Long Posts, UWC

“How’s China?” “It’s an adventure.”

When I went back to Kenya for Christmas, people always asked me “How is China?” Aside from the fact that this is quite a peculiar question because quite a number of people don’t seem to care when I go into a lengthy analysis of China’s complex history, culture, social dynamics, and fascinating politics. People just expect me to say something like “It’s good, I haven’t eaten dogs,” probably because that is the short and interesting answer. Anywho, the appropriate answer that I learned to give was “It’s an adventure,” an answer that I think is an accurate depiction of my feelings towards living in China.

<<Tangent>> Oh dear, I have just realised that you may be wondering how I ended up in China, let me explain. For those who don’t know, in September 2018 I began my nine-month stint as an intern at UWC Changshu China (yup, UWC just couldn’t shake me off after 2 years). So yes, I have been living in Changshu, China which is about 2 hours away from Shanghai by road. <<End Tangent>>

I came to China having little to no expectations about life here. Sure, I was told by some members of my loving family to watch out lest I accidentally eat dogs (the ignorance and casual racial prejudice is becoming quite endearing) and of course I heard the whole spiel about “China is the next big thing, learn the language, blah blah blah.” 4 months later I think I finally have something substantial to say about my time here thus far.

China is an adventure because regardless of whether you come with or without any expectations it is a country that will never cease to amaze. Most people don’t understand how intertwined China is with its historical context, the historical context that people do know about China is mainly centred around the Great Wall and Chairman Mao, woefully little, especially since China is one of the oldest continuous civilisations on this planet. For people outside of East Asia, China is a society and a culture that is almost completely different from what we are used to. Granted, there are similarities due to globalization and what not, the Chinese civilisation has up until the mid 19th century developed in total isolation from the rest of the world, mind you at that point there were already several hundred million people in China. I had the fortune of studying Chinese history in my History class, and it has helped me immensely in understanding why China is the way it is.

I eat vegetables that I never knew existed on a regular basis; lotus root, bamboo, winter melon. Black people in smaller cities are a rare occurrence so when I go out, I become a tourist attraction with people stopping to take pictures of me in my melanin glory. The convenience of having WeChat, an app that effectively combines Facebook, mPesa, Whatsapp, Booking.com, UberEats etc. I am in awe at how modernity and ancient traditions continue to co-exist and of course how incredibly extravagant China can be.

China has been the victim of stereotypes galore, which is sad because it is a nation that is so much more than the Great Wall of China. I also don’t want to understate my strong misgivings with the neo-colonial forages of the Chinese government into my homeland, human rights violations, curtailing of fundamental freedoms and racism.  I also feel uncomfortable with the very high level of government surveillance and the Great Firewall is stifling when I do not have the conveniences of a VPN.  However, living here is teaching me a whole lot about a totally different way of doing things. It may sound quite pedestrian, but it is true. I haven’t experienced anything quite like China, so it is different to me it is a totally different way of governance, a different way of living, social interactions, a different way of everything. I may disagree with the way some things are done, but I do recognize and appreciate that some things are done better than anywhere else in the world.

What China gets right is that it adapts things to its context. You may make fun of “Made in China” by calling it “copy paste,” but in China, they copy and paste, then change the font, make sure the text wraps around the images nicely, then they’ll print, and everything looks prim and proper. This is quite unlike the godforsaken government of Kenya, which will just copy and paste and then press print. Then they’ll wonder why some papers have come out in A3 others in A4, why the title is in comic sans and why the text is in all colours of the rainbow.

It may sound like I have been hired by higher powers to present this somewhat glowing review of China, but I have not. Although, I must admit that my view of China is very sheltered. I live in a bubble, the campus is on its own island, literally. I also reside in one of the richest provinces in China -Jiangsu- and of course as a foreigner in an institution partly sponsored by the government, my view on China is of course partly constructed for me. However, I feel like my observations although incomplete and not at all extensive are valid as they are what I presently see and think of China. Also, the negative stuff is everywhere online and positive perceptions about China are just not so commonplace among Kenyan society. I hope to write more profoundly about my gap year and share my misadventures here later. But for now, 再见.

P.S. Mandarin is an incredibly difficult language, please don’t overestimate my abilities in Mandarin

Long Posts, UWC

LIC – Language Identity Crisis

Have you ever stopped to think about language? It’s this thing that allows us to communicate. We tell stories, we laugh, we convince, and we persuade all through language. Clearly, something that occupies such a significant part of our daily lives deserves a bit more time and thought than we give it. During my time at UWC, a place where there were almost as many languages spoken as there were people, I came to see how language occupies such a central part in one’s identity, and hey presto came my own identity crisis with language.

The beginnings of my confusion

Born in Mombasa, I grew up speaking Kiswahili as my first language. At two and a half when I entered school I began to learn and speak English. Soon enough English became the dominant tongue in my mouth, given that I was spending most of my active day speaking English. In fact, my entire academic career has been in English apart from the few Kiswahili classes I took when I was schooling in Mombasa. Nevertheless, when I was asked at UWC what my native language was, I really didn’t know what to say. One, because I don’t think I had ever been asked that question before and two, I didn’t even know which language to answer; English or Kiswahili. To add to the confusion, we Kenyans consider our mother tongues to be the first languages of our parents, usually the local languages unique to each tribe. For me, Kirabai and Kitaita. I don’t speak these languages, I have never learned these languages, and chances are I probably never will. So back to the question what is my native language? I first said Kiswahili, then sometimes I would say English, eventually, I just used to say both, much to the confusion of my interlocuter.

Anyway, whichever response I gave I was met with interesting responses. I remember that some teachers of mine struggled to understand how I was a native English speaker (I wasn’t of British, North American, or Australian origin). Heck, even some of my classmates struggled with this. When I responded with Kiswahili, I was met with “Wow! But your English is so good,” as if one can’t speak a second language to native fluency. When I responded with English and Kiswahili some would say “But how? You can only have one.” I was confused, couldn’t  people just be content with whatever answer I gave? In trying to make sense of my confusion (I know it sounds ironic, but I think you get the gist of what I am trying to say), I began to think more about language and identity, politics, and the role it plays in society.

Language in the Kenyan context

For us Kenyans we grow up with two dominant languages, English and Kiswahili. English is predominantly used in business and government whereas Kiswahili is more social. If I am not mistaken nearly all Kenyans speak Kiswahili, English not so much, even though it is the language of instruction in schools. English is widespread in urban areas far more than rural areas. To understand the cultural spaces that these two languages occupy like many things in Africa we go back to colonialism. English was the languages of the British Imperialists, Kiswahili was the language of the Swahili people on the coast of East Africa. Kiswahili was written in Arabic script, but because that was not understood by the British, the language was transcribed into the Latin Alphabet. Kiswahili was turned into the language of the Africans, and English remained what it was, the language of the European settlers.

As we were conditioned to think that the West was best, people aspired to behave, and act like the British. Adopt their way of dressing (suits were NOT made for our hot tropical sunshine), adopt their food and drink, and adopt their language among many others. We were told that in order to escape our supposed savage and subhuman nature, this is what we needed to do. We would emulate them in every way possible, but we would never be exactly like them because our skin colour was different. The humanity of an African was controlled. Today the shackles of this mentality have not escaped, and language is one of the ways we continue to be bound to the colonial legacy.

The hierarchy of language

“To speak means to assume a culture, to support the weight of a civilisation”

-Franz Fanon

This quote was brought to my attention by a very good friend of mine who featured in my last blog post. Fanon’s quote reminds us that language is an incredibly powerful tool, for “until the Story of the hunt is told by the Lion, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” Little do we know that language is being used as a tool against us. A measure of intelligence in this country is how well you speak the English language, but just look at some of the verbal diarrhoea our politicians spew on national television and you will see that this is far from the truth. We still believe that those who have mastery of the English language are those that have made it. English is the language of prestige in this country and I mentioned this in the last blogpost, the 9pm English news bulletin is one hour, and the 7pm Kiswahili news bulletin is a mere half an hour. We only have one national Kiswahili newspaper -all the rest are in English. When Kiswahili words find their ways into our newspapers, they are written in italics and a translation promptly follows within brackets.

We shame those who shrub (when words are “mispronounced” due to the influence of one’s mother tongue), but look at it like this, shrubbing is those little instances when that piece of yourself that you have suppressed for so long tries to come out, but it is beaten back inside by the laughs of others. I have been guilty of this. Shaming those who shrub is how we reinforce the hierarchy of language and accents in this country. With the increasing popularity of international schools many of whom don’t make it mandatory for students to learn Kiswahili we have a situation where Kenyans only speak English. We lose the one language that unites us as Kenyans.

I could continue listing examples of how we have internalised this hierarchy of language. With this internalised hierarchy we have internalised structures of oppression, and we continue to define ourselves and discuss our problems in a language that isn’t even ours. We underestimate the power of Kiswahili and how significant it is as a language. It is the only African language that is an official language of the African Union, and it is the most widely spoken African language. If the dream of a united Africa is to be realised the lingua franca will not be English, French, Portuguese, or Arabic, it will be Kiswahili.

So what now for us Kenyans?

The challenge for us Kenyans is to figure out what in the world do we do with the quagmire we are in. How I navigated this conundrum is through code-switching. Code-switching is the use of switching dialects of a language for different social contexts or situations. Only in this case, it isn’t even dialects, it’s using entirely different languages. Kiswahili occupied a different context for me, compared to English, or Swanglish (a mix of Kiswahili and English). I have been doing this my entire life, the only thing is that I didn’t know I was doing it, hence probably why I was so damn confused. At the end of the day, English is not our tongue, and so long as we speak it, as Fanon says, we are assuming the weight of a civilisation that is not ours. So long as we are speaking English in the form it was dumped onto us, there will be an inherent distance between us Kenyans and it.

The issue is, I don’t think it is within the realm of possibilities to say that we should stop speaking English outright, in today’s world English is by and large the language of international communication. However, language is not just a way to communicate, it also is a carrier of culture and values and we can’t carry our culture and our values with a language that is not ours. Ideally, every Kenyan citizen is trilingual, their mother tongue, Kiswahili, and English. In that order of being learned, and in that order of importance. This should be official language policy, but it isn’t, and our mother tongues are dying. I don’t know the solutions to the issues I have raised, but I am hoping that by bringing awareness to these issues and maybe allowing these issues to mature in my mind something tangible may come out of this.

Looking back, it is no wonder I was so confused when it came to determining my native language or mother tongue, there are so many nuances to language politics in this country that we just don’t address or talk about in public discourse. I for one would not be able to write this post in Kiswahili a language I claim to be fluent in. Language is such an integral part in the formation of an identity

I will finish with a quote I found in Decolonising the Mind by Ngugi wa Thiong’o (read it), and I won’t translate it ;D.

“Titi la mama litamu lingawa la mbwa, lingine halishi tamu… Watu wasio na lugha ya asili, kadiri walivyo wastaarabu, cheo chao ni cha pili dunia”

-Shabaan Robert

Long Posts

The failings of my so-called international education

I have been fortunate and privileged to attend what are purported to be some of the best schools in Kenya, heck even in the world. In all my 16 years of education, my so-called “International” education, one of the places I have learnt the least about is my own homeland, Kenya and the African continent at large. So this got me thinking more and more about this thing called “school” that occupied such a big chunk of my 18 years on Earth.

Across Africa, IGCSE, the U.S. American curriculum, and the IB are by and large the most popular foreign curriculums. I will not call them international curriculums, because they are first and foremost foreign to us before they are international. If you have the money you don’t take your child to a government school which is understandable as our gov’t schools are not up to par, you wouldn’t even send your child to a school with the government curriculum, you would take them to an international School. But it isn’t just the moneyed, foreign governments give bursaries and scholarships galore to developing countries. Masses upon masses apply for these opportunities. It may be out of the good nature of their hearts but we all know how politics works so there is obviously a hidden agenda there. Because these countries are “successful” we equate anything and everything associated with them with success, so it’s no wonder people flock to apply for these scholarships. We hold foreign education systems in such high regard we forget to see the insidious contexts in which they were created, and the insidious contexts in which they continue to exist and even promoted.

During the colonial period, education systems for Africans were created to serve the needs of the colonialists. Subservient workers who only knew JUST enough to be useful to enrich the Imperialists. Philosophy? Art? Sports? According to the racist justification for colonialism, Africans don’t need such knowledge because

  1. Their inferior minds won’t get it
  2. They don’t need it because we only need them to work.

On the other hand, settler schools, for obvious reasons, copied and pasted the education model from their imperial governments. And of course, Africans were conditioned to think that these schools were where you would go to get educated once you “made it” . Just look at the prestige associated with the now “Africanized” former White only schools (Kenya High, State House Girls, Nairobi School etc.) One may say missionary schools such as Alliance were an exception given that they are good and they educated Africans from day one, but the basis on which these schools were founded which as much as it was altruistic was religion. And as we all know but like to forget, religion was just one way to beat the Africanness out of us.

Fast forward 50 years later and our education systems are still relics of our colonial pasts. I mean, do you really think we Africans who hold family and community in such high regard would have before the colonial era deemed it wise to ship our children to boarding schools, far away from the watchful eyes of our parents? That colonial mentality that we Africans should aspire to be “European” continues to perpetuate. Just look at how the 7pm Kiswahili news bulletin is half an hour long and the 9pm English news bulletin is one hour long. Aside from the practical bits of our government schools being riddled with problems, and the government curriculum being woefully flawed, I believe this mentality is also makes foreign curriculums more desirable because context, be it present or historical, is everything.

We like to forget numerous truths that are inconvenient and would make us feel guilty about the decisions we make and where we spend our money. One of these truths is that foreign curriculums were not made for us. It is easy to forget this when we tack the word international to everything that is foreign. Because they were not made for us, they obviously have other goals. Foreign curriculums don’t teach us to be Kenyan, they teach us to be like those from where the curriculum originates. For example, The IGCSE- British and the International Baccalaureate – the West. Obviously you don’t get to know this by reading their brochures, but you do get to know this by understanding context. The vast majority of those who graduate from these foreign curriculums go on to study in Europe and North America, I am not aware of the exact number that comes back but I know it is far less than those that go. Why would they teach us about our culture and history and risk us actually feeling a connection to our homeland? This is yet another manifestation of the colonial policy of beating the Africanness out of us. It is also a manifestation of policies that continue to remind us Africans that we are being let into foreign countries as a favour, through policies that let in JUST enough of us and societies in these countries that make you feel like you will never ever be like them.

We also need to remember that when we learn these foreign curriculums we are learning somebody else’s definitions of who we are. Foreign curriculums don’t acknowledge our local contexts, they are not nuanced, they are not tailor made to our local dynamics. Even those that purport to be fit for Kenya aren’t, because it is that same curriculum being used in Nigeria, Zambia, Vietnam, and Peru, so of course things are lost in transference. A good friend of mine articulated this nicely when she said a reason why it is difficult for us to center on problems back home, the problems that are realest to us is because “For centuries we have been dealing with the white man’s problems, the white man’s history, and the white man’s definition of who we are.” These foreign education systems ensure that we continue seeing ourselves, our history, and even the world not through an African cultural lens but through a western cultural lens.

This reminds me of the days when Matiang’i was education minister (it was only around 2016/2017 but after this lengthy electioneering period it seems like a life time ago) he proclaimed that all international schools should make it mandatory for students to learn Kiswahili and Kenyan history. As far as I am aware, this declaration didn’t come to implementation by the April 2017 deadline, and chances are it won’t. This declaration of his was a step in the right direction in my opinion, but to illustrate the insidious internalised mentality that has possessed this country Kenyan natives were declaring “What competence does Swahili add to someone’s life, we need to learn global langauges” or “If Kenyan history was important then it would be in the curriculum.” Additionally, if we really were serious about this, we would have implemented this with much more vigour, but we didn’t, because we didn’t give a damn. In fact, alot of noise was made about this in the media but we heard little from the international schools that this declaration affected.

However, I do give credit where it is due. Firstly, one afternoon a friend and I were perusing the text book section at TBC (do this if you are bored at a mall, you’ll have a good laugh seeing the nonsense that we are indoctrinating our children …more on this in future). I was curious as to what was in the History and Government syllabus for high school, and was pleased to see all aspects of Kenyan history at the very least mentioned in the table of contents. The accuracy, bias, and comprehensiveness is up for debate as I didn’t go as far as to assess all of this, but at the very least things were mentioned.

Secondly, I felt that the IB, the system of education which I did, did a fair job in providing an opportunity for schools to tailor their curriculums to local contexts. For instance at Higher Level History, you can specialise on a continent and learn aspects of it’s history in depth. Or you could choose case studies for an internal assessment that were relevant to you and where you came from (in numerous other subjects as well). On the other hand, All the political thinkers we studied in m Political Thought class during my IB Diploma years, were westerners, and were dead white men, apart from one woman. You cannot tell me that in the whole history of the world, there is not a single political philosopher that is not from the West.

This is not to say that I did not value my education. I did. I valued the relationships I built, the skills I gained, the knowledge I am now applying. Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to write this and run this blog without the education that I had. I am trying to make sense of the nuances of this education that I obtained, and this is one of many nuances. It is just that I’ve never truly understood it until I lived outside of it. Nevertheless, Being the proud pan Africanist that I am, during my time in Germany I found myself raising my hand and making what we were learning relevant to my cultural and geographical context, something my education taught me to do.

To those who will start pointing to exceptions, don’t worry, I gotchu. As with any generalisations there are exceptions (that’s why it’s called a generalisation -some people still refuse to understand that). The Africa Leadership Academy is one school that I admire on paper (I say this because I only know it, on paper, the reality on the ground may be different) because it does offer the British A Level curriculum, but has transformed it to focus on African entrepreneurship and leadership, and cultivating homegrown solutions to African problems. They also require their students to sign a contract requiring them to return to work on the African continent within 10 years or risk forfeiting their scholarship. I’d just point out that the fact that such an Afro centric school even has to include that in their contract speaks volumes about the kind of world we live in. A world and a society that tells us that educated Africans are better placed abroad than in the very place that raised them. It also doesn’t help that the perennial issues that plague our country don’t look like they are going to be solved anytime soon, and it is sad that those with the expertise to be of service who want to help become frustrated by our corrupted systems and go abroad.

To the what’s-your-solutionists (whom I very much dislike) I am very much aware that the moneyed of Kenya and Africa find themselves with few alternatives to local education systems. Our governments have up to now proven that they are incapable of giving a decent (read: high quality) education to all citizens even though it is a right, so those with money seek alternatives and those alternatives are a living embodiment of African oppression. Kama kawaida, the common mwananchi suffers because those with the means (read: knowledge) escape the problems that plague our country and therefore remove any possibility of actually fixing this nation. I am no expert, but I do know that this issue can’t be solved by government alone. It will take more than just a capable education CS, and an executive that truly cares about the children of this country. We need an overhaul of our own mentality and that involves each and every one of us. We have to understand that we need an education system that is made by us so that it works for us. We are running away to foreign solutions because we think they are better, when in reality, down the line they only perpetuate a system where we Kenyans, we Africans, are ultimately the losers. A system of global inequality perpetuated by years and years of oppression and only serves the moneyed and those in power (who tend to be the same people anyways) for the poor remain poor. This applies not just to education, but to pretty much anything we do in this country. Have you ever wondered why mPesa is so successful? It’s a Kenyan solution to a Kenyan problem, and we need more of those. Fixing our education system will not be easy nor will it be fast, in the process many of the issues I’ve raised will continue to exist. It will be decades before results will begin to show therefore It will be frustrating because we Kenyans like instant results for projects we spend alot of money on. Look at how obsessed we are with new roads and railway lines. Fixing our education will involve tough and painful decisions that may very well change the fabric of our society, and we must be ready and willing to make those decisions. Everyone deserves the highest quality education, and for that, it needs to be free. Education is priceless, but the price tag is hefty.

Bringing my ramblings on education to a close…. My education didn’t teach me much about Kenya and about Africa. It did however teach me the skills to realise the flaws in something that I took as a given, and in turn helped me see some fundamental flaws in the way things operate in the motherland. Don’t get me wrong, the last thing I want to do is to deny the possibility of being hopeful for the future. I know there will be the detractors saying “why are you being so negative” or words to that effect, but as with any change that needs to happen we need to acknowledge that there is a problem. We also need to believe that we can change things, no matter how dire the situation may be. Anything less and we would merely be letting the now internalised feeling of a hopeless Africa get the better of us. Now, I think I could write an entire book on this but this is it for now.

Long Posts

Baptism by Fire

In my time back in the motherland, I have had the great displeasure of having to obtain government services. As the word displeasure would imply, my experience in obtaining my national identity card and have tested my patience and resolve to not lose my cool in front of government officials.

With a government that proudly calls itself digital, I thought the process of obtaining my national ID would be somewhat digital. A fair assumption to make given the launch of the eCitizen platform sometime back. I was quickly humbled when an online search to find out how to obtain one left me more confused than before I began searching. One blog told me to go to a Huduma Center, a forum to the chief, a wikihow article to my district of birth. Did I mention that no government website had information on how to obtain a legal requirement for every Kenyan citizen above the age of 18?

Armed with my father we set off on an adventure, We arrived promptly to the chief’s office at 9 am, a derelict mabati (iron sheets) structure held together by cardboard emblazoned with “Executive Office of the President” adorned with red black and green and the coat of arms (ah the irony). She wasn’t there. We called her to confirm that we were indeed at the right place and she informed us that she would be there in two hours. We heeded, and two hours later we were there. My experience at the Chief’s office would be the trailer to my harrowing day at the mercy of the Kenya Government. I was immediately shouted at for wearing a hat inside the office of the president, rebuked for not handing over all my documents at once, and intimidated by her telling me that I had to go to Mombasa because despite the fact that I live in Nairobi my documents show that I have nothing to do with Nairobi. Nyof Nyof. After this encounter, I was informed by the chief the following (verbatim) “You know I had to come from very far this morning, I was in the field and I had to take an Uber from Lavington to get here. I am not asking for a bribe, I am only asking to be appreciated.” At that point, I became 200 shillings poorer.

I was directed to the National Registration Bureau (NRB) in Westlands, where we made the mistake of arriving at 1pm, the beginning of the lunch break for every government employee. Here was where the payment of “appreciations” continued. For those who do not know, appreciations are a uniquely Kenyan cultural concept that I can’t really explain, maybe I will in a future blog post, but consider them as a sort of bribes (but they aren’t bribes). Ugali for the GSU officer who opened the gate, airtime for the GSU officer who opened the gate for us to get out, more ugali for the GSU officer who opened the gate when we returned from getting my papers signed, more soda for the GSU officer who opened the gate for us to leave at the end of the day. In that whole office, I was met with officials who looked at whomever they were serving with great contempt as if one’s efforts to obtain a legal requirement were an immense burden to themselves as they sat behind desks writing forms and taking fingerprints.

I was then told to go to the chief to get her signature on my forms (which she did with no qualms at all this time around) and then to return. I complied. Quite promptly, in fact, I was back within the hour. To my utter horror, I was told that they were no longer accepting new applications even though it was two hours till closing times. According to the lady with the really itchy weave (no really, that pen she was used more for scratching her head than writing forms, it was quite distracting), they don’t accept new applications past 3pm because they are processing the ones from the morning. She even beckoned me to look at the guy who takes fingerprints whom she asked “Are you still taking prints,” to which he replied “No,” even though he was quite literally just sitting there with the finger print taking device placed right in front of him doing absolutely nothing. My pleas fell on deaf ears.

I went outside to lament to my father, and one young fellow saw me and exclaimed “Ala, kumbe ulikuja na mzee, wacha nikusaidie,” loosely translated to “Oh! You came with your father, let me help you.” To be frank, it had nothing to do with respect for my father, or pity for me and my father because he left work to help me with my ID, but everything to do with money. As the young fellow who took my fingerprints kept talking about soda. He talked about vimto, fanta, sprite, coke, you name it to drive the point home that he too wanted to be appreciated. He also saw that I was from Mombasa, and he did that despicable thing that Nairobians do when they are at the coast or interacting with someone at the coast, exaggerating a coastal Kiswahili accent to the point where their speech becomes so nasal you’d think their voice box moved up into their nasal cavity. Sorry, tangent. So, he too was appreciated with some shillings for soda. It was funny, because the first thing my father said to me when I exited that office was “Ulimpatia kitu kidogo” “Did you give him something small” (Kitu kidogo is yet another uniquely Kenyan cultural concept, google it), a few more steps and I looked up to see the sign characteristic of government offices countrywide which read “This is a corruption-free zone.” I honestly think they put them there for the lols.

This country of mine works for you if you have money. Government officials, be it the chief, the person taking fingerprints at the NRB, really whomever, can and will treat you however they like because they know you have no other choice. You won’t renounce your citizenship over a rude customer service attendant at the department of immigration. If it’s not money it is knowing people. Driving back home my father told me, if this was back in Rabai (my village), it would be so much easier for you. In lamenting to some of my friends, many told me that the chief was a family friend, or someone just filled in the forms for them. Unlucky for me, Nairobi isn’t the small town or village where everyone knows each other, or people just happen to have the chief regularly over for dinner

Yes, government bureaucracy is a pain the world over, but the GoK has gone the extra mile to treat young people like shit. When the lady with the itchy weave told me she wasn’t taking any more applications and told me to come back tomorrow morning she knew she could do that simply because there and then I was just like any other 18 year old Kenyan across the country trying to get their national ID. Desperate for the one document that grants you access to all the perks (believe it or not) of being a full citizen of the Republic of Kenya. That afternoon, many of my agemates without their parents to vouch for them were turned away to the day after, so for a government to treat its newest taxpayers with such disdain, it’s no wonder KRA fails to meet its revenue targets and young people feel disenfranchised by the government. Up to that day, I had never had to obtain a government service, that is the case for the vast majority of my agemates, and for those with no money to spare for appreciations, and no connections, they are at the mercy of overworked and underpaid government officials who seek to exercise the little power they have off of innocent Kenyans. Those, people of the earth, are my musings on my baptism by fire.



Social media is always filled with people’s successes and all the good stuff going on in people’s lives. Everybody encounters some failures but very few are publicly known, those that are well known are from people who already are incredibly successful. I mean, do you really think anyone of these tech moguls announced that they had dropped out of university right when they were starting their companies?…

For those of you who applied to the United States, university decisions are pretty much all almost out, and chances are that some friend of yours has announced their admittance to several universities. If you are one of them, congratulations, you probably deserved it and you’ll go on to do fantastic things in the future. Given how quickly these acceptances appear on ones Facebook timeline, one is bound to be impressed by how many of their Facebook friends are heading off to some of the best universities on the entire planet.

However, the vast majority of students are not going to be posting on Facebook that they will be joining this or that university’s class of ’22. Or those that do may be one, two, or three acceptances amidst a plethora of rejections and waitlists. These are the ones who have toiled through high school, put their heart and soul into their applications, faced immense expectations from their societies, had the nerve wracking feeling when pressing submit, and still got rejected. I am one of them.

I applied to 6 institutions of higher learning. Thus far I have been rejected from 5 of them. My single acceptance has given me a financial aid offer that I cannot pay (I also don’t reeeealllyyy want to go there). Pale in comparison to one friend of mine who got rejected from 4 universities in one night. Call me arrogant, but I know I worked hard, I spent sleepless nights on those applications, I tried to show who Yohan was in all my applications, hoping they’d like me but they all still said no.

So I am here to embrace my rejections. To show all my tens of thousands fellow rejects across the world that they are not alone, and hopefully it’ll make you feel less like a loser. You’ll hear alot of messages of encouragement from people along the lines of “It’s not the end of the world” “The applicant pool was incredibly qualified, and this decision does not reflect your academic ability and potential” or words to that effect, and yes they are true. However, it doesn’t change the fact that you are probably incredibly annoyed and you don’t know what those admissions officers want from you. We’re all probably going to do just fine with or without my rejections, but it honestly does suck to work so hard for so long only to click on that status update and be met with “we regret to inform you that…”

You will be happy. That acceptance letter of course gives you some sense of short term gratification and instaneous euphoria, but that is nothing compared to what you will accomplish with or without wherever you wanted to spend the next 4 years of your life. This whole process is so murky, if the admissions committee met you in person they’d probably be wondering how in hell they rejected you. I for one like to think of this whole process like getting into a relationship, sometimes you like someone and they don’t like you back, and then you have to move on. Sometimes you dwell on it for too long and then it only keeps hurting you, or you dwell on it and try again and eventually they may come through. Or maybe you get in and you realise, damn, this really isn’t what you expected or you feel like there is something missing. It happens, and we’ll all deal with it, and we will all turn out perfectly fine.

I have been relatively open about my college admissions process, so why change now? So yes I am here and I am #embracingmyrejection. So here goes.

As of 29/3/18

Yale ’22 – Rejected

Brown ’22 – Rejected

Pomona ’22 – Rejected

George Washington University ’22 – Rejected

Tufts ’22 – Rejected

So yeah, I was rejected. Whatever.

Keep prospering friends!



PS. I don’t really like the word rejection or denial, especially in this context. But I can’t think of a better word anyways.

PPS. If anyone has any cool gap year ideas please slide into my DMs

Long Posts, Rants

An Open Letter To Europa-Park

Dear Europa-Park,

I have been meaning to write this letter for a while now. I had the pleasure of being a guest at your park a few months ago and was quite frankly impressed by the concept of your amusement park. It is appreciated that you bring all of Europe to one place, so those of us who cannot afford the inflated prices of transport on this continent can pay a visit to Rust and have it all for a mere 50 Euros. You all have really outdone yourselves, and I must commend you on how German efficiency is embodied in so many aspects of your park. However, I am not here to massage your ego, you probably already know all of this, I mean, why wouldn’t you? You seem to be making millions in profit, so you must be doing something right. I write this letter to you not being angry, but with the hopes that this may motivate you to improve certain aspects of your theme park, specifically the AdventureLand themed area, or as I like to call it, the Africa section.

Now, some may say that Africans should be honoured that of ALL places outside of Europe that you could have chosen to pay homage to by including in your park, you chose Africa. I, as an African am immensely grateful that you considered us above the Asians, Americans, and Antarcticians! I would just like to draw your attention to a few aspects of this section that you may want to reconsider as you plan to remodel your park in the future.

First and foremost, I question what and who the restaurant you called the “colonial food station” serves. Over 50 years after the end of colonialism I would imagine that colonialists were no longer extracting resources from the continent. Hmm…or maybe it is a colonial food station because hidden behind the counter are indigenous Africans forced to work for the benefit of revelers at your park (Deja-vu). Or maybe, you are acknowledging through your sign that even after colonialism ending on paper, the global economic system is structured to exploit the African continent and make its people subservient to the needs of the west. Oh, but I can only speculate!

Now, I must address the dolls. The very very black dolls. The very very black dolls that were dancing and playing drums. Nonstop. I get it, they provide nice ambiance and put people into the mood as they proceed to enter the raft named “African Queen.” I don’t blame you either, for years and years Africa was the “dark continent.” Some people out there still call it that too, so it must have been fitting to source the blackest fabric and paint possible to make the dolls look “African.” But that wasn’t all, because we have an abundance of grass and hence, straw, in Africa, it was even more right to adorn these dolls in straw regalia because, Africa!

Last but definitely not least, the monkeys. The monkey statues, the monkey sounds, and that creature that was climbing up a rope that I couldn’t discern if it was meant to be a monkey or human being. I don’t know if there was a university course entitled “How to be oblivious to centuries of racial stereotypes” that this section’s designer attended, but if there was, I commend that institution, for their students really do get value for money.

If your aim was to draw on racial stereotypes, the impact of years of oppression of an entire continent, and of course perpetuate all of this, you have succeeded. I hope that this is not what your park stands for, but looking head I would implore you to reconsider Adventure Land. Heck, I wouldn’t feel a shred of remorse if you destroyed it all together. I am perfectly fine with my continent not being paid homage to in an amusement park in rural Germany.

Best wishes,

Yohan Mutta

Europa-Park is the largest theme park in Germany. It is also the second most popular theme park resort in Europe, following Disneyland Paris. It comprises of different themed sections modeled on European countries, including AdventureLand, based on “Africa!”

Life, Long Posts, Transition 2018

What Next?

2018 for me is a year of transition. I finish high school, go to university (where? I don’t know so don’t ask me..yet), I close this chapter of my life in Germany, have this weird lull period in Kenya over the summer in between Germany and uni, I legally become an adult, and so on and so forth. So I have been thinking about what else I will do this year. And no, not that new year new me nonsense that has been populating my Instagram feed. But rather what I can do to make the most of this year of transition.

I have been an avid user of Instagram for quite a while now. Using the app for a healthy dosage of memes, keeping up with friends, seeing what people are up to, and just a perfect tool to engage in mind-numbing procrastination. I have also been meticulous in creating an aesthetic feed, no but really, I look at it and just smile (go ahead, call me conceited). So I have resolved to use my Instagram and this blog as a sort of grounding for me during this year. Not for the purposes of fame and fortune, but because I want to share it. I want to share it because I think nobody has documented a journey quite like this. I hope to not only inspire others, but source motivation from others, and throughout this year feel like I have something to look back to as the year progresses. Oh, and it would also be great to look back at this 10 years down the line and die of second-hand embarrassment and ask myself “Yohan, what in the world were you thinking?!”

My year in transition begins on Monday night as I fly back to Germany for my final term after reveling in glorious sunshine during the December holidays. I for one am excited to document this entire year, I hope I will be committed, and I hope come December 31st, 2018, wherever I will be, I’ll still have this blog and my Instagram to look back to and smile.

So it begins, my year in transition. Let’s do this.


Maybe it’s just me and my unfathomable stupidity

We live in a world of labels. On forms, We happily tick boxes that put us into categories, we often band together with those that are of the same “kind” as us, and we walk around knowing we bear certain labels and that’s that. For many of us these labels from a large part of our identities, I am often labeled as African, black, Kenyan etc. and I happily accept these labels as part of my identity, because to me they are a part of who I am. Now, I could write about how labels propagate stereotypes, and how labels only divide us, but then I would be your run of the mill social justice warrior writing about the same old crap. This is not me trying to trivialize the issue with stereotypes, I have been the brunt of enough starving African jokes to know that it’s a problem. I’m going to write about taking ownership of our labels, and those unfortunate individuals that have the audacity to pick a label because they “want” to (unfortunate because they are about to feel the full force of my wrath, well as full force as it can get through cyberspace).

History is a total asshole. I say this because throughout history labels have been used to oppress, marginalize, divide, and malign societies. The slurs, the hate crimes, and the propaganda all served to make people feel that their label was inadequate and that it was shameful to possess that label. So when someone tells you that it sucks to be you because you are orange, what do you do? You be a boss and say, why thank you because I am proud to be orange. You take ownership of that orangeness, you caress that your orange identity in your arms and protect it like a little baby to make sure nobody comes and takes it away from you. It is hard when the identity that you are proud to hold and declare faces daily struggles in the form of ignorant individuals that find it appropriate to throw an insult or two your way, but through it all, you continue to pull through, you continue to prosper until you meet another sort of individual…

I well and truly struggle to understand these individuals. I don’t know if it is unfathomable stupidity on my part or if their character and intentions are so skewed and so obscure that not even the power of a trillion and one brain cells multiplied by an IQ of 179 will be able to understand them. These individuals take joy and pleasure in picking a new label, be it race, nationality, sexual orientation etc. whenever it suits them. This isn’t even “feeling” as if you are a different race, for example, nor is it identifying with a different nationality or regional grouping. This is waking up one fine morning, deciding, and declaring that “I am now orange.” Okay, good for you. But then let me ask you, this label that you now claim to possess, do you know what it means to be an orange? Do you know the struggles all oranges have gone through to be able to declare their orangeness just as you have done so easily? Chances are the answers to both questions are no.  It sounds similar to cultural appropriation, but the difference is anybody can do this and everybody can be hurt by this.

So, to you unfortunate individuals, you don’t have a right to pick, choose and create an identity whenever it suits you. An identity is not something you appropriate because of convenience. There is a simple reason for this, and unfortunately, that is that the issues surrounding Identity and labels are simply too complex and too sensitive for far too many people for you to go around and declare with reckless abandon that you are an orange when you have no clue what it means to call yourself that. It is offensive. It is rude. It must not happen. Whether your intentions are to be accepted by certain people, to express your so-called freedoms, or to have a laugh, you might want to activate the power of your second brain cell so that there may be a possibility for you to reconsider your convoluted actions and behaviors. So no, I don’t think it is just me and my unfathomable stupidity, I think it is you and your total disregard for others.

Long Posts

The day I was cursed by a pastor

In Kenya we have a public transport system, at least that's what we call it. It's not an elaborate system of buses, under and over ground trains, and trams that most people think of when they hear public transport system but hey it gets us from point A to point B. Our system is made up of privately owned buses and minivans called matatus, well known for being flashy (I'm talking plasma TV screens and mini fridges) and colourful. They are a strong part of Kenyan urban culture even though most people detest then with a burning passion.

On these matatus, one can have the honour of being preached to by self declared prophets and pastors who take it upon themselves to impose on you the word of the Lord during your commute. I was one of 40 or so people on a Citi Hoppa bus one day that was subjected to this. I hopped onto the bus, sat down, and before I knew it I heard the oh too recognizable voice of a pastor bellowing above me. Of all seats on the bus, I sat on the one right next to where he was standing.

I was on my way to the dentist that day, and my mind was far too occupied with worrying if I had brushed my teeth properly that morning for fear of being reprimanded by my dentist for poor dental hygiene. I really couldn't care less about how the falling of the walls of Jericho was somehow a foreshadowing of how the Lord will bless me with a 7 bedroom house, an SUV, and a life full of all other material goodnesses. So I happily stared out of the grimy window looking at the Nairobi streets pass by and did my best to tune out his obnoxiously loud voice.

To my utter shock and horror the "preacher" called me out! He said "wewe kijana! Naona umekataa kusikiza neno ya bwana, nitakuwekea laana" (you boy! I see you have refused to listen to the word of God, I will curse you). The whole bus is silent and I'm just thinking to myself is this a joke? Did this man just curse me?! At that point my inner African that is always wary of the potential dangers of witchcraft came out to take control of my conscience, I could really be facing the full wrath of the devil thanks to his heinous utterance. So, I pretended to listen for fear of being double or even triple cursed by this man.

My stop arrived and it was time to alight. Karma was on my side that day, and as I walked out I accidentally stepped on the man's foot. I promise you I did not do this on purpose, I was so hell bent on making sure I got off the bus as quickly as I could the last thing on my mind was to obtain vengeance. This was also not just any kind of stepping, as I was getting up from sitting down, this was a stomp that came down hard on the mans leather shoes, but I didn't know that until I was stepping off and turned back and saw the man staring at me with eyes burning with the fire of the devil himself…Then it clicked. This man got that very curse he put on me right back at him! I thought it myself "Yohan, be the better person and apologize" but I came to my senses, how could I, Yohan, who was cursed by a phoney preacher apologize? I stared right back at him with the same stare he gave me, only this time with a tinge of joy and happiness that the man got a taste of his own medicine. Truly no weapon formed against me shall prosper.

Long Posts

Nairobi, Walls, and Inequality: You don’t know your city

We citizens of Nairobi well to do citizens of Nairobi live within walls. Our homes are surrounded by two meter high walls, topped off with barbed wire and/or electric fences. We enter our cars and head off to another set of four walls be it at school compound, at work, in church, or at the mall. We spend our days within heavily fortified compounds all to ensure unwanted elements remain outside our sanctuaries of peace and tranquility, and we don’t give two shits about whatever happens outside of our heavily protected havens.

Those of us living in these walls live in a totally different city than those that do not. It is easy to see how those of us who reside in these walled suburbs, such as Karen, Lavington, Kilimani, Runda, etc. can live in a totally different city than those who live in Kawangware, Kibera, Kangemi, etc. But these walls that surround our private residences aren’t the dangerous ones, we do after all live in a capitalistic society hence private property is king. These walls were built with the specific purpose of protecting one’s private property, and we can’t fault people for responding to the rampant insecurity that once ruled Nairobi. This post is about a different kind of walls, I’m talking about walls that we don’t even consider to be walls, walls so sinister that they serve the very purpose of a wall but don’t look remotely like one.

I live in a Nairobi suburb that lies adjacent to Ngong Road. Apart from being woken up at 7 am by the Deputy President’s convoy barreling down the road with sirens wailing almost every single morning, life is good where I live. While I was still doing my internship in Kibera, I would cross Ngong Road every single morning to make my way to Kibera, and it was almost like I had not only entered a different city but a different world. The well-manicured hedges, tarmacked roads, gleaming apartment buildings, were replaced with iron shacks, piles of garbage, and the smell of sewage in the air. The act of crossing Ngong Road could have been an act of teleporting myself somewhere else.

In this Green City in The Sun, roads are the walls that split us into neat little sections where we belong and where we are meant to stay. For me, crossing Ngong Road was a reality check, I could see a skyscraper under construction only one kilometer away from an area that had no running water, or a functioning sewer system. A 5-minute drive took me from my home with an abundance of food, to a place where people struggle to find 40 shillings (about $0.30) for their evening meal. These walls shelter us from seeing how the vast majority of our fellow citizens live, and we happily stay within these walls because life is good where we are. These barriers we’ve put up are the physical manifestations of growing inequality in one of Africa’s most important cities, and we don’t even give them a second thought.  

So, next time cross that road you’ve never crossed before, look outside your rolled up window as you drive along Waiyaki Way or Langata Road because chances are that you don’t know the very city you’ve called home all your life.

Don’t believe me? Don’t worry, click below and you’ll be transported directly to a website dedicated exactly to this.

Unequal Scenes: Nairobi