THE MIDDLE-CLASS BUBBLE!

Photo Courtesy: upnairobi.com

 “…give power to read and to do all that appertains to these degrees” before the Vice-Chancellor finished the statement, the congregation of 2015 graduands jumped into a frenzy tossing caps into the air. Jubilation filled the Grad Square, hugs and kisses were exchanged munificently. This was the moment we had been waiting for. The culmination of the four or five strenuous years spent on campus.

The graduation ceremony was over. My classmates and friends walked out of the square, faces beaming with joy as they captured every moment on their smartphones. From the look of things I was the only one of the 4000 plus graduates who wasn’t excited to be graduating even though I finished 2nd best in my class.

To understand my Iack of enthusiasm, I will have to tell you the whole story right from the beginning so grab a seat. When I first joined this prestigious university, I made two sets of friends. The first set consisted of the cool guys, those who were from middle-class and upper-class families. The second group was comprised of those from humble backgrounds. They were mostly from upcountry. Their sense of fashion was wanting, spoke with funny accents and were among the first generation in their families to join an institution of higher learning.

Take James for example, I met him in my freshman year, to be precise on my very first day on campus. He was crying behind a lavatory next to the main gate while his parents and brother paced around in a rather pensive mood. It was until later when we became friends that he told me about his life story.

James was born and bred in rural Central Kenya. His parents were peasant farmers. They had to sell off the only cow the family owned in order to raise cash for his shopping and tuition. Unfortunately, on the day of admission he learnt that he need to top up a few thousands to cater for accommodation in order to get admitted to the varsity. An amount his family couldn’t raise. He broke down to tears afraid that despite all the sacrifices him made to that point were all in vain and he may never pursue his undergrads.

All through his primary schooling, James would trek miles to school barefooted. The first time he acquired a shoe was in form one. His high school period was even worse.  Many are days he slept hungry. He was also sent home countless times for failing to clear his school fees in time and even had to repeat a year. To survive, he had to do all kinds of odd jobs in school like milking cattle to offset his debts. Despite, all that he managed to score an A in KCSE and was called to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering.

My other group of friends had a background quite similar to mine. To attend my primary school all I had to do was to cross the road. In the evenings my mother would help me with the homework. My oldman would have me stand on the table and read a story from my favorite book ‘Ali baba and forty other stories” , that’s probably when I fell in love with words and turned out to be this amazing writer I am today..Hehe.. Let’s save that for another day.

Unlike James, I never slept hungry or lacked school fees in my entire schooling. In fact I was careless and somehow entitled. Essentially, it was until a few months ago that I really believe one could indeed have nothing to eat. All along I thought this was stuff NGO’s came up with to source for donor funds.

Moving on to high school I had a rather easy time. My parents are not wealthy but they are generous to a fault. Whenever schools opened, I was asked to take the amount I needed and leave a note on the table with a breakdown of how much money I took and how I intended to spend it. Consequently, my high school buddies and I formed a group known as ‘Cash Money Boys’. We would spend our allowances like oil-sheikhs. During school parties, when a girl asked for our contacts we would write it on 500 shillings note then give it to her. That was the standard business card.

Flash forward to campus, our parents still bankrolled every aspect of our lives. Going out on a Tuesday only to get back at 4am, sleep for an hour then wake up and prepare for a CAT scheduled for 7am that morning was the norm. Acquiring trendy stuff, partying and scoring the next pretty lady on campus was high on our agenda.

While my affluent friends spent all weekends club hopping the other friends spent their days and nights exploiting all kinds of opportunities on campus. Since they didn’t much disposable income to entertain the campus ladies they channeled most of their efforts to their small businesses .

Four years later, I noticed that most of the friends from wealthy families looked older than their real age thanks to years of binge drinking and abusing narcotics. Most of didn’t to graduate this year since they have to re-do all the courses they’ve failed.

On the other hand, the friends from humble backgrounds were doing great. They looked healthy and were in stable relationships. Their sense of fashion had improved tremendously and mother-tongue influence to their speech was minimal. What surprised me most is how they never called their parents for upkeep. I was dumbfounded when James confided in me that the only amount he ever received from his parents was Ksh. 300 on the first week. As of now, he supports his parents financially, owns two prime plots around the capital, runs a successful business and even owns a car which he bought in cash.

Photo Courtesy: Samuel Mumo

One night at around midnight I went out and sat on a bench all alone in the darkness to reflect on my life. What have I achieved in the four years I have been in the university? If both of my parents were to die today would I be able to maintain my current lifestyle? How many lives have I inspired?

That’s when it hit me, I was living in a bubble and if not careful I would end up working for the enterprising friends. I was a 23 year-old man who didn’t have any business or a piece of land to his name. The only car I drove belonged to my parents. Probably, the only achievement I had made so far was buying a couch. That’s the only item I acquired using money I had worked for otherwise everything else I owned was either gifted to me or purchased by the parents.

That was my turning point. I dropped my ‘cool friends’ and began spending more time with the smarter friends seeking to learn how they were able to move from being the poorest on campus to the wealthiest in less than four years.  It is from these friends that I learnt the art of financial discipline and the need to care about someone else other than me.

 

Today, I’m officially independent! It is the greatest feeling ever even though things are tougher than before. I have been forced to cut down my expenses and save so that by the end of the year I can be able to buy a piece of land that I have been eyeing for a while. A man of my age should have his name on a title deed not just on a website.

I would like to salute all young people who are financial independent and even support their parents or siblings. You guys are my heroes! For the young men and women coming from poor families, never let your background discourage you. You too can change your life like James did if you set your mind at it.

Now to the friends from middle-class and rich families. Its time you strategize on how to become independent in the event your parents pass on and relatives make away with all property your family has amassed. I’m not going to lie to you, the first three months are going to be hectic. You may not be able to go out every night or acquire every item you fancy but with time you will adapt.

Start today, don’t wait until the bubble you live in bursts. That may be too late for you!

Written By Mark Maina

28 Comments

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  1. 2
    Proudly feminist

    Well said though from my own personal experience in campus, patience equally pays. Sometimes you don’t have to really pressure yourself in campus to be financially independent. You can equally choose to make sober minded choices while there that will help you after campus. One thing people in school refuse to accept is that we all come from different backgrounds. Know where you are from and stick to your goals and you will be fine.

  2. 9
    Kelvin

    Love it Maina!!! Funny enough most people dont realise how our system is designed. They end up trusting that piece of paper more than the reality until its almost/after graduation time. In my own opinion,whether still in school or graduated,the moment you realise what you really want to do in life,thats the first step to success. The only thing left is the ‘doing part’ which is the toughest. Everybody has a dream & ambitions but very few gather the balls to do something about it!!

  3. 11
    hersi

    This would be a much better article if only u shared how he acquired to achieve all he had in just four years. Anyway it’s worth reading.

  4. 17
    andanje

    come to think of it this is a true story in many campuses.
    there is another breed through, those who pretend they have and use every penny to fit in with the ‘in crowd’

  5. 18
    MissyJ

    Maish you have really outdone yourself this time. Great article with undeniable relevance. Keep up and forget those clichéd movie script stories.

  6. 19
    Patrick

    Thanks Maish. This article moved me to knoz thz good things you are sharing with us. Resembles my story though a bit different because for me the job was already there.

  7. 20
    Muthoni

    Great piece Mark and more power to you!

    Check out Centonomy, a company based in Nairobi, that trains on financial literacy. You can reach them via 0700 036433.
    My life literally changed after I took on of their courses.
    Thank me later.

  8. 24
    Matthe K Rotich

    wonderful work, am trying to see if I have ever achieved any of what you mentioned for the past 3 years I have been in campus, actually
    this is food for thought.

  9. 27
    Charles

    Nice stuff Mark Maish, I just love the sense of your articles.
    Moral lesson, always encouraging and inspiring. I just love it, keep the pen working.

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