when the promised land isint all promising

Posted February 5, 2013 by Silvano Ateka
Categories: Uncategorized

It was a journey reminiscent of the Israelites leaving Egypt for the Promised Land.

On that dusty September afternoon, last year, residents like Ruth Njeri left their mud hovels in the sprawling Kibera slum, and took a 20-minute ride to their ‘paradise’, where more than 300 little palaces awaited them.


The relocation was the first in the slum, and part of a series of slum upgrading projects in the country that are hoped to phase out informal settlements.

The Kibera high-rise flats dwarf some of the shacks residents moved from. Photo: Evans Habil/Standard

Although months have passed since that exciting afternoon for Njeri and dozens others who left their shacks for high-rise flats, an aura of nostalgia still hangs thickly over the new estate.

Njeri’s nostalgia has nothing to do with the surroundings of her former home, which was often awash with rivulets of sewage, rubbish heaps and muddy alleys. It is the camaraderie she once shared with her neighbours in the slum, that she misses most.

“I miss my old friends,” she says.

Sharing house

For Njeri, life in the new flats has been smooth but coupled with the challenges of adjusting to an ‘unfriendly’ environment.

The married woman, in her mid 30s, says she is yet to get used to sharing a house with people she can hardly get along with.

Njeri isn’t alone in the predicament. Other residents also find it hard to live with what they describe as ‘unfriendly housemates’, with whom they have to share facilities like kitchen and bathrooms.

Besides unfriendly housemates, a closer look at the flats reveal a life that is different from the once rosy picture etched onto the minds of the occupants earlier on. More than six months down the line, some flats are yet to be supplied with electricity… Read more

The dying reading culture

Posted February 5, 2013 by Silvano Ateka
Categories: Uncategorized

Family literacy day,  an annual event aimed at raising awareness for the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy activities as a family was marked on Sunday last week. The day almost went unnoticed in the media except for a highlight by one TV station on Martha Karua’s presence in a function at Kawangware Primary School in Nairobi.

The presidential aspirant encouraged the pupils to work hard. Good advice indeed – but how often do young people engross themselves in books outside the classroom? How often do we read for our own self development?

English poet Samuel Johnson put it succinctly – that one should read as inclination leads him. The author further advises young people to dedicate at least five hours to books in order to acquire a great deal of knowledge.

Another inspiration for reading comes from history’s notable military hero Alexander the Great. He did not only conquer many lands but read a great deal too. He was so much in love with Homer’s Illiad that he knew it by heart and regarded it as a ‘portable treasure of all military virtue and knowledge.’

When his tutor Aristotle published some of the profound philosophical teachings that he had taught him, Alexander was furious. He wrote to the philosopher that he would rather ‘excel others in the knowledge of what is excellent, than in the extent of power and dominion.’

Today, such passion for books; such quest for intellectual nourishment especially among young people is dissipating.  Blame it on ‘cut and paste’ trend and addiction to social media.

I recall with nostalgia those days when tech gizmos were absent, when studious reading habit was prevalent. Those were the days when you could not miss inspect a dog eared copy of The Drum, True Love and The Readers Digest in a salon or kinyozi especially in the countryside.

The Moses series quenched our appetite regularly in primary school. The aim was to sharpen our English language kills – but the texts did more. They also shaped our careers.

Technological advancement has even made it easier. Books are now available in digital formats, downloadable from the internet.

You will expect our generation to be reaping bountifully from this development. It however seems to be a curse – young people spend much time filling their minds with filth while browsing the internet.

Our higher learning institutions, which are supposed to be the kilns for baking intellectual bricks, are slowly turning into grade mines. Students read only when it is assigned as a task. They read only to pass exams but not to imbibe knowledge for intellectual nourishment.

Libraries are lonely place except during exam time. Imagine reading a whole semester’s work within a few hours to exam time. Or researching and preparing a PowerPoint presentation that is a few minutes past due date.

For those who fail to beat deadlines, there are many excuses. Often, it is about the computer – how it crashed just seconds before the student could ‘click on the ‘print’ icon and accomplish the task.

Gone are the days when university students articulated key concepts in their academic province with clarity and competence. Those days seem to have gone with the falling of the Berlin wall – as one writer posited.

The young scholar is no longer the epitome of intellectual rigor. With much focus on good grades, the scholar has perfected the art of shortcuts just to color the transcript.

It is seldom in his genuine interest to feed his spirit with the bread of books or quench his thirst at the wells of thought.

Indeed, we are a Facebook, Google and Wikipedia generation. A ‘cut and paste generation’. Shall we really have anything substantial to show when ‘posterity will vainly ask for proof of our intellectual merit?’


Posted February 5, 2013 by Silvano Ateka
Categories: Uncategorized

Love – a sickness full of woes

Posted October 1, 2011 by Silvano Ateka
Categories: Uncategorized

Had you predicted those days that we would later have problems and break up, I would have dismissed you as jealous and pessimistic.

A common adage discourages against putting all your eggs in one basket. In a love relationship, the saying makes sense too – it is unwise to invest everything in someone who has not passed the test of trust.

Otherwise, you can be heartbroken to stumble on truth. Imagine walking on the same path arm in arm. Thinking that you share a common destiny with him when he is actually gallivanting in open fields of indecision.

Such is the cost of loving so much and blindly. It badly breaks you up when the relationship falls to pieces and the love you share grows wings.

To avoid such pains and costs, I learnt that it is advisable to have some sort of a strong room in one’s heart. That while you can let her open and access other areas of your inner self; the room should be a no-go zone for her.

The essence of such a room is to reconcile you with yourself. When things go wrong as they often do, you can always draw your strength from within. That means you will not withdraw into self-pity or threaten revenge or cause the world to come to an end.

I never had such a room when I faced a similar problem at campus. Like many others; mine affair was accidental. At college, I was determined to focus sharply on books.

Friends could fight and quarrel in their relationships as I remained engrossed in books. I was a ‘good boy’ who knew the essence of being on campus. I therefore resolved to shelve matters of the heart and dwell on those of the mind.

I was well aware about the comedy of love. How someone, despite mastering the human circulation system claims that his girlfriend has clogged his veins, causing good feeling.

Then, like an astronaut to oxygen supply; the fellow sticks to the girl. He will miss classes to and do everything to sustain the good feeling!

The whole college would be convinced that the relationship had been blessed in heaven. But a after a semester or two, we would prove that the affair had actually been cursed in hell.

They would begin hunting are hunting each other with a murderous agenda would puzzle everyone.

Call it love – a sickness full of woes, all remedies refusing as English poet Samuel Daniel put it. I swore to avoid it but little did I know that we do not love with our heads but with our hearts. Shakespeare even conceded it when he wrote in sonnet 141:

             In faith I do not love thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But ’tis my heart that loves what they despise

I stumbled on mine in the college library and she proved that some things in this world are irresistible. Had you predicted those days that we would later have problems and break up, I would have dismissed you as jealous and pessimistic.

We were always together arm in arm. We could study together, lunch together, stroll around together.

I loved so much unaware of the danger in doing so. It became a hobby to call her every day and make unrealistic promises – unconscious of the fact that I was making a big fool of myself for her sake.

Then dents began to emerge in the relationship. I realized that she had another affair – what prompted a break up. I thought it was easy – just shake it off and proceed on with life.

It however turned into a sickness. Something was evidently missing – for she was absent at the lunch table, absent at the study table, absent in the phone calls that I often received.

I could not concentrate in class. I could stare at the instructor blankly – my mind far away on a revenge mission plan. Such was the sickness I had not known before.

Just a break-up and there I was on the verge of being heartbroken. It was like the whole of feminine species had conspired to hurt me.

Of course I had contributed to the problem. I had cheated on her too – but it is normal for men to look at such matters from a biased lens. I thus cursed and vowed never to love again.

I even promised to teach her a painful lesson – what beckoned the intervention of a counselor.

As days passed, I realized that I had put all my eggs in the basket of our relationship. Slowly, schoolwork began to make sense again. Furthermore; the doomsday I had feared on losing her never came to pass.


Yes, ours is a dying society

Posted October 29, 2009 by Silvano Ateka
Categories: Uncategorized

Writing for The Sunday Times in February 2005, author and journalist Andrew Sullivan did a thought provoking piece entitled ”Society is dead”. The story which later appeared amongst other writers’ works in a collection entitled: Ideas, insights and arguments – a non fiction collection (2008) focuses on a people grossly enmeshed in a technological world.

In “Society is dead”, Sullivan highlights the impact of the simple MP3 player on the lives of folks in an American suburb. He observes that iPods which belts iTunes from iMacs are drawing people into their own self-dominated iWorlds where they become iSelves – shunning any opportunity that might provide them with a new experience.

As learners, we are also thoroughly cocooned in our own iWorlds which have impacted negatively on our academic progress and effectiveness. Look around in our higher learning institutions and you will spot shiny wires stubbornly extending from the ears down to the pockets where the sleek MP3 players are safely tucked.

Our obsession with such gadgets has therefore compromised our seriousness as learners. One can easily attend a discotheque while quietly pretending to be engrossed in a book. The riotous iTunes belted by the iPods can make one seem to be present in a place yet absent. Close yet so far away. Keen yet absentminded.

Such is the effect of embracing certain technological gizmos hook, line and sinker. Talking to folks in their iStates is tantamount to wasting time. They will respond with a blank stare; their mind transfixed in their iWorlds.

But the addictive iPod is not the only technological cocoon that is slowly becoming the bane of our existence. The internet with its avalanche of social networks is proving to be more of a curse than a blessing.

Indeed; we are being easily propelled by whimsical winds of technology. How else would you explain the idea of one chatting early morning; exchanging real trivia over a social network at the expense of academic work?

Some institutions are trying to restrict access to such sites. The bad news is that there are addicts who always find ways of hacking in! Furthermore, the modern phone is more than just a phone. It is a mini computer on which facebook amongst other social network sites are easily accessible.

With such devices, you can be present in class physically; but mentally be yodeling and honking in some dirty joint somewhere. You can as well seem to be attentive in class; nodding impressively at the instructor’s points when in reality you are engaged in a sensational exchange with your beloved one via Facebook.

Of course the merits of Facebook and her other numerous close cousins cannot be overlooked. Facebook alone, with its millions of users worldwide is such a powerful tool for networking. However, like anything else; the danger lies in addiction and abuse.

The addiction is not only limited to the leaner at college. It has penetrated into offices where workers often struggle to balance between getting engrossed in a lively chat and performing their official duties. Steal a glance on computer screens in most offices and you will often notice the minimized screen; chat in progress.

To the learner, it is worse. You can imagine how it feels for your research project to wait because your colleague with whom you share a PC is busy Facebooking.

Then there are search engines that have made academic life to be full of shortcuts. Cut-and-paste is now a favored option to many students. After all, who is willing to rack brains for an arduous research when a copy of a similar task can be downloaded freely from the internet – thanks to Google and good old Wikipedia?

Ours is therefore a life characterized by shortcuts. Plagiarism is on the rise. Scholastic laziness is lavishly blooming.

The effect of such a lackluster and laissez faire attitude toward scholarship is that the young scholar is no longer an authority on matters academic. You rarely come across his byline in academic journals and relevant pages in local dailies. His voice is often conspicuously absent in many an intellectual forum.

Gone are days when he would bite the bullet for a noble course. The Mau is begging for rescuers but the problem solver is busy Facebooking. The country is bereft of fresh ideas to keep its wheels moving but they won’t certainly emanate from a cut-and-paste mindset.

Ours is thus a Facebook, Google and Wikipedia generation. It might as well be a wasted generation. Shall we really have anything substantial to show when ‘posterity will vainly ask for proof of our intellectual merit?”

The young scholar is no longer the epitome of intellectual rigor. With much focus on clean ‘As’ on his transcript; the scholar has perfected the art of shortcuts just to color the transcript. It is seldom in his genuine interest to ‘feed his spirit with the bread of books or quench his thirst at the wells of thought’ – save for the good grade.

Long are the days when he articulated key concepts in his academic province with clarity and competence. I recall as a young kid back in primary school when we could envy him whenever he landed in the village with a thud. Such were moments when heated debates on ideologies such as Marxism and capitalism became alive.

Though it was all Greek to us by then, we held the scholars in high esteem. One of them, now a senior journalist, inspired me with his good grasp of journalistic concepts. As a result of such early exposure; I ended up in a journalism class and I am still yet to quench my academic thirst.

But such passion for matters academic, such mojo; such impetus is slowly atrophying. In an era where serious reading seems to obtain only when exams are around the corner and where Facebook and MP3 players are taking over cataclysmically; such dissipation is expected. Ours is therefore a dying society –Andrew Sullivan speaks for many!


Putting all eggs in one basket

Posted October 25, 2009 by Silvano Ateka
Categories: Uncategorized

Visiting the village

Posted May 25, 2009 by Silvano Ateka
Categories: Uncategorized

On my arrival in the village recently, I could not smile even as my friends cracked their funniest jokes. My face was a clear DO NOT DISTURB sign.
The severe expression was to put off the swarm of friends and relatives who rushed to greet and hug and thank God for my arrival. On arrival in the village, you will be told about all the relatives who had passed away in your absence. You will be informed about all debts that had been incurred and how they had been praying for your assistance.
Friends will be there for you too. They will pat your back and shake your hand in knowledge that you will turn on the taps of beer again. You are still searching for a kibarua in the city. You are ever broke – only eking a living out there but folks down there are stuck to the fact that you are senior officer in some big company.
Thus, apart from buying lots of sugar and maize to relatives, you will also be expected to pay for the bull that was slaughtered sometimes back in a distant relative’s funeral.  
“Though you have a lot of money,” an old friend said to me, “we are only requesting for a glass of chang’aa.”

“You  must do something for us!” another one commanded.

Of course, I was very broke but I could not make a mistake of telling them about it for they could have laughed it off and branded me a great joker. So I told them about my sickness and how was in urgent need of a doctor.
The kids who were playing football excitedly stopped their match and ran towards me when I entered home. They looked excitedly at my rucksack in thought that I had carried foodstuff for them. It was bad for them since it only contained my books and clothes.
  “Go back to your game!” My younger brother tried to order them. I knew quite well that they would not leave. Not when a ring of smoke was coming from the kitchen.
So we took tea together. The bread was not enough but we enjoyed a single slice each. I was happy at last!
We later played together – running around and laughing excitedly. It was nice to be back home. Nice to be a child again.
 There was abject poverty in the village but the kids played merrily as if all was well. I smiled as they began to sing “The sun has gone to sleep” the song I had loved as a child. I sang along loudly. I jumped and clapped my hands only to realize that there were some spectators…
“I knew you were not sick.” Came the excited voice from one of the spectators. He was one of my stubborn old friends. “You must buy the drink…”

 I became sick again. Very sick.