The 'If Poem'
A True Story
on Sep 20, 2019
A couple of weeks ago, I narrated in this blog of how I attended "working party" when I was in Form 3 at Starehe Boys' Centre. As I explained, "working party" is one of the most severe punishments at Starehe during which culprits are forced to work shirtless for three hours on a Saturday afternoon. Thankfully, that "working party" I did in Form 3 was the only I attended in high school.
Well, I had been crucified for another "working party" earlier on in my high school career but through tactical manoeuvring, I evaded doing it. Okay, let me tell you the full story.
When I was in Starehe, my stay in the school was sponsored by an American called Mr. Mark Moore. I was required to write a letter to him every term as a sign of gratitude for his generosity. A staff member in Starehe named John Odor was charged with the responsibility of ensuring I wrote the letter on time.
One term while I was in Form 2 or Form 3 (can't recall the exact year), I failed to present my letter to John Odor before the required deadline. And guess what! During lunch the following Saturday after the deadline day, I heard my name mentioned in the list of "working party" culprits. John Odor had gone ahead to fix me for the severe punishment.
Hearing my name mentioned in the dining hall during that Saturday lunch greatly perturbed me. As soon as lunch was over, I went to the office of the then Starehe Boys' principal, the late Mr. Yusuf King'ala, to appeal the punishment.
I found Mr. King'ala talking to another man in his office, and I was courageous enough to interrupt them and present my case to him. With tears cascading down my cheeks, I told Mr. King'ala that I had been fixed for "working party" by John Odor for not penning a letter to my sponsor yet I had written one but failed to present it on time because I hadn't found John Odor in his house.
At first, Mr. King'ala adamantly refused to waive my "working party" punishment on the pretext that John Odor was an adult (not a student prefect), so his decision couldn't be questioned. But I continued pleading with him to save me from the punishment which I thought was unfair.
After he listened to my cries and pleas for several minutes, Mr. King'ala finally relented and promised to investigate the matter. He wrote me a note which I took to the captain in charge of "working party" that afternoon. The note saved me from the punishment. And Mr. King'ala never bothered to follow up on the matter as he had promised. So the issue died down. My dear reader, that's how I evaded doing what should have been my first "working party" at Starehe.
I seemed not to have learnt a lesson from that disturbing experience because later on when I was in my final term in high school in 2005, I again failed to write a letter to my sponsor on time. This time, John Odor didn't crucify me for "working party". Instead, he asked me to write the "If Poem" by Rudyard Kipling thrice on foolscaps and hand them to him - a punishment which I found fair.
The "If Poem" was framed on a wall in the Starehe Boys' library. To be honest, I had never bothered to read the poem till John Odor forced me to write it in my final term in high school. And even as I sat in the library copying the poem during that final term in high school, I didn't give a thought to its message - a further proof that we can swim in the sea of knowledge all day and still come out dry.
It was only months later in 2007 when I was a first-year student at JKUAT that I began to reflect on the words of the "If Poem". I came to find the poem so inspiring that I memorized it when we broke for long holidays after my first year at JKUAT. As the years rolled by though, I lost my ability to recall the poem from memory as I got sidetracked by other issues.
Over the past two months, I have rekindled my interest in the "If Poem" and memorized it again. I can now comfortably recite it word for word. But memorizing the poem is not as exceptional as living it. For me, the poem's most difficult advice to live by is "[filling] the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run". I however have this belief that I will soon assimilate the advice by being constantly forgiving of myself and others, and feel that forgiveness in my heart.
My dear reader, I encourage you to study the "If Poem" as well in your free time. It's a wonderful piece of literature that can make you wise, witty and effective. Over to you!
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story of mine on the "If Poem", you might also enjoy another one I wrote a few weeks ago on "An Unfair Punishment I Once Did". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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Why You Should Stop Worrying
A True Story
on Sep 18, 2019
On April 2007 when I was leaving Starehe Institute and was about to matriculate at the university in JKUAT, I once came across a poster on a noticeboard in Starehe. The poster was advertising a certain music school that was located in downtown Nairobi. Upon seeing the poster, I suddenly became interested in having a part-time piano teaching job at the school, so I noted its location as was printed in the poster.
I went to the piano school a day or two later to ask for the piano teaching job I wanted. And I had with me an official letter I had penned in which I had written my qualifications and expressed my interest to be a teacher in the school.
At the music school, I found a friendly lass called Grace who informed me that the owner of the school was away in Japan. She gladly accepted the letter I had penned, which had my name as well as contacts, and promised she would get back to me after consulting her boss who was in Japan.
A couple of days later, Grace called me to inform me that her boss had agreed to grant me a piano teaching job in the school. How lucky I was!
When I presented myself to the music school ready to take up my job as a teacher, Grace treated me with enormous kindness as if she had known me for years. She gave me a key to the music school room. And she introduced me to her boss when he came back from Japan. The boss was a generous and good-natured man called Shemaiah Mwakodi, or Shem in short.
Later on in the year, I felt proud when Grace handed me a bunch of business cards with my name on them indicating that I was a piano tutor in the school.
Well, I didn't teach many students at the music school that year in 2007 because I was mostly away at the university in JKUAT. I only taught one person. But I loved spending my weekends at the music school where I practised playing hymns and instrumental pieces on the piano. Had it not been for my access to pianos at the music school, I doubt whether I would have passed my Grade 5 piano exams that I took around June 2007; there were no pianos in JKUAT.
As life would have it, I ceased teaching at the music school in 2008. Later on in early 2010 after I had dropped out of JKUAT, I again became interested in teaching piano. So I went to the music school only to find Grace had left. I approached Shem who readily told me to tutor whoever had interest in learning music in his school. This time, I taught two students but only for a short time.
Although I used to feel terribly lonely and bored in the music school in early 2010, I appreciated being there because it saved me from dull menial tasks that Mum asked me to do at home: such menial tasks as milking cows and fetching firewood. I also appreciated being at the music school because I got to drink plenty of juice that Shem stocked in the school. But after about three months in the music school in 2010, I again quit the job.
Then when I enrolled at the University of Nairobi later on in 2010, I developed a habit of dropping by the music school which was just next to the university. I would sometimes make myself comfortable in the school by sitting down and reading a book. What I didn't realize was that some people new to me, who were now sharing the music school rooms with Shem, were unhappy to see me "idling" in the rooms.
Those people who were new to me didn't know I had been a teacher at the music school two times since April 2007. One day when I went to relax at the music school that time I was at the University of Nairobi, they asked me to go away. The day took a turn for the worse when as I was leaving the building that housed the music school, a guard instructed me to never again use the entrance reserved for cars. What a miserable day it was for me!
As I was trudging away from the building feeling gloomy and rejected, I met a high schoolmate of mine called Edward Were who was then pursuing a degree in Medicine & Surgery at the University of Nairobi. On seeing how gloomy I looked, Edward asked me to smile and cheer up, after which he continued with his walk towards the university.
Fast-forward to this month: I woke up about two weeks ago in the morning to news on Facebook that Edward Were had died in a tragic road accident as he was rushing to perform a surgery on a patient. Edward's death did sadden me that much since he wasn't a close friend of mine but it did remind me of his sage advice he offered me nine years ago when I was feeling gloomy and rejected: that I smile and cheer up.
His untimely demise has also made me understand how unexpected calamities can arise. I am sure his family has been forced to prepare for a funeral it hadn't anticipated. So I have thought to myself as a wise man would think - if such unexpected calamities can arise, why keep on worrying about the bad things that might happen?
My dear reader, you could be worrying about the possibility of your aging parent not living to see you achieve your dreams only to lose your youthful sibling in a tragic road accident. You could be worrying about your plans not working out only to unexpectedly meet the soulmate of your dreams on your walk to the grocery. Or you could be worrying over what some folks think about you only to find out those folks have their own set of challenges they are grappling with.
I therefore beseech you to train your mind to neither worry about the future nor regret the past. Yesterday is in the tomb and tomorrow is in the womb; it's only today that is in your hands - please use it constructively. Adieu!
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