A few years ago, I decided to ransack my father's collection of books in an old wooden house at our beautifully rustic home here in Kiserian where I live. And alas! I unexpectedly came across the photo above of me holding a Yamaha piano keyboard taken back in the '90s at my hometown's Catholic Parish where I was first tutored the rudiments of Music theory by a dedicated and brilliant seminarian named Br. Peter Assenga.
Even though I was delighted to be re-united with this precious photo, I was a bit crestfallen that some mischievous ants had scratched and eaten the part of the photo showing my face. I have wished for a time that the ants had chosen to scratch another part of the photo other than the one showing the face but I have now comforted myself with the hope that God will in His own way punish those mischievous ants for tampering with the photo.
Coming back to the photo, let me inform you that the lad partly captured on the right is my brother Paddy who was respected in the parish for his musical talent. Later on when he was at Starehe Boys' Centre which I was also fortunate to join, I noted that a conscientious elderly priest from Canada named Fr. Joseph Carreire also recognized his musical talent which compelled him to award Paddy with an autographed copy of the Starehe Boys' hymnal.
Back in the late '90s when the photo above was captured, Paddy had grown into a fashion-conscious teenager. Like at around that time, he scribbled the price of every piece of clothing, from the hat to belt to shoes, on the picture of a handsome hunk holding a matchbox in an advert promoting a certain brand of matchsticks that someone had glued on the wall of the room I shared with him.
So as I look at the Paddy of that time in the photo above, I am of the opinion that he must have been thinking, "This younger brother of mine named Thuita is boasting of holding someone else's piano keyboard not knowing his audience is pitying his poverty revealed by the unpolished shoes he is clad on. A little fool he is!"
And all this reminds me of all other funny stuff and nonsense we had in our childhood days. You see, in those days, we weren't wealthy by modern standards but we were rich in all the important aspects of life like health and human companionship.
Of human companionship, I talk of our parents, our other siblings (Joe Kagigite, Bob Njinju & Symo Noru) and our relatives who visited us on a regular basis as well as the wonderful neighbours and their kids we befriended in our home area of Kiserian.
Like I remember my brother Bob Njinju resolving one daytime that he would sleep at night of that day with his legs pointing upwards. Now that I understand life better, that feat can only be achieved in movie tricks.
Then I recall my eldest brother Joe Kagigite asking my younger brother Symo and I whether we liked God or Satan. Symo and I were then too young to understand who God and Satan are, more so in English. I don't even think Symo had began her nursery school education. One of us replied that he liked Satan.
And than I recall of myself complaining one day that I had never seen a thief. Apparently, I must have had the idea that thieves had a particular look like the way police clad in recognizable uniform.
What I didn't know back then was that a thief is anyone who takes someone else's property, no matter how trivial, without permission. So if your son, nephew or some other small boy ever complains to you he has never seen a thief, tell him he is one of them if he has ever eaten your apple or chocolate bar without your permission.
But perhaps the funniest remark I ever had uttered in my childhood days was on money by some schoolmates at Naru-Moru where my siblings and I had much of our primary school education. It was of a theory conceived by some curious pupils and propagated with interest that the people employed to print paper currencies do the printing while naked so that they cannot carry some of the money away.
I am imagining a male and female staff of nude servants locked in a room with sophisticated money printing machines. And then wondering what else they might be tempted to do as they shuffle past one another in an effort to print genuine paper currencies ready for circulation in a market flooded with some counterfeit money.
But let me stop such kind of imagining because St. Paul advises us in Phillipians 4:8 to think only that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.
So let me instead tell you of a sticker that someone glued in the living room of our home back in the '90s which had this quote printed on it:
Uncle Ndonga, who added to the mix of human companionship we had in the '90s after he offered to stay with us with regular pay from our parents, was fond of that quote. I surmise he must have been the one who glued that sticker in the living room.
God made man.
Man made money.
Money made man mad.
And when I ponder on that quote, I am of the opinion that the people we should be wary of stealing money are not the ones who do the actual printing but the folks out there who engage in all sorts of theft. The timid ones who pick-pocket passengers in public service vehicles. The brave ones who break into shops. The intelligent ones who defraud banks. And the powerful ones who embezzle public funds for personal use.
Recently, I heard in the news of a new breed of thieves who dug a 150-metre tunnel into a bank in Thika Town here in Kenya and made away with 50,000,000.00/-. I have displayed that amount in digits to emphasize the huge eight-figure sum of money stolen.
Now tell me, under which category would you classify that gang of thieves who dug the tunnel to commit that eye-popping theft? Were they timid, brave, intelligent or powerful? Me, I think they were all of the above.
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Developing Mental Clarity
When my primary school headmaster handed me in late 2001 a result slip that indicated I had scored 421 marks in KCPE exams, I became electrified like an electron that had absorbed new energy. I dashed home to share the good news of my impressive KCPE score with my family, some of whom were as elated by the score as they were surprised by it given the mediocre marks I had scored in my Standard Eight continuous assessment tests.
But then, the $64,000 question that began to trouble us was: would I be admitted at Starehe Boys' Centre? I had failed to appear among the list of top 100 pupils in my province that had been published in local dailies a few days earlier after the results were released by the Minister of Education. We were worried about my chances of getting into Starehe because my family was undergoing hard financial times and my mother was particularly worried they would be unable to put me through in a decent high school if I failed to get into Starehe where I had applied for sponsorship.
Our fears were relieved when news got through to us a few days later that I had been admitted to Starehe. And to tell you the truth, that's the most miraculous event in my life so far. I had beaten odds of being labelled as dull and dumb to join the then Kenya's top-ranked high school - an encouragement to anyone going through hard times that things are never over till God's final calling to afterlife.
I reported at Starehe on an afternoon on Thursday 17th January 2002. And in my first months at the school, I felt proud to be part of the school whose unique uniform of red and blue was a national emblem of discipline and intelligence. Like when we broke for my first half-term holiday as a Starehian, I craved to be seen clad in that uniform of red and blue by everyone on my way home as well as in my home-town of Kiserian.
But as my months as a Starehian rolled on, I began to feel disturbed by the way some students were commenting on how confused I looked. Even Mrs. Margaret Shivembe, one of my Music teachers in the school, became concerned by my confusion and suggested during one lesson that it resulted from having too much information in my head.
All along, I have heard other people get described as confused but they don't ever seem to be as bothered about it as I was. Imagine I took that "confusion" label so seriously that I would at times scribble the word "confusion" on a piece of paper and look up for its meaning in the dictionary.
Looking back, I am thinking the confusion that people saw in me wasn't as serious as the way I reacted to it with gravity because some people still saw a lot of good in me. Like Miss Church, a talented willowy young lady from England who was volunteering as a Music teacher at Starehe, encouraged me while I was in Form 1 to accompany hymns on the piano during school assemblies. And one school-mate named Clement Lang'at (rest in peace) commented later on in this decade on a Facebook post of mine that I was his role-model during our days in the school. Clement Lang'at was killed last year in a road accident.
Anyway, all I can tell you now was the 'confusion" label bitterly bothered me to a level that bordered on disease. Sometimes when the word "confusion" was mentioned in class, I would suddenly think everybody in class was having me in mind.
The interesting side of the story was that I was neither conscious of the confusion people saw in me nor did I understand its root cause. That's why it persisted well into the university where a peace-loving first-year room-mate of mine named Mikhail Mbelase remarked to a friend that I was always mentally mixed up.
I recall vividly that afternoon after Mikhail Mbelase uttered that remark because of the way it revived my old fears and worries I had harboured at Starehe. Fears and worries that I never discussed with anyone. I just bottled them up in myself but fortunately, I never exploded into some sort of rebellion or imploded into depression.
Of course I must have been overly worried by the "confusion" label since everybody wants to be appreciated as Abraham Maslow pointed out in his widely-quoted hierarchy of needs. Think about it for a minute - would you wish to be known as confused? I am sure as death that you've always wished to be recognized as bright and brilliant, or some other virtuous trait that is of interest to you.
As for me, I have always desired to be known as bright and brilliant. And that's precisely why I became bitterly bothered by the "confusion" label.
Over the last ten years, I have put in a lot effort to overcome the negative programming that turned me into a confused teenager. I have tried all sorts of experiments in fits and starts to attain mental clarity - some of which appear to me now as weird.
Like some time in 2015, I moved my eyeballs sideways with my eyes wide open while staring at myself in the mirror, only to discover the eyeballs would appear stationery when I focused on my reflection on the mirror. That's a weird experiment of attaining mental clarity, isn't it?
And I don't really know how I devised that attempt. Or maybe I must have known instinctively that the eyes are some sorts of windows to the mind in that what people see in the eyes are a revelation of what's happening in the mind. If your mind is confused, people see it in the eyes.
I am now a clear-thinker though I am not quite sure which of the fits and starts have solved the "confusion" enigma. Or maybe its largely due to the writing I have been doing persistently for the last couple of years because Stephen R. Covey highlighted in his internationally acclaimed best-seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, that "writing is another powerful way to sharpen the mental saw; keeping a journal of our thoughts, experiences and learnings promotes mental clarity, exactness and context".
But I give all glory and honour to God because He is always seeming to fix everything in my life perfectly, sometimes in ways I didn't expect. And when I talk of God and of the "confusion" label that bitterly bothered me for years, I am reminded of the following lines in Forty Years On, one of the two school songs of Starehe Boys' Centre that I have found myself singing to myself again and again over the years:
Those lines have led me to believe that everyone receives his own share of problems to struggle with at one time or another in life. Like you might find for some of the kids born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouths, their first hot-potato is handling setbacks; they can get overly depressed or mentally paralysed for months when they encounter their first setback like a rejection at Harvard or loss of a loved one.
...God gives us duty for us to discharge it,
Problems to face, struggle with and overcome,
Service to render and glory to covet...
My hot-potato was confusion for shizzle. That's why I have been feeling triumphant of late now that I am consciously a clear-thinker. All I can advise any youngster out there struggling with confusion is to first acknowledge it. (Cry if you must). Then to develop a conscious desire for clear-thinking while keeping in mind that all good things take time. And mental clarity is a good thing because as the great Roman historian named Sallust pointed out many many years ago, "the renown that riches and beauty confer is fleeting and frail; mental excellence [and clarity] is a splendid and a lasting possession". Adieu!