An Enlightening Rendezvous
As you might probably know, I used to run a blog I called Polly. A former schoolmate of mine at Starehe Boys' Centre named Josh Komoth, who was a year behind me, was so impressed with the quality of writing in the blog that he asked me to meet him for a talk. At first, I thought he wanted to unload his problems on me, so I told him I couldn't commute to Nairobi. But alas! He offered to visit me in my beloved home-town of Kiserian. I had no choice but to tell him he was welcome to visit me.
He visited me on a crispy morning in 2015 on a date I have forgotten. But I remember Kiserian was muddy that day. It was Josh Komoth's first visit to my home-town, so he kept asking me whether he was in the right direction as he came to Kiserian. What impressed me most about Josh Komoth was that he didn't keep me waiting. He was punctual.
And alas! He was actually driving himself in a black hatchback. So it seemed he was actually more blessed than I was yet I had thought he wanted to unload his problems on me.
Because Josh Komoth was new to Kiserian, I showed him where to park his car and even advised him to close its windows just in case a blithering lunkhead peeked into his car in search of sleek gizmos. Then I took him to a cafe owned by my friend Lincoln Kivuti. And I was pleasantly warmed when Josh Komoth asked me to order any meal which he would pay. We both ordered a cup of tea and a chapatti. Then we commenced with our talk.
He first began by extolling the brilliant articles I used to post on my Polly blog. I thanked him but I apprised him that I had challenge of converting that brilliance, or rather knowledge, to power because, as I confided in him, I was still struggling with guilt, hatred, boredom, oversleeping and sometimes fear of people.
Then Josh Komoth chimed in, "Those are the kind of challenges that drive young people to alcoholism and drug abuse." I agreed, then swiftly added, "And prostitution!"
Back then, I didn't disclose to Josh Komoth that the articles in my Polly blog which he perceived as brilliant were actually full of lies, exaggeration and plagiarism. And it came to dawn on me that was actually the reason I was a Walter Mitty because since I started penning genuine stores that are truthful and original when I re-branded my blog to what it looks now, the quality of my life has improved significantly. Like for the past one month, I have successfully managed to wake up before dawn every day and I haven't been bored. I will strive to sustain the momentum for the rest of my life through God's amazing grace.
By the way, Walter Mitty is the main character in James Thurber's story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, who tries to portray his life as full of excitement and adventure when it is in fact ordinary. I suspect some of my friends on Facebook are Walter Mitties in that they try to show off in their Facebook posts of how exciting their lives are when in fact their lives are rife with strife and other vices.
Coming back to my rendezvous with Josh Komoth, I mentioned to him that I had learnt he worked with the Australian Embassy. When he told me it was indeed true, I asked him whether he had ever been to Australia. He said yes. Then I asked him whether he had been to any other country.
"Yes!" he blurted out, " I have been to Austria."
I suspect Josh Komoth thought I didn't know there is Austria and there is Australia. So when he told me he had been to Austria, I asked him, "That's Vienna?" He said yes.
Actually, I have known Austria since I was a young boy because my piano mentor, Prof. Charles Nyamiti, used to speak so highly of Vienna, the capital city of Austria, where the greatest classical music composers like Mozart and Beethoven spent much of their time. I will be very unhappy on my deathbed if I will not have visited Vienna in my life.
Again coming back to my rendezvous with Josh Komoth, he asked me that day whether I drew any inspiration from Che Guevara. As widely read as I consider myself to be, I have to admit that was the first time I was hearing of Che Guevara. I confessed to Josh Komoth that I didn't know who Che Guevara was but I noted the hero's name so that I could read about him later.
And later that day, I learnt from Wikipedia that Che Guevara was an Argentine revolutionary who loved the If Poem like I do. But unlike me, he was a staunch communist who was eventually murdered. Some pundits propound he was assassinated by the CIA which I think is because the United States government wanted to adhere to the Munroe Doctrine - a policy that says a foreign power that tries to interfere with the affairs of any nation in the Americas is also considered a threat to the United States.
Yet again coming back to my rendezvous with Josh Komoth, I remembered that day we met that Josh Komoth once broke his leg when he was a Third-former at Starehe Boys' Centre. That caused some complications as I will explain.
Starehe Boys' Centre is made up of two schools. There is the old school where students' dormitories are located as well as the school chapel, the dining hall and the assembly hall. And then there is the new school where most classrooms and laboratories are located as well as the swimming pool and the playing fields. Those two schools are separated by a highway called Gen. Waruinge Street. Starehe has a strict policy that all students, even the most senior prefect in the school, have to use a footbridge when crossing Gen. Waruinge Street as they move from old school to new school and back.
When Josh Komoth broke his leg, he couldn't use the footbridge. The school administration then instructed one of the school drivers to be ferrying Josh Komoth in the school van from old school to new school and back. And I observed that the school driver used to punctually pick Josh Komoth at lunch time. That the school administration cared about the welfare of Josh Komoth who was just an ordinary student without any high-ranking leadership position spoke volumes of how great a school Starehe Boys' Centre was. Thumbs up to the late Dr. Geoffrey Griffin, the then school director.
That day I rendezvoused with Josh Komoth in Kiserian, I reminded him about the leg injury, to which he reeled off, "Oh, that time I broke my metatarsal?"
"Eish!" I exclaimed, "Metatarsal - your word power is strong."
By the way, when I became friends with Josh Komoth on Facebook, I didn't know who he was because I think I used to know him as Joshua during our Starehe years. It's not until I saw his Facebook profile picture that I was able to connect the dots and realize he was the Joshua I used to see getting ferried in a school van.
And I have always wondered why he calls himself Josh Komoth on Facebook because that name sounds very European. If Josh Komoth happens to discover the cure for HIV/AIDS, a person reading about him for the first time on New York Times would be forgiven if he thought Josh Komoth was from Sweden. If I happen to rendezvous with Josh Komoth again, I will suggest to him that he calls himself another name that sounds truly African. A name like Tolulope Lodung'a Akeem. I am just kidding.
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Learning It The Hard Way
When we as a team qualified for the 2003 secondary schools volleyball national championships after winning a nerve-wracking game against another high school in Nairobi, we began to tussle on who would travel to Kisumu in the Great Lakes Region where the championships were to be held. The sports governing body had slots for only 12 players and some senior members of our team wanted Kenneth Karani, an old boy of Starehe who had left the school the previous year, to be part of the team travelling to Kisumu.
Including Kenneth Karani in the team meant that some of us junior members had to be left out. Luckily for me, one senior member named Isaac Ruto insisted repeatedly that I had to attend the championships. Eventually, we managed to break the rules by having 14 of us travel to Kisumu, including Kenneth Karani. So nobody was left out.
Although Kenneth Karani high-balled to Kisumu illegally because he was then not a bona fide current student of Starehe, he turned out to be a great boon to the team. He was fun and friendly, even to me despite the fact that he was six years my senior when I joined Starehe as a first-former in 2002. He liked calling me "DJ Thuita".
But what I remember most about Kenneth Karani was one phrase he liked using - I will teach you the hard way! - which I think was his way of silencing anyone who happened to offend him. I liked that phrase because it resonated with how life has taught me the hard way over the years.
Like I remember during my first days at Starehe, I was so proud of being part of the school and overly confident that I would perform consistently well in academics. I even told one of my newly acquainted friends in Form 1 back then that I would be number one in academics right from term 1 in Form 1 until the final mighty high school KCSE exams.
Imagine in those first days at Starehe, I was so eager to start my studies and top my class that I complained to my senior brother Paddy who was in the school that we were being held in the school assembly hall for too long. You see, in those days, newly admitted Form 1 students used to report to Starehe on different days, so the school administration held us in the assembly hall as it waited for every new student to arrive before we could be split into different streams and begin our studies.
Guess what? After we were eventually split into different streams and our high school studies commenced, I ended being position 32 out of 35 in the then mercurial stream of 1F Class of '02. And I have always reckoned I could easily have been the last had I not scored an impressive 96% in Social Ethics and Education which we were taught by an amusing priest-to-be teacher named Br. Kiarie. Mark you, I was the same guy who had proudly proclaimed that I would be number one in my class right from term 1 in Form 1.
When we broke for holidays after that disappointing term for me, I read like a demon with a goal of making a quantum leap in academic rankings, from position 32 to 1, the following term. I remember fantasizing getting honoured by Dr. Geoffrey Griffin, the then respected director of the school, as the most improved boy during the final second-term school assembly.
How severely disillusioned I was! I only managed to improve by five positions the following term.
And even though I did gradually improve academically as my high school years rolled on to the point of scoring an A in the mighty KCSE exams, I never managed to rank among the top five in my stream of 4F. I can actually remember the five classmates I never managed to trounce: Brian Nalyanya, Lawrence Sikuku, Mwiti Makathimo, Douglas Ochieng' and George Yuka.
Later on in 2011 when I matriculated at the University of Nairobi to pursue a B.A. degree in Political Science, History, Economics & Public Administration, I happened to meet with George Yuka regularly at the university. He was then studying for a BSc. degree in Actuarial Science, the most prestigious course in Kenya. At one time, I bought him a sweet bun which he feasted with gusto as I asked him, "What did you guys used to eat at Starehe that made you so bright?" He laughed my question off.
To cut the long story short, my confidence in myself as a bright student was tested at Starehe Boys' Centre where I learnt that things are not always as easy as some people put it. Or as my friend Kenneth Karani would put it, Starehe taught me the hard way.
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How a Friend Helped Me
Peter Kariuki (yes, the young man I have mentioned in the photo above) was a schoolmate of mine at Starehe Boys' Centre but he never got to know me during our time in the school because he was three years my senior and we didn't board in the same house. He was promoted to be the school captain of Starehe Boys' Centre some time in 2003 when he was in the institute division of the school.
After completing his one-year term as school captain, he was awarded a scholarship to pursue a post high school diploma at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, United States, from where he was accepted in 2005 at the renowned Stanford University where Bill Clinton's daughter had received her Bachelor's degree a few years earlier. A lucky young man he was.
For some reasons unbeknown to me, some fellow students at Starehe hated Peter Kariuki with a passion. "Those guys are evil!" one housemate of mine told me while pointing to a team of the three most senior captains in Starehe that included Peter Kariuki.
Then when Peter Kariuki flew to Deerfield Academy, one of my classmates ruefully remarked, "Let him fly to America; he will still come back to Kenya." And he uttered that remark in a tone that suggested how intensely he loathed Peter Kariuki.
Me, I have never been one to hate a person just because others are doing so. I therefore befriended Peter Kariuki via email when I was first applying to top American Colleges that included Stanford in 2006 while I was in Starehe Institute. I however cannot remember the advice he offered me at that time. As it happened, I was rejected by all the colleges I applied for admission.
When I re-applied to the top colleges for the second time while I was a freshman at JKUAT where I was pursuing a B.Sc. degree in Electronics & Computer Engineering, I contacted Peter Kariuki again. This time round, I remember him advising me to be grateful that I was in JKUAT. But guess what? I never felt proud to be in JKUAT because I really wanted to study in a First-World environment where I could interact with people of other races. As it happened, I was again rejected by all the colleges I applied for admission.
And when I re-applied to top American for the third time in 2009, I decided to maximize all the help I could get from Peter Kariuki. I requested him to review my application essays. He obliged and offered me his honest assessment as well as suggestions to improve the essays.
Like in one short essay in which I wrote of how I evangelized the gospel to distressed people (that was a big lie! I have never preached the gospel to anyone), Peter Kariuki suggested I explain how evangelism enabled me to know what drives people and how people make life choices and choose ideologies to believe and live by. That subordinate clause I have displayed in green are the exact words he used. I so loved them that I copy-pasted them into the short essay.
Apart from reviewing my essays, Peter Kariuki advised me to also apply to less competitive colleges because Stanford's standards are high. Guess what again? The other colleges I applied for admission were Yale and Harvard which are as highly selective as Stanford, if not more. They all rejected me.
Grateful for the advice he had offered me freely when I applied to top American colleges in a span of four years, I continued to keep in touch with Peter Kariuki via Facebook. Like I asked him some time in early 2011 which of the schools he had attended (Starehe Boys', Deerfield Academy & Stanford University) that he had found the best. He replied that it was Starehe Boys'.
And guess what again? Some time in March 2011, I extracted from Peter Kariuki's Facebook album two photos of him taken while he was asleep in bed. I combined them with a photo editor and wrote on top of them "Kulala Tu!" Then I posted the edited photo on my Facebook wall while poking fun at Peter Kariuki as an oversleeper. Mark you, oversleeping was considered a crime during our Starehe years and captains like Peter Kariuki were charged with moving from dormitory to dormitory at dawn to apprehend oversleepers.
When Peter Kariuki learnt what I had done, he felt offended. He sent me a message warning me that it's wrong to use other people's images without their permission. Then he later on blocked me on Facebook. Since then, I have never heard from him again. I would like to let him know, if he's reading this story of mine, that I have matured up. As in, I no longer use people's images without their permission.
 "Kulala Tu!" is a Swahili statement which translates in English as "Just Sleeping Only!"