Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

My father is a tyrant. I don’t mean he acts like a tyrant or is tyrannical in nature. I mean he is an actual, modern day tyrant. Kalala isn’t a big island. 242 kilometers squared of rich well endowed land  surrounded by magnificent coastline. About 10 million total population. I won’t go into details about just how technically rich my country is. I say technically because 62% of my country’s population lives below the poverty line yet we are the biggest exporters of tea, coffee, pyrethrum, limestone, salt,the list goes on. Infant mortality rates are at an all time high at 26%  because the health care system isn’t even fit to treat rats. But what do I know, I live in the president’s palace where a man made dam sits on our back yard and the president’s clinic is a golf-cart ride away just past the president’s golf course on our front yard. 

I am 35 years old now.  I was  home schooled up until highschool then joined my country’s top university for my undergrad. I majored in Political Science, minored in Psychology. I was top of my class. To my father, failure isn’t permitted in his house. After that, I was shipped off on a private jet to an Ivy league university in the great United States of America,though to be honest, I didnt find much great about it. But that’s just me. 

The first time I went outside of the president’s palace without armed guards was when I was 19; my friends invited me to shopping then a party and I didn’t want the hassle of being stared at as my security lifts and throws people out of my way. ‘Fine dad, just one bodyguard and he has to blend in’. I was in a store, a clothing store and a child approached me. He couldn’t have been more than 8 years old. I turned to him and gave him my best diplomatic smile. He spit in my face. Your father is a monster and all of you will rot in hell! He said. All my life I had never seen a child so angry. His mother ran up to us frantically asking me to spare her son’s life. Why would she think I would kill an eight year old boy? I turned to my  bodyguard who was now holding up the boy by his belt. It all happened so fast all I could say was ‘It’s ok! It’s ok! let him go!’. The mother took the boy and ran. Suffice to say, my attendance to the party was canceled . I tossed and turned in bed that night. I could still feel the impact of the spit landing on my face and the words that cut through my skin. The next morning I went down stairs, past the ballroom, past my father’s library and study, straight to the kitchen. Sometimes I liked to make my own breakfast. The staff was watching something on TV. “Eight year old boy falls to his death off a 5 storey building.”” Parents nowhere to be found.” “Police rule it as an accident,”read the headlines. The police seargant complained that the building wasn’t up to code. That the poor child must have just slipped on debris and fallen. They put the photo of the boy at the end of the broadcast. I ran outside and threw up a breakfast I had not had. 

When I was twenty two, just before I was flown off to the land of the free,my father called me into one of his home offices in the east wing. He motioned me up to him, up to the president’s seat, the one made of pure gold; also one of our biggest exports. The cushioning of the seat was custom made. It felt like what I suppose it would feel if you could sit on a cloud. No one had sat on that seat except him for the last 21 years and no one would until his death or until he decrees it so, whichever came first. He said he had watched me and my 11 siblings grow through the years and he was proud of each of us; even one of my elder brothers who went to live on an island in the Carribean, something about minimalismminimalism or staying true to the universe or whatever. Your brother was soft, I blame your step mother for all of it. No matter, I have ten more where he came from. He laughed at his own joke; a deep thunderous laugh that I think portrayed more pain than humor. He told me he wanted me to deliver a package; it will be with one of his security officers but that I was the one to take it to the door and put it in some woman’s hands. Easy enough. I thought. At exactly two thirty that afternoon I was summoned to the door, got into one of the armored cars and we drove off. I wasn’t ready for what happened next. 

When we got to the house; a mansion with perfectly manicured lawns, a fountain right on the parking lot and a huge wooden door with a golden door knob. My security ushered me to the front. I rang the bell. A woman opened. Her eyes were puffy and red and her hair messy. She wore blue sweat pants and a T-shirt with the Kalala flag on it. She looked very familiar. I said Hallo and stretched out my hands to hand over the parcel. The woman fell to the floor and started wailing. “Why are you doing this to us?!” “You have killed us!” Her voice and her words would haunt me for years to come. The security men forcefully stood her up and told her to take the package. That her family gotten what they deserved. My hands were shaking now; I just wanted to leave that place. It was a silent ride home. I knew better than to ask the bodyguards what that was about. When we got home I quickly ran to my room, got on my laptop, switched on my VPN and entered a name on the search engine. The woman’s face came up. “Governor’s wife says they will not stop searching for her husband. Pleads to the president to then just give her his body to bury.” The story was much worse than the headline. The police had laid siege on the governor’s property for three weeks. They had cut off the water, electricity even the  sewer system; nothing was allowed in or out of the compound. After twenty two days, the governor finally surrendered himself to the mercy of the government asking only that his family be spared. There was a leaked video of the whole thing on one of the ‘forbidden websites’. I have never seen a man cry like that.

 Akili was the only bodyguard I really trusted. He had started with perimeter-patrol detail but recently promoted to my mother’s detail. I found him outside in one of the parking lots washing my mother’s car. No one was allowed to touch the cars except the president and members of the security team of 53. I had to know what was in the box. You don’t want to know. He told me. But I just asked again and again. He explained that It’s called the ‘President’s Gift’. When someone wrongs the president or the president’s family or the president’s clan in whatever way, the guilt is on that person’s whole family.  Said person is given a chance to plead his case to the commander in chief which is really just a formality as the president at that time has already determined the ‘culprit’s’ fate. In special circumstances the family would be spared and can leave with just their lives and the clothes on their backs. Everything else is seized by the government as ‘evidence’ and whatever the government doesn’t keep is auctioned off in a secret auction open only to the president’s inner circle. Here is the gory part. The box is a sign that the president has pardoned the family and contains a body part of the ‘culprit’. It could be and ear, a finger, lips; whatever really depending on the message the president wants to send the family. The part is put in a black gift box that has the Kalala flag printed on one side and the president’s seal on the top. Once you get the gift, you have exactly 72 hours to clear out of the island; your photo and that of each of your family members is posted on every wall, in every office, in every newspaper and TV station in the country. You are never to set foot in Kalala ever again. It’s considered an act of mercy really. Akili finished.

 I regretted ever asking. I stayed in my room that night and the rest of the week just pouring through the internet reading stories upon stories of everything my father had allegedly done. Each one worse than the last. None of it was in the local news of course. 

I wondered why he sent me to that house. He must have known I would find out everything else. He’s always told me I can be annoyingly inquisitive sometimes. I kept it to myself nonetheless. I left for the US two months after that. On the flight, after saying goodbye to a man I could no longer look in the face, I spent 12 hours promising myself that I will never again set foot in Kalala. 

But here I am, 13 years later; Minister of Patriotism and Development.
End of part 1….

Love or rather being in love is a beautiful but deadly force. It goes into the very depths of your soul. Your spirit holds on and your body yearns for that one touch. That daily dose of closeness and intimacy that is only yours. And when you don’t get your fix, you have chilling episodes where you can feel the pain crawling on your skin like a caterpillar leaving a trail of allergens all over you. I’m not making sense I’m I? And such is the concept of love.

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But lust, well lust is much simpler. It starts with the eyes. Sometimes with a voice in the next room. Sometimes with a scent that whiffs past you on the street and somehow sticks to your clothes. Sometimes with a touch, even just a slight graze. He sat too close to me in the matatu. Maybe on purpose? I don’t think so. The PSV was packed to the brim with a few people standing on the aisle. It was raining and water was sipping through the hinges on the window and onto his seat. He shifted to my side slightly and some water dripped from his wet umbrella onto my grey pants and some onto my black boots. He apologized. I said it was fine. It was more than fine. He paid my fare, citing the ‘inconvenience’ he had caused me. Wawili (two). He said to the conductor. He held up two fingers,left hand, his index and his middle. There was no ring on the third. Don’t ask me why my mind chose to emphasize that fact and write it in bold but I think you know. Veins, well defined, criss-crossed the back of his hand and disappeared under his black Calvin Klein watch and then under the sleeve of his leather jacket. He checked the time and sighed. Late for work? I asked him. I needed more words from that beautiful mouth with a hint of a beard. Yeah, but I got my friend to open the studio so it should be fine. He answered. An artist! My legs squeezed together. Reflex. It wasn’t just the streets getting wet. The prospect of discovering someone’s art, a stranger nonetheless has always enticed me. It’s like going on an adventure in some virgin island. You know you might find mosquitoes the size of your hand or get bit by a 6 foot snake no one’s ever seen before or fall of a cliff and into quick sand but the thrill of spending even just a few minutes discovering new beauty is just too alluring to pass up. I digress.

Traffic was a mess, bumper to bumper.

Two posh cars were in the middle of the road, not moving. There was some kind of a minor accident. Neither drivers had come out to even look at the damage. Maybe they didn’t want to get their designer suits and shoes wet just for a minor scratch. The irritated police officer just made sure they exchanged insurance information and waved them through. Excuse me. My seat partner said and pointed toward the aisle. He was alighting at the next stop. Nooo! I wanted to scream. Instead I  moved my legs to the side and gave him way. Sorry again. He quickly said and walked down to the door. I watched him move like you’d watch a baby taking their first steps, soaking in every moment. Weird analogy, I know, but you get my point. I probably was never going to see him again. Not physically anyway. But in my dreams; Yoh! On a horse going to war for his kingdom; Or in a blacksmith’s stall beating hot metal into submission ; Or on the beach,shirtless,sweaty,bringing in his catch; Or in a wizard’s den mixing potions and calling on powers above and below.  I have strange dreams(fantasies) sometimes. But such is the concept of lust, it lingers on, it evolves, it sticks onto you until your eyes latch on to another.

Intimacy is yet another complex entity. Into Me See. Closeness. Not necessarily romance as many believe. Just the very act of allowing another or a few into the most intricate parts of your life, your heart, your mind, your being. it transcends social rules and norms of relating, spits on them sometimes actually. You slide in gradually. It’s never forced, never coerced,never shoved down your throat and always years to be reciprocated. You see her/him/them and it’s an instant connection. She’s out of your league. She’d never be friends with you. You know how awkward you get around new people. Remember how that one time someone said they liked your pen and because you were crushing on them you went ahead and bought them a whole set of assorted pens, matching pencils and marker pens and a matching set of scribbling pads?

Plus, she’s really serious. Looks very together and you are a mess. She’ll never give you a second look. Crap! She just did. Well, smile back you idiot! Don’t just stand there. Oh my, now she’s walking towards you. Can we take a photo together? She asks. Yeah sure. You mumble back. I mean, we,are at an art exhibition anyway and they are allowing photography and it’s raining outside so it’s not like we are going anywhere and we both look pretty good, not that I was looking or staring just that when you were walking toward me you were in my line of sight and …..Geez! Stop rambling and just pose! You tell yourself when you realize you’ve been talking for 3 straight minutes and She’s been waiting for you to finish so y’all can take that photo. You go home that night reliving that moment over and over. You text that you got home ok. You have a long, unexpected chat. You sleep with a smile on your face. You are convinced that that night is the start of a long and beautiful friendship (something). Come over for lunch sometime,her last text said. Sure, I can cook a mean fried chicken, actually any type of chicken, chicken is my middle name. You text back then realize that you just called yourself ‘chicken’. Lunches,dinners, sleep covers, out of town camping trips,long chats, ridiculously long calls,family visits. Soon you realize, there is nothing about you that this person does not know. Even those deep dark secrets that wake you up in the middle of the night. Even the weird stuff like how sometimes on your way to work in the morning you kinda wish you’d get slightly hit by a small car so you’d just break a leg because you really hate your job and you just need a two-month “accidental” break from it and life in general. Bffs,soulmates,peas in a pod, birds of a feather, flocking all over town painting things red and mixing in other colors in the process. Always defining and redefining what levels of intimacy you are on or going on. Like I said, it’s complex. Mix it in with love and eish, that’s a roller-coaster ride you never want to get off from.

Until it ends and then..heartbreak. But that’s a story for another day. For now, enjoy the ride.

 

“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality”

– Lucius Annaeus Seneca

He turned off the alarm, pushed his black Egyptian-silk sheets to the side and sat at the edge of his custom made mahogany king-sized bed. He looked back to the other side of the bed, it was rough too. He tries to sleep on both sides now. He looked up to the ceiling

“Get out of bed

Brush your teeth

Take a shower

Get dressed and go to work

It’s a beautiful day!”

Those were the words written on the poster his therapist had advised he have made. He glued it top the ceiling above his bed so it would be the first thing he saw when he woke up. That was his mantra. He lifted himself off the bed, at least it took less time now. He walked into the bathroom, turned on the hot shower and tried to scrub the nightmares away.  He dressed up in his navy blue Armani suit, and as he fastened his tie in front of the mirror, he felt the loneliness start to creep in.

“Not today, not today, not today” he mumbled to himself repeatedly and quickly walked to his sock drawer. He can’t stop moving, helps to shut out the voices in his head. He has a quick breakfast, leaves instructions for his housekeeper and gardener on the platinum double door fridge and walks out to the garage, gets into his black, Audi Q7, opens the garage door and drives out. He is grateful for the buzz of traffic and a city awake.

Before, just a few years ago actually, he couldn’t wait to get home, now he worked overtime every day and spends the better part of the night having drinks or barbecue with his boys. They were his rock. Without them, he would have jumped off that bridge a while ago.  Therapy was working well and he had found faith somehow.  He prayed a lot. He still thought about her. Four years of history is hard to let go especially because of how she left and the mess she left behind. The mess he had been cleaning up for a whole year now.

Theirs wasn’t a story with happy ending but it had a beautiful albeit quick beginning. They had met in college where they were both pursuing master’s degrees in different fields.  It wasn’t love at first sight, far from it actually. He hated her, well hate is a strong word though that is what he felt for her now, back then it was more dislike. He should have stuck to his gut feeling but he was in a dark place back then which probably wasn’t the right time to get into any relationship but especially not with her.

He had lost his mother a few months before they met. She had died in her sleep. The autopsy said it was a brain aneurysm. There was nothing anyone could have done. At the funeral, Shaka had stayed back as everyone left for home. He fell to his knees beside the freshly filled grave and wailed. She was a mean soul but he loved her to her dying breath. His father had run off with another woman when Shaka was just 11 years old. He had left Shaka, his baby sister then only 3 years old and their mother alone. They weren’t destitute; she was a career nurse, doing well at a local private hospital. They lived in a nice house which they owned and lacked nothing, nothing but the warmth of love. His father had left him something, something Shaka wished he could scrape off; his face. Since he was a baby, everyone knew who his father was. He had his eyes, his nose, his jaw even his hairline. He truly was his father’s son. At the beginning this was something he drove great pride from because even as a child because everyone around him would make such a big fuss of it. But then that night came when an eleven year old boy’s life was turned upside down.

It was late but Shaka had always been a light sleeper. He heard his parents arguing, it was loud and pretty heated. As a curious kid of course he went out of his room to eavesdrop. His sister was asleep in her room. He walked to the staircase and sat on the top step. He could see both of them in the hall way downstairs. They were both very angry, screaming over each other like they were competing who could scream loudest. He had never seen either of them this angry.  At the time, he couldn’t really understand what was going on exactly. They would always fight in their bedroom if ever and even then, it would be in hush hush tones.

“Wacha iishe basi! (Let this end then!)” He heard his father say.

“ Sawa! (Fine!) Kwani wafikiri tutakufa ukienda kwa huyo malaya wako?!(You think we will die if you ran off with that prostitute?) his mother shouted back.

Shaka saw his father walk toward the staircase. It was too late to run to his room. His father stared at him for a few seconds at the bottom step, sighed then rushed up the stairs to their bedroom. Shaka ran to his room. A few minutes later, he heard a door bang shut, someone going down the stairs and the front door open and bang shut. He ran to the window and looked outside. As his father walked up to his car, Shaka silently willed him to turn around. Maybe if he saw his grief-stricken son’s face he would come back. He did turn around, their eyes did meet, he did see the tears fall down Shaka’s face but he did not come back. Shaka never saw his father again and his mother, well, any specks of gentleness she had left walked right out the door with that man. Shaka knew she tried so hard to shield them from the darkness that slowly crept over her over the years that were to follow and so he always tried to be a good boy. His sister tried too. They both did exceptionally well in school, did all their chores on time and essentially just stayed out of their mothers way. The hugs, the ‘I love yous’, they all stopped soon enough and all that remained when a little boy and a little girl hugged their mother was a quick pat on the back and instructions for the next day’s chores. After a while, they all just stopped trying.

Now as Shaka watched his woman walk away, he racked his brain trying to figure out what he had done to make her leave. It must have been his fault somehow. People don’t just leave, right?

End of part one…..

 

 

 

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I went for an RA meeting last week.  We meet twice a month because two weeks is all it takes for some of these guys to fall hopelessly in love; me included. We share war stories about grand-gestures gone wrong and romance stories we have enacted in real life that should have been left in rom-coms and romance novels of the damsel in distress and prince charming kind. This one guy, for Valentine’s day, because his girlfriend once mentioned that she would love to go to Paris, the poor fellow, unable to afford to take them on a trip to Paris went ahead and built a model of the city, Eiffel tower and all, just for her. That thing took him a total of three months to complete. He you-tubed the heck out of it. He really should have stopped there but of course he didn’t. Hopeless romantics never just stop at the one grand gesture. It’s all about the series of gestures that would lead up to the ultimate grand gesture. Bigger is always better.  So for dinner he takes her to this fancy French restaurant in a leafy suburb an hour drive away, gets a table by the pond and has a violinist play for them as they ate food that he ordered in fluent French. The guy couldn’t even say ‘Bonjour’ just a few months ago! What does he get in return you ask? A generic ‘happy valentine’s day’ card and a tie. A flippin’ tie! It wasn’t even one of those fancy knitted ties the cool guys wear nowadays, that he actually likes. Nah; the lady just got one off the street that cost like 200bob at most. It was black with grey stripes. Yes, he wore it to the meeting because we love to make points. We all burst out laughing at the end of his share, mostly because we would have done the same thing in his place. We advise him to stick to chocolates and teddy bears next time and maybe an Eiffel tower key ring but we all know we’ll be seeing a model of New York City next time because he said she mentioned that that was another place she would love to visit. I can’t wait to see what colour tie he gets next year.  I saw a few people taking notes while he spoke. We are truly hopeless romantics.

The next share was from another fellow. Now this one was downright hilarious. So this guy (let’s call him Mike) has a girlfriend, now fiancée that he’s been dating for about three months. Yes, three months is enough to date and get engaged and get married for a romantic. Their wedding was in two weeks. Who needs months or years of courtship and planning? When you know, you know.  In their defense, they did know each other briefly in high school. I use the term ‘know’ loosely because Mike just kind of saw her perform a narrative at a drama festival; chatted her up, got her name and school address and proceeded to send her love notes for three months straight, every week, like clockwork. Of course he used the flowery writing pads, and splashed his cologne on every envelope. He only got one letter back. The girl soon transferred to another school and didn’t give Mike the new address so they lost touch and reconnected just last year. You should have seen Mike at the meeting after they reconnected. “I found her guys, she must be the one!” He announced. We tried to caution him to take it slow because he didn’t know where the girl stood or even if she was available but he hit us with a “You know the saying guys, If you love something, set it free, if it comes back, marry it!” We laughed through the whole meeting and congratulated him on his upcoming nuptials. We all knew he was going to propose soon.

So on this random day he takes his girl out on a date. We romantics don’t know special occasions or holidays, we pretty much just smother you with love all year round. I don’t use the term ‘smother’ loosely. She had mentioned in passing that she had always loved camel rides down at the coast, on the beach, when she was a kid so of course Mike went ahead and hired a camel for the day. They went to a park where camel rides could be made available at the request of the visitors. They were at the gate waiting for said camel because the park has you sign a release form incase anything goes wrong and you have to pay a small caution fee. As the camel was arriving, this bike-rider (bodaboda) started taunting the animal. He roared his engine loudly and even tried to run it off the road. I kid you not; the camel kicked the guy off the bike and sat on his face! The camel’s caretaker quickly came to the idiot’s aid and got the camel to calmly get off his face. The bike-rider had to apologise to the camel from a safe distance. I have never seen a man so embarrassed. Camels don’t play. Suffice to say no one rode on that camel that day so they had a picnic together instead, fed it apples and petted it. Some of children who were at the park also came in to join the fun. It was delightful and a definite win for Mike; his girlfriend said she had never laughed that hard in her life.

I won’t be able to attend Mike’s wedding but I can’t wait to hear stories. We all know ‘grand’ doesn’t even begin to describe what he has in store. Why bother getting wedding ideas from wedding magazines or watching wedding shows or hiring a wedding planner when all you really need is a romantic to dream up your wedding from start to finish. You might have to scale it down a bit but you can be sure it will be like nothing you’ve ever heard or seen before and it will blow everyone’s mind.

Those were the only two shares we had time for that evening but they were more than enough. I like going for the support group meetings; they help me understand I’m not crazy, I’m just a loving human person who chooses to show love in outrageous ways sometimes; and that’s ok.

RA sayings:

  • * Bigger is always better
  • * When you know, you know
  • * If you love something, set it free, if it comes back, marry it!
  • * Camels don’t play