Excerpt for How I Earned a Degree in Twelve Years by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

How I Earned a Degree in Twelve Years

12 Years a Degree”

Kevin Pope

Copyright 2017 by Kevin Pope

Smashwords Edition


In life we face various challenges and it does not matter how many times we fall but whether we rise at all and seek our objectives in life. I’m not exceptional in surmounting challenges of life and it is for this reason I expose one of my greatest journeys of life towards attaining education.

I quote three of greatest men in history who have motivated me in life when I read of their history. Nelson Mandela was in prison for twenty seven years but he didn’t lose sight of his purpose. He said “It always seems impossible until it is done”. I therefore realize impossibility is a state of mind.

Martin Luther King Jr. fought for the rights of black people in America and led the greatest civil rights movement. He too had his eyes set to a purpose and he said “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope”. Disappointments riddled my journey but I kept hope alive at every step of the way.

Abram Lincoln, the christened father of History was president of the United States of America at a time of civil war. He led his nation through this gruesome ordeal and realized the American dream by abolishing slavery. He once said “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it, the tree is the real thing”. I’m driven by character of determination and zeal not to defeat purpose.

It took me twelve years to earn a degree I would have earned in four years or otherwise less. Be motivated by my story as I do this narration to you.

Chapter I

In the Beginning

It’s first things first. Let me introduce myself and make me known. My name is Kevin. I’m born of a father and a mother who were both educators, academicians. They have both taught virtually every soul of my time in yester years in my community, in my generation including myself. I schooled in the schools that they perfected their careers in. My father was more senior than mother. He was expansive of experience and known to be a ken of knowledge. He oozed of prowess in his trade. He taught teaching trainees in college and went ahead to become one of the best known educator of his time. He was a revered disciplinarian and a staunch advocate for extracurricular activities training the best athletes in our generation who ended up joining the military while others became sports personalities. He was himself a gifted athlete.

I recall my tender years when I schooled in his institution. My father was an early riser and would leave for school too early for me to keep up, including most of the pupils. What befell us was a punishment which was not only unique but also gruesome. He paraded us in the school field at seven thirty in the morning, his usual time deadline and ordered us to run eight kilometers of track for lateness. He ran with us and beat us to it regardless of his seniority in age. He wasn’t preferential to anyone when it came to lateness. I wasn’t spared either. He wouldn’t understand how we came from the same house and while he was punctual, I was late. The wrath was the same meted to me as was to my fellow pupils. The following morning we would become pacesetters by all means.

In his hey days as a young man and while in secondary school, he was fortunate to share the same track and field with to be renown Kenyan athletes who went on to become professionals in their own sport. He shared the same track with the legendary Kipchoge Keino, the two time Olympic gold medalist in 3,000m steeplechase and 1,500m. The legendary Robert Ouko, the 4 by 400m relay Olympic gold medalist and a former family in-law was also among the athletes he was able to compete with. Whereas he chose to become a college tutor and a professional teacher, they chased their dreams to become professional athletes and excelled in their respective fields of play an aspect my father pride himself in despite abandoning professional sport for teaching.

On the flipside, my mother was a humanities teacher and a senior disciplinarian in her school. She taught Geography and was the best historian. Her perfection was in music. She’s accredited for leading the school music club to glory in many competitions during her stint in her career. She was also a revered disciplinarian just like father. She taught in a different school which was farther away than my father’s in terms of distance and she too, lateness wasn’t entertained. She was the earliest bird that led the perch. I attended nursery school in her school. Although the rules were largely relaxed for us who belonged to junior school, she was hesitant to encourage lateness and most times I left the house in tow regardless the chilling weather and the freezing morning dew. She too extended no olive branch to me when it came to lateness. I later transferred to my father’s school which was closer home but my other siblings endured the long trek throughout their schooling life to my mother’s school with exception to my younger brother who joined me later.

I was born the sixth of the seven siblings. Along the way, I lost an all rounded elder brother to a mysterious brain tumor that baffled medical intelligence. He stood out intellectually and as an athlete. He was in form six, the final class of the then education dispensation. He was sitting for his final exam when he was taken ill and suddenly went blind. I see this event as the first elusive calamity towards attaining the first academic degree in my family. His demise after a long harrowing illness had sealed the fate and for someone who was seen to excel academically towards attaining a university degree, the opportunity had gone with the wind and our family had to wait longer to achieve this. As if God was making amends for taking the soul of my brother, mother put to bed and delivered a new born who was also a male two days before the elder son of hers died.

The new born, our last born, my immediate younger brother was seen as a replacement for the departed son of my parents. I was only four years old when my brother died. I wasn’t comprehensive of the situation then, but as I matured, his loss gradually became instrumental and I look at him as a reference, a role model. It feels like I had known him my entire lifetime up to this day. My grandmother, father’s mother had died earlier when I was only two years old. I’m told of a tale of how I crawled through the thicket all the way to her homestead when I was a toddler. I didn’t know her so well but instinct persuades me to love her. I however remember vaguely before she died, we had an adventure viewing Safari Rally along the neighborhood route. In those days, motor racing was a great sport in Kenya and on that day, despite being only two years old, I remember vividly the excitement of the crowd as the cars zoomed by to an uproar. It’s my final memento with my grandmother. Grandmother wasn’t educated. The fact that she did her best together with my grandfather to offer my father the best education they would afford at the time, becomes my inspiration to do better at the best of my ability. I therefore honor my grandparents for recognizing education as a key of life.

I was excelling well in my father’s institution as a pupil in junior school. While in the fourth class of junior primary, I developed a condition that worn me down and altered my channel. I was no longer able to trek in the early mornings through the cold weather to school. The cold weather was taking a toll upon my body and caused profound nose bleeding, profusely at slightest exposure. Our home is at the footholds of Mount Kenya forest and it’s for this reason, the weather is extremely cold here especially during the wet seasons. My schedule had to be adjusted to accommodate my new condition. I remember quiet vividly waking up in the wee hours to a stressful nosebleed and would hold a bowl upon my nostrils blood oozing out of them. I spent most morning hours nursing this condition and sometimes the situation was dire to demand an urgent doctors’ attention at the nearest dispensary.

My time to report to school was adjusted behind and I was now reporting after everybody else including the grounds man. From the normal reporting time which was seven thirty in the morning, my scheduled time became eight thirty and sometimes even at nine. I wasn’t in love with the new adaption. Often, pupils would mock me for arriving late an insinuation that it was because my father was a deputy head in the school. Sometimes I felt the urge to prove them wrong by breaking the new schedule and reported with the rest of them in the normal hours. However, I would not last an hour in class without being taken ill and would be sent home for the rest of the day upon visiting the dispensary. This was demotivating. It was a hurdle towards achieving my academic goal. I was deteriorating in class and at pains. I surged to lower positions in many assessments.

In life, we are plagued by decisive situations. Desperate times require desperate measures and options are to be sought. This is exactly what my parents grappled with when the doctor advised and gave the penultimate reason for my dilemma. The high altitude wasn’t mixing well with my genome. A situation of water and oil parse. My younger brother who is five years younger than myself, had just joined in the institution at nursery level when a decision was made for me to be moved to a lower altitude area to enable me continue with learning without hindrances or qualms. This was devastatingly surreal and happy at the same time. I was excited that there was an option for me to achieve my desire for education. However, it wasn’t rosy. I was devastated that I would not be with my younger brother at the same school anymore and especially the fact that he needed me around him to support his tender naivety of schooling. On the other hand, the option available for my parents and I was not a silver platter in terms of cost. It was a dearer alternative compared to the public school I was used to. I was to be transferred to a private boarding school thirty kilometers away from home.

Boarding school wasn’t cheap. It was a preserve of the haves and at pains of the have-nots. This was a daunting task for my parents. I fathomed. What must be done must be done. That was the attitude amidst my parents. They were ready and willing to accomplish the task at all cost by making a few sacrifices here and there. The family resources had to be committed towards this endeavor lest I lost a chance to have the best education envisaged by pioneer educators. Combining their teaching incomes was one of the items on the highlighted list of resources to be channeled towards my education. I hail from a region dependent on a cash crop like many African countries. Our main cash crop and which is fairly a lot in my home is tea. The proceeds from this crop as meager and seasonal as it were, was another gold mine for our education and dairy bread.

I was fond of my younger brother and I still are. We are the last of our mother’s womb. We were born seven siblings in our family with those preceding my younger brother and me, our seniors by yonder. Let me explain. My elder brother is sixteen years elder than me and twenty one years than my younger brother who is also our last born. The immediate elder brother to me is ten years older and fifteen years than the last born son of our mother. This means that the four siblings ahead of us succeed each other by only six years while my younger brother and I respectively succeed them by sixteen and twenty one years from the eldest. This is definitely awkward.

There was a hiatus, a moment of hibernation for ten years for me to have been born and a farther five years for the last born to be sired. This explains why we were fond of each other. We grew up together as little ones of ageing parents. I’m told of a tale where my father declared that he missed a cry of a baby in the house and I had to be born. Mother was rebellious for she had the chapter of having more children closed but the iron fist of my father was too apprehensive until she heeded. The same was duplicated five years later and our youngest brother was born. Mother was forty five then, and our father was in his early fifties. I therefore bestowed upon myself the responsibility of oversight on my brother’s wellbeing.

We were growing as a pair at tow of each other every other time. Our bond was enormous whether at home or at school. The idea of leaving for boarding school while I left him behind was sickening. However, I painfully understood that education was important and required sacrifices. The quest to continue with education took preference over having to remain in the same school with my brother. Economics dictates a phenomenon opportunity cost and I believe it doesn’t apply to money alone. This is one of the examples that it also applies in real life situations, everything. Life was never to be the same again for both of us. We had to alienate ourselves to being away from each other and alone. I was pitiful of my brother for he was still too tender to be by himself. It felt like I had disserted him. To compound my woes this was the same year that my father was hanging his boots from his teaching career to retirement. This meant that he was actually remaining alone without an overseer and my only consolation was thwarted by father’s retirement.

The grand moment had finally come. It was January and the year was nineteen ninety five. It was time for me to depart from my old school and report to a new institution which was a private boarding school thirty kilometers away from home. I was to be away from home for the first time in my life and this wasn’t too palatable with my system. This was upsetting and rumbling for me to accept it with ease. My father wasn’t going to be in class anymore for his time had lapsed the previous year as a government employed teacher and all that remained was his pension for the rest of his breathing life. My brother was to be alone in my former school from this year henceforth.

It is said that the only element which is constant is change. This is a damning reality as I found out. We all had to accept change regardless of how bitter is the aftertaste. My mother had some years left in her career as a teacher and educator. The only change she was confronted with was perhaps, my being away from home as was when I was a day scholar in a public school than in boarding school where I was to remain for the rest of my primary schooling life. I was only nine years old at the time just about ten. I was miniscule and a novice in most life ideals and tasks. I would tell that mother was drowsy and weary while she led me through this step only that she had to do what need be done.

I was used to khaki short, a green shirt and a sweater of similar color as was the formal ensemble of my former school. I recall us going to a renowned dealer of school uniforms in town to have me don new regalia as was custom and recommendation of the new institution. My miniscule size and stature wasn’t a good variable when it came to picking the right size of uniform for me. Every pair of short or a sweater I tried on crowded my little body. The only thing that would fit freely was the grey pair of socks. The final decision was to wait for the tailor to readjust the ensemble to a size of my own. Finally I was in a sky blue short, a blue sweater, a white shirt and a pair of grey socks. My brand new look was a déjà vu moment and was crowding my thoughts with uncertainty. Smiling on this day wasn’t part of my assimilation. My face had a downward meniscus.

I had a good pair of shoes alright, but it violated the dress code for the new school. With my grey socks, a pair of sky blue shorts and a white shirt on the colored pair of shoes made me a clown. I needed a new pair. Precisely, a black pair was required. In those years, the only dealer of the right pair of shoes for school was unmistakably one. Bata was the famous name of the store and the brand. The black shoes recommended for school were commonly known as toughees. Every Kenyan who has gone through a formal national system of education can easily relate to these shoes. In a nutshell, every schooling child who was in school seclusion especially a boarding school had this pair. For your information, shoes were never a requirement in public schools but boarding schools. My mother being an educator, a disciplinarian and a master of rules and regulations, wasn’t bending any of them on this day. On tow, she led me to the store and did not hesitate to procure a pair for me. I now looked complete. I was assembled for the right environment with the right hardware, albeit my software was still loading for me to program my new state of uncertainty.

It was almost two o’clock in the afternoon and I was already feeling worn out and fatigued. I wasn’t used to the town rush. It was an ordeal I wanted concluded fast. I thought we were done then my mother broke the ice and said it was time for a barber’s touch. I had not eaten the whole day not even breakfast. I had not had one whatsoever. It was not because breakfast wasn’t available but every moment I knew I was to travel in a vehicle, I would not take anything but water. This is because I had another condition. I suffered motion sickness whenever in a moving vehicle. Let me explain what I mean for it might sound strange. It is a problem associated to motion. It’s shrouded by dizziness then nausea and the boiling point of these two elements, a culmination would be a spew of vomit. This wasn’t a good thing. Eating anything prior to travelling worsened the condition and meant more vomit. The condition actually ends as one matures.

Hungry, fatigued and out of touch with the events of the day, I found myself in a barber shop. No child goes to school with this kind of hair, was what she said when I was mumbling and complaining rebelliously. She stood beside the barber and literally guarded me as the barber dominated my little head devouring hair with the blades. I wasn’t complaining anymore but my squeezed frowning face was telling the story of a hesitant heart. In twenty minutes time, the barber was finished defiling my head and robbing me of my hair. All a long mother was buying emoluments and toiletries. I was naïve enough not to think we were not done yet.

These items required packing. We lacked a “suitcase”. We were headed to a “jua kali” vendor to purchase the “suitcase” after we left the barber shop. I was lurking behind as she strode ahead of me in a pace I wouldn’t keep up with, and then she grabbed by my arm and dragged me along amidst the hustle and bustles of the busy town. At this point you are probably wondering who is a “jua kali” vendor. In my country we have items created and made by hand and sold in an informal setting as opposed to the mainstream commercial corporate and business setting. The items are traded under shanty sheds or in an open air market display and form the largest percentage of industrial products in my country. They are highly preferred for their uniqueness, price and apparent durability.

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