Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The night our house flooded

Christine, Mum and I (1996)
In the year 1998, Kenya experienced heavy rains, perhaps the worst to date which led to the famous floods which caused the loss of homes, property and lives. We were one of the families affected.

The sun was shining bright in the sky as the birds flew by and the wind was crisp. Dust filled the playground as the primary three boys kicked the soccer ball as usual after school. That day mom picked me up early which was unusual, in a new Nissan Sunny that smoothly drove up the driveway.

We lived off Hurlingham road in Nairobi at the bottom in a court of marionettes which were a short distance from the main road. Many of our guests got lost because the courts were name­less, I do not know why, probably they couldn’t figure out an appropriate name. The court had seven marionettes double stored, each looking alike, four on the lower side and three on the opposite. We lived in house number four, the very last one in the lower corner. We were the only African in the neighborhood, the rest were of Indian descent.
Immediately on reaching home, I hurried upstairs to change into my sports kit and before mother could get me to have evening tea; I was out playing with my friend Samir who lived in house number six. We usually played soccer or cricket. Each time we were outside, we had to be as quite as possible which was less likely especially around house number two where an old mean looking Indian lady often came out to yell at us in a funny ascent whenever she heard a sound around her premises. She spent most of her time at home; I guess it is an Asian practice for women to stay home while the men go to work. “What are you doing here? Go home before I tell your parents” she often yelled.

We hadn’t played for long before the clear sky turned gloomy with the possibility of rain. At first we ignored the weather and continued to play. Less than fifteen minutes later, a light drizzle started. We took cover in the shade hoping it would clear soon but it just got worse, fast. We both retreated to our homes on realizing it was probably going to pore until the following morning.
As I walked back to my room from the shower, I suddenly heard the sound of water whooshing downstairs. Wrapped in a towel, I slowly made my way down to take a peek at the strange sound I had heard. But I could not believe what I was seeing, my mom and sister were fetch water from the house and pouring it into the  back yard. The water was flowing in through the front door in full force. I rushed up to my room to wear something appropriate and back down to the kitchen for a bucket to join the struggle.  But soon I realize it wasn’t making any difference because the water level in the house was rising faster than we could dispose of in the back yard.

Mom started emptying the cupboards in the living room into the kitchen counters as I carried what I could upstairs. It was coming to about seven o’clock and Dad had not come from the office yet. The maid was off already so it was just I, mum and Christine my sister who was older by three years.

Soon mum asked Christine to sit because she was starting to get in the way. I know she wanted to help but her mental sickness (I was not told the exact disease) made it difficult for her to comprehend instructions. It had almost been a year since she had been diagnosed. She was losing her memory steadily with the dawn of each day. It was painful to watch her forget a lot of the things worth remembering. Her illness caused physical deteriorating too. The doctors had said she would heal when she turned 17 however she sadly passed on five years later at the age of 20. None of us went to the funeral because we received the news of her passing on Christmas Eve 2003 that she had passed on four months prior. Christmas 2003 was bittersweet. I was happy I was having Christmas in Uganda for the first time and yet it was sad that I had lost my sister.

The water was rushing in at a faster rate than I could keep up with and I didn't have time to sit with Christine, so I put on a movie for her upstairs and I rushed back down to retrieve valuable items like family albums, electronics and books. Mom was struggled to walk through the water to hand be things. It had now gone above her ankle. I moved as fast as my little legs could carry me while hold­ing onto as many things as I possibly could carry at a go. I might have fallen down a couple of times on the wet stair case but at the time I didn’t feel any pain. All I saw and felt was what needed to be done.
In the backyard, behind the bushy fence, a gentle stream that flowed into greater Nairobi was becoming violent as it filled up. The water from the stream was starting to make its way onto the lawn as the water from rushing in from the front door filled the house. We were trapped. It was now the ultimate race against time.
As I stood in the back yard, trying to figure out what to do next, Eve our neighbor who was in the ten grade came knocking at the front door. As usual, she was home alone as her dad who was a business­man was away on a long trip. The water level had significantly risen; it had reached my knees.
Without hesitation, I tried opening the door but the levers were stuck. My Mom rushed to help and on the count of three we yanked it wide open. We were both thrown back by a big wave of water that gushed in, which had previously been blocked by the front door. It was like opening Pandora’s box. The water level rose to about 3.7 feet. For a second, I almost regretted my decision for opening for Eve however when I saw how freighted she and her dog were, I felt sad. She was handling the nightmare all on her own. At least I had Mum and Christine with me. They were not the toughest how­ever they did provide emotional comfort which was more than Eve had.

Soon the sofa sets floated away towards the back door, I was panicking as mom tried calling dad but the land-line was down and she didn't have a mobile phone by then.
It was getting dangerous to stay in the house. To our luck, our neighbors in the opposite house came to invite us to take refuge at theirs. There was no use staying my mother emphasized. Most of our property downstairs had already made its way to the back yard and into the neighbor’s whose wall had collapsed.
 As we walked out of the house against the tide towards the neighbor’s house, holding hands, I remembered I had forgotten Christine. I rushed back in to get her. She was standing in the middle of the living room, scared, alone and shivering. When I called out her name she became confused and instead started walking towards the door leading to the back yard. Out there it was like a wild sea. Sofas floating and dirty water filled with silt from the river. She was getting closer to the door and my slippers were stopping me from moving as swiftly as I wanted or needed to. I closed my eyes, held my breath and took one for the team, diving into the dirty brown water to swim towards her. A few strokes and I found myself at the door but she was nowhere to be seen. I tried reaching for the porch light but before I could turn it on, I was hit hard by a book shelf, throwing me back into the water.

More than downing, I was scared I was going to lose Christine. I swam into the back yard where thunder and lightning now ruled the skies.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Where religious folks are getting it wrong

Jackie's status update "WEEPING MAY ENDURE FOR A NIGHT BUT JOY COMETH IN THE MORNING! We celebrate our Pastor's New ride! We rebuke all the spirits of religion, poverty Sadducees, hypocrites and the rest! 2 years back he was battling a court case that ashamed his family and now the scriptures are so right. Joy indeed cometh in the morning. It's funny how we believe that because Jesus lived as if poor, he was poor, where did the Gold silver and precious stones that the wise men gave to him, scripture tells us that he became poor that we might b rich. Not that we live in poverty like religion teaches us. Then why did he defeat the devil at Calvary. I can't wait to be RICH. It's ok for Sudir & the rest of u to ride such cars but our spiritual parents the world prefer them to ride in broken premios, we refuse the spirit of poverty and we uproot it in Jesus' name"

My comment “It’s very sad that Christians cannot read between the lines. Like they say, the church in Africa is a mile wide and an inch deep. As a pastor, driving a big car 
does not inspire people, it instead pushes them away which is counter to his purpose in life. You know why he is driving an SUV? Because he is the smartest guy 
in the room. A leader, not a follower." 

Coming across this picture of Pastor Kayanja’s new car with a followers status update, I was deeply disturbed by what religion had come to. It’s not okay to buy a car worth $70,000 while 60% of the congregation lives on less than one dollar a day. But beyond the flamboyance, it highlights the problem of religion; blind obedience. Because, you see, a religious leader will encourage followers to practice  a given a set a values to be practiced in a strict sense and they sound convincing/honest/selfless/inspired because usually they have something to gain from the followers.

In my spiritual journey, I have been wrestling with the question of religion as the answer to spiritual fulfillment and my analysis is that religion as a practice divides people because it encourages followers to obey a strict set of beliefs and hate anything/anyone that goes counter to them. Last Sunday in a Pentecostal Church, the pastor was praying against evil and Catholics made the list!

If Christians are still dividing themselves up in denominations, it’s less likely that peaceful living is possible.
Considering the war in the Gaza that nobody really wants to talk about, it’s not surprising that great deals of people have taken sides. Their choice largely influenced by religious affiliations.
Which is why the end of the war is less likely now, as the rest of the world blindly fuels it with hatred and partisan which blurs our ability to see through the smoke screen, that a child, around nine of age in that part of the world has dreams of becoming a doctor one day. No amount of hatred or political/religious orientations can justify the death of another human being, not matter what.

And like culture or politics, religion can be used in the same way to ignite people towards a cause, which usually can be rightfully justified in Holy books. Can you imagine Muslim extremists are killing tens of thousands of people a year, believing it is justified and necessary to enter paradise?

When asked if the world would be a better place without religion, Wole Soyinka responded in the Al-jazera interview, “My fear is that the devil finds work for ideal hands. If you take away religion, even something nastier will take its place… I am tired historically of the amount of havoc religion has done to the world and is still doing. I believe that religion should be very personal. State should not interfere in it because the amount of money and resources spent on religion is staggering.”

My advise to especially Christians is to follow only the teachings of the Bible, which have been consistent for more than a thousand years and not to find spiritual fulfillment in denominational teachings which can easily blur the intended message of Christs love. After all, they are led by humans, who are not perfect and often have selfish ambitions, ready to prey on followers into submission. 

And everybody should also come down, religion is nothing but a set of personal beliefs and if we are letting it divide us, we are missing our true purpose of existence which is to love one another and make the world a better place. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How I got into film

I picked an interest in film in high school after enrolling for an after school program which taught the basics of camera work and broadcast dynamics at a local TV network in Pasadena, California. Since then I have worked on my art of telling stories through film, teaching myself what I needed to learn at the time to achieve constant improvement. After working a few odd events, I finally started making a few bucks on the side in A’level and by the time I was applying to University, it was apparent that mass communication was the next best thing to film.
At university I continued to teach myself, noticing that class was not as beneficial as I thought it would be. I have a pragmatic approach to things and naturally, in second year I joined the UCU film club, which was a collection of students that were passionate about film. A week after its inception, I pitched the idea of making a University podcast that informed and educated the student community on events happening around campus. With a great team, we managed to air six episodes in the dining hall every Wednesday of what was left of that semester. It was a unique project because I got the opportunity to create a product that required constant input from each member of the team, who worked so hard to ensure we had a weekly podcast. It didn’t take long for the podcast to be featured in the University newspaper, the standard and soon after advertisers were interested.
In the midst of the initial success, the vision for it was starting to take on a different directions, in the sense the University wanted some control over it which was why we started it in the first place; to tell our own stories our way. We wanted to tell stories which the University funded newspaper was too shy to tell. After that semester, I quit the show and it was difficult to kill ‘my baby’ however it had served its purpose which was to unite the film club with a single project. And not long after the club won its first contract from the student government to shoot a commemorative documentary for the outgoing Vice chancellor then, Steven Noll. The deadlines were ridiculously impossible to achieve but thanks to the template CTV (Campus TV as we referred to it) had created, it was much easier to implement. A week later when it was showing at his farewell dinner, it hit me that what I really wanted to do with my life was to make awesome films.
It took me another before the same conviction translated into action when I went back home after my finals to tell my dad I was moving out. It was a pretty stupid thing to do at the time because all I had was a duffle bag of clothes, an HP laptop and maybe 15,000/- in change with nowhere to go. However I had made myself a promise, that if ever I didn’t know what I was truly doing, that  as long as I was becoming a better film maker a photographer, that I would be fine somehow in my future.
It has been a remarkable journey which led me to start a film company with my classmate Carlos and we are still making films. Working to ensure that the next film is always better than the last, with the hope it will pay better too.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What overachievers can learn from underachievers

Over the weekend the announcement came that my film had emerged runner up in a film competition for exchange programs held in the United States. It was  exciting news and I bragged about it among my friends however it did not take long to start pondering why I didn't emerge first or why it wasn't an academy award because that's more important. And therein lies a big problem that overachievers face; wishing for more. I call it the the achievers complex.

Spending time with friends who may be considered  not-ambitious has taught me that success is important, though not nearly as important as the experiences and people in our lives who make it fun. In our group conversations, my friends who were not career hungry had more interesting stories to tell. My stories were boring because I couldn't tell a story more than the one involving the celebrity I met at cocktail party the previous weekend. 

Looking at what drives and inspires them, it became apparent that their values and mine were slightly different. While society often frowns at them because it natures them right from an early age to be competitive, they have discovered that the secret to happiness isn't in the numbers but the heart which they follow with a vivid imagination to worlds end.

Underachievers are known for turning hobbies into their full time carriers which  often doesn't not pay much like pompous jobs but they some how get by. Happily, quietly and content. They have discovered the formula for happiness which in contentment, witnessed each day as they realize that less is always more.

But more importantly they value a shared life filled with laughter, joy and happiness, which when summed up equals to life's experiences. Than fame, popularity or respect.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why men beat women in Uganda (and its totally okay)

A survey conducted in 37 countries in Africa found that Uganda scores the highest percentage of Men aged 15-49 years who consider beating their wives okay as reported by New Vision.
This is a startling fact considering that we are referred to as a peaceful nation, the pearl of Africa at that. Are we secretly harboring our fears and disappointments from the world during the day only to unleash in the middle of the night? Valid questions we need to ask ourselves.
I was lucky to be brought up in a family built on the principals of love and understand. I had never quit comprehended what domestic violence entailed until I moved into an apartment, with a neighbor over the fence that fought with his wife regularly. It was like clockwork, at 4:00am I would wake up to screams of insults, loud door slams and the cry of a woman and children. Sometimes I sat up to imagine what was going on over there. It was nasty and sometimes their neighbors came out to intervene even though it continued to happen.
In the morning when I walked over to the same compound to hitch a ride with my coworker, my heart always sunk as I looked at the ‘fighting’ couple’s twins, waiting for their kindergarten shuttle to pick them up. I thought of the two beautiful angles that were exposed to frightening visuals and sounds of their parents thrifts at night, instead of being fast asleep, dreaming about rainbows and butterflies. Perhaps the saddest part is children like that are trapped in their parents dark cloud of poor choices and there is no one like social services at their aid. I imagine what kind of example the parents are setting for their daughters. As they grow, their character will most likely have two extreme traits; defiance or submission, neither of which are desirable traits of the future African women leaders our continent should aspire to promote.
Uganda is a classic case scenario of a country that is facing the after math of women emancipation and empowerment. As a society, women are below men in social-cultural hierarchy and we have historical practices that support the notion. For example Women in Uganda are under obligation in most tribes to; kneel while greeting/talking to men, eating last, staying in the background at gatherings and are certainly not allowed to echo their grievances in public especially if they contradict popular belief.
Modern times have not made life easier for women either, to play a lead role without feeling victimized. Many schools in Uganda ban girls from growing their hair, subjecting them to regular haircuts like boys, yet hair is the pride of a woman. Over time this plays against women’s self-esteem so much that at about their teen years, men can easily take advantage of them by filling missing void of self assurance and it plays to men’s favor to find a be withered woman of low standards because she makes the perfect victim for battering. Why? Because she doesn’t think much of herself and blindly obeys the man because her own voice was drowned out years ago.
For the man, the glory days of complete dominance are coming to an end and he does not like it. Na├»ve to him, beating his lady is a way to ensure the status quo remains for as long as it can as the reality sinks in that education has made it possible for women to own fancy jobs that command respect and in some instances earn her more than him. It’s a douchey way to live though. True manhood is based on the principal of mutual respect and trust fostered through a mutual understanding, not brutal coercion.
I think we as men have to come to grips that our error of dominance has come to a sad end and we have to redefine what manhood is and what it stands for without changing our inherent role that we have served over generations of supporting and supplement our women as a duty.