Strathmore and Inoreero

When You Want Something So Bad and You Don’t Get It, Then What?
Friday 11th July 2014

On Wednesday evening this week, I called someone to clarify something but it ended up being a very interesting (and I use this word generously) phone call where I raised my voice and the other person raised their voice too and I got very upset and by the end of the almost 30-minute long phone call, I felt drained, angry, sad and unsettled. I shared the summary of the conversation with Poriot because it’s something that affects us both and he was so discouraged himself that he actually had no words to say to me. Normally when he is down, I cheer him up and vice versa but in this case, we just both felt out of bandwidth. Like most extroverts, I express my upset-ness by talking about it- and I mean talking about it extensively. Poriot on the other hand absorbs everything first, mulls over it and says the least in those moments. So it works out because we are not competing to express to each other how upset we are. Anyway, we decided to sleep over it and discuss a way forward in the morning.

The following morning (yesterday) when I woke up, I remembered a time in my life when I had felt as unsure and unsettled about the (my) short-term and long-term future. The memory of that time, or shall we call it period/season, came to me so vividly that it startled me. I literally sat up in bed to take it in. I almost woke Poriot up to share it with him, but I figured he didn’t need another reason to be upset – a wife who won’t let you sleep at 5am when all you want and need to do is sleep.

The memory was of the time when I finished high school about 12 years ago. Yes, 12 years ago to be precise. Don’t look at me like that. There are people who finished high school many more years ago so don’t you start counting my age, like I now need a walking stick 🙂 What used to happen in our time- and I think still does now- was that after high school everybody went to college to do a certificate or diploma short course on computers or accounts and/or a language or any other professional skills course. This was because, first of all, we had to wait till February of the year after finishing school to get our KCSE results, and then we had to wait another year and a half or two years after that before joining university- unless your parents could afford to take you to a private/parallel program in which case you could start right the year after finishing high school. I fell in the category of those who were going to wait to join public university- and that’s the category with the majority of Kenyans so no need to feel sorry. So we needed to be doing something productive in those two years of waiting, else you would go mad- or more likely drive your parents mad.

In any case, everyone from my high school went to Strathmore College (now Strathmore University). Or at least it felt that way to me. So sometime in November/December 2002 after KCSE I went and did my interview for the IMIS (Institute for the Management of Information Systems) program at Strathmore and there I met with many of my schoolmates and friends from other high schools who had also just finished Form 4. It was a competitive interview and the results would be sent by mail i.e. you would get an acceptance or reject letter in the post. I left for South Africa to visit my aunt in mid-December and came back to Kenya in mid-January 2003. The SA trip was a special treat- but that’s a whole other story that I will share with you in a different post. On returning to Kenya, I checked the post office and found no letter. I called Strathmore and found out that I had indeed been accepted for the IMIS program but since I had not confirmed my attendance by the date they had given, which had passed the week before; my position had been offered to someone on the waiting list. The admissions office was very sorry and the best they could do was offer me evening classes. But I couldn’t do evening classes because we lived all the way on the other side of town and it was going to be literally impossible for me to go classes in the late evenings.

At this realization, my heart sunk so low it probably reached my knees- which must be relatively easy for it to do as I am not very tall. You see, in my (very interesting) view then, everyone who was anyone went to Strathmore. And if I went to Strathmore, I would be at par with my colleagues when we needed to look for jobs after college; it would be that extra feather on my cap. I wondered why God had allowed my letter to get lost in the mail, why I hadn’t come back from SA like a week earlier, why my life was ‘starting’ on such a sour and unlucky note. (You see ‘real life’ started after high school). Strathmore was- still is- a Catholic institution, an excellent school academically and otherwise, is strict and has a very good reputation. All the things I had dreamed of. Further, to know that I had actually passed the interview but missed a spot made it worse. But such as it was, I embarked on looking for a different institution to do my computer studies.

Mind you, I wasn’t crazy about computers or information systems and the whole shebang; it’s just that at the time when you finished high school that’s what you did. Actually prior to that, I took Computer Studies up to Form Four- and it was a choice subject- yet I couldn’t be further from computers in terms of interest, but that was then and the advice was that you better study Computers or you’ll be obsolete in the fast-changing technological world! Whoever said we all needed to do programming in C, C++, Java, information systems and all that, I don’t know, but yup, there I was. There we all were.

I finally settled to do a course in IS (Information Systems) at the Kenya School of Professional Studies (KSPS), which is a college in Ngara/Parklands now known as Inoreero University. It was nowhere nearly as esteemed, strict, or ‘classy’ as Strathmore and having come from a very strict, prestigious, Catholic high school I felt a bit short-changed and out of place, (pride, how haughty we can be sometimes), but I figured I’d make the most of it. But every day when I spoke on phone with my friends who were at Strathmore, something tugged at my heart. I was convinced that that was where I was meant to be. Any time a lecturer cancelled or was late to a class at KSPS I’d say to myself, I bet that doesn’t happen at Strathmore! Every time I saw students being cheeky about exams or assignments, or being too carefree about attending class, I said to myself, I sooo don’t belong here, I should be at Strathmore!

My ‘saving grace’ was that I had also enrolled for French classes at Alliance Francais. (Remember after high school if you could afford it, you generally did Computers and/or Accounts and/or a foreign language, usually German or French, or if you were really adventurous, Spanish or Italian). So I would go to KSPS in the morning from 8am till noon, and then I’d walk to town CBD and attend lunch time Mass at the Holy Family Basilica. Mass started at 1.15pm and ended at 1.45pm. At that point I would walk up Koinange Street or on to Loita Street and then arrive at Alliance at about 2pm. There was a salle (room) where you could go practice French by talking with fellow students from other classes or you could do your homework there. So that’s what I did till 2.30pm which is when my class started.

My class went from 2.30pm till 4pm and I’d go straight home after that. Not because I had anything urgent to rush home to but I was just one of those kids that go straight home after school. I didn’t hand around and hang out at Alliance or go to eat fries or ice cream as many of my classmates did (maybe because I also didn’t have the money to throw around like that). After French class, I would walk to the roundabout near the Fire Brigade and Old Nation House to board my matatu to go home, no detours. Okay, slight detour- Poriot and I met in this French class. We became friends but he tells me that at that point I used to walk around with a sign on my forehead that just said “Keep Off”. We laugh now, but at that time I guess I did give off those vibes because I was such a focused, disciplined, uptight, ‘good’ girl. Anyway a lot happened in between from then till now- as you can imagine- seeing as we’re now married. But that’s also a story for another post.

Getting back to the main story. I got into a daily routine of class at KSPS, Mass at Holy Family, class at Alliance and then home. With time, I became comfortable and less bitter about not being at Strathmore. I met other friends from high school and primary school at KSPS and made some new friends too and actually started to enjoy the (yes, computer) classes and the rhythm of it all. It was actually a special time in that my two brothers were both away at boarding school so it was just my mum and I at home. In the mornings, she and I would read the Bible and Daily Bread devotional together over breakfast before she left for work and I left for college. In the evenings, we’d make and have tea and supper and talk about our day and about a myriad other things in our lives. She and I had always been very close but we became even closer during this time and it is something I forever treasure.

During this time too, in March, I went for the UWC (United World College) interview, with the encouragement of my high school principal and deputy principal, and on exactly 1st June I remember receiving a call telling me that there was a package for me to go collect at the General Post Office in CBD. It was my package from the Armand Hammer UWC-USA which delineated my scholarship and had all documents that I would need in order to get a student visa to go to the US. A few weeks prior to that, a letter had come in our mail telling me that the Kenyan national committee had nominated me for the scholarship at UWC-USA. The package from the US was therefore final confirmation that indeed I had gotten a scholarship to go and study the International Baccalaureate (IB) at an international school in New Mexico, where I would be one of 200students from 88 countries and where we would take part in all sorts of cultural, academic, community and creative activities. If I say that I was stunned beyond words, it will be an understatement. I cried a million tears and said Thank You Lord about sixty times per second that day. Who was I, this simple girl, this simple girl who didn’t know anyone in government or at ‘the top’, that I should receive such favor? Such fortune? Such grace?

Following this news, it became apparent that there was really no point in starting the second semester at KSPS because I wasn’t going to finish the course as I was going to leave the country in August that year. I had just finished my exams for the first semester and I had done well in them. I also sat my French class exams for the first level and did okay, not spectacularly but okay. Now, the thing is, Strathmore was a lot more expensive than KSPS. Had it all worked out as planned and intended, my mum would have paid for the whole year- given how eager and sure I was about going to Strathmore. But you see, it would have been a waste of sorts as I wouldn’t have finished the Diploma anyway just like I didn’t finish at KSPS. Ultimately, I came to the realization that when I missed Strathmore, God was likely saying, this is not your portion. Yours is coming. Be patient. If only I had had the foresight to see that when I was feeling so dejected. If only I had known that all the days I walked from Ngara to Holy Family Basilica through Globe Cinema roundabout, up Slip Road, past Jevanjee Gardens, that there was a different plan for me, I wouldn’t have burdened my heart so much with questions of why and why not.

So back to yesterday morning, 10th July 2014, as I vividly recalled that time in my life and how it all ended, I thought perhaps the disheartening conversation that took place the previous evening with the person who upset me is meant to set me for something greater, or even if not greater just different than what I think my life, our life, should be right now. Much as it is unclear and unsettling, I choose to cling to the faith that things will work out- even if not in my timing and not in my style.

Relevance of all this to you as a reader? Well, maybe there’s something that you’ve just missed out on. A job application that didn’t result in a positive response, a relationship that is not going the way you think it ought to, an internship/scholarship/fellowship/promotion/opportunity that you thought was just right for you yet they chose someone else over you, something that you feel is yours and should go this way or that way, but it’s not working out right now. Well, I’m saying that maybe it’s just not meant for you, your portion may actually be different, or the timing is not right (yet). When the time is ripe, trust that things will work out as they are meant to. Be ready to accept that the ‘working out’ may be in a completely different fashion than you’ve imagined it. It may be greater, it may be smaller. But it will work out. In other words, don’t worry if you’ve missed ‘Strathmore’. Enjoy your ‘KSPS- Holy Family- Alliance-Home’ moments now. Your ‘UWC’ moment is coming. And when it happens, you will look back and reminisce. And hopefully, you will remember to be thankful. For both the wait and the end.

There’s Clinic and then There’s Clinic

Thursday 3rd July 2014

Tomorrow we are going to clinic at Aga Khan Hospital. Hubby and I. I am reminded of the first time we went to clinic when we were expecting our first baby. I remember the exact date because it’s also my dad’s death anniversary, it was 16th November. Up until that day, we had been very excited about the pregnancy and my husband was of course treating me like an egg which added to the whole very special feeling. But on seeing just how many couples were there, also pregnant, I realized I wasn’t that special. Not like in a bad way but in that way like when you dress up, doll up, and look at yourself in the mirror and think how nice you look and then you show up at the wedding or party and you realize actually everyone is just as dressed up as you are, and they are looking just as fabulous, if not more. It sort of bursts your bubble- not in a negative way but in a way that removes that fizz that you had wrapped yourself in and you start walking on the ground instead of sort of floating above it. So that’s what I felt on seeing so many other expectant couples at the ante-natal clinic. Some of the women were way more expectant than I was, if we can say that, as in, they were much further along. I was showing by then, at 4 months, but only just barely, as in you’d have to have known me before to tell that there was a baby bump. But these women, some looked ready to pop! Certainly gave me perspective!

Anyways, the reason I’m bringing this up now is because this time with this second pregnancy I have been going to clinic elsewhere, at Ole Nguruone Sub-District Hospital. This is a government hospital in rural Kenya and very different from Aga Khan which is a private, sort of fancy (I use this word positively with no sarcasm, hospital in Nairobi, and I have noted many differences. The first difference is that at Ole Nguruone women go to clinic alone, you hardly ever see husband and wife coming to ante-natal clinic holding hands- or post-natal clinic at that. See, at Aga Khan, most people we saw there were couples, young couples mostly, professional (i.e. look like they work in offices or banks), all nicely dressed up, many, I think, having their first or second or at most third baby- and all seeming to be doing quite well financially, or not struggling. At least that was the general conclusion from my (objective, of course, non-scientific, very generalizing, and very assuming) observation. They seemed like middle class, upper middle class and very urban. You see the women carrying fancy water bottles, (which seem to be a fad in urban areas), wearing nice tops and tights, and the men have car keys dangling from their manicured-looking hands. For post-natal clinic, as we also took our baby there after he was born, I would see a mum and a nanny and a baby bag and at times a baby stroller. There were also many dads and mums, or mums who’ve been accompanied by a friend, relative or their own mum- the baby’s grandmother. But at Ole Nguruone I notice that the women come, for both ante-natal and post-natal clinic by themselves. Even the ones who come for baby’s clinic, you don’t see then with a nanny and certainly not with a stroller. Ole Nguruone being a rural area, and also being a government hospital, caters to a different demographic of people than Aga Khan, I suppose.

It’s been interesting for me to see this because it shows just how different the whole journey of pregnancy and motherhood is experienced by different women (and men) in Kenya-and I guess in the world. It’s been interesting to realize how fathers/husbands play a different role depending on where you are. Not to say that all Nairobi/urban fathers accompany their wives (and babies) to clinic- I must admit I realize that I am one of the lucky ones whose husband was able and willing to do so. We would make a date of it and either do lunch before or dinner/tea after clinic, so it was all very romantic, and I realize that this is/was a luxury- and one that I am very grateful for. In the same vain, certainly we can’t say that all rural fathers/husbands don’t accompany their wives and babies to clinic because there are those who do. But I believe it is correct to say that the trends are different.

With these observations, I have come to understand, in a way that I hadn’t before, that love is expressed in different ways. You see, these men in Ole Nguruone and I’m guessing in Londiani, and other rural/semi-rural/semi-urban areas; they are busy at work in the farm, or the shop, or the school, or wherever it is they work, making the daily bread while the wife tends to the business of motherhood. These men are somewhere wearing gumboots and a coat and hat/cap- as it is generally cold in these parts of Kenya- and they will come home exhausted in the evening, not smelling of cologne and the car air freshener, but likely quite sweaty and even dirty/dusty from working the farm for instance. The wife, on the other hand, walks to clinic or goes by bodaboda and if it’s for post-natal clinic, she carries her baby on the back with a leso and takes her/him to clinic with much the same love as that urban woman who goes to clinic in a car or cab or matatu with the nanny and stroller and all other fancy paraphernalia. At the end of the day, this rural couple is just as excited about their baby as the other couple but situations dictate that that excitement is expressed differently.

It may seem quite mundane an observation, but to me it’s been fascinating because it’s opened my eyes to a whole different kind of love language. Even now that we’ve moved from Nairobi, my husband doesn’t come home wearing gumboots and a coat and a wool hat, dirty from the farm- as he is a doctor- but when I see these men walking home with the jembes (hoes) on their shoulders in the evening, or walking with a cane to guide the cattle, or just walking home from town where they were doing some casual work or other, I see that they are doing exactly what my husband is doing. They are showing their love and commitment to their family by working hard to fend for them. Just that some do it in suits in airy air conditioned offices, others do it at construction sites where they get caked up with cement, and some do it in the farm where they interact directly with the earth.

Similarly, the pregnancy journey is not as romanticized for all women. In fact in most cases, the woman is treated with care but she does keep working through the pregnancy (as much as she can) and after having the baby. She will continue with chores like cooking on the three-stone fire as she blows the firewood to fan the fire, carrying water in a bucket from the tank outside the house or from the river to the kitchen, washing dishes in a basin while seated outside on a low stool and going to the market or the farm with her baby on her back. Whereas the urban middle class/upper middle class woman is more pampered during her pregnancy and gets to crave (and get) yoghurt and strawberry donuts and chocolate with nuts, and doesn’t do much manual work- well, going by my experience where I was really pampered by my husband when I was expecting my first baby- both women are going through the same experience of carrying a life and bringing it forward to this world. Just that their experiences are worlds apart.

Getting to see these different aspects of family, motherhood, parenthood and marriage sheds light on how love and indeed life is multifaceted. How similar we are yet how diverse we are. It’s not that any of the two (or more) experiences is better or lesser than the other, but it certainly shows how the sun shines for all of us but shines differently. Wouldn’t it be great if we all had a chance to get a glimpse into each others lives? To appreciate how life is expressed and experienced differently? In any case, I look forward to our appointment tomorrow. And I do so with the knowledge that there’s clinic and there’s clinic. And both are clinics.

Today I Rode a Bike

Tuesday May 13th 2014

Today I rode a bike. A motorbike. A bodaboda. Nothing strange about that if you’re from/living in Africa. Only thing is that I am terrified silly of them. But we had gone to visit a bereaved family, and the car we used broke down on our way there. So we walked the rest of the way. Thankfully my help, Bella, offered to carry Lukundo on her back. Otherwise those logistics would have been tricky. As he is not exactly light. And neither am I the fittest.

Having managed to get there and duly condoled with the family, I didn’t see myself making it back home on foot. Even though everyone was saying it’s just five minutes away if we used this new shortcut that’s much ‘shorter’ than the route we used with the vehicle. Well, 30 minutes later and we were still walking. And they were pointing to our houses like overrrr theeere. As in sort of near the horizon- in my opinion. Which is an unfit opinion that is not used to walking long distances of late.

Then the clouds were gathering. And here I was with my son. There was a dilemma. I could walk with everyone and prove that I am strong, brave, and not troublesome. And that would perhaps earn me, what, brownie points? Or I could seriously just get a bodaboda and avoid me and LL getting rained on, plus me walking at a pace that was even more embarrassing as I huffed and puffed up the hills.

Luckily I had carried a leso (sarong, for those who are non-Swahili speakers). So we stopped a motorbike. I tied my baby to my back. Then brought him to the front and straddled the passenger seat on the bodaboda with as much grace as one can manage in that situation. I then ‘arranged’ myself on the seat, and gave the bodaboda driver strict instructions to please just go slowly. Even though it was sort of starting to drizzle. I then held onto him like my life depended on it. Well, it sort of did.

As we rode past people, I thought gosh, what if I fall, break my back, never walk again, hurt LL, and hurt the other baby inside of me. But I was like you know what? How many women have done this before? How many do it every day? So who am I and why am I special? So I held onto our driver’s jacket/back tight and somehow onto Lukundo as well. Lukundo was looking at me like ‘This is a bit different from Daddy’s car, isn’t it Mummy?’ And I’m like, ‘Yup, sometimes we experience new things in our lives, Love. Be open, yah?’

And that’s how a woman who is several months expectant, sat on a bodaboda in Londiani for the first time and held onto her child and also happily/nervously waved at (all the) people who knew her along the way.

We made it home safe and sound. As soon as we entered the compound, the rain made true its threat. It came falling like no joke. We were home safe and dry. A little shaken and also sort of energized by the adrenaline that comes from fear. But the point is, we were home. I did not prove that I can walk many kilometres. Instead, today, I rode a bike. Well, I rode on a bike. With my two kids. And I think it’s okay. What’s life without a little adventure? Tales from Londiani.