When I’m Gone

Life is fleeting. Today I wake up, and on my WhatsApp group I see Sylli has posted something concerning Senzo Meyiwa. Or rather, that he is dead. I am like ‘how now?’ Well, that’s just how things are. The other day Senzo was bossing it in the Orlando Pirates goal as they (or shall I say, we) ran out 4-1 winners against Ajax Cape Town. The next day? Gone. Gone, never to come back. Too sad, too devastating. He was just getting to his peak as a goalkeeper, captaining both club and country, but thanks to a hit man’s bullet, we’ll never know just how great he could have become. Thoughts go out to his family, his nation and each of the distraught fellow Pirates fans. One Sea Robber is down, but we’re too many. They can’t take us all out. The Ghost lives on.

Of late I have been thinking a lot about death. About my death to be precise. And yeah, I am fully aware that it may be a taboo in some quarters to think or as they would put it, to invoke the name of death. Well, so what? Don’t we all get to meet our Maker at some point? I don’t want to imagine that thinking about it attracts it to come sooner than intended. Then again, there will be some who upon reading this, and then by coincidence I happen to die soon after, will conclude that I had a premonition about my death. You just don’t know how thrilled (in the after world) I would be if you all peddled such sentiment, ha! Who wouldn’t like to be credited with foreseeing their own death? If you ask me, that’s the ultimate praise one could ever get. But you know, I kid. I have seen no vision of my would-be impending demise. I’m still very much alive…albeit today I woke up feverish.

How would I like to die? In combat in the heat of the battle? In a mangled wreckage of one these ill-fated public service vehicles? Burnt beyond recognition in a fire that any serious arsonist would be proud of? Fall from the top tier of a stadium out of the delirium that only a last minute goal by your favourite team can provide? Or in my deathbed, clutching at my wife’s hands while pitifully staring at my kids gathered around? So much to choose from aye? It doesn’t matter though. At least I don’t think it should matter how you leave this earth. Though I tend to hear that so and so died a dignified, peaceful death. Well, they ain’t gonna live to savour all that peace and dignity, or are they?

My main concern with my death is how my people will mark it, how they will send me to finally meet both my grandfathers. Yeah, I never saw them, or at least I don’t have those memories. And I have missed them in some way. How will they bury me? Wait, will I want to be buried or be cremated? The jury is still out on that one, with time I’ll come to a decision. For now let’s go with the burial thing.

I’ve always envied our Muslim brothers for one thing. They bury their dead pretty soon, with minimal fuss. Why would you want to keep my decomposing body lying about in a fridge or a bed or floor or whatever for a week or two? It’s embarrassing even for the dead body. I mean, my dead self be like, ‘are we there yet?’ Even Christ was buried within three hours of his death. I’d love that, for me. But if you have to wait two weeks till I’m interred, it’s just annoying. If maybe there was a chance that death offered some grace period within which resurrection was possible, maybe I would understand, but it doesn’t. So we’ve cleared that up, yes? Bury me soonest possible, ok? The longer the period between death and burial, the greater and more stressful the grief. And you know me, I care about my people. I don’t want them to be worn out by their grief.

During Nelson Mandela’s burial last December, the organizers apologized for not honouring the ancestors’ wishes of burying someone as eminent as Madiba at noon, when the sun is at its lowest. I admire that kind of tradition, and as a result, please if you’ll be organizing my burial, uphold it. Ensure I’m in my grave at the latest, 1215h – a quarter an hour allowance because people don’t keep time at such social gatherings. Why though? I mean, I not exactly going to be ‘eminent’, right? Just do it because I said so, damn it! Don’t I get my last wishes granted, you whinny human beings? Not everybody in attendance will mourn me, but at least let the sun with all its glory be ‘downcast’ when I leave for the last time. Of course, my final farewell will be presided over by a Catholic priest. Staunch in death as in life, you know. That moment when you lower me into the grave, that poignant moment when it really dawns even to me that I’m well and truly gone, grant me this one wish. Sing the Kiswahili hymn for Holy Communion, ‘Anayekula Mwili Wangu’. It’s probably the song that when I sing at holy mass I feel closest to divinity. I feel at peace, albeit in a sombre way. I’d love to feel that way as I hit six feet under.

It is not easy, and it probably never will, but I would want to embrace my death. In as much as like everybody else I don’t want to die, I don’t want to fear it. My worry is that in the last sixty seconds of my life, would I be able to say with a straight face?:

I was here. I lived, I loved. I was here. I did, I’ve done everything that I wanted and it was more than I thought it would be. I will leave my mark so everyone will know I was here. I want to say I lived each day, until I died and know that I meant something in somebody’s life. The hearts I’ve touched will be proof that I leave, that I made a difference and this world will see”

Some words, huh? Well I wouldn’t want to take the credit. Ok, I’d want to heh! Anyway that was all Beyonce. Yes, I’m quoting Beyonce, not your usual post, this one. For now though, I still got to make a difference in this world. Let me try, before y’all get to sing thus at my gravesite: ‘Yesu wangu nakuomba, nishibishe na mwilio, nayo damu yako ninywe japo sistahili mimi.’

Will I See You Tonight?

‘It was at times a long, difficult road. But I’m glad it was long and difficult, because if I hadn’t gone through hell to get there, the lesson might not have been as clear. You see, kids, right from the moment I met your mom, I knew I have to love this woman as much as I can for as long as I can, and I can never stop loving her, not even for a second. I carried that lesson with me through every stupid fight we ever had, every 5:00 a.m. Christmas morning, every sleepy Sunday afternoon, through every speed bump. Every pang of jealousy or boredom or uncertainty that came our way, I carried that lesson with me. And I carried it with me when she got sick. Even then, in what can only be called the worst of times, all I could do was look at her and thank God, thank every god there is, or ever was, or will be, and the whole universe, and anyone else I can possibly thank that I saw that beautiful girl on that train platform, and that I had the guts to stand up, walk over to her, tap her on the shoulder, open my mouth, and speak.’

Those are the words of the voice of Ted Mosby in the most poignant scene of the final episode of How I Met Your Mother. Come on, you know I loved that show a lot. I guess it’s odd that for something that ended almost six months ago to this day, now is the time that I’m kind of doing a recap or review here, if you will. Anyway he says those words as a prelude to the exact instance of meeting the mother, thus the show finally fulfils its promise. Much has been said about its ending and what an injustice it was by the producers to have the mother, Tracy McConnell die after barely getting into the set, and finally being capped off by Ted re-living the first episode of season one, standing outside Robin Scherbatsky’s window, raising the blue French horn. Many ardent fans of the show weren’t amused, but that’s neither here nor there. I thought it was a good ending, Ted and Robin.

On the words at the very beginning of this pointless post, I don’t know if better stuff has been spoken at anything I’ve ever watched. Did I shed a tear watching it the first time? I won’t comment on speculation. It’s one of those rare moments that a script as fictional as it is suddenly somehow becomes as close to reality as you’d never have imagined. And my word it was a long and difficult road. At times you felt sad and sorry for the guy Ted. It’s just a television story but in many ways reminiscent of the kind of path we tread on our way to finding love or some semblance to it. He says he knew he had to love that woman for as long as he could and that he could never stop loving her. There. That was just golden. How many people do you hear saying that?

What gripped me the most and really, throughout the series was the impeccable choice of background music for every major scene. When we see glimpses of Ted and Tracy’s life together on pictures at the time he affirms his love for her, a song which rather inadvertently made me do resolve to do this piece plays. It captures the whole moment perfectly. The piano begins, Ted does his talk and I listen intently, eyes firmly fixed.

I know your window and I know it’s late
I know your stairs and your doorway
I walk down your street and past your gate
I stand by the light at the four-way
You watch them as they fall, they all have heart attacks
They stay at the carnival, but they’ll never win you back

Will I see you tonight on a downtown train
Where every night, it’s just the same,
you leave me lonely
Will I see you tonight on a downtown train
All of my tears just fall like rain, all upon the downtown train

It helps a great deal that the actual meeting of the mother took place at a train station and those lyrics above are from Everything But The Girl’s Downtown Train, or doesn’t it, eh? Nice one, Carter (Bays) and Craig (Thomas). Will I see you tonight? I bet that might have gone through the mind of Ted as the old lady at the station’s waiting bay pestered him on his love life. Or maybe not. Maybe he was just too eager to move to Chicago and move away as far as possible from the sight of his soulmate’s(?) wedding to Barney Stinson. I don’t know. But what I know is that many are the times the question ‘will I see you tonight’ has run back and forth in my head. And each time the answer as the song goes has been ‘every night is just the same, you leave me lonely.’ Thankfully for Ted, that night wouldn’t be the same. His loneliness would end. He would meet Tracy. Good for him.

Maybe HIMYM shouldn’t have ended as it did. Maybe Ted and Tracy should have gone through the proverbial happily ever after thing. Then again, life doesn’t turn out as you think it should. And most certainly, not when it pertains to matters of the heart. That was not our story, but Carter’s and Craig’s. Maybe Robin shouldn’t have ended up with Ted. But then again, it’s Robin! I mean, it’s Robin! Who could be better? I’ll still watch and rewatch Last Forever (episode title) many more times over.

At the moment I can only look forward to those 5a.m. Christmas mornings (though to be honest, I don’t get why I’d be up that early), those lazy Sunday afternoons (aha aha), those speed bumps, fits of jealousy, boredom and uncertainty that I’ll get to experience with her. Damn it, it happened for Ted, surely it has to, for me too. Lol.

Oh and more thing, you wave your hand and they scatter like crows. They have nothing that can capture your heart. They’re just thorns without the rose. Be careful of them in the dark. Question remains, will I see you tonight?

Off the Wall

So there’s no picture of me on the wall of our house, which to be precise, really is my father’s house. To be more precise, it is my mother’s house as tradition dictates. Anyway this is what a friend of mine pointed out to me while on a visit. So, is this a big deal, guys?

I’ve always wondered why people are fascinated by the images put on walls. And of course by ‘walls’ I mean real, physical walls and not those found on Facebook, which apparently are now referred to as timelines. I’m guessing, I wouldn’t know the nitty gritties of that God-forsaken social site anyway. Back to the matter at hand, does it matter what pictures or portraits you put on your living room wall?

And by the way, is it a legal requirement for public offices and public establishments (they are called establishments, right?) like shops, restaurants, pharmacies and the likes to have on their walls the image of the current Head of State? I ask thusly because I just don’t understand; some do it, some don’t. Others go ahead as far as placing an imposing image of the president on their living room walls. Whether this is to show their close proximity to the man on the hill or just to scare the living daylights out of their daughters’ friends of the opposite sex is anyone’s guess. I wouldn’t be scared encountering such, but I’d definitely be unsettled.

To answer said friend, I told him I hardly took any pictures, and above all, it wasn’t my house; I had no say in what goes up the wall and what’s thrown under the table. He wasn’t impressed, not one bit. In fact he duly pointed out cynically too, ‘Really? Yet there’s a portrait of Baba and even Obama on the wall!’ Unbelievable, that guy! Some people are too keen for their own good I swear, but then again I would have pointed out the same if I were at their home. To end the unwarranted ambush, I told him in no uncertain terms (no uncertain terms. Great phrase) that I really couldn’t give a rat’s posterior end what was on the wall of a building whose ownership I had nothing to do with.

Isn’t it amazing though, that people all over feel the burning urge (ok, not exactly burning) to have images fitted on the space on their walls? Fine, ‘amazing’ is little bit over the odds. I gather in addition to having his and mum’s pictures on the wall, dad has the Raila and Pres. Obama pics maybe to depict his political views and affiliations, I don’t know. Which makes me shudder to think what would happen if in a bid to test the waters I hanged one of these Pres. Uhuru framed photos (which are literally sold everywhere these days) right next to Raila’s. The second he laid his eyes on it, no doubt ‘get that thing off my wall’ would be spewing out of his mouth! That’s just politics though.

In my room there’s absolutely nothing on the wall (except cobwebs and spider webs, probably). The norm among people my age, from what I’ve witnessed elsewhere is to fill one’s walls with celebrity images from old newspaper cuttings, which let’s admit, is so 1998…you guys still doing it, refrain! Alternatively I see people putting up pin up posters of footballers like Leo Messi, Ronaldo or movie stars like Brad Pitt, Jessica Alba and so forth, or still celeb pictures that are not from said cuttings. I have to admit, these images sort of make the room, I don’t know, colourful and nice? Sometimes I’m tempted to try it, but then again, I’m not one to be so moved by aesthetics…I guess.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and that is probably true albeit unverifiable. Maybe that’s why folks go to great lengths in beautifying their walls with them pics. I ask why it is worth only a thousand words, why not a million. Who knows, maybe if it were worth a milli, every square inch of my wall would have a story to tell. But hey, that’s why we are different, why there’s variety. For some of us, just the sight of a wall clock ticking away and a calendar showing the date is all we need when we look up the wall.

Who Feed You!

Psssst. Ignore the grammar (or lack of) in the title. It’s just fine the way it is.

Twenty three years on when afar and asunder, parted are those who are singing today…

That’s my attempted corruption of Forty Years On, a song we sang for four years some time back at Starehe. Well, today is my birthday (you can guess which one from above) and as has become customary, there’s always a commemorative post. It’s a shame, this year though, that a thick cloud hangs over this event. Indeed, our former Deputy (then Acting) Director at Starehe is no more and will be interred tomorrow. Joseph KamiruGikubu was the last of the three founders of the great institution and his demise is therefore mightily saddening.


Mr. Gikubu

My first encounter with the name ‘Gikubu’ came on my first day at Starehe when my admission had been finalized and all parties satisfied. Yes, all parties satisfied, I had to put it that way. The designated PR officer for the exercise, one Mr. Oduor, gave me a slip on which was written my file number (12031), and my would-be home for the next four years, Gikubu House. I had never heard of that name before, so as much as I kept wondering who or what this Gikubu was, I absolutely had no idea what to expect. Later on though, during lunch time, Bernard Kanyolo, classmate and great friend, would begin to unravel that mystery for me by wheeling away my suitcase from Form 1A along the highway, past the School Shop, the resplendent Rotunda, the Music Centre and finally to a dormitory block made up of two houses; Ngala and indeed, Gikubu House.

The house captain at the time, Captain Nduati, would orient us ‘rabbles’ around the house, you know, how to use the toilets, how to use the fire escape and so on. In the recreation room shared by both houses, were two pieces of cloth (flag-like, but larger) containing the respective house colours and mottos. Now Ngala’s was dark blue (like the Azzurri of Italy) and on in inscribed, ‘Togetherness Perfection’. The two words caught my imagination, simple, precise, self-explanatory. Then Gikubu’s was sky blue (like Manchester City) and the words were ‘I Will Look It’. I think I did let out a chuckle. I mean, who makes such a massive grammatical error on their motto. And how does I Will Look It even begin to inspire a caucus of boys living together? I bet one of us did ask about that particular choice of words, and the reply was: “that’s a line frequently used by the Deputy Director I, Mr. Gikubu to imply he would look into an issue and provide a solution.” So that was the very first element of Mr. Gikubu that I got to know.

With the Founding Director, Dr. Griffin at the time ailing and inching closer to his end, Gikubu would be an increasingly prominent figure in our day to day lives and gradually (or otherwise, depending on the person) we got to know more about this man. He was obviously not that well educated, one would conclude, after listening to him during the daily evening assemblies at the Assembly Hall. In my first weeks at the school, I literally couldn’t understand a word of what he said when he read the announcements. Which was weird, then funny, then just not funny anymore. The striking thing though and one that caught my impression was that even when Gikubu would struggle to read a word, amid roars of laughter from the boys echoing the hall, he wouldn’t be deterred, neither did he give up, nor become wound up. He just went on with the job and saw it through. This was a man who obviously knew of his linguistic limitations as much as he was aware he had to be the father figure to a thousand teenage boys who would blow hot and cold whenever, irrespective of the sight and stature of the person addressing them. I respected and admired that.

The greatest lesson to be learnt from Gikubu’s life is that you have to know your place in a setting and execute your role as best as you can. Starehe is (or do we say ‘was’) known best for its exemplary academic achievements, but Mr. Gikubu wasn’t really in charge of that. And he would acknowledge that he didn’t know much about academia. So he channeled all his energies in running other aspects of the school, mainly, the students’ welfare and well-being. As with any other institution, this is where there would be the most instances of friction and rubbing of shoulders. Sometimes he’d drive us crazy, like his insistence on one being charged heavily (and outrageously) for any meals missed, even if it was Murram. Other times he would just warm our hearts, you know, like when he introduced ngwacis(sweet potatoes) as part of the Sunday morning breakfast. Boys would leave the Dining Hall so full, countless would be sleeping all through the church services and the rest of the day. Gikubu possessed a rather unconventional sense of humour too. So like boys would complain about the house cubicles being infested with mosquitoes (and rats, ironically, in Gikubu House) and he would retort: “come on boys, why you complaining? What do you expect the mosquitoes and rats to eat? Aren’t they too God’s creatures”. Haha, yeah. He was funny (or not) like that.

Each of the many Old Starehians and the current boys who passed through the hands of Mr. Gikubu have probably a thousand and one memories of him of what and how they thought of him. And boy did he divide opinion! He was loved and reviled in equal measure, and really, isn’t that a characteristic of great men? But above all that, we respected him. We knew of his role and the sacrifices he made for The Starehe (that’s how he referred to the school) all those years since its inception in 1959 and we respected and honoured that. We still do. Now that he’s left us, all we can hope for is that he finds the rest he’s so richly deserved. Raising around 15,000 boys on their way to being men is no mean feat and for that, Mzee, we’ll be forever grateful. You’ve fought the good, nay, gallant fight. Oh, lest I forget, and he did leave us with his famous line whenever he perceived boys took things for granted during their complaining: “Who Feed You!”

O God, the creator and redeemer of all the faithful, grant to the soul of your departed servant, Mr. Gikubu, the remission of all his sins, that through The Starehe Community’s pious supplications, he may obtain that pardon which he has always desired. We ask you this, you who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

I’m gutted I will miss the opportunity to pay my last respects to this great man of our nation, but as I blow that twenty third candle albeit subdued, I’ll think on Mr. Gikubu’s life and lessons. And as weird as it sounds, after all this, Happy Birthday, Fabian.

From the Pulpit II

Well, after quite a long while, the second installment of From the Pulpit is finally here. Don’t ask me why it has taken ages as there’s a plethora of excuses, both legit and flimsy for that. Anyway, I bet you’ve all at one time heard of the great Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, or ever wondered why suddenly a Muslim friend of yours became known as ‘El Hajj…?’ Well, such an event exists in Christianity too (at least, limited to our East Africa region). Pilgrimage is after all a journey undertaken by a believer to a sacred place, right? Five years ago I embarked on one and it kind of inspired what I’ve brought to you here on this post.

Now as an (belated) 18th birthday gift, I was offered a chance to accompany mum to a tour of Uganda. Well, at least that was my initial impression of the whole thing. Destination? Namugongo, just off Kampala, Uganda. We were to visit the site of the brutal burning of the Uganda Martyrs and thereafter on the 3rd day of June, join other pilgrims from all over Africa and beyond in celebrating holy mass.

At Namugongo, as the guides explained, it really did dawn on me the reality of what had actually gone down there so many years ago. Young men, newly baptized into the Catholic (and Anglican) faith were persecuted, tortured, and burned on a pyre for professing their faith, which was contrary to the demands of then King of the Baganda, Mwanga II (whose name ironically means ‘light’ in Kiswahili). Of course there were no video recordings or actual photos for us to see, instead, they made sculptures, carvings and drawings that literally took one back to the happenings of 130 years ago. The guides’ narration of the events was chilling to say the least. I couldn’t help but wonder, if boys, some younger than me, could willingly accept such gruesome deaths all for their faith, then what was I doing in the world? Tellingly, there at the Namugongo Shrine at the point where most of the martyrs met their maker, a dam had formed from a stream where the martyrs’ tormentors would go to wash off the martyrs’ blood from their weapons. Now here’s the amazing part. Almost every pilgrim would go with a water container to draw some of that water, with the belief that it was blessed, some even swearing it had healing powers. I think I did fill up a 250ml bottle too.


The Maryrs Shrine at Namugongo, at the point where most of them were killed.

With a focus on the Catholic martyrs, since well, that’s kinda my area, here’s a profile of the 24 valiant souls who paid the ultimate price for the sake of Christ.

St. Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe

He was the leader of all Christians and also the head Catholic Church in the absence of the Catholic missionaries. He was a Muganda from the Giant Rat clan and was a page and personal attendant on King Muteesa I and Majordomo under Mwanga II. Balikuddembe was baptized on April 30, 1882 by Fr. Lourdel and was the first martyr to be killed by being beheaded and thrown onto a heap of burning firewood and burned at Nakivubo (St. Balikuddembe Market). Balikuddembe is the patron politicians and chiefs.

St. Charles Lwanga

A Muganda, he was chief of the royal pages in Mwanga’s palace and was baptized by Fr. Ludovic Girault on November 15, 1885 on the exact day of Balikuddembe’s execution, after which he assumed the role of head of Christians. He was burned to death in a slow painting fire under a Ggirikiti tree at Namugongo where the Martyrs Shrine stands and died on Ascension Day, June 3, 1886. Among Lwanga’s last words were: “It is as if you’re pouring water on me. Please repent and be a Christian like me.” Lwanga is the patron of youth and Catholic action.

St. Athanasius Bazzekuketta

He was a Muganda of the Nkima clan and a page under both Muteesa I and Mwanga II, in charge of King Mwanga’s treasury. He was baptized on November 16, 1885 by Fr. Lourdel. Bazzekuketta eagerly volunteered when on their way to execution, Mukaajanga (Chief Executioner) asked for one of them to volunteer to be killed. He was speared to death and hacked into pieces on May 27, 1886. Bazekuketta is the patron of treasurers, banks and co-operatives.

St. Gyaviira Musoke

He was a Muganda of the Mamba clan, from Busiro County and was a page of the audience hall of King Mwanga II. Gyaviira was baptized by Charles Lwanga on May 26, 1886 then was burned alive in the Namugongo furnace on June 3, 1886. Gyaviira is the patron of communication, traffic and travelers.

St. Mbaaga Tudzinde

He was a Muganda also of the Mamba clan from Busiro County. He was a page in the audience hall of Mwanga II and was baptized by Lwanga on May 26, 1886. Mbaaga stood firm amid pressure from his relatives including Mukaajanga, to renounce Christianity. He was clubbed to death then placed on the pyre of the Namugongo furnace on June 3, 1886. Mbaaga is the patron of religious vocations.

St. Bruno Sserunkuma

He was a Muganda of the Ndiga clan and hailed from Buddu County. He served as a page of Muteesa I then as a palace guard of Mwanga II. He was baptized on November 15, 1885 by Fr. Ludovic Girault and was also burned alive in the Namugongo furnace on June 3, 1886. Bruno is the patron of the penitents; the tempted to lust for flesh, to drinking, violence and unlawful marriages.

St. Matthias Mulumba Kalemba

He was a Musoga of the Musu clan from Bunya County and was the oldest of the martyrs since at the time of his death he was about 50 years old. He was an assistant of Mukwenda, the county chief of Ssingo and got baptized on May 28, 1882 by Fr. Girault. Mulumba’s death was the most brutal and longest, taking about 3 days from the afternoon of Thursday May 27 to Sunday May 30, 1886. He had his limbs cut off from his body, strips of his flesh cut off from his back then he was left there to die at Old Kampala. Mulumba is the patron of chiefs and families.

St. Denis Ssebuggwawo

He was a Muganda of the Musu clan from Bulemeezi County. He was a page of Muteesa I and a page in personal attendance of Mwanga II. Ssebuggwawo was baptized by Fr. Lourdel on November 16, 1885 and was tortured and speared by Mwanga II who then handed him over to the executioner on the evening of Tuesday May 25, 1886. He was first beheaded then hacked into pieces to death at Munyonyo. Ssebuggwawo is the patron of choirs and musicians.

 St. Gonzaga Gonza

He was a Musoga of the Mpologoma clan from Bulamoogi County and was a page of the private courts of Muteesa I and a page in the audience hall under Mwanga II. He was baptized by Fr. Lourdel on November 16, 1885. On his way to Namugongo, Gonza’s legs bled due to the tight grip of the chains stuck to his flesh and collapsed at Lubaawo, about 4 miles off Namugongo. He could not move anymore so the Mukaajanga speared him to death, on May 27, 1886. Gonzaga is the patron of the prisoners and the afflicted.

St. Ambrose Kibuuka

He was a Muganda, of the Lugave clan, from Ssingo County and like the others, was a page in the audience hall of Muteesa I and Mwanga II. He was baptized on November 16, 1885 by Fr. Lourdel and was burned alive in the Namugongo furnace on June 3, 1886. Ambrose is the patron of societies like Scouts, Guides, Young Christian Workers, Xaverians etc.

St. Mugagga

He was a Muganda of the Ngo clan from Mawokoota and was a page in the inner private courts of Mwanga II. He was baptized by Lwanga on May 26, 1886 and was burned alive in the Namugongo furnace on June 3, 1886. Mugagga is the patron of clubs, tailors and community development.

St. John Mary Kiwanuka Muzeeyi

He was a Muganda of the Mbogo clan from Buddu County and doubled up as Muteesa I’s page as well as his herbalist. He was baptized on November 1, 1885 by Fr. Lourdel. Muzeeyi was beheaded on January 27, 1887 and his body thrown into Jugula Swamp between Mengo and Namirembe Hills and was the last Catholic martyr to be killed by Mwanga II. Muzeeyi is the patron of doctors, nurses, hospitals and dispensaries.

St. Noe Mwaggali

He was a Muganda of the Ngabi clan from Ssingo County and was a potter to the county chief of Ssingo and maker of earthenware. He got baptized on November 1, 1885 by Fr. Lourdel. As it were, Mwanga II commissioned Mbugano, an executioner, to kill all Christians at Mityana. When Mwaggali exposed himself for execution, Kamanyi, an aide of Mbugano speared him to death on the morning of May 31, 1886 at Mityana. His body was subsequently devoured by village savage dogs. Mwaggali is the patron of workers, the poor, artists and technicians.

St. Pontian Ngondwe

He was a Muganda of the Nnyonyi clan from Kyaggwe County and was a page of Muteesa I and a palace guard of Mwanga II. On November 17, 1885 he was baptized by Fr. Girault who gave him the name ‘Pontian’ in honour of the martyred Pope whose feast day occurred two days later. Pontian was speared severally by Mukaajanga, his head cut off, his body hacked into pieces and scattered all over. He died on the evening of May 26, 1886 at Ttaka Jjunge, near Munyonyo. Pontian is the patron of soldiers, policemen and militia.

St. Luke Baanabakintu

He was a Muganda of the Mamba clan from Ggomba County and was a servant of the county chief of Ssingo and supervised the chief’s fisheries on Lake Wamala. He was baptized on May 28, 1882 by Fr. Girault and was burned alive at the Namugongo furnace on June 3, 1886. Luke is the patron of sailors, fishermen, merchants, students and blacksmiths.

St. Anatoli Kiriggwajo

He was a Munyoro, though neither his parents nor his county of origin are known as he was captured during the inter-kingdom wars and brought to the king’s palace where he served as a page of the audience hall of both Muteesa I and Mwanga II. He was baptized on November 16, 1885 by Fr. Lourdel and burned in the Namugongo furnace on June 3, 1886. Anatoli is the patron of dairy farmers and vets.

St. Mukasa Kiriwawanvu

He was a Muganda of the Ndiga clan from Kyaggwe County and was a page of the audience hall of Muteesa I and Mwanga II. Unlike all the other martyrs though, he died before he got baptized. He was burned alive in the Namugongo furnace on June 3, 1886. Kiriwawanvu is the patron of hotels, restaurants, bars and all kinds of recreation.

St. Kizito

He was a Muganda of the Mamba clan, born at Waluleeta, Bulemeezi County and was the youngest of all the martyrs, dying at the age of just 14. He was a page of the inner private courts of Mwanga II and was credited by fellow pages for his love and determination to follow Christ. He was baptized on May 26, 1886 by Lwanga and burned alive in the Namugongo furnace on June 3, 1886. Kizito is the patron of children and primary schools.

St. Andrew Kaggwa

He was a Munyoro from Buganganyizi County but the identity of his parents is not known as he too was captured from his homeland by the Buganda raiders. He was a Mugowa, Mwanga II’s Bandmaster-General. He was baptized by Fr. Lourdel on April 30, 1882. Kaggwa was arrested at his home and taken to the Katikkiro (Chancellor) Mukasa who ordered the executioners to cut his arm off and bring it to him as proof of Kaggwa’s death before he could eat anything. Thereafter he was beheaded and hacked to pieces at Munyonyo and died on the afternoon of May 26, 1886. Kaggwa is the patron of catechists, teachers and families.

St. James Buuzaabalyawo

He was a Muganda of the Ngeye clan from Mawookota County and was the official keeper of the royal well (Kalindaluzzi) and second in command to Andrew Kaggwa. He was baptized on November 15, 1885 by Fr. Girault and was burned alive in the Namugongo furnace on June 3, 1886. Buuzaabalyawo is the patron of traders, merchants and co-operatives.

St. Achilles Kiwanuka

He was a Muganda of the Lugave clan, from Ssingo County and was a page of the audience hall of Mwanga II. He was baptized on November 16, 1885 by Fr. Lourdel and was burned alive in the Namugongo furnace on June 3, 1886. Achilles is the patron of clerks, journalists, writers and the press.

St. Adolphus Mukasa Ludigo

He was a Munyoro from Mwenge-Toro whose parents’ identity is unknown as he was captured in the inter-kingdom wars and brought to the palace as a captive then served as a page of the audience hall of Muteesa I and Mwanga II. He was baptized by Fr. Lourdel on November 16, 1885 and was burnt alive in the Namugongo furnace of June 3, 1886. Adolphus is the patron of farmers, herdsmen and hunters.

Blessed Daudi Okello

Born around 1900, his father was Lodi and his mother Amona, of Ongon Payira clan. He was baptized on June 6, 1916 by Fr. Caesar Gambaretto, a Comboni missionary at the then newly founded Catholic Mission of Kitgum and was confirmed on October 15 same year. Okello was speared to death on Sunday October 18, 1918 at Paimol in Acholi, Northern Uganda and was beatified in Rome on October 20, 2002. Daudi is the patron of Catechists.

Blessed Jildo Irwa

Jildo (short for Ermenegildo) was born around 1902 by Tongpfur Daniele and Atoo from Labongo Bar-Kitoba clan of the Acholi. He was baptized by Fr. Gambaretto on June 6, 1916 and was confirmed on October 15, same year. Jildo was speared to death on the same day and place as Daudi Okello and was beatified too on October 20, 2002. Jildo is the patron of Catechists.


Well, at the end of that excruciating profiling of the 24 martyrs, I bet you got bored midway but hey, look at the bigger picture. Those were young men, some even still just boys, who despite being novices into the faith showed that their faith was stronger than any of ours could ever be. That, for me is the mystery of the Uganda martyrs. We talk about being saved, accepting Christ as our personal saviour, but really, is there substance to all that? If cut, can we bleed and still sing praises to the Lord till we draw our last breath?

And these are not just stories. These martyrs are not just a myth. They existed just close here, at our next door neighbours, so to speak. Twenty minutes from where I live, is a small market centre, called Mbaga, after one of the martyrs, St. Mbaaga. I mean, it’s that real. The truth probably is that we can’t give up everything and die for Christ, who are we kidding? But, wouldn’t it be nice if you and I could? Meanwhile, maybe you could take a few days off your schedule and go for this year’s pilgrimage to Namugongo in June, you know, just to confirm these things…and also get a chance to meet me if you haven’t (heh!).

Whatever you do, don’t let your faith waver. Love and serve the Lord, for He is with you, till the end of days.

Special thanks to one Fr. Alfred Kotol as most of his earlier work has been borrowed here.

In loving memory of Connie, whose charm and verve made the Namugongo pilgrimage of 2009 blissful and awash with laughter. Sorely missed.




Chickens. Eagles. And The Griffin

‘I am a breeder of eagles, not chickens.’ That’s the famous quote attributed to the late Dr. G.W. Griffin, the brains behind our school, which we love so much, The Starehe Boys’ Centre. He used to say this to imply that at his school, he produced the very best and nothing but that. And as his stooges, we strove to match up to the eagles’ tag that he placed on us…and we sure did match up. On Monday, the 2013 KCSE results were released, and Starehe did dismally. From a school that perennially held a stranglehold of either of the top two slots countrywide, in the results released by Education Cabinet Secretary, they were 17th, producing only one candidate in the top 100 list nationwide. Damning. Pretty damning.

I left the school in 2008 and obviously there’s nobody known to me from among the current crop of Starehians. So the question is, why should their results cause me so much discomfort and disappointment as evidenced by my twitter rants with fellow Old Boys, Martin, Peter, Eugene, Dedan etc on said D-day? Well, first of all, brilliant question. Where do I start? You never really get to leave your school. You just stop being a student there, but nonetheless, you remain a member of the institution. I remember as a student, we used to be really close to the then already alumni (Old Boys as we fondly call them and ourselves) and they’d often tell us ‘I am Starehe Damu (Starehe Blood)’ or ‘I bleed Red and Blue’ in reference to our famous colours. So I hope this goes some way to explain why we take anything related to our school so personal.

As I elucidated sometime in 2012 here, Starehe is heaven to some of us. It is the place where we found ourselves, became groomed, got taught valuable life lessons, and as we sang, the place where we became men. We were taught that despite our often humble backgrounds, we were just as good as any other boy on the planet, if not better. Failure was never an option in Starehe. One had to compete hard and smart…and win. Those who know me personally will attest that I may not speak much, but damn right when it comes to competition, I can be annoyingly fiercely competitive. I shudder to think that trait of me would have been nurtured and ingrained in me elsewhere. I don’t know if this has changed, but in our time, in the calling letter a successful candidate received from Starehe, was a letter to the parent/guardian. It began with the words that I’ll never forget, ‘Your son is now joining a great school…’ If there was anything that the then 13 year old me needed for me to get sold to the Starehe dream and doctrine, that line was it.

We live in a culture where people are aloof, distant and indifferent to their former schools’ performances in national examinations if none of the kids in their family sat for said exam. It’s a culture that disgusts me, to be honest. We go on and on about how children are the future, leaders of tomorrow and all that now-annoying cliché, but never seem to bother to know how they perform. And I’m saying this reeling from heavy criticism by friends who feel I have too much time to waste, moaning about results that are of no use to me. Wow! Isn’t it just amazing how different people think? One of the greatest lessons at Starehe was ‘be your brother’s keeper’. It didn’t matter who they were or where they came from. As long as they wore the Red and Blue, they were your brother and you had to concern yourself with their well-being. That didn’t stop when we left the great black gates on General Waruinge Street for the very last time as students. It doesn’t stop as long as you live. That’s why it hurts us that our brothers are failing in their duty (yes, it’s a duty) to follow in the footsteps of us and those who’ve trodden on that immaculate highway from the gate before them. We can’t help but ask all sorts of questions. Are we admitting the right students? Are our teachers motivated enough? Is the school’s administration keeping with the ideals Griffin? Are traditions being upheld? And the changes being made, are they adding value positively to the life of a Starehian? Do our boys believe that they ought to be better than everybody else, especially from that school whose great Principal once said of Starehe, ‘get this dirt out of my doorstep’? And, finally, just what the hell is going on at the best school in the world (oh yeah, we believed rightfully that we were).

You can’t win all the time. That is true. But also true is that if you tried all the time to win, you’ll always be at the top or close to it. We all suspect that they are not trying hard all the time, like tradition dictates and demands. Then again, I wouldn’t like to air the very intricate fabric of the dirty Starehe linen to the public. One just hopes that this is just a blip and that a rescue plan is on the works.

Dr. Griffin’s last words to his dear boys were something to the effect of (didn’t quite cram them adequately):

‘My dear boys

I have had a fruitful and happy life, and I have learnt one great lesson that I would like to share with you. I hope that Starehe will always teach this lesson – for as long as it does so, it will remain a great school.
This world is full of people who do their duty half-heartedly, grudgingly and poorly. Don’t be like them. Whatever is your duty, do it as fully and perfectly as you possibly can. And when you have finished your duty, go on to spare some time and talent in service for less fortunate people, not for any reward at all, but because it is the right thing to do. Follow my advice in this and I promise you that your lives will be happy and successful.
May God bless you all.’

Yes, it was something along those lines, and we were mourning at the time, hence the half-baked rendition from me. The great school is fast hurtling to the oblivion of mediocrity, but I have a feeling that maybe the secret to reclaiming old glory lies somewhere within the grand old visionary’s last words. You hope that everyone actively involved in the affairs of the school currently goes back and reviews what Griffin would have wanted.

Two bugles to give the call to duty, numerous stars to illuminate the endeavours of the Starehian, the Red Lion to warn of our invincibility and the mythical Griffin (half eagle, half lion) to remind us who started all this makes up the Starehe Boys’ Centre’s badge. At a time like this, the badge should be the greatest source of inspiration and hope in the institution’s ability to bounce back. I sure hope the current boys look at it that way.

Chickens aren’t bad. Heck, they are tasty! Starehe has bred and must always breed eagles though. That’s just our style, The Starehe Way, no offense, ye lovers of chicken. God bless Starehe. Natulenge Juu.


The mythical Griffon, soaring high above.


What Gives?

Valentines’ week. Probably the most anticipated week in the world or in equal measure, the most dreaded week, depending on which side of the gender divide you fall. And no, don’t dare say I’m stereotyping anyone, that’s just the way it is. I don’t make the rules. So as the clock ticks away to Friday, February the 14th, commonly referred to as St. Valentine’s Day, for the indifferent folk like me, it’s a time to, I don’t know, toss our nets out there and see what it brings forth? What am I even saying? Well, let’s see.

I’ve never really celebrated this day, again, cue my legendary indifference. Actually, I almost did, a few years ago. I’m avoiding being exact as it might make the details all too obvious, much to the chagrin and consternation of some of whom will be reading this. The female in my life then (girlfriend, I mean), probably had sensed that I wouldn’t be bothered by the magnitude of said day enough to be moved to go out of my way to plan some romantic gesture for the two of us. I often blamed this habit of mine to be passed up by such events squarely on my laziness, to which she would react with a smile which seemed to say ‘Yeah, right. Like I’m supposed to believe that?’

So, said girl (name redacted, thanks for the term, Ryan Giggs) took it upon herself to get me to go hand in hand with her to some scenic place we loved frequenting to relax, appreciating nature and all that, where we’d spend some quality time on Valentine’s evening. It so happened that I’d been working on some football blog which I hoped to post in time to coincide with the return of the Champions League that very night. By the look of things, nothing would veer me off that route towards getting it done. So when she came up to me with the romantic plan, I was literally like ‘I’ve got to get this stuff posted, or don’t you know that?’ She insisted that I shelve my football indulgence just for that evening, but I wouldn’t budge.  She walked away, not impressed even a bit, while I felt that things had worked out for me just perfect. I did post it in time, and later enjoyed myself as my Arsenal beat the then best team in the world. Oh, that night was heavenly.

Subsequently, it didn’t work out between me and the girl and really, my actions on that February 14 had a lot of bearing in our drifting apart. It’s funny, you know. Right now I look back and I can’t believe what a jerk I was. In my defense (and don’t I always defend myself?) I was just being honest, being me. At the time, to me, Valentine’s Day was just a day like any other with no special or significant connotations, romantic or more. I mean, all special days are marked in red on calendars, right? I certainly have never seen any calendar with February 14 marked in red. At least, that was my default way of thinking then. That said, even though I probably severed all shreds of romantic ties with Name Redacted, I’d want to make it up to her. I’d want to take her to that place, enjoy the breeze, listen to the chirp of the birds, feed those goldfish…you know, just so she can see I can also do this, when my mind is set right.

It is easy to make the same mistake or do I call it aberration (aberration. Great word) that I made then. Often we take the people we love for granted. Ideally, it isn’t only on Valentine’s Day that you should show the one you love just how much or why you love her. That ought to be an everyday duty, but then again, with the pressures of life, it is inconceivable to manage all that 365 days a year. So my guess is that they created this specific day, whose theme ought to be nothing short of ‘the one I love’. I don’t know what exactly you should do on Valentine’s Day to ensure the he or she goes to bed feeling you outdid yourself in making their day, but whatever it is, go on, do it.

Love is caring about someone beyond all rationality and wanting them to have everything they want, no matter how much it destroys you. When you love someone, you just don’t stop, ever. Even when people roll their eyes or call you crazy, especially then. You just don’t give up…because if you could give up, if you could just take the whole world’s advice and move on and find someone else, that wouldn’t be love. That would be some other disposable thing that is not worth fighting for.

The above paragraph is taken from the words of Ted Mosby as he speaks about Robin to his crazy ex, Jeanette in the seventeenth episode of the ninth season of How I Met Your Mother. I quote him a lot, yes, but just mull over the words. Isn’t love worth fighting for? Every day is an opportunity to fight for your love, the climax of which is this Friday. It is the grandest stage, if I may, of this never ending fight. Even if I’ve moved on, a part of me will always feel I should have fought for Name Redacted, that I should have just for a day ignored the call of the Champions League anthem and made her red-themed day the best she could ever have. When Friday is gone, don’t be left like me wondering what the hell you did (or didn’t do). Make it count, make them happy and valued, ‘cause you never know; that might just be the difference between you getting that ‘good night, my love’ text and you only getting your phone’s pesky service provider’s promotional texts every other night.

Love is still a beautiful thing, as they say. Love can change the weather, as I do believe. And as I read so many times many years ago on the wall of the Musgrave Wing of my beloved high school’s library, Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Have yourselves a fulfilling St. Valentine’s Day, will you?

A Precise Year, Yes?

Happy New Year! Yeah, okay, I know it’s a bit too late for this. Then again, as much as it may be a whole eighteen days into the year, that translates to just 4.93% of 2014, with 95.07% yet to be covered. So, yeah, it still is very much in order to say ‘Happy New Year’. And with that, I arrive at my theme for this piece – precision.

I’m not a sucker for the vanity that is commonly disguised as ‘New Year resolutions’ but this time round I’ve made, or more to the point, I’m making a teeny tiny exception. Just one, really. Can we all seek to be precise this year? In what sense, you may quip. Well, in every sense, in every day undertakings, in every sphere of life. That is all I ask, because I’m certain that cum the 31st of December, 2014 at 2359h we’ll be able to look back and with a degree of contentment and satisfaction, point out that we made the world a better place even if just slightly.

Just why am I obsessed with precision? Grab a seat, for we’ll be at this for a while. Anyway, people (at least, in the past) have often called me ‘mummy’s boy’. To be honest, I get irritated by that tag. To be even more honest, I’m not really that irritated by it – I guess, deep down, I pride myself in it. Growing up though, I’ve always pointed out that, well, that’s just rather obvious. Of course, I’m a boy and I belong to my mother, just like any other boy in the world, born of a mother (duh, definitely). In a bid to enhance my penchant for sharp accuracy, I say, I’m my mama’s boy, and my father’s son. That makes sense in a not-so-obvious way, right?

My mum isn’t so much a precision person. I don’t know, maybe that’s down to the feminine in her. Relax, I haven’t said that females don’t care much about accuracy or anything along that line, but again, I just write, you chose your own interpretation. Ironically though, it was my mother who would be the first (I think?) to sow in me the seeds of accuracy that have sprouted and blossomed in my psyche. Many years back, she noted that I would repeatedly forget to punctuate my sentences in my schoolwork. So one day, she doled out this small story that I’ve tried to remember every excruciating detail of. Even though, I’m sure due to the passage of time my recollection of it may inevitably be awash with inconsistencies, but I’ve never claimed to possess a super brain. At least not publicly. Oh, and one more thing, the story might well be pretty much fiction.

‘Once upon a time in Russia, the highest punishment for certain crimes would be the offender being sent to Siberia. Why Siberia? Well, it was probably one of the coldest parts of the world and so whoever was left there would freeze to death. There was this guy who was accused of treason, but for some reason, his case proved difficult to try. The General in charge of the case often lost sleep trying to figure out the man’s fate and so did the King who had the final say in such instances. He had the power to either acquit or convict, at his discretion. With time passing and public outcry over the matter increasing, the General, in a bid to lay the matter to rest once and for all, issued an ultimatum to the King by sending him this telegram: “Do I release him? Or do I send him to Siberia?” On receipt of it, on the same piece of paper, the King delivered his verdict thus: “Don’t Send him to Siberia”. And just like that, the man got his freedom. Only for one thing though – the King, didn’t mean it that way. In his verdict he omitted one slight detail that ultimately tipped the scales in favour of the prisoner, albeit in oblivion – the full stop. Really, his message ought to have been, “Don’t. Send him to Siberia”. And so *insert mum’s pet name for me* that’s how important it is to punctuate your written work properly.’

I was in awe. So much that I don’t remember critiquing her story like I normally would. I guess that did it for me. The full stop is important. The meaning of a written message is important. And of course, punctuation is important. That’s why up to this day it irks me to receive texts without full stops, or with questions lacking question marks, posed as statements. So, this year, for the love of God (and me) can we please write properly the messages we send?

I spent the better part of this morning reading Graham Hunter’s Barca – The Making of the Greatest Team in the World. In it, he tries to dissect and analyze the then Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola’s approach in making them the world’s best. What struck me most was Pep’s attention to the slightest detail, you know, the intensity of training, the mandatory video analysis of their next opponents, their positional play and the players’ length of rest before matches. The stand out aspect of Guardiola’s reign for me though, was his strict adherence to time. For him, you had to be in time for everything, especially training. There’s a picture of club captain Carles Puyol being admonished by the coach for arriving a minute late for a training session. I love that picture. It tells the story that I’ve wanted to tell my friends and girlfriends over and over again but haven’t been able to, with much success.

In fact, my reason for penning this was to stress on time and its invaluable importance. Over the course of last year I must have died a thousand deaths thanks to people who kept me waiting even after we agreed on a set time. To say I’m impatient is an atrocious understatement and really that’s what makes me my father’s son. Over the years I’ve had to bear the brunt of his unending grunts at my failure to observe time. In fact, his trademark statement has to be ‘Look at the time!’ And seems I’ve caught that bug of his really bad. I wish this year everybody would tell time in 24-hour clock. Seriously, this could save me tons of agony. For instance, someone tells me, ‘let us meet tomorrow at 7.’ I’m like, morning, or evening? He says the latter. Why he just wouldn’t say ‘let us meet at nineteen hundred hours’ I don’t know. All I know is that it would have made my life a lot easier.

Have yourself a precise, time-conscious, and 24-hour-Clock-fueled year, won’t you?

This Unconquerable Soul

Today morning as I was preparing for work and pacing up and down the house looking for nothing in particular, I caught glimpse of something on tv. There was the picture of Mandela and at the top, the writings, ‘1918 – 2013’. Once you see two separate years separated by a hyphen next to someone’s name or portrait, you know it only means one thing…they’ve passed on. It hit me. Nelson Mandela is dead. It wasn’t with a ‘Breaking News’ tag, so I figured out the event hadn’t just happened at that very moment. I went to my mum’s bedroom and asked her about it, and she confirmed it. There’s some news that you only believe when it comes from your mother’s mouth. I felt sick.
It’s strange looking back at the time, that feeling I experienced. Obviously Nelson Mandela has been ailing for so long and with his advanced years, 95, the sunset of his life was nigh. Still, Madiba’s death is not something I imagined would happen, at least not for another few years. I really rooted for him to hit his centurion. 5 years short. Oh well.
The very first movie (on tape) that I ever watched was ‘Sarafina’. My dad used to speak about it and go on about Mandela with the words ‘Viva Mandela’, being the historian that he was at the time. I was too young (probably six or seven) to understand what he was on about. Then one day he took me to a friend of his and for the next two hours or so, I sat captivated, enthralled and awestruck by Sarafina. Of course it’s a story about South Africa’s apartheid struggles at the time when Madiba was away in prison. I must admit even now, the likes of Leleti Khumalo, Miriam Makeba, Whoopi Goldberg and Mbongeni Ngema were flawless in the set. Sarafina opened my eyes to Mandela and more importantly to the fact that one person could mean so much to a people, to humanity.
I grew up idolizing Nelson Mandela. I read books about him, his speeches, his quotes and his story. He ignited this insatiable thirst for knowledge about him and everything South Africa, heck, I even learnt the South African national anthem. I took it upon myself to understand the South African fabric, just to try and have an inkling as to why one man gave up 27 years in prison and was even ready to die for his people. Somehow, it still is a mystery to me. I mean, I’m not even 23, yet I’m supposed to imagine that since my birth, someone has been imprisoned for crimes he did not commit, yet he doesn’t resent even in the slightest his oppressors. It beats me and I’ll never understand that part of Madiba ever, to be honest.
The world needs all the hope and inspiration it can muster. Humanity craves that. Nelson Mandela provided it, in a way that no one else could or have. Name any great person in history – they are nowhere near this man who has just left us. Then again he has not left us. I’m a football (and by extension, sports) person. My all-time favorite sports moment has Mandela as its spearhead. May (4th, I think) 2004 is the date. Watching Mandela clutch the FIFA World Cup trophy with so much emotion moments after South Africa had won the rights to host the 2010 World Cup moves me, every other time. I look at his face and each time it tells a different story. He’s almost crying and he’s almost wild with excitement and exhilaration. The biggest tournament of the world’s most loved sport had come to African soil, and Tata Madiba had made the difference. As some of the FIFA delegates at the Zurich event would later confess, Mandela’s mere presence was enough to sway their vote to South Africa. For South Africa 2010, we’re indebted to you, Mandela, eternally.


Anytime someone asks me to recommend to them a nice movie to watch, I never fail to mention ‘Invictus’. Remember the famous Clint Eastwood film about the depiction of Nelson Mandela’s magical inspiration of South Africa’s national rugby team, the Springboks’ victory at the 1995 Rugby World Cup? Now, rugby is not my cup of tea, but even I was left in awe. With South Africa then still coming to grips with the end of the apartheid era, the film brings to us the State President’s (Morgan Freeman here) resolve to rally the whole nation to support a plucky Springboks, led by Francois Pienaar (starred by Matt Damon), then despised by the majority black populace, to a miraculous triumph over the mighty and revered All Blacks in the final. Surely, that’s the beauty of sport – the underdog overcoming all the odds to rise above the cloud and rain of doubt.

Of course the movie got its title from William Ernest Henley’s poem, Invictus, which Mandela often recited during those long, dark and hard days at Robben Island Prison. It is a poem which I no doubt like and read as much as I can. It’s crazy to think that last night, almost at the time when Nelson Mandela breathed his last, I texted a dear friend, Moraa, a congratulatory message on her graduation today, with the first words of Invictus, ‘Out of the night that covers me (you), black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be for my (your) unconquerable soul’. Of course, I meant the words, I wasn’t just lifting them and pressing ‘send’ just because I had to. I hope she got the message, and that she’s relished her big day today.

At some point, everybody needs, someone mystical but real, someone out of this world but just ordinary, doing ordinary things extra-ordinarily, to look up to, tread in their steps, to hope to emulate so as to make a difference. At the end of the day, isn’t making a difference the aim of every member of humanity? I’m only happy to have had two such people, and now both of them have gone on to the after-world. Who? One was my Director at high school for 6 months, Dr. G.W. Griffin. I met him, greeted him, and listened to him, albeit too star struck to speak. The other, is (now was) Mandela. It’s a pity I never actually met him or saw him in the flesh. Perhaps that goes down as my biggest life regret? Perhaps.

People refer Nelson Mandela as the ‘first citizen of the world’. And this, in a world of over 7 billion living people, can a man be greater? I guess for someone who’s lived almost a century of a thoroughly fulfilling and fulfilled life, we shouldn’t mourn, but rather celebrate and follow his footsteps. And it’s true, and makes sense. I shed a tear though. I weep for the world which has now lost its finest son. The day feels empty. It really does. Thank you, Tata Nelson Rohilahla Madiba Mandela, my kids will know your name.


If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it you. If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you but make allowance for their doubting too. If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, or being lied about, don’t deal in lies. Or being hated, don’t give way to hating and yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise…

I would have loved for those to be my own words, but sadly that isn’t the case. For those still lost, the above is the first stanza of Rudyard Kipling’s world famous poem, ‘If’. Now you may ask, why would a poem just titled ‘if’ be that famous? You’re not alone. So did I, but that was like 8 years ago. At my high school, the punishment for breaking language rules was having to write a few A4 copies of the If poem. Of course I, nay, we never got the hang of how several copies of a poem would remedy ones affinity for flouting language laws. I would go on to become a librarian and there at the counter, the poem was hung on the wall so almost daily, I would look at it, read the words, reread and think about what Kipling was trying to pass across. Consequently, If has remained my favorite go-to read when I feel like I’m becoming rudderless.

Probably the only more powerful two-letter English word than ‘if’ is the good (or not) old ‘no’. What would the life be like without the if function? Nothing, because at the center of lIFe, there’s if. I just had to do that, but you have to agree it kind of makes sense, even if just a bit. If serves to create another world for us, a world which otherwise we’d not be able to get to. It provides an alternative, although almost always usually abstract. When you invoke if, everything for a while seems possible then you come to your senses and realize it is conditional. For one thing that you want to happen to come to pass, some other thing (which more often than not you have no control of) has to happen.

That said, I like if because it is probably the most motivational tool I’ve ever come across. Forget about motivational speakers and all that. You don’t need someone to tell you that you can do better when you can do that by yourself and derive greater satisfaction. On some online forum that I won’t give the dignity of mentioning here, I have been berated for being an idealist of the worst kind. They’ve said that I cling on to the fictitious ideal world while giving a cold shoulder and deaf ear to the harsh realities. And possibly if this post is anything to go by, the author of that forum is probably spot on. I guess yes, I, like some of you, am obsessed with perfection. I always want to stretch things to their limits to make things reach the level they should be, not the level they are or can be. It is said that perfection cannot be achieved and that is true. But what is also true is that it can also be pursued. And what in the world is wrong with asking yourself ‘what if…’ in your pursuit of perfection?

Of course the ideal option in an if situation is a when. Rather than say, ‘if I get laid’…you really want to be saying ‘when I get laid’. Or as opposed to saying ‘if I get the job’ you should be saying, ‘when I get the job’. If, in this case serves to set in motion actions and machinations that will culminate into the desired outcome. I mean, you don’t just get it instantly – you have to dream it and try figure it out first. And it isn’t always about being out of touch with reality. Sometimes given how tough reality is, you should digress a bit and try view stuff from another (abstract) dimension.

Kipling’s poem is based on conditions and understandably so. It is an advice to a son (or daughter) or let’s just say someone younger, of our age. Alternatively he could have just said stuff like ‘keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…’ you know, minus the if. The inclusion of if gives room for it to be a choice, not something being forced down one’s throat. And obviously a choice is more effective than a rigid one-way-only statement. I’m convinced the world would be a better place if everyone read and tried to live up to Kipling’s sage words. Then again I shudder to think what if the man who ordered the poem to be hung up the wall of my school’s glorious Akamba Hall didn’t think it was that inspiring enough…oh well, better not even dare not even entertain that line of thought.

Then I’m reminded of my other favorite works of if, as belted by Nickelback in their ‘If Everyone Cared’ hit: ‘If everyone cared and nobody cried, If everyone loved and nobody lied, If everyone shared and swallowed their pride, Then we’d see the day when nobody died’. Wouldn’t it better nice to have a day when nobody died? If only…