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Tracing My Roots

This is my home-area of Kiserian. I took this photo in 2012 with the camera of my old phone when I went to visit my childhood friend Samuel Njathi who lived in his mother's home on a sloping land that forms part of the Eastern horizon of Kiserian.


Everyone has only got one mama and one papa. Every city and country has its attractive spots. But everybody that liveth has one place where he grew up. And mine is Kiserian - so warm and wild and free; so breathtakingly beautiful when viewed from its surrounding hills that it is impossible not to see the hand of God in her lush, rolling Savannah Grasslands.

My father bought a piece of land in this beautiful land way back in 1986 (about a year or so before I was born) and built a house on it. And that has been my home for as long as I can remember.

Well, I was born on the last day of 1987 but as it is with every person, I first began awakening to life a few years later in 1992 when I vaguely recall hearing political campaign messages from loudspeakers as I feasted on a meal in our then home's small sooty kitchen.

And back in the '90s when I was growing up, I had good company in school as well as in church because Kiserian was then bustling with life - the kind of company I would wish for every child.

Most of my friends were boys because I was a girl-shy boy. As I write this story now, I don't think I can list more than twenty girls that I got to befriend back in the '90s.

Of the few girls that I can now list, there was Irene - the daughter of our Standard One to Standard Three teacher, an attractive lady called Miss Alice. I later on in this decade toured Noru-Moru Primary School in an effort to reconnect with my roots and I was surprised to see that Miss Alice was still in the school. And when I asked her what became of Irene, she told me that her daughter now works for the Kenya Police Service.

Then the other girl I will tell you about was one Veronicah Kitimet who joined us at Noru-Moru Primary School in 1998 when I was in Standard Five.

Now, Veronicah Kitimet was a beautiful girl who was special to me because of the way I loved and adored her. I used to love fantasizing her and me going out for dates together. But as I have said, I was girl-shy, so I never revealed to her how deeply I loved and adored her. I never even winked at her.

As for the boys I befriended in my home-area of Kiserian, they were too many to list here. Like there was Robert Maina, a handsome boy who later on in 2006 shared with me a few true stories that made me understand life better.

Then there was Thomas Waweru who was a classmate and a great friend of my eldest brother Joe Kagigite. I remember Thomas Waweru used to keep keys for our classrooms at Noru-Moru Primary School back in 1995 and he was charged with the duty of opening them early every morning.

The Ngong Hills, the streams, the small valleys, the sloping paths that we trod on our way to school - those were the landmarks of our lives.

Virtually all of those few streams that criss-cross our home-area are seasonal but back in the '90s, they used to turn into mighty rivers during the long-rain seasons; so much that I would hear stories of some people who got swept away by them. Fortunately, that never happened to me or to any of my friends despite the fact that we used to cross those streams on our way to school.

Those streams criss-cross our home-area on different stretches of the land but they all have their source in the world-famous Ngong Hills that form the Western horizon of Kiserian. I was fortunate to hike through those hills on a clear Saturday on the last year of the 20th Century (1999, that is) in an expedition organized by one Mr. Sakuda, a Geography, History & Civics (GHC) teacher then at Noru-Moru.

And oh my! How energetic I felt that Saturday as we traversed the long stretch that is Ngong Hills!

Well, we did find it daunting to navigate through some of the steeply hills but as for me, the arduous journey on those treacherous paths was spiced up by my love feelings for Veronicah Kitimet - the beautiful girl I have told you about. Imagine as we trekked on those hills, I would occasionally feel like turning back to carry her on my shoulders.

A few years ago, I asked my younger brother Symo whether he had ever seen the other side of Ngong Hills. He regretted that he hadn't, and then added, "By the way, I read somewhere that Ngong Hills form one of the best sceneries in the world."

Yes, even the sloping paths on which we trod on our way to school were also landmarks of our lives. They used to meander through small valleys and dainty hills which must have helped to keep us as fit as fiddles.

And I guess it is in those paths where I developed my love for walking which came in handy last year when I successfully tried to lose weight safely and naturally.

I remember back in 1995 during our walks from school on those paths, I together with my friends James Koigi and Timothy Ndiki composed a short song which I think would be ideal for use in an advert promoting a tick-killing spray or a birth-control pill.

The short song was all about taking turns to shout our full names and the year. Like we would sing, "John Thuita Maina ... 1995." Of course it is difficult to convey in cold print the loveliness and liveliness of that short song but trust me, it was lovely and lively. Later on in this decade when I reconnected with Timothy Ndiki, he reminded of that short-song as we reminisced on those good old and innocent days of lives. Adieu!

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Some Bad Days I Once Had



In his book, The Lost World of the Kalahari, the writer Laurens van der Post recollects clearly asking his father once, "Why do [these plains and hills] always look so sad?" His father replied with unexpected feeling, "The sadness is not in the plains and hills but in ourselves."

I think the same can be said of the bad days that we all experience once in a while: that the badness is not in the days but in ourselves.

Yes, we all do experience bad days as we journey through this crazy journey called life. I mean those days when we just don't feel like getting out of bed in the morning, become irritable or deadly bored during the day or just lacking in our usual energy and zeal. You must have had such bad days, haven't you?

Don't worry, you are not alone. Even people in high places do have bad days. Like in the year 2000 when Bill Clinton was leaving the White House and his wife Hillary was beginning her campaign for New York Senator, they went looking for a house to live in New York after their days in Washington were over. Bill Clinton chose one in Chappaque, about forty miles from Manhattan. And when Hillary asked him why he loved that house in Chappaque, he replied, "Because you're about to start a hard campaign. There'll be some bad days. This beautiful room is bathed in light. You'll wake up every morning in a good humour."

Personally, I have also had my own share of bad days. Okay, let me tell you of some that I had a decade ago in 2008.

I told you the other day in this lovely blog of mine of how miserable I felt when I got rejected by MIT in March 2007, didn't I? Well, I also got rejected by Cornell, Stanford and Dartmouth, the other colleges I had applied for admission in that 2006/07 application round.

So I had no choice but to matriculate in May 2007 at a local university called JKUAT where I had been admitted to pursue a BSc. degree with a nice-ringing name of Electronics & Computer Engineering by virtue of having excelled in my 2005 KCSE exams.

But guess what? I still could not dismiss from my mind my desire to study in America, the so-called land of opportunities, where I could study alongside students of other races under a renowned faculty consisting of Nobel Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winning authors.

So when I matriculated at JKUAT on a lovely day in May of that year in 2007, I had a dream of eventually acquiring my degree in America. As a matter of fact, I had already began improving my word power in an effort to perform better on the SAT 1 Reasoning Test which is a requirement in applying to any top college in the United States.

I however didn't choose to re-apply to Cornell and Dartmouth in the 2007/08 application round. I instead chose to apply to Yale and Harvard in addition to MIT and Stanford. But unlike in the previous round when I really wanted to attend MIT, this time Harvard was my first choice.

My father didn't approve of me re-applying to those colleges. He strongly recommended that I concentrate on finishing my engineering course at JKUAT. He also thought those colleges were too competitive. Had it not been for a loan I was receiving for my JKUAT education, I wonder who would have financed the SAT exams I re-took that year in 2007.

And I managed to make a great improvement in the SAT 2 Subject Tests that I re-sat in November thanks to the Physics, Chemistry and Calculus I was learning at JKUAT. But I only improved by a small margin in my SAT 1 Reasoning Test when I re-took it a month later in December. That small improvement in SAT 1 got me worried for a few days but I soon re-bounded with hope that I could still get into Harvard if I submitted compelling stuff in other parts of the application.

When we closed for the long December holidays at JKUAT in December 2007 after my first year at JKUAT, I was sanguine that I would never return to the local university but would instead fly to America for my undergraduate studies as it had been my dream.

As a matter of fact, I didn't touch any engineering book during that long holiday that began in January 2008 till early May. I instead read books about America probably to learn more about the land of opportunity where I would acquire my degree, or so I hoped.

Of the few books I read on America during that long holiday, the one I enjoyed most was a collection of essays on the life and times of Thomas Jefferson, the admirably gifted third president of the United States. The book was titled Thomas Jefferson: The Man... His World... His Influence.

But then came the night of March 15th, 2008. My hopes were dashed when I logged into my MIT account only to find out I had been rejected again which made me feel miserable.

Somehow though, I felt strangely happy and clear-headed the following day when I turned up for church at All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi. I guess that resurgence of vitality in me sprang from a hope that I could still get accepted at Stanford where several of my school-mates at Starehe Boys' Centre had been admitted in the previous years. And for the next two or so weeks as I eagerly waited to hear from the other remaining three colleges, I hang on to that hope as a drowning man clinches on a twig in a mighty river.

Then the eagerly awaited Yale, Harvard & Stanford decisions finally arrived online in early April 2008. I viewed them all in one browsing session at a cyber-cafe in down-town Nairobi. And wa! I became sick with disappointment again on learning that I hadn't been accepted into any of those colleges either.

Imagine I felt so emotionally sick that afternoon after receiving the rejections that I had trouble getting out of bed the following day. And the gloominess spread into the next few days because I didn't turn up for church either as it was always my habit. To this day, I don't think I have ever experienced such a series of bad days as I did when I got rejected by Yale, Harvard and Stanford.

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