We all have different ways of responding to trauma and misfortune. Some of us suppress it until it eventually bursts out. Some of us crack jokes and make millions in stand-up. Some of us hide in alcohol, or drugs, or sex, or novels. Some of us build walls and never let anyone near us again. And some of us – many of us – pass on the pain to others.
Unfortunately, the people who receive that pain are often undeserving. You reject the nice guy or nice girl because of someone who wasn’t quite as nice. You become transactional in relationships with someone that’s given you their money – and their hurt. Sometimes, you get downright violent in your words, actions … or your stubborn lack of both.
I’ve explored religion a little bit, and while Christianity says to turn the other cheek, New Agey Buddhism says there is no cheek, there is no hurt. That everything happens for a reason and if you take a big picture view, that ‘nasty experience’ was for your benefit. Something in your past life (or the past life of your harmer) brought you together in this painful situation at your request.
While I won’t go that far, I don’t believe anything happens in a vacuum. Nothing is random in my world. There’s always a reason for the way things go. Now – in my line of thinking – a reason isn’t an excuse. It may explain what happened, but it doesn’t make it okay. Knowing someone was abused in childhood may explain why they hurt another child, but it doesn’t justify their action, or mean they should be forgiven.
Some of us are wired with empathy. When something bad happens to us, we do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. Others are more drawn towards vengeance. If I suffer, we all suffer, and that somehow makes it fair. Like the example I like to use so frequently, two young brothers watch their dad batter their mum. One grows up thinking it’s normal – even expected – for women to be beaten. The other promises never to raise his fist.
They say the way someone treats you is a refection of them, not you. If someone abuses you, there’s nothing wrong with you. The problem is them. On the other hand, people only treat you the way you let them. Yes, they are the ones with a flaw, but as long as you sit there and take it, it doesn’t stop.
So I guess the trick is to know when to walk away, and have the courage to do it kindly. Be brave enough, strong enough, and soft enough to say, ‘Hey, I know you’ve been hurt, and I’m sorry that happened to you. And I’m not going to stay and let you do the same to me.’
Be wise enough to know acting out is not the same as working out, and indulging negativity is not a way to solve it. They need professional help, not a psychological punching bag, and that letting them use you to exercise their demons is no good for either of you.
Some people see that as abandoning someone that needs help. It feels more loving to martyr yourself, to give them another chance, to believe that your wholesome love will get through to them, heal their hurt, and make them better. You’ll be patient. You will fix them. And they will love your forever in return. You’ll be the one person in life that never gave up on them.
Or, you know, you’ll be dead.
It’s hard to walk away, and some people never do. They just stay there and take it forever, losing themselves in the process. So now you just have two broken people instead of one. Well, the older I get, the more I learn to be kinder to myself. Sometimes, that means refusing to ‘save’ someone else.
What’s your dream career? I don’t mean the job you’d love to do, the one that ‘wouldn’t feel like work’. I mean the one you fantasise about, the one you think must be fairytale bliss. (Mine is probably chocolate taster, because omg so. much. chocolate!
For a lot of people, it’s being a princess, or a writer, or a sailor. I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week because my writing list has covered Pest Control Services and Tombstone Carvers … Also, I’ve been reading about maritime disasters, watching Royals, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
A lot of the clients I write for are family businesses in the first world. So while us guys grow up wanting to be doctors or lawyers or socialites, there’s a guy somewhere in the bundus of UK who woke up one day and said, ‘You know what, Wife? We’re going to kill bugs. And people are going to pay us to do it.’ And they did. For 50 years and counting. And all their nieces and nephews and kids and grandkids are part of the family business.
These kids did not tell their guidance counselors that they want to be policemen when they grew up. Nope. Their career path was clear from day one. Their folks and grandfolks had made millions (?) killing insects and it was their duty to continue with the business. They didn’t really have a choice.
For some people, this is a blessing. They find comfort knowing their path is charted out, that they have a job waiting, that they don’t have to struggle to discover what they want to do when they grow up. They just go to school and study something relevant to the family firm. Like … I don’t know … a degree in radioactive roach control.
For others, this feels like a trap. They are free spirits and would rather be lost and uncertain on their own life journeys than have a destination chosen for them. They’d rather flit from job to job until they find one that fits. A similar line of thinking came up in the royals documentary.
Some street-side interviewees said they felt sad for modern royals. Their whole lives are designed, what school they go to, what charity they support, what family they can marry. Especially the first borns, the crown heirs. The crown spares are even more trapped, because their whole lives are basically waiting for siblings to die so they can be a just-in-case monarch.
Other people thought this was the best way to live! Be rich, don’t pay bills, attend fancy events, then die and be buried in fancy clothes. The cost? Don’t fall in love with the wrong person, and try not to be photographed doing anything stupid. I suppose your views on this spectrum are driven by your personality, what you believe in, the kind of person that you are. Neither opinion is right or wrong. They’re just … different.
Unrelated: how the fuck did we ever communicate before gifs?!?!
Back to the point, I’m a writer by profession, and my current target for 2025 is a container house on the shores of Lake Elementaita (where a friend currently owns a resort full of forest cabins and is trying to convince me that cabin beats container). So yeah, lying in a hammock, staring at flamingoes, and typing on my laptop is a very real possibility by the time I’m 43. #KnockCabin
Except … that’s not really what my daily life is like. Yes, I work in my pyjamas and write for a living, and I generally enjoy it. But it’s not the romantic notion of scribbling words under a tree. Most days, I’m on my bed or at my writing desk, sitting until my ass hurts, chasing panic-inducing deadlines as I write SEO articles about marble tiles and Japanese blenders. Up-side, it pays well, I nap a lot, and I get to use all the puns I want woohoo! #PunsAreFun
Sometimes I think other jobs must be way more exciting. Like being a sailor or a hunter or a chef. But the truth is – as much as we romanticise that shit, they’re all just jobs. Hunters still have to skin animals and clean smelly intestines. Sailors spend a lot of time in nasty weather smelling like fish. And some people earn their millions killing bugs. What’s my point? I have no idea. I was just thinking about it so I wrote about it. Sorry. Here, have a gif.
I’ve never considered cutting. It just didn’t occur to me. I guess because I’m terrified of pain, and not too wild about blood or broken skin. Scabs maybe, but not the raw stuff. But I do get the thinking behind it … probably because it’s the space I’m in now.
My teenager tells me everybody cuts, and that it’s no big deal. Unfortunately, one of her crowd took it over the edge and ended up in hospital, but that’s not my story to tell. My story is … well … feeling so much emotional hurt that a physical outlet seems better. It’s an inkling that if I had something tangible to focus on, then it would dull the torture inside.
Some people cut for the opposite reason. They’re so numb and dead inside that physical sensation – even the negative kind – will remind them they’re alive. Seeing their blood flow out proves that they’re still breathing. But because those dark spaces are cyclic, they keep needing the razor-sharp mnemonic. And anyway, beer is better, so if you’re cutting, you can get cheap-to-free non-judgey help at Amani Centre of Befrienders Kenya.
I’m big on MBTI and I’m a feeler, so I’m supposed to prefer ‘feeling’ over ‘thinking’ and be comfortable with my emotions. My best friend is a thinker, so it’s always been my assumption that I can handle sentiment better than he can. Turns out it isn’t the case. See, he … feels things. He doesn’t try to figure them out, because digging into feelings is exhausting. He prefers logic.
So when he feels something positive, he goes with it. When he feels something negative, he sits still and waits for it to pass. It’s a lesson he’s trying to teach me, because I give so much weight to my feelings that I’m obsessed with understanding them. So I analyse them to breaking point, and if they’re illogical (which feelings generally are) then I suppress them.
Here’s the thing with the stuff you suppress. It eventually pulls a coke bottle on you, and the sight is never pretty. I thought I had learned this lesson already – especially since my therapist made repeat the exercise so often. Turns out I wasn’t paying attention.
I’ve been holding in a lot of shit and it’s coming out explosively. So then I just started tuning it out with beer and weed cookies, but that just pushes it down further. Also, it makes me wake up with cramps. So this week I decided no cookies, no beer (also, I was super broke). I decided I’m just going sit with this shit and feel it. And you know what? Feelings suck raw eggs. Send beer.
I hate cops because I haven’t had a single positive interaction with them. Not when they accosted me outside my house in my pyjamas and harassed me. It was 6.30 a.m. I was 14, walking to the kiosk phone booth to call a boy I had a crush on. And they surrounded, these four tall men with guns. I’ll never know what they wanted with me, because in my panicked state, I started yelling in schitzophrenic dholuo, using vocabulary I didn’t know I had. I don’t know exactly what I was saying, but one told the others that I was psycho and they scrambled away. I never did call that boy.
Not when I was pickpocketed, lost my ID, and went to the cop station for an abstract. Twice. Not when my brother was robbed of everything including his spoons. He went to the station with all his receipts and serial numbers and was told ‘Boss, hizo ni nyingi. Mtu hu-report kitu moja ama mbili.’
Not when our house was robbed at gunpoint by neighbourhood kids we could easily recognise. We were tied up, and after they left, we got free and called the cops. They arrived two hours later, banging on the now locked gate. When I finally got the courage to go open it, with my 2 month old baby in my arms, they laughed that I was too scared to open. ‘You thought the thieves had come back? They already took everything, why would they come back?’ Why was I scared? Well, you might know the Kenyan proverb for rude knocking, ‘Mbona unagonga mlango kama polisi?’
I have taught my child never to seek help from a cop. If she ever finds herself in a jam, she is to find a woman who looks safe and ask her to immediately call me. That’s how much I hate – and fear cops. So when I saw this picture, it hit me on a visceral level. But more than being upset and traumatised, I was puzzled. I couldn’t understand that photo. What was going on? The girl was clearly horrified, but he couldn’t have had any negative intentions … not with a camera that close.
I mean yeah, cops have impunity. The maim and kill and steal and worse. They teargas nursery schools and truncheon pregnant women. I’ve seen this happen. But they do it ‘in the dark’. When there are so many of them that all you see is a sea of uniform. When you’re alone and scared with no one to save you. When their serial numbers are hidden inside their sweaters. They don’t do it in the open. They’re not that brazen. So I was willing to accept that version of the story. That this big scary man with his big scary gun was trying to hurt a little girl in school uniform.
In the past, the media – especially international media – has taken disturbing (and award winning) pictures without getting involved. It was their duty to report, not to change the facts. Because, you know, time travel, butterfly effect, yadda yadda. Of course, journalists are human, so it does catch up with them eventually. So I’m glad that this time they – and the cops – intervened. They got those kids to safety.
I don’t trust cops any more than I did last week. I still wouldn’t tell my daughter to ask them for help. But this time … this time we were wrong. He was helping that girl, they all were. So stop spreading the lie. We’re divided enough as it is.
But but … what about this one? Nigga please. It’s called tear gas. Nkt.
♫ I Hate Everything About You ♫ Three Days Grace ♫
In 2007/8, I wasn’t in Nairobi. I was working in Dar, far from the mess and watching it all on CNN. Things always seem worse on foreign TV, and it was heartbreaking to watch. I was crushed, suffocated, terrified, but only in my mind. I can’t begin to say what it was like for Kenyans who were actually here.
I wrote a few ‘political pieces’ expressing how I felt and received a little hate mail. I lie. I received one idiotic comment. He said I should get off my high across-the-borders horse and come face the music at home. I responded on email, calmly telling him I hoped his country never experienced what my country was dealing with.
After that, a bunch of people thought I was political. I was added to ‘elections blog’ lists and my blog posts were brought up in offline meetings. After a while, I deleted those posts because I didn’t like the attention they were bringing. I didn’t like the person they made me out to be.
This time, as I type, I’m in Lang’ata. It’s pretty quiet here, but yesterday and the day before, I could hear tear gas canisters and see the smoke from my bedroom window. I listened for a while, feeling it was my ‘duty’ to ‘witness’. It felt immoral to drown the sound with loud music while people were being gassed in their homes 500 metres from where I sat.
But then my teenager said she was hungry and went to the kiosk to get weetabix for breakfast. She told me to relax. She says I probably have PTSD because every time I hear a bang, I feel as though someone is holding a gun to my head. She said if I didn’t calm down, I’d give myself a heart attack. So I got a big bottle of juice, a bigger bottle of booze, and turned the music up loud.
I’ve never seen myself as a Luo. In fact, I’ve been accused of reverse tribalism against my own people, because I criticise ‘our customs’ so vehemently and make it a point never to date my tribesmen. I guess because despite what all my friends say, how romantic and suave they think Luo men are, how sexy the language is, I’ve seen the other side … and it isn’t pretty.
Though in fairness, my baby’s father is Kikuyu, and he did the very things I avoid Luo men for doing. And so … to generalise isn’t very clever. It’s like a stereotype. It is a stereotype. But stereotypes start in truth, and as I’ve watched my tribesmen, my relatives, the men I’ve been exposed to, I find it safer to pick my mating partners from the other 41 (?) tribes.
And yet this is me. The ‘Least Luo’ Luo that I know, and I’m feeling my blood begin to boil. I am noticing that Jubilee protests are unmolested while Nasa ones end up with kids dead in balconies and cribs. I am seeing people told to stay at home if they don’t want trouble, only to hear of people dragged out of their houses and shot. I am seeing trouble in Ongwaro, Kayole, nowhere near ‘traditional hot spots.’
I am feeling myself begin to get radicalised. I find myself asking questions. Questions like … even though jang’os are clearly being targeted, we haven’t swung into 2007/8 territory. Does that mean Luos were never the problem, even back then? Does that mean us Luos and our stones and arrogance are beings scapegoated for a deeper, more sinister problem, and that we’re embracing the scapegoatism and running with it? Does that mean it’s time to finally push back, in any way I can?
Again, this is me, the least jang’o, least conforntational person I know. So what about the people that are already time bombs? The ones that overtly declare their hatred for kyuks? What about the people in Kibera who know that every election season, the cops will come form them. Every time, without fail. Will they not sit back on the 24th and 25th and think – logically – that this time they would be prepared? That this time they would be ready with more than just stones?
It does feel like someone is deliberately trying to rile us up. Us Kenyans. The past few months have felt like people are trying to re-light the fuse of 2007/8 but Kenyans keep blowing it out. In our own quiet ‘peaceful’ inadvertent ways, we’re quelling the flame before it gets started. And so the agitators are getting smarter.
‘Dark forces’ tried to ignite anger in Kisumu, Migori, Kibera, Mathare. Shooting an eight year old. Clubbing a 6 month baby. Teargassing nursery kids. Nothing doing. And now suddenly … Kawangware? Kayole? Places where despite clear tribal groupings, things have never gotten to the national radar. Why suddenly now? Isn’t this a tad too choreographed?
This is the problem with political huffing and puffing. For them it’s just a show, but for us, the spotlight is real. To the political inciters, it may just be a strategy, but real people get killed. Real homes burn down. Real hatred gets stoked. And those divisions will continue for centuries to come.
I have heard it said that when you don’t know, don’t speak. I have heard myself get shushed as a keyboard warrior, a privileged pundit, a politically clueless lout. I’ve also heard those big people in big houses say ‘tuko pamoja’. They’re just like me, protecting their families the best way they know how. For them, power is a right, and all they are doing is defending their right, so if you’re in the way, shauri yako.
Here’s the thing though. When their rights get trampled, they throw tantrums, maybe lose a little money. When they lose a political seat, they have expensive shit to fall back on. And visas. And helicopters. But when we lose our rights, we die. Our kids fight each other in school, at work, on the roads. Livelihoods are compromised.
I am Luo. I will not say proudly, because that’s not something I feel. But I do feel Luo. For the first time, I feel Luo. And that’s an empty descriptor, because while my Luo-ness only leaves a painful feeling in my gut, the Luo-ness of my brothers and sisters is getting their homes burned and their babies shot.
My dearest friends are Kikuyu, as are my favoruite lovers. My feelings for them haven’t changed, and I defend and protect them as dearly as my own. Because they are my own. They are my people. And yet … if I am suddenly feeling Luo, what about those who have lived it – proudly – their whole lives? How far will they be pushed before they fight back? Is it so strange that a lot of them already are?
I will be told it’s not just the Luos. I will be told it’s also the Kisiis and the Luhyas. I will be told I am flaunting the privilege of middle class-ness and feminism and majority tribe-ness. I will be told I am speaking from a point of emotion, that I should stick to my lane. I will be told I think too highly of myself, and that if I really care, I should put my body where my keyboard is. I should be on the streets, not on the screen. I will receive ridiculous, maybe even threatening responses. And I will say bring it. Bring. It. But beware, this bitch bites, usiseme hukuambiwa.
All that aside, here’s what I’m saying. When you push people, they push back. And even this Kenyan spirit of ‘accept and move on’ has its breaking point. I will say that we are pushing back on the wrong people. My Kikuyu lovers did not teargas nursery kids. My Kyuk landlord did not shoot up Kibera. My Kyuk best friends did not arm youth in Kawangware.
Speaking of Kawangware, it’s not about who started it or who will finish it. I can see Kikuyu business people being upset that their stores were torched, and calling in reinforcements. And I can see Luos feeling targeted and hitting at whoever it was that sat on their rights. What both sides can’t see is that they were all pushed and prodded and armed by big people with big money and big guns. And although few of these guys are online, and my words don’t matter to them, my words are what I have. They’re what I choose to use.
When all the shit is done, Kenya will still be here. I will still be here. My child will still have both Luo and Kikuyu blood in her veins. My lovers will still (mostly) be circumcised. And I will still surround myself with people who see past my tribe. Those of us who will be left, we will have to pick up, clean up, and keep moving.
I know that a lot of the online rhetoric comes from bots and influencers. I know this, because I’ve created some in the past, and I know the power they wield. I can’t do anything about the people on the streets, in their homes, or hiding behind uniforms.
But I can speak to anyone who’s reading, and I can say don’t react to the rhetoric. Do what you can do, even if all you can do is text a Luo / Luhya / Kamba / Kisii / Taita / Somali friend and ask them out for coffee after elections. Even if all you can do is tell them that between you, inside the ‘privileged space’ of WiFi and coffee houses, tribe and politics will not destroy your kinship.
And yes, some people will see this as an insult in itself. That people are burning and killing and dying and I think I can fix it with coffee. Well, I’m not on the streets. I’m here. And my people are here. And if all I can do is tell my people that they are still my people, then that’s what I will do. It’s not enough, but it’s what I will do.
In the meantime can we maybe look into changing the narrative? Take us Luos, Kyuks, and Kales out of the equation and let the ‘smaller tribes’ have a go at the top seat. Because honestly, I could do with a Dida presidency, just because. Aukot seems a little too political for the nation’s good, so let’s have the original githeri man for a little while. If nothing else, it’ll be a fun five years …