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Thursday, June 28, 2012

the time i saw romania



taken because its been a while since i saw proper night




What’s that feeling though? That cloying, clinging feeling that creeps up on you and creaks past your defences? And it has a smell too, it comes off the stones, it’s carried in the air, with every inhalation you get a whiff of it, its heavy. And its familiar, familiar in the way things are when they are ubiquitous through so much of your life then you go some months without it (they can't honk their horns in Norway it took me forever before I knew why it was so quiet in the streets and even then it was only when I was told by someone about it.) You know what that smell is? That feeling? Its warmth. And am not sure I like it...

You see am in Budapest. My last euro trip this year and for the last you try to go far, as far as possible, see climes unknown. So destination Romania. The travel plans are a thing out of nightmare, leave Kristiansand at 9 in the morning, get to the airport at 3 wait till 9 for the flight to Budapest, get there at 11 wait till 1 for the bus to Romania, 8 hour tip leaving me there at 9.

This is the bus we used to Romania, it’s a matatu. In every way. It waits for everyone to come in before it leaves and stops at every stop along the way. Plus it has the best little luggage compartment. We had some pretty interesting travel companions. A brother and sister leaving in Dublin. A place where it always rains, all day, all night, all month, all year. At one of the stops on the way to the border we talked to the sister and though she said some normal things the way she said them sounded so wise.

"I smoke cos there's only one life, it happens then it’s over."

She prepared us for clubs in Romania that have no designated smoking section which is strange. I think about it and I can't remember whether clubs in Kenya have a smoking zone but I think it’s necessary. she told us the smell of smoke hung so thick it  sticks to every fibre on your clothes, it threads its way in there and if you dump your clothes in the room you wake up to a memory of the club, a little snapshot of the portrait of  smell that turned everything white.

And they have free outdoor water in Hungary, Norway for all its great strides in public service and social welfare is woefully inadequate when it comes to public sanitation. Not a place to pee, not a drink to sip, nothing but environment.

After some more of that shit sleep you get on the road it was border time, I hadn't seen a border in so long. I thought it was because I had been flying around but the truth is the Schengen area is border less and this should have been my first sign of the trouble I was in for. The guards asked for id documents. They took the two Kenyan passports and went away for a while. Then they came back and asked to speak to us. My friend left first, I tried to stand but everyone told me it would be better if I just sat back and waited it out.

It’s difficult waiting while someone else handles the crisis. You have no information and all you see is smoking border guards say all these things over and over and you are not sure what things. My friend stood there as inscrutable as a Chinese. And I waited impatient. Thinking the worst hoping for the best. Taking comfort from the reassurances of the passengers. In the end they told us Romania was not a Schengen country. That we would have to turn around and go back the way we came. The bus driver told us to wait for the bus going back to Budapest.


The Romanian police gave us a ride back to the Hungarian border. It’s a weird thing about border towns. The people mix and begin to become the same, they look the same because of the same climate, there's a healthy amount of genetic mixing, social interaction and economic dependency, so much so that when they handed us off the only difference was that these guys had blue uniforms and the others had red.

We asked the Hungarian guy how to go to Budapest, he pointed to the long lonely road and said west. Nothing else. We began trudging. Trying half-heartedly to hitch hike and been offered a ride by a guy who was working at a highway poll station back to the town where would get a train to Budapest.

It was a tiny town, just 5,000 people. But at this time of the day (8 am) it was more common to find open bars than anything else. The beer was cheaper than the soda and so we had a beer as we waited for breakfast. Then we got on the train back to Budapest.

There was a Romanian girl there who could speak English and so we latched on, we talked for hours about books and japan where she had been. About drinking in Romania versus everywhere else and she agreed that the polish really do take the cake on this one. The vodka filled, practically flammable cake. But I was drifting, it had been 30 hours on the road and my mind wanted rest, I would snap back to hear the ending of a sentence, smile and be generic then try to stay awake.

Finally we were in Budapest. The Romanian embassy refused to give us a visa which meant we were stuck in Budapest for a week. Nowhere to stay, no one to call, just time.

Friday, June 22, 2012

a quarter

The hands on the clock criss and cross and criss again, the sun sets and it rises and it shines so bright it hurts, the pages on a calendar fly by leaf by leaf and weeks turn to months and then the weeks turn into a year and before you know it you are back where you started. In the same place, on the same earth going round the same sun at the same pace and magically you find yourself at just that point in the orbit when the world was blessed by the coming into being of one just like you

so, i turned 25 today. A quarter century has passed with me on this earth and it feels like a big deal. I remember watching a movie called Waking Life, its a Richard Linklater movie about people talking, people talking about life and the various things it entails. The whole movie revolves around these cartoon characters having conversations about philosophy, art, literature "we are all characters in a great big Dostoevsky novel one of them says." i didn't really understand completely how the meaning of life and the meaning of meaning could be put this way, it seemed backwards, a novel should imitate life, it should be the aim of the novelist to make us feel like the characters are alive but they couldn't be more alive than us could they? Then i read some of his books and i began to understand. the people there feel so much, they confront their thoughts and doubts unflinchingly, they mercilessly analyse what's going on in their lives and the world around them and honestly, people seem to scared of their feelings. The world as we know it is full of such self denial about how we really think and what we really feel the biggest lies are the ones we tell ourselves. Consider charity for example, charity is a great thing, its part of humanity to want to help but why do we do it? i really do believe that a vast majority are driven by some selfishness, not everyone can be so Mother  Theresa, to give until it hurts, we give until we glow, until we feel good about ourselves. The beggar on the street who you give 20 shillings to is providing a valuable service, he is selling you feelings of wholesomeness and worth. You feel like you helped somebody and for a day, an hour, a minute you feel good about what you did, you feel great and that's why we give to charity, that's why i do it in some deep part of me. If not to feel better at least to avoid feeling worse. Again this is probably not true for everyone but its true for many of us, we give away our money but not our happiness and this is just one example, many people react violently to this they don't want to think that the better angels of their nature are driven by the same motives as the devils perched on their heads, piercing their hearts with lusts and greed.

But i turned 25 today, in the same movie one of the characterless talked about how the cells in the body get completely replaced every 7 years or so, meaning there is nothing in you that existed 7 years ago, biologically and physically you are a completely different person than you were back then. If you think about it once you turn 7 there is always a point that existed 7 years ago. A wholly different you than there was before at least in body and many times in spirit. i read somewhere that the great difference between literature and other books is character development because that's what happens in life. People develop, they change into things they weren't things, they never imagined they could be. Its been a year since I wrote a birthday post back then I had one more day of university my life was going to change dramatically, my body was shaking with excitement as i tried to prepare for that last paper. If you had told me then that i would be writing this one from a hostel in Hungary i wouldn't have believed you. If i had told anyone that they wouldn't have either but that's life i guess. It takes you by the hand and as long as you clasp it and don't let go it can take you places. Places you never imagined you would be visiting with people you never imagined you would see.

I have done a lot of travel since i turned 24. Ethiopia, Egypt, Norway, Poland, Belgium, Hungary and its something i will be eternally grateful for. i know this kind of thing doesn't happen to most Kenyans, the border lines around our country can be the ultimate proof that the world is flat. They can be magic lines you never reach out to and touch and see and cross, they are the end of the world. For 3 or so years i told myself i would live in Europe for a year after university. i halfway achieved this and am not sure i believed it when i said it. but i said it and the winds of words seemed to have powered the ship of my life and brought me to this point.

When you travel you have a lot more time to think am not sure we use it all in the sit down and really consider life way of thinking, its more like there's an undercurrent that we can't see. Outwardly things look calm but in the sea of our lives there's volcanoes and sharks and the lochness and other things we have never fully explored and we may never. The ocean is the last big frontier of human exploration on this earth. Such a high percentage of unexplored species in a place so vast and deep and dark that our best telescopes can't see anything. Despite this when the change manifests itself we can tell. We know that global warming is making the sea rise and we can predict hurricanes. We don't know our whole souls but if we studied it, and really studied it we can tell the violent changes that are happening beneath the calm. The more we spend time with just us the more things fall into place and pieces jigsaw together.

i know more about myself than i did last year, i have changed somewhat and the main thing is that now i can feel the grey winds of mortality rattle the glass panes of my fragile life more and more. Its amazing that this poorly treated body made it this far and when i think about how much farther i want it to take me am scared that i'll let my addictions overcome my ambitions. Those are the angels fighting forever in my soul. My propensity for self-indulgence battling with my feelings about how i could be. Every year we should try to be better than the last but all i seem to become better at doing is predicting what would go wrong and convincing myself that i should do it anyway. i am forever mired in the muck of my mistakes, mulching in their manure. Mistakes of carelessness and carefreeness. Case in point this was meant to be posted from Romania why am in Hungary instead is a shitstorm  i'll explain later. i feel closer to death without feeling older. Some people my age are married and i went off on a flight of fancy where i imagined myself being one of them. Most people at this age have met a girl who a part of them says they could settle down with if only, if only, if only. The reasons vary wildly oscillating from financial to spiritual to it being the one girl you simply cannot have. Am not sure what we need in life to be happy or if we can be but one of the saddest things is when money can't make you happy and this may be that we need to say to ourselves, life would be perfect if only i had this or that and i have been asking myself why i like her so much if she makes me feel so sad, every goodbye has the tinge of forever and every hallo isn't filled with the possibilities that i want it to be filled with and maybe this is the thing, someone i can point to and say if only, if only, if only and go through a half happy fully content life telling myself there is a way it could be better. If we had all we could and still had nothing we may be living a nightmare we can't get out of.

But at 25 there are other important thing is to decide. Am done with university, done with my third internship abroad and there are tough decisions to be made about where my professional career will carry me. Which winds whether they are of fate or of my own making will not let me make that fatal mistake. i say am not sure when am asked but that's only because am scared that i won't be able to do it. i won't be able to cobble together all the pieces to fit my road on the way to wherever, but not trying is the worst kind of failure. am not sure who but somebody once said that half the fear we feel when we stand on a really high edge isn't that we may fall, its that we may jump off. maybe the fear of failing is like this, its not that we may fall if we try: we are scared of jumping and discovering to our shock that we can't fly and that our father does not send angels to guide us softly to the ground. We hold on to the if only so strongly it seems our only way out.

but i read this Carl Sagans quote about books...What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other,
citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic."

And all i want to do with my life is work magic, cast spells and weave sorceries, But my wand seems weak sometimes, my spells not strong enough. i don't want to be whispering the prayer of the one who was too scared to see if there were angels waiting  maybe it is better to be dashed to pieces against rocks than to wonder all our lives if there really were wings on our feet. A full quarter came and went and am still here. Hope i see the half.

and for now..."thanks for all the wishes/ am a quarter bitches!"

Monday, June 18, 2012

over the wire

I watched and loved the wire a couple of years ago. For me it was almost an obsession, every once in a while I find a piece of art, a story so well told, characters so fleshed out that everything pales in comparison. Real life isn't as real as what has been created, conflicts not as important, drama not as eventful as what's being played out on the screen or on the page. I mull over the events and themes for months, think about the characters and their motivations, ponder their fates for so long I know them as well as I know anyone. Then it ends and all I have to take me back to that magical time is reading about it on the internet, finding people who loved it as much as me and hearing their takes on it. Its like talking about a place we both went to. The Wire had an anniversary the other day, 10 years since initial screening and there was an upward spike in internet articles about it, new articles with fresh insight and the maturity that comes with age, fine ideas are like fine wine in that sense, easier to digest with distance in time. Then i read the following article:


Shared it on facebook and got into a discussion with this guy about it. The discussion will be my blogpost and it contains too many spoilers, way too many on the plot elements of the wire warning done, here is the exchange(on a sidenote i find it very cool that the article i wrote(half wrote) about the wire takes the form of a conversation that's being eavesdropped on, the very basis of the show, I like when the medium mirrors the message. )


Him:  Brilliant! I only just finished watching The Wire. Awesome read.

Me:  you just finished watching the wire, you lucky man. Those characters must still walk around your head full human beings at this point. Feeling like you know them and still sad over the cyclic end it had, I loved that show though (obviously) felt like reality.

Him:  The end was remarkably profound for me... For every character that the show had, there was a replacement waiting in the wings. You want to jump in and stop it all from happening, but it must go on, and you can do nothing but watch on, knowing that the show, as is the case with life, must go on...

Me:  the one that got me the hardest was Bubbles replacement. He had gotten out of the spiral of addiction and all that and then the kid, (the names blur) ss right there to take his place. It makes such a point about the system they had in America it dooms so many to repeat the mistakes of their fathers over and over completely unable to break out. For every child who goes on to compete in oratory meets there's a drug addict, a killer, an orphan. That was a sad ending. But remarkably fitting.

Him:  Dookie... That one hit hard. Especially seeing how he had such promise in Mr. Prezbo's class... Bubbles got out, but only after he accidentally killed Sherrod, another massively sad story arc.
I found it interesting how Marlo Stanfield doesn't become Stringer 2.0, but he goes back to the streets...


Me:  yeah Marlo, there was always more of Avon’s code in him mixed with stringer's Amorality. He wanted a name and respect and didn't care how he got it. Remember when he got Prop Joe in the end? "I wasn't much made to play the part of son." I found that so sad

Him:  Even more of the Greek tragedy... Characters are resigned to their fate. Prop Joe was doomed by his own success, and as such he knew that the means to his end was always there, hovering like a sword of Damocles... I also found Bodie's death to be exceptionally sad. For him, holding out on the corner, to be randomly offed like that... It hurt.

Me:  oh yeah, Bodie. He was one of my favourite characters of all time. I liked the relationship he had with the cops, with Stringer. There was so much potential in him, he looked like he was being groomed for something. Remember the scene where Stringer wants to run the drug meet like a proper business and one of the young guys takes minutes..."are you serious taking minutes of criminal conspiracy?"

Him:  Shamrock... That one had his own jokes, taking minutes and such. And what about D'Angelo's 'suicide'? That one made me want to punch Stringer in the face. But it had to be done, I guess, from Avon's reaction when he found out. Now all the characters are popping up, randomly awesome ones like Brother Mouzone and his bowties and love of magazines, and the disturbingly effective murder duo of Snoop and Chris Partlow...

Me:  Brother Mouzone was amazing, "you know the scariest thing in the world? A nigga with a library card!" and the way they hid the bodies in the 3rd season was amazing. I loved Hunk too, that guy was too funny, the all fuck scene is definitely one of the best things on TV, I like how serious a spin this article up there put on it. Then Omar, everyone who watches that guy for a while gets over their homophobia as they begin to support him. And clay Davis shieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet!

Him:  Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit... That guy was hilarious. Plus his arc is also quite compelling. Like when Lester and Rhonda the attorney built up a case against the guy, and he basically charmed the jury into a not-guilty verdict... That was compelling. At some point, you start seeing a lot of the real world in The Wire, like how Omar wasn't just some random gangster with a shotgun, he has a story. His anguish after his boyfriend gets killed, that was moving. And his relationship with Butchie as well. The Hamsterdam experiment was also interesting, setting up a legal drug zone, and seeing how drug regulation fails to protect junkies from the drugs they seek...

Me:  I liked how they did that, going behind the stereotypes. Like when you see Stringer going to college or that he was reading the wealth of the nations. Lester with his tiny carvings. The character arcs of people like Carver and the Jewish cop who became a teacher, the boxer who was doing all this reform on the street. Ziggy from season 2 also very sad, was cool to hear Swahili in that season though

Him: Yeah... The crewman from the boat unleashes Swahili very randomly... That was interesting. On the whole, The Wire was rather compelling, showing how random things connect and lead to varied consequences... I like how this article points out that the wiretaps are very much like the oracles of ancient Greece, sometimes they give you information that you need, a case is made, only to fall apart later on...

Me:   yeah that was an interesting connection to make, and Lester was like a wise old priest tinkering and seemingly doing nothing while holding the keys to interpretation in his head, making it possible for mortals to understand what was going on and eternally frustrated that despite the access to all this awesome power he did nothing to shape events, chained by due process and the inadequacies of his superiors.

Him:  Even as Bunk claimed that it was him that gave Lester the bowlegs... lolol. 
The Pulitzer guy is another one I wanted to punch... How do you manufacture a story over and over again? I also liked how he led to a lot of the developments on the 'homeless murders'. Classic causality. The homeless case led to the return to full capacity of the Baltimore PD and the guy got his award...


Me:  yeah, that story line, McNulty really went off the rails. And it presented an interesting question, the same one asked in episode 10 of the second season of game of thrones. if you could walk away from the thing you were really good at, from your calling and talent and that meant you would be happy(McNulty in the 4th season, Tyrion if he listened to Shae) would you still do it?

Him:  McNulty's situation is odd, because the one thing he is good at is the very thing that leads him to self-destruction. He's an alcoholic because of his cop-work. He becomes a beat cop and moves in with Beadie in an attempt to salvage himself, but that comes undone...

Him:  finally watched 'Game of Thrones' all the way to the end of season 1 to get what you meant by the Tyrion reference... I'd stopped on episode 7 for some reason I can't remember. Yeah, that's why the last comment didn't acknowledge either him or Shae. But it's pretty much the same. Change yourself completely or lose everything...

Me:  oh yeah? there was a risk of that so I tried to couch the statement in as spoiler free a way as possible which is a break from the trend of all previous comments but the wire ended quite a while ago and no one who hasn't watched it is ever interested enough to read about it at least on fb comments. Yep McNulty's situation was sad, all the drinking was a part of all the working, he's happier in uniform but his destiny, his calling in life isn't to be happy. it’s strange how much I bump into this thing in art now, finally reading the Brothers Karamazov and there's a scene with the devil watching Jesus resurrect into heaven and all he wants to do is say hosanna and join in the praise of the angels but he stops himself, he says nothing can happen on earth, no events without the great minus and so " I am sulking and fulfil my destiny though it’s against the grain."

Him:   The whole concept that people don't live forever is old, but it's fallen out of favour. People want the bad guy to die, for the good guy to triumph in the end. Haven't read The Brothers Karamazov myself. I really should. I wouldn't say McNulty was happy as much as he silenced the beast within, the monster that drives men to do ridiculous things, that on one hand pushes people to kill, and on the other hand to pursue the killer. In the perspective of both, they want justice done. I like what you said there, his destiny is not to be happy. His destiny is tied to the very thing that is destroying him.
I may have found something to write about... A review of The Wire...


Me:  do you really think people still want the bad guy to die and the good live forever? Now with the focus on all these gritty remakes cue the dark knight returns in a short month... we'll have another remarkable example of the whole world falling in love with a story about a hero who has no idea how to be heroic, who has to give up much more than he ever wanted to and who (even if he doesn't physically die) sees a version of himself slip away as he's pushed more and more into a corner that he wouldn't let himself be found in. The soiled hero or the villain with grace, the fact that all these definitions just depend on the point of view is much more popular now(game of thrones as another great example.) And life is too short for stories about life being short to get old. Silenced the beast within I like that expression (and its application here) now that I think about it maybe am confusing happiness with contentment. He was probably content with Beadie, satisfied. But contentment is boring challenge even if it destroys us is what we really love. It wasn't working that was given Adam as a punishment it was the exhaustion that comes of it. At my graduation I remember my dad said "life is struggle" maybe some people just need that friction, that striving, that lack of contentment to be ok, maybe we all do unfortunately it bites you in the ass.

Me:  because am lazy sometimes and because I think this was a really cool discussion, am tempted to just copy paste it and use it as a blog post, maybe you want to do the same too?(am also asking for your permission cos of copyright and all these things

Him:  Copyright... Yes. Go ahead. I think I shall post it as well, because it's quite awesome
Me:  copy pasting that was a lot of fun by the way. Gaggles of giggles

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Then it bit.


Summer nights of 10 degrees is sometimes what you get in Norway. It's annoying in a betrayal kind of way. I was getting used to the relative warmth. Loving the 18 degree weather, going to the beach, walking around in a tee-shirt. Then it bit.

I know that the brain can’t remember pain because if you relive the memory every time you don’t really feel the pain when it happens again and then it’s not as effective a warning. Same for cold. I can remember that my feet used to freeze in winter. I remember that it felt like walking on razor blades, like every nerve ending was being shredded by the cold. It wasn’t numbing, it was awakening, and I could feel every part of my body. I knew I had hands because that’s where I felt pain and I knew I had toes because they were on fire or ice more like. I knew I had skin on my face because I could feel it scream every time I went out.

Then summer came and these things went away. The walking around in a freezer feeling was a distant memory and as it got warmer I wasn’t sure I actually felt these things ever. I was prepared for a warm last stint then it got cold. It got really cold. My teeth chattered, my legs shook, my nerves stood on end begging for an end and I was so angry.

I was pissed off at the rain, pissed off at the clouds, at the sky, at the people around me. Betrayal crept on me like the weather. My mood plummeted and I was tired all the time. Hated walking down the main street, hated stopping walking to talk. Everything was tinged with malice. The malice born of broken promises and botched possibilities.

It was just weather but it felt so… personal. Like it was just for me that this happened.

"All trust involves vulnerability and risk, nothing would count as trust if there were no possibility of betrayal" said Robert C. Solomon and that sounds true enough. It’s cynical but it feels like a fact. Trust is a choice and I make it in the face of all the reasons not to. It’s a decision based on nothing but air. Past experience with humanity begs us not to trust. Past mistakes tells us what happens when we do. Past pain is a harbinger of future pain and still we trust. The people you trust most are always the ones whose betrayal would bite the most. Cut through layers of clothes until it finds your skin open and vulnerable waiting for a pinprick and a flow of blood that isn’t that easily staunched.

But the brain doesn’t remember pain. Maybe that’s part of what makes us human. Hope is insanity. It’s a belief that things are getting better in the face of them not going anywhere. When I was in university we had this lecture and the lecturer was so convinced that things were so much worse than they used to be in Kenya. “Look how young people are when they die now… our grandparents would all get to their eighties before they went.”

And I put up my hand in indignation ready to make the point that things may be bad but they were better than they ever could be. Look at a fairly objective picture of whether medicine is working-infant mortality- it’s not as bad as it was. We’re not having ten children in expectation of losing half. We don’t wait a month before we name a child any more. We don’t have the expectation that most of them will drop out of the race of life before they are old enough to wear their names. Naming things does make it harder to let them go. I read once about this guy who when he went out to dinner the first thing his daughter would do was to name all the lobsters so that he wouldn’t order one to eat, but I don’t think it works for children. I don’t think it couches the pain that’s felt at such a loss to humanity. The loss of all that potential and all that love. All that’s invested in the child before they are more than a bump. There are few things worse than small coffins and a world filled with less of them cannot possibly be a world getting worse.

Then I read something like the Great War for civilisation and find out that Iran once had to buy 500,000 small coffins. The state of our world means that under every rock and stone, under every half-buried boulder there’s a sad story waiting, there’s a parent wailing, there’s a child ailing, and  a heart breaking. Once all the tragedy human beings knew was their own. You knew what happened to your family and your friends. You didn’t hear about a tsunami thousands of miles away. You didn’t have to question the justice of a war being fought halfway round the world by people you don’t know and never could. You weren’t bombarded with picture after picture of pain and pathos. Now we are. Now no matter how bad it is you can take comfort in the fact that it’s worse, so much worse for someone else.

And is that enough comfort? I can see why my lecturer thought it’s getting worse. She grew up in a time of less connectedness.  Less stories about how bad it is for others around the world. Once it was bad for Kenyans and Kenya but now we know America isn’t the paradise it was promised to be that Europeans have just as many problems as we do that money and happiness aren’t the same thing that they never are.  We ran our country for 40 odd years and all we did was run it into the ground and the same thing keeps happening. Infant mortality may have gone down but once in a while there is an infant death and that stops everything. Numbers don’t matter when the only number that matters is one.

Then it gets warm gain. Its 16 degrees today, am in a short am going to play a game of basketball at 8 pm and honestly am happy. Black moods have lifted and I can see past the clouds.

For now life is good and I can’t remember how it felt when my skin was being flayed by the winter(my friend says there's no summer here only white winter and green winter). My anger at the weather seems to be a curiosity that I can laugh at now. Was I seriously that angry? Did I really compare it to being cheated on and swear never to forgive. I close my eyes to the rays of sun and there’s that red blur that comes up against it. The red blur of warmth and I forget how much I missed her and that I need to prepare for next time.

Winter is coming” the Starks remind themselves all summer long but that’s why I don’t want to be a stark. Give me gold and glory; keep your honour and foresight. Give me the knowledge, even if it’s hard won and a lie that winter will never come again. For now am glad my brain forgets because if you think about it, if you really think about it there’s not much to be hopeful about, resources are at an end, armies begin to arm, nations begin to prepare and a sad carpenter somewhere is putting the finishing touches on tiny little coffins with tiny little nails. Pinpricks of pain every time he hammers them in, breaking apart the wood, worming into the grains.

The image of this carpenter puts me in mind of this passage from the Brother's Karamazov, the devil appears and is talking to one of them and he says

"I was there when the Word, Who died on the Cross rose up into heaven bearing on His bosom the soul of the penitent thief. I heard the glad shrieks of the cherubim singing and shouting hosannah and the thunderous rupture of the seraphim which shook heaven and all creation, and I swear to you by all that's sacred, I longed to join the choir and shout hosannah with them all. The word had almost escaped me, had almost broken from my lips...But common sense-oh a most unhappy trait in my character- kept me in due bounds and I let the moment pass! For what would have happened, I reflected, what would have happened after my hosannah? Everything on earth would have been extinguished at once and no events could have occurred... I know of course there's a secret in it but they won't tell me the secret for anything... I, too, shall walk my quadrillion and learn the secret. But till that happens I am sulking and fulfil my destiny though its against the grain."

If he can still hope so can we.

Monday, June 11, 2012

on (not) being African


Am not sure I can turn this into a full blog post but here goes. My train of thought was inspired by reading this article about BET introducing a new category in their music awards for African music. It’s an extremely well written article. Cyber footnotes sprinkled all over the place so you know he’s not talking out of his ass. Then he goes on to make a beautifully complex point in such a matter of fact way that you can’t help but be left feeling slightly smarter for being able to follow it.

“It’s a daunting task to represent a continent with a billion people and a thousand languages and cultures” 

By the time you gets to this sentence in the piece you wholeheartedly agree and he’s right. 1000 languages seems like it’s possible. Kenya has 42 and that’s a paltry number with Nigeria’s 250 thrown into the works. With such an abundance of languages there is precious little holding us together as a continent. Our tongues trip are all over the place. Our cultures; vastly different, our religions; so split they seem to have come from a babel of bibles. The truth is for African countries that are not our neighbours the only thing holding us together is our colonial heritage. I can identify with Nigerians because they speak English like us. Because they fought the British like us. Because they seem to have moved all over the world like us.

Same with Ghana, except not really. Ghana evokes respect as the first to cast off the colonial yoke. That country was treated reverentially in history class. Kwame Nkrumah was a messiah. John the Baptist paving the way showing the rest of us what could be done, leading by an example shining so bright his name still defines a country for generations of Kenyan schoolchildren. Lumumba was a messiah. Cut down in his prime, we have heard the stories. Stories of a coup engineered by America a tragic hero, the only kind we can ever accept. If only he had lived things would be so different... that’s both the tragedy and the saving grace of leaving behind a good looking corpse. You are not marred by mistakes, camped in compromise, polarised if you stick to principle. You are still an idea waiting fulfilment. Some western philosopher am not sure which one, one of the Greeks, it’s been a while since I read Sophie’s world talked about things living in a perfect state in our minds, in the realm of ideas but that bringing them into our world messes them up. That’s probably why we remember JFK, Lumumba, and Tom Mboya. They are never the man but the potential they represented.

With that paragraph I almost lost my train of thought, or the logic of my argument. I wanted to write this to say that with the prevalence of so many cultures from all over, so many histories people from other parts of Africa seem more foreign to me than a European would, at least an English, French or German. But in making the point I was reminded that I knew about Lumumba, Sese-seko, that these names mean something to me. Then in the end to explain why being cut down in your prime leaves you there I turn to a western philosopher.

On being African: this comes up a lot.

I hate when I can’t find the link am looking for, the exact post that writing this post would be better if i could. I love to be properly annotated like the first post above, to have beautiful links all over the place upholding Wikipedia’s mantra that verifiability is better than truth. Anyway this guy wrote at some point about being African in America. Maybe he wrote about being Kenyan. But it was a complaint, well a question about why other people think they can lay a claim on him just because they are from the same continent. I wish I had the link; it’s an argument that makes more sense when followed in his words. Later on he seemed to have found the answer in the writings of Svetlana Boym it is...

"a pang of intimate recognition, a hope that sneaks in through the back door, punctuating the habitual estrangement of everyday life abroad."

On being African:

Yes I am. Of course I am. But it begins to get to me when I tell a girl I am from Kenya and she tells me about her friend, brother, lover who once went to Congo, to Cote d voir, to South Africa. "Yer I knew this girl from Poland once," I want to say. But that’s not nearly foreign enough for Norway; I want to throw someone from the other end of Europe in their faces at that time. "Ah, you’re from Norway?" I once met this great Italian girl, loved her pizza. I want them to look at me blankly and ask me why am bringing this up, why can’t I see that Norway and Italy have nothing to do with each other. I want to be able to leave it at that and see it dawn on her that am giving her the same look. It’s mean though, it feels like it would be angry so I soften it with a smile.

I don’t understand what being African means or if it does mean anything. What does our position on a piece of rock have to do with who we are and how we relate. Historical interaction, cultural similarities, religious influences, genetic swaps. These are important. That we are from the same rock doesn’t make me more like you does it? That our skin is similar doesn’t mean our souls are, that out hair is thick doesn’t mean our bond will be too.

But for some reason... people will lay a claim on you because you are both from Africa. The guys do I have  completely failed to understand African girls in Kristiansand. They nod at you on the streets(the guys). We don’t know each other but there’s a feeling that I should nod back. I would nod back to anyone but only they nod first. Even in the darkest winter they nodded. They stop and talk to me on the street and it feels natural to stop and talk to them. I told this girl about it, “do you have friends here?” she had asked itss a very common question in Norway. They are so unflinchingly honest with themselves about their country’s culture of blocking out anything new and unfamiliar . So honest I can’t believe they aren’t just lying to appease. To hear it from them Norwegians are cold and hard to make friends with:

“You just met them on the street? Did they just walk up to you and say you’re black, we can be friends?” She was really trying to grasp how two strangers get to know each other without the moderating influence of a binding common activity to carry out the introductions

That you can make friends on streets and street corners is a way of life for many, many people. But here I really do think they laid a claim on me just because I was black. I didn’t think it was anything to do with skin colour more a culture thing. I have tried talking to Norwegians on the street just saying hi, and that kind of reaction can kill the most outgoing soul in  a matter of months. However if I say hallo to this(black) guy, he’ll nod back, he’ll stop and talk, he’ll be interested in hanging out some time, he’ll…

Everyone does this though. Most foreigners hang out in foreign sets in every country. But this is supposed to be about being African, since am thinking as I write, it keeps rambling back and forth between all the things that seem to inform this internal debate am having. The feeling of otherness and foreingness isn't just an African thing its owned by anyone far away from home looking in every crowd searching for a "pang of intimate recognition."

But my point was I have almost nothing in common with the guys from the west of Africa, the guys from the south are equally faceless. The names of their great leaders and the personalities of their great struggles are what I hold in my mind as a place map for entire countries. I know South Africa as Mandela and De clerk. As Mbeki and Zuma as the ANC and diamonds, as Shaka Zulu and the Boers as the world cup and rugby. At the same time I know France as their revolution and that she probably did not say “give them cake.” As de Gaulle and the resistance he led. As Zidane's famous headbutt, as wine and the Eifll tower, as Sarkozy and Holland. As an IMF director who… well he has sex problems. As painters and writers and holidays taken  in the south of France and… and …. And…

 The difference is that one is closer to home right? But in reality Europe is much closer to home than West Africa is. In terms of economic distance I mean. It costs more to go there than it would to come here. Add t to that the information I have about nearly all of these places is second-hand. Someone saw, someone heard, someone knew.

 This issue of identity. Am not sure that other continents aren’t struggling with it. Maybe it’s my lack of width when it comes to internet reading, American and British magazines and Kenyan bloggers seem to fill up my time. Maybe if I read more English blogs from Taiwan and Vietnam I would see the same seeking, the same searching for an identity. The same repulsion of a shared one, the same need to be different fighting the yearning to belong.


1,000 cultures seems to preclude any notion anyone would have of declaring an African identity of owning something that could be said to be the same for everyone. I read a lot about the quest though. The struggle for definition as an African. To have our own dress, and literature, to have a culture that defines us. If we go this way though I wonder if I’ll be able to tell the girl that I know someone from Spain too when she brings up Angola.

The article that got me writing this comes from a site called Africa is a country. The title is well, pretty sarcastic and it holds in it a lot. It says Africa is not a country peopled by one people. It holds more diversity in it than any South American jungle could boast. We know this but the search for identity continues. You have to belong somewhere and the world is too connected to belong to just one country. Incidentally that brings up something else. Kenya is a country. Yes it is. But what does it mean to be a Kenyan? We have no identity as a country. It doesn’t mean being able to speak Swahili because take a walk to Tanzania, Congo, Rwanda, or the richer parts of Nairobi, the prouder parts of Nyanza where the national language isn’t spoken due to ignorance, a misplaced contempt that makes me angry to think about because it’s not a mark of pride to be unable to speak another language, and various other reasons. It’s not religion, it’s not history. What really defines a Kenyan is that they lived inside borderlines drawn up by the English a hundred years ago.

An imaginary line separates us from our neighbours and the human mind used all its will power to turn this line into reality. Because there is such a thing as a Kenyan. We still have a long struggle for identity ahead of us. While simultaneously asking  ourselves what it means to be African. Not everyone with black skin is African, so we fold that into a subset of what it means to be black. Not everyone downtrodden and screwed over historically and economically is black so we have to ask ourselves what it means to be powerless. Not everyone who is human and struggling with the harsh realities of life without happiness and meaning and the important questions of substance and purpose is powerless. So what does it mean to be human?

On being African: I like it but I do say am Kenyan. I insist on that separation if the subject comes up. Searches for identity begin and go on for hundreds of years. Europe has almost uniform cultural and historical bonds within the same country and that makes it easier for them to define themselves. We don’t. It makes it harder that we live in a much more interconnected world than the Chinese did when they were in the infant stages of their struggle. There is no great wall to be built to stop outside interference and allow us all the space and time that’s needed to find an identity. There is no quiet contemplation, philosophical mumblings and ramblings don’t get very far. Right now the world is opening up for everyone and most of the people who really think about what it means to be African do it because they are far from home, or they are at home but with people who aren’t from home. An innocent query from a foreigner, a compliment even can send you down a hole of self-questioning. I am me. But that’s only true because I come from this rock and not that one so what does it mean to come from this rock? Is there a divine purpose to it? Or am I just seeking out meaning in places without. In dead rocks?

You know the worst thing about these kind of questions(love when I can quote the bible)”vanity, oh vanity all is vanity.” What if that’s all this is. Is it important? Is it really? There was a time when your state mattered. That’s where you derived protection and that’s all you knew but everything is breaking up now. The internet, television, books, travel make it all less important. Myself in relation the state, to my state was important a while back, much more important. It’s important now but I feel it much less. Also there is all the noise in the background, no great wall, no great time, no great influence from great thinkers and… well it’s too complicated. I still think it is important though to craft an image, an identity. A national one is definitely more important than a continental one. and for fear of never stopping here is where i drop the pen…

If anyone stuck to the end am sorry for the rambling nature of this post. And this makes the “am not sure I could turn this into a full post" part absolutely ridiculous too. Writing usually makes me think things through and helps me arrive at conclusions and I really tried with this but alas I am words and worlds away.. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

watching the throne


Disclaimer:(saw this on a really funny post and had to add one) due to the nature of the subject matter there will be heavy usage of words that some(including me at some points in my life) find offensive and unpalatable 

Disclaimer 2: this post includes video content taken from a ten megapixel camera in the hands of a man whose arms were flailing so wildly it looks like an earthquake. However they give an accurate feeling of the events described herein.

That being said;

On the 28th of May Jay-Z and Kanye West brought their watch the throne tour to Oslo. The tickets had been booked  four months in advance and I had been waiting for this day for a long time. It was also the last night I would be in Oslo.

The concert was being held in a former airport, the Telenor arena, the only place in Oslo capable of holding the 20,000 revellers who would show up. It was slated to start at 9 and by 830 the crowds had already done their pre-concert bladder clearings,  bought their pre-concert drinks,   rolled their pre-concert joints.

This was my first real concert and I was about to learn a lot of things in quick succession:
1. Never dress well for a concert. You don’t need a shirt, or a sweater wear your oldest t-shirt soon you will be dripping with sweat dropping it all  over.
2. Never try to pick up girls before the concert, as soon as it starts everyone forgets everyone else till it’s all over. 
3.Your spectacles will get knocked off your face resulting in a mad search through a clearing that you have made in the middle of that frenzied crowd to find them.

At exactly 9 pm they came on stage and began with no preamble, no warning just two pulpits. One in the middle of the crowd one at the far end rising simultaneously as they began with HAM. The inside of the arena was dark but for the light  that came from these pillars that were being raised as if to heaven. Two prophets on them speaking the universal language of music.. The crowds were thick with life, energy and excitement.

Am not a good judge of this but I think the strength of a performance can be calculated by how long it takes for the cameras to stop snapping. As soon as they came on stage I took out my camera and began taking picture after poor quality picture. The focus was blurry, the zoom wasn’t working, the flash was ash and the quality unbearable. And soon I gave up on this. It seemed everyone after a few minutes forgot to hold their cameras in their hands as they danced to the music-

Here’s the thing about real performances, the guys on stage sweat. They sweat and sweat their asses off. I could see Kanye come on stage time after time and after a few minutes his face would be overrun with water. He was screaming the loudest, jumping the highest, enjoying more than he had a right to for something he got paid to do. Jay z didn’t really seem to break a sweat, he gave an engrossing performance, connected with the crowd and during Kanye’s solo performances I would actually miss him and wonder where he was. The best thing about the concert was their interactions with each other. This video has a perfect example of this play off.


Kanye talking about how he would watch jay’s big pimpin when he was younger and then promise  himself he would do the same when he made it but  you know what happened when he tried it for himself;

She take my money when am in need.... yer she a gold digger

Loudest part of this song “when he get on he leave your ass for a white girl”(not too many black girls at the Oslo show)

The difference in quality between the verses in the video tells its own story too. You see I use this shitty camera and whenever a song wasn’t been sung along to by more than 50% of the people there I could actually hear the sound playback when i watched the videos. but when most of the people knew the song there was always  this random beat banging in the back, blaring loud and long making sure the audio is as bad as the shaking visuals accompanying it. In that particular video you can hear almost jay’s entire rap and almost none of Kanye’s. And this also explains why I had so much time to miss jay z. in Europe Kanye is the more popular of the two. The music he makes can just appeal to a wider audience than the kind jay makes. You don’t have to like rap to like Kanye and you don’t have to study it to be able to sing along to his songs. Neither of these statements can be said about jay z.

 And they recognised this. They sat down somewhere and they changed the performance schedule to reflect this, to give yay more time on stage than the elder, more experienced half  of the duo. The student delivering more of the lesson that his master does and I couldn’t imagine what it took to do that. I think to make it in the music business a healthy ego is necessary. All your life you will be told that you ain’t shit and the only way you can believe you are is to believe it completely and from the bottom of your heart. But now here he was giving way to someone else.  Well, the tide goes on and that that flows soon must ebb.

During the performance of jigga what, jigga who? Jay(after watching them for a while  you feel on first name basis for some reason) split the crowd in two. “you guys say jigga what, you guys say jigga who.” And I felt like I had to win this contest. I had to gain his approval by being the person who said this loudest. Our side had to! I can’t describe whey there was so much adrenaline and why I felt so good when he finally said “I like this side better.”

Then Kanye made us lonely with his performance for the assholes(here's a toast to the douchebags). He took his autotuned tracks and turned them into the most soulful love songs I had heard in a long long time. “if you got someone you love you better hold them real tight. Everyone has times they feel like they need someone by their side and guys can admit this much easier than girls. That night in that concert, at that moment, in the thrall of the performance of that song I really did. And to be honest it looked like everyone else did too. Then he sang heartless and we belted out our resentment.

After making us jump up and down for some sets they did us and them a favour and let us chill as they performed the song they had done for their unborn sons. You can’t run all the time at that level of adrenaline otherwise your heart gives way and they had been touring long enough that they knew when to stop and breathe for a while. Give the crowd time to get back to them with a quiet listening.

With that many people you get amazingly thankful for the fact that there are those huge screens that you can focus on because you can’t see  the performers all the time and during that time, in the middle of the concert all you want to do is keep your eye fixed on the people singing. Everyone feels connected, you jump around ,you scream. Someone begins to smoke a cigarette and the waft of weed comes your way. It washes over you and you realise the immunity that this place gives you. The anonymity of being in the middle of so many people produces an amazing sense of power. That’s probably the most public smoking of marijuana I have ever witnessed and at the same time the safest. Nothing could have touched this guy, literally nothing. He could blow those trees all day, blow three more and he would never have any problem. The police could not break through that crowd, the security wouldn’t and would they want to? With all the fellow feeling flying through the atmosphere at that moment something mean could have erupted on a party pooper.

Sometimes am bothered by the question of what to do if you have talent. If you have a voice that people listen to and  have influence over them. I feel like it’s your duty to use that to make a change in the world and try and  make it a better place. To try to make it more in your image. That’s what human beings do and rappers are accused of having no social conscience at all. In the middle of the concert they both quieted down and watched the screen as the quiet and joyful strains of what a wonderful life played. On the screen there were scenes of things that were not a wonderful life. Scenes of Katrina, scenes of racism, scenes of civil unrest and most unsettling this video of a KKK gathering. The camera man focuses on this little girl in her KKK hat and she’s young, she’s innocent and the camera just comes closer and closer to focus on her and her little face that has no idea what to do but accept the hate that has been put on her by her family, her culture, her country , her time.


They followed this up with a performance of no church in the wild. A song with one of the most haunting, deepest choruses I have ever listened to, a question of power is played and replayed, taken to absurd limits, making the point that those at the top don’t care about those at the bottom and that those at the bottom may be better off realising this and paying them in kind.

“human being to a mob?what’s a mob to a king?
What’s a king to a god? What’s a god to a non-believer
That don’t believe in anything”

 The only song that I ever heard quote one of Socrates’ dialogues quoted while maintaining its integrity. 

"is pious pious cos God loves pious?/ Socrates asked whose bias do y'all seek"

Oh then the question of whether the white people at the concert would say the word nigga? Yer of course... Kanye performs his song all of the lights. He gets to the line “MJ gone/ that nigga dead



“ok, ok, stop the music when I say MJ dead I want every mutherfucker in here all 20,000 of you to say that nigga dead. its our once chance to get away with it go again.”

So all the ones waiting for explicit permission before they could say the word it got it handed to them.

A little over 2 hours after they began they performed the centrepiece of the show. The song that the throne seems known for more than any other: Niggas in Paris. And they were right to save it to the end. The song began and everyone began to shout out as loud as they could. The sound was deafening.


 Nothing could be heard as they belted out line after line of the song and all I listened for was whether they would say niggas in Paris or niggas in Oslo. They said Paris and I was disappointed. The only fault I could find with the performance was this, how could they be so rigid and not change that one lyric. Imagine what it would mean to us. And also I needed an encore. It looked over, really over.

They had got us to throw our diamonds in the sky and begin to rhythmically move our hands back and forth and forth and back. I don’t really believe the illuminati stories but I could see how one could. That was as spiritual a place as I have been in a long time. It was like we had all taken a communal drug.



 After the last song a soothing
diamonds in the sky till we die
was sang. And nearly everyone made the diamond sign and began to move their hands slowly, ever so slowly. The lights were turned down until all we could see was the vague outline of a pyramid on the screen. Then it was dark and noone was moving. We didn’t want to leave. We began to chant for an encore. I wasn’t sure it would work and they let us think it might not which might be the best part of an encore. You have to come on just when the spirits are breaking, just when everyone is about to leave. And out of the darkness jay z’s voice rang out.

“jay aint ready to go home! and yay ain’t ready to go home! and they ain’t ready to go home! so there’s only one thing we can do.”

we gon schedule one song and one song only.
And just like that new life was breathed into the crowd as they performed niggas in Oslo this time. I listened and they changed the lyric.
“if you’d been through what I’d been through you’d be in Oslo getting fucked up too”
“I got my niggas in Oslo and they going gorillas.”
And the song ended and jay z said “again!”
Niggas in Paris.
One more time-Oslo
At the end of this one they looked done. We were too. They had wrung it all out of us, all the energy and we just stood there swaying from side to side. Ready to go. At the word gorillas the cameras pulled up on their faces and they looked angry. They looked finished. It was that look of I gave you all I could. I gave you myself and then more, and more you still want. And now we were ready to go home, except…

“one song and one song only.”

And when it ended we became spiritual again.

“diamonds in the sky till we die.” Just providing fodder for all those people who say they are occult. The lights dying, the voices rising, the hands swaying, the devotion of the fans. A spell had been cast and it was magic.

*When performing the show in Paris they sang that last song 11 times. For some reason while in concert you don't get tired of hearing it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

the sun, she no go


The sun refuses to leave now. It’s always up and then its twilight for a few hours,  dawn breaks open the day with its insistence that we must get up and enjoy the never-ending rays. Games of basketball and beach volleyball end at 10 pm and then we make the walk home, wolf down whatever we can, dress, shower and head out again. Working is hard because am always tired, always exhausted, always looking out with yearning at the beautiful rays of yellow dotting the landscape now. Getting home at 3 in the morning is usual now. In most countries that’s early but in Kristiansand all the clubs close at 2 so this is the Norwegian version of partying all night.
not showing off the phone just the time on its screen and the sky behind it

On Friday we went to an after party at the beach. When the sun went down just 3 hours ago it feels too early to be heading home, too much energy and too much hope for what might still happen courses through our bones so when someone suggested a beach party we were all ears. We had some beers and while it’s technically illegal to drink in public technicalities disappear with the last snowmelt.

It’s illegal to fight in public too but vitamin D does something to people. There is so much passion flying around the air now. Friday one girl knocked over a glass of beer by mistake and it spilled on this other girl. The first girl was sitting on a staircase talking to her friends and to me it really did look like an honest mistake but the other group did not see it so. A shouting match ensued and the wet girl grabbed her own glass of beer wanting to throw it but not really sure if she should. She threatened and then she finally just did it sending beer flying over the first girl and her friends. I stood by to watch what would happen. A helpful by-stander gave girl number 2 another glass of beer and I saw 66 kroner (about 11 dollars) going to waste on a stain. By now girl 1 had given up she sat down and looked miserable maybe she had been having a bad day all night because she began to sob and shake all the fight washed out of her, all the flight tossed away.

Next day there was a real fight. Am not sure what the genesis was, I was just in time to see the exodus though and that’s what I’ll chronicle. There was shouting, there was testosterone and there  was holding. It was one of those where his friends kept trying to hold him back, the bouncers kept trying to keep the peace and the man who felt wrong kept showing them all how weak they really were. He broke their grip over and over and rushed at his opponent, I was standing around like nothing was happening as all around me a maelstrom of violence whirled. Three guys held him back then he would get angry, break their grip and rush at his opponent. The fence in the club opened up and the bouncers still didn’t throw him out, or couldn’t. They were impossibly ineffectual, patting instead of tapping.

Later as we walked to the beach party there was yet another disturbance. The police were involved in this street wide melee. One man went to a glass display and began beating it in anger, shouting and hitting, it sounded like it would break from the pressure he was exerting and this wasn’t the most pressing concern. Instead they handcuffed this girl who had apparently kicked a police officer when he was on the floor. He was on the floor wrestling one of the combatants to submission holding him in a complete headlock. The arrested girl was caught by one of his colleagues and one of her friends came to pull her away with a quick jerk that didn’t work since she wasn’t made of butter.

 One of the policemen was in red trousers.

In the backdrop of all this a few beers at the beach made perfect sense. It was 3 by the time we got there. We sat down and began the party. The sun was almost coming up and when someone suggested we wait it out we quickly agreed. There was a guitar and melodically gifted people among us. They strummed out line after line of what sounded perfect. Then he began to play a chord that I won’t pretend was familiar and this one girl began to sing,
“Jambo, jambo bwana? Habari gani?
Mzuri sana, wageni wakaribishwe
Tamasha yetu, hakuna matata.”

that folks is Swahili. She had no idea what she was singing or that it was in my home language. She had no idea why I was shouting hysterically to my roommate that he had to come hear the song or why I insisted so much on an encore.

The song is usually used to welcome tourists to Kenya and I never felt more welcome in Norway than when I heard this song on a beach thousands of miles away from home.

One Norwegian told us that the police were planning to strike for more money. All of us foreigners stared with incredulity. We had met this American and he shared our sentiments about what kind of economic paradise Norway is. The salaries are huge. So large that unemployment benefits put any country’s salaries to shame. 20,000 kroner is normal for almost anything, that’s a little over 3,000 dollars. Sure things are expensive but not too bad if you’re making all that and the American asked,

“so, what do they put on their placards? We’re making too much money and we don’t like it.”

Another Norwegian on hearing I was from Kenya told me (and this deserves a quotation.)
“I know one guy from Kenya in Arendal, he’s a nice guy and I like him even though am an undercover racist.”
“you’re not very good at being undercover.”

Am not sure if he was joking or not because we ended up on the same volleyball team and he was one of those people who bring life to any team. Encouraging the fuck ups, talking shit to the other team and generally jumping all over the place. The stakes were high. The losing team had to take a swim in the sea. And that water is cold. When it came to the racist’s turn to serve he began talking as usual and then served one of the worst volleys I have ever seen. He repeated this performance several times. Well our team lost and we did not go in that water apart from two crazy Norwegians. Who "did it for youth."

By now the warmth of the sun had begun warming us too. There was a swan who looked in pain and stole our attention away. He was on a bridge and couldn’t move. His feathers looked grey with age and he was all alone on the wood. He looked about to die and we were told he was. It reminded me of all those stories about animals being cast out to die by their own, finding solace in solitude. Well, there’s no solace and though everyone dies alone at least humans pretend not to. It was strange for me. I felt so full of life at that moment and then I was sitting watching something that was not full of life that was pattering to its death bed and leaving the world. Another living being that was not living any more just being. 

Then it turned out we were being lied to this was not a death dance, this was the end of youth and the beginning of a new life for the swan. He was becoming a man and what we took for the tottering of death was actually just the awkwardness of teenage. He shook off his lethargy and found the sea; he settled in it and swam away into the sun. Sometimes life looks like death I guess.