My cousin was encouraging me to join the military. No, he was not kidding and neither was I when I said maybe in a movie or in my next life! He is a soldier himself. First time I saw him carry a machine gun, leave alone this pepetas the boys in blue carry to maandamano – was on his Whatsapp status with a red caption I cannot remember. That’s when it dawned on me that he really was an army man. When he completed his training, they had a small celebration in shagz and I still have pictures of it. My late grandfather was seated somewhere in the rear view of the pictures, dementia holding him hostage, present but unaware of the victory feat his grandson had just pulled. No other like his in the entire genealogy so far. I think.
Now here he was, encouraging a brother to line up into the hall of brave. The KDF recruitment call was making rounds on WhatsApp and it made way into our cousins’ group. And there went Majaliwa the soldier saying all should apply. I fuelled his enthusiasm when I asked whether the training was mandatory since the Ministry of Defence is looking to recruit people of different professions including degree holders in communication like me. He inboxed me saying I should try it yet I had already made up my mind that my deal had been broken the second they said the training was mandatory.
[11/08, 09:49] Majaliwa: Jaribu bro..uko fit for the hardest training 😂😂hio sio chocha….
Mwaka mmoja tu unaanza kukua basic ya 100k and above
[11/08, 09:53] Vick_The_Mjango: 😹😹 Weh hunijui
And for sure he didn’t know me and how much I love myself. Well, I believe I do so to a sane level, just enough to accept what’s for me and what’s not. The moment you push yourself to insane levels beyond who you know you are, I think the closer you get to falling into the abyss of depression or even the hole six feet under. Yes, go beyond your limits, that’s the only law success bows to, but there is a place beyond the beyond for you that could be a dangerous place. At least that’s what I think.
Then he called, “Si you apply manzeh.”
“Eh bro the military is not for everyone.”
“Enda recruitment upunguze kitambi.”
“Nani alikuambia nikona shida na kuwa na kitambi?”
“Anyway you will only train for one year and that’s done. You won’t have to worry about engaging in combat.”
“A whole year of hardship you mean.”
“You’re capable. Endure knowing you will enjoy for the rest of your life. You will become an officer. In fact you’ll be my boss. You get two times what I get. It’s a permanent and pensionable job.”
“I’m not sure man. Sounds enticing but I’m not sure.”
All this time I’m trying to picture myself running around a stadium forty times. There I will be regretting my decision in the second lap of the race. I will probably push myself saying it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And I will make it past that. Then maybe I’ll make it to the shortlist by a whisker, an army officer having mercy on me since I studied hard to go to university and be a journalist, not a military man. Like an episode in a trance, I will be fast forwarded to the sounding of a trumpet in an army base. An army officer with a bad mood will yell in our dormitory, “Wake up maggots!”
Dare I land my feet on the ground before spreading the bed so flat, making an airport for houseflies. We will stampede into the showers later on after a morning run, chanting some hardcore slogans that engrave ‘StoneCold’ on ours minds. The showers, I will find, are no different from the one in my boarding school in both primary and high school. Bare ass men parading to get clean. My first days in form one, I showered with my boxers on and then I heard a form four say to another “Ona huyu nyoka anaoga na boxer.” (Nyoka was slang for form ones.) There will be no time to contemplate over whether to undo the briefs or not because the last one to leave the showers gets a whooping. Now you and I wouldn’t want to see me whipped bare naked. Would we?
I saw myself saluting every major, captain, commander, colonel and general in an army base whenever we crossed paths. I’m seeing myself in army uniform, tucked in my trousers, tightened by the belt such that not even a finger can make it through, my trouser tucked into my boots, walking like a robot. Everything I had heard about the military came flashing and left a bad taste in my mouth.
I have had a mini, very mini taste of military training which was in no way desirable when I was 12 and 13. I am sure my primary schoolmates will relate with this and some still have mental scars from the same. It was not inhumane, but let’s just say it was a little too much for kids that age. Okay, on the one hand, it smacked discipline into us; some lessons from back then are still hard wired in me. It toughened me, prepared me for high school which was a plus. At the same time, it bruised me, a little. At the time, I loathed boarding school. I couldn’t revolt because it would only make life harder for me over there.
The boarding patron, Mister Man, who is the equivalent to the army officer trainer in this case, was the start and the end of your good days there. So you’d better stay in his good graces. Not to say he was some ex mafia or something. He was a good guy looking to raise us the way he knew best; not standing to see us mature into spoilt brats because he wasn’t a spoilt one himself. All the paramilitary exercises he made us do, he did them too and he was healthy for it. You could see it. Sure, we did curse the day we were born when we sprinted multiple times across the basketball pitch, and back frog jumping, a thousand and one sit ups and a million more press ups.
All the responsibilities he imposed on us was so we could be all rounded. If I tell you mjango I have ever been an altar boy during holy mass you’d be like, holy cow! High performance on every task was non-negotiable. Incompetence, ignorance and unruly behaviour was met with harsh punishment. If I should explain some styles of corporal punishment he unleashed on us, you’d be scarred too. We used to ask ourselves how he even came up with those caning ideas. There was one we dreaded like a death sentence because the pain would last for days!
I had said it was almost a little bit too much for kids that age? Arguably. But if you ask me, it was ungodly for the kids in class one, two and three. I pitied them. This made me never forget Kibet, a tiny class one boy. Poor kid from a very good family was dumped in boarding school at such a tender age. Interestingly though, even after all that, he still topped his class back to back to back! So when the alarm went off in the dormitory at 4am, it was a wake up call to every Tom, Dick and Mjango to fly to the cold ass parade bucket showers. Mark you, that was probably after sleeping at 11pm or sometimes midnight as we stood out in the cold outside the dorm listening to Mister Man tell us stories about life. The girls on the other side were not having it any prettier. They told us of long lecturers by the Matron they called Sis that went up to the devil’s hours. Oh horror of horrors.
Sigh. After recalling all that,
“Eh kaka apana. Haitaweza.”
“You can just join and retire after three years with all the benefits. People do that. And by the way you have an advantage. Someone without a degree will have to train for three years.”
I understand that someone else desires the same advantage that I have, like one Maina, my colleague at work. After my call with Majaliwa, a conversation ensued in the office about the whole matter. Maina fancies joining the army for because he says he wants to learn how to fight, but guess the first requirement, the Lord; the giver of all that is good did not bless him with? Height! I guess in life, just because you’re willing doesn’t mean you will get it.
Anyway, let’s just say it was all, ‘I’ll think about it’ until Majaliwa said, “Enyewe hauna passion. Kama huezi vumilia kukaa uchi Mt. Kenya, don’t go.”
Now I’ve even stopped thinking about it. Much later, it also occurred to me that I will have to shave my beards if I’m to enlist. Me? Coolkid? Mjango, forgerrit!
“Think about it and you’ll tell me,” he urged.
“Majaliwa!” I responded.