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My Family?s First Radio

In the early 70?s my family in Kenya underwent some kind of social metamorphosis. We owned a radio. One day I came to our three-room structure (constructed with logs, stones and mud) and found an 18-inch radio. The atmosphere in our home was changed?parents and children were glued around this symbol of progress. All faces were smiling. We had made it at last. Now we were connected to the rest of the world.

To the best of my memory, a radio was a rare commodity in my youth. My elementary school, Kangundo Primary School, had one radio that was taken from class to class for pupils to listen to educational programs. Because the radio was needed by a class at any given school time, for a long time I never knew there were other programs apart from the academic ones I was exposed to. The sixth and seventh grades pupils were privileged to have the radio and listen to the annual budget, as the Minister of Finance and Planning presented it to the Parliament.

Those who have seen the movie, ?The Gods Must Be Crazy,? can recall the changes in a family?s way life when an empty bottle of Coca-Cola is dropped from an airplane and lands in the family?s vicinity. While the bottle became a tool of efficiency, especially in food processing for a family that previously had lived in stone-age simplicity, it also brought contention among family members and eventually became used as a fighting tool.

The gods were crazy to bring radios in my community. One of my neighbors, an elder, after he had guzzled several calabashes of traditional beer, went home and found that strange thing?a radio?speaking. It belonged to his son, who was a soldier in the Kenya Army. The son brought it home and left it on when he went to visit with a brother. Apparently those who were listening didn?t know how to turn it off.

The elder ordered the thing to keep quiet. When the thing didn?t obey, he said to it, ?Nitawa Sila na musyi uu ni wakwa. Ila nguneena kila mundu ni withukiiasya. Ethwa ndwivindia nuumanya ninyie uu.? Translation: ?My name is Sila and this is my home. When I am speaking, everyone keeps quiet. If you won?t keep quiet, you will know who I am.? That was the end of the radio that couldn?t obey Sila.

The radio in my home brought knew changes. My mother started locking her bedroom where the radio was kept when she was not home. We children were instructed on what we could listen to and at what times. But my curiosity needed to be satisfied. I learned to enter the radio?s safe haven by putting chairs on top of a table and making a dangerous climb. Oh my! I discovered that there was more in a radio than school related programs!

My exploration of the radio?s various stations is what led to my capture. A teacher came to my sixth-grade class and announced that my father was at the principal?s office and wanted to talk to me. My world somersaulted. Parents there where I lived never took their children to school or go their just talk to them. I can basically count on one hand the times my father ever came to my school.

And neither was there any talking on this day between a father and son. My father, who was standing at the principal?s door, just grabbed by hand and led me home. He pointed at the radio and without mincing words said, ?Kwata vala ukwatie na utunga kameme kua kaile kwithwa.? Translation: ?Touch whatever you touched and return that radio?s program where it should be!?

Miraculously, my disillusioned mind was able to lead my shaking hands in turning that radio back to the station my parents thought it was made for. But the stern warning I got that day invoked unquenchable desire in me, that one day, I would have my own radio.

Looking back, the mysteries created by that radio had much to do with the fact that I hosted my own radio show for years. I have had the privilege of being a guest in hundreds of radio programs across the United States of America. I am thankful to my parents for that first family radio.

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