When I was growing up Easter holidays began on a Thursday when President Daniel arap Moi and before him Mzee Jomo Kenyatta unfailingly flagged off the annual world motoring extravaganza at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre grounds.
In the 1983 Safari Rally edition, French driver Michelle Mouton was the world sensation.
Before her the few women taking part in the âultimate test of man and machineâ hardly went past the first round of the three-leg competition.
But here was a woman who had come determined not just to touch the finish line but to win. And she nearly did.
She propelled her way to the finish tape minus one wheel to finish third. But to many, she was the winner, not the top finisher Ari Vatanen.
Before her, other Safari Rally fascinations over the years included legendary Joginder Singh, nicknamed the âFlying Singhâ; the cheetah on wheels Shekhar Mehta, and Swedish Bjorn Waldegard who thought his twin-cam Toyota Celica was designed to fly on the roads.
And of course, there was homeboy Patrick Njiru, the lad who went to Japan to train as mechanic but in the process discovered rallying was more fun than putting on oily overcoats to persuade jalopies to remain on the road.
There was also the Vic Prestons, who were also among the first to open a petrol station in Nairobi that still exists on University Way, and the Tundos, who easily blended rallying and growing wheat in the Rift Valley.
As young boys, names of some of the Japanese drivers gave us trouble to pronounce like the pair of Yoshio Iwashita and Yosimasha Nakahara, who we still simply identified as âWachiraâ and âKaharaâ.
The Finish name Juha Kankkunen was also a tongue-twister, so we just called him âJuha Kaluluâ.
In those days, too, football was still all the rage as it is today. The local names were the same, Gor Mahia and the AFC.
The latter had no yet added âleopardsâ to their name â though my friend Tom Osanjo believes the name should be AFC cubs.
There was also the Luo Union football club whose squad at one time included Raila Odinga. Those days he spoke of leg-shakes, not handshakes.
My favourite club was Gor Mahia, only because one of the top players Nahashon Oluoch (Lule) was my schoolmate.
In his âAâ class of 1981 at Nanyuki High School was Mwangi Muthee whose stewardship of the Kenyan national rugby team years later was impressive.
Internationally Brazilian Pele and Argentinian Diego Maradona were all-time stars, while âFootball made in Germanyâ was a no miss programme at the only TV station channel, the VoK (now KBC) television.
THRILLER IN MANILLA
Boxing was the other game to keep us glued to the tube.
Memories of the âRumble in the Jungleâ in Kinshasha, Zaire (now DR Congo), in 1974 when world heavyweight champions Mohamed Ali and George Foreman competed on who would be first to break the other’s skull are undeletable.
So are images of the âThriller in Manillaâ the following year when Ali screamed and taunted trying to murder Joe Frasier in the ring all in the name of sport.
The media correctly dubbed the event in Philippines âa legalised public attempt at manslaughterâ.
There were also days of rebellion and war everywhere. In Africa, the Polisario were fighting Morocco and Mauritania in Western Sahara; Nigeria was just recovering from Biafra, and Eritreans and Ethiopians were clobbering one another in the horn of Africa.
Down south, Agostino Neto and Jonas Savimbi were fighting the Portuguese in Angola as was Samora Machel in Mozambique.
Joshua Nkomo and comrade Bob Mugabe were weighing up to Ian Smith in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and school children in Soweto were saying no to apartheid.
A young Kenyan writer called James Ngugi suddenly became Ngugi wa Thiongâo. In those days, the Marxism/Leninism obsessed Ngugi had been invited to address a meeting of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) only to make a comment that ridiculed Christianity.
A fired member of the audience asked him why he had the Christian name âJamesâ if he didnât believe in the religion. From that day he dropped the name âJamesâ.
As young boys in high school, we caught up with the fad to throw away our Christian names.
Many in my generation, in two or three generations before us, and a few in a generation after us, only remember what our âChristianâ names used to be when we travel to our rural homes.
Throwing away âEnglishâ names was not only restricted to those doing ârebelliousâ subjects like literature. Besides the Mutuma Mathius and Kwendo Opangas, the ârebelsâ are all over.
They include my lawyer friends Muciimi Mbaka and Kibe Mungai, corporate types Mugo Kibati, my friend engineer Maina Kibe and my old schoolmate engineer Nduati Ngugi, who is the Gatanga MP.
But make no mistake. Dropping Christian names for us wasnât rebellion against Christ who died for sins during Easter.
Personally, though no longer known by my baptismal name âNoahâ, I am a professing Christian and believer.
My friend engineer Maina Kibe has indeed kept to the faith since our boyhood days and is an elder at the Kenyan Deliverance Church.
In any case, it isnât names that make one a good Christian, but faith and conduct.
When we were growing up, one of the toughest robbers in town was one John Kiriamiti (author of the famous best seller My Life in Crime).
Before him was the all-time deadly Peter Wakinyonga. Their Christian names âJohnâ and âPeterâ couldnât stop them from robbing banks and dispersing to the other world anybody who stood in their way.
Come to think of it, the âWakinyongasâ, âKiriamitisâ, among other assorted thieves and looters of public coffers, existed even in the days when Jesus walked this world.
One day Jesus literally had to take a whip and chase them away from the Temple in Jerusalem where they had pitched tent, as is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 21:12:
As we mark this Easter, may we – Christians and non-Christians alike – ponder on the words of Saint Paul as recorded in the book of Philippians chapter 4: verses 8: âIn conclusion my brothers and sisters fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise; things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honourable.â Happy Easter!
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