July 2008


On December 27th 2007 (my mom’s birthday, incidentally) Kenyans went out to cast a vote for their presidential candidate of choice. There was excellent turn-out at every polling station on the land. Voters went in droves.

People were the soul of patience some waiting beyond 4 hours to vote. At close of voting, at about 8 pm at some polling stations, we all went home to sit up and watch for the results that were being broadcast on every station – radio and Television – as they came.

Then things turned ugly. 28th – counting was still going on. 29th, counting continues, but no conclusive announcements made. Tension mounts. 30th, we’re out on the streets hurling stones at vehicles and police officers alike. House arrest. No one could safely leave their home or comfortably travel anywhere because of post-election violence.

It was all over the news. There was a quasi state of emergency. The politicians were screaming accusations at one another and the general public was hiding from angry, insulted youth. Why? Because of the unbelievable insult to the voters’ pride; and to quote the colourful language of a renowned African author, Prof. Wole Soyinka, we might say that the politicians and electoral commission (ECK) colluded to ‘defecate on the electoral process’.

So the local and international media was right. Kenya was burning. The situation was so incomprehensible to the global community. How does a peace broking nation go from calm to anarchy in such a short span of time?

This is the story that the media managed to salvage from the madness. But what did not come to light?

Guerilla warfare, resident versus resident.

In the looting mayhem that ensued, the looted observed that food was first priority of the looters, and then everything else. In the slum area, he who has food has all. So what did the looted resort to? Revenge. The food being looted was laced with rat poison (it is said that the looting would happen at supper time as the food was being prepared, and it would literally be carried off in the sufuria – cooking pot – fresh from the fire). The thieves would run off to eat the stolen food, only to succumb to a painful, writhing, mouth frothing death.

On the up side, the youth that saw this happen have vowed never to take part in such violence ever again.

Also unreported were the people that died of AIDS. As a result of lack of access to food, the infected living at IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps, suffered from the unbearable side effects of ARVs (Anti-Retroviral drugs) that they took without having eaten enough food. Then also the many that died as a result of interrupted consumption of ARVs. They fell ill and died, as the ARVs were no longer holding AIDS at bay.

What then of the newly infected as a result of rampant rape that happened in this period? What of the walking dead, so traumatized by the post election events that they’d rather be dead and are acting it?

These are the numbers that have gone unreported, the stories untold, un-remarked by the media and the population.

Our esteemed political leaders are making calls for return to business as previously usual. Amazingly, some of these said same politicians are looking ahead to the 2012 general elections, ‘campaigning’, no less. To what do we Kenyans owe such leadership? Perfidy!

Back to business as previously usual? I think not. We must appreciate that the fabric of our society was rent. The mending requires formation of new patterns to accommodate what has changed.

This is the very least we must work to make happen – a new, constructive weave to the fabric.

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My  house is developing a personality.

There was this lame light fixture that really used to irk me. It was just hanging there disfigured and broken.  One day, I asked myself:

I’m living single, aren’t I? A strong, self – assured, career oriented female, right? I studied pure Physics, did I not?And passed the subject too! Well then, what am I waiting for?

So, that very day, I bought my first set of tools. 2 screw drivers ( I wasn’t sure whether the screws were flat or star, so I bought one of each driver just in  case).  I also bought the replacement part.

As soon as I got home that evening, I dumped my bag, unwrapped the screw drivers and prepared to go to work.

Method:

1. Safety precaution no.1, make sure the light switch is off.

2. Find proper balance on bed board that’s acting as ladder.

3. Begin to unscrew, then, BZZZ! – Aarrggh! scream, drop screw driver, jump on bed. Just suffered electric shock. Results: shaky heart and tingly fingers.

4. Safety precaution no.2, switch off the mains.

5. Back to unscrewing. Remove the old dastardly lame bit.

6. Replace with new replacement bit. Screw into place.

7. Affix light bulb.

8. Switch on mains.

9. Try for power . . . and then there was light.

10. Voila, it is accomplished.

11. Now keep paying the electricity bill on time so that the light keeps keeping on.

Yeah. That’s me. Independent, electricity shocked handy-girl, living single.

Sometimes, the hunt is all about visiting your favourite book store and looking out for discounted books. At Keswick, on Kaunda Street, there is the 100 Shillings section. You would not believe – I could not either – I bought Nora Roberts’ ‘Northern Lights’ (hard cover copy) at 100 Shillings! Imagine getting an Alexander McCall Smith book at 300 Shillings from Bookpoint

The discount stores are also just as thrilling. Before its sad demise, Soko Ndogo was this female’s favourite haunt. I’d spend many a lunch time from work browsing their book section. Authors such as Meave Binchy, Amy an, Tami Hoag, Mary Higgins Clark, Alice Walker and hundreds of others graced their shelves. We the regular patrons were heart broken to see them shut down.

Some out of the way and ‘on the way’ book sellers also have tasty treats. There is the guy at Gikomba market – but this really has to be your lucky day, I got Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘Tears of the Giraffe’ and ‘Where the Heart is’ by Billie Letts on the same day, both in mint condition. There are the book exchangers of Tom Mboya street and Moi Avenie (they disappear once in a while if their council license expires). The Kimathi street vendor stocks magazines the likes of ‘The New Yorker’, ‘National Geographic’ among others.

These days my all time favourite book hunt is on the internet. It is so gratifying to get free e-books off the web. Some really rare books are on there, all “free-access” especially if I’m not paying to surf. . . I just google for the books and my search is rewarded with links to all manner of related books and subjects that I couldn’t conceive existed. So here’s to the Internet for Sun Tzu’s – The Art of War; Sayyid Qutb’s ‘Milestones’; James Allen’s ‘As a man Thinketh’; Khalil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’ and all other titles that interest me.

Book hunting is a thrill for any book lover, akin to that of bar hopping for beer lovers. It produces and eclectic cocktail of writers and literature.

So with my heart dancing Ndombolo ya solo in my chest, I go home well pleased. The book hunter’s day is done.

I wonder how many of us are out there. Being female, it is inevitable to suffer from shopping fever. It does not matter what form the fix takes – jewellery, shoes, hand-bags, clothes. . . if you’re female you’ve got it.

I must confess I am afflicted. Some days I wonder how it came about. Most days though, I could not care less. I simply love to read. In a great flash of wisdom, I figured out quite early that if I really want to have a 4 tier library in my dream home, I absolutely had to buy books over years in preparation. And so acquisition began – this is the story of a book hunter.

Books! Books! Anywhere. Everywhere.

While living in Ghana, I was too broke to buy much of anything. One thing I would not stint myself was book money. The cheapest book stores were never a glamorous affair – most were stalls in the streets of Accra. The books were dusty and well used, cast offs from other people’s libraries. They were books nonetheless.

I remember seeing this one book and thinking, “if I buy this, will I have tro-tro fare home to Orgle Road?” Then taking my aching feet’s fate in my hands, I purchased the book, walked all the way home, and to relax, I began reading. This was my first encounter with Maya Angelou’s – I know why the caged bird sings – it was brilliant! Totally worth the long walk home.

It sometimes feels like a book harvest. On my way home from Industrial area one day, I come across book sellers, at Muthurwa bus station, with their merchandise spread on a sack on the ground. They announce in sing-song voice:

‘50 bob, vitabu na hamsa

kweli hamsini

hata Webster dictionary mpya

mali yote na fifty

vitabu na hamsini’

I stop. “Oh wow, look! There’s CS Lewis’ –The Last Battle. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry . . . oh boy!” I can Only buy 4. “That’ll be 200 shillings missy!” I tell myself. Its mid-month and I’m courting brokenness, again. I’m clutching at 8 books. “Decisions! Decisions! Rosamunde Piltcher has to go. So must Sherlock Holmes. Why, oh why? This is utterly cruel, mateso bila chuki!

By the end of this, I have only parted with 4 books, having bought the ones I could not leave behind. I’ll try again next month when I have a little more money to spare. Hoping, of course, the book vendors will not have changed base.

…to be cont’d…