Words To 18

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I’ve never met anyone whose father went to prison. Actually I don’t know anyone – friend, acquaintance, neighbour – who has been a guest of the Government Of Kenya. Wait, my cousin Farouk went to prison. Actually two of my cousins have gone to prison in the past ten years. But I don’t know anyone whose father actually went to prison.

Last week I spoke to an 18-year old girl for to mark Safaricom @18. Then a friend called me and said, “Biko, I think you might want to speak to this boy; he’s 18-years old and he’s a bit troubled about his father.” I said, “most of us are.” She said, “But you are not 18-years old.” I said, OK, let’s have his number.

We met at a cafe in Lavington. He comes carrying a knapsack. They all seem to carry knapsacks, these boys, don’t they? He’s got a hard exterior but you can see the softness of his youth. He sits unapologetically, with his legs spread under the table. He stares at the menu like one would a list of genocide perpetrators; with beautiful disdain, almost revulsion, as if the very act of being made to choose what he has to eat is beneath him. His knapsack sits on the chair beside him. When I ask him what’s in the knapsack he answers, “Things,” and that is that. I love it, I love his beauty. His beauty is in his disregard of people, of things, of moments, of me and my act of saying to the waitress, “Orange juice, large, and a cake.” No, thank you, no please. He isn’t trying to be rude, but he’s at that point in life where norms and people who set them just bother him. A point where you want to go to a place without humans, just you and your music and headphones and a knapsack with mysterious contents and maybe a fridge stocked with food. He doesn’t care if this place has a shower. Water is for pussies.

He’s got a scar on his left cheek. Maybe he got it in urban warfare. Maybe he’s a spy for the Ethiopians. We will never know his mystery, we will never understand the shadows of teenagehood from where he lurks. He’s complicated but only because the world is so annoyingly simple. He turned 18 in February. There was no party, no balloon, no cake, just math and chemistry and school. Talking to an 18-year old is like playing Sudoku. Our conversation often feels like I’m driving and he’s riding shotgun and the car stalls and we sit there for a moment in silence until I look at him and ask “Do you want to get out and push?” He says no, rather emphatically, so I sigh and put the car on neutral and I push it from the door frame of the driver’s side and when it gathers momentum I jump in and the engine sputters to life and we drive like this for a while until it stalls again and when I’m about to come out he says, “I will push it.”

It goes something like this. I ask him, “What do you remember about primary school now that makes you feel that you were completely naive in retrospect?” He chews on his cake, something dark, like chocolate cake or something, and he says thoughtfully, almost to himself, “I don’t remember very much of primary school. I was just a child.”

“What do you generally remember as a child?”

“What do I remember as a child?”

“Yes.”

He chuckles. He chuckles not that he has remembered something funny but I suspect he chuckles at how lacklustre and one dimensional that question is to him. Then he says, “My childhood was boring. The usual.”

“What’s the usual? My usual and your usual could be two different usuals.”

“What’s your usual?”

I say, “Family of five, a badass mother, no birthday cakes to cut, no overt expressions of love. Do you tell your mother you love her?”

“No.”

“Does she tell you?”

Pause. “Yeah, when she’s telling me off.”

“Like how, I love you but you are a piece of shit for not taking your studies seriously?”

“Ha-ha. Not like that.”

He sips his juice and looks at his phone. I wait. His brow furrows, making him look older than 18. It must be the Ethiopians checking in with him. He finally comes up for air. He looks 18-years again.

He seems to have forgotten my question, so I ask if he and his siblings tell each other loving words.

“No.”

The waiter comes and asks if we would like anything else. I say no, thanks. The waiter and I both look at him but he’s looking out across the parking. “Would you like something else?” I ask him. He looks at the waiter and says, “No.”

He then says, “My parents took me to boarding school when I was in class 4.”

“Oh,” I say, getting excited that he’s finally offered something I didn’t ask. “How was that?”

“It was fucked up, man.”

“What was fucked up about it?”

He says the cold mornings [it was in Central] and the food was “horrendous,” and he was mostly miserable and homesick.

Was there any good that came out of it?

“Yeah, it taught me not to give a fuck.”

“About what, the bad food or the cold?”

He laughs. “No, about everything. About people. And, you know, stuff. I can survive anywhere!”

[Note: even Ethiopia.]

“Is not giving a fuck about people and situations a good thing? Does it make you cold inside?”

“No, it makes me strong. Not many things will affect me. If someone did something bad to me I will finish that friendship and won’t feel bad about it. That’s what I mean.”

“And you learned all this in boarding school.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

“Girls are stress, man.”

I laugh. Yeah. You must look back at your boarding school life and feel grateful that you went through that experience?

“No, I wish I didn’t. It was bad, man. I was only 9-years old when I went. I think my parents wanted to live their lives without me that’s why they took me to boarding school.”

Live their lives?

“Yeah, party and all. I don’t remember seeing my father much, and my mother was always out with her friends. So I think they took me to boarding because they didn’t have time for me.”

Or maybe they wanted to give you a different experience, I say, sounding like Oprah.

“What experience? Who takes their 9-year old son to boarding school? Would you take your nine year old to boarding school?”

I shake my head. I ask if he’s mad at them for doing that.

“Of course I am! Who does that! I would never take my child to a boarding school in primary, it’s just fucked up.”

I’m sure it was out of love.

“No, it was out of selfishness.”

Have you discussed with your parents about this? Have you unpacked this, I ask.

I feel so phony using that word unpack. I feel completely pretentious. Everybody seems to be using this word lately, it’s the buzz word that suggests that we are people who are in touch with their deepest feelings and are brave to have a glimpse into that side of our humanity. I want to burt thinking that I’ve now become someone who uses the word unpack. I was doing so well. I had only less than two weeks to the end of the year and I would have said that I was the only person in nairobi who hasn’t used that word. Not anymore. Now, I’m just like the rest of them. I’m ashamed.

“No, not really. I asked my mom when I was in Form 2 and she said that she took me there because it was a great school.”

You don’t believe her.

“Fuck no.”

Did you ask your father?

Sigh. “My dad is in jail.”

Boom.

Here is how these things go. Half the time you are just shooting the breeze. The conversation just meanders around topics like a lazy village river. It’s like shooting in the dark. You ask this, the person says that. You ask that, the other person says this. There is a faint scent but you don’t know of what. You poke in holes to see if a rabbit is there and mostly there is no rabbit. You shake bushes. Turn stones. Then suddenly a hare darts out of a hole you weren’t even poking into and for a moment you are stunned by that very event, you remain immobile thinking, what the hell? Is that…is that a hare? At that moment you know that the hunt has changed irredeemably. So you chase the damned hare, sometimes you catch it, other times it darts into another hole and you poke into that hole but it never comes out.

Only that he doesn’t want to talk about his father. He looks away from my questions, he growls and grunts into them, he spits with his eyes at the mention of his father, he grinds his teeth, an action that shows against his cheeks when he thinks about him. I get little fragments of information about his father; reading his father’s name in the newspaper in the school library as one of the men who were in custody over graft or something to do with corruption. Seeing his last name in the paper and wondering how surreal that was and how nobody in the whole school connected the dots because nobody read the newspapers in the library. Him going to the library daily to check the progress of the case and finally learning of a jail-term. Then waiting for the mother to come to school to deliver the news and her not coming and even the first day he went home for holidays her not saying that your dad is not coming back home tonight because he’s being hosted by the government of Kenya. But even when she mentioned it the following day, he stared at her blankly and “felt nothing because I didn’t really know him.”

Have you gone to visit him?

“No.”

Have you thought of visiting him?

“No.”

If you were to visit him what would you ask him?

“I would not visit him.”

Are you mad at him?

“No. How can you be mad at someone you barely know? He hasn’t participated in raising me.”

He paid for your roof and clothes and fees.

“A sponsor can do that. Children in orphanage get roofs and clothes and fees from donors, are they their father?”

You are mad at him. Maybe you are afraid to invest emotion in him.

He rolls his eyes.

“What I’m afraid of is becoming like him.”

And what’s that?

He folds his hands across his chest and sighs, picking the most acerbic words necessary to describe this man.

“Selfish. Greedy.” Pause. “A thief.”

I take pluck the side of his cake and taste it. It’s moist, like fungus. Not that I’ve eaten fungus. A thief. What do you say to that? I demolish a side of his cake and eat it while he checks something with his base commander in Addis. Maybe some new intel. Maybe a new job. Who knows? Who knows anything anymore? Who knows what’s in that knapsack? Or in that heart. He keeps everything under his hat.

What men do you look up to?

“Like mentors?”

Exactly.

“We had a mentorship program in school, there a gentleman who is a doctor, what’s his name…” his brows furrow again, “I forget his name.”

You have forgotten your mentor’s name. He won’t be thrilled.

“I doubt he remembers my name. He’d come around twice a term this year and sit down with a group of us, maybe ten boys?”

What did you learn about those sessions?

“Nothing much. Just career and life…stuff.”

What did he tell you about life?

He thinks about it and rubs his arm, pursing his lips. “ I honestly don’t remember.”

Now he seems bored. I might have taken too much of his time. He fidgets, he leans over the balcony and looks at the roofs of cars parked downstairs. He looks at the door of the cafe, as if he’s expecting someone – Ethiopian secret agents. The spaces between his fingers are ashen, like he was writing on the blackboard before coming here. He plays with his spoon. I stare at his hands, they are still a boy’s hands because he’s still a boy but coming into a man. He has opinions. He has fears. He has anger. He hates his father. Or he thinks he does. Or it’s disappointment. I ask him a few questions but he’s already left the room and left his body before the half eaten cake.

As I run my debit card he asks me if I remember when I was his age. I say, I don’t. Not really. I remember being hungry all the time. And the talent to eat a whole loaf of bread. And being shy and awkward and silent. When we parted I felt like I should have done more for him. That I should have told him something that could put him in a different path.

But then you are here and you might have a piece of advice to tell an 18-year old. What would you tell your own 18-year old self?

***

Also, I doubt I will write a post next week. My head is somewhere far with sand and birds and someone asking, “do you want it with ice?” It’s been a great year. We are healthy and alive and blessed and most importantly we are not allergic to guacamole. Thanks for being here this year. Don’t drink and drive. Use a condom. Give the poor and the least fortunate. Kiss your children, one day they will not want to be kissed. The last person here should switch the lights off.

See you on the 8th January. Inshallah.

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167 Comments
  1. No, it makes me strong. Not many things will affect me. If someone did something bad to me I will finish that friendship and won’t feel bad about it. That’s what I mean.”

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      1. Is it though? The parent made a choice that at the time was right but with a negative outcome. Parenting is hard, we do our best but who knows how our kids will translate it when they’re grown?

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    1. I went to boarding school at 9 as well (class 4). Lovely parents, average childhood…sorry to trot out the cliche but ‘not all parents…’, ‘not all experiences’ etc. I made life long friends, built character, got good enough marks to get into my 1st choice school & form 1 was a breeze (no home sickness like lots of the other kids)….10/10 would recommend it.

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      1. Different situations work differently for everyone.The same way everything else does. Some people thrive in marriages, some people end up getting a divorce. Others fall in love easily, others take time. Sure there are parents that are selfish and can do that to ‘live their life’ but some parents are forced by circumstances and their kids end up fine, Everyone should take the road they CAN trudge on.

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  2. Advice to 18YOs, life ahead can be a maze. Focus on what you want to be, what you want to do, be easy and adjustable. Be yourself, respect your parents, they are wiser than you.
    You will make mistakes, learn from them.

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  3. Anger can be damaging if not controlled. I would tell him to dance, join dance classes ,they have a way of making u extremly happy for some reason.

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    1. The buck has to stop somewhere. Just because you were not shown love doesn’t justify you not showing love to your children. It,s just a mediocre of an excuse.

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  4. To my 18 year old self,

    Some men are a piece of S.H.I.T!
    They will hurt you. When you go to ask why they did, they will hurt you again . Never touching you but their words will break you.
    But dear darling, do not let the SHIT men fill your soul with bitterness. 20s is supposed to be a period you fell everything. You live.
    So my dear 18 year old, forgive, let go, let God and L.I.V.E!
    Life is beautiful

    Happy holidays Biko!!

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    1. This is beautiful and true… I’d my 18 year old self,” Read more books, the wisdom of people’s lives can help ur life. Read Biko’s blog, you can learn a lot of things and you would have passed your English from this.”
      Such is life, you win or you learn.

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  5. Advice to 18YOS, get out of the cage, you cannot change the past but you can learn from it. Sometimes we have to accept the apology that was never given to make peace with the past and move on.

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  6. He should forgive his parents they let him down but he has to move on free of the hate and anger. At least he has learned from one of their mistakes and has said he will not take his own child to a boarding school while in Primary.

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  7. Noooo! Before you go you must give us those lists of yours; books you have read, places you have visited, lessons of 2018, etc! The tribe demands it!

    On the real though, Bikozulu you are loved! Thank you for your consistency and for sharing with over the last – give or take – 52 Tuesdays.

    I think you have a good heart and I like to witness how you use it to make other people’s lives better or easier. May God bless you and may 2019 come with more promise and bigger opportunities. #Allthewayup.

    Merry Christmas

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  8. I absolutely love how you stuck to the Ethiopian spy story. What I would tell my 18 year old self: it gets harder, but you get tougher and more resilient so keep believing in yourself. Happy Holidays.

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  9. Note to 18year old me:
    By the time you are 24 you will not have life figured out. Nobody ever does. They are all just out there winging it. Take it just one day at a time. Do what you love and never fit into anyone’s expectation of you.
    Do not give into depression and find even one friend you can talk to no matter how hard that is. Love your mother more she is the realest with you. Keep God close,life will be so much peaceful. do not beat yourself up when you haven’t achieved what you wanted to. Just get up and try again
    Lastly you are solid gold baby,love yourself more

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  10. I loved boarding school (Joined when I was 11). Mainly because it freed me to read all the novels and storybooks I could get my hands on and not having any household chores was bliss. It also makes one strong I believe I can survive in any situation (not sure about a war). At 18 being angry at the world is acceptable but a word of caution do not do anything rash that you will regret when you have a son. Forgiveness and acceptance such simple words to write but so very difficult to implement is what our boy needs. Then resolving to mend fences, simple to plan but not easy to actualise. Makes me sound like a consultant or a social worker.

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  11. Dear 18 yr old,
    Life is hard only if you let it be, your family loves you and will always try their best to protect you despite your stubbornness. Try to understand every situation.
    Everyone who is “n” years older than you has had more experience than you and has probably gone through something you are or are going to. Listen to what they have to say and learn from their mistakes.
    Don’t listen to everything but do like the digestive system: swallow(listen), digest (think) and retain the good stuff, excrete the bad stuff.
    Enjoy your youth as much as you need, no pressure to grow up.

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  12. Advice to 18 year old self. You’re Not going to marry anyone from college – You aren’t going to marry Dianna, Anne, Carol, etc. Stop wasting your time, stop wasting your good time because that’s where you go wrong!! *If you know you know*

    Happy festive season folks.

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  13. We have a problem and we are afraid to admit it. we all want to live good life; fixated and in pursuit we neglect our very own future ! Our children don’t love phones that much, the phones are filling an emotional gap we created.

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  14. “But then you are here and you might have a piece of advice to tell an 18-year old. What would you tell your own 18-year old self?”
    I actually cannot advice but if given a chance to turn back the hands of time ,i would not be naive as i was then,would take time and listen then take action,i wouldn’t get angry with any challenges and situations.
    Happy holidays too.

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  15. I am 31 now but I felt transported back to when I was 18. It was a very confusing time. I had just joined campus. I was still a virgin. My childhood was a bit similar to the young lad’s. Yes, I was shipped off to a boys only primary boarding when I was 9 yrs 3 months. Yes it was in central. Yes it was cold and the food was shit laced with paraffin. I was a bedwetter. Sometimes I’d sleep on cold, urine drenched beddings because they would not dry; March- April, June- July & October it rained constantly and the cold was terrible. The dorm smelled like a River road joint urinal. We went through El Nino in school And yes, I can survive anywhere. High school was a breeze compared to where I’d just come from. And I’m talking about a school where monos slept in trees to escape bullies.

    What I’d tell the young man is:
    1. Do not rush things. Savour your youth. I was a virgin till 20. Now I have a great wife and 2 sons. By the way no primary boarding for them I can tell you that.
    2. Life is hard. You are lucky you have been through hell because nothing can faze you now. I’ve had horrible bosses who would try break me but to no avail. I’ m getting paid bitch this harassment ain’t shit compared to what I’ve been through. Because of that I’ve been able to shine in my career and have a degree of upward mobility.
    3. Your father was just unlucky. He is not the first nor will he be the last ‘thief’. Hell, in this part of the world we reward such with executive political seats. Have a change of heart and try forgive him. Visit him in jail. Break him with love and kindness. Believe me, when he is gone, you will be at peace more than burying him with ‘beef’.
    4. Forgive your parents. In the old days kids were raised the hard way. Maybe they wanted to enjoy life a bit. Maybe they thought the school was good for you. That is now water under the bridge. I believe we have to break that chain otherwise it becomes a vicious cycle. I kiss my kids and tell them I love them everyday. As human beings we are not perfect, we just have to keep trying.
    5. GirlS are stress! Focus on the plural here. Find one you love and who loves you back. Do not go chasing waterfalls. Listen to the TLC song if you don’t get me!

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    1. How astounding that several people -including myself- can totally relate to this. Definitely taking your advice to the bank, not only for me but also to share with the young ones who are probably within the same emotional space. Merry Christmas

    2. Sounds like St. Martin’s Boys.. Primary Boarding I mean. I remember the experience. In the hardest of days I learned to take a day at a time. Then you realize a month is gone and you have survived.. Hallelujah!
      Bill Duke said, “When I was young, I thought my father a fool. Now that I’ve grown older, ooh how wise he has become.”

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      1. I knew somebody would out the school. Good job Eric. All the lads I know from our former ‘barracks’ are tough cookies making their bones in this world. How about that for a silver lining from that darkest of clouds??? Cheers & prosperous 2019!!

  16. Buckle up sweetheart. The deeps will feel like an abyss. the highs will catapult you to the blue skies and make you think you never walk on the earth like mortals. Then one day it will get all too much, you will need it to all stop, but you are not the driver. You are stuck. Buckle up sweetheart.

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  17. Waoh. Tough. That 18 year old has so much he is carrying (even in that bag). I wish his parent knows what he need now is to feel needed, and pity that for whatever reason his view of being taken to boarding school for his parents to get rid of him is still haunting him. My advise to him would be: Life is unfair, you feel you were not treated well, but you need to decide what you want from life. Make a decision on what kind of life you want, the fear of becoming your father should be overcome by the desire to be the better man, the best you can be. Do not concentrate on what you do not want but what you want. Being 18 means you are responsible for your life, and despite how you feel your parents, life has treated you, I still repeat what my high school principal told us every so often and still strikes me as very true man many many…many years later “It does not matter what happens to you but how you handle what happens to you”

    Happy holidays, Merry Christmas and an awesome new year. Thanks Biko for keeping us entertained and reminding us to be human.

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  18. Story of our lives.
    I so identify with him. Incidentally I didnt hate my dad though. I visited him till he was pardoned. Mom never went. Today is his death anniversary. Wish the young man can be mentored.

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  19. Its funny how we are lost at 18. Parents don’t help either, maybe because they are more lost than you are. All that will not matter in 10 years. You will be thinking of other things like, why you are not married,driving, or having jack Daniels like your other friends. Why you have to work twice as much to get half as much. Then you realize that life is a fallacy or rather it is what it is…..
    Anyway, i wish you well in your journey. You are lucky someone got to listen to you over cake.

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  20. What would I tell my 18 year old self? That parents sometimes make mistakes because they are human, they might say things, do things that will hurt but learn to forgive and let go. Talk to some – a counselor, a pastor or priest. Don’t forget to pray. Ask God to take the lead in your life. If you don’t – your hurt, anger and resentment will spill over to your school, job, relationships, basically your entire life. Get help, pray, forgive and let go…

    Will miss you next week Biko! Happy Holidays!

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  21. To my 18year old self. It’s never that serious…
    Stop parenting your parents..let them handle their issues.
    Be happy and enjoy your youth

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  22. Growing up, we miss and long to be with even the ‘shitiest’ of fathers. The sooner you forgive yours the better. Perhaps before we start taking for napkins made of glass filled with gin and ice. I know an 18-year-old won’t resonate with this, but we can always try. He who conquers himself, is mighty.

    Boy if you are reading this, this is it!

    Thanks for good writes all year round, Biko!
    Adios

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  23. I feeloke there ought to have been more to this story,no?

    8th Jan looks like so far….sigh!

    Happy holidays Biko to you and yours!

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  24. horrendous not a word i would associate with food but again it has never been sweet 18!ah hiyo nikuekelewa.
    i never did it.so my advice to an 18?never get caught.

  25. Hi, Biko. Cool post. I don’t know how to advise that young man. He sounds hardy like those plants that grow in arid areas. Maybe just tell him that it gets better. The end is almost always better than the beginning.

    Now, what to say to my 18 year old self? … Hmmm.

    Honestly, I have nothing. My 18 year old self was smart. He knew when he did the right thing and when he messed up. He knew not to let the hormones control him but did he listen? Nooo…

    I’d probably tell him that he’d better lay off the French fries. That BMI won’t always be 18.6. One day he explodes into the Michelin Man. And go to the gym. It’s easier to hope for abs once you know that you had them once.
    I need abs 18 year old me!
    Also, 18 year old me, read the GOT books before you watch the series. They’re super lengthy and I know you have free time, it won’t take as long as it’s taking now.

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  26. Trying to figure out how the next 2 Tuesday’s will look like without that anticipated email.. “New Post from Biko Zulu…” will be tough… It’s like going to hospital and being told your fav doctor is not in…
    Anyway thank you Biko for being THE great writing architect.
    Merry Christmas to you and to the tribe.

    P. S don’t forget to switch off the lights.

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  27. Happy holidays Biko-and thanks for a great year.

    I feel for that young man and i actually agree with him that taking a child to boarding school at that age is tantamount to throwing him/her away. I once wrote a letter to my parents asking them if i was a stone thrown in a school (this is because they said they wont make it for visiting day). And they were so tough headed they didn’t even show up after my rant. If i dont show up over Christmas, will it be payback?!!

    My advise to him: Continue not to give a Fuck!!!

    Advice to my 18 year old self: Its never that serious

    1
  28. *1st Comment Ever* I’m always one of the silent readers.

    I can relate to him. In form 1, I was taken to a school I DID NOT like at all. My folks promised me to change schools after 1 st term.

    The 1st term translated to 2nd term, 2nd term to form 2 and finally never. I was so devastated especially since I learnt that I got the letter from one of my ideal schools but my folks didn’t budge.

    I believe they did that for love as much as I now realize being in the wrong school for four years kind of messed me up. I would have performed better in another school.

    Advice to my 18yr old self?

    Be careful with the kind of company you keep. After a few years of adulting, you will realize how obnoxious you were to prioritize some people who add no value and those who won’t prioritize you.

    Also, LOVE YOURSELF immensely. Put yourself as priority all the time.

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  29. Going to boarding school is the worst thing a parent could do to their kids. In my primary school we had kids in boarding from Kindergarten. I may never understand the situation at home but it’s cruel.

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  30. Well he has a chip no a boulder on his shoulder. Well i would tell my eighteen year old self, to go out more to socialise to just go on dates and not have that one long relationship that ended badly. That making mistakes is part of life and that you grow from them. Shows that you are trying.

    Don’t get stuck, never get stuck. Keep moving onwards

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  31. Its been a good year @Biko. Enjoy your holiday. God’s blessings and thanks for bringing laughter in our lives and also getting out of society that what wouldn’t ordinarily be out. My prayers are that those who seeked help go it, those who seeked release, go it and you, got a moment of satisfaction.

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  32. Wow, do I just love your pieces Biko.
    I imagine myself in that boy when I was 18, due to such childhood experiences you think you’ve seen and had enough and you got answers to all life questions. And you carry your world in a small heart if not a knapsack, and everyone around you seem not to get a gist about you. Later on in life as years add on to your 18, it would be a choice to unpack and learn and just grow, we are never in a position to be consultants to our parents.

    I wish to save up and join your master class Biko.

  33. Have a great year too SB and thanks for entertaining and informing us. We are better humans because of you…at least that’s how I feel.

    Happy holidays!

    JK

    1
  34. Happy Holidays Biko! Its been a good year and your blogs have entertained me. For the 18 year olds out there, learn from the mistakes of the folks who have gone before you, you may not live long enough to make them all! And don’t you worry about anything, you are exactly where you are supposed to be

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  35. 18 is when you become old enough to realize the mistakes your parents made while raising you, but young enough to refuse to let that define you. You can still bend and straighten, learn new tricks. Maturity is deciding to pick the good and leave the bad in yesterdays. It’s tough, you’ll fail at times, but your life is yours and your decisions truly shape you. Keep good friends, pursue your interests, talk to Biko now that you’ve met him. Or anyone who you can trust. warning: they too will be flawed. Lastly, your parents hurt you. I am so sorry. I get it. I was raised by a stepmother so I can understand how it’s like to grow up feeling unwanted. Nobody can tell you how to feel, but likewise, two wrongs will never make a right. The resentment and anger that a parent can inflict is the not comparible to any other human emotions. It’s confusing becasue deep down, you just want them to truly care. I hope that you heal from the trauma of neglect and abandonment. I am still learning, but it gets better. Merry Christmas!

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  36. Advice to 18 year old its never that serious do you then one day when you are older enough you will be like I’m glad I did that believe you me
    Hata Mimi 2018 haitaisha kama sijatumia believe you me.Happy holidays

  37. Touching story biko,and I learnt a lot,am over 18 but I’ll love to meet 28 year olds and hear their stories too. See you next year by Gods grace

  38. thanks for always providing insightful stories I reread your articles all over and over each time I feel like am losing touch or am wandering with decisions. kiss ur kids more coz someday they won’t want to be kissed….and life is short thanks enjoy ur holiday.

  39. Staying mad at your parents is like drinking poison and expecting them to die. He should free himself from the anger. He will be able to smile and enjoy life without resentment.

    1
  40. to my 18 year old…seek God and you will fid Him,knock His door and it will be opened,ask of Him and He will answer.so sorry for the pain.
    happy holidays Biko but it will be awesome hearing from you on Tuesday.

    1
  41. I came here and the lights were still on, advice to my 18 year old ; Relax, getting kids and having a husband is not a requirement to qualify that you have your life in order.
    Now as a 29 year old woman going on 30, I’m glad the *get-married at 21 and have kids* wave passed me.
    Per se is my buzz word

    3
  42. I would tell my 18 year old self to not fear the unknown to take each day as it comes and know that life tends to work itself out. To believe in the beauty of my dreams and live!!

  43. I also went to boarding school when i was 9. Totally fucked up my life. I hoped to die, i was bored, the teachers were harsh. I was the smallest girl in the entire school. I hated school, i hated my teachers, i hated my Mom. I hoped we would crash on the way to school, that the bus would crash at Nithi bridge. Gosh..I was a mad little person.
    I have vowed not to take my daughter to boarding school because I want to get to know her.To guide her, to be her friend… I didn’t know my mother until I got married, we barely spoke apart from the usual greetings. I know they did it out of love but I believe I would have turned out differently.
    Happy holidays Biko. I need a drink.

    4
  44. to my 18 year-old self: seek God, avoid bad company, live life to the fullest, be adventurous, enjoy the simple things in life.
    Happy hols
    Peace man!!

    1
  45. Considering his age, perhaps he expresses himself better in writing. You should text to check on him. Hopefully, if he responds well to this, he could have two mentors: one whose advise he remembers and the other!! Also, you should have at the very least made up a name for him to make it easy for your audience to address him; maybe Joe?

    Joe, this may sound very cliche but I promise you let out your frustrations, even if with a stranger like me in writing, you will feel much better, InshaAllah. You are 18 and hopefully have a long life ahead. Please don’t let your past 9 years of experience ruin what is in store for you!! Seek dialogue!! All the best my friend!

    2
  46. To My 18 year old self……Just live life as it is ..don’t take things/people too seriously…Invest in what you feel is useful but try to detach your emotions from it.
    Don’t care too much about people lest they think they deserve it…
    Be alive and free to all possibilities..(cc Vennie..haha)

    I feel for him…
    Inshallah Biko!!!

    2
  47. To my 18year old self, life is tough and so are you. Learn to live by first loving and forgiving thyself. Life is too short to harbour grudges.
    Till next year chocolate man.

  48. I have nothing to say to this 18 yr old..at 18 I was a goody-two shoes who listened to everything I was told by all older people, and robotically obeyed due to fear….which I realize in retrospect was foolish. Just because people are older doesn’t mean they are right. This is a lesson I can give to my daughter…I give her space to challenge my opinions, to question everything, to discuss and ask me anything.

    I will pray for this fellow however; commit Him to God for God to intervene in this situation.
    Boarding school is definitely not for 9 yr olds. The best time is from 15 yrs upwards,…at least someone has some level of maturity, and can put ice cold water in a bucket at 5 am, dip a toe, then the other toe, dip a hand, sing as you lather up and with one shout, toss the rest of the water down your back.

    2018 was hard…I hope for better days in 2019.
    Happy holidays Bwana Biko and to everyone up in here…remember “If you must drink, don’t drive..and if you must drive don’t drink..”
    Fasten your seatbelts too! Save lives!

    5
    1. Wouldn’t it be great if it were simple to be a parent? Like if babies were born with a manual? Unfortunately they aren’t and each one is different from the next and what works for one wouldn’t work for the other. Many parents make difficult decisions all the time that they must not because they want to but life isn’t ideal, you play with the cards you’re dealt

      1
  49. I went to boarding school when i was 6 ,not because my parents didn’t want me but where we lived there were no schools due to inter community clashes.
    I was homesick, I cried everyday. I missed home, I got sick pneumonia malaria typhoid… and when my mom came to visit I didn’t want her to leave. Looking back it wasn’t easy for her either.
    Boarding school hardened me. I can fit anywhere. Also I met some amazing people that I’m friends with till today.

    I hope you get healing

    Merry Christmas everyone!

    3
  50. Advice to my 18 year old self – When you hit 25 Don’t take too long to:
    1. Trust your intuition
    2. Be yourself
    3. Open yourself up to new possibilities
    Because this is exactly who you are at 18, don’t change who you are or what you believe in for anyone. Be the highest level of yourself, the world will adjust. Oh, and don’t be too hard on your kids, that’s your past trying to lead the way, don’t give it too much leeway.
    Love and light, Cate

  51. To my 18 year old self
    There is still a whole life outside waiting for you, a whole lot you haven’t seen and felt. So don’t crush yet , don’t feel rushed and don’t be scared to make mistakes because you are yet to try so many times and fail. Peter will still break your heart and tom will be standing by the doorway to console you with the intentions of crushing the pieces even more. A computer job with a muhindi boss will frustrate you and every day you wake up you curse him beneath your breath, half way through your choice of career you will feel like you made the biggest mistake of your life and mostly ask yourself why you choose that career, one night after dundaing you will have too much to drink and probably loose control and swear never to drink again but still drink to confirm that you can handle your liquor well. Then you are in your 20s and everything starts to make sense. Skipping church is not an option,you drink occasionally, your job makes you happy,family is everything, the right person comes your way and everything starts to make total sense and you look back and wonder kumbe there was a whole life waiting for me. A life of risks and mistakes and joy and so much more, so just be easy on yourself it gets better.

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  52. Until I read this I didn’t realise that my father was a jail bird for two weeks. Ooh the peace we enjoyed for those two weeks. I would advise the young guy to forgive his father and visit him in jail coz I later regretted not visiting my Dad. I don’t know what jail does to people but my father’s tune afterwards was how much he loved me while two weeks ago I was a good for nothing kid. Happy holidays y’all.

  53. I went to boarding school at 8 and a half years. Then, I thought my parents hated me. Later I realized they did not want me to see all the nonsense they themselves went through fighting and disrespecting each other. A lot of us who went to day-schools are bruised by their absent and sometimes abusive fathers. Tons of girls here are just mending their relationships with their mothers who beat them like drums and abused them everyday growing up (watch auntie Jemimah clips youtube and FB and see how many women relate to the insults). I left the teachers who treated me like crap behind and will never have to see them for the rest of my life but my parents are tied to my hip and I am glad I did not experience their abuse as a day scholar. Just like you, boarding school hardened me, I do not force friendships, I do not care for much as we never had much at school, I would probably have left the half eaten cake as you did. Boarding schools just make you Emotionally disconnected with most things which is not necessarily a bad thing.

    As a man 2 and a half times your age I would tell you at 18, life gets hard before it gets harder then depending on where YOU, not Your Mother not Your Father steer it, things might turn out to be really good and fun like Bikos and a lot of other over 18’s on this forum.lol

    You are allowed to be lost at this stage but start working on finding yourself, parents are not permanent fixtures, They did their part and at 18 you should start to know what you want to be and be glad they did not drop you dead as a toddler, run you over with their car, drunk drive and kill you, dose the house with paraffin, and a lot of other fucked up things parents have done with their kids. Most parents can’t even parent themselves, walk into a few bars this weekend and see and you will probably learn a few things. You are probably in the 80th if not higher percentile of kids who did not get the worst from their parents. I don’t know but deep inside your fathers heart, he was probably “stealing” trying to provide for you guys. The real thieves are not in jail.

    Go to college, look for a job, start investing, you will thank me later, date a few girls you will also thank me later for this, and by 23 things will start to make sense if you give them to make a chance in your mind. Just like me and a lot of others, I would not stay in day school if I woke up as an 8.5 year old today and found my parents as toxic as they were to each other. I would ask for tin trunk, a panga, a plastic bucket and a 2 inch think yellow mattress and head out back to std 4 in a place where I would never witness my parents who I love to shreds today nonsense.

    Have a great Holiday Biko, your Family, the 18 year old, and the rest of the readers here. You are the Whispers of my midlife. I read your column as faithfully as I read him many moons back.

    8
    1. Your comment actually dug up lost memories. I was also in boarding school. I never saw or heard my parents fight. But my little brother did. I only came to I know about it when he and ma talked about it. My dad was my hero. I really loved him I just couldn’t relate what they would tell me with the man I knew as my dad. As they say ignorance is bliss..

      2
  54. Note to 18 year old self – Appreciate all opportunities and work harder every day. This is one bitter 18 year old! I hope he finds peace and at some point soon reconcile with his parents.

    1
  55. Great piece. As for the 18 years old, he’s messed up and his Mum should probably do more.

    In regards to taking kids to boarding schools at that tender age, I know of a lot of them who turned out well.

    It has been a great year, cheers!

  56. Thank you Biko, for teaching me something new every Tuesday. Thank you for the lives you’ve touched through your posts every Tuesday, for making us, the gang, want to be better people, by the way you treat others. Thank you for teaching us to be givers, by being a giver yourself. May the good Lord grant you long life, to keep impacting society positively. Happy holidays everyone.

    1
  57. So everyone literally (how could I not use this word) decided to comment. Am happy to have read almost all this years articles. Felt as if I was travelling with you Biko and meeting new people. Am now waiting for January eighth, LIGHTS OFF!!!!

  58. Hey, nice read, Happy Holidays!
    Taking kids to boarding school at a young age when they need the warmth and love of parents can really take a toll on them. They learn to fight their battles, Discover things and seek answers from their friends instead of parents and sometimes learn to be on their own if the parents don’t make up for this time.
    That said, I will tell this 18-year old to work on being the best he can be since he has a whole life ahead of him, to be a Victor and not a Victim despite all the parents did and di not do. Finally, every day to Wake up, Dress up and Show up no matter what.
    Lights Out hahaha

  59. Its been a great year. I have been entertained and learnt many great a lesson from this page. Well, i cant wait for next year for the blaze to continue.

  60. Well Out 2018 Biko! You gave me something to look forward to every week. Happy Holidays! Hey, and I listened to you on ENGAGE!

    I sympathise with that young man. Wish the mother can be close to him or help him relate with an uncle, friend or a counselor and go to church with him.

    As a mentor, easy going with young people and mother of 2 outspoken, confident and brilliant teens, I would like to engage him and introduce him to my teens. … If that would help his forgiving, healing and exploiting his potential.

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  61. i have an 18 year old. i fought with him a lot. Because i had a lousy 18 myself; and no dad to fight me or do what dads are supposed to do with their 18 year olds. so we fought a lot. well, i fought until I told him the truth.

    i didn’t want him being like me. at 18, at 35, at 40.

    he gave me that look(he still does).

    dad, I am doing so much better than you were at my age. So, please…

    i have stopped fighting and though we don’t laugh much, se don’t cry much either.

    and oh yes, his room smells. mine did, too. i thought it was the ventilation, bad hygiene and attempts at water conservation. then i read that it is an adolescent thing.

    it does not last forever.

    i am glad especially because he will not be 18 till he dies.

    everything’s gonna be ok

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  62. Let me switch the lights off and then come back later to check whether they are really off. I can do that several times, I read somewhere it’s a condition At least I have read all the posts this year. Thank you Biko for keeping us posted with such words like “upack”

  63. I don’t know about the boarding option…I’m actually now reconsidering it for the young one..

    On the dad issue, the mum should have spoken to him. Maybe the dad committed the crime, but maybe he did not. We all know getting information from a newspaper is not a true way of being informed. My take: even if he did commit the crime, a tender lie and kumpaka baba mafuta at that age wouldn’t have hurt. You can always blurt out the truth in old age, it’s allowed and forgiven even

    PS: yes, I’m not above lying to kids if it stretches their innocence and gives me time to prepare for truth delivery

    1
  64. 1. A t 18 i was pretty happy i had cleared high school, had great friends, wasn’t that into boys so no male stress. the only thing that bothered me were my form 4 results.my advice. it gets bad.good horrible. .then great.so hang in there always.
    2. Its cruel to send a 9 year old to boarding. i would quit my job before i let that happen,also i have friends who went that young and what they all have in common is that they all dont give a fuck and aren’t that close to their parents. and feel they can survive anywhere, which to me is actually a bit sad.
    3.Biko you have eaten a fungus(eye roll)..MUSHROOMS ARE FUNGI…you’re welcome.Unless of corse you have never eaten mushrooms , then never mind.

    Merry xmas.

  65. I went to boarding school at 9 too, most of my mates did and I don’t remember us being so angry at our parents. We love them old gits.

  66. The only thing I can remember at 18 was my grades to propel me to my dream career and the campus of my choice. Early age boarding school has its flip side of either one becoming rebelious or how the boy termed it “not giving a fuck” or you can survive in any situation

  67. So many of us walk around with wounds from our past inflicted by our parents. Am turning 29 this week and this is what ad say to my 18-year old self,

    Thou you didn’t feel his love and he has not been much of a father to you, let go of the pain, let go of the anger, forgive allow God to heal your wounds . It will be easy sometimes and really hard sometimes but take one day at time, i promise it gets better.

    Merry Xmas.
    Lights off.

  68. Merry Christmas Biko. Thank you for always giving me something to look forward to. Hahaha I meant your articles.
    See you 8th January. Inshallah.

  69. Biko! When I read this “Biko, I think you might want to speak to this boy; he’s 18-years old and he’s a bit troubled about his father.” I was like biko -please? That’s because in Nigeria biko means please.

    First, I’m 18. My parents are trying in all. My dad hugs and pecks me, I can remember he kisses me when I was small. But Mom isn’t that way, she just want to be herself and make sure the children are fine. No hugs, mother to daughter talks and all. The first time she said something close to this motherly talk was when I was leaving for the polytechnic, it was very short. Very very, I remember well. Still I love mom that way, she’s shy and almost an introvert even with her children.

    I’ll be 19 March next year and I know I won’t be 18 again, so then I’ll say to my 18 year old self how poorly she took life. How she took jokes out of everything. How she got lazy for no reason. How she’s almost wasting art. How she didn’t take Dad so seriously and how it’s almost costing her.
    Her 19 year old self is singing to her ears why she has to try meet up in three months the nine months wasted in the 12 months she’s said to be 18.
    Her 19 year old self is also glad she made joy her religion. But wants her to network and connect more.
    Her 19 year old self just want her to be better than her 18 year old self.

    ___

    I do not want to imagine how hard it must have been for the 18 year old boy you told about.
    I just want him to pour out his emotions, cry if need be.
    He doesn’t have to be strong if he doesn’t want to be. He grow better.
    I’m sending love to him!

    Merry Christmas and a happy new year to you in advance Biko!

  70. Advise to the 18 year old. Get a mentor and walk with them. Cling on them for advise and dont let go . You will need alot of loving to get out of where you are but when you do, you wont want to do anything else in your life but to fly.
    I wish you well and just know someone out here relates to your story.

  71. I went to boarding at the age of eight. I was in Standard Four. I am ten years older than the boy you interviewed and one thing I know will not change; those walls will not be coming down. Not any time soon.

    He’s eighteen years old now. At that age, all I did was watch movies, read a book and drink. Any relationship I formed, I knew at the back of my mind was temporary. I was right. Always.

    By the time I was his age, I had mastered the art of not giving a duck. It got so bad that I wouldn’t get up to shake your hand if you’re a stranger who came to visit my parent.

    As I grew older though, I noticed that the very very few people I cared about, I cared about them with my life. I hope the same happens with this kid. He’ll care about a few people. And they’ll hurt him. And his reaction will be to put himself under that impenetrable dome again and he’ll people who’ll only be trying to reach out to him.

    Ten years older than him, one thing I’ve learned about him, having grown up in a similar environment as him (boarding school at a young age, absentee father) is that I always spend my time looking over my shoulder, because there’s an omnipresent feeling there’s someone out there trying to get me emotionally.

    And when I let my guard down and get hurt, I build stronger walls around myself and remind myself I’ve never formed a permanent relationship with anybody since birth. Not really. And I’m still alive today. As long as I don’t bleed on people who didn’t hurt me, I’m happy with the man I’ve grown to become.

    Also, I hope you read. A lot. There’s nothing stronger than an intelligent human being who just doesn’t give a fuck.

    1
  72. Responsible parenting is turning out to be a big issue most millennial parents are grappling with. I was in boarding school for the better part of my 8.4.4 system. Regardless, I still felt loved and cared for by my parents.

  73. Responsible parenting is turning out to be a big issue most millennial parents are grappling with. I was in boarding school for the better part of my 8.4.4 system. Regardless, I still felt loved and cared for by my parents.

  74. That’s one disturbed soul. But then again, could be anyone of us (back then), or our son, or ours sister’s son. The heart needs to bleed and heal. Period.

  75. Ah, I’m a late arrival but still not the last one to turn off the lights! What would I say to my 18yr young self? I would lovingly cup my acne- ridden-face with both hands and tell her she is a flower. A flower yet to blossom. I would say: “Don’t hurry the process. We are all on a journey. You don’t have to go looking for yourself in the ends of the world. You’re right there. Your kind, nurturing spirit is right there nestled inside that good body. Learn to appreciate your difference. Don’t worry about how you look, no one looks at you in as much detail as you look at yourself. Stand straight. Don’t be afraid to say “no”. And also say “yes” more. Say “yes” to life. Kiss that soldier goodbye. And no, your breasts are not too small. Your aunty from shags will not be successful in finding someone for you. Your path will cross with the right one when you have learnt those vital, hardening lessons you need to and it will make you softer. One day someone is going to love your entire quirky self and kiss all your disappointments, all the hurt away. You wonder how will you know if a person is really the “one”. You will know. Focus on your career. Negotiate harder. What you see in your mind, you can hold in your hand. Be focussed you will surprise yourself with your competency. Start your side-hustle now. Don’t be afraid to fail. Internalise your mum’s voice. Soak in your dad’s. You will look for the sound of their voices soon.

    We are all on our own individual journeys. Let go so that your hands are free to hold. Encourage others and mostly encourage yourself. You are incredibly fortunate. God and the entire Universe is cheering you on to succeed. You will be alright. You are not a shark. Don’t try to be a shark. You are gentle but your gentleness is ferocious and you will break many walls with your love. Share love. It’s the only thing that you can share and it becomes more. Having said that be very aware. Trust your intuition. If it’s not right, it’s not right.

    One day you will look at yourself in the mirror and smile, you made it through the rough patches. Slow down. Read more, write more. Talk with someone who loves you. Breathe deeply. Don’t wait for approval. Don’t wait for opportunities, create them. Believe in yourself. Yes, you can. Permit yourself. Life will want to drown you but guess what, you can breathe underwater. Now grab life by it’s fucking horns and ride it hard. I’ve told you now, you will fall but that’s life. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes down.

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  76. His father was a thief,mine was a police man. They have something in common though,they were never there. I saw my father when I was 20yrs old, It was not a good or bad experience….it was just there. Just like a stranger on the street,thats what he was like to me. I didnt feel a thing for him,good or bad.
    So this 18 yr old description of his father seems accurate to me.

    I have never needed my old man,how can you need something you never had.
    We have not met again and its just normal for me ,I dont miss him,you can not miss someone you never experienced. Being raised by a single mom was not strange to me.

    Over the years I have learnt to give my mum more credit than I ever did.I now understand that she did her best,to the best of her knowledge. She did a great job with us.

    Advice to the 18 year old
    Respect and love you mother,you only have one. Do not question her parenting skills,most likely she did her best,to the best of her knowledge.

    About your dad, you dont have to see him if you are not ready. Seeing him will probably not change a thing,that was my experience. Be fine without him,somebody elses’s normal shouldnt be the same as yours. However,if you ever feel the need to see your old man just do it.

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  77. I hated boarding school as well.Now the 18 year old’s Ethiopian agents are here to pick me too…And I switch off the lights.

  78. Totally relatable, however the new generation is determined to break such a cycle. I see a lot of young couples taking time to raise their kids well…

  79. You should have told him the more afraid you are of being like a particular person or the more you run away from something, the more you end up becoming it or experiencing it.
    This boy needs professional help. All the men we have read about who have committed suicide were this boy when they were 18. He needs help. Counselling will do.

  80. Boarding school at such a tender age can indeed mess up one’s inner being and realisation of the same only dawns on them years later!

  81. My dad was jailed earlier this year too. First time I met him in my whole life was in remand.
    This shit messes someone up trust me.
    And I don’t know if I’ll ever visit him