AN OPEN LETTER TO THE HIGH SCHOOL LEAVERS

Woman reading a letter.

On your 19th birthday, you’ll be seated alone, in your parents’ house. In the background, a fridge will be humming like a plane taxiing down the runway. Silence will be shouting from all corners of the house.

Your father is not a birthday man, so, you won't mention that you just turned nineteen. If at all you do, he will look at you for a moment, only to burst out asking,

“Kwani you think you are the first one to turn nineteen?”

You’ll stand by the window as he leaves for work and wonder how his teenage years were? How was his 19th birthday? Did he have a girlfriend then, or he was just as single and without prospects as you are now? Did he host a party? Did he invite all his friends for a drink? Did they bring him a cake?

But you won’t ask, the two of you are like strangers in that house. It's your mother who moderates conversations, without her, shit would have blown up. You in ICU and your father in jail, or vice versa. But don’t worry my G we all go through that father hating stage. That stage, where he looks down upon you like some pesky vermin. And you feel anger frothing deep inside whenever you see him, you’ll get over it though. We all do.

Soon you’ll be cool with him, he will show you a nice barber and start giving you lessons on manhood, how to be an upright citizen, a loyal friend, and most important a good boyfriend. It might seem like gibberish but in your second semester on campus, it will hit you.

“Oh man! That geezer is right.”

So, listen to him. He might be coming home drunk, singing all the way to bed. But when he’s sober, there are lessons you can pick from him.

You will tell your mum that it's your birthday. She will scream with joy and hug you, compressing you in a vice-like grip. You’ll want to shout.

“Easy mum, you’re suffocating me.”

But that instant of boundless love won’t let you. Nobody in the world hugs you as she does. So, you’ll sit tight as you soak up each other. Tears welling up in your eyes. Finally, after an eternity of a hug, your mum will let go, saying.

“Things are tight, but I’ll see what I can do.”

She too will leave for work.

At around 10 am, you’ll get an m-pesa. Followed by, “see what you can do”. It won’t be much, but then, money has never been enough. You will think of stuff to do, certainly not throwing a party. You talk to about three people in the estate. The watchman who helped you find your cat when it strayed and the lady who sweeps leaves off the estate driveways. You never actually talk, just mumbles of Hellos and His. The person you talk to, more than your parents is a chick on house number 12. You will call, wanting to spend your birthday with her. Maybe she will finally accept to be your girl.

“Hello, Cindy wassup? What are you up to?”

“Hi Mike, I am good. Nothing much, I am at my boyfriend’s place.”

Boyfriend??? You will want to ask, but words will desert you. You thought you were in the prime position to rope her in. To save face, you’ll roll on.

“It’s my birthday, thought we could hang out together, maybe visit some restaurant for lunch, the works.”

“Sorry, I am really far. Don’t think I can make it, though I would love to.”

“I understand, si we talk later.”

You will mumble and cut off the connection. It will be your first taste of heartbreak, ashen and metallic in your mouth. She will put up a picture of you on her WhatsApp status followed by all manner guff captions.

“Birthday boy, have a blast, live now.”

All that modern social media showmanship, but you could care less.

A feeling of desolation will be following you around as you try to find a nice restaurant to spoil yourself. In the borders of town, you’ll get a chilled place. You’ll sit by the window and order, cake and pineapple juice. You’ve always loved pineapples, the fleeting sweetness on your tongue, calming your soul.

The restaurant will be mildly debonair, few people streaming in and out. An occasional old man with a hot chick in tow. Couples may be on honeymoon or may be out there to breathe life into their boring marriage. Tourists stopping over before they continue to the Mara to witness the great wildebeest migration. It’s funny, we Kenyans care less about wildebeests, less even their rights. But an aging white man and his wife will set off from Arizona to witness this spectacle. The river. Ancient crocodiles. Wildebeests. A clash of bone, muscle, and razor-sharp teeth. An eternal tempest at the Mara. But then, we Kenyans have more important things to do with our lives. Why on our ancestors’ blood would we go watch animals jump to Tanzania?? Are we crazy?

You’ll ask yourself all this as you bite last from your cake. You’ll log on to Instagram, like a few pictures but social media has never been your thing. Thus, bored out of your hoots, you will wander off to the bar section. You’re nineteen, after all, banners say ‘not to be sold to persons under eighteen years old’. You passed that milestone a year ago, though it feels like centuries have flown by.

The bar section will be devoid of life, just a lonely white couple having a drink. Probably husband and wife. Before you find a seat, they will call you over. Ask you to have a shot of whiskey, you’ll decline and they will be amused.

“What the hell are you doing here if you don’t drink?”

“I just want to watch, see what goes on around”

“What do you want from life? Career wise?” The man will ask.

“I don’t know. Maybe a pilot, or a lawyer or a poet. I am really confused.”

“I think you can make a good journalist.”

The wife will say in between pauses to down her drink.
A funny friendship will be born. You will talk, of books, of wildlife, of colonial rule. At the end of the day, they will wish you a happy birthday and offer to drop you home. When they will be leaving Kenya back to winter of Minnesota, they will m-pesa you 30k.

But then, you don’t meet good people in a bar. You don’t meet a couple that sends you m-pesa worth 30k anywhere in this world, not unless you are dealing with pimps and drug dealers.

That side of the tale is over. Can I talk to the real dreamers of the time? High school leavers?

Now, dear high school leaver. Maybe the following will happen when you join campus, or maybe not. But see, this is not a map to guide you. Not a reference point. This is not advice, and surely not counsel. This is not a prophecy, not a premonition. Don’t recommend it to your brother or sister who just finished high school. It won’t change his life, he won’t have a better perspective of the world.

You will battle with career identity. You won’t have any freaking idea on what you want to do with life. One chilly morning you will check the universities placement website (I would have used KUCCPS but then there are 10 fellas from Indonesia who read this blog, honestly, they can’t piece together what KUCCPS is.)

The ghosts who do placement will choose medicine for you. Your parents will slaughter the biggest cockerel in celebration. You will join the campus but one month into the course, you will realize that you’re not into Medicine. You can’t deal with poking around cadavers. You can’t eat after an anatomy class. You had A grades, and folks say you’re extremely smart. Back home your aunts address you as “Doctor.”

Deep down, you don’t think of yourself as a doctor. You want to do botany and take care of flowers. Or animal husbandry, and keep lotsa rabbits. Sometimes you fancy yourself an interior designer. It’s all a quagmire. One night you call your mum and inform her that you’re quitting med school. She erupts like an angry Volcano.

“Huh! Teresia what’s wrong with you? Have you been bewitched? How can you leave medicine for Christ’s sake? People are fighting out here to do such a course”

“But Ma, I just don’t want to do it. I don’t think of myself as this successful doctor, walking around, giving people injections. It's not in me.”

“So, what do you want to do?”

“Interior design.”

The line will click dead. Your own mother would have stood you up. You won’t know what to do. You will be afraid, confused. You will keep going to Med classes but it will feel like torture. As if someone poured whiskey on your heart. One morning you will receive an e-mail. It will change everything.

You are going to meet a girl. She will be pretty and hot and beautiful. Your first conversation will be tainted with ice. Because it doesn’t make sense why she would want to talk to you. A village braggart who doesn’t understand how the city works. But then, you’ll click like crazy. As if your ancestors have been rooting for you. She will be the city chick you always pictured in your dreams and you will be the kind of guy she always wanted.

You won’t last long though. Weeks into the unlikely union, roses will dry up. An argument will erupt.

“Osoch are you serious about us?”

“Of course, I am serious.” You will say without looking away from the laptop where you’ll be typing.

“Dammit, guy! You can’t even create time for me. I feel like I am alone in this relationship. You don’t show initiative, I am always making plans.”

It would be true. You will push away your laptop and say.

“Don’t be like that Judy*. You know I got lots of stuff going on, but I am always here for you.”

It will be a cold lie. You will only be thinking of the dreams you’re chasing, all the stuff you want to achieve. And she will see right through your wiles.

“I don’t think I want to go on like this.”

That would be it. The relationship will receive a blow it would never recover from. There won’t be any goodbyes. You will be looking at each other in the past tense. Your dreams trained somewhere else, her guns trained somewhere else. You will pass each other in hallways and mumble hellos. Trying to act like you’re both adults and it’s all cool. Only that it won’t be, never will. The past will keep resurfacing. Some people will see through the phoney geniality. And you will learn that you shouldn’t get into a relationship just for the kicks of it. If you ain’t ready, keep off.

Do you want a friendship with “benefits”? There’s third-year chick you will meet. Exotically hot in the right places. Beautiful in a mischievous way. Every time you see her, your hormones will be racing. In the maddest twist of fate, she will say hi and ask for your contact. Days will fade away. Nights will dissolve into light and one Friday afternoon, your WhatsApp will ping.

It will be her. Direct to the point, no beating about the bush.

“Do you want a friendship with ‘benefits’?”

Of course, you’ll understand the coded language. It’s not like she’s an insurance person sending you those lousy emails. “Pick our plan with numerous ‘benefits’.”
You won’t know how to reply. You will start typing, but you will delete it all. Yes, you could get it on with her, but this was too poignant, too straight to the point. Yes, you talk about how you like ladies who are direct, but that will shake your intestines for some time. You won’t reply, days will pass. She will text again.

“I take that as a no?”

You will tell her to let you think about it. But then you know damn well you won’t reach a decision. How can you? And how do you even say it? Even if deep down you want benefits? Maybe it is a trap.

Some students will be filthy rich. Folks will always have more money than you. They will go partying in exclusive clubs with the hottest chicks, while a nasty dry spell whistles at you from the windows of your bedsitter. You will wonder where they get their money? How they get it? You’ll ask them how they do it. Amidst guffawing laughter, they’ll say.

“I am in business bruh. Just work hard.”

You will want to ask what kind of business but then, you won’t want to sound needy.

This is it. No man is going to let you in on his sources of mullah. So do your thing, find your way.

At some point, you will discover reading. It will bring solace home, the world and lay it to your feet. You will find peace in words. And then you will discover blogs. You will love a blog like UNBOUNDED WISDOM, it will teach you about life. Things to do with philosophy, how to keep your focus, how to relate with people. It will be like a second teacher. A companion.

Social media is a scam. You will discover a kingdom called Twitter, a vast wasteland of vanity. There will be foot soldiers, Kenyans on Twitter (KOT). An unforgiving infantry of battle-hardened warriors, they will destroy anything on their path. They don’t have a centurion, they don’t have a base. They don’t have fighter jets, or submarines or nuclear weapons. They deal in the currency of characters, and all they have is a keyboard. But mark my word, dear friend, fear them. They are a lethal lot.

Don’t be fooled by Instagram or Facebook. Guys are there to do business and have fun. So, don’t expect people to portray who they truly are on social media. It’s a market. And nobody brings soiled products to the market place.

Who ate my cake? You will have a Burundian roommate. Epic guy, he will regale you with tales from back home. You will ask why Burundian chicks rarely talk to Kenyan guys. He will say he doesn’t know.

“Why don’t you go try and talk to them?”

He will be bringing queen cakes to the room. Whenever you’re hungry, you’ll munch one or two. On time you’ll forget yourself and down the whole damn packet. He’ll blow up. Like an oil tanker on fire.

“Osoch who ate my cakes?”

“What cakes?”

You’ll inquire as if you suddenly don’t know what cakes are. As if cakes are a new terminology to you, a vocabulary, a word from a ghost town. He will shake his head and say.

“Kenyans.”

Life will roll on. Your friendship will burgeon to new heights. He will forget about the cakes. He will start bringing cookies and you’ll eat even more of them.

Why do folks hug each other so much? There is a professor who is currently doing research on this. Why do students hug this much? Don’t they ever get tired? How can you walk into a room and hug everyone? What’s hidden in the hug? What happens when a guy with smelly armpits tries to hug you?

Drinking and smoking won’t make you cool. There will be parties, numerous of them. Actually, if you know the right people. You can party from Monday to Monday, without a single care in the whole wide world. As much as you enjoy getting tipsy or high, it's not something to be proud of. You’re not going to impress anybody by how many shots of whiskey you can take. Nobody cares about how many blunts you turn into ash. If you must do it, then don’t broadcast as much. Social Media never forgets.

There’s no wrong or right. You see, most of the moral police are wolves on the inside. They preach water but drink whiskey. Yes, society has standards for morality but don’t be bound by them. They are just there to keep the masses on a leash. Live free. Here is how the system works, you can do the wrong thing, but don’t get caught while at it.

Waah, this has been long. Over 3000 words!! What are my priorities in this life??

95% of the readers here are either past higher education or currently pursuing it (not counting the Indonesian readers. What can they be doing over there? Are they fishermen? And how did they discover this blog? Do they read it early morning when returning to shore with their catch? Or they read it dead at night when their wives have long slept?

Anyway, you who have experienced campus. Why don’t you drop a line below a line below on how to navigate campus? And key in your names for Christ’s sake. Don’t be anonymous, or you’re CIA?

Editorial credits to Lomon Ang, who worked on it while flying in from SA. It was a rubble of words, but he polished it into something worthy of reading. Cheers Bro
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