Not until you engage him do you realize he is not an eccentric old man as some would have it. He has a sharp mind and a knack of punctuating his talk with observations taken straight from some of books he has familiarized himself with. Though he is not as strong as his old former self, he believes his fist can pack a punch enough to dislocate the jaw of a donkey. After all, he was a pugilist and represented the country within the African continent thrice.
But Philip Mainge Wanjohi, (pictured), who is in hie early seventies, is on a different mission. He has been agitating for establishment of library services at ward levels. The man who has read over 2000 books cutting across all genres decries the lack of a reading culture especially by the young generation. He says he was Member Number782 from 1980 to 1992 at the Kenya National Library Service, Nakuru, but distance and hard economical times had conspired to keep him from frequenting the place.
The resident of Bavuni village in Mugwathi sub-location in Bahati District, Nakuru County, believes reading can have a positive effect as it can reduce idleness and a lack of knowledge especially with the youth. Libraries, he says, "are granaries of books that cover various topics ranging from history, geography, sciences, philosophy, metaphysics and poetry."
The believer in African tradition, especially polygamy, had two wives and six children. His youngest wife died in 2002 and two of his children are deceased as well. His first born by the first wife, a son, is currently 50 years old.
The ex-member of the Nakuru Amateur Boxing Club was employed as a clerk by Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) for a period of thirteen years. He claims to have landed employment a day after sitting his East African Cambridge School Certificate in 1968. And it was during his formal employment years that he was active in the ring for a period of twelve years, leading what he calls the 'aesthetic lifestyle', which was mainly to please his senses or carefree living. He did represent the country in international bouts in Zambia (twice) in 1970 and in Tanzania in 1971 and lost on points. Most of his boxing career was done locally against visiting teams, before he hang his gloves in 1970s while at the bantamweight category.
|Philip the boxer|
The last he had a haircut was in 1972 while in Eldoret, and was proud sporting an afro hair style, which today has receded exposing his scalp with the remaining hair now a crown of whitish grey.
His dalliance with books began in 1982 when he bought "Song of Lawino" by Okot p'Bitek for a princely Sh20. "I subscribed for membership with Kenya National Library and began reading assiduously at the rate of two books per week from that time," he says.
A poem titled, "Man in Chains", which he stumbled upon in the library, fired his imaginations at poetry that he composed his own entitled "OAU No More", and which ended up being read out in the then Voice of Kenya (now KBC) radio. “Hearing my name and poem being read out was a crowning moment for my efforts,” he says.
The beauty of the rhymes, rhythm and style was to make him fall in love with poetry.
He began writing poems prolifically most of which were published in The East African Standard and the defunct Kenya Times. "Unfortunately, my poems weren't paid for," he says.
And in between penning poetry, he was writing letters to the editors in the Daily Nation, The East African Standard and Kenyan Times getting noticed by none other than one Prof Chris Wanjala. Writer Henry ole Kulet, whom he met and worked with briefly in Nakuru, was running a publication going by name of 'The Rift Valley Business Guide' and hired him as a staff reporter.
"I was going along Oginga odinga Street in Nakuru one day when a man carrying a briefcase stopped me and asked where the offices of the Rift Valley Business Guide were. I offered to take him and when he asked for my name, I was surprised he knew me from my writings in the media," he says.
Wanjala, then the head of literature department at Egerton University, was to coach him and fifteen others on basics of story writing. "He would drive from work each evening and offer us free lectures for a period of three months at Prairie Institute in Nakuru from 7p.m to 9p.m before driving some of us home in his beaten up Volvo," he says. Three of the beneficiaries of this programme went on to become published authors with Mr Wanjohi featuring prominently in Kenya Times and later in Taifa Leo. He says sub-editors were his silent lecturers especially in correcting the mistakes made and rephrasing places.
In 2007, he and another friend began a 22 pages newspaper called the 'Subukia Digest'. This was in quest of preserving information for posterity's sake as most residents of his home area relied on radios for information. "I wanted to bring a culture of reading close to my door step seeing how many of the residents were wallowing in information ignorance," he says.
Each of his weekly A4 sized newspaper was selling at Sh20. Typesetting and printing would be done at Catholic Bookshop in Nakuru town. The first edition was well received. And it was during the 2007 election campaigns when a certain legislator, (when Bahati constituency was part of the larger Subukia one), approached and asked him to do a profile of him for campaign purposes and had newspapers distributed at his political rallies.
"I printed a hundred copies and I was assured I would get Sh2000 at the end of the day. Nothing was forthcoming, and with that, the newspaper venture collapsed when the politician ran away leaving me with nothing to sustain the business. I was a reporter and an editor of it as well," he says.
He still has not slowed down in writing. He has penned over one thousand poems, and he still submits to online forums like Free Poetic Universe, Ugandan Foundation for Writers, Abuja Writers Association, among other sites. His day begins at 3a.m when he wakes to read and write. Among the many books that he says have shaped him greatly is the Hindu’s Gita, Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein, Einstein Universe by Nigel Calder, Maisha ya Hatari by Henry ole Kulet, and many by various writers on subjects of religion, psychology and metaphysics.
He is yet to publish his three book manuscripts he says have been gathering dust for long. They are in long hand, as he is yet to acquire either a desktop or laptop and type them.
His quest for establishment of libraries at ward levels is yet to bear fruits.
- In 1993, he wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Nation decrying the pollution of environment with plastic bags. It was titled, “Plastic Bags Menace will be Our Undoing,”, and still keeps the newspaper cutting to this day. He says he is proud that the ban on plastic bags has been enforced.
- He loves walking, and can trek to Nakuru town from his home village, which lies 15km east of town in Nakuru North District. It takes an average of two hours one way trip.
- During the enforcement of ‘Michuki rules’, he was in a matatu and none of passengers had seat belts on. Traffic police directed the vehicle to be driven to Central Police station, but the policemen, seeing his white crown of hair, saluted him and let him go free as other passengers were fined Sh500 each.
- He is always awake by 3a.m reading and writing. He writes an average of 2000 words before breakfast.
- He has several unpublished manuscripts, but believes he can bequeath the country a literary gem before he exits this world.