Mark Kaigwa

Posts Tagged ‘History’’

Back to the “Old School”

In Perspective, Real Talk on April 15, 2009 at 7:02 am
My High School Trunk...Just kidding!

My High School Trunk...Just kidding!

Taking it back to when it all began, while rumbling through my casket of a boarding school trunk,and finding the inaugural issue of The Laiser Beam. The very first magazine I ever wrote for, the first place I ever got published.

Published ‘by students for students’ in July 2005, the copy was an unbelievable 38 -pages long, and the first publication of any kind coming out of the school. Held together by 3 staples along it’s spine, and highly pixelated pictures with plenty of unrecognizable class pictures. It was a smash-hit with the students.

A budding writer in my final year of government education, I was glad to have two articles published in the issue, a first for the young 17 year-old journalist and soon-to-be blogger. And for your reading pleasure, here is the first one verbatim.

BREAK-TIME EXPOSED!!! By Mark Kaigwa
A slight caution before you read this article, what you will read will change you permanently. It will change the way you view the student body completely…Consider yourself warned! There are plenty of sayings to put the point across, “Only the strong survive”…”Survival for the fittest” and “It’s a dog-eat-dog world.” Well, they all apply now.


Welcome to break-time in Laiser Hill.


As soon as the bell rings, the mind slows and shuts down and begins calculations as the seat becomes harder and harder to sit on. The second the teacher sets foot outside, it’s a dash for the door. Looking at the tuck-shop all the way from class and it hits you that you’re already too late. People are shouting and squeezing through to give their orders.
But you don’t stop running, no, you can’t. Lest you have to spend half your break time shouting and jostling to get your order heard by ‘Madam.’ Physical fitness and endurance are a must. Nothing is bought or brought on a silver platter.


FACT: If you don’t break a sweat, you get no break.


There are at least 12 people, most being sweatier and of larger stature than you, constantly moving in and out of the window.
But not so fast, you need to look for a stepping stone or be ready to get your shoes muddy. As soon as you’ve balanced well on a stone, with your money firm in your hand, you need now to get to the window. Not forgetting that time is running out. The hardest is yet to come as you nudge and budge your way through the army of red sweaters you see the window and manage to finally squeeze your hand through one of the bars.


By then, you realize that you are partially deaf on one side because of someone, lets call him Mr. Pre-mandazi-breath both salivating and shouting into your earlobe trying to catch the attention of ‘Madam’

FACT: With your soft voice, you will be there until lunch but a deep commanding voice gets you a full stomach.


After buying, getting out is twice as hard as getting in, with your hands full, you don’t want to drop something or trip. You are now ready to go eat where the boys are at. There are way too many ‘bases’, behind the library, in front of it, under the tree, ‘parents park’…


With everybody and their own weird mixture of foods, crisps, drinks, powders and biscuits its no surprise that the nurse is always open at lunch time. And she’ll need all the luck she can get.

The thing I love about this article is the fact that it was sincere, witty and expressed moments that everybody in the school was familiar with. It was probably one of the best received articles I wrote, especially because I never presumed it would garner as much support as it did. Teachers, students, and even ‘Madam’ of the tuck-shop. She secretly thought I was trying to uncover her evil ring of chips-smuggling, where she would bring in French-fries by night and sell them to students, under the administration’s nose…Oops, there I go, ratting her out! How could I when I was one of the people who would leave her with a ‘deposit’ and take things on debit, or credit.

I need to tell you the names for our food combinations, or “combi’s” as they are referred to. We had “Mo-fire” a thicker type of mandazi made with extra flour, “Ndao” a regular mandazi.

Definition: Mandazi – A triangular, or rectangular (in Laiser Hill) shaped donut of sorts.

And the combinations ranged from a mandazi and a sausage, or mandazi and a samosa (both of which are very popular to date), chapati-sausage, to the outrageous ‘budget combi’ which was mandazi-crisps or chapati crisps, or mofire-crisps.

Definition: Crisps – thin deep fat fried slices of potatoes with added spices, packaged with nuts, and chevda-like additives.

The crisps-combi’s were hilarious, but became so popular. Started by students trying to be frugal, it caught on and became a fad, much like how ankle socks and slippers became a huge fad in school. Oh, to be young again…

These are smudges in my memory of high school. What are some of yours?

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Uncovered Roots: The Journey of My Grandparents

In History's Future, Perspective on January 6, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Today was an amazing day as far as rediscovering and tracking back in time to find out about the family tree.

My cucu (grandma) on my Dad’s side took the family on a tour of where life began for her, and how it developed from the 1950’s when they first moved to Nairobi. We visited the very place that my aunt, Tata Bush, was born. Which was a house just off Jogoo Road in Kaloleni at a small 1 bedroom bungalow known as D16. We also went through Ofafa Jericho, Maringo, Buru Buru, Hamza, Maendeleo and a host of other nooks and crannies of Eastlands area of Nairobi.

It was amazing to see where my grandma first stayed, to see the shop my grandfather first opened here in the city. The story behind that is actually pretty amazing. It goes that they owned one of some 20 shops that form a cul-de-sac  of shops encircling a space that functions as the parking lot. At this shop, my grandfather would sell amenities and kerosene. The shop was called Kaigwa General Stores and sold groceries, sugar, salt, marbles for the kids and everything in between.

We met a man who was 2nd Generation butchery owner, and he recognized my father, and some of his siblings.  They had been running his butchery for fifty years now, and they had a dark room of sorts on the inside. The dark room being the room we passed through to get through to the back. It was lit by lonely streaks of light through the fifty year old corrugated fiberglass on the roof. It lit conspicuously onto a tray of matumbo that four middle-aged men were happily sharing over banter. We slid through the dim corridoor to the other side where we found the back wall. The story behind the back wall was equally amazing.

At the famed Kaigwa General Stores and all the other stores like it in the cul-de-sac, there was a practice less spoken of, yet practiced quite regularly. And it ought to be, considering what it was. Back in these days, the mid to late 50’s the sewerage system had not been fully developed in the African quarters that were Eastlands. All Africans would stay in Eastlands, from Kaloleni to Makadara. From what I’m told Makadara was comparable to the finest estates in the city now, and you had to somebody to stay there. Makadara is where the shop was, and remains to this day, though under a different name – Nyagachuhi General Store. The complex where it’s located is now called Hamza Shopping Centre, in Hamza Estate, on Hamza Road, off Jogoo Road. I should Google Map this, just so you can get the aerial view. I will.

So, back to this practice. Basically all they had for a sewerage system was a bucket. Yes, a bucket. The bathroom contained a bucket, and you would do your business, number 1 or number 2, and leave it be. At the end of the day, a handful of city council men with a truck would come round the back, and collect the buckets. The funny thing, because I asked the stupid question ” What happened if you weren’t done yet?”, was that you had to hold whatever you were doing once they grabbed the bucket. You could never for any reason continue to do your do-do once you heard a hand stick through the wall and grab the bucket.

The back wall of the complex had about two-by-two bricks missing at the bottom of the wall. They would stick their hands through the wall, mostly  unannounced, to grab your bucket. As I said, if you were halfway, you would hold, and wait until the bucket was returned. If you dared to continue what you were doing, ignored them or told them to wait, you were in trouble, big smelly trouble; they would either throw the bucket back or pour the contents over your floor, and consequently your feet. You didn’t want to mess with them. And so, you didn’t. God forbid you ever, for any reason got anything on the hand that grabs your bucket. You’ll be sorry.

One of the most amazing stories of the day, was how at the Kaigwa General Stores at Makadara, My late grandfather got the first Kerosene pump in the whole complex and one of the only ones in Eastlands. With it, he got ahead of the curve by creating one of the first neon signs that side of town. Here’s what I mean by neon: it was an electric box that hung from the canopy right outside the door of the store. On the outside it had a message written with little yellow lights and it read ‘Ukai mwone uriru’ which translates from Kikuyu to English to read ‘Come and See the Amazing Wonders’ and it didn’t just bring customers, it helped keep them.

At the bottom of the electric box were two yellow light bulbs, and these would flicker on and off every couple seconds. The real story comes from how all the kids would react, my father recalls watching a drove of young 3-8 year olds, among them his sister, my aunt, gaze dreamily at the sign for long periods of time. When the light would go on they would all shout ‘Menoooo!!!’ which has no direct English translation, but refers to when something goes bright suddenly.

When the bulbs would go off momentarily they would then shout ‘Bucha!!!’ which roughly means ‘blink’ in Gikuyu. As soon as dusk would approach, like moths to a lamp as it glows, they would begin to converge around the shop, even before it went on, waiting. They would wait, and then go ‘Meno!!!’ and ‘Bucha!!!’in unison as it flickered on and off. I just imagine it like one of these zombie movies with the last remaining humans, and they converge around the place. They never got tired, and they never got bored of singing.

Our trip today started with Makadara, went to Ofafa Maringo, where they had the Hodi Hodi Club, which  then Ofafa Jericho, then Bahati, then to Kaloleni where Tata Bush was gone. WE missed out on going to Bondeni, where Cucu and Guka moved to next, then they went to Makadara. From there to Ofafa Maringo, and from Ofafa to Garden Estate. Where we’ve been for the past 20 odd years. When my grandfather changed Kaigwa General stores to a bar – the Hodi Hodi club, he got a pair of gentlemen to run it, and they eventually bought it off him, as he began a farm on the land here in Garden Estate, our current residence.

It was a great privilege to see where my relatives were born and track the life and times of my grandparents as they began to work their way up in life. My late grandfather became deputy mayor of Nairobi, my grandmother, a businesswoman. All in all it’s been a blessing, and the perfect way to celebrate family in a new way.

Amen to that.

Christmas: Turkey, Tradition and the Passing of a Great Woman

In Perspective, Real Talk on December 27, 2008 at 2:23 pm

What a bittersweet holiday. It’s been amazing to be able to give, to receive, to continue to help those less fortunate, to deny little luxuries, while indulging in others. It’s been an immersion in the true meaning of Christmas, exploring Christ, continuing the walk, affirming oneself. Humbling oneself before Jesus and surrendering more, while being thankful for the spiritual development made.

This has been the most amazing year of my life, I feel like I’ve savoured it rather than it just blazing through. Like it’s about time it ended, and yet already nostalgic, and wishing I could relive some of the experiences that made it what it was.

But bringing all this to the context of today, it’s been bittersweet. I found out that my great-grandmother Maitu Bella passed away this morning. The word Maitu is a Kikuyu word that figuratively means ‘mother’ but since Cucu is grandmother, there’s no word for great-grandma, so it starts all over again. She was 92 years old. And she was amazing.

She still had all her teeth, dressed up every once in a while. She was physically fit, loved to stroll around, and would love to tell stories, or just kick it with you under a beautiful leaning tree in the front parking lot on her red chair, as she basked in the swaying rays of sun underneath the shade. Though old age had it’s effect on her, in some ways, with her suffering a stroke sometime back – she’d never exactly been the same – but she’d always been so much fun to be around. I consider it one of the greatest blessings bestowed upon me to be able to see, hang out, and interact with my great-grandma, and I’m happy she’s moved on. Happy for her because I’m sure of where she’s headed to. Knowing she had accepted Christ personally.

When I tell people that my shags or rural home is in South B – a popular suburb in the city – people get shocked, or think I’m joking. But it’s true. My grandparents, a pair of real town folk if there ever were some, have lived in South B since the 50’s or 60’s and my mother and siblings grew up there. They also have made some developments around their land, some 4-storey flats being their best achievement. I come over ever other week to chill, they have a great spot for me there that’s real nice, and they are fantastic company to be with. There’s little goings on in this city that’s news to them.

Besides Maitu Bella’s passing on ,there was also the 17 year old tradition fulfilled this year. My mother’s side of the family goes to the Railway Club at the Railway Station here in Nairobi for lunch every year. And I’ve never been more glad to celebrate tradition than I was today. It was amazing, I felt a part of something great, being there and having the same meal – the buffet – for 17 years might sound old hat, but it enchants me.

To see family, cousins and relatives I hadn’t seen in a while, others visiting, and being able to share that meal with them was a blessing. To reminisce over times we’d fought in the past, us younger ones, or times we were disciplined for something someone did. Or even over how my cousin would always ask for tomato sauce and whether they had chips, everywhere they went. From how I can’t get enough of their croquette potatoes.

Besides that there’s what happens the night before that really tells you it’s Christmas. For as long as I can remember, My Tata always would have a great dinner on Christmas Eve. All of my Dad’s family would sit outside on the patio, with all the creepers crawling down its sides, and make merry under the stars. She’d make stuffed turkey, pork, grated carrots peppered with raisins and honey, salads and do not get me started on the desserts. Just rich, lip-licking, overindulgence under the stars. And afterwards, there’s the familiar sugarcane, and sweet bananas from my Dad’s shags to ease our already full stomachs.

It was so funny this time, I was with cousins outside at around midnight and everyone was so drowsy from all the eating, and we were all cracking up from talking randomly. We came up with classic lines such as ‘ Just one piece of sugarcane? Such a lie!’ and ‘ Here, just one sweet banana… Such a lie!’ Because we were all so full, but couldn’t understand what could be causing our hands to work so mechanically to ensure that the sugarcane, nicely diced, was all but over chewed.

With all this said, it’s too easy to come to the conclusion that this is the norm. It may be over these two days, but in between all this, generosity – and I don’t mean just fiscal – but that of time, love, and compliments has been at an all time high. I met a lady the other day outside the Uchumi with her beautiful baby strapped to her back, asleep, unaware of her Mum’s plight, and needless to say me and Mum had a nice little chat agreeing to make things better for the little one.

Lucas, my friend, wasn’t anywhere to be seen today, I assume he’s with the wife and kids. But God knows how I love the guy. He has the most amazing smile you ever saw, and even just coming up to him to chat with him for a bit makes him just fill you with the contagious joy he possesses. A father of six, his being blind hasn’t stopped him from being a great Dad to his children, and I admire him so much.

Christmas for me is about reflection, looking and examining oneself and one’s relationship with Jesus, acknowledging shortfalls, putting things at the foot of the cross. And celebrating Christ’s birth, while ensuring that you begin to develop consistent charity and generosity, making it less seasonal, and more personal and intimate with those you aid.

Be blessed, and don’t forget what Christmas is all about.

My life over the past year.

In History's Future, Perspective, Real Talk on November 20, 2008 at 1:39 pm

A letter to My future self…

In History's Future, Real Talk on January 26, 2008 at 9:13 pm

There is what I have learned to be as ‘safe’. A secure job, a decent house, a decent wife, a pretty ordinary life.
Yet this doesn’t appeal to me. Not in the least, the mere mediocrity of this life chasing after the wind only to leave all that you gain for the next man to enjoy. Someone said this is what’s know as a mid life crisis. You realise you worked, you struggled, you did what you weren’t necessarily passionate about to gain something only to wonder “Why?”

But Im not even out of my teens and I refuse to let myself spend two years finishing the secure ‘first degree’. I would rather do something I really want to do. But recently I posed the question, Whether my friends are merely doing something that which has good financial ramifications as opposed to their passion what they dreamed doing. But now the realisation that dawned on me was that even if you DO follow what you want to do, then that’s just it; your doing what YOU want to.

Now I acknowledge I am beautifully and wonderfully created by a greater Supreme Being The Lord God, and He must have some sort of purpose to why I’m here. Should I spend my life exploring that?I don’t know, I guess they call it a mid-life crisis with good reason. But I stand at the crossroads from which I will look back in years to come, read this and understand what it was I was writing about. The only reason I write like this is because I know it exists in me, not in my DNA, but in my Spirit, in my Soul. I might confine the visions of my soul to words, but that’s all I know. I once defined myself as a lazy visionary simply because of the vivid images of a future I possibly couldn’t achieve because of my worldly laziness…

Bt my purpose has got to be greater than to merely achieve accolades that my peers applaud and envy (no disrespect guys, but there’s more) and this is the journey I have embarked on. I am about to study music, for I feel the passion to create and express myself (more than any other passion).But for me, it’s futile if it only exists for the mere recognition of man and his constant approval; for nothing could be more fickle than to entrust your gladness and esteem on the see-saw that is human emotion.

If asked my dream it would be something close to the way to help those around me in the most profound way I can. By saying this what I must accept from the off is that the most ‘profound’ way is not profound by the standards I am used to. It isn’t in the recognition and the hurrahs and cheers in a spotlight but under the shadow of humility. It is in the smallest most ‘unnoticeable’ things that only a Soul could speak of. Therein lies the dream of my soul. By living in a way that speaks more than this mind could put into words, by being the salt, and not the honey of the world. To ‘be’ not for me, but for you. To live not so as to prove something to my peers, but to enable those around me to live as closely to their creator as possible.

The words I write here are… merely words, if I don’t have the guts to live the way I speak then it I meaningless. For it is in first embarking on the journey to greatness that we get the words to express how it is we achieved greatness. I must first conquer the ever present human inclination to stagnate, exist, let sleeping dogs lie, ‘not burst the bubble’, live within this comfort zone that will eventually strangle us of all creative and expressive air. I know what I really mean to tell you. It is an emotion I am trying to express with words rather than actions. I will never suceed in that respect, but what I wish from you is patience. Be patient with me because by God, I wish to dedicate myself to Him and in the smallest way impact your life to have an idea of how much He loves you, and how much more I must try to do so, because I know this…

God Bless You…

Amen.