Hosted by Goethe-Institut, contemporary artist Michael Soi presents a series of 17 paintings celebrating women from all over Nairobi, bringing you different takes on the...
The first thing of note when you walk into the apartment block is how much greenery there is. Something, she says, drew her to the property. The façade is completely covered in vines. It almost resembles a large treehouse. An intricate white lampshade hangs from the ceiling in the walkway. “I picked that up in Italy,” Wanuri explains, “and had to assemble it by myself.” Her apartment has a sort of “thrown together” feel. She says that in the two years she’s lived there, everything sort of just fell into place with no premeditation.
“To make it my own, I planted a kitchen garden on the balcony.” There, Wanuri grows chillies, rosemary (which sprouts from a pair of Wellington boots) and a tomato vine (that winds itself around an intricate wooden sculpture), among other herbs. Wanuri has no drapes in her house, as she loves the large amount of light that comes in. A Turkish blue glass Evil Eye amulet hangs on her living room window. “It mirrors back the evil eye, protecting me,” she says. An ethereal painting of a woman hangs on one wall. On another sits a small wooden sculpture, very phallic in shape. Wanuri unconvincingly describes it as a musical instrument.
Her bookshelf is as diverse as her record collection, with lots of literature on the Kenyan fight for independence. “Who Fears Death”, a book whose screenplay she is currently working on, stands alongside “Shantaram”, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s “Wizard of The Crow” and Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters To A Young Poet.” The record player is her favourite item in the house. Wanuri has been collecting vinyl records for the past 10 years. Her collection spans from Kenyan artists Slim Ali and the Hodi Boys to Charles Mingus and Jimi Hendrix. Wanuri says, “My favourite is a John Coltrane and Duke Ellington collaboration, although I haven’t opened it yet. I’m saving it.”
This may come as a surprise, but some of the most intimate people I have ever encountered actually live a life of celibate chastity. In his book, Letters and Papers from Prison, the famous German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writes: “The essence of chastity is not the suppression of lust, but the total orientation of one’s life towards a goal.” This goal may be a life of service to others as I did for years as a Catholic monk, or as a dedicated mother of three, as my life partner has been for years now. A genuine celibate life is an invitation to intimacy. I define intimacy as emotional closeness with others (and not as sexual contact). If I profess to live a life in celibacy but lack loving relationships, I must look beyond my celibate chastity for the cause of this deficit. Because selfishness and self- involvement are incompatible with this kind of life. For example, people who choose this way of living because they don’t want to be bothered by others, never seem to be at ease with their choice. As true of any life of love, the lifestyle of a celibate person has more to do with self-transcendence than self-fulfilment.
I’ll admit, though, that many of those who make up religious life and priesthood are partly responsible for the skewed approach to celibate chastity that exists in some quarters today. Reluctant to talk about their experiences of living in celibacy, they fall back on a familiar set of responses when asked to explain their choice: “For the sake of the kingdom,” or “In order to love everyone and not just one person,” or even “To be more available to others.” Having put those reasons on the table, they have also been known to take a collective deep breath and hope that no one asks any more questions. Is it any wonder that a number of people have come to think of celibate chastity as a sort of neutered existence?
I don’t want to detract from the goodness of genital sexuality. Unfortunately, a suspicious view about sex continues to exist in some parts of our society today. At times it resembles a fear of the body. There is a need to challenge fears of sex and any suggestion that it blocks a relationship with God. After all, married men and women have been saying for years that sex is sacramental and God-given. It’s a powerful means for expressing love for another person, as well as an opportunity to experience the love of that very same God.
At the same time, we cannot rely too much on the blessings of genital union. Loneliness, for example, is a part of our human condition. Often enough, you and I feel restless, driven, hungry, and unfinished at every level—physically, emotionally, spiritually, and sexually. We can quickly conclude that our agitation and sense of alienation are little more than a hunger that can be satisfied only by romantic sexuality. But while sex is wholesome and positive, it is not the ultimate answer to your loneliness or mine.
Anyone choosing a life of celibacy must ultimately pursue love. To live a loveless life of celibacy is a contradiction, as this kind of life is a call to intimacy. I no longer live a celibate life, but I still do live a chaste life with my partner years after leaving the monastery. We have found ways to be in a loving relationship with one another that creates and sustains life. Ways that are now bringing a baby to our doorstep and into our loving arms.
W hat’s love got to do with it? Well, maybe everything. But then again, what do we know? Many philosophers, way smarter than we are, have posited that love is an illusion. And while we may follow a misguided belief that it can be possessed and caged like a songbird, can love even be described in words? “Deep Thought” (otherwise known as Google) has many answers to the meaning of love, including one site that posted, “Real, true love is unconditional. All other ‘kinds’ of love are not really love.” Hmmm? In our age of individualism, this seems like a daunting dogma.
But, if the Dalai Lama can show his unconditional love to everyone, even rapists and murders, maybe we can start with one person. Though we cannot position ourselves as any kind of experts on the meaning of love, we did try to put down some lines that describe what it means to us. However, the editorial staff seemed twisted on the subject. Some wrote long poems, while others broke out in song. Another committed herself to an 80-page dissertation and has been missing ever since. The challenging task triggered an existential mayhem in the office, and we had to turn to the only source the editorial staff at UP could agree on: music and lyrics. Even this common ground seemed rocky, and the outcome had to be subjected to the editorial sledgehammer, cutting it down to three different perspectives:
“Love is like oxygen/You get too much, you get too high/Not enough and your gonna die/Love gets you high/Love is like oxygen” Love is Like Oxygen— Sweet “
When you talk to me/When you're moaning sweet and low/When you’re touching me/And my feelings start to show/That’s the time, I feel like making love to you/That’s the time, I feel like making dreams come true” Feel Like Making Love to You— Roberta Flack
“You know I ain't the type to walk around with matchin’ shirts/If relationship is effort I will match your work/I wanna be the one to make you happiest, it hurts you the most/They say the end is near, it's important that we close...to the most, high/Regardless of what happen on him, let's rely” The Light —Common
What became clear through this little exercise was that the essence of love is something both spiritual and physical. Love and sex are relentlessly intertwined. Both are an integral part of the human condition. We live. We love. We have sex. Save for a handful of society, these acts, to a great degree, are inescapable. Of course, there are extreme ends of the spectrum. Love can be expressed through sex, but sex can also be removed from love completely, and reduced to what is referred to as the “chips funga” phenomenon—taking home a girl/guy as easily as one would a packet of fries. It even inspired a song. There is also the side of love that remains purely spiritual—intimate and intense, yet still celibate. In this issue, we embrace both sides of the spectrum and everything in between.
We give you the sexy side of love and the loving side of sex. We provide you with a review of a sex toy, a former monk’s reflections on intimacy, and the search for love at the densely-packed Gypsy’s to the more practical approach of speed dating. We also venture into the dark side of love and sex. We investigate why sexual offences often go unpunished, and tell you why it is more crucial than ever to get yourself tested if we want to achieve an AIDS-free generation. We hope it will be an interesting read that will help you reflect on what love/sex means to you.
Kenya’s Turkana region may currently be best known for the discovery in 1984 of the most complete skeleton of early man, or the grim final scenes of John Le Carrér’s novel, The Constant Gardener. But soon its greatest claim to fame may become the location of the largest wind farm in sub-Saharan Africa, initially generating 300 MW of electricity and saving Kenya some 120 million Euros a year in reduced oil imports, while helping to cut gases causing climate change.
The go ahead for the wind farm, which harnesses a special atmospheric phenomenon that guarantees near constant wind, has been given. Construction is likely to begin before year’s end. It may be hard for many a Kenyan, stuck in traffic in downtown Nairobi, breathing in exhaust fumes or faced with yet another cycle of drought and floods, to imagine that their country is actually emerging as a pioneer of a Green Economy.
But that is what is starting to happen. This progress should make this year’s World Environment Day, celebrated annually on 5 June, a cause for quiet optimism, rather than a cause for concern over environmental degradation and decline. Closer to Nairobi, the geothermal power generation at Naivasha is taking off. The site has for decades housed a small geothermal plant, harvesting the steam from the hot rocks of the Rift Valley to turn turbines. Today, it is abuzz with engineers and investors from China to Iceland, as well as the United States.
These countries all want to be part of the massive expansion currently underway, which aims to add over a 1,000 MW. UNEP’s role was to assist the government’s Geothermal Development Corporation with new kinds of drilling techniques. Put bluntly, you can lose your shirt if drilling fails to yield hot steam, which was the risk under the old drilling system. Kenya’s national parks and abundant wildlife have for decades been a magnet for tourists and scientists. But some of the country’s great natural assets have, for a range of reasons, been faring badly.
The Mau forest complex was a case in point—by various estimates, a quarter of this important ecosystem has been cleared. But that decline is now being reversed with support from overseas donors, such as the European Commission and Kenya’s private sector. The tipping point in favour of restoration rather than degradation came a couple of years ago. UNEP worked with the Kenyan government to carry out a unique assessment of the value of the Mau to the national economy. The answer: US $1.5 billion in terms of the natural services the forest generates—services such as supplying water to 1) major river systems that feed the Maasai Mara, and 2) Lake Nakuru to increase moisture levels that are vital for the health of the local tea industry. WED 2012 comes just a few weeks in advance of the Rio+20 Summit in Brazil—two decades after the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, and four decades after a UN Conference in Stockholm, Sweden, that led to the establishment of UNEP in Kenya and marked the first World Environment Day.
Rio+20 needs to be a moment in time when the world shifts into a sustainability gear—the Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication is one of the Summit’s major themes for achieving this WED 2012 echoes this under the theme of Green Economy—Does It Include You? Kenya is among a group of nations demonstrating by thought, words and, more importantly, deeds that a Green Economy transformation is not a pipe dream or the Emperor’s new green clothes, but a running possibility for the globe’s seven billion people, rising to over nine billion by 2050. Though it may not look like it, Kenyans are part of an experiment in a future that just may work if we want to grow and generate jobs, but in a way that keeps humanity’s footprint within planetary boundaries.
After you finish reading this article, go out as soon as you can and rent the documentary, “If A Tree Falls”. It tells the tale of the American-based Earth Liberation Front (ELF), and is an important chapter in the global environmental movement. Dubbed an “eco-terrorist” group by media and governments, ELF sympathizers would rather call themselves “eco-defense activists”. By whatever name, its underground, “green anarchy” tactics are certainly radical and controversial.
ELF uses property damage (mainly arson) and economic sabotage as its weapons against global corporate pillaging. Despite this, at no time in ELF’s history has anyone been killed or injured. ELF’s philosophies were born from a conceptcalled“monkeywrenching”, which is a name adapted from Edward Abbey’s 1975 book entitled “The Monkey Wrench Gang”— a fictional tome that follows three characters and their destructive path of ‘ecotage’ across Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.
Today, the North American version of ELF (now a global force) is splintered beyond recognition. Following a four-year investigation, the FBI finally cracked open the secret organization and netted its top leadership, among them Daniel McGowan. McGowan expresses regrets in the film about the use of arson and other destructive forces in the name of mother earth. However, you can’t help but feel a little sympathy for him—a gentle, self-effacing character who had enough with policy talk and wanted to take matters in his own hands. Is he a hero? Maybe. Just look around. It’s easy to get frustrated and angry by rampant disregard for the environment by major global corporations and even local Kenya companies.
It’s easy to shed a tear when old growth forests are being clearcut; or Dolphins are being slaughtered; or poison is being dumped into ourrivers; or when foreigners are poaching our wildlife. And look around Nairobi. Never has it been more polluted. Trashis building up in the streets, there is no system for recycling, our drains are open sewers and smog and dust is everywhere. Equally disturbing is the fact that KWS is considering putting a road through Nairobi Park to connect the new by-pass. We were shocked that KWS would even consider this shameful project. If this makes you angry, then do something about it and join us in this cause of protecting the park and its wildlife (see “Silence of the Lions”). And while we cannot condone destructive behavior, we can encourage you to be radical, and to be a ‘monkey-wrencher’ in your own way.