I once wanted to become a soldier. I wanted to become an engineer as well. An engineer in the army may be. Unfortunately, height happened. Jack’s status, a photo of two soldiers doing some stunts, was nostalgic. Jack is a college buddy from some village in Murang’a. He can joke about anything and still remain serious at the same time. His craziness is on another level but in case you ever want to engage a person in any kind of constructive debate, apart from sports, he is your guy. The photo took me down memory lane, more than a decade ago.
My dream to become a soldier was as a result of practice. Yes, practice. I grew up with 3 people; they were and still remain my best friends. We did everything together. They informed my dream to become a soldier. They were my two cousins Jim and Edu, and my brother Arno. They are all my brothers.
During the holidays, on Saturdays, at around 10 in the morning, we used to gather and play. We did not play police and robber. Instead, we played soldiers versus soldiers. Ours was a world war. Jim would team up with Arno and I with Edu. The bonds between the teams remain the same to date. Edu was the King Alpha in our little medieval Kingdom and was in charge of the armory. He decided who used which weapon. We had weapons. He picked the best for himself. His was the equivalent of an FN SCAR while ours were mostly the equivalent of M16s, but if you had crossed paths that week, an AK47 equivalent would be waiting for you. In addition, we had pistols and hand grenades. The hand grenades were huge over-ripe guavas. The rifles were made by binding pieces of wood by the use of cloth, sometimes with nails. Some of them were directly crafted by cutting timber to resemble the rifles. The pistols were God-made from twigs. Nature wanted us to be soldiers and back then, we did not disappoint. We would then get into the battle field, our grandpas farm. The first few minutes would be used hiding. Then the hunting would begin.
There were trenches and we used them to hide. Being in the trenches made me feel like I was somewhere in the Western front, during the First World War. We would crawl and slither. Each of us would cover their partner. We had devised codes to communicate. We would run, holding our rifles like we had seen them hold rifles from the unclear pictures of the greatwall televisions that would not be switched on till the “men” said so. We would haul grenades, hitting the “enemy” with overripe guavas. Once hit with a grenade, you were out. You had to ‘die’ and your partner would have to battle it out alone.
Then, when the war had become so heated, it would be cut short by mom. She would shout our names from a distance. I would not answer. The moment was so good to be disrupted. Neither Jim nor Arno would answer. Edu answered. Snitch! She would go ahead and ask whether we had forgotten lunch. He, Edu, would assure her that we would be on our way. Then we passed by the guava tree, discussing the action we had been involved in for hours. We then assembled at the armory to return our rifles and check to make sure they were all in shape, looking forward to the weekend.
Forgive and forget! That is a common phrase with all of us. Right? We have heard it, and used it at one instance. But do we really forgive? How often? Do we forget as we say it? Is it easy to do as it is to say?
I have never thought deeply about forgiveness but she made me do it.
Her: Hey Dennis, could you please do a piece for me? (By the way it has been long since anyone called me Dennis. I might forget that that is my name. For the past two months I have been used to Njiru, and Murimi)
Me: Hey, (I know you are waiting for her name, not today.) why me? It is your piece. You can do it better. Anyway, what’s the topic?
Me: Forgiveness? What the hell do you want me to do about forgiveness? Will you forgive me if I do not do the piece?
Her: No. I won’t forgive you!
That was the conception of this piece. Apparently, she has problems forgiving people. If I failed to do the piece, she would never forgive me. Maybe I would call her at my death bed many years to come ask for her forgiveness for not doing the piece. She wouldn’t hesitate to; respect for a dying old man you know! But I did not want any of that. So I told her I would find time to do her piece. I did! A man of his words, right?
She does not believe that there is anything like forgiveness. She asked me to define the word ‘forgiveness’. I mumbled, tried to give a definition but I could not. I presume she felt nice that she was justifying her stand. I felt bad that I couldn’t. A bruised ego! Despite the fact that I could not give her a clear definition of the word, I do believe in the deed. I have been forgiven a number of times. That is what I believe. I have forgiven, or attempted to forgive quite often.
But what is forgiveness? Following her justification I have failed to give the word its meaning. What is forgiveness according to you? Please help me, and her.
Forgive me for not being regular recently. Will you?
At the wake of independence, Kenya had three problems to solve: Poverty, ignorance and diseases. That is what my history teacher told me, and what I read in the books. That was then. There was no corruption. If it was, the magnitude was not as it is today.
During that time, I gather that life was not as hard as it is nowadays. By the way I have never understood “Life is hard nowadays”. Hard in what sense? Anyone? That was in the 1960’s. I was not there. But life in those years looks like it was fun. Fun in the sense that you did not have to worry of seen, un-replied WhatsApp messages, you did not have to worry of unanswered calls. Life was just normal without the invasion of technology. Then, many years down the line, smartphones happened and they have made us stupid.
Poverty, ignorance and diseases have been carried forward to this new generation. Efforts to tackle the three have been, to some extent, futile.
Ignorance is bliss, but still it should worry you if you are ignorant at this era. By virtue of being a Kenyan, you are ignorant or have been about something at a given moment. We are ignorant of instructions. If somebody came to me and asked for the definition of a Kenyan, I wouldn’t hesitate to include the word ‘ignorant’. Why? Because we are ignorant.
Did you ever read the instructions on the question paper during exams? Many people did not and still do not. By virtue of being Kenyans, we have an idea of what the instructions expect of us even without reading them. For instance, I know that where I school question one is always compulsory. The day any lecturer will twist that, and make question two the compulsory question, many of us will do the wrong thing. The conversation after the exam will be full of regret. Of course the class chop will be the one who will notice it.
“Did you see the instructions?” (They always start their sentences with ‘Did you…’)
“No, what was there? “ Of course instructions. But you cannot answer them that because it will be the end of the conversation. They do not have a sense of humor.
“The instructions were that question two was the compulsory question and not question one as it has always been.”
You will realize that you did not even attempt question two. You did one, three and four. You are doomed, you realize!
I was not going to talk about exams. Nobody likes them apart from me. I was not going to talk about the 1960’s or my history teacher. That was a long time ago; a time when most of us did not even exist, as ideas. That was a time we shall only hear of.
I bet you have heard “Terms and Conditions” a number of times and you know what it is. Have you? If you have not, perhaps you are in your own world and the year is 1959.
How often do you read terms and conditions of any product or service? I bet you have never even tried reading. The Sportpesa gurus also do not know the terms and conditions of the “charity” they donate to. Why don’t we read these important pieces of information?
We install applications in our phones and software in our computers every day but we do not read the terms and conditions that come with these products. I have seen people do it. And I used to do the same too. When you get to the terms and conditions page, you just check the box “I agree” and click next. What are you agreeing to? I guess that is how people signed treaties without reading through the terms and ended up giving all their land to, you know who.
We engage in competitions that we do not know their terms and conditions. The products and service providers are very keen with terms and conditions. You will hear Safaricom, for instance, state clearly that “terms and conditions apply” in any promotional competition they might be having.
Because they (services and products providers) have known that people do not read this section, they make it extremely long; putting away any chances that were there that someone could read through the section. They do not want us to read the terms and conditions of their products and services. They use our ignorance to their advantage.
If you read some of the terms and conditions of some companies, you would have second thoughts about the product. You would not check the “I agree” box blindly.
If you keep ignoring the section, one day you will get in trouble and you will remember that I foresaw it with my Kenyan eyes.
When we were growing up, we made our own toys. We played real games. They skipped the rope, we made “cars”. We would spend a whole day in the village driving the cars we made. If you were lucky, someone would make you the car. You would show it off to your mates. We could even organize contests to see who would be having the coolest car. The winner would win the bragging rights.
The car that always won was a kind of a cart that we made. We would take them to a raised area, sit on them, cruise as we steered using a piece of wood connected to the front wheels. That was one version of the car. In the other version, we would carry the car on our shoulders, lean in front and support the stick with our hands. Then we would go driving. Everywhere.
These cars made us very obedient. We would take a shorter time to the shop and back if we went with our cars than if our parents forbade us. You would not take it if your folks said DON’T. You would not question them. You would even be in trouble for looking at them in a way that showed your discontent. We feared them. It might not have been as serious as for those who preceded us but it was not like it is today. Today people think they are age mates with their folks even at the age of three.
We were creative from the word go. Watching TV during the day was a taboo. We used that time to play, and play, and play.
We played police and robber. Edwin, my cousin, even had a G3 rifle he had made himself. We had our rifles too. We would hunt each other, mimicking the noises we had heard in the action movies we watched. For some time, one would dream of being a soldier in future. Edwin must have wanted to handle a real G3.
That was the time hide and seek was fun. You would hide in the morning and people would look for you the whole day only to find you at a place they would least expect, sleeping. We would play it the whole day, of course with the lunch break and porridge breaks at around ten in the morning and three in the afternoon. Apart from playing, we ate. We ate all kinds of natural foods. They made us strong enough to play the whole day.
But there are games we did not play. Games I wish we played. Games that kids play nowadays. But they do not play our games either. They do not have time for outdoor activities.
Nowadays they play board games, and computer games.
I played monopoly the other day. I had heard people talk of it. I had not thought of it. I had heard of it from my cousin. I was not interested. What would this eight-year-old be telling me? From that time, I thought that monopoly was for kids.
So when my friends would attempt inviting me to play the game, I would shrug and ignore the invite the same way I would ignore a swimming invite. Water that exceeds one bucket is for the cows to drink, my thought.
Out of curiosity, I decided to try it. The experience was more than I expected. How could a board game be that interesting? I enjoyed asking for rent from the other players. I enjoyed seeing others pay taxes. We cheered when a fellow player was sent to jail. For the game time, we became entrepreneurs. We became investors. We bought and sold property. We were aggressive with our money, the virtual money. We became kids for the time. We behaved like kids. We had put down our 20’s and embraced our 7’s. It felt good to be young and bubbly once again. We were our real selves.
There was a lot to learn from the game. It is not only a game but also a reflection of things in the real life that we are too busy to notice. I now realize why my cousin is ever aggressive with money. He will always ask you what you want to buy with your money. Monopoly has taught him the importance of owning assets.
I wish I played scrabble when I was five. I would be the greatest wordsmith. But we played police and robbers.
We all have that one thing that we sit and fantasize about, that one thing that we daydream about. It all lies within our passion. Some go wild with “mental holidays” to Bahamas; others fantasize about some heavy German machinery they want to own one day. Dreams of brighter days, huh! We all have dreams. Dreams and fantasies of what we want in future. We are all dream chasers. Sometimes the harder we chase those dreams the further they go. That’s where they want us to meet them. That far!
I dream and fantasize of owning a good machine in future but the thought is never that dominant. It is brought about by something else. Something that I dream of and long for! A dream I want to chase and achieve. A dream I whisper to God every time I talk to Him. He is the master planner, you know. He chairs my “meetings” with my future whereby we get to deliberate on my dreams.
I dream of taking those holidays to the best destinations there can be. But this dream, also, is brought about by something else; that thing that I long for. My biggest dream and fantasy: that which cannot be replaced. That which only Him above knows.
I look forward to being a daddy one day. This is my biggest fantasy.
It is a fantasy that I have no control over. It is a fantasy that ONLY God knows whether it will materialize or not. If it does, I will be a daddy to some cute son or daughter. That’s why, in the strangest hour of the night, I decide to write to my future un-born son or daughter.
Hey. What’s up little, future, un-born chap? I know by the time I get to meet you it will be about 8-10 years from now. That’s according to my plans. I do not know of God’s plans. But I believe we shall meet some day. You shall be a tiny thing. Daddy will be afraid of holding you at first. He will be afraid of you slipping from his hands and crushing down. But daddy loves kids; just that he does not show it. Nevertheless, he will hold you. You will be a bundle of joy not only to him but also to mummy, to grandpa and grandma and to your two immediate uncles that I know of. I know you will give mummy and I sleepless nights. Sometimes you will cry all night, keep us awake. We will be worried that you may be sick. May be we shall ring the doctor, or take you to the doctor, during such odd hours as 2 a.m., just for him to say that you are okay.
Maybe we shall be upset. You see, at that age, sleeping for just two hours means a lot. There is much to handle at day time and late nights. We shall love you all the same. Perhaps you shall be a source to some quarrels during the night over who should watch you but we shall always love you.
One thing I can assure you is that you will have an awesome mummy. Perhaps I have met her, perhaps I have not. But trust me, she will be awesome. You do not have to worry of suckling from a tattooed breast. I will save you the agony in my selection. So far those I have met none of them has one. But I do not know whether I have met your mummy. I hope she will be like your grandma and that she will give you, with my help, spiritual upbringing; the same way grandma did to me. Together with your mummy, we shall make a good team to make sure that we instill the right vices in you as you grow up.
You see, when daddy was growing up, there were no kids in the neighborhood. He grew up all by himself. May be that is the reason he became an introvert. He played all alone. I cannot promise you shall have ready mates to play with during the day but I will do my best to see to it that we live with people. Daddy will make sure that he provides you with all the toys you will want. He did not play with toys. There was no one to make him toys. In our era, son/daughter, few people would afford toys from the shop. Toys were made for us. There was no one to make me toys. Grandma tried though.
Daddy will do his best to give you an upbringing better than he received. It was awesome being brought up by your grandma and grandpa. They were excellent. But for the toys, they would provide everything. I want and wish to reciprocate the same to you. If God approves my plan, I have 8 years to prepare for that time. It is such a short time but I will do my best. I want to give you the best education because grandpa gave me the best education within his reach. This world is cruel, my dear. The papers at times do not matter but they matter, all the same. The degree of cruelty of the world is for you to judge.
Disclaimer; son/daughter. Daddy will not tolerate bad behavior. He will always do his best to ensure that you are upright. He will not be afraid of scolding you once in a while. I can tell you that for free. He will not be reluctant to punish you when you go wrong. One thing that I will not comprise is respect for your mummy. Grandpa told me that mummies are God’s representatives on earth. You MUST always respect her. Respect is a crucial thing in life. You will have to learn to respect everybody, be it your senior or junior.
Son/daughter, I pray that during your time Sportpesa will be non-existent. That thing is not good. You see, there was a time daddy staked all he had on one team only for the team to lose by four goals to nil. He slept hungry that day. Never engage in sports gambling. It takes in equal measures as it gives.
As my eyelids start protesting, the last thing that I can tell you is that I eagerly await your arrival. See you then.
When I was a small boy, about three years old, growing up in the village, I wanted to be a teacher. “When I grow up I want to be a teacher” was a phrase I would recite often. Teachers were cool. They were the only people I ever saw with a newspaper, a rare commodity in the village. Not all teachers bought the “meat wrappers” though; only the head teachers and the deputy head teachers to some extent. They commanded a lot of respect from everyone. I wanted to command such respect too.
As time went by, I realized that I had no calling of ever becoming a teacher. At class four, I wanted to become a musician. The problem was that I could barely pronounce the word “musician”. It was not easy. I will never forget the way I pronounced it in 2004 and I set the whole class in laughter. Poor boy! Nevertheless, I was determined to do music. I do not know where the determination went to though.
Being a musician soon faded and I was an aspiring pilot. Being a pilot did not work well also. I ditched it and wanted to be the brains behind the flying machine: an aeronautical engineer. Perhaps it was the reason I made very good “aeroplanes” out of papers plucked from my exercise books. Of course I paid dearly for plucking the papers because the intelligent teachers would eventually realize the missing pages as the books got lighter day by day.
By the time I joined form one; I was no longer aspiring to become an aeronautical engineer. I had to choices to choose from: mechanical engineering and electrical engineering. I had a complete set of all screw drivers and other electrical engineering essentials just at the tender age of thirteen. At that age, I could explain the working of a circuit breaker. I could differentiate a capacitor from a resistor, and a diode. I was living the ultimate life of an engineer. I still have a drawer with wires, screw drivers, capacitors, resistors, diodes, switches, sockets, cut-outs and any other thing you might think of that can be associated with electrical engineering. At least the idea of becoming an engineer was dominant. Engineer Murimi Njiru. To date, I do not believe that I can take a faulty electrical appliance to a technician without checking what is wrong with it. I still relish the dream.
By the time I was clearing high school, I did not know what I wanted to do. Despite the effort and love I put in Physics, I still found myself getting some weird marks. The kind of marks that I get in a CAT marked out of thirty today were the kind of marks I got in an exam marked out of one hundred. Our relationship with physics was not mutual. I cannot complain about chemistry. We never got along well. It was an abusive relationship. I had to embrace reality and forget ever thinking of becoming an engineer. The old man would not afford to pay for a parallel degree program.
Then Kitenzi happened. I have mentioned Kitenzi in a previous post.
“You have some good Swahili and English. You can try Journalism.”
“Journalism? How? My dream has been to become an Engineer. Not a journalist.”
“Think about it, my friend.”
The short conversation opened my eyes. These are the kind of people you include in your graduation speech. That was the moment I decided that I would become a musician, a teacher, and an engineer. That’s a simple description of a journalist. He is everything you can think of in this world. At first, I thought that journalism was one easy thing; a cushion for those who miss on engineering and other “prestigious” courses but I was wrong.
Journalism is a whole kind of engineering; the engineering of stories from mere observations and mere interviews; the engineering of stories with words. The tools of this kind of engineering remain to be the camera, the notebook, the pen and the evaluative mind. Yes, “the”. Those who despise the practice and see it as a simple thing to do are ignorant individuals. They think that the only real thing is engineering and medicine. Preformed misconceptions, huh!
Such people are the people who do not have the slightest idea of what journalists go through to bring the “food” to table. It is not a simple task, believe you me. A journalist and a soldier risk their lives the same way. The only difference between the two is the tools of work they carry: a camera and a gun. The two tools are equally strong. They can both destroy.
Journalism is not for the faint hearted. These were the words of Mr. Victor Bwire, MCK Deputy CEO and Programs Manager in November 2013 when he visited Multimedia University of Kenya. I have been trying to understand what he meant for a while until recently and I can attest to the words.
A field experience is all that one needs to understand what Journalism is all about. Such an experience last week was the ice-breaker to real journalism. Have you ever talked to people who intimidate you? People who make you doubt your worth. People who might contribute to lowering your self-esteem? As a journalist you are bound to encounter a number of such people. There also will be the smart ones; those who can guess your next step and counter you. You have to be smarter beyond that and be in a position to counter when they counter. Is that easy?
Of course there will be those people who will be willing to give information. There will also be those that will ask for “something” so as to give information. Nothing is for free. They will argue. There will be those that will give false information and it will be upon you to find out how genuine the information is. Giving false information has its repercussion to a journalist. It might be the end of one’s hustle. Then you start hustling for a hustle.
It is easier practicing engineering than practicing journalism. In practicing engineering, all you need to do is just get the materials and equipment and the labor set out. In journalism you have to “fold” the people like a handkerchief and put them in your pocket. It is harder when dealing with Kenyans. There are those who will put you off before you even start talking. Kenyans fear a person with a camera and a press card more than they fear a policeman with a gun.
Think of the graphic scenes: those that you would not set your eyes on. They brave it all to tell a good and a detailed story, to quench your thirst for information and news. They are on the frontline in any battle. They want to take the best photo in the best angle possible.
Do not despise a journalist. They go through hell. They have the hardest time. All in all, they deliver their best. They do it for the ear. They do it for you. It is a passion. It is a form of Engineering. I brace myself with the reality that lies ahead: to go through the toughest times so as to deliver for the Kenyan eyes and eyes. I am still Engineer Murimi Njiru; an engineer with words. My Kenyan eyes are the tools of work, the pen and the notebook are my overall. The camera remains my helmet.
Have you ever read a text from someone and it was orgasmic? Mental orgasm? As stated in the previous post, I have encountered such severally. However, I must admit that they are rare to come across –the well-articulated texts, grammatically correct, creatively written, name it. They give you the urge and purge to want to reply. They tickle your mind. They make you smile with satisfaction –only if you are an ardent lover of the Queen’s language: that which they say came with the ships.
It is not ours. But does that mean that we cannot make it ours? I remember when I joined a boarding school in class four, very young and naive. Fresh from the village. I could barely construct a grammatically correct sentence. Our teacher asked everyone what they would like to be when they “grew up”. The answer I gave left everyone in stitches. I froze in embarrassment; a bruised ego. I cannot forget one girl who laughed at me for three months after that. It was hell. Of course I am not going to tell you what I said. I do not want a nickname from that.
You see, having attended a school where you literally “left” English and Swahili languages at the gate after school and “collected” your mother tongue only to reverse that the next day when you went to school (leave mother tongue at the school’s gate and “collect” English and Swahili), then reverse the cycle in the evening every day for three years, there was no way one would be fluent in either of the languages.
Ever since then, I have always endeavored to learn English. The do’s and don’ts of the language. It is a beautiful language for those who embrace its beauty.
We all have those things that piss us off. For me, it is the wrong use of some words.
Their and there. These and this. Am in place of I’m. And of course, the deliberate use of x in place of s. I am not an expert in the field like one Phillip Ochieng’ but I believe that no person past high school should make such mistakes.
I will never understand why someone at the age of 20, in their right senses, with a girlfriend (perhaps), would confuse the usage of their and there. How now? After all those years in school and you do not get the meanings and usage of these words you deserve to be sued. If only English would talk…
“Hey Denno. What’s up!”
“I am good Mr. English. How are you doing?”
“I am not as good as I may seem to be, my brother. People have been misusing some of my basic words. Especially some girls aged 19 years.”
“I am very sorry big man. What do you want I do with them? Is there any way I can help?”
“Be cool, young man. You have been a victim too. How easily have you forgotten that?”
“Do not be like that bro; you know I have made tremendous improvements.”
“Anyway, tell them that I am not happy with them.”
“Okay big man. I will.”
“Okay, talk to you later.”
The misuse of any of these is a complete turn off for me. Like when a person you are just having sex with, with no strings attached, then she brings up the topic of you two getting married. Turn off. I saw that in a movie. It is more of a turn off when a girl uses the words wrongly. They made us believe that English is their thing. Why now should they mangle it?
It is better to misspell a word. That one can be understood. I will take it for a typo. But an exchange of “these” for “this”… no way!
Some people say I am arrogant because I correct their “this” and “these”. How can I not? I was born a perfectionist. It runs in my veins, in the family. I will never be sorry for doing that.
I will always see their use with my Kenyan eyes and correct them if need be.