A Brother Born For Adversity
A True Story
on Jan 9, 2021
Of course I have known Joe Kagigite all of my life by virtue of him being my eldest brother. Back in the '90s when I was a small boy, he was such a charming and handsome lad. Some of my classmates in primary school used to fall for his charms and desire his company, something that made me green with envy.
I vividly remember one afternoon in 1994 when I was in Standard One, a classmate of mine named Stephen Kamau ran towards Joe when he spotted him going for lunch. Seeing Kamau run towards Joe made me so jealous that I remarked to another classmate in Kikuyu, "This Kamau likes [Joe] as if he is his brother."
Not only was Joe charming and handsome, he was also bright - at least by the standards of Noru-Moru, a public primary school in our home-area which we attended in the '90s. Throughout his schooling at Noru-Moru, Joe consistently appeared among the top pupils in his class. When I was in Standard Two in 1995, I observed him being called out as the top pupil in Standard Eight by a teacher who would ask him to stand in front of the whole school during the end-of-term parade, together with the other top three pupils in his class.
After observing Joe stand in front of the whole school as the top pupil in his class, I regularly fantasized myself also being asked to do the same. I eventually realized that dream in the third term of 1995. In that third term, I emerged the second best pupil in my class and had the honour of being called out to appear in front of the end-of-term parade. I was so pleased with that achievement that I mentioned it to Joe who heartily congratulated me.
Because of his brilliance and irresistible charms, Joe received quite a huge number of cards wishing him success in the final national primary school exams known as KCPE which he sat for in November 1995. I don't think I got half as many cards as he did when I was preparing for my KCPE exams in 2001. But I still passed my KCPE exams and made it to Starehe Boys' Centre, a prestigious high school in Nairobi.
When I was on a school holiday in December 2004, I noted Joe had several fashionable T-shirts in his wardrobe. I took one of the T-shirts and ran away with it when I reported back to Starehe for my Fourth-form year. Joe was incensed after he found out that I had carried his T-shirt. The following day, he came to Starehe and rebuked me for walking off with his T-shirt which I was wearing that day. Despite his anger, he was kind enough to let me continue wearing the T-shirt.
A few days later, I went to a cyber-cafe in downtown Nairobi and sent Joe an email apologizing for taking his T-shirt without his permission. He accepted my apology as a real brother would. Since then, I have never taken any of his property without his consent, a great lesson learned at an early age.
During my Fourth-form year at Starehe, Joe visited me occasionally to check on me and to deliver something from Dad. I found Joe such an urbane and handsome young man that I felt proud being seen walking with him on the highways of Starehe. At the end of his visits, he would leave me with some pocket money. I saved some of the pocket money to buy a mobile phone.
As my high school career came to an end in November 2005, I found myself with less cash than I needed to buy a cell phone. I told Joe about my predicament, and to my delight, he swiftly loaned me some money which I added to my savings and purchased my first cell phone. For the two years or so when I was in possession of the phone, I valued and treasured it as if it was a part of my body. Unfortunately, I lost the phone one morning in 2007 when I was at the university in JKUAT.
In 2008 when I started going astray at JKUAT by not attending classes and failing to communicate with my family, some of my classmates at the university informed me that my brother Joe was looking for me and was worried by what was happening to me. Being the foolish young man that I was, I continued hanging around the university without caring about Joe's concern for me. Eventually after I was apprehended and taken to hospital, Joe paid me a visit in the hospital several times during which he would counsel me and leave me with something to eat.
After I was discharged from JKUAT hospital in November 2008, I shared with Joe my dream of wanting to study in a top-flight college in America. He supported my dream and soon afterwards, he sent me money to register for the SAT exams which American colleges require applicants to take. Thanks to his generosity, I registered for the SAT exams but guess what! When the exam date neared in January 2009, I found myself feeling so dispirited that I didn't turn up to do the exam.
I continued feeling regularly dispirited as months rolled by. One evening in 2010 when I apprised Joe of how downhearted I regularly felt, he asked me if I knew how long Mandela stayed in prison. Well, I can't recollect what his response was after I replied that Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. But I do remember he was trying to instil me with hope.
Later on in 2010 when I opened a blog, Joe was quick to congratulate me for my efforts. Since 2010, I have rebranded this blog four or five times to what it looks like now. And every time I rebranded this blog, Joe would commend me and offer some advice. He still continues to give me positive feedback on the stories I post in this blog. As a result of his encouragement, I can now honestly say that blogging has brought clarity in my thinking, a spring in my step and a sense of direction in my life.
My story about Joe would be incomplete without mentioning his love for photography. Yes, Joe has always had an interest in photography. Sometime in the year 2000, before the advent of the now popular smartphone cameras, Joe marshalled my elder siblings and had them contribute money to buy an analogue camera. When he finally succeeded in buying a camera, he took some photos of me which, unhappily, I misplaced over the years.
Earlier on in the last decade, Joe purchased his own digital camera. He lent the camera to me at one time in 2012 for recording a song whose lyrics I had written. When I again requested him to lend me the digital camera some time in 2017, he willingly gave it to me and never asked for it back. What a generous brother he is!
Besides lending me his camera, Joe has come through for me on numerous other occasions in the last ten years. He has been the kind of brother the Bible says was born for adversity. With the much that he has done for me, I feel the best way I can repay him for his kindness and generosity is to make him feel proud of me. So help me God.
NEW! NEW! NEW! If you missed my social media update three days ago, let me take this opportunity to inform you that I have produced a new song that is available in the videos' section of this blog. Just click on the "videos" link on the menu at the top of this blog to listen to the song.
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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.