I suffer from chronic insomnia. My grandmother says it because I don’t pray before going to bed. My mother thinks am disturbed or take too much coffee. I have problem falling asleep and when I do, it’s not for more than three hours. And when I do, it’s not for more than three hours. After that I can’t get more sleep. Not even with all the lights out, not even when am exhausted. As a result I wake up tire and my mornings are dull. At times am drowsy or fatigued during the day, but I don’t nap. To remedy that, I rely on coffee. I am a coffee addict.  Energy drinks also come in handy.

It’s been going on for more than two and a half years but I had never given it much thought. I don’t have suicidal thoughts, am not depressed and no problems with my social life. I learnt to find a positive side to my insomnia, it leaves me a few more hours to get stuff done; mostly I write at night, read and anything else to keep me ahead.  I stay away from television and movies lest the sun will rise before I sleep.

I have heard suggestions and warnings on pill in equal measure. “Try sleeping pills”, “DO NOT ATTEMPT PILLS”. So I have been a good boy and stayed away from pills. I have heard suggestions to take a drink or two before going to bed but it hasn’t helped much either.

The more you research on insomnia, the more it scares you, the more paranoid you become. You read that it will cause you depression, unexplainable irritation and mental illness. You read that soon you will have trouble concentrating and experience memory loss. You also learn that your socializing life is almost over and you will die alone. Even digestion problems. You slowly become delusional and begin to see faults. Is my concentration at its peak? I think am loosing memory. Could it be am loosing weight because am depressed?

While researching, you come across a movie by the name Insomnia. It stars Al Pacino and is directed by award winning Christopher Nolan. It won’t make you feel better either. To quote from the movie, “day never ends, nightmares are real.”

By now you will want to get checked. I found a doctor who doubles up as a physiatrist. He has a wall of credentials. His education and experience might have cost part of his humaneness. He was excited to have an insomnia patient and use him as a guinea pig of sorts.

The shrink had the longest questionnaire ever. He wanted to know if I use any illegal drugs or if I have snoring sleeping partner. He wanted to know if I smoke and if I leave above a night club. He was curious to know if there are any mental health cases in our extended family and if I have ever volunteered for any medical research. No to all.  He didn’t end there, ever worked night shifts? No. do you have an overactive mind? Maybe. Have you been on any serious medication lately? No. Are you anxious or depressed about anything? Not that I know of. Are you cursed? Ok I lie.

The good doctor also wanted to know how many cups of coffee I down in a day, and many other personal stuff including my bowel movement and childhood. He also demanded that I have a thorough medical checkup.

I was given a two week sleeping diary and instructed to cut down on the coffee and no more energy drinks. A sleeping diary is used to record sleeping patterns. Every morning I filled in; what time I went to bed, how many hours of sleep I had, if I fell back asleep and if or not I felt refreshed in the morning. On the fifteenth day I submitted my diary for inspection. More questions followed. Then treatment began.

According to the doctor, my insomnia was chronic, dangerous and sleeping pills could not be prescribed. Pills would leave behind worse side effects and over-reliance. I was however given some pills to enhance production of a hormone called melatonin. The process would take time, too much time, patience and discipline is required. He talked of learning sleep hygiene and being put through a behavioural therapy.

With sleep hygiene I was to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time each morning but leave the bed when I cannot fall asleep in fifteen minutes. No day time naps. I was also to stay away from coffee, energy drinks and alcohol from noon. Sleep hygiene includes early dinner to ensure you are not too full when going to bed. My bed should be comfortable I should avoid too much artificial light unless am scared of ghosts. The good doctor recommended I carry a book to bed and a warm shower before bedtime.

The therapy was the hard part. It requires discipline and lots of self assurance. The therapy’s purpose is to suppress negative thoughts and worry about sleeping problems. It involves meditation, relaxation and several posters on the wall for reassurance. The behavioural therapy was also to ensure I stick to proper sleep hygiene and develop and practice better patterns. I still submit my diary for inspection every month.

Three months of “treatment” and nine more to go, change is slow, I manage between four to four and a half hours of sleep. On a good day, five hours. The days are ending albeit slowly and nightmares are only part real.

 

Soundtrack: New Kid In Town – Eagles.

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In the epic movie, Django Unchained, there is a scene where Calvin Candie tells the slave master, Stephen, “If it were a snake it would have bit me” , when he alerts him of the intentions of Django and Dr Schultz.

“If it were a snake it would have bit us”. If most of the international media houses were serpents, we would be treating a snake bite, a lethal one. They came hoping to find stories of a blood bath and pain and when they couldn’t find one, they couldn’t resist making up one. Peace, patience and calmness couldn’t make their headlines. But Kenyans wrote their own story in their own words and terms. A story of a nation about to take off.  A story of a nation willing to pay the price for prosperity. A story of millions lining up braving the sun and dust to make their voices heard. Their sun burns and fatigue worn with pride. The youth some first time voters eager to determine their future. A story of a new mother who barely an hour after delivery went out to determine her baby’s leaders.

A story of old folks tough weakened by age and disease stood in line to ensure the future was in safe hands. The old lady from little known Kiharu in Muranga, and the ailing man from Hardy, Karen who both collapsed while queuing touched millions to get out and vote, they had no excuse to stay home. The determination of people camping outside polling stations to have a chance at the ballot was a story worth telling.

It is such actions that draw the line between nations seeking progress and nations content with third world status. The spirit of the Samburu warriors walking 80 kilometers to vote shows how much further they would be willing to go for the country’s sake. Men and women blowing vuvuzelas at dawn to wake their neighbours, ensure that they are not late for their date with destiny was proof that no man is to remain in the past as the country turns a over a new leaf.

Everyone had a role to play in the ballot revolution and they played it like their life was on the line, costing some their lives. The men and women in uniform patrolled streets, slums, estates and the countryside ensuring order. Their colleagues’ demise in the line of duty was not enough to weaken their spirits; it only strengthened their resolve to overpower enemies of progress. Their martyrdom leaving behind inspiration.

Thousands of reporters and journalist stayed up for days stimulating their systems with coffee, energy drinks and a desire to tell it like it was. They ensured the revolution was televised and recorded.

Election officials worked night and day aware of the anxious millions awaiting the outcome. Even when their systems and technology failed them, they went on any way they knew how. Preachers of peace shouted, begged, pleaded, prayed, reminding Kenyans of how far we have come and how we have to get. Most of all the millions who turned out, lined up, voted and waited patiently for five days, staying up day and night, forfeiting work to witness history being made. Despite our different preferred candidates, we all want the same things; progress and prosperity. The aspirants too didn’t disappoint, despite being rivals, they addressed each other respectfully and vowed to settle their differences elsewhere.

There was Kenya before the elections and Kenya after elections, it’s only been a week and the two resemble each in terms of peace and calmness. A day of elections transformed the country into a Mecca for international journalists and reporters but now they have to leave and look for a bloody, juicy headline elsewhere. Hopefully they won’t find it.

 

Soundtrack: Get through this – Art of dying.

My grandfather passed on at the age of 88. I was angry at him for dying.  I felt that if he wanted to, he would have lived longer. See, he was strong and had all he needed if not all he wanted. He was strong, at the age of 86 he had an operation and got back up like nothing had happened. He stood at 5’8, broad shoulders and a narrow waist. Not pot, and fit as hell. He was so light that when he had flu, his nose would turn red.

When he was younger he shaved his beard every morning and trimmed his hair to the scalp. But in his last days, his beard was snow white and reached his chest and his hair flowed to the back of his neck. He would stroke his mane with so much pride you would think he had worked to earn it when all he had done was grow old. He took pride in little things, that way it would be possible to appreciate personal achievements.

My grandfather was a chef; he was a chef when only white men had chefs. He was a chef when most African men had never seen the inside of a kitchen. He cooked in restaurants frequented by white men and at their parties. That means he spoke flawless English, wore elegantly cut suits and had a taste for fine whiskey. He picked up manners from the English too; he pulled chairs, stood to shake hands and used words like ‘thank you’ and ‘please’.  From the English, he took up reading too; he read anything he could lay his hands on; recipes, newspapers, books and even publications that would get him into trouble. That way as he grew older his mind became encyclopedic. He had a place for art; he had an eye for good sketches and would sketch too. He would write us letters and at the back of the page he would sketch, a face, a farm setting or anything to make his grandchildren smile.

 

He told stories of his life so that we wouldn’t have to learn about him from an obituary in the newspaper. He told them all; the good and the bad, of his victories and his defeats, of his bravery and his cowardice. He flipped the coin both sides probably to get us through times ahead. Am not sure he believed in religion but he did believe in God and tried to be in good times with him. On Sundays he wore a tie and went to church.

When my grandfather retired, he choose to run his farm complete with a small ranch. He would go round the ranch ensuring animals were feed, watered and the sick ones isolated. He would go round ensuring the fence was in place and carried a pair of pliers to tighten loose ends. He did some of the work himself. At sunset he would stand looking out to the horizon as if looking out to see the future. At sunset he would stand in the open grassland his ranch stood in and feel the wind blow past him. He would listen to the purr of the wind like it was music. He would let it cause the tails of his long coat to fly behind him. The mild heat at sunset would cause sweat droplets on his forehead and the wind would blow them away. In those days the wind blew soothingly and calmly not like today when it slaps. He would let a slight drizzle pour on him without bowing his head.

My grandfather would return to the restaurants he had worked in, this time, he would be in imported suits and his wife in tow. He wanted to sit and eat where he had worked. He would order mostly off the menu and wait to see how much it took them. He became a critic of sorts. He would ask questions, why his soup was unnecessarily thick, why someone diced his onions angrily, why there was no fly in his soup, okay I lie. He  always asked these calmly and gave credit where it was due. My grandmother probably thought it was extravagant but the old man saw it as a stage of life.

Later on, his thirst for life seemed to start dying out. He made less trips around the ranch and cared less about his cattle, he let his hair and beard grow out, he quit buying suits, ate out less and watched the sunset only when he had guests. It’s like he was tired of living, tired of life, tired of adventure, tired of expensive suits and fine dining.  He was dying slowly. He was still warm and jovial as always. He probably felt he’d seen all there was for him to see and lived ever moment he could.

Some old men want to quit while they are still ahead. They want to die when they are alive and kicking. They are afraid to grow old and be nursed like toddlers. They are afraid to get their diapers changed. They are afraid of spending all day in bed waiting and begging to die peacefully. But it is hard for their families and minders to let them die when they please. So it is human to hold on to them and keep them alive anyway we know how. Even when we cannot save them we put in all we got. Even when they are beyond speech, beyond hearing and sight, even when their lips are blue and their tongues grey, we want to stroke them and tell them to get back up. Isn’t it best to let them be?

Soundtrack: Angels On the Moon – Thriving Ivory

 

There is more truth in poetry than there is in history, more comfort than there is in religious writings. It is in pursuit of truth and comforts that at 6 PM on a Saturday evening I take a polished staircase to a lounge on Nakuru’s Kenyatta Avenue.  Zeilabia lounge.

It is a warm evening, the sun is reluctant to set and the whole of Nakuru’s population seems to be in the streets. Twenty five or so of us are gathered in the lounge sited in a semi-circle, poets, poetry lovers, art lovers.  Most ladies are in African print sun-dresses. Beautiful dresses. Guys are in whatever they could reach first. Sitawa Wafula is before us perched on a bar-stool. She is wearing a smile, an orange African print dress and a spoon as a pendant. Her hair is styled to form an elegant but shy Mohawk.

Sitawa is a philharmonic poet. Philharmonic because her poetry because her poetry feels like music, it rhymes, nicely repetitive and rings in your head days later. Sitawa will shock you though, more than once. She will tell you she is a mental health patient. She will tell you she is a rape survivor. Most of all she will shock you because she smiles as she tells of her ordeal. She is strong and doesn’t ask for your sympathy or pity. She just wants to illuminate darkness, hers and others’.

Her poetry is like an unwritten, unpublished omnibus. She tells tales with no fear of criticism and ignorant analysis. Her poetry is a honest expression free of perceptions. But she is not made of sad tales of vanquish. She has them all; of love, of life, of laughter, of wine, of dance.

In between her poetry, she lets others tell their tales too. She lets an upcoming band charm your pants off with rhumba and zilizopendwa. She gives spoken word artists a stage too. She lets you mingle and speed date and serves you wine so that you are not tongue tied.

She is slow to anger, not even when you ask for an encore or do not clap. She is not upset when you walk out on her for petty reasons like a phone call. Not even when you poke your nose into her business on how she deals with her condition. She smiles when she agrees, she smiles when she disagrees, she hard to read.

She makes you feel like your life is burning well –even when it is not, and poetry is the ash. Worst of all she makes time fly by fast. She calls her sessions Sitawa Ignited. And no she did not pay me to write this.

Soundtrack: Seize The Day – Avenged Sevenfold

I am a Kikuyu. My forefathers were freedom fighters.  From them I take only existence. From my tribe, I take nothing. I have made myself what I am. And I would like to think so has everyone else. Without their tribes help.

When our forefathers won independence, they were dedicated to the proposition that that all tribes were equal and important. But now we engage in tribal wars and conflicts, testing whether that tribe is more deserving than the other. We engage in tribal conflicts insulting those who gave their lives that the nation may live in peace and prosperity. We cannot claim to consecrate their graves with our actions.

We have fought and by now should be tired. Our daughters and fathers have perished. We have wounded if not killed our economy and progress. Our image and reputation too. Little children and their mothers have been displaced. They are freezing out in the cold. They have no food, no shelter, and no hope. Others are among the dead.

There has probably been too much talk by men who had no right to speak. Too much influence by men who had no right to influence. Too many misrepresentations have been made and led to misunderstanding between tribes. The misery that is upon us now the influence and doings of a few men who are wary of progress and unity.

 

No tribe has the sole rights to a region. Own a region? Why not own the air and heavens too? The maker, Allah, God, The Sun, or whoever you perceive him to be, placed us in a country rich enough to provide for us all. But we loose the way often. tribalism and stupidity poison our souls, cover us with hate and lead us to misery and bloodshed. Life can be easier, beautiful and more meaningful if we ceased to live by each others misery.

The way, the only way to end this misery is for all to unite and belong to one nation. The one a nation liberated by our fathers. That we can look at each other like fellow country men and women and not as fellow tribesmen. The ‘tribalists’ and enemies of unity have been around for far too long. But just like this misery, they shall come to pass. We must avoid giving ourselves to them. We must avoid their influence and power over us. They use us. They tell us: what to do, who to like and unite with, who to hate, what to feel. They turn us into pawns. But we will not be like them. We have love for all citizens and peace. We have the power to do away with tribal barriers. We have the power to do away with ethnic hate that strengthen the barriers. We have the power to be one nation. By all means, lets use that power. Lets create a new nation, a reasonable one. A nation that will hold a promise of a secure future. Together we can plan and anticipate a less painful future, as individual tribes, we will can only expect more tension and deeper loneliness. More than progress we need unity.

There need be no trouble. Let all tribes be treated alike. None superior to the other. Let men and women be judged not by their tribes or clans but by their contribution to society. After all we are all brothers and sisters. We have the same realities, same problems, same dreams. Let everyone have a chance to grow. Let everyone feel free, free to travel, free to work anywhere, free to own property wherever he pleases. Let everyone obey the law and submit to penalties.

Let us vow to honour the freedom fighters and those who have perished in the name of conflict. Let us vow that they shall have not died in vain. That Kenya shall have a new birth, and a government of the people, by the people, for the people, all people.

We may have the structure of an unstable, weak and poor country with more expenses than revenues, but together in peace we can achieve progress that will give all citizens happiness. We can achieve victory over ‘tribalists’ and enemies of development and unity. Victory over enemies of our nation, enemies of our people, enemies of the Almighty. The world may little notice our super highways and other third world developments but it will never forget our violence and brutality against each other.

To peace activists,artists, writers, actors, leaders and all hose who strive for peace, “We shall all prevail.”

To all victims of tribal conflicts, “Do not despair, it won’t happen again.”

Soundtrack: Carry On – Avenged Sevenfold

What were you up to on the evening of December 16th Last year? It was on a
Sunday. You were probably getting ready to go to work the following day,
polishing up a presentation, completing a report. Or recovering from
weekend festivities. Or just home with your family. A young woman was
beaten up and raped repeatedly that night. Across the world, there were
probably several but one stirred the world.

 Her name was Jyoti Singh Pandey. She was Indian. She was twenty three
years old. To the world she was “the unnamed Indian gang-rape victim”. When
the protests began in her country, they called her ‘Damini’ -Lightning. She
was about to become a physiotherapist, but before she could she was thrown
off a moving bus. Before she could become a physiotherapist, she was gang
raped for an hour or so, severely beaten up and left to die. And she did,
on 3rd January in a Singapore hospital. Damini, Jyoti are just names now.

 Her story begins with her but does not end with her. Somewhere in its
course, it gets bigger than her and she ends up as just a character in her
her own story. It ceases to be her story and becomes a story about women
like her. Her story causes the world to review its battle and strategy
against raped and violence. Are we doing enough to end rape and such like                      animosities? Is it out of hand?

Her story is not the first of its kind and sadly not the last. In Kenya and
all over the world women tell stories similar to hers. Stories of women
beaten up, raped and undignified in every possible way.

 Theirs are stories of sorrow, not written by the free and easy, not
written by anyone credited with being happy. Written by victims. Like
‘Damina’ their only crime is their femininity, the impress of their makers
hands. Like ‘Damina’ their lives are almost never the same again.

Most survive the ordeal and live tell a sad tale. They somehow rise and go
from darkness to darkness carpeted with fear of predators behind and ahead.
They wrestle with horrors of unwanted pregnancies that may result to
unwanted ‘reminders’ of dark pasts. A large number face separation from
their spouses, fiances and lovers who never want to touch their bodies
again. They see them as undesirable. They are pushed to a dark corner and
are realities only to themselves to others, to others they are seen and
described as victims.

 The larger society has been keen to call to and end the violence and
justice for victims but slow to be the desired change. Daughters are
advised to dress decently to avoid provoking rapists but are young men
warned against harassment and violence well enough? Society fails at times,
instead of empathizing and sympathizing with the survivors their
vulnerability is translated into wreaking fiction. They are described as
‘inviting’, provoking or reckless. They accuse them of being drunk and
intoxicated or skimpily dressed. But there is no excuse good enough to
justify cruelties so horrible. There is no excuse to justify such
inhumanity, not exposed cleavages, not gleaming thighs.

 After the horrifying ordeals, survivors have to re-invent themselves. They
have to find sanity and revive their thirst for life. Those who cannot
drink or turn to drugs to forget. Others harden their lives into
impenetrable stones.

 After the horrifying ordeal, they have to learn to be self forgiving and
stop blaming themselves. They have to learn to live as wholly and healthy
as possible even when society is not so embracing. Surprisingly many do
survive as themselves. They are able to smile at the world, and life
again. Despite their struggles and tribulations, they are not
superwomen. they are not larger than life. They are human and they are
easily accessible. They are human and around us, all over. You meet
them undeniably strong, they do not ask for your sympathy, tears or
prayers, they ask that others may not experience what they went
through. They ask that you do everything in your ability to ensure that
young boys and girls are not robbed off their innocence.

We  may not sing praises of rape survivors and their stamina, but at
least lets salute an outstanding group in-dignified by fellow human
beings. Let’s look at them  and their lives with respect.

My friend is a genius. He has an active mind complete with Encyclopedic knowledge. He knows a lot about almost every subject. But he is not loud about what he knows. Me makes his point calmly and slowly without getting overly excited. Without an inflated value of himself. He can explain the Greece Recession and how they can get out of it or why the Boeing 787 Dreamliner Jet is over-hyped. He reads everything he can get his hands on. That way, he can explain Winston Churchill’s army tactics against Hitler as fluently as he can explain joinery in carpentry.

He is also a recovering alcoholic. He has been to rehab twice. He once checked himself out of rehab after deciding the shrink was not qualified enough. She said his alcoholism was a result of Reactive Depression but according to him it was as a result of Dysthymic Disorder. He knew too much.

He is making steps in recovery. For him recovery is not abstinence. Recovery is when you can have a glass of wine after dinner and go to bed. Recovery is control.

He started drinking not long ago but went down the drain fast. He started drinking when he was deported. He was in school abroad and got deported for an offence he says he didn’t commit. He was at the wrong place, with the wrong people. I believe him. He is a good kid. Last year, he saved a street kid from the paws of Mob justice. He begged, pleaded and bribed them. Still, he doesn’t preach of his goodness or pretend to be virtuous. He believes we are all good when it suits us. Morality is like a sword you only unsheathe when you badly need it. Like hen you are about to take advantage of an unsuspecting idiot or make a fortune from a dishonest deal.

Since getting on to the path of sobriety, he has chosen to become hairy. He has not shaven his head or trimmed his beard, he only conditions his hair and strokes his beard. Not that he doesn’t care what people think of him, an Indian authored book said it is good for his soul. It also said meditation will help him get better. So he got a mat, did some bead work and learnt to sit with his legs folded under him. He has a drawing book too, when he is not reading, he sketches. He can go on for hours. His sketches, some real, some imagined, he distributes them to kids in their neighbourhood. E reads stories to them too. They like him. Some say they want to be like him, fluent, calm and gifted.

I asked him if I could write a diary page as him, in his shoes. Its okay with him.

Dear Diary,

I am a mess. If God had a number, I would press him on what he plans to do with me. I feel like like a work in progress. I feel like one of God’s little unfinished projects. One that he will get on with when he is done with other pressing issues like Syria and everyone else in the world but me is happy.

Two days ago, I turned Twenty Five. I feel like am Forty. My soul is weary and battered. I have demons in my mind and not enough energy in reserve to fight them. My reasoning was dethroned long ago.

I didn’t celebrate my birthday. I didn’t want to . My mother and aunt did though. I sat amongst them and smiled but to be truthful, only my body was present. My mid and soul were getting tormented elsewhere. For my birthday I got a fancy time piece, if only I could get the time.

I have not had a drink in three months, fourteen days. Everyone thinks it calls for an award but I do not think it even deserves a pat on the back. I shouldn’t have been here in the first place. So am riding myself hard to get out of here. When I got back home from the garage (Rehab), my family got rid of all wine and alcohol at home. The guys fixing me at the garage insisted on it. I don’t think it is necessary though. I need to stay around alcohol and learn self control. I bought gin (350ml) and half a litre of tonic water. They are concealed amongst clothes in my wardrobe. I want to hold the gin in my hands till they cease to shake, till my heartbeat gets back to normal. I want to look at the gin every morning till I can see it as only a drink and not a destroyer. I will keep it till my reasoning takes back the throne.

The guys trying to fix me would give up on me if they knew it. But I put myself in a ditch, I will get myself out. As much as they may not like it, thats living on the edge. You keep moving or you fall off. On the edge, it is all all nothing. You take the slimmest chances,you take dangerous risks, you defy odds.

I left the garage for the second time because I did not want to wallow in self pity much less other peoples pity. I left the garage because I felt the world was leaving me behind as I was getting ‘fixed’. I needed to get back to the real world where nobody watches over you all day so that you don’t drink or don’t think.

I have been reading whatever I could find on metaphysics and spirituality. It is not complex and am fascinated by the concepts. By the time am done reading these books am supposed to be be in control. By the time am done reading these books, I should be able to give situations room to breath and develop. I should understand the universe and myself better.

All these concepts consider everything that life delivers whether good or bad as a way of measuring courage or appreciation or as a reassurance of existence or an exercise of endurance. Experiences should strengthen an individuals character and also level ego.

Am beginning to understand the reasons behind my desperate attachment to drinking. My piteous search for a way out of what I considered hopelessness only to end up a mess. All I knew back then was desperation and bitterness towards those who led to my deportation. All that locked up inside and added to self pity drove me to inflict injury on myself.

But now I realise that it is my mind that created all these problems ahead to put ‘defences’ that were of no use or need. So only I can do something to change that. It’s changing albeit slowly. Am getting through the bleakest and most despairing moment I have ever known.

Dear diary, at the end of this dark and lonely road, I will be fine. The misery will be gone.

 

Soundtrack:  Walk – Foo Fighters