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Monday, May 27, 2013

rebel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or maybe I’m just horribly wrong.



Tuesday, May 21, 2013

lace-on learned


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Point received.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 13, 2013

sick of it


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 6, 2013

space to dream


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mutula Kilonzo


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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