The Week Dr. Griffin Died
A True Story
on Jan 4, 2021
Dr. Geoffrey W. Griffin was a famous figure here in Kenya for having founded Starehe Boys' Centre, a prestigious institution in Nairobi where I had my high school as well as college education. Since I joined the institution in January 2002, a number of people outside Starehe have mentioned to me about Dr. Griffin, though some of them have gotten his name mixed up in their minds by referring to him as Graffins.
During his era as the director of Starehe, Dr. Griffin succeeded in steering the school into a centre of excellence given the way Starehe used to emerge among the top schools in Kenya in the final high school exams known as KCSE. Starehe also used to be featured prominently in the media either because a high-profile public figure had visited the school or because its students had done exceptionally well in an extracurricular activity.
I remember Dr. Griffin as a dutiful director; he was always there for our evening assemblies as well as for our Friday barazas, weekly meetings between students and staff of the school. At times, he would come to our dining hall during supper just to check if all was going well. It was during those appearances that I got to observe the left side of his nose was wasting away which I think was due to a disease that he never let us know about.
When I got into Form Four in 2005, Dr. Griffin began missing some assemblies in the first term of that year as a result of an illness that afflicted him. The situation grew worse in the second term of that year when he missed a number of evening assemblies consecutively. When he did eventually turn up for assembly, he was so frail and weak that he had to be helped descend a short flight of stairs in the hall. He was admitted back to hospital later on.
As Dr. Griffin lay in the hospital, I happened to have an informal chat with a number of fellow fourth-formers after an evening assembly when our talk turned on Dr. Griffin. One of the fourth-formers named David Murigi told us quite frankly not to expect Dr. Griffin to live for long. Although I agreed with what Murigi predicted, I thought to myself that that was something very unwise of him to say.
Sure enough, Dr. Griffin didn't live for long. A few weeks later, we woke up one morning to news that Dr. Griffin had passed on. His death was announced over the radio by Hon. Mwai Kibaki, the then President of Kenya. That it was the President who announced his demise showed the iconic nature of Dr. Griffin.
Several of our teachers missed their lessons on that day Dr. Griffin was pronounced dead, probably because they were engaged in burial arrangement meetings. The following day, "Nation" - Kenya's leading newspaper - honoured Dr. Griffin by including in its paper a caricature of him with the following quote of his on it:
The paramount aim of school discipline should be to endow each pupil with such habits, self-respect and proper pride in his own integrity that he'll observe the norms of good conduct when not under supervision and will carry them eventually into his adult life.In the week that followed, old boys and friends of Starehe met every evening in the Starehe Boys' assembly hall to prepare for Dr. Griffin's burial. I attended those meetings to accompany them on the piano as they sang hymns. At the end of the meetings, some old boys would come to where I was on the assembly hall dais to engage me in a conversation. I really enjoyed the experience.
A few days before Dr. Griffin's burial, I sent my brother Paddy an email titled "End of an Era", informing him about Dr. Griffin's death. Paddy is an old boy of Starehe who had left the school the previous year (2004). At the time of Dr. Griffin's demise, he was doing a gap-year internship at an elite school in New South Wales, Australia.
Dr. Griffin was laid to rest on Friday, July 8th, 2005. It was chilly and windy in Nairobi on the morning of that day. As we gathered in the school's playing fields that morning for a funeral service, it appeared like it might rain. Thankfully, perhaps because Dr. Griffin was watching over us from heaven, we only had a drizzle, not a downpour, so the funeral service moved on as planned.
As a piano accompanist during that funeral service, I had the privilege of sitting on a small dais together with Mr. Matthew Brooks, a Music volunteer teacher from England. Though I was feeling rather confused that morning, I played the piano so well that Mr. Brooks commended me for it. The hymns I remember playing on that funeral service were "Abide With Me" and "Turn Back, O Man". Mr. Brooks played the rest of the hymns.
During the funeral service, Mr. Fred Okono - the then dean of Starehe Institute - read to us Dr. Griffin's parting advice to Starehe students. The advice, which had been kept secret till that day, encouraged us to do our work well and then spare some time to help the less fortunate. If we followed the advice, Dr. Griffin had written, we would have happy and fruitful lives, and Starehe would continue being a great school.
Despite the solemnity of Dr. Griffin's burial ceremony, I didn't see anyone shed tears. Most people seemed content with Dr. Griffin's departure and grateful for the services he had rendered to our beloved school. I noted that my classmate Wilson Chira, who was as musically gifted as I was, composed a song about Dr. Griffin as his own way of remembering him. But I never heard Chira sing the song, so I didn't get to know if it was a good one.
Probably because of the way I had played the piano very well, I became happy and clearheaded at the end of the funeral - a sharp contrast to the confusion I had felt earlier on in the day. I vividly recollect leaving the dining hall in the evening of that day feeling overjoyed as if I had won a million-dollar lottery. As I sat down for my evening preps later on that evening, I am sure I must have absorbed most of the stuff I read given how cheerful and clearheaded I was feeling. Long live the spirit of Dr. Griffin!
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on the week Dr. Griffin died, you might also enjoy another one I wrote more than two years ago on "My Encounters With a Legend". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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Books I Read in 2020
A True Story
on Dec 30, 2020
Earlier this year, my father had our mansion installed with a Wi-fi connection. Thanks to that connection, I have been having access to high-speed internet on my laptop. If some people I know were to have such an internet connection, I am sure they would spend their days surfing the Net; viewing wacky videos on Youtube, checking their Twitter news feed, commenting on Facebook posts and all that kind of frivolous stuff. But for me, I have stuck to my old routine of curling up with a good book.
You can call me old-fashioned if you like, but I won't shy away from saying that I find reading books to be the best form of entertainment ever invented by man. And not just any book, but genuine hard-copy books. That's why I resolved this year to never read downloaded or photocopied books. So I deleted all ebooks on my laptop and smartphone. I also got rid of about ten photocopied books that I had in my room.
Why did I resolve to never again read downloaded or photocopied books? Because having such books feels to me like breaking the 8th Commandment: "Thou shall not steal". Also because I love the weight of genuine hard-copy books, the feel of their covers and the smell of their pages. And I feel honoured to see such genuine hard-copy books nestled on shelves in my room and take pride in knowing I have read them.
Unlike in previous years, this year I didn't visit any library. Instead, I bought my own books with the donations I have received from my blog readers. I have made it a habit to buy two or three books whenever I travel to Nairobi City to produce songs. And boy, don't I love building my personal library!
This year, I read more books than I did in previous years as a result of reducing the time I spend on social media. While reading, I have made an effort of going through the acknowledgement sections of the books as well as checking their year of publication. Checking my books' year of publication has helped me put things in perspective.
Having grown wiser, I diversified my reading repertoire this year. Not only did I read the Bible and motivational page-turners but also books on nature, health, history, nutrition, technology and quotations. I also read novels, memoirs and biographies. And am I in order to say that I didn't finish reading some of the books? Yes, there were some books I didn't finish as I find it unwise to waste hours and hours of my life studying a book that is not inspiring, enlightening or entertaining.
I'd have loved to tell you about all the books I devoured this year and what I gleaned from them. But because I pored over forty books, that would make this story long at the risk of boring you to death. So let me pass along to you only a few lessons that I learnt from what I read this year. Only a few lessons which you are free to take or leave.
From the Good News Bible that I thumbed through this year, I learnt from the book of Proverbs that it is foolish to speak scornfully of others; if you are wise, you will keep silent. I also gleaned from the same book of Proverbs that it is dangerous to worry about what others think of you, but if you trust in the Lord, you are safe.
From Barack Obama's delightful memoir, Dreams From My Father, the lesson I picked up is that confidence is the secret to a man's success. Obama learnt that lesson early in his life from his father. And what a great lesson coming from a man who was elected twice as the President of the United States and awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
From the 21st Dictionary of Quotations, I came across an enlightening quote by William Shakespeare that says "Poor and content is rich and rich enough." That quote has encouraged me to be content in what I have, even as I work for more. I also remember another quote that inspired me to enjoy my own company, for I am always with myself.
From reading a book titled The Optimum Nutrition Bible, I came to understand that such elements as iron, copper, sodium and potassium are essential in our bodies. But other elements like lead and mercury are harmful if ingested into our bodies even in small quantities. The book increased my understanding of the nutrients our bodies need for growth and healthy living.
And finally from reading Joy of Nature: How to Explore and Enjoy the Fascinating World Around You, I gained an appreciation of the mysterious but wonderful universe we live in. The voluminous book, which is replete with colorful pictures, reminded me of some of the stuff I learnt in my high school Geography lessons. It was a fairly enlightening book and I am privileged to have it in my personal library.
My dear reader, that's all I will share with you for today. And believing that you have picked up some wisdom from me, I hope that I have also inspired you to read more as well. As for me, I am looking forward to devouring more books in 2021, come rain come sunshine, because as Somerset Maughan quipped, "To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life." Adieu!
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on the books I read in 2020, you might also enjoy another one on "Books I Read in 2019". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.