November is my birthday month, and also a time of introspection for me. This is the season where I take stock of my life. I will be turning 27 in a few days’ time. First, there is plenty of reason to be grateful. Second, what next for the future?
The first major challenge in my life that I can remember came when I had finished primary school. When the results came out, I was staying with my aunt Lucy in Embu town. I had scored an impressive 438/500, and I was over the moon. My aunt was more excited than I was. She literally could not sit still. And when finally time to go home came, my mom organized a home coming party. I was a village hero. A pint sized icon with oversize clothes.
The first disappointment was that for some reason I did not make it to a national school. But that did not bother me much because I had my eyes on Nguviu High, which was then the best school in the region. But then the school insisted that it was a district school, and as such could only admit students from Embu district. Having sat my KCPE in Meru South district, I did not qualify. I was admitted to Ikuu Boys. I did not know the school, but I was assured it was a good school. Then came the first major test. I did not have school fees to join the school. My excitement petered out and I started staying more and more to myself. The Presbyterian Church organized many seminars for those joining high school, but I skipped many of them. What was the point? I wasn’t going to high school anyway. It was depressing. I had a million questions for God. Why did He allow me for pass so well if my dreams were to die out just like that? But I have an iron lady for a grandma. Mrs Maroncha has this unwavering faith in God that leaves me astounded. She assured me that I would go to school. Even when we both knew my situation was bleak.
The miracle did happen on Saturday 31st of January, and I was able to join the others on reporting date, Monday, 2nd February. When I was told we were going shopping that Saturday, I thought I was being asked to tag along as grandma walked from one end of the market to the other looking for a mama selling cabbage at 17 shillings instead of 18. So I was not interested. But mum was standing behind her smiling, which was funny given the circumstances. So when they said we were going to buy my school stuff, I was stunned. Apparently a deal had miraculously come through. I have never seen my mom more overjoyed.
Ikuu Boys was a bit of a disappointment. The buildings were old and run-down. It looked anything but a prestigious Provincial School it was said to be. But later that month the KCSE results were announced, and the school was top in the region, and 40th nationally. It was a moment of pride for us, and I settled in.
Now, I have never really had books as the only focus of my life. I have always been in leadership and one co-curricular activity or the other. I was appointed class prefect in Std 1, and stayed a prefect for most of my Primary School time, then exception being classes 4, 5 and 6. I was also always involved in music festivals, where I did solo verse speaking, and later, public speech. The trend continued in High School. I joined drama club and continued to participate in Music Festivals. Only that this time I wrote my own poems for these competitions. For three years in a row, I lost at the Provincial level, never making it to the Nationals. And for some reason, I always came third, all the three years. The most painful was when I was in form three, and I came third (again) in both public speech and solo verse. Painful because our school policy did not allow form fours to go for music festivals. So it was my last attempt. The public speech was agonizingly close, as I lost by a single mark to a girl from Siakago Girls, who came second and qualified for the Nationals alongside the winner. Okay, she deserved to beat me. She was a fine girl who filtered the words through the nose, and rolled them out of a sleek tongue. She must be lawyer somewhere today, that girl. Or a news anchor.
I was also involved in leadership, holding various positions in the school and the Christian Union (CU). I ended up as the School Head Boy and the CU chairman. I did not slow down in campus, but continued to do a million things at once. I lived the campus life to the fullest. I participated fully in the CU. I did legal aid with Kituo cha Sheria. I participated in Moot Court competitions. And by the time I retired in fourth year, I was the CU chairman at Parklands and the Regional Chairman of CUs in Northern Nairobi under the auspices of Focus Kenya. I was also the vice chairman of Students Association for Legal Aid and Research (SALAR). It is while at campus that I perfected the art of juggling the many hats I wore, and finding balance.
This skill served me well last year. See, I did not have the luxury of being a full time student at the Kenya School of Law. The burden of raising school fees was already too much for my parents, and so I had to work for my sustenance in the City. So I worked while schooling, if only to be able to pay rent, eat and afford fare to school. And I worked all the way to the day of the exam. This was no big deal. I was already used to it. If anything, I remained an active member of the worship team at my church, and even had enough time to woo a girl.
This year came with a bunch of surprises. At this time last year, I did not know I would be blogging. But in January this year, Sanctuaryside was born. I started writing regularly in March. I was apprehensive at first. I did not know whether I would keep the pace, and I hate starting projects I cannot finish. But at Sanctuaryside we have done well. I have managed to write a piece every week, leading to over 40 pieces to date. We started with a small community, the people who kept faithfully reading and urging me on. My dad, Jackie Naserian, Jackie KaBen, Sue Githu, Charity Gakii, Kemboi Kosgey, Julius Nyaga, Evans Ntwiga and a few others, I am grateful. You don’t know what your support meant to me.
The community has grown. We have many more of you who are regular readers. Some even take time when we meet to share their opinion on the content or style, like Meja and Judy Makori. I can only say, thank you people. Inevitably, there are people I have not met personally yet, but they are vocal members of this growing community. People like Mideva Chole, Charity Mwangi, Muhash Maina, Ben Kirethiu and others, asanteni. Then there is the battalion that reads and quietly leaves, but mention the stories whenever I see them in public spaces. Or send me private messages and emails. Asanteni. Finally there are the ghost readers. The largest battalion of them all, who just read and quietly leave. Thank you all. We cannot stop without mentioning Charles Mugambi (CMF), and his outfit, Digital Buddies. This is the guy who helped me transition from free WordPress to the self-hosted blog. And the thing with self-hosted is, if you are a technology blonde like me, you are in trouble. But CMF is more than reliable. He is always there to deal with all the technical hitches that plague the blog. That leaves me free to focus on writing. Those of you blogging on free WordPress should give him a try.
I am taking a break in the month of December. I may be occasionally posting some old poems of mine, but I am not writing anything fresh. Thing is, these 44 pieces are all random. You know, unplanned ideas mixed up together. I want from next year to tailor the message of the blog into more specific themes. This means I will need some time off to decide what really the overall message I want to convey is. Your thoughts cannot hurt, so feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Ely Band was the other surprise of the year. When I was elected to lead the team early in the year, I was not sure whether I should accept or not. I did not know which direction I would be expected to lead the team. But I took the challenge, and I do not regret it. This is an awesome crowd. And the Lord has been faithful. The Hymn festival, RoG Sacco services and the upcoming Christmas Carol service, surely God has been good to us. I am also grateful for the support of the church leadership, especially the Senior Pastor, Rev. Tony Kiama, and Associate Pastors, Rev Carol Kiama and Rev Samuel Matiko. I am still persuaded we can do more. Concerts in prisons? Children’s homes? We should make it our business to reach out especially to the disadvantaged in the society. But the end of year retreat is coming up, and we can discuss all that. But I love all you people. Ely Band rocks.
My current job was also a surprise. Commercial law was always my soft underbelly, right from my days at UoN Law School. And by the end of last year I was comfortably settling in at my former firm, a predominantly civil litigation firm. Before that I had been at Katiba Institute, where I had been on a roll. Katiba Institute does mainly constitutional law, which has always been my area of interest. So I was in my element. My comfort zone. Then the call came in early January and I allowed myself to be persuaded to jump ship. And here I found myself confronted with everything commercial, from securities to joint ventures. I have been out of my depth many times. But I have survived, thanks to a calm, patient and reassuring boss. This week at a staff meeting I was told I would be dealing more exclusively with the Company Law work at the firm. Oh well. But it is time I became an expert in this thing, no? So bring it on.
Of course there are some regrets. Angaza Legacy being top of the list. This is an initiative we started with a bunch of friends while we were in campus. We mentored high school students through their law clubs. We travelled to Murang’a, Kiambu, Limuru and around Nairobi. Then we ran out of steam. James Mbugua, Harrison Otieno, Emma Wabuke, Lillian Wambui, was this thing to die so unceremoniously? We should at least have had a succession plan so that the initiative could outlive our presence. Then there is L4Y Movement that I was asked to join earlier in the year. It is an initiative by young lawyers to offer free legal services to poor young people. I think it is an excellent idea, but I find myself pressed of time. Even for a person who does multiple things at the same time, there are limits. Because there is such a thing as burn out. Plus there are relationships, you know, family, romantic and platonic to sustain. But I like what you are doing Brenda and your team, keep at it.
It has been an incredible 27 years. Looking back, I can only be grateful to God for the far I have come. I still look at the future with optimism. I can only pray that He gives me the strength and courage to complete whatever task He has for me in this lifetime, so that as an old man I can look back and say that indeed it has been a life well lived. (Today’s blogpost has been longer than usual, but then it is the last of the year. So Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year. We meet here again on Friday, the 6th of January.)