What you need to know:
- The book is really a series of anecdotes of life experiences prefaced with or followed by a pithy advisory note.
- 50 Memos to Men is part of a genre of writing that has become popular among the millennials.
Apparently the chairman of the ‘National Welfare Desk of Men’ has just published 50 memos addressed to Kenyans. 50 Memos to Men by Silas Nyanchwani (Gram Books, 2021) was published in August, I guess to help men see 2021 to the end. It has been a difficult year, no doubt.
Given that 2020 was a shock year, what with Covid-19 appearing on our shores, people losing jobs and incomes, death stalking our homes and neighbourhoods, and the government banning movements and meetings, and limiting the time businesses can operate, many social observers have argued that men have had to rediscover their lives.
They have had to relearn how to stay at home – and not at the bar. They have had to terminate relationships with women other than their steady girlfriends or wives. The ‘boys’ club’ has been suspended for some time. Staying at home or indoors means paying more domestic bills or doing house chores, among other responsibilities.
Well, the chairman of the National Welfare Desk of Men (the address of the said association or its other officials are not indicated in the memos), has advice for men on how to navigate these ever-changing times. He has organised the memos into three parts: Your Life as a Man; Your Life with Women; Your Life in Marriage.
But this is not necessarily a book of advice, in the strictest sense of the word. It is not a how-to-live-your-life manual. It is really a series of anecdotes of life experiences prefaced with or followed by a pithy advisory note.
Take Memo No. 1 – ‘Why Kenyan Men Are Going Their Own Way.’ This one will be read as a misogynist’s rumbling. The writer relates the story of some rich 40-something man in Karen who lives a happy life. But he is alone. He claims to have had a bitter divorce, and didn’t wish to marry again. The writer notes that he has also met women who have had failed relationships and wished not to have company anymore. Yet, many individuals in this country still think marriage is the best invention ever by humankind. And they swear by that belief.
However, the memo writer notes that too many men, especially in urban Kenya, are quite happy with their situation. He writes, “So, any woman who thinks we have been defeated and that is why we are withdrawing from marriage and dating, this is to assure you, we have no problem whatsoever with women. We still have female friends. We still hang out with women. But we go home alone, a beer can in hand, ground nuts in the other and collapse on our couches watching boring documentaries and bliss has never tasted this good.”
Memo No. 6 – ‘End of Year (2020) Lessons for Men’ is a 22 points note with the last 15 ‘Last Notes on Women’ dedicated to practical advice on the kind of women to associate with, if necessary. One imagines that this memo was written at a time when men in romantic relationships were finding it difficult to maintain those relationships. Love often needs money to oil it. But 2020 was the year money started to seriously migrate from the wallets of Kenyans. The first advice is terse: don’t ever allow anyone, male or female, to waste your time. You can never replace lost time. So, cut off anyone who needs you at their convenience. However desperate you are, retain some dignity for yourself.
The next advice is: If you are in your 20s, and unmarried, postpone your marriage until you are at least 32. They say, when you skip marriage in your 20s, you have potentially avoided your first divorce. Marriage has a lot of material responsibilities and whoever tells you, ‘Anzia popote, mtasaidiana’, is a witch, report him to the nearest police station.
50 Memos to Men is part of a genre of writing that has become popular among the millennials. This kind of writing comes as a package of anecdotes, garnished with witty or sharp advice. It offers a menu on everything, from social, cultural, economic, spiritual, personal, to family life.
This writing is today’s survival toolkit for millions of people stuck in unfulfilling relationships, unproductive jobs, alienating families, or a bewildering life. For instance, millions of young women and men are sold the story of marriage as bliss. Find your partner. The one fate predestined for you. Swear undying love forever. Hustle, make some money, buy a home, keep the love fire burning and all will be well. Ooh, have some children along the way. Humanity needs to reproduce itself. But that isn’t what life is really about.
Too many people find out too late that life is a scam. They discover when they can’t rewind the clock or retrace the path they had followed that they may have been led down a blind alley. Not many parents, friends or even teachers offer a sneak peek into the movie that is life.
Worthy survival toolkit
Even the so-called life-skills being taught in schools today falls far too short of detailing what the ingredients of life are. Very few parents ever tell their children that marriage is work – more work than the 8am-5pm job. No parent tells their child that having a baby implies almost a lifelong financial debt.
Then there is social and cultural investment. Add religious or spiritual obligations. Parents are too busy to write such memos to their totos. Often, if ever, they find out the hard way, in life. This is where literature such as 50 Memos to Men comes in handy. Short, readable, anecdotal, often biographical, unapologetic, ready to consume!
Social media has made such literature widely available to millions of its readers. One can either ‘follow’ the writer online, every day, weekly, the whole month, for a year or years. The writer and the reader form a bond, much like the oral storytelling days of the past. Oral narratives always ended with a moral lesson. This is pretty much what the memos in this collection does. The story is an illustration of a moral offering. Or the moral offering is the root of the story.
What is a story about really if not to make the world manageable? Stories don’t explain the world. Stories give the reader something to hold on to when the going gets unpredictable, unmanageable and scary. Stories from those who have experienced life before – or even imagined how it is – can be the pillar for a generation that no longer has the luxury of its parents.
In a world that promises so much but delivers quite little, a memo a day on what life has been before, what it is today and what it could be tomorrow is a worthy survival toolkit. In the 1970s the likes of David Maillu wrote such books. Onitsha Market literature in Nigeria was full of such books. One may not sell a million copies of such books, but one may save a million lives form social damnation.
50 Memos to Men is available on order from Gram Books in Nairobi.
The writer teaches literature and performing arts at the University of Nairobi. [email protected]