Is The Internet Making Me Dumber? C. S. Lewis Thinks So.

With each passing day,  I become more skeptical of our beloved ‘too much’ information age with its myriad of thought leaders,  opinion shapers and loud mouths.

This is why.

Unlike long ago, when after hearing something I had time to process and make up my mind about it,  nowadays I seem to leave most of my opinions in the hands and fingers of opinion shapers. I doubt that I am alone.

Whenever we engage with new findings,  it has become the norm to check out other people’s opinions around the matter.  In most cases, we choose the ‘right’ thoughts by checking out how many retweets,  shares and likes another’s opinion has received. Tragically,  this is how we get pulled in by the popular which as you and I already know,  isn’t always the right.

This poses a grave danger.  We,  most likely, turn away from those who disagree, even if they have a point.

Yet the worst sin we commit is to turn away from our conscience, the inner prodding that might differ with the popular opinion.

Subliminally, the loud thinkers influence us so much that if we aren’t careful, we stop forming our own opinions and instead rush to see what so-and-so has said in order to form our truths.

I have met people who agree that the information age is turning us into thought puppets. I can’t say for sure if this is true or false.  However, I have personally made a choice to not let others-people and media too- provide all answers and solutions to the world around me.

I am also hoping to create a gap between the time I read something and when I let myself respond to it. I am looking for the time between stimulus and response. Fingertip and brain.

As C. S. Lewis says, ‘When Freud is talking about how to cure neurotics,  he is speaking as a specialist on his own subject, but when he goes on to talk general philosophy, he is speaking as an amateur. It is therefore,  quite sensible to attend to him with respect in the one case and not in the other… ‘

P.S. I have absolutely no issue with thought leaders,  if anything, I absolutely admire people who’ve  taken time to grow themselves into the best they can be in their fields. However, it is becoming more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff and as such it is important to always have your own intellectual growth in mind even as one exposes themselves to the millions of not-so-subliminal influences out there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The city in the sun

Literary Chronicles

By Gloria Mwaniga.

In a far away land,

to the east of Nairobi,

There lies a strange city in the sun.

An old and ageless city.

Where girls abandon their clothes.

And men stay in the water like fish

The sun rays burn brightly and heat up the city.

The water is salty and warm,

Madafu is the drink that sells in that old city.

Where soil is white and sandy,

And the beaches filled with locals and tourists.

The buildings tell tales,

of Vasco Dagama and merchants,

Who traversed the land in the early years.

Drinking spiced teas and biriani at Eid.

They say that the water carries mysteries,

of jinni women and queens of the sea.

And the shells carry voices,

of lovelorn lovers lost in the vast waters.

The locals sit under coconut trees,

The shirts abandoned to keep the heat off.

They tell tales of sea…

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Will Two Rivers Survive?

urbankeystrokes

Well, of course it will. What we don’t know yet is whether it will thrive.

More than four months after its Valentine’s Day opening, I finally deigned to venture down the first time. A friend and I went on a Sunday night.

There was not too much business, but I do remember Nove Coffee was packed. There was a decent crowd around CK Square (haha!), but they were attracted by the football on the large screen, and below, the fountain lights.

I decided to hold off on an opinion and returned later, this time alone.

It happened to be Idd that night. You knew right from the main entrance, with the surging throng of excitable Somali boys. For Idd, Two Rivers was the destination, and the place was heaving.

At the entrance were these two Nissan matatus these young men had rented which couldn’t get any further, because security.Inside was…

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OF STEAMY SECRET LOVE AND A SEASON OF CRIMSON BLOSSOMS.

Senegalese author Mariama Ba in her much acclaimed novel So Long a
Letter shines light on the stifled lives of  women she perceived
growing up in Senegal.

In the book, Ba highlights the helplessness, sorrow and resignation of
the protagonist, Ramatoulaye. We are taken into the intricacies of
Ramatoulaye’s life when, after the death of her husband, she writes to
her best friend, reminiscing about the past and also speaking about
her present  state as a widow in a very  conservative  and patriarchal
Muslim society. Through this book,   Ba discloses for the first time,how culture can stifle.

I have just finished reading a book I dare term the sequel to Ba’s. It
is the debut novel of  Nigeria writer Abubakar Adam Ibrahim. Seasons
of Crimson Blossoms  tells the story of Hajiya Binta Zubairu, a  55
year old widow in conservative  northern Nigeria who decides to,
against conventional wisdom, fall in love with a younger man in his
20’s. Abubakar rebirths Ramatoulaye. He also modernizes her and
boldens her by making her more in charge of her own life choices.

It was Leo Tolstoy who, at the beginning of his controversial classic
Anna Karenina, declared that every unhappy family is unhappy its own
way. As Season of Crimson Blossoms begins, the widow Hajiya Binta
Zubairu’s family is unhappy in its own way. Having lost her husband to
a mob of religious zealots in Jos and her first son Yaro at the hands
of police, Binta is deeply unhappy. She lives with her sister’s child
Fa’iza who is also haunted by a violent death she witnessed.

Binta , whose story is set against the backdrop of the  volatile
north, leads the ordinary, quiet life of a faithful Muslim housewife;
performing her ablutions, saying her Subhi prayers, reading the
Qur’an, attending Madrasa  and sewing. Besides this, the only other
thing she seems to do is steep herself in regret and nostalgia,
thinking about how she could have  better loved her deceased first son
whom tradition forbade from showing affection.

All this changes one afternoon when Binta returns from Madrasa to find
a youthful burglar named Hassan Reza Babale in her house.  He cames to
steal her property but leaves instead with her heart. She warms up to
his touch, the first male touch since her husband died a decade
earlier. A pious person, she is of course appalled when the masculine
touch arouses deeply buried sexual feelings and is quick to blame
Shaytan for sowing impious thoughts in her mind. Reza manages to
successfully awaken her long abandoned womanhood.
We sense that this encounter, grimy as it is, is the turning point of
Binta’s life. The author writes:
‘He took her things and left, having sown in her the seed of her
awakening that would eventually sprout into a corpse flower, the
stench of which would  resonate far beyond her imagining …’

Abubakar masterfully curves out the tale from this point, putting into
it just the right amount of suspense to whet our appetite for more and
then breaking our hearts with the harsh, judgmental, self-righteous
reaction of, not only her closest family and friends but also the
larger society, a people that know not how to forgive and forget.

That he chose to set his novel in Northern Nigeria, a region largely
ignored by many Nigerian writers is plausible. It shows that Abubakar
is unafraid of loving his homeland, to which he dedicates the book.
And he writes with a true patriotsm, a love for his country that’s not
blind. He dares to steep the prose in Nigeria’s recent political
history, thus affirming Achebe’s long standing argument that a writer
must engage in the politics of his day.

Abubakar writes splendidly, drawing pictures with unforgettable
phrases like this:
‘She dreamt in sepia. Like rust-tainted water running over the
snapshots of her memory, submerging her dreams in a stream of reddish
brown’
The choreography of his language is brilliant and the metaphors are
breathtaking. The prose begets poetry and the phrases are so perfect
he must have bled over. His sentences have poignancy and passion.

I liked  too how he handled the female protagonist in the book. In the
liberal spirit of the 21st century, he lets Binta choose her lover
without caring that he is younger than most of her children. As a
girl, she was forced to marry a stranger thrust upon her by a
dictatorial father. As a grown woman, Binta lets sexual attraction be
the guiding light of her new relationship; a bond in which she gets as
much as she gives, a liaison in which her body is no longer a source
of shame but of pleasure to herself and the man she chooses to give
herself to.

Abubakar doesn’t paint his story with broad strokes, he pays attention
to detail. His characters are sensitive and their domestic incidences
plausible. The conversations too are delightfully realistic which
shows that the writer is an attentive observer of his surroundings. I
found my emotions enmeshed into those of the characters once  it
occurred to me that beyond the boubous, hijabs and perfect makeup, lay
mothers and sisters who yearn for  love and understanding even as
they morph from victims to creators of their own circumstances.

Abubakar has gone a step further. He has redeemed the modern writer.
Through the seriousness and thoughtfulness he accords his prose, he
has proven that the modern writer, despite endless chatter on social
media platforms, is still capable of emerging as a deep, scholarly
thinker. Abubakar has undoubtedly, like Achebe said of Adichie, also
come to us almost fully made.

FIFTH DRAFT…A REVIEW

Fiction books published with NGO funds usually contain stories that push the agenda of the NGOs.

It is therefore a relief to find that Lesleigh Kenya’s newest anthology Fifth Draft, cannot be said to be pushing an NGO agenda. The collection was launched at the Goethe Institut in Nairobi on December 10.

Fifth Draft, a poetry and prose collection, was birthed at a workshop funded by the Italian NGO CEFA. Diverse in theme and content, the book contains vivid tales and poems. From uptown wives, night runners, lustful priests, slum dwellers and religious extremists, the collection tackles diverse aspects of life.

The stories and poems speak to all, despite the invisible social, religious and economic differences that are bound to divide.

If indeed it is true that the faculty we employ upon poetry at the first reading is sensual, then the poet Mwangi Gituro opens our minds’ eyes sensually with his poem Bless Me Father for I Have Seen. It is an innocent observation by a child of a lustful priest. The persona, a young Catholic faithful, confesses that he has seen the way the priest stares longingly at other little boys going naively about the Lord’s work.

The first two stanzas, reproduced below, aptly sum up the hypocrisy of some men of the cloth who forget that their flock are watching their actions more than listening to their words.

Bless me Father for I have seen/I have seen the way you look at John/ as he paces up and down the altar in the service of the Lord/The way you cup your hands around Charles  as he hands you the chalice/The way the sides of your mouth lasciviously twitch as you place the host on Peters’ luscious lips

The strength of this poem lies in its combination of childish innocence and religious deceit.

Mainouna Jallow’s short story The Bake Club of Tailorflower Lane is fresh and exciting. It unlocks the lives of the expatriates whose privileges give them time to fuss over extramarital affairs, personal trainers and failing marriages.

Jallow boldly lets us into the lives of this class of Kenyans who are very present but tend to be pushed to literary peripheries because of our fetish for “poverty porn.” The story follows the daily lives of three high society women and also shines a light on the lives of Nairobi’s rich.

Mwende Ngao’s Toilet Paper Thief is a coming-of-age tale that tells of the hurdles of city life for the young. Anxious to move away from home and be “independent,” Koki, grapples with delayed pay, joblessness and lack of money. Then, unable to cope with the numerous demands of the concrete labyrinth, the good girl turns bad, throws caution to the wind and gives into a friends-with-benefits relationship with a man in a blue Subaru.

And yet, this is not all the book offers. There are other stories. Some quite impressive, like Mtheto Kadoko Hara’s A Sentiment for Leyla, which beautifully tells of love, sacrifice and religious extremism from Malawi to Nairobi’s Westgate mall.

Others quite chilling, like Powell Omolo’s The Chosen, which talks about the life of a young man who has inherited night running powers from his Legio-Maria grandmother and is trying to come to terms with his newfound powers.

Less impressive stories dot the Fifth Draft as well. Stories which one feels require much more work. Stories which perhaps if the authors had kept revising, would have become better in their fifth drafts. These stories include the Fifth Draft by Eutycus Mola, which is simply a collection of beautiful phrases that the writer seems clueless what to do with. Stories like How To Snatch a Monkey by Atandi Anyona, which is meant to be humorous but fails and ends up putting off the reader.

Yet there is a lot to like in this book. Starting with its publisher, Lesleigh Kenya, which is a new outfit in the country. The firm proves that meticulous editing and good quality print are something we can hope for and should demand from our local publishers.

This article was first published in the East African.

 

THIS HOUSE IS NOT FOR SALE…A REVIEW

In her novella Kalasanda and its sequel Kalasanda Revisited, Ugandan writer Barbara Kimenye recounts humorous tales of country folks in a fictional Buganda village called Kalasanda. The tales focus on characters so eccentric they remain imprinted in the reader’s memory for ages.

Nigerian writer E.C. Osondu in his debut novel This House is Not for Sale, takes us to a place similar to Kalasanda. However, in Osondu’s case, the setting is a coastal town in West Africa. His characters are nonetheless as colourful and as eccentric as Kimenye’s Nantondos.

This House is Not for Sale tells the stories of the inhabitants of a huge mansion called the family house, which was passed down through generations. The owner, an elderly man, is the young narrator’s grandfather. He is a shrewd and enterprising patriarch, who is generous enough to play new LP records on his Sanyo stereo at full blast so that passers-by — and neighbours without stereos — can listen as well.

The family house swarms with activity and events there draw mixed feelings from those who live inside it and the neighbours around it. To its inhabitants, it is a blessing; a place of refuge from sins, poverty and despair.

“He knew that there was only one place on this earth where no arm, no matter how long, could reach him, and that was the family house,” we are told of a murderer who seeks refuge in the family house.

Much as neighbours dislike it for the patriarch’s exploitative nature and the misfits it harbours, they still show up whenever a chance to benefit from the house presents itself.

The stories, told through the eyes of a young narrator, are cleverly interwoven with humorous asides from anonymous voices. This enables the writer to slip in bits of information that would have otherwise been left out because of first person narration. Osondu, a seasoned storyteller, draws heavily from the African traditional oral storytelling — introducing other voices to fill in gaps left by the naïve narrator.

Some reviewers have argued that it is not a novel but a collection of short stories. This feels true as one reads it because each of the stories can stand alone and even sell separately. Osondu obviously draws from his strength as a short-story writer. (He won the Caine prize for African writing in 2009 for his short story, Waiting).

Each brisk chapter shines light on one of the many eccentric characters in the house. There is Ibe, the narrator’s cousin, who is a know-it all child. Ibe has a wild imagination and is stopped by nothing, not even death. Then there is Tata, a childless woman branded a “soul snatcher” before an encounter with the river goddess changes her life forever.

How does Osondu, himself a foreigner, remote from us in geographical distance, in culture and in local expressions, manage to talk about things that are important to us? The answer must lie, I suppose, in the fact that the writer is not merely a thinking brain; he is a feeling body, a sensitive heart, thus as we read This House is Not For Sale, we feel it draw upon the whole being, not merely a select part.

Some terms are Lagosian, the food too. There is jollof rice and fried akara and suya. Yet I do not think that the book is exclusively Nigerian. For in, say, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, Kigali and Kampala, we witness reality and superstitions sit side by side.

The dusty streets of our childhood are laced with daredevil little cousins like Ibe, and faithful believers who sell their earthly belongings because they believe the end of the world is nigh. Our cities house jobless PhD holders, the mentally ill and abandoned husbands like Abule.

We, too, have witnessed city buildings marked with X because they lie on road reserves and we later witness their demolition as the owners throw curses at the authorities.

This House is Not for Sale tackles serious themes like alternative sexuality, patriarchy and corruption. Yet it does so beautifully, turning clichés on their heads. And the book is funny, very funny. It teems with yarns so ridiculously out of this world, humour so dark yet so real it lodges itself indelibly in the readers’ memory.

Nothing is more refreshing, nothing serves more to sting and revive a reader than the spray of fresh words, little colloquialisms and tart green words that spring from the pages of this book.

This article was first published in The East African.

NAIROBI CARTOON EXHIBITION TAKES ON OBAMA AND OBAMAPHILES

Matt Groening once said that people go into cartooning because they
are shy and they are angry yet this cannot even begin to describe the
vibe of the six Kenyan cartoonists whose works are currently on
exhibition at the Alliance Francaise de Nairobi. Using the tool they
understand best, the pencil, these artists colorfully trace president
Obama’s life from his father’s homeland in Kogelo to his visit to
Kenya in 2006 and his long awaited visit as president of the United
States.

That  the different artists’ themes intersect with underlying common
themes and bitingly funny captions  is what  keeps art lovers glued to
the walls on the first floor art gallery at Alliance;  giving it
popularity at a time when other  people complain of experiencing too
much Obama talk, a condition social media enthusiasts  have since
termed #overobama.
A number of themes are explored and the artists manage to show us,
albeit tongue in cheek, the ridiculousness of some of the traditional
stereotypes we hold as a nation. They do so flawlessly, fluidly
transcend touchy topics like tribalism and political myopia and
brilliantly spreading rays of humor and wit over current world affairs
and right into Obama’s Kenyan heritage.

The issues highlighted range from African leaders’ obsession with
clinging to power, tribalism, America-Kenya-China relationships, the
toa kitu kidogo mentality, the strange travel habits of overloading
and carrying all belongings home and even the hypocrisy of hiding our
dirty side and showing guests our best side
The showcased works belong to six of Kenya’s best cartoonists among
them Celeste, Gado, Gammz, Gathara, Maddo and Victor Ndula. It was
curated by Patrick Gathara and is supported by Heinrich Boll Stiftung.

One theme explored, African leaders habit of clinging to power issue
is best illustrated in Victor Ndula’s Africa Advises President Obama
where an anonymous African president informs Obama that ‘African’
Presidents always get re-elected, a tongue-in cheek proclamation
given how in  many of this continents’ countries, the so called
‘re-election’ presidents force themselves back to power  by altering
constitutions and rigging votes.
Another widespread theme explores the relationship between Kenya and
America with Ndula suggesting a softening of the relationship after
years of not seeing eye to eye. The cartoon captioned ‘Thawing
Relations’ shows the ice cubes that hold presidents Uhuru and Obama
thawing and thus giving way to warmer, friendlier relations.

The cartoonists too speak a similar language on the
China-America-Kenya relationship turning it into a delightfully funny
tale of rivalry and jealousy. The first is Gado’s cartoon Obama to
Visit Africa which shows Obama getting off Air Force One and being
received by Chinese officials. He then loudly wonders if he is in
Africa or China and is promptly informed that he has to do more if he
is to curb Chinese influence here. Celeste however, carries the day on
this particular matter with her drawing which shows an unfaithful
Africa arm in arm with a bouquet carrying America but secretly holding
China’s hand behind America’s back. This, maybe a loud statement of
how distrustful African nations have become of the West.

It is hard for one to resist bursting into laughter at the biting
satire engrained in the artworks dealing with Obama’s Kenyan-ness and
our right to receive goodies from ‘our’ son. The artists vividly take
on expectations of a country that claims the man as one of its sons.
Gammzs’ Obama Presidency sets off this theme perfectly with Kenyans
expecting ridiculous goodies from Obama ranging from forgiveness of
Kenya’s debts to payment of fees in American Universities to green
cards for his relatives from Kogelo and even  kitu kidogo for the
parents whose  child is named after him. His other cartoon, Nyumbani
Tunasija shows the typically Kenyan habits of carrying all our earthly
belongings from mattresses to seats and overloading when going to
shagz for a visit.

In the end, even as economic analysts argue that Obama’s visit was
meant to change America’s relationship with Africa from the its
traditional elements of humanitarian aid towards a new focus with
Africa as a potential trade  partner, I like more the cartoonists
version of Obama as jealous and angry at China for overtaking the
United States as Africa’s biggest trade partner; and of him as the
good ‘native’ son, arriving home bearing gifts and goodies for those
of us fortunate enough to share our homeland with this son of a Kenyan
father working abroad. The exhibition is on till 23rd August at
Alliance Francaise first floor gallery.

This article was first published in the Saturday Nation.