Sunday, 31 January 2016

Fancy Some Peace and Quiet in a Billionaire's House?

Fancy some peace and quiet? 

You might just interested in visiting this house

It has its roots in the colonial era
At one time the home of a billionaire spy chief... was once the setting of intrigues that would lead to the assumption of office of  a president. Yes, it was!
With fine wooden fixtures...

...leather furniture... 

...and beautiful chandeliers to boot... is hard to tell that this was once the home of a man both revered and feared,  in equal measure.
 With the shroud of mystery now lifted...

 ...the house is now open to you and I...

It is now known as the The Sovereign Suites, in Limuru
Set next to a lake and surrounded by greenery... is a quiet...


...and outright interesting place to spend a day...
If you are seeking some peace and quiet, like I was... would most certainly enjoy your visit
Lying by the pool, I felt like I was at the backyard of my own private home

Yes there is a bar. This is not a monastery, my friend :-)

Yes, you can thank me later for sharing this piece of heaven with you. And, No I was not paid to put up this piece. They ought to though, with the tonnes of free publicity I have given them.  Better yet,  how about you pay back or pay forwrad.  

 If you want to buy me a cuppa...

If you want to join me in my next swim, I will only be too willing to oblige...

Did you like this piece? Please let me know of any beautiful and unique places in this city. I will visit and hopefully feature them in my next article. All credit will go to you, of course. 

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Taking Stock; Three Years Later

I always thought that I would grow up to be a travel writer - explore the world, immerse myself in a culture so much different from my own and probably marry a beautiful exotic girl. While it hasn't quite played out as expected, it has most certainly been a remarkable experience.

Three years ago, this month, I said kwaheri to my employer. To say that I had enjoyed my stint there would be an understatement. I loved it! The people there were beautiful folks who are committed to their profession. With them, I felt like I was part of a family. I also  learnt so much there and I will always be grateful.

Even in the best of places, there comes a time when the feeling that one needs to move on to other things, becomes overwhelming. Just over two and a half years into my tenure, I came by an opportunity and I felt that if I needed to grow,  I could not pass it up.  I handed in my resignation and oblivious of what lay ahead, left to pursue other interests.

To be frank with you, during that period of transition, though hopeful about my future prospects, I was also mindful of the reality of what lay ahead. I like to refer to it as an ‘Obama Moment,’ that moment when you are happy on one hand but on the other, aware that you have to confront new and probably bigger challenges.

In a few days, I mark my three year anniversary, since I made that leap of faith one cold January morning. While it has certainly not been a gravy train, it has been worth it. Never in my wildest dreams would I have dreamed that I would serve in the way that I have. It has been a great blessing indeed.

Yes, I have had some bad days! Yes, I have made some mistakes! Yes, I have borne doubts, sometimes! This is true for all of us, and I am no exception. But the good days and the lessons that I take away from the last three years are some of the things that make the journey worthwhile.

I frankly do not know what the future holds. What I know is that as imperfect as I am, I have been blessed immensely. Although I fall short on so many accounts, I endevour to be a faithful servant, a good son, a loyal friend and a diligent worker.  I am indebted to a lot of people.

They say that the future is an interesting place to look back from. If I live to be as old as my Sokoro, Bonface Rioba Machera, or my Goko Catherine Mukuria, I hope that I will somehow have fulfilled my purpose here - whatever that may be. I continue to dream, to hope, to aspire to be the best I can be.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

What I Have Learnt

Human beings  are a work in progress that mistakenly think that they are finished.  I can't agree more. In certain ways, you can compare our progression through life to water. This is because if you look at the larger scheme of things, just like water in a jar, we are continuously trying to find our place.  As a result of this  recalibration, our attitudes, values and beliefs  tend to change.

But even with these expected changes,  life has taught me that deep down,  at the core of every single individual, there are certain constants – those values and beliefs that do not change with the passage of time. It is these things that define us and differentiate us from other people. In fact, they help to define who we are as individuals.

What are those constants? What defines me as an individual? What do I stand for? What do I believe in?  What keeps me centered? To answer these questions, based on my experience and borrowing from the lessons that I have  learnt thus far, I sought to put it all together  in ‘What I Have Learnt’ 

Just because we do not understand certain things does not mean that they do not exist. Call it what you may but from the smallest things  around us to the much more complex miracles of nature, it is true that there is a greater power at play. God does not play dice and there are no coincidences. 

Politics is many things to many people. For most of us, it is a way to acquire power for power’s sake and with it, the trappings that come with high office. But politics should be anything but that. Good politics should be inclusive and transformational, a tool to create positive influence in the lives of ordinary folks. 

Family is that imperfect  group of people that give meaning to life. They keep us grounded and centered. They are those few that we care so much about, yet sometimes those that worry us the most - and for obvious reasons.  We do not chose family but with all their faults and imperfections, they are those special people that to us, represent a piece of heaven. 

Education and by extension learning,  is a continuous process that lasts a lifetime. Ask anyone from a modest background who has made anything of themselves and they will confide that education (not necessarily formal education) is an equalizer. They say that if you think education is expensive, try ignorance. 

In the words of the scriptures, they who kneel before God can stand before man. Though not quite relevant in this context,  these words  nonetheless speak to a certain disarming power of this virtue. I have seen and I know about occasions where persuasion has been more effective and thus achieved more,than coercion ever could.   

I believe that you don't live once. Rather, you live every second, every moment, of every day. Nothing captures this more than this simple phrase; live not for battles won, live  not for the end of the song, live for the along. In the end, no matter how long your journey through life is, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, 'it is not the years in your life that count, rather what counts is the life in your years.' 

A friend once wrote to me saying, 'chance and mischance happens to all - make use of yours while they still are.' In life, there are certain opportunities that present themselves. These happenings have the ability to change the trajectory of our lives, sometimes permanently. But they don't call them windows of opportunities for nothing. Just as easy as they open sometimes, these windows can close just as fast. 

An erudite scholar often said  that, 'the path of duty is the way to glory.' For his whole adult life, he had dedicated his time and effort to a singular goal - the education of poor bright boys from underprivileged backgrounds. He believed in this cause and he worked hard. So he would certainly know what he meant when he told his charges that there is no substitute for hard work.  

I have read The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari three times now, never mind that I can barely  remember most of what I read. One thing that I remember though, call it my take home message if you will, is the power of positive thinking. According to the author the quality of our lives is determined by the quality of our thoughts. In this regard, who we are and what we become - is to a great degree - a physical manifestation of our innermost thoughts. 

Remember Jesus, the one who was born in Nazareth. Yes, that one! He couldn't possibly have done anything wrong. Yet, He had haters! In life, we will sometimes offend certain people. But this is mutual because certain people will REALLY offend us as well.  However, regardless of the reason, there is little use in keeping grudges. There is a certain power that we take back when we forgive and let go, thus what I like to call the redemptive power of forgiveness.  

Human beings are inherently good. With that said, it is not lost to me that just as man has a great capacity to do good, he has  an equally great capacity to do evil. Call me naive but I believe that the world is all the more better if we all strive to do good. Think about it, you pick a kid in your old  Volkswagen beetle in some God-forsaken country.  Decades later, that once obscure kid, now president of the free world, lets you hitch a ride in his limousine.  Ok, I digress. Fact is, that although you will do good, you will not always have the favour returned. Do good anyway. 

I like to think of life as a book. Each word is a deed, each phrase is an experience and each paragraph is a chapter in our lives. Now, unlike in a book, we are given the power to rewrite certain chapters in our tale. We are given the freedom to do with our lives that which which is pleasing to our hearts. With this freedom however, comes responsibility and with it, possibility.  Think about a clay artisan with a fresh mould of clay. Life at its best and at its worst is a lesson in the immense power of possibility.

To be continued....

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Maybe Owning an Old Car is Not Too Bad After All

I drive an old car, call it a bucket on wheels, if you will. My sister calls it a Cop Magnet. Let me explain. When I first acquired it, to put it modestly, the car had its best days behind it. At the time, it was a bright orange in colour. Invariably, because of it's distinct colour and overall condition, it always tended to draw the wrong sort of attention, mostly from eager cops out to make a quick buck. 

As it turns out, it is not only the cops that have an opinion about my car. My girlfriend, while always insisting that I dispose it off,  believes that the car is older than I am. When we initially started dating, she always insisted that I put a tint on the windows. I doubt that it has anything to do with the sun. My friend on the other hand once quipped that 'the car does not fit your image,' whatever that means. My dad on his part, says rather supportively, 'at least you have a car.' :-) Thank you dad.

Initially, whenever we spoke on the phone, he would ask, "How is your Mercedes?' (never mind that it is actually a Toyota). I think each time I said, it's okay daddy, he was somewhat surprised that it was still on the road but inwardly proud that the car was still running. After all, it is my first car and I bought it from him at a modest price. It therefore has sentimental value for both of us.

But what do I think? Well, I like my Prado (that's what I call it), mostly for practical purposes. After all, it gets me from point A to point B and it has, to a great part, been kind to me. Save for the time three tires had a flat on a trip to Magadi. Or that time that the battery went flat right on the edge of the same lake and my girlfriend had to push it to kick-start it. Or the time the clutch system failed and I had to sleep in some god forsaken town. Or that time that the leaking carburetor ran out of water and the car stalled right next to parliament. 

To be honest with you, there are times that other people's thoughts about my car have given me reason to pause and tell myself, 'maybe it's time I disposed it off.' Other than the sentimental value that the car holds for me, and my family, I do not wish to dwell on the other reasons that I acquired it and that I keep it, in the first place - and they are surprisingly many. Nonetheless, it is worth noting some lessons that are not lost to me, as an old car-owner.

If you own an old car, one thing that you learn very early is the parts of the car, how they work and how to fix them. Initially, just after I had acquired the Prado, it had a recurrent problem with the clutch system. I called a fundi, who fixed it. Unfortunately, the problem surfaced again. I took it to a second mechanic who fixed it. Three days later and having spent a small fortune, the problem came back again. 

A little frustrated, my next stop was google. Based on my previous observation and convinced that I knew what the problem was, I went out and bought a toolkit. I got off my shirt, wore an old pair of trousers and got under the hood. Four hours later, after a lot of fumbling, sweating and after a trip to a local parts dealer at Industrial Area, I managed to replace the slave cylinder and the master cylinder. Its six months and counting, the problem has not recurred since.

If you own an old automobile, another thing that you learn early is caution. There are things that you will do that new car owners tend to ignore. Yes, and for obvious reasons. For instance, you will always tend to keep a distance from other cars in traffic. Another thing is that despite how fast you car can drive, you somehow tend to drive a lot slower. You don't want to be doing 120KPH on the highway and all of a sudden, right ahead of you is your front tire veering away from the car. 

An old car, in a sense always always tends to refocus your priorities. Let me explain. There is always the excitment of owning a car. If it's a new whip, the initial excitment is over the top. For most of us young'uns, and I know that I am generalizing here, we will aways tend to show off our new acquisition. We are wired to seek recognition and acceprance.

Those first days, with your new wheels, you might end up ferrying your pals for Masaku Sevens or drive down for The Great Rift Valley Festival. Unless you have deep and well lined pockets, not counting the cost of accommodation and entertainment, the subsequent dent caused by fueling the car would be considerable. For most of us, old car owners, I doubt you would find our old station wagons or dated pickups parked at Blankets & Wine any time soon.

I once had a friend who referred to his car as a Pussy Magnet. Well, I am not sure that he was referring to the nice, cuddly bundles of fur that nested on the warm bonnet of his spaking new german machine. With an old car, while you are likely to find an occassional cat sleeping soundly on your bonnet, you are less likely to attract the wrong sort of attention, unless it is from the cops ofcourse.  

Referring to my car, a friend once told me goodnaturedly that, 'if your girlfriend let's you drive her in that car, she will probably marry you.' Well, I am not sure about that one. One thing I know for sure is that although my Prado isn't the best thing I have ever owned, it has certainly given me some of the most memorable moments in recent times.Maybe it isn't so bad to own an old car afterall?

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Of Football, Rugby & Being Different

When we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free - Charles Hughes

It's late in the evening and I am seated by the poolside in my neighborhood, watching the HSBC Sevens World Series.  I love the game, but I am no fanatic. I watch sevens mostly because Kenya is in the series. I am always rooting for the boys, something that somewhat appeals to my patriotic side. 

This weekend in London, although this is not our best performance we are faring on relatively well. We beat Japan early today, with Collins Injera, the Kenyan speedster, marking a milestone with his 200th try - what will later be referred to as a very costly try.  
Soccer Vs. Rugby
Later, we would annihilate Samoa - once a team to reckon with in the series . We are now playing Argentina in the Bowl Finals. Although this is mostly a face-saving contention for us, the boys are looking good with real prospects of winning.  Suddenly, someone changes the channel and on the screen is Arsenal  Vs. Manchester United.

At that moment, I am upset, and  understandably so. For starters, there are plenty of screens at the property (at the poolside alone, where I am seated, there are 3 screens) and I would expect that for anyone who cares little for the English Premier League, they would at least screen the rugby game on one of the screens.

Competitive and exciting
It takes me a few minutes of arguing to get my screen ‘restored.’ More interestingly though, as I was trying to make my case as best as I know how (I have patronized the property all weekend, just for the rugby) I realize that I am the only one remotely interested in the sevens game, never mind that the Kenyan game is currently ongoing with the boys at the cusp of a win.

Forget the idiosyncrasies of the EPL, how would you explain that the 'whole world' is in love with soccer? Yes, I am sure that the EPL is competitive. Yes, I have no doubt that it is exciting.  Yes, I can not argue that it is well put together. I am sure that lovers of the game (what I would otherwise call fanatics), can go on and on extolling the virtues of the game and by extension, the league itself.  However,  as far as I am concerned, the popularity of the game speaks to savvy marketing (remember Mayweather Vs. Pacqiao). Such is the success of their marketing strategy that in comparison to a game of rugby featuring the Kenyan team, mine was just but a lonely voice. 

Secondly, and I go out on a limb here, it also speaks to the human quest for distinctiveness. Ironically, in our quest to be different we have become the same. As such, by supporting Chelsea or Manchester United,  rather than being different from those who support Arsenal or Manchester City we have all become the same in so far as the love of football in general and the EPL in particular, is concerned.

How many times has someone walked up to you and  asked you what team you support, right off the bat? Have you gotten so tired of the question that you ‘adopted’ a team, just so that you would get along and avoid ruining the moment? Always great hearing from you.


Monday, 25 May 2015

Should you Delete Your WhatsApp or Facebook Account?

In the last few weeks, a number of events have taken place that have brought to question the effect of social media in our lives. There is no doubt that more than any other time, we are more connected than ever.  However, what is its real impact on our relationships? Has it helped to enhance the quality of our lives or has it taken away from them, altogether?

If you get the sense that a while a while ago, whenever you were confronted by a situation where you were required to help, you were more compelled to do so than you are now - you are probably right. I hate to admit it but the truth is, whereas I still relate deeply to events in the lives of other people, and while I am sympathetic to their causes,  the same things that would ordinarily be a call to action do not elicit the same effect that they did a few years ago.

Lost capacity to empathize
At face value, one might argue that our capacity to empathize with other people and their situation has diminished over time. However, could it be argued that we (yes, I believe that I speak for other people as well)  haven’t changed at all. Rather,  what has actually changed is how we relate to the sheer volume of information that we receive, and by extension, how it is presented to us. 

On any given day, if you are connected to a smartphone, as most of us are, you are inundated with a lot of messages. Unlike a few years ago when this was limited to selected medium, when you have not been inboxed, tagged or copied, someone has probably shared something with you.

At the end of the day, when you have been continuously swarmed with a barrage of mostly impersonal messages - where a like, share, retweet or LOL would suffice - it is understandable that whenever a serious personal message comes through, it tends to slide through the cracks and doesn't portend a sense of urgency or carry as much weight as it otherwise would. 

The more we touch, the less we are touched
There are lot of ways of explaining this. However, the best way to do so is to compare  communication with art - the more copies of a piece become available, the lower its value. Therefore,  producing large quantities of information, even on personal media, takes away that 'personal touch.' In a sense, the more people we touch, the less they are touched." Based on my own experience, I couldn't agree more. It is a  fact that with advancement in technology, there are fundamental changes expected in how we relate to each other. This can not be put more clearly in perspective than in Sherry Turkle’s book aptly titled, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.

I doubt that the one-to-one interactions that worked so well before, will ever be completely eliminated. On the other hand, anyone that ignores the ease of communication that new media presents is completely out of touch with reality. It has been argued that ‘perhaps one of the greatest challenges of our time is to embrace the advances in communication while maintaining our humanity.'

So maybe I am going out on a limb here, but next time you want to really reach out to someone, give them a quick call, sit down with them for a candid chat, put your phone away and have a conversation with them the old-fashioned way. If you live far away from the, send them a letter (maybe that’s too much but hey, how else can you be heard and be felt from all the noise).

Do you get the sense that people are a lot more easier to reach out to yet a lot less accessible and harder to connect with? It would be nice to hear from you.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Of Old MacGregor & Storytelling

A tourist is backpacking through the highlands of Scotland. He stops at a pub to get a drink and in there, he finds a bartender and an old man  nursing a beer. The tourist orders a pint, and they sit in silence for a while. Suddenly the old man turns to him and goes: "You see this bar? I built this bar with my bare hands from the finest wood in the county - gave it more love and care than  my own child. But do they call me MacGregor the bar builder? No!" 

Pointing out the window, he says:  "You see that stone wall out there? I built that stone wall with my bare hands - found every stone, placed them just right through the rain and the cold. But do they call me MacGregor the stone wall builder? No!"  Points out the window. "You see that pier on the lake out there? I built that pier with my bare hands. Drove the pilings against the tide of the sand, plank by plank. But do they call me MacGregor the pier builder? No! But you fu*k one goat ... "

Clues to a great story
This  is the opening line to Andrew Stanton’s talk on TED titled, The Clues to a Great Story. In this compelling talk, the award winning producer and writer refers to writing as “joke telling - it is knowing that everything you are saying from the first sentence to your last sentence is leading  to a singular goal that deepens our understanding of ourselves and other human beings.”

A year ago, I wrote a story about a friend. The story titled, The Best Man’s Speech, was a toast to my friend  and  his beautiful bride. Although theirs was a simple story, out of all the stories that I have written to date, it has been the most widely read and shared. Within two days of publishing it, it had been read over 300 times, received a  number of comments and shared a number of times. 

As any writer  will tell you, despite any auxiliary reasons that they may profess, the dream of any writer is to be read widely.  As such, with this one, I had hit a home run. If this were a movie, it would have been a blockbuster - most certainly  my Avatar . If it were an album it would definitely have been Thriller, my Gangnam Style on You Tube.  

Now, don't get me wrong. I have no illusions about the reach of  my blog. A few hundred views is nothing to write home about. However, considered within the wider context of the views of the other stories penned down, it gave an inkling into the intricacies of blogging and by extension, writing and storytelling.  Most of the notes I have previously written average about 60 views.

So what  was different with this story? What made it worth telling? There are a lot of  stories out there such as this plan on the internet telling how a man caught his cheating wife. There are others like this one, the Out of Eden Walk , an odyssey that  chronicles a man’s seven year walk around the world. Each story from the outlook, may appear to be as different from the next, as day and night. Nonetheless, both these stories qualify to be called good stories. 

A story of life
Based on Andrew’s talk and drawing from my own experience, it was in another TED talk that I found the elusive answer to my question, affirming what I had been thinking all along. In his talk titled How I started Writing Again,  Sting poses,  “if you look at your work, could it be argued that your best work wasn't about you at all - that it was about somebody else? Did your best work occur when you sidestepped your own ego and you stopped telling your story, but told someone else's story?" 

A good story, I realized is a lot like life itself. It is not about an individual. Rather, it is about other people in the context of a community.  A good story just like life itself, begins with a  promise. As in life, a good story is defined by  both  heroes and villains. As it unfolds, taking twists and unexpected turns, it builds anticipation, before leading to a final and definite end. In a sense, storytelling, I realized, is the story of life itself.

What is your story? How has storytelling helped you to understand yourself and the environment around you?