I’m constantly telling people how great a city Nairobi is, how awesome a country Kenya is and ceaselessly rambling about the potential and power of this country if we get it together. The question that usually follows this rant is “So why did you leave then?”
I usually do little more than chuckle it off by saying “For school” or “For work” and occasionally “For money.” While all of these hold true, there is also the underlying truth that I seldom admit.
I left because I didn’t know.
I didn’t know what leaving Kenya meant. And over the years, I still haven’t quite made Head or Tails of whether it was a good or a bad decision at the time. What I do know for certain though, is given another chance to leave, I would. Let me explain.
As the legend has it, iCon was the WORST student to EVER grace the pupil littered floors of an academic institution. Not a bad student in that I failed classes, or got in trouble…Well, the latter, but never for anything gravely serious – long unkempt afro, untucked shirt, “Where is your tie?”, “Did you blow up the kitchen?” – never anything serious. I was a bad student in that I didn’t believe in studying. Nor did I believe in the entire academic institutional structure, for that matter. I still don’t. It’s a bottleneck brainwashing operation that encourages narrow-minded regurgitation, servitude and complacency and adversely impacts creativity and innovation. People get rewarded and lauded for following instructions in the guise of learning: school is little more than a factory for capitalist industries that requires no intellect, just aptitude, no creativity, just competency – colour inside the box or you don’t get a gold star next to your name. I hated it for about age 8 and that emotion only got more and more raw as they years piled up.
Yet somehow I passed.
Relatively well, actually. Landed myself some very handsome SAT scores and very pretty IB Diploma to go with it. My haphazard academic successes kicked the door to the undergraduate world clean off its hinges, leaving me with a wide selection of destinations. Being that I was already pretty well traveled, everything looked appetizing. I felt like a drunkard connoisseur at a wine tasting being asked to choose a fine bottle.
So I ended up in Florida.
Misguide aside, I went to a very excellent school, and did so after counselling with friends, family and professionals. But it’s also worth noting that Florida sounds more fun than…Leeds, for example. I don’t know about you, but I like the sunny beaches and the fashion they inspire. I’ve been to the UK severally – your weather is death.
Reality set in before I could even wake up. Paperwork, immigration, fees, deadlines, bills, deadlines, bills, work, classes, college life, drama….and then assignments. 2 months would fly by without me calling home and when I finally did I’d almost be thinking “Yo, I just spoke with you yesterday, right?”
The financial pressure tipped and I ended up leaving, transferring to a more affordable school. It is also noteworthy that my “bad student” reputation began slowly working against me. I couldn’t fluke a 10 page paper or breeze through a programming course; I needed to be present and functional and sober. The latter, I must confess, was quite a hindrance. I will say no more to protect the innocent.
So I grew up fast. Got into doing more business than books, more hustling than studying. A wise man once told me that people don’t change, they only become more of what they already are. Another group of wise men told me “Cash Rules Everything Around Me, CREAM! Get the money, dolla dolla bill yawl!”
The wise Wu-brothers of Shaolin were right. It was all, always about the money in the US. My bank balance grew, my grades slumped. Pretty soon I found myself unable to explain just what I was doing or why I was in the US to my peers. And when I did, I usually got a few pats on my back for the entrepreneurial and professional success and seldom a word of caution about the degree I was meant to be getting.
“Oh yeah, by the way, after you’re done clocking all that cash, when you get free time – at your leisure really – you might want to, you know, maybe wrap that whole school thing up, maybe. But good job on what you’ve done so far.”
Many a time, I’d stop, look back and ask “Why?” That same wise man I mentioned before also told me that our accomplishments are only as impressive as they are true to their origins. So I plucked at the leaf and followed the stem down to the root. Looked back to where it all started – the rugby playing techie who went to Florida for a degree in Software Engineering and a good time. Boy, did I have some choice words for that idiot. The first being “Stop d*cking around and get to work!”
Then I thought about all the Kenyans of similar rooting I had met in the US and the various outcomes they had yielded. They were ranging from extremely successful family men to “illegal alien” hermits who peddled narcotics, from my folk holed up in penitentiaries on the East Coast to the struggling over-qualified graduates hoping that job application went through…
It’s hard to say that it panned out as planned for anything more than 3% of the lot. That’s not a very high success rate, by any measure.
Which brings me back to what I said before. I still can’t definitively say whether it was the right or wrong thing to do to leave the country the way I did. But I do know I would leave. As often as possible. misterNV already preached on the benefits of travelling and I’d like to echo that sentiment. The world is bigger than the map you know it as. A lot bigger. And if nothing else, when my CV’s and qualifications and documents are stripped of me, the knowledge of the world outside will carry me further than anything I ever learned in a lecture hall. It was a painful costly process, but easily the best learning experience of my life.
I urge all Kenyans to travel outside more. As far out as you can go for as long as you can stay. Only 3 things I caution; 1. Plan well 2.Immerse entirely 3.Never forget where home is. Do this and you will come back a renewed, revitalized, positively polarized person – I guarantee it.