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.

 

 

What stereotypes reveal about the people who peddle them

Kenya may be one of the best countries in Africa, but we have a stinky reputation. Kenyans out there like saying nasty things about their country. Every time I travel out there and I meet someone who has ever been to Kenya or understands some bit of Kenyan history or its people, they always ask some very stereotypical question that invariably leaves me red in the face.

That is why we ended up being labeled the least trustworthy country in the world (second only to Nigeria). Most foreigners when they travel here, they come here with preconceived notions about us, and can be annoyingly over protective. They always think that everyone is out to fleece them, forgetting that in the whole world, more than 90 per cent of the people are ordinary folk, who try to live their lives in the most decent, honest and honourable way.

Here is something I have learnt, nine out ten times we have accused the waitress of stealing from us in a bar, we have ended up with eggs in our faces. We always think of them as thieves, but mostly it is preconceived notion to distrust those below us that impels us to distrust them.

In the last two months I have had to deal with two people who don’t trust Kenyans at all. They trusted my me, and I was the sounding board of their stereotypes about Kenyans. Man, was I furious. Worse, they sought a third opinion and went ahead to ignore everything I told them, making feel like a pile of shit. For the time I was with them, I was reduced to defending my countrymen. Most of the time, their accusations were ridiculous, at times silly, and quite annoying. Worse, they are not necessarily the richest people that people would fleece.

Kenyans can be dishonest. But nine out ten Kenyans I deal with are decent, honest and I don’t go around peddling silly stereotypes that Kenyans can’t be trusted. I know better.

I have grown to despise people who peddle stereotypes. It is mostly the most stupid, the least imaginative people who derive their conclusions from stereotypes. I have oft quoted Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story”, where she said that stereotypes are not necessarily untrue, but they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.

What has happened recently has incensed me so much that I have come up with a list of things that stereotypes do to us.

  1. Stereotypes limit our empathetic capacity. When you believe in stereotypes, you will never step into the shoes of the people you are denigrating to know their story, and what justifies their behaviour that rankles you.
  2. Stereotypes make us blind to our own weaknesses.
  3. Stereotypes mask our ignorance. And stupidity.
  4. Stereotypes always stop us from looking in the mirror and seeing ourselves for who we are: mostly shallow.
  5. Stereotypes help diminish the humanity of other people.
  6. Stereotypes give us a false sense of importance, elevating us to a higher ground from where everybody is underneath you.
  7. Stereotypes make us shift blame to others, thus we can’t be responsible for our own mistakes, or stupidity.
  8. Stereotypes always give us justification to treat others badly.
  9. Stereotypes gives us a false sense of superiority complex.

If we all understood the basic fact of life that we are all trying to get by in life, that we are all doing our best to put food on the table, we will stop looking down upon others for trying to put food on the table, granted we may disagree with their approach.

And that brings me to the simple principle I live by. People are never bad because of their tribe, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age, level of schooling, political persuasion and et cetera. People are bad because they are Arseholes. And Arseholes are everywhere.And becoming increasingly common.

Arseholes are arseholes. They are not arseholes because they belong to a given tribe, race, or subscribe to a religion that you disagree with. Arseholes are arseholes because that is who they are: bad people who always want to get ahead of others using shortcuts.

There will always people who skip lines, people who try to shortchange you, people who try to backstab you, people who hate you, people who are envious of you, dishonest, cheats. And if you look around, you probably have more of those from your family or even your tribe.

You will not be my friend if you peddle stereotypes and worse, believe them. To me, you are being shallow.

Before you stereotype, try and understand if you are projecting your ignorance as opposed to telling the truth about a subject. Ask yourself, “Is this behaviour exclusive to thig group of people, or is it a universal human behaviour?”

The world will be a beautiful place if all of us, in our small ways, made it a better place. If you are Kenya abroad, stop talking shit about your country and its people. Be patriotic. If locally, stop hating a tribe because you disagree with them politically. What motivates you to believe in a certain politician is what drives them to believe in their leader.

At best, they are just as helpless, and probably motivated by self-preservation, which is what drives us. Just know, they are trying to put food on the table like you and respect that.

Calling Luos names won’t improve your situation in life in the same siting their accusing Kikuyus all manner of things won’t make you happy or richer. Just mind your business, buddy.

Election time? Vote. If elections are rigged, those who rig, do not rig so that they can help their poor from their ethnic background. They rig so that they can protect their wealth. If their people support them, forgive their blindness, you will do the same if your leaders did the same.

Thing is, as a country, or a continent, we are a work in progress and there will be a time in the future where the rule of law, justice will be the only way of doing things. We may not be fortunate enough to live in that time, but for now, can we just stop saying bad things about each other. The ones we hurt is you and me.

I have had Kikuyu friends who offered me a job. Kikuyu friends who showed up for my fundraiser (and Kisiis who never showed up). Kikuyu friends who gave me invaluable business advise. Kikuyu friends we do business with and always honour their word. I have had Luo friends who are good, generous, helpful and mean their every word. Ditto Luhyias, Kambas, ditto people from the Coast, Ditto Sudanese people. Europeans. Americans. Chinese.

And what I have learnt, human beings are all the same. There will be bad ones. And there are good ones. So deal with the individual and resist the temptation to lump entire communities in the same basket and dismissing them in one fatalistic and finalist stereotype, thinking that you are superior, intelligent, richer. You are just a pile of sh*t. Buddy.

 

 

I lost a friend

“There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.”
― P.G. Wodehouse

Facebook has a feature that reminds you of the posts you made on a given day from the previous years. Some of the posts reminds us of a time when we were excitable, naïve and stupid, full of the youthful idealism that pervades our early 20s.

Some posts bring back the good memories. A picture of you in a bikini, or boxers at the Coast. Happier times. Some bring about a post of a friend who died, and induces in you a mournful countenance when you remember that your friend, young as he or she was, is no longer with us. A raw reminder of your own mortality. Then, there is that one post that your crush liked, or commented on, sending you to cloud 9, giving you false hopes. You waited for the second comment or like as a sign to go ahead. She never liked or commented on your post again. You were distraught.

It was during one of these daily trips down the memory lane recently that I came across a post I made two years ago, must have been controversial then, given the long thread of comments. In the comments section, I came across the name of a young boy that startled me. The boy, a big fan of my Retrosexual column in the Nairobian, used to comment on my every post, and often differed with me, since he held different views on various topical issues that I often address on Facebook, newspapers or in this blog.

But he disappeared.

For the longest time, I never saw his name and frankly, I had forgotten about him completely. I immediately wanted to know what happened. I went to his wall. We were no longer friends. I checked if he has been active lately. He had posted a few minutes before, still the chirpy, impulsive young man from yester years.

For a moment, I kept wondering, what might have happened. I never block, or unfriend anyone on Facebook, except those Nigerian men, masquerading as women. You know them. Those with a picture of a light skin woman, one Facebook post-mostly, a recently uploaded picture-who start their conversation with ‘hi’. And as soon as you respond, they ask for your email (so that they can tell you something about themselves.) And of course, up to until recently, I have started to block people who are hateful, homophobic, and insulting, even when not provoked. Lately, I have no patience with those.

Anyway, I came to the logical conclusion that the boy either unfriended me (because of something I said, or did.) Or he withdrew from Facebook and when he came back, I had surpassed the 5,000 capping mark of friends on Facebook. In which case he could have just followed me.

But the young man, worried me less. Another beautiful, most awesome female friend had just disappeared from my timeline. I loved the woman. Not in the romantic way. She had dated a friend. But because she was easily one of the most intelligent women I have ever dealt with in life; honest to fault, kinder as a saint, tender like corned beef. I loved her. Don’t know what transpired, and we were no longer friends on Facebook.

My guess. Mmmh, at some point I became so critical of the Jubilee government. And in Kenya, if you criticize the government of the day, it means you hate the president’s tribe. The same can be said of the opposition.Criticise the opposition or Raila, and you will branded anti-Luo.  I have since toned down my criticism. I remember the lady asking me, why had I all over sudden became such a tribal jingoist. Which was a gross exaggeration since I don’t hate anyone whatsoever. I have so many problems in my mind to accommodate hate. Even when the lady was bereaved, I didn’t know where to find her to say sorry, since I was away and I couldn’t call her. Anyway, that is one precious friend gone.

But she was not my biggest worry. Over the last six years, I lost my best campus friend. The friendship died a slow, painless, natural death.

To this, we shall return. A brief history about me and losing my friends.

***

Back in high school, I had a friend, let us call him Ricky. Ricky was a short, dark, and skinny boy. Private and guarded, he only spoke to his former school mates (those from primary school). Ricky, spoke in a low bass, then quite furiously potent since we were adolescents. I think he spotted some scrubby beard. He was boyish, and manly at the same time. He could be snobbish or dismissive, or both. But with the benefit of hindsight, he may have been just shy.

I loved Ricky. We spent all our breaks together. Went to the river down at Igare to bathe and boy, we had endless stories to tell and share. We spent half the time gossiping our classmates.

“Martin looks like a child of a single mother,” he would say of a spoilt, or entitled classmate.

“Exactly, that is what I always think when he behaves like a girl,” I would add.

“And Isaac’s parents are definitely teachers…” I would say.

“Definitely, I actually know his father. He was a deputy in some primary school near home. Was very strict. But he was chased. I think people said he was a witch…” he would add. And on and on and on. And so forth. We gossiped worse things than women in a middle-class salon in a middling neighbourhood.

One day we asked ourselves, “what will you do if you fell out with your friend?”

“If you wrong me, I will never, ever speak to you,” he said, unequivocally.

“Even me. I will never speak to a friend if we fell out.” I said. Goes to show one of the similarities that had brought us together. Little did we know that our declarations will be tested too soon.

*

On January 29, every year, I commemorate the day my mother died. It is a ritual I have kept since I was boy, 19 years on. The three days in January, 29th to 31st, I am usually pensive and reserved, thinking on what might have been had mum lived on. I will be drowning in an ocean on a January 29, and I will remember, “ooh, it’s mum’s anniversary”. I never forget the day, however busy I am.

If you have ever lost someone, a beloved brother say, a dear mother may be, or a father you are fond off, the date of the day they died becomes permanently etched on your mind, and I don’t know about other people, but many such days, often found us in foul, somber and sometimes mournful mood. You ask so many questions. No answers of course. And since we record such events on Facebook nowadays, it makes their remembrance less spontaneous, since you just see a post from three years and it triggers the memory of the day you learnt the news that your beloved one had died.

So on that January 31, a Thursday, I wore a clean white shirt, a clean trouser and throughout the day, I tried to be chilled, attending lessons, doing my homework, so as nobody could interfere with anniversary.

Now, Ricky used to sit behind me. That Thursday afternoon I remember him trying to shake his Bic pen and may have inadvertently spluttered some red ink on my clean, resplendent shirt. For some emotionally innocuous reason, that fouled my mood, and I don’t know what I may have said in the intervening 10 seconds that offended Ricky so bad, and like a joke, we were not talking.

A term went. No talking. Another term came and went. No talking. Third term. No talking. We were in Form 3. Still not talking.  We never spoke  and by Form 4, we had made peace with our swearing back in first year that if you ever fall out with anyone we will never talk to them. We were young boys. Proud as hell. It used to be awkward since we had the same circle of friends and many may have questioned why we were so childish. But a man is as good as he can keep his word. And we were men. If we ended up on the same table, during lunch hour or dinner, one of us had to switch. It was embarrassing honestly. We never spoke until we stepped out that great school in the middle of nowhere in Kisii.

Later, I run into him in Moi University, when I went to visit friends. We did say hi, quite relieved to overcome our stupidity. We did some small talk and disappeared. Later, he did start a Facebook chat, telling me that he had been employed and posted somewhere in Kapsabet as a teacher. Good for him. But we both realized that we were straining at the chat and our high school differences had taken a terrible toll on us. The chat died. And I have never heard from him.

But Ricky is not the story today.

*

My university friend, let us call him Adam, is. I met Adams in first year. A quiet, laid back guy, in the ensuing weeks we would become tighter friends, brought together by our shared love for things literary.

We loved book. We were both in the Literature class. We loved Sidney Sheldon. We read almost all his books and recited passages from the books that we thought were funny. I am still convinced that there was no greater story teller than Sidney Sheldon. Oh Man. Those cliff-hangers. The humour. The characters. Jeez, how did Sheldon do it.

Our favourite character was the obnoxious female assassin in the Windmills of the Gods, described by Sheldon as having “the body of a cow and manners of a pig”. We loved that line. Still do.

We loved magazines. Economist. Intelligent Life (now 1843). Time. Newsweek. Everything he read and he thought I would enjoy, he would pass it to me. I did the same. As we both struggled to become writers, we did support each other, although not as much as we should have. I still wished we would go a step better to peer review our articles, blogs and such.

While we shared literary pleasures, our inclinations were different. Adams to me was more of a conservative. Even in his writing, he was the austere, lean writer. On my own, I am more of a populist. I lean more towards popular, accessible (both intellectually and physically) literature. So, whereas he may have found my writing too populist for his tastes, I had no problem with his lean prose and keen eye for observation.

With Adams, we also gossiped a lot. OK, men, don’t gossip, we do Mantalk. Adams had some of the wittiest, meanest lines reserved for those crushes who used to give us problems. And man, he could describe a lady. I remember this one lady in class from Kisumu, who had a waspish waist that used to drive him nuts. He would describe it in such poetry, you would love the woman without having ever seen her. And yeah, Adams was a poet. A good one too, though he never stopped writing poetry when he realized the world no longer reads poetry.

We traveled the world with Adams. He was always a good sport, a great conservationist, with a volatile sense of humour, that you had to provoke first.

I don’t what I did on my part to give our friendship the cancer that would metastasize and eventually ruining our friendship. On my part, he said long time ago, that revealed the kind of friend he was. He said in excitement and may not have considered his words. But it hurt.

But my uncle who doubles u as a father figure had once told me,

“Never fall out with any relative or friend because you never know when you will need their help. Or they will need your help. Even so, never fall out with anyone, always be in their good books.” Ever since the high school fiasco, I had come to live with that prized wisdom. Despite what he said to me, being slightly older, I knew that time would prove Adams wrong. It did. But we went on being friends, though increasingly edgy.

But, we drew apart increasingly. Now, I am not a saint. I don’t know whatever I said, or did on my part to spark the cancer that killed our friendship.

Now in psychology, we are told, there are four types of ourselves, remember that Johari Window from your first year communication or Psychology class:

  1. The Known self: what is known by the person about him or herself and is also known by others.
  2. Blind self: what is unknown by the person about him or herself but which others know.
  3. Hidden self: what the person knows about him or herself that others do not know. E.g being a closeted gay.
  4. Unknown self: what is unknown by the person about him or herself and is also unknown by others. Maybe you don’t know that the person you think is your biological dad is actually not. Or you were adopted and no one ever told you.

I am keen on the blind self. May be I have this blind spot that people know about that I don’t know. And in it, I may have said something equally offensive, or behaved like an arse#*le. I don’t know. What I know, I do have a careless tongue, sometimes I do say nasty things about myself and others. But truth be told, I have never harbored any malice towards anyone. I am the kind of person who wants everyone to succeed including my enemies, for I know, their success or how their life pans out, has no bearing on how my life will pan out. We all live our lives and write our own stories.

The reason for this loooooong blog, is that I am sure there are people out there that are baffled why they are not talking to their former best friends anymore. There are always reasons.

First, friendships die naturally because people grow old, priorities change and life happens. You have absolutely no control over this, as a good Facebook friend, told me recently.

Secondly, some friends are very competitive and can’t bear competing with you and sometimes they lose out.

Thirdly, maybe they were not your friends in the first place. Fate just brought you together and your friendship was just expedient and died when it was tested in worse times.

But it is a philosophical experience. Since, you can’t replace some of the friends. We all make our best friends when in college. Outside college, we are less trustworthy of the the people we meet, because after college they are too old and their opinions on everything about life pretty much permanent. We only become their friends too cautiously.

I am now a literary orphan. No that one bosom friend  to share my best reads. No intellectual equal (more or less) to weigh our mutual tastes against each other. It is such a painful fact of life that friendships sometimes do go to the dogs and just like a death, or a separation, you get used to it, live with it, until the end of time.

 

Explaining Trump to Kenyans

Many Kenyans as Americans are perplexed at the now inexorable rise of Donald Trump to be Republican Party’s presidential nominee. Unless a miracle happens, he is will slug it out with Hillary Clinton— a woman idolized and vilified in equal measure— in the November elections. If he is the Republicans’ choice wins, he will become potentially the most powerful man on earth, in charge of many things, not the least, nuclear weapons.

And the world is scared shitless at the though of it. It means the end of the world to many. people. Many Americans are probably checking how fast can they drive to Canada. In 2012, my German friend, Carol Blink, warned me that there  was a renewed sense of Fascism that was slowly rising in the Western World.  I thought she was being overly paranoid and buying too much into conspiracies. Little did I know that three years later, Trump, the man I have admired deeply as an entertainer (his Comedy Central roast ranks as a work of art and Antony Jesselnik killed it for me), is now a likely  presidential nominee.

Trump rose to the top by saying some of the vilest things about Mexicans, Muslims, women and everyone he deems worthless in his quest to ‘make America Great Again’.In the meantime, he declines to acknowledge that he knows David Duke, a one-time Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

There is nothing Trump will say that will stop his voters from voting for him. He said a while ago that his supporters love him so much, that he can stand in the middle of the 5 th Avenue in Manhattan (that is like standing in the middle Kenyatta Avenue) and shoot someone and he will still not lose a single vote.

There are theories as to how we ended up with Trump. Some say, it is because the Republican party has been losing touch with reality over the last two decades. Their views on gays, reproductive health rights, immigration are at variance with what the younger generation wants. Little wonder Trump supports Planned Parenthood, even as Rubio and Cruz swear they will not support Planned Parenthood, essentially throwing the right to abort into jeopardy. The very things the republicans are resisting are the very things that endear the democrats to the people.

Some say it is the division at the top leadership of the GOP. Over the years, they have refused to attune their ideology with changing times. Over the years, blinded by either ignorance or arrogance, they did not realise that technology and globalization were eroding jobs from the American market. Over the years, they have frustrated any legislation, that was going to make governance possible, and the last six years in particular, have seen Obama use executive orders if he was to get anything done. Even younger republicans like presidential candidate Marco Rubio and House Speaker Paul Ryan seem to be stuck in the past, swinging more towards the extreme right, effectively muting any chance of the party waking up to the reality that it 2015.

Since 2008, the republican top leadership has struggled to find a credible leader. Jeb Bush was touted as a possible captain, but then, Trump happened and declared him ‘low energy’ killing his presidential dream instantaneously. John McCain was considered too old and he made it impossible for himself by electing Sarah Palin who was rejected by even moderate republicans. Credit that they were running perhaps the smartest politicians in America’s history.  Mitt Romney, while a successful businessman, avuncular, equally blundered in his private conversations that came out as racist at a time when race is thorny issue. This year has been no different. Hence the rise of Donald Trump.

Observers have noted, that his popularity stems from the fact that he says certain things that certain American families speak at their dinner tables. Since America is the land of political correctness, it helps when they find a vehicle that is so unPC. Nothing like their support to remind us that they approve of everything he says. And every insults he trades.

You see those moments when some people in Central Kenya cheer Moses Kuria when he makes circumcision jokes aimed at Raila. In CORD People  are always delighted in Johnson Muthama comes out unhinged and humiliates the president in public rallies? That is who Trump is. It is purely a matter of expediency. .

Think of Trump as someone like Mike Sonko. Or Babu Owino. If you are educated, have that degree or masters, you will wonder what makes them wildly popular in certain  parts of the population. Indeed, the numbers indicate that Trump’s big support comes from White conservative males who still think that the idea of America as a superpower is feasible and sustainable. He constantly scores about 30-40 % of the votes and drawn mostly from suburban and exurb parts of traditionally republican states. The crowds there are mostly palpably anxious white people who think, his message of ‘Make America Great Again” is a good campaign slogan.They are pining for the good old days.

But there is something these people are protesting against. And that is the corporate politics or what they have called establishment politics. Which is basically, a condemnation of career politicians whose work is to take bribes and donations from the rich so has to pass legislation that only serves their (the rich’s) interest. Otherwise, why would anyone vehemently oppose Obamacare, noble as it is? This version of politics is no longer feasible and it only leads us to the things like the Financial Crisis of 2008. And wars.

Bad politics isolates and condemns a large chunk of the population into poverty and ignorance that always comes back to bite. In Kenya for instance, we have always insisted that people need have degrees so as to serve public office. Yet, the learned elite have overseen  the looting and haemorrhaging  of our taxes, it is funny why we trust learned people so much. Take Waititu and Kidero for size. We all lined up against Waititu, thinking that Kidero will do something, but he has ended up being the worst disappointment  and he will leave Nairobi worse than when he came in, despite running the largest budget of any country.

That is why it is easy for individuals to come out next year and like joke elect Sonko. You know he is not the brightest bulb, you don’t expect much from him and the threshold of disappoint is so low. Ultimately, since corruption steals opportunities, stalls dream,  a large chunk of the population has never stepped into the university. In Kenya, since independence, the number of university graduates is less than 500,000. That means the other are over 44 million people who do not understand why corruption is terrible cancer. And the half million who knows better are so apathetic, their voice doesn’t count anymore.Besides, they help in voting the kleptocrats into power who rob from the poor.

So, just know, as long we have masses who are unhappy with the administration of learned people that takes them for a ride after every election cycle, they tend to lower their expectation and can elect anyone whom they think embodies their basest expectations.

That is the reason at certain times a section of the Kikuyus (often a substantial number ) will turn to a Moses Kuria or Kabogo for that timely circumcision joke to silence or distract the opposition. Of course there are always condemnations from the learned Kikuyu folk, or moderates, but their intervention on social media means nothing to the makanga or the man in the village. Same way for CORD. A section  of CORD will always cheer Muthama chanting (Toboa! Toboa! Toboa!) in a rally just so as to feel better about as the president is being derided. Because, after all, with all the corruption happening and nothing is being done, they can revel in the insults, for it makes them feel better.

So, the world over, whenever there is a huge chunk of a population that is dissatisfied with an administration , they have always expressed their disgust by voting people who are anti-establishment. Ala’ Sonko, Trump and (insert any populist with half-a-brain).

It also explains how some brutal murderers and dictators came to rule the world.

30 throwbacks to savour (Part II)

Jared (a really terrible name) was crying uncontrollably. He twitched and wheezed on the bed in a feverish way, but no so alarming. It was cry of acceptance. Submission to fate.

I stood in the middle of the room, not knowing exactly what to do. Or what to say. It is not what I expected when I decided to go home.  Here was a man crying. The cry had a dreadful tune to it signaling a deep personal loss, certainly not death.

“What is it Jared?”

More sobs. More crying. More involuntary twitching. I stood there, rooted for nearly ten minutes, waiting for him to compose himself.

Jared was a young man I was housing several years ago. He had moved to my place temporarily after his brother told him to stay with me for a weekend before he found a place of his own. This was like the sixth month he was living with me. He was young. 20 or 21. Muscular. Quiet. Humble. Averagely tall, and well built. Spoke a voice that ranged from an average tenor to an average alto. He was attending the University of Nairobi’s Lower Kabete.

He left the house in the morning and came back late at night. But here we were, around 6 p.m, the sun about to have dinner and sleep. And Jared was crying.

“What is it?” I asked much more authoritatively, with a whiff of impatience.

Sobs. More sobs.

“It is my girlfriend,” he muttered, even as he exploded into another tearful twitching.

“What about her?” I asked, disapprovingly.  I hate men who cry. The only exceptions is when they are cutting those onions from Ukambani…

“She is pregnant.” He said with a doubtful voice.

“Is that why you are crying?” I asked, trying to be level-headed. “That we can handle, it is a very small problem. Every man will at one time ‘accidentally’ impregnate a woman. Unless her father is the head of CID, or an OCS…” I started rambling…

“No. That is not the problem.” He said firmly, even as he sobbed more violently.

“What is?”

“The pregnancy is not mine!” He proclaimed.

“Oh Noooo….” Is that why you are crying, I asked now really being empathetic of his situation.

There was a brief moment where he entered a monologue about how he loved the girl.

I wore my relationship expert hat and specs and launched into ‘unsolicited advice mode’, sounding like Sigmund himself speaking in Dr Phil’s voice.

“Look, Jared. That is not the end of the world. A woman will betray you at least once. You should be happy, that it has happened when you are young, not quite 21. Now, stop crying, we need to go have a beer.”

“No Silas. That is not the problem!”

Now I was honestly lost. What can be probably worse than what Jared had told me…

“Hiyo mimba mwanaume alimpea ako positive.” (The man who gave her the pregnancy is a HIV-positive.)

In one sentence, Jared had revealed to me that he had been tapping the lady raw. He feared the worst. I feared the worst. But I knew this phase of life.

Every sexually active man I know has been in this situation. You are scared shitless about your overnight indiscretion. May be it is a chips funga. May be it is a woman you met in a matatu. May be it is your neighbor.

It mostly happens with a woman you don’t have her sexual history whatsoever or somewhere you can dig it up (not that there is a woman you can 100% know her sexual history.  but at least those you meet in the right places, you get to ask around and have a picture however skewed.).

So you meet this woman. You barely know her well. Not even her second name. You take her to bed. May be you are drunk. May be she is good in bed. May be you are thirst. May be the two of you are too thirsty. May be you went to fast, too strong the condom burst in your furious and ruthless work.  Bottom line, you end up chewing the stuff raw. After you reach the climax, you sleep and the morning after, you wake up, and reality hits you so hard like frozen stone.

Usually you wake up, your mind overheats, something more powerful than the sun illuminates on your eyes. You lose your appetite. And you start thinking about life deeply.

“If she gave it to me raw. How many men has she met this way and slept with raw? I swear to God, I am positive.”You tell yourself, convincingly.  You look up to God and think of the 13 places where you would were supposed to have been before you made the stupid move.

Your whole life flashes in front of you. You think of the castles you would have built, the happy family you would have made with your official girlfriend. Your loving mother and aloof father. Your cousins. And your friends. It used to be worse, before ARVs came to offer dying HIV victims some modicum of dignity. In the past, you saw your own body, wasted to the last bone, skin darkened, and reduced to a mass of shrunken bones that people have to squint their eyes, and lean lower in order to see you in the blanket. You become hysterical.

Somehow, I have never seen women bothered by such. More often than not, as long as there is a chemist on her way to the stage, or in town, they are cool. It is like women never bother with HIV. But two women very close to me have ever called me out of nowhere-do you know those Tuesday or Thursday 10.37 a.m calls? Yes. Those. These women called me and ululated that they had passed an HIV test. I could feel the relief in their hearts. It is not easy going to the V.C.T when you know you have not been a good boy or girl recently. .

So I knew Jared’s predicament. Anyway, Jared did go to the hospital, several weeks later after we advised him as men. He was negative. He joined a church and I am happy he is serving the Lord, and hope he never strays again.

  1. Do you work at the Norfolk? The day a woman asked me, when I wanted to take her there for a date.

I have told this story before, so I will be brief. Back in the day, along Standard Street, there used to be a Club Soundd on the 3rd floor of Hamilton House, just opposite Trattoria Restaurant.

Now, there are only three types of people who drink alcohol in town. People without cars, university of Nairobi students and visiting students from other universities. Those from other univeristies will throng Moi Avenue and below. UoN kids are cool and will go to the decent, up urbane clubs in the CBD, where beer is sold at Sh 250. Only UoN, Strath, USIU and  Catho and  could afford that.

Soundd was one such club thronged by men in their late 20s and 30s who wanted a more mature crowd of women who will not puke after insisting on a cocktail they had no idea about its limit. Or the young, horny boys who visit the dance floor with evil intentions: stealing phones and dancing and getting off female backs, really disgusting.

So we happen there. It is a random Saturday night. These women come in a group and they sit across our table and I am smitten by the hottest in the group. She looked like a younger Cece Winans. Despite the weave, she had one of those fresh and smoothest, natural skins that pulls you in her direction like gravity. We exchanged eye contact for so long. Being shy to make the first move and since I can’t dance, we sat there eye-balling each other. When she stood to dance, she seemed to me too rigid, to dance, She tried a couple of moves but she went back to sit. She was a tad heavy, but in a tremendously desirable way. My boy Joe, did get me her number. A 0724 or a a shadier 0726 (for some reason I loathe any number between 0726 to 0729 and I never call them at all).

Her name was Margret. I should have read the signs that she was trouble. I called on Sunday, she was busy. On Monday, since I stutter over the phone when making important phone calls, I gave my man Plato the phone to call her. I wanted to play that stupid card where you want to impress a woman by wowing her. I could afford a cup of tea at Norfolk, even though that meant starving the rest of the semester.

So Plato calls the woman and she picks and we ask her if she could come to Norfolk hotel…

“Kwani you work there?”

As in all her estimation, the only connection to Norfolk I could have was only if I was a waiter there.

Ile madharau nimepitia hii dunia. Acha tu.