These days the word ‘networking’ has been glorified. Everywhere you turn you hear people talking about how networking is ‘everything’ these days. I don’t dispute it. Meeting people is important. It does open up many opportunities. The folly is when we imagine that networking is crowding around a celebrity or politician to grab selfie moments. The truth is, if someone doesn’t get to know you then the selfies in your phone only serve to feed your ego. And your social media timeline too. But nothing more.
People also imagine that networking only involves meeting the high and mighty in the society. I have even heard preachers telling people not to associate with people of a lower class than them if they want to succeed in life. That we should always look up when choosing friends. Which Bible do we read again? I thought Jesus was all about interacting with everyone? Wait. Do we even have classes in this country? Do we have Dalits like the Indians? My great-grandfather Kiome wa Nyamba was a medicine man, so I must have some status in the society. You see, it is hereditary. The old man was as sharp as they come. Family tradition says that when my grandfather was young, he fell ill. My great-grandfather’s potent herbs could not cure him, so he sent him to the mission post that Dr. Clive Irvin, a Scottish doctor, had set up.
The boy was miraculously healed, and Kiome was impressed. So he sent the boy to the mission school presumably to understand the white man’s ways, especially the medicine. But my grandfather proved to lack the vision of the old man. He ended up becoming a teacher, and thereby shattering my chances of inheriting a giant herbal medicine empire. Right now I would be in the Amazon studying the exotic herbs to come up with a cure for cancer. My great-grandfather’s genes that are resident in me are saying that a mixture of anaconda meat and the dry leaves of a Mukinduri tree can prove to be a potent dose. Anyway, that said, which class should I associate with? Medicine men are not mere mortals so I cannot mingle with ordinary folks. No, I can only network with rain makers, wizards and spiritualists. Maybe a politician here and there when my humility allows.
But due to my grandfather’s short sightedness, I have had to associate with regular folks. What I have learnt in the process is that there are powerful networks that people often overlook. Security guards for instance. These people can unlock doors you would never imagine. Once, when I was a second year at law school, I went with my two friends Harrison and Emma for a moot court competition at the UN Complex at Gigiri. As we made our first presentation, there was a security guard at the door. When we finished, we approached the guy and greeted him, and introduced ourselves. He introduced himself as Robert and we started a conversation as we walked. When we approached a cafeteria, he suggested that we stop for a meal. Harrison and I coughed and looked down. We were dead broke but our bloated masculine egos did not want to admit it. After all, we were suited up and thought ourselves lawyers just like every other second year who has not yet even mastered the Law of Evidence. But Emma had no such qualms.
“Robert enyewe sisi ni wanafunzi na standard za hapa hatuwezi afford,” she said.
“Msijali, nitalipa,” he replied.
And so we went to the cafeteria and ordered meals. As we ate, Robert coached us on the moot. He pointed out our mistakes and told us how to correct them. As we talked, he told us he was actually a lawyer and had worked for the police before resigning to join the UN. At that point, he told us, he had already saved enough money to start his own security company and was contemplating resigning. We went ahead and won the competition, and my friends will agree with me that the advice from Robert helped.
The value of Robert was not just because he was a lawyer. I have many other security guard friends. When I completed my studies at the University, I co-rented a house with a friend. We had high hopes of getting employed and had no intentions of going back to the village. Personally, I knew there was no way I was going to Chuka. The town has only a few legal kiosks that employ only secretaries and clerks. Some do not even pay them regularly. So we hit the streets and started tarmacking looking for internships in law firms. We would google the names of law firms and their addresses and print them on CVs and start delivering them. Some buildings we would go and be told the particular law firm had moved. Other places the secretaries would candidly tell us they were not hiring because they lacked space…or had already taken up interns. Other places they would just smile, take our applications and promise to call back.
I remember I endured one particularly frustrating day with two lady friends. At the end of the day one of the girls told us she was fed up and was going back to her father’s house. The other girl and I knew that was not an option. What do you mean…we either had to get something to do or go back to the village to weed arrowroots. If we chose the latter we would spend our days reading coffee berries their rights before plucking them:
“Coffee berry, you are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you at Cirigwa factory.” Coffee berries are smart. They would choose to remain silent, even as we gathered evidence to use in the trial to determine whether they were ripe berries or mbuni (dry berries that are weighed separately).
Anyway, that lady and I found online writing jobs. That is where my networks came in. I did not have internet in my house, but I lived near UoN Lower Kabete campus. The only problem was that my UoN ID had expired, so they wouldn’t allow me to use the library, or even enter the campus with my laptop. So I had to employ my social skills to befriend the guards. Before long, they did not even ask to see my ID. They just smiled and waved me on. And that is how I earned rent for a couple of months, doing research for a bunch of lazy kids in Kentucky. But that was only possible because of the friendly guards.
Or the boda boda guy. Recently, I went to Baringo County with my friend Brian Tororei. We were conducting a weekend challenge at Poror High School. Poror also happens to be Toro’s village. And the guy is like an MCA there. We left the school on a Sunday at lunch hour, to enable us to travel back to the City on time. But we decided that courtesy required us to pass by his home and greet his folks. That is where the problem arose. It took us forever on that path from the school to his house. We would be stopped every two seconds for people to shake the hands of their Kanjura. The young men updated him on the progress of the local football team. The older men wanted to consult and share wisdom with their celebrated heir. The older women just swooned at the sight of their son from the city, and the girls-wait, I didn’t see any girl on that path that afternoon. Maybe they had been kept out of sight out of respect for the Kanjura. It’s a patriarchal society after all.
Anyway, we left Poror at close to 6pm. We approached Gilgil at around 9pm, and I knew then that I would need some means to take me to my house. You see, I live quite some distance from the main road. That is when it occurred to me that I did not know a single boda boda guy. And at midnight you do not just pick any of them. Some of them are rogues and would be the ones to cleanse you of your belongings. Luckily, I called one of my friends who lives not far from where I live and he sent me the number of a trustworthy motorcycle guy. And that is how I got home in one piece.
Lady Blubird, who made a guest post here earlier this week, even has a specific bus she boards. There was this day I happened to travel with her. As we approached the stage, there was this bus and several 14 seater matatus. The matatu conductors scrambled towards us but the bus conductor did not even bother. By the way I don’t like buses. I just don’t. So I started scanning the smaller matatus looking for the one that had prospects of getting full quickly. As we approached the vehicles, the bus conductor greeted us and exchanged brief pleasantries with Lady Blubird. Then she approached the door of the bus and I was like:
“Ngoja. Mimi sipandi basi by the way,”
She laughed. She has this soft laughter that exposes rows of well aligned milk-white teeth, and makes her eyes dance. I suspect that laughter could have melted the heart of the Pharaoh and saved Egypt from the plagues.
“Hii basi ikiwa kwa stage siwezi panda gari ingine.” That was the end of the discussion. Later, she lectured me on the importance of being loyal:
“huwezi jua ile siku utasahu wallet”
The point of this blogpost is to make a case on the importance of forging friendships as opposed to the vanity that is the celebrity selfie craze. And yes, forming acquaintances with the high and mighty is important. They have access to places we can’t reach. But it is even more important to reach out to the regular people we interact with on a day to day basis. The mama mboga you don’t feel the need to take selfies with. Chances are, she will be of more use to you than the American Ambassador.