Idriss is dejected. Why is life so unfair to him? He has worked so hard on this thesis. But his supervisor has let him down. The lecturer has never been in a hurry, though Idriss met all their agreed timelines. Now Idriss is going to miss out on the promotion. Nancy will surely get it now.
Idriss is the Assistant Programmes Officer at Sisi Wa Haki Confederation (SWHC), an NGO that champions for democracy and human rights. Recently, the Programmes Officer, Smith Jones, resigned after getting a job with UNICEF. Though quite young at 28, Idriss is confident of getting the job. Okay, he was confident until he got the news that he would not be graduating this year. He has been involved with the civil society for most of his adult life. He has participated in street demonstrations, including the one that included pigs and blood outside Parliament. While at the University, he did several internships with local NGOs.
Idriss holds a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Nairobi. Even before graduating, he was hired by Sisi Ni Raia Pia Initiative (SNRPI) a small NGO that champions the rights of the Muslim community in Kenya. Being a youthful, energetic, fiery, eloquent and yes, handsome man, he quickly made his presence felt. During the time that terrorists had almost overrun the country, and the government became heavy handed with Muslims, Idriss led many street protests in Mombasa and Nairobi to fight for the rights of Muslims. Whenever a Muslim cleric was shot by whoever, Idriss marshalled young people to hit the streets. When Somalis were rounded up to Kasarani, Idriss hit the streets. Soon, he was being invited to TV stations for interviews on the rights of Muslims.
It is this profile that attracted Sisi Wa Haki Confederation, and they gave him a job as the Assistant Programmes Officer. He accepted, because SWHC, being a larger organisation, would expose him to a wider scope of human rights and democracy issues beyond the rights of the Islamic community. Plus, they had a better remuneration package.
Idriss loves his job. He sincerely believes that all people should be treated with dignity. That the government should not mistreat anyone for any reason. Plus his current job comes with perks. He can afford a one bedroom apartment in a nice, quiet neigbourhood. And a decent, though second hand, Toyota Camry. And he has also been able to travel to many African Cities attending human rights conferences. Addis Ababa. Arusha. Banjul. Casablanca. Dakar. Johannesburg. Tunis. Just to name but a few.
But Idriss constantly feels left behind. Although most of his classmates are languishing as pupils in law firms, earning peanuts, he feels that they have an upper hand over him because they went to the Kenya School of Law. That they will get admitted to the Bar and surpass him. Further, that those who did not join the Kenya School of Law but joined the corporate giants are doing much better. Earning bigger salaries. Hefty bonuses. And holiday trips abroad, sponsored by their employers.
To be honest, that is why he applied for the Masters of Law degree in Democracy and Governance. He felt it would give him a competitive edge over his peers. And when Smith resigned, Idriss had been elated. He was made the Acting Programmes Officer until the Board appoints a substantive one.
Until today, he had been confident of getting the job. He has all the qualifications the Board listed, except for the Masters degree. And that did not worry him because he had been sure he would graduate this year. He would confidently bring this fact to the attention of the Board and they would surely consider him as having the degree. Besides, he felt that his main competitor, Nancy, was not as qualified as he was. She is the legal officer at Uamuzi Wetu Foundation, another local NGO. She had a Masters degree yes, but she lacks the experience he has in Civil Society. She has only been at Uamuzi wetu for a year, and before that had worked in a corporate law firm. She lacks the pedigree of an activist. But now he wasn’t so sure. Without the Masters, the board might decide to take Nancy. Because the truth is, in that one year, she has earned her stripes at Uamuzi Wetu.
He starts walking dejectedly towards his car. On the way, he meets Peninah, a classmate. Peninah is a jovial girl.
“Hey Penn. You look so happy. You must be on the graduation list.”
“No, I am not. But happiness is not pegged on some silly list, is it?”
“You have a point. But when you work so hard yet miss out, that can be depressing. Anyhow, why didn’t you make it? I thought you completed your thesis ages ago?”
“Yes I did. But I did not meet the threshold of class attendance. I am shy of the minimum by one class”
“Yea, wewe unapenda kuskive classes sana. Especially last semester”
Peninah laughs again.
“Si kupenda Idriss. Nilikuwa hosi,”
“Hizo siku zote? Kwani ulikuwa mgonjwa wapi?”
“You are kidding”
“No I am not”
“But I thought it is genetic and lifelong?”
“Yes it is. I have lived with it all my life.”
“But you are always so happy and healthy!”
Peninah laughs again.
“Look Idriss. Are you going to town?”
“Si you can drop me off there? Let me just drop these doctor’s reports at the dean’s office. Perhaps she will consider allowing me to graduate without that one class attendance”
“I pray she does. No problem, find me in the car”
As she trots away, Idriss walks to his car and heaves himself behind the steering wheel. He thinks about Peninah. Such a jovial girl. Who could have thought? He still does not believe it, although she has no reason to lie to him. He has always envied her, assuming she is a rich, happy girl with a smooth sailing life. A knock at the window breaks his reverie. He lowers the window, and motions Peninah to the passenger seat.
“Tell me Peninah, how can you be so happy yet you are constantly sick?”
“Everyone has problems Idriss, but we all have things to be grateful for”
“But still…being sick often must be something else. That cannot be funny”
“Hahaha! Being sick is not even the worst part, the drugs are. Those things are just depressing. But like I said, I have many things to be grateful to God for”
There is a brief silence. Idriss tries to imagine what it would feel like to be constantly unwell. He shivers at the thought of his last visit to the hospital, when malaria had gotten the better of him. Then Peninah speaks.
“Look Idriss. It is not like I am a bag of helpless bones needing sympathy. I have a lot of good things going on for me. The pain is manageable with drugs. And my parents, though not rich, have always been able to afford health insurance. They have given me a good home, food and education. Do you know how many people are starving on the streets? I got this scholarship to do the masters even though I was far from being top of my LL.B class. And that’s something. I have finished Kenya School of Law and passed all my exams. Do you know how many people failed? I have pupilage, even though it is not in a top tier law firm. Do you know how many people are jobless? Did you hear that story about Masters degree holders seeking Tuskys internships? No, Idriss. I am blessed by God. I cannot live my life whining just because of sickle cell.”
Idriss thinks about this. He considers his own life. He suddenly feels embarrassed. He has always lived a life of discontent. Comparing himself with others, who he thinks are doing better than himself. Yet the truth is, he has many things to be grateful for. Far too many, in fact. He sighs and turns the ignition key, starting the car.
“Let’s start going before you start preaching to me about Christ,” he says half-jokingly.
“Now that you mention it. I know you are Muslim, but would you by any chance know what Psalm 23 says? Come on, even if it is the Koran version.”
They both laugh good-naturedly as Idriss reverses the car and noses it towards the University exit.
*** **** **** **** **** ****
This is obviously a fictional story, but it was inspired by a friend of mine who has sickle cell. A happy, photogenic bird, and one of the kindest people I have met yet. We met sometime last week, and in the course of our conversation, I mentioned apologetically that I had heard that she had been recently in hospital but I hadn’t managed to go see her. She explained she had not been admitted, just treated and allowed to go home. Then our conversation somehow shifted to her condition. She escorted me to the matatu stage as she told me about her life journey with the condition, since childhood. I asked if I could write a fictional piece about it, and she asked why. I said “because some people need to be reminded that they should stop whining and count their blessings”. She said okay, write away. So ladies and gentlemen, I do not know how big your challenges in life are, what I know is that you have plenty of reasons to be grateful.
Image courtesy of: http://www.our-lady.net