A Great Opportunity I Once Lost
Back in 2004 when I was in Form 3 at Starehe Boys' Centre, we were taught Mathematics by a funny teacher called Mr. Joseph Kasili. He once told us during one lesson that stealing is a way of sharing wealth. But what I remember most of Mr. Kasili is him saying to us, "I know some of you are so ambitious that you want to pursue your university education in America."
I was among those students in my class who eventually developed a burning desire to study in the United States. Like when I was reporting back to Starehe Boys' in January 2005 for my Fourth-form year, I mailed a letter to MIT, the world's premier institute in science, technology, engineering and math. I expressed in the letter my wish to enroll at MIT once I was through with my high school education. And I thought the staff at MIT would be impressed with the letter and send me a prospectus of the institute along with application forms but they never did.
Towards the end of my Fourth-form year in 2005, a great opportunity opened up for me to study in America. This is what happened: The Washington University in St. Louis mailed a letter to Starehe Boys' Centre informing the Starehe administration of a scholarship at the university called the Danforth Scholars Program that one Starehe student could apply. Mr. Paul Mugo, the then Starehe Boys' senior master in charge of Fourth-formers, hijacked the letter and brought it to me. He did so after I had caught his attention earlier on in the year when I informed him of my interest to study overseas.
To qualify for the Danforth Scholars Program that Mr. Mugo wanted me to take advantage of, I had to write a resume and send it to Washington University in St. Louis. A brilliant schoolmate of mine at Starehe called Beneah Kombe helped me to draft the contents of the resume. Actually, Beneah wrote much of the resume even though I was the one applying for the scholarship. I remember admiring his excellent command of the English language that was evident in the resume.
A few weeks after mailing the resume, I received a fat envelope from Washington University in St. Louis - the kind that applicants get when they are accepted at top-flight colleges in America. While I can't recall how I felt upon the receiving the fat envelope, I am sure I must have been elated, thinking that I was now destined to fly to America as it had been my dream.
When I opened the envelope, I was delighted to read in a letter addressed to me that I had been selected for the Danforth Scholars Program. But guess what! The letter went on to say that I would only receive the scharship if I got admitted at Washington University in St. Louis. And to be a candidate for admission at the university, I had to fill out forms, write several essays, submit three recommendation letters from my teachers as well as sit for the SAT and TOEFL exams - all before a January 1st deadline that was only about a month and a half away.
After we finished our final high school exams known as KCSE in November that year, I began in earnest to apply to Washington University only to hit one roadblock after another. Like when I went to find out the cost of sitting for SAT and TOEFL tests, they turned out to be too expensive for my family to afford. That time, I didn't know it was unnecessary for me to take TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language) tests since I had been studying English in all my schooling life.
Because my family couldn't afford to foot the bill of taking the tests, I approached Mr. Paul Mugo and asked him if the Starehe Boys' administration could help. Mr Mugo promised me that he would discuss the issue with Mr. Joseph Gikubu, the then acting director of the school. I don't know if he did; all I know is that he came back to me and apprised me that the Starehe administration was not in a position to assist me.
With that news from Mr. Mugo, I gave up applying to Washington University in St. Louis; so I wasn't awarded the scholarship I had been selected for. And my dear reader, that's how I lost a great opportunity that had opened up for me to pursue my university education in America. Adieu!
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story of mine on a great opportunity I lost, you might also enjoy another one I wrote sometime back on "My First Major Setback". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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On Sex & Relationships
When I was at the University of Nairobi in early 2011, I happened to occasionally meet with Miss Edith Karaimu, the first director of Starehe Girls' Centre - a respected national school that opened its doors in 2005. That time in 2011 when I met with Miss Karaimu, she had long since resigned as the director of Starehe Girls'. And I didn't bother to ask her what she was doing at the University of Nairobi.
One afternoon, I sat down with Miss Karaimu on a bench at the university. That a former director of a respected national school could sit down with a little known young man like me shows how humble Miss Karaimu is, doesn't it?
Well, I can't recall most of what we talked about that afternoon. All I remember is me telling Miss Karaimu that I was part of a choir in a church in Nairobi, probably thinking she would be impressed with me, only for her to strongly advise me not to hang around with old people.
"Stay with young people of your age," Miss Karaimu counselled me.
Later on, I heeded Miss Karaimu's advice by becoming a member of my home church youth group. I found the youths friendly and fun to be with. And I was impressed with the way they openly discussed sex and relationships. Like in one church youth meeting I attended on a Sunday afternoon, the speaker gave us a lecture during which he told us that some people can undress a woman in their minds as she is talking. I found that statement amusing, especially taking into account that it was being uttered in a church.
Then on another Sunday afternoon, we - the youth group - went to visit one of our members called Liz in her rented room. We had lively conversations that afternoon, and I was impressed with myself for taking part in them; it showed how much I had grown. There was a time, I must tell you, when I used to feel horribly shy and aloof in social gatherings.
Among the issues we discussed at Liz's room were relationships. I advised the youths not to consider wealth as one of the criteria for selecting a relationship partner but instead look at character and potential for achievement. And I gave them an example of Hillary Clinton who fell in love with Bill Clinton in the 1970s when Bill was a man of little means.
As our conversations became more lively, I posed this question to the youth members, "What if you get married in church and then later on, you come across a woman who is better than your wife or a man who is better than your husband?"
One of the youths was so impressed with my question that she asked me to repeat it. I did and then began coming up with a solution by telling the youths that it is important to nurture a relationship with love and caring so that a spouse can't come across a better partner. But I was cut short by a youth who told me the married youths present in the room were the ones fit to answer my question. Unfortunately, I can't remember what they said.
After Liz served us with refreshments, we began introducing ourselves. I was the first one to stand up. " My name in Thuita J. Maina," I told them, " I am single and HIV negative." As soon as I said I was single and HIV negative, there was a roar of laughter and excitement in the room. It showed how fun the youths were.
And then on yet another Sunday evening as I was heading home, I passed by our church where I found several youths having an informal discussion about sex and relationships. I joined in the conversations in the course of which I told them I have never had sex.
"You mean you have never slept with a woman?" one of the youths called Mwanzia asked me in Sheng.
I again told them I had never had sex but being the honest young man that I am, I confessed to entertaining lustful thoughts in my mind. Then Liz mentioned the word I had been trying to avoid by shouting, " Masturbation!" When Liz began talking about masturbation and how sinful it is, I told her being a man is no easy task.
And when we began discussing about women and virginity that Sunday evening, I felt compelled to tell the youths about a Swahili play titled Kitumbua Kimeingia Mchanga that we studied in high school. The play was about a woman who people doubted whether she was a virgin because of the way she conversed with men a lot. But one man went ahead to marry her, and guess what! The night of the day they got married, the woman turned out to have been a virgin because blood oozed from her body during sex.
After I had finished sharing that story of the play with the youths, Mwanzia added thoughtfully in Sheng, "The quiet women are usually the worst!" By saying so, Mwanzia was insinuating that shy and reticent women are the ones who mostly mess up. That's all he said.
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