Where I’ve been

I’m trying to write about where I’ve been, what I’ve been doing and why I’ve not been writing. Trying because writing is much like working out. It needs to be carried on frequently and with a certain kind of intensity, else your brain grows lethargic and your fingers stiffen at the touch of a keyboard. As I write this I’m picturing my pot-bellied brain in an ill-fitting t-shirt and visible muffin top, lounging on a sofa with a packet of crisps, watching episode after episode of a third-rate sitcom.

After a long hiatus from writing, when you finally settle down to write, instead of getting down to business, you overprepare. You minimize your Firefox webpage that has about 47 tabs open, switchback to your blank MS Word page that has been open for a few hours, set your font type to Calibri, size 12, rub your palms together and crack your fingers. You fidget in your seat trying to find a comfortable position. This position ceases to be comfortable after two minutes and fidgeting becomes your position for a while. You type your first sentence slowly. Your process is interrupted by ridding yourself of a hangnail, long stares out the window, videos of an adorable two-year old boy singing Beatles songs with his dad, bathroom breaks and frequent poses because formation of pithy and articulate sentences gets difficult.

I’ve been… not writing, evidently. But that’s not really an accurate description of what I’ve been doing, is it? I’ve been doing “other” things. This is not helping either.

I’ve mentioned my interest in psychology and mental health here severally. Should be in my ‘About’ section and also casually mentioned or referred to in some of my posts. Well, it’s not casual anymore. Things got pretty serious. We’re thinking of a future together. Kids. Maybe a dog. Or parrot.

We got serious when I decided to pursue a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. I haven’t always been a writer. I suppose it’s more accurate to say that there’s another significant part of my life away from writing. I should probably give a little background of my history with psychology. When I was considering what career to pursue before I joined an undergraduate program, psychology was my main interest. I had to forfeit it when my parents insisted that I go for a program that they felt would guarantee me a job. So I went for a communications degree with a focus on print journalism. I was a tad unhappy about not pursuing psychology but since I love writing I wasn’t too badly off. About a year later, I was privileged to get a chance to pursue both communication and psychology concurrently. My alma mater allowed students to take on two majors. I graduated with a bachelor of arts in both four years later.

Back then, I hardly ever told people I was doing both. I would say either depending on who was asking and how well the person knew me. It felt like a double life to some extent in a rather interesting way. I had to do two separate internships for both programs; one at a newspaper and the other at a mental health department of a hospital. All the while I hoped I’d find a way to marry the two in future.

I remember asking a prominent media personality who visited our school to give a career talk while in my second year what career options existed for people with interests like mine. Could I practice as a psychologist and still work in the media? No, he said. He had never heard of anything like that. I had to choose one. He said something to this effect.

When I graduated, I found myself straddled between two career paths. I had two CVs. Still do. One for my writing and print journalism-related stuff. The other for psychology and mental health-related stuff. I applied for jobs in both fields. I’d take whichever came first, I told myself. I was however secretly hoping my psychology degree would get me into the NGO world where I thought I would make lots of money.

After graduating in June 2010, I spent the rest of the year contributing for different publications, blogging, and learning Spanish. I found a full-time job in December at a local family and lifestyle magazine where I went on to work for four years.Not quite the short background that I’d hoped for ey.

I love writing. I’ve stated that many times. But I did grow weary of doing only that, probably because my other passion was not being fed. This, among other things, led to me pursuing a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. It’s basically a specialized area of psychology concerned with the alleviation of psychological distress. (If interested in what this area of study entails, this might be helpful.)

My program required a whole year of internships during my final year and at some point I had to stop working full-time to fulfill this requirement. I struggled with this. It meant giving up a huge part of my salary and working only as a contributor in the midst of (unpaid) internships, classes and research papers. It got a little crazy and I was pretty busy and broke for most of this year. (Thank you to all my good friends who, either knowingly or unknowingly, insisted on paying for coffee or meals during our dates! :D)

My final semester of internship was at an international non-profit dedicated to healing survivors of torture and violent conflict through therapy and physiotherapy. I enjoyed my time there. There was a vacancy that I qualified for that I went on to apply and interview for. I was not successful. When I graduated in August, I did not have much figured out with regard to what direction my career would take from that point on. I thought I’d go back to my old job at the magazine, renegotiate my salary and terms as I figured out my next move.

The week after my graduation, on the day I was to meet my boss, I got a call from the non-profit. They had another vacancy for the same job I had interviewed for and they were asking if I was still interested. Yes! So my salary and terms renegotiation meeting turned out to be a resignation meeting. I accepted the job and since then, I’ve been involved in mental health trauma care with different refugee groups living in Nairobi. It has been an exciting, scary and lesson-filled three months. I enjoy my work and I am immensely grateful to God for this remarkable journey I’m on.

What happens to my writing? I’m still working that out. I still love writing and sometimes I get anxious at the thought of that part of my life wasting away. I’d like to blog now more than ever. There are so many unwritten stories in me! I’m also trying my hand in fiction. I may have a short work of adolescent fiction published sometime soon, which is another angle of writing that I’m excited to venture in.

I’m still sort of making it up as I go and still have many questions about my life’s purpose and what the future holds. Though I have a few vague ideas, I’m still not quite sure where all of this is headed but I’m learning to be ok with some of life’s uncertainties and enjoy the season I’m in. That’s where I am.

Do you have a friend?: A 20-something’s musings on the expectation that she should be married or headed in this direction by now

“Na chali (And a boyfriend)?” This was my brother’s very worthwhile contribution to a list my mother was making on the first day of this year. She called it ‘family resolutions.’ We all gave contributions of what we thought the Gicovi family should, would or could do in 2014. The list eventually included everyone’s individual resolutions, starting with the youngest, my then 19 year-old brother, followed by me. I had 10 things written on my list when my brother carefully noted that I had left out a very important one. My mother agreed, and they both looked at me in askance. Why didn’t I want a boyfriend added to the things I wanted in 2014? I laughed and rolled my eyes and said something like, “OK! Throw it in there with the rest.” And my mother did, writing something very respectful like “the husband God intended” or something. Far from throwing it in there like I had said. After that, our conversation digressed to other non-dating related resolutions that I cannot remember. Does this happen to you guys when you make family resolutions? You don’t make family resolutions? What kind of life is that?

The next day, one of those hot, sweltering afternoons synonymous with January weather in Nairobi, I was interviewing someone for an article I was writing (for work). Now, I usually give my interviewees a chance to ask a few questions, usually about me, after we’re done. I do a lot of profiles and get a great deal of information out of people for my interviews so it’s only fair to give them a brief chance to “interview” me as well. So I have just concluded an interview with this stern, grandfatherly, very accomplished 70-something year-old guy, and I tell him about myself and what I do, blah blah blah, I love writing, blah blah blah, the importance of telling people’s stories… This is part of my (very sincere but may not seem like it because I say it too many times!) usual speech, but I digress. He asks how old I am. 25. He nods then goes on to ask, “Do you have a friend?” Friend? Who says friend? For the purposes of clarity and for the sake of people born after 1990, he meant boyfriend. “No. I do not have a friend.” He wants to close the interview with a prayer, and asks if I’d like him to pray for my “friend”. I agree (again, very sincerely) but also try not to look amused.

A few days later, I had a male friend applauding the fact that I am pursuing a master’s degree then pointing my left hand and saying all that remained was someone putting a ring on it. These three events took place in the first week of January. Since then, I have had different people ask me when they are coming to eat pilau (loosely translates to the ingesting of copious amounts of a spicy Swahili rice dish commonly served at weddings and other celebrations).

salt shaker wedding
Somewhat unrelated graphic but look at these two saltshakers! Adorbs! 🙂

When my older sister, two years older, got married, three years ago, I did get the usual (for a slightly younger sibling I suppose), “You’re next” and “Yako ni lini? (When is yours?)” comments from a few relatives and friends, but I had just turned 23. I had graduated the previous year, and was a few months into my first job. These comments were not serious, playful even. Fast forward to present day. 26 year-old female, four years into her first job and nearly completing a master’s degree. When will she get married? Is she dating? No boyfriend? Oh.

I chuckle at these concerns. I never thought I’d get here. It always feels like someone else, and not me, who’s being talked about. I often wonder about this supposed course our lives are supposed to follow. These unwritten rules that we strive to abide by. Maybe I need to state at this point that I am not of the feminist movement. Neither am I jaded nor the fierce miss independent type (I like free food :D). Relationships, healthy ones, are wonderful, and marriage is a beautiful thing and I hope to be married, with the proverbial 2.5 kids at some point. Nonetheless, I am wary of the “don’t wait too long” “don’t be choosy” or “you’ll intimidate a man if you’re too learned (yes, there are people saying this in 2014!)” advice. I really doubt that anyone needs to be reminded that time is running out. We have Facebook for that. 😀 On a serious note though, I feel we need to respect the fact that everyone’s life takes a different course. There’s no written life script that we should all follow.

I also wonder about other matters in relation to this. How did marriage become an end-goal? Study hard, find a job, get married and settle down then life’s complete, right? Also, have we so romanticized the idea of finding a life partner and crafting the perfect wedding that we forget about the ‘ever after’? Do other significant life accomplishments seem to matter less to us if we are not married at a certain age? And how did we come to abnormalize(sic) the unmarried single of particular age? Surely something must be wrong with her/him. Really? Maybe we need a rewiring of sorts on this subject.

A test of nerves: Free falling over the Tana River

Interviewee: Tell us about your strengths.

Me: *clears throat* Well, in the last eight months I have ridden a wild ostrich and also jumped off a 60-metre tower with nothing but a rope attached to my ankles. I have pictures. I think this shows that I am willing to take risks and will take your company to the next level.

(At this point, the lights dim, neon lights start flashing about, Justin Timberlake and a bunch of dancers waltz into the room, and I join them to do some really smooth moves to a JT song; then this loaded multinational corporation hires me instantly as a highly paid… erm something.) 😀

While the silly scenario I just described may not happen to me in this lifetime, I really have taken those two risks I was telling my imaginary interview panel about. Apart from being the fastest birds on land, ostriches are both tasty and fun to ride. Riding the bird at the Ostrich Farm in Kajiado was a moderately exciting venture. Doubt it was a wild ostrich though, otherwise I would not be here writing about it. Anyhow, nothing I have done in my 25 years of existence on planet Earth comes close to bungee jumping.

Bungee jumping is an activity that involves jumping from a tall structure while connected to a large elastic cord (Wikipedia). Doesn’t this definition sound a bit cuckoo? It was worse explaining it to my mother. The activity is nothing short of crazy. Nevertheless, I have been dreaming of doing it ever since I found out about it. About a week before I did it, I was checking out a few facts about it and was amused to find out that the very first bungee jumpers in 1979 were arrested shortly after they jumped. It was an illegal undertaking then, but I digress (as I’m prone to doing every so often).

It was almost midday when a bunch of excited youths made their way to Bungeewalla at the Savage Wilderness Camp, Sagana in Nyeri county. The journey was largely uneventful. The 14-seater mini-van was filled with snacking, laughter, and cheerful banter. Past the Embu/Meru junction towards Nyeri, we branched into a dirt road and drove about 1.5 km to the Savage Wilderness Camp.

Once off the van, we waited briefly near an area where inflatable rafts, life jackets and other whitewater rafting paraphernalia were stored, as one of us narrated his experience with whitewater rafting. It sounded rather interesting, and a few of us expressed interest in it. Whitewater rafting has been on my bucket list, alongside bungee jumping and other extreme activities, for some time now.

In a little while, Simon, our guide, told us to get started with our first order of business – peeing. After this, we proceeded to the location where the jump takes place. Everyone gathered at a small plot adjacent to the River Tana. Andreas, owner of Bungeewalla Ltd, was going over the safety procedures and rules of the jump by the time I got there (from my first order of business). He is, without a doubt, one of the biggest goofs I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with. “Once you get to the cage,” he said sternly, “I will not answer any questions about life.” We were laughing half the time he spoke. I suppose this serves him well in his job. Maybe someone needs to lighten the mood before you put mind over matter to consciously jump off a 60-metre tower.

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The bungee tower. 60 metres. 178 steps.
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The tower from a distance.

Before any of us could go about jumping, we had to be weighed, then sign some sort of release form confirming that we were not on drugs, pregnant and hadn’t had any neck or back injuries or surgery et cetera, that exempts Bungeewalla from any responsibility in the event of a mishap. Very clever Bungeewalla. *wink*

I was curious about how many times Andreas had bungee jumped, having run this operation for more than two decades. He gave me a puzzled look and said, “Are you kidding? Do you know how dangerous this is?” We all laughed at his response as he went up the 60-metre tower, which has 178 steps (Andreas apparently counted them).

The first duo to do the jump was harnessed and started the long climb, one with a significant head start before the other, as we all watched. The first lady couldn’t bring herself to jump and ended up climbing back down about 20 minutes later, even after much coaxing from the group. It’s easy to call her “chicken”, but having done the jump, I think I sufficiently understand her refusal to follow through. On the other hand, the first gentleman jumped off the tower, seemingly without a care in the world. He made it look so easy. I felt excited as I watched him bounce around following his jump. I couldn’t wait my turn!

The group cheered everyone who went up the bungee tower for the jump with such zeal. I loved the team spirit. I was the fourth individual to scale the tower. I was fastened with chest and leg harnesses and clipped onto an ascender. These would ensure that I was supported while I climbed. I enthusiastically began my climb amid cheers of ‘Go Ednaaa!” Up, up, up I went. I felt (and hoped that I also looked) like Spiderman going up that tower. Ten steps later, I was panting like a gazelle that had just outrun a lion. I realized that the pace I had taken going up those steps was akin to sprinting at the start of a marathon. It was also a stark reminder of my unfitness. After a few more steps, my chest was burning up and my legs were nearly buckling from how much I was exerting myself. I started climbing slower, stopping every now and then to catch my breath.

The climb seemed to take an eternity. It reminded me of Jack and the Beanstalk. The guy ahead of me was already in the jump cage getting ready to jump when I was about halfway up the tower. I stopped to observe him as he jumped, also taking in the great view of the landscape.

Andreas helped me into the jump cage when I finally got there. Being the second female to do the jump, I had to reassure him severally that I wasn’t going to back out. I was absolutely sure I wasn’t going to. Not after coming this far! (And paying Ksh 4,500! :D)

After attaching the elastic bungee rope to both my ankles and explaining a few more safety measures, Andreas pointed to a little gate that, he explained, would be opened once I was ready for the jump. Still excited and oblivious of the magnitude of what I was about to do, I asked him to open it then stood at the edge of the cage.

The reality of how far down I was about to jump hit me so strongly; I had to take a small step back. I was 60 metres above the ground! 60 metres! The Tana River shone menacingly in the sun. A few kayakers rowed past. The 15 kg elastic bungee cord attached to my feet felt heavy and tugged me downward as if sensing my fear. My feet wouldn’t budge. I was suddenly very afraid of what was about to take place. How was I going to fall? What if the rope tangled up? Would it hurt? What if I didn’t enjoy it? I couldn’t possibly jump! I wrestled with my thoughts. Twice, I leaned over as if to jump as the group below did an excited countdown, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1! Go Ednaaa!” I retreated into the cage both times. “Oh my God! Oh my God!” I said repeatedly as I tried to gather enough courage to jump.

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The jump cage.
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To jump or not to jump? That is the question.

Ten minutes later, I let go and jumped off the cage, frightened out of my wits. One of us would say afterwards that this jump goes against our very instinct for survival. Certainly so. Down, down, down I went. My eyes were wide open. I didn’t want to miss a thing. The river below came at me rapidly as I fell, then I felt a strong tug as the elastic bungee rope (having reached its elastic limit) kicked in, and I bounced back into the air, defying gravity for a few seconds, and then free falling again. I took everything in silently for the first few minutes, caught up in some sort of pleasant shock and overwhelmed by a giant rush, mixed with anxiety, anticipation and other interesting emotions I cannot adequately describe.

I remember doing a few involuntary somersaults in the air. I enjoyed it more with every passing second, even managing a couple of “Woohoos!” and “Yeeaaahs!” I also spread out my arms and did the Superman thing (I know, I know. Second superhero reference :D) as the water and greenery below zoomed past and our group, now gathered at the riverbank, cheered me on. It was amazing.

In retrospect, I see why one needs an empty bladder before bungee jumping. There is an absolute lack of control that accompanies the jump. In fact, this activity is rather difficult for anyone who has control freak tendencies, much like me.

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Hanging by a thread… er elastic bungee cord.
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Just before I was reeled in…

The bounce dies down after about six to seven minutes and you’re left slowly swinging back and forth like a spider from its web. One of the attendants rowed in a kayak to the spot where I was hanging, less than a metre away from the river. Andreas, who had control of the rope from above, lowered me further down and the kayaking attendant handed me the rope that was used reel me to the riverbank. After being reeled in, I was placed on a small leather mattress on the raised stone surface at the riverbank where I lay with a big grin on my face as the attendants loosened and removed my harnesses, while several people from our group gathered around me, asking how the jump felt.

I was still a bit buzzed for some time following my jump. I was talking animatedly, my body was shaking a little, and I really wanted to do it again. Adrenaline is quite something. I suppose I, to some extent, understand why some people get into extreme sports, dangerous as they can be.

So I have finally ticked bungee jumping off my bucket list, even though I have every intention of doing it again and again, hopefully from an even higher height. Yeah! Also, whitewater rafting, skydiving and deep sea diving, here I come!

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Excited, and a little hungry, before the trip.
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Happy jumpers. Evidently still high on adrenaline.

The good ol’ days

One night I spent over an hour poring over old Facebook photos. I laughed and shook my head at the silliness I used to get up to.

I reminisced.

Remembered good times spent with friends, some now casual acquaintances, others nearly strangers and others still the good ol’ friends I made years ago.

Ah, the good ol’ days.

What happened to the good ol’ days?

Why do we look back on the past, the happy past, and cherish it so much more than we did at that actual moment?

Do we not recognize happiness in the present?

Does happiness seem more apparent when looked back upon?

Why don’t we cherish happiness presently?

Why does happiness seem to be a faraway construct, etched in the past as the ‘good ol’ days’ or in the future as something we intend to feel once we have fulfilled a certain need or desire?

Be happy. Now.

What’s keeping you away from making the happiness choice?

I seem to have lost it

Recently, someone asked me what my passion was. I was about to say writing, then stopped before the words escaped my mouth. I felt I wasn’t as passionate about writing anymore. I thought I would not be at all genuine by saying that but would only be doing so for the sake of conversation. So I risked appearing boring and unfulfilled and said that I was yet to find my real passion.

I scarcely touched my phone on my journey home that evening, something very uncharacteristic of me, I might add. I stared out the window the whole way, not seeing the familiar trees, buildings and places but thinking, worrying that I didn’t have a passion, which made for a rather sad existence. I’m turning 25 soon. I should have found that by now, right? What is it about turning 25 that makes that need to have everything figured out so urgent? I worried that I had very few things figured out. I got off the matatu and walked the short distance home, deep in thought, replaying various conversations I’d had that day regarding life, in my head. I’d had interviews for two of my articles with individuals not much older than myself who oozed passion for what they did. These left me challenged to find my own passion yet rather sad about the stark realization that I lacked this fountain of seemingly everlasting zeal for life.

Enter a chicken sandwich and two episodes of Suits and all these important life questions were neatly folded and stacked in a far corner of my mind. I never cease to be amazed about how easily distracted I am. Food and hours of mindless TV are the epitome of distraction in my books.

Image from http://authorashleysanders.blogspot.com/2011/04/burning-passion-to-write.html
Image from http://authorashleysanders.blogspot.com/

These thoughts were revisited about a week later, interestingly after yet another interview. My interviewee that day was a lesson in humility, calmness, fulfilment and other great qualities I hope Future Me will possess. A very accomplished man, yet painstakingly humble, gracious, and generally unrushed by that hustle and bustle synonymous with our Nairobi. How does he do that peaceful monk thing? I kept asking myself, but I digress. The man spoke wisdom of the ages. Well-thought out sentences laden with great wisdom about life and living. No wasted words. It was one of the most illuminating interviews I’ve done to date.

It also turned out to be one of the shortest interviews I’ve done to date. I kept going over my notebook to see if I had missed any questions I intended to ask. We had covered everything in less than hour, with 10 minutes to spare, in an interview that usually took me close to two hours at times. I was enjoying myself, in the moment, hanging on his every word. Taking it all in, more for myself than for the story I was going to write. Then it dawned on me, the reason (rather, some of the reasons) I do this writing thing.

It’s these rare inspiring conversations, life lessons and experiences I get to live through, vicariously nonetheless. The frequent chance to evaluate myself triggered by these encounters, the excitement of meeting new people and making new connections. The incomparable honour of telling someone’s story.

I do have a passion after all. I had just stopped feeding it. Nurturing it. I expected it to always be there no matter what. I needed to remind myself every so often why I write. I had stopped seeking to learn as much as I could about the craft.

I’d like to tell you that I regained my zest for writing, that I’m back on track, and can’t wait for the magic that will happen once I put finger to keyboard and eye to white screen, but that would be a falsehood. I am getting there nevertheless. I’m taking steps to get that fire burning once more. More of fanning the dying embers of a fire that once was, at this point.

I’m trying to learn new things about writing, seeking to mentor others younger than me who may be interested in writing, finding new ways of writing, breaking away from the mundaneness of routine, et cetera. These are just a few examples I found after reading and researching on ‘how to regain lost passion.’ I never thought this would be a Google search I’d find myself doing one day. I suppose I thought my passion would always be there, but evidently that isn’t the case.

Now I feel like a pseudo Thought Catalog. This is what happens when you turn 25. 🙂

What are you passionate about? How do you keep your fire burning?

Ah, the joys of Instagram

Nairobi City Centre 7.30 p.m.

I hurriedly cross Kimathi Street from Corner House then walk till I’m directly opposite The Stanley. I glance around before fishing out my phone from deep within my large bag, while pretending to be impatiently waiting for a late other. I look up at the highest point of the hotel and get a little disappointed. The lights are not on as I had expected. I stare at the building for a few seconds before I start walking back in the direction I came from. I bump into a girl I knew from uni. Was it Maureen? Doreen? Can’t remember. “Hiiii!!” I greet enthusiastically, before we hug, exchange pleasantries, work details, numbers and promises to call or visit one another. I glance to my right at The Stanley once again. To my delight, the lights are on, shining ever so brightly. I hurry back to where I was standing short while ago and take out my phone again…

Unfortunately, this is not an excerpt from a diary I kept during my CIA days. I have no CIA days. 😦 This was me trying to take a photo of the Christmas lights outside The Sarova Stanley. I was unsuccessful. I intend to try again. You will never take me alive!! NEVER!

Ok, that was uncalled for.

This is a post about a few interesting observations I have made since I started using Instagram, an online photo-sharing and social networking service that enables its users to take a picture, apply a digital filter to it, and share it on a variety of social networking services, including its own (Wikipedia), a few months ago, which is where that picture would probably have ended up.

  1. You start noticing that almost anything makes a potentially a good Instagram photo. ALMOST. No, your big toe should by no means be instagrammed.
  2. You suddenly have a new found appreciation for oddly shaped clouds and cloud formations, sunrises and sunsets, plants (especially flowers), buildings and cityscapes (oh these are a big hit on Instagram), food (I don’t think we need to discuss this one. If it doesn’t end up on Insagram, it probably wasn’t a good meal) et cetera.
  3. Mundane, every day objects have a lot of Instagram potential. By all means, snap that coffee mug on your office desk.
  4. You develop this morbid fear of posting bad photos. Instagrammers are unforgiving when it comes to that. No one will ❤ your pic. Maybe just Get1000FallowersNow (It actually is ‘fallowers’). You’re better off posting bad photos on Facebook. Or Twitter.
  5. Sometimes you will be caught in an awkward position as you try to take photos in public. People will think you’re a spy and associate you with the CIA (I need to stop making these random CIA references before I find myself on a watch list). Or worse, think you’re a terrorist. Maybe not, though you will get some weird stares as you try to take a photo of an awesome-looking building from a matatu window while parked in traffic.
  6. Family and friends who don’t know of Instagram will wonder why you feel the need to take photos of random objects and food. After you explain how Instagram works to them, they still won’t get it. Though they will be very helpful during your instagramming endeavours, sometimes ask you to take photos of them, the food they make and at times non-instagrammable objects, which you will politely decline.
  7. You’ll get a little excited every time seasoned photographers like @Truthslinger, @stevekitots and @LeonMuli, among others, like your Instagram photos. 😀
  8. You’ll go through your Instagram feed once in a while and wonder if you could quit your day job, become a photographer and travel the world. You will decide against it.
  9. You’ll discover that unlike on Facebook, liking someone’s photo from three months ago on Instagram is actually not that creepy or stalker-like, though it would be best if this happened just after you follow the said individual.
  10. You’ll become more appreciative of beauty and photography in general, and also learn a coupla cool tricks that will, with time enhance your photo-taking skills (if you’re keen enough, that is).
Contrary to popular belief, this doesn't happen as often as you would think...
Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t happen as often as you would think…

 

I have to applaud Kenya365 and everyone who’s been participating in the weekly photography challenges they put forward. It’s admirable, the way that Kenyans have taken to telling and documenting the Kenyan story through photography.

p.s. Interestingly, this post comes at a time when Instagram’s new Terms Of Service had caused an uproar on the interwebs, with people questioning whether or not the social network/photo sharing site intends to sell users photos to other parties without their consent. Personally, I would be thrilled to see the photo of that milkshake with the glow-in-the-dark straw I took a few days ago in an ad. I may embark on my photography career if that happens. Also, here’s my esteemed Instagram feed. 😉

What interesting observations have you made about Instagram?

Words

The words I thought

were all I needed

for the most suitable

of expressions

seem to fail me lately.

How are you?

Good, I say,

leaving out

much needed detail.

I worry a lot about the future,

and I think I’m growing shorter.

I may be mistaken

but I think my hair has grown

three inches longer.

And that’s not even 1/3

of my current state of being.

What do you think of him?

Oh, he’s seems nice.

Yet, he’s a great conversationalist

though he stares a lot,

and talks with his mouth full,

is what I meant to say.

Yet good, nice, fine, OK

are the only words

I seem to come up with

to describe

what neither a thousand words

nor pictures

could do justice.

This little poem?

I think it’s OK.

How do I love writing? Let me write the ways.

I fear I’m losing my ability to write; the same way one loses an ability they don’t use. I’m afraid I’m out of practice. Several people have asked me, “Hey Edna, when is the next riveting blog entry filled with your delightful writing coming up? It has been a really long while. We just cannot wait!” To which I say, “Fear not loyal followers! Your noble concerns shall be addressed before you can say ‘web log’. For I have an entry in the offing. Your loyalty compels me…”

Ok, I lie. They just ask, “What happened to your blog?” Also, I don’t talk like that and most people don’t even call me Edna. About my ability to write, I fear it’s slipping away. In helpless little squirts. I have not been writing as much as I should. See, I am a writer by profession, so I’ve just been doing the bare minimum. Writing for my job. Never writing for myself, which is criminal for a writer, might I add.

So is this an attempt to validate my aptitude for writing? To have you tell me that I can write and that I should keep writing? Maybe. Probably. Tell me I can write dammit! 😦

Au contraire, this is actually a post to tell the world why I love writing. I will refrain from complaining about the craft. I think we writers tend to complain about writing, writer’s block, and other unpleasant things we have encountered in the course of our writing one too many times

Why do I love to write?

 1. Ease of self-expression. I find there are a lot of things I have the boldness to say on paper that I may probably never say. Also, some things sound better written, than said (hence, Unsaid But Written 🙂 ). Maybe it’s a personality thing that I, being introverted for the most part, find easier to do. Speaking of which, I still owe you a post on one of my favourite subjects – temperaments. But I digress; writing knows no bounds when it comes to self-expression for me. There are probably very few emotions that I cannot express in writing.

2. A chance to speak to the world. Most of us want to be published and read. Widely read if we’re lucky. I want to be known for my writing. I want to influence, motivate, provoke thought, and inspire emotion. I want to make you laugh! I may never get to travel the whole world and meet millions of its citizens but I’d like to reach the world through my writing. Another thing, I’m not much of a public speaker, though it’s a skill I’m trying to learn, so writing gives me this chance to speak to many, without necessarily physically addressing them.

3. A love for words. Words are just wonderful! Some roll off your tongue with such ease and elegance. Some are music to the ears! Some have a taste, smell or particular look or feel to them. I love these little critters we call words. I love learning the correct pronunciation and spelling of each. I love the way they join to form beautiful phrases and sentences. I love how they give meaning to communication. The words I love at the moment include schadenfreude, chutzpah, and pizzazz. Words are just delightful! I’ve been using that word – delightful- a lot in recent times.

4. Narcissistic tendencies with delusions of grandeur. I cannot begin to explain to you how big of narcissists writers are! I think every writer has to admit to being a little self-absorbed. Yes, you journal-keeping, blog-post writing, note-scribbling writer you! Part of me lives in my own little world where my life is being filmed, documented and watched by an imaginary audience that laughs (like in comedies) when I do or say funny things, says “Ooohhh.” or cries with me when I’m sad and rejoices with me when I’m happy. They’ve actually been watching the show that is my life since I was a child (like in the movie ‘The Truman Show’). As a child I, at times, addressed this audience. *Crickets* Erm…I think I’ve said too much.

Moving along swiftly… I feel this is the same drive that usually makes you want to document your thoughts/life in a journal, blog or autobiography. A lot of times, your writing is about you. Your writing is coloured and shaped by how YOU see the world. It’s rather difficult to write from another’s point of view, so mostly, I’ll write about what I am most familiar with – ME. Hey, look at ME writing about why I love to write!

5. Paid to do it. Writing is earning me a living, among other interesting opportunities that cannot be monetarily quantified. I have learnt a lot of new things, and had the privilege of meeting a number of interesting individuals who have both challenged and inspired me. This is actually one of the best things about writing for me. Learning, meeting people and seeing places, which I hope to do a lot more of, God willing.  Not to mention the pride that comes in calling oneself a ‘writer’. *Ahem* Refer to reason number four.

Do you love to write? Tell me the ways.

Let’s go to prison – Part 3

It is with great shame (well, not really. Maybe just a moderate amount of shame :D) that I present the third and final instalment of the ‘Let’s go to prison’ series that I did at the end of last year. Ideally, this should have been posted here shortly after the first two but due to many, honestly, avoidable circumstances that prevailed upon me, it wasn’t. Should you wish to refresh your memory, here’s Part 1 and Part 2. Better late than never, right? Enjoy.

Within no time, I was busy sandpapering the walls with a large group that included prisoners and wardens, after which we commenced painting. I really enjoyed painting. Peter Marangi would have wept with pride had he seen me.

I have to admit that all this time I was hoping for a photo opportunity with an inmate. Or some sort of interaction where I’d casually ask, “So, what are you in for?” Then when he responded with whatever crime he was in for, I’d nod nonchalantly and say, “Cool, cool.” I know, I know. Pretty lame. 😀 I did, however, get both of my wishes a few hours later when someone mentioned how hungry they were. We all must’ve been. We had been working for some time, in the hot sun, sandpapering the outer walls of the hall. *Morris, one of the inmates, happened to be standing nearby and we jokingly asked him what they had prepared for us for lunch. “Msije mkadanganyika. Chakula cha huku hamwezani nacho. (Don’t be fooled. You cannot handle the food here),” he said, loosely referring to the warden’s earlier ‘buffet’ statement. At this point we all got curious about their meals. It was the usual ugali and sukumawiki (kales) with a few pieces of meat, among other meals like githeri. I wondered how bad the food actually was.  Soon enough the moment I’d been waiting for came. I asked what he was in for.

*Morris is from Tanzania. He is in for drug trafficking. He was arrested in Kenya en route from Brazil, for heroin possession. He explained to us how theywould swallow 13 gram sachets of heroin, to later pass them out in their stool before selling them. “Eeeeeww!!” Those were my thoughts on that. *Morris is serving a nine year sentence. He’s already done eight years in the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, and currently has a year to go in the medium security prison. He gets out in December 2012.

He told us that he had every intention of going back into the drug business. By this time, a small group had formed around him to hear his story. He went on seemingly oblivious of this. He was not at all willing to get back into employment, he explained, a tinge of arrogance in his voice. We were all saddened by this. We tried to convince him that there were other vocations he could pursue and that he didn’t have to go back to a life of crime. Someone told him about Jesus. I could tell that he regarded us a bunch of silly youngsters who knew nothing about life. He intends to go international. Maybe head to China, where he said that some laws are lax or something to that effect. At this point I had completely drifted off and was busy trying to get a photo next to him without seeming too obvious.

Trying not to seem too obvious...

Seeing this, everyone suddenly wanted a photo with him. Copy cats! :p He didn’t seem to mind so we clicked away. I was a bit embarrassed by our behaviour but hey, how many chances do you get a photo opportunity with an inmate? There I go again.

A short while later we were done painting and it was time to kick back and be entertained by the inmates and some of the wardens, who were all rather talented. I was impressed, especially by the acrobats and dancers.

Unfortunately, I could not stay till the very end as I had planned to attend #WamathaiOct. As I left, accompanied by a few members of our group, one of whom was dropping me at the matatu stage (it is quite a distance away from the prison), I noticed at the far end of the prison compound where the cells were located, a few inmates who were locked up trying their best to catch a glimpse of the on-going performances their comrades were enjoying. The warden escorting us out told us that they were mentally disturbed and usually not allowed to mix with the rest of the inmates. I felt sad for them.

The elderly Asian inmate I had noticed earlier on walked past us. I asked the warden what he was in for. Multiple bank robberies. This was his third time here. “A good number of the inmates are repeat offenders and keep coming back for the same crimes,” the warden informed us. So much for rehabilitation.

I was free to leave. I could go wherever I pleased. I had freedom of movement! Do we take this freedom for granted? I thought about all this as I left. I could not imagine how great that first step of freedom felt for an inmate who had served a five or 10-year (or longer) sentence. The air must seem fresher; the birds must sing louder; the grass has to be greener for them. Freedom tastes good! I suppose.

“Come again.” I was told severally as I made my way out. I smiled and nodded while thanking the wardens for their hospitality. I’m not sure I’d like to go back.

The ‘radical’ pancake recipe

“I heard your pancakes were seen on Twitter,” says mother.

“What Twitter? How?” says father, who has little, if any, understanding of what happens on social media.

I go ahead to explain Twitter and how people update what’s current, what they’re doing or what’s happening in their world. Father shakes his head, bemused, at the fact that anyone would want to share with the world what they were currently eating or cooking for that matter. I’m on my way to the kitchen to make their evening tea. “Why don’t you also put that on Twitter?” says father, somewhat sarcastically. I laugh quietly to myself (what is now referred to as LQTM) as I walk away.

This conversation took place a day after I had made and tweeted about the said pancakes using the hashtag #radicalpancakerecipe. Radical, because I thought it was pretty cool and unique to make pancakes with raisins (being a dried fruit enthusiast), before I googled ‘raisin pancakes’ and found out that they actually existed. It’s been done before ladies and gentlemen! Bummer! :-/

Anyhow, I followed the usual pancake recipe, with a few modifications. These made me about 18 pancakes.

Ingredients

2 ½ cups of self-raising flour

2 ½ cups of milk

1 egg

Half a packet of raisins

2 tablespoons of butter or margarine

1 teaspoon of salt

4 tablespoons of sugar

1 lemon

Method

Nothing extraordinary. Just your usual pancake recipe.

Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a large bow. For some types of flour, sifting is necessary. I didn’t need to sift the type I used. Make a hole in the middle if this mixture and pour in the milk, raisins, lemon rind (skin), egg and margarine (which incidentally needs to be melted in advance. I never did this). Mix all these until smooth. If you happen to have one of those electric mixers, even better. Nifty little gadgets, these. Effortlessly giving you that perfectly  smooth and fluffy mixture.

The preliminary stages: self-raising flour, sugar and salt
Just before I mixed in the raisins and lemon rind


After this heat a lightly oiled frying pan. Avoid high heat. Medium high heat is recommended for this. I tried pouring and spreading the pancake mix on the pan using a large spoon, but I found that this makes them rather shapeless. For that nice round (well, not perfectly) shape most of us like in pancakes, try pouring a small amount of the mix into the pan then evenly spreading it round the pan by tilting the pan around till the mixture fills it, then shaping out the edges with a spoon. This worked for me. Ensure the pancake browns well on both sides, but not too much that it gets crispy.

Some people like to cook their pancakes in butter or margarine. I’ve tried margarine but found that it made them acquire a slightly salty taste. I use cooking oil. Use as little as possible. You don’t want your pancakes oily.

You’ll find that the raisins sink into the pancake mix, so you might have to scoop deep into your mix to ensure that you get some raisins on every pancake. Alternatively, add the raisins manually after pouring the mix onto the pan. Ensure that the side with the raisins (because they tend to fall on one side) browns properly. Also ensure that the raisins are evenly distributed, not too many or too little on one pancake.

Try to distribute the raisins evenly.

When your pancakes are ready, sprinkle some fresh lemon juice on them. You could also try honey or syrup, whatever your fancy. Enjoy them with a glass of cold milk, juice or tea, again, whatever tickles you fancy.

The tasty results!



P.S. I actually refer to my parents as mother and father….in recent times. I find it makes things rather interesting and weirdly formal. 😀

Unsaid But Written wishes you a tasty 2012!