“…If I would die today, would the world remember me?…”
If I begin to talk about Dr James, this is the first thing that comes to my mind. It is like the conversation starter whenever his name comes up. A statement that serves a purpose of more than just to ignite the memory of who he was, it also brings up his entire legacy. It gives a description of the man that was Dr James.
I met Dr. James when I was four years old. I was only a child and just starting to understand the ways of the world. Looking back, I used to think the world was a distasteful and despicable place. Nevertheless, Dr James came in with his sunny personality and his warm heart and showed me that it was more than that. He taught me how to take on everything with a smile on my face. He said to me that no matter how difficult a situation is, we only make it worse if we look at it with a gloomy face.
I remember when he came home to visit, he always carried some candy from the UK and it was then that I learnt that if you really want something, you had to earn it. He would give me a test and then tell me that whatever I would get would be equivalent to the number of candy that I would be allowed to have. Therefore, I had to strive to get everything.
He had a passion for education that I emulate up to this day. I will never forget the way he used to write the word ‘excellent’ with his bright red pen whenever I would score an above average mark. Dr James believed in me when I could not even believe in myself. I remember one time when I was in class five and the math just seemed so hard for me, so I told him that I would not do it anymore. He did not force it on me, as another person would have done. He took me to the fields where we were growing a tree nursery and told me to count every seedling on that nursery. I counted them all, losing count somewhere along the way so I had to start all over again. I was so irritated, mainly because he already knew how many seedlings there were, but also because the sun was too hot and he was not giving me a break. At the end of it all, he told me that life provides one with two choices: one to cry today and rejoice later, or to rejoice today and cry later. It did not matter how many times I had to redo my math assignment, as long as it led to me being better in the subject.
I am a university student now and even though I am not taking a Mathematics related course, I have to admit that my love for numbers still runs deep.
Dr. James was not only a great mind; he also had the biggest of hearts. He took me to Nakuru at a time in 2007 for the National Music Festivals and since I was the only one from my school, I had to share a bus with some other students from Githunguri. After the competitions were over, Dr James sponsored us all to a trip to Lake Naivasha and thereafter took us to a supermarket and bought us whatever we needed including school supplies and foodstuffs. It did not matter to him that we had only just met with the other students.
There was nothing like living in a bubble to him. Life had to be lived to the fullest. Enjoying every moment of each day and making those moments count. In all the years, I had known Dr James, I do not think there is a day I did not see that sunny smile on his face. He said hello to everyone as he went whether he knew him or her or not. He always told me that naturally, human beings respond to the energy they receive from other people. If you are kind and nice to them, chances are that they will be equally kind and nice to you.
Of all things that I learnt from Dr. James, I think the most valuable lesson was on roots. He taught me that nothing was stronger and more important than understanding from where one is from. He said that losing sight of one’s background consequently leads to losing sight of who a person is entirely.
“A person’s roots should be worn with pride.” He always said. It is of no use to be ashamed of where one comes from because that is what makes us uniquely different. It is what will distinguish one person from another and shape their destiny. For this reason, even in my quest for education and having met people from diversified backgrounds, I always have it in my mind that I am just a humble girl from a humble background who is seeking to see the world from a broader perspective and possibly change it to a much better place for those that come after me.
Dr James left such big shoes to fill, but I, in memory of him, and as a beneficiary of his foundation will always try to aim for his high standards.
I am not sure that what I have done so far and what I intend to do can in any way compare to what he did, but all I can do is try. He lit a candle on a path for me and left it burning, I can only hope to keep it burning for as long as I can.
Maybe one day, when the grass will be no longer be green and the sky as gay as gay can be, another person will ask as James did, and this time for sure, the world will have no choice but to remember him through those of us that passed through his hand.
Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.