The other side of life

I would like to tell you a story about an amazing individual. I was on holiday in Mombasa recently. You know how hotels organise entertainment in the evenings. One of the evenings, after dinner, I was seated in the space where this happens. A nice little piazza. The entertainment that evening was some dance group. Out came (pranced, I really should say pranced) these young, almost childlike dancers. Fit as hell, they proceeded to hop and jig about for a good 25 -30 minutes to a variety of music, from African to Asian to Caribbean to European. I must say, I was thoroughly entertained, if I’m to be honest probably just a tad more by the exhibition of raw fitness than the actual dancing, which I generally don’t care an inordinate amount for. So entertained was I that at the end of it all, I was by far the most enthusiastic applauder (I think Caucasians see these things a lot more on their holidays). I felt too that, as I am on holiday, I can get these guys a drink for their good work. The group was composed of I counted 6-7 guys and girls, about evenly split. I called the bartender and told him to get each of them a drink on my tab, and tell them I quite enjoyed the show. In my mind that was done, however I still had some wine so I continued to slowly finish it.

Turns out my drink purchase was taken as an invitation to join me. The group came, thanked me for the drink, and asked if they could have it in my company. I felt why not, I’m in Mombasa alone, it would be interesting to hear about this life of dancing. So they joined me. As the table was small, they split in two groups, some sitting with me, others on the next table. I asked them about their work life and the state of work in Mombasa. No surprise, due to the tourism challenges that have been experienced the last several years, they told me that work is not the best. They told me that they do on average this one show (i.e. tonight) a week, as it’s the only contractual work they have left. Once in a while, they may chance upon unplanned gigs, but not nearly often enough. The first emotions that crossed my mind at their work situation was frustration and anger towards the government, as the security situation in the country has had a huge role to play in the fact that travel advisories were issued against our country, the end result of which is tourists holiday elsewhere. Mombasa really has taken a massive hit. Huge numbers of people have been laid off from hotels, many have closed or are operating with a skeletal staff in order to survive…it is unfortunate. What I found very interesting about these dancers was they were not complaining. They were simply stating matters as they are. They told me how they will do dance routines in night clubs on some nights in order to pay the bills. Not the sleezy kind of dancing, I am not talking about strip clubs. This is a Mombasa thing – some clubs actually have a show time, usually midnight or one in the morning, where the music is turned off and dancers or acrobats come out to entertain the revellers. Think of the fracas that would ensue if such a thing was done in a Nairobi night club.

As they continued to regale me with their stories, in that beautiful Coasterian Swahili accent (it really is like listening to some sort of beautiful, enchanting song), one of the dancers caught my eye. She initially caught my eye as they came to the table because physically she seemed too small to be of age. She had a tiny physical stature. Child-like. If I met her holding an adult’s hand and was told she is the sixteen year old daughter I’d say no, she can’t be older than 14. Tiny. And yet when she spoke, there was a certain maturity about her. She described to me the show-time in night clubs, and how sometimes it’s what puts food on the table. There was something very intriguing about her. I struggle to say what, but it was there. So they continued with their stories, and soon one arose that I simply must repeat here. The ladies were planning their way home. Exchanging notes on how they’ll get home. One of them was complaining that she does not want to pay for a boda boda, to which a fellow dancer replied then just walk when you get off the matatu. This lady proceeds to say, “And what if I meet ComeKuja?” Obviously she said this in Swahili, so I am translating. My ears were pricked, but the little one beat me to the question. “Sasa huyu ComeKuja ndio nani, mwanangu?” “Now who is this ComeKuja, my daughter?” The first girl goes “Heeeheeeeeeee!” and claps her hands. I was already smiling. Kenyans, we can smell a story a mile away. And the best stories begin with “heeeheeeeeeeee” and a hand clap. The girl now knows she has our full attention, so she asks “Yaani you people haven’t heard of ComeKuja?” So after the requisite amount of coaxing, she acquiesced. It turns out in that area of Mombasa, there is a thief. He operates away from the main road, sort of in the un-tarmacked in-roads. He preys on people walking home apparently, and sometimes just when they are arriving. Now this thief apparently when robbing people, points his weapon at you and tells you…you guessed it. “Come, kuja.” For some bizarre reason he summons you to him, as opposed to coming up to you like a normal thief. ComeKuja. I laughed for days.

As these good folk left, I took the little dancer’s number. Before you get your knickers in a twist, there were no intentions. This was a solo, no physical (yes, that physical) activity holiday. I took her number because towards the end of the drink and stories, she revealed to me that she is 25. And a mother of two. That piqued my interest immensely. I wanted to hear her story. But we were many and it was late. So I took her number, intending to meet her and hear about her life. I was intrigued.

So we met. The next day. We sat down and had a drink, and she proceeded to tell me one of the most incredible stories I’ve heard in person. She was born and bred in Mombasa. A true native. Her father is a porter at a hotel not far from the one I was staying at. Her mother is unemployed. Her education needless to say did not go far. Neither did that of her siblings. Generally, in such households, once you either drop out of school or finish form four, the parental work is done and life is now in your hands. Life dealt this little girl a blow at a very young age. Her family’s life already had lots of difficulty, as you can imagine. Fees, food…it was an exceedingly humble upbringing. Then at age seventeen, she was raped. By someone she knew well, someone everyone knew well. You know the African rape story – it is much too (simply unacceptably) frequently not a stranger. She conceived a child from this rape. I needn’t waste too much time on the police side of things…it never went anywhere. Before she delivered, she was seeing her rapist in her home town, walking about happily. I was dumbfounded, and yet her story went on. She gave birth, and started working wherever she could. She manned an Mpesa at some point…that sort of thing. There were long stretches of no work, of walking everywhere and asking for work in vain.  Making ends meet was a constant battle that she frequently lost. Eventually she ran into a lady who had a dance group. Dancing being something she enjoys, she signed up. Initially it was decent, she told me, those days when tourism at the Coast was booming. Then as things started to go south, so did the work. In her personal life, she met someone. Her child was about two or three at this point. They hit it off, had an interest for each other. He was fine with her motherhood, so they started something. At some point, she felt comfortable enough to tell him about the circumstances surrounding the first child. She told me he seemed to take it well. She told him nice and early, before things got too heavy. Wise move, I thought. Men…we can be absolute bastards. They moved on, and actually moved in together. She moved out of her parents’ house and into this guy’s house. They shared rent, expenses such things. But one day, not too far into things, there was an incident. He had gone out without her (I’m sorry, but how many stories for people in relationships start like this – including mine, so no judgement here) and came back a little tipsy. He wanted to have sex. She told me that the day the fucker raped her back then, he was intoxicated. Something about the alcohol breath and insistence from her boyfriend took her back to that experience; she froze up. Completely. She couldn’t do it. He went berserk. He beat her. He beat her so bad she couldn’t leave the house the next day. She didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t speak to anyone. She felt she couldn’t leave. Needless to underline, her life had not exactly equipped her with the confidence to get up and walk out. So she stayed. Life went on. Except, the beatings became a habit. Not daily, but periodically. Before long, they were accompanied with insults. She told me she can still remember the time he told her that maybe if she didn’t do x, she wouldn’t have been raped. Yes. You read that right. I will not bother on elaborating what x is. This became her life. She was unable to leave. And the next expected step followed: she got pregnant. With this fellow’s child. Who wants to guess what the reaction was? He denied it’s his child. Threw the rape in her face again. How was he to know what she’s been up to? He walked out. This incredible lady pressed on, gave birth. Two kids now, doing as many gigs as she could. About a year into the delivery, he came back. Said he wants to work things out. She agreed, and they resumed cohabiting. But the beatings soon also resumed. Still sporadic, not daily, or even necessarily weekly (not that it matters really), but they were there. Eventually, almost two years later, one beating was bad enough that she couldn’t dance. Her employer stepped in and talked her into leaving. This was about two months prior to my meeting her. She moved out, into a little one room space. With her two children. Now fully fending for herself, with all the attendant challenges.

The range of emotions I went through as I listened to this girl’s story is indescribable. I was dumbfounded that someone this young, this little, this innocent little girl and simultaneously this strong, amazing woman, could have gone through so much. She told me her story not with a woiye-look-at-me-and-my-difficult-life air, but with a since-you-asked-but-I’m-okay mentality. She was not looking for pity. She was ploughing on with life. I felt deep disgust. Then anger. Disgust again. Followed by even more intense anger. Mixed in with all of this was the outmost admiration for her. For her strength. Her courage. I hear it said and experience it myself time and time again, but such provide undeniable confirmation: guys, women are made of far stronger stuff than we are. Look and speak to the women around you. I talked to this physically little girl but really this incredible woman, with awe. Because if my life had gone anywhere near like hers, I don’t know where I would have been. But I certainly would not be where I am today. And I doubt I would be psychologically okay. This woman was okay. She was hurt, still hurting, but she was okay. Her name…is Mapenzi.

So many things went through my mind after sitting down with Mapenzi. Immense respect. I cannot underline that enough. Just, massive respect. Like I said, I am pretty certain I would not have taken the kind of hits she has taken and be in the same psychological predisposition she was. She exuded no anger, no man-hate, no self-pity. She did not ask me for money and she did not even seem sad or depressed. When we had that drink at the hotel after their performance, she was exuberant, laughing and joking with her dance-mates. I do not think I would be able to tell such as story if it was mine without lots of anger, bitterness and other emotions taking centre stage. But….she was okay. She told it like she had read it in a fiction novel. Of course one can only be so okay after such experiences. I sashayed rapidly from that thought to anger, not just at men, but at our leadership. So here comes my little rant.

Kenyan leaders, we are letting our people down. And I speak to the current, past, and long dead leaders. We are and have let our people down. When we rallied for independence across the continent, it was because we wanted self-rule. We did not want the white man making our decisions, running our economy, and reaping all the consequent benefits. We entrusted the leaders who initially took the mantle with these responsibilities, to represent us and ensure a happy, comfortable life for all citizens. But look at the country we have now. From the very first leader, we dropped the ball. The first government took over and continued to fuck over the populace, just like the colonialists. “When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.” This was said by none other than Jomo Kenyatta. I need not underline the flabbergasting irony of this statement considering the present day Kenyatta land holdings. Moi took over and continued in Jomo’s footseps. Subsequent governments have proved little better. Kenyan leaders, the story I have highlighted above is the story of your people. The people you take oaths to protect, empower, enrichen. You are failing us. You are failing your people. It is your responsibility to equip the populace with dignity, comfort and security, whether fiscal or physical. Dignity. It is your responsibility to enforce the rule of law and ensure justice is served regardless of social status. You have broken our country before it even had a chance to be repaired. The broken country you have built and continue to hold at ransom makes achieving these core human needs many, many orders of magnitude more difficult than it ought be. I am very angry. We are very angry. We will be only angry only for so long.

Mapenzi, you will almost certainly never see this and that was not the intention in any case. I salute you. You are the epitome of female and human strength, courage and spirit. You are simultaneously the epitome of everything that is wrong with this world and everything that is right with it.

I will repeat. Kenyan leaders. It is the right of every Kenyan to have basic human dignity, comfort, security, happiness. You as a collective are making achieving this a damn near impossible task. I am angry. We are angry. And anger only simmers for so long before it converts to action.

The Western Regime Change Refugee Crisis

We have in the last several months and more observed with increasing alarm this terrible humanitarian crisis. The horrible images and stories tear at the soul of even the most hardened nationalist. It has been generally accepted, even by the countries against whose borders the refugees are flooding, that no human being should suffer in the ways we are witnessing.

The proposed solutions are a dime a dozen. However, I feel in order to arrive at a real and lasting panacea we must soberly understand and accept the underlying causes of this crisis. Hence the title of my article. I will not be exceedingly naive and suggest that there is a single causative factor at play here. However, looking at the histories and the data, I find it comes out quite clearly that there are patterns that are very indicative of the key problems at hand, one of which is the focus of this article.

UNHCR has stated that in 2014 over 70% of the refugees flocking to Europe were from Syria (79,000), Afghanistan (22,000) and Eritrea (34,000), with Syria as from 2014 taking over the highest number of refugees mantle from Afganistan, who prior to that had led for over a decade. It also recorded 22,000 from Kosovo and over 26,000 from unspecified African countries (read Sudan, Somalia, etc), as well as smaller numbers from a host of other African and Western Balkan States.
The data speaks quite clearly: the heavy majority of migrants and refugees to Europe come from Africa, The Middle East, the Western Balkans and South Asia. I need not underline the common link between these areas, although of course I will: they have been victims, for centuries, of ceaseless meddling, interfering, invasions and control by the west.

Indulge me for a moment as I digress. Due to the confluence of a myriad of factors, individuals and events, the subject of a whole other conversation, Europe and the United States, the west, gradually rose to power over centuries, even surviving a little sibling rivalry (aka WWI & II), and have thus far managed to stay there. It is indeed true that we do not know whether had a different people been present custodians of world power and influence, say Africans or Asians, their approach and attitude, whether past or present, toward global affairs would have been any different. Nevertheless, it can be observed that, save for a short few exceptions such as the Persian and Mongol Empires, Europeans, with the USA implied by extension after they obtained independence and joined in the fun, have historically exhibited the most appallingly voracious appetite for the interference, invasion and control of other people’s lands, homes, resources and affairs, whether directly or indirectly. This is a legacy that has spilled over into the present day, only now increasingly being repackaged into the slightly more palatable and diplomatic, albeit significantly more insidious form of “democracy”, with regime change as one of the many tools of selection for implementation.

The regions we mentioned earlier in this piece have been on the unenviable receiving end of these efforts for global dominance. This is a fact indisputable by an unbiased individual, mostly because it is on historical record. The divide and conquer tactics that have been employed need no further ink wasted in illustrating. The senseless indiscriminate drawing of borders. The assassination of uncooperative heads of state. Democratically elected. So as to instill democracy. Oh, the bittersweet irony. The funding, and even arming, of rebel groups around the world to take on unsavoury governments. One of the goals being to have in place governments that will subscribe to the requisite institutions and policies that will retain if not enhance the economic status quo. And finally, if all else fails, the finding of a justification for invasion of a country that is not yours. Regime change.

I will take another brief detour here to mention that the west and western media was silent as Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and others absorbed for years with little hoopla the majority of the hordes of refugees since 2011 when the Syrian conflict began, and indeed refugees and migrants from previous conflicts . These benevolent nations have borne the brunt of crises that had nothing to do with them. It seems it was acceptable to the west for Syrian and other nations’ citizens to die in their own countries, regardless of the fact that they would be dying under the under the hail of bullets and other weaponry manufactured and provided by the west and facilitated by governments that prior to the bedevilled Arab Spring were darlings of the west. The images spanning the years this current crisis has lasted of lines of dead children’s bodies in Syria ostensibly were acceptable. These western leaders presently making morality statements without a doubt have been seeing the images and receiving the reports and intelligence since the beginning. Since 2011, death elsewhere was acceptable. But in 2015, when the problem significantly shifted to European borders, suddenly it became a crisis. How clearer to define a crisis of convenience?

Worse still when one looks at the reaction from the west to the highlighting of this crisis over the past several months. An insulting reaction aimed at reputation preservation, so that one can say we did something. The United States has so far taken in about 1500 Syrian refugees. David Cameron the other day magnanimously offered that the United Kingdom can afford 20,000 Syrians a home over the next five years, equating to 4000 per annum. He crowned this budget-breaking commitment by stating that it demonstrates to the world that the UK is a country of extraordinary compassion. To put this extraordinary compassion into context, of the estimated 4 million refugees that have fled Syria over the course of this crisis, Turkey has absorbed just under half. Lebanon to date has taken in over 1.1 million. Lebanon has a GDP of just over $68 billion. The UK has a GDP of approximately $2.5 trillion. The United Kingdom is about 35 times wealthier than Lebanon. I repeat: the United Kingdom is 35 times wealthier than Lebanon. Allow that a moment to sink in. Lebanon has already taken in over 55 times the people the UK is proposing to over the next 5 years, and without proclamations of how virtuous their admirable actions are. Granted, Germany has placed herself on the complete opposite end of the British stance, but I suspect I don’t need to point out that one cannot help but wonder about the sincerity of her motives, what with much of the global population presently still with a living memory of her actions 75 years ago.

What we are seeing in Europe is the west reaping what they have sown. Those masses attempting to get in may be economic refugees, civil strife refugees, war refugees or whatever other kind pleases your fancy, but they quite strikingly are also one thing: Regime Change Refugees. This is the disease that causes the other symptoms mentioned above – economic collapse, civil strife and wars. Regime change is of course itself one of the many tools in the arsenal employed by the west to advance their agenda, but it has proved simultaneously one of the most effective and devastating, depending on which side of the ponds you stand. In many of these areas, western influenced interference and conflict can be traced back into the 19th century and before (indeed some go back many, many more centuries), with various triggers over the decades routinely reopening old wounds and reigniting fires that result in innocent, hapless peoples leaving, seeking refuge, seeking a place to just live. The Western Balkans’ affairs for instance are old, deep-rooted and tragic, and in some instances so closely mirror that of the other regions mentioned that perhaps they can be taken to stand representative of our collective story, the highlight of which, if any single event from amongst the countless can indeed be selected, may perhaps be the act of assassination in the early 20th century carried out against European royalty by a Bosnian-Serb who today has a statue and museums in Sarajevo in his honour as a freedom fighter hero, Gavrilo Princip. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq by the USA and its allies has knocked those countries back several decades and left them a violent mess. Libya had the 5th highest GDP Per Capita in Africa. Its untaxed populace enjoyed free housing, free education and free medical care. In a telling illustration of the simmering undercurrents in Europe surrounding responsibility and ownership of this present matter, in late August 2015 a government official of a small former Eastern European country that is now in the EU and is among those bearing the brunt of the migrant crisis was quoted saying, when asked by Europe to house the migrants, “Why should we provide homes for these refugees when we didn’t invade their countries?”

Our message, dear Europe and USA, is simple: Get out of our affairs. They do not concern you. You have absolutely no business in deciding who our leaders are. Their love for you, which translates to their slavish, unquestioning adherence to your institutions that maintain the status quo, does not fare as well on our checklist as you may think when we go to the ballot box. You have no stake in our natural resources, much as your post-colonial contracts and agreements say you do. Those shall be corrected in due course. We are not fools. We understand that you are quite fond of wealth and power, and you want to accumulate lots, perhaps all of it. So are we. We have all become capitalists, after all. BUT, the importance of your need to increase your power, influence, wealth and everything else on your shamedly long agenda stops where our borders start. We fully well understand that you do not possess an iota of concern for the mwananchi in any country other than your own, save for when it suits your purpose. This is clearly demonstrated in your selective interventions to solve the world’s problems; selection influenced by your motives. Stop your disingenuous democracy exports. We are not buying.

A quote that wonderfully aptly clarifies your intentions and staggeringly inventive range of approaches springs to mind here: when the Cubans were attempting to wrest control of their country from the Americans, Andrew Carnegie in 1898 asked Henry Cabot Lodge, “Why are you doing this the old fashioned way like the British and the French, using military force and dominating in the old white man’s style? That’s old fashioned, the new way to do it is to control them with financial organisations, using loans and debt. Dollar diplomacy.”

This mentality captured throughout this article must cease. Subsequently, inevitably, the repercussions of your policies, the refugees drowning attempting to escape the countries you have fucked, will stop knocking on your doors and washing up on your shores.

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As an addendum to this article, I will bring to your attention an article by a British author, Douglas Murray, where he takes the high road on behalf of the continent. His article is well written and very lucidly lays out the best anti-migrant position. That said, I find it to be patently dishonest, especially where he pretty much sums up the position by asking the question “Is it the job of Europeans to give a better standard of living in our continent to anybody in the world who wants it?’’ I refuse to believe that a writer who can put forth a view point in the manner that he does is ignorant of the deeds spanning the last five centuries that have led Europe and the West to their better standards of living. As I was attempting to marshal my thoughts towards a response to this highly intellectually dishonest article, I chanced upon a comment to the same article that worded my thoughts I suspect significantly better than I ever would have, and I shall leave you with it:

“”Only in the modern West have we landed in the unnatural position of finding it easier to accept responsibility for things we have not done than to profess the truth of our innocence.” The West, innocent? Here is what the West is: a collection of largely ideologically, historically, geospatially, and economically aligned countries that have benefited immensely from historical exploitation through colonialism and slavery, and who continue to benefit immensely from economic exclusion and imperialism, military might and invasion. Murray writes with no acknowledgement that our privilege comes out of colonialism and slavery. Let’s not be too quick to pat ourselves on the back for being rich innocents, and let’s acknowledge that many of the most damaged countries in the world are so damaged because of historical and contemporary military and economic practices that Western countries have committed and continue to and that we benefit economically from this.”

Change is an inevitability

I completely understand, and in fact am often victim to, the seemingly inherent human resistance to change. Psychologists would probably write volumes concerning this subject matter; as I am not a psychologist, I will not. My take on it is simple, and is based on what I have observed in my time on this planet. Homo Sapiens, we are creatures of habit. Creatures of routine. We find comfort in a life of routines that we are well versed with. Change, inevitably, comes with unknowns, and therein lies our problem. We do not like unknowns, because an unknown may come with good or bad eventualities. We generally like what we are accustomed to. We generally do not like changes to even a minutely comfortable status quo. The bigger the change, the more we don’t like it.
However, there is a caveat here. We tend to more strongly oppose change we do not understand, or change whose benefits are either far off, unclear, or even uncertain. On the other hand, change whereby the benefits are smack dab right in front of your face, change whereby we can easily see how we will be better off, we control our inherent resistance. For instance, when moving from your apartment to the house you’ve just finished building, yes you will have that oh so cliche moment of standing on the foyer and giving one last sighing look around the empty room, or when your kids are off to university, that moment when you are driving away from the school watching your kid waving back at you through the rear window, we control our internal resistance because we know the change is for the best. Yes we still feel the reluctance (even in the face of clearly beneficial change, which briefly brings me back to my suggestion that this may be an inherent quality, a genetic predisposition to stay in routines that we are well versed with as we know the outcome of these routines will be survival and reproduction, as opposed to change which could easily with its unknowns not have these genetically desired results…but I digress), yes we still experience the melancholy, but we allow these their requisite moments, and then move forward and accept the change.
Which brings me to my point today. Bear with me here. I know I have not in any way prepared you for this, ahem, change of subject, but today I wanted to talk about IT. There are few areas where mankind’s resistance to change is more visibly demonstrated than in the information technology world. Yes I am well aware that the adoption rate of brand new technologies can be pretty rapid, but here I refer to change to age old technology. My selected means of illustration will be that company that virtually everyone regardless of age has experienced – Microsoft. We all have used some version of Windows, whether it was MS Dos (yes grandpa, I know about MS Dos), Windows 95 or Windows 7. Microsoft’s dominance of the desktop operating system market, which up until just a decade ago was virtually the only operating system market, has meant that the whole world is familiar with Windows. Now Microsoft may have completely dropped the ball with transitioning their product delivery to the advent of a brand new sector of the industry, mobile computing (may being a massive understatement here), but when they did eventually take their head out of that hole in the ground and realize that the computing world has changed and is not going back, the effects in my view were tremendous. Probably few may appreciate the effort, talent and sheer will it takes to completely change the mindset of a decades old mega machine set in its ways and gear it towards creating sensational brand new products as opposed to modestly upgrading products they have had on the market for years and years. Apple only managed to do this because of Steve Jobs. Let’s be honest, even quite a number of the new companies to the computing market, think Samsung et al, are where they are because of Steve Jobs. Microsoft has no Steve Jobs (sorry Bill), and as such I feel credit need be given where it is due. The reorganization of Microsoft to where it is currently has been, although not without its small failures, pretty amazing. One just needs to look at their recent product offerings to understand this.
Which brings me in my very round about way to my focal point today. Windows 8. I am a visual creature. Windows 8 is a breathtaking visual experience. The use of colors to enhance the experience is both ingenious and unprecedented. The tile presentation is simply revolutionary: different colored tiles that constantly update their content right on your desktop, complete with beautiful combinations of both high resolution images and text? All left in the freedom and control of the app developer? Brilliant. Microsoft is using its own creativity to enhance and instigate creativity in app developers around the world. All this is before even launching an app! When you eventually do tear yourself away from that start menu and start an app, the experience heightens. Windows 8 apps are simply beautiful. Again, the colors are just vibrant and the minimalist approach to the apps just enhances the impact of the big and little things that have simply been turned upside down since the last edition of Windows. Apps by default open in full screen, with icons and menus hidden away for maximum visual impact.
I really could go on and on about the user experience but let me (puts away the lube) get to the point: what is wrong with the supposed pundits of the tech world? Since the launch of Windows 8, all I hear is where is the old desktop, where is the old start button, where is the old task bar. Really? REALLY?? You bitch incessantly about how archaic Microsoft refuses to change with the ages, and when they do you do nothing but bitch why have they changed? Okay, as I mentioned before, I understand the inclination to oppose change, but this whole scenario seems to me akin to getting a brand new Rolls Royce from your wife or husband, but electing to continue driving your old junk because it’s what you know. Windows 8 trounces the previous versions of Windows in literally all aspects. The desktop? Are you kidding me? That old page with the shortcuts to your programs and an image in the background? Again, are you kidding me? The start screen is that and so much more! You still have your shortcuts, but they are much larger, what Microsoft calls tiles, literally alive, with a much deeper impact and actually where relevant preview the content in the app. Furthermore the content changes, so for instance with news apps, breaking news are run through the tile with images. How is this not a hefty upgrade to the stagnant little shortcut, one image background desktop? Why would anyone even want to see that desktop again after experiencing the start screen with its live tiles? Why would you, after sitting in the cockpit with its premium wood grain and leathers so new you can hear the cow moo (sorry animal activists) want to get back in your jalopy with its funny smells, dodgy stains, rotting seats and rattling noises? You may attach all the sentimental value you want but the fact remains it will neither drive smoother, nor faster, nor look better. And that is precisely what Windows 8 is; smoother, faster, much much better looking. Even worse still, what is this obsession with the start button? Can we please state what the start button did in previous versions: produced a list of programs. AHEM – TILES?? What precise use are the start button and the previous start menu in Windows 8? Am I missing something here? Can someone please point out to me what exactly that was in either of those two is not present, albeit in a much better form, in Windows 8? The exact same point applies to the task bar. All these previous features have been made redundant by the sheer brilliance of the Windows 8 start screen.
Windows 8 is progressive. That is indisputable. Yes it has its drawbacks, but those are the kinks in every product out there that will be ironed out. Even Microsoft themselves need to hone this ability, and stop listening to the pundits that shout the loudest. On this note, I found it quite disappointing that Microsoft would allow resistance to change so far as to bring back old, redundant features, unsuccessfully forcefully integrating them, so as to appease the noise makers. I feel Microsoft need to take a more Apple-esque approach; with tech, the customer has no idea what they want. It’s up to us to show them. Unreservedly so.
On a final note, watching Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at the 2014 Microsoft Build Conference, I finally feel they are the process of harnessing the immense potential that the conglomerate holds. Listening to him speak about concerting efforts on unifying the experience across the Microsoft ecosystem, from Windows OS and Phone to Xbox, Surface to Office, delivering new technologies such as Kinect with its mind boggling applicability consistently across these platforms, listening to his focus on the leverage Microsoft holds on the market with their complete product offering in use on over a billion devices around the world and their pressing need to tap this existing client base even as they innovate, I finally feel Steve Balmer’s strategic change of direction for Microsoft before his exit, One Microsoft, from a series of departments and products each industry heavyweights in their own right competing internally on revenue and for resources, to an organization-wide mentality of synergism with a view to delivering a far more lethal competitive blow, is receiving the breath of life it needs to give us, the consumers, the simply amazing experience across the present day plethora of platforms and devices that very few organizations out there are in a position to do.

I started this piece talking about the power of change. Microsoft is but an illustration from within my world of this power.
We as a species need to hone our ability to recognize when change is progressive, learn to ignore that niggling don’t do it feeling, and embrace it. Our survival as a species has been dependent on it; now our advancement as a species to currently unimaginable realms is hinged on it.

Life Lessons

It was a great day. The sun was bright. A picturesque Kenyan late Friday afternoon; clear blue sky, not a cloud in sight, one of those days you simply need to wear your sunglasses. We hit the highway. My girlfriend and I. The famed Thika Superhighway. Stunning road. Each time I’m on it, I enjoy the driving experience immensely. The road was slightly dusty. The sun was out in her full regalia. Traffic was light, surprising for a Friday. We wondered, could Kenyans possibly be slogging it out in the office this Friday afternoon? HA. Fat chance. There must be some other reason. We made good time. We were excited. We had looked forward to our weekend away for the longest time. We both had been going at it really hard, with virtually no breaks. Week in, week out. Fatigue had begun to set in. You know fatigue is setting in when you’re tired by Monday. Morning. That was increasingly happening to us. When if you get a spare moment in your day, which, unfortunately, hardly happens, you shut your eyes and almost instantaneously fall asleep. You don’t even have to try. That was us. This weekend had been long overdue.

Past the superhighway now, onto the dual carriageway, headed into Central Kenya. It was a great drive. Talking about everything and anything. Soft music in the background. Open country now. Green, green, green. Like you don’t see in Nairobi. We have great conversations. I lose track of time in moments like these. Before we knew it, the sun had set and we were well past the dual carriageway, had been on the single directional lane A2 for a while now. Getting dark, parking lights on. Conversation still flowing. Our jobs don’t allow us to spend as much time together as we would like, so there is always a hefty backlog of conversation. The Google Maps lady kept interrupting our music to throw in her two cents on where we’re going. Change of genre now. Road still great, but dark now. Low beams on. We came up to a junction. I’ve been on this road before. Maps lady says turn right. I ignore her. What does she know. I’ve been on this road before. Kanye West pops into my mind, “Excuse me, is you saying something? Uh uh, you can’t tell me nothing.” I smile to myself. I like that song. I like that man’s chutzpah. Say what you like about him. We drive on. Still conversing randomly. Maps lady now annoying. She keeps interrupting the music to tell us we need to make a U-turn. We check the map. It’s not making sense. It’s showing a very roundabout route to where we are going, if we continue on the road we are currently on. I begin to wonder. Could I possibly have this wrong? Impossible. I drove this road less than a year ago, and there were no right turns this early. We soldier on. Then the road starts to deteriorate. Pot holes, markings are gone. And now I start to wonder. The road was fantastic the last time. Could it have gotten this bad in less than a year? Possible, yes. But do we want to take that chance? It’s dark. I’m a little worried now. We drive on. Ahead, I see a broken down truck. A bunch of men working on the second last axle. I slow down and take a closer look. Tyre is flat. Looks like more than one. They have a genuine problem. I pull over ahead of them. No folks, dispel of that warm feeling welling up inside you. I was not pulling over to help them. I was pulling over to ask for directions. I tell my girlfriend to wait inside and I lock the doors. I walk up to them. They look up. It’s a dark night but they’re not worried. Men of the road. I greet them, “Habari zenu?” “Mzuri” comes the reply. I tell them we are headed to Nanyuki, and I feel we may have missed a turn. They laugh and tell me I have and I haven’t. I will get there with the road I am currently using, but it is longer and not the best road. They tell me there was a right turn a few kilometres back that would get me there faster and on a better road. I thank them, wish them luck with their repairs, and get back in the car. Damn Maps lady was right. I turn the car around and instantly she relaxes, and tells me to stay on this road. Yeah, rub it in why don’t you. We find the right turn and dutifully follow maps lady. She has stopped interrupting me and is now letting our music play. We are more relaxed now. The conversation flow resumes. We settle in for the last stage of our drive. The road is good once more. The night is quiet. We come up to a town, and as we exit we are stopped at a police roadblock. Two cops, a lady and a man. We roll down our windows. “Habari zenu?” one asks. “Mzuri officer.” She shines her torch in the back of the car. “Mko sawa?” We smile,” Sawa kabisa”. She waves the torch to indicate we move on. Sweet chaps. Kind of nice to know the roads are not completely without police presence. We settle back into our road trip mode. Rapidly pick up speed once again. It is a dark night. There is little light out there, and the tinted windows make it seem even darker. Very few cars on the road now. It is about 8pm. Our xenon headlamps light up the road ahead like daylight, but on either side of the road, darkness. I am comfortable. I don’t feel worried. Close now. We can see signs. We are approaching Nanyuki town. Maps lady still on her game, telling us in one kilometre we need to turn right. I heard you the first time, lady. My ego feels slightly wounded, but no matter. We get to our turn, squinting for the sign. There are many signs by this particular turn, but we find ours. Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club. Bingo. We make the turn. Road is still good. We follow the winding road. Now there are no other cars. Small, black and grey gates appear every so often along the left of the road, in between low hedges, some kempt, some unkempt. The grass on the roadside is cut, the bushes here and there trimmed. This seems a semi-affluent area. Probably the weekend homes of some of Kenya’s better off populace. The road continues to wind, and we are now past the residential seeming area. We see signs that are clearly military. Where are we? Road is still good. We decide to find a manned gate and ask. We follow the road and on the right we see a road branch off. Still tarmacked. Right where this road starts, a brightly lit gate with the concrete blocks they usually put is on the left. On the right, another brightly lit gate. No blocks. We pull up to that one and dim our lights, roll down our windows. Don’t want any mishaps.

Almost immediately, a man in fatigues with a firearm slung over his shoulder steps out. Heart beating slightly faster now, but I feel no need to be worried. However your pulse can’t help but race a little. After all, it’s not every day you pull up to a military facility in a strange town at night to ask for directions. He walks up to the car, peering inside. I am sure there are more of him poised for action behind that gate. I greet him. I decided to establish full familiarity and use our local language. “Habari ya jioni?” It had crossed my mind to use a term of position, but I had a very rapid sequence of thoughts and dismissed the idea. I was not sure what the appropriate term was. You see, these people are picky about these things. Kenyans reading this will know. A watchman hates being called watchman. I remember once when I lived with my parents looking for the watchman at night and I did not know his name (yeah I know, can we move on? That is not the point of this story. Plus, they changed them like every six months okay?) . I called out “Watchman” until I was blue in the face. The fellow was nowhere to be found. I needed him to feed the bloody dogs. I wound up having to feed them myself. A few days later, the grounds man educated me that apparently, they consider it an offensive name. I had hurt his feelings. They prefer to be called soldier. I still remember struggling to keep a straight face that day upon receipt of that little titbit of wisdom. Hell, I’m struggling just at the memory of it. So as he walked to the car, I cycled through the possible salutations that would provide him with that little ego boost that sometimes makes your life a little easier with the, ahem, proletariat. Soldier? Technically, that is what he is. BUT, surely they must know that security guards are also called this? Perhaps they don’t like it? I cursed myself for not having enquired this from the people I know with involvements with the military. But it’s never really been relevant. Officer? Surely not. That’s a police related term, and we all know there is no love lost between those two. I dismissed whatever else came into mind and engaged the man. Explained to him where we are going. He tells us we need to turn back, and watch for a left turn on the road. He was pleasant enough. As we drove back, my girlfriend quietly mentioned again what she had been saying since we missed that first turn, way back. When I am unsettled, I’m not my usual thorough self. I did not feel particularly unsettled. Now I was though. It was past 8pm, and we were in a strange town asking for directions. I thought about how I had not gone through my normal motions of calling any hotel I am going to and finding out exactly what the road right before the hotel is like, to minimise chances of getting lost. Oh well. Maps lady jars me back into reality. She wants us to turn left. Really? We both peer as I slow down. It is hardly a road. Un-surfaced, bushy….could this possibly be what the man was talking about? We decided not, and started to drive past, but Maps lady would not re-route. She wanted us to turn back. I thought back. She has taken me on some round about routes sometimes, but she has yet to actually send me in the wrong direction. Plus she was right the first time. We decide to try the road and see. So we turn back and get on it.

Immediately I feel this is not right. Folks, learn to trust your instincts. The road is shit. Narrow, bushes on one side, a human height height barbed wire fence on the other. At this point, I struggle to think what stopped me from turning back. My mind was racing. I was running through some of the hotels I have been to, and how the roads to some of these places are surprisingly bad. After less than 100 metres, the road begins to deteriorate. Twigs, sticks are now on the road. Some brush the undercarriage. In my mind I wonder what the buildings behind the fence are. It looks like some sort of halls of residence. A large school? My girlfriend mumbles something about what it is. I didn’t catch it. My thoughts have already moved on. My girlfriend and I are already pretty much convinced this is very unlikely to be the road to the lodge. Another 100 metres, and now I am certain. The road is now absolute shit. Bushes are brushing the sides of the car. Twigs and sticks are scratching the undercarriage. The road is too narrow to turn. We decide to keep going and hope for a section that widens to turn and go back. Maps lady is yapping away to keep going straight. Numerous filthy expletives are mentally thrown at her in that instant I think of her, but information overload. No time to dwell. Another cannot be more than 200 meters and I quickly realise this road is not getting better, and perhaps may not get better ahead! I stop. Shit. Thick bush on the right, a fence on the left. Up ahead, my headlamps are lighting up nothing but more bush and what can hardly be called a road. SHIT. My heart sinks. What the hell am I doing? I have largely avoided unfortunate incidences in my life, and a large part of that is due to the fact that I am very particular about where I go at night, about what I expose myself to. But right now, I wasn’t even thinking about myself. If thieves come out of these bushes right now, this is my fault. I am with my girlfriend….that would not end well. We have to get out of here. My heart is now beating rapidly. There is a furious sense of urgency in me. The road is too narrow to turn. How the hell did I get us into this? My girlfriend suggests we reverse. I shift, roll down the front windows, and start reversing as fast as I dare. Which is not really fast, because the road is….well…barely a road. We are both now experiencing intense urgency, bordering on mild panic, to get out of this place. I can feel it in my girlfriend. We can feel mortal danger. The road is slippery, bushes are brushing the sides of the car as I reverse like a maniac. I look ahead and realise the road has widened slightly. Several thoughts sprint through my head. It will take me forever to turn the car. We will be sitting ducks while we do this. However, we are reversing too slowly. It will take us forever to get back to the main road. I make my decision. Turn, and get the hell out of here. I begin what has to be the longest twelve point turn in the history of man. As I moved forward not more than half a foot and backwards a similar distance in my effort to turn, my racing mind stops for a second on where I went wrong. How the fuck did we get here? What the fuck is this? How have I put my girlfriend in this kind of a situation? I thought about her for a second. She is such a gentle soul. So peaceful. So full of love. It would kill me if anything happened to her. I renew my vigour in getting the car turned.

THERE! After what seems like an eternity, the car was finally turned. We were facing the direction we came from. I stomped on the gas pedal and put my full beams. The bush was now on my left, and the fence on my side, on the right. A surge of hope waved through me. We may get out of this unscathed. And as the car began to pick up speed, I caught movement on the right in the corner of my eye. SHIT.

I turn my head to the right and see a man in fatigues literally somehow hopping up and down and simultaneously running alongside the car. He is on the other side of the fence. I focus on his hands. He is holding a large firearm, pointed right at the car. Multitasking score: nil. As my mind finishes registering what he is holding, I realise he is and has been shouting something. It sounded like stop. SHIT. Discard the mild panic, my heart now has gone berserk. This is a military facility on the other side. I stomp on the brakes, and as I do I start to reach out with my right hand, meaning to motion to him. As I reach out, heart beating to within an inch of its life, information overload, with zero multitasking ability added and stirred, I somehow hit the window button. The one touch function causes the window to begin to fully close. Somehow my mind manages to process the implication of the rising window. Full on panic now as I realise how this looks. He has shouted to a strange car to stop and the occupants have responded by closing the window. A heavily tinted window. My vehicle is one of those when the windows are up, you cannot see the occupants. My heart is on an absolute rampage. He will shoot. How the hell did I hit that button? 
SHIT. SHIT. SHIT. In a mad scramble, I press the button to reopen just as the window is about to fully close. At the same instant I wedge my flat palm in the little space left and as the space increases, I motion to him to stop as I shout: STOP! STOP! The window is now halfway down, the car has stopped. I am still shouting STOP, DON’T SHOOT as I open the door and come out. My palm that was motioning to him to stop now joins my other hand in the air as I continue to shout to him not to shoot. He is also shouting, and now I can make out what he is screaming: “GET OUT OF THE CAR! GET OUT OF THE CAR!” “COME TO THE FRONT OF THE CAR!” “KNEEL DOWN!” “KNEEL DOWN!” He has not fired. I walk, struggling hard to restrain myself from running there, to the front and find my girlfriend also rounding from the other side. My girlfriend has the most expressive eyes I have ever seen, and I can almost always tell her disposition just by looking into her eyes. All I see is fear. My heart sinks. What have I done. She says one word to me, “Babe,” and I see tears streaming down her eyes. Right there, looking into her eyes, I think that may have been one of the worst feelings in my life. I take her hand and we kneel down in the full glare of our own headlights. The man at some point had been joined by others. I could see now at least six or so men in fatigues, all armed. “WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” the man shouts. Images flash through my mind, of execution scenes I’ve seen that look exactly like this. Nazi executions, extremist Moslem executions… I respond with my name and my girlfriend’s, and tell him we are from Nairobi, we were looking for Mount Kenya Safari Club and have gotten lost. My voice has that slight tremor it usually very annoyingly takes on in high pressure situations. He asks us almost sarcastically if this is the road to the facility. I tell him we do not know, we are not locals. He asks who else is in the car. I tell him no one, it is just us. He tells me to roll down all the windows and open the doors facing them. I get up and do so. My legs are trembling. My mind doesn’t stop, it seems. Adrenaline? Yeah right. Try fear. They see the car is empty. I re-join my girlfriend kneeling and take her hand. He goes quiet. My heart immediately takes it down a couple of notches. He has not fired. Even though he is still pointing it at us. We should be okay. I hear someone say call the commander. The thought relieves me further. The commander should be a reasonable man. Someone goes off to call the commander. I briefly wonder why, as I can now hear muted conversation on radios that I think all these men have. He asks us why we have come down this road. We explain to him we had actually asked for directions at the gate to a barracks further up the road and they told us to come down and turn left. We did so, but when we realised the road was not taking us anywhere we turned back. As I do this, I briefly glance down the road we are on and realise just how ridiculous our story sounds. He seems ever so slightly pacified though, because he has stopped pointing his weapon at us. I become aware of my girlfriend squeezing my hand, and I squeeze hers back. I want to hold her, but I dare not. It seemed like an eternity, kneeling there, waiting. My mind at no point stopped its racing. I may not be able to physically run distances myself, but my mind sure made up for that. I chuckled internally at this situation, in a way you can only do when the danger has partially passed. An employer. With a not insignificant number of staff. On his knees. Staring death in the face. In the middle of nowhere at the hands of some random soldier. Except he was not random in this particular instance. He was starkly relevant. It doesn’t matter who you are or to what extent you can make people’s world’s move; your life can end at the snap of a finger. That is the reality of life. Look at JFK. The austere reality of that fact hit me in that moment like a moving train. I notice someone jumping the fence up ahead, also in fatigues. He comes over to us. He is joined by one more uniformed soldier, I did not see from where he came. He tells us to stand up. Asks us the same questions as the previous man. We explain our situation. He asks us if we are Kenyans. I suspect he feels his first question should have been if we are thick. I respond we are (Kenyans, not thick) and he asks to see our IDs. I remove them and give them to him. Another uniformed man appears, flagged by yet another, both on the other side of the fence. By this point there are well over ten uniformed men. One of the latter two speaks up, and his words are nothing sort of Shakespearean in their sheer beauty. He says, “Eeeh. Ni wao. Walikuwa ile North Gate nikawapatia directions.” My heart soared. And slowed. We are safe. My mind is still racing, albeit at a slower pace now, trying to analyse what went wrong where. The directions fellow is still talking, clarifying the directions he had given us. Hardly relevant at this point in time. I run through the things I did not do right. I should have called the hotel, as I always do when driving, to get concise directions. Especially the last few kilometers. I did not. We had no business arriving in an unfamiliar town at night, driving ourselves, to look for an unknown destination. We should have left earlier. We had planned to. We did not. I should NEVER have followed Maps Bitch to the letter (Oooooooooh yeah, lady is LOOOOONG gone). But perhaps most important, I should have just followed my goddamn instinct. I mean sure, there are some resorts you will visit and arrive shocked at the road leading to it, but the minute I turned onto that road, my heart started beating faster, and I felt it was not right.

They went on to search the car. Turns out the man asking the questions now was the commander. He goes on to tell us how in these post-Westgate times they are constantly battling Al-Shabaab, and we really should not have pulled the stunts we pulled along the fence of a military facility. Yeah. You don’t say. I speculate internally whether he means they are fighting them in Nanyuki, or….FOCUS. Not important. Before he releases us with fresh directions, the sweet commander man takes a moment to tell us how we are lucky. How if he had not been on duty, things would have gone very differently. Seems his boys like to live it up when the cat is out. Well, actually, I tone it down. He actually said it in that callous way you sometimes hear certain Kenyans speak, that can put a slight chill in you: “Kama singekuwa on duty, tungekuja kutoa maiti hapa.”

Yes folks. That is what my significant other and I took from our first foray together into the innards of Nanyuki, Kenya.

“Kama singekuwa on duty, tungekuja kutoa maiti hapa.”

Fantastic.