Let’s talk about sex was a hit song from the American all girl hip hop trio, Salt-N-Pepa released in 1990. For the conservative nature of the times, it went straight to the banned list. But anyone alive and young during the 90s remembers Salt-N-Pepa for this song and not because of the safe sex message. Talking about sex in the 80s was stuff of taboo. We only talked about what was wrong with sex in public and regurgitated borrowed notions of what we imagined was great sex from popular media in private. The 80s and 90s were incredibly traumatizing times for young people in the blossoming stage of their sexuality. The ‘killer’ disease AIDS was ravaging lives in Africa and the dread of sex went viral. The HIV virus had weaponized sex to kill and the 90s gave birth to a sexually repressed society burdened with the shame of sexual desire.
The worst thing that can happen to you when you gamble, is winning. It is the best free advice you will never get. What you hear instead is “Bet what you can afford to lose”. You could be the next lucky winner, like the token role model who shot from destitution to prosperity, all over your TV screen, assured of happiness ever after.
He used to be a broke farmer. Now he is rich and he invested so wisely, all his ex-wives who dismissed him as a deadbeat dad, are pleading pardon at the door of his new mansion. That story is relatable. It could be any of us desperate to escape from poverty.
A man named Boniface Manono was the focus of a headline story about the anti-IEBC demonstrations in Nairobi and police brutality that was turned on demonstrators. Mr. Manono moved from obscurity, to sympathy, notoriety and fame in under 48 hours. He was killed, resurrected, castigated and celebrated on social media. Boniface Manono may have been a victim of police brutality, in what appeared to be a near death beating captured on camera but by the next day, he was up and bouncy defending his version of events in newsrooms. He was beaten to death and lived to tell the story.
I stumbled on the Boniface Manono episode on my compulsive Facebook visits, scanning for trending stories which now passes for research in my profession. I had not even made sense of Saleh “James Bond” Wanjala, (the man who hanged precariously from to an airborne helicopter for over a mile and lived to tell his story), before Manono intriguing tale of survival flooded my Facebook timeline, Twitter feed and Whatsapp groups.
Spotted on Twitter: “So what has been stolen over the weekend and by which branch of government?”
I like to start my week with a good slice of bad news and a healthy measure of worry. It keeps me focused. When I scroll through the news feeds, I deliberately seek out depressing news. Some nights, I binge on disasters stories for hours, flipping from one news channel to the next looking for stories that bleed. The Guardian online ran an opinion piece about an attack on civilians at Lido beach in Mogadishu in late January. I had been on that same beach, about a year ago as part of a crew doing a documentary about Somalia Rising and Lido beach was the site of renewed hopefulness in war weary Mogadishu. The news left me numbed. I glossed over the details, trying not to prod because my worry bandwidth had been eaten up by Donald Trump’s sustained popularity in the American presidential primaries. I am generally worried about the stability of the world in a post Obama America. The idea of giving the US presidency back to a white man is troubling. At least with Obama, there was always the reassurance that he would not do anything stupid like sparking a World War 3 to spite Putin.
I watch the news with a permanent scrawl on my face, head cocked towards my right shoulder, determined to make sense of what I hear. One Kenyan financial scandal once a week is about as much as I need to take off the sting of the previous one. Caring about the threat of bad things happening to good people is something I take far too seriously. The prospect of good news does not jolt me anymore. Arsenal extending its losing streak might keep me elated for a night or so but a terrorist attack in Paris keeps me wallowing for at least a week in fear.
I am not the only one afflicted by this condition. My friends do not receive good news enthusiastically anymore. Announcements of child birth, birthdays and accounts of prosperity are subjected to stifled compliments as part of social protocol. Joy bringers who share inspirational quotes and bible verses are seen as naive optimists who refuse to face reality. They are often secretly angling for attention as they pretend to contribute to the gross national happiness index.
Generally happiness is something we learn to keep close to our chests, for the children. To be the only happy person in the group is no fun. Happiness does not thrive without company. The knowledge that I could be feeling happy oblivious of all the bad things happening around me is self-indulgent. Going a day without bad news is stressful and brings about deep feelings of guilt.
Bad news is my anxiety drug of choice, the coffee in my hot water that I need to function. My brain requires a hit at least twice a day. The morning starts with coffee and twitter, to get a summary of the fears for the day. The Whatsapp group will on a good day serve up some shared concern like lions on the loose from the Nairobi National Park on a road I frequent that raises my anxiety to optimum levels. By midday I would have accumulated enough worries to seek out a place to vent my frustrations. Facebook is a good spot to be when you need to release some steam and it only takes a few moments to land on some collective outrage such Museveni’s callous treatment of his political rival Besigye. In the evening, I end the day with the evening news to recap the things I should remember to worry about just before bed.
I fear missing out on bad news and a restaurant that does allow me the facility to charge my phone or the decency of free wifi is not getting my hard earned money. Living in a virtual reality requires commitment. The other day I heard Karura Forest was getting grabbed and an elephant got electrocuted. It felt helpless. This should be trending news. Elephants have remained on my endangered list for some years now. Wangari Maathai has not even been gone 10 years and Karura forest is back in my list of things to worry about.
I have discovered, that the state of one finances determines how well one receives bad news. When you are down and out, hard up, stone broke, left with barely enough to pay for a roof over your head, you become indifferent to bad news. Poverty frees you from a lot of anxiety. If you were worried about hitting rock bottom and then you do, things can only get better because the worst has happened. One goes beyond embarrassment of social scorn because the worries are elementary. Food in the belly and the ability to sustain little livelihood to find more food the next day. Melting icebergs in the North Pole and stolen state funds become luxurious concerns that you cannot afford.
The less money you have, the less you worry because you can only think as far as your money can stretch. But even when we arrive at the full blown state of learned helplessness where worries rule our lives, we never ask for help.
I guess these are only normal worries.