He grew up in a small village in Kisii County. It’s called Getenga. It’s a little known place. Not even Google knows it. I Googled it and found scanty answers all over. There isn’t a single direct response or search result on whether it’s a place with human occupation or not. When we last talked, he told me that it’s an ‘old and rugged’ place. I believed him because he is one of the most transparent people I have ever met. His honesty is something slightly more than brutal. He never shies at telling anyone off. Even when it’s the bitter truth. But who he is? His name is Felix Onkundi Nyabuto. He is an Ivy League villager.
Let’s go back where it all started. Getenga. If you grew up in a city, please take a seat and grab some pop corns for I want to walk you through what it means to grow up in the village. (This is from Felix’s account and partly my observation for the period I stayed in my home village). Life in the village is bleak. At least in most of them. Enlightenment is ever at an all-time low. There’s a disconnect between the people there and the outside world. And it never shrinks. Only increases with ages.
In Getenga, Felix says that kids go to school barefeet. Most of them don’t even wear undergarments. Shoes are a rare privilege they only see on teachers and parents. But even the teachers themselves wear defeated shoes. They are a long shot from the fancy ones sold at Store 66 some of which go for Shs. 48,800 (Yaani, those are the shoes for which you produce 50k and leave with Shs. 200 balance). Poverty revels in Getenga. A majority of the kids there have dreams of making it in life. Most of those dreams get shattered and never see light of day. Life is hard over there like it is in most villages. Kids run after vehicles. Low income families depend on small scale farming for survival. Some people hunt (Okay this is an exaggeration). Technology is scattered around in bits through people with only surface level intelligence. A rich kid from Beverly Hills wouldn’t imagine that some people live like that. In fact I suspect some would sneer at you if you engage them in such conversations.
School is the only escape for most young people in a place like Getenga. The schools themselves are not well equipped and staffed for academia but still they remain the only hope. Education is literally the key to success. Without that you get confined in the claustrophobic thinking which scars most drop outs around.
I have a great deal of respect for Felix Nyabuto for he made it out of Getenga to Maseno School. Exceptionalism is the best word to describe that. I hardly knew about his past during our time in high school. He is not the kind of guy who unleashes his demons or dwell on his miseries. On getting to know him slowly I learnt that he literally yanked himself from the throes of despair in Getenga. He survived with flying colors and never looked back. It’s always been about moving forward ever since with some sort of unmatched determination.
Life in Maseno for him was Heaven compared to where he’d come from. As the rest of us still grappled with adjusting to the harsh equator weather, early morning preps and the strict rules, he started making moves that would define his next glamorous four years. He was a time keeper for the whole school before some of us even knew such a post existed. Soon he’d be running around school controlling the entire programmes that went about in Kenya’s oldest school because that’s how the life of a time keeper is. I bet when you are in such a post you are always time conscious. Always looking at your wrist and being alert not to get lost in your head for any slight mistake could impact on a whole school.
He enrolled for basketball at about just the same time. Nothing was as hard in that school like making it to the basketball’s first team. He made it a few years later. His grit and determination saw him through. As expected. Meanwhile, on the academics front he was topping our class term in term out. If Adrian Gill of the Sunday Times could have been writing this story he could have described him as “one of the most impressive young discoveries in the school’s 100 year history”.
In 2015, we were cubemates. Perhaps that’s when we actually got to be friends and talk about things randomly on random occasions. Of course there were two other form fours in that same cube. A lad called Nicholas Ochieng was the cube comedian. He roasted everyone. He got beat in equal measure for each of those times. Such a lively cube it was. Some days we’d just sit there and talk things like the history of the moon landing or science fiction or girls or read the gossip from The Nairobian. I always had an impression that Felix was a rude boy who imposed his ideas on everyone but some of those innocuous moments of chats and laughters revealed to me that he was such a nice lad. He had a profound sense of inbuilt generosity. He not only shared material stuff but also knowledge and ideas on different subjects. The cube was one big happy family. We had disagreements at times. But the happiness transcended that by a mile. What I can’t understand to date is how brilliant he was and how he passed his exams effortlessly. He is one of those guys who never wasted their time extending past the normal reading time but still aced their exams.
As I write this now, he is in Dartmouth which is among the Ivy League Colleges in the States. He calls himself the Ivy League Villager. Yes. He can be that creative. I always knew that something great awaited him. I wasn’t surprised when he got admission into the prestigious university. He studies engineering. I asked him whether he still tops his class like he used to do back in the day. His response was that ‘Avumapo papa baharini kumbe wengine wapo’. That’s how nerdy he has become. Only nerds remember those Kiswahili sayings that were forced down our throats in primary school.
The last time we had a conversation via Whatsapp, I asked him if he would marry a white lady being that he has got to interact with so many of them. His response was as clear as daylight and fashioned in his typical self. He’d marry any girl who can put up with his annoying persona. I also asked him other set of questions to which he replied as follows:
Me (M): How did it feel like when you first stepped into Dartmouth?
Felix (F): Never seen so many white people in one place.
M: How is your relationship with your mum?
F: Viboko strengthened it. But now we laugh about it all the time.
M: Is winter as bad as they say it is?
F: Worse. I’d rather be in a deep freezer than be here during winter.
M: Would you marry a Hispanic lady?
F: Whoever can put up with my persona.
M: You ever have regrets in life?
F: Everybody has. Whoever doesn’t have is a liar.
M: Describe Getenga Village for me in a few words.
F: People farm and rarely go to school.
So that’s a brief insight into the life of the Ivy League Villager. One thing that we still share in common is that we both love Tesla. He has this tendency of sending me random pictures of the Tesla Model Xs that he spots around while running his errands in the streets of Dartmouth town or New York or whatever place Tesla can be seen in the US. I wish I could spot some and send him to. For solidarity. But there aren’t many Model X’s in Kenya. In fact, I’ve only ever spotted one on Ngong Road next to Bishop Magua or whatever that building which hosts iHub is called.
Some days back, I asked his friend Ashioya to tell me anything about him. Something I nearly regretted doing because Ashioya couldn’t stop talking. He basically walked me through their brotherhood and how much Felix had impacted on him throughout the years they had known each another. He told me that they disagreed a lot when he was back on vacation. But that’s typical of close friends. The fights have to be there for the bonds to be stronger. Ashioya says he couldn’t ever trade him for any of his friends (If you are any of Ashioya’s friends, I’m sorry).
Why I am writing about Felix Nyabuto?
I’d say No Human is limited but that’s cliché.
How about ‘Our pasts don’t define us’?
No. let’s try something else.
What about ‘We owe ourselves the duty to transform ourselves to become better people in life.’?
No way. That sounds like a quote only a Form Two class prefect can come up with.
Okay. Let’s just say ‘Aspire to be greater’.
Ooh Lord. Noo. We all agreed to let of anything that sounds like Pepe Minambo. So I’ll pass on that.
I guess I’ll just go with “WE HAVE TO BE GREATER THAN WHAT WE SUFFER”.
I kinda like this one. It resonates to Felix’s story greatly. And it resonates to all of us. If a boy from Getenga can rise all the way to Dartmouth then we can do much great with our lives too. We can do that in so many ways. We don’t even need to go to Ivy League Colleges to achieve that. Just revel in your small successes. And aim for more. And never ever give up.
Okay. You wanna know where I got this line ‘We have to be greater than what we suffer?’
It was from a movie. A movie whose ending left me a depressed man when I watched it back in 2013. It’s The Amazing Spiderman 2. From Gwen Stacy’s (Played by Emma Stone) speech. Right before she dies. That’s probably one of the best movie speeches I’ve ever watched.