In December 1996 when I was nine, I spent my school holiday at the home of Auntie Joyce (my Mum's eldest sister) in Murang'a District which is located in Kenya's central highlands. I got to interact with my cousins and other relatives during that holiday. And I also had the opportunity to learn how tea leaves are harvested since we don't grow tea here at home in Kiserian.
One of the things that struck me most about Auntie Joyce's home back then in 1996 was the absence of books and magazines that I had been accustomed to at my parents' home in Kiserian. Even finding a small piece of newspaper to use as a toilet paper was a problem. It seems Auntie Joyce and her family didn't put premium on reading as much as my family did.
Yes, my family did put a lot of emphasis on reading and academic excellence when I was growing up. And to help us excel in school, my father bought us plenty of books, magazines and newspapers. Of us five, his sons that is, my immediate elder brother Paddy turned out to be the most excellent student in school.
I recall vividly sometime in the mid '90s my brother Bob Njinju predicting that Paddy's academic performance would go down when he got into Standard Four. How wrong he was! Getting into Standard Four didn't diminish Paddy's academic prowess. He continued appearing among the top pupils all the way to Standard Eight which led to his admission at the prestigious Starehe Boys' Centre in the year 2000.
At Starehe where he schooled alongside other bright boys, Paddy still continued shining in class. I remember reading a Form Three report form of his on which Dr. Geoffrey Griffin, the then director of Starehe, had written, "A splendid performance". He went on to score an 'A' in the mighty KCSE exams and had the distinguished honour of being featured in the front-page of newspapers in the list of top 100 best students in Kenya.
And when he matriculated at the University of Nairobi in 2005, Paddy even excelled more there. He graduated with a first class honours BSc. degree in Anatomy, a Bachelor's degree in Medicine & Surgery and an MBA from the university - all in a span of six years. As you can see, Paddy was a consistent top performer throughout his schooling life.
Unlike him, I was not always great in academics. My performance used to go up and down like a yo-yo. Like I topped my class in Term 3 exams in 1997 when I was in Standard Four. But when I moved to the next class, Standard Five that is, my grades started dropping. Two of my friends in my neighbourhood regularly ridiculed me for being a dimwit that time I was in Standard Five. They thought it foolish that I couldn't even tell who Kenya's Attorney General was.
But alas! Come December 2001, I gave everyone who knew me a surprise by doing well in that year's KCPE exams which led to my admission at Starehe Boys' Centre where my brilliant brother Paddy had been accepted two years earlier.
When I got into Starehe, I ended up among the last students in my class in my first term which shouldn't have been shocking because the school used to take only the crème de la crème. But back then, I felt embarrassed of that performance so much that I feared what my family would say of me as I headed home. Of course they panned it.
I managed to improve academically as my high school years wore on to the point of scoring an 'A' in my KCSE exams. And like my brother Paddy, I had the distinguished honour of getting listed in the newspapers in the list of top 100 students in Nairobi Province, a remarkable achievement considering that the province had the best high schools in Kenya, with the possible exception of Central Province during that era of provincial administration.
Then when I enrolled at the university in JKUAT in 2007 to pursue a BSc. degree in Electronics & Computer Engineering, my academic performance took a nosedive again. I scored several 'C's and a 'D' in my first semester at the university. Then in my second semester, I failed a subject called Material Science.
I was on holiday when news got through to me that I had failed the subject. And I would have kept it a secret had the university authorities not sent a letter to my father's mailbox asking me to retake the Material Science exam. Sooner than later, word started spreading around my family of how I was failing. That tells much of the way my folks set premium on academic excellence.
Although I didn't turn out to be a consistent stellar student during my schooling life as my immediate elder brother Paddy was, at least I picked up the habits of reading and writing from my family's focus on academic excellence. I plan to continue with those habits for the rest of my life. And if I ever get lucky to have a family, I hope to instil those two habits on my children. So help me God.
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Understanding the Bible
There was a time, not so long ago, when I doubted the literary accuracy of the Scriptures. But then one Sunday afternoon in 2007 when I was in a small piano school in Nairobi where I used to teach music, I opened a Bible that belonged to another teacher. And as I was reading its preface, my attention was drawn to a statement that said the Bible has helped transform confused people into clear-thinking Christians.
That statement caught my attention because I was constantly accused of being confused. While I cannot remember whether it made me instantly believe in the Scriptures, I am sure it helped kindle my desire to understand the Bible so that I could get rid of the confusion that people saw in me.
So much did I come to desire to understand the Bible that towards the end of 2007, I bought my own Bible from a bookstand at All Saints' Cathedral in Nairobi where I used to worship. And when I reported back at the university in JKUAT for my second year in 2008, I tried reading that Bible like a novel, beginning from the Book of Genesis. Well, I found its first five books to be piously stuffy and boring but I still continued devouring the Bible with the zeal of a he-goat on heat till it got stolen on one Sunday afternoon that year in 2008. Let me tell you how it got stolen.
On that Sunday afternoon when I headed back to JKUAT carrying a bag that contained my Bible, I was denied entry into the university because it was still closed following a students' strike. I then decided to hide the bag in a tunnel near a JKUAT gate and went for a meal in a nearby food cafe. And lo! When I came back to check my bag in the tunnel, it was gone.
You know what else? Despite having read the Bible from the Book of Genesis to that of Psalm before it got stolen, it didn't transform me into a clear-thinking godly character. On the contrary, I became more sinful by hanging around the university without attending classes and communicating home. Surely, is that a behaviour to be expected from a true Christian? It is not.
A dozen months later in 2009 when I was admitted at JKUAT hospital, I saw a New Testament Bible belonging to the hospital which I read to completion. But to be honest, I didn't understand it. So all my efforts to read that Bible went to waste because as Confucius put it, learning without thought is labour lost.
Sometime in 2010, I bought another personal copy of the Bible. And when I bought it, I re-read the books of New Testament since I hadn't understood them when I was at JKUAT hospital. Then I finished going through the Old Testament that I hadn't finished a few years earlier before my first Bible was stolen. By the year 2012, I could proudly claim to have studied the whole Bible.
But still, my studying the whole Bible by the year 2012 did not do much to transform my character. I still continued behaving foolishly at times, plagiarizing other people's writings and fearing some men - conduct inconsistent with teachings of the Bible.
In recent years, I have re-read books in my Bible and highlighted the verses that have touched me. And I am gratefully glad to report that they have been transforming my character. Like these days, I try to honour my parents as the Scriptures command us. I also strive to tell the truth at all times and to avoid stealing other people's materials.
Lately, I have found myself craving to understand and believe in the Bible more as a result of the worries that have been preying on my mind. That craving led me to re-read the verses I have highlighted in the Book of Psalms.
I have now come to discover that the Bible is not something piously stuffy and boring but a scientific procedure for successful living. It's full of wonderful words of wisdom and encouragement that can help us rise above the petty conflicts and worries that litter our everyday living. I have therefore purposed to continue understanding and believing in it more as the days roll by. So help me God.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story of mine on understanding the Bible, you might also enjoy another one I wrote sometimes back on "Lessons From the Bible". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.