The River Between

The River Between

The River Between

James Ngugi, who later identified himself as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, was born in 1938. A prolific Kenyan writer and academic who wrote in his native Gikuyu language as his preferred medium of expression. He was a liminal thinker. Mr. Ngugi wrote a moving novel in 1965 entitled: “The River Between.” In the book he tells the story of the separation of two neighbouring highland villages of Kenya. The river in between
was both geographic and metaphoric. It symbolised various tensions caused by faith versus tradition, the advent of colonialism versus the traditional claims to land, the individual versus the community, self-knowledge versus indigenous community understanding, and change versus the desire for things to remain as they were. The main character in the novel set in the early 20th century as the whites settled in the
Kenyan highlands is Waiyaki who struggles to unite the two villages of Kameno and Makuyu through sacrifice and pain. Ultimately this is a story of courage in the face of the “rivers in between” that we all face.

The “river in between” is a familiar place, state and season in life as individuals, communities and organisations. Even at this times, our world is crossing this “river in between”, from the old and familiar, that was to a different and new normal. In between the old world and the new world, the old realities and the new realities there is a shielded space. This space, this “no man’s land” can be uncomfortable, disorienting and challenging. It is a place of growth, re-orientation and change. It is a place of transition and rebalancing. This sweet spot between the known and the unknown is fertile with originality, and yet fraught with risk. It is a place of tension
between faith and fear, stability and change, remaining and leaving, danger and drama. The key to surviving this is space is to be able to linger without panicking, knowing that the experience may new to us but not knowing is not an ending.

This season of being set between two states of being or thresholds of experience was named by Arold van Gennep, an anthropologist as a state of “liminality”. The liminal state is characterized by ambiguity, disorientation, openness, and indeterminacy that occurs during a transition. It occurs in between something that has ended and something else that is yet to begin. Liminality is found everywhere and what is
important is to be aware of it and to go through it soberly. In this “in between season” the sense of identity somewhat dissolves, bringing about disorientation. Anxiety is normal, but there is never an excuse for irresponsible behavior. We all feel in this season that a change and shift is taking place but do not have enough references to define it clearly and name what the new future shall be. Hold on and be open to learning and growth.

The past had its glory days, but it is no longer coming back. Stop living in the bygone because that would be fairy-land, never-land and fear-land. You cannot recreate the past in the new context and you can never be sustained by wishful thinking, and fanciful gallery appearances. If you are not willing to think, stay shielded in the past. If you are not willing to learn, stay locked-down. Learn to live on the edges, because everything is changing and shifting. Whatever is happening, never think from the podium of fear or platform of conceit. Do not fly out of the window and neither waste resources stoning windows.

In this in between period the past is no longer a sufficient anchor for the future. Traditional strategic thinking is not sufficient to navigate into the future. This is a place of challenge and opportunity, learning and risk, growth and transition, sense-making and strategic-steering. The signals are talking and what is important is to read them clearly and adapt accordingly. Fighting against change never stops change. Resisting the obvious does not stop it from happening. In this season the normal limits to
thought, beliefs, self-understanding, and behavior are relaxed, opening the way to something new. It can be very disorienting but hold on and keep your sanity. Take each day as it comes, learn again and be willing to grow and change.

Keep Your head
Change and chaos in liminality do not mean that the world has ended and that you are finished. Keep your head when others are losing theirs. Hold dear the foundations of the past and be willing to accommodate change. Never let any report of chaos, change, transition, evolution or disruption unsettle you. There are things that you will have to stop doing, because they will no longer serve you. There are things that you have to start doing because you have to move into the new. There are some that you have to sustain because some things do not change and will not change. Change what must be changed.

The sky is not falling. Stop frightening yourself and feeding your mind horror tales. Faith and fear are intensified by what you feed your mind with. Stop reading things that make you unsettled, jittery and fearful. Feed on things that make you mentally story, focused and strategically sound. Panic is not a strategy. Hysteria is not a business model. Dismay is not an operating model. Agitation is not a strategic theme. Alarm is not a big bet. Consternation is not luminal leadership. Keep grounded and adaptive.

Confront fear with faith. Confront foreboding with a new vision of you playing in a new field. Confront apprehension with a new aggressive learning and retooling. Confront terror, with tales of change and transformation. What you do not know you can learn. What you have never done you can start doing. What you do not have you can acquire. Do not just forget everything and run wild in maniac panic. There is
nowhere to run to where you will not need to change, learn and grow. Stay on station, but do not stagnate. Watch strategically and you will start seeing around the corners and a pathway shall be given to you. Fear not! Faint not!

Hello to Change
The chaos you witness must be met with a grounded faith-filled-heart, a resolute mind and a clear eye. Keep looking around the corners. Keep watching the edges of your industry. Keep listening out for the strong and weak signals. Keep grounded and focused. Do not give up yet. It is when things are worst that the broad strokes of opportunities are brightest. Remain grounded and yet open to change. Be rooted and anchored. When your roots are deep and sturdy, you are never worried too much about the leaves and the passing winds. Whatever happens, determine that you will do more than survive. Keep hope alive. You will thrive and you will have a
testimony out of this test of resilience.

History is being read, the live commentary of the present is running, and it is your responsibility to write and live your own script. Rewrite your story and live it out with tenacity, imagination and daring dreams of greatness. The late Steve Biko once wrote: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” Whoever you allow to control your thinking will control your life. Refuse to let circumstances, conditions, constraints, credentials or anything else that does not serve you become the script by which you live your life. Live from your dream and vision and not from your bitter memories or the squeeze of the present. Do not
let hate, bitterness, anger, revenge, evil, anger or cynicism become part of your script. Greatness comes when you learn to channel your positive energies and allow yourself to soar above your limitations and challenges.

Life is a whole series of necessary and threaded adventures. Liminality is not finality. Use well you period of waiting. Cross with wisdom the river in between. While you wait for greatness maximise this moment because it is an essential piece of the tapestry of life. Rivers are to be crossed. Make the most this resetting opportunity. This moment of your life is too precious to waste and too important to be meaningless. Make the most of these humbling moments, you will miss them in the not-so distant future.

Where you are today is a great platform of learning. You are sitting on the great highway. Get ready for your take off. Learn all you can as you wait waiting. When you see the land beyond the river, you know there is no moment to waste. Learn all you can today as you grow towards all you could be tomorrow. This river between, you can cross. Hold your oars.
Committed to your greatness.
Milton Kamwendo
© 2020, Milton Kamwendo
Milton Kamwendo is a leading international transformational and motivational speaker, author, and growth mentor. He is a cutting-edge strategy, team-building and organisation development facilitator and consultant. His life purpose is to inspire and promote greatness. He can be reached at: and His website is:

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