Pure Madness

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


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The Days of Our Lives

I don’t like death. Well, I am yet to meet anyone who does. My greatest frustration with death is that no one survives it to give a detailed account of what exactly happens when someone dies. I have a very inquisitive mind so you can imagine the “uncertified” ideas I have about death. Movies have not made it easy either. Some people “die” violently, others just close their eyes and are no more. Dead.

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Many cultures in Kenya consider it a taboo to talk about death. Perhaps that is why you will find people crowding around accident spots or crime scenes. It’s our chance to glimpse at death. Have you ever noticed how people queue for hours to just glimpse at the body of a prominent person?

No one gets used to death and no amount of preparation or information can shield you from its pain and grief. Even when you thought you saw it coming when it finally checks in, the death sting will always hurt as much. It is not a respecter of age, marital status, wealth, profession, religious belief or education background. It strikes whenever and wherever it wants.

I started having questions about death when I was very young. Every time any of my pets died, I was devastated. My mum, like many other parents would attempt to comfort me by saying, “It’s in a better place.” This of course left me wondering, “Was I that bad that it had to go somewhere else?”

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The older I got, the more frustrated I became with death.  There was no stopping it. It came after my family and after my close friends. I was bitter for a very long time. Every time I heard about death even if it was a stranger, my own “death wounds” ached.

Every time I thought I had “enough experience” to encourage people who were dealing with death, my own heart demanded answers. It seemed unfair and unjust to rip precious ones from us without our consent. In my attempt to comfort the victims I ended up saying things that in retrospect made the situation worse.

Recently, when I was bitten by a snake, death was on my mind a lot. “What if I die?” I kept asking myself. What if this is it. The end of my days. What if I don’t make it out of this alive? What does this mean to my family, my relationship and my friends? What awaits me? Have I lived my life well enough? What will I be remembered for? Am I even ready to die?

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We are often very reflective when someone close to us dies. We swear to ourselves to be better people, to live for what matters, to be there for other people and to make our lives count. We promise ourselves that we will embark on a new and more meaningful life from that moment on. The brevity of life finally dawns on us and it scares us to know that there is a part of our life that we don’t have control over.

But this new revelation is often short lived. We soon go back to our “normal” fast lives. Yes “our” lives. Before we know it, our new values and resolutions take a back seat. We lose sight of what we resolved to uphold. We go back to living for ourselves, ready to do whatever it takes to seal that deal. We put our health on line and throw our conscience out the window, fight whoever stands in our way and step on others if only to “get there” faster.

The fortunate yet unfortunate bit about life is that it does not give you a death rehearsal. You only live once and most certainly, die once as well. Every day you are alive you are living and rehearsing to die at the same time. Some of us of course have perfected the “art of playing with death” through our driving, diet and drinking habits but even then, we all don’t know when and how we finally bow out.

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One day, it will be us that people mourn. It will be our departure that will make people rethink their lives. How sad it will be that at the end of the days of our lives all we will have to show are graveyard resolutions that never got to live.

It’s sobering to know that we have no control of when we die. It should be. This does not mean that we ought to live in fear of death but we cannot ignore it altogether. In my view, death should be a motivator for living and not a source of fear. The snake bite and a gangster waving a gun to my face experiences made it very clear to me, it could be anytime. What is sad is that I will soon forget that am not here forever. Neither are you.

So while we are still here, today, let’s make it count. Let’s be the best we can. Let’s aspire to live behind a legacy (and not a Subaru, blue or otherwise). A legacy that generations after us will remember. A legacy that you and I, left “our environments” better than we found them. This is not the responsibility for the Mheshimiwas; it’s for all of us. We owe it to ourselves to leave a good story behind. Not just an “I was here.”

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Today you get to rehearse for your death by living. Put on a good show. It could happen anytime. Maybe not a snake bite but who knows when it’s your story that makes us reflect on The Days of Our Lives.

Editing by Wanjiku Kimaru

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Snakes and Lovers

I am not a good liar. I told my girlfriend Ciku we were meeting an insurance agent somewhere on Waiyaki Way (Somewhere? Pathetic liar). When we got to Limuru the questions began; where are we going, what time are we supposed to be there, how do we get back, what is the name of the agent, why are we going out of our way and we are the clients? I refused to say anything.

When we checked into the hotel in Naivasha, it finally dawned her; she had been played! We decided to have dinner before freshening up. The food was awesome but what was even better was the look on Cikus face. She couldn’t believe I had pulled that one off. Her only dilemma was how to tell her friends that she wouldn’t make it for the next day’s plan.

After dinner we walked back to the room enjoying the sounds of birds and crickets chirping, the evening breeze blowing gently through the trees and the gibbous moon glamorously shinning in the open skies surrounded by a constellation of stars. The same sky doesn’t have the same appeal in Nairobi. Ciku tried to identify a few constellations but all I could think of was swimming the following day.

Photo Courtesy of Imani Manyara

Photo Courtesy of Imani Manyara

When we got to the room we found Maina the hotel attendant had already drawn the mosquito nets and you could tell he had sprayed the room with insecticide as we had requested. Ciku went on to confirm her obvious beauty on the bathroom mirror. The taps were running as we waited for the water to get hot. (We waste too much clean water in Kenya). I was busy connecting my laptop to the hotel room TV so that I could watch some Ross Kemp documentaries my former colleague Audrey had told me were a nice watch. I was bare feet.

Suddenly, I felt a sharp sting on my right heel. Surprised, I jumped hoping to see the insect that wanted to ruin the beginning of my nice weekend. But it wasn’t an insect. I was in a lot of pain. I told Ciku to get out of the bathroom and out of the room. The taps were still running but that was the least of our worries.

The snake was still in the room. Since there was nothing else to use as a weapon, I gave Ciku my laptop cable and told her to make sure the snake doesn’t leave the room as I went to get Maina to help me kill it. The watchman seemed skeptical about at first but he tagged along as well.

The snake bite

The snake bite

We found Ciku had moved from her “designated post” because the snake had threatened to leave the room and she took off. Maina and I spotted where it was hiding. The watchman who was better armed to handle the situation quickly joined Ciku outside when he saw what we were dealing with. I don’t blame him. Maina moved the bin where the snake was hiding and I hit it hard on the abdomen with a broom. It finally showed its head and I introduced it to the broom. I was on a revenge mission powered by adrenaline. I had not since how long it was until it lay lifeless on the floor.

I quickly asked Ciku for her belt and scarf and tied my leg (the doctor was later to inform us that you should never tie yourself if bitten by a snake). We quickly drove to the nearest hospital as Ciku tried calling some “major” hospitals in Nakuru to find out if they were open. When we got to one of the hospitals, the  security guard demanded to know what we wanted before he could open the gate. It is a hospital! Maina later explained that the hospital had been robbed a couple of times hence the tight security. Who robs a hospital?

The doctors attended to us quickly as others just came to see the snake and not the patient. I was put on a drip and given a pain killer shot as the doctors debated if the hospital had anti-venom or not. Sadly, they did not and we were told we had to go check in Nakuru town. It was now a few minutes to midnight. As I drove all the way to Nakuru, Ciku googled “snake bite for dummies”. Unfortunately, none of the hospitals in Nakuru private or public that were open that night had the anti-venom.

The doctors markings

The doctors markings

One of the doctors in a bid to encourage me read from a chat on the wall the stages of a snake bite. He said since the first 30 minutes were the worst, I was clearly out of danger. I wasn’t sure how to use that particular information. My leg was numb and painful. I couldn’t walk without support. James one of the hotel staff who had accompanied us offered to drive us back to the hotel.

By the time we got to the hotel at around 2.30am, the pain was unbearable. Ciku and I (plus the dead snake in the boot) decided to drive back to Nairobi and not risk waiting till morning to be disappointed. Every time we came to a roadblock, the police would see the drip on my hand and ask too many questions. One even asked Ciku why she did not cut my foot and suck out the poison (this too the doctor later advised is not good because it could infect the wound further). To stay awake and alert and maybe prepare for the possible “next level” all we could do was recite any Bible verses we had memorized.

After driving for about two hours we got to Nairobi at around 5am. I could not move my leg. Ciku dashed to get a wheelchair and quickly dashed me to the casualty area. As we waited to see the doctor I developed a fever and my blood pressure shot up. We had decided not to call anyone just yet so that we don’t cause panic but it was now inevitable. I called my sister Mercy and in a few minutes she came with her husband Mike and found me on another drip to manage the fever and blood pressure.

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Though the hospital had the anti-venom, no one knew how to administer it. They had to consult, and they did for quite a while. My brother Mike called a doctor friend who thankfully knew how to administer the anti-venom. Tired, sleepy, in pain and medicated I dozed off. When I woke up Ciku had called my friend Soxxy and as usual he was laughing and making fun of me saying he does not know anyone who was ever bitten by a snake.

At around midday, I was released to go home after one of the surgeons advised that I see him the following day for checkup. He explained that the body was already fighting the venom and I would recover in no time.

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I have now fully recovered. The anti-venom was very expensive, but my greatest concern is the state of our hospitals at night. What was even more heart breaking was that I could not get the treatment in any of the hospitals in Nakuru town and had to drive back to Nairobi in the middle of the night to get treated. Clearly devolution is still struggling and we really need evaluate the health sector in Kenya.

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Behold, the shiny biter!

The snake ended up surprising me more than I surprised Ciku but thank God I am alive to surprise her again in future. I am blessed to have family, friends and colleagues who came to see me and called frequently to check on me but to also ask the same question Soxxy asked “Who gets bitten by a snake”? I know a guy and now, you do too.

Spread the love. Not Venom. Happy Valentines


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Theory of Change (ToC)

Where are you today? Are you on a specific path to a specific destination or are you on the road that leads somewhere, anywhere, nowhere? Do you actually know where you are going? Yes your dreams are valid but are you doing anything to actualize those valid dreams? How will you know when you get “there”? Are you so busy trying to achieve your dream that you won’t know when you actually achieve it?

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The Theory of Change (ToC) as I am learning, is defined as a pathway or a process of activities that need to happen for one to achieve a certain goal. It’s a nice lesson to learn at the beginning of the year before my new year resolution becomes remembering what they were in the first place. The Theory of Change has made me ask a lot of questions and not just about my work but also about my personal life.

This Theory of Change demands that I dash to finish line before I even start the race. It demands that I “see” the home before I even the building starts. I have to see everything that is happening right now with the end in mind. I cannot be too caught up with sideshows and present delights. I am on a journey; a return trip. My Theory of Change malfunctions when I stall.

Life has a way of distracting us. It has a way of whispering misleading sentiments and blurring our vision. Sadly, we are often derailed too quickly. We give up as soon as the first huddle shows up. We quit the race because the pace setter was too fast. The moment discomfort and pain checked in, we checked out. We lost sight of our goal.

As my instructor would put it, the Theory of Change basically means; End first, then work backwards asking yourself, how do I get “there”? Is this getting me “there”? Am I still headed “there”? Why am I not “there” yet? What do I need to change to get “there”? Who do I need to get me “there”? Who is already “there” that can help me get “there”? Am I closer “there” today than I was last year? Have I forgotten where “there” is?

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Wouldn’t it be nice if our schools had a definite Theory of Change? That from the time we first entered a classroom we knew where we were going, how we were to get there and what would get us there. The subjects we chose, the sports we played, the extra curricula activities we engaged in etc. For me, my school life felt as if the only place that I needed to go was “Number one”. No matter how hard I tried, I never got there and so I resigned quite early, to the fact that I would never get “there”.

How I wish “they” told me that was not the goal of going to school. I left school never having come close to “there” (Number one). Unfortunately, my parents never saw or validated my other strengths; the people skills I had or the interest in certain sports. They never saw how organized I was or creative. They did not see how I loved interacting with people or how I loved helping around the house and making people laugh. They just saw how far from “there” (Number one) I was. So I too ignored “all that unimportant stuff”.

In an attempt to motivate me, my parents used comparisons, and “why can’t you be like so and so’s”). So I grew up envious of other peoples “there” while mine was left unexplored. Eventually, I quit trying, I was called hard headed and stubborn and lazy. Teachers who were meant to help me discover my “there” unfortunately didn’t know any better.

If only someone had taught me The Theory of Change; knowing what I want and then working my way FROM there. I would never have compared myself to another soul. I would have celebrated being me. I would have easily identified activities that would lead me to “my there” and not “everyones there”.

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Our country has suffered a lot from “the lack of Theory of Change condition”. Look at our leaders. It seems as if for them, “their there” is the particular office they currently occupy and not service delivery to the people. Look at our etiquette on the roads or our conversations on social media. We don’t care about the consequences of our actions.  Our cultures have not taught us to value our “individual theres” while still working towards a “common there”. As a result intolerance among communities continues to thrive.

As we discover and explore our individual Theories of Change, a greater need exists for the President and all the other leaders to not only formulate, but also role model a common Theory of Change. Every government should make known to its citizens where the country will be in five years. The oppositions work shouldn’t be to oppose government, but to keep the government in check based on the goals it set for the country and to ensure that its stays on track. Our school curriculum should be evaluated to see if it provides a clear Theory of Change for students.

You and I have our individual Theories of Change but we should also in our own way implement our share of the governments Theory of Change. If we buy into the country’s overall Theory of Change, we will keep ourselves in check and we will ensure areas that are under our influence are at par with the National Theory of Change. This way, it won’t be long before vices like negative ethnicity, corruption and insecurity become a thing of the past.

What is your Theory of Change? Do you know your goal and are the activities you are involved in now helping you to get “there” – to your goal?


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My pledge, Children and Girls

Photo courtesy: www.flickr.com

Photo courtesy: http://www.flickr.com

The evening news can be a source of heartache and stress more than it can be a source of information. I have heard many people say that Kenyan news is too depressing to watch. If it’s not the leaders we woke up early to go vote for doing everything but what they promised to do, then it’s the society turning against itself in every way.

A man who hacks his wife and children to death before taking his own life, the rising cases of violent crimes, road accidents, community intolerance, hate speech you name it, it will be on your menu everyday on the evening news. As if you don’t get enough of the bad news at the end of every day, the newspapers will be ready to remind you the following morning how bad, the bad news was yesterday.

In media they say that good news is not news. If a dog bites a man, that’s not news. But if the man bites the dog, well that is something to talk about. Truth be told, we don’t watch the news hoping to see anything encouraging. In most cases we will flip through the channels to get different versions of the same bad news we saw on one station.

But bad news is not always bad for us. There is need for you and I to see what is happening around us in our communities and the country at large. It is important for us to see what our leaders are doing after we voted for them (*coughs* Gilgil weigh bridge). It helps to know what other communities are doing (and not doing) with what they have. It is here that we too can and should see opportunities to engage and impact our culture and communities.

How many children don’t have access to basic education or study in very harsh conditions? How many young people need a mentor to guide them in their career choices? How many women need access to better maternal health care? How many men need information on better business opportunities so that they can better provide for their families? What can we do about the issues that consistently affect our country; hunger, insecurity, alcohol and drug abuse and many more? Can you and I help in any way?

You would be surprised to find out that most of the needs around you don’t need a member of parliament or local leader to solve. You would probably do more with the “little” that you have than the so called leaders. Some of us work in organizations that fund different developments but we will never consider reaching out to our community leaders to let them know of the opportunities. Some of us are teachers but we have never thought that maybe during the holidays we could offer the children in our neighborhoods remedial lessons. We like to see that as someone else’s “problem”.

There are many opportunities for us to give back to society. We don’t have to wait to be in political offices to influence change. In fact, that mentality is what makes our leaders feel like they are super heroes and not servants. We can change that. If every one of us finds an avenue to support and influence our communities, the dependency on leaders to do everything for us might just end. Imagine what would happen in our society if you and I could use whatever we have.

I love radio and I believe that it is one of the most important tools that can be used to influence change. This year there are two things that have captured my heart (well, they always have but I am putting in more focus); Children Hygiene and Female Genital Mutilation.

Many children die every day because of diarrhea and other hygiene related diseases. These diseases can be prevented through simple acts like washing your hands with clean water soap. But many communities in Kenya still don’t have access to clean water or soap. For us who do, we don’t take advantage of this privilege. We don’t have to lose any more lives, we can influence change. We can teach communities how to save lives through better hygiene practices like hand washing.

I recently saw a shocking video of what happens during FGM and it shattered my heart to know that young under age girls will drop out of school to be forced to get married after this extremely painful ritual. Their chances of a better future that education offers us will traded for cows and goats and that is if they survive or don’t get infected with HIV/AIDS. Surely everyone should have the right to an education. I don’t know how to influence this sector yet especially because it is a deep seated cultural practice, but am willing to learn what others are doing and contribute their efforts.

This is my influence plan for the year. What is your influence plan?


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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.

Heroes tips for photographing silhouettes

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).