Monthly Archives: October 2012

reflections part 2

The game drive continued, I was shaken and as soon as the episode was over I was the butt of every joke involving baboon and man that you can come up with. The story morphed on the spot as all stories do and in the end it became a stirring account of the bond between man and ape. We drove on and on and then we came to a stop and to our right was a rhino. Now I have seen pictures of rhino before. The most popular matchsticks in Nairobi are the rhino brand and I can definitely recognise it when I see it but nothing can prepare you for the overwhelming sight of a rhino in the wild. There were three of them a couple and their child grazing, enjoying family time.
A rhino is about 4 metres long and has a shoulder height of 1.5 metres. The weight of a fully grown rhino is 3,600 kilograms and they are surrounded by silence. As soon as you lay an eye on a rhino a respectful hush falls over you. They seem completely unconcerned by human beings going about their lives like we are nothing. In a game of chicken between our bus and the rhino I hope our driver would have the good sense to turn around before collision. Because what was arrayed before us were not animals but gods. Everyone at one time or another has met a person who just oozes menace. A cold sweat comes over you when in their presence  even though with most of them they don’t seem to see you. You could matter less to them than a speck of dust. This is how the rhino regarded the bus full of human beings.
It’s skin looked tough. Not leather tough but stone tough, like it was made out of the same material that military tanks are made out of. They kept their eyes down busy on the grazing looking to untrained eyes as if they were sculpted out of the fear of all the other animals. Quietly the father rhino raises his head and looks at us. The head alone looked like it weighed a tonne( which as it turns out it can); it was sharp and angular with ivory towers sticking out of its snout. It regarded us and went back to its meal. It knew who the threat was in these particular parts.
And soon the game drive was over. There was a tree near the dormitory we were sleeping in that I didn’t noticed till the last day we were there. It was a haven for birds of the umm… flying variety. There were dozens of them there. They had nested and this was their home away from their first home. I feel sure that if you can fly the sky is always your first home, an endless expanse of beauty and freedom, a backdrop of blue and white, sun and rain,  where all you need to do to survive is wing it. Anyway the birds when they came back here chirped incessantly. There is a certain romanticism that city dwellers attach to the sounds of birds. We imagine them as harmonious and soothing, in our minds they are always chirping in unison and unity. Pouring out a song of unending melody to the sky and to the earth their penance for having the gift of flight. That is a romanticism that is quickly dashed after listening to this particular bird species. What it put it me in mind of was twitter, not twitter as it can be, a repository of quick wit and information condensed to such small sound bites that every word serves as a stand in for a sentence, but twitter as its critics see it. An endless clamour of voices struggling to be heard, shouting down all the others to the point where what could be a symphony is actually a cacophony. A mess of sounds so insistent and incessant that sanity is tried by just giving it a listen. The birds chirped and chirruped. They may have been gossiping or imparting that eternal wisdom that the earth tries to bequeath to its human children but either way it was impossible to hear anything more than the noise they gave out.
The city was encroaching on us. The world a lot of times  feels like a single organism. If you can take a stem cell or a hair follicle you can grow the whole thing again. This is the reason metaphors always seem to work so well and why everything can stand in to represent something else, why there always seem to be deeper underlying truths in the words of babes and fools and why even there in a sanctuary far, far away from human’s stamp on ecology you could almost see an all too human invention.
I was in a black mood on the last day. The ups and downs of human emotions are familiar to us all. And if you look around  all you see is what’s inside you. In the most pristine environments you can transpose destruction. You can imagine the worst on the best. I looked out over the forest that I had fallen in love with on the first day. It looked the same. The trees still stood, sentinel like in the distance, guarding the lake that I hadn’t yet visited. But it didn’t feel the same. A friend of mine lit a cigarette and all I could see now was the fire. Through the prism of the small flame I observed the forest and I couldn’t help imagining the forest on fire.
There were reds and yellows running across the canopies. They rushed past the leaves whispering from one to another the secret of knowledge of good and evil that had consigned so many of us humans to a fiery existence. The smoke rose, white and clear and black and impenetrable. The astonishingly fresh air of that place was replaced in my mind by the fumes running out of the forest. Particles of leaves and wood turned to ash and were carried along in the wind settling here and there creating a different kind of beauty. A clash, a riot, a civil war of colours that would rival and put to shame the sunrise that nobody saw. Greens and yellows, reds and pinks, whites and greys, browns and muds. The smells of smoke and charred flesh, of burning woods and water too hot to remain as water.
In nature and in everything we can catch reflections of ourselves, of us at our worst and of us at our best. We can see the lush green paradise, the eternal tranquillity that can be the thread of human existence and at the same time there is the rioting anger, the eternal conflict that can be its unravelling. Like almost everywhere in the world we can see what makes us human in the nature we struggled so much to escape. It’s not what it really is but how it makes us feel. Those words rang in my mind yet again. On this trip I had caught glimpses of humanity, of myself at every turn. Feelings of expectation and realities of disappointment. The truth that waiting for something is half of the pleasure in receiving it and can even be all of the pleasure. Hostility and majesty and tranquillity fighting their eternal battle with light heartedness and cowardice and the shrieks of violence. As we left I realised that we can never really escape the things we try to, we carry too much of them in us and in moments of peace and exhaustion they will pounce like a lioness in the dark.


Filed under Uncategorized

and on they droned(on the third american debate)

Update at the bottom, due to some more thoughts on this. More a rebuttal of an argument i made while writing it.

I was a funny child; whenever I was on the phone and someone asked me what I was doing I would say, “Talking to you.” Am not so funny anymore plus I keep getting robbed so am not really sure how to use a phone anymore but when asked what I was doing the other day I said truthfully “paying too much attention to American politics.”
Well this week the presidential candidates had a debate on foreign policy. I felt this would be important because it  matters to all of us what the biggest economy and military plan to do with themselves and  I wondered about the men themselves. I, like almost all Kenyans, have a bias towards Obama. As American as he is, and he really is very American, there is still a nagging pride in the fact that his father was Kenyan. Intellectually I know it will make no difference in my life but pride is sometimes emotional and so I’m biased. Not so biased that I won’t listen to the other guy though so I watched the debate. And I listened to what they had to say making an assumption that what they said they meant and that it wasn’t just political posturing. This is what I heard and what I thought about it.
Disclaimer: I am no expert on many of these issues, I haven’t read enough or heard enough for my opinion to be worth much. Also I will probably change my mind on some of these things as time goes on and I learn more about the world we live in but as of today these are my truthful thoughts on American foreign policy and what I believe it means for the world.
They talked about Iran and the possibility of Tehran getting a nuclear weapon and how that would mean Armageddon for the rest of the world. Romney kept mentioning how Iran was 4 years closer to a nuclear weapon, he said it over and over and I kept thinking, so is Kenya and the Persian empire is now 2,500 years closer to a nuclear weapon too. However on this they seemed to agree, Iran cannot be trusted with a nuclear weapon. Their president who everyone admits doesn’t really control the country has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, something that both candidates ran with Romney even called for him to be indicted for genocide incitement. Ahmadinejad did say that Israel should be wiped off the map and maybe he meant it literally. It was a stupid thing to say, hateful and wrong whatever he meant even if, as he tried to explain, it was literally replacing the country name on the actual map of the world with the name Palestine, saying it like that was insensitive and worse, much worse since he knew he was talking about a state that has had good reasons for their continued paranoia. And he is a smart enough man to know how his words would be heard and what they would mean.
But what do we really know about nuclear weapons? Who actually uses them? India and Pakistan have been having border skirmishes for years and neither of them has gone any step closer to using those bombs. North Korea has the bomb. This is a country whose government is a bit cuckoo and the Kim dynasty is not one anyone trusts. I always felt that Mutually Assured Destruction was the safest route to nuclear weapons never being used. The only time they were used the technology wasn’t widespread. No one has used them since. The debate coincidentally was held on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis another moment when the world did come close to using these weapons. If a country used a nuclear weapon on another right now the world would turn its back on the first country. Calls to arms would be made immediately and there would be no stopping the decimation of that country’s population. What if the weapons made it into the hands of terrorists which is the main fear? In 9/11 3,000 Americans were killed by terrorists. By 2011 a study by Brown university stated that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan hadclaimed the lives of nearly 132,000 civilians.  No one is stupid enough to risk the bomb but men smarter than me with more information and better advisers fear this, so it has to be true. And they say it with such confidence that I can’t help believe what they are talking about.
On a related topic they were both asked if an attack on Israel would amount to an attack on the United States. Anyone with even a passing interest in American or Middle Eastern politics will know that America has a terrific bias towards Israel. Part of it is guilt over what happened in world war 2, part of it the influence of the Jews who settle in America, part of it comes about by being raised with a bible that calls that place the promised land every chance it can, part of it is the truth that the only solution left is one where there is both an Israel and a Palestine and large parts of it are things I don’t know and can’t understand. To their credit neither of them answered affirmatively they said they would stand with Israel. This amounts of course to I got your back like you would a friend in a street fight but you would temper it by asking questions about the reasons behind this street fight. I mean if your friend slept with a man’s wife you’d still get him out of there but maybe slap him around a bit just so he knew it was serious. Since this is politics Romney tried to score some points by saying Obama skipped Israel on a Middle East tour he took, a sign of waning support the Arab countries would surely have noticed. This allowed Obama to score some points by saying Romney went there on fundraisers but when he, Obama, visited Israel he would go to the holocaust museum to remind himself of the nature of evil, he would visit a town near the border where Hezbollah had rained down missiles and talk to parents who heard missiles fall outside the windows of their children’s houses. “That’s how I spend my travels.”
Except, drones.
Not enough time is spent talking about drones. Pilotless planes that are controlled with joysticks in Missouri and fly over Pakistan dropping missiles on suspected terrorists. The official way to count collateral damage is that if you are between 17 and 30, male and within a half mile of the terrorist being killed you will not count as collateral damage. There are reports of rescuers being targeted  of the funerals of drone victims being bombed by other drones. Parents don’t let their children go to school in some parts of the country, no one gathers in large groups. People feel terrorised and scared that this day will be their last. They hear the drone of the devices flying overhead and can’t sleep, they know what it means. Pavlovially they have been taught to fear. Here thanks to US foreign policy there are parents who hear missiles fall outside the windows of their children’s rooms and maybe this is how he should spend his travels. Getting a reminder that pain and suffering isn’t an exclusive feeling of Israelis and Americans, remembering that the whole world has children. And that the use of terror, even if inadvertent is no longer an exclusively terrorist weapon anymore. For all the reasons to debate vigorously this drone war all that was said about it was a one sentence endorsement from governor Romney before they moved on to more pressing matters.
They talked about Libya and Syria. The governor gave the results of a study by Arab scholars where they said that the best ways to fight extremism was to increase development in the areas of economic development, education, gender parity and the rule of law. Obama invoked his experience as commander in chief and if you watched this you can see why the word invoked fits in so well. As soon as he said that he had learned some things as commander in chief the room went silent. There was no bickering or interrupting. The camera focused in on him as he spoke gravely with an air that said volumes. It said almost none of you have done the things I have had to do, you can’t really understand them and now I will try to make them known to you. From what he had learned he knew to invest in counter terrorism, Israel, women, economics(at this point he went off the rails talking about American economics again) however it’s not always what you say, he rattled this off with such gravitas I would be surprised if anyone tore their eyes away from the screen.
On Syria they seemed to agree. Assad has, to quote Prop Joe, more bodies on him than a Chinese cemetery at this point and the war is spilling into Lebanon. However Gadaffi had more American blood on his hands than anyone except Osama the president pointed out and I wondered if this was part of the reason they got an invasion while Syria is allowed to suffer alone. Military intervention is of course a very complicated process including thousands of variables. But in a perfect world shouldn’t the only variables behind humanitarian intervention be how many people were killed by their government? Will the government continue to do this unless they are stopped? And if the answers to those questions are a lot and yes shouldn’t those be the reasons for humanitarian intervention. I don’t want to call for another war but the number in Libya was 10,000 before an intervention was considered necessary, here with 30,000 dead and another country being caught in the cross hairs even a no fly zone isn’t being considered as governor Romney implied when asked. This in my mind raised questions about Libya, why was the world quicker with intervention there? If it is as they would have us believe because Gadaffi was killing his citizens why does Assad get differential treatment? Obama did say that the Syrian people should determine their own future  and so we are consulting our allies in the region including Israel and turkey he went on to contradict. And  Romney saw the Syrian problem as an opportunity to control Iran by putting in place a government that would be friendly to US interests. When I hear things like this I think of bananarepublics . Am not sure of this now but thinking back I can’t remember either of them talking about putting in a government that would best represent the Syrian people’s hopes and dreams, though their hands off approach is admirable considering the trigger happy nature of past middle east decisions.
On Libya Obama talked about going in and finishing the job. Saying he was glad he made the decision to stay until Gadaffi was finished. Which made me wonder if he had seen the video of Gadaffi’s death.
 If he had seen the rage on display there, watched as a man with half his face bloody was hurt and humiliated. That death was not a great time for anyone in the world. It was not a moment of pride but a reminder of the bestiality and rage that can reside inside each of us. It was a side of humanity that we cannot rejoice in if we want things to get better. Later he talked about the death of Osama and told a very moving story about a young woman, who is probably 14 or 15 now whose father, died in the twin towers and gave her words of love and encouragement. He said that she found solace in knowing that Osama had died. I am in no position to relate to what happens when a loved one is killed, there is probably rage and a need for revenge, and I can imagine that you would feel better knowing that it happened but is there a need for the president at this time to inject this narrative of revenge into public discourse? Is it ok for him to state that the people with the most American blood on their hands are dead and that the reason for that death is him and so he deserves a vote? Is this what Americans want to hear from their politicians? Because if it is they understand death and revenge and the need for them to go hand in hand extremely well. And if they do why are they not paying more attention to drones?
And of course by and by they got to the subject of American exceptionalism. This is the idea that America is somehow better than other countries. That they have the strength and the moral authority to decide where the world should be and that their vision is the best. Mitt Romney talked about their strength and their allies, their 42 allies, he said that they wanted peace in the world. And then he said something that struck me as beautiful in defence of elections he said, “People tend to vote for peace.” I hope we do. Maybe its security we vote for more. Peace on my shores the rest of the world can live in tatters, but maybe we all tend to vote for peace, that would be a beautiful world. Obama called America the one indispensable nation in a statement that says more about exceptionalism than I can. However he did point to a track record of more diplomatic instead of military involvement. Citing sanctions against Iran during the debate, crippling sanctions that had caused the currency to devalue by 80%, sanctions that meant that oil production was at its lowest ebb since the war with Iraq. Sanctions that Romney said were not crippling enough. According to Robert Fisk when America imposed sanctions on Iraq after the first gulf war 500,000 children died. This is the part of sanctions we don’t hear about, there is no food being brought in, and there is no medicine being imported. When a country is cut off from the rest of the world they die slowly and painfully but they die. And the people hurt aren’t the ones making the decisions; the rich men will always have what they need. The point of sanctions in a country that is not democratically run is more of a propaganda point, look how bad the government is for you, now rise up, riot and protest until they hear you, which doesn’t really work in dictatorships. Am not sure about the moral rightness of crippling sanctions but better this than war.
All through the debate they talked about other nations as being their friends. This word was ubiquitous. I find it strange to use it to reference allies; it belies a closeness that isn’t ever really there between nations. It’s like the guy with 1,000 Facebook friends who uses this as a matrix for how much true friendship he has. It’s an insistence, as if saying it enough will make it real. How can a country that has as Obama pointed out more military spending than the next ten countries combined really have that many friends. Maybe we are all just scared, and they definitely are as they feel the need to flex muscle and grow it on and on. Military spending that Romney wants to up by among other things cutting Obama care. For some reason he seems to believe that the greatness of a nation is shown in how much muscle it has and not in how much it takes care of its people. Universal health care in a country that is the richest in the world should be a given. It shouldn’t still be debated all these years later. It is for this domestic issue more than any other that I find myself unable to support a Mitt Romney presidency.
Romney also went on the offensive blaming Obama for being willing to talk to the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Iran, saying this made him look weak. Winston Churchill once said better jaw and jaw and jaw than war and war and war and no one could call him or the nation he led when he led it weak. He, Romney, criticised Obama, for an apology tour he made. Obama had said America dictated and derided other countries while the truth was, “America has not dictated to other nations it has freed them from dictatorship.” This statement is nonsense. And even if it wasn’t there is still a need to apologise, to make amends because they have to have more in their national discourse than revenge and furious righteousness. Am not sure if he believed what he was saying, but the fact that he could say it with such bluster is another reason I would not support a Mitt Romney presidency.
There were moments of humour and it’s nice to close with one to leave a nice taste in the mouths of anyone who has read this far. Romney talked about the size of the navy and how they have less ships than any time since 1917 to which Obama responded, “we have fewer horses and bayonets  … we have these things called aircraft carriers…planes land on them, we have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines”
I don’t get to vote in this election if I did I would vote against American foreign policy, against drones and especially against this unvetted use of them where no one does the counting of the bodies and this craziness where no one remembers children and innocents are dying. This unfortunately is not what this election is about. They spent more time bringing the debate back to domestic economic issues than on almost any other topic.
The number of times Europe and Africa were mentioned? Once, in the same sentence.
So, what are your thoughts on American foreign policy?

the update

so, as expected i have some ideological backtracking to do, terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons is a genuine concern. It was amazingly shallow of me to believe that there aren’t people in the world who wouldn’t care about what happens after they made their last stand. There are people who believe enough and are such fanatics, or just don’t care that they would be comfortable with the deaths of millions of their own if it made a point. I once read a book about Chairman Mao and his thoughts about the great leap forward, a failed economic experiment that resulted in a famine that killed tens of millions of chinese. Connected to this he said his country could afford a nuclear explosion they were just that many. So i take back the argurment that Mutually Assured Destruction is foolproof. it only works if people aren’t crazies and that is not a guarantee the world will ever give us. 


Filed under Uncategorized

reflections part 1

The streets were bathed in the steely snow of cloud filtered sun when we left Nairobi. It was one of those drizzly city days, a day that promised sleek, dark-grey pavement and  an unending traffic jam but that didn’t matter  because we were on our way to Nakuru. The difference between the Kenyan cities and the places its most famous for, it’s wildlife reserves and game parks is astounding. From jagged, toothy skyscraper skylines you got to places with horizons stretching out for miles ending in mist and mountain. As you leave the city something inside you changes too. You feel more free, more adventurous; there is more to look forward to and a bigger place in which to do it.

The first thing I saw when we go there was the abundance of space, miles and miles of open air with nothing dotting it, no interruption  except trees which seemed like they had been designed for this place. They camouflaged perfectly, the leaves the right colour, the foliage the right shape, the trunks the right height. It looked like everything here had grown into itself like an athlete who had exercised his way to muscularity as opposed to the city’s steroid like growth that left one bunch of muscles overwhelmingly well-developed while another  lagged behind wasted, emaciated and drooping. It had been raining so in the distance the forest was lush. Greens and greens bathed each other in a wash of even more green.
In 2003 two people had been mauled to death by a lioness in this very game park. I can’t imagine how it feels to be mauled by a lioness but I know there is a lot of fear entailed in it. They are stalkers as all cat hunters are graceful, quiet, patient and when the time to strike comes quick. Like all stalkers the weapons in their retinue are vast. Not just patience but also darkness, fear and paranoia. Most human beings have a well-developed instinct for danger, the same thing that lets you know something is watching you. You can feel when danger is close by, the air wafts it your way, the earth warns you and it does you good to listen. This kind of danger however works by inducing this mechanism. In fear you panic. In fear you stop walking to listen in. in fear you sweat more and the already sensitive nose of the lioness can pick you out that much faster. They are huge the lionesses, clocking in at 120 to 180 kilograms and can run at 50 kilometres per hour by contrast Usain Bolt’s top speed comes to less than 49 kilometres per hour. When a lioness jumps on you everything changes almost like a car accident. The world may slow down but not enough to save you because the second act in this salvo is a bite to the neck, the last hickie,  and then she drags you off to share her pride in catching you. As a consequence we were warned not to walk around late at night by ourselves; two of these beautiful beasts had been spotted that very week. One night I met one of our party running, breathless at night,
“Wait,” I told him, “doesn’t running only bring more attention to you, wouldn’t it be better to walk quietly if you were scared of the cats”
“I know running isn’t the best option but it makes me feel better and sometimes it’s not about what it really does but about how it makes you feel.”
I was excited about the next morning because it was game drive day. Earlier that day some of the people we went with woke up in an attempt to see the sunrise. The sunrise in these parts can be a thing of beauty. On its way out the sun will touch off colours in the sky. Pinks and reds, flamingos and flames will shoot across the horizon and then majestically it will rise over the lake slowly lumbering, wiping the sleep from its red eye as finally it finds it spot and its purpose in lighting up the world.  They were excited about the sun rise; they dutifully woke up and went to wait in the cold for it. They waited in the still dark of the night with only the chirping of insects for company. They waited as this slowly turned to the magnificent clash of colours over the lake. They saw the colours dance and change. And still they waited. Then they went to sleep. They hadn’t actually seen the sun rise. They had woken up for it, they had braved cold, sleep and insects for it, they had seen the preamble but couldn’t await the main event.
In contrast the game drive would be full of main events. I had never been on one in my life. Two reasons for this, the first is the crippling cost attached to such endeavours. They are priced so high that only  very few Kenyans can afford to go on them, there are however modestly priced ones like the one we were going on and the reason I had never gone on one like this was because of my lack of interest in animals. I had never understood the touristic fascination with wild animals. With zebras and giraffes, with ostrich and snakes. I always considered that I was too enamoured of words to be blown away by something that did not take them into consideration. I was however willing to try this one and am glad I did.
We drove along and were shown the various animals, to your left is a … to your right a… and right there another… A zebra passed in front of our bus and I thought, don’t we have to stop for a zebra crossing. Then we came to a view point. A popular haunt for  baboons am not sure which. Our bus came to stop alongside a male and a female baboon and the warden asked us not to leave the bus with any food or drink. The female had sat behind the male and was pleasuring it with its hands (hand job!) the male sat there looking red and angry, not an expression crossed his stern face(something else was red and angry you see). We embarked and they scattered off. A few moments later like it realised it had some unfinished business to attend to the male baboon jumped on top of the female. It’s phallus ready for action, quickly it found what it was looking for and one, two, three. In the time it took you to read that it was done. What I said about the baboons timeless finishing probably has nothing to do with what happened next but serves as a form of poetic instruction in keeping our mouth shut.
I was swirling a packet of yoghurt in my hand as I watched this display of baboonliness, I had barely time for a sip before it was over and I went on to make fun of the baboon’s prowess within its earshot. I talked about how this performance made me feel better about my personal best (see how I said best leaving room for it not to be a complete mockery of the animal’s abilities.) I went on in this vein longer than the baboon went on in the other. Then walked to the edge of the cliff. There is a railing there that baboons like to walk on but there were large crowds of tourists gathering along it so I joined them. Then the baboon from before came into view. He walked along the metal ledge engaging in the balancing it’s species are known for and it looked at me. It looked right at me and I couldn’t look away because even in this moment you feel sure the animal hasn’t marked you out. It stalked along the edge, the whole time its eyes on me and then it left the ledge and began bounding towards my position. Maybe the eyes of the baboon lock you in place because for moments I did not move. When finally I began to the crowd around me had dispersed. Everyone ran for dear life before I even realised there was anything we should be scared of. Most people have a fight or flight mechanism that kicks in at this time but I have always given an extra F so I have a fight, flight or fall mechanism. There was no time to turn around and run all I could do was backtrack and so I did and very promptly I fell down. Now I find myself on my elbows and this baboon is still coming toward me. It felt like a lot of time had passed when probably none had. All I knew was that no one had offered a word of encouragement. The wardens were consciously absent and there I was on my back, my packet of yoghurt still in my hands as I began to backpedal on my elbows scratching them on rock, thistle and thorn until the baboon left me alone. Only then was I told that I should definitely have left the yoghurt in the bus.

A baboon is half the size of a human being but it’s teeth can grow to 2.5 inches. Daniel Lieberman a professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Havard recently talked about how wimpish human beings can be compared to most animals. A chimpanzee can rip the arm right off of a human being. Rip through bone, muscle and tendon leaving you stumped. A baboon is stronger than a chimpanzee. There is even video evidence of one chasing a lion away. I must confess I didn’t know this at the time but instinct told me that standing there was not a good idea.


Filed under Uncategorized

you, rye and knowles

Dreams are strange. They make us feel like its real life when the truth is life never feels so alive. Only memory does come to think of it, this weird mixture of holes, nothing is a coherent whole not even the plot holes. A conscious way of finding out if you are dreaming is to ask yourself how you came to be in that situation. How did I leave the house naked? What did I tell this beautiful woman so that she’s so into me? How did I learn to fly?, in retrospect it’s more like being really, really drunk; how did I come to be in my bed at home? Where the hell am I? What did I tell this beautiful woman that she’s so into me? In my youth I used to move around a lot in my sleep. I could turn completely over in a night; my blankets flung this way and that, sweating from the exertion of my night-time life. My dreams felt that real.
When I was really young I used to have this recurring dream. Well not the whole dream because I can only remember the end. I remember sunlight and being outside and really needing to go. I needed to take the piss out of myself so, in the sun, I would take out little, little me(I was very young in those days-one little refers to me instead of to my flag.) then, even in the dream I would anticipate the release then I would just let go and immediately I would wake up. This was my first kind of wet dream. My underwear and my pyjamas would be soaked with urine and I knew I would have to get it in the morning. When we were young we used to bathe at night, when you pee your bed you have to bathe again before you go to school and this would be red alarm to my brother and sister. (There’s a part of this story i can’t remember, am not sure anymore what would happen between the waking up having peed and the next morning, did i stew in it? more likely i just got a wipe-down and a back to bed but am not sure.) If the water is running in the morning it means it was running at night for someone. Eventually I learned to control it. But before I learned to control it I found out how to know I was dreaming. Am not sure what the thought process was, it just became so instinctual that my eyes would shoot open just as I was contemplating sweet release then I would walk to the toilet and relieve myself. Soon it became instinctual to just wake up and I never had those dreams again and now I never know that it’s just a dream.
My cousin was about four years old as we drove around with her one day. She still wore diapers and I looked over at her and there was this look of intense concentration on her face.
“What’s up?”
“I want to pee.”
“I have my diapers and am trying but it’s just not coming out.”
She was in the middle of that urinal freeze that everyone experiences once in a while. You need to pee and you go to the urinal and it’s crowded. Then someone leaves and you take their space and you  need to go except you can’t. Other people want to so you have to go really fast but you can’t and you stand there willing the flow out but you can’t!. Then you ineffectually shake and leave the urinal. Sometimes it’s hard to go when there are people around.
I was in boarding school for a year and I used to sleep in the top bunk. This is something that many people in form one go through, the bottom is reserved for the senior boys. There are such a number of disadvantages with being on top, like in everything else in life it takes so much more work and effort. Every night you have to hoist yourself up and then bring yourself down. Your metal box filled with spices, cocoas, jams, margarines, utensils has to be lifted and put there so that the guys mopping the dorm have an easier time of it and then lifted and floored at night so you can sleep.
A new dorm was built that year and I moved there post-haste. I always liked living in new places with new combinations of people and conversations. The almighty what-if pulls me everywhere and when I moved here I got a bottom bunk. The bed was against the corner of the room and everything was good.
Then I woke up one day and my sheet was wet. My hands jumped to my pyjamas immediately and there was nothing there. Maybe it evaporated I reasoned (you see by this time I knew about a different kind of wet dream where this is entirely possible.) nevertheless the sheet still had to be dried. If I thought bathing in the morning at home was embarrassing this was on another level. I would fold up my beddings and begin the walk of shame to the line. On the way there I would tell everyone how dry my pyjamas were before anyone asked.
“But the pyjamas are dry so I can’t have wet my bed.”
Am not sure how many of them believed me but I wasn’t teased too heavily, definitely not as heavily as my flow seemed to be. They dried. Another night passed. I  woke up and my beddings were wet , my pyjama dry and my brain set to work.
The first clue was of course the dry pyjamas. The second was the uneven planning of my room. You see water would pool in the corner near my bed. The third was that when I woke up my sheets would be dragging across the floor.
So with a heavy heart I gave up the bottom bunk and I never had to take my beddings out again.


Filed under Uncategorized

on fight club

When you leave the house at 5 in the morning; no breakfast, no shower, just a brush  everything looks and feels surreal. If you aren’t used to these early hours your brain is still half asleep. Life is vaguely dreamlike; the air isn’t quite air and the light, it shimmers around corners and around bodies. Everything looks wraithlike, people don’t seem especially real another layer of protective something surrounds them so there are two outlines to everyone, they look glowy as if you can see both body and spirit.
At that time the sun has begun to rise. The truth about the things you see is that they are nothing more than reflections of the things you feel. The sky doesn’t look rosy cheeked to me what I see instead is an angry red wound, scrubbed, scoured and raw tearing across the face of the horizon turning it all to blood.
I began reading fight club the other day. Most people have watched the movie and know the premise for those who don’t it’s actually quite simple while also completely disturbing.
“You do the little job you’re trained to do.

“Pull a lever.

“Push a button.
“You don’t understand any of it, and then you just die.”

That’s a quote from the narrator a man who is leaving a meaningless life but not fast enough. Thoreau once said that most men live lives of quiet desperation. The tragedy at the heart of the narrator’s life is that he doesn’t even know it. The book was written in 90’s America a society consumed by materialism and consumerism where the hole in your heart was filled with a hole shaped couch that you put in your living room as part of your quest for meaningless. The main problem is that they don’t know how to be men. A generation of men raised by fathers who were dead or absent, they have no idea how to be what they feel they should be. All they know is what TV and advertising told them and this leaves them all distinctly unsatisfied, especially the narrator who meets a character named Tyler and one evening in a bar Tyler asks him to punch him as hard as he (the narrator) can.
Why I am awake so early is that I have a dentist’s appointment. It’s been years and years since I went to the dentist an appointment put off by both the incredible expense of dental hygiene in Kenya and my irrational fear of pain. However I have an emergency and I can’t put off this visit any more. I recently wrote about a fall I had. The aftereffects of falls stay with us much longer than the fall itself. Scars result from a single moment of pain and you wake up one day and find that your tooth isn’t what it used to be. For sure there is a chip off the old block but good luck to you finding it and down the tooth runs a scar line. I own my vanity you see.  I can admit to myself that on some things it matters how I look, I want to have a nice smile because flashing it around makes a lot of people much nicer and makes me much happier. So to fix this I find out the University of Nairobi dental school on valley road offers cheap services to the public you just have to be there early, therefore my wraithlike feeling  that morning. I have some experience with treatment at public health centres so I carry a book with me to the hospital, that book just happens to be fight club.
The narrator swings a fist at Tyler and from there our story goes on a disturbing trajectory. The truth is we all love a good fight. Boys, girls, all of us there’s something about a fight that keeps our blood flowing, keeps us hot and bothered and leave us satisfied at the end of it all. Someone else sees our  narrator and Tyler fight, a crowd gathers as it usually does and they ask if they can join. You see this is not a fight over honour, money or women it is clear that the purpose of this fight is just to fight.
“Nothing was solved when the fight was over, but nothing mattered.”
And when the two of them sat down next to each other, relaxed and at peace, the people around them felt they wanted the same thing. They wanted the release, they wanted to put things at risk for a while they wanted to feel like men.
“What you see at fight club is a generation of men raised by women.”
The premise of the novel isn’t as far as I can tell that women do a bad job raising these men but that there’s a feeling of a sense of abandonment and rejection that the men can’t work out. That along with all the pressures of a modern life that feels like nothing, a life without any great achievements a life spent waiting  to die brings them to this piston point and when at that point a valve is let loose everyone wants to steam up.
The thing you have to remember about having a chipped tooth is that it comes with all these attendant injuries. You have to have scratched your cheek, you have to feel tender in another tooth, and you have to have facial scars and there may be a point between the lower lip and the gum, that place where the scars are always white that is gashed open. A friend of mine told me the other day what an invention the tongue is. No computer has been built yet that can bring to visualisation all the different sensations and contours that come of tasting food. Taste is essentially an imagination and your tongue is better at feeling than anything else you possess.
On a long enough timeline the survival rate for anything is zero.
This is not a happy book by any definition of the word. The writing left me permanently on edge I was disturbed all through the book. There is a sequence where hired waiters do things to food. They don’t spit in it, they piss in it, they fart, they stick dirty things down food with aromas so rich(both the food and the things) that no one realises what’s going on. There’s also a beautiful sequence where the narrator’s body parts speak to him a la something he read in readers digest, I am Joe’s boiling anger it shouts out at someone, I am his clogged intestine. In the afterword the writer talks about this waiter in England who had done some of the same things. After some cajoling the waiter admits what he had done to a certain celebrity. “Margaret thatcher has eaten my cum 5 times.” I sincerely hope that if she hasn’t heard this allegation this blog is not where she gets this titbit of information.

I am graig’s questing tongue. The crack in his tooth feels interesting, contours upon contours of something I never felt in my life, sharp and dangerous and tasty in that way that all human wounds are tasty. When I press on it though his brain tells me to stop, only to stop itself not sure if it enjoys this or not. In his mouth I can taste all manner of other injuries. The inside of his cheeks are rugged and raw, sweeter in that way that blood always is and when I feel towards the lower part of his gum  there is  a taste of almost perpetually fresh blood. I want to keep down there but it hurts him.

I am graig’s stained teeth. I feel shaky and inadequate, a bite sends tremors up me and down me. I am afraid that my crack will grow wider. My sense of immortality has been questioned and so I don’t bite down as hard as I should. My rough edges send panic triggers everywhere. There is a throb in the part missing, a pain that may be phantom but may also be a too real way for me to know that my days are numbers, I am graig’s shay teeth.
I am graig’s wounded pride. I hide myself away from him most of all, in words that I find I can almost not believe myself, “this kind of thing happens to other people too right?”
Tyler doesn’t like nightclubs… the music is too loud and after a few drinks you feel like you are the centre of attention while at the same time being alienated from everyone else, your own living morgue.
There are a lot of truths in this book. Truths as they apply to some people and the thing is they are only harsh because they are true. We all inflict so much harm on ourselves in the quest to feel alive. How many people drink too much, smoke too much, get into situations that they know will end up as shit, relationships with the wrong people , faith in the wrong causes just because all they desperately want is to live. All we are promised in this life is death  the quest for living is our responsibility.
It’s easy to cry when you realise everything you love will either reject you or die.
It’s easier to see the effects of this particular drug because fighting very quickly has visible effects
More of my lips are sticky with blood…my mouth shining with blood and blood climbing the cracks between my tooth
…rammed my face into the concrete until my teeth bit open the inside of my cheek and my eye was swollen shut and bleeding and after I said stop I could look down and there was a print of half my face in blood on the floor.
You see the book doesn’t romanticise a fight. They happen but they shouldn’t. My mouth ached for days. Every time I ate there was a new pain. I would chew something and feel a different sensation. Little balls of salty, meat flavoured ugali would lodge themselves in the crevice created by the white scar just below my teeth. I couldn’t dislodge them without significantly more pain. I tried to move them and it hurt. When it hurt I wasn’t even sure where it hurt from whether it was from the tooth or the cheek. Which tooth it was, when your mouth has gone an extensive trauma everything hurts and everything feels the same. The nerve endings aren’t used enough to properly differentiate where the pain signals are coming from. I am graig’s confused nerve jumping all over the place.
I am graig’s forgotten dignity I thought as I slopped food into my mouth. Now that there is a chip that hurts and apparently phantom pain can be just as bad as actual pain I had to avoid it. I had to open my mouth in a weird angle and approach the tooth from that angle like a plane coming in to land. I had to quickly slop the food down and sometimes some soup would dribble down my cheek. The sound I made pulling it back up made me want to eat with no one around for company until I could get it under control. And then I would find new injuries hiding away until the pain of the current ones was gone. Small balls of ugali and sukumawiki would hide away and explode in a pain born of salt and flavour.

After a night in fight club everything in the real world gets its volume turned down low.
This is the problem isn’t it? The problem or the solution depending on how you decide to look at things. After a night riding close to death life begins to look pretty ordinary, pretty boring. And when we aren’t in the midst of a self-destructive love or an incapacitatingly addictive drug binge we feel like we aren’t living. What happens when your death takes over your life, for many people the very thing that makes you feel alive is also the thing doing it’s dogged best to put you in a grave of one form or another.
Am no expert but Oscar Wilde once wrote “Everything in moderation including moderation.” Maybe that’s the answer, also “don’t crack your teeth” is advice I feel comfortable giving just about everyone.


Filed under Uncategorized


A surgical strike, quick, clean and done. Antiseptic, professional. A wielded scalpel. Anaesthetic. Blackness instead of pain. One moment your eyes are open to the world the next they aren’t  the one after that you have lost something of you. It may have been something that was killing you but it’s lost and you didn’t see it go. A surgical strike is preferred.
There have been drones flying over Pakistan recently. Drones flying and dropping bombs, targeted killings and surgical strikes in America’s never ending war on terror. A war that if not carried out carefully could be as eternal as their war on drugs, the weapons they use could beget the weapons used against them. Am no expert on this thing, on its effects but I think everyone in the world should know a little about what’s happening and what may be the new face of warfare so if you have time please please click on the following link,  it’s a long and harrowing story about responsibility, morality, integrity and the future. It raises questions about the drone war happening in Pakistan, questions that the whole world may have to grapple with one day. In the heart of man there is always conflict and there always will be and until that day when we don’t make the world in our image we have to always consider what conflict means.
The other day I was walking home from half a night out. Half a night is when you slip away from friends and make your lonely, weary way home alone. Slightly tipsy, well very tipsy but not drunk. I’ll use this as a sort of public service announcement about another dangerous spot in Nairobi; it’s near the Westlands stage just opposite that photocopy shop. It’s not a place to be caught by yourself at night.
I was dragging my body along that place when suddenly I found myself on the floor. Rough hands reaching in my pockets, I could feel the weight in my bag lightened, I fought back but my reflexes were too slow and then I stood up. I saw retreating figures, like a star going off in different directions, not in a hurry at all and I impotently shouted at them(about my phone) “ichukue inazimwa next week” just take it it’s been switched off next week.
I stood up and reached in my pocket they hadn’t taken my money since it was in that small pocket that jeans have, the one where you really have to reach in. They didn’t have time to go rummaging this was after all a surgical strike then I got on a matatu and made my weary way home. Wishing I had made it a full night out. When I next chanced to look at the t-shirt I was wearing not only was there dust down the front where I had fallen but the back was peppered with blood spots. So many tiny ones like I had been pricked with a hundred needles. Needless to say I hadn’t felt these pricks I hadn’t noticed anything except that my knee took the brunt of the fall. Oh they also took my book and a foolscap I was carrying around, what the fuck will you do with these things you robbers?
It was a surgical strike you see. Quick, clean, no lasting signs of damage. I mean I am more aware of my surroundings nowadays, I hear running footsteps a lot quicker now and I turn to see what’s happening. I avoid dark places preferring street lights but there’s no lasting trauma like last time I can just pick up and go on with life.
Even though in those few seconds it took those men to rob me (I kept thinking to myself I have been robber baroned) a lot happened, I can’t remember any of it but I have been manhandled enough to imagine it and I feel like taking an exercise in description so am going to fill this in with a lot of fictional conjecture.
There I am tipsily loping down a dark street. Hands out of nowhere position themselves just beneath my shoulder blades, one hand lower than the other and they grab my t-shirt, it’s one of those cotton t-shirts and I like how it feels against my body when I take the time to think about it, soft, a whisper of warmth. The hands, they grab my t-shirt in pinches and pinch a little of my skin. My skin it tears and a drop of blood squeezes out. I am yanked back and pushed forward hastily, I stumble on an outstretched foot, you see my balance isn’t what it once was and even then it wasn’t very good. Falling I put my knee out and the ground rushes to greet it, impact on right knee and a shiver runs up my spine, I grimace from the pain and lie down on the ground. Forcefully hands reach into my pockets, they mine and burrow around, finding and yanking things out, there is a bulge there and then not and I feel empty like I lost something because I did. My bag hangs open and I can feel it hanging open. Isn’t it strange that an empty bag feels so much heavier than one with just a few things in it? And an open bag feels heaviest of all; it yawns back and pulls you into its sleep. My knee is scraped and my blood so hot that I can’t feel the cold of the night and impotently I yell…
There I am tipsily loping down a dark street. I like how it smells at this time of the night, cold is as close to fresh as air gets in this city. Plus at this time of the night there are few cars and fewer people, there is space to mmmmmmmhmhmhmhmhm breathe. To just breathe. When that is taken away from me. A smell assaults the air. A spice that I can’t quite identify. Except it smells dangerous. It smells close, a hand reaches near my nose and there is dirt and grime smeared on it. The sweaty smell of 5 grown men running in excitement assaults me. It’s  a blanket, smothering, black, impossible to escape from. I want to run. I want the freshness back. I don’t want to be drowned in this smell and then it’s over. An upward rush of air washes it away and I fall on the ground and I can smell the dust of a ground not touched by water in a few days. I leap back up from this smell. Taking in large lungfuls of angry air. There is another smell now, hot blood has coursed through me and I am drenched in it. In anger. In adrenaline. In slippery sweat. It’s invigorating, it gives me energy and impotently I yell.
There I am tipsily loping down a dark street. On my breath the stale of cheap liquor remains along with memories of smoke. When I am grabbed from behind. This jolting action reaches into my stomach and I feel it coming up. My mouth tastes some of the food it had earlier choked down, an unholy mix of acids, stomach fluids and food. It’s porridgey in texture with lumps everywhere. I force it back down. Another taste creeps into my mouth. It’s metallic. I can feel it there, just there not coming from outside as it has been in my body this whole time, not like the puke I forced down which feels like the impostor it is but different as if it had been part of me this whole time. Then I taste the floor. I have always liked the taste of dust. I can’t really put it in words, what would we say salt tastes like if it wasn’t called salt? So this tastes dusty, maybe because it doesn’t overwhelm your tongue, it just spreads film like over it finding spaces to settle mixing with the saliva, being spat out. And then I am on my feet again. It’s hot now, the metal has taken over by mouth, metal and hot saliva, I spit it out as I yell impotently.
There I am tipsily loping down a street when one of my senses fails me. If it hadn’t the hairs on the back of my neck would have stood up, the metal on the tongue of my mouth would have arrived earlier, deeper, mistrustful lungfuls of air would have been pulled in, my ears would have picked out the sounds of padded footsteps in the half-light, my eyes would have noted the shadows playing against the street. These things would have made me wary, made me aware and in no time at all I would see the space in between the bodies and feel the cold on my skin as I rushed through the night air, smelled only freedom and cold and my adrenaline, tasted victory and as I rushed away I would have heard them yell impotently.


Filed under Uncategorized

the look in their eyes

“But there’s a look on Sampras’s face, now you have to be around sports long enough to recognise it, he’s the greatest player in the world and he’s been on the court with this guy way too long.”- Sports night season 1 ep 17.
This quote comes from this show about a fictional sports show(both are called sports night). A show created by a guy who also made a show about a fictional comedy show and a fictional news show, as well as wrote a play about Fansworth the guy who created the television, Aaron Sorkin seems to love making TV about TV. Anyway in this particular episode there was a long tennis match, a really long tennis match, much, much longer than that tennis match should have run. You see it was Pete Sampras playing against some guy who was ranked 117th in the world. Even if you don’t know tennis there are some names you know. You know about Pete Sampras and about Andre Agassi. You have heard tale of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. These are legends, they are titans and each in his time strode the sport of tennis like a colossus, spreading a shadow so huge and dark that everyone seemed to play in it and play badly. The game that was the focus of this episode was being played in 1999 when Pete Sampras was the man. He should have wiped the floor with this guy, given him some love(when a pun is that nicely served up I can’t resist.)
Instead he struggles and the game turns into a match, a contest of wills and wiles. It was a struggle and sweat dripped down their heads, muscles ached in their arms, their eyes were clouded with effort, their hearts beating to bursting, lactic acid building up and most of all they were in that place you go to when you are playing well against someone who is. But even here doubt creeps in. You knew it was a walkover and there’s a point when you as Sampras realise it’s not and that’s the point where the above quote comes in. This can have many physical manifestations, a wrinkling of the brow, a fresh appraisal, a grim set to the mouth. All the ways that say time for play as I knew it is over and now we get to work. I don’t know enough about sports to see the above moment but the quote resonated with me.
At first I thought it was a tennis match about the beginning of the end of Sampras. The thing with each of these tennis greats is they seem to have been the best person who ever played tennis until that title served the next one. I don’t know why this happens, I can get why after age sets in you can’t play at that level any more but records are always broken by the younger. As hard as it may be to believe right now in some years Hussein Bolt will be the guy whose records are been broken by this impossible blur of a man running and running and running so fast we can’t keep up with it even with thought. And this happens in every sport. Like the ancient gods of Greece rising up against the titans. When I first heard the quote I thought it was about such a turn. I thought it was about the moment when someone who was the best in the world at something suddenly realises that they are not any more.
Can you imagine the look in their eyes at that moment? The moment when they know beyond a doubt that they are not the one any more. They have to be swept aside as this younger better version of who they used to be runs past them, serves harder, jumps higher, swims further than they could. It’s lucky that sportsmen are drummed with sportsmanship. That they are taught to lose and to lose graciously. That they know that defeat is as much a part of victory as victory is otherwise the look in their eyes at that second would be terrible to behold. It would be sad and sudden. A blink may be all the time we would get to see it but in that blink we would see the wiping away of the person they had built themselves up as. You can’t be the best without knowing you are the best. The kind of false humility needed to not acknowledge your gifts is not the kind bestowed on the great. So he would know and have known for a while that he was the best. I can’t speak for everyone but if I was the best at anything that would be the internal reference system I would use on myself.  If I was a roman emperor I would need that slave who whispered over and over “memento mori” because I can forget that I will die.
To have your internal reference system taken away is not something that’s nice to see. For a moment you are lost. Your definition of who you are is plucked away and for that moment you are lost in a desert where the rays of a sun burning angry scorch away the anchor you held on to. I thought that was the look they were referring to and it got me curious enough to explore my thoughts on it.
At the end of the episode Sampras wins as he was always going to but “you should have seen the look on this guy’s face when Sampras hugged him at the end of the game.” That’s the other side of it isn’t it. The part that takes away the ugliness of sports. I have a cousin who was an amazing basketball player, I saw him while I was in Kisumu. The problems associated with playing ball in Kenya namely the lack of facilities mean he’s not as good as he used to be. A decade ago he was a ghost of a player and he told me how much he misses it. He missed being part of a team, having these people who you dig in the trenches with. This group of people who are a part of your life, a part of your struggles and patience, who are with you through blood, sweat, tears and breakage. Who jump with you to win and lose and all through this roller coaster of emotions and events are your friends more than anything or anyone else.
He also missed the competition, the striving to be better. Being put up against a team and knowing that the harder you play the more you can achieve. He missed being pushed as Sampras must have been pushed by that guy because competition was part of self-improvement to him. The drive to be better than those guys win or lose, but to try because it makes both you and them better he missed it so much. And to tell you the truth am not sure which one he missed more, the team spirit or the team competition but he did miss it.
I guess this is important for sports, to have your heart beat by wanting to win. A true sportsman wants to win but he also knows that there is just as much of victory in defeat as there is in victory but in both there is competition and this is what is important. He didn’t tell me he missed winning. He said he missed competition. And maybe I had misinterpreted the look they were talking about in Sampras’s eyes. For sure it wasn’t the realisation of a downward spiral, it may not even have been the grim determination of having to work to win it may have been the joy that comes in knowing that for a few moment you get to do what you love to do more than anything else. He had realised he got to compete.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized