When it comes to schooling, I’ve had my fair share, although mostly against my will. First, there was the duksi, the Quranic school, that yanked me out of my mother’s arms before the milk dried on my mouth, as I threw a tantrum. Cue: but baby want more milk! I have a lot of great memories from of it: some good, some bad. It claimed me and others for a lovely life of constant beatings and nonstop memorization such that within three days, the milk would have dried up and I became a man. Three days tops. It’s modus operandi was definitely baby friendly. There was the chorus of loud recitations; the crack of the whip on your back when you got stuck on a verse,which was often; the deafening wail you let out as you jumped up and down in a rather dizzying dance of pain and confusion and; the distant laughter of mom indicating utmost confidence in the system, as she made anjeera to help you nurse your beatings later on.
There was the long wooden planks that were used as writing material and was written with homemade ink; ink that covered everything from your hair to the very sand you sat on. The maalim would without blinking make us go to the bush and each bring him a bundle of the most long and slender of branches to use for disciplinary purposes. The duksi was more or less legitimized bullying. And when it was finally over, I came out deeply, deeply scarred but very very scholarly. You did a jig right in front of the maalim. There was no prize giving or teary graduation ceremony but you felt very happy regardless. Aah, it was the bees knees. Lovely times.
Then there was primary school. And as far as names go, Tetu was a peculiar name for a school in Garissa. It does sound like a name of a failed indie rock band no? I’ve always linked my hippie-ness to my primary education. I have a lot of mushy memories from this place. The red pants; I hated those, not just because you looked ridiculous in them, but because you could be spotted from as far as your house as you tried to skive Ms. Kariuki’s mind-numbingly boring class about amphibians. There were the beatings of course. They were more methodical and institutionalized than the duksi. They were severe, premeditated, well practiced and came in generous doses. They had pazzaz and flair. They had a palpable malice in them too, and you could feel it right to your bones. The beatings found life and legitimacy in the lists of noise makers and absentees. Oddly though, they were never enough to dissuade those kids who had “chronic absenteeism” (n. Long-lasting and difficult to eradicate psychological disorder of regularly staying away from work or school because you just don’t feel it). Kids who disappeared for weeks but came back armed with countless layers of trousers to protect their skinny arses from the tyranny of the cane. Kids who would be stripped to the last and the thinnest trouser and got disciplined next to a large heap of multi-coloured bad ideas in the form of shed trousers. Kids who would still disappear for weeks. I promise I wasn’t among this lot; I wasn’t stupid – I lined my arse with thick text books and only disappeared for a week thereafter. By the way stop imagining me being whipped next to a heap of books as I wailed. I assure you that never happened. So that primary school- the whole exercise was dubious and reeked of coercion. Let’s just say I wasn’t a big fan.
High school came knocking with a hint of confusion masked as arrogance just as you settled into puberty. I remember a lot of stuff from my high school years: the insatiable appetite to put away anything in your wake; the unruliness; the gang mentality; and the continuation of the discovery of the female species. It deserves a whole post on its own. But relevant to this post is that I remember reading my way through it. I may have been trying to make up for the deficiency (physically and educationally) in my primary schooling and luckily high school exposed me to books. Sweet paperback. Shit you weren’t supposed to read during prep time. I religiously read everything between J.K Rowling to Shakespeare. From Achebe to Gabriel García Márquez. Best thing that ever happened to me by the way. It opened my mind to so many things and ideas and perspectives and peoples and worlds I had never imagined before. But this of course came at a cost as my school grades suffered because they never tested on Hippogrifs or magical spells. Or on Colombian drug cartels. Why do bad things happen to good people? I was pissed off.
Anyway, after finishing high school, I “lazied” (is this a word?) around for a while reading downright hippie stuff like David Foster Wallace and J.D Sallinger, as my peers were busy sending applications to unis. I was busy trying to figure out which was the more illustrious career path for me: being a wandering hippie with a camera and an old typewriter or settling down with a submissive teen to a quiet life in the breezy outskirts of Garissa, making little Aresses, opening a duksi and raring goats as a side hustle. The latter was particularly a charming prospect and was of course put forth and championed by my folks. So as you can imagine, I was sitting on the fence. Tough decision.
Fortunately or unfortunately, however, I didn’t go with either of these. I decided to be a normal kid and go to uni like everyone else and study something remotely interesting and dreary for four or five years, get a job and a wife, make babies, take out a mortgage and spend the rest of my life repaying it by slaving away for someone 9-5. You know, basically live the dream. Solid plan. Only problem was I wasn’t sure what to actually study. Medicine was popular with kids, but I wasn’t going to be a doctor and “help the world one patient at a time and make a difference” – because I was as clumsy as an old cow anyway. Besides, I didn’t fancy poking syringes at people’s bums for a living. I wasn’t going to be an engineer either because, I was shitty at math. Plus I didn’t fancy wearing those ugly hard helmets or building stuff. Any stuff for that matter. Kavita, sorry bro! No mjengo for me.
Law interested me, and I possessed some skills that would come in handy– the ability and capacity to memorize large materials under a lot of pressure that I learned from the dusksi; the unwavering patience to sit in long dreary classes without cutting my wrists that I picked from primary school; and the ability not to get intimated by large ugly volumes of books that I horned in high school; and most importantly the rather not so unique skill of being shitty at anything math-related. We are mostly terrible at math. I also had that naive belief that I could change the world by fighting for the rights of the oppressed, because you thought the world was so malleable that you could change it single-handedly. Anyway the stars aligned. It was a match made in heaven. Hooray! I found the school that would suit me and that fit like a glove.
And I have to say I was excited. Because I also imagined I was going to spend a few years engaging in intellectual discourse with learned friends and aging professors in a language peppered with Latin. Then I’d graduate and I’d get to drive to court in a shiny Jaguar, an Armani suit worth the same price as a plot in Rongai and a Michael Kors beauty on my wrist. I’d get to storm in just before recession, say something bad ass like “With all due respect Your Honour, this is bullshit!” and I’d still win a case! Well at least that is how it seemed like on tv. I literally couldn’t wait.
But as soon as I got accepted into Moi University, people started judging my chosen career path, especially my folks, who are very conservative. The thing with lawyers is, as I came to discover, we have a bad rap. The notion is so commonplace that it has immunized itself against all irony and surprise. May be the doctors are to blame, for being such goody two shoes, for making us look bad by being always caring and punctual and sober and hardworking and professional all the freaking time. It’s not that we are bad, it;s just that these folks create a bad contrast for us. All nice with their weird overalls.
Anyway, the crazy thing is that my folks are mostly semi-nomads who have never retained the services of a lawyer but they still schooled (the irony is not lost on me) me on what lawyers actually do. They were not amused by the moral underpinnings, or lack thereof, of the legal profession. The issue of defending murderers and robbers was of course the bed rock to their argument, as it always is when it comes to this debate. I tried to persuade them about why law is a noble career path. That one can be an honest lawyer. Pssshhtt. They laughed it off, calling that an oxymoron. Bollocks, they said, in Somali. There was zero doubt on their minds that I was going to hell. There was no debate about it. This was when I came to realize that our (not so glittering) reputation precedes us. As in literally precedes us; it goes jumping up and down, excited , singing (annoying) Taylor Swift songs at the top of its voice, holding placards, a very conspicuous sight for everyone to see. It precedes us the way a presidential detail precedes a head of state. It will call a press conference and even lay a red carpet. It’ll take selfies with folks and chat them up.
Anyway with thoughts of hell and a nagging high school hungover brooding over me, I set off for Moi University School of Law in Eldoret, the place I was going to spend four years supposedly learning the law. I had never been to Eldoret before but in my mind I pictured a big old booming metropolis with skyscrapers piercing the skies, you know, like Garissa.. Stop rolling your eyes, I’m not shitting you, I can send pictures to prove ;-D.
It wasn’t what I expected at all, Eldoret. There was rain, mud and Kalenjins everywhere. Everyone looked like William Ruto. And it was ridiculous and unnerving. Also the level of the rains and the chilly weather was to me, as someone who was used to ridiculously high temperatures, not just strange weather phenomenon, but a culture shock. How can people live like this? I still shiver at the thought of it. Plus there were too much maize plantations and skinny shirtless athletes for my liking. To be honest I didn’t warm to up to the town, at least at first.
Soon enough, campus began. Aaah campus. That was something. First year of law school was a lovely time. There was a lot of introductions, unnecessary enthusiasm, caution, uncertainty and a hint of insecurity. The first day of the semester of course the lecturer asked this simple yet powerful question: why you entered law school and why you wanted to become a lawyer, whether it was your childhood dream, or your parents’ ambition for you.
They also reminded you every other day that only a handful of you would actually graduate. That it was not a walk in the park. And before you got through your first Contracts class, you were hit by the rude shock that “enyewe law si ya mama yako.” And it didn’t help your case that in first semester, you didn’t really know much, apart from the fact that you liked arguing more than the next guy. You didn’t know that this was more of an emotional imbalance than a required skill of a lawyer. You also didn’t know how to even read a case the right way.
The language of the law was of course archaic, and the vocabulary was straight out of the King George IV era. But it didn’t scare us, in fact it turned us on, especially the Latin; we know deep down that this is not a dead language. So we quintessentially love the arcane lingo because it flatters our ego just right (I’ve also noticed the rhyme in this sentence is not poetic but awkward.) We say stuff other people don’t understand because after all we are the learned friends. And because of this, we have egos the size of Biko Zulu’s forehead. Our ego is as refined as a Luo man and also has an ego – an equally refined one for that matter and when they sit down they say learned things. They play golf, speak Latin, go to the opera and consider themselves highbrow.
Speaking of highbrow, there were of course the “gunners.” Those folks who could talk “for days.” Whoever came up with this phrase, for days, quite ingenious. Chaps who had memorized the Constitution. Chaps who had read Sweet and Maxwell from cover to cover. Who used the word “cantankerous” or “aforementioned.” Chaps who brushed shoulders with the Solicitor General. Who wore suits sharper than your legal mind. Who have been arguing since they stopped wearing diapers. Who believed they were born lawyers. So because of all this, the start of law school was slightly unsettling and intimidating and as a result it wasn’t uncommon for First Years to lose the plot and make babies out of sheer panic caused by a tot (tort?) of overbearing Latin maxims and low grade weed from that place we called Sugunanga (I mean, there is no way a place with a shifty name like that can sell good weed right?.)
Second year was characterised by a number of things. Just as in the quintessential campus, there was the birth of (accidental?) babies made in first year. This was when I actually believed without a doubt the saying that some are born lawyers. Forget the gunners, these little chaps deserve that title. The other thing is that the fog of mystery surrounding exams is gone, lecturers no longer seem like scary demons. This release of stress allowed you to enjoy the fairly ample time that you had before becoming a young lawyer, which is a different matter altogether… so there was the partying, the fun, the love triangles or even hexagons.
Third year could be more or less summarized as “Oh crap, what am I doing?” It was mostly damage control as folks tried to fix that Criminal Law supplementary or that missing Constitutional law CAT. Folks also nursed relationship scars, while others, often very few, managed to stay together since Freshers Bash and were now in the advanced stages of their wedding plans. Cupid’s a bastard with a sick sense of humour. Lawl! Fourth year comes with maturity and a cleaning up of the mess from previous years to ensure a smooth exit.
But one cannot talk of law school without the books. There was a lot of reading for sure, this is not a myth. And the books weighed more than you did. The reading lists were of epic length and they seemed like the printed version of the credits of a Peter Jackson film. This is definitely why this post is really long. But despite the lots of reading expected from us, we preferred to do our reading during the latter stages of the semester, to deal with urgent stuff like Rugby 7s or the latest GoT. And by latter stages I mean the night before the exam. Law students, like any other campus folks, have perfected the art of procrastination down to a T.
This laziness would of course come to haunt you later. The games began when you realized you had seven days to save the semester. You binged on coffee and read volumes of books, cases and legislation on a concept that may or may not be tested. You got a headache but you weren’t sure whether it was because of lack of enough coffee or too much of it. There were times where you’d look up when you’re halfway through your Tax Law (this was a bitch) or Civil Procedure paper, eyes bloodshot and blurry and you’d think “is this really what I want to be doing with my life?” At that instance, you’d do anything to avoid a supplementary. You’d kill your family pet for it! Day after day, we’d drag ourselves in, sleep deprived, over-caffeinated and still so unbelievably behind on our readings. Bankruptcy sucked. Juris was, uhmm, argumentative and ridiculous. Property has some tough shit. You thought clinicals should be scrapped. And you may or may not have thought about pointing a gun to the Dean’s head to demand your degree certificate, to put to use those hours spent on watching mafia films instead of studying for the exam. It was literally a nightmare. But this didn’t necessarily apply to everyone; especially the Type A folks who did everything on time and were always dedicated.
But law school wasn’t all about the reading and the exams for sure. Apart from the law, it taught me life lessons. I learnt to be self dependent. I lived the campus life and learnt what it means to be in campus, to waste time, and sometimes wrong people unintentionally. That even though you may not have interacted with everyone, they still cared about you somehow. That you all shared classrooms, dreams and ambitions. That no one was perfect even though we tried our best to seem put together. I also made mistakes that I learnt from. It exposed me to different people from different backgrounds and I got to appreciate their unique identities and learn something from each one of them, giving me an enriching experience. We made each other better and pushed each other when we were stuck. We lost some good friends along the way. Akina Mzito and later Sajid and others. May God rest their souls. It reminded us that life is precious and we shouldn’t take it for granted.
I met all kinds of people too, made great friends and acquaintances and in the process learnt the meaning of true friendship. Friends with who we shared chapatis and tea every other day at Highway Café. We played pool and football behind the mess. We watched football at Acacia.
There was Steve, who taught me how to cook proper Luhya ugali, and who could shovel it down along with five chapatis escorted by a mug of tea (khachai) in one sitting. *Hides from Steve* Gichangi, whose first words to me were: “Sasa wewe uko na umama umekataa kusalimia watu hizo miaka zote” but provided us with invaluable guidance whenever we needed it, despite his obvious “umamaness.” Nyamwea, for just being a Kisii. Willy, for not knowing how hilarious you are. Mwangi Yoshi, Mutheci, Kedo, Pato (whom I’m yet to figure out whether he is Kuyu or Jango), Willis, Kibett, for “umama”, for those jokes and for being a good sport. The likes of Sauda, Vivianne, Diane, Sylvia, Samantha for those amazing memories. Sadam, Fatah, Kassim, for being a pain in the arse.
Looking back though, I can confidently say that it made me a better person than I was when I started; both in terms of academics and of course generally as a human being. But I won’t lie, when graduation day came, it was supposed to be a bitter sweet moment but for us it was mostly sweet; Moi can be a pain. They made you work for it, so much so that when you walked to the graduation square, you had a feeling of disbelief, like your eyes were deceiving you. You felt like you deserved it, that you earned your spot among the thousands who were gathered. I felt the same way I felt when I finished duksi; like a freed elf. But instead of a sock, they handed you your degree. Your inner Dobbie sang in blithe celebration.
At that instant, it all made sense, even though it was just a piece of paper with your name written in weird calligraphy. But when you looked back and thought about all the things you had to do to get it, all the sleepless exam nights, the cramming, the consultations during exams (let’s not put tags and call this copying ;-D), the discussions at ungodly hours, the fatigue, the facebooking during lectures, the films you binged on to get here.. It was meant to lead to this moment. You made it out of law school with an LL.B degree and a healthy dose of general skepticism of… uhmm…generally everything. You came out a bit scarred and overloaded with information. You left feeling generally scholarly and with a bigger ego than you came with. LLB. Legum Baccalaureus. Bachelor of Laws. You definitely felt luckier than many. You were excited but also anxious about the next step.