So blogger Mark Maish has been doing the PerceptionVsReality series and, frankly, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t (at least in some part) terrified. Coming to the end of college is different from coming to the end of high school. Yes, you’re happy about the prospect of not having to wake up to go to class anymore…but because you’re not dumb, you’re unhappy about having to wake up to go to work. If you’re lucky. And that for a boss who won’t care about those your excuses. Ati oh I was sick, oh I had travelled. Sick for who? Kwanza, people say a lot of things about my school and most times I will defend it and say that they are speaking out of ignorance because it’s really not that bad. And complain all you want, but we are the ones not going to class next Tuesday because it’s the 4th of July so who is really winning here? Still, sometimes, the kinds of things that happen here are fascinating and cannot be defended. One time a girl in my class missed an exam and later said that she could not have possibly come to school that day because her cat died. Which would be fine if we were on American soil, I suppose. But we’re in a country where the idea of pets being bought their own food instead of eating our leftovers is still scandalous. Ati dog food. Wharrathooz? Here, dogs sleep outside and they will eat hiyo ugali ya jana usiku or they will starve. Seriously, upcountry, our dogs used to be fed majani ya chai. What remains in the sufuria after you’ve made tea, plus the sieved tea leaves? Yeah, that. Until my brother took it upon himself to educate everyone on the dangers of this, and later on, to feed the dogs himself when people refused to understand what he was saying. He mentioned the phrase ‘a dog’s diet’ to my parents and my mother asked him whether the dogs had told him they want to lose weight. I’m telling you my family sometimes.
Anyway, I’m guessing that the mother of my bereaved classmate knew that animals have diets too, and didn’t think it was dumb to miss an exam because of said animals. Meanwhile, as long as I am not the one who has died, then the idea of even missing class does not compute in my parents’ minds, leave alone an exam. Kwani school fees wamelipia paka? Does this count as an employable skill? That there are very few things that count in my mind as a valid excuse for not showing up? Because Imali and I talk about what will happen to us after we are through with our pursuit of the power to read and all that, and it’s not looking good. These employable skills everybody keeps talking about, I don’t think I have them. Which would be fine if we had entrepreneurial skills, but that’s an even worse bet. So we are here going through life, looking forward to finishing school but having no clue what comes after that.
The series, which tells people’s stories about how life didn’t go as planned, makes me wonder whether hope is enough. These are people who made their parents proud by doing the courses that parents generally think are worthy of a higher respect than others. “My son is studying engineering at JKUAT” is usually said with a bit more pomp than “My son is studying B.Com at UoN”. I know because once upon a time I agreed to do a law degree because my parents thought I’d make a good lawyer. Also, I figured why not? Why not validate my intelligence by attempting to do two degrees at the same time. So I went to study Psychology for me, and a year later, took up Law for them and for my ego. Heh. You people. I had to humble myself and take a seat. I was miserable and I lasted all of one semester before I had had enough. I wore the ‘Disappointing Child’ tag for a while because I was essentially a school drop-out but I think it was for the best. But during that one semester of blowing people away because I was that academically inclined child who was spending her youth shuttling between two schools, there was a marked difference in the way my parents introduced me to their friends. Who am I kidding, there was a difference even in the way that I introduced myself. It’s good for your self esteem when people think you are much more intelligent than you actually are. They didn’t know that I was struggling to balance the two and that I despised one and loved the other, so why not bask in their new-found respect while it lasts? And when I was dropping one and word got around, I could tell there were a bunch of people who would have much preferred that I had dropped the Psychology degree. It’s just not as impressive.
As other people are being told that they are the builders of this country’s future, me, with my Psychology degree, the most exciting thing I here is “Oh, you do psychology? So you can read my mind right now?” Some take it a step further and add that since I am reading their minds at that very moment then they are afraid to be around me. And you hear it from everybody. When it comes from someone my age or around my age then it’s easier. I just say no as disinterestedly as I can and try to move on because, seriously guys, it’s not funny. It’s an old joke, and maybe it was funny years ago. But now it’s just very stale and very irritating. How can you say that to every Psychology major you meet and still think that it’s a good joke? And you’re not even the first or second or fiftieth person to tell me that. Eh, no. Just stop. It is time to move on. When it comes from older people there is really not much you can do. Kwanza when they are in a group. They will all say that same thing and laugh and of course you must laugh with them, kwani how old are you? You disrespectful child, how dare you not laugh at the jokes of your elders! Life is hard guys. If I were a law student I would get approving nods and comments about how they always knew I would be a lawyer.
So I read those stories about people sending out hundreds of CVs and getting no replies. Hundreds. Hundreds. I do school assignments on the unemployment crisis and have discussions about it in class. I look through jobs being advertised and notice that they all seem to be looking for people with IT degrees and business degrees. When people ask what I will do with my life after I finish school, I smile and say I have no idea, and then feel their judgment exposing my fears. I watch my elder brother attend his law pupilage every day and my friends go to different towns for their clinicals, and I wonder if I would have done better for myself by staying there instead of insisting on a degree that nobody was tripping over themselves to hire. Of course I’m terrified. The picture being painted makes it seem like there isn’t enough success to go around.
My father is a laid back guy. Hana maneno. But if there is anything that his life has taught me it’s that life is not linear. And that’s okay. Some people will live that way, yes. You will get your undergraduate degree and then you will get a job and then you will get married, do a masters degree, have kids…In organized linear fashion. But some people will have all their plans end up meaning nothing and they have to find their way from there. We are not on the same journey. Right now, I have classmates who are making 50,000 a week from their hustles. I also have classmates who don’t eat much because they can’t afford it. I have classmates who already have job offers and others with not a prospect in sight. But what I know is that we are all here and none of our futures is secure. Because life does what it wants sometimes and our detailed five-year plans don’t mean jack. So maybe we just wait, with those our dreams and our vision boards, and see what happens. One thing’s for sure though: if I do make it in life, my two dogs and three cats will have expensive supermarket-bought food.
Life is not linear; it’s organic.
~Sir Ken Robinson~