A Misfit by Birth

By Guest Writer

Yesterday someone stepped on my toe in a matatu in Nairobi, I said sorry. Later in the day, as I was cycling along outer ring road, a driver accidentally touched his horn and I thought I was in his way. I squeezed myself close to the guard rail and let him pass. A few metres ahead, he stopped and waited for me to approach so that he could apologize. He said sorry and I said it is okay. That it was not a problem and I planned to stop anyway. I lied and he drove off, satisfied that he had hurt no one. I helped a man to cross the road by putting my bike right across the Zebra crossing so that vehicles had no choice but to stop. Immediately he crossed, I jumped on my bike and sped off. I did not want to hear him say “thank you” because those words do not make sense to my ears. If anything, “thank you” and “sorry” are the three words I love to use on people but hate it when they are used on me.

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Growing up, I lived in a broken family. My father was a business man (in my village, this was anyone who owned a kiosk that sold anything to the people especially household stuff like sugar and salt and kerosene to the villager) and my mother was a chef in a school mile away. I do not know if I was born in or out of wedlock and never have I bothered to find out because I do not see the value in it. Whether I am a daughter of fate or a product of a mistake remains a mystery I do not intend to solve or even hear anything about. The fact is, I never saw my parents married and have never seen them in conflict. Whatever happened to them or between them better remains in the past. I was brought up mostly by my father and my late stepmother, Nelly (May her soul rest in peace). Nelly was an incredible woman. When I was still a baby (hardly five), I have memories of Nelly washing me and washing my clothes alongside those of my father and my younger brother, Philip, who was her first born. I remember Nelly insisting on teaching us household chores together. I knew how to do dishes before I stepped in a class and knew how to cook before I could learn how to write. She was a virtuous woman, for most part, and a religious one (a little).

For most part, she was incredible. She taught me everything that I know today. She gave me my first sanitary towel and explained to me what was happening when I had my first period. She insisted that I go to school and take my academics seriously. Whether it was her design or my father’s pressure, she did the best a mother could do. She taught me to be a woman before I was old enough to be a girl. She taught me respect and service and showed me patience and love. She protected me and gave me parenting that modern children can only read in classic.

However, it was not all rosy. My teen years defined something of a nightmare in my life. I was made to apologise for everything whether it was my fault or not. I learnt to say thank you whenever she gave me anything because that was my punching ticket to whatever she would have next. I observed that this was not the case with my brothers and sisters but I had long learnt that survival was the path I was walking. Everything that enabled me to survive was my forte. I became withdrawn and introverted because I feared saying something that would be hurtful or cause me trouble. Whenever I opened the door, I said sorry just in case there was anyone behind the door who would feel like I “intentionally” wanted to hurt them. I started eating last and finished first because I did not want any of my siblings complaining that I had eaten “their share” of the food. Sometimes, I kept myself busy as the rest of the family was eating so that I would only eat what was left. All I wanted was peace. I could have contacted my mother and told her that I was “suffering” and she would have come for me the next day but I did not. To date, I do not know what informed that decision.

Life became harder when I joined high school. I went to a school 4 kilometres away from home. Our school had a 45-minute remedial lesson that ran between 5pm and 5:45pm, which meant that for five out of seven days a week, I arrived home at 7pm or later. My siblings were still in primary school, 100 metres or less from home. However, when I arrived home, there were chores like fetching water that I needed to undertake. For my stepmother, her cooking time and that of my siblings ended when I arrived from the river to fetch water. If I did not fetch water, I would not be allowed to drink any water or even wash my face in the morning because “my share of water was not there” and I had no right to eat other people’s sweat. I remember a day when I arrived home at 7:30pm, wet from being rained on and I could not fetch any water. The next morning, I washed my face at the river on my way to school because I was not entitled to any water in the house. When I came back in the evening. I apologized for having not fetched water although it had rained and apologised again for washing my face at the river on my way to school. I apologised for having not taken breakfast although I was not allowed to because the water that cooked it was not my sweat. Then I thanked my stepmother for allowing me to sleep in the house because she had all the right to send me out for not doing anything. I did not know why I had to but I said thank you and sorry anyway.

Soon after I sat my KCSE examination in 2007, I got pregnant with my on. I said sorry for the last time and then thanked my stepmother for everything and fled. The next time I saw my stepmother, she was dead. I cried over her lifeless body and felt no weight in my heart because I did not hold it against her. At the funeral, I hated everyone saying sorry to the family. It was at that moment that I noticed I hate being thanked and sympathised with.

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I don’t know how many exist that are like me in society. I do not know how many people were brought up to know that they were wrong before they were right. That everything was a mistake before it was an effort. That every effort was a failure before it was a success. That before they become anybody, they are nobody. That is my childhood. Do not expect me to ask for help from you because that is not who I am. I would rather go down fighting it on my own than ask for help because I know how you will look at me. I will help you whenever you need it without you asking but I do not want your help. And after I have helped you, do not thank me. Just go on your way. After you hurt me, do not apologize. Just go on your way. I am a vase whose content neither you nor anyone else will understand because that is how I was moulded. That is the clay that made me.


The Distress Call

“Hello Douglas. Where are you?” this was an unusual question from Douglas.

Douglas has been my friend for over eleven years. When I first met him, we were on opposing teams in a soccer tournament in a certain Gavudia Primary School stadium in Sabatia constituency playing for a certain Musalia Mudavadi Cup. I was a defender for my team, then known as Hard Boys while he was a midfielder for his team, Nacet. Back in the day, a half of football ended when the referee decided to end it. There were no minutes. Some halves took 20 minutes and others took 65 minutes. During the early minutes of the second half, I got injured and was substituted. I elected to go and sit near our goalkeeper to chat with him as the game wore on. After all, he was my former classmate in primary school. Minutes later, I was distracted only for Nacet’s striker, Agesa (RIP) to hit a fierce shot that went off target and straight into my face. That was the first and last time I fainted in my life. When I regained my senses, an hour or so later, I was told that Douglas helped bring me back. That the game was abandoned and everyone ran because they thought I was dead. All of them, except Douglas.

“I am somewhere between Isinya and Kitengela. I have been cycling all day and I am heading home now,” I answered. This response was casual. Being a Saturday, I thought all Douglas wanted was to grab some tea or catch a game or play chess. How wrong could I have been?

“I want to talk to you bro. As soon as possible,” he said.

“Okay. I will call you immediately I get home. Hang in there.”

As I got back on my journey home, I could not help but wonder what prompted this call. Douglas’s voice grew louder, more persistent, and more insistent in my head. As soon as possible. As soon as possible. As soon… I wanted answers immediately but waiting was all I could do. Well, not all. I could also cycle faster and get home sooner.

“Can I ask you something Douglas?” He started as soon as I handed him a cup of tea. I did the listening as he did the talking. “Are there some people who are just born to be unhappy?”

“What do you mean?” I asked. His question may have been rhetoric but I felt my question was reasonable.

“Yesterday, I arrived home with enormous stress. I learnt that I will be jobless in a month because my company is resizing and I am one of the casualties. However, being the first born that I am, I soldiered on. I had hope that I would get a new job and everything would be okay. However, at this point in time, I needed support. I needed someone to talk to.”

He paused and looked up, perhaps hoping to find me browsing or watching the soccer match on the screen. However, I was all ears.

“I know what you are thinking,” he continued. “My wife. I told her about the whole story. I don’t even know what she thinks. My daughter will be sent for school fees soon, my rent will be due soon, my father relies on me, and many other things that have been overwhelming while I was employed. They will still be here while I am unemployed. Everyone looks at me and thinks I am managing well but I am not. I am messed up Douglas, I really am.”

I looked at my friend straight in the eye without showing any emotion. I wanted to tell him that he was not alone in this but it hardly sounded right in my own head. I wanted to tell him to calm down and take a rest. That sounded crazy as well. I wanted to ask him whether he would fancy the “work-from-home” ideas and self-employment but even that did not sound right. I sympathised with him from within but my face showed no emotion.

“No. You are not messed up Douglas,” I said at last, feeling stupid immediately after saying it.

“You really believe that?” he asked.

On a normal day, the answer to this question would be a no-brainer. Of course I believe in it, I would say. I would then accompany it with a long speech full of motivation and reasons why my friend should see the good side of this bad situation. However, it was not a normal day and I did not think Douglas was done.

“You know what is worse, Idiot?” he continued. “This is not an isolated situation. For the past two years, my life has been moving in reverse gear. I have stagnated at work. I cannot seem to get a promotion, training, pay rise, or even a new sitting station. I started my Masters degree and then stopped because I could not afford it. I started a business and it failed because I could not put in the time it needed. Worst of all, my family has been drifting further and further away from me. All over a sudden, they are all too busy for me. They no longer visit and when I visit, they no longer seem interested. My friends. Do I still have any friends? Okay, those I call friends. I can no longer ask for help from most of them. No one supports me. Everyone who claims to is only pretending.”

Douglas paused and took a few gulps of tea. He seemed deep in thoughts but unable to think. I could not help but relate to his story. I have heard so many of these stories that whenever I hear one, I think it is a past one being replayed. I wondered what the statistics would be if an honest survey of stress levels was carried out among my peers. Would the rate of stress be closer to zero or a hundred percent?

“Look here buddy. I hope I am not boring you but I did not know anyone else I could talk to.”

“No no no,” I interjected. “You are not boring me. You are speaking my language more than you may realize it. You are not alone,” I said. I felt disappointed in myself for saying this. It sounded wrong to say such at this point in time.

“Are we ever supposed to be understood?”

This question caught me unawares. For the first time in this conversation, I did not understand what Douglas was asking me. I did not understand what “we” meant just as I did not know what he wanted whom to understand. For the first time in the conversation, my face betrayed my emotion. Such had been my expression that he must have thought I was disinterested. At the moment I wanted to ask for clarification, the question replayed itself in my head louder and clearer. Really?-I thought. I could not help but wonder how many people asked themselves this question on a minute by minute basis. It must feel absurd to be in a bubble where you are a certain anomaly.

“Yes. There is someone who understands everyone,” I answered.

There was a long silence that left me thinking about how heard people like Douglas are. I wondered whether there were hundreds if not thousands that live in “silent depression” in Kenya. My thoughts wandered to the rising cases of “crimes of passion” of “murders-for-love” as people call them. I wondered how many of those may be results of silent depression. Then I wondered how many people believe they live for others. I wondered how many people thought their only purpose in life was making others happy at whatever cost.

“Would you like to play chess?” I asked, offering a distraction. It did not seem to work as there was some more silent before Douglas stood up to pick the chess board.

“Some of us have to be stressed for others to be happy, right?”

It was rhetoric, but a question either way.

“No. I don’t think so,” I responded.

As we played, I wondered about other people. How often do we listen to those who are suffering from different situations? How supportive are you? Do you think he or she is depressed?


OPINION: Read Your Work to Yourself

Why do writers write? Why do actors act? Why do players play? In short, why do artists display their art? The answers to this simple question are diverse and different depending first, on whom you ask and second on the circumstances under which you ask it. For some people, there is simply no answer because they do not even know why they do what they do. Strange, right? Molly, a performing poet from Uganda, shared with me her journey in Poetry. For her, Poetry was a liberator. She performs because she feels free when she is on stage. She feels in control of herself, away from the oppression and torture she felt in her marriage, now a long memory. When she quit her marriage, she needed money to feed her 2 year-old girl, could not find a viable option unless a friend wrote to her, and asked her whether she could compose some poems for school competitions. She made good money from it and decided to try making it a job. Today, she is a performer in events and different functions in Kampala. She is a poet for hire.

“I don’t really know what I would have done or where I would have gone if the opportunity did not come. I was so close to giving up. I am not sure but I think I was so close to depression too. My life felt static and I even contemplated suicide. One day, when I thought life had lost meaning, I bought poison and made a strong concoction of it. Then I sat down to write a suicide note. I was folding it when I heard my daughter call from my back. ‘Mama, come to bed. I am scared of sleeping alone.’ At that point, I realized that may be she was a reason to live. I still have the suicide note I wrote on that night,” she says.

As she admits, it is not always green. There are some very tough times and some very good moments. There are months when she makes Millions of Uganda Shillings and there are months she makes nothing. “What keeps you going?” I ask.

She looks at me and laughs before continuing. Her daughter is definitely a motivation. But that is an external motivation. She has more to her will than her daughter.

“When I watch myself perform, I am uplifted. When I read my work back to myself, I feel like I have affected a life or two. If my work is intriguing to me, how much more intriguing must it be for the reader or audience?” She says.

Mark, a writer from Nairobi, seems to agree with Molly. Mark wrote his first novel in 2011. In the first year, he only sold 27 copies. Yet for him, he was happy. He was satisfied because he has managed to share his mind with 27 people and 27 people would think differently because he took the initiative. Financially, this was a burnout. However, as he says, reading his novel back to himself made him fall in love with the author.

“I wonder how many of my initial 27 readers felt the same. Whenever I read my book back to myself, I couldn’t help but wonder. ‘What was this author thinking? This guy must be crazy. What a twist! And things like that.’ I won’t lie to you; I thought about giving up. I thought it was a lost course. I thought Kenyans were just good for politics and books were meant for a different audience. Perhaps, this was just a consolation. Perhaps I was reading my book to myself to feel better and massage my ego. Regardless, I learnt a valuable lesson from that. Nothing feels better than reading your book back to yourself,” he remarks.

The signs are there that art is improving in the modern African setting. However, there still linger times and situations that can discourage artists. Many artists look for someone to blame. However, the bulk of the blame falls on the artists. Jessy, a rapper from Kenya, wonders whether Kenyan musicians listen to their own songs. He wonders whether African artists play their own music in their houses.

“What do they think of themselves when they listen to themselves? Do they think they make sense? Sometimes we blame the media and the event organizers for lack of opportunities for local talent but we have an innate problem as artists. We are no creative enough. The world is capitalistic and everyone is looking to make their part of life better or earn more money for himself or herself. No one is looking to give opportunities when they know that such is likely to leave them in a worse place in terms of branding or financially. I know promoters and event organizers can take a small financial hit to put forward an upcoming artist with a great promise. But how many such artists exist? It is not that there are no talented artists. The problem is lack of patience, greed, lack of principles, and moral decay,” he opines.

It is an easy thought to look at the solution as a simple arithmetic. It is easy to think that the constant message will change the way people in the art industry work. What is hard is imagining that you, as an artist, are supposed to sit down and have a meeting with yourself and question yourself on whether you are a brand that you would love. Ken, a dance teacher and instructor in Abuja, agrees with that assertion.

“It is the same case here. I think it could be the same for every country’s upcoming artists. There is so much greed for fast money and people no longer want to contribute on building themselves, learning, shadowing someone, and then breaking out. Young artists should teach themselves how to listen, be mentored, be teachable, build their brands, and have some values. That also puts pressure on those of us who have been around for long to mentor these young ones. The question is whether they are willing to be mentored. No matter how you look at it, the upcoming artists in all fields need to look themselves in the mirror and ask, ‘Would I love the person I can see behind the mirror?’” he says.

For the foreseeable future, we should encourage more young people into art. Encourage them to write, perform, sing, dance, act, draw, paint, or do anything you feel capable of. However, also encourage them to show their art back to themselves. Read your work back to yourself and ask whether you would like what you see.


How to do Good Business

Job creation is always better than job seeking when one has the right mindset for it. However, no one was born perfect. We all learn many things and perfect them with time to become the best in what we do. Business is a tough venture that requires ample skills and aptitude to make it functional. To do good business at whatever level, you need to understand a few tips:

  1. Passion in the business:-

This is so simple; if you are not having fun in what you do, leave it. If you do not enjoy the business you do, the passion in you when you present it before any person is usually mild and negligible. Show how passionate you can be by representing an idea in which you believe. Believe in your dreams however small they are

  1. Clarity of purpose:-

Well, this has been overemphasized. You do not know where you are going unless and until you have an idea about the place. What are you seeking to achieve with your little vision. Do you only want money? Do you want to build a reputation for yourself? On the other hand, are you looking to expand your business into a whole business empire? You can clear your purpose by looking at the future trends that will affect your industry.

  1. Do the simple things first:-

This is a tough one for the young people. The Gen Ys want quick success, which does not always come. This is the reason for shortsighted investments. If you want to build a tower, better start by digging the foundation. The simple thing matter in setting the pace for greater things.

  1. Outdo yourself everyday:-

Many people think walking starts with legs swaying around and creating movement. That is not the case. You walk forward because every leg wants to outdo the other. Competition is essential, but the best competition is against oneself. Before you think about being better than your competitor is, make sure you are better than yourself.

  1. Face the challenges:-

In entrepreneurship, you will never have a swift run to move to the top. Expect many difficulties as you make your way to the top. However, the best action to take is not to run away from the challenges. Face the challenges and prove indomitable for you to make it to the top.

This is not a magic formula for business. You have to master the art of business in order to step up to the best level. GO FOR IT!


Are you busy or productive?

There are many people who are moving but very few who are making progress. That is the ideal difference between the busy people and the productive people. You may actually think that you are really doing a lot yet you are not doing anything at all. Are you a busy body? Are you productive and destined for success? How do the two differ, after all?

  1. Busy people want to look like they have a mission. Productive people have a mission for their lives.

Busy people hide their doubt about the destination of their lives by acting confident in their little steps.

Productive people allow others to see the doubt in their little steps because they are clear on the destination.

  1. Busy people have many priorities. Productive people have few priorities

Nobody is ever too busy, if they care they will make time. Life is a question of priorities. If you have 3 priorities, you have priorities. If you have 25 priorities, you have a mess.

The pareto priniciple is that 80% of your desired results come from 20% of your activity. Henry Ford built a fortune not by building better cars, but by building a better system for making cars. Busy people try to make better cars, productive people develop better systems for making cars.

  1. Busy people say yes quickly. Productive people say yes slowly

Warren Buffet’s definition of integrity is: “You say no to most things”.

If you don’t say “no” to most things, you are diving your life up into millions of little pieces spread out amongst other people’s priorities. Integrity is that your values are clear and that your time is going to serve those values.

  1. Busy people focus on action. Productive people focus on clarity before action

To focus on the top 20% of activities, you must gain clarity about what those activities are for yourself. The greatest resource you will ever have to guide you to live a good life is your own personal experience – if well documented. Sadly, most people only document their life in Facebook status updates. Keep a diary and take 5 minutes every day to reflect on the past day, on what worked, on what didn’t work; and some time on what inspires you.

  1. Busy people keep all doors open. Productive people close doors

As a young person, it is good to open options. It is good to want to travel, to learn languages, to climb mountains, to go to university, to work in tech, to live in another country. However, there comes a point in life where one must let go of most options and focus. If my goal this year is to learn Spanish – I will speak Spanish at the end of the year. If my goal this year is to speak Spanish, earn 30% more, travel to 10 countries, get fit, find a girlfriend, go to all the concerts… I will not speak Spanish at the end of this year. That simple.

  1. Busy people talk about how busy they are. Productive people let their results do the talking

Stephen King says: “A writer is a producer of words. Produce words: you are a writer. Don’t produce words: you are not a writer”.

It is a clear binary thing. Talking about writing is not writing. Published authors don’t talk about their next book – they are focussed on producing it. I have grown to have less and less interest in what people tell me that they are going to do – I ask them what they have already done. Past performance is the only good indicator of future performance.

Feeling productive is not the same as being productive. This is important. I can feel productive while I’m playing soccer. I can feel unproductive while I’m producing an excellent post that will help others take better actions.

  1. Busy people talk about how little time they have. Productive people make time for what is important

Any time we spend on excuses is time not spent on creation. If you allow yourself to practice excuses, you will get better and better at excuses. Productive people don’t use time as an excuse. An action either supports their highest values and mission, or it does not. If it does not, they don’t do it – even if they have a whole day off.

There is an Irish saying: “It is better to do something than nothing”.

This is a lie! It is better to do nothing than to do an action that doesn’t connect with your highest values. Sit still.

  1. Busy people multitask. Productive people focus

Productive people know about focus. It is brutal, but it is effective. Identify a task to be done (for instance, write this post). Set a timer to 20 minutes. Work on the task until the time sounds. Any distraction (I must check email, I must get some water, I must go to the bathroom) and you reset the timer to 20. How many tasks can you complete in a day?

  1. Busy people respond quickly to emails. Productive people take their time

Email is a handy list of priorities. The problem: they are other people’s priorities, not yours. If you respond to every email, you are dividing up your life into a thousand tiny bits that serve other people’s priorities.

There are 3 choices when you first review your email inbox: Delete, Do, Defer. This is not a post on email management. That Is a discussion for another day.

  1. Busy people want other people to be busy. Productive people want others to be effective

Busy managers measure hours of activity, productive managers measure output. Busy managers are frustrated by others looking relaxed, looking like they have time, looking like they are enjoying their work. Productive managers love seeing others enjoy their work, love creating an environment in which others can excel.

Busy people are frustrated. They want to be valued for their effort, not for their results.

There is a Hindu saying: “We have a right to our labour, not to the fruits of our labour”.

We have a right to enjoy being excellent at our work, not a right to enjoy the car, the house, the money that comes from doing good work. Productivity is about valuing the journey towards excellence, not any moment of activity.

  1. Busy people talk about how they will change. Productive people are making those changes.

Richard Branson doesn’t spend much time talking about what he will do. He talks about what he has done, what he has learnt, what inspires him.

Spend less time talking about what you will do and dedicate that time to creating the first step. What can you do now that requires the approval of nobody else? What can you do with the resources, knowledge and support that you have now? Do that. It is amazing how the universe rewards the person who stops talking and begins.


A Time with Myself

How often have you found yourself thinking or saying the following?
“I wish I had more time for myself.”
“I’m so busy! I don’t have a moment to breathe.”
“I need more hours in the day.”
“I don’t have time for that.”

We lead crazy, busy lives. And the one thing we never seem to have time for is ourselves. This problem seems even more pervasive as we work harder to meet the challenges of this new economy.

Creating more personal time tops the list of goals many people want to accomplish. With work time, partner or family time and social time all demanding our attention, we are constantly juggling our day-to-day responsibilities. Finding as little as 15-30 minutes a day of uninterrupted, relaxing “me” time is challenging at best.

But we all instinctively know that when we take time for ourselves to pursue our passions, do the things that we enjoy, relax or even do nothing at all, we end up happier, healthier and feeling better. “Me” time allows us to de-stress, unwind and rejuvenate. Taking time for yourself allows you to renew, heal, and create reserves of energy and peace.

Remember that no matter what we do, there are only 24 hours in a day, so you can’t create more time. But you can clear some time by re-evaluating priorities, perhaps saying “no” more often and practicing smart time management.

“Me” time is not something you should feel guilty about. It’s nothing more than taking some time to put aside your everyday business and treating yourself to an activity that you enjoy. It gives you an opportunity to relax, refocus and recharge. And when you do that, you can come back to your responsibilities with greater focus, commitment and enjoyment.
Let’s look at some ways you can make “me” time a reality:

  1. 1. First, decide that you deserve some time to yourself each day.
    Stop feeling guilty for taking time out for you, and realize in the long run, it’s a win-win for everyone. When you are tired, stressed out and pulled in too many directions, it is hard to give your best to all you must accomplish. Remember, self-time is not selfish—it’s a necessary dimension of self-care!
  2. Decide how best to spend “me” time.
    How each of us chooses to spend free time is as individualized as we all are. If you had an extra 15 minutes, a half hour, an afternoon or an entire day, what would you do to make yourself feel rejuvenated, relaxed and happy? Write a list and keep it handy when you begin scheduling time into your calendar.
  3. Evaluate the things that are wasting your time each day.
    Do you check your emails constantly and end up spending more time on your computer than you planned? Do you answer personal calls in the middle of your workday? Run to the supermarket daily to pick up dinner rather than plan in advance and shop once? If this sounds like you, you must take the time to organize your responsibilities, and you will gain more free time than you can imagine.
    4. Learn to say “no”
    Say no to requests to do things that you don’t really want to, don’t value or don’t bring you satisfaction and joy.
  4. Ask for help
    Ask for help with chores that don’t necessarily have to be completed by you alone.
  5. At the beginning of each week, take a few minutes to designate specific time slots for all that must be accomplished—including “me” time.
    Treat your personal time like you would any other appointment and make it non-negotiable.
  6. Commit to a minimum of 15-20 minutes of “me” time every day.
    Do something (or nothing) that completely lets go of responsibilities and releases your mind, allowing you to be alone with your thoughts.
  7. Create a daily ritual.
    This can be a bath, listening to music, taking a walk or meditating. Make it something you can look forward to.

Stop wishing you had more time to yourself, and commit to carving it into your schedule. Rather than bemoan your lack of time, change your approach and create the time using the tips above. You will be amazed at how a little bit of time to yourself can make a huge difference in your health and happiness!



The Agony of Public Education

Welcome to the world where the economy does not believe in their strongest of products. I grew up knowing that education is the Key to a very good life. That is what Mr. Mageso taught me back in Lusengeli Secondary School, a public day school that boasts of producing some of the best students in Vihiga County, at least over the past 8 years. The moment you step in the institution, you get the gist of the source of all the excitement of having some of their students score As, A-s, and B+s. Forget the public canonization of the wild celebrations of Makini School or Strathmore when the results are out. Forget the protracted media coverage of Alliance High School celebrating 50As. Lusengeli is one of the schools that will go on a celebration mood because we have 3As and 5A-s. “What is the excitement about? 3 vs 50 is not even a match.” You will never understand this until you are a teacher having to contend with children going home to their parents every evening. Children having over half of their lives away from academics. Children having to contend with the domestic violence and culture shortchanges every morning. Children to whom breakfast is a distant parable. Children who have no knowledge of fashion. In fact, their style comes when they recycle the dress their mom has used for the past 3 years and it no longer “fits her”. Girls who have to fetch water, cook, receive countless quarrels, wash dishes, and clean the house yet still study. Isn’t this the work of a nanny in Nairobi’s flamboyant estates? This is a school whose boys have to take care of the cattle, clear the fences, sweep the compound, dig the shambas, prune the tea, weed the crops, and still study. Aren’t they student herds boys?

As I walk down Moi avenue in Nairobi, I am met by a group of young looking people in suits (not as sharp as you would expect, yet still tidy). In one hand, they hold a smartphone, going by my assumption. In the other hand, a brown envelope. You can tell from stories around that they are from one of the public colleges, graduates or still studying. They are all working very hard in their interviews to get a job. They still hold the belief that education is the key to a bright life. These are the As from Lusengeli and Alliance combined, grilled so much through high school that they went on to pursue “Quality courses” at the University. They knew the library as the source of knowledge and throughout their school life this was their second hostel. Back in the first hostel, all the mean and evil happened. They partied and drunk. Fridays were always holidays and the little HELB money got consumed in the first week at the school pub. For the survivors, they got through school because they were in the Christian union and the chapel was their third hostel. That is the line of movement, hostel to class, class to hostel, hostel to the cafeteria, cafeteria to hostel. Four years of the same journey.

What happened in the lecture halls? For starters, it is shambles. Let us just say the lecture halls are bonkers. An old man with 6 year old notes reading them as a disorganized crowd of 800 students write them down in the name of a lesson. One hour of dictation and writing. None of the 800 innocent souls even questions the sentence structure used. You never miss a word, it is lecturing and note taking. The lecturer, apparently a professor in accounting and finance, then gives an assignment. Four long questions that he apparently “marks” in one week for the 800 students and releases results. Pause for a minute! This is one old man marking four questions with each of the questions having ten points for 800 students in 7 days! That is essentially 32,000 points read and marked in 7 days while he is also teaching in two other universities during the week. You are a genius sir. Hats off for you! Yet the exam period is the famous “degree ni harrambee,” an association of 800 students duplicating answers from 80 of them. This sounds like a political party! For the unlucky few ladies who are social outcasts and with no one to copy, the lecturer may need something they have and they need the grades. This is the birth of sponsors and the sexually transmitted grades. Obscene!

Fast forward, the students have brown envelopes on the streets. When the job was advertised, the candidate who was picked was from the private University. All the As are forced to toil their way through to get the job or for the sake of balance, some employers intentionally choose to pick candidates from public institutions. How did we get here?

Garbage in, Garbage out! This is what the public institutions are doing. Turning very brilliant students into robots that are supposed to cram lengthy handouts and sleep around with lecturers for grades. The development of a Kenyan is stopped or rather slowed immediately they step through the public institution door. There is no value added to this student and the half-baked degrees have slowly turned into unbaked degrees. No one cares whether the students get real experience or vocational training, or discipline, or any values. No one cares!

You were at a National school with the daughter of a cabinet secretary whom you beat mercilessly. As you were celebrating your results, knowing very well you would be admitted to one of the “best” universities, she was grappling over how she would end up. Her father took her to a top private university to take a similar course to yours. For her, the grilling continued, the discipline continued, there was actual learning, assignments were marked, classes were smaller, lecturers were available et al. She went through a replica of high school on an advanced level.

Hello ‘A’ student who went to a public school and was top student in the county. Your counterpart who was not in the top 500 and “failed” in high school is the one getting the job simply because he went to a private university. Dear government, privatize all public universities if they cannot help the best talent as they should!