The Journey

A Diary of my Pursuit of Life\’s Best

LAST MAN STANDING

I have often dreamed of a far off place
Where a hero’s welcome will be waiting for me
And the crowds will cheer, when they see my face
And a voice keeps saying this is where I’m meant to be

In the 1997 film, Hercules, a young man finds himself alone and lonely. Born with incredible strength, Hercules finds himself unable to fit into a society of mortals and discovers that he had been found with the symbol of the gods around his neck. Hercules wonders whether the gods may have the answers behind his past. He decides to go to the Temple of Zeus and it is during this journey that he sings of his dreams of a hero’s welcome. The song Go the Distance eggs him on and keeps him focused on his goal.

As I watched Hercules travel the untrodden path, I listened to the words of his powerful song. I head his determination. I believed that his physical strength and his strength of character would carry him to his hero’s welcome. Eventually it did and Hercules earned his place in the realm of the Greek gods.

Recently, a television programme evoked the memories of Hercules’ hope song. Last Man Standing is a reality TV programme about culture, character and competition. In each episode, 6 men are pitted against one another to experience different cultures and fight. They don’t only fight to win – they fight to be the Last Man Standing.

In some episodes, brute force separates the men from the boys. Using strength and technical aptitude, each man is required to floor his opponent in the shortest possible time, ensuring that the opponent’s contact with the ground is indisputable. In other episodes, weapons such as clubs will drive the fighter’s cause. Sometimes it is necessary to draw blood from the opponent. To render him helpless. To render him weak.

Sometimes it is the mind that wins. When the opponents are required to run 25 kilometres up a mountain in the blistering heat, you can see the weight of their task written all over their faces. The gravity of their assignment is compounded by the rubber sandals that they wear – and the small wooden ball that they are required to kick and never lose sight of as they run the race. As if this is not enough, they must watch out for slithering serpents whose venom can render them incapable of competing for their honour. These tasks are not about strength of the body. They’re about inner strength. They’re about perseverance.

After competing by day, the men are required to immerse themselves into the culture of the natives of those distant lands. They are required to earn their keep by doing the jobs that men do in these cultures. They shed their fighting instinct and clothe themselves in the cloak of duty – doing everything they can to experience the essence of that culture.

They forget the competition and build camaraderie. They talk. They laugh. They celebrate birthdays. With each episode, the audience is taken through what it means to compete. What it takes to be the last man standing. To remain in the running, each man must exhibit character. He must be strong. He must endure. Like Hercules, he must dream of the hero’s welcome and do everything it takes to be found deserving.

I am certain that each man, in his own words, embodies another verse of this amazing song:
And I won’t look back, I can go the distance
And I’ll stay on track, No I won’t accept defeat
It’s an uphill slope, but I won’t lose hope
‘Til I go the distance and my journey is complete.

This is my inspiration to keep fighting.

June 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Anaconda

Have you ever been so frightened that your heart missed a beat? That your mouth went dry and your brain lost all sense of place and time?

I have.

Until that sunny Sunday afternoon, these 3 phrases were mere figures of speech to me. After I met the Anaconda, I realised that they had been coined from experience. The Anaconda is a large South American snake that kills its prey by constriction. In South Africa, the Anaconda is also a roller coaster that can make you pray and cause your heart to constrict.

It was the last day of our trip and Eleanor had taken her sister and me to Gold Reef City – a trip she promised we would never forget. Upon our arrival, we went straight to the queue leading to the Anaconda. A queue that was not straight at all. It curved and curved, continued under a waterfall and eventually stopped at a gate. We began the Great Trek, snaking our way to the front of the queue and killing time with complaints and conversation – complaints about the length of the queue and conversations about our expectations of the ride.

Almost 2 hours later we got to the waterfall. In the distance we could see our prize – the orange machine that would take us on the ride of a lifetime. From the right we could hear the waterfall and feel the soothing stray droplets on our sun-scorched skin. Above us we could hear the Anaconda and its terrified victims. We could see it cruise along its course, turning this way and that, and looping around the final circle before it went back home to roost. We could see the passengers disembark, relief written all over their faces as they prepared to proceed to calmer territory.

Our anticipation heightened. Our excitement was palpable. Suddenly, it began to rain. It was not the soft stray droplets from the waterfall. It was not the pitter patter of raindrops from a passing cloud. It was big fat raindrops from clouds that stood still above us. The rain was going to complete its course.

By this time there was only one group that stood between us and our adrenaline high. The group that was bound to board. The group that didn’t board because safety regulations required the rain to stop and 40 minutes to elapse before the Anaconda could move again.

Imagine our dismay! Imagine seeing our dreams – so carefully built over the hours – snuffed out like a flickering candle in the midst of a storm. We lost hope, but Eleanor, bless her soul, encouraged us to wait. Eventually the rain subsided and because some disheartened travellers had given up on their journey, we were the first ones on the queue!

We took our seats. We buckled up. We embarked on the 100-second ride to the other end of the rail. Chug. Chug. Chug. We inched our way up the rail, made it to the top and stopped. Way below we could see the rest of South Africa. The traffic. The tiny houses. The rest of Gold Reef City all around. Suddenly we began the steep descent along the rail that dropped almost at a right angle from the top of the incline. That was when my heart stopped and my mouth went dry. At that moment, the only word that I could remember was, “Mummy!” We cruised along the rail gripping our seats. Screaming at the top of our voices. Wishing we had never boarded the Anaconda.

The Anaconda was now hanging from the rail and we were hanging on to life. It seemed like we had been on this ride forever. We took the loop. 360 degrees of palpable fear. Adrenaline pumped through our veins. Our screams shattered the calm atmosphere. We held on tighter. We prayed that the ride would come to an end.

After what seemed like eternity, we slowed down and stopped. We disembarked, satisfied that the ride had lived up to its name. Our expectations had been met and exceeded and we would remember the thrill of the ride for a long time to come. We had lived to tell the tale. What remained was to tell the tale and tell it well.

My task is done.

April 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Get Riding!

“I am Kane. I will help you.”
“By the power of Greyskull, I am Shera!”

These are two of the phrases I looked forward to week after week and discussed religiously in school, after the programme was aired. Kung Fu – the story of a Buddhist monk and his apprentice, who fought evil and triumphed over it with ease, and Shera – the cartoon story of a woman who also fought evil and triumphed over it.

And then there was “Lone Ranger … Away!” The cartoon character who rode a horse and rode alone in open country. He fought evil too! I remember how his horse always reared before it galloped off to their new assignment, how his lasso looped in his targets and how he made this task seem so easy! They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery … so I tried to flatter him but fell flat on my face in my attempts. The rope never became a lasso and my right arm hurt for days on end after my attempts. But, the Lone Ranger ignited my fascination with horses and every romantic novel that painted Romeo as a knight astride a horse fuelled this fascination.

In 1999 I rode a horse for the first time and promised myself that I would own one in the future. But it was not until 2007 that I began to translate my intentions into actions. The first step to owning a horse is, of course, to learn how to ride. So I began taking classes. Learning to ride begins with a walk. After a while, you graduate into trotting, and then cantering, and finally, you can gallop! There are lessons to be learnt at each stage – how to saddle and unsaddle your horse, how to mount and dismount, how to hold the reins and how to kick your horse so that he can move faster.

There are also subtle lessons – like how to pat your horse so as to encourage him, and how to groom and feed him when your lesson is over. Finally, there are lessons to look forward to in the future – like looping lassos and show jumping. It goes without saying that there are some lessons that one has to learn for lack of choice. These include how to laugh the day after your lesson without feeling as if you want to cry and how to mount the horse when you know that dismounting invites the misery of aching muscles and a funny gait.

These lessons aside, my riding experience has also taught me lessons in life. Firstly, unless you own it, don’t always ride the same horse. You’ll get used to it and riding a new horse will become difficult. This principle can be applied in any facet of your life – your job, the house you live in and what you do for leisure are good starting points.

Secondly, if you own the horse, you must nurture it; otherwise it will grow weak and die. Nurture your relationships with those you love and take time to develop these relationships. Learn new things about your job and discover how you can improve the quality of your work, and do not leave your talents to wither and die.

Thirdly, you must learn to test your limits. It’s not enough to master the trot and keep trotting for the rest of your life. You must take the risk of cantering and galloping, and celebrate your mastery of one of the world’s most noble sports. Being comfortable with your current situation is never enough. The reward often lies in going beyond your comfort zone.

And if you just want to ride without thinking of the lessons in the riding, you must look forward to the thrill of being seated 6 feet above ground level, at the mercy of your hands and feet. You will be excited by the adrenaline rush that comes when your horse begins to move, slowly at first, and then faster and faster. When the wind begins to blow in your face and your hair, you will marvel at the speed and grace with which you and your horse move, in harmony, with all your troubles taking a back seat so you can savour the moment. Your heart will race as you let your hands and feet guide you and your horse through rough and smooth terrain, through canters and gallops, and eventually, back to the stables where you will dismount and begin to dream about your next such experience.

You will talk about it with your friends and you will suffer from it with your muscles. But every moment of muscle agony is worth enduring for the measured moments on horseback. So next time you’re wondering what to do with your Saturday morning, try some excitement and Get Riding!

February 18, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Memories Are Made of This

So, I’m a Toastmaster in Kenya. Toastmasters is a club that teaches communication and leadership skills through a learn-by-doing approach. My latest speech project was The Roast and I roasted my dad. It was great fun – I enjoyed being at the lectern and I managed to get him and the rest of my audience in stitches.

The speech has bits and pieces of humour that I picked from various sources that I had to tweak to make the speech work …

I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed crafting and delivering it!!!

There are millions of definitions.

There are probably as many definitions of a father as there are people in the planet. My favourite one reads, “Father: A banker provided by nature.”

I present to you family bank!

My father is an extremely generous soul. A man of his word, he is a strong believer in impeccability, industry and integrity. Rather than lie, he will use a quick-witted response to get out of a sticky situation or drive his point home.

I recall the day I brought home the worst report form in my life. Squinting to make sure he was seeing the right thing, he said to me, “At least this report form shows that you haven’t been cheating.” What an optimist!

I also remember us leaving the house late one morning – on my account. Ever the gentleman, he did not utter a word about my tardiness. However, he was a bit too enthusiastic on the accelerator and was stopped by a policeman.

“I’ve been waiting for a driver like you!” boomed the officer.

“I know, officer – I got here as fast as I could.” We got off scot-free, but he was a bit shaken by what had been a very close brush with the death of his career as a bank.

A while back, he got involved in a debate on healthy living…what to eat…the value of exercise…how to live. Suddenly, he said, “Look at that elephant. It’s fat! Can you believe that all it does all day everyday is eat vegetables and walk?? And look at the cheetah. It eats herbivores (also known as processed vegetables) and it runs!”

That elicited a “You want to die young?” from his friend.

“No … not at all. I want to die happy!”

When I was growing up, my father always told me, “You must always leave the house looking your best – dress for the occasion”. He set a fine example. One Sunday morning, I woke up to find him dressed to the nines. A bit puzzled, I asked him what the occasion was. “It’s Sunday, sweetheart.” I’m going golfing and I’m looking my best. Just before he left, I noted that he had a ‘potato’ in one sock. I thought it dulled his outfit. “Don’t worry, my dear – a hole-in-one is a very prestigious affair in golf. I’m just dressed for that occasion”. That day, he hit a hole-in-one and doesn’t wear holes-in-one anymore.

It would be unfair if I concluded this speech without telling you about my latest experience with my favourite banker. Over the holidays, my phone gave me lots of trouble. I whined about it at every opportunity, if only to have my family share my misery. This year, my father bought me a beautiful phone and I am eternally grateful. Next year, I hope that my car will give me trouble.

My father celebrated his birthday last week. His face shows it a little, his head shows it a little more, but his heart shows his age most of all. I know that every wrinkle, every little white hair and every lost white hair will be evidence of the joy that comes from giving and the fulfilment of giving unreservedly. And so, I say unreservedly, I love you and am extremely proud to be associated with family bank!!

February 11, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

A Toast to 2009

A TOAST TO 2009

 

Here we are!

 

Here we are at the end of a year that challenged us beyond our wildest imagination.  Here we are to celebrate the mending of fences broken by hatred and the rebuilding of bridges burnt by ignorance.  Today, we share in the joy of regarding each other, once again, as brothers and sisters, as parents and children, as friends and fellows.

 

How we looked forward to 2009.  How we waited for something new … something fresh … something INVIGORATING!  Didn’t we wonder how Kenya would survive the turbulence we witnessed?  We had lost faith in our leaders, we lost had faith in each other and we lost faith in ourselves.

 

But here we are 12 months later.  In our hands we hold the keys to our destiny.  We hold the chance to clink our glasses to love, to hope and to prosperity.  Some of us have made resolutions that we intend to keep.  Others have made resolutions we know we cannot keep.  However, we have all made them in hope – and that hope will carry us through 2009 and into the second decade of the 21st Century.

 

As we stand on the brink of this important bridge to our future, let us do so with anticipation.

 

Let us dream – because our dreams challenge us beyond our limitations and inspire us to do great and glorious deeds.

 

Let us dare!  Let us step beyond our limitations and prejudices to heal our nation and change the world.

 

Let us dance.  Let us move to the rhythm of our success and to the music of our laughter.  Let us become partners in the ballroom of brotherhood and move in synchrony to the wonderful beat of life.

 

When the fireworks have died and the celebrations are forgotten, let us not forget what makes us who we are and who makes us what we are.  Let us take some time to do the things that matter – and a little more time to say the things that matter.

 

In 2009, may we step out and step up!  May we make our own fireworks and celebrate the colourful displays of our successes.  And when the curtain falls on this wonderful year, may we gather here, once again, to celebrate love for life and love for love’s sake.

 

To 2009 – the first year of the rest of our lives!

January 14, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

For the Love of the Game

“Offside!  Offside!  OFFSIDE!!!”  I would shout those words with all the verve that my little lungs could afford, every time my opponent stood behind me on the pitch and there was no one between the goal and us.  I was 13 and I didn’t know exactly what the word meant, but I had a rough idea.

 

When I supported Manchester United for the first time, it was because out of a group of 6 people who were discussing an upcoming match at the time, 5 were Arsenal supporters.  Fortunately for me, the Red Devils walloped the Gunners 5-1 in that match.  My understanding of soccer speak and my love for the Reds have grown since then.  My comprehension of the interaction between soccer and the law has also increased.  I discovered this after this year’s Champions League Final when I heard the story of 3 footballers from different teams who got arrested in a Muslim country for possession of alcohol.  Upon hearing who the culprits were, the king called for them and said, “You’re very fortunate that it’s my birthday and I’m a soccer fan.  For those reasons, you won’t suffer the death penalty but 10 lashes of the whip each.  Before that, I will grant you one wish each”.

 

The Arsenal player went first and said, ‘I’d like a pillow strapped to my back.’  His wish was granted and the punishment went well until the 4th lash, when the pillow disintegrated.  For the 2 minutes that followed, Cesc Fabregas was beside himself with tears.

 

The Chelsea player went next and requested that 2 pillows be strapped to his back.  His wish was granted and all was well until the 7th lash, when the pillows disintegrated.  Didier Drogba wailed through the last 3.

 

Finally, the Man U player came to the fore and the king said to him, ‘My good man, I am a big fan of yours, so I’ll grant you 2 wishes’.

 

Christiano Ronaldo said, ‘Thank you, your highness.  I know that my friends and I committed a great crime, so I’d like to request 20 lashes instead of 10’.

 

The king, impressed by his noble request, inquired about his second wish.  ‘Strap Drogba on my back’.

 

I agree with the king that Ronaldo deserved two wishes because he plays for one of the greatest teams in the world, and he plays well.  I also agree with Ronaldo that Drogba deserved to be flogged – thoroughly, in fact – for many reasons, including the fact that he plays for another team!  Drogba behaved badly during the Champions League final and got sent off the pitch during his team’s most important match.  In my opinion, he cost his team the coveted Championship.

 

One man who would not have deserved such a flogging is Chelsea Football Club’s skipper, John Terry.  Not only did this man lead his team to their first ever Champions League final, but he did this against the odds.  Chelsea did not have an impressive record at the first stages of the competition – they had an almost hopeless record. 

 

But John Terry played every match with all he had.  Maintaining his commitment to putting up a waterproof defence of the Chelsea net, his absence from the team was always evident in the number of goals that Chelsea conceded.  Terry maintained this commitment throughout the group stage, the quarter final, the semi-final and eventually, the final.  That is why the game went into extra time, then into the first five penalties and eventually into sudden death, which is the riskiest and most unfair way in which a match outcome can be determined.  Then John Terry slipped and his shot missed the net.  So did Nicholas Anelka’s.  That was how Chelsea’s fate was determined and that was how Manchester United beat Chelsea to second place in the Champions League.

 

Despite my joy that Manchester United beat Chelsea to second place yet again this year, I find that Chelsea as a team and John Terry as a man, deserve commendation for a job well done.

 

Here was a team that had lost their prized manager, Magic Man Mourinho, because he could not take them to the Champions League final.  Here was a team that showed remarkable vision when Chelsea continued with their impressive performance under the stewardship of Avram Grant.  Here was a team that over the years had established itself as a star-studded outfit with remarkable agility and humility.  Whenever there were stars on the pitch, there were stars on the bench.  Yet these stars never grumbled and never underestimated the latent power of their opponents to surprise.  So they cheered … they encouraged … they rejoiced whenever their team scored.

 

This is the spirit that carried them through each stage of the competition to their first Champions League final – and therefore to history.  And this history could not come at a better time.  This remarkable final went down in history as one of the longest finals in history, one of the only games where a team’s favourite striker was sent off the pitch for indiscipline and one of the only games where the team captain missed a penalty.

 

Still, I would be careful to fault these men – Didier Drogba and John Terry – because throughout the competitions they maintained the spirit of the game … the spirit of winners.  It did not matter what the critics said about their performances – especially the dismal ones.  It did not matter which star was on the pitch and which one was on the bench.  It did not even matter how well or how badly they had played at the last match.

 

What mattered was that they were still in the game, and that they were playing to win.  And play they did – and win they did.  Because even if they missed the Championship by a whisker, they earned the respect of many people around the world, by playing fair and playing well.  Even if they missed another title this season by as narrow a margin as the last they remained true to their ideals and committed to their cause.  And even if Avram Grant lost his job as Chelsea’s manager soon after this surprising defeat, he had left his mark in history by taking Chelsea’s flag to a new frontier – and doing so in remarkable style.

 

That’s how easy it is to win.  All you need to do is have a clear vision of where you want to be and make it your mission to realise your vision.  But so many times we get distracted – by the little voices that whisper, “It’s impossible”.  By the little failures that should serve to strengthen us rather than to break us.  By the successes that make us forget our visions and cause us to live without any new sense of challenge or direction.

 

That is not what we are here for.  We are here to be the best that we can be.  For this reason, we cannot afford to become like every other person who has resigned himself or herself to mediocrity

 

It’s a game and we must play until the whistle blows.  And when the whistle blows and the curtain falls, we must be certain that our spectators will say, “Hats off!  You were the man … or woman … of the match.”

August 14, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Remember, Reflect; Remember, Respond

(Phone rings)Hello?  Oh … hi!  Nothing much … I’m just driving to a meeting.  Hey … I’m almost at the roundabout and I can see a policeman.  Can I call you later?  Thanks.  Bye!

Did you know that over 1 million deaths in a year are caused by road crashes?  Did you know that 70% of these fatalities occur in developing countries?  Did you know that the World Health Organisation ranked road crashes as the 9th leading cause of mortality and disease?

During Hon. Michuki’s reign as Minister for Transport, we seemed to have reined in road carnage.  Almost immediately after his transfer from the Ministry, we let loose.  Like lunatics.  Away with seatbelts.  Away with sobriety.  Away with speed limits.  Away … with every caution that had managed to tame the beast.  Isn’t it amazing how our caution could be so easily transformed into nonchalance?

But wait!  Are we really nonchalant?  Perhaps we are just uninformed.  Either that or we are irresponsible.  The options are not easy, but unless we see ourselves as we are, we will continue to blame others for rogue roads.  So what measures can we use to classify ourselves and take responsibility for our deeds and misdeeds?  Many of us have used our mobile phones while driving, or while crossing the road as pedestrians.  If we did this without knowing the risks involved, then we were uninformed.  If we did this despite knowing the risks involved, then we were irresponsible.  If we do this so often that we think we are in control of the risks, then we are nonchalant.  Using your mobile phone in traffic diverts your focus from the road and impedes your reflex capacity.

Do you remember that day when you almost got late for your big meeting?  You thought you had sufficient time to get from your office to your destination, but when you looked at your watch, you almost had a heart attack!  So you dashed out and drove like crazy.  You overtook at the slightest opportunity, you jumped the traffic lights and you hooted or flashed your lights if the driver ahead of you was wasting your time.  You clogged the junctions and the roundabouts.  Basically, you were an accident waiting to happen.  Fortunately, you got to the meeting in one piece … and then you realized that you hadn’t been wearing your seatbelt!!  Your assessment is as good as mine … on that occasion, you were not very responsible.  The only way you’ll ever get to your meetings on time is by exercising discipline.  Plan ahead and do not let your commitments control you.  Control them instead.

A little wine is good for the stomach.  So the good book says.  A little alcohol, in any other form, is also good for the stomach.  But very often we forget that the key words are a little.  More often, we forget that stomach and brain are not interchangeable, and so we drink, and then we drive.  Contrary to our imagination, the car does not know its way home.  It has only one brain – your brain.  So if your brain is asleep, the car becomes an irrational and unforgiving assembly of metal.

Road crashes are preventable, and we have responsibilities as drivers, passengers and pedestrians to ensure that they do not happen.  The laws can be changed to increase the safety on our roads, but legislative changes will be insignificant if we do not change our attitudes.  We must remember that we decide whether our vehicles are beauties or beasts.  We must commit to the right decisions every waking moment.  Otherwise, we will be responsible for the impact of road carnage on our economy, our health and our happiness. 

They say the only good thing about the morning is that it ends at noon.  I think there’s another good thing about the morning … it gives us an opportunity to make our commitments.  So whenever you get up in the morning, remember to say to yourself, “today I will have the opportunity to give life and to take life.  I will choose to use this responsibility well.

March 10, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

How Does He Look?

Is he tall … is he short …
Is he fat … is he thin …
Is he smart … is he funny …
Is he fresh … is he cool?

He is perhaps one
He is perhaps many
He is perhaps none
He is perhaps all

How does he look, this man that I dream of?
How will I know if he is the one?

Sometimes I know
Sometimes I don’t
Sometimes I’m certain
Sometimes I’m not

I will see it in his eyes
I will see it in his smile
I’ll feel it when he holds my hand
I’ll know it when he stays

Sometimes I see him in my mind
Sometimes I see him with my eyes
But until the day he looks at me
I’ll wait and pray and dream of us.

November 23, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I Learn Something New Everyday

I’m currently reading a book called ‘Tis, by Frank McCourt, because it’s been on my reading list for more time than was necessary.  Today I stumbled upon a new word, Seanachie, and as I was looking for it’s meaning, I stumbled upon the Spelling Quiz for Bloggers:

http://mingle2.com/bb/view/blogger-spelling

Try it.  If you get less than 100%, get to reading extensively.  You need it more than you think you do.  Alternatively, buy a book called “Common Mistakes in English”.  You need it more than you think you do.

August 7, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Nairobi Scar

I can’t believe the hype that the Nairobi Star has created over the past month!!!

 All that for what??? A newspaper that has less than 50% of useful content!!

 What’s the colour for?

My suggestions:

  • Don’t make it an every day newspaper
  • Help us feel like we’re not wasting our time reading it

July 3, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments