Tomorrow will be better

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My friend is in pain, a pain that cuts deep. All I can do is pray that she finds solace and comfort. All I have done is to offer a hand because I cannot soothe the hurt, salve the wound, comfort the heart. It doesn’t matter how many other face tragic circumstance, my friend is in pain. That is what matters now, today. It is all that matters. So I pray. And I hope. And I trust. Tomorrow will be better than yesterday. It has to be.

One day the clouds will part, the sun will shine again, and her heart will be filled with the bittersweet memories that lighten the heart in the midst of absence. Tomorrow, surely Father Lord, will be better than yesterday.

Smokeless, a reckoning

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I had my first cigarette when I was fifteen. Sweet Menthol. That first puff damn near gave me a coronary for all the coughing and heart palpitations that it brought on. But I was determined to rebel, come hell, high water or a trip to the A&E at Machakos General Hospital. By the end of that year, I was an old hand. I knew which duka kept the freshest pack of SMs. I knew just how to nyonga one so that it didn’t stink up my school shirt. In the words of our terrifying deputy principal, the karateka Mutengea, I knew how to “smoke underwater” in order to avoid detection. For more than twenty years I did not go a full day without at least one cigarette. Until, that is, thirty-seven days ago, the last day I put one to my lips, lit up, sank back in the sofa in satisfaction and puffed away like Thomas the Tank Engine.

As you can tell from my nostalgic photo up there, I went through packs like a chimney; I almost always had a pack on hand as one was running out of sticks. SMs morphed into Sportsman, to Dunhill Red (International Blend), to Wills Navy Cut, to Gold Flake, to Dunhill Red (BAT flavour) and finally settling on my beloved Embassy Light with the distinct blue-and-white livery. In over two decades of indulging, I knew my smokes – especially which ones to light up when I inevitably suffered a bout of man-flu. Against all evidence and advice, I was not going to stop. Until I did.

I can’t explain why  stopped. I just did. I am self-aware enough to think the it may have had something to do with the personal crisis I was going through, but I am not sure. Now that the crisis has been resolved, now that I know where things stand, there should be no reason to take smokeless-ness to extreme ends, right? I had quit smoking twice previously, and both times I un-quit within a month. The difference then and now is that I never though of it as quitting; I was simply taking a hiatus and when circumstances once again permitted, I’d light one up in celebration.

It’s been thirty-seven days since the last puff (fuelled by a massive gin-and-juice). When I look at those thirty-seven days, what I find notable is how I have held myself to account. I document every aspect of this smoke-free journey. Especially the doubts about my resolve, I write it all down and examine it so that I can do this smokeless thing better. My lungs are clearing up slowly, but twenty-something odd years of damage and injury will take a minute to mitigate. My skin feels amazing (yes, ladies, even men think of their skin every now and then). My lips are no longer black like the black cotton soil from back home. I’m sleeping better and as a result I’m more energetic, I’m thinking more clearly, and I no longer have the urge to take my frustrations out on the whole world (and my frustrations are legion).

I have sympathy, great sympathy, for those who have struggled to quit. Nicotine is a legal drug that is so addictive that it will drive you mad if you miss your daily shot. I should know. Even when my dukawallah hiked the price (temporarily) to 350 bob a pack, nilinunua pakiti kila siku kifua mbele bila haya! I can only pray that you find the strength to step away, to find that thing that will keep you away from it. I am in a better place today, partly because I am no longer dumping I don’t know how many chemicals into my alveoli. By the grace of God, the love of my family, the support of my friends, and the best wishes of strangers on social media, perhaps the next twenty odd years will be the best ones of my life.

Smiling, me

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The year that Germany demolished the Brazil defence at the World Cup finals, I was invited to a seminar held at the Fairmont Mt Kenya Safari Club. It was during one of the chillier months of the year and so I was pleasantly surprised to find, when I retired for the night, that they had not just turned down my bed, but they had lit the fire in the fireplace and for good measure shoved a hot water bottle in beneath the bedcovers. Upto that moment I hadn’t truly experienced any form of luxury and though I have had the good fortune to experience it thereafter, that experience has stayed with me – not so much because of the scale of the luxury but for how I couldn’t adjust to it, no matter how much pretending I did about being at home in that world.

It has always been so. I’m a child of the ‘eighties, when chai-na-mkate at 4:00 pm ceased being commonplace; when three-newspaper households became tutanunua Sunday Nation na Sunday Standard pekee; when a house with three growing boys found a way to feed them malenge, makwasi, ngwacii and nduma as a way to avoid being eaten into bankruptcy by ones sons. Luxuries were few and far between; more likely to be had when someone landed a hard-to-come-by research grant with a stipend. Suffice to say, we internalised the “akiba haiozi” mindset at a very young age and came to associate luxury living as wastefully profligate. So what should have been legitimate dreams turned into outlandish fantasies – because deep down we understood that dreams can many times come true but fantasies, outlandish or not, rarely did. For those three days in Nanyuki, the luxuries, to me, were a fantasy I wasn’t supposed to live, then or in the future.

My dream house is modest by all standards. It has always been. No bigger (or better) than the one I called home. That, at least, is what I had persuaded myself all these years. I now know better. Aspiring to a fantasy life isn’t necessarily bad. It is the whole reason for imagining joy and happiness. So my dream house has become this fantasy that I have no doubt will be realised, in one form or another. It will be this grand thing, with a rose garden, curving balustrades and ornate balconies, high-ceilinged chandeliers and a massive island in the kitchen. Marble-infused bathrooms – with the master bath having a “his and hers” sink are obvious, aren’t they? Walk-in closets and secret doors, just because. It is a fantasy, I know. Probably unachievable. But, so what?! Life – my life – was meant to be enjoyed. So I shall fantasise – and do everything in my power to live my fantasy because the fantasy makes me smile and gives me an ambition to pursue. I like smiling me.

The sun will shine again

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I never thought that this day would come and yet here we are. I believed against the available evidence, and yet here we are. I thought that we would find a way through, and yet here we are. So now that I am here, I must confront that which will surely bring despair with it. I must face it full face. As it stares back, as it weaves the tendrils of pain through the sinews of my being, I must trust that I am going to get through to the other side. I am here. We are here. We will get through. And the sun will shine again.

The good, the bad, the unexpected

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The freedom of the open road is tempting. Setting off on your metal steed, a bit of fold in your pocket, the horizon in the distance, the wind in your back, your cares left behind. That kind of freedom is rare and requires the kind of foresight and resource-mobilisation that few of us struggle to marshal. Most of us live a predictable life with bits in-between that liven things up – random exotic holidays; unexpected pub-crawls; impromptu road trips to ‘Vasha or Nax Vegas for a rugby meet; mid-week date nights in fancy hotel restaurants. We pay our dues of life in the hope that the pay-off will be richly rewarding. Paying our dues is boring and mundane, most of the time. But every now and then, when we focus just a little, we do things that when we look back we can’t believe, “WTAF! Did I really do that?!” It’s been that kind of month. I don’t know what my birthday month has in store for me, but I know that I am looking forward to all of it: the good, the bad and the unexpected.

Giving

It’s not what you give, it’s the way you give it. – Bruce Lee

There are many lessons to be learned over a lifetime of learning, the hardest being how to love and be loved. We all aspire to give and to give with generosity, but we founder in so many different ways, and the excuses define the limits of our giving, of our love, in how we give and how we love. The effect, more often than not, is the fear of the unknown that comes without knowing exactly what the one you are loving is feeling. And as our fear grows, unchecked and boundless, so does our love and our giving diminish, into a tiny apricot cherry, rough-hewn, jagged and terrible. The pain that comes with the smallness of our love becomes the defining feature of our life, spreading its tentacles like an anemone, poisoning everything it touches.

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But when we live up to our aspirations, when we love and give generously, without a thought as to repayment, with our whole heart, we are liberated from fear. We walk tall. We spread joy. We become joy. It starts small – it always starts small. But like the mustard seed, you will move the mountains of doubt and fear. When we give as we aspire to give, nothing can stop us. Anyway, it has been a month of listening to the universe. What a month it has been.

I thought I had hope

I recently chose to stop. That it coincided with a major life event is happenstance. But stop I have. This is the sixteenth day on what I hope is a lifelong journey. A few observations. The first few days were difficult. I couldn’t think of what to do with my hands, hands that needed to be occupied with the thing I’d stopped. Worse, my mind dwelled on the thing, obsessed about it, urged reconsideration, encouraged backtracking. For hours on end, nothing else seemed important – not even the major life event happening at the same time. I tried a number of distractions that had worked in the past: film, music, books, social media. None worked.

So I attempted to focus on the major life event. All that did was to show in stark relief all those things I kept denying to myself. You have no idea how harsh a light one shines on himself when he has no distractions. Every flaw is examined in minute detail. Every mistake is re-litigated with the intensity of the most hateful prosecutor. Every act is an indictment. Beelzebub whispers seductively in your ear, “You can’t do this on your own. Just go back to the way things were. Just one. It will be fine with just one.” Doubts about you pile on, one reinforcing the other, a crushing weight determined to bury you, your desires, your reawakened hopes and dreams. It is almost unbearable.

I’ve had bad turns of late. Really bad. Emotionally draining, isolating, lonesome. Through them all, that one thing remained constant and true. Combined with alcohol, cheap and not cheap, I thought I was coping, if not recovering. I was wrong. I was merely hiding, cowering behind excuses, building straw men arguments about why things were the way they were. There was plenty of blame to go around. Avoiding responsibility, and the truth, was the only way, I believed. I was wrong. And now I can stare at the truth of it all, neither victim nor perpetrator – the principal actor in the story of the rest of my life.

Stopping has become a totem, a talisman. It is part of this new fabric I am weaving. Where doubt and fear and uncertainty would have given me greater pause, I am no longer stopping long enough to find an excuse not to forge ahead. Success is uncertain. Progress is obscured. But my faith is reaffirmed. I have choices. Some difficult. Many terrible. But I am not shying away. I am not flinching. I am facing them knowing that no matter what, I am better off taking a leap into the unknown whether or not…I’ll leave that for another post. Stopping has bestowed on me something I thought I had: hope.

Late to the party

In May I celebrated eight years at work. Three promotions and lots of experiences worth of eight years. I forgot to celebrate. I am now. I am good at what I do. Not as good as most, but quite good. I have changed as a professional. I am more patient. I read and re-read everything I write – writing is what I do, though we call it “drafting” at work.

When I started there, I was cocky and hasty. I wouldn’t listen – well, I listened poorly. As a result, I re-did a tonne of work. Until I t it right. Now, I am never in a hurry to get it done. I start. I read. I read some more. Then I click away at my keyboard, translating my instructions into a coherent draft.

I haven’t cracked simple yet. Simplicity defeats me. A legacy, I fear, of tradition. But I have met amazing people in my professional journey. Mentors. Friends. Seniors. Their advice has been immeasurably invaluable. (Yes, I can see the tautology in that statement.)

I have shared my successes with very few people. I have inundated them, though, with my professional tribulations. It is time to change tack. From now on, we celebrate the wins. Big and small. We celebrate them all. I may be late to the party, but we gonna party like it was the Millennium all over again. Because what is life if it isn’t a life worth celebrating with the ones you love?

The Money Pit

I own a car. Not that Aston. A Grey Import from Japan with 156k on the odometer. It is the most expensive thing I own not because of how much it cost to purchase but how much it costs to keep on the road. The expense is because I am a crap driver. I mean like really, really crap! Paint jobs? A lot. Bumps and scrapes? Yep! Radio? Whaddaya think?! Gearbox? Lawdy! Recently, the gearbox went “poof!” Well, not exactly “poof” but it developed a lovely grinding noise. When the mechanic opened it up, something he had done before, he scratched his chin, sighed, and went, “Haukusikia hio kelele yote ukiiendesha?” in his sibilant Luo accent. Well…he and I had a long, loooongggg chat about what he was supposed to have done last time round. I wasn’t exactly yelling, but the point was made. So I left The Money Pit with him overnight. Hopefully this time round he has fixed the damn thing. Because I am not sure I was ever meant to be a car owner. (I saw a sign on Rabai Road about fixing windscreen cracks. How much will that set me back, I wonder.)

I am free

Some of the things I think I know are not true; some of the things I think I know are wrong; some of the things I think I know are scary. It’s been this way for as long as I can remember. I never imagined that I was meant to love or be loved and for the longest time, I accepted it as a fact. I was wrong. It is scary to love and be loved. Beyond the romance of it all, beyond the rush of endorphins it elicits (sometimes), it is scary to lay yourself bare, emotionally and physically.

I have a bad habit of hiding behind inanity. I am the king of BS. When the fear arrives, and I am not sure whether to ask the question, or perform the physical act, or imagine the impossible, I mask the fear behind a torrent of endless pablum that sound smart, happy, excited, involved.

I am learning to let go of that fear. Not through feel-good quotes from foreign self-help windbags. Not through Dutch Courage. Not through work. But by reminding myself that this is the lot of us all, and that I am not unique in my fear, I am not alone. Maybe I deserve to be loved. Maybe I deserve to love. Maybe I deserve happiness and joy. I don’t deserve self-doubt. I don’t deserve fear.

In the spirit of undoing my bad habits, I am giving up all my favourite vices. I am making a new life. I am making new choices. If it is to be said, then it shall be said. If it is to be performed, then my body is at the ready. I will feel what I will feel. If I suffer, so be it. But like my mother says, it is a good thing to hope for the best. To say it into existence. To will it into being. To trust that I am not alone. That I am loved. And I am free.