My childhood was boring, with no drama, no fights, no night sneaking from our room to go smoke weed or its imitation (rolled empty paper…..wait, I did that kidogo) or even a disco and being in a day school even made it worse. I remember peeping through an Omega One entertainment disco hall at Kisumu showgrounds but couldn’t see anything since it was as dark as hell with blaring horrible sound from horrible speakers playing Shaba ranks, Chaka Demus and pliers….. (Mzee ni wewe). Another memory that refuses to evaporate is the day I was sent to buy paraffin. I must have been in class 4 or 5. We would use a paraffin stove to make breakfast early morning since jiko was a process. Nobody liked it (Kitambi stove) because of how it would make one smell, not even the maid who would only do what she was instructed to do by her boss. (sometimes I wonder why we had a maid yet everyone would do anything….there was no male nor female in that house. I cannot count the number of times I had to mop the house, nwaso ugali and cut sukuma wiki. I even have a scar on my finger from cutting thin sukuma). Back to the paraffin story, on this day, just like many other days I was sent for paraffin with a 10 bob note, yes, there was a ten shillings note (mzee ni wewe) but as always, I had a habit of passing through Nyakano’s kiosk to buy sukari ng’uru before heading to get paraffin on which I would use the balance (coins). Nobody would notice this since I would head with the bottle of paraffin straight into the kitchen and empty it into the stove. But even if they inspected, which they didn’t, the discrepancy was not that big. So on this memorable day, I passed through nyakano’s kiosk as always, got my sukari ng’uru and happily ate as l headed to my usual petrol station. Guess what, there was no paraffin!! so I decide to check at the next petrol station and got the same shock. Now l started panicking when the attendant told me that the only place I would get the scarce commodity is way in town which is like 45 minutes on foot. This became or die mission for me. To make the long story short, my do-or-die attempt did not bear any fruits. There was no paraffin anywhere!! that was dreadful but the most traumatising moment was on my way back, in the dark, with an empty bottle and coins that do not add up to 10 shillings NOTE!! You don’t want to know what was going through my mind. That trauma was more than the thwarting I got from my beloved mum.
My family made a complete “Safari Sevens” team including the house help minus the coach and his assistant (Dad & Mum), which means words such as “my, and I” never existed. Even if you made a mistake you would share the responsibility and the punishment. In other words, we were many. A couple of times my parents would confuse our names but we would understand. A birthday celebration was foreign so we didn’t even catch if it passed without anyone wishing you a good one. I tried mentioning that it was my birthday to mum, just to let her know, but every time I did this it would be an opportunity for mum to narrate the same story of “oh I remember the day I had your labour pains, we were at your uncle’s funeral and nini-nini-nini…” so I gave up. We however had that kid that exists in every family; daddy’s favourite who bails you out of misery and asks for favours on your behalf. We nicknamed him “Agabatus“. All he loved was football to date; not ice cream, not chocolate, not shopping, not swimming, not stealing chapos at night or even picking meat from other’s plates…..in fact, we picked from his. He was that boring.
At times we would ‘miraculously’ find our family making a complete football team plus the ref whenever cousins would join us; sometimes to be supported to attend school, or just visit without a reason and without an exit plan while some would just be passing by to say hi for weeks. I always say if I were my dad/mum I would have asked them to present to me an exit strategy but am glad am not them: my parents were annoyingly generous.
I remember one holiday my dad who’s now a retired teacher realised that he had a huge human resource wasting in his house and ‘eating for free’ – as my mum would put it. He then came up with a business idea and without consultation, he acquired a mkokoteni (a water vending cart) fully loaded with 12 jerricans. We did what we had to do happily until the mkoklo grew wings courtesy of some wakora who waited for schools to be opened.
Fast forward to tarmacking days in the streets of Nairobi.
My late mum used to tell me to always look good even if I’m broke. Behind every smile, there is a story.
I remember walking into the so-called “5-star” hotels during lunch hours but mostly after 1 pm with a folder in my hands like I am just arriving for a meeting. This happened during my “tarmacking” days. The only money I had in my pocket was my fair back home but even that wouldn’t hinder me from popping into The Hilton hotel. I remember walking past the guards who would greet me with respect (I thought they thought I’m some big guy) coz of my suits and or the way I would arrive – like a crowd is waiting for me to address them. Little did they know that my stop would be in the toilet where I would spend not less than 2 hours. What I was doing in there is immaterial but with piped music, air conditioning and automated air freshener any broke person who’s been burning in the hot sun with CV copies would thank God for that.
After some time I graduated to the restaurants where I would kula kwa macho to a place where I would afford a soda which would last me more time in the restaurant (3 hrs on one soda). I looked at the workers there and they seemed ok, as in they were well taken care of plus they did not have to kula kwa macho but actually get to eat the real food. “what the heck!, si I can as well get a job here? kwani?” I thought to myself. And just like that, I did. Yes, I got a job at Intercontinental Hotel. To me, it was one of those low-lying fruits that you can easily reach since this was my “stop-over joint”. It is said that there are two important days in one’s life; the day you are born and the day you discover why. This opened up my world to a place of knowing my purpose in life. What I am currently doing started at this point. This is a story for another day.
Six years later I find myself in Mombasa working for a British Lady who was a complete type A. She would set a meeting for 8.45am and be there at 8.30am. We would then spend half an hour explaining why a picture frame on the wall is not straight. You can guess how the rest of the sales meetings would go. This old lady brought out the professionalism in me. God bless her strict soul. She ushered me to my next assignment with UNICEF and the NGO world for three years after which I was ready to jump in…..in the deep waters of hustlers, right at the shores of the Indian Ocean.
The waters were not friendly, and temptations of going back to payslip was growing by the day. After six months of trial and error in the business world, tragedy struck; my mum who had been ailing from breast cancer passed away after a long and brave battle. This threw me back to ground zero. I had to empty all my accounts, sell all my shares and reach out to close friends to clear the hospital bills that run into millions. I remember pleading with the hospital director to allow us to collect the body for burial but he would hear non of that.
Anyway, that too passed.
From then on, I’ve come to realise that where one comes from does not matter. Where one is going but most importantly where one is FOCUSED is more important. I’ve also come to learn that what lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within us out into the world, miracles happen – [Ralph Waldo Emerson]. And this is why I am convinced that there is still a lot for me out there. Something inside of me keeps whispering “na bado! you haven’t even scratched the surface yet”. I have learnt to smile even in the storm knowing well that it shall pass too. Life is too short to frown.
Your attempt may fail but never fail to make an attempt.