What would you do if you had 5,000 acres of good, arable land in the heart of Rift Valley with adequate rain and sunshine? I wouldn’t think twice. I would engage in large-scale farming. I would invest to ensure that I get value for my money almost immediately. However, former President Daniel arap Moi chose a longer-term investment.
He chose to invest in the future of young Kenyans. He chose to invest in a top-notch school, whose graduates would become men and women of substance in society. I was one such lucky Kenyan youth.
In January 1992, Oscar Shilliebo and I were the only pupils selected to join Moi High SchoolKabarak from our primary school. It was no mean feat. We were the stars of the town. Clad in grey shorts, a white shirt, maroon cardigan and blue striped socks, we started a journey that was to transform us forever. Frankly speaking, Moi High School-Kabarak, was the place to be. It still is. After sitting our Kenya Certifi cate of Primary Education exams in November 1991, we like hundreds of thousands of others, left it all to God. It was a sweet surprise when my letter admission to Kabarak arrived.
My journey to Kabarak started badly. Perhaps due to excitement, I forgot my admission letter at the shop where I bought my metal box on reporting day. At the school gate, I frantically searched for it to no avail and were it not for a teacher who knew me, I would have travelled the 120km back home to fetch the letter. But I soon settled down and grew to love Kabarak, a school where it was (and still is) hard to tell the difference between children from humble backgrounds who could hardly afford a pair of shoes and the sons and daughters of who-is-who in the country. And talking of shoes, the President would once in a while buy all students, without discrimination, shoes. Unlike other schools, Kabarak wasn’t as strict.
There were no restrictions to parents visiting us nor were we searched at the gate. The parents were even allowed to bring us food during such visits. In all fairness, the school was homely. Though the chaplain, Dr Jones Kaleli, talked us against having boyfriends and girlfriends, that didn’t deter some from doing exactly that. The pleasure of receiving a love letter from a girl you met over the school holidays far outweighed the talk of chastity and purity that was preached. But so much more fed our passion for life.
There were those who excelled in sports and drama and choir and science congress. At Kabarak, the world was our oyster, but the passion for education was strong: Education, education, education the great leveller, the choice giver, the door opener. At Kabarak, we learnt to do what we could do. But despite the great time we had, not many of us would like to go through high school again. An exam-obsessed syllabus made it all the worse.
As long as I can remember, there were the cutthroat end-of-term exams that lubricated an academic rivalry of mind-numbing magnitude. Yet there was much more than education at Kabarak. Before joining the school, few of us had watched a game of rugby or witnessed competitive swimming competitions or even played a game of tennis. That was all there. Our gregarious sports master Rowlands Omondi Otieno would every Monday, regale the school with results from weekend sports outing where more often than not, we thrashed (to use his favourite word) our opponents; Nakuru High School, Njoro Boys, Morop Girls, Athenai and Rongai.
At university, many of us tried, unsuccessfully to get used to the repugnant hallways there— always fi lled with the acrid smell of cigarette and dirty ablution blocks. The difference in cleanliness between university and high school was like day and night. Worse still, the impersonal nature of relationships in college was crippling. Simply put, the camaraderie at Kabarak was like none that I have seen anywhere else. No wonder, Kabarak has continued to produce men and women of substance. I met Oscar and Norah Lwegado from my middle class the other day. There were fi ve streams then.
They are more now. Through dissolving memory, you could see the effects of the years that have passed by. But the years have not dulled the humour in us. During our meeting, the school jokes started to roll out as the sophistication of office life fl aked away. We also spoke about the fate of many of our schoolmates. Interestingly, we could still recall our nicknames most of which were characters in the hilarious English and Kiswahili literature setbooks.
I was nicknamed Vuai, the main actor in ‘Kisima cha Giningi’. I can’t quite figure out how that happened. By all measures, Kabarak performed well in national examinations. The mean grade was always above B plain in most exams. Certainly, we would have loved to have an A grade. But that was not achieved until we left. The school ran like clockwork, perhaps because it used to host the head of state now and then.
We looked forward to Sundays because, if we were lucky, the former President would join us for church service. The Kabarak Chapel anchored the community. The chapel neutralised everyone’s status. President, teachers, students, sta? and what came to be referred as the Kabarak community were equalised by the act of prayer and worship. Needless to say, so much has changed at Kabarak over the years. In addition to the secondary school, there is a boarding primary school. The old administration block and classes and dormitory now house Kabarak University. A school of medicine is also on the horizon. The secondary section is housed in a new block.