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Friday, December 21, 2012

to the dead parts

Last Saturday morning there was a trail of blood beginning at one of the ditches near the museum, this trail of blood ran through town until Kencom where it stopped again to restart on the long, cold road I had to walk home. I know this because it was my blood.

I didn’t know how bad it was because you never really know. Shock being the first anaesthesia that you get when you hurt really bad. Saturday morning I finally got a look at my face, half of it was covered in blood. It’s rare to see so much of your own blood, it usually only happens when its being donated to save another life, at those moments it darkens as it collects into the heart sac (for lack of a better word) with each of your heartbeats a surge goes in but in the sun and maybe because of proximity its dark red. What I saw on my face was bright red. It looked alive. It was the colour of blood right after you cut yourself while cooking, the colour that drives you to put your finger in your mouth. The colour that screams life more than anything else, filled with oxygen and platelets and red blood cells, it was the colour of life and I could see it fill half of my face, drip down onto my clothes, onto my shoes, onto the floor. Drip down and disappear.

Why is it when someone undergoes trauma we make them relieve it so much? Does talking about it actually help? Does talking a lot about it help a lot? There is a part of us that’s curious but there’s a better part of us, one that’s concerned and this is the one that wins out. You show concern by giving a fuck, by trying to find out what happened and where and how many and what time and details, details, details. The thing about it though  is the person who’s gone through the trauma lives with the details. They pervade every single moment. Before they get to sleep, while they listen to music, as soon as they wake up, when they get treated for it. Details, details, details. I can’t drink anymore. It’s not a decision I have made I just can’t. I was drunk when it happened and there was smell of alcohol on me, it stayed with me all through it and now I can’t stand how alcohol smells. If I had just had sex with the most beautiful woman in the world and she had left her smell all over me as tends to happen (incidentally is this how all those cheating husbands are caught?) I wouldn’t have been able to hug her for weeks because as soon as I smelled her I would remember. The details would come flashing back and I would be back there. So I know you are concerned but don’t ask, don’t make me talk about it more than I will right now.

The thing that happened (sort of)

Early Saturday morning, the kind of early where it’s still late Friday night and I wake up. My clothes are soaked through. My head aches. My wrist aches, my knees are sore, my neck in pain and I feel violated. Am not sure what happened but I know it was bad. There is an unholy mix of amnesiac that comes from both drinking and receiving head blows. My sweater is wet, my t-shirt is wet, my bag is wet even my boxer is wet. I get my bearings and I know where I am and a fresh pang of fear shoots through me. I hate being in this place, bad things happen here, bad things happen here all the time. But am freezing and though am not sure exactly what it’s obvious bad things have happened to me. I reach in my pocket and I find some money. No phone of course and the first tremor runs through me. It’s cold, and worse its smelly. I know where I woke up, and I know it was in a sewer but that doesn’t matter. Right then I have to get home somehow and I have to walk into town. But then I don’t want to because bad things happen on this road but a bad thing happened to me already and lightning doesn’t strike twice so I begin to walk to town. No incident on the way there. I get in a matatu and hand the guy my money, he gives me change. In retrospect am sure my fellow passengers held their noses and looked at me in shock, looked at the blood and the wet and tried to move away, but I don’t remember any queries as to my allrightyness when I very clearly wasn’t. I got off the matatu and made the long trek home. Got home and found the door locked and couldn’t get anyone to wake up. So I curled up in a ball in my filth and my blood and closed my eyes (head wounds as you can imagine don’t lead to the most logical of decisions.)

When next I woke the sun was shining. But it was cold. Colder than I had ever been and it smelled. I shivered my way up the stairs luckily someone saw me and helped me on my way. I went to the bathroom and took off the smell. The smell of sewers and shit and urine that would be a part of me for a long, long time. I stripped it off and dropped it. I got into my biggest woollen socks and my driest available clothes and my closest warmest duvet and shook like a junkie. I shook and shook like a dog trying to get water off its skin. I shook and shook until my family came to get me and put me in a car and drove me off to my aunt’s clinic because I needed to be treated. My temperature? 34.2 degrees.

When blood dries in hair like mine it forms little cotton balls of dark red, nearly black alloys. If I scratch hard enough the cotton balls fall off but they hurt. The blood clots and congeals and mixes up  my already hard hair into minidreadlocks that make me look like I walked out of a comic book battle. When you have a head wound they have to shave your hair off. This hurt. It seems a small thing to hurt considering what I went through but it did. The painkillers hadn’t set in; the shock had begun to wear off and it hurt.  Then it was done and I asked to see the results. Someone snapped a photo with their phone and showed it to me.

Two ravines as deep as any wound I had ever seen crisscrossed each other on my head, they yawned deep and red and raw. And some of it came back, just a bit, just a peak. And even now am not sure if its real or imagined because I can see someone with a panga bearing down on me and lodging it deep in my head. I can see him doing it again as am beaten from all sides. And my neck hurts, it has all week and all I hope is that the panga didn’t cut in so deep that he had to push with his foot to get it out. I can see the panga but I shouldn’t. I can’t even see the wounds without the benefit of a snap shot. But I can see the panga. It’s not new. This is not the first time it has pulsed blood. This is not the first time it has bit into skin and maybe this is what saved me. A fresh one wielded with that much hate and malice would have left me cold. But they must have imagined they left me cold mustn’t they? I mean why take the trouble of rolling someone onto a sewer? That’s how you leave someone for dead here isn’t it. You leave a body bloated with urine and shit and water to be found the next day by someone crossing the road and the Chiromo Mortuary is right there so maybe they were conscientious too.

It wasn’t until right then when I saw how deep the wounds were, when it hit me that they had hit me with pangas that I realised that someone had tried to kill me. My aunt wielded her needle and thread deftly. She (after painkillers) took the flaps of skin that were struck apart and passed a needle through them. Head skin is hard. I could see her struggle to make a puncture; I could see her grimace with effort as she tried with a point to make a hole in my skin. And succeed and make a hole in the other flap. And I could imagine how hard he must have swung that machete not once but twice to do what he did. To someone he didn’t know for what amounted to a bounty of less than 3,000 shillings.

I always believed that there are no bad people only people who do bad things. But that was before anyone had ever tried to kill me. Now I couldn’t… it was hard to reconcile these two beliefs like poking a hole in head skin to make 2 flaps one. They didn’t hate me, they couldn’t have. And am still sure that they love their mothers and take care of their siblings and that if one of them was as hurt as I was the rest would surround him with messages of love. But still at that point they hated something. There’s a myth that Kenya is getting better. It’s not really a religion because it’s not believed by the vast majority of Kenyans. There is a growing middle class but then this just allows that middle class to encapsulate themselves in follies and hopes of a bright future. You almost never have to come in touch with a really desperate Kenyan when you are there. You almost don’t see them. You don’t see the parts of Nairobi that are so poor they produce people willing to wait out all night for their chance to rob a car or a passer-by. You don’t see the frustration that builds when such a small percentage of the city is getting on and walling up while the rest remains where it’s been, where it’s always been, forgotten, in the shadows. And when they hit me it wasn’t me they were hitting so much as everything else. A system that doesn’t give voice to their concerns and subsequently forgets them rendering them invisible and unseen. An undercurrent in the city that is never heard until it rocks the foundations. Frustration and pent up anger blowing a fuse as its all taken out on the symbol of what they have come to hate. It’s not me that they hated, its all of us. Us who forget and don’t give a thought until something like this happens. I lay in that sewer and shit entered my head. And piss rolled around in my blood. I felt hated and victimised and the truth is that the people who did this to me feel that way all the time. Everything shits on them. The city, the people, us who avert our eyes and think everything is ok just because we are.

A friend of mine says I have communist sensibilities and I gave that paragraph over to them. Because that is what Graig would have wanted back then. It feels almost like a eulogy to who I used to be. Am pissed, of course am pissed. I want things done to these men and I want bad things done to them. I want the full force of the law brought down on them because this was MY LIFE and no matter what we say when we try to be charitable my life matters more. I don’t want to die and very nearly did. And it was thanks to some people who got 3,000 shillings out of the deal. Is that how much they value my life? So why should I value theirs anymore. Why shouldn’t I root for trial without jury, why shouldn’t I hope that they get caught and they get shot and they get thrown in sewers? I never did anything remotely deserving of this.

….and yet no one even suggests I go to the police. This is how much faith we have in the legal system in our country. This happens and no one thinks it’s worth reporting. What will they do anyway? Arrest them? Find them? Bring them to justice? Who actually believes any of this? No one who saw me obviously, no one in my family definitely. We accept the bad as it happens here way too much and no one thinks anything will change or that a beating nearly to death is a reportable crime. And you know what I don’t either. This is my report, my loss of faith in so many things. A lot of me died that day. It may grow back but right now it’s gone maybe best forgotten. My faith that things are getting better, some of my faith in humanity (though them leaving me enough fare to get home helps with this.)

And worst of all my happiness. If I leave myself for too long with thoughts of what happened, if I try to remember past what I already do I break into sobs as I think that they tried to kill me. I feel like they infected me with something, some of their hate, some of their anger. A sad truth about near death experiences is a small, a tiny, tiny part of you wishes you had died so that you didn’t have to go through it. And a bigger part can see what would have happened if you had. The bloated corpse and the frantic calls and the morgue visits and its all sad, its exhaustingly sad, what happened what could have happened. All this week I slept. I looked forward to sleeping; I took my drugs so that I could sleep because… fuck this world that’s why. Fuck a place where this could happen, fuck it all. Let me close my eyes and sleep it off and when I wake let me take drugs again so I can sleep. Being awake means I think about it and I don’t want to. And I took really strong painkillers the other day and I felt happy for the first time since it happened. I had forgotten this feeling, happiness. Now all I’ve had is emptiness and anger and distractions and in the midst of all that fuck this world and most especially fuck this country, fuck Nairobi and all you mean because right now I hate you and I would live anywhere else for any other reason.

But then I’ll remember what it feels to be happy and it will be ok. So that’s how am doing. That’s everything of how am doing and how am feeling. The only other answer to that I will give is am healing, because even if that isn’t true I desperately need to believe it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


The moon was a silver coin shining in the sky. The clouds crowned it in a pillow throne of wisps, the spaces between them spoke in low tones, in happy tones. The moon light shone down slow and silver. As it descended it lighted everything in its path. There were the buildings far to the left of him. Their windows were open and caught the light in a million tiny displays. In each of them a reflection of the moon peered back, tiny little moonlets shining at 45 degree angles. Inside the building another light seeped out, it was that white office light, man’s attempt to recreate nature. Against these two forces some silhouettes could be seen or imagined. The way he imagined them they were men and women at the end of a productive day. People who had worked and seen the results of their work. People who were pleasantly tired and at this point their mind would shut down peacefully, they would look around and yawn as a collective and as soon as the first of them had decided to leave the message would pass to all of them. It was time to go home it would say. And they would switch off their computers and sit for a while in the peace that comes when machines are no longer talking. The peaceful, deep quiet of an office building at the end of the night. Then slowly they would come together with the zipping of bags and the cracking of jokes and the return to another kind of life then they would leave. The moon lighted on a tree to his right and there he could see a leaf and it looked perfect. Curving and tapering to an edge that pointed towards the earth. It was serrated and from each of those tiny mountaintops there leaked oxygen and freshness. The cold of the night would stop the air flowing over it for a while and capture it like a photograph and some lucky soul who woke up early the next day would see one of those perfect masterpieces of nature, a drop of dew at the end of a leaf. And in it he would see a capture of a capture. Just as the cold had captured the moisture on the leaf so would the drop capture the sun in it and break it up into a million little pieces.

He looked at the moon and it looked back at him. It was an eye in the sky and this is what he saw it for right then. It pierced right through to the centre of him and he hated it. He hated that it could see him so weak and know how he was. He hated how implacable it seemed up there in the sky untouched by insecurities and fear, unwilling or unable to change but ok with that. He hated it with all the might he felt inside of him. It shot down shafts of silver spears to the earth aiming them at all the people it could see, the people it despised. He knew the moon must surely hate us all. How could beauty stand so much ugliness after all? Some of the shafts forced themselves into an office building. Right there at the edge of the windows and a little out of it he could see the battle take place. Inside there was light struggling to get out, imprisoned inside of this huge stone monster with a thousand eyes. The light tried to find its way out but then it met with the spears from the moon and they locked in a white battle. He couldn’t see who was winning but did it really matter? No one really won a battle one side jut lost slower. Inside of the building locked up more than the light were the people. He could imagine them there and he hated them too. He hated the waste their lives represented. He hated that they were okay with throwing away days and days to produce reams and reams of paper that no one would care about 100 or even 10 years from now. The great mass of humanity being disposable and disposing of their talents in things that would never outlive them. They were in there at this time because something important had to be done something that seemed important to them at this point. He could see them, he could see the petty rivalries and office politics they engaged in. he could see why no one wanted to be the first to turn off their computers; he could feel the fear of the silence when they finally did. He imagined the first of them being brave enough to let go of that hum they had been hearing all day, their great defence against the people around them and turn off his computer. The first person who would have to confront the quiet of a building at this time of night. The hopeless feeling that comes of working deep into the moonlight which with its shafts pierced through the lies created by the sun and deep, deep into the truth. And slowly the rest would too and finally they would leave. The giant monster with the thousand eyes and the soullessness that comes of waste would be quiet as his worshippers tried to sidestep through casual, bullshit small talk and he couldn’t look at it any more. He turned to his right and he saw a leaf there. It was serrated like a dagger. A dagger created not just to kill but to hurt. To wound, to maim. The spears of the moon bounced off it and made faces. Faces made of balcknesses and darknesses and greens. And this is all life was, something being swallowed up by the darkness awaiting all of us. He could see it in the faces. The faces that shimmered and changed. That became holes and the holes that became abysses and the leaves that would soon leave the world. There was something else there. Something shining in the cold, a small dew drop. It was beautiful and round and fully formed. A fat drop of blood at the end of the dagger. He wondered how it could maintain its bubbliness when a point shoved itself into it. Soon the sun would come up and as it had done for centuries it would kill off the moon’s children, it would blow them up into a million little pieces. By the time the sunrise was over the dew would not exist. The water there would have been split up into a million little pieces with no memory of what it once was. Another casualty of a war that had been going on forever. A war that neither the dew drop nor him would ever understand.

When he looked at the moon that night he could almost make out features of a human face. Right there were its cheeks, and they had holes in them. Not dimples but scars, and if you looked close enough you could see the craters it had for eyes. The craters were dark and bottomless, they looked sad and they took something away from the moonlight coming down. There was something beautiful in the sorrow but it was sorrow nonetheless. Around it the clouds seemed to bow down, to give supplication. But between the clouds and the moon there was all this space. They didn’t touch each other, it was a beauty that stood apart. A loneliness that happened only because the moon was not ready to accept help, or maybe because there was no help to accept. The clouds were after all vapour, they disappeared as soon as anyone leaned on them and the moon stood solid and silver except for those black, dark eyes but what could clouds ever know about darkness and grief. Maybe that’s why the moon sent down those shafts of silver light. Tears carried down on light. Tears that fell from the sky and landed on everything. To his left there stood an office building. It looked haunted. Thousands of windows but only some of them open. In some places all the light he could see was the darkness of what was beyond the moon in the windows. Behind this it was black and opaque. It couldn’t be pierced and didn’t want to be. In the few open windows he could see the silhouettes there. They didn’t look fully human. They looked as if they had lost some of themselves in the daytime. They sat at work long into the night obviously hiding from some truth they didn’t want to face. The truths we never want to face are the saddest and the truest. And in those buildings there were people typing furiously, hoping that this play of their hands on keyboards would put reality away for just a while longer. But sooner or later weariness would creep up on them. And they would shut down their machines. The machines would whine as this happened. The death throes of a horse as they went down for the night. Then there would be silence and no one would speak for a while. Hoping to stretch this moment of oblivion forever. This silence between not thinking and having to, they would try to hold on to it but it would disappear and another silence would creep in. they wouldn’t want this silence. They would fill it in with chatter and fake laughs and they would file out. But the second silence, it would follow them. It was part of them and it would follow them forever. And he was so heartbroken then that he turned away and caught sight of a leaf. The leaf swayed in the wind. It shook just a little like someone trying to hold back their sobs. The wind sent tremors down its edges and shivers back up them. Silver and green he looked at it. Silver and green and cold. So cold that tears were giving more weight to the sobs. A single drop was forming at the end of it, a drop that would be gone soon. The truth of the world was that we are all memories waiting to be forgotten. No matter how perfect or well formed. No matter how beautiful. The only fate awaiting us all is oblivion. And oblivion isn’t always dark. Oblivion for this drop happened in the heat of the daytime sun. It happened when this drop could be seen by all. The saddest thing about this was that being seen was what would mean it could never be seen again.

And in the distance the moon shone. It was silvery and wispy and blurry. It looked like it was sieved through the lens of a dream and it reminded him of other nights. The way it seemed just out of touch yet so close that he could breathe it in reminded him of the last time he stood and looked at it. The feeling of warmth at that time invaded him now and he was no longer looking at this moon. He stood there and all he could see was that other night, all he could hear, all he could feel. The sun shines but the moon lights he thought about that statement as he saw the clouds play around it. They were wispy like a wish that you can’t quite voice or a dream that you can’t quite remember or a memory that touched you from head to toe bathing you in the beauty of what it was. And the memories of the moon’s light found their way to an office building to his right and when he looked at it he though of schools long past, he thought of nights waiting for his father to come home. That’s what they were to him, office buildings. Place parents escaped to learn what they needed to so that when they came home they would have all the answers. He could see the light from inside the building peek out at the night. Looking  as if it were shy and scared to come out. Creeping out slowly, ever so slowly and behind the light the people. He remembered workmates he used to have. People who were more than friends. He remembered the parties and the inside jokes. And with sadness, sadness mixed with joy he felt jealous of those in there. He felt jealous of whatever it was they considered so important they would sit down and work until this time of the night. His best days had been when he had come home so tired that all he had to do to fall asleep was think of it. The lights playing on in the building reminded him of those dark, deep sleeps. Sleeps so complete that they were over before they began. Finished as soon as they started and he turned to his right and saw a leaf. The edges were serrated and looked like a knife. He remembered cutting his hand when he uses to cook. A prick here, a dab there. But it didn’t matter because he only cooked once in a while and when he thought about the leaf that looked like a dagger and the dagger that had pressed into his skin he also heard the sounds of comfort poured into his ear as the blood was kissed away. He could close his eyes and for a moment be in the kitchen that he loved and hear the splashing of water in the distance as someone readied his finger for a plunge in the stream. And he opened his eyes and he could see a small drop of dew forming at the tip of the dagger. The dew was round and perfect. In it he could see the moon being reflected and the building to his left and the nights past that had brought both him and the dew here. Well the dew, he wasn’t really there and that was how he wanted it. To not really be there, at least not now.

Monday, December 10, 2012

having a phone

It’s been a while since I had a phone and I got one this weekend. Already I miss the anonymity that comes with only communicating with who I wanted when I wanted. I was in charge of all communication having to do with me, people could try to get in touch with me but it was incumbent upon me to respond when I wanted in the manner I wanted. A lot of people will say that texts do this but I was born in a time before texts, if someone calls me I can’t let it ring and ring. They have me immediately. It’s not a bad thing just something I had forgotten about.

I had forgotten about how a ring feels. There’s a tuuut, tuuut, tuuuut, when you try to call someone. Your phone has this deep abyss in it and there’s a siren singing inside of it. I have no idea what the other person’s ringtone is at this point but right then al l I know is that I am the one making the siren call. And I get filled with anticipation especially if it’s a girl I like. How she answers, if she answers, how long it will take for her to answer. For a few rings the fires of expectations are stoked and then it reaches the point of diminishing returns. There is a point after a certain number of rings when you just know that the other person won’t pick up. You know with a crystal certainty but a lot of times you still hold on to the phone. The reasons for them not having picked up  range from inaudibility to unavailability to avoidance no matter the reason at that point you know. It’s like cresting a hill, with every one of the first rings you expect to see this sunrise at the end of the phone call. You expect to hear the voice you called, to receive the information you wanted, to sate the curiosity you had and then you reach the midpoint of the hill and you glimpse darkness. Now the sirens don’t sound so beautiful at least to you. The tuuut, tuut, tuuut begins to be irritating. It feels like its fading into darkness and sometimes you cut it off. Depending on how good you feel about yourself right then the emotion with which you cut it can range from indifference through frustration to anger, depending on how important this particular message was your moods change too, depending on how many times this has happened in the past the severity of how you feel shits. The sirens are drowned in the darkness of that abyss and their song is throttled and ugly, irritating and one you just want to end.

Speaking of sirens and the music they make. I realised that I can only cycle through 2 out of 3 of the entertaining arts as I like to call them. Either I’ll listen to music and read or watch TV and movies and read. There’s never enough time in all my days for all 3. Recently music fell through a hole and I can’t retrieve it. But am watching this television show called Treme about New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. This is a city that is flooded with music. This show has sequences of song running all through it. Practically soaked in the jazz and rap of the region. Every few scenes there will be a trumpet and horns band playing; you will hear the sweet strings of a guitar or the versatility of a piano. One of the characters plays violin in this show and she makes it sing. To me a violin has always been closest to a human voice. It’s the only one with the ability to scream in my uninformed opinion. The guitar is laid back you can see someone playing it in an island somewhere, it’s the instrument that tells you to chill, just relax and let this music take over. It’s held in your hands and your fingers play with it. It’s not the most impersonal of instruments you hold it in your arms you cuddle it like a baby and it makes you feel chilled. The piano is classy even when it’s not; the piano is the one that brings to mind the ballroom and rich people. It just does. I see gloves when I think about the piano. The thing is it’s the grandfather of them all it can play anything in any form, all the different kinds of octaves and chords there are can be recreated by the piano. But you don’t really own her. You touch her with just the tips of your fingers. She’s an arm’s length away and the kind of relaxing a piano asks you to do is not the kind a guitar does. It’s not an island instrument, it’s not an under a tree instrument, it’s an in a shelter instrument. It belongs to jungles of concrete. Then we have the violin. You take her and you hold her close. You put your cheek on her and you completely possess her. The violin when you play her takes a bit of your soul. It demands eyes closed. It asks for passion with every single stroke. It screams and screams and screams.

On Friday I was at a party and I met this girl. She had the most beautiful laugh I have heard in ages. It warms you up, she gives everything she has to that laugh, she reaches back and pulls it from a place of sincerity and comfort. She bursts out laughing and in the actual sense of that word she really has no idea she’s going to laugh until she does and when she does she catches herself by surprise every time. And I imagine she got used to surprising herself because she doesn’t try to hold it back. When you can feel a laugh come you  prepare for it you can make sure your throat doesn’t throw back your head, you can make sure your mouth doesn’t swallow up all the misery in the room and bark out glee. You can make it less spontaneous but she can’t. Her laughter was like music, rolling plains and rumbling thunder (but only the kind that rumbles when you are safe in bed.) it sounded red and yellow definitely no greens and blues. It was the laughter of passion ,of one who loved to hold the world by its balls and not let go until every single wring of pleasure had been wrung out of it.

Sunday night and am watching another episode of Treme. Every scene infused with this music. 5 minutes of a band performance comes on screen and that’s all the band does, perform. The music isn’t used as an excuse for a montage sometimes it feels like the show is used as an excuse for the music. And I could feel it in my body. It sounds strange when I write it but I could actually feel the music or see it at least. My blood flowed red and gold. The music ran up and down my body and again and again. And these were the colours of jazz. It’s not safe music. Its jumping up and down, it’s the red you see when you close your eyes against the sun, it’s the orange of a fruit that you’re almost sure is too ripe, it’s the black of the night when you are a little scared that something will happen but more hopeful that it won’t .

Then m y phone rang (another thing I had forgotten about: the interruptions of life.)A phone can ring at the most inopportune moments. It can ring when you are so deep asleep the sound becomes part of your dream, it can ring, not during sex because it takes a lot more than a one minute distraction to stop that roller coaster but in the moment before when everything is dreamlike and foggy and nothing is held in proper space, those moments of infinite looks and thoughts that seem to hold everything, it can ring then. It can ring in the middle of a jazz experience and I can see how a phone ring sounds. It breaks you out of revelry. There are the rare moments of magic in the world. Those moments when time slows or speeds but exists outside of what it usually does. When a phone rings in those moments a bubble is burst and the magic is gone. It can be recreated but never as magical or as fresh and it’s lost forever. And you know the colours a phone makes when it rings? (I use the traditional home phone ring.) they are silvers against black. They are practical colours. Colours with a purpose, tiny daggers flashing out to rip through the darkness of night or the beauty of moments. Of all the things I did not miss about a phone it was this. The interruption.

Then it was the girl with the laugh and the world became yellow and red again. This I had missed. The ability to just talk to someone somewhere as soon as you think of them. This too is a certain kind of magic.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

crushes 2: miss riri

The first words she ever said to me... well it was something about putting porn on replay, I wasn’t impressed, I need to be taken slow. She too was in my background as much as someone like that can be. There are those people in life who loom so large that you can’t get away from them. Whether or not you want to you hear their voice whisper in your ear, you feel their emotions stirring yours, you see them on your screens and they inhabit your conversations. The girl this time is Rihanna.

I can’t say why I didn’t find teenage Rihanna hot, you see she and I are the same age so no matter when, no matter how old  I can find Rihanna hot, but her ragga years just didn’t do it for me. Nothing did in fact until SOS. I liked that song, the first of her songs I actually liked and the video! Do you remember how beautiful she looked, bathed in sweat and green, surrounded by jungle and suggestion, she jumps in and out of frames and back and forth through melodies and I loved every time she did a songy-metaphor from then on. 
 was my favourite ever. There was nothing I liked more than whispering to people that, “it’s not really about cars.” Anyone who says being condescending isn’t fun isn’t doing it right.

Lately she’s been running out of my radar again A few years ago she was involved with Chris Brown(informal polls tell me that girls find it easier to forgive this man than men do-informal polls is what I call barroom conversations.) then she grew out of it and became insanely successful. For the last 2 years whether you wanted to or not you heard almost all of her songs. Every month in every club there was a riri jam played. You knew the words, you knew the beats, you felt the melody whether you wanted to or not.

And then she launched a new album. By now I really don’t care about the music, am not sure I will like any of the songs in the album , I haven’t heard it i probably won't  but I have read about it. I have read about it and her to death. More specifically I read about this 777 tour she did last week. The concept is simple 7 concerts in 7 countries in 7 days. She hired a Boeing 777(never stop with a good thing) got aboard it gave out tickets to 200 fans and journalists and began her tour. A tour that takes her to Mexico, Toronto, Stockholm, Tokyo, Berlin  London, New York. It’s called an around the world tour because international artists treat Africa and the Middle East the way the UN does.

I have never wanted to be a music writer or a Rihanna mega fan as much as when I read about this tour. 7 days on a plane to 7 of the world’s biggest cities with 200 people from all over it, with tickets to the Rihanna concerts and after party invitations. Come on!!!

I want.

The thing is of course this kind of magic wonderland doesn’t always go too well. I read some reports from the guys on board and they hadn’t seen the sun in days. You fly all day, you land in a country, wait for your bags, go for the concert, go for the party, have a wakeup call(you really don’t want to be left behind) get on board the plane and leave for the next stop, its almost like fight club. The first thing I thought about was the stamina Rihanna must have. I have watched one international concert and those guys give it their all. They leave their souls on the stage and in response get it given back to them. For 7 days Rihanna would be doing this, going through her set of songs day after day. remember that a performance is like a dance or a seduction, you have to pull them close and turn them away, you have to tease and please, you have to know when to go hard and when to come soft, you have to read the crowd and know what to give them and you have to give them just enough that they thirst for more and not so little that they leave feeling raw. Dancing, singing, riling them up. It’s tiring. Now imagine doing a 2-3 hour performance, leaving there for an after party, leaving there for a plane trip(remember how tiring it is to sleep on something that moves, you sleep but you never really rest), then get to a new city and do it all over again.

The guys on the plane complained about never seeing Rihanna and having nothing to write about other than never seeing Rihanna and I get it. They are journalists required to file a story every day. They are also tired as hell. The performance will be mostly the same except for the name of the city and the plane itself. Am not sure how clean it could possibly be. A lot of journalists drink a lot. Rihanna’s fans were there too, I can imagine that a lot of Rihanna’s fans like to drink. Plus on the first night she was passing down the hallway of the plane asking people to get crunk (which I assume means drunk and was such a fuel for this crush on her.) it’s not the kind of plane where alcohol would run low. Add to this the slight air sickness that someone must experience and you have puke on a plane. Puke on a plane is (I can imagine horrible) it collects there and smells. This person is too drunk to clean it up, plus maybe it happened right when the captain asked you to take your seats. This presents a lot of problems. Not to mention other  hygiene problems. How many people do you imagine after a few days of partying all night told themselves, I’ll shower tomorrow, no one saw me in this shirt yesterday. As they walked around in a petri-dish of alcohol, sweat, perfume, cigarrete and marijuana smoke as well as other DNA particles depending on how unlucky they co-passengers were.

The thing is being cooped up with total strangers from all over the world for 7 days in a coffin shaped flying instrument is not anyone’s idea of paradise. However being cooped up in a place with freely flowing alcohol and the feeling that comes with time passing you not just because the earth is moving but because you are in a place with people who share a lot of the same interests as you (music writing or Rihanna) for 7 cannot be all bad, in fact it sounds amazing.

I want to have been on that plane. I don’t particularly like Rihanna’s music but I like her. She strikes me as this bad girl, she will break your heart you know this going in. she’s a whirlwind, a tornado and you can’t hanker down no matter how you try. With a girl like that you have to let yourself know that you won’t possess her, not ever, but she will possess you like  a demon does, she will climb in every inch of you and change you and have you doing things you would never do. She’ll have you thinking about her all the time; she’ll have you in a pale cousin of love. That cousin that never sees the light because she’s too hangover and anyway she doesn’t look too pretty without make up. But it will be that cousin of love who when she comes out in the dead of the night with her red lipstick on wipes every single memory of anything that come before or after. Then she will leave you because a girl like this doesn’t stay. It doesn’t happen. You can tell yourself whatever you want but she’ll walk out of the door and you’ll never see her again and if you do she’ll act like nothing happened because fool you to fall in love with a Rihanna. The self-destructive side of me wants a Rihanna, I tell myself I’ll know when I see her and that I won’t give up too much of who I am for her, but that’s not how it works with a Rihanna, she’ll have you suicidal when she says it’s over. Well she won’t say its over so it will be ok.

Rihanna talked to the guys on her plane very few times, a guy streaked on the plane to kill boredom. This is what happens with a girl like this. You go in expecting the world, the time of your life and what you get instead is a random guy streaking and things you will never forget. But despite how disappointed all the people on the plane seemed to be if any one of us was given the chance to get on that plane and go on that tour with that girl who would say no? You know she'll break your heart but you also know its worth it. And this is why I have a crush on Rihanna.

Monday, December 3, 2012

old men

It’s easy at my age to believe that everything in  life can happen on an upward trajectory. Am still young enough to be experiencing constant improvement as long as I work at it. If I ran every day I would be more fit than I had ever been, if I opened myself up to intellectual stimulation I would be smarter than I had ever been, if I talked and laughed with people and tried to learn from each human interaction I would be more charming than I have ever been. The things that limit me are laziness(so much so I can’t even think of a second thing).

However the thing I know doesn’t get worse with time is wisdom. This is different from intelligence. This is something you gain only by living. No one has a natural talent to it. No one is born with it. Some people get wise faster than the rest but it’s also true that in the same year some will live longer than others and that some are more willing to learn from their mistakes. But  the best sign of wisdom remains  grey hair. Old men and women are usually wise and I read an article about Obama where it was claimed that at a cocktail party he never seeks out the most beautiful but the oldest. It’s a quick shortcut to wisdom, listening to the words of the aged and its one I take whenever I can.

A couple of weeks ago I was walking through town and this old guy was walking ahead of me. He had a shock of white hair and a brown suit. But on his face was the biggest smile in the street. He talked to a child walking with her mother and when the child didn’t respond he walked on. He had the swagger of happiness around him and was humming a song as he walked, hum, hum, hum. I liked him instantly. I liked that he was saying hallo to everyone on the street. I liked that he did it with a smile. I liked that he was humming. I liked that he was so obviously happy and I wanted to talk to him.

Some people are easy to talk to, all they are looking for is an excuse to engage in conversation so I fell in pace with him and smiled his way and just like that I had a new walking companion. By some fluke we were going the same way and as we walked he told me about life. He said that children nowadays are more disrespectful than ever before, recounting a story about him being upcountry and watching a herd of cows, well looking at them since watching implies stewardship. While he was doing this a boy comes and drives them away, the boy refused to talk to this old man, to offer an explanation that they were his, the boy’s, cows. The man was livid about this. Well as livid as such a state of happiness can allow. He said though that he couldn’t blame the children and that It was the parent’s fault. They should have taught their offspring better than this.

He talked about Nairobi and how impersonal it all is. He must have felt like I did that this kind of random conversation doesn’t happen enough in the city. Here there is a lot of mistrust and a stranger talking to you on the street is usually asking for money or demanding it. He couldn’t understand this and was so sad about the fact that people like money more than they do other people. It shouldn’t be like this and I agree it never should.  We got separated for a bit as we crossed the road and when I caught up with him he said that some woman had just rubbed her breasts against his arm. From here he went into a thesis on the state of women in Nairobi, first of all they wait too long to get husbands and then realise this and are caught in the midst of terrible desperation. They then decide to do whatever they can to attract male attention, he pointed to one of them walking in front of us in (what I though was a perfectly decent dress, and a perfectly decent walking style) but he disapproved of them both. The dress was too low the sashaying too provocative for his taste. He talked about working in an office with a woman who would dress like that in front of him and the way he told the people in charge to talk to her about how she was dressed.

It’s strange I think what happens in a generation. The dress he was talking about reached her knees, there was really no sashaying going on and I haven’t seen these desperate intentions that he saw painted all over the city. I disagreed with him on those points but with the old it’s better to listen than to argue.

Last week am buying alcohol for a party. The nakumatt alcohol counter at around 7 on Saturday is full of Kenyans buying the last cheap liquor they can. This country really does drink itself away. I have my bottle, a 750 ml of vodka in my hands when another old man comes to the line with a 350 ml of bond 7 whisky. He looks at my bottle and smiles. “Is that all for you?” he asks. I correct him, of course not. Am sharing this with my friends. This is because even though we are both definitely drinkers I don’t want him to think of me as a drunk, I really don’t. He smiles and tells me that I look like I could have finished it all. I smile because these are things guys love to hear. We like to think of ourselves as strong or at least as giving the illusion of strength. We want to be the biggest and the best of anything, drinkers, runners, mathmen. We can’t admit it because we know we aren’t but we still feel good when we someone thinks it.

He tells me that when he was my age that would be gone in 2 sessions. This is what got me thinking about the upward trajectory of bodily function. I always thought the older you are, the better you can hold your liquor. But here this guy was telling me that as soon as you clock a half century it starts to get the better of you. “When I was your age I could drink half of that, screw and wake up for class in the morning. Now when I drink half of that I can’t screw for a week.”

Lesson gleaned? Enjoy your youth. Also these two old men were completely different characters. One of them talking about the immorality of the age we live in, the other admitting the immorality of the age they both lived in. our generation often feels judged by those who came before but that’s just us judging them. Putting all of them in the same group when they really aren’t. Some of them may hate the loose ways of young women today and some of them may reminisce about the loose ways of young women when they were growing up. Talk to them and find out which they are before you write them off, you might find that they are so interesting you want to write of them.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

crushes 1: miss smith

These were the first words I ever heard her say. I mean I knew about her from before, I had heard whispers of her, she was on my radar. People whose opinion I trusted spoke about her. They said glowing things and I was aware of her. How exactly I can’t say but I knew about her white teeth and how admirable they were, so when I finally got the chance to meet her how could I say no.

“How long is a generation these days?”

She began. And with that Zadie Smith wrote an essay that I know I’ll remember for a long, long time. She begins this review  of the movie the social network by recalling her time in Harvard. Thinking that she must be in Mark Zuckerberg’s generation since they are only 9 years apart but feeling different from him somehow experiencing the yawning of a  generation gap in less than a decade, prompting the above query. The review ,or essay I would say, is my favourite kind, it moves from musings on a movie, ,”it’s a talkie for god’s sake” jumps into the writings of Jaron Lanier(who with a name like that could only ever have one career of choice, a techie philosopher) which concern themselves with how much we allow technology to take away a part of our humanness. The way we contort ourselves to fit computers instead of expanding them(the computers) to match us because life cannot be plotted on data points or represented in their bases. It’s why having 2,000 Facebook friends is not the same as having 200 actual friends or even 20. And as relates to the technology directly we allow ourselves to think some forms of software are as good as it gets because we are used to them, because they have become too big to fail. A non-digital example of this is the typewriter. There’s a story that the QWERTY keyboard was designed to impede typing skills because typewriters would get too heated if people typed too fast. But by the time we got typewriters that would not get heated it was too late. The format was too big to fail. She turns this logic on Facebook itself. The reason it’s blue and white? “ Blue, because it turns out Zuckerberg is red-green colour-blind. “Blue is the richest colour for me—I can see all of blue.” The ubiquitousness of the relationship status? Because that’s what college sophomores think about. Using Facebook she says is being “forced to interface with the mind of Mark Zuckerberg.”  Near the end she writes “Step back from your Facebook Wall for a moment: Doesn’t it, suddenly, look a little ridiculous? Your life in this format?” and you know what by then she has earned those words. A movie review became a discussion of the way technology reduces us to less than we can be restricting contact and access, taking away tone and body language and by the time you realise what you were reading its finished and she has won you over, or at least me. Read the essay, go on.

With such a powerful first meeting it was obvious we would get along, it was obvious I would like her and like her a lot. As time went by I kept seeing glimpses of her. No full body shots. No long dates or retreats, just short texts. The essence of her after she had left a room, a shadow whose form I knew but whose substance I could hardly grasp. But this was enough. I began clicking on interviews of her online  because  I was curious. I was attracted. In one  interview  she was asked if it was difficult to describe a character who had closed themselves off to change and she said.

Not at all! That’s what a novelist is: someone who does the same thing every day while things decay around them. In their pyjamas. With dirty plates and fag ends and piles of dirty clothes and hair that is dreadlocking itself through neglect. It was very easy to write those scenes!

Not everyone likes this kind of girl. No, not everyone. But I do, or at least I am drawn to this kind of girl maybe an actual relationship would be unworkable because there has to someone who sorts the dirty piles of clothes and it makes no matter if it’s the guy or the girl as long as this person exists. But then we are always attracted to the unworkable because in those rare times when the unworkable works it takes off and flies.

You know that thing when someone is on your mind all the time and somehow you make them materialise in front of you. You make them call by thinking about calling or text by holding the phone in your hand with intent.  Well that happened. I was walking through town when I saw her just waiting for the right guy. I picked her up without a second thought because I knew it was meant to be and when it is it just happens. I spirited her off to shags and spent hours by the lakeside with her. I spent time naked and bathed, or fully clothed and making myself hot enough that I could take my clothes off and skinny dip. Late at night and early in the morning she was a constant companion. You see I found the book white teeth on the street in that way you can often find beautiful second hand books on the streets of Nairobi.

The book starts off with an attempted suicide, only attempted because
No matter what anyone says, suicide takes guts. It's for heroes and martyrs, truly vainglorious men. Archie was none of these. He was a man whose significance in the Greater Scheme of Things could be figured along familiar ratios:
Pebble : Beach
Raindrop : Ocean
Needle : Haystack”

And we are off to the races. The suicide is bungled by a man who is spending time killing pigeons. They have been shitting all over his butchery, a man who  knows that ; “The shit is *not* the shit (this was Mo's mantra,) the *pigeon* is the shit.”

White teeth then introduces us to a whole slew of characters. And their families. And their histories. And their famlies' histories. And even their history's familys. The title in the story referring both to the propensity for brown skinned people to have very, very white teeth(this may either be a work of contrast or genetics-) and also (because double entendre is just amazing) to the roots that teeth have. You can see just the surface but if you go into the gum  you can see that they are planted firm in there. Melanin in soft tissue, tissue so soft it feels more fragile than rotting meat and nerves all over the place connected to the brain and the nose and more tender when struck than the relationship you have with a puppy. It looks all surface but there is something buried underneath, there is a history, “the past is always tense, the future perfect.

Since a lot of the book is about recent immigrants to London it captures a lot of their fears and troubles. I have really come to like reading books about immigrants, they are people like us and the fears they have are the same ones we face except ours are more abstract. Theirs are tangible. Theirs are real. We all worry that we won’t fit in but imagine the immigrant, he really does not. His skin is a different colour, his accent is wrong, his religion is foreign, and everything about him screams other. This is a fear we all have this lack of belonging except for the immigrant it is played out in sound and colour.

“ ...it makes an immigrant laugh to hear the fears of the nationalist, scared of infection, penetration, miscegenation, when this is small fry, peanuts, compared to what the immigrant fears - dissolution, disappearance” 

This is a fear she tackles incredibly well; the reason immigrant parents want their children to marry within their own race. She’s writing about London and one of the parents imagines his genetic imprint being lost in a sea of blondeness. As first his children then grandchildren get assimilated not just into the culture(because this is a battle unavoidably lost if only because these children will make a culture of their own different from either their parents’ or their adoptive country’s) but genetically as well. This made sense to me. Children is how we achieve immortality, an evolutionary imperative to further our own. Recently I have read a lot about Israel/Palestine(because for some reason that has nothing to do with my current religious state the fate of the holy lands are important to me to the point I still call them the holy lands.) I read this article , it’s about xenophobia in Israel. A xenophobia that has been directed against so many groups in its history and shows no signs of dying down. The European Jews did not like the Middle Eastern Jews, neither of them liked the Arabs and then the Africans moved in and there was a new place to direct the hate. Some of the men who are more tolerant than others have no problem with the Africans but they shouldn't date their girls. “Women are weak and can be easily persuaded.” One of them says. But he qualifies his statement, ‘This isn’t just hate for the sake of it — there is good reason, we are thinking of the future.’ How, he wanted to know, ‘will we stay Jewish if we intermarry?”

And that’s the Israeli question. Well one of them. How to stay Jewish. How to have a Jewish state. They see themselves poised on the brink of something, annihilation, extinction. And can we really blame them? Their neighbours hate them. They went through the holocaust not 70 years past, the history of anti-Semitism goes back further than the history of European interference on African soil and they are trying to build a Jewish state to keep themselves safe. The thing about a Jewish state is that it must be primarily, demographically Jewish. Their dissolution is something they are scared about. It’s not America that will slip on a new identity in 2050 when white people are the minority  this is a country that has no idea what to do. They fear disappearing and everyone reacts to what they fear by hating it, by having emotional reactions to it.

White teeth also has a lot of truth in it. Some simple pithy statements that ring as true maybe because they are sad, “this is what divorce is, taking things you no longer want from people you no longer love.” Am not sure if this is what divorce but it seems to capture the essence. The loss of love and the things you used to value. The feeling of failure and the fact that it’s not a gracious loss. It’s not happiness at having finished the race, its frustration at not being able to. Its lashing out at someone you used to love by taking something you used to want. Something that perhaps you only wanted because of the way that person made you feel. Some things are only precious because of the shared history they have, they don’t matter at all when you are alone and that’s the worst thing maybe. At the end of it when a divorce has happened it feels like the marriage didn’t matter at all. It’s just something you don’t want taken from someone you don’t love.

However she has a sense of humour. I was laughing all through the book. There is an introduction of an Islamic fundamentalist group some ways through the novel,

“I am from the Kilburn branch of the Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation," said Hifan proudly. 

Irie inhaled. 

Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation," repeated Millat, impressed. "That's a wicked name. It's got a wicked kung-fu arse sound to it." 

Irie frowned. "KEVIN?"

We are aware," said Hifan solemnly, pointing to the spot underneath the cupped flame where the initials were minutely embroidered, "that we have an acronym problem.” 

Scenes like that abound, for some reason I remember the sad things all too well though.

“It's a funny thing about the modern world. You hear girls in the toilets of clubs saying, "Yeah, he fucked off and left me. He didn't love me. He just couldn't deal with love. He was too fucked up to know how to love me." Now, how did that happen? What was it about this unlovable century that convinced us we were, despite everything, eminently lovable as a people, as a species? What made us think that anyone who fails to love us is damaged, lacking, malfunctioning in some way? And particularly if they replace us with a god, or a weeping madonna, or the face of Christ in a ciabatta roll---then we call them crazy. Deluded. Regressive. We are so convinced of the goodness of ourselves, and the goodness of our love, we cannot bear to believe that there might be something more worthy of love than us, more worthy of worship. Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.”

There is if we let ourselves see it a lot of truth in that paragraph. The world tells us that we should be intellectually stimulated, sexually satisfied, creatively challenged, physically healthy, spiritually at ease.  In other words happy in all the facets of our lives when this is not really possible. And the thing is a lot of people believe they deserve it like a spoiled brat pissed off at the world for not giving us what we want. The dark stuff is there(as it is in life) and it’s a part of the book but it’s been a while since I laughed so much as I read.  A while since I stood in public and read through the glare of the sun because I could not bear to tear myself away from the impending climax. So if you can read this book.

After the book I read more about her. She reads all the time and reading is like work though it’s the only way she relaxes so she has to find a way of disconnecting from the world.

I love to be drunk – that helps. That's why a lot of writers drink – you don't have to be engaged

I don’t think she made a mistake in the word choice here. You see there is a world of difference between the phrases I love drinking and  I love to be drunk. One of them is a love of the process. The savouring of a fine wine or an  expensive scotch. The feeling of fire in your stomach as alcohol makes it way down. The atmosphere, the conversations. The slow build up just before the release. One is a love of the result. The sitting back with your cares far, far away. The world spinning and you not being on it. Not analysing, not thinking just being.  you can never have the result without the process but when you hear someone say something like this you feel like they wish they could. And for those many, many reasons I have a huge, huge crush on Zadie Smith.

Monday, November 26, 2012

a glass, a glass, my kingdom for a glass

I have always been a drinker.

Some people don’t understand this; they aren’t as in love with fluidity as I am. But for as long as I can remember I have been addicted to one substance above all others. When I have it near me I am quenched but if I think that I need a little of it and I look around and can’t find it there is a clawing in my throat. Emergency lights go off and I need to find a stock of it. I get home after a long day and all I can think about is how to get some of it. I wake up in the morning and before any other waking thoughts reach my mind I am thirsting for the next swallow of it. I can never have enough. Even when my body tells me to slow down, when it pains and throbs I still want more because am scared of needing it and not having it.

I have always been a drinker.

I love my water. For as long as I can remember I have slept with a glass or a bottle of water by my bedside. When I wake up in the middle of the night my hand reaches for it. The glass could be under my bed confined to the darkest of dark recesses that place where not a dot of moonlight can reach. The spot that to quote Rescue Me is darker than an asshole’s asshole. Yet despite my tendency to knock everything else in life over my hand reaches this glass without so much as a hesitation. I find it, I bring it to my lips, I sip it. And everything is ok with the world. In the morning I reach for it and gulp it down greedily. My throat welcomes it, muscles contracting to push it down, ball after glorious ball of water formed in my throat and exploding in my stomach.

I have another glass, I have breakfast, I have another glass. And then I feel sated for now.

There is almost no better feeling than that that comes after walking around in a hot day. You know those days when beads of sweat begin to poke out of your forehead. When they begin to stream down your face. Those days when the sun burns everything off you, when it licks clean the moisture your body needs. And you get home and until then you didn’t even know you needed it or wanted it. Then you grab it. A glass of water. You pour it down your throat and gulp greedily. The balls explode as soon as they pass your chest and you can feel the water spread its cool, inky goodness through your stomach. I love that feeling. I love to track the water without even knowing it. I could never explain it but I see this fluid as black. Like a black mist that spreads through your abdomen. It touches all the parts that were warmed by the sun. The parts of your body that are steaming red like coal or steel straight out of the kiln and then it assuages them. The black spreads over the red and conquers it like a night sky taking back the view from the sunset. Then your body is cool. It is at peace. The war of wants that comes over you with thirst recedes and all you have is a twinkle of stars.
When I am off it for a while withdrawal sneaks in. I crave it, I need it. It covers all my thoughts all I want is a little taste and if I go for longer without it a weakness creeps in. My strength fails me. Soon I begin to faint and soon I begin to die(I guess this is what happens with water withdrawal though I can’t really say). I am addicted to this mix totally and unreservedly.

Am given to understand some people don’t like water that they don’t even drink it. I get that you can get all the moisture your body needs from food, soup and juice but how can you willingly give up this most glorious of feelings? After a night of drinking when your body is dehydrated and demands water what do you do? Cook up some soup, mix some juice? No you grab as much as you can and shove litre after litre down your throat until what comes out the other side is more transparent than not.

And I finally understand why water is served in a glass instead of a cup. (Incidentally the full name of a glass is actually a glass cup because that’s what it is, everyone just shortens the double name, found this out this year.) It’s the double transparency. There is nothing more, nothing less than that. You can see through water and you can see through glass. You put water in a glass and you can still see through both. Does this phenomenon repeat itself anywhere else in nature? It might but I have no idea of when. The thing is you can still see whether or not the glass is full. You can see the water shimmer and shake in there. It has a ghostly presence like a spirit. It’s there but not quite it occupies the glass but doesn’t conquer it. You don’t get this in nature at all.

Also water is H2O. 2 parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. By some magic this mixture just works. Its stable it can be used to dissolve anything and it has 10 protons. We are all drawn to numbers like this. Things that don’t look like they occurred by mistake. The number 10 and its multiples. The number 100 and its progeny. The number 1000 and its ascendants. Anything with a zero attached wakes something in us. We strive for it. Try to get 10 1 shilling coins and you have fare. We are psychologically drawn and repelled by it; consider all the electronics being sold for 299,999 because that added 1 begets 5 0’s and scares the weak of heart away. And water just magically falls at 10. It was made for us or we were made for it.
 So this is my ode to water because how many things feel just as good going in as they do coming out? 

Thursday, November 22, 2012


The relevant section of the video is at...2 minutes 10 seconds

Though I would like to think the whole trailer is relevant. You see I haven’t enjoyed seeing a movie this year as much as I enjoyed watching Skyfall. It was really a combination of things as every favourite usually is, first I have loved James Bond all my life, who doesn’t want to be him? He’s suave, charming, dangerous, witty and all those Bond girls… and then I like Daniel Craig. As soon as he was announced as James Bond I knew I would, anyone with a name that sounds like mine gets a fair shake. Add to this  the whole tone of the movie. As has become fashionable now there is a lot of destruction of heroes, a lot of pushing them past the point where they are deitifically heroic, instead a human face is put on all of them. A trend that promises to continue stretching from Batman Begins all the way to the Man of Steel making a stop here with James who is at his most manly in this movie. Not macho but human, full of flaws and foibles, all those vodka martinis he drinks? Not a sign of sophistication but a symptom of dependency. Fourth I watched this movie at an I-max theatre. How did we watch movies before? Those screens are huge. 20 feet tall (well am horrible with size estimations so maybe more, maybe less) but still giant. You sit in the centre and you take in the whole tableau the sound knocks your hat off if it wasn’t already knocked off by the guy sitting behind you who was pissed that you were blocking his view. Fifth and last, hash brownies. I had taken some of these wonderful movie aides, needless to say by the time the opening  song played I was hanging fast onto reality. This wasn’t aided by the gothic cemetery like credits that showed nothing but the death of Bond in various surreal nightmare-like symbols. I remember a skull’s head and the camera zooming in on the skull’s head, zooming in until we saw the teeth and the teeth were gravestones, on the gravestones the name James Bond was printed over and over. For 5 minutes this played on and on, me reminding myself this was a movie and not a nightmare. Anyway for all these reasons this was the best movie going experience I have had this year. The best.

Anyway on to the relevant section of the video. In those 2 seconds what we see is, to me at least, a section of the sexiest scene in the whole movie, maybe in the whole of movie history. Eve, the girl in the scene is giving 007 a shave. She scrapes the hair and lather off his face, slowly, seductively, the camera angles and shows her eyes closed as she pulls back and then she open them and looks at him, still shaving. This is all they show in the trailer but as usual this is just a tease for the scene itself. This will of course be a minority opinion but let me lay out my case.

First some background on the scene. Bond has been fucking up; he can’t do anything straight until the time comes when he has to(and this is definitely not meant as entendre he really is messing up). Movies been the fans that they are of visual symbolism decide to show his re-emergence by cutting off his beard. This happens with every spy who goes soft, as soon as he gets a proper shave he’s back on top which has me thinking that what all the spy agencies need is a good barber so that when they pull someone in from the cold there is no pesky training in between. Anyway Bond stands there shaving his beard and he’s not using any old razor either, he’s using the oldest, a cutthroat razor.

Take a look at that thing if you will. Look at the sharp edge it holds, the way it would glint in any kind of light. Look how keen the edge. I doubt any of us has a knife they keep that sharp in their houses. This razor is danger. It’s the reason we have barbers or at least the first reason. You see back in the day who would be expected to have the time to keep sharpening their blade, who but someone who does it for a living. And make no mistake you need this sharp. So sharp that just the wrong amount of pressure draws blood. Barbers had to be pros back in the day too. With an instrument like that a nick will leave you dead. You have to trace the contours of the person exactly because there is a fine line between baby smooth and corpse pallid and that line is held onto the edge of that razor.

The reason they went out of fashion?, well according to Wikipedia, “shaving became less intimidating and men began to shave themselves more,” and for this they used safety razors. Consider the men who were intimidated by shaving. This is nowhere near the time of the effeminization of man. These were hard men who did hard jobs. They logged and they built. They hunted and they killed. They mined and they farmed. They didn’t talk about their feelings and were not allowed to show sorrow or fear. Yet shaving intimidated them. It’s not that they were intimidated that’s surprising, fear stalks each of us after all; it’s that they were willing to admit it.

Who wouldn’t though? Look at that thing. You know why it’s called a cutthroat razor? As you shave you have to shave both the neck and the area just above the throat. To do this a tricky manoeuvre must be pulled off. As you glide the razor over the skin, close enough that not a hair remains standing you have to negotiate an almost 90 degree angle, an angle that’s different for everyone at a place in the body where the up and down of breath produces significant results. If he breathes out at the wrong time, and you’re pressing too close ohe razor slices right through his throat. Letting him gurgle and choke on his own warm blood. A painful death. A cut throat.

Having painted that background let’s get back to the movie scene. In it Bond is rebirthing himself. He stands in front of a mirror and lathers himself up with what must be soap. It would after all be too large a contradiction to find a man who both uses a cutthroat razor and likes the willowy pillow softness of shaving cream. He begins to shave himself. Steady hands.

Eve then walks in, she considers him shaving and says, “Sometimes the old ways are the best ways.” Something that is a running theme in this movie. She takes the razor off his hands asking him, “are you willing to put your life in my hands again.” We must remember at this point that it was this same woman who shoots him in the chest both in the beginning of the movie and at the beginning of the trailer which I posted up there. He agrees and she continues shaving.

It’s a moment of unspeakable intimacy, the quiet that comes over all movies just before the two kiss, the feeling that there is nothing else in the world at a particular moment than you, another person and the thing you are doing. That feeling that can make the most mundane act soar with significance. But this isn’t a mundane act. This is a deadly act. This razor kills. Forget all the sexy smoking scenes we have seen in the past. Forget all the times got a light and the subsequent lighting acquired sex. This doesn’t kill you slow the way cigarettes do; it slits you and lives you dead. Danger is seductive. It makes your heart beat faster all on its own. Being close to death makes you more alive. Quite simply more alive. More willing to risk.

Bond overcome by this moves to put his hand on her just as she gets to the adam's apple. “Uh uh” she says pushing him away, “this is the tricky part.”

Even if you forget the aspect of danger, and consider instead the intimacy and the tenderness. The willingness to put your life in the hands of someone else. The trust you would have to have in that person. Consider her. How gentle yet firm she would have to be. She has to be completely, in fact supremely confident in what her hands can do.

So in that one scene we have a combination of danger, intimacy, tenderness, trust, confidence and banter. What other movie scene has ever been so sexy?

Monday, November 19, 2012


Last week Friday I was hangover. I have a simple hangover protocol I follow especially if I have nowhere to go. I get up when am too hungry to sleep anymore. I make breakfast; I eat it in front of a short comedy. Twenty minutes maybe less. As soon as am done with this sleep drags my eyelids down. Then I get back in bed and try to sleep. Usually to music. It takes a while to fall asleep, and even if I do it’s that weird, ne’er really there sleep. You know the one where you’ve been trying and trying and suddenly its hours later but you’re not sure if you slept or not.

Then I wake up and watch TV. It’s not time to read, not time to surf, just to sit back and be passively entertained. Last week KPLC got in the way of that. By midmorning there was no electricity in the house. After 30 minutes you know, you just know that it’s not coming back anytime soon. Living in Kenya teaches you the rhythms of the country till they are part of your blood. 15 minutes or less or 3 hours and more. This is all electricity knows, no middle grounds except the flashes of lighting. That moment, that quick moment when the light blinks and then goes off. That moment that fries more computer adapters than most households do eggs.

This was frustrating since I couldn’t sleep and it was so hard to read. Electricity came back at about 8.30 p.m. Come Saturday,(and why does this happen on that Saturday when you aren’t leaving the house for anything) and the electricity leaves in the middle of the afternoon. I had no illusions of 15 minutes or less. A pattern had begun to develop. It came back a few hours later just to leave at night for another few hours. The rest of the week has been characterised by patches of darkness and periods of illumination. Facebook lets me know this frustration is not my own.

When you are used to electricity you can hardly move without it. It becomes the life’s blood of almost everything you use. Your phone, your computer, your light. All powered by electricity and when it leaves it, like a really tried for metaphor, leaves you powerless. People call KPLC now and it gets something done or at the very least gives the illusion of getting something done.

But have you noticed how quickly we get used to the state of affairs in Kenya?

People complained the first few times but as long as they confine their power outages to the day and keep them to about 3 a week everyone will get used to it. This comes on the back of ever increasing electricity bills and the hardest rains I have seen for a while. I don’t believe that as soon as it rains there should be a corresponding decrease in the price of electricity, nothing is ever immediate and am not sure how many businesses survive that react immediately to a decrease in the price of raw material when they have no control or assurance that conditions will stay the same. But at the very least supply should be more constant.

And why in the world do we have power outages anyway? Here’s the thing we complain about the duration of power outages but if we only had the 5 minute variety no one would mention it. Why does electricity disappear with such alarming regularity? Most places it happens because of natural disasters and if it’s not happening because of rationing why is it happening at all. Is there someone somewhere just switching supply on and off on a whim? Is there faulty equipment spluttering and swaying in the wind and water? How in Nairobi do we still have this, the equipment has been up for a while it should surely be something people know about. But this is not even a question I see being asked, everyone seems ok with the state of affairs.

How do we get so used to a state of affairs so fast. Things that used to seem unbearable all of a sudden aren’t. I mean think about the worst pain you ever felt, think about the worst physical pain you ever felt. For me it was when I broke my hand, the bone came jutting over the wrist and all they could give me in school was an aspirin and a quickly put together sling. Being driven to the hospital we went over potholes and this shook my hand. The bones scraped against each other and it was so jarring I started to cry. I can remember this but not really. I can remember it was bad but I can’t really conjure up how it felt. I remember the crying but not what got me there. The body heals. What about the other things that we felt we could never, ever get used to? Remember the feeling after a particularly meaningful break-up when the whole world and the way you have been living stops making sense? Or how it feels immediately someone dies, everything numbs down and you can’t imagine anything tasting the same or feeling as good or sounding even close to what it used to? Or even the good things that start off with such a bang. The first moments of a new hobby or when you turn your life around and all you see is hope and rainbows and clouds and then all of a sudden it shifts. On mad men after a turn for the better when Roger Sterling has reached epiphany and it’s all promises of happiness he’s soon back to his smoking, drinking, womanising ways(actually he never left any of this behind he was just more hopeful with it.) “What happened to your enlightenment?” “It wore off.” In the idiot Dostoevsky talks about a man who was sentenced to death, he begins to measure out the rest of his life, he thinks about the short time he has left and divides an hour into minutes and minutes into seconds. And in each of those second almost a lifetime passes and he asks himself, “what should I do if I were to return to life again? What an eternity of days  and all mine! How should I grudge and count up every single minute of it so as not to waste a single instant.” Well he gets a reprieve and a while later asked if he stuck to his vow, “no I waste my days just as before.”

And that happens to everything. Righteous indignation, hopeful optimism, hateful rage, eternal love, unbearable pain, powerlessness. All the peaks and valleys of human life don’t last too long. Soon we are back to normal. Everyone’s normal is different of course for some people normal is a flood of light washing away almost every disappointment, for others it’s a KPLC blackout, a darkness that lifts but we know not why it’s come on us or whither and when it will leave. We seem to be calibrated not to shake too much and when we do we shake out of it as soon as we can.

So what’s the new normal now? Am not pissed off when electricity disappears, it’s just something that happens now. I work around it, I watch something on my comp until the battery dies then I read a book. I go for a walk, I have a long think. I work around my indignation and if Facebook is a reliable indicator of people’s moods so does everyone else. Gone are the updates about anger at KPLC. An anger that was pretty impotent to begin with because almost all of us remember power rationing, 3 times a week for hours and hours. And that was normal too so why can’t this be?

By the time I posted this there hadn’t been a blackout in days. And I couldn’t access the store of anger at there ever having been one or remember how bored I was back then.