THE PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE
The image of me graduating with top honours is one that I keep holding in my mind’s eye. It has been a long journey, full of many ups and downs, success and failure, surprises and fulfilment. I still remember the first time I came to Nairobi to pursue my dreams. I had just dropped out of college in my two attempts and I was scared of living.
I know I had been alive all along. But something, very vital had died inside of me, with the death of my dad when I was thirteen years old. There is a lot that happens to a Luo widow and her children that many people don’t know about. It is a nightmare and it doesn’t matter whether a widow gets inherited or not.
When our father was buried, our death sentences were also passed in the same instance. We were gathered in our little hut, listening to our relatives from both sides as they advised mom to abandon her Christianity and follow the Luo traditions. But she stayed put, sticking to her guns. That called for her eldest sister’s intervention. She, having brought mom from infancy, was the only one who could put sense into her.
‘My sister,’ she said, ‘if you don’t get inherited we will consider you and your children as outcasts. Just do as we say and everything will be alright.’
‘I am not going to get inherited!’ mom declared, and with that, our collective death sentence was passed.
Life was challenging. Everyday our family suffered. Our grass-thatched roof leaked when it rained while the mud walls caved in and dropped all around us. At night we could see the stars through the gaping holes on the walls and on the roof. When hyenas howled at night our hearts almost capsized. I remember going to school with a torn shirt and a pair of shorts. I would use matchsticks in place of buttons to secure the shirt which threatened to sail away every time a slight breeze hit against my face. On top of this, our school was infested with jiggers that ate away at out cracked feet. We spent the night clawing at our feet. But all challenges come with a blessing, or so I think.
Though I had the lowest of self esteems, my academic performance started picking up. Yet something inside me had snapped. Every time the teacher announced that I had emerged top in my class I saw no reason of celebrating. How could I celebrate when I had no family life? How could I celebrate when I knew the whole village believed I was already dead?
With time my mom was allowed to build her own house, something which was looked upon as a taboo. By then I was in high school. I was a rebel who had no sense of direction. I did not have plans for my future. Young men were dying, all over the village. There was no single weekend that we spent without a burial. Most of the young men who were dying were dying as a result of Aids. The young widows they left behind in turn, infected other young men, who passed the disease to others, and it became a vicious circle. I thought our political leaders would do something about it. But they were busy lining their pockets with blood money in Nairobi to care about widows and orphans who used sticks as buttons on their school uniform. Nothing brought me happiness unless I was reading a book or listening to the radio. In fact the only subjects I cared about were literature and history.
Four years after I had done my O-levels, I left home. It was the first time I was going to be far away from people who had considered me dead. It was an eye opener. It was the first I was associating with people who treated me as a human being who mattered. My confidence gradually started picking up. I soon started seeing meaning in celebrating life. I began working towards other people’s development. That is how I ended up working as a volunteer. And that is how I came to go to college, which didn’t last long.
I look back at what happened and know I would have done better, had I been brought up believing people cared about me. Going to college exposed me to the harsh realities of life. I had all along been leading a sheltered life. I knew I wanted to become a writer. But I did not have the courage to go after my heart’s desire. When I dropped out of college I decided to become a writer. Suddenly a whole new world opened to me when I came to Nairobi.
I started going to schools encouraging school children to go after their dreams with passion and courage. Most of them never knew that deep inside me I wanted to cave in and just, die. What stopped me from dying was the kind of things I knew they would say about my death. I did not want to die like the other young men whose lives had amounted to nothing. I wanted to leave behind a legacy. Soon I started seeing myself working in a media company. It wasn’t easy, at least not as easy as ABC. But here I am, working as an untrained TV producer.
The people I am working with are wonderful, not all of the of course. My job has given me the opportunity to advocate for a passion in reading, hard work and self-acceptance in children. Just recently I applied for an opportunity to train as a journalist. You would think things would by now just fall in place. Your guess is as good as mine. They don’t. My admission letter came two months later when classes had already begun!
I have a tight schedule with the money I am earning, sharing every single cent with my siblings and mom. I am running up and down, looking for a financial miracle to enable me go to college. There are people who are walking with me in this journey towards excellence and I owe them a lot. I also owe it to my mother. It will prove that her decision was not in vain. Because of this I believe, though I have no idea how, that my pursuit of excellence is not in vain. I am going to college and I am going to graduate with top honours. Where the money is going to come from I don’t know. But I already have a speech and I am walking towards the podium to receive my diploma. That is what is keeping my dreams alive.
P.S.: the rest of the story is in a book I am writing entitled LIFE IS A SONG (the pursuit of excellence)