Monthly Archives: January 2012

new home

I was never going to live in Oslo forever, not for me was the crazy club nights and multicultural conversations, not for me was  the train, tram and bus lines incessantly interlocking and inter-crossing, not for me were the big lights of the “big city” with a population of 1 million. On Tuesday I moved to my real home, a small town called Krisitiansand in the south of Norway with a population of about eighty thousand. Naturally I had been curious about my new home and asked as many people as I could about the place, the most recommended place was the zoo. “if you’re going to Kristiansand you have to see the zoo!” this was the point in the story when I would raise my eyebrow[metaphorically of course because only superhumans can actually do that] and let them know that when an African is filled with wanderlust and finds himself in Europe seeing wild animals is not high on his list of priorities.
Still, 5 hour train ride later we were here. A warm welcome, one of the warmest welcomes I have ever received was thrown my way and we moved into our new house. I’m here with two other Kenyans, a boy and a girl. We will be living in a three~bedroom house for the next 5 months, we entered and there was a room that was always going to be a girl’s room, it had closets and closets of space, a chandelier looking light bulb and a feminine quality radiating from its boards, the other room was huge, the obvious master bedroom of the house and the third was the monastery, the monk~room, tiny with barely enough space to get someone down on knees[I am sure there are some perverts out there who will think of something else when they read about getting down on knees even though I peppered the previous sentence with religious references.]

that’s the view from my bedroom window[i got the monk room]. I may have forgot to mention that the cats in Norway routinely fly, that or that some houses are built like basements, into the ground and the window is at ground level looking into the snow. From the light quality its nearly ten thirty in the day. The windows are misty since I keep the room at a very toasty temperature. The average population of the street at any one time is just that, one, one person, one car, one cat. And my neighbours have a boat, a boat full of snow sure but in the summer…
this is the street I live in, the population statistics I gave were not a lie, in this picture I was the one person as I stood there and looked over my domain. To be honest I never thought that living in  a place like this was in my life plan, not for a while at least. But here I am, in the television idea of suburbia. A quiet street with few cars, few lampposts, few people, few dustbins and plenty of snow. The snow settles on the houses which are also white, am not sure about the roofs though, they may be a different colour but snow settles on them from the top to the bottom, falling in the gutters covering up the terraces and the spaces between them until all that’s left is the white.
That’s the mountain at the end of the street, yes my street has a mountain at the end. You walk opposite the main road and you come to this steep snow filled hill. Climbing a hill with snow is difficult. What you really need on your feet are shoes not snow that covers up the stones and boulders making everything look level. As I got closer I could hear the sounds of water flowing. The whisper or roar of the the elements as they battle themselves. But I couldn’t see the water source. Before the edge of the hill there was a brown river of snow. My heart lied to me and I thought perharps this was a frozen river,[even though the rivers here are never brown] so I walked on and found it was the remains of leaves that had fallen off the trees. The trees that keep leaves are either the  pine trees that are used in Christmas time and these other ones with leaves  that turn brown[photocromatism is not something you need when its always so dark.] anyway these leaves had gotten crushed beneath the soles of people and the tread of wheels and now they were a fine sprinkle of golden dust.
The water was a small stream that had come from the top of the hill, snow melt of the kind that is dripped into mineral water bottles/ this mountain, dark, foreboding with a bearing that looks almost god~like as it regards those travelling beneath it will be conquered am not sure how but as they always say here, in the summer…
you walk on along this path and then you come to a pond. Half of the pond is frozen and the other half has water, blackwater. The no-man’s land between ice and water stretches on and on, looking like ice cream that’s been left out too long. Then comes this black-water. The water looks like it has no soul. Its an abyss, dark and bottomless, yet another side effect of no sun, there’s no illumination, no piercing of depth. Just blackness. There are ducks in there and those huge white birds, I don’t know what they are but they have these wings that form almost love-hearts when they touch each other’s tips. They are stately and supreme and make floating look like the easiest thing in the world. With water that black its easy to miss the frenzied activity of the birds as they pedal and pedal furiously beneath the surface, churning round and round the water. The pedalling here may  after all save their lives in more than one way, by keeping them afloat and by generating enough heat that the ice never completely overcomes them.

We are surrounded by forests. On all sides trees and trees. It makes everything quiet. Maybe its because of  the snow, maybe its because of the lack of people, but I think its the forests. Look how tall, look how proud, look how unbowed. These trees don’t shiver, they don’t shake, not one sliver. They stand and let the snow fall off them. Armies of trees standing disciplined in rows and rows waiting for their Caeser to come ad tell them that its now time to take over the world but until that day they stand silent and waiting, making everything quiet.

This may be my favourite part of the town, the pier. Kristiansand is a beach town making it warmer than Oslo also meaning that the people have boats and places from which the boats take off. The wind here is fierce, it whips the snow into a frenzy, tiny bullets flying all over the place like an annoying corporate memo. The water that you look into is called the Skagerrak, its cold out there. Wind is cold, its annoying, its irritating and its oh so strong. When you walk along this pier you’re usually wearing these heavy jackets that the wind pushes back. Walking slow motion has never been so easy. And it howls, making a mournful, soulful sound as it hurls snows at you. Maybe this is why the water looks like it has no soul, a sound that strong cannot be just elemental, it has to be spiritual too, a sound that mournful has to be meaningful.
Across this narrow sea is Denmark.


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tech mo loyo gi

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic~ Arthur C Clarke.

There is a play on words that only makes sense if you understand both Luo and English. Tech mo loyo gi. This is a phrase that my family uses to describe technological advancements that one of us is unable to use or fathom. The translation of the phrase is its so hard that its defeated people. This coupled with the fact,  that it sounds like technology makes it one of those rare double entrendres  that only works in translation.

So this is a post about technological differences.

Every city has a drama or a comedy if you just sit and watch the street long enough, something that sets your heart racing or keeps you laughing. In Norway its the bus runs. The bus system is hopelessly well organised. There are blinking displays that tell you how far away a bus is from the stage you are standing at. There is a low~tech version of this which is simply a poster with bus routes and times, you look at it and see that the bus will come at 5:11 then 5:21 then 5:31. as a consequence of organisation lateness is frowned upon. If you miss a bus you have to wait ten minutes for the next one or maybe longer so when a bus is parked somewhere you run. You don’t jog, you sprint all out.

We were standing outside our hostel one day as this group of four girls passes us  and begin to run. High in their heels, slippery  on the ice, careful of their beauty they began to sprint. The bus was two streets away and across the road. This was about 3OO metres of run time and they decide to do it. The bus had just pulled in and that gave them about 1 minute to make it. These are not bolting speeds but its still pretty fast for a group of people in heels who have to take care of the ice. We stood and watched as they ran.

200 metres.

Still the bus waited.

100 metres.

Even our breaths were baited, I thought maybe someone had told the bus driver to stop. There is a point in life when you have to decide what you are watching, comedy or drama. If I decide I’m watching a comedy then I want them to miss the bus, I want them to slip and fall on the ice, misery is the better outcome. If however I am watching a drama its David and Goliath, the stone of effort flung at the giant of time. The underdog overcoming adversity and trouble to come out on top.

5O metres.

Baited breath means you’re watching a drama. And like all good dramas they didn’t make the bus. This doesn’t take away from the awesomeness of the bus system.

One of my friends misplaced her phone at a conference, the organising committee president found it and called himself, he then went online on his phone accessed a certain application and was provided with all her personal details. Cool.

This is simple, we could institute it at home if we recorded everyone’s information and had no qualms about making it public. There are a lot of debates about privacy and anonymity that accompanies the using of such a program. It means someone somewhere has your phone number and all your details, passport or otherwise stored on a computer somewhere. But still. Cool.

In Kenya look right and left before you cross the road, in any country where English is not the official language look left then right. In Norway look straight. If the green man appears to be walking don’t bother with anything else, don’t question your right to the road, walk down the street, be sure.

You access google maps on your i-phone{well other people do} and you know how many minutes walk this place is from that one, but the huge airport in Amsterdam has an analog version of this, a map that tells you where you are and points you in the right direction, to gate C or D or whatever and tells you approximately how many minutes walk it is from where you are.

The keys here have an electronic sensor. You stick it into the lock and it glows green if you are putting it in the right hole, red if you’re not. I have a sneaking suspicion that as soon as you haven’t paid they can disable the keys so they don’t work any more. Cool. Butin  the door in he hallway you turn the key right, in the room you turn it left. Why they have differences I can never know.

Trains, trams and buses using the same piece of land. Criss-crossing routes that need a high degree of care. You have to listen to the traffic lights, you have to drive sober, you have to drive slow since ice can slip. You need discipline.

Of all the innovations I have seen here my favourite by far is woolen underwear. We don’t need this at home, we really don’t. Woollen underwear is something you wear when its really cold so that you can feel normal again. There is no such thing as bad weather they say here only bad clothes. True story. Completely true. You put those on and you walk out into the snow and cold and you feel OK. Then you take them off at night and itch and itch and itch. Well nothing’s perfect.

In the end the technology here is not unachievable. It is not indistinguishable from magic, the analog companions I have put up as counterparts in some cases proves this but having them has still defeated us, because you need discipline if you won’t drive drunk, past traffic lights, you need order if you can ever tell exactly when a bus will arrive, you need research to know how many minutes walk one place is from another. Its not difficult to have these things even back home but its still tech mo loyo gi.


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the silence of our friends

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars– Martin Luther King Jr.
We had just left the opera held at the underwater bar. There was a round of singing remaining but there was also impatience among the group. We walked to the stage and saw that the bus we were to take was  seven minutes away. Now seven minutes is a long time to wait for a bus at 11 at night when the temperature is below zero. We’re not quite used to the sun setting at 4 so my body thinks its 1 am and am only kept awake by that which I wish to escape, the bracing cold. And to keep each other alive we exchanged barbs and made fun of the weakest and wrongest among us.
The bus came and for some reason we all piled into the front. Some of the buses in Norway have a seat that’s just for one person, these seats are huge, couch~like but there’s no partition and in a country where personal space and distance is paramount this is an obvious invitation not to share. I sat down on one of these seats as they were all that were left and one of my companions sat on the one behind me.
We were in a good mood, laughing and talking, there was happiness inside all of us, happiness at being in Europe, happiness at just having watched the opera in a bar, happiness at finally understanding how the bus system worked and not needing anyone in order to get anywhere.
Then this man appeared, when I think about it am not sure if he was on the bus the whole time or just got on at a stage nearby, maybe he was just shrouded by our happiness and the mist was dispelled by my curiosity in him. First of all he had a dog, I notice dogs. I see them everywhere, I have hate in my hearts for the cousins of the beast that bit me and fear in my soul that it could happen again, am not sure what breed this was{the only breed they fall into for me is bitches and sons of bitches} it was black and shaggy and big enough that a bite would hurt. But its owner had a firm grip on it.
On his grip he had these exquisite leather gloves, they had groves in them and they looked expensive. He looked to be in his fifties, with hair flowing down to his neck, and he was drunk. He was so drunk the dog was being used as a pillar of support so that he wouldn’t come crashing down. And when a man uses a leash as a pillar of support you have to wonder what he had been drinking and when he takes his dog along for company at a bar you have to wonder where he had been drinking that allows this. He also looked rich. The average Norwegian makes a lot of money because they have to spend a lot of money so when you see a Norwegian who looks richer than the average he’s probably minting  money like chewing gum.
The man spoke to me in Norwegian indicating his dog.
I can’t understand Norwegian and I let him know that I couldn’t, most people in Norway can speak English and will if you let them know that’s all you understand. So I  smiled and listened because an open countenance is important to me.
“you can’t speak Norwegian? Why.”
“I’ve only been here for ten days.”
then he said something to the effect that it was crazy to be in Norway and not speak Norwegian, as he said it he tapped his head in the universal signal for looniness.
I haven’t mentioned yet but he was white. In many interactions between a black and white person racism can be construed. Prepare for it. I was told but I didn’t listen because I didn’t want to prepare for it. If you put yourself on guard for these things you will find them everywhere. You will find them in the hesitations before people give you directions, you will find them in the hostility you encounter on a night out on town, you will find them in looks not meant for you but the person behind you and you will find them in the hand gestures of old rich men on buses. I had determined for myself that I wouldn’t be on guard for racism that I wouldn’t expect it or look for it. That a lot of the instances I could chalk down as racism could as easily be explained as someone having a bad day, or being naturally shy, distrustful or drunk.
well, now I wasn’t misconstruing things any more. I was in the middle of my first racist encounter. I have always had a very mind over matter based attitude to this word. This word that has been used to derogatively describe people of African origin for centuries. This word that coming out of a white mouth in sincerity screams racism more overtly than the most obvious policies. I told myself it didn’t apply to me. I considered the history of the word and the fact that it had been used on African American slaves and that the children of these slaves probably carry a cultural memory attached to it. I told myself I wasn’t African American, this was not a word that applied to me so it didn’t matter. Not that  I wanted it used against blacks but that it was meant for other types of blacks. This opinion had been informed by the debate during the presidential race of America in two thousand eight when there was a cadre of blacks who said Obama wasn’t black enough since he didn’t carry in him the cultural stains of having ancestors mistreated and misused by the white man for centuries and centuries, some said he wasn’t black in the sense of the African American, there was no cultural or genetic history of being mistreated. Paradoxically it took reading his book for me to finally understand what it can mean to be a black man in America, to understand the feelings of inferiority that are put on you by the culture of the place and by its history. It took reading his book to realise that cries for reparation are not the lamentations of the lazy but whispers of the wronged.
He held up his middle finger and pointed this black leather glove at us.
Intellectualism and the argument it provides are never solace for the soul or a balm for the burned, they are mind exercises that work in theory. This was the first time I heard the word meant and I was shocked. I didn’t expect it to happen, to happen here in Norway, you’ll be fine I had told myself but I wasn’t. I was angry and unable to do anything about it. The shock wore off and was replaced by anger, I put my gloves back on my fists, slowly, deliberately, angrily. I am not sure why I did this but I imagine it looked menacing like action was about to be taken
what do you do when you are called nigger in 2 weeks in a foreign country?
I wasn’t prepared for it. A lot of my life I have believed in the overwhelming power of words, to mend, to destroy, to break and rebuild. Words are more than just sounds, they are associations to all the other things that combination means and the word nigger is disabling. I wanted to pound him, my fists were in gloves, I wouldn’t get really hurt. But at the same time he was Norwegian and I wasn’t. Even the most fair judicial system in the world is skewed towards protecting its own citizens first. He had a dog, a dog that obeyed him. But all these are excuses and not reasons for my lack of action.
All this time he continued to insult using Norwegian
Its difficult even now to explain the reasons. The whole group of people I was with, who were also participating in the program went silent. A black mood descended on us and we weren’t speaking. The power of this word is amazing, its not some kind of curse or placebo effect that’s only strong because you make it strong, I had convinced myself that it wasn’t strong for me, that it was weak and wouldn’t affect me but it did. It made me sit there and be quiet, sadly quiet, cowardly quiet. And the truth is nothing in the world can prepare you for this, no matter what. Especially when its so open.
After a while I determined that this was not going to ruin my night, I talked to my friends and told them in the same loud voice that I had been using the whole night that we couldn’t just sit there and allow what had happened affect and decide our whole night, we had to keep talking, we had to keep laughing, we had to diss him back and so we did. Before we left the bus I stood and stared at him in the eye. I don’t know why, but it had something to do with dignity and showing him I wasn’t going to bow my head. I looked him square for a full minute and am not sure if he continued being racist or not, am not sure if he talked or if the whole world shut off its volume am only sure that for that minute all that mattered was the stare I locked him in. then we got off at our stop.
Everyone else on the bus looked off into the distance like nothing was happening.
There is a famous Norwegian politeness, that at that moment felt like Norwegian coldness. They can be chilly as their weather. They can pass you in the street without saying hi, but that’s OK. It also means that when a confrontation like the one that was happening is going on they can look off into the distance and not move a muscle, not get involved. This hurt too. Their racial openness and immigration policies are things that Norwegians are proud about. But what does it mean if its only passive support and that as soon as something happens you lock up and act like it isn’t. They were so good at this they may have been deaf. All this made me think of the program I was involved in, cultural awareness through exchange is the summary. But we have all given up on the old racists haven’t we? In Norway if you are past a certain age you can say nigger because you come from a different generation and it won’t be a crime. So for the old racists we are just waiting for them to die. Cultural awareness is for the young people, who are ignorant and not hateful. But they have to  be willing to engage in things like this. The people on the bus were not.
Many countries have a date that they remember for an act of terrorism, September 11 in America, July seven in Britain, august eighth in Kenya. Here its July 22nd. Something that happened not a year passed. When a white Norwegian national bombed a government building and went to a youth camp to shoot up the youngsters while dressed in a police uniform. He was protesting immigration policies, he was racist. so he struck back at the society that allowed integration. Very few other nations know first hand and so recently the dangers of fostering hate. And so they are careful. My Norwegian friends told me that only crazy people talk to other people on buses here. This is probably true. It would be a sin to let that one man and that singular experience colour the rest of my stay here.
But the anger was there. It’s hard to focus hatred and I finally understood the martin Luther king jr. quote this started with. It is very easy to give in to hate, to violence and rage, they are the easiest of the emotions but they achieve nothing except more hate violence and rage. So on the other side of this  won’t change I’ll still engage people in conversations in buses if they look friendly because in the end allowing it to change you is the worst loss there is.
The next day I was talking to one of the Norwegian participants of the program, a white girl who had travelled to Angola some time before. I couldn’t imagine that she would be able to relate to what had happened to me, that she could have had any experience or expectation that prepared empathy. But. While she was in Angola, walking down a street minding her own business,
someone yelled out, “PUTA.”
This is the Portuguese word for whore. There were other girls walking down the street and the man didn’t want his insult coated by confusion so he yelled out,
immigrant whore. For no other reason than that she was white someone yelled this out. And the people on the street did nothing about it, our famous African hospitality did nothing to help, our natural inquisitiveness into the lives of other people, our instinct to help did no more to serve her than Norwegian politeness. She felt small like I did, she felt that maybe the society she was in covertly supported such hate.
This is the idea that people carry in their heads about societies that don’t speak up. Edmund Burke once said that all it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing. Its true. Evil prevails and hate grows when the weak and the alone are not defended. So do something If you feel that what’s happening is not representative of your society. Only the loud are ever heard and only those heard are ever remembered.
in the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends-Martin Luther King Jr.


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Oslo talks

Small talk takes two forms here, bitching about the weather and bitching about the cost of living. Into this is sandwiched the price of alcohol and cigarettes. There’s a common Norwegian joke, if you don’t have enough money to take a vacation to another country just stay longer there and you’ll save some money. It’s not uncommon for people to drive to Denmark or Sweden for shopping packing full fridges while they are there with chicken, meats, alcohol and cigarettes.
Nevertheless there is a huge cosmopolitan population here. When I was in Egypt I actually was the only black person I would see for days, there just weren’t any Africans here it’s completely different every street you walk down is populated by immigrants from everywhere. People from the Middle East, Africa, the rest of Europe. There’s an informal Palestinian settlement set up near where I live, it’s just a sheet metal structure with graffiti declaring the world a borderless entity. It’s a protest against a government policy of sending back some Palestinians. I couldn’t say am sure why the ones sent back are since this country seems to hold up her arms as wide as America used to. Inside the tent there are Palestinians sitting, distributing literature and smoking shisha.  A random fact is that Norway is the biggest oil producer outside OPEC. Yet oil here costs something like two dollars a barrel. I let one of them know that in Egypt it was closer to thirty cents he said, “We couldn’t do that we have a reputation to hold up as an expensive country.”
Cultures have a way of seeping into you. Here you don’t say hi to random people, you are friendly but not overly curious. Two strangers have said welcome to Norway. But for now I ascribe it to the winter. The winter here is fierce though am here in a particularly warm year. The temperature dips below zero degrees every day. It has been days since snow fall, this doesn’t mean the snow leaves the ground just that it becomes brown slush in the places where people often walk. Foreigners bitch about the weather while the Norwegians have dreams of summer in their eyes. “In the summer… in the summer… ” is what you’ll hear most if you talk to Norwegians.
The sun is out for a very short time. It really only shines for a few hours then it goes down but when it goes down it takes hours. I saw a sunset that lasted and lasted. The sun sets red and black and long. Fingers of red set against a black sky, a silken spider string that’s woven for hours by the night sky, the sun refusing to give up its post and the night claiming it by force fighting back the red till its all black and you look at your time and its 5 pm.
The night is a different creature in Norway. From the summer longings you would think the night is abhorred, from the alcohol price prohibitions you would think there are no drunks. We went out on Thursday night to a pub and you can’t smoke indoors here meaning that when someone is struck by the urge they have to leave the premises and stalk the outdoors for a minute. A Mozambique here in the same program as I am calls outside the battlefield. You can be protected from the vagaries of war as long as you are in the barracks but as soon as you are exposed to the battlefield you remember, immediately you remember. The best part about these smoking zones is the people you meet. We met two very interesting Swedes that night. They were drunk off their heads. They too had been in the country barely a week,
“And how long will you stay?”
And with the most fatalistic air I have ever seen he said “I don’t know maybe forever, the company sent us here for this one job but it looks like we should just get comfortable.”
They were however so drunk the words were a jumbled mumble, sounds more than anything else where you tried for an approximation of meaning instead of accuracy. A while later one of them joined our table and I engaged him in conversation. The formula for making friends in Oslo is ridiculously simple; as soon as you ascertain that they are not Norwegian or even if they are talk about the weather. ‘ Yer, yer its way too cold is the general consensus.’ Then talk about the cost of living, ‘alcohol here huh? I wish I had brought more from home.’ And then you have a friend. In this ranting Swede I had a friend. He told me he was working for the office of the president and had come to repaint the government buildings that had been blown up the terrorist attacksof 22 July last year. Thinking about the attacks awoke a righteous passion in him and he metaphorically frothed at the mouth as he spoke about the perpetrator. If I see him again I will kill him he said. Then he said it again with such vehemence I felt that he thought I didn’t believe him. It didn’t matter though whether or not I believed him in that moment he believed himself. And so i told him  I believed what he was saying was true. He talked a little about this and that and then decided to prove his credentials. Apparently he is a hell’s angel, a madman on a motorcycle with the tattoo to prove it, he lifted up his forearm and showed it to me, now I have never seen a hell’s angel tattoo and have no idea what it looks like but I believed him when he showed it to me. Soon he left and as he walked out he said to me as sincerely as always,
“My friend if anyone fucks with you I will fuck them up, I will kill them.” so I nodded sagely knowing that for and only now I had a guardian angel from hell.


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50,000 reasons

this year the Kenya School of Law increased their fees by 50,000 shillingswithout warning. My former classmates and a lot of other potential lawyers have been organising to protest this until the fees is cut down, since i can’t help with that i hope some words can.

Let no one lie to you law school is hard. For four years you go through cases and statutes. For four years you learn about how the English do things and how Kenyans still do the same things. For four years you meet angry exams and unreasonable professors then it’s over.

You read tree loads of books; you photocopy Amazon’s worth of paper. Your eyes ache, your brain fades, your soul dies. Your faith in humanity is challenged with every class. How we learn in Kenya is by going over old case law, cases by definition are not happy stories of triumph and the beauty of humanity. They are stories of the failure that human beings are. They are stories of people who didn’t have to do that wrong thing but did anyway. They are the worst statistics of the soul. And they drain you. Hour after hour you hear about, write about and read about the very worst things that can happen. 
Then you read about how laws are made and changed, you go through the philosophy of law in your third year a subject called jurisprudence and for me in this moment it started to make sense to coalesce out of the fog into something that mattered. The law is no t about the people who break it though it can seem that way, it’s not about the people who make it and it’s not about making people happier. It’s not synonymous with justice, it’s a philosophy it’s a way of life. The law is about which kind of world you want to see and how to make the world seem that way. Justice is for the gods all we can aim for is right and wrong. 
Is this right? The average law student works his ass off and can’t expect a salary of more than 30,000 and that’s on the really high side most of them settle for 11,000 and less. This in the city of Nairobi where half goes to rent and half to clothing. Food can become a distant memory but that’s ok since you’re in that office from sun-up to sundown. That’s ok since you’re too tired to think about anything but the musty documents that surround you the whole day. Seeping into your soul as you work through motion after motion. That’s really ok since there’s a pay off at the end of the day or so we are told/ maybe that is right. 
What about their place in society, wakili you are crowned as soon as you walk out of the university doors with your gown draped over your shoulders. That word still bears some weight. The sins of the fathers and the honor of their fathers. You are a liar and a thief, you have money and esteem and the only thing you really do have is the esteem but you can’t preserve it without dignity and you can’t have dignity unless you work for it. Maybe that’s right too. 
The weight of the world on your shoulders is a horrible feeling but you wanted to be a lawyer and now you can be, but can you? Kenya is a poor country that promises dreams in return for work. The scholarship program in our universities reward the best and the brightest. If you can pass high school you only have to pay 16,000 a year to attend any course of your choosing. That’s right, that’s fair. That’s more than your first month’s salary but for many people it’s more than the whole year’s income. These are the people who really do hold the world up on one tattered shoulder pad. Their parents scrimp and save so that they have a wakili in the family. They are sent from all over the country to Nairobi and they need the HELB loans just so they can breathe. And if you went the parallel way the degree will cost your family about 640,000 shs. Harambee after harambee are held so that people can go to school and it’s never enough. You need to kill the trees I mentioned earlier. But it’s difficult, its difficult but no one says dreams should be easy and maybe this is right too. The culture of sacrifice for gain is the only way we can progress in a country like Kenya. 
Then you finish and you have a degree. By now you have a healthy dislike for lawyers, the exams do not need to be so hard or to be marked so strictly. A first class honors does not need to be something of myth only whispered about in the dark dreams of naïve first years but it is and maybe this is right too. But only maybe. 
To be a lawyer however a degree is not enough. After four years of cramming ad reading, of researching and reviewing they tell you that you have not learned enough that you are not good enough to join the noble profession. After all that you are sent back to school for another year. It’s a slap in the face of the system. A heavy handed fist to the gut. It began with a simple enough explanation, there are people who went to school outside Kenya and we need to standardize what they learned. For this reason the students in Kenya did not need to attend law school they went straight to their internship. This changed along the way, now everyone needs to go to school of law. The syllabus is prepared by the council of legal education the same organization that prepares the syllabus for the universities. This would mean there is no overlap, no relearning concepts and procedures previously studied. But it doesn’t it means that you instead go to learn n the same things in the same classes from the same teachers and maybe this is right but the justification is harder sought. 
But a dream is a dream and unless completely taken away people will fight for it forever. Which is when you come to the fees. The fee is 190,000 this year. This could pay for 13 years of university for the regular student, a quarter of the degree for the parallel one. How long are you given before you can raise this amount? One month. One measly month. That of mid December to mid January. A message is sent to those who want to go. It speaks of discrimination and unfairness. It brought you this far and then left you hanging over the edge. The fee increased dramatically by 50,000 in a year. Are there new structures? More infrastructure? Better teachers? No just a bigger class. The reasoning behind is vague and unmentioned.  
After four years of reading of the worst of humanity this is what you get, the worst of humanity. Suddenly the dream is snatched out of your hands. You have 50,000 extra reasons not to go to school of law. Everyone says lawyers are thieves but no one mentions how much they steal from themselves and their future. This is what is happening. A chance for education to those who worked hardest for it, who fought most with no tools on their side but their brains and their dreams, is taken away. One short month after the euphoria of graduation after being wakili you are told you can’t be, not really. Is this right? 
Law is not about justice because that’s for the gods, it’s about fairness and inequity, it’s about right and wrong, its about making the world more like we want to see it. A society needs lawyers; it needs smart people to replace the old blood. It needs fire in the independent t judiciary that’s a critical part of any democracy but that’s being put out too, 50,000 reasons are given why people can’t be lawyers. 50,000 reasons for broken dreams and shattered hopes, 50,000 reasons why a journey must come to an end. The worst thing is that not even one reason is given for those 50,000.

That is not right.


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norway arrival

And finally we had left Amsterdam airport. My cousin told me that the best sight you can see as you fly is the city from way up there at night. It was seven am which to me meant the day had  started and the night ended but I was soon to learn that Europe was not dictated by what things meant to me. The plane started taxiing down the runway. A series of false starts its character of take-off. First we went at what felt to be a snail pace then we went slower until it seemed like we had stopped this was because we had. Then the pilot grew some balls and bulleted away. The speed was enormous, nothing on the ground moves that fast, it breathes speed and wind glides over its wings hanging on the edge for just a whisper of a rumour of a second before it dives off the edge. Then the plane took off.
I kept yawning since a quick change in altitude will fuck up your ears and yawning is the best way to clear them up but nothing. And then i Iooked out the window and my breath was taken away. At seven am the sun is still servicing its mistresses in Japan and Africa, it hasn’t gotten its pants on to go to work in Europe. Its yawning still and you can feel its yawn but that breath is not hot enough to light up a city so the humans down there take it upon themselves to do so. Rows upon rows of lights lit up my eyes. You could follow it for a thousand years the light of Amsterdam There were circles and triangles straight lines that curved near the end. The lighting of a city can tell you a lot about its character about where the parks are and where people park their cars, the size of the roads, the clutter of cars, the number of houses or it can just tell you that lights are beautiful. I was sure it looked this good back at home but I wasn’t really since I hadn’t ever taken off at night while near a window and I regretted it.
Then we broke the cloud. Actually first we arrived at the cloud and at a signal there was mist all around us. Pillows and pillows of billows and billows, soft white and curved. And the eye could only see as far as the first cloud after that nothing and noone. The sky can be a lonely place maybe that’s why birds fly in formation. Up there there is nothing, its worse than the desert and worse than the night. Its white noise except it isn’t it’s just blank light and just like that we broke through that too. Now we could see the sun begin its slow ascent. The sky was burned all sorts of colours, azure for some reason seems the best way to describe it. The opposite of an Egyptian sunrise this one took its time, playing with us and our feelings, it let us know it could beautiful but not just yet. It let us know it could be warm but that it would be frigid. It touched the sky carefully knowing exactly what it was doing and doing it so well. And opposite it the moon also shined. Yellow and big. It looked like a painting not a real moon. It was set in the sky and just a hint of its glow touched the cloud beneath it turning that yellow too. And  so the two globes gave battle for the attention of those on the third.
The flight passed pleasantly except for some anxiety left over from the airport and we were soon near Oslo airport. By now it was recognisably daytime and what a daytime it was. The snow had been falling down as it promises to in Norway and now it carpeted everything. The roofs of the houses were white, the roofs of the cars were white. The roads were white, the buildings, the trees, the plants. It is not a lie that snow is beautiful but from afar. The hug of the ice is not one you wish to experience too much of. And that’s what Oslo is known for cold. I admired the snow but I dilly-dallied in the airport to allow me time to feel better about it. Our reception had been organised and we were picked up as planned. We got on to a train station that’s right underneath the airport and for some time we avoided feeling really cold.
We have cold days in Kenya There are those days when its so cold the air forces the steam to condense into these rough biting pinpricks that you just want to keep out of your faces. Those days when it threatens to rain and you wish it just could. The sun is hid behind volumes of cloud and the atmosphere is white. Those days when its 15 degrees Celsius. Well on the plane the captain had said that the weather would be negative 5 degrees, we heard it would be five and a conversation that almost seems comical considering how cold Kenya is ensued.
“if he said 5 that’s not so bad we can deal with that.”
 Oslo in January has no idea what 5 is. It laughs at you for even thinking that and  asks you back ten degrees just so you’re not too uncomfortable. The air hits you like a mallet. It attacks your face with no hesitation. It bypasses your skin and makes you feel cold in the nerves underneath it. Then the brain plays with you and warmth is a memory whose ashes have been put out as the snows of Oslo. I had on a huge jacket so that I my chest would be saved the embarrassment of broken nipples. But my legs had no such protection. They start to freeze, its strange but I notice that I never chatter here. In Kenya when it gets really cold my teeth set to chattering and talking is a stammer after another. Maybe here its because my chest is so well protected. But my legs froze. A pillar of ice wrapped itself around the bone and wouldn’t let go. Talking became difficult because your mind is on the cold and on the cold alone. They have a beautiful saying here. There is no such thing as bad weather only bad clothes. And that was my problem. But my body wouldn’t listen it just felt cold.
The air conditioning is amazing though and when you get in all of a sudden you feel warm again. You ran to take of your gloves, your hat, your scarf, you rush  to remove your jacket, your shoes your warmth because as soon as you are on the other side those who took the best care of you start to freeze you up. The clothes remember the cold much better than your body does and when you enter a building the best way to get warm quickly is to take off the reminders. And I have a fascination with the snow. I will be inside for a while and it gets so warm I have no idea where I am and I need to remind myself. I long for the cold the way some love a shower. I want a shot of it to keep me alive because without I have been falling asleep{it was a really long trip before I could get off Amsterdam} and I need that cold so I peek out and I remember in no time at all. The process begins afresh my face begins to peel off, my legs start to be supported by an unwanted pillar. I kick the snow because I love how it feels to kick snow but it kicks back and as soon as I am home I grab off my shoes and take off my socks.
But the beauty cannot be denied. It snowed on my second day here and white balls of perfection slowly glided toward me. They fell in my clothes and turned the cotton to ice, they fell on my specks  and turned the glasses to  mist, they fell on the streets and tuned the scene to myth. And it really is. Oslo is a beautiful city, it has space to breathe and this it does the roads go down long alleys before they turn into each other. You can stand somewhere and see off for a very long distance in that direction. The sun left her a long time ago and the “I don’t need you ” street lights shine too bright. They illuminate everything and in the sphere of their immediate glow snow globes can be seen. They are caught in the spotlight drifting lazily down, tiny ones today barely bigger than raindrops glided to the ground. Cars were covered in snow and it was everywhere.
But snow can turn to mush. This is something the movies gloss over. Its usually very beautiful, a carpet that gods could walk on but not always. In no time at all it turns brown and muddy, its churned up by the footfalls of men, by the passing of cars, the whishing of trains. The mortality of the world and it turns into sludge. This gathers up by roadside where it has been swept aside to let the cars pass. This sticks to the bottom of your shoe and clings to the top holding on until your feet are on fire and ice. It spoils the picture but its a part of it. The part right before it all melts away and becomes nothing but water, the part where reality sinks in and white as snow was a foolish expression since cold as snow is the only absolute  truth about winter.  


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24 b

Chapter 24b of my life I poised to be great. On December 2nd last year I got the news that I had been selected for yet another aiesec intern-ship, this time in Norway this time run by FK a Norwegian NGO focused on cultural interaction and learning, this time I would be going with 2 other Kenyans. All we had to do was scan in our passports and send them via email so that they could apply for the visa on the other side. This we did.

On 21/12/2011 a date we should have been suspicious of we got the email saying the visas were ready, our flights were booked and we just had to go and pick them up from the embassy. In this interconnected worlds we live in my first action was to google the Norwegian embassy in Kenya. And as luck deigns to defecate on the best laid plans the embassy was moving house. Moving on 21/12/2011 and settling into new premises on the 2nd of this year. This was perhaps too coincidentally the day the flight was booked for.

The actions of drowning men near straws were repeated , we clutched at them so much I now have a man purse(I can only make a joke like this because I have sisters.) but in the end we had to admit that it could not be done and ask for a flight extension. At this point we still believed that we could get the visas in a day and so the flight was set for the night of the 3rd.

Free advice to Kenyans all the embassies in the world are either on riverside drive or in Runda. We headed to Runda because we had found out that the Norwegian embassy had been shacking up with the Danish one which was in Runda. I called the receptionist who informed that he wasn’t sure the living arrangements were as before. He said he would call me when he had firmer news on whether they would be coming to work there or not. And he did with the news that they wouldn’t be working out of that embassy any more but they had moved to a new premises already in(surprise, surprise Runda.) things seemed to be working out we had the hope of the young and the energy to go with it.

We found the embassy and we were the first people to arrive there. Before the movers I would later discover. The security guard there is the most polite helpful guard I have ever experienced he listened to our concerns with a genuine desire to help. He let us in to sit as he went to find out what could be done which past experience has taught me is a big deal. He went in and found the only employee at the place and invited us to go talk to her about our visas. We walked she saw us and remarked rather prophetically,

“I heard a rumour you’re travelling today.”

after this auspicious start we told her our woes and she asked us to have a sit as she saw what she could do. What she did was try to call up their former house mates and find out if they could give us the visa instead. No luck because it was that kind of day. Also this was before we knew that village market was not a place to hold barazas(Swahili word for meeting made famous by this woman(everyone should read this)). This was the spot of our crisis meeting also the only place we could get photos which are needed for the application.

The whole time we were corresponding with the Norwegians who were to host us. They were calling their foreign ministry who were sending emails across the sea and the air to their embassy. One of us had camped outside the Danish embassy just in case and the rest of us were waiting gofers between the embassy and the ministry of foreign affairs.

When the email was sent to the embassy asking them to facilitate our travel we went back now hopeful. We took a matatu for a distance of twenty metres(we lost ten that way.) we got off and went to talk to the lady again where-forth she delivered another gem.

“yer I have seen the email from Norway but unless they can also send a technician from Oslo to fix the systems on the next flight there’s nothing I can do.”

with failure looming so large, taking the form of a twice extended plane ticket we proceeded to the nakumatt to get some liquor. We left behind our passports and a pick up time of Friday

On Friday the visas were ready. The flight is tonight(Saturday) and with that I am off to Europe for 6 months.


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