Well, I do believe I've officially been driving in my home country for 5 months now. What an adventure it's been! Gotta say I never thought I would never make it to the point where I'd actually enjoy driving. Sure, this seems a little dramatic, but I haven't had the easiest of starts when it comes to this driving business, unlike my twin brother.
He and I took a very divergent route after the end of high school. He was wiser and took the driving lessons, somehow I ended up taking French lessons that haven't really counted for much in my life thus far; thus, he ended up becoming a pretty competent driver early on, and I just remained jittery ol' me.
Not long after that, I shipped out to the States to attend college, which is where I started to learn how to drive. Manual transmission was the exception to the rule then (kind of how it is in Kenya these days), so my driving experience was relatively easier on an automatic transmission; in addition, Central PA had some of the nicest drivers I had ever encountered: people were courteous on the roads, followed basic road rules, car horns were sparingly used, etc. Also can't forget that those were some of the nicest spacious roads I had encountered, though some PA natives seemed to complain that PennDOT's spending on road maintenance was 2nd to last nationwide. It was a rocky start though, considering Heather Norris' crash course in getting me driving - Day 1 and Day 2 : Parking lots, Day 3: HIGHWAY! Sure, it was her car, but that was just bananas :)
Anyway, serial procrastinator that I typically am, I gained confidence on the roads, but I never ended up getting licensed. In retrospect, it would've made things easier because I could've just converted the license once I returned home in May 2005. I really didn't think that my experience in the States had changed me much; however, reverse culture-shock was deep, particularly on the road. It seemed like bedlam incarnate on the Kenya roads: people didn't follow basic rules, road signs or any sort of instruction, the drivers were aggressive for aggressiveness' sake, and the roads were narrow, poorly marked and poorly maintained. There was no way I was ever thinking of getting behind the wheel at that point.
Fast forward 2 years down the road, and it was my time to jet off to South East China (Wenzhou) to study medicine. China is a land of many achievements, but their driving culture is sadly not one of them. Chinese drivers are even crazier than Kenyan drivers! I guess the only thing they have going for them is the wider roads. I saw the Chinese commit so many sins on the roads that I was always left in wonder as to how I managed to come across such few incidences of road accidents. The pedestrians were a hazard, darting across the roads without a care in the world; people on bicycles, scooters and those in cars were just as bad. The safest drivers I ever came across were the bus drivers, which was well and good, because that was how I mainly got around. China did do me a favour by relieving the fear I felt on the Kenyan road, which was more evident when I'd travel back home for the holidays.
So, 6 years later (2013), I was back home again after finishing med school. Towards the end of the year, I finished my driving-lite course, and got licensed. (Truthfully speaking though, driving school in Kenya is a joke! The licensing process is an even bigger joke!). Anyway, the license took forever to show up, I never really practised, and then soon it was time to be shipped out to Kisii for an ultra long internship. Once I abandoned the western part of Kenya for the chance to be closer to Nairobi, it became apparent that I could no longer escape the task of having to drive. My current work station - PCEA Kikuyu - has a terrible public transport situation. Sure, matatus ply the route; the problem is that I need about 3 - 4 separate matatus to get to the hospital. Therefore, I had to "properly" learn to drive stick-shift...and for the most part develop the confidence to see things through.
5 months down the line, I have all the confidence in the world. I love driving fast (not illegally fast), and the freedom it affords me. In the beginning I avoided slowing down a lot, because there's nothing quite as demoralizing as having the engine die out on you in the middle of the road. Amateur mistakes occur less often these days :) Granted I still complain about the craziness of the whole system; I still hate the aggressive driving style, especially that of matatu drivers; I hate that people risk their lives periodically walking across the roads without respecting their lives, or those of the drivers who have to protect the lives of those same nonchalant pedestrians. (Can you imagine having your car torched because an irate mob takes it upon themselves to dish out "justice" for a perceived grievance, yet the instigator was the selfsame careless pedestrian?)
The system isn't perfect, but I'm learning to live with it. I treat every drive like a day at the operating theatre - start it with a prayer. With all the things stacked up against you on these roads, you might as well invoke the Divine to improve your chances.
At some point, I can talk about my newfound pet peeves on these roads; but for now, have a great day and God Bless
Sunday, September 4, 2016
Good day one and all.
Been meaning to put this up here for a while. For a little context, just want to remind some folks (for those who might not know it) that my mother is/has been a university registrar for about 30 years. This means that in the course of my life I've been put to work on stacking, stapling, editing or helping out in some capacity with the work she's brought home.
After her stint at Daystar University ended (27+ years), she's spent short stints at other universities in the same capacity. What's worrying is that a lot of these universities have her putting out small fires because their foundations education-wise are pretty unsound. The very same institutional shortcomings talked about concerning Kenya's tertiary education system seem to have spread to multiple institutions like the flu of the month.
This is where my Messiah memory comes in. I can't fully make you appreciate how daunting it was to find myself away from home, a whole continent away (for the first time), and having to study for the first stage of my medical degree. However, I am glad that Messiah had the mentor system, whereby each student was given a lecturer who basically helped them weather the college experience. I actually had 2 mentors: Dr. Jon Melton, a chemistry lecturer, for my first 2 years; later, Dr. Sherri Boyce, a neuroscientist, who also happened to be from my same School (Dept) of Natural Sciences, took up the role. For the purpose of this chat, I'll be dealing with Dr. Melton.
By nature a very quiet man, I remember that our first talk in his office was very simple. He got to know about how I was settling in, then he basically set me up for my whole college life. He took me through the course catalog for PreMed Bio, with all its requirements, then he told me that I should basically arrange and select all my courses per semester for my entire time at Messiah. Of course, understanding the complexities of Messiah's online registration system (then known as Irislink, which then morphed into MC-squared), he told me to have some flexibility in mind for elective courses I could take in case I found myself locked out of my first choices.
Just like that, the man gave me a blueprint for my whole time at Messiah, such that every semester, as soon as my allotted time came up, I registered for my classes in comfort. I'm really sad that I didn't interact with him that much after I had to switch mentors, thus I've never thanked him for what he did.
Tying all these things together, I think all these fledgling Kenyan universities could borrow a leaf from other institutions with a winning formula. Seems like nowadays the trend is just to pack the classes with as many students as possible, hire plenty of part-time lecturers to attend to the masses, overload a student's semester/trimester with courses (independent of their aptitude, performance or desire), and hope for the best.
And for goodness sake, what's with the rush to offer Master's degrees/PhDs? Using Messiah as a reference, after having being started in 1909, it became a college in 1920, and then only when it turned 100 years old did it introduce a Master's degree (Counseling). Compare this with some Kenyan universities which within the space of 7 years since inception already offer full fledged PhD programs, and you can appreciate the mess that we're in.
It's in taking care of the little things, that an institution can aspire for greatness; it's also in focusing and polishing specific fields that an institution of learning can become world renowned and a centre of excellence. It is the unique nature of a good university experience at a good university that will keep drawing quality students for years to come.
So in closing, would just like to say Thank You Dr. Melton for everything, all this that's worthy of a lifetime lesson.