Updated: Jun 28, 2020
| This is the 326th story of Our Life Logs |
On March 23, 1985, in the remote farming village of Homabay County bordering the Gusii land of Kenya, I was born with ideas spilling out of my head. Ever since I can remember, I listened to the stories and news on the radio, longing to be part of the airwaves. I toyed with the idea of this kind of life like an infant attached to his pacifier.
Sadly, I had to face the “chronic illness” that would be my greatest obstacle: poverty. Though hereditary, it was curable, and I saw that my antidote was my determination and persistence. These had to set me free. It just had to.
Despite the apparent hostile nature of my father, I had his love when I was little. I was the oldest of his children and could talk to him about anything without fear. It’s because of this that I shared my desire to one day be on the radio. He did not take me seriously then, perhaps concluding that my young mind would explore many interests before settling on any particular one. But all the while, I knew that my dreams were too huge to stay in my dusty neighborhood.
So, I spent my school days perfecting my speech and learning languages, and I spent every other waking moment trying to save and make money. Instead of spending time dribbling polythene-made football or playing pranks on people like many of my age mates, I busied myself with farm work. It soon became apparent that I was blessed with the Midas touch. I planted tobaccos, bananas and raised tree seedlings hoping to one day sell them and fetch a good price. I had bountiful harvest compared to any of my family or relatives who ever tried their hands in farming. As a matter of fact, it earned me a nickname from my paternal grandmother who christened me “Jamaendeleo,” which can be loosely translated as, “a development-minded individual.” Unknown to her, that title became a great blessing.
I took my passion seriously and my performance in the languages grew impeccable, but that could not be compared on how much time I invested in scaring off the shadows of poverty. As I was not only trying to build for my own future, I was also expected to use my earnings to help support my family, as is common in many poor families where I grew up. You’d think my father would support my initiative, let me keep what little I saved. Instead, he did not make it any easier by marrying more than three wives. This forced me to fit the shoes of a father to my siblings, as he could barely support such an extended family.
But what could I do? Give up? No, I rolled up my shirt sleeves and I dove into farming. If truly soil was gold, I had to find it. When I was in the fifth grade, my tobacco sold at $1000, though, my father ceremoniously used the money to build my mother a semi-permanent house and pay school fees to my older brothers.
At that age, not being allowed to touch a single cent from the farmland proceeds really dipped my joy. A child who works that much deserved to get at least a coin as a token of appreciation. But knowing my father, I quickly dimmed those thoughts. It would never happen. The only consolation I had was seeing the smile on my mother’s face when her house was completed. She was so proud, and my heart melted. For the happiness of my family, I would find another way to support my dreams.
With my fluency in Swahili, I started doing sports commentaries during the game seasons for the area schools. I would get a little payment from these commentaries and paid my own school fees with it. My father resorted to the background, as I seemed to take over most of the financial responsibility for myself and my seven siblings. I still wonder how I pulled it all through.
I rode in the glory of my Swahili prowess and I could not hide my joy when a very prominent politician in my region invited me to do commentaries for a football match that was taking place in a neighboring school. He would pay me for my trouble. $10 per session was good money for me at that time, yet the demand for the little money did not just add up.
I had to devise a way to increase my returns. I bought dry wood, split them and resold them to the school kitchen section at a profit. That way I kept my finances stable to pay the school fees. I was so engulfed in adult duties that my childhood passed me by. I cannot tell if I really regret that or not, because I am clueless about what I missed.
I joined high school in 2003 in Homabay County and continued with my soccer commentaries, with most of my weekends booked with sporting events. By now, I was fully paying school fees for my younger sister. I got so busy playing the father role that I performed less than I should have. A C-average grade could not secure me a university admission. The winds had changed. I had to change with it.
“You got to use what you have to get where you want to go, David!” I told myself.
Soon, I enrolled in a journalism school in Nairobi and kept my network for the soccer commentaries. I saved enough to fund my college tuition fee, with better paying opportunities. I honed my skills with each passing day and rode on my self-taught positive vibes to keep going. I realized that my financial independence depended on such. And finally, it felt like a big step when I graduated and had the clearance to get my voice heard by the masses.
After running my shoe sole thin, I landed an interview opportunity at one of Swahili stations in Nairobi in 2008. Despite arriving last, I was the only one selected out of the 121 applicants because I was ready to do more than broadcast. Soon, my performance surprised even myself, to say the least. I had a job. I was called by the station director and told that I had hacked the interview. My sweaty palms settled into a happy shake. I knew nothing would hold me back, ever again.
My luck seemed to run out just as fast. The 2008 post-election violence in Kenya made me abandon everything I had worked for. I felt disheartened because it had taken me a while to get my job. To just leave everything felt unfair. But life is never fair, and if made to choose, any sane person would choose life before wealth. After the skirmishes, I set out looking for a job again. My previous station had relentlessly called on Kenyans to mend the split that was dividing the country into ethnic lines. But it was time to move.
My next job did not last more than two months. With a boss less concerned about employee’s remuneration, I chose to walk away without a clear next cause of action. By this time, my father was bitterly complaining that I was neither sending him money nor supporting the family. It was so bad that he called me back to the village and enrolled me into a teaching college. A profession I neither wanted nor had any interest in. Despite my protest, he shut me down and invoked his will on me. My parenting forbade any sort of disrespect to my elders. I was not ready to change that.
It’s at this point that he let out his true feelings about my choice of career. He considered me a prostitute to want a profession in media and communication. He felt my choice was a preserve for the loose and unsettled individuals in society. To say I was hurt is an understatement. I recalled that I had shared with him my desire to join journalism when I grew up. To realize that he did not share my dream really shattered me.
I went, begrudgingly to teaching college where he had pushed me into but sooner than later, he realized he could not sustain me there! Not when he had to cater for the tuition fees all by himself. He had neither the capacity nor the audacity to admit that he couldn’t keep me in school. Having gotten used to fending for myself, I felt useless shut in a school waiting for tuition fees and upkeep money from my father. If I really wanted to kick poverty out and his sick mentality, I had to outdo his expectations.
I took back the reigns of my life from my father. I made it known to him that I did not know what the future held, but as long as I focused on my goal in life, I was going to reach the top—with or without his support.