See the World Through My Eyes

Author Archive

Working Late – Part 1

The clock struck six and Makena heard Dan’s chair move and his shoes shuffle. She tensed and waited for the door to open. The hair on her arms stood stiff and her mind went blank. It’s funny how she had never gotten used to it despite the numerous number of times he did it. Then a familiar knock. Three times and then a slow turning of the knob. She got up from her chair and unbuttoned her blouse and sat on her desk. As she leaned back she felt the warm trickle of her tear racing down to the back of her neck.

“One minute!” she gasped as she quickly snatched some tissue and wiped her face. She didn’t want him to see her crying. She felt horrible but convinced herself it would only take a few minutes.

Dan walked in and without saying a word he locked the door drew the blinds. He then grabbed her by the waist and slid her off the table and turned her to face away from him. He was aggressive. The kind of aggressive displayed by a person taking back property that belongs to him. He unclasped her bra and lifted her skirt almost ripping it along the seams. Using his right foot he kicked her legs apart just above the ankles and pushed her head down on the table like a policeman apprehending a suspect with the intent of finding a concealed weapon. He undid the buckle of his belt as he held her down and dropped his pants this time with his hand tightly gripping the back of her neck.

She felt pain as she felt him enter. More tears. She couldn’t close her eyes while he pushed in roughly. As he grunted and heaved behind her, Makena let her mind wander off by looking at the windows on the building across the road. She watched the people busy moving about their offices as they worked overtime to meet their deadlines. It was interesting how everyone was so engrossed in their tasks that there was definitely no chance that they would look her way.

Her mind wandered off to her husband and kids. How earlier in the morning they all had breakfast in the master bed and laughed their hardest when the youngest child kept missing her mouth as she tried to feed herself like the rest of the family. She made a mess and everyone was happy. The parents had been working hard lately and the kids were ecstatic to have a much needed but rare unwinding occasion as a family. She recalled how her husband dropped her off at work as he started his Uber shift. He was really trying and the fact that he had had better days made her love him more for not giving in to frustration. The last couple of years had been tough financially and both man and wife had to make it work with their meagre incomes.

Makena felt him shake like an old car running out of fuel. He let off a deep guttural sound as his grip tightened on her hips. She could smell his cigarette breath as he contorted forward on her back. He was sweating and for a moment it felt like leaning on a wall of slime in a dirty, humid bathroom. She felt sick, ashamed and worthless. Moreso because it was Valentine’s day and she would later have to pretend to be horny for her husband.

Her boss pulled up his pants and tidied up his shirt. He pulled out his wallet and slipped her two one thousand shilling notes.

“Now you can’t say I didn’t give you a Valentines day gift,” Dan said in a low voice as he walked out, “And don’t come in late tomorrow”.

She could feel the triumph in his voice and how confident he was that this arrangement was permanent and that she had no power to stop it. More tears.

As she cleaned up and put on makeup she couldn’t help but acknowledge the hopeless emptiness she felt. She picked up her back and hurried out to the elevator. She took in three breaths of air and forced a smile as the doors slid open.

She desperately wanted it to stop but she couldn’t figure out how. She badly needed this job and since this had happened in her two previous workplaces, she had accepted that it is normal. Most of her friends were going through the same experience and even though this didn’t make her feel any better, it added further to the hollowness she felt in her being.

As she sat in the bus on her way home she couldn’t stop tidying her blouse and skirt. She felt uncomfortable and insecure as if everyone around her knew what she had been doing a few minutes before. Across from where she sat was a pregnant woman holding her bump as the bus hurtled down Valley Road towards the city center. Her heart skipped a beat and for a moment she couldn’t breathe. Earlier in the day she had taken a pregnancy test in the ladies bathroom. It came out positive.

•••

This is a #TrueStory dedicated to the women and men in Nairobi who are subjected to sexual coercion every day at their places of work.

 


The Morning Express

I am seated in a little known quiet restaurant loved by it’s loyal patrons for opening early in the morning. I am talking 6am early; the people are the same everyday and over time we have gotten to know each other. We don’t know each other’s names, and a year later, we are still comfortably stuck at plastic smiles instinctive nods to each other. Every now and then we shall politely ask each if we could share a table in the rare occurrence that all the tables are full. It’s our little morning family and we prefer it that way.

Interestingly we are all prisoners of routine and everyone’s is unique. I for instance will arrive at exactly 6 am and slide in to my usual spot, a corner table that faces the sunrise. I will take out my notebook and write down three things that I want to accomplish that day. It sounds stupid but I have struggled with concentration all my life because I get bored easily so this is my way of making sure I get things done. After my list I will do one of two things, depending on whether it is going to be a busy day or not. My preference is usually take out a book and read for a solid hour. Again I will remind you that I get bored easily so at any one time I am reading 3 books or more and my pick depends on what I feel is interesting for the moment. After this, I will take out my laptop and seize the day.

There is an old man who usually checks in the restaurant earlier than I do and like clockwork, he reads 3 newspapers of the day in exactly the same order every day. The waiters know his breakfast order for each day and so I have never seen him ask for a menu. He is a strange and quiet character. My wild imagination tells me he must be a former priest or a criminal or detective from the old school. He has a dead gaze that says he is not looking at you but into you. Based on my assessment, I chose to mind my own business. Ignorance is bliss.

On another table in the dimly lit corner next to the backdoor, is where some young kid in this late teens normally sits with his beat up laptop, drawing pad and comic books. I can tell he is in that age where the world is exerting undue pressure on him to behave like a focused 45 year old. He has never combed his hair and he always looks anxious. My guess is, his daily plan is to get out of the house early and only go back after his parents and siblings have gone to work. I think I am right because one day his mother walked in and scolded him for wanting to become an animator. She was loud and I could make out that she was trying to arm twist him into signing up for the traditional and ‘respectable’ university courses. She ended the conversation by telling him that no child of hers will ever become an artist and take drugs. I would rather not go into what my thoughts are about what the kid should do because that’s his monkey.

Moving on, there is this good looking middle aged woman who is always in a rush and feels the need to say hi to everyone. I find myself almost telling her that it’s against the rules but whatever, it just takes two seconds of my time to respond to her greeting. I find her disgusting though; she has a habit of always licking her cup, spoon, fork and knife when she’s done having breakfast. I have tried to understand her behaviour and I hope these are not attempts to erase her DNA from the crockery as it would be counterproductive. At this point I always bury my head in an excel sheet or something more boring.

I could tell you about all the other loyal patrons of our morning express but it would take a lot of time.

One of the insights I have gained into my morning family is that most couples fight in the morning before they go to work. This I know because every now and then there are patrons who are confronted by their partners, spouses and sometimes side dishes as they have their breakfast or go about their morning routine. Some are regular and some are one-off instances. Sadly, some have concluded their relationships here and it was dramatic. In line with the unwritten and unsaid code of the morning express crew, we (other patrons) do not interfere unless it becomes a safety issue. After all, our relationship is all nods and plastic smiles and polite requests to share tables, nothing more.

Every member of the morning express comes here for a reason. Some come to escape the miseries of the ones they live with. Some are just lonely and want to be around other people even if there is no real interaction. Others have been working on their dreams and over time you learn to read their victory and loss faces as they close in (or out) on their goals. For instance, there is a struggling music artist who always comes in early, puts on their headphones and samples music from all over the world. I know this because his laptop screen is always in my line of vision. I can tell he is struggling financially just from what his order is every morning but I respect the kid and I think he’s moving in the right direction. Persistence, I have observed, sets successful people apart from the failures.

All in all, I find this place interesting because as I do my thing I get to observe and appreciate people. Everyone is dealing with something but one thing most people have in common is the need and urgency to improve their lives. To achieve this, some quiet time everyday to dream, reflect and plan is greatly needed.

I am a mixture of personalities. I like hanging out with people but I also like having moments alone. I especially love early mornings because it is when my mind is most active and there are fewer distractions. If I miss a couple of early mornings alone I get anxious and I feel like I am losing control of everything. And yes I believe it is important for people to have time alone to meditate, strategise and most of all to be fully conscious.

Happy Africa Day!

 

 


How I Met My Father

“I can remember the beating as if it happened this morning. He kicked, slapped and dragged me on the grass and for a moment I thought he would go on forever. To be honest I didn’t even understand why he was so furious. I also didn’t understand why he [a stranger] was beating me. I was more in shock and confusion than I was in pain. I kept on screaming for my mother to save me from this ‘visitor’ who has decided to turn violent on me. She just stood a safe distance pleading with him not to kill me…

Earlier that week when he arrived at our home, my mother had introduced him to me as my baba. I didn’t think much about it because where I come from all uncles and distant uncles are considered ‘baba’ pronounced ‘fafa’ to mean father or sometimes lesser father. So this man (the visitor) who looked antisocial and was always staring at me silently as if he knew me from somewhere, was just a relative coming to check on us. In the first few days we didn’t talk much and I avoided making eye contact as I found him scary. He and my mother would speak in short sentences and most of their conversations were one way with my mother doing most of the talking. He seemed different from all our relatives who I had by now come to accept as irritatingly noisy and somewhat obnoxious. He definitely was not one of ours.

On this fateful day he motioned me over to where he was sitting under the shade of the granary’s thatched roof. He reached into his coat and produced a couple of ndururu (colonial era 10 cent coins) which he instructed me to take to my uncle next door to pay for a long standing milk debt. I took the money and hurried off to my uncle. I was seven years old and as you would guess, I quickly got distracted by my childish curiosities along the way. I got to my uncle and threw the coins into his giant hand and waited for him to confirm that it was all there.

“Is this all?” he barked.

“I gave you the money as I was given by fafa” I responded as I played with his puppies.

He waved me off impatiently and instructed me to tell fafa that he would come to see him later in the day. Little did I know what would follow that afternoon would change my life forever.

I was playing in the dirt when I saw my uncle charge into our homestead mumbling incoherently with his fists clenched tightly. I could tell he was very angry. He shouted for my mother asking her where Mwangi (fafa) was. My mother came out of the kitchen visibly surprised by my uncle’s tone. In a rather calm tone, she tried to inquire what the cause of his anger was and whether she could help but my uncle was taking none of it. She pointed to the direction where fafa was working in the farm planting cassava and helplessly watched my uncle march there like a raging buffalo. My mother and I were silent for the next few minutes as the two men’s interaction spiralled into a huge argument. All I could hear was fafa saying something about being sure he had paid the right amount and my uncle shouting back that fafa was lying to him. After what seemed like an endless shouting match, there was silence and then I heard fafa calling me.

“Did you give fafa (now uncle) all the money I gave you?” he hissed.

“I gave him all the money you gave me” I replied.

“How much did I give you?” he asked in a suspicious manner.

“I don’t know, I didn’t count” I responded in a shaky voice.

” Did you stop to play at any one point on your way to your fafa?” he asked the trick question in a low tone.

My reaction gave me away. I couldn’t lie and by now I knew I was in deep trouble. I wasn’t sure if and where I had dropped some of the coins but something inside me told me that I had been careless. In a flash of lightning, Fafa descended on me with kicks and blows like a dog as he interrogated me to know where I had lost the rest of the money. I had been beaten before by my mother who was an outstanding disciplinarian but there was something different about this beating. I felt I was being beaten by a total stranger while my uncle and mother looked on. At some point the beating got so bad that I started screaming that fafa was not my father and that he had no business beating me. Immediately I saw my mother cover her mouth with her hands in what seemed like a mixture of fear and astonishment. It was also the same instant when all hell broke loose. My father beat me until I was numb with shock. We spent the night cutting down all the bushes along the path I had taken to my uncle’s house in a bid the lost ndururu. In the end we never found the money but that is how I knew fafa was my biological father and in the years that followed we became best friends until the day he died.

You see my father had been detained during the emergency just around the same time I was born; he was released after seven years of hard labor in the worst conditions imaginable. A lot of men and women in that period were tortured in detention and their experiences changed them forever. In the emergency period many mothers were left in the reservations with young children to look after and they had to take up the roles of fathers as well. They were tough and resilient because that was the only option they had. This meant providing, caring and disciplining their children who were growing up without father figures. Many of my age-mates also got to know their fathers after the emergency years; many still did not get their parents back as they died in the camps. We still turned out alright do you agree?”

This is one of the many stories that my father told my brother and I on a road trip last weekend. I filled in some parts creatively to give it a little kick. It feels good to be writing again.


Family Secrets

For 3 years now, I have been on a quest to understand my family and it’s origins. It all started when I asked my grandmother to show me the personal belongings of Gabriel Ngigi, my grandfather who died before I was born. Among the the things she showed me were his journals and diaries, passbooks and records of every transaction he ever made. It took me days to pour over these things to try to understand the man that my grandfather was. I made some interesting discoveries about myself from studying this man that I was named after. I realised that we shared some similarities in our character and our views of the world. Some of these similarities were good while others signalled aspects of things that needed working on.

The first thing I noticed was how similar our handwritings were. Staring at his diaries I had this weird experience where it felt like I was reading my own writing. From the way he formed his characters to his choice of words I couldn’t help feeling like I was staring back at myself though a time capsule.

According to my mother, my grandfather was a very wise man who was organised and meticulous in everything that he did. For an African man born in the early 1900s he was well travelled too. He had fought in the second world war as a soldier in the King’s African Rifles where he specialised as a blacksmith and mechanic. The war took him to many places most notable being Burma. Could it be that his stint in the army played a role in making him organised and also to view the world in a different way? I have never been in the army yet I have discovered many similarities in our lives that have helped me understand myself much better. For instance, the passion about everything thing mechanical and the ability to figure out how stuff works with little effort is something we share. Also the tendency to write down things that feel important such as life milestones and transactions was something that I found mind blowing.

This event made me want to investigate further into Gabriel’s life to discover what his shortcomings were. This as a difficult task but looking closer at his writings I realised he was always in a constant internal battle to prove his worth in everything he did which is something that I have experienced most of my life. The idea of being confident that you are good at what you do is something I have started working on. People like me tend to be pushovers because they struggle with feeling like what they are offering is still not good enough. Some people call this perfectionism but I call it unnecessary conviction because the fear that I might not deliver the best result blocks me from discovering my true potential.

A few years ago, my godfather told me that the most important mission in any person’s life is to understand the origins of his family. This enables one to understand why they behave in a certain way and also how to live so as not to repeat the mistakes of their relatives before them. Just like behaviour, disease can be passed on from one generation to the next and we can use this to make decisions on how to live. Take diabetes for example, if a family has a history of this condition,it makes sense for parents to teach their children how to live by endorsing a good diet and exercise as a lifestyle. By doing this the chances of passing down diabetes are reduced and hopefully this gene can be restructured and eventually it could stop being a ‘family problem’.

Some families are known to have serious anger issues while some are famed for producing criminals and being alcoholics. Other families are known for their inability to handle money; they just can’t keep or grow their money regardless of the great opportunities that keep coming their way. Have you heard of families that are famous for being unfaithful in relationships? The list is endless! However our cultures do not allow these family secrets to be talked about openly and therefore vices and life threatening conditions persist from generation to generation. Maybe it is time that we started talking openly about the things that ail our families. We should acknowledge that these may not be comfortable conversations but having them may save lives especially of the generations to come. These secrets are killing our potential and I believe it is everyone’s duty to ask these uncomfortable and intrusive questions. In the words of my godfather, how else will you move forward if you do not understand your past?


I Am Phoenix

I was married but I am single now. It is a significant and life changing event especially if one was had gone through all the necessary customs and an official marriage ceremony. Every day I get many people asking me what happened and whose fault it is. Unfortunately, when a marriage comes to an end there are no winners, only losers. Whatever anyone did or didn’t do becomes irrelevant.

There is no bad or good person after such a sad and sometimes traumatizing event. Each person is dealing with something throughout the process. Most people go into marriage innocently and with the right reasons and therefore most break ups are usually not premeditated. In the end blame is shared equally because it’s a two person affair.

Every partner goes through a process of trying to understand and resolve before finally making that tough decision that is characterized by a terrifying fear of uncertainty of the future. After all, we are talking about someone who you willingly gave your life to do with as they please. Some marriages end prematurely while for others, a break up ends up being the best decision to have been made. For both of these instances, only time can validate. It is a sad reality but that is the nature of such an event.

Moving on
Does one ever move on? Well for that I don’t have a definite answer but I can say with confidence that it is a journey that demands a lot of thought and perhaps patience. There are lots of things to consider including getting back together. I’ve heard of countless instances where two people realized their love for each other by staying apart for some time. In similar measure I have heard of others who knew at the start that it was the beginning of the end. Simply put, each situation is unique and requires to be treated as such.

I will not go into detail about my experience out of respect for my friends, family and most importantly to my former partner. In addition such details are irrelevant and we have chosen to be civil and I have chosen to keep the details of our lives to ourselves. I will however talk about my journey to the place that I currently find myself in. To answer the question on your mind, I am happy. I am happy for many things especially the fact that we are still friends and civil with my former partner. I am also happy that we have had a very supportive community of friends and family who chose not to take sides and instead to act and treat our situation responsibly. Very few breakups get to enjoy such benefits. Our families are great friends and they have made it clear that they haven’t broken up. I find this to be a good thing.

Life after breakup is different and also challenging. It is pointless to attempt to describe it in a simple way so I won’t. I will rather talk about the things I have learned so far.

Back in the game
Funny enough, I have no clue what dating is like these days. Asking someone out feels complicated and foreign so I am yet to be successful. I have lost the game that I had in my dynamic dating years. I have also become very anxious to meet new people or to make commitments of any kind. I have also come to accept that there is a very thin line between friendships and serious relationships with women over 25 years of age. When I was younger, I had a lot of genuine women friends and it felt normal. I could be hanging out in the wrong places but I happen to be coming across women whose main currency is instant commitment. While I quite fully understand the ‘clock is ticking’, I am also amazed at how easy it is to people to compromise their ideals in exchange for an opportunity to settle down.

I have also come across people who treat relationships like product packages. Some want a child but on condition they live separately with the father of the child. There is a man somewhere who will only agree to marry a woman on condition she agrees to him keeping his side girlfriends. The list is endless and it shows that as human beings we are always evolving.

Everyone is changing and we all seem to have a checklist that gets more unrealistic by the day. The result? There are a lot lonelier and secretly desperate people today than there ever have been before. Many people want to settle down but their ‘list’ won’t let them. In the meantime, they experiment in meaningless associations hoping that they will stumble into a perfect situation. It is especially harder for people like me who have been married before because we come with a lot of caution, fear and anxiety hoping that we shall do it right this time. My research on divorce veterans tells me the challenges of one’s next relationship almost always remain the same as the last one. Maybe this points to a more personal approach to future relationships that involves self-actualization and improvement and rather not expecting your future partner to have all the qualities in your list checked to accuracy.

How long is how long?
How long should it take before one is back in the game? How should I know?! I think the better question should be how are you wired? Are you the type that are not wired to be alone for long? Are you likely to be depressed if you are not in a relationship for more than a month? Are you a natural loner who just likes to be alone and are not in a hurry to ‘complicate’ your life again? In my opinion, everyone’s situation is unique and no one should be pressured to move in any direction. We love our family and friends but pressure from these people can lead you down a miserable path. I have no experience to be qualified as a giver of advice to this question but I have a feeling that one should go at their comfortable pace.

This is where I am at now
I have deliberately simplified my life. I get anxious when I am in communication with too many people (friends of family) at once. I struggle to maintain constant contact with friends especially when over dependence is involved. I like hanging out alone most of the time and when I hang out with friends I find myself wanting to keep the interaction short, relevant and sweet. There are a few exceptions of course. My close circle is always a priority and I could live with them for long periods of time without feeling drained. I have also found myself keeping away from negative people and also people with a lot of baggage to offload. I know this sounds mean but in today’s world everyone is dealing with something. The best we can do is encourage and be there for each other but not feel obligated to solve other people’s problems.

Am I dating? I’m not there yet and don’t know how long that might take. I have met very good and interesting people but I am focused on making sure I love and take care of myself before I can do the same for another. I have also come to learn the value of stating my intentions with everyone I meet. I believe everyone deserves the truth of intention when coming into any form of friendship. Sometimes it hurts but it breeds respect.

Happy
After my breakup I realized I didn’t know who I was and this has set me on an interesting journey to uncover my interests, hopes and any other aspect that I feel is important to move forward. I have rediscovered some things I used to like doing such as driving out in the cold of a weekend morning to watch the sunrise from a different place every weekend. I love to cook and lately I’ve been learning new life lessons from every new thing I try in the kitchen. Constantly making appointments to meet up with the people who have stood by me all along, I have come to realize one doesn’t need much. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, sincerity gives you genuine freedom and being true to yourself gifts you happiness. Maybe one day I’ll tell you if all the choices I made were right. I have learnt not to expect perfect outcomes but at the same time I have come to appreciate that through difficult times, there is always hope to rise from the ashes to fly again. For now I am having the best view of the city lights.

 


Have You Found Your Purpose?

purpose

Heaven always thows a big party whenever a human being on earth discovers their true purpose. A man can never be truly happy unless he starts playing the role for which he was born. When you are living your purpose, Mondays feel like holidays and holidays feel like a waste of time. When you are doing what you love you will be surprised how you will never have to work another day in your life. You will always sleep a happy and fulfilled person and wake up energised and ever curious to discover what treasures the day has in store for you.

When you live your purpose you become attractive to fellow human beings and also to all the good things that you desire. Misery loves company; isn’t it then logical that happiness should attract more happiness?

In your purpose you will discover that your life is free of clutter and distractions. By this I mean you will find it easier to say yes and no to the different things that come your way. You will make more room for the things that make you happy and find that you effortlessly repel the things that take happiness away from you. You will never have to make tough decisions just because you are not sure if the situation you have been presented with is something you want. It will be easier to attract great friends that add value to your life and drop friends that derive value.

Having a purpose is knowing who you are. This in turn gives you clarity on what you want for yourself. It gets much easier to turn down seemingly but not necessarily great opportunities. If you are living your purpose you can easily turn down a great job offering that offer a great salary simply because it’s just not aligned to who you are!

In the modern world we live in, most of us have gotten used to anxiety being part of our lifestyle. We are afraid of the future and terrified of the the unknown. We are terrified at the thought of losing our jobs and being diagnosed with a terminal illness. We are afraid of events that may never happen. This often happens a result of not being sure of who we are or even what our purpose is. Knowing what your purpose is gives you confidence and energy, after all you’re doing what you love! Simply put, discovering your purpose gives you the keys you need to live your best life!

Every human being is unique be it in thought, abilities, bone structure or eye colour. We are designed to be attracted to different things and the things that make us each of us happy are different. We are also made to be good in different things and that is why not everyone can excel in athletics. It is the reason why no one can be better than you at being you. We think differently and we experience the world in special ways and in the same breath, each one of us has a special path to follow to achieve their purpose in life. A fish is designed to live in water and would die if it were forced to live on land; when a person is not living their purpose, they will always experience discontent, anxiety,confusion and uncertainty. Purpose leads us to passion and passion to true happiness.

So how do we find our purpose? That is the million dollar question that has troubled mankind throughout our existence. Only a few people get to discover their true purpose in their lifetime. Finding our purpose is like finding our way to a great treasure through a complex maze. It is the reason why most of us are always trying something different always hoping that this time we will find something we can build our lives around. How do we eliminate these time wasters and focus on what we’re really meant to be doing? To find our purpose, we must be ready to lay our lives bare. Self actualisation is the first and most important step. It also happens to be the most painful part of discovering why we are who we are. Understanding, learning and accepting who you are now is a tough but liberating process. Deciding to change the negative aspects of who you are is a major step in beginning the hard work of uncovering the layers that have formed over time blinding you from your true self.

Many of us go into adulthood without ever discovering our true purpose in life. This is the thing that creates our biggest life challenges. We make wrong decisions when we are unclear about who we are, be it in relationships, money, friendships, careers or even when choosing a meal from a menu in a restaurant! The happiest and most successful people in the world all have one thing in common. They are sure of who they are and are clear on what they want in life. I believe that our first and most important task in life is to find out why we exist as this is the key to true happiness. Many of us are living miserable and boring lives where all the avenues to our happiness are determined by someone else but us. I believe when you find your purpose you will find your passion. When you find your passion it will complement your desires and you will be truly happy.

As part of my journey of self discovery I have been trialling a new way of helping people discover their true purpose through creative inquiry and the results have been exciting. This process doesn’t need a qualified life coach or a seasoned motivational speaker. It just needs you and the people closest to you such as friends and family to help you on your journey to personal discovery. It involves answering a series of simple questions together and recording trends and significant themes in a person’s life. It is simply a behavioural diagnostic tool that gives recommendations on the things you can do to discover your purpose. Just to give you an idea of how powerful this could be I would like to challenge you to ask five of your friends (separately) to tell you what they think you’re good at. You will be surprised by the trends in the answers you receive.

In the meantime, I hope I will arrive at a practical and inexpensive way of personal actualisation that can be applied by anyone anywhere in the world. I am grateful to the people that have volunteered in my purpose experiment that I have been running the past two years. I have learnt a lot about myself from these people and though we still have a long way to go, I believe we will find what we’re looking for and publish the process for everyone to use. I also believe that through this experiment I will also discover my purpose.

I believe discovering our purpose is the biggest question in the the universe. When you discover your purpose, you start living your best life. I believe that out there there’s a tool (or a way of thinking) that we can use for ourselves and also for our children to start living our best lives and if we look carefully we can find it.

This post is dedicated to one of my friends (from my experiment) who recently discovered her purpose and is just beginning to live her best life.


Smile If Nothing Else

Patrick has been my friend for 18 years and I’ve known his wonderful family for roughly the same period. They are the most friendly, honest and good natured people you will ever meet. I knew his dad, a very friendly and insightful man. His mother, a woman full of love and understanding. It is why I am honoured to post this article where Pattoe (as we call him) shows us a simple yet effective way of living. 

“We see the world not as it is, but as we are.”

— Ken Keyes

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He poked at the fire, furrows creased, thinking, scheming. It was day 4, still no animal in sight, they had come a few dead carcasses, long dead to be of any use. “Such bad luck”, he thought but his father always had something positive to say.  “The herd must be close by”, he said. The endless optimism was annoying at times, but anyhoo, to each his own. His critical mind liked to analyze facts, scheme, plot and decipher. He wanted a plan, a set course of action to follow. He wanted things to make sense. There was a drought and the animals had migrated, the crops had failed, people were starving but he was always smiling.

That smile, who could forget it? It was a constant feature in his everyday life. It was a part of his life and he couldn’t avoid it, he had come to accept it as part of everyday life. He glanced over at his father, sleeping, the smile plastered on his face. An SI unit, poked at the fire again and added some firewood. He thought about the hunt tomorrow. “Hunt? More like roaming around and hope we strike gold, or in this case meat.” Three days of long treks and committed hunting had yielded just a rabbit, long gone since they needed sustenance. Three days and nothing to show for it, well except the smile.

As much as he tried to worry, he couldn’t. Somehow, deep down, he knew they would find something. It was a sense of calm that he loved and hated. Why wasn’t he worried? Three days of nothing and he had this optimism. This undeniable feeling that someway, somehow they would succeed. It baffled him and annoyed him, yet it somehow made him want to go on pursuing, chasing, and searching for that ever elusive prize. He started smiling, “Am my father’s son,” he thought. The last few years had been HELL. The war came, bullets whizzing past, they lost everything, all they had left were the clothes on their back and each other, he had been through enough suffering to last three lifetimes but that ever persistent feeling of optimism never seemed to die, he had given up many times but it was always there lurking, never leaving him. Like that one mosquito you can’t seem to kill, that one, that gets inside the mosquito net and flies into your ear every five or six minutes.

You have to understand; this wasn’t his life. Four years ago, he was an aspiring engineer dreaming of building bridges. The “game” he hunted was the female kind, he was what the young folks called a “fisi” Now here he was, ready to eat a real fisi if he came across one. Oh how life changes! He was now hunting game like he grew up hunting yet he had been a city boy through and through, never had slaughtered a chicken in his life. The scariest thing he had killed was a huge banana spider. But here he was, sleeping under the stars, smiling and thinking about the antelope they would kill the next day. There it was, that optimism! Followed by that smile, he fell asleep, dreaming of laughter and meat.

They did eat the next day, a large antelope that had been left behind by the herd. Years passed, things got better, life improved. The smile was a constant feature; that never changed. But one day suddenly, no more smile, it was gone! Now, here he was, burying his father. He had heard many scary sounds, screams, gunshots, the roars of a hungry lion in the dark. Nothing filled him with more gloom or dread than the sound of the soil hitting his father’s coffin. There was such a finality to it. That day, after that sound, the optimism left him. Gone with the father that he was now burying. He tried to smile, nothing. Not even a forced one, it was truly gone. Gone like yesterday, never to come back.

I lost my smile one day, like him it disappeared with that awful sound. A sound that feels me with dread to this day. You see, I too lost my father, four years ago. Words fail to explain the trepidation that filled my heart, as the soil hit the coffin. I felt that life had to come to an end, not just his but mine too. Many of us, if not all, have buried someone. We have gone through the motions, we have missed, mourned them, drowned our sorrows in drink or other ways to try and fill that void. I did all that and then some. But as it may seem, this story does not have a sad ending but rather a celebration of the great men and women that once graced our lives. Though he is not here physically, the perspective he gave me in life will always live on. He instilled in me a never ending positivity that grows and wanes but it’s always there, a constant in my life. For that, I am thankful. So we aren’t here to mourn but to smile, and smile some more.

There is a story circulating on FB that goes like this:

“Two twin boys were raised by an alcoholic father. One grew up to be an alcoholic & when asked what happened he said” I watched my father” …

The other grew up and never drank in his life. When he was asked what happened he said “I watched my father” …

Two boys, same dad, two different perspectives.

In life, we are all faced with similar situations. Two people will look at the same situation and perceive it totally differently. I looked at the death of my father like the ending of a book. But what I later realized was his story was not yet done, he left a beautiful wife and four wonderful children, who continue to tell his story and add more chapters to his book. I have dreams and ambitions that were founded on his encouragement. So when my story is told, they will speak of a father who imbued me with optimism and a never quit attitude. Maybe one day, I will honor him in some grand way and everyone will know his name. Maybe not, either way, I am honoring him in the best way I know how. Being optimistic!

What about you? How is your outlook in life? How do you perceive things? Do you know that your perception is your reality? We walk through life sometimes trying to change the world, how about looking within and changing ourselves? We are constantly bombarded on how to look, what to wear, how to be successful etc. Every single aspect of our lives is micromanaged by one thing or other. I am not here to do that, I am simply making you aware that it’s your life, get in the driver’s seat and drive. The way you can do that is to change your perception if need be. Wherever you want to be in life, it may seems that’s its dependent on one circumstance or the other but it’s really just dependent on how you view them, are they obstacles or challenges? SMILE

There are a lot of things that I would like to tell you, but I will leave you with this. If you don’t do anything else today, SMILE. I know that’s what Mr. Ndung’u is doing and that’s what he would have told you.

Use your smile to change the world, don’t let the world change your smile!

My grandmother passed away this weekend. Last weekend, we celebrated mum’s birthday. A few months ago, we got grandmother a pacemaker, because of that my grandmother enjoyed her eldest daughter’s (my mum) birthday. We miss her, but we are thankful! She taught us to smile…if nothing else.

Dedicated to the loving memory and smile of Mr. Francis Ndung’u.


How We Got Away with a Murder Most Fowl

“The stench of rotting flesh filled my car as we rolled down Waiyaki way looking for a spot we could dump the black garbage bags. Every time we thought we had found a spot, headlights would appear from nowhere and we would abandon our plan. We had been driving for 3 hours now and we feared we would be stopped by cops at any time…”

knifeBloody

A few months earlier we were sitting in a restaurant planning on what we thought was the best money making plan ever. It would be short term and best of all, the proceeds would be tax free. We held our meeting in hushed voices and wrote out a sketchy plan on some white serviettes.

The project was going to take 4 months after which we would cash in and move on to other bigger things. The partnership was made up of myself and my long time friends Jimmy and Muba. We felt invincible and we were confident that we had explored all possible scenarios of the plan. Little did we know our venture would end up with lives lost. It would also turn out to be one of our most memorable business lessons ever.

We set into action by ensuring our finances were okay. We asked around and carried out due diligence by gathering successful case studies. To cap it all, we already had a willing buyer who I had gotten connected to by a credible source. The buyer was specific; every ‘package’ had to conform to a weight of 1.5 kilos, no more. Otherwise it would raise a red flag with his boss and the whole deal would be considered suspicious and eventually cancelled.

We wrote out a plan and swung into action with the vision of a handsome profit burning brightly in our minds.

We bought 600 birds with 100 of them as insurance against the unpredictable. In poultry farming you have to account for losses, some stemming from negligence by the handlers and others just from random acts of God. We carefully followed our plan and not before long we started to see our project grow into the most promising venture. The birds grew big so fast that they crossed the 1.5 kilo mark on the third month, even our farm neighbours could not hide their envy. We had opted to feed the birds with the highest quality of chicken feeds available and the good thing was, all this was still within budget. We had estimated that we would break even with the first batch of chicken and start making profit on the second batch.So I called up my guy the buyer and explained to him our weight problem. He brushed it off saying we needed not worry as he’d ‘sort’ it with his boss. The only condition he gave was that he wanted a cut from our sales. We gladly agreed.

So finally the day came for the slaughter and our my guy gave us the green light to deliver the chicken at his boss’ hotel by 8PM that evening. So we enlisted the services of this giant of a man who had a reputation of being the most efficient chicken executioner in Nairobi. He was this 6 foot hulk with the most scarred face and the coldest eyes we had seen. He always walked around with his tools of trade; a set of knives, string, a sheet of polythene (which he wore to to prevent blood spatter) and a pack of cheap cigarettes. He looked like a morbid serial killer. Anyway he looked like the perfect person for the job because it takes a lot of cold heart to slaughter 500 chicken.

He filled a drum with water and started a fire under it. Soon he was snatching birds from the chicken barn, snapping their heads off their bodies like dry spaghetti and throwing them into the boiling water. He made short of the work and in two hours the chicken were hanging upside down dripping a mixture of water and blood; all ready to be delivered to the customer in the next two hours. Now it was time for the delivery.

The load was almost a ton and I could feel Iris my old station wagon groaning under the heavy weight as we flew down Kangundo road in the open savannah towards the city lights. We dropped ‘the executioner’ along the way after paying him [much to everyone’s relief]. It had been very uncomfortable riding with him at the back of the car just staring into a crazy trance. All the time, he never said a word despite our repeated attempts at having a conversation. We couldn’t stop fearing he would go crazy and snap our necks from behind, then bury us in shallow graves on a lonely stretch by the road.

As we edged closer to the city, I called my guy to tell him we were almost there. That’s when everything went south. He pretended not to remember that we had spoken about the birds being overweight. He also indifferently asked whether we had a signed order from the hotel which obviously we didn’t. He then delivered the final blow saying that they had already gotten a delivery by their usual supplier and therefore they wouldn’t take our stock. It took me a while to process the whole conversation and at some point I thought I was having a heart attack. As I broke the news to my partners, I could see Jimmy almost tearing up the steering wheel in frustration and I could hear Muba laughing in the distance as he usually does when he can’t comprehend what just happened. We pulled over to the side of the road and took a moment to feel sorry for ourselves. This was turning out to be a really bad day.

After brainstorming, we came up with our first idea for mitigation. We would ride into town and sell the chickens on the busiest highway in the city. So we drove to Uhuru highway and parked on the side of the Nyayo stadium round about and went over our preposition for the millionth time; a chicken worth 700 shillings at a price of 250 shillings. We were sure it was an offer customers wouldn’t refuse. We targeted to sell at least 50 birds each between Jimmy, Muba and myself. The plan was to offload as much as possible and sell the rest to a restaurant owned by a sister to Victor one of the friends in our circle. Little did we know this would turn out to be the hardest sell ever. Motorists would roll up their windows whenever we tried selling them of the chicken. It never occurred to us that selling chicken stupidly cheap (and on the highway) was suspicious! Someone in a matatu even told the rest of the passengers that we had slaughtered the marabou storks that are usually perched on the trees along Nyayo stadium, and that’s why our chicken were too big! We got so desperate we even offered them to motorists for free. In the end we had disposed only 10 fat chickens with 490 to go!

We packed up and headed to Victor’s sister and sadly, she would only take 5. By this time, we had even bought ice blocks because the executioner had warned us that after 24 hours the chicken would start going bad. It was almost midnight when we got the idea of asking our friends and families to assist with storing some of the birds in their refrigerators but they could only take so much. We still had 400 to go. At 2AM we gave up and decided to leave the remaining chickens in the car hoping the ice would keep them fresh until morning.

The next day was a work day and as we left the house we couldn’t help but catch a faint familiar smell as we walked towards the car. This is when our real ordeal started.

The Thika superhighway hadn’t been built yet and so the traffic usually started on our doorstep. We had opened all the windows and we could see everyone on the road sniffing and trying to investigate where the foul smell was coming from. I had never felt so defeated in my life. As usual, Muba wouldn’t stop laughing and Jimmy eventually joined the laughing band. I personally was just in a daze. Clearly we were having one of the worst days of our lives. As Jimmy dropped us to our workplaces, each person went into their office carrying two chickens for ‘advertising’. To date we all agree that Muba had the most hilarious experience of all that day as he was suspected of murdering his boss but I’ll tell you about later.

Jimmy went ahead and parked the car under a tree at his workplace hoping the shade would slow down the decomposition of the chicken. By midday he had called us saying his workmates were reporting an overpowering smell of death.

That’s when we all spoke on phone and agreed that our business had gone bust and it was time to pull off the final act. Disposal. We decided we would buy garbage bags and wait for midnight to find a discreet dumping ground. We also enlisted one more accomplice in our circle Naito who would help us with pulling it off.

At midnight we headed out into the dark. At first we tried finding dumpsites along Thika road where we used to live but the mayor had done his work well that year. We couldn’t find any. So Jimmy suggested Waiyaki Way as the perfect place since he had grown up there and knew the dumping sites like the back of his hand.

The stench of rotting flesh filled my car as we rolled down Waiyaki way looking for a spot we could dump the blag garbage bags. Every time we thought we had found a spot, headlights would appear from nowhere and we would abandon our plan. By now we had been driving for 3 hours now, and we feared we would be stopped at any time by the police. That’s when it hit me that we had committed mass murder because thanks to us, more than 400 chicken had lost their lives for nothing. As morning drew closer we decided to go back home because the situation was getting risky and out of control. We were tired and sleepy and as we turned into the last street home, Naito made a comment about dumping the whole thing on the roadside just before our gate. Little did she know what she had just said was the best idea we’d heard all week.

The next morning we woke up to chaos in the neighbourhood. Somehow stray dogs had managed to rip the bags open and strewn the carcasses all over. The stench was overwhelming. Good thing no one knew who was responsible. We quietly slipped into our car which was still reeking and drove out to work. We had gotten away with murder. But we wouldn’t eat chicken for the rest of the year let alone look at it rotating on the grill behind the Kenchic joint window.

The whole event taught us some hard and important lessons. Firstly every business idea needs a proof of market before one invests their hard earned money. Secondly always have a backup plan to your backup plan because anything can go wrong. Lastly, always be cautious when someone offers to hook you up with a contact while saying “I have a guy”.


The Art of Being Fat and Cool

I’m fat. That’s a fact. I don’t want you to ever call me a ‘big guy’, ‘mzito’ or ‘big mike’ again because I know that’s what we call fat guys so they can feel better about themselves. I feel heavy that’s for sure, but I don’t hate my body or appearance. Why should I? I am too awesome for that. I’m able to do everything my peers can do except pushups; which is understandable because my belly just won’t leave the ground no matter how high I push myself. The last time I managed to do five I almost drained my intestines in my living room. My arms wouldn’t stop shaking for two days and I almost visited a neurologist. I decided to leave that part of self determination to YouTube athletes. However I can run further many fit people but then I also understand it’s about fuel capacity and efficiency.

I have to admit that lean guys get more perks in life compared to fat guys. Lean guys can walk up to any store and walk out with nice clothes or even an extra large pizza. For a fat guy it’s different. You have ‘your guy’ when it comes to clothes. And even with this [your] guy, you have to keep your fingers crossed because clothing manufacturers make really bad clothes for fat guys. The evidence is everywhere from polka dot shirts with spots which look like little mini-me’s arranged in a neat motif, to jeans with a low belt-line meant to show my crack every time I stand up. I believe there’s a worldwide conspiracy to force us into losing weight. We must be using a lot of resources and just maybe, we might be the original cause of global warming.

The airlines are doing it too. Fellow passengers cringe when you’re pace up and down the airplane isle looking for your seat number. And for a moment in the plane it feels like lean people have been forced into playing a game of Russian Roulette;  fat guy being the bullet. Which unlucky passenger will have their side squashed by fat guy’s upper butt? Who will be the miserable passenger who will have to endure an eight hour flight next to a sweaty fat dude who’s evidently eyeing their food and asking for whisky refills throughout the flight?

In defence of fat guys, I wish to state that the mind has a way of making you appear smaller in the mirror. Every time I’m topless mirror I can swear there’s a six pack peering through my one pack. Ok, you need to get your dirty mind of the hairy man boobs if you really want to get my six pack story. Fat guys are often called good huggers because they actually look and feel like oversized dolls or as you would call them Teddy Bears. They hate it and love it in equal measure. Being a fat dude makes you appear somewhat friendly and dumb at the same time especially when you’re in oversized clothes. Fact. A fat guy should never go a day without a shower. Too bad they have to use more soap than the rest of the population. We should seriously consider signing up for a daily scrub at the local carwash.

So what to do? For most fat guys, the whole fat experience involves learning how to deal with yourself daily. It also involves pondering over some strange challenges in our lives. For instance, most fat guys miss at least one meal a day which translates to something like “My car can go on an empty tank every now and then”. Genetics? Gastric abnormalities perhaps? Are we even trying to lose weight in the first place?

So this is where I speak for myself. This year, I plan to quit being a fat guy. Not because I hate how I look; please don’t get it twisted. I can still get laid more times than you skinny guys can count. I’m just tired of panting every-time I have to tie my shoe laces. Hint: That’s why fat guys totally dig slip-on shoes. A big stomach can make the world literally disappear under your nose. Honestly I just wish I that one day I will see my toes again.

Though very difficult, I want to eat right, train right and have healthy hours of sleep. I want to dance all night in the club without having the waitresses follow me mop-in-hand. I want to show off in bed and not end up waterboarding my lay. I want be able to pick an meal from the menu without feeling like it’s the night before my final exams. Did you know that it’s very hard for a fat guy to get a job waiting tables in a restaurant? Not because we’re slow but apparently the customers always suspect the fat waiter of foul play whenever the portions come small. Moving on…

Now I know almost every lean person is always looking to give a fat guy their secret of staying lean. But this is the world cup baby. It’s much harder than it looks. For one, fat guys naturally try to lose weight privately which will often fail. Why? Because the world doesn’t adjust for you. The food will be always be floating in the air and the beer will always be the right temperature after every long day. I like how Kiyosaki views obesity as a condition caused by emotional and psychological factors but not food. I think he’s right. We ate candy and greasy chips every breathing moment when we were kids and we never grew fat. But somewhere along the way life got real and suddenly the body went into self preservation mode.

I can write different fat article everyday for the rest of my life because I have tasted life (sic) as a lean guy and eaten it with a big spoon (sic again) as a fat guy. Both have advantages but one has more disadvantages than the other. Trust me, you don’t want to be that guy that suffers those terrible night sweats and snores like Godzilla even when you involuntarily nap during working hours. So if you’re lean, just stay that way and I mean stay that way! If you’re fat and you hate yourself I have no advise for you. You can choose to sulk and look fat and miserable and be sure the CIA won’t save you. But if you’re fat and you love yourself and you feel like it’s time to get your breath back then make friends with like minded people. The road from fat to fit is lonely and hard; it only makes sense to walk with someone. Regardless, let’s raise our (water) glasses to always keep trying to get fit.


Breaking Up with Her

iris

So the time has come to let go of someone that I’ve held dear to my heart for too long. Her name is Iris. I first saw her 10 years ago one day on my way to work and instantly I knew we were meant to be. I decided I would do everything just to make her mine. She was a bit too old for me but I didn’t care. At least she was mature and had a cool head. A month later I was the happiest man as Iris and I drove into the sunset to start our lives together.

We travelled all over the country to new places meeting new faces and making friends long the way. On the road she was the envy of many girls. They couldn’t understand how a girl her age would would still look so beautiful. She was always calm even when the going was tough. She hardly complained or broke down like all the younger girls did. The sound of her heartbeat has never changed; deep and strong like a raging storm. She was always ready to go regardless of time of day or where the journey led us. She’s taken us on the most memorable road trips of our lives. She has also accompanied us on some of the saddest times. She was always up to the task. She still is.

My friends love her. To us she represents all the good times we’ve had. She has always had room for everyone and everyone has had room for her in their pictures. My family doesn’t remember who I was before Iris and my nieces will kill me if they knew what I’m a bout to do.

You see though she can’t speak, Iris talks to me. Lately she’s been telling me that I need to move on to a new adventure. Every time I look outside the window I can see her looking back at me from the driveway. She also wants a new adventure. Don’t get me wrong, we are not fighting. We just understand each other. She just wants me to see what else is out there. “Go see the world, I’ll be fine” she says. She’s a classic girl. I know that feeling so as painful as it is, I will let her go.

It’s been a great 10 years and a lot has happened. It’s not easy to break off with a car that you have come to understand so well.

Therefore I am inviting offers for my 23 year old Mitsubishi Libero Wagon named ‘Iris’. She features one of the best engines Mitsubishi ever produced; a 1.8 litre 4G93 engine and full time 4 wheel drive system. The suspension consists of 2 weeks old monroe shocks running under a regularly serviced engine. It is advisable to buy Iris as a collector’s item and complete her restoration which is at 75%.

I’ve had Iris for 10 years. It’sad to let her go but it’s time for a new adventure. And yes, this post is just about a car.


Jo

jo

Today I broke down in the car as I was driving to work. I surprised myself. For some reason I thought it’s been too long since you left me hanging on hope that you would pull through. At least once every year I get overwhelmed by this deep and helpless feeling of sorrow. But today was worse. I couldn’t help myself. So I cried and banged my fists on the wheel in rage not caring if the people in traffic could see me. You always said that you’d be surprised if I had any tears at all. You said my face made me look cold, disinterested and criminal so yes today I cried.

I have never forgiven myself for not calling you in 3 months yet you were my secret best friend. I hate the memory of calling you only to be told by your mother that you were in hospital. I can still remember how weak I felt when I came to see you at the hospital. I never imagined I could see you helpless. I thought I’d come in and you’d sit up and immediately ask me why my hair wasn’t shaved. You always wanted me to look neat and organised. For some reason I liked that I could handle your OCD.

I never understood why a beautiful soul with such a bright future would be taken first. I sat there at your bedside and for a moment my heart skipped when your heart monitor showed that my presence had gotten you excited. But you were trapped. I could see you fighting to come out from behind your tearing eyes. I could feel you trying to move your hand to touch my face. For a split moment I knew you just wanted for us to have coffee like we always did every couple of days just to talk and debate about anything and everything.

I have never forgiven myself for not being able to say anything all the times I came to see you. I was scared. I felt like you had abandoned me. I tried to speak but my throat always turned into a tight knot. I didn’t know how to talk to someone who was not able to respond. I felt angry and sorry to see you twitching and drooling all over the hospital sheets. I hated that for once I couldn’t fix it. I hate that we were so broke that we couldn’t afford you better care; I couldn’t shield and fight for you like the first time we met.

We were friends and we liked to keep it that way. We never dated and we never even saw the need of talking about it. I knew where your heart was and you knew the chaos that was my life. We were two sides of the same soul yet different in every way. But here you were, crying out for help. Trying to tell me something I will never know. There I was, trying to stay hard above my tears and trying to convince you that you’d get well.

I hate the day when I walked through the hospital gate and instantly knew in my heart that you were gone. Suddenly I knew all the things that I wanted to say to you but it was too late. We were born on the same day and hour so you know why it’s always been hard for me to understand why you were gone before our time.

I didn’t look at your face in the funeral. I didn’t cry. I didn’t want you to see me that way. Even now I find it hard to visit your grave because I know that’s not where you are. I want to hold on to the music, the laughter and the conversations that made everything okay. The best way I can honour your memory is to tell everyone around me about that brief moment in my life where I found a friend that promised she’d one day make me cry and delivered on it.

Tonight I will find a quiet spot and raise a glass to you.

– For Georgina Maxine Mueni, 1978-2007


Landing My Second Client and the Lessons I Learned

To get my second gig, I had to convince a shopkeeper called Mwangi in our sleepy town centre that I was the best sign writer he would ever come across. The year was 1999 and I was 16. I told him that his kiosk didn’t have a name and that he was losing potential customers as a result.

To come up with a name for his kiosk I charged him 100 shillings ($1). To write the name of the shop I explained that I would charge him 10 shillings ($0.1) for every letter. Soon after I tabled my offer, I realised that my final pay depended directly on the number of letters I painted on his fascia board.To maximise my revenue I suggested that we name the shop Mwangi Shop & General Supplies Store Kamulu. That would give me a total of 470 shillings ($4.7) on completion of the job.

Mwangi agreed and I set off to work preparing the board and sketching out the text in pencil. But something inside me felt guilty about the the offer I had just made. I knew I was giving Mwangi a raw deal. I knew it would work better for him if we’d just named his kiosk ‘Mwangi’s Shop’ as this was easier to remember and as a result good for his business.

I had to make a decision. Should I do the job and walk away with my self serving pay or give Mwangi a good branding for his business by creating a memorable brand? I always walked past Mwangi’s shop everyday and so if I didn’t give him a working solution I would have to face my mistake everyday. Everyone would know that it was I who wrote that long sign that was hard to remember. And at that moment I realised that the money wasn’t as important as the outcome. I knew that if the board worked for Mwangi, I would get referral business from that one job and I would be proud to be known as the sign-writer who made his business flourish by giving it a memorable name. On the downside, this meant that I would now make only 200 shillings ($2) from the entire job; half of what I hoped for. Despite this, I chose my customer’s interests first.

The decision to choose integrity over my personal interests proved to be the best business decision ever. Mwangi’s shop became a known brand in the town centre. It even became a referral name for a bus stop which was very useful for a place so far out of the city. I got to write signs for several more shops in the area at a price of 30 shillings per letter and 200 shillings for images. I was 16 and just halfway through high school so this money was more than enough for me.

I learned what became my best lesson in design. That if you put your personal needs before the needs of your client, you will only profit once, no more. But if you put your clients’ needs first you will never run out of opportunities.

Secondly, learned that it’s hard to convince people to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself first.

Thirdly I realised that I had to re-think how I billed my clients for creative work otherwise one day I’d be forced to sell my kidneys to make ends meet.

 


The Giant Tree

michael_ngigi_great_tree

Once long ago there stood a giant tree where there now sits the great stump. The tree was magnificent and could be seen from far and wide. It’s branches were strong and it’s roots ran deep through the earth down to the rock beneath. Towering over the whole forest, this was certainly the tallest tree in the land. So big was the tree that it cast a very dark shade underneath it and not other tree would grown under or near it for many miles.

This tree was home to many birds who were ruled by an old, evil, giant eagle. Every bird feared the eagle because of his sharp beak and powerful claws. So terrifying was the eagle that it was said he had eaten his own family. He also had a reputation of killing any bird that defied his orders. The tree was his kingdom and the old eagle guarded it and it’s inhabitants fiercely.

To keep the birds submissive, he would eat their eggs and their young to his fill whenever he pleased. The birds were unhappy but there was nothing they could do.

Since the tree was the only home the birds knew, none of them had an idea what lay beyond the thick mist. The birds lived a miserable life and wished that one day the old eagle would die. Eagles live longer than most birds, so sadly the inhabitants of the tree knew the evil eagle would outlive them all.

One day, the birds saw many humans on the forest floor milling around their tree. They were making great noises and moving about in a disturbing manner. One of them stood in front of the tree and was shouting to the rest of the humans. Afterwards they moved on and it was peaceful once more.

Two young weaverbirds [a male called Loki and a female called lulu] that had been observing the humans became very curious as to where these strange creatures had come from. Since no bird had ventured outside the tree except the eagle, the two weaverbirds were filled with an urge to find out. They became very restless and as they discussed the strange creatures they had seen, they wondered what else lay yonder. They hatched a plan to fly in the direction the humans had gone. They agreed to turn back if they felt they had gone too far and could get lost. So there and then they made a deal that they would start their flight at first light the next morning.

Anxious and excited, the two weaverbirds could not sleep that night and at daybreak, they started their journey. Following the path they had seen the humans take, they flew into the dense mist until they could not see the great tree behind them. They flew on despite their fear of getting lost. They had never flown this far from the tree and were terrified; but something about this trip made them feel free and excited. After a long flapping their tiny wings,they got tired and were scared that they had gotten lost.

Lulu started crying “Loki I’m scared! I’m afraid we are lost and we may never be able to get back home!”.

Though scared, Loki gathered his courage and tweeted encouragement to Lulu,
“Push on, we’re almost there”.

And suddenly without warning,the mist opened up and they came to the most beautiful sight they had ever seen since they were hatched. A breathtaking forest with the most colorful trees they had ever seen. There were sweet looking fruits and insects on every tree. This was nothing like what they had anticipated. They flew into the trees and danced around the branches pecking on the sweet fruits and tasty insects. This was heaven! They wished they had made this discovery much earlier.

Without wasting time, they ate to their fill and set off for home to tell the others what they had found. At first, no one would believe their fantastic sounding tale but eventually some birds did and went and came back to tell the others.

In the end all the birds moved from the evil eagle’s tree leaving him weak starving and starving since there were no more eggs and nestlings to eat. The birds had also discovered that the eagle could not fly as he was too old and his feathers had fallen off.

As the old eagle perched on his [now quiet and lonely] tree staring into the horizon, he felt sorry for himself. He had no friends and now it dawned on him how miserable he was. He thought the tree was his greatest possession but without the birds it was just a cold and empty place.

A few days later the humans came back and cut down the tree. Initially they had decided not to cut the tree because they felt sorry for the birds but now there were not birds living in it. The old eagle was killed as the great tree came crashing down on the forest floor. As for Loki, Lulu and the rest of the birds; they went on to thrive and live happily ever after. The forest had everything they needed and they also knew that they could always fly into the unknown if they ever got unhappy again.

You will never discover new forests until you gather the courage to lose sight of your great tree.

Dedicated to you, the person stuck in a place or situation that you can’t seem to get the courage to get out of. 


That One Friend

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There’s always that one friend who inspires you just by how they live their life. From them you get wisdom, perspective, focus, inspiration and of course entertainment. Such people exist to remind you that every thing happening in your life could be an opportunity or a challenge depending on how you look at it. They are normal people just like you and I but [they] live an extraordinary life, because they choose to make extra ordinary decisions.

They are characterized by their constant effort to play outside their comfort zone, and their ever present cheerful attitude regardless of the obstacles they face. They are a different breed because their life is based on ambitions that are simple, selfless and unique. These people keep at it making small progressive steps which often turn into big gains because of their consistency. To the normal person, they tend to come off as lucky and undeserving but in reality their lives are littered with more failures than success. The only difference is that they keep their dreams alive through constant effort.

I find the majority of these people to be very good natured and somewhat charismatic. They speak more of optimism than pessimism; they see the good in things that to a normal person, would seem of little value. They make a conscious effort to see life through a positive eye. This makes them very loyal and annoyingly honest friends; but then again, isn’t it what we all so desperately need?

These people work hard and the world pays them for it by giving them wealth, satisfaction and happiness. They are forever consumed by their dreams and it is no wonder they always seem to be doing the same thing year in year out!

Looking at my friend this year I have learnt one big lesson;the world will always step aside for you as long as your ambition is honest and selfless. We are human and so we are bound to make bad decisions every now and then but we will always succeed if our aim is positive and true.

For a while now, I’ve been fascinated by Einstein’s theory of relativity where in my understanding, it is very difficult for an object to move faster than light. But WHAT IF we could move faster than light? The theory states that the universe would adjust by expanding at the same rate so it would still be impossible to achieve the fit.

In the same breath I believe that a person whose ambition is true and selfless has a solid positive future, and as long as they consciously keep trying to do the right thing they will arrive at their destiny. They will make mistakes numerous times (because we are human) but the universe will always adjust to accommodate these failures because there are laws that dictate destiny.

Such people do not come into our lives by mistake. As humans we are created to always strive to be better, and one of the ways this is meant to happen is through inspiration. Inspiration triggers action and ensures that the human race is better equipped to survive as a species. We respond better to inspiration from live examples (especially people we know) than from books and movies. This is why we all need that one friend who stirs up our creativity and gives us the reason to believe in our dreams.

It is also the same reason why we need to be that ONE friend that inspires others by striving to be better everyday.

Maybe my friend doesn’t know it but I intend to keep them around for a long time.

Do you have that ONE friend?


About Creativity

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Hi my name is Michael and I am creative director at a leading marketing firm.

It’s 6am and I am watching the sunrise at the waterfront on the beach with my laptop wide open and a blank page staring back at me. I feel inspired but not sure what to write about. I am on a fact finding mission to understand two different consumer groups on behalf of the organization I work with. With the information I collect, we will be able to generate insights that we we use to develop creative strategies for our clients. This is what sets us apart as one of Africa’s fastest growing below the line agencies. Personally I can’t help feeling lucky and undeserving because deep down I know that anyone can do the job that I am about to do.

Some people are born artistic; that I totally agree. But the notion that some people are born creative is the thing that I will never concur with. I believe that everyone has the ability to be creative and I also believe that regardless of what profession or walks of life we come from, we all need creativity because it’s what sets us apart in everything that we do.

Growing up, I loved drawing and painting and one of my greatest influences of my life was my mother. You see, when I first showed her something I had drawn, she immediately told be it was the best drawing she’d seen in her life. That made me very happy and I can only remember that from then on drawing became my oxygen. I’d draw everyday and everywhere just so I could make people happy. Looking back, I think the first drawing I showed my mom was the most horrible sketch ever. She just happened to know the secret of inspiring talent. She knew that her response should ignite a spark that in turn would open up a world of possibilities for me. And that is exactly what happened.

As I grew up I realized that the world was flooded with artists and good ones at that. In my three decades, I have seen amazing talent often unsung and appreciated. You will always find them in art centers and street corners, broke, spiritual, conscious and unmotivated. In the art circles we are always joking that an artist only becomes rich and famous when they die. Ironically this is true most of the time. As painful as it sounds, the world really doesn’t need art if it [art] doesn’t address any challenge. So art without purpose just breeds artists. Art with purpose gives rise to creatives and problem solvers.

When I was 18, I decided I would be a graphic designer. Upon trying it out I realized that it was harder than I had earlier imagined. The responses to my work were more brutal and hardly encouraging. This is because design is all about addressing challenges. I discovered that being good in art wouldn’t just cut it if no one saw it’s usefulness. The world wanted something that addressed ITS challenges. I was used to making art straight out of my heart and this was new ground; I had to create art that needed to address the needs of others. To save my budding career now under threat, I decided I would try to understand what it is that successful designers did different.

I discovered that successful designers had one thing in common. They were always seeking to understand the dynamics. I realized that all along I had been seeking to understand myself and that is why I produced work that only made me happy and thus ended up seeking only positive encouragement from others. This was my eureka moment that changed everything.

Nowadays I get offended when someone calls me an artist because I don’t make art, I solve problems. I am a creative.

To harness creativity, I learnt that I needed to absorb knowledge from the environment. Yes, it was as basic as reading the paper everyday or asking everyone the most awkward questions; always seeking to understand who everyone else was and what they needed. I noticed the change immediately as I started realizing how the world is overwhelmingly filled with opportunity.

I’d passed by the shoe shiner’s everyday just so he could tell me what was going on in the city. The newspaper vendor always knew the politics of the day and what was going to happen tomorrow. I discovered our teal lady at the office always had an opinion on the challenges women were going through and all this information just opened up my eyes to a world I had been blind to since birth. I began to understand why companies and brands were going down while others succeeded within the same environment. It became my purpose to always seek information. It changed my paradigm and made my work better and as a designer. I had started making real impact.

I realized that as a creative designer, my work determined the bottomline for the organization I worked with and also the value of the brands I worked on. As a result I firmly believe that in creativity, knowledge is power. The key to creativity is understanding the dynamics of the situation in question in great detail and using this information to produce fresh, exciting and impactful solutions. This realization has been my lifestyle since then.

I believe that regardless of what your profession is, creativity can give you positive results and lasting impact. Whether you are a brand manager, accountant, actuarial scientist, doctor, janitor you name it. The principles of creativity work in the same way. Everyone has the ability to be creative. First get to understand the dynamics well, then ask yourself how you can do it bigger, better, different and with a more lasting impact. Creativity expands the playing ground and increases opportunity. With creativity you have competitive advantage and an improved bottom line. To be effective, creativity needs to be part of our daily life. Creativity is not rocket science but rather a power that is within reach to all of us. Creativity makes what we do enjoyable because it fuels passion.

So everything you have put down on your to do list today is essentially an opportunity to tap into your creative potential. That my friends is creativity lesson 101.

Next time I will write about how we can inspire creativity in organizations for better performance.


Investment Advice from Successful K9s

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While I was going about my business sniffing here and there, marking a bush or two with my pee, I kept wondering if there was a new way to hide my hard earned bones other than the traditional dig-a-hole-and-bury method.  Where could I put my bones and watch them grow so I didn’t have to keep scavenging like the stray dog that I am? How could I become the most successful and happiest dog in the neighborhood just like Bosco the smooth furred happy-but-scary bulldog down the street? What did he do to become that confident and powerful? He sure is very ugly but why is his bowl always full? Why is his pack that big?

I decided to face my fears and confront the happiest and most confident dogs [that I admired] in the neighborhood and ask them what their secret was. I was surprised how warmly these happy dogs received me. You see as a dog you get used to being constantly chased off marked territories with your tail right between your legs so you can understand this was new to me. Anyway I asked them how they did it and they gave me five investment options to making my pile of bones grow and most of all being a happy dog.

Invest in yourself, the Bulldog said
Investing in yourself should be your biggest priority. How good are you at fetching? Can you sniff better than the next dog?Are your teeth constantly clean? What do you know about catching a rabbit mid air? Do you practice? As a dog you are constantly in a state of growth. The only difference between you and the next dog is your rate of growth. If you don’t grow you become irrelevant over time. Growth starts from knowledge; how to run without tiring, how to know what to chase and what not to waste your energy on among the things you should master. Knowledge becomes power because it changes the way you act and react. When you put an effort into gaining more knowledge you have understood the first rule of investing in yourself.

Investing in yourself should be your biggest priority. You wish you had a few less pounds so you could run faster? Or you with you had more muscle so you could be the better dog in the fight? Invest in keeping in shape by knowing how your body works and embarking on a training program that will suit you. Keep your fur clean so you can be confident. Keep your teeth clean and sharp and avoid eating leftovers. In our world dogs are attracted to unique dogs who posses unusual capability. What is the one unique thing that you posses that a pack will identify you with? Is it how you sniff? Is it how you hunt? What are you good at? Surely you don’t want to be the poor lonely pup that no one remembers for anything! Invest in your uniqueness and the world will reward you for it.

Invest in Family the, Pug said
I know a dog who knows a beagle who dedicated his life to fetching and collecting bones and in the process became very successful… and lonely. During his quest for tasty bones he paid little attention to his bitch and puppies because he convinced himself that he was doing everything so they could enjoy a never ending supply of food in the future. Now his puppies are all grown up and are always turning down his generous gestures because they feel like they are being bribed. His bitch left him and married an average retriever whose big heart compensates for his often empty bowl and they are quite happy. Our rich beagle is forever lonely and what’s more sad is that all the friends he has right now are there because of his pile of bones. It’s good to work hard, but it is also good to share your time with family.

Invest For Yourself, the Rottweiler said
After trying my paws at the numerous hunting ideas I got through friends and family, I have come to the conclusion that I will always sleep hungry when I follow another dog’s hunting idea. My point is, if the prey is not in your kill zone you can always let it go and hunt it another day. All in all knowing that a good hunt is hard to come by, it is very important to keep something for yourself because the future is never a kind friend especially if you didn’t hide your kill well. As with all forms of bone hiding, there are rules and the biggest one is don’t hide all your bones in one hole. To hunt you need energy and this can only come from the bones you saved from the last hunt so you can eat and share but always keep some for yourself.

Invest in Faith, the Poodle said
Yes I was surprised to hear this from a pampered dog that I have never seen hunting. But her point of view raised a very important point. You need to believe that the hunt will be successful. The success of the hunt must first happen between your flappy ears before it can be real.  There are certain events in your life; good and bad that serve as evidence of a power that is always watching over us. Be thankful in advance and acknowledge the greatness of this power. Take time to feed your spiritual self by meditating on a successful hunt. By doing so you can strengthen your faith and live the quality of life you want. Faith is the beacon that always keeps us in the right direction regardless of the situations we face in our lives.

Invest in the Pack, the Terrier said
Along the way you will find canines of strategic importance. One of the dogs I interviewed was a terrier named Swish. He told me the main reason for his success was his pack. He likes making new friends and he has realized that every time he’s on an hunt he’ll always find dogs willing to help him track down and catch new rabbits. Why? Because he realizes every dog is unique. Some are fast, some are brave and others like him are smart. He genuinely cares for his friends. He will always visit a member of his pack and offer him a bone for no reason. He will call out his pack for a run in the fields just so they could feel the wind on their flapping tongues together as one. You see, being in the pack is not just about hunting, it’s also about family and support. Just because of investing in his friends, Swish’s pack is the biggest and most successful of all. They eat well and their furs are forever shiny.

 


Oh This Woman!

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I have always been a spoilt kid. Apart from reading me story books at bed time (oh yes she did until I was 10!) my mother has been the voice in my head all my life. Despite our ups and downs as a family, she has been our rock and the strong glue that holds us together. This woman happens to be a thousand years old in wisdom. She passes wisdom in a way that is funny, reflective and unimposing. I credit her for installing in us this ever present homing instinct that guides us back to consciousness every time we get caught up in life’s complexities. I’ve been in serious trouble a couple of times in my life and it is her words that brought me back. I have deep respect for all mothers and the role they take in shaping who we are. Everyday is Mothers Day.

On Humility
She said “My son, to work is worship God. Even the lowest of jobs has to be done by someone. You were born a prince but also a servant. Let no title be too big for you and let no humble task be too low for you to carry out because humility is an expression of confidence and gratefulness. A humble man is a powerful man. He can stand confidently before Kings and be trusted to lead by the poor”

On Love
She said “Love is first an attraction then a choice. If you find someone you truly love, hold on to them. Love is loyal despite betrayal. Love forgives despite hurt. When you love someone you stand by them unconditionally. Love is what you make it to be. You can be happy if you choose to be happy. You can never be sure of the character of a person you love as it takes time but in the meantime you can trust. But look for a person who loves God because only a person who loves God can truly love another human being. The rest are details. You will fight over the tooth paste tube and the socks you left at the door but you will never fall out of love.”

On Being a Man
She said “A man is only as good as his word. The character of a man is built of his action. A man never complains, he finds solutions. He takes care of those he loves and offers help to those in need. A man is honest and industrious. A man does not give up. A man is not scared to love and to say sorry. In the face of adversity, a man stands his ground. A real man knows that sometimes to win he has to lose. A man is the high priest of the house. A protector and warrior who lays down his life for his family.”

On Industry
She said “As long as you have breath and are of sound mind, God has given you everything you need to succeed. From the deepest holes on the ground come the rarest diamonds. Never work for profit because this type of gain does not last. Work to fulfill your purpose because real wealth comes as a by product of a passion fully lived. Do not spend your gains on eating like a King but spend them on the moments that count. After all they are the most eternal of all investments.”

On Sincerity
She said “To be sincere is to conquer yourself. To conquer yourself is to conquer the world. Know what you like and what you dislike. Know what you want and what you need. Know thyself. Be honest with yourself and you will know the reason why you are here. Be sincere with everyone especially the ones you love. Sincerity is the deepest and most profound expression of love.”

On Frugality
She said “ Son, the pain of work should be a reminder that nothing comes easy. Take care of the little you have. Water it and let it grow but most of all use it wisely. The bible says ‘A fool and his money are soon parted’. Thriftiness shows gratitude and it is the ultimate sign of responsibility. To be frugal is to be the master over money and not a slave to it. Before you spend, think. Do not spend your hard earned money to please others who add no value to your life. Every coin you spend should be an investment. Remember the story of the servants who were given talents?”

On Selflessness
She said “I would be sad if I heard that you did everything just so your own belly would be full. I would be ashamed to hear you saw suffering yet you turned a blind eye when you could have ended it. We are all here to take care of God’s Children. God gives you strength and wealth to take care of others. You my son are just a tool that He uses. You can never be too good to serve others. I love you but I would be proud to hear that you met your last day giving up your life so that another would live. After all, what is it in this world that I cannot give up for you?”

On Devotion
She said “ If I was laying on my death bed today waiting for my last breath, I would only have one instruction to give you. Love God and devote your life to Him and you will receive measure beyond your wildest dreams. It is only a fool that says God  does not exist. There are many questions that make you doubt if He is really there so devote your life to seeking Him. God is not on trial so as to be expected to prove His existence. Pay attention, look close and in your silence you will find Him. I have felt his presence and I have seen his work and I am still in awe of his greatness.

On Dreams
She said “In your time, life will be tough. Misery and hopelessness will be the order of the day. But you my children are special. You have the world under your feet. Write your dreams down and make it a prayer to God to bring them to life. God will grant you the desires of your heart but first you have to be clear of what you want. Dreams do not come to us by chance. They are the distant echo of destiny. It is sad for a man to die without fulfilling his purpose. Let your dreams be devoid of boundaries and let no one tell you that it can’t be done because it hasn’t been done before. Dreams become thoughts and thoughts become things.”

This woman is amazing. 


The Young Man and the Old Newspaper Vendor

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The young man looked at his watch. It was only 2 pm and yet Monday seemed to have lasted an eternity. He looked through the huge glass windows down thirty floors onto the streets below. What he saw just made him more sick. There they were, people just like him. Shuffling back and forth like ants trying to get to their appointments and miserable jobs. He knew exactly how it felt, after all there was no difference between him and the people down below. Everyone was going about their business just because they had to; not because they loved what they did.

He had come out top of his class and that’s how he got this job. The pay was good and he always looked sharp in his neatly tailored suits. His family was proud and his friends were ever envious. It always seemed to swing girls his way whenever he mentioned what he did for a living. He was in a comfort zone. But even with all this flare the young man was not happy. He was good at numbers and after a couple of promotions in the company, he knew his life was set and he would never end up like his father.  All the same, this definitely didn’t feel like what he was meant to do in life. However there was one thing that always held him back whenever he started down this road, fear.

You see over the years he had observed his father fall from grace and spiral into a abyss of drunkenness and hopeless fear and  pessimism. He always seem to have a volume of reasons why this or that idea wouldn’t work. He was a proud man and therefore would not stoop low to venture out and find work; not after he had been an employer in his previous life. So he spent his days reminiscing about days gone by when he was ‘the man’ whom everyone wanted to be associated with. To the young man, his father’s attitude disgusted him but he knew all too well that people always have a high likelihood of inheriting the failures of their parents. He wanted something different for himself.

So the young man embarked on a quest to find out what his purpose was.

He first asked his mother what she thought he was good at and her answer made him sad. You see mothers always know when a man is toying around with the idea of making a drastic move and so naturally, she assured him that he was already doing what he was good at. The young man regretted asking his mother for such advise as he knew she was naturally protective of him and wouldn’t want him to make a mistake. She also was afraid that he would end up like his father who years before had made a gamble and lost everything he had. After that, she was always cautioning all her children against taking risks.

The young man then asked his girlfriend, “What if I quit my job to follow my passion?”
She was dumfounded and couldn’t believe his foolishness. She was proud that her boyfriend had a god job, flashy car and had everything looking up for him. She always made sure she told her friends how important and successful her boyfriend was in the company. Now here he was harboring the foolish thought of quitting a well paying job to to pursue a utopian ambition! She made sure that he understood that if he made such an unwise decision, their life together would be over. After all, who would want to be known as the girlfriend to the guy who dropped a great opportunity to follow a stupid passion?

The young man thought about asking his friends what his purpose was but he knew their answer. Over the years, he had lost the friends that he had before the job, and now his only friends were people who never knew the slightest detail about his private life. They were superficial and always in competition as to who had the best car and who was dating the hottest girl. Deep down he had sadly accepted that if he lost his job, he would lose his friends too.

So on a fine day after coming from having coffee with a client he stopped to buy a newspaper a few blocks from his office. The vendor was an old man probably in his late seventies who was clad in a dirty heavy coat even though it was sunny. As the young man paid for the paper he noticed the old man squinting at him through his thick pair of glasses.

“I know that look”, said the old man. “I had it through out my youth”.

The young man was baffled. “Pardon me?” he asked politely thinking that the old man was probably talking about his suit. But the old man went on as if he hadn’t heard the young man.

“I knew that I was meant for something bigger in life and yet I ignored the feeling all my life. I was afraid of letting go of what I had, to chase an urge that I couldn’t understand. I was afraid of losing and suffering the consequences of my choice. I was always afraid.

I kept giving myself more time to ‘be sure’ and asked advise from everyone I knew only to be discouraged. In the end I decided to stick to what I had because I thought  it’s what I deserved. That was the biggest mistake I ever made. I became miserable and never once did I enjoy my job or anything else in my life.  Can you imagine living like that for sixty years knowing you were meant to do something else?

So here I am, selling you a newspaper. I always wanted to travel the world and see new places, but now I can only read about them. I ended up doing this because when I was young I always dreamed of being a writer for this newspaper but I kept procrastinating to send a sample of my writing to the editor. I was afraid it would not be good enough so I never sent it. Now I can only admire the young writers who conquered their fears and are now living their dream. In the end my fear to lose my comfort is the curse I will have to die with.” And suddenly without warning he said “Read page three! I hear they are about to raise the parking fees within the business district starting tomorrow.” And with that, he went on selling his newspapers.

As the young man got into the elevator, he opened the newspaper and flipped to page three hoping the old man wanted him to find a clue. There was no story about parking fees but a basic full page advertisement by some furniture shop announcing a discount sale. The young man smiled and took a deep breath. He finally understood that finding his purpose was a journey he was going to take on his own.

***

This post is dedicated to you. You feel uninspired and out of place but are afraid to open that door that will lead you to a happy life filled with passion. For how long can you live like that?


10 Lessons I Learnt from a Billionaire

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When I first showed up at Capital FM for work I didn’t know what to expect but I knew what I wanted. I wanted to learn how to be successful. In my mind, there was only one man who I could learn this from, Chris Kirubi. This part of my life story started 5 years before when I was working for Tedd Josiah. He is one of the most iconic Kenyan music producers from whom I had learnt invaluable lessons that I still apply today.

It so happened that one day we were cleaning the studio offices at Blu Zebra Records when a card fell out of a magazine stack. On picking it up, I noticed that it was no ordinary card. It was ivory in color and it had an emblem that was raised on the card’s surface in some sort of waxy print. It looked sophisticated and the texture gave off a rather luxurious feel to it. The name on the card read Chris Kirubi and the details were arranged in a simple and neat manner that was laid-back-confident. The name was familiar, I knew this was one of the top businessmen in the country and I also knew what most people at the time  knew about him; that he had a court case going on where he was being accused of having fleeced a state owned supermarket chain and cab company. Regardless, I held on to the card and went about researching all I could about his empire and what kind of man he was. In my quest to know about him I couldn’t differentiate what information about him was true and what was myth. In the end, I decided I would meet him one day and find out why he was successful.

I still have the card in my possession.

I still have the card in my possession.

Fast forward 5 years  later, I was seated at the Capital FM reception waiting to be interviewed for a graphic designer position by the then marketing manager Angelique Bennaars. She took me in for the interview and later told me I had had been accepted into the company and that I was to start immediately as an apprentice under one Mark Mwera. I was led to my workstation that was tucked away in a corner. It was stuffy and hot but it was where I got my first lesson from ‘Chairman’ as everyone at the station called him.

1. Know your people
You see, CK has a habit of always visiting his businesses without notice and you would be surprised to know that he knows all his employees personally. On my first day as he was passing my corner on his way to the studio, he stopped and looked at me and asked me, “Who the hell are you and why are you using my machine?” I was dumfounded, and for a moment I didn’t know what to say. “I’m the new designer…” I replied in a scared voice.

“Did I interview you?” He asked now with his voice raised.

“No. But I was interviewed by Angelique”, I said trying to assert myself.

He came over and ordered me to leave my machine and get off the premises because he didn’t who I was. Anyway this scene replayed over the next few days until he realized I wasn’t going anywhere and so he let me stay and work. He also warned that he would throw me out the window from the 19th floor if I didn’t work hard and deliver outstanding work. In the end I got to understand the concept behind his actions because this is how  he runs his empire. He makes an effort to know his people. From that time, he never forgot my name and made it a point to know what my life goals were. To date he remembers I told him I would accomplish more than he ever did [the challenge is still on]. I also realized that the man knows everyone who works for him, be it in his corporate businesses or even manufacturing plants. It’s hard to find an employee in any Kirubi’s companies who hasn’t interacted with the Chairman. As a result I have learnt that as a leader when you make an effort to personally know the people working for you, what you get in return is a sense of ownership towards your organization by employees. One feels motivated to perform when you know that your boss knows you personally and appreciates the role you play.

2. Only Buy Into What You Would Like to Own
On asking him what I should consider when buying stock his answer was simple. He said, “My approach to choosing the company whose stocks I will buy is based on a simple objective; owning the whole company. That way, my decision will be based on logical thinking and not emotion or speculation. When buying always ask yourself, is this the type of company I want to own? Does it’s business model appeal to me and is it easy to understand?

Over the few years I worked in his company I studied his investment patterns and I realized the reason why he was successful in the stock market is because his investment style was long term and the motivation was to be the majority owner of the company in question. Later he would say “I don’t invest to make a quick buck because doing so defies the laws of nature. When you plant, it is only natural that you nurture your crop  and patiently wait for the crop to mature. Harvesting before the right time will be robbing yourself off the greater potential of what you would have gotten out of your investment. This has always been CK’s approach when purchasing anything not only stocks. This year (2015) he made Kshs. 2.8 billion from the sale of his UAP Holdings stake after waiting for 10 years.  Read the story here

3. Be Your Product’s Best Salesman and it’s Most Loyal Consumer
You will always catch CK selling and hawking his products shamelessly regardless of where he is.

Once we were having dinner in a posh restaurant and the waiter brought us a certain  brand of bottled water which visibly offended CK. You see, CK is a shareholder of Nairobi Bottlers, a bottling franchise of the Coca Cola Company which produces it’s own drinking water known as Dasani™. The water the waiter had served us was another brand that was a competitor and CK’s loyalty to his brand is the reason why he was offended. Anyway he went on to ensure that the restaurant changed their brand of drinking water by selling the Dasani™ brand to the restaurant owner. The condition he gave was simple; if he was to dine in that restaurant again they had to be his customers first. It was the ultimate statement of loyalty in business.

On normal days, you will always catch CK stopping women on the streets of Nairobi to ask them if they have used his Haco hair products and what he can change or add in his offering. One of the most memorable quotes I got from him is ‘A good salesman will be rich. A good salesman who sells a product he can stake his life on will own the world’. As for his lifestyle brands, one would expect CK to use imported sophisticated expensive brands but you’d be surprised to know he uses the very products that he manufactures as proof of their quality. Check any Haco products and you will see his signature. It’s that serious.

4. Loyalty is Not a Word You Throw Around
After almost a decade working for this great man, I decided to move on and put into practice what I had learned. It was the hardest thing to do and I ended up leaving a big part of my heart at Capital FM. These are the people I spent most of my time with and eventually they had become my family. Nevertheless it was time. I had tried quitting many times before but would always change my mind the last minute because of one thing – loyalty. I had been treated well and the company had made huge sacrifices for me even when I didn’t feel I was worth it. What I learned from Dr. Kirubi is a lesson that every leader should take very seriously. Loyalty is proactive. You offer loyalty first before demanding for it. I remember one day out of the blue CK interrupted a Digital Media Department meeting and said “It would make me sad if even one of you turned out to be a failure in future. I will do everything in my power to empower you, be it in your work here at the company or even in your personal business” He then paused and added “Anyone who works for me is my friend and family and I am loyal to them regardless of what role they play in the company.” In the years I have worked for him, CK has always shown loyalty to his employees especially in their time of need. Even now after leaving Capital FM he is still loyal to me and it is the one reason why I will always answer his call and be ready to show my goodwill.

5. Every Member is Important
Every year in his companies, CK always gives what has come to be known as the chairman’s speech. It’s a special event for everyone who works for him because it is the occasion where he declares his stand. It has become a tradition that I strongly believe has played a vital role in his success. One that would recommend for every company. During this speech he reminds all his employees [whom he prefers to call team mates] of the vision of the company and the state of the business. He always assures his people that regardless of the state of the economy or business, he will do everything in his power to protect everyone’s job. In one of his speeches which I came to regard as my best he said “I feel rich and wealthy not because of the money we have made but by the fact that through you I have played a major role in bringing up all these families. That is the reason why I look forward to every new day”. He will always finish his speeches by mentioning every person by name (regardless of their position in the company) and telling the rest why this person is important to the business. This however is just a small part of what he really does on a daily basis. CK will always make impromptu visits to his companies and randomly pick on any employee with an aim to motivate them. He is one of the most powerful motivators I know and it is because of one small detail. Every member of the team regardless of their role is just as important as the next. His actions speak louder than his words.

6. First Get the Numbers Right. The Money Will Come.
CK says the difference between the current crop of young people and the young people of yesterday is attitude towards patience. We want to invest very little but have big returns and in a shorter than normal timeframe. When we first started developing the digital arm of Capital FM his first directive was for us to build numbers before we started selling our product. At the time we thought it was a risky move to spend three years just building and testing the platform while we looked for a strong audience base. It just didn’t make sense at the time because it meant putting money in and not expecting any returns for a long time. A four years later, we were probably the only digital media outfit making money from the internet locally. You see, many digital media companies don’t get to break even and it is very hard for them to admit. The reason is hidden in the numbers. When you have a big audience to talk to, your return on investment grows automatically. When you have a steady supply of quality content your profitability is extended by virtue of repeat usage and referral. We learnt this hands on. I later came to realize that this is how he approaches all his business ventures -Take time to prepare, test and fine tune your product as you increase your customer base and in the end money will be a by-product of your offering.

7. Your Presence Should Be Felt
When I was working for him I saw how CK carried himself in the presence of individuals who may be wealthier and more successful than he is and I learnt one big lesson. You are as important as you feel and people will treat you as importantly as how you present yourself. Most likely you will never be able to tell if the person CK is talking to is more successful than he (CK) is. Why? Kirubi walks with his own atmosphere and always owns any gathering he attends. He dresses fashionably and his scent always seems to denote power and influence. He makes sure he is the centre of attention and is eloquent so that his every word is solid and full of confidence. When visiting his businesses he will always put on one of two masks; rebuke or praise – employees usually cannot predict which mask he will walk in with. What this does is it creates this undeniable presence of a man whose every decision will have a heavy impact on everyone’s life. He can call anyone and ask about the progress of a particular project just to show you he never forgets. This keeps employees constantly focused on their deliverables without putting unnecessary pressure on themselves.

Asserting his presence ensures CK always has the upper hand in any deal and negotiation.

8. Your Life is Your First Business
Chris Kirubi will never involve himself in something where he does not stand to gain. Secondly he will never live beyond his means. One day he took a workmate and I for a drink at the bar downstairs. He started by clearly stating that we were only going to drink for an hour since he had guests who he was supposed to meet later. As we ordered our drinks I noticed him frown as I made my order and I instantly knew I’d done something that he didn’t approve. You see while he and my workmate had ordered a beer, I had gone ahead and ordered two doubles of a single scotch whisky.

“How can you engage in the same nonsense that the young man seated behind us is doing?” He barked while pointing to a guy in his thirties who was busy entertaining two digger looking type girls with a bottle of rum on the table. “You should never order a drink you can’t afford. I’m not saying you won’t be able to pay for this but I am telling you ask yourself what percentage of your salary you will have used to buy this drink.” I got him loud and clear because I knew he lived by this principle. In every aspect of your life you need to live within your means and this will be your best motivator to work hard to move to the next step. Likewise every action one involves themselves in should lead to an outcome of positive gain failure to which it will be time wasted.

9. A Leader Does not Delegate
Yes you heard me right. In the years that I worked for the man, I never saw DJ CK delegate work even once. Instead he used his skills as a salesman to sell ideas to his employees. He would come up with an idea or a challenge and start breaking it down himself in excitement. It was always fun to witness how his mind works. The surprising result of his proactive nature was proaction by his employees. Everyone wanted in on his project because he had sold it to them first and not ordered them to do it. Soon every team member would assign themselves duties and the job would be completed half the time it would have taken if we had followed a conventional format. It somehow always reminded me of the show ‘Pimp my Ride’ where the garage owner sells his idea to his team members who in turn share what their contribution will be towards restoring the featured car. I acknowledge that every company is different but I believe for any person in management, this principle will get you great results that are good on time and quality. When you delegate you are forced into an uncomfortable zone where you have to rely on mediocre business systems to drive your machines (workers) to produce.

10. The Eagle in the Sky Holds the Sharpest Vision
I have always been interested to hear people talking about the companies in which they work. One of the things that strike me is how frustrated many people are with their jobs. One would expect that these frustrations are caused by poor pay but surprisingly they arise from lack of a clear understanding of one’s duties and roles in the company. This is caused in turn by a leadership that lacks a clear vision that is easy to understand  and explain. Many people often find themselves in roles they are not supposed to be playing and are not passionate about – this has become the source of their misery. CK has always had a clear vision of what he wants and how he will get it. He is always reminding his employees why they are in his business and the roles they have to play to achieve his vision. In addition to that, he is always asking employees to have a clear vision for their own lives. If you were to walk into Capital FM offices today, all you will find are happy faces of people who know what role they have to play towards the vision of the company which is clear and simple to understand.

There are many lessons that I have learnt from this man that would constitute volumes if I were to write them down, so this is just but a start. What have you learnt from your mentor lately?


Have You Found Yourself?

purpose One of the biggest challenges of our generation is knowing what our purpose is and how to achieve our dreams.

I’ve talked to many people but sadly most of them don’t seem to know their purpose and what they want from life. I too have struggled with this question all my life and I still am. I hate that it has become the monkey on my back and I hate that I have to wake up everyday to look for myself. I can’t concentrate at anything I do and I have turned into a hopeless scatter brain. I feel like time is running out and the prospect of growing old and miserable, haunted by dreams that never materialized scares me. It makes me go into panic; a miserable state that can be observed by looking at how many things I’ve tried in my life.

I have tried starting my own business more than once and I have tried going up the ladder in my career and still, there is this nagging feeling that I am just not where I want to be.

When I’m at work I find my mind wandering to distant places and I am fearful that maybe those places are where I should be instead. I observe other people and suddenly it looks like everyone is getting onto their path. They seem happy and everything they do looks deliberate and based on a well defined purpose.

So is it that I have failed in finding my path or am I expecting [unrealistically] too much from life? Do I have the wrong paradigm of how life works? Is my purpose locked in this ‘uneventful’ job that I don’t seem to give the appreciation it deserves? Am I part of those who will never amount to anything? Is that my destiny?

On the other hand I also see many people who are like me. People who don’t have a clear plan of what they would do if they won a million dollars today. People who procrastinate and are always anxious because they are not sure of the future. One day you are excited about this new idea you’re pursuing and the next day you’re not sure if it is what you want. Your life goes in phases that come and end as fast as a flame on a matchstick. First there is the ‘I need to buy land phase’, then comes the ‘I need to start saving phase’ and today you’re on the ‘I need to start a business’ phase and the cycle never ends.

I’ve heard people say that you are always in the path that God wants you to be but I am beginning to doubt that. Why? because if this is where He wanted me to be, why am I not happy? Why do I feel like I am in limbo?

I have seen many of our parents live their lives in simplicity and mediocrity; retiring at sixty five and immediately going into the last phase of life where they miserably wait for their sunset. Somehow it has always felt wrong because [I believe] life is not meant to be a mere existence and a process that is predictable as to how it ends. What happened to dreams? At what point do dreams die? Is it to late for my parents to start dreaming all over again? Why I’m I getting sucked into the same cycle of broken dreams and surrendering without a fight? Why is this the more comfortable path to follow?

I’ve had a good career so far; it would be ungrateful for me to ignore that. Learning new things has been the best part of it all. Being challenged to do the impossible has kept my adrenaline pumping and like a junkie, I want more. I want more because there is this strong unshakable urge inside me that tells me I have a higher purpose. Something I can write my name on. That THING that I can do for free and not worry where money will come from because it will be automatic. That purpose that will make my life count for something. I want to be remembered for something great!

I have looked for it everywhere and I am willing to do everything to know why I am here. Sometimes I wish God would use my friends, family or even a stranger to tell me what is it that I am good at so I can dive into it NOW. Or maybe that’s not the way He speaks, maybe it is. But at the end of the day I just want a nudge in the right direction. Or maybe I have already been nudged but was too distracted to feel it? Where is that ONE clear hint that will show me which door to knock? Or maybe a hint is not supposed to be clear after all?

Whatever and wherever my purpose is, I have decided I’d rather die trying to find it. I can no longer sail blind in this darkness. I need to find a beacon and I need to find it sooner than later. I hate losing sleep over things I can’t decipher. I hate to be a person who always changes his dreams because he doesn’t know where he is going. One thing I am sure though, is that I am here for a purpose. What it is, I don’t know. So I’m going to start my search and I will hunt down my purpose to the ends of the earth if need be.

Last week I decided I will put all my dreams on paper because I had a feeling they will lead me to my purpose. It was a challenging experience to decide on what I want for my future, but it’s a start. After pasting cut-out pictures of what I want in life on a white page, I am starting to have this strange experience that I like. For some reason, I feel like I am on to something good and long term.  For once I am pretty clear on my dreams and when I would want to achieve them. How I am going to achieve this is the billion dollar question. Whether this yields anything only time can tell, but I can’t shake off the conviction that this is probably what I should have done years ago.

You see when I was young, my mother taught me this trick and it got me my first car. She told me to write down what I wanted in future and keep it where I could see it every day. I bought a car a few days to my twenty fourth birthday -which is the date I had written down. When you are a child belief is raw and unadulterated, but as you grow older logic gnaws at your dreams and suddenly they become fantasies. I guess somewhere along the way I forgot the basics; that you have to visualize what you want because it’s the first sign that you can and will most likely get it.

It’s time I started all over again. After all, maybe life isn’t about finding yourself but creating yourself.

I’d like you to take a moment and ask yourself this simple question. Have I found myself?


Heirloom

heirloom

My grandfather was a young boy when he first saw them. They had six digits on each limb and very smooth skin that glowed unlike normal humans. Though they looked human, they spoke without opening their mouths in a way that was clear and a language that could not be described. They said to him that they meant no harm and that they were from a place far away in the stars…

They say children observe without inhibition. To my young grandfather, these strange people were a subject of curious fascination. They would speak to animals an even plants. They would do very unusual things that are impossible for a man to do. A few months before he died, he whispered to me in a way that was almost incoherent that he had seen them again. He said he had been walking along the stream that ran at the foot of his land when he saw them standing by the boulder that marked the last beacon of his land. He claimed they hadn’t aged at all. He hadn’t seen them since that time in the forest but it now seemed like they had never left after all. He had spent all his life trying to tell people what he saw. Naturally not one ever believed his fantastic tale. You see when he was young, my grandfather had a habit of creating these imaginative tales to entertain his parents and siblings. At one point, they started worrying that spending months in the forest herding cattle with his great grandfather had started wearing him down mentally. Eventually, they gave in to the realization that these stories were a part of his personality.

His great grandfather was also a man with a reputation of telling strange tales. Contrary to modern theory, he claimed that the Kikuyu had come from the far north, a place called Nekemte. Disease and constant attacks from the tribe of tall and dark people from the west had forced his ancestors to break into small bands and head south. The common understanding was that they would later regroup at the foot of the mountain of God. It took them many years and by the time they reached the mountain it had been five generations. They later came to settle at the foot of Koraba that is now known as Mount Kenya. In his narration he claimed that on reaching Koraba, they found these strange looking people with six digits on each limb; who did curious things. On consulting with God, the tribe seers declared these creatures evil and a danger to mankind. They directed the clan to organize themselves in readiness for war. They engaged these beings in a battle that lasted one hundred moons. In the end, we won and killed them all. At least that was the narrative according to the legend of the time.

When my father was a young boy, he too went herding cattle with his grandfather for months at a time in the forest. In those days, the land was still wild and so vast that they had to place beacons everywhere they stopped so they could find their way back. These journeys were long and lonely at times. After all, there’s only so much two people can tell each other after spending months trekking through the forests and wastelands. My grandfather would always tell him that if he ever saw anything strange and frightening the best thing to do was to keep calm and still until it [whatever it was] passed. My father was to later see many frightening things like lions but never anything strange. He too considered my grandfather ridiculous with his ludicrous strange tales.

Times changed and following the invasion by the british my grandfather went into the forest to fight as Mau Mau. The war lasted many years and many of our people were killed in what later came to be known as the struggle for independence. He had seen many of his comrades in arms die in the most undignified ways. He had experienced the horrors of war in an involving way that would be etched in his mind for the rest of his life. When he came back, he was a changed man. A far cry from the story teller he had been in his better days. The forest was gone, and all he had left was a five acre piece of land and a wife and children that he hardly knew and needed to reacquaint himself with. Of all the stories of war that he later would tell his children , one stood out. When he was in the forest, he always felt like he was being watched by the strange beings from his childhood. On dark silent nights, he would feel their presence. It was they were always watching him. The day before he got out of the forest he thought he heard them call out his name. They spoke in his head and just as before it was clear.

In the years before he died, he was a shadow of his former self. He was quiet most of the time and unable to feed or clean himself. He would come out to meet the sun sitting in his favorite colonial era chair just staring into space as if in a trance. I believe he got tired of speaking to a world that would not take him seriously. He still had that strange light in his eyes of a boy who had seen something incredible. He died still holding on to his tale.

During my grandfather’s funeral, I noticed these two strangers who were standing by the grave. They looked ageless and their skin was smooth and it seemed to glow. Their faces showed no emotion but strangely I felt their sorrow. Deep and hollow. It was a feeling I had never felt before. When they looked up, our eyes met and for a moment the earth stood still and and I felt my knees give way. I collapsed on the ground. I could hear a woman’s voice in the distance telling mourners to give me space to breathe. I felt them loosen my shirt and they started fanning my face. When I came to, the strangers were gone but I knew who they were.

Though this is a work of fiction, I dedicate to the memory of my grandfather whose tales captivated my mind ever since I was a young boy. He died before he could tell his story.


If they Ask

whiskey

Some people have mentors others have role models. I have godfathers. This particular one loves whisky and the occasional cuban. When the ice starts splitting in his glass you can be sure what he says next will change your future.

After clearing his throat, my godfather proceeded to tell me a story he had told many a young man before me. A story that I heard from my other godfather on the day of my wedding.

The story is about a man and his wife who lived in their mud and thatch homestead on the edge of a thick forest. The wife did everything around the house. She cooked and cleaned while the man tilled their land, split firewood and looked after their tiny herd of goats. The couple worked hard and were thankful for the simple life they had created for themselves. However, they were the laughing stock of their village because it was abnormal for a man to help his wife in work. Villagers considered him a weak man for openly caring for his wife and helping her with work. After all, a real man is supposed to enjoy the ‘benefits’ of marriage. Men would wake up late and head to sit under the great tree to enjoy traditional brew while they waited for sunset.

One day as the man was splitting firewood [so the wife could make them a meal], a huge venomous snake slithered out of the firewood and poised itself in an attacking stance. The man was terrified and let out a loud scream. He ran off screaming into the kitchen hut and jumped into the ‘itara’. [This is where firewood is stored in the roof of the hut to keep it dry.]

The wife was plucking tomatoes when she heard her husband’s desperate screams. She immediately rushed to where she had left him splitting firewood and found the snake still erect and ready to strike. Instinctively, she picked up a thick piece of firewood and started beating the snake’s head while screaming. She swung her stick until she was sure she had squashed the snake’s head completely.

Their neighbors heard the commotion and came rushing to help. When they got to the compound they found the wife sitting on the ground crying.

She said, “I was chopping firewood when this big snake attacked me. But my strong fearless husband came to my rescue and beat it to death. He fought it with such courage that it stood no chance! In fact, he has just gone into the kitchen to bring kerosene and some matches so we could burn it.I would be dead were it not for my husband!”.

When the husband came out from his hiding place, he was stunned beyond words. There stood the whole village cheering him for his bravery. He was after all the real man of the village and his wife was the luckiest woman in the world.

You see the woman knew she had married a coward but she also knew she had married a good man nonetheless.But this snake ordeal was their secret to keep.

When two people spend time together, they start discovering their strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, these [strength and weakness] aspects defy the expectations of society.

I have seen men who’ve lost their jobs and agreed to stay at home and watch the kids while their wives brought the dough. I have seen women who have the guts to protect their families while their men go into panic because they lack the courage in adversity. Most of all I have seen couples who still love each other despite these ‘unusual’ and overlapping strengths and weaknesses.
Some women can’t fry an egg while some men can’t install a light bulb.

While I advocate for every sex to try their best to learn and improve on their natural roles, I also acknowledge that for some it may never change. We all come from different backgrounds so it would be unfair to judge the one you love based on your idea of the man or woman of your dreams. Love ignores such details.

The most important learning is how you talk about the one you love in their absence. This is the PR in a relationship. When you talk negatively about the man you’re with to the world. You cut off his feet and deny yourself the chance of ever making a good man out of him. Someone once said, ‘A wise woman knows the importance of speaking life into her man. If you love him; believe in him, encourage him and be his peace.’

The same applies to men. Like us, women come into a relationship with many faults that need fixing and adjusting to. This is natural. We’re all raised differently and have had different experiences that shaped how we behave now. Instead, always try to understand the genesis of that particular trait that you don’t like. You will be surprised that you’d have turned out the same given her circumstances! When you talk about her to others, paint her as the perfect picture. After all, perfection is how you choose to look at it.

In the end you will realize that the world feeds on your shortcomings and soon your words work against you. Be careful what you say about the ones you love.


The Little Voice

cotton

Your gift will be your burden until the day you make the decision to follow that little voice that first spoke to you when you were a child. You will learn that people will always be ready to pay you to enable them accomplish their objectives but never yours. Therefore you will forever be a slave because of your fear of doing it on your own. A fear fueled by the threat of sleeping in the cold, hungry, naked and in debt.

You are gifted. A professional at what you do. You work confidently and diligently running your master’s ship but you are still uncertain of your ability to row your own boat. How then can you claim that you feed and clothe yourself? Is it not your master that owns the shirt on your back?

Every evening your master goes happy to bed and thanks the Lord for the blessings bestowed upon him. He smiles because he knows beyond a shadow of doubt that you will show up tomorrow early to till his land. Another step closer to his dream. Deep in his heart he knows that God created all men with an equal chance at happiness. Only some chose the hard road and the rest chose to embrace the warm bosom of mediocrity.

In mediocrity, there are three meals and a warm bath at the end of the day. These good tidings are not for a celebration but to sooth and rejuvenate your aching bones for tomorrows till. In mediocrity there is pride in being called a faithful slave and their is gladness in being trusted by the money lender. A slave; you feel accomplished and respected when the master places you in charge of other slaves.

Your gift will be your burden until the day you make the decision to follow that little voice that first spoke to you when you were a child. Now you have nothing to call your own. Your horse and brick house are the lender’s. A lender in a secret pact with your master to make sure your work to their benefit until your crown is grey. It is how the world works. Your horse will grow feeble and die before you have fully paid for it. Your brick house will crumble before you realize you were never meant to own it. And all the while the master and the lender’s children will be waiting to take the little you have left. Just like the vultures that prey a dying old toothless lion that lacks the strength to fight back.

As you watch the sunset in the squint of your weak eyes, you will always be in deep thought. A mixture of regret and despair. Were you not the slave that new the seasons by heart? Was it not your position to distribute rations to the other slaves? Didn’t the master always say that it is you he trusted the most?

Oh you good slave. Your gift is now your son’s burden because you didn’t follow that little voice that first spoke to you when you were a child.


Why We Will Kill Again

violence

We are living in fear and our lives are under threat. Insecurity has demonstrated that it doesn’t matter where you are but as long as you are within kenya’s boarders you are not safe. I hate to break it to you but we are to blame. We are getting paid for the sins we have committed as a country. We allowed ourselves to be compromised and now we are crying. For a long time I was bitter with the colonialists because I believed they found us living in peace and disrupted our way of life. I have since had a change of mind and I now believe the blame should heaped on us and our founding fathers. I respect the many who fought for our independence and I strongly believe they had the best intentions. However, when we got independence the few [that we call our founding fathers] got into power messed it up for the rest of us.

The colonialists herded  us from our ancestral lands into reserves and grabbed our fertile lands for themselves. But after independence, our founding fathers grabbed and bought the same lands [formerly our ancestral lands] from the colonialists for themselves. They never repatriated the indigenous Kenyan people to their ancestral lands instead they conspired against us. THAT is the first crime they committed against us. Many of our forefathers and their cronies became wealthy by buying off land soaked in blood and the tears of Kenyans. All the while, Kenyans suffered from disease and poverty in the reserves. We lost our dignity and our cultures. We have lived in lands that we didn’t feel comfortable in. We lost our integrity and took up the same traits we saw in our corrupt founding fathers. We got into the cycle of grabbing and stealing because we knew we had no one fight for us. From fighting together against colonial we turned to fighting each other because the resources were not enough. There was not much land to go around. Since our founding fathers knew system they had engineered would eventually turn against them, they made us hate each other. It made more sense for them to uses Kenyans to kill Kenyans to achieve their selfish gains.

Their ploy was a success. We started comparing ourselves to each other and we suddenly realised the Maasai had huge herds of cattle and tracts of land. Knowing that made us feel inferior. It made us uneasy that the Luos were more learned and assertive. We suddenly assumed that the Kikuyu were all thieves because most of their leaders were in power and they had wasted no time in stealing resources from their fellow countrymen. We were taught to be cautious with each other. And like a lover scorned, we let these notions simmer in our hearts because we were afraid of talking to each other. Our forefathers  had managed to deflect our attention from them and they gained whenever we fought. They held on to power and won elections whenever they made us spite each other. They marginalised us and made our ambitions to be based on our ethnicity. They are still winning. The sad truth is, our forefathers had made us think they were tribalist just like us but unreality, they were partners in crime. They were united by wealth and the secrecy that is bred in shared ambition. Their children attended each other’s birthday parties and even shared bank accounts, businesses and property. All the while, the poor Kenyans were busy sowing the seeds of mistrust between their children and the children of other ethnicities. They taught us to step on each other’s heads to climb the various ladders in life. They taught us that the only way our tribes would exist is if all the others ceased to exist. That was the first massacre.

Our current crop of leaders were the first children of our forefathers. They became our leaders because they had the resources needed to ascend to power. They had learned well from their fathers on the secrets of power. They are sworn to each other on secret pacts. They understand what it means to keep the wealth in their families. They know what it means to use us to remain in power. Since this is the lingua franca of politics and power in our country, anyone who comes to power is forced to play by these twisted rules or risk losing their keep. We have become addicted to politics of tribe and not merit and that is why any leader who ignored tribal politics never makes it far. We always blow in the direction our seemingly caring leaders blow us. This is why we will always fight and kill each other.

Lately, there has been a wave of partriotism that seems to be working albeit a slow pace. We have started shunning tribal politics but it is still not enough. There’s much more that remains to be done. However, the ruling elite that runs the country’s affairs behind the curtains is growing uneasy. They know that their institutions of ethnic politics are under threat. This is precisely why they are switching to religion based politics. They know that next to tribe, the other thing that most Kenyans hold dearest to their hearts is faith. This has the potential of turning into our worst nightmares. The big question here for us Kenyans is whether we can see through this ploy.

So what do we do to get ourselves out of this nightmare and bring peace and prosperity to our nation?

To our president Uhuru Kenyatta, you can end this by dealing with the issues that were the genesis of our current woes. First and foremost, find a way of giving back to Kenyans what they lost. I’m talking about land and resources. Let there not be a Kenyan living in misery because of the sins our founding fathers (yours included) committed. Surely we have enough land to settle disgruntled communities and enough to provide food for the hungry masses! Have we ever rewarded those that fought for our independence? You assume that all their children want is money and since they must be many we cannot afford it but I say let’s give them something better than money! Let’s give them scholarships and let’s make health be affordable for them by waiving medical costs for all of the documented freedom fighters. Look around! Even developed countries may have their own problems but  never forget their veterans. As it is, we are an ungrateful nation and that is our undoing.

In regard to the poor who live in slums and survive on crumbs,  it is common knowledge that if the government wanted to pull down all the slums in Kenya and replace them with decent housing and infrastructure it would. Let’s take away the very misery that our politicians use to win elections. Poor people will always lack the power of choice as long as they lack empowerement. Empowered people can never be held ransom because they are a free people. Let’s pay the same people to build their own decent housing and to improve their living conditions. That’s the first job creation exercise that will be much welcome. Decent housing brings equality and suddenly poor Kenyans won’t have to fight over space, water and money.

Of insecurity, let us re-design our approach. Mr. President, at your word, you can disband our security apparatus and replace it with a tailor made outfit because you really don’t have any other option [unfortunately]. What we have now doesn’t work because it is deeply rooted in cultures that were established pre-independence. Our security officers are corrupt to the core and this will forever be a thorn in our side. I say disband all the disciplined forces structures and let’s start on a clean slate. Let’s start with patriotism at the primary school level. We should do away with the scouts movement [that was established by a white supremacist] and replace it with life skills and patriotic school clubs and syllabi. By so doing we will have changed the perception of any young person that joins our disciplined institutions at childhood. At your word, make it the burden of the state to make sure anyone in the disciplined forces will never have to worry about housing, health  and life insurance. A poor, sick and homeless person lacks dignity and loses his power of choice. By providing the above, corruption will wither away and patriotism will be nurtured; the state protects you and you protect the state.

Still on insecurity, let’s find out why our people are turning against their own to carry out acts of terror and crime. Is it a lack of purpose in life? Is someone else taking advantage of a void in society? That is what we need to address. Confronting internal homegrown terrorism with force is a temporary fix and it almost always fails in the end. I say we confront it with a strategy that will give the youth a sense of purpose. It takes longer but the results are long lasting. As long as our young people lack purpose, they will always be internal mercenaries ready to fight for any cause that gives them a sense of belonging. Let’s also investigate why a people displaced in one county get to be resettled in another. To me, that sounds like a cause for conflict. We are all Kenyans but let’s be honest with ourselves, location matters. In the recent Mpeketoni massacre a few things stood out. First the population is largely made up of a community that was resettled on donated land. My big question is, did this resettlement come at the expense of the local indigenous peoples? Did this resettlement have a negative impact on the cultures of the existing peoples? Is there a reason why these formerly displaced people could not be resettled in their original lands or a place close by? I believe that any resettlement should be planned delicately to avoid future conflict. Let’s shoot straight. We know the underlying cause of ethnic violence. It is our leaders. Both the leaders that are the cause and those that take advantage to meet their own ends.

On our invasion of Somalia (yes I said invasion) I say we bring our troops home now. We have seen through experience that this was not our war. We know that there’s a bigger war going on that is based on neo-colonialism. You can imagine what would have happened had we gone into Sudan to ‘liberate’ the Sudanese. In African culture when your neighbour and his wife are fighting, you should know better than to come in-between them. They will eventually make up but they will label you as their enemy. Let’s concentrate our resources in making sure that our people are safe within our borders. I understand why we went into Somalia in the first place but I also understand that by doing so we unconsciously became part of someone else’s bigger plan. Did Somalia need liberation? My answer is no. We didn’t act on a consensus from the Somali people. We also didn’t act on the consensus of the Kenyan people. We live in a country where a few individuals have the script of what’s going on while the majority are meant to just tag along. Therefore I strongly say we committed a mistake in invading another nation. We broke the nature of our relations with other countries. We are supposed to be a neutral state but we gave that up for more suffering. We might have had great successes in bringing down the strongholds on terrorist organisations in the horn of Africa but we have suffered more as a result. We have been attacked within our boarders more times in the last decade that any time before. We live in fear yet we are supposed to be the beacons of hope to people of other nations who flee their countries in fear. It is not too late to change our mind. Let’s just bring our brave soldiers home and put our house in order first.

On corruption, let us agree it is the mother of all our problems. I have a simple suggestion to our leaders. For once, do the right thing. Agree to end corruption. As with most challenges, the devil is in the details. Our justice system has serious flaws. A person who steals a chicken receives a harsher sentence than a person who steals peoples retirement money from a scheme. Bribing with a policeman with kshs. 10,000 will always be a better option than sleeping in a cell, going to court and paying a hefty fine of kshs. 100,000 because of overlapping. You are to blame for creating these ‘revenue streams’ for corrupt poor and homeless policemen. I think this situation just requires common sense so I will not dwell on it; just fix it.

We have become a nation of ranters and experts on everything (I included) but I hope this article will be read by our children if not you. Maybe through them I will change our country. This is my contribution to our freedom. Tell me yours.