In 1985, two major transitions happened in my life: my father, Bernard Paul Odhyambo Abuor upon attaining the age of 55 years retired from Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (KPTC) where he had worked since he turned 18 year. This marked the end of his life as a salaried citizen. I was in my third year of university, and so this meant that I had joined thousands of comrades who filled ‘Peasant Farmer’ where it asked: ‘Parent’s profession’ on the university re-admission forms that we were repeatedly subjected to during those turbulent university days. Somehow, the learned professors who ran the university then, as now, imagined that the only way to respond to very sober student issues was to close down the institutions and repeatedly re-admit students.
Several comrades were vindictively expelled from the hallowed. Obviously, holding the title, Professor did not necessarily make one intelligent and wise. The second major event is intricately related to the first; dislocation. Upon retiring, my father was ‘going back home’ to Seme. This meant that our Nairobi home, which I had known all my adult life, was facing closure. As a family, we were no longer going to have a ‘home’, or house if you so desire, in the city. Though my sister, Vicky already had a place in Nairobi, this was ‘her place’ and not our home. My elder brother, JJ, had not really made efforts at settling down, he was basically living-in with some friend. Having no place to call home in Nairobi was a major challenge to my identity as a Nairobian born and bred.
I was born in Nairobi a year before independence, and so by the time that the Kenya Quad-color flag was hoisted to replace the Union Jack in 1963, I was almost done suckling my mother. I am a child of two flags; born in Kenya Colony and Protectorate and weaned in the Republic of Kenya. One day if my congenital mischief is not purged I might claim my British citizenship one day. Queen Elizabeth was my sovereign for ten months before they lowered the Union Jack. My parents then lived in Kariobangi, which was one of the locations native civil servants were allowed to rent houses. Our family later moved around the country as my father rose through the ranks. Eventually we settled in South ‘C’ where I spent a substantial part of my childhood.
Around 1969, the same year that CMG Argwings K’Odhek my father’s brother-in-law by virtue of being my mother’s cousin and T.J.Mboya my father’s classmate at St.Mary’s Yala died. C.M.G Argwings died in a mysterious road accident that to date has not been resolved while T.J Mboya was assassinated along the streets of Nairobi we moved to Mawenzi Gardens in the Milimani area as the departing Europeans working in the telecommunications sector left the country. This was to remain ‘home’ until my dad retired. My Nairobian credentials are thus established, and so when retirement came and dad was relocating ‘back home’ from where he had come to seek employment, it was not a ‘return’ moment that any of us his children shared. The feeling we were dealing with was that of getting uprooted and descending into the abyss of homelessness. The leafy Mawenzi Gardens had seen the European residents migrate, mainly to the UK, one by one and get replaced by my dad’s Posta colleagues. In a few years,the neighborhood was an ‘all black’ neighborhood. It’s from this ‘hood’ that we were dislocated.
In a few hours, I will attain that magical age: 55 years. The age that separated my father from the only employer he had known and been loyal to all his life. The age that drove my dad away from the city into whose bosom he had been engulfed since 1964. Unlike my father, I have received pay slips from close to half a dozen employers, including myself. Unlike him, I moved from Nairobi to the Nkoroi outskirt even as I still considered myself a Nairobian. Unlike my father, there will be no farewell party from my current pay-slip provider because I do not become a non-worker at the stroke of the fifty-fifth year. This will be postponed for another five years and I suspect that the ceremony will not include a plough, wheel-barrow and advice about starting life afresh in the village. Jokes are usually made about retirees waking up in the morning and dressing up, only to realize they do not have an office to go to. People, except the retiree, snigger when references are made to the ‘end-month’ ceasing to be a significant financial milestone. The master-of –ceremony will make wise-cracks about how the newly-retired officer is weaned from the learned habit of looking for a newspaper every morning for the first few weeks until reality sets in. The retiree is advised that they now need to start scouting for schools, cattle-dips, health-facilities, churches and local CSO where they can join Governing Councils or committees while being warned against descending to the level of elders chairing matrimonial delegations and funeral committees.
As this day approaches, a question bothers me constantly about the mystic quality this fifty-five number has. What starts or stops at this point? By this time, the average man is almost at the tail end of andropause – the less known male version of menopause- despite bravado filled romantic escapades. At fifty five unless one was very wise there are still children expecting you to be dragging a back to school trolley and hand over a school fees check. At fifty-five many have not yet managed the clichéd financial freedom and unlike the past wen retiring was a good transition today there are puny youth bare out of diapers contesting and winning political offices. The myth of fifty-five being equivalent to the ‘Best before’ public health warning on consumable products, no longer holds true. The technical skills that one gathers over the three decades of work does not suddenly dissipate. Is it conceivable that a surgeon who really perfects his craft at around thirty two years is at the peak of his or her performance at age 55? An engineer, lawyer, teacher, designer are they not mature and ready for real innovation at this point? So, is turning fifty-five really significant? Should the attainment of eighty years not be the new turning point? If that be the case then shouldn’t I be looking forward to the milestone after another 25 years?