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The African Iris

No cleaner way through “FIRSTS”

A First experience can be daunting because you may have no clue how to deal with what comes your way or you may be disoriented on how you would like to proceed with that situation. However, luckily, or unluckily enough, someone else has already gone through your experience in one way, and wisdom/ information lies in the deep corners of friends and family, notwithstanding the vastness of the world wide web where you can jump from one rabbit hole to another, as you look for more and more.

First experiences have a way of turning the skin that you have on your body inside out, revealing your raw undertone in ways you probably didn’t know you could. They have a way of robbing you of the sense of security that ignorance gives you, and they have a way of training your mind to navigate yet another new landscape. So much so that a kind of adrenaline rush to do new stuff may overtake your will, and the next thing you know, you have typed down a bucket list of new stuff to do before you are 25 or 30. Yet, first experiences still carry with them, the dread of an unknown terrain.

So here are our only tip on navigating first experiences:

Don’t even think twice about it, Just do it.

In some way or another, you will definitely grow out of a first experience. Whether it’ll leave you extremely happy, or not, or you wont notice any change, you will have known how it feels to go through the experience, and that knowledge, no matter how itty bitsy it might feel, or overwhelming it is, is better than naivete.

 

The Weight of History

The most powerful space that I have stepped into, this year, where you cannot ignore the invisible forces that seem to tug at you by just being at that very space is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington DC. It is a space, filled with the story of the black man in America, and the birth, life times and death o the black child being born into a society that was built on being a slave societyYou see the story of how the black child grew up not to accept slavery as a permanent social status, but to try to convince those who still see him as a “lower race”, to take off the racially-tinted sunglasses in order to see more clearly that, apart from the color of their skin, black people in America are no different from anyone else.

The museum, when toured from its lower levels, upwards, is a chronological timeline of the story of the African American in the US. And myself being fully African, it required of me that I share these sentiments with people who once walked on the same continent. However, to me, the comparisons stop there. Since most of the slaves from Africa actually came from Western Africa in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and not where I call home, -East Africa(Kenya to be more precise), my family history does not lay privy to a history of enslavement to the Americas. But, this single strand of relation, and sense of something shared becomes suddenly magnified when I walked through the halls of that museum. It is by this single strand, that at times seems insignificant, that being the only african in a class of international students, handed me the button to become a representation of all those black, African, and African-American people out there that were absent. It was not a choice that I at first came to look at, but one that I felt deeply was one that would clear my conscience if I took on that responsibility. It was a conscious choice to make myself a representation of other people’s history, in any way that I can, firstly, by not dismissing the fact that I am black, and secondly, that black history in America is tainted with decades, and centuries of black slavery and racism.

Ignoring such a history, i feel, will only make me more and more stoic and unresponsive towards the cause of the black people in America. However, I also know that taking on this premise assumes, implicitly, that non-black participants in the conversation may not have taken on that same responsibility. I know, out there, that many non-black participants in a conversation about racism in America are empathetic, and justly right, to also honestly take on the responsibility of representing the history of a society, whether the black man’s history, their own history, or another person’s history.

Yet, inevitably, when participating in any conversation, on whatever topic, everyone will look at the topic of discussion, and at you, and if there is any connection, however faint it is, they will look up to you, almost naturally, to represent a culture, a society, a people, and if you choose not to engage this responsibility, nothing else will matter to you, and you will deny people the chance to hear you out, and understand you. But if you accept that responsibility, I have known the grace, and satisfaction that it brings.

History, is something that should be engaged with openly, and used as raw material in art, and industry, because it offers a gateway of seeing that history through other people’s eyes.

Featured image is of the artist Parker Bright protesting in front of Dana Schutz painting-“Open Casket”-in the Whitney Biennial. ” Open Casket and depicts an abstracted version of the famed photograph of Emmett Till’s open-casket funeral. (Source, ArtNews)

On thinking too much

Spend thirty minutes brushing your teeth, combing that hair, picking your best clothes, and making sure you smell good. Think about what you are gonna say to the class when it’s your turn to speak. Think of what you are gonna present in that meeting in a few hours.

The truth is, when someone steps up to do something, they are all different in different ways, and different levels, with different personas. And no matter how hard one may try, your neuron makeup will always tick at a different speed, and your heart beat will always accelerate at a different pace compare to the other person. So where do these people who move so eloquently within the tribe get their mojo? It is in built for some people, as one of my friends told me, while it is also a matter of courage, for one other friend of mine. But mustering this effort, and being free is a life skill that isn’t so easy to call into action at the time when mst needed, partly probably because the path doesn’t have to many footsteps upon it so you can’t quite clearly draw your path, and you fear that if a sandstorm hits, it will cover all the footsteps of encouragement.

Do we blame those who raised us up like our parents or guardians for not playing a role in shaping how we see ourselves? It might be just that the opportunities for self-expression, embarrassments, and self gratification were thrown away into the distant black holes of our memories such that it is hard to find any source of juice for that hungry needy child inside that knows no bounds. Either way, I have figured so far, that the only cure for this is not thinking to much about it. Be spontaneous, without plans, and your days won’t go by so fast, coz time+thinking=fear

The Music Album that saved me

I listen to a lot of music; and by a lot I mean lots of it-like my library of 25,000 songs. Now you may call me a music hoarder, and yes of course I am. Having this many songs in your song library can be daunting, because, then immediately, you’ve got a problem-which music do I listen to? Sometimes I do sample my music, creating a random genius playlist and allow itunes to shuffle the music for me. This works, but as you can guess, the software cannot always tell what music I really wanna hear.

Since its release in 2013, London Grammar’s album, titled “If you wait”, remained in the peripheries of my music taste, and I never came across it until last year. This is the sort of music that I didn’t know I needed it until I actually listened to it. The album, in three words-soulful, understanding, conscious. It was with a bland face that I first listened to the album, trying to understand it, trying to feel it ring in my hear, and play the tuned that funneled through the large headphones covering my ears. And needless to say, over a short time, its as if the music seemed to come alive, and understand me. Now, it’s not everyday that music can come alive. It’s only in those rare moments- such as drunken, hyper-filled parties, and when the DJ is playing the jam that so syncs with everything that even if you never loved te song, you seem to get along with it; such moments, though, never stretch to allow you to add such music into your library, because they are only momentary.

But this album, it came alive in me, attached itself to the coldest places in my heart, seeped into the most deserted places in my mind, stacked itself above all my insecurities, and filled them with not what I can call joy, or hype, but just conscious soulful, understanding. It is not the type of music that everyone listens to, but what the heck. It is freaking amazing. With a mixture of ambience, soft and hard beats, plus pure chilling rhythm, I can listen to the album over and over again. However, it is the only album that I can listen to when I feel like no one else is listening, or paying attention. It’s the only music that clocks with those moments when I don’t understand myself.

Hey now, Darling Are You Gonna leave me, you Shyer and Strong soul, If you wait, through the Interlude of Metal & Dust, the Sights of the days When we were Young, Maybe I will Help you Stay awake, while wasting my young years, in the Flickers of the High Life to Help me lose my mind. Now, I realised that I just iterated through the songs in the whole album, but these are mostly the words that I can listen to during those nights of insomnia, or a hot summer road trip, and even before doing anything that scares the shit out of me, because it speaks to me, and asks me what are you afraid of? coz nothing else matters, apart from this moment, now where I have possibility.

 

Listen here:

Spotify: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/if-you-wait/id695805771

Play Store: https://play.google.com/store/music/album/London_Grammar_If_You_Wait?id=Bmdq7dbvnfqifn6iwt4saclzvya&hl=en

Itunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/if-you-wait/id695805771

 

Fraud Politricks for Dummies

I have thought about this issue for a while after talking with some of my two friends who lost quite a bit of money recently. After laughing myself off for a while and making sure my laughter doesn’t bring them more pain, I decided it’s only fair that I share this aspect of diaspora living that suddenly came to my attention.

Unlike back home where someone would force you into a corner and even point a knife at you in the dark murky streets of nairobi demanding your $5, in places like the US, people have moved past those barbaric ways of robbing people of money and are 10 times wise and heartless.

Suddenly when you leave the country, you will begin to see the divide between the two types of people in your life: Those real friends, and those seasonal friends. And believe me that it will be as clear as daylight how the texts will come in: “Niaje bro, long time”. Always know that no one has an excuse for popping into your life like a freaking ping pong ball if they never really showed any genuine interest in you in the first place. They are like a pimple on your face, such that the only thing that they will make you do is itch, and scratch the damn pimple until all that is left is an ugly blemish on your pretty face. They are like that, and don’t think otherwise, because that is where one of my friends took a wring turn into losing half of his semester’s allowances. The other friend who lost some money was just a blatant case of a toxic mixture of indecision, naivete and anxiety.

13370Case file #1: The Chargeback

Jay was seated at his dorm room when he received a text from a high school friend. He’s at first a bit hesitant to read and reply and decides to leave it alone. But he receives a second text, and a third one. The reason that Jay didn’t wanna reply was because he never really related in any way with the person texting him on the other end of the line: Ted. Ted rather much ignored him throughout the whole of Jay’s high school and would only turn to him for his assignments to copy and paste into his own book. That was the only relationship that they had. Hence, getting a text from him, now, after two years of finishing high school was bizarre.

Ted wanted to do ‘business’ with Jay. Ted, back in Kenya, told Jay that he had been working on pimping some cars for his road show in Dubai in a couple of months. Ted was to get funding from investors to sponsor him in his inquests. How cool, Jay thought. Jay couldn’t even wrap his mind around the idea that Ted, not such a serious person in high school, who pretty much slept throughout his four years , landed such a gig. Jay questioned himself, but the more Ted texted him, the more he dismissed any questions he had. Ted wanted Jay to send him his US account number and routing details. Jay would receive a cut from the transfers to his account. In other words, Jay was the middle man for Ted’s money between Ted’s US sponsors and Ted himself. What a deal, Jay thought, as he went ahead with sharing his details.

When the first rounds of cash flowed in, about $100, Jay was now convinced that this was actually the real deal, he quickly proceeded to transfer the money through PayPal to Ted from his bank account. In the next few weeks, Jay received close to $400 in total, of which he then proceeded to send to Ted, most of the money, and as a mutual ‘partner’ in the business, take his share.

However, close to a month after those transactions, when Jay was busy dealing with the rush of completing the school semester, he receives a notification from his bank that his account has been overdrawn. On checking his statement, he realizes that the transactions to his account, Ted’s money, are being reversed by the bank.

At this point, Jay was too angry with himself to even be angry, as he told me, he bought a packet of jumbo sized chips, and some soda, and threw himself into his bed for the next couple of days.

What really happened, I found out from my own personal research was that the funds transferred into his account were most likely fraudulently obtained, either stolen or illegally accessed, then transferred to Jay’s account. After Jay had sent the money to Ted, the actual victim of the fraud incident filed a complaint to the bank and his money was returned. However, the bank had to debit Jay’s account i.e. Perform a chargeback, as is commonly known in the US, and of which is legally right for them to do, in the case of fraud. So, in the end, Jay had a huge overdraft in his account for which he had to cover with his own actual money.

I bought him ice cream when I payed him a visit, and we eventually found a way to laugh about it, though in his eyes, he couldn’t seem to believe how he played the cards against himself.

 

Phishing.jpgCase File #2: Let’s do some Phishing

Now, I too wasn’t personally aware of the lengths and depths of this type of scam until Danny explained his tale on his trip to New York over one of the weekends.

Seated also at his desk in his room (I don’t know what it is with doing this action that attracts all sorts of evils ), with his lunch, and leisurely binge watching a series over one of this ‘free’ streaming sites, Danny is looking for the next episode of Game of thrones. When suddenly, a pop up window appears. I invoke you to let me take you through the exact same reaction that he explained transpired in those few minuted in his room.

The pop up window was one of these ad-like pages that came out of nowhere (You only know how much you dislike ads when you are in places like the US where nearly everything is advertised and it nearly feels like its as invasive as cancer). The page, also came with its own unending ‘soundtrack’: “Read the information carefully for you to proceed”.Danny immediately scrolled his mousepad, without a thought, towards closing that page, only, it wouldn’t close. He clicked twice, then thrice, then upon noticing that the page just wouldn’t go, he decides to give it a read, since it was clear to him that it was the only way he got rid of the damn page.

Danny was a bit tense this time when the literature demanded that he call the number on the screen for this page to go away. And like all horror movies we know, the characters in the plot, foolishly go into the haunted house, like silly little puppets under strings. But anyway, there would be no horror movies if the characters don’t go into the haunted house. Danny proceeded to call the number on the line. The person on the other end of the line was a woman, as he told me, and she clearly told him that the only way for him to get rid of the tab on his screen, was to …   (I know you know what’s coming next… Money) send $250 through the tab on his screen. Yada yada yada, Danny ended up taking his laptop to the university’s IT department, after throwing out the window, his thanks giving and black friday shopping budget, just like that, in a span of five minutes.

When this type of pop up appeared on my laptop one day, seated in my room of course, I just stripped the poor laptop of it’s sources of life and living, the power, before resuming normal activities again, like nothing ever happened. I didn’t realize how deep the razor had cut, and maybe it’s coz I didn’t look at the wound. I didn’t pay attention to that pop up. Sometimes paying attention is the beginning of self-inflicted implosion

 

It’s a journey learning all these things, and I love my friends for making me wiser each day.

PS: Names are pseudonyms

Please share any other instances of the Fraud Politricks so that those who are not in the light may see.

Of Times and Peoples

It’s the normal buzz and groovy hype-filled air that made me just sit down and pause. If this was the famous movie Click, and reality was interchangeable with fantasy, then I would pause onto this moment and just sigh. I am at home. Feeling at home is something I have not felt for a loooong time. But now, with smiles here and there, people teasing each other and manufacturing candid smiles, and rich laughter, as well as nice home cooked meals of nyama choma, ugali and Chapati; all one can do is simply share in the moment. This was my Christmas, spent in the woods, with a group of a very lovely Kenyan family.

I got a chance to slide in the snow, and I think it’s a thing I became addicted to doing. And although my guts were literally jumping around my body like a ping pong game, it felt good in the end-You know that feeling that you get when you thought that something was so scary, but in the end you wonder what in the hell were you scared of?- That was the exact same feeling, plus sheer raw excitement.

However, everything in the end was centered around this group of people who share a sense of where you come from, and who you can only pour out your love for. It’s one thing giving gifts around Christmas, but it’s a completely whole other thing when the shared experience of togetherness and joy overshadows all the plasticity of the simple gift giving and receiving ; and whole commercialization that can stifle a real Christmas experience

Not All of them

Dear Time Magazine,

I am writing concerning the article “The Syrians Next Door” by Robin Shulman/Des Moines published in the Time Magazine issue of November 14th 2016. I was moved by the article for its honesty and clarity, however, I couldn’t get myself to continue reading and ignore something that made me particularly disturbed.

It reads, “An Iraqi volunteer helping Syrians has been reassuring other newcomers that America has laws to prevent someone from taking power and behaving like an Arab dictator” (pg. 46). This is of concern to me because it borders on the line of stereotyping. Although it is known that there have been many Arab dictators on the past, placing this adjective has more power in doing more harm than actually giving information. Be it a mild joke, or just an innocent statement, I personally feel that this blankets on all Arab leaders who are dictators, and doing injustice to the people under their rule. It’s like saying, “behaving like an American journalist, or behaving like an Spanish soccer player”. Now, how exactly do American journalists, or Spanish soccer players behave like? The statement is quite open to misinterpretation that all American Journalists of all Spanish Soccer players behave in a certain way; which borders in becoming a stereotype. While this expression …” an Arab dictator” might also have been used to bring out the image of the kind of leadership that the author was referring to, it does more harm by its insidious nature.

I write not specifically because I have seen what simple statements, even as minute as this particular one does to how people conceptualize a place, or a group of people, oversimplifying the image. There might have been other instances that do this, but I believe, as a magazine that holds such a broad readership, there has to be caution when using adjective that are particular to a group of people or place. I would suggest editing it to something like “…behaving like a wicked dictator.” or something that is less damaging than this.

Thank you.

Total Elevation

img_3445The Strangeness, of not being where you have never been, is a feeling that kept creeping up upon me each time I looked down upon the chilling 86th floor vantage point of the Empire State Building [Otherwise referred to as EBS; though this abbreviation doesn’t pack with it the punch of its full name]. Back to my point here. I imagine myself dropping something from that height. Hmm… and it will probably splatter, and shutter, and break into smithereens by the time it kisses the sweet concrete surface. How petty; but man, has reached this height of elevation, and keeps going up and up, maybe reach the skies.

This makes me think of how Philippe Petit, overcame the fear of height to wire walk across the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in 1974. Fear, is something that I feel, and people feel, when the images of the worst comes to mind; the worst outcome when someone first drives a car; the worst outcome when someone speaks in front of a crowd, the worst outcome when someone tries out something new. But there is something about being at this height that simply gets to your nerves, and pushes you, like a voice saying “How high can you go?” Its compelling, like an itch that requires scratching. And we all know how it feels when we reach a new level in something, that we have never reached before- in one piece; a good relationship, a successful hike, a finished race, a new job contract, etc.; each that was once a choice to overcome that fear that was tugging one back on the shoulders, because, all that one needs to do is to push it away, and go against gravity.

Gravity… Gravity…

The Anatomy of Doubt

[Le Doubte]         [der Zweifel]       [الشك]      [怀疑]      [la duda]       [shaka]

the-anatomy-of-doubt

What is this little monster that is doubt? And why do we even fall down to it? I, Lau de Bugs, asked my fellow, wiser blogger and friend, Kathie to chip in on this.

L: Well, to me, doubt has manifested itself in many ways. Starting from the feeling that I have when I secretly torrent movies on campus [Haha, yeah, I still do it. Don’t look at me wrong, you know you do it sometimes] 😎,to when I look at those pieces of deliciously made cakes at the cafeteria, to when I set my alarm at 4.30 am 🕜and even when I decide that I will not buy impulsively from Amazon. Doubt is this thing that creeps up on me sometimes, making me feel woozy and the like. Doubt faces me when I sit down and I stand up, before I talk to someone new and even a familiar face. This doubt comes to me mostly by the thought of the speculated aftermath of every situation; of the possibly of the nakedness of what might or should happen.

Doubt is a monster with many faces. It shows its face everywhere in my life, and in the lives of those around me at least. Doubt is the only reason that there is belief🙇. It’s essential; because, if there is no doubt, what is left is certainty. The last time I truly felt sure of myself, was the last day of high school. And those who are close to me know that I have not traveled a straight path. By this I mean, every step in high school was calculated, carefully planned and mapped out, and I could look ahead five to ten steps ahead. It’s a game that I had mastered, till the last day. From there, things did not really fall in place. Or rather, I overestimated my capability of putting things on order, into plan, into perspective. By nature, I began to see how things slipped out of my hands. It was disorienting. And this state of uncertainty began.

I do admit that I partly didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t have any sure agenda of what I would do the following day. But as I began to tread this rocky path, all that I could place my finger on was how unsure I was. This is an agonizing state of which I dwelt. I had no choice but to try and look for myself within this phase. But the more I tried to understand the patterns of my life, the more the patterns intertwined and crisscrossed themselves, making the future look the more foggy and serendipitous. You see, the thing I didn’t understand was that this search for absolute certainty was an impossible task. I don’t really know when I came to accept life as it comes, however, throughout this process, I have grown into a person who understands the value of these moments.

K: When I turned nineteen for example, I was in a psychological stalemate. I decided to step up my game towards my role as an adult individual. My folks would at times tell me am still too young to do this and that or am too old or mature for this and another. I grew uncertain but as soon as I let life take its course I was good to go. Things fell in place unplanned.

L: I have friends who know what they will do this month, next month, this year, next year; and while this is a good thing, it robs them of the adversity of uncertainty that forces us to doubt, find ourselves and acknowledge our own faults and shortcomings. Then, and only then, will one be able to believe, and have faith, to know oneself, to grow, and to become someone better.

Sure, we can plan ahead, but the best of us, thus, are those who doubt at times. There is nothing wrong with doubt, and I learnt that I shouldn’t look to run away from these moments when I doubt. Rather, cherish these instances, because they make me a better person.

K: We should just let the stuff and moments flow. Life should be a surprise in that I didn’t really want to know what tomorrow will be like or what it holds for me. Life without doubt is like watching the harry potter movie after reading the novel (Not the most accurate comparison, but yeah). I remember when I was young my mum used to make quilts for us every day she would choose a new cloth. I and my sisters always anticipated for each day as we wanted to know the cloth color and pattern she would sew in next.

Uncertainty may be termed as a limiting factor in life and to our dreams. Sometimes I feel as if I missed a great deal of fun and excitement in my prior life due to not trusting these times of doubt. I have fallen and embarrassed (yes, embarrassed), appeared naïve and stupid, and felt uncomfortable coz of doubt. Funny that sometimes we even doubt that we doubt ourselves.

One good thing about doubt is that it brings vivacity in life. I am able to nostalgize all the moments whether good or bad and take them as a learning process. The best thing now about the doubting stage is that once we make a decision it’s valid. In future when placed in a similar position, we already know which path to take. Personally, having read the famous poem “the path not taken” by Robert Frost tipped me on the guidelines to decision making. It makes our lives look like a box-office and the choices that we take are our climax. Keeping in mind that our movies have genres. We really have to make choices knowing that we can never rewind things all over again.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler”

-Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”

 

 

Lau de Bugs & Kathie

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