Wednesday, December 11, 2013

KENYA AT 50: RETELLING HISTORY

Happy birthday Kenya. You are now 50. I keep trying to figure out what Kenya would be like if it was a human being turning 50. Would it be the woman with the silver streaks in her hair? Aging gracefully as time ticks slowly away. Crows feet barely visible on her face. Her body nurtured by the land and full of strength and vitality. Or would it be the 50 year old man? Firmly in the clasps of middle age. His Ferrari stuck in traffic as he revs loudly to get the attention of those driving a Toyota that has seen better days. Adorned in clothes much younger than his age but determined to fit in. 

The mental imagery shifts from person to person. Those who think we have so much to celebrate versus those who think the country has fallen further and further into an uncontrollable dive. It hardly seems like there is room for middle ground. A look back at 50 years of our nationhood means you are either incredibly proud of strides we have made or embarrassed by where we find ourselves today.

I'll begin with a caveat that I am not a historian. And they say history is written by the victors so it only reflects what those in power want you to think. It's hard to divorce the path our country has taken from the leaders we've had. I happened to be watching this documentary about our country's presidents and the information was disturbing. It wasn't about the presidency as much as it was that every person interviewed repeated the words "took over power" rather than "took office" in relation to the presidency. In effect, it points to our view of the presidency as a tool of rule rather than a tool of service. We decide to become subjects rather than employers.

Americans talk about their founding fathers with almost divine reverence. Like they couldn't do anything wrong. This is despite the fact that George Washington owned slaves and grew weed. That's the position I find ourselves in. Where we need national heroes and can't seem to let ourselves see history for what it truly is. Our founding father, Jomo Kenyatta, is hardly the democratic he is painted out to be. He ruled with an iron fist and may have been the reason why Kenya is so ethnically divided. Moi perfected the divide and rule tactics of the colonial powers and Kibaki was at the helm of a country that was hopeful for a new beginning and ended up brink of an ethnic civil war.

Friday, August 02, 2013

BLACK, WHITE & VARIOUS SHADES OF GREY

She stood across from me and the smile slipped from her face just long enough for me to see her wince from the question. She looked up and must have realized I was on to her and so she did what she was good at. She changed the topic. But I wasn't going to let her get away with it. Not this time. I was hanging out with my ex-girlfriend after years of patchy communication. We'd dated just after high school and for a few months she had been the centre of my world. She describes it as a point in time when Cosmo & Wanda were our best friends.(If you don't watch cartoons then google the reference.) Then I had left the country for a year and by the time I came back our relationship was no more.

"He's my hubby."  she said evasively.

"So you're married?" I asked.

"Kinda." 

"Is that a yes?"

She took a deep breath. Straight forwardness had never been a characteristic of hers. It drove me mad. As far as I can remember it was always her defining feature. She was brilliant, independent, funny and talkative. But underneath the surface she was a mystery shrouded in an enigma cloaked by a puzzle. She spoke in parables which at times I didn't fully understand.

This was the first time we were hanging out in years and the friendship came back rather naturally. Despite that there was an air of resistance on her end. Her words were measured. Her smile a bit too quick. But I prodded. The story finally tumbled out in a few brief sentences. She had gotten married to someone she was madly in love with a year before. So much so that she had dropped her aeronautical engineering degree in the United States to be here with him. My jaw dropped. But the story went on.

Friday, July 26, 2013

WHY TV SCARES ME ABOUT PARENTHOOD

I didn't have a bad childhood. It was pretty good when you factor in the usual things like going for doof mparararo (swimming in dirty ponds or rivers especially after the rains), tree climbing and games that left all sorts of scars on various parts of my body. My parents were your run of the mill parents which means they messed me up about the same as anyone else. I was brought up to survive as a Kenyan which means I was given survival skills like the ability to reconnect what Kenya Power had pulled asunder. (Please don't tell them. I am still scared of the sound of motorbikes because of this.)

In addition to my parents, television also served as a very huge influence. And it is for this reason that I am freaked out by the idea of being a father. Why? Well think about it. Think about some of the ways in which parenthood is depicted on the screen. 

One of the things that keeps me up at night as a potential father is the choice between a stupid kid and an ugly one. Which one would you go for? I mean a stupid but good looking kid will be nice to look at until they get to the age where they can form words. Then what? Do you just have them stand in the corner and shut up because every word makes you want to throw them out of the window? Do you just nod and smile when they shout out things that cause traffic to stop? 

Monday, July 15, 2013

SHALLOW ROOTS...

Identity. It has never been an issue for me. I know myself. I am secure and safe in my knowledge of who I am. Lately though I found myself questioning it especially from a cultural point of view. What exactly gives us that sense of belonging? Our parents,our language, our surroundings? A few weeks ago I travelled back to my shags (ancestral home) for the first time in about 12 years. Sadly, the reason for my travel was my aunt's funeral. I had never met her. She was my mum's older sister and had only featured in a handful of stories that I could remember. The reason for this was because she had suffered a mental breakdown years before and had thus been confined to a rather secluded life.

We packed the car and left for Kasipul Kabondo with my younger brother and mother. The beauty of the country played out in an endless vista as we drove into the Rift Valley. Past the parched expanse of Narok and into the breath taking coffee covered hills of Litein. I drove as my mother and I talked while my brother alternated between snoring in the back seat and ridiculous stories. During the drive, mum filled us in on what her childhood with her sister had been like. In many respects, she felt the version of her sister she had known had been gone for a while. So while there was a great sense of loss it wasn't exactly like someone she recognised. 

5 hours and loads of junk food later we drove into our homestead. The last time I had been here was to bury my father. I was barely 12 then. Now I looked at everything as an adult. The corner of the grounds where a goat had head butted me, (Hilarious now but terrifying then), the well I almost fell into during a thunderstorm, the paths I had taken when taking the cows to the river. It had all changed yet in the change were vestiges of a time gone by. What had once stood proud and grand was now run down and shabby. But it was home. My home.

My uncle walked my brother and I around the place explaining the changes. My brother and I exchanged confused looks. He rattled off names of relatives we hadn't seen in years & could hardly remember. Then he walked us to my dad's grave to pay our respects. In a corner of a desolate field is where my father's remains lay. A clump of weeds grew around his grave and a beehive was somewhere near. The latter ensured that we could only pay our respects from a safe distance.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

MOMENTS OF TRUTH

The call came in after we'd just come in. 

It wasn't late but we'd had a long day. All we wanted was to relax after driving in the rain for most of the day. Bone tired. My phone rang and the number wasn't familiar. The effects of a recent factory resetting. I answered with trepidation. I didn't know who would be on the other end and was avoiding a number of people. A familiar voice came on. Relief. She wasn't on the list of people being avoided. 

"Hey Brian...," her voice came on rather shakily. 

I sat up. Keenly paying attention. The conversation was short. She wanted to know if I was with a mutual friend. I answered in the affirmative. 

"Give her the phone." It wasn't a request.

 I passed it on and waited. The upshot of it was that she was in trouble. And we needed to get back to town. FAST.The details were sketchy but the broad strokes were that she was in a matatu travelling into the city from Nakuru and had started bleeding. I found this out while my foot was mashing the accelerator while we tore down the rain swept highway. We were in town within minutes. We found her in a dark lit street, leaning against a wall, tears on her face and blood trickling down her legs. Hugs were exchanged. "It's gonna be ok." was whispered. Then back in the car and off to the hospital. Weeks earlier she had had an abortion. Her chicken were coming home to roost.

We all have that friend. The ones that always seem to get themselves into one situation before they even untangle themselves from the previous one. We love her to death. But she always has us shaking our heads. In anger. In bemusement. And at times, in resignation. The truth can be told in fifty different ways depending on the time, day, her recollection or her needs at that point in time. But then at the end of the day our friendship counts above anything else. 

Hours later we drove back home after a procedure at the hospital and dropping her off at home and making sure she was ok. A discussion came up. The usual discussion. Why is she always in so much trouble? Why can't she be normal like the rest of us? An interesting angle to the discussion came up. Maybe she was the most honest of us all after all. Her laundry was always out there for us to see. Her lies were always uncovered ultimately. The rest of us had layers upon layers of dirt that we hid away int his pursuit at normalcy. 

The stories she tells read rather sadly. She paints a picture of her family that we dread. Of friends that are never there for her. Of life dealing her a really bad hand of cards. And she has been sold into this narrative. She believes her own lies. The line between the truth and a fib hasn't become blurry. It has disappeared altogether. 

This whole growing up thing gets harder. More complicated. The things we have to tell each other and ourselves so we can function. The lies that we have to tell our friends and family so they can retain the mental image they have of us. I happened to tune in to "Moment of Truth" the other day and the questions were absolutely scary. Thinking through it I figured out that the questions weren't necessary difficult because they would expose the truth but rather because for many of us the truth is what we want it when we want it. The truth is contained in that iconic scene from 'A Few Good Men.' YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!

Monday, February 25, 2013

MIDDLE CLASS? WHAT MIDDLE CLASS?

Are you a Kenyan and on the internet? Congratulations. Look around you. You're better than those who don't. According to some imaginary polls, the internet basically makes you a better human being on almost every single level. You're probably looking, smarter, more logical and also probably better in bed.

I've been seeing this argument posted in one form or another on social media. That since we are exposed to different sources we are better placed to make choices. Somehow this argument has mutated further to mean people who have internet access are posh and are thus apathetic to the needas of the 'common man.' We are too busy discussing ideologies that the lower man can barely comprehend in their little tribal minds.

I have made peace with the fact that we love to be different. That we are always trying to be higher on some invisible totem pole. In a rat race that is as frenetic as it would be in the backstreets of any city. My generation was meant to be our saving grace. The generation that would deliver us from the scourge of tribalism that our parents supposedly tried shoving down our throats. We grew up on tv & grew up in cosmopolitan areas and then discovered the internet. And somehow we convinced ourselves that we are better than generations that came before us.

But look in the forums of social media & that story is different. While we are better informed, we still hold on to bigotry. I venture to think that in some ways we might be a ticking bomb because we have learnt the art of political correctness. We say, act and feel what we are supposed to while we hide the real views under the surface.