Monthly Archives: December 2014

the year 2015

The year 2015, I mean 2014. This is a mistake I have been making subconsciously all year long. Even right now, though it may look contrived it was just what my mind wanted to think the year was. The fact and frequency of this mistake say almost everything I want to say about this year. I have had nothing but enjoyable years since I finished high school, every year seemed better than the last or at least comparable in the amount of fun and adventure it provided, in my sense of my having lived it. This year is more like the year I spent reading for KCSE than any other I have ever had. I didn’t like it. Not in terms of major tragedies which I have had blessedly few of this year but just because I felt deep down that I was more waiting to die than really living.

Here’s the thing, it’s my first year in formal employment. My first year doing something that I may be doing for the rest of my life, working. I don’t know how it is for other people but my first year at work has been just as expected while at the same time letting me know that I wasn’t prepared for the changes that it would bring to me. The first year of work is about clipping your wings, reining in your ambitions. Unlike education that tells you, at least indirectly, that the only thing limiting you is yourself work tells you that there are many other limiting factors. There is your employer, there is hierarchy, there are clients, there is the endless quest for money-the fact soon crystallizes  that we all are hawkers selling the same services but trying to offer the best smile, the most convincing pitch, the most prestigious premises to our clients. There is little glory, it seems to me, in the practice of law. It can be fun but I imagine most of it is rote after a long enough time. It’s not going off to war, it’s not being in a gladiator’s ring with a crowd of citizens egging you on. Instead it’s that most ordinary of things- going to work.

I feel that I’ve come to rely a lot on short anecdotes that can sum up what has been being going on in my world. A short story that encapsulates the dramas and conflicts of life as I see it. I’m not sure I’ve always done that. I’m pretty sure I’ve never done it as much as I did this year. There seems to be a laziness creeping in or else an efficiency and economy. I’m not sure which. It’s not true that because something is quicker and easier that it’s the lazy way to do things. Perhaps it’s just more efficient after all the greatest of all storytellers, Jesus H. Christ, used parables all the time.

Here’s one about this year. It’s also unfortunately a true story that expands on the first line of this post. Its early afternoon on the 29th of December. I have already accepted that I can’t soar as high as I did last year on this date I was 3 days into an epic 9 day trip by bus to Addis Ababa. I’ve set my sights on a place much closer than that. So close I can practically taste it Arusha, Tanzania. It’s right across the border. A 6 hour trip across a border that’s as secure as they come. On this afternoon though I’m not sure I can go. Due to a series of unforeseen events my travelling peoples are differently engaged. I haven’t yet been able to convince a single person to take this trip with me and I don’t want to travel alone. I’m sure that it would be good. That this trip would like all trips teach me something about myself and my capacity for: survival, awe, wonder. It would be lonely as heaven though. That’s not what New Year’s is or should be. This is a pagan celebration of friendship- of its rejuvenation, of its capacity for giving yet another chance without batting an eyelid at your antics. It should not be spent alone in a strange town if you can help it.

This means that I may have to stay put in this country. This is a prospect that allows me friends but at the same time heavily depresses me. I want more than anything to travel. To breathe different air. To cross a mythical border and suddenly be in a place with a different culture than the one I have spent the whole year steeped in. I want to see how other people live, how they celebrate New Year’s. I’m not tired of Kenyans, not at all but I am tired of who I am around them. From him I need a break. I want to be fresh faced and psyched to pick up chicks because I know that there is no chance that that girl I like will show up and save me the trouble of establishing a new connection. I want for New Year’s something I don’t know. A thing I can’t predict. I want what I want from every year- a sense of adventure, a sense of falling into the unknown. I want to go to a strange place I’ve never been before. Meet people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Do things that I could only do once I left the container that is Kenya.

To close off all this is this particular bullshit- we haven’t received our salary yet. A friend of mine told me to take back my life when I bitched about having to work on 24th December. I told him that no one had ever mentioned to me the addictive qualities of a salary. No one had told me that the want that quickly morphs into a need for a shot of this every month can get you more hooked than heroin. The things you do for this salary destroy your life just as much as if not more than any other drug. You are always tired, your interpersonal relationships suffer, the things you used to find time for because you rightly thought them important recede into the background. No time for friends or family, no time for trips or books, no time for sleeping or partying. Everything in your life is subordinate to this salary. When you don’t get your dose on time the withdrawal symptoms are there-irritability, depression, an inability to leave the house, a constant scratching a craving, a feeling that you can’t really live, that you are not really alive. These all appear. I expected to be paid before Christmas because that’s the way it has always been done I was told however we were not. As of the last time I checked I hadn’t been paid yet. I was foolish with my money, I threw it away because it was December and more was coming. More has not come and the plain truth is I cannot afford to go to Arusha. I cannot afford a new year’s plan in Nairobi. I cannot afford a normal Friday night plan.

That in short has been my year. Never having a choice before me that is fully satisfactory. A year of compromises which is growing up I guess, having to pick and choose and make the best of the limits life puts in front of us. Then there is the fact that so much of my time has been sacrificed to work and in return I can never seem to afford the things I want to do. A huge part of it is my carelessness. A huge part of it is the nature of the rat race that represents modern life. Almost everybody lives in  a perpetual cloud of dissatisfaction and is kept sedated by regular shots of their drug of necessity.

An even shorter parable about that year? Fuck 2014!!

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kenya @ 51: this is the country we live in

This may come as news to many people living in Nairobi but there’s a park really close to the city Centre. It’s a great park the kind that would show up in all those indices showing which city is best to live in. This is first of all because it’s huge. Then it’s green, there is grass everywhere in this park. The grass is perfectly sculpted too, from a distance you would think you were in one of those soccer stadiums housing teams only famous for once-upon-a-time being winners. This grass is set on miniature dunes leaving the impression of a rolling landscape. There are people selling food and refreshments all over the park. Sculptures and views of the city. There is a huge body of water right in the middle of the park. I won’t say that it is crystal clear water but it is definitely the largest body of water I have ever seen in the CBD of Nairobi. You can find people there renting out two person pedal boats for couples and larger boats for groups. Its peaceful and at this time of the year flowers are in bloom giving the purple of flowers and the green of grass and the yellow of the sun to the city dweller tired of working in a tightly cramped stone building. This beautiful park is called Uhuru Park and its right there.

I’ve been going there more often because I started doing some litigation; our offices are in town and the courts are across the park in Milimani. One day as I was leaving the court I saw a guy on a mkokoteni going down the road right outside the courtroom. Well he wasn’t on the mkokoteni he was either driving it or riding it or both. You see he had his hands on the handlebar and he was running down the hill fast. But this was much faster than anyone can run. He wasn’t just running, he was also gliding. He would lift himself up on the handle which would cause the back of the mkokoteni to rise, then he would let go just a bit, enough for the weight at the back of the mkokoteni to pull it down. It would go all the way down and then the tyre kept at the back would hit the tarmac (is this what they are for apart from braking) this would give momentum the other way and he would be lifted. Then he would come back down and again and again. As he did this his feet weren’t really on the ground for any appreciable period of time. They would run and he would be lifted off so he was somewhere between gliding and Hussein-Bolting. The thing is though he was going down the road outside community. For those of you who have been there you will realise that he was gliding into oncoming traffic. Its downhill to town and at that time the left side of the road is at such a crawl first-time mothers everywhere are posting pictures of it on Facebook. He went on and out of my sight and then took a turn at the fork right ahead of us and away from the oncoming traffic. I realised this and I held my breath for a while. I was impressed with what he did. It was impressive. Daring, dangerous, fast, fun. He was a man. He was macho, more so than I would ever be.

It was also ridiculously dangerous. We nodded our heads in astonishment and admonishment. We quietly clapped him on in our hearts. I want to say that this kind of thing can only happen in Kenya. But I remember a quote I read somewhere on the internet to the effect that all normal people feel that their country and their country alone is uniquely fucked up. Kenya though really is unique just like everywhere else. Case in point a friend of mine caught a bullet last week. He’s ok apart from the fact that he was fucking shot. A fact that I still find myself unable to believe because…he was shot, it’s different when it’s someone you know. Awareness never leaves us it seems, the mantra that that happens to other people will follow us all the days of our lives of that I have less and less doubt as time goes by. Here’s the thing it was early in the evening in a safe neighbourhood. Here’s something else I can almost remember from a movie or a TV show, I remember police coming to the bedside of a gunshot victim in order to interview him so that they can try to catch the person who did this. This did not happen. Nobody expected it to. Nobody was concerned with the police and what they should do about this situation. Maybe not nobody but personally I didn’t think there was anything they would bring to the table. Before anything happened I didn’t even bother to entertain the fact that the people who did this may be caught and brought to justice.

What this really means is that we aren’t a society that believes that criminals are brought to justice unless they are caught red-handed. We know that it is either extra-judicial judgement or none at all. Maybe if I begin doing criminal cases I will see that it is different and that for every 5 reported crimes a suspect is brought to face his day in court. I find it hard to believe. But then maybe I am being too hard on the police, it is not only my country where perpetrators of random acts of violence are rarely if ever caught.

Is there anywhere else that has suffered this many instances of terrorist attacks within its borders in one year? There must be. But that doesn’t make it better. There have been so many that I’m sure we have lost count. There were weeks when we would be hardly surprised that there were 3 in 2 weeks. A thick skin grew and trying to keep track of all that had happened would leave anyone not only dazed and confused but also sorrowful and bitter. The Mandera attacks happened most recently and those were horrible almost 70 people dead in the same general area. The words of comfort from our government being in one instance that 100 of the al-shabaab militia men had been killed. 100 plus. Again extra-judicial killings. Mob justice carried out by the purveyor of legitimate arms. I remember people asked for proof that all these people were killed by the government. I don’t really need proof I always believe a government that says it killed that many people without showing its citizens why these people were dangerous. Without any oversight or even knowledge of who was killed. If they can be so brazen about it they aren’t lying. They killed that many and maybe more. They killed some people who were involved in the attack. They killed some people who were suspected of being involved, they killed some people who a rumour of a whisper had it that someone who looked like them may have been near the attack and they killed someone whose wife was bathing on a roof in the line-sight of a king. This is what happens when 100 plus people are killed so quickly. But insecurity is an issue. Extreme times right?

The next time people died in Mandera the government said that it had warned the quarry workers that they should leave the place. They warned them and then walked away. This being the same government that mobilised troops to kill a hundred plus hard boiled veterans of a war who are ready to die anyway. At this point the government could only pass a note to the people there. Pass them a note and wait. And wait. It’s hard to believe it’s the same government but it is. This is a country where after all people ride mkokotenis at the highest speeds available into oncoming traffic and not as a kind of daredevil bet but just because he needs to begin working, the same place where if someone gets robbed reporting it to the police is just done because an abstract is needed for insurance purposes, it is the country where office worker will cry “a park, a park, my kingdom for a park” and never set foot in it, it is the country where all those times there have been attacks occasioned by terrorists as a result of a war that we walked into with our eyes closed and the electorate as usual not consulted but left to suffer the consequences. This is where we live. It’s uniquely fucked, just like everywhere else.

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smash!

Saturday evening at about six p.m. and I’m sitting at the balcony of this bar that overlooks Odeon. At this point I have been drinking since 3. I wanted to see the night. I always want to see the night. I cannot comprehend how there are people who aren’t wooed by the seductiveness of the night-time. The way it so slowly settles over the day, draining it of colour making things less yellow and then more grey and then finally turning them black and blue. There is something to the mystery of the night, shadows lurk everywhere and somehow they are more insubstantial. Daytime shadows are strong things. They project an inky darkness onto the path. They give protection from the sun. They are cast long. The nights shadow are different as if by being split into three or four they become weaker but like a guerrilla army what they lack in resources they make up for in stealth and secrecy. They are here and there and everywhere in no time and all at once.

As the sun was setting the street was busy. It was that dying of the light hour when the street seems busiest. If you have ever been around Odeon at this time you understand exactly what it is. The throng of people is so strong it feels like a river and if you aren’t careful it can carry you away. At the same time there are these massive machines making their way down and around the street. I never noticed this before just then maybe because I hadn’t seen it from a vantage point but the machines seem to be taking over the world. From up there you can see all these matatus slowly and then quickly with all the grace of metal on a chalkboard moving up and down the street. They are joined by the smaller Nissans and every once in a while personal cars. Even more than the sight of them what is most clear is the sound of them. The hooting and screeching reach for the sky, the rumble of the engines can be felt in your stomach, you can almost make out the hydraulic processes pumping and pumping the fuel around the machines. You can almost see all the tiny explosions that occur when fuel is turned into fire and energy.

In the midst of this metal and concrete landscape what looks like ants, multi-coloured ants but ants nonetheless walk around. People streaming through the spaces left by the matatus and Nissans and cars. You see people making conscious decisions to go around these moving things, they are like ants or the ants I remember from the nights I would try to read in high school and be distracted by the need to make obstacles for ants to go round and round. Except these obstacles move and we made them. There’s a video game I played once that had a level where you were supposed to get through these smashers and if you did not time it just right they would come together and leave your character in an orgy of blood and failure. I can’t get that picture out of my head when I imagine that street at that time of night.

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You know what else I can’t get out of my mind and haven’t really been able to is what’s happening to women. What’s happening in public. What’s being recorded. What’s being joked and laughed about. Maybe I should be more prescient with these posts but I’m not. Can I say enough that it’s not right what has happened in Kenya? Can I say enough that I think these people should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and beyond? There will never be enough words to fight what happened but I’m not the best placed to write them. I don’t know how it feels except when extrapolating situations I have found myself in to what has happened to them. I’ve been robbed a couple of times. Some violent and some not so. To tell the truth though it has done nothing to my sense of bravado to my sureness that I’ll be all right. It can’t be like that for women. For these women because what they lost they valued and rightly much more than all the things I ever lost. Because my things were just things and a week later there was no phone I would miss as much as my dignity.

I wonder how it spread though. I ask people all the time if it’s like Ebola. This need to strip women. Is it something contagious that after the first person did and advertised infected other men? That cannot make sense. I found something to explain it to myself though. Last year I was learning at a place that required me to wear official clothes all the time. One of my classmates was in jeans and I asked him how he did it. He told me that you can just do it and not worry about it. And I wore jeans for the rest of the year. I wore jeans and sat in the front of the class and asked questions. I knew I was not going to get sanctioned for my actions and so I went all in. this may be what happens. There have been men who wanted to do this. A significant portion of the population but they did not. Then someone did, he posted a video and told them in effect, you can wear jeans just don’t worry about it. And they stripped women and recorded the videos and shared them for public consumption. This is what happens in this world. Give them an inch and watch them take a mile. For lack of sanctions look at Russia traipse into Ukraine and organise a referendum and support secession. This could have been what happened.

But, why is it ok for the videos to be spread? This woman has been humiliated and assaulted once. Why do we, against her will continue something that if we think about it is some kind of violation. Why do people look at her suffering and pass it on on Facebook, on whatsapp, by whatever means at hand? Why is it not something that’s more reviled. Being human I know that looking at things we shouldn’t holds a sick fascination for us. The fact is though that this is wrong. We should not know who this woman was because thousands upon thousands of us saw her on our phones. Something should be done to stop this too. Freedom of expression can be curtailed if it violates somebody’s right to human dignity. It should not matter that this is almost like the night-time shadows so weak that only a wisp of them visibly affects the victim. It should matter that it is like the night-time shadow ubiquitous and completely inescapable for her.

How is it that this is not as widely reviled as a man who tries to say that not all men act this way. Maybe these are empty words and maybe I shouldn’t put my feelings of being attacked on the same post where I talk about a person being personally attacked. But, how can I in the same breath claim to empathise or struggle to empathise with women and not say that not all men are like this. Isn’t there a breath of hypocrisy there. More than a tinge. If I don’t believe that “not all men” are like this don’t I believe that I am and that just the lack of opportunity hasn’t outed me? Every single article I have read where someone has begun to generalise about men as a species I stopped reading. The truth is generalisation is the reason we are in so many of our problems. Being unable to see each other as human beings and instead seeing, when we look, massive machines attempting to smash the rest is why we have so many wars and so little understanding.

Being wrong for claiming that not all men treat women as objects or see them that way precludes all dialogue. It stops me in my tracks. What if we used it on another group of people and said that all black men in America sell drugs and deserve more severe police action would we then shout down the black man who stood up and said not all black men. The difference obviously and the reason the reaction to men as a species is so kneejerk is because men have the power. Black men in America don’t. But, and here’s the flip side of that argument, why is it ok for me to be crucified for being born a man in a patriarchal power structure. It’s a small price to pay for all the privileges but, are we working to a world where we want people with privileges punished or one where all privileges are equally distributed? I am uninterested in being a Christ figure and bearing the sins of those men and what they did. I personally find it reprehensible. I personally cannot imagine I would allow these things to happen in my presence. A species is not a machine and to feel unable to articulate these thoughts because somehow its wrong has pissed me off. If there was an advantage to be gleaned from it. If it really was better for the security of women to believe that all men are out to get them then there would have been an advantage. Is that what we are looking for in this world? A place where women know it much, much, much more than they do now that they need to look right and left before they walk or they will be left in an orgy of blood and our failings? I hope not.

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