From Watchman to Man to Watch: Daniel Ong'era's Book to Inaugurate the Positively African Book Club

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Article by: Lesalon Kasaine

Publication date:

Daniel Ong'era, author of 10 Steps to Freelancing Online

If you find yourself creating a list of people who are real definitions of phrases like “From zero to hero” or “From rags to ranks”, please include Daniel Ong’era’s name. But Daniel Ong’era is just a name, and remember, there’s a difference between the name and the named. So who is the person, really? To know the man, let’s start with a story; his story.

It’s the tradition that interesting stories come with interesting titles, so how about we call this one, From watchman to the man to watch? Hands up if you don’t like the title. Ah, we all like it…

From watchman to the man to watch

My name is Daniel Ong’era, a form four leaver who doesn’t know what it’s like to have gone to college. I’m told that I should narrate my story, for it’s only after I tell it that you will fully appreciate the good news, well– the main reason we are all gathered on this page today– the announcing of a super cool book club with a super cool name. Let me not pre-empt things. I’ll dive right into my story, then we’ll have it out of the way.

After I completed my secondary school education, I stayed home. It’s not like I didn’t have dreams, but as you may already know, having dreams and living dreams are two different things. It’s like drawing a 3D architectural image of a building Vs having the materialized building itself. Let’s say, all I had was the 3D architectural plan, but I came nowhere near actualizing my dream.

Time passed. Each new day only underlined the need for me to find something to put my hands on, a job; a gainful activity that would start earning me some cash. You know the drill when it comes to adulting. Leave your parent’s home, go start your own life and fight for your dreams. That pressure to, as society would put it, be a man, surmounted my mind.

Coming to Nairobi, the city under the sun

Luckily for me, a friend approached me with a plan that would ferry me from my hometown to Nairobi, the city under the sun, where almost everyone goes with steadfast hope that the city’s sun will shine and open up the buds of their career flowers. She planned to connect me to a cleaning company in Nairobi that would gainfully employ me. And that’s how I became a cleaner, diligently pushing around a mop and doing other cleaning activities at buildings owned by my employer’s clientele. This was in the year 2006.

Two months later, fate would have it that I wasn’t stamped out to be a cleaner. I shifted to a security company, this time as a guard, or what the streets would gladly call a watchman. Neat in my uniform and a baton held in my hand, I guarded homes, mostly taking up night shifts. That was after I successfully went through a security guards’ training facilitated by my employer.

The birth of my daughter and the start of my new career

2008 came with a blessing for me in the form of a child; my daughter. My wife and I welcomed into this world our firstborn child, and while this came with the joy of becoming parents, it didn’t forget to smuggle into our home the new challenges and responsibilities that come with raising a child. My mind would race every second, going on overdrive, thinking up new ideas to eke a better living and provide for my family.

During this time, we had made a humble home out of a single room protruding somewhere in the busy and crowded Kangemi. When my wife’s relative visited us, I’m not sure what it was that she observed as far as our home and lives were concerned, but whatever it was, it convinced her that we needed help.

She asked me, “Daniel, what is it that I can do to help out?” Before I even had the chance to soak her question in and maybe string together a pick-us-up gesture she could palm out to us, she added, “I can enrol you for a course, think of a skill you want to add.”

Taking up computer classes

In the days that followed, I took up computer packages at a computer college in Westlands. See, I’d always held this thought that in the world of computers, better jobs existed. Jobs like maybe supervisor of other guards, which came with that upskilling in computer proficiency. I did well at my computer classes, and when the 2009 national census spread an ad in search of enumerators, I took a stab at it. I’m never one to waste opportunities, I pounce on them. I got the job, and at the end of the census road, pay awaited me.

While I do not remember how much I got paid, I remember using eight thousand shillings from my pay to buy an old desktop from a friend. And with that entered my new love for writing, which I’d say was heavily inspired by the many books I used to read while on my shifts as a security guard.

At this point, I had still kept my job as a security guard, and during my free time, I would moonlight as a budding writer. I didn’t really have a specific goal, I’d just sit behind my newly acquired old desktop, open up a word document, and type away. I would also spend time at a cyber, trying to look up ways to make money out of this thing called a computer.

Lady luck smiled on me

Later, I came to experience the touch of this woman they call Lady Luck. If you happen to know her, please bless her for me. She smiled on me when a Swedish man whose home I guarded blessed me with a laptop. He ran me through a short story, along the lines of how he bought the laptop for his daughter, and then the daughter spilt coffee on the machine and now she didn’t want the laptop anymore, because the keys ‘didn’t feel the same again although the machine worked just well’. The man also gave me access to his home Wifi, and at night, while on my shift, I would work on my writing skills. Need I tell you that I sang me a halleluiah?

Unfortunately, for today, I’ll cut my story at this point. I know, I know. Please put that gun down, I’m only leaving you hanging so you can go buy my book and read the rest of my story, captured in the prologue. To cut the long story short and steal for you a gander into what went down, let me tell you that I am now a prolific online freelancer. Both local and international clients seek me day and night, and I earn a living as a full-time online writer. That’s not all. I now employ writers every once in a while!

10 Steps to Freelancing Online

The book: 10 Steps to Freelancing Online

In my career as a freelancer, many people have approached me with requests to train them on how to be great online writers. This pushed me into creating a google document addressing recurring questions. But then later it dawned on me that to take a deep dive into guiding others on online freelancing, I needed to write a book. In my book, I expound on ten steps:

1. Assume a saviour mentality
2. Be aware of options
3. Niche down and become an expert
4. Know where to get work
5. Create a psychologically persuasive resume
6. Create work samples with internal and external credibility
7. Learn to bid and pitch with the law of wasted efforts
8. Figure out what to charge
9. Learn strategically to increase your desirability
10. Get a mentor to get you through the forest

I also give insights into the mistakes most freelancers make and draw a clear line between academic writing and online freelance writing. These two aren’t synonymous! See you at the book club.

(As narrated to Lesalon Kasaine)

Also Read: In Support of African Writers: Meet the Man Behind the First Ever All-African Bookshop


Positively African Book Club

The story of Daniel is an inspiring one; a true reflection of how hard work and determination break down the doors of impossibility. His book, a guide on freelancing titled 10 Steps to Freelancing Online will be the first book to be discussed at the Positively African Book Club meet on 28th July 2021 where attendees will also get an opportunity to meet Daniel (see poster below for details).

Positively African Book Club, an initiative of Qazini and Writers Guild Kenya, is on a mission to elevate the works of African authors and encourage a reading culture on the continent. Fill this form to join the club. One of the qualifications, of course, is that you must read the book and be ready to engage in discussions around it.

10 Steps to Freelancing Online is available for purchase at the Writers Guild Bookshop, Hazina Towers, Nairobi, ground floor, Suite 2A. It’s also available on Amazon.

Positively African Book Club welcomes you all. Let us unite through books, and let Africa Rise!