Pure Madness

My thoughts on the "behind the scenes" of life. You will find inspiration here. Share it generously


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Dear “Countryman”…

It’s not just mukimo that is a headache for Central Province. Actually, in light of the challenges central province is facing their cooking habits should not even be a concern. This week I was in Karatina and Muranga towns and this is a call for help. If people from this region have been too proud to say it, well, Central Province needs your help.

A labourer prepares distilled traditional brewed alcoholic liquor at an illegal micro-brewery along a river in the suburbs of Nairobi

Every woman we met in this region had one plea; “please save our men from alcohol and substance abuse”. Their stories are heartbreaking. Some young people were buying and selling weed right in front our eyes not even worried that we had video cameras. Don’t get me wrong, these men are not lazy, far from it. The problem is what they are doing with their daily earnings and what is at stake if nothing is done soon. The women have lost hope. They don’t do know what to do anymore. They are reaching out. Maybe you and I can do something.

“What kind of a man is this”? One woman asked bitterly. “I got tired of dragging him from trenches at 4am. I got tired of waiting up for him to come home. I got tired of waiting for him to provide. To take care of their family. I live my life. I have found him sleeping at the gate or outside our house a couple of times but he is no longer my business. I am done. He is not a man.

You wonder why it said that we beat our men. What do you do to a child who misbehaves? If your child comes home in the evening and he looks like he was in a dungeon what do you do to teach him/her to be more responsible? What if your child comes home from school and he has peed himself, don’t you discipline him? That’s the same thing we do to these men who act like small boys”.

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There is a huge problem when a wife calls her husband, the father of her kids a small boy. When a woman takes up the role of the head of the family, when she becomes the provider and protector of the family yet her husband comes home every day (regardless of his state). Women in Central province are the ones taking tea and coffee from the shamba to the factories. They are the ones running family businesses. When a child is sent home to bring a parent, any head teacher would be surprised to see the father.

Still can’t see the problem? Well, according to the women from these areas, the men are always too drunk to perform their marital duties. One woman actually said that her husband sleeps under the bed. Another one said she wanted more kids but she only has two that she got before her husband became an alcoholic. So in simple terms, nursery and primary schools are closing down because they don’t have kids to teach. The population in this region is dropping drastically. HIV rates are going up, but the worst impact of alcoholism is children growing up fatherless and youth walking in the steps of their fathers.

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It’s time for families to have this conversation in their homes. Fathers, talk to your sons and daughters. Be the example that your children can emulate. Let them see that family comes first and anything that threatens this unit cannot be taken lightly. Your kids are already learning by watching how you handle your drink, or how the drink handles you.

Leaders from central should be losing sleep thinking about their people. They should be organizing community forums and door to door initiatives to educate their electorate on the dangers of alcohol abuse. “Presidents” of these counties should form a police outfit specifically for this purpose; protecting the citizen from substandard brews.

Let this be a lesson to other leaders in Kenya. Handouts are finishing future generations. That 200 bob you dish out is the first spade into the sand. You are no longer buying your votes, you are burying them. Who will you lead in future? Why not start employment opportunities for these young people. Why are there no tough laws to curb illicit brews in the country?  I am sure authorities know where they come from but they also know the revenue they get from these companies. According to women from Central province, the biggest distributor is known and he enjoys police protection.

For the rest of the Kenyans, once the market in Central province is “no longer competitive”, these products will find their way to your region. This story will repeat itself and since nothing was done when central cried out, you too will watch as an entire generation fades right before your eyes.

We were told.

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You, are the Shujaa

This week I met a man who has leukemia, cancer of the blood. He has lost everything. His life is no longer the same. As he narrates his story, his wife, a soft spoken middle aged woman takes a seat next him and not long into the conversation we understand why.

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As he introduces himself, though the interview is about him, every now and then he confirms the accuracy of his information with his wife. He even asks her to tell us his age. She does so as if it’s not the first time she has been asked to. All through our conversation, he refers to himself as the guest in his own home affirming that it belongs to his wife. She blushes.

He talks about her with a lot of respect and she looks at him in awe. It’s not until he starts talking about how close he came to dying that she loses her composure and tears well up in her eyes. He continues to narrate how his wife at one point became the bread winner and how she has been his support. Without her, he says, he does not know what he would have done.

He talks about how his medical bill is so high that he stopped thinking about it. He lives for today. Being healthy and alive today is all that matters to him. Not yesterday’s pain or tomorrows uncertainty. He remembers jokingly, how even doctors had lost hope in his recovery and how he had already accepted his fate. Now he can laugh about it he says. The side effects of the cancer medicine he is on is another monster to him. He says its a state he wouldn’t want us to see.  He is genuine. No doubt. Few men would allow themselves to be this vulnerable to the rest of the world.

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This is just but one of the many stories that this country is rich with. Heroes who walk among us bearing ordinary titles like wives, husbands, siblings, doctors, teachers and colleagues. You will never know the sacrifices these people have had to make to be who they are today. They carry such heavy loads daily yet they never miss an opportunity to take on another. To stop and give you a hand, to give generously even when they don’t have enough. These are true heroes, Mashujaa.

If you are one of these unsung heroes, today even though the world continues to revolve oblivious of your many sacrifices, we honor and celebrate you. To you who is holding on against all odds, believing and giving tirelessly, to you who cannot remember the last day you slept soundly for a night, to you who has denied themselves the “pleasures” of this life that you may allow someone else to enjoy instead, you are a Shujaa.

Your sacrifice may seem insignificant in comparison to what others are doing but it’s still a sacrifice nonetheless and for that we celebrate you. We recognize what it has cost you to be where you are. We honor your brave choice not to take a short cut, not to give in. Many looked the other way, turning a blind eye to the same need you are standing up for. Others walked away after trying for a while without success. Most of us saw it as someone else’s responsibility and not ours. We prayed that God would send someone to help and went our way feeling good about ourselves and our sensitivity to other people’s needs. But not you. You stood up. You held on. You fought on. And with no end in sight, you are still here. You are a Shujaa.

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We apologize for taking you for granted, for being insensitive enough to walk away and call you a fool who doesn’t know which battle to fight. How can we, cowards, who ran away from different needs around us have the guts to tell you what you can and cannot stand up for? You are true a hero. Though unsung, you are a Shujaa.

Whether you are that doctor that gives exceptional treatment to a patient who will never afford to pay for the services but you still value him/her as a human being first or a teacher who goes the extra mile so that your students can have a better life than you did, you are a Shujaa. Whether you are a parent or a sibling to a family member dealing with a terminal condition and against all odds you refuse to lose hope and do the best you can to make their lives less painful and more “normal” at whatever cost, you my friend, are a Shujaa. For fighting to save our land and our animals, for standing up against pollution and deforestation because generations after us will need a home, you are a hero.

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I cannot mention all the areas that these Shujaas influence but we all can chose to affirm the Shujaas in our lives and around us. Bosses like mine who believe in me and entrust me with responsibilities that allow me to grow, colleagues that make my working environment safe enough for me to be the best I can be, friends who stand with me in even in my failures, family that is the wind beneath my wings, mentors and confidants who refuse to let me give up and most of all Kenyans with whom I share an identity, a purpose, a home – you are Shujaas.

I celebrate you and would gladly share my towel with you (pun intended).


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My Sister (Not in Acting Position)

My sister Mercy, graduated from campus last week. Being a mother (to twin boys), a wife and working a full time job am amazed at her multitasking skills! She is consistent. She does not over commit, she knows her limits but is not afraid to go after her dreams. She has now achieved what she set out to do and for that, we her family and friends, are all proud of her.

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Am sure there were moments when she wondered if it was worth the sacrifice; getting home tired and late, going to class tired after a long day in the office, working on assignments any time she got the chance and not forgetting having to deal with the monster that is Nairobi traffic.

Mercy’s journey has not been a smooth one. Having lost both parents while still young, she had to learn to be independent early in life. Life after high school can be quite a lonely journey. You leave behind friends that mean a lot to you because they were there when you went through unfamiliar changes in your teen age. For my sisters, it was even harder because we had to relocate to the big city to start a new life.

A new life, a new environment, new responsibilities, new territories and new rules. Life changed. Her mum was no longer around to affirm her that she is going to turn out just fine and even if she didn’t, she always had a safe place to fall back on. She couldn’t ask her mum to pull a few strings for her in her networks neither could she access her mums vault of experience. She was alone, a young lady in the big crowded city.

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Those days, there were two things that would ruin your reputation (well, your parents reputation) in Nairobi; getting pregnant out of wedlock and dating a matatu conductor. You can imagine what kind of reputation you got if you were impregnated by a matatu conductor. I found it funny that while we thought being a conductor in those days was funky and rebellious (in a good way) and most of all, a gateway to the world of women, our parents saw them as demons that needed to be exorcised!

Mercy knows what it means to start from the bottom but she never lost sight of where she wanted to go. I always found her speeches annoying rather than inspiring. Whenever I got hot headed and thought that I was the savior the world was waiting for, she would always remind me of her journey and how she made a difference with the little she had. I would rather have listened to a prosperity preacher or a get rich quick schemer who gave me a better alternative and told me what I wanted to hear.

Looking at her this past weekend smiling in her graduation gown, made me appreciate her more and the many Kenyans who are going through difficult times but not giving up their dreams. Fathers whose greatest drive in life is that their children would have a better life than they did. Mothers who for the love of their children, have abandoned their dreams that they might be part of their children’s dreams.

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Brothers and sisters who took up the responsibility of taking care of their siblings so that their parents would breath and rest a bit. Grandmothers who never saw it as a mistake when their children got pregnant. They brought up their children’s children as their own giving their children a chance to still realize their dreams.

Young mothers who chose not to abort against all odds. Young fathers who took up the responsibility of bringing up their kids even though they were not ready. Aunties and uncles like mine who took us in when our parents passed on and gave us everything we needed. Head teachers and teachers who give “undeserving” kids a second chance in their institutions. Doctors who perform expensive procedures for free, policemen who make sure true justice is achieved, these “beneficiaries” may never say enough thank yous and the world may not celebrate you as it should, you are a true Kenyan hero (and not in an acting capacity). Someone paid the price to get us where we are now. It’s time we too felt the pain so that another person may fill the joy.

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Mr. Politician, its time you too paid the price and made someone else’s life better. Church leaders, many of your congregants go the extra mile for the many worthwhile initiatives you run, its time you too felt the pain of giving. Big boss man/lady it’s time for you to give back to your workers. There is always a need that you can meet around you. Like Mercy would say, make a difference in the little way you can, the rest will take care of itself.

We are all Kenyans and not in an acting capacity. Let’s make it count in a little way.


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Abroad In Kenya

Photo Courtesy of Imani Manyara

Photo Courtesy of Imani Manyara

The open blue skies and sunsets in Turkana County are breath taking. Whether you want a nice quiet morning jog or an evening scenic walk, Turkana will offer you one of the best sceneries that you cannot experience anywhere else. The moon appears closer and clearer in this county and the stars, you will have a great time trying to remember the many constellations you learnt in school. Sadly, it’s not all glamour.

The road from Kapenguria to Lodwar must be the worst road in the country. The road is so bad and the insecurity is so high that you need police escort to move between Kainuk and Lokichar towns. Last time we used this road, small boys with big guns took off when they saw our police escort. It’s no wonder that residents of this area talk about Kenya as if it is a neighboring country. To them, we are in Down country, Down Kenya.

I love traveling. I actually prefer road travel because I get to see my country. But when it takes over 12 hours of really bad road and being on the edge that anything could happen since young boys don’t graze with sticks but with guns; AK47s and G3s, the joy of travel dies.

There are no 300ml sodas in Lodwar. The only available milk is long life. Fresh produces are not as readily available as in most parts of the country. Phone network is poor for most parts of the region. Transport to and from Lodwar is twice a day by road; morning and evening. Even though there are daily flights to Turkana, will the mwananchi afford to pay almost KES30, 000 for a return flight?

Photo Courtesy of Imani Manyara

Photo Courtesy of Imani Manyara

And then “they” discovered oil and gas deposits in Turkana County. Today, the residents of the county talk about the oil sites using their code names; Ngamia, Twiga and Ekale 1 as if they are local kiosks. That’s not enough. Recently, huge water reservoirs that could meet the entire country’s needs for the next 70 years were also discovered in the same county. One of the driest counties in the country could now provide water for the rest of the country for close to 100 years!

This is good news right? Well, only for us who think we are all in the same country. The communities up north are very apprehensive about “visitors”. Some people hurled insults at us saying that the press had been painting them in bad light. This was because a local media house recently did a feature story on how prostitution had increased in the area since the discovery of oil. I guess their concern was after years of having nothing good to say about the area, they thought oil and water would change all that. Clearly not.

Photo Courtesy of Imani Manyara

Photo Courtesy of Imani Manyara

Whatever happened to Brand Kenya? Is it right for Kenyans living within Kenya’s boundaries to refer to themselves as outsiders? Since this has been ongoing for a long time, why isn’t the government doing anything to change this perception? The legislatures from these regions are always in Nairobi, why are there no motions in Parliament to address their grievances?

Haven’t we learnt anything from the sad events in Lamu? Turkana County cannot declare itself a landlocked self-governing county. That is a fact. As much as they are not willing to open up their region to foreigners, the power of demand and supply will soon overpower them. What happens then? What will happen when Kenyans see the potential “abroad” (in Turkana) and move there to invest? How long will it be before the residents feel “invaded” by Down Kenya residents? What will happen next? Your guess is as good as mine.

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Photo Courtesy of Imani Manyara

For the longest time, you denied them good hospitals, good schools and good roads. You ignored their insecurity concerns. You refused to send relief when they called out. You allowed NGOs to take advantage of them causing them to live on handouts. Now they have something you need. Do you think they will hand it over to you that easily?

If I was the government, my strategy would be simple. What has been their need all these years, still is. Act now. Build schools and hospitals. Give the Chinese or whoever the contract to build the roads (as long as it’s not Kirinyaga Construction). Increase security presence in the area. Make the residents feel like you care. In the process, investors too will be impressed and the rest will be history. Ignore this process, and history will judge us harshly.

Surely we learnt something from the “Lamu Experience”. Didn’t we?