Friday, September 23, 2011

This Excitable Mind of Mine

Library. A casual observer would think I was studying, but in libraries, casual observers are few and far between. I was reviewing and writing in my journal.

All the mucky, true, uncomfortable, weird, personal, embarrassing and emotional stuff I’m scared to think too much about; all of it makes it into my journals. Keeping a journal is hard work. And only rarely rewarding. Because, more often, when one reviews what one wrote in the past, one feels like a doubly dense dude. But I always say one thing: “no one still is what they used to be when they were young and foolish - unless they still are.”

In actual fact, I don’t always say that thing.

Some of my close friends and at least two exes have complained that I read too much into things. It seems my own journals contain the evidence to back their claims. This is exactly what I do not need to hear: that they have been right all along.

Here is an excerpt of something I discovered in a particularly dog-eared journal. I wrote this after watching news one lonely night a few years ago.

“Now the gentle-hearted General Service Unit has drained its last reserves of patience and forbearance with riotous university students! If TV reports (that was Citizen TV, was it?) are to be believed, then the force has embarked on something very much akin to full paramilitary training. On TV screens tonight were to be seen rows of camouflage-donning GSU combatants; crouched surreptitiously in lush jungle terrain, only rising to their feet to execute sudden fatal martial arts attacks at imaginary students - moves copied straight from the Textbook of Advanced Shaolin Tai Chi, and they were only training! Close by, a brand new machine- gun look-alike (complete with tripod and shining belts of bullets) stood amidst an assortment of other deadly-looking weapons of a related class, all on display for the camera. Nobody, not even the visibly shaken journalist, commented on whether the machine gun was compatible with rubber bullets. Nor was mention made how much tai chi/kung fu the average university student can withstand (or reasonably deflect) before dying ignominiously from flying through the air off the end of a well-swung jagged-edged military-issue boot. Comrades! Think twice before you strike.”
Artist's impression of the author's impression of the last UoN strike victim's fate

What was with all the paranoia? And who said that the GSU had been exclusively commissioned to control University of Nairobi strikes anyway? Some GSU personnel were probably just happy to show off a little, bust a move for the cameras, and here I was, overreacting. Unfortunately, the nearby pharmacist wasn’t dispensing chill pills.

No sooner had I finished lamenting the apparent coming fate of my academic equals than I also remembered to mourn the global financial crisis that began in 2008, and which does not seem to have officially ended yet. (Just don’t ask CNN.)

“Everyone had a mortgage and six credit cards. As soon as someone credible raised their voice to say ‘Wait; how long can this go on?’ the whole party crashed to an end. Suddenly the government had to bail out the panicked publishers of credit cards (who simultaneously happened to be remortgaging people’s houses). Very soon, if things go well and the bailout works, then everyone can go back to real estate development and accumulation of credit cards. Recovery.”

Too critical; I myself did not even own a single credit card at the time. But I am not new to internal contradictions in moments of high panic.

I ought to pay hefty fines for misusing the library. Luckily, all my journals look like dull old notebooks full of dull notes; full from cover to cover in a uniformly urgent handwriting. Perhaps the numerous inside-joke cartoon sketches in the margins might betray the truth. One sketch shows a broken down Volkswagen Beetle (the 1940s model) parked behind State House.

There are earthshaking scandals in my old journals, trial-worthy confessions, heartbreaks reenacted, events reconstructed, victories rejoiced over, irrelevant drawings galore; and so I ought to destroy those potentially damaging books forever. But every journal writer/blogger/columnist develops an unhealthy love for their own wrongheaded writings and narrowly conceptualized opinions. That is why Journal Extracts Part II might be published here sooner or later. Or not.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Last Laugh Need Not be a Literal Laugh

I like those Chinese movies where the star fights kung fu for a "righteous" cause. Fueled by nothing but holy zeal and a sense of having been wronged, an angry Oriental chap kills the lights out of armies of crooked men using not much more than his bare albeit awesome hands and feet. Does he absolutely thrash them or what! And then in the end he finishes their suspiciously mustachioed wicked boss. Without much fuss, the hero walks back to his humble obscure village to meditate as usual. Credits roll. Awesome.


Rumors that GalPal had been to rehab prematurely changed my opinion of her. I even changed the name of her phone entry from Delilah to GalPal. But this was a hasty action. I should have waited to meet her and chat first.

The eventual meeting was a big coincidental flop which occurred as I was en route to a solo lunch. To start with, GalPal was in the company of QezH, and clinging steadfastly to his arm. Now I am the last person to judge a book by the cover of the next book, but QezH was in a formal suit. In those days I hated formal suits, preferring instead the trusty old t-shirt and jeans couture.

And now GalPal starts fronting like she don't know me, never met me, can't be bothered to start now. Her dreamy gaze permanently fixates upon some theoretical point in mid air, effectively making her an absentee at the scene, and thus allowing QezH and I to battle it out talk small. My whole life, I never had anything against QezH personally, even though I occasionally felt it would be a righteous deed if someone would beat him soundly. You know, duty, like jihad. But I can't afford to be the guy who beats all of Angela's exes.

QezH, looking stiff and formal, even upto the haircut, puts on a highly annoying ingratiating smile and begins to patronize me. He has a condescending attitude about him. His guts are big today; asks me what happened to Angela, are we still together? He must know full-well that Angela and I were never like that, but he's never been one to pass up a chance at a low blow.

Artist's impression of the happy reunion

My eyes snap to GalPal as I wonder where this line of questioning has originated from. But she is too busily engrossed in her daydreams by this time that she can't be expected to have heard a word. I could ask her how it feels to take over her best friend's boyfriend. I should. But no.

"We're still friends," I tell QezH, vaguely. "I'll say hi." I walk away.

As we part, the atmosphere rings with QezH's laughter. It galls and scrapes jarringly against my nerves. The way he laughs, someone needs to beat him up soon or he'll hurt himself. But I restrain myself.

What was up with QezH and I, you wonder? It's a guy thing. No one's going to spell it out this clearly again: if QezH and I had been boxing, he'd landed me a knockout uppercut and earned the grand prize of a GalPal.

Sore losers are bad enough, but a sore winner only multiplies world misery. If only people were more like those Chinese fighter-monks who win and shut up.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


I have been accused of using misleading titles to lure innocent web-surfers into long winding monologues, just like our newspaper journalists who put all the kick in their screaming headlines and leave none for the actual article. Well, just so we're clear here, this blog post has nothing to do with a movie franchise going by the same title, nor cartoons, nor toys, nor whatever other mass media / money minting / consumer-targeting derivatives thereof. Neither is reference made herein, in any way, to one Kenya Power(less) - word is, the only employees over there who have truly internalized the company Mission and Vision are in the "Disconnection of Electricity Supply" Department :(

Today we go all the way back to my junior year, just before I had almost completed my slow metamorphosis into a nonviolent vegetarian teetotaler (for the most part). This blog has made a mockery of chronological order. To add insult to injury, the events are so historically obsolete as to be near-irrelevant. However, I insist on writing in hindsight, with generous margins of time between an event and its wordy reproduction here. You see, a little afterthought reveals much, even if forethought would have been wiser.
I had not yet learnt that, in relationships, the fine print is always too fine, and I’m shortsighted. Yet my uniform enthusiastic reaction to almost all comers was "Show me the dotted line!" Therefore I burnt my fingers repeatedly. Readers of this blog already know the gruesome general details.

In the midst of these happenings I met Supermodel. (That's supposed to be a term of endearment in my world. The allegation is not too far-fetched, though. She is beautiful.) We shared many classes and bonded something close in the course of three years - during which time I was tempering my philosophically induced atheism with curiosity about the contents of the Bhagavad Gita. One random day we engaged in a heated argument with Supermodel about religious things. (This ran contrary to the social convention of the time, but I was burning with fiery zeal and so was she.)

The argument went badly, as such things are bound to go each time. In conformity with the prevailing philosophic so-called rational mode of thinking I championed at the time, I dismissed her faith as unsubstantiated superstition. Not to be outdone, she rebuked me and my atheism using stern warnings. I smirked and sneered, but she had already started me on the path of rediscovery to Truth.

Truth is, we exist by the grace and mercy of God. To reject or deny this fact is, plainly speaking, foolishness. The fool has said in his heart, "there is no God". There can be no such thing as atheism except through strong delusion and selective learning and very sophisticated-sounding but highly dull-witted philosophy. Such philosophy is no learning at all, but ignorance and lies. Darkness, and deep existential hopelessness. To fear the Lord is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.

I owe Supermodel, and many other "transformers" like her, a ton; for having the guts to tell me their convictions straight to my face. Few people bother nowadays. And in a way, this is what those of us who are convinced of and are grateful for God's saving grace through His Son must do with the unbelievers we meet. Share the knowledge. Nothing else counts. In the Bible, we are told to work while it is still day, for night is coming when no one can work. And isn't it evening, or something like that, by any casual reading of the signs of the times? The world may look far gone, but it is still day. Night is coming, when no one can work.

As for Supermodel and I, alas! we parted on unfavorable terms, as is wont to happen with nearly each one of the series of stunning lady-friends I try to secure more wholly unto myself. I should conclude from this trend that I'm jinxed in relationships, but that would pass for unsubstantiated superstition.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mama Love

Certain persons imagined they were doing me a big disservice by calling me “Mama's Boy.” They might as well have branded me with a badge of honor. I have long accepted and internalized the fact that I love my mother with a certain fixed loyalty. Some observers would call it fanaticism. What can I say? Mum raised me, my brother and sister, alone as a single woman for the majority of our lives. But it's not just that.

In my reading adventures, I found a book about corruption which accused corruption on corrupt elected leaders, corrupt citizens, corrupt public service and corrupt private sector. It was a real eye opener: corruption is everywhere because everybody's everything is corrupt. The author then made a special effort to single out single parents for corruption. At this point I evolved a dim view of the author.

Single parents love their children too much, said the author. In the absence of a romantic partner, they divert all the love intended for romance to their kids instead, over and above the share of love entitled to the kids as the kids. The kids then take advantage of too much love, in the process morphing into self-absorbed ungrateful brats who think their whim is law, to be enforced by the awesome potency of tantrum-throwing. Despite this unhappy outcome, single parents persist in over-loving their selfish little royal pains, to the extent that they resort to all manner of inappropriate corruption to find them good schools, jobs, opportunities, sometimes even partners...

Of course (I think) the author is wrong.

Women generally endure all varieties of inauspicious treatment from loved ones, the ones closest to them. Mothers especially make costly material and emotional sacrifices which are usually taken for granted by their children. Many will never breathe a word in complaint, accepting their lot to be their loving duty, some even enjoying it almost perversely. In these circumstances I strongly believe that it is childish to claim that we have reached the nirvana of gender equality as a society or as a human race. (Most men would not survive the motherhood challenge even if the childbearing part was cut out.)

Back to me. As a kid I preferred my dad to my mum, because my mum was the moral compass. Dad, on the other hand, was not emotionally available or physically present - but he was lots of fun when he showed up for brief periods, buying our affection with goodies and generally being the provider. In my small mind, the decision who to love more between a strict mother and a liberal affections-buying father was not a real dilemma. But, let's face it – (COVER THE CHILDRENS EARS!) - someone's gotta discipline the kids.

It took dad's death to come face to face with my mother's love for all of us. (This was a slow process anyway. Neither is the claim being made that us kids reciprocated that love very nicely – indeed, there is much to be penitent about.) Point is, I am here through very real sacrifices my mother made out of her love. One may claim that, due to continued exposure to such unconditional love, I am now a brat after generating an insensitive sense of entitlement to all good things in this life and even in the life hereafter. However, I assure everyone that my mother is not one to entertain such “hardheadedness” in her household. You don't get far in our household with ''looking lugubrious.” She continues to teach us values and things like that. Besides, in her own words, “I have taken you to school, and I have taken you to church...”

Therefore I beseech my writer friends to abstain from seeing corruption where there is only love, or at the very least, from exposing their biases derived from secure two-parent upbringings in their anti-corruption publications. Thank you all in advance. Now you can all run off and revise your manuscripts.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Politics and Economics (made in Kenya)

The Kenyan political class and its unfortunate victims reached an unspoken deal some time back. The politicians decided, unilaterally, that ordinary Kenyans should wait around to cheer their next round of partisan mudslinging. Nowadays, watching news requires steely resolve. Prime Time is a circus where the clownish political leaders wear businesslike frowns and might as well juggle live grenades. The best juggler goes home with a 2012. 
As for “victims of post election violence,” such populist verbiage is frowned upon in the lofty halls of power. Post election violence has since been abbreviated to PEV, and its victims are neither to be seen nor heard while their resettlement funds are frittered away. The events of 2007-2008 have been left in the bin of history. Unlike Rwanda, which continues to maintain memorials to its 1994 genocide, Kenyan Politics is busy forgetting all evidence of such a thing as post election pevwhatever. Abracadabra! it will never happen again! On the public’s podiums, politicians, fresh from waving from the sunroofs of their SUVs at roadside-lining unemployed poor Kenyans, rally ‘their people’ to their political alliances. Far away from the delirious masses, in the camps of the displaced, victims shrug and sigh. They might take to the streets every now and then, banners aloft and all, but somebody’s poys will fire tearkas to tisperse the tisturpance. Resettlement? Our leaders believe that the displaced should return to their land, the same places they lived with their neighbors before 07-08 or PEV, whichever applies. The same neighbors had turned against them, evicting those they couldn’t catch to kill with crude weapons. Armed police nearby didn’t exactly help at the time. Now the IDPs are instructed to return to their former hoods (now it’s all good. Somehow.) Therefore, escapees should return to the same farms that had earlier on turned out to be death traps. In this understanding, any plans to resettle IDPs elsewhere (other than amidst the same now nameless “tribal warriors” who tried to kill them) have met vocal resistance. 

Is this too morbid to be real? Too far removed from reality? Idle speculative musing? Thriller fiction? Paranoia? Perhaps other pressing issues are more deserving of our time. Heaven knows Kenyans are so engrossed in the day to day struggle to survive that it’s hard enough just seeing to our own sustenance, let alone championing lost causes. International events outside our borders have us at the point where all prices of all things have been jacked up, and values of our currency are outlandish. Somehow, no one is to blame for anything. The economy is going to the dogs, yet no one above the consumer level is going to the dogs along with the economy. Should said consumer perchance want for someone to blame, faceless phantasmagoria proudly step forward to claim responsibility: “inflation pressure,” “international oil prices,” “foreign exchange rate.” It’s all so economic and unfortunate, what can be done, really? The complex quagmire is so difficult that the rules of Economics no longer fully apply, like before. The law of supply and demand has failed to restore price sanity. The Invisible Hand is off on its own ventures, or maybe it died of shock from the sudden simultaneous appearance of multiple faceless international economic phenomena. 

Meanwhile, in the struggle to extract flavor from this unpalatable combination of politics and economics called “life in the 21st century’s third world”, Kenyans are also continually bombarded on all sides by Hype. It’s everywhere. Every second inch of public space is an advertiser’s space. We can’t see the trees for the billboards. Are there even any trees left, hasn’t the urban jungle’s concrete tentacles consumed all the greenery there is to see in all directions? Speaking of which, real estate is a real hit, driving a massive construction boom, which is good for everybody. Ignore that everybody knows the cold reality of mortgage financing in Kenya today. Ignore the To Let signs in suburbs once considered hot. At microeconomic level, all manner of advertisements promise glee, ecstasy, joy, thrill. Everywhere we turn, showbiz personalities are hired to declare, “Just consume this here product and see if it doesn’t transform your life!” 

Of course, consumerism is a bummer at casual glance – lasting happiness clearly does not derive from the consumption of brands. But adverts hammer the lie consistently, and pass it off as harmless exaggeration. Do we not eventually internalize the lie? Friends, you would be surprised to know how much research goes into “shaping consumer behavior.” Products promise beauty and happiness, sparkle and fun, sophistication and sex appeal. Happiness. Consider the recent spate of locally produced TV dramas, so-called comedies et al which really are, if you can discern their thrust, politically correct morality plays. Alarming in their oversimplification of pertinent issues, stupefying in their intellectual vacuity, these programs are interrupted only by advertisements that promise heaven, love, peace of mind, etc in a newly launched, ergonomically designed, see-through packet. Endure all this frenetic marketing and survive the news, which ought to be called “olds” in the case of Kenyan politics, except when one-offs like the New Constitution happen, and charges are confirmed in lands afar. 

Honestly, between Kenyan politics, international economics and mass media, I don’t know what I’m saying until I fit it all in one big picture. Then I might as well become a full-time alarmist and a part-time doomsayer with a small Armageddon Consultancy on the side.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Enemy Within

In the perfect serenity of singlehood, I enjoyed the leisure of too much time to look back and reflect upon my failed relationships, flings, flirts, crushes, mutual attractions and "Other/Miscellaneous" (unidentifiable mushy feelings). Yes, even those ones fail. After thorough analysis it finally sunk into my thick skull that I kept falling for the same personality type every time. Nearly all the people I have ever spent too many days pining after are Queens of a sort. Their psychological profile is any mother-in-law's headache: dramatic, self-absorbed, spoilt to the (hard) core and verbally very forward. Manipulative and devious also. I could only impede this unconscious tendency of mine by aborting HMS Cupid altogether for a while, until I knew what I needed as opposed to what I wanted and often got. This freedom released a lot of time for religious nomadism.

In those days, my religious adventure had brought me to reading the Bhagavad Gita. I had only recently turned my back to the theology of Rastafarianism (lesson learnt: Reggae rocks!), before which I had been a book-carrying Atheist (lesson learnt: er... pass), prior to which I had been a lukewarm Christian. How I found myself immersed in the Gita I cannot explain here now. Nevertheless, it is a philosophical masterpiece in terms of conceptualizing spiritual things.

We join this narration at the point where I was reading Gita the third time, alone in my room, one otherwise lifeless evening. I even gave my favorite Al Jazeera channel a rare break that night so I could concentrate. Someone knocked on my door just as I was embarking on a chapter about "the divine versus the demoniac nature". When I peeped at the window, behold, Ailis at the door!

Panic attack! My heartbeat pounded even inside my skull. I'd known she was coming, but it had been many months since I'd last seen her. Here she was, long after I'd cured myself of withdrawal symptoms from no longer having her close by as her contagious laughter and chatter livened up the place nearly every evening. I had learnt to live without her stories and fresh-out-the-oven updates. I could now make do with the second rate rumor mill which everyone else had to rely on. I didn't need her back as badly as before if at all, and that was a point I was committed to proving.

Ailis and I nervously exchanged the usual opening remarks and perfunctory greetings. Things went well those first few seconds. Small talk set out smoothly, but only until I claimed to have missed her. She wasn't convinced. Her keen eyes fixed me a penetrating glare.

"You have a funny way of showing it! No texts, no calls, nothing."

Something about the unbroken eye contact caused a transition to happen within me. A staring contest began. She was unrelenting. I remembered thinking she was a mind reader the first day I met her and looked into her intense eyes. Now I thought she was simply stunning.

I commented on her dazzling looks, and I meant every word of it. She smiled - but her eyes never left mine. A strangely familiar sense of being pulled in took over me. Suddenly I was losing myself in her eyes. Only briefly. I dutifully remembered that I had made short-to-mid-term vows of singlehood and celibacy; or, at the very least, I was supposed to have had it with Queen types in my life.

Ailis said, "Don't change the topic. What happened to us?"

Easy. "We broke up."

Meanwhile, the fate of the universe depended on the outcome of this our staring contest. She glared. I eliminated the last traces of a smile. Here was serious business.

"That's cold," she protested. "Can we talk about it?"

I launched into a presentation, citing the calamitous statistics of long distance relationships, their dim success rates being of special significance. I needed not finish. Her inner eyes saw straight through my gibberish and discerned my excuses for what they were.

"I missed you too. Look, we can work something out. Let's not self destruct for the sake of it," she interrupted. "You always listen to me, you know me in and out... Plus I guess I was wrong about you and GalPal and I'm kinda sorry about that."

Her eyes now bore that earnest look that proclaims unmitigated honesty and willingness to try one's best. You know the look. Tender emotions stirred inside my chest. My eyes moistened imperceptibly. A single unchecked impulse would have seen me initiating a pressing of our faces against each other, whether preceded by or intermingled with a similar 'soul mate connection affirmation' speech.

Unfortunately I was thinking with my ego. That ego switch had been triggered as soon as she said let's not self destruct for the sake of it. She was right and I knew exactly what she meant, but How Dare She Say That?

Her stare was unceasing, expectant, brave. Our undeclared contest was still on and the stakes were high. Now was as good a time as any to come forward and lend my voice to how I felt used earlier on as a result of the casual manner of our break up. Except that male pride does not admit realities like "feeling used." Ego is unfeeling, unthinking and unreasoning like that. No room for vulnerabilities can be allowed.

"Thank you for that insight," I said opaquely while nodding. Ailis glowered at me, but the look in her eyes was broken resolve. Defeat. I stared back calmly. Inside, ego was celebrating a victory whose benefits even I couldn't see.

"You know what, never mind," said Ailis, turning away, so that I won the staring contest. She left. I didn't stop her. Or see her again.

Later, when the implications of my actions sunk into my thick skull, I wrestled my pillow in a series of fits, alone and unhappy, feeling foolish too, and angry at myself besides. I couldn't even read the Gita anymore - the first sentence upon my return was a body blow: "Pseudo-religiosity, pretentious pride, conceitful arrogance, anger, harshness and ignorance arise in one born of the demoniac nature..." A mirror couldn't have portrayed my selfish ego better.

A late night text from Ailis lightened the mood somewhat, even if it hurt to read and understand.
Some relationships are better than average.
Others are better than everything else.
Ours was better to stay without!

"Ouch! Aha!" I mused vainly, "It may be a diss, but at least she's communicating! There's hope for us yet!"

Little did I know, as I lay in the dark, that sleep was far, far off, many days' journey beyond the horizon.