When I was in college, my first freelancing job for a major paper was as a weekly book reviewer.
Not being one of those wannabes given to shortcuts, especially when it comes to work of an intellectual nature, I used to spend all hours reading whichever book I was to review – which meant I was reading four books a month back then.
I particularly remember a book called ‘The River’ – 1 200 pages long that I woke up wee hours and finished in six days.
Its basic premise is that SIV in chimpanzees ‘jumped’ species and became HIV in humans thanks to more than a million oral polio vaccines that wanna-be do-gooder mzungus administered to Africans in the Congo in the 1950s. Large batches of these vaccines were made from chimp kidneys. So that theory of the disease, as argued in ‘The River,’ makes sense.
Anyway, at the start of this particular year (back when it was The Rainbow and not NASA gathering clouds over Uhuru), this editor called Makokha called me over and asked if I would like to write an arts column for the paper.
Boy, wouldn’t I love to, yes?
So I started, on a Friday corner, and soon it was very controversial and popular with the likes of Eric Wainaina (and my then poetic nemesis Caroline Nderitu) all piling in. Then editor Makokha pulled the plug on it, saying too many people were ‘urinating’ all over the page.
But then he threw me a lifeline – as a law student then, did I feel able to write about the Law?
So I spoke to legal guys like Githu Muigai on ‘Jurisprudence’ and then Dean Ojwang on ‘Constitution’ and my favourite, Kivutha Kibwana, and even one Ben Sihanya about intellectual property, and had my three paper samples prepared and gave them to the editor who took them, then ... silence!
When I inquired, he said they were ‘very good, but I feel you are too young to write on weighty matters.’
He then gave me a Mission Impossible – to write on weird cultures of the world weekly. This being the days before ‘google,’ only a real wannabe writer would have taken the task on.
I did, spending countless hours at the MacMillan library in dim daylight peering at dusty books of Mongolia and Peru, not having travelled anywhere outside Kenya back then. This gig lasted six months.
Later, after we had become good friends with this editor Makokha, and I asked him about my year of torture, he said he was ‘training me to be able to write at national level about anything at the drop of a pin.’
Maybe Makokha meant well, but beware the wannabes who seek to stall you at a certain level, always.
Perhaps you are that back-up singer in the band and the band manager is hell-bent on keeping you out of the spotlight, lest you realize your talent means you ought to be the main singer in another band.
Or you are a super-competent technocrat in your area of government and the Permanent Secretary is scared of moving you up out of the backroom, otherwise who will craft the painstaking policy that he hogs all the credit for? Not everyone has the energy+brains+will of a Matiangi, you know?
Even in relationships, there is that wannabe ‘happy’ single at 28 who chases away any serious chap from your space who shows interest in you – because if you get married, and get busy with babies, who will she drink red wine with and moan about men with on lonely weekend evenings?
There’s this book I’m reading by Szalay where Murray, the main character, is jealous about his buddy suddenly being busy because ‘the underlying foundation of their friendship is that neither of them ever has anything else to do other than hang out and drink together.’
That is why wannabe idlers at that veve corner in the estate are so comradely.
But bide your time like Beckham.
After his fall out with the legendary Man U manager Sir Alex Ferguson – that also involved a boot in the eye – Beckham left for Real Madrid in 2003.
But not in a nasty wannabe ‘burn the bridges’ way.‘I will always look up to Fergie because he gave me the dream of playing for Manchester United,’ Becks said. Ironically, this was twelve years later in Paris, watching the best team in England (Chelsea) draw one/one with PSG.