For 3 years now, I have been on a quest to understand my family and it’s origins. It all started when I asked my grandmother to show me the personal belongings of Gabriel Ngigi, my grandfather who died before I was born. Among the the things she showed me were his journals and diaries, passbooks and records of every transaction he ever made. It took me days to pour over these things to try to understand the man that my grandfather was. I made some interesting discoveries about myself from studying this man that I was named after. I realised that we shared some similarities in our character and our views of the world. Some of these similarities were good while others signalled aspects of things that needed working on.
The first thing I noticed was how similar our handwritings were. Staring at his diaries I had this weird experience where it felt like I was reading my own writing. From the way he formed his characters to his choice of words I couldn’t help feeling like I was staring back at myself though a time capsule.
According to my mother, my grandfather was a very wise man who was organised and meticulous in everything that he did. For an African man born in the early 1900s he was well travelled too. He had fought in the second world war as a soldier in the King’s African Rifles where he specialised as a blacksmith and mechanic. The war took him to many places most notable being Burma. Could it be that his stint in the army played a role in making him organised and also to view the world in a different way? I have never been in the army yet I have discovered many similarities in our lives that have helped me understand myself much better. For instance, the passion about everything thing mechanical and the ability to figure out how stuff works with little effort is something we share. Also the tendency to write down things that feel important such as life milestones and transactions was something that I found mind blowing.
This event made me want to investigate further into Gabriel’s life to discover what his shortcomings were. This as a difficult task but looking closer at his writings I realised he was always in a constant internal battle to prove his worth in everything he did which is something that I have experienced most of my life. The idea of being confident that you are good at what you do is something I have started working on. People like me tend to be pushovers because they struggle with feeling like what they are offering is still not good enough. Some people call this perfectionism but I call it unnecessary conviction because the fear that I might not deliver the best result blocks me from discovering my true potential.
A few years ago, my godfather told me that the most important mission in any person’s life is to understand the origins of his family. This enables one to understand why they behave in a certain way and also how to live so as not to repeat the mistakes of their relatives before them. Just like behaviour, disease can be passed on from one generation to the next and we can use this to make decisions on how to live. Take diabetes for example, if a family has a history of this condition,it makes sense for parents to teach their children how to live by endorsing a good diet and exercise as a lifestyle. By doing this the chances of passing down diabetes are reduced and hopefully this gene can be restructured and eventually it could stop being a ‘family problem’.
Some families are known to have serious anger issues while some are famed for producing criminals and being alcoholics. Other families are known for their inability to handle money; they just can’t keep or grow their money regardless of the great opportunities that keep coming their way. Have you heard of families that are famous for being unfaithful in relationships? The list is endless! However our cultures do not allow these family secrets to be talked about openly and therefore vices and life threatening conditions persist from generation to generation. Maybe it is time that we started talking openly about the things that ail our families. We should acknowledge that these may not be comfortable conversations but having them may save lives especially of the generations to come. These secrets are killing our potential and I believe it is everyone’s duty to ask these uncomfortable and intrusive questions. In the words of my godfather, how else will you move forward if you do not understand your past?