On one of my many public commuter journeys I met an amazing and unexpected teacher. I had a brief encounter but it was a Masters class. It was at about 6pm and I was on my way home at the Railways bus station. It had rained and so as it typical in Kenya, the public commuter vehicles had hiked the fare by at least 50% while on some routes fare had gone up 100%. Added to this fact was the reality that many of the vehicles were trapped in traffic on the way to town so there were few to no vehicles at that normally bustling bus station. This day the place was thick with people and thin with vehicles.
At about 6.30pm, vehicles started coming but none of them were willing to get onto our route. You see, only part of the road is tarmac and the rest is all weather but it is rough and it goes on for about 10km. There was no other option so we stood for quite a while and waited. Ok…it is be a stretch to say we waited patiently because we were antsy, fidgety, tired and many were complaining. Finally, one bus came and they said they would go as far as the end of the tarmac and many of us quickly got on. I like seats near the front, so I got to sit in the seat next to the conductor a young man I will call Karis. He is a very polite young man who intrigued me from the start. Those who know me well know that when I am intrigued I want to know more and understand the person on the other end.
We started talking when I gave him a crisp Kshs 200 note and told him I don’t want dirty money for change. He smiled and said that he has learnt to be fair and give people what they give him. If you give him old notes you get your change in old notes; if you give him clean notes you get your change in clean notes. Hahaha! That was the funniest thing I had heard all day. I got my crisp Kshs 100 shilling note back and off he went to collect money from the rest of the commuters. Once done, he came back, sat down and we began chatting. I learnt so much from him I couldn’t believe it.
This young man is 26, he has four other siblings and they are orphans. Their parents died when they were teenagers and they were raised by their aunts and uncles. He was raised in the church but because of lack of fees he never went far in his education. However, he said something so profound I was reminded of it this week. He said, “In life there those who are educated and those who are wise. The people who are successful are the wise and not necessarily the educated because wisdom helps you make good choices.” This was the start of an hour long conversation because that day there was traffic.
The highlights for me were several:
- Your start doesn’t matter: where you were born doesn’t determine where you will end up. He was not born rich but he lives well and has found joy. He worked for a garbage collection firm and arrived at work at 4am and left at 10pm so he had no time to waste. All he did was eat and sleep in the evening and then get back to work in the morning.
- A good upbringing makes a difference: he was raised in the church and taught to love God, focus on life and avoid a loose wasteful life. He was also taught to work hard and dream about the future. He also saw what alcohol, smoking and living loosely did to his colleagues and opted not to get involved.
- Saving: it is important to put money aside and invest it. He saves at least Kshs 4000 a week. He learnt that as long as he is able to eat and sleep every day he can put aside all that he didn’t use. You see, most conductors earn at least Kshs 1000 daily. If he spends less than Kshs 300 daily it leaves him to save Kshs 700 a day which translates to Kshs 4900 a week. there are days when it’s more.
- Never give up: a few years ago he was dating this girl and he was really serious about and he gave it his all. In the scheme of things the relationship ended after about a year and she left him high, dry and broke. He had to find the strength to go on and start again. He moved out and away to start away
- Always look for quality at a good price: it was interesting when he said that he was looking for leads on expatriate sales so that he could get good deals on quality furniture.
- Have a plan: know where you want to be in a set number of years. Clear goals. Set timelines. Clear action plan.
- Never give up: life will send things your way that may be huge to get over or through. Don’t let the obstacles keep you from getting what you want to. The important thing is to keep moving and life will work out.
- Appreciate the people around you who care about you: Karis owes a lot in his life to his uncle who gave him opportunities to grown and encouraged him when things were thick. He also let him know when it was time for him to stand on his own and be a man. He also has an older sister who took care of them when they were younger until they could stand on their own. It was never easy but they stood together.
- The importance of salvation: In his words, ‘Imani yangu ndio imeniweka kwa yote imehappen…Kama sio Mungu…’ (‘My faith is the only thing that has kept me through all that I have been through. If it wasn’t for God…). Enough said.
- Seek to be wise over and above schooling: Schooling without wisdom gets you nowhere…seek both and reach higher in life. In his definition, schooling happens when someone just goes through school and comes out with papers while wisdom is the ability to assess situations and survive because of street smarts. I use schooling because I believe the education is what is left when all else is forgotten, so it is beyond schooling. I am still unpacking this one lesson and when I am done you know what will happen around here.
Suddenly I was at the end of my journey and had to get off the bus but there was so much to think about as I walked the last distance to the house. We were all dropped at the start of the dirt road to proceed to our respective homes as the driver and Karis turned around to head back into town for a few more trips to the nearby areas. In that instant I realised that his shift was far from over but he had taken time to talk to and inspire another person.
I am totally inspired every time I think of Karis because when I am honest with myself, he is doing so much better than I am with so much less than I have. My decision from that day has been to be grateful for what I have and use it to make life better for me and those around me. I also decided that my life has to have value and be shared with others so that I can make the kind of difference in their lives like Karis made in mine.