By Kevin Onchonga
As a child I despised Luo people. There were many stories – one of a Luo hogging seats in a matatu with his bags, preventing other passengers from sitting. Of a Luo defecating in the house; using cooking sufurias to bathe; of their uncircumcision. And what not.
In fact, to date there is a Kisii proverb that goes ‘tonaria mogere borere…’ (Don’t let a Luo get used to your bed). There was also a song – hate speech kabisa – which sings ‘….chaga osokere omogere omwamete ….’ (I curse you to get married to a Luo person).
So, in that environment, I grew up hating Luos.
Believe it or not, before 2006, I had never set my foot outside the confines of Gusii land. And in 2006 it was by luck that I accompanied my mum to Nairobi to bid farewell to my cousins who were leaving the country.
So, I am in this environment. I do not know better. I have never been outside this environment. In my mind, every Luo person is evil, backward, violent, and…..unhygienic!
God must have been fed up. After KCPE, I joined a school deep in Luo Nyanza. See there?! The prospect of schooling with Luo boys is eating me up, and I agonize for days.
Then I join the school. Sure enough, these people are bad. The evening of admission, I lose my shirt, a few books, and some other ‘shopping.’ To myself I say ‘hapa zii!’ The first day!
I was tiny. The next day while queuing to serve during lunch time, a senior student, cannot remember him well, but might have been Gvnr Ndeda NiCk, sees me sandwiched between burly boys in the queue, comes over, takes my plate, goes and serves me. How kind. (Ndeda was my Dorm Captain, I’d later learn).
I also learnt that Ndeda is Luo. Aha! So a Luo person can be kind?
Then I made friends. One told me nice stories. The other used to wake up for morning preps, which I hated. Another used to defend me when I was in hot soup for not doing menial work.
And another taught me prophecy. Praise God, Stephen Omondi?
I met more amazing friends.
Someday when my Dad came to visit me in school, the Principal, Jacob Mbogo, a man I hold in very high regard to date, came around the canteen outside the Jamna tree. He saw Dad. Was happy, I don’t know why. The two gentlemen did not know each other prior to this. He bought the both of us sodas and bread after sharing a few words of wisdom.
All these people that I met, and made friends with, were Luos. It’d be unfair not to mention that I made Kisii, Kuria, and Maasai friends as well.
So, as I interact with these people more and more, the scales start falling from my eyes one by one. I then realize that my all life has been a lie. That there are amazing people among the Luo. Amazing people.
But the hatred of Luos is slowly replaced with another hatred. I begin hating Kikuyus. I hear terrible stories that my naive mind took for gospel truth.
It is 2007. I am a form one. Naive to the core. And elections are round the corner, later in the year. The protagonists are Raila and Kibaki. If you’d at any moment or any place or for any reason eavesdrop on any conversation, or just inch your ears closer to any group of people in a conversation, you’d more often than not hear of certain pejoratives – about people of Kikuyu descent.
My father once told me that I am highly adaptive. And a chameleon of sorts. And that I take the color of my surroundings.
True to that, the hatred rubbed on me. And I saw Kikuyus differently. They all are greedy, dishonest, traitors, thieves, whores, and a string of other pejoratives.
2007 is eventful. And tragic. We have elections, and we have deaths. People are killing each other wantonly. I have a brother who helps us slaughter chicken at home. I cannot. My brother does not think twice when he has some squeaking chicken nestled between his feet. No mercy.
That is how people were slaughtering each other. Like chicken. Taking another person’s life was very casual. And easy. I imagine the conversations people could have that evening with their spouses:
SPOUSE: Leo umeua wangapi?
PERSON; Just three. I know I have not utilized my full potential and will improve next time babe. Those guys, the Kales, are really fast. I’ll try to outrun them next time.
And then Mr. Person will have his conjugal rights for killing three people and promising to kill some more next time. Aha! Life was casual. Wasn’t it fun to kill each other like flies because of, ahem, tribe?
Anyway, I made strong friendships with Luo people. Friendships, with strong bonds. Some of the friendships persist to date. And all the stereotypes I had prior disappeared like thin dew in a sunny morning.
Fast-forward. It is 29th August, 2011. I am in a pink shirt, yellow trouser, brown shoes, and a jumper. Friends, among them a Kikuyu, would later tell me that on that first day, the day of admission to law school, I looked like a clown. Or a chameleon.
It was different for Michael Muyoma. I stood behind him in the queue, while several eager first years were milling around. They looked lost. Like a fish on land, waiting to finish with the registration, and go hunt for a campus lover.
Behind Michael, I am chatting with a newfound friend. It must have been Seth. Michael will later tell me that my twang almost made him change his mind about joining law school. I actually first learnt of the world ‘twang’ from him.
In the evening, when we are all done, I meet Jeff Njuguna. Jeff is my neighbor at King Solomon Hostels. A first year. Has a laptop, woofer, TV, and the heart of Mother Theresa. If we get time, or in another post, we will talk about his woofer, the deafening volume of his music, how having such things made for a quintessential student – and how the loud music is the only thing I have against Jeff – for in all else, Michael was an angel.
After admission, my father left me with ten thousand shillings as pocket money. Never before had I laid my hands on ten thousand shillings stacked together. And never before had I two thousand shillings or more which I could call mine.
With ten thousand shillings, all withdrawn from MPesa, and forced into a wallet that had seen better days, I felt rich. Rich enough that for the first time in my life I tipped a waiter and foot the bill for all my friends with whom I was taking dinner that evening.
As I retired that very day, I had 7,300/- remaining in the wallet. But by my standards that was still rich. So rich that when a friend whom I had met a few times before joining campus came and asked to borrow three thousand shillings to refund the following week with Kshs. 500 on top as interest, I had no qualms counting a wand of three one thousand notes and handing it to him like I am Dangote’s boss’s boss.
At the end of the week, I had made very many friends. Very many. They were very many. As many as the money that I had lost. In my pocket I had no penny. A fool and his money are soon parted.
That is when I became a poet, I think. The thing with poverty is that it makes you a philosopher.
I was never to get the refund of money loaned. I was also not to enjoy the many friendships longer than a week. I was also not to call back home saying I am broke – because at that time, ten thousand was my father’s salary, and he’d given me all of it.
Enter Jeff Njuguna.
Two days of loneliness after friends have become busy, and the taps of wealth have dried up, and strong tea with loaned bread is now becoming too much as breakfast lunch and supper, and I am on the verge of packing up my meager belongings to go to Nairobi, preach at Jeevanjee, and collect alms…..
Jeff learns of my predicament, somehow. He loans me two thousand shillings, and patting my shoulder, says, ‘this is gratuitous, don’t feel in a hurry to pay.’
Such a friend. Wait?! Isn’t he a Kikuyu?!
Maybe he is the only Kikuyu that is not greedy, dishonest, and malicious.
In the course of the next four years, I meet a Kamau, a senior, who helped me with classwork; Wairimu, also a neighbor, very gracious and generous, who could pray for all her friends, including myself; Njoroge, whom I saw pay a hospital bill of Kshs. 6000 for a mutual friend who’d suddenly fallen sick; And Mathayo, Wambui, and many many others.
But I also met Kahiga who left with my wallet. Didn’t have a thing in there though.
Galileo Galilei had a number of illegitimate children. But the one history documents was Sr. Clare. As a devout Catholic, Galileo gave his daughter to the ministry of God and the church.
But the man was not at peace.
An ambitious scholar, he’d discovered that the earth is not geocentric, as Aristotle had stated much earlier. He discovers the earth is spherical. And when he announces that to the world, the world he loved, and the church unto which he’d dedicated his beautiful daughter, all hell broke loose.
He was charged with heresy. I think he was later ex-communicated from the church in addition to being put under house arrest.
Modern science holds it as an unimpeachable fact that the world is spherical and not flat with four corners or geocentric.
Legend has it that Galileo did not like the lens the opticians of the time had made for him. He decided to make his own lens. And after the lens, the telescope.
From a vantage, or raised point, he could observe ships as they came and left the shore. Then questions. An avalanche of questions.
The most important question of them all was why it is not possible to see the ship drift on the waters from one shore to the other? And why does it appear that when the ships are approaching the shore, they are rising from a lower place?
And today we hold it as true that Galileo was well ahead of his time, and that the earth is spherical, and the people that wanted to kill him were, or are, morons.
He questioned. He was curious. He ventured beyond the realms of popular beliefs, defied dogma, questioned, challenged, and when he was done, we had the telescope – and an ancillary – MODERN PHYSICS.
Someone remarked that Galileo was a good Christian, only that he did not believe the Bible is a good textbook for astronomy.
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Through blood, tears, and sweat, nations have established themselves. But hate, suspicion, and dogma have torn others apart.
As we grow, we get newer and better perspectives on our world, our people, and the human nature. Dogmas, stereotypes, and fallacious beliefs usually grow in the night of ignorance.
Nature has so designed that the world becomes better and better through knowledge and technology. Things that are accepted today were taboo a few hundred years ago. To the run-in-the-mill catholic at the time of Galileo, saying the earth is spherical was tantamount to blasphemy. Today, if you do not know that the world is spherical, you are ignorant.
The same way knowledge and technology evolves is the same way a human should evolve. In his tastes, speech, manners, and perception. It’d be remiss of me to still consider Luos as pejoratively as I did when I was a child. Same with Kikuyus, Luhyas, Kambas, or Europeans, Asians, and Hindus.
With the benefit of education and exposure, I now have got better judgment of issues, people, and their customs.
Obviously this is not the acme of education, or enlightenment, or emancipation. Though, it is the beginning of a great adventure and realization – that there is a bit of each of us in each of us, and in us, there is each, and in each, there is us!
The world is vast, mysterious, and marvelous. God gave us both the eye to see the beauty he created, and a mind perceptively strong enough to behold, wonder, and fathom.
It will be sad then that we fail to see nature’s unutterable lessons, brought forth in every blooming flower, in its season, in their fragrance, and diversity. That diversity is beautiful – and it is the design of God.
True education, or enlightenment, is not sitting on the mountaintop of academic achievement, with trophies and certificates and degrees strewn all over, wearing a cap, regurgitating to the world what is already in their folklore, or books, or some other annals for preservation of knowledge. It is about leaving, as Columbus did, to worlds yonder, to ideas forbidden, to knowledge hidden – following through the mystery of the unknown, to uncover gems, worthy gems, that shall be the foundation of tomorrow’s education.
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Congratulations! if you read every word to this point. I had a thoughtful afternoon, so I let my thoughts ramble on their own – long as they may be.