Updates on the writing, reading, Covid-19 and everything in between

It’s the last week of August and Covid-19 containment measures have been in effect in Kenya for 524 days. We have had lockdowns, curfews, issues and we are still experiencing the upheavals and grief.

A few minutes past midday on a sunny Sunday and I am on my second cup of coffee listening to Usher’s song, Trading Places, thinking of how best to share what’s been going on in my life in the past two weeks or so.

I got to travel to Nairobi twice, sometime in Mid July and on August 13th and discovered art and food at The Nairobi Street Kitchen eatery in Westlands.

On Writing: If there is something I have been loving this month, it’s writing and rewriting scenes of a book that I thought I would not publish but something about going back to a story you let gather dust has me loving the characters and working on completing their story.

On Reading: I have been reading more books this month. Perhaps the greatest shock to me was how brief Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain is, 55 pages! I nearly had a heart attack just wondering how a 2hour movie could be born of 55 pages! Other books I’ve read this August are:

I am currently reading: The Illuminator by Brenda Rickmann.

Aside from enjoying reading and writing, something that I have been deeply committed to is watching Korean Dramas on Netflix and this August, there have been awesome shows that kept me glued to my phone late into the nights and let’s just say that once you start watching a K-drama there’s no stopping until you get to that finale! So, here are some shows that I absolutely loved this month:

There are rising concerns about the spread of the Delta Variant and for someone like me who has to work in communities visiting public schools, I find myself always traveling with hand sanitizer and masks, so much so that now when I get home, I shed off my clothes and take a bath before doing anything- somehow, I find it interesting how people in the rural areas respond to Corona, one old woman told me that ‘death is the one thing all of us experience, if we live in fear, always looking over our shoulder, we may stumble and fall to our death because we look back and not forward.’ Schools will be taking a break for 3 days from this coming Thursday and I look forward to traveling home, just to have tea and evening walks with my Mom, maybe she’ll weigh in on the current book I am writing.

Have an awesome week ahead!

A Hundred Little Things

For as long as I can remember, I have been responding to the name Benjamin.

A lot of people say that my mother loved her Bible lessons more than she did her own culture. So, inasmuch as I was born at midday instead of according me the name Ochieng’ she declared me Benjamin and added in my father’s last name Ooko so people could know who I belonged to. This seemed to please Reverend Father Augustus but never my father or his people and sometimes when I think back to everything that I have experienced, it seems that lighting started striking me the moment she gave me that name.

My Father, Ooko, what of him? Well, on the day I got tired of staying enclosed in my mother’s stomach, he was deep inside Nya Lela, his new wife who reminded the thing between his legs of how stiff it still could be. I remember all the men singing praises of Nya Lela as the only woman whose breasts remained firm even after bringing forth four children with my father, one after the other, you would think it was like eating and dispelling ground nuts.

As word would have it, my father saw me when I started making use of my feet.

There are things that to this date do not seem like truth but if you’d have been born in that home, under the rule of Senior Chief Ooko, then you too would believe me. When my mother told me about this, I laughed, sometimes when she would want to cry about the way he ignored her, she would go into her kitchen and carelessly adjust the logs that she fed the fire.

Excerpt from A Hundred Little Things- which is long overdue for publication!

Wrapping up July

We are in the final week of this month and I look forward to more opportunities to grow in my thinking, learning and to finally commit to working out every morning- at least for 30 days.

July’s come with surprises for me; I bought more books this month than any other month of the year thus far. I traveled to Nairobi to spend some time with my absolute favorite humans. I had fun shopping for kiondos, bookmarks and brass earrings. I also came to appreciate freedom of movement when I got to stay out past 7pm without panicking that some police officer would hound me or clobber me for staying out past curfew time.

The other surprise was my patience when traveling back to Mbita and our bus had a flat tyre that took two hours to fix and I had to get to the house at 8:42pm which is way past the curfew time here.

So, I collected some snippets of things that I got, experienced and also look forward to courtesy of this month:

Stationery: I love buying pencils by the dozens and this month, I got a number of packs which I shared with some of my friends and neighbors while keeping some to myself.

stationery.

I also enjoyed watching some awesome Korean Dramas on Netflix and let’s just say that of these three, I loved Healer and K2 the most!

I also came across a quote on the Instagram profile page of: BusinessMindset101 which had me stunned and I couldn’t help but jot it down:

“Jealousy can come in the form of jokes. Pay attention.”

Books: What would this month be without not one but two major bookhaul deliveries? Here are 4 titles I am reading next.

And when it comes to music, I would say that some of the songs that I have enjoyed listening to this month include:

I am looking forward to spending more time eating healthy, staying fit and writing more in August.

Have an awesome week ahead!

Wallet Activism by Tanja Hester

“An Activist’s work is to keep chipping away at a big problem over time, not giving up when things are hard and not getting discouraged when change comes incrementally rather than in big bursts.”

Have you ever thought of the impact your financial decisions have on the environment, economy or simply put every bit of the value chain that it took to get something into your possession?

I will admit that I cannot help but think often, but following through on my actions or changing my habits to match my talk is something I haven’t done. The furthest I have thought about a financial decision is evaluating the true cost of what it means to have a refrigerator- because since getting it, I spend more on my electricity bill than I did before I had it.

In this book, Tanja explores where our money goes, what we spend on stuff- in small and large scale and even something as important as the food we buy, clothes we wear, houses we live in, electronics and so on. I love how detailed her research in, because not only is it convincing, it is challenging- a call to action, to review our spending and investing habits.

She shares 4 fundamental questions to ask yourself to help you make better decisions as a wallet activist and these are: for whom? can everyone do this? is it too cheap? and finally What am I funding? She explores various issues in each chapter geared toward better understanding the impacts of our financial decisions and especially how companies do their very best to manipulate consumers.

Rating: 4 stars

This is a good book not just to read, but to discuss with friends and colleagues- to see oneself in the larger scheme of our capitalistic world. Thanks Netgalley for the eARC.

About the Author

Tanja is the author of Wallet Activism: How to Use Every Dollar You Spend, Earn, and Save as a Force for Change (coming November 2021) and Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny Pinching Way. She’s a former political consultant and journalist turned activist and early retiree. Visit her website: https://tanjahester.com/

Lessons I am learning about writing non-fiction

In the beginning of this year, I went through some writing goals I had made in 2018 and one of them included writing outside of my comfort zone. I love fiction and more so historical fiction and after writing The Currents Series and Zuri: The Chronicler of Enzi, I have been thinking of working on a book that delves into the situation of primary education in Kenya and this prompted me to start doing some research towards this in March this year.

Now, it’s my first time writing non-fiction and I am learning that above all, I cannot wing it or just write as much as I want without fact-checking!

I am also learning that when you are writing about a subject that you truly care about, there are some factors that you have to watch out for like:

  1. Your desire to want the whole world to know about it so much that you find yourself at a loss of where to start or what exactly to say and when.
  2. How attached you are to the subject that you lose objectivity. In my case as I was doing research, I found myself defending the teachers more and not truly understanding the whole system, how it works and why. So, every article or book I would read, I found myself defending only the teachers and I am still struggling with this.
  3. The chances that you may relive your trauma. On this point, I learned it by reading an article that Kurt Vonnegut has written some time back, when he shared that some stories he told were so close to an experience he lived that he struggled with objectivity. He advises to write it out, spit it out for what it is- and then dealing with everything after that, for once it is written it is out there.

This project is proving to be more challenging and rewarding as I learn along the way too and I can’t help but want to see it through to publication. I also came across some insightful tips on Creative Penn, and Masterclass guide to writing non-fiction that I read and found quite encouraging. So, here’s to fulfilling one of my writing goals!

Updates on the Writing life, June scares and July expectations

I choose to be happy on this day. It’s a sunny Sunday with highs of 26 degrees Celcius. I woke up today at 6:34AM to do laundry and finish braiding my hair and since then, I have been listening to songs on my playlist and drinking cup after cup of coffee. I am officially on my fourth cup.

We are 4 days into July and June was a scary month for me, for I realized how weak my body could be and the mere mention of being on supplements to keep me safe scared me. However, I did manage to get in more sleep and read more books but write absolutely nothing when it comes to my WIP. What I excelled at was watching Korean Dramas on Netflix late into the night and working on my work reports.

I would absolutely recommend the following dramas: Warm & Cozy, Man to Man, Healer, I am not a Robot and Tomorrow with You.

From March I have been buying more books to read and my June and July book hauls demand attention and I look forward to reading them in the coming months.

I am also looking forward to starting a professional certificate course to further improve my skills and knowledge in my field. It feels great getting back to some kind of structure and I can’t wait to see this through.

On future projects: The Miles Morland Foundation Writing Scholarship call for applications have been released and I’ll do what I always do, submit my application and keep my fingers crossed. I have been working closely with my Mentor/Professor who always critiques my writing to see to the release of the next book “A Hundred Little Things” in the first week of August.

My expectations for this month are:

  1. To improve on how I take good care of my body, from eating healthy ( more food rich in iron and calcium)
  2. To think positively of myself and what I do.
  3. To wrap up most of my work projects.
  4. Visit family and friends
  5. Have a weekend road trip- just to see another town, experience somewhere other than where I am right now.
  6. To watch some more K-Drama. My absolute favorite being Nevertheless– because in a way, Na-bi reminds me of a water-sign. She’s been hurt but she is still hoping for love, and with Park Jae-eon, she knows he’ll disappoint her but she is willing to give it a shot.

Updates on life, 2020 goals and everything in between

Life! Well, it’s been one rollercoaster and at some point, I felt so overwhelmed by what was happening that I took a break from writing and in that one week, I set aside everything including my NanoWrimo project.

The good news here is that yes, I aced this year’s NanoWrimo and managed to scribble 55,751words. Don’t ask me about what I wrote because it’s all messed up. I know because I checked and nearly lost my wits so I will let it simmer.

2020 goals: This was set to be my year, where I would workout consistently, eat healthy, write more, join a Writer’s network and invest in postgraduate education. I hadn’t written action plans for all these things, except for writing. And in true form I managed to write, edit and publish one book: Zuri: The Chronicler of Enzi. When it became clear that there would be prolonged restrictions in an attempt to curb the spread of covid-19, I found myself slacking on my goals and in the first week of this month as I was reading through my journal, I came across all the things I was excited to do and it hit me that I took in so much that was happening around me that I forgot to reinforce what’s within me.

So, like the rollercoaster we’ve been on, I installed the 30 day fitness app again🙄 and I have managed to set times for working out. I am on day 4 and already loving the “Rest Day.”🧡

On writing: I just have this awesome idea that sprung up on me as I was writing my NanoWrimo project and I live for visuals when I am writing, so here is what is motivating me to explore it.

On reading: This month’s been a thrill and I’ve read a couple of books that made it easier to get lost in the written world.

  • The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard
  • Diamond Eye by Arthur Rosenfeld

I am currently reading:

I am learning to write goals, and then break them down to tasks that I can do every day or hour so that I am not overwhelmed by the desire to accomplish them. I call it my 30 day reset and it started with uninstalling the Facebook app from my phone plus messenger so I can focus more.

I have also set a writing schedule so I have ample time to revise my draft and write some more because I love having to write and publish a book over the Easter holidays, it kinda gives my readers and major fans here in Kenya (they’re 14 of them 💛😉) something to read over a 3day holiday break

On education: I am still keen on gaining skills and knowledge and I’ll put it out into the universe, may it bring me my desires and success in my quest to pursue policy writing and formulation in the field of Education here in Kenya. I feel like I’ve been on the ground toiling and working with rural communities to improve public primary schools and it’s a great achievement, however I can scale it up, I can see the need for social investment in children on the value of quality education, across the country and what better way to do this than ensuring the policies written and implemented by the state actually serve this need? I’m all about it and I’ll keep working on it, seeking programs, partnerships, scholarships to see it come to be.

It’s been a hectic month for me, and I am hoping for a better now, tomorrow and to be honest, it’s a working progress and I love that I am envisioning it and calling it into being.

2 quick questions: What are you reading this weekend? What are you setting your heart on right now?

Out and About: Mombasa, Kenya

And somewhere between my home and the sandy beaches of Mombasa, I did not write neither a word nor come up with a story idea for the 10K novel writing challenge.

A part of me was disappointed on 7th October when I tried to sit down and get some words down and nothing came to mind, and once I got on the road, I got caught up in the sights, loved the company of my sisters and in between laughs, I let go, until…yesterday.

So, I’ll bombard you with pictures (the nices ones) of my trip and maybe this will get me writing again or get me to focus on an idea for at least an hour this evening.

The view from Mama Ngina
Fort Jesus in Mombasa
I took this while we were taking a stroll along the Bamburi beach
sunset at the floating bar at Mtwapa

Weekend plans and everything in between

Hello weekend! Is that you? I’m looking forward to staying indoors, drinking tea and reading books- yes, I just bought 12 new books making my tally come to 18 unread books and now they are staring at me like I am doing them an injustice by not picking them up.

I have been on a roll, watching series like I am paid to do so. Let’s just say that so far, I watched: Summertime, Never Have I Ever and Love, Victor! I’m a sucker for romance and drama, so far let me just state that I can’t wait for the second seasons of these shows and if I am still as interested as I am now 🙂 I’ll probably catch up!

On work: I’d say my week has been eventful. I am happy that we are wrapping up most of the projects and this means completed classrooms and happy schools and their communities.

2-classroom block constructed at Kitare Primary, Suba North.

On writing: October is fast approaching and a friend recommended that I join the 10k Novel-writing challenge and when I read the invite I nearly fell off my seat “10 days. 10,000 words. Are you ready?”

I love a challenge just as much as I am freaked out by it because I’ll be on the road pretty much from the 7th to 12th October and so getting to see this through scares me so much that I’ll attempt it! So, how about it? If you are looking to get some writing done, work on that schedule and pace that you so desire, how about joining the 10K Novel writing challenge? SIGN UP!

On studies: I’ve been taking online lessons, doing my best to participate in the New Heights Fellowship Program and so far, I am learning that I can always do my best, pursue and serve excellence in everything I do and I am also challenged to build more leaders in the communities I am working in.

On publishing and book sales: Look, I’ve been on the receiving end this past week especially regarding Zuri: The Chronicler of Enzi! Phew! If you got the book and read it, is it truly that deep and difficult to read? I need to know…

I took time to set up the publication of “IN THE QUIET” and this is because I have been exploring digital publishing in Kenya and I enlisted the help of a Tech-Expert I know and absolutely admire to help me with this and as they’ve been working on this, I have been editing and revising the book which I hope to share with you at some point this year. I just want it to be the very best version I could share with the world.

I am looking forward to being more courteous and keeping my word in all that I do. Have a lovely weekend wherever you are and I am sending you love and light and a ton of positive vibes.

Updates on Life, Staying-Not fully staying at home, reading and writing

182 days since we got the #stayathome verdict from the Kenyan government. How are you holding up wherever you are? What have you learned in 2020 thus far?

One thing is certain: we have 108 days to the end of this year and I for one, find myself more aware, present and grateful for every moment I experience.

I have been reading more books because I joined this awesome whatsapp book, admnistered by Prime Book Hubs and simply put- they post books for sale and you get to reserve a copy, pay for it and they ship it to you. So, I’ve been buying books and my first September haul includes a book loaned to me by my sister which I just finished reading.

I absolutely devoured Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and if you are into books that are set in bookstores with some hidden secrets or puzzles, you’ll love how technology meets print and ingenuity in this book.

I am currently reading Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani.

On writing: Let’s just say that I need to travel a bit, change the environment I’ve been in- read more, or just kickstart my brain into actively writing this next book. I’m taking a leap going into non-fiction and I am learning that it’s not that easy to string words along. Research takes time and I am forever at the phase of “would you tell me that again?” and it’s driving me insane. I need some patience juice! No sugar please, just the patience juice.

And, how do you know you’ve got your writing mojo?

For me, this involves shopping for stationery and nothing speaks to me more like pencils in the dozens! So, I decided to put everything I’ve got working for me and share a picture, just to prove that I am not losing it, or rather, that I should open up a stationery shop…

Whereas the Ministry of Health provides us with COVID-19 statistics daily, I find myself inclined to document and journal what I’ve done in a day, and this is what I call, taking stock of the things that I may have overlooked that made my day.

  1. I decided to cut down on processed sugar and this is my third day without it.
  2. I’ve been changing my sleep cycle; now I go to bed by 10pm and get up by 6am. I am working towards going to bed by 10pm and waking up at 5am.
  3. Pitching articles to various editors is something I hoped to do this year and since last month, I’ve sent out 2, hoping to send some more and explore long-form article writing as well.
  4. My Mom is a huge advocate for Education and it gives because she taught for 30 years. Her challenge to me this year was not to give up on fellowships and scholarships because every year I send out at least an application for a fellowship and 2 Masters scholarships- and I get turned down. I got so close last year and it tore me apart- and she told me, not to give up, if I could come in fifth, then maybe I’d get it.
  5. Fitness is not easy. I can write everyday, because I worked on getting this done, but working out has been a challenge that means installing and uninstalling fitness apps- working out two consecutive days then quitting, so I’ll stick to walking. It may do me some good.
  6. I finally gave my visual threshold a chance- and watched two series: The Witcher and Cursed...and can I just say that I am looking forward to the next seasons? Who would have thought that grunting could say so much- because Geralt of Rivia, in The Witcher grunts in response to almost everything!
  7. Comedy! Yes, I’ve always loved Trevor Noah and this month, I discovered K-Von Comedy.

I am looking forward to reading more books, a bit of travel for work because we’re focusing on WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) projects this round-and most of the schools I’ve visited are in dire need to latrines, hand-washing stations, access to clean treated water and most of all- in need of some infrastructure development.

Have a wonderful week wherever you are.