Whither Culture?

Michael Onsando
8 January ,2019

“Lamu elders are now worried that the county’s cultural heritage and traditions could get extinct if urgent measures are not put in place to preserve them.

Lamu Council of Elders Chairman Shariff Kambaa told the Nation on Sunday that there has been continued proliferation of western cultures into Lamu in recent days, a move which has in turn resulted to various traditions getting lost.”

Rusinga Festival Rowers
Photograph by Magunga Jakaruoth

The things we preserve remind us of who we are. Whether it be a simple flavour in a meal to a song to entire elaborate rituals and ceremonies it is the things that we hold on to that give us a sense of identity. And it is in the way they hold onto us – a heavy tongue, a bad habit, a lens – that we are identified.

The problem is that the most important things often need the gentlest approach. One cannot be forced to treasure a thing (if anything, this might be the most counterproductive thing you could try). This becomes particularly complicated in multicultural spaces, multicultural house holds. And even harder with the all-imposing western narrative that has dominated most areas of our life.

I never learned how to speak my mothertongue. I don’t have a reason. Both my parents speak the same language and I could have easily picked up bits and pieces here and there. But America got to me first. I was more caught up in what the Hardy Boys hard to say than in anything that sounded like ebitabu. To date I listen more fluently than I speak. My words come out in bits and stutters as if my tongue is putting together old parts of a broken engine.

Tug of war at the Rusinga Festival
Photograph by Magunga Jakaruoth

We value the things that we believe will give us value. I will remember this recipe – it will feed me. I will remember this song – it will comfort me. In the places where the things that we have carried overlap we call culture. A tune whispered by common ancestors as they gathered around a fire years ago. And when we discard things their value is questioned and made apparent.

The materials from Gikuyu, Kikamba, Dholuo and Ekegusii come in handy in the development of language activities, which include listening, speaking, pre-reading and pre-writing which, according to the new curriculum framework, are to be carried out in the language of the catchment area.”

It was not really cool to speak your mothertongue where I went to school. Or even to speak like you had been influenced by the village tongue. The heavy tongue was not only punished in class but on the playground as well. The diet was strictly western – the idea of a school serving ugali only came to me in high school. Even as a reader my search naturally took me to English greats like Poe and Kipling long before I had even heard of Achebe or Thiong’o. And, when I did, they were presented as not holding as much weight. As being just another and not “a great.”

“Except today it is fashionable to scream

of pride and beauty as though it were not known that

‘slaves and dead people have no beauty’ “

Maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s a new generation coming into itself. But the battle against cultural domination has been intensified. We see more women being encouraged to find their beauty within. We see musicians wading through our musical archives to create a sound that we can own. We see videos of Uzoamaka Aduma refusing to compromise her Igbo name for the white tongue and we celebrate.

It’s becoming cool to embrace your Africanness.

But how do you embrace something you never cultivated? How do you return to an Africanness you never actually owned?

Dancer at the Rusinga Festival
Photograph by Magunga Jakaruoth.

We give ourselves reasons to remember. And we make them beautiful that they may stay with us for as long as they can. We bring them back into the syllabus and we hold festivals. We cook and we tell sing songs. We speak of our heroes like the heroes they are and we make room for a future where we won’t need to cling to what we already have.

Or we grow and watch passively as the songs are sung no more.

And we continue to Kenya

Michael Onsando
6 November ,2018

“In this room I was born. And I knew I was in the wrong place”

Spaces, Arkaye Kierulf

 It hit me yesterday that I have been, for a long time, uncomfortable with my identity as a Kikuyu man and what comes with it. Because that identity has been translated to me as an abuser, as competition, not just by other Kikuyu, but by everything.

Owaaah 

It’s impossible to dismiss the value of identity in creating cohesion in a space. The words that are used as markers of identity carry perspectives with them that have been shaped over history. To say I am male, black, kisii-suba, is also to say that my body, my knowledge has travelled through these traumas. That the stories that I am likely to tell you are coloured by the experiences of a runaway brother and a journey from Misri. That my perspectives are informed by my position and expectations made of me (and bodies like mine) over the years.

The modern society is inherently multicultural. Whether this is has been achieved by an influx of immigrants looking for better opportunities, or immigrants looking to “fix the world,” most spaces are now a blend of identities – tribal and national. Our perspectives towards immigrants changes wherever you go (bodies are remembered by societies). But, at the end of it all, whether you are in the most remote village or the developed city, you are likely to find those who “are not from” or are considered “foreign” and those who are “local.”

“I, against my brothers. I and my brothers against my cousins. I and my brothers and my cousins against the world.”

Arab Proverb

 I’d like to talk a bit about what it means to be “local”

How the “local” relates to the “foreign” depends on which type of foreign it is. To be local in Kenya is to understand the foreigns around you and how to relate to them. It’s to know to smile “Jambo” at the Caucasians and to keep the Asians at a suspicious distance. It’s to know that “we are one Kenya” but also that it is “our turn to eat.” It is to know to keep your eye on the ever-changing “we” and how that shifts in relation to your “I”

To be local is to be aware of the number of locals that exist, those that have been erased, those that are allowed to occupy space – and how much space is allocated to each. It is to know that, while Kenya has 44 ethnicities, only 3 or four of them matter. It is “kuomba serekali itusaidie” while greasing palms to get your way.

It is to be expected to understand the state of affairs that is “Kenyanness.” To not kick up a fuss, not cause a scene, not fight too much. To be comfortable in knowing, this is Kenya – and this is how things are. It is to see the collective hunger, desperacy and grappling for resources as what it is – a 50 something year old democracy trying to heal and bring together 40 plus ethnicities while playing catch up in a globalized capitalist world.

The problem with multiculturalism is that the idea that “no culture be held superior” begs the question “off which culture do we create our law?” At Kenya’s inception, the latent assumption was white culture was superior, we adapted this assumption into our law system. To date we continue to ask ourselves what kind of systems would exist if we had drawn up the assumptions for ourselves? We see these questions rise to the surface when it comes to marriage (a church wedding and a traditional wedding because all the gods must be pleased). Or with the Community Land Act (is land ownership an individual or collective issue?). Or institutionalized in our police system.

As such, to be local is to know which when and how the law actually applies.

You know that

you carry their history.

But you also know

you don’t carry their scars.

And that, you hope,

will make all the difference.

Burns

Given the number of cultures we’re trying to amalgamate into a whole – would a thing such as a “Kenyan culture” exist? How would it apply? (A question that actually stalled the creating of a “national dress”)

Perhaps this is why Owaah’s tweet stuck with me.

We are retold stories of how “we” are the perpetrators of a violence and we reject them. We refuse to see ourselves in these stories because we cannot recognise the version of ourselves that is shown in them. We reject these stories because they do not carry our truths, because they erase what we know about ourselves, what we have been taught to aspire towards. And when we place our narratives against these stories they don’t add up.

And so we try to find the words to grasp at this dissonance. Between living in a space that is yet to be fully ideologically formed and demanding for the right to claim space. Between trying to understand the hunger and battle the corruption. Between trying to understand the betrayals and pursue justice. This never ending dance between looking for ourselves in the past and disentangling the present to create liveable futures.

And The Drums

The Drums guide our feet

In this backwards-forwards dance

This forwards-backwards dance

This Husago Dance

This Misego Dance

The Dance into a Future

That ends in the Past.

Husago, Kofi Anyidoho

Situating Ourselves

Michael Onsando
15 May ,2018

“By saying, this is how the world sees me. This is what is expected of me”

“When bodies break it is not a moment but a culmination. Bodies that break tend to have been pulled, stretched twisted and torn. Bodies that break do not just break.”

 

We all seem to agree by now that the current imaginations of purpose have been long outlived by the modern world. Increasingly the ethnopatrichal capitalist system is being called into question. Globally curiosity has been ignited in alternatives. So much so that flat earthing almost became a thing again.

But the system itself is a thing – and things are indifferent. Building off the previous essay, things only have the power we give them.

So we must ask – what is this thing – the system? And why does it have so much power?

Thankfully, this is not labour we have do ourselves. Several liberation struggles have given language and articulation to the various ways in which this system marginalizes. And, being a system born and bound to certain imaginations of freedom, it makes sense that some bodies were given preference. It is important to note that it is about bodies, because bodies are also things that we can do little about.

System (noun)

A set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole.

Even systems have a purpose. And the system for survival. For whom? That will take us back to the question on bodies, which is a whole other debate. Maybe then it makes sense that the people who have made peace with their role in the system are disproportionately resistant to change – fear is a powerful thing.

And this is even before we begin to introduce the individual human into the equation. If one was to look at the system as a well-oiled machine then it would be a matter of switching parts, keeping it oiled and regular maintenance. But the individual insists on have a conscious mind, and the need to think, feel, live and be.

So we see static unchanging roles and purposes, held in place by an outdated system and we see the wrong bodies coming up to fill the wrong functions and faced with different problems. A woman comes out as the breadwinner in a family and comes up against the sexist nature of compensation. A gentile man seeking to paint comes up against the demand to provide. The system, indifferent, identifies the bodies in a certain way and assumes peace with the function the bodies are to fill – placing the burdens as expected. Those who find themselves aligned are overjoyed. Others are at battle.

This relation shapes us.

What’s true is [that] trauma makes weapons of us. And fools, and secret keepers, and collaborators in harm. What’s true is that trauma is both singular violent events and the ongoing constant socialization of ‘power over’ for those deemed superior because of skin or penis or ability or inheritance or something else they didn’t create or do. If we are going to grow, we must embrace truth telling. We must generate our compassion. We must learn to set and hold boundaries within community, on this planet we share. We must learn what is worth our attention, and how powerful our attention is. We must get more passionate about healing than we are about punishing.

 

But the system is just a thing. Which is to say, to change the system would be as easy as to wake up tomorrow and say ‘from now on it shall be.’ So what’s stopping us then?

There is need.

I keep going back round to this because I need it to be seen that the thing under discussion is tangible. More often than not it is like we are discussing some abstract system that exists eons away from us, but it is right within ourselves. Knowing, for example, that the system is perception bound, means knowing that the ways we have learned to see others are the things that are holding them in place. This ‘system’ is really our definitions of what roles people must fulfill in our lives.

Which makes sense because if the purpose of the system is survival then excommunication is the perfect punishment. Especially when you go into the nature of excommunication in relation to survival – it often meant death.

“It is the people we hold onto that hold onto us. As we shake people off, we too are shaken off.”

There are two things here. First, we must look at the ways in which we have trained ourselves to look at the world. The perceptions we have held and reinforced because ‘they are true.’ The people we have vilified and the people we have sanitized. There is need to shift the way we think – and this can only happen through open and honest debate. It is in the debate that we make peace with the nuance.

Second, it should be more apparent that no matter how we define ourselves in relation to the purpose our identity will be interlinked to it. Because we have only learned to see things as they have been seen and we are only seen as we have been seen, then the futility of fighting becomes apparent.

This is not to say that everything is predetermined and there is no such thing as free will.

Rather it is to say that the act of freeing one’s will must be a deliberate and, will often be, a painful task. As we refuse to become the person we are seen as people see less need in being the person we see them as (the level of peace we have made with this may vary).

“A void will always fill.”

This system doesn’t exist in a vaccum though. And survival as a purpose cannot be taken away from you. All the system did was distribute the labour (and unevenly distribute the benefits of) towards that survival. And so in freeing our will, we find ourselves differently burdened. And those who pick up the burdens we left behind find themselves differently burdened. I use differently because things trade hands, but it is difficult to speak of which is heavier.

It is this time that we take to analyse and understand these different burdens.

And it is with this new understanding that we begin to re-shape the ways in which we relate to the labour of survival. Then maybe, just maybe, we can take a shot at changing the system.

 

Finding your Power

Michael Onsando
1 May ,2018

“Perhaps now it becomes clearer that when we speak of “reclaiming our power” we are not necessarily talking about moving in opposition to something, rather than moving towards actualization of our own will.”

In pursuit of power

But power is an intangible thing. To try to see it/touch it/discover it is to watch it dissolve. And because our mode of interrogation is outwards, to search for this power is often to outsource it. To ask, “is this a valid source?” Is to immediately validate the source. And to tell someone “you have my power” is to be asked “where did I put it?” So it makes sense that even statements like “reclaiming our power” seem to say a lot without saying anything.

In pursuit of power we tried to ask – where has it gone, this power? To reclaim something, you must have had it at some point. When talking about enlightenment Allan Watts uses an anecdote. When asked to provide a form of enlightenment his question is often – “have you forgotten something?” In further talks he goes on to speak on the nature of enlightenment and how it unfolds upon itself, leading to the meaning of existence being existence itself. I’d like to argue that power unfolds unto itself this way.

Especially when we remember that power is most often a way we are perceived.

The thing is, how we are perceived has very little to do with who we are – or even what any single individual thinks of us(if there even is such thing as a single individual). It is a collection of knowledges that we carry in our bodies, in our tongues, in our motions – and what these knowledges have meant to many people right? (or, what happens when truths collide?)

And, knowing the number (and multiplicities) in ways we are perceived, it begins to make sense why fighting perception increasingly becomes a losing battle. In taking on how we are seen in a debate it is almost as if we are saying, “Sit, bring me yourself and your ancestors, bring me all the ways in which they have thought- and let me tell you why you’re wrong.”

The things we hold close.

Eventually, these debates become draining.  Further, perception is a real time thing – happening with tens of people a day for the working adult. There isn’t enough time to break down perception barriers in every single conversation. And, because all these knowledges all hold truths in them – the murk becomes messy.

“Though you can see when you’re wrong, you know you can’t always see when you’re right.”

Billy Joel, Vienna waits for you.  

I’d like to argue that to give away our power is to see ourselves through the argument of another. So, when mucking through the mess, rather than follow our path back to ourselves, we move towards their truth (their perception of us) – for whatever reasons, vanity, fear, and so forth. Now, holding these truths in place of our own, we carry them with us. They define us.

And the problem here comes from several angles.

First, we need this ideas to be held in stasis. Or at least with the same stability that our own core gave us. This is highly improbable. One’s perception of you can’t be held in stasis, there are too many factors involved in a transaction of this kind. Second, under interrogation – these ideas always fail. Because they are not grounded in how you are perceived, when challenged to unfold into themselves, they unfold unto someone else. And this someone else doesn’t look like you – even to yourself.

This can cause a serious amount of cognitive dissonance.

The problem is, these ideas are often challenged because the world continues to perceive us as it has always perceived us. We are the ones who perceive ourselves differently. And so we relate differently to how we are seen:

“Increasingly, it seems to be about how we relate to our purpose and how that relation then shapes who we are. And then how who we are shapes how we are perceived. Which shapes our experience. Which shapes the ways in which we are (dis)allowed to navigate. Which shapes who we think we are supposed to be. Which shapes our purpose, with which we relate.”

Or, Whatever

 

Which is why even before we begin to reclaim our power from outside sources, we must begin by acknowledging our own. By saying, this is how the world sees me. This is what is expected of me. These are the ways in which I am feared. These are the ways in which I am loved. These are the ways in which I am acknowledged. These are the ways in which I am disregarded.

It is in this process of acknowledging that the cracks in our own foundations become apparent.

It is in this process of acknowledging that we realize whose power we hold.

And because the world, oblivious to your change, continues to see us as it has always seen us, then we can move in and out of our power and use it to create space where others can do the same (or not, it’s really your decision).

I fall back to Wambui Mwangi on remembering:

“To ‘re-member’ is to make a member again, to bring that member back into the community of imagination, re-awakening past trajectories and giving new momentum along new paths of the present.”

Silence is a Woman

What does it mean to make yourself a member of your community once again?

Or, have you forgotten something?

In Pursuit of Power

Michael Onsando
3 April ,2018

What is power?

I ask because we need to look closely at this thing that we spend a lot of time assuming we all understand. We say that people have power of others and what do we mean? One could say power is the ability to allocate resources (financial, emotional, opportunities). Perhaps it is the ability to influence the way people make decisions using a variety of tactics. Still, these definitions seem to be a result of power rather than the thing power itself.

Without becoming overly philosophical – I ask this because there are assumptions we make in conversations that might be hindrances to the truth. We assume, for example, that the priviledged person will have power of the less privileged one – but is that true?

And if so, what is power?

“In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me – who lives and who dies?”

It becomes evident that power lies in will. In this case, who the sellsword wills to kill. Will is, of course, the initial driver of ability – we will ourselves to do things. It is the collective will of the people that moves societies. This will comes from authority. We will ourselves to do what we want but we bend our will when faced by an authority(real or perceived). The thing about authority is, there are few places where we must bow to authority. In the office, for example, we must follow what the people in charge want. In society, we must follow the law – but there are few others. All other ways in which we succumb to the will of others are voluntary. Or beyond voluntary, transactional. For example, you still bend your will sometimes for your parents because you would like to continue to receive their good graces.

And, of course there are people who bend their will to suit what you want – tis the nature of life.

Hence creation of authority creates an illusion of power. And, because power itself is an illusion then it might as well be the real thing.

The reason this is important is perhaps in realizing this we can begin to see how we have assigned authority based on our definitions of power and how that has affected our interactions with people. For example – how does your assumption that all women are emotional affect how you interact with women? Do you thus perform actions that provoke an emotional reaction and confirm your theory? Or your idea that all men are cold and emotionless – do you go around being pre-emptively microaggressive and thus making sure people keep their distance from you and confirm your theory? What authorities have we given people (how have we organized the worlds in our heads) and how does this authority shape who we think people are (and who we think we should be)?

Perhaps now it becomes clearer that when we speak of “reclaiming our power” we are not necessarily talking about moving in opposition to something, rather than moving towards actualization of our own will. And in order to know what our own will is we must start by trying to see the world we are trying to create – what it looks like, who can live there and how to get there. It might seem like the same thing, but is very different from simply identifying the things we do not want in the world.

Because many times the very thing we don’t like is a reflection of ourselves, and positions based on negatives often lead to debates about exceptions. For example “we would like to eliminate murder from the world” leads to questions like “what about self defense? Or manslaughter?” Whereas building from a place of “we would like a world where people are not pushed to violence” allows us to have the conversation from a place of laying the groundwork and creating the environment for the non-existence of murder.

The second statement starts from a place of before the murder has happened and begins to address the root cause, rather than begin from “okay, a murder has happened – the person who murdered is bad, how do we punish them?” Rather than destroy what has already been willed it begins with the bottom – what moved the will in the first place? And this conversation leaves room for solutions that could be more sympathetic rather than punitive towards the murderer and hence leaving room to break long term cycles. This is because the first position assigns that murderer the authority of evil. All evil begins and ends with the act of murder. Whereas the second position distributes the violence – allows for the murder to be part of a larger picture.

Just to clarify that I’m not saying that this should be how we write laws. Rather it is how we should approach conversations. Rather than assign privilege the authority of evil in a conversation, how would it change if we walked into conversations and stripped people of the authorities they are supposed to have – and ourselves of the ones we assumed ourselves to have – and tried to reach/understand? Where would conversations go? What kind of solutions would show themselves?

“…get firsthand information. Know for yourself what it feels like. And then you too can become a superhuman empathetic person. You can care about people you never met, and worry about problems you don’t even have.”

So this week, maybe a question. Who have you given authority? Who have you given your power? Where do you bend your will? And how can you stand up straight?

Something is Happening

Michael Onsando
9 January ,2018

The thing about saying something is happening is that change comes to everyone in its own time. And so to say that something is happening is to forget the millions that it is yet to happen to. It is to forget those who will die before that thing happens. And if the thing that was supposed to happen doesn’t happen in time for you – then did it happen?

Maybe this is why hope is fragile. Especially when it comes to hope for the intangible things. Things like freedom and peace.

The thing is, hope opens up a space of possibility. When we hope for something we make decisions toward its actualization. You hope that someone comes to see you – so you linger around the house waiting for them to get there. The longer you wait, the more you lose hope. Usually, by the time you leave you have not only lost hope altogether – you’ve probably also convinced yourself that the whole idea of hoping was silly in the first place. And, if this happens enough times, you learn to navigate this person differently to preserve your time. Every action though, has an equal and opposite reaction. You stop waiting for them, they get angry, and you have a confrontation.

To hope towards freedom in colonial days was to ask your neighbor “are you willing to sacrifice your life for this?” To even think of creating possibilities for freedom was to accept the sacrifice that came with it. Now, most people can agree, that freedom was something we needed. And to get it someone had to aspire to it, and sacrifice was made. However, given the level of sacrifice needed, one can begin to understand the people who decided not to sacrifice. Who looked at the question and said “Yes, freedom would be fantastic, but I have lost too much/I am too afraid/I cannot help” or whatever other variation.

Perhaps this is why we will (and must) always be wary of anyone who speaks of change. Not to frustrate the inevitability of change (another exercise in futility) but rather to ask ourselves – is this the world we want? And how can we move from where we are to where we need to be? And what does where we need to be look like?

Can we not acknowledge that there are deep disagreements among us with our very lives and destinies at stake?

With (literally) our whole world at stake, we become very particular. We begin to take a closer look at things like identity, we study patterns in ideologies. And, once convinced we are on the right path, we are willing to do almost anything to get there (it is, after all, for the greater good). This, like everything else has some good and some bad in it as well. It is because of this drive that change is inevitable. Because we will always work towards it.

But sharing spaces will always be about compromise. And if there is no room for compromise in this drive then we end up with different sides to the same argument talking at each other, over each other and against each other without any real consensus building toward a shareable future. Discussions that often end in reproducing the same oppressive institutions that they set out to change.

Africanization, then, is an exercise in offering context. In learning our history. In changing our lenses. Much of the history of our continent is written by white men from Europe and North America, and this no doubt affects how the world sees us, but more importantly, how we see ourselves. For our children, it has meant a very narrow view of our continent. In many school books, the history of our continent is written in three broad categories: pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial. In doing so, we single out colonization as the single most important thing that has happened to Africa, and centre it.

 

‘It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.’

  • Audre Lorde

 

“And, if truth itself has a history – what happens when such histories collide? When the subject, rooted in their own truth and own history, meets another subject rooted in the same? How do we handle these situations? Does the way we do this further aggravate or does it create space for these histories to co-exist?”

Maybe this is why the work of change is slow. The constant negotiation and renegotiation until something finally manages to lodge itself into the place of “common knowledge.” So to say something is happening is to say “this is common knowledge in my circles/this change has reached the people around me” Maybe it might even be to say “I have removed myself from the spaces where the thing is yet to happen.” Rarely, “I am working to happen this thing”

Something is happening is often used to direct attention to the thing. To ask that the listener pause to observe and, perhaps even participate towards whatever is happening. And with attention comes the questions “why this thing?” “Why now?” What does this thing mean for me?” And it is these questions that we must be willing and ready to answer when we say something is happening. Because all conquest has been on the back of ideology (or nazi soldiers were willing to die for their beliefs as well). Because sacrifice will often fall on the shoulders of the most vulnerable. A president may start a war, but a soldier will die. A lawyer may open a case, but a witness will be shot. And, if we insist that this something, that is happening, must happen then we must accept that there will be sacrifice involved.

And, as with all sacrifices, we must be willing to ask “why?”

 

 

 

Between Hope and a Hard Place

Michael Onsando
29 April ,2014

On many occasions when talking about Brainstorm, the journal, the future and the work that we believe that this journal should do, I’ve been asked about hope. This question comes up again with people who read my blog. And it’s not just me, it’s like the message that is being passed across by many writers, many thinkers is, “we’re screwed.”

In Kampala during a question and answer session, I’m asked this by someone who reads me often. They ask why I don’t write happier things, why I don’t give people hope. In response I get angry. “If happier writers do not have a burden of sorrow imposed upon them, why must I carry this burden of joy?” are the exact words I use to reply. I remember these words verbatim because they stay with me for months.

In ‘Beyond Hope’ environmentalist Derrick Jensen writes:

“When we stop hoping for external assistance, when we stop hoping that the awful situation we’re in will somehow resolve itself, when we stop hoping the situation will somehow not get worse, then we are finally free—truly free—to honestly start working to resolve it. I would say that when hope dies, action begins.”

Then there’s this word ‘despair.’ It carries an utter desolateness within itself. It is defined as ‘the complete loss or absence of hope’ but, I believe, that is not the meaning that has attached itself to the word. While I do feel, to a large extent, completely without hope for Kenya, I do not feel despair.

Despair carries with itself the connotation that nothing can be done. And, because nothing can be done, nothing will be done. Further, in doing nothing, the original statement is proven – nothing can be done. Despair is, within itself, a self fulfilling  prophecy.

I have never been a big fan of hope. Even as I write that, however, I realize I have never been a big fan of despair either. Both seem to create a situation of inaction. In ‘Problems with Names’ Sara Ahmed writes:

“I would argue that if feminism is to have a future in the academy, we need to name sexism, we need to give this problem its name; we need to revolt against sexism.”

While she is talking about sexism, I think this applies to much more than that. It is important that we be able to give things names. That we be able to touch them, feel them, identify and analyze them. There is a space where I am now. It is not a place where I feel hope, neither is it a place of despair. What do we call this place? How do we interact with it if we can’t touch it?

When I started writing this, I was thinking about how to be hopeful about the country. How does one navigate and  keep their chin up when we are actively un-humaning an entire community? Even the things we find to be happy about are vastly outweighed by the others. I, for example, really like the ice cream at Sno Cream. How does this weigh in what I need to write about vis-à-vis everything else that is happening in the world, the continent, the country – my neighbourhood?

There is a two way divide that has been created in Kenya. This divide has been created for writers who exist here.  The writers who pretend nothing is wrong and are very happy about Kenya, and the writers who, basically, say that “We’re screwed.” Both these writers run off the need to tell a different story. (Think about how we repel stories of a backward village type Kenya with stories of skyscrapers). This divide has been extended to emotion. One is either hopeful for the future of the country or in complete despair.

This is obviously not true.

The first reason this can’t be true is that we know that human beings are complex creatures capable of holding more than one emotion at once. How many times have you been angry at someone you love, yet still loved them? Who said emotions must exist in this place of black and white when we know that everything is grey?

The second reason for this is the complete failure of English as a language. I toyed with the idea of naming this space but decided against it. I’m sure there’s a language that has a name for it (please tell me down there in the comments if you know it) and English, as a language has just failed us with its limited range – as it often does.

The third reason is slightly more nuanced. What does this divide do? In a country where everybody either hopes the place will fix itself or knows nothing can be done, we end up in a space where everything will remain the same. It creates two positions that are inactive and inactivity is great for the status quo.

I intend to stay in this place. This place is where the magic happens. It is where I am comfortable and functional. I just need to know where this place is so that the next time someone asks me “Michael, is there no hope?” I can calmly look them in the eye and say “There is no hope, there is only this – existence.”