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.

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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.

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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.

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The mythical Griffon, soaring high above.

 

The Return

Of late my twitter profile picture has been generating a more than usual interest, with me having to be on the end of the incessant probes. No, there’s nothing lewd or inappropriate in it. It is just a picture of a baby-faced boy clad in a red shirt and black tie and half sweater. Yes, the boy in question is yours truly. The outfit described above is of course the upper part of the Starehe Boys’ Centre uniform, famously referred to as ‘the red and blue’. Why did I upload it as my avatar? Good question. I don’t have an instant answer to that, but I guess by the time we’re done reading this, that question would have been satisfactorily dealt with.

Saturday, 14th July, I among a host of dignitaries were at Starehe to join the school’s community in the celebrating the school’s 53rd Founders’ Day. This was to be my first appearance on such an occasion in four years, when I left the school. Strangely, somehow I felt just as nervous as the very first time I set foot on those grounds, seven odd years ago. I’m getting old, I see. With the President also gracing the occasion this time, the security was stringent and maybe to some extent that added in one way or the other to the nervousness. Still, the security part played only a minor role in the emotions in my head.

Anyway after the necessary security procedures at the main gate, I was in. I was in heaven, I must add. The tarmac road from the gate had been redone, and was thicker than what I knew it to be. The hedges were as leafy green as though they’d been borrowed for the day from the Central African equatorial forests. The mosque on the left cut a resplendent snow-white picture and the Music Centre was a sight to behold as always, even instinctively churning out those classical melodies just by glancing at it. Or maybe it was just the nostalgic me. Gently walking on, still a captive of the sights I had so much missed, on the left was the humongous Rotunda, albeit this time the whiteness was faded, irritatingly replaced by layers of dust induced cream bordering brown. I think I must have raised my eyebrows. Yes, I most certainly did. It can’t all be perfect; I sighed and walked on, on to something that definitely wasn’t always there. It was a statue. Not just a statue, but rather a monument of the three men who founded the institution. We called them the 3Gs – Griffin, Geturo and Gikubu. Without even knowing it, I paused there for a moment to pay my homage, and they deserved every bit of it, again and again. I took a right turn, briskly walking along the ‘highway’ I had trodden on more than a thousand times before. This time I was pocketing, something that I wouldn’t dare do a while back. I had grown. Of course I checked the Scouts Room, the Roundsquare Office, the Games Office, my beloved Scan Room, the exclusive Common Room, the Main Study then the Main Office. I was home. And it felt surreal to be back.

Right from the front of the Centre’s seat of power so to speak, or rather Main Office, I stood still, motionless, speechless, just gazing about. There was the towering Junior Block where I spent most of my active years in. The Study Block, which brought back the memories of those eventful prep sessions during our final year, still stood. The Assembly Hall, or simply AH, was there in its splendor. From where I stood I couldn’t read what was written on its two main doors, but why did I even need to read, when the words were still on my fingertips? ‘From those to whom much has been given, much will be required’ and ‘The path of duty is the way to glory’ were and I presume are the exact words boldly engraved on the wooden frame of the doors. You’ll hardly come across words any wiser. I quickly glanced to the far end to the expansive Dining Hall with the ‘Mother House’ or Kirkley House upstairs, and the adjoining Kibaki and Muriuki Houses. Then the Chapel, formerly the Decagon, arguably the most revered place in the school. Dr. Griffin rests there, and I know he watches. I had fed my eyes to satisfaction and I was at ease now. Duly I stepped into the Quadrangle, was ushered into the Old Boys’ tent, and took a seat next to my former classmates, Khalif and Tosh. Finally I had made it! I was an Old Boy!

As we sat there in the glam tent waiting for the President’s arrival to signal the start of proceedings, conversation was immediately struck by the three of us who had shared each other’s company in class for those 4 years. The beauty of it all was that even though we’d been apart for so long, the rapport was rich, as though there had been no interlude. When we were students we often talked about coming back later arm in arm with our spouses for the ultimate show-off. I had nobody to come with (I couldn’t get any to bring) and maybe sub-consciously I feared the imminent ridicule. Thank God, Khalif came solo too, although Tosh had a seat reserved for someone. In any case, it was a two against one situation, so he wouldn’t win the banter. Crisis averted! Anyway the celebrations went on, as we happily rolled back the years with the memories and barely two hours, the President who doubles up as Patron of the school had given his speech and taken his leave.

Did I mention how awesome the School Band had been? When they belted out Gym Class Heroes’ Stereo Hearts, I think I shed a tear. Oh, it was fantastic and the quality was typically exceptional as always. We stood from our seats, took a walkabout, as this was the perfect chance to catch up with the other guys present. To be precise, it was a chance to catch up with Old Boys from our year, 2008. And boy, did they come in numbers! Conrad, Ken, Ralph, Gilbert, Dedow, Kipchumba, MaithaNjogu among many others. I couldn’t have asked for more. Each handshake, man-hug, conversation and laughter evoked memories that will last forever.

After that there was the traditional Founders’ Day football match against the enemy, Lenana School. The last time I witnessed this, we ran riot, scoring seven past the hapless opponents, but definitely times had changed and so had the players. This time we lost on penalties after a dour barren draw. To us though, it didn’t matter. Why should it have? Some of us had just added to our collection more memories to last us for a while. The day wouldn’t be complete without a celebration of some kind. Just like the old days we spent like thirty minutes arguing about where to go, what to eat and how to get there. True to form, we walked, yes, walked to a joint in Ngara, and had our banter over a less than delicious goat meat meal. Boys will always be boys eh? It was a great day, one of the best really. As we sang years ago, it still reverberates: ‘Give honor again and again, to Starehe where we became men. Lenga juu, lenga juu!’Image