A beleaguered 28-year old chap emailed me saying (and I pull excerpts of that email that is relevant to this conversation), “…I used to read Oyunga Pala and when he stopped writing I stopped reading that column. But then Jadudi happened and I went to your website and read; thereafter I spent the next three days reading everything you have ever written on your blog, then I went to Mantalk and found you and you shamed me for being so wrong about you. I admire you and how you have your shit [his exact word] together. [Then he talks about other things here]…so I’m at a crossroads, my career is stagnant, I can’t seem to find the right job, I can’t seem to find the right woman to be with and I feel like this is not the life I wanted to have because my friends seem to be doing better than I am. Also I have realised that to fill this void I go to the bars a lot with my pals to drown my sorrows, maybe one day we can share that whisky you keep talking about hehe. [hehe back]You are 38 so strictly you can offer me advice, taking note that I have…?” [OK, the rest isn’t too crucial for this conversation.]
So I emailed him that “Unofficial Goldman Sasch Guide to being a Man” which I had just read and loved and chuckled at. You read it too, right? I told him I was banging some urgent copy at the moment and when done I would shoot him another email. But then I forgot. He emailed again the next day reminding me, so I started replying to his email which started with, “ First, Tony* [not his real name] there is no such thing as the ‘right woman’, so stop searching.” Then as I wrote that email I started enjoying it, started getting deep into it and I stopped and thought, “wait, this should be a blog post.” So I emailed him and told him I would write a post as reply, boss give it a week, yes? Then I added a smiley to show that I’m friendly and I love trees and I believe in free and fair trade. Always add a smiley, you just never know what lonely heart it might warm.
First, a confession. I deeply dislike Oyunga Pala’s fans. They are like roaches – they are everywhere, lurking and waiting for me to rock up and ruin my day: I run into them in hotel lobbies, in bars, at private parties, in my emails, in interviews, at the beach, in my house masquerading as guests, in restaurants, at the ATM, in my sleep and they never miss a beat to remind me that I’m “the guy who replaced Oyunga.” I’ve had it up to here! *Points at forehead* I can’t have peace. There is always that odd person I’ll meet that will tell me, “You are Jackson Biko? Oh are you the guy who replaced Oyunga Pala?” And I want to move within an inch of their face and shout, “YES, AND IT’S BEEN SIX BLOODY YEARS, GET OVER IT, PENGUIN-FACE!” But that can be misconstrued as aggression or psychosis, so I always offer a tight smile and say timidly, “Indeed it’s me.” Everytime I tell Oyunga this he just chuckles (Oyunga never really laughs, he chuckles. I doubt he even sweats). I tell him, “OP, please tell your people that I’m more than just the guy who replaced you, I have feelings!”
Pan out to our 28-year old guy.
You think you aren’t living the life you thought you would be living? That’s hilarious. Welcome to the real world because not only are most people not living the lives they thought they would, they aren’t even living their own lives. We are simply living life for other people. Buying things we don’t need or can’t afford so that other people can see and admire. Buying yoga mats because it’s in. Going vegan because it’s cool. Living for other people’s approval. I have a friend who has swanky-ass golf equipment in his house, leaning strategically in the corridor as you walk in. He doesn’t even play golf, this cat. He has never played golf. Can’t swing for shit. But he keeps it there as a prop, as social capital. For the benefit of chicks. He figures a woman walks in there and sees this golf equipment and immediately wants to tear his clothes off because he’s so upwardly mobile. He figures the golf equipment would get her dizzy with lust. “Oh, Jamo, I didn’t know you play golf! How sexy! Come here, help me out of this bra.” (Eye roll).
You think that’s pathetic? Oh no, it’s not. What’s pathetic is that his little golf shtick works ALL the time. Like grownass women fall for it. He always says – tongue in cheek – that golf equipment unit has “made back” his return in investment. If you are ever going to take anything away from this paragraph it’s that nothing is ever what it seems. Nothing. This city is run on image and impressions; smoke and mirrors. Nobody is ever as happy as they seem on social media. Nobody is ever as beautiful on social media as they are in person. Nobody’s life is ever as rich and fulfilling as it seems online. Relationships and marriages aren’t as happy as they look. Nobody is as brilliant or as bold or as intelligent in real life as they are on Twitter. Social media is like a woman wearing a corset. Always remember that. Don’t believe anything you see around, it will make you feel inadequate, unaccomplished and empty. And it will distract you. This city, my friend, is one big costume party where people show up wearing what they choose, not what they have. So pick yours, just don’t believe that that’s who you are.
Did you write this lovely list on where you would be at the 30-year mark? Did that plan tumble like a pack of cards? Mine too! Scattered in the cold wind. You know, between you and me, I actually thought by now I would have a beach house, a very small deserted beach cabin, one bedroom, an open kitchen and a strip of beach beyond. A small man cave cast in a remote part of our coastline. In my grand plan I would go down every few months and eat fish and local vegetables, walk around shirtless, drink whisky, walk on the beach, go out on a dug-out canoe with Omar or Hussein and in the evening furiously write from the verandah until late in the night. That was the plan. It hasn’t happened. I thought at 35 I would have three daughters; a roomful of progesterone, dolls and irrepressive moods – mine included. Instead I have one daughter and son, but they are the most beautiful and joyous children and that gives me tremendous purpose. I thought by now I wouldn’t be paying rent. Instead I’m still paying rent – I’m three years late with that rent-free dream. Also, I haven’t visited Dakar Senegal like I thought I would at 35. You know, visit House of Slaves – Maison des Esclaves and its Door of No Return and stand there and feel if indeed savagery has a pulse. I haven’t backpacked through Europe either- I’m one year late with that one. Am I feeling completely rotten about it? Only when I think about it while sitting in the loo at 3 in the morning, but during the day? Nope, it doesn’t make me feel bad, because I know as long as I’m wearing pants and I have breath in my lungs, all these things will happen. I could moan about them, of course, and overlook the tremendous blessings I have, but I refuse to. So don’t beat yourself over the head. Hell, maybe we can have that whisky that I keep talking about. Hehe.
You mentioned that you can’t find the right woman to be with? Have you tried Millionaires Club at 3am? Haha. No, I’m kidding. I don’t mean to sound like your drunk uncle but come on, looking for a girl at 28? What are you, a romantic? You want someone to be rubbing your back sometimes, tell you how great you are? Someone to stroke your beard maybe? (You sound like a beard guy, us beard guys know each other). You like kissing at the beach, huh? And staring at the half-crescent moon with your hand on her ass? Is that on your list? Actually that moon/ass thing should be on your list.
Here is a truism: girls will always be there whether you are 28 or 68. So don’t ever worry about girls, it’s fruitless. The beautiful ones are yet to be born anyway. There is a chap I know, who while in college had zero success with girls. Very nice chap, generous and all. He was from Ukambani, came to Nairobi with a small bag and a Kamba accent. Like Joe Black. He lived across from my door at some point in the hostels. Zero game, I tell you. He wore those shiny coats that when you stand in the sun reflects so hard it can start a bush fire. He had one girlfriend who always made it look like she was doing him a favour. Then she left him during the third year. And I never saw another girl set foot in his room.
We graduated. I saw him on and off. He was doing some printing work. Still wore horrendous coats. Then he fell off the grid. Life happened.
Seven years later, I’m driving out of Sarit Center at the ticket-booth and who do I see driving in a sleek black BMW-X5 with an extremely HOT chick riding shotgun? Himselfo. (Always wanted to say that). His car and that girl were so inconsistent with the shiny-coat guy I knew I thought it was a mirage. So he sees me, sticks his head out of the window and insists “No, you have to drive back in Biko, come bana we have a drink it’s been a while.” But I know what’s going on here; he wants to show me that he has made it. He wants validation. And I’m a guy, I’m cool with that, I can’t deny him this moment. So I drive back in.
We sat at Hidden Agenda, his business card read Clearing and Forwarding. His own shop. Made his money at the port. No shiny coats anymore, just shiny shirts. (Kaos!) I was completely thrilled for him and his good fortune. He introduced me gallantly, like he was my employer: “Jackson Biko? The guy who writes?” he told her proudly with a loving arm around my shoulder and that normally embarrasses me – the introduction, not the arm around my shoulder, that I rather like. Hehe. Here is the funniest thing, I could tell that that hot chick had never heard of me or even read any of my work but she didn’t want to embarrass him or me so she smiled sweetly and then lied through her lipstick, “Oooh, nice to meet you finally.” Like she has been dyyyying to meet me. I liked that level of bullshit. I really really did. She was a smart girl who knew how to align herself to the direction of the wind. Great people skills, that one, and an even better toe nails.
So, my point? Girls will come. You want a wife? A wife will also come. Worrying about girls is the most self defeating thought you can ever engage in. And oh, there is no such thing as the right woman. Not really. The “right woman” is a woman who makes peace with your weaknesses before you do.
Ati you go to bars to drown your sorrow? The thing with going to bars to drown your sorrow is that you will actually drown. Don’t be that guy who drinks his life away. There are no solutions in bars. You will not find yourself or answers in a bottle. Clarity doesn’t occur on your 12th beer and if it does, you won’t notice it. The friends who can help you are not in bars. The only thing you will find in a bar, for certain, is a bill. So get out of the bar, boss. There is nothing there.
Don’t feel bad about being at a crossroads, as you call it. Everybody is at some crossroad or other. The 25-year old guy probably thinks he isn’t cool enough, so he wants to be the last one out of a bar at 6am to show how “turnt up” he can get. The 38-year old probably looks at 40 with dread and looks down the road at what he’s done and thinks he has done shit with his life. The 45-year old is guilted by the fact that he doesn’t own his own business as planned and now he’s imprisoned with school fees and mortgage. The 55-year old is probably losing his erection. And his hairline. The 60 year old wants to be 28 again. Crossroads, my friend are only a problem if you stand at them for too long. Don’t give age too much importance.
Talking of age. Tamms turned 8 yesterday. (cue: vuvuzelas). 6:05 am, I leave the bathroom with a towel around my waist and as I head to the bedroom I see her seated in the sitting room in her pink bathrobe. Before her is untouched breakfast. Boomerang is on TV. I never know how she wakes up, that one, sometimes she’s moody sometimes she’s chirpy. So you observe first before you make a move.
I tell her, “Happy birthday darling!” and kiss her on the cheek and she smiles shyly and offers me this one-handed hug. Like she couldn’t be bothered. So I thought maybe she’s depressed that she’s getting old, si you know chicks and age? Maybe she woke up and looked in the mirror and saw what looked like a stretch mark under her arm and now she thinks she isn’t beautiful. Hehe.
I sit next to her, put my hand around her waist and ask, “What’s wrong, darling?” She says, “I’m fine.” Then I realise that as men we spend half of our lives asking the women in our lives, “What’s wrong, darling?” and get the same answer. “I’m fine.” Then we spend the other half of our lives asking our daughters the same question and get the exact same answer. Dog’s life, I tell you.
Anyway, we both watch TV for a moment as I wonder how to say something that will elicit a lengthier conversation. “Are you happy?” I ask. She says she is. Are you sure? I ask again. She says she is. I ask her, “When were you the happiest in your life?”
She looks at me and asks, “What do you mean?” And I say, “Between the time you were one year and now you are 8, when did you have the most fun, you know, and you were very happy?”
She thinks about it for a second and says, “When I was 6 years old.” I ask why, what happened when you were 6? And she says when she was at her former school in Shani Kito (I moved her to a different school.)
“I was happy because of my friends.” She says.
“Oh, you miss them?”
“Do you like your new school?”
“Do you like your friends in your new school?
“Yes, they are nice.”
“Which of your friends from Shani Kito do you miss the most?”
“Jewel.” [If she said Ian or Patrick, I would have had a heart attack and seizure combined and died!]
“What’s her second name?”
“I have forgotten.”
That made me sad, her missing her Jewel like that. Probably wondering if Jewel is fine, or if she married a prince too early. Here is a plea, if you know the parents of a girl called Jewel from Shani Kito, or if by some stroke of luck you are the parent and you are reading this, could you pleeeease email me ([email protected]) so that we reunite these kids for one weekend? Say a ka Saturday/Sunday lunch somewhere where kids can swing and slide? My treat. Thanks.
To send the 28-year old chap on his way.
I run in Karura Forest every Saturday morning, if I’m not travelling. I do the 10km trail. Karura is gorgeous on a Saturday morning. I don’t run fast, just at a steady pace. Sometimes some skinny-ass guy passes me mid-run, literally zooms right past me, a blur of black, a “racist” no doubt, and I’m like, “Whoa Kipngetich, easy!” Sometimes a much chubbier guy passes me, or a much older guy trots past me and there is always that urge to catch up with them, to compete with them. I call it the Acute Subaru Syndrome. (ASS). It’s how Subaru guys behave on the road; they think if you overtake them that it’s an invite to race with them.
At Karura there is always that temptation to catch up because nobody likes being left behind. We all want to go to heaven, right? I realised soon enough that you don’t have to catch up with anyone. And for me I have drawn tremendous life lessons from running. Running – like life – teaches you to go at your own pace because you don’t know what those guys passing you had for breakfast. You don’t know if they are visiting from Eltoret. Hehe. You don’t know the capacity of their lungs. You don’t know if they are on drugs. Go at your own pace.
Also, don’t listen to any voice apart from your own voice, the mind is a very powerful tool, it can be poisonous as it can be a weapon for success. You might run with other guys and you will sometimes run alongside people who talk a lot during a run. You will listen to people who might say, “Oh gosh, this is so hard, my chest is burning, I can’t run anymore! Why don’t we stop and walk for a while! I can’t do it. This 10kms was a bad idea!” Like life, those are the people to avoid running with. Going to a bar to “drown your sorrows” with your pals is very much like running with people who say negative things during a run, they never help the run. You want to run with people who say, “Shit it’s bloody hard, but let’s keep moving.” Or “One step at a time, we can do it.” “Or “We are almost there,” (Even when you aren’t). That positive vibe feeds into your muscles and lungs and you keep going even when you don’t feel like it.
The trick to running, like life, is to trudge along, one step at a time. Don’t think of it in terms of kilometers, but in little milestones; that corner coming ahead, that little uphill stretch ahead, that big tree ahead. There is great joy in fulfilling the small targets.
Of course it’s painful and gruesome (especially when having a hangover), but it’s fulfilling because nothing easy ever made an impact.
I notice a lot of people running with lovely sports gear. You see some rich-looking 50’s Somali guy in the full Adidas merchandise. Or the latest Nike running shoes. Does it mean they are enjoying the run more than you? Does it mean they are more committed or consistent? Will they finish before you because they have top of the range gear? Maybe, but also maybe not. That’s life, so stop looking at what your pals are doing, driving, working, wearing, dating, it doesn’t mean anything at the end of it all. Just do you.
Last weekend I did a 10 km while on this Jane Mukami 15-day detox madness. I didn’t think I would hack the 10 kms to be honest because I was hungry and weak as eff. But when I got to the fork of the trail that separates the 10 kms and the 5 km, Luis, one of the chaps I was running with said, “Just do 10 kms, boss, let’s do it, you can do it.” And we took the 10km trail. But then 8kms in I was burnt out, I was completely tired and I wanted to walk, but then I thought I’d disappoint the rest but I figured the rest weren’t on detox, they were on three meals a day, I was on one. So I stopped and walked for a bit then started running again and finished at 1hr 07 mins. Just as it is in running, it’s okay to stop and walk in life. Allows you to gather yourself, to recover, because sometimes you burn out in life, lose a job, get divorced, lose a special someone, and it slows you down, but then you don’t give up, you start running again. And you finish.
Most importantly it has to be fun. I don’t go to a Karura to run because it’s a trend, this ain’t Larry’s show. I go because I love running, been running for years, clears my head, I come up with ideas as I run, I write intros on the trail, makes me feel alive. It’s fun – I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t. So only do things that are fun in life.
Everybody who is determined to finish WILL finish a run. There are those who finish earlier than others. There are those who finish last. But when we are all lying on the grass, smiling, glowing with triumph, stretching our stiff limbs and someone walks up to the group, do you think they would know who finished first or last? That’s exactly how life is. It doesn’t matter who finished first or who finished last. They are all winners.