Sunday, September 03, 2006

A Call to Arms

Corruption, greed, inefficiency, neglect, political irresponsibility—these are African realities but we must remember that they are not all that defines the continent or its people. I observe many people who will quickly denounce their country yet hang on to identification with it. Their nationality or place of origin will come second to their name when asked who they are yet, in the same breath they will let out a condemning supercilious cry, “Africans!” What is pathetic is for us to think we stand above it all when this position itself mirrors the same denial and irresponsibility that several of our less-than-acceptable leaders exercise.

What happened to taking responsibility for what is ours? In a short opinion piece in Kenya’s Nation newspaper, Revolution Belongs to the Youth, Benjamin Mogaka Obegi puts it well: “If we complain that Kenya has failed us, we equally take the blame for failing to grasp the fragments of revolution and turning the history clock to our advantage.”

Check out Parselelo Kantai’s article “Death of the Kenya Dream?” on African Bullets and Honey.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Stand Wherever Your Feet Take You

Interestingly enough, looking back at comments on a previous post, I came upon criticism for charity organization Stand Up For Africa.

A person who chose to remain anonymous stated:
“The other day I was reading about a group -Stand up for Africa, largely based in the UK and found it incredibly interesting to see that the whole team behind this group are based in the West!! Practice what you preach, I would advise. Return to your homelands and begin the 'stand' from there, not from your comfortable existences in the West...”

Ironically enough (and having totally forgotten about anonymous’ comment), a few weeks later I began work as a volunteer with UK based Stand Up For Africa (SUFA) and it has been a very enlightening experience. There are a wide range of criticisms that I have come across. For one, the fact that the organization includes members and volunteers who are not black or even African raises a lot of eyebrows. However, many Africans cannot bother to participate in constructive activities in aid of their own continent! And generally, people tend to be very skeptical of charities and whether money raised actually goes where it is intended. I can tell you this from first hand observation: SUFA is an independent (read no bureaucratic nonsense and vested interests to please) charity with 2 (yes, that’s correct) employees! Everyone else (there is a very wide network of volunteers) gives up time for free. SUFA’s office is very modest and it is wildly apparent that money is not leaking out anywhere. Still relatively young (3 years), SUFA currently works with grassroots organizations in Benin and Uganda with partner, SAFY and intends to expand to cover all the countries of the continent. Read more about SUFA’s current fundraising project .

The question for anonymous is, what negative is there in Africans trying to affect change for Africa from places elsewhere? Would you rather they do nothing at all? Unfortunately, as much as it might not fit into our ideal mental images (because I do share your sentiments about the value of people going home and affecting change from there), it may be more possible (or easier) to effectively mobilize resources and action from abroad. That doesn’t mean that we should forget about trying to do so from home but that we should not shut out alternatives and options. At the end of the day, Girl next door’s response sums it up well: “due to resources, access to information and funds, it can make more sense for a group to be based abroad rather than at home. It's nearly impossible to work in a messed-up system that is corrupt and inefficient.”

It is counterproductive for us to argue about what, ultimately, amount to technicalities. This is akin to politics at home where there is much talk and debate but little if any action. Caught up in ego struggles and differences, we miss the point! I shall end with the once again wise words of Girl next door: “It does not benefit us to be so divisive (kenyans abroad vs kenyans at home, well educated vs laymen...) when we have a common cause.”

PS, Look at great historical figures who had significant impacts on their homelands from bases outside them…

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Medicine for Dying

We often take for granted that HIV and AIDS is the same thing: different versions or stages of the same disease. We take the words of scientists and researchers as bond because, after all, they are the experts! But lately, I have stumbled and been called to pay attention to some very interesting sources that have upturned a lot of things that I thought I knew.

The establishment is engaged “mass hypnosis” (see google link below) — crafting messages about HIV and AIDS that are not sanctioned by the same scientific rigours that are standard practice. HIV/AIDS education is often synonymous with terrorism in that, we are instilled with (what may indeed be mostly baseless) fear. As a result, a positive HIV diagnosis is often enough to send someone into such a state of panic that their health deteriorated swiftly from this stress alone. “It’s the HIV,” observers will say when, prior to the diagnosis, the person was obliviously living a full and healthy life. What we have working here is a billion dollar industry involving the highest echelons of Western governments. In light of such a lucrative business, a cure is surely not in the distant horizon. Indeed, how is one to find a cure when the cause itself is not so clear…

The testing and diagnostic practices involved are largely inaccurate; several are not approved by major medical authorities and; experiments to test their validity have been botched or abandoned. For example, it is very possible to get a false HIV+ result if you’re suffering from flu, parasitic diseases and even Malaria. This last one especially leads me to wonder if this has any correlation to the fact that so many Africans are being told they have HIV?

Speaking of correlation, the HIV=AIDS hypothesis, i.e. the “truth” that HIV causes AIDS is backed up essentially by correlation. Many people with AIDS were observed to have HIV as well and thus the conclusion was jumped to. However, correlation does not prove causation. It reminds me of myths parents tell their children to prevent them for engaging in behaviour they don’t approve of. For example, your mother telling you that sweets will make you get a flu, hoping that it will discourage you from eating too many. Flu is a virus so it’s highly unlikely that sweets will cause it but, if you get the flu soon after you eat a heap of sweets… you might just believe it’s true.

According to some alternative theories, what we call HIV has existed for years and years on end. Many claim it is harmless and not infectious. The fact that HIV tests test for antibodies seems to support this claim. When infected by a disease, your body develops antibodies to fight it. So in effect, if you test positive for HIV antibodies, it should be an indication that your body has HIV under control and that the virus cells are now dormant! Many theorists go on to say that it is the drugs prescribed to HIV+ patients that then go on to destroy the immune system and thus progress to AIDS. They are several cases where the health of people taken off HIV ‘treatment’, goes on to improve whereas those on continued treatment suffer a tragic fate where their bodies literally slowly waste away. An MP Shah Hospital (Nairobi) doctor discusses losing his HIV patients not to the virus but to the side effects of their antiretroviral treatment (the article however only goes as far as attributing these losses to improper management of treatment).

2005 movie The Constant Gardner appears to have been more than merely good entertainment. AZT, the common prescription claimed to prolong the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS, kills cells indiscriminately. This poison, originally developed for cancer patients but never approved, was then resurrected under pressure for an ailment for a growing AIDS epidemic. Possible reasons why AIDS patients on AZT see improvement: once in your system, your body rapidly creates cells to fight off this offensive substance and as a result, tests on your immune system show rapid improvement. Apparently, several patients who show improvement over a few years after treatment then go on to suffer quite rapid deterioration and death.

The moral of the story seems to be that, HIV does not destroy immune systems and cause AIDS. Indeed HIV+ people live for years, healthy, unaffected, normal lives. AIDS is by definition dubious in that several, in many ways arbitrarily chosen, combinations of diseases are termed ‘AIDS’ and its known causes are subject to a lot of scrutiny. Many people are perhaps wrongly diagnosed with either and medical malpractice is going on unattended to overwhelming proportions.

I am not a professional medical expert, nor scientist but these are not just my random thoughts — many, including renowned, first-class medical experts and scientists, share them.

Below is a list of enlightening links for further investigation:

Be well and be wary.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Daily Gospel Plus!

In the spirit of the educational and self-realizing power of the arts…

“Far from music-making taking a peripheral role for individuals and society — a view propagated in the kind of theoretical stance that marginalizes ‘leisure’ or ‘culture’ as somehow less than ‘work or society’ — music can equally well be seen as playing a central part not just in urban networks but also in the social structure and processes of our life today”
(Finnegan, The Hidden Music Makers)

In the interest of inspiring one another to recognize the beauty that lives around us at any and every time, ubeautiqous was born. It’s me wanting to share my experiences and observations of grace in all categories of art and design (and some that are perhaps yet to be categorized!) and inviting participation from all.

Monday, August 14, 2006

On Beauty

In this day and age, there is no excuse for ugliness. Now before you go off thinking that I'm promoting all kinds of bodily um… augmentation and the like, I am refering exclusively to the environments we live in and the products we use. Commodities. Good design. I chanced on an interesting site, and they discuss our presence in the age of "innovation overload". Here, overdosing is a good thing. Interesting is their stress that innovation is not rocket science: it's about understanding what people want and delivering it to them. Sounds easy enough n'est-ce pas? Personally, I think that there is so much latent creativity within us that only needs to be triggered, perhaps most effectively by the belief that we possess it.

Beauty is not exclusive to the wealthy/fortunate/learned/cultured (delete misconception as appropriate)… few. It is a gift to us all. But you cannot receive with folded arms. Sometimes it would seem that to embrace innovation, one must be innovative, and perhaps getting there is simply a matter of conscientization!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Agency, Up For Grabs

This world can be ruthless appearing to meet you at every turn with blows and battering. Appearing I reiterate, for most of the time, I like to think it’s all about perception, attitude, and basically how you choose to interpret your situation. This is good news, I tell myself, for then I am able to see that, when people do things that happen to hurt/disappoint/offend me… it’s very often about them and not about me.

Now some will say that this is an easy way to absolve myself of responsibility. It could be, in given circumstances. However, very often, succumbing to the belief that there is something “wrong” with you and that is why all these things are happening to you is definitely also absolving responsibility. It allows you to play helpless victim when in fact, you always choose to put yourself and remain in situations. You have agency.

So then, if you choose to stay in an uncomfortable situation, isn’t it then about you? Well, the offensive occurrence is not about you, but what you do about it, is all you. If you stick around for continued bruising, that’s you. Battered wife syndrome etc.

And the irony of it all is that we yearn for this word we liberally throw around, “freedom”, and yet when we begin to taste it, we don’t know what to do with ourselves. Bondage seems so much easier.

(And these cycles of enlightenment can be frustrating. Wasn’t I at this realization before?)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Intangible Escapes

Death come quickly
Swallow me whole
With no reservations for pained looks

And scrutinizing eyes

Shuttle me into memory
Where every picture will capture me smiling

If images need exist at all

Lips, mumbling, whispering
Trying to grasp and retrieve

Of utterings and sensations

And my name
If I’m lucky

If it matters at all

I am peaceful when I compose my fates
But I get familiar still with the nature of the storm

Eyes deceive
The inevitable inspires defiance

As a chained man bolts for the door

I set them free
And they come back to haunt me
I hear them say they need me

Or is it I who am in need

To remember
Is to forget
The present that haunts you
With hollow visions

Of what there was to come

Misery searches for its hero
Taking occasional vacations
For memorable moments
Destroyed before they can even learn to


They say suffocation is painless
That fumes knock you out before
The fire burns
And life is taken care of

Before it really begins

To water my eyes.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

"Hadaka No Tsukiai": The Irony of Shame

After all is said and done, there is always something that could have been clearer, less understated, more explicit, direct. There are always those funny feelings in your stomach, those nervous twitches, those imposing grey clouds that suddenly slid over you on what was up till then a gorgeous day. There’s always that one time, that tone of voice, that something said that just didn’t add up. Sometimes, there’s the odd unexpected object, obviously foreign and out of place. Often there is the thing you saw that you shouldn’t have seen and so you choose to ‘unsee’ it. In retrospect, all these things combine and flash “hazard” like a blinking neon sign at the height of the night.

Garr Reynolds waxes lyrical about the merits of communication in the nude, i.e. “hadaka no tsukiai”, a Japanese practice thought to strip people of the unnecessary barriers that inhibit free communication. He suggests that the idea is a useful one when making presentations and I thought it could be extrapolated nicely to the realm of everyday life and dealings with people.

Imagine… without pretenses and props we have no option but to be ourselves. And the honesty that we present probably means that the response we get is more likely to be honest too, does it not? We human beings, past the honorable innocence of childhood, become experts at giving the people what they want but in the process, we lose sight of or neglect what it is that we ourselves want! So in this whole counterproductive mess, can we really complain about dishonesty when we are players in that same game? It’s a tough one and it’s perhaps easier to say, well, that’s the name of the game afterall, why should I sit out?

Henry David Thoreau warned to “beware of all enterprises that require new clothes”. There are those that will say, ‘but sometimes you have to pretend a little in order to get what you want’. Unfortunately, the prevalence of this response means that it’s a strong contender for truth status. However guilty, I am not absolutely convinced. Where does the balance lie? While getting what I want by lying (harsh but at the end of the day, that’s what it is), I’m possibly (probably) hurting somebody else. But if I don’t look after no. 1, I’ll be victim to all those other billions out there who do it all the time. So in the end you wonder, what use nobility?

Some reason that a little evasion and some embellishment here and there is closer to the honesty side of the scale. I contend that lack of communication is on par with lies. Both are deeming the would-be receiver unworthy of information. If you cannot say it, there’s obviously something amiss – whether it be because of dubious underhand goings-on or just plainly that the understanding/arrangement/relationship isn’t working out. The truth may not be for everyone but I personally want the choice.

So how about it? Communication in the nude?

“Humanity’s greatest sin is non-communication, unwanted and unloved solitude, forgetting that we were created to find each other, to be each other’s mirrors” (Paulo Coelho).

Jaded am I from time to time. Each time professing to never open myself for such possibilities again! But something inside me still wants to believe that somewhere somehow I will find, not so much a mirror, but kindred spirits with whom I can grow.

I have no shame in this nakedness.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

On Changing the System, Not the Personnel

" When the old guard, the "dinosaurs," abruptly discover that they are after all good democrats, a country's release from authoritarianism may be facilitated, but its future as a democratic society can only be endangered. It is indeed difficult to believe that the metamorphosis of the old guard is total and that the intolerant reflexes it had exhibited for so long can vanish in a sudden political change of heart."
— Robert Fatton

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dailly Gospel

" The people are not fighting for ideas,
nor what is in a man's mind.
The people fight and accept
the sacrifices demanded by the struggle
in order to gain material advantages,
to live better and in peace,
to benefit from progress,
and for a better future for their children."
— Amilcar Cabral

I thought this ties in nicely with the previous post

Monday, May 22, 2006

Some Naïve Thoughts About ‘Our Problem’

Is our self-esteem so low that rather than ‘risk’ legitimate channels of success, the only way we foresee ‘being’ anybody is through access to wealth?

Is our loyalty (and morale) so weak and our laziness so great that the ‘solution’ is often seen in terms of escape?

Is escape-achieved so wonderful that we can throw away any ‘real’ attachment to our homes without either a second tug from our conscience or another plea for rationality from our supposedly involuntary survival mechanisms?

Are our homes so unimportant and worthless that they are only invoked by memory in order to disgust us and facilitate passive (pointless?) argumentation?

There are people who are convinced that going “underground” in the West, with no hopes of any kind of legitimate career due to lack of proper documentation, is better than returning to that distant dark Africa that raised them. Better to earn less than minimum wage, spending most your living hours doing work that Westerners themselves won’t touch… in the name of escaping… poverty?

Every person’s situation is uniquely their own and their burden is too. I’m not talking of escaping violence, war or persecution of any real kind. I’m observing those who are so adverse to returning to a situation that perhaps is not as (humanly, mentally, spiritually, physically even) degrading as the alternative they’ve decided to choose.

Is there a greater plan?

Every person’s search for autonomy is unique and valid.

Are we each so insignificant that we silence our voices, forfeiting our right to demand the accountability we deserve?

…Or are we ignorant and irresponsible?

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Daily Gospel

“We have to be part of the society which we are changing; we have to work from within it, and not try to descend like ancient gods, do something, and disappear again. A country, or a village, or a community, cannot be developed: it can only develop itself. For real development means the development, the growth, of people.”
— Nyerere

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Holily Installed Vivacity

Corners inspire action. Is it claustrophobia? The breathlessness that urgently builds up to an explosive inhalation? Knocked back to consciousness to forcibly smell the coffee. Is action inevitable? How far must one be pushed? How far can one be pushed?

Is revolution realized when people awaken to the fact that it is no longer death that they fear but life?! For death is a swift truncation leaving little in terms of residue but memory that fades in and out of consciousness to eventually become a numb and distant recollection. Living, on the other hand, is constantly facing your demons, be they within and/or without. Living is constantly having to acknowledge your condition and perpetually keeping up your defenses as others paint you less-than, in an attempt to facilitate the planted self-destruction that constantly threatens to slowly and painfully obliterate you.

Living forces self-awareness and self-awareness fosters communication. And in a way, communication is vulnerability. For when the truth is opened up, it is unleashed with no holds barred. As it comes rushing out, in all directions, attempting to permeate all matter, it will inevitably enhance clarity of vision. And in really looking, often shown are the things that we would not have seen. But then it’s too late. The truth is out. And we must live its consequences every day. And death is tempting… but cowardly…

We are not oppressed so that we may literally die. In a way, oppression is opportunity, forcing us to innovate, to grow. A part of us dies to create space for new creation. We have to transcend the stigma of our chains — denounce the small-mindedness of those who would ridicule and hate us with such passion. We have to look past the frowns of our fathers and those who had plotted paths for us. Each person’s journey is their own and in their actualization shall they find resonance with all who strive to really live. Chains and bars do not death sentences make. They are merely challenges to live. and that is our purpose. The meaning of life is living… and is so often taken for granted.

Those who pity the persecuted are blinded to their own subjugation and are destined to stagnation. Those who embrace their situation find in it the seeds of determination to flourish.

The unlikely victors are those who turn their obstacles into aids.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Daily Gospel: Self-reliant Madness

“What I like about my madness is that it has protected me from the very beginning against the charms of the ‘élite’: never have I thought that I was the happy possessor of a ‘talent’; my sole concern has been to save myself – nothing in my hands, nothing up my sleeve – by work and faith. As a result, my pure choice did not raise me above anyone. Without equipment, without tools, I set all of me to work in order to save all of me. If I relegate impossible Salvation to the proproom, what remains? A whole man, composed of all men and as good as all of them and no better than any.”

---Jean-Paul Sartre, The Words

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Why Don't We Want to be Free?

The other day, disoriented as a deer caught in the headlights, I attempted to walk out of the library with unchecked books in my hand. The alarm went off and even then, my mind had not registered that those two events were connected and that I was the subject of them. Shortly I had a report written up. Yes, yet one more strike against my name. What does that mean really? Is life a long rep sheet that the ever elusive “they” add comments and judgments to as they observe the progress of our lives? And should living be a conscious act to have that paper be as white as possible or is a sign of a healthy existence a sheet marked liberally with red ink and animated punctuation?! I would like to believe that the latter is the truth. Why are we presented with so many opportunities, possibilities and forks in the road if we are to merely maintain a steady heartbeat? Something doesn’t add up. The custodians of our welfare have distorted the project and stuffed the peoples’ minds with fluff! Do you see what I’ve just done? I’ve deflected the accountability again. Easy is it to shift the blame and responsibility. Easy is it to label oneself victim. When the truth of every matter is that the self is the beginning and end of it all. All illusions start with and are subscribed to by “I”. Sticky! This is the inevitable dead-end that makes us avoid going down this road. Yet it is the only way to enlightenment. Indeed restrictions and limits often lead to greater creativity! They squeeze our sensibilities, concentrating them in a smaller space so that they have to interact and fuse and fission, generating energies that eventually explode out of their confines. That’s what it feels like to write, to create, to craft, to dance, to really laugh… to love. That release is perhaps the only true freedom one can feel. So why do we constantly keep each other from this actualization? Is it fear? Is it even conscious?

Or is it something more malevolent festering in the deep recesses of our soul? I’d like to disbelieve that that could be it. There is too much wonder and beauty in life to believe that we are somehow jealous or resentful that others may grab the pieces that we are entitled to. It pervades the air and the earth, it seeps from impermeable surfaces, it breeds and catches the winds and sails on them in every direction they go. It surrounds us in every place and at every moment, only we do not choose to see it, to recognize it, to respect it, to honour it. But it is there to guide us if only we let go of our pride. Our self-importance ironically reduces the quality of our life for we become blind to the connectivity and interrelation between ourselves and everything around us. And perhaps worse, between our minds, our bodies and our souls. It’s interesting when you listen to your body, how much it can tell you. Those headaches and stomach rumblings and aches and pains that we so readily ignore or stifle with a cocktail of chemicals proven to give rapid relief! They are God’s unique but subtle way of sending us signals. They attempt to say, “Hey, slow down and pay attention!” But we, as a society, as a species, seem to have lost even that basic self-respect.

Perhaps, before we get too far ahead and outside of ourselves in our motivations and meddling, we should check in with our selves and see that everything is in proper working order. This selfishness exists for a reason: to help you better interact with others. To bring you equanimity and balance and with that, uplifting insight. Resonance with all that wonder and beauty that envelops you with no explicit demands.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Right Thing to Do

“Then there were the recipients of the leftovers of imperial handouts:

Post-graduate awards.
Graduate awards.
It doesn’t matter
What you call it.

But did I hear you say

Dainty name to describe
Most merciless
Most formalized

Spy system of all time:

For a few pennies now and a
Doctoral degree later,
Tell us about
Your people
Your history
Your mind.

Your mind.
Your mind.

Tell us
We can make you
Weaker than you’ve already

And don’t you get any ideas either
Nonsense from
You, Flatnose.

My brother,
There should be no misunderstanding,
No malice intended —

Our dear
Academic doctors
Deserve all
The worship
They get from our poor administrators at home
And more.

They work hard for the
Doctorates —
They work too hard,
Giving away
Not only themselves, but
All of us —

The price is high,
My brother,

Otherwise the story is as old as empires. Oppressed multitudes from the provinces rush to the imperial seat because that is where they know all salvation comes from. But as other imperial subjects in other times and other places has discovered, for the slave, there is nothing at the centre but worse slavery.

Warming itself up
In a single cold room by a
Paraffin lamp,
Covering its
Nakedness and
Disappointed hopes with
The old tickets of the
Football pools
With degrees.”

From the novel Our Sister Killjoy by Ama Ata Aidoo


Have our chains become a fashion? A guilty pleasure that we're willing to sacrifice our integrity for? What's that thing about integrity again? Or is it a certain kind of survival that is more important to us? At least the slave is guaranteed work, shelter and a meal? Is the free man destined to die a slow and painful death of frustration with his dreams hanging fresh and untouched in the dusty cluttered back rooms of memory? Should we just resign to and embrace the chains and adorn them with bling and touches of our own personal style? Pierce our babies ears so as to coopt them early into the superficial comforts of myopic hedonism? But then again, we do not live forever so, we may be lucky and never have to actually… see. Clear vision is not always as desirable as it may seem.

Plus, is there ever truly a right thing to do?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Daily Gospel

"Truth is the death of intention."

— Walter Benjamin