The XY Problem
Knock! Knock! I heard someone hit the door of a toilet in JKUAT where I was sleeping one night because I didn't have anywhere else to sleep. That was back in 2008 when I had gone astray at the university by not attending classes and failing to communicate home. When I opened the door of the toilet, it turned out the people knocking were security agents.
The security agents first did a body check on me to see if I was carrying something illegal. And when they saw I was harmless, they took me to an adjoining TV recreation room and asked me to sit down on a seat for inquisition.
They started out by asking me for my university identity card which I had in my pocket that night. When I gave it to them, one of the security agents blurted out, "Yes! You are the one we are looking for."
Some of the security agents were sympathetic with me. They couldn't believe such a fine-looking young man as me could be engaging in such mischief as sleeping in a toilet. But as sympathetic as they were, they told me I had to spend the rest of the night in a police cell as they awaited for my family to come for me. So they peacefully drove me to a nearby police station. I remember a policeman asking me to take off my belt and watch before being led into the room where I was to spend the night.
Early the following day, my father, together with Uncle Gibson Mwangi, came for me in the police station. Because I was in a very talkative mood that day, I paraded my knowledge to everyone who handled me. Like when one officer held a roll of bhang in her hand and asked me if I knew what it was, I shot back, "That's marijuana. But for me, I get high with the spirit of God."
And when the same officer inquired from me why I hadn't been attending classes at the university, I quoted to her from memory the following America's Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.Unable to handle me, the officer handed me over to my father and Uncle Gibson who took me to a lecturer called Prof. Nyaga, a family friend who was then lecturing at JKUAT. Actually, I was the one who directed them to Prof. Nyaga's office.
At Prof. Nyaga's office, I continued parading my knowledge and being overly talkative. Like I sang to Prof. Nyaga some verses from the wonderful old hymn, "Land of Our Birth, I Pledge to Thee" - the lyrics full of power for me.
Even though Prof. Nyaga was impressed with my memory, he didn't think I was okay in the head, so he referred me to the university hospital. But because he knew I would resist going to the hospital, he called two guards who at first lied to me that they were taking me to some place I have forgotten. That place turned out to be JKUAT hospital.
At JKUAT hospital, I was examined by a lady-psychiatrist called Dr. Kitili. She asked me several questions, most of which have slipped my memory. Her only question that I recall was whether I experienced any hallucinations in my thinking. I told her "no". But she went ahead to have me forcefully admitted at Thika Nursing Home, an about ten-minutes drive from JKUAT.
For several years after I was discharged from Thika Nursing Home, I went regularly for medical check-ups during which I received injections and medication. My family came to view me as a mentally sick person. I also came to accept myself as ill because I voluntarily took the drugs my doctors prescribed for me.
Coming to think of it, I am now of the opinion that my admission to Thika Nursing Home and my subsequent treatment as a mentally sick person is a good example of what I heard someone call "the XY problem". The XY problem is about coming up with an attempted solution 'X' instead of solving the actual problem 'Y'. That leads to enormous amounts of wasted time and energy, both on the part of people asking for help and on the part of those providing help.
Why am I saying that my admission at Thika Nursing Home is a typical XY problem? Because even though I had indeed gone astray at JKUAT, I don't think I was mentally ill. What I needed was guidance on how to find my true passions after I found the engineering course I was pursuing at the university to be completely harassing. That's all I am saying.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story of mine on the XY problem, you might also enjoy another one I wrote sometimes back on "Finding the Right Path". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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An Unfair Punishment I Once Did
We were having a Chemistry laboratory sessioin one afternoon in 2004 when I was in Form 3 at Starehe Boys' Centre. The teacher tutoring us was a gentle and soft-spoken lady called Mrs. Helen Ngigi. It must have been a hot afternoon because I removed my tie and unbuttoned the collar of my shirt. And when Mrs. Ngigi saw that I wasn't having my tie on, she asked me to go and see Mr. Obudho, the then Starehe Boys' Form Three Senior Master. She asked me to do so in a gentle way, so I didn't take her seriously.
At first, I chickened out by going outside of the laboratory and then coming back without seeing Mr. Obudho. But our gentle Chemistry teacher followed up on the issue by inquiring from me whether I had seen Mr. Obudho. When I told her I hadn't, she sent me again to go and see him. This time I did by going to Mr. Obudho's office which was just next to the laboratory. I knocked on his door and presented myself to him.
After telling Mr. Obudho that I had been referred to him by Mrs. Ngigi for not wearing a tie during a laboratory session, he took down my name and a few other details, then told me to go back. I headed back to the laboratory unworried by what would happen to me for I thought not having a tie during a lab session on a hot afternoon was a minor issue.
But alas! Come Friday evening of that week, I was astonished to see my name in a list on one of the school's main noticeboards - I had been crucified for "working party"!
"Working party" is one of the most severe punishments in Starehe during which culprits are forced to work shirtless for three hours on a Saturday afternoon. I don't think I deserved to be fixed for the punishment for just not wearing a tie during a lab session. There were other minor punishments that I could have been asked to do. To put it simply, my crucifixion for "working party" was a travesty of justice.
I didn't bother to appeal the punishment. And I doubt whether my appeal would have succeeded anyway because the then deputy director in charge of teachers used to think that the likes of Mr. Obudho were adults whose decisions were never to be questioned.
So on the following Saturday afternoon after lunch, I availed myself for the "working party" punishment while carrying a bucket, a broom and a mopping rag as I had been instructed. But I made the mistake of turning up in a T-shirt because as I have said, the punishment is done shirtless. When the captain in charge of the punishment that afternoon saw me wearing a T-shirt, he commanded me to remove it and immediately confiscated it.
After all "working party" culprits of that afternoon turned up, I was sent on my way to the other side of Starehe where laboratories are found and where I was to do my punishment. I felt embarrassed to be seen walking shirtless on my way to the other side of the school. It really was embarrassing.
As I headed towards the laboratories, I met Kenneth Karani - an old boy of Starehe who had left the school a few years before and who knew me very well. Karani was surprised and angry at me to see me do "working party". And he expressed his disgust by speaking to me briefly in a stern voice and walking away from me. How I wish he knew I had been punished unfairly!
During the "working party", I swept, scrubbed and mopped a whole laboratory alone for close to three hours. The prefect supervising me must have been a kind fellow because I don't remember incurring his disapproval over what I was doing. After I did the punishment to his satisfaction, he released me. And then I began another embarrassing journey back to the other side of Starehe. Remember, I was walking shirtless while carrying a bucket, a broom and a mopping rag - the equipment I had used to do the punishment.
And guess what! Just as I was about to cross to the other side of the school, I saw my father coming out of the gate of that side. He had come to visit me and my immediate elder Paddy who was also in Starehe that time. Because I didn't want my father to see me shirtless, I avoided meeting him. He therefore left the school without having seen me that Saturday afternoon.
When I went back to the other side of Starehe where dormitories are found and after dodging my father, I rushed to my house through a road that had few people because I was feeling ashamed to be seen shirtless. And when I reached the room where I was staying, I put down my punishment equipment and wore a shirt. Though I don't recall what I did next, I am sure I must have felt relieved that the whole ordeal was over.
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