Sawa sir, you keep your money…

I am really enjoying blogging. I had actually set out to write a book recently with the same title as this blog. Ok it was 7 good excuses, but still, I have always wanted to write. Maybe I still will. I mean a physical dead-tree version book that you can put on the shelf. But let’s just wait and see. Blogging is a good middle ground as I prepare to write a book, that is, if I will end up writing it. I have felt like it is a bit like running a radio station. You are just speaking into the microphone and hoping that there are people out there tuned in. No wonder radio stations always ask people to call or text in, I think it is good for them to know that they are talking to someone out there. With this blog, I can check my statistics and know with certainty how many times it has been opened. But unless I get comments from you, there is no other way of knowing if people are actually reading. So feel free woiye! to leave a comment. I would also be very grateful if you could use the share buttons at the end of each article to share the links to these posts on Facebook or twitter.

I have just over 400 friends on Facebook, every once in a while I go through that list of friends to know whether these are friendships that are active online. Sometimes I remove friends because they are not active, they don’t comment, like or do anything about what I post on my status. Ok, some poke me too much! Some just do not update their status. You could check their status and wonder, aiii, this guy has been in traffic, hungry, upset or whatever they were, for more than a month! These are the people I usually remove. I meet a lot of people who say they really enjoy my status updates. But they never comment. I consider my Facebook page personal and would even struggle to accept friendship requests from people I do not know personally. This may of course change a bit because of this blog.

These first few posts have been stories I have had on my mind that I wanted to get out of the way before we start getting into really deep issues that would have been the substance of the book. These stories, I would say have been turning points in my life. Some of them happened a very long time ago but they are still quite fresh in my mind.

Anyway, on to today’s story.

In 1997 I married the love of my life. We had dated for about 3 years. I had also started a small IT firm. Work was not forthcoming and many times I relied on referrals from friends. There were no cellphones, no email (at least not for small businesses operating from home), no internet. Most communication would happen through snail-mail and the completely unreliable landlines from the then Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Ltd. We lived in a small one bedroomed house in Eastleigh section 3, a not-so-posh area of the city of Nairobi. Our rent was a whole Kshs. 3,500 and I remember almost having a heart-attack when this was reviewed upwards to Kshs. 3,800. I worked from home and relied heavily on the landline and had to make sure I was home most of the time so as not to miss any phone call. I drove an Isuzu Uhuru vehicle that I had managed to get my dad to allow his former employer to sell to me on very reasonable terms. It was not all that but it was a good car. The main problem is that I felt it consumed a bit too much. Of course when you think of how fuel prices have gone, those were the good old days! Another problem is that, typical at the time to houses in that area, there were very few parking spots. In fact for our place, there was only one parking spot for four houses. If unfortunately we got home late and found the parking spot taken, I would have to go to one of the pubs nearby and negotiate with the watchmen to take care of the car for the night.

In August I got a client who was running a forex bureau in town. They had a few problems with their computers and printers and needed someone to sort them out for them. I was glad to do so. Now, IT support was very different those days. Viruses were not a big deal at all. In fact if you got antivirus updates once every two months or so you were ok unlike today where most antivirus software updates itself automatically once or twice a day. In those days, I would have to talk to my friends who were working for big companies to ‘channel’ for me a floppy disk with the latest updates. This client also had a printer that he needed to revive. It was a Canon BJC 200. It had stopped working. I found that the previous IT guy had ‘channeled’ a power cable for it and I had to get a new one. After getting that cable and confirming that it was powering, I asked the client for drivers to install it. He told me that he never had them as he did not get this printer from the shop.He had got it as a gift from his sister who was now in the UK (or some weird explanation like that). So basically I had to find the drivers from somewhere. Now if you know anything about printers, even if just those in Kenya, you will realize this is a very rare printer and it was going to be a very difficult task to find drivers for it. I even contacted a company called Vanguard who were the Canon dealers in the country. They told me that this printer was rarely sold in this region and they would have to contact their main suppliers either in the UK or Japan to ask them to send the drivers for that printer.

tech-weekly.com

Now if you read my previous posts like this one or this one, I believe that God has a wonderful plan for my life and many times He does miraculous things that only He can do. One day I went to visit my brother at his office in Hurlingham. After spending a few minutes in his office, just before I left, a lady who was living in the apartment opposite my brother’s office came and asked for help with her printer. I went into her house and she must have been shocked at my reaction when I saw her printer. It was a Canon BJC 200! She just needed to have it installed and she had the drivers. I told her I would do it for free if she could allow me to make a copy of the drivers. As I left Hurlingham I was just amazed at how God had worked this out. I rushed to my client’s office and set up his printer. He was simply amazed.

The next day I billed him Kshs. 8,000. When I placed my invoice on his desk he looked at it and burst out laughing. “Young man, what is this? How can you bill me this much? If I knew you were going to bill me all this money I would never have agreed for you to do this work for me. It is too much. Can you explain how you have arrived at this amount?”

I don’t know whether you have ever had this feeling. Something in your stomach gives way. You get dizzy and you can feel heart palpitations coming along. Some people feel this when it dawns on them that the 4m they put in a pyramid scheme is gone. Others feel it when they are sentenced to life imprisonment when they are only 18. Others feel it when they are told that they have several weeks left to live. You feel you have come to the end. For me, it became clear that I may never see this money, it was the last week of the month, all bills were due at the end of that week. My car outside had been showing the ‘thirsty’ fuel light most of the day. In my mind I was seeing how by the end of the week all our earthly possessions are going to be in a not-so-neat pile outside our ka-house. Wondering how we will be pleading with our neighbour to at least let us have a shower in their house while we try to find alternative accommodation towards the Mathare area.

“Sir, let me explain”, I pleaded. “Of this Kshs. 8,000 I have invoiced you, Kshs. 4,000 is from a previous invoice I gave you last month and you did not pay, Kshs. 2,000 is for things that I bought including the power cable for your printer and I have attached the receipts. So when you think about it, for all this work I am only charging you Kshs. 2,000”

“Still”, he insisted, “that is too much money, I cannot pay you all that”.

I think I am very poor in negotiating because after a few minutes, I was almost on my knees pleading to be refunded at least only the Kshs. 2,000 I had spent. The guy refused to pay even that. Imagine! Finally, I uttered those words part of which forms the title of this story

“Sawa sir, you can keep your money. But I can assure you that the God whom I serve, will see to it that me and my family do not starve”, I said tearfully as I walked to the car.

I sat in the car. I tried to pray but all I could manage is “God, I am sure you have heard what I said in there. I said you would take care of us. Haya basi, kazi kwako (ok now, it’s up to you).

The next morning I dropped my wife at her workplace and went back to the house. I had barely slept. When I got back to the house, I went into the bedroom and attempted a prayer again. I was kneeling next to the bed, “God, you know I don’t do those long overnight prayers. Here is the deal, if my wife and I cannot rely on you to provide for us, YOU tell me what we are going to do. Amen”. Without getting up from my knees, I removed my wristwatch and put it on the bed and started waiting on the Lord, literally.

I kid you not, seven minutes later, the phone rang. It was a gentleman I had met in March and had offered to computerize his business operations. He said he had been looking for me since May. Apparently he had flown to Dubai in May, bought computers and said that only I would unpack then and set them up. He said that all the time he had called there was no response (I didn’t have a secretary or an answering machine). He said that he was now calling for the final time, after which he was going to look for someone else. Of course I assured him that I would be there in a few minutes. To cut a long story short (a bit too late I think!) By the end of that week, I had in my hand a cheque for Kshs. 64,000. (8 x 8,000). This is far more than the guy at the forex bureau had refused to pay me.

annieinfinite.com

My friends God is faithful, God is amazing. Ephesians 3:20 says He “…is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…”

Tuendelee Kuongea.

The 3 C’s of life everyone faces everyday

Every once in a while, I come across a thought that I really believe has come from a higher power and that is not meant for me alone. I must share it so that it benefits not just me but also others. I’m sure I am not the only one who feels that way. I am sure you have attended a function, church service, course or lecture and heard something and in your mind you thought, “I wish so and so was here to hear this too”. Well, here is one thought I think will benefit many people. It may not necessarily solve your current problem if you have one, but it may explain it.

Every day of our lives, we are faced with these 3 C’s.

Challenges

We all face challenges. Most of what we do or think is in response to a challenge we are facing. According to wikipedia, A challenge is a general term referring to things that are imbued with a sense of difficulty and victory. Challenges range from the frivolous (what socks should I wear?), to life threatening (I can’t breath). Much of what we do is always in response to a challenge. If you are bored you get up and try to find something exciting to be involved in. If you are hungry, you find something to eat. If you are doing badly in class you may want to attend remedial classes, or study longer hours or engage in something that will deal with that challenge of poor grades.

Many times, we have absolutely no control of which challenges we are faced with. True, some could be as a result of our actions but many are completely beyond our control. Currently in the news, we are watching and hearing about the earthquake in Japan, the subsequent tsunamis, aftershocks and nuclear risk at the Fukushima plant. All these are mighty challenges that are mainly due to a natural disaster. Some of the challenges we face could be because of our background, culture, family and many other situations we find ourselves in that we cannot control. When I drive to work in the morning and there is heavy traffic, or rain the most I can do is just try to survive it. I did not cause it. It has happened to me.

I believe that the challenges we face can differentiate us. If one child grows up in Karen (posh area in Nairobi) being dropped in school every morning by the driver in a big limousine and another grows up in Tala (a town in Kangundo District (split from the larger Machakos District), Eastern Province of Kenya) and has to walk 10 or 15 kilometers daily to and from Kathithyamaa Primary School (I’ve always wanted to use this name in a blog post), these two children will grow up to be very different adults. This one difference in their daily challenges will probably trigger more differences in their outlook in life, their language (or accent) and eventually their entire lives and those of their children for generations to come.

Choices

In response to the challenges we face, we make choices. If it is hunger, we respond to it, if it brokeness we find ways of getting money. If it is a conflict with a loved one, we talk to them or find a mediator, if it is a health problem we go to hospital. There are very many ways of responding to challenges. Two people can respond very differently to the same challenge and they end up in very different situations. You may have heard some inspiring stories about positive results coming from a person responding in a certain way to a challenge. In the slums, you will find inspiring stories of young people making themselves useful in one way or another, despite a myriad of challenges of poverty, poor housing and education, insecurity and they end up making a big impact on their lives and of those around them. But you will find in the same slums many who have given up and end up in depression, alcohol and drug abuse, crime and violence.

The choice stage of dealing with our challenges is the only stage at which we have absolute control. I’m sure you have heard someone say things like

When life deals you a lemon… you make lemonade.

What matters in life is not what happens to you but how you respond to what happens to you.

Your response is your responsibility

and many other permutations of such statements. I think they are right. If someone shouts at me, I can choose to shout back or count to ten then shout back and consider whether I should behave towards them exactly how I see them behaving towards me.

I hate it when people drive like idiots. But sometimes I consciously decide that just coz someone driving behind me is having a bad day doesn’t mean that I should too. This doesn’t happen often, but when I catch myself about to explode about another driver’s driving habits, I choose to not allow it to mess up my own day or driving habits. I have a friend however, who I don’t like going anywhere with when he is driving. Suddenly the roads are all full of idiots and he is perpetually cursing loudly and stressing himself over people who are completely oblivious of his ‘plight’. He then succeeds to completely foul up his mood before the meetings we are going for and on the way back, he always wonders why these meetings always go so badly. In my head I am like duh! Anyway, I think you get my point. We respond to challenges by making choices. We may not always have control of the challenges we face, but we are fully in control of the choices we make in response to them.

Consequences


Attached inextricably to our choices are their consequences. It is like the proverbial ‘you cannot pick one end of the stick without picking the other’.

We are in control of the choices we make but cannot dictate their consequences after we have made them. Many people use perceived consequences to decide which choices to make, sounds a bit redundant to say but many times it is in hindsight that we see all this. It gets a bit trickier when for some choices, the consequences take so long to happen that it is easy to think we have gotten away with it, but eventually it will catch up. It may take long but it will catch up. Sometimes when I am in a really difficult ‘choice place’, I find myself asking “What’s the worst that could happen if…” It helps, but not always because sometimes the worst does actually happen.

So there we have it. Three C’s. Challenges, Choices, Consequences. The only place we have control is in our choices. Everyday of our lives we are faced with many choices to make whether we like it or not. Make good ones.

Tuendelee kuongea.

I wish I was one of them

As I blog I am realizing that I can be quite verbose when introducing my posts. When I did last post I was introducing a story. The introduction grew and became so long that it became an entire post by itself. So I will not introduce this post.

24th September, 1995. I had been sent to South Africa by my then employer (a Kenyan tour firm setting up its operations in South Africa. SA had began opening up. Mandela was free and had now been elected (in 1994) as the President of the country. It was a euphoric time in the history of the country and suddenly it had become a great investment and tourism destination. Anyway, enough of that, this is not an economics/business post.

I arrived at a hotel room late in the afternoon and was just amazed at the country. This was really not a 3rd world country as I had imagined. I have never been to Europe but I felt that the roads, cars and services were comparable. The hotel was the Holiday Inn Garden Court at the corner of Rivonia Rd and Katherine St. My window on the second floor overlooked that very busy junction. People were zooming past each other heading God knows where.

Being a stranger in the land, hearing so many people speak in a language I did not understand, unable to enjoy much TV or radio entertainment, I felt particularly vulnerable. At one point I even started asking myself,

“If the people at the next table are plotting to rob me blind at gunpoint, how will I know before it is too late?”
“What about the laughter at the other table? Are they laughing at me?”

At some point during dinner I couldn’t take it anymore and I stormed out and ran to my room where, being completely alone I felt some degree of security. I could shout in kamba or swahili and feel at home even if I was talking to myself. Then I went to the window overlooking the busy junction and just looked enviously at the drivers zooming past. I remember praying audibly, “God, I wish I was one of them”.

The next morning was a Monday and as I prepared to go to the office, I received a call. It was my colleague in the SA office. He was supposed to basically take care of me and make me feel comfortable and at home. He told me that they had not realized that it was a public holiday and that it did not make any sense to go into the office as all the people I was supposed to be worked with were not in the office. He suggested I just relax, enjoy the hotel and prepare my presentation and that he would come to pick me up the next day.

So that is how I suddenly ended up with a full day to kill. I decided I was not going to get bored or lost. I took walks back and forth from the hotel, each longer than the last, always ensuring that at whatever point I would be able to find my way back to the hotel. Across the junction stood the majestic Sandton City Mall. This was an amazing architectural monstrosity in my eyes. I felt it made Sarit Centre look like a stall in Kalundu Market in Kitui Town.

I made sure I could see the hotel from the entrance into the mall so that I could still find my way ‘home’. I ventured inside the mall and was fascinated by the amazingly modern shopping paradise this seemed to be. They had everything, movie theatres, supermarkets, bookshops, food courts everything! I got carried away in gadget shops, lobby cultural displays, level upon level of all manner of interesting places that it took a while to realize I was no longer exercising the caution I had before out of fear of getting lost. After a while it occurred to me that I couldn’t even remember how I got into this place. I was completely lost. I tried desperately not to worry but instead to just enjoy myself as it was still early in the day. Surely, I thought, by the end of the day I will find my way out.

I had a light lunch at one of the food courts, went through many interesting shops from hobby shops to tattoo salons, gun shops, pet shops and generally decided to enjoy my ‘being lost’ and to worry about it only when it was time to go ‘home’.

That time came very shortly.

At 6:30 pm, what I thought was a small problem had become a full blown crisis as it was getting dark and beginning to get cold. I now started trying to get out of the place. My strategy of choice was to follow people who were carrying stuff assuming that they were on their way out of the mall. As you know, there is something about men that just makes them uncomfortable asking for directions. Most of the people I followed would go into the basement parking and drive off before I could see which direction they went. I found a watchie who I felt was a safe person to ask for directions. For some reason, he assumed I was South African and was just pretending to speak english just to be posh. After a short while he was convinced and stopped talking to me in Zulu. He asked me to follow him and in a few minutes we were facing the entrance to my hotel. I was so excited to see the hotel that I literally skipped to the reception. I smiled at the receptionist and asked confidently for my room key. After a few moments of punching into the keyboard, she looked up and asked me if I was sure of my room number. I insisted I was right but she told me that the guy in ‘my room’ was a Dutch guy in his seventies.

She got on the phone and after a while confirmed to me that I was in the wrong hotel. This was an almost exact replica of the hotel I was booked into. She called for a taxi and I was given a ride to the right hotel. I later realised that the taxi guy had taken a very very long route to the hotel and it would have even been possible to walk me there. I rushed to my room, went to the window and looked again enviously at all those people who knew where they were going and prayed audibly again, “God, I wish I was one of them”

Fast forward to September 1996. Though my initial assignment in South Africa was for a couple of weeks, I had since been officially seconded to our Johannesburg office at the beginning of 1996. I had been working in Sandton for almost a year. I had made many friends some of them even Kenyans. I became a sort of tour guide whenever my friends visited SA. In August of 1996 I had even hosted my brother and his new bride at my house in Jo’burg.

One evening (I used to work very late) I was on my way to my 3 bedroomed town house in an area called Hyde Park speeding along Katherine St. when I looked to my left, and in a flash of nostalgia I looked and could see the exact window of my room at the hotel I had stayed in about a year before. It occurred to me that it was 24th September 1996, exactly a year since I had prayed desperately at that window. I was overwhelmed. Tears flowed freely. I stopped the car on the side of the road and wept like a baby!

“O God, I am one of them, O God, you knew I would pass here today and remember this. O God, you are awesome…”

Those who have seen men or boys cry will tell you that we don’t cry neatly. I was a sorry mess. Makamasi everywhere. I could not imagine how far God had brought me. It was an extremely intense emotional experience. A cop on a bike pulled over and asked me if everything was alright, I tried to regain my composure and assured him I was ok.

Have you had a similar experience? Were your prayers once answered in an overwhelmingly powerful way? Do you tear-up sometimes when you think of where you were 6, 12 or 36 months ago compared to where you are now? Tell me about it.

Tuendelee kuongea.

Monkey-proof plan?


Over the next couple of posts I will as promised give you stories I have told many many times and stories that if you don’t know, you are likely to miss out on something quite important if you really wanted to know me well. As I grow older I am finding that this and a few of the following stories were pivotal in my adult life and are for me reference points to keep going back to when I feel lost and disoriented by events and experiences I go through.

The majority of the people I know desire to believe or display that they do believe in a higher power. This, I am beginning to learn, is the politically correct term for God. This is my blog and so I will just call Him God since that is what I am used to calling Him. Changing His name or what I call Him for your sake will rob you of a good understanding of who I am and of the place He has and that I desire Him to have in my life. I can’t imagine for your sake now beginning my prayers thus “My dear heavenly higher power…” plus I think it would really confuse my kids. So. Here’s the deal, I’m a Christian, I love God, leave it that way! Anyway, moving on swiftly, I believe that as my life progresses, there is some sort of master plan that it seems to be following generally that is unfolding on a daily, weekly, annual basis.

As a custom-software developer, I love having a final product that is ready to deploy at a client site. This for me is that highlight of the project as I get to deliver what I believe the client had in mind and now is ready to be useful to the client in his/her business. The look on the face of the soon to be users, probably even lovers of my software is one of joy, satisfaction and great positive expectation of a delightful future. In the late nineties, we had a project that we did for a client that my team and I started to refer to in our very private discussions related to the project as the software tester from hell. This guy seemed to have made it his goal to create scenarios in which our software would either crash or cease to function correctly even temporarily and would sometimes then use those as excuses to not make a payment. It was a good thing at the beginning but after a while it grew to become quite annoying. The guy would call you and say something like, “the software is fine, the reports are good. But there is this one report that hangs especially if, when generating it, you are also pressing alt, h, p, u, and shift and then move the cursor a bit!”. Out of the many similar experiences we had with this client, we added a phase in our processes between testing, debugging and deploying our applications and we called it monkey-proofing. In this phase we would assume we have handed the software to a monkey and he is using the software the way a monkey would. If it passed this stage, then we’re good to go. So we basically were ensuring that the users of our software are unable to ruin it.

So what has that got to do with anything? Well, I believe that God has a plan for my life that he is rolling out day by day.

Jeremiah 29:11 (New International Version, ©2011)
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Note. Once in a while I will try to subtly impress you with knowledge of scripture (The Bible) by dropping verses. If you fall for it then you obviously don’t know me well enough. This is the first of many such instances to come. You have been warned.

I believe that if as a earthling I try to ensure that my software is monkey-proof, then God Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, must have also taken the time to monkey-proof His plan for my life. Think with me for a moment. The story of salvation is that man sinned, remember Adam and Eve, and God embarked on a plan to save mankind and restore the relationship He had with His creation. Basically man fell, and fallen man is sinful. You and I are battling in our choices and fighting within ourselves between our sinful nature and the new creation that we become with salvation.

God then would be considered extremely foolish, to the extent of being pitied and not being called God anymore even, if when He was designing a plan for my salvation from sin, He did not take into account that my sinful nature could sabotage or resist such a plan. It would be as foolish as developing a cure for, say, cancer, that is in the form of a pill, that a cancer patient could swallow but as soon as they swallow it, the cancer devours the drug before it starts working. Calling that a cure is absurd.

So I firmly believe that God’s plan for my life and for my salvation is monkey-proof (the monkey here being me). I also believe that with every new day in my life, every new experience, every new lesson, this plan is slowly unfolding.

This post may sound so spiri (overly spiritual), probably too much for some. It may also give you the impression that I am such a deeply spiritual person that I eat, breathe, live etc God daily. How I wish that were the case. In the next few posts, I will relate a few memorable experiences that prove to me beyond any doubt, that there really is someone out there.

Do you have any such experiences? What about your higher power? How do you relate? Pray share in the comment section.

Till next week,

Tuendelee kuongea