You must have experienced this..

Occasionally, you come across someone who has an almost magnetic effect on you and thereby makes profound transformation on your outlook in life. 

I am fortunate have met one such. We knew him simply by his initials: JD. Past tense since he is no longer with us in this life. He has transited to the ether. 

JD was my year mate at Nairobi School (class of 1971-1976). This school is that great institution of learning that was fortunate to host me during my teenage years. Hitherto, it had been known as Prince of Wales, until the nationalism zeal of the 60s necessitated its change to a name more palatable with the spirit and ethos of the country that had won her independence from colonial masters. Most of us past students fondly refer to the school as ‘Patch’ and its alumni as `Patch men’ or ‘Patch guys’. This naming lingua has a lot to do with the passion that characterized our generation in response to Soul Music largely composed by Afro-Americans. Our rival school (Duke of York later renamed Lenana School) was named `Changes’ (for those whom selective amnesia may have eroded their memory, `Patch’ is the name of a song composed by Clarence Carter. `Changes’ is the song on the flipside of that record). Officially our alumni is reffered to as `Old Cambrians’ ( and I am immortalized within this fraternity thus:’- Odero,JPR.html 

I came to Patch because of no will of mine nor of my parents. I had chosen to go to Alliance High School. My grades at the Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) were good enough. The selection panel had other ideas. I ended in this elitist high cost school because they thought my folks could afford, since I came from a similar high cost primary school: The Hill School located in Eldoret. After a year of toil at Patch my parents decided the struggle of paying my fees was was beyond their means and hence decided to transfer me to Machakos High School. 

It was not to be. Principle Dollimore would hear none of it. I was a good student and he rewarded me with a full bursary. So, I never went elsewhere. Lucky for Patch. Lucky for me. 

After a one-year stint at Junior House (later renamed Naivasha), the `rabble’ class of 1971 were promoted to the main school houses. I went to Grigg (now Kirinyaga) and JD to Rhodes (later renamed Athi). JD and I were in different classes in the first four years of school. Each year of the lower secondary classes was composed of five streams, each with a class-master. When I joined the school, I had been placed in `1M’, looked after by a teacher named Mr. Morrison. I worked my way up to `1T’ during the course of the year. This is where the brightest students of my year were placed. 

I don’t recall much of JD in those early years since we had very little in common. He was not in my dormitory in Junior House and neither in my class. All I recall was that he was a shade different since he appeared to be a half caste. Nothing so odd about that. There were plenty others of the same phenotypic expression in the school. It remained thus till we completed form 4 (1974) and were selected to return for Lower Six (Form 5) and Upper Six (Form 6). I was appointed a house prefect in 1975 

and a substantial head of house of Fletcher (now Tana) in 1976. JD was also appointed house prefect in the same year as I and posted to Tana House. 

It was during those two years of my high school life that I got to know JD well. It all began because we were allocated to share a room in Tana house, throughout 1975. Our friendship flourished and we became very good buddies. The man was a sense of wonder and full of courage. He smoked and drank. That was not an oddity in our school. Plenty of us did. But most of us would ease off during exams. JD did not. Exams seemed to inflame hisappetite for alcohol. Yet he passed all his exams. That was a sign of his exceptional intelligence. 

My first encounter with JD started through a somewhat unnerving experience. You see, when we first met, JD was under some form of treatment for nerves or a malady related to that. He was taking medication to assist him unwind, but at times the condition got the better of him. He would regularly throw tantrums. Many a times I would be woken up by a thud. He had flung a shoe or some other item onto the wooden partition that separated our bed space. I was totally scared. He would reach out to calm me down, often preceded with a deep laughter that was so much part of him. 

JD owned a spool tape. An antique AKAI to be precise. Through this he would play music the whole night. He loved Millie Jackson, as well as a host of other soul singers. But he also loved Kikuyu music. A popular song then was `Cucu wa Gakunga’. He loved songs composed by the legendary Joseph Kamaru (whom I was destined to meet much later in 2000). We came to Lower Six in a turbulent moment in Kenya’s history. Popular politician known as JM Kariuki had been murdered and his charred body found in the Ngong’ forest. The country was tense. A bomb blast had occurred in the city. University students were agitated. President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was aging. The young country was restless. In a bold move, Kamaru released a song titled `JM Kariuki’ (1975). It eulogized JM in strong poetic lyrics. Kamaru’s verse on what should be done to the murderer of JM rings in my ears till today. For it was this song that JD would play over and over. The song was banned outright as not fit for broadcasting and public listening. The lyrics are as follows: 

Thirikari tondu Kariuki niakua (Authorities now that Kariuki is dead) Arutiwo magego na maitho (With his teeth removed ad eyes gouged out) Na ti kuiya kana kuragana (And he was not a thief or a murderer Thakame ndigaitike niundu wake (Let not blood be shed because of him) Reke Ngai arute wira wake (Let God do His work)

The verse that led to the ban of the song predicted doom to whoever was involved in the murder: 

Mumutinia ciiga ciothe cia mwiri (Whoever mutilated his body) Mumutwari muharaini wa nyamu (Whoever took him to the wild animals) No nginya akagaragario na mwatu (Will be rolled in a beehive)
Muingi wothe wa Kenya wiroreire (With the Kenyan public watching) 

From the introvert that I was in my lower secondary school life, I was suddenly converted to an extrovert. Beer drinking helped. JD did the rest. 

Then I discovered drama, and was cast as Lakunle (Teacher Wa!) in Wole Soyinka’s play, `The Lion and the Jewel’. I took to theatre as a fish would to water. The 1975 Nairobi School production that was a collaboration with Msongari Girls and directed by English Teacher Jeff Hillyard also starred Jimmy Kamunde as ‘Baroka’, Susan Gichuki as `Sidi’. The production was an astonishing success. A tour de force! You see, that year the play was a national set book for Form 4s. Bus full of school certificate candidates came to watch the show from all over the country. I became a celebrity. A quote from this wonderful play is music to my years up to today: 

Baroka: Those who know little of Baroka think His life one pleasure-living course. But the monkey sweats, my child, The monkey, sweats, It is only hair upon his back Which deceives the world…. 


The same year, I penned my first original play `Me, Myself and I’ for the inter-house drama competition. My play won after it was adjudicated the best by late Arthur Kemoli. Thus, my writing career began. JD was also a budding thespian, and acted as the narrator in `Mzee Kobe Alipisha Kizazi’ a unique pantomime designed and choreographed by our year mate from Scott House (Marsabit) Donald Kwasa. The mime was submitted to the National Inter-schools’ Drama Festival where it was judged the best original play by none other than famed Kenyan thespian, John Sibi Okumu. I acted besides JD and Donald in the Kenya 

National Theatre (KNT) production in March, 1976. I say this to help you understand the complex composite of my interaction with JD. You must recall that in Form 5 and 6 I had selected science subjects (Biology, Chemistry and Physics). I was not a humanities student but I excelled in drama. JD did Arts (if I recall correctly Geography, Divinity and Literature). 

Legends are told of how the two of us got into mischief and played some very original pranks. You see, JD was attuned to rather peculiar perspectives in life and celebrated the oddest of things. It seemed he was perpetually in some form of protest. 

JD hailed from Banana Hill in Kiambu. But you could not tell due to his complexion. You dared call him a half caste at your own peril. It is his mix of intelligence, logic and love of the peculiar in life that made him so popular, yet an oddity. 

One of the craziest things that JD and I did in school was to wear turbans (without permission) for one whole week. 

It was JD’s idea. 

He persuaded me to join him in wearing the distinct head gear of the Akorino sect. For that whole week, JD and I were to be seen within the school compound adorned in white turbans. Where did we get them? Simple: we snipped strips from school bed sheets issued to us. It was a sight to behold. Tall JD and short me strutting around school wearing turbans! After a week, Mr. Minns (JD’s Geography teacher) could not stand it anymore. He quizzed JD on the head gear. The conversation went something like this: 

Mr. Minns: ‘What is wrong with your head?’ JD: ‘Nothing, Sir’ Mr. Minns: ‘Why is your head then swathed in bandages?’ 

JD: `These are not bandages, Sir. I have converted to the Akorino sect. We wear turbans to distinguish ourselves from unbelievers’. Mr. Minns: ‘I order you to remove those bandages or get out of my class!’ JD: `It is my chosen religion, Sir. Jesus too had to suffer for 

His’. I will carry my cross’. 

A red-faced fuming Mr. Minns thundered: `Get out of my class, Now!’ 

That was to be the end of our affiliation to that sect. 

JD completed Form 6, passed his exams and was admitted to the University of Nairobi. I scored poorly, and failed to get admission. I had to pursue lengthy circuit to pursue my university education. JD majored in government becoming fascinated with criminology as a subject and later worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, before re-joining the University to work in a specialized department. We lost contact for several years until after the turn of the current millennia. He joined us briefly in 2001 in researching for my play `Slow Down My 

Teacher’ inspired by Kamaru’s `Ndari Ya Mwarimu’ ( works/An-Introduction-to-Slow-Down-My-Teacher.pdf) 

A person wearing a suit and hat

Description automatically generated

JD was to reveal to me one evening that he was addicted to drugs and was finding it impossible to kick the habit. Sadly, shortly after this he was found dead, due to an overdose. The twist in the story is that a few years back I met his daughter. She had just returned from Europe and indicated that she did not know her father very well since JD and her mother had separated while she was a toddler. She was trying to discover him, and possibly write a book about her dad. I gladly told her all that I knew, and gave her photos of JD and the pieces of writing he had passed to me months before he passed on. 

For take it from me: JD was my friend. He contributed immensely to my worldly outlook.

PS.           Societal intolerance of brilliant and talented individuals is a major issue. Such individuals continuously struggle to find their place, fit and belong among the rest of us. They do not easily conform to our educational structure and in most instances, these individuals find refuge in substance abuse and end up having shortened life spans. It is an issue that society needs to urgently find a solution to…..

Leave a Comment on We Wore Turbans

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *