterfalls roar powerfully and at the same time remain so magnificently peaceful. Maybe it is the reason the clouds roam the sky so silently beautiful.

We live and we die. It is that simple. But when we are alive, when we have all the time, when we are unsure of ourselves and our decisions we need to hold on to that one thing that can never die: hope. ‘Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies’. I think it is in hope that we discover our ‘full potential’. It is in hope that we truly become.

So I will make my decisions and hold on to my hope. I have all the time. I am not competing with anyone.

If asked what I want to be by anyone, I will say, “I am not thoroughly sure what I want to be yet, but I know what I don’t want. I sure heck don’t want to be president!”

Keep moving


Dickson should be a permanent writer here already! His thoughts are so relatable! This was the right fit for our Work Wednesdays. As always, you can catch more of his great posts on his blog. Hopeful Wednesday, people. Keep it locked!

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