OCHIENG’: How I lost a friendly Principal during the Covid-19 crisis

St. Joseph’s Boys School Kitale Principal Mr. Wilson Yego speaking at a past function.

After addressing the 2020 candidate class at St. Joseph’s Boys School in Kitale, we shared a yummy meal in the Principal’s office with the Senior Management Team (SMT). The Principal expressed his love and largesse by lavishing me with an envelope carrying a handsome honorarium.

Then, he asked me to get into his cosy car so that he could drop me in the nerve centre of Kitale town, where I would easily board a North Rift Shuttle back to Nairobi. My friend, the Principal, who rested with his ancestors, cruised his car towards the elegant gate where vigilant security guards swung swiftly into action. They left the gate ajar and we snaked out of that giant boys’ school at a glacial pace.

Mr. Wilson Yego drove as I sat close to him as a temporary co-driver. We told several scintillating stories. It was a friendly chat marked with mirth and loud laughter. Being that he was elderly and I was younger, it was like a lad and a dad having a man-to-man talk while on a peregrination. The road trip was epic but brief like a sweet dream. I learnt a lot of life lessons from this man of means who was swept from this terra firma by the unfortunate floods of fate.

I wish I had the power to know that I was seeing my friend for the last time. When we arrived at the heart of Kitale town, he bid me goodbye. But before he engaged the ignition key to cough the engine of the moving metal, he complained of mild discomfort – a general air of malaise. It is what made him inform me that he would drive to Eldoret and meet his doctor for a medical checkup.

He sped off from where we had halted. As the metal moved, I marvelled at the miracle of mechanical engineers. I edged towards the North Rift Shuttle offices in order to dwarf the distance to Nairobi.

Fortunately, the shuttle never took long to teem with flesh and blood. We left that maize-growing county, the country’s bread basket, in post-haste, at around 4:00 p.m. I was grateful to God for the infinite spectra of opportunities to crisscross across counties in the country sharing ideas and insights.

In actual sense, the first time I visited the school, I was on that hallowed ground slightly before the cruel invasion of Covid-19 pandemic. I went there in February 2020 to address Form One boys together with their caring parents and noble teachers. We dubbed it the Form One Plug-in Programme. The clarion call was ‘Play Your Part’ lending credence to the wise words of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere; “Play your part. It can be done.” Therefore, the episode I am writing about was not the first visit. It was during the dark days Covid-19 pandemic was ravaging the world without a tinge of mercy or a tad of clemency.

This was a sad season when death ruled this wide old world with a cruel hand. When this deadly disease struck in March 2020, it paralysed learning at all levels. But for the sake of KCSE, the Cabinet Secretary of Education, the late Prof George Magoha, decided to re-open schools in piecemeal. Form Fours reported earlier to prepare for KCSE under strict adherence to Covid-19 protocols.

During those dreary days, we visited several schools to roll out the Adjust, Adapt and Advance Programme. Somehow, it is how we strived to assist students to bounce back and build back better. Then, as candidates prepared for the 2020 KCSE, we also visited secondary schools to roll out the English Improvement Programme, with a special bent on poetry as a literary genre tested both in English Paper One and Two. We dubbed it; ‘Simplifying and Demystifying Poetry’.

You see, a sedulous study of KCSE English Paper 2 informs the setting pattern and prediction of question 3 from the year 2016. Somewhat, examiners have been alternating poetry with oral narrative, also called folk tales. So, in 2016, they tested The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. In 2018, they brought a poem titled The Man He Killed by Thomas Hardy. In 2020, they brought Love is Not All by Edna St. Vincent Millay. In 2022, candidates wrestled with the poem titled When We Were Young by Abbas Ladak. Poetry being my pet subject in English Language and Literature, in 2020, I went to schools to pique the interest of students in it.

Moreover, being a co-author of Nuts and Bolts of Secondary Poetry, I warmed up to share the specialised knowledge I have gathered over time about the pulchritude of poetry. In addition, I shared examination tips to help candidates scoop good marks in poetry. I did it in Kaaga Girls in Meru County. I also did it at Baricho Boys in Kirinyaga County. Then, I did it at St. Joseph’s Boys’ School in Kitale, and so on, and so forth.

So, one silent night as I sat in my civilised cave in Nairobi just about to hit the sack, my phone vibrated indicating a received message. Indeed, it was a text sent by the Principal of my alma mater — Nyamninia Secondary School in Yala, the Gem of Siaya. The pleasant Principal dropped the sad text, to inform me that Mr. Wilson Yego was no more. The great school administrator from Elgeyo Marakwet had been eaten by the greatest gourmandizer — death. I must admit. It hit me like a thunderbolt. My heart was hurt. It was torn asunder by the bad news. I was shell-shocked because most of the deaths that occurred at that point in time were caused by Covid-19. At that pensive point, I did not know the deadly disease that wiped out my friend from this Hotel called Earth where we all sneak into shortly, wine and dine, and exit to meet the Almighty.

I must admit I felt disturbed because my conscience kept whispering to me that in case my friend died of Covid-19 then I might also have contracted it. And death has no escape. Remember, we shared good food with him in his posh office. Then, I sat very close to him as he cruised his car from school to Kitale town. Moreover, as we conferred with him, he became redolent of a certain Principals’ Conference convened in the lake-side city, Kisumu. He remembered the great event because he knew that I had a love affair with poetry. In that pow-wow of Principals, the facilitator alluded to a poem sung in Luo land to caution people against indolence and idleness. People with poor work ethic are prone to lame excuses. The song is about a bird called oyundi, a sparrow.

Oyundi ni dhi kulo,

Oyundi ni tienda lit.

Oyundi ni dhi puodho,

Oyundi ni tienda lit.

Oyundi ni dhi rego,

Oyundi ni tienda lit.

Oyundi ni dhi tedi,

Oyundi ni tienda lit.

Oyundi ni bi chiem,

Oyundi bi sese se.


Oyundi go fetch water,

Oyundi my leg is hurt.

Oyundi go to the shamba.

Oyundi my leg is hurt.

Oyundi go to the mill,

Oyundi my leg is hurt.

Oyundi go and cook,

Oyundi my leg is hurt.

Oyundi come and eat,

Oyundi ni sese se.


My friend, the late Mr. Yego had these lines on his phone. He must have loved this poem laden with memorable chorus and antiphony — call-and-response structure, which is sung to people who want to eat but are not ready to roll up their sleeves, pick the spade, and work. Mr. Yego handed his phone to me: I read that interesting poem he learnt when they attended the convocation. Being that I touched his cell phone now you understand why I felt scared when I learnt about his sudden death.

For the time he gave up the ghost, only five days had elapsed. I did not dare to discuss with any friend or family member about my mortal fears. I waited for fourteen days to elapse to see whether I had contracted the virus. Fortunately, no symptoms manifested. Therefore up to now, I do not know whether my friend died of Covid-19 or I caught it but had a close shave.

© Victor Ochieng’

The writer rolls out academic, career, leadership; talks and training services.

vochieng.90@gmail.com. 0704420232


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