By Robert Karanja

By Florence Anam from Kisumu Toastmasters. Presented for the Level 1 Project Evaluation and Feedback on the Presentation Mastery Path.

The year 2020 will go down in history as one of the most bizarre. Every government, business and social development infrastructure was caught off guard and so were all the people of the world.
In the words of poet Frances Conford, we were “magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life” in this year that saw our world turn upside down.

How many of you make annual plans or resolutions? I am those people. By January 1st, 2020, I had all my ducks in a row, my annual life plan done and well off to ticking most of the items that marked the beginning of the year. A couple of months later, I tucked my plan
away as I Increasingly realized there was little I could predict or control. I was livid, then frustrated, then anxious; I know fellow planners get my mix of emotions. “The only comfort within chaos is admitting you have no control” these words by Singer and song writer Amy lee couldn’t have been truer in those moments.

With my plans tucked away, I had a lot of time to sit back, dawdle around and observe what was going on around me and became amazed at the various peculiar events that seem to take a global outlook at a time when travel was not even possible, and people spent more time indoors. I will share my observations of these moments that I call the phases of 2020.
First there was the Toilet paper Apocalypse: In my wildest imagination, I wouldn’t have predicted that the first thing people would panic buy during a global meltdown would be toilet paper.

Well, this period was frenzied as many people rushed to stock up on food and supplies. Everyone was in panic, lots of people were dying in some countries and the stories on the media made everything worse. Government leadership also in this panic set forth strict lockdowns and restricted movements in and within their borders. We retreated to our homes and had to learn to adjust to this new way of life.

Then Came the Zoom binge: I want to believe this was people’s attempt at taking control and keeping as much of their normal life going as possible. So, we aren’t going to the office and meeting along the corridors; then let’s set up zoom calls every hour, or let’s have zoom after work drinks or Friday or weekend parties. It was exhausting these first few days!

“Please mute your mics if you are not speaking” or “Oh Mary, can you hear us? Please unmute and speak” or “Sorry I was on mute, could you repeat the question please?” became how we interacted in between different time zones and different digital capacities.

The sound of silence phase must have begun gradually from the end of March and lasted almost three or four months. The world got as silent as the grave. All countries had constituted harsh lock downs limiting movements. Airports gradually lost travelers, Planes got packed, less and less cars moved around. I lived in South Africa at this time and my house was right by the road. I could tell what time it was by how much traffic moved so I noticed this silence and welcomed it.

Was it true that you could see the tip of Mount Kenya from Kiambu? And that this was because of reduced contamination of the air by planes? Anyway, we got clearer skies and cleaner air and lots of much needed silence.

The Baking Bonanza was probably the most surprising phase. Like some Mexican wave, the flow of people taking out their flour and whipping out bread, biscuits and cakes was felt the world over. Banana bread took its place of honor as the official pastry of the COVID-19 pandemic. How many of you learned how to bake in this period? It was exciting wasn’t it?

Also, Was 2020 the year of protests or what? The second part of 2020 will be known for its share of protests for social justice both off and online. Despite the rates of both new infections and deaths from COVID- 19 increasing, hundreds of people across the world armed with the power of their voice and strength in their numbers came out in droves to protest Government policies, draw attention to Gender Based
Violence (GBV) and deaths of innocent civilians.
These protests were met with violence and use of excessive force from government but prevailed. Social media was used to stimulate much needed conversation within the context of the pandemic. These hashtags stand out for me #Iminext (South Africa) #Shutitalldown (Namibia) – GBV #endSARS (Nigeria)- Police brutality and who would forget #blacklivesmatter (USA)?
As the year drew to an end, I felt a sense of hope in the air. The promise of a vaccine was close, countries were showing various levels of progress in managing the pandemic and as a bonus, Donald Trump was no longer president of the United states.
What an eventful year! There were lessons too from this period. The effects of COVID-19 pandemic proved to us how temporary and vain all of the things our lives revolve around are; work, gym, malls, movies, fancy clothes, name it. I found that family and our homes became all that mattered. What remains true for all is that 2020 will indeed be unforgettable.

By Vivian Akinyi from Simba Toastmasters. Presented for the Level 2 Project Introduction to Toastmasters Mentoring on the Persuasive Influence Path

An ancient Luo proverb goes that, “The goat that cries the loudest is not the one that will eat the most.” Have you heard of this proverb? What do you think it means this proverb means?… Think about it, we’ll come back to it later.

As most of you already know, I spent my formative years with my grandmother in the village. She was my first mentor. She loved using proverbs and analogies. I remember that she was very diplomatic. She would rebuke in such a subtle manner that it was impossible to take offense. How she was able to do that is still a mystery I am yet to unravel but I felicitate her for that. There was always wisdom behind her stories. I had to learn to listen with my heart. Right from an early age, I learned the value of tapping into the knowledge and wisdom of those with more experience than I. With that in mind, I’ve always sought out mentors in every sector of my life.

I landed my first job at 22 and I was elated! However, I had no idea which career path I wanted to take. I only knew that once I finished University, I would start working and that would be it. Fortunately, I came across mentors in the workplace who took me by the hand and guided me. Mentors who helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses. This empowered me to take on a more purposeful career journey.

One such mentor was Nikki. She was the PA to our Country Director. Nikki is what Urban Dictionary would describe as EXTRA! She was extremely flamboyant. She wore sky rocketing heels to the office each and every day, and as she walked in, she would make that clattering tap-tap-tap sound on the floor as she swayed her hips to her desk. Sometimes I wonder if this was deliberate. Then she would gracefully place her bag down and announce “Doris! Please get me a cup of chamomile tea.” Then look sideways to me and ask “is that what you’re wearing today? Would it kill you to wear heels sometimes?!” .

Nikki taught me to always be on time, dress up for the occasion, sit up straight and speak up during meetings. She taught me to follow protocol and articulate myself in proper business English. Each time she planned an event, be it a breakfast meeting or cocktail party, she would tag me along and I got to learn a lot about interpersonal relationships from these events. By the time she was done with me, I had the confidence to chat up any CEO in an elevator.

Learning never stops, we must always be on a path of continuous improvement. And that was one of the reasons why I joined Toastmasters.
Toastmasters and guests, this is my 8th month as a Toastmaster, and the journey has been nothing short of fulfilling. I found myself in a supportive environment and I’ve been able to benefit from a cocktail of mentors.
– From Graceful Edna who taught me to slow down, pause, think and reflect,
– To Master Pete who taught me to organize my thoughts into an introduction, body and conclusion,
– To Dynamic Jaynnie one who told me to ‘Forget the Textbook English’ and speak from my heart.
I have enjoyed these interactions and I have kept close touch with my mentors because walking with them is like drinking from the spring of wisdom.

But life still happens. Therefore, we always need others to walk along the journey with us. Women are relational beings, and matters of the heart can either make or break our spirits. Sometimes you lose a job, sometimes you get ill, sometimes relationships fail… it always helps to have someone who can provide their comforting insight during these seasons of life.
My grandmother so happens to be my relationship mentor. You may wonder how that works, because we come from totally different generations. But her wisdom transcends the laws of time.

I once came to her and confessed that my partner had been unfaithful, and I did not know what to do about it. She did not tell me what to do either. She simply asked “What are you willing to live with? A broken heart or an incurable disease?” She didn’t have to say more, her words spurred me to think beyond my feelings and I felicitate her for that.

Remember our goat from earlier…
It is true that the goat that cries the loudest is not the one that will eat the most. Think about it? We may be tempted to always complain about how unfair life is, but what exactly are we doing about it? If we complain and do nothing, the problem still persists.
I always look within myself and recognize my weaknesses. Then I deliberately and intentionally seek out for mentors who will help me grow and improve myself in those areas.
“A child that does not listen to his elders, will walk the whole day, and still come back to where he started.”

By Josephine Osumo from Simba Toastmasters. Presented for the Level 1 Project Evaluation and Feedback Project on the Motivational Strategies Path.

Have you ever found yourself looking down the barrel of a gun and wondering, what did I ever do, to bring me to this place? Or even, what am I going to do to get myself out of this fix I am in?
I am not very adventurous, especially with my life, with other people’s lives that’s a different matter.

Toastmasters and guests, this is a tale of how I discovered Josephine 2.0.
A short while ago, I was in a truck hanging on for dear life, desperately whispering a prayer “Lord, don’t let us be swept downstream!”
“Lord, please, please, please!” I beseeched.
It wasn’t that I thought the Almighty was not listening to me.

It was not that I thought the vehicle I was in, a German made, German engineered 18 wheeler truck was not up to the challenge of fording the raging river, that a short two hours ago was a dry river bed, capable of growing nothing but a dust storm.

No, I was bent on imploring the Almighty because I had never seen or experienced what I was currently going through. The driver of the truck, a burly Dutchman, had said just one word as I climbed in. Hold! and hold I did.

Two hours prior to this: –

I hit the ground with a thud, instinctively rolling to my right to avoid the slippery slope that I knew was on the left. My partner and I having passed through Nadapal border point, without incident, were driving peacefully, headed towards Lodwar, when heaven opened its floodgate. We had hoped to make it across, before the river it burst its banks. This was not to be. I was thrown out of the cabin of a truck about to meet my maker at the hands of a ferocious river.

I stood up, automatically dusting myself off, stopped when I noticed it was more like smearing myself off, then turned to find out what had become of my colleague and the truck. He had stopped a few steps ahead and the cause of the abrupt turn and brake maneuver he had executed was very apparent. The whole area was lined with trucks, cars, bicycles, we were at the tail end of a queue that was trying to ford
the river.

I made my way to where my colleague was and he informed me the only way across was to be towed, our mini truck could not survive. I had a choice go in the mini truck or climb into an 18 wheeler. Anyone with half a brain can tell you the best choice, I took it. That was how I found myself in the truck.

As I was busy praying, whining or whatever name one wanted to give what I was doing at the time, Mr. Gruff, as I had named the driver, was using all his skill trying to get us across the river, even as the river did it’s best to push the truck downstream.

Contrary to popular belief, as I sat there holding on with all my might, my life did not flash before me. It came at me in slow motion, frame by slow frame. I saw the first time I dared to challenge myself by hiking up Sleeping Warrior and down Ugali hill and discovered Ugali is meant for eating and nothing else.
I saw the first time, I stood up to sing a solo and discovered the voice in my head is better than the sound from my mouth.

I saw the first time, I was appointed to lead a group of rambunctious teens on a day’s outing and came back more jittery than a Mexican bean. That was the day I discovered that underneath the clothes, slips, and skin, beats the heart of an everlasting child. As my life moved on in slow motion both literally and metaphorically, I made a decision. Never again would I find myself in places that I questioned. This near death experience showed me clearly that my life, as I was currently living it was serving other people and not me.

When finally, the truck came to a shuddering stop on the other side, and Mr. Gruff had assisted me to alight, I knew what I needed to do to get my life on a solid, carefully selected, adventurous path.

First, I needed to be willing. Willing to suspend my current beliefs and entertain new ones. My belief that I was required to go wherever the company sent me, however and whenever had to go and be replaced with one that would serve me.

Secondly, I needed to have faith. Faith based on understanding who I was, my strengths, weaknesses and whose I was, a child of God, who had the whole army of heaven at her disposal.

Finally, I needed to have a burning desire. A burning desire to change my life and raise it from the mundane to the extraordinary. To do this I had to constantly ask myself “What do I want” and not limit myself to what I knew.

This was the first step to Josephine 2.0. Since that fateful day, I now choose my adventures with care, the child is still inside me and can be found playing hide and seek, building forts or running around with my nieces and nephews causing mayhem to my sitting room, to the consternation of my daughter.

Toastmasters and guests, are you living the life you want or like me do you need to up level yourself to a 2.0 version. If you do let me remind you of the steps: –

First – Be willing to suspend your current beliefs. Ask yourself, are your current beliefs aiding you in or hindering
you from living the life you want to live?

Second – Have Faith, not blind faith but faith based on understanding of who you are, what you want and what you need to do to get there.

Third – Have a Desire – A deep and burning desire to change. Remember real change starts internally before being seen externally.

I can assure you with these steps you will be able to get a more updated version of yourself.
One more thing, everything happens for a reason and a lesson. Find the reason then learn and grow from the lesson. I found the reason, learned the lesson and my life has never been the same since.

As Henry David Thoreau said, ““…if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”