Ndugu Abisai is a writer without a face. The mystery behind his humorous posts is both captivating and intriguing. His true identity is an enigma that puzzles his readers every time he publishes new content. He says storytelling is more than a hobby, it is a purpose. Bringing light into the lives of his readers is what he was put on this earth to do.
He has experienced life; felt its tenderness and wrath at the same time. With his mother’s passing, Ndugu was orphaned as a young adult, the situation forced him to grow up sooner than he should have. He made some wrong decisions in the process, but he prevailed.
We spoke to Ndugu about his journey, his heartache and how writing led him back to his purpose. He uses his blog to tell his stories, each story more humorous and captivating than the previous one.
Who is the real Ndugu Abisai?
First of all, Ndugu Abisai is a real person, a young man who recently turned thirty. I have been writing for one year now, for the longest time I described myself as a storyteller rather than a writer because I believe storytelling has more freedom. With time, however, I have been absorbed in the realm of writing because most of my friends are writers. Through the interactions I have had with them, I can now call myself a writer.
I am almost married. I am currently in a relationship with a high likelihood of leading to marriage so hopefully, by the year’s end, I will be somebody’s husband.
I am a graduate of Meru University and I have a degree in Actuarial science. Two years ago, I used to work in a bank but after struggling to find any joy or fulfilment, I assisted my employer to fire me. I didn’t like anything about being a banker, I was stressed all the time, I could no longer meet deadlines because I no longer possessed the drive to be productive. At one point I even got ulcers because the mental toll was too much. In 2018 I stopped working and took a four-month break. In early 2019 I went back to writing and storytelling.
What profession are you currently in, do you write for a living?
At one point I was working as a writer but wasn’t getting paid as much as I would have wanted. Subsequently, I have earned substantially from content creation, I have done a few advertisements and also, I work as a private teacher for IGCC students where I teach maths and physics. That is basically how I survive. I would therefore not say I am a writer by profession, even though most of my day is taken up by writing. I do it more as a means to improve my writing and storytelling skill. I hope that in future I can write full-time and earn something good from it. I am currently in an assembly of around ten local writers and we are compiling a number of short stories that will be put in a book and released sometime in 2020.
Will we be seeing a book from Ndugu Abisai anytime soon?
For now, I am not headed towards that direction. Like I said, from the onset, I was always more of a storyteller, short stories that provoke instant emotions of joy and humour. A book would naturally need more time to invoke these kinds of feelings because it is usually a story that develops slowly with time.
I prefer short stories because it is by writing the same that I got through a dark period in my own life. Right after my losing job at the bank, I went through a phase where I was very gloomy and even more unfulfilled because I felt like I wasn’t where I ought to be in life. Funny thing is, it had nothing to do with finances, I was just in a dark state of mind and getting back to writing renewed my zeal and drive. It is amazing because the same storytelling that gives me healing also gives my readers a sense of peace and joy. Some have written to me to express how my stories make their day. I believe that this is truly my purpose on earth, to make the world a little lighter through short stories.
Writing and storytelling, what is the difference?
For me, I think there is a lot of difference between the two styles. Most of my work is either on Facebook or on my blog. Looking at both platforms, a keen person will find that there is a clear distinction in the content. On Facebook, the posts are more comical, and interactive, not adhering to the conventional rules whereas on the blog, the posts are well structured, put together, emotional and a little more sensible. The first post on the blog was put up in late January 2019, in the beginning, I would put up one post per week, I went to three then to five posts but it became too exhausting therefore I went back to writing just three posts per week and that is how it has been until now.
Why all the mystery?
I am not mysterious. In the past, I used to have a lot of my personal information on social media but once I started telling stories I realized that the readers rarely separate the content from the person. This led to me removing all personal information from my platforms so that my readers could find some distinction between the stories and the storyteller. Being able to tell stories the way I do has opened doors for me to know lots of people whom I wouldn’t have known otherwise. Most of my stories are comical and the reason behind that is so that I can uplift someone’s spirit.
How do your readers relate to your stories if they can’t put a face behind the words?
There has been a clamour to find the face behind the content, but I believe that this curiosity has been a contributing factor to people coming back to the page and wanting to read more. Ultimately, I think there is a power in mystery, that which you don’t know keeps you interested and engaged. Not having my face out there has made the readers take up the stories as their own, without a face, there is no sense of ownership so I feel like they relate more and indulge more in the stories because they are theirs to read and be moved by.
I have to ask, have you ever put your Actuarial Science degree to practice?
I never have, probably because I never really wanted to do the course in the first place. You see, I always wanted to pursue law since I was in high school but because I am an orphan, I felt like I couldn’t raise the fee required to go to a prestigious school for law. I had an A- in my KCSE but because I was fearful of the unknown, I believed I had to lower the prestige of the university and take a course which I thought would have been more affordable. So, I went to Meru university and we were the first actuarial science class in the school. It is only upon admission that I realized that the Joint admissions board catered for the same amount in all courses. The choice to do actuarial science was not well-informed and was based on my fear of not being able to raise the fee because I had no parents.
How was university life like for you?
Actuarial science isn’t a course I would say I am so proud of. To be honest, I really struggled to finish because I wasn’t passionate about it. I got a few bursaries and HELB stepped in to help so finances were not the issue. The problem was that I couldn’t enjoy the learning process. While in school, I was more involved in other things such as participating in university leadership and finding work. I eventually graduated in 2015 and immediately got a job at the bank by God’s grace. I worked in the finance sector and even got a few promotions but the longer I stayed there the more I realized that I wasn’t being true to my purpose.
Writing got you through a dark phase in your life, do you feel like its importance as a form of therapy is somewhat underrated sometimes?
I wouldn’t say it is underrated but I feel like there is an ongoing shift whereby people are more deliberate in seeking help and healing for the issues that they are facing. Writing is fast becoming the kind of therapy that people are turning to. It is said that if you want to hide something write it in a book, but not everything should end up in a book.
There is a lot of content out there in the form of memes, short stories and tweets. There is also the factor of interacting with the content over a considerable amount of time so that you can relate to it. Writing is not underrated; you need to find the kind of content that relates the most to you. People are sad out here with failed relationships, joblessness and dysfunctional families. What you need is to find a timeline that speaks to you and gives you the strength that things will get better. We are living in probably the most depressed generation but at the same time, we are also the most informed and therefore we are proactive in finding solutions to our problems and most of these solutions are found in writing.
You frequently use the hashtag #PowersToRead, are we also experiencing a shift in our reading habits?
There is a notable shift in the way we are reading. In the past, only a select few had the patience to read even one chapter of a novel. Today however are seeing blogs trending and that in itself should tell you a lot about our reading habits. Recently we have seen Bikozulu, Kisauti, Magunga, these are bloggers whose shortest stories are around four thousand words, but more readers are willing to sit through the long posts comment and share them. That is positive. It is through this kind of blogging that writers like Bikozulu end up writing books. In my own capacity, I recorded 20,000 views on my blog after just five months of writing. That should tell you how much people thirst for something they can read and relate to.
Most of what you write is comical in nature. How important is it for you to make people laugh?
The reason why I started to write in the first place was that I needed to get myself out of a dark place. Whilst doing so, the kind of literature I was reading leaned more towards comedy and I think I saw that as a way that I could also express myself. I read articles from a lot of international writers like Drew Magary who is an American humour columnist for the GQ magazine, there is Devin Friedman amongst others. These are all serious and accomplished writers, but they package their stories in such a way that is so humorous and refreshing to the reader even when you might be feeling sad and low.
In my posts, I always say that no story should be boring. As much as a story is tackling serious issues about human catastrophe, there should always be a silver lining in the story that the readers should take and use positively, a comical break. Should we only read sad stories after sad stories because then what will become of us? More often than not, you are the literature you consume and essentially, if you are only exposed to sad material, you will be sad as well.
Think about the 16th, 17th and 18th-century literature, it is mostly inspired by poetry and you will find that William Shakespeare contributed immensely to the world by embracing that style of literature. You will also find a lot of scientific literature from that era. That is the reason we have the Isaac Newton’s and all the other famous inventors because again, you become what you read.
Talk to us about purpose.
It is important to start by saying that everyone has a purpose in life regardless of who you are or what you believe in. We all have an engineered role to play in order to complete the circle of life. Unfortunately, most of us will be too busy catching up with life that we will leave this world not having discovered or lived our purpose.
The way to find your purpose isn’t as difficult as it is made out to be. Contrary to what people think, I believe purpose is not a hidden thing. Purpose has always been with you, you might have ignored it, but it has always been there. It could be that your purpose is to make people happy, to advance technology, to teach to heal. Sometimes your purpose might be in your career and sometimes it might not be. Purpose is the thing that brings personal fulfilment but also impacts other people as well. It is yours to share with the world.
Finding purpose should not be tied to any religious functionality. It exists just as much even to those that do not practice or believe in religion. Purpose is undeniable and you can almost smell it or see it on people even as they go about their business. Some people are more fulfilled as conductors than they would be if they were engineers.
Purpose is greatly misunderstood in its inception. People will expect your life to be smooth sailing because you are happy and doing the things you love. On the contrary, once you resolve to do the thing that makes you happy you often find that you are broke, you will feel unappreciated and unwanted.
Will we ever put a face on Ndugu Abisai?
I will have to put a face eventually because like I said, we are launching a book and I will have to make an appearance of some kind at the venue. If I had a say in the matter, I would prefer not to put my face out there because I feel like I am uniquely placed to write stories that people relate more with mostly because there is no entity to associate the story with. My readers have also felt at ease in outing their stories to me, something I think would not have been easy if they knew who I was. Inevitably, my face will be out there at some point, but I will probably not be the force behind it.
Check out Ndugu Abisai’s blog here.
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