7 Things a Nostalgic Kenyan Remembers.

I am at that age where it is easy to remember the days of yore without overly exaggerating for the sake of raising my stature among my would-be grandchildren. They are, actually, still minute cells within my loins and I have little need to lie to them now…at least just yet…

Anyway, each generation feels that the days of the old, when we played in mud and kicked paper balls, were much better than where we are today. Only an alien can have as much objectivity as would be needed to make an informed analysis. In my view, these are the seven things the Millennials never, sadly, experienced or owned…

#7. The Hanger and the Bucket Lid

If I ever do blog about the‘7 Games’ we played as children and I do not feature this one prominently, I authorize you to get an illegal gun and shoot my blog. In fact, hold your head close to my blog and use the J.F.K right angle bullet conspiracy theory to prove that if you shoot yourself in a right angle to the monitor of you computer or screen of your phone, you can successfully spray it with red and gray matter and the bullet will shoot Too Late for Worms (hahaha, anyone ever watched that episode of Family Guy where Peter Griffin gets excited whenever the title of a movie is mentioned in the movie? Then this is one of those times (;)

But I digress still…

Every bucket lid is round, yes? To the adult it is an integral part of the bucket because it prevents mosquitoes from having sex in it, or rats from committing suicide by jumping into whatever it is you have in there. To the young mind, however, it can be used as a toy. All you have to do is steal a metal hanger first. Be careful to steal the one that your mother does not use, or just ask her for one and explain why you need it desperately. In fact, claim that it will affect your sex life when you come of age if you do not get the hanger. If she still does not relent, refer to option 1.

Undo this hanger and straighten it but do not straighten the part that you use to hang. Actually, make it more curvy but not too curvy… (Lady Gaga-Curvy, not Monique-CURVY or Lindsay Lohan-‘curvy’). For better grip, you can fold the straight part into tow so that the hanger is now half its length (it I no longer a hanger by the way, it is now a long piece of wire with one end looking like a foot, if you add some fake dreads on the other end it will most definitely pass for Snoop Dogg’s clone).

I am so dripping of jealousy right now…

Then hold the lid straight on the ground, like a wheel, put it in the curvy part and balance and voila! You have yourself a car-ish thingy that you can use to wow the village girls. I know someone somewhere is probable laughing at how silly and probably unsatisfying this particular toy looked at the time but all you were scoundrels! For those who had a retarded childhood (Like yours truly), this took several years to learn. The car tire and two sticks was an even harder and required more resources but this was the ultimate test of boyhood!

#6. Paper Balls

Creativity starts from here! I had a retarded childhood in terms of being a normal boy and all but I can still remember that the best polythene bag to hold the stuffing from mattress pieces and other rolled polythene bags was the green one with a calendar on it. It was five bob back then, but you could just steal one from home and bring to school for the ‘project’…

This is harder to make than it seems.

Project? Oh yuh, I was a step ahead of myself, my primary school lacked the necessary resources to provide an actual football for each class. Actually, I think only one football was released ever year. It would be a torn, sewn and re-sewn(by the cobbler near the school gate) so many times that you could not tell the seams from the stitches. Boys must be boys, right? So we would hold a ‘harambee’ of sorts. It was pretty simple, we would agree on who would bring what the following Monday (this almost always happened on Fridays so we would each have enough time to find/steal/collect/scavenge for our ‘contribution’) One person would offer to bring the string, the others would have to pick whether they would bring polythene bags or mattress pieces (the latter were the best stuffing and sadly, the hardest to find).

A Work in Progress…

After the ‘collection’, one person (always the same person for most of my primary school life) would get all the pieces, roll them and tie the string to make a ‘ball’ (Balls are essentially round, this would lose its ‘almost roundness’ the first time someone kicked it but hey, we were happy!

Even the elephant knows where the meat is sweetest…

#5. KaNyayo

The sad part of the Moi presidency was that the only time you could say something that somewhat sounded demeaning about ‘Mtukutu Rais’(deliberate typo) was when you were referring to milk.

Lest you pretend to have forgotten…

The Nyayo Milk Programme was a weak attempt at feeding the poor, looking back now, but at the time, it was one of the best things to have ever happened to a primary school child. I cannot remember how frequently the milk would be brought in those three-sided packs that were so tough to open but I can remember that my first act of fraud involved this precious commodity.

Prefects get, even today, preferential treatment by virtue of their position. It is why our MPs can defend sitting their big behinds on seats that cost over KShs 200, 000 feel that they are doing us a favor. My point is, I was a ‘prefect’ for most of my primary school life because I knew when to balance the stakes by being a teacher’s pet and not having to write lists of noisemakers. And anyway, there was always the crew that made noise so if the teacher on duty pushed, he or she knew the culprits and just needed you to write them down (whether or not they were making noise at the time did not matter, to the teacher and I suspect, to them).

But I digress…

So whenever kaNyayo would get to school, all prefects would be assembled then given the noble task of helping the Moi government feed the poor, needy, and those who were just curious as to how milk could be free and in a weird looking pack. Now, here is how we pulled a basic fraud: The work of distributing the milk could take one of two ways. One, all pupils (its been so long since I used that word that I need to stop myself from imagining pupils of the eye in a queue) would queue and the prefect and his or her assistant would hand each a pack. To commit fraud here you had to have an accomplice, mostly the quietest person in class who would not be noticed if he (because quiet girls did not have the balls to pull such stunts) went back to the queue several times. The agreement would be to share the spoils, which was just greed because you could have two if there was an excess. Two, the prefect would go round distributing the packs, going back and forth to get the packs from the crates at the front of the class. This was the easiest because you had an entire class to hide extra packs in and at the end, claim your share for having helped Moi lie to the people.

Nicely packed in the bag, heading home…

Simply put, I committed my first acts of fraud because of the Moi government, which is not surprising but sad. It is not sad because I did it and later could not digest the five packs of milk I had (which my biochemistry lecturer once told me was useless because there is only enough lactose in the body to digest about half a litre of milk a day-the other just became piss) but because I am sure that the entire process of procuring, paying, transporting and now distributing, the milk was fraudulent. I would not be surprised if at some point we drunk bad milk but I never heard of any death so…

The boy at the back definitely looks like he has several other packs, no?

#4. The pinned handkerchief

We were disgusting as kids. Let us just put it out there, we did not care much about whether our noses ran or if our feet smelled like rotting carcasses. Our mothers, guardians and elder siblings most likely made us the clean, meticulous and organized people that we are today. We had bad memories too and after buying us several handkerchiefs in the flu season, mothers almost always got the same genius idea, to pin our handkerchiefs as lapels so we would not lose them. I think it is the gene that codes for being an economical mother that encoded for this particular trait (a good friend insisted that she would only read this post if I included this particular entry) but I think they got it from the English lapel.

The filthy part is that you had to walk around with a hanky full of mucus in full view. Next time you are folding your jacket lapel, say a prayer for those adults who will see it and remember this…

#3. Stationery

There was the 3 bob pencil, the 1 bob razor, the 1 bob white eraser, the ruler with a weird color and the alphabet engraved on it, the fountain pen that cost 15 bob?

Okay, let us start with the pencil…

I currently have 4 different pencils, none of which cost me anything less than 25 bob. I bought 2 because I needed them, and the others somehow ended up in my shopping basket. It made me think of the 3 bob pencil that was worth almost my entire life! Back in the day, the pencil was a currency, you had to own one for compositions and Inshas, and for writing all subjects from class 1-3 (After which you would join the privileged class of the fountain pen). The 3 bob pencil, and I highly doubt it was a Staedtler, was brownish-yellowish in color and had a red rubber on one end. Unlike the current pencil, it was never sharpened when you bought it….You do not remember it? Well, that’s maybe cause you were either too neat or lacked curiosity as to what lay beneath the white cover that had images of cartoons on it. Remember it now, a long white pencil that your mum most likely broke into two pieces because she had not bought one for you and your brother/sister? Which reminds of me of one of my family stories…Among my siblings are twins who were, for their first years in life, used to equal treatment? One day mum had not bought a pencil for which and in the hurry that we adults seem to grow into, she broke the pencil into two unequal pieces and gave them each a piece. It was all good, yes?

This is not a ballistics class….more of lead tips and erasers…weapons of math instruction…

Well, no actually, the one who got the smaller piece refused to go to school! It was an act of defiance that I am sure people like Martha Karua and Wangari Maathai exuded from an early age, defiance in the face of unequal treatment? Sadly, she was not crying because they had not gotten equal pieces but that she had gotten the smaller one…

The razor blade?Before depressed kids realised that several cut on the wrist can be a replacement for an actual therapist, there was Nascet (or some spelling like that). Someone once asked me whether I have ever seen razor blades in transit and it hit me that if you had a pick-up truck full of razor blades, you would most likely have several million pieces. The going price back in the day was 1 bob apiece, a substantial price given that without it your white pencil would remain useless. There were health issues involved in using the razor blades that became apparent as civil education about HIV/AIDs spread through communities. If you ask kids what they use to sharpen their (already sharpened) pencils today, each will most likely show you a sharpener you have never seen. If its not the stainless steel one with two ‘nostrils’ (I own several of them and calling them ‘holes’ would just make me feel dirty, not that calling them ‘nostrils’ is any better). There is the giant sharpener that is stuck on the teacher’s desk that has one of those huge things at the back that you have wind to sharpen your pencil. I wanted to buy one of them (I collect sharpeners but not pencils, they have more gist) but it was too big to be considered part of the collection…

…and before this too…

So where did the razor blade go? Its still there in the market for about 3-5 bob, a 200-400% increase in price, this inflation will be the death of us! If I look at my index finger closely, I can still see the small scars I inflicted upon myself as I held the pencil and sharpened it…Go ahead, check if yours are still there…

The ruler! Hahaha, I had to laugh because my first attempts at calligraphy were ‘plagiarized’ by my use of the alphabet on the ruler. I went to the supermarket in the ground floor of my apartments to check whether those rulers still exist. Sadly, all I found were the rulers that you find in any shop today, not the rulers that you would always find in weird colors, (luminous green, blue…). It had an alphabet in the middle if you bought the 15cm one, or the entire alphabet in small caps and full caps, and the numerals if you got the 30 cm one. The plagiarism part is because we would all use the alphabet to trace our names on our exercise books using the ruler…

They are still there by the way…

An eraser will cost you 20 bob today and it will most likely have two ends, one for the pencil and the other for ink-pens. Very few remember the white eraser that would, in the process of erasing what you needed erased, leave a trail of dirt on your books. If you needed to erase anything written in ink, all you had to do was lick it and then erase..This was the daftest thing ever because it did not erase what you had written. Instead, it tore that part of the page and made it impossible to write on. Someone should have told me that so many years ago *shakes head sadly*

Only the Japanese can design erasers like this one (I am not saying anything about the effects of a nuclear blast…or two…)

And just in case any of you is wondering, most of started calling it an eraser in high school, otherwise everyone in primary school, including the teachers, and those who owned shops near the school referred to it as a ‘rubber’. Moral decadence, or common knowledge (depending on your moral and religious inclinations), and simple grammar, however, imply that if you ask for a ‘rubber’ in a shop today, you will get something else, something you will probably not need in class unless, of course…you are the kinky kind…(FYI,a rubber is correct English (UK)

And the pen, the original fountain pen!

It was the mark of the transition from lower primary to upper primary, your first step towards adulthood I guess…You were no longer required to write in pencil because you were now mature and knowledgeable enough not to make silly mistakes.

The pen has been replaced by the more practical biro in most schools but still remains a vital piece of stationery for many people. The interesting part about the fountain pen was how we treated it. Anybody remember dropping it several times to ‘bring the ink’ down? Or was it to make it write, I cannot remember clearly. Sometimes, when the teacher was busy teaching math or literature, you would here that unmistakable sound of a pen hitting the concrete floor several times. You had to do this with the lid on because if it fell with the tip, you were doomed!

You get the idea…

Then there was the ink. If you stand in the stationery of a supermarket today and pore for ink brands, you will most likely find Pelican and other brands that you know nothing about. All I can remember was the ink that came in a blue pack with a picture of an animal or something on the label. But not everyone could afford ink, right? So there was always the guy borrowing an ink refill in class. But not everyone came to school with the full bottle because it would be empty by the time you got home. The best option was to give the borrower several drops from you pen so he/she could ‘suck’ (*cringe*) them with their pen. One guy in my elder sister’s class was such a habitual ink beggar that they nicknamed him ‘Gatata’(It means ‘a small drop’ in vernacular and like all nicknames, it stuck). The simplest way was to place a drop on the groove that forms when you show the ‘thumbs-up sign’ Yes, that little groove that forms on the thumb side of your wrist (this is how I discovered I have a hitchhiker’s thumb’) when you extend your thumb such as in a thumbs-up sign. If you do not know what am talking about, do the thumbs-up sign (with the hand you are not using to scroll down of course, otherwise you will just look silly). If you are skinny enough, and I have nothing against people who are ‘healthy’, you can see a prominent groove formed by two muscles running along your arm to your thumb. That was the measuring point for a drop of ink…ingenious!

#2 Tea Bottles

I need to curse…First, before I even tell those who went to rich schools what the difference between a tea bottle and a flask is, I just realized that I never carried coffee to school. Which would have been okay if we did not have acres of lush coffee in the farm behind our home? Its that thing we Kenyans do, grow, harvest and sell coffee but never drink it. People who grew up in Kericho and Limuru, please tell me you guys are addicted to coffee, and please tell me, even if you have to lie to me, that you guys almost never had tea despite the fact that you grew it on acres of fertile soil? Lie to me even if you have (Which is what she said, as she sat on Pinocchio’s face ;))

Anyway, look at this…

This ones! yes, this ones!

The bottles with the faces on them. They were not for water or juice, they were for hot tea that would be ice-cold hours later when you actually needed to drink it. I think they used to retail at 20 bob and everyone had one at my nursery school. Since we all had to carry tea for break and food for lunch, every child had to have a tin and a bottle. The only bottle affordable enough were this plastic bottles that are nothing near the flasks I see kids carrying to school this days. A flask is practical because it keeps the beverage hot or cold, depending on how you like it but when you have to let your five year-old carry it to school every day, it becomes impractical and expensive. This is where the bottle comes in, cheap, colorful, toy-like and most importantly, they had a string so that you could hang it on the child’s neck when the kid was done with the tea he did not forget it.

I know the plastic tins are still there in shops but I do not know whether these bottles are still there. If I found them, I would buy one of each color and keep them just for the hang of it. I stopped carrying them in class three because of health issues (I am not anorexic but even good food and tea can be unbearable sometimes so cold food/tea was just disgusting) but I did use them for juice.

They were almost unfashionable by the end of my eight years but I would not be surprised if one of you still has one tucked in an attic somewhere, proof that you were indeed alive in the 20th century.

So there you have it, some things to tell your children they missed as you drive them to school. They will most likely be updating their status on the Smartphone that you got for the after their other phone fell in the swimming pool. The sim card cost you a 50 bob, unlike yours that you first got at 1000-2500 bob back in the day and did not even bother to get a phone. Or they will be on their PSPs, with a bag with several types of Staedtler pencils, an eraser, several fine-point biros, several sharpeners, disposable hankies, a charger, make-up, perfume, and 1000 bob pocket money.

Its not wrong to admit that times have changed…Nostalgia, and a post to remind you that its too late for worms (There I said it again! I used it again!).

As the cold barrell pushed against her yellow young feathers, the chick…

Oh yuh, and in case you did not notice, there is no number 1 just yet… 😉

  • Aryabanana

    Oh my goodness i just came across your blog while searching for a fountain pen to take me back to my days as a Kenyan primary schooler, i have started journaling but everything you mentioned just brought things back! I have to say however that i lived close to limuru till the tender age of 10 when i moved to my current home of Devon england, and sadly we never drank coffee. I find it ironic when i buy kenyan coffee now (addicted to the stuff) and it costs around 2000 shillings when i know of all the lush farms that could benefit with that amount and probably receiving a fraction of what im paying.
    Thank you for taking me back to my childhood!

  • I was a certified Youth Fountain Pen repairer, nothing a pair of dividers (those long ones from Kofa) couldn’t fix. You just had to part with your break…

  • ngurinu

    Manze, those fountain pens made life hard! I had a permanent ink marker between the thumbs tendons for my five years of upper primo!

  • don giddie

    Maaaaad, ‘ka-nyayo’ tha milk,tha tea bottles and the fountain pen… U killed it.
    Bro, remind me why we went to the same school. Rem muranga tha milk culprit?

    • Hahaha, Giddy I so knew you would remember this! Hahaha, Muranga was many things, milk was just one of them….the fountain pen, the razor blade, Mrs. Dorothy…

  • Kiruga you are so doooommmmed!!!! Okay, let’s say this should have run in our dailies and probably can make a good generation Y ‘whispers’… i did like the noise makers bit, being a prefect too for most of the times, i had a ready made list of noise makers just in case the teacher became too edgy!!!

    • Hahaha, we were alive in the 20th century, this are our chronicles…

  • u cldnt ave said any beta

    • I am guessing you ate a white rubber/eraser or two like all of us, huh? Hehehe

  • Of all these things……….. the one on fountain pens is most memorable. Hahaha!! Recall Youth Pens…like 15bob and then Hero pens….. top notch!!! It’s that ‘gatata’ ink-begging style that has killed it. It was fun………….!!

    • There was Youth and Hero! hahahahahaha! Good memories man, memories of yore…