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.
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.