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 from the 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

And 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 hear

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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hallelujah, fare thee well Leonard Cohen

On November 7th 2016 one of the greatest songwriters this world had left us. His soul went on to the next adventure, to whatever awaits us all in the great beyond. Leonard Cohen was so good that his songs have been compared to the psalms of the bible. This is not just because he is Jewish it is also the amazing lyrical content of the songs, their thematic weight and their philosophical leanings. There is a song about Abraham and Isaac that is a heartbreak to listen to. The story of Isaac is told through the perspective of this 9 year old boy whose father says he must die in the service of Yahweh. It raises for me a very interesting question; the moral of the story in the bible is that obedience is more important than compassion, what if they got it wrong? This very story must have comforted many a Nazi soldier who harboured Christian beliefs. He told himself that obedience to authority is more important than compassion to his fellow man. Abraham should have refused to sacrifice his son no matter what his faith told him. He should have said no and Yahweh would have loved him all the more telling him that compassion is more important. Telling him that compassion and love are really the most important things. Letting him know that an evil done in the name a god is still an evil. This version of the bible that perhaps exists in an alternate universe would not have been so easily corrupted to justify all the things that the bible has been forced to. At the end of that song Leonard Cohen sings:

 

“You who build these altars now to sacrifice these children, you must not do it anymore. A scheme is not a vision and you never have been tempted by a demon or a god.”

 

I am increasingly convinced that if there is a god and that if it is love, if it wasn’t why bother making us in the first place? Then that god is eternal and unchanging though looking at the world around us not omnipotent. But the love shines through because even in this hellish interregnum that he couldn’t stop from existing there is still love and beauty and compassion and happiness. And I believe he is eternal and unchanging not in the way Christians do which is to allow their capacity for contradictory narratives to co-exist simultaneously to really grow. And then to take these contradictions as a sign of supreme will and power, I have sought an explanation for the death of Egypt’s first borns and the possibility of this lying side by side with Jesus’ teaching to no avail. It is not god that changes though, what changes is our understanding of it. The bible is a beautiful series of books chronicling the attempts of a people to understand god. And you can see their understanding changing. The god we find through genesis to the early prophets is one of war. He demands death and genocide. He glories in sacrifice. Do you remember the heartbreak in game of thrones when King Stannis burns his daughter to her death? The bible did it first. As it goes on the understanding of god becomes better. He becomes a god of peace  and Isaiah tells the children of Israel that their wicked ways of violence have condemned them he looks to a day when:

 

“He shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (truly, you must not do it anymore)

 

Then we get to the person who came closest to getting it all right in the Bible. Jesus of Nazareth taught love and lived love. He asked us to love one another. To love the lord our god with all our hearts and with all our minds and with all our souls. This must mean loving every single creation of his from the most exalted angel to the housefly to the fallen Lucifer. In the vision of love that Jesus drew all nations and all people had a place in the heart of god. Being human he made some mistakes but when his reported words are taken, just his words not the stories and myths and legends that grew around him we see what he wanted. Love. The only prayer for material needs that Jesus makes is for his daily bread so when a prosperity gospel is preached it is not based on the words of Jesus. He said that his kingdom is not of this world, he said give unto Caesar, he turned down Lucifer’s offer for rule, Jesus was all about separation of church and state. So anyone who claims that they are serving his will by making something illegal only because the bible says its immoral is not following his words. Anybody who insists that the things that belong to Caesar like public schools should be used to spread the word he is wrong, or he is saying that Jesus is which is fine to say but not in while claiming to serve him.

 

Paul who a lot of Christianity is based on gets a lot more things wrong. Then John writes a book and the chapter is closed. Why was the chapter closed though? Humanity has been trying to understand god since the day we could understand anything. Trying to divine its will for us is an all important pursuit. So why would we close it off and say that all the writings from that day forth should be about the writings already written and not about god? Why would anyone demand such a thing? Why would any god want such a thing? It would not. And we did not. All this is written by way of prologue because what I really want to talk about is the song Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. Listen to it if you haven’t. It’s one of the great beauties of this world. The song has 7 verses though most versions of it leave out 2 of the verses. I feel that it should be considered in its entirety. The arrangement of the verses may not be how the man would have wanted it arranged but for me to explain the point he was trying to make this is the best arrangement I could come up with:

 

Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord

But you don’t really care for music, do ya?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift

The baffled king composing “Hallelujah”

 

This verse is pretty straightforward and steeped in the religious traditions and mythological stories of his people. David was a great musician according to the bible, he even played the harp for the king he would later betray, go into civil war with and cause to kill himself. The story is that Yahweh would send a spirit to Saul and this “evil spirit of the Lord” would torment him causing him great pain. The only way that this evil spirit sent by Yahweh could be soothed would be for David to play on his harp. The King was once so overcome by the evil spirit and the things it would whisper into his ear, these seem to be prophecies of his death and the death of all his sons at the hands of his most trusted servant that he picked up a spear and hurled it at David.  Music and beauty please the lord as is clear from this chapter, they even soothe the evil spirits that he calls upon to do his work from time to time and despite this we don’t consider this a hallelujah. The works of man as he tries to understand his world, commune with it, and lift his fellow human beings out of misery are of great pleasure to god. Yet they are not as exalted as they should be. In a local context we have heard over and over  music being demonised, movies being demonised, books being demonised. There are certain Christian denominations that tell their followers not to listen to secular music, they even tell them not to listen to gospel music made by secular artists. The world is full of people who forgot that music, that beauty, that art are praising god’s name in their very creation. They forgot or they don’t really care for it.

 

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

 

Praise Jah!! Praise Jah!!! This reggae sounding phrase is actually just a translation of hallelujah. So in your churches, in your clubs, in your bars, praise Jah!!!!

 

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof

Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

 

I see three biblical stories here. Further steeping this psalm in that great tradition. It was written by a man cognizant of the law and the prophets and he who some say is the messiah. The first verse refers to doubting Thomas who needed to put his fingers in the holes caused by the nails before he believed that the Christ had risen again. Thomas would go on to be a great name in the church a great saint and one of Jesus’ fiercest knights. Love is important I personally believe. But that insistence on faith that sweeps most religions is not. We live in a world that begs us not to believe in the idea of a loving and all powerful god. It begs us all the time. Religion asks us to believe the impossible, well some of us need proof and for this small sin, this small sin of disbelief we are told that god would have us burn forever? That makes no sense. We need proof and we don’t have it, once we do we will believe.

 

The next two lines are the story of David and Bathsheba. King David saw this beautiful woman bathing on a roof and he had to have her. He sent her husband, Uriah off to war with commands that he should be placed so as to die. Uriah died and David having committed this sin that seems unpardonable proceeded to marry her. The next line is about Samson. Samson was a bad man. A horrid man. He goes down as the first recorded suicide bomber he was that bad. Delilah (don’t these two names call beauty to your mind immediately? And that is the power of the word my friends that is the power of association) who was obviously a spy did all she could to find the source of his strength and sap it. When she finally did, she lovingly cut his hair, Bathsheba on her end lovingly brought to an end David’s intended throne with her son following him onto the throne. Though this last may have been a good thing because David’s original brood contained a man who raped his half-sister and a whole lot of sibling on sibling murder. These women no matter what they led these men to drew a hallelujah from their lips. No man can be this hopelessly in love and not offer it as a hallelujah. A happiness fills the world when you feel that way. A thank you to whoever sent this your way a big up to the big G.

 

Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor

I used to live alone before I knew ya
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

 

And we come out of the bible to something that many of  us can relate to. We have been here before each of us, at the end of love’s holy hallelujah we have been broken by it. We have cried nights and drank bottles and tried our best to fuck it out of us. When we enter the house of love now we know what we are getting into. We walked out into the cold or were forced out before and lived alone for a while. Then this person comes along but you remember Delilah cutting your hair no matter how many times you gave her your trust. Naivety has fled us. Things are clear. We can see the flag on the marble arch and it’s scary, it’s scary because love is not a victory march. We know that love is struggle and suffering and the capacity for heartbreak. That love is hard. That love is cold and that it’s broken. That this hallelujah we sing is not like the ones before this one different it’s not joyful, it’s freezing and it’s shattered but in the act of love we still sing it.

 

There was a time you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do ya?

And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too

And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

This strikes me as a nostalgic verse. It is to a lover. There was a time when they shared everything. This is something else we all know. There was a girl I loved and she loved me and we talked about everything. Every little thing that she was she showed to me and I accepted it. The days with her passed in a blink, being with her was happiness. It’s not like that anymore. The 4th and 5th line are about sex. And I can remember the sex I had with her I still think about it. It was truly beautiful, the joining of flesh. We made love there is no other way to put it and while I moved in her the holy dove was moving too. God the Holy Spirit was with us in that moment of togetherness. We were a trinity and every moan and gasp that we let out, every single breath was hallelujah.

 

Maybe there’s a God above
All I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

 

It’s entirely possible that there is a god above. Anybody who says different is preaching a different brand of fanaticism.  And we all hope that this god is love, that he is the purest distillation of love. Despite this all we have ever learned from love was how to hurt somebody first. The two verses before this show this sad education, or rather the results of this sad education. This is the worst result of it. In order to protect our fragile hearts we will break another person’s fragile heart.  This is nothing to be proud of. it’s not a cry you will ever hear at night. Nobody will ever claim that because they did this they saw the light. This pain we cause ourselves and others, this suffering , a suffering that only exists because we have loved and lost is still a hallelujah. A cold and a broken one.

 

You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to ya?

There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

 

Who can claim to know the name of god. To understand what it means when we don’t understand the things we see, when we can’t even understand ourselves. TThomas Aquinas wrote:

“Yet since God is simple and subsisting, we attribute to Him simple and abstract names to signify His simplicity, and concrete names to signify His subsistence and perfection, although both these kind of names fail to express His mode of being, because our intellect does not know Him in this life as He is.”

There is a charge levelled against people that they have taken the name of the lord in vain. You can hear it if you listen close enough. It is considered blasphemy to continue in our attempts to understand him, to call for the bible to be opened up and allow more thinking about god in it. But how is it possible that my attempts to understand him can be called taking his name in vain. My failure and trials anyway for my intellect to “know Him in this life as He is.” And if it is, if it really is, that is between me and it. No man should stand there and condemn me for that, nobody has a right. This, if it’s a sin, is one of the few that does not involve human beings. So really what’s it to ya? And then he goes on to specify that every single word we say, every attempt to say his name, to understand him is filled with a blaze of light. All of it is a hallelujah. It may be the holy one that was sang before when the holy dove moved in us or the broken one that is the march of love but it’s a hallelujah. And when I say my hallelujah really what’s it to ya?

 

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you

And even though
It all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

 

I am human and we all are. So our  best, our very best is never much. We can push as hard as we can and the only guarantee that we have is that we will still fail. It becomes more and more difficult to feel. To feel love as we get older, to feel faith as we think about the world. We can’t feel love so we try to touch and hope sex banishes the cold. We can’t feel faith so we try to touch the wounds on the hands of god if only to remind ourselves that it can relate to us. It knows what it is to be human and loves us for it. The third line is him saying that all that comes before comes from his heart. This is the truth according to Cohen and he has me convinced. When I write this, right now I believe it all. I’m not trying to fool you or mislead you. This is how I feel. And even though it all went wrong… I love these three lines. It all went wrong. It all went to shit. Things are bad. Things are horrible. Each of us failed ourselves, our loved ones and our god and were failed by each of them in turn. Despite all of this if the day comes when we shall stand before the lord of songs and understand finally what it was trying to do. Understand finally why this hell had to exist. Understand it all. When such a day comes when all of god’s children are gathered and we are standing next to Satan who has also made his way back to the love. There will be nothing on our tongues but hallelujah.

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Theng’a theng’a with Theng’eta: a review of Petals of Blood

Theng’a theng’a with theng’eta. That was the advertising slogan heard through the land. The words that called the culled masses to the bars near and far, the song that culled the imagination and will to revolt of the people. Theng’a theng’a with thenget’a the radios blared and beautiful people in advertisements whispered and the youth sung and the depressed muttered. In another version of Kenya that is really this version they sung theng’a theng’a with theng’eta.

 

Theng’eta is a mythical, though perhaps not, drink of kikuyu lore as captured in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Petals of Blood. About midway through the book after the first struggle has been introduced and overcome Wanja’s grandmother collects some seed and plants. She sits and brews it according to old codes that have since been lost. She lets it sit and become more potent over weeks and weeks so that it is ready for the harvest time. This Theng’eta is a drink that was outlawed by the colonial imperialists who only allowed the brewing of Muratina after they came and took away our lands all those years ago. It is the real drink, the big brother to the small thing that murats is, and murats ask anyone is not a small thing.

 

You see, theng’eta does not dull, it awakens. It does not make emotions recede but brings them to the fore. It forces you to think, and to remember. It is less an alcoholic drink than it is a hallucinogen. One that forces open third eyes and makes secrets come spilling out, a drink that insists that the truth must be spoken, that it must be seen, that it must be felt. That that is the only way we can ever come to terms with what we have lost and how we rebuild it. This is theng’eta as it is introduced a throwback to a time when the African man and woman knew themselves. Way back when we knew our gods and prayed to them. When the kikuyus faced mount Kenya and prayed to Ngai. When the luo surely face the Lake and prayed to Obongo Nyar Kalaga  for more fish to come their shores. A time when we knew who we were dating back centuries and our own tongues did not trip us and we had our stories and our songs and our gods and our beauty so sure about whom we were that we did not begrudge a little hallucinogenic trip to celebrate a good harvest.

 

And yet even this hallucination is not without its fault lines as human beings conflict when truth is revealed about themselves or other people. Hallucinations are not always rainbows and unicorns sometimes it’s the goat monster under the bed. As the story goes on Theng’eta’s name is appropriated and used to market a brew so dissimilar that it is an insult to what was drunk before. This is kill-me-quick as it was anointed is a liquor used for nothing more than to drown the pain of the world, to stop us facing it. A contender for the title of opium of the masses. This is the arc described in this drink and in this book. The amazing possibility of what we could have become and the horrid reality of what we are: people who are satisfied to theng’a theng’a with thenget’a.

 

The book is about the town of Ilmorog, a fictional town that is nothing but dust and one shop. A shop run by a man named Abdullah who took up this name believing that it was a Christian one. The shop in turn left to him by an Indian who lived there before. It has a bar and to this bar comes Munira the sometimes narrator of our tale. A man who we are introduced to as godly with a bible in his hand even as he is arrested on suspicion of murder. The story goes in flashback with Munira telling us about how things came to pass in Ilmorog. He writes prison notes, a sort of memoir for the inspector who has come to see him. The inspector is a man who believes in the law the way a maths professor believes in equations. He sees his work as reduced to numbers. As necessary for order, as neither evil nor good but just necessary. We also meet Karega a former student of Munira’s who joins him on the teaching staff of the small school in Ilmorog. Karega is a passionate idealist at heart, a man grappling with the questions that post-independence gave us. He tries his best to impart to the students in his care the knowledge he believes they need as much a journey of self-discovery as it is an imparting of knowledge:

 

He made them sing: I live in Ilmorog Division which is in Chiri District; Chiri District which is in the Republic of Kenya; Kenya which is part of East Africa; East Africa which is part of Africa; Africa which is the land of the African peoples; Africa from where other African people were scattered to other corners of the world.

 

Through their lives and ours wanders Wanja.  A beautiful woman who is the only one who comes home to Ilmorog after a fashion. She becomes a bartender in Abdulla’s bar even though there is not enough business but she flashes her smile and says that this is the work of a barmaid to bring more people in or make the people who are inside drink more. The story of Wanja is a pain to behold her ups and downs, her tragedies and comebacks, her histories, secrets, peaks and valleys are enough to leave you shredded, to leave anyone shredded.

This is a book that struggles with the idea of self-hood of who we are. Of who we were, all of us as Africans before the four hundred years of contact with the west left us bereft and them rich. Before it destroyed our cultures and enriched theirs. Before they left and we began to forget who we could have become.

 

All the characters in the book have their secrets and they tell them as time passes by. I remember falling through the trap door in the second chapter or thereabouts. It is my hope that you know about the trapdoor because the trapdoor is something everybody should feel in their lives multiple times. It is that point in the book where it becomes real. A black hole from which you emerge breathless and disoriented looking around the world as if it’s not real. It happened as soon as Munira told us why he came to Ilmorog. Each of the main characters has a story of a journey to this place that they begin to call home and the trip for each of them is heartrending. It is sad when told once and it only becomes sadder as the book moves on as we learn more about them and who they are.

 

There is a  drought in Ilmorog. A massive drought. This is soon after independence and their MP Nderi wa Ireri has not been to their town for a long, long time. He sends them over an invitation for “chai” at Gatundu South which is more an invitation to fund his own affairs there. The people of Ilmorog wonder what they need to go talk to Kenyatta about and they are told that their tribe’s wealth is being threatened by the lake people and those aligned with the Indian Communist who was recently assassinated (there is a special pleasure for a Kenyan or a person with knowledge of Kenyan history to read this book, a jolt of recognition as Pio Gama Pinto and Tom Mboya and J.M Kariuki are assassinated, a pleasure and a pain, a deep pain.) The people of Ilmorog reply:

 

You mean some of you have already made enough wealth while we scratch the earth?

“Is that the wealth they want to steal from you?”

“Good for them if they are as poor as we are.”

 

In response to the drought they make an expedition to Nairobi to petition their leader. The journey to Nairobi itself is epic and then things sour as they are turned away by white men and black men by preachers and former revolutionaries, by all those who in the first years of independence stole afresh the capital of the new nation or held on to the capital stolen by their fathers and grandfathers. Eventually they run into a lawyer. A lawyer who has the gift of seeing what is wrong with the world. He sits down in his library with them to discuss what is going on

 

it is sad, it hurts, at times I am angry, looking at the black zombies, black animated cartoons dancing the master’s dance to perfection…The white ministers seeing defeat , now turned to sneering and jeering at the new priests. Look at these destroyers: we are going, yes, but these people will surely destroy all the canon laws…and we, who were educated in their schools, beat our breasts, we destroyers? We break the canon law? We are as civilised as you, we shall not be the ones to dismantle the monster god, and we shall prove it to you. You’ll be ashamed you once had these doubts about us….the education we got had not prepared me to understand those things: it is meant to obscure racism and other forms of oppression. It was meant to make us accept our inferiority so as to accept their superiority and their rule over us….while our people are dying of hunger, while our people cannot afford decent shelter and decent schools for their children. And we are happy, we are happy that we are called stable and civilised and intelligent.

 

I even remember that I was sitting in a courtroom as I read that particular passage. That I finished reading it and my breathing was heavy and my eyes were blurry. In its fullness it is a thing of glory, a flowering of wrongs not righted and paths trodden too hastily and wrongly. It is one of those centrepieces that a great book has. A passage that speaks a certain truth to you if only you would stop and listen to what is being said.

 

And…. there’s some sex in the book. There’s sex and there’s laughter. And there’s anticipation for sex, I find myself cheering for sex in fiction nowadays, hoping it happens because the world is not just revolution and the struggle to stay awake to the struggle. It is also beauty.

 

then they started slowly, almost uncertainly, groping toward one another, gradually working together in rhythmic search for a lost kingdom, for a lost innocence and hope, exploring deeper and deeper, his whole body aflame and tight with painful desire or of belonging. And she clung to him, she too desiring the memories washed away in the deluge of a new beginning, and he now felt this power in him, power to heal, power over death, power, power…and suddenly she carried him high on ocean waves of new horizons and possibilities in a single moment of lightning illumination, oh the power of united flesh, before exploding and swooning into darkness and sleep without words.

 

There’s also the words Kill-me-Quick which I thought my aunt had coined to described alcoholic drinks of dubious provenance but proven strength. Then there’s that passage where a woman leaves one man for another and they talk about “Coup d’état” “kugeuza serikali.” Yeah that was a Ngugi phrase.

 

And hidden in the folds I saw a character in the book from our history. His name is Chui. Chui was a student at Siriana Secondary School. He was a rebel and a revolutionary. He was the leader of the strikes and rebellions and revolts. He led a strike and was expelled, his strike coming to naught. He was left in the cold far away from all the people he had fought for. He went on exploring the world and his mind as he strayed  in constructive exile. Then there was another strike and this time the white headmaster was sent away. The students of Siriana insisted that there was only one person they could unite behind. Only one name could lead them from then on and that name was Chui. Chui came back and the first thing he did was to cut off at the legs the ones who had led the strike. He told the white teachers who he found there that they had nothing to fear, that he would make sure that the black masses who stayed respected them and their powers. That the troubles that had come before would not be repeated, would not be respected, would instead be razed to the ground along with all those who were its leaders. This Chui promised. And this Chui did, rewarding some with prefectship and the rest with the ultimate punishment. This Chui did. Oppressing the people who called him back , forgetting the blood of those who fought for his rule, forgetting the whole purpose of his rule or his exile of the fight he fought.

 

Ngugi wa Thiong’o who wrote this book that I carried with me everywhere as I read it. Ngugi who is one of our greatest writers has been detained and exiled, he has been tortured and arrested by both Kenyatta and Moi. When Kibaki won the election he came home and we broke into his home, we beat him and we raped his wife Njeri several times, we Kenyans. This man who feels for this country with all his soul, to him we did this. I don’t know what we can do to make up for this perhaps the important thing is to always ask these foulmouthed, tribal-slogan spouting, ethnic-division creating, corruption-condoning, pieces of shit we have as politicians the important question:

 

You mean some of you have already made enough wealth while we scratch the earth?

And then go to the polls geuza serikali over and over until we have a country he would be proud of.

 

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hairraising possibilities

 

A few years ago I sat on the balcony of a bar/ hotel in Nairobi. I was having drinks with some old friends and a Nigerian who was visiting the country. We started talking about the world and our conversation turned to Europe. I’m not sure why I said it or where the conversation was heading, it  probably had to do with the way they value pets so much, but I said that if they really cared about animals in Europe they wouldn’t do this thing where their food animals are penned up in a small space for all their lives. Cows that never see the grass, pigs that only wallow in their own shit if there is even space enough for that, chickens that never try their wings and so don’t achieve the enlightenment born of disappointment that comes with having wings that cannot carry you. It must be horrible for those animals I said. Then he said that we can’t spend time arguing about the relative comforts of animals when human beings are starving and dying all around us.

 

I felt wrong footed. I agreed with him that our first responsibility is to our fellow man but this wasn’t the discussion we were having was it? The smile dried on my face. It turned into a ghost and I’m really sure that a heat rushed to my cheeks. My laughs were a bit forced before I found my rhythm. This happened or some version of it. Maybe the argument we were having got lost in my head with the passage of time but all that remains is that, what he said: people first animals later.

 

I’ve thought about that day severally and I’ve thought about how I may have answered that. My answer would have acknowledged first and foremost that human beings are the most important recipients of our aid, our worry and our work. That of course no human being should suffer. But perhaps this is not a zero-sum game. We can’t focus everything on just the worst and then elevate that before we move on to the next. This world (and here I would have lapsed into hyperbole, leaving my point on the ground in an attempt to make it from the sky) this world needs transcendence too. We need to stop pain but at the same time we need to create beauty. We could have all the musicians toiling the earth, all the writers only focused on academic research, all the painters making greenhouses but such a drab earth would soon leech us of the joy that makes life worth it. The different facets of life that are arrayed before us need to be attacked at the same time. Making sure that every child in Germany can access university if they wish to should be done at the same time as making sure every child in Kenya can access secondary school. The fact that the Kenyan need is admittedly greater should not stop us from seeing to the German need. The fact that the human need is more important should not stop us from seeing to the animal need

 

This world we live in is not ours alone I may have said. We are not the only ones who live and die and suffer and grieve on it. Spending time extending compassion to them does not reduce the compassion we have for our fellow human beings. I would have told him my theory of love which is on one side an indictment of monogamy. My theory that the more love we give the more we have to give. It is not a finite resource like water. Have a child and you love it with all you heart. Have ten and you don’t love all ten with all your heart. You love each of the ten with all of your heart. It multiplies as you extend it. The same could be said of compassion. Worrying about these animals that are suffering doesn’t make me worry less about the human beings who are suffering. It gives me a capacity for greater empathy. This is a muscle that if you use  it becomes stronger. That’s what I would have told him.

 

This last week South Africa made the news again a story about a  school telling its black students that they needed to straighten their hair if they wanted to be accepted as neat students. They were told their afros were dirty. No dreadlocks allowed. Nothing that naturally happens to black hair except being shorn could be worn to school. I can remember when my cousins and sisters would get blow-dried at home in days gone by. The sound of that loud gun. The heat that they applied to their hair. I sat under it once and it was horrible. Then they’d put all these chemicals on their hair to tease it out, to straighten it, to make it look like a white person’s hair naturally looks. And I have no problem with a person going through this if it’s what they want to do. Self expression is important to human beings and the freedom to do what you will with your hair is also important. The problem comes when a person feels like they have no choice. When they have to hurt themselves, or twist themselves to fit a notion of hair that is not who they are, and not who their hair wants them to be. I am woefully unqualified to write about black women’s hair. I do know however that the plight of my black sisters when it comes to hair and the dignity that controlling it can donate is the number 1 hair plight.

 

But, the point of my argument above was that the number 2 plight can be looked at while the number 1 one is still being fixed. It doesn’t take anything away from that. In fact in extending the same lens to my black brothers and me there is even a possibility for more compassion for black women and their hair.

 

I’ll tell you this for free and the price of having read all the words that came before, I hate what society insists I should do with the hair on my head. I feel like I was born hating it. When I was a little child and forming my first memories I remember being taken for a shave. We used to shave in Kibera after church. I’d be taken down past the railways and to the place where I would sit. Usually just before school I’d have my hair grown to a length I liked and then it would have to be cut. I didn’t want it but being a child is living in a dictatorship, nobody really cared what I wanted. Then I’d start crying as he’d shave me because my hair was going and I didn’t want it to go. I loved it just that much. It would fall onto the towel and tumble to the floor and I’d be crying. They’d tell me boys don’t cry over things like this and still I’d cry. I’d cry and mucous would run down my nostrils. I’d cry and not wipe it because as a child sometimes this is the only voice you have. How much you cry and how you cry. Even then I understood that it’s important to show your disapproval of the things you are forced to do. It matters not if this changes anything but people must know. So I’d cry as I was being shaved and multiple times I’d carry the hair away.

 

And this was my childhood, being forced to cut my hair. All the damn time. Not wanting to but having to. Then in university when I should have let it go I fell into peer pressure and shaved it because I thought girls liked that. I see pictures of me then and my heart drops a bit. I feel sad for the child I was and for whoever he was trying to be. Losing all these moments so that what? A girl somewhere would bat her eyelids at him, hold his hands, let him take off her top and feel the moistness between her thighs and finally allow him to have her, consume him for herself? Well I don’t blame him really even now sex trumps principles that i would dearly like to live by.

 

In 2012 I didn’t shave at all. My hair grew gloriously. The whole year it heaped on and on. That was my best hair year. But towards the end of that year I was robbed and my head hacked to pieces. I had to be shaved so that thirteen stitches could be sewn on my scalp ending that year of the glory. So now when I shave I can’t help but think of that. I also think of a cousin of mine who died a while back. His beard used to grow so I’d take him to the barber’s every Sunday. He’d sit and let them shave him. When I close my eyes and even when I don’t I can almost see him right there sitting as his beard was shaved. His eyes closed, his head shining bald, his reflection in the mirror. Even the colour of the towels remains so I see it too, blue. And so when I sit in a barbershop those are the two or maybe three associations I have of it. I have the instinctive hate that I grew up with. I have the heavy sadness that sits in the place of people we lost. I have the memory of my trauma. I really don’t like those places. I want to be in and out. I don’t want a massage while there. I don’t want you to wash my hair. I don’t want anything at all that makes me stay there longer than twenty minutes. I hear so much about these claw things that Kenyan men are about ready to give up sex for and I can’t join in those discussions because nothing makes me want to sit there. And when I am done I want a cigarette because there are few things that bother me as much as a barbershop.

 

There is bias and bile in me when it comes to this topic. Now I shave four times a year. It is four times too many. Perhaps my unique experiences have soured me to the beauty of a barbershop, made it impossible for me to be objective. That’s my point though it’s my hair I shouldn’t have to be objective. Nobody should when it comes to their own hair it should be preferential and as subjective as possible.

 

There’s this cut that we black men get when we shave. That shape, that line at the front of the head. I get it too out of peer pressure but it hurts. It doesn’t seem to hurt anyone else but it hurts me. I look at this shaver and to me it looks like twenty little knives hooked up to electricity and these little knives are going at my scalp. They are digging into it. There’s a sound I can hear as the motor whirrs. The barber stands over me and shaves my forehead, then the turns the machine over so the knives are perpendicular to my forehead, he is scratching me with the twenty electrically motored knives I am paying him to hurt me and I close my eyes and I hope for it to stop all I want it to do is to stop. And every three months I take myself to experience this pain. Even that is too long in the eyes of most people. All the time i hear pleas to shave my hair, it’s too long, why do you want it that long, keep it short. All the time. Is this what happens with women too the endless haranguing to stylize it? It must be I’ve hear my sister go through it with her hair. Be told it doesn’t look good , that she should perm it or relax it or chemicalise it or whatever else is needed to make it not look like that. Whatever it does it shouldn’t look like that.

 

I have to comb my hair too. I have to comb it every day. My hair is hard. It’s steel hard. By the second month it can only be combed wet. So I comb it wet. I have five different sets of combs for all stages of hair development. I use them all in the three months before I go back to the barber. The scratcher and the fine tooth comb and the spaced tooth comb and the afro comb and the comb that’s even more spaced tooth comb than the other one.  I actually don’t mind that much combing my hair. By the 1st week of the third month I’m wincing every time I do it though. The hair sheds everywhere. It’s painful but when I comb it in that last month there’s a certain texture it gets. This texture reminds me of this blanket I used to use when I was a child. It was black and red. At the edges it wasn’t seamed, there were fine threads flying out and I loved touching it as I fell asleep. My hair when long and combed reminds me of that. It takes me back to childhood when I was loved and everything was easy and happiness was that blanket and life was good, perfectly good. (except for the trips to the barbershop of course.)

 

 

It can’t stay neat though. By neat I mean it can’t be this ridiculous idea of neatness which is a lawn with no grass peeking out. Where did this come from? I don’t understand where this came from. The fact that my hair should look like a helmet. The idea that I should not be allowed to touch my hair, to ruffle it as I think to pick at it when I want to. My hair must remain a helmet if I want it long. How though? What kind of robot am I that I wouldn’t want to touch it and be transported as if by magic to that room I shared with my brother and sister all those years ago?

 

I want my hair neat and I want it untidy and to be able to choose but mostly I want it long. Men are not allowed to have long hair in this society though. Not really unless you can have the helmet and even the helmet is frowned upon by some. Boys don’t even have the option. Even if they cry so hard that mucous falls into their mouth and they drink it down as a sign of their defiance their loving mothers will sigh and make sure it is all cut down. This isn’t as obviously insidious as what happens with the women since theirs is clearly an approximation of another race’s hair. What about ours though? The cut at the front is different isn’t it? Well of course it is. What about the compactness? No one else has hair like that do they? What about the length? Shaved to the skin….only the skinheads do that.

 

I don’t know where the cut came from but it is quite clearly a repudiation of our natural hairlines. I can’t imagine my ancestors making sure that their hair was cut just right. The compactness though. That is plainly unnatural. My hair does not want to be compact. It wants to be spiky, it wants to be bumpy, it does not understand this shape I wrestle it into every morning and it tries it’s merry best to wrestle back to the truth of what it is by the evening. My hair sprouts in gatherings. It is thick in some places and clear to the scalp in others. Since it is nappy and not silky like a white or asian person’s hair it doesn’t lie over these holes naturally. While its short you can see them, these greengram plantations on my scalp. When it is long it’s a forest, maybe jungle is the better word, it si a tangle of hair that refuses compactness that finds that unnatural. These other people, the Caucasians and the Asians they let their hair be as it is. Or more accurately they can let their hair be and not be looked at as if they are madmen. But if I was to demand the same courtesy, the courtesy to have it as it wants to be I would not be able to practise my chosen profession. People on the street would walk to the other side. And I wonder what it is about me looking like I actually look without the benefit of combing through my hair that is so ugly, is so hateful. The other option open to us is for me the worst, shave it all. Shave it all. Don’t have any hair. Admit and accept that it was a bad jape when they put it on your head they being the godhead or the years of evolution. They did not know what they were doing when they gave you something unruly and ugly. Ugly. Ugly. Ugly.

 

 

This is what it comes down too doesn’t tit. That the sight of my hair to my society is ugly. If not physically ugly it is the sign of a lout, an indecent man, a robber, a thief. A person you would not trust. This is what I am told about my hair every day.

 

This is what we tell our sons and our nephews and our cousins. This is what we tell all men in this society that their hair scares people. It marks them for outcasts as surely as the sign of Cain. How is this right? How is this accepted? Why are the same people who are outraged by what happened in South Africa unable to see it happens here all the time? That men are vilified for wanting to express anything with their hair that is not short. And if not short is unnaturally compact. And even when both is lined, fenced behind that line. It’s about the option for me. Some men love it and let them have it but what about the rest of us? Those of us who want to be as we were born. Those of us who feel that the unruliness and length of our hair speaks for who we are and who we want to be? What about us? Don’t we deserve self-determination too? I firmly believe so. Don’t you?

 

 

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you have to understand…

 

You have to understand, by that point we had been drinking so much for so long that we were incapable of logical reasoning, the only ammo in our arsenal was emotional reaction.

I just got paid / and I got a little money to burn.

The lyrics from one of my favourite songs slid towards us through the air. In the back of my mind I knew I should go and watch TOK give their first performance in Kenya, but that stray nerve was stayed by the beauty in front of me.

 

I still couldn’t believe that I was this close to her. For that I thanked the shots of vodka she had poured down her throat as if she was planning to set her bowels on fire later that night. Every shot I bought her came with a kiss, a fumbling, fuming searching, bittersweet kiss. Not bittersweet in the way of a goodbye where there was both sadness and joy, here the bitterness of the alcohol and the sweet taste of tongue mixed together to bring me a feeling that I hadn’t felt until then. I was in love the upheaval in my stomach and the tightening of my trouser were all I needed to be sure that this is what the poets had missed out on when they spent their time writing.

 

The music continued to get louder than we wanted it. We weren’t talking with words but our bodies seemed to be vibrating on the same frequency so that when she took my hand and led me to the outer fields where there was nothing but grass and darkness I wasn’t surprised. It seemed like the inevitable endpoint of this dance we had begun as soon as we saw each other earlier in the night. I had looked at her and felt my eyes drawn into hers, an almost physical tug and when I held her hand to ask her to dance she gave me such a wide smile that all our friends had melted away.

 

We continued on into the darkness. On the floor beneath us were bottles of discarded beer, in the dark they looked black like oil stains amongst the grass. The grass itself was sent into sharp relief by the shadows it cast, things so vivid they wouldn’t move even if the wind rustled the stalks. In that darkness of shadow and bottle the  grass looked green, not the green they possessed in  the sunlight-that colour was too faded and limp-this was a real green. The one Adam and Eve had given up as soon as they left Eden.

 

I think it was cold but I had been dancing for hours now and I was still waiting to catch my breath. Also she was by my side, a hot presence that I could feel through my tee-shirt. My skin turned into a radar that could paint out an outline of her body if I went blind at that time. We were holding hands chastely as if we had just left a church. Shyly looking away from each other as our thumbs desperately played with each other. Round and round and round. The only part of our body that we allowed at that time to betray how we were really feeling.

 

Then I slipped. Or rather slid on one of those oil stain bottles. I hadn’t been paying attention, I was drunk, I was looking for an excuse to get her on top of me. Probably all three. Anyway we both fell down and she somehow landed exactly where I wanted her to. Her hair fell onto my face. The moment was perfect except the grass was wet with dew,  I could feel it on my neck and it distracted me from where I was. I put down what was left of my beer on the ground and held her behind her neck and pulled her closer to me. Just before our lips connected she stopped and made me wait, she played for some time with my lips and then we started kissing and the dew of the grass disappeared from my thoughts.

 

We stayed like that for a while, I’m not sure how long. Then she began to retch (vodka like the Russians who produce it is not known for staying down.) she brought a hand to her mouth as it began to gush out and I thought that she really was a lady to the end. Some of it sprayed on me but she managed to avert most of the damage. She then got off me quickly and lay on the grass on all fours. The dim memory of a movie made me grab her hair and pull it back. It was greasy and my hands were soon very oily. This was a tiny inconvenience though, she was in the midst of pain. Coughing and spluttering and vomiting all that she had put into her body. I patted her back alternating my left hand between that and holding onto her hair. Murmuring the whole time not saying  anything of consequence just making low pitched sounds that communicated comfort and acceptance.

 

When she was done she wiped the rest of it off and blew mucous out of her nose. Then very daintily she picked a handkerchief from her pocket and proceeded to wipe away the evidence as if she had just eaten a meal at the Hilton. Something moved in me right then. No idea what it was but if I had thought earlier was love then there was no word for what I felt right then. Our activities had made us feel somewhat more sober. It was a false sobriety though, anyone who has had an extended session of drinking or drank a lot in one session knows this false plateau. If you stay on it you can calm back down to earth but the slightest bit of alcohol shoots you back up to where you were before.

 

The sounds of the concert had died away and all we could hear was each other breathing and gulping down the beer. And all we could see was the vast dark of space as we lay back looking at the sky. And all we could feel was our thumbs finding each other and then our bodies and tongues. The blood rushed out of my head. The lust was on me and it would not stop until it was sated. I’m glad she felt the same way. We pressed against each other, tore at each other’s clothes and held each other close.

 

I threw caution to the wind and slipped myself between her legs. Through that mix of sweat, pleasure, paradise and disbelief a harsh voice broke through.

“Mnafanya nini hapa! Wacha niwaitie polisi!” (What are you doing here, let me call the police!)

 

I knew it was a watchman and in a better frame of mind I would have stopped and stood up ready to bribe. What happened however was….

You have to understand, by that point we had been drinking so much for so long that we were incapable of logical reasoning, the only ammo in our arsenal was emotional reaction.

“Umeshatushika we wacha tumalize tu alafu uite hao polisi” (you’ve already caught us, just let us finish and then call those police.)

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