The Kenyan Nomad

The Kenyan Nomad

Friday, September 9, 2022

On Loneliness


At the most basic level, humans want and need connection. And yet, when I’m lonely, I’m ashamed of expressing that need—a shame that doesn’t arise when I’ve felt thirsty, yet loneliness and thirst are both signals that my body is sending me that tell me I need something. 

Connection is an issue I’ve been pondering for a while now—specifically connection between friends and peers, at work and outside. The idea of putting in work into romantic and familial relationships has been acceptable for a while now (not everywhere, true, and we still have a way to go). When I’m thinking about something, I’ll want to read about it. This winter, I spent time on Dr. Vivek Murthy’s (the 21st US Surgeon General) book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World

So much about the book resonated, and I loved him speaking about moais—social networks originated in Japan that entailed five friends coming together for emotional, relational, financial, and logistical support. Dr. Murthy spoke about his own moai that committed to monthly video calls, reaching out whenever needed, and being real in their conversations. He credits it with changing his life and being a strong support system and circle of advisers that have helped him make important decisions, including whether or not to accept the surgeon-general’s position again. I lowkey but not so lowkey want one of my own!

The potential health effects of loneliness are depressing at best, terrifying at worst. I won’t go into these too much, as the book does a much better job, but it helped me understand that feeling a lack of connection isn’t an issue I can—or should—put off for much longer.

I was fortunate to be in the audience yesterday when Dr. Murthy addressed a group at the Yale School of Management, of which he is an alumnus and where I’m currently doing my MBA. He touched on the shame behind loneliness—people misreading it to believe that they’re unlikeable, or worse, unlovable. 

“Your problem is not that you don’t have friends. It’s that you are not experiencing friendship.” This is what a friend of his told him when he was expressing his own connection needs. I needed to pause (as much as one can as an audience member) and let this sink in. Yes, yes this exactly. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a number of close friends whom I cherish deeply. These people have my back, and they understand me. So why have I felt this loneliness from time to time? Most of them live a few flights away from me, and I haven’t been experiencing friendship as much as I’ve needed to.

This ties into another quote of his which really resonated: “Connections which are useful at staving off loneliness are those in which we are seen and heard.” As above, these connections exist for many of us—they certainly do for me—but experiencing these connections is vital to feel seen and heard. 

I’ve been reflecting since—hence the need to write today—and I realise I need to be better not just at expressing my needs to my networks, but also at ensuring I’m creating space for connection for others--for my friends, for my teams, for my peers and those around me, to ensure that they’re also experiencing connection and feeling seen, heard, and understood. Today’s reflection was more personal, but I believe absolutely applicable and vital to think about in workplaces.

I hope you'll be doing the same.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

42 Lessons from 42 Years

 My amazing sister, Ranjeeta Walia, turned 42 yesterday. As a joke, I asked her for 42 lessons she'd learnt along the way. As soon as she started spouting wisdom, though, I knew I had to capture these and share with a broader audience.

1. Never compromise on your core values/ principles

2. Always seize opportunities to grow and become a better human being. There’s always something to learn

3. Eat those vegetables/ aim for a well-balanced diet

4. Don’t be quick to judge others

5. Respect people irrespective of their age or position in life 

6. Look after yourself mind, body, and soul 

7. Cultivate relationships with people who love you for you/ people you can be yourself around and who are sincere with you 

8. If you must have a life partner (not everyone wants one), take your time to find one who complements you. Remember you are already a complete human being on your own, so no one else can complete you

9. Don’t give unsolicited advice 

10. Never miss an opportunity to brighten someone’s day 

11. Our mission in life (indeed, our innate being) is about being happy so do what makes you happy as long as it does not hurt someone else

12. It’s never too early to learn about and apply knowledge of personal financial management so invest in this knowledge; financial independence is key

13. Invest in moments, not things. Material things just create clutter while moments are experiences that give you true happiness

14. Mental well-being is just as important as physical well-being and there’s no shame in seeing a therapist regularly

15. Read voraciously. It’s an easy and fun way to learn and grow 

16. 7-8 hours of sleep regularly is important for one’s well-being and productivity 

17. Cultivate and set aside time for your hobbies 

18. Make time for close friends and family 

19. Movement/ some form of exercise is a great way to improve your mental and physical well being 

20. Spending time with pets (especially dogs) and nature is very therapeutic 

21. Be there for your friends and family, especially in times of grief 

22. Regularly donate to charity 

23. There is a higher power/ being looking out for us 

24. Some skills, e.g., changing a tire and cooking, are life skills everyone should know—irrespective of gender 

25. Take some risks in life/ get out of your comfort zone once in a while; it helps you grow 

26. Look for the lesson in hard times/ challenges 

27. Try and spend time alone regularly 

28. Never be ashamed or apologise for being yourself 

29. Cultivate a practice of gratitude

30. Always look for the silver lining 

31. Work at finding a balance in life; life is not just about work 

32. We all make mistakes in life; learn to genuinely apologise and take responsibility for your mistakes as well as learn from them 

33. Set an example for the next generation in your behaviour

34. It’s a good thing to have an opinion and never be afraid to express it 

35. Emotional abuse is just as bad as physical abuse 

36. Travel when you can. It opens your mind and is a great way to meet new people and experience different cultures 

37. Always try and be kind, even when giving constructive feedback 

38. Mean what you say and say what you mean 

39. A genuine apology comes with changed behaviour 

40. Anything that’s worthy in life comes with time and effort

41. Don’t be pressured by timelines in life—we all have different paths in this journey, so stop comparing yourself to others your age

42. Don’t lose that inner child. Children know what true happiness is and are not afraid to be themselves

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

To Be, To Listen


It was there when I first emerged into the world. It's always there, I'm accustomed to it--to the point that when it's quiet, I feel like something is missing. 

There's the constant urge to fill moments with noise that have resulted in the inability to be still and to listen. To be still. To be. Whether my phone and the myriad of distractions within, or movement, or the many books I've read, I've forgotten how to exist in silence. 

Yesterday, I went on a surprise visit organised by the Executive Director of Metis, where I'm interning this winter. We ended up at Nairobi National Park, and the open greenness of the park juxtaposed with the city in the background was ideal for thinking, as was the conversation sparked my colleagues, from which two themes emerged: stillness and attention. 

I could contextualise where these came from, but I think that matters less than the fact that they did. And they resonated, deeply. 

I've forgotten how to be still. I've forgotten to use that stillness to pay attention in a way that matters. Instead, stillness is so foreign that it's almost frightening. That I rush to fill it--either with distractions that take me away from it or with ruminations that feed into a growing sense of anxiety about my life, about the future, about my country, about existence itself. 

"Who would you be without your anxiety?" My therapist asked me this question about a year and a half ago and it stopped me in my tracks. It's a question I'm still exploring, and I'm slowly realising that the stillness that feeds my anxiety is the same stillness I'm called to pay attention to in order to dissolve it

I have forgotten how to be bored. We as a society have forgotten how to be bored. This has implications on my ability as a 30 year old to create vs. just execute. I can't even begin to imagine what this means for children. 

What does this mean for me, then? 

I'm holding myself accountable, gently, kindly, to be still. To tune into that stillness and pay attention to it and to what matters. To be grateful for the ability and privilege to do so. To stop letting my head be louder than my heart. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

On Being Kenyan

                            Quintessentially Kenyan

21 September 2013. A dark day in Kenya's history but one that also brought a lot of unity. Everyone came together to help. "Even the Indians," it was said. "Najivunia kuwa mkenya" was shared by Kenyans near and far.

Today, you see everyone with that beaded bracelet on their wrist. You know the one I'm talking about. Kenya on one side, the Kenyan flag on the other.

Or that feeling of happiness when you hear someone speak Kiswahili on the other side of the globe. "I'm Kenyan too!"

Don't get us started on our beaches and our national parks. They're amazing, and you should definitely check them out.

What does it mean to be Kenyan?

Recently⁠—unfortunately⁠—for most people, being Kenyan has been a passive, positive thing. We celebrate the good but turn our faces away when confronted with the bad. Somebody else's problem, right? It's easy to see differences emerge once we have to deal with the hard stuff. Especially so when our privilege means that the hard stuff actually serves us⁠—even if this is at the expense of others.

We do not have a shared Kenyan identity. We do not have shared pride in being Kenyan.

Sure, there are some things about Kenya we are willing to celebrate loud and proud. But if we truly had a shared identity and were proud of being Kenyan, it would mean that we'd be willing to put in the work to deal with the stuff that's not so great.

Misaligned incentives are at the core of many of the issues we have here. Think about corruption⁠—it serves many to engage in this. In fact, thinking about getting rid of corruption is likely to have some people squirming, because the current systems serve them. We feed into a system that serves us, without regard for those who're punished because they can't engage with it, for many reasons including affordability (strange how we think of corruption as being affordable or not, isn't it?). Let's take another issue, traffic. A similar dynamic is at play here, where people are willing to watch out for themselves, without care for how this impacts others.

I don't think that there are groups that are more or less guilty of this than others—at least, the idealist in me hopes so. However, it does seem that over time, those with the determination to make changes lose steam and give way to a commonly-held cynicism. It won't change in our lifetimes, so why bother at all?

Why bother at all?

Because Kenyans are resilient and warm and innovative. Because our entrepreneurship culture is to be celebrated. Because of a myriad of other reasons I couldn't begin to name.

Because why shouldn't people speak about us they way they do Nigeria and South Africa?

What is it going to take? How do we build a shared identity, and start to strengthen that which is good in our country as we work to change that which is not?

Honestly, I don't know. I'm hoping that there will be some wiser than myself who'll read this and reach out with an answer.

What I do know is that individuals can make commitments in the right direction. Commitments to question the status quo. To believe that we can be better. For those who can, to use our privilege to elevate other Kenyans. To stop only watching out for ourselves. To be kind.

Popular Posts