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Monday, February 27, 2012

nothing new(s)


Today at the office the conversation turned to the media and their habit of only reporting bad news. It started with some mentions about news in Kenya. i sat there thinking how formulaic it always is, poltics, hunger and corruption following each other in an inevitable trinity of tragedy. So the question is are journalists to blame for bad news?

Here’s the thing it’s easy to blame journalists, they report the bad news. They don’t unearth good news and give us stories of survival unless they are immediately attached to some horror or the other. All we have is drudgery and death, all we get is misery and mayhem. Why is it like that unless it’s because the people seeking out the news only care about what’s bad. Selling newspapers is the first consideration, the effect on the people, the misery constant bad news brings is only secondary.

This is why this argument breaks down for me; Given, economics is the driver of many of our businesses. If a company is a legal person then their nourishment, the very air they breathe is profits. Their motivation is run by the need to gain profit. Economic concerns are the major problem. But why is it that a consideration of economics leads to a reporting of bad news. Why is it there exists a proverb like no news is bad news?

Mirrors have to face inward at some point and this may be it. The newspapers printed aren’t sold to TV reporters only and the tv news isn’t just watched by print journalists. It’s not journalists running the demand of these things up its normal, ordinary people. People attracted by grime and grim news, people drawn to stories of drama and disaster, people in need of conflict and corrosion. Look at the movies we watch, the books we read. There has to be something at stake, something interesting almost otherworldly when compared to our daily lives. At gossip sessions the most rapt people are those surrounding the one with a story so juicy it stains the reputation of others.

We like bad news, we love it as a people and so it is provided to us free of charge, entertainment that has the added value of being free and there’s the thrill of it having real life consequences and results. We want to see the accidents reported on and we thrive on the election scandals. But that’s not all of us. Some are better adjusted than others and some don’t want the bad news. There are interesting stories that uplift the soul, filling it with joy and hope,  that’s what a lot of people want.


Maybe it’s easier to sell a sad story, easier to dress up a tragedy and make it appealing, maybe its laziness. Maybe it’s not just human nature that makes us like this. What if its because all we have been brought up on is a diet of misery that we don't know what to do with a plate of joy? It is possible that conditioning has changed us and the effect of the media on us is so much huger than we like to admit. So huge that it even changes the way we perceive it and decide for us what we would like from it.

The most read things in the world are newspapers, TV news is omnipresent, the internet has more news than porn, well that was hyperbole if you stack up all the sites that aren’t porn against the ones that are, porn wins, more bad news. Our souls may have been wired to look for the good but the incessant badgering of the bad changed our minds on us making us think this was what we wanted. Maybe we aren’t happy when we watch bad news and sad stories; maybe we just think we are.

But this begs the question of when this started. There was a time before touch button news before all you needed was a server to get the news. There was a time of strife and stress where getting the news involved work and smoke. It involved birds and being atop horse or leg for days. Back then there was no good news. Who would send long messages of happiness when the sad messages were so much more important? A village dying of an epidemic is something the next village needs to know, a foreign war is important, a drought, blight on the crops these are titbits that need to spread.

And isn’t that one function of the media to warn and spread bad news. To ask for assistance and help, to report on the earthquake so that we know about it and can send help, to report on massacres so we can seethe in collective international outrage which only blossoms into action when oil is needed. To hear about disease outburst so that we are ready with the vaccines. To know, just to know what’s happening in the world.

If you consider that bad news is infinitely more important than good then you start to see that the news shaped the media long before the media had a chance to shape us. The news changed the purveyors of it. It gave them a duty to say what was wrong, to collect the evils unpunished and the diseases unchecked. The news was important and still is so that we can know to do something. So the very nature of what was important made it necessary for the media transmitting it to change.

It helps to remember that journalists are human beings and they are human beings surrounded by tragedy. They aren’t gleeful at the sight of it especially when their whole lives are steeped in it. It soaks their socks and fucks with their fingers. Day after day they are out there reporting on something that’s sad and horrible. It’s where they spend their days. We’re shocked by the excesses of our politicians, journalists are cynical, we are horrified at the effects of a famine, they are jaded. The emotions they bury in relation to the work they do are so far beyond our normal comprehension. It’s the shutter between the camera and the man, the pen and the journalist. It’s a requirement that life must be lived not feeling as fully as other people can because then it will leak through and cause permanent damage.

This is not the life people choose for themselves. Artistic tendencies bring people into journalism, a flair for writing, a skill at photography. All these are gifts that require a certain amount of communing with nature, require you to develop a certain rapport with your fellow man and the earth you inhabit and having this extra sensitivity you are exposed daily to the excesses of man and nature. It gets wearing pretty soon. But your talent turns into a responsibility to make a show of the world, to refract your vision of the world and show it as news. Sad news, heart-breaking news day in, day out.

Think of the doctor who takes your x-rays, as soon as the machine is switched on he hides behind his lead protection leaving you to suck in the light. This is because  of the potential of daily exposure, too much of anything soon becomes dangerous. Think of the x-ray as the misery of the world and the doctor as the one who brings it into your life. It’s too much and they are hurt by its glare constantly turning crispy and for what?

The argument comes down to whether we control the market or the market controls us running amok and doing what it thinks is best with humans having at best a consultative status. This is it. There are considerations of human interest and the age old responsibility messengers have to deliver messages of value to us. But we would rather believe that it is the harsh light of economics that dispels the need for better, well happier news.

Is it easier to give the people what they want or to trick them into wanting something else? That’s the ultimate question when it comes to why there is always bad news. Could it be that people like bad news or is it that they are led to believe they do?

Granted the revelling in misery is too much at times. However when the media is silenced the people suffer, when the media is allowed freedom it morphs and changes. Its no longer a challenging crusader of the masses, its not a knight fighting in the shadows, its something real. Something accessible. Its controlled by the same forces that control the price of salt; flailing human attention and the demands of supply. Its not mythical anymore and its flaws and foibles are there for all to see. It’s a fact that I would lead with the story of loss before that of life. It’s a fact that most of us would. The media focused us on a big mirror and the thing about big mirrors they exaggerate your warts and your flaws. You see greed times ten, you see the love for bad news multiplied to grotesque proportions and you want to turn away. Looking into yourself can be so much worse than looking into the abyss because you don't have the comfort that the darkness you see isn't one of your own creation.

So  don’t blame journalists, not all the way, they could of course do better. But when we find that we are blaming a segment of society whose job it is to shine a light on the rest of society  we should remember that  it’s not the torches fault that roaches scatter in its wake.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

the story of the old man and the lesson


“In one lesson I taught him to read, to write, to ride, to swim, to draw, to make, to love and to live”

“how did you do all that?”

“by teaching him to fall.”

Monday, February 20, 2012

the slopes


The thing about winter sports is that on your first try you will experience more falls than a tsar who is Lenin during a war, and with that revolutionary turn of phrase…

It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining on the snow turning those unique DNA strands of the weather into separate diamond pieces, the ice was melting in its place and weirdly becoming harder as a result but none of this mattered, we had been given skis and ski we would.

You see we live in Kristiansand in the south of Norway a beach and summer town a place where the sun and the sea stop to have a chat and in the months of winter a brief, brisk affair a promise of love and longevity. It doesn’t snow every winter and when it does it’s up to you to experience it before the rain comes and washes it away leaving behind only stone, cold and wind.



I was dropped off with one of my co-delegates and we were given the most rudimentary directions imaginable, how to put them on, how to take them off and a nod in the direction of the park. There are ski tracks prepared every couple of days in the snowy parks so that enthusiasts without the talent and skill can still slide downhill without breaking their bones, it was to this ski paths that we would stay or at least try to.

I put on my shoes and immediately felt strange. Skis are long planks of wood to which you attach the ski shoes, immediately it feels like you are wearing shoes that are 3 feet long in either direction mostly because they are and every step becomes strained. It’s impossible to turn around like normal because you’ll knock into yourself or someone else, added to this is the fact that you’re on ice and am not good on ice. Am not good on stone and fall even back in Nairobi, the first time I skated it was that bambi video:


but i had since then improved my balance skills. The sticks or stava were long enough and provided an extra layer of support and soon I was off towards the track. I placed the skis there and it being a gentle slope began to glide ever so slowly almost snow-like into the real track. It was easy, I was a natural, I found myself walking up a hill with an incline of maybe 10 degrees maybe less to be perfectly honest but I was doing it, I slid down the hill and tried to climb another this incline a little steeper, 

Sooner though I was sliding back then I was falling and I was on the floor. It’s hard to get up when you are wearing skis, the length of them is prohibitive, your ankle can’t even turn the right way, and you constantly feel like you have to cross your legs over each other to be in the right and now you find the skis crisscrossed and impossible.  My legs can do this thing where one faces one way, lets say north and the other faces opposite which would be south


 And so that’s what I did, it was just the easiest way of extricating myself from the mess I was in and then I started sliding back that way, and then I fell. It’s going to be a story of falls, (with every other punctuation being a plotline involving me and the snow.)  However after finding myself in ten minutes back at the place I started I saw my friend, his skis were greaseless or something, they wouldn’t move an inch in the ice, they would just slip and slide and he was exactly where I had left him struggling to move and not being able to obviously very frustrated.

A man walking his dog  stopped to help us, he encouraged me to go up the opposite hill, the incline was a little lower but it looked considerable, like there was acceleration to be arrived at there. He told me to just walk up it so I could find my balance and I tucked my skis under my elbow to do this. I got to the end of this hill with maybe a  20 degree incline and (should stop calling them hills, they were rather smaller) and slid down. The slide down is the point of skiing just like James bond I put my sticks under my elbow and skied all the way down, soon stopped because I was going so slowly but it gave me the motivation I needed to conquer more hills. up again, try again..


And I was whooshing too, the speed was picking up and I felt almost in heaven, I wanted to go further and could because past this incline was another, the first one I had conquered and if I just took this corner, just turned the skis ever so slightly so I would be in the track then it would be… I fell straight forward and the white ice rushed up to punch me in the face.

There’s something about being hit in the face without preparation, something about sucker punches when you’re not looking. It’s like the surprise of the pain equals the pain itself and can even numb it. Your brain reacts to the shock of its slow reaction as much as it reacts to the shock of you being hit and you feel woozy. If it’s a good sucker punch like the one the ice gave me, it breaks some skin and there’s blood in your mouth. A warm crimson liquid warming your insides but forcing you to spit it out, it mixes with the saliva to become an orange shadow of the blood it once was and it feels so much worse than it actually looks. It’s disheartening and in no time at all I had given my friend the skis to try it out.


As we sat lacing up a Norwegian passed us skiing, he wasn’t following the designated paths, he was making his own, his feet working like opposite windshield wipers to push away ice and move him forward, his sticks an extension of his arm, his body an extension of the ice, moving effortlessly even up the inclines as if he moved by thought and not action. That’s what I want to do I thought grimly but all I could was sit and nurse my mouth as my friend went round and round.

I once read a fictionalised account of Caesar’s Gallic invasions and they had an  effect on me. There’s a scene when he and his men come in sight of Britain and instead of pushing forward and forging new borders for the Roman Empire turn around snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, turning back the wheels of human progress. Jeremy Clarkson of top gear compared the decommissioning of the Concorde, that great supersonic bird, to this act of turning back at the moment which may not have changed everything but it possibly could. This had a profound effect on me. It’s what got me back on the skis and what made me decide maybe before I left that  I would finish the whole course.
what i really do.

For the skiing arena is arranged like a racecourse, you can go round the whole series of inclines and falls and come back where you started without turning back even once but it’s dangerous for beginners. As I stood contemplating an old man engaged me in conversation,

 “I was born skiing and I wouldn’t go out in this weather.”
“Really?” I asked showing surprise in order to elicit more information.
“well I wasn’t really born skiing”(interjection to just say again that Norwegians have a great sense of humour)”I meant the weather, the ice is too hard and melting in parts, the only people who go skiing today are those who are really good  and reckless. Do you see many other skiers today here? No? There’s probably a reason for that.”
Challenge accepted

As soon as it was my turn to use the proper pair of skis I knew I was going to push myself as far as I could. After the first incline is a hill that was 40 degrees and I went down it. I was scared and I moved fast, so fast but the problem was how quick it was over and how soon I was coming to my first fall. Here I learned that skiing is about fear, overcoming and giving in to it in equal measure. I would approach a hill swaggering with false bravado and then at the last moment just before the real rush came, just before I had crested the next challenge and was rushing with the wind downhill would deliberately trip myself. Falling if only to get some brakes and get some control.

It was safety I told myself but thinking about it now maybe it’s a fact of my life that I don’t give in all of myself. I can when the stakes are low but I had fallen on ice and broken a lip, I had spat blood and now there were consequences. Pain, real and imagined fuelled my paranoia, my fear of more pain at times realer than the rush of a downhill slide. And so I trip myself before I can be completely at the mercy of the slope, I find a way out, a soft landing in the snow to avoid the reality of life that proclaims that blood on the ice is the only way to live and to learn.



what the world thinks i do.
While skiing you go downhill in a whoop of joy and then you have to ascend a hill. You have to arrange your feet to face away from each other and infuse your thumbs with remarkable tensile strength. You have to walk up ice and snow which claim you back as surely as gravity and sometimesyou fall back, sometimes you don’t. 

I met some more old men taking a walk, they said yes it was hard to ski and wanting to impress them by my daring and courage I let them know this was my first time skiing. Braking is hard they told me, I laughingly agreed that it was impossible and one of them said to me nothing is impossible.

It was what I needed to hear right then, I let go and pushed off. The tracks were perfect and I bent just so. The wind was whistling past my ears not ready to touch them and I felt invincible. Smoothing my way down the hill finally knowing what it feels like to be one with the ice when there was another corner to navigate, I have no idea how fast I was moving right then but its as fast as I ever have while not on an animal or in a car, it’s as fast as I have ever fallen when I went straight past the tracks and heaped into snow.

Now there was a pain in my shoulder and I thought about consequences and for the first time in a selfishly long time I thought that I had left my friend waiting for me with the implicit agreement that I would be back shortly. There was no way to turn back only forward to go I told myself and am not sure if this was true or not.

All I know is I felt selfish. I crested hills of increased difficulty, dragging myself up the inclines, digging the sticks in and sweating in the snow. I thought about the fact of this act, of the selfishness in it. Character flaws have to be dug into and you have to physically pull yourself out of the abyss. Bad habits and vices pull you back as surely as gravity and I thought that the I of some months ago would have done something so selfish, the me of some minutes ago had, no change. Then he would have justified it just as I had by feeling and encouraging all the aches and pains that formed a map in my body. Thinking that feeling guilty at doing wrong was the same or close enough as not to matter as not doing wrong.

To these heavy brooding thoughts was added the beginnings of a seed of desperation. I began to fear that I may not make it back to the beginning, I should have been there already, I should have gone all the way round, an hour of skiing, even as slowly as I was going was too long. I called my friend and guiltily allowed him to leave me behind. This despite the fact that I had no idea where this place was in relation to home, another punishment I was preparing for myself.

Then I came to the top of the hill and I looked down and it was fearsome and awe inspiring. Steepest incline yet and I wanted to rush down it. A part of me was cautious warning of broken bones, a part guilty telling of broken bonds, a part weary, depressed and uncertain completely uncertain that there was any more to be found from going forward, a  part was fatalistic, having given up all hope in where I had come from the only way forward was  where I was going. And here is the beauty of skiing; as soon as I pushed off from the top of the hill, as soon as I was sure of my footing and I knew in my heart even though my head denied it that I would not fall, as soon as the speed and the snow and me were  one the rest of me didn’t matter so much. I was still fighting all these emotions but the sound had been turned down. The blaring music had been given a respite by the wind headphones that gliding down the hill had gifted me. Everything faded away except me, the snow and the speed.
what i think i do



I crashed again, I crashed numerous times. The tracks would suddenly come to an end challenging me to find my way forward by myself and as much as I hate to admit it I never rose to the challenge. Am not sure I could have done it but am sad i didn’t try. The end seemed so far off but finally there was a light, a familiar sight and 90 minutes later I glided to a stop where I had begun.

The sense of achievement was amazing. On this one of the worst days I had gone all the way round. But there was no one to celebrate my triumph. In my mind I had pictured the amazement of my friend as he watched me come down a different hill than the one I had gone up. The envy he would feel at me having completed the course but there was nothing there now. Just a bag and shoes waiting for me. The achievements of life often leave you on pinnacles, the problem with pedestals is they are only peopled by one at a time and when from here you survey your icy kingdom the soul yearns for the simpler joys of friendships and family much more meaningful than the cold comfort of platitudes and prizes.

but still...


yeah!!!!!!!!




Thursday, February 16, 2012

bitter coffee


And so we sat around cups of coffee boiled, filtered and poured. Our thoughts silent, considered and cautious.
There’s something about coffee and tragedy, am not sure what, am not sure whether or not its movies or the nature of coffee itself beans picked by tired labourers, washed till the water runs blood with mud, dehusked in a torrent of water, dried in the baking heat, roasted in an oven and served in a steaming cup of scalding water. Dark cups and dark thoughts, sour taste, sour memories. It sits there  dark and brooding. It sits there smoking and cooling. It sits there bleeding in heat, burning in steam and as you consider it considers you.

The tragedy?

Kenyan roads. I work for an organisation here in Norway with offices down in Kenya where among other things they organise study tours for high school students. The realities are so different between Norway and any third world country, so vastly different that seeing it is the only way that any of the problems we suffer with  any sense. The young are encouraged to travel, to see the world and learn it with endless tours and choices for them to make as regards their travel.

For the last 2 weeks a group of them were down in Kenya then on Sunday there was an accident. One dead, one in the hospital, the rest shocked and traumatised. I can’t begin to imagine the loss that parents feel when they lose one of their children and I can only guess that it must feel worse when the child is that far away. At this time all I can give is my condolences at this horrible tragedy.

The stats aren’t easy to find, I’ve spent quite some time scouring Google in search of them, in 2009 3,760 people died as a result of Kenyan road accidents according to the World Health Organisation. This means a little more than ten people a day died every day for this year. That’s not ten accidents a day, they’re not all fatal. Its ten bodies

Ten lives a day snuffed out in road accidents.

wasn’t it just last year that another organisation that I was associated with had a horrible accident on those Kenyan roads. In August last year  an accident  marred the coming together of AIESEC youth from all over the world in my dear country of Kenya. One sad day in august after attending an international congress and on the way to Mombasa a bus crashed, one died and one was injured.


When I was younger (and to this day) I was very careless, I would drop a plate when washing it and a thermos when pouring tea. It happens once and it’s an accident, these things can’t be avoided and the pieces are swept under the rug so to speak. But I once went on a streak breaking plate after cup after thermos till my father lay me on the ground and beat me. This was one of the beatings that survived in my memory from when I was young. It’s all an accident I thought how could he justify beating me for something that was essentially an act of god? But the deitifically ordained acts stopped soon thereafter. An accident happens and it’s an accident but if it keeps happening it can no longer be referred to by that moniker.


How about the Msongari School bus crash? That was just last year too.  A school trip, a bus full of girls in their preteens and a horrible accident. Deaths and amputations, blood and tragedy. My cousin was on that bus and she saw these things happen. I hear her talk about it and I can’t imagine that I could ever have been that strong or that she should have to be.


These three happened in the last year, in less than 12 months. These are the accidents I heard about on Kenyan roads and I only heard about them because of my personal stake. The only reason I could remember was because of my association.
How many others slipped through the cracks and in the smoke of the aftermath curled into the mists of oblivion? Not mentioned in my head, not remembered in my brain?

3,000 deaths pass the realm of the accidental. 3,000 death passes into carelessness. Our roads are potholed and poor true, our traffic lights irregular and indecent but our drivers are also rash and reckless. How many stories have we as young people heard about people driving while being so steaming drunk they could have powered a locomotive? The stories are fun to hear no doubt, told by people with a flair for making light of these situations, “I didn’t move towards the roundabout, it came to me…”

There is a law requiring people to drive at less than 80 km\h if they are operating a public service vehicle. It is more openly flouted and with greater impunity than even the one banning pornography. In Norway it costs about 20,000 kr, to get a license, that’s (to use purchase power parity instead of exchange rates) what the average professional considers a good salary. Forget the price. In Kenya the economic structure would mean that those most in need of the license so that they could get a job would be locked out. Behind this price is tests and tests and tests.

The drivers stop for you when you’re on a zebra crossing! They slow down and let you pass. This doesn’t happen in Kenya. A Ugandan I met here says that Africans don’t need democracy just discipline, no economic reforms or infrastructure just inner drive. A fidelity to rules and a willingness to live by them.

What is our government doing I began to wonder. The government any government is made up of people. People who have these same feelings, who feel empathy and can, ask themselves what if? What if I was in that situation? What if one of my peoples was? What if someone I knew was mowed down by a car? And then it happened again? What if?

Thank God my cousin did not die, but someone’s cousin did in that bus crash. Three crashes with fatalities that have a link to me that’s more direct than I like to think about. Something happened and is happening in Kenya.

Kenya is the most valuable country in the world to me. The things it holds I cannot measure, not the earth by itself or some vague sense of nationalism that is slowly making itself felt, but the people. The roads are not safe; they are grey snaking lines of doom. Lines drawn like nooses around my family and friends. Around other people’s family and friends.

I have no solutions for this, I can’t even drive. Just a faint nagging feeling that this isn’t right. 0.01% of the Kenyan population is lost to tarmac every year. If you are not infected you are affected they say about AIDS but with numbers like that they could soon say the same about roads.

I have no solutions and no idea where to search them out but I drank that bitter dark cup of coffee today. Maybe someone else does.

Monday, February 13, 2012

of love and things




The arguments against Valentine’s Day are all crap. Especially the one where someone says, “how can you pick one day a year to show your love and then not do it all year round, that’s fake. It’s not genuine.” Usually these people won’t say  this about Christmas and Jesus, they won’t say  this about birthdays and themselves and they won’t say this about independence days and their countries.

I don’t think it’s corny to buy flowers especially since as the guy you only have them at the beginning of the day; the resulting hay fever is never a pox on your house. There’s nothing wrong with a movie or a dinner, there’s nothing wrong with a gift so well thought out it makes everything else pale in significance. Sometimes the only argument for something isn’t words, logic or rationalisation; it is not contradiction, dissent or falsification. Actions speak louder than words and though these actions are words… the argument  is it can lead to such thought.

From Kevin to Stacey…

Sonnet 17

by Pablo Neruda

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.

I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way
because I don't know any other way of loving
but this, in which there is no I nor you,
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep
it is your eyes that close.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Abstract





And that dear readers is how a check for 140 million dollars looks. Am sure noone who reads my blog has ever had 140 million dollars to spare and so there’s a chance that some may think that when you get to such dastardly levels of money they give you a coloured chequebook sort of like that black card(but I prefer the term African American express- awesome Kanye line-)

That up there is a painting by Jackson Pollack, the name of the painting is number 5, the price tag of the painting is 140 million dollars. Why am I writing about this painting and the absurd number of dollars it collected, well the beginning goes something like this. I live in  a small town of about 80,000 people. A huge population of that nearly 8,000 are university students and they study in the University of Agda. Google maps tells me all I have to do is cross the bridge and keep walking and sooner or later I will get to the university. The truth is it’s later, much, much later. An hour+ of walking is needed to get you there.

Walking is nice, there’s a cool(well freezing) breeze, the air is fresh, the bridge takes you over a river.  I can’t explain why I love water bodies so much or why they represent such huge sounds of freedom, calm and fight to me. Maybe because I come from a landlocked area(I know Kenya isn’t but with Nairobi 8 hours away from the nearest coast it practically is.) maybe it’s a little of genetic memory left over from the fact that my ancestors followed the Nile down to Lake Victoria and made their home there fishing, living, loving and dying within downward drainage distance of the lake. Whatever it is I love lakes and rivers and seas, I love piers and waterfronts, I love boats and ships. I love the sound of the sea and the rush of the river, I love the big magic O of the ocean and passing over a river makes me happy whenever I chance to do it.

1 hour + later we came to the uni, it’s a nice place, big and adorned. They let anyone inside this vast library they have that has row upon row of books. Not all academic not all Norge, there’s biographies of Martin Luther King jr. of Bill Clinton and even of New York city, a book that’s knighted quite rightly Gotham. Then there are the paintings. Row upon blessed row of paintings on the walls, some with obvious skill attached to them, there was a cowl with a scowl. a portrait of the assassin from the creed, the albino from the code(Da). He has a monk’s suit up to his head and his covered in graphite for its a pencil painting  and within it you can see  texture and  colour. You can feel different emotions emanate depending on how you as a person feel, he could be scowling or glowing, threatening or treating.

This is not him, this is something entirely else, this is the introduction to abstract art. To explain picture quality; I have seen strange things since I came to Europe, things I wouldn’t have imagined happened here in Norway the country that did not feel the pinch of the economic crisis of 08. Two brown outs at home, internet speeds of 700 kb. And lastly a camera that doesn’t come with rechargeable batteries. The picture quality has been getting worse and worse as the battery gets less and less. Well since there are no visual aids I’ll just say it’s a picture I could do without seeing.

 This is woman 3 by William de Kooning, price tag 137.5 million. Why? I don’t get it. And there it is I don’t get abstract art and I feel like am missing out on something. It could be a scam couldn’t it? The emperor’s new clothes on an arty level, a bubble started by an art critic who unbeknownst to us is the grandson of woman 1 and entitled to a good chunk of the change. But it’s probably not.

Look at books or movies. They say read War and Peace  by Tolstoy, greatest Russian novel ever written perhaps greatest book on earth. They say read Moby Dick  by Melville, never has there been a greater exploration of the effects of desire and revenge, a voyage not only into the dark deep sea to harpoon a whale but a journey into the depths of man, of a man in a  quest to rid himself of the demons he must face. I have never read Moby Dick not that I haven’t tried, I gave it a shot. I took it from a friend’s house because the critics and literature schools said  I should and I couldn’t. it was page after line of some of the most inane crap i  had read in a while, but maybe I was young then, too young in my language, too impatient in myself to truly enjoy a masterpiece, not at peace enough to let it seep into my subconscious and live there altering what needed to be altered until I was left a different man.

Maybe, because I read War and Peace later in life and I loved it. I had it on pdf and I would sit at the dining room table with the laptop on and read a chapter a day every day for a month or so. All 900 pages of the pdf and I was so caught up in the story it was ridiculous. There was a world of characters and like practice for later listens to A song of ice and fire(the universe encompassing books on which a game of thrones is based) I was caught up in all of them. All finely drawn and nuanced, none of them white or black, all of them grey with struggle and soot, all of them changing and different. I would miss someone if they were gone too long because the book had taken the trouble to build them up minutely into full humans, then it would draw back and look at the society or discuss Napoleonic war strategies and why the skill of the general matters not, it would take a look at a continent in crisis and confusion, at refugees and burning houses and rushes into battles that were more foolhardy than a suicide walk. And in the end it was a whole book written as a philosophical argument against the way we read and write history. And I loved it. There’s a chance that if these were switched in the order read then I would have lauded dick and loathed peace but we’ll never know.

My point is I have no idea why those paintings cost so much, it may be a scam but that’s too simple, too easy a way to look at such a vast and challenging industry. One that has been the abode of the intellectually well off and the financially gifted. Only those with means could afford it and while a fool and his money are soon parted I wouldn’t call anyone who has such reserves of wealth a fool. I wasn’t smart enough to be born into such money and so I hold my tongue. And the art professors, critics and professionals. They seem smart. They have studied and they understand what is meant by representational art, the words impressionist mean something to them. They don’t lump the baroque together with the renaissance school and call it all abstract. They take care to categorise and mark. They make note of brush strokes and paint choices, of canvas layout and its relation to artist history. They research the provenance of a piece before they recommend and they make a living critiquing art.

Maybe like the book masterpieces am too young to understand it. Too uneducated(in that field) to understand it. So I won’t bash it. But I won’t praise it either. Its making a fool of yourself to worship a sun god in the winter(not but should be a Norwegian saying-just saying.) I don’t understand it maybe if I knew enough I would but until then I can take simple pleasure in the art I don’t have to learn to like,



the portrait of Dr. Gachet  byVincent Van gogh
 This is the portrait of Dr. Gachet by Vincent van Gogh. He was an art genius we all know his name if not for his art at least for his ear or lack thereof and when I look at the print of this painting I can understand why he's so praised. Dr. Gachet looks sad, he looks lonely and heartbroken, no one has to be told this. He gazes off into the distance with a kind of longing,  a deep well of longing, he wants something he cannot have. But in his eyes is acceptance, the round oval light of a truck coming down a tunnel. Maybe one day he can look back at his love as a lesson learnt but right now he cannot. Right now the world doesn’t feel real to him, he’s in a wave of despair and it alters all around him. His table and the things on it, his coat and the stitches in it, they are distorted and distended, changed by grief. The air behind him is almost a weight at least on itself, it presses down making more waves, mountains of waves, blue, blue waves. that without lessons is to me a painting of hearbreak

That I believe is art.

Monday, February 6, 2012

getting here


January 7th was the last time the weather was nice, the last time the sun kissed my skin, the last time I could wear sandals outside. It was also a time of great expectation, I was leaving kenya, leaving Africa for Europe that night. I had my visa or visum as they write it in Norge. My e-ticket was printed, my clothes packed, my goodbyes said and being said. No January blues for me was the only January news.

My family gathered to give me a send-off as they wouldn’t see me till at least July, the other reason they gathered was that it was January, the thing about my family is that they love parties. December had ripe pickings for them. Every weekend something to do, food, people, alcohol, love in abundance. Then January rolls around with its nothing. Its blue, broke nothing. Then out of nowhere something to celebrate, a reason to gather. So they came.

The flight was at 11 pm. They ask you to check in 3 hours before the plane is to take off.  This is for security checks and such. First time travellers usually do just this, when I went to Egypt I did. I was there even earlier, I was also drunk out of my mind, a source of constant amusement to the airport attendants and(now that time has blunted the folly of that day) to my family too. I promised myself I wouldn’t get on a plane that drunk again, it’s too scary and not fair to everyone who is invested in your life and your travel.

At 9 we were at the airport, I met my two future housemates there(the program, a Norwegian peace corps in conjunction with aiesec project) was flying the three of us over there to experience Norwegian culture and work ethic, sending 3 Norwegians to Kenya as an exchange. The lines were long and drawn out. I said my goodbyes and got on the line then I saw my other housemates dilly dallying and I immediately dillied too. This may have been the first mistake because those airport lines fill up pretty fast and soon we were at the back.

Past the security check we eventually went. Take off your bags and put them on the conveyor, let them be x-rayed,  pick them up at the other end, hear people screaming your name, why? You forgot your passport bag on the belt. Wow. Stupid. No more such mistakes.

There’s a weight limit of 46 kg divided in two bags of 23 kg each. I hadn’t really paid attention to this for two reasons, I had only one bag, the better prepared of my housemates was going to hook me up one and I couldn’t see me carrying all that weight. When I got the other bag I put everything that could fit in there before we had to go to weight check. We went and wonder of wonders one of the bags was overweight by about 8 kg.  Had to transfer things into this duffel bag that i now had. The heavy things, books, shoes, and flour. By the time I was done we were rushed to the check in counter since time was bad.

The girl housemate was there already and she had some news for us. The flight was overbooked. No seats for us. After that visa debacle I could just see this happening. Kenya airways seems to have a lot of this kind of thing. As we stood there a man was complaining because his family was going to be split up into different planes a result of overbooking I guessed. He looked like the Greek from season 2 of the wire and you could see his agitation printed on his face, he was angry, he was pissed and nothing was being done right for him. The attendant kept apologising with this smile printed on her face like one of the comedian's badges.







 She told him to file a complaint with the airline.
A complaint wasn’t going to help him, he had children with him, his wife and some other relations and they had presumably known they would be going together. After a while he told her

“I know you’re just saying the things they taught you to say, and I know it’s not your fault this is happening but it’s still wrong that the airline condones this kind of practice.” I found that amazingly poignant.

Then it was our turn. We were referred to this guy, then that and back again. The whole time they would speak to each other in Swahili and this was ok because we understood but I felt for anyone else who had a problem and couldn’t converse in this language. No direct information was given us, only what you could glean from the scraps of overheard conversation. There was a chance we weren’t leaving that night, after all the delays of the week I couldn’t imagine this happening. But it worked out somehow and they put us on the same flight they said had been overbooked. The baggage handlers who had checked my bags had not put the sticker saying that the weight was ok and so this guy had to check it again.as he did it he had the gall to hurry me up with threats of being left as if his airline hadn’t been the cause of all the delay.

After check-in there’s a place in the airport that takes your photo for storage purposes, whenever you go to JKIA after that they put in your passport details and this photo comes up on screen. Mine came up, I looked dreary, my eyes were bloodshot, I was using my palm to support my head in the classic posture of a man who has some misery. Of course memories of this picture were only on the computer and not my brain so I was shocked to see it, how the hell did you get it I wanted to ask. Then I remembered that I wouldn’t remember my first foray into the airport.

Up escalators we went to another check in. by now it was really dark, it felt really hurried and I was all over the place, putting bags down and out, taking my laptop away, removing my passport and handing it for another check. There’s a no man’s land between two metal detectors at the airport, a space for you to get organised before you go to the next and in this no man’s land I realised I couldn’t find my passport. I had put my bags on the conveyor belt and they had gone over to the other side so I thought maybe it too had gone with them. I was in frenzy now, I wanted to cross over and look for it but I had to keep taking off my clothes. I would rush to the other side, the metal detector would beep, take off your shoes, I would rush it would beep, take off your belt, I would rush it would beep… at this point I didn’t even care about putting my shoes back on all  i wanted was my passport. So barefoot, sweaty and in a panic I rushed again and found it not to be there.

Shit!

Then a lady behind me handed it to me, I had dropped it somewhere along the line, she smiled understandingly  saying she had gone through this kind of thing too. By a strange coincidence she was part of the entourage of the Norwegian health minister in Kenya for a conference of some kind, she had also being part of the Peace Corps in her youth.

On the plane I saw the Greek seated near us and  hoped his issues had been solved, then I put him out of my mind until just now. The thing about planes is I need an aisle seat, I pee a lot, maybe too much and I can’t keep asking people to move. This plane was huge, three rows of seats the ones on the windows two seaters and the one in the middle a four seater. There was an upstairs, it sat 500+ people, I was in awe. The other reason I will insist on an aisle seat when I travel is the service. Plane flights are usually crap. You take off you stay in the air, you land. The major advantage they hold over buses is the free alcohol. And this was one I intended to make good use of.

“A bottle of red wine with dinner please,” being kind and polite, smiling as you make a request goes a long way. Another thing that goes a long way is remembering their names and faces then spreading the requests out over all the air hostesses, you should also find out where the kitchen is so you can walk back there every once in a while and ask for a drink directly. This is how to get drunk on a plane. Red wine, red wine, red wine. Then I began to drink brandy. Neat. I hadn’t yet watched a movie because the apparatus wastech mo loyo gi, at least at the beginning. When I did figure it out I found I could watch an episode of mad men. So, more brandy. Neat.

that's what to drink too


The flight passed into oblivion and the plane passed into Amsterdam. This airport is a small city with more signs and maps than Nairobi. It also has one of my favourite new inventions, a horizontal escalator. It doesn’t go up or down, just straight and when you walk down it you feel like you are flying, you go faster and faster till you come to the end and you have to jump off with a running start to maintain momentum.
At 15 minutes to boarding time our girl housemate decided she wanted to change so that she wouldn’t feel so cold when we got to Oslo. We sat and waited, boarding was called and no sign of her. We waited some more. Then they called our names, mine and the boy housemate and asked us to board or our luggage would be thrown off. We jumped into activity hoping she had somehow boarded, unable to call her since our phone wouldn’t work without simcards.

It was 5 degrees in Amsterdam and the walk was the coldest I had had till then. The wind whipped my face and chilled me. Perhaps more chilling was the fact that I knew we had left her behind. I kept telling myself there was nothing I could have done, maybe there wasn’t maybe there was. On the plane we looked around and reported the mishap to the steward serving, he told us not to worry. Apparently missing your plane  and getting lost in Amsterdam is to be expected, well…

“A bottle of red wine please.”

why most people get left behind in Amsterdam(citation needed)





Friday, February 3, 2012

its easy



It’s easy to die here. Its dark, its cold it’s white. Sometimes when am walking I get distracted by the oblivion that is snow. White, white, white.

There are places where the quiet is almost overwhelming, there is no sound for what feels like miles and miles. In this different~from~any~other~experience-I-have-had atmosphere it seems more real to talk in terms of miles than kilometres, yards than metres, though it’s a wholly American obsession having nothing to do with the Nordic folk. The wind is the only whisper you hear at these times, there is not a breath of another human being in any direction for any distance. You can forget that civilisation exists in those moments except that there are footsteps and that even in this most hidden of outback the occasional Norwegian will bump into you, raise their heads in acknowledgement, or startlement more likely, maybe squeeze out a high-pitched “hei.” before they go on their way.



The silence is good for thoughts, it’s amazing for those. You stand and fix your eyes on the sky which looks just like the ground which looks just like the falling snow and in that moment that's all there is you and nature. There is a park near where I live that speaks of this perfectly, it’s near the mountain and you can hear from afar the running of water down that structure. The snow is virtually undisturbed, Euclidean in parts, geometrical like a sculptor had stood and taken his scissor-hands to it. It’s a place that thoughts can range free and wild, not constrained by buildings or people, unbound by sounds and noises, unfettered from interruptions and distractions. Except that when you stand there your legs are nearly buried in the snow and soon this starts to bite through your shoes and leave your toes hurting and hurting.

I looked at the snowflakes disappearing into the blackwater of the sea once. They fell from the heavens a manner of manna. They danced their way to the ground, small unique, perfect and then they got swallowed up by the sea. Behind them is an endless line of others falling too. I tried to stare straight ahead, to see to the horizon but gentle persuasion would have none of that, it kept bowing me, look down at how we float, oh so gently, oh so wonderfully. Look how we disappear, oh so quickly, oh so permanently not having left a mark on the earth.

It’s easy to stay indoors, too easy. Everything is skewed towards you not leaving the house. You don't want to put on your gloves, you don’t want  to put on your scarf, you don’t want to put on your hat, to put on your woollen leggings, to put on your jacket. You don't want to face the cold because in spite of all these preparations some of it still steals its way up your back, some of it still wraps around your legs, some of it still haunts and hunts your face. Some of it still does. You don't want to walk through the snow. And it’s dark most of the time. Endless fiction and non-fiction has been pumped out about snowstorms and someone crawling for miles, dragged by dogs, drugged by willpower, beaten by the  elements, bitten by the cold. All he needs is a cabin for the night, the sight of another human being, some food, water, warmth. It makes more sense to me now.

Inside its warm and toasty, inside its perfect, the yellow light bulb, the book  to read, the food to cook and eat, the thoughts to think. It’s not that far from home, it is a little Kenya. Then you are tired, I am, I get tired pretty quickly. When am outside this problem is solved but I enter and I take a glass of hot Ribena, I begin to read and I drift away, we prepare food for 1 and a half hours, eat for one and then sit back contented before anyone has the energy to get up and move, to clean the dishes, to clear the table. Short bursts of discussion range, heavy issues, necessity of assimilation and integration of cultures for immigrants, the problems with legality of abortion, the evolution of religions and whether that actually exists or can happen. This makes me think and question a lot of my fast held beliefs then it makes me tired.

So it’s easy to die here. It’s easy to crawl into bed at ten am and fall fast asleep, it’s easier to wake up nine/ten hours later and whistle away a whole day in the preparation of food. It’s easy to miss most of what Norway has to offer. You have to be active we are told over and over. A social life here does not materialise out of thin air. It is the preserve of those who strive for it who stretch out their arms and grab it. You have to be active. You have to leave the home that's encircling you and telling you to stay. You have to walk out in the snow and cold. You have to look for activity like you would a speck in the snow, an eye in the ice.

Yesterday{Monday} I did nothing at all and the feelings of guilt about letting a full day pass have bled all over this post. It’s easy to die here. Or more specifically not to live. The snow does that, the cold does that, the clothing does that. But there's a lot pulling you out at the same time. The sun has begun to shine through the clouds and what a sun it is. Fighting through the white and shine. And one day I saw the sun and the moon occupy the same patch of sky. It was strange, it reminded me of that powerpuff girls episode where the mayor says
“there’s a ball of fire in the sky.”
“it’s called the sun.” everyone choruses. But in that show the emperor was also the boy who saw him naked and was proved right(comet shower.)

It looked like the sun. it shoe, it was round, but it moved too fast, I could look at it and it seemed so close. And if that was the sun, what was the other thing that was lighting up a section of cloud. Then it hit me. Moon and sun, together and not for an eclipse, not to break dawn and not at twilight(couldn’t help myself.)

So there’s a lot to see, a lot to feel in this magic snowonderland and its out there just past the window.