Tag Archives: thoughts

Creating a monster

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I wish the Twilight trilogy had come out when I was a kid. That way, I could have read about vampires and scoffed at these pale pathetic beings. I could have gone to bed to dream of sugar, spice and rainbow-shitting unicorns.

But no. My childhood was pre-Twilight; before Stephenie Meyers managed to dig deep into the recesses of her lack of imagination to create characters that would forever shred all vampiric street cred and turn them into immortal objects of derision.

Before Meyers, there were real writers who didn’t shame the horror genre. They were called Anne Rice and Stephen King. I read their books and watched a young Kiefer Sutherland in Lost Boys and my innocent little brain kept all the images to unleash them before my eyes at night. My imagination, as with most children, was overactive, and gorging it on terrifying books and movies certainly did not help.

Remember in Science class when they told us plants and people compete for oxygen at night and that’s why you shouldn’t sleep with a potted plant in the room? I used to imagine waking up a shriveled gray mass of skin and bone, while a fat grinning cactus sat on my windowsill, thriving off of my oxygen and singing songs from Little Shop of Horrors.

My mind was capable of taking harmless facts and, from them, spinning gruesome horrors, covered in blood and gore and more blood. After reading Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, our pet dog became a radioactive bear-wolf-demon and, if I dared to peer over the covers, I’d be sure to find him poised at the foot of my bed, ready to attack me and take over my body. And no one would ever know that I was missing because my soul would hover in space, unseen for all eternity.

When I read A Christmas Carol, my heart wasn’t filled with yuletide warmth at Scrooge’s conversion into a good guy. No; at Christmas that year, I was convinced that the ghost of Jacob Marley had somehow found its way from the Dickensian world into my Mbarara village – and it was headed towards my bedroom. In the night’s quiet, I heard the infernal rattling of chains and waited for a ghostly face to appear inches from mine, to judge me for whatever sins I might have racked up at that age, and condemn me to an eternity of incessant torture.

I would glance over at where my siblings slept soundly, insulted by their unaffected sleep and swear, swear to never read a book or watch a movie again. I figured that if I stopped feeding my brain with information, it would have nothing to stew into festering terrors to keep me up at night. I resolved to be an ignoramus who could curl up and sleep peacefully.

Inexplicably I’d eventually dose off and wake up to another day, the night’s horrors forgotten. I’d find myself bored and pick up a book about a schizophrenic doctor with an evil alter ego and convince myself that this time, I wouldn’t let it get to my head.

You’re in hell… but America will save you!

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This short post is a largely-unresearched (as yet) kneejerk reaction to Foreign Policy’s 2011 list of the world’s failed states.

In a photo essay titled Postcards from Hell, journalist Elizabeth Dickinson portrays heart-tugging scenes from Iraq, Iran, Haiti, parts of Asia and (surprise!) much of sub-Saharan Africa – all of which have made FP’s list of failed states. How did these 60 countries get chosen? Well, the folks at FP chose from “130,000 publicly available sources… 12 indicators including refugee flows, poverty, public services, security threats”.

According to wiki, the Fund for Peace (which ironically sponsored FP’S little show-and-tell) describes a failed state as one which has:

  • lost control of its territory
  • erosion of legitimate authority to make decisions
  • inability to provide public services
  • inability to interact fully with other members of the international community

On these criteria, can we rank Liberia as a failed state? Nigeria? Kenya? How about Uganda? Iran? Bhutan?

Now, I am not condoning abuse of human rights or grave failures to provide public services by governments.The situations of Somalia and Haiti can certainly not be overstated.

It just seems to me that this American finger-wagging was a result of some biased research. The superlative-filled captions that go along with these pictures are just-so to portray exactly what I think the FP is trying to say : If your brand of government is not modelled after the US, if you’re a Jihad-preaching crazy Ay-rab muslim, we’re gonna put you on the list.

If I took pictures of SouthEast DC or the Bronx and slapped some shocking (but true) stats on the US’ immigration policies or incarceration rates, you might think The Mighty Nation was a failed state too.

Come soon, June! (books)

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I haven’t read a non-academic book in months! Okay, since March, but it feels like eons ago.

In that time, I have accumulated a handsome list of recommended reads and rave reviews and as a result I am this close to building a time machine that will take me straight to June,* when tests are done and winter break is here and I can curl up with a cup of coffee that I will ignore while I devour a healthy stack of books.

Presenting my Winter Booklist:

1. The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht, a literary prodigy whose first book – a mythological telling of the Yugoslavian war – has been gushed over by critics. I sneak-peeked it and must say I’m super-excited to read the rest of it.

2. The Brothers Karamazov – Dostoevsky. Apparently I shouldn’t die without having read this book.

3. The Element: How finding your passion changes everything – Sir Ken Robinson. I love the humor with which he speaks about creativity development and education reform. I’ve only watched his TED talks so far, but I think this read will be worth it.

4. On Black Sisters’ Street – Chika Unigwe.

5. The Masque of Africa: glimpses of African belief – VS Naipaul. I have been meaning to buy this book for a year now, because I like Naipaul’s writing and the exploration of religions is almost always interesting. But after reviews like these, I’m not sure I’ll get it.

In other news, Jane Eyre has been adapted into a movie (again). I have never seen the 1983 version, so I’ll be heading to the cinema for this with a curious anxiety. Fingers crossed Hollywood does not ruin that classic story for us.

*not accounting for all the wild apocalypse theories being flung about lately.

 

LITTLE UPDATE: I added Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love to this list. I am 7 chapters in and I can already see why it got nods from both the Commonwealth and Orange Prizes.

I also added Unburnable – Marie-Elena Jones because I haven’t read a good Caribbean story since…. since the biography of Bob Marley 🙂

Just Like You

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there’s no turning around

You sat on your bed, hearing old springs creak loudly in the silence. And you took in the emptiness of the large cold room, the full realisation of it washing over you. You were away from home for the first time in your life. Eighteen years old and eager to grow up. The view outside was beautiful, a grand mountain range spreading large motherly arms around the city, as far as the eye could see. You sighed. It was meant to be a sigh of contentment, but all that came out was a nervous rushing of air. Loud in the silence. You moved away from the window, embarrassed, even though you were alone in the room. You couldn’t even express your emotions right – how would you survive here? How would you cook your food, forge friendships, make everyone at home proud of their decision to send you so far away to get a good education? You sighed again – this time more convincingly – picked up your bags and started the long lonely process of unpacking them.

I’m too far from home

You’re out of breath from running to catch the train. Two years later and you can never seem to make it out of bed on time. A rotund black woman with equally round eyeglasses stamps a ticket and hands it to you. Is that a smile or a snarl? You step onto  the train, locating your usual place, third row on the left. Slumping in your seat, you fish a book out of your bag, wondering for the hundredth time if you will ever get used to the acrid smell of urine, sweat and fish that pervades the cabin. Still,  the third window is one of the two which opens just a crack, offering relief once the train starts moving.

You open the book – glad for the only moment of the day when you can retreat into a world of fiction. You don’t notice the four men – boys, really – who step onto the train in a single file. They are quiet, talking amongst themselves in soft clicks and hushed exclamations. In a moment, the clicking stops. The train is quiet. Too quiet.  You look up from the book and turn to where the four boys are standing around one of the passengers. You crane your neck to find the familiar face of a tall gangly man in a shabby suit. You both take this train three days a week – you, out of breath from running, and clutching a totebag of schoolbooks and laptop. He, in the same clean but threadbare jacket, holding an equally wellworn briefcase of notes in one hand.The first time you meet, you smile reserved smiles at each other.

The clicking begins again, loud this time. You see the man in a suit look up at the boys in confusion. His eyes register a slight defiance, retreating steadily in fear as the boys’ questions take on a harsh tone.

Usukaphi? Where are you from, you later find out.

Usukaphi? Louder.

Two brows furrowed in confusion. Eight brows stare back menacingly.

Ndibonise iI.D. yakho? This you can make out. And a cold realisation sets in – these boys are part of it. A wave of xenophobic attacks you have been reading about in the paper for almost a week now. Makeshift homes razed to  the ground, immigrants barely making it out alive as they grabbed any of their few possessions to seek refuge in churches and community halls.

The man in a suit is a foreigner. Just like you.

In May 2008, a series of riots started in a township in Johannesburg, when locals attacked migrants from Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, killing 2 people and injuring 40 others. The violence spread in the following weeks to Gauteng and then to the coastal cities of Durban and Cape Town. In a month, 62 were left dead, 21 of whom were South African citizens. Reports showed that local leaders orchestrated the violence in many of these areas.

throwing one more dice

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For many of us, there is always a point where we stop and think, is this what I am meant to be doing with my life?

I made a decision some days ago to abandon altogether something in which I have invested close to 5 years and a shitload of money and effort. I could no longer shake the niggling feeling that I was at the wrong party.

My heart wasn’t really in it from the start, but I kept telling myself that if I worked hard enough, it would all be okay. I could learn to love it. No such thing. That little voice just gets louder with time.

I am a firm believer in pursuing the things we are passionate about and good at. It makes no sense at all to have a talent for one thing, but spend your life chasing after something you’re not very good at because you’ve let people convince you that it is “better-paying” or “it will open doors for you”.

I am in essence throwing away the past five years, and pretty much starting fresh, and I am shitscared, but I also have a very good feeling about this.

I just stumbled across this little article, and I’m taking it as yet another sign:

Be willing to fail—doing something you love.
In 1997 I had just graduated from law school (with tons of student-loan debt) and was interviewing for high-paying positions at big firms. The problem was, my heart wasn’t in it. So I took myself out of the running in order to build a small Internet publishing company with a friend. After a year of barely staying afloat, our venture went the way of a 404 ERROR message. I was broke and unemployed, and Sallie Mae was hot on my tail. I wondered what endeavor I should try next.
It sounds crazy, but once again I decided to throw caution to the wind and just do what I wanted. I began working as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. Over the next few years, I held a wide array of fascinating jobs that I took because they captured my imagination: serving in the military, reporting from Iraq for the Washington Post, and, most recently, becoming a full-time author. Some might consider me flighty for changing careers so often, but I contend that the key to professional happiness is asking yourself two simple questions every single day: Are you passionate about what you do? And if not, what are you going to do instead?

Bill Murphy Jr., the author of The Intelligent Entrepreneur

Close Encounters of the Unwanted Kind

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I am not going into Mr. Price again.

This is not a rant against the chain store itself. Sure, its Ugandan outlet is overpriced and more than half of the merchandise offered (the women’s section, at least) looks like someone ingested too much plaid, glitter and studs and proceeded to vomit on the clothes.

Besides that, it has its charm; being one of the few clothes shops in the country with in-store music and shop attendants with a modicum of courtesy and agreeability. Also, the floors are unbelievably smooth and provide the perfect place to practice one’s moon-walking skills.

I am not going into Mr. Price again because within the milk white clothes racks and polished floors lies an evil chasm for inevitable social entrapment. 

I’m talking about the fact that whenever I go in there, I am guaranteed to run into someone I know and don’t want to see. Invariably this will be someone that a) I went to school with and haven’t seen in ages and wasn’t sad about this fact; b) I work with and am glad to see Monday through Friday only; or c) I am related to.

Awkward moments can be cool sometimes, like when you’re using a narrow sidewalk and you bump into a good-looking stranger and you both do that side-step dance.  

But social entrapment is always awkward and never cool. There I am, basking in the enjoyable solitude of shopping, and I see person a, b or c in the same aisle. Social decorum demands we say hello to each other, and thus begins the “Hey! What are you doing here?” (facepalm!). Chances are that we have only two things to talk about with each other – how are you; how’s work?

Once that’s covered, a loud silence descends, blocking out the sounds of Soulja Boy on the speakers till only chirping can be heard.

I finally manage to giggle, cough and excuse myself. Phew. Survived that. Onwards to more shopping. But Mr. Price is a relatively small store and as Sod’s Law would have it, I almost always bump into the same person at the shoe aisle or the underwear aisle.

The small monster of an awkward conversation that we had earlier rears its ugly head. Having exhausted my supply of pleasantries and banter, what’s left to say? I once bumped into an old aunt (the kind that feels her sole duties on earth are to watch your weight and remind you that the time’s running out on your “marriageable years”) at the underwear aisle. I froze, feigning fascination in the only thing in front of me – Hello Kitty pajamas. She came over to me, held out a black lace bra and slip and said loudly, ‘My dear you’ll never find a man wearing children’s bedclothes.’

Fuck Mr. Price.

‘Wednesday is indigo blue’

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For some reason, I know a lot of quirky people. Oddballs with strange habits surround me. A close relative of mine cannot do anything important on Thursdays because he relates that day with ill luck, sickness and death – no meetings, no important phonecalls, no long trips, nothing.

A boy I knew in school used to eat paper – he lent me the first book I ever enjoyed reading, and we’ve been friends since. Another boy I knew used to shave off all his facial hair, including his eyebrows.

My sister has OCD – it manifests as an obsession with cleanliness and straight lines. A very good friend of mine is a synesthete. We are yet to put a name to it, but according to wiki, that’s what you call someone who can ‘see sounds’. He sees music and people’s moods in the form of colors. I am very envious of this particular quirk – it’s like being high all the time! 🙂 

I’m only writing this because I received a message from a high school friend yesterday that read, remember when you used to fold your toilet paper into exact squares before you went to the bathroom? What was up with that?! LOL

I honestly don’t remember doing that! But a few hours later I was in the bathroom and that’s exactly what how I fold my toilet paper! Which got me thinking about idiosyncrasies and I came up with a few of my own which include:

  • an unhealthy love for crayons, especially purple and yellow
  • a mild form of kleptomania
  • i like old/used books – with a Christmas dedication to someone I don’t know, a cracked spine, folded pages. I hate buying first hand books.
  • i love the letter e. I play a game where I’ll focus on a page to see only the e’s and then I’ll stare until they dance before my eyes and that makes me happy.

What’s your oddity?