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lifestyle

20 Internet Finds & Conversation Starters Vol. I : Internet Issue

FYI, as I write this post, there are more than 1.3 billion websites online on the internet since the first was  published in 1991 in Switzerland, a little less than 27 years ago. What that means is that the internet is constantly being updated with information (and nonsense) everyday, and while the average person gets to access only a very-very-very small fraction of the data on the internet, the amount of information they come across is still a lot. Thus the rabbit hole of the internet is familiar to most of us. You open a tab, see something interesting, and as you read there is an embedded link that leads you to another site, and on and on and on it goes, and by the time you take your eyes off the screen you realize you have spent 10x the amount of time you intended to spend on the net. And the worst part is that you were laughing off at cat memes and sites like Mo Farah Running Away From Things and One Tiny Hand. Thus the rabbit hole, as you find yourself hopping from one site to another, just like Alice In Wonderland.  

“…the internet is constantly being updated with information (and nonsense) everyday…thus the rabbit hole of the internet is familiar to most of us. You open a tab, see something interesting… that leads you to another site, and on and on and on it goes, and by the time you take your eyes off the screen you realize you have spent 10x the amount of time you intended to spend on the net.”

One of the reasons for this type of behavior is that the internet offers instant gratification. The other is that people are naturally and instinctively prone to time wasting, even better if it is in a way that is pleasurable, and if there wasn’t the internet, we would probably be watching and cheering on a street cock fight or in an arena watching gladiators go at each other Roman style in a ring somewhere. That is the natural disposition of human beings – gratification by some means within their environment, and the internet seems to do just that at the touch of a button. And that is why I believe it is one of the best inventions of the previous millennium/ 20th century. The Internet is an amazing resource system if you learn how to avoid its time sucking void dimension. And my intention for starting this segment “Internet Finds & Conversation Starters” is just that, to share with you sites and articles in Art & Culture, and Finance & Lifestyle that I find interesting and useful so that you can spend your time online in a more meaningful way gaining knowledge and accumulating amazing Conversation Starters. 

Art & Culture

Want to read more African Literature online? Try Brittle Paper, Jalada Magazine and Enkare Review.

There are also a ton of high quality online literature magazines out there from other continents. Some of my favorites are Granta (the short stories section), The Paris Review (the interviews section) and 3 Am Magazine (whose site tagline – Whatever It Is, We’re Against It – had me from the get go).

One more thing, there is this lady I know, they call her Anyiko Woko, who is an amazing PR agent in the music scene in Africa, and I have been reading her blog circa 2012, and this month, just last week, I was able to meet her in her hometown Molo, Kenya and her blog has gems of the who, the what and the where in the African Art & Culture scene. Have a read.

Supplement this by reading about a little known exotic and very interesting Art Gallery in the heart of Nairobi.

Lifestyle & Finance 

Would you like to enjoy your life more in this (new) year? Guess what? How you spend your time and money will determine if you will ace that intention. How to spend money and time are two things that are barely taught in school, so I am delighted to share these free online resources with you. 
Joshua Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus cracked the code on how less is more, and they help you gain insight on how to clear clutter on their blog, The Minimalists, and Joshua Becker will hold your hand to if you do ever decide to Becoming Minimalist by getting rid of unnecessary clutter in your material and digital life. And they are not the only ones in this journey, there is a whole tribe blogging about living more intentionally on a blog with No Sidebar.
Living with less means buying less, means having more money to spend on what you care about. But that is hard to do if you are in your twenties or thirties, and have no or little clue on how to pay off your student loans, or debts, or how to save and invest. Try moneyunder30.com even if you are over 30 and you could learn a thing or two about how to pay off debts and how and why you should invest
I know the holidays are over, but you could still use these 10 frugal ways to spend your leisure time in a meaningful way. 
***
Photos by Lorraine Wangari, Edits by Daisy Moraa, Location- Garden City Mall.
Just in case it eluded you, Links are in CAPS so hover your mouse over them and click. Thank you for reading & remember to share this with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and elsewhere! 
Until next time! Bye!

My Top 12 Favorite Poems

I discovered the sweetness of poetry when I was in class 6 or 7, at about the age 11 or 12, when on one holiday break, I came across Ecclesiastes 12 at the back of one of my brother’s books. Back then, I did not know that the text could be classified as poetry, and than in fact the chapter of Scripture itself, is a poem as it is loaded with imagery and metaphor. It was not until high school that I properly became acquainted with poetry, and by then, I had already became one at form one at the age of 14 – how that came about is a story for another day that I will tell in due time, but by the time I was done with high school, The Grass will Grow by Jonathan Kiariara was one of the poems I loved tp read and reread for its sheer simplicity and gravity.
The gap year between high school and uni saw me reading through anything and everything that I could lay my hands on, and this was the time I discovered Facebook and the Internet, and watched the phenomenal film “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, an adaptation from Ntonzake Shange’s book that goes by the same title . My reading nature and socializing with other people in the Kenyan literature scene through my years in uni was instrumental in introducing me to other poets like Emily Dickinson, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Dennis Brutus, Kadish Morris, Indigo Williams, Charles Bukowski, Tupac Shakur, Stacey Ann Chin just to cut short the list and their poetry.
I have continually discovered poems and poetry houses, like 3am Magazine, Granta, the Paris Review and thus my scope of poetry and literary understanding of the same has grown as such. Some Kenyan poets, like Ngawtilo Mawiyoo and Clifton Gachagua whose poetry I enjoy reading may not make it to this list, but still, they are interesting to me. In no way does this list extensively cover all the poems I have enjoyed, but the ones in this list  are the ones I keep going back to, time after time, as they struck a cord so deep in me that I see myself in them, see others in them, see the world in them, and they are to me works of literary genius. The poems are listed in no particular order in the hierarchy of my liking them.
Note: This will be a long read, as I have shared 10 whole poems here and linked the 2 longest to my Tumblr page, and written short notes on why I like them. Therefore, if you are in the comforts of your home, it would be best if you grabbed a cup of something, made yourself cozy and then dive right in. Or if you are commuting, this will be a worthy companion, so dive in all the same.
POEMS ABOUT THE STATE OF BEING ALIVEÂ
Love After Love  by Derek Walcott
“The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.”

Note:
I love this poem for the fact that it speaks of self care in the face of loving another person, in the reality of how broken and distraught we can become when we are rejected or when our love is not met by the same intensity and magnitude that we give it. To love, we must first be able to love ourselves. And by no means is how another human being loves us the measure with which we should calibrate our value. Derek Walcott’s (1948-1984) poem is like a warm hug from a friend who holds you as you come to this realization.

i carry your heart in my heart by ee. cummings 

“i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
 i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

 

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)”

Note:
I love this poem from the depths of my heart, and ee cummings (1894-1962) was a love poem genius.

 

The Second Coming  by W B Yeats

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Note:
I often turn to this poem when there are political upheavals in my home country or in the international scene. For instance, Trump or the aggressive tribalism we experience every few years even among the educated population is “mere anarchy loosed upon the world.” I find that in most social cases, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst /Are full of passionate intensity.” This poem was introduced to me by Chinua Achebe’s foreword on how he came about the Title ” Things Fall Apart” on the book that catapulted him to literary fame in the 1950s and 1960s.

 

POEMS ABOUT LOVE &/OR ITS LACK THEREOF
For Women Who Are Difficult to Love by Warsan Shire
“you are a horse running alone
and he tries to tame you
compares you to an impossible highway
to a burning house
says you are blinding him
that he could never leave you
forget you
want anything but you
you dizzy him, you are unbearable
every woman before or after you
is doused in your name
you fill his mouth
his teeth ache with memory of taste
his body just a long shadow seeking yours
but you are always too intense
frightening in the way you want him
unashamed and sacrificial
he tells you that no man can live up to the one who
lives in your head
and you tried to change didn’t you?
closed your mouth more
tried to be softer
prettier
less volatile, less awake
but even when sleeping you could feel
him travelling away from you in his dreams
so what did you want to do love
split his head open?
you can’t make homes out of human beings
someone should have already told you that
and if he wants to leave
then let him leave
you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful

something not everyone knows how to love.”

Note:
Often men come up to me and tell me that my assertion and character is like that of a man- that is to say, I am assertive, I refuse to be pushed around, I refuse to receive less than I should get, I choose to not be bridled by patriarchal societal norms. As if that is that something I should apologize for. To this I respond with a quote from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “Of course I am not worried about intimidating men. The type of man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the type of man I have no interest in.”

Questions for the Woman I was last night by  Warsan Shire
“how far have you walked for men who’ve never held your feet in their laps?
how often have you bartered with bone, only to sell yourself short?
why do you find the unavailable so alluring?
where did it begin? what went wrong? and who made you feel so worthless?
if they wanted you, wouldn’t they have chosen you?
all this time, you were begging for love silently,
thinking they couldn’t hear you, but they smelt it on you,
you must have known that they could taste the desperate on your skin?
and what about the others that would do anything for you,
why did you make them love you until you could not stand it?
how are you both of these women, both flighty and needful?
where did you learn this, to want what does not want you?

where did you learn this, to leave those that want to stay?”

Note:

We all have that one person that we cannot un-leave no matter how much they do not want us. It happens even to the best of us, and this is what this poem is about.
The Unbearable Weight of Staying by Warsan Shire
“I don’t know when love became elusive
What I know, is that no one I know has it.
My father’s arms around my mother’s neck,
Fruit too ripe to eat, a door half way open.
When your name is a just a hand I can never hold,
everything I have ever believed in, becomes magic.
I think of lovers as trees, growing to and
from one another, searching for the same light.
My mother’s laughter in a dark room,
a photograph greying under my touch.
This is all I know how to do, carry loss around until
I begin to resemble every bad memory,
every terrible fear,
every nightmare anyone has ever had.
I ask, did you ever love me?
You say of course, of course so quickly
that you sound like someone else
I ask are you made of steel? are you made of iron?
You cry on the phone, my stomach hurts

I let you leave, I need someone who knows how to stay.”

Note:

Domestic violence, the lack thereof of love where it should be, the intricate complex nature of what we call love, love as we have seen it in our families, as we have experienced it, is all summarized in this short poem by Somali Kenyan born (1988) Warsan Shire.

Warsan Shire’s poems, not just the above mentioned, are the poems that have brought me a lot of healing when I have undergone emotional turbulence in my personal life.

 

POEMS ABOUT ABUSE, SELF CARE, MENTAL HEALTH & RACE
Dark Phrases  by Ntonzake Shange from For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, 1975
“dark phrases of womanhood
of never havin been a girl
half-notes scattered
without rhythm/ no tune
distraught laughter fallin
over a black girl’s shoulder
it’s funny/ it’s hysterical
the melody-less-ness of her dance
don’t tell nobody don’t tell a soul
she’s dancin on beer cans & shingles
this must be the spook house
another song with no singers
lyrics/no voices
& interrupted solos
unseen performances
are we ghouls?
children of horror?
the joke?
don’t tell nobody don’t tell a soul
are we animals? have we gone crazy?
i can’t hear anythin
but maddening screams
& the soft strains of death
& you promised me
you promised me…
somebody/anybody
sing a black girl’s song
bring her out
to know herself
to know you
but sing her rhythms

carin/struggle/hard times

sing her song of life

she’s been dead so long
closed in silence so long
she doesn’t know the sound
of her own voice
her infinite beauty
she’s half-notes scattered
without rhythm/no tune
sing her sighs
sing the song of her possibilities
sing a righteous gospel
the makin of a melody
let her be born
let her be born

& handled warmly.”

Note:

“Dark phrases of womanhood/ of never havin been a girl/ half-notes scattered/ without rhythm/ no tune/ distraught laughter fallin/ over a black girl’s shoulder/ it’s funny/ it’s hysterical/ the melody-less-ness of her dance” need I say more about why I love this poem. I am an African Girl, and I feel very privileged to be educated and well into my twenties. Most girls are not as lucky – some experience early childhood marriage, FGM, beading, lip plating, ear stretching, some get raped repeatedly by their relatives. For instance, girls from the age of 14-22 attend the Reed dance in Swaziland, and one, who catches the eye of the king will get married off to him no matter her age. The sheer fact that it happens in this day and age is something that infuriates and saddens me. By no means should the efforts to emancipate the girl child and to free women from generational oppression ever stop. We have got a lot of work to do.

 

Sorry by Ntonzake Shange from For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, 1975
“one thing i don’t need
is any more apologies
i got sorry greetin me at my front door
you can keep yrs
i don’t know what to do wit em
they dont open doors
or bring the sun back
they dont make me happy
or get a mornin paper
didnt nobody stop usin my tears to wash cars
cuz a sorry
i am simply tired
of collectin
i didnt know
i was so important toyou
i’m gonna haveta throw some away
i cant get to the clothes in my closet
for alla the sorries
i’m gonna tack a sign to my door
leave a message by the phone
‘if you called
to say yr sorry
call somebody
else
i dont use em anymore’
i let sorry/ didnt meanta/ & how cd i know abt that
take a walk down a dark & musty street in brooklyn
i’m gonna do exactly what i want to
& i wont be sorry for none of it
letta sorry soothe yr soul/ i’m gonna soothe mine
you were always inconsistent
doin somethin & then bein sorry
beatin my heart to death
talkin bout you sorry
well
i will not call
i’m not goin to be nice
i will raise my voice
& scream & holler
& break things & race the engine
& tell all yr secrets bout yrself to yr face
& i will list in detail everyone of my wonderful lovers
& their ways
i will play oliver lake
loud
& i wont be sorry for none of it
i loved you on purpose
i was open on purpose
i still crave vulnerability & close talk
& i’m not even sorry bout you bein sorry
you can carry all the guilt & grime ya wanna
just dont give it to me
i cant use another sorry
next time
you should admit
you’re mean/ low-down/ triflin/ & no count straight out
steada bein sorry alla the time

enjoy bein yrself”

Note:
When sorry loses meaning, when the word has been abused and used as an excuse, apologies seem like a mockery. There are some who abuse the love and affection that they receive and assume that sorry is the fixing glue that patches all and makes things alright. The continual distortion of trust is painful, and there comes a time when one needs to break away to lead a more fulfilling life.

Ellen  West by Frank Bidart

“…On the third day of being home she is as if transformed. At breakfast she eats butter and sugar, at noon she eats so much that—for the first time in thirteen years!—she is satisfied by her food and gets really full. At afternoon coffee she eats chocolate creams and Easter eggs. She takes a walk with her husband, reads poems, listens to recordings, is in a positively festive mood, and all heaviness seems to have fallen away from her. She writes letters, the last one a letter to the fellow patient here to whom she had become so attached. In the evening she takes a lethal dose of poison, and on the following morning she is dead. “She looked as she had never looked in life—calm and happy and peaceful.
Note:
This poem is about Ellen West’s eating disorder and her eventual death. I felt so much empathy for the character, and was grateful for Frank Bidart (1939- ) who brought the real life of Ellen West, (1888 -1921) who committed suicide at the age of 33 by poisoning as she suffered from anorexia. The emotional pull in this poem is so strong, and I like the slow patient manner in which it is written.

 

 

POEMS ABOUT THE FRAGILITY OF LIFE/MORTALITY
The Grass Will Grow by Jonathan Kariara
“If you should take my child Lord
Give my hands strength to dig his grave
cover him with earth
Lord send a little rain
For grass will grow
If my house should burn down
So that the ashes sting the nostrils
Making the eyes weep
Then Lord send a little rain
For grass will grow
But Lord do not send me
Madness
I ask for tears
Do not send me moon hard madness
To lodge snug in my skull
I would you sent me hordes of horses
Galloping
Crushing
But do not break

The yolk of the moon on me.”

Note:
The simplicity and the usage of phrases like “moon hard madness” are what pulled me in. Jonathan (1935-1993) understood that there are things in this life that can break a person, things beyond human power, things like death and calamity and mental illness. And for this reason, he asks that in this lifetime he be spared mental illness, for it is a calamity that is like a thousand daily deaths, the insane one goes on living without really living, and carries an illness for which there is no known cure.

 

Ecclesiastes 12 from The H. Bible

1Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”–
2 before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain;
3when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim;
4when the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades; when men rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint;
5 when men are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets; when the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags himself along and desire no longer is stirred. Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets.
6Remember him–before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well,
7and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

 

8 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Everything is meaningless!”

Note:
Like earlier said, this was my first real read of poetry, and I love it now just as I love it then. The imagery used speaks about the condition of human life, and how the body degenerates in old age. For instance, the verse “when the grinders cease because they are few,” the wise man is talking about losing teeth, and the difficulty in chewing, and when he speaks of “those looking through the windows grow dim”, he is talking about how eyes lose their strength. “the sound of grinding fades; when men rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint” because of the gradual loss of hearing. My favorite lines, that I understood much later, and whose imagery is very powerful talk about the shatter that accompanies death and they are “Remember him–before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well..”
A timeless piece, less known, but very accurate on the nature of life.

The Love Song of J Prufrock by T.S Eliot

“…And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

 


Note:
Reading this poem is like coming home, and finding an old friend, who knows you, and who will understand what you have lived even without much being said. T. S Eliot (1888-1965) got this published at the age of 27 but he was very much an old soul in a young body. He sees human life for what it is, a p
assage though time, and he does not reduce any of it, not even how smoke lingers upon pools of water as it leaves the fireplace and dissolves into the air.
The poem is written in simple language,, but requires concentration and a keen mind to go deeper.

***

What poems have you liked most in this list & why? What are some of your favorite poems?
Thank you for reading!

 

How I Spent An Evening in Milan, Italy


December 2015 

Italy in December is cold and grey. Before the plane lands at Malpensa, all I see when from my window seat is misty weather, and I feel a chill come on once we get off the plane. Luckily, we are better prepared this time with appropriate apparels, and when Grace squeezes me with excitement, and tells me with that Ugandan accent of hers, that I have come to love so much, and as I write this, I feel a nostalgia for Kampala and the earthy warmth of most Ugandans –  “we are here”,  all that chill melts away and excitement eats at the vertigo and jet lag and the exhaustion of my three flights – the first very turbulent one hour fifteen minutes midnight flight from Nairobi to Entebbe, the almost-six-hours morning flight from Entebbe to Ataturk, and the two-hour late-afternoon flight from Ataturk to Malpensa at the periphery of Milan.
We spend the next half hour or so doing the usual custom checks at the airport, and  I especially like the scrutiny our faces and passports receive at the immigration check counters, as though 5 young African adults could not have possibly come all this way unaccompanied. We smile at them, pick our luggage, and almost miss seeing Simone rush towards us with his beaming smile, beside him a friend of his I have not met before. I am impressed by his hospitality, and the trip to Milan from Malpensa is filled with talk of – how are you? How was the flight? How is so and so? This is what we will do this evening – are you guys tired? Tell me more about your life since the last time we met. And as we go along, the gentle traffic to Milan and the music in his sister’s vehicle is drowned by the voices of Michelle and Grace and Arnold and Simone and me, talking and talking and catching up on how life has been – lives so varied, and oh, how so much changes and remains the same in a year.

* * *

Milan, just like last year, is a fury of activity. We arrived two hours ago – and in those two hours we dropped our bags at Simone’s family home – an apartment, where you have to key in a code to get in the compound, and when you do get in through the black gate, you find yourself ushered into a sizeable opening, such that 4 people can walk altogether at once, and just right across the compound, there is an elevator. You take the elevator, or climb up the flight of stairs. But the elevator is spoilt, so we take the stairs – carrying our full suitcases up two floors. Grace has an extra empty suitcase with which to carry food and other particulars back to Uganda. A whole suitcase, and it is humongous in size!
We nestle in and after a light snack, we step out into the Milan evening labyrinth. First, we head to Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, Milan’s oldest Church.  We find ourselves in front of the Church as though birthed from a couple of dimly lit alleys lodged between grey stoned buildings after crossing one or two busy roads. The traffic discipline is impressive – the pedestrians and motorists stop at the traffic lights appropriately, unlike the crazy Nairobi traffic and its unruly bodaboda and matatu motorists.
At Ambrosia, we visit almost all the mini-chapels. Simone takes us to see the remains of bishops who have been embalmed at the one of the “hidden” sections of the Church. We later split to make brief private devotions before we gather at the back of the Church – 4 Africans, and 2 Italians – and we light a candle and say the Angelus together to give thanks for the safe flight and the days before us – before we head out into the night that is fast falling.
We snake our way around the buildings, an unfamiliar road to us, and no doubt familiar to them – and we find ourselves nearing the gates of Cattolica del Sal Cuore, the Catholic University of Milan. Here Simone stops and talks to an African selling jewelry trinkets- from what I can now recall, he is either from Angola or Algeria, and judging by the fluency of his Italian, he has been here a while. This is something that I will note throughout my stay here – most of the Africans I see are hawking wares say bags at the metro, and they are doing it third world style. They have no permits, but they have to find a way to fend for themselves. It seems to me, that it dawns on them, that even in Europe, a man has to make a living, and by no means does changing countries of residence make the process easier, if anything, I access that they probably have it harder here. Looking at Simone chat with his acquaintance, I recall that last year, on our way home from dinner at an Ethopian restaurant I had seen well-dressed Italians scour through dustbins close to Simone’s house, and I, who had fallen behind for some reason,  increased my pace and stepped up to him, and asked – who are those people? And he told me – those are homeless people. No amount of documentaries about poverty and homelessness in America would have prepared me for the eventuality of seeing homeless white people in their own country – hungry and locked out from proper shelter and food.
* * *
The system here is harsh but that very same system has made the buildings and the culture what it is – polished and beautiful. That is what Catollica del Sacro Cuore is. Right next to the Virgin’s square, that is where we meet Piro and Giacomo. They emerge, as though from the nether world, from a room in the ground floor, their faces visibly worn from long hours of research and study for their theses. Giacomo’s studies are pressing and we leave him behind.
 We take a mini-tour through Cattolica – my favourite being a classroom that is partly modern, and partly made of ancient ruins, whose room is warm, as the temperatures are regulated to preserve the ruins. Despite the clear warnings from Piro and Simone, Michelle and I find ourselves on the other side of the boundary line between the classroom and the ruins, and Arnold is seated on the soft red chairs arranged in neat rows on the modern section laughing his head off. We enjoy the detour before we head out to the historical heartthrob and geographical centre of the city–the Duomo of Milano.
* * *
The rest walk ahead of us in the slow walk to the Duomo, while Piro and I catch up about our lives since he was last in Nairobi 5 months ago. He
has his plans and concerns about what he will do once he graduates later in the month, and I have my last undergraduate academic year waiting for me in January back in Nairobi. It is a pleasant conversation, and I am glad he is here with us.
Michelle, Grace, and Simone are hopping along the streets, happy to see each other, and Arnold is lagging behind because his terrible eyesight will not allow him to keep up. He is happy too.
Milan is alive. Everywhere you turn, there is a flurry of activity and you cannot possibly experience it all. Most shops are fashion shops with dressed mannequins whose price tags are worth a whole year’s income. Emotions are in the air. I recall last year at the Duomo plaza there were communists in red marching at the periphery of the Duomo, blowing their trumpets and singing while a little girl with her young parents was blowing bubbles that rose skyward like little imaginary kites and disappeared into the night sky much to their delight; there were people taking selfies at the Duomo and pictures of the Duomo, there was the hum of vehicles and motorbikes and the light rail in motion. I loved it all then, and I love it now.
We arrive at the Duomo with the taste of castagna (chestnuts) that Piro bought on our way here. They remind me so much of roasted sweet potatoes. (Recipe of Roasted Chestnuts here) This year we are lucky the 9 meters long doors of the Duomo are open to the public. The enormity of it all is baffling to the mind – and the intricate nature of the sculptures embedded in every inch of the Cathedral is impressive. The Cathedral is the largest Gothic Church in the world, and the third largest in the whole world. It is at the epicenter of the city as historically, cities were built around churches, as they were the symbol of God. The construction of the Cathedral that spans 157m long, 93 meters wide and 108 meters high began in 1386 under the commission of Archbishop Antonio da saluzzo. Its “completion” was in the 1800s under the patronage of Napoleon Bonaparte, the conqueror, whose statue was sculpted in one of the spires at the rooftop as a sign of gratitude for his accomplishments. He was also crowned King of Italy at the Duomo.
What impresses me most about the Duomo are the 9m long bronze doors on which the life of Christ is crafted from his infancy to his adulthood, and resurrection. The splendor of the massive organs on either side of the interior of the Church also impress me. We spend a considerable amount of time looking at the intricacies of the Cathedral before Grace leads us in a brief prayer before we head out. This year we do not have the luxury of time to make merry outside and dance and sing Ugandan songs with Simone in the middle.
* * *
The last squeeze of the night finds us at the Santa Maria presso San Satiro church. This is after seeing the then closed Biblioteca Ambrosiana (library of Ambrosia) that was closed at the time. (We are walking along the alleys and Simone’s friend, Giovanni, points at the building and tells us that the building houses some works by Leonardo da Vinci. And I am like – Leonardo, Leonardo? And, he is like – yes, Leonardo, Leonardo. Imagine that.)
To me, the Santa Maria church is the most impressive of the three we have visited this year. It is so small, yet at the altar section there is the trompe L’Oeil allusion (French for “deceive the eye”; this is an architectural technique that creates an optical illusion that depicts objects images in 3D) of an elongated altar designed by artist Donato Bramante in the 15th Century. This was because there was not much land for them to build a bigger church and they had to make do with what they had.
At the Santa Maria the Mass is well underway, and we kneel at the pews at the back and for the first time today, we are less tourists and more faithfuls while inside the Church. My heart is filled with gratitude – gratitude for my life – for Simone’s hospitality – for Grace whose heart is as wide as the ocean, and whose smile won’t let you see the life she has survived – for Michelle, from Rwanda, whose youthful face will be brighter when she gets engaged 2 years from now – for Arnold who in four days will be told that he will likely go blind at some point in his life – for Piro and his time and friendship. My heart is full for those who have made it possible for us to be here today, for a priest by the name of Don Guissani whose tomb we will visit in three days’ time at the Cimitero Monumentale di Milano, whose books and charisma have touched the lives of each one of us who are there together  –  for the uncommon privilege to travel at 23, for the second time to Italy, a country I used to trace in our only map when I read my father’s National Geographic’s about Roman sculptures even before I knew I could travel. Gratitude for life, for providence, for my parents who birthed me, for everything and everyone good in the universe. I feel such immense gratitude, such strong emotion, and here thousands of kilometers away from home, at the back pews of a small dimly lit church, I shed tears of joy.
EDITOR’S NOTE
1. I did not take photos on this segment of the trip, as I wanted to be fully present in the moment. I did, however, take photos when we visited Como.
2. The picture above was taken 3 days later as we were leaving the Cimitero Monumentale di Milano after we went to visit the tomb of Don Giussani.
3. To Read more about:
·         the Duomo (Cathedral) of Milan read:  The History of the Duomo // The Duomo Milan // Milan Cathedral – Wikipedia // Duomo Cathedral

·         on Saint Ambrosia Church, the Santa Maria Church and Biblioteca Ambrosiana read, Basilica of St Ambrose (San’t Ambrogio) // other trompe l’oeil works of art in Italy and Biblioteca Ambrosiana respectively. 
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Late Afternoon At Mama Ashanti, Kenya

Place & Location

Last week, my friend and I made our way to Mama Ashanti Restaurant, Nairobi. My friend, Faith, who is leaving this month for her Ms degree in the US, gave me a treat at the Ghanian restaurant given the nod by online reviews as the best outlet for West African food in Nairobi.

Located at Muthangari Gardens,Lavington, the ambience was cool, the tables and chairs well spaced for privacy and room for personal comfort.

The Food & Drinks

We had dawa – I still do not know what was in there, but for sure there was garlic and it had this sweet-sour taste that was tantalizing, and I still cannot find the right words to describe it. All I know it is good, and you have to try it to know it.

I have had plaintain before, cooked the Nigerian way by a Nigerian, so the plantain wasn’t knew to my palate. The meat though, was made differently – it was in between nyama choma and wet fried goat meat- in a way that I liked. (But I still like our Kenyan nyama choma more, sorry West Africa!)

The food below was eaten by us two, by the looks of it, it looks little but not so dear friend, we were full when we were 3/4 way done, and had to nudge each other to at least try and clear the plate.

Ratings

  • I loved the food, and will have to try out more dishes to give proper stars. But so far, so good. I would definitely recommend it.
  • What I found wanting was that we had to wait quite a while before we received service.

Mama Ashanti’s Facebook link is here.

Hello space!

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