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Monday, July 15, 2013

change of address

So, i decided to move(my blog) to waywardfoe.wordpress.com

All new posts will go there now. Reasons?

  1. its much easier to comment, no need for a google profile.
  2. they look better at least to me.
  3. the alliteration in the name.

and jere you were right it was so easy to move everything.

Monday, July 1, 2013

black friday

So, Black Friday is this thing that happens in the States. It’s the beginning of the Christmas shopping season and takes place the day after thanksgiving. It’s called Black Friday for a variety of reasons but the one I’m going to use is one of the few examples when black something meant something good. Apparently retail stores run on losses throughout the year until Black Friday happens and then from there until Christmas they make enough profit to cover up for the rest of the year’s performances. Their accounts are in the red until black Friday and then they are in the black.

On this day customers rush the stores, they wait in lines and spend their hard earned money for a gift for their children last year(according to wikipedia) 247 million shoppers spent about 400 dollars each resulting in turnover of 59.1 billion. I looked at the statistics again; googled the population of America, it is 313.9 million. This adds up to 78.6% of the population. Mind you not the adult population but the whole population including children and seniors and people who are sick and away at war and too poor to spend 400 dollars on one day.

Before I go on I would like to say that these statistics make no sense to me. Basically it says that every adult of able body went out on that day and spent 400 dollars. It says every teenager of able body also spent 400 dollars. All on one day. Since its average maybe all the rich people who threw a few million at the problem skewed the result but still it’s an amazing statistic.

Anthropologists say you can tell a lot about a society by how it reacts to stress, what it shops for, what it considers its unifying rituals and how well attended they are. Here we have all of those factors. There are people lining up from midnight the night before to the next morning and all through the day just to get a chance to buy a present for someone. This is a highly stressful situation, what they buy when they get to the top of the line is what they consider important it’s what they want to define them for the next few days, how they want their friends to think of them and how they think of those friends. It’s definitely a unifying ritual. What in your country gets 78.6% of the people out of their houses. It’s not the dawn of a new day, it’s not work, it’s not school. Kenyans were very celebratory about the 84% voter turnout we had. Looked at against the backdrop of the dismal voter registration the year before where the IEBC struggled to get over 50% of the eligible population to vote, looked at against the fact that at least 40% of our population is below 18 its suddenly comes to about 35% of the population. We are more than doubled by the black Friday turnout.

This in other words is the American tradition. Maybe a higher percentage perform thanksgiving ceremonies or watch the super bowl but this is different from those because it’s a public ceremony. It’s the most religious of religious ceremonies, the people of Israel waiting to see if the high priest will make it out of the ark alive, the people of the world waiting to see if there’s black or blue smoke coming out of the pope’s chimney. It’s a disruption of normal life that happens in public.

There’s long lines and an underlying potential and threat of violence fills the air. It hangs heavy and sooty and too much of it will put anyone on edge. It becomes extremely important, your position on the line because without it you are no closer to what you worked for than when you began. When someone cuts the line it’s a problem. There will be none of the polite murmuring and cutting comments. You will be politely thrown out and maybe cut up. This is no joking matter, violence happens on black Friday and you can’t really blame them. They are antsy, they are on edge and ready for a fight.

They all seem to wait in line to buy the same thing though. The Christmas present of right then, the hot new toy of the year that every child needs. I imagine that it cuts across class boundaries and demarcations, especially when shopping for kids. But all the children whose parents earn between x and y expect present z. any parent who doesn’t deliver had best deliver his best “Santa doesn’t exist” speech. In other words break the heart of the wee one. What I don’t get is why don’t the stores stock as much of this gift as possible. America is a highly surveilled and polled country. Google knows what the gift will be before the NSA does (well maybe not the NSA who we should all just include when ccing emails and skip a few steps.) Ok the NSA could tell them what product will be sold out and they could restock. There could be enough for every little child in America who wants it. And people could go shop for these things on Saturday or Sunday or after work on Monday instead of all doing it together. But maybe they want to do it together. Without togetherness it isn’t a unifying ritual, it’s just a ritual. It doesn’t pull together the African and the Middle Eastern and the Caucasian and the Asian and the European and the Black American and the Latino if they don’t all do it at the same time. They need one thing they all do that says to them that they are not so different. Maybe this is why the mad rush is preserved at all costs.

Ok, but why does everyone want the same thing? It’s something manufactured by advertisers its Don Draper coming up with an ad that says you are ok and what you are doing is ok. It’s not real because it couldn’t be for so many people. But then I also have this theory that if enough people believe in something then suddenly it becomes real. It’s a theory that helps me believe that the saints committed miracles and that there are places that witchcraft works and there are people I know who swear they saw ghosts. So maybe those 247 million people make it real by all wanting and believing in the power of this thing to heal so many rifts. To tell children who never see their parents that the love is always there, to tell families who never feel it that home is where they are, to tell wives who never believe it that their husband loves them and only them, to tell husbands who never know it that their wives still think of them as they did when they first walked down the aisle. These presents they spend 59.1 billion on have a lot riding on them. They must do what words can’t and what actions can only approximate if done over a long period of time. They must make up for things lost and be a promise of things to come. This is their purpose.

And it comes from a good place, a place of love and remorse and reconciliation and thankfulness. It represents optimism in the future and in the healing abilities of time that is rarely expressed elsewhere. It’s all those millions of Catholics going into a confession box and coming out lighter. Believing they had done their penance. It’s ugly but it’s ultimately rewarding. Khalil Ghabrain once wrote that there are those who give with joy and that joy is their reward and there are those who give with pain and that pain is their baptism. Black Friday looked at this way, with all the struggle entailed is both a reward and a baptism. I didn’t think I would be endorsing it when I came to the end but sometimes you write just so you can change your own mind. Black Friday as it turns out says good things about American culture.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

street mutura

Before the post begins i would like to say that all the beautiful photos are courtesy of japho1.wordpress.com  and his beautiful photography especially this post about mutura.

Hands up if you know what mutura is. Ok that’s good we can all put our hands down now. For those who did not lift their hands a short explanation is in order. I’m thinking of doing this like one of those meals where you eat it first and then you are told what’s in it. Mutura is an African sausage. It gets that translation for two reasons; the first is how it looks. It’s long and cylindrical like a sausage but much much bigger than any sausage out of Europe I ever saw. It’s roasted mostly on hot sunny days and  packed with more flavour than anything I can imagine. Usually it is accompanied with kachumbari, a mixture of tomatoes and onions and chillies sprinkled with another taste like lemon juice. When you bite into it the meat particles start disintegrating immediately because while they are packed into this sausage like sac they are also still distinct, small globes of taste. Another reason I believe it tastes so good is because mutura is usually made with a lot of love. Heaps and spoonfuls and buckets of love. A lot of kikuyus eat mutura at their family functions and these are times of happiness and celebration, homecomings and graduations and stolen elections(this is a joke people), generally times of happiness. It is prepared by the young boys in the family and to my eyes it seems almost like a rite of passage a way to make the older people proud of you. Even when sold it its sold by the jolliest people you will ever meet(pun so intended.) they will engage you in conversation and ask about your day and make sure you get more than meat, you also get the feeling that this is not a purely mercenary exercise, there are also people who care about you. Let’s just say I love it and it is the only contribution of kikuyu culinary culture that ranks right up there in ingenuity and taste with the best meals in the world.

The other reason it is called the African sausage. This explanation is going to be meandering so bear with me as it goes off on tangents. You know how they say there are two things you should never let anyone see you make and those two things are sausages and laws? Well let’s start with laws. In Kenya there are all these new laws dealing with land introduced because when a new constitution is passed we need to make the laws more in line with it. Also because the old land law regime was shit, there were four different statutes governing land and all the title deeds governing these laws had special ways of dealing with them. It was important as fuck to know whether this was an RLA, a GLA, an RTA because borrowing using these different titles, selling property, bequeathing it was all different. So now we have only one land regime. However a holdover from that old regime is the land control board. This is a bunch of fat black guys who decide whether any transaction regarding land outside of an urban area will go through. A mortgage, a sale, anything. It was a useless board that drew hefty allowances as they found out if the new owner had any skill in animal husbandry and other nice sounding agricultural competencies. They were not supposed to be held over; in fact their existence was extinguished by one line in the new law. One line being powerful enough to do this because laws are the shit. As the bill was moving from parliament to the government printers someone was bribed and applied whitewash. The law that was passed was missing this and so they still exist.

As for sausages (as I come to the end of my meander) they throw just about everything in there. Mutura is much the same. The sac is the intestines of a cow, a goat, a sheep or a donkey if you believe the stories. Into this sac is stuffed all the meat that is not usually used by the cooks. Tiny, grinded particles and sometime blood. This mixture is tied with grass, rope, a piece of metal and slowly roasted over a fire until ready. Then it is devoured. Mutura is never eaten, it is devoured with relish and abandon as if we really are a country of refugees(#someonetellcnn.)

I’m coming home one day and as usual I have missed mutura. On this day I stop to have some. It’s about 5 in the pm so it’s not been roasting for too long. One thing I know about buying mutura is that it’s best to decide how much money you are going to spend and then buy it in increments of 10 shillings. As you eat it you and the guy selling become better and better friends and by the time you have spent 50 you will get another piece for free. So I order my first ten. I compliment him on his mutura because it is amazing. As I’m eating a guy and his 5 year old daughter stop by for some. She likes it so much he gets her one for 20. He packs it up and goes on. Soon another guy stops by and asks if the hard one is available. At this time what I was eating was not hard, it was still soft and fluidy, as ready to fall apart in your hands as in your mouth, kind of like my sausage when I was younger(yesterday, it’s still ready to do that if any of you ladies wants to try it out and get a free confidence boost.) Some people however like it cooked until it’s perfectly hard. The guy buying says hard is better and walks off saying he’ll be back. But he won’t, we both know this. I ask him if it’s true that hard is better.

“Apana, you know they say the customer is always right.”

Yeah, I agree with him and say that this version is much more superior. He agrees with me and I’m just realising that maybe I was the one being humoured. Before I leave he tells me that if I Google street mutura I will find his name, his photo, his place of work on the internet. As soon as I remember the next day I Google him and sure enough it is. It’s on this blog with these amazing pictures. My words don’t do justice to the insanity of taste that is mutura. Go check out the blog, here’sa link. Look at the sizzling mutura, look at the rainbow of kachumbari. Look at the happiness there and then go and have some.

A month later I stop by his place of business again. It’s been a month! And according to the blog he sells 30 kilograms of mutura a day. That’s a shit load(though with intestines it’s always a shit load.) anyway he sees me and asks me how I have been. That was one of the most flattering things that has happened to me in a long time. I spent 50 shillings there. With the amount of product he moves that is a mere drop in the ocean and a month later he remembered me. I promptly told him(seeing that the love was not one sided) that I had googled him. And he thanked me for doing that. I begin eating and there was none of the awkwardness of destroyed friendships, we rapped, we got along.

Soon I am asking him about blood and he says he doesn’t put blood in his meat. He shares his philosophy on blood with me. He tells me the way blood is the thing that carries life in animals. And come to think of it it is. He’s sold mutura for nearly two decades, in that time he has thought about meat. It’s his bread and butter, his livelihood and he has come to respect animals. To think about their life force. It’s wrong to eat a life force, to eat something that’s still alive but as long as there is no blood it’s just meat and you can’t really claim that it’s alive. He tells me that he can’t believe that  you can eat something that carries life and not be affected by it. Life changes things, there is blood in life and so blood changes people. He starts talking about the protest that happened a couple of months ago in parliament when in the middle of the protest someone brought in litres and litres of pigs blood.

Maybe it’s what I have read about it but that was not cool. Blood being spilled on the streets in the name of activism(woefully out of context this sentence and yet completely true) is not cool. He tells me that this seemed like a sacrifice of some kind. Stop being a sceptic for a little while and think about it. How far is our community removed from the power of blood. We are Christian, we believe that nothing saves except the blood of the Son of God. I feel sure our ancestors did animal sacrifice. These things happened and whenever blood was spilled a god was satisfied. H.G. Billinger while writing Friday night lights has this beautiful passage where he talks about the high school football players and how they resemble an army more than a sports team. An army that is off to be sacrificed to appease some strange and powerful god. All cultures in the world have a version of this strange and powerful god, he who will give dominion in the world to those who worship him and praise his name and glorify him with the blood of those they vanquished. Who is Yahweh if not the Hebrew warrior God who promised them a land of milk and honey and then proceeded to kill off all the Canaanites who would stand in their way. Saul lost favour with him not because he killed the women and children, nope he was asked to do this and he did, but because he wanted to sacrifice the cows instead of killing them. Human beings have believed in some blood thirsty gods and all of them demanded blood on the ground. So when blood is spilled on the streets is it hard to connect this with the old sacrifices that we made?

He tells me there will be consequences to this. A little while after this he has me doubled over in laughter as he tells me about this Japanese tourist who came to try some mutura. This man found the mutura using his smart phone. He orders some and enjoys it and then asks that the end of it be lifted. He does this because he’s sure that what he’s eating is a snake. He can’t believe how our main man caught so many snakes. He points to the trees that make up a decimated ngong forest as the place where all these snakes must have come from. Then asks for another lift as he looks for the head.

I leave there satisfied. I had a great meal, a deep conversation and genuine laughter. This is my idea of a good day and really if you ever near the nakumatt junction go and try him out. He’s amazing.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

birthday peace

I have a tradition, every year on my birthday at exactly 9:30 a.m. which is the time written on my birth certificate as my entry into this world I go out and I look at the sun. It’s been a year so the sun god is at exactly  the same place as the last time I gave him a nod. I let him know that I am still down here and that I appreciate the fact that he is still up there steering his steeds like the world depends on it. Well, at least I lie about it. Except for this year, this year I did it.

This year I managed to do a lot of things that I really wanted to do. I also managed to fail at a lot of other things that I thought would make me happy. I am nowhere near the place I was last year which was halfway around the world in so many ways and yet I feel strangely at ease. I know I shouldn’t and I know I shouldn’t because my faith in the world is shaken to the core with each passing day. My relationship with truth and memory and especially the reality of things that have already happened or are said to have happened is shifting all the time. Case in point today is my birthday but it wasn’t always this way. For the first 14 years of my life my birthday was on the 21st of June. That’s when I ate cake, that’s when I felt entitled and as is the wont of every middle child in the world when I felt neglected. Then I had to produce my birth certificate to register for KCPE and there in cold, hard print was the date printed, 22nd June.

That I guess is the first time I made the choice to trust an anonymous stranger because he had the power to write words on paper rather than my gut feeling and the words of those who nurtured and loved me. An anonymous stranger who I later found out also made a spelling mistake when writing my name down. Why did I think without questioning it that my parents were wrong and random hospital staff number 67382 was right about my birthday? I have no idea but then we have the ability all our lives to trust anything as long as its black on white page, I mean look at the bible.

If this wasn’t true though how much is. If my whole life started as a series of mistakes where what my parents wanted as my name isn’t what I got and what they remembered as my birthday isn’t what I celebrate can you imagine how much more of the things that I took for granted and believed aren’t real. By all accounts 25 was a very bad year. There is a litany of sorrows that followed me around. There was the time I cracked my tooth and the times that the girls I cared about left me in such unceremonious ways that the doom I knew was coming still shook me and left me unsteady. There was the bag that was stolen from me unceremoniously 2 nights ago and the horrible cough that’s shaking my body now. There was a time I woke up in a sewer convinced that someone had tried to kill me and there was a death and the periods of depression that went with these two that were some of the worst ways I have ever felt. But, hey I can go for walks now, long, long walks around Nairobi. Walks that I have come to love and represent a major part of what I do just to do. I can still read wonderful books and, hopefully, my writing is getting better. I can still get excited about women in a way that seems high school but feels wonderful and I daily realise the beauty that can be found in a simple conversation. So I’m happy. Bad things happened but I can’t say that it was a bad year.

I am getting older though and more and more my thoughts turn to death and what comes afterwards if anything at all. A lot of people avoid it but I can’t it’s just not in me anymore to deny the truth of this inevitability. In Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie wrote that we all owe death a life. We do. This week I dropped off before I got to the stage at night because Kileleshwa changes so much if you don’t walk around it you can never hope to know it. There is this road that’s crowned by trees on both sides. Some of the lights are on and the milk of the stars was dripping into it. There was just enough light to pierce the darkness and I remember thinking that this is what eternity must be like. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, just a tunnel. A long, long tunnel with enough illumination that you can pick your way through it and enough light that you can see there is still a long, long way down it. You begin walking and you walk and you walk and you walk and still nothing. You keep walking because all of us are cursed with the worst thing to get out of Pandora’s Box, hope. With this you tell yourself that in just a few more kilometres, another century, a million millennia you will come to the end of this and so you trudge on. Your shoes wear out and the stones begin to prick your feet. Every step is a hobble of incredible pain but you are at a point where you welcome the pain. You like it because it takes your mind off of the crushing loneliness that envelops you at this point, a loneliness born of regret and sadness and the loss of all you loved. That’s one version of hell, the other is the place we live in I can be happy in it but there is a part of me that know is I shouldn’t be.

On less philosophical things I have become more Kenyan this year than I have ever been in my life. This comes with all the good things and the bad things that this means. It means when I buy a packet of crisps it feels better to eat 5 of them and give 5 other people 4 each than to wolf down the whole packet. It means, at least for me that feelings of patriotism are being stirred within me, feelings of wholesale love for a country that might finally begin taking shape. It means that I have the ability to laugh at the absurdity of what’s going on in the world. It also means that I am losing more and more my faith in change. I always knew that MPs would get that pay rise. Well, not really but I saw it as different battle lines than most people did. It was not a war between the leaders and their people but between the executive and their legislature and the executive was neutered.

It also means that I can forget what happens. I can say with a fierceness that sometimes shocks me that my president is not going to the ICC, not my deputy president. The symbols and office of power have cloaked then with an immensity that is huge, too big to get over and it is now possible for me to forget that they are people. That the ones who died were people too and that maybe justice is deserved more than peace. But it means that I still walk around with the scars of what happened last time. Scars so deep that we all think it was our fault and to make sure we don’t go back down that road we will sacrifice anything. We will forget justice and we will forget truth as long as we have peace. I don’t know what the best of these is but we’ve never really had justice in this country. When we had truth without peace I felt like I was being torn apart. As a result when Raila lost and it destroyed me I didn’t give myself a mourning period. What I did instead was what I wished the whole country would do, put the whole thing behind me and face the future. The truth was I thought that a mourning period would be a bad thing and it’s upon all of us to act as we wish others would so I did. A few months later and now we can return to truth. We can say that the election had all of these irregularities and that maybe Uhuru shouldn’t have won. But with the clarity of distance from emotion I feel that he should be president.

And I lost faith in Obama, him with his drones and foreign policy and assassinations and spying. I think a lot of people my age were defined by their faith in this guy and then he went and sold us down the river. But that’s life. You live, you learn and you learn to live with disappointment. The story of everyone’s life is one of heartbreaks and we lurch from one to the next so convincingly, so sure that the last time was the last time because we never learn. Memory becomes something else and as long as we can ascribe it with meaning our lives won’t be purposeless. I love being born on the 22nd because it means I am a child of the summer solstice. That longest day of the year in some places. Its strange this date change because as long as I listened to love I was cloaked with anonymity but when I took the hard print of strangers into my life it suddenly became powerful.

This has been a weird rambling post I know. Nothing about the future and where that will take me. I have no idea. All I do know is I‘ll be doing something different next year and the year after that. That’s enough for me. I don’t need to pierce the fog I can live with it. I love uncertainty and roads that end up in places you never though they would. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

it's cold

It’s cold now. We can admit that much. Just how cold? It’s get out of meetings by pretending you’re sick cold, it’s forget being a gentleman and fight for women’s lib by never taking off your jacket for a girl cold, it’s rub your nipples because they need it cold. It’s cold. Very cold.

I know some things about myself one of which is that I don’t like the cold. I don’t like the way it hangs in the air and waits to snuggle in between your clothes and your skin, I don’t like how it makes things in the daytime grey and washed out and hides the sun behind its curtains, I do like how it makes things misty and mysterious at night when the fog encapsulates the light from a street lamp and it seems as if you are walking through another world where magic is possible, that I like. Not the rest though.

I don’t like that I never have enough clothes on, that a t-shirt and shirt and a half sweater still leaves me shivering. I don’t like getting out of bed in the morning when it’s cold, you know what’s waiting for you out there and you wonder whether you left the windows in your room open. It couldn’t possibly be this cold if the windows are closed could it? No, I must have fucked up and left them open. Wow they are open, let me close them. Now they are closed. It’s about to get warm up in this muther…and…then…it…does…not. That, that I hate.

I’m more tired now. I want to let the alarm ring and ring and never get up. I just want to feel warm in my bed and I suspect it’s the absence of the sun. Vitamin d does a lot of things and they say you can’t get anything good for free. For example it makes sure you can’t get rickets, rickets. That sounds like a bad disease. It sounds like crickets and you know that annoying sound that crickets make as they chirp and chirp and chirp? That sounds just like bones breaking. And that’s what rickets does it makes bones brittle and ready to snap.

I go to the shower and I stand in that stream of hot water. Except it’s not a stream. A stream sounds like something that should engulf you this barely does. I’m not a big guy but when I stand in the water both my arms are outside it just chilling in the steamy, misty, cold air. Goosebumps form. Little craters poking out of my skin like I am about to give birth to a thousand thousand aliens. They’re trying to crawl out and the only way I can kill them is by letting hot water flow on them so I do. As soon as I do some of my chest is out so I have to move back in or, and this I can do, I can hug myself so I take up the least possible surface area. This means I’m not bathing anymore but it means I’m warm which is the best thing to be at this time. Then I realise I’ve been in the shower for way too long and I need to go outside. But, its cold outside. Very, very cold. No part of me wants to go. And this little drop of water has been coiling in the rubber insulated wires of the shower. It’s been collecting more and more water. Biding its time and cooing down until it drops on me like batman and it sends a shiver down all the way to my shoes that I haven’t worn yet. I hate that.

Though when I’m outside I feel better. The air tastes so much better in my nose, or it would if my nose didn’t immediately block up. Still I walk faster and with more purpose, the purpose being finding somewhere warm where I don’t need to walk any more. No more dust on my shoes which is a great advantage. But then no more dust on my shoes which means I have to polish them now otherwise people will now I’m just too lazy to be bothered with such things.

There’s a threat of rain. Its heavy, its constant and I can’t be bothered to heed it. If it actually rained though I’m imagining those drops would be icy, cold and cutting. I’m imagining they would cut right through my clothes, right through my skin, right to my nerves and make homes there. Homes so big ice princesses would live there. Homes so cold that instead of letting down her hair for the prince the ice princess would just cry and cry and cry until there was a rope if ice he could climb up. This is how that rain would feel. It would carry the cold of all the known world past all my defences and I can’t be bothered with the threat of it.

This is because before today I wasn’t even bothered with the actuality of the cold. I would put on a shirt and fold up the sleeves like no big thing. I would walk around the city without a whiskey flask. Of this I am most ashamed. There are times when a well-timed gulp of potato juice does more for you than the warmest elk-based coat and here I am pretending like I don’t need it.

It’s cold now, it will not be cold forever I keep telling myself. Past behaviour is an indicator of future behaviour isn’t it. Global warming cannot hope to keep its second name if it makes things this much colder. The problem is though that if it heads for a divorce things could be worse, the bitterness of the first marriage leaking into the union with Mr Climate change may be the worst thing for us and then it could be this cold forever.

Well, no. cold just makes me mellow-dramatic.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

misery and guests at weddings

Massive spoilers for game of thrones

So the red wedding, yeah that happened. For about four minutes there was carnage, there was blood, there was betrayal and people felt things they shouldn’t have to for fictional characters. I remember reading this scene 2 years ago. It was at a time when I had gotten plunged into the world created by George RR Martin. Westeros really was my first foreign destination after finishing university. I can still remember sitting in front of a computer screen and scrolling down and down and down and down for hours. I would sit there from 10 in the am to 3 in the am and then get to sleep and repeat over and over again. I had dreams about those books. It was quite simply the most addictive reading experience I have ever gone through in my life.

Somewhere in the middle of this the Red Wedding happened. In the books they made a big deal of guest right, much more than they did in the show. It’s basically a rule of honour that says once someone eats your food and drinks your wine or water you have extended the protection of your house over them and so I was sure nothing would happen to Robb. In the book you are inside Catelyn Stark’s mind as she sees her last surviving son being killed, she kills her hostage and goes crazy. She laughs as she claws herself with her nails and as blood as red as death finds its way down her cheeks one of the Frey banner men kills her like you would put down a wounded horse. In the book you later find out that they cut the head off of Robb’s direwolf and sew it on his neck. But in the show everything starts with stabs to the stomach of a pregnant woman. I thought I was ready for this thing to happen but that minor alteration took me back into that world and reminded me exactly what that betrayal was.

It’s been on my mind all week. I feel like that season ended because there is no topping that, I haven’t watched the last episode yet but even if the Man of Steel battled the Dark Knight for the Iron Throne it could not match up.

I remember reading that scene and not knowing anyone else who had, walking around like someone I knew had died and then having to keep the secret for 2 years now. I, like everyone who had read them, tried to convince our friends to read just until the third book. Just get that far we would telegraph into their minds. The day anyone did you would know. Are you in the third book? And if they had gotten there you would see this haunted look come into their faces. Lost. Destroyed. Then finally there would be someone you could talk to about this death.

Why do we care about fictional characters?

I wonder about this a lot. A lot. It makes no sense why we care about characters that we know not to be real. Why does the love of Romeo and Juliet move us when we know that neither of them died because neither of them lived? Why has every one of us being moved to tears by the death on screen, page or stage of someone who never was? How can we feel so strongly in our imaginings that these things matter? How can we make a connection with a place that came out of somebody’s mind? How can it feel so much more real to you than the place you actually are. There are different theories about parallel universes floating around in the theoretical and murky depths of science but we experience them all the time when art does its job well, when it takes us to a place that we have never seen. A place that didn’t exist until right then, to meet people who were never born before we read that first word and never died until we came to the point that they did. People who are living their lives in words.

Then those lives stop. This episode of the show got me thinking about how misery loves company. Every single person who had already read those books knew what was happening in episode 9 of season 3. They knew it before episode 9 of season 2 aired. There was a vast conspiracy of silence, a web so thick the fact that these books have sold millions and millions in an increasingly virtual and connected world where people don’t have to think before they say anything because of anonymity, a web so thick that despite that you would have to try in order to find spoilers. You would beg the friend of yours who knew to tell you and they would refuse.

It’s because people wanted this. All these reaction videos were taken by people who knew what was going to happen. People who months, years, some even over a decade ago had come across this passage in the squiggly lines on a dead tree or the blinking lights of a glass screen. People who bided their time because they wanted to see this happen. They wanted the reaction. They wanted to see the shock, the horror, the sadness, and the feelings of futility play on a much larger audience.

So we waited. To be honest I went around looking for reactions. Quizzing people about how they felt. Giving them that one thing I didn’t have all those years ago. A listening ear. To be honest I enjoyed it. I loved seeing those YouTube videos. I loved hearing how destroyed people were by what happened. I loved how the deaths affected them. I loved that finally I was not alone in this misery. I liked that other people were sad. In fact I loved it, their looks of devastation, their hopelessness in that other world, their visceral reactions. Literature apparently makes us moreempathetic. Apparently.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

my recent travels

I was walking down the bypass that connects Lavington and Kileleshwa at 5:30 p.m. and I looked to my left. I saw a little road that I had never seen before. The road looked interesting because of the way you had to turn into it to get in which was forty degrees and into it. Since I looked at the photos showcased in a Time magazine Article about the best alleys in the world I have been going down roads that I’ve never been. As long as I have the time I follow the rabbit down its hole and as long as its day there’s no reason not to. I figured(subconsciously I think I’m only just realising why I do this so much now) that the photographer found these places by wandering, they aren’t tourist stops but the magic in finding places like these is the proprietary way you feel about them.

I walked down this alley way and at first it looked like the lost suburbs of kileleshwa. There were trees in every middle distance and the houses had these huge compounds with half acres of manicured lawns and a pant-inducing sprint to the front door. It was instantly quieter. Somehow the sound didn’t flow down this way. The road looked like it was potholed but not completely. You see, on the edges of the road it was tarmacked but that was just on the edge. As soon as you looked towards the middle you saw stones stuck in the ground everywhere. Stones stuck so uniformly, so geometrically it looked like this was how it was mean to be. I asked a guy on the road if it ever hooked up with the main road and he said he didn’t. I hesitated for a moment because walking back instead of out is not as magical but I figured I could at least go to the end. As I got closer to the end there were these pine trees. Well I’m not sure if they are pine and I could easily find out but I’m not sure how to find out what they are if I’m wrong. They were these trees with white wood. White, smooth wood, not a branch wasted until feet and feet up where the leaves stuck on there could catch the sun. They were the kind of trees that look like sentries guarding the Garden of Eden from the rest of us.

The person I had asked for directions pushed a gate and walked into a compound. Except it didn’t look like a compound. The gate looked worn and rusted, the watchman’s house didn’t look like it was ever used and there was a footpath. I walked in because there are some places where you know it’s not exactly private property. It looked like there had been right of way rights given to pedestrians here for a long, long time and I have been learning that this kind of thing can be lawfully enforced.

I walk in and everything changes again. One of the reasons I knew this was a place I could walk in without trespassing was the huge amounts of foliage. There was green everywhere, trees and trees of it. The footpath was just big enough for foot traffic but it looked like  it had been built by the application of shoes and weight. Steps following steps pressing the grass into the ground, grinding them into the dust and turning this into a road. Proving that sometimes persistence works just as well as ingenuity.

I walked on for a bit and suddenly I felt a breath of fresh air. I had just walked in between this especially leafy area, bushes to my left and huge trees to my right. In that moment ,or in that place forever, they had just expelled a burst of fresh, cool, clean air. This was not what I had been breathing mere moments before instead I was in another province. When I looked over to the right there was a valley leading to what most surely was a river, higher up there was all that makes kileleshwa what it is now; the spectre of construction of an apartment building, the sound of snarling traffic angry that it has been held up, plumes of grey and brown dust mixing with exhaust to sully the air. Where I was though all that faded away. To my left there were the beginnings of a forest and a dirt road.

On my way to the dead end I was overcome by the nature of the place, looking around and not noticing the people. Amazed at the smell of fresh air taking away what I smell in the city every day. On the way back I looked around at the people and the houses. I remember thinking that if I was a businessman I would wonder why so much land was being wasted on green, that what I needed to do was buy it up and make some green myself.

Then I noticed the people and the houses that were there. I asked this group if there was a shortcut to the road and one of them told me that I looked like a visitor and I should have asked for directions earlier.  As I looked around I saw these modest one story maybe two room houses. The kind you would find in shags. In the first one I came to there were children playing in the compound and I looked at them for a minute because I hadn’t heard the happy sounds of children playing for a while. Then I realised what was different, I could see into compounds over here. They had hedges for walls and in the hedge there was a space that anyone could walk into at any time. Further on I noticed the farms; there were farms of maize and sugarcane. They looked healthy and all available land in the compounds seemed used for them. Some of the houses didn’t even have front doors; instead they had a muslin net covering the entrance. A white sheet billowing in welcome.

Finally I got back to the door into this place and I saw that there was no space for a car to pass through. Everyone who lived in this neighbourhood had made a social contract that basically said you can’t own a car unless you want to change it. I walked back up the road to hear a conversation between two people. One of them had spotted a paper bag beside the road and was beside himself to see that what was inside was the goat food that cucu had lost. Which cucu ? The one who sells over there.

When I finally got back to the main road it was like this whole episode hadn’t happened. As if just in Nairobi, close to all these industrialised places, I hadn’t visited what felt like shags to me more than anything else.

You don’t have to leave in order to travel.

Monday, May 27, 2013


Ii finished watching the sons of anarchy’s second season one Sunday night. It’s a show about a motorcycle gang and its members and the town they run. It’s also a manifesto on outlaw culture and why it comes to be the way it always is despite the best intentions of its founders, but this isn’t one of those posts where it talk about TV like it’s a lost art somewhere. There was something I realised as I watched the last few episodes. There were all these fathers in the show, bad in that they believed in all sorts of things that I find reprehensible white supremacy, terrorism, gun-running and killing as a way of making a political point. They were good fathers in that they got their children to love them and to want to follow their example. They had succeeded where most parents fail, they had moulded them in their own image.

This is something that parents try to do. They at least try to give them some of the beliefs they think are right about the world. Christian parents take their children to church and Muslim parents take them to the mosque, no idea what the atheists do. In subtle ways they show approval for this thing or the other making sure that there is a path you are being gently guided through. In sterner. more overt ways they make it clear when you displease them and even if it’s not in their own image every good parent has an image of who they want their child to be when they grow up. What they want them to believe in and why, who they would want them to fight for, what kind of grandchildren they want them to raise and yet every generation has a fit over the one coming next. They are so immoral and disobedient, they don’t listen to their elders and their actions will send them to hell in an early grave. If you listen carefully this is exactly what their parents thought of them and their parents and their parents up to the first ones who rebelled and became Christians and past a certain point everything becomes hazy and the fogs of memory become the mists of legend* so I’m not sure about then.

This is not just a local problem. The States had the hippies and the kids who rebelled and went and became wall street magnates and the ones who rebelled and formed all those tech companies and the ones who rebelled and tried to occupy wall street. Russia had communism and years of Putin and then there are all the revolutions around him . The thing is that all these monumental changes in generational thinking whether for good or bad don’t happen unless there are fissures in households. A mass movement is a collection of other small movements, it happens because a lot of people feel dissatisfied with what’s going on in the world and for many, many people the world is their home and their gods are their parents at least  until age 5.

The most important authority figure a person can rebel against is a parent. That one time they choose not to go to church or they don’t obey curfew or most importantly they think to ask why before blindly following the rules that have been set before them is the seed of every generational change. The thing about these changes is that people don’t think they are good things, not while they’re happening. And it’s difficult when you’re older to say that the immorality of the youth is the seeds of the next great social revolution. It’s even harder to see those little rebellions and pushbacks and seeming power plays that go on in a household of teenagers as anything other than hormonal outbursts, it’s difficult to imagine that just this push and pull, this tug of war is what enables us to start afresh each time.

Think what we would be otherwise. We would be mired in the ideas of yesteryear, in the ideas of our parents and their parents before them. In those beliefs and hates and prejudices that stretch so far back there is no satisfactory story about how they started. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "A man is a god in ruins. When men are innocent, life shall be longer, and shall pass into the immortal, as gently as we awake from dreams. Now, the world would be insane and rabid, if these disorganizations should last for hundreds of years. It is kept in check by death and infancy. Infancy is the perpetual Messiah, which comes into the arms of fallen men, and pleads with them to return to paradise."

Death is not just of the body but also of the idea that the body died for. An idea that keeps on reproducing itself can never die and this is the thing we should watch out for. It’s why communism died, because things rot whether they live or not and death is the only way they can protect themselves. Europe is one of those places that, in the past seemed to hold on to these ideas too long. There was a hundred year war there, a thirty year war and then world war 1. In a rather harsh but perhaps accurate of a british foreign minister that described him as the worst civil servant ever this guy wrote about 1914 to 1945as , “ a European Thirty Years’ War, complete with communism, fascism, genocide, the Holocaust, slavery and the partition and subjugation of eastern Europe for a further half century.”

This may have been because of the difficulty of rebelling against heroes. If the generation before you put down their lives and gave years of their youth to fight for you and your ma’ it becomes that much harder to question what they ask you to do. You’ll go to the shop, you’ll come back home sober and you’ll enrol to fight another war. Maybe it’s why so many first generation African dictators hold their seats of power, influence and history for so long. No one was disobeying their parents in the 60s, not right after we had just gotten independence.

I feel it’s healthy, very healthy to have this disconnect between views of different generations, I think it’s healthy to have children disobey and ask why and try to figure out for themselves. We aren’t perfect and the next batch won’t be either but they won’t be carrying the baggage passed down to us by their grandparents and the decisions they make will be clearer because of that though those decisions will make less sense to us. And the batch after that won’t have the baggage we inevitably pass on to our children and their little rebellions will plant the seeds for another rebellion the world will be due for come one hundred years.

Or maybe I’m just horribly wrong.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

lace-on learned

So I hate tying my laces. For some reason this stage in my early childhood development was skipped. I had no idea how to tie my laces for the longest time and to tell the truth I just didn’t care. What I would do all through school was to make a little knot at the end of both laces so that they wouldn’t come out through the holes. This would be done once and only once at the beginning of the term, I would make sure that the shoes fit nice and snug and then I would forget about laces forever.

I finally learned in 4th form or some other ridiculous age. I learned about the two bows and making them cross each other and then taking one under the other and back over and having these nice little rabbit ears hanging down. My rabbit however was always the first to be caught by the hunters. A few steps later the knot would come loose and I would have to bend over and do it again. And then again. And then again. And this is what my adult life became reduced to, tying laces over and over and over. I promised myself that when I grew up I would never buy shoes with laces again, I guess I’m not growed up yet.

I (like the archbishop of Canterbury) got a pair of leather shoes the other day, I thought that I’d just buy them laced then take them to the friendly neighbourhood cobbler and have them just as I wanted. On Saturday I went out with them. I met a guy I haven’t seen in a while, he was on a bicycle and we began talking about how long it had been.

“siku mingi sana, kwani ulienda wapi?” its been many days, where did you go?

“Nimekuwa tu, sijui mbona hatujaonana” i have just been around, i don’t know why we haven’t seen each other.

“Ni siku mingi sana, sijakuona tangu tuibiwe kura” its been very many days, i haven’t seen you since they stole from us the election.

At this I had to laugh. Straight up tribal profiling, and you know the weird thing about it, most times it works.

So I get to the cobbler and I take off my shoes and give them to him
“Shida ni nini?” what’s the problem?

“sitaki laces, unaweza nitolea alafu ushone na hapa ndio laces ziende” i don’t want laces, can you remove them for me and stitch over there so that there are no more laces.

“na, mbona hautaki laces?” and, why don’t you want laces?

“inanichukua mud asana kuzifunga.” They take me a long time to tie them

He took the shoes, shook his head and told me, “uvivu utawacha.” You will leave laziness

First he tightened the laces to show me how the shoe would be if he carried out my maniacal request. Then he asked me to put my foot in it (oh I did) and obviously my foot would not fit in there, I had to destroy the back part of the shoe just to get half in. When I was in he asked me to take the shoes out again, I had to hold on to the destroyed part and pull(it’s not actually destroyed just would be after a month of forcing my foot into it.) he explained , the way you would explain to an ignoramus, that laces are there for a reason. he showed me some rubber shoes, the lace less kind with the sponge in the middle, the bladder kind of thing and made me imagine the shoes without the rubber. well of course it won’t work, the rubber is there so there’s some elasticity and if you take that away the shoe will quickly get…MIND BLOWN. He informed me that if I wanted shoes without laces I should have bought shoes without laces and that I shouldn’t question the manufacturer.

“hakuwa mjinga akiiunda.” He wasn’t stupid when he made them.

Point received.

I went to watch Iron Man 3 with some friends. It was a really good movie, funny all through. We had gone to watch it at the Imax cinema in 20th and quite honestly it’s an experience. At the end of the movie we followed the crowd of people going out and instead of being deposited in the plaza we found ourselves walking down stone steps to the street. It was confusing, disorienting. We had no idea what had happened, was the lobby turned into a street while we were in there? Then we got down and there was some kind of music video shoot going on.

Well I had no idea it was a music video shoot, all I knew was that there were cameras and lights and people on bicycles pedalling up and down Mama Ngina street. One of my friends makes movies, he’s the one who let us know what was happening. How could he have known? We askd. Well there were no scripts out, there was a lot more cast than crew, another reason was given that I can’t remember right now. Then he told us it must be a really expensive shoot. The lights they were using are hired for almost 100,000 shillings a day. Just the lights. In a addition there were all these people there the cast, the crew and someone had to jump through all the hoops in the world to get permission to shoot here. Standing there I learned another dozen things I didn’t know before.

This is something that could repeat itself over and over. Every time I get in touch with a career that I know nothing about I learn 10 new things in 12 sentences and it’s a great feeling. It’s also a feeling that reminds me over and over that specialisation is the most efficient thing that ever happened to the human economy. Its great as a concept, you learn how to do one thing. You be the best you can be at milking cows, another will be the best at feeding them, yet another at slaughtering. In the end we have the fattest, tastiest cow possible. What happens to the cow after that depends on the economic system in play but all of them without fail need this kind of specialisation.

I remember reading an article about trust, the guy was talking about how much we trust strangers in the world we live in. I read on curious about what he meant, aren’t we less trusting nowadays? His reasoning was though that 100 years ago we knew all the people involved in taking care of the cow. We knew the feeder, his uncle was married to our cousin, we knew the milker(isn’t he the chief’s son), we knew the slaughterer(the guy who’s going to get drunk right after this correct.) Now look down at whatever it is you are eating, chances are you have no idea who did what to it before you bought it. For all you know maybe some psychopath want’s to poison all the beef eaters. But you trust. You trust in your milk and your meat, you trust in your m-pesa transactions and your bank account, you trust in hundreds of angry, irate drivers each day. People you don’t know and never will and all of them hold your life in their hands. Tell me we aren’t more trusting of strangers.

And all this trust in the world because of specialisation. He didn’t have to explain anything, that cobbler, a person turning down money has good reasons for why he’s doing it, pride in his craft. But I’m glad he did. he made me want to learn a new skill, to want to do something outside the box of specialisation I have put myself in. I’m not sure what yet but it pays not to be comfortable. So go out and learn about something you have no idea about, its fun. Maybe I'll finally learn this laces thing.

Monday, May 13, 2013

sick of it

I woke up sick on Friday, well not sick, I woke up ok. There was just enough battery on my laptop to watch an episode of a series so I did that and since there was still no electricity I went back to bed. Then I woke up sick.

It’s been a while since I was sick but not so long that I can’t immediately recognise the symptoms I will then proceed to ignore. There was a pain at the back of my throat. The left side actually. It got worse, much, much worse when I swallowed. And then I realised I needed to swallow a lot. I took my first swallow as soon as I woke up, I don’t know if this is something I normally do but it was something I did that day and it hurt. It hurt so bad that I had a need to swallow again. Then I did. then I was thirsty and I wanted to drink some water and I took it in my mouth and realised I needed to swallow not just once but numerous times I forced it down (the first gulp), I forced it down (the second gulp), I forced it down (the third gulp) and I decided that no thirst in the world was enough to warrant a fourth one.

My head was aching in a dull, faraway kind of way. It felt like I had been standing in the sun for way too long and all I needed was a shade except it had been hours and hours since I was in the sun. The shivers shook me and I felt cold, no actually I felt that I was cold what I did feel was hot. I put my hand to my forehead and it burned. Then I began thinking that this was probably a horrible diagnostic tool. If my blood was hot then I would be hot all over, there’s no way I would have a fever in my head but not in my hand.
There was still no electricity so I went back to sleep.
My brother came over with some of his friends and an offer of alcohol which I turned down. I sat with them though and for a while I didn’t feel so bad, it was a really fun conversation, I asked:

“Where’s your I-phone?”
“It got spoilt”
“Eh, what happened to it?”
“There’s a button I press all the time and it got stuck”
It took a couple of minutes and an intervention to realise just how much of a fool I had been taken for. I ate and went to sleep thinking I would feel better in the morning, thing is I did not.
In the morning the fever was full blown. My teeth chattering and sweat pooling everywhere as I tossed and turned. I got up at around midday and had a meal of bread and tea. Then I went back to bed and had another bout of sleep. By this time I was compelling my body to sleep because I felt horrible, the sleep didn’t feel much better but it felt better and that’s always something. I kept having what I refer to as text dreams though there is probably a more technical name for them out there. These are those kind of dreams where the hardware or software that goes into dream making isn’t advanced enough to make images so the images come to my mind as thoughts, when I slip a little bit into the dream I can see one image but its dark and far away and as soon as I concentrate on it I can’t see it anymore. I’m not completely immersed in the dream world because I’m not fully asleep but the things I’m thinking don’t have the texture of real thoughts. They are usually fantastical or illogical and they just run and run with no pause. It’s like narrating a dream to yourself. For example I dreamed or thought that I was a nuclear scientist. I can’t remember what I wanted to figure out but I knew that I didn’t have enough expertise for it however I also felt that it didn’t matter since…. I’m not sure things went a little dark there.

I woke up and I wasn’t hungry but I forced myself to eat. I know that sickness has this habit of making itself become bigger. You have no appetite and you feel too weak to eat anything so you don’t eat and since your body can’t digest anything you get weaker and weaker and then you feel like eating even less and the cycle continues. I got up at 6 and had a meal of bread and tea because that’s all there was. In between sleep I had been able to read, while eating I had been able to watch TV and these were all the things I could do.

All my cravings were gone. I hadn’t had a hard-on all day, not wanted a smoke, not felt like a drink, not been hungry. All the things that made me feel alive by active participation were gone. My life had become one long stretch of passivity. I wanted to sleep and so I lay in bed and slept. I could read so I lay in bed and read. I could watch TV so I slumped in front of my laptop and watched. Nothing that could be called living my life was happening and maybe this was the worst thing.

Maybe the worst thing was not being able to feel warm, getting in bed and shivering between duvets and then feeling that stench of sweat that tells you you have a fever. Maybe the worst thing was the swallow that I had been doing all day. I had no idea how much I swallow spit before right then. I kept on swallowing and swallowing and swallowing. No idea why this compulsion was so present in me. Maybe those were worse. But no, the absolute worst thing was getting in bed on Friday evening all feverish and asking God in a serious tone to let me into heaven if I should die before I wake.

I kicked my ass off to the pharmacy and got some antibiotics. I had told the guy that I needed meds and then he began working on his calculator as I listed my symptoms. I told him that I did not have nearly the amount he seemed to be working at. In fact all I had was 10% of it. He told me he could work with that and gave me only the important drugs. It seems he knew what he was doing because I feel all better now. Also who knew you could negotiate in a pharmacy, was he just going to saddle me with thousands of shillings worth of drugs he knew I didn’t need? Who keeps such things in check? Though as the provider of my medicine I am far too grateful to the man to question what he was doing.

Here’s hoping there’s another few years before I get sick again.

Monday, May 6, 2013

space to dream

Its a plan straight out of an action movie. Some friends of mine and I board a plane. We rob the inhabitants and contents  one of my friends gets out a parachute and jumps the rest of us leave the plane with the rest of the passengers and somehow avoid detection.

The next scene finds me in my bed unable to sleep because of how stupid all this was. How could I go out and rob a plane with my face in full view. All they need to do is look at the flight manifest, get the picture from my passport, show it to a few passengers and they have me. I’m worried that they’ll come, break in the door and pull me half asleep and half naked from my father’s house. That they’ll charge me with this heinous crime, that I’ll get to go to court as a defendant and leave as a prisoner and thinking of all the horrible things they do to people in jail I can’t get to sleep and I’m breathing really hard.

Then I realise that it must have been a dream, that there was no way I robbed a plane. As soon as I tell myself this the air rushes right out of me and I can breathe easy, much , much easier. I was filled to bursting with tension, anticipation and fear and now I’m good in fact I’m great. It happens for me that some dreams seem so real that I am convinced they are and I worry that I’m going to go crazy if they don’t mean something or go somewhere.

I met a girl the other day who told me she was a fashion designer and I smiled.
“Because anyone who’s a fashion designer is doing exactly what they want to do with life.”
This is probably not true and a fault with reasoning. But my logic for jumping to this conclusion is the state of our economy right now. It’s still at a place that rewards traditional career paths, at least that’s what the people who pay our fees think, that’s what the people who give us advice and influence our future decisions think. To become a fashion designer or musician or artist is something you do against the grain. It’s a thing you do against enormous pressure to do otherwise and it’s a thing you do when you are really, really good at it. The truth is our economy does still support traditional career paths over the more daring. There are plenty of mediocre, even bad lawyers, doctors and accountants making a living off of practicing their trade. There aren’t that many mediocre musicians and fashion designers and artists making a good living out of being mediocre, it’s just the way that particular cookie crumbles.

A few weeks ago I went to a music video launch at a club called aqua blu. This club is on or near bandari plaza (this sounds ridiculously like legal phrasing but I’m just not sure where the club is.) its themed water. Water and it solid equivalent. Not ice but glass. There are glass doors leading to the toilet which is on the other side of a corridor filled with glass and blue. Inside there is a fountain gushing out water and outside there is a zone for smoking all kinds of legal inhalants. It’s a beautiful place one of the few where the owner seems to have paid attention to décor and atmosphere in a quest to be different and see his dream come true.

10 to 15 music videos were launched that day from artists I have grown up listening to those I have spent the last few months hearing about like octopizzo.  I asked a friend of mine how this was going down, how it was  so coordinated. He told me it came from the brain of a guy who is a content service provider and owns a company that I’m going to assume is called bernsoft because this was splashed at the beginning of every video. Basically this guy provides funding, distribution and promotion for artists in exchange he takes a cut out of their royalties. In this particular instance he even funded the music videos that were dropping that night.

By doing this he helps the artists achieve their dreams of making music, he gives them someone who believes enough in them to front them money and if musicians are anything like writers having someone believe in you is a nice balm for that plaguing self-doubt and he makes money in the process. Probably doing something that he wants to do with life. This got me thinking about all the business opportunities available in Kenya. There are the big leagues that are controlled by those in powers and their cronies(you cannot be called a crony unless you too are powerful in your own right) those deals that make you billions of dollars require you to know someone. They require you to be able to navigate the system of kickbacks, tribalism, politics and hand-ups that pervade the world economy at any higher strata. However there is opportunity to do things at a few levels below that. To do things with people who respect the power of a good idea more than the power of a man with cronies(well maybe not respect more but because cronyism is out of their league they better are able to appreciate idealism.)

I do have faith in Kenya for the next couple of years. I remember arguing with a friend of mine about the unique position that Kenya is in right now(this was a couple of months ago) a country with a free press, one that has experienced a fair election and bears the scars of an unfair one, a growing middle class, huge literacy rates… our history as a whole is too complicated to believe that what happened in other countries would have to happen here. There doesn’t have to be bloodshed for there to be peace and plenty. In a few generations what’s happening to Greece may happen here and poverty will begin knocking on our doors again. However there will be the 7 fat cows in that dream the pharaoh had. We are lucky enough to live in a time where the grass is being grown for those cows to feed on and maybe feed on the cows itself.

There is space enough for all our dreams or at least there will be. A lot of people call me an optimist and an idealist because I see a rosy picture in the future no matter what the present seems to hold but then it happens for me that some dreams seem so real that I am convinced they are and I worry that I’m going to go crazy if they don’t mean something or go somewhere.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mutula Kilonzo

the above link is where i got most of the information used in writing this piece. If you want more direct and therefore more reliable information about Mutula click and read away.

Mutula Kilonzo died last week and I feel strangely sad. Strangely sad because people don’t really grieve for politicians, aren’t they the ones who take away our money and don’t care one whit what happens to the rest of us. But he seems different, I haven’t heard stories of corruption or greed or him using any of the divisive politics that everyone else employed. I know nothing Jon Snow about anything wrong this guy ever did. That’s not enough though for how I feel about his death, there’s something sad about a death so sudden it makes us forget that it was 64 years in the coming.

I looked for articles about him and read about his amazing life, his rise from rags to riches. He wants to be a lawyer because someone takes away his parent’s land. He succeeds and is  the first student to ever get a first class honours degree in law from the university of Dar-es-Salaam which is the only university to offer law in east Africa. He goes on to make his first million within 8 months of finishing at the Kenya school of law. It must be remembered that this is 1975. A million in 1975 is significantly worth more than a million now. And even now anyone who makes a million within a year of finishing school is still lauded and on a slow news day gets an article written about him or her. In a twist of fate right out of a Jeffrey Archer novel he buys back the land that initially inspired him to be a lawyer.

He buys more land. He buys enough land that he can buy lions. Lions! Lions!! Lions!!! This is Lannister wealth now. Lions eat a lot of meat and he is rich enough to keep them in the fat for years. How he made his money is not something we know but can put together from breadcrumbs along the way. Right place at the right time. The brilliance of mind that led to a first class honours in law and the charisma that was on display every time he went on a public podium. Also that time Hosea Kiplagat, former President Daniel Moi’s nephew, asks him to shave his goatee and takes him for a meeting with the great man. A meeting that turns into a most profitable relationship professionally, financially and personally. These are things that can make you enough money to buy lions. Lions! Lions!!! He says he is once offered 60 million shillings to sabotage a case by another advocate. He turns it down, “I work with my daughter and son, what moral teaching would I be giving them if I could accept financial reward for misrepresentation?”

In due time he turns to politics. First he resists pressure to join. Then he begins to appear on Crossfire on kiss fm. And this was probably the first we ever heard of him. There are vague stirrings of those memories as dreams, I’m not sure I actually heard him but I feel like I did. Later he is nominated to parliament by Uhuru Kenyatta. He joins, he serves and like everyone who has a taste of it he finds that he enjoys politics. So much so that he wants to run for the post of chairman of Kanu against Uhuru and Biwott. He pulls out of this though and in one of those classic he-said, she-said cases of political wrangling and manoeuvring we will never really know the reason. However talking about it he displays a kind of political idealism that’s sweet to find expressed in the mouths of babes, whether or not he actually means what he says is not something I can speak to, “I could not believe it, here was the official leader of the Opposition, an alternate president of this country, in the presence of all his supporters including myself dishing out thousands of shillings to delegates in full view of journalists with their cameras rolling, how can you expect any election to be fair after that? I was glad I pulled-out when I did. Biwott was giving out money and so was Uhuru. I feel like I have failed in my process of attempting to revitalize Kanu … I feel really terrible about it.”

In 2005when he goes against the government trying to enact  freedom of information act the KRA attaches his whole salary as an MP. He goes home with nothing but an offer to retract this if he plays ball. This is the same guy who turned down 60 million shillings and owns lions, lions. Lions!!!. Needless to say he doesn’t budge.

More recently he is made the Minister of Justice and Constitutional affairs a post held by other Kenyan political legends like Tom Mboya and Charles Njonjo. This happens at a time when a new constitution has been passed, a constitution that needs reams and reams of supporting legislation. He works diligently at getting bills ready and trying to pass them. He is rewarded for his sins by being moved to the ministry of education. Now, Kenyan cabinet reshuffles up until the new constitution started working have always been a game of musical chairs with the music being the ominous horror of the omen series. While Moi was president you would watch the 1 o’clock news to see who had been fired and who hadn’t. Kibaki famously fired his whole cabinet, the whole cabinet in 2005. And ministries have been used as an R and R scheme mixed with tribal placation for so long it’s difficult to think that anyone is ever fired because they did a less than stellar job.

As minister of education he dances, and dances and blasts teachers for forcing girls to wear mini-skirts. Our girls are not nuns and what do you think it means to make them dress like nuns. Of course there is blowback from this, this is a Christian country after all. However as recent events show this is a man who knows a thing or two or maybe all the things about raising a daughter in this crazy turbulent world. In one of those things that makes me believe his life really is a novel the last law case he is involved in is the biggest one the country ever sees. The Supreme Court election petition of 2013 where as he watches proudly his daughter puts out one of the most endearing, emotive performances ever seen by a Kenyan lawyer on television. She speaks and argues with the dexterity of a master. When she makes a reference to his tenure of service as minister of justice the whole court erupts in laughter as he tries his best to compose his face into stone. This man raised Kethi Kilonzo one of the  brainiest, beautifulest , eloquentest women ever and we think he doesn’t know what he’s saying when he says girls shouldn’t wear mini-skirts?

Last Saturday he visits his farm. Maybe he sees his lions. He enjoys the stars. Has a dinner of githeri and nyama choma(because rich people are eccentric.) Goes to sleep and never wakes up. And when I hear about it I am unaccountably sad. I know nothing of his story until later when I start reading about it. Yet I feel sad, strangely weirdly sad. I don’t know if I’m the only one who feels this way like they don’t know why they are sad about his passing and so try to find out about his life. I don’t know. But Mutula is dead and that’s one of the saddest public deaths to happen in a year that already had a lot of famous people drop out of the world.

RIP is what I’m trying to say. You went out with pride(because…lions! Lions!! Lions!!!)

Monday, April 29, 2013

the revolution was televised, book review and nostalgia trip

Sometime this year I heard that Alan Sepinwall, a great television critic had written a book. The book is called the Revolution was Televised and its concept was to track the changes in American tv over the last decade or so using 12 classic or at least game-changing television shows, he would interview the creators, the businessmen and financiers who made it possible and write a series long review of each looking at the sore points, the great points, the point that anyone who had watched them would remember. The 12 shows were Oz, the sopranos, the wire, deadwood, the shield, lost, 24, battlestar galactica, Friday night lights, mad men and breaking bad.

This list includes some of my favourite shows, shows that had given me hours and hours of viewing pleasure. i haven’t religiously watched all the shows, I remember Buffy from this really grainy KTN we used to have where static would break in every few seconds and words were more of an approximation than an actual sound. Oz was a show I enjoyed watching though I had to be on the lookout to avoid the gay scenes and maybe I was too young for some of the themes it explored of dehumanisation and loss of liberty, of racism and the various ways people use sex to assert power. I had never watched the Shield, in fact all I knew about it was an article in the time magazine about the very last episode of the show. In it Jamie Poniczwez goes on and on about how beautiful an ending it was, perfectly fitting to end 7 seasons of a show about the most corrupt policeman I had ever seen. So I began watching the shield and watched it and watched it. And that ending really was something. As close to a perfect ending of a long protracted series as I have ever seen and maybe ever will.

Then I read the book. There are ways American television has changed over the last decade and anyone who watches it can tell. There was a time you could drop in at any point in a series and pick it up and watch it just like you still can for an episode of CSI or almost any sitcom. The baggage of memory is not necessary to get the full enjoyment out of them. However there are other shows that need you to know the characters and care about them, that need you to hold plot points that seem very obscure when they first pop up but on closer inspection point to a larger plan. Can you imagine for instance anyone beginning game of thrones somewhere in the middle of the second season. It would be impossible to get a grasp of the people and their relationships, what beefs they have with each other and what history led to those beefs. Another way its changed is the nod to the morally grey areas of life. There was a time where the good guy was obvious, you knew who you should like, they were the great and the good but now the main character of the sopranos is a gangster who kills people, runs prostitutes and commits crimes for a living. Walter White of breaking bad becomes more and more unlikeable as the show goes on, everyone makes excuses for him and his actions but there is a breaking point for many and I came to mine sometime in the middle of the 5th season and I can’t like him anymore, he’s the villain of the piece. Don Draper can only find fleeting moments of pleasure in alcohol and adultery, Al Swearengen from deadwood ordered a hit on a child and her entire family and these are the people we should support.

I realised while reading the book that the best chapters or at least the ones that resonated most were the ones talking about shows that I had already watched. In the chapter about the sopranos (by David Chase) he talks about the “Pine Barrens” episode. This is an episode where Paulie and Chris, two of tony’s underlings try to kill a Russian. They think he’s dead and have to dump the body at a forest as snow is coming down all around them. The Russian jumps back to life and runs away. A few seasons later we are treated to a remembrance, the Mafiosi are playing a game of remember when? And they start talking about the crazy Russian they tried to kill laughing all the way, and because the viewer is in on the joke and the event the memories are that much more beautiful. The book goes all the way to the end, an ending that has been parsed and thought over by so many people there is actually a 20,000 word essay out there somewhere detailing why the ending means this and not that.

Next he talks about the wire by David Simon and I can’t begin to say the ways in which I love this show. Everyone describes it as a novel, as a really long novel. It starts ostensibly as a wire tap investigation into drug dealers, as it goes on it shifts focus every season expanding its scope until the activities of the police are just an excuse to tell the story of the city of Baltimore. The story of the decay of a city, of the futility of the institutions that people insist on believing in and a story about what the war of drugs means, “nobody wins, one side just loses more slowly.” In addition to all the bleakness there is plenty of humour. One of the drug dealers, Stringer Bell, has been taking economics classes and begins to introduce business practices to drug meetings, including proper meeting rules like yielding the floor and using a gavel. One of his lieutenants, a little too enthusiastic starts taking minutes, “you’re taking down minutes to a criminal conspiracy?” he asks in obvious shock.

Deadwood by David Milch was a show about a town in the wild west. It was about gold prospecting and bars and prostitutes but it was also about the formation of laws in a place without them and the signing of a social contract by the people who wish to be governed by them. It was also about all the beautiful words used to express these ideas, in one of the first episodes one of the characters gives this monologue, “I tell you what: I may have fucked up my life flatter’n hammered shit, but I stand here before you today beholden to no human cocksucker, and holdin’ a workin’ fuckin’ gold claim, and not the U.S. government sayin’ I’m trespassin’, or the savage fuckin’ red man himself, or any of these limber-dick cocksuckers passin’ themselves off as prospectors had better try and stop me.” It was the words that did it for me, everyone spoke as if reading from a dirty, prose poem. The town itself was dirty and muddy, fights and brawls ended with people smeared in mud so brown it looked like shit. And of course there was Al Swearengen the man who stole eloquence away from all of us. When comforting a co-conspirator who has beaten and beaten badly he says, “Pain or damage  don’t end the world or fucking beatings. The world ends when you are dead. Until then you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man and give some back.” And it all came from the mind of a man who was expelled from university and said,” There were guns. There were police. There were street lights. I got arrested. I had become involved in quite a protracted pharmaceutical research project involving hallucinogens. It all seemed to come together so I was asked to withdraw.”

The shield by Shawn Ryan is a show about a corrupt police unit and the department they work out of. The main character is vic mackey who is a man’s man. This is a cop show where the cop will catch the drug dealer who ran away, he will break through doors, pull him down from fences, beat him up and coerce a confession out of him. it’s also a show that has you wondering why you support vic. In the end he is just as bad if not worse than most of the criminals he’s after. He justifies all the crimes he commits as being for the greater good, as cutting corners for the sake of getting to the destination faster. It also moves fast, it was a show that told 2 or 3 stories a week as opposed to most cop shows one. The pace was relentless and as Alan Sepinwall said, “you didn’t so much watch the shield as you got beat up by it for an hour before it went to grab a couple of beers and hustle a pimp.” However over those seven seasons you got to know those characters and care about them. This is why the ending was so amazing. There were moments of character, reminders of things that happened in the first episode a laying out of all you had seen in such stark terms that you couldn’t believe all the justifications you and vic had made

Lost by a lot of people but mainly damon linfeloff and carlton cuse. The chapter on this begins with a description of how the show came to be made. The way it was a perfect storm of disasters that led to it, a confusing hodgepodge of ideas and people and chance encounters and what-the-fuck? Why-the-fuck-nots that anyone who watched it through will remember as being familiar from the answers we got to all the mysteries on the island. The polar bear, the statue with four toes. These clearly pointed somewhere but just forgot where that somewhere was. This show had an ending that divided people clear down the middle. There were the people who wanted answers to the mysteries and an explanation of the mythology that they had been drawn to for nearly 6 years. They wanted the ending to give them that and that ending was never written. There were the people who loved the characters so much that a neat resolution for them, a chance to see them be happy was all they needed in order for them to be happy. That ending was written. For both groups though it was a wild ride, surprises, mysteries, shared parentage, emotional moments, tear-jerking reunions all of these and more were dumped in there during those 6 years and for some you had to love it.

24 by joel surnow. What to say about this show. Heart-pounding excitement is the nearest I could get, remember that time in season 5 when the screen split into six as they revealed the big bad? Jack bauer was a hero’s hero,  the man who never slept or peed. Not for him the tongue twisting techniques of most police dramas. He would ask “where is the bomb?” ask again, “WHERE IS THE BOMB ” and then shoot you in the leg. To think that the reason the show was made was because one of the creators was tired of doing shows that had only 22 episodes a season and wanted to try something different and so made one with 24 is a good thing to think on. One thing mentioned in the book that was clear to anyone who watched the show was that it ate up plot. There would be a bad guy and then a decoy bad-guy and then another guy who was pulling the strings and then the actual person and of course the mole at CTU. The creator talked about giving a character amnesia and said that he understood why daytime soaps kept returning to this plot point, its just what you have to do when something is this long or plot driven. 24 was also about all the horrible things that the American government allowed to happen to Jack Bauer and all the horrible things that he did on their behalf. All that blood and torture that haunted his dreams until in one of the final episodes he gives this speech to one of his protégés when she asks his advice on torture “You took an oath,” he tells her. “You made a promise to uphold the law. You cross that line, it always starts off with a small step. Before you know it, you’re running as fast as you can in the wrong direction, just to justify why you started in the first place. These laws were written by much smarter men than me, and in the end, I know that these laws have to be more important than the 15 people on the bus. I know that’s right. In my mind, I know that’s right. I just don’t think my heart could ever have lived with that. I guess the only advice I can give you is, ‘Try to make choices you can live with.’”

Battle star galactica by Ronald moore was a sience fiction series that started off with a bleak premise. The humans have created a race of artificially intelligent robots. They then go to war with them, there is an armistice and peace for a few years then the robots attack committing a genocide that wipes out all of humanity except for the ones aboard the battlestar galactica and companion civilian ships. From here it sets out to tell stories about what it means to be human and how far we would go to preserve our race. There is an episode about abortion and whether it would be right to allow it to stand as legal in a time when there are fewer than 50,000 humans. Each episode begins with a count telling you how many humans still live and as the series go on you see that number reduce steadily. The race of robots, called cylons, are also explored.T they have a religion, they have different personalities, they have conflicts. They have all the things that make us human and the question becomes whether or not they are human. There is a sequence of  episodes concerning itself with the moral and ethical issues behind suicide bombers and an occupying force that almost any country that has been colonised or done colonising can relate to in its cultural memory. The humans are on a search for a lost colony called earth and the last season deals with despair of the kind that can only happen when your last hope is gone. Suicide and love and complicated father-son relationships along with an education minister who is promoted to presidency because of the line of succession and takes the mantle over so well that when she threatens war and destruction even the audience shakes in its boots all thread through a story that’s ultimately about survival and hope and all the things we hold on to until there is nothing else.

Friday Night Lights by Peter Berg is a tv show based off of a movie that’s based off of a non-fiction book that’s based on a year in the life of an American football team deep in the heart of texas. The show itself is a fictionalised take on the book and movie. At the heart of the show are a coach and his wife and their marriage that’s at times difficult but ultimately very happy. The show also takes a look at the high school children who have such high expectations placed on them by the town they live in. they have to win the game and go to playoffs and go to state and win that state championship ring and carry the weight of the hopes of a whole town with them. In such times they turn to alcohol and sex and all the other ways of coping that teenagers have. The first episode ends with the paralysis of a star quarterback due to  a football injury and the rest of the season charts the struggle to both put him back together and get the team in working shape. As the show progresses the children get older and actually leave high school. It tracks what it means to have been practically a god and then have to fit into the skin of a college student. It turns its focus to the black side of town and begins to deal with problems of drug addiction and race and the kind of crippling poverty that America seems to reserve for its minorities. It does all this while putting on a game of football and a smile in everyone’s faces.

Breaking Bad by Vince Gilligan is the show that may be easiest to describe. It’s about a high school teacher who is diagnosed with cancer. He then starts cooking meth in order to put aside some money for his family. Except that such a description does not begin to deal with the layers and layers under the show. The creator has said it’s a story of mr. chips turning into scarface. I have no idea who mr chips is but I do know scarface as a drug lord who drove away or to death all the people who mattered most to him until in the final scenes his sister tries to kill him and an army of assassins succeeds where she fails. In breaking bad walter white starts out as a bumbling adult who you feel sorry for because of all the humiliations he has to endure. His obvious intellect isn’t enough to gain him respect in a world where money, fear and power rule. Then he gets his diagnosis and falls into the criminal underworld. A place for which he is remarkably well suited. This isn’t a campy comedy like weeds where the stakes are only raised after seasons and seasons. In breaking bad the drug trade is a dangerous world where you either kill or are killed and this is a lesson walt soon learns. He gets high off of the success and is soon afflicted with the kind of pride that leads a man to fly too close to the sun. in addition he does some reprehensible things to the people close to him. Things so horrible that I just don’t like him anymore and don’t understand the people who do, are they watching the same show as me? This show ends its run this year and I can’t wait to see the end of this character arc, the moral truth of the universe he inhabits and quite frankly some of the most beautiful scenes and cover songs ever put together for a tv show.

Mad Men is a show about an ad agency set in the 60s. at first glance it looks like an excuse for sexism and cigarettes and alcohol at the office. However when you watch it you find its about something much more important. The main character don draper seems to have all the things that a man would want out of life. Respect, power, a beautiful wife, a sexy mistress, a job that he’s great at. But he’s deeply unhappy. So deeply that none of his addictions works for very long. He sells these great ad ideas to companies. Beautiful ideas that sketch out the outlines of a life we all long for and allow the viewer to fill in the fantasy with his own details but he can’t sell the same to himself. When one of his mistress asks him what he wants for the new year he says, as he’s wrapped around her glorious naked form, “to stop doing this.”. In those words at that time you can tell he means it. He doesn’t want to be there in her arms or in any of the places his sadness drives him. its not all bleak though, roger sterling a happier man because he doesn’t seem to think at all about life brings to the show some of the best one liners ever made including:

(on the death of a secretary in the office), “she died as she lived, surrounded by people she answered phoned for.”
(an apology for hitting on a colleague’s wife), “at some point we’ve all parked in the wrong garage.”
“Being with a client is like being in a marriage. Sometimes you get into it for the wrong reasons, and eventually they hit you in the face,” “Jets are made for dropping bombs on Moscow, not French cuisine,” “Well, my wife likes fur, but you don’t see me growing a tail,”

“in greek nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound,” Don Draper tells the man from Kodak. “it’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.” This is what I feel is great about these shows. The time spent with them allows you to feel actual nostalgia for these fictional characters as they go about their daily lives and as you remember different facets of each. I felt nostalgic when reading the book and again when writing this pseudo-review that turned into a mini-summary of all the shows I watched and loved. So, was the revolution televised, I feel like it was when I watch shows like game of thrones with its nearly hundred talking characters or the americans with one of the most complicated and interesting marriages I have ever seen. But then I’ve always loved tv.