Leaving Revenge to God
"That SAT exam," I confidently told my friend Kevin [not his real name] back in 2006, "I will score over 2100 in it."
"Even I thought so," replied Kevin, "but I only managed to score an 1880."
Kevin and I were applying to MIT back then in 2006 and he happened to have sat for the SAT exam before me. Even though he kind of insinuated it was impossible of me to get a high score in the exam, I still believed every word I said when I made it known to him my goal of scoring over 2100 in my first attempt of the SAT.
And everything about the exam tended to make me believe more that I could accomplish that goal. Its questions were multiple-choice. Then the Maths section of the exam tested what I had learnt in junior high school - yes junior, not senior!
The Critical Reading part of the exam appeared to be the only section that stood to give me trouble because it involved reading through boring and stilted passages. It also required that I absorb a huge number of college-level vocabularies.
But even with that troublesome Critical Reading section, I still thought I could score over 2100 - the kind of marks that most admitted students to MIT, Cornell, Dartmouth and Stanford (the colleges I applied for admission in 2006) score.
Then the SAT exam day reached. Even though I had already toured the testing centre to familiarize myself with the venue beforehand, I didn't feel as clear-headed that day as I would have loved. Perhaps for that reason, I messed up in the exam by filling the answers of Section 4 of the exam on the part reserved for Section 5 in the answer booklet.
No sooner had I realized that big blunder than I got into a panic. So much that I wet my pants. The invigilator was kind enough to allow me to rub the answers from the answer booklet and transfer them to the relevant section. But that of course worked against me as time is a determining factor in acing the exam.
Wetting my pants was a pleasant feeling but afterwards, I was filled with a gloomy foreboding that I would score low marks in that first take of the SAT exam. That meant I had hurt my chances of getting into the selective colleges I was applying for admission.
Sure, I did score low marks in the exam - 1770. Mark you, I was the same guy who had confidently told Kevin I would score over 2100 in the exam.
So as soon as I received the results online, I began to cajole my father to pay for me another registration of the exam. But he confided in me that he was too cash-strapped to afford the Ksh. 4,900 that was required for the registration of the exam.
Luckily, my mother came through to my aid by selling one or two sheep we reared at home. And finally after registering for the SAT exam for the second time, I began to study for it more earnestly. Once bitten, twice shy.
Although I was sanguine I would make a significant improvement in my second take of the exam, I have to confess the Critical Reading section of the SAT still worried me. It made me realize that I had memory like a sieve in that I would strive to understand the meaning of a college-level vocabulary and then forget it soon afterwards. It was like the vocabularies were getting into my head through one ear and out in the other - thus leaving an empty mind inside my fearfully and wonderfully made brain.
The good news is: I did make a significant improvement in my second taking by scoring 1880 marks. But the bad news was: the score was still not good enough to get into MIT, Cornell, Dartmouth and Stanford.
Well, I did put in great effort in submitting a strong application by even mailing samples of an educational website I had created with my classmates at Starehe Institute and cassette recordings of me playing the piano but that did nothing to save me from getting rejected by the colleges. They all denied me admission.
By the way, as you might deduce from the caption of the Princeton Review SAT revision book's cover-page photo above, I did apply to another set of top American colleges for two more years. In the process, I retook the SAT exam two more times.
I would really have loved to tell you what transpired in my third and fourth attempt of the exam but I am afraid I could bore you with too many details. So let me reserve that story for another day, God-willing.
As for today, let me tell you the lessons I learnt from the SAT exam. First, I learnt the exam tests more of your reasoning skills than on your amount of knowledge. That's why it's possible for some 'C' students to outscore some 'A' students.
Then I learnt that the Critical Reading section of the exam favours those with a high lexicon density. Or in more human terms, it favours those with a strong word power - a vital factor in having a fulfilling career.
Perhaps even more important, I learnt never to revenge from an irony in the exam. You see, the SAT test-makers gave you very boring and stilted passages to read in the Critical Reading section of the exam. And they then asked you to give them a very interesting essay to read in the Writing section of the exam. (They even advised you to write in a plain, natural style).
If you dared make the mistake of revenging by giving them a boring and stilted essay to read, they'd probably give you a low score. And that meant you'd not get into your favourite college. Moral of the story - revenge is for suckers; leave it to God.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed the story above, you might also enjoy another one I wrote sometimes back titled "Salvation is Free Folks!" and which I edited several weeks ago. Just click on that link in blue to jump straight into the story.
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Let me make a confession: I have been putting too much sugar in my tea and occasionally waking up in the middle of the night to gobble on whatever meal was there for supper - the kind of behaviour Christians refer to as gluttony.
It all started in my boyhood years in the early '90s when I vividly recall competing with my brothers (Joe, Bob, Paddy & Symo) on who would gormandize the most number of chapattis - my favourite meal which we cooked once in a week. I still love chapattis especially when I take them with lentils stew.
When we went grazing cattle, Paddy, Symo and I would borrow chapattis from our neighbour named Mrs. Memia - a kind and generous lady who has long since emigrated to Great Britain - whenever we smelled the sweet aroma of chapattis coming from her house. And we would probably have continued begging her for chapattis had our mother not intervened by scolding us for spoiling family's reputation.
Then I carried that kind of gluttony to Fr. Nyamiti's residence when we visited him once in a while in the late '90s. See photo above.
I used to envy Fr. Nyamiti's luxurious lifestyle at his residence in Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA). Though we visited him purposely to listen and gain an appreciation of classical music, my best part of the visits were the self-service mid-morning tea and lunch we had at the residence.
Imagine I would greedily feast on a wide variety of meals and hot-drinks with no one to stop me. Like for the mid-morning tea, I would first take instant coffee, then chocolate on my second-helping.
And then I carried that kind of gluttony to Starehe Boys' Centre where I was fortunate to be admitted in 2002 for my high school education. During my first years in the school, I developed the habit of "combining" food in the dining hall. "Combining" was Starehe's code-name for eating extra food on the table.
I would probably have continued with that "combining" had my poor eating habits not been brought to my attention by my house-mates. Leon Osumba, who oriented me to the Starehe way of life when I joined the school in January 2002, was the first one to point it out by remarking to my house-mates with whom we were seated with in the dining hall, "This Thuita doesn't chew his food!"
Then the school magazine raised the issue a notch-higher when it named me something like "Combiner of the Year" in a 2004 edition of the magazine.
'Sir' Emmanuel Karanja, a brilliant house-mate who inspired me to learn computer-programming, moved in to save my reputation by advising me during one meal in the dining hall, "Thuita, resist the urge to over-eat, especially in front of people. Wise and intelligent people don't do that. Look at a person like George Waithaka - do you ever see him eating a lot like you do?"
George Waithaka, if you wish to know, was another brilliant house-mate of mine who was among the four students selected in 2003 to represent Starehe at a conference in South Africa. He emerged as the fourth best student countrywide in '04 KCSE exams. His exemplary character and brilliance must be the reasons he was awarded a scholarship to pursue a post-high-school diploma at Aiglon College in Switzerland from where he was accepted at the highly-esteemed Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States.
Those incidences in which my house-mates brought my gluttony to my attention, as embarrassing as they seem, compelled me to overcome my gluttony in the Starehe Boys' dining hall. As in, I ceased "combining" food for the rest of my time in Starehe.
And that didn't affect my vigour and vitality. In fact, I grew healthier because I didn't get frequent colds and coughs in my senior years at Starehe like I used to do in my junior years. So the notion that "the more you eat, the healthier you become" is a fallacy.
Abduba Dida, a presidential candidate in 2013 Kenya's General Elections who once took me to an office in down-town Nairobi, was therefore on point when he once counselled Kenyans not to stuff their stomachs with solid food and instead spare some space for water and air. He was on point for shizzle.
But you know what? I resumed my gluttony later on in this decade as a result of which I gained excess weight. Last year, I overcame that gluttony which, in addition to physical exercises, helped me regain the youthful swagger that I have been bragging about.
Then in the past two weeks, it's like I have gotten tuned back to the greedy-guts mode because of the confession I have made at the beginning of this story: that I have been putting too much sugar in my tea and occasionally waking up in the middle of the night to gobble on whatever meal was there for supper - the kind of lupine behaviour I would hate to carry into marriage life.
Now, the Bible speaks out against gluttony in a couple of verses. Like Proverbs 23:19-21 says:
Basically, that means gluttony is a sin. Someone even went ahead to list it as one of the seven deadly sins in addition to lust, sloth, anger, greed, pride and envy. So I ought to stop it to a halt, once and for all.
Listen, my son, and be wise,
and keep your heart on the right path.
Do not join those who drink too much wine
or gorge themselves on meat,
for drunkards and gluttons become poor,
and drowsiness clothes them in rags.
My high school-classmate Wilson Chira, a bright and a handsome friend with whom I played piano duets during our Starehe years, once made it clear to me back in 2007 that I would struggle with the sin of lust for virtually all my life when I confided and exaggerated to him some immoral stuff I was doing at the university. Chira was correct.
And I was thinking that I will also struggle with the sin of gluttony for the rest of my life. But then I thought, "Heck no! This gluttony has to stop, nipende nisipende."
Therefore, besides praying, I have instructed my prefrontal cortex (PFC) - the decision-making part of the brain - to stop the poor habit of putting too much sugar in my tea and waking up in the middle of the night to gobble on food. So help me God.
 nipende nisipende is a popular Swahili phrase here in Kenya which means "whether I like it or not".
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Lessons From Ben Carson
Back in 2005 when I was in my final year in high school at Starehe Boys' Centre, I was having a group conversation with my classmates when my friend John Njiru mentioned Ben Carson in our talk. I can't recall what Njiru said of Ben Carson but there was something in that name that made it stick in my memory.
So much did the name stick in my memory that later on during a school function when a girl asked me which book I was carrying in my hands, I lied to her that it was a Ben Carson's book. To which she disagreed, "No, Ben Carson's books aren't that size!"
The girl must have been right because I didn't know who Ben Carson was back then in 2005. I had just heard his name from my friend John Njiru, you know.
It wasn't until more than a dozen months later that I got to learn more about Ben Carson when I purchased his inspiring best-seller, Think BIg: Unleashing Your Potential For Excellence, from a book-stand at All Saints' Cathedral in Nairobi. Now that I know something about Ben Carson, let me tell you his story and the lessons it holds for us.
Ben Carson is a retired paediatrician who became an overnight success in 1987 after leading a 70-member team in separating Siamese twins conjoined in the head. He is currently serving in the Donald Trump administration as the Secretary of Housing & Urban Development.
But Ben Carson rise to fame and fortune wasn't a walk in the park. His parents separated when he was eight after which he moved in with his mother who sometimes had to work on more than two poorly paying jobs to sustain her family of two sons.
Perhaps as a result of that separation, Ben Carson started out poorly in school. He also had a terrible temper in his teenage years which made him almost commit murder on one occasion a friend angered him. Ben Carson lunged a pen-knife at his friend but luckily, it hit him on the buckle of his belt, so no bodily harm was done.
Ben Carson life changed for the better when he was in 5th Grade after he reduced the time he spent watching television and instead started reading books borrowed from a local library under instructions from his mother. That effort paid off handsomely because he bubbled from the bottom to the top of his class in academic rankings, a big boost to his self-esteem.
But when Ben Carson got into high school, his academic performance went on a tailspin as he tried to keep up with peer pressure. He managed to recover from that backsliding in time to earn acceptance letters from Yale and Harvard colleges. He chose to matriculate at Yale.
Then at Yale, he found himself struggling in academics as he endeavoured to keep up with Yale's demanding curriculum and its bright students, some of whom were in the genius category. Thanks to God, he survived and then thrived at Yale as a result of which he was accepted at the University of Michigan Medical School where he earned the papers that set him on his way to becoming a world-renowned paediatrician.
I just like the way President George W. Bush summarized the life of Ben Carson when he was awarding him the Medal of Freedom in 2008 (see photo above). President Bush said:
The story of our first recipient begins in a poor neighbourhood in the heart of Detroit. This was an environment where many young people lost themselves to poverty and crime and violence. For a time, young Ben Carson was headed down that same path. Yet through his reliance on faith and family, he turned his life into a sharply different direction. Today Dr. Carson is one of the world's leading neurosurgeons. He is renowned for his successful efforts to separate conjoined twins and his expertise in controlling brain seizures. He has worked to be a motivating influence on young people. He and his wife Candy have started an organization that offers college scholarships to students across America. The child of Detroit who once saw a grim future became a scholar, a healer, and a leader.And how did Ben Carson overcome a humble background and rise to a position of fame and fortune? He says he thought big. And he has come up with the following acrostic of what it means to think big:
T - Talents/time: Recognize them as giftsThere you have it! The story of Ben Carson, that is, and the lessons it holds for us. As for me, it has inspired me to be grateful for the gift of life and to continue honing my talents. It has also inspired me that should I ever get lucky to have children, I will identify their interests and encourage them at an early age. How about you? What have you learnt from the story of Ben Carson?
H - Hope for good things and be honest
I - Insight from people and good books
N - Be nice to all people
K - Knowledge: Recognize it as the key to living
B - Books: Read them actively
I - In-depth learning skills: Develop them
G - God: Never get too big for Him