Let’s talk about ***

How do we talk about God? My parents and friends never bothered. One of my early memories is watching a scene in a movie where a witness in court swears to tell “The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God”. I remember thinking to myself, well that’s not going to bind him to anything. He can lie his ass off and have no real consequences if God is all that is holding him accountable.

The culture in which I grew up was extremely sheltered in many ways. At a macro level, times were good. The 1990’s saw the ‘end of History’ declared as the Soviet Union lost its marbles. Capitalism and technology was sorting the Western World out, and there was to be an inevitable march with Democracy across the globe. The good news was bound to spread fast. Democracy, Capitalism and Science had won. God was dead and we killed him.

Closer to home, my family never needed to run, to fight, to fear, or to search for much meaning. We had all that we needed right in front of us. Our schools were good. We thrived at academia and sport. We had money, friends and community. The general idea for success was to just keep doing what we did. The only real danger was corruption in developing nations, the ozone layer, conservation or climate change. Humans were sorted in the most important parts of the world, it seemed, so let’s educate the rest and look out for the environment.

That old equation seems a little naive and simplistic. Life is heavier than I thought. Yes, I was young in the 90’s and 00’s so I clearly missed some of the complexity going on around me. But now we are all connected to the internet and we’re not all following the same script. Instead we’re hiding behind touch screens. It feels like a time when belief in a higher power would be helpful. But what do I know? I’m just a chimp with cans.

Friday concerns

A cloud is building on the horizon. One of those dark, steel-coloured clouds, it flashes every now and then with lightening. There is an ominous, glowing red base where the cloud meets the earth, as if Sauron and his army may be ready to strike. I am nervous about my children and their relationship with technology. Tech is the one ring to rule them all.

Back when I was a child, life was simple in the Shire and new tech was exciting but not pervasive. Think of the kids in Stranger Things but without the Upside Down – that’s how it feels in my memories. Our favourite possessions were bicycles and Walkmans. The pace of introducing new technology was slow here in Africa. Just as there was no TV in my mother’s childhood, there was no internet in mine.

Flash forward thirty years and i have to manage my daughters, and their relationship to the internet. That strange magic which is able to make them disappear. We are relatively conservative with our children in this house. I feel like I have seen too much to let my girls loose on an iPad or on YouTube. But I know the dam will burst and there is such a thing as sheltering them too much.

The answer to all of this, I believe, is well described by Tolkien and exemplified by my excellent wife. Stay productive, and know that your tasks make a difference in at least one life: Your own. Just as carrying the Ring throughout Middle Earth is no easy task, managing the internet in your own life is hard. In fact, Frodo almost succumbs to its powers more than once. Friends and family see us through and give perspective to our online life. Sam, is always there to get Frodo back on the right path.

Happy Friday, chimps.

Music on this Monday

I’ve added three tracks to the chimpwithcans playlist: Link

Genesis, “Turn it on” – a track which rocks and which I wish I played back in the day because of the drums. And those crazy skipped beats! Oh man I gets me this one.

The Cars, “I’m not the one” which has a very modern synth and electronic beat for such an old track. Mellow and excellent!

Finally I have included the new one from Arcade Fire, “Unconditional II (Race and Religion)” because it’s a new Arcade Fire track and it includes Peter Gabriel!

I took three old tracks off too. Out with the old and in with the new!

Happy Monday, chimps!

Visitors

Friends came over for coffee today. Great family friends of my parents, they have known me since I was a child. I grew up with their children. They come from Kenya and after some text messages to arrange things, they suddenly appear at my house. Appearing not only out of a taxi, but out of my past, out of my memories. They make me smile as soon as I see them.

Nostalgia runs deep with visits like this. Talking with them of family, Kenya, the way things are versus the way they used to be – it’s a little like watching a beloved film for the umpteenth time. I often feel that I know what we are going to say before we say it. I am comforted by the familiarity of everything – their accents, their faces, their memories.

Pride sweeps through me too. I show them my new house, I introduce my children. I give them coffee and pastries. I describe my life to them. I hope they see progress even in the face of Africa, the pandemic, gruelling life. Their compliments are kind. I am most proud of my family.

Fear hits me when they leave. I feel it – a jolt in my stomach and at the base of my skull – and I hope I can see them again soon. I am so far away from the people of my childhood. Age is catching us all.

Thank God for my chaotic family. After a beautiful visit is over, my children and my wife bring me right back to the present. I have so many things to do. Til we meet again.

Happy Thursday, chimps.

Recent resonations

The internet is full of rubbish. We cannot trust most of it, cannot filter all of it, and at the same time we cannot take our eyes off of it.

The following links are for good things I have read / listened to recently. I’m going to call them “resonations”:

  • Tim Ferris interviews Mark Zuckerberg – Zuck is obviously a tech nerd – but he’s also a sporty, musical, family man. No hint of lizard origins here. link
  • The symbolism of ESG – My background as a “sustainability professional” means that this resonates. Are we guilty of searching for too much meaning in finance? A separation of God and mammon required? link
  • Extraordinary men – The Big Red Car is at his best when talking military history. Something that Europe and Ukraine are in the midst of. link
  • Where do symbols live – Seth Godin as the liberal antidote to the conservative BRC and ESG articles: link

Happy Tuesday Chimps.

Drumming memories.

Drums are clunky and clumsy to sit down to. Bits are threatening to fall over, poke your leg, clatter and clash in a big noise. But once I do sit down, it feels like a beast is at my beck and call.

Everybody has something that eases their mind. Different people are affected by different things. Some friends have told me surfing does it, others running, others fine art and drawing. We are all so different, but everyone has something they absolutely love and fall into so deeply that they don’t even notice time passing, or tiredness, or anything else but the task at hand. I have a few things. Golf. Motorbikes. Fly fishing. Music.

The problem is, I stopped playing drums. I got busy. Then I grew older and got REALLY busy. And then I forgot what it felt like to sit at the very bottom of a song and push the other instruments forward. Control the tempo and the sound. For me, there is really nothing like it.

My friend came to town the other day and we met up at a guitar shop. He wanted a Fender to pass on as a family heirloom. I tested some out with him, and I played drums as he strummed the blues. I remembered that great feeling all over again.

I need to start playing regularly.

Happy Tuesday chimps!

Organic farm trip

Our minibus turned off the smooth tar road, tyres crunching on the gravel. Suddenly away from traffic, we faced a long, narrow wedge – a valley rising up into a tall range of mountains. My wife explained to me that, in winter, snow fell on the peaks ahead. Unusual for Africa.

For us it was sunset at the tail end of summer. No snow. Instead, the gravel road was hot and red in the sun, and the bush on the valley floor was a hundred shades of gold and green. A troop of baboons walked on the side of the road, welcoming us to our stay at the organic farm. “All this fruit is ours” they seemed to say. “Leave it alone and we’ll let you stay”. I made a mental note: Lock the windows, hide the food. Then an eagle hovered above, scanning for movement in the bush below. My daughter noticed how fierce its claws were. The mouse below would have no chance but the eagle needed to eat too hey Dad? Signs appear on the side of the road with directions to our cottage.

Minibuses dont do well on steep valley roads. The steeper the road got, the more we slipped and slid until finally the bus reached the cottage like a tired animal, happy to lie down and rest in the car park. By that time all the children had left seatbelts behind, and sat on our laps in the front. No health and safety standards. No space. Lots of fun and excitement with a valley full of baboons and birds, and a sliding slipping bus ride.

The cottage gave us everything we needed. Or rather, it kept everything that we didn’t need away from us. No phones, no TV, no internet. Even the baboons left us alone. As a replacement the girls played and played. Adventures in the amazing bunk bed with a ladder and a nook in the wall. The deep swimming pool to keep us cool and occupied by a couple of frogs, beautiful leopard spots on their backs. I showed the girls how to catch a frog gently in my hands, and they squealed with laughter as it hopped out my hands and launched itself away to the nearest bush.

Everything growing on the farm was classified as organic. Or rather, the soil in which it grew was classified organic. Not the biggest farm I have seen, but it stood out from larger, mass producing farms as each piece of fruit had an extra “organic” certification. Fancy baboon feeding scheme, you might think. Apparently they allow outsiders to use their soil so that they can claim their produce is organic in the markets. An interesting concept. Hard work though.

When we went to the nearby town for a meal, the girls attracted the attention of another family celebrating a birthday. They gave us about twenty balloons. We crammed them into the car, so that our minibus looked like it would float away as we rumbled back to the cottage. More squealing with laughter. Then the girls decided it would be nice to pass on the balloons to the boys who lived in workers’s shacks on the farm. I was proud of them for giving away such a treasure. I was also glad our minibus stayed on the ground throughout. Gravity works.

Such a short and simple trip away but it gave us more than I hoped. Happy Tuesday chimps.

Trips to Kenya

I just returned from a trip to Kenya. It was beautiful. The weather was warm, my family there was happy and healthy, and I was by myself in the town of my childhood for a while. I visited friends, stayed up late and generally did what I wanted. However, I always come away from these trips a little conflicted. Let me try to explain.

Depending on who I am talking to, trips to Nairobi can be called “a trip home”, “a trip to see my parents”, or simply “a trip to Kenya”. Somehow I am unable to find a label that sticks. It seems to reflect poorly on me to call it “home” in front of my wife, for example. Whereas calling it the same thing in front of an old Kenyan friend seems right. This is strange. The place does not change. Simply my label for it.

Since I went to boarding school overseas (sunny England) aged 15 I have been returning to Kenya, to the exact same house I grew up in. I tend to revert to a sort of adolescence and a role in the Kenya house. This is the case even though I have a very happy home and family of my own in South Africa. I heard the experience described as a “dance” we have with our original family members. A choreographed sequence of interactions and emotions. Over the years I have simultaneously missed the old dance (homesickness) and realised the need to escape from it and create a new dance with my new family (growing up).

Back in boarding school the homesickness was paralysing. I would miss Kenya so much, ticking the days off my calendar. When I eventually got back for a holiday I would wallow and bathe in the place, saturating myself with familiarity like I was in a warm bath. In the worst case scenario, we never leave our childhood homes. Either physically or psychologically. We are never allowed to grow up and create our own “dance”. We fail to launch. Nowadays of course I miss my parents being overseas, but the “dance” and the power of our old home only hits me once I have arrived in Kenya.

I am grateful that the homesickness and the “family dance” of my childhood is getting further away all the time. It means I am happy with my life. At the same time I am so lucky to have such a place to go back to. Trips to Nairobi are now more like a quick holiday rather than an essential recovery or a fix for an ailment. I enjoy them more because of this.

Happy weekend, chimps.

Faith

In the early 2000’s I remember hearing about then US President Bush and how he found God. He described the emergence of his faith as a little mustard seed which was planted inside of him and which he couldn’t ignore. Apparently he was wild as a young man and faith played a large part in guiding him to the Presidency. At the time, the mustard seed metaphor made me wrinkle up my face in disgust. Sentimental American codswallop. I found the concept so foreign and I was angry that the leader of the Western world was charging into wars and deciding fate, based on this mustard seed faith of his. Where was the proof? Where was the science?

At around about the same time I had various people try to pursuade me into religion. One friend took me to his evangelical Christian church where they all closed eyes and swayed to Christian pop music, others argued about science and faith with me at University. It all seemed like nonsense to me.

But….everyone has some sort of faith. It might be faith in science, or faith in nature, or faith in Allah. Faith in 7 billion forms (souls?) makes the world go around.

The default in life is entropy – things fall apart inevitably – and so we need guidance to help us in the slog of keeping things together day after day, lest we default to a survivalist, bestial way of living. When you place something at the top of your life’s mountain – an ultimate value – you then orientate your life around this ultimate value. In this way faith guides your actions no matter who you are. What is in question is the ultimate value of choice. Only relatively recently have we killed God as the ultimate value guiding our lives, leaving the question up in the air:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

Friedrich Nietzsche

What do you place as your ultimate value in life? Do you place love at the top? Compassion? Nature? Prestige? Socialising? Being fit and skinny? The options are endless and the question has been part of human existence forever. It is older than dirt. This means you have to choose your ultimate value to live by, and if it is not God at the top, then what replaces God?

Take me to the river

A memory from our trip last week.

This time the heat is all encompassing. Every step and every breath in this country is filled with the sense of a warm, dry, summer. It hasn’t rained near the river in several weeks and fine dust is settled on everything.

The car arrives at yet another barren T-junction. Diesel motor running and wheels crunching on rocks and dust. To the right, more gravel road and a squinting view into the hot sun. To the left is a view. A relief. The road drops down to a valley where a broad snaking river cuts through the rocky land. On the banks are small white houses perched close to the water. A farm stall, a little hotel and a river side restaurant invites the car down to the water. I’m heading left into the valley to drop my boat into the river, to start the engine and to cut through the water. Boating in the hot sun makes me happy.

Happy Monday chimps.