Mantalk: Sometimes men just want to feel like they matter in the world


Sometimes men just want to feel like they matter in the world.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

What you need to know:

  • Mattering is something that in a perfect world, everyone would experience every day.
  • It’s what most men crave. It’s the most heartwarming feeling, like someone just lit a candle inside your body, the way the sunlight feels if you lie in its path.

As you read this, I am on my second plate of waru and soup and three pieces of meat—complemented with several chapatis. Where I come from, we do not count children—or chapatis.

There is alcohol flowing, and on the balcony, the clouds are forming at an astonishing rate. Okay, the clouds are actually from, erm, ahem, weed, but nobody needs to know that.

Hold it, how did you know I was in Juja? You didn’t? Well, I am. My boy’s child is turning six years old and we are here to celebrate the milestone. I make a mental note that this party is curiously themed as a children’s birthday party but it seems like the adults are having more fun. It’s just like the government. We cook, they eat. (I don’t even remember the name of the baby, but I will not forget those chapatis.)

We are in Kenyan summer. I know this because my wallet has recently become a clearing and forwarding agent, but I am not complaining because sherehe haitaki hasira. Just like the week has Saturday and Sunday for the weekend, November and December is officially the weekend of the year.

I am just tumia-pesa-ikuzoee-ing my way because hii maisha haina formula. Wueh!

November is also men’s month. And one of the things I have been postponing is getting a prostate exam. I am shy. I only get naked when the lights are off, or when I am with a lightskin babe.

Usually, both. Ask anyone. See that guy on the corner? Go ahead and ask him; he’ll tell you. The most skin you’ll see from me is my face — and I’ll be wearing a mask.
See, every year like clockwork, I shed off the version of masculinity that I wore for that year.

This year it has been tragi-comic. I have been my funniest this year — as evidenced by the fact that I have not seen a doctor. Because laughter is the best medicine. No? No? Okay. Tough crowd.
My therapist said I use jokes as a coping mechanism. But there is no clown here. He suggested I repeat this mantra to myself. So I do. There is no clown here. I always considered therapy a weak man’s piss. I am glad that more men are considering it. I recently got a new tattoo (that only a light skinned babe will see when the lights are off) to remind me of how many friends I lost to suicide.
I’ve been sad just thinking about it. Youth is a fountain of restlessness that can drown you. See. Sadness smells like a dead rat in a crack underneath the wall. And that wall is in Roysambu, so you can’t tell which wall it is exactly.

It makes you cynical and withdrawn, obsessive and preoccupied, dismissive and unhelpful. Sadness smells like spoilt milk, like githeri masala.
Want to hear a sad joke? A man went into a library and asked for a book on how to commit suicide. The librarian said: “Kwenda huko, you won’t bring it back.”
As you chew over whether to laugh or cuss me out, if you’ve ever lost someone to suicide then you know. You sit and wonder why they couldn’t talk to you, why they couldn’t talk to someone, why they couldn’t talk. But there is no clown here.
Where I come from, we treat death suspiciously. Like all mythology, they thump with the queasy, the uneasy and an undercurrent of reality. We beat up the body of one who has committed suicide. We harbour superstitions.

We say their spirit will never rest. If you are the first person to meet the dead hanging from a tree, you take a stick and beat it up. This, the elders say, will ensure no evil spirits come back to haunt the living.

Oh, and it will prepare the dead for more punishment to be faced in the next life. Plus, their grave is dug on the furthest end of the family land to ensure detachment with the deceased. The deceased are owed no emotional attachment. And I wonder who you are punishing more — the dead, or yourself.
Happiness dwells in the shadow of pain as life dwells in the shadow of death. But I have come to learn we will not have each other long. Time, distance or ultimately death dissolves all unions of friends, family and lovers, tumbling the unwary into despair and meaninglessness; it’s why we creep the lonely streets needy, our eyes staring hungrily into other eyes and seeing the same hunger there.

The experience is personal yet public.
I have a theory that there will always be those of us who feel secluded in this world, that everybody else knows the password to getting along, a secret formula for fitting in, and no one remembered to tell us.

That loneliness coils up against us, the constant companion in the empty hours when it seems no one else is. Like waking up into a nightmare. But flailing confusedly, craving more love, less loneliness, these are the hallmarks of a life under construction; it’s not the road less travelled, it’s the super highway.
It is passion, it is yearning, it is sadness — to show your pain, and someone to see how much. It’s wanting to be an emergency, to be saved. It is being told that you matter.

Mattering is something that in a perfect world, everyone would experience every day. It’s what most men crave. It’s the most heartwarming feeling, like someone just lit a candle inside your body, the way the sunlight feels if you lie in its path.

It makes you feel valued and important and seen. Everyone is searching for a sense of belonging, to gap the hole in their lives, because if you carry your loneliness to heaven, heaven itself will feel like hell.
There used to be owls in our village. They’d perch on trees, in the family homesteads. It was their duty to warn everyone that the day will not last forever, that death is coming.

Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year — the days when it feels like December — the owls spread the rumour of sadness and change. Sometimes, death is one’s way to know if they mattered. Because no one wants to be a clown here.
How unhappy does one have to be before living seems worse than dying? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll never know. My people say: Engila sebolela okenda. The road does not tell the traveller what lies ahead.
Sometimes being a man is making a home for yourself, but never feeling at home in yourself. It’s the dying fire that needs air. The way clouds seem to have in their heart a trembling clarity.

Longing? Yes. Belonging? No.