Category Archives: Dunia ina Mambo

Kenyans and Facebook…

Can you tell that I am ‘otherwise occupied’ with Summer fun? Let’s say that since the sun started rising at 5 am, I have been busy enjoying it to the max (and I have the sunburn to prove it!). Working on other stuff has left my blog to suffer (there there poor baby)! I’m proud though to have submitted two short stories for consideration in a writing competition later this year so my absence has not been all about joyous, easy fun!

I am on Facebook for at least 30 minutes a day (OK, I lie, probably a lot more time than that) and I have to say that my opinion of it is mostly positive- after all, I have an inner circle of friends who put up links to interesting stories, who share well-narrated albums of their exploits…you get the picture. Facebook allows us to keep in touch between phonecalls and to maintain a sense that we’re not miles and miles apart which was the way it felt before facebook.  This inner circle of friends (small group) has full access to my profile. Then there are the ‘limited profile’ friends who only see the little that I’ll let them- these are people I may have gone to school with but am no longer close to, or people who are newer acquaintances. I never accept friendship requests from people I don’t like or want to share information with (the point of Facebook after all is sharing) and from the start, the demarcation between all-access and limited profile was very distinct.

There are countless articles out there about Facebook etiquette. I do not want to be a Facebook pest: I don’t post anything there that I wouldn’t tell friends face to face, or tag them in unflattering poses just because I happen to like how I look in a shot, or clutter my profile with endless quizzes or bother them to join new groups or upload new applications which I have discovered etc…I don’t send them chain letters from my email either so why start that up on Facebook.

As more and more people in Kenya joined Facebook, my friends list grew (family, old high school and primary school classmates) quite fast. I don’t have as many friends as some people since my rules for adding them are quite strict, but just from the hundred-and-something friends added, I have learned:

  • People need to have a better handle of Facebook’s privacy settings. I have clicked on a photo of a friend tagged in a stranger’s album and ended up with an eyeful of unflattering pictures seared to memory. Like the one taken at some random party where the highlight seems to be a grown (Kenyan) man, complete with beer potbelly, clad in diapers, with dummy in mouth. Seriously? And these are the ‘young professionals building our country’? If I can see these pictures, so too might your client from tomorrow’s meeting, and instead of listening to your spiel they will be wondering what the hell is wrong with you! If you intend to do stupid crap like this, please keep it to yourself? A camera is not a licence to photograph everything!
  • Some people have decided to use Facebook as their ‘therapy’. If you felt slighted or that you weren’t the cutest back in high school, plonk a few pictures in an album of yourself made up and decked out sitting in your obscenly tacky living room (kwanza there is this one style of couch that is  repeatedly found in all households where bad taste resides…hmmm…it is the ‘velvet sofa’*** of our generation)staring serenely into the distance. Then you sit back and wait for the glowing reviews (I’m yet to see comments on a picture that say, “honey, that style doesn’t suit you, or, have you thought of a strapless bra? snigger snigger). If I see one more picture of so-and-so’s living room!!! These pictures make me wonder, “how come I have never had the urge to pose (mid-week) on my new IKEA sofa, made up, polished and de-clawed, ready for my close-up?”  What is it with people? I’m not saying that I don’t want to see pictures of you, but the obviously posed, stiff pictures a la Ramogi studios get a bit irritating after a while and they reek of a need to be validated as having ‘arrived’. Sorry not to oblige but thanks for the writing fodder.
  • I lump some wedding photos in there- if we are just acquaintances, why am I seeing your wedding album? Isn’t that something special to share with close friends aka those who actually care that you married so-and-so hence the new double-barrelled surname? Again, it reeks of some kind of ‘take that bitches!!!’ indulgence. Or maybe I am not an exhibitionist. Or maybe I don’t view having a husband as an ‘achievement’ like a degree LOL.

Actually, I think Facebook has become the new home for the tea-break-at-work cattiness or church-service-fashion-showdowns our mothers ‘ generation engaged in. It is the place where a young man can put down his exploits for posterity rather than having to wait until all his buddies are in town to hear them. This generation of young Kenyans is putting their whole lives online for everyone to see and they don’t give a damn…on the one hand it makes for interesting research when I’m bored at work, but on the other…

  • Irresponsible posting abounds. People forget (or don’t care) that your wall is public so I have actually seen someone’s pregnancy outed by a ‘friend’s’ comment on their Facebook wall!!! I mean, even if you know of a friend’s good news, please wait until they acknowledge it before you post to their wall! I mean, they know they are pregnant after all, so why the need to post it on their wall? Or, send a private email rather than just blurting it out to the world! Jeez!  Talk of stealing someone’s thunder. Even better, you take a picture with cute guy, a ‘friend’ comments, “Wow! Is that your hubby (hate that word)?”about cute guy…aka your brother! (Serves you right for letting someone who clearly doesn’t know you to see that picture, but said ‘friend’ should send private message rather than reveal their utter ignorance of your family).
  • There are some zealously religious Kenyans on Facebook.  I don’t mind you being religious- I mind you taking each opportunity to bombard me with poorly written, over-the-top, spiritual zest. Seriously, everyone and their mother is releasing religious tracts at a rate that amazes me…you are not the next Billy Graham so please, stop. I am not religious, thank you very much. Now please, stop with the proselytizing! (This should be the lead-in to my next post about the ‘born again Kenyan’ and why I am not a member of an organized religion anymore)
  • The worst of all these observations is the one where I go out with friend A. At one stage of the evening we take pictures and I end up looking like quite the cute thing, but my friend looks a bit odd…so I upload the picture and tag my friend so now anyone who knows me, or her, gets to see me looking fantabulous while my friend looks like crap. OR, the most heinous- a friend was tagged by er campus friend who also had pictures of women taken unbeknownst to them as they walk by, whereby he remarks on their anatomy!!!!! I would kill you!!!! All I could say is that she should…defriend, defriend, defriend this bastard- that is no different than if he stalked the women and put cameras in their bathrooms…who does he think he is? (A young professional who I would never hire if his CV ever came across my desk).

Facebook has made me realize that Kenyans have taken our lack of respect for boundaries online. Oh and privacy?  just a suggestion. They do not distinguish levels of friendship. My close friends are few. The next level of friends is a bit wider, and if I started counting all my acquaintances we would be here all day. They don’t all need to see all about me on Facebook…so I limit their access (what they don’t know won’t hurt them)…I’m happy to get back in touch, and to share the good/sad things that you would like to share with me, but I am also aware that there are things which I do not wish to be privvy to, and would not hate you for leaving me off your ‘close friends’ list (like the pictures of you passed out drunk at some hell drinking hole last weekend.  This perceived lack of privacy is why some of my Kenyan friends are leery of Facebook and its potential for TMI, Weird friends etc BUT, Facebook is fine if you control what/who has access to your information and where/how your information is used. It’s not like the information worms its way there uncontrolled by you- people only see what you let them or what you put out there, so manage the content and you will be fine. With the advent of faster internet access in Kenya, it may be a while before the magnitude of their laissez faire attitude towards their privacy settings hits or hurts some ‘friends’…Facebook: a good tool when used wisely.

OK, I’ve got to go and check whether my friend made it to her new destination as she starts a new adventure!

***At one point in the late 1970s to the early 1980s, a Kenyan family’s status could be measured by their upholstery…there was this style wave that hit the country and took it by storm! The velvet sofa set!! To my knowledge, every middle class home had or aspired to have one.  The colour range was limited to Blue (powder or midnight), Cherry Maroon, Overripe Avocado Green- Brown, and the odd Pink. We had them (ours were-still are- maroon), and it cracks me up now when I think of it! The Sofa Set that defined a nation 🙂

Pardon any snarkiness, Vancouver is experiencing extreme heat. I don’t ‘do heat’ :)…OK, maybe I’m always snarky…

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Nobody Told Me ‘It’ Would Be Boring

We all knew it was coming. This ‘downturn’.

The government, the opposition, the pundits…even the Tweeters said it. Repeatedly.

We braced ourselves as though for a  Tsunami.

We cringed at the figures as they were bandied about:

Half a million jobs lost, three trillion dollars of debt, 20% capital loses.

Our vocabularies grew: Asset Backed Commercial Paper, Foreclosure, Debt,

Underwater Mortgages, Ponzi Schemes, Stagflation, Bailouts, Stimulus Plans.

CEOs went from being visionaries to being considered white collar criminals.

Private Equity and Hedge Funds became dirty words.

The gloom spread, belts were tightened, dollars were saved.

Then it hit us:

“Going broke and being broke sucks, but getting here sure was interesting!”

“When will the good times be back?”

The downturn is boring.

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Kilifi or Bust…

It all started in early February when I moved temporarily to having more responsibility in the workplace…suddenly I found that I was expected to have all the answers to all the questions- even the ones which my predecessor had already nixed in the past. Soon those who shied away from taking on the added responsibility were eavesdropping (I know! How childish!) whenever I had a conversation with a colleague, keeping tabs on all activities, offering unsolicited (often useless) tips in overbearing tones- as if I asked for their help. Continue reading

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In Response To Your Email….

During the average workday how many emails would you say you send out, or receive? Before, my ‘official’ emails were crafted painstakingly, edited for clarity, brevity and typos. At times when I would click ‘Send’ I said to myself “that was a good one my dear!” Sadly, I quickly learned that many recipients would not give my emails more than a cursory glance. It was like all they read were key words  or the “For assistance, please contact me at 555.555.5555” line. 

Within seconds of clicking ‘Send’, my phone would be ringing with the recipient on the other end asking me to walk them through the login process! Most of the time this entailed sitting silently as the person umm-d and errm-d their way to the site- I would ‘see’ them one-handedly mis-typing our URL…then I would listen for the creaking, sputtering sounds of their CPU crunching the data. Aaargh!  

I have now switched to sending keywords-only emails. It’s working very well. Maybe I will start doing that with my blog posts too.

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More Swahili Banditry…

Say you were walking down a street in one of the seedier parts of Nairobi and some hoodlums descended on you with kicks and punches in an attempt to rob you of your fake Rolex and crystal ‘diamond’ earrings. Let’s say your attack was witnessed by a passerby who then rushed to your aid.
If said passerby were to rush to your aid yelling “Kudenko! Hulu!” as they approached, what do you think the bandits would do:

  1. Immediately cease their pummeling, desist from further violent action and take off into the night.
  2. Turn on the would-be Good Samaritan and pummel both of you senseless before making off with your faux-bling.
  3. Pause, confused by the gibberish the Good Samaritan is yelling at them. Then turn on the would-be Good Samaritan and pummel both of you senseless before making off with your faux-bling.

If you answered

  1. Eeeh…wrong! I have no words for you
  2. you would only be partially correct or
  3. you would be totally correct!

Last week I was enjoying reading an article in The Economist about NBC/News Corp efforts to build an online video site that would be different from YouTube when I came across this line… Into this mess Mr Kilar tried to enter with the service that was to be Hulu. The bloggers at first scoffed: it turns out that Hulu can mean “cease and desist” in Swahili…immediately sending my brain racing.  “Could Hulu be Kiswahili for cease and desist? Hmm. I’ve never heard the word before…something about it doesn’t sound like Kiswahili. More research required,” I concluded.

It just seemed rather unlikely that Hulu could mean all that (Cease and Desist!??!). So far all indications are that it means nothing of the sort- but I could be wrong…I can only shake my head. I mean: Hulu? Seriously?

Sometimes I am left feeling that for something to be considered visionary/edgy/cute/different in some circles it must incorporate elements of the exotic “…‘xyz’ which means ‘abc’ in Swahili (‘world’ language)…” I know that product names are important and can go a long way in brand creation etc, but this searching for something else about a brand can be so silly to the casual observer.

Anyway, I would like to suggest a new word to all those who are determined to include a Swahili translation for every word that sounds even vaguely like it could be ‘Swahili’- Kamusi, which is the Swahili word for dictionary! Use it! Or better yet, just leave Swahili out of it 🙂

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Where’s the Love?

A few weeks ago I read about a ban on mourning and reporting about/from assemblies of the parents of children killed in the earthquake that devastated Sichuan province in China. They were asked to cancel a memorial for their children (no doubt for political reasons). I sat silent, shocked that any person would tell another how to mourn the loss of their flesh and blood. Worse, I just imagined the double tragedy of a say, a woman past child bearing age who had dutifully respected the 1 child policy only to lose her one and only child. TRAGIC doesn’t even come close to describing this. Yet, the world still turns. Oblivious. Next please. Is it any wonder African governments are all ‘looking East’ these days? Continue reading

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All Creatures ‘Great’ and Small

Two stories I have read today leave me convinced that before the internet my life was very staid and dull. How did I survive without stories that leave me chuckling or in most cases gasping for breath at their hilarity?  Honestly, my days are much brighter thanks to stories of camels humping their owners to death (yes, in Australia somewhere), stories of dogs shooting their owners (don’t need to think where- it was in the great US of A), naked carjackers (this morning, somewhere in Maple Ridge, BC) among other human follies! Continue reading

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Reception 101

Working as an administrative support/reception person is such an eye opener (temping is paying for my “Adventures in Creativity”)! Firstly, everyone assumes they are smarter than you are; secondly, all the higher-ups avoid answering their phones (much to my irritation!). You quickly learn that 90% of the time, 80% of the calls you field are from the same 1% of utterly difficult/obnoxious/downright rude/idiotic people. If the higher-ups answered even 60% of their calls, you would be less irritated/angry/ready-to-slap-someone 100% of the time.
Basically, I will never call anywhere again until I have distilled my query/comments to the main gist/essence. So, for all of you out there who will be calling an office today, here are some tips:

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Matatus: Method? Madness?

In my new home, I have come to notice some very interesting commuter habits that differ somewhat from those of my fellow travelers in my old home (which were surprisingly similar to those in Nairobi). In Montréal, we were masters of “kukaa square”…after lining up in -40 C temperatures, one is more likely to compassionately squeeze further into the bus so the person next in line gets on too. Many a time, I would see a bus groan by, make out the smooshed faces of passengers pressed up against the glass a la Nairobi, and feel less upset (even approving at their ji-pangaring skills) at missing the bus- it was truly ‘full’.

Now, in Vancouver, the bus drives by my stop three times out of five because it is ‘full’, but really, it’s just that the 5 standing passengers are all clustered near the door, while the aisle further into the bus is empty…then, there is the Skytrain…clearly it was designed by some fatuous driving commuter because it is next to impossible to ‘jipanga’ in the cabin- you might end up stuck in the bowels, far from an exit, unable to push your way out. This means that everyone clusters near the door afraid of missing their stop if they move deeper into the car! It is SO ANNOYING in the morning after getting to the station on time, only to have about 3 trains leave you because the people at the door won’t budge (and I bet half are going to the mwisho!!!). Then, there is the other lot of commuters who wait until 2 seconds before the doors swoosh shut to launch themselves like little human torpedoes into the crowd near the door…I almost lost a toe to one such person the other day…I grinned smugly as her handbag got pinched in the doors, hoping that something like her sunglasses were the source of the crunching noise.

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ATTs Matigari

In the 1980’s, in one of the numerous examples of Mo1’s paranoia/foolishness/illiteracy, he issued an order to arrest “Matigari”…a person that he’d heard through the ‘grapevine’ was agitating for truth and justice in Kenya. This is unremarkable except that Matigari was a fictional character in a book of the same name by Ngugi wa Thiong’o…so the genius that is Moi did the next best thing- he banned the book, had it removed from any curriculum (I wonder where all those copies of Ngugi’s books disappeared to…I bet one day someone digging in some corner of Karura forest will find their remains buried).

 Digression: Ngugi wa Thiong’o was being interviewed on CBC radio a few weeks ago, he sounds very zen. I will be getting the English translation of Murogi…my Gikuyu reading skills are a bit too basic to tackle it in Gikuyu.

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