Monthly Archives: June 2015

birthday post

I have a tradition, every year on my birthday I write these posts as a reflection of what I’m feeling and thinking about on this particular day. The post usually begins with the following words:

 “I have a tradition, every year on my birthday at exactly 9:30 a.m. which is the time written on my birth certificate as my entry into this world I go out and I look at the sun. It’s been a year so the sun god is exactly at the same place as the last time I gave him a nod. I let him know that I am still down here and that I appreciate the fact that he is still up there steering his steeds like the world depends on it. Well, at least I lie about it.”

For the first time in my life I actually went outside to look at the sun. At 9:30 a.m. on the 22nd of June at a place near the equator the sun is coming in at an angle. It’s an angle you can almost describe mathematically. Not 37 degrees it may be 30 though, something you could draw with ease using those instruments we spent so much time with in primary school. There weren’t many clouds so I could see the rays cascade towards my eyes. They met and formed the millions of little suns, each of them dots clustering in spheres so that there were 5 multi-coloured globes around my eyes. The sunglasses I always wished I had. It’s easy to imagine horses coming down on those rays and there is in fact an ancient culture that believed the rays of the suns were carried down on tiny horses.

What I imagined though at just that moment was a sword. The end of the rays were the hilt of the sword and I turned around grabbing it. The tip of the sword was stuck in the sky though and pulling it out took a mammoth effort. It was ok though, I was the hero of that particular story. I had travelled the hero’s journey and here I was at the climax of my trip heaving and pulling to dislodge the sun sword from its place. Succeeding and holding it in my hands and then bringing it down on my foe. The sword became smaller as I held it but as soon as it was used to destroy the demon or god I was fighting it blew up and flew back to its former place. Then I entered the house.

It makes me happy that I can still have flights of fancy at my age. That a fantasy of a sun-sword can make turn around and pull at the rays coming down. There is a line in a book I read once, I can’t quite remember it but it said something like “she was stuck in a mix of loneliness and boredom that she confused for happiness.” I read this and I wondered whether there was a difference between being happy and merely thinking that you are happy. Let’s say there is, would you want to find out that you weren’t really happy but just thought it? Is that a good solution to such a problem? If people think they are happy stuck in a race for money and the things money buys them should they be told that they aren’t really happy? Isn’t it better for people to think they are happy than for somebody to tell them that they are not? I can’t say. I can say that it seems to me that life is asking for a decision on this more and more urgently. The web of alternative futures gets smaller and smaller. The differences we have with other people are less and less pronounced.

I am stuck in a tie 4 or 5 days a week. I wear a suit with a heavy coat and go to work no matter how hot it is. The decisions I used to make about myself and my life are fewer with every passing day. I mean this even literally, on Monday I have many clean shirts by Thursday they have run out and what I wear is no longer my choice. There are, because there must be, men who love to wear a suit. They put on the shirt and button up. They put on the shoes and polish down. They put on the tie and slide it up. They put on the coat and brush it down. Then they feel good. I have always understood that for some people the way they display themselves externally has a massive effect on their self-confidence. They feel more powerful with a suit. They are treated with more deference. But I hate suits. A tie is useless and I hate buttoning my shirt all the way up. This doesn’t matter anymore because I have a job now and I must bend to somebody’s will.

The older we get the more masters we have. This I guess is the way I’m feeling about life at 28, the moments of freedom seem like they are behind me. Economic freedom may be in my future but at the altar of riches or even comfort we sacrifice so much time. We let go of so much of who we are to survive, to have food in our stomachs. No more tracksuits. Colourful language is saved for later. Time is given up. So much time. I look at the time pass me by and then it’s already June and I realise that it’s almost impossible to keep hold of time. We don’t really understand the concept of time as human beings. Well I don’t. There are all these sayings about time flying when you are having a good time. I feel like tedium and ordinariness also allows time to just fly past us.

The weekend marked 4 years since I graduated university. 2 of those years were great. I had adventures, I saw the world, I went back to school. The last 18 months have been about work. And there are many, many times when I enjoy my work and have a big smile plastered on my face as I do it but still…. There is something missing. The last few years have passed much faster than the ones before. This year threatens to go in the blink of an eye. It’s already June for chrissake and it feels like no time has passed. I think it’s because of the tedium. There are so many half and quarter and not at all understood scientific theories about how time and space are so similar. Space is just easier to understand. When you are in a desert you walk for miles and miles and nothing changes. The dunes look the same, the sand is just as coarse, the air as dry, the bleakness as unremitting there is no way you would know how much space you have passed. Luckily space can be measured in terms of time so you can always say that you walked for three days. If you passed an oasis however you have a marker. How far away did you leave your supplies? At the oasis. There is a reference point. Something that shows that distance has passed other than your imagination. With time there are no reference points, not when you are working. You work and it’s like walking through that desert, nothing is changing. Everything looks as it looked before. You wake up at almost the same time and wear almost the same clothes. You take almost the same route to work and see almost the same people. You do almost the same thing for almost the same amount of time and then you leave. You repeat and repeat. The oasis are the holidays. They come and pass you by. Even they have the stink of tedium. If you like to drink you will drink for more days than are healthy and report to work exhausted as fuck. If you don’t like to drink you will do whatever it is that people who don’t like to drink do and …I’m no expert on what this is but I bet you do it over and over again.

This year seems to mark the time when I question how I can keep on doing this thing other people do all the time. I can see them doing it. Every day I sit in a matatu with other people doing these things that I do. The world over is filled with this routine, most people don’t have a job that requires vast amounts of creativity and even when they do …Beyoncé still spends hours on some days signing autographs. This still happens. The working life confuses me.  And this month is usually when I ask what the point of everything is.

In university this was reading time and I would read and cram and cram and read. Then I would get tired and depressed about it. I would Look at my life and imagine doing it again the next year. There was a cycle that I couldn’t see myself escaping and even when I did things went from cyclical to linear. This is the thing that bothers me the most. Things are so linear now. There is, at this point a straight line. And in this straight line there are so few landmarks. The landmarks themselves are so predictable that finding them on the road will not have the effect of fundamentally changing the texture of the journey. Marriage and wife and children can add significant pleasure to the trip. They can give a purpose to the whole linear strip that we seem doomed to walk down but it’s not enough. I don’t think it’s enough.

Zadie Smith once wrote “Not everyone wants this conventional little life you’re rowing your boat toward. I like my river of fire. And when it’s time for me to go I fully intend to roll off my one-person dinghy into the flames and be consumed. I’m not afraid.”

I’m afraid. I know that this conventional life that everyone goes towards is really not what I want. I want to see the world. I want to do more than that, seeing the world is a compromise for not being able to actually live in the world. To uproot myself and be a proper nomad. To go somewhere and live there for a few months or a few years. This in truth is what I want to do. But I choose the compromise because I am afraid. I don’t know how to just go and live there. I worry about money not as much as some people and depending on the sample size not more than most. Still I worry. It’s not easy for a Kenyan or an African for that matter to pack up their bags and go. Saving the money to do that would take up so much time. Going and doing that would hurt your prospects to make more money afterwards. So I’ll try my best to see the world. Just to see. To have holidays and travel. To walk around in strange climes where people speak strange tongues and eat strange flavours.

This year I feel straitjacketed. I guess this is what’s on my mind today. That I can’t be anything I want to be. That maybe I’ll wear a suit for a very long time and hate every minute of it but still do it because life curses each of us to a thousand deaths. Only he who really doesn’t care is free.  There is a way to e free but freedom is not in my future. I don’t think it is. I feel sad acknowledging that huge pleasures will be few and far between. That most of the rest of my life will be tedium and repetition. And that this realisation is what people mean when they say they have grown up. Growing up is about putting aside childish pleasures and exchanging them for adult pains. It’s a horrible bargain and I don’t know who tricked me into it but fuck them.

But I remember when I pulled the sun out of the sky. The way the sword blazed. The feeling of relief and release as it killed the god of tedium. There will be moments like this. Moments of pure awesomeness. They will be few and far between.  But like the oases in a desert the water that I drink from them will be the best tasting water I had the chance to drink. Full of promises of milk and honey and nutrition so nourishing I would walk through any number of deserts to get to them. There will also be moments of passion. I can’t write off passion. I can’t write off the feeling of being alive, of truly being alive that passion can bring. The craziness that accompanies it and the blindness that allows us to walk into it. This I also look forward to.

Another year passed as they all do and it’s gone, it’s really gone. The fear is that nothing new will happen again but the certainty is that something new always happens. One thing the world accommodates is surprise. So here’s to a year full of surprise and passion and travels and oasis. But really one filled more with tedium and routine and unending desert vistas.

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a day in the life

So i get up. My mind already has the day laid out for me. At lunch I’m going to have to go get my ATM replaced because this is what you do when you lose a wallet. Lose lunchtime and some money from your account in order to pay for the sins of the thieves.

On the way out of the house though I get a phone call. I pick it up because as a lawyer you are behooved to pick up every phone call, who knows who it could be? It’s a guy’s voice. He’s found my ATM card. I know how he  got my number…I leave my cards banging around in my wallet. It’s really a great strategy if you think about it, the person who steals a wallet or handles it after it has being stolen is usually a criminal. If your wallet declares its ownership to a lawyer there is a chance that one day when he is picked up for thievery or thievery related activities he will give you a call. How many lawyers’ cards could he possibly have?  This time though it’s a cab guy. I go to meet him before work. He points at one of those chief stations (metallic structures that declare themselves as chief’s offices) that you find around the city. Those places where unfortunate souls should look if they want their IDs back. He picks up my ATM and my business card. Tells me that he thought it would be a good idea to call this guy whose name is on the card because it may belong to him. I thank him. Press two hundred shillings into his palm, he has just saved me 475 shillings and a very boring lunchtime.

I go on to work. For about 30 minutes I do nothing. Sit there and load emails, they refuse to load. I shake files onto my desk and arrange them in terms of what I want to do with my day. I say hello to everyone in the office, notice that the girl sitting across from me looks breath-taking today. She does that sometimes and I can’t imagine why she doesn’t do that all the time. There is this perfect tone of lip colour to skin complexion that she can pull off that has me wishing for an excuse to talk to her all day.

The beginnings of a shit ferment in my lower back. I feel it. I grab some tissue paper and go to the toilet. The cleaner is there. He can see my dashed hopes all over my face. He apologises. I apologise. I go back and sit down. I rearrange the files again. Stacking them this way and that. Then I try to look at her again. I don’t have my glasses and I’m pissed off about this.

I listlessly whatsapp. My heart is not in it. I want to work. But first I truly need to take this dump. I go to the toilet. I sit down and begin to let it go. Drru drruu druuuuu drrrururuddruu. Wonderfully spitting out its contents. I read as this goes on. Then I hear a sound, you see there is a sound tunnel between the gents and the ladies. I don’t know if the girls know about it but we all do on the men’s side. I don’t know if it works both ways but if you sit down to shit you can hear what’s going on over there. Every morning they have these long conversations in there. I can hear it as I shit. They talk and laugh and gossip. I can imagine them running the faucets and applying lipstick because of movies. I’m convinced, almost, that there must be a couch in there. How can it be so damn comfortable in the ladies when it’s just shitting space in the gents? There is no way they would talk so comfortably with me letting go of these huge matafakas in here so there probably isn’t a sound tunnel going that way.

Finish. Go do some work. The first file I touch is the depressing kind. Some company borrowed over 1 million euros. That’s over 100 million shillings. That’s a lot of money. I hate touching files with these kind of figures. There was a 2 billion one the other day. I tell you I have no idea what these people do with all this money. It’s a shitload, it depresses me. It really does. Money and its concepts are never more unreal as when somebody borrows 2 billion shillings and has it moved to their account without a sheet of paper moving. 0s and 1s. Binary billions. What is it all for. I finish, engage in some minor forgery. Then I make phone calls. I  Procrastinate on these things. I can’t tell you why but I do, I put off these phone calls I need to make for so long. Then when I make them I wonder why. This is one of the more enjoyable parts of my job. Calling is sweet as long as I’m not asking for money. There I sit. I put the phone to my ear and wait for person number x to pick up. X picks up. We conduct business. It sounds serious as all shit. I use my normal voice so that people can hear just how arcane my legal jargon can be. Ok there is no arcane legal jargon but you would think I was making multi-million shilling deals and not binary billions either. Ok maybe not but you would think I was working hard. People hate these calls. They will pawn them off to whoever is newest in the profession. Me with my three months have a lot of files where there are just calls to make. Whenever one is sloughed off on me I make the right noises, I make it seem like I really do not want to do this. Truth, I love it. All I have to do is call and listen to x’s excuse for why they have not issued a title. Talk to y about a court appearance. Tell z what has been happening. It’s great.

So now I edit some submissions I had prepared. Submissions are the most fun. It’s the argument part of law. You take a series of allegations and deny them one by one. You look in the law for situations that agree with you and adduce them one by one. You quite thoroughly go through every single thing this guy said and tear it limb from limb. It’s fucking great. Especially when the muse alights on your shoulder and takes your finger right to a precedent, right to a legal principle you need, a set of facts that’s almost too similar. Ahhh. I tell you these may be my most favourite part of my job. I feel bad that oral arguments have bled out of civil litigation those could be beautiful but their more substantial ghost is nice to hold on to.

At the end of submissions you have to play some solitaire before presenting them to the court. Print out at least 3 (number of parties to the suit plus one for the court.) print out each of the cases you relied upon to prove your law and attach them to submissions. When I’m doing this I have my desk white papered. The laptop is pushed back as far as it can go. The files are stacked in one lonely corner. I stand and arrange them like a game of solitaire. Till it’s just right. This part is not as interesting but it’s a nice warm down. Your brain doesn’t really need to be there so you can ride the exhaustion down as you do this. Submissions are pretty fucking great all the way.

Someone calls me about work. I pick up and he tells me he will call back. He. Does. Not.

Go down to the courtroom in the afternoon to pick up a ruling. Picking up a ruling is also fucking great. Other people fail at it all the time. What I do is on a day for a ruling I don’t have lunch, I power through the hour. Leave the office at nearly 2. I take the scenic, quiet, calming walk through Uhuru Park. It’s very serene. I stop to look at the boats being rowed by white people usually. They row the boat and the oars are so gentle you can’t hear them sink into the water. They just effortlessly do. Then the boat moves (it’s a two person dinghy-really would love a woman who wouldn’t mind going on one of these on a date.)

Get to court and the long wait begins. You see, the rulings and judgements are meant to be delivered at 2:30 but the magistrates and judges can stroll in whenever they want.  I carry a book and make sure that I am up on my data bundles when I go for these. I sit my ass down, make myself comfortable and begin to read. It’s nice. The other day I played with a magnet. One day the opposing lawyer turned out to be a writer too, he had published some books and promised to send one of them to me. Some days I catch up with old friends from school. I read my book. Read my whatsapp messages. Wait for the magistrate, hear the one sentence ruling “the application is allowed” after she has me waiting for 70 minutes. Then I leave. That is a day in the life.

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photos on my phone

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This is the Alba Hotel in Meru. I had gone to Meru for Continuing Legal Education, this is just what it sounds like: a continuum of learning that all advocates must take part in in order to remain certified to practice. The one I attended was on criminal law which is always a great thing to learn. One of the facilitators admitted to us that he caught his son watching internet porn. This, you will be surprised to learn was not something that anyone in the room snickered about. There was a hush, a silence over the room. It may have been because most of the people in that room were of an age where they have children of about that age. The age where vices go from talking in class and not doing homework to sex, drugs and rock and roll. It must be incredibly exhausting being a parent. A mountain of worry that it takes decades to crest. Beginning with the mortal worry of taking care of a baby, the knowledge of the fragility of the thing you brought into the world. Its ability to just die from a fall or flu with no notice and no noise because it can’t speak. Then there is the worry of what the world has in store for your child, I hear about the existential worry parents have when they go shopping and turn  around for a moment and a child of that age is not there at the place that child was left. The stories of kidnap and worse that can flash through the mind, the heartbeat that pulls out something in you. Then there are the teenage years where it can all go wrong and because of the fear that it will parents make mistakes , tons and tons. This is the cusp of sex, drugs and rock and roll. The point where it can be held together so that it doesn’t become a habit. After that all the years of adulthood that still weigh on a parent’s soul, that still crush his mind. It must be very difficult.

Another of the facilitators had been practising criminal law at the very apex of practice for a long time. He had represented alleged drug dealers, killers and terrorists. The company he kept would make most of the rest of us break out in a cold sweat. We would smile around these people but never be sure about that smile. Calibrating the volume and pitch of our laughter, our voice, and ourselves to ensure we did not give offence. A man like this must have charisma because this is something that is respected by powerful men the world over and he did. He spoke about his practice the way people speak about their careers. The wonder and awe leached out of their voices. “And then he was found dead in Mombasa” as the punch line to an anecdote used to answer a question about bail or something similarly mundane.

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That is a shot of Meru town. This place is beautiful in a way all countrysides are to anyone who has spent their whole life living in a city. Bumpy and hilly. Mountains ring the town like geological sentries. It’s easy to forget but most times mountains seem to be wreathed in shadow. The blues of the sky of Meru are the kind that allows clouds to stand out in relief. Both nights I was in Meru the skies would open up at around midnight and let buckets and buckets of water fall to the ground. It rained hard in Meru. It rained pebbles and pelted the roof with water that shook. Thunder sounded and roared. There was lightning too. Real lightning. Not the one in Nairobi which is nothing more than the flash of a camera but a sharp relief of zigzagging lines racing through the sky. Both simultaneously and successively the blue lines would rush through the dark browns and blue of the sky behind it and then disappear. Just how you would imagine electricity to look.

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Those are pictures of the great floods of kileleshwa. It rained. Not much, it didn’t feel like much. The rain did not shake the roof. The thunder did not bother the clouds. The lightning did not flash in the sky. Still though this rain caused these floods. I was going home in a Bajaj, a tuktuk and we got to the valley where the water had pooled. The driver came out and looked at the flood. He tsked then explained that there was no way he could get across, pointing out the truck that had stuck in the water as proof and left me. When he left me I can’t say that I knew how I was going to get across. If the water is too deep for a truck you best believe that a human being will be washed away in its awesome force. So I waited. I waited at the edge of the flood because drainage happens and because waiting is the only thing you can do in such situations. The rain had slowed to a drizzle and sure enough there were soon people trying to get across. I hitched a ride with a young couple who took me all the way to my gate. As is the way with most couples only one of them was friendly. The guy spoke to me about the international brotherhood of maledom. The need we have to look out for each other. The rains and drains. The girl looked forward. Then they dropped me off.

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Kasarani Safaricom sports stadium. This is where I took that picture, I looked at the corridor and thought “the promise which such a corridor gives can only be matched by the inevitable disappointment when you get to the end of it and find nothing.” So I took that picture. Then I walked four steps down and there was nothing. My lack of faith had been thoroughly rewarded.

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That too is Kasarani stadium. Palm trees, big palm trees. Nairobi is not a coastal town but like all cities it will surprise you with something that is not part of its nature. Palm trees and a boy with a guitar under every one…I read that one of those old African presidents of the islands that seemed to be tropical paradises said this. Maybe Madagascar, maybe Mauritius, maybe none of the above and it was a book in a dream I can barely remember having. It was still such a picture of paradise, my paradise demands a girl with a violin or a grass skirt nearby. It also asks for large quantities of sweet meats and chilled liquor. Leisure and music. None of the world’s great burdens weighing us down, so parenthood not allowed in. It’s a beautiful thing to aspire to. So hooray for the palm trees in cities like Nairobi. And anyway whose paradise does not consist of palm trees?

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This represents the height of boredom in a courtroom. There are afternoons of forced leisure that advocates practicing litigation contend with from time to time. A judgement was to be delivered by the magistrate and she told us to be there at 2:30. We dutifully were. We sat down and waited. It was thirty minutes before I sported the magnet doing nothing on the clerk’s table. I took it and dutifully began playing with it. I arranged the staples and the pins. They did not want to stay in the middle and would run to the edges as soon as was possible. Making a tower was even more difficult but I continued on doggedly. Like a child in a lab I played and I played this game out. In the end the magistrate sent someone out to tell us that they weren’t ready (the judgements not the person sent out) and that we should come back sometime during the next week. I pretended to be angry because everyone else was but I had just had one afternoon under a palm tree. I went to court with a book under my arm ready to read as much of it as I possibly could. The book was full of such gems of wit, “I have noticed that you like me are a master procrastinator” said one character perhaps addressing the magistrate whose courtroom I was sitting in, “and I don’t mean to distress you but it seems that work is imminent.” I played with a magnet and metal, a pleasure so lost in the mists of childhood that we have nearly all forgotten that it existed. Then I left. None of the burdens of life foisted on me.

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