Do you really care that much?

As experiments go, this one is utterly without any redeeming qualities. It has been two years – since they decided that the general election campaign was finally in top gear – since I have had a television subscription. After I gave up my alternative lifelong dreams of being a star point guard for the Chicago Bulls, star mid-fielder for Liverpool FC, the No. 1 driver for Ferrari, or the No. 1 driver – replacing the G.O.A.T. Sebastian Loeb – at Citroen, the need to maintain a TV subscription became vanishingly small. The inadequacies of the current affairs programming did not seem justification enough to fork over the then not-so-piddly sum of $64 to Multichoice Kenya or any of its cheaper immitators.

What about…what?! I don’t need to know what Nyashinski has done, what Lilian Muli (is she still on?) has lately been accused of, what colour funny socks Larry Madowo decided to pull out of his sock drawer. I have zero interest in televised weddings, telenovelas, or how to make compost at home (I live in a rented “extension” in someone’s backyard; gardening is not, currently, an area of interest). I don’t need to know the week by week fluctuation in the prices of milk, beans, maize flour, cabbages or tomatoes or the variations in their prices in Mombasa, Nairobi, Kisumu, Mandera and Nakuru.

So what if the Donald wants to wage nuclear war with Iran and North Korea? My knowing about it will not change the fate of the USA, North Korea or Iran – or our, for that matter. You think you can do something about it? Good luck with that, then. Just don’t expect me to pay too close attention to it, is all.

“But you must keep up with current events for effective lawyering,” you say. Bullshit! The past eighteen months has been occupied with only one question: whether or not Uhuru Kenyatta will serve a second presidential term. The US presidential election may have made the phrase “leader of the free world” sound ridiculous in 2017, and #Brexit may yet remind “great” Britain that the sun did indeed set on the British empire, but none of this is monumental enough, historic enough, consequential enough to warrant a TV subscription.

As a result I have no idea whether my neck of the woods is packing up and headed for Canaan or whether it is stockpiling supplies just in case neighbours visit each other in force, bringing torches and pitchforks for friendly political chats in the middle of the night. And since I will not destroy what remaining grey matter that cigarettes and whisky has not destroyed by putting myself through the ordeal of having to listen to FM radio – save maybe Ghetto Radio with the hilarious Bonoko Deh – I am unlikely to ever know for sure.

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Time to put up or shut up

At the heart of any entrepreneurial activity is the desire to turn a profit. No one goes into business to lose money. Some have loftier goals – to change the world, so to speak – but the vast majority of investors and entrepreneurs just want to buy for a shilling and sell for two. The Government has encouraged young people to seek out entrepreneurial opportunities, especially those entrepreneurial opportunities connected to the recently-built standard-gauge railway between Mombasa and Nairobi. Many have heeded the call. However, some seem to have run afoul the very Government that encouraged their entrepreneurial instincts.

It is not typical of Government projects to fail; they may take longer than usual to run efficiently and effectively, but they almost never fail. The Madaraka Express, the train service operation on the standard-gauge railway, is nowhere near to offering an efficient ticketing service. In a nation that boasts regional leadership in innovation, Madaraka Express’s ticketing system is stuck in the past, incapable of dealing with the demand it has faced since the inaugural ride from Mombasa on Madaraka Day, two months ago.

Into this breach stepped entrepreneurial Kenyans – they would suffer the inconvenience of visiting the station and buying the third class, seven-hundred-shillings tickets in bulk – and sell them on at a profit. While I can purchase an air ticket online or on my mobile phone, the Madaraka Express ticketing process required my physical presence at the station. While I can schedule a flight months in advance, I can only book four days in advance on the Madaraka Express.

Madaraka Express ticket-scalpers have been accused of attempting to sabotage the train service; their reasonable retort is that those unwilling to suffer the indignities of queuing up for the tickets should pay for the privilege of having someone else do it for them instead of complaining about the “steep” prices. The  operator of the Madaraka Express, the Kenya Railways Corporation, should not complain when scalpers make a profit but work to create as wide a ticketing network as possible. That it hasn’t established an effective online booking platform yet raises serious doubts about its commitment to making the train service the best in the region.

An efficient and effective ticketing system would, inevitably, diminish ticket-scalping and the scalpers would have to adapt. Creating new ticketing offences will not be an effective solution; penalties will never be harsh enough to prevent new offenders from trying their luck. Either we stop singing the entrepreneurship song or we let the entrepreneurs among us take their chances in the “free market” without setting the law on them.

The little guy

The most enduring wishful thoughts about Nairobi perpetuated – or perpetrated, depending on where you stand – are of a Nairobi in which a western European or a US citizen will feel comfortable buying his or her street food from, his or her expensive coffee in, and his or her organic fruits and vegetables from. The banks of the many streams that make up the Nairobi River system are paved promenades designed with the perambulations of courting adults – and young adults – that are well-lit and serviced with comfortable riverside benches at which to enjoy genteel conversation and packed repasts. The uptown/downtown dichotomy of this Nairobi is one where the downtown is where the avant garde musicians and bohemian thespians congregate to raise a rebellious middle finger at an uptown full of stuffed-shirts aggressively skirting the edges of the letter and spirit of the Income Tax Act.

This Nairobi is a fantastical place that only the “well-travelled” are familiar with – those who have had the good fortune to spend goodly amounts of time in Paris, New York, Milan or Singapore, and who have descended on sunny Dubai for “a spot of shopping” every once in a while or slalomed down perilous Swiss Alps at least once in their excitingly wealthy lives.

Fantasy Nairobi exists for a small sliver of Kenyans and foreigners – the men, women and children (and their servants) – who have encouraged “investors” to pour billions of shillings in the excess shopping-mall capacity that is being whispered about in apprehension in some Government offices. Carrefour and Game wouldn’t dip their toes in the Kenyan retail market if the market didn’t have a clientele that is deeply committed to living in Fantasy Nairobi regardless of the heart palpitations they give their bankers.

You know that Fantasy Nairobi is non-existent from small but telling clues. Its streams’ banks are not lovely promenades but repositories or remarkable quantities of solid waste and shit. If you refer to any of its musicians as “avant garde” or any of its actors as “bohemian thespians”, you are likely to draw droll laughs of derision from the musicians and actors themselves. No resident of Fantasy Nairobi buys street food; they would rather contract cholera in fancy hotels than indulge the squatting, buibui-clad, charming vendors of mabuyu outside the Jamia Mosque. But the most telling sign that the fantasy has run its course? All of them have “evacuated” their loved ones to safety for fear of what will happen on Tuesday, the 8th August.

The men, women and children who have never lived in Fantasy Nairobi don’t have cushy boltholes to dash to. Their most likely experience of Carrefour is as what Fantasy Nairobi derisively designates “staff”. While some will have had a taste of the Big Whopper at the one and only Burger King at the Hub, the are unlikely to repeat the experience: expensive food that didn’t supply the calorific requirements for a full day’s manual labour. We will stick to our githeri or ugali-matumbo or chapo-madondo diet, thank you very much – at one-tenth the price of a Big Whopper too.

Denizens of Fantasy Nairobi live under the delusion that they keep the lights on; well, everyone is entitled to the delusions, aren’t they? If it weren’t for the armies of the little people, your garbage would pile up, your asparagus would never make it to the Radisson Blu, the IMAX at Garden City would be a rat-infested hellhole, and fancy bank accounts wouldn’t be so fancy if the little people simply chose to “move back to shags” like it is usually strongly suggested every time one of the beautiful people has an unpleasant experience with one of us at a traffic light. We bear the condescension with good faith most of the time.

On Tuesday, the 8th August, you precious general election will be a shambles without us. We will guard your poll centres for you, we will lug heavy boxes and equipment for you, we will pick up after you and, should you call on us, we will probably do unparliamentary shit for you. Just don’t look down your nose at us when you too have to queue with the rest of us, the Great Unwashed. It’s called democracy, bitch!

Dear God

Dear God,

What don’t you know about me?

All I ask is for you to let me be ME in all your manifest glory. Let me build what you have already set for me to build. Don’t let me get into my head…too much. Let me fly, let me soar, let me be all that you have already allowed me to be…and more.

Amen.

Dear Ash…

My dear Godson,

Welcome home. You’re only two days old so I leave it to your parents to read this for you. It goes without saying but it must be said: I love you very much and should it ever come to it, I will lay down my life for you.

Now the fun stuff.

You and I are Christians. No matter where we are, what we do, whom we meet, you and I are bound together as the children of God and protected by the blood of His Son.

Your dad is gonna school you on the mysteries of life — English Premier League football, Sevens Rugby and the intricacies of an internal combustion engine. I, on the other hand, will bring to your incomparable soul the magic of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff and Lucky Dube. You will read, sing, dance, play and love because that’s what we do, Ash.

Don’t fear the horrors of this world for we are all charged with keeping you safe. We won’t falter. We won’t give up. You’re never gonna be alone. Ever. We will always be with you. We will always be there for you.

Finally, I love the poetry of the Psalms. This is one I will always share with you because I love you:

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”

    and you make the Most High your dwelling,

10 no harm will overtake you,

    no disaster will come near your tent.

11 For he will command his angelsconcerning you

    to guard you in all your ways;

12 they will lift you up in their hands,

    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;

    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.


Psalms 91

Two years isn’t so long

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I wish I could. (Courtesy www.pinterest.com)

Sam and I have been intending to visit Leo and Ivy for the longest time – two years, give or take a Blue Moon or two. Last Friday we finally did. Pizza, wine, beer and Cuba Libre – or Leo’s version of Cuba Libre, anyway. How did they do it?

How did they manage to make us feel so welcome especially when Sam and I had never met Ivy before, had never spoken to her before? I don’t know. I have awesome friends even though I am a shitty friend in return – greedy, demanding, needy, boring and late to every damn even known to human friendship. But they were cool. Sam liked them together.

Organising a return visit is going to be hard because I am a very bad friend. And there isn’t a nearby pizzeria that delivers excellent pizzas. And the Uchumi down the road has a crap alcoholic beverages’ section. And it will take me another two years to set up the visit so that it goes just right. But Leo and Ivy are cool so unless they’re thinking of emigrating to San Fransico or something, two years isn’t such a long time to wait, is it?

To my unborn son…

My dear boy, before you hit the roof take heed of the following.

This world owes you nothing. Your mother and I have done all that we could to teach you what you need to know in order to make your way in the world. We’ve done our best to teach you to read and to write, to reason and to think, to handle success and failure, to be gracious as well as to fight back. We have given you the tools you need to protect yourself from being taken advantage of and we have taught you that only the lowest of the low take advantage of people.

I hope we have shown you love and that you will, in turn, show love to the one you fall for, the children you will have, the strangers you will meet, and the family you will always have. If you ever get the instinct to be selfish, let your selfishness be about feeling good and not having stuff. Protect your heart, nourish it with love, share it with those who deserve it.

I won’t tell you whom to marry; your grandfather wisely knew that no man will ever listen to that kind of advise. Instead, my son, choose wisely. Stay away from the ones who live lives of wastrels. Avoid the ones who believe the world owes them. Flee when the materialistic darken the doors of your heart. Instead find ones with whom you share the values I hope we have taught you: patience, courage, ambition, generosity, kindness, curiosity. Find someone or let someone find you with whom each day contains the promise of greatness simply because your lives are intertwined.

Finally, it is your life to live. Make it a good one. Make it yours.

Play, my darling child

My darling child,

If I have a lesson to teach you it is that no matter how hard you think high school is, never, ever miss a chance to learn a sport and to play it well. Except boxing. I don’t care what they say on TV, boxing is out. You brain is far too valuable to place it at the heightened risk boxing will place it in.

Play a sport, play it well. Now, you know that your mother knows everything and I know absolutely nothing, but I know this: sport will liberate your body and with it, your mind. Don’t play because you want to lead a far healthier life than mine (though you will) but play because it is the least expensive, least dangerous way to bring you sheer, unadulterated joy.

You will lean to win and lose in a controlled situation and it is a lesson that will stand you in good stead all your life. Your mother and I have taught you many lessons, but the lessons you learn from team sports are lessons we cannot teach you properly. It is time that you found out just how good you are and not just because you mum and I think you are the greatest athlete since Athena of Greek mythology.

Don’t be ashamed to fall down. Don’t be ashamed to come last. Don’t be ashamed to miss a shot. Get back up, train harder, aim surer. We used to call it perseverance. You mother and I know it as focus. When you put your mind to it, my child, there isn’t anything in the world that can hold you back. So play. Learn the proper lessons of play. And conquer the world.

As the Nike slogan has it, Just Do It!

Big Cats

Big cats make me happy. I know they could rip out my throat but I don’t care. Big cats are absolutely the best thing about nature. They are not meant to be kept in cages and if you’re the dumbass that has invaded their ecosystem (where there are predators and prey and they are the predators and you are the prey), I don’t think I’ll feel that bad if they rip out your throat.

leopard

I like big cats, especially the tiger, because they are graceful and malevolent at the same time. You can see (if you have access to National Geographic) it in their eyes: they will hunt you down and eat you. Even the crafty leopard which stalks its prey is utterly beautiful.

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They are nothing like domestic cats who look down their noses at us even as they stare at us with their sometimes big mournful eyes. They don’t laze around the house, sometimes going after mall rodents. Big cats are outside animals with outside voices.

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Of course we are utter idiots for destroying their habitats. They now claim that there are less than 8,000 African cheetahs in the wild. All because motherfuckers want a fancy Chinese railway or a fancy German autobahn or some bit of concrete -and-steel that adds nothing to our lives but takes away the only good thing about nature: Big Effing Cats!

My dear daughter…

Child,

You must wonder why there are few pictures of you online, mustn’t you? All those clicks over the years that your mother and I have subjected you to must be somewhere, right? Right!

We know that your generation knows little about privacy; after all, ever since we made the fateful decision to buy you your own phone, tablet and laptop, you’ve used dozens of sites to chronicle your life with only one rule: no online photos. We didn’t do this lightly; we did it to protect you.

You are more than the sum of pictures you’ve amassed since we brought you home from the hospital. You are smart – smarter than your mother and I combined. All we want is for your online community to discover you through your thoughts, the one thing we know is absolutely real and honest about you. They will know your kindness through the words you post, your humility for the praise you eschew, your beauty from the evident kindness of your heart. Your image is immaterial in these matters.

Your mother and I have learnt, over a lifetime of lessons, that those who would judge you for how you look are not your friends. They only wish to use you to their ends. Your true friends value your friendship, not your beauty. They appreciate your words and your spirit. Finding this out is part of what growing up entails.

You are a young woman, now, and you chafe at our restrictions. We trust that we have raised you to be strong and intelligent. You are capable of making your decisions. As we release you from our constraints we do so trusting that you will keep yourself safe, protect your name, make the right choices, prosper and, most important, be happy.

Good luck, my child.