How I Grew Up With My Siblings
My sister-in-law Sheila Mareka once told me she wishes she had grown up in a family with more siblings. So it seems I am lucky to have lived with four brothers at home here in Kiserian back in the '90s when I was a boy. We shared stories, argued, laughed and criticized one another - the stuff that make legends.
Joe Kagigite, my eldest brother, was a very handsome young man back in the '90s. Sometimes as a boy, I would doubt if he was really my brother because I felt ugly in comparison with him. (Yes, I had such a low self-esteem.)
I recall vividly one Saturday afternoon in 2001 when going home from school, I passed by Mum's grocery together with a classmate of mine called Damariot Lempee. Because Mum was away, we found Joe Kagigite manning the grocery. And he was, you might say, in a particularly good form that afternoon. He gave us a very warm reception at the grocery as he served other customers. Damariot was so impressed by him that he said this of Joe to me as we walked home, "He's very handsome!"
That Joe Kagigite impressed my classmate Damariot reveals the way he was great at socializing. And he was because he used to regularly entertain visitors at home when we were growing up in the '90s. The visitors were his age-mates who came home to borrow novels from him and just share friend-of-a-friend tales.
Although he could sometimes froth with anger, Joe Kagigite was a very engaging brother when we lived together at home in the '90s. So engaging was he that I cried the first night he was away from us when he joined Kijabe Boys' High School in 1996. I really was saddened by his absence.
Bob Njinju, my second eldest brother, was a tough boy in the '90s - tougher than diamonds! During his primary school years, he used to marshal boys for an entertaining march before and after our country's flag was raised on the school parade ground. His toughness must be the reason he was selected to join the Kenya Air-force in 2002 when he was just fresh from high school.
For some reasons, Bob left the secure job with the Kenya Air-force sometime in 2006 and ventured into private business. As life would have it, the business faired badly, leaving him as broke as a church mouse. Consequently, he was locked from his rented room in Nairobi by his landlord, forcing him to retreat back to our home in Kiserian sometime in 2007.
That time Bob came to stay at home in 2007, I would observe him rise early everyday to go hustle in Nairobi, sometimes with fare from Mum. I later on came to envy that kind of toughness of rising early everyday, and as a result of it, Bob's business recovered which made him financially independent enough to relocate again to Nairobi.
Paddy, my immediate elder brother who I have mentioned in the caption of the photo above, was a very bright boy when we were growing up. With two Bachelors' degrees, an MBA and a certificate from Harvard University, he is now the most academically accomplished sibling in my family. He is also exceptionally talented in Music. As a boy, he could play on the piano such advanced musical pieces as Bach's Toccata & Fugue in D Minor.
In the late '90s when he was in his early teens, Paddy loved composing songs for my hometown's Catholic church choir. A few of his songs were recorded in the cassettes the choir produced. And oh my, weren't his songs just plain awesome! I sometimes find myself crooning them these days as I go about my business.
Symo, my youngest sibling (I am second last) was a clever little devil when we were growing up. At one time in the '90s, he got at loggerheads with Dad over reading a certain novel Dad didn't want him to see. Dad would keep hiding that novel but somehow, Symo would find it and devour it with the zeal of a villager on his first trip to the city.
In the early 2000s when he was in his pre-teen years, Symo would challenge my eldest brother Joe Kagigite in writing compositions. Young as he was, Symo would correct Joe's compositions with the authority of a professor. Little wonder that he turned out to be the only sibling in my family who scored an 'A' in English in the mighty KCSE exams.
Among my siblings, Symo is the one who criticised me the least when we were growing up. Yes, my senior brothers Joe, Bob and Paddy did criticize me a great deal, as all older siblings do. And as it happens in virtually all families, I got into trouble with them on several occasions for wearing their clothes and shoes without their permission.
There is one sibling in my family who is never mentioned: that's the late Stephen Ndonga. Actually, he was the last born in my family but died in 1996 when he was still an infant. And he was the first baby I remember seeing, Symo having been born when I was too young to recall things.
The evening of the day baby Stephen Ndonga was buried, Mum was unhappy with the way my senior brothers had conducted themselves that day. I remember her telling them in Kikuyu, "Don't ever do that again if another death ever happens in our family."
Fortunately, we have never had another loss of a loved one in our family since the demise of baby Stephen Ndonga in 1996. As I write this story, Mum and Dad are still alive and kicking; so are my brothers Joe, Bob, Paddy and Symo. And for that, I am deeply grateful to God.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story of mine on how I grew up with my siblings, you might also enjoy another one I wrote sometimes back on "Choosing Gratitude". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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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.