*Written in 2020*

I gripped the headrest in front of me with both hands. The car was zigzagging, and everyone in the matatu was screaming. The old lady with the shiny red lipstick next to me was clutching my arm. Everything was becoming blurry. I didn’t realize when exactly I had started crying, but I was. Silent whimpering. Even at my death, I would go silently.
Silent life.
Silent death.

I could feel the back of my shirt soaking with sweat. My heart was pounding. So this is it? How sad. What will I be remembered for? Being at the library 24/7? Who’s even going to remember me anyway? I am but a very ordinary girl. Average. A commoner. You wouldn’t notice me in a room. Even I wouldn’t notice myself in a room. Few words, normal face, standard brains. So this is it then. My miserable, miserable end.

“Hey. Hey.” The old lady nudged me.

“Huh?” I said, my eyes popping out.

“Are you okay?”

“Wh…what?” I said, looking around. We had arrived at the final matatu stage.

“You have tears in your eyes. Are you okay?”

I swallowed hard. My hands were shaky. The old lady was staring at me.

“Um, yes, yes. I am fine, thank you.”

“It is the last stage. We have to alight.”

“Oh! Yeah!” I said as I moved out of the way so she could leave.

I sat back and closed my eyes. It is all in your head. It is all in your head. It is all in your head. I muttered under my breath.

“Mrembo, we need to go to the carwash,” the conductor said, interrupting my murmuring. “And, it’s about to rain.”

“Oh,” I said softly as I alighted.

I held my sling bag close to my chest and started walking home. It was already dark and I could barely see the small ponds of mud rainwater categorically formed on the road until I was in one. I sighed loudly as I removed my now-wet shoes from the pond. This is going to be a long night.

“Alyah! Maryam!” A bodaboda guy by the roadside called. “Zubeda? Aisha?” He kept on guessing. A smirk formed on my tired lips.

“As if you could ever guess my name huh!” I said to myself.

Behind me, I could still hear him. They never give up, these boda guys. They’d keep guessing names with the hope that you’d pay for a ride.

His voice was getting hoarse at this point.

“I am walking!” I shouted without turning at him.

“Si ungesema! Nkt!”

What was I to say though? Wasn’t it obvious that I was walking? I shook my head. I fastened my steps as I got closer to home. As I inserted the key to the front door, a voice called out.

“How many times do you look over your shoulder when you’re walking?”

“Huh?” I said as I looked in the direction the voice was coming from.

A young lady in a green, flowery dera emerged from the dark. Her black scarf was hanging on her shoulders and in her arms was a heavily covered baby. A medium-sized, grey duffle bag was on the floor right next to her.

“I asked; how many times do you look over your shoulder when walking?” She smiled.

I just stared in utter confusion.

“But I don’t.”

“You do. You looked back over your shoulder four times from the corner over there till your door,” she pointed.

I blinked.

She smiled wearily, “Do you remember me?”

“You do look familiar…you’re the girl…”

“Yes yes, I am the girl with the tattoo of a man’s name on my waistline.”

“Haha…Hashim was it? The tattooed name? ”

She laughed loudly, this time her dimples revealed. “Yes. Hashim. I knew you’d remember me for that.”

“Nooo… no no…” my face turned red.

“It is okay. We never interacted in class, but the tattoo was the talk of the class for the entire final year. Everyone remembers that about me.”

“Haha,” I said with a shaky voice. Then there was a moment of silence.

“Lamya with a Y…” she said with a weak smile.

“Asya with a Y too. Hahaha. I am surprised you remember me at all,” I shrugged.

“Well yeah, it was a class of fifty students but then you’d always go on and on about the Y in the class WhatsApp group whenever someone misspelt your name. Lamya with a Y. Lamya with a Y.” She rolled her eyes, then smiled again. Her smiles came so often, I noticed.

“Haha.” Another moment of silence. Is that what I’d be remembered for then?! I shuddered. “What are you doing at this side of the town anyway?”

She looked down.

“Ah! I’m so sorry, please come inside. Do you want to come inside? We could have a seat and talk more, you know, about the importance of the Y in my name,” I laughed.

She nodded and I hurriedly opened the door to my one-bedroom apartment. I was glad that I had cleaned up the house before going to the job in the morning. I invited her to sit on the mkeka as I excused myself to go remove my buibui and wash my muddy feet.

Until then, I hadn’t known how to ask about the baby. Well, it’s been five years since we completed college, we were already adults, of course, she’d have a baby. Most of my classmates were already married and had become parents by now. Not that I was in contact with anyone but I figured that should be it. I planned to casually bring up the baby topic later on.

Asya sat cross-legged; fidgeting with her long, black, curly hair with blonde highlights.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

Startled by my voice, she tittered.

“Yes yes. I…I just need your help Lamya.”

“Can I get you something to eat or drink first? Then we can talk!” I touched her shoulder.

“No. No really. I am fine.” She kept shaking her leg and shifting her body on the floor.

I sat down next to her.

“I’m listening.”

“I desperately need a place to sleep… I am homeless at the moment. I could survive if it was just me…but this baby…my baby…” her voice broke.

My stomach churned.

Now here’s the thing. Asya was known, not because she brought trouble, but because she was trouble itself. A week in college wouldn’t end without Asya having another dramatic episode of some sort. She was either fighting someone or inciting fellow students to strike, confronting a lecturer, you name it…all sorts of trouble. Her name would be at the top of the list. Bringing her in for a meal –as I had intended- was one thing, letting her sleep over was another. I kept quiet.

“Just for tonight, I promise…for the sake of my baby, please. I will find a place by tomorrow evening in shaa Allah. I know we don’t know each other that much and maybe you wouldn’t be comfortable with such an arrangement but…”

My face became pale. Well, for one, I wouldn’t want to live with someone who’d read me like that.

I swallowed hard and then muttered, “Alright, don’t worry about it. Both of you can sleep here tonight.”

Asya looked down as tears fell on her green dera forming a wet patch. It was strange, to see Asya like this. The strong-willed, fierce, charismatic Asya that I knew from college was barely there and instead, there was this soft, almost unbelievably so, withdrawn woman. This wasn’t Asya. It was her skeleton.

“You need to rest. Let me get you some food then you can sleep alright? I insist. Please eat something?”

She nodded.

I hadn’t planned on making dinner that night because I was too exhausted. It had been the ‘Book Sale’ month at the library and we’d been the busiest. Luckily, there were some leftover mahamri and mbaazi in the fridge that I had bought earlier that morning. I quickly heated the meal and handed it to her.

I sat silently next to her as she ate, her baby closely next to her.

“So what’s your baby’s name?” I smiled.

“Muneera-with a double ee,” she laughed.

“Oh come on! Are you going to tease my Y forever?”

“Yes yes!”

“Can I hold her please?”

“Sure. She is 8 months old.”

I stood up and slowly kept my arm beneath the baby and held her below her neck with the other hand. Goosebumps formed on my arms. I held my breath. I can’t help but imagine dropping her, leading tragically to her death.

Muneera’s eyes rapidly moved around in almost an uncontrollable manner. Her skin was paler and she had freckles all over her face. Her hair was white and had a tiny nose like Asya’s. The nose must have been the only semblance between mother and daughter, I noticed. She is different. My heart sank a bit. The world is cruel to anyone different.

I started humming a lullaby as I patted her lightly on her back.

“Kingolengele mtotooo

Mtoto lala totooo

Mla ubwabwa wa motooo

Silie baba silieee

Ukaniliza na mieee

Machozi yako yawekeee

Nikifa unilieee

Jipigepige matekeee

Watu wakuzuilieee ee

Owaaa owaaaa mtoto ooowaaa”

“Hashim died,” Asya interrupted my singing.

I stopped and stood in my tracks.

“Inna Lillah waina ileyhi rajiun. I am so sorry to hear that Asya.”

“Yeah…he died a little over four months ago,” her voice broke.

I sat down next to her and cautiously kept Muneera, who was now dozing off on my lap.

“How did it happen?”

“Car accident. I couldn’t even recognize his face when we went to confirm the body found,” she sobbed, almost suddenly, which bolted me to a stand, the baby still in my arms.

What exactly does one do in a situation like this? How do you console a grieving widow?

Her cry was getting louder and with every wail, I felt chills throughout my body.

“Asya…Asya…what can I do for you?”

But she just went on with it. On and on. My head was now throbbing.

I squatted, unbalanced. One hand still trying to hold Muneera’s back and the other was hugging Asya clumsily.

Fueling my panic was Muneera’s sudden loud weep.

“Alright, alright there baby. Mama is okay, don’t worry about her. You go to sleep,” I whispered. I started walking back and forth in the corridor, singing all lullabies I could think of. Mother and daughter went on crying and crying and crying. At last, Muneera went back to sleep and Asya had stopped crying but was still sniffling loudly. The black scarf around Asya’s neck was now wet.

I took Muneera to my room, laid her on my bed, and left the door slightly ajar. I went and held Asya for what seemed an eternity. We both never said anything and she soon started dozing off in my arms.
“Asya, you should go to the bedroom and sleep with Muneera,” I whispered.
She shook her head to deny my offer.
“Are you sure you’ll be okay sleeping here?”
She nodded, her eyes still closed.

I slowly laid her head down on the mkeka where she was seated and brought a blanket and some cushions to make her comfortable. I picked the plate next to her; the meal was barely touched. I sighed as I stared at her frail body. For the first time, I realized how bony and gaunt Asya had become. Her pretty thick and healthy cheeks were bygone. Her complexion was pale and her eyes looked hollow, so hollow I thought I could sink in them.

I stood there for a while as I nursed my throbbing headache with my sweaty hands. I decided to make a cup of coffee and sit close to Asya to ensure she sleeps well. I locked my doors, checked whether I had locked them properly, and then checked again, just to be sure. I then settled down on the floor, gazing blankly into space, thoughts racing my mind. Finally, I stood up and prayed Isha, and checked on Asya again before proceeding to sleep next to Muneera in the bedroom.

Muneera’s cry woke me up, but she was no longer by my side. Groggily, I walked to the sitting room. Asya was now breastfeeding her baby.

“Assalam aleykum,” she gave me a half-smile. Her eyes were red and swollen. Her hair dishevelled as if she’d been pulling her hair all night.

“Waaleykum salaam.” I was staring at her.

“Thank you Lamya, for hosting us,” she said, pulling Muneera closer to her chest.

“You’re welcome. What time is it anyway?” I said as I went to check my phone that I’d left by the charger.

5:22 A.M. Time for fajr prayer.

“Did you get some sleep?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she nodded.

I excused myself to go clean up and before returning to my room, I stopped by the sitting room again.

“I’m going to pray…do you want to join me?”

Asya laughed, almost sarcastically. “God and I, we’re not friends.”

I opened my mouth, planning to say something wise or thought-provoking, but then my mind was blank.

“Are you sure?… I mean, are you sure you don’t want to join me?” I said finally.

She nodded without looking at me.

My heart sank.

“Well…will you go back to sleep then?”
“Not really. Not friends with sleep either.” Her eyes were on Muneera.

“Okay then, I’ve kept a clean towel in the bathroom for you in case you want to refresh. Let me pray then I’ll join you,” I said.

She nodded again and whispered another thank you.

After about twenty minutes of praying plus making breakfast for the two of us, I joined Asya once again. I noticed she had changed into a casual blue summer dress and her hair was now tied back into a ponytail. She had wanted to assist in preparing the breakfast but I insisted that she should just continue resting.

“Are you going to work?” she asked, glancing at me from head to toe.

“I will be, much later on. But if you’re wondering, yes, I am a morning person,” I chuckled.

Asya rolled her eyes then laughed, “Of course you are. Anyway, isn’t your boss going to question you if you go in late?”

“Well lucky for me, I’m the boss,” I laughed, “We’re two of us, I’m a co-owner of the library. Just a small one though, no big deal.”

“Oh! That is good! And of course, it is a big deal, you’re living your dream!” she said as she sipped her milk. She was quiet for a minute then, as if she’d been thinking about it a lot, she asked, “So what’s your story Lamya?”

“Haha, nothing much. The ordinary lady doing ordinary things.”

“I expected you’d be married by now,” she said quite casually. Swahilis have such a way to ask you very intimate questions and make it seem like they’re asking you about the weather.

I blinked.

“I was for a while…”

“You were??! I didn’t know that!” she exclaimed.

“Well, it didn’t last for long. I got married two years ago then I had a stillborn…” I said rather slowly. Asya gasped loudly. “Soon after that, my marriage died too,” I continued.

“Subhanallah! I am so sorry for your loss!”

“Yeah, I was going crazy, almost literally.” I paused momentarily. “It was the hardest phase of my life… I never thought I would ever be okay again. Stopped going to the library, stopped reading entirely, and meeting people was too exhausting for a long while…but I’m doing better now,” I smiled.

Asya stretched out her hand to hold mine without saying a word for a moment.

“I lied to you,” she said.


“About remembering you. Okay, not exactly lied but I didn’t give you accurate information. While I was panicking about being homeless, I talked to Jay from our class. Remember him? Our first and second-year class rep.”

I nodded.

“Yeah, so when I talked to him he told me I could reach out to you. You are one of the few who are still within the town, most people have moved, gotten married, and have families … I had forgotten but you’re the one who ensured I reached the hospital safely the day I fainted in class, and then you paid for the admission as well. I am ashamed that I forgot… but you know, it was the first year, the first semester. I do remember thanking you after I was released from the hospital but then that was that. I doubt we ever had another conversation ever again. Anyway, he reminded me of the incident, and just to ensure I knew who I was talking about, he mentioned you correcting people of your name all the time in the WhatsApp group. But after that, I pretty much could recall who you were.”

“Ohh!” I laughed, “It is okay though. I don’t think I would have remembered you either if you weren’t the popular girl back then.”

Asya laughed too.

“Why don’t we go for a walk?” I suggested.

Agreeing, Asya picked up the last piece of toast and took a big bite. Still chewing, she quickly opened her duffle bag and removed a blue and white leso, another heavier dress for Muneera, a tiny hat, and some sunscreen. Asya applied the sunscreen on Muneera, dressed her up from head to toe then lifted her carefully and put the baby on her back. Bending over, Asya tossed the leso over her back and tucked the bottom edge of the cloth under Muneera’s bottom. She then pulled the edges of the leso to the front of her torso, under her arms, and knotted the ends around her chest. Ready to leave now, Asya picked the same black scarf she came with the previous day and kept it loosely on her head.

We stepped out to the hues of orange and golden rays bursting out of the sky. We started treading on the tarmac road as the cool morning breeze kissed our faces.

“Asya…if I may ask…what happened to you? I mean, how did you end up here?”

“Whew! … Well… you do remember Hashim and I started dating in the second year yeah?”
I nodded.

“Well of course my parents didn’t know about it until our final year. After I did the famous waist tattoo of his name, Aziza and my other friends kept teasing me about it. Soon enough, the whole class knew about it. And of course, you know, such news spread fast. My cousin Saada came to know about it somehow and she told to my parents. Of course, my parents wanted to know who this Hashim was. He was summoned and he did come, to my parent’s dismay. They asked him all these questions like he was being interrogated. Anyway, despite Hashim clearly stating that he wanted to marry me once we finished university, my parents believed he was a bad influence on me and rejected him.” She paused.

“Funny thing is, I was wild even before I met Hashim. If anything, he was the one who brought balance into my life. He never even knew about the tattoo till after I had already done it.” She sighed.
“Oh?” I turned to face her.
She nodded. “I know my parents didn’t want to admit this but the real reason for rejecting him was because he wasn’t Swahili like us. You know how twisted our culture is sometimes when it comes to such matters…Okay, I get it that all parents want a stable, religiously steadfast man for their daughter but how fair is that if their daughter was neither stable nor steadfast? Anyway, whatever their reasoning, it was an outright no. I hated them for it, but we kept on trying to convince them for one whole year. Eventually, we gave up. We went to court and tied the knot,” Asya continued.

“I was really sad because my family cut me off after the wedding but Hashim took me to his family home where he lived alone with his grandfather and we were happy,” she smiled.

“Oh…where were his parents?” I asked.

“His mother died at childbirth…her name was Muneera and thus, our Muneera…” she smiled, “And his father died from pneumonia when we were in our third year in college. So it was just him, his grandfather, and his elder sister who was married in Malindi. Hashim was running a fish business and it was doing quite well mashallah. We were living the good life. His grandfather was so calm and easy to deal with, we rarely ever saw his sister and Hashim…Hashim was the best husband in the world,” her voice started breaking.

I held her hand and intertwined her fingers with mine. We were now approaching the pathway that would lead us to a supermarket at the end of the road. I needed to buy some groceries so Asya could have something for lunch.

“And then what happened?”

“Everything changed when Muneera came. No one prepares you for a child that’s not…normal, you know? The first time I held her, I knew something was wrong because of her white hair. When she turned three months she was officially diagnosed with albinism. I was devastated. We both were…Hashim and I. I thought it was a punishment from God…or a curse for hurting my parents. I blamed myself for it for days. I thought I couldn’t handle it, how was I, of all people, going to raise a child who will be looked at differently her entire life?”

“I am so sorry,” I muttered.

“It is alright… Hashim was more optimistic. He seemed so sure that we were the best parents Muneera could ever get. After a while, I realized I can manage too. I got accustomed to the stares from family and strangers. Hashim was very supportive so it didn’t really matter what anyone else thought, and his grandfather loved Muneera immensely. For a minute there, I thought we’d be okay; this small, cute family of ours. Well, that was until the accident happened. Our lives took another major twist. Because now it wasn’t just the grieving, it was the discrimination too.”

“From whom?”

“His sister.” Asya looked at me.
“After Hashim’s death, she and her husband had to come live in the house since they were the only other direct family members alive. I wouldn’t have minded staying alone with Muneera and taking care of Hashim’s grandfather too…but you know how it is. I guess they couldn’t trust me. Safiya, Hashim’s sister, didn’t have a problem with me but she kept looking at Muneera like…filth. She always seemed disgusted whenever she’d see her. At first, she never really said anything about Muneera but soon enough, she started dropping comments about how albinos were a symbol of bad luck or a curse. I tried to be patient with her; ignored her comments and dirty glares but then we started having ugly fights over it. This was home for me now. I didn’t have any other place to go to, so I had to swallow it all in.”

“My God! Some people are just so cruel,” I shook my head, my voice overshadowed by a speeding car.

“Whilst I was grieving the death of my husband, his sister made sure to make my life more miserable than it already was. I had to leave, Lamya. I just had to. As soon as I finished my eddah, I left the house. Hashim’s grandfather was so sad at my departure but I explained to him that I couldn’t take it anymore. I hope he will forgive me someday for taking his granddaughter away from him.”

“I don’t even know what to say Asya. What you’ve been through is terrible!”

“Yeah, so that’s when I called Jay and told him of my predicament. He told me he lives in Eldoret nowadays. He then suggested I should try finding you. It wasn’t easy but after several phone calls among different classmates, Susan finally gave me the direction to your home.”

“I’m glad they did. So what’s your plan now?”

“I don’t have one…yet. Jay said that he’ll call me this evening to tell me what to do. I’m not sure what his plan is but he assured me I’ll get help.”

“Ohh…in case he doesn’t find you a place you can stay with me for a few more days. I wouldn’t mind having company, especially this beautiful little princess.”

“Thank you so so much, Lamya. You don’t know how much this means to me,” she hugged me.

We now strolled into the supermarket and bought some groceries before heading back home.
“I miss them sometimes,” Asya broke the silence.
“My parents…my family…”
“I am sorry…Have you ever tried contacting them after the wedding?”
“Not exactly. I wanted to, but I didn’t have the guts to face them…talk to them…But maybe I will someday. I intend to, in shaa Allah.”
“In shaa Allah kheyr, you will be alright. You will be okay.”

When we finally got home, I prepared myself to go to the library. I showed Asya around the house to ensure she was comfortable and could access whatever she’d need. I left my spare key with her, said goodbye then promised to come back early from work and have dinner with her.

I locked the door. Checked it twice. Checked it a third time. I made a quick prayer that Asya and Muneera stay safe while I’m away then rushed off.

Seated next to my partner Suhayla at the praying mat right after dhuhr prayers, I decided this is the only opportunity I’d get to talk to her calmly. We were otherwise overwhelmed with work all day, all month. I explained to her Asya’s situation and then slowly asked, “Do you think we can find her something to do here? A job to get her by?”

“That’s so sad wallahy…I hope she gets help. Of course, I wouldn’t mind if we got her something to do but you know how tight our budget is. We’re barely making ends meet ourselves…I mean…what can we do?”

“Doesn’t have to be anything major for now. We could do with some help, especially this month. Perhaps just to help with cleaning and arranging the books, maybe make deliveries…until she gets a better job in shaa Allah.”

“Yeah well, suggest it to her if she’ll accept the little pay we have to offer at the moment.”

“I’m sure she’ll accept it. She is desperate at the moment. Thank you! Thank you!” I said hugging her by her side, feeling giddy with excitement.

I couldn’t wait for the day to end so I could give Asya the good news!

Barely two hours after the talk with Suhayla, a call came through on my phone.

Alex? My landlord? That’s strange. It is not yet the end month. I thought as I picked up the phone.

“Lamya!” he said with urgency.

“What’s wrong?”

“There’s a baby that’s been crying for almost an hour now in your apartment! Did you leave a baby alone? I’m surprised because I know you don’t have one.”

I stood up from my seat, my heart began to race.

“Alex, please do me a favour. I have a friend over. The mother of the child. Her name is Asya. Please go over to the apartment and check up on her. I am coming right away!”

He agreed.

“Suhayla! Suhayla!” I shouted, not caring one bit about the customers now staring at me.

“What is it Lamya?” she came closer to where I was standing.

“Something must have happened to Asya. My landlord has called about a baby crying for a long time. I can feel that something’s wrong! I need to go! Talk to you later!”

“Yaa Rabby!” Suhayla cried out, her palms on her head. “Okay go!…and please update me as soon as you get there!”

I hailed a bodaboda hurriedly and off we went. My heart was pounding and my hands were now filled with cold sweat.

What happened Asya? What happened?! My mind raced.

Finally reaching my destination, I jumped off the motorbike and quickly paid for the ride without waiting for my change.

At my doorstep, I realized that the door was wide open. I walked in just to find Alex holding Muneera in his arms, with two other neighbours.

“What happened??!!!” I exclaimed, “Where is Asya?”

“She wasn’t here…your friend, we didn’t find her when we came in. The door was open too.”

“What do you mean you didn’t find her?!” I said as I started looking frantically around the house; in the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. She was nowhere to be seen.

I was feeling dizzy now, my hands trembling.

“Asya! Asya! Where are you?!” I shouted.

I noticed Muneera had quietened down. Moving around the house in circles, I finally realized that Asya’s duffle bag was gone.

My eyes fell on Muneera again. The small, cute Muneera. My neighbours were looking at me with worried, puzzled faces, dumbfounded.
“Are you okay?” Alex’s voice seemed to come from a distance.

Oh my Lord! What am I going to do now?!

My head was throbbing. My body shook vehemently. My legs going numb.

“AAAASYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.” My voice shook the entire building.

The ground below me shook too.
A thud.
And then, darkness.


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When I was in university, I’d hear ladies or even men sometimes point out seemingly modest or religious ladies especially when they are fresh students and say, “Watoto wa geti kali wale. Just give them time, they’ll adjust” And by adjusting they mean, unveiling themselves and joining the rest in the typical university lifestyle. These statements used to really break my heart because it made life even more difficult for modest ladies; like they must fit in somehow, like they need to change, like this is the time for ‘freedom’ as most would say. But even more, it used to really scare me because eventually I came to see several sisters and even brothers slowly withdraw from their principles and values and embrace ‘the freedom syndrome’. Some entirely changed their mode of dressing and some discarded the religion as well. All this used to make me question a lot. Are we, as a community supposed to raise children in the ‘geti kali’ conditions or are we to show them the real world whilst giving them the weapons and right mind-set to deal with it?

Geti Kali houses in Mombasa are those homes whereby it is known that the children, especially the ladies are over-protected with strict rules on whom to interact with, talk to, where to go and limited permission to go out unnecessarily. At least that’s how I understand it. In its original sense, the geti kali culture is an innocently protective way for parents to ensure their children don’t go astray or get influenced or taken advantage of. It isn’t out of mistrust (not always), or just to put their children in distress, but just their own way to safeguard their children. Some connect this with religion whereby ladies are encouraged to settle in their homes and avoid unnecessary movements. Fine, but are we educating them on what is really happening outside their homes? The dangers, the kind of people, the rotten mind sets, the scary environment?

It is all good and safe until you take your child to university and poof! A whole new world is exposed to them. It is like taking a kid to Disney world for the first time, you can imagine their reaction. So this teenager or young adult suddenly, out of the blue, so abruptly is exposed to a new environment they totally have no idea about. They know absolutely nothing about. They don’t know how they will adjust to the new culture shock without losing their morals and values that their parents taught them. People who’ve never gone out to the shop by themselves and suddenly you leave them an entire day or semester in a totally foreign environment full of peer pressure. Even when they are not taken to university, these young adults stay at home and are given the phones; bringing the entire world to their rooms. Again, the amusement, the shock, the surprise like ‘All this exists?! Where have I been all along?!

Don’t get me wrong. I know several geti kali families who lead their lives in a modest way and the societal pressure didn’t get to them but what happens to the many others? Again, my question, are we to protect our children or show them the real world but weapon them to face it?

I heard one very dedicated teacher say, “We really have a problem. Sometimes a parent comes to us and asks why her very young daughter came home with a boy’s book. I mean, boys are living in the same world with us. You can’t protect your girl all your life. You need to train her to take care of herself. This is how we know of girls who grew up within very noble and pious families and they are very disciplined themselves, but one year into university, they came back home pregnant.” And this is really happening. It is, and we need to address it as it is; plain and honest.

I write this because I really wish someone else had prepared me enough for university life. Not because I come from a geti kali family but because everyone needs that mental preparation. At an early age, my mother plainly told me that there is a lot of fitna out there and she would frequently tell me on what’s going on around and the real situation and would repeat it to me that she trusts me enough to find my way without being influenced. I wasn’t given freedom per se, I was given a healthy amount of freedom such that sometimes I heard no many times before getting a yes. Despite having some healthy amount of exposure, I still wasn’t psychologically prepared enough to face the challenges. Now imagine someone who has absolutely zero idea how the real world is out there. They have no idea that a boy could pursuit you for a whole year just for one single night just to dump you immediately. They have no idea that many people will encourage you to join them in their filthy activities just because they can’t stand your seemingly upright morals. No one really prepares them for the world out there.

The truth is, eventually, one way or another, they will have to face that real world and what will they use to protect themselves when they don’t exactly know what they are dealing with?

Haven’t we seen people being raised in very good environments, very holy lands, yet still turn out lost? And haven’t we seen people growing up in very rotten societies yet still stand up firm on their principles?
You don’t raise your child in a palace all their childhood and once they become a young adult, you wake them one morning and say, “Son/Daughter…you need to go for war right now”. It is never going to be the same with the child who was raised in a palace yet still was informed about the continuous wars. This child is open-minded and is trained; ready for the war. They can never be the same.

No one is really safe from the whispers of shaitan. Not those in geti kali homes or those given absolute freedom. Don’t point fingers at others or other people’s children whilst you have no idea of how your own are dealing with the intensely influential phase of their lives. We are all fighting the same battles with our souls, we might as well share our notes and help each other in dealing with the problems we are facing. May Allah protect and guide us all. Ameen.

If you want to be amused, amazed, shocked, perplexed, inspired, totally disgusted on how human beings are and can be, please go to the campus, university or even to a college. By the end of your first semester, your mind lies to you that you’ve seen it all, yet, you haven’t. These characters are increasingly surprising; you just never know when to get your next bombshell. I am sure you will relate to some extent to the following characters. Perhaps the time for self reflection as well?

1. The Manipulator: You may or may not be friends with this person. You may never have talked despite being classmates. But since it is within a class of over a hundred students, it is all cool. Well it is cool, until this stranger-classmate suddenly recognizes you as a classmate and a dear friend and they casually decide to ask you for a ‘loan’. The kind you will easily (or maybe not) fall into their act of ‘something very urgent’ and you decide to help this fellow with what can be a weeks’ time pocket money. They will be very apologetic for asking, be very sweet and grateful for your help. They will promise to pay you back soon and even apologize for the delay until slowly and gradually they totally avoid you everywhere. In class, your phone calls, your text messages. You will remind him of your debt until you get frustrated and let it go. Then they prey on the next person. The manipulator may not necessarily be your classmate. Could be a hostel neighbour or a friend of a friend or a union colleague. They are everywhere.

2. The Manipulated: Is usually a peoples’ person; a charming fellow with a large network. Or the total opposite; just a timid introvert somewhere who is known to have a problem saying no. Everyone recognizes you for your friendship and willingness to help. They fish your pockets in the name of friendship. They will always include you in outing plans, lunches, parties, shopping sprees because they expect you to be the one paying the bill. Sadly, your friends are not your friends. They are your pocket’s friend. You go dry, they go missing.

3. Food Visitors: They know you like cooking or perhaps that your room always has something to bite. They may not even be your friends. Well, we all love visitors don’t we? But sometimes we all know we are just being used. They invite themselves to your room’ mostly during your cooking/eating hours. Always pretending to be apologetic for coming ‘at the wrong time’. It is not the wrong time, it was the intended time. Where there is free food, there is free-ndship.

4. The complainer: The one always complaining that they lack something. It could be food, money or even hair oil. They hope for your sympathy so as you can keep sharing your stuff with them. It is all good, fine, let us share. But unfortunately, they only want you to share and not the vice versa.

5. The selfish: This one is always a pest on his/her mates while he/she saves what she has. They could be rich, working or having enough yet they still opt to store what they have for other luxuries which most of the times are unnecessary. They could survive an entire semester depending on others.

6. The prying one: Always too inquisitive about other peoples’ lives. What you ate last night, where you slept last week, whom you went out with, where you buy your clothes. They enter your room, open your wardrobe without permission, log into your laptop etc…well, curiosity did kill the cat, don’t they know?

7. Keeping up with the rich: They could be coming from struggling families, but they yearn to have a high lifestyle. They go beyond to achieve this which most of the times involves manipulating friends and partners. They associate themselves with rich groups of friends and hang out in places beyond their budget.

8. The focused one: This one knows where they are coming from. Is content with the life they lead and has goals. They are serious about their campus life because they have a vision and avoid too much interactions.

9. The religious one: They uphold high values of their religion and despite the crazy campus life, they strive to become better individuals and avoid the temptations.

10. The bookworm: Mostly found in the library or in some quiet corner, reading. It could be anything really; a course book, a novel book or even a cooking book. They feel safer in that world than the wildness around.

11.One leading a balanced life: They know when to study and when to have fun with friends. They have limits and spend their time wisely.

12. Spendthrift & spending influencer: They spend a lot and sometimes, unnecessarily. But they make sure they are not alone. They always invite other friends along and they encourage their friends persistently and with so much determination to spend extra too…or sometimes, to spend on them. ‘If I am getting bankrupt, we should get bankrupt together’.

13. The hustlers: They multi-task, a lot! They study while working, sometimes more than one job. They are hard working and go out of their way to make ends meet and to achieve their goals. They are in several groups, clubs and unions and taking part in several extra-curriculum activities.

14. Study distractors: They don’t study and they don’t like studying so it always bothers them to see you studying. They will distract you in any way possible or mock how you are leading a boring life of books only. And sometimes, they could be ones that study yet they wouldn’t want you to study more than them. They just try to bring you down in one way or another.

If there is anything I learnt from my University life is that, people are so different. This barely covers it all. There are other more positive characters and the vice versa too. You need to know whom you are allowing into your life. You need to be careful, to be keen and alert, to be humble, to be empathetic. You never know where someone is coming from or what troubles they have or how much sacrifice was made until they reached that place. Be considerate. Be kind. Have limits, because too much of anything is poisonous. This is the place you either change yourself for the better, build healthy bonds and personal growth or it is the place that you entirely lose yourself. Reflect.

Photo Courtesy: drew.edu

On the day of my graduation, I met a university colleague just outside the compound while I was still in my gown. She congratulated me before asking what I had gotten in my results. The moment I told her it was a first class honors, she jumped with excitement and exclaimed, ‘eish!! First class na huringi?!!’ I laughed at this yet it made me wonder, what do people exactly expect from you after getting first class? Walk with head held very high and maybe start glaring at people from head to toe or write it on all walls, chant it like it is a magic spell, stop strangers on the road and tell them about my result or perhaps wear a placard that says ‘I have a first class’?? 😀
My classmate later on asked me what my feeling was for my achievement and I said, ‘I am just grateful and happy’ then when she realized how it wasn’t such a big deal for me she went on, ‘Ah you are a genius that’s why.’ Lol again, no, I was never a genius. I very well remember getting 7/30 in my CATS, getting a few C’s in my final exams, panicking like a freak just before ALL my exams for not having read enough, without forgetting those assignments I terribly failed and literally had to ask the lecturers to make me understand how they were awarding marks. And no, I never cheated in my exams to get my first class. Perhaps this is where we say, ‘where there is a will there is a way.’ Sometimes, no I mean always, all you gotta do is work hard and put your entire faith in God with the belief that He will never let you fail when you have done your very best.

So a pal who is still in university requested that I write about how one can work through challenges in university; both in academics and social life and the laziness, so as to get first class. Perhaps he too thought I am among the nerds who used to trans-night to study while my legs shoved in cold water and a very large cup of coffee beside me to keep me awake. Well, there is no single night I stayed awake throughout just to read nor was I in the library 24/7 exploring all the books in there. I believe so many factors are to be considered here; like what course you are taking, your IQ, your suitable studying technique and your social circle in university. As much as I made it through, there are a few things I wish I had been told, advised and warned about university life before hand that would have made it an easier path to walk through.

But even before we start on the topic, I’d like to re-tell what one of my lecturers said during his first class. ‘When you finish university, you leave with one of these four things: your certificate, real life-long friends, a spouse/partner or a baby/AIDS. Sometimes you leave with more than one and sometimes you leave with none. You decide what you want to have’ Perhaps this was the best advice we got as starters for we realized the importance of being focused from the very first time you join university.

1. There is difference between hard work and being a genius: Something very important for you as a student is to know where you lie in the IQ chart. Some people are geniuses, some are just hard working while some, are a powerful combination of the two. Well, unfortunately not all of us are born geniuses and we had to struggle to get to our goals. DO NOT compare yourself with someone else and DO NOT imitate their studying styles. I very well remember my only other mate who got a first class like me would not start a 10 paged assignment until the night before and he would still score very well or sometimes better than all of us mashallah while someone like me would start the same assignment two weeks ago and still get the same marks like him. To top it up, even while doing his work overnight, he would still do it comfortably with no fuss or worry while I would still be panicking to the very last second before submitting my work. SO do not look around and comfort your poor soul that so and so too hasn’t started his/her work. ‘I am not alone.’ No buddy, you are very much alone. You are on your own in this so know where you stand in the IQ list and how to do your work in the best way possible. And perhaps you already know that you are not a genius and need to work extra hard and just taking it easy. Well, you can forget about the first class then.
P.S. Even the geniuses have to put in effort to succeed, only that the amount of effort is what differs with each individual.

2. Studying style also differs with different people: Some students have to regularly re-read the same topics again and again before grasping it, some can just read a topic once and that is enough to make them get the A’s, some can just listen to the teacher keenly and that’s it, some need to listen to the teacher and also read a bit, some can stay without ever attending class but still study on their own and still succeed, some work best with cramming, some just have to trans-night before the exam day and they are good to go, some entirely depend on cheating while some have to do a combination of ALL the mentioned; read, re-read, listen to the teacher, cram, trans-night every night and cheat on top of it so as to succeed. Well cheating is really never going to get you anywhere because as far as you get in life, the effects of the cheating will appear in the shoddy work you will do in your job. So get to know what studying style suits your IQ and your course of course (as explained below).

3. Your studying style should consider your course: Of course the studying style for a medicine or architectural student can not be the same with the one for an art student. This is because the level of academic pressure differs to far extents. For other courses, theory is much more while in others, it is the practicals. Like for the journalism course that I was taking, our theory notes were just countable pages yet most units needed practical projects, assignments and exams. So you get to know where to put your greater focus on and as you’ve noticed all these 3 points inter-connect i.e. your IQ, your studying style and your course come hand in hand.

4. When the lecturer asks whether you want group work, be the first one to scream a ‘NO’ If possible, take a speaker and shout it out. Write it on the board in Red, Bold and Capital letters. Not unless you are one of those who like taking advantage of group work, you will totally agree with me that group work is annoying, irritating, time wasting and most of the time all the pile of work ends up being done by one or two people. To make it worse, sometimes you end up submitting very messy disorganized work done last minute. Well, sometimes you get lucky and get great partners to work with but still, it is very rare to get all your group mates being cooperative. You won’t miss one or two who will just mess all of you up. Another mistake most students do is getting into the same groups with their friends with the thought that they can work best together. Well, not unless your friends are very focused people, you guys might just end up chatting and laughing, everyone waiting for the other to start the work until it is too late and you just decide to write up anything for the lecturer. You need to know you are in university alone and you will leave alone and all these small works given to you matter in your end result so take everything seriously from the start.

5. Be part of the society but not necessarily part of the group: In universities we don’t miss to have groups in our classes. I don’t mean the red cross groups and religious groups or so, I mean ‘the birds of a feather flocking together’; the group of friends who hang out together of which most of the times they meet for less constructive issues or we can call them the informal groups. Well, it always feels nice to be part of a group but sometimes, peer pressure comes in. You start skiving classes, doing things you would never have thought of doing, not doing assignments etc. But there is also another problem of being part of a group. Usually social groups never miss to have opponents or rather, another group that just agree on how the other is. These differences usually lead to spoken and sometimes unspoken hot wind of hatred between the two or more groups. Differences could be of social class, academics performance, behavioural differences or even political. Trust me, in university, you don’t really want to be part of a particular group because if there is any place you need to have good connections with people, it is university. Especially if you are living far from home; in hostels, you need the strong network with different people including the non-staff; the gate man, the cook, the cleaners. You just never know when you will get into trouble and need someone to help you. And don’t say I can never get into trouble. Sometimes you just need assistance especially in our Kenyan universities, you struggle a lot if you don’t have connections in the administration offices i.e. the clerks, financial managers, PR etc You could need assistance in your projects and assignments from an IT guy or an engineering student or perhaps the graphic designer to design you a poster for the school elections; could be anything really. So be part of the general society; help others, laugh with all sorts of people, connect with people, appreciate them even when you have personal differences with them and hang out with them when you can but don’t directly associate yourself with one social group only. It usually has its consequences; could be positive but most of the times it is negative. Well, as for the introverts, you don’t really have to excessively connect with people. A simple hi with a smile every time you meet different people is enough.

6. Your assignments and projects are your trump card: Never underestimate the value of your CATS, assignments and projects. Not unless you are among the ones who just want a certificate doesn’t matter what grade it is so long as it’s not a fail, you need to take every of these seriously. Because in the very end of your study,all your points in every step of your academic life do count to make up the final result.

7. Discipline Well, who doesn’t know about discipline? We have been hearing about it our entire school lives. Remember the lecturers do consider your discipline even when awarding you with first class. Being arrogant just because you perform well won’t take you anywhere far. How many times have we heard of students failing just because they had an argument with a teacher and they ended up being in their bad books? Perhaps that is the bad thing about university, your entire career life is in their hands by how they award you marks. Some are fair, some just fail you the moment you step on their toe. So be careful; respect your lecturers, your mates, be timely and meet the deadlines as required. By doing this the lecturer doesn’t gain anything, you are the one gaining here.

8. Laziness and Procrastination: Ironically, we have been going to primary and secondary school as from 6 or 6:30 in the morning. We have been having more than 6 subjects per day with few minutes or an hour for a break, yet we are too lazy to wake up early for the university class that starts at 8 and ends at 11. Or too lazy to do an assignment that was given to you two weeks ago yet you previously used to do 3 assignments per day. I think this comes almost automatically to all university students. Wonder why? Nonetheless, this should give a reason to be more determined and focused, ‘if I could wake up so early for a full day in school then why not for just 3 hours or 6?’ Well, some courses are more demanding like medicine where they have to be in class full day but then still, you chose the course yourself; this is your goal and your dream so go for it. Getting A in secondary/High school doesn’t count anymore when you get to university. The challenges in university are many especially on the peer pressure. If you are not careful you can easily drop out. The tables do turn and your hard work is all that matters. Personally I had a B- in secondary school and still got first class. And I am not the first nor the last to have done that. The vice versa has also happened. Very bright students who unexpectedly failed their finals while some didn’t even get half -way through the years. So don’t be relaxed that you are a genius who got straight A’s in secondary, this is a totally different life and experience where you got to work hard to get to your goals. Stop procrastinating and start doing something now.

9. You have to be your own master: If you let friends divert you then you will definitely get distracted from what brought you to the university. You skive classes with someone who can very well succeed without the lecturer’s directions while you really need extra elaborations to understand the lesson, what are you doing to yourself friend? You waste your studying time with rich friends who can afford to join any other university or course when they fail, but are you sure your parents can do the same to you when you fail? Do you really want to put them through such trouble? You don’t do assignments because your friends didn’t and take CATS jokingly because your friends can depend on the exams only to pass? Again, remember each person has their own IQ and own studying style that suits them best. So instead of just blindly following the flock, know when is the right time to hang out with friends and the time to really get serious with your studies. You went there alone and will leave alone. This is your future entirely in your hands therefore be your own master.

Finally, I’d like to wish you well as you go through this rough, tough road of university life yet filled with so many beautiful memories. Set your goals and be focused. Know which of the 4 things you want to leave the university premises with. But again, remember, Nothing comes easy. Nothing comes on a silver platter.