This Vexes me terribly…

My work at HoL is a passionate endeavour that, for the most part, brings me joy and fulfillment. It gives me a sense of purpose. But there are times when it leaves emotionally drained and overwhelmed.

Today was one of those days. I got to my house plopped on the couch and zoned out in front of the television. Later I went to the kitchen fixed myself a drink and the cried. I cried for Richard, a diabetic boy in grade one who is seriously sick with a throat infection. I am a father and I want for kids at HoL what I want for my own kids. But the situation at the moment is such that there is nothing I can do to help. And so over the last four days I have seen this boy’s health deteriorate to the point that as i write this note he cannot get out bed or even speak.

This vexes me terribly.

Before I die…


In my year in review for 2015, I wrote that I was learning to enjoy summarizing each year as it came to a close. This has not been true for 2016. I struggled with words as I sought the right way to say what I wanted to say. In the process, I have written and re-written countless material which for one reason or another didn’t feel quite right. The words and my feelings didn’t seem to come into alignment. So, today I sat down for the umpteenth time and told myself that instead of a summarizing 2016 I was going to write the first two things about the year that came to mind.

I had to get this post done today.

So, the first thing.

In 2016 I was entangled with a person who is incredibly negative. To them nothing I do seems right. I tried my best to remain positive but the negativity was driving me nuts and we would argue constantly – sometimes very intensely.  One such intense argument degenerated into a physical confrontation that left me shell-shocked. Never before in my life had I ever been in physical fight and in that moment, something had broken in me that had once been good. I was dislodged from who I believed myself to be and found myself in a place emotionally that I didn’t want to be. So, for the rest of the year I set myself on the path of healing. I figured I had a choice to make. I could let this person’s negativity control me or I could accept that they are what they are and the circumstances were what they are. I couldn’t change much of these things; but I could change myself and my attitude. Once my attitude changed, nothing this person said or did affected my emotions.

The lesson I learned from this is that there is no reason to argue with people that are constantly dissatisfied or complain. In instances when we argued I would get angrier and angrier with each word. I was reacting instead of responding. Worse still I allowed them to influence my feelings and behavior and in doing so handed my power over.

Other people’s thoughts are not our responsibility and we should be protecting our own inner space, that’s the space we have full responsibility over. But protecting our inner piece does not mean excluding ‘negative’ people around us from our lives – especially when such people are close relatives. In my experience, it has meant understanding myself and setting boundaries so that the presence of ‘negative’ people does not dislodge my stability or authenticity. This requires an ability to be generous, tolerant, and clear-headed at the same time: a unifying presence.

Now the second thing.

In mid-2016 I read about a wall installed in a public place in New Orleans that invited passersby to reflect and write their stories of things they want to do before exiting this earth. I have since learned that this wall was created by Candy Chang after experiencing a personal loss. I loved reading the responses on the wall and throughout 2016 checked what people were writing on different walls around the world (Similar installations have been made throughout the world).

Naturally, this turned the focus on me. As I read responses by others I wondered what mine would be on such a wall. As a result, I was constantly thinking about death. Perhaps because of a certain health challenge. Then in July 2016 I attended Grandma Grace’s funeral service in Muranga and the priest spoke about death saying …worrying about death is not only useless, but also makes one miss out on the life they’re living right now. He said that although it is …scary and unknown, letting it run your life was to be dead while still living. We are all going to die so do not fight the inevitable… He continued.

I found this words illuminating because there was a time when the thought of death would trigger some profound feelings of loneliness and fear. For some reason after hearing these words I gradually came to a place in my heart where I accepted that at some point death will happen regardless of how safe or health I try to be, what gods I pray to, or what science I trust in.

The lesson here is simple, I am going to die. But for now, I’m alive.

Lastly, my response on before I die board would be:

Before I die I want to love more and fear less.

I want to learn to meet people where they are and love them as best as I can.

Fueling the Intiative

I first visited Kariobangi in 2008 as part of a team that was conducting a baseline survey for a water and sanitation project by Church World Service. For the next 4 months working in the area I was struck by level of poverty in the area. Kenya was just emerging from brink of catastrophe following post-election violence occasioned by disputed 2007 presidential elections. A lot of public and private property had been destroyed in the chaos and the situation was extremely dire for many people. But there was hope, many organizations had rushed to the area to help and it seemed that at last the violence had shone a spotlight on the grinding poverty that had persisted in the area for decades unnoticed.

When I returned to the area after almost a decade – this time to work for Hands of Love – I was surprised to learn that although the situation had somewhat improved, poverty abounded still. This unfortunate continuity made me wonder what had happened to all those promising initiatives in 2008 that were supposed to empower the community and eradicate poverty.

In the last two years, I have tried to uncover why these initiatives failed and I am learning that a majority overlooked the most practical and powerful resource available for fighting poverty – poor people themselves. They failed to see people for who they really are viewing them instead as helpless. I believe this is wrong. Poor people in Kariobangi know what they want.  I know this because I have had the opportunity over the last two years to observe HoL parents, many who live in extreme poverty, collectively and individually unleashing their ingenuity and tenacity to create their own solutions. From organizing small table banking groups to help each other start small income generating projects or pay school fees for their children; to forming groups that watch over the neighborhood kids as their parents go to work; to making and selling crafts either individually or as groups. These people show up every day and do their best to support themselves and their families. They are not helpless instead they are caught up in what Ben Wisner in his book At Risk, call ‘depravation traps’ – conditions that severely limit their participation in decisions that affect their lives as well as their access to resources and information.

What we ought to do, I think, is  work to remove this ‘traps” and then fuel their initiative. Instead of imposing solutions or directing, or even empowering we should just add fuel to the already burning flame that they have.

A solemn oath to stride towards success!

I do not know how long it might take for one to be a successful person but all that I know is to fill the gap between success & failure, you must leverage your skills & not be ashamed of failings in life.

Miracle Wings

I often wonder that what is it which fiercely actuates me to put the unceasing efforts? What it could be that triggers me every time when I’m not being diligent? An appreciation or a word of praise? I would certainly lie if I choose any ’cause none of above motivates me the way failure does! It is failure that indoctrinates us when we’re wrong. Each time, learning from our mistakes takes us one step ahead from where we stand today & hence it’s no surprise that so far as we’re impassioned, no success is far away from us. I do not know how long it might take for one to be a successful person but all that I know is to fill the gap between success & failure, you must leverage your skills & not be ashamed of failings in life. Hence let us not be ill-opinionated but be filled with the light…

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Hurrah for the Next Man to Die

I had a rich relationship with my Late grandfather. My own dad being largely absent from my life, grandpa was the only male influence I had growing up. One of the many things he taught me was never to miss weddings or funerals of friends or those who are evenly remotely related or connected to me. So last so on Tuesday 7th July, though not feeling well, I dragged myself out of bed and made my way to Kiriani, Muranga, Central Kenya for yet another burial. This time grandma Grace (My grandfather’s cousin) had passed on at the age of 87 from a cardiac arrest.

Kiriani and the larger Mathioya district has a special place in my heart. My maternal grandparents were born here. Every time I am visiting and a place or some geographic feature is mentioned, I am almost always able to retrieve from my memory a story that they especially my grandfather told about that place. Location 14 as the area was known during the colonial times lies on the slopes of Aberdare Ranges. It was at the heart of Mau Mau struggle – Kenya’s independence struggle.

Last year when I was doing research for the book I have been writing since forever about my grandfather’s experience in the struggle grandma Grace was very helpful providing useful insight and perspective on many sections of the story. I meant to visit her this year but I kept postponing and now she is gone. What a shame.

Anyway she received a fitting send off. With members of Mbari ya Ihungu (Ihungu’s Clan) travelling from far and wide to pay their respect.

Fare thee well Grandma Grace.


I have been working in Kariobangi for nearly two years now. In this time, I have been witness to both good and bad things and I have learnt a lot. I have witnessed acts of generosity and kindness on a monumental scale and I have also witnessed acts of cruelty. Today I will reflect on two acts of violence that really shook me.

Walking to work on 29th April 2015 I happened upon a group of about 15 people who were seriously beating up a boy. I could tell that the boy was between 10 and 12 years and the first thing that came to mind was whatever he has done he does not deserve the beating. I quickly learned that he had stolen food and the people beating him were owners of nearby food kiosks. I was angry. This is one of the very few instances I have felt an urge to punch someone. Seriously, how could grown men – 15 of them – gang up to beat up a child. I knew I had to intervene, but I was afraid they would turn on me – as it often happens with lynch mobs. But as a teacher and a father I knew it was my duty to do something. So I stepped into the group grabbed the boy, and speaking a few octaves above my usual voice – and with as much authority as I could muster – I told the group I knew the boy and I was going to pay for the food he had stolen. “He is a child and what you are doing is wrong” I continued. Luckily they obliged and I was able to take the boy with me to the Centre where I work. It turns out the boy is an orphan living with two older siblings, on their own. He told me they had not had food the previous day and that is why he was stealing. What this boy needed/still needs is love and care and an opportunity to get an education, not a beating.

The second act of violence happened last Saturday. I had gone to work earlier than usual and the security man informed me that a man had been killed in an area where some of my colleagues and a lot of the families we work with live. So naturally I went to it check out. What I saw was the cruelest thing I have ever seen. There was a middle aged man in a kneeling position both his legs broken between the knee and ankle and twisted outwards, his throat slit, disemboweled and a rope around his neck in what appeared like a hanging. The whole scene looked like a ritual killing. This scene has had a big impact on my psyche and the last few days I have been unable to think straight. I keep wondering who he was and who killed him. I am vexed by the fact that the people who killed him may never be brought to justice. And once again this encounter has got me thinking about death and the fragility of human life. This has made me feel deep gratitude for the time I have. And it is bringing more clarity to the things that are meaningful in my life now.

Kariobangi has taught me that it is a cruel cruel world we live in, but that is not all it has taught me. It has also taught me am ready. Ready to make a difference – in my community and in other people’s lives. Ready to stand for what I know to be right. That every day I have opportunity to affect another person’s life positively, this I think is important, it makes my life meaningful.

Where the tigers were

2775165I hate when people borrow books from me and not return. On a few occasion I have been guilty of this offence myself. In 2007 I borrowed the book Where the Tigers Were: Travels Through Literary Landscapes from a friend and I am yet to return. I have read and re-read this book many times. There is something about the its style that fascinates me. Or maybe it is because its author is somebody I knew and admired.

Here is a review of the book on Goodreads

I met Don Meredith more than 10 years ago in Lamu where he lived with his wife Josie their stories of travel were very interesting. It made me want to go to places they had been to. So it was with sadness that I learned about his passing earlier this year.  Last time we met – before he left Kenya for the US – he gave me two of his books: – Varieties of Darkness which I enjoyed reading and shall be posting a review soon and Wing Walking which I just began reading yesterday.

I will make a point of returning that book soonest – now that I have an eBook version.