Monthly Archives: December 2016

A year can be a hard thing

A year can be a hard thing.


I’m sitting in my living room on solstice night exactly 6 months after my birthday. My house is packed up. Everything is ready to go. I began this year packing up my life for a move to Meru and I am ending it packing up my life for a move to Nairobi. It came easier this time. I’m a year older after all and a year can be a hard thing.


The tone of this post was supposed to have been more upbeat because I was more upbeat I fucking loved the hell out of this year. Work was great, I’d sit there drafting pleadings for court or submissions and start shouting “I’m so good at this.” it was great. Towards the end there was a nice string of victories. I felt the voluntary caress of a woman so beautiful I’m still singing a hallelujah for that night. There were mountains. There were lush greens and blue skies and brown hills in the distance. There were clouds coming down from heaven. Mist walking amongst us like god did with Adam and eve. Beauty, beauty everywhere. Oh I found the Meru Library and read Ngugi wa Thiong’o and was blown the fuck away. I read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels and lived the lives of Lila and Elena so caught up I would forget to breath. I went back to Westeros and strolled with knights and villains with ladies and priestesses. Oh this year. I saw a field of sunflowers a couple of times. That’s beautiful a field of sunflowers waking up to bow down to the sun on high and salute the golden delight.


I found a place in Maua where this Somali family created great injera. I’d eat that and be so full and still keep stuffing myself with more and then get in that mat to Meru and have the most blissful afternoon sleep I have ever had. I went with a friend to Three Steers hotel and we had meat. This meat was wonderful. Soft, succulent, so so flavourful. We had the chicken and the chef sprinkled these caramelised onions on them. Sweet, sweet caramel, flavours bursting in your mouth like a sunrise, like a rainbow, like a surprise. I found a little place called Urban Cafe in Meru town where the guy calls his customers “wageni.” Then he proceeds to make ugali that doesn’t crumble and doesn’t stick. This is all I want in life ugali that doesn’t crumble and doesn’t stick. His fish was a thing of wonder. There’s a sauce he kept mixing things in until perfection coated my fried fish.


I saw a lamb for what I think is the first time in my life. It couldn’t keep still. It pranced around, jumping this way and that. It was the picture of happiness in a posture of innocence. And finally I understood all those metaphors from the bible about the blood of the lamb and the lamb of god.


December came around and I felt disappointed politically because the world all over was looking inward. People were reminding themselves of the arbitrariness of their borders, their skin, their blood, the skein that tangled Britain to Europe, America to itself, Syria to sanity it dissolved. And since it came up, poor Syria. Five years of death and destruction and Syria came to her feet. I don’t know who to blame, who was right, who was wrong, but Syria suffered for it. Suffered for the hubris of empire or the deification of dictatorship or the wilfulness of people or the neglect of nations or all of that and more. A friend asked me why we mourn selectively I told him it’s because if we start crying for everyone we will never stop. I remember reading a post by a Syrian girl saying that she would kill herself before she let the soldiers defile her body. I mourned for her, I mourned for the decision she may already have made and mourned more if it was a decision in her future one that could be averted if only.


My poor country I feel like she suffered most of all or more accurately I suffered more because of her pain. It stretches so far back the pain of Kenya this year that I can’t be sure it’s just this year. The doctors are still on strike. The dead attest to that. Five billion was reported missing from the Ministry of Health earlier this year and nobody in the media, no politician is making this connection, this straight line from this to that. Right now they are arguing over some inanity that could be solved by consensus easily enough but it’s not about being right anymore it’s about winning. None of them is talking about these poor doctors. Nobody is talking about the silent dead. A citizen, his lawyer, and their taxi driver were killed this year. It was gruesome and gory. Bodies filled with water. Signs of torture. Screams of pain silenced forever and we talked about their deaths and realised just how many people are killed by agents of the government every year. Then we forgot that too. Jacob Juma was assassinated this year, just this year. They took him in his car and got through all the security he had put up and killed him and we forgot. The government has tried as they all do to shut up its people, to control them and to keep them quiet.


It’s been corruption scandal after corruption scandal this year. I remember saying that UhuRuto are doing their almighty best to eradicate tribalism by stealing so much that we all unite and rise up against them but even that sarcasm was for brighter days. After a long gruelling, never ending, ever multiplying argument I have given up. I know that people will vote for who they voted for last time for president. All of these shits we have been through will change nobody’s mind. All of the shit Raila did hasn’t changed his supporter’s minds either. I admit that the problem with us when it comes to the presidency is so ingrained that we can’t see. Most of us can’t and won’t ever see. We won’t see what’s right in front of our eyes and the seat of the presidency becomes a crusade. It’s about removing or keeping the devil from the seat of power depending on which devil is yours. 2016 has taught me not to be optimistic about elections. 2007 taught me that, 2013 reminded me. 2016 made sure I knew that democracy is not my will but that of the people and many times I won’t want what the people want. I can’t control them and it hurts to see it everywhere. All I could ever ask Kenyans to do is to send home the other incumbents. Who in a seat of power has helped? My home county needs to wipe the slate clean. Let’s get rid of that corrupt woman beater first and then take the rest of them down on the same damn day. Nairobi seems to hurt even more than Kenya. I’m shocked when I go home; I’m shocked to see how dirty it is and how tall Kidero’s towers are.


Fucking 2016.


Three people I knew, friends and family died this year. I howled for them in my sitting room like a dog at the moon. I fell on the floor and curled up and squeezed out tears so painful it hurts to remember them. I found out about the last one on Sunday and I’m so tired of death. Despite the world’s sorrow I was fine, I was fine until Sunday. Grief is so hard. I’ve been trying to push it out and I’m better. Monday I felt broken, physically broken. Monday I wasn’t sure that I would ever heal again. I’ve done it so many times i fear that at some point a break will comes a. I was sad and worried. I left court during a break for a cigarette and a cry. I had a headache the whole day. I looked hangover. There was mara moja in my pocket and I was so angry when my phone went off on me. I had a feeling that these deaths would finish me. That the blow after blow after blow would become too much that I would one day go to sleep and not be able to wake up because of these deaths. It could have been a good year despite the world but my friend died and it clouded everything. I had managed to get past the other two but this one. The permanence, the constant re-opening of the wound it’s so hard. Monday night I had dinner at another friend’s place. He has a two year old son. I played Batman on PS4 and the child was so happy. The child, he ran around and talked and joked all through that night. It was what I needed and Tuesday was better. Then Tuesday evening I saw one of my closest friends randomly driving through Meru. We had a burger a drink a few laughs. Those two nights did me right. Those two nights reminded me that it’s ok to feel broken and battered but there’s hope. Behind the clouds the sun comes up. It always comes up.


Someone else died this year before I really knew him. Leonard Cohen passed away in November and at that point all I knew of him was hallelujah. Then I met him. All I’ve listened to for weeks is his music, his poetry. He has blown me away more times than I thought possible. The number of favourite songs he has given me in this time approaches 15 at the very least. He has me singing along to so, so many of his songs. I sing them when I’m away from music. I sing them before I sleep. My neighbours must think me a convert because he’s got me singing the hallelujah song (which is actually the chorus for another of his songs.) it has been my main mission in life to convince more people to listen to Leonard Cohen. When Kenya was bleeding he comforted me. When my friend was dead and I was far away and alone he comforted me. He showed me that death doesn’t clear away the slate. That death doesn’t take away everything a person did. That even from the grave you can touch somebody. He gave me that thing that I love above all else he made me fall in love with something in its entirety and reminded me that I can fall in love again and again. That happiness is around the corner. Because though love be struggle falling in it is always, always sweet.


I realised that the very second post I ever wrote for this blog was about the song Hallelujah. After Leonard Cohen’s death I wrote about it again I prefer the six years later version but it was heartening to see that I’m still me despite all that’s happened. That I can still take the same from that song now as I did then. Six years is a hard thing but it doesn’t have to change the core of who you are and it’s good to be reminded of that. His music makes me wish for a woman to sing it to and for a god to hear me praying it to it.


A year is a hard thing. A year is so hard that we need to congratulate ourselves and each other for holding on to sanity or madness, to life and love, to hope and the hope found in despair, to faith and the complete despondence that can accompany it, to our convictions despite being heckled, to our willingness to allow the majority and the hecklers to proclaim. To whatever we held on to it was difficult because a year is a hard thing. 2016 was hard for a lot of us, but so are they all. On we march though. Onward and forward.


Merry Christmas to the whole wide world and may you have a happy whory (or holy) new year. The next one needs us fresh to tackle it.


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Take back Kenya

He wants to write a love song

An anthem of forgiving

A manual for living with defeat

A cry above the suffering

A sacrifice recovering

But that isn’t what I need him to complete

I want him to be certain

That he doesn’t have a burden

That he doesn’t need a vision

That he only has permission

To do my instant bidding

Which is to say what I have told him to repeat.[i]



I woke up today listening to these words by Leonard Cohen a man who once introduced a song by saying “Even though we have no religion we have an appetite for something which is like religion, so in honour of those deep feelings and those irreplaceable appetites I offer this song”. [ii]It’s written from the perspective of God peering down at the singer trying to compose a hymn to help mankind. And refusing him to do what he wants to do, what he thinks is the right way.


I also woke up to the news of the over 40 people dead in Naivasha. A truck carrying inflammable material got in an accident. A huge bomb barrelled out from point zero. In its wake it swallowed a matatu with 14 passengers, it engulfed a police land cruiser and extinguished the lives of over 40 people. This was day 5 of the doctor’s strike of 2016 because death and despair do not await the honouring of collective bargaining agreements and the successful mixing of ingredients of back to work formulas. Disease and accidents and injuries are implacable in the face of whatever us humans do. They move on relentlessly. We do not keep them at bay with marches or with shows of impunity. They do not stop because the doctors made a heartbreaking decision to demand what they had been promised. They do not slow in the face of a government that has broken the heart of every Kenyan over and over again. The agents of fate are not concerned with the petty machinations of human beings. They move on like a melting glacier or a rising sun, we can shield ourselves from them but the fact of who they are is undeniable. This world we live in it needs a cry above the suffering because otherwise this is all we can hear.


There is a pain in being here and in being Kenyan while we are here. Those 40 will never live to see what could become of our country, they will never see the promise or the breaking of the covenant that we made 53 years ago when our first president watched a flag of black and red, of white and green unfurl in the middle of the night and blow in the wind. In that moment a country was born. Even before it was born though it had been abused. At this point almost everyone knows that a foetus can be harmed by the toxins taken in by its mother while gestating but back then, in the sixties, these were just myths. And so before Kenya was born it was harmed. “They made us hate ourselves and love they wealth” said a famous poet whose name is  an anagram of our country’s.


The child was scarred before it had a chance to draw its breath. When delivered it already needed the doctors we have allowed to go on strike. It needed healers and did not get them. It was delivered to dogs waiting at the gates of the castle, cast down and allowed to suffer some more. It survives despite all this and later in the morning I heard more of Leonard Cohen a song that could be sang to god or to a country or to anything greater than us and to ourselves too. A song that when 40 people die in a flaming inferno in the dark of the night we need to hear:


Behold the gates of mercy

In arbitrary space

And none of us deserving

The cruelty or the grace

O solitude of longing

Where love has been confined

Come healing of the body

Come healing of the mind

O see the darkness yielding

That tore the light apart

Come healing of the reason

Come healing of the heart

O troubled dust concealing

An undivided love

The heart beneath

Is teaching to the broken heart above

Oh let the heavens falter

And let the earth proclaim

Come healing of the altar

Come healing of the name[iii]


Kenyans at 53 are sad and twisted, angry and full of hate, divided and we know not why, full of greed, destroyed by want, victims of apathy and base despair, purveyors of violence and putrid passions. We need healing. So does our country and we can heal because the same Kenyans will come together to save a life of a stranger donating money by m-pesa, raising awareness on social networks, extending compassion however we can. This is also a country where I have seen people agonise over the doctor’s strike because they know that it is fatal. They may not know the fatalities but the fact that they will cease to exist has been enough. This is a country bubbling over with warm laughter and true smiles. With shouts of joy, music that can barely contain the happiness of its people. People so forgiving that we will always wipe the slate clean.


Yes this is a country where a boy from the Lake can move into the shadow of the Mountain and live unmolested. Political disagreements have never flared into violent confrontations and from my time here I know that everyone, almost everyone, in this country knows that the way things are is not the way they should be. I’ve looked into the blue eyes of elderly Meru people (I don’t know how they got blue but they did) and heard them speak passionately, tiredly, dejectedly, hopefully about the things they want, things that we all want. Justice, happiness, peace. They want the unity of their families and they want what they believe they deserve. I’ve met a girl so beautiful that when she smiles it drives all thought from my mind. From my window I have looked out and seen hills in the distance covered by clouds or shrouded in mist. I have seen them with their bases in shadow and the sun upon their crests looking like a stairway to heaven has been opened up. I have quaffed drinks with a man who implores us all to call him “bloody fuckin” and refused to give any other name. Sat in posh hotels, nice bars, out in the sun, keg joints, holes in the wall, peeing on the street with a Kenyan by my side and not a Kenyan who I knew in childhood. Kenyans who I met in this place 300 kilometres from my real home (I’m sorry Nyanza but Nairobi’s my place.)


I have been guarded by an old man who lived in Mombasa from 1964 to 2011. A man who was so concerned about my incessant coughing that he gave me a remedy: take a lemon and squeeze the juice into a cup, take an egg (kienyeji) and crack it uncooked into the lemon juice. Drink this down. I have felt the magic of Kenya as I’m coughing less than I did while I was in high school. From here I have felt close to people through all the technologies that have been brought to help us communicate. I have disagreed with many and argued and argued and yet when I needed their help these disagreements were put away in the dark corner to which they belong. At that point the division of who is who and from where fell away like scales from an eye. I walked with a girl who laughed so loud and shared a matatu with another one who talked so loud that even I noticed. These two grabbed the life given them with both hands. A full moon has shone down on me like a flashlight on a dark and lonely night. Filling the earth with so much white that everything was a silhouette the trees shaking in the wind, the passing stranger, the grass shimmering as the air kissed it. I have heard the sounds of three churches making their entreaties to their deities for intervention, for happiness and for all of us every damn Sunday. Walked amongst trees standing so high they look like giants. Found a mini-valley ringed by these trees so that the sun only shines down it at high noon.


If it be your will

If there is a choice

Let the rivers fill

Let the hills rejoice

Let your mercies spill

On all these burning hearts in hell

If it be your will

To make us well

And draw us near

And bind us tight

All your children here

In their rags of light

In our rags of light

All dressed to kill

And end this night

If it be your will[iv]


Leonard Cohen prays this words so passionately that it didn’t matter my religious persuasion I closed my eyes and I prayed with him. We need to have hope because there is more to give us hope than to cause us despair. That’s not even the reason. We need to have hope because if we don’t the night wins. I remember I wondered about that rags of light line. There is a judeo-christian tradition that says Adam and Eve were originally clothed in garments of light, that all we have left are the rags. Despite that we need to put them on and dance and dance until the light comes back. All we have in Kenya are the rags. The torn apart fragments of our love for each other, our similarity, our pain at each other’s suffering, our hope for a better tomorrow, our resolve to do something for it. All we have are the rags of these lights but even with this we can end this night we find ourselves in.


It’s either that or this. This thing we have now. This thing that is not working. This thing where the news makes you so sad you want to crawl up in your bed, close up your eyes, and waken when it’s all over. It’s either that or this. And today on the anniversary of the day of our first independence people are marching down the streets in Nairobi. They protest everything wrong with our government: the corruption, the incompetence, the injustice. They endure teargas, the risk and reality of arrest, the risk and reality of physical harm. They do this to try and give us what we all need, let the government falter and let the people proclaim….


What God wants Leonard Cohen to repeat and for all of us to hear is a message of hope, hope for here and hope for there:


Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without the costume
That I wore

[i] From the song Going Home.

[ii] Introduction to the song Show me the Place

[iii] From the song Come Healing

[iv] From the song If It Be Your Will


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this took me months

January January

So full of worry

I want you to pass in a hurry

I like you sometimes, like when my speech is slurry

But don’t take that as a reason to tarry

When you pass will I give you a thought ? nary


Then comes February

Some parts of you are blurry

In the middle you seek to make us lonely

And  some of us phony

But I like that you’re not so stony


And on we March

This what we catch

Hope for the perfect match

To set the year ablaze

Goodbye to the previous phrase


How are you doing April?

I hope that you are still

As funny as you were before

Begin by making me a fool

And on we go


This month May

Be a brand new day

But who’s to say

Take heart the year’s still clay


And we’re at June

The month that gave me as a boon

December soon

Right now it’s high noon


Seize July

Your time to lie

About lying in the sun

It’s always too cold to burn

But a lot of fun


Never forget August

This month’s a must

So very long

It stretches on

This month can lust


Sweet sweet September

Seems soon we’ll light the ember

Sing slow I want to remember

Sweet sweet September


We’re at October

This month we celebrate mashujaa

By visiting bar after bar

Our heroes who were locked behind bars

We have far to go and are glad you cared for us

We have far to go but we have come far


Remember remember  the 5th of November

Might and muscle can always make you a member

By design or default the world seeks to dismemeber

This month we remember that it is in us to bend her



The girl of my life and I only see her once a year

But when I look around the corner and I see her coming near

I open up my arms I fill her ears with pleas of love I promise that I missed her

She has no chance to doubt that if I could I would only ever see her

I tell everyone I love her and that I’ve loved her from afar

And she loves me too and has brought me happiness, December,

Oh December.


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