How I Overcame the Odds
A True Story
on Jan 11, 2020
At the risk of appearing stuck in my past successes, allow me - my dear reader - to tell you today on how I overcame odds stacked against me. And if I become boring, stop me.
Back in the '90s when I was in primary school, I was sometimes derided as dull and dumb for performing averagely in school. Like when I was in Standard Five or Six, one of my brothers said to another in Kikuyu as I listened, "I wonder how Thuita will pass his KCPE exams."
Perhaps as a result of that criticism of the way dull and dumb I was, I worked hard to improve my lot by reading books. But my efforts were never fully reflected in school because I continued scoring average marks. It's because of my average performance that my parents were reluctant to transfer me to Kunoni Educational Centre, the private primary school I mentioned in my previous story on this blog.
And when my parents eventually changed their minds and took me to Kunoni, I continued performing averagely in spite of doing much reading. As a matter of fact, I never managed to score past the 396 mark in my Standard Eight tests. Well, my scores - which ranged mostly in the 370s - weren't that mediocre; but again, they weren't good enough to get me into such a prestigious high school as Starehe Boys' Centre where I had applied for admission.
The impressive thing about me in those days was the way I kept aiming high in the face of unpromising marks in my Standard Eight tests. Imagine I sat for my KCPE exams in November 2001 with the aim of emerging top in the country. I was that ambitious.
But alas! When the KCPE results were released in late December of that year, my name wasn't mentioned in the radio in the list of top pupils in the country. The following morning, I went to my hometown of Kiserian and bought a newspaper - hoping against hope that I would appear in the dailies because they published a longer list of pupils than those mentioned in the radio. Sadly, my name wasn't in the newspaper either.
I can still recall how crestfallen I felt when I found my name missing in the newspaper that December morning in 2001. With the newspaper in my hand, I trudged towards Mum's grocery shop thinking of which high school I would attend now that it seemed I couldn't make it to Starehe. And when I reached the grocery shop, I handed the newspaper over to Mum without telling her my name wasn't in it.
Mum took the newspaper and went through the list of top pupils as she said to someone in Kikuyu, "My son Thuita can't be listed here. He wasn't such a bright pupil in school." And for sure, I wasn't in the newspaper.
A day or two later, my friend Francis Kariuki and I were having a conversation with another shopkeeper in Kiserian when Francis informed the shopkeeper that I had sat for that year's KCPE exams. I don't know what the shopkeeper saw in me because he was quick to comment that there was no way I could be a top performer in the exams.
But then, the unexpected happened. After I went to fetch for my KCPE results at Kunoni, I was delighted to find that I had scored 421 marks. Hurray, I had aced the KCPE exams that one of my brothers had predicted I would fail! It turned out that I had missed appearing in the newspapers by only a few marks. But what mattered was that my score in KCPE was good enough to land me in Starehe Boys' Centre.
Most of those who knew me well were surprised to hear that I had made it to Starehe. Like Uncle Ndonga, who used to stay with us at home in the '90s, relayed news to me that he was taken aback by my success in KCPE exams. Then as I was preparing to report to Starehe, my Mum took me to the shop of Uncle Gibson Mwangi where she engaged him in a conversation on how my admission to Starehe was a miracle.
You know what? When I enrolled at Starehe in January 2002, I again found myself struggling in academics. I ended up among the last in my class in my first term at the school, which shouldn't have been that shocking, bearing in mind that I was competing with the brightest boys in the country. But back then, I felt embarrassed to be among the last in my class; I had never sank that low in academic rankings ever since I started schooling in 1993.
To improve in academics, I studied diligently when we broke for holidays after that disappointing first term at Starehe. But just like it was the case when I was in primary school, I only managed to improve marginally in my subsequent terms in Form 1. News must have spread through the grapevine in Starehe that I wasn't faring well in class because a housemate of mine called James said to me one time when we were in Form 1, "I hear you are always among the last in your class..."
Despite my disappointing academic record in Form 1, I kept studying diligently and aiming high. My goal in every exam we sat for in high school was to emerge top. Though I didn't realize that goal in my entire high school career, at least it helped me improve academically to the point of scoring an 'A' in the 2005 KCSE exams. And therein lies an important lesson: that if we aim high and fail to meet our target, we wind up at a far much better level than we would be if we hadn't aimed high.
Several of my family members and relatives expressed to me their pride in seeing my name in the newspapers in the list of top 100 students in Nairobi Province in the 2005 KCSE results. Like my younger brother Symo, who was in high school then, sent me an email congratulating me for my excellent grades in KCSE. Then Uncle Ndonga showed his son my name in the newspapers while telling him of how far I had come from.
And then a few years later in 2008 when my younger brother Symo was preparing for his KCSE exams, my father asked me what advice I would give Symo on how to excel in the exams. I knew just what to say, so I told my father in Kikuyu, "Let him strive to enjoy his studies." And that was all I said.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on how I overcame the odds, you might also enjoy another one I wrote sometimes back on "Developing Mental Clarity". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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My Kunoni Days
A True Story
on Jan 9, 2020
A few days ago before retiring to bed at night, I prayed to God that my slumber may be deep and my dreams sweet. And wow! God answered my prayers because I had a restful sleep that night and a pleasant dream as well. I dreamt of Bien Aime Baraza, a Kenyan celeb who sings with a popular afro-pop band called Sauti Sol, visiting me at home here in Kiserian. Although Bien found my bed unmade, he was impressed with how organized my room is and commended me for owning a laptop.
Bien Aime Baraza was a classmate of mine at Kunoni Educational Centre, a private primary school I have mentioned in the caption of the photo above. I don't know why my mind conjured up images of Bien in the dream I had the other night. Maybe it's because of the way Kunoni was a school dear to me in my boyhood days.
Well, my immediate elder brother Paddy was the first sibling in my family to attend Kunoni Educational Centre. He was transferred to the school in 1998 at the beginning of his Standard 7 education. I heard it that he was transferred to the school due to his brilliance. And I also heard it that I wasn't taken to Kunoni at the same time with Paddy because I wasn't that bright.
While Paddy was in Kunoni, he would sometimes entertain us with tales about the school. At one time, he teased me that I had never seen a computer which they had at Kunoni. Those tales and teases by Paddy must have fuelled my desire to also join Kunoni. I pleaded with my parents to take me to the school but somehow, they were reluctant to transfer me even after I threatened them several times that I would commit suicide if I wasn't taken to Kunoni. Eventually, I gave up pleading with my parents that I be transferred to Kunoni and I settled on finishing my primary school education at a public primary school where I had began schooling in 1993.
But guess what! Sometime in September 2000 when I was in my final term in Standard 7, my parents suddenly changed their minds and decided to avail to me the same opportunities they had accorded Paddy. So my Mum went to Kunoni and told the headmaster of the school about me. The Kunoni headmaster asked Mum to take me to his school for an interview. I took several exams during the interview. And as I headed back home on the evening of that day I took the interview, I liked the way some of the Kunoni pupils carried themselves.
I must have done well in the interview exams because the Kunoni headmaster admitted me to his school as a sponsored pupil, just like my brother Paddy had been. And if my memory serves me well, I remember him saying that I should have joined Kunoni earlier on in the year.
Learning at Kunoni turned out to be a great experience for me. For the first time since I began schooling, I had to wear a tie, a pair of socks and black shoes. And the shoes had to be polished everyday. I felt some pride in wearing the Kunoni uniform, especially the tie which was a first for me. The other firsts for me at Kunoni were keeping a diary, going for a half-term break, having end-term parties and learning how to use a computer.
Even though I fared well in class during my time at Kunoni, I have to confess that I never understood anything in the computer lessons we were receiving in the school. I just thank God that Computer Studies was not part of the examinable subjects. If it had been, I would never have made it to Starehe Boys' Centre - the prestigious institution where I had my high school and college education. And it wasn't until several years later in 2006 when I was in Starehe Institute that I got to understand how a computer is operated.
As I have said, I was admitted at Kunoni as a sponsored pupil. It doesn't bother me now to let that fact be known to the world but back in the days when I was in Kunoni, I never wanted my fellow classmates to know that I didn't pay fees. I recall vividly one time my classmate Timothy Kassamy inquired from me whether I paid fees after he noted I wasn't receiving receipts for school fees like other pupils. Though I can't recollect the response I gave to Timothy, I am sure I must have felt afraid my classmates might discover I was a sponsored pupil. Thankfully, no classmate ever found that out during our time in the school.
My classmates at Kunoni, I must tell you, were from well-off families. Some used to be dropped at school in the morning by their parents' cars. I could also tell how wealthy some of my classmates were from the quality of food they brought to school for lunch. Theirs were delicious, well-cooked meals - the kind that would make you look forward to eating.
The day before we sat for our final national primary school exams known as KCPE, I visited the home of my classmate Nicholas Onyancha together with several other classmates. During the visit, I was envious of the way Onyancha's family had juices and biscuits in a cupboard in the living room of their mansion. Here at home when we were growing up, we never used to have such delicacies as biscuits in the cupboard; we would feast on them as soon as they were brought home, never sparing a morsel for another day.
Another classmate of mine at Kunoni I wish to tell you about was Eric Chege who loved telling us about his relatives in America. He made me admire America because of the way he used to speak so highly of it. I am looking forward to the time I will first set foot "in the States", as Eric Chege liked calling America.
It has been ages since I last interacted with my Kunoni classmates face to face. But I am glad to be in touch with a few of them via Facebook. Others like Bien Aime Baraza, who I have mentioned at the beginning of this story, have moved on to distinguished careers that make them difficult to contact. As for me, I am still trying to carve a niche for myself as a writer and a musician. I believe I will succeed. So help me God.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on my Kunoni days, you might also enjoy another one I wrote sometimes back on "Lessons I learnt From Books". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.