Review: To See the Mountain and Other Stories : The Caine Prize for African Writing 2011

To See the Mountain and Other Stories : The Caine Prize for African Writing 2011
To See the Mountain and Other Stories : The Caine Prize for African Writing 2011 by The Caine Prize for African Writing
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finally. 3 years later, I read this collection. Loved most of the stories.

A couple of the Workshop stories left me puzzled, not because the quality was below par but because I may have been a little slow to grasp the plotline. Or I was looking for plotlines where none were meant to be.

Enjoyed the read in two sittings. That means something.

Looking forward to rereading the 2014 Collection once it is published in print!

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The World You See

I spent a couple of hours with some young people this weekend and it got me thinking.

That statement is significant. The drug infusion didn’t go very well because someone screwed up and ended up giving me an overdose that left me puking my guts out for nearly three days. So being able to be outside my dark room and off my bathroom floor was pretty cool.

Then the really cool peeps I ended up spending time with in the name of ‘training’, happened to be very young. Maybe not young in experience but anyone on the -23 range counts as young to me these days. I feel old most of the times these days. Go to the gym and the young lady on the treadmill next to me hits 12 speed while I’m huffing at 6. Go to the supermarket and the kind till person smiles, ‘Hello mum, do you have a loyalty card?’ Okay, fine, I’m exaggerating. But I do have lotsa white hairs.

As to the thinking…

Anyway, the youth in the really cool peeps was evident in their ability to express ideas with such enthusiasm and hope, I found myself feeling a little peeved with myself for being so negative about some things. Sighed several times, ‘To be young again!’

One of the conversations we had was on the increase of narcissistic obsession. It’s all about me, I, mine… We are so focused on what’s good for me. Some schools of thought encourage psychopathic arrogance. You don’t have to be nice, just be good at what you do. Nice guys finish last. etc etc

Then we are shocked when killers kill – they are good at what they do, and definitely not nice about it. #Gaza #Westgate #Mpeketoni #Ukraine The Twitter hashtags abound to prove my point.

Look around you. How much narcissism do you see? Look at yourself. How many times do you put your needs ahead of the safety and well-being of others? In the way you drive, the way you grow the food you sell to consumers, the reports you hand in that affect that company you work for that supports 40 -100 employees, the policies you support, the politics you stand with…

Enthusiasm only comes in when I’ll be getting my way and gaining a lot from it. Hope is almost non-existent because I’m double sure my next door neighbour has just about the same amount of ill-will towards me as I have towards him.

I look at the people I work with and sometimes I am simply amazed by the sheer amount of politicking and scheming going on. What happened to doing your best and getting ahead by merit? Everyone assumes the other is out to get them and you’ve got an endless cycle of show downs. It generally exhausts me so I keep finding myself zoning people out and focusing on tasks, which isn’t easy because I have to pretend I’m working with a bunch of difficult AI. Reboot! Edit code!

I’ve caught myself saying more than once that I can’t deal with humans. Repeated the joke: “I used to be a people person, but people ruined it.” I hear my own narcissism in that.

I’ve watched with amusement as feminists and pseudo-feminists react to a certain ‘young lady’s’ articles on societal issues. A few years ago, I listened with amusement as people harped about the content of a certain radio presenter’s show. There was even talk – in both cases – of impressionable youth adopting the teachings perpetuated by these persons. Haaaarrr!

1. Words only have as much power as YOU give them. Emotionally/verbally abusive relationships destroy the victim only as long as the victim needs and seeks validation from the abuser.

2. Bad behaviour ignored, good behaviour rewarded. This kindergaten principle doesn’t always work, but it would definitely work if bad online behaviour was denied airtime/airplay and better /more useful content promoted. It isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

3. Humans have stopped thinking for themselves and will simply adopt other people’s thoughts. People go with the popular opinion.

I watched an Indian acquaintance declare that if you worked with Israelis, you would understand why Hitler threw them into the gas chambers. I wondered if he had even paused to consider what he was endorsing. I personally know a Kikuyu man who cheered at the brutal murder of an old Indian couple, because some other Indians he worked for were cruel employees. I bet you can add to these stories here.

We just don’t see each other as human beings. Africans see whites and either assume that all whites have money and ‘can help’ or that all whites have a ‘white-saviour complex’ or that all whites are racist pigs. The people from the other side either see ‘lazy niggers’, ‘what a gifted young man from Africa’, or ‘you are from Kenya, I have a friend in Nigeria, do you know him?’ Christian Kenyans see Muslim terrorists. Muslim Kenyans see hateful Christians. Kikuyu. Luo. Israeli. Palestinian. Just depends on which holy war you are fighting.

Like, I said, spending time with hopeful enthusiastic young people got me thinking. I didn’t say I found a solution. I don’t have a solution. But I know who does.

In the meantime, I’ll pop another pill and get me some sleep.

Review: Soul Music

Soul Music
Soul Music by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Music runs the world. Totally loved this analogous narrative about the capitalistic insanity of the rock band world – crappy, crappier bands and all.

Suck. Crash. Trollz. And then there is The Band. Glitter, manager and death racing right along. And no one got sex. Or drugs!

And then the day music died? Music didn’t die at all! Because Death is on an extension mania.

Soul Music isn’t my number 1 Discworld novel. But I loved it!

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Dreadlocked Lines

The coffee shop isn’t too crowded.  There’s a middle aged couple at the far corner talking in hushed tones. A young woman wearing a blue niqab that reminds me of my high school classmate and swimming partner from all those years ago is seated two tables away from me. Blue Niqab is reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I can barely read the title from where I sit but I recognize the cover with its multi-colored quadrilaterals and the lady holding an umbrella. The book on the shelf in my living room has the same cover.

It occurs to me that I’d rather be anywhere but a scantily populated coffee shop on a Saturday morning. As a matter of fact, I know I would still hate being at the coffee shop if there were more people. I just hate coffee shops. Period.

But I did promise to be here. So I take a deep breath, another of many that I have been taking to try and steel my nerves, stop the racing of my heart, dry the palms of my clammy cold hands. It hasn’t worked so far.  I look at the coffee in front of me, the cute heart design on the froth sinking into the milky base with every second I wait.

Maybe, I should leave. I look around, wonder for a moment what the people watching me might think, wonder why they would care, wonder why they would be watching me instead of minding their own business… The crazy little thoughts ping pong in my mind and I almost laugh at the ridiculousness of it. So I continue sitting, back ramrod straight, just staring at the coffee.

I blink.

And then there she is, walking towards me, tall, with an air of superiority about her, her dancer’s hips encased in faded blue jeans that disappear into suede calf high boots. God, she is tall! I raise my eyes, I can now see her smile, and peripherally her long dreadlocked hair. I always wanted dreadlocks. I just never made the effort to go get them. They look nice against her éclair brown skin.

She is upon me with another blink. I stand; my hand extends of its own accord to offer a handshake. I realise she is closing in for a hug. And then she is hugging me. For a half moment I see the lines in her face. The picture on Facebook of her with the Martin Luther King Memorial in the backdrop made her look as young as the teenage boy and girl standing with her. A son and daughter the captions and comments had explained.

I can smell her perfume; it is nice, hints of both fruit and flowers, definitely lavender. I like her perfume. Then I feel the anger rushing in. It is brimming hot and quickly overpowers the fruity and floral scent. I think I can’t breathe. I really can’t breathe. She says something; I can’t make out what she says. All I can hear is a garbled sound that makes my head hurt. She leans in, bending her knees as she does, and speaks again. I still can’t hear what she says. I can’t even see her clearly anymore. She is just a silhouette now, with a fiery red aura.

I can’t take it anymore. There is a ringing in my ears, a pain in my head that I don’t want to feel anymore. She is talking. She is still talking; why will she not just shut up? I want her to be quiet, for just a moment, so I can think, so I can bring my mind under control again. But I still hear the garbled sound coming from her.

I just can’t take it anymore. My hands close around the serviette wrapped knife and fork that the waitress placed on the table for some reason. An inane thought crossed my mind; shouldn’t the fork be delivered along with the food, or at least just before the food is served?

And right then a gust of clean, calm coolness sweeps into my mind. My heart slows down. The aura dissipates. My hand lets go of the knife and fork. My hands are still cold and clammy, but they are not shaking now. And I can hear her words.

“Oh my gad, it is such a long time since I’ve been in a café in Nairobi!”

© Juliet Maruru

But You Don’t Look Sick – Lupie Diaries

I get these awkward moments when someone who has heard that I have Lupus, or that I might have had a bad episode, or that I am down with something, comes over to my house and finds that I am not emaciated, fading away or dead.

I like to smile, and laugh, at myself sometimes, even when I am in pain. Sometimes I’ll be feverish, pukey and in pain all night. But if you come over in the day, I’ll smile and chat, even if I am on the floor.

The type of Lupus I suffer doesn’t include the butterfly rash or the discoid scars, although I am sensitive to sunlight. The meds I take make it really hard to control my weight, so in the ‘african’ definition, I am ‘healthy-looking’.

But I’ll probably be taking meds by the hour, and on some really bad days, those meds will include painkillers. People just have no idea how to handle that. I’ve been called anything from an over-medicator to a druggie, leave the fact alone that all these are prescription meds.

But perhaps what has been most difficult for me is losing friends because either they can’t understand why I don’t do all the stuff they can do (sometimes I just don’t want to), even though I don’t look sick at all. Like I said, I love talking, and smiling, and having fun. I miss going out and walking for hours. I miss swimming, jogging, playing, dancing… I hate that I can be all jazzed about an upcoming event and then miss out because something unexpected came up with my body. I hate being without control about how my body reacts to things.

But part of living with chronic disease is understanding and accepting that there are things you can control, and some you can’t.

I am slowly coming to accept that walking out of the door is like walking through an International airport on a trip out of the country. I have to check for my meds, water, sunscreen, sometimes even pause for a moment to consider if I have the energy to walk out of that door.

And when I am out, I have to remember when to eat, what not to eat, when to take my meds, drink water, add more sunscreen, consider that I have done enough before I go and collapse in front of people.

That can be weird for people that you consider to be your friends. Add to that the many times you have to tell them that you just can’t make it to a planned event.

I’ve watched ‘friends’ just drop out of sight, knowing that there is really nothing I can do to change how they feel. And sometimes thinking that it’s good riddance anyway.

I’m thankful for the few friends that I have who understand that I am the same Jules they knew and loved before even if I can’t do everything that I used to do.

Many patients who suffer from the Various forms of Lupus call themselves Lupies. (Some object to the illness being put ahead of their person and so would be offended at being referred to as a Lupie)

In conversations with each other they might refer to the daily struggle of chronic illness as ‘living with the Wolf’.There have been many explanations for the name Lupus for the disease, some of it being related to the butterfly rash many Lupus patients have on their face; it can resemble the colour pattern of wolves. I have been fortunate because the only time I had the rash was before I was fully diagnosed and I had become something of a guinea pig for my doctor.

Lupus, in its many forms is not curable, but it can be managed by controlling and treating the symptoms. Some of the medication Lupies take might be handling one problem while creating another. In my case, I experience general muscle weakness and weight gain characterised by the steroid moon face (chubby cheeks). So as well as dealing with pain, severe discomfort and sometimes confusion, Lupies also have to struggle with body image issues, general self esteem issues, and sometimes acute and chronic depression.

A strong support system to offer information, encouragement and companionship is perhaps what a Lupie needs more than anything. I am fortunate that although I have lost friends, I have found support, intellectual companionship and encouragement in family and a handful of friends. I am eternally grateful for these blessings.

The wolf, he comes to stay, but even he can see the flowers are pretty and the morning dew smells sweet ~ Jules

I was chatting to a fellow Lupie the other day. She reminded me about the Spoon Theory. If you or someone you love has a chronic illness, the spoon theory might help you get your head around what you have to cope with. Check it out here.

Yes, sometimes my spoons are limited because I have a cold, a fever, a migraine, a more serious infection, or just the usual rheumatic aches. When I wake up in the morning, I find that I have 6 or 7 spoons, life, some energy, boundless imagination, creative energy… and I have to make sure that I keep my spoons, by taking my meds, doing moderate exercises, eating right, watching the sunlight… It’s part of everyday life whether I am feeling a lot worse or a lot better.

Someone told me on a Facebook chat someday, ‘Get well soon.’

I really had no idea what to say back. A friend was watching me chat just then. I looked at him when I saw the message, almost reflexively. He smiled, “Why what’s wrong with you, kid?”

Then he took up the laptop and typed, “I am well. I am always well. My body might not agree with me sometimes. But never fear!”

I am well. I might have been a little sicker yesterday. But I am well.

Problem Solver

I was going to indulge my Münchausen by Internet and tell you all about my recent stay in hospital and that I am suffering from minor mal non epileptic seizures. All those episodes of spacing out, memory loss and total assfoolery; oh no, not multiple personality disorder. See, I really cannot help it. Münchausen by Internet is a psychiatric disorder. So I am going to try really really hard to talk about something else. It will be hard but I’ll try.

So lately I’ve been in the signs-from-the-universe kinda mood. That is when I am not listening to Mario Frangoulis. Man! Do I have a celebcrush or what?!

Anyway, back to the signs. As a rule, people generally tell me their problems and ask for advice. I swear it’s like I have a sign on my forehead that says, ‘I am a problem solver, tell me all your secrets.’ In another universe I would have started a church. I am sure church owners get more money than therapists, even those 50 dollar Kenyan psychologists who prescribe antidepressants even before they have figured out what’s tying you up in knots.

So back to this universe. This chic comes to me. Now I am lying in bed, with a brain that keeps telling my body to take forceful breaks from life and thinking, and a mum who comes to my room every night to see if I am still breathing, and this chica comes to me because I know ‘stuff’.

Honestly, I don’t know ‘stuff’, I am just really good at pretending I do. But the official story is that I read a lot, so I know stuff.

The chica in question is slightly younger than me, has been living with her boyfriend for a couple of years, even has a kid with him, has a decent steady job, no particular ambitions except to marry a wealthy guy, which her boyfriend is not.

Really, did I need to know all that?!!

So after a long winding story, we get to the point. She met a new guy. She met him at work. He was a client for the graphics shop she works at. He is nice. He is white. So she has decided to break up with her man. ‘Cos this new white guy is really nice, he even gave her some money to find her own place.

I stared at her. Even tried to fake a space out episode. But she was havin’ nae o that. She wanted my advice. Funny how when someone starts dating a white guy they get automatic twengs.

Screech! Hold right up. lady.

First, of all, I am not your friend. I mean, we’ve met like twice, okay fine, we meet a lot cos your mamma; who still isn’t over you moving in with a guy ‘just like that'; is a friend of my mamma , but this meeting is not out of my choice. Its just that when you are housebound, everyone who comes around finds you and running like the jeevies are after you is not really an option. If I had a chance that’s what I’d do when I see you walk through the gate.

Second, since when was I an expert in relationships? I can hardly hold my own relationships together, so what makes you think I would know what you should do?

Besides I don’t think you and I have the same definition on things related to love and friendships. You see, I don’t think of my boyfriend or any potential life partner in terms of how much money they can contribute to my lifestyle. Sure, there comes a time when your boyfriend pays for something for you, or when you and your husband buy a house together. But what I look for in a man is intelligence, self-esteem, a sense of humour, concern for people other than himself, personal responsibility and life ambitions, someone I can respect, and share the things that go through my head [not all of them, yikes]. That combination generally also includes a career and a measure of success. I don’t check out the Merc first, if its there, its there.

Thirdly, I am not an expert in ‘white’ men. I don’t know who you have been talking to, but I am NOT an expert in ‘white’ men. What are they, a species of beetles I spent ten years in the jungle studying?

White men, are human beings, just like your black as soot boyfriend. Sure they might, and that’s an off chance, but they might be educated, maybe even financially successful. But your nice ‘white’ man could also be a serial killer who used to work as a mjengo guy in Topeka, Kansas, then moved to a rural college town somewhere called Slippery Rock, and then the FIBs got on his scent so he took the next flight to a rural city in Africa called Nairobi. Sheesh!

You’ve got just about the same chances with your black as soot man. There is not a manual that I studied in college which tells you everything about ‘white’ men. Or Kenyan men, black, brown, white or green.

I’ve never met your ‘white’ man, or your boyfriend for that matter, I told you we are NOT friends, cos I’d know at least one of them by now if we were. With this lack of information on your life, I definitely cannot be giving you advice. But if you insist, here’s advice:

Do what you have to do, girl. Its your life in the end. Not mine.

As for me, the signs got lost somewhere in there. My head hurts. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel particularly understanding. Wait, maybe that’s the sign.

Review: Jingo

Jingo
Jingo by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jingo seems like the exact replica of my country’s woes right now. Complete with bungling security ops and ‘rush-to-action-regret-later’ Commander Sam Vimes. There was that point when Ankh-Morporkians attacked each other in the alleyways of Klatch. Hilarious!

Lord Vetinari, Carrot and Nobby are my heroes in this Discworld story.

Vetinari triumphs with his quiet thinking, planning and execution while everyone yells in panic, conviction, pain and scheming disarray.

I should copy Carrot more. Take a break and get some sleep when chaos strikes, because you’ll need the energy later when solutions are needed.

Nobby wins all, by discovering his softer side. Quite the feminist he becomes!

As always, Terry Pratchett is the master of words and storytelling!

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