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.