For circa a year now, I have been ruminating about the aspect of spirituality. Spirituality not in the form of structured religion, but in the shape of the psyches. See, not the slightest did I ever think I’d say this, but I need to find a way to center myself. Which now sounds a tad bourgeois, so this is the point where you skim off a few points off my already dismal street credentials. Yeah, but really, I’ve heard this unwavering yearning to be more in tune with my mind or soul. And subsequently – hopefully – more cognizant of my pursuit towards self-actualization, because that path has been murky at best so far.
Hitherto, my relationship with self-actualization and spirituality was just a dalliance, I was all but toying around with the idea. Poking the alien idea of spirituality with long poles, not ready for commitment. Sometimes I’d dive into some ‘click baity’ psychic article online and read it with the same interest you would when reading about something you’re disinterested in. Like, Hitler’s mustache, perchance? No interest. Suffice to say, it all came to naught. Then I’d toss the whole idea to the abyss of my consciousness until it came simmering again. An unrelenting loop of nothingness.
But then about a month ago I resolved to begin this journey in earnest. And like every spiritual nascent trying to find something that tickles their psyche fancy, I came across meditation. Look, now here’s a contingency. My African roots run deep. Over here, people don’t just soak in solitude doing nothing but perched in serenity listening to their floating thoughts, unless they’re praying or doing something that would be deemed untoward. So, I was – maybe I still am – skeptical about this whole meditating thing.
Plus, I had no point of reference, just a bunch of videos and articles online about meditation and its variations. Also, don’t you think spiritual people have some uncanny aura to them, no? Their Avant-Garde nose for fashion. Most of them are vegan (and meat is something I can’t relinquish), yeah? Their perpetual thoughtful countenance. Their pensive way of talking. And arguably disdain for us folk who just move through life on auto pilot.
But all in all. I decided to give this meditation thing a chance. And I chose the most rudimentary form of all; sitting in silence for a couple of minutes with nothing but your inner voice. You never really know how long three minutes is until you’re spending time with that little buddy, resigned to the peripheries of your conscious. It is like shooting breeze with a more empowered yet muffled version of yourself, and it’s peculiar to what your subconscious says when you actually take the time to listen.
Well, something in me shifted. I won’t sit here and set on a cock and bull spiel about the magic of meditation. But. There’s something about the silence that made me feel more aligned for the day. Nothing cataclysmic, just a slight yet perceptible sense of impetus for the day. Maybe it was just my mind conjuring my expectations but it was something.
I haven’t tried meditating again ever since. But I have been broaching the subject quite frequently, trying to find a spiritual illumination to steer me towards the free highway towards spirituality and self-actualization. But I’ll dip my foot anew into those hitherto uncharted waters again. No promises but sometime soon. And see where this whole pilgrimage takes us. Maybe I am chasing tail here. Maybe I am on an inconclusive labyrinthine. But do we ever really get to realize our essential selves and our whole dimensions fully? At least in the basic sense of whom we really are inside?
But please, when you see me turn down roasted meat. Or wear biblical sandals. Or spot a biblical beard (genetically unlikely). Do not judge me, in my defense, meditation does such things to a man.
On August 23rd, 1998 while Kenya was still reeling from the wake of the nefarious, August 7th terrorist attacks on The United States Embassy. I was born somewhere in Nairobi’s Eastlands, just a couple of kilometers from the Central Business District, where just a little over two weeks prior was a medley of apocalypse. A blast rang through the air, a palpable cloud of smoke floated up the air, a cacophony erupted, and the city went belly up. So I’d say, maybe was born on foot of carnage and loss.
It is consequential, to iterate, that I was born in Eastlands. Put an asterisk on that, it’s an intrinsic part of my story. It gives me some context. Suffice to say, I have an inherent aura of ‘badassery’ by virtue of place of birth, no? Okay, you got me. I can’t play cards, I add sweeteners to my occasional drinks like a wuss, I can’t fight for shit, I enjoy poetry and sometimes – albeit rarely – I eat rice. So go ye, emasculate me and decimate my already precarious street credentials.
I recollect my childhood of being nothing but gracious. I had and still have amazing parents. Only, having to watch them thaw down and their now defunct austerity dissipate overtime seems so unfair to me. Who, as a firstborn, really bore the brunt of correctness and discipline. As the eldest child, I’m convicted you get the worst of your parents. The subsequent siblings get a more refined parent, but you, buddy. You’re like a guinea pig, and the parents – scientists – looking for ways to make it pan out. A marionette to parents grappling with the novelty of parenthood. That explains why folks so hard on firstborns. Then later, just bird box their way out of the miscreant siblings.
In those days – in the fledgling 2000s; when hope still hung in the air and the country hadn’t degenerated to acute amorality. We had playgrounds. We savored the treacherous unfinished buildings we could play ‘brikicho’ in. We played kati – even though it was deemed feminine. We played football at ‘maisa’ grounds, meek on the sidelines until the bigger boys allowed us some game time. I was the fastest in class then – still could be. We broke neighbor’s windows and earned hidings. We had birthdays and invited our mates. We lived. We laughed. We made mistakes. We were happy. Or maybe we were just kids.
Then the seemingly worst happened. Time got arthritis and we grew up and apart.
See, I’m generally averse to generic online quotes. They are too malleable and so prone to misattribution, Anyone can mold them to fit whatever narrative they want. Motivation quotes are the worst. People just use them to affirm things that just aren’t true.
Like you’ll probably pore through the social and find someone saying something like, ‘An arrow is first pulled back on the bow before being launched far’ and then proceeds to contrast it with, ‘So when life pulls you back, be resilient because it’s about to launch you to greater heights’!
Do you realize how perverse and bizarre that is? Although it seems to offer some blur of hope. It doesn’t allow us to think of some proactive solution. Someone facing a problem needs recourse, not some deluded bow and arrow analogy to give them some kind of hope. I contend, it’s time we stop glorifying suffering and looking for ways to rationalize affliction. That’s how we got here as a people.
Anyhow, I digress.
What I meant to say is, there are scattered soundbites that resonate with me. And two of them are from my favorite sitcom of all time, The Office. And they go, “I wish there was a way to know we are in the good old days before we actually leave them.” And the other posits, “Nostalgia is one of the greatest weakness of humankind” Let that simmer in your mind a tad. Do they pique something the slightest?
Sometimes, under the enchant of good music, I experience bouts of nostalgia with a wistful beam of good days gone and the experience nothing now but hazy and random memories. It’s beautiful what music can do. Maybe, like me, most of you also peg some memories on retro music. There’s something from the past that music evokes that no other medium seem to be able to bring out.
For instance, Craig David’s Unbelievable prompts the memories of 2012. Westlife’s songs remind me of lofty green eucalyptus trees and a small forest in South Nyanza. Backstreet Boys’ songs remind me of the years 2008/2009. Old School Kenyan music nudges my childhood and oddly reminds me of my mom, because of this one song by Big Pin and Amani that she used to like so much – Talk to you. Of course, she’s way older now. So she revels to Kenyan gospel music and her incoming calls are heralded by a noxious gospel skiza tune (read corporate robbery) like most of her peers.
I just wish we knew we were probably building those memories then before actually leaving them so that we could do better. And maybe savor those moments longer. The proverbial but very elusive good old days.
It’s been a minute since I wrote on my estranged blog. Hopefully, a rekindled relationship is afoot. That’s if – fingers crossed – she elects to take me back, the blog not an ex. The gist of all this is; in less than a week – on Monday, August 23rd – I’m turning 23. A whole 2+3 or more like 20+3. This is it, man. One week I’m too young and the next, I might be brandishing my national ID with aplomb and maybe a subtle shade of cockiness. And hopefully the security won’t size me up, look into my eyes and say those sad words ‘Your 23 is too young’. The vagaries of life, who knows what it holds.
Recently, I stumbled upon a mind-boggling thread on Twitter; it entailed of opinions on what folk thought were misunderstood songs. The suggestions were utterly confounding. Some suggested; not to burst your bubble but the modern gospel hymn ‘Hallelujah’ was a muted down version of the original song – Leonard Cohen’s 1984 song Hallelujah – a rather sexual song smoke screened in religious undertones. The Weeknd’s Can’t feel my face which has always perceived as an RnB love song was surmised as a song about cocaine (It was nominated for a Nickelodeon Kid’s choice awards). Sia’s Chandelier was argued to be a poignant song with suicidal undertones. Maxwell’s This Woman’s work was cited not to be a love song but a song about the threat of loss during childbirth Et al.
This, sent me down a rabbit hole of picking out classic songs and bops that hallmarked my childhood, adolescence and youth. Painstakingly, I trode over the lyrics in an attempt to unearth some stashed musical chest. Well, I’d say I succeeded but, did I?
Generally, I think, more often than not, our minds are innately inclined to perceive the punch/beat of music as opposed to the subtleties that exist therein. It is for this reason I think more vibrant music; pop, hip hop, dancehall, house et al. appeal most to popular masses as opposed to rather subtle music like indie and whatnot.
Other than the pace of a song, our emotions at the time we are listening to music, I contend, either augment or obscure our ability to get the intent of a song. I have come to realise, and I believe you can attest to this: when you’re sad you tend to get more engrossed in a song as opposed to when you’re gleeful or just languid.
But what happens when you’re gleeful and a relatively sad song is shrouded in a catchy and rather fast pace. Will you be able to pick it out? It is because of the aforementioned reasons, I assert, we miss the real meaning of a song.
Gradually, as I ventured deeper, it unfurled that some songs we jammed to weren’t black and white as i/we think/thought. They were shrouded in greys – oft-times – subliminal subtleties that you wouldn’t superficially perceive. There exists myriads of them I learnt, I will attempt to tackle one – one of my favourite Hip-Hop classics, so here goes nothing.
Hitherto some time last year, after a rather disconcerting and poignant aspect I noticed on Outkast’s Hey ya music video piqued my interest. I had always listened to the song and thought not a lick more of it other than an upbeat Hip-Hop bop. Boy I was wrong.
On the surface, Outkast’s hit casts a catchy rhythmic groove, only not. The motif of the song is actually dark. Hey ya actually tackles about contemporary relationships and how skewed they are; how people tug on defunct relationships informed by their fear of being lonely rather than their own happiness. How the modern person in relationships is more broken that fulfilled. The following lyric extraction is a conspicuous marker :
If what they say is “Nothing is forever” Then what makes, then what makes, then what makes Then what makes, what makes, what makes love the exception? So why oh, why oh, why oh, why oh, why oh Are we so in denial when we know we’re not happy here?
I, for one, contend the mixing and production of the song was not coincidental but intently geared to guise the melancholic lyrics therein, a ploy for Outkast to look back and have a laugh over how we were made a fool of. To bolster this theory, at some point towards the end of the song Andre 3000 says “Ya’ll don’t wanna hear, you just wanna dance” knowing not many people would get the song on the onset and well, we didn’t for a while.
They succeeded in pulling that one off. In a recent Twitter post on Outkast’s official handle, they posted a picture showing how much the song was hinged on sadness as opposed to a bop. More muted and serene covers of the song actually illuminate how melancholic the song actually is. But we have to give them that one and concede that we misconstrued the whole point of Hey Ya!.
Outside the fortified gate and police cordon, troops convened in hurdles, burgeoning by the minute; ordinary folk who wanted to catch a glimpse of the proceedings. Politicians. Animated activists and a horde of journalists; all of them white: jostling to glean word from the slightest of credible sources. It was a stirring cacophony of vocal ranges, the pandemonium growing even more potent. This was a colossal seminal event. The heavy presence of the state mercenary was all but not reassuring of the trajectory the ruling was projected to take. For now, grey ominous clouds hang in the ether.
Inside, folk intuitively rose as the grumpy Caucasian jurist shuffled into the main courthouse, his back slightly hunched, obviously, from old age and not the burden of justice as there wasn’t much to do in the main courts anyway. At his behest, folk – mostly black – religiously perched on their seats, their high fidelity to the skewed law that had for long subjugated them still subservient and profound. Perhaps, somewhere in the horizon hope flickered as other African countries acquired self rule.
Hitherto, accused persons were dealt a heavy hand. Cases were determined at an arbitrary level, albeit slowly, that had begun changing. As atrocities by the colonial government seeped to global light in the 1950’s, the colonial power had started receiving international pressure to forfeit their grasp on Kenya for their inhumane deeds. Gradually things started taking a different course. Sparse cases, most of them high profile, had started seeing their day in court. The proceedings were a perpetual sham, a charade before international scrutiny with all the accused going to the can. The grotesque depiction of progress was akin to pittances thrown at the feet of downtrodden Kenyans to give the semblance of justice.
A few paces away from the judge was a black stenographer in a delightful afro. Somewhere underneath that immense mane was her face. She was one of the few black Kenyans instituted in the court system in a pussyfooted attempt to indulge in the discourse of inclusivity. She churned on a typewriter dutifully, always gazing down at the keyboard like a droid.
The all white jury had deliberated for five days in a case of: Mbui vs The State. It was the longest a deliberation had taken yet. The jurors sat on the right end of the house, grave looks on their faces. Most of the English expatriates always seemed to cast an innate solemn disposition; a little jarring in considering all the rich parcels of land they had usurped from disenfranchised black locals. Most of them were disillusioned by the actual reality of relocating to Africa. They were unnerved, their preconceived notion and depiction of how life was down here had been a far cry of the status quo. Agitated and growing more impatient, most wanted to ship back to Britain.
Intrepid 16-year-old Mbui had allegedly waylaid a white soldier and robbed him of his firearm. After a massive crackdown, an en masse roundup was orchestrated by the authorities in his community, the local homeguards, in tandem with infamous hooded informants picked him out from a police lineup.
A scrawny Mbui, now a pale shadow of his former self, sat in a small enclosed steel cage to the side, dehumanised, stripped of his dignity and honour but somehow – yet more exuberant than the white people in the segregated courtroom. His once salient dreadlocks were cut off, head painfully shaven to the scalp. Sporadically, underneath the veil of adversity that hounded him he mockingly flashed smirks from behind the corroding rails. His fate was sealed and he knew it, it wouldn’t hurt to irk the white judge a few times before his verdict was read.
Joito, Mbui’s counsel, a stout clean shaven debonair man, was the first black accredited lawyer in the country. He resolutely sat beside the cage on a lone chair. He had astutely made his case as a defence lawyer notwithstanding the overt contempt the judge fostered for him. Occasionally, the few white people went against the grain and stamped their feet to acknowledge his chops during the hearing. All this while, the grouchy judge had swiveled his seat to face the wall not wanting to look into the eyes of the black lawyer. The foothold the imperial power had on the country’s neck was ebbing away and it was gruelling for him.
“With all the pertinent parties present I will proceed to declare the verdict,” the judge growled.
Wincing his mole-laden face on a sheaf of papers he beckoned at one policeman who strutted to him. For a few minutes, a few mummers ensued. The prosecution lawyer also approached the judge as they went back and forth in unperceivable cooing. One juror cut a grin and almost promptly the judge swiveled his chair to the wall anew. The people present paused with bated breaths. Swiftly, the judge swiveled his chair back to the wall and everything descended into stillness, proverbial eloquent silence.
“Not guilty,” the judge nonchalantly declared.
The black people inside erupted into a brouhaha, embracing and kissing. Some even broke into tears. This was an unprecedented ruling. Word got out and the ripple effect was even more fervent outside the courtroom, the throngs burst out in unbridled hysteria. The spiteful police dematerialized, perchance, dispirited that they won’t be breaking some bones. A palpable cloud of red dust rose into the ether, even that didn’t deter the revelry that was afoot. The crowd was exuberant.
Joito ambled out and the crowd heaved him up. Launching him into the air and briskly hoisting him back up as soon as he landed on their arms. Journalists exerted to get a word from him to no fruition. The furore had just started. It was a smorgasbord of glee that would for a long time be etched onto the minds of those present and those who followed the proceedings.
Soon after, the colonial power toppled, ceded to pressure and local social movements over the call for independence. Petrified of retribution over their diabolical actions most whites opted to repatriate back to their country. It was a new dawn and things began to look up.
I got my eyes from my old lady, my mom has these enchanting light brown eyes that beam under daylight. They are her salient feature, perchance, her most alluring. When you see my mom the first thing you spot are her eyes, then – maybe – her residual austerity somewhere underneath. Mine (my eyes) are a tad more subdued; more hazelly and darker, under the right light they come out light brownish – unlike my mom’s skin, mine are conspicuous to my ebony hue. Okay, this is coming out a tad conceited, but I swear this is not me blowing my own trumpet, so i’ll wrap up this preamble here.
When I was in highschool i had this teacher enamoured of me, a stout english teacher with an archetypal villainous Heisenberg Breaking Bad goatee – somehow a wholesome appendage to his look. The villainous tag bolstered by his left hand, a hand that could whack the adolescence off your face, albeit he never striked me, I saw him mete out the wrath of his hand on a couple of students. Wait, do they call them – teachers of english now, no? I digress.
It was during this period that I first had a cognisable awkward moment with compliments. My boisterous teacher would amble to class, his sleeves folded to his elbow and salute us, then go ahead to acknowledge the ones he liked more. Suffice to say I was in. He would motion at me and say, “Allen Mwema, my very own boy. Very nice eyes today” After, he would start the class, sometimes, the acknowledgement anew amidst the class.
As a demure highschool boy, I was coy but relished the attention. Subsequent to each compliment from him, my deskmate would dramatically lean over and leer into my eyes, exerting and squinting to see the peculiarity therein. He saw naught and couldn’t wrap his head around the attention I was getting from the teacher. In hindsight, I guess his sour grapes were too obscuring his gaze ho-ho.
This happened maybe through highschool, petering out when his services were allotted to another class. Only happening when we met in the hallways and when I strolled by as he coached the basketball team in the evenings. I tried as much to avoid him. In as much as I savoured the compliments, I was absolutely inept on taking compliments. Oft-times, I was left slightly mortified.
Years later, as a 19/20-year-old college student I experienced my most awkward moment vis-a-vis compliments yet. In between classes, we stood out in the tenuous sun shooting breeze with friends on a nippy mid-morning. A tall-ish damsel, who I later learnt was a roommate to a friend walks to where we were holding court, her eccentric boots clattering on the paved floor, segueing on the schmoozing. Soon after, I notice her make a beeline towards me, just halting her strides before me.
“Hi, what’s your name?” She asks.
“Heh, No, Allen. With a double l followed by an -e”
“Well, Allen, I think you have nice lips,” she rejoins, totally blindsinding me.
After what seems like a solid minute but only less than 3 seconds in real time i say thanks. Trying to play it cool as I imploded inside, my demureness engulfing my existence. I think she caught it, I was slightly agitated. In turn, she backpedaled on her approach a bit as we ventured in excruciating small talk, having seen many introverts like me daunted by her self assertive disposition and forthrightness.
You never know how gruesome small talk is until you have to talk to someone you know zilch about save for their appearance at that moment in time. Eventually, I saw my out of the confer. If it went on a little longer, beads of perspiration might have dotted my forehead and in turn vanquish my street credentials, not that I had any anyway, only, fluffing a convo with a lass isn’t exactly permissible in college. I think I spurned it and I kept avoiding her since, almost having to duck when I could to evade her line of sight.
I’ve had other significant moments with compliments since, some even with a dash of risqueness. I’m better now with compliments, i think because they are kind of thinning out if not nonexistent entirely. The rule of thumb is to maintain composure but stay appreciative and not make a complimentary acknowledgement in return – it’s tacky, unless the compliment is utterly honest.
Also, i try not to hinge compliments on people’s bodies, i base mine on accessories – small intricacies people put together – like a purse perhaps, or shoes, you can never go wrong with shoes. The thing is; everyone likes compliments in the apt setting, but nobody really tells you how taking compliments is harder than it seems.
I have always fancied the dream of bringing forth a daughter into the world; pepper her with fondness, nurture and affirm her, watch her bud through the vagaries of adolescence; where – poignantly – she might get rebellious and think I’m lame; not so cool anymore (mostly true). Then as I turn grey, I’d relish watching her beautifully blossom into a maverick self-assured woman. Now, as I get more cognizant of the dark underbelly that patriarchy unravels and the grimness therein, I’m dubious about that dream; not because of a mercurial mind but the excruciating acknowledgement that the world (me and you) has trudged to present auspicious conditions for a female to thrive, at least not yet.
The recent spate of Gender Based Violence – predominantly meted on women – had me poring through Twitter to read people’s sentiments on the topic. Engrossed as I was on the online discourse, I found myself subconsciously humming to a Kanye West song; Violent Crimes. Here’s an abridged excerpt from the lyrics; CAVEAT: Lyrics might be obscene and profane to some.
“…Niggas is savage, niggas is monsters. Niggas is pimps, niggas is players. ‘Till niggas have daughters, now they are precautious…”
The general tenor of the song forms around Kanye reminiscing and juxtaposing his frivolous days with women to the lucid reality of being a father to three daughters, all through, whilst conveying the regrets vis-à-vis his past and apprehension for the future well-being of his daughters.
Kanye’s trepidation wasn’t just his, it is a wider projection of how most men feel towards women. Most men are disposed to care about GBV on the basis of the woman being related to them in some sort.
When not, we tend to put up a charade and pussy-foot our way around addressing the real crux of the problem when it seems far-flung and distant; being so vocal online but receding to our patriarchal cocoons when the sun cedes, profoundly imparting our hypocrisy and double standards.
It Is for this reason why GBV averse agitators undeservedly feel the need to appeal to our emotions with statements like; it could be your sister, aunt, mother et al.
The truism is most men are conservatives in regard to social change and would want to maintain the status quo and have women below them In the pecking order. Subverting and subjugating women whilst offering pittances and alms to give the illusion of fleeting to non- existent progress.
These play into the laborious rigmarole of women seeking redress after rape or assault ordeals. They are asked questions like; Why did you go to his place? What were you wearing? Why were you out late at night? And all that jazz of shifting the blame on the victim, sadly, catching flak even from fellow miseducated women.
The reality Is that we men are innately shrouded in male privilege and are fretful to forfeit that advantage. We want the woman to stay conventional in a contemporary world; cook, clean, conceive and bend over backwards to tend to our needs whilst pursuing the demands of a career and whatnot.
The orthodox ideals of patriarchy are arduous and untenable with the dynamics of the changing world; wherein the woman Is getting more self-assured and the man is misguidedly feeling threatened.
Methinks we need to expeditiously reappraise and reform ideologies and rules to avert the constraints around the liberty of women. Men need to do better to foster ‘uncomfortable’ but necessary changes for the modern woman, we need to do more to create an almost conclusive if not optimal conclusive parity between the sexes.
We need to show prudence regardless of our affiliations to a woman. We need to be more proactive in agitating for social change and alleviating the threat of GBV. It’s not going to be easy these changes, neither will they be sudden but we definitely can get there.
If you have some minutes to spare listen to Lauryn Hill’s album; The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill.
It’s 7.39 AM as I begin to write this on my phone. I’m seated outside; on the balcony, atop a disused hamper – therein, it chokes with a pile of sullied apparel.
I’m an early-ish cat, I innately can’t sleep past 6.30 AM. Sleep is obliterated from under my eyes by the youthful morning, that’s why I’m out at this time, partly. The thing is: i bear a penchance for the cold morning breeze, I relish the subtle wintry air crashing against my face, now that I’m writing it down it sounds peculiar.
From within some trees – rare sightings here, furtive birds chirp and sing gracefully, harmoniously coordinating a song I can’t find the words to describe, you know, bird jargon – shrilling, cooing and pecking (something you’re not doing ho-ho).
It reminds me of my countryside, the birds that is, not the pecking. Down the precincts of South Nyanza and it’s rolling hills. Where everyone is related to everyone and folk who held you for a second when you were two get affronted when you don’t recognize them.
Supposedly, it denotes erosion of ones roots and all that jazz. I find it a little bit juvenile, the fussiness of my people. Over there, we rise to the tenuous throb of life, the weak pulse of the countryside; birds and morning dew on grass with the day slowly aging as we wait to take breakfast – at 1PM.
Headphones are plugged to my eyes, crooning serene South African RnB music, it’s only apt you listen to subtle music at this time. Mornings have a reflective mien, a slight edge over a starry night. Mornings are deep and pensive, well and cold.
Yonder, a behemoth church peeks amongst a few trees and apartments, loftier than a 6 floor building abutting it. I can’t fathom the pain those tenants go through on Sundays when the church services culminate. No one revers silence here, privacy too is just as foreign. It’s open season on Sundays – a battle of church stereos; the louder the better, a disconcerting power balance, or rather a power trip.
There’s a taller building that overlooks ours, garish and conspicuous; in green and red paint, which, perhaps won’t make sense lest I tell you that it bears a Spanish name, eminently embossed.
On its third floor on the middle balcony, a bloke stands peering into the vacancies with a burning spliff in his hands ( I know). No one smokes cigarettes anymore, it is not the 1960’s – where virtually every teenager had a few drags to their name. Cigarettes are dwindling out, their existence threatened by arguably their more organic clandestine cousin.
I have not much to say, i just wanted to let you in on what I was seeing. Ever so slowly the sun exerts to peek through the obscuring, now clearing clouds. It is 8.10 AM as this blabbering tapers out, I have a daunting hefty workload I have to submit by midnight. At this point, allow me to recede and catch my train; figuratively of course, this is not the 1960’s.
It is in these shoes that I nipped into Nairobi Hospital’s main entrance block at about 5 pm on a rather serene Tuesday. It seems inconsequential, but it sits entrenched in the hollows of my mind. This was the third time I was visiting a hospital to see a loved one; the first, circa 2007 and the second twelve years later – 2019, both – close kin.
My dad and I went past security and body temperature checks and into the precincts of the building. I trotted behind him trying to keep up with his pace through the labyrinthine hallways. We strutted up a spiral ramp and into the virgin white soaked vestibule of the ICU wing.
We obtruded into an eerily loud silence, almost ominous. A stout middle-aged white woman was perched by the seat closest to the door, painstakingly peering at her phone. A security woman had her head cocked down noting something behind her immense desk. A couple stood by the desk; a presumable 60-year-old burly silver-maned geezer and his missus. They were there to see a son, transferred from the COVID-19 unit, I overheard from the sonorous voice stemming from the man’s gut. His wife was rather silent.
It was nippy in there, the archetypal hospital environment; quietude, mutters and a wintry ambience. Exacerbating my qualms I clenched my baseball jacket, nestling it closely and insecurely. A woman walked from the door beside the desk and made a beeline for the white woman; a friend I supposed, they had a pithy confer and briskly stepped out.
We were one hour past the allotted visiting time, my dad cooed to the security woman, placating her to let us in for ten minutes tops. She was unimpressionable, a time stickler with a foot on the ground and was deservedly but almost adamant to relent. Only my dad is an inherent marketer, with finessed persuasive chops. She plucked some civility and yielded, with a subtle caveat. I appended my name and signature and pronto she led us in.
My stomach churned in apprehensiveness as we walked through the door and a second door that opened up into a pristine blindingly clean long lobby with conspicuously clear ICU rooms abutting each other on both sides. Inside, a festering visceral fear threatened my precarious stoicism.
At one point, as I walked last in line, a male doctor walked against us. I wanted to turn back and follow him outside. I was dubious I had the fortitude to stomach an ICU ward. When the word ICU is mentioned it innately embodies a macabre disposition, it is perceived as a waiting room where folk straddle life and death. It has this looming connotation of bleakness. That might be true, partly.
The rooms were all partitioned rooms of clear glass, I maintained a tunnel vision to avert cocking my head to the sides. I gazed down and followed my old man and the security guard, not cognizant of how hard I was now holding onto my jacket. We passed two nonchalant female nurses seated before computers at a miniscule work station, their faces stoic, chiseled by making their bones amongst the sick. We forged forward. The femme guard suddenly stood before a rather small open entrance sans a door and motioned us in, promptly walking away. The ship had now sailed, this was it.
The closest I’ve been to the inside of an ICU unit has been limited to films; a cluster of kith and kin with glum and grim faces, huddled before a bed, overlooking a patient heaving with assisted breathing. A poignant cloud hanging over their heads like a malevolent hallow. Vacuously, that’s how I perceived this interaction was going to be. It wasn’t, this was.
My dad went through the door, I followed meekly. First, my hands went frosty from anxiety, then my throat perched – my lips soon followed, not long after, I could feel the reverberations of my heart palpably throbbing underneath my chest. That usually happens when I’m fretty, on that day – there – in that room, I was absolutely petrified. Nothing preludes you to seeing a loved one in the hospital, patently not movies. It’s a disarrayed indescribable ambivalence of emotion.
Give or take a few, thirteen years ago as a kid, i stood by my grandfather’s hospital bed, not quite apprehending why babu couldn’t get up and come back with us home. All i remember was him giving me milk because he didn’t have the palates for it. That was the last time i saw him alive. Fast-forward to 2021, more than a decade later – I’m standing by his missus, Grandy. My eyes subconsciously examine her; pacifically napping to her right side. Draped to her abdomen in a soft white blanket. Her wonted small frame tracing under it. Swathes of bandage wound mid-forehead and above the top of her head. Whatchamacallits running from her fingers, weaving their way under her white blanket, beside the bed and making their way into that monitor that tracks the pulse and whatnot, interspersing the air with an electronic beeping sound. I stifled a sigh when I unraveled she wasn’t hooked to a ventilator. We stood in quietude, taking it all in – in what seemed like eons was only but a few seconds in real time.
“Mama,” my dad crooned in a falling cadence.
There was something in the way he called her that was a tad jarring. There was something in his tone that conveyed nakedness, vulnerability, hollowness and even contrition. It is disconcerting seeing your dad in that state, emotive. Not as a man, not as a breadwinner, not as anything else. That man standing right there was not my dad, that man was a mother’s son yearning to see his mom get better. Seeing someone that has for most of my life been a ball of machoism personified was confounding but also awakening.
“Mirembe uru,” she acknowledged, drifting out of sleep and exuding a yawn.
It’s a Luo greeting, what she said. An archaic nicety whose semantics i have never really apprehended. It is akin to saying ‘Hail fellow’ when you could say ‘hello’. Suffice to say, i stayed mum in obscurity.
“Mirembe Mama,” my dad rejoined.
She shifted her eyes to me, smiling, “Nyathi ubiro”. “Eh, wabiro,” i replied, my throat recovering from the degeneration it had morphed into.
She rarely calls me by my name, she calls me ‘nyathi’ which translates to child/kid notwithstanding the fact that i’m now slightly taller than my father. But you wouldn’t mind being called a child by a doting grandmother, occasionally stern but nonetheless perpetually loving grandma.
We perched on two opposite leather chairs at opposite corners of the room and set on a discourse. Which was more like my dad was talking to her mom and i was eaves dropping, obtruding like an obstinate pimple. She told him she was doing fine, no pain whatsoever. She looked fine to me, a little weary but rather better than i had presumed. Her face was clearer than the last time i had seen her, which was early last year. The food was good, she said. Her doctor was a jango too, which augmented their conversation, see my grandma doesn’t speak much Kiswahili, neither does she speak much English and i would rather not broach that, i’d digress too much.
The whole conversation was in Luo, which i wouldn’t bother translating as it is arduous and the essence will be lost. Some words are hallowed, translating them would be pissing on their dignity. I wouldn’t write in verbatim either, as i don’t know the precise spellings of most Luo words. Have you ever tried reading from a vernacular bible? Imagine re-writing that whole bible in English – sounds like a pain. My grandma is a staunch catholic, she reads from a Luo bible, i can’t.
I turn to my back and i catch a gander of some guy (not so sure) lying in the room opposite my grandma’s. He’s stasis, his face plugged to an oxygen mask, unmoving. That’s how i imagined all people in ICUs are, it’s unnerving seeing someone in that state. It reminds just how you’re insulated from such realities when you’re healthy. That when you’re remonstrating on Twitter over Nairobi gridlock, someone is fighting for their life. I look forward intuitively, such images have a proclivity to linger in my mind, i don’t want it to etch in, too late as i’m writing this i can see him.
The conversation between my dad and his mom lumbers on, dotted with small pockets of silence for her to take a breather. I’m completely taken by the sheer intricacies of the room. How studious and elaborately things have been put together. My eyes catch a glimpse at a catheter peeking underneath her bed and emptying into a thingamajig bag, i dart away like a prim who’s just seen their friends knickers.
“Udhi skul?” she quizzes, turning her head towards me.
“Skul adhi ka iga ni…ka dwe ni rumo,” i revert, cobbling up some Luo from my repertoire, cocking up the communication along the way.
She wears an expectant face, she hasn’t quite grasped my rickety answer. I’m currently on internship, so i’m not going to school at the moment and i don’t know how to impart that in a way she would perceive. My dad chimes in, explaining what i’m doing. My grandmother scoffs, she laments over the lousy job situation in the country. It’s that conspicuous the mess our government has made with prospective employment that it even gives my grandmother qualms.
Outside, a nurse in blue scrubs wheels away someone in an ICU bed. The aforementioned female guard walks past, we had outrun our time here, she went past, just slightly turning her head to glance at us.
It is time to leave, we have overstayed and we need to let grandy get a breather. My uncles were there earlier in the day. My dad promises to visit her the next day early, she dismisses him. We bid her bye and step out, shuffling along the hallway and out of the ICU and into the florid hallways again.
Later that night as i lay in bed staring at the ceiling, i thought about grandy. How she is spending the night alone with no kin nearby as we all lay healthy in bed. I recollected how early she usually wakes up in shags, how hard she prays before stepping out of her bedroom. I shut my eyes and muttered a prayer for her, since her prayers play a part in keeping us sane and safe wherever we are. Likewise, I asked God to heal my grandmother, to let her go back home to the low throb of the Southern Nyanza countryside.
Last Sunday; as the world heaved on with activity, my grandmother was going under the knife to extract a diabolic tumor that had furtively sneaked into her head. A cowardice tumor that couldn’t pick on someone its own size and opted to set prowl and prey on an aging woman seeing out her twilight years. As i joshed around and killed time waiting for a football match in oblivion, grandy was unconscious in the operating room.
She is better now, the surgery was successful. I hope she gets stronger soon.
…she drives along the convoluted winding road, her ashen right elbow poking out of the driver’s window, nippy breeze ruffling the skin underneath her undone shirt. A cap sits over her head, dark furtive spectacles before her eyes. A black knapsack is plonked shotgun, stuffed with crunchs of apparel she could briskly gather.
Intermittently, she takes a drag and taps off the ash from the nether of her burning skiff. Poignant country music plays from the car’s stereo akin to the tapering scene of an action laden film. It is a film, the mishap trajectory her life now outsets. Beneath the blue skies with white cloud interludes and the distant but unmistakable pacifying roar of the ocean, she drives on with in an eerie coalesce of nonchalance and pensiveness.
In a hunch, she takes a detour, promptly veering to the left and into a desolate dirt road that sprawls into an expansive precipice. The car halts a few feet from the road.
She steps out – jaded – her gait impeded by a slight limp on her left leg. She shuffles to the fringe of the cliff, overlooking the behemoth blue sea, waves sporadically crashing against the rocks a daunting 500 meters down give or take. Each time they grow more voracious.
How she got here wasn’t premeditated. He wasn’t supposed to be back before 8 pm. It was supposed to be a quick job. Incisive even. An elaborate prompt nip in and out, almost surgical. For now, his foot peeks from the car’s boot…