• Caleb Atemi

The Tiger Returns to Inspire

Updated: May 5, 2019

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.-Henry Ford

He fell flat on his face. The world of sports burst out in laughter, some with shouts of “Shame, Shame”! He rose again to a thunderous applause. After eleven years of silence in darkness and oblivion, Tiger Woods pounced back to reclaim his position as the World Number One Golfer.

From fame he slumped into depression after suffering a life threatening accident and a career-damaging sex scandal. The world forgot he ever existed. However, like the mighty tigers of Bengal, he kept to himself in the woods and dense forests, practicing his speed, building his strength, amassing his pouncing power and enhancing his stealth nature. When he struck again to regain his glory, the world gaped in shock and awe but he smiled and shook his head knowingly.

The Tiger Woods story is an inspiring tale, especially for millions of Kenyans grappling with a myriad of problems, a collapsing economy and a failed political leadership. Today, Kenya is awash with stories of men, young and old, who have given up life. Many choose suicide as the ultimate solution. Depression is without doubt a deadly companion for most Kenyans.

During my brief sojourn on Mother Earth so far, I have battled with depression thrice and wrestled with failure countless times. I believe God has kept me alive to complete tasks he has for me and to use my story, just like Tiger Woods will, to inspire others.

The Letter of Darkness

December 22nd 2009 is a day that left me distraught, breathless and in tears. I was at my Nairobi home relaxing with my family. We were actually watching cartoons. The children had packed their clothes ready for a long adventurous journey to my village of Musikangu in Vihiga County. I was enjoying my first official leave after a long time. I could not take leave, not even a paternity one after my son Baraka was born in 2008 because my personal file had gone missing. Someone had been trying to work me to death.

With leave finally here, we were going home for Christmas and also for a house warming and prayer ceremony. I had put up a three bedroom mansion in the village that required official opening.

Then my doorbell rang. I stood to open the door. My colleague at the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), who was in charge of security, stood cold and still as our eyes met. He hesitated when I asked him to come in. With trembling fingers, he gently placed a letter in a blue envelope and a delivery book in my hand.

I had no reason to worry but his coldness sent a chill down my spine as I opened the envelope. The letter was terse. Signed by my boss Alex Kazongo, it stated that I had been summarily dismissed from my job as Public Relations Manager. Summary dismissal implied that I had lost everything. I was leaving my employment empty handed.

I stood there dazed. My children burst out in tears once it dawned on them what the emissary had thrust into my hand. Our anticipated trip to the village had just been cancelled.

After almost an hour of shock and disbelief, I gathered enough strength to call my spiritual mother, Mama Herina Diang’a Akeyo to share the devastating news. “Toto, usijali. Mungu ako pamoja nawewe.” This is the woman who had prophesied my entry into the senior management of NSSF. She however warned me that my tour of duty at the pensions fund would be tumultuous and hazardous and I would eventually be ejected.

I then sent a text message to my phone contact list telling everyone that I was no longer the Public Relations Manager of NSSF. I told them that I had just been fired. It is only my journalism teacher Mwalimu Joab Osiako who responded saying: “Thank God for that. He has removed you from a bad place. The Almighty God has saved you from certain death.” My phone went silent. Ten years later it barely rings. A number that used to ring daily even past midnight went mute like Tiger Woods did.

I had given NSSF my all. I joined the Fund determined to help transform and rebrand it. I formed great partnerships with stakeholders among them sports legends such as Paul Tergat, Janeth Jepkosgei and former Rugby Head-Coach of Kenya 7s Benjamin Otieno Ayimba. The media started to give us positive attention.

While there though, I fought many battles. Details of these wars fought in dirty and muddy trenches, chilly boardrooms and even on highways, will feature in my forthcoming book, Every Day is Christmas. But ugly wars they were. I survived numerous attempts to my life. I was twice admitted to the M.P Shah and Nairobi Hospitals with high blood pressure. Even my regular and intense Karate workouts could not keep hypertension away.

It is after the December 22nd letter that the world crumbled around me. Those I considered friends deserted me. Banks moved in demanding I settle my loans. Auctioneers came knocking. I lost precious land I had bought in various parts of the country. I received constant threats from people I owed money. Then, seven months after being fired, NSSF placed an advert in the Daily Nation with my photo informing the public that I was no longer an employee of the parastatal and therefore anyone transacting business with me would do so at his or her own risk.

What followed was not my toughest journey in life because I have gone through worse, it was however a voyage of severe frustrations; ten years of struggling with unending loans, accumulating debt, frustrations from clients, isolation and ridicule, and hate mongers.

When Friends Desert You

Four other colleagues were also ejected from NSSF with me. Two of us were fired and three retired on public interest. Two went to court to challenge their untimely retirement. One committed suicide. Many times, I too came close to taking my own life. I considered the legal route but my Spiritual Mother beseeched me to “leave the matter in God’s hands”. With God’s Grace, I am still standing.

For days I relied upon the counsel and prayer of Mama Herina. I listened to audio versions of Pastor Joel Osteen’s books especially Your Best Life Now, I Declare, The Power of I am, Become a Better You and Everyday a Friday. I imbibed Napoleon Hill’s; Think and Grow Rich, The Law of Success, The Master Key to Riches among others; I plunged into Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret and The Power. I consumed Paulo Coelho, Robin Sharma, Iyanla Vanzat, Leo Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, Gustave Flaubert, Albert Camus, Emile Zola, C. S. Lewis, Rudyard Kipling, Honore De Balzac, Martin Meredith, T. D. Jakes, and Khaled Hosseini among others. I dug into biographies and memoirs of great leaders. I immersed myself in the Bible and asked God to teach me to forgive those who had hurt me even as He forgave me. I intensified my karate training and even added a morning jog. I would at times train for six to seven straight hours and feel nothing.

Apart from my wife and children, only four men and Mama Herina stood by me during my time in the valley of the shadow of death. Former Vice President Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, my Karate Senior and Sensei Bon Namulo Owiti, Mvita Member of Parliament Abdulsamuad Nassir and my former colleague at the Nation Media Group, Chief Photographer Yusuf Wachira. On many occasions these gentlemen came to my rescue financially and emotionally. I will forever be grateful to their true friendship.

The Garissa Pain

I believe the reason why I survived the NSSF tumble was that I had fallen before.

In early 1989, I lost my job as a reporter with the Kenya News Agency (KNA), in Garissa County. It all began with a night of intense gunfire and death.

The gunshots rang through the night. I tensed in my bed trying to listen to the direction of the gun shots. The staccato of gunfire became louder and closer. The journalist in me could not resist crawling out to investigate. By 3am I had a complete story. Bandits had attacked the residence of the Provincial Commissioner. Four administration policemen had been killed.

Early morning as I agonized on how to handle the story since in those days, KNA being a government agency was averse to truth, the district commissioner called the few journalists in town to his office to “set the record straight.”

Last night, a government land rover with mechanical problems was driving around town backfiring. The backfire sounded like gunshots but we would like to assure wananchi that Garissa is a very safe place.” Came the government version of events of the previous night.

I filed my story to the Daily Nation using a pseudonym. “Gunfire Rocks Garissa Town” came the story the following day. The Provincial Administration knew it had managed the information. Former President Daniel arap Moi hit the roof when he found out that his officers did not have the information. Newspapers that used to take three days to reach Garissa were that morning flown in in a military helicopter. It was a miracle for us to read the same day’s newspaper.

The biggest question from the then government of single political party of the Kenya African National Union (KANU) was, who is this ghost writer in Garissa who gets such accurate government information? Even without direct evidence linking me to the story, I was arrested, tortured and incarcerated. The then Director of Information Shadrack Musandu announced my sacking at a press conference in Nairobi to: “Serve as a warning to other young men and women employed by the ministry of information and broadcasting.” I lost all friends. Only one man stood by me. The Nation News Editor who I had only met on phone as a remote caller from the God forsaken northern frontier, Mutegi Njau. Mutegi, who remains my hero and mentor, risked his life driving through bandit territory to come and demand my release from the provincial administration. In those days, an enemy of state was considered an enemy of the people.

No one wanted to be associated with failures. Especially not those accustomed to police cells and prison. Whenever I walked into a bar after my release, old friends would pick up their drinks and walk away. I felt like a leper in Biblical times. Eventually I was taken to court, declared persona non grata in North Eastern Province, placed on a Garissa Express bus to Nairobi and ordered never to set foot again in the region. Two armed administration policemen escorted me on the deportation trip. But I survived because someone provided a shoulder for me to lean on.

Marriage Tribulations:

Many years later, I came face to face with another form of failure. I survived five years of darkness after my marriage collapsed. Five years that I can barely account for. I did things that I am not proud of. I did things that I truly cannot remember. I met and mingled with people whose names and faces remain elusive. Maybe they were just spirits. I learned one lesson though, that when one is depressed, he or she has no control of life’s happenings. One walks, acts and lives in a trance.

In those five years, I almost became a Muslim, I ventured into some weird sects, and ended up into the Don Bosco Catholic Church in Nairobi’s Upper Hill. There I found some solace. After three years of indulgence with the Catholic Church, I ended up at Nairobi Pentecostal Church Karen. From a four bedroom house, I was now living in a one room servant’s quarter in someone’s Langata backyard. I would walk to town and even beyond for lack of matatu fare. When I was just about to give up life, when I had contemplated suicide countless times, Mama Herina Diang’a Akeyo, appeared in my life.

Mama Herina, whose story will be told in detail in my autobiography, was a prophetess of the Roho Msalaba Church. She lived deep inside Nairobi’s Kibra slums in a single room we christened Jerusalem. For eight years I served as her diary keeper. I would document all her prophecies and I must say that all of them, save for one, have come pass. The pending one, I believe is still in God’s hands.

There were days I would walk from Langata’s Uhuru Garden Estate down Langata road, up Mbagathi Way onto Ngong road and all the way to Kibra just to enjoy a meal at her house. The only meal I would have for days. I would arrive in tears and Mama Herina would plead with me: “Weep not my child. Your suffering is just for a season.”

Crucial Pillars

I do not know how Tiger Woods managed to live through depression and rejection but God used different people to keep me alive during my trials. I clung onto men and women, very few indeed, who availed themselves to support me emotionally. God also came through for me. He taught me that no matter what you think of him, He is God. Over the years God had armed me with the great teachings of; humility, honour, compassion, respect, integrity and love through karate. Since childhood karate has taught me to remain calm under all situations. It is the Budo virtues of karate that kept me away from alcohol which would easily have become my pillar. The karate virtues have taught me resilience. I have also learned never to let success get into my head nor allow failure to sink into my heart. Like Tiger Woods, we can all rise again and as Henry Ford would say, use failure as an “opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.

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