Monthly Archives: November 2014

Is there anything as silly as a job interview?


In today’s economy, getting a job in the formal sector is a bit like finding a unicorn. It is a hard and often thankless task. What is even worse is that , browsing through the Twitter and the endless LinkedIn updates and the Facebook and the Instagram, everyone else is living their dream life except for YOU.

I have had lots and lots of awful, painful and embarrassing job interviews that ended in polite rejection letters. I’m sure I am not the only one. During my long, long years in under/ unemployment, I made a few observations that made me think that the whole concept of job interviews is quite silly.

1. We are all reading from the same script

It seems like HR people ignored their training in favor of internet articles on interview questions. Which explains why every single interview I have ever had rarely strays from the path of ‘tell me about yourself, what are your strengths, what do you want in life.’

Does anyone actually expect any honest answers? It would go something like this:

‘I have a degree that taught me a lot of American theories. I am very good at putting pictures in my Power Point Presentations. If I don’t know something I will go on Google until I find it. I want a job because my mother is threatening to kick me out of the house. And this jacket is the only formal piece of clothing in my wardrobe.’

This tells you nothing about what I can actually do, and it tells me nothing about what kind of company you run.

2. Interviews are only good for weeding out blatant liars and psychopaths

Since we are all reading the same articles from Wikipedia and Business Insider, you can be sure that anyone with an internet connection and an empty bank account has memorized all the answers to all your tough, probing questions.

‘How much are you currently earning?’

*Laughter* ‘Less than I would like’

‘Could you give me a rough estimate?’

*more laughter*

‘It’s too early to start digging my own grave’

I understand the employer’s dilemma. Which is  basically, ‘Can I actually spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week with this person without killing them?’

But since we all have to hide our real intentions behind buzzwords and adjectives that convey our enthusiasm, this can be very difficult.

Which is why people are often hired through networks. At least you have someone to stand up for you and say, ‘this person will, at the very least, show up everyday and use big, impressive words.’

3. The lies go both ways

I once went for an interview where we spent a considerable amount of time discussing my ‘flexibility’ and ‘willingness to go the extra mile’. What they were really asking me was whether I was willing to work on weekends and in the evening.

The real answer, of course, would have been,

‘MADAM, I AM SELLING MYSELF TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER. HOW MUCH WILL YOU PAY ME TO WORK ON WEEKENDS AND IN THE EVENING?????’

Instead I made noises about dedication to the project and my desire to grow my career.

4. We tend to forget that we too should be interviewing the company

The behavior of the person interviewing you can tell you a lot about the company culture. And whether you actually want to work there. You should be able to spot a slave contract disguised as a learning opportunity.

You can also tell the person’s thinking processes by the way they handle the interview: lateness, last minute cancellations, aggression, using the interview as a chance to display superiority and so forth.

There is once I was interviewed by a woman who seemed physically repulsed by my presence. I soldiered on and answered her silly questions but I knew without a doubt that I had already failed. If I could go back in time, I would have asked her point blank why she looked so disgusted. It would have made for a much more entertaining experience for all involved.

In fact, if you fail these kinds of interviews, thank God because you dodged a massive bullet.

5. You should never stop interviewing

This is a new piece of advice that I haven’t tried yet. Basically, you should always be scanning the horizon for new opportunities. And actually go out and interview, even if you have no intention of moving from your current place of work.

That being said, if you actually do find a job that you genuinely enjoy, with people that you get along with, doing things that you like, then thank your lucky stars. I have heard that such things actually exist.

For the rest of us, let’s keep memorizing answers from the internet and smiling like our lives depend on it. Oh, and throw in a few curve balls, especially if you realize that you have zero chances of getting hired.

I want to hear your ridiculous interview stories.

[Sorry HR people, please don’t take offence.]

 

 

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A few encouraging words to Mr Nderitu Njoka and his legions of marginalised men


First I would like to thank Mr Njoka, who came out in support of the women who had been stripped in Nairobi over the last couple of days. I really appreciate that. He even helpfully pointed out that at least they were not raped, so kudos to the touts for demonstrating such self restraint.

He also gave some valuable advice that we should all take seriously – in the future, women should ask their men for advice on what to wear before leaving the house, solving that problem that most women really cannot make such basic decisions in their daily lives. And for the unmarried girls living without the crucial guidance of their husbands?A new law will be proposed, spelling out exactly what passes as decency today. So sit tight ladies, and in the meantime stay at home.

Now, all this coincides with the 16 Days of Activism campaign, and I feel as though the marginalized men that Njoka represents are going to be feeling left out as all these rabid feminists bay for blood and fight for their right to walk around in mini-skirts. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr Njoka and the thousands of activists insisting that we pay attention to our men and boys.

I would like to note a few things though, that I feel that once clarified, could really help the Men’s movement gain the respect it so richly deserves:

Gender violence

Njoka and his army are deeply concerned at the growing number of men that suffer untold abuse at the hands of their women, who got these ideas about equality due to their education. (and probably western media) He says this number is probably at around 300 cases a year. We can all agree that this is wrong.

However, could we also mention the number of boys and girls who are physically, mentally, emotionally and sexually abused by their parents? What do they have to say about the fact that men are not encouraged to come forth and speak about their abuse? Will this problem disappear once women stop beating their husbands? I don’t know.

What about the inconvenient fact that more than 80% of Kenyan women report being physically abused at least once in their lives? Or that about 40% of married women are beaten by their husbands? Sure, sometimes women, who are actually made to serve men, need a slap to pipe down and remember their place. But , what do our champions have to say about the impact that this has on the children? Or the fact that a slap can escalate to a full on beating that could result in motherless children?

The law of the land: Our constitution says that everyone should be respected. Mr Njoka was quick to point out that assaulted women (and men) should report to the police station and let our valiant policemen do the rest. What we would like to know from them is, which policemen exactly? Are they the same ones that ask the victims what they did to deserve this treatment? Or the ones that punish gang rapists by asking them to cut some grass? The same police officers who have often been accused of assaulting women in their custody? How do they feel about the fact fact that more than 20 000 cases a year go unreported? Or that, for even those brave (or stupid?) enough to seek justice, have their cases thrown out and their reputations torn to shreds?

African tradition: This argument is nearly bullet proof. I mean, who would not want to return to the happy days before western media brainwashed our women into thinking that they are equal to men? Before they learnt that they could think and process complex tasks and actually do man stuff like medicine and engineering? Gawsh. But answer us, why is it that tradition comes up only when it is about women, their dress, their careers and their general unwillingness to serve as punching bags? Where are the traditions for the other half of the population? Are we claiming that African societies existed for thousands of years by occupying themselves exclusively with the violent and aggressive policing of their women?

Where are these voices when it comes to other traditions, like actually taking care of children: all of them, since traditional men are very strong and generally need more than one woman? Or the fact that men had a role in society, and this role was not getting drunk and blaming others on their problems? Where are the fathers of all these boys who piss away their youths and terrorize society? Are those the precious African values they have been taught? Where is that discussion?

Zero sum game: With this rise of feminists, we understand that hapless men need to defend themselves. Where did this idea that ‘female empowerment’ is zero-sum game come from? Is it that, for every little girl who gets to go to school and make something of herself, several boys are turned into eunuchs? Have schools started actively turning away boys to free up space for girls? Did it ever occur to our beleaguered men that a double income, in these hard times when we are all paying for our bloated government, could actually be a good thing? Are they aware of how much it costs to buy a home?

As so often and so rightly pointed out, men are big and strong and raging with testosterone. Surely, anything a silly girl can do, isn’t it that a man can do it twice as good with his hands behind his back? Why then the self pity? Why not step out of the shadows and show these women how smart and deserving you really are? (of course we would appreciate it if we were left with our clothes on in this display of power, intelligence and strength.)

Stereotypes of men: Mr Njoka and friends, do you really understand men? Are they produced in a factory, with each model identical to the next?  Did you ask men if they agree with your image of them as creatures unable to control their sexual urges, refusing to accept responsibility for their own lives and openly declaring women to be nothing more than vessels for their own pleasure?  Why should they be subjected them to such lazy stereotypes? Why reduce them to silly caricatures? If this is the real image of men in Kenya, then why should anyone take them seriously? Shouldn’t it be the case then, that these pesky feminists could actually free you from your responsibilities and let you roam free?

In the end, the men’s right movement will succeed. Because they have understood that the reasons behind unemployment, violence, corruption, hunger, HIV, climate change and even witchcraft is because women are taking over the world. This is a good thing, because as soon as they can bring us back to our senses by enacting laws about decency,marriage, morality, drinking limits, thought allowances, career choices, literacy levels, acceptable turban lengths and headscarf regulations, we will finally have opened the gates to heaven.

Thank you, keep up the good work

Accepting and building on the legacy our parents leave us: the greatest gift my father gave me


My father died in May 2000. I don’t remember the exact date of his death, neither do I remember the date of the funeral. It was 14 years ago and I was a child. I was having a conversation with my good friend Just Jere about going Indian style and building on what our parents gave us. Instead of struggling on our own, maybe it is okay to appreciate, value and take advantage of the resources and knowledge our folks have. Basically that we are not obliged to go out on our own and start from scratch. This got me thinking about what my father left me.

My father made me love books.

One of my earliest and fondest memories of my father is sitting with him and laboriously reading articles from the Daily Nation. I would trace every letter with my finger, pronouncing the vowels carefully and looking up to him at the end of each sentence. I did not understand anything I read, but he applauded and seemed absolutely delighted every time I correctly read out a phrase, no matter how long it took. I basked in in his approval and this motivated me to go through the next sentence. And the next. This was while I was in nursery school.

Once I could make out actual words, we graduated to reading his magazines. Those were the days when going to the Post Office in Nairobi was a big deal. (We are the Rongai Originals by the way…) We would travel to Nairobi and check our mail. He had a billion subscriptions, mostly to car magazines and engineering stuff. It didn’t matter. We read them together. Then one day I got my own magazine subscription. Sparkle magazine, with that parrot on the the cover. We read them all together. And wrote them letters. And tried out their recipes. Beautiful memories.

I remember once we went on an expedition- Nakumatt Mega had just been opened, and us Rongai people could go stock up on luxuries such as cheese and shower gel. Nakumatt Mega was divided into sections- on one side was all the domestic stuff, and on the other side was the book shop.

One day my parents had promised me that we could go to the book shop and pick out a book for me to read. So we did our shopping. Then we went to the check out counter. I panicked. Why are we not going to the book shop? We paid. Is this a joke? Did I do something wrong to deserve this?  We left the shop and went to the car. Why are they punishing me?  We started driving away. I had been bubbly and happy before, spouting the endless nonsense that children typically do, but I had been growing more and more silent. My parents asked me what was wrong several times. I could not respond because it was obvious- why did are we not going to the bookshop? Eventually, as we were driving away, I realized that this was my last chance. I tearfully asked about my book. That they had promised.

They laughed and we went back in. I picked the fattest, biggest encyclopedia I could find. Then we went home in peace.

By the time my father died, the seed that he had planted in me had grown strong. I loved books. I loved to read. I had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. And I thought it was all me. I did not realize that he was the source, that he had led me down this path.

I read voraciously. I remember that after he died, we could not leave soon enough. By the end of the year, we had moved to Zimbabwe, where more books awaited me. Zimbabwe was a curious country. They had municipal libraries that actually had volumes and volumes of books that I could borrow. By the time I was 12, I had devoured books about slavery, Terry Prachett’s fantasy universe (with most of the innuendo lost on me), colonization, fantasy, anything they had I read it.

My next big treasure was USIU. I cannot describe the joy I felt when I realized that I could borrow 4 books at a time for free. I read about human sexuality, about colonization, current affairs, history and yes, some books about marketing. At times it felt like classes were interrupting my reading and binge drinking- a necessary evil.

And here I am today. When I think of my father, sometimes I feel a pain in the pit of my stomach. Like something has caved in. He should be here. why isn’t he here?

The pain of losing someone important never fully goes away. The loss that you feel cannot be fully described.  Your friends cannot say the right words. It cannot be understood. On the 1st of May 2000 I, realized with a deep and painful understanding that I would never see my father again. In 2014 I realized that he gave me something that will never ever be taken away from me. He made me who I am today.

My father. My own personal hero.

Rest in peace Mr Muthui, this is my tribute to you. Your legacy lives on.

*

Why African ‘traditionalists’ should be the loudest supporters of feminism (including #mydressmychoice)


If you listen to discussions in the public space for and against all the the poor women who have been stripped, humiliated and molested in Kenya’s public spaces, you will see a strong and predictable thread that blames ‘modernization’ for society’s ills. This basically means that tv and media have transformed our women from the submissive angels they were into scantily dressed part-time prostitutes who’s sole mission in life is to confuse men by tapping into their wild and untamed sexual desires. These women are asking for it, and the problem is modernization.

Except it is not.

When we talk about traditional African values, we fall into this little happy place where we can fantasize about what it meant to be African. For the loudest and most ignorant, it simply means a society where women were passive, subjugated and at the mercy of their men. It was a world where male power went unchecked, and half of the society lived in misery. For others, it is not so clear- hence the comments about Africans being barbarians and the civilizing influence of Jesus. In this space, fantasy rules and everyone can find arguments to justify their half baked ideas.

I remember reading Koigi Wamwere’s autobiography and I was very surprised at his explanation of his childhood. I paraphrase but he said: Violence in society came from the top and filtered to the bottom. The man of the house would spend the entire day, humiliated by his colonial masters and unable to fight back. His masculinity was challenged every single day. He would go home and take out his anger on his wife,beating her senseless for perceived wrong doing. The wife, unable to fight against her husband, would take her anger and frustration out on her children, punishing them for petty things that children do in the most brutal ways. And the kids, they would kick the dog. 

Then I read Wangari Maathai’s autobiography and she had a little paragraph were she describes the perils of her childhood: We always had to be careful when going to the river to fetch water or coming back home in the dark. There were boys from the village who would lie in wait and force us to have sex with them.

I asked my own mother about this: she is not as old as Koigi and the late Wangari. This is what she said:

YES!! We learnt how to fight from a very early age. Those boys would try force themselves on us and you had to kick and scream and run away. Growing up in the village was tough. 

She also has scars on her legs from her brothers throwing burning pieces of wood at her. And she remembers being locked up in the latrine by her father and brothers on more than one occasion for her ‘wrong doings’

Hmm how about my generation? Some of my cousins tell me that the boys in the family gave them sweets and biscuits so that they could fondle them and try have sex with them. Yes, keeping it in the family indeed.

Let’s get some academics to back me up:

‘Hellish existence in the colonial world carries with it both the racial and the gendered aspects of the naturalization of the non-ethics of war. Indeed, coloniality of Being primarily refers to the normalization of the extraordinary events that take place in war. While in war there is murder and rape, in the hell of the colonial world murder and rape become day to day occurrences and menaces. ‘Killability’ and ‘rapeability’ are inscribed into images of the colonial bodies. Lacking real authority, colonized men are permanently feminized.’

Spot on.

So, is this the traditional culture that people are screaming for? Well, let me tell you that it is alive and well. Just move your family out of Nairobi and get your daughters raped in the name of upholding your culture.

What we know as “African tradition” is nothing more than a perverse system of distorted value and misplaced anger. We should not accept it.

How about pre-colonial Africa?

If these supporters of “African culture’ would only dig deeper, they would find out some crazy stuff.Look at this  particularly romantic description of women: ‘Women were treated with unparalleled respect because they were seen to be closer to the creator than men ever had the potential of being. This is because women themselves had the ability to create due to the fact that they were able to give birth. As creation of life, they were charged with the sacred responsibility of caring for the needs of the next generation, and because of this, they can be regarded as the originations of the idea that is now known as sustainable developments.’

And

One of the consequences of the advent of colonialism is the erosion of gender equality which characterized traditional African society. Both men and women had different roles they played in families and the society at large. But the case became different since the contact of Africa with colonialism…But since the era of colonialism, women have been placed on the lower rungs of the proverbial ladder by the dominant forces of capitalism, and now globalization, which emphasizes this need for power, superiority and compartmentalization of roles and responsibilities with different values attached to them

African society, like large parts of the world, was patriarchal. That is clear and we cannot deny it. However, ‘The positions of women in pre-colonial…differed according to ethnic divisions and the existing occupational divisions and roles of women within the economic structure and prevailing kinship systems. Women’s roles during pre-colonial times were perceived as complimentary to men rather than subordinate.’

What our traditionalists forget is that at the time, European civilization was characterized by some very rigid gender roles. These were they days when women were fainting in their corsets. When they were not allowed to leave their homes without male chaperons. When they had to cover their entire bodies lest an exposed ankle drive a man into wild, uncontrollable lust. When they were not allowed to vote (until the late 70s for some…)and were still being diagnosed with ‘hysteria’ and treated by being manually stimulated by their doctors. When lobotomies were an acceptable way to ‘treat’ a woman with too many emotions.

These are the values that were imprinted on us. Through violence and emasculation. These are the values we are fighting for today as though they were our own. This is how we made that massive leap from the little skirts and swinging boobies to a society of people who cover their heads and insist that you wear skirts of a decent length (preferably pleated and shapeless) in the space of a few generations. The rest of the world has moved on. We haven’t. We have dug our heels in and are taking out our anger and frustration at society’s most defenseless people:

 Fanon analyzed how colonial violence influenced the colonized to be violent. In the first place he noted that the abused and violated colonized people ‘manifest this aggressiveness which has been deposited in his bones against his own people’. In the second place, he explained that the colonized person’s confrontation with the ‘colonial order of things’ places him/her in ‘a permanent state of tension’. In the third place, Fanon argued that: ‘The native is an oppressed person whose permanent dream is to become the persecutor’.

The way we think about our women, the way we talk about them, the way we allow them to be attacked and abused, it is a measure of just how much our minds have been conquered. It is a measure of how powerless our men are, that they have to attack and justify their attacks so that they can feel slightly more powerful.

Some people think that all this drama in the city is overrated. That we should be focusing on the girls being forced to get married at 13 in the villages. The girls who are being circumcised by their own aunties and mothers. But I say we are part of the same struggle. Injustice is injustice and they have the same roots.

Saying yes to this nonsense means that your mind is still colonized. That you are still enforcing Victorian values that were rammed down your parent’s throats through violence and abuse. That you are willing to live in ignorance and spout half baked nonsense to justify your bullshit. That, at the end of the day you are emasculated and you know it.

Pastor Victor Kanyari and the questions around the African Soul


I have to confess that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole Kanyari scandal. I laughed at the memes on twitter and made jokes about ‘panda mbegu 310’.

I had never trusted ‘miracle churches’ but  I was not aware of the lengths that people could go to manufacture miracles. I was uncomfortable about the way Kanyari treated his staff- in my pedestrian opinion, it was classic controlling behavior- one minute lavishing praise, the other, humiliating them by making them kneel down before him, do his laundry and literally call him ‘daddy’.

This kind of treatment, to me, is very good for breaking down people and molding them into whatever you want them to be. Ask anyone who has been in an abusive relationship. It’s not about stupidity.

Kanyari himself was worrying- it is rare (at least for me, in my fantasy world,) to see someone who can lie with so much conviction and not show a single ounce of remorse, even after being caught red handed. Nothing in his body language showed any doubt, any hint that he may be lying. It is like he believed his own lies. In short, I don’t think that Kanyari is a clever business man. He is a psychopath.

However, this is not about Bro Kanyari.  I that we have missed the point a little bit when we start blaming Kenyans wholesale for their stupidity and love of quick fix solutions. This is about what Kanyari’s success could tell us about the state of religion and society in Africa today (in a non judgmental way I hope)

Like about:

1. Economic collapse and religious zeal: According to many people, the reason that Kanyari was able to get away with his madness was because Kenyans are stupid, gullible and have a tendency to take short cuts. And combined with Kanyari’s business acumen and flair for marketing, well, they got what they deserved. This is assuming that what is happening here is unique to Kenyans.

it is not. Let us look at Zimbabwe, and what they are currently dealing with:

‘Prophecy has become central to Zimbabwe’s social and economic transformation. There is probably more money circulating in churches than in banks…gospreneurs are milking dry the poor through unorthodox magic disguised as prophecy…’ (full article here)

Okay so that means that Kenyans are not uniquely gullible to magical prophets who wash feet and turn water into blood. So what is going on? Zimbabwe went through a brutal economic collapse because of Comrade Bob and his radical policies. Previously, Zimbabwe was a country where the social systems worked, at least for a large enough number of people- you could go to a public school and expect a reasonable education. Hospitals had medicine. Civil servants did their jobs.

Then, almost overnight, it all went away. And suddenly, Prophets selling holy water appeared on every corner. Crusades promising untold wealth (for a fee) were happening every weekend. Hard work could no longer cut it. Suddenly, Zimbabweans needed divine intervention and demon banishing prayers to put food on their tables.

Smart people like to quote Karl Marx, that, religion is the opium of the masses. But I often feel like it is used in a slightly patronizing manner. (In a ha ha look at those dumb f*cks and how much better I am than them kind of way) Magical miracle church empires are sweeping across Africa- filling a massive void created by weak social systems and insecurity . What I am saying is that religion can be the last hope for people who have nothing else to lose. When all the systems around them are broken beyond repair. And that sucks.

2. The meaning of Christianity in Africa: There is a quiet battle of sorts going on today in the African Christian circles.Conservative churches are fully aware of the enormous popularity of prosperity gospel- of which, Kanyari represents a crude form, with other uptown churches manifesting a more sophisticated version (if half the church service is dedicated to praying about success and/or admiring others for their miracle blessings, followed by buying motivational books and dvds about LIVING THE LIFE YOU WANT NOW by BROTHER PASTOR J at your swanky Church library…then, yeah, maybe dig up that Bible and look up what Jesus said instead…)

Conservatives may be losing this battle.

That their quiet messages of love, humility and compassion is being drowned out by the chorus of prayer for wealth and prosperity TODAY (and if not, VANQUISH THE DEMONS MIGHTY FATHER!!). The conservatives are on to something- does this new breed of religion, often based on cult of personality and focused on success TODAY and NOW through prayer, really have anything in common with the actual principles of Christianity that were set out in the beginning? (Full critique of how prosperity gospel is hurting Africa)

This leads us to ask the question, what are people looking for in religion? If you believe the scholars, then it is about following the teachings of Jesus. About reading the bible. About finding a moral compass that will help you live your life in a way that allows you to go to bed without a heavy conscience. Is that what we are hearing in the most popular churches today?

I have talked about the alienation I felt while attending Catholic mass, and feeling like the rituals and processes were simply not meant for me. I can imagine that many people, despite having a super religious upbringing, turn away from Christianity because it just does not make sense to them.

It turns out that Christian scholars have been debating this for a while- what it means to be Christian, and African. Christianity and ‘African religions’ gelled because both believed in a single supreme power.

However, that is where the similarities ended. And where the miracle workers like Kanyari stepped in, with their demon bashing and pin-removing antics. Christianity is no longer dictated by foreign rituals and European mythology. Christianity is being owned by Africans, Latin Americans and other people of the south. But it is a confusing process. What to add in and what to leave out?

And, what if it changes so much that it becomes unrecognizable? What if it slips down into worship of ‘false gods?’ This debate could be healthy, and it might produce something that will become more tolerable to more people (on the pain of admitting that the Word of God is actually malleable, hence threatening the entire religious institution and being forced to admit that there is more than one path to righteousness.)

3. Religion and human psychology: Our analysts are aghast- how is it possible that, after the exposé, Kanyari’s church might even be growing? How dumb could people possibly be? This can be easily explained by a theory called cognitive dissonance. 

‘ we have a powerful motive to maintain cognitive consistency can give rise to irrational and sometimes maladaptive behavior.According to Festinger, we hold many cognitions about the world and ourselves; when they clash, a discrepancy is evoked, resulting in a state of tension known as cognitive dissonance. As the experience of dissonance is unpleasant, we are motivated to reduce or eliminate it, and achieve consonance (i.e. agreement)’

In short, the human mind cannot tolerate conflicting ideas beliefs or emotions, and responds either by outright denying the information, or in the case of conspiracy and cult religious movements, taking it as evidence that in fact you are right and everyone else is wrong, hence allowing self to double down on original beliefs.

Religion is particularly prone to this because no-one can really prove or disprove anything, and our religious beliefs go to the very cores of our identities. It can produce some pretty bizarre results- not just in Kenya, but around the world (Some crazy cults from all over the world).

Already we have seen fake miracles disguised as the work of the Lord. We see greed disguised as prosperity. We see psychopathy disguised as leadership and brilliance.

I do not think we should dismiss the followers of Kanyari (and other ‘disciples’ of mighty prophets) as stupid and gullible. I think we should remember that,  as a society we are only as strong as our weakest members.