Celebrating East African Writing!

Life and Death; and the life lessons therein…by Marvin Tumbo

I am sitting in a Mololine Prestige Matatu near Ambassador waiting for it to fill up so that we can be on our way to Nakuru. Then I see one of my former high school teachers, and then yet another one comes over to say hi and to inquire whether I cleared campus. And then, as if on cue, I see some students wearing that very uniform that I despised wearing in all of my years in that high school. The students then board the car that I am currently sitting in. Naturally, this took my memory to that time seven years ago when I was still in high school. I take out my laptop and started typing.

As I wrote in an earlier post on my blog, my time in high school was peculiar to say the least. Before I got there, I was a simple almost naïve little boy that thought people went to school to read and that alone. I was so disillusioned that I remember telling people to hush because I was there to read. I was in form one and yet to learn the ways of the world, which I soon learnt, but maybe too fast. Later on, when my reputation as a good boy was almost wiped off, people used that one instant against me as we recalled our respective development in that school.

Other than that single outburst, I was a quiet kid, and that served me well because people never knew where to place me, including the teachers. So when I was in form two, and some idiot kid crossed me, what I did became what I was associated with for the rest of my time in high school, and that was a curse in itself and maybe a blessing in disguise depending on how one chooses to look at it.

The kid was a form one student who was protected by this form four student who was the son of this teacher who also happened to be the brother to our school principal. I messed this kid up and he in turn turned to his protector, that form four student whom I also scared off without saying a word. He in turn turned to his father, the brother to the principal who on missing me, decided to take it out on my friend. On being told this, I followed them to the dormitory where they had gone to and told my friend to stop doing what he was ordered to do because this guy (teacher) had an issue with me and not him.

This teacher guy did not take that kindly and turned on me, asking me who the hell I was. I told him that I am the person he wanted and added that he cannot protect that kid or his kid forever. I added that when he goes home, I would be there, waiting to pounce because as far as I was concerned, I was right and he was wrong. I still insist that I was right. This guy was now breathing fire and brimstone but I held my nerves, staring at him straight in the eyes. He thought I wanted to fight him, and he went ahead to clench his fists and urging me on. I told him how I so wished I could fight him. By this time, I was getting mad myself. Instead of knocking him out, I punched through a window, cutting my hand badly with glass. But the message was sent.

Even without him asking, I told him my class, my admission number, and told him that I will be waiting for a suspension the next day at 10 am. At exactly 10 am the next day, this teacher was on my class door and called me out. I followed him to the office where I was formally introduced to the principal – his brother- who then proceeded to give me two weeks of suspension – the first of many. That is how my relationship with the principal started and it was rocky throughout the rest of my high school life.

My Principal…

Mr. P. C. Kandagor is one of the most exceptional men I ever met and had the pleasure of interacting with. He made my life difficult and for that I thank him. This guy made me a man when I was still in my early teens. He made my life hell for as long as I can remember; and every time that I managed to crawl out of that hell hole he put me in, there was always one more reason for him to kick me back in. I went on so many suspensions than I would care to remember but I almost always had the last laugh (which never lasted.)

There were things I was guilty of and for which I never protested when suspended. There were things that I was guilty of aiding and abetting and for which I mildly protested when mentioned. There were other things that I was absolutely innocent of and for which I vehemently protested, but I still got suspended. That, however, had come to be expected. When you have been suspended for so many other things, it is almost natural that one will be considered guilty of every other issue that comes up. That was my predicament and I suffered greatly for it.

Mr. Kandagor was therefore on my case even when I had no case to answer. There were times when he was fuming at me in his office, wondering what the hell is wrong with this kid! There were other times when he was merely pissed at me, begging me to act normal before telling me to get the hell out of his face. There were times when he was so mad at me we drank tea in his office and talked about it. Whatever the case, all these usually ended with a suspended me. In the mean time, save for the suspension, mutual respect was developing between us. I was not a fan of BS and neither was he and hence the reason we got along when we did. In our frequent unpleasant encounters, we got acquainted with each other’s character; and that defined our subsequent interactions.

The reason that I was not expelled had to do with my performance in class. Even with the frequent suspensions, I somehow managed to remain among the top performing students as evidenced by the number of times I appeared in the top 20. I had always been a bright student and that may be one of the things that saved my ass. That and my Principal, Mr. Kandagor.

Mr. Kandagor was an extraordinary man. He was the one principal who always gave everybody a second, third and fourth chance and would only on the extreme circumstances expel a student. And given what this man had done, extreme for him was not the usual stuff that people got expelled everywhere for. He used to call the police, have some students arrested but always ensured they were later released and were back in class. This guy loved students and he only wanted us to learn. Even though our school was one of the 17 national schools in the country, this man still took in those students who had been expelled from other schools. He knew that no student can be too difficult for him and more importantly understood that being difficult was just a phase in most teens. Furthermore, this guy allowed many students to study even without fees especially if he understood their background.

Tough Love

Mr. Kandagor was a tough nut to crack. Late in the night, past midnight, as people snuck back into school after a night of drinking, they would come across him as he did his rounds around the school.  You could never be sure that he wouldn’t pop up. In the morning at 4 am when we slept in instead of going for the morning preps, he would just show up with some crude weapon and beat you senseless. People would jump from balconies and twist their ankles, risking broken legs, and limp to class just to avoid him. There was an unwritten student code that if anybody made the principle really angry, it was wise to run first and then approach him later in his office when he had cooled off. On the flipside, he would chase you if you ran, and boy! Wasn’t this old man in good shape? If you outran him, he was never shy to pick up a stone and hurl it at you. It wasn’t uncommon to see us running for our lives with him on the chase behind us and stones flying past us.

Those were the days…

When he wasn’t beating us with wires in the morning, or throwing stones at us, Mr. Kandagor had his own methods of punishing us. He counted on the element of surprise. He would be talking to you openly and the moment you thought you were safe, he would slap you so hard with both hands it sounded like a Glock or a Magnum. In the ensuing confusion, he would close in on your earlobes with his hardened fingernails. He would then talk to you as he dug into your earlobes and by the time he is done, one would be ready to order for earrings. This happened so fast such that the moment he let you go, is when the pain would set in. But the pain would be preceded by heat. The ears would first feel like they were burning up and then the heat would gradually travel to the whole head; this was where others started sweating. Keep in mind that the effect of the rapturous double slap had not worn off. That was why we ran…

Kandagor was not your typical principal. He had many cows which he would cater for regardless of the time. People usually knew that if he wasn’t in the office, he was out looking after the cows. Every year, when a certain percentage of students qualified for University, he would slaughter a bull for us. When our rugby team won the National championships, he slaughtered another bull for us. Plenty of bull went down our stomachs whenever there was something to celebrate. Twice a week, we would drink milk from these cattle. There was one time, at around 4 am in the morning when he came into our cubicle and found my roommate, R, sleeping while the rest of us were heading to class. He gave him the double slap I described above but it was only later that we almost died of laughter.

Kandagor had woken up early and prior to coming to our cubicle had been helping one of the cows give birth. And this is the kind of guy that was never afraid to get down and dirty and hence his hands were covered with blood and mucus and all that other nasty stuff that you see at birth. Too bad for R, he did not realize this until he felt his face feeling sticky and on touching his cheeks, pulled off layers of sticky dried up bloody mucus. Boy did we laugh! Our principal had not washed his hands after aiding the cow in giving birth and went ahead to slap R effectively depositing them on his face. Now R had a sticky face full of that nasty looking glue like stuff… It was pretty hilarious. And there are hundreds of similar stories to tell.

Most of us who crossed this guy passed with flying colours and proceeded to the various universities across the country. When I was in my third year of University, this man Kandagor died and my heart sank.

We went for his burial which took place at some remote village in Molo district. This was a piece of land that they had bought but had not yet settled in. The burial said a lot about the man we were burying. There were hundreds of people present and on inquiring, it emerged that only a handful were not his students. The former president Moi was also present and commended this man Kandagor for being the man he was, a teacher whose students traveled from far and wide to pay their last respects. Amidst a heavy downpour, we buried the man, and got on the bus to leave but we got stuck…

The bus that I was in had Mr. Kandagor’s closest friends and also many teachers who had taught under him. Every car left, except for ours. We got stuck in the mud and then it rained some more just to make sure we got stuck properly. After the rain, we got out of the bus, and tried pushing. This bus was lying with one side buried in a shallow ditch on one side of the road. We pushed and pushed but this thing did not budge an inch. It was getting dark and the rain started again. We were high on some false hope that this thing might just move and in that rain, we tried all tricks to get this thing to move, but still nothing. The ladies, who were sitting pretty in the bus, urged us to get in as some guys took off to look for a tractor in the many adjacent farms.

The window at the back of the bus was not there and cold, freezing wind was coming through it like a tornado. Most of us were wet from the rain meaning that our clothes, instead of protecting us from the cold, exacerbated it. I have never been so cold in my life and it was only at 9 pm at night. The weather got worse as we approached the dead of the night. We sat there in that bus, cold, hungry, tired as hell, waiting, hopeful that we would get a tractor to pull us out. The tractor came at midnight and we got off the bus so that the tractor could have an easier time pulling it. After a few false starts, the bus came out. The tractor driver said that he will pull it until some place further along where the road was not that bad. Meanwhile, we walked… in that cold night, me with only a wet t-shirt on and with no cigarettes which I had just quit – the first time anyway.

Dig this; (no pun intended) we get to the bus and get on board only for the driver to tell us that we were stuck again. We got off the bus, again, and tried pushing again and this time round, the bus moved but just enough to knock the adjacent fence down. The watchmen from that place came out and we knew immediately that we would have to cough up some money to cater for that knocked down fence. But that was not the case, they came and asked the ladies amongst our group to go and rest in the house while we men sorted out this mess. Some men went with the ladies. Close to an hour later, we had not managed to move an inch and that was when the watchmen came again to get the rest of us.


This was a bus full of people and yet we all found a place to sit in that house. It was a 2 am in the morning and that was rural setting with various houses in that plot surrounding the main house. I was in one of the houses where the chairs were few and we squeezed into a Sofa and those plastic chairs which they provided for us. They also provided a fire which we almost ate. As if this was not enough, these guys brought us tea, and later food. After we were finished eating, we all got a cup of warm milk to wash down the food. Until that time, I had no idea whose house this was or who was making sure we taken care of this well. Then she came… a beautiful lady in her late thirties. She came into the house where some of us were. She apologised that she had only managed to get a place to sleep for the ladies and the elderly men, and that she was out of space in the various houses. I was touched… I told her that this was more than we had asked for and that we were good the way we were.

We sat there the whole night, talking about the old man we had just buried. He was not that old but that was what most of us used to call him, Mzae. We talked about the good times, the bad times, the times we would rather forget and each narrated how we were his victims whenever he caught us offside. As we talked and laughed, one of the teachers who we most feared in high school had already gotten one of the guards to buy him some spirits. He offered them to us and we chided him for offering alcohol to students. But he came prepared with an answer, saying that we were now colleagues. In that cold, the burning heat down the oesophagus that a spirit produces when taken dry was almost God sent. But this teacher made a statement that got me thinking on another level altogether. He said that Mr. Kandagor’s spirit could not allow us to leave before spending a night at the place he was buried.

My mum tells me that according to our traditions (I am a Kalenjin – Sabaot or Elgon Maasai) if it rains on the day of your burial, it meant that the Gods had accepted you. On the days that we buried both my grandfathers, it rained massively and on both occasions, it was the first time in a long while that it had rained. Similarly, on the day that we buried Mr. Kandagor, it was the first time in the year for it to rain over there which in our tradition meant that the Gods had also accepted him. But more than that, it is expected that after the burial, people would sit up late into the night and talk about the life that the person had lived, celebrate the impact he had made etc. This was not the case for Mr. Kandagor; we had buried him in his land which he had not settled on yet and were going to leave him out there, alone. It seems that Mzae had other ideas and hence the reason we got stuck.

In the morning, our hostess provided us with breakfast, and also her tractor to help dislodge the bus. But funny enough, even without much effort, the bus simply moved…

Before we said our goodbyes, we all congregated in one room to give our thanks and gratitude to our hostess.

You tell me; how many people do you know who after knocking down their fence at 2 am in the night would wake up, invite you and a whole bus full of people in, go to the trouble of cooking you tea, then supper, then a glass full of milk each, provide each one of you with a place to spend the night, cook you breakfast, give you a tractor to help you with the problem that made you knock down her fence, and ask for absolutely nothing in return. Did I mention that we were a bus full of people? Who invites a bus full of strangers into her house at 2 am in the night? She did and was gracious about it.

Our gratitude was therefore heartfelt. At that moment in time, I realized that there are indeed genuinely good people in this country. She became my symbol of unknown heroes in Kenya.

Before she bid us farewell, she introduced herself as the second wife of the late Minister for Roads, Kipkalia Kones. I will now head to my page of Kenyan (s)heores and add her there…

I hope you enjoyed this trip back my memory lane…

© Marvin K. Tumbo 2009

If you would like this piece to be the Story of the Week, please vote below on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak, and 10 being excellent. The numbers will be tallied on Friday and the story with the highest figure shall be Crowned Story of the Week. Be sure to fill in your name and verifiable email. You can include your critique/comment after the vote.


8 comments on “Life and Death; and the life lessons therein…by Marvin Tumbo

  1. Eddie Karisa
    June 29, 2009

    the story has a lot of errors in sentence contruction. Marvin should have strived to write and rewrite it!


  2. peterson
    July 12, 2009

    Rip MR kandag????? whatever he is called….. is this his real name???


    October 6, 2009

    Paul Chepkonga Kandagor was the best Principal one could get. I miss this great man alot. He made us pass our High School, and made us who we are.


    October 6, 2009

    Paul Chepkonga Kandagor was the best Principal one could get. I miss this great man alot. He made us pass our High School, and made us who we are. That was in KABARNET BOYS HIGH SCHOOL between 1992 and 1996


  5. Catherine
    April 5, 2012

    he was a great man.He was more that a me he was a monument..When i think about him today and when i read this,i dont know whom to thank for this Beacon.Rest In Peace. Forever.


  6. anthony chesang chepkonga arap kandagor
    October 17, 2012

    Man oh!!! Marvin Tumbo. My eyes are tearing my heart is aching, thinking back at a man who was with me 25yrs and literaly made me the man that I am does that to me. I only came to know mzae the last three years of his life…. what a loss. I miss jim every day, my son paul chesang kandagor looks a whole lot like him and that makes it harder to forget. Thanks marv… he was what he was, but to me he was dad.


  7. VICTOR KIBOGONG - Atlanta, Georgia - USA
    March 28, 2013

    Paul Chepkonga Kandagor


    October 24, 2014

    though belatedly, i do not know how to describe the man;PAUL C. KANDAGOR. He was indeed the best principal i ever know. Iam what iam because of the man. He modeled us in kabianga high school- 1987-1990 to be what some of us are today. Adding value to the Kenyan Nation. LONG LIVE KENDA!!!


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