WHY I AM NOT RENEWING MY ZUKU SUBSCRIPTION

6 minute read

There comes a time in a relationship when you know it is over. Nothing you will ever do will rescue the relationship. A pastor will not. Elderly relatives with their accumulated wisdom will not. A counselor or a therapist will not. Talking it out will not. Taking time off, will not.  It is over.

If it is a man and he is an alcoholic, he will hit the bottle harder, caring less about the wife, or children. If he is into drugs, he will plunge deeper into the cheap escapism. If he was violent, now he will be suicidal, instilling terror in his family; the wife or girlfriend will always be afraid, not sure what to expect every time he walks through the door. If a womanizer, he will be cheating brazenly and openly, if only to offend the wife the more. The man will do anything to make the woman read the signs and go away. Some women stay put, knowing that he may change his ways…

If a woman it is a woman tired with a man, she may decide to start cheating as a way of despising him. She will be rude and condescending. She will serve the man cold cabbage, badly prepared food, and anything to demonstrate that the love is gone. Some women may even stop caring about her looks, put in more weight, acquire a wig or a weave against the man’s wishes and generally stop caring about the man.

Basically, the love will be gone.

That is where I am with Zuku.

I first met Zuku in my friend’s house in South B, back in the Christmas of December, 2012. It was down. I don’t remember any single day that it worked when I stayed with him briefly. Now. Back in 2012, wi-fi was sort of a luxury and few places in Nairobi could offer it. The few restaurants that had it were either too expensive, charged you for using it, or it was unreliable. Mostly unreliable.  I used to rely mostly on cyber cafes, you would find me at the Lazards Cyber Café on Kenya Cinema’s 4th Floor. Even so, I got a teaching job and the school used to offer internet, though as soon as three people were in the staff room, it hardly worked.

I bought a Safaricom modem. It was reasonably reliable. Some devils would lie to me that Orange or Celtel (was it Zain or Kencel..). The reason I have stuck with Safaricom, despite its prohibitive costs is that they are at least reliable. I tried the Orange Modem once, I realised I was going to be a great grandparent, before it could open the Google Search bar.

Down the line I joined the newsroom and the office internet was superb, obviously. I had no need for internet anymore. I went to the United States and the internet was so ubiquitous like air. See, I always had reliable internet, one way or another.

But when I came back from the States, my life changed dramatically. I needed time to adjust. I was not so sure about employment. Now a father, older, fatter, stupider, I could not bring myself to sit in a cyber café, unless under very exceptional circumstances. I tried Java, and a few other restaurants, but the wi-fi in restaurants was mostly unreliable and invariably went down as soon as I ordered a milkshake.

I asked around and despite the bad rap Zuku got, it was the only option I had. I ran into the guys in my hood, and I asked them to come set up the damn thing. Within 48 hours, and 100 dollars poorer, I had the Internet and everyone in my household was happy. Zuku had charged me connection fee, but the following week, the connections were free in my neighbourhood. I have always been terrible at timing.

The first month, there were the usual teething problems and I was patient. I live in an area where anytime someone at Kenya Power wants a quick buck, in the way of overtime, they just switch it off. The place is always under maintenance. And any time power goes off and comes back, Zuku used to take up a whole day before it can be reconnected. And you know that little problems when it rains.

The second month, it was ish-ish. The third month, tolerable. By the sixth and seventh months, things improved and I was on a roll. But around this time, texts messages started coming. Zuku could send up 50 messages a day. I have dated a deranged girl, so possessive, but she never wrote so many messages. And then, soon afterwards they started making calls. Very mechanical and annoying.

“Hi, I am Irene, I am calling from Zuku, wanted to tell you that if you pay on time, we have a rewarding system, you will get one point and if you get to three points, we will add you 10 mbps, blab la…” I took the calls, but after three months I realised, it was boring and stopped calling altogether.

Then I bought another subscription for my office. The office one used to work well, but sure as hell, once a week it will have its down time.

But it is the one in the house that has driven me nuts. For the last two months, I can no longer rely on it. And yet my job relies on the internet access for 24 hours. Every single minute. And by internet, I mean speedy, reliable and affordable internet. Currently, only Zuku can do the job. But they are not reliable. And they have cost me many man hours and money I can ill-afford.

Thrice a week, I wake up to work, and once I have sat my ass down and about to upload something, Zuku disappears for hours. You can imagine, it is one of those days when you are too broke to venture into town. The very reason you put a Zuku in the house, to help you work from home is to save you in such days. Maybe you have a skype call with your client. You can’t go to a restaurant, like Java where everyone and their mothers go to hang out to talk about sensitive stories. Besides, only Java out of their 69 outlets has functional wifi.

When you wake up on Monday with a lot to research on. A lot to read on. A lot to send, but Zuku takes leave until the time you don’t need it. We can’t leave like that. When it is down, I have to shower, leave home for town, sit in a restaurant with bad food and all distractions. It beats the very logic of having it.

So, with this, I would love to terminate our love affair. I will thank them for the many days they have come through, but now, speed and reliability are not an option for me: They are a must.

I am single again. Anyone can take me up.

 

Advertisements

The power of stories and the will to live

“Art is, and always was, at the service of man. Our ancestors created their myths and told their stories for human purpose.”

                                                               -Chinua Achebe

Recently, a young man from my village who works as a security guard in one of Nairobi’s swankier hotels started one of his routine chats with me on Facebook. I asked him, in the “small-talkish” way if he was still manning the gate at the hotel.

“Yes. Kusukumana tu,” he chatted back.

“Hang in there,” I urged him.

“Thanks, man must live.” He wrote back.

For Kenyans of a certain generation, that statement:“Man Must Live” is a familiar one. It was a popular short story in the anthology Encounters from Africa, that was part of the Kenyan high school curriculum between 2003 to 2005.

“Do you remember Khalima Zungu, the main character in “Man Must Live”? he asked.

“Of course, I do. The watchman.” I hit back.

“Ha ha ha. That mantra inspires me.” He told me. That made me happy.

“True, be strong, one day things will be straight,” I told him in way of encouragement.

“Hope so, good evening,” and off he went to work.

That small conversation made me happy. A young man working as a watchman, sometimes down and out, remembering a story he probably read last in 2005, and living by the mantra of the story was something understated but very powerful.

In the story, Khalima Zungu is a burly railway police man who loves his job. He loved women too,  because they always complimented his heavyset body. He comes off as a buffoonish character. He had been on his job for so long, and age was catching up with him. One day, a woman arrived at the station late at night when the last train had left, and another one will not arrive until 3.15 a.m. He housed her in his small room and they chatted the night away. He learned that she is a widow and she had children.

The woman leaves in the morning and their little encounter seems to have sparked sparked some fire. A  week or so later, he receives an invitation from the woman to attend her daughter’s birthday. Zungu went. He loved everything about the family. In a space of few weeks, he married the woman and left his job.  He soon squanders his savings on liquor. And he turned on his wife’s savings and squandered her savings too. The woman ran out sympathy and patience and deserted the man. When he arrived home late at night one night, he found the house deserted with not even a single piece of furniture in site. He decided to torch down the house and himself, but was saved by neighbours and he woke up in a hospital. Now he had to carry on with life, after all, he always believed that Man Must Live.

Ezekiel Mphalele, arguably one of the best writers to ever emerge from the continent did a terrific job with the story, so humorous, yet so tragic. But despite everything, the story demonstrates the will of man to live.

As a man who aspires to be a storyteller, it is easy to think that our job on earth is useless. It sometimes feels like a thankless job. In other countries, storytellers, be they New York Times’s best-selling novelists, or the actors and producers in Hollywood they make a living a from their works. Not necessarily so in Kenya or in Africa to a large extent. We have great writers, bloggers, entertainers, but we always want to consume their stuff for free, yet their sweat touches our lives in a way nothing will. There some songs I listen and they cure me. Some writers whose work entertain me and enrich my life and makes living such a worthy experience.

Back to my kinsman who still lives by a mantra he got from a story he studied in school in 2005. Mphalele is long dead in South Africa, but his work still inspires a young man in Nairobi.

Stories are very powerful. Stories can change lives. After the chat with the young man, I remember Professor Henry Indangasi asking us in a Literature class, which was the best story in that anthology Encounters From Africa. Unanimously we all picked Ken Saro Wiwa’s “Africa Kills Her Sun”; a volatile letter from a prisoner to his girlfriend  on the eve of his execution explaining why he does not regret how is life turned out, and why he became a bandit, and how death will liberate him, and it us, the living who are poorer and prisoners. Every person who studied the anthology will pick the story. It is a no-brainer. The old Professor told said:NO.

We scratched our heads and picked the next best story, “The Man” by E.B Dongala. Written in quick moving action, the story tells of a man who breaks through an impregnable security designed by a white person with degrees in war science and terrorism to kill a dictator president. The Professor said NO.

We gave up on the tenacious Professor and asked him to pick his story. He picked Sam Kahiga’s “Last Breath” where a dying father donates his cornea to a blind would be daughter-in-law, when all along the son thought the father was against him marrying the blind girl.

“It is a good story, but certainly not better than Saro Wiwa’s story or Dongala’s masterpiece,” we argued.

“Stories have to inspire people. Stories have to make people happy. A story must end on an optimistic note, your choices end on a pessimistic note. Not inspiring, however well-written,” he told us.

We agreed to disagree. Personally, in my short stories or blogs, I have never believed in happy endings. Whether it is a night out, or the trial dates, or relationships, there is little in life that guarantees a good ending. It is the American optimism that has infected the world literature to an extent that we always buy into finishing stories with some hope, or having our heroine saved.

But when the young man from home told me that story inspires him, I had to rethink about Prof Indangasi’ advise on the need to finish our stories on an optimistic note.

I always loved Prof. Indangasi. He can be contrarian, and for that some people tend to differ with him aggressively. His last piece in the Nation, he called out on Ngugi wa Thiong’o, accusing his book Weep Not, Child promoting violence, oath taking to ensure that power never leaves the House of Mumbi.  He also said that the ancestral claim to land ironical. Since we have immigrated to our present land and there is no such a thing as ancestral ownership of land. Something compelling.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o one of the best writers to emerge out of Kenya, the man who documented our colonial struggle, using his Kikuyu tribesmen’s travails in the hands of white men has been accused of promoting Kikuyu nationalism. And his conspicuous silence towards criticizing the governments of Kibaki and Kenyatta II has been seen as a way abetting the sickening corruption overseen by the two successive presidents. But sometimes, I think we should cut him some slack. A man can only do so much and should leave it to others to carry on with the fight.

I have never had a problem of him using his Kikuyu language or his stories largely being centered on his Kikuyu experience. We are conjoined with the Kikuyu and their fate is our fate and our fate is their fate. And nothing has ever stopped me from using my Kisii community as a source for my stories. Nothing stopped Grace Ogot from using is Dholuo community to tell stories. Nothing stops anyone.

Stories must have a strong sense of community to get an identity. We associate hip-hop music with ghettoes in Carlifonia, New York Baltimore, Dandora, Kariobangi, because the anger, the creativity and all other ingredients necessary for hip-hop can only flourish in a ghetto.

Mafia stories were very Italian. Epic drug stories are from Mexico and Latin America. In short, stories must come from a place, but they all have therapeutic and cathartic and the experience of a man or a woman in China is the same as the experience of woman in Argentina. Indeed, all of us human beings have the will to live against all the odds.

You can be down and out. You may be living in the streets. You may be going without food. You may be in a shitty job. You may be in crappy relationship. But we are still determined to live.

Often when I’m playing with my two-year-old daughter, and I threaten her, or pretend to throw her down, she clings to me, cries like crazy, bores her ever long nails into my skin, tugs at me, slaps me, fights me until I let her go. I can see the will to live in her eyes, and the way her hearts beats.

Some do give up. Some resign to fate. Some commit suicide. Some take to drugs. But for many people, young or old, we all want to live for as long as we can.

Beyond food, jobs, and other things that keep us going, stories take such a central place in our lives. That is why books will always be written, movies acted. And a poor man, just as much as a rich man will always want a story. A good story.

To paraphrase Chinua Achebe in one of his essays in the 1960s, or 1970s, he said that as we evolved, there must have been a need for stories hence our insatiable desire.

If you are story teller, do it. Keep doing it. You never know whose life you will touch. Whose life you will plant a smile on. Whose life you will inspire.

 

 

Do you have a PLAN B?

My estate is what you would call a gated community. The estate consists of a dozen apartments and mansionettes, a small shopping center, roughly ten square meters, just a two-story building (in the original plan it was supposed to be a nursery for the estate, but that is a story for another day). The story building, still unfinished has like four bars, one big one, where we catch the weekend football matches, and those small bars (the size of a stall) that serve a specific clientele. There are like 3 barbershops. Two or more salons (they keep opening new ones and they close within a month). Then there are two adjacent mini-supermarkets (really, your corner shops). There is an open urinal that stinks from the place to hell, in the building and that is what you will remember should you ever visit me and I take you to my local.

Outside the story building, there are some shanty-like structures that house three butcheries (one was opened only last week, and frankly, those are three butcheries too many considering not far away, there is another butchery). They all have nyama choma firewire skewers, there is mama mboga and a few other miscellaneous businesses. Due to poor drainage and hygiene, the place gives our estate some slum appeal.

Throughout the estate, there are other shops, sporadically spread so that there is always a kiosk, or a vegetable vendor, nearby, not far away from your apartment.

Most of the vendors, have erected makeshift structures on the undeveloped pieces of land; the estate is about 95 per cent developed. So, some of the remaining spots are used by mostly women to sell vegetables, and some helpfully do boil githeri and beans to help the ‘middle-class’ save on gas.

In one of the undeveloped plots near our informal shopping center is a young, light-skinned, slender woman, probably a Luhyia. She probably is a mother of one or two kids. That kind of devotion is common with single mothers, or mothers from low-income households. Just saying.  Her kiosk is minimalist. It stocks only the essentials, and quite overpriced, more to do with the class of the people in the neighbourhood. There is a price you pay for laziness. She stocks those small, wrinkly tomatoes, even smaller, malnourished onions, has some jiko that she prepares githeri and beans on alternating days of the week. She also stocks those stones so beloved by women. Why do women eat them so much?

About two months ago, the owner of the plot kicked her out. OK, kicked sounds like s/he was being inhumane. But really, time had come, after four years (or more, been living there for four years now), for the owner to build his mansionette. I was just passing by and I noticed the two kiosks had been uprooted. I wondered what happened to her.

She settled in a different part of the estate. I passed by and I could see the hastily built shanty, and the poor stock stuff on small basins on the ground. She was using a candle, and the whole thing stood isolated, amidst the sea of apartments and mansionettes; she was there alone. Her clientele probably didn’t know that she had moved there.

I looked at her. She looked worried. I knew she would not last in new spot. She knew that too. And the following day, the owner of the plot she had moved to, decided to fence the place and just like that our poor (in the hapless sense of the word) had no place to go.

I wondered what options she had. Where would she go to start all over again. The remaining undeveloped pieces are either occupied, or the owners are developing them or on the verge of starting to develop them. That made me sad.

Some time back one such woman had to move from a spot she occupied. Her spot was on my way home and one day while passing through, I saw her entire enterprise in a disarray: Her polythene umbrellas, sufurias, pots, jikos, utensils, sacks and all thrown around and she stood there, confused but stoic. There was a resilience about her. She moved to the next empty space, and erected a small wooden stand and continued to supply us with vegetables; and food to the construction workers working on the building where she had vacated from. A benevolent Kenyan probably gave her the space to keep using until he or she can build his house.  But after that initial displacement, things were never the same again. She lived with the burden of uncertainty.

Earlier in the year, I was passing by the nearby shop when I saw her photo on top of the book and I hoped it was merely nothing. But it was. She had died. She gave birth and started bleeding afterwards, profusely, and by the time the ambulance could get her to a medical facility she had died.  That made me sad. I never met a Kenyan with so much hope and will to live.

There was another woman with a shop who this week had to move from her prime spot to another hidden spot when the owner came knocking. But at least she has an option.

What of those without options. What about those without choices. Like our lady earlier. What becomes of her. I know she is resourceful and whatever got her the spot in the first place will get her another one.

***

I have always been sympathetic of those people without choices. Personally, anytime I’m stuck without a choice, I feel powerless. There is a powerlessness that comes when you don’t have a choice. Ever stayed with a mean aunt, or relation and you have to put with their issues, because you have nowhere else to go?

Ever left the club early before matatus that ply your route close business because you can’t afford a taxi. Ever stuck in an abusive relationship because you have no choice (maybe you are a woman, he has given you four children, and you have no means of raising them and you have to stick with him, until further notice). Ever ate Sukuma wiki for so long until the site of the terrible vegetable just gives you hiccups. Think of those who live in Rongai and use public means and they must use those terrible matatus driven at maddening speeds. I can’t even mention our politics.

Speaking of politics, as we head to silly season, some people are justifiably apprehensive of the outcome of the elections.

Wars are not funny, are totally avoidable, but inevitable. The rhetoric that preceded the 2007 and 2013, has become a recurrent theme. The opposition does not trust IEBC, and with reason. Those in government are now tired of the recurring mistrust by Mr Odinga. Again, we are stuck. The opposition believes they will win, and there are pointers to the same. But the government too can put up a show, and its supporters are justified to believe that they will win. That is a recipe for disaster.

But what if things go wrong again? In 2007, I saw my clansmen and Kikuyus especially who had invested their whole lives in the Rift Valley being rendered homeless. To see your house going up in fire… To see your property destroyed can be demoralizing.

Many who came back to their ancestral home seemed lost, displaced;physically and mentally and what a pity that was. Few had the mental wherewithal to be resilient when they saw their loved ones die.

Thing with war is that you have politicians who can’t see beyond their greed, and young men with nothing to lose, nothing to live for, and ready to die for anything. I see these young men in betting shops. I see these young men riding boda bodas. I see them walking to work. I see them in political rallies. I see them in drinking dens. And they terrify me.

All they need is to be told go ahead. On other hand you have a hardworking Kenya who will lose his life, or property because he or she supports the opponent (even when you have no basis, skin colour or the name can determine such.)

On elections day, what choices do we have? Do you live in a place where you have to think about your safety should things go wrong?

Choices.

 

A man with a Range Rover gets snubbed twice in one evening

MEMO FROM THE SOCIAL AFFAIRS DESK

***

A very weird thing happened to me this weekend.

On Saturday, at around 3.30 p.m. I was standing outside the Nation Media Group towers on Kimathi Street.  I was to meet two people around the time. One of them had switched off his phone. And the other was in Thika and would only “make it to town around 6…”  which means 8.30 p.m. Kenyan time.

I contemplated going into the bar. But I’m now in that “cheers baba” stage of life where an innocent walk into the bar for one beer somehow ends getting you home at 4.a.m. to a justifiably pissed off wife. Wives inspire the fear of God in men who arrive home drunk after 1 a.m. Wives are something else. Thrice, last week, an innocent drink bought at around 7.p.m. has seen me tip-toe into the house at 3 a.m. and let’s just say, it is not the right thing. Wives hate that sh*t like crazy. So I resisted the temptation. If I tried step in the bar, I was guaranteed to get home earliest 3 a.m. My peoples will not talk to me. Next I will start getting rude, in defense, the boy inside me urging me that a woman can’t boss me. And that is how families are destroyed.

I didn’t know what to do with my life. I had just bought a Bob Dylan biography from the guy who sells books on the left side of the Twin Towers, and I was checking the jacket blurb when I had a familiar voice shout NYANCHWANIIII!!!!.

Out of a Range Rover, steps an old friend, in white pants, crispy white vest and golden chains hanging from his neck like a chained dog. He also wore a cap like 1990s washed up rapper from Brooklyn. He was a tad over-excited and melodramatic to see me, so I played along. We did the male shoulder to shoulder thing. Then we hugged, him slapping me on the back and it hurt like crazy.

“Kwani ulirudi?” he asked.

It is exactly year since I have been back, but despite being noisy on Facebook and a chief idler in the CBD, some people still ask me when did I come back, why I came back, or if I’m back for good.

Without asking me what my plans are, he told me we get into the car and “chapa raundi kiasi”. Not sure why I boarded, but I have never been driven in a Range Rover (without a doubt, the ugliest SUV ever conceived by man), so I became opportunistic.

About my friend. I used to see him in campus, but I’m not sure if he was at all student. He has always been dubious, but I know for sure he went to Kisumu Boys because he used to hang with the notorious Kisumu Boys gang.  I don’t know what he does, but the few times we have seen him since campus, he is always driving some pricey machine.

So, we chat a bit. I tell him I was waiting for a friend who will not get to town, until 6 p.m.  So we are three of us (a young man, probably his relation who he had asked to sit in the back seat so that I can ride shotgun). He tells me he needs to pick some chicks in Hurlingham. So, we speed up Kenyatta Avenue, Valley Road, Argwings Kodhek and we pick the girls from that Petrol Station opposite Yaya. They climb onto the back seat.

They are light skinned, one has some acne issues that she has tried her best to cover up in cakes and cakes of makeup and she speaks in a slight GEMA accent. The second one is shorter, may be 24, but she looks the type who has been around Nairobi long enough. You feel like you have seen her in all the nightclubs since you were 19. She was chewing gum loudly, and that annoyed me. As we make a turn towards Kileleshwa, still catching up with my friend, he tells me, they are going for some photoshoot in “Westie”, and it will last 20 minutes before we go have some drink. At the back, the girls launch into mother tongue you would think they are in a matatu plying Mukurweini-Nyeri.

We get to Westlands, they go to the agency and we step out for my friend to smoke as we wait. 20 minutes go, the girls are not yet done. Another 20 minutes go, the girls are not yet done. One hour, my friend decides to call them but they don’t pick even when he goes at them so persistently. Pissed off, he angrily thrown the cigarette butt and utters something in Dholuo which doesn’t sound good and he tells me “let’s go”.

Moments later, we arrive in the CBD, and he says we should eat at Kosewe and in we go. It around 5 p.m. and my boy is restless. He talks to his young relation in Dholuo and the young man picks his phone and I can hear a young female voice talking from the other end. Food arrives. We eat, the table is cleared. Drinks arrive and I start getting apprehensive. This is not going to end well.

Around 7 p.m. the friend in Thika calls to say he is almost done, I should wait for him. That is how lowly my friend thinks of me. Around this time, two girls arrive, much better looking than the previous duo, much better dressed seemingly for the night out. Hugs are exchanged. They sit. They are ordered to eat and they say what they want, and the young man goes to pay for the food. One ordered chicken. And another matumbo. That Kienyeji chicken of Kosewe is so hard, I wished her lucky in my heart as she will try to rip the meat from the bone. I didn’t know that women eat matumbo, but this is Nairobi you learn something new every day.

Anyway, I was merely an ornament for my friend. He introduced me as a writer who writes for The Star. The girls are clueless. They have never seen my name nor heard it anywhere. Sensing the disappointment, he tells them, apropos nothing, “he is the mukimo guy”.

The chicken one holding the drumstick midway in the air, and the matumbo one her spoon almost in the mouth, pause, and as if on a cue: “weee shida yako na mukimo ni nini?”

“I read that thing, it was so full of hate, aki!” the chicken one says.

Silence.

“Wewe uko na issues na wakikuyu!”.

Silence.

My friend comes to my defense, praising me but I’m totally lost. So, I play cool. Fly on the wall. Upon finishing they debate on what club to go to. They settle for some joint in Hurlingham, and for no reason whatsoever, I join them. Same sitting arrangement.

We arrive at the club. The girls know the bouncer on first name basis I note. We notice once we arrive that the the place is not yet packed. Mid-month stuff.

We sit and drinks are served. Not sure how the hours go, but when I check my phone, it is 10. p.m. and my friend in Thika had tried calling me around 9.30 p.m. when I didn’t pick, he sent a text that said, there was some slight jam at Parklands. My friend really ako na madharau.

If you go home at 10 p.m., your wife can forgive you. But more drinks arrive. And while the body is willing to leave, the spirit is weak. My friends and his relation disappear for like an hour leaving me with the lasses. Not sure what to talk with them, I still maintain my silence which unsettles them. But they are comfortable in their own company.

Honestly, I don’t how to talk to women. I tend to veer off and start talking about the problems China has with Taiwan, the nuclear crisis and the Venezuelan debt problem. And women hate that sh*t. Only one in a million will be interested in that. For men, it is easy. You just lean over  and tell him, “man I didn’t know that  Niger has a huge uranium deposit?”

“Come on, and the way the French have been exploiting them…” before he proceeds to give you a lecture on Francophone Africa politics. The drunker you get, the more intelligent he will sound.

After like an hour, my friend arrives back. No apologies. He cozies himself to one of the ladies, but I notice they are not interested in him. He calls for shots that cost arms, legs, kidneys and everything. He tries to dance with one of them, who I notice is the one he is eyeing the most, but she is not interested in him at all.

Meanwhile the bill is shooting up. It is approaching what a two-bedroom apartment in a place like Umoja will cost. His young relation seems to be so awestruck in his presence and he is more obedient to his orders than a dog.

Past midnight, I’m examining my life’s choices. I have wasted an entire evening in a night that has not added value to me. Wife has not even asked where I am, and that makes you eerily uncomfortable. Better a wife who nags you because it shows she cares.

So, my friend after trying to entice her, the girl does everything he wants but she is not in the mood AT ALL.  At some point, he even tried to kiss her and she shoves his sorry face away and I have never felt sorrier for the boy child. I was mad.

Maybe, they date and the girl is not really into him or she was punishing him for some misdemeanor. Her friend was on phone throughout the charade and the young relation was watching some girls dirty dancing across, itching to go there.

At some point, the girls leave even without telling us bye. And my friend suggests we change clubs. He suggests some club that is thronged by highly questionable women and men. At that moment, while still sober I tell him I have to be home, because the following day I have to go to church, there is a fundraiser. I lie. He doesn’t ask much.

Then I looked into his eyes. There was an emptiness about them. A hollowness that I could not describe. Despite being reasonably loaded (the dubious sources of cash, notwithstanding), despite driving a Range that as far as I could tell was his, he had been turned down by two sets of women.

Whereas he is full of bullshit, he is a kind soul. I wondered what can fulfil him. I know why he would decide to go to a den of strippers and commercial sex workers, no hassles down there, just pay, get what you want and carry on. But on my Uber home, I wondered what can fulfil such a man?

The people you meet once and they leave a mark

About three years ago, I wrote a literary review piece in the Sunday Nation on why we don’t have successors to Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Chinua Achebe. My argument being that despite  Africa experiencing serious civil wars, there hasn’t been any discernible work of literature from the regions most affected.  Yet wars and conflicts often give us the best literature. The few books written, have not been met with the same acclaim as Ngugi, Achebe and the  rest of the first generation of writers once received. Until Chimamanda Adichie arrived in the scene, and even her, her breakthrough novel was Half of a Yellow Sun, which took us back to the Biafra War.

A few days later, I received an email from a man who introduced himself as Kalyan Mukherjee. He was working for A New Delhi based newspaper called Millennium Post (MP). Together with a man called Aman, an Indian-Kenyan, based in Nairobi, they had a monthly a page in the newspaper called African Rising.

Kalyan wanted Africans to write on the page, so that Indians can get to understand African better. Four years ago, the narrative in town was Africa was on the rise and every ‘big’ country was milking this narrative for all its worth. They were the first Indians to notice this gap, and they moved to bridge it. Interestingly, for all the massive trade India does with Africa, it is often overlooked by the media.

Kalyan wanted me to work with Aman in Nairobi to write, what I felt was supposed to be a general appraisal of Africa’s top 5 writers; Ngugi, Wole Soyika, Ben Okri, J.M Coetze and Achebe (his list, not mine). He too wanted me to write about the Caine Prize Winners since 1999, examine how much of it was Literature, and how much was fashion. He also wanted an interview with any three contemporary writers.

“Kwani? 2012” had just marked their 10th anniversary with the publication Yvonne Awuor’s Dust and Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah. Both writers were in town, I bought the two books, had them autographed, took a picture with both. Sadly, I lost the two autographed books, but I’m proud that I shook hands with Chimamanda. Suffice to say that I stayed the whole night, to have the autographs.

Had Kalyan approached me earlier, I would have squeezed an interview with Chimamanda for his third request.

Anyway,  with Aman in Nairobi and some bit of research, I came up with a topic. And Aman would accompany me to the interviews. Aman was in charge of research and the link between Africa and India. And Kalyan was the boss based in India.

I looked at his request, and settled to write a piece that examines the literary trends since independence era in the early 1960s, all the way to 2012. I aptly, titled the piece, “Stop, Start, Stop; Africa’s Literature in a Discontinuous Transition. Binyavanga Wanaina, the founder of Kwani? and its long serving editor, and great writer himself, Billy Kahora, agreed to be interviewed for our story.

We arrived in Binyavanga’s home with Aman, on a sunny weekday morning. Binyavanga lives in forested part of Nairobi, where the birds chirp to him as he writes in his veranda. I admired this set up as perfectly befitting of a writer and I told myself, that as soon as possible, I need such a setup, away from the hooting, pollution and the bad neighbours who don’t even say hi.

Talking to Binyavanga was enlightening. Hate him. Love him. He is an intellectual. We had a healthy discussion and I remember him telling me how he once asked Achebe on why he stopped writing after 1975, and Achebe told him that, “everyone he knew had either gone to exile or dead.” He shifted more to essays as the room for creative expression had been stifled. Remember Nigeria and in deed across Africa, the Cold War had given excuse for every stupid dictator to cramp down on individual rights and freedoms and writers were routinely targeted. Achebe would later move to the United States, in the 1980s, and was involved in an accident in the early 1990s that condemned to a life on a wheel-chair. He died there in 2013.

It is always good to hear these stories from people who have met greats. Bill Kahora on his end asserted that contemporary writers are not institutionally powerful as the first-generation writers. The two interviews and my story, was unlike anything I had ever doen for the local media, where literature and anything literary is given the shortest shrift of time.

It was a great experience working with Aman. They wanted to hire me, soon after the essay and the two interviews were published (and they delivered me the hard copies of the Millennium Post with the story.)

Aman is a crepuscular who sent me tons of email, on any research topic he wanted us to explore for the next edition. I worked with him, but he wanted me to help him source adverts for their newspaper for a commission, stressing that the page was their brainchild with Kalyan. And I was entitled to a good commission. Sadly, in marketing, I am as terrible as Uhuru is, in managing a country (he himself said he can’t fight corruption).

Besides, they were not paying me a retainer. Or any discernible salary.

“Silas, we will give you exposure. You will be read in India and your name will grow,” Aman would tell me, when driving around with him, chasing air.

Sadly, no landlord in Nairobi can accept exposure as rent, and I couldn’t keep up writing for them, though I did write a couple of pieces for them. The last being, when President Obama came to Kenya last year. I did a report on what the feeling on the ground was, on Obama’s visit to his father’s home as a president of the United States. We remained friends, and I would send them a story, that I thought was relevant, such as when Chinua Achebe died, I wrote the obituary for them.

Sometime in 2013, Kalyan visited Kenya from India. He came to explore on what possibly can be done to make the page better and attract adverts from Kenya and Africa. Besides being a through journalist, he was a great writer, and had done a number of novels and short stories, mostly in his native language. He was a supporter of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s crusade for the people to write in their native languages, if I remember well. He actually loved what Binyavanga Wainaina told us that Salman Rushdie (he of the Satanic Verses fame) may not be the most widely read writer in India, because he writes in English.

Kalyan also had a movie production house that had produced movies and commercials. He loved his job.

When he came, we met at some restaurant at the National Museum.

The first impression I got, was that Kalyan was an abrasive, dismissive and choleric guy. If he was your editor, he will be the guy who will be very strict with deadlines. But, we got talking.

He was a lover of literature and we hit it off quite well.  We discussed Achebe and other greats. His favourite African novel was House Boy, by the Cameroonian author, Ferdinand Oyono. House Boy is a classic, originally published in French, and there is no novel, that easily exposed the stupidity and the humanity of the colonizers than this particular masterpiece. As pieces of African satire goes, this tragic novel is the best.

When he asked me, who is the best contemporary writer at the moment, I said without thinking that it was Chimamanda Adichie.

“She is not. She is not a writer. She is an historian,” he said, adding, “What she does is chic lit.”

That was a bit harsh. Granted, Chimamanda is not your ordinary great storyteller. But she has it. And I have had a number of people complain that she is not all that she is cracked up to be. Aman looked on, since literature was not is specialty. But I saw, Aman had immense respect for the boss, who was now in his 50s.

We did agree to keep on working where necessary, and even without my participation, they kept producing the African page, and they always shared a PDF page with me.

We had not been in touch, since I left for the United States.

Earlier in the week I saw a story that some Indian hotel chain will be opening a five star in the Mara. And I sent Aman a link to that story, if it may be of any use to them. He replied back and told me,

“Sad news,” he started, and I assumed, may be they killed the page, and the message went on…

“Unfortunately Kalyan was diagnosed with cancer of the lungs last December and passed away on the 4th of August this year. He was very fond of your work and attitude towards journalism.”

I was petrified. That is not how life ends. Anyway, I got a chance to meet a great soul, who like me, spoke his mind and a man, whose career trajectory I admired and envied. It is a path I would love to follow.

I only met him once, and he left a great impression. I admired his hard work, the serious attitude towards work, the willingness to take risks when it is so cushy in the comfort zone.

He is now gone, but he touched my life, gave me a chance to be read in India.

For the few years we knew each other and communicated, I am thankful.

May he rest well.

 

 

Why God makes sense to me

There are only two human beings that I have ever wanted to have a drink with. That is comedian George Carlin and Christopher Hitchens, the public intellectual and polemicist so beloved for his erudite writings and debates in the British and American media.

Too bad that both are dead. But the body of work they left behind will stay with us for a long time. I have imbibed their books, their debates, interviews, and in Carlin’s case, I never had enough of his stand-ups. His autobiography (with Tony Hendra), Last Word, is one of the most refreshingly and brutally honest biographies that I have ever read.

As a conservative religious person, it may sound a bit odd that I love these two men who were famously irreligious. Christopher Hitchens identified himself as an atheists and antitheists and in 2007 wrote a book titled, god Is Not Great; How Religion Poisons the Mind. The G in God in the book’s title cover was not capitalized, a direct mockery to the Christian practice of capitalizing God as a form of respect to our creator. The book was a New York Times best seller. He wrote on so many other topics, but Hitchens will always remain one of the most visible atheist to ever walk on earth.

George Carlin most famous routine was when he took swipes at religion. He particularly ripped apart the ten commandments (easily the best constitution that alone can run the world) and the very concept of God and heaven.

All told, even in their most acerbic, contemptuous self when questioning God, they were funny, intellectual and made earthly sense. They received rapturous and the throatiest of laughter and the wildest cheers that would turn any performer red with envy.

I admire intelligent people. Like Solomon, the only thing I pray for is knowledge and wisdom. Intelligent people like Albert Einstein always baffle me. Their discoveries, their inventions and their creations have made life all the more worthwhile. Talented individuals such as musicians, artists, sportsmen enrich our lives greatly than we acknowledge. To me, I see these things as God-given. And it is all about how you decide to use your gifts.

                                                                                 ***

I was born in Lang’ata, and grew up in Kibera. My parents and relations went to a Pentecostal church, whose only recollection I have was a greenish-tent, not unlike a military camp, with concrete pebbles on the floor. With my uncle Cliff (we were about the same age), we would run around the church, and when it was time to collect the offering, we would pick the concrete pebbles, and offer them. When they dropped in the sack they use to collect the offering, it will make the clanging sound against other coins. We would later use the coins to buy sweets and other things that we used to indulge in as children.

Later, when we moved to the country side, there was an Adventist church across the road, and naturally, that is where we started going. I spent my Saturdays mostly listening to KBC’s Nick-Okanga Naftali, whose whereabouts, try as I can, I can’t seem to get an accurate answer (is he dead, or not, for instance). He had a show, in mid-morning Saturday, whose crowning moment was always playing some Soukous music, and it was always a double delight, when he played Madilu Systems (having quit TPOK Jazz, and now a Soukous musician, I loved him better or any number from that monster of an album that star-studded album of Soukous Stars gave us in 1994, of which Ngouma Lokito’s Mama Rhoda that was sung in Swahili and Lingala was my favourite).

My mother was not that strict on me when it came to church matters, even though she always attended the church, mostly as a backbencher. But when she died and I went to live with my uncle, things changed. My uncle is a very religious man and he insisted that we all had to go to church.

I joined an Adventist boarding school that took Adventist doctrines too seriously. And with a friend called Dennis, we formed a singing partnership and we called ourselves, Parapanda Duet. I was baptized when I was 12, soon afterwards. As a teenager, my faith was still shaky, not grounded in anything solid.

I joined a Catholic secondary school. Here, attending a Mass was mandatory every Sunday and on Wednesday mornings. We hated being woken up to go to church. For Adventists, our initial religious teachings, often cast Catholics as an antagonistic church that went against our beliefs. And for us, we always viewed the forced attendance of the Mass as religious persecution. Many were the days when we would argue endlessly, on which is the true church of God, the Adventists unequivocal that there denomination is derived from the precise teachings of the Bible, bone of contention was always which is the right day for Sabbath. This argument never went away and bore its ugliest head when the Pope visited Kenya last year.

Kisii region has a large Adventist population, almost 40 to 50 per cent of Kisiis are SDAs. That means in the school’s 1000-odd students, roughly half were Adventists. Thus, we were given Saturday mornings after manual work, to attend our Sabbath and with difficulty and reluctance we were granted Saturday afternoons as well.

Our patron who was in charge of examinations and a great biology teacher. He actually made me an ‘A’ student in biology and my unending interest on how our body works. Had I become a medical doctor, I would have had him to thank.  Mr Ben Maranga, was a man of God. He taught me more about the Bible than anyone else has ever taught me. And it is here I started understanding my own faith.

As an orphan, it was easy to take refuge in God as an escapist strategy, if only to understand why would God take my parents away at such a young age. But through Maranga, I started to understand the bigger existential problems with life and why you need God, if you are to lead a saner life. It was a learning process. By the time I finished high school and joined campus, I was a regular church attendee.

However,  through the vicissitudes of campus life, especially after second year with the inevitable, if patent, discovery of alcohol, clubbing (clubbing never made sense to me, but blame it on peer pressure, or is it pleasure), I stopped being so ardent, relaxed my attitudes on religion and started to study religion on my own.

Before I forget, there was this smallish encyclopedia, The Student Companion that we used to read in high school. I once read on the part, of things to always avoid: avoid discussing religion with people, it is an argument no one will ever win, and it leaves people bitter and more divided. And made so much sense and I never argued with Catholics about their day of worship or their church’s doctrines.

***

The reason I have outlined, even though briefly, my personal journey, is because, like every Kenyan, my path was not any different from most of you. I became an Adventist first, not because of any intellectual and spiritual conviction, but because it was the most proximate denomination and naturally I was converted, long before I could understand what religion is all about. Between 15 to 18 years, at least I could discern the Bible, with the help of Mr Maranga, who I will say never tried to proselytize as much as make us understand the Bible and God in general. Anyone from a different denomination could have learnt something from Maranga about God.

Most denominations in Kenya spread by design. When missionaries came, they tried to convert people in areas that other churches had not yet arrived. You go to Meru, you will find the Methodists, Central Kenya, you will find the Presbyterians, in Ukambani and Rift Valley, Africa Inland Church is quite common. Further West, you will encounter the Anglicans in Luo, Friends’ churches in Luhyia, especially in Kakamega and Vihiga and Adventist in Nyanza, more so, South Nyanza. So churches that are predominant in the western part, arrived much later when other parts of Kenya had already been converted. The spread of religion of course followed the Railway line. The Roman Catholic, surprisingly arrived late, and that is why in most cases it was located closer to town centres and with their resources, they were able to go to the furthest places such as Lodwar.

So, most people picked the church that was the nearest. There were other oddities, such as the presence of Islam in Western Kenya, Mumias to be specific, and also Kendu Bay, from whence, Barack Obama’s ancestors may have picked their Islamism.

So, unless you are a recent convert, you mostly go to the church your parents took you first. Most of us, never unlearn what we were taught as young people, and we stick with the doctrines. And unlike, the Muslims, whose grasp of the Quran, I presume is somewhat better, as Christians (including yours truly), we are irredeemably lazy. Most of us, rarely get a chance to read the bible more critically and ask questions, even when we are university educated and we have been given the power to think.

We often leave to the preachers to interpret to us, and this makes us susceptible to be mislead.

***

Belief in God is very personal. As protestant Christian, I cannot claim that I have fully read the Bible, but I do believe that I have taken in enough teachings from the Adventist church and I have settled with it. Its teachings, meet my spiritual needs and I intend to become a better Adventist than I am now. Everyone too, needs to find their spiritual true North.

You need to pause and think, where you are spiritually, if it is the right move. To me, the essence of a church is convert souls and bring them closer to God. The end game is to be perfect as to enter the kingdom of heaven. And this is a daily pursuit. You become better with time, but given we don’t have much time on earth, this means the sooner you make that decision the better.

                                               Why God makes sense to me

At deeply personal level, I can say that I have seen God work miracles in my life. Not miracles in the sense of blind-, seeing and the lame-. walking. But miracles they are nonetheless. I have been fortunate, and it will be foolish to assume everyone has been as lucky as myself.

But this is a personal testimony. It will be easy to consider my situations as merely coincidental but then again too many coincidences don’t make so much sense.

The way God has worked in my life, is that whatever I have prayed for, be it academic, be it financial, be it for a spouse, whatever, He never gave me what I asked for exactly. He delayed a bit, and rewarded with something far much better than I would have ever imagined.

I will be vain to enlist all the favours God has done to me, some may not even make sense to some of you. I will use an analogy. It is like you are 18, and you are  a talented footballer. All you want is to play for Tottenham one day. Since you were born in Africa, you hope to start playing somewhere in Belgium, then, may be in Portugal and France, before you end up in Tottenham.  But you go to play in Belgium and a year later Manchester United buys you, by some serendipity or whatever you believe in.

That is how my life always panned. Praying for A, but always getting B with more rewards than A would have ever given. And that is why to me, it will be difficult to convince me otherwise, that there is no divine intervention, an unseen force that dictates my life.

Of course, like everyone else, often I am bitter with God for the bad things that happen in life. I have what I can call human justification to be mad at God. I see a lot of human suffering, politicians and the rich getting away with murder, people blindly worshipping fellow human beings. I see the wars. I see the poor women and children who suffer and are rejected as refugees. I see young men, consigned to wars. And world peace is as elusive as ever. I see the adverse effects of poverty and I cry within. All these make me mad. And furious and I wish it was quite different.

Yet, amidst all this hopelessness, I have infinite faith and belief that there is God, and He is in charge. Amidst suffering, I have come to learn when you believe despite your life situation, God can give you power to overcome your life’s situation.

I study the teachings of Jesus Christ, which at best may strike one as common-sensical, but He was a genius, because He is God. Everything Jesus did or said, made perfect sense and was a reminder of the shallowness of human beings, but he came to make us better. Anyone who can take Jesus Christ’s teaching, can lead a very fulfilling life.

***

It has become intellectually fashionable for young educated people to denounce God, or shun any form of organized religion. More and more young people are questioning the Bible, the Quran and any other religious book that believers draw their teachings from.

They cite the violence in the Bible and the Quran, the renewed radical Islamic terrorism, the crass materialism and the very empty pursuits that charismatic evangelical preachers pursue. Despite the radical teachings of Jesus Christ about love, towards everyone, no matter who they are, the church is  only learning to accept, albeit grudgingly,  minorities like gays, atheists and other undesirables.

There are inconsistencies about the way believers go about their lives. In Kenya for instance, religious leaders often fail to tell the thieving politicians that they are condemning many people to a life of suffering. The preachers have become materialistic; they are afraid of telling the congregation the truth of what God asks of us.

Yet, what atheists, whose number is on the rise across the world fail to notice is the role religion plays in the world. Somehow, they underestimate the anarchy that will erupt in the society espouse. Truth is, there are bad elements, in the churches and mosques today. But overall, the goodness of believers, regardless of their religious orientation cannot be overemphasized. Also, atheists tend to assume that human beings have not used the human constitutions and various cultures and other deranged excuses to kill and mime others.

Most atheists, I have noticed have a problem, not with God exactly, but with the people who worship God. They are always citing the bad things that Christians do (Catholic priests sleeping with young boys, the overzealous preachers who have brainwashed their poor masses even as they live in disgusting opulence, against the very teachings of Jesus, that it will be impossible for the rich to go to heaven, terrorism, you name it).

Christopher Hitchens, I noticed from his autobiography, Hitch 22, that he mother eloped with a spiritual leader of some sorts and ended committing a religiously inspired suicide.  Such a thing happening to your parent can have devastating effects on anyone and can make you question anyone in whose name the suicide was committed. I strongly feel that his unbelief, probably started from that instance, or his mother’s suicide strengthened his cynicism towards religion.

I can guess, many atheists too have their personal conflicts with God. They have other reasons, that involve their trust being tampered with, or getting enlightened, but if more Christians as Mahatma Gandhi said practiced Christ’s teachings, we would probably have less doubters.

***

You can have your doubts about God, but there are things that science can never adequately explain. To assume that everything that we have now was an evolutionary accident is to lie.

Take the human languages and our ability to communicate, for instance. The existence of thousands of world languages and cultures, each suitably adapted to their habitat, explains a lot than any scientific rationalization.  There is no rational and logical scientific explanation about the phenomenon life. Take the human eye for instance. It has been said to be too complex an organ to have occurred as an accident.

I mean, just look at how creatively your body is designed. The first time I learnt about enzymes and hormones, I was totally stunned. Anytime we have the chemical imbalance in our bodies, we become sick. And the chemical imbalance can be tampered with, when we lead lifestyles that are against the teachings of the Bible and the Quran. Long before science, the Bible and the Quran outlined the formula for life. Human beings deviated from it, and the further we move from God, the more complicated life became.

You look at the universe, the near mathematical perfection of the balancing of stars and planets, the view of the clouds from a plane 36,000 feet about, all can make you wonder in awe.

The gift of life, the gift of love, the beauty of laughter, humour, generosity, the rhythm of music, all remind us that there is the power of good. And no matter what atheists may say, there will always be bad elements in society, whether they ascribe to a certain religion or not is immaterial.

Most world religion teaches the best doctrines that can give people the highest form of fulfillment. Even recent research tends to point back to what we have been shunning. I recently saw a TED talk on what will make one truly happy in the world and it boiled down to cultivating good relationships with your family, and having friends on your side. Spend time with them.

Basically, it is about love. When you love people, genuinely, they tend to love you back and you tend to live a better life. Much of the loneliness and alienation that we now suffer is self-inflicted. We spend so much time chasing money, academic and material glory and we fail on the basic things that give meaning to life such as starting a family, and raising the family and traveling the world as to see how similar human beings are.

What I know for sure, those who follow God’s teachings, tend to have a more meaningful life than Yoga, meditation, drugs, alcohol, women, money, material wealth and other meaningless pursuits will ever give you.

When you trust in God, you submit to a higher order, so that even if you live in poverty, your life will be more meaningful than that of a politician who wakes up from a 50-bed room house and travels only in first class.

I do not say this from a defeatist point of view. But from a very philosophical point of view all is vanity. Life can be pointless. You wonder that after chasing all the money in the world, for men, all the women, driving the finest cars, ruling countries or even the world, what happens next. As in you die in the end. Sometimes made all the more miserable by disease and the everyday problems that we all deal with; cheating spouse, untrustworthy employees, alcoholism, nepotism, bad body shapes and such. It is like there are somethings that money will never insulate you from.

All told, whatever it is. I strongly believe there is God. He has done wonders for me. So can He for you. But you have to give Him a chance. And have faith. What makes the Bible so instructive, is that it does not guarantee that life will be easy when you believe in God. What the Bible constantly remind us is that we are all caught up in a cosmic battle, between God and Satan, but those who stick with God, for better or worse are always delivered in the end.

Why a doctor and my wife want me to starve me to death

The latest fad in Nairobi is people consuming copious amounts dawa in the upscale restaurants such as Java, Khaldis, Café Deli and any such restaurants that sell overpriced cups of coffee and tea to Nairobians who can spend a fortune on anything with a touch of foreign.

Dawa is a rubbish, if dubious concoction of grounded ginger, garlic, lemon served with a spoonful of honey. For some innocuous reason, many intelligent people believe the concoction can cure common cold. It is this naïveté that restaurants are exploiting and the reason there is been the runaway expansion of highbrow restaurants that are thronged by every Toms, Dicks and Harrys, especially Dicks.

The concoction does not cure anything. I regret that I saw this nonsense coming and didn’t do anything about it.

Long time ago, or the 1990s and early 2000s, if you wish, people would go into restaurants, order hot water and lemon and sit there as they waited for someone or the traffic to go down. Restaurants noticed this pattern, and started charging people some Sh 20. In the 2000s, there was a craze about herbal medicine that saw Makini Herbal Clinics rake in millions as people abandoned hospitals to try herbs. Of course herbs don’t work, never worked and will never work.

It is in this craze, that the concoction was actively promoted as a magical bullet that stopped the flu (if you live Kilimani and Kileleshwa) or common cold (if you live Kasarani and Kayole), but a bigger lie has never been perpetrated. Nowadays half the people in Java or any such restaurant are on Dawa. Feeling important and all that nonsense.

It is preposterous to pay Sh 250, for something whose cost of production is zero shillings and zero imagination. I am serious. But it is a fad, and yeah, in Nairobi, having a cold is treated as a cool thing and having the concoction, distinguishes you as cool person. Someone who has epicurean tastes. It is all rubbish, man. Cut the BS. Take chocolate, tea or coffee. It is worthy your money. If you have a cold, go see a doctor, if you are a woman. If you are a man, stop the sissy behaviour, cough it up and wait for it to disappear.

I’m an exception,  however. I have said previously, that I am allergic to dust, pollen, cheap perfume, shoe polish and anything that smells like kerosene, and for that, my nose is a busy river at the waterfall point. Every so often, I walk around with napkins jammed up my nostrils, and I wheeze, trying to catch breath, or else I will die.

I should say at this point, that were it not for my very weak chest, I would be a chain smoker. I never mind the smell of tobacco on fire at all, and I can admit here that occasionally, I deliberately sit next to a smoker to catch that smell. That, and also, my church forbids any usage of narcotics. But really, my wife will divorce me if she ever as much as discovered a match box or a lighter in my pocket.

Anyway, my allergies are tied to dirt. When I am in a clean environment, in the house and outside, I am always in rude good health. But in Nairobi, with the pollution and the dust, I am permanently on anti-histamines. And with the recent weather patterns, many people are constantly catching common cold.

In the last two weeks, my daughter caught the devil of colds. One night she coughed so hard, persistently I was worried if we will make it through the night. Then tots, in the family spirit of generosity, decided to infect everyone in the house and now the entire house is on medication.

Ordinarily, I get an over-the-counter fix for my cold, when it is persistent. I can’t afford to have a congested chest, since I already don’t use my nose for breathing. I know it is sissy going to hospital, but I have to get something to clear the air passages. What the pharmacist usually recommends works. It is some syrup mostly and some tabs. And they work perfectly well. I wake up the following the day, and I cough out some really bad stuff out of my chest and in two days, I am OK.

When I try the concoction, all I get is too many bathroom breaks and of course I lose my Sh 200. But I try to minimize my chemist or hospital visits until when it is absolutely necessary.

Like when I am broke and I have an insurance card on me. Like any other Kenyan, when you have a card, it is an opportunity to visit the most expensive hospital. That is how I found myself at Aga Khan, Capital Centre on Tuesday. The main reason, though, is that it is the nearest. The coughing and the congestion had persisted, and needed some better syrup to clean up the bronchial tubes.

The last time I was at the same hospital was four years ago, when suffering from the same congestion. Back then, my employer’s cover was a co-pay arrangement. I had missed that memo that it was co-pay. I had only Sh 500 on me, the reason I had gone there in the first place. The month was in that corner, you know that black-spot, where you are broke and waiting for payday. When I got to the queue and presented the card, the lady in charge told me to give her Sh 500. I wanted to ask her, “but why?” but there was this extremely beautiful woman there, probably from South B, and I didn’t want her thinking that a tall man can be broke.

This time round, however, the card I have is a good one, and I was not paying anything. Tuesday being a boring day, nobody falls sick, so it was a slow evening. I gave my card to the receptionist and she ushered me into a room where they do those routine checks. The nurse was a dark, short lady with a warm and genuine smile.  I explained that I was taking some syrup that was not quite effective. So we did some small talk. She asked me to sit on the bed, where she checked my pulse.

“It is normal, but normal on the higher side,” she said. In retrospect, it may have been the small walk I did from Belle Vue bus stage to the hospital.When I have a cold, a serious one, even a slight climb of stairs is enough to get my heart racing, like a bull is charging at me.  But even so, the few times I have had my pulse checked, it is always either on the lowest, ‘normal’ side. Or as in the case of Tuesday, highest. She then directed me towards the weighing machine.

“I will break that damn thing,” I warned her.

Sensing my insecurity about my weight she assured me,

“Naah, you don’t weight that much,” she said, knowing that she was just being a kind nurse.

I stepped on the damn scale and the arrow swung straight to 157, before coming back to its senses and settling on 105 Kgs.

“See, that is not much. You don’t even look it,” she flattered me, “I guess it is because you are tall.”

I felt rather bad. Three months ago, I weighed 92Kgs. I am not being overly fussy or petty, but I knew my unchecked appetite for samosas was going to manifest itself soon and in deed my pot belly has gained a sense of permanence, and has obeyed gravity. I have no freaking desire to start working out. I don’t need to have any sex appeal, or sexual energy, so working out never makes sense to me.

“I haven’t worked out in five years,” I tell the nurse, who doesn’t hear that and continues to write down her observations. I tell her I have a ‘by-the-way question, she nodded me on.

“Lately, whenever I finish eating, I usually have spasms of hiccups, and I feel like the food is traveling up to the mouth, and that causes a burning sensation…”

“Oh, that is hyper-acidity,” she said.

“Does that mean that I am about to die,” I ask her, joking.

Smiling back, “No, are you afraid of death?”

Sensing my manhood is under attack, I blurt out “NOOOO!!!I have never been afraid of death.”

“Then why are you worried?” she asks rhetorically.

“Well, I need at least to be prepared.”

“It could be due to a number of reasons. After you eat, do you lie down immediately?” she asked. I do, because that is my reading and default resting position. But I let talk some more about other possible reasons.

“That is fine, I just wanted to find out, will come back specifically for that.”

“No, I will write down for you, there is medication for that.

She then ordered me to sit outside and wait. After seven minutes, another lady, seemingly the resident doctor who speaks in a very low voice, almost  a whisper,  called me. She seemed to be in her 30s, looked rather bored, but mostly that could be her natural disposition. You know, these women in dreadlocks, always fill me with dread (pun-intended).

“I thought I had seen the nurse, I am waiting for my medication…” I say rather defensively.

“I am the resident doctor. Come in. Close the door.” She ordered me.

I sat. I noticed, she was in no mood for jokes. Or small talk. She slid something into my fingers, took my temperature or whatever she wanted and ordered me to sit on the bed. On the bed, she ordered me to open my mouth and shone some light into my mouth. Whatever she was looking for, she got; she ordered a mouth wash for me. I need say here that I am generally clean, so whatever.

She started jotting down her notes and warned me against buying stuff in the pharmacy without seeing the doctor.

“Those never work, and people always come back here…” she explained.

She asked me the routine questions about allergies to any medication and such. When about to leave, I decided to broach up the subject of my recent heartburns.

She told me the same things the previous nurse had told me, but went one step over. With a characteristic impatience of someone who is having her time wasted, she explained,

“I will put you on some drugs, but now there are things you will do. What time do you eat?”

“Between 8.30 p.m and 10.p.m.?

“Then when you eat, sit up for at least two hours,” she started her lecture.

“Then there are things that you should avoid eating…” she said. I was alarmed.

“Chocolate, (this was an insult. I have never tasted chocolate in my life. I am a straight male, and don’t indulge in chocolate. Why she chose to start with that baffled me.), beer, or any alcohol, (ahem), tomatoes, spiced food…”

Frankly, I stopped listening because she was listing everything I love eating so much. When she gave me the note to take to their pharmacist, I called the missus, in jest to tell her, “looks like I will not be eating anything, given my ‘hyperacidity’”. That word has a certain, elitist ring to it.

Turns out, she is equally worried about my tummy, and she took the cue so fast. When I got home, I was treated to fruits for dinner, amidst my one-man protest.

Look, I have a healthy appetite. I like food, I can’t lie.

“We can’t just switch like that. There is a process…” I told the missus protesting.

“NO…You weigh too much, it is either you hit the gym, or you starve.”

I figured out there is a conspiracy. For a Kisii man, cannot sleep on fruits alone. That is sending me to an early grave. The following day, I was given fruits too. Now I have to make money and start eating out.

But seriously, whatever we eat or lifestyle we lead in our 20s, used to manifest itself in our 40s. Except that nowadays, it can manifest itself in our 30s. Nowadays, you step out of town for six months and you bump into old friend who has become fat, stupid and henpecked.

I am in that phase. My potbelly really caught me by surprise. I am not the least worried, because that is nature taking its course, but my wife and family are worried and I have heard murmurs that I should go slow on the sugar and fat.

I do exercise, if sneezing counts. That is.

So if you see me eating out, know that I am trying to cheat on my wife’s ban of eating supper at home. Glad, she doesn’t read this blog, she may not know what I am up to.

We were born to eat. And drink. And live.