Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Taking Stock of 2014... Ushering in 2015.

Belated Christmas wishes; wishing you a wonderful, new year; patriotic Madaraka and Jamhuri Days in advance; and the usual birthday wishes: that's what this post is about. That and the chance to take stock of 2014.

My friend, Joan, says that I am the only person she knows who composes their own Christmas messages instead of just forwarding the same old tired texts. I think people who forward those verbose, boring monologues filled with unnecessary emoticons are the real terrorists. Followed closely by the lazy asses who don't add a personal message in a card. I suppose these little things tick me off because I am a hoarder of words. Being a voracious reader is one thing... then there's me who still has journals from Form One tucked away in my room. I keep around almost every bit of private, written correspondence: a poem someone wrote me in high school; cards from people that I used to know... the words mean so much more than the gifts that accompanied them. When the boyfriend and I get into a fight sometimes he writes these little notes for me to find later on. I have almost every single one of them tucked away in my latest journal. Yes... I am that kind of girl and if we are friends, I will send you a freshly composed Christmas message and not try to get mad when you reply with one of those messages that even you didn't bother to read.

So, 2014... On the drive to work I was thinking about what 2014 was all about for me. All year long I've felt really busy but when I really think about it, 2014 has been all about me finishing school. Almost every thing I did directly contributed to that particular war effort. I did research for my project; I studied real hard; I stood up a lot of friends. But now school is over and for the first time in my life, I am scared shitless of the future. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what I should do with my life now: get a Masters degree; start sitting for professional papers (no matter that I am not sure what particular profession I want to be a part of); start applying for jobs; get married; have a baby... I know they all mean well but can't I at least get a month to catch my breath?

The boyfriend just finished school too. I'm really proud of him. You think Actuarial Science is hard until you look at Engineering coursework!  We are officially a young, broke, underemployed couple. If this were an Indie movie we'd move to a studio apartment in a large city where we'd chase our dreams. I would discover that I would much rather write than do pension valuations. He'd encourage me to quit my job and we'd live off his salary, supplemented by his trust fund (because in Indie movies there is always a secret trust fund in play. How else would they manage to lead such an enchanted existence?) But since this is real life, we'll try to get real jobs as soon as possible. When I tell the boyfriend how scared I am of the future all he says is, "You'll be okay." He says it offhandedly and I want to get mad at him for being glib and assuming when I realize that he's sure that I'll be okay. He believes I'll figure it out and because he knows me better than anyone else, I start to believe it too.

This year I read a lot too. Both e-books and hard copy books, thanks to 10000+ Free eBooks and paperbacks that sell for only Kshs. 100.
My eBook Library.

I'd say its been a good year. I pushed myself, tapping into energy reserves I didn't even know existed. I've made myself proud. I have a good feeling about 2015 and I pray that it will be good to you too. May you be the best you that you can possibly be next year.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

My 2 Cents on Racism

I have a black hoodie that Dad got me last year. It's about two sizes too big but the last time Dad bought me an item of clothing  was at least 10 years before that, so it meant a lot that he had taken the risk. I mainly wear the hoodie to bed or to go to the shops in the evening. The first time my sister saw me in it she joked that now that I had a 'Trayvon Hoodie', I should probably take care not to get shot walking around at night in it, and we laughed about it. We could afford to. Let's face it. The police post near my house probably doesn't have a gun... and if they did, you can be sure that they aren't doing patrols to keep the peace. What, with all those pubs at the shopping center where they can go extort bribes? Then there's the fact that no one is going to shoot me simply because I am black and wearing a suspicious-looking BLACK hoodie. This is Kenya, we are almost all black and can't use race as a basis to discriminate. When tribe and class isn't reason enough, we focus on the less evil colourism. (According to my spell check that last word isn't a real word... yet we are adding words like 'mahoosive' to the Oxford Dictionary. SMH)

Where I live may have made me a little less sensitive to racism. I've watched films about it, read books like 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and articles... even read 'Americanah' assuming that an African's perspective on race would have a greater impact than that of an African American's. I still feel that some things have to be experienced to be understood. I couldn't honestly tell an African America that I know what they go through. We may be the same skin color but I have no idea what they go through. History handed us different crosses to bear... and I am not sure whose is heavier.

Yesterday I read 'The Secret Life of Bees' by Sue Monk Kidd. It's a small book and I devoured it within hours, even though I was at work. I don't like bugs; most animals too... and some people. I am an unsocial being... as opposed to antisocial. Antisocial suggests that I have something against social beings when in fact I am simply unlike them. Nothing further to say on that. I wouldn't have picked up a book called 'The Secret Life of Bees' in a million years. But it had a pretty cover, could easily fit in my bag and cost only 50 bob; so I bought it over lunch. I have to say that was my best decision of the day.

Turns out a 14 year old living in the American South in the 1960s' perspective on race wasn't any easier to picture than my previous collective experiences. However, this story got to me because it focused on one white girl and four amazing black women who manage to create a slice of race-free heaven in the pink house that they live in. In the South. In the 60s... Wow.

In the book, I finally concluded that Lily Owens got it all figured it out when she mused:
"They (the Daughters of Mary) didn’t even think of me being different. Up until then I’d thought that white people and colored people getting along was the big aim, but after that I decided everybody being colorless together was a better plan. I thought of that policeman, Eddie Hazelwurst, saying I lowered myself to be in this house of colored women, and for the very life of me I couldn’t understand how it got to be this way, how colored women had become the lowest ones on the totem pole. You only had to look at them to see how special they were, like hidden royalty among us"

Everybody being colorless together sounds too good to be true. It probably is. It would take a miracle for us to stop seeing race as a defining factor. However, we can try to respect each other differences and appreciate that we are all human. I may not understand how African Americans feel... and their pain may be overshadowed by my own unique Third World problems... but I'd like to take the time to say that #BlackLivesMatter. #AllLivesMatter.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Dull and Ignorant ( I am Getting Real Tired of Hearing Their Story)

Turns out Green Day was wrong... Silence is not the enemy...

If you've been following my blog you know that I just finished school...exactly one week ago, actually. As expected, I was starry eyed and full of dreams. All my life I have been prepared for this moment. For a person who didn't peak in primary school, high school or college; I figure the next few years will be my moment in the spotlight.

I have become quickly disenchanted. You see, as I said here, I have spent the last four years in the company of highly intelligent people and in a place where almost everything runs like clockwork. In other words, I have spent the last four years in a scenario that was nothing like the real Kenya. In fact, make that eight years. My high school had this antique feel to it that made it seem like a prep school. Now it's dawning upon me that most people are pettier, duller and generally more difficult to work with than I had imagined them to be.

I have to say it started with my attempt to get an ID at work. I literally had to sit the guy in charge of that down to get him to process it. Every time he'd ask me to come back later, I'd find him playing Candy Crush on Facebook or stalking Ole Lenku; said ID still unprocessed. With the patience I usually only reserve for my two year old nephew, I got him to sit and do the 15 minute job that had taken him two days to get done.

Even after that, my starry vision had not yet been dimmed. I wasn't going to let one uncooperative IT guy ruin my day. The hostel thing was what started to nag me. I needed to leave some luggage at the reception for Daddy dearest to pick up and the matron was unrelenting until she overheard me speak Kikuyu to my dad over the phone. Then she got all clansman and village-matey on me; let me leave my luggage and even forgave the fact that I lost my cutlery. You are probably wondering why I got worked up about some reverse tribalism when there are bigger problems in the nation. I'm not sure. I suppose it just triggered the knowledge that no matter how far I get, my name and mother tongue will always influence how people treat me. And even when that treatment is good, it will always leave me with a bitter taste.

What completely disenchanted me was the policeman who unleashed tear gas in Bus Station to a group of people queuing peacefully because a few women demanded that if the City Council askaris were going to arrest the women who were selling groceries, they should at least be allowed to take their children with them rather than leave them on the street. The pompous ass started firing bullet into the sky and threw tear gas canisters to the queuing passengers. I think a certain minimum level of intelligence should be ascertained before handing someone a gun and a can full of irritant gas. That's just the responsible thing to do. It is really no wonder that our national security is in shambles if these are the kind of people entrusted with it!

PS: On the bright side I got to buy a faux Luigi purse before the chaos begun...
Fake it till you make it...

 PPS: I will forever be a laptop activist. My respiratory system was not made to handle tear gas. And I didn't go to the obstacle course that is UoN, which would have hardened me to the terrors of this world!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

School is Out

This is my final week of school. Actually, my final two days. I have waited for this moment since I was six and realized that school was not fun. We weren't here to play at break-time,  talk about the Tausi and make new friends. Six year old me couldn't understand why I had to wake up early to face bullies in the school van and bigger bullies in class (read 'teacher') just for a mark on my report card. However, when it became clear that this wasn't a passing phase... that I was stuck in school for at least 12 years, 16 if I was fortunate... I figured I might as well make the most out of it and pass. Besides, I was already doing homework for 3 or so bullies. Doing it conscientiously wouldn't make much difference.

I have to admit that school hasn't been as dreary as my 6 year old mind imagined it would be. I outgrew getting bullied, which was cool. I discovered that I enjoyed learning new things and actually did well in exams which made the teachers less menacing. I also made really good friends who made the thought of going to school less depressing.

Now, 16 years later, it has come to an end. I know I'll find myself back in school soon, but for the first time in my life, being a student will not be my identity. I am a good student... that I am immodest enough to admit. More often than not I understand what is being taught; I hand in assignments on time; I don't believe in cheating; and I know how to get myself up and going whenever I fail. I must admit that the constant rules are a little annoying but my God-given indifference has allowed me to coast through boarding school, high school and even four years at Strathmore unfazed.

Tomorrow morning, however, I will have to face the fact that I am no longer what I have been so good at being. For the first time in my life I won't know what next (well, there's that internship starting Monday but who knows how long that will last). I will have to delete the 'alleged student' description of me on my twitter bio; I will have to update my linked in profile; and most importantly, I will have to have that difficult conversation with Dad about whether student pocket money and rent privileges extend to post-school.

Despite the uncertainty, I am really happy, really grateful to God, really proud of myself. If I had to do it all over, I'd probably make most of the same choices. Nyeri Primary School was where I met some of the most amazing people I know; Kenya High School made me a better person (I grudgingly admit) and I met people who will stay in my heart for life; doing Actuarial Science at Strathmore with some of the most brilliant minds of our generation has been a pleasure.

So, adios school. Is this when 'real life' a.k.a 'life out there' begins because I have been waiting since I was 17!

We can't all be Steve Jobs... Some of us have to be John Legend and Elizabeth Banks...

Monday, 13 October 2014

The World is Not a Wish Granting Factory (And Other Depressing Facts)

Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace
Over the weekend I got this amazing app from my sister where I was able to download every imaginable e-book for free: The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie; The complete Divergent Series by Veronica Roth; Good Morning, Mr Mandela by Zelda la Grange; There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra by Chinua Achebe; The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason; I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou; The Railway Man by Eric Lomax; The Fault in Our Stars by John Green; among others.

I was ecstatic. This was heaven to a poor person like me who loves books way above her budget. I immediately started on The Fault in Our Stars (TFIOS) because I really wanted to read it before watching the movie. From everyone’s tweets I already knew that it was a sad and depressing story so I vowed not to get attached to the characters from the very beginning. I tried to keep Hazel Grace, Augustus Waters, Isaac and even Patrick-who-was-in-the-literal-heart-of-Jesus at arm’s length. I sympathised rather than empathised with them. At some point I unknowingly let myself care. I became invested in the lives of these teenagers with cancer… despite having described themselves as grenades waiting to blow up. I let myself care despite knowing that they would break my heart and I have been inconsolably depressed since then.

You see, for people who are dying, Hazel Grace and Augustus have more life than a lot more people. I suppose it comes from realising that you are living on borrowed time. It forces one to live intensely. They accept their lot in life gracefully and shame the rest of us with fully functioning vitals and intact limbs who can’t even pause to appreciate beauty. Halfway through the book I felt as if it the most important thing to me was that these two kids would be okay… as okay as a terminally ill person can be.

 I wanted them to continue being brave and smart and to go on reading weird books, quoting poetry to each other and loving each other. I wanted the world to give them that, at the very least. Even when I sensed that the book would have a tragic, Shakespearean ending I still prayed that all that suffering would have some purpose in the end. I hoped that when (not if) Augustus died it would be from some freak accident that would leave his lungs intact so that he could donate them to Hazel Grace. Then at least one of them would be okay. But the world is not a wish granting factory. We do not get what we deserve. What doesn’t kill you definitely doesn’t make you stronger, it only comes back to finish the job that it had originally begun.
I was moody for 18 hours after reading this book (at the very least). Almost as moody as I got after reading Anne Frank: The Diary of Young Girl. Definitely less moody than I was after reading The Periodic Table by Primo Levi. But in the midst of all that gloom I remembered an excerpt from Paulo Coelho’s “The Warrior of Light”, a poem by Mitsuo Aida:
Because it has lived life intensely
The dry grass grabs the passer-by’s attention
Flowers merely blossom,
And so do the best they can.
The white lily of the valley, which no one sees
Explains itself to no one;
It lives only for beauty.
Men, however, cannot live with “only”.

This month is breast cancer awareness month. As we create awareness we ought also to remember the afflicted. Those afflicted by all types of cancer. According to a reliable source (Augustus Waters) for every living person, there are at least 14 dead people. While a lot of them will go unremembered, we can learn from them. Again, to quote Augustus, “The real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention.”
Take the time to appreciate beauty… live intensely.

PS: Due to popular demand, I have included a download link to the apk file of the amazing app I mentioned. Google has been my friend today!
Download Ebook App 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Brasil 2014

I’m late to the party… but I think one week is well within the grace period. The World Cup is here! The very first one since I completed high school, and like with everything else that I have experienced post-high-school, it really felt much more exciting when I was on the inside. Maybe it was just the vuvuzela orchestra. 
Richard: SI unit of the underdog

It is no secret that I root for the underdog… always have. Maybe I do it just to be the different one with the dissenting opinion. Whatever the reason, I will be the girl cringing every time Richard Jenkins embarrasses himself and the one crying softly when he finally launches the fastest, most lossless (is that a phrase?) compression software on Silicon Valley. However, for once, I will be rooting for someone with a real and apparent shot at winning. My support for Brazil is completely non-football related. Don’t get me wrong, I am convinced (largely by my boyfriend) that Neymar is a football demigod. 

Even with that, I am with Brazil because I believe that a country with a city as beautiful as Rio de Janeiro… a city so amazing that it inspired a movie as spectacular as Rio, deserves world recognition. The fact that this recognition will come in the form of the World Cup is simply a by the way. Even the people are beautiful and fun. I would give anything to be in one of their carnivals. Nothing says, “Carpe Diem!” like rocking feathers and glitter. I already have my honey moon destination figured out.

The World Cup is natural selection at its best. The strong come out triumphant and live to fight another day, while the weak get eaten. Ask anyone in a relationship. The World Cup is nature’s way of weeding out the weak couples from those who have what it takes to make it to July 13th unscarred. On that note, congratulations mum and dad for making it through 5 World Cups together. May you get to enjoy many more… or rather, mum, may you get to live through many more “You are blocking the TV!” while all you want is to announce that supper is ready. 

Being the benevolent soul that I am, I have dedicated time and effort to determining strategies on how you, relationship guru who knows nothing about football; or you, football enthusiast with mild Asperger’s syndrome can live through this. Luckily, with my well balanced personality, I have the optimal love-hate relationship with both football and people… making me your go to girl on such conflicting issues. 

1.       Pick your teams in advance. In the unfortunate event that your team of choice may upset your significant other’s sensibilities (like how upset I’d be if he supported Germany, of God forbid, USA) it would be wise to declare your support as early on as January to give them time to adjust… and to tear up your jersey as therapy.

2.       This will cause backlash so make sure to have a conflict resolution strategy. During this period you can expect to argue about anything from whether to watch a particular game, where to watch it from, whether or not to celebrate the fact that Spain is out… I recommend arm wrestling as a strategy. That is not code for anything.

3.       Develop a new hobby. This is for those who don’t want to have anything to do with the World Cup. Learn origami or something… have a new baby if you must. Adopt a puppy.

4.       Watch Rio… and Rio 2. They will remind you of the beauty of Brazil… and of the Brazilian people. Despite the news of all the human trafficking that goes on there, Rio (the movie) will restore your faith in Brazil.

5.       If you can’t beat them, join them. As an actuarial science student, I would recommend that you read statistical predictions from Goldman Sachs and Lloyd’s of London. It will give you a unique opportunity to watch grown actuaries and investment bankers get into a pissing contest about which team stands better odds. Investment bankers, despite causing the Economic Crisis, can still do some things right. They think Brazil has a real shot… a 99% chance. Though they did predict that Spain would get to semis… so there’s that.

6.       When all else fails, love each other. When I scream that I really hate you, it actually just means that I hate that I love you so… learn to read the love in between the lines.

When all that is said, the next couple of weeks are some of the most exciting times that will happen in the next four years. Try to enjoy yourself. Support Brazil, even the minions do.