I happen to celebrate my birthday at the end of the year. I turned 27 two days ago, on 29th December. The thing about celebrating your birthday at this point is that you are actually starting a new year in your life alongside a new calendar year. It’s always a nice thing because everyone is at home and in holiday mood. The other thing about the date is that no one will doubt that you were really born on that day, unlike a friend of mine, for instance, who was born on 1st January and had to show me his ID for me to believe it. Almost. Even that was not enough because I know thousands of Kenyans have 1st of January on their IDs for some strange reason. I think that is the default date if you don’t know your DoB. The other thing about this period in our house is that it is followed by my brother’s birthday on 30th. For the longest time as kids, we would celebrate it together. And then we grew up and it became a simple separate affair where everyone says something and we blow candles.Now this year was very different. I was home, chilled out as I always am on my birthday just delighting in the stress-free holiday. I have had previous birthdays where I expected too much because someone promised me something and then I’d end up with a lump in my throat because that thing did not happen. Not anymore. That’s the thing with age. It’s the simple things that now make your heart leap in joy. Tens of people remembering your birthday without Facebook’s aid. Thank you so much. That heartfelt text. That call. That chat. That cake. Simple things that make you think.
My colleagues drove me to tears the last Friday of the work year when they sang happy birthday to me 5 days early. I was having a bad day. I had had a verbal fight with a guard who was just out to spoil my day. I had not even lifted my tiny foot from the brake pedal before he descended on me with an assault. My voice was super shaky and I was fighting tears. It was an uncalled for “tussle” over parking. I was not going to go down without a fight, even though I was super emotional. After about seven minutes or so, another guard came and put some sense into the guy. To cut the long story short, in those few minutes, it dawned on me that I was really an adult. There are many times I may not realize that I really am an adult, but this is one of those that there is no doubt in my head I am an adult. It was time to fight for myself, not time to call my dad and cry. I did cry in the loo on my own though. And I fought back tears when retelling the story, but I moved on real quick. The good thing about the fight was that the second guard was really apologetic and promised to give me permanent parking. But I was not going to dwell on that. I had work to do that Friday. A lot of it. One other issue was bothering me but there will always be an issue bothering you at work. It’s about how you deal with it that matters. That is a story for another day. And so when my colleagues waited for me to get out of the office that afternoon then revealed a cake and sang once I came back, I could not stop crying. I could not deal with the sudden wave of happiness that came over my already sad and tired brain. What I am saying is that I have really cried a lot in 2016. Over stuff I never would cry about in the past.
In primary school, our headmaster, Mr Mwirikia, had an age-old tradition once we reopened school. He would take all the class performance lists and read out the first three pupils in every class and line them up at the front during parade for recognition. When my name was called out, I’d walk to the front completely composed and emotionless, like nothing was happening. Every single time. I remember him once asking why I was not happy. I just stood there like a tree. There are many occasions like this, when people would ask me why I was not showing any emotion over events. This continued all the way to KCPE into high school. You can see this in my pictures too. I was not the smiley kind of kid, like my sister. My sister, Wambui, has a brilliant smile in all her pictures. I rarely show teeth in any of my pictures as a kid. But I also think it is the way we were all brought up. Be composed and well-behaved when that cameraman comes around. I rarely cried too.
There is a picture of me when I was two. I am in a black dress and my face is contorted into a crying scowl under my baby afro. I am clearly wailing. My brother, Kim, is a newborn in the accompanying pictures. Actually it was a few days after my second birthday. I don’t know if I was crying because of the new guy who was taking my place or I was afraid of the cameraman. Whatever it was, it became a picture that was referred to often. That pic gave me a label that my parents lovingly used for years. Kiriri – meaning big crier. I have a theory that this is why I eventually did not cry over everything as a kid. Plus I am the firstborn. If I am going to cry over everything, then what happens to the ones looking up to me? You know what they say about not doing things as a kid, you end up doing them as a grown-up. All those emotions I would hide, they now come up every chance they get as an adult.
This 29th December was different because it was the day Matiang’i did the unthinkable. It took me back to 2007, the year I turned 18. That was the period we were all holding our breath, waiting for a different kind of result; presidential election results. Early in 2008, after all the sadness and chaos that erupted thanks to the results, we received our KCSE results. I might not remember the exact date those results were released, it was definitely not December :D, but I remember my state. I remember staring in disbelief at the TV as leading schools and students were read out. I did not know what to feel. I do not remember why but Evelyn is the one who told me the grade I attained, later in the day. I did not cry. I did not rejoice in victory. I did nothing. Nothing. I just accepted and moved on slowly. I did not understand exactly why my people were happy with my results. I was not, but I did not say it. I did not say much. Even when parents went to school to meet and float the idea of asking KNEC to remark the Alliance Girls High School examinations. Even after my close friends who got As were later downgraded to A-s thanks to a computer error. Up to this day, I have never even talked or written about what I felt that day, until I turned 27. Until Matiang’i and co announced the 2016 KCSE results.
The thing is my brother, Mark, sat for the 2016 exams. He was at Alliance High School. He did not accept his results in those first hours. We have been helping him in the past few days to accept them. I admired how he took it though. Mark is not one to hide his emotions, like I did back in ’08. He shows exactly what he feels. He will pace up and down. He will not sit upright. He will keep rubbing his face. He will say things. I now admire him for this, after looking back to my own experience. My burying-what-I-feel-deep-inside-for-years attitude. When Matiang’i mentioned my alma mater that afternoon on live national TV, I screamed. Ask my sister. I shrieked, actually. I jumped from my seat and shouted and laughed. I could not believe it. I tweeted. Vindication. All the emotion from 9 years ago spilling right there in the living room. I have told a few people in the past two days that I have never used this word before. It was a word that was stored in my brain, perhaps just waiting for this.
It is very hard to come to terms with a situation where you don’t even know how “leakage” looks like and then you meet people out there, in campus, who believe that you must have come from a school that got “help” to pass exams. Even worse when you talk to people who actually tell you how they sat down and listened to a teacher feeding them content that showed up exactly as was in the KCSE papers they were sitting the next day. The closest you came to leakage was when word went round that a handful of girls in another stream in your school were receiving leakage via mobile phone. You were all assembled in the dining hall at night and in hushed tones discussed what was happening then later briefed on the situation. The girls were forwarded to the authorities and you knew this was a very bad thing that had happened. It was going to affect you. Affect us it did. We did not fail, but we did not do as well as we had imagined we’d do, in our honesty. But we moved on, us girls. We are doing well and helping people along the way. We did not let grades determine out future. Grades are important, of course they are, but they are not life. If you cannot change something, work on what you can. Repackage. I am always talking about repackaging and how I repackaged myself. And this is exactly what I have been walking my brother through. He will be alright.
Why the long story? These recent events were instrumental in opening my eyes. I have become super emotional nowadays. I have learnt that I can change. Think of all the times I have talked about crying in blog posts this year. I mean, seriously, like what in the world? The passport saga. The evening I broke down at work. Tearing over everything and anything. This has brought me to my biggest lesson in 2016 — do not hide emotion. Do not hold back what you feel because eventually, it will come out and you will not have the willpower to hold it back. Yes, we are all different. Hiding emotions may work. It worked for me for many years, and I am alright. Understand who you are and what is important. Learn to accept the things you cannot change and work on the things you can.
Do not “catch feelings” over issues that neither have legs or arms. Someone hating on your career? Let them. Only the wearer of the shoe knows where it pinches. Feeling like being honest is the hard thing to do? Be honest. Honesty and integrity can help an entire nation, like we’re beginning to see it happen in small ways in the education sector. You have nothing to prove to no one, including someone who thinks that is not correct grammar. Turn off those notifications if you are being trolled. Train yourself not to reply to every single person who has something to say. It’s hard to be the bigger person, but it’s very easy to live with the fruits of being the bigger person.
All my love. 🙂
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