The other day I walked to the river or I tried to. I live in a really small town, well the centre is small but it’s the kind of town that outlies and lies about its size. In Kenya a place this size would hold maybe 5 times the number of people this holds but the residential areas are spread all over the map. The centre is tiny though and its geometrical, it’s a square with lines cutting in through the middle and it’s easy to get around but I still get lost. My directional compass has been messed up so by the magnetism of my curiosity that i always walk down routes I have never taken before thinking I can find my way there but I never can and I never learn.
I wanted to end up on the bridge but I found myself under it and I thought good enough. There was this guy there fishing. He had set himself up professionally, his beers were close by and his cigarettes near his light, his light in his pocket and his determination in the water. He took the fishing line and whipped it back once, not too far, not too hard then he let it go. The line sailed into the water and dangled impotently over the edge before a fish began to nibble on it and it responded to this stimulus for which it was made immediately stiffening up. He rolled back the line and put the fish on the shore. He stopped for a couple of puffs and sips, a small victory and celebration. Then he began again. I thought he would send it the same distance but instead now he whipped it back and sent it flying and fly it did. I tried to keep up with its trajectory as it flew arrow straight into the air becoming a silver particle then began its downward trajectory. I tried to see where it would land but I couldn’t. It took him a while to bring it back.
This episode put me in mind of J. Cole. He’s a rapper, new but good, there’s a lot of intelligence in the lines I hear from him, things I hadn’t thought of before or hadn’t thought of in that way isn’t it ironic?/ when I hit someone else you the one that bruise he says in one song. Same song(maybe not i listen to a lot music while i cook now and it all gets blurred together one album being a really long song set to different beats) there’s the line that the whipping motion brought to mind isn’t it ironic? /now whips are the ones that set us free. This doesn’t really need exposition but sometimes things get more than what they need and who knows maybe there still is someone who doesn’t know that whips is slang for cars. Life is irony a lot of the times.
I remember in Egypt chilling with some other interns and smoking shisha that I had to decide had an effect. So invoked the placebo, I was called on this and I said “life is a placebo effect.” Maybe it’s not though maybe it’s an ironic existence that we all slog through and just smile at. More money more problems said a wise man once, and someone else said that money won’t solve all our problems but at least it will solve our money problems. Sometimes thought it seems like money is its own curse and prison. A sea of green that we can’t see out of, most money in the world isn’t green granted but the tendency to think in dollars is something that the overwhelming cultural exports of America leave us in. The more money you have the more you need. The less free you are to go out in whatever you want, to wherever you want with whoever you want. And the longer you spend awake counting, recounting and trying to account for it. Even those born to privilege for whom money is a plaything seem so wrapped up in escaping their reality that they turn to a different addiction, drugs, sex, fame power. Money defines so much more than the wear and tear of your wallet. It means you can’t just go on holiday somewhere and live anonymously, living cheaply is one way to see the more interesting places we have in the world the only way to be really free but nothing is free and poverty is just another prison one with worse food. And the absolute worst thing about money is that quote from Rockefeller, how much is enough? The rich man was asked and he gave the most honest answer that question ever got. “One more dollar.”
Last week I got a compliment about my writing from someone whose writing I really like, and even though it was a compliment it was still couched in apology. This is probably since the truth about compliments is that they are also comparisons. You look good today can also mean you didn’t yesterday. Something meant to make us feel good can make us feel otherwise. So how do you combat this, how do you make someone feel like they look good every day? Well tell them every day. But a thing oft repeated is soon neglected. Compliments need to be special in order for them to have that effect that they should. They should move us, especially a heartfelt compliment and the first time you hear a heartfelt compliment it does. You feel this glow inside of you and you become happier, that’s why I love to tell girls how beautiful their smile is, and when I mean this I reward everyone. I get to see the smile again too. So it seems compliment need to be comparisons otherwise they ring hollow but say them too much and they don’t ring at all.
There’s a lady from the orient I meet a lot on the way to work, not really meet just see. She has a stern face, it seems lined with worry or discipline more like. The wrinkles didn’t settle where they wanted she willed them into place, an inscrutable face mask of determination. As she walks she smokes and she smokes like I have never seen anyone do it before. Every time I see her there is a cigarette in her hand and a cigarette in her mouth. The great thing about this is that they are all the same cigarette. She puts it in her mouth and takes a puff, a quick puff just a pull, and then she pulls it away. Not too far though, the angle between her elbow is barely 30 degrees before the fist is snapped back, the time is enough for one breath and she lets that go and meets the cigarette again on inhalation. Then again, then again, then again. Over and over and over. They say a cigarette takes away 7 minutes of your life, but what beyond all doubt of studies takes away 7 minutes of your life is 7 minutes of living.
Someone else I meet all the time, well not so much now. In the deep of winter I saw him all the time. When snow invaded my boots and ice crunched under them with every step I took. It was a cold time in Kristiansand, a dark time and one day as we walk home in front of us is this Arab. He’s short and has a face that seems ready to smile at any provocation. All he has on his head is a tiny hat. He risks it and says to us “a salaam aleikum.” The Swahili part of my head kicks into gear immediately and it brings about the response “aleikum salaam.” He’s so happy he stops to talk to us (I was with my housemate.) the Africa cup of nations or its qualifiers was going on (football passes me by without a whiff of interest, it’s like a drug dog with a cold.) and he begins to ask which team we support. Supporting Kenya is hard for football fans. It’s a difficult thing, its emotional battering time and time again. Kenya will lose. It’s all they seem to do. All the matches I go to watch or hear about are losses. We win some but we are a woefully bad team in. We support them out of patriotic fervour a pathetic fever that a thousand losses can’t cure. But we don’t make it to the Africa cup of nations, we never do and so I support Egypt. It’s nice to back someone who has a chance of winning. There are only ever two players in my book. The underdog and the one destined to take it. The guy with the perfect record or the guy with the perfect story. Kenya is definitely the underdog but the perfect story needs time to develop. More time than we can ever seem to give it, so I support Egypt.
Communication grinds to a halt after that. My Arabic is so rudimentary its non-existent right now and his English is if anything worse than my Arabic so communication stops flowing. And in the end of isn’t it ironic that I had no observation to tie to this third meeting of mine? Well at least as ironic as rain on your wedding day.