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On My Grandmothers

This is my younger brother Symo posing with my maternal grandmother when he visited her in her rural home back in the '90s. More about her in the story of mine below.


The great motivational author Marden Orison Swett once wrote, "Everything that a man has and is he owes to this mother. From her, he gets health, brain, encouragement, moral character and all his chances of success." I think the same can be said of our grandmothers since we also descend from them. As for me, I am lucky to have seen both my paternal and maternal grandmothers. And today, I will tell you a little about them.

My paternal grandmother was a short and small-bodied woman. She used to visit us once in a while back in the '90s when I was a boy. And whenever she visited, she would regale Dad with stories late into the night in a manner I found boring. But maybe the stories riveted Dad.

I recall at one time in 1996 when she saw me reading a book at home during one of her visits, she remarked to Mum while referring to me, "This one loves reading books just like his father." (Of course she said that in my mother-tongue of Kikuyu.)

Grandma must have possessed a deep love for my siblings and I, her grandchildren, because at another time in 1997 after she visited us, she gave us Ksh. 1000 as she was heading back to her rural home. And that was a lot of money in those days given that a loaf of bread used to go for Ksh. 20. My eldest brother Joe Kagigite, who received the money on our behalf, hastily bought for us biscuits, of which I received a packet or two. I am sure Joe was left with quite some money after buying the biscuits. As to what he did with it, I have never known. Back then, I was too young to demand my fair share of the money.

Sometime in 2003 while I was on a school holiday, Dad and I travelled to my grandma's rural home to check on her because she was ailing. I however can't remember seeing her during that visit, probably because she was in hospital. All I recall from that visit is that I carried with me Chinua Achebe's book, The Trouble With Nigeria, which I read as Dad listened to news and tales from my other relatives. But don't ask me what I gleaned from that book because quite frankly, I didn't understand it.

A few months after that visit, Grandma passed away. Joe Kagigite, my eldest brother who I have mentioned above, came for me in school at Starehe Boys' Centre where I was granted permission to attend her funeral. Thankfully, that funeral turned out to be the only outside interruption to my studies in my entire high school career.

Like my paternal grandmother, my maternal grandma is also short and small-bodied. As I write this story, she is still living and has been blessed with more than ten great-grandchildren. She is not literate, meaning that education is not a pre-requisite for a living a long life. But if being educated means being responsible, then my maternal grandma is an educated woman.

She has raised her seven children to be responsible adults. I recollect distinctly one day in 1994 when Uncle Ndonga, her son, saw my elder siblings fighting, he informed Mum about it. The evening of that day, Uncle Ndonga and Mum lectured us never to fight again, and they told us that they used to live in brotherhood when they were growing up, implying that my maternal grandma did a good job in bringing them up.

My maternal grandma also used to stay over at our home in the '90s when I was growing up. I particularly remember two of her visits, one during which she forced me to scrub a sufuria three or four times till it was as clean as a whistle. She really observed good hygiene; little wonder that she has been blessed with a long life.

Her other visit that I remember was one in which she was surprised to hear my younger brother Symo and I address her son by his name Ndonga only. Thinking that disrespectful, she instructed us to call him Uncle Ndonga, a lesson that stuck in me. To this day, I am always keen to add the title "aunt" and "uncle" when referring to the sisters, brothers and cousins of Mum and Dad. I am planning to pass on that lesson to my children, if I ever get lucky to have some. So help me God.

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RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story of mine on my grandmothers, you might also enjoy another one I wrote sometimes back on "Honouring Parents". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.

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Making Peace With The Past

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When I was a boy growing up in the old days of landline telephone booths, I used to look forward to a time I would remember what happened ten years ago. I have long since lived to see that wish come true. Today, I can recall what happened not only in the past one decade but also twenty six years ago.

And God seemed to have blessed me with a superb memory because these days, I seem to remember incidents that some of my friends have forgotten. Allow me to tell you of two. Only two.

Way back in 1994 when I was in Standard One at Noru-Moru Primary School, I recall vividly one lesson during which our teacher, an attractive lady called Miss Alice, asked all pupils in my class who had missed school the previous day to line up near her desk for questioning on why they were absent. My best friend Reuben Mwaura and I were among them. So we lined up.

When it was Reuben's turn to be questioned, he told Miss Alice that he had missed school because he had attended the Nairobi International Show. Miss Alice didn't believe him, so she caned him mercilessly. As I stood in the line watching Reuben writhe in pain as he got caned, I began to feel scared that the same punishment would befall me for I had also missed school the previous day because I had gone for Nairobi International Show.

But guess what! When it was my turn to be questioned, Miss Alice instantly believed me when I informed her that I had attended Nairobi International Show. She started asking me what I had seen in the show. I narrated to her how it had been with the artless sincerity of a young child. She praised me in front of the whole class after which she asked me to sit down.

I have never known why Miss Alice disbelieved Reuben but believed me yet the two of us had the same excuse. Later on in this decade, I reminded Reuben about that incident when I found myself in the same matatu with him on our way to our home-town of Kiserian. But alas! He told me he had no memory of that incident at all. And he was quick to add, "Maybe Miss Alice was right; you know I was a small boy back then."

The other incident I recollect distinctly was me scoring 57% in Mathematics in the 2002 Starehe Boys' Form 1 end-of-year exams. I remember that score because of how mad I was with myself for making careless mistakes in the Mathematics exams after I went through my answers when we broke for December holidays. Had it not been for those careless mistakes, I reckoned I could have scored over 80%.

But even with all those careless mistakes, I managed to defeat quite a large number of students in the Mathematics exam, some of whom scored marks as low as 30%. Needless to say, some students did score higher marks than me. Among them was a bright boy called Beneah Kombe who scored an impressive 94%. Yes, you heard it right - 94%!

Earlier on in this decade, I sent Beneah Kombe an internet message congratulating him for getting accepted at MIT, the world's premier institute in science, technology, engineering and math. I mentioned to him that he deserved to be at MIT given how he had scored 94% in Mathematics in the 2002 Starehe Boys' Form 1 end-of-year exams. But guess what again! Beneah told me he couldn't recall ever scoring 94%. That surprised me. If he wasn't trying to appear modest, then I must possess such a wonderful memory.

Indeed, I do have a wonderful memory. And to tell you the truth, that wonderful memory has become a curse some times because it has made me feel guilty and hateful when I remember the mistakes I have committed or how I have been treated unfairly. I tend to recall even the smallest acts of foolishness I did over ten years ago.

None of us can change the past. That's why some motivational speakers advise us to "let go off the past". As for me, I like telling myself to "make peace with the past". My goal these days is to become so well-educated that I can reflect on any incident in the past at any time without feeling an ounce of guilt or hatred.

My dear reader, I urge you to also make peace with your past. Celebrate your successes in bygone days. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made along the way. Pardon those who have sinned against you. Turn your scars into stars, your mess into a message and your test into a testimony.

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