Pater Noster

Our Father

This part of the prayer feels like it can best be written about by a person with a child. Someone asked me recently if I was sure I wanted many children, “because you love them so much.” There’s a pain to loving this much it seems, a sense of loss, or maybe a sense of gain so large that the potential loss it spells can cripple

 

When you say this part though you are evoking the gentle side of the deity. He who loves and creates, the one who gave the rainbow to the stars, the one who put the sparkle in the eye of the girl whose hand you never want to let go of. The one who made it so she could see the sparkle in your eye.

 

Who art in Heaven

He’s not here with us, or maybe he is, but we have to ascribe him some otherness at this point. This stresses the difference between us as the phrase before stressed the similarity, yes we’re made of the same stuff but we’re really not him. Then think of heaven for a moment. Scrub away the paintings of meadows and gold that arise in your mind because of illustrated bibles. Think of it as it could be, not a physical place but a spiritual one. It’s the absence of sorrow, it’s the presence of possibility. The sounds of children singing and playing, the waft of a perfectly cooked meal, never knowing anxiety and sorrow and the possibility of sorrow. You know that voice that’s always telling you that this is almost over, that’s always reminding you that this is not as good as it can get, that you are not as good as you can get, that you shouldn’t forget you’ve been badly injured and there’s more injuries in the future and that the greatest injury of all is waiting ahead of you, the one you can’t survive. It’s that voice shutting up.

 

Design is also in the absence. A small white room where you feel perfectly at ease. The smoothest shit you ever took, the best song you heard, the strongest love you ever felt. Marcus Aurelius asks us to strip away from things the adornments and affections we clothe them in “So for coitus, it is but the attrition of an ordinary base entrail, and the excretion of a little vile snivel, with a certain kind of convulsion”

 

David Grossman wonders, “how is it that with such great love between man and woman, and such passion that consumes the heart and flesh, all you do is stick a little smitchikel into a hole and that is that! But only that? The woman’s body should divide before you like the Red Sea! A raging Sambation River should flow between you and drown you seven times, and you should rise gray as ashes, your eyes dim, unable to utter a single word for a year to come, having reached the land of love! As if once having seen the face of heaven-knows-what you were saved by a veritable miracle!”

 

Heaven is the place where the latter happens.

 

Hallowed

Which means to make holy, to adore as pure, to aspire to as perfect, to hold up as Simba was held up by Rafiki.

 

Be Thy Name

 

“I am who I am”- the deity of the Bible who people refer to as Yawheh

 

“You say I took the Name in vain, I don’t even know the Name.”-Leonard Cohen.

 

I really like the Jewish idea that nobody can know the Name of God, that all we have are approximations in our human languages. Well- imagine it if you’re an atheist and even if you’re not. We’re only now approaching Mars as human beings. The sun that shines in the sky is a wondrous and unapproachable power yet it’s one of a billion stars. Look at the night sky from a desert with no light pollution and you see the stars gathered together so close, holding each other so tight it looks like somebody spilled milk on the sky. Imagine further than this to the millions of galaxies and all the wonders contained therein- the possibilities of other life, minerals burning up so fast nothing can live there, a black hole where light can’t escape from, the spaces in the night sky held for stars that we cannot see, all the stars that we can see but don’t exist anymore, the awesome truth of that.

 

That’s the universe. And now try to imagine a being that created all that. A short-circuit occurs in your mind refusing to allow you to see it all. What does that being call itself? In what way does it think? When you ask it its name what do you even mean? That name, that ineffable name, that unknowable name you have imagined, it doesn’t belong to us, it couldn’t. If the being exists it thinks in terms of billions of years and while it could with a thought bring life into being the power needed for it to describe itself would leave galaxies desolate. That name it only belongs to it, we’ll never know it, and we should approach it carefully.

 

Thy Kingdom Come

 

“When God is in his Heaven, and we all want what’s his, but power and greed and corruptible seed, seem to be all that there is”-Bob Dylan.

 

Put a rest to this darkness and contamination surrounding us and come down in all your glory on the backs of rainbows and promises and love.

 

Thy will be done

 

I keep thinking that “the will of God” is shorthand for reality. This is how anyone religious thinks of it. Anything that happens God wills it, nothing can be without that will. Is this part of the prayer a statement or a question?

 

On earth as it is in heaven

There’s an idea that the reason sex is just putting a little smitchikel into a hole instead of the moving of mountains and creation of galaxies that it should be is because things are different here: corrupted, broken, and small. Yet we can put things right if we look into ourselves and find there what God wants us to do. This goes hand in hand with pantheism (God is everything) and pan-entheism (God is everything and the whole is so much greater than the sum of the parts.) To know what God wants us to do we should just look inside. Outside we can find guides but to know truth we have to ask God, we have to find his will in ourselves and if we attend to it maybe we can turn this arid, dust-blown, scorched-black, wrecked-and-warped  hill we live in into a paradise.

 

Give us this day our daily bread

We ask for contentment, we don’t ask for luxury. We ask for beauty, we don’t ask to own it. We ask for enough for today because that way everybody has enough for today too. The prayer is not just for us but for the entire fellowship of man.

 

 

Forgive our trespasses

That part of God inside of us? It’s always telling us we’ve done wrong. We know we are inadequate, we know we’ve hurt too many people, and have been too lazy, we suspect that if anybody could see the whole of us, the gnarled, broken bits that make up our soul, the dirty, shameful bits we see in our dreams, the warped, evil units of each of our various and varied secrets, that if anyone could see us in this way, down to our soul they would never look at us again. And we know we need forgiveness, that every moment of every day we should be told ‘you’re not so bad, you really aren’t no matter what you believe of yourself.’

 

As we forgive those who trespass against us

You’re not so bad… but you are bad. You have to give something for the things you get, this is what’s asked of you then, forgive them. Remember that a part of God lives in you and that you forgiving is God forgiving. It’s the clearing of the troubled dust covering your soul so that the part of God in you can shine more, so that it can be seen and inspire others to do the same. This is your task in this prayer. This is how you make His will be done down here. Do unto others as you would have God do unto you.

 

 

Lead us not into temptation

 

This seems to me an acknowledgement of weakness. Maybe if that money wasn’t so obviously displayed I wouldn’t take it. Allow me the fortune of not seeing that money so carelessly placed.

 

But deliver us from evil

 

Evil is not temptation. Evil is something else, temptation is the possibility of error, the possibility of sin. Evil is what you read about in the newspapers every day. It’s the thing they put in the news, it’s that story that stings your eyes. It’s inhumanity. It’s when we deny everything good in us and push it as far as possible. And its powerful, its seductive and sexy, it’s also just powerful-it can kill, it can maim, it can make your life hell. Evil is not as small as temptation. It isn’t the money lying around-it’s the children dying because someone knew this would happen if they took that money and did it anyway.

 

For thine is the goodness, the power, and the glory forever and ever Amen.

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The need for young Kenyans to be a little more informed before they mouth off on issues😊😊Present tense

Hope this one is a match to the challenge.

 

The- A signifier of something definite. It is usually used when there is no question about what we are referring to. For example- the major stumbling block to the development of our country has remained the deep division into tribal blocs and  holding of tribal identities as prime and superior to any national one.

 

Need- this is something that is necessary. It is a deep urge. The bending of a plant towards the sun if kept in a dark place signifies need. The fact that once past a certain age all conversations start with rejoinders about money, “how’s life?”, “kuhustle tu.” “yeah it’s dry as a dead dude in a desert dump out there because of elections/ corruption/ government mismanagement”- take your pick and repeat. Signifying the need for better economic management before we break apart-body from soul, mind from actions.

 

For- a connector between words in a sentence. Social media was thought to be a good connector between people before we realised the true face of the internet. Words warped by anonymity and stripped of feeling and context by being just words, by being words that are designed as a shouting match, by being words we wouldn’t say in person, by being words we would soften with a smile or a gleam in the eye, words we wouldn’t say to somebody we don’t know well but here, here we do.

 

Young- a feeling that we all share. Even when the bones creak and the grandchildren have grandchildren we will say to ourselves, “I’m not old, now Moi that guy is old.”

 

Kenyans- a difficult thing to define. A living computer was assembled by some white men decades ago. 55 years ago  the computer is switched on. It whirls to life and is made of 40-44 distinct moving parts. The parts are made of other parts too many to count. Their interaction is unpredictable, the result is unknown. Calculations are made inside this computer even as parts of it are flung far and wide and fears of its disintegration shake us all. This computer though may be durable. The different parts of it can begin looking like each other, or maybe not. The computer we live in and are a part of has not yet told us what Kenyans are it needs more data.

 

to be- a state of existence. This shows where we are and how we are. To be screwed is to live in a country with no institutional structures of opposition to the government. To be deep in a hole is to have seen the opposition survive due to the outsize personality of one man. To be reminded by the evolving structure of political parties and government appointments that somebody once said “100 years of Kanu.”

 

A little- not much. We make demands of others all the time but we know they have to live. We also know that living consists of so many things. To eat and work for food. To pray and strive for holiness. To love and look for companionship. To play and then to rest. In addition to all these things we cannot make too many demands.

 

More informed- a state of gathering knowledge. We have the tools to do it. We always have. We can listen to others, we can read things we don’t agree with, we can question deeply held beliefs because if it survives the questioning the belief makes you better. If it doesn’t survive the questions trade up, barter.

 

Before- a held breath, a second thought, a period in time where things are still in flux. When our actions are still clay in the hands of us, their potters.

 

They- a collective pronoun. A sweeping net designed to catch everything in its way. Fishermen have to make the holes in their nets big so that they young ones slip through them and get away. When the Christ talked about fishing men though he made it clear that nobody should escape that net. Who are we to contradict that man?

 

Mouth off- a phrasal verb. An apocryphal etymology of this phrase says that it comes about because once somebody does it everyone listening just wants to take that person’s mouth off. It is anathema to connection.

 

Issues- things important to us. If we ignore them we may need tissues. Ignore them further and they erupt in fissures. Faultlines form, warp the earth and make it vicious. The sid  can effectively be combated by more information as explained above.

 

  • 😊😊- can be seen as signifiers of happiness. Can be interpreted as cheekiness. Can be used to disguise a deep anguish with the state of things.

 

Present- a gift. Something that you give to signify affection, respect, lust, fear, and a host of other emotions. By definition it must be given willingly. The willingness can come about due to emotional blackmail and still be considered willingness. A present can also be a sacrifice. It can be searching yourself and asking, asking honestly if this is the place we want to be. If what we see happening makes us proud, makes us stand a little taller at the sound of our anthem, moves us to salute the fluttering of our flag or causes our insides to retch. But that is not a gift yet. Not to anybody but yourself. The reflections should then inform action. If the country you see and the place you can see it going is exactly what you want then keep doing what you do. If it is not then take a little action. Just a little. Even before you run for office it is enough to find out what these office does and how to make sure the officers do it. Learn something, and give the gift of this learning to the future we all hopefully blink against.

 

Tense- a situation where broken bottles lie all around a table. In this situation you find yourself without shoes. Rusty nails poke out of some areas and any sudden movement could cause a pail of gasoline to dump itself on you. Now, you don’t know if there is a matchstick or other source of fire around, you do know there is a ticking clock but you don’t know why it’s ticking. There are voices right outside the room but you don’t know what they are saying. There may be help coming but this is just faith talking to you, you don’t know that there is or where it will come from. You  need to move but you don’t know where. And for a moment all you can think about is how you wish, oh how you wish, you were a little more informed.

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the greatness of God from a child’s perspective

Marching on. The next challenge is the difficult title up there.

 

All she knew was that she had to catch it. The wind was whispering softly and carrying it on its belly, one of those spherical flowers, the kind where the seeds came off it if you blew gently and yet the strength of the wind, which she could feel in the slight shiver of her skin didn’t damage it.

 

It reminded her of her little brother. He had been so soft, so small, even his head where the skull was felt like it could crumple like a piece of paper. The joints between his hand and arm had been soft enough for even her to crush, and she wasn’t even that strong. She didn’t need to be told that this was something delicate her parents were caring for. It was clear that like the flower the slightest jolt could have scattered him into a million little pieces. Yet for a while the world had carried him just like that flower. Gently. With direction. He had learned to hold her hand, he had learned to smile, he had learned little baby noises. It had seemed like there was somewhere he was going until there wasn’t anymore. There was no him and nobody could explain it, not really.

 

In heaven they said. And at night her mother cried tears so persistent she had learned to sleep through them and to know by their sound in the morning that she really was home.

 

“What’s a will?” she had asked one of her teachers. They took her more seriously now she had noticed.

 

“It’s a piece of paper that people write while they are alive to say what should happen to their property once they die.”

 

“So, you mean God is dead?”

 

“Sorry wha…?”

 

“and that when he was alive what he wanted was for my brother to die?”

 

“I think I may have answered the wrong question. Uhm…. Why do you ask what a will is?”

 

“Everyone is always telling my mother it was the will of God. Then she nods and tries to be stronger.”

 

“Oh… sorry. Will is also just what somebody wants. The will of God is… you know our father’s prayer right?”

 

She did but more as a litany, a string of words, not something that held separate meaning, a sing-song she had…

 

“may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Her teacher interrupted her.

 

“Oh. Ok. So what does God want?”

 

“I should give you a better answer than this, but the truth is we’re all trying to figure it out. Maybe that’s why we’re all here to figure it out.”

 

“Do you think that’s why he died?”

 

“Your brother?”

 

“Yes, maybe he already knew and so he didn’t need to be here anymore.”

 

“That could be true, yes.”

 

And yet she could see the look that came over grown-up’s eyes when they decided you were too young to hear something. She also knew that when that happened there was no going back. For a few minutes there she had felt like her teacher was talking to her, actually talking to her but now, now it would be emptiness. She could always see the emptiness in their eyes, when they talked and looked off like they were thinking of something else, hiding something they didn’t want her to know, never understanding just how much she did know.

 

She had finally caught the flower. She sat down and began blowing on it, seeing the little flags borne on the wind, flying upwards and away. She wondered for a moment where they were going and then in a sudden fit tried to bring them back. She ran after them and tried to wave them into her hands. They slipped though on their onward journey, unwilling to listen to her as hard as she tried.

 

Her mother had tried too she remembered. She could remember how her mother had tried on that night, doing everything possible and failing. She hadn’t imagined that could happen before, her mother could do anything until right that moment when she saw that it wasn’t true. And she looked for the seeds that had gone and saw nothing there and knew that even her mother couldn’t have stopped them. That they would have gone on going wherever the wind wanted, wherever God willed. It wasn’t true what her teacher said, that we didn’t know what God wanted. God wanted those flowers to fly away, you only had to look around you to  know, to realise that everything we thought and wanted were dreams and that only the will of God turned into reality. That’s how you could know what he wanted just look at what happened.

 

Her mother’s voice was calling her and she turned to the sound. Worried about her. Worried that she shouldn’t be running off when her mother was so weak. Worried that her knowing her mother was weak only made her weaker. All the times she had heard that believing something makes it real played in her head.

 

“Look mama, look.” The sun had been setting later and later, hanging in its setting as if waiting for something or someone to look up and see it. It wasn’t there now but it lit up the undersides of the cloud so that they glowed gold and light. The sky’s colour had passed through just blue heading to the border with green in some places, feather like touches of cloud passed in front of them and a flock of birds cawing and cackling as they went off on their secret missions.

 

She snuck a quick look at her mother to see if she was looking. And she actually was, staring at the sunset with the same intensity as she used to before. A small tear was making its way down the lines in her face, and then it hang there like the sun. and in itself it caught the whole world, she had to stop breathing to see clearly. Right in that tear she could see the sun and the birds and herself and her mother.

 

This was reality too, this tear and all the things it captured, all the things it contained. There was something of God in that tear, in that moment, something of him peeking out.

 

“Mama have you ever seen God?”

 

Smiling down at her in the old way, and looking at her like she had never seen her before her mother simply said,

 

“Yes.”

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Mystery, religion, and sex

The 3rd March

Wherein I was told- Anything that combines sex, religion and mystery

 

“The righteous perisheth, and no man lay it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in uprightness.”

 

The strangely garbed priest intoned the words solemnly. Finished, he reached for his chalice. She took it in wonderingly, just as she had  everything else about this church. The cup was carved out of some kind of dark wood, ebony is what it called to her mind, sprinkled around it were tiny gold sprinkles that looked like motes of dust. She could only tell they were made of gold because her father had once smuggled precious minerals through the country-the running family joke being that he should have been the one issued with those export compensation certificates from so long ago. Anyone though could see the pattern that played while light shone on the surface of the cup, a man in agony hoisting a cross far too big or him, and a hand reaching out from somewhere in the sky to help lift it.

 

She waited patiently through the service- one that alternated between archaic English terminology and queer dogmatic expressions that should have reached out to the inquisitors from times past. When it ended the priest rose to his feet and the congregation knelt down.

 

“My Lord we offer you the meagre sacrifice of the clay you created us with, we hope you look on our pure intentions and not our poor offering, we ask for the blessings of Abel knowing we deserve the fate of Cain, we beseech thee for the bow knowing full well we deserve the rain. Amen.”

 

The congregation then rose to its feet and the priest knelt before the altar. Almost as one they intoned, sending up the sounds like reverberations because of the acoustic quality of the building.

 

“We turn inward to remember the sacrifice of your son, and the pain of his mother, we turn outwards to wonder at the glory of your creation and the destruction we have wrought on it, we turn sidewards to consider the great gift of human life and companionship, we look downwards towards the dirt we will become, and we look up towards the divine we hope to be. Amen.”

 

Calmly the priest unsheathed the sword at his hip. One of the congregation stepped forward and took it from his hand. Then in a ceremony reminiscent of knighting nicked him on one shoulder then the other.

 

“May the blood of the lamb wash the filth of the butcher. Amen.”

 

“Amen.”

 

The congregation filed away after that leaving her in the darkness of the cavernous room. After thirty minutes the priest came back in.

 

“Sorry it took so long but I had to get my wounds tended to, I’m sure you understand-we aren’t crazy after all.”

 

All she gave him was a half-hearted laugh.

 

“You should know though that priesthood in our religion is rotational. Just as the scapegoat from Leviticus was anew every year so is the blood we she… wrong choice of words.”

 

“Yes, on that I agree.”

 

“The attack though, we couldn’t let it change us. As you can see we have built a monument to the Divine within a few  months of it.”

 

“That I can see. You must know why I’m here.”

 

“That my dear remains the mystery.”

 

Her eyes turned cold, fury at such blatant copping out.

 

“Actually I have some idea. Why don’t we walk as we talk.” This was the effect that look usually had. She didn’t know whether it was a result of any inner fire or the firepower commanded by her last name, but this church had been razed to the ground not too long ago and here it was standing straight. The police had been going around in circles, and actually going around in circles not just waiting for the mealiest handout. All her family’s contacts inside the service could ascertain was that it was very important to find a man with a sewing machine.

 

More frustratingly though was that she had got nowhere. The smuggling routes that her father and mother had opened had been maintained and widened over the years. Now they moved not just minerals but people too, drugs, weapons, anything the world needed. The responsibility to maintain them had fallen on her shoulders a few years ago, “maintain and expand. We’re going to try this straight commerce thing for a while. And on your 25th birthday we hand you a port in Lamu for all the expanded volume.”

 

Legacies was what her parents were thinking about, and as this was happening there was somebody arranging the smuggling of weapons without her knowledge. It infuriated her. It bothered her more than the blood that was shed, everyone dies and in this sect of Christianity they seemed to believe an early death to be the mark of favour from God. In Christianity in general she reminded herself, she had recognised the words of Isaiah who spoke as much for the Jewish religion of home as that of export.

 

“It is no secret that God has blessed our hands.” Saying this he indicated murals painted in brilliant colours-purples and reds, stained glass windows bending all the light that passed through them into beautiful playing prisms, and the understated glow of platinum beams. “The secret remains the well. Do you know the story of Elisha and the widow?”

 

An oil fountain that never went dry would explain how they had put this church back up. She nodded silently.

 

“Glad to see that you are read up on the bible. Just as the widow sent out her sons for vessels so do we. Come in this way.”

 

She followed him into a chamber cut into the ground, a trap-door like she used to imagine her father hiding in back in his smuggler days. She had found smuggling to be a little more professional than that- bribing not hiding, and ruthless- murder those who negotiate harder.

 

The priest was smiling as he opened up the doors. “This is what they sought to destroy, our Eden.”

 

Writer’s note-  I just couldn’t find a way to fit in that last one so no sex, sorry. I kept thinking “next paragraph, ok next one” and so on, in the end it defeated me. I’m not even sure if the relligion was relligious or the mystery mysterious actually. Still thank you for the challenge.

 

 

 

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A Kenyan in Uganda or a Kenyan looks at Uganda

March Madness challenge 2-A Kenyan in Uganda or a Kenyan looks at Uganda. I want to read a short story from that perspective. How you do it is up to you.

 

 

“Ok, SSebo.” He said turning around to receive glowing green bottle of mountain dew that had been demanded. He winked in thanks and turned around.

 

The night had begun turning chilly while it was still evening and now he wished he had worn something warmer than this tee-shirt. He remembered a few years ago, when he first moved to Kampala and every day felt heavy and sweaty and hot. Back then he had dreamed of nights like this, those and the flat plain of Nairobi. But the body and the mind acclimatise to everything. Nowadays he could almost spot a rhythm in the way the boda bodas moved. He saw their jamming together as a kind of atomic imperative- the laws of Newton being followed to a tee. Their lack of regard for road rules was a wink to the inevitability of chaos, their noise was yet another song lifted up to a universe so silent it needed all it could get. He had been back home and seen the slow infestation of Kenya with the same disease and displaying the same symptoms but what they did in Nairobi could not compare to what happened here.

 

Earlier in the evening he had witnessed the passing of one convoy. The sun had just began setting and the light was weaker as if it had been shaded or now took longer than the prescribed eight minutes to get to earth losing a wave  with every second, a photon every minute. The world hooded itself with shadows and the sounds of crickets announced night’s homecoming. His moment of introspection was spoiled by the show though. Motorcycle after motorcycle whizzed past. They hooted as they passed, four abreast, swarming like locusts. Most impressive though were the women on the back of the motorcycles. Each driver carried with him a specimen worthy of finer study, individual attention. A lady who though robbed of her singularity combined with the one beside her and behind her and in front to form a moving monument to booty. Their higher voices and more carefree laughter dotted the evening. Turning the distraction from an inconvenience into a circus.

 

When it ended he crossed the road and sat down for some soup. He had been coming here for months now and they knew just what he wanted. It was put down in front of him along with some ugali and cabbage to wash it down. He had no idea what they put in this soup, there was a texture so rich and smooth that every sip of it brought to his mind the word baganda. The chilli was mixed in just right, taking up the spaces between the liquid and the bubbles, he had been slurping it so intently that he completely missed Atu’s entrance.

 

“I knew I’d find you here.”

“This doesn’t make you psychic, anyone would find me here.”

“This is how you talk to a girl you are trying to talk to?”

“Would you rather I told you that the very scent of you as you walked in filled my head with so many daydreams I’m still seeing everything orange? Or that I’ve been thinking what to tell you since the last time we spoke?”

“Mkenya, that would be good.”

“It would and I realise you think you want good. In all my time here this soup was the finest taste of Uganda. There is nothing like it at home and yet it feels familiar, like I sampled it in another life and only chose to be born in Kenya by mistake, or only so I could have it later in life when I could appreciate it. Then I tasted you and knew that was all a lie.”

“Doesn’t it feel nice to tell your girl such things? Not all the time this roughness. Eiii.”

 

After supper they had made their way back to his shop where he now had her as a helper, someone to reach for soda, someone to warm his surroundings. He turned away from the customer he had just served. It was time to close anyway. He pulled shut the door of the shop. Feeling the excitement of the next action already building up in him.

 

“What shall we have today Atu?”

 

“A quiet night without the aid of alcohol?” The twinkle in her eye said that this statement meant vodka.

 

He had never imagined that he would spend his life as a shopkeeper in another country. But life gave you what it did. And when it did what was important was to go to the freezer in the shop, slide it open so that mist and cold poured out of it and crept along the floor like a new-born baby, consider the rainbow made by tall bottles of gin and brandy and vodka, reach for the chosen sacrifice and hear its brothers clink in happiness, shut that door,  and pour a gulp down your throat. There was never going to be any lemonade anyway.

 

“Ehhh you Kenyans. You just drink like there is no tomorrow.” Her eyes still sparkled in merriment. He handed her the bottle. She did what he did except somehow she made it classy, there was something dainty in her movements, measured as if to the beat of the music of the moon, something dazzling even in that act. Then she laughed setting off small tremors in him.

 

“Did I ever tell you about the first Kenyans I met?”

 

“The first ones ever?”

 

“Yah. It was a long time ago. I was visiting my cousin in a place called Mityana. She told me there were these Kenyans who liked drinking in this local bar. Waraji and mountain dew was their cocktail. So we went. I had just finished high school, they were in university there for some work thing. I don’t really remember. All that rang in my mind was Nazizi singing ‘Kenyan Boy.’ I was so excited. So we went and my cousin introduced me. Ohhh they were fun. We talked and we laughed for a long time. All the time they ordered more waragi. Poured it into their glasses sometimes, shots for everyone others. The night ended with us walking to their place. I have to tell you Mityana is a semi-rural place, at that time there were no street-lights. People would fetch water from the river-electricity was spotty so it could go for fourty hours or four depending on, who knows. And they lived far away from the bar. We’re walking along, all of us unsteady. Evening dew has already started settling on our toes. These shoes we wear as women sometimes, I don’t even know what they are for. Wet grass defeats their protective purpose. Just that is enough. We came to a bridge and we had to cross it to get there. It swayed as we went, I was really scared but I made it through. The guy I was talking to though slipped just before we got to the end. When we got home I had to wait as he looked for a candle and water to wash with and then proceeded to bathe. I was young though, and not going anywhere anyway. He finished his process and took me to his room. And can you imagine he was unable to do anything. I was so ready I just went to join my cousin and her friend. ”

 

The conclusion of the story had him half-rising already. “That really happened?”

 

“Of course not, but you see the value of sweet lies? Already you’re rising to me. and that’s just the lesson behind the first bead. We call it talking the blood down. You know someone has been knocking on the door for a while now.”

 

He stood hesitant for a minute.

 

“Are you going to open it or do you want to come here and find out more of the secrets of the Nile.”

 

“The secrets of the Nile?”

 

“How it floods, where it flows, what makes it squirt. Other bead lessons.”

 

He went to Atu. The man on the other side of the door stood for a minute and thought back to the sewing machine his men had carried out that day so many years ago. His heart beat faster at the thought of finding its owner soon. He decided that the only thing he could do was knock louder.

 

 

 

 

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I’M SO IN!!!

As part of a March writing challenge I asked for suggestions on what to write. The first suggestion was the rather cryptic, “I”M SO IN!”- the results are below

 

 

“I’M SO IN!”

That’s how the words had rang out on that night. This was what everybody clamoured to tell him. The I.O. knew these words weren’t important, he knew they weren’t even peripheral to the case but he had to know what they meant.

 

It was the digressions that had drawn him to police work after all. The devil in the details was the only one that tempted him. He had always felt that God’s reality was only divine because it could be followed on a tangent to a pit that led past the centre of the universe and on to the infinite.

 

It couldn’t be counted as official, these questions, but everyone held police work in sufficient mystery that they quickly provided answers to anything asked, never thinking that half the questions were the muttering of an idle mind.

 

“So what do you think he meant, that  shout?”

 

He was asking the downstairs neighbour. She was pretty in that head-turning way that he’d so desperately wanted to possess until he did and realised that even that kind of beauty was a mask. A face, any face was filled with craters and pockmarks, small scars and mementos from mother earth’s glory. He liked those things ordinarily but faces this beautiful obscured them, he could remember the smile of the girl before as this one spoke to him, how it would loom large over everything else, how he wouldn’t be able to see any of these details for the complete whole they put together, how for a time he was ok without the details, and how finally he couldn’t even see that she had been sleeping with someone else. So he distrusted it and listened to her words instead. Her voice piped high. Maybe it was excitement but it grated on him, distracted him from the rest of her,

 

“He was strange. I said hello to him a couple of times and he’d greet me happily enough but never give me more than a sentence. Always in a hurry I guess, so strange. People around here are usually so friendly so I never understood, maybe it was me he didn’t like. Anyway, my boyfriend was just fine with that- he’s very jealous you know…”

 

“So on that night?”

 

“Yer so I was home. I was reading actually just about that time. I remember that there was an incessant tapping on my roof, his floor. Tap tap tap tap. But that was always there, it was so constant that sometimes I thought I couldn’t sleep without it. This time though it distracted me, the book wasn’t very good. Oh, God, I’ll miss that about him, that noise it always told me if the book I was reading was worth going on with, if I could stand it good book, if not… Well there was a knock on his door at about eight. I had given up and put on something to watch, caught the news previews that’s how I knew the time, someone knocked on his door. That in itself wasn’t very strange, he always had a lot of visitors which is another thing that made me wonder what he didn’t like about me. It started raining soon after that.”

 

The I.O. could remember the rains. Flash floods that had dropped out of nowhere onto parched earth and dry streets. Rains carried down with wind and hailstones. He could remember the size of the hailstones, smaller than a coin, and the sound they made skittering on the streets. He fingered the welts on his hands caused by him putting them out that day just to feel them, shivered a little as he remembered how cold the effluent had been.

 

“That’s when I heard him shout. I don’t know if his visitor had left yet can you tell me? Actually, can you tell me why you’re here?”

 

“Yeah, sure pass me your number and I’ll keep you informed of the investigation.”

 

“Really?”

 

There was a glint of disappointment in her eye, she could tell when her charm hadn’t worked apparently. Well, at least she had her books, and he pondered the fact that a little rejection can make beauty shine brighter.

 

The sounds of some of his men at the door continued. The apartment blocks belonged to some big-shot politician, one of those who got recycled between cabinet posts no matter who was president. Some men considered heading a parastatal a major demotion, and when you went to those men’s places you knocked with a light feather. The IO approved of his men testing their lock-picking skills though. He knew at least 5 thieves in a kilometre radius who would have ensured he’d been in long before that woman thought mention of a boyfriend would pique his interest.

 

 

He climbed the stairs just in time to see the door turning. His men had finally got the door open. Darks shadows crowded inside. It looked like the mouth of some monster from the deep, one of those things with three or four rows of teeth, arranged concentrically around…even more teeth. The creatures that proved nature was always out for blood.

 

A torch was shone in and he saw the house was stock-full of different kinds of clothes. He was impatient to enter, to shine a light in and see what was held at the back, what was being hidden. But the crime they were investigating meant he couldn’t just blunder in. Procedures had to be followed at this point. Guard dogs and machines used to detect faint traces of the chemicals used in explosives. Could someone have so callously acquiesced to the bombing of a church. “I’M SO IN.” This is not what you shouted before heading out to destroy so many, but he couldn’t be sure, he could never really be sure. Maybe this is what they all said. Maybe the pull of death was an ecstasy. A feeling akin to sex, to breaking through the different forms of resistance-cultural and social, biological and financial, to finally enter, to finally go home. Maybe that’s what he meant, a kind of homecoming in his future.

 

They were dragging out the clothes now. He could see the quality and thought that had been put into the suits held by his men. They were all of different sizes yet there was the same love poured into them. The wapt and wefts met and left, interweaved and interlocked in an endless struggle of creation, a brimming tension of discovery, a replaying of the age-old lesson that only opposites give birth to beauty. He remembered his home-science then. He could remember how he’d been completely unable to thread a needle for a time. All the hours he’d spent whittling down thread to its fine points, sucking it and chewing it off. How his hands had trembled whenever he’d approached the hole, completely unable to go in.  He’d been more religious back then and the words of Jesus always played in his mind, a camel through the eye of a needle. And so, as he trembled back in school he’d wondered why that particular metaphor. What made the image of a camel so special, the humps? The fact that sometimes they looked like thread hang from them instead of fur? Whenever he’d succeeded he remembered his utter joy, the cry that came from inside his heart as he lifted up the thread and pulled it taut, as he remembered this he looked up to see his men carrying down tailors apparatus, he quietly thought of the tap-ta-tap he’d been told about and smiled a little at the solution to one of the mysteries,

 

“I’M SEWING.”

 

 

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…she say’s she’s 54- Jamhuri thoughts

“She’s 68 but she says she’s 54”- Bob Dylan explaining why he ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s farm no more.

 

“She ain’t a country yet but we’re gonna try one more time”-Anon

 

The hat.

Amidst the roiling repetition of peace torn to pieces by  protest and police I had formed a shifty routine that took me past the places that they passed. Between the major seats of commerce and justice lies a patch of land made over in grass and the sound of birds, crowned by the glory of a pond without a name, offering respite to those without a lane, and named after that thing that we all fight and wish for: Uhuru Park.

 

The trade I ply requires me to walk between these two places a number of times in a good week. First at about 8:30 in the morning and later whenever my business in court has been concluded. The first time I pass to the left of it and, for the longest time could look into that road that cuts right through it and tell what kind of day it was going to be. This could be seen by the number of police milling around. Constant military-type parades were held there every morning. A briefing, an inspecting, an ordering of the troops. Troops decked in green, totting truncheons, grabbing guns, protected by suits made of rubber patched over their uniforms so severally that they put me in mind of Tony Stark. They commandeered vehicles that looked out of a Batman movie, we all know Tony needs nothing more than his suit. I’d see their numbers and remember the promises from the other side and know it was going to be that kind of day.

 

Later on I’d go down to Uhuru Park after lunch in order to grab a smoke, after the cigarette I’d walk down the bridge in front of the pond to the benches littered under the shade of the trees and read a few pages of the book I had with me at the time. After this I’d walk to parliament road just across the street. Uhuru Highway at the time was a locale of great strife. There was always the smouldering remains of teargas, the running shrieks of the frightened and the happy exclamations of the excited, the proud boasts of those on one side (tunalipa ushsuru na wanatuambia teargas imeisha?) the weariness of those caught in the middle (biashara inaumia) and the sentiments of those leading the other side expressed in thumps of metallic balls falling all across the road and hissing in anger and warning, after all this, when the protesters had dispersed and the police moved on there would be an almost inexpressible calm. The quiet of night would steal into the day, the silence of suburbs descending on the chaos of town, and an interval of peace like that place never hears.

 

It was here that I bent down one day and picked up a hat. It was lying forlorn and forgotten in a ditch. The recent property of one of the dispersed. Its colours were the  black of our peoples, the green of our lands, and the white of our peace stained and strained through with the red of our blood. It was what google tells me is an ascot hat. In Kenya, once upon a time, it would have been known as a “Raila” hat because of his propensity to appear in public with one pulled over his head. In recent years though it has become the trademark of people who in general would want nothing to do with him, old, Kikuyu businessmen, with their brown coats, love of meat and toothpicks, and unconscious propping up of this one son of Kenya.

 

I felt guilty though. This flag I was wearing upon my head wasn’t mine and perhaps I had deprived another of something important and sentimental to them, perhaps I had stolen. This year though has given no dearth of chances to act differently “next protest.” Some time later I was walking down parliament road. The teargas was bouncing up and down, people were running here and there, I was standing near the mausoleum of the founding father when I saw a lady run near KICC and in her running drop her handbag. She kept running.

 

I crossed the road, stooped to pick it up, went back to the place I came from where some men in the uniforms of the disciplined forces stood. I told them what had happened, they asked me what they should do.

 

“Mimi nikiwa shule niliambiwa nikiokota kitu yenye si yangu nipeleke kwa polisi.”

 

Turns out they were from the army, despite this they advised me on how to help. We found a phone in the bag, scrolled down number after number until someone was found who could pick it up. They then told me to leave it at the gate of the mausoleum. I knocked there and was answered by men dressed in red blazers who took the bag and placed it under the protection of the ghost with a promise that it would return to its owner.

 

In the middle of that concerted effort to return property a policeman ran ahead of us, he knelt with a launcher on his shoulder, and let fly a canister, it flew white and wide and landed inside parliament.

 

The hurt.

 

As many indices as we can individually claim knowledge of will tell us it has been a bad year for Kenya. The businessmen have been vocal, the human rights activists have been vocal, the students have been home, the good people forlorn. We had another election or two this year and the streets ran red.

 

If anything proclaims the failure of ourselves as a country it is this, the streets run red while the ballots are read. It has been 54 years of independence and we have not figured out how to politic without it ending up in the morgue. We have had 6 multi-party presidential elections over the last quarter of a century and with each one seen bereavement and death. We haven’t learned at all, or enough from any of these occasions of slaughter it seems. The worst thing that can possibly happen happens for someone and the only consolation we can give ourselves is that it didn’t happen to us. I will speak for myself, the powers of privilege and the safety that having a certain amount of money can bring have kept me safe from dying, or knowing anyone who died, or living in a place where people are dying. My routine has not been shaken except for the large number of public holidays me and my house have emerged unscathed but this doesn’t mean our country has.

 

This, as every, election the spectre of violence has eclipsed hopes for nationality. The reality of it, the reality of it over and over again for months now has meant that this, as every election year, is a year for the red of the black to soak into the green earth and, tear the white asunder.

 

The Presidency has not hidden its intentions behind claims of overzealousness or mistake, after all according to its head the police did a great job during the election period, this despite obvious excesses involving the deaths of infants and children, an instance of invasion of the University, and the complete inability to find rubber bullets anywhere. Those are the sins on the one side.

 

It took me a while to see the sins on the other because…if they weren’t murder what did it matter what they were. Then two of my friends recalled to my mind a lesson from the life of King David, he who saw the woman of his dreams from atop a roof, he who ordered that her husband be put in a place where hails of arrows would surely find their way, he who tried to sleep with an easy conscience telling himself that this was not murder. Even I, who am hopelessly naïve about these things know that a protest results in death. Could the far more politically astute opposition leader, a man whose illusions about the heart and actions of man were forcefully removed in the bowels of nyayo house, not know?

 

And so wave after wave of death and its demands have attended upon us.

 

It hurts for our dear Kenya to have such poor choices as the commander of the invading army and a King David overcome by lusts he cannot control to choose from and yet this is where we found ourselves.

 

Our belief that protests shouldn’t end in blood hasn’t stopped that happening and if we could believe that more protests could put an end to this, ok, but we can’t and the insanity of doing this again and again

 

The hut

 

This land is our land, our land all. It houses within it forty something odd ethnic groups. As varied from each other as their burial cultures will tell us. We have both stoic acceptance and a touch of fatalism in the eye of the great equalizer, and screams sent to rent the sky accompanied with sobs that shake the earth’s bowels.

 

We have pride in our achievements whatever they may be. We have the lake that gave rise to the Nile and a mountain that is a resting place of gods. We have the promise of a shelter, a promise that requires us all to work towards it or lose it.

 

On this her 54th year talks of breaking Kenya apart have been had. Secession has been talked about, very seriously by some. People have been arrested for their stances on it, anger has been fomented and shouting matches have been had.

 

I am not for secession, if only because it would put paid to this tradition of writing a blogpost every Jamhuri Day. But I think it’s important to talk about this house we all live in. A century and some decades past a group of Europeans took a map, a ruler, and their balls and carved into many and varied pieces our home of Africa. As far as colonialism goes we got the good guys, the British for all their faults were gentler than the French, the Portugese, and the Germans. This is not an extollation of their virtue but an acknowledgement of the excess of the vices of their brothers. When all that came to the end of its first act 54 years ago we had this country, or rather this group of countries striving to live together.

 

It has been an unequal living arrangement, and as living arrangements tend will continue to be so. Inequality leads to discontentment leads to anger leads to effort leads to disillusionment leads to hopelessness.

 

There are people in our country who have lost all hope in it. Who can blame them really? Hate has spewed out of mouths and onto comments and arguments and posts and memes. There has been an inability for the citizenry to separate their ethnic identities from their political affiliations, there has been an even greater inability to empathize with each other. There is between a lot of people a cloud of anger, a cloud of disbelief, an inability to understand “how you can’t see the evil of…”

 

The blood and our two leaders haven’t helped. We got to a point where either of them was as bad as the other for any hope of national unity. We got where each of their supporters were as blinded as the others in their adoration for and disdain of the other.

 

And yet we need to live together because unity is usually the best option. This little hut though is cracked and careening into pieces. The paste that we chose back in 2007 to hold it together, a paste made of the sentiment “accept and move on” is proving unable to bear the strain of what we ask of it.

 

It is unreasonable to ask that nobody be punished for what happened over the last 4 months. It is incredible to expect this to be swept under rugs too, it is insane to keep using that paste. We only have 5 years till we have to do this again. If we accept that negotiations should be writ in blood 25 years later what happens in 5? What happens when Kenyan elections @ 30 come by again. Do we accept this all over again? And to what end.  It’s been a long struggle building this shelter for all these people but if we keep insisting that injustice of the kind we have been witness to shouldn’t be repaid then the wounds fester, the beneficiaries of the injustice are emboldened, and the hut falls apart. Kenya cannot be unified with blind faith, sheer will-power of the kind needed to accept and move on is not enough. If this is allowed to just pass, and I believe it will, then the hut crumbles just a little more. When people are dying the first thing to do is to stop them dying, the second is to punish the people who caused the dying, and while doing all these things we need to do what we can to ensure that next time no people are dying. Kenya is failing on all counts and I am as pessimistic about the state of the hut as I’ve been in a long time.

 

Year 54 was not good for our unity and sense of nationhood. If we allow it to just slip into oblivion without doing the things that are so obviously needed then it will be as a gale that takes the thatch out of the hut, a cold and bitter wind that the inhabitants cannot huddle close enough to each other to ignore.

 

The heart.

 

I was going to board a matatu one day, I’m tall-ish near 6 foot so I need to sit in front if I want comfort. There was however a man taller than me who wanted to sit in front. He was also big and old, you can tell the old, his walking cane, his face that had seen things, his missing teeth, his ruddy almost ragged laugh.

 

I sat next to him on the bitch seat in the middle. He asked me where I was from, I told him I’m Luo. And he told me he’s Nandi.

“Nyinyi vijana mnatudanganganya ati mnataka kuvunja nchi.” You youth you want to break our country.

 

He then told me about his youth. When he was in his 20s or so he was herding some cattle when the maasai came and raided. They raided and they killed. He said this was the worst thing that they took not only goods but also lives.

 

“Hii ilikuwa ’58. Umeniskia? 1958.” This was in ’58, you hear? 1958.

 

The world is wrought in pain and justification for revenge he was telling me but heaven’s image only exists in the capacity for forgiveness and the belief that together we can walk through these things.

 

He had no promises to extract from me. He only wanted the pleasure of instructing a young man that he had randomly ran into. He spoke and laughed with such heart that the whole matatu looked back wistfully as we left him at his stop.

The danger lies in generalisations. Over the year I had to remind myself over and over to look at the policemen in the face, to look at their hands and see them as distracted by their smart-phones as we all are, to see when it was a man and a woman and the pleasure of flirtation on their face, to remember that each of them is a heart beating.

 

The danger lies in generalisation. Over the year we have all come face to face with the intractability of ourselves and our friends. We have seen the lines drawn in the sand by us and them. We have waited unmoving as the sun scorched our resolve black. But here’s a hope, the hope that most individuals share certain values. That when stripped of the circumstances of political fervour and tribal hatred we can all agree on the sanctity of human life, the pleasures of peace, the necessity of justice, the virtue of forgiveness, and the rewards of memory.

 

That while every human being must move on accepting may mean accepting that we have to do more. Accepting that reprisals and revenge are not the way. That in the Bible when the Lord claims vengeance for himself it is for a good reason and we should leave that to him. But that justice cannot be forgotten for crimes, for sins we can forgive but for crimes we should punish. Punish dispassionately having had vengeance wrung form our hearts by the necessity to live together but punish all the same.

 

That old man has been here for longer than this our country. And the real pleasure he had in talking to me, the actual joy we take in each other, all the sex between tribes, the laughter at our stereotypes, the complexities when we are not painting big swathes of this side and that side. The heart of Kenya, the individual Kenyan, that old man, me, you. That should give a glimmer of hope.

 

The hat got lost, I left it in a club somewhere. I didn’t go look for it. I hope it finds a home with another individual who only knows this particular chain in the story. It’s gone but I wrote it this poem:

 

 

May the hat march on,

may its heart stay strong, 

May it be a hut and keep some warm,

may it heal the hurt and offer shelter from the storm

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