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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

another roll in the hay

Travel writing. 

On the second day of the Storymoja hay festival a travelling and travel writing session was held by Australian travel writer Peter Moore and Dutch-Moroccan novelist Abdelkadir Benali. These are two men who have travelled, not just over land but in their minds, travelling with people and through cultures, allowing themselves to be embraced by the places they had visited, allowing themselves to be changed and to gain a kinder world view. 

“Where are you from?” is a very common question posed to travellers, Peter Moore has received this numerous times “down south, ” is his answer but this simple exchange in different places shows how much people perceive the world as a construct of their realities. Giving this answer in Nottingham, England conjured up images of a suburb just a few miles south of that town. Giving it in Africa brings an image inextricably linked with Cape Town and Durban, diamonds and wine, South Africa. In his book, Swahili for the broken hearted he travels the famous explorer's route from Cape Town to Cairo using only public means. He remembered South Africa with fondness, talking about the hold it had over him, a country not ready to release him from its grip. When he finally had to leave to begin his trip the weather matched his mood, a heavy downpour accompanied farewell. The bus windows were fogged up and when he looked out all he could see was “mist and memories, rain and goodbyes.” 

From there he travelled to Lesotho a country where all you need is a blanket. A tool that could be a stand-in for your house, your table, your mattress even your wife on those days all she wants to do is cuddle. It carries all of you .In Swaziland he was able to witness a cooperation of modernity and tradition in the form of the reed dance. This is an annual ritual in which young nubile women model themselves for the chance to be chosen by the king as  consort. A few years ago the king would stand or sit in his throne out in the open and watch the women dance bare-chested but no more,(its not the barechestedness that has left) thanks to the advent of video cameras the king sits in comfort as his attendants take videos of the young girls, the images flashed(pun intended) to a bank of monitors and from that glassy exterior the king makes his pick. In Mozambique the feeling he remembered best was one of acceptance, of immediately being made to feel like part of the family, welcomed into a home to share their food, their space,their celebrations.

Abdelkader Benali had done a documentary for the Dutch BBC on football in Africa during the lead up to the world cup in South Africa. They had selected a few countries for reasons of both football prowess and its  power as a cultural cornerstone in those countries. Mali was chosen for their culture of storytelling,  football is more than a sport in Mali, it is a driving narrative force shaping and shifting tales told. Ivory coast was chosen because of the healing power that was being harnessed by the footballers themselves as they used their fame and hero like status to push peace and reconciliation. Most notably Didier Drogba's foray into local politics when he announced a match would be held in Bwake, a rebel stronghold. Such was the importance of football and footballers that this announcement and the subsequent match went a long way in healing the rifts and wounds of civil war. Ghana was also chosen, the first independent African country, football competition here is fierce, while in Europe football has become narrowed to success in Ghana it is used by individuals to logicise, to systemize and ultimately conquer the world around them, to define their individualism and let their reinforced sense of identity shape their country. South Africa was chosen as the site of the world cup. There the sinister side of football could be seen, the part that's about profits and money, concerned with deadlines and duties but here too the uniting power of football could be seen in the hope and joy on the faces of the people. 

As the session went on, Peter Moore suggested a very simple economic index to keep track of the strength of a country's economy. Just look out of your bus or matatu and count the number of goats. Jokingly he told us that the more goats you can see the lower on the scales of development that country is. He also talked about his border crossing into Malawi from Zambia. Entering the Zambia side the first thing he saw was a huge sign proclaiming that border outpost a “corruption free zone.” a sign that the official in charge seemed to take as a sarcastic scrawling. That official began a grilling on the vaccinations that Peter Moore had received, going down the list as he looked for more and more outlandish diseases finally settling on a request for a cholera vaccine, which was not then available or needed to get into Malawi
“if you don't have one we can help each other out.”
“are you asking for a bribe?”
“no, no nothing like that”(I earlier mentioned this official's love of sarcasm.)
there then ensued a blinking contest, a staring match. For a very uncomfortable few minutes nothing was done until finally the official backed down. When Peter Moore told his travelling companions that he hadn't paid the bribe their eyes were as wide as saucepans, shock and surprise etched into their faces.

Abdelkader Benali talked about the different levels of borders, the different frontiers where once an outsider crosses he becomes an insider. The citizens of Ivory Coast in Abidjan were so convinced that this crew of documentary makers were there as scouts for a team that every day he would get requests from people asking him to have a look at their sons or themselves, it got to a point he began to doubt himself and his function in the country. He had come to make a documentary but why couldn't he also scout after all he had a friend who had a cousin who was married to a girl who once knew the guy who was the manager of Ajax and other such degrees of seperation. One person came up to him and whispered to him in  a really low conspiratorial voice, “I know you are here for football, I have a kid and a ball just around the corner, come see him, he has all his papers and vaccinations, he can leave with you tomorrow.” and for a moment he considered it, he described the encounter as being hypnotized , he was about to do something he had never thought about doing, he was ready to go watch the kid play and see what he could do about it, the moment passed but the memory persisted.

Peter Moore came up with the title of his book walking around the streets of Nairobi where he found a little book of Swahili sayings, in it was a collection of proverbs in Swahili, their translations and meanings. It was then that the title for the book came to him along with an idea to open each chapter with a Swahili saying that had something to do with the content of the chapter. His advice to aspiring authors?  learn to kill your babies, to put to bed and death phrases, paragraphs and pages that you may have laboured over but that did nothing for the book ultimately. He said that his experience in advertising helped him write books in that he understood how to put a hook in the book, a clincher, a way to describe it in one sentence or less that could be used to promote the book. A huge part of publishing is promotion and its important to make this process easier. His writing technique used to be waiting for inspiration  but he admitted that this was not the most disciplined or the best way to go about writing, he said he couldn't even do that any more telling us that, “since I became a father my mind feels like its in a constant fog now.” 

Abdelkader Benali said that he used to have writer's block, “but now I have a mortgage.” The best thing to do is to focus on the now, “beyond the horizon is another horizon and this incredible monster of ambition can eat everything up. Remember a writer is only as good as his last sentence.” Writing should give the writer joy, it is the process of communicating thoughts to paper and having those thoughts re-communicated to yourself. His spiritual writing model is his grandmother from Morocco, growing up they would visit her once in a while and going back there was like a portal in time as his parents would instantly be transformed to the children they once were in the midst of sights and scents of childhood, in the middle of the  security of knowing your parents were less than a shout away. His grandmother was horribly honest. She cut down to the meat of the matter making up in truth what she lacked in tact. He thought that if he could write how she talked ,put some of her poison into his writing it would make for some compelling reading, “though you wouldn't have any friends.”Peter Moore remarked.

One of the most important things about travel writing? You have to learn how to handle boredom Peter Moore said as he talked about Thoreau's book Consideration of the Railway, and how the most constant companion of any travel writer is boredom. Thoreau is one of his favourite authors because he could make boredom seem so beautiful.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

clearing chronicles volume 1

Clearing from the University of Nairobi~ the process by which a former student prepares to graduate~ is a bitch, its a rabid bitch that's suckling its young. in these chronicles i relay my adventures riding this bitch.

I cleared university a couple of months ago but in the University of Nairobi nobody is sure about graduation until they have a cap on their heads and their ears ring with congratulations. Also from time to time bad shit happens to me. To be honest I have been very lucky with grades and the furnishing of them. I lost almost all my assignments but still got nearly all my grades. In other places this is not remarkable in UoN it is damn near exceptional. Usually you  need to keep every assignment you ever get back since on the day results come out a problem will arise, someone somewhere will say that you did not submit course work or sit a cat and it's good on these days to have actual proof. Its also good to have proof of fees paid,people have been held back from graduation since the computer on which fee records is stored had a glitch, a glitch that can only be corrected by actual paper scripts with the details of payment writ in ink. I don't have any of these receipts either.

Despite all this I was on track to finish, to graduate until sep 23. this was the day the graduation list came out. I went to school and my name was not on the list, I wasn't alone, a lot of other people were in the same titanic sharing that sinking feeling, a lot of us shipmates went over to the office where this was to be sorted out.  I explained to the attendant that I was missing this one grade, she looked a the remarks written where the grade should have been and informed me that i was missing my answer booklet. My heart dropped. There are a thousand stories about the horror of not graduating that float around Nairobi university, , haunting the steps of each successive graduation class until paranoia is a daily pill. So while I had not heard of this happening before, I wasn't too shocked that it could. She was extremely helpful and went through the pile of booklets seeking mine. It was a huge pile and as she flipped through it my hope diminished more and more. I sat there scared she wouldn't find my paper. I sat there and imagined various worse case scenarios three for each paper she flipped past, I saw my graduation plans thrown in my face. A disheartening prospect. I tried to keep my mind off the fact that now she was down to ten, or so it looked. Now it's five and my heart beats faster and faster, now its three and cold sweats ran down my spine racing for absolution, now its two and I don't want to blink scared that I’ll miss my penultimate salvation, now its one and all I want is a smile on her face as she hands me the script. She flips through the last one and then flips through another,

You see I couldn’t see very well and as I was counting down to zero there were a number still in the pile. She goes through this too and comes up short.

I feel sad.

So sad all I want to do is sit somewhere and put my face to my palm, I want to sigh wistfully and allow myself to bat away tears. I want to get lost in my misery, allow myself some time to mourn since I think its healthy. But noone will let me be miserable, they insist on looking at the bright side. I don't get this though. Positive thinking is a very powerful tool. It changes dark clouds into sunshine and all that but I have always believed there is a time for everything. Right then I was sad and all I wanted to do was mourn. There were things I could do to help me get my paper, letters to write, people to meet, I could do all these things but I wanted to do them sad. Every one tried to cheer me up when I didn’t want it. Tomorrow is for hope I thought to myself,despair and depression deserve this one day.

Plus I had on these heavy boots, slughorns(this is probably not the meaning of the word slughorn but it seems to fit) that I slugged around all day. And my spiritual despondency soon  began to manifest itself physically. When I was depressed I couldn't lift a foot off the ground and all i did was drag them from here to there. Later I found purpose,  I knew what to do and where to go to start getting sorted and energy surged back into my feet. i di what i could and
I have a meeting with the dean on Monday here's hoping to high heaven it goes well otherwise...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Story moja creative writing workshop


On the first day of the story-moja hay festival I attended a creative writing master-class run by Hari Kunzru. An amazing British novelist and short story writer once named as one of Britain's, best young novelists. Those unfamiliar with his work can check out a sample. 
 
The feeling in the workshop was of a conversation with a guy who could easily become a friend although a friend with vastly more experience and practical insights into the art of writing and being creative than many of my others. From just the introductions of the attendants,  he was able to introduce a very important rule for short story writing, limits. He looked around the room and talked about how in those few moments a writer writing about the event had already been introduced to a host of different potential characters, characters who in their minutiae,in the peculiarity of each of their mannerisms could fill up a few thousand words but a short story writer must know his limits and ask himself if these details are important to the story.

We began the workshop with a discussion on beginnings, Hari Kunzru talked about what American author Richard Harsham had said of beginnings, “its never verbal, I can't express it in words, its not graspable, writing is about bringing into words something which is not, a feeling, a sense, an image.” Short story writing especially provides the writer with the chance to throw things up in the air and see where they land always remembering that a necessary quality of any author is the ability to fail in public. 

Try something outlandish and experimental, “anything goes” is the first step to a good short story,  as long as its interesting which is incidentally the second step. The third being to write for a reader and keep this in mind so that that reader can make sense of the inner workings of your consciousness. Also never ever listen to the “man on your shoulder,” the  one who tells you what you should do while writing, variously saying writing is too serious an endeavour for such frivolity then that it is too frivolous a pursuit for such earnestness. Only listen to the voice whose direction takes your writing on a tour of pleasure, listen to what's fun, what's weird and what's unique. Don't be afraid to look anywhere for a story.

He told us about this magazine he had once read, the magazine was doing a feature on a clothing billionaire and his young wife as they showed off their old wealth and their new baby. There was a glossary of photos, luxury and opulence at every shot. The baby's room decorated with no thought to expense, the baby itself  wrapped in the finery most fashionable for infants at that time, the billionaire was self satisfied and his young wife had an avaricious glint in her eye as she held up her baby to the world as if saying, “now that I’ve had the billionaire's baby I’m set for life.” While this was not what the photoshhoot was trying to represent Hari Kunzru could not get the image of the avaricious glint out of his mind and set about writing a story inspired by this. A story not told in the usual linear sequence but a story  structured around the objects in the photoshoot, picking them up and discarding them as each provided the reader with an insight into the characters in focus. Using a static representation of things to show that the characters cared more about the outside opulence represented than any kind of inner wealth. 

He also confessed his love for the use of “unliterary words” using this story as an example. He talked about how in New York people were so concerned about chemicals, fretting over the contents of their food, obsessing about the need for organic labels the same  people who lived in a city with plumes of noxious exhaust fumes falling out of cars, a city ruled by madmen with guns. He couldn't understand that with all those real perils in their face New-Yorkers still thought that what would kill them was a chemical in food they ate, to avoid this they turned to healthier foods though most people aren't experts in the chemistry of food and don't really know what's dangerous or not. He introduced this idiosyncrasy into his story by making the female character one of these people worried about chemicals at every turn. This allowed the story to have words in the family of ribulosebisphosphatecarboxylaseoxygenase. Words not usually put in literature, in this case the names of chemical compounds.

The true test of an author is the ability to kill his children Hari Kunzru said. A lot of things go on the cutting floor when a work is being written,a passage that may have taken months to write, a text that flowed fully formed, it does not matter that the writer felt like a mixture of Tolstoy and Kafka as he wrote that part , none of this matters when it comes time to cut. “If it doesn't go it has to go.” The realisation of this is what separates a real writer from the rest. The ability to let go of labours of love the ability to kill his children, Less can be more as the example of Raymond Carver a renowned short story writer showed. He uses stripped prose in his stories, in areas where the reader may expect emotional exposition he would leave gaps, inviting the reader to meet him halfway. These short stories gave the reader a sense of what should happen, let the reader make predictions and expect a resolution one way or another, but at the point where the resolution would have been the stories curved away from this. A story that dealt with the failure to deal with a  situation leaving the reader with a sense of sadness and frustration more akin to what happens in real life. Emotional gaps feeled in by the reader in such situations did more to move that reader  than any amount of melodramatic posturing by the author.

An extremely useful tool to a budding writer is the ability to avoid using a big baseball pointer to show what he expects the reader to think or feel. While researching a period novel set in the 20's Hari Kunzru went back to a series of books about WWI that had left him with a feeling of having been there and seen those times, The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker, on this re-read he found a surprising dearth of details about this period. It was obvious that a great deal of research had gone into the writing of the books but it wasn't thrown in the reader's face. It was subtle,in the shadows and this made the book authentic. Acclaimed novelist Ben Okri who was also at the workshop agreed with this saying it wasn’t the facts of the research that made a piece of writing authentic but the implication of it. Ben Okri gave the example of the debate that had raged over who had actually written the Quran and that the most compelling piece of evidence that it had been written by an Arab was the absence of the mention of a camel throughout the whole book. Hari Kunzru went on to say that including all the obscure details about what the author had researched could be an exercise in intellectual vanity. Done more for the author than the reader as the author could then be trying to say look how smart I am I read all these other books as I was writing this one.

The workshop a lot of the times took on a conversational tone, when Hari Kunzru was asked if it was true that in order to write a book of any type  the potential author should read 100 books of that genre, he answered that it was true that only a voracious reader can make a good writer  ,“but I’ve only read 98 so am still rubbish.” Later still when extolling the virtues of being different and standing out as a writer he said “perhaps you should try to read 101 books.” He mentioned the different ways authors would create characters. Some wrote full biographies of their characters with details and details that were only implied in the story itself, like a really tall character stooping in a  doorway. One author he knew of wrote letters to himself from the characters in his novel.

Writing novels  requires a lot of discipline, an endeavour that should not be entered half hearted as the world the author created would be their residence for years. It the discipline to stay on track, since it is extremely easy to lose control. He gave the example Jonathan Safran who while writing one novel gained an obsession with table tennis perhaps as a way to distract him from his increasingly difficult project. A novel that had pages and pages of manuscript with no structure in sight. The final work was four times shorter and bore little resemblance to the beginning. A useful way to avoid this was to stick to a plan, an extremely difficult proposition with novels, Hari Kunzru said that to keep on track he would use index cards and write down all the things he wanted to put in the novel, put them on a board and then arrange them chronologically, a physical representation he could sit in front of. Indexes of flight correction if the story strayed too far off path.

Writing in the end is about overcoming inhibitions. Overcoming the inhibition to put something on paper, the inhibition to show it to another human being, the inhibition prompting you to avoid failure. Until an author stands bare to the public stripped of all his inhibitions and presenting a work that gave pleasure in the writing and hopefully pleasure in the reading.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

follies too

“I'm sorry I didn't hear that.” said Shara looking expectantly up at Brian

Not sure what she was expecting, not sure what she wanted. The sound of the rain outside had intruded again and Brian looked at her. His face was a bronze cast, a statue in profile. Scarred with something, an emotion she couldn't quite identify, was it grief, determination or something else? some strange mixture of things she couldn't guess at and was too tired of trying to, too tired of relying on body language because if that could be trusted this night was long overdue. No. She needed words tonight, clear and concise and the thunder had taken that away. And now she looked at him as he took another deep breath, moments that seem momentously long.

Brian considered what he had told her. The weather had saved him given him another chance, he could change the path of his life now.. The thunder had swallowed up one betrayal giving him a reprieve, a moment to think things through once again. he could trade one betrayal for another now, make a different choice, hurt a different person sure that no matter what he would be hurt too. He had another reprieve, an extra moment to think. To think about himself, to think about...



“no he hasn't been unfaithful, he wouldn't do that.”

“and ...you wouldn't lie to me............would you?”

Well enough with the lies, he thought, here's a question he could finally answer, and answer truthfully.

“no more that he'd cheat.”

Was that irony? He wasn't sure, close enough anyway. What was he thinking of right now, this wasn't the time for thoughts of irony, not now when he had sealed his fate. He looked at Shara, she seemed jittery now, the pain hadn't all drained from her face, there was some there if he looked at her. It signified a chance, a chance to correct what he had done, to tell her the truth but he couldn't. Instead he looked away playing the part of a guilty lover now.

“I have something to tell you then” said Shara. And now there were the beginnings of a smile on her face a real smile if that was possible. Not a joyful one, a resigned one. He could imagine a French revolutionary from some long ago history smiling the same smile. Smiling it as she took a cigarette in her mouth and dared the firing squad to do their worst. He could see the mademoiselle continuing to smile as she lit the cigarette and keep this grotesque feature on her face until the last possible moment when the bullet struck her in her stomach and tore through all that was her, as the momentum slammed against her and made her spit out the cigarette, he could imagine that woman of yore smiling even then. A look of anguish finally replacing it as the life went out of her eyes. He looked at Shara now and her eyes were so full of life, full of zest. He knew this wouldn’t last, everyone finds out and the bullet would hit her and that would be it and in a big way it would be his fault.

“Ian asked me to marry him. That's why I had to know and now that I do am going to say yes.”

now he was the one facing death, a deer caught in the headlights, he had no idea where that had come from and now that it loomed before him large and luminous he couldn't bring himself to think of ought else. He forced himself to go through the motions. He smiled, a crinkly smile, one that tugged at his skin like it had always been stretched taut. The skin felt like it would break right then stretched too taut for a wink and now he was using all those muscles to smile. What if his face tore open right then. It could his heart had. He hugged her just so he wouldn't have to look at her and begged speechlessness,a second titbit of honesty he wryly thought.

“am so glad for you, he'll be a little pissed he wasn't the one to tell me though.”

“yer well, any wine? Liquor hardly seems celebratory.”

“none, but I do have these cigarettes.”



he popped one in his mouth and she did the same, he lit them both and stood back to regard this scene, too uncomfortably like what he had thought of before. His hands shook. If only he had met her first.

If only you had met me first thought Shara but only because it hurt her to admit the truth you did you drunken asshole you did meet me first. How could you forget. She couldn't. That night was all too clear,  a party and a conversation with this guy, this guy standing right in front of her because he was shitfaced(then) and it amused her to play with drunks, especially the ones who were too drunk to remember the next day. He had been going through something. That was the problem with the 2 men in her life always going through something,never just being. But he was funny nonetheless. Charming, witty and above all stumbling. She had ended up talking to him for a very long time, she thought he had sobered up but..

Well she had gotten progressively more drunk,concentric inebriation. And at a point she was drunk enough to give herself an excuse for a kiss. She gathered her courage just as he gathered his guts and spilled them, all over the floor  And that was that, except not really.

Ian had come flying across the room, the very picture of concern, worried for his friend. Desperate to make sure he hadn't made a horrible impression on the beautiful lady. Caring, bending , wiping, talking, charming. And when he asked for help to put Brian to sleep in a bed upstairs, it seemed the most natural thing. They laughed as they lugged their log of a friend up the stairs. He lurched awake once and saw her, he smiled and muttered to himself “I won't forget”

but you did, completely. It had been Ian who remembered, Ian who called ,who took her out, who she fell in love with(well both really), Ian who asked her to marry him. Ian who she would say yes to. If Ian was a cheat Brian was a liar  this was her rock and her hard place. A part of her knew the truth but another part was too scared of being dashed to pieces between these 2 heartbreaks to take note. So she decided to believe. But you did see me first you drunken bastard.

Nagging doubts were no way to start a marriage but a hard slap to the butt was no way to start a life and yet that's what always happened. “my fiancĂ©e will be wondering where I got to,” she grabbed her car keys as she said this and headed out the door.

Brian watched from the doorway, lighting another cigarette. Sad that the two most important people in his life would be in the middle of so much joy and that this brought a feeling in the pit of his stomach, a horrid feeling. The kind of feeling that you get when you've been drinking too much and your stomach refuses all remedies. This was the thing about choices though, they left you cast in stone. He let the door shut itself,he needed to drink.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

i can't believe i wrote a post about sports either.


A war of attrition, blood has been split, ribs shook, fights prevented, kisses exchanged. This is England rugby.

I had forgotten what good rugby looks like, the adrenaline, the speed, the need to win, the amazing lengths these guys go to, rugby is war. Its not just a game, not just a sport, war.


So Saturday finds me in the house watching rugby, this is because I have nothing better to do(on account of me becoming very boring.) my brother loves rugby, loves it to bits, he broke a few bones for it, I broke bones playing rugby too but because of it never for it the difference is huge. Anyway he's watching rugby, Argentina is playing England, right now, its half time and I have taken time out to rejoice in the awesomeness that is England rugby.

At first I sat here non-committal, looking at the tv screen as a way to pass time. Quickly I latched onto Argentina as the team to support, they seemed underdoggy enough and I have watched so many American movies that it's the default . A little into the game there was this mole, a mole is basically a pimple on the face, in rugby though it’s what happens when the players are fighting over the ball and the fight becomes uncivilised breaking down into a free for all on the floor of the pitch. All the players who are around get sucked into this black hole and in there they fight and claw and sometimes even bite if they can get away with it. This mole happened a few metres from the tryline, where the ball must be placed for a score to be made, Argentina got the ball and crashed into the England defence, a defence in rugby is a wall of men weighing in at over a hundred kilograms of muscle each. The way to break past this wall is to hit it as hard as you can over and over till a crack appears. Every time there's no crack in the wall there's another mole, a ridiculously dangerous situation in which one player crashes into the wall, is rebuffed and falls to the ground, doesn't try to protect his head as all these people in these rugby boots storm around him. 5 moles later they were 5 centimetres from the tryline. 5 fucking centimetres,a guy with a decent sized hard on could have scored those points. They had fought to get here, you could feel the struggle, see the desire as they fought in those moles, world war II trenches where putting your head up was inviting a kick to the face and at this point an Argentinian decided to jump for it, jump those last 5 cm. he was airborne,a bird in flight, free in the air for one glorius moment before he ws snatched back by the wall he didn't make it he was rebuffed, pushed back and they lost that chance, I was supporting Argentina even harder than before, such drive, such spirit.


But.

The English wanted to win. They wanted it so bad I began wanting it for them too. The star Argentinian player would touch the ball and be floored immediately, they were out to hurt. His ribs were hit, the tackles aimed at him particularly ferocious prompting  the commentator to say “every time he touches the ball he hurts himself” no I thought they hurt him every time he touches the ball. And these rugby guys are bad-ass Not like football, not at all. There are no fake dives in rugby, none of that weak game here. in this game there was a guy who got a cut on his head, an actual cut, the blood was dripping down him in cascades, a waterfall of red and bled. In this very match. He left the game for five minutes so that they could pour something on his wound, then he came back and played on. But back to the star player that the British were out to get. His falls started to last longer and longer. He would be tackled, and a tackle really is like someone throwing a rock at you as hard as he can, and fall. The medics would come on the pitch as the game went on because in rugby they don't stop for injuries, they don't stop to watch a guy get bandaged, they don't stop because of a possible concussion, they only stop for whistles .First aid  happens as the rest of the game goes on. Seriously the guy stood there as they bandaged his ribs and the rest of the game went on, kicks and scores and tries and moles. Finally the punishment was too much and this guy had to be taken off. That's when England became my team, they wanted to win. They had spirit, soul, psyche. They wanted to win more than anyone else.

Plus they had these new uniforms for their team. And England is proud of their team, they love them some rugby. They spare no expense on these jerseys, none at all I imagine. Probably the kind of contract that you retire off of. However in 5 minutes the numbers on the back of the jerseys were peeling off. That's awesome. That makes them the underdog immediately. They look like they couldn't afford what a Kenyan high school can.

And in the middle of the game a guy streaked across the field. A random fan in nothing but his swinging pendulum, famous now and forever. That only happens in rugby.

Then an English player jumped for the ball. Before he landed an Argentinian tackled him in an egregious breach of rugby courtesy, you never, ever tackle someone in the air. As soon as this happened the English players were ready to go H.A.M. (hip hop slang for Hard As a Motherfucker derived from jay-z/kanye west song of the same name.) a fight nearly broke out, no listening to the fact that it may have been by mistake, just fists curled, jaws set and adrenaline released. Later on there was nearly another fight. One English player grabbed an Argentinian by the head. He crooked his elbow round his neck pulled the other guy close and kissed him on the eyelid! On the eyelid! I have never seen a kiss used so counterproductively since Judas and Gethsemane. I was sold. I was with England to the end of the tournament. I hope they win.

Plus they were so rough. In rugby it takes a lot to get a penalty but not for England, as an example there was this guy who was tacked so hard by an English player you could feel the empathy in your own ribs. He was floored. It looked painful. It sounded painful, by the way he was writhing on the floor it was painful. If he was Adam Eve would be broken since that's the only kind of ribs god would be working with. This was not a penalty. But the team, the whole team got warned for a penalty later on. Maybe they poked a guy in the eye or something like that, am not sure.

despite all this spirit England was still losing, it's hard to lose. You could see it on their faces, the pain and frustration. The whole team was dejected and to make matters worse Wilkinson kept missing penalties. Wilkinson is a star player, he never misses a penalty. But in this game he missed four. That's four more than he has ever missed in his life. But he kept trying. I remember in high school we had this tennis enthusiast as a teacher. He once said that there are many people around the world who can serve like Serena Williams. They have the power and they can give the ball the speed it needs, what sets her aside is her mind. Imagine being at the highest expression of whatever it is your passion is. For her it's Wimbledon, for Wilkinson it's the rugby world cup. You do what you do. You serve as hard and true as you can but you fail. Then you try and fail again and again and again. But you try the same thing over again since you know from your practice this is what you do. that's what Wilkinson did. That's what the English team did. They tried. They forgot about the fact that they were losing. They put their frustration in a pocket, they wanted to win and to do this they would do anything. They caused concussions, they broke ribs, they ran and fought and tried like an underdog. They had spirit despite their shitty uniform despite the fact they were losing for 70 of the 80 minutes they played. They won me over and they won.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

binary


I don't believe in "the one."

This probably comes as no surprise to most people, after all how many people still believe in this romantic concept of one person in the world walking around half-completed just waiting to be found by them. How many people in the modern world are really ready to sacrifice so much of their independence? to have their one shot at happiness completely dependent on someone else? I don't think am a cynic . After all I don't think you can be happy without love, fulfilled without passion, satiated without lust but I also don't think you can be satisfied without struggle, content without conflict,pleased without blemishes.

Maybe it's all we see and read nowadays, no more romantic movies with the happily ever after tag, that died away as I was a child or even when it happens noone really buys that ending now all you find is realism, truth, grit and dark. I read a book called the Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte, it had this passage on the reality of happy endings at the end of movies



Nikon refused to accept that the hero might have drowned two weeks later  when his boat struck a reef in the Southern Hebrides. Or that the heroine was run over by a car three months later. Or that maybe everything turned out differently in a thousand different ways: one of them had an affair, one of them became bitter or bored, one of them wanted to back out. Maybe nights full of tears, silence and loneliness followed that screen kiss. Maybe cancer killed him before he was forty. Maybe she lived on and died in an old folks home when she was ninety. Maybe the handsome officer turned into a pathetic ruin, his wounds becoming hideous scars and his glorious battles forgotten by all. And maybe, old and defenceless, the hero and heroine suffered ordeals without the strength to fight or defend themselves, tossed this way and that by the storms of life, by stupidity by cruelty, by the miserable human condition.”

that was one of my favourite passages in the book which was awesome all through, but its not just art that makes me not believe in "the one", I look around me and I see all these people who put all their faith in this one moment, this one day when the bride puts on her white dress more to signify hope than purity nowadays and the truth is for all of that human beings disappoint, they can't help it, it's how we were made. An engine that knocks all the time. The engineer messed up and the place where petrol goes and water flows are so close to each other that all that happens is a stop at every start. But I don't think am cynical.

I don't believe in "the zero" either.

A lot of people do now, a lot more than the ones who believe in the one. The zero in my mind is that one last zero you add to your pay-check or your net worth, that last digit that propels you from ordinary to millionaire, from millionaire to billionaire. That last zero that means you no longer are one. That figure that puts you out of the hands of the desperate, that gives you security and stability, the extra one that means luxury and lavishness, the next one that brings the power to pull strings.



Its an eternal mantra that money doesn't bring happiness. People always say that money isn't everything to which I reply, "yer but it’s the first thing." I understand the power of money and its necessity, after all i can't even eat love considering the preceding paragraphs, but money isn't enough. Its important, its the oil in the engine but an engine needs petrol too. And then there are all the unhappy rich people in the world. Its no secret that the countries with the highest GDP also have the highest rates of suicide. Someone once told me that people get so bored not needing to do anything to feed themselves, they don't need to work or struggle, and soon their lives start to mean less and less when all that is needed is available and soon their minds go to dark places. They experience existential crises and have the time and inclination to examine them. They look at the universe as it is, they look at the specks of dust floating around and blink and see that disappear. They consider that that disappearance doesn't make a dent in their worlds and wonder if theirs will make a dent in any world and soon they disappear. They get depressed and tired, they lose interest in what's outside. And this is especially horrible when what's inside is also dark and twisty.

So I don't believe in the zero either.

But am not a cynic. Even with the loss of faith in both of the one stop shops that were hawked everywhere before I still think my life is going to turn out okay, I think I’ll be more happy than I’ll be sad, I think I’ll look back at the end of it and nod my approval. I believe that with the world in such a state of disarray, with the world telling us that happiness doesn't come from just one place, it's also whispering(if you can quiet yourself enough to hear) that happiness comes from many places. You can get a little of it from here and some more from over there. You can find joy in doing something  you are passionate about, you can find peace in the company of friends, you can find purpose in dedicating yourself to something you really care about, you can find meaning in yourself, in the things around you, the tiny things around you, rejoice in the beauty of a sunset or the magic of a child's smile. The small things or the big ones. You can find pleasure, immense satisfaction in seeing a project through to its end, in educating your children, in learning an instrument, in mastering a language.

What am trying to say is there are options. We don't all end up uber rich and not every one finds a love that makes life worth living and those who do invariably lose it. All ends whether its due to the imperfection of the human spirit or the mortality of the human form. But I prefer to live in a world that says there are a million of other things worth having that are worth striving for. I like a world that promises me continual eternal stimulation, a world that tells me even if the love of my life leaves me for the love of hers I can still go on because happiness may well be around the next corner, so I don't think i am a cynic.

but that's just me.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

follies



He felt her even before he saw her, it had always had been like that between them and it always brought the unbidden thought to the forefront of his mind if only I met her first. But he hadn't and any such thoughts were disloyal, seeds of betrayal that if watered by constant reminder would only germinate into treachery.


He looked up into the sky though he didn't have to, it was one of those nights when the sky opened up and let all of her children splatter into the ground, let them become fat splats of water and wet. It was exactly the kind of night for what was about to happen he could feel that too. He knew that this was the kind of sky, the kind of weather that the gods chose for reckonings. He stood there for a while letting his hair get wet, letting the water soak through to his bones. He had always been a fan of duality and it struck him as fitting that his body should feel as uncomfortable as he knew he was about to.


She was waiting for him on the ledge, wet too, her face streaked with rainwater or so he told himself. Anyone who cared too could see that the rains had curved a track into her face too close to the track that tears took for that to be any kind of coincidence. She gave a brave smile when she saw him, a heart-warming smile but the true tragedy at times like this was that nothing was ok. The most beautiful smiles tinged by tears, framed by sadness arere still beautiful but a kind of beauty that was terrible to behold, a kind of beauty that held you in its grasp and at the same time made you feel just as bad as the bearer of the smile, that was the smile she flashed him as simultaneously a flash of lightning illuminated her emptiness.

He gave it a heartbeat, he gave it another. Then he said
“its far too cold for us to stay out here long, please come in.”
“thanks I thought you would never ask.”

they entered and with the practised avoidance of people who have had to evade a lot of the things they really wanted to say they talked about everything else. They laughed and had stiff drinks to fight away the cold and the wet.


But he knew why she was here, she was here because his best friend was a bastard and he had met her first. She was here because now she had to know, she was past inkling suspicions and female intuition, now she had to know beyond the shadow of a doubt. She was here because she wanted to know if this was it for them. She was here because she was a castaway on a ship bound for destruction, she could feel the ship being tossed this way and that and the deck was slipping below her feet, she knew this. She also knew that this was her best chance at escape but she couldn't do it alone, she didn't even feel like she ccould do it. She couldn't trust herself to swim and the ocean of life that surrounded her was black and inky. It stretched for miles and she was sure she would sink if she tried to swim  alone. A rickety ship with a horrible captain was better then the treacherous waves she could glimpse ready to take her away. But she had to find out if there was something else waiting, a ship, a beacon, another swimmer, a hand in the darkness ready to take her away from all of this.


Of course he knew that his bastard of a friend was cheating, of course he had. The friend always knew and he knew what it had been doing to her. He had watched her getting torn apart by paranoia and the secret knowledge that she could not bear to trust since she wanted to be rational. He also knew he had lied to her plenty of times, not directly but did that really matter when each truth he held back was a cause of her going back to a place where she would be hurt again and again. But this friendship he had with the bastard went back longer than he could remember, it was a friendship that had risen out of the mists of the first memories of childhood fully formed by the time he had spoken his first word, fully cemented by the first real footfall they had both had. He was poison to the women in his life but noone was perfect and when he searched his soul he knew that there had never been a truer friend to him. There had not been a hint of betrayal. In that relationship he was the bastard, he was the coveter but he couldn't help it. Since he had first seen Shara he had known it was going to be a problem, well he hadn't really he hadn't expected this thing to last nearly as long as it had. He had expected this relationship between her and the bastard, (the other bastard really) to fade away in no time at all. And with it he saw all his treacherous thoughts going away. But that had not happened, instead they had gotten closer, all three of them and the bastard had taken a very long time to revert to his old habits. in the meantime he and Shara had become friends. Friends who could talk for hours and laugh for days. He had hooked up with some of her friends, more of a protective mechanism on his part, just cos he didn't want the chance of a deeper relationship to foster but that hadn't worked at all. Instead he became the bastard to all of them. All of Shara's friends could see what he really wanted and couldn't stand it and so they melted away, not just from his life but her's too till he was one of the few remaining confidants she had. And what a confidant burdened with buried feelings of lust and more, owing more loyalty to he that she would complain about than he ever could to her. It tore him.

And now right before him stood a chance. If he could be brave, not brave, disloyal enough to take it. He could tell her that her fears were well founded, he could tell her that and then he could hold her in his arms now and for as long as the storm lasted. She would say yes,he knew, he could tell that the feelings he felt weren't one way.

And the storm outside raged on.

“I need to know,” Shara began “I need to know if he has been unfaithful.”
she looked in his eyes, all his life he had thought that stupid American insistence about not being able to lie while looking in someone's eye was bullshit but right now... Right now he could feel her insistence, her hope, her pleas for the truth from one of the men in her life, he could see she didn't care which one, whoever was truer would have her. And he could see all this in her eyes, he felt the lies and the well practised lies freezing in his throat.

“please...”

emotions swirled around him, his head and heart. His body trembled as his soul shook. Another flash of lightning outside. This was one of those moments. Honour or happiness? But he knew there was no real honour in protecting his friend or stealing Shara and he felt there could not really be happiness when he had to make a choice like this. Everywhere he looked he was lost. But the bastard was not here right now, "better a bird with a bush" he remembered someone had once corrupted that wise old saying. And he could see Shara's eyes, feel her breath, sense her uncertainty and he knew what to do.



Better a bird with a bush... it was the bastard had coined that saying but he had never stuck to its truth, his friend had found it funny but never acted on it, how could he. For his friend it had always been better a bud than a bird. He took a deep breath and prepared to say the word that would determine a large chunk of his life.

As he said it the thunder roared around them, drowning out his words.

“I'm sorry I didn’t hear that...”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

My Nairobi




Read about this competition about describing Nairobi for the storymoja hay festival and decided to give it a whirl.

There was a troubled sky tonight. It was dark blue, the kind of dark that nearly always spells danger, the kind of dark that stars don't pierce and the moon can't illuminate. But instead of having just this darkness, instead of being only ominous there was a tinge of red, a crimson surprise that flecked the whole sky changing it without really changing it, leaving it as it was but beautiful too, breathtaking. This was a Nairobi sky and this is my Nairobi

From the centre of Nairobi you can catch a view of the whole city if you get on top of one of the really tall buildings, there you can see the city centre in its near entirety you can see buildings of all sizes reaching up for the clouds, in between them are roads leading everywhere crissing and crossing, meeting and departing, meeting again and then going to a completely different place. On the days when the sun decides to give a show as it leaves there is a surreal glow over the whole city, the buildings are all cast in orange, orange hues on their walls and orange reflecting off the windows, a thousand little sunsets each in the image of their creator. And a mist settles over the city as this happens the further you look the more pronounced it is till at the furthest reach of your eyes the fog has settled over the city so completely it's as if the town was built in the heavens themselves and the clouds have just come to claim their rightful place.

Then you go closer and you see the little things that actually make the city what it is, a living breathing organism, changing, evolving, moving forever just like and because of the never ending stream of people going about their city business. The crowds are like a snake ever rippling and moving a beautiful cacophony of colours and sounds, you can hear music blaring from the numerous shops lining the city centre, shops playing indigenous Kenyan music and matatus playing the latest foreign jams. This is all mixed together with the hooting of irate motorists, the chatter of friends and the pleas of hawkers. Like a strand of DNA the voice of every city is different and the voice of Nairobi is unique, at any one place you can hear banter being bandied back and forth in English, Swahili and two, three, four indigenous and foreign languages, an assault of sounds that points towards the cosmopolitan nature of the city.

Whenever I get asked where the best place for a tourist to visit on a short stay in Nairobi I get stumped, you see I don't think of Nairobi as a city so much as a home. A home whose rooms I have visited all my life, a home whose every room holds a treasured memory a thousand of them involving getting lost. I have had to learn to trust people in Nairobi, to ask for directions and receive them but that is only the crimson cover of the city. The truth about Nairobi is there are a lot of wolves hissing in the darkness ready to pounce, ready to devour and leave not a scrap. In this my home I have had a fair number of mishaps, thefts and robberies. But what is a home without some accidents? what memory is complete without a blight,?A lot of times I see the dark side of Nairobi the side that could leave you cowering behind sheets in bed every night. The dark skies of the city can be overwhelming and when staring into the abyss I have felt lost and hopeless, betrayed by my home, lost with nowhere to go.

But then I see the red of the sky and I realise Nairobi is nothing like that sky, or maybe it is but a polar opposite, the colours on the banner reversed, this city has a lot of darkness but that's just the overlay, the distraction that keeps you from seeing the real beauty behind it, the heart of Nairobi is red, that crimson sky, not flecks but whole swathes of magnificence, waiting at every corner you turn, seen in a friendly smile from a stranger or a breathtaking view that knocks you out of complacence as you hear the music of the voice of Nairobi, a sound as strangely soothing as putting a seashell to an ear. In one word my Nairobi is home.