An open Letter to my unborn Son

My dear son,

Many, many moons from now you will be born. I cannot precisely quantify it in terms of years as yet but truth be told, that ‘many moons’ phrase sounds really medievally chic. On the day of your birth however I will be an elated man.

More so because you will not be the outcome of a dubious encounter between a reckless man and an enstranged ‘campus diva’. You will be borne of a loving mother and a caring father. You will be the seed of my loins and your handsome features an uncanny reflection of your mothers beauty. I will be proud of you, so much that if pride swapped places with helium for just that one day,  I would be halfway into the stratosphere and probably croaking like Donald Duck.

When you transit from the comfort of your mother’s womb and gasp for your first breath, I will be there. You will be a slimy mess son, I know, but I will be there. It will be a perilous time for you. The warmth and cushioning that her uterus provided, the nourishing she gave you and the peace, calm and quiet that homely chamber posesses will be suddenly gone. In their place will be a bright and cold pandemonium, noise everywhere and large hands holding your minute frame. At some point, you will even have to cry. Ironically as this will be for you, I will welcome you home.

I promise not to give you a name you cannot pronounce.

As you grow, your mother and I will nurture you. You will learn the value of honesty, hardwork and mental stubborness from your mother. When the epiphany of right versus wrong overtakes you, I will be there to guide you. I will show you how to be a free thinker son just as your grandfather taught me. I will let you follow the path that the flames of your ambition clear for you. You will never be wrong. You will only learn.

You have to realize that my letter to you is written with the ink of optimism on the parchment of hope. These are trying times son. The government scorns its workforce while favoring the upper ranks. It soils the healthcare system and takes education for granted. It puts the rich on a pedestal and leaves the poor alienated and desolate. Such is life as per now. But there’s hope, there is always hope.

In your time my son, our lives will be different. Condoning impunity will be a thing of the past. Exploitation of the masses by a powerful, selfish handful will be non existent. The thwarting of efforts gunning towards fulfillment of basic needs and empowerment for all will be history. Intolerance to societal views and beliefs will have dissipated and our opinions will be open and unifying. Our country and humanity as a whole will perhaps be slowly gravitating towards utopia. When such times are upon us, you will flourish son. We will all flourish.

There’s always hope…

Meanwhile, I strive in my own meager ways to prepare for such a future. After all change begins with self. Needless to say, I would like only the best for you my son; just like any good father would.

P.S. On the day of your birth, the doctor may inflict pain on you so that you can breath. Fear not son for on another occasion  their progeny will come to birth and a doctor will again smack the bejesus out of their behind. Then and only then son will we have our revenge.

Signing off.

With love,
Your prospective father.

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When Dad goes all ‘Emo’ on Son

It was a particularly lazy Sunday afternoon; the sky was bare of clouds and was hence dominated by the seething sun whose commanding presence replaced the cool Nairobi air with uncomfortable heat. These are afternoons best spent indoors and to that effect, I was at my place, hanging out with my close friends doing the usual ‘guy-stuff’. For a preamble, ‘guy stuff’ here encompasses a sporting event be it a real or virtual version of it, couple of beers and small talk mostly about money, sports, politics, the occasional philosophy and outstanding women.

That said, we were blistering away our fingers trying to outdo each other at FIFA 12. You know men and their competitive nature- no one is ever willing to back down and bear the ‘looser’ tag. Indeed, the spurring was intense and fun all until one of the guys received a text I would consider bizarre from his father when things took an unexpected turn. Let me break it down: ‘guy is waiting to play against the winner- his phone vibrates: 1 New Message- he reads the text and bursts out laughing, gamers continue as guy is lost in hysterical guffaws amidst which guy blurts out, “Hey, my dad just told me ‘I love you’,”… silence… even the game is paused!’ We all stared at him in humorous, utter disbelief. After a few of what were mostly satirical exchanges over the same, the moment melted away and the afternoon continued as if nothing important had happened. On later recap however and from my perspective; it was yet another sign of the ever evolving concept of African fatherhood: and perhaps fatherhood in general.

Once upon a time…

Half a century ago and beyond, being an African male was quite a different concept from current trend. A boy born in the jungle had to face many challenges including succumbing to birth related fatalities. Following this was a nurturing stage by his parents mostly the mother and his peers. This preceded teenage whose most defining moment was isolation in the wilderness, engagement in arduous and dangerous conquests and lessons on manhood by respected elders- a stage whose pinnacle was an early morning public, ceremonial amputation of the prepuce in the name of initiation.

Henceforth, the former boy was regarded a man and delegated with the hefty responsibilities of protecting the village and helping to provide. He was once again isolated in his own hut like a Thingira or a Manyatta before he could break away, marry several wives and start his own family. As such, the ideal African man was carved by society into a strong figure, a pillar of testosterone commanding an authoritative aura and a remarkable insensitivity to emotion. Now let us look at his modern descendant.

Born in a closely knit nuclear family sometimes raised by a single mother or female guardian, he is favorably nurtured by the warmth that relationships create. His exposure to the western way of life via mass media starts at an early age as he watches sit-coms, an overwhelming amount of soaps, the five shilling DJ movies and what not. Formal education also plays a role in his life since in its pursuit; he often mingles with the opposite sex, an exposure to more ‘estrogen’ leaving him with a first-hand experience of the ‘softer’ side. When the time comes for him to face the harsh realities of life, he is infrequently left to figure it all out on his own.  Rather, he is weaned into it by relatives and friends, supportive mentors and institutions, an avalanche of relevant technologies and other available ‘self help’ material.

While the challenges facing the modern African man aren’t any easier from those of his predecessor, they are distinctively different. The circumstances surrounding him have created a different man: strong in some aspects but yielding to emotion. One who, perhaps, can balance showing love and care with being stern and aggressive about what he wants. In essence, this new breed is the type that can suppress the squirm bubbling within and text their twenty something year old son to proclaim their fatherly love for them and, like in this case, leaving the latter in gags.

Evidently, the Curriculum Vitae of the African father has indeed been updated. The African Man is now in a phase of transition. In addition to protection and provision, he has resigned from his enigmatic ‘macho’ pedestal to the more ‘family-friendly’ position of loving, caring and inspiring his woman and their progeny. Some have fondly termed this process ‘Obamanization’ after the incumbent POTUS whose public display of a pro family man and ideal father figure remains unparalleled.

As for my good friend, he did what most of us guys would have done had we been in his seemingly ‘awkward’ shoes. In response, he coolly asked for an increase in his weekly cash allowance.

 

Mission No Slavery: The Plight of Registrars

It’s an early Thursday morning, 6.50am to be precise. The mid June weather is unforgivingly cold. I am out already, to meet my colleagues for group discussion. Mid year exams are fast approaching. I find a sheltered spot in the Com-care restaurant of KNH and huddle to my notes waiting for my friends to arrive. As I pour on the myriad of drugs and their pharmacological properties, my attention momentarily delves into an approaching trio- two gentlemen and a lady, all dressed in scrubs, golden badges and lab coats, clinging to the latter for warmth. I steal glances at them watching as they select yet another sheltered corner, sit down and order breakfast.

They looked thoroughly spent. Once the coffee and other accompaniments were delivered, they dug in- almost ravenously, the pride that comes with being a doctor was perhaps their only restraint. They refrained from making any exchanges amongst themselves for a while. I became more curious.

As soon as the caffeine and glucose kicked in however, they started conversing in low tones. It is from eavesdropping their exchanges where I would learn that they had been up since mid night in theater. I did not hear the intricate details but whatever procedure it was that they had been doing must have been complicated. What seemed to bother them more was not their obvious fatigue, rather a task they were supposed to accomplish: a major write up to some department that, according to them, took so much time and effort to compile yet was only worth a mere percentage of course work. As they wrapped up their brief breakfast and headed out, I slowly fathomed just how complicated a doctors and more specifically a registrar’s morning can be.

Later on in the day (and in many other days before and after that) I brushed shoulders with similar doctors- registrars. From the minor theater of the casualty in KNH to the dissecting table of the morgue’s autopsy room. These older sisters and brothers in the profession conduct clinics and offer medical services to the larger Kenyan citizenry, majority of whom are poor, on behalf of the hospital. They man the wards, run the Operating Rooms, ensure the smooth running of the entire hospital and also mentor medical students: all this, unfortunately, without any returns.

All work and no pay

Being a doctor has never been simple. Serving in a ‘noble profession’ puts one in an awkward position as far as bargaining for rights is concerned. Being a registrar is something else. A majority have to raise their own fees in the background of an unpaid study leave. As aforementioned, they offer medical services around the clock to the hospital and teaching to medics for no enumeration. Most have families to care and be there for, a hard feat to pull since they also has to lo-cam to make ends meet. All this happens under the umbrella of a bureaucratic education system and to top it all off- one has to excel so as to graduate. In essence, being a registrar is an insurmountable affair. It therefore follows that sentiments by the government in view of their demands for payment as ‘unnecessary’ and ‘unusual’ are complete crass.

A government that cares for its people should have in mind the imperative nature of a proper healthcare system. The backbone of the latter is a country’s doctors. It is rather disturbing that the government would choose to dump mud and dirt on the on going quagmire with medical registrars instead of encouraging positive negotiation. In the light that a well funded health care system and motivated doctors directly culminates to Kenyans benefiting immensely from better health care, the way the government has been handling the frequent fall outs with its doctors is a big shame. After all, most of those who run the government seek healthcare from outside the country. Indeed, by literally enslaving its doctors, the government is showing blatant lack of concern to the needs of its people.

Keep keeping on

As a medical student, I support the stand that the registrars and KMPDU have taken. While fighting for their own rights, the rights of a majority of Kenyans and paving way for the younger medics, it goes further to show that the seemingly feeble voice of reason shall in the end be heard and heard out loud. I hope other doctors and Kenyans at large will join in in solidarity with you, surfing bravely on that long awaited wave of change. Finally, the far we have come should serve to fuel your current efforts. For as long as the stream of doctors’ power runs persistently, the rock of slavery and exploitation will gradually but surely wear out. The struggle continues.