Tag Archives: skills

A Beautiful Word-No


If you find that you say the word “No” a lot, would you qualify to be labelled as mean? I reckon my ability to say no unflinchingly is the reason why one of my students asked me why I am so mean. If you went through the 844 system you must be wondering in what universe are, students allowed to tell their teachers what they really think about them. My answer would be in the same universe that a child decides they don’t want to go to school in the morning and the parent actually let’s them stay at home. As a special needs teacher in a non conventional education system, I have lots of stories to tell but I will spare you and focus on a beautiful word we all know as “no”.

One of the reasons I love the word “no” is that it is ironically so simple. It is monosyllabic, so brief that it costs merely a breathe to say it and yet requires so much strength to be spoken. As far as words go it might be an underdog. I mean they did not make a movie titled “The No Man”. It would be confusing right? It would be difficult to get one’s head around it. A movie about saying “yes” to everything, that’s more like it. It sounds interesting; it even has the potential to be hilarious. After all is that not what “freedom” is about? Who is more free, liberated if you will: the person who says no to a lot of things or the person who says “yes” “yes”, “yes”! I leave that to you to decide.

Freedom and liberty are wonderful things no doubt but when I think of the word no, revolutionary comes to mind. I confess my grasp of all the major world revolutions is scanty at best but I imagine it all starts with a simple word: no. When Marie Antoinette said the infamous words “if they cannot have bread let them have cake”, I imagine (which saves me from reading volumes of history) someone heard this and his mind was screaming NO!!! How dare she be so inconsiderate? Things cannot go on like this. Like I said I am operating from almost ignorance but I do hope anyone out there who is more history savvy will fill in the blanks. The point is for the most part revolutions seldom start with agreement with the status quo. It starts with a No! Then, it continues with I will not stand for this then, revolt!

I don’t know about you but I love (looove) me a revolutionary. If you think about it, you do too. Remember when Ché Guevara merchandise was in vogue? If you didn’t buy the t-shirt you probably envied someone who did. I think one of the reasons we love revolutionaries is there is a little revolutionary in every one of us. Deep down, somewhere in there, you disagree with so many things but often courage does not come so easily. Deep down, there are things you wish you could change in your own life, in your community, in your country… but change is not so easy. So when we find that person who is courageous enough to stand up and say no! We applaud. I bet even those who are opposed to some of these changes admire the guy’s guts even though they will publicly portray a different picture. We love a revolutionary because we can live vicariously through them and to be honest it is a lot safer. I mean tying myself in chains to a gate knowing well the police will get me out, keeping in mind that police brutality is very real, is risky business. I would rather wait to see it in the news and say “wow, I wish I had his guts”.

While it is all fine and dandy to live vicariously through other revolutionaries, it is a new year and my challenge to you, to me is to go out and be a revolutionary. I don’t expect us to start another uprising, because the Middle East already took that bus. What I am hoping is we can all learn to say no every once in a while and maybe more often. I would begin with saying no to myself. I read a quote (which I paraphrased): people often want to change the world but no one wants to change himself. Yes it is the prince of clichés but change begins with you. What are some of the things we can say no to in our own lives? We can say no to excesses and things that are just plain harmful. That extra (caffeinated, alcoholic or carbonated) drink, the extra plate of deep fried something or bowl of sugary goodness which will lead you to a doctor sooner rather than later, that extra work you carried home from the office depriving you of rest and engaging with other human beings, that extra hour of pointless internet surfing and TV watching which makes you wonder what happened to the time, that extra illicit relationship that is killing your soul ever so slowly…. I could go on and on but I will not. Truth is you know what you need to say no to and the reasons for saying no are innumerable.

We also need to say no to people especially friends and family. This is a hard one because most of us are wired to please people. For some of us the thought of disappointing someone is harrowing.  Here’s a thought: you can’t please everyone ergo you have to disappoint some people. Now with this mind just say no. An outright no may seem harsh (but it’s more fun to say) but there are subtle ways of doing it like “I am not sure I can do that” or “I can’t do it”. I welcome more ideas on how to say no nicely. It is especially important to learn to say no to children especially if they are trying to get their way using tantrums. Think of it this way, giving a child what they want after throwing a tantrum is like negotiating with a terrorist. In my line of work I have seen tantrums that are monumental at best and I can assure you even when the child cries bullets and you stand your ground the child will respect you and they will not love you any less. It is equally important to give reasons for your answers. Some people will argue with you but that’s an opportunity to practice standing your ground. If children argue with you (politely of course), look at it as negotiation. Let the child develop negotiation skills, we all know negotiation skills go a long way in the real world.

I am sure there’s a whole long list of things we can say no to but I would rather read from you. What have you successfully said no to? What would you add to the no list. Let me know. I look forward to reading from you. Now go on be a little revolutionary, just say no.



The Village Dance


When I was in high school in my Social Ethics class I learnt that the village dance was a great part of courtship back in our African ancestor’s times. Now that I think of it I also remember reading of the village dance being a precursor to courtship in Ngugi wa Thiong’ o’s “The River Between”. I am pretty sure Nyambura* caught Kinuthia’s* eye during the village dance. In our modern times I beg to ask what happened to the village dance. Some people may argue that it has been replaced by the rave. To that I would say the rave is a watered down version of the village dance of yester year or more like it is a spiked drink version of it. This is because you don’t need an expert to tell you, the rave is hardly good soil for good marriage mates. But for those who were lucky enough to find a good spouse in the midst of all that loud music, high temperature and smoke, good on you mate! You see the village dance had some romance to it though the participants those days would have never used romance in a sentence. The romance I am talking about is in the propriety of the dances at that time.

The men, they were brave. They had just undergone initiation probably slaying a lion and they felt fearless. So at the dance, when the guy identified the object of his admiration, he walked up to her and asked for a dance. I imagine thoughts of rejection may have crossed his mind but he figures he was out in the wilderness and came back alive, so what if a girl doesn’t want to dance with me? The women, they were poised and graceful. They had come from training in womanhood. They were confident that some good guy would ask them for a dance. All she had to do was make eye contact for a fleeting second, look down and smile. And if he didn’t come then he wasn’t it. It was simple. Things were so easy back then right? Now it is all so complicated.

I recently read an article about social dance and it made me think the principles of social dance could very well be applied for dating in modern times. With that in mind I propose that the village dance be brought to life with a few modern twists. For a start the traditional dances could be replaced with ball room dance but the exception is the “mwomboko” because it was ballroom dance. When I say ballroom some people may imagine some stiff sashaying around a ballroom but it doesn’t have to be that way. I prefer Latin ballroom like Salsa and Tango etc. Usually the guy asks a girl to dance. The girl is at liberty to decline or accept. If the girl declines it is not at all a reflection on the guy. He should move on and ask another girl. For the girl if you want to be asked to dance, it has been said stand at the edge of the dance floor. Put a smile on your face and stamp your feet like you are enjoying the music. This sends the message I want to dance and someone just might oblige you.

Now that you are all partnered and on the dance floor, the man takes the lead. Leading is supposed to be oh so subtle it is a gentle tag, a lifting of the hand. There should be no pulling and pushing. A girl should never lead herself or try to lead the man, it maketh the man mad. Men this would be a good time to remind you to watch your hand. Your hand should never go too south, north is always best. Don’t be the guy who finds a dance opportunity and decides to make maximum use of it by taking his hands on a tour. Like in the village dance of yester years self-control was a mark of quality. During the dance it will not kill you to have a good time. Have fun and try to look it. Also away from the dance floor, work on your dance technique.  If you have the ability to dance really well, it increases your popularity on the dance floor. For the fellas there will be no getting turned down. For the ladies, there will be a line waiting to dance with you. The rules of social dance say you shouldn’t dance to many subsequent songs with one partner. In other words even if the person you got paired up with is an absolute delight do not hog them. After one song set them free and find someone else to dance with. When I did salsa class in university, this rule made total sense. It was all about variety and variety is the spice of life isn’t it?

Another rule that cannot be ignored is don’t take dancing too personal. You danced with someone, you had a good time, the chemistry was palpable and you hope they felt the chemistry too. Wrong! Don’t assume that. When I did salsa class in university I always told myself it’s nothing personal it’s just salsa. Trust me it is better that way. If you take the dancing too personally and hope for romantic attachment afterwards, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and maybe heartbreak. Granted there are people who find romance from dancing it should never be the sole intention for dancing. I mean there are better reasons to dance like improving on your technique, getting a bit of a work out, meeting new people etc.

In conclusion what can social dance teach us about dating? The guy should initiate and take the lead. This means the guy should be confident. The girl should be warm and receptive remember look like you want to dance. Guys, be respectful just because you are hunters doesn’t mean you should maul the deer because she agreed to dance with you. Finally, enjoy each other’s company and unless there is information suggesting that there could be more, don’t put all your emotions in that basket. Social dance has been compared to a five minute encounter at a cocktail party. You have five minutes to impress but if you don’t, it’s never that serious same applies to dating. While it is argued people date to find marriage mates, I would also say like dance dating is good exercise to build your personality and character (if you meet inspiring people, it will rub off on you). So go on, dance away.


*names haven’t been changed to protect identity rather they have temporarily slipped my mind.


Keep Working…


When I was young-er I knew that Manu Dibango was a great African musician. I cannot say anyone told me this but I just knew. I knew he was in the class of Youssour N’Dour, Salif Keita and much later I discovered Habib Koite. I think these musicians are Africa’s biggest export to the world musically. The weird thing is until recently I could not pin point to a Manu Dibango song. Once upon a time I stumbled onto a Manu Dibango’s record in my dad’s LP collection. I was thoroughly impressed but then again my dad’s collection is the stuff of collector’s items but that’s a story for another day.

I have a strong liking for Capital Jazz Club. The major disagreement I had with it was the timing. It is on Sunday evening. Throughout the years I fancied listening to Capital Jazz Club but I couldn’t bring myself to sacrifice my ears on Sunday evening. Then my brother pointed out I shouldn’t consider myself a real fan if I wasn’t willing to make the sacrifice. That sparked something in me and now I listen to Capital Jazz Club avidly though not religiously. Anyway, when I was listening to “The Club” as Jack Ojiambo (the host) fondly refers to it I stumbled upon a Johnny Walker advert on Manu Dibango. In the advert Manu talks about his song “Soul Makossa”. He said that when Soul Makossa came out people said it was an overnight sensation. But he continued to say it took 20 years. He said it took 20 years of hard work and practice before he came up with Soul Makossa. Bet you’re all wondering what is so significant about the song Soul Makossa. Michael Jackson sampled Soul Makossa in his song “Wanna be starting something” and Lionel Richie did the same in “All night long”. Manu continued to say whatever you do keep working and then he finishes with the Johnny Walker tagline keep walking.

The moral of the story is building something good takes time. In this age there is a lot of pressure to succeed. You look around and the guy or girl you grew up with is in a high flying job, driving your dream car and where are you? If it’s not the girl or guy you grew up with it is someone else maybe younger than you; depressing isn’t it? Of course pressure seems to come from everywhere. Look at the property pages in the newspaper awash with splendid houses at astronomical figures and you wonder when will I get there. When will I afford my slice of urban splendour? And there is a new car make every so often that makes your mouth water and you keep your dream alive and say one day I will drive that. Then you retreat to yourself and ask when? When seems like so far off. Then you start to feel really stressed out and inadequate. So you work harder, sacrifice more of your time working and plotting and planning your future. I have news for you. Those are premature grey hairs you are manufacturing. People talk about how life is a rat race and how they don’t want to be in a rat race. But the truth is no one holds a gun to your head and asks you to run. You take your two feet in there and you start to compete with other people. Like in all races there is only one winner. With the rat race it is no different, so we are killing ourselves only to be disappointed when we cannot keep up.

But then there is another way to look at things. Life is a process. What is more important than getting all these big rewards for your efforts is growth and maturity. Growth and maturity come from working at things for a long time. You need to work on your character, your skills, and your life purpose. These things take work and time. Allow me to digress a bit. I have a high affinity for food shows. There’s a show which features diners in America. In a particular diner they make doughnuts coated with bacon. It sounds strange but I reckon there is a method to their madness. When they make their doughnuts they mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients of course. One of the dry ingredients is yeast which makes the doughnut to rise so that when it is cooked it is this big fluffy ring of goodness. The thing that stuck me about their process of making doughnuts is that they let the doughnut sit for 24 hours. The host of the show asked again “24 hours?” Yes they said. Then he said “I love these guys”. The host of the show owns a restaurant or two and he knows lots about food. But even he was impressed that they would let their dough sit for 24 hours because he knows the product at the end is of superior quality. It won’t be your typical dime a dozen doughnut literally.

Still on food, it is common knowledge that a good wine is one that has been matured for a long time. Give a wine taster a 2011 bottle and he will only taste it out of politesse. Even the makers of Tabasco sauce proudly say there chillies are matured in oak barrels for six months. When you think of your average tomato or chilli sauce you would say “six months, are these people nut?” But you’ve tasted Tabasco sauce right; you know it’s not your average chilli sauce. What does this mean; if you want to be a dare I say a superior quality being you have got to know it is a process. Like the song Makossa there is no such thing as an overnight sensation. And if you think about it those overnight sensation songs fade to oblivion as quickly as they came.

Finally I will leave you with a story I have heard twice: the story of the Chinese bamboo tree. I am sure some of you have heard it, feel free to make any corrections where I have exaggerated or something like it. A person bought a Chinese bamboo tree seed and planted it. He watered it and tended to it for a year and nothing came out of the ground. He watered and cared for it the second year and still nothing came out of the ground. The third year he did the same thing. He watered and cared for it but nothing. The fourth year he still continued to water and care for it and nothing came out of the ground. By now someone must be saying insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. But still the fifth year he watered and cared for the plant. Around the third month or thereabouts something emerged from the ground. It was the Chinese bamboo tree. He continued to water it and within 5 weeks the tree had grown to 90 feet. This is a valuable life principle, invest in your character, abilities, life purpose and keep at it. It will surely pay off one day.