Front-running non-starter attests to the fact that anybody can start anything. But starting is only important if it is ultimately crowned by finishing. It took me to start, for starting was no problem, but I had to rely on the LORD to finish
The First Day in Kindergarten
I mentioned above that we left Macalder, the mining township, when I was 6. I had started going to kindergarten. I don’t remember much about the kindergarten experience except what I think was my first day in the kindergarten.
One day, as we were walking back home, my brother Lucas who happened to be following behind me, threw a stone. I don’t know whether he meant to hit me with it or if it was an accident. The stone hit my heel. I started crying. My brother ran to me; he tried frantically to console me. He apologised and begged me to forgive him. The idea with forgiving him was that I don’t report him at home. We were hardly 200 metres from home. I tried to keep quiet but I was overwhelmed by pain. We reached home when I was still sobbing.
My father asked me why I was crying. I didn’t tell him the reason despite repeatedly asking me to talk. Failing to answer the question added to my offence. First I was crying (for no reason); second, I refused to talk. It was therefore a disciplinary case. My father took a cane and caned me—the only time my father caned me. Even with that I still had compassion over my brother.
I was the one who was wronged and still got punished for being wronged. I didn’t blame my father for it. It was just good behaviour not to cry for “no reason” and it was equally good manners to respond to questions he posed.
After coming back to our rural home, there were no kindergartens. Either one would go to school or if he was deemed too young, he would stay home. My main occupation after going to my uncle’s home was grazing the livestock.
I waited for three years to be told that I was of age to go to school. Most of my age mates had gone to school the previous year. I started the first class in 1972, I was 9 years old.
No Money for Fees
When I joined class 1, school fees for the whole year was Kenya Shillings 20 (approx. US$ .35 cents based on the rates at the time this book was written). When the time came to pay this money, we couldn’t raise it. I had hardly been in school for two months when I had to, regrettably, drop out of school. I went back to grazing the animals for the rest of the year.
The following year, 1973, I made my way back to school. This time, Mama Nora had accumulated the money for me. I paid the fees and was ready to learn. There was a problem though. I couldn’t be allowed to go to class 2 because I was in school for about two months the previous year.
I went back to class 1. There was another problem. There was no teaching taking place in our class. The reason was that class 7 had just been built. The blackboard for class 1 was taken to class 7. It was taking time to get a blackboard for class 1. Each day, we would just play in school and go back home without being taught. It turned out that teachers couldn’t teach the first-graders without a blackboard.
In great humiliation, I took my polythene paper bag and made my way out of the classroom as giggles by some pupils rent the air.
One day, Margaret Adhiambo, an immediate neighbour at home, convinced me to accompany her to class 2. We were together in class 1 the previous year. Unlike me, she was among those who proceeded to class 2. Adhiambo was clever and had done extremely well in class 1. She promised that she would help me, especially with mathematics.
I was reluctant because I knew that class 2 was too advanced for me. She convinced me, but she had still to hold my hand and pull me along. Things were tough, but Adhiambo, Ouma and Oyugo, the top three pupils in that class, were determined to help me. I was in a good company. I was catching up well when two weeks later, the headmaster, Mr. Odida, who happened to know me, went to class 1 and when he didn’t see me there thought that I had dropped out of school once again despite having paid the fees. He was however told by the other pupils that I had defected to class 2.
Mr. Odida came and found me settled in class 2. He ordered me to go back to class 1 because I wasn’t academically mature enough to manage class 2. In great humiliation, I took my polythene paper bag and made my way out of the classroom as giggles by some pupils rent the air. There was nothing we dreaded as being laughed at. If the teacher wasn’t present, I could easily pick a fight with somebody.
If I thought the marching order from class 2 was humiliating, I was in for a rude shock when I arrived in class 1.
Immediately I entered there was a roar of laughter. It was almost as if the pupils in class 1 had rehearsed how to receive me back. They shouted deridingly in unison: “He is chased from class 2!” I felt like crying, but how our culture had inculcated in us that boys don’t cry. At 10 I was too old to cry at such things.
The following day, I couldn’t face the torment in class 1. Adhiambo Margaret wasn’t about to let go. She once again held my hand and pulled me along to class 2, promising that the Headmaster wouldn’t come for a while.
True, the headmaster seemed to be involved with administrative works that he wasn’t so much in the classrooms. Three weeks later, I was then more confident and settled. I had made tremendous progress in mathematics. I had also known all the alphabets. The only problem I still had was to combine the letters into words.
When the Headmaster visited class 2 after three weeks, he found me there and asked: “Didn’t I order you to go back to class 1, what are you doing here?” I never answered. I was scared.
The other pupils came to my rescue. They told the teacher that I was just like most of them, that I was beginning to do well in mathematics. He gave me some quick quiz in mathematics which I managed. The next thing was to test my reading ability. He wrote his name, O-D-I-D-A on the blackboard and asked me to read it. Of course I didn’t know that what he had written was his name. I could spell the letters but I couldn’t combine them to bring the sound of his name. Because I knew that the idea was not to spell the letters but to read it as a word, which I couldn’t do, I kept quiet.
“You see, you can’t read! I don’t allow any pupil who doesn’t know how to read to be in class 2!” He said and added, “Let me not find you in this class again!” The torment in class 1 was psychologically draining and it was more frightening than his threat. Going back to class 1 was not an option at this time. I would work so had that even if I was given two days, I would make sure that I got to know how to join letters into words. I felt that I was so close to managing what the headmaster had wanted me to do.
We didn’t cross paths for a while but when he appeared again, he seemed to have given up on me. It seems like he asked the other teachers who were having lessons in our class and he was told that I was getting better by the day. Long story short, by the end of the term, out of a total of over 40 pupils, I was ranked 6th best after Oyugo, Ouma, Adhiambo, Jemimah and one more pupil that I can’t remember. In second term I was ranked 4th. In third term I was positioned 2nd after Ouma. The Headmaster who initially almost took me back to class 1 was excited.
Mr. Agan Zebedee’s Alliteration
At the beginning, things were rather confusing in school. For example, the mathematics teacher would come and say that 4+4=8. Another time he would say that 6+2=8. So I used to wonder, which is which? Was it not 4+4 that is equal eight? For me, when the teacher said that 4+4=8, I was ready to take that to be the only way to get eight. (1) This confusion, however, was short-lived. I soon figured out that there were many ways to get to eight.
What took me time to figure out was Mr. Agan Zebedee’s alliteration. It was in class 2, that Mr. Agan introduced us to English language. We were excited. Learning a foreign language, especially English, was something.
As Mr. Agan introduced the English alphabet, we realised there were new letters we didn’t have in our local language. They included: Q, V, X and Z.
We loved the sound of “V” and “Z”. We greatly admired anyone speaking English with lots of Vs and Zs. If we were to speak any English, it had to be punctuated and seasoned with as many Vs and Zs as possible. To achieve this, we forced them into places they didn’t belong. It wasn’t surprising, therefore, to hear some of us say, “You vetter vring my vookz thiz avternoon” (You better bring my books this afternoon). We substituted any letter that sounded close—however distant—to Vs and Zs.
Soon after we had learnt the English alphabet, the teacher introduced us to some alliterations and tongue-twisters. We got a perfect opportunity to try our pleasant-sounding letters. A classmate, Ateto Abidha, was especially sold into the business of substituting Bs, with Vs and Ss with Zs.
At the beginning of every English lesson, Mr. Agan made us recite what became English lesson’s launching anthem. Immediately he came into the classroom, he would greet us with the tradition, “Good morning children!” We would roar back, “Good morning Mr. Agan! Immediately after exchanging the greetings he would start:
“Bita bought a bit of butter, a bit of butter which Bita bought, was bitter”.
The whole class would then recite the alliteration in unison. After this, he would randomly pick one person at a time to recite the same. If it happened that it was Ateto to recite it, he would say:
“Vita vot a vit ov vatta, a vit ov vatta which Vita vot waz vitter!”
Wow! That was pleasant to our ears. We greatly admired Ateto’s way of “speaking English.”
At the beginning of every English lesson, Mr. Agan made us recite what became English lesson’s launching anthem.
Mr. Agan, however, would reject Ateto’s recitation. When Mr. Agan reprimanded him for saying his own things, we wondered what was wrong with the teacher. According to us, Ateto outshone the teacher himself. Why wasn’t he accepting that some of his pupils were already so gifted despite their age? We wondered.
If it was about English, we were more preoccupied with the sounding of things, not their meanings. We, therefore, didn’t understand at all what “Bita bought a bit of butter” meant. The teacher never explained it to us, and we never bothered to ask. Meanwhile, he made us recite it throughout the year. Mr. Agan insisted that it had to be recited his way. In his absence, we recited it our own (best) way.
The root of our problem with “Bita bought a bit of butter” was not inability to recite it the teacher’s way, it was, rather, a combination of lack of understanding of its meaning and our determination to say it our own way—our version sounded better.
We recited Mr. Agan’s alliteration until it stuck permanently. Personally, I made a song out of it. Regardless of “singing” it often, I never understood its meaning until one time in secondary school (More of this in the book: “When God Did not Fulfil His Word”).
My Version of Mr. Rajoro’s Song
Mr. Rajoro was the school choirmaster. He was a believer. His songs were therefore basically Christian. There was one particular song that I liked very much. I used to sing it for myself quite often. I thought I heard the words correctly and that I was singing the very words as sung by Mr. Rajoro and the choir. The song was in English. Because it was a fast tempo song combined with the fact that I was not yet able to understand English, it turned out that I used to put my own words—in fact, my version of the song was a combination of English and Luo words and probably “a new tongue”. Let me give you the lyrics according to how I heard and sung them (If you want to hear the song, then you’ll have to get hold of me):
Bit be bit be on your hah! Halleluh, halleluh;
Bit be bit be on your hah, halleluh!
Baby duon’g so so so so, heke likil gola so sata for jorrrrr!
If you heard me sing the song, you wouldn’t tell that I didn’t know what I was singing.
Spiritual lessons are closely related to any other lessons we learn in life. Like in school, we start from a point and then continue up the ladder. Again, when we don’t understand something, chances are that we’d substitute what we don’t understand with our own things.
My daughter (three and a half years at the time of writing this) loves music and songs. You’d be there to hear her sing her own things. Sometimes she would be so determined and loud, singing her own version that it would be so amusing setting me reeling with laughter. She sings whatever she sings so well that at the kindergarten where she goes, they think she sings in our mother tongue. If she continues listening to the same songs, with time the right lyrics will come without much struggle. If on the other hand she stops hearing the songs at this age, some of the songs may stay with her but she will never come to know what the right lyrics were. (2)
If it was about English, we were more preoccupied with the sounding of things, not their meanings. We, therefore, didn’t understand at all what “Bita bought a bit of butter” meant.
At the end of primary education, I took national examination which I almost passed. Otunge and I emerged top. That sounds pompous but the fact of the matter was that our performance was mediocre. We only managed 24 points out of possible 36. This was not good enough to guarantee an admission into a government school. Otunge was however lucky to get a good government school. Because of this, I thought I would also get a government school. I waited until the first term ended. I will tell the rest of the story in the next chapter.
SECONDARY AND HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATION
When a man comes to the end of the road that is when his sublime self-obsession is cut to size; his limitation exposed, giving way to divine intervention. He will only go beyond the road if he rides on the wings of Providence
Sold a Piece of Land
If it was difficult getting school fees for my primary school, it was unthinkable getting school fees for secondary school. I loved school and how I didn’t want to drop out. Throughout my primary school, one could count the few days that I was absent. Towards class 7, it was already obvious that I may not get beyond primary. I was aware that there wasn’t going to be any money to pay my secondary school fees. Nevertheless, I remotely remembered the vision I saw of the star and the voice I heard about my prayer being granted.
The interesting thing was that even though I believed God had assured me that I would go to school, things remained so the same. Even a child’s faith would not expect wealth to drop from heaven to cater for my schooling. What more? Time had eaten away the vision I saw. At times I was even wondering if I really saw what I saw.
My love for school made me “deny” the possibility of dropping out of school after primary. Because of this, I found that I was always focused on going to secondary. Even when I was expecting to get admission into a government school, I didn’t know from where the money would come but this never killed my anticipation. In fact, I never took much time thinking about money; I was only thinking about schools—good schools.
I mentioned above that I didn’t do well enough to guarantee a place in a government secondary school. In Kenya, the education system is extremely competitive. After waiting for almost one term expecting for a miracle like the one that happened to Otunge, it was clear that I wasn’t going anywhere. I had an option of going to a Harambee (community supported school). Due to their low reputation, I didn’t want to go to Harambee. I decided to repeat class 7 so that I could take the national examinations afresh. If I was able to par with Otunge who had repeated class 7, I was confident I would do far much better on my second attempt.
I had gone and enrolled in another school where I would repeat. It was then that Mr. Obadiah Okumu appeared in the scene. He was a neighbour from Wayugu Clan, a sister clan to Kwandigi, my clan. My uncle Andrea, had given Mr. Okumu a piece of land which was supposed to be my father’s. Initially, it was just a small portion where he wanted to put a home close to the road as opposed to his land that was far away from the road. Later, however, Mr. Okumu convinced my uncle to portion out a big chunk of land to him.
On top of the land that he had already been given free of charge, Mr. Okumu negotiated with us that he could take charge of my schooling if I gave him part of the piece of land that had been parcelled out to me. My piece was not as big as that which had been parcelled out to him from what ought to have been my father’s in the first place. Because I wanted to go to school so much, I said yes to his proposal.
My cousin, Okomo, was not of the idea. For the first, he didn’t like the fact that his father had already parcelled out a big chunk of land to Mr. Okumu for free. The second reason was that according to him, I was such an absent-minded boy that would lose everything in school. He meant that I would lose pens and spoons and things like that. Where he got this idea I don’t know because I didn’t use to lose things in primary school in any degree that ought to have been considered a problem.
He never tried to discourage me from accepting Mr. Okumu’s offer but he made it clear that he is not a party to the agreement.
If I was going to lose spoons and pens, was that synonymous to achieving nothing in school?
I was young and was not so attached to the land the way I saw people get so attached. What was important to me was going to school. I didn’t see any other option I had to get money. When I opened my mouth and expressed that I accept Mr. Okumu’s offer, my cousin commented: “Lop Owino odhi nono” (Owino’s piece of land is gone in vain).
There was no logic in my cousin’s fear. If I was going to lose spoons and pens, was that synonymous to achieving nothing in school? I had been doing extremely well in primary, and that may have made him not censor me on academic grounds.
The agreement with Mr. Okumu was that he was not going to give me cash money but that he would pay my school fees; do shopping for me; buy me books and give me pocket money when I was in school.
Mr. Okumu used to work in town some 40 km. away. He used to come to the village once in a while over the weekends. I told him the schools I had chosen as my first, second and third references. He in fact promised that because he was in good terms with the headmaster of the school I chose as my first preference, he would indeed get me an admission in that school. It turned out that he didn’t manage to secure a place there and that he had settled for a harambee without telling me. When the time came for me to go to school, he asked his sister-in-law who happened to know the school to take me there. I stayed in Orero secondary school for almost a term without knowing that it was a harambee.
When I wrote to Mr. Okumu and raised the issue, he said that since the piece of land that I gave him was not adequate to pay for my fees all the way through secondary school, it was important that I go to harambee where there was Kenya Junior Secondary Examinations (KJSE) at Form 2. This national examination was not available in the government schools. The idea was that if I passed KJSE, I would get a certificate and could use it to get a course. Alternatively, he told me that if I added him more land, he would use my passes at KJSE to get me a good government school so that I could continue to Form 4. This was a very interesting turn of events. If I didn’t give away more land, I wouldn’t proceed to Form 4 after all.
I finally added him a piece of land so that I could continue to Form 4. He had acquired two thirds of the land that was parcelled out to me. Although I passed KJSE, I remained in Orero and did my Form 4 there.
The Deputy Headmaster’s Nickname
It was customary, though illegal according to school regulations, for Form twos, threes and fours to bully Form ones. I joined Form 1 in second term. The other Form 1 students seemed to have settled. There was not so much bullying going on. But joining at the “wrong time” made me a target for almost everyone. That is when Okeyo, a small-bodied classmate came to my rescue. He was a sweet clever young boy. Okeyo seemed to have liked me the moment he set eyes on me. He was younger than me by three years, yet he had become my “protector”.
A miniature stature is not a setback if one is well connected. Okeyo was connected. He had found favour with the Headmaster—and everyone knew about this. He used his connections to protect me from the bullyings from the “seniors”. One day, a Form 4 tried to bully me, Okeyo stood in the way and challenged him to try if his skin was thick enough to absorb the wrath from above. The bully couldn’t dare.
Okeyo was just a likeable character. His personality and reasoning was way more mature than his age. If the headmaster didn’t become fond of him just because of his personality, he (the headmaster) must have been won by Okeyo’s mathematical acumen. The little boy was arguably the best in mathematics in our class. He was the kind that Ombura would have from first impression mistakenly celebrated to have for a classmate.
Fast forward: I first met Ombura as a classmate 5 years later in Mbita High School where I was repeating Form 4. Ombura, a very humorous guy, told me that when they reported in Form 1 in this government boarding school for the first time, his attention was caught by a small-bodied boy, Ochien’g Nyamuya. Nyamuya would be his classmate.
In Kenya where competition was the order of the day and ranking of students was a way of showing how one was performing in the cut-throat competition, Ombura was concerned that although all his new classmates from different parts of the country had done well in the national exams, CPE (Certificate of Primary Education), it was obvious that someone would be ranked last when tests are taken at the end of the terms. How he hated to think that there were chances that he could be the one!
His fears were, however, alleviated when he saw Nyamuya. He thought: “This boy is too young and small-bodied to beat me in class.” He concluded that he won’t after all be the last in class—thanks to his underrating Nyamuya. He was proved wrong—sooner rather than later—not because he was last in class but because he was nowhere near Nyamuya’s sharpness—another extremely clever little young boy.
A miniature stature is not a setback if one is well connected.
One of the things that amazed me in my Form 1 class was how the students were bright. I wondered how come they never performed well enough to secure places in government schools.
Joining Form I in second term had another disadvantage. It was like starting to climb a tree from the branches instead of from the stem. There were things that had started from “somewhere” yet I wasn’t aware of this. One day, I went into the staff room to pick exercise books. When I entered, one of the teachers asked what I wanted. I told him, in the hearing of all the other teachers, that I wanted to see Mr. Migul. Little did I know that “Migul” was not his real name but a nickname the students had given him! He was a history teacher and acquired the nickname from Mogul Empire which was part of the history syllabus he used to teach.
The teacher asked me, “And who in this school is Mr. Migul?” I thought he was but taunting me and that his question was but rhetorical. I answered all the same and explained that Mr. Migul was the Deputy Headmaster. All the other teachers erupted in laughter. But the laughter soon died down. I knew something was wrong. Did I answer rudely? What was it I had done? As I stood there bewildered and lost, the teachers started grilling me.
“You just came here the other day, and you already have a new name for the Deputy Headmaster?” One of the teachers commented.
This confirmed the problem I had guessed lied somewhere. Another teacher asked me where I got the name from. They could tell that I was myself bewildered that the name was unacceptable just as they were for its origin. I answered that the name was what “everybody” was using for the Deputy Headmaster. This was a disciplinary case and the teachers wanted to know who told me that the Deputy Headmaster was called “Migul.”
How could I just pick on one person to be held responsible for this name when virtually everyone has been using it? In Kenya where it was unheard of for students to openly show disrespect to teachers, this was a serious case. Nicknaming teachers was not acceptable. Though they would be nicknamed all the same, but this was strictly kept away from them. I felt like turning into an insect and flying out of that staff room. The teachers realised that I was innocently mistaken. They allowed me to go but warned me never to call the Deputy Headmaster “Migul” again. There were beads of sweat on my face when I left that staff room—it felt like I had literally been roasted on fire.
You Are Not Cheating!
I remember on several occasions when I dreamt about forthcoming tests, but one case stands out prominently. That was in Form 2. I dreamt very clearly what was coming in a history end term exams. Of course I would have dismissed them as just dreams but sometimes some dreams leave some powerful and realistic impressions that one cannot just dismiss them.
The dream I had in Form 2 was so spectacular I knew there was something to it. I took time to concentrate on what I dreamt was coming. I was not disappointed. What I dreamt came exactly the way I dreamt it. I remember scoring 100% in history that term.
What happens when one gets ahead start of this nature—is it cheating? I don’t think so. It is God who gives people advantage when He so chooses. When one gets answers from God regardless of the questions one is dealing with, one wouldn’t have cheated.
A preacher in a summer conference had posed a question that seemed technical. I am not sure if he anticipated an answer. But I knew the answer. So when everybody was silent, I shouted the answer in the middle of the meeting. A lady sitting in front of me turned and looked at me with a gesture that I interpreted to mean: “How in the world did you know the answer?”
Was I clever or had insight into the things of God more than anybody else? No! I knew the answer because I had just read about what he was talking about in his own book. He had posed the same question in his book and provided the answer therein.
One day, a Form 4 tried to bully me, Okeyo stood in the way and challenged him to try if his skin was thick enough to absorb the wrath from above.
You are not cheating when you get the answer from the author, and you are not cheating when you get leakage from the divine source. This reminds me of the case of Peter in Matthew 16.
Jesus had asked: “… whom say ye that I am?” (v.15). Simon Peter answered and said: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v.16). At this Jesus answered and said: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (v.17). Peter got his answered served right from Providence. Christ didn’t accuse Peter of cheating. The justification for this is that every advantage we have is providential grace from above (Jam. 1:17). We only need to acknowledge the divine workings in our life.
Peter could have cheated if he resounded what the demon-possessed in Gergesenes had said earlier about Jesus’ identity (Matt. 8:28-29). The demons had nothing to do with the truth of Jesus’ identity. For them, therefore, speaking the truth they didn’t subscribe to was plagiarising.
When it is about life and death, God always leak the right answer to people. He doesn’t take chances even where the answer is obvious. Take for example Deuteronomy 30:19. If we come to a point where we are faced with life and death; blessings and curses, couldn’t it be obvious that we would choose life and not death; blessings, not curses. Despite this, God still gave the answer: “… therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live”.
The Only Barefooted Boy in School
Although Mr. Okumu had agreed d to take care of all my school needs, there was a real struggle. It turned out that he only undertook to pay school fees and nothing more. But even this was a real problem. Throughout my four years in Orero Secondary, I can’t remember completing school fees in time. I always had fees arrears and more often sent home to get the fees. Sometimes I would be sent home when I didn’t have fare. I would walk between Rangwe and Homa Bay—a distance of about 35 kms.
After some time, I was then in Form 2, the shoes that a nephew had donated to me when I was going to Form 1 had lived their life. They were in a bad shape that even Mr. Okumu himself advised me that it would be better going barefoot than putting “those things on your feet”. I removed them thinking that he may sympathise and buy me shoes. When the time for leaving for school came, he told me that shoes were not important. What was important was school fees. I had to leave barefooted.
Until this day, I thought that it was unheard of for someone to go to a boarding secondary school without something on his feet. Was I the poorest in the whole of Kenyan secondary school system to go to school without anything on my feet? Or was there someone somewhere who was also barefooted in a secondary school? Overwhelmed by sadness, I took my box and headed for the bus station. I couldn’t hold back tears.
During the holidays, I had made some sisal fibres which I sold. I had hoped to use the proceedings as pocket money and to supplement my shopping which was restricted to the most essentials. At this moment, I realised that having something under my feet was equally essential. I didn’t know what was going to happen. At the bus-stop I bought some cheap poor quality sandals. This, however, turned out to be a temporary solution indeed.
When I alighted from the commuter taxi and was walking towards the school gate, as fate seemed to have determined, I dashed my right foot against a stone. The sandal didn’t survive the strike. It was cut. I walked into the school compound barefooted all the same. It was so humbling—the only barefooted boy in school!
When I entered into the dormitory, Odongo, a Form 1 whom I had taken to protect against bulling, noticed that I was barefooted. I had just arrived, how could it happen that someone had already stolen my shoes, he wondered. Odongo was from a well to do family. For him, the first perception was not that some were so poor getting shoes was a challenge. I explained to him that I actually had not shoes. I had sandals instead but one of them cut when I dashed my feet against a stone and couldn’t be used anymore.
Odongo had two pairs of shoes. It happened that his size was slightly bigger but that couldn’t have been a problem under the circumstances. I received the shoes with gratitude. A big problem solved. I don’t know what he told his parents when he went back home with one pair of shoes. Did he lie that the shoes were stolen? I forgot to ask him.
In my life, I have received wonderful gifts from different people, including a very cool car. If you asked me to name people who have given me something of value, something so wonderful, you could count that Odongo’s name would appear so early at the top of the list. Has somebody done so little, yet it is so big? I have come to experience that in life the circumstances in which one finds himself determine the value of help one gets. When I was going to Norway and didn’t have enough money to buy ticket, as I will elaborate more later, some people donated as “little” as Kenya shillings 5 (US $ 0.08 at the current rates). To me this was not “just” Kshs. 5. Anybody who gave me 5 shillings had actually lifted my feet some inches closer to boarding a plane.
At one time when I was jobless and struggling, a brother in Christ gave me a car that according to him could cost not more than Norwegian Krones 60,000 (US$ 11600). To me, the car was priceless. It turned out to be, though indirectly, one of the strongest links which would connect me to a million worth of an opportunity.
Didn’t Do Well
Again like in primary school, I almost passed. The truth is that I had another round of mediocre performance at the end of Secondary school. I don’t believe in making excuses for every “failure” that one meets in life. Sometimes failure is but a temporary retreat to help build an indomitable momentum with which to race and pace into success. God also uses failure to teach humility and patience. I would have blamed my mediocre performance on the myriad difficulties I faced, but this wouldn’t be sincere. Some of the most beautiful lessons I have learnt in life have come through failure.
I have failed in many things but it has also made me not rely on my own abilities. I have instead learnt to trust in God. Each time I failed, He would take my hand, raise me up and lead me into success. In this way, any success is most literally His doing. This doesn’t mean however that I anticipate “success” in every thing. There are things that God allows us to lose out on completely.
One thing I thank God for is that despite all the difficulties I have faced in life, it hasn’t wrinkled my heart. Because of this, no one can claim to have noticed any misery “written on my face”. The difficulties didn’t bother me enough to affect my performance. In school I was always cheerful, popular and motivated. I believed in succeeding even after I had failed.
I am incurably optimistic; believes in light even when surrounded by darkness. I always believe that success is on the way even when all odds are stacked against it. When I got saved and got schooled in the everlasting promise and divine hope that doesn’t disappoint (Rom 5:5), I can only let radiance of the joy of the Lord confront the downsides of life.
When the results came following the Form 4 national exams I took, I was convicted that I could do better. This meant that my failure to make a good impression only added fuel to prove a point if I could get a second chance.
The only one case that I believe may have affected my performance was that I was sent home for fees when we were preparing for the final national exams. I didn’t get the money immediately and stayed home for three weeks. When I realised the money was not forthcoming and my fellow candidates were rehearsing for the exams, I went back to school and started playing hide-and-seek with the Headmaster. I wouldn’t allow him see me because he would send me home for fees.
The circumstances in which one finds himself determine the value one attaches to the help one gets.
It was extremely difficult doing this when it was the Headmaster that was responsible in taking us through the rehearsals. God answered my prayers when the chief invigilator came. It was Mr. Obuya Obudho.
Mr. Obudho, a secondary school teacher, was not an immediate uncle but thanks to social and cultural system in the countryside. Here, the extended family ties were very strong. Being a member of our nuclear clan, Kwandigi, I had all the “right” to get him involved in my case. In fact, it was not unthinkable to have expected him to pay my fees but this would probably overburden him. I asked him to talk to the Headmaster to allow me take exams.
He did. I took the exams and got division 3. I tried to get school to proceed to Advanced Level but there was no chance. My grades were weak.
It looked like that was the end of my school. I tried getting a teaching job in primary school but nothing came out of it.
The year 1983 became a year of disorientation. I finally got a casual job with I.C.I.P.E. (International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology) at Mbita point. The hiring was irregular and the payment meagre. My heart, however, was still in going back to school.
God Will Provide
Though I was burning to go back to school but how was I to bypass the odds. Getting an admission to Form 4 in a good school was not going to be easy. Mr. Okumu had not committed to pay any more fees. In fact, I still had fees arrears in my former school. I decided to take one step at a time. I started making daily visits to Mr. Obuya Obudho’s home every evening when he was home during holidays. Obudho’s home was hardly ten minutes from our home but he was living in Mbita town, about 5 kilometres away.
The mission of my visit was to talk Mr. Obudho to use his connections and get me a good school to repeat Form 4. If it was impossible to get Form 4, I was willing to go back to Form 3. Obudho told me that after having been out of school for almost a year, it would not be easy getting a school for me. I wouldn’t take a NO for an answer! I literally pestered Mr. Obudho. The 10 km to and fro was not a price difficult to pay. Sometimes I would leave Obudho’s place at 11 when they were going to bed, step into the pitch dark night and walk home.
As I was pressuring Obudho to get me a school, he was also pressuring a Headmaster friend of his. That one step that I decided to take was finally landing steadily on a sure ground. When Obudho realised that Mr. Okigo Ogoye, the then Head Master of Mbita High School, was at the verge of giving in, Obudho asked me a practical question that I knew was inevitable but which I dreaded facing. “Where will you get the school fees?” Obudho wouldn’t commit himself to pay my school fees. He told me that he may not pursue the issue further unless I assured him that I would take the place if offered. By taking the place he meant being able to raise the school fees.
I wished he never insisted that I answer the question. I had not prepared that the question would come that particular day. I searched my mind to get the answer but it was not there. He realised that I never had an answer and almost reprimanded me for having put pressure on him when I knew there wouldn’t be any money for fees.
Failing to get a premeditated answer, I opened my mouth to say what just dropped in my mind. I borrowed and used exactly Abraham’s words when his son Isaac asked him about the sacrificial lamb that they would sacrifice: “God will provide!” (Gen. 22:8).
Obudho had Masters in religion and was a CRE (Christian Religious Education) teacher in a secondary school. He was well familiar with this biblical jargon. He didn’t let me off the hook from that spiritual “mumbo jumbo”. He didn’t want a spiritual answer but a material one. I was still on the spot.
Again, I took some time thinking hard. Surely, where was I going to get the money for fees? How I wished I could get an answer that would let him release me just for the moment. I didn’t want him to stop looking for school for me. If I didn’t give a good answer, he could easily see that there was no point wasting his time when it was apparent I wouldn’t take up the place.
For the second time in a row unpremeditated answer came to me just in time before Obudho concluded that I didn’t have an answer for school fees. “I would go to the clan relatives and ask them to fundraise for me.” I told him, and he seemed to buy it. I breathed a sigh of relief but inwardly, I knew that there was little or no substantial hope in this strategy. I knew that even if the clan relatives accepted to raise money for me, it couldn’t have been enough. They were not all that endowed to expect much from them.
Got a Place Where There Was No Place
Obudho went ahead and got me a school. After having been out of school for one year, I was going back to Form 4. This meant that I would “waste” two years. In my former school, Agawo and I led in the pre-exam Mock. We managed to get second division with 26 points. Coincidentally, we were also at par during Form 2’s KJSE. Agawo went ahead to lead in the national exams in our school with the same result he had in Mock. Coincidences continued. Agawo was admitted in Mbita High School where I was now going to repeat Form 4. The year I was out of school he was doing his Form 5. When I joined Mbita in 1984, he was doing his Form 6. If he passed, he would be headed to the university the following year.
Seeing Agawo in Form 6 didn’t arouse envy but gave me an inspiration. If Agawo made it, I also had a chance.
The day for reporting came and there was no money. Though I had walked around and talked with the clan relatives to raise money for me, they never seemed to be in a hurry to organise anything. My cousin Charles and I went to the school to talk to the Headmaster to give us grace period to get the money.
We entered the Headmaster’s office and introduced the mission of our visit. Mr. Okigo Ogoye, the Headmaster, told us that he had told Mr. Obudho that there was no chance in the school but Mr. Obudho wouldn’t take NO for an answer.
“He pestered me until I had to accept. You haven’t even taken your place, yet you have started with the issue of lack of fees. I have only one thing to tell you: Either you bring the school fees as you report or forget about the place you were offered in this school”, He said with a unmistaken finality.
With that, there was no more to say. We in fact left that office in less than three minutes after we entered. I never slept that night. I had been taking one step at a time but at this point, the immediate step was to land me into school and yet there was no money. Sometimes God would let us come to a point where we feel that we have come to the end of the journey. That is when a miracle happens.
Sometimes failure is but a temporary retreat to help build an indomitable momentum with which to race and pace into success.
I talked about my cousin Okomo whose violence in the early years of my life almost made me take my own life. Things had improved immensely. He advised me to go back to Mr. Okumu and ask him to pay my fees. Okomo still believed that Okumu had gotten far much more than he had given us.
I travelled to where he was working and presented my case. Mr. Okumu wanted me to add him more land. If I was to agree to his proposals I would virtually be landless, with only a small portion to build a house. For the first time in my life I looked Mr. Okumu in the face and blatantly said No! He reluctantly “accepted” to pay. He told me to go back home and wait for him. He would come the following week. He never came.
Time was running out. I didn’t know that Okomo had a plan B. When Mr. Okumu failed to show up, Okomo sold a piece of his land and gave me the money to go to school. Can you believe it? This is the same man who had earlier said that my land had been taken in vain; that I was an absent-minded boy who would lose things in school. He was the same man who had repeatedly told me that I was a good for nothing boy. Now, he sold a piece of his land for me.
The money was not enough to cover school fees for the whole year but it was substantial enough to cover the whole of first term’s instalment and quite a good deal of the second term’s—praise God!
I knew from the bottom of my heart that what I saw and the voice I heard was from God. I was back to school and was burning to do my best and go places. Initially, going to A-level was a pipe dream but now, it was the immediate pursuit of my heart. If I knew I had no chance, I wouldn’t have bothered going back to school.
During holidays, I would process sisal leaves for the fibres and sell. In this way, I would raise some money. Mama Nora and my cousin Okomo would also chip in. little by little we collectively raised the money. My uncle Andrea had passed on in 1982.
In third term I was sent home to bring the fees arrears. We had exhausted all the resources; there was no money we could lay our hands on. It was at this point that I remembered that I had a blood brother working as a watchman in Nairobi. That far he had not given a cent towards my education. Even if he was earning little money, he could still spare something small for me.
Overcome by emotion of being abandoned by my own brother, I shed some few drops of tears before settling down to write him a very long, emotional and cruel letter. When he received the letter, he was equally overcome by emotion, he cried. He released Kshs 250 on the same day and sent it over by money order. That was something! By the time I was taking the exams, I owed the school only Kshs. 100. I settled this when I went to pick my results. God had indeed provided. I couldn’t believe it. I actually managed to go back to school—a good school at that. I had done my best; I was then waiting for what would happen next.
I got very rare favours. While in Mbita, Madam Getrude Obudho, Mr. Obudho’s wife, who was at the time teaching at Mbita Primary School undertook to personally wash my clothes so that I could use the time for my studies.
While at Mbita, the enemy tried one more time to destroy me both physically, as I will tell in chapter 12 as well as morally. Morally? Yes, it was around this time that I was overwhelmed by hunger for women that I though all beautiful ladies were created for me.
“Why Are You Wasting Your Father’s Money?”
I couldn’t allow anyone rob me of the motivation and anticipation of doing well. But Mr. Masese Odundo had attempted to do just that. If it were possible he could have killed my passion. A trained graduate teacher, Masese was extremely good in mathematics. He, however, lacked the skill to take along with him slow learners like me. All along, I hadn’t been counted as hopelessly poor in mathematics, until this time I was repeating Form 4.
Mr. Masese’s pace was too much for me. The result was that I didn’t use to follow him. He also didn’t like to be interrupted often. He was also harsh. Another weakness with Mr. Masese was that he used to give us so much exercise that some of us who were not so fast would spend all our study time struggling with Mathematics. I realised that if I was to do all the daily mathematics exercises, I would risk failing the other subjects. Apart from Mathematics, I had seven more subjects to attend to. Why would he behave as if maths was all we were there for?
I fell off with Masese because I didn’t use to complete his assignments. So, one day he gave us a test and I performed poor than I had ever thought possible. I am not sure if I deserved it but he gave me 0%. It was the first and the last time I got 0. Another time I got a low mark was in A-Level when the history teacher gave me 25%. The latter case was easy to judge. I got that mark as a reprisal for speaking my mind. Mr. Omondi Nyundo had mistaken me for being proud as a result and he extended it to affect his professionalism.
When Masese returned the maths papers, he would call out names and each student would go get his paper.
When he finally called out my name, he held the paper out as if he was handing it over to me. When I reached out to pick it, he withdrew it, leaving my hand hanging in the air. He started haranguing me, asking rhetoric questions:
• Why are you wasting your father’s money?
• Doesn’t it bother you that you are a repeater and still fail like this?
• Why are you wasting your time here?
• Do you really know why you are here?
I had never been subjected to such a public disgrace in class. My knees felt like giving way. I felt minimized—I felt so bad! But somehow my inner man made a quick defence. Though his questions were rhetorical, that is, they were not actually soliciting any answer, and because in our school culture, a student was not expected to answer back to a teacher in what may look like a disagreement or an exchange, I never said a word but I had an answer to every question.
When he asked: Why are you wasting your father’s money?
I answered in my mind: I wish you knew how I miss my father; I wish you knew that I participate in raising the money for my fees. Yes, I know the value of every cent I pay as school fees and I am not wasting any bit of it.
When he asked: Doesn’t it bother you that you are a repeater and still fail like this?
I answered in my mind: I wish you knew how it hurts me that I never made it the first attempt.
When he asked: Why are you wasting your time here?
I answered in my mind: I am not wasting a minute.
When he asked: Do you really know why you are here?
I answered in my mind: Oh Yes! I know why I am here. I wish you knew how I struggled to get here.
According to Mr. Masese, I was going to fail miserably. As he belittled me, I wondered if he was the one who was going to mark all the subjects that I was taking.
He used to brag about St. Mary’s School, Yala, where he took his A-Level. He told us that St. Mary was not a school for mediocres. That much we knew.
To cut the long story short, I chose St. Mary’s School, Yala for my A-Level education.
When I went to collect my results, guess whom I met at the door when I walked out of the Headmaster’s office. It was Mr. Masese! It happened that as soon as the results were released by the Ministry of Education, A-Level head teachers converged and made their selection. This meant that the results and admission letters arrived in schools simultaneously. Mr. Masese asked to have a look at my result slip and the admission letter. After looking at both, he was speechless—I had distinctions and good credits, except maths. I could have been awarded division one if I didn’t fail mathematics. I was also going to the same school he had discounted some of us for. Praise God!
High School at St. Mary’s Yala
When I passed and got admission to a high school, I was excited but the thought of the hassle that school fees would bring made it also a very trying moment. Getting admission in a high performing school and failing to take up my place would haunt me for the rest of my life.
Mr. Obudho was extremely happy with my performance but was not in a position to take the responsibility of paying my fees. Okomo, my cousin, advised me one more time. He said, jamenyo ok jogi (he who is in need doesn’t give up). He told me to go back to Mr. Okumu which I did.
Mr. Okumu realised that somehow I was hanging on and there might be a plan B like we did when I repeated Form 4. He must have realised that if I continued to climb higher and higher without his involvement I may change my mind about the land I gave him.
He accepted to pay my fees. This time he didn’t even mention that I add him any piece of land. We thought he might behave like in the previous case but we crossed our fingers. When the time for reporting came, he told me to pass by his wife’s house in Kisumu and pick the money. His wife Grace was working in Kisumu while he was working in Homa Bay. Kisumu happened to be on the way to my new school.
I thank God for Mrs Grace Okumu. For the first time, I was in the hands of someone who understood the importance of staying in school. I couldn’t believe my eyes when she placed the whole school fees for the term in my hand. I thought the experience I had in Orero would continue but she was different; always prompt with school fees. I don’t know the kind of agreement they had with the husband but I thank God that she took charge over my school fees—is it any wonder that I did so well in St. Mary’s.
When I reached out to pick the paper, he withdrew it, leaving my hand hanging in the air. He started haranguing me, asking rhetoric questions.
Long story short. At the end of my two years high school in St. Mary’s Yala, I passed unbelievably well. In fact I qualified for laws, a course that was extremely competitive making the qualification high. I all the same missed a chance in laws because of double in take. There had been a strike at the Kenyan universities the previous year and they were not opened for a long period. This meant that when they were finally reopened, there was a backlog of entrants and there were over-enrolment in some courses. That is how I missed out on laws and enrolled for education.
But wait a minute! Me, of all the people: primary school behind me; secondary school behind me; high school behind me, and now headed to the university, was I kidding or having a long-sweet-deceiving-dream. No! It was not a dream; everything was true; there was a divine intervention. It was hard to believe but God had fulfilled His promise. God is faithful! God had given me more than my dreams and imaginations. The divine encounters had confirmed God’s hand had been actively charting the course and providing the means to navigate it.
Proceed to Chapter 11