What if love isn’t everything we compare it to?

Just a poem about love

They say you can’t force love,
You’ll most likely find it
when you’re not looking,
I would believe that;
If you couldn’t say the same
for tinder matches and syphilis,

We compare love to anything.
Roses, Rivers, Oceans,
Boxes of chocolate, and everything in between.
Why do we make ‘Falling in love’ look so easy?
When most of us are
too afraid to jump,
too cautious to trip,
too busy putting our lives in balance
to fall for someone else,

It’s like,
It’s all pretentious,
…we’re all searching for the same thing…

You want the type of love where
you get lost in someone else,
Where she’ll call you at 2 am, and
you can’t hang up the phone,
Because at that moment she’s with you and
you’re too afraid
to fall asleep by yourself.

The type of love where
there are no awkward silences.
Your conversations make for music
that makes safe your insecurities.
Love,
that makes you melt
in each other’s eyes,
sleep in each other’s arms.
And
every kiss feels like a dream,
And
every nightmare
is worth the fright
if you wake up to him.

The type of love that
makes you blush when you’re alone,
That has you cheesing in the mirror
watching movies of your memories
like a Netflix account.

That’s love right?
“Real love”

The type that honestly,
I’m not sure even exists,

We paint it so beautifully in our minds
Because the fear of being alone
is something we can’t admit to.
But what if:

What if
‘Love’ isn’t everything we compare it to?
What if it isn’t roses or rivers, and oceans,
And we’re just swimming
in seas of shallow metaphors we don’t want to drown in
I know,
That Love is deeper,
But most of us like the surface.

Most of us like the dates,
Most of us like the rings
Most of us like the sex,
Most us like the weddings,
But Love,

Love is everything we look for
but we don’t really see,
like an Instagram of smiles covering up its scars,
with pictures captioned in a language
that we don’t understand.

A canvas colored with emotions,
that we’ve never learned to notice.

Love
Is standing on the top of your faith,
jumping to fall into a relationship with a man,
who you don’t know will catch you.

Love
Is how you’ve fallen for her already
but you’re never going to say it,
Cuz the fear of being alone,
is worse than being in the friend-zone.

Love,
Is losing your temper,
And wanting to say I hate you,
But you’re two in the same person
and the other half of you
is holding your tongue.

Love,
Is my parents’ marriage,
I never hear them say I love you,
but I guess 27 years of being together,
makes you know that already.

Love,
Is knowing that the sunsets,
Appreciating the light
but still expecting the darkness
Maybe.

Maybe that’s why we’re all struggling to find it?

We Must Unlearn to Look Down on Africa

When I was in high school we spent 3 months of the academic year learning about ‘Hard Water’.

Let me start by saying that when the topic of hard water was initially introduced to us — a classroom of teenage Kenyan students — we were gripped not by our interest in the subject, but by our curiosity as to why our teacher did not just say “ice”.

Little did we know that ‘Hard Water’ was actually a real ‘thing’. “Water that has a high mineral content and forms limescale in kettles…. Blah, blah blah”, as our school textbook would say.

Now, I don’t dismiss the importance of learning about hard water. And even though I much despised chemistry as a subject in my teens, I suppose it was important. ‘Important’, for the same reason my father sent me to school; “because education is the key…” Not because of any logical reason I could bring myself to believe as a young teenager.

Hard water is relevant — perhaps to students who have grown up seeing limescale in their kettles or experiencing this “strange water” first hand. But to kids from Kenya who are more likely to see Giraffes through the windows of our houses, than hard water spilling through our kitchen taps… it was all irrelevant. Learning about hard water only served to turn our education into an abstraction; a collection of lessons that were beyond our frame of reality.

There is a quote in Nelson Mandela’s very insightful book named “Long Walk To Freedom” that says;

“The educated Englishman was our model.; what we aspired to be were “black Englishmen” as we were sometimes derisively called. We were taught — and believed — that the best ideas were English ideas, the best Government was English government and the best men we Englishmen”.

The book was written over 20 years ago, but I struggle to see how anything has changed since, at least in my native country of Kenya.

As a teenager, I went to a British international school — what many, not by coincidence, would call one of the best schools in the country. And though I was the beneficiary of resources and means of education that few others got in Kenya, I don’t think I learned much. Not anything of real relevance anyway. Nothing that really ‘helped me’.

When I sat in that chemistry classroom as a teenager, listening to my English teacher ramble about hard water, I absorbed his words like I was sitting in the pews of his church; with unwavering faith, writing in my notebook as hastily as I could. Though, what I never noticed then, that I have been enlightened to since, was that I was actually a victim — a victim of colonialism in its most contemporary form.

A Voluntary Slave

Learning about subjects like ‘hard water’ in school, in Kenya, I was no longer learning about ‘my reality’, but someone else’s. As I scribbled in my notebooks in chemistry class, it never occurred to me that the things I spent night’s revising and cramming into my absent mind actually had no value to me. They did not serve to enable me to better navigate my country or better exist in Kenya. Instead, I was stuck in a system. A system which required me to seek the validation of those at its helm if I wished to get ahead. Instead of my education introducing me to an affixation with my environment, it taught me about somewhere else… somewhere far, far away, where the white people came from. I learned about the world from their perspective, and saw my country through their eyes…

“As I grew up and advanced academically, my reality was further separated from my education… I just knew my education was preparing me to go somewhere else… and give to another environment that it belonged to, it was not for my environment when and where I grew up.”

 Chika Ezeanya-Esiobu

We are Taught to Hate Ourselves

When I first learned about Mount Kenya — Kenya’s tallest mountain — I was a little boy, listening to my father’s words in the village where he grew up, at the foot of the mountain itself. Years later in primary school, I recall learning about Mount Kenya once again. Only this time, our textbooks told us of a man called Dr. Johann Ludwig Krapf. ‘They’ say he discovered Mount Kenya on the 3rd of December 1849. It was written and stated as a fact by our teachers, and somehow, when I was a child, I did not think to question it. I probably scribbled it in my notebook like it was chemistry class, struggling to engrave the date in my memory just to pass the next test.

Though what never occurred to me at the time is that my grandparents — and my great-grandparents — had grown up right at the foot of the mountain. So, what the teacher was effectively saying was that it took a white man from Germany to travel thousands of miles to “discover” a mountain that was right in front of them…?

No chance.

This was one of many of the paradoxes of my education. I grew up not believing that answers came from within the borders of my country or continent, but from outside. From the more intelligent white men who knew ‘everything’. From the ‘first world’ that we hoped to one day exist in.

It is this habit of thought that I have continually tried to remove from my mind but, at the same time, I’m terrified to I see it so deeply engraved in the minds of fellow Africans. We continue to see the ‘western world’ as ‘right’ or ‘superior’ or ‘further ahead’; we drink of their ‘hard water’ like we will one day taste it and never questioning why. It’s this same habit of thought that has kept us looking down upon ourselves, undermining our power and being told what to do.

It is about time that we, as Africans, empower ourselves!

The great Julius Nyerere once said;

“You cannot develop people. People will have to develop themselves.”

We as African’s cannot continue to voluntarily bow to the west. We cannot continue to see ourselves and our world through a ‘white’ lens. Let us see each other and our surroundings for who and what they are. Let us aspire to be ourselves and no longer need to be like ‘them’. Perhaps once we find pride in ourselves, we can slowly mold our continent into something that is really and truly our own.

Yours Truly (Kimathi Kaumbutho) is a Spoken Word/Poetry writer/performer, and a Hip-Hop artist from Nairobi, Kenya. Click here to see more of his work.

The Beauty of Just ‘Being Present’

It was December 2013, the sun was slowly setting beneath the glaring horizon, and the balcony we sat on had this magnificent orange glow that garnished the smiles on our faces. Staring at the vibrant landscape, lost in empty thought, we didn’t talk much… like the silent sounds of nature stole our words from us. It was quiet. It was peaceful. It was perfect…

As papa, my brother and I lounged and gazed wondrously at the horizon, there wasn’t anything inherently special about that moment. The sun set, just as it did the day before, and the day before that… our family was together, just like we had been for most of my life, and the savannas of Nakuru were just as magnificent as any other park in Kenya’s rich countryside. Yet for some reason, that evening plays in the forefront of my mind when I recall one of the happiest moments of my life.

What made that moment so special, was not the emphatic beauty of the landscape, nor the amazing company of my family… Instead, what made that moment great, was that, for one of the first times in my life, I was completely and wholly content.

I wasn’t trying to change anything, I wasn’t wishing that any cloud in the sky looked different, nor was I trying to shade the glare of the sun from my face. I wasn’t thinking of the past, or recalling any memories, nor was I peering into the future with anxiety… I was just completely and absolutely present.

Knowing myself now, it’s no surprise that such a memory is so deeply etched into my mind. For, to this day, I still recall that beautiful afternoon. Yet even years after its passing, I still wonder why such experiences continuously escape me. Why does it take a trip up country and a beautiful sunset to make me be content with life? Can’t there be happiness, joy, and contentment, even in monotony, even right now?

We’re so Ungrateful

What I believe has become an integral part of our human condition is the ability to take things for granted. If I lived in that cottage in Nakuru, woke up to an emasculate sun rise every morning and gazed over the savanna every evening as the sun set, of course, I would feel that strong sense of contentment and joy — at least in the beginning. But just as all humans do, eventually, my mind would turn what was once a breathless view into just another sight in the banality of life. What was a thrilling and memorable experience would soon look to me like ‘just another day.’

And I believe, that is what we have done with the rest of our lives.

Imagine the first time you cooked the perfect breakfast, read your first novel, or built your first Lego. Those were amazing experiences. Yet today, these moments hold little relevance in the vast array of newer and more exciting things we do. It seems that somehow, we have turned, what were once blissful, exciting and happy moments of life into commonalities that feel benign and tedious.

But does it have to be like this?

What if we could experience all of life, even its monotony? What if we could see the hidden beauty in every experience we have? What if we could feel the banalest parts of life, just like I felt that sunset in Nakuru?

How Meditation Changed my Life…

Now a lot of people grapple with the idea of meditation. They tend to picture a Buddha sitting on top of a hill, completely still, cleansing his mind of all emotion… But I believe it isn’t that complicated.

I describe meditation as being mindful and being completely present in whatever you do. It’s that simple.

Be it having a meal, driving a car, or even doing the laundry, being completely mindful and present almost makes you lose yourself in the experience; it makes you see things that perhaps were always there, but you never really noticed them. It’s running through the woods and listening to the birds’ chirp and the crickets’ hiss, it’s driving and listening to the symphony of traffic, or having a meal and truly ‘feeling’ the food you’re eating… that’s what meditation is.

So, in a world where people eat whilst scrolling through Instagram, imagine how uniquely different it would feel to just do one thing and be completely present whilst you do it; not conscious of the past and not anxious about the future… just complete ‘here’. That, for me, is the true essence of meditation. And with that power of mindfulness and presence of mind, we can begin to see, even a dreary office space, just as beautifully as a sunset over the landscapes of Nakuru.

Yours Truly (Kimathi Kaumbutho) is a Spoken Word/Poetry writer/performer, and a Hip-Hop artist from Nairobi, Kenya. Click here to see more of his work.

Why We never had to go to Disney World

We all know how it feels to long for something.

Be it a place, a people, a friend, a lover… longing is that delectable feeling of wishing your life to be different.

Sometimes it feels like the faint hint of a memory that spurs a subtle chuckle, or a veiled smile. Other times, longing looks like waves of nostalgia in an ocean of memories tempting to swallow you whole.

It’s a feeling I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Yet despite the loathing we have for that nostalgic feeling that visits us from time to time, I have learned some of life’s greatest lessons in reminiscing about the past.

Remember Disney World?

The other day, my mother asked me, “do you remember when we went to Disney World? Weren’t you really happy then?”
I was sitting comfortably on the dining room table, suddenly gripped by deep thought and second guessing my answer to what seemed like a rhetorical question.

As a kid who grew up in Nairobi, going to Disney World for the first time, even as a teenager, was the experience of a lifetime. At least that’s what I’m supposed to say. I should tell you that it was one of the most memorable moments of my life. The type of moment that this world has taught me to cherish because, you would think, that the times when I wore the biggest smile on my face, were the moments that the waves of nostalgia bring to the forefront of my mind.

My Favorite Memories

From the years of 2009 to 2016, I spent long periods away from my family. They were in Nairobi and I was in the United States. It was hard. I was 15 when I left home and I had to grow up extremely fast. Though occasionally, as one would expect, I missed home. I missed my family, my friends, the food… everything. And when those intolerable waves of nostalgia crashed through my mind, I often prayed they would swallow me whole and drift me back to the comfort of home. It was in those moments — the times when I really longed to be home — when I learned some of the most profound lessons of life.

Everything I Thought I Would Miss, Didn’t Really Matter

When my mother inquisitively asked me if I remember our trip to Disney world, I wanted to tell her yes. But the truth is when I was longing and yearning to be with my family… I didn’t think of moments when we rode roller coasters and ate turkey legs. Instead, I thought of the most apparently mundane and unexciting times I spent with them. The banal and routine experiences we shared were the moments I yearned for.

Christmas with Snow Peas

I remember one Christmas we spent together at my Grandmother’s place in rural Kenya. (We call it ‘Ushago’… but I think you’ll understand it better as ‘the village’).
That Christmas we had no electricity. There was no TV to watch or tablet to play on. And there’s only so much you can read before a book puts you to sleep.

So, my brother and I just sat, slept and did nothing. And once we had sat down for long enough and slept as much as we could, we all sat outside and shelled snow peas. And trust me, as a kid, extracting boxfuls of peas from pods is the probably the most drudgerous and uninteresting way to spend Christmas day.

In fact, if you had asked me at the time, what I thought of the whole experience, I’d have said that I was bored and jaded out of my mind. Yet, for some strange reason, those hours spent on my Grandmothers veranda shelling snow peas, make up my favorite memory of Christmas. When I spent my first Christmas away from home, it was that day that I would yearn to go back to. I would have given everything to go back to shelling snow peas with my family.

The Endless Car Rides I hated

I remember traveling in our family’s old Peugeot 505 on our trips upcountry. These were 4–6-hour trips that “took forever” and for a kid who could hardly sit still, I hated those car rides.

At the time, there were no tablets or phones to play on. No TV’s in the car to watch movies and no Wi-Fi to entertain us. Instead, my brother and I spent most of our time sleeping. And once we had slept enough, we would find a reason to fight. And after we had fought enough, the window became our greatest entertainment. My father would put on this beautiful west and southern African music that I still cherish to this day. The funny thing is, at the time, my brother and I never really liked those songs. And today, they are not just music, but the sounds of memories kindling my childhood spirit and taking me back home.

We’d sit in the back seat in complete silence and I swear time would actually stop. There were no buildings, or people to stare at, just these long stretches of savanna between towns.

And right there.

Sitting in the back seat with the glare of the sun in my eyes and the sweet sounds of ‘Africa’ channeling through my ears, I was completely content.

Sunday Afternoons

When I was younger, Sunday was often one of my least favorite days. It was ‘the day before school’ started — which meant it was almost as bad as Monday. And Sunday in our household was often treated like ‘family day’. We’d just stay around the house, not really doing much and the thought of school was ever so pungent in our minds. There was ‘nothing’ to be excited about.
Our common routine was going to church in the morning followed by a lazy afternoon. And the afternoons always seemed so prolonged and boring.

After lunch, we would all sit on the large dining table at our house ‘doing nothing’. My parents read the newspaper over tea and my brother and I read small magazines and talked about life. Eventually, we’d end up having deep conversations in those moments and my father coined the term ‘family meeting time’. Over time, those afternoons became more intentional and, to be honest, if my brother and I had a choice, we would have skipped those meetings, gone upstairs and drowned ourselves in television. Instead, we just sat, drinking tea, filling crosswords and chatting about mundane and irrelevant ‘stuff’.

But funnily enough, despite how much I hated Sunday afternoons. It was those moments, seated on a chair at that dining table, laughing at mindless irrelevance and drinking tea, that I would give the whole world to go back to.

We didn’t need to go to Disney World

When my mother asked me if I remember Disney World, and whether I was happy then, I wanted to say yes. I felt like I was ‘supposed to’. But the truth is, I never thought about Disney World. And when nostalgia hits me, I don’t recall all my extravagant and ‘happy’ experiences. I don’t think about eating at fancy restaurants or going to see amazing shows. Instead, when I think of home and my family, I think back to those mundane car rides to nowhere, the boring Sunday afternoons and Christmases with no electricity.

So maybe, just maybe, everything we’re taught to long for is not actually what we remember. And in response to my mother’s question, “maybe it was never about going to Disney world… it was just about being with my family.”