Four monks decided to meditate silently without speaking for two weeks. They lit a candle as a symbol of their practice and began. By nightfall on the first day, the candle flickered and then went out.
The first monk said: "Oh, no! The candle is out."The second monk said: "We’re not supposed to talk!"The third monk said: "Why must you two break the silence?"
I have an inquisitive nephew, just turned 14. The lanky lad’s just joining high school, and we are on the way to report for his first day. He’s all butterflies. The stories he’s been told on bullying can fill the Britannica - most of them border on sheer disbelief and make a good laugh. Today, he realizes he’s on the way to certain mono-crucifixion.
I don’t intend missing the beautiful sights of the Rift Valley off Nairobi-Naivasha Highway pacifying a teenager. I believe in the neo-fashioned, Kenyan hustler slogan: Kila mtu apambane na hali yake.
That little story, however, wasn’t inspired by a question in that regard. My nephew had just asked a rather grown-up question (quite surprising for a teen who’d ask me questions along the line of “how do I get a girl to like me”).
He’d asked: Uncle, how do I get smarter and score better grades?
I knew what this was all about. My nephew had an elder sister who’d just finished her O-levels, and posted stellar results. When the family’s first born scores straight A’s, well, big shoes you have to fill. What makes it worse for the lad is the underlying, silent pressure that boys have to do better than girls - no one says it outright, but, he still feels it.
That question hit me like a bolt of electricity.
When did I grow up? Am I now the favorite uncle who takes nephews and nieces to his first day to school? When did he’s-now-mature-enough-to-be-trusted-with-someone’s-fees memo drop?
How do we handle this whole grown-up thing?
Nephew nudges me with an elbow. I must have dozed off in that reverie. I reach for my high school files locked in my heart, the bulk of which is filled by lengthy inspirational speeches from my dad - I had a troubled time in high school. That story, too, is part of it.
I rattle off the usual ageless lines: Avoid bad company, mate. Don’t skip morning preps. Ask relevant questions in class (not girl-related queries, ha).
My time in high school fills me with nostalgia. If it had to inspire this pep talk, it’d go a little like this: Don’t chew paper lumps and pelt others with them from the back bench. Don’t milk the school cows when others are studying in the morning preps. Don’t make chocolate by mixing margarine, cocoa, and sugar - like Nairobi kids.
“Lad, settle down in class and be quiet.” I tell him. “The less you talk, the more you can listen. Listening leads to learning. Am sure you’ll do just fine. Bring us A’s”.
“Have you still got the school fees in your pocket, Uncle?” Nephew asks.
“Nope. I’ve already paid your school fees direct to your school’s Co-op Bank account using M-Pesa.”
I then show him the confirmation message. To pass the time (it’s a long road trip), I tell him the M-Pesa to bank account steps:
Go to the M-Pesa menu, go to Paybill.
Select business number and fill in 400222
For Account prompt, write ‘schoolcode#studentnumber’
Confirm details, and send.
In case you still wondering about the four monks, these are the lessons:
The first monk would just have shut up and re-lit the candle.
The second monk unnecessarily reminded others of a rule that had got broken - and broke it, too.
The third monk should have just stayed calm, not vent his anger.
The fourth monk got carried away by his ego - should have enjoyed his success in silence.
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