The Booth

Who remembers standing on line in town or the Estates waiting to make a call?. Back then, cellphones were none existent, or were simply out of reach for ordinary folks. If you wanted to communicate with someone, you had two options – either send them a letter by snail mail, or, assuming they had access to a phone, call them from a booth.

We stood in line armed with as many coins as one could find or afford. Woe to you if you are given to bad luck. Yes, there are people who are given to bad luck- like those who always end up with that broken shopping cart that moves sideways. If that’s you, the person ahead of you on that phone booth queue would be eighteen year old girl, clutching a pink coin pouch, full of shiny shillings. She would line the coin slot with shillings, place the coin pouch strategically on the call unit where it was within reach for quick retrieval of coins to replenish the slot.

You stood there praying that the call goes unanswered. But alas, it is

Continue reading “The Booth”

Tattoos and Nails

I checked out of the hotel at 5 am. It was dark outside. I had an early morning flight and had to be at the airport by 7 am. My hotel was about forty-five minutes from the airport by train. I figured if I took the train by latest 5.30 am, I would be in good time for my flight.

Rome is a beautiful city, rich in history, culture, religion and good food. But like most big cities, it has its fair share of challenges, and in some parts of the city, one can see signs of glaring poverty, with ran-down neighborhoods and homeless people. I had visited the city about three times before and stayed at the same hotel, so I knew the area quite well. The hotel was in a quiet neighborhood and I was not worried about my safety. Back in Nairobi I lived in Kawangare (a.k.a. Lavington West), so yes, being aware of my surroundings was second nature.

I dragged my suitcase and headed to the train station. It was a short walk, about seven minutes from the hotel. The streets were deserted. I arrived at the train station and went to the ticket office only to find that was closed! So much for my meticulous planning! I had operated on the assumption that the ticket office opened at the same time as when the trains started operating. Continue reading “Tattoos and Nails”

Curiosity: Chronicles of a High School-er

From my bed, I could see the ceiling trap door. It was located on roof of the opposite cubicle, right above one of the top decker beds. The door gave access to the attic of the Aberdares dormitory. The dormitory was a long single story building, housing about seventy students. It was divided into two rows of six cubicles on each side of a long corridor running down the center. My cubicle was the last ones located end of dormitory.

One Sunday afternoon, I decided I had to go up that trap door to discover the attic. Call it curiosity. It may have killed a cat, but not a fifteen-year old. At least not that I had heard of. May be there was something up there? The pigeons that disappeared through the apex of the building may have their chicks up there. May be there were bats, hanging upside down on the rafters all day long? I had to find out. I climbed up to top bunker bed, pushed the trap door up, pulled myself up and gently replaced the door. It took a minute to adjust to the darkness. Continue reading “Curiosity: Chronicles of a High School-er”

The Envelope

The Hallowed Brown Envelope

When I landed my first job as a civil servant, I did not have a bank account. I am not sure why I had not bothered to open one – call it youthfoolness (yes, I just made that up). I was at the university during the days of Boom, so I did have a regular and substantial ‘income’ to warrant having a bank account, but I chose to have my money under the mattress where I could access it easily. After I got employed, I decided that a bank account wasn’t really necessary.

For starters, it required maintaining a minimum balance. My mattress did not. I could spend the last cent without any surcharges. Additionally, after paying the house rent and other expenses, there was hardly enough money to warrant repeated trips to the bank. That, and the fact that people whose salary was deposited in bank accounts got paid day or two later than those who got their money in cash. On payday, we showed up at the cashier’s office- actually, more like outside the cashier’s office and queued at the metal-grilled window. You gave you ID and pay slip to confirm that you are on the payroll, signed against your name on the black ledger and got a brown envelope. The hallowed Brown Envelope. Continue reading “The Envelope”


Are choices making our lives more stressful?

I miss the simplicity of my childhood. Choices of just about everything were so limited, life was practically stress-free.

The only source of digital entertainment and news we had as kids was the radio. My father had a Sanyo and later a Phillips radio back in the days. It was a treasured family possession. It occupied a place of honour in the living room or table room as we called it. It was via the radio that I first learnt about apartheid and the struggle for democracy in South Africa. The Swahili news broadcast often made reference to Africa ya Kusini and makaburu wenye siasa kali, Shujaa Nelson Mandela, P.W Botha. I hated the latter. I did not fully comprehend his role during the apartheid but from the little I gathered from the radio he was not a good man.

Unlike today when there are a gazillion radio stations, there were only two national channels – the VOK Swahili and English service. VOK was Voice of Kenya – for all you youngsters reading this, which was the precursor of KBC. My parents favourite was the Swahili channel, and a Kikuyu local channel that seemed to focus on death and funeral announcements: who was dead, where are they from, who they are related to and when they will be buried. Think obituaries read out in Kikuyu. This was pre-cellphone age and the newspapers were not very effective in the village so radio was the best means of notifying you that your relative or friend had ‘slept’. People in the village rarely say someone died. They say he slept or she slept, which, if you think about it, is a more hopeful term. You are just asleep; you are expected to rise up at some point. Continue reading “Simplicity”

Why Your Next Employer Is Prying Into Your Social Media Profiles

Let’s say you logged to your Facebook to find you have 30 notifications. It is your friends liking and commenting on a photo you shared about the party you had at your house over the weekend. The comments are your usual ‘looking good’ ‘looking young’ ‘what your secret’ variety, because this is Facebook and the unwritten Comments’ Rule states, “Thou shall not tell your friend the truth that the mirror can tell them.”

Then there is the Memories notification. Facebook wants you to look back to some memories of yesteryears. Apparently Mark Zuckerberg assumes that we need to remember everything that we ever did in the past. Even that rant about your boss from five years ago, to which you tagged a couple of your friends. The rant pops up as a memory for the friends you tagged. They take the trouble to retag you (think of it as returning a favor) to your own memory with a comment, “Hey, remember this?” Of course you remember the rant. So you do the obligatory LOL emoji because of that other unwritten Facebook Rule: “Thou shall not ignore a post that you are tagged to.” Continue reading “Why Your Next Employer Is Prying Into Your Social Media Profiles”

8 Things That Bad Bosses Do

Some people are lucky to work with and for bosses who are not just bosses but leaders. Leaders who recognize that employees are their most valuable asset and treat them as such. These are the bosses who seem to have dropped from heaven on a sunny day.
Not everyone is that lucky. Most people at some point have worked with or for someone who is a classic what-not-to-be boss. On the opposite end of the boss-who-dropped-from-heaven-on-a-sunny-day is the boss from hell. Think the mean spirited yelling types who really belong to a psychiatric hospital than a workplace. Hopefully, you will never suffer the misfortune of working of one of these.

Then there the less obvious bad bosses, who, while they may not yell and call you names, can make your working life miserable. It is a constant drip drip drip that eventually takes toll on your emotional wellbeing. How do you know you are working for a bad boss?  Continue reading “8 Things That Bad Bosses Do”

Goal Setting Is Easy – Ask Brenda

Brenda woke up at 5am. She was an early riser, always out of bed by 5.30am. She had an internal clock and no longer needed the alarm. Today, however, she needed the extra 30 minutes as a cushion – just in case. You never know when traffic will get mad crazy, and you end up getting late for an appointment. And Brenda could not afford to miss today’s appointment.

It was a job interview at Gigiri and she lived in Mlolongo. To avoid to insane Mombasa Road morning traffic, she needed to take a Matatu to the City Center by 6.00 am, at the latest. The interview was at 9.30 am. She figured that if she was in town by 7.30 am, she would make it to the interview on time, perhaps even with time to spare.

She fixed a cup of instant coffee, sat down, and looked the black folder on the coffee table. She was a meticulous planner. She opened the folder, looked through it one more time. She had made copies of all the documents related to the position. She doubted that any of the documents would be needed for the interview, but having them helped in organizing her thought process. She felt confident. She was prepared. Continue reading “Goal Setting Is Easy – Ask Brenda”

The Last Shairi: Chronicles of a High School-er

It was Parents’ Day & Prize Giving Day, all rolled into one. This is the highlights of boarding school life, rivaled only by the Closing Day in importance. Morning was beehive of activity. Touch up cleaning of the dormitories and classrooms, which had been scrubbed spotless the previous day. We were dressed up in our best pair of uniform. We did last minute rehearsal of songs, shairis and skits that were to be presented to parents, teachers, and invited guests. It was a testimony that we were doing more than just reading books. We were budding artists and entertainers. The excitement was tangible. Everyone was upbeat.

I had a shairi to recite. I may not have been an A Swahili student, but all I needed was confidence and a good memory, no? Continue reading “The Last Shairi: Chronicles of a High School-er”

Increasing Daily Productivity – Use of Lists

A work-from-home parent; a student; a senior executive; a job seeker; a businessman; a minister. Whatever your current status or profession, there are things you can do to increase your daily productivity. Ideally, daily tasks are or should be small steps towards achieving a goal or an objective. A simple tool that I have made into a habit over the years is use of lists. It is amazing how putting something down in writing creates the motivation and focus to get it done.

Here is a list of the lists that I regularly use to keep me focused on daily tasks and to track my productivity. There are several apps that one can use to make lists on computer or smart phone. I keep it simple and use the good old notebook.

  1. To Do List. If you are prone to procrastination, a To Do list is a great tool. I should know because I am a procrastinator. I can easily put off breathing for tomorrow if I could! I started using To Do lists several years ago. Now it is a habit – I make a list every morning. I keep it simple by listing only the tasks that I can accomplish within that day. If I have a project that requires a lot of time, I typically list it and indicate how much time I will allocate to the project on that day. I check off completed tasks and cross out tasks that I do not get to at the end of the day.
  2. Focus list. There are days when you wake up with so much energy, you want to wash the curtains and iron them! Then there those days when you are a scatterbrain and cannot seem to focus on a single task without your mind wondering of to the next thing. Have you ever started on a task that was supposed to take 45 minutes, only to find it not completed three hours later? That is when a Focus List comes to your rescue. My Focus Lists look a lot like a To Do List but it is more detailed. For example, if I am reviewing a document that also requires approval and submission to someone else, my To Do List might simply read “Review Document XYZ”, without listing minor incidental steps. Continue reading “Increasing Daily Productivity – Use of Lists”