Scent for Cents

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You know Oscar Wilde, right? He once said, “‘There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.’ The latter is worse.” 

Tom’s tragedylike all of ourswas that he wanted to be rich. He wanted an abundance of wealth. A cushy life. To have so much money he never lacked. To have the red carpet rolled out for him and the most exclusive bottles cracked in his honour. He wanted abundance and affluence. Poverty, for him, had meant great deprivation and, often, humiliation. Nobody looks at the poor, he said, and when they do, they don’t see them. Poverty makes you invisible, you become a  blank wall nobody wants to hang a picture on, dull furniture nobody wants to sit on. If poverty was a colour, it would be nude. Tom isn’t his real name, obviously. He asked to remain anonymous because he doesn’t want anybody to, in his own words, “dance on his grave.” 

I have interviewed a lot of people who grew up in poverty. Poverty is the same and it’s also not the same. I’ve heard of people who wore shoes for the first time in high-school then continued to wear that same shoe for the rest of their high school years, even though their feet grew through them, their toes prying the shoes open. Those who lived on one meal a day. Or no meal a day. Or eating the boiled cask of groundnuts. Or having to walk great distances to get to school, sometimes through crocodile-infested rivers. Or wearing only a tattered shirt on their back, shorts so tattered their exposed buttocks took on the shape of air. Of guys who would sleep alongside goats and sheep, in a manger, like baby Jesus. Or under the dark sky, the moon staring back at their desperation with one big astonished eye because their poverty is so dehumanising you can’t dare look at it with both eyes. 

Orphans who tell of unimaginable brutality at the hands of evil relatives. Or stepmoms on flying brooms. You read about Ken here, who I wrote about, an orphan, living with his grandmother (who later died) and being tied to trees and whipped by forestry chaps when they found him picking dead twigs to sell. [He has since graduated with a BA in Animal Health, and is working in Nakuru]. I interviewed a chap who told me cabbages reminded him of poverty because he ate so much of that boiled atrocity that he has since banned it from his house. I interviewed a woman who was “sold” off to a wealthy old man in the village to pay a multi-generational debt of three cows. Consider that level of poverty, that you are so poor, your family is unable to pay off a debt of three cows over two generations. Stories that make you gasp. When I think of abject poverty, this is what I imagine. 

I’m reminded of the Bible, the book of Exodus. The God of Israel waged a painful campaign against the Egyptians with Ten Plagues, sending painful boils on the asses of the Egyptians. No Egyptian could sit properly for a while, and they moaned and whined, and the pharaoh finally conceded and let go of the Israelites and Moses and his people took off. But once the boil on the pharaoh’s ass healed he said, damn it, that Moses fellow has to pay so he sent 600 chariots to chase after them, a spectacle that got them to the Red Sea where the Israelites were cornered, facing a sea before them and a cloud of dust as the charging Egyptians bore down on them, only held back by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. And the Israelites panicked, they started moaning, “Why did you bring us here to die in this wilderness, weren’t there graves in Egypt? This sucks, Mose. This truly sucks pipe.” And Mose [ that’s what they called him], said, “Oh stop bitchin’ and stop Tweetin’! Don’t you guys trust in God? Don’t be afraid, stand still!” And then he dramatically took a step back and raised his rod. People stared at him like he had gone nyungis. Someone at the back said, “What are you now, a magician?” But then the Red Sea miraculously parted and there was an uproar of Shangwe na Vigelegele!  

Anyway, when I think of poverty I think of the Israelites who looked back to see the cloud of dust from the 600 chariots. That, for me, is the representation of poverty; we are constantly running away from it and it always seems so near, a sickness away, a job loss away, but we keep running from it because if we stop we get consumed by its dust and we pray that someone, fate, raises a rod so that we can pass the rubicon safely to the other side. 

Tom grew up in a grass-thatched house in Nyansiongonot too far from Keroka, Kisii. Mother died at birth. Father fell in a pit latrine when he was 12. “I remember his body being pulled out with a rope tied to his leg.” A family feud ensued and his uncles kicked them out of their small shamba. Then it was just him, his younger brother and his grandmother all eking out an existence in a small hut. The boys slept in the mud kitchen with chickens. “In school, I would be smelling of chicken feathers and woodsmoke.”

“I like the smell of woodsmoke,” I tell him.

“I hate woodsmoke.” He says. He’s got a ring with a ruby on his finger. 

School was tough. Long walk to school, long walk back. Lack of uniform or shoes. No meals the whole day. When he was in class seven his grandmother died and a month later, his brother started coughing and on a rainy dawn he also died on his grandmother’s mattress. “I sat next to his body for 24 hours before I worked up the courage to walk to one of my uncles to break the news.” He was buried in a soggy grave near a young banana tree a few days later. Then he was alone, living in his grandmother’s hut. He had inherited six chickens, his worldly possessions. Soon, someone started stealing his chicken; one by one, when he was in school. Maybe it was a mongoose, maybe it was a thief, who knows. When his third chicken disappeared, he decided to lock the chicken in the kitchen when he was away at school. But then the three chickens started looking sad and withdrawn because perhaps they needed light and worms or chicken interaction. Then one died. So, to avoid heartbreak he did what any of us would have done;  he ate the remaining two. “I cut them up, then preserved them by roasting them lightly over an open fire and then strung them to smoke over the three-stones.”  

He was bright academically. He could do quick math. He was fast on the uptake. He struggled to say “sixty-six” which still comes out as “sigisti six” But no matter, he worked hard. Teachers loved him, the headmaster paid for his fees. He farmed on the small piece of land behind his grandmother’s house and from there got his produce; vegetables, onions, bananas, tomatoes. He took manual jobs around the village; digging boreholes, mending roofs, fetching firewood, tilling land. He bought more chicken and had a little baraza with them, he told them, “I can’t suffer any more deaths. Please don’t die, if you die, I eat you.” The chicken listened. He was the poorest of the poor in the village. “I was the outcast, people say I had a curse on me, that’s why everybody was dead around me. So I didn’t grow up with many friends in the village. Other villagers often pointed at me. I spent a lot of Christmases alone. I learnt to keep away, to mind my own business. I don’t seek people out as a result. I don’t mind solitude. People say I’m secretive but Biko, I have seen what people are capable of. People are selfish.”

We are in his sparsely furnished apartment, a blue sofa that one would find in a high-end strip club, a threadbare carpet, an ornately-carved Lamu coffee table, a lonesome dining table on the raised dining room, a big-ass television set and a router, and big windows overlooking a patch of grass outside. We are eating groundnuts and sipping tea. It’s 11am, in case you are wondering, the best time to eat groundnuts and drink teaI have it on good authority. 

He struggled and passed well enough to gain admission into a national school in Nairobi. “It’s there that I was introduced to a new world. Of affluence. There were boys whose parents were who’s who in Kenya. They spoke differently. Their uniforms looked different. Their attitudes were different. They were courageous, speaking boldly about the future as if they owned it. They belonged. Then there were boys like me from poor families. I think it’s in high school that I knew that I wanted to be like those kids’ parents. Drive big cars, have my children speak with great conviction and courage. My scent for money was aroused.”

“Your scent for cents.” I mutter, tossing a few nuts in my mouth. 

Between form one and two, he would go back to the village to work in farms over the holidays. In form three and four, he devised a way of rooming with another poor friend in a one-room in a scruffier part of Ngara while they hawked all manner of things downtown, from umbrellas to sweets. They barely made enough for fees. “We would be those guys who started their term almost halfway in because we were out there raising fees but also learning Nairobi.” But he would excel in studies and it wasn’t long before another teacher took up his fees issue. Over time, they got into printing and then spare parts for vehicles and when the internet arrived they got into computers big time. He stopped going back to the village. His grandmother’s hut crumbled and rodents started living there. His uncles took over the land. 

“By the time I was in the University of Nairobi, first year, I was making some decent cash. I was barely on campus. I was out wheeling.” His network grew in tandem with his  greed. Soon he would often find himself at tables with lowly government officials with information, budding politicians or people who represented politicians. Men in suits and sometimes firearms. Men with two or three mobile phones on the table.  Men who controlled budgets or knew people who controlled budgets. Big deals were often made at those tables. There were kickbacks.  He sat behind a man, then he sat as his own man after having made his bones. He then got into road construction even though he knew diddly squat about roads. Then real-estate as a middle-man. He supplied medical equipment and steel and he did landscaping. 

“I was running away from poverty. I was damned if I was going to go back,” he says, “and where was I going to go back to? I hadn’t been to my village in many years, I had nobody to go back to, nobody to wait for me. I had cut off my thieving uncles. I never went back for funerals. I was a man apart. I wanted nothing to do with my past that only reminded me of hardship and pain. Money, I believed, would cure me of poverty.” 

He was married at this time. He had a nice office in Upper Hill which he rarely sat in because he was always in hotels, sipping tea, making promises to influential people. “It’s exhilarating to lock down a major deal. The celebrations were usually over the top. You sent what you hadn’t earned. Thankfully, I don’t drink. I have never been attracted to alcohol since it turned one of my uncles into the village laughing stock. I think alcohol degrades you. Plus, remember I had a mission; to be wealthy and I don’t think buying a bottle of whisky for 30K as my associates would, makes one wealthy. So while everybody would be getting drunk, I would be sober, picking subtle cues, looking out for these people’s weaknesses because when people drink they let go.”

“So what was your weakness, then?”

He grins. “You can guess.”

“Cross-dressing?”

He laughs. “There are only two things that are men’s undoing; alcohol or women.”

“Or alcohol and women.”

“That’s a loaded one.” He gets up and goes to take a leak. I hear the loo flashing then he’s back. 

By the time he was 40 he had a house in an upmarket address, two apartments in Westlands (one of which we are sitting in), and two top-of-the-range cars. He was also occasionally selling high-end furniture from Turkey and prime land on the side. He was liquid. He spent heavily on clothes because clothes maketh the man. He had a beautiful wife and two children. He kept his past in his past because he felt it “brought shame and disrepute.” He was taking extravagant holidays. His kids went to schools with white kids. “I wanted my children to break this curse of where I was from and the desperation that I had lived under.” 

“You wanted the white kids to wash away the stain of your black past,” I say. 

“Wow!…yeah….yeah….that’s a good way of putting it….that’s really good, Biko.”

“Why, thank you, sir,” I say. “But did they?”

“Well, who knows. I don’t think money changes the person we are. That’s why the aristocracy was never about money but about pedigree. You can’t buy that, you are born with that. But these are things you realise later in life, sometimes in shocking ways.”

“How so?”

He drapes one leg over the other. “I once went to this prominent family’s home for one of those Sunday lunches. My wife, I married up, knew the daughter. Lunch was on a big verandah. And it was extravagant. A uniformed chef served us. I’m a Kisii man, there are things that surely, I don’t know how to eat.”

“Like souffle?”  I say. “I honestly just don’t see a Kisii enjoying a souffle.” 

He laughs. “Look, do you want whisky, I have good whisky.” 

I pass. Too early. Plus who drinks alone?

“Anyway, the patriarchthis wealthy man with old moneyasked me casually where I was from and who my family was. I thought this old man might relate because of his age and the fact that he isn’t caught up in this social strata thing. I said I was from a very poor village to show how hardworking I was at having arrived at their table but I realised that after that he wasn’t really interested in me. He barely addressed me after that. He had dismissed me.”

“He made you feel poor again.”

“Exactly!” He says. “But I didn’t dwell on it. I had money. When you have money you feel like you can sit at any table, you know. But there are some tables where even your money won’t get you a seat because there are other things that come into play; like family, your history. When you are asked; who knows your father? What do you say when your father fell into a pit latrine? Nobody knew him.”

Meanwhile, there was the little problem of women. “It’s difficult,” he sighs simply. 

“Actually it’s not,” I tell him. I tell him of that fellow I interviewed in the Business Daily who grew up very poor, the one who hated cabbages. Even though his career was always rising meteorically, he had a string of failed relationships. I asked him why. He said, and I quote, “Being an orphan is tough, you are always second or third or last. Nobody prioritises you. What happens when you start making it, when you start breaking through, you strive as much as possible to tell the world that I’m no longer the same. You overcompensate. You become extravagant with your emotions, with your money, extravagant with your time. All to prove a point. But soon you realize you’re still alone.”

He mulls on that, head slightly bowed. “That’s true for him. Women follow money, but also when men make money they want validation from women. But for me there was also the element of greed. I wanted to take everything I could grab; money, pleasures. When you have money, you are more desirable to women, you will agree.”

I nod. 

“Because you can make a decision that changes a woman’s position or experience. You know what I mean?”

I nod.

“You can meet a girl earning 70K at a small law firm in town and set her up with a small car and an apartment for 40k a month in these parts of town. It doesn’t cost you much, not when a deal brings you 10 million. You get?”

I nod.

“But one girl is never enough. You will see another who you want to take for a trip in Malindi. Another you want to carry to South Africa because who wants to experience Table Mountain alone?”

“Exactly nobody.”

“Money makes you avaricious. It’s like…it’s like…” he searches for the words, “it’s this insatiable hunger that demands more, no matter how much you make. So your money-making muscles need to feed the monster, and the more you flex them, the greater your thirst for pleasure. Today you want to go to Malindi, tomorrow you want to go to Morocco. Now wealthy men want to go to space. It’s like a drug that you keep consuming and it makes you hungrier and more foolish and careless but also feel invincible. You don’t think anything can happen to you because money solves everything, right?”

“Right.”

There was a deal on the table. Hundreds of millions. He won’t say much but it looked clean. It had many players, different players this time, people he wasn’t accustomed to doing business with. He was introduced to one of the players at Stanley’s Exchange bar. A white chap, an investor. That built his confidence because he was supposed to invest  30 million of his money which would make him almost 150 million after everybody had taken his cut. I hold up my hand and say. “These figures are giving me a headache.” He laughs.

Problem was he didn’t have 30 million lying around. His money was tied up in assets. He met one of his associates and borrowed 30 million at 20% interest. He was still going to make his money back and some, he figured. But then one of the guys on the deal couldn’t raise his 30 million so he was presented with the opportunity to raise half of it. One of his friends was adamant, he told him, “don’t push your luck with this. Leave it.” He thought, big risks, big returns, those who play safe work their whole lives, so he went to another friend who loaned him 15 million. Then the deal fell through. Went tips up; government policy and unforeseeable happenings scattered it to the wind. He owed 45 million to people who are only your friends as long as you don’t owe them. They wanted their money back, not tales. And they wanted it yesterday. “So I started selling my shit, mostly at a throw-away price. These guys weren’t going to kill me, I know that, because dead men don’t pay back 45 million, but they were going to do worse. Where there is lots of money changing hands, there is a lot of heartlessness and violence.”

Anyway, after he was done paying off his debt he only had the apartment left. His wife took off in this mess. “I gave her and the kids the other apartment I owned to live in. I will remain in this one.” Well, a fool and his money are soon parted, the saying goes. 

“Why did your wife leave?” I asked him. 

“Honest?” he pauses, as if I want the dishonest version. 

“She was going to leave anyway, it was coming. I think she had had enough. I was never home. She had also found out about, uhm, some stuff. We were having lots of problems, ironically, that weren’t money-related,” he chuckles. 

“Like?”

“The usual, tu, men problems. I was living life with a paper bag on my head.”

I laugh at the imagery. 

“Yes. Blinded. With money and raha ya maisha.” Pause. “ Sometimes you can have everything but then realise that you have nothing actually.”

“Meaning?”

“You know what I mean, bwana.” He says dismissively. But I really don’t know what he means. And I don’t want to assume. 

“OK, what was the biggest problem here, how did you get here, according to you?”

“Identity was my biggest problem.”

“Identity?”

“Yes. Where you are rooted. What roots you? I didn’t have roots, so I wanted to find it in money. I thought money would get me acceptance and recognition. Money doesn’t give you roots because money is just a tool. It’s like a hammer that you use to make a stool. But you can make a stool with a substitute for a hammer, can’t you? You can use a stone to drive in nails. You aren’t the hammer. The hammer is not the stool. The stool is a stool and the hammer is a hammer.”

“You speak weird, Kisii man.”

He laughs. 

“The point I’m driving home, without a hammer, is that I have always wanted to erase my past because it’s difficult and painful and I was driven to substitute it with money. But I still remain who I am. I’m an orphan, my father fell into a pit latrine, I never met my mother, my brother died, I was discarded by my family….I’m alone, that’s part of who I am. No shame in that, or hiding it with trips abroad or girls or shoes, you get? No shame. But here were are now, it could have been worse.” He chuckles.

The “here” that he speaks of is this. His wife left because he had not invested in her emotionally. [My assessment, not his]. He had bought great furniture and curtains and a green lawn, that’s it. He was a prick. [He doesn’t disagree]. He lost almost everything and he went through a period of great mourning and self-pity and fear. Fear that he would slide back into poverty. [Those 600 chariots].  There was a period of six months when he thought he was depressed, sitting in this house, thinking, afraid to face anyone because he had no car, no self-esteem, until finally, he started reading books – The Quarter-Life Breakthrough by Adam Smiley, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Write it down, Make it Happen by Henriette Anne Klauser. He also read Think Big by Ben Carson and that small book about cheese being moved. 

“What was your tipping point? When did you come into this awareness of self?”

“It would come in little reminders, like that wealthy man at lunch. When I was trying to raise the debt I owed I realised that although I had accumulated wealth I didn’t have a support system that would bail me. I was still alone. I have always been alone. I think I’m slightly more self-aware now as a person that I have ever been. I’m clear that money won’t heal the wounds of childhood. Remember that story you wrote about that Indian tycoon.”

“Guru Devki.”

“Yeah, I like how he said if you took everything from him, his phone and money and dropped him in a dry foreign land, a strange place, he would build another dynasty again in no time without money from anyone. That inspired me. That anybody can start over.”

“What do you want now?”

“I don’t want money. I want fulfillment. Apart from missing my children, I have been very content lately, living in this house like this with very little. I eat one meal a day and my body is used to it. My thoughts are clear. It’s like suddenly I’m back to living alone in my grandmother’s hut. It’s the same thing.”

“The full cycle.”

I went to his loo to take a wee. Hanging on the wall was a tacky painting, the type you buy in traffic. It was of a flower but over it was the poem, Desiderata. I sat on the toilet seat and read it, slowly. When I came out I said, “Go placidly amid the noise and the haste…” He turned in his seat and said, “…and remember what peace there may be silence.” 

We shook hands at his doorway. “Good luck,” I told him. Then I hopped down the staircase. 

***

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183 Comments
  1. You can always start again. Epic statement.
    DESIDERATA is a poem for ages. The words sink deep. They are prophetic and magnetic. I live by those words. Thanks Biko. Salient and Savory.

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  2. This is so true
    “Being an orphan is tough, you are always second or third or last. Nobody prioritises you. What happens when you start making it, when you start breaking through, you strive as much as possible to tell the world that I’m no longer the same. You overcompensate. You become extravagant with your emotions, with your money, extravagant with your time. All to prove a point. But soon you realize you’re still alone.”

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  3. Their is a path that seems right but its end is destruction.
    I am glad he lost the money it set him on the right path, i pray he sustains his new self lest goes back to pursuing a life of pleasure.

    Money is however good but should not be an idol.

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  4. That small book about cheese being moved….Really Chocolate man.
    Kisii man, my to go to phrase lately is ” ITS OK NOT TO BE OK”

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  5. I’ve always been impressed by the way highschool changes people. The diversity of personalities we meet there. The sense of belonging where grown adults take pride in those four years in an institution, how it shifts our mindsets.

    I wish you well Tom, greed is really the root of all evil. But life has a way of turning everything around. And experience, they say, is the best teacher. So here you are, back to where you started, a different parallel, but the same emptiness, until you’re grounded. All the very best in your awakening

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  6. The Good Book, quoting Jesus; says; ” Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions”. Perhaps no recent story, told to and woven so exquisitely by Biko, illustrates this truth better than the story of the Kisii man who speaks weirdly!

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    1. Hahaha. That really cracked me up a good one. 23th GENEVA CONVENTION in’it? I would like your guidance on who to complain to or sue for my being poor…any assistance will be highly appreciated.

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  7. Ha, here is the kicker, we always walk alone! No matter who joins you on the journey for a year or eighteen, you are always alone and yet… you are here, YOU are with YOU…which means you are never alone! Embrace the Silence and Solitude!

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  8. Desiderata
    GO PLACIDLY amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

    Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

    Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

    Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

    Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

    Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

    Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

    Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

    Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

    And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

    By Max Ehrmann © 1927
    Original text

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    1. This reminds me of my father. It was the first poem he introduced me to as a child. I didn’t know what it was then, but I go back to read it every so often

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  9. Now I need such stories to remind me that I am blessed beyond measure. Thank you God for Tuesdays and thank you Biko for Tuesdays with good reads!

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  10. This is such a good read.Am one who still thinks that money would definitely change my life and my people,I still yearn for the big bag,in poverty you are invisible,a nobody,and who wants that?

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  11. Poverty sucks. I grew up briefly in some semblance of luxury then got tossed to the other side. Poverty deprives you of so much. As a kid you look down on yourself, you pity your parents whom you would so much want to assist but can’t. It eats away your persona. Even your character, dreams and aspirations get built around it and too soon you realise that your greatest ambition was one, “not to be poor”.
    A terrible life, I must say. Poverty is like human stool, just after getting cleaned, the moment you see flies around you suspect that you didn’t get thoroughly washed.
    The worst is when it gets to your mind and you see everything through the materialistic prism, it distorts your worldview.
    It’s great to see that Tom has picked a perspective, a fulfilment that money can’t buy. At least nothing can take that away.

    Nice read as always!

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  12. He’s come full circle this Kisii man who speaks weird. Thank you Biko for this thought provoking read… beautifully written.

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  13. Amazing as always , what a reminder, what a humble thing to say I WANT FULFILLMENT!!!!

    I Love this part on the Desiderata: Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

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  14. So relatable a story. Let me continue working hard, at least for my kids. Provided I leave them something to hold on when my time expires. The taste of poverty is sour. Being an orphan, there is an emptiness nothing will ever fill. Conversations you will never know how to contribute to. Emotions you will never know how to express. And I believe these things will always eat you up. But hey…. the sun is up.

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  15. good story, good luck to him. am wondering if he kept in touch with the teachers that helped pay his fees at the levels he says they helped.

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  16. “If money were alive, it would always be looking for ways to get bigger. ”
    Unknown
    Reading this made me see that as mere human beings, we are its servants; we are here, it seems, to facilitate the process.

    “Money equals open doors and respect.”
    bikozulu ( I think?)
    “Sometimes being poor makes you entitled, selfish and insecure. You just want everything to yourself. You easily make every situation about you. It is also not easy to remain positive and it affects your thoughts…”
    Can’t remember who

    I have so many quotes, thoughts and reflections about money and I thought I would leave some here. Tom* makes a compelling case but ultimately it all boils down to perception and societal pressure. For Tom* “It’s important to get things wrong in life. And it’s even more important to pay for your mistakes. If you don’t pay the duty, that duty will still be owed to the end. Feeling embarrassment is an essential part of growth. It makes you feel bad, it makes you reflect, it makes you look at the nuances of a situation.”
    Gigi Buffon.

    As for me”I have no morals and I need the cash.” Ultimately, a sage of the old is quoted as saying “Broadly speaking, being a person is often very stupid and a bit of a letdown,” which are my words to live or die for. In the end its all Vanity.

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  17. Hey great piece there. I like it so much. the description of the Exodus is out of this world. It was amazing how yo connected it with the attempt to escape poverty. much respect from me. the scent of cents title is perfect!

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  18. The inherent fear of sliding back to our backgrounds, with the constant uncertainity of tomorrow, sucks the soul dry, leaving on a shell of a man, an amorphous being.

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  19. “He made you feel poor again.”

    Perfect illustration of what hustler ideology stands for. Once born in poverty, even if you make it, forces around you are bound to ensure you remain in poverty, and conspire to keep you away from riches. When the poor make it, there is no chance of them creating wide networks of support systems, as the support systems are built on family ties, which you lack when you join the table. His poor background couldn’t shield him from one bad business decision, but with a well connected background, he would have had a chance to make ammends and survive the bad decisions.

    Hoping he turns the tide and continue the rebuilding process highlighted, especially towards his family.

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  20. Work-life balance…at the end of the day we are social beings and the social always wins. Invest in family, they are all you’ll have when shit hits the fan. There is always a tendency to underestimate family when we are doing ‘fine’, the assumption that they will always be there.

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  21. Love these profile stories you do – gives insight into people you’d never really truly know. Like Desiderata, there’s a ‘cliché’ quote I love, “as long as I am alive, I must have purpose”. And so he does. Only way up from bottom now. We move.

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  22. Indeed good luck Tom and sorry for the childhood trauma. This goes to show that a good education is a tool to get out of poverty and luckily he got people to facilitate his education although he went through so much at the same time. He had a good head on his shoulders. He will pull through this difficult phase as well.

    3
  23. I think this chap is going to be just alright.He will bounce back, make a tonne of money and probably live a wiser fulfilling life. May he find his true north.

    5
  24. Poverty puts good people in vulnerable positions. I have a fear of poverty. Fear of the repo man taking the car in the middle of the night. Fear of the car breaking down on the side of the highway and having to walk. Scrounging for change to pay for gas. Running out of gas on the way to get gas. Hoping that the gas I got will get me where I need to go.

    Fear of once-a-month grocery trips. Peanut Butter in a giant plastic container with the oil floating on top. Crowded checkout lines. Coupons. Having to put items back. Having to smile at the checkout person, the bag-boy, and the people waiting in line behind me while waiting for me to put things back.

    Fear of bare cupboards. Having to make things stretch. Drinking past-its-due-date milk. Fear of coming home to a house where the WiFi, water and/or electricity have been turned off.

    Poverty is a lot of bad things. Poverty is also emasculating. You failed once. You will not fail again.

    10
  25. When he said “ I don’t want money, I want fulfillment” I felt that…Contentment is key in this life…There’s peace in contentment…There’s some weird confidence that comes with contentment. I have loved today’s read!! Hugs to anyone struggling with identity and anyone struggling to get over their past…We are who we are!! And our past has so much to do with who we are!!

    18
  26. Great piece Biko as always. I am glad that the man now wants fulfillment, he has realized money could not substitute his adverse childhood experiences, though in a hard way. Going back to his childhood, writing his story, healing from his painful childhood experiences, will one day get him to that point of the Indian who can rebuild his dynasty in a desert. It’s my prayer he gets to this point.

    3
  27. In life chose happiness and contentment,whichever stage you are in.Money,richness, wealth is just but a mean to facilitate and not an end to be aimed,or targeted;then once you get it,the money,remember the less fortunate, philanthropy,that way your happiness doubles!

    1
  28. First has anyone asked how Mose communicated with all the Israelites he saved from Egypt without use of a microphone .
    Two, people keep saying money doesn’t change who you are when they already have or had money, discouraging us to work our asses off to be rich, I want so much money that whatever it will make me do I care less, there is no pride in poverty.
    Like Tom said, big risks, big returns but there is also big loses involved, like the case his borrowed 45M went with the wind. And ready to take such risks in life just to break our family generational curse and have my children attend school I only wished I could have the chance to go to

    4
  29. If there is a question that kids of single parents loathe especially when meeting in laws – it’s this one . Who is your father .where are you from ? Especially my relatives from luo land – you’d think they know all Luos in the world that’s why they’re asking

    5
  30. Interesting how a poem written in 1927 has lots of relevance today. Am glad to have discoved it. The story is well written and good to know he has found himself

    1
  31. Chocolate man, this is deep. I am writing this over 9000 kms away from home. I come from a kawaida family. We were neither poor nor rich and I didn’t lack anything other than the trips and luxuries that come with money. Some 17 or so years ago, I passed my KCPE well enough to join a national school in Nairobi. During my days in high school, the opulence displayed by rich parents during visiting days made me feel how poor I was. I mean people used to set up tents, make merry while I lay in bed thinking about rice and beans. Together with a friend from Kisii (he was from a very poor family and my situation was much better), we swore that poverty was not going to be our portion or potion.

    We fought it day and night excelling in examinations; getting 100% in Chemistry and what have you because the only way out of poverty was books and books. I passed my KCSE and got into college to study to get into one of those professions that we all want our kids to get into and graduated at the top of my university class. I wanted to be rich and I wanted it badly.

    However, as luck or misfortune would have it, I went for postgraduate education abroad and it ended my flight from poverty. My experience interacting with people from different backgrounds and different cultures and countries and doing this over the years it has taken me to earn my master’s and PhD degrees changed my perspective and I realized that money is fleeting and I have to look at life beyond price tags; expensive flights and destinations. Because when one sees people driving limited edition Maseratis, Panameras and Ferraris etc. fretting over their kids not being able to pass their music lessons, you really have to reposition your priorities and see life from another perspective.

    My personal experiences have also changed my perspective especially the realization that with my education, I can start life anywhere because my life is not tied to possessions and the fear of losing them by moving from one country to another.

    I am not saying all this to blow my own trumpet but my interactions with people (both rich and poor) has taught me that one cannot buy class and pedigree. You can only earn it and class and pedigree require a lot of work and effort that demands our time. Earning a million bucks from a government tender might require knowing the right people but making your marriage work requires you to spend quality time with your family.

    I have been learning to play the guitar, piano and the violin all at once and throughout my lessons, I have realized that it takes a million hours to become a virtuoso. You can’t buy your ability to play music or the ability to appreciate a well composed adagio. You can buy the most expensive Steinway but if you can’t play it, it remains another material possession; the ability to play it goes beyond your ability to afford music lessons. That’s what class is. That’s pedigree. It requires that one respects and appreciates the process. The same applies to relationships.

    I have endeavored to apply what I have learnt from earning a PhD and learning music to my family life and I have come to realize that all the good things and experiences in life require the kind of effort that money cannot buy. I have also learnt that people respect you when they realize that your value is not determined by money but by the kind of value that only death or a debilitating illness can take away because at the end of the day, money is a tool and not the object. People listen to you when your talk is beyond money and the many places you have been to but about the deep knowledge you possess about what people might sometimes consider mundane or eccentric. People will admire you for having a beautiful family but will find reason to denigrate you if they find that you put money before family.

    When our value is determined by money or where our friendships are based on money, we will always find ourselves lonely when it is all gone.

    40
  32. This guy gets it. The lesson here for me is Contentment and knowing when to stop. He will pull through, this is my 4th time starting over in life and I know I will be alright just like the 1st, 2nd, and 3d times. He too will be just fine, he now has the experience, networks, and his name. all these are mediums of exchange just like money for what he needs to succeed even further. (Job 7: 1 The life of man upon earth is warfare). We are men we rest when we are dead, for even when we sit down to sleep or eat we are still burdened by our thoughts of the past/future. Finally, anchor your identity on something /someone who cannot be destroyed by men for me that is Jesus Christ. I don’t know who it will be for you.

    11
  33. I think with money comes alot of ingenuity….. Like money blinds you… Well alot of it…. I see it alot of times at work in the restaurants….alot of pretense and with that you forget yourself and you don’t creat meaningful relationships…. Even with yourself… And I guess the universe is kind enough to ground you so that (if you are smart) can snap out of it… I hope he is smart that the next 10million he makes he understands that he needs to be real with himself…. Cause I believe he will get out of it bigger and stronger….here in this story is why people say everything happens for a reason

    3
  34. Mose and his story in the wilderness is narrated in a very hilarous way. It felt as if i was in Sunday school again.
    A thoughtful piece for me.

    3
  35. 1. In everything give thanks. Tom’s village laughing stock of an uncle’s life is not in vain seeing as it kept Tom away from the vagaries of drink.

    2. Biko’s assessment; His wife left him because he had not invested in her emotionally. Tom’s assessment; His wife left him because he cheated on her. My assessment; His wife left him because he lost almost everything.

    3. Misery awakens the philosopher in a man.

    4. This story has served to confirm what I hear about Kisii uncles. That they are horrible, especially when one’s father dies.

    5
  36. Everyone can start over again no matter how much your past is haunting you.

    Also, I’ve just realized that how much money you have or wealthy you’re, your past can come back and haunt and deny you,this May results to you loosing you’ve worked hard for.

    3
  37. Biko, simply deep!!!!
    poverty scoops from people, even gorges and leaves them with soo much want, gapping holes. ever desiring to be filled.
    unfortunately , nothing can ever fill these holes. because they happened in the past. and the past is the past . Its gone ,forever. Eternally. Neither loads of money nor multiple affairs can ever fill that void. not even the fine things that come affluence.
    But sober realisation that that was life as it was at that point and having gratitude that it didn’t kill one and more gratitude that life brought opportunities for a better life can help one live a realistic life.

    3
    1. Very true, those are not holes to be filled but realities to be accepted, the grace to move on & appreciate the realities of now but also to ensure one does their part to minimize those experiences for another. “Pay it forward”.

  38. Dear Biko,

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story about Tom. We always go back to finish the circles we did not finish, That’s the only way we grow. He is already alright, The right information is reaching him and he finally got the right support, you. You will help him heal because that is what you know how to do.

    Awesome read.
    Regards
    Betty

    1
  39. The best thing about money is that it has the ability to get you what you want, when you want and how you want.
    The worse thing about it is that it can be intoxicating. Especially new money. If not careful, it can grow into a monster that swallows you whole and spits you out a mangled mess.

    You think King Solomon was playing when he said, “Lord just give me enough. Don’t give me too little, I may steal. Don’t give me too much, I may deny You or worse, assume we are equals. (paraphrased).
    He wasn’t playing because as his wealth increased, he went gaga and collected women and concubines some of whom introduced their idols to him, and turned his allegiance from the One who blessed him with riches. I suspect it was the Queen of Sheba who first confused him, but what do I know.
    In this era of #MeToo wealthy men should just walk the straight and narrow. Too many of them are falling like dominoes, for thinking that their wealth has made them equal to God, and above the law. They forget that King Nebuchadnezzar ate grass.

    18
  40. Money is just an essential tool to basically help us avoid pain and suffering, feel good and to take care of our loved ones among other things…
    There is a lot more that can’t be bought with money.

    4
  41. So much to learn from this piece.
    Identity is very important and so is acceptance of who you are. Also, a man can gain the world and risk it on one turn of pitch and toss and lose and start again from the ground to build a dynasty in no time. (from the poem IF by Kipling)
    The poem Desiderata is timeless.
    I admire people like Tom who have seen two sides of the coin. I can only imagine what having great wealth feels like. makes one feel invincible, in control.

    1
  42. He had a support system he ignored that he should have pursued to give him identity. I am talking about the teachers who supported him in primary and high school. No mention of them later. With the millions he made he should have gone back to them and appreciate them. Perhaps they were struggling to get some thousands to educate their children and with the millions he made he would have helped them and be part of their family. Those families would have been very proud of this son they helped and who is reciprocating. There is also fulfilment in helping the needy, changing lives that he doesn’t say he did. Money to just for hedonistic living is emptiness.

    Going back to his family, I wonder where maternal relatives were. I mean the mother’s brothers and sisters. Those are the ones who give refuge to their sister’s children. The father’s sisters would also have come in handy to help. That said, Nyansiongo is a settlement scheme with family roots hardly going beyond two generations. Kinship, extended family and clan comradeship is not what you get in a typical African rural setting. It is like an aloof urban setting. He should go and find his roots. Even Matiang’i who comes from there proudly associates himself with people in South Mugirango (five constituencies away) where his roots are. Even Joseph went with Mary up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s town Bethlehem in Judea because he was a direct descendant of David. This tells you identity to a family has been with us for long. And family for him is beyond the thieving uncles. All the best for him as he rediscovers and finds himself.

    7
  43. Great read, the Bible illustration was epic. Your stories on Tuesdays have become my escape sometimes from reality and my connection to my beautiful homeland. Thanks Biko, blessings.

    1
  44. Could it be true that most of us are running away?
    We are trying so much to prove a point to the world that doesn’t give a damn about you, me ?
    Am afraid I could also be running away from something I don’t know about . Time for character development . Experience is the best teacher .More and more Biko .You’re saving generations with just your keyboard, mouth , eyes and legs .And ofcourse your brains too .Asking only the important .

    4
  45. The comments above sideline the sacrifices made by those teachers who saw Tom through school. Being a teacher is more than just getting into class to translate textbooks. Kudos to them teachers.

    1
  46. Wow!, i like the affirmation money is not everything……, the people around you are so cherish them while you have them. I have always wondered, why what you hate so much in our past always coms back in one way or another, how then can we learn and move out?

  47. We had to write multiple copies of Desiderata and IF by Kipling as punishment in high school. The two poems have gotten me through tough times and brought me down in careless ones.

    1
  48. i want/need more stories like these, Men’s inner reflections and thoughts,, their journey to self awareness. Can we please get more of such stories please…..

    1
  49. Desiderata…Powerful.
    People should be careful when handling ‘new Money’
    Anyway,with all its sham ,drudgery and broken dreams,it is still a beautiful world.Be cheerful.strive to be happy!!

  50. Beautiful read, sad though, felt for him but glad he has found himself, accept your history, just be you and the rest will fall in place. You will be fine.

  51. Poverty really sucks. “Money is not everything…” Let me have it and see for myself. There is no joy in being poor, absolutely none.

  52. All vanity, it is like chasing the wind! Invest in meaningful relationships and make peace with your past and present. Always be grateful

  53. Tables turn, that’s why we all need a support system. Just like in that story of Guru Devki.

    For Tom, this was a call for self awakening. May he find luck and never forget the lessons.

    Until I wade through DESIDERATA, see you on the next read.

    1
  54. Jackson Biko always doing the Lord’s work by bringing to us this inspirational stories that goes beyond ambitions to the heart of the true definition of what real life is.

  55. A Bible translation by Biko would be a fun read. There will always be a battle between what we really need and what we want. I wish him the best of peace.

    1
  56. Money is great it always smells nice its like an introduction of essential oil burning in your house it will always give you peace of mind but it can also give you poverty, not material but in all other sectors including emotions,family etc

    1
  57. This is amazing, however it need lots of self reflection and self knowing. Furtherance money drive kills and spoils personality.

  58. Sucks sometimes that we have to lose everything to find our selves. Life has a way of really humbling you to bring you the deepest awakening. Thank you Biko.

    1
  59. Anyone who’s found the article /story about hes featured in this post about the man who grew up in poverty eating cabbages and banned them from his home?

  60. The biggest asset one can have is a stable support system.
    Mr. Dont be afraid of starting all over again. Reach out for support. You really need it.
    * I CAN HELP*

  61. God bless all those teachers who helped him through school. Hope he remembers to share his next round of wealth with them.

    The greed and lust bit aside, it’s a very inspiring story filled with life lessons.
    ***
    Desiderata, great poem
    Go placidly amid the noise and the haste…” He turned in his seat and said, “…and remember what peace there may be silence.”
    ****
    Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
    and remember what peace there may be in silence.
    As far as possible without surrender
    be on good terms with all persons.
    Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
    and listen to others,
    even the dull and the ignorant;
    they too have their story.

    Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
    they are vexations to the spirit.
    If you compare yourself with others,
    you may become vain and bitter;
    for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
    Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

    Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
    it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
    Exercise caution in your business affairs;
    for the world is full of trickery.
    But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
    many persons strive for high ideals;
    and everywhere life is full of heroism.

    Be yourself.
    Especially, do not feign affection.
    Neither be cynical about love;
    for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
    it is as perennial as the grass.

    Take kindly the counsel of the years,
    gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
    Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
    But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
    Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
    Beyond a wholesome discipline,
    be gentle with yourself.

    You are a child of the universe,
    no less than the trees and the stars;
    you have a right to be here.
    And whether or not it is clear to you,
    no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

    Therefore be at peace with God,
    whatever you conceive Him to be,
    and whatever your labors and aspirations,
    in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

    With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
    it is still a beautiful world.
    Be cheerful.
    Strive to be happy.

    — Max Ehrmann, 1927

  62. This is so comment-worthy!!!

    I have been reading this blog since Visa Denied and I have dreamed of attending Biko’s Master Class. One day. Just one day, it might happen.

    This is one of the best pieces I have read. And that’s saying it lightly as I have faithfully followed every Tuesday! Perhaps I should read Thursday soonest. Drunk was magnifique! If that could be said about a book.

    Identity!! That man nailed it indeed! A lot rises and falls on it!! Keep Writing ssebo Biko!!

  63. I returned here to re-read this because reading it only once would have been injustice to such a great piece, such grand effort.

    I identify with that chap who doesn’t eat cabbage. I don’t take black coffee. When I was a broke (very broke) student in Uni and would sit late into the night studying, I’d get very hungry. The only thing available would be black coffee. I associate black coffee with an extreme state of want.

    1
  64. Oooh my God! My best friend asked that I read this story because we have been having deep conversations about money, wealth and purpose and we are stuck at a loop because we cant find where and how to place those with a balance. Now I know these are not things I will full comprehend but the depth with this story has me a step closer to the reality ….This is truly a good piece ….The kind you cant read twice because the impact is too heavy.

  65. Great piece.
    It’s the subtle stuff that makes life; including accepting our past that is far from dazzling and having time for those around us.
    We are not related to money by blood. It’s external.

  66. Hey Biko,
    Do you think this ‘Stay Taliban’ is ridding people of emotions and that somehow they will end up alone with no one to blame but themselves? According to you, how important are emotions to both genders?