SHSS Team Building that touched even the hearts of Philosophers


How do you impress a philosopher? Many times, philosophers are viewed as people who are hard to impress. Because all they need in life is sunshine, fresh air, and a quiet natural environment, which they struggle to find in Nairobi’s neighbourhoods. It is still under debate whether philosophers have “universal” basic needs or whether the aforementioned needs are enough for them. This was the challenge that the leadership of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS) and the Welfare Committee had for days as they explored options for an appropriate team building venue and activities for the SHSS team.

They eventually settled on Maasai Lodge as the venue for the duel. This is partly because the lodge is located in Kajiado county, so sunshine is guaranteed; and partly because it sits on an expansive 400-acre piece of land, hence  guaranteed free flow of fresh air. And lastly, because the venue neighbours Nairobi National Park, therefore there is a chance to interact with the wild animals. With all the “philosophers’ checklist” ticked, the next headache was to make it worthy for other colleagues. The secret to striking this balance, “is in the activities,” the team thought. They were right!

The journey started with a morning mass and a blessing from our Chaplain, Fr. Jude, at 8.30am. With that, we had the divine go-ahead. Everyone got into the bus and the journey started. From the sporty attire and sporty mood that everyone had embraced, it appeared as if  no one from SHSS knew that the SU Sports Complex existed. Many of the sportswear were new. Suspectedly, some were bought the day before. Only veterans like Dr. Karuri and Esther Kariuki had sportswear that seemed to have seen better days. Nevertheless, the mood complemented the dressing discrepancies. Throughout the journey snaking through the busy Langata and Magadi Roads, the “human noise” from the bus squarely put down the “bus noise”. And imagine we were riding on the legendary box!

Hii ndio Rongai” Until then, it had never occurred to me that Rongai is a tourist destination. If the comments from the bus were anything to go by, then the dust and hard-hitting sunshine in Rongai needs to be nationalized and advertised as part of Kenya’s finest, alongside Maasai Mara and “Hakuna Matata” slogan. Apparently, many have heard of Rongai but they had never been there. The moment we arrived at the Maasai Lodge gate, we were ushered into a whole new world. Finally, something green can be found in Kajiado!

“Before anything else, please eat!” This memo got to the SHSS leadership and true to the call, a sumptuous, well balanced, and a ‘slapping’ breakfast was up for grabs. It ‘slapped!’ Totally differently. While enjoying the breakfast, people sat as if they had nothing to lose. Enjoying every moment of the fresh air we so badly gasp in Nairobi. When you look at the pictures, you will see Dr. Jotham and Dr. Oyigo sitting as if to say, “we told you. All you need in life is sunshine and fresh air.” Paradoxically, even the philosophers enjoyed the meal and looked forward to more. Unknown to many, they also have “human needs.” Indeed, like they say about education, this team building was the greatest equalizer.

The activities that followed proved to be even greater equalizers. It appeared that the people in charge of team building knew that we are teachers and so they wanted to prove a point that even teachers need to be taught. Nearly all the activities set in place were like the CATs we set to prove a point. Imagine a scenario: there is a class full of students who think that they know slightly more than the lecturer and there’s nothing more to learn. So, when setting your CAT 1, you carefully select questions from the question bank or past papers – questions that have stood the test of time. You pick three of these to be answered. Such is the CAT characterized by deafening silence after completion and total seriousness after that. Dr. Kitawi and Patrick Micheni understand this all too well.

Starting from regular push-ups, all activities suggested by Solomon, our awesome team building guide, was a trap to catch the “unserious”. You would think that push ups are the lowest cadre of exercise, but if you heard the sounds people produced on the count of 1….2…, you would be shocked. Some even found a very clever way out; they took out the camera to “capture” the moments. Sandra was particularly adept at this strategy. Deep down, I feel the injustice that Hezron, our designated photographer, was exposed to. It appears that he had also planned to hide behind the camera to avoid such difficult tests. Sandra, however, uncovered his plan and ran with it. But such is life Hezron, take heart!

When we were divided into pairs and challenged to do different activities, a new definition of “mob justice” was crafted. This is where a duo comes up with a strategy and fails to implement it. Let me tell you how. At the back of your mind just have these two names. (Dr.) J.Mikui and Jeremiah Mong’ayo. Let’s call them the JMs. Pairing them was a tactful step by Caleb to reduce the chances of us winning. The two had perfect ideas to get our group to winning ways, but somehow, they ended up speaking at the same time, so in the end, we didn’t get to benefit from the wisdom. That’s how we lost painfully to a one-man team of Barnabas (the coach). I doubt  losing in this case was painful. I can’t imagine the desperation of a team settling on one person to compete on their behalf and everyone else, presumably of the same capacity to just watch and cheer. Like how bad can a group be that they decide, “sorry, we are poor at this, but luckily, we have a “saviour’’, we suggest he compete against you. I would rather lose than sit on the periphery of history as I watch Barno compete on my behalf. No way! For us, we were in it together. If we win, we win together and if we lose, we lose together. If we shout, we shout together, if we regret, we regret together.  We lost honourably; our heads high and proud of our JMs. If only we let the wisdom of Dr. Akidiva and the silence of Phaustine  lead us through, we would be telling a different story now. But it is what it is!

When we were invited for lunch, we didn’t know it was a trap. So sumptuous was the meal that all the lessons we teach on temperance bla bla .. became so tempting to go against. Glancing through the tables, you could hear people speak in low tones, giving the sounds of folks and knives the attention they deserve. I didn’t understand the reasoning behind the delicious meals until we were informed of the next activity. It was a trap, I told you. We were being fattened for the ultimate slaughter. How can you run around a Mugumo tree seven times after such a meal? Caroline Mbugua tried. We are yet to hear from the doctors. No amount of persuasion could convince me to set myself up for such a grand failure.  If you doubt me, ask Caroline Maingi.

The walk from Maasai Lodge to Kitengela Hot Glass was to be one of the easiest activities of the outing. However, it proved the most difficult for some. The stomach was at peace and any slight provocation was met with revolutionary resistance. Sometimes, fate rescues  man from reality. This is what happened to Dr. Beatrice Njeru. From nowhere and literally in the middle of nowhere, she meets our alumna and her mentee, Racheal Otieno. It happens that they were shooting a video in the same area. When the two met, they hugged for so long we could not understand why. Only later, we came to realize that Racheal  was Dr. Njeru’s gift from Heaven. It gave her the chance to rest, after a long  walk. She took so long that Raymond, in his evergreen wisdom, suggested that we should wait for her. Whether this was from a gentleman’s playbook or Raymond’s strategy to rest is yet to be established. But clearly, meeting your mentee can save your life, literally!

If one is to be given a chance to describe the last challenge of the day, that person must most definitely be Jose. Truly truly I tell you, there are times in life where the heart is truly willing, but the body just can’t. That is what I saw. The Kitengela Hot Glass swaying bridge broke Jose’s heart. How can you want something so badly yet you can’t have it? She tried to cross the bridge. Three times, she tried to walk through. She only managed a distance equivalent to a blackboard ruler and then retreated. 

Other people walked through the bridge effortlessly. Our Dean, Dr. Dimba walked through the swaying bridge as if she was walking in the academic procession to the graduation square. There was no change in her walking style at all. Cyrus even went right in the middle and started break dancing. Liz Mbogo got to the middle and started cat walking. Ooh my….my heart goes to all those who weren’t able to make it to the other side. You missed not only the mental strength that comes with the thought of dropping off the cliff but also the chance to see how meek glass is in the face of a furnace. Kitengela hot glass is a must visit. It gives you a slight experience of what hell is. The furnace is so hot that if you imagine being thrown into the fire to burn for eternity, then the temporary pleasures of this world are  a fair trade off. If you are struggling to inculcate virtues, then please make a point to visit the hot glass.

When we came back to Maasai Lodge, the bar was open for business. I finally understood the reason behind the brisk walk by Barbara and Miguel Fernandez. It was a strategy. This was to be the epitome of the day. When I saw the sheer variety and quantity of drinks on offer, I saw the wisdom of not opening the bar just after lunch. There would have been no possibility of the legs sustaining the bodies through the swaying bridge. Slowly, everyone took their place on the table, with their glasses of ‘something’. This was the new era of productive conversations. There is something with productive conversations and a bottle of something.

At our table, we started talking about set books. Fred Odhiambo could quote, word for word, some of the books that he last read in the early 90s. One of them was Mashetani by Ebrahim Hussein! How could someone mention ‘Mashetanis’ when you are contemplating adding two more bottles to crown the day? Somehow, the conversation reminded us of sobriety and kept us “on toes.”

When Sandra walked around tables and told us that we had only 5 minutes to start our journey back, my fears came true. All this time, I was living in the false hope that the day wouldn’t come to an end and that we would experience the joy of the moment for eternity. Sandra reminded us, as she teaches her students, that we are still living within space and time, and this broke my heart. When I saw Dr. Dimba standing up to thank all of us for the beautiful day, I knew this was it. My fears were confirmed. The day had come to an end. We had to sneak back into our realities. Regardless, the memories and moments of the day are stuck. A clear reminder of a family that remains together. What a day!  

We are SHSS and this is Strathmore University! Back to you in studio, Hezron.

If you found this article too long, you need to read more. Join the Book Club. 

Gabriel Dinda is a Teaching Fellow at School of Humanities and Social Sciences 

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