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Wai-O-Tapu

In the journey of life, we are commissioned into many roles. Or at least that is my excuse for the fluidity of the roles I find myself in. I have dipped my finger into a few completely different roles. They were exciting, and some not so much. There have been take away lessons from these movements, but mostly, they have built a story in me that I am still embellishing with punch lines and a correct dosage of emotion. Once I am done practicing the story in front of a mirror, I will sell tickets to my first show, “Joseph – A journey of inspiration.” Until then, life proceeds as ordered. One small step at a time…

What is the point of this story? Without getting overly circuitous with the point, here we go. Of all the professional engagements I have taken, I once lectured. Yes, that’s right. I taught. Those were the days that filed my mother with the greatest pride. Finally one of her children was walking in her footsteps. She would call me and the conversation would sound like this.

“Waacha mwalimu”

“Aaah”

Etc. Etc

My old lady. We were colleagues then in the profession. She once asked to inspect my schemes of work and lesson plans. Maybe that is why I left the profession.

Anyway, I taught Engineering thermodynamics among other colorfully named subjects. My favorite reference text was called, “Fundamentals of Engineering Thermodynamics” by Michael J. Moran and Howard N. Shapiro 5th edition with SI units. Excellent book, but this is not a book review. Now, the cover of the book has this picture.

Cover Capture

You will agree that is a beautiful cover and I always wondered what that background really was. I stopped teaching in July 2016. Fast forward to July 2017 and I am sitting in class at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and the lecture slides start with the same exact background as the textbook. And this time there is a name to the thing, or place. “Wai-O-Tapu” a Mãori word meaning sacred water. Your guess is as good as mine that Wai-O-Tapu had just climbed to the top of my bucket list.

I traveled to Wai-O-Tapu with a couple of my friends. Daniel the Great, O’Neil the One, Willy the Only. Haha, they will not be happy with the names I have given them. A great road trip. And since you have endured a story that you shouldn’t have, here are photos. Enjoy.

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A few hours out of Auckland, we stopped to see the world’s largest sheepdog and sheep. Not everyone is excited by animal shaped buildings. But these are beautiful, and they come with an information center and bathrooms.

Anyway, soon we drove all the way to Wai-O-Tapu. The wait is over.

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Because it is impossible to do touristy things without announcing where you come from…

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Boiling mud pools…

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Collapsed craters…

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More mud pools contaminated with naturally seeping crude oil….mmmmh!

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Starts to look familiar…excited Kenyan.

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That feeling when you meet your favorite book’s cover page in eeeeh.. person?

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The money shot. I am happy.

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A bonus green pool. I think this what envy looks like.

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I hope you enjoyed the pictures.

I enjoyed the place.

I am out.

 

 

The purpose of life

Once in a while, you sit up from your paper pushing. Or you wake up from your sleep and go to the toilet. As you pee and look at the toilet water turn yellow, you feel the breeze. Damn toilet window, I should always remember to close it. Anyway, you are awake at the witching hour, and the question floats into your head.

What is the purpose of life?

Ok, the purpose of life is to live it. Simple.

You flush the toilet and make a mental note to drink more water. Urine shouldn’t look like turmeric and shouldn’t smell like a chemical weapon. In fact, you decide you will start drinking water today.

You walk to the kitchen; light is flooding in from the flats behind the one you live on. Aaah, classic. Someone forgot to switch off their balcony lights. It would be nice if they knew how many grams of carbon dioxide they were putting into the atmosphere every second they leave their light bulb on. They should be considerate; the world is already chocking under too much greenhouse emissions. But you cut her some slack, we run an amazingly green electricity network in Kenya. Then you see her move in the kitchen. She works late these days, wrapping up her chores, which reminds you, you have not seen the younger lady she lived with, probably her daughter. Maybe she got married. May she live happily ever after.

As you look outside you are quickly reminded why you have abandoned the pleasures of standing at the kitchen balcony, warm glass of water in hand at two o’clock in the morning looking out. A man is allowed to enjoy the balcony he so begrudgingly pays for, No? In the well-lit balcony, are rows upon rows of brightly coloured underwear the size of umbrellas. It is a scene you cannot un-see. The balconies of people’s houses tell amazing stories about the people that live in the house. But I digress.

You get a plastic tumbler bring it half full with water and drown it in two large swigs. Some drops breach your lips and trickle down your chin, you wipe it away and your beard scratches your backhand. You should shave. On second thoughts you shouldn’t. you hate the itching that comes a day after shaving your beard, or other more private hairs. You hope the water will take care of yellow urine and dry eyes in the morning. Oh how you hate it when you wake up and your eyes are so dry you cannot blink.

As you get in bed this nagging question cannot escape your mind. If the purpose of life is to live, then what is your purpose in life? Again, simple, to live the life.

Now, I do not know if the people that talk in your head are half as annoying as the people in my head. If the purpose of living is to live, and your purpose is to live this life, you can clearly see that we have entered a vicious cycle from which we cannot extract ourselves. We are squarely in the realm of the cyclic thought as explored by a fellow we called Iskoris some many years ago. The problem of the cycle of life becomes unsolvable with the current conditions that have been supplied. We need further data to elucidate this thing. This purpose of life thingie.

I have a friend, a fellow called Zeph. A wise guy. Actually, he is your wise guy’s wise guy. One day we are sitting at Thaaraini, two beers down, I ask him, “What is the purpose of life?”

“Life has basically no written purpose, there is no wall where we can go and read it off”

See, I told you. Wise guy. It is what he says next that you should take home.

“The purpose of life is what you decide the purpose should be. For example, my purpose is to be happy. What do you think your purpose is?”

How do you answer a question with another question?

You know, we cruise through life waiting for divine moments, a time when a bright light shines through the clouds and touches your forehead and a thunderous voice from the skies says, “faithful servant, thy purpose is to sheer sheep in New Zealand”. This will never happen. Take a random poll of the guys you sit with in a matatu in the morning and in the evening and ask them, what is your purpose in life? This question will always be met with a perplexed look, a sigh and some amount of despair.

A couple of pastors have invaded the niche market of telling us our purposes in life, and for their trouble, they have reaped the fruits of working these murky waters. In all due fairness, it is impossible for a perfect stranger to walk up to  you and say, hey, you need to be a teacher of history. There is only one expert on matters concerning yourself. You. It is this reason therefore that informs my other pastime. Talking to myself. You see, I consider this as seeking expert opinion on matters that affect me from, you guessed it, the expert in me. Me. You too can benefit by consulting your expert and while you are at it, ask him/her, “what is the purpose of this life we are living?

Decide today.

 

Idling – do not disturb

One of the worst things you can do to yourself in Nairobi, or anywhere in Kenya really, is be all neat and stand alone away from the crowds looking confident.  Ladies and gentlemen, do not do it. I have discovered that nothing advertises “Live signpost, ask for directions here” than when I stand in a corner minding my own business. It never matters that the only thing that makes me stand in such a corner is usually the fact that I am lost as well and in need of said services which I am usually trying to cajole uncle google into providing.

Citizen of this great nation will always come and ask for directions to all manner of places.

“Excuse me sir, where is the admissions office?”

Hahaha. Really? Who calls me sir? Who calls absolute lost strangers sir?

“Admissions or administration?”

“Admissions”

He would definitely expect someone he just called sir to know the difference between administration and admissions.

“Are you sure they do not have admissions in the administration building?”

“Eeeh. No.”

“I do not know man, but we can find out together.”

As I hail a passing security officer and enquire on the behalf of a stranger about the admissions office, I am pleasantly satisfied with the look on the young man’s face. A look of pure condescending disgust. I suspect he was replaying all those moments his mother told him not to talk to strangers. The security officer pointed him in the correct direction, which happened to be the very building we were standing outside. I felt for him.

You see I was almost idling waiting for someone to process some documents as I soaked in some valuable sunshine and generally avoiding to bother people. I was also enjoying looking at the stream of humanity going about their business. The compound was a catwalk. A melting pot of colour, fashion and automobiles. I was immersed in discussions with myself about matters of national importance. When I am talking to myself, I do not like to get interrupted otherwise I forget what I was telling myself. For that reason, anyone who interrupts must pay me back in humour, or a story.

I do not know how much pleasure you derive from engaging strangers in a discussion they had not planned for. You see, I rarely know where I am so asking me for directions is usually an invitation for me to tell you about my views about global warming. It makes my day.

A Toyota fielder promptly pulls over. A male driver with his lady love. I say lady love because who else in this world drives with his hand riding up his lady colleague’s thigh? So, lady love it is or he has not read this institution’s sex harassment policy. The gentleman, without moving his hand, asks me if they can find a photo studio where they can have their passport photos taken.

“I am not sure about a studio, but I know where you can find a printer.”

“My friend, how will that help?”

Dear parents, teach your children not to talk to strangers. And If they do, not to call them friends.

“You have a smartphone, don’t you? What if I told you that you could take your own passport photo against this wall with your phone then went on to find someone to print it, what would you say?”

His lady love was very amused. She laughed a good one. The gentleman not so much. My advice flew over him and cast a shadow of anger in his previously lecherous eyes. His fingers finally left the thigh I thought they were glued to. He extended a long disapproving finger at me and asked why I thought it was funny to waste his time. He couldn’t accept the wisdom of the fact that it is easier to find a printer in an educational institution than to find a photo studio. He wound up his window with his love in stiches. No man likes it when a stranger makes his lady love laugh. (See what I did there? Alliteration baby, yeah)

I was disappointed he did not stay to listen to the story of how Kodak lost the game to digital photography or my idea of how bad passport photos are to the environment and how institutions should be forced to take digital photos instead. Ladies and gentlemen, next time you ask a stranger for directions, be kind enough to listen to a story. You might like it.

Our cuckoo clock

Sometimes, you sit alone. The television is off and the only thing that punctuates the midnight silence is the ticking of two out of sync clocks. One clock is un-remarkable. A small round white clock. I would have preferred it with roman numerals but that is not how Ajanta saw it. The other clock too is tiny, but this one tugs at the strings of my heart. A wooden cuckoo clock complete with carvings of birds mid-flight, maple leaves and a swinging pendulum. Pine corns hang from this house shaped clock in who’s arctic used to exist a pair of doors that have since been broken off by some two little men. In their place, a gaping ugly hole remains but if you peer inside, you will see a tiny plastic bird, but by far, my favourite bird if we do not count chicken. The little yellow cuckoo bird comes out of her broken house every hour even when we are all asleep and sings her song faithfully. She coo koo’s and flaps her green wings, whistles and makes joyful noise, then she retracts back to her broken house to wait another hour.

My big brother has a cuckoo clock as well. When he was in the university just before I joined Moi university, he sported two cuckoo clocks on a wall in a Nakuru supermarket. He was smitten by the clocks. A student and moneyless, five thousand shillings was way out of reach for him. Every time he went to Nakuru, he would pop into the supermarket, go to the clocks section and there were his favourite two clocks. He wold move the minute hand till it struck the top of the hour and watch the little bird come out and sing.

“I will buy that clock one day.” He used to say.

“It is too expensive..” was my answer every time he said it.

Several months down the line as I travelled to Nairobi from Eldoret, he sent me five thousand shillings on Mpesa with the simplest instruction ever.

“When you get to Nakuru, buy me my clock.”

I left one cuckoo clock still hanging in the shop when I bought my brother his clock. That was thirteen years ago. When I delivered his clock to him, he hanged it on the wall and made the poor little bird sing so many times I thought she would get a sore throat. After he graduated, I lived with my big brother for a long time whenever I was on holidays and that is where I also fell in love with the clock. The first opportunity I got to go back to Nakuru, I used it to go and see if the last clock was still on the supermarket wall. I was crestfallen. The clock had long been sold. I checked in the clock sections of all supermarkets in every town I found myself in but never found another cuckoo clock. I gave up.

Years passed and the dreams of owning a cuckoo clock were long forgotten. One day, when my wife, my boys and I were scouring the market in Liverpool hunting for bargains, I heard the song of a cuckoo bird.

“That sounds like Jeff’s clock,” I said.

“They actually look like his clock.” My wife said pointing at them.

And there in the middle of the Liverpool market were four tiny cuckoo clocks. It is not every day that a man sees a sight so overwhelming. The seller wanted twenty pounds for the clock, but since my boys were excited about it, he let me have it for fifteen. I bought batteries and off we went on the bus back to Manchester. However, the clock “never made it”. When we arrived, she was ticking but the bird was stuck in her house and not singing. I was heartbroken. My clock was broken. I put her on the shelf, my beloved cuckoo clock with a shy bird. When it was time to come back home, I packed her and shipped her here. I placed her in the TV cabinet to gather dust. She told time faithfully but never sung. My boys opened her doors and crammed her house with crayons. They Killed my bird and yanked out the doors to her house.

One year after we came back home, working late at night, I heard a low growl. More like when a rat gnaws on card board. I paused to listen again. I decided my TV cabined harboured a rat infestation. When I went to move the cabinet to inspect it, I realised the sound came from my invalid clock. It was the cuckoo bird struggling to come out of her tiny house, pushing against crayons. My heart melted. She was alive. She had refused to die. She was not singing, but she was growling, a tiny little growl, an insult of sorts to all those who thought she was down and out and decided to entomb her in crayons.

In less than an hour, with my tools spread out on the coffee table, I had managed to clean her mechanisms, changed her batteries, rid her house of crayons and reassembled the clock. I moved the minute hand to the top of the hour. There were a few clicks, the sound of a spooling motor and then the majestic little bird came out of her door-less house and started singing. A song of defiance and resurrection. A song of mockery to all her haters. Her wings flapped and her tiny red beak moved. Satisfied with herself, she went back to her house to rest.

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I hung her up properly with all the honors deserving of a clock. I made sure she was not synchronised with the little white wall clock. For me it was not important whether she told the correct time. As far as I was concerned, every time she told was the correct time not to give up. She has been singing now for more than six months. She is our cuckoo clock.

It is now a quarter to one o’clock in the morning, I am waiting for my little bird to come out and sing her song once. Then I will go to bed

Deja vu

I do not know what it is that you think about when you have nothing to think about.  I have always thought that at the limits of thought, when you have thought of buying new underwear, decided to move houses again because rent is killing you and giving yourself a warning about the dangers of wheat, the mind would go coasting into some kind of an electronic hum. A floating mind in deep black thought-o-sphere (see I just created a word) with an occasional brain pulse to make sure the damn heart downstairs does not keel over and die and other what-nots, but generally silence in the mind. Aaaah..naivety. I think the fact that you think that you are not thinking is a major lie because by just doing that, you are already actively engaged in the thought of nothingness. I postulate that it is possible to enter into a cyclic thought of thinking that you are not thinking from where it is impossible to recover. Do not do it. The mind is incapable of nothingness. Or at least, mine is not.

At the periphery where I expect my end of thinking capacity to exist, exists another world. A vast expanse of earth with woody smells and chirping birds. A world I love but I think I am not really in control of (it is not like I am in control of any world anyway… but hey). In there where I expect serenity, are cities, people, some with bad body odour and some who are pretty pleasant. At the end of my thoughts are communities of two feet tall men with bad tempers…a whole nation of voters. There are characters there, some with familiar faces but are more eloquent than their real life doppelgangers. I think I created all of them. This world my friends is my world. I am the Lord over all these fellows. They talk to me and I give them rain, bounty harvests and install presidents.

Now, when people say, “In my world this and that never happens…”, I always get curious. I am yet to meet people that admit to actually having a “my world” so I always take it as a random figure of speech. However, in my world, there are no boundaries. Everything happens. My world gets visitations by aliens and they are welcome. In My world physics does not hold. The fundamental laws of nature do not count, but my ohh my. I love the conversations in my world and that right there is the problem.

I am becoming antisocial. It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to hold conversations with actual people. I prefer instead to clone them and transplant them into my world where they talk better and are civil. It is a painless way of having mature discussions un-peppered by useless emotion or political views that I do not support. It is the surgical removal of humans from my social circles. A new world order. I know. It is a bullshit way of running one’s life but considering the major deletion of drama and how hilarious I can make people in my world, I am into this with all my heart and it is getting worse. I make all unpleasant people walk off twenty storey buildings and when they splash down on hard tarmac, they do not leave messy smears. It is all neat. I do not miss people as much. I can always see them whenever I want.

While all these sounds like stuff for which I should have a pill or six prescribed with lots of bed rest, I say no but no thank you. My world serves a nobler cause than any five pills will ever do. It keeps me from running around town with a chain saw causing general havoc and that famous thing called public disturbance. When you see me walk down the street gesturing and smiling to myself, or with a cross face, please do not interrupt. Let the plot in my head flow thick and fast. Do not stare, it is rude. Let the fights in my world get resolved. Do not chuckle, I do not like getting distracted from my personal distraction. Let me be and be on your way. One of these days we will meet, and I will tell you a not so hilarious story and the first thing you say will freeze me because it will sound like I have heard it before…some deja-vu. Or maybe not. Maybe I have been talking to you a lot in my head.

SPIKES AND LEATHER

Sometimes you find yourself sitting at the edge of the bed, deeply engrossed in the beauty that is the woman of your dreams. You watch her glide effortlessly across the room. She is wearing your pyjama trunks, which is weird because they are not supposed fit around her heavenly hips. She is blessed with hips. If you could change her name, you would call her Hippy although you suspect she wouldn’t take it too kindly to having a name that closely sounds like a hippo. You will one day call to her, “Hippy dearest.”

Silence.

“Hippy?”

No reply.

You will walk over to where she is and ask, “Eish Hippy, can’t you hear me call?”

“Are you calling me fat?”

“Fat? Where did that come from?”

“Why do you call me Hippy? It sounds like Hippo. Hippos are fat.”

“But baby hippos are cute.”

“Do not change the topic. You know I am conscious about my hips. Am I only hips to you? Is that all I am?”

You will not answer that. Hips are a major part of what she is to you. But only a fool makes such an admission. You cannot tell her she has one fine head. She might be conscious about her hairline. There is no way of winning her over into the light of bliss. So you say the first thing that comes to your mind, “No Janet, you are my entire world.”

Anyway, back to the bed, she is saying something about love and commitment. You have not really been listening. You have been watching her pace up and down. You do not want to admit she has been talking too much. She mentions Tanya, and that Tanya is happy and all. You are a little shocked because she mentioned her like you should know her. You have clearly missed large chunks of her story. You make a mental note to pay more attention but you just cannot. You are distracted. Of all the things Hippy has done, she is wearing a leather jacket. A close cut leather jacket, unzipped, with spikes at the shoulders and nothing underneath.

Now, you will agree with me that there is nothing in the history of the entire damn world as sexy as a woman all topless save for a leather jacket. Her breasts, are in there somewhere, free but as always antagonistic. They face sideways, like they are jealous of each other, but you love them whole heartedly. Oh how you love them. Now she is speaking about fake friends. You throw in a random line.

“Fake friends are just the worst.”

“I know, right. If I knew Tanya would turn out this way, I wouldn’t have bothered…”

As she trails off in a monotone you are left mesmerised at how rapidly Tanya moved from all happy to a fake friend. First things first, who the hell is Tanya? But it is too late to get that clarification. So you continue to grunt responses and nod your head like you are following. But you have other agendas. You stand up and walk towards where she is bent over the dressing table. Your legs feel so heavy, like they are chained to the bed posts. She peering at the mirror at a pimple on her nose. There is a look of disgust in her eyes.

“Does this pimple make me look like a Rhino?”

You cannot help yourself, you laugh yourself silly. She is not impressed.

“Janet love, even if you were a Rhino, I would risk my life to poach you”

“Now that is just lame.”

You grab her by her waist, it wobbles like jelly. That is not supposed to happen but you ignore it. You draw her close and try to kiss her bet she pulls away and she says that before you get any ideas you have to fulfil your promises.

“What promise? I keep all my promises.”

“You said you would help with my assignment”

She hands you a paper and says it is her math assignment. You read it, it does not make sense, you are not sure it is even written in English. There is a lot here that does not add up. You can feel the excitement in your loins ebb away. Damn it maths.

As you pretend to be thinking about the task at hand, you hear someone from a distance saying you promised to bring milk but you didn’t. You are a little confused. You need a diary to keep track of all your promises. You look around, Hippy is nowhere to be seen. Then there is pain in your leg that jolts you to another level of consciousness.

You awaken from your dreams and standing at the foot of your bed is the actual woman of your dreams. She is not happy so she has shattered your dreams.

“Did you forget to buy milk again?”

“Did you just slap my legs?”

“No I did not, you must have had a bad dream. Now how do we make breakfast without milk?”

“Eeeeh. You know you should buy a leather jacket.”

“What?”

“With metal spikes at the shoulders”

“I am asking about milk and all you think about is a leather jacket?”

“I will get milk.”

As you walk all cold to the shops you cannot shake the dreams from your head. So you call Gidi, your boy and tell him the story. He listens carefully and the only thing he says is, “You guy, you are crazy. Where are you? What are you doing now?”

“I am buying milk.”

“I would drink cold milk as well if I had such dreams.”

And such are dreams. You come too close to achieving them until bad maths scuttles them. That and the promise to bring milk that you never kept.

PARENT’s DAY

There is one fact all parents know but they will never admit. Babies are disgusting, whinny, expensive, selfish people with the sense of gratitude of a dead horse. When they are born, they deprive you of sleep. They yell, eat and poop. They drool over everything and vomit on your computer. They refuse to talk for almost three years and when they finally talk, they demand lavish “Ben 10” themed birthday parties. There is a reason parents do not admit these things. It is so that all you people without children will find out this secret the hard way. I have just saved you the nastiest surprise of your life. You should pay me.

After the most honest and therapeutic paragraph I have ever written in my entire life, I will also go ahead and tell you that most of that tale that we as parents have sold you over the years contains irrefutable truths. If you forgive babies of all their “sins” or if the babies are not yours, babies can be a lovely crop of humans. I have also come to start thinking that they make a lovely scape goat for us to adopt some amount of peculiarity and madness that we can only explain as, “you will understand when you become a parent.” We make life threatening sacrifices for these fellows, sometimes to the point where we forget our very selves. If this is not madness then I do not know what I am talking about.

I have chosen to extract payback from life for these sacrifices. I milk all my situations of all the fun juice they can offer. The other day (it was actually more than six months ago) I took a matatu in the morning to go to an appointment I had with the manager of a school I wanted to enrol my little men in. It was one of those matatu’s that you cannot wait to get off. It smelled of a wet dog and old puke with the radio tuned to Classic FM, real poison for my nose and spirit. When I got to the school, confusion had descended there and brought her clan. There were speeches, songs and primary schools selling their services. The school manager was swallowed by the crowds and left me standing at a door post, forgotten. Parent’s day.

Now, before that material day, it had been over thirteen years since I had last attended a parent’s day. Even then, I attended it beside my father. Walking from subject teacher to the next. They all had the same script, they downplayed my achievements and insisted I had far greater potential than I was pretending to have. Maybe those fellows were right. Or maybe not. I am still hunting for that promised potential. Anyway, thirteen years later, I found myself in the thick of activities that comprise parent’s day and this time I was the parent. Or at least, I was a prospective parent in that school. I think someone stole those thirteen years. I am old. Now, I do not know why I never saw this parent’s day thing for the fun it could be. Forget the chaos, the small things.

This day was never without a huge serving of razzmatazz when I was a pupil. That menu has actually not been watered down over the years. If anything, somebody found a way to throw in a handful of glitter and that other thing that I hate. Swag. The whole thing has been shaken together nicely and is now served with side orders of hoity-toity. Step aside guardians. This is not guardian’s day, not at all. It is parent’s day and they were there.  Mamas and daddies with their clans. It was a fashion show extraordinaire for big and little people. The tech savvy had cameras bigger than their babies. There, everything was in display. There were men in impeccable suits, well-trimmed hair and waxed faces. They did not talk to other parents. These were the fellows who have life figured out. The model daddy’s that I should aspire to be like in a few years. There was also a different crop of dads, the loud ones in polo shirts with the collars turned up. They wore denim shorts and open shoes. They were the social fellows, they greeted everyone and knew all the teachers by name. It was difficult not to like them. They called everyone “baba” or “honey”. They even wrestled smiles from the “secret service” daddies.

I think parent’s days were invented for mommies. Oh my. They trooped into the school in a symphony of colour and perfume. They had flooded the parking and were now chocking the road with cars. Mom’s came in all sizes. They glided so effortlessly across the lawns in their high heels. You could tell which ones went to the same chama. They hugged, kissed, took group selfies and uploaded them immediately onto Instagram. I could even imagine their hashtags #Schoolthings #Friendsforever #Momswithamission #chama_mamas. They were dolled up in makeup and wrapped to various degrees in delicate fabrics. Some arrived in over exposed cleavages while some had their hair natural embellished with a brightly coloured ribbon and a tiny flower. Pure class. If you want to know how to accessorise your dress, stand at a school gate on parent’s day. If you want to make money as well, go into the business of hair extensions. You will never sleep hungry.

The day’s dress code for the kids was a white top and black trousers with a ribbon for the little heads. For such a small school, it was amazing to see the size of the community that sent its children there. Any politician would love such a crowd. Children were bundled in age groups. All their classes were named after fruits. They had performances lined up for their parents and other visitors. In short order, they were killing me with the joyous off key songs that only over excited children can sing. It was painful to listen but the comical value could not be ignored. As I was minding my own business, trying to be inconspicuous and enjoying the squeals of babies, I was accosted by a little rascal. The tiny chubby fellow huffed up to me and did not even bother with pleasantries. He grabbed my phone and got busy flipping through my apps. He unapologetically said he was checking if I had games. For a few seconds I was left wondering if games were illegal in the school compound. Was the little fellow the anti-mobile phone games prefect? Satisfied that I didn’t have games installed, he handed it back to me but not without a reprimand. “You should download games. Some of your children will love them.” I mean, how many children does he think I have? Who are his parents anyway?

As it happens, I am now a parent in this very school not because of the promise of good quality education for my children, but because some daddy was happy to see me and called me baba. I know, I am trivial. I also have a separate agenda with this school, I pop in regularly in search of the little thug that grabbed my phone. I need to tell him that while I still do not have games on my phone I only have two children and that if he is not nice I will tell everyone in the school that he sleeps in a baby cot. I have recently had the opportunity to attend an official parent’s day. A half day of nothing but being entertained by kids who would rather be at gallito’s eating chicken. My boys now know a few Luhya and Kikuyu songs. They are not allowed to sing them in my house. There is only so much noise disguised as folk music that anyone can stomach. If I want another dose of their songs, I will wait until this school term ends.

PS: I have acquired a new pair of denim shorts. I am set for the next parent’s day.

THE KIAMBU MIDDLE CLASS

Writing is difficult. Probably one of the worst hobbies you can ever pick. If you have a choice between writing and rolling in the mud, roll in the mud. The most heart wrenching bit about writing is that ideas come at the wrong time. Sentences invade your head when you are registering students. They engage in a tango in your mind. You can see them build characters, you re-read them over and over in your subconscious and they give you a smile. You love the story. You can feel it arrive, a writer’s mental ejaculation. Then you sit at your computer, and the story commits suicide. I have lost count of the number of stories that died on my keyboard. They were brilliant pieces. But then, they chose to keel over and die. We need a hash tag for all those stories that expire before they are told.

I have had some of my friends ask what happened to my blog. So I pulled that smart statement, you know, “a writer’s block”. Fancy line that mere mortals should not know anything about because the only thing they ever write is a cheque for their rent. However, it has become increasingly difficult to sell this line. Someone told me that a writer’s block is limited to three weeks. Anything above that is laziness. I am shocked there are rules on this thing. So I promised to write, even if it was six lines. That was seven months ago. I know. I am lazy. Let us move on. I have finally come round, I took a story, it fainted, I resuscitated it, slapped it across the face and told it to behave. Here goes…

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Sometimes in life, you stray from the streets on your way home and into a bar you go. Trust me, it is not always about the thirst for a drink or three. Sometimes all you want is a choma sausage with kachumbari and a tonne of pepper. Maybe some inspiration as well, and to rub shoulders with the loud middle class of this city. Now, there is that primitive spot that gets massaged by seeing these middle class fellows in their ties, the ladies in designer trouser suits and balancing delicately Manolo Blahnik high heels. The men perched atop swivel bar stools. They all shout above the loud music to order a beer or some other flowery drink and continue their discussions about important matters. Matters that allegedly drive this economy.

The bar I stumbled into plays rock music only. Anything else is too far beneath the tastes of the men and women who oil our collective prosperity. On the long bar counter sits a dozen or so humongous hand bags in all the colours of the rainbow. I am sure in there, the country’s vision 2030 is well taken care of. Here there is a thick sense of self importance. You can almost grab it if it were not for the heavy cloud of perfume that grabs your nose and refuses to let go. You can smell these chaps from a mile. The smell of achievement.

Now, to the un-initiated, there are two kinds of Kenyan middle class. The regular loud one of Nairobi, all flashy and always speaking English with American accents picked up at KFC. Then there is the Kiambu middle class. The Kiambu middle class is different. They are proud of their accents. The kikuyu accent. They prefer to speak Kikuyu. But let this not fool you. These are the next who is who of this society. They have all sorts of businesses from poultry farms to law firms. They are authorities in their fields.  If you want to meet them, you drive along Kiambu road. When you get to Thindigua, you exit the road and get into the first pub on your right. “Thaaraini”.

It is not every day that you find yourself in a bar named after napier grass. But then again, how often are you in a Kiambu pub? Thaaraini. Yes, that is the name. Thaaraini. “In the napier grass”. How original. Someone woke up one day, decided to build a pub, looked for a name and decided napier grass. I have a feeling if it ever fails as business, it would be converted into a firm for.. you guesed it. Grass. Now, a whiff of disdain is the only thing I feel about the pub’s name. The rest of the establishment is a classic story of pubs within a pub. There are what I imagine are sovereign pubs in there. A butchery selling and roasting the best goat ribs in the world and a urinal as deep as a world war trench.

Now, more than the allure of a cold pilsner, what draws me into the pub is the occasional meeting with the blooming crop of my Kiambu friends. A crop of swashbuckling fellows that leave most of their English on Kiambu road as they turn into Thindigua and get embraced by the napier grass. The Kiambu middle class. These are men that when they split a bill two ways, fight to pay the bigger chunk with speeches that begin with “Todu nii dire kihii”. (because I am not uncircumcised). Kikuyu frugality dies as you enter the grass you tribalist.

In Thaaraini, there is no pretense or claims of imagined self-importance. The music is kept low so that business deals can get hammered. Here everyone claims they are struggling even when they are asking the waitress to lay four bottles of Jameson and a flask of hot water on the table. They let Jameson decide what is important. They do not discuss the reports they handed over to their bosses in the evening and how brilliant they imagine they are. NO. They discuss an available plot of land that is on sale past Kiambu town at a place called Kanunga. Or was it Lioki? I cannot remember. But they are pooling resources to buy the land. It is cheap. It is only Ksh 2.75 million bob for a quarter an acre. I already like these chaps.

The story of the Nairobi middle class is as real as it is a fallacy. Some fellows are true members of this society. They are the wealth creators, buying plots in Kanunga and enjoying the fruits of their labour in a dingy pub plotting their next moves. Then there is the middle class wannabe. The caretakers of other people’s wealth. They are the fellows that are one paycheque away from eviction and the flashiest (is that a word?). I do not know what kind of middle class fellow you are, but when I grow up, you will catch me in Thaaraini paying for my plot in Lioki.

I WILL GO TO MOSCOW

We all have that one uncle that we are not completely sure how exactly we are related to each other but he is an uncle all the same. They are the uncles that always tell you all those stories that begin with, “when your father was young, he was a little rascal…” I am no exception, I have several of those who have punctuated my life with amazing tales of a young man that later became my father. These days I look at my dad sitting and enjoying his old age and I cannot help but smile. I wonder how he would react if he knew that I know the story and the circumstances under which my grandfather decided he was now old enough to own a pair of shorts.

My all-time favourite distant uncle was a man whose actual name no one bothered to tell me, or if anyone ever did, I was too fascinated with the man and his adopted name to remember his real name. He called himself the Dollar Man although he pronounced it all wrong. Every time he staggered into our compound after making sure my mom was out of town and saw me, he would scream, “The Ndora Man is here.” It always cracked me up. I do not think he had the ability to spell his adopted name but that did not put him down. He was always drunk, happy and bubbly.

Mr. Ndora Man had no formal education to boast about but he was a man with fourteen large egos. When he was a young man, he found work in Nairobi first as a driver then as a trainee mechanic for D.T Dobbie. He had long tales about the workings of a Nissan engine and the complexities of a Mercedes Benz gear box. However, the highlight of his career, the turning point of his life was when he met the fabled Mrs. DT Dobbie and gave her some demonstration of some sort. It is amazing the things that make some people happy.

Ndora man had a dream to go to Moscow. Of all the corners of the world he could dream about, he chose Moscow. 15 years retired and as drunk as a skunk, he was telling me he was still going to go to Moscow. He always danced and in a dangerously incoherent English song, you couldn’t miss the words, “…when I go to Moscow…” I never heard the rest of his words. Ndora man passed away several years ago. He never went to Moscow. I do not know if Mrs. Dobbie always remembered the demonstration of raw skill she saw from Ndora man.

I wish the fellow was still alive. I would love to go to my village to sit him down and tell him stories of my journeys to the lands far away. The land of Mrs. D T Dobbie. The madness of the London underground railway especially on Sunday morning. I would love to captivate him with the stories of the football stadiums of England and of days spent sipping cider. I can picture him in my mind’s eye. Ndora man sitting on a wooden stool, grey eyes staring back at me and his walking stick pocking holes absent mindedly on the dry earth. The only indication that he is following my story would be an occasional twitch of his silver moustache.

In my mind, that distant uncle of mine would have eventually left. Staggering on his walking stick, the weight of his age slumping his shoulders. When he walks past me as I hold the gate open for him, he would have said, “That was London you went to…Once you go to Moscow, aki ya Ngai….” I would have never caught the rest of that conversation as it would have gotten drowned in some song about adventures in Moscow and overshadowed by his comical dance and wild whistling. He would have left me happy and in stitches.

One day I will go to Moscow.

I HAVE BECOME MY FATHER.

Whether it was active or passive, I am a beneficiary of some kind of feminism. A beneficiary of a devastating hammer blow to the glass edifice that is the traditional “roles of men and women”. I am where I am because someone saw it fit to shove traditional status quo down the poopy hole of dying customs. Looking back at the decisions taken by my father in the upbringing of his children, the only thing I see is a man who walked a cultural tight rope, risking it all to give his children a chance to take a proper shot at life. I have lost count of the number of hours where I have sat and wondered if my sons will ever look back and think, “Our dad went all out to make sure we got here.”  At the end of the day, parenting is a complex amalgamation of events which are sadly evaluated when you as a parent are not able to right your wrongs.

I will never grow fat. While all you healthy-living enthusiasts break into some kind of jubilation at one less soul that will not bother you with obesity in the near future, I am beside myself with sorrow. It has recently struck me that however much I try, I cannot fatten. My “fat” algorithm runs with profound errors. Whenever I go on a fattening diet, I break out with ugly pimples that even I cannot stand. I am resigned to the disgusting thought that if I ever grow fat, it will be because I broke out into a billion pimples that finally coalesced to make me one large fat pimple. My quest for weight gain is effectively dead after a thousand false starts. I have accepted that whenever people see me with my sons, the fact that I am their father might always be the last thing in their minds. I am too skinny to be anyone’s father. I will move on.

A few days ago, my little boys started school in Manchester. Now, even in my wildest imagination, I would never have thought that my children would go to school abroad. OK, technically speaking it is a glorified play school and the only things they learn are new games, pick an English word here and there and have age mates to play with. I am not going to let facts get in the way of my moment of monumental achievement. There is still a lot to be done since my little men speak only one language, Swahili, and no one at the school seems to understand them but still, they have an amazing attitude about school and who wouldn’t? It is all fun and games, a little toilet, a little sink and pretty much a little everything else as well. It is a world shrunk down to a baby’s liking.

My own childhood or what remains of it in my otherwise very good memory is dotted with so much adventure and fun that it would give my mom a heart attack. I did all I could do with my childhood. I broke all of my hands and got blind for a month. However, every time I get this sad feeling when I walk them through the school doors and watch them run along to play. They are eager to explore, to learn, to make a new friend or a new memory. To pen down a line or two in the pages that are their childhood. Do not get me wrong, I do not want them to stop, I want to hope they can enjoy it as much as they ever can. Life is fleeting. Today, you are young and without a care and tomorrow you are old and frail. My boys were born the other day, it still feels weird that they talk and understand things and that they are already three years old and going to school. I fear they are growing up too fast.

Since they arrived, they have taunted me on a daily basis about my hair. You see it is very cold out here for me and I have grown my hair to insulate my head. Every day is a difficult day for me. It starts with my big boy asking, “Dad, utanyolewa siku gani?”

“Nitanyolewa kesho”. I have no plans of shaving my hair but his twin brother always adds salt to an already festering wound.

“Kesho? Dad, nywele yako ni mbaya mbaya..unyolewe ukue smart kama mimi”

Since I do not want to be told by a three year old on a daily basis how shaggy my hair is, I have a compulsive hair combing routine.

The celebration of birthdays are never a properly sobering reminder to the passing of age. The start of body pains in the morning, the slight creaking of bones when you move after sitting still for too long or the fifteenth birthday of your daughter is the proper jolt required to awaken a dead man. Mine came differently with the appearance of grey hair on my head. I am not sure when I got them but I think they are ninja hair. I woke up one day, combed my hair and boom. I have grey hair. Whenever I imagined getting grey temples, I always thought it would be a near divine moment. I imagined they would be handed to me accompanied with a scroll of wisdom. I thought when I finally got them, I would be a sage sitting on feathery pillows oozing wise counsel to multitudes. Surprises are meant to be good but this one was not. I never at any time thought I would be thrust into mid old age or whatever this is by a mare flick of my comb.

Once in a while a man finds himself at the crossroad of thoughts. A point where reality forces itself into your daydreams and for just a little while you stop to contemplate. Here I am, freshly grey haired and all for what? These days I sit alone in silence and however much I try, I cannot detect this wisdom thing in me. I know nothing about life. I know nothing about growing up. I know nothing about love. I know nothing about anything. The fellow who equated grey hair to wisdom needs to be tortured for perpetuating myths and unrealistic expectations that are now tormenting a not so young mind.

In the performance of the symphony that is life, the applause of the spectator, sometimes, counts for naught. Only on this stage are you allowed to mess up and make a complete mockery of long standing norms about how a life ought to be lived. If you ask me right now, this is what I will tell you, “grey hair and age are out there and they will get you. Before they do, go out and explode. Break a rule or five, drink fine whisky and tell your neighbour you hate his music but he need not change. Get a fine woman, or a man or whatever tickles your fancy, it is alright. Settle down and read a book.” While you are at it, may you have the best of luck following through with that piece of advice.

I have always lived through an un-choreographed existence. Call it randomness if you may. I honestly cannot claim to be here due to some meticulous planning and carefully controlled adjustments of this life that I have been living. I am here because I am supposed to be here to do what I am doing. Sometimes, it is failure on the part of the son to admit that his father was always right. My old man always told me, “There are two constants in this life. There is no end to good things and you cannot understand women.” The fact that now I have grey hair like he does is probably a fulfilment of a nondescript wise man’s blubbering, “we all grow old and become our parents.” Save for my weight, I have become my father.