Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Karen of Voi and Kinyanjui the Cabbie

I got into a bit of a tiff with three young ticketing officials at the Voi SGR train station over legitimate tickets that needed name-change to indicate the travelers, not the buyer. They said the only solution acceptable by the system was to cancel them, get fined for it, and take a 50-50 to zero chance that we will get new tickets for the same day we needed to travel to Nairobi and take our flight. Unacceptable. I knew they could resolve it if they dared.

Let me tell you. If you are a Kenyan who travels to Kenya and fails to seize opportunity and deeply interact with its Generation Z, you do not do yourself any favor. This is the population that is beginning to own Kenya, as the working force, as the hustling majority, as the very near-future decision makers, fresh out of high school or college. 

So we challenged the three ticketing officials to become conscious decision-makers who rise up to solve human problems, and not merely act as cogs in the system's wheel. I told them they owned that country and all its wealth and that they had the brainpower to fix any challenge with integrity, without fear. 

I told them I've led organizations before and I've learnt the power of my position as a problem solver called upon to affect human lives, even just one. "My hands are tied" is a cop-out, a laziness of the mind when you know you're dealing with an honest situation. They were frustrated with me and my sister because we simply wouldn't walk away without them resolving the issue.

While we watched, one official had also made an innocent passenger pay 20% fine for the computer's mistake in printing the wrong date on his ticket. The system was set up to force them to reach into a poor Kenyan's pocket and demand 20% of ticket-cost for even mistakes made by SGR officials and computers. I was pissed off by how easily the passenger accepted the punishment for something the official admitted was the computer's fault. "Oh, it did not refresh. Give me 200/- for that mistake." She said so casually. And the guy forked out the money. I said, "That's just wrong!"

Meanwhile, a Chinese official had come in and sat quietly listening to all this racus from one of the booths. It was also for his ears that we spoke authoritatively.

After an hour, our indignation and lecturing finally led to the lady taking up our challenge and resolving our ticketing issue. For that moment, she became a leader, not a cog in a system that tells her to punish an honest customer. She had kept her cool while her two male colleagues got their egos hurt and walked out. If she cursed me under her breath for forcing her mind through a paradigm shift, she didn't show it. She just kept a nondescript smile.

When one of the ego-tripping guys came back, I told him his female colleague deserves a promotion. Her name is Karen.

Later on, I had a rich conversation with another Generation Z young cabbie who took us to the airport. Kinyanjui. He had fought really hard to win our business when we told him he was no competition against Uber cabbies who would charge us half his fee. I liked his hustle and his attitude and I took him on. He took us to Naivas so we could get our Kenyan coffee and tea and roico for survival in exile. We talked business, politics, handshake, etc.

In all this, I felt the invisible weight of the country on these young shoulders. A massive amount of debt forced on them would soon be breaking their backs, souring their dreams, crumbling their efforts, making them wonder why it was so difficult to survive through honest labor in a country bustling with new impressive infrastructure.

The current leadership has signed them up for economic slavery through noose-tying Chinese deals and mind-boggling institutional corruption that leaves these kids responsible for paying off stolen money. Life has taught me some tough lessons. I've had big debt before, fully paid off some, still have some-- college loans, hospital bills... But I've worked out a peace-of-mind relationship with these responsibilities mainly because I own them and no one else.

I've deliberately kept my husband's name off of any school loans as guarantor because I would never tie that noose around a loved one's neck. I couldn't sleep at night if I did. Of course kids can use their parents as guarantors because they fall under their parent's responsibility. But how did a bunch of greedy adults get to use their children as guarantors to pay off future debts after those adults are long gone?

How did Kenya get to a place where a bunch of politicians tied that noose of debt around an entire generation's necks? I know they can turn things around, if they choose to rise up to the challenge of fearlessly breaking brutal systems and reclaim their country.
Ernest Kinyanjui, the ambitious Nairobi cabbie with big dreams. His generation deserves better.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

A Personal Testimony: How A Mid-Year Resolution Changed My Life

Making a Resolution: 

Willpower is overrated. I’ve heard about people going cold turkey on bad habits - too much smoking, cracking knuckles, alcohol, gnashing teeth, biting your lip, etc. “Yeah! I woke up one morning and decided enough! And from that day on I never touched another cigarette!” I don’t know about that. I just don’t believe in superpowers. But I believe in powerful and persistent intention subconsciously leading to realization. If you train your mind to want something, believe in it, try it over and over again, one day you will achieve it “cold turkey”. For me, I was consuming an inordinate amount of cane sugar in my tea. Sackfulls. Boatloads. I knew if I didn't do something about it I'd probably join the long list of those making big pharma very rich on my meagre resources. But my willpower had failed me too many times.


So by the time I decided to try quitting on sugar consumption in my tea, it was almost just to humor myself because I'd given up trying. I had just watched that TED talk on the 30-day challenge where you try to change a habit by doing something for 30 days. I got my cup, wrote “Sugar-free zone” on it, and used it as a visual reminder to stick to my challenge (that trick was not on the talk). I posted it on Facebook as my contract with the universe.

Day one of sugarless tea was nasty. So was day two, and three... By Day 10, I knew I wasn’t cut out for this sugarless shit. I needed my fix. That was also the day I read about the sugar poisoning in Kenya. Some political mafia had imported tons of sugar not meant for human consumption and released it to the market.

The Sugar Mafia

Behind every addictive personal habit, there's a shadowy mafia reaping big from your weakness. An inquiry was launched by the government, and the report that came out was also contaminated with bribery, sugar baron names missing from it, and total acrimony in parliament. The issue died there. Kenya’s parliament is a graveyard, not a birthplace of a people’s aspirations. Calls to boycott sugar consumptions were met with a profuse production of funny memes by Kenya’s social media. The very people who were victims thought the whole issue was funny. It's what people who get schlonged by the system over and over again do.

The Spell of Tenga

It was on the day I read about that sugargate that I decided I was going to finish this sugar-free race. This was proof that when you sign a contract with the universe and make it public She will throw you a lifeline at your weakest moment and bid you finish your race. 30 days was nothing. I merged my personal challenge with a national quest for justice, and I didn’t care who was or was not boycotting. I was under the spell of Tenga, the Mossi people's goddess of justice. I posted my boycott and dared to look silly. I was all the way in the US, far from ground zero of Kenya’s sugar contamination war.

Winning the Saccharide War

By the time Day 30 came around, my taste buds were adjusting very well. I decided since I had done very well, I was going to reward myself with a replacement for sugar after the completion of the challenge. I started taking tea with honey. Science told me the metabolism of honey, a monosaccharide, is different from that of sugar, a disaccharide. Knowing my digestive system issues, I knew there were benefits to be reaped from that mono guy. I also knew I wasn’t necessarily changing the eventual saccharide content in my body by doing honey. Making it easier for my small intestines to absorb the sugars was apparently the only gain, and a very good one too because we don't want to talk about leaky gut syndrome. Oh, I also got a little bit more nutrients from raw honey. 

Then a wonderful thing happened. About two months down the line, I ran out of honey, and my tea has tasted just fine without it since then. My taste buds had come full-circle into a joyful saccharide-free zone. I get plenty of my necessary sugars from other food sources.


Of course I’m healthier for it. This journey has improved the quality of my life because my body has been thanking me. It was personal. As for longevity, that’s not for me to worry about because the way human existence is configured, chance lords over us all.

“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all” – the bible, Ecc 9:11

Let’s just say it’s agreed that healthy living often has longevity as a side effect. I’ll take that side effect if I experience it. More than anything, I’ll take the high that comes with winning small personal victories. Hurry up 2019, I’m dying to meet you because you and I have life to live!
A painting of Tenga, earth Goddess, by Zonagirl. "Tenga’s themes are balance, justice, morality and freedom. Her symbols are soil. Among the Mossi of Senegal, Tenga presides over all matters of justice and morality."

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Shit Scoopers

*Warning: Graphic imagery ahead. Read on an empty stomach. #Kenya #Highschool #Pumwani
One day, true story, the toilets in the senior dorm broke. This was in one of the high schools I went to. A school that turned out to be a perfect fit for my mind.
It had no fence and no prefects and had the most beautiful view of fog cascading down the hills every morning right in front of our classroom. I thrived there.
Until one day shit literally hit the floor. The decades-old toilets in our dorm blocked and overflowed. The stench was unbearable. The Headmistress decided rather than overhaul the backed-up sewage system, they would have the students scoop the shit everyday.
There was a revolt, and girls went bang-bang on their desks. The administration came down hard and told us whoever does not comply with the shit-scooping fix will be suspended. That did it. Everyone went back to class and agreed to become shit-scoopers.
Except two of us. Maureen and I stood our ground, and we were summoned for interrogation and pending suspension. Facing the Headmistress in her office gave me an adrenaline high. I spoke with all the dare God ever gave me and said how wrong it was that the school is not fixing the toilets. I don't know what Maureen said, all I know was that we were not suspended, and the school agreed to fix the toilets "very soon."
Between then and "very soon", girls still had to take turns to clean the overflow of slimy goo, lumpy feculence, greenish-yellowish stench and rivulets of urine. Has it disgusted you enough? They had to look at it to clean it, and they had to scoop it all with buckets and without gloves. The toilets could not be shut because there was nowhere else to go to the bathroom at night. You cannot escape the system; you have to fix it.
Two things happened: One, the girls in that dorm honored the two of us rebels and gave us special beds next to the front door and farthest from the toilets. These were singles, not bunk beds. Two, the same girls exempted us from cleaning the overflowing feces. I suppose they felt we were ready to take the bullet of suspension for them.
But what I'll never forget was the humor with which one girl did her shit-scooping duty. She laughed and made rib-cracking jokes as she carried that bucket all the way to a pit outside. It was her way of getting through it. A very Kenyan way.
Kenyans laugh too soon. We laugh through shit we've been forced to carry. We carricarture the stench with rib-cracking memes that we share widely. We get sick from handling buckets of shitty maggots wiggling through every shitty situation. The middle-class carry the shit-buckets too-- loads of debt, expectations, keeping up appearances, getting robbed...
We wait for the next toilet-blockage so we can accept it and make new jokes all over again, which is just about every other day. Kenyans ease the tension too soon, and the value of tension gets lost. Tension creates energy, and energy diverted into a just cause gets things done.
But we surrender tension too soon because we think it wrong to show anger. We're embarrassed by the sight of those who express that tension - the activists - and we call them losers. Yet they are the ones who force systems to change. Carrying shit-buckets becomes normal for those who choose a civilized don't-get-angry response to tension.
I've been following the Pumwani saga, and I said-- there goes the civilized shit-scoopers who've been working tirelessly to make a long-ago broken situation work, and now they're being fired. And as sure as the sun rises, there will be rib-cracking memes on Pumwani Maternity. Its dead babies and dead mothers will continue getting scooped off the tables three times a week until Kenyans forget and move on to the next jokes-worthy tragedy.
Chris Ofili's feces-adorned "The Holy Virgin Mary", sold for $4.6 million. My take of this art that offended many prudes: There is sanctity in our shittiest tragedies that stare at us defiantly, in all their ugliness, daring us to clean them up.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Before 9/11 There Was 8/7

I was reminded that the 20th anniversary of the bomb attack in Kenya and Tanzania just went by. August 7th. Perhaps with very low-key commemoration. I saw an article in the Washington Post about Godec (US Ambassador to Kenya) saying the terrorists wanted to divide Kenya and US good relationship. Gobbledygook. That attack had nothing to do with Kenya.
It was a foreign war brought to African soil. Kenyans had no inkling on the rising tide of global terrorism. Local terrorism was a completely different animal — shiftas, cattle rustling and all. On August 7th 1998, Kenyans were going about minding their own business as they should, and suddenly, 213 of them and 11 in Tanzania were killed. A bomb blew up American embassies in both countries
Why was an American war being fought in countries thousands of miles away from America anyway? Easy answer to that can be found in history where powerful countries have the privilege of fighting their wars on other people’s soil.
It’s easier for a weaker enemy to target a superpower’s presence in less-secure countries, and many times, America itself has taken its wars to weaker countries. It’s like having dinner in your own home and going to shit in someone else’s bathroom because you don’t want the stink in your house.
All of Cold War between the US and then USSR was fought in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Citizens of countries like Mozambique who had no business taking up arms against each other in the name of Communism vs Capitalism went at it and slaughtered the daylights out of each other for years.
Ronald Reagan beefed up the war chests of mad butchers like Liberia's Samuel Doe to avoid a rise in communist opposition. Humble peace-loving Jimmy Carter fueled the brutal Somoza dynasty of Nicaragua. Five US presidents led a massacre of countless Vietnamese in a senseless anti-communism war. Meanwhile America thrived.
The Cold War was replaced by gwot (global war on terror), a well-orchestrated war machine that is still chugging along profitably. Unfortunately for the US, the gwot came with one of its most puzzling shockers- the use of American soil as a battleground on 9/11. Whether you take the conspiracy or no-conspiracy versions, that attack remains mindboggling and leaves American intelligence who dismissed obvious warnings with blood on their hands.
Remember by the time 9/11 came along Kenya and Tanzania had been tested as possible battlefields for gwot, an experiment that almost failed but later gained a measure of success very slowly, thanks to the ease of raising local proxy enemies through neighboring Somalia (enter Al Shabaab). Some devastating blows were dealt on innocent Kenyans, the worst being the slaughter of 148 University students in Garissa.
Kenya's current president gulped the kool aid on gwot like a champ. He waxed lyrical about our valiant troops in Somalia (who were either being used for racketeering in the charcoal and sugar trade or getting slaughtered). Kenya was outsmarted by Tanzania. The land of Mwalimu would have none of that send-our-troops to fight a proxy war they have no business fighting.
Meanwhile, America and all its power quickly diverted their 9/11 to Iraq and Afghanistan where hundreds of thousands of Middle-Easterners, and American troops (always the sacrificial pawns) died. Meanwhile astronomical profits were made by the US corporatocracy. Gosh, the money they've made.
Remember the famous words of General Smedley Butler: "War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives."
So, after being tested as a battleground for a new type of war profiteering and losing over 200 citizens, Kenya’s innocent victims are still fighting for compensation through US Congress. Just to remind you, the same Congress made compensation a priority for its citizens caught in the gwot attacks anywhere in the world.
Had the dead and maimed Kenyans been Americans, they would have been cushioned by very necessary, deserved and available financial compensation. Ask them about their lives now, how they’ve struggled to make ends meet, loss of jobs, limbs, eyes, minds.
For the rest of Kenyans, victims of any violence are often too quickly discarded into a gaping void of willful disremember. We tell them "kaa ngumu!" That's on us. America made sure the world never forgets 9/11. The world does not remember 8/7.

L: Art by Carlos Latuff | R: Artist Unknown

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Beliefs and Bullshit: The Enduring Sting of Vicious Gospels

Fattening and Sickening

“During the mission period, 3 out of 4 of the coastal Indians perished. They’d lived well free, but as soon as we introduced them to a Christian and community life, they fattened, sickened and died” – a Christian missionary during the Christianization of the Native American peoples, The West (Burns).

My mind goes to the parallels of devastation in my own country, Kenya. I have observed so much of similar fattening, sickening and dying among present-day Kenyans/Africans who have clung to a debilitating form of Christian thought decades after the colonial missionaries left.

Not all Christian thought is created equal. It’s like wheat from the fields that is meant to nourish. Some gets chemically altered, bleached and reduced in nutrients so that eventually it fattens, sickens and kills; and some is harvested and separated from the chaff just right so that its consumption strengthens and liberates.

A Cesspool of Heartless Spirituality

But the modern-day industries that monopolize and process Christian thought have little to no good intention. They are no different from the missionaries of old who conquered and killed in the name of God. A lot of modified, bleached and poisoned Christian thought is imported from the American evangelical industries to African countries, now mostly through social media, and consumed largely by the poor. 

I receive these emaciated over-shared cookie-cutter posts daily by Kenyan friends on social media who seem clueless about the moral bankruptcy, greed and political machinations of the American evangelicals they keep quoting. If these Kenyan believers are aware of this cesspool of spirituality they keep feeding from, then they've been indoctrinated to not judge the messenger because - they argue - "after all God uses sinners." 

It's drinking from that same cesspool of spirituality that got Kenyan evangelicals singing the praises of America's dirtiest electoral politics and its outcomes as if the brutish victor were the reincarnation of Christ himself. They were told it's all in God's Armageddon plan and you Africans need to toe the line lest Jesus finds you unprepared. A truly vicious gospel.   

This vicious gospel is heavily sold by small faith traders (miracle workers, guilt-peddlers, moral police, end-times preachers and prosperity gospellers) who thrive off of selling a gospel that leaves others in greater suffering. Like drugs that dock at the port of Mombasa, seep ghostlike into society where unassuming consumers get hooked, sicken their minds and die while the shadowy kingpins sit pretty on a mound of dirty wealth.

Prayerful and Peace-loving Citizen

So much of the depression in poor communities comes with a particular way of thinking and spirituality that is itself the sting that carries the poison. A thinking that does not allow the believer to loudly claim power and personal responsibility to challenge what went wrong, what ails their society, and what should be done.

It’s a thinking that claws desperately at unseen spiritual forces that provide believers with the perfect excuses for not taking action towards healing and freeing their community from the ravages of calculated poverty and oppression. They leave it all to God. After all - they say - God willed them into these oppressive situations for his glory. And they have the bible to prove it. I would not wish such sickening spirituality upon the mind of a suffering enemy.

When some get tired of the boot on their necks and rise up in protest, you will find those infected with that debilitating strain of evangelization saying, “I’m not with those rebellious trouble-makers; I am a prayerful and peace-loving citizen and I’ll stay in my sanctified corner praying for calm to return for that is my portion.” As if there ever was calm in squalor and silent suffering.


One would think that this sting afflicts only the uneducated hoi-polloi. Not so. Slum communities (or as some would prefer, economically depressed neighborhoods) in Africa are also home to hundreds of college-educated believers who feverishly share teachings from American evangelicals while their shacks burn in political turmoil and smolder in poverty.

One's awakening does not come without the dare to respond to that gnawing voice in one’s conscience. It bids you read books from competing philosophies that you’re forbidden to read and scour through critical blogs that challenge your mind’s comfort zones. Find a leading critical thinker to follow on social media and challenge them to duels of thought until you’re no longer terrified of your own mind’s ability to think for itself.

If these resources are unavailable, go into seclusion and think alone for 3 days, making sure to fast from sugary-sweet prayers of desperation. Just you and the power of your self-healing mind. If facing your raw thoughts by yourself scares you, find a friend who thinks very differently from you; one you can trust to take you through critical thought without judgement, and spend some quality time together. Do this even while your chained mind is kicking and screaming against leaving the comfort zones built from years of being told what to believe and how to think.

"Angel Eating Devil's Food" Artist: Tex Norman, Oklahoma City, OK


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Boy Who Brought Me A Touch Of God

The prayerboy:

Mohamed. Little boy back in Standard 4. All of 9 or ten years old. We were in the same class. Fast-talking little brat with a filthy mouth, loved to pick on quiet kids and called them names for fun. K***mako, macho kama gololi! Aaahahahaha! He would leave this one poor kid with big wonder-filled eyes blinking away tears.

Mohamed also had the voice of an angel, vocals powerful as ocean waves. We all knew that because he used to do the evening prayers at the township mosque. Sometimes I'd be sent to the market after school and every time I heard that piercing cry coming over the speakers-- Allaaaahu akbar... I'd stop and listen in a kind of trance.

It was pure, beautiful, spellbinding. I somehow knew there was divine essence in it when I had no cognitive understanding what the divine was.

The bully:

Mohamed and I walked the same path home from school. Only he stopped at Majengo where he lived and I went on towards the outskirts of the high school where we lived. I dreaded the times when we ended up walking that path at the same time.

One day he caught up with me and I crossed the road to get away from him and moved quickly ahead. He crossed the street, picked up a coconut shell from the ground and threw it directly at me. It hit me smack at the back of my head with bullseye perfection. What I remember the most is how loud he laughed. I turned around and he crossed the street again and scurried off to find another kid to bully.

The assault lingered on like acid in my mind because I wasn't able to smack him back. Soon after, dad was transferred again and we left that town. Mohamed became the vague memory of a mean boy, but the memory of his voice remained hauntingly beautiful. It was the second time as a kid I'd experienced bullying.

First time:

The first time I was ever bullied, I'd had the opportunity to fight the kid. I used to be a non-talking kid and this firecracker of a girl kept prodding me with her wiry fingers to see if I could produce a sound. She laughed gleefully every time I brushed off those poky tentacles.

One day I got fed up when she came at me during recess and I fought her off. I saw my little hands and legs going at her like a furious propeller all by themselves. But she had shins like a set of spanners which gave her an unfair advantage. We became friends quickly, and I still never said a word to her.

As long as I made the choice to fight back, incidents of bullying or being treated unfairly held no power over me. It was that coconut shell finding its target that lingered on far too long. Or maybe it's because I could not reconcile Mohamed the mean bully and Mohamed the boy with the voice of an angel who entranced me with a touch of God at a very young age every time he recited the evening prayer.
A Muslim boy in prayer. Photographer unknown

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Beliefs and Bullshit: First Letter to the 43 Tribes:

1.Greetings to the sisters and brothers living in Kenya. I urge you to think on this: that you have no business giving to a church if it does not have one or all of these three basics: a mission to feed; a mission to clothe; a mission to shelter. 2.Demand the running of soup kitchens because there are too many who go hungry everyday, even if you feed only ten per week. 3.Demand a collection point for hand-me-down clothing because there are too many ragged kids and families in the streets in need of some dignity. 4.Demand a system of identifying temporary shelters for too many getting kicked out of their homes for lack of rent and needing a hand up. 5.Too many Kenyans churches, especially in the cities, are day-clubs with cliques for those looking for belonging and a place for desperate souls to numb their sorrows, and the pastor is the club owner getting richer everyday as long as he/she keeps them high and hooked. 6.You cannot call yourself a church if you're not IN the world serving those OF the world. Neither can you divorce your faith from social justice. 7.Stop this "I'm just a passerby" theology that encourages apathy and makes you a silent supporter of those who steal and kill and use you for political gain. 8.Pretending to be not-of-this-world is making too many of you serial hit-and-run beggars who'd rather live through desperate indignity than confront the systems that use and abuse you. 9.We're all of this world until we breathe our last. Our well-being is intertwined, rich or poor. And always remember, you're stronger than you think, no matter how deep in the valley you are. 10.Greet all those in the family working so hard to make an army out of a valley of dry bones. Greet the youth who continue to take selfies and await an awakening to their collective power. Greet the mothers, whose love is pure, ever nourishing and deeper than the endless burrows of the anthills.