It was one bright afternoon. Somehow I happened to be all alone with my baby sister. Our parents and other siblings were away.
That time I had joined college, studying for a diploma in horticulture. My baby sister, many years younger, had joined kindergarten in my old elementary school.
I don’t know how the topic started, but here we were, and my extended absence from home concerned the young lady. She wanted to know why I stay away from home.
So, the girl asked me directly. “Where do you go these days? Why don’t you stay at home?”
Well, I was in college, more than 1000 km away, and could be home only during the semester break. But how could I explain that to a four-year-old?
I decided to tell her that I was in school. College is still school anyway.
“Why don’t you come and learn at my school? I go in the morning and return home in the afternoon. You could do the same”. She probed further.
“I can’t go to your school because I already learned everything taught there. I even went to another school (secondary school) teaching more advanced stuff, which I also cleared. I am now learning in a more advanced school”. I responded.
She looked at me in amazement, and I could see in her eyes that she somehow doubted me.
“How can that be possible? We learn tough things here. We learn English (language) and number work”. She inquired.
“I went through all that, and I know everything”. To hammer the point further home, I added, “In fact, if you can ask me anything I can’t answer, I will give you one shilling.” And that was a grave mistake I had just made.
A shilling ($0.01) was not much to me, but it was something to her. It could buy her a couple of sweets. By current rates, it should be about $0.5.
I think the lady saw an opportunity to make some cash, so she started to bombard me with questions. She began by giving me English words that I was to translate in our mother tongue. She went straight to what was probably her most complicated words.
“What is the meaning of umbrella? Elephant? Pumpkin? And on and on. Elementary stuff. Of course, it was plain sailing for me.
Then she turned to math.
“What is two plus two? Ten plus ten? One hundred plus one hundred plus one hundred?” I am sure she didn’t know the answers to some of the questions, but she trusted my solutions anyway.
It appeared like I indeed knew everything that she was learning at her school.
But the lady was tenacious. She took a long pause, then went behind our house and returned with a plant.
“What is this?” She asked as she held up the plant.
“It is a wild plant, just a weed,” I replied
“Fine. It is a plant and a weed, but it is also a vegetable, we eat this. What’s its name?”
I scratched my head, trying to figure a solution. Admittedly, I didn’t know the name of that vegetable.
“I think it’s called bwere.”
“It is mnavu.”
“How about kiswenya?”
I hazarded a few more guesses, only to get her emphatic “NO.” Finally, I gave up.
So what is its name? I asked her.
She leaned on my ear and whispered, “It’s called mahako ga azhere.” Directly translated, it means “elders’ butts.” Cheeky girl, she had beaten me.
I lost my shilling fair and square but learned a lesson I will never forget.
You might know a lot, you might even think you know everything, but there could be this small thing you don’t know. Or in your elevated position, you think you know everything. Think twice.
I have seen a lot of professional colleagues make this mistake. Just because they are high above on the management ladder, they assume that consulting junior colleagues is a waste of time.
At home, when I need to make an important decision, I make sure my wife and our two kids participate. They contribute to their opinions, even if I have to make the final decision and take responsibility for it.
It same thing at work.
I try to get extensive contributions from everyone, including the colleagues that everyone considers dumb. Sometimes you get ideas you couldn’t imagine.