We launched the Agriculture Chapter of the Alumni Association of the University of Nairobi on Thursday this week, the seventh chapter of this dream we began in 2005. Growing alumni associations is no mean task. Anybody who has tried will tell you.
At first there is excitement all round, as people come back to their alma mater, some for the first time in years. You look around for your old classmates and other associates in your time. There are different, even if somewhat similar narratives across different generations of experience. Two, three meetings down the line and only two to three people are turning up. The effort dies a natural death, like a straw fire.
I first had this experience in 1973. Even as stripling adolescents, we tried forming something we called OJOMA. It meant Ofafa Jericho Old Members Association. I still recall the young man who sprung the idea – Matheri, was his name. He had only joined us the previous year from Dr Kraph Primary School, where the idea of an alumni association had apparently worked well. OJOMA would be our meeting forum as ex Jericho Primary School boys and girls.
It did not work. Perhaps it is the romantic sentimentalist in me. I get attached to places and people. That is why I still remember many boys and girls I went to primary school with, by name and face, although I have not seen them for 40 years.
Peter Wanjala, I hear he became a Professor of Dentistry and a surgeon, Kyalo Ben who disappeared somewhere in the Americas, David Wanjohi, John Wanjohi, Kassim Fulasia, Josephat Lawrence, Margaret Solomon, Regina Wanjiru, Anne Wangari, Anne Kaluki, Abigail Wairigia, Leah Wangui, Milka Atieno, Samuel Olewe – I could go on and on. And I recall many incidents, almost as if they only happened a few months ago.
That explains my attachment to where I have come from. My passion for Emanyulia, my birthplace, is legendary. If the people have gone, the place will somehow be there. But I long found out that it is never exactly the same.
Once, when we were waxing nostalgia over an old Rumba song, a friend said to me, “Barrack, it can never be the same. You need to bring back the same people who were there and to recast the whole thing exactly as it was, for you to have that experience. The rest is hollowness, nostalgia.”
I know this. I have been to Langata High School, to Chavakali School and to Cardinal Otunga, Mosocho many years after I left. You sometimes look around almost as if you expect to see the boys and girls you knew.
But they only live in images trapped in your mind. It is the same feeling you get when the children have grown up and left home. It is strange how often you wonder where the children went. You think that they will come back as the little fellows that you once knew. But no, it is different.
Still, it is good enough that they come back from time to time. You try to do some of the old things that you once did together. It is perhaps an illusory struggle against the reality that you cannot reverse time. Yet I think we could still love to turn back the clock after the manner of H Wells of Time Machine fame. However, we cannot. I think there is a very practical sense in which we are literally living through time and space. Anyway, my recent fiasco with Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton is still fresh. Let me not go that way, for now.
We were talking about the Agriculture Chapter of the Alumni Association of the University of Nairobi. I think forming this association is one of the finest things that we have done, those of us who have been behind it. Our first objective is to develop programmes that promote effective networks among members. This should take care of romantic idealists like me.