I grew up in a small village known for her ravaging floods and hunger. Kano plain is no joke. Nestled between Nandi Hills and the great Lake Victoria, Kano’s ground would refuse to give up any yield even when we dropped seeds on the ground with enthusiasm.

We were 8 children born in quick succession with two overwhelmed, underpaid parents who were determined to raise upright children. IMAGE COURTESY OF PETER CACAH

Nothing could soften this land of misery, not even the songs we would occasionally sing for it.

Kano was a tougher than a tortoise’s shell.

We were 8 children born in quick succession with two overwhelmed, underpaid parents but determined to raise upright children. It was easier to boil a rock to softness than it was for our family to consistently put three meals a day on the table.

When a meal was put on the table, the sight would be one so adorable that some of us broke into tears of thanksgiving before we descended on it with the fury of a hungry pack of lions.

The clothes we had were few and torn. Our uniforms had to be washed every night for them to be used the next day or else we would smell of hunger, dirt and desperation. I had a particular short that was torn on my buttocks. If a bird decided to come and claim it as its home, I would have been forced to lie down and allow it to nest right there.

We didn’t have proper beddings; a very basic traditional mat called par in Luo would be spread on the floor. Like sausages being roasted on a grill, we would lie naked on it at night as we rested our bodies.

When I first laid my humble back on a proper bed, I suspected that it was a trick. It felt so uncomfortable because sometimes you get used to horrible things that good ones feel awkward. My body struggled to fit on a bed for a very long time. It was strange to sleep on a proper mattress.

On Par was where we rested our tired bodies as siblings. The next morning, the mat would dedicate the whole night curving lines on our backs. When we woke up, they would take a few hours to clear up especially on our faces.

That meant when we went to school, we had a billboard on our faces announcing how we spent our night.

Pocket money like in many homes that surrounded us was as unheard of as money picked on the ground in the village I grew in. We would sometimes take a trip down the road, hoping that we would stumble upon even 5 cents but we couldn’t. No money fell on the ground in Kano.

We walked to school barefoot combing the grass on the ground and sometimes being pierced with thorns but we still went to school limping.

In Dandora, we always lived in fear of thugs and the dreaded Mungiki gang that had their favourite camp near our house.

The filth of garbage surrounded us all the time.

My entire young life was filled with lack, anxiety, fear and all the damaging ramifications of poverty.

Yet we were always happy, joyful and free-spirited. My mother reminded us of the many blessings we had. Our family was full of love. In fact, I became aware of some of the negative impacts of my background in my adulthood.

Therefore I fully understand the damaging nature of poverty.

It erodes your esteem. It completely robs you of dignity. While you are bleeding, you are forced to bandage yourself up.

Poverty weakens you first then it weakens you more. Poverty is like a brutal enemy soldier who shoots an enemy wounded soldier even if they beg for mercy.

But in the process, you find your strength. It makes you scared until you are no longer afraid to be afraid. The constant abode in the bottom of the filthy barrel is not something you would desire even on your worst enemy.

Turn around

However, growing up in an environment filled with lack made me aware of the possibilities available in the world. In that small village, I dreamt of one day changing my community. I had all the time to imagine all the possible things in the world.

I also came to understand that we are not subjects of our background. Skin colour, ethnicity, education level etc. cannot hold us back unless we give them the power.

From 2007 when I gave my life to Christ, I made a conscious decision to retreat back to the passenger’s seat and let Christ chart my path. I’ve fallen by the wayside. I’ve made terrible mistakes but God has never abandoned me, not once.

God has been immensely good to me, opening doors that I never once thought would fly open in my life. I’ve met dignitaries and travelled to places I only read in books. God has shattered glass ceilings that I never knew were possible to destroy.

Step of faith

But it started the day I made a vow not to allow my background to diminish the glory that God had placed within me.

In this journey, I have learnt that the most powerful way to deal with the demons of the past is to face them. I specifically believe in the power of personal development.

Almost a decade ago, I chose the less travelled path of self-improvement. Many people would rather use their past as a sympathy card but I said NO to the temptation.

Look for mentors to walk with you. Surround yourself with positive people who stretch your imagination to attain the impossible. Travel the world and expose yourself to other cultures. Be very intentional about how you live your life.

Cultivate a character of hard work because faith without work is dead. Binge read relevant books because knowledge is power. Work on your craft and make it better. Hit Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours and exceed it.

Because a tree is only as good as its roots. What we don’t see, hidden underneath the soil produces the fruits we enjoy and we can see.

Unless we deal with the internal demons that are determined to bring us down, we will always struggle, crawling along dark walls, falling down and hurting ourselves more in the process. The symptoms of the internal turmoil will always manifest on the outside like bandaged wounds that were never properly addressed.

We will reach the apex of success only to be brought down by a heavy past that will not let go.We shall self-destruct if we don’t cut the ropes tying us to our past.

Go for counselling. Write down your thoughts. Talk about it with friends. Let go. Seek to heal. Become better.

May 2018 be a year of healing, peace, prosperity and take off.

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Author: Dannish Odongo

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