How I became a writer
My curiosity to know, and discover new a thing surrounding me is what made me wanting to be a writer. I know names of things around me in my mother tongue, but I came two new worlds at the same time, when I came to school. In school the language of instruction totally different from my home language.
Since my early school years, I have a desire to know what is written in books. I listened to people speaking in English and Swahili and I wished I could understand what they are talking about.
I wanted to speak like them. I could a hold page of a book or an old newspaper; I admired arrangement words on the pages, white space in the page look friendly in my eyes, and thought I had a skill of putting words the way they are in my exercise, in my handwriting.
I wanted to write letters of alphabet the way they are typed and printed of the page exactly to my exercise book.
Wah! I learnt later that it is not a must to write letters the way they appear on typed page in my hand written exercise book,and it was really hard, from Teacher Rose.
I learn now that shaping of letters is different course from writing course but related in some ways.
That will tell you English and Swahili to me are both my second language. My mother tongue is my first language, which I was fluent even before stepping to primary school. English, Swahili and arithmetic were introduced to at same time, then lived up to now as a language of instruction throughout my education.
Most Kenyans speak at least three languages minimum. We were taught how to read and write in mother tongue in first three years of primary education, alongside English and Swahili.Some Kenyans their first language is Swahili. Today Kenyan urban kids grew speaking English as first home language because of educated parent.
Most children in my class spoke good Swahili than some of us. Sometimes Madam Rose will use them to translate something to us in mother Tongue.Madam is from a different community, she looked like she is not interested in our mother, but she feel its importance when we fail to understand her. In English we were at same level, only teacher Rose, and our mother tongue, John happen to be from our community, who were ahead of us all, and maybe the authors of the books they carried with them to class.
We only knew how to recite letters of alphabets, call it “route reciting” or “route counting” if it were numbers.
Sometimes Teacher Rose will pick on you, provide you with a piece of chalk and tell write letter “S” for example, then you begin to curse yourself why you chose sit in front of the class instead of back class , those at back seem to be safe from embarrassment of reciting what you can’t write on the chalk board.
We knew also a few words like boy, girl, cow, cat which we learnt in nursery school, but what used to put flies in my stomach is when Teacher Rose sketches something one the chalkboard, and she asks one of us to identify what it is, in English, to name it in English was not a problem to most us, for example “cow” names are always easy to say, I always wanted to be the first to put my hand up to say “COW” not to be the second to be told write the word “COW” on the chalkboard, because I didn’t know the spelling.
At the age of seven to ten years, we used one word to communicate, when it was a must to speak in English, for example “yes” “no” “come” “morning” “go” sometimes followed by a node, a beckoning of hands. Even to make a two words sentences, was hard, but we grew with urge to write in English, we had one thing to learn how to read English. Swahili was easy to read. No silent letters like in English. I friend once told me in English you read sometimes what is there to sound what is not there. He gave example of the word “Phoenix” he said “oe” is read to sound like “I”.
Reading a lot helps to become a writer and it is the love to read that leads to the love to write. You can’t hate reading, and love writing impossible, in my opinion. If you love reading you love writing, if love writing you love reading!
I envied Madam Rose for her fluency in speaking, reading,and writing sentence in English. I wanted to read like her, and write like her, she had a good handwriting. The only thing hate about Madam Rose is the voice of a boy who has just broken his voice. Even today I don’t like women with voice like boys, and men sound like girls, Urgh!
Madam Rose read us story in English or Swahili, then explain to us morals and lesson in the story. She made us recite what she termed us new words, though everything sounded new words to us in the first two months, in the first term, in the first year of primary education.
I prayed to myself, I could learn how to read so that I could read those stories myself. I wanted write so that I could write stories my father told us about our community and its origin.
Teacher Rose was reading to us similar stories about other communities. I like Maasai coming from heaven with their cows aboard spread hides and skins of animals, landed in Nairobi River. These Stories were sweet to listening to. I wished I could read them myself, I wished write them down to read later at home.
I had obstacles to practice my reading and of getting stories to read. The village where I grew up had no library. I was in lower primary, and we were not allowed to borrow a few books in the school library. Madam Rose, who taught us all subjects except mother tongue, came to class with few books.
She grouped us into a group of five or seven, per book available, sometimes she reads for us, we just listen, that is when she comes to class with a book in hand, and a class register, and a duster, and a piece of chalk, and if she is not in her good moods, she carries a cane.
The cane made more attentive than without it in Madam Rose hand. She too, does not allow borrowing just as the school itself; the books were little in number to share and to borrow.
What I read after school is what Madam Rose told us write on note books as new words and writing exercises she gave us as home, mostly filling in the missing vowels, to complete words like COW, DOG, DOOR,POT. I was thirsty read but no books to read, so I read what was available.
When I am in the heart of our village, I could pick up pieces of old pages, empty packet of cigarettes to read, thrown away torn pages of books, old newspapers or anything that had writings on it, I read it and sometimes kept it to read in future. I can’t lie that I read magazines. I read the first magazine in life, in my high school library. It was cool because it reminded of picture reading skills in Nursery. It was cool it had fine writings. The graphics made it more appealing to the eyes; the feel of texture was friendly to my fingers, and the smell was accommodating to my nose.
Where I didn’t I understand something, I went on looking for someone to read for me. I had no adult who knew how read in my family except my learned uncle, who is a no nonsense man. You take to him something to read for you, he will first slap you, and then he tells go,and tell your teachers and your age mate to read for you, so I had to safe myself from child abuse.
If I understood something, I told myself, I want to write my own story.
Another thing that motivated me to writing is myth about the creation, about moral, trickery, about clever hare and stupid elephant Madam Rose read to us, and sometimes similar stories told by my mum and dad, both didn’t know how read or write, but they told stories from their clear memory. Despite their illiteracy, they were knowledgeable about African traditions, and culture that was passed to them by great parent. They were store of oral traditions,and moving dictionaries of my home language.
I wanted to learn how write so that can write books enough for every child. Hated sharing books, I wished I could provide books, for each us to have his own book in class. I wanted to know how write so that I could write stories, the ones told by my parents, a different story told every day after evening meals.
The whole year without repeating a story! This is was wonderful, unless there is something happening at moment, they recall the story to remind that, I had learned the moral before it happened. Like a thief who has been still chicken in village without being notices has been caught. And the father would, say, “you see you can only hide your for life if you are dead and buried in the soil.” It mean so long as you are a life, one day your hidden secret will be exposed.