Remembering the Past
A True Story
on Jul 24, 2021
As I have narrated before on this lovely blog of mine, I didn't like Biology that much when I was in Form 1 at Starehe Boys' Centre in 2002. I just found it boring to memorize the parts of a light microscope and the classification of living things. My difficulty in understanding Biology was worsened by my inability to decipher the foreign accent of our teacher, an Indian nun named Sr. Dalika.
But you know what? As my high school years wore on, I came to enjoy Biology. I remember scoring splendid marks in some Biology tests in Form 2. By the time I was in Form 4 in 2005, Biology had evolved into my favorite subject. There were some nights during my fourth-form year when I would feel animated whenever I revised Biology during preps. And the textbooks in the subject that really moved me were "Principles of Biology" (Part 1 & 2) by P.M. Muchiri. I found those two books beautifully written and utterly transparent in their explanation of biological concepts.
Given the way I took pleasure in studying Biology during my final years in high school, I would probably have fared well at the university had I pursued a degree in Medicine & Surgery. But because the sight of pus, mucus, blood and other bodily excrement has always made me cringe in terror, I chose not to pursue a degree in Medicine & Surgery when I was selecting my university courses in 2006.
While Biology bored me in Form 1 but fascinated me in Form 4, Physics had the opposite effect on me. I enjoyed studying Physics in Form 1; it was my favorite subject that year. But as I progressed with my high school studies, Physics became a bit too hard for me. The topics in the subject that troubled me most were electrostatics, current electricity and solid-state electronics. I just couldn't understand the logic behind those topics, especially solid-state electronics.
And you know what again? In spite of having experienced difficulty in understanding electronics during my high school years, that's precisely what I chose to pursue at JKUAT - a local university where I matriculated in May 2007 to study a degree in Electronics & Computer Engineering. And wa! The engineering course turned out to be a tough nut to crack for me. Not surprisingly, I did poorly in my first year exams at JKUAT in 2007.
But it was not only due to my trouble in understanding electronics that I did poorly in my first year at JKUAT but also due to my preoccupation with wanting to study in a top American college. I did spend quite a lot of time during my first year at JKUAT applying to top American colleges, a rigorous process that entailed writing essays, filling forms, getting recommendation letters and revising for the SAT exams. That preoccupation with wanting to study in America kept me from giving the engineering course the attention it deserved.
Well, I had applied to four top American colleges (MIT, Cornell, Stanford & Dartmouth) before I matriculated at JKUAT in May 2007. My first choice college during that application round was MIT where I wanted to study a computer-related degree. That I wanted to attend MIT was evident in the way I browsed the MIT website quite often. And I was heartbroken when MIT rejected me as did Cornell, Stanford and Dartmouth. Following the rejections, I had no choice but to enroll at JKUAT in May 2007.
The hype about the excellence of top American colleges is what kept me wanting to study in America when I was in my first year at JKUAT in 2007. And the colleges I applied for admission that year were MIT, Yale, Harvard and Stanford. My first choice college during that application round was Harvard where I wanted to pursue Physics. As it happened, I wasn't accepted into any of the colleges, a result that depressed me deeply.
Despite the rejections, I still couldn't dismiss from my mind the desire to study in America. So when I dropped out of JKUAT in 2009, having been unable to cope with the engineering course load, I re-applied to Yale, Harvard and Stanford. (I would also have re-applied to MIT had someone at the institute not discouraged me from applying for the third time.) Of the three colleges I applied for admission in 2009, Yale was appealing to me the most this time round since it had a residential housing system that resembled that of Starehe Boys' Centre. And the degree I wanted to pursue at Yale was History, Political Science or International Relations. Come April 2010, I was rejected by all those three colleges.
My desire to study in America having come to a dead end, I enrolled at the University of Nairobi (UoN) in September 2010 to pursue a B.A. degree in History & Political Science. I felt rejuvenated when I began my studies at UoN where I mesmerized my lecturers and fellow classmates with my fund of knowledge. But because my degree course at UoN wasn't government subsidized like my engineering course at JKUAT had been, I eventually dropped out of UoN due to high tuition fees.
During my years at Starehe, I was often accused of being confused. If ever I was that much confused, in no other incidents were my confusion more apparent than in the way I kept changing my preferred course of study when I applied to top American colleges in a span of four years and in the way I switched degree courses from Electronics & Computer Engineering to History & Political Science at the two local universities I attended. But as they say, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." So I am now a wiser, braver and smarter young man.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on me remembering my past, you might also enjoy another one I wrote a few years ago on "The Doors God Closed For Me". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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A True Story
on Jul 19, 2021
One Sunday in 2013 as I was heading for a certain meeting in Nairobi, I dropped by All Saints' Cathedral and attended the cathedral's youth service of that day. I was glad to hear during the service that the following Saturday, there would be a free-of-charge trip to a place called Yatta where the cathedral's youths could learn how to make money through farming. The trip was organized by Rev. John Mark Oduor, a pastor at the cathedral who happens to be a good friend of mine.
Delighted by the opportunity, I quickly registered to attend the trip to Yatta. And in the course of the week that followed, I looked forward to going to Yatta where I hoped to learn valuable farming tips because I was at the time interested in doing some agribusiness on my father's piece of land which was lying idle. When Saturday reached, I woke up earlier than usual and headed to All Saints' Cathedral where we boarded buses bound for Yatta.
Well, the farms we toured in Yatta turned out to be dull and uninviting - not the kind of place that would inspire someone to take up farming. But what impressed me during the trip was to see one homestead cooking meals using bio-gas extracted from farm manure. I was impressed by the use of bio-gas fuel because I grew up in a poverty-stricken home where I used to fetch firewood for cooking.
Fetching firewood was such a boring and tedious duty which the senior members of my family often asked me to do. There were times Mum would get mad at me for collecting firewood that was not completely dry. And it was not only the fetching of firewood that was boring and tedious but also cooking meals with it. Many times, I would struggle to sustain a fire while cooking meals in our home's sooty kitchen. Also, I had to put up with the eye-choking smoke that billowed from the fire.
I particularly remember one night in 1998 when my younger brother Symo and I were tasked with the duty of cooking that day's supper, young as we were. Guess what! As we were preparing supper, our cat snatched the meat we were to cook. It took the meat without us realizing. We only noticed the cat had been eating the meat when it only had a few more pieces of meat left.
Symo and I took those remaining pieces of meat and cooked them. Afraid that the senior members of our family would berate us if they learnt what had transpired, we put the few pieces of cooked meat on the plates of Mum and Uncle Ndonga - the two members of our family who were most strict with us. The ploy worked since nobody in the family realized much of the meat we were to savor that supper had been eaten by the cat.
Besides fetching firewood and preparing meals in a sooty kitchen, the other things I went through that makes me label the home I grew up in as poverty-stricken were getting ring-worms, walking around home barefooted and sharing beds with my siblings. The ring-worms, which I came to associate with poverty, would form a round coin-like patch on the skin. I recollect being advised to apply shoe polish on the ring-worms to get rid of them.
And yes, I did walk around barefooted, exposing my feet to acacia thorns which would sometimes prick me. During the rainy season, I would at times feel queasy whenever I imagined myself stepping on dog excrement with my bare feet.
Such was the kind of poverty-stricken environment that I was brought up in. My siblings have worked hard to escape that poverty. They have worked hard, gotten jobs and bought their own cars, including my younger brother Symo. And they have built for our parents a brick-mansion where I am currently staying.
Like my siblings, I also want to overcome the poverty-stricken mindset I grew up with and become a self-reliant gentleman. I want to own a car and build my own home where I envision myself cooking with bio-gas, the way I saw one homestead do when I went on a trip to Yatta in 2013 with the All Saints' Cathedral youths.
In an effort to achieve those dreams, I have been reading avidly as I want my wealth to come from music and writing. I am borrowing a leaf from James Baldwin, the great black American writer who read himself out of poverty. After he escaped from poverty, James Baldwin had this to say, "Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor."
Along with reading avidly, I am also asking God to help me escape poverty and achieve my dreams. This is what I have told Him, "God, I am going to love You with all my heart. I will also honor my parents as well as refrain from anger, lying, stealing and gossiping. Now that I have resolved to adhere to Your commandments, please never make me so poor as to go around scavenging for firewood."
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 hymn which 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.