My Encounters With a Legend
I used to be a somewhat bright boy in the first years of my primary school education. Like I topped my class in the final term of Standard Four. But it's like someone bewitched me when I transited to Standard Five because my rankings in class dropped.
Although I did put in great effort in improving my performance by reading a lot, my efforts were not fully reflected in school because I didn't score stellar marks even in my Standard Eight continuous assessment tests.
But when the KCPE results were released in late December 2001 by the then Kenya's Minister of Education, what those who knew me thought impossible happened. I scored an impressive 421 marks out of 500 which led me to be admitted at the prestigious Starehe Boys' Centre where, as I have told you, I had my high school as well as college education.
I reported at Starehe on a sunny afternoon on January 17th of 2002. And as I walked to the school that day accompanied by my mother, I felt a great sense of pride well up in me for having been accepted into the school which consistently ranked among the top high schools in Kenya in the '90s and well into the 2000s.
That evening of January 17th 2002 as I sat in the assembly hall of Starehe, I was impressed to hear Dr. Griffin address us. He spoke with such intensity and confidence that I wished several weeks later that he would live to see me complete my studies in the school.
I enrolled at Starehe at a time when Dr. Griffin had advanced in years. So not surprisingly, he never got to know my name even though I stood out by giving a few speeches as well as accompanying hymns on the piano. But I at least found him encouraging and understanding in the few instances I got to catch his attention.
Like during one assembly in my first year at Starehe in 2002, he gently requested Miss Church - a talented, willowy young lady from England who was volunteering as a Music teacher in the school - to help me out on the piano after I became horribly nervous when I accompanied the wonderful old hymn Jesus, Good Above All Other whose last verse goes as follows:
About two years later when I developed the chutzpah to play the piano in front of the whole school, Dr. Griffin congratulated me on one or two occasions on his way out of the assembly hall. I am not sure if he got to recall how nervous I had been two years earlier when I was in Form 1 but it must have been heartening for me to hear his "well done" compliment.
Lord, in all our doings guide us;
Pride and hate shall ne'er divide us;
We'll go on with thee beside us,
And with joy we'll persevere!
And when it came to giving speeches of which I sometimes volunteered during my days in the school, Dr. Griffin was accepting of me because I didn't do it that excellently. Like during one speech I gave in 2003 when I was in Form 2, the students I was addressing started clapping their hands in a manner suggesting that I finish saying whatever I was talking about. But Dr. Griffin came to my rescue by commanding the students, "Let him finish!" He must have understood it was proper for a boy to hone his public-speaking skills while still in school.
There was one special school assembly held back in 2002 when I was in Form 1 that I beg to mention here because I did speak during it. The assembly was special in the sense that it was held in the morning after Dr. Griffin interrupted all lessons to address the rising cases of theft in the school. It must have greatly perturbed him that the school he had laboured diligently and wisely to found was turning into a den of thieves.
When Dr. Griffin asked us to offer suggestions on how we could curb the increasing cases of theft, I stood up on the podium in front of the whole school and suggested that visitors be barred from going beyond the school canteen area. Dr. Griffin listened to my suggestion but for reasons best known to him, it was never implemented.
For those who used to know Starehe as a centre of excellence during the Griffin era, don't be surprised to hear from me that the school had cases of theft because as the masters of the Queen's language would put it, there is always a rotten apple in a basket of good ones. Even among the famous twelve apostles of Christ, there was Judas Iscariot who accepted a bribe for betraying Jesus who was good above all others.
As I have pointed out, I wished on my first weeks at Starehe in 2002 that Dr. Griffin would live to see me complete my studies in the school. It was a wish that didn't come true because God called him home in my final year in high school in 2005. And his last words to me were "good luck in your exams" when we met on a highway in Starehe as I carried my desk to the assembly hall in readiness for a major exam, a few months before he passed on.
I was fortunate to play the piano during his funeral service that was graced by such distinguished dignitaries as Mwai Kibaki, the widely respected third president of our country Kenya. And I had the honour of playing on an electric organ the sweetly-flowing theme of Mozart's Sonata in A as Dr. Griffin's remains were getting lowered in his grave inside the school chapel.
All told, I am thankful to God for having let me encounter with Dr. Griffin who I am always endeavouring to make proud as he now reposes in heaven with the angels. Adieu!
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Tracing My Roots
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!