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Four Years in the Life of a Kenyan College Student

Written by Robert Gakumu

Photo via Wikipedia

I am probably one among many in the last generation of Kenyans kids who, by virtue of going to university and getting the chance to attain a degree, gave our parents immense pride. This is not going to be the case in a few years, as graduating university becomes more common in Kenya. Grow-ing up as a young person, going to university was the only thing that really kept me from drop-ping out of school, because I truly hated school. I cannot ever forget standard six when I was about 10, as it was easily the closest I ever came to dropping out, having on several occasions been truant.

Fast forward eight years later, and I was already through with high school, having done very well. On this day of early May, my mother, my father and my brother Kariru escorted me to Nairobi to begin a bachelor’s course in construction management. It was the first time I would be permanently staying in the city. After a long academic voyage of 16 years, here I was about to begin what I believed to be the most important chapter of my life, one that would pave way for my future success, and one that would indeed make my parents proud of the son they bore once it was all over. That day as I parted with them, my father, as if read-ing my brain, calmly assured me that it was all well, Nairobi wasn’t that bad after all. He ended by telling me, “I hope you won’t cry this time,” in reference to the first day of high school when I broke into tears as I watched him go.

My first year of college really came close to meeting my expectations of what I thought it would be. Firstly, there were all the old friends from primary school who wanted to catch up. About a month or so after entering university, I had attended more than three parties, which gave me my first experience with beer and girls. Although I would usually find myself feeling out of place because my clothes and “sheng” (Nairobi’s urban slang) still had this characteristic upcountry touch, but, I had fun. That was all even before any classes had begun. Once it was time to begin classes, I discovered it was all the high school stuff with little variation and fancier names, like “Micro-economics” for the thing we called “Business Studies” in high school.

By the end of that year, I was quite literally the person my parents warned me about. I had used up all my savings from the previous year partying and overhauling myself to look like the cool rich kids of Nairobi. I managed to pass all my units without a supplementary, which was quite a surprise as I didn’t think just knowing high school stuff would take me a whole year through campus. First year wasn’t, however, just about to end without drama. In December, the fiery University of Nairobi Student Union leader Babu Owino led student protestors on a rampage like no other, blocking major highways around the university, beating up motorists, and basically bringing the whole University of Nairobi to a complete halt. Later that day, as police and students continued to engage in the dark and in the rain, an engineering student was shot dead. It wasn’t reported in the news, and the only reason I know of it is because all day I had been following the protestors, albeit in the rear, and telling myself that yes I was now in “UoN,” where – in the words of Babu Owino – God’s power is the only one greater than that of the Comrades. Well, I guess the police had considerable power too.

I cannot overstate the impact my first year had on my life, and just as I was beginning to settle down and realize that I came to the university for the construction management, second year was here already. This time around, the shocker was new roommates, and although they were all from my class, I hadn’t ever spoken to two of them the whole of first year.

The year seemed to drag on at a snail’s pace as I tried to kill time by learning how to swim, playing chess, and discovering the city in detail. I felt like I would be in this place forever, and I had no urgency whatsoever to do the things I came to university wanting to do, like joining a real sport and writing articles for the varsity magazine.

One December day, as we began the second semester exams, I received a frantic call from my father, who said that my brother wanted to see me at home. He had been fighting cancer, one that had developed in the lachrymal gland of his right eye. I went home to find him weak and barely a shadow of his former self, barely able to eat or talk. Two days later, he was taken to the hospital with lung complications and later succumbed to the cancer, the brother I had known for 19 years. The year couldn’t have ended any worse, yet still I managed to just barely meet the minimum mark to proceed to third year without a supplementary.

In third year I actually realized I had to put more effort into my schoolwork. I even visited the library for the first time in an attempt to save my grades, which had been on a downward spiral since first year. I improved my rate of attend-ing classes, and things started look-ing good on the schoolwork side. I began to concentrate on trying to find my passion, including stints in art, photography, blogging, and even Android app development. Most times I just lost interest in those things after some time. In the process of trying to discover myself, I turned to the Internet, brows-ing for tips and ways to do that.

Time seemed to literally fly. It must be because I realized my time in university was coming to an end as I ate into the last part of the year. Luckily for me, there were no incidents as the year drew to a close. In fact, except for a nasty hangover I was nursing the day we broke for Christmas, this time around I went home in happiness to a happy family ready to celebrate this one in style.

School reopened in May. I had done a stint as an attaché at a lo-cal corporation, and I came with a lot of energy, prepared to finish my university career in fashion. All of a sudden, worries about my future in the construction industry began to show themselves. With all the expectations my parents have, having been the first in a family of five to attend university, the pressure eventually starts to play a role in your life. As I go into my last year at university it dawns on me I have to work harder, and a lot is at stake. School work is quite a lot this year, but I really don’t feel it. I’ve successfully made it three years. In fourth year, I’ve barely been to any parties, and the money that didn’t seem enough just last year takes me through the first semester with ease. This semester I’m working on a portfolio project to redesign a courthouse facility, which has left me with almost no time to engage meaningfully in any other activities, even dropping off resumes to potential employers.

As I write this article, I’m interrupted by screams, shouts, and the sound of glass shattering outside. I peep through my room’s window, which faces the student’s mess out-side, students rioting. I later learn that the school has banned the selling of “mandazi,” a cheap type of bread for students sold in tuck shops. The alibi? Tuck-shops apparently have simply made business bad for them. It’s reminiscent of first year, when I followed the rioting students for a whole day, thrilled at how much power my comrades indeed wielded. Today however, I just observe from my window and hope that things won’t reach the point where we are forced to go home. Exams are only weeks away, the last set of exams I’ll ever have to sit for at university.

I ponder the memories of my four years of college and how they have simply flown by in unbelievable speed. I secretly wish I had more time here, yet I still hate to be in school and study for exams. By next year, I will be a construction manager, ready for business and ready to make me and my family proud, and above all to be of service to my people. I look forward to 2017, yet I still remain uncertain of what the year may bring. What a period it has been, four years of transforming myself into a real man!

About the author

Robert Gakumu