On July 21st 2009, I left my country for the first time in my life. I was bubbling with energy ready to take up an opportunity that had virtually fallen on my laps. Getting on a plane was never really my dream, but when the opportunity came, I took it with both hands. Mathé had told me to move abroad when I informed her that I was going to graduate from university. She said I would be better off there.
So on that evening, my family bid me farewell at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Sadly, mathé was missing. I was in a grey pin-striped second-hand tweed suit. I had only worn it once before, at my sister’s wedding. The second occasion was equally deserving. If only I knew how uncomfortable it would make my first flight! Not to mention the weird looks I got from my to-be colleagues when I got to the World Scout Bureau office in Geneva.
When my supervisor-to-be was booking my tickets, I remember he asked if I had ever been on a plane before. “No, I haven’t. It will be my first time.” “Then we will get you a window seat so you can look outside.” My imagination had been immediately excited—all those EPL and UEFA Champions League stadiums. I am sure some of them are on the route.
Mine was a night flight so you can imagine the disappointment. It was the longest bus ride I had ever taken, complete with bumps but with no stopovers to stretch my legs and get some air. But all was not lost.
When we broke from the clouds early the following morning, I was amazed and disappointed at the same time. Amazed at the organised landscape and disappointed, I could not see any stadiums. But wait a minute! As we descended and the scenery became more apparent, I noticed something that made me forget for a moment why I had been invited to Geneva. Expansive, well-manicured green lawns and goalposts.
I could not wait to play football!
In my initial meetings with my supervisor, I told him I need somewhere I can play football. Mr S, who has supported me to date quickly organised to have me join a team. He contacted his recently-retired colleague who talked to his son Matteo who knew the president of a local club, US Carouge. Connections!
Within a couple of weeks, I found myself in a group of French-speaking young men ready to do what I enjoyed most. I was accompanied by Matteo, who acted as a translator for a few minutes until we started doing the football drills, then I was good to go. I understood the language of football, and there was a couple of teammates who could do a few English words to help me along. Day one I learnt vas means go, like vas Brian! The phrase became commonplace at Stade de la Fontenette owing to my speed.
I enjoyed playing football in Geneva, and it helped me to integrate into life in Switzerland quickly. Within a few months, I was able to communicate in French to the astonishment of my colleagues. It remained a challenge to engage in the dressing room banter, but I was always happy to be there. I also felt a sense of belonging when I bumped into my teammates and fans on the streets, “Salut Brian”.
One day I arrived for training earlier than usual and found the Under-10 kids in a session. I remember admiring the young players through the fence and wondering to myself, ‘What if I had access to such facilities when I was 10? What if I had 3 or 4 trained coaches at my disposal?’ Some of the drills they were being taken through were what I did at 18 under my first professional coach, Mickey Weche, while turning out for Strathmore University FC.
Fast forward to the fateful morning when I received news of the demise of my friend. I found myself reflecting on my life and how fragile it was. The circumstances surrounding his death were sobering. In that bedsitter (read studio apartment because I was living in Switzerland), I sat and told myself I have to live a more purposeful life now. I had to change a few things. Top of the list was my career direction. Even though I was already thinking about this, there was a heightened urgency. I need to get back to football.
Many, especially back home admired me since I was the guy who works in Geneva for the UN. But I felt unfulfilled in my job. Often I would convince myself that it was just a means to an end (earn a living) and not an end in itself, but it was difficult to imagine myself 20 years down the line “earning a living”. I wanted to add value.
Hitting the spaces
One way I thought I could add value immediately was to share my passion and knowledge of football. So that day, I decided to publish my first blog, having realised tomorrow is not guaranteed, and I could no longer live in fear of what others would think of my writing. I had learned a lot about football, and I wanted to share.
January 28th, 2015, I gathered the courage to click the publish button after months of reading and rereading my debut article on this blog. To date, I still need to gather enough courage to click the publish button.
The response was terrific as likes and comments trickled in from friends. It gave me a sense of accomplishment as I engaged readers through the comments. I was so encouraged I set a target of doing an article a month that year, 12 blog posts. I only managed six. Fail.
On the job front, I decided to make it work for me, being more positive and taking the initiative where I felt I could be of value. Mine was a roller-coaster ride. Some days I was up there chin up chest out with a spring in my step, while some days I could not muster the strength to get out of bed. I would lie in and only wake up to read and write once my head cleared.
Freedom to roam
I finally got a fixed-term contract in July 2015. For the first time since 2011, I had a one year contract. Best I had managed until then was seven months. The new appointment was a relief and allowed me the comfort to explore a little. I would spend a lot of time doing free online courses (MOOCs) on various subjects as if trying to find out what interested me.
Meanwhile, I needed to plan my exit strategy. Through one of the MOOCs I was taking, I got to learn about the Open University. After some research and introspection, I enrolled for a Masters in Technology Management. It was to be my stepping stone when the time came for me to step out. Little did I know I had embarked on a journey of discovery.
I chose to focus on innovation and project management, two fields I felt I could excel in, but lacked adequate formal training.
Towards the end of 2015 as I was preparing for my home visit in January I had the idea to organise a football tournament. The event would mark one year since the demise of Obama, and more importantly, it would serve as a get together for current and former Strathmore University FC players. With my friend, J, we organised the first Obama Cup.
To be continued.