Life Skills - Reflections of a Young Man™

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Life Skills

If you ask Kenyans how they are fairing in life, they usually respond in our country's main lingua franca, "Nang'ang'ana na maisha tu!" That's a Swahili statement which translates as, "I am just struggling with life."

And it's true Kenyans really struggle with life. Like I was on one evening talking to Prof. Joshua Kayima, a choir director at All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi, about a psychotherapy I was undergoing through sometime in 2011. He told me that I was not the only one suffering. "You see these people", he said while pointing at members of the choir he leads, "most of them are taking medication."

Ha! I laughed at the way my friend Peter Kamai wise-cracked on his Whatsapp status: "In this Kenya, you don't need an alarm clock to get you up in the morning. You just sleep and your problems will wake you up."

Aware of the power of words in shaping our lives, I have over the past two years avoided saying that I am struggling with life when asked how I am fairing because I don't want to struggle with life. I want to enjoy it.

To be honest though, there was a time I used to struggle with life especially the time I was undergoing psychotherapy as I have pointed out. But I am now beginning to enjoy it after practising the following life skills I gleaned from a magnificent and colourful book titled Glencoe Health: A Guide to Wellness:
  • Assist others when appropriate.
  • Find something that you can enjoy doing and that gives you a feeling of success. Make time to do that activity regularly.
  • Stop making life a contest. Recognize that there will always be people both more and less able than you are in all areas of life.
  • Aim for improvement, not perfection.
  • Build a network of supportive relationships.
  • Surround yourself with people who respect, approve and accept you as an individual.
  • Accept mistakes and errors as learning tools rather than as signs of your failure.
  • Reject any negative feedback from others that is intended to put you down.
  • Practice visualizing situations in which you are successful.
  • Whenever you look at your weaknesses, spend equal time considering your strengths.
  • Give yourself credit for all accomplishments or improvements, even the smallest ones.
  • Practice basic health habits, giving attention to your physical, mental and social health.
  • .....
  • Improve your mind - read a book, write a story.
  • Use your creative talents on a regular basis.
  • Get some training in an area of interest.
  • Make lists of your qualities, skills and talents. Read them often.
  • Avoid engaging in self-destructive behaviours to escape your shyness or lack of social success. Doing so will just make matters worse.
  • Do something nice for someone else. Do something nice for yourself.
  • Set some realistic, achievable goals, and work at them. [1]
Yes, I am now beginning to enjoy life thanks to those skills I gleaned from that magnificent and colourful book. And I can't help believe that I will soon succeed in all areas of my life and fulfil my dreams especially meeting my soul-mate, driving a classy car, building a resplendent home, having a colourful wedding and travelling overseas.

I advise you to also give those skills a try if you are struggling with life; you will be amazed at how wonderfully your life will change. You will start feeling high naturally with an added bonus of health and inner peace. Over to you!

[1] I have extracted these life skills from page 13 of Glencoe Health: A Guide to Wellness (Fourth Edition) by Mary Bronson and Don Merki, published in 1994 by McGraw Hill.


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People Need The Lord

This is the majestically vaulted main sanctuary of All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi which I joined in my first year at JKUAT. Photo courtesy of my friend Joyce Kayima.

As you might already know if you have been reading my previous stories in this website, I loved attending church at All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi during my first year at JKUAT in 2007. I joined the church as a tactic of improving my chances of getting accepted at Harvard College which admits students who excel not only in academics but also in extra-curricular activities.

So for many days, I attended the church with high hopes that I would eventually fly to America for undergraduate studies at Harvard College which I imagined to be of the same high standards as All Saints Cathedral. I would at times gaze at the majestically vaulted main sanctuary of the cathedral and visualize myself doing the same at Harvard.

But it was not only my desire to study at Harvard that glued me to the cathedral. I also loved being part of the church's 9.30am English Service Choir, with which I sang tenor and played the organ, because of its spiritually enriching songs and its buddy-buddy monthly fellowships.

Of all the spiritually enriching songs I learnt in the choir, there was one that touched me most. It began as follows:
"Everyday they pass me by,
I can see it in their eyes,
Empty people filled with care,
Headed who knows where?

On they go through private pain,
Living fear to fear,
Laughter hides their silent cries,
Only Jesus hears,
People need the Lord,
At the end of broken dreams,
He's the open door,
When will we realize,
People need the Lord?"
So much was I inspired by those lyrics and their accompanying melody that I found myself singing them aloud to myself. I even sang them to my first semester room-mate at JKUAT hoping to change his Casanova lifestyle. Imagine he once brought a woman in our room in the middle of the night from a partying session and screwed her right below my bed where I was sleeping and from where I overheard their sexual intercourse friction noises.

But what I didn't realize back then was that I was the one who needed to heed the advice of those inspiring lyrics because of what I underwent in 2008. I was rejected at Harvard College; then I ignominiously dropped out of JKUAT and stopped attending church which led me to be forcefully admitted to hospital.

By the time I was getting discharged from JKUAT hospital in late 2008, I had grown fearful, hopeless and overweight which led to depression. I tried to resume attending church at All Saints but I found myself feeling so alienated and demotivated that I began to miss the days when I was full of high hopes. And then I would pity myself and wonder what on earth had happened to me.

My mother coaxed me to continue attending church at All Saints Cathedral by giving me bus fare to Nairobi but I would at times instead go sleep at Uhuru Park next to the cathedral where I was on one Sunday incarcerated for almost two hours for urinating on a fence. Eventually, I gave up attending church and for several years, I didn't sing or play the piano.

But I have now long since sprang back into good shape thanks to the Lord my dear God. He has guided me back to the path of eternal peace with His amazing grace. And all I can say now is that people need the Lord at the end of broken dreams. He's the open door for shizzle.


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Leadership Lessons

This is the 2006 Starehe Boys' Fire-fighting Squad which used to conduct a more than four-month gruelling physical fitness test for new members. Photo courtesy of Fred Kithikii, the 2006 Squad Commander.

Bear with me, if you will, as I recount on yet another wonderful experience I had at Starehe Boys' Centre. I am just developing a hobby of reflecting on my past days, the good as well as the buttock-clenching ones, with the aim of either gleaning valuable lessons or enjoying my life again. And that hobby, which I am finding more refreshing than watching a wacky movie, is inspiring me to live an honourable life while still a youth so that I can get to enjoy it again when I grow old through beautiful memories.

I joined the Starehe Boys' Survival Club in my first term in Form 1 back in 2002 after magically passing an interview conducted by commandos - as the club leaders were called. And with time, I came to enjoy the camps and hikes we had in the club. Well, I didn't enjoy the hikes because they involved a lot of trekking through hilly countrysides but the camps, during which some commandos wore stetson hats that made them look like American cowboys, were quite another thing in that I enjoyed them especially the night camp-fires around which we would sing funny ditties while making fun of commandos who were selected in Form 3.

Like one Lazarus Kisau teased a commando on one of those camp-fire chants by saying, "You see the grandmother of Commando 'X' - she grew thin and thinner and thinner and thinner and thinner until she disappeared!"

So much did I come to enjoy being part of Survival Club that at one time, I wanted to be a commando in the club. I however gave up on the ambition when I realized I couldn't withstand joining the Starehe Boys' Fire-fighting Squad (see photo above) which Survival Club commandos were expected to join. But with all the confusion and timidity that Starehians saw in me, I doubt whether I would have been selected a commando anyway.

I therefore left the club in Form 2 but after having gleaned the following leadership lessons which I hope to apply in my future family of which I will be the head, God willing:
  • Rise early
  • Be physically fit
  • Ensure everybody in the family has a meal before sitting down to eat
  • Create some time for family fun in which everyone is free to tease each other
  • Keep disagreements with wife and bedroom affairs out of notice by children
And how did I glean those valuable lessons? Mostly in Survival Club camps in which I would observe among other things that commandos projected a spirit of unity and had us wake up early in the morning for physical exercises.

Later on in 2012, I became interested in memorizing the values and mission statements of Survival Club as they may have been outlined by the club founder in 1989. So I visited Starehe Boys' only to find that the club had been displaced from the cottage we used as headquarters in our days to a small room partitioned in an old classroom.

With that kind of change, I sensed the club had lost its glitz and glamour. I informed Ken Ogutu, one of the commandos in '02, about the change but he didn't seem surprised. He just told me they used to refer to the cottage we used as Survival Club headquarters as the Bush Embassy. I found that Ogutu's remark amusing because it implies that if you wanted to go to the bush, you first had to get a visa from the Survival Club headquarters.

And by the way Ken Ogutu, who I have approached to be my legal advisor, went on to study law at the university and was accepted at the renowned Harvard Law School for a post-graduate course. My friend, that's the end of my story, and I have had a nice time telling it. Thanks for bearing with me.


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