Tag Archives: culture

What I learnt from reading the Book of Genesis


I bought a Bible and decided to read as much of it as I can. I’m not a theologian, but my idea is to read it with an open mind, although I have already been warned that ”the lightning that is about to strike you is doing press ups’, but that’s really neither here nor there.

I’m genuinely curious about what it contains, because I suspect that there is a big gap between the actual contents and  what I think is in the Bible.

I started from the beginning, that is, the book of Genesis. This is what I learnt.

  1. The creation story has caused a tonne of controversy: I don’t know what most Christians think of the origin story in the bible, or how they reconcile it with evolution. I would like to think that, for most people, it doesn’t matter. However Christians are obliged to believe that since the Bible is the word of God, then it is infallible, completely accurate and the ultimate word of God. Various churches interpret this differently, ranging from ultra Conservative Christians that insist  that ‘creationism’ should be taught as mainstream science, to more liberal Churches that  view the Bible as a human witness to the glory of God, the work of fallible humans who wrote from a limited experience, unusual only for the insight they have gained through their inspired struggle to know God in the midst of a troubled world. Unfortunately for the hardliners, science continues to poke some very big holes into what they believe in, and that is causing a lot of anxiety and very weird counterarguments that go to great lengths to prove that the garden of Eden actually existed.
  2. There seems to be two separate creation stories: How God created the earth is explained in Chapter 1 and then again in Chapter 2. In chapter 2, God is a lot more physical, he walks around explains his actions and thoughts. In Chapter 1 he is a lot more powerful and a lot more high level. He issues commands with his voice and they happen. The explanation for this by theologians fall in two camps: the stories are in fact one with no contradiction, or that they are allegorical and should not be taken as fact.
  3. Eve was tempted by a talking snake: We were taught in Sunday school that Eve was approached by Satan disguised as a snake but a very basic reading of the text tells us otherwise. She was, in fact, approached by a talking snake that the text expounds by saying: ‘Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God has made.’ Later the snake is banished to eat dust and crawl on its belly. I was honestly surprised by that.
  4. Punishment seems to be based on whether or not you are the chosen one: Cain and Abel are the first. They sacrifice their harvests to God, he rejects Cain’s, which makes him jealous, which leads him to kill Abel and then he is cursed. We aren’t told why God rejects Cain’s sacrifice. (Later on we find out that God really likes the smell of burnt offering, which never ever include a side of veggies.) Then Jacob and Esau. Jacob tricks his brother into selling his inheritance and then tricks his father into blessing him but that’s all okay. Much later on, Esau meets up with his brother Jacob and he is surprisingly magnanimous despite the fact that Jacob took what was rightfully his. (This surprised me because I always thought that Esau was the evil one, plus no-one names their kids after him).  It happens too with Jacob’s sons; Reuben is denied his birthright because he slept with his father’s concubine, but Judah gets the okay even though he mistook his daughter in law for a prostitute and got her pregnant. Some men, like the unfortunate Esau, are cursed for marrying foreign women, while others, like Joseph, get a pass. So far, morality is subject to whether or not one is considered chosen to build the great nation of Israel.
  5. God seems to be evolving: During the early chapters, God appears physically and has conversations with people, including the time he was walking around in the garden of Eden looking for Adam and Eve after they ate the fruit. He carries out negotiations with Abraham on whether or not to flatten Sodom and Gomorrah. Later on, he starts appearing in visions; and graduates to using ‘men’ and angels as his representatives during critical moments. As the population grows larger and more preoccupied, he disappears for long periods of time, but always comes back to reassure the current patriarch that they are chosen and that they are special and that all of Canaan will belong to them. Sometimes, God has to physically go down and verify what people are actually doing, like with Sodom and Gomorrah. For most of Genesis, people don’t actually pray. They offer up animal sacrifices because the smell pleases God, and they receive direct instructions from him or an emissary.
  6. God doesn’t seem to be alone: After Eve and Adam get expelled from the garden, he says that man has ‘become like one of us’ and protects the garden by placing a cherubim on its eastern side. In Chapter 6, we find out that the sons of God went down to have children with the daughters of men. In chapter 11 (the Tower of Babel) he feels threatened by the unity and ambition of his people, and so says ‘come, let us go down and there confuse their language so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ Later on, we are introduced to angels who go down send his messages, like in Chapter 19 (Sodom and Gomorah) where he sends down two angels to go warn Lot of the impending doom; the time an angel intervenes between Hagar and Sarai’s domestic issues, persuading her to go back to her mistress instead of risking it in the wild and of course when Jacob fights an angel all night without seeming too surprised.
  7. Abraham pulled a low key con using his wife: Twice, Abraham passes off his wife as his sister, and then the king likes her, then God tells the king not to touch Abraham’s wife, and then she is returned to Abraham and then they get land, cattle or both, plus a free pass to live in the new country. For some reason though, Abraham confesses to one King (Abimelech) that Sarah is indeed his sister, because she is the daughter of his father but not the daughter of his mother. This is the last time they did this, at which point Sarah was already past child bearing age and in her own words, very old. (Her husband was already well over 99 years old.) Isaac pulls the same stunt with his wife later on.
  8. The story of Joseph is really nice: Joseph and his brothers take up several chapters. Unlike most of Genesis where things seem to happen for no reason, Joseph’s story has clear direction, good guys and bad guys and ultimate triumph. He is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers (although he didn’t help the situation by snitching on them and then insinuating that he is better than them), but by his own virtue and a bit of help from God, he becomes Pharaoh’s trusted aide and saves the whole country from famine. He also gets reunited with his family and all is forgiven. The only weird thing is that, at some point the famine gets so bad, that most of the Egyptians sell off everything to buy food. So Joseph tells them to sell their land and themselves into slavery so as to get more food. And that is how from then on, farmers must give a fifth of their harvest to Pharaoh. Seems like a pretty raw deal.
  9. Judah and his really messed up family: Right in the middle of Joseph’s story, (chapter 38) we get introduced to Judah’s family drama. Judah starts hanging out with some Adullahmite character, with undertones that he is a bad influence. So he marries a Caananite woman and has three sons with her. Judah’s first born was wicked in the sight of the Lord, so he died. Since he was married, Judah directed his second son, the famous Onan, to go continue his brother’s legacy and have a child with Tamara, said widow. Onan wasn’t having any of it, so he used the withdrawal method. This was not cool, so God killed him. Unfortunately, Judah’s youngest (and final) son was too young to get married, so he sent Tamara back to her in-laws, promising to give her his remaining son as her a third husband once the boy was old enough. However, Judah seemed to forget his promise, and this did not sit well with Tamara. So a few years later, when Judah was in her hometown with his dodgy buddy, she covered her face and waited for him the gate of the city, where he unwittingly proceeded to hire her services as a prostitute with the promise of a goat. Since he didn’t have it with him, he gave her his staff and his signet and cord  as an IOU. (when he sent his buddy to pay her, she was nowhere to be found). Later his in-laws came to report that his daughter in-law was pregnant as a result of her whoring ways. So they dragged her out and were ready to burn her, but then she produced Judah’s staff and signet, proving that he was the father. So he pardoned her and she gave birth to twins, which we later on find out form part of the lineage of Jesus Christ. There are plenty of explanations as to why this story is in the Bible, mostly that God doesn’t appreciate people who break promises, or those who neglect their family obligations and also that he can work through unrighteous men to do good deeds. None of this stops Jacob from lavishing blessings on his son.
  10. The story of Onan could have been taken out of context: Onanism apparently means interrupted procreation, and has been used to claim that contraception is wrong in the eyes of God. However, reading the passage, it seems like God was angry at Onan for disobeying his father by refusing to get his sister in law pregnant, and not because he took offence at semen on the ground.
  11. There is a big focus on resources: Right from the creation story, where cattle are mentioned at least twice, to long passages describing how Abraham solves disputes with foreign kings over ownership of wells, to decisions made to part because the land cannot support the wealth of two men, to Jacob’s shenanigans to outsmart his father in law’s attempts to trick him out of his livestock, you can see  why the promise of the land of Canaan to the  people of Genesis makes sense. Life was tough.

The Book of Genesis reads like an epic tale of struggle and conquest. Its characters face monumental struggles, brother turns against brother, alliances shift, and only the most cunning survive. Knowing what I know about the rest of the Bible, and the New Testament, it feels like some of the passages were inserted to justify what happens in the future. (A good example is Lot and his daughters, because we know the Moabites and Ammonites later become the enemies of Israel).

Nonetheless, I look forward to seeing how the rest of the story progresses.

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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

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.

Clearing up a few things: notes on the human condition


Travelling gives you perspective. When you live and work in a culture different from your own, you get to expand your horizon. It can be enlightening, annoying, frustrating and sometimes downright awful. You probably don’t find yourself, but you do get a better sense of how the world works. Here are a few things that really stuck with me.

1. No-one cares about your country: Local media is astonishingly egocentric. It makes you think that the world is focused on you. That, of course everyone knows your history and your current affairs. It is easy to build conspiracies about how the world is out to get you, because of course everyone is focused on you and what you are fighting about.

Occasionally, I found myself starting discussions with phrases like ‘everyone knows that Kenya…’ Turns out no-one does actually. I mean, once, my classmate came to tell me about the cool book he read about how the mau mau terrorists were so brutal. I was absolutely enraged and insulted until I realized that I had absolutely no idea about anything that happened in Croatia. And that he spoke to me in the same way- assuming that I have, at the very least a comprehensive knowledge of his country’s drama and history. Specifically, he and his fellow Croatians would always talk about THE WAR. Over and over again and in capital letters. And I had absolutely no idea what they were on about. My mind did not make the connection between the news I heard in the 1990s that inspired me to nickname my little sister Sarajevo and what they were talking about.

Every country is obsessed with its own internal politicking and everything else is just a passing affair. Pages will be dedicated to whatever local bullshit is going on, and international news gets a few lines. If you think about it though, it makes sense. With the exception of people majoring in political affairs, few people have the time or the emotional energy to follow every little story coming from every corner of the world. It’s impossible.

2. Everyone thinks that their weather is unpredictable: I had a Belgian colleague who loved to use the phrase ‘Belgium is the only country where you can experience four seasons in one day.’ Noooo….no it isn’t. For me, Belgium came in two seasons: cold and rainy, or just rainy. I honestly don’t understand why people are so proud of this.  And it’s not just the Belgians. South Africans, the French, Kenyans, literally everyone. I mean, really who cares? The weather happens, lets get over it already.

3. Magic exists in the world: I have had the great fortune of meeting three people who made me feel like I had reunited with a long lost best friend. I don’t know why or how but we just gelled almost from the word go. Despite coming from profoundly different worlds, these people just got me in a way that was unbelievable. There was none of that awkwardness about trying to be politically correct. They did not have to modify their vowels and neither did I. I could make a joke and they would get it, and vice versa. They were my partners in crime. People I could sit with in silence for hours or have long, elaborate arguments about fuck-all. And also do the most incredibly stupid shit possible and get away with it together. It’s like finding a part of your soul that was missing and it is pure magic. (This is not gender specific by the way)

Also, I have to mention the astonishing kindness that people treated me with on so many occasions. Virtual strangers who went out of their way to help me. For example, my first night in France was a comedy of errors that led me to being homeless for the night. My neighbors were having a party and they took me in, gave me champagne, good food and a place to sleep. When was the last time you hosted a scared looking foreigner who’s name you couldn’t pronounce? People can be awesome.

4. People are overly concerned about their accents: Every time you open your mouth, you announce to people where you came from. Where you went to school, your social class, your level of education and quite often, the region that you came from. And it makes people uncomfortable as hell. In every country I have ever visited, certain regions are mocked for their backwardness (and often, implied bestiality) and they are mercilessly mocked for their accents. Then you have people who speak French, Spanish, Hungarian or whatever as a first language. Some of these people go to the UK for six months and as a consequence, speak in a bizarrely contrived ‘English’ accent for the rest of their lives. It sounds just as awful and as painful as a Kenyan guy trying to speak American. True story

5. Food is astonishingly political: If you grew up on beans and maize, the food is just fuel that gets you by. If your country has more than 300 types of cheese, then it is perfectly acceptable to get into arguments with other people about what region produces the best cheese. You can have a beer with your friends, or you can sample wines and complain about the lack of body and therefore imply that your friend has poor taste and is therefore a pleb, probably with a back water accent and incest running in the family.

6. The world is deeply racist: yes, yes, not everyone is racist. Sit down. Even within your own borders, you harbor some deeply held beliefs about people from other regions. Luos waste money on stupid things, Kikuyu bosses will work you to death. People in Paris are arrogant, people from the south of France only care about plastic surgery and getting tans. South Indians are not very smart, North Indians are arrogant racists. This is all on a national level. When you go international, things get even worse. If you want an example, scroll down to the comments section of news on immigration, ebola and other third world concerns. Such thoughts and opinions are the result of years of deep conditioning. I doubt very much that people’s opinions have changed from the 19th century on some things. Different words are used now, like ‘developing’ instead of ‘savage’ and the like but the basic idea remains the same.

7. We are all slaves of our culture: Politicians in Africa have a tendency to shout about how African culture is somehow superior to others and that we should maintain our ‘culture’ because it is pure and unadulterated, unlike the rest of the world, which is drowning in moral decay, weekly abortions and rampant ‘gayism’. Everyone is having the same discussion. Culture is not something that can be controlled in a laboratory. It evolves and changes and it informs everything you do in your life. Everyone is worried about the erosion of their culture, and is, to a large extent, convinced that their culture is somehow superior to the others.

8. You will never be as happy as you are right now: Life can be easier or more convenient in places where the government functions. Life is good when your family and friends are intact. But your outside surroundings will never make you happy. In fact, the added stress of being in an unfamiliar culture can make you downright miserable. Sure, the adrenalin rush of adventure and novelty can distract you from whatever is going on in your mind and soul, but generally, your state of being is a constant. If you are unhappy at home, then you will find reasons to be unhappy, no matter where you go.

So yeah, and that is that, I would say. I still have hope in humanity.

why I stopped worrying about whether God exists


For a long time, I was under the illusion that Kenyans are not a particularly religious nation. This was based solely on my sketchy religious education and the fact that my family has never been particularly religious. At home, there were no religious icons gracing the walls. No hour long prayers before meals. No church group meetings lasting all afternoon. Nothing, except my mother chalking up any feeble attempts to be better Christians as a phase motivated by peer pressure. By the time I was 12 years old, my family had almost completely given up any pretenses of going to church or further developing our spirituality.

In high school, there was none of the mass hysteria that apparently regularly sweeps  through girls’ schools, no bible study and no talk of getting ‘saved’. We went for mass once a week, and I played the guitar in order to avoid the crushing boredom of listening to nearly dead priests talk about love and forgiveness.

So I grew up with the attitude that no-one really takes any of this stuff seriously, least of all my age-mates.

At some point, I became curious as to why seemingly rational people could say and believe the doctrine of Christianity. How we could, in full confidence, say that anyone who is not christian will go to hell. Or discuss the miracle of Jesus’ virgin birth and in the same breath discount as nonsense miracles that happened in other religions. How we could gasp at the fact that Hindus worship multiple gods, and yet find it perfectly reasonable that one day, in the near future, everyone that ever lived shall be woken up for the final judgement.

I can think of three experiences that led me to where I am today:

1. India

India is where I first became aware of how deeply ritualistic religions are, and that maybe, we don’t need to take everything at face value. I remember watching a woman perform some kind of ceremony with a cow- she fed it, gave it water, walked around it in circles and touched parts of it with her hands for blessing.

Then I somehow found myself in a Sikh temple, washing my feet before entry, walking around a huge table shaped thing, and being pushed along to kiss something at the front. I also went to a Hindu temple and waited for my friends to offer money and milk to various gods.

All these experiences were very strange for me. But the strangest thing was the amount of devotion and belief that people had in these rituals. We celebrated several ceremonies while I was there, and it seemed to me like people came to the office everyday with fresh marks on their faces from some blessing or the other.

As a christian, I knew that this was called worshiping false gods. As a human, I saw deep devotion to their religion, and the unquestioning belief that is exactly how it is meant to be.

Then it dawned on me, if I find it so ridiculous that people worship statues, how much more logical is it that there is a man in the sky who watches everything we do?

2. France

I remember that when I was in France, I could not go home to visit my family during one Christmas. I was depressed and feeling sorry for myself, and I thought that I needed a little spirituality to start off the year on a good note. So I went for Christmas mass. I have always said I am Catholic because, to be honest, it is a very low maintenance religion. Plus I really can’t stand all the noise and hysteria that other churches seem to encourage.

Maybe it is because I was suffering from some kind of culture shock, or maybe its because I was sad and lonely, but I have never felt so weirderd out in a church before. The mass was beautiful, all in French but with the same rituals that Catholics have world wide. But I looked at the priest, behind his enormous alter, as he prepared the communion and wine, and I wondered to myself, but why? Why are we recreating blood and flesh? And why is this cathedral so huge and unfriendly? Why did Europeans spend so much money and blood to build huge, elaborate churches at the expense of their people? It seemed to me like it was all just a way to tightly control people.

The priest’s message was beautiful. He asked us to love one another, to show kindness and to think of the less fortunate. To be grateful for what we have been given. It all rang true and I wanted to do that. But I couldn’t help but ask myself- why would such a simple, universal message have to be steeped in so much fantasy and incomprehensible ritual? Was I really obliged to identify myself with this stuff in order to follow the teachings?

I think this is when I began to see just how much religion relies on brainwashing to keep followers. That is the day I finally realized that I would never ever feel guilty again for not attending church, for not praying, and for not believing anything the church said.

3. Sicily

Everybody knows about Sicily because of the mafia. But something else about Sicily is that it is a deeply, deeply religious place. There are cathedrals and churches everywhere. There are shrines to Mother Mary, various catholic saints and sweet baby Jesus at nearly every corner. What’s even better is that these shrines are visited by people- who say prayers and leave candles and flowers. In Sicily, it is common to see people cross themselves every time they pass a church or shrine.

An enormous amount of religious days are observed. Processions led by priests, alter boys and a great number of citizens are common place. I even saw one where men and women were passing their babies up a huge chair to touch the statue of someone, for reasons that remain unknown to me. Speaking of which, almost every little neighborhood in Palermo has a patron saint and a festival to commemorate them.

Plus, how come they get to have so much fun, with food and fireworks and partying in the street and days off work? We have Easter and Christmas and Pentecost and that’s pretty much it.

I was baffled because I always thought that Europeans are not particularly religious. Sicily was an eye opener in that respect.

Visiting beautiful churches and cathedrals, decorated with those epic paintings of God and his angels, Mary and her family and all that stuff, I came to the conclusion that most of what we imagine about heaven, God and what it means to be christian is the fertile imagination of Italian artists. We are basically aspiring to the heaven that Italians dreamed of for themselves.

Where do I fit into that narrative? Nowhere, that’s where.

Eventually, I stopped wondering whether God exists, and I became less concerned about uncovering the truth. I found a deep respect for people who are truly religious, no matter what their religion is. I’m not worried about what will happen after I die, because we all have enough things bothering us every single day. I don’t agree with hardcore atheists, especially when they use arguments like the dumber someone is, the more likely they are to be deeply religious. Yeah….no.

I really do not see anything wrong with people who base their values and aspirations in religion. It is difficult to escape the beliefs that were drummed into us by our families and society at large. I think that religion, in any form, probably improves lives, with the exception of fundamentalists, sadists and sociopaths. Freedom from guilt, worry about the future and what exactly it is that you are here for can never be a bad thing.

And like Oprah said, you can’t make it through life if you think that everything is solely up to you.

http://www.thefoxisblack.com/2012/06/08/tourists-a-poster-by-jim-field/

Tales of travel: top tips and other stuff thrown in


Here’s a confession- growing up, I secretly wished that I could walk around, unwashed, wearing ugly sandals and flowing Indian clothes. I hoped that one day I too would have licence to stumble about, mouth hanging open, invading people’s privacy by taking pictures of stuff with my very cool and expensive looking camera.

At some point I realized that trying very hard to be different from the masses turns you into a cliché yourself, and that sometimes this truth is evident to everyone but yourself.

So when I met a gang of  under-dressed, tattooed vegans who described themselves as long term travelers, I was intrigued. Maybe I could do the same thing? Maybe I could also make statements like

‘My home is my backpack and I am a nomad.’

and mean it?

Maybe I could finance my travels by making jewelry, reading palms and playing a myriad of instruments? Stick it to the Man once and for all by embracing an obscure Asian religion and changing my name?

Who am I kidding? I has the wrong passport.

Anyway, since none of the  trips I ever made involved acting out my hippie fantasies, I present you my very own top tips to having an awesome holiday:

Don’t be a Dead-weight

Group dynamic is very important when you want to travel with strangers, or even your own friends. You see, there’s leaders, and there’s followers. And then there are dead-weights. Dead-weights are happy to let everyone else make decisions for them, put them on a leash and shepherd them from destination to destination. Dead-weights come into their own when something goes wrong, and are often the ones who complain the loudest about everything. The hostel sucks, why are we looking at this sh*t? I’m tired. This is boring.

Don’t be a dead weight. Just don’t. Suck it in- following someone else’s plans is also a choice in itself. Remember that as you get rained on in the middle of some God forsaken town as you watch the last bus speed away.

Don’t try to recreate home

You know what doesn’t work? Trying to make yourself feel at home. Especially when it comes to food. I see people trying to recreate the taste of home over and over again, only to be bitterly disappointed. So…trying to find a replacement for paneer will not end well. Neither will buying pineapples north of the equator. Ditto for finding aged cheese in India. You can wait till you get home for that stuff. And above all, no-one wants to listen to a 45 minute lecture about how bad whatever it is you are eating is, and how much better it normally is at home. Don’t, just don’t.

Same goes for complaining about transport and people. Yes, we know, your country is awesome and people are nice and no-none stares and you get everything you want and everyone understands you. It’s okay, be strong, its only a few more days till you can go back to your Utopia.

Don’t be embarrassed about being a tourist

Memory can be a fickle thing. So take pictures if you want to. Instagram the shit out of them and use a million #hashtags if you want to. Especially if you visit landmarks that are a must see. Spend half an hour getting the perfect shot of you jumping in the air and touching the top of the building or whatever. Take 15 shots of those pretty flowers that you saw if you want to. Ignore people who tell you that you can download those images from Google and indulge your fantasies about being an awesome photographer (we all have them…) You are on holiday, what else are you going to do?

Seek out your authentic experience as much as you want, but the truth is, if you have a few days in place X, there are only so many ‘hidden’ things you will find. You will probably do touristy, cliched things and you will be happy about it. As long as you don’t obsess about finding the ‘real’ deal. Everybody wants to see the Eiffel tower. Everybody wants to see the Taj. Everybody wants to swim with the sharks. And it’s all been done before.

Remember it could be much worse

Below a certain age, doing anything with your parents is unbearable. But even when you can share a drink with your kin, lots of things you do with your parents fall under the category I like to call ‘obligatory fun’. Like going on holiday. Or going to amusement parks. Or going to museums. Sometimes even having a conversation. But  especially going on holiday.

Because getting lost isn’t just getting lost- its fodder for that ongoing war of attrition between mom and dad.  Screaming matches in public during dinner are not so funny in real life.  Going to a museum isn’t about culture. It’s about struggling with adolescents who see more value in their phones than in whatever dusty crap their folks are shoving their faces into.

Remember that when your plans don’t work out as imagined.

Leave your comments- best holiday, worst holiday, what works for you, what you resent about tourists invading your city…

India: First Impressions


”You are just going so that you can avoid responsibility. If you want to go to a third world country, why not move back to Kenya?”

I had plenty of time to reflect on these sentiments during my long, long journey  to Chandigarh. And ask myself, why, as my friends were applying for jobs, I was hustling another traineeship. In India.

My well had been poisoned.

Once I got to New Delhi, India hit me so hard I had no more time for self doubt and emo angst. I was soon relieved of a good part of my stupid tourist money, and instantly began to pay more attention to my surroundings and less to  my existential questions.

It’s been four days or so and I think I can make my first list of wildly judgemental and probably inaccurate observations about this  my new home:

1. Traffic rules are for tools: Everyone knows that driving in this country is sheer madness. What they don’t tell you is that road anarchy is a way of life. A philosophy, even. Motorists frequently drive into oncoming traffic to avoid making detours, pedestrians casually saunter across the road wherever they feel like, and everyone hoots ALL the time. Throw in the occasional horse drawn carriage, chilled out water buffalo/cow, bikes and scooters with nonchalant women perched on the side all sharing the same space, and well, it can be a little overwhelming. Fortunately for me, my city is quite well planned, so I’ve never actually been caught in a traffic jam.

my city on a good day (meetravels.blogspot.com)

2. Cigarettes are Satan’s breath: I have never been to place where it is so socially unacceptable to light up. At most, I have seen ten people smoking. I think this is specific to my city, but there are threatening signs in both open air space and closed ones, curtly informing you that ”it is an offence to smoke here”. Come on, what happened to the neutral ”no smoking” sign? Even our little dusty neighbourhood market is thoroughly offended by these uncouth beings poisoning everyone else around them with their demonic sulphur and tar (or whatever).

3. East meets west…on our terms: In my hood, there is a Subway sandwich shop. Squeezed in between Happy Singh’s general supermarket and a burnt out parking lot. And all over the city, you can see McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Dominoes, KFC, United Colours of Benneton, Ralph Lauren, Polo and other over priced, pretentious clothing brands. You just have to find them, partially hidden by signs advertising ‘Spoken English lessons here ‘ , ‘Royal Real Estate Services’ and giant posters advertising skin lightening creams that will take all your problems away and help you find that perfect man.

4. The heat: I arrived in India during Summer. And my colleagues delight in telling me that I ain’t seen nothing yet, and that it will get hotter soon. Before it starts raining. And then they ask me, ”but it’s also hot in Kenya, right’?’

Well now, the glue in my wallet does not melt after four hours in a train in Kenya. My face does no glow in the dark from all the accumulated heat every evening in Kenya. I don’t feel the heat from the tarmac burning me while I’m on a bike in Kenya. I don’t sleep without sheets or a blanket at night in Kenya.

So no, it’s not the same weather in Kenya.

5. What are these chest appendages that you display?: I made the mistake of wearing a vest to the supermarket. There was a man standing behind me, looking all holy and guru-ish in his turban. We queued for about ten minutes, and in that time he must have caught up with ten years worth of ogling, as well as probably committing everything to memory to serve him for his remaining days, I don’t know. I was uncomfortable, but at the same time, did not want to make it worse by self consciously fiddling around with my clothes. So, yeah, kind of awkward.

So far so good, right? Well, I have to register myself at the government office in the next couple of days. And officially meet my boss  who is currently away on a very busy and important trip.