enter your email to know about new posts

Friday, March 29, 2013

how is school?

“Ask a man a question enough times and he will tire of answering it.” Especially if that question is asked all the time in casual conversation where no answer more than the rote one you have cranked out hundreds of times before is the one that’s expected. You can’t really blame the person asking the question. Everyone asks a foreigner where they are from and how long they have been here. Everyone asks a girl with a  cast how she broke her hand and everyone, I mean everyone asks me how the fuck school is. No one asks it like that though it would be a refreshing breath of air if they did. This would signal that they wanted a different answer. No one answers the questions how is school and how the fuck is school in the same way. Even if the use of the latter only signals to me that colourful language is as on the table as salt in a nyama choma joint.

Seriously though the last time I was asked this much about school I was in primary and was being visited by those adults who are naturally uncomfortable around children(granted that I was one of those children who it could be easy to be uncomfortable around) and have no idea where to take conversation except to the subject of school and how big I had grown-this last thing in a different context I like to hear. I am tired of this question now. Extraordinarily tired, I won’t answer it unless I have a huge, huge crush on you and even then its touch and go, I won’t answer it when I’m drunk, I won’t answer it when I’m sober, I won’t answer it in the day, I won’t answer it when it rains. I won’t. I won’t except now.

I can  understand that people are curious, there’s my former classmates who went to KSL the year before me and want to relive their time there in a  fit of nostalgia and bitchiness. There’s all the friends I now have who I met when  I was outside academia. There’s people of limited conversational competence. It takes all kinds.

School is really all things(to give the broadest answer.) it’s fine because no one can really knock student life, even if it doesn’t inspire you it’s not filled with ludicrous deadlines, bosses you hate, co-workers you can’t get away from and a complete lack of control over your free time. No matter how mind-numbingly boring it can be there’s an escape, there’s an end. Unlike working there’s a finish line and that helps. You can tell yourself that for now, this is just for now. And you can enjoy the now.

Some of the lectures are mind-numbing, its sitting there and daydreaming, watching your watch watch you, ticking second after second, writing in your book, looking up at the PowerPoint, listening to the lecturer, playing a game on your phone, reading your constitution(sometimes I can be one of those super-focused folks), debating moral issues, thinking about election results, being excited about a weekend event, coming to terms with your belief system, looking out at the sunny compounds just beyond your reach, yawning, dozing and then looking at your watch and realising it’s been 2 minutes. That happens. On those days school is shit. It’s a comma that I can’t get out of.

Sometimes it’s actually pretty awesome. I like the concept of learning and I don’t even really mind the process. Put me in a room with hundreds of strangers and make us listen to one more (albeit more successful) stranger give us the secrets to life. It’s almost mystical, since I stopped going to church it’s about the last ritualised thing I go through. And it can be funny. Most lecturers have a handle on sexual and other types of innuendo(saying “come again” instead of “pardon” is not encouraged), they can be inspiring, they can go so successfully off topic you are sure they practised it and also they keep making these vague offers of drinks to come. Along with stories about some students getting arrested in Kisii when they went on a school thing because they went out looking for the red light district

It can be infuriating. There’s this concept of groups or firms. Everyone got stuck in a group not of their choosing, my group has 16 people. We are given assignments from every class and we must come to some sort of agreement about what we hand in. have you ever worked with 15 other people? There’s a reason none of the text of God the father consulting with the Son and the Holy Spirit is included in the genesis story of creation…that would have been one long book. On the plus side if whoever was writing did this they would have a wholly plausible explanation for why the earth is so many millions(or is it billions of years) older than the bible suggests. They would just say, well it took the trinity about 567 million yeas to decide whether to put the darkness in the day or in the night, and all the evolutionary missteps or process would just be them fooling around to prove why this works better than that. And how is my group? it’s like all the others: there are some smart people, there are some people who have researched well, there are people who are prepared, there are people I want to sleep with and there are people(I like to think) who want to sleep with me.

It can be Friday. There is no day like Friday. I won’t hurry in the morning, I won’t look at any assignments, I won’t bother to be on time, I won’t wear official, I won’t walk any faster than I can help it. The mind has switched off. My eyes are glazed over like I’m stoned by expectation. I sit in class and don’t really listen to anything that’s going on. The time goes by slowly but dreamily instead of any of the other watches I wear there’s a Rolex on my wrist. The seconds don’t tick they just merge into each other, sweeping away everything else.

And the girls. There are some pretty girls in my class, beautiful even. Last Friday I had packed up my books and was walking out of class an hour early, nothing that could be said would keep me there and then  I caught sight of this girl. She looked bored, incredibly bored. My words fail me in description and I'll borrow from Zadie Smith who when describing why American audiences fell in love with some European actress in the thirties  said “And then there is that sense of European ennui, of Weltschmerz, that no MGM player had projected before. They had vamps, they had sex bombs, but they’d never had existential depression.” She sat there smouldering, the world passing her by as she wasted time in an activity that her body said her mind found meaningless. I put my books back on my desk. The thing about her is that when she smiles it breaks through all this, and she smiles all the time so it’s not like I have any special monopoly on it. It’s just that now every single time it happens its special. This doesn’t capture the whole female spectrum of the class but sometimes I’ve learned that it’s better to be representative than to be absolute.
That in many words is how school is, I really hope no one asks again.

Monday, March 25, 2013

on being african and RIP Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe died on Friday. It hit me. It hit me like no other celebrity death in a while, it mattered more to me than Whitney Houston or Michael Jackson or Amy Winehouse. Maybe because more than any of the others he understood me, he knew me. Not personally because I don’t really know any famous people, however when I read his books I saw versions of myself in them, versions I didn’t know existed and yet most assuredly did. I read his books and understood myself, my history. I laughed and was moved by them. There was always a prophetic quality, maybe a present quality to them, they always felt like they were happening right now. You read a Man of the People and you see the same thing happening in Kenya, his explanation that African politicians had been too short in the hut and remembered how the rain felt and that this was why they held on to power so eloquently captures the dynastic nature of our politics . “If you put a juicy morsel in the mouth of a man how do you expect him not to chew?” As a rationalisation for all the corruption we see in power. I remember reading this book for school and meeting chief Nanga and seeing him through Odili’s eyes. At first all the awe that he inspired and the gradual disillusionment and eventually hate that I felt as he(Chinua Achebe) did that most wonderful of things, took me through his hero’s journey. Chinua Achebe understood what it meant to be African more than just about everyone in the world and his death was a blow to African literature and intellectualism. The only good thing that may come out of it is that his work will get a broader audience now.

Achebe had the gift of making us feel African. I remember being in Europe last year and getting pissed that people didn’t seem to realise just how diverse and different Africa was. They didn’t get that Nigeria and Kenya are so far apart that it cost more to go there than to get to Europe. I insisted on my Kenyan identity while I was there, I think in reaction to what I saw as intellectual laziness. It was exhibited so much, how people in university could not see the connection or lack thereof between things. Most Kenyans have a grasp of the general geography of the world, we know that only Brazil speaks Portuguese, we know that Canada and America are different countries and we understand about what happened when Russia was on its descent from being a superpower and what it means now that China is on its ascent. It bothered me that they(definitely not all but so many it became distinctly noticeable) couldn’t pay a similar courtesy to our continent that is surely more on their news than South America is on ours. I read a long-lost blog by a friend where she was talking about similar issues but she was grown-up enough to understand and admit that there was a similarity running through African veins, “Our problems are almost uniform in nature: pick a little old lady living in a village in the Gambia. Chances are, she has plenty in common with my grandmother living in Nyeri. It’s not an insult. It’s a fact.”

These two things got me thinking about the things we have in common, after a too long introduction I thought I  would make a list of sub-Saharan generalities, feel free to correct me as I go along.
1.       The concept of ancestors and descendants. Though Christianity has done its best to wipe away this “superstition” it still informs our lives. How much renaming goes on in an African family? Most people were named after grandparents and uncles and aunts. In addition it is enshrined in our land laws, at least in Kenya where our conveyancing lecturer keeps saying community land is held in trust and belongs to the many who came before, the few still alive and the countless yet to come, perhaps this is why it was so much easier to enshrine the concept of environmental protection in our constitution.
2.       The large, large families. We all seem to know our uncles and aunts and cousins going fifty deep. We aren’t all as close as we would have been some time ago but they mean something to us, something special, they ground us, they make us feel at home. This is why the whole notion of witness protection is foolish in an African context. You would have to evacuate not only me and my nuclear family but my cousins and their parents and then the people they loved and by the end there would be no one left in the country.
3.       Ugali, sadsa(in Zimbabwe.) I can’t remember its other names but I know there are incarnations of this dish in Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique, the Congo. It is -for those who don’t know- a dish made by mixing flour in piping hot water and adding more flour as you stir until you come up with a hard(mostly tasteless) but still well-loved cake.
4.       Colonialism and its scars. Well apart from Ethiopia and Liberia we were all ruled for decades, had a foreign power impose its will on us, take from us and give nothing back but borders that had we been in charge we would never have approved of. Borders that split families in half and forced tribes that knew almost nothing about each other into nation states that have not yet coalesced because the history and culture we amassed as separate entities is much more than that as single nations.
5.       The concept of African time. A friend in a bar told me that this arises because Africans always thought of time emotively. It was always “meet me here after your lunch” and you just felt that it was time. This is true in many ways, how many times are people just exactly as late as each other. And also the fact that we fit events into time. It happens a lot that I say, I’ll leave the house after lunch, when this movie is over and so on and so on.
6.       Chinua Achebe. He knew what it meant to be African, to be Nigerian to be a person. And he reminded us more than almost anyone else by telling our stories in a language that we could recognise, the transliteration of Nigerian idioms, the names that sounded real, foods that were strangers to me but much less than shepherd pie and lasagne ever were, the truth that our past makes us who we are and the stories of what happened live in each of us; that who we are is as much who we decided to be as who were always told we were.

So RIP Chinua Achebe.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

there's an old lady...

At the bar I usually go to there is sometimes an old woman. She walks with the gait of one who has carried way too many of life’s weights, her face is wrinkled with a map of all she has gone through. She’s not exactly thin, I think stout would be the best adjective to describe her. Stout and stooped, holding on tenderly, shakingly to a walking stick, clothed in garments that have not been washed in a long, long time.

The thing is she’s homeless. She walks around with what I assume are all her possessions, the clothes she wraps around herself, a shawl that has seen better days and all the memories that follow her from moment to moment. It’s not my place to say she’s not happy right now, happiness comes from somewhere inside and not something outside , but I don’t think I would be wrong to assume she has had more of the things outside in her long, long life. On the way to the toilet I see her bundled and ready to sleep. Once in a long while she asks for money and I guiltily say I have none as I head back to the bar more intent on changing my consciousness than helping an old woman. Once in a while she engages someone in conversation, the person is usually uncomfortable, eager to go back to their comfortable life. I think she represents the extreme end of something we don’t want to be. This is the embodiment of what we think of us failure; walking around in our old age, sleeping outside bars with neither family nor money.

Yesterday I was walking towards the bar and I saw her lying down. This wasn’t her usual place and so I stopped for a while. She saw me and said “pati”(one half of the Swahili word for slippers, the other being…pati.) I looked around and saw her slipper lying some distance from her. I bent over and picked it up. Then I put it near her foot. I had done my good deed for the day and now I wanted to walk on. But she needed help putting it on and at this point the guilt I felt about not helping humanity in any way for such a long time was gnawing big bachelor-sock shaped holes in my gut. I helped her fit her foot in it and then I began to walk on.

But, here’s the thing she wanted to get up and she couldn’t. She seemed drunk and every effort she made left her back on her butt. “Nikusaidie.” “Asante.” I put out a hand and grabbed hers and tried to lift her up, this still wasn’t enough, she needed much more help than a person my age would. I bent down again and put my arms around her in order to help her up. Three thoughts flashed through my mind as I did this:
1.       Her hand felt brittle as I tried to lift her, old people have weak bones what if it snapped off?
2.       She could usually walk so maybe she was drunk and I remember reading a book by Dostoevsky where he talked about one Russian helping a drunk up with the fondness Russians save for one who is drunk.
3.       I didn’t want my clothes to be dirty or smelly.
There was a bag on the floor and I held her steady as she bent to pick it up. She wanted to say something to me and so I leaned in close even though I didn’t want to and she said “shetan ashindwe” (may the devil be defeated.) then she said “God loves.” In my mind these sounded like blessings and I was touched by them. Everyone loves being given blessings and there’s something to getting them from an old woman. There’s something to getting them from an old woman who’s missing a lot of her teeth and is dressed in garments that look to be made of sackcloth. There’s something about being given a blessing by a woman who reminds me one of Macbeth’s witches or of old Nan from game of thrones.

For some reason it seemed more potent. Then she asked me to help her get her stick, I was still holding her around the waist and shoulder and there was no way I could get it without letting go of her so I dragged it with my feet towards us and when it was close enough she bent down to pick it up. Then she was stable. She held on to her walking stick the way we all hold on to life, unsure but not ready to let it go at any cost and then she gave me another blessing and  walked away.

Just last week the Catholic Church chose a pope who took his name from St. Francis of Assisi. There’s a story that once he was riding round medieval Europe as he was wont to do in those medieval times and he saw a leper. He overcame his disgust and leapt from his horse and pressed money into the leper’s hands and was a changed man from that point. The pope said that a church would be spiritually poor if it cared more for its priests than for its people.

I think about charity sometimes, not the kind that St. Francis was capable of or the kind that Mother Theresa did. Those are the magical ones that I really don’t believe all human beings can do. It’s not possible for us to completely subsume our selfishness and think of others. Even as I was helping the old woman up I was thinking about how much I didn’t want to be there, I was trying to do the least possible in order to walk away and not feel so guilty. I may be wrong but I don’t think this necessarily makes me a bad person, it just makes me a person. It’s easy to help if we can feel clean about it afterwards, if the process of helping doesn’t at the end of the day hurt us or make us feel less in our own eyes. I know that I couldn’t press money into a leper’ hand for the simple reason that I don’t want to get leprosy and for the more complex reason of the association that we all have with dirt and the way it makes us feel, the more complex reason that it’s not just the leprosy as a condition but the whole package that is contagious. This seems to be how we act, or at least how I acted yesterday. Usually  I don’t mind getting dirty, I sit on the floor, I drop my bag everywhere, I put my hand on dirty railings and buy fruit that’s not been washed and clean it on my shirt and eat it. But there was something about her dirt that I didn’t want to get to me.

Maybe I am a bad persona and I don’t know it, but I think I’m normal. No one is going to saint me of that I’m sure. And even though I came to realise that I have a lot of faith in humanity I don’t think I have a lot of faith in humans. Maybe it’s me skewing things to make myself better by thinking of others as worse but I really don’t believe that people go through charity without conflicting emotions, some of which I went through. When I meet someone on the street asking me for money, I don’t think of giving that money as a charitable act, I think of it as buying gratitude and peace of mind. As paying for the privilege of thinking of myself as a good person. So when I think the premium is good enough I do it and thinking this way it doesn’t matter that there’s a cartel of beggars or that the money won’t go to food. As long as it wasn’t charity but a service I am ok with whatever happens afterwards.

For a long, long time I was convinced that the only reason people did charitable acts was so they could feel good about themselves. I know this can’t be true and that it only happened that I thought this way because my un-saint mind was doing the thinking. There are people out there who work for nothing, not even gratitude. How else can anyone explain what comes of parenting, a job that can be ridiculously thankless.

Anyway I helped an old lady last night, it made me feel good and bad at the same time the fact of the act was good. The things I thought about as I did it, especially the fact that I really didn’t want to was not. A while back I always had a problem with selfless giving. The giving cheerfully that we are asked to do for church, I thought that it was better to give when you don’t want to. When that happens you are giving both the material and the sacrifice but maybe not. Maybe it was just my way of reasoning who I am, a grumpy giver then and a grumpy giver now. Though it’s difficult to imagine that anyone as complex as human beings are can be overcome with just one emotion at the same time. I remember reading somewhere that Mother Theresa asked people to give until it hurts, that it’s not a sacrifice unless you sacrifice.

George Sands once says that charity demeans those who receive it and hardens those who give it. I can see how this is true, I can also see how the opposite can be true too. That the act of giving can lower you in your own eyes, in the eyes of others. And that the act of receiving can also harden you depending on how it’s given and why.

I really have no conclusion to this, its possible that if I had just walked by her and not stopped to help I wouldn’t have given it another thought and that what I got for helping was not peace of mind but conflict about what it really means to help especially when we don’t want to.

Monday, March 18, 2013

the footnote

One thing that had to happen on the way to adulthood was that I needed a signature. Noone ever teaches you how to write, or draw, probably sign a signature, it’s one of those things that falls through the cracks of lessons learned. I believe most people learn the basics of signature writing by forging their parent’s signatures. I never did this, not only was the fear of God so deep in me but I was a horrible drawer. I would try to trace the outline of a lion or frog or whatever it is that people draw in primary school and come out with something that looked like a ghost. I also remember overthinking  when I tried to draw the signatures. Sometimes I would be convinced that I needed to be in the person’s mind to do it. To figure out the emotions they were trying to portray by putting a curve here and a line there, what does that little squiggle say about their psychology, what philosophy of life leads them to draw one out that goes round and round like a river, what emotions are they trying to portray by using a squiggle here?. It was impossible. The time came for me to make mine up and it came at a time of laziness. It has a Z in it. I know the Z represents finality, the last of something, maybe it was the last attempt I ever made I can’t remember right now. It goes round and round and ends up in a G because I was told to put one of the letters of my name in the signature. It’s quite frankly a shitty signature. I look at banknotes sometimes and I realise no one will ever make me the governor of the central bank. Go ahead and pick out a note and look at it. The signature flows like the Nile with jut as much meandering. Mine peters out like a stream in a desert. I’m not worried about bank fraud and such things, just that I will never be the governor of the central bank. That sucks.

I realised the other day just how interesting footnotes are. If you want the real story look at those. They have all these tiny asides and titbits of humour that cannot be put into straight academic text. Sometimes there’s just an anecdote that would break up the narrative flow and the author decides to put it in the footnotes. They provide the texture to a piece of researched writing and they give you freedom. Either you pile yourself into the main structure of the story and don’t take any detours determinedly driving to the finishing line or you go this way and that. You meander, you wander, you look for the Easter eggs and delight in opening up for them. Some novels have footnotes. Works of fiction with footnotes, after a while it becomes tiring of course, it stretches your mind this way and that and doesn’t fit into linear chronology, you go off on this wild goose chase and come back having learned all these things but it seems the characters you were following haven’t moved at all. You as a reader had an adventure without them a part of it and you came back, your life was changed but they were the same.

Still the footnote makes me happy. The thought that I won’t be the governor of central bank tickles me the most about my signature. I was in a legal writing class the other day and the lecturer was talking about ambiguities in writing. As an example he mentioned a place he went to where he saw a sign that said "tourist approved taxis." Does this mean that the taxis are approved by tourists or approved for tourists? The latter apparently but I wanted to know where he was that only some taxis were approved for tourists. Which government was this that cared more about its visitors than its nationals, how was this discrimination allowed anywhere? After class someone pointed out to me that this wasn’t the real point of the story.

I’m taking this online course on coursera.org. It’s a website that gives free online courses taught by lecturers from some of the best universities in the world. They assign you reading, they provide video lectures, they assign essays for you to write and there’s a quiz to do every week. So you learn quite a bit. The one I’m doing now is called know thyself; it’s about self-knowledge and the processes behind it. As part of the reading we are assigned the six meditations of Descartes. The first one deal with the question of existence and doubt ending in the famous proclamation I think therefore I am. The second one deals with the existence of God, i can't remember what the rest were about right now.

There’s a part in the meditations where he talks about the effort made in creating something  and that its exactly the same as that made in maintaining it. Well, I’ve been tired al this week. Tired, tired, tired. I could chalk it up to my dream life, but I have a better explanation. You see I have let my hair grow for months now. It’s still growing; this means I am expending effort in creating new hair and in maintaining the hair that I already have. This is exhausting, I’m tired now, more tired than i've been in a long, long time. All this extra effort used in maintaining this hair and creating new follicles is killing me.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

ten pope commandments

First off no disrespect meant by this to the pope and all the catholic faithful, i hope your reign is beneficial for the world and i understand that the church's place in providing peace, joy, happiness, purpose and relief from suffering is immeasurable.

Second, borrowed the rhythm and most of the words from Biggie Smalls, my skills have nothing on him. They are a pale, pale shadow.

That said this is to the tune of the ten crack commandments.

I’ve been in this life for years, it made me an adult
There’s rules to this thing, let’s not make it just a cult
Here’s a step by step booklet for you to get
Your game on track not your hat pushed back

Rule nombre uno: never let no one know
How much, dough you hold, cause you know
Means a lot of us still think you maf-ya

Number two: never let em know your next move
Don't you know relligions works best in silence not violence
Take it from your highness (uh-huh)
I done seen mystery used to draw in the converts and supplicants

Number three: never trust no-bo-dy
Your butler will sell your documents if he’s properly motivated 
Either  for that fast buck, or genuine idealism
Soon you’ll be lying in the Vatican, ready to start quittin’

Number four know you heard this before
never deny no  sex scandals

Number five, kiss the ground where you land at
It’s been shown that people around the world love that

You think a sinner paying you back? Forget it

Seven. This rule is so underrated
Keep family and church completely separated
Even if that family is foreign Remember the lessons of AnneBoleyn
Or you’ll have yourself a brand new church

Number eight: papal armies lead to a fall
The kingdom be spiritual not temporal

Number nine should have been number one to me
Save infallibility until you have to
If people think you dictating they ain’t trying to listen
They’ll be getting with other doctrines ready to start switchin’

Number ten,  strong word called the schism
Strictly for big feuds not  easily forgiven
If you don’t got full backing don’t excommunicate

Follow these rules and you’ll have mad bread to break up,
If not that 1.2 B will start to dry up
With a  brand of fire faith you can’t match up
charisma and fire and brimstone 
Have them three decades your stronghold is long gone
And the next time we have a conclave
rutrum ad papam. Francis

Monday, March 11, 2013

the optician

Every three or so years I make a visit to the optician. This is roughly the amount of time that it takes for me to; a) break the last pair of spectacles I bought and b) have reached that point of both desperation and availability of money that allows me to get new ones.

The last glasses I had were broken by robbers, I started school recently and I can’t see anything. Not the PowerPoint on the screen, not my lecturers as they speak and not even the pretty girls who got all dressed up to be admired. These are three things whose function, whose destiny it is to be seen and while I may be ok with not achieving my purpose in life don’t let it be said that I am a disabler.

The way to buy glasses in Kenya is to buy frames off the street and walk into an optician’s office for the lenses. I go to the same optician all the time. He’s an Indian guy(or a series of Indian guys I’m actually not sure because when I go there I don’t have my glasses on account of them being broken) who operates out of a shop near the railway station. I’m not sure what the name of the shop is but close to it is a chips and chicken joint. The kind that used to be popular before they all became kenchics. The kind that had a dozen different names and were strewn all over the town centre and where (if you lived in Nairobi) you wold be taken to on a Sunday afternoon right after church sometimes. The chicken would be grilling ever so slowly, turning around and around on a spit, moving slowly and seductively, brown thigh and brown breasts bringing lust to all your senses so that when you learned that there was a Swahili phrase like kuku pono it made perfect sense.

What happens is you enter the optician’s shop and one of the three attendants comes up to you. They are all female attendants all the better to push the ludicrously high-charged frames hanging around the wall on you. Then you sit down before the main test and look into this machine thing. It’s like a pinhole camera with an image at the back of it. You rest your chin on it and the hole is put first to your left eye then to your right eye. The image flashes clear and sharp then becomes blurry and indistinct. It’s an image of an English house, with an English yard and a white picket fence. In earlier times I would not have thought much about that image but recently I have become much more attuned to the cultural colonialism that we are under in Kenya. Point of fact : this post is in English, I wrote one a couple of weeks ago about thebooks I had read and they were all in English. Until very recently the good movies about Kenya were not made by Kenyans(seriously though if you haven’t yet watch Nairobi half-life go do it) it’s very hard to find long pieces of journalism, the kind filled with background and context, the ones that try to explain not only the conflict and the immediate reasons for it but also the history and the forces that led to it in Africa written by an African. This is probably due to the economic set up of most of our news reporting. Those kind of pieces rarely show up in newspapers around the world but abound in weekly magazines, most of our magazines explain personal instead of public relationships though. E.g. it would be good to read a profile of a politician or a businessman, something that looks into his beginnings and the path he has taken.(there is a chance I just don’t know where to look if you do please leave a link behind I promise to use it.) Instead there is a lot about how to keep a man happy or a woman interested

Moving on from that digression. Next you are led into the inner sanctum. The quiet, dark place where the testing takes place. The optician turns off the light and asks you to sit down. He takes out this huge metal mask(for lack of a better word.) what it is though is a metal instrument with a bridge where it fits over your nose and a pair of swivelling arms that have the ability to fit different lenses. There is of course a notice board opposite you with letters in decreasing size. The mask is put on your face and  he asks you to read. You read what you can and he  plays around with the setting of one of the lenses. Sliding glass into the metal receptacle, it makes a tiny version of the hands screeching over a blackboard noise, scree, scree as he does it. He asks you to read again from the board. All this time he has a tiny torch that he shines in your eye. For me this has the effect of making me tear up. Magically as he does this you see better and better  until you can read this line of words perfectly. This is always a good moment. Everything is right with the world and you can see the way other people see. Which is with clarity and distinction, you are able to make out outlines of objects instead of massing them all together. You can see the trees in the forest. The world becomes more beautiful because it’s not just a mass of objects but each object on its own.

Then he told me I would have to get photocromatic lenses because I am allergic to light. I had never heard this said this way before and it was hurtful. Allergic to light. This is a horrible state of affairs to find yourself in. he made me feel like some kind of vampire, some creature who this world wasn’t made for because the world is filled with light. It floods every aspect of it, makes it better and brighter. I am a fan of light too bad though the rest of my body isn’t. The bright side(though I am allergic to the bright side of things apparently.) I don’t have to hear such things for on average another three years.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

a note to loser

I can’t imagine how hard the last few days have been for you. It’s been trying for me and I have worked (quite well I might add) at convincing myself that it doesn’t matter who wins this election. But for you it matters and it matters a lot.

Soon you will hear whether or not you lost and on the same day you will know if it was the kind of loss you can come back from in a few weeks or the kind that means you can forget about your dream for years or…forever. I can’t imagine how hard this is for you the waiting, the anxiety, the tension. I have wanted before in my life some of them I  didn’t really allow myself to work for, I let them fly out of my reach because it felt better knowing that I hadn’t tried. And then there are the others, the things that I worked for, that I bled for, lived for, felt like I would have died for. There are the things that became my life.

For this you have worked harder than anything I have ever worked for. It wasn’t the work of a year or even a decade. This is a dream that  stretches back and shadows your whole life. It might be something your father wanted for you and wouldn’t have been happy if you didn’t try for. If he was like most fathers of that time he was withholding and you were never sure of the affection he held for you. You wanted his pride and you were willing to do almost anything for it. The mythical status of him meant that you never really understood that a father is not a god. After all, he was for so many people. All the flaws you started to see in him were not seen by so many others and when millions of people hold a man up as a deity doesn’t he become one? And what kind of life does a man like that live, how much time could he have had for you but this is my way of thinking that maybe it was his dream and not yours. But that can’t be wholly true because he’s been gone for a long time. Perhaps then  it was a dream you inherited as surely as you inherited his charisma and hold on power.

You became the new deity for all those millions of people. They put you on that pedestal that he occupied and you became the new focus for all their dreams and hopes. Your dreams and hopes became entwined in them. The whisper in your ear became the beat in your heart. There is a story I love. It’s about roman generals getting a triumph. When they came back from their wars they would be allowed into the city at the head of their vast spoils. The kings of foreign lands and their creatures, elephants and tigers prowling in cages, beautiful women and gold and silver walked with them.  Most of all there was the adulation of the people. I have read that there is no greater drug than the love of millions. Their screams of worship and their genuine adoration is addictive. In the midst of all this a man can believe he is a god. He can see himself as immortal. One more thing was given to these roman generals, a slave whose job was to whisper in their ears over and over again memento mori-remember you will die, remember you will die.

To be you is to be one of these roman generals after your father was one of these roman generals except there is no slave. There is only your gnawing self-doubt. The kind of self-doubt that comes about by realising that there is another deity in your generation, another god in your country and the power that you want is not decided only by your worshippers but by his as well. There is also the special drug of elitism that politics awakens in everyone. -Well, in everyone who can be a successful politician and you are. One of the two most successful politicians this country had this side of the millennium.- A politician must believe that he is the best for the job. He must say it over and over. And to give up all you had to give up to get this far, to give up privacy and all your other dreams, to endure all the rumours swirling and whirling around you, it was necessary for you to believe that this country needed you. So necessary that you ended you ended up needing it.

It seems that our country is always at a watershed, we are poised on the brink of brinks. Every election since the millennium has been more important than the last. 2002 and the first winds of change in 24 years. 2007 and the pain of almost been shattered apart. 2013 and a chance for redemption. And you have played a key role in each of those, shaping the destiny of our country like a potter at his wheel.

Greatness has touched you, it has brushed its wingtip against your cheeks, it has taken you by the hand, embraced you by the body, occupied you by the spirit and allowed you to influence the lives of nearly forty million people for all this time. It comes knocking on your door again and asks you to choose it over your dreams and hopes. I don’t think you will ever read this but if you do, listen to greatness knock. You lost this election and greatness asks for one more sacrifice. It asks for you to say that you did. To bow down and accept the results that have been given you. The battle rages between fulfilment and greatness but a man like you was never meant to be satisfied, he wasn’t meant to be happy. What-ifs will hound you  the rest of your life but that is what is asked of a man like you. And so I ask you to be great and to lose because this is what the country needs right now. You. Just as much as you need it.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

february reads

This post is about the books I read in February. Last month I quoted my favourite passages from each of the books I liked this time I’ll let you know why and in some cases how I got to read the following books.

In the House of the Worm-George R.R. Martin.

In 2011 I kept putting off watching the game of thrones tv series, I wanted it to all end first, and I wanted to be done with university. Then I finally watched it. I sat down and slipped in a DVD and that music that’s become so hauntingly familiar began playing, all through the first episode I wasn’t sold until the final scene when (SPOILER ALERT) Bran, the ten year old Stark child, walked in on the queen and her brother in the midst of twincest. Jaime Lannister throws him out of a window and the first episode ends. I dare anyone to stop right then, I couldn’t, I just kept watching and a whole day ended. Then the first season ends with the birth of dragons and I couldn’t imagine waiting for all those months in order to find out what happens next, I picked up the books, began to read them and was lost to human society for weeks. When I finally emerged the world of ice and fire seemed so much more real than th one i actually walk in. I knew names and heraldries, I had dreams about these people and then I found out that the space between the books is about 5 years meaning a long, long wait for more material, I began reading his back catalogue which stretches past fantasy into horror and science fiction. Every once in a while I get an itch for more of him and so I read this story.

The Dream Chasers-Claudette Odour.

When I first started blogging I wanted to read more stuff by Kenyan writers and I had no idea how to get recommendations about what blogs to read. A friend of mine suggested that I should read Biko’s blog and so I did, it was amazing writing and then it hit me that I could see where the commenters linked to. So that’s what I started doing clicking on the names of those who commented so that I read where it took me. This worked because it introduced me to a lot of blogs I read to this day. There was one link to a blog called lostinthot. I remember the writing being so poetic and lyrical that it was addictive. That blog doesn’t exist anymore but the writer has another one up soulfool.me  click on that and read the first post, read more than that, trust me it’s worth your time. Later I found out she had written a book and it was available on amazon.com. The price was very friendly and I have a friend with an amazon account so I asked a favour and got it to read in no time at all.

Twenty Years Later- Alexandre Dumas

Last year I read the three musketeers and loved it. I laughed and laughed all through. There was so much drama  it was like a season of 24. This book is the continuation of those adventures. It catches up with the four adventurers 20 years after the events of the first book. Another reason I decided to read it was that I reread the club dumas by Arturo Perez last year, a book that serves as a sort of homage to Dumas’ books with all the tropes of an adventure serial trotted out and displayed and at the same time examined since it follows a rare book-hunter who knows quite a bit about Dumas. One of the characters called twenty years after one of the best odes to friendships that there is. These men meet after all these years and the things that happen to people happened to them, they are not really friends anymore and one of them says, “it is that the honest emotions of youth have given place to suggestions of interest,  whispers of ambition, counsels of selfishness” someone else says, “at two and twenty a one calls every man one’s friend.” Unfortunately the love I had for this continuing story ran the same course as that the musketeers felt for each other and I left off before I could finish the book.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian- Marina Lewycka.

I was in town at around 8 p.m. one Sunday when I bumped into one of those book hawkers. You know, the ones who spread out all these books in a blanket and sell them for about 50 shillings. The thing about those guys is that I stop every time I see them, every single time and try to find a better use for that money than buying credit. I was doing this when I saw the book above. The title drew me and stupidly I picked it up just to see if it was actually in Ukrainian. Then I decided to buy it, which goes to show how much a good title can do for a book.

Never let me go- Kazoo Ishiguro

I really like Lev Grossman, he’s the one of the book critics for Time magazine. He’s funny and interesting and you can tell he loves books. He talks about them with so much passion in his heart you could never doubt it. He and Richard Lacayo did a thing for the magazine some where they wrote about the best 100 book since time(the magazine began.) in it he wrote about this book and this is what was said:

Kathy, Tommy and Ruth are students at Hailsham, a very exclusive, very strange English private school. They are treated well in every respect, but as they grow older they come to realize that there is a secret that haunts their lives: Their teachers regard them with fear and pity, and they don’t know why. Once they learn the secret it is already far, far too late for them to save themselves. Set in a darkling alternate-universe version of England, and told with dry-eyed, white-knuckled restraint, Never Let Me Go is an improbable masterpiece, a science fiction horror story written as high tragedy by a master literary stylist. It’s postmodern in its conception, but Ishiguro isn’t playing games or chasing trends: The human drama of Never Let Me Go, its themes of atrocity and acceptance, are timeless and, sadly, permanent.

That’s why I read that book and it was worth it.

The Road-Cormac McCarthy.

We used to keep the radio in the dining room in the house i grew up in. It was inside this glass cabinet and you had to bend down low in order to fiddle with it. I was being pretentious and listening to the BBC, there was a show that used to come at around 2:30 on thursdays or wednesdays. It was called the strand. It was a radio show about culture and art. Three british people would talk quietly, precisely about what had come out that week.

This week they talked about the film the road which was based off of the book i eventually read. They talked about its depiction of an apocalypse as two people, the man and his son the boy walked along a road. It sounded bleak and desperate  It sounded grey and as it turns out it was. I saw someone selling the book for 50 shillings and snatched it up.

Farewell to Arms-Ernst Hemmingway

I’ve wanted to read Hemmingway for so long and have subsequently read so much about him that I thought it would be impossible to pinpoint the beginning of my motivation to read this book. Then I remembered or at least I think I did. I love the west wing. It was an American drama about politics and all the attendant themes set in the white house. One episode has the chief of staff sent to negotiate with Fidel Castro(sometimes they mentioned real people in the fictional world where it would make no sense to pretend they don’t exist.) he stays at a house that Hemmingway owned in Cuba. And this quote was mentioned in the episode:

The world breaks everyone and afterwards many are strong at the broken places but those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very strong and the very gentle indiscriminately.

I don’t know why this touched me so much maybe because it captures my twin cynicism in the world and faith in humanity to reinvent itself despite all of that. It was a quote I carried around for so long, and then I began to read about Hemmingway, about how much he drank, how much he lived and travelled and how sad he died(self-wielded shotgun to the mouth.) I read that in a barroom bet he wrote a short story in 6 words: Baby shoes for sale. Never worn.  And finally I read him, it took too long.

East of Eden-John Steinbeck

I read  the kite runner  some time ago and it touched me in ways books should but don’t always. Its main theme of the relationship between fathers and sons and how that has in it so much bitterness, disappointment and betrayal as well as beauty, redemption and pride resonated very deeply with me. At the back of the book Khaleed Hosseini is interviewed about his top ten favourite books. Grapes of wrath by John Steinbeck was on the list I think it was first. He talks about the ending scene of that novel and the quiet dignity in shameful circumstances that it gives its characters. It sounded sad and moving but hopeful at the same time. On the street I found this book instead and snatched it up. No regrets here.