Friday, 25 July 2014

Perfection is a trap

Yes, that's what hit me. It is a trap. A solid, well planned, well designed trap. We all fall for it. Not because we are stupid, but because it is subtle. It is clever, and just when you think you've escaped, it comes at you in a new way.

No, I am not talking about the perfectionists, although there's something in this for them. What I'm talking about are the prodigies. You know, the people who we point to as being very smart, very responsible; the kind of kids/adults we all want to have been and who our kids should be like. I'm talking about the ones who hold it together when people think they're going to fall apart. When no one's looking, they fall apart freely, for good and they carry on. Even when people keep staring and pointing.

We usually ask ourselves why. They were good. They had a great life, and great future. Why throw it away? You're asking. I'm answering. Simply put, they are lonely and they are alone. The two separate concepts combine to deadly effect.

Lonely and alone. Let's split them up and look at them.

Alone. In this case, the person is getting resources. Being well supplied is not difficult because they are seen as trustworthy, honourable, the picture you envision when you hear the word 'good'. But they lack people. In abundance. Everyone stays away because they clearly have it all together. They can operate with minimal supervision. No need to watch over them.

Lonely. In the cases where the great future goes to waste, the loneliness is a result of the alone-ness described above. They have nobody to confide in because the few people that come to them, come with hopes held high. Few of these tragic heroes can bring themselves to crush that hope. So they tuck in their imperfections and play along with the script. Right until they find the friends that give them the solace they've been craving, and they fall apart.

These are the results of falling into the trap of perfection. How do you fall? Very simple. Never admit failure. Never say what's wrong. Create an image and maintain it.

There maybe people who really enjoy doing their best for its own sake. Because it makes them happy because they have given it their all. On the other hand, they don't want to get sucked into being a role model. A poster child for doing well, no room for failure.

My advice would be this:

Get over the fear of success and the resulting isolation. There is no way around that, no matter how hard you try. Being alone or lonely is a matter of perspective. Do look at what you have. But remember one thing: volunteer to be vulnerable. Share what's wrong. What's not working out. Avoid living a life of quiet desperation; a life where you are drowning in your own silence because you keep waiting to be asked to speak. The price and responsibility of genius is to speak first, and to speak last. As a successful person, do not let yourself get trapped into being termed 'perfect'. Once you're in, it will be a bloody struggle to get out.

Do not let yourself be airbrushed into being perfect. Leave the cracks open to remind yourself (and everybody else) you're human. Perfection may or may not be your aim, but progress should be your goal. Progress is human, perfection is God. And you are not God. Get over it.

Monday, 14 July 2014


'...a deeper truth: that unless more men become feminists, the battle for gender equality will always be one-sided. No matter how many laws we make. A man cannot (and should not) wait until he has a daughter before he realizes how limiting society is in its expectations of what a woman can and cannot do. He must not wait until he is forced to tell his daughter to curtail her dreams and ambitions if she wants to stand a serious chance of getting married.

I hope those shackles don't grip you. I hope you have already realized that the price of being an independent, free woman means being smart enough to plan for your own future so that no one usurps it from you on the premise:
'You are still too young to know what you want'.
                                                                                                                - Leni Kadali Mutungi
                                                                                                                Excerpts From a Letter


Generosity; it is hard to receive.
When you know its exact quantity,
The cost the giver incurs.
I hesitate to stretch out my hand
in acceptance.

Generosity; I do not think I would take
as much as I do,
if I knew the price for it to flow
from one to another.
We leave accountability out of the question
and let hope into the picture.

Hope, that this complex thing
which carries neither guarantee of reward
nor assurance of profit...
for the giver at least.
But let not that end your willingness
or cease your participation,
In generosity's cycle
From giver to receiver
And (hopefully) back again.


Sometimes we need to hear words of wisdom our hearts have already spoken, words our ears heard, or thoughts that pressed themselves on our mind insistently. It is not always that we do not know what to do; in most cases the opposite is true. It is simply that the courage to act lies buried within us, like the sugar at the bottom of a cup, waiting to be stirred so that it may bring sweetness to the life within. The words heard anew, the thoughts echoed across the mind once more, and the wisdom of the heart repeated strive to move us to action. When a chance passes you once, say it is chance and move on. When a chance passes you twice, know it is opportunity come to visit. Seize it, and let it take you where you know you should be.

                                                        -- The Memoirs of a Secular Nun, Vol.1

The Song Of Bugema University

When the morning comes,
It is not for the song of birds that I listen
Nor for the blood-red, orange sunrise that I look.
It is for the street lights' glow as the natural light
given by our Lord, begins to outshine them.
Then I know that night has truly faded
And the day has began.

It is for the crackle of stones, the feel of sand under my feet
that I listen
As I head out to begin yet another day;
as we all head to class or the cafeteria one by one.
Or together, walking with a companion or a group.

The symphony I hear is one where
The sound of greetings, the sound of cars,
bicycles and motorcycles gradually entering the university,
as the day begins.

The choir of students and lecturers is heard
from classroom to classroom.
Their voices mingle, the chorus of one class
And the relative silence of another;
The mix of subjects being tackled.

I hear harmony in their voices;
The theme of education flowing
In the song of Bugema University.

The Taxi (Matatu), the Conductor, and Me (the Passenger)

Hi all,

This is a poem I wrote regarding my experience using taxis (or matatus, as our Kenyan friends call them). In it, I look at the entire scenario from the perspective of the passenger. I tried to observe and capture how we (a lot of the time) treat our conductors (and drivers). Thus the title. I do talk about the taxi, but the main focus is the passenger and their thoughts on the conductor. In this scenario, the passenger realizes that their thoughts on the conductor are out of line with what they are expected to think of him. So the poem deals with the two views at work: the one that asks the passenger to think of this conductor as a human, the other to suppress all thinking, and continue with their established way of life. The refrain 'Refuse. Play Cold. Play Dead.' refers to the passenger's response that the passenger creates, to avoid asking questions. This poem can apply to many of those who seem (or are) less well off than we are. Enjoy the read!

The Taxi (Matatu), the Conductor, and Me (the Passenger)

I watch you as you call in passengers.
It hurts to see your taxi empty;
I do so long to help you fill it up.
But I must be prudent;
If I get in now, it means I will wait
And I'm already in a hurry you know nothing of.

So I refuse. Play cold. Play dead. Walk away. Quickly. 
I don't want to see the humanity in your eyes.

The taxi is full (I got another one you see).
You are now dispensing rewards to the faithful,
albeit reluctantly, with much haggling over coins.
The faithful. The ones who cajoled, pleaded and called 
with anonymous voices, our unknown faces 
Into the taxi.
I notice that some of you are young, fresh on this streets
Relatively. I can hear it in your voices as they hover
On the edge of tears, begging, remonstrating, scuffling desperately
To get the few coins that are your due.
Refuse. Play cold. Play dead. Walk away. Quickly. 
I can't let my heart grieve over what I can't change.

The only accounts to go by are those within memory
And those are a contentious guide.
Might is right they say, and I see it at play here;
Whoever is more insistent, more forceful
Will receive their due.
I watch the gentle scuffle quickly build up into something more...
Danger. But the taxi rides away, the conductor's blood safe
For just another day. 

As I looked, I wondered. Where did you come from?
Why are you here, in this cesspool, this cycle
That keeps you where you are and me where I am.
Some of your hair is graying, your face weary already.
Have you come so far in your pilgrimage?
Or are these the scars of living a hard life?
I return to my cold, dead state. I plug my ears. I shut my mind.
I might find myself running out of this taxi; giving you the fare freely.
Nightmare, no, absolute nonsense. I can't think such things.

Tenderness within me rises
When I begin to ask if you have loved ones;
Are there people out there that need you,
that depend on you to come back with something
That will make life seem bright again?
I ask if maybe, just maybe, the outer casing
Hides a human being just like myself.
Maybe you are not just a muyaye like they tell me.
Maybe that's what I'd be, if I were in your shoes.

Your roughness with your comrades,
the vulgar language that you use,
the old scuffles with the coins.
They pull me back to reality.
You must have cheated someone, somewhere
To get where you are.
Or somebody cheated you. How can I tell?
You're no longer innocent. And I must harden my heart.

I'm within the taxi. Sometimes its got well-worn seats.
Not new, but relatively comfy.
Sometimes its only the grace of God holding broken things together.
Without which it would probably fall apart.
On occasion, you get an almost-new one.
I enjoy the ride. I smile thinking what the ravages of time
will do to this one. 

Thankfully there's a working window nearby.
I let the rushing air flow over me. 
I ignore my neighbour's discomfort. I remind myself
that fresh air is a privilege, not a right, in public transport.
I ignore the air. It frightens me to think of the speed we're going at.
I try not to realize that the door marked 'Emergency Exit' is behind my seat
And that should we crash, we'll be like fish in a can.

Every day I say a prayer for my safety, 
as well as that of my fellow passengers.
How will I survive if they don't? 
Selective miracles are things I can't really believe in.
I shout out my stop. Its not a stop really. No bus sign, for one.
But there's a silent agreement somewhere, that this is where we stop.
The taxi never gets you to your destination.
But it gets as close it can, given you're not in your own car.
And for that, I'm grateful.

I carefully count out my fare in advance.
I make sure I have coins so that he doesn't cheat me.
My heart's hard now; it has to be.
It doesn't matter that he's supporting somebody or nobody.
All I know is that I need to pay as little as I can for as long as I can.
He usually wants more money, small distances. 
That's how he makes ends meet. Makes a profit.
Why do I do this? 

Tenderness holds out willing hands to be lifted.
I refuse. I play cold. I play dead. Hard stare. Maybe.
Sometimes I dump the carefully counted coins in his hand.
And walk away. Quickly. 
Before I see his pleading eyes, his angry face. 
Its hard to argue with a retreating back I've found. 
Too few come hankering after you for more,
Unless its on a bad day.

Why are we trapped in this, you and I?
Must I fall for you to rise.
Sometimes these questions rear their head
When I pass you; calling again. 
Leaves me thinking.
'How much does a few coins do...really?'
Dangerous questions my mind tells me.
Don't think. Refuse. Play cold. Play dead. Walk away.