Mantalk: Why men should learn to enjoy solitude


Enjoy some solitude. 

Photo credit: Shutterstock

What you need to know:

  • We are in a hyper-competitive world, made even more insidious by the fact that we no longer work under pressure, we only work under pressure.
  • People much wiser than me will tell you: show me your friends and I will tell you who you are.

I should have known. You don't tempt God and get away with it. Here's what happened: I was walking to church, multitasking, several tabs open in my mind. As I was walking down the stairs, Pa! I dropped my phone and the screen broke. That's how I lost 10k. Budget ya sherehe, gone. Hivyo tu.

Those 24 hours without a phone were the longest of my life, and I've had even longer nights, not least when someone's daughter's Flow app broke. I couldn't bear to sit alone with myself, my thoughts turning over and over in my head until I had rethought every single situation, from my WhatsApp posting pictures of itself to my bank account sending money to KRA.

It's weird, because this is Nairobi, with millions of people in your face every day, and the sheer implausibility of the place - the tangled infrastructure, the teeming humanity, the lack of air and light. It's annoying, but there's no law against being annoying.

Loneliness is what we have least of here, especially on the side of town where the Chinese are trying to fit the whole of Nairobi in. You don't even have privacy, the chance to be physically alone, let alone solitude, the chance to be alone with your thoughts.

But that Sunday, I started to think. I was all alone, flanked by my thoughts, and I could feel an inner torment. I sat there, like the poster for Waiting for Godot, eating and wondering if this first quarter of my life was worth writing about (ha!).

I took stock of my life and remembered the victories I had had this year, but even those paled in comparison to what I remembered my friends and acquaintances and frenemies getting.

I was dissatisfied. Some were getting married, others were leaving the country and still others were helping the Chinese cram the whole of Nairobi into Kilimani by shooting on location and impregnating every woman who ovulated. It was disgusting - the pressure, not the pregnancy. The pressure, though, is getting worse.

It's easy to tell people that comparison is the thief of joy. But I submit to you that it is much easier to die of the loneliness-induced pressure of not getting up to meet your friends where they are because believe me, your friends will not get down to where you are. You may want to argue that a true friend will stick by you, but there are limits to friendship.

We are in a hyper-competitive world, made even more insidious by the fact that we no longer work under pressure, we only work under pressure. People much wiser than me will tell you: show me your friends and I will tell you who you are.

I am no longer enthralled by the "Oouu what does this drug do?" of my youth, the tumia pesa ikuzoee, the random one-night stands in a random one-bedroom with Kikuyu landlord-inspired ceiling windows in Roysambu.

It's not the same anymore. In my 30s, I feel like the adult in most rooms, thinking before I act. I used to think before I did. Broken, drunk and impressionable - the hallmarks of a life under construction.

But I know that's just the circle I keep around me, because I don't want my child to miss any opportunities in her even more ultra-promax-competitive world. After all, somebody knows somebody. It's not enough to know someone, you have to know everyone.

Is it not true that you will always be a reflection of the people around you? So, with all due respect, if there are five foolish people around you, then you have not counted well, there are six.

But as I sit here with my thoughts - aware that it is no less than December - I ask myself: what do men want? What do I want? You see, it's very easy to live someone else's life, to never define what you want, to accept what you're told is good as good enough for you, to become a symbol of the price of obedience, of being the good son forever.

I don't think many men know what they want. I don't think many men even know if they want anything else. Maybe I am overthinking it, but when you as a man sit down with your thoughts, was this the life you had in mind? Do you remember when you were young and thin and handsome and hopeful? When the world was at your feet, not on your shoulders?

I think more men should enjoy solitude. To think. There is a certain complacency that has crept into society, and men are at the forefront, carrying the banners. The romance of youth is giving way to the routine of middle age. But I am here to tell you that the wind has blown and the chicken's anus has been exposed.

We may be wise in hindsight, but wasn't it the elders who said that whether the frog falls on the knife or the knife falls on the frog, the frog must bleed? Something has to give. The falcon cannot hear the falconer. Things are falling apart. What do you want? I now understand why solitude is painful in youth but delicious in maturity.

I understand. To tell you the truth, right now I am full of the vulnerability that drives people to the Internet. I am so full of longing; I long to know if this is the meaning of life, if I am here just to die, if anyone from Roysambu will make it to heaven. If you take anything away from this conversation, be wary of Roysambu.

You need to know that there may not be a great ending. We all go out with a whimper. Maybe a man's life is a gamble, and sometimes you lose, even if you didn't start the game. You need to know that maybe loneliness is there to make us think, to question our opinions about the world.