Caleb - Graduation Day


Graduation Day Haibun

By Caleb Mutua

On 6 December 2013, I was (as the saying goes) given the power to read. I miraculously graduated from the most prestigious public university in Kenya, the University of Nairobi (UoN), with Second Class Honours (Upper Division). Interestingly, it was the 50th graduation ceremony of the university, my country was preparing to turn 50 years in a week’s time and I had just turned 25 two weeks earlier.

This day will remain fresh in my mind for years to come. Every graduand was given only two invitation cards and so I had brought my mother, my twin brother and my small nieces to be with me.

Mom and the kids had never been to the university and my brother James had been there once while I was in second year. I wanted everything to be perfect. I had hired a taxi to pick us up from home and take us to the campus. The taxi would also take us to a Pizza Inn in Nairobi’s Central Business District and later take us back home. My friend, a professional photographer, would take our photos with her new D90 Nikon Camera. Everything looked perfect!

On the morning of the graduation, I woke up very early. The taxi came on time but Mom took longer than planned to prepare the kids. After waiting impatiently for 20 minutes, we left home at 6:45 am. The taxi driver knew his way around town. He ingeniously avoided the morning traffic and we arrived well on time at 8:12 am.

graduation day —
my niece can’t find
her hair flower

Jogoo Road —
a graduand smiles at me
in the traffic

muddy graduation square —
her stilettoes leave a trail
of deep holes

The graduation ceremony kicked off at 8:30 am. I listened to the long speeches absent-mindedly, still not believing that we had finally made it. That I had made it. To most of the graduands, they saw it coming. They had gone to good schools and were sure they would end up at UoN.

But to some of us, we had not. I had not. I had never thought I would graduate from UoN, or any other university for that matter. As my friends complained about the mud and the hot sun, I sat there in disbelief, wearing a stupid smile. I couldn’t believe my name was about to be called.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’ve always thought of myself as an above average person. In fact, my family and friends have on many occasions said I am bright and clever! But I still didn't believe I was about to graduate with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies.

Come to think of it, I never went to good schools. By the time I was sitting for my Kenya Certificate for Primary Education (KCPE), I could count a total of 18 schools I had attended. Only two of them were State schools. The rest were private schools in Nairobi’s various slums whose classes were partitioned with cartons. Grammar teachers spoke broken English. I remembered with nostalgia how I rolled with the punches; the many times I was made to wear a stinking bone after being caught speaking Swahili; how I hardly learnd anything in the afternoon classes because most of the times I was too hungry to think.

In November 2003, I finally sat for my KCPE exams. I passed with flying colours. I had qualified to go to a Provincial school for my secondary education, but my family could not afford to pay my fee. My secondary school was no different from my primary school, except that the classrooms were made with concrete walls and we did not have to carry clean water from home for the teachers to cook with.

One day in mid-2005, we had visitors in our school. They told us about some old Japanese guy called Master Basho and how he lived a simple life writing some poems called haiku. They also showed us how to write haiku and promised us free computer lessons. I also remember them mentioning something like the best haiku writers would some day go to Japan.

In the beginning, writing haiku was an uphill task. I remember flipping through the Oxford English dictionary just to find the right words to use in my poem. I hated it when my poem never got any comment, even with all the vocabulary, but I was loving the challenge. I always loved languages and my compositions were some of the best in the whole school.

Haiku remained a closed book to most of us for a while but we all had a fair crack of the whip. I became the first chairman of the St. Mathew Haiku Club. We called ourselves Peacocks. At first, we wrote haiku as a routine thing; we were worried that if we stopped writing, the “haiku sponsors” would terminate our computer classes.

Slowly, we started loving the exercise. I was moved by the power of the simple poem and how I could tell a story with 17 syllables. Comments on my work and the many words of encouragement from the Kenya Saijiki members were very helpful. I also came across the Haiku Handbook by W.F Owen, which I read from cover to cover several times. I was into haiku writing hook, line, and sinker.

Then I found a friend who would later change my life forever.
I like to think of her as my guardian angel. In many ways, she reminds me of Canon Patrick Augustine Sheehan, a beloved Irish priest who led a simple life, wrote about the sea and the beating surf and wanted to see everyone happy. He wished he could tell everyone, “Here, Rest and Forget!”

I always admired journalists and even though I would on many occasions use ‘she’ instead of ‘he’, even after my Kenya Certificate for Secondary Education (KCSE), my friend believed in me. In many ways she told me: “Here, Rest and Forget . . .”

A shabby loudspeaker erected on my left announced: “School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The following graduands satisfied the Board of Examination . . .” I could almost hear my heart beat now. It was my moment of truth.

When my name was called, I almost said "Present!". It was a defining moment of my life. I was a graduate. I think I heard my mother scream with joy as my nieces cheered in excitement even though they were seated over 30 metres away.

long speeches —
graduands compare
their caps

graduation day --
a parent wipes his muddy shoes
with the programme

graduation day —
a Maasai family stands out
from the crowd

a graduand helps
her grandma up the stairs —
mobile toilets

In the end, over 9,000 graduands were conferred with various degrees, diplomas and certificates.

After the ceremony, I was reunited with my family. Mom had bought me a graduation card and some shiny decorations that she joyously placed on my neck. I didn't like them. My nieces held my hands firmly as we walked towards the main campus buildings on the other side of Uhuru Highway. My brother wore my graduation cap.

Graduands and their families took photos in and outside various campus buildings. Business was booming for sweet peddlers, hawkers selling graduation cards, picture frames, decorations and foodstuffs. I had never seen so many photographers all trying to outdo each other with ‘instant photo’ tags . . .

campus fountain —
graduands and their families
pose in turns

graduation day —
two photographers show us
their portraits

We took professional pictures in a photography studio in Muindi Mbingu Street and proceeded to Galito’s for a pizza.

At around 3:30 pm, I called our driver to take us to Roasters, a bar and restaurant along Thika Road. I wanted my brother and me to grab a beer, Mom to have wine and the kids to have sodas as they played on the bouncing castles and swings on the restaurant’s compound.
There, we found more graduands -- these ones from Mount Kenya University in Thika -- and their families enjoying themselves. I had no idea the Thika university had a graduation ceremony that same day. We managed to secure a table big enough for us and the driver. The goat meat, however, took longer than the waiter had promised.

Mom and the kids had the best time. I even had my nieces’ faces painted Spider Man and smiley faces. We forgot about the problems we had left at home that morning and had fun.

my mother hugs me
as we wait for the goat meat —
graduation day

my twin brother cuts
smaller pieces for my niece —
goat meat

We left for home at around 6pm.

Caleb Mutua


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