On the go! (Part One: Tik Tok…)

When the music stops and the rhythm dies. When the tap is closed and the face is dry…it all comes flashing back. It all comes rushing past. The failures, disappointments, opportunities, successes. The ambitions, desires, dream. The people who matter most…

It’s evening and Steve is flipping his pen quietly by his desk. Another day after work. He has made it big. He’s worked his ass off to rise up the ladder and get a prestigious corporate job. He has got the cash. He is living the Nairobi dream. Then he breaks down and cries.

Hold up. Hold up. Why do these stories always have to end this way? I mean we are raised up to work for a better life: to uphold the principles of discipline, trustworthiness and consistency in hardwork. Then somewhere along the line someone tells us that this is not the answer to happiness. Really now?!

I mean look at me right now. I have woken up early in the morning and done all that discipline stuff to report to work early in the morning…a few minutes late as usual (I worked hard to maintain my culture and image of tardiness) when I find this guy doing some talk about the mind: which I figure is just an excuse to sell his book to fellow bankers.

He does everything right. His introduction is perfect. He talks about his life as a fellow banker to connect with other members of staff. He is an excellent orator. He talks about his struggles in the corporate life and how he quit his job to focus on neuroscience and transformative coaching. Then he mentions how Paul Kagame is his mentor. I’m impressed.

I am being moved to buy his book and I’m having non of it! I decide to use my other strength to get a close up interview with him and save myself the 400 bob so that I can give to the poor and needy. Ok I probably didn’t give that money to the poor and needy but I needed a good excuse.

So I lay out my strategy. It’s called the 10 second rule of new acquainances. (I hope this is not one of those moments where I feel good about inventing something cool, only to find it on YouTube 10 seconds later)

You have 10 seconds to make a good impression. Instead of heaping on yourself the unnecessary pressure, you simply divert the attention to the other person. Get him/her talking about himself/herself. Like what he/she does on a normal day; why he/she does it and how he/she thinks to sustain this life. Basically his/her values.

Now this is very risky move and if used improperly it will land you into having a very intimate conversations with every person you meet. So be careful if that is not your goal. But it’s a cool way to bond.

Once the person has finished giving his/her story or answering a question, he/she has 10 seconds of silence that should remain uninterrupted to enable him/her to go deeper. (Next time I am picking ‘him’ and leaving out ‘her’ in my writing. Nothing personal. I just can’t keep doing this ‘his/her’ business anyomore.)

So armed with this strategy I walk up to Steve. I introduce myself and we begin a chat.

The Shamba Diaries: Part Two (Taste the Soil)

“When I first set foot on this land I met a beggar. Moved with compassion, I handed him 500 Kenyan shillings (approximately 5 USD) and he went berserk with the wealth he had just acquired. In fact he called me a stupid person!” dad jocularly recounted.

Choices. We’ve all made those at some point in our lives. It could range from simple everyday on-the-spot ones (like what cardigan would look good with a green dress) to more complex mind-racking ones (like our life goals and long-term visions) that will definitely take us a bit longer to settle upon and even end up changing somewhere along the way.

For dad, that moment came when he went into retirement from the comfort of an ostensibly secure job at a government office to focus all his energies on tilling the land: commercial farming. This is happening the relatively tender age of fourty-five. Life begins at fourty they say…

He had the skill. He had the understanding of the dynamics behind this field. I had come to forcefully make him my consultant.

“Most people don’t know how to manage money,” he said. “That is all I do on this farm. I mange the flow of cash.”

I nod in awe as I later on watch the casual labourers flock into the farm religiously for their daily wage and bread. He is their hero. The one they turn to whenever they have needs they can’t afford. For that they give him their allegiance. By and by they grow to develop a sense of belonging. This becomes more than just a job. This becomes a community: a family.

Tea time is over and it’s time to get to work. New terms are being added to the already existing medical jargon in my repretoire of vocabulary. Local words like “masogoro” (maize cobs), “tandarua” (harvesting canvas) and others fly by. I have to keep stopping, Michael, the foreman, as he lays down the framework to the whole planting procedure plus the entire costs to be incurred. It’s soon time to get into the action!

“Rudi nyuma! Enda mbele! Zungusha! Apana sio hivyo,” the endless shouting of Sanjo are continuously rings in my ears. He has been instructed to show me the ropes and teach me how to plough. The fruits of his impact are rapidly felt and absolutely amazing! We are nearly landing into a ditch.

As has become the norm in this country, his display of patience was just to ask for money at the end of my training, I am tempted to hand him the ten shilling coin lying between me and financial poverty, but I refrain: lest I find myself on the other spectrum of stupidity (unlike dad and the beggar).

Nothing though beats the thrill of walking down the farm, with my arms folded like a boss, when the time for the harvest arrives. Everyone is hard at work. Yet one of them is laughing heartedly. It’s ashaming to find out that after twenty years of formal education, I can’t decipher whether it is a male or a female being. A shrill voice, a relatively flat backside (no voluptuous curves or anything) but slightly elevated chest cavity and masculine arms. I assume it is a man. A very peculiar man.

He invites me to come and “excercise” with him: which basically involves helping him reduce his work load. He ensures this is done tactfully.

“You strip the maize cobs like this and throw it there. Now you try. Very good! You see! Practice makes perfect. Practice makes what?” he remarks jovially. Of course he is testing me, but I go with the flow and join in the fun.

I can’t help smile back at the sons of my ancestors. I may not be sure of what the future holds at the moment. Will I make big bucks? Will I be a successful farmer alongside my career in medicine?

I guess we all reach that point where we have to define what matters most to us. We have to know what success looks like to us.

We probably ask ourselves questions like: “What achievement would make me most content even if I were to not achieve anything else? What would be a win for me, regardless of what others will choose to say?”

For now I can only have patience. I can rest knowing that there is a time for everything. Right now I just want to add value to people’s lives.

A collection of everyday experiences with a tinge of humor and reflection.

The Shamba Diaries: Part One (Side Hustle).

“I once had an interest in medicine. Tell me what it entails,” the lady suddenly bursts out after a sip of tea. I, together with my friend, was invited for a cup of tea by one of our neighbours. We gladly accepted and continued to indulge our cultural love for free things.

First of all, let’s have some background information for our international readers. In Western Kenya, a cup of tea is a big deal. It is such a big of a deal, it might just be important card to play to land you a wife. In fact tea-taking is an important ceremony graced by traditional dancers and captivating beats from the Isikuti drums. The men dance with vigour as the ladies sway with elegance. The children delightfully and unanimously sing along to the chorus of the celebratory song: Mwana wa mberi ni shikhoyalo. The elders of the home gather together around the priceless possession, and just before you know it…

Ok, I may have exaggerated a little. We don’t sing and dance while taking tea. Although, if you are contemplating settling in this part of the world, it will be wise to invest in a proper tank to store enough tea for the never-ending visitors.

We can now go back to the original story.

I delightfully recount my experiences as a medical student. I laugh inside as she listens in horror to the cadaveric encounter every student is greeted with in the first year of study. I begin feeling important as she carefully follows my philosophical nuggets about the life of a medical practitioner. I then divert the talk to the catch phrase lecturers have popularised with the sole aim of chasing students away from the love of medicine into a lifetime of pursuing business.

“You just cannot survive in this career if you want to make quick money,” I inform her.

I end up joining her in a session of silent nodding of heads after finishing my statement. It then hits me that I have just forgotten that I was the one speaking.

“I suppose that life is just not for me,” she retorts.

“What then is your plan for the holiday?” she asks inquisitively. “A hospital attachment perhaps?” she suggests.

Let’s pause a little for some more background information. Dear readers, Kenyan universities are just the best! In my university, The University of Nairobi, you are given an 11-month break, halfway through your first degree, to go and think about the mistake you are about to make in pursuing medicine while the rest of the country is pursuing stolen funds from the national treasury. This move has successfully rescued many lives from the future of constant strikes and loggerheads with the government for better pay and working conditions. It was my turn to think deeply about my life.

“No. I think I’ll go for something more lucrative,” I respond. I’m clearly suffering the effects of living in a capitalist economy.

I am thinking of juggling between a short contract at a local bank (which will see me discharge clerical duties) and directing the proceeds towards creating employment opportunities at the family farm.

To understand how this with works, you need to know that there are casual labourers in this country who work to earn a dollar a day. But that is a story for another day.

Right now I’m just taking a sip of tea and wondering whether this experimental double life as an employer-turned employee will work out.

The Ugali Chronicles: Part Two (Dirty Dishes)

One by one, drowsy masses leave the room. The crowd gets smaller: weaker. You can feel the strength of the reader fading away, and the power of sleep threatening to subdue.

A once virile and enthusiastic team of seven has now been abated to three conservative young aspiring doctors: the homies.

There’s no more talking. The rush and thrill is no longer there. The atmosphere is still and dowdy.

The dirty plates have been piled up neatly in a corner. Their fate is unclear. They have been abandoned…forsaken. They have served the team well; but now they sit neglected. Only to be used again when the need arises.

“Mimi naenda kulala. Niamshe ukienda kulala,” says the voice of drowning man clutching at a straw.

“Sawa,” retorts the shaken voice of uncertainity.

A chill breeze sweeping across our feet chases away the sleep. The effect is however temporary. There is absolutely no hope of going any further.

As the flicker of the bulb is greeted by dusk, one can only ponder on what the future holds. Is there promise? Is all this worth it? Will there a reward for our efforts? Or like, the dirty dishes, one is about to be pushed to the side by a fateful result. Like the dirty dishes, one is about to be rejected…

The Ugali Chronicles: Part One.

“Zile drugs under the the class of tri-azolo-benzo-…kitu, zilikuwa gani?”

There is a momentary hush: followed by a franctic flipping of pages.

“Si ungoje nikuambie,” comes the retort.

“Kwanza zinaitwa triazolobenzodiazepines,” he begins with confidence, “And that’s all I know,” he concludes with a menacing laugh.

“Hizi classes hata hazitatusaidia kwa hosi. Ni kukula kichwa tu!”

You can sense the tension, the frustration. The phobia of examination failure grips as something new is said; and another one, and another one!

Finally we decide we’ve had enough. As men we shall not be tortured by both fear and hunger. We may go into that exam room to be slaughtered. But first we must fatten ourselves…literally.

We humbly take our positions of reflection as the cook gets the sufurias ready and the guy on Wikipedia continues to add to our misery by jabbering to us the knowledge we don’t want to hear, but don’t have a choice.

It’s headed to 10 p.m. and the waft of burning flour fills the room. We are still sitted humbly, but deep down our hearts are perplexed and in anguish. So many questions flood our minds.

Why is there so much coming up at the last minute? Why isn’t there one exam that finds us fully prepared? Is the cook eating our ugali from the sufuria as he is cooking?

We are served and we munch in silence. The guy on Wikipedia has resorted to class notes; much to our relief. The food is illegal and we know it. We could face life imprisonmemt for beind found eating illegally cooked food in our hostels. Worse still, we stood the risk of having our food confiscated!

But we don’t care. We are prepared to pay the price. Let this be our last supper before the D-day. We need the break. We need the fellowship. We need the one thing that adds flavor to our coming together.

The Sudden Storm

It’s dusk. The rain outside continues to pour relentlessly. He’s sought shelter in a nearby mall. The tropical rain thunders on. He stares at his phone in quiet meditation. He knows what’s coming. He knows how he’ll react. That’s the worst part of it all. He knows.

He’s done his best to prepare for the moment. But he’s not sure if he’s ready for what will follow afterwards.

Is he ready for the tumultuous change that’s about to come? Is he ready to battle the storm of disappointment? Is he ready to fight seethingly to preserve a heart that is still prepared to give to the world? Still give unconditionally? Still give with love?

7:05 p.m.

“It has to be done,” he reassures himself. “God give me strength.”

He dials.

Transition. Many have been down this road before. It’s not your cup of tea. You’ll fight hard. You’ll resist.

It’s not a road we are naturally willling to take, or continue taking in the long run. It changes an individual’s world view. His/her character may follow suit. Sometimes not in the best possible way. It may catch us unprepared: psychologically and, consequently, emotionally. It mostly happens during the seasons of life that I refer to as “beginnings” and “endings”. It could be the loss of a loved one, the start and end of a relationship, the start of a new career, beiginning to live in a foreign land…

It did with Jonah in the boat. Imagine coming from a peaceful night’s rest to a forced swimming lesson in the middle of nowhere. This is followed by three days in a fish’s belly.

Yet his prayer I’d like to share. Perhaps it will resonate with your heart to see God at the end of the storm. You have confronted your fears and you’re wondering what next. Here’s the Word for you today:

Jonah 2:1-9 (NIV)

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. 2 He said:

“In my distress I called to the Lord,

and he answered me.

From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,

and you listened to my cry.

3 You hurled me into the depths,

into the very heart of the seas,

and the currents swirled about me;

all your waves and breakers

swept over me.

4 I said, ‘I have been banished

from your sight;

yet I will look again

toward your holy temple.’

5 The engulfing waters threatened me,

the deep surrounded me;

seaweed was wrapped around my head.

6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;

the earth beneath barred me in forever.

But you, Lord my God,

brought my life up from the pit.

7 “When my life was ebbing away,

I remembered you, Lord,

and my prayer rose to you,

to your holy temple.

8 “Those who cling to worthless idols

turn away from God’s love for them.

9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise,

will sacrifice to you.

What I have vowed I will make good.

I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’ ”

Friends may God teach us the true essence of praising Him in every storm. May He teach us to see His every loving, ever guiding, ever saving hand.

May we learn to trust. Trust Him…

Alone but not forsaken

She stares at the plate of french fries set before her. Joyfully, she munches away the delight of deep-fried masala. A couple of bites down the road and she sighs. The familiar buzz of traffic and miscellaneous conversations fills the atmosphere. She glances at her phone. “What could he be upto now?” she questions thoughtfully. The days have gone by and he’s still nowhere to be seen. “He must be having the time of his life,” she concludes. She smiles. But it’s not all smiles. Nay! For he is not with her: sharing in this delight, sharing in the most beautiful things life has to offer. A tinge of anger and a myriad of questions set in. The most important one being: “When will he be back?” The subtle cry of a longing heart. She dials and calls…

Mzee sits by the fireplace and looks around. He is fulfilled. The farm is booming. It promises to be a good year: a good harvest. We all know what that means. 🙄 The kids get to go to school: the best schools. There’s food in the house; plus a little extra cash for some luxuries. Salaries will be paid on time and the extra profits guarantee a bonus. The workers will be extra grateful for the blessing he had been to his humble community. But who shall share in this joy? Who can relate with this experience without necessarily asking for money to do this and that? And where, oh where is his family…?

“Boom boom twaff!” This is not the familiar groove of funky music. On the contrary, it is the sound of the stamp hitting the counter once again. It’s been done so frequently, that this young gentleman is actually tempted to move his body to the rhythmical sound. 😃 The banking hall is full. People want their money. He has to be fast.

The day is finally over. It’s been pretty hard working the till without sufficient knowledge. Constant referrals given to customers can be pretty embarrassing. Its been quite a journey. He reminisces, and looks around. Nobody to share his struggles with. He turns off the light and strolls into the dusk of the city night…

Life circumstances can decide to force us into seclusion. We are robbed of the joy in just talking to someone. We are choked of the room to feel genuinely accepted and loved. We turn to anything to distract us from this painful reality: work, books, games, parties…

I guess it always comes back: a desperate longing for belonging. Some take it further and begin a gruesome search for identity. But one will always have to face disappointment at some stage. Nobody can fully satisfy the needs of the other.

Yet, deep satisfying truths we find: we have been loved and accepted by The One who is above: above our daily worries, above our deepest fears and insecurities. A desperate call Christ makes: that we may turn to Him. We may quite frankly feel alone but we are not forsaken. He is ready for us…

Continue reading “Alone but not forsaken”

Peculiar People: Scene Two

“I want to be a doctor.

“I want to be a pilot.”

“Teacher. Me me. I want to become an engineer.”

It just seems like yesterday. The buzz and hype of the classroom as we discussed matters to do with our future careers of choice. Right here was a primitive yet archetypal display on how much value our world places on significance. We all were probably influenced into speaking out these careers because, in our tiny worlds, we felt they were the most important; the most heroic.

“I love daddy. My daddy is the greatest. I want to be like daddy. What does daddy do? He is a businessman. I want to be a businessman,” we probably thought.

Interestingly, none of us ever thought of picking teaching. Maybe we had a negative association thanks to tonns of homework and multiple strokes of the cane. Maybe.

I miss this life stage of imitation. We were thoroughly exploited into studying and being alert in class by being told that we needed to work hard in class to become what we dreamed of becoming. Even if it was being a mkokoteni “driver”. We still had to be beaten to get above 80 percent to become that.

Anyway, getting back to significance. We celebrate success. We applaud extraordinary achievements. 

“That guy is 24 years old and already has a PhD.”

“That fellow got a perfect score on his SATs”

“This was the first African to win a Nobel Price.”

“This guy is still an excellent minister of The Word at 90 years of age.”

“Githeriman.”

We reward focus, intellect, resilience, nurtured talent, and all that goes ahead to become peculiar and stand out from the masses with remembrance. And who wouldn’t love to be remembered for being outstanding for generations to come? 

Yet there’s a group of people we also reward. I call them the “silent killers”. (I know. I know. It’s a name that sounds a bit cliché. But bear with me until we get a better name. 😁)

“He stood by me when everybody else left.”

“She has raised me to be the man I am today.”

“He always let’s me bug him. He never complains.”

These individuals are frankly easily ignored, assumed or taken for granted. Yet when we take time think about them more deeply, we realise they are more significant to us than the Nobel Prize winner.

I once read a WhatsApp post which stated that nobody seems to care about you in this life unless you are rich or beautiful. Quite frankly this person has a point. Yet the point is not entirely true. While significance matters a lot, there is a simple act here a simple act there that instantly makes you a great person, a hero, in someone’s world while you remain a “nobody” to everyone else. It’s the little things that matter, or so I’m told.

Shifting to the season at hand…

In Exodus 33:17, God was pleased with Moses and He knew him by name. Boy oh boy! Today I had the most eerie thought of God’s love for us. Do you have those moments where you meet someone familiar in town, or wherever, and he or she greets you by your name and you just can’t remember his or hers? This scenario is usually aggravated when the person doesn’t look familiar at all!
Well, this festive season we are celebrating a “global celebrity”. I mean who doesn’t identify with the person of Jesus Christ. Thanks to the Spirit that spoke through my man, Raphael Orato, I wonder; supposing Christ was still alive today and He is having a modern lecture on signs and wonders where he’s transformed 2 slices of bread and a glass of water into pizzas, burgers and soft drinks; how would it feel if He, all of a sudden, called out your name and the crowd fell silent? Even if it was just to acknowledge your presence. 

Cloud nine alert! I think the following year I’d probably be an MCA and head 10 committees and 16 boards, both nationally and globally.

Yet that’s how personal He is with us. Amidst all the jubilation and chapatis and miscellaneous proteinaceous meals doing rounds on the African table in celebratory remembrance of His birth, He identifies with us who have confessed Him and has called us by name. John 10:14-15.

Yet, interestingly, regardless of His significance both in Heaven and on earth. (Philippians 2:10) He choses the approach of a “silent killer”. Think of it like meeting a significant person at some conference after losing your job or watching your company undergo sabotage. You interact, talk, laugh, share ideas, laugh some more and exchange contacts. The next day when you mention this to your buddies they can’t help but wallow and swim in your ignorance before later educating you. Letting you know that this guy is no ordinary guy.

Christ chose quite a similar approach (Philippians 2:5-8) and continues to do so even today (Revelation 3:20). 

Yet the one thing I find most interesting about this approach is that it seems to “mask” out an even greater drive behind it. Psalm 103:11. As far as the heavens are from the earth so great is His love for us. 

To bring the message closer home, think of this highly introverted young man who’s constantly eyeing this young lady.

Shifting to Swahili…

Mapenzi yamsumbua. Analala. Anakula. Hata hivyo, mawazo yake hayaondoki kutoka binti huyu.

Shifting back…

He is fond of her. He thinks highly of her. He fancies her. His focus is on her. 

All this and much more is summed up by a simple act. He knows her name. He occasionally says, “Hi!” and maybe gives an occasional compliment. Yet, oh, if only she would be his. If only. What does he need to do? What level of sacrifice must he go ahead to undertake that she may notice him?

Friends this is The Man we are celebrating. He keeps on doing great things. Some very personal. He keeps on interceding for us out of His own volition. He loves us.

Accepting His love and living it out is all He calls us to do. As far as the east is from the west so far has He removed our sins our inadquecies, our imperfections from us. Psalm 103:12. He has given us a new name: sons of God. We have the opportunity of sharing an inheritance with Him. An inheritance of His Kingdom. John 1:12Romans 8:17.

Friends. This is the real deal. This is living. Celebrate Him, but also embrace Him. Soli deo gloria. 

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