My niece recently turned 17 years old. As Jeff would say “what an age!” At 17 you’re practically a foetus, standing on the edge of life. You’re probably finishing high school or about to, you will soon turn 18 and be old enough to drink, drive or get married should you wish. You have your whole life ahead of you. The disillusions and disappointments that come with growing up are unknown to you. You are yet to fully grasp the importance of money and all the joys and sorrows it brings with it. You think boys are the best thing that ever happened since sliced bread. You can still eat bread and drink soda at the same time and consider it a good meal.
I was 17 not so long ago..hehe..ok…maybe quite a while back. I didn’t have a cellphone or an ipad, basically I had no gadgets at all. All plans were made via the land line at home which was locked with a small padlock and covered with a white cloth. Did any of you have those telephones at home? Why did mothers cover them with that white cloth? Did they want to protect them from getting dirty or was it just for decorative purposes? And did you learn how to tap it with a fork and make secret calls to your friends? And when the bill came, did you pretend to be just as surprised as your mother was? If you know all this, then you are just as old as I am my friend, and the first half of your life has probably come and gone.
Everyone used to meet outside Kenya cinema back then. You would make a date on that decorated land line and choose a time, and the place would almost always be Kenya cinema. It’s amazing how nowadays plans can’t be made without cellphones, someone must always be on the phone pretending to be near Java but actually stuck on Thika road. Patience has all but gone out the window now. Back then people would wait for hours outside Kenya cinema for their dates. They would spend that time walking back and forth to the public phone booth, trying to call that land line again and see if anyone would pick up. If no one answered then it was a sign that they were on their way and there was hope. When your date finally arrived, off you would go to Mcfrys because back then Mcfrys was the only place that had channel O and so they were always playing the latest music. Or you would go catch a movie at 20th century, making sure to buy enough snacks at Uchumi to sneak into the theatre because the hot dogs and popcorn were too pricey. Life was simpler then. Your date would take you home in a mat and leave you safely at your doorstep before taking a mat back to town and heading back to his home. Chivalry was alive and well in those days. Kids had respect for their elders. They would stand up for old people on the bus and little ones were never allowed to watch the bold and the beautiful.
So back to my niece. She is growing up so fast now, and I think she is curvier now while we were skinny as rails at that age. Must be all that junk food they eat. Whenever I walk with her men stare at her and I must constantly keep myself from throwing stones at them. Cant they see she’s only 17? But alas, we live in Nairobi, where grown men will ogle at 17-year-old girls. What must it be like to be 17 at this moment in time? To be constantly bombarded by the media about what you should look like, what to wear or what is supposedly trendy. I think kids have it tougher in this day and age. There is a whole different kind of peer pressure now and its name is social media. The need to post beautiful pictures in snazzy outfits while posing in exotic locations has affected our young ones as well. And the music they listen to nowadays makes me sad. It is nothing like the good old 90’s music that I grew up with, so soulful and mellow and filled with poetic rhymes.
What would you do differently if you were 17 again? What would you tell your 17-year-old niece growing up in this age. Well if it were me, this is what I would tell my niece now:
When you go off to university, pick something you love. The world is changing and many people are now making a very good living doing the things they love. Don’t just pick a degree that will get you a job after graduation (all B.Comm people raise your hands and say I! I!) So if you like to dance, find a dance school and break it down on the dance floor. If singing is your thing, then find that space and sing your heart out. And if you want to be an entrepreneur then put on your thinking cap and start that business. Set the world on fire and don’t settle for anything less.
Don’t let the world define you. Better yet, don’t let social media define you. There are too many young people taking seductive photos in skimpy outfits just because Nicki Minaj does it. Don’t conform to the world. Find your own unique identity. If you’re comfortable in sneakers then wear them, don’t worry even if the whole world is wearing heels. You’re only young once and it would be sad if you spent your whole youth competing and trying to live up to an image that others have created for you.
Date a nice guy. Yes, I know when you’re young the bad boys make your heart beat a little faster and turn your rosy cheeks pink. They walk, talk and act bad and they will have you head over heels in love with them before they even say hello. Steer clear of these ones. They will break your heart, your sister’s and your neighbour’s too because trust me, he will be dating all three of you. Give that good guy a chance. The one who is a little shy. Who doesn’t wear the latest shoes. Who probably wears glasses and sits at the front of the class. He will write you some nice poetry and blush a little when you look at him. Pick him. He will treat you right because he wouldn’t know how to be bad even if he tried.
Show a little respect. Our generation was raised to have respect for the elderly, for teachers and even for persons in authority. Kids of this age seem to have missed that gene. Houses with teenagers are filled with slamming doors, moody silences and terrible eating habits. Listen to your mother, better yet listen to your grandmother. Obey them, even if you don’t want to. Take out those earphones when you talk to them. Disobedience will harm you in the long run. And always remember, you will get to that side of life someday and you will want your kids to have some respect.
Do some housework for crying out loud! It wouldn’t kill you to do the dishes, would it? Even if your parents have generously employed someone to do that, it doesn’t mean you should spend your whole life stretched out on the sofa, eating junk and flipping through channels. Clean the house and learn how to cook a few dishes. You should at least be able to make tea for your aunties when they pop around for a visit.
Find something to do as you wait to join campus. So much time is wasted before, during and after campus. Volunteer for an organization working for a good cause. Take up that internship and learn a few things about the workplace. Go shagz and learn how to grow tomatoes. You might end up being the biggest tomato farmer this side of the sahara.
And last but never least, find God in your youth. I have met many amazing young people doing great things in various God-centred ministries. Some of them are quite young and you wouldn’t believe the impact they are making in the areas they are involved in. I find them to be more grounded and less likely to be swayed by the world. Sure they will make mistakes, like everyone does, but some mistakes they may never make and that is a good thing. God will guide your steps and lead you down a good path. Trust me, your whole life will be better for it.
What would you tell your 17-year-old niece or nephew for that matter? Let’s meet in the comments and share!