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It takes a certain lifestyle to be as fit as a fiddle at 79


Passionate about correctness of language and fluent in English, French, Italian, Spanish, Latin and can get by in Swahili, I had the privilege in early September to have a chat with Mr. Martyn Drakard, the University Editor. I must say, I expected a man with a cane, but to my surprise, 79-year-old, Martyn Drakard, is as fit as a fiddle.

Born and brought up in England, Drakard attended the village primary school and local grammar school up to and including A levels and then to the University of Birmingham where he studied French, Italian and Spanish. After graduation he secured his first post teaching English in an Italian Liceo (high school) in Naples for a year. While teaching, he met a person from Opus Dei who spoke of a new college that had opened in Kenya. As he was not interested in returning to England, he moved to Rome for another year where he taught English in the British Institute. In 1965, he moved to Kenya.

At that time, there was only Strathmore College form five and six. “I taught French and English at the college as well as doing administrative work,” he said. “Later on, the Principal then, Charles Sotz, asked if I would like to move to the School of Accountancy and begin a library and I agreed.” He adds.

Back then, the library was where the finance office is currently. However, his work as a librarian was short lived. In 1997 he moved to male mentoring and with the encouragement of the Strathmore University Vice Chancellor, Prof. John Odhiambo, together they began the Community Outreach Programme (COP). “I loved it. I really met some exciting people. Sadly, I also came to learn how many people live in deplorable conditions in our country.”

We started COP from scratch. I would go out and contact community groups in Mukuru, Kibra and Korogocho. We began with giving motivational talks and whenever a sponsor was available, we linked young people to study courses at Strathmore University. This outreach journey for me also gave rise to articles as I would meet very interesting groups of people in the informal settlements. I became a regular contributor for the Sunday Standard.

Is there an abundance of life after retirement?

Indeed, Anne there is. I retired at 55 and proceeded to Uganda where I began writing articles for the local newspapers. I also worked for a time with a publishing house doing editorial work and was a regular contributor to MecatorNet. an online news magazine based in Sydney, Australia. I also travelled to the North of Uganda just after the Lord’s Resistance Army war had ended. I travelled there for stories for there were very few journalists or reporters recording these stories. There had been a 20-year war where many children had been abducted by the rebel army and the population was traumatized. I worked in Uganda until I turned 71.

While in Uganda, I got to learn that the people in Uganda are different from Kenyans. Kenyans are more extroverted, and Ugandans tend to give more importance to formality. Ugandans tend to find us Kenyans aggressive and a bit rough in our manners. They admire the Kenyan entrepreneurial spirit and dynamism and our approach to life, but they think it is a pity that we Kenyans are a bit rough the way we do our things and deal with others.

Other than writing?

I also enjoy reading. I am currently in between books. The last book I read was on Civilization, a biography on Sir Kenneth Clarke, an English art historian and expert who died in 1983. I read depending on my moods. We have a good library where I live. Occasionally I read a book online, but I prefer paper back. Reading online is complicated as it hurts the eyes, and one must sit in a certain position.

I also love movies. I prefer European to American movies. European movies pose a human problem. I find them much more realistic. One of my favorite movies is the Untouchables. It is a French comedy. It is about a wealthy businessman in Paris who is paraplegic. He needs special care, and he dismisses many who are unable to care for him. After countless interviews he can only find one man, a Senegalese emigrant who unknown to him is also involved in the underworld with drugs in the ghettoes of Paris. The two establish a wonderful relationship. It is a very warm movie full of things you do not expect. The two from different worlds become friends.

Did you know I also love avocados? I am on a strict diet, so I enjoy lots of vegetables and fruits. I used to enjoy Italian food. I can now only consume their pasta and fish. My favorite fish is King Fish from the Coast.

On a good day you will find me listening to Handel, Beethoven, and Mozart to relax. I also work out three days a week with my physiotherapist. On the remaining days I walk and do stretches. Keeping fit when older is necessary because our lifestyles become sedentary and you develop physical habits you are not aware of; you begin to slouch and get a pot and, before you know it, you are 50 and you are at a point of no return. For years, I used to jog daily.

I have a passion of keeping fit. I also encourage others to do this. As an Englishman I have a passion for justice too. I get angry at injustices. I always want people to be treated justly.

A word for our new students?

It is so easy for University students to think they are out of the disciplined environment of school and can do what they like. That is very dangerous. They should understand University is a privilege and not a right. If they were not in University, they would have to be working and actively contributing to the economy. If you are faced with getting a job after high school, you will be forced to be responsible suddenly. I would advise that:

  1. Work hard, get your degree in the shortest time possible and out into the world of work.
  2. Make good use of your stay at the University. Make friends, relate well with lecturers and mentors, and learn a lot from them.
  3. Learn punctuality, keeping your word, making promises, and keeping them. When you are young you can be a bit thoughtless because you do not have to be thoughtful.
  4. Develop your talents and be involved out of the classroom environment.
  5. Get a mentor. It is important to have someone to go to when you have a problem. It could be a problem of accommodation, how to use your time, in case you have no money…the mentor can inspire you to develop yourself more, and to try new things you didn’t know you were good at… I still informally mentor young professionals where I live. Over the years I have mentored probably hundreds.

Lessons from COVID-19

When I was 7, I caught the Asian flu. I do not go as far back as the Spanish flu, 100 years ago. My parents remembered it though.

  • I have learnt that there are some things you must give up that you had taken for granted.
  • To rely on each other a little bit more. Not to take habits, routines, and material things for granted. You have them today and tomorrow they could be gone.
  • Living in community helps because you have people to rely on. If you are out there alone it can be very hard.

Post Corona thoughts?

  1. We will rely more on technology and might develop a fear that it could come back and thus we will not take things for granted.
  2. People will also think twice about travelling abroad because if you get stuck in another country when there is another lockdown without money, it can be devastating.

Dear retirees

When you retire you should be busier than when you were working. What you should not do is sit and watch TV the whole day. You are your own boss, and the time is yours. I have often observed people who retire, return to their village and the next time you hear of them is their funeral announcement in the local dailies.

At retirement, you must have a purpose in life, to keep you going. Retirement is a whole new chapter of one’s life. Keep yourself occupied through reading, writing, debating with friends, contacting your friends, and keeping fit. Retirement can be very fruitful. I have enjoyed my retirement. If you have the means you can do things you were not able to do when working.

You can build from your previous profession upon retirement and be ingenious and creative with the education you have received. Also, one can get involved with the community. Having a sense of purpose is key. Always know that you are very useful to the community because of your knowledge, your experience and wisdom.

As I leave Mr. Drakard, I have so many things I want to do to ensure I retire well. I am not too far from this so I had better get prepping. What about you?

This article was written by Anne Njeri Njoroge.

Would you like to share your experience of living through the circumstances brought by the Covid-19 pandemic? Kindly email: communications@strathmore.edu