I have been replaying this scene over and over in my mind for the past 4 days…and I have several ‘should haves’ and a lot more ‘I am glad I did’. I am sure you are not surprised by this, because by now, you know that my brain is usually a hum drum of activities and a massive web of conversations…With presidents, the pope, movie stars, cartoon characters and of course, my favorite of them all, me. However, unlike most of my imaginations, this actually happened and I have to keep pulling my arm hair so that it all remains real.
Last Thursday, I was privileged to be amongst some few scholars who were invited to the State House to interact with my President. Yep! You heard me… President Kenyatta or as POTUS would say, “President Kenyarra”. I can almost see you giving me the ‘who hasn’t seen him?’ look. Well, you need to understand that where I come from, the most my kin and neighbors have ever seen of him is on TV or during campaigns…those fanatical enough to sleep on the campaign ground so that they can get an up close view of him. But to get into his home, by invitation…. Massive! However, seeing him is not what has been replaying over and over in my mind, but rather the way my body reacted to the whole experience. (Now! Now! Let us not lose sight of the main topic here).
So we get into this clean and serene extra fenced section and we are met by this absolutely mean guard. He starts issuing warnings…no! Puffing warnings and threats about… If any of us attempt to get in with a camera or phone or Bla! Bla! Bla! I drift off and my attention lands on his sandpaper-like palm. I start wondering how many have been unfortunate enough to have it caress their faces forcefully… shudder! He has this frown on his face that makes me sure he had a terrible childhood because…you know, there has to be a reason for all that anger. Anyway, we go through some thorough security checks and finally, we are in… For some reason, the female security officers in State House are stunning. I digress…
The huge invasion of my personal space is erased by the lush crimson carpets and high white walls carefully decorated with African art (some paintings a little too detailed for my innocent eyes). The hall we are led into smells like influence and …fate changing policies and…chicken wings and samosas. We are treated to an assorted array of snacks and after several fillings, we sit down and wait for the president. I strategically position myself at a place where I can see him…really see him…to the last wrinkle.
(I have always argued that all people are equal, and more often than not, I am less aware of or alert to the power that powerful people have… but on that day, my subconscious revealed my true bearing…)
When the guard finally announced “The President of Kenya”…My goodness!
This unexplainable surge of fear and awe overwhelmed me and in that very instant, I was aware of where I was. (I knew where I was before, but in that moment I really knew). In the presence of power, such tangible power! Suddenly, the room started floating. Thank God for seats. There was a lineup of speeches and finally the President got his turn. I paid attention like I was being paid to do so… you know, paper motivation.
He covered a number of topics. Integrity, fighting tribalism, corruption, infrastructure development, entrepreneurial opportunities for the youth and some life examples here and there. The main message being working together and being the face of Kenya wherever we went.
Then the floor was opened for questions and nobody was raising their hands. So yours truly (me), decided to represent. I raised my hand and this drop in my stomach made me regret my audacity. I was told to walk up to the podium. Then two other guys followed.
Walking has never been so difficult. In my head, I was having a very one sided conversation with a new partner, my legs…” come on, lift, step, move”.
I finally get to the podium and I am a little nervous (Okay, that’s a lie)… I am petrified! You know that point when your brain starts to shake, and shivering turns to convulsing? The point when you have absolutely no control of the violent contraction of your muscles, especially the internal ones? The horror! (For an award winning public speaker (in my village), this was an extremely novel and terribly uncomfortable experience).
Because my brain and lips act independently from my body, my question came out clear, concise and eloquent ;-) It shocked me too. I asked what the government was doing, to support the private sector in ensuring top scholars, who are not picked/ recruited into programs like the Equity Leadership Program, get opportunities to attain top notch education so as to fast track our country’s development…borrowing from the likes of Indonesia and China.
Well, the president responded. His response was great by the way. He mentioned bursary schemes at the county level and some scholarships with the ministry of education and promised to expand the program so that we don’t have students falling through the cracks.
I listened, but what I wrote, even a nursery teacher cannot comprehend. The way my hands moved on the paper was just laughable…and a little pitiful. And when I looked up, he was talking to me. To us all, but his eyes were on me! (I died)
Several photographs later, I went away ecstatic.
I however wished that I had told him how proud I was that he had appointed Fatimah Ahmed the first woman Brigadier in the country. I wanted to applaud him for making the Uwezo fund more accessible to the youth by revising the requirements. And I also wished that I had gone off topic and asked him what he was doing about the unemployment situation in the country and the injustices still facing the boy and girl child.