Limuru

Limuru1

I find myself where many traditionally end up the week after they graduated, in the countryside (ushago) where tall tales of villages gathering to feast and celebrate their sons and daughters achievements stand up well to scrutiny seeing as how folks here really take their time. The landscape outside is a portrait stolen from the textbooks I used to begrudgingly flip through in primary school, endless green dripping down endless rolling hills. I stare at all that green and lose the past quarter century I’ve lived. I lose my name. I am a free entity floating without purpose or history. I forget about the four hour trek it took to get here in the morning or that one hour of that time I spent stuck in a monster of a jam.

It doesn’t last.

I’m reminded quickly of my responsibilities when we pull up into Limuru town. Calling Limuru town a town is unfair to all the other towns. It’s a strange little open market, flanked by shops and the occasional residential building. Everyone here seems to be selling, you could start a drinking game for every person you spot who is actually buying, if you’re for that kind of thing. The stalls spill over from the shade put up to house them and choke the road. Our driver and, coincidentally, the first of my pair of students complains about this fact and leaves his post to raise issue with a lorry driver who’s gleefully slothing up, having gobbled up the last inch of the road. This mistake by my student is about to cost us dearly.

There’s something so gangster about having a badge flashed at you, even if it be a mere municipal officer’s badge. It stirs the resting Kisauni guy inside of me. I might as well have a rolled up joint in my hand and a rusted panga down the back of my pants. But the man behind the badge is uncharacteristically charming for someone doing this job that he spoils the script for such a setup. He’s so lean and sharply dressed might have passed off as a teacher under different circumstances.

‘Why do you park in the middle of the road, kijanaa?’

It doesnt help that I stutter my response a bit when I protest.

‘Tuende ofisini.’

To my relief my student returns imminently but the look on his face tells me he’s not confident about his chances either.

I leave the two in the car to sort things out. Their private congress lasts well over an hour but by the time its over, a ‘fine’ of 8000 is reduced to a quarter that price. I inform my student that he might have well toppled my mother as the ultimate shopping partner when you’re on a budget. The officer even left him his number to call should he ever get troubled by other county officers while in town. Good of him to secure his client as all good businessmen (public administrators)  do.

The whole fracas has taken its toll. We realize quickly that the day has run out on us. My student hits the dashboard in frustration. ‘I’ve never gone a day without making sales, man! Hiyo pesa amekula, what will he buy with it when we’ve been unable to supply the places he shops at?’

Today everyone has something to learn in that case, I muse. As for myself, I have seen both the good and the bad working Kenyans go through less than three days after graduating. I do not look forward to the ugly.

The journey back thus begins amid morale-hitting acceding to defeat, idle reflection and my dreading of the very long commute that awaits me, and my buns have turned into cold hard steel from sitting in a car for the most part of the day but man the view this place offers me!

You know I think I wouldn’t mind getting stuck in traffic here all day.

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Liebster Award 2018

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Greetings and salutations to you all!

Oh what great joy! To find myself nominated for a WordPress award for the first time ever, and that less than a week before my second blog anniversary (has it been that long already?).

Anyway, if I sound excited today it is because in being nominated for this award I have been presented me with quite the challenge by being forced to ask myself some really introspective questions that I have been too wary to ask myself before.

This nomination came courtesy of the talented Tia from Masked Snow, whose posts you can read through this link here: https://maskedsnow.wordpress.com/

1. What inspires you as a writer?

An insatiable need to entertain and educate others. As a young boy I found myself devouring entertainment pieces in whatever they came, books, movies and all. As a teenager, I learned the just how powerfully literature and other means of entertainment can transmit messages that proffer change in society. And now at this stage in my life where I question everything around me, I have fallen to writing as a way of expressing my dissatisfaction with issues in our society and so on, because I doubt if people would hear me otherwise, even if I carried a megaphone with me.

2. What is the most fascinating thing about being a blog writer?

Reading other people’s blogs. Oh yes, to produce a single post of my own, I’ve found myself scouring the WordPress blogosphere reading tons of other people’s pieces. You’d be amazed at how much character and creativity you can find in this community and that has really played a big part in my development as a blogger myself.

3. What’s the one thing that transformed your life?

I’ll go ahead and mention two since they were similar and am not good at following instructions anyway. J The first came during a family event when I was still a young boy. In a quiet corner of our home, an uncle I’d never met before told to one, keep my family members close (still working on that – I have a very huge family) and two, to not neglect my education (in university right now, only two semesters to go – Alhamdulillah). The second was with a different uncle whom I admire terribly and is a content manager on zeit.com, he told me two words: ‘Tunnel Vision.’ They got me through university so far and also gave me that final push to start my own blog.

The similarity between these two is that they both used very few words, which happened to be just the right words to stir something inside me.

4. What makes a good content? How do you know if a piece of writing is doing well?

In my opinion good content, in fiction at least, has to strike the right balance between educative, entertaining and provocative. Anytime I stick to this code, the engagement I get on my piece through comments seems to tick upwards, which is how I know that I have written something good.

5. Tell me some 5 random facts about yourself

I love and fear swimming in equal measure.

I spent a year in Kentucky in an exchange program. Sadly didn’t get to carry home that silky Southern drawl with me so now I can’t prove to the naysayers that I actually did live in the US (sigh).

I chose my university major (Computer Technology) on a whim, and it wasn’t even my first choice. I’ve warmed up to it better than I imagined.

I am crazy about science fiction.

I have a feeling that I am usually an inch or two taller in my dreams. As you dream so shall you live? One can hope?

6. What do you usually write about on your blog?

Initially, I used to write non-fiction essays. Nowadays I prefer fiction because of the creative freedom it affords me, but of course I draw my content from normal everyday things in the same way I used to with the non-fiction pieces.

7. What should be the ideal length of the content?

I suppose it depends on the amount of content that needs to be presented. It shouldn’t matter whether the content will take a hundred words or two thousand so long as the content is meaningful. But that’s an entirely subjective answer.

8. What is the one trait that makes you different from everyone?

My humor. I have a sense of humor very few people actually get. I can count on my fingers the number of people who cracked their ribs laughing at my jokes. It always pains me when I part ways with them. I have considered locking them all in a room so I could visit them at whatever time of day I felt an urge to tell a joke so I could feel worthy.

See, no one got that one either (sigh).

9. What are some of the things that makes you confident?

Succeeding in creating something. Whether it’s a piece of writing, or a fully-fledged (or even just half working) software.

Having such a wonderful mum. She defies the odds every single day, and that encourages me to be a better version of myself too.

10. What are your posts are based on? Are they based on your emotions or they are trying to give a social message to a reader? Also share your favorite blog posts.

Tough one. It’s a combination of inspiration from other writers, events I see around me or hear about every day and my own quirky way of thinking, all thrown into a messy blender.

Are they based on my own emotions? Quite possibly, unconsciously at least. I try to focus less on my own emotions and instead try to adopt the emotions of the characters I write about so I can meaningfully capture their plight and present it to others.

11. What do you think of me?

Haven’t known you for that long but from what I’ve read on your blog so far I think you are wildly talented. You have a way with words (rhymes always get me). I’ve personally shunned away from poetry because of its heavy requirements of having to wrap messages in layers of imagery and clever juxtaposition, but you seem to have mastered that which leads me to believe that you have a great future ahead as a poet and blogger.

 

The updated 2018 rules for the Liebster Award are as follows:

  • Link to the official Liebster Award in your Liebster Award blog post. (https://theglobalaussie.com/liebster-award-2018/)
  • Answer the questions given to you.
  • Create more questions for your nominees to answer (I’m looking for unique and creative ones)
  • Comment on the official Liebster Award post with a link DIRECTLY to your Liebster award.

 

My questions are:

  1. What do you enjoy most about blogging?
  2. If you had a chance to bring back one the greatest names of literature that are deceased so they could groom you, who would it be and why?
  3. Have you ever lost track of time while reading a piece of literature or book? Tell us its title if the answer is yes.
  4. If you had the skills of Cobb from the movie Inception and enough resources to incept everyone in the world, what ideas would you plant in their minds?
  5. If you could adopt the life of any character you’ve ever read about in a book who would it be?

Here are my nominees:

https://hilalthoughts.wordpress.com/

https://asfamobin.wordpress.com/

https://jefwahhhh.wordpress.com/

https://raindried.wordpress.com/

https://ahmedshayo014.wordpress.com/

https://armoneokech.wordpress.com/

https://undulyunruly.wordpress.com/

http://theafricanswan.wordpress.com/

 

 

We Can Lose Much More…

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(Fair warning ahead, parts of this piece describe a scene that might make your stomach queasy)

There are some subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) nuances that define as a people. Cornerstones of our society, so to speak. Tiny, often easily overlooked actions we do for others, things we say that bring a feel-good atmosphere and knit us closer together. They are values that are inherent in all of us even at the darkest of our times.

Lately, it feels like these foundations have been under siege.

Several months back, while heading back to campus from Thika, our bus zipped past a body lying in the middle of the road. I don’t remember where specifically. I don’t remember how the deceased was dressed. I don’t remember if it was a man or woman. I do remember that the head was not attached to the shoulders. I do remember that cars swerved around the body and sometimes over it. I do remember finding it near impossible to keep my food down for the next two days.

Worst of all I do remember that after the initial shock wore off, my fellow passengers got down to work speculating how the body might have ended up there. Had the man/woman been mentally ill? Had they willfully stepped in front of a car, driven by an urge they could not comprehend? Had they actually been murdered elsewhere and dumped on the road to cover up the crime? A consensus, completely uncalled for, was finally reached that there was no way the deceased had not been murdered elsewhere and then dumped on the road.

One thing that, ironically, seemed to escape everyone’s attention was the fact that there was a body on the road, and nobody seemed to care about school kids in other buses and vans who would pass by that same spot and have nightmares that night or that other drivers might be traumatized running over the body, because no one stopped. Always in such a hurry to get to wherever we want to, we don’t care what we throw away, when a simple hazard sign might have well warned other drivers to steer clear.

Fast forward several months and it seems we’re living in a constant spell of expiation for a sin we have no idea about. Our country is being held hostage by an election that just won’t go away. For those of you who aren’t fully versed on this yet, we held our election this August which inspired so little confidence in our judiciary that they declared them as null and void. The repeat elections, which are to be held tomorrow, are being overseen by more or less the same officials who bungled up the original one. Which is why the opposition is having none of it. Which is why for the past few weeks we’ve had demonstrations in the country to oppose the commission. The response of the government unsurprisingly is to use force and as a result more than a few lives have been lost.

But that’s nothing compared to the fact that the people who died are now used as icons of some ‘resistance’. Uncensored images of them in their undignified state have been plastered all over the ether to elicit some reaction from all of us. I see them when am on Whatsapp, they’re in my face when am on Facebook. A more considerate person might stop to think, ‘How will the deceased’s parents feel if they see their son or daughter in this manner on the news or social media? Should I really post this?’ But we seem to have lost that. We traded in empathy for higher resolution cameras and faster internet connectivity.

Then the unthinkable happened last week. One of the officials on the electoral commission, having fled to the States, penned a letter of resignation that revealed much of what happens behind the curtains. That the ‘independent’ commission was only independent in principle but not in creed or action. That her fellow officers were imposing influence on the whole process according to how it benefited their respective party, either way.

Because of people’s irrational party affiliations she’s been mocked, ridiculed, intimidated and threatened. That she fled out of fear for her own life, even as one of her colleagues was kidnapped and murdered under dubious circumstances a week before the original election, that she resigned out of fear for her staff, in the hopes that their security would be considered ahead of the plight of politicians who seek power and nothing else, seems to be lost on us. Whether she’s being honest and warrants our attention is beside the point. Once upon a time the search for truth used to be integral to the whole idea of us being ‘decent’, whether that truth resides within the people we call family or friends or our government. But that too appears to be gone.

As bloggers, as fiction writers, we often include conflict, tension, corruption and scenes of gore in our work, I know I too have been ‘guilty’ of this a few times. But we often add these things to mock them, to deride them, to expose them so we can fix ourselves, but in truth we do not want to see them creep into our daily lives and become the norm. I want to be comforted by the knowledge that if I end up lying in the middle of a busy road for whatever reason, people would be considerate enough to stop and shield my body, and not instead take photos and post them everywhere and make light of the moment. I want to believe that in a position where I possess forbidden information critical to the welfare of the public I would not be mocked and threatened if I choose to divulge such information. I really want to believe in the people I call my fellow Kenyans.

I will not take a stand here about whether or not I will vote tomorrow because that would make this a political statement, when this is far from it. This in converse is a rallying call to all of us, especially right now to all Kenyans, to stop and reflect about where we’ve come from, where we are headed and how we want to be judged by future generations.

Only one person can ever win an election, but all of us stand to lose so much more if we don’t stop to reflect and change.

Stay safe tomorrow everyone and God bless you all!

Kawangware…

AJAB

A toyota canter is parked on a street in Kawangware carrying the newest wheat flour product to enter the market. We’re sitting inside, the driver and I, while the loader, or ‘turnboy’ in more common euphemisms, totters lazily about the lorry, bored . The salesman am tasked with training to use this software for sales automation is somewhere close but outside our view, spreading the good word to the local residents. He’s hoping they take more than just the good word from him.

Parts of Kawangware remind me of the Kisauni of old. Open sewers, dusty murram roads, hybrid houses composed of cheap aged stone, wood and metal sheets, interspersed occasionally by more modern high rises. A church looms large in the background, the glint of its marble exterior and glass windows hard to miss. At just about every corner, hawkers and ‘mama mbogas’ flaunt their wares, including omenaa…I haven’t seen omenaa in ages.

Droves of giddy goat calves skip about, darting between people and vehicles, and causing aforementioned ‘mama mbogas’ way too much distress.

Our driver has the radio tuned to classic 105 and it’s been bleating the works of Lionel Richie and the Backstreet Boys for seemingly forever. I am lost in my usual random sessions of musing when a man approaches the car and inquires of its contents.

We proceed to perform the grandest pitch to ever be performed, hoping to leave him in no doubt that he should buy one bale or he’d be doomed to a life of misery otherwise.

‘Pastries made from this flour can cure just about any disease.’ I tell the man with a deadpan voice. I’ve been moving around with these salesmen for three weeks now, so naturally I’ve picked a few skills along the way.

‘Your man will never leave you if you use this flour.’ Is what our salesman told a bemused lady we’ve served a few streets back.

For some reason though, our pitch doesn’t work and the man walks away…’I cant buy your product unless it’s really as good as you claim’ He protests

Our driver captures our collective puzzlement and disappointment as he calls back, ‘If you don’t try it, how will you possibly know it’s as good as we claim?’

‘Ako mbele ama ako nyuma?’ The turnboy asks about the very absent salesman, betraying signs of growing impatience. Is he ahead of us or behind?

In another context, the same question can be asked to ask opinion of someone about a second person’s level of affluence, capacity for forward thinking among other things.

The driver assumes the second context is implied. ‘Ako nyuma sanaa’ He replies, shaking his head at the customer who’s rebuffed us. He’s way too behind (backward).

‘Uuh’ the turnboy sighs in exasperation and I almost burst out in laughter.

Ajab2

 

 

 

42 Hours To Arusha And Back.

I have a very vivid recollection of this guy who was on our bus to Arusha, simply because of the way he carried himself. He was clearly drunk. He ambled his way through the aisle of the bus in staggering stages, engulfing anyone in close proximity with a nauseating strong musk of cheap beer. There was no question about it, he’d been tipping bottles that same morning and not the previous evening, but it was the day before Christmas so maybe he could be forgiven. Maybe not. His clothes wore him, in stead of it being the other way around, his oversize washed-out orange shirt flapping impatiently like a flag in the wind. But apparently he had a very, very important role to play amongst the crew of the bus.

The crews of Kenyan intercity buses seem to grow and shrink in number and complexity every season. There’s the driver obviously, chatty and sometimes vulgar and his conductor who does the heavy work, passing out the refreshments or getting your luggage out of the boot if you alight midway to the bus’ eventual destination. But then last year a new member joined the crew, the second driver. When he can’t find an empty seat, he usually lays a mat in that space between the driver’s and the VIP1 seats, then assumes all kinds of hilarious sleeping postures that beg for a photo shoot.

Then there’s that guy who thinks he’s Rambo’s nephew. He swings on the bus door until you reach Changamwe or the bus company’s out-of-town office where he disappears off into the dark night, never to be seen again. For those buses that cross the border, there is another dude who plays a very pivotal role. He’s the go-to guy if you want to cross the border when you’re not eligible to. You have kids who have no passport or vaccination card? No problem, he’ll get them through no hassle. This was the niche that the hero of our story occupied.
After ten or so rounds to the front of the bus and back, he finally stopped at our row and asked for our passports. I hand him mine, he writes down the details he needs, hands it back. My uncle with whom I was travelling wasn’t carrying his passport but that shouldn’t matter because an agreement reached some years ago by East African countries allows for travel across borders with just your identity card, right?

So our man takes my uncle’s ID card, explains the process he would go through at the border and tells him we’d have to pay five hundred shillings to be issued a certain document that would equate to a visa. But we already knew the whole process because we researched before we left and we knew the fee to be paid wasn’t anywhere close to five hundred, more like three, which meant our guy would pocket the excess.

Now, my uncle thrives in moments like these, mind you, where he would confront people who either don’t do their job right, or require you loosen your purse strings a bit more to “motivate” them, he gives it to them cold and flat. But he’d confessed to me a few minutes ago that his head was throbbing with a headache, so I could understand this time round when he decided not to indulge in his thirst to shame this man and instead handed over the requested sum. Our guy continued forward, carrying out his civic duty. A minute later he came back, almost gouged his entrails on the floor, composed himself and said, “This five hundred should be just enough, but you never know with these border guys. They might ask for more.”

My uncle still said nothing, but this time he chuckled because he understood what was going down here. Cheeky. Very cheeky.

The man then moved on and left us to our thoughts. Ahead of us, occupying almost eight rows of seats was an Indian family apparently on their way to a wedding. When they tired of speaking in Hindi, they switched to Swahili, which they spoke with an accent you’d expect from Swahili or Arab folk living Majengo Guraya or Kibokoni, not an Indian family. I feel compromised and vulnerable.

How I could possibly trust my ears again after this betrayal?

Then I remind myself that this is what travelling is all about. You meet people who surprise you, others who try to make a living off of you because you look innocent. On our way back from Arusha, we didn’t even book a ticket for the return trip in advance. We finished our business midday, then returned to the bus station (or stendi as they call it in TZ ) to find it packed with travellers. We fought our way into the best seats of a bus which took us as far as Moshi. From there we took a manyanga to Holili, then a boda boda motorcycle took us through the border post to Taveta. At Taveta we struck gold as a man with his private car took us to Voi. We sojourned at Voi for a while, packed ourselves full of nyama choma and chapati, then hitched another matatu to Mombasa where we arrived weary and sleepy at midnight. But it was all good. A thrilling Kenyan-savannah-slash-Mount-Mau-and-Kilimanjaro adventure that was the refreshing reload button I had been begging for during the long holiday.
Along the way we met more intriguing and curious people including another drunk who engaged the matatu driver and some of the other passengers in a battle of expletives and a Serengeti Maasai man at the border who was told either he stole his brother’s passport or his hand, because the fingerprints didn’t match.
But then on the other hand, that matatu we took from Moshi was so packed with passengers, my face was constantly being pressed by at least two elbows or armpits for the duration of the trip, and that boda boda trip was so bumpy I wondered if I would ever be whole again after that, and during the final phase I had to sit with my knees hunched over for so long they finally caved and started to hurt, and then it took me two days after we arrived to finally wear off the exhaustion from the travelling.

It’s all part of the experience.

Traveling is refreshing. Traveling is exhausting.

I love it. I hate it.

So anyway, we arrived at the border post, which is nothing like the rickety old building I remember it as. A new state-of-the-art building stands over the ruins of the old one. It even has those metal detectors that would set off alarms if you had too much iron in your blood.

Once inside, we present our passports for verification and visa stamping. There are two sets of counters you have to go through, one with Kenyan customs officers and the other with their Tanzanian counterparts. A gap less than a meter wide separates them. If you stand with your feet just wide enough you can be in Kenya and Tanzania at the same time, essentially you’d be in two places at once. If that’s not cool enough yet, if you stand sideways at the gap and suck in your stomach, you’d neither be in Kenya nor Tanzania. You’d be nowhere. Invisible.

Our hero (hope you haven’t forgotten him already), carrying my uncle’s ID card runs off to another office within the building, comes back with the document we were promised, signed and stamped and sealed. So we believed we were all done but we were wrong.

Our half-sober star makes good on his promise to try and make more money off of us by claiming the mabwanas inside want to be paid more. So uncle offered up to go in and talk to the mabwanas himself, at which point our man jumped and said there would be no need for that.

I imagine my uncle wanted to break into laughter over how thin and poorly-planned this scam was.

“Kenya mambo hayaendi bila pesa, buda.” The man finally said, smiling with those half-dented bronze teeth of his. Nothing happens in Kenya if you don’t tip off.

But should it be that way, though, just because it already is, when it doesn’t really have to be?

Then again someone should have told the poor fool, we weren’t even in Kenya anymore. Should we really carry the worst bits about ourselves everywhere we go?

Oh did I mention I love traveling? I do, I really do.


Now then, won’t you feast your eyes on these photos I took with my modest phone camera during the trip?

Angry Muslim On My Screen


I finished watching the fourth season of 24 the other day.
As if I wasn’t already a big fan of the series, this season just went above and beyond to hook me in even further.  Jack. Bauer. What’s not to like about this guy?

The narrative around which the show 24 usually revolves is that a lot can happen in a single day. And boy doesn’t a lot happen in Jack’s life in those 24 hours. His hobbies during the day include kicking butt and running around a lot without, seemingly, stopping once to catch his second wind. He kicks off with staging a store robbery, then single-handedly storms a compound chokeful of terrorists to rescue a government official, then saunters off to the headquarters of an arms dealership to gather intel where he wards off an army of mercenaries, then leads a black-ops mission to retrieve an informant from the Chinese embassy, all while looking as fresh as a November chrysanthemum (I don’t know what that word means either).

And he does all this while constantly being pressured and second-guessed by his bosses who include quite possibly the most incompetent US president ever depicted on a TV or cinema screen.

He is hands-down the embodiment of all our fantasies of resilience and invincibility. Jason Bourne and wimpy James Bond have nothing on him at all.

Perhaps it’s just as well that Jack Bauer is not a very complicated man. He has no philosophies to preach or grand prophecies to narrate to his audience. His dialogue does not include confounding parabole with deep life lessons a la Master Yoda. When a character is that ‘simple’ but fights for his country and innocent people, everyone can relate to him.

His adversaries, on the other hand, are the ones with complicated philosophies and big words, which is why they are so blindly committed to their causes they are willing to die for them. In this season, true to form of most TV and cinema presentations in the recent decade, and of particular interest to this article, Jack’s adversaries happen to be…well…“Muslim” terrorists.

When the first few episodes of season four came out, there was such a huge uproar over the portrayal of Muslims in the show that the Muslim Council of Britain lodged a formal complaint, and it’s hard not to see why.  The show depicts a Turkish Muslim family so modern and assimilated in a foreign culture that the mother doesn’t wear a hijab, and the teenage son begins dating a non-Muslim local girl. Which is a big problem because frowny daddy has plans to turn continental US into a radioactive wasteland and his son’s girlfriend jeopardizes that…I think? What follows is borderline sinister and truly heartbreaking.

Feirouz, the teenage son, is pressured by his parents to kill his American girlfriend, because ‘she saw the darn warehouse’ where the father and other terrorists have been hiding a kidnapped government official. Feirouz chickens out and tries to rush his girlfriend away to safety, but she dies in his hands as it dawns on him that his mother poisoned the girl’s drink. You’d expect Feirouz would break down in tears and cry a river, but somehow, he manages to pull himself together immediately and doesn’t seem that distressed. No biggy, mum and dad were right anyway. Then, in a curious turn of events, mother turns against father to protect Feirouz, husband shoots mother, proceeds to kill an uncle and is on the verge of killing Feirouz when Jack Bauer swoops in once again to put an end to the madness. Just a troubled, messed-up family from start to end.

When the complaints began flooding in, the show’s creators promised that Muslims would be cast in better light towards the middle of the season. When that anticipated moment finally came it manifested in an underwhelming, in my opinion, cameo of two scrawny Muslim gun-store owners who helped Jack Bauer fight that army of mercenaries, further propagating the idea that Muslims are always ready for a fight, whether it’s to actively start one or to simply join in.

Alright, so maybe that’s what 24 is all about, gritty scenes with bad guys and good guys gleefully exchanging bullets every chance they get, so maybe that was the best we could have hoped for, but then I remember watching another show, the X-files, where one episode follows two very normal looking (and to some extent timid) Muslim teenagers cruising through an American town in their car until they park besides a building. Then to my genuine, but premature, delight they begin reciting together, a dua so familiar, in accent-free Arabic, I almost joined in. I remember thinking check out these two poor guys shaking and praying, are they going for a job interview or something? I hope they get it, I really do. I felt stupid seconds later when they walked into the building and it went up in one of those colourful explosions Hollywood is famed for.

It put me off so terribly, I watched the rest of the episode with my hand half reaching for the remote, but still curious to see if there would be some redemption for the Muslim community to come later.

It’s really depressing, I tell you, watching a TV show depicting people who claim to share spiritual beliefs with you, speak flawless Arabic and recite verses of the book we recite every day and regard as our life-manual, only for them to later on draw out their AK47s from thin air or don a bomb vest. You look at those people, when they are presented to you initially, hoping to see elements of your own life reflected back to you, but nothing of the sort is forthcoming.

We, Muslims, are people too.

We make embarrassing mistakes, small and big, throughout our lives, like every other human being.

We have an unhealthy habit of crying too much when we lose someone close to us, like most human beings.

We have our moments of comic awkwardness.

Like when we cant decide what to do with our hands while greeting the elderly who are our non-Mahrams (those we are eligible to marry). Our norms dictate it’s more respectful to extend your arm, yet at the same time tell us we shouldn’t when it’s a non-Mahram. Biiig dilemma.

Or that famed three-part Eid hug moment, when visiting relatives and you can’t remember whether you’re supposed to start on the right side or the left, or whether to end it with a kiss on the cheek or not. And if we do finish it that way, then who goes first? And then, you have that scene where both of you try to do it together and end up going around in circles and your necks wrap around each other and give rise to a clumsy two-headed monster.

Or how about the curious glances we contend with when we shout “Allah Akbar” in public after hearing good news. ‘Allah Akbar’ means ‘God is Great’ by the way, not ‘Death to the West’, for anyone here as yet unaware of that fact. In my mind I sometimes imagine a scene where a traditional middle-eastern mother visits her son in the US or Europe where he’s been studying and recently started working, and when the son pulls up at the arrivals terminal in his shiny brand new car, the overjoyed mother breaks into a khaleejy dance singing, “Allahu Akbar, my son’s made it. Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar.”

The son jumps outside, fidgeting and smiling nervously and tries desperately to get her to stop, “Ma, mama, ya ummi! Here in the states we say, ‘Yay!’ and sort of jiggle our feet. Quick now, get in the car, before mysterious men in dark suits pull black bags over our heads and throw us in an FBI van, shukran.”

Are none of the above moments or similar worthy of joining the ranks of those classical “famous TV scenes”?

How much longer are we going to have to wait for that modern Muslim family sitcom the world so desperately needs right now?

I don’t know, something’s got to give. Am almost sure of it. That there will come a time in the future when someone in the upper echelons of the entertainment industry will look at the culture of a people who make up a quarter of the world’s population, see past the layers of stereotypes and into the humor and romance in it and finally produce a critically acclaimed, fan-adored show that really, actually captures the life of the modern Muslim.

Until that happens though, this angry “Muslim” on my TV screen, with his bloodshot eyes and his sharp tongue and his gun-trigger-seducing fingers, will remain as strange to me as the mission he dedicates his life –and death­ – to.

When A Former Microsoft Exec Visited Mombasa

Jawad Khaki, imam and president emeritus of the IMAN Center of Kirkland, Wed., Dec. 9, 2015. (KEN LAMBERT / The Seattle Times)

About a fortnight ago, news cropped from seemingly nowhere that Mark Zuckerberg was in Nairobi, packing himself full of Mama Oliech’s world famous fried fish. As it turned out, his visit to Kenya was impromptu and followed his two-day visit to Nigeria, earning Kenyans platitudes like ‘hijackers’ after we accomplished the same with the Pope’s visit to Uganda.

Perhaps to keep up with that trend, several months ago we similarly hijacked another accomplished person’s visit to a neighbour country, Tanzania in this case, but which passed notice of many Kenyans. That of former Microsoft Executive and founder of Uhuru Software, Jawad Khaki.

While not a household name like his former partner Bill Gates or the magnanimous late Steve Jobs, Jawad Khaki worked with the Software giants for more than twenty years where he served as Corporate Vice President before splitting ways with them to form  his own company; Uhuru Software.

When he visited his home country Tanzania a few months ago his friend invited him to Mombasa. Luckily, the organizers of Jaffery Academy Wisdom Series jumped at the chance to invite him to Jaffery Academy School Hall where they gave him a microphone – albeit an unflattering one with annoying feedback – and an audience which, conversely, responded more positively with eagerness and hunger to learn from him; and then they let him run amok. The following are the lessons I personally picked from that lecture:

 Modesty Is Still King.

I have to admit that at first I also had no idea who Jawad Khaki was, which by extension means that I didn’t know what he looked like. So when he arrived at the hall with two of his friends I had a really hard time trying to pick him out. Here’s a man who probably at one time rivalled Bill Gates for that coveted corner office at Microsoft Headquarters in Redmond and I was having a hard time picking him out because he was dressed just as decently and modestly as his two friends.

You could say someone of his status would be forgiven if he chose to wear flashy jewelry or a $10,000 three-piece suit but no, instead he wore a simple jeans and plain blue T-shirt. It was enough to win me over before he’d even begun speaking.

Don’t Forget Your Roots.

When he finally began his lecture, he began with the invocation used by Imams before Friday khutbahs ‘Bismillahi Arrahman Arrahim, Innal Hamda Lillahi…’ Maybe for some it’s not an overly exciting fact that he did, but it was a gesture that bespoke of a man raised up in Islamic surroundings and teachings. Islamic roots that somehow managed to survive the years and swarming success he’s gone through, which is more than you can say about many people who lose their way once they rise to the top.

A World Of Reduced Barriers.

There’s no denying it, our world has taken numerous promising steps forward where technology is concerned. Communication is faster than it has been before in human history. We’ve managed to cross the language barrier, or we’re close to it. We’ve learned more and more about our own solar system and discovered many more new worlds. At the moment we are even entertaining notions of living on a different planet and are on course to send humans to live on Mars by 2030.

As such, young adults who grow up with dreams of inventing something new or accomplishing the impossible face the ever-growing threat of feeling disenchanted, because it would seem everything that could be done has already been done.

Jawad Khaki, for reasons known to him, chose to discuss this topic and aptly titled his lecture: “Thriving in a world of reduced barriers.”

Coopetition.

Then, as he continued on with the lecture he coined a seemingly foreign word: coopetition. Only it’s not that foreign.

Coopetition is the act of cooperation between competing companies; businesses that engage in both competition and cooperation are said to be in coopetition

-Definition by Investopedia

It’s another 21st Century invention. Think of it this way: two telecommunications companies in direct competition may decide to form a research team consisting of the best minds from either side. The technical name for such a group is “virtual team” and it can be disbanded at any time. The team proceeds to research on the most affordable ways to improve communication infrastructure, make their services cheaper, improve customer satisfaction while still making profits. The findings of the research are then shared between both parties, in good faith, and the connection severed until such a time when another need arises for such a concerted effort.

In principle, the concept can also be applied on a more personal level between two individuals working the same field. But before the people of Mombasa can apply coopetition, we need to learn cooperation.

I’ve been privy to and in some cases participated in a fair few projects that failed because there wasn’t enough effort from the community to help keep them going. At one point, I remember dipping my fingers into the entrepreneurship pot only for the people I transacted with to show more interest in making a quick buck off a naïve upstart entrepreneur rather than seek to foster a long lasting business partnership, so my foray into that venture died in its infancy. This should not happen in a community where we have verses like this one to shape our actions:

“…Truly many are the partners (in business) who wrong each other: Not so do those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and how few are they?…” Q38:24

Big Ideas Start Small.

Not all big ideas start innocent, Facebook case in point, but all big ideas start small. Jawad Khaki took KhanAcademy.com as his example to elaborate this point.

In 2004 Salman Khan, the founder of KhanAcademy, began tutoring his cousins back in India using Yahoo Doodle notepad and later through Youtube video tutorials. Soon interest grew in his tutorials prompting him to produce more, full-time.

At the moment, KhanAcademy.com boasts more than 4,000 tutorials on wide-ranging topics in just about any subject and has received acclaim and support from the likes of Bill Gates and media outlets who credit Salman for beginning the revolution to provide free education globally. As a matter of fact, even I admit the tutorials on there have saved my butt many a night while I was preparing for a Calculus or Engineering unit exam.

Priorities At The Workplace.

In this century where the word “career” carries more weight than ever before, perhaps the prevailing mentality is “I should achieve as much as I possibly can”, the keyword here being “I”.

While not strictly an inappropriate mentality to hold, Mr Khaki offered a different perspective on what should matter most in the workplace. The company you work for should be first priority and you need to work toward helping it achieve the goals and objectives it has set. Secondly, you need to give your all to the ‘initiative’ your company is trying to achieve.

Third priority is your team, the people you’re assigned with to perform particular duties at the workplace.  “Take care of your team, and naturally your team will take care of you.” Only then can you start focusing on the ‘me’ part.

Not an easy pill to swallow that one, but it does make a world of sense.

The Human Condition.

“What are you doing to improve the human condition? How does the product you produce improve the human condition?”

Those were some of the questions we were prompted with by Mr Khaki and perhaps should be the questions every careerist or aspiring founder of the ‘next big company’ should ask themselves. How will what I do, what I produce help improve the conditions of my fellow human beings?

Poverty.

Illiteracy.

Conflict.

Corruption.

 These are but a few of the pressing issues that should be gnawing at the back of our heads everyday we leave home for work.

Power Breakfast.

Mr Khaki then acknowledged, and a member of the audience brought up the issue again later, that entrepreneurship is severely hampered when the government or prevailing authority is corrupt. When asked how that can be overcome he offered up one suggestion: power breakfasts.

Power breakfasts have been around for a while in some countries, chief among them the United States, and are basically events that last days or a fortnight where government leaders and other celebrities meet with the average Joe citizen and interact on a more personal basis in a comfortable social setting where anything at all can be brought up and discussed in detail.

The results of such events are mixed, with some of the attendees lamenting about feeling “left out” while others claim a fulfilling experience in which their concerns were addressed succinctly. Either way, it sounds worth a shot for us to try here in Kenya because nothing else seems to work.

———-

While some of the content above may have been paraphrased and some details of the lecture left out, and for that I curse the devils of procrastination and my own poor memory, I strived to put down everything from the lecture that seemed appropriate and do hope it was helpful to anyone who read this article. I wish to offer my thanks to Mr Khaki for taking his time share his experiences and lessons with us and to the organizers of JAWS as well for inviting him and us.

JAWS (Jaffery Academy Wisdom Series) is a weekly event held at Jaffery Academy featuring a different motivational speaker each week and is free for anyone to attend. For details on how to attend one such lecture please contact the organizers through their facebook page here.

Life Is Art

themindunleashed-org

Courtesy: themindunleashed.org

Life is art, living is a form of art. I know, it sounds like a cheesy line you would expect an eccentric antagonist in a B movie to use when gloating to his bemused opposite number, while sipping on a glass of margarita with olives, but yes indeed I have uttered those words and I cannot un-utter them now.

When I came back to campus last year, I decided I would start cooking my own food. I arrived at this decision after several episodes where my stomach disagreed with my choice of hotels where I ate, the most extreme of which culminated in me spending half the night hunched over the toilet bowl screaming bloody murder and cursing all cooks who refuse to wash their hands after “using the facilities”.

After several spills and hiccups during my brave journey into the world of cooking, there came a time where I began to actually LIKE my own food. For a moment I wondered if maybe my tolerance for terrible food had taken a bump but then I realized my cooking skills had actually IMPROVED. As I grew more and more confident, I began to EXPERIMENT, adding a few more spoons of spices than was the norm or mixing them up, adding sugar or salt where it wasn’t meant to be added until at some point the little voice in my head shouted: “Cooking is an art and am an artist!”

Yes indeed, I am an artist, not the best in the world as far as cooking is concerned but still an artist, because cooking is an art, just like painting, drawing, writing too and yes you guessed it: life…living. That’s an art too. We are the painters. Time is our canvas. The opportunities we are given: youth, wealth, health, intelligence those are the paint brushes and the colors we paint with are the choices we make, the memories we leave behind, what we choose to believe in.

There are some who paint bright Da Vinci-esque lives, lauded through time long after they are gone. Others paint abstracts like Picasso, their choices and behavior understood by few but still remembered and maybe even loved by many. Others are condemned or condemn themselves to lives no different than a hurried-through draft painting, blazing through life with abandon, making mistake after mistake and sowing discord among people until they are tossed under the easel to be forgotten forever.

Am an artist! So are you! And now that you know that, what does it make you feel? Are you worried that you might be a poor artist? That you can’t tell apart the handle end of your brush from its bristle end? That you can’t find the right texture and hue for your paint mixtures? Well hush dear, and listen close. To master anything, you always have to start with the basics.

For instance with writing the bare basics you have to master are language and grammar. A book filled from end to end with unsound sentences like “goo goo gaa gaa” and “baa boo” is unlikely to end up a best-seller. I mean, even toddlers won’t understand your book, and they actually speak that language. With football, it’s passing and movement. As hard as it is to imagine, there was a point in time when Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo did not know how to kick a ball, and they had to labor through training with their frustrated coaches shouting their throats dry whenever 5-year-old Messi or Ronaldo would miss hitting the ball after running to it, maybe pirouette on the spot there before falling on their backs like clumsy characters from a cartoon. But they put in their day’s work every day until they could perform the basics of their trade with their eyes closed, before building upon that and perfecting it to get to where they are now.

The basics of the art of life, and maybe am reaching a bit here in which case my comment section remains open to anyone with a different opinion, but the basics of life as an art from what I gather are intention and interaction.

Why do you do what you do?

Do you genuinely want to help people?

Do you simply want to be famous?

What do you think about the people around you, friends and strangers alike?

Do you treat them with respect or at least the dignity to which every human has a birth-right?

These two have to be it, surely. If we purify our intentions and cultivate our interactions with others, some of the mistakes we make may even be excused or addressed with lighter scrutiny. We master those basics and maybe we may even rid ourselves of these mistakes. Okay, that’s too optimistic.

But at least it will be a step in the right direction.

Life is art.

So make your painting colorful.

paint-your-life

Courtesy: pinkjooz.com

Car­­­­­­­­ving Your Own Path

Carving Your Own Path

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the biggest failings of our education system, some might say, is that it underpins an ‘absorption of knowledge’ approach rather than a reflective one. To some extent this is true, surprisingly, even at university level even though we were told otherwise before we got here. After two grueling weeks of absorbing notes and churning out exam answers like a conveyor belt, I’ve finally had a fairly uninterrupted span in which I could reflect. I’ve reflected on the past semester and what it has meant to me and of particular interest for this article, to the beginning of the semester when I started my blog and wrote that first article. I concluded that most of the objectives I had set for my blog back then, I am yet to achieve.

It is for this reason I’ve chosen such a daunting topic as my next article even though I’ve debated for a long time whether am qualified to write on it. It certainly doesn’t take much arithmetic to conclude that a more seasoned mind would be able to tackle such a topic with more finesse and authority, but I have decided to put my money where my mouth is and write something meaningful as I have always believed I can. Something that will hopefully benefit my fellow youth.

An accomplished American businessman was once quoted saying, “If you do not have competitive advantage, don’t compete.” Curt and brutal. It almost sounds like a warning or a bold declaration that the world is for the big sharks to rule. The meek rest should just throw in the towel or find a sharper set of teeth. Shift your perspective a bit and it’s more of a summon than a warning, a call to everyone who wants to be successful to improve themselves but the fact remains that we live in an extremely competitive world with accomplished aces in every career field you turn to.

It can therefore be very easy to fall into the same traps that others before us fell into by cutting corners and compromising our beliefs and such to ‘get to the top’. The better, perhaps slower and less likeable, alternative involves digging deep and asking ourselves what separates us from the rest and working on that.

Don’t Sell Your Morals For Peanuts

In other words, you have a license to be stubborn. Not the kind of stubborn where you stick by your opinion even when you know you’re wrong but more the kind where you stick by what you believe whatever that may be.

Steve Jobs was a serially stubborn guy, and that even got him fired at some point from the company he built. However, his persistence in creating ‘closed system’ computers, against the advice of computer engineers, played a big part in the emergence of the personal computers that we use today.

Tap Into Your Strengths

Be different!

Courtesy: Blatera on Deviant Art

We all differ in the sense we have different strengths and weaknesses. However, against popular contemporary advice, you should focus more on your strengths than your weaknesses because your strengths are what separate you from everybody else. Working on your weakness, on the other hand, gives you a glimpse into somebody else’s strength and forces you to try and ‘copy’ that. It’s not necessarily bad, it just shouldn’t be first priority.

If your strength is charisma, you can pretty much have a lot going your way if you use it well. If it’s creativity, then let your imagination run wild. If it’s an unparalled work ethic then buckle down on anything you work on, just don’t run yourself into the ground.

Experiment and Refine

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”
― Ernest Hemingway

Once you find a personal style with which you can approach anything, seek ways to improve it. This is when you can start working on your weaknesses, but not necessarily focus there absolutely. This is when you take a word or two about how you ‘do things’ from people you trust but sieve what is helpful from what is not. More importantly, what people propose to you should not clash with what you envision for yourself, remember the first rule still applies here!

Have a Mentor (or Role Model)

Mentors push you to improve yourself, and better, they teach you to take risks where you were anxious to do so before. They push you out of your comfort zone.

I remember in high school, one of my English teachers asked us to write a poem as part of homework.I wrote mine but it came out more of a prose than the surreal rhyming works of Edgar Allan Poe and William Blake that had already sullied poetry lovers with immense expectation. I didn’t like it. My teacher loved it. So much so, she begged me to let her submit it to an ongoing poetry competition. I agreed to her wish simply because I could never say no to her, not because I shared her enthusiasm. Imagine my surprise and delight when I ended up runner-up in the competition. Later she approached me and told me:

“You didn’t think this was possible. Imagine what else you are capable of that you don’t think is possible right now?”

Mentors, however are hard to come by. In such a case, a role model would have to do. Find someone who is a big shot in your field of interest and learn how they got where they are. Learn how they schemed and identified opportunities, how they took risks where everyone else was too afraid. What you shouldn’t do is keeping up with what they wear or drive or the what their big mansions cost. Remember, you are supposed to learn from them, not worship them. Almost any celebrity out there has a thing or two to teach you, if you know what to look for, even Donald Trump, according to this article by my uncle.

A couple of months ago, we had one of those little moments with one of our lecturers  where we throw academics aside for a moment and just ‘talk life’. One of the most interesting things we discussed was the fact that around the country at least ten thousand other students were majoring in the same course as we.

The real kicker, he went on to explain, is that regardless of how many of us finish university with high honors, the tech companies existing in the country only hire a handful of people each year, and even less fresh graduates. You have to be among the top top to have a prayer of ever being employed. The alternative is for each one of us to start our own companies from scratch by taking on increasingly complex projects and building a team around us.

Either way, we have no choice but to completely embrace what separates us from the rest of the bunch, and forge our own paths.

If you enjoyed or benefited in any way from the article, please do let me have your comments and opinions below.

What’s In A Legacy?

image

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

-Benjamin Franklin.

 I’ve come to acknowledge the fact that there is no good time to receive bad news. But boy, there are times worse than others. For instance early in the day when you’ve only just shaken off morning nerves, or late at night when you’re so deep in sleep a horde of mosquitoes couldn’t possibly get you to wake.

A few months before the turn of last year, I received such kind of news just as I was bedding in to milk those final few minutes between pre-morning prayers (Fajr) and when I finally get ready for school. One of my cousins had been involved in a fatal accident and had died on scene. He was one of those cousins who seemed half a generation older than you so he was in fact succeeded by a wife and a couple of (very young) kids. Like my father, he spent most of his days on the road, driving cargo trucks to Uganda and back.

We had never spent a lot of time together, truth be told, just the occasional visits to their home during Eids and most recently a few months before his death while I was travelling with my father. My dad on the other hand, seemed to know him like the back of his hand. Which is why it puzzled me how calm his voice was, in the face of such tragic news, when I talked with him later that day. So I, indirectly, put the question to him and he simply sighed, ‘That’s just life.’ That’s just life. Life. Death. And a string thinner than silk strand to hold one aloft and keep it from plunging into the other.

Just imagine that! One moment someone’s here, the next they’re gone! Adios! Goodbye for good. Whatever brilliant ideas they held in their brains, whatever beautiful thoughts they once conceived gone with them. That life force and energy is no more, we can no longer tap into that and share stories, concerns and laughs with anymore. A few months later no one will even remember them…unless of course they left behind a legacy.

When most people hear the word legacy, thoughts of heroic acts, juggernaut corporate empire, a mind-numbing scientific discovery or a large estate including mansions in different countries springs into their minds. Sure that’s one way to etch your name in the minds of people for as long as there is an earth to live on, but the truth is, a legacy can be much simpler than that.

The purpose of life for those of us who are religious is simple: worship God. And while this may sound a bit vague for the not-so-religious, there is actually a lot that is entailed within that single statement. It includes doing right by oneself by leading a good healthy life, reaching out to those around with an open mind and a clean heart, helping those in need at the expense of one’s own comfort, inspiring others to improve themselves spiritually and otherwise, in other words being the best possible humans anyone could ever be. That’s the bare minimum legacy we should aim for.

The opposite of that is what breeds wars among men. Sure we’re humans, we’re prone to err. We step on people’s feet every once in a while because we are not perfect. Once we decide to do it purposefully however and make a habit of it, that’s when we create a legacy that leaves much to be desired.

Over the past two years, i’ve had to attend funerals of friends and relatives who were more or less my own age. But if there is any lesson I learned from that, it is not that we should fear death, for it is inevitable regardless of age that but we should worry about the legacy we want to be remembered by.

Timely Coincidences and a Timeless Lesson.

It’s the most curious thing! Long before I knew who John Denver was, one of his famous songs used to come on the radio almost every time I travelled long distance away from home. The chorus would go something like:

“Am leaving on a jet plane…

I don’t know when I’ll be back again.”

The first time it happened I said to myself: “Well that’s a neat coincidence!” Then the next four times it happened, it really piqued my interest. So I decided to dig up some information about the song and what I discovered or rather the impact of what I discovered was, well…simply incredible! But maybe I should digress a bit before sharing my discovery as I let that revelation condense into the right words.

So at the moment (of writing this post) am far…far…far away from home. These boring dull four walls, uncarpeted floor and solitary window make up what I’ll be calling home for the next six months. No, am not describing a prison cell, but rather my hostel room. Comparing this to my actual home, several hundred kilometers away, is much like comparing a cube to a tesseract. One of them is infinitely more complex and interesting than the other. They exist on different levels of dimension and must therefore never be compared.

It’s the price some of us have to pay though in the quest to fulfill our need for knowledge and to become meaningful in society. We travel far from home, sometimes across borders and do our best not to think back. It is hard to explain the roller-coaster of emotions you go through during that whole time but I think I may have managed to atlast nail down the pros and cons points of studying away from home:

The Cons:

Pain of separation. I get calls from my folks back home almost every week. The theme of our talks is mostly consistent. However beyond the usual ‘we miss you’ messages, sometimes I get something like: ‘we still see your ghost hanging around the house, rummaging through the empty fridge, or lazing around in the sitting room.’ When you’ve been the only child of a single mother for a really long time, the pain of separation can be overwhelming, and they don’t make it easy when they make those kinds of calls.

Home seems like a different planet. Everything happening back home seems to be happening on a different universe and leaves you feeling left out. I’ve missed a fair share of my cousins’ and childhood friends’ weddings because I was stuck at college studying for an exam or in class. Worse is when you hear news of a funeral. You can’t help but pray every second that everyone back home stays safe and healthy just a little longer so you can see them again.

Cultural divide. This one’s a doozy. Even shifting a few paces right here In Kenya, the land of 40 tribes, means having to acclimatise to a really different way of life. Making conversations with locals means throwing grammar considerations out the window most of the time. There are a hundred different slang names for the same thing so shopping can sometimes be a royal pain. At one time, exhausted from repeating the proper Swahili name for something I was looking for, I had to search for its photo online and rub my phone’s screen up the shopkeepers’ faces for them to finally get me.

On a positive note though, studying far from home presents the following unique opportunities:

Chance to grow. For some reason I can barely sustain an interest in anything useful or creative when am back home. Throw several hundred kilometres between me and home, and suddenly I want to learn all the programming languages that exist out there, I want to learn and be fluent in a new language and am juggling several plot lines in my head for a short story that I want to write. My mind switches on just like that which presents me a very significant opportunity to improve myself and help me grow into a more useful individual.

Chance to grow UP. Am lucky enough to have found the right bunch of friends out here, around whom I can still be goofy every now and then but who when the time calls for it, can switch into serious mode with no fuss. Far from the distractions of home and close relatives, I find it easy every day to come into my own. There’s no one to coddle me and stand up for me when am in difficult situations, so every experience I go through is an opportunity to learn and grow up.

Fresh start. Leaving familiar territory means beginning with a clean slate. You get to make new friends with no worries about whether they will judge your past mistakes, simply because they have no need to know about your past mistakes, unless you decide to run around campus or town shouting it to everyone, in which case have fun you miserable weirdo.

Now back to John Denver, whom the universe strived so long to bring to my attention. He dropped out of college doing a course in architecture to take up a career in music. At the time of his death, John Denver was an accomplished songwriter, singer, actor, aviator, philanthropist and environmentalist. So popular was his music that one of his songs was adopted as one of the official state songs for the state of Colorado. He was something of an over-achiever, some would say. Then he died, tragically, while doing something he was passionate about, flying a test aeroplane.

What this discovery essentially did was remind me of what I am most afraid of: settling. I strongly feel everyone should share in my fear. We tend to settle for less than what we are capable of. We settle for what others project as the limit of what we are capable of, what we apparently deserve.

So many times we hear of folks who are forced to compromise between their happiness and what the people around them want for them. There is rarely a middle-ground established in such cases and they end up settling for something which makes them miserable forever. Whoever among us who finds themselves in this inextricable situation, where you are tied down to a job or study course which dumbs down your creativity, listen to the message the universe wanted me to hear: ‘NO ONE holds a leash on your happiness. No one should have the power to stop you from being what you want to be, to do what you are most passionate about.’

If you can be Muhammad the lawyer, the writer, the artist, the daredevil or Jane the schoolteacher, the illustrator, the thrill seeker then be that and don’t settle for less.

Once you have achieved that, look beyond the tiny radius that makes up ‘ME’ world and strive to inspire others to be better. The more people you affect in a positive way, the more fulfilling your life will be. Most likely, you’ll find yourself doing this naturally, as one Mikhail Pokhorov once said:

“When you have gained a certain amount of experience, you find that a desire to help all people arises in you.”

To that end, here’s hoping this blog will be a good start for me. Your comments, critic and support will be much appreciated. Love you all and thank you for reading.