Dinah

Today was BSF day. That is Bible Study Fellowship for those asking. The study was based on Genesis chapters 34 and 35. Now, chapter 34 reads like an action movie. It begins;

Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land.

Nothing out of the ordinary here, unless you know the full story. BSF this year has been a study of Genesis and having begun from chapter 1, I can claim a very good understanding of Dinah’s part in this story. She’s the only daughter of Jacob at this point, and she is blessed to have eleven brothers. Imagine that! The princess in this big household. You’d think she’s untouchable. Especially from the young men hanging around the neighborhood. But no. She had to go out to visit with the women of the land.

Again, this may pass as ordinary – after all which teenager wants to be locked up in the house? Except, this family was not like any other family in Shechem. They were set apart. By God Himself. They were not to mix with the Canaanites who were living in the land. But wait? She was an only daughter. Who else was she to interact with?

Anyway, she did go to visit and with that, one of the ugliest incidents in the Bible is recorded. Dinah is raped by a guy who claims to love her and will do anything to make her his wife. Including getting circumcised, as demanded by her brothers. And not just him but all the men of his entire clan. You see, this guy, Shechem, was a prince so he kinda had power over his people. But Dinah’s brothers were real schemers and in revenge for their sister, they attacked the Shechemites at their weakest moment – on the third day after they were circumcised! The aftermath would have ended up with these guys at the International Criminal Court for mass murder, enslaving women and children, and theft through plunder. It was total pandemonium!

Enough with the background! Grab your Bible and read the rest of the story. That chapter is one where God is not even mentioned. It is chaotic. If you thought today’s world is evil, human beings are just perpetuating what they have learned from their forefathers.

As a mother to three teenage daughters, Dinah’s story struck a nerve. Our world isn’t safe for children. Worrying about them is now a defining trait of being a parent. Even when they are not in any immediate physical danger, the internet presents a daily threat. I don’t want to judge Leah (or Jacob for that matter), but they should have kept that girl on a tight leash! She had no business wandering off, unaccompanied, to God knows where! I fight all the time with my girls – they want to visit their friends, go to the movies, etc and they think I’m controlling when I demand to know all the little details! And my requesting for their friends’ parents’ contacts is always a deal breaker. I know I cannot always protect them but I will do whatever it takes to keep them safe. Well, until they are eighteen!

Damn! The oldest turned eighteen a couple of months ago. I guess I’ll revise that age to twenty-one! But really? What must we do to keep our children safe? I need Solomonic wisdom and maybe the wise guy knew his stuff when he said:

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

Oh Dinah! Why couldn’t you just stay home helping your mother Leah? She had weak eyes and she probably needed you in the kitchen to help cook for all those your brothers! See the tragedy you brought about? And you made my mind wander from the rest of the Bible teachings….

Eight Posts in One Month

“Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”

No one ever wakes up determined to make a mess of the day. At least, I believe most of us rise up to make today better than yesterday.

The intention is however, often far from reality. And the cycle may continue for many days before you get a break. Meanwhile, you get up and work relentlessly at your craft as you wait for that break. Some people are lucky to enjoy and get a kick out of what they do. But every day? 365 days in a year? I don’t think so. After all, life specializes in throwing curveballs.

And curveballs is what I have been getting lately. So much so that even doing what I love has been a struggle. Writing.

I am currently attempting Level 4 of the Toastmasters Pathways program where the electives are more about building skills and less of increasing knowledge. I had the choice of Creating a Podcast, Doing a Q&A session, Manage Online Meetings, Build a Social Media Presence, or Write a Compelling Blog. I am yet to create a podcast but I am pretty sure I have dabbled with all the others. So I settled in making this blog more compelling and hopefully engage you, my reader more. You could also say it was a lazy option since this blog was already up and running. And I paid some dollars for the domain, which is due for renewal!

Anyway, one month after that well-intentioned decision, I am yet to write a single post. Blame it on curveballs. Sometimes they are just small daily inconveniences. Other times, they knock me off-balance and threaten to take me out of the game.

One thing I have learnt about curveballs is that I can either swerve them or hit them out of the park. A sage once said to trust the universe’s plan. To hold space for possibilities I cannot yet imagine. Curveballs are a reality of life and it is impossible to control them. The best I can do is learn how to control myself so the curveball does not knock me out.

Which brings me to the point of this post – here’s me trying to knock the source of this dejection out of the park. Writing does that for me. Putting one word after another. Committing to finish. Telling it as best as I can. And chasing the horizon while at it.

The objective of my Toastmasters project is simple – to post a minimum of eight blog posts in one month. I intend to post everyday from Monday to Friday for the next two weeks. The intention is to share a 1-2 minute read of something I have read that day and my interpretation of it. Not a review, but my gut reaction to it.  It could be a sentence or a paragraph from my current read, a newspaper article, an advert. Anything. And the fun bit is that I invite you to walk the journey with me and share something in return. The universe has so much to offer and every day is a learning experience.

“Find your tribe and encourage your child to find theirs”. That was from my children’s weekly school newsletter.  I could say a lot about what I thought about that one sentence but this project begins on Monday. But I am sure you get the plot. See you on Monday.

The Year of the Corona part 1

Gather around children I tell you a story.

The year was 2020. It started off on a very high note. The beginning of a new decade. “Twendi-twendi” we called it. The entire world was upbeat and the new year celebrations were up several notches compared to previous years.

As we celebrated, we were oblivious to the strange happenings in a Chinese city called Wuhan. You see, on New Year’s eve, the Chinese authorities reported a mysterious disease that started in some wet market in Wuhan.

“What’s a wet market?”

My dear, I cannot remember what exactly it is but the place probably rains a lot. What I know is that they sold all sorts of animals there. You find an animal you’d like to use to try out a new recipe, you point at it. They slaughter it live-live, put it in a bag and you take it home to cook as you wish. It could be a dog, a snake, bats or even rats.

“Ewwww…a snake?”

“But Grandma, rats are ok to eat, aren’t they? Mama cooked some last week. They were delish!”

My dear children, back then we did not eat rats. Some guy started telling people to eat them instead of starving and we ran him out of town! How could he? Just because he was rich and could afford edible meats was no reason to condemn others to eat rats! The nerve of him!

Now where was I?

“You were telling us about the wet market.”

Oh yes! They were strange, the Chinese people. Still are…Do you know they called 2020 the Year of the Rat? Imagine that! A rat? I still cannot see anything good about rats! Tell your mama to have none of that stuff in the house when I come to visit!

Rats and bats and snakes were getting cut up and served on dinner tables in Wuhan while we continued with party after party oblivious of the storm that was coming our way. Many of us had never heard of Wuhan anyway. So January came and went.

“Grandma, did you celebrate your birthday that year?”

You clever boy! You remembered Shosh’s birthday is in January! Yes, we had a great party! In fact, I remember it was your mum who organized it. It was a surprise. Even your great-grandma was there.

“Shosh, you said party after party. How many parties did you have?” 

Oh! It was just the one. But there was a song that some guy sang and it became a hit after the governor was arrested partying and dancing to it when he should have been hiding. Will you let me finish the story?

By the beginning of February, we were hearing more and more about Corona and COVID-19. But it was still far off in China and we thought there was no way it would get to us. We heard they closed off the city of Wuhan and were using robots to deliver food to people in their houses. They had also built a large hospital in just ten days where the corona virus patients were being treated! The Chinese people maybe strange but they are also very clever! Did you know they are the ones that build the railway line that runs from Mombasa to Kampala? And that road to Thika. And the one that loops over Westlands. Oh! I think they built all the major roads you see today. The sad thing is that we are still paying for those roads. You will pay for those roads. As will your children. And their children…

Anyway, I’ll tell you something else. Even back then in 2020, Kenyans had travelled and lived all over the world. It was therefore not a surprise to learn there were Kenyans living in Wuhan. Maybe they are the ones who taught your mama to cook those damn rats! We heard they were locked up there and were begging to be allowed to come back home. We prayed and prayed for them and begged the government to bring them home. And home they came! Not just from Wuhan but from other countries too. You see, that’s why I always tell you home is best. Wherever you go, always remember home is where your Shosh is!

“Shosh, I will always come to visit you!”

“Me too!”

I know. I know. Just don’t go to Wuhan. They might lock you up in your small apartment and then we can only communicate on those gadgets of yours!

Anyway, because people were still travelling from one country to another, Corona travelled with them. Many countries started reporting increasing COVID-19 cases. Some countries were overwhelmed and the hospitals could not cope. Corona was declared an emergency of international concern on 30 January and soon it was being called a pandemic, which meant it had spread all over the world. On 13 March, the first case was confirmed here in Kenya. It was a young lady who had come from the USA.

“Where cousin Ava lives?”

Yes. That’s the one. Two days later, they were three, then seven, then fifteen cases. The numbers kept rising each day and by April Fool’s day, which no-one remembered to fool about, there were 81 cases! Three people had also died from the disease. It was a somber time. Everyone was scared. You didn’t know who had the disease and who did not. We were told anybody could gerrit!

“Shosh, last year on April Fool’s day when Ava came to visit, she froze my phone with a spooky screen that really freaked me out!”  

I remember. It is because you are always staring at that thing. It is not good for your eyes. If you don’t want to have my kind of eyes when you are still young, you need stop looking at it all the time.

Back to the year of the Corona, we were told to wash our hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, with soap and water or use an alcohol-based sanitizer to stop the spread of the virus. People had to be taught all over again how to cover their noses and mouths when coughing or sneezing. Touching the eyes, the nose, or mouth was a sure way to get the virus. This was very hard for many people who like to pick their nose or cut their finger nails using their teeth. But the worst was yet to come.

Soon, we were using terms such as social distancing to avoid close contact with other people. You couldn’t hug people or shake their hands. In the supermarket, tapes were used to mark out where a shopper could stand and only a limited number of shoppers were allowed at any given time. Going anywhere was discouraged and people were to stay home as much as possible. People started buying things in bulk to keep for themselves. There was a shortage of tissues and sanitizers!

“Tissues? How come?”

I have no idea. Maybe they thought since they would be home most of the time, they would overeat and need to use the toilet more often!

“Hahahaha…!” 

Then came the curfews and lockdowns. Everyone had to be home by 5pm! Only essential service providers were exempt. And before you ask who those are, your Shosh was not one of them. I stayed home. To flatten the Corona virus curve even as my tummy curve elevated. For more than two months, I could not visit your great-grandma in the village. She was all alone and very sad. And scared. We all were.

Did I tell you schools were closed indefinitely? Oh yes! Children stayed at home for almost one year. I remember your aunt was in her final year of high school. No-one knew when they would ever go back and sit for the final exam. The guy in charge of the education ministry kept changing his mind as the Covid-19 cases increased. Some time in August that year, there was hope as the cases started to decline. He said schools could open in September. Then boom! They started rising again. And he said maybe January the following year, then October, then January again! It was all so confusing. Some students started misbehaving because they were bored and had nothing to do. Some got babies.

“They got married?”

“You are funny. You don’t have to get married to have a baby. Shosh, tell him!”

That’s it! I’ll finish the Corona story another day. You mama comes tomorrow to pick you up. Remember to ask her about when is the right time to have a baby. For now, you need to get ready for bed. Go on to the bathroom and brush your teeth. Remember to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, do not touch your face ovyo-ovyo and for goodness’ sake, cough into the crook of your elbow!

Goodnight!

Five Years Gone

Five years ago today, the man I called baba bowed out of this life. He had a heart problem – an enlarged heart, the doctors said. There wasn’t much that could be done for him – it was left too late. But five years ago, we, his family, didn’t know that. Or maybe we knew but still thought the vibrant man we saw could weather any breathing problems, heart palpitations, fluid retention – all classic symptoms that had him admitted in hospital just four months before his demise. Baba never complained. Never said he was feeling unwell. A month or so earlier, he had come for a checkup with his doctor, himself deceased now thanks to Corona. I met him at the doctor’s. We had a late lunch at a nearby restaurant. He made his usual jokes. I drove him home – it was late in the evening and it was threatening to rain. Nothing in that interaction told me it was the last time I would see baba.

Monday 15th February 2016. 7.30am. I receive a call just as I am parking my car in the office basement. It is my brother Dave. He seems to be laughing and I cannot understand a word he is saying. I am walking towards the lift when I finally get the message. He is crying hysterically. Something about baba. We must go home…immediately. Two colleagues get in the lift with me. I look confused and maybe I tell them what I just heard. One takes my phone and calls my husband, as he settles me at a desk. I am in a daze. Soon we are driving off, first to pick my sister and then head home. Home, where baba’s lifeless body is still lying on his bed. He is still warm. I have never been that close to death. He doesn’t look dead. He is just asleep. And I finally have my moment of hysterical grief.

Five years it has taken to recount the events of that day. They say grief comes in waves, sometimes out of nowhere. Yesterday my sister shared a picture of her four year old son. He was born in 2016 – 7 months after baba left us. He is named after his grandpa. A man he never met. Someone commented how much he is turning out like his senior namesake. That gutted me. But I now have the courage to remember the man that was the pillar of not only our immediate family, but the extended family too. I may not put it as well as my brother did in this tribute but Mukabi is a name I am proud to be associated. A legacy from baba.

Life has taken its twists and turns for the past five years. Faced with some challenges, I sometimes wish he was around to offer some sound advice. Baba was a man of few words. But you didn’t forget what he said. He would say it and the next minute when you are looking for some clarification, he is nowhere to be found – you could say he was a master at the naenda hivi na-come lingual! Which sometimes made him stubborn as a mule. Once baba was convinced of something, hell could freeze over before he could change his mind.

The reason the heart problem was left too late was because of this stubbornness. At least ten years earlier, a doctor in a major hospital had suggested surgery to implant a pacemaker. Baba was in hospital then for a totally different problem – knee replacement. His few days in hospital had left him feeling too confined, and the fact that he was leaving hospital using crutches only made him more agitated. The doctor’s recommendation to follow up with a heart checkup therefore made baba fly off the handle and convinced that the doctor didn’t know what he was talking about for there was no way his heart was going to be opened up! Bringing up that subject later would only invite a naenda hivi na-come moment. I am just grateful for the ten years we got with baba after that diagnosis. He lived life to the fullest and any discomfort he might have felt was hidden well or explained away.

I have no doubt that baba loved his family and people in general. Like many men of his generation, he didn’t say it in words but his actions did. The closest I came to see baba cry was when my brother and I were being prepped for surgery, one to give a life-saving organ to the other. He later commented that not knowing whether both of us would make it out alive was the most excruciatingly painful experience he had to live through. For a man who feared hospitals enough to live with a heart problem rather than go through a surgical procedure, I can only imagine how that was like.

It’s five years today. Another Monday. I wish I could call baba and hear some joke. An off-the-cuff remark that will take me an hour to stew over. I miss his silent wisdom…I miss Mr Mukabi.

…to be continued (maybe)…

All The Time After That

I am thinking retirement…all the time after the eight to five. All the time after building the business empire. All the time after the children have flown off the nest. All that time…

Some things come to us at just the right moment. Maybe it is a sign I have ignored for a while. I still don’t know what to do with it but I’ll be watching it closely.

Meanwhile, read on about my thoughts about “All The Time After That”, as presented at a Toastmasters yesterday evening.

The Virtuous Woman

The speech that kick-started my journey with Toastmasters. The Ice Breaker, they call it, because it literally breaks the ice on what is often a confusing time for many new members. What with all the Toastmasters lingo thrown about by seasoned members? I remember being terrified to log onto Pathways and choose a Path…it felt like the first day of kindergarten all over again! (Ok, I didn’t attend kindergarten but having brought up three children, I know the feeling, right?)

Anyway, the Ice Breaker is the Toastmaster’s foundational project designed for a new member to introduce themselves to their club and learn the basic structure of a public speech. It is the easiest of speeches, if you ask me, as it is your personal story. You choose what and how to tell it – it could be humorous, informational, or any other style that appeals to you. You have 4 – 6 minutes to deliver your speech.

I delivered my Ice Breaker speech on 2 April 2019. I remembered it recently as I prepared for another project that required me to reflect on why I joined Toastmasters in the first place. I look back at the strides I have made and I am glad for that first step. Enjoy my story…

Ultracrepidarianism

𝑇ℎ𝑒 ℎ𝑎𝑏𝑖𝑡 𝑜𝑓 𝑔𝑖𝑣𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑜𝑝𝑖𝑛𝑖𝑜𝑛𝑠 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑎𝑑𝑣𝑖𝑐𝑒 𝑜𝑛 𝑚𝑎𝑡𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑠 𝑜𝑢𝑡𝑠𝑖𝑑𝑒 𝑜𝑓 𝑜𝑛𝑒’𝑠 𝑘𝑛𝑜𝑤𝑙𝑒𝑑𝑔𝑒 𝑜𝑟 𝑐𝑜𝑚𝑝𝑒𝑡𝑒𝑛𝑐𝑒.

Such a beautiful word for such an ugly habit, huh?

𝑈𝑙𝑡𝑟𝑎𝑐𝑟𝑒𝑝𝑖𝑑𝑎𝑟𝑖𝑎𝑛𝑠 are rarely polite people. They are the know-it-all type. Jumping into conversations they have no business getting into. They are presumptuous and get on your nerves. They are the type of friend who tell your story before you can tell it. They go “𝑏𝑒𝑦𝑜𝑛𝑑 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑠ℎ𝑜𝑒”!

The Bible has a simpler word for such people – fools! Proverbs 18:2 says: “𝐴 𝑓𝑜𝑜𝑙 𝑡𝑎𝑘𝑒𝑠 𝑛𝑜 𝑝𝑙𝑒𝑎𝑠𝑢𝑟𝑒 𝑖𝑛 𝑢𝑛𝑑𝑒𝑟𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑛𝑑𝑖𝑛𝑔, 𝑏𝑢𝑡 𝑜𝑛𝑙𝑦 𝑖𝑛 𝑒𝑥𝑝𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑛𝑔 ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑜𝑝𝑖𝑛𝑖𝑜𝑛.”

In this era of social media, there are more ultracrepidarians than I care to count. Fools who comment on every post with hasty, ill-considered words, without the social cues that are borne of wisdom.

Fools who emphasize what is shocking and outrageous over what is true and good and pure. You know them, don’t you?

I hope to remain wise on these streets. Proverbs 14:7 advises: “𝐿𝑒𝑎𝑣𝑒 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑝𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑒𝑛𝑐𝑒 𝑜𝑓 𝑎 𝑓𝑜𝑜𝑙, 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑟𝑒 𝑦𝑜𝑢 𝑑𝑜 𝑛𝑜𝑡 𝑚𝑒𝑒𝑡 𝑤𝑜𝑟𝑑𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝑘𝑛𝑜𝑤𝑙𝑒𝑑𝑔𝑒.”

The word was 𝑼𝒍𝒕𝒓𝒂𝒄𝒓𝒆𝒑𝒊𝒅𝒂𝒓𝒊𝒂𝒏𝒊𝒔𝒎. No idea how I ended up with these wise sayings. But there you have it – from now on you can call me The Anti-ultracrepidarian!

Cake Attack!

When a Toastmasters project coincides with just the perfect event….

“Harusi si harusi bila keki?” That’s Kenyanspeak for a wedding is incomplete without cake. Wedding cakes are like small gods and only fall second place behind brides in weddings.

Think about it. Other than the bridal tent, which other tent gets the most stolen glances from guests at a wedding? Which other table is well-covered with white cloth glittering with decorations? I’ll give you some free advice. If you know what’s good for your reputation, do not devastate your guests by making them go home without having a piece of cake!

Fellow Toastmasters and guests,

Today I’ll tell you how I aced my Cake matron duties at my brother’s wedding this past weekend. In these Covid-19 times, parties are in short supply. Weddings in particular are scarce…and when you get an opportunity to be among a handful of thirty invited guests, you take it even if it means taking up a role you have never played before.

I love weddings – of people I know very well so I am seated at a good table where the cake comes to me not the other way around! To be honest, I find some of the drama around cake-cutting unnecessary. For this particular wedding, the rib-cracking aunt who does an amazing job as cake matron didn’t make the cut. And the cake matron had to come from the chosen thirty guests. A task that fell on me. I quickly recovered from the shock and with lucidity, determined to honor my beloved brother and his bride by making the cake-cutting event memorable. After all, I am a Toastmaster and if I’ve learned anything on my journey so far, it is being ready to seize opportunities and be ready to wear all manner of hats at short notice. The unusual, Covid-19 wedding, where guests rocked face masks and sat 1.5 meters apart was about to get more interesting!

With a week to the wedding, my strategy was to master the art that is cake-cutting and go on to wow and mesmerize the invited guests, making them salivate as they waited for a piece of the cake! Since the guests were mostly close family members, I was also not taking chances that each time they watched the wedding video in the future, memes and snide comments would be directed my way. I was going to do such an outstanding job that the professionals at the posh Hemmingways hotel would refer me to their future clients!

Three days before the wedding, I reached out to the cake baker to confirm everything was in order. I am glad for the tips she shared…like how not to hack into the cake as if bringing down a mall on riparian land! The delicate cake tower was not going to topple over under my watch. No, ma’am!

I had my grand opening to capture the cake mood – “One of life’s tragedies is that we actually have to cut up this beautiful piece of art…but it would be a greater tragedy if we left it uneaten…” I would then go on to describe the cake. My friend, if you have only heard about black or white forest cakes, this is not a job for you! It was an orange poppy seed and top apple spice cake with caramel buttercream frost all covered with fondant icing. I was ready to school the guests in basic cake language!

Cake cutting at weddings symbolizes a couple’s first official joint task as newlyweds. My message, delivered in under five minutes was simple…The Dinner Table as a Place of Connection, Brokenness and Blessing. And there I stood. All resplendent as I watched the guests nod their heads at each sentence. I was proud of my exhilarating performance. The couple confirmed they couldn’t have had a better cake matron. The guests congratulated me. What more could I ask for?

As I conclude fellow Toastmasters, I will quote Will Rogers who once said “A vision without a plan is just a hallucination”. A strong communication plan ensures your message will have the desired impact. You must:

  1. Clarify the goals you need to address,
  2. Identify your target audience, and
  3. Formulate your central message in a manner that it fulfills the goals and reaches the audience.
  4. Determine the resources and strategies you will need and use them effectively, and finally;
  5. Have a clear set of criteria for assessing your plan’s effectiveness. These should include getting the desired response to your message.

If you do not do these five things, you may as well plan to be your audience’s worst nightmare!

Madam Toastmaster.

The Conspiring Universe

“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation. All things are one. When you want something; all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I used this quote in a recent Toastmasters speech but I might not have grasped it’s full meaning until after the speech. To be clear, the conspiring universe to me is God himself who is working all for good…for my own good. I have written here before how COVID-19 provided me an opportunity to revive this blog when the lockdown meant working from home, thus saving me 2 – 3 hours of commute time. I’ll someday also write about my past failed attempts to learn a certain musical instrument, but how this has become possible during this period.

I am aware of how fortunate and blessed I am since many people have had their lives turned upside down by COVID-19. I therefore do not take this opportunities for granted.

Back to the conspiring universe. I revived the blog and was raring to go. But as any writer, amateur or not, will tell, getting relevant content is hard work. True, I write on average 3,000 words a day – it helps that my day job involves a lot of report writing – but most of them will never show up here. They are scattered in many places, some of which I pray no one ever finds. I have however, found my muse in Toastmasters. As I carry out research for my Pathways projects, I find myself with content relevant for this blog. Talk of killing two birds with a single stone!

One other thing – I was elected President of the Interesting Toastmasters club for the year 2020/2021. I am President-elect until 1st July but hey, I’ll ignore the omission should you refer to me as Madam President in the comments section. Toastmasters is truly where leaders are made!

Here below is the longer version of the afore-mentioned speech.

MS Transnight

I’m not sure transnight is a proper English word, given the annoying red wavy lines dotting this article as I type. There’s transsexual, transgender, transatlantic, transcultural, but transnight? However, if we take the prefix trans – meaning “across” or “beyond”, then transnight claims its rightful place in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Plus, the word has been used so many times in my circles that it has acquired a meaning that needs no explanation. Yet, for the avoidance of doubt, it’s what some people, especially high school and college students, do when they spend an entire term or semester doing everything other than what they are supposed to do. Sooner rather than later, they realise exams are around the corner and that tomorrow is indeed today. To make up for lost time, they visit the library, or wherever the books and notes are to be found, even stealing from those who attended lectures and actually took notes. They collect whatever resources are available, and determine to read the entire night in preparation of the exam two days away. For the more daring ones, a basin of cold water comes in handy. With feet dipped in the cold water, in the wee hours of the night, not even the devil himself would make such a person doze off! It’s Strategy 101 – Trans-nighting: How to master last-minute study!

On my part, I was the model student – never had to transnight. For the most part, I attended my classes without fail, took notes, did assignments, revised throughout the semester and was ready when the exams were announced. Yes, I was Ms Goody Two-Shoes! Honestly though, I learn best by listening and hearing, remembering things the teacher said, how they said them, including what was emphasized. Class instruction makes up for a lot of what my memory retains. Apparently, there’s a name for such learners – auditory learners they are called! I wonder whether this has any correlation with the fact that I ended up as an auditor? Anyway, I was never an all-nighter or trans-nighter. My high school experience favored me and got me onto a path that appreciates the importance of a good night’s sleep.

Back at St Anne’s Secondary School, the nuns of the Precious Blood Sisters order who ran the institution, had a strict timeline for lights out. 9.45 pm it was for everyone – no exception even for the candidate class. The lights went out and the Matron made sure everyone was in their bunk bed. Until the following morning at 5.30 am – and not a minute earlier. At least seven hours of sleep, which in case you didn’t know, research shows helps you focus better; protects and strengthens your memory; and reduces interference from external events, thus better memory retention. I couldn’t have been in better hands during those teenage years for I sure loved my sleep. The number of times I got into tiffs with my mother during the holidays for oversleeping are just too many to count. Let’s just say I strongly believe being able to oversleep is undeniably a blessing!

In campus, the time organisation strategy continued and worked well most of the times. Away from the discipline and order of the Catholic nuns, I still managed to maintain many of the values they instilled –  perhaps the most important being respect for other people’s time and their work. Therefore, I attended lectures faithfully at a time when the pull for other non-academic related matters was at it’s strongest. I literally lived the Ecclesiastical Teacher’s mantra – To Everything There Is a Season. Including sleep…

With the exception of a short period in my life when certain medications made me an insomniac, and I had to take further medication to help me sleep, I have always been able to sleep like a baby. Until COVID-19 happened. My pre-Corona sleep routine was pretty solid. Sleep at 10 pm, wake up at 5 am on week-days. Sleep between 11 pm and midnight, wake up at 8 am on weekends, unless there was a function necessitating an earlier rise. But ever since this quarantine started, I have lost track of what a routine looks or feels like. I tried the first days. Woke up, did some stretches, breakfast, got ready to start a day at my home office. That must have worked for three days max!

The problem started with staying up late, watching a movie, reading a book or even writing a post on this very blog. After all, I do not have to wake up early. This meant sleeping in the next day, which culminated on the day I woke up at mid-day! You wake up feeling disoriented. There’s someone talking too loudly and despite the advantage of dark, heavy curtains, there’s still some light desperately trying to slip through! You are hungry and when you finally drag yourself out of bed, you are not sure whether you should have breakfast or lunch. The irregularity of it all has also messed up my brain – some days I cannot tell which day it is and worse still, sleep when it comes, is very fragmented.

Productivity is also impacted. Which is how I found myself working non-stop on a report that I should have completed days earlier a week ago. I had found time to do so many other peripheral things but work on that report. Now it was due and trans-nighting was the only way out! I sat at my desk from 8 pm and when I finally rose, it was 6 am! An experience that had me moving around zombie-style for the next couple of days! Sleep debt or sleep deficit is real – made worse by all the other quarantine effects that disrupt sleep.

Which makes me wonder about the disconnect between intentions and actions. We often have the deepest, best intentions, which is why many of us make New Year resolutions and other wonderful plans. You resolve to lose weight and get in shape only for the couch to gain greater appeal that is beyond irresistible. You plan to reduce your debt levels and save more money, but the trials and temptations on the internet with its targeted adverts is more than you can overcome. You plan on stressing less, then COVID-19 happens! Ok, that last one isn’t due to your actions but still…I do not make New Year resolutions but 2020 was going to be my cruise year. Google MS Symphony of the Seas and just agree with me that this pandemic is a real dream-killer! But I digress…the point I was trying to make is that we resort back to old behavior even when we still hold the best of intentions. Why is there a huge gap between our intentions and actions? Is it our human nature to want to hold off for later the work that needs to be completed now?

Somebody suggested the answer lies in a single word – tomorrow. Yet, the irony is that there’s really no tomorrow. In many cases, tomorrow is just a mental dumping ground for the things we would rather not deal with today. For the student, he/she would rather go out today with friends and transnight tomorrow. And as I have learnt, there are so many interesting things to do than get a report done. Instead of boarding MS Symphony of the Seas, I am boarding MS Transnight, which is why this post that I started yesterday is being published today past 2 am! I just hope I’ll disembark when COVID-19 and it’s quarantine cousins find another universe to inhabit. As Poet Kahlil Gibran once pointed out, “Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is but today’s dream”. I will remember my transnight days but dream of a world free of COVID-19!