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Monday, January 28, 2013

almost didn't count

It was one of those days when the sky would open up and then close again. The rains would fall down to the earth in short bursts and be immediately followed by the sun like a person who wanted to say something and then thought better of it. When the sun would shine back down it looked like hell was right beneath the roads, a film of steam would rise from the tarmac and be swept forward by the wind before all evidence of rain would disappear.

At night it rained again. This bout of rain found me at a bar and I went outside to look at it. The best thing about January rain in Kenya is that it’s not too cold and it was possible to stand beneath the shelter provided and allow splatters of it to fall on my hands and if the wind allowed find its way to my face.

Then it was time to go home. I was very alert that day it being one of my low-no alcohol days still I had let too much time pass before I left. Conversation kept ebbing and flowing and taking me in different directions. Added to this I had just received news that made me a little sad. A girl I like had a boyfriend. It wasn’t heart-breaking news, I doubt she knew I liked her but it provoked sadness in me at the thought of paths not taken that never would be. Dreams I had constructed would never have the chance of forming themselves into reality instead they were blown away into mist like the drops of rain that kept falling.

So I walked towards my matatus. It was much later than  I had thought it was because there were no more. It’s easy to see when there aren’t any because I take my matatus at Odeon. At night there is row after row of matatus parked down that street like troops in an army and  the one you’re looking for is the only one with a beret on its head. A signpost telling you that they are open for business. But I had broken my glasses and I mistrusted my ability to see the beret from so far and I started down the road.

It’s a road filled with light and life even at that time. Matatu touts and drivers and petrol attendants and other pedestrians fill it up going about the business of life. I got close enough to see there weren’t any matatus when I felt someone touch me from behind. In one of those slowdowns of life that happen when you are pumped with adrenaline a lot of things seemed to follow on but in slow motion, “brathe unataka camera?” –my brother do you want a camera?. He said to me. At the same time I moved back into the light taking note of his facial features. He was tall and lanky, he had a long face and a dental structure that was shared by his brother. Oh that was the third thing, towards the direction he was pushing me towards there was another man who was definitely this one’s brother smiling sheepishly at me.

There was now a distance of perhaps 2 metres between us. This was enough distance to turn around and run and shout and draw the attention of all the life that was at my back. But something told me not to make any sudden moves, maybe it was the first man because he said, “unadhani unaweza shinda risasi?” do you think you can outrun a bullet? At this time I had put myself on complete charm offensive. I was smiling and holding out my hands and saying in the most placating tone I could, “relax, relax.” While being ready to hightail it out of there. I walked back like this and then they left and I went to matatu stop number two.

At this time adrenaline was running through me. I wasn’t sure yet what had just happened. Had someone offered to sell me a camera, had someone offered to give me a bullet? The night changes at times like those. It’s not so fluid anymore you wouldn’t notice the rain falling down but maybe you would see the individual drops. Danger has a way of breaking things apart into many tiny, tiny pieces. Of making seconds into mini and micro, of making movements into threatening gestures and preparations to strike, of making people into potential threats and places into potential hideouts.

I noticed someone behind me. He was walking way too fast. I could hear his footsteps even though the night was not particularly deserted. So I stopped and watched him. His hurry seemed to disappear and then he crossed the road. The thing of it was I had to cross this road too and so I kept an eye on him for a while as he kept an eye on me. I watched him walk too far away for it to be possible to turn around and face me. Then I made sure to walk in the midst of people . The streets had that streetlight glow at that time. The yellow bounced down off the puddles of water that had come when the sun had left. People walked alone and in pairs oblivious of anything that was happening. It looked safe but it sure as hell didn’t feel safe.

There are times I hate living in Nairobi.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

gubertanorial(is there a more fun word?)debate

The GDP of Kenya and Singapore were the same 50 years ago and now Singapore is doing x times better than Kenya and the only difference between the two is management.

This is something I have heard my whole life. This is something I will probably hear for the rest of it. This is a statement that will be made by most people with solid business management credentials trying to win a political seat in Kenya. It’s also a statement that people reach for whenever they want to indict the political leadership of our country.

It is also one of the most misleading statements there is.

Or so I believe (that degree in economics I have only stretches as far as knowing the difference between macro and micro economics.) the reason I think it is misleading is that it is such an oversimplification that it cannot hope to be true. A similar statement would take two children who got the same marks in KCPE find them years later (let’s assume they were in the same school and went to different ones) read out their KCSE grades and attribute the difference in grades to one thing. Any one thing, the secondary school they went to for example and saying the difference in grades is caused by this and just this. This approach of course leaves out a thousand thousand other things that happened in the interim. It leaves out their work ethic once they proceeded, it does not consider what subjects they took in high school, it doesn’t ask the situations at their various homes, it doesn’t recognise that while KCPE is a multi-choice paper KCSE is not, it acts like it doesn’t matter that one of them was sick or one of them got leakage or one of them fluked in the earlier paper or, or, or….

With such a world of difference between two boys who could imagine that there could only be one difference between two countries. No one mentions the history of the countries and the effect this has on them , no one talks about the proximity of China to Singapore a fact that has as huge an effect as a magnet on a TV screen, no one talks about the difference in postcolonial policies as regards nations in Africa and Asia, we don’t mention that the problems with unity they had extended to four ethnic groups while we are struggling with close to forty, the destabilising effects that having countries at war nearby brings isn’t brought up in conversation, the difference in what we produce just as a result of climate and natural resource distribution is all but forgotten, the work ethic of the people being managed, the huge difference in cultural norms and practices the, the, the….

We had hopelessly inept leadership of course but there is not only one difference between Kenya and Singapore that can be blamed for why we are lagging so far behind them in economic terms.

The most recent time I heard this being mentioned was during the gubernatorial debates for Nairobi.. I remember hearing all through the weekend the weeps that accompanied Jimna Mbaru losing the nomination. People loved him and his legendary cv. It’s not a CV I have taken a look at and I don’t intend to since this isn’t an interview this is an election(here  I engage in simplification too) and to be honest I never expected him to win. Maybe he should have but as I told everyone last week this isn’t a meritocracy it’s a democracy. It matters more to be charismatic than to be capable. All your achievements in business only matter as much as you can convert them to votes. Of course a lot of the same things that allow you to succeed in business will let you succeed in politics iron will and determination, the ability to inspire and motivate, resource allocation and deployment but they don’t completely translate. It’s like Chinese to Swahili you need an ear for both and how to speak in both languages before an honest to god unbelievable CV will get you a political seat. Best thing about his candidacy though a lot of people in Nairobi will get off their armchairs come March fourth and go vote. But for who?

President, governor, senator, Member of Parliament, councillor. I think I got it all but there’s a chance I missed one of them. This is going to be the most marking of multiple answers people did since they were in primary school. At least for governor it’s a choice between two people and it’s good that we got a chance to see both of them speak on the same stage.

What I like about both of them is that they have an ability to laugh and make laugh, who wasn’t giggling at the end of the debate when Waititu was like I will accept any position you appoint me to and I will appoint you to one myself who didn’t find it funny that Kidero kept up the whole Clifford or Ferdinand all through. And whose parents give one child such equally unlikely names as Clifford and Ferdinand. If you can’t laugh in politics I worry for you. I worry for what will happen to you as it gets worse and worse as it will inevitably will. I worry that you don’t even like people and if that part of the job isn’t one you enjoy soon you become bitter and I don’t want bitter politicians. I was also impressed by the fact that they both grew up in slums in Nairobi. We as a city need politicians who understand our problems who know what’s going on in the city, who know what it means to be a resident of it. Waititu talked about the need to invest in the infrastructure of Kibera. He talked about the flying toilets still whistling through the air up there and how important this is to the city’s development(not the flying toilets but doing something about them). He said about 80% of Nairobi’s people live in slums. Assuming this statistic is true and it is definitely almost true then a lot needs to be done about helping people there. I read an article about Kibera last week. It was an exploration of the slum as a hub of entrepreneurial activity. Businesses spring up all over the place as people struggle to get by and reading this gives you a healthy respect for the people there and even for the place but a place(even one as remarkable) still needs the intervention of a government. It’s the government’s job to build schools and hospitals and provide security and I am glad that he at least sees those people and recognises them as his primary constituents should he win.

Speaking of security Kidero touched on  the need for it.the thing  I liked more about him in this debate is that he backed up his facts with figures, he talked about the ratios needed of police officers to citizens in the country and suggested creating a metropolitan police force from a cadre of city askaris. I have very strong feelings about security. This city feels unsafe most of the time. It’s not a place you can walk in at all hours of the night, even the day is tinged with just a whiff of danger and it’s not something I like. In addition he talked about the need to attract foreign investment to Nairobi, Nairobi is 5 hours away from any African capital and just 8 hours away from most of the major world capitals. This is not something I knew before I listened to Kidero but I know it now and I sit and wonder with him why we don’t have more foreign investment. This is perfect isn’t it? Here is a country with amazing human resources. There are engineers and CPAs and CFAs, university graduates, former college students, people good with their hands and no chance of a communication breakdown because everyone speaks English plus the wages aren’t high compared to most places in the world. He talked about the need for more action, though I am not sure what the action was.

The thing most people don’t like about Waititu is his activism as it would be called if he wasn’t a politician. You see him throwing stones and engaged in activities usually reserved for ruffians but he gave this passionate explanation for it. If land is grabbed from a school serving 3,000 poor students he would do anything to right that injustice. What did we expect him to do? An MP has no executive power he cannot physically stop a land deal, he has no judiciary power to get the police to stop it and legislative power is useless in such cases. The laws are already in place and just being hopelessly circumvented. What else is a leader to do but show his people that he feels their pain that this matters so much to him that he’s willing to do this… to put himself in harm’s way to tarnish himself? I can’t fault him for that. What we can however is that video:

“Nasema hii, kutoka leo hiyo wamaasai wote hatutaki kuwaona Kayole.” (This is what I am saying, from today; we don’t want to see any of those Maasai in Kayole.) He sued the TV station for claiming that his remarks led to the violence of that day and claimed that eating was what led him to say this. He even said that the he showed up after the violence had already happened which in my mind makes them more and not less irresponsible. The context of remarks matters when deciding if they are inflammatory, saying something in a place where there is already heat flying around can be inflammatory while it wouldn’t in a place where cooler heads prevail. He tried to explain the context of his words but unless this was one of those videos cut and paste from different parts of the speech this is still what he said.

As for Kidero the charge laid against him most often is that he is elitist and cannot understand what is happening to the people. I personally do not think that poverty is a necessary qualification for politics but the fact that he grew up in a slum says more against that charge than anything.  While poverty is not a qualification having someone experience it makes him more empathetic and more capable of doing a job that seeks so often to replace the trees with the forest and on this score they are both even.  Though he is a tad elitist and a condescending man. I didn’t like the way he talked to someone who was his equal correcting him in a way that said I am smarter than you rather than you shouldn’t make such mistakes. As for the land scandal that was brought up. Something…something this is the point where I lost the train of thought anyway I figure he didn’t get any personal gain from it and the sugar company is the one embroiled in it. Otherwise this man’s past seems to be blank. He worked in Nigeria, he ran a sugar company, he grew up in the slums and he’s a doctor. This is all I heard about him in those forty minutes. I have no idea what he achieved in his tenure as any of those things. Also he seems to think that the only difference between Kenya and Singapore is management.

 Well those were my thoughts on that debate. Remember to vote. And also remember to check if you are properly registered to vote on the link below.

Monday, January 21, 2013

what do you call a deer with one eye? no IDea

At some point last year it seemed like all my cousins were pregnant. All the female ones at least, they had reached that age where it becomes ok to be pregnant and every time the family gathered there would be another bump to take note of. Then they gave birth and decided on names and not one of them gave the child an English(well should probably say European) name. They are all in their mid to late twenties and this seems significant, this age grouping of people born in the 80’s as opposed to people born in the 70s and 60s they seem to give their children Swahili names. It reminded me of this thing I was told when I was in university, some girl told me that by the time they turn 26 half of the girls in Nairobi drop their Christian(again I should probably say European) name in favour of their (it’s used so much I don’t know what to call it, their African name? sounds like something said by someone who knows nothing about Africa says, their ethnic name? sounds like I support tribalism, their other name? why is it this name that’s other like its less equal or something) let’s say their middle name.

The confluence, or supposed confluence of these two things suggests something to me. It suggests that people are more willing to define themselves by things that are actually ours, that are actually Kenyan than they used to be. When I was in school a person with no Christian name (back then we called them English names whether or not they were because Kenyans are anglophiles) was an anomaly. Now it’s not going to be so. I talked to my aunt about it and she said that it will be a quick identity card among young people in schools. They will immediately know who has the older parents and perhaps even who is where on the organisational structure of when they were born. In a few years all the people with names derived from a Kenyan language will be first born while all those with European names will be 3rd or 4th out of the womb. It occurred to me that since we do call them European names it makes sense to call them African names.

I was watching this television show called Louie, funny, funny show. He’s not scared to make any joke and even to make a show about no jokes at all. In one episode he sees a man die and after  he walks around in a haze, he’s on his way to a date and realises just how much we waste life. He sees how we live everyday on the cusp of life and nothing(the pains of atheism.), he sees and feels the possibility that one day we are here and the very next moment we aren’t. He shows this in his attitude towards the day, in the way he talks about things; his unabashed honesty and realization that all the things we think are important are not. Then he talks about places where people don’t have such cushy lives, places where people realise their lives are immediate, transient because they may die tomorrow, they may die today due to a bullet or hunger or disease. “Places like Afghanistan and Africa.”

I was pissed. I like Louie, I really like the show and the man but it got to me that he could consign our whole continent to a place where people are hungry and killing each other. This is a subject that has been written to death and will be written way past the end of its second life. Africa is not a country! There is way too much going on here for it to be reduced to just two issues in that way. There may very well be an Afghani man somewhere carrying around the same concerns because no matter how much a country is embroiled in anything it’s never as bad as it looks on the news (except maybe Syria but then probably not.) life goes on everywhere and there is always someone whose biggest concern is which team won the most recent game. There is always someone scheming to get ahead in business and politics. There are always hearts breaking and sobs escaping and sons disappointing and daughters rebelling. This is what life is. Most of it is the mundane stuff that doesn’t feel mundane at that time. And even if it seems completely unimportant  the world and a life is too interlocked for it to remain so. It’s impossible to appreciate all the complexities of life, of anyone’s life even our own. We will simplify everything just so we can understand it. No one expects us to speak with authority about places we have never seen or studied. Most of us can’t even speak with authority about the places we actually do live in and study but it’s not too much to ask that it be remembered that Africa is not a country!


Sometimes I wonder if people have been struggling with the same issues of identity as I do. As most Kenyans will if they think about it. We have an election in a few weeks, so few it’s already past and here is a thing that binds us together: our anxiety about the possibility of violence. “Once bitten” they say. And now a Kenyan is a person who gets scared at the sound of elections.  Let’s say apprehensive. Some people hope for violence because this is the world we live in. In violence there are opportunities:, opportunities for revenge, opportunities for money, opportunities for gain, opportunities for power. Some people hope for it and denying that simple fact is too naive. Most people though, a vast majority do not want it. We are scared of it and have sent a lot of breathless prayers to occupy the space between the clouds and our faith. Even in the voices of the ones who are sure it won’t happen you can detect a false hint. A little too much bluster. A confidence that covers the things we all feel. A tremor that whispers it might.

So there we are after all this search for a national identity. After all the questions about whether we should call ourselves African even though that encompasses more tribes than the number of people even the most social of us have as friends on Facebook. What can it mean to be Kenyan when the only reason this happened is that we lived inside British borders. It seems that we lucked onto an answer. A Kenyan is someone who feels apprehensive about the reaction to the results of March 4th. This encompasses our diaspora community. It includes all our tribes. In this group there are people who are politically active and those who are completely apathetic. There are all those who give their children African names and the ones who still stick to European ones.

But then it also includes people who just live in Kenya. There are the ones who know Kenyans and the ones who have business interests here. There are even people who care about other people without any need for direct involvement. It doesn’t really work as a definition for Kenyans in the end.

Maybe nothing does. Nothing is supposed to. Perhaps identity, ours as individuals and the ones of the groups that we believe we belong to is supposed to be fluid. It’s supposed to change at every opportunity. It’s supposed to expand to encompass more people and contract and leave people out. To shake and shimmer so much it’s a mirage at the end of a long sun-parched road. Maybe the whole point of identity is our search for it. If we knew who we actually were what would we ask ourselves. What would be the point of writing or singing or any other form of artistic expression? Maybe the whole point of identity is that it makes us feel slightly uneasy and a little off kilter. Apprehensive about who we are. Apprehensive about what that means. Apprehensive about results and what comes next.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

the one about justin bieber

relevant portion of the video is at the 2.00 minute mark.

“Dear god give us back Tupac and take Justin Bieber. “

I was watching a show by Jimmy Kimmel, or more precisely a snippet of a show where celebrities would read nasty tweets sent to them by people around the world. Mr. Bieber read this one out and looked at the screen. It wasn’t a hurt look just a look. The look said  look at what people say about me. It was just a glance at the screen at the end of reading that tweet, it was dignified, it was hurt and I was disgusted. Not by him of course but by the person who had sent that tweet to an 18 year old boy.

At 18 I would hurt if someone made a snide comment about my acne, I would be heartbroken if a girl I liked didn’t pick up my phone call. At 18 he reads about people wishing him dead and then he looks at the screen like its no big thing. He’s used to it by now. I can tell. Who else is more reviled on the internet than Justin Bieber? Who else is more hated by the age group just above him than this young man? We have all heard and laughed at the jokes about Bieber. How he looks like a woman, how he should be a lesbian, the quality of his music etc. etc.

I hear it all the time too. When friends want a quick cheap laugh they fall to Justin and his… I am not even sure what it is about him that brings people to such displays of hate and spite. We could argue that it’s all done in fun but he’s 18 years old and for the last couple of years he has read these things about himself, he has heard them, he has lived with them. Why though?

The last time I was with people who went on a Justin Bieber hating frenzy I posed the question of why? Why not just change the radio station and listen to something else? Because “this is a sign of degrading musical and cultural tastes. He is a symbol of things going to the dogs and the younger generation being unable to appreciate the things that really matter.”  How after all can changes by Tupac have that much less hits than baby by Justin Bieber? Then why not listen to more Tupac instead of hating on Bieber.

Changes is a beautiful song though. It is about something important, it is about discrimination and pain, it is about what we need to do in our lives to make our lives better. It is a song about what it means to grow up black and poor in America. “Instead of a war on poverty they got a war on drugs so the police can bother me.” That’s a beautiful line. In the space of a tweet he manages to indict the whole American drug policy, in so few words he lays it bare showing what it actually is discrimination based on race or at the very best economic and social class. It is an iron fist used to keep down the masses that someone didn’t think should rise. All through the song you get these beautiful lines, each of them speaking to a truth, each of them words you can imagine a Che Guevara figure singing, “They got money for wars but can’t feed the poor.” This before they engaged in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars these two were proof that that government had money to spend but wouldn’t do it on social welfare, on education or even the health of its citizens. “I made a g today, but you made it in a sleazy way, selling crack to the kids, I gotta get paid.” This is one of those songs that you point to as a defence to people who say that rap is about bitches hos and money. It’s about those things but it’s also about life, it’s about the state of the world, it’s about the experiences of  a group of people that we would never understand as well if we didn’t listen to their music, but it’s also about bitches, hos and money because that’s a part of the life these people have known. Changes is something, it deserves more views than Justin Bieber but that’s my opinion and you know how I try to make this a reality? I don’t listen to Justin Bieber instead I listen to 2 pac.

This is how it works, this is how a free market economy works. People choose what to listen to, the nature of free speech means they can say what they want about those who they don’t like. They can wish death on Justin Bieber without fear and with the internet they are able to make sure he knows what they want. Is this what has changed? Is it the internet? We have all heard and know about how anonymity and mob psychology make us worse people. We can spout off without any danger of repercussion. Does that mean we should though. Sure I think Tupac is better than Justin but people older than me thought music had gone to the dogs because they loved Marvin Gaye and before that because they liked Elvis Presley and before that and before that. The history of music is a history of one generation not understanding the crap that the next one puts in their ears. The people of my parent’s generation can’t hear rap. Not that they will refuse to listen to it they actually can’t hear the lyrics. They have no idea what is being said and when they look at the videos all they see is skimpily clad women and alcohol and weed. On that they judge and say it’s horrible music. On that they decide that what we listen to is crap.

The things my 14 year old cousin listens to are completely alien to me. Her life experiences are different, she grew up with Facebook and twitter and the internet. And on a deeper level what she has gone through that human beings all go through is not yet close to what I have done and gone through. She has no heartbreaks in her past, she doesn’t know the pain and sweet yearning of unrequited love, she hasn’t had betrayal and deep deep disappointment, and she hasn’t had to make a choice that could conceivably change her whole life. And so the music she listens to, the music she relates to speaks to her life experiences. Tiny crushes and small heart fractures and playing in the sun. As it should be. We struggle with so much darkness, indecision and doubt as we get older and that cloud doesn’t rise. For a moment in their lives, for that moment before they begin to doubt the existence of God or even the fact of his love. That moment before they see the devil living in all of us and the pains that are caused when a system is ran by human beings. For just that moment isn’t it better for them to listen to Justin Bieber talk about things they understand rather than “I see no changes, wake up in the morning and I ask myself is life worth living should I blast myself?”

The thing about Justin Bieber is I can’t really listen to him. I can hear him and think his songs are catchy but they weren’t made for me. When I want to contemplate I put on a song that says “I’m tired of being poor and even worse I’m black, my stomach hurts so I’m looking for a purse to snatch.” There is a lot of dark reality awaiting the young ones out there. When they come to see it and ask themselves why people must suffer and want to find out about the sufferings of others they will listen to Tupac. Until then let them have Justin Bieber and a place filled with rainbows and suns. If you don’t like him don’t listen to him.

Misplaced hate makes disgrace to races. Tupac said this in that song. He was talking about racism but nothing is ever about just one thing. He was also talking about hate. Hate with no reason. Hate that spreads bitterness and poison all over the world. Hate that makes people feel less than they are that makes them feel worse about who they are. The kind of hate that makes the person who sent that tweet send it.

Maybe it’s all the darkness we know that allows us to hate him so much. Maybe it’s because we are still so young we don’t realise that all this has come before and that all this will come again. Maybe it’s just mindless fun and the need for a few quick, cheap laughs that drives us to say these horrible things. Whatever it is is it worth that 18 year old boy being told that someone wishes him dead just because this other person can’t switch the channel, mute the radio or walk away. There is already too much hate in the world for more unnecessary drivel aimed at Justin. Still changes does need more views on you tube so here I link it for your viewing and thinking pleasure.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Sometimes I overflow with words. Old bits and pieces of  arguments I have had and books I have read, movies I have watched and speeches I have heard fight for space in my brain. They mix and match and march out of my head in a haphazard manner and at those times I wonder why anyone thinks it’s wrong to speak out loud.

Sometimes I am filled with silence. One so vast it feels empty, there is nothing in there, no thoughts thumping around, no songs whispering in my ear. Just silence. So deep it feels like I am lost in a deep valley somewhere, so deep that the sun doesn’t really reach the floor, so deep that the shadows of the peak start halfway down and from where I am standing all I can see is the shadow of a shadow of a shadow. Sometimes this is peaceful, sometimes I just want the noise back, I want the words to dig me out of the valley, to carry me to the sun again even though I know it will scorch me and I know that the words it speaks will create too much noise for me to hear myself think.

Sometimes I wake up happy for no reason at all. There is a song on my lips and a smile in my face. I greet everyone  I meet thinking to spread it around, it’s a deep happiness, one that doesn’t seem like it will go away and for a day I am happy as can be.

Sometimes I wake up and feel like I am disappointing somebody. A vague someone somewhere who expected so much of me. On those days I can read disappointment in everything. The looks from my family, the words they say, and the silences they don’t. on those days I want to get in bed and sleep but can’t because I stew in that disappointment, unable to turn around enough that it can’t find me. Unable to cover myself up with enough darkness that it can’t see me. On those days more than the valley days I look for a distraction, I try to find a way to stop being myself, a way to be someone else. Anyone. So I’ll read a really sad book, watch a really touching movie, listen to a song that speaks straight to me past the feelings I have of disappointment and betrayal. On those days.

Sometimes I think of the night. In her I see all the things I could want out of life. I see mystery and adventure and curiosity. I see things that I could never really know and maybe never should. There I see all the beauty of wherever I am shaded in pastels of blue and black. There are times when the stars peek through the darkness, a million shining angels watching over the earth, just watching though because if they dared to come any closer affect what was happening we would all burn up. Then there are times of the strong moonlight, so clean, so powerful. Sauron’s eye looking down on us. And then I want to live in the night. To walk in it. To talk in it. To just be.

Sometimes I look at the day. there are days when the sun’s light is filtered through white clouds until it becomes grey. Then there are places where it breaks through these clouds. It shines down like a stairway to heaven and it makes me believe or at least want to. There are things you can see in the clear light of the sun, a flower shining just so, a rainbow caught traped in the middle of a teardrop, the translucence of the skin of a pretty girl, things that just blow you away. There are things you can see in the clear light of the sun that make you believe you are looking out of the pupils of a god. On those days I want to believe.

Sometimes I think it’s getting better. The world and all in it. The arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice said Theodore Parker. These are words I want to believe. I want to believe that man treats man better and better as time goes by. I want to believe there are more people happy, more people fulfilled, more people satisfied than ever before. I want to believe that we are on the right track as a species, a track that will take us to nirvana.

Sometimes I think that’s stupid. I feel like nothing is getting better and I hear words of greed everywhere I look, more instances of pain and suffering abound than used to. Wars are longer and more complex than they seemed to be before. I question the motives of every state and government in their actions and a small part of me awaits personal betrayal because this happened to everyone else what makes me think I could be more special.

Sometimes I want to pour out all I am feeling. To speak about loneliness and pain and anger. To hold forth on fear, hopelessness and despair. To feel less alone. Then I realise this means I want other people to be feeling this too.

Sometimes I want to lock it in. to put it behind a room that no one can find but me. To throw away a key that no one can use but me. To put on a brave face and hide behind epitaphs of how ok I am.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

on liking the devil

I like the devil.

He’s fun, he can be witty, he’s dangerous and tortured. In his mouth we can hear all the things we have privately thought. He is an excuse for everything. He is pleasure, he is hedonism, he is even everything that we are told to put off pleasure for. Work hard now so you can be rich and powerful is how we are inspired as children at least in Kenya . Our whole society in its materialistic vein encourages to work towards the fruits of the devil.

Now, now I am not a devil worshipper by any means. I just love him in books and I love him in movies and I love him in songs. In art he is par excellence. He is a writer’s dream. Imagine him for a moment but as a character. What does he have?  He is beautiful beyond comprehension the best in his class. So smart he can already see the system is rigged. When you are that good you want to be better, you want to be the best. You want to go out and do what you will. So what if the guy before you created rap music you want to take him off his throne and take it in a wholly different direction. You mean to show your respect but at the same time you need to have a little room to play with the ropes otherwise they all strangle you.

Then  this character he does what all great protagonists do he leads a rebellion. Is it because of this original story that we love the motif of the apprentice with so much promise going bad? Either way imagine him using this angel version of Facebook to spring them loose sending tweets in what he imagines is secret organising a rebellion based on free will and democracy. A Che Guevara among the heavenly hosts. Charming, courageous, just better. He sits them down one by one and convinces them all to follow. He flies before them using his words, his wings, his music to win them over. Angels cannot have been stupid they must have known this plan was going to end up in hell but I see him as one of the great orators. A lion standing up and telling them we will fight on the beaches, we will fight in the churches, we will fight in the very hearts and souls of men until such a moment as… no idea what he could have promised them. But he did and some of them listened. The ultimate war cry. The ultimate suicide mission even more wonderful for being the first rebellion ever. Where did he get the idea for it? Who were his predecessors? What does it even mean to you to have your first thought of disobedience unaided. There was no serpent on a tree for him he came to this all by himself. In those first moments there must have been hope. A short walk to victory was promised and they listened, their hearts soared much higher than their wings and they began to prepare. Sharpening their swords, making their plans all in fear, always in this horrible fear that could not overcome the hope that sprang in their hearts.

He  riles up the troops and soon the face of his rebellion changes. It’s no longer Egypt or Tunisia. It becomes hard fought. There is blood shed and lost on all sides. It morphs into Lybia for a while, a battle that wavers and wavers and then it becomes Syrian. A stale mate is drawn. Some take Aleppo some take Damascus. And then it changes altogether. It becomes an uneasy truce and for a while he changes too. He is no longer the young revolutionary he is the battle hardened leader. The one whose face becomes rugged and raw. The one whose nerves are bitten down to their bones. The one who is so tired all he could ask for is a place to rest. At the same time the one who can’t sleep because plans go over and over in his mind, he can’t drop off because of his doubts and hesistations. Charm and charisma mean nothing when you are sleeping on an empty stomach and feeding on fear and loss and all you want is to sleep so you can dream a  dream where you didn’t do this most stupid of things.

Then he becomes an emperor of his little kingdom.He has  lost that beginning  of the war so he reigns over sulphur and brimstone and angels who begin to resent their following him. Do we really imagine that Lucifer didn’t have to quell rebellions of his own? The angels who followed him loved their freedom. They were the ones who refused to bow down to man. This in itself as a reason for the rebellion is understandable. What was it that we had that angels didn’t? An everlasting soul? Free will? No, we were made in the image and likeness of God. His favourite children. And then they were asked to bow down. And some just couldn’t take it. They didn’t like bowing down and for all this time they have being bowing down to Lucifer? That’s stretching credibility. Of course there were some rebellions, some bloody wars. A hell within  hell. And now our new emperor quickly becomes a dictator.

And in this moment, somewhere in these moments he realises the futility of what he has done. If we are going by the Christian Lucifer, its game over for him. If he didn’t know it all he had to do was live through the New Testament where just the name Jesus would cast out his minions. And now he is lost. He knows he is lost and he becomes something else again. An eternal wanderer. A man who lives forever and has to justify his loss. There is nothing to live for because he knows how the end turns out and yet he continues churning out year after year. He continues in a torment that is hard to imagine. Despair feels horrible. I know because I have felt it. It smothers you and leaves you black inside. It leaves you unable to feel anything else, it demands all of you until all you want to do is fall in it. Yet all the despair that I have felt had a glimmer of hope in it. There was love around or something to live for. This is how  I bore it. This is how I took it. But not our devil in this incarnation. Now he walks around a tired old man holding on to an empire that means nothing more than a childish tantrum. Locked in a battle for the very souls he refused to bow down to. The saddest figure in the universe.

This character, his beautiful arc. From triumphant charismatic rebel, to battle worn leader and emperor over a sea of fire and finally to old man on the sea collecting sea shells for a reason he cannot remember muttering about his past to people who don’t care wandering out into a great nothing staving off death for no reason other than to scoop up some more sand. Broken, beaten but lovable. Of course I love him just a little.

Monday, January 7, 2013


Last night I woke up numerous times for numerous reasons. Once the moon shone right into the room. It was one of those insanely strong moonshines brewed by a redneck stuck somewhere in the sky. Everything was lit up, white and clear. The bars on the window broke the light into different countries, square and rectangular borders of white that allowed none of their citizens interaction. The light reached all the way to the other side of the room and I considered drawing the curtains because I thought I wouldn't be able to get back to sleep with so much light in my room.

There’s a line sometimes between dreams and wakefulness. It’s not completely distinct, it’s not a line that keeps things in place instead it’s a kind of shimmering. Somewhere that things are exchanged and fly between each other reminding us that the dream world and this one are relatives of a sort. This has been happening to me a lot. It’s not just the moon that wakes me up, sometimes I need to pee and I half wake up, half dream. It’s a lazy dream, well they are all lazy but what I mean is I am not completely into it. Half of me wants to give over to the dream and the other half wants to wake up and walk to the toilet. Then I lie in bed in conflict occupying this no-man’s land between dreams and wake. Until I finally get up and then I can go back to sleep completely. Sometimes I am woken up by a radio or by a sound. Not immediately shaken awake but transported to that land slowly and softly. The music I am listening to begins to accompany the dreams I have or maybe it’s that the dreams I have are moulding themselves to the music I am listening to. There is a soundtrack overlay to what I see, suddenly it’s not just what I was dreaming about but sometimes the lyrics find their way in. they speak to my mind and demand a visual release. There are songs I can remember seeing, not hearing but actually seeing unfold.  These are usually songs with stories in them and instead of hearing the lyrics to the song I see actors act out what’s happening.

There’s also a thin line that separates a year from a another. I like to have it more defined; I try to finish all the books I am reading in that year. I try to finish all the TV shows but it doesn’t always work and then it’s a new year. I stopped expecting much from them. There’s no opening up of the sky when the year makes a turn, there’s no magical impetus to change into someone new. I still believe in them though. This invisible line where nothing changes and nothing matters on one side or the other can be infused with so much meaning that it  matters. I see it like the equator. This is not even a line in the ground. My high school had the equator pass through it and you couldn’t see it. There was nothing there. But you could feel its effects, the way water turns one way on one side and another way on the other. The way it falls straight down when poured down the middle. The thing about the New Year’s is that it gives us all those things humans need in their myths. The three r’s. Redemption, Resurrection and Reinvention. A chance to become something new and better. To put off the clothes that became your character that became you last year. To tear off the skin that sticks so close you can hardly breathe and fashion for yourself a new costume, a new you.  Suddenly just because the date changed it feels like so can you. 12 wasn’t great for you well 13 can be a lucky number.

There was a song I used to love when I was younger; this photograph is proof by Taking Back Sunday. It had this beautiful lyric about a certain line in a relationship, “it’s never bad enough to just leave or give up but it’s never good enough to feel right.” This is something that applies to so many areas of life it’s ridiculous. That moment of  melancholy. Not even melancholy because at least that’s a feeling. This instead  speaks to a certain unease. An unease we have all felt, one that comes with the taste of compromise. The feeling of no one being happy. When we aren’t alive enough to be tasting the air or to be gulping the water or to be loving the world at the same time it’s not a black feeling. We aren’t at that point in life where shit is fucked up. In fact it’s ok. It’s that moment when you answer questions about how things are going by saying you can’t complain. It is true that you can’t complain. There’s really nothing to complain about your life is on a plateau and if you keep walking you will end up somewhere. However it doesn’t have the promise of walking up a mountain which is difficult, it’s filled with scratches and falls. Your palm hurts, your knees ache, your thighs scream bloody murder but you take a deep breath of air and look around you and it’s good enough to feel right. Or you could be walking into a valley. It’s filled with darkness and uncertainty. All the steps you take are about stopping yourself from going down too far too fast but at the same time there’s a feeling of anticipation. Your heart hammers in your throat, your neck throbs with expectation and excitement and in your deepest fears you feel alive. If it gets much worse though it is bad enough to leave or give up. The middle line though is easy to settle into. It’s easy to live there.

Therefore I do have a new year’s resolution. It was recently brought to my attention that I use the word am instead of the words I am or I’m. I’m going to change that. It’s one of those things, one of those small things, it’s never bad enough to just leave or give up but it’s never good enough to feel right. This year I want things to feel right.