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What I Would Do Differently in School

In black trousers and blazers in the photo above were the three most senior captains of Starehe Boys' Centre in 2003, posing for a picture with a Catholic priest. The captains, also known as red-lions, were (from left) Joshua Abaki, Peter Kariuki and Gilbert Kimani.


I still remember that morning as if it were branded on my forehead. It was back in 2002 when I was a Form One student at Starehe Boys' Centre. After taking our usual breakfast of a bun and a cup of tea in the dining hall, I started running towards the kitchen. I must have been running like a headless chicken because on my way, I hit the cup of a prefect. It fell on the floor and cracked.

Provoked, the prefect stopped me and lectured me angrily. Exactly what he told me, I cannot remember. But he must have been furious with me because I recall of how I went to the Main Study, the office of red-lions, crying and pleading to be freed from the prefect's wrath.

I can't recollect which red-lion I talked to that morning in the Main Study. It must have been Gilbert Kimani (see photo above). All I recall was the way he listened attentively to my rantings. And I don't know if he took any action against the prefect. Again, all I recall is that the prefect never harassed me again for breaking his cup.

And that was the thing with me at Starehe - I was a confused and timid student. That confusion and timidness affected my social life because I was shy when talking to people in one-on-one conversations. I remember how lonely I used to feel on the first evening of almost every term as other students exchanged stories about their holidays. My poor social life explains why I never ascended to any leadership position at Starehe and why I never had a girlfriend with whom to exchange letters as I observed in some other students.

Apart from having a poor social life, I also never excelled in academics - at least not until I got into Fourth Form. That was in spite of reading a lot during my free time and over the holidays.

Today, I thought of the things I would do differently if I could wave the magic wand and roll back the clocks of time to 2002 when I was in Form One at Starehe. Let me share my thoughts here in the hope that I will enlighten one or two high school students out there.

First, I would absorb as much as possible during class time and take good notes for future reading. To ensure I learn a lot during lessons, I would read ahead in textbooks so that I would be familiar with what the teacher is talking about. And should something seem unclear to me, I would raise my hand and ask for clarification from the teacher.

To tell you the truth, I never used to understand much during class hours when I was in Starehe. Mark you, that was from around 8.30am to 4.00pm, meaning that my school days went to waste. I also never used to read the notes the teachers dictated for us in class. And that meant that I had to use much of my free time to catch up in my studies instead of engaging in other mind-building activities like socializing and playing sports. A poor student I was!

The other thing I would do differently at Starehe would be to acquire a leadership position. I would particularly work at becoming a red-lion because I came to admire the responsibilities, privileges and opportunities that the red-lions used to have. Most of the red-lions in my time at Starehe landed opportunities to study overseas. Some were accepted in such highly-esteemed universities as MIT, Harvard and Stanford.

If appointed a red-lion, I would use my powers to curb the cult of mediocrity and indiscipline that grips some learners. How? By lifting my fellow students' spirits and bringing them together. And as part of leaving a legacy, I would print the following note and have it framed in the Main Study:
I pray Heaven to bestow the best blessings on this Main Study, and all that shall hereafter occupy it. May none but honest and wise students serve under this roof.
Don't get me wrong: I don't mean to say my life in high-school at Starehe was a disaster. I did have some remarkable achievements. Besides scoring an 'A' in the mighty KCSE exams, my other notable accomplishments were accompanying hymns on the piano and giving talks during evening assemblies. And judging from those achievements, I would advise high school students to develop the habit of reading everyday and to find a hobby they can excel at. That's all I am saying.

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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 external 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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Donating = Loving

It takes so much time to research, write and edit the stories and videos in this blog. If you do find any joy in reading them, please consider supporting the author with a donation of any amount - anything from buying him a cup of hot tea to treating him for a good dinner. Thanks to everyone who is contributing; you rock!

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