Do you care that we’re losing souls daily?

A senior manager from a multinational, leading consulting firm just committed suicide today morning after jumping from the 17th floor of his office in Nairobi Westlands. A childhood friend of mine, a prowess soccer player that we named after a legendary footballer, Gaucho Ronaldinho; threw himself into a borehall and died yesterday. My in-law to be, from University of Nairobi school of medicine, told me the other day about a classmate who ended his life just earlier this week. Sometime last month we woke up to images of a young beautiful girl hanging by the neck on a fly-over bridge that marks the entrance to my home town, Kitale.
Avicii, one of the best talents ever walked on this planet, reportedly died from self-inflicted injuries after using broken pieces of a wine bottle to cut himself. Two sources have said that Avicii cut himself on his neck. One said he just slit his wrist open.
Anthony Michael Bourdain, an American celebrity chef, author, travel documentarian, and television personality who starred in programs focusing on the exploration of international culture, cuisine, and the human condition committed suicide by hanging himself while in his room in a french hotel. He is considered one of the most influential chefs in the world.
I won’t even mention an incredible friend who committed suicide recently just after finishing school. He was about to graduate summa cum laude in one of the best courses offered in the country. Not to mention he was amongst the top performers in the country in his high school exams, that is how we met. This article might end up to be a book if I listed all the suicide cases I have heard of just this year. If you pause for a while and recollect your memory, I am certain there are several images of similar cases you can attest to as well. Probably the suicide notes that people post online or something related to this. Do you care that we are losing these souls? What if tables turn?
About three years ago, after a heart to heart talk with victims of depression, I published a video, ‘We all Are Broken’ on my YouTube channel. I received 300+ emails of appreciation from people I have never met. That is whe the reality hit me. There are so many people who are acting normally; smiling with family; friends or colleagues; working diligently and even delivering exceptional results but are dying inside. They are suffering from depression. Their souls are screaming but their facade is calm. And nobody can hear their cries.
Our society has been desensitized by violence in the streets, movies, games, social media. We have been taught to be aggressive, vicious, savage and care less about our actions and the implications to those around us. We are mean to everyone we meet. We use the slightest of opportunities to insult or disparage anyone we interact with. We walk around with frowned faces as though everyone else in the world just farted. We want to be seen as tough, no-nonsense people. We are chasing money and power. An we are willing to do anything it takes to get it. We have won our egos, but we are losing precious people.

Employers just want results. You have to hit targets, perform better surpass their expectations even if it means suffocating all other aspects of your life. They don’t care if your family is falling apart, your health deteriorating or your physchologically depressed. Just deliver.
The school teachers and associates want zombies for students. Don’t ask don’t talk back don’t do anything to rock my boat. Let me come here for a few hours and collect my pay and be done with you. I’ll pretend to care but if you cause me any …any friction you are out of here. Courts are full of good kids who have never crossed a bad line just the one that pissed off someone in the faculty. Parents don’t rock boat cause it is their baby sitting service.
Doctors and nurses no longer offer care. They insult patients and trivialize their pain. Ironically, they are trained to be compassionate, to be able to empathise; but they don’t. Every day, they witness death, they see how patients suffer, the pain they go through. They see all the morphine they have to press every few minutes just to relieve their pain. They see them struggling with their oxygen breathing their last breath and all. But it is just a job. When they go to clinic every day, or to the wards, they take blood, give the medication but are the patient real to them? Not at all. It is just a job, they do it, get out of the ward, and can’t wait to get home, to do own stuff. Of course they know all the medical terms to describe how they feel, all the suffering they went through. But in truth, they don’t know how they feel, not until they became a patient.
1 out of 5 adolescents are diagnosed with a mental illness any given year, but only 20% of those that need treatment will receive it. In third world countries the number could be tripple. Moreover, children living in disadvantaged neighborhoods are much more vulnerable to mental health issues and less likely to have access to treatment.

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle. Be Kind Always. Life is hard enough to everyone you see. We all have something we are battling with or bleeding for, within us. Don’t be a cause to worsen the pain. Most people are crying for help as the pain of depression and mental illness surpress their voice and deprives them off normalcy. They are sorrounded daily by loved ones who are too busy finding ways to show love to them butnever still enough to listen to their silent cries. They wish just one person cared enough to be still and listen. Don’t be too absorbed in your world that you don’t feel other people’s pain. Look out and help someone. But If you can’t help out, at least don’t hurt them.

The next time, it might be you.

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Wake Up Young Girl!

A murder story of a top journalist who is behind bars after being caught up in a murder case committed by her lover is really saddening. A man who has reportedly been abusive, overprotective and constantly insecure about the status of the journalist finally confirms the fears her friends had expressed but she was too dumb in love to listen to ‘other people’ .

The man posed as a high end security guard but never identified himself with any official company. He didn’t have anything to his name, not even a bathroom to answer nature calls. Mysterious stories, shady deals and restless spirit was written all over his life. But ‘she loved him’.

The fateful day, he went and picked up another female friend from the airport, using his girlfriend’s car. He took her to her place in one of the leafy surbubs and had sex with her, leaving his DNA all over her body. He then turned into a beast and mercilessly slit open her throat from the left ear to the right ear, leaving her in the bath tub bleeding to death. He stole all her money plus the purse and escaped unnoticeably from the neighborhood. He went home and left the handbag in his girlfriend’s house. He then short himself to cover up and the loyal girlfriend set out to cover his tracks, took his clothes and burnt them, because he loved him. Now she’s in prison for aiding murder.

This reminds me of a shocking experience I had months ago when my good friend, Prisha, asked me to help her out reach out to some ladies from my country who could be interested in an event she was facilitating.

Prisha* is one of the youngest female professors of Asian decent in Software Engineering field. She lectures at a leading university in South Africa. The team she leads was largely involved in organising a Royal Engineering summit in Kenya.

This was her first visit to Nairobi. They had just concluded a crisis meeting two days before the event when she called me,
“Danstan, I need a big favor,” she proceeded in an anxious tone, “we have less than 10% of ladies who have registered for the event. The ambassador needs at least 40% of attendees to be ladies even if it means extending the venue. Would you help us get more ladies from accross all campuses in Kenya?”

Several names of potential ladies we considered able to mobilise more ladies popped up in my mind. I agreed to help. Based on my judgement, they presented good aspects of leadership and would greatly benefit from all that the summit had to offer.

I drafted an official message requesting for their email so I could share the links for special registration and forward Prisha’s details incase they needed further clarification. Boom! I thought my work was done.

A minute later, I receive a message saying, “I can’t talk to you, my boyfriend doesn’t allow me to talk to other men.”

This text blew my mind. I got so mad that my hair stood. Sweat tingles started popping all over my body. My hands started shaking. It got even worse when I asked whether this was forceful; she said it wasn’t. She is okay with all restrictions the boyfriend sets for her even if it means giving up her basic need for community to influence her general growth as a human.

Well first, “I deeply apologize if I look interested in you, I am not. I even find this really offensive that you’d think I’d be interested in you!” But that’s besides the point. It just never occured to me that in this age, someone would think of themselves as disabled by virtue of being in a relationship. It has gone as far as relinquishing common sense and freedom of expression or interaction. It is sickening that one would be okay being a slave to master and not feel a tad bit of delirium! But she loved him.

It just dawned to me how wicked our society has become. We sexualise women to a point of enslaving them under caves of our needs. We treat them like we’d do a dog just giving commands and they taking commands in humility. It is sadder that some of them have accepted this malady and live with it to appear ‘submissive’ and ‘wife-material’.

So nobody can interact with her because the first thought in her mind is licentious. She suspect you are making sexual advances. She won’t think if a possibility of an intention to engage her intellectually or professionally. When anyone reaches out to her, thats a threat. If it is man, he is interested in her. And if it is a lady, she is a hater.

This is disturbing.

Ladies, Because you didn’t want to lose him, you lost yourself in the process. You became a girl who kept being mistreated and you formed a habit of saying “I’m used to it”. You became a girl who kept being unappreciated and you began to tell yourself “It’s okay”. You became a girl who kept being undervalued and you learned how to say “I’m fine”. You became a girl who kept being put last and you naturally reacted with “It’s whatever”.

You became a girl who kept being taken for granted and you dealt with it by repeating “Everything’s okay”. You became a girl who kept being unhappy and you regularly told people “I’m gonna be fine”.

And if you’re reading this right now, then you need to understand that no guy is worth losing yourself for, no guy is worth suffering for at the expense of your happiness, and no guy is worth tormenting yourself over for the sake of making him happy. At this point, perhaps losing him is the only way you’d be able to get yourself back. Love is supposed to set us free, from our insecurities, fears and shadiness. To be the best and truest version of ourselves. As much as you wouldn’t want this to be true, he’s the only thing that’s in your way of finding yourself and he’s the only reason you’ve lost yourself for so long.

The sad bit about losing yourself for a guy is living to impress them all your youthful, only to lose him to a woman who protected her identity, stood for her values and made the world adjust to her reality. Or lose your life an end up in such despicable places as jail. But she loves him.

More internet access is coming to Africa, but the market isn’t always ready for it

The prospect of connecting Africa’s 55 countries and over one #billion people via better #road and #rail networks has often run into the challenge of raising the #billions of dollars needed to turn a decades-old #vision into reality.

While the #investment in #building and maintaining intra-country road networks has been slow in coming, connecting Africa via the internet has lately made more progress. This week, French telecom giant Orange struck a deal to invest in the West Africa-based Main One Cable company, whose landing stations are in #Nigeria, #Ghana and #Portugal. It will enable Main One to extend its  7,000-kilometer system to #Dakar, #Senegal and #Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire by mid-2019.

Liquid Telecom, a unit of Zimbabwe’s Econet #Wireless, has confirmed financing and #partnerships to expand its system over 60,000 kilometers from Cape Town through all #southern, #central, and eastern African countries up to the #Sudan- #Egypt border. This is the other Cape to #Cairo.

But what happens when these cable systems open for business? Remember internet access still has to be bought, packaged and resold to consumers via local telecom operators. Mobile networks are the dominant providers of internet access in Africa. On the ground, the reality is African countries have the world’s most expensive internet access, according to a study by the Alliance for Affordable Internet. Few African countries come close to the UN Broadband Commission’s target that a gigabyte of data should not cost more than 2% of average monthly income.

As we’ve noted, it’s a problem for many developing countries, but it’s particularly acute in Africa. One reason for this is a lack of meaningful competition in some countries, particularly smaller African economies that struggle to support more than a couple of network operators. Research by Ecobank showed the average cost of buying 1GB of data in countries with two or fewer operators is more than twice than in countries with four or more.

Competition is key, and it should not be measured simply by the number of operators. For example if a country with three or four operators is dominated by a dominant player with say 70% share (Hello? Kenya?), it’s what economists refer to as a market being too concentrated.

Building out infrastructure is undoubtedly a positive step in Africa’s development, but so is a functioning, competitive marketplace that will be able to deliver the best economic outcomes for citizens.

Congratulations! Now Throw Away that Paper

Few weeks ago my friend Daniel, a senior #Pilot in a multinational company; Bill, one of the most promising upcoming lawyers in #Kenya (according to The Standard Newspaper): Erick, a smart #chemist and I, Danstan, the mysterious #Engineer got together to plan about our intended fun flight around Kenya just to quell our insatiable appetite for #adventure.

For our, meeting, we decided to do it in our weird way; build a couch and a King size bed for me as we discuss the agenda. Daniel made us discover this underlying hobby for carpentry and it keeps getting exaggerated. Even before our parties, we start by building something first.

Sorry I digressed. So while building the bed, one of us took a picture and used it as his profile picture on social media captioned, ‘Unavailable, Men at Work’ and tagged us. Immediately, a mutual friend commented with mockery emoticons. This was followed by a long paragraph disparaging the ‘deplorable activity’ we were ‘wasting our time’ on. He went on and on…

Hence my decision to go for this coffee date with my imaginary friend Henry*, the professor. At the most fancy restaurant in town, as I am well known for. These are his words:

Yesterday, a friend called to check on me. It had been long since we talked. He asked if I had sometime so I could roll over and check on him. I was happy to go check on him. After we had finished University, he had started a small restaurant in town. It has grown exponentially over the years. When I arrived at the restaurant, I was very impressed by how many leaps he had made, in what I believe to be a short time for a business like his. We shuffled through the memories and had a hearty laugh.

As hours went by, I noticed that when customers entered and took seats, he was attending to them and doing a lot of the serving. I asked him if he didn’t have enough staff. He told me that one of the girls working at the restaurant was sick while another guy simply didn’t show up or call to let him know…so he was short of labor. I asked if I can help. He joked, ‘Henry you know I can’t afford you. Here I pay 10000shs to the attendants. How will I manage to pay you?’  I told him am happy to work.

I quickly oriented myself on the etiquette and customer care rules …and most importantly what was available. So we started serving people that came in. In total, I served about 8 clients before something interesting happened.

As we talked and laughed about the crazy things we did in school, two students I taught at University (a gentleman and lady) came by. They did not immediately notice I was the one but their eyes kept preying on me to confirm they were seeing the ‘real person.’

To confirm their disbelief, I asked my friend to let me serve them. So I went over, humbled myself, bent slightly, greeted them and asked to take their orders. They were very surprised and asked me, ‘What are you doing here sir?’ I told them that am there to serve them.  They looked at each other and with the face of mixed feelings wondered why I would be working in a restaurant.

The girl asked, ‘Sir, but why are you working here? You can’t serve us. I mean…?’ she nodded her head in disbelief before continuing, ‘…you can’t work in a restaurant?’ I told them I would serve them and am happy to take their orders. You could easily notice that they were very surprised and reserved about placing their orders.

They had mixed feelings about my presence there and the type of work I was doing.  After a very interesting exchange, they finally made their order which I delivered promptly. They had their delicious meal as we also continued conversing and reminiscing the years gone by. From time to time, I kept checking on them and asked if they needed anything else. When they were done, my friend punched in the bill, printed the receipt and I delivered it to them.

Their bill was 24,500shs. I placed it on the table and took the plates away. The guy placed two notes (a 20k and 10k shs) on the table and they left. I delivered it to my friend, who was now serving as manager, cashier and sometimes a waiter. He gave me back the change of 5,500shs which I happily slipped into my wallet.  By the way …by this time, I had 15,000shs in tips from the other 8 clients I had served. So by adding this 5500shs, I was 20,500shs rich already.

As the couple (my former students) went out, they each looked back in disbelief. I looked at them and raised my hand to say bye. They walked into the street and faded away into the bright light from approaching cars. A couple of other clients came in and I served them. My friend was very pleased and paid my 10000shs and a bonus of 2000shs which he says he offers once a waiter exceeds a certain number of clients.  At 11pm, I left the restaurant and went home.

As I sat in the car to head back home, I couldn’t help thinking about my students. Their disbelief was innocent…but it speaks a lot about a general problem we have in our society. These two students represent thousands of others. They made me think, very deeply, about our African graduates. I do not blame them, its a general problem.

I have had the opportunity to travel and study from elsewhere or in other cultures and I have always been surprised by how people in other countries don’t despise jobs. My good students could not imagine their lecturer serving them in a restaurant. Since they know my work and qualifications, they could not understand how I can be in a restaurant at this time. As if it takes away my degree or other job. It gave me a lot of thoughts about our graduates. The more I have traveled, the more I have learned and unlearned.

In 2012, while at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in England, one of my classmates used to drive a BMW, park it at a restaurant and work as a waiter. He came from a very wealthy family but he still worked. He told me that as soon as he completed high school, he had to take part time jobs to earn some money to pay rent to his father and contribute to household bills. It shocked me quite a lot considering what I have grown up seeing in my part of the world.

As if this was not enough, I also found out that, when students finish high school in these countries, as must, they have to find some work and either rent out, or pay their parents some money for rent if they are to continue staying in their parent’s house.  I was shocked by the idea of a son paying rent to his father. It took time to sink in. The more I interacted with more of these people, the more I realised that this is a common culture. They teach a child responsibility from a very early age. Work is not for money per se, it is a service.

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The lesson I learnt from them is that working is a value. One has to work and parents teach their children that they have to work and earn. Just because your parents are wealthy doesn’t mean your life is already worked out. You have to contribute to the home bills and somehow find something to do. The work doesn’t have to be white collar …but as a must, you have to find something to put your hands to. You can’t seat your bums and just wait for a white collar job.

When I went to Norway, I found the same story. Most university students, unless they simply can’t find time due to course overload, have to have some form of temporary work. Students often work as attendants, waiters in restaurants, cleaners in hotels, shop attendants, drivers, newspaper vendors, et cetera. It is a value to work and few people don’t despise jobs.

By the way, they don’t work because their parents can’t give them money. They work because it is a value that has been embedded in them from childhood. Once a student finishes high school, they take on a part time job and save money for use at university or travels. Few parents will buy their child a ticket to come to Africa to tour. You have to work and save for your luxuries.

If you want some money from your parents, you borrow and pay back. Nothing comes free. They teach you to live on your own. Being at University or having a degree is ‘nothing.’ You are not the first or the last. Serving people in a restaurant does not make anyone look less a graduate. Service is service! Work is a value.

As a matter of fact, most of the places near Universities are filled with university students working as part timers. University students are encouraged to take up these part time jobs. The white people we like to imitate are doing what we think is too dirty or casual for a graduate in Africa.

It got me thinking about students in our Universities here in Africa. I thought about all the restaurants around their schools, and the attitude of University students and graduates about these type of jobs. I thought about the poor attitude we have towards work. I looked at the chapatti boys and girls we despise who are minting money and doing great things in their lives and for their families. I thought about the people who fear nothing, who go out and just do it while we sit back.

The more I thought about it the more I realised why we are going to take longer to develop. We have a generation of young people who feel they are too educated to do certain jobs. We have a generation of children who have been prepared for a life that doesn’t exist. We have a crop of young people who act richer than the billionaires in first world countries. My time in Europe taught me that we need to get back on the drawing board and re-orient our graduates.

Students in our universities should be oriented to appreciate the value of work. There is no reason why a University should not employ students to clean the Library, kitchen, dining halls, hostels. It is improper that a university canteen should find external staff when it has over 30,000 students who can work in shifts and serve other students.

See, through this kind of work, being able to do ordinary jobs and be seen as a servant makes you true leaders. When students grow up with a sense of entitlement and a higher standard of living, it translates into greed when they get into national politics. They apportion themselves good things, higher privileges and want to float above everyone because work is about money, status and not service. Such humble work makes true leaders.

People who are willing to serve, and not merely earn make better leaders. Such work raises a generation of leaders who don’t do things to be seen or be thought of as higher and more qualified, but leaders who get things done. In some firms in western societies, when they look at a CV, such experience, demonstrates the attitude of a person, their humility, values and philosophy towards work.

We are raising a generation of children whose only image of the west is what they watch on TV. They speak using enhanced accents, know what is the latest, they are ‘cool’ but they have no idea what makes the west what it is. My experience in the west shows me something different. People work and do ordinary jobs and that’s how things get done.

If we are to get good leaders, we must first change the attitude of young people about work. An inflated self-image creates bad leaders who want to further segregate themselves from the ordinary people they consider low and less qualified. We have a big problem in our society and we have to find a way to deal with it.

Students despise these jobs because they believe work is about status and money. Taken further into their lives, it means they may likely want to maintain status and money as their pursuits when they get into leadership positions. If we must correct our leadership and governance problems, we may also need to do something about the attitude of students and graduates about their philosophies and values about work. In there, lies a very big problem.

Do not despise work, go out there and just work. The pope was once a bouncer at a club. Today he is one of the most powerful men in the world. Imagine that you had nothing to fear, what would you do to earn a living? Imagine that you had no degree or that anyone cares, what would you do to earn a living? Imagine, that no one is going to help you find a job, what would do?

I am not saying go do what you don’t like…but may be…just may be you may need to develop a new attitude towards work, serve people (in whatever opportunities unfold) and be happy to have served. You can never tell what the future holds, and you may never know who you will meet at your humble place of work. Most interestingly, you may never know the untold story of those who work and serve you in those places where you go as the bosses or the rich.

Even for you that are already employed in ‘high’ places, don’t mind going out and just find a part time job (if you have time) or offer services in the evening or weekend at any place where your services can be of use. Meet people, network and just keep yourself active. Degrees are everywhere…literally every one has them…so just forget about the whole hype about it and be true to yourself. As you look for other opportunities…don’t be afraid to branch off a little and keep yourself at something. Don’t despise jobs. Serve.

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This orientation is what we want for our generation next. Not to make such beautiful beds as mine: To change their perspective of Work and service.

Mobile Camel Library

Meet Kenya’s Mobile Camel Library, a 3-camel #caravan that was set up in 1996 by the #government-owned Kenya National #Library Service to improve literacy in the north-east of #Kenya. When the Mobile Camel Library reaches a destination, the #books are spread out on grass mats beneath #acacia #trees. People from the area walk from all over, sometimes accompanied by their #goats or #donkeys, and gather around the books with great excitement to choose their books. The #Mobile #Camel Library has no fixed location as this would be of no use to the readers who are #nomadic in nature and move from one place to another. Instead the readers can #follow the camels wherever they go. They #travel #Monday to #Thursday, starting early in the morning. One camel can carry 2 boxes with 200 books in each #box. A second camel carries a tent and a third camel carries the librarian’s things. #changes #IAmTheSonOfAfrica

Elephants Endangered

Nearly 90 elephants were found slaughtered for their tusks near a wildlife sanctuary in #Botswana: #Elephants Without Borders (#EWB), a non-profit conservation outfit, completed the Great #Elephant Census in 2016 after three long years.

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A huge pan-African endeavor by #scientists and #researchers from all over the #globe, and featuring aerial #surveys and rigorous #data collection, it managed to build up a solid picture of the state of the continent’s Loxodonta africana population.

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This undertaking meant that EWB and its partners have a better grasp on the situation on the ground than almost anywhere else. That’s why when they say the latest #poaching incident is one of the most serious they’ve ever seen, we should sit up and take NOTICE. Most of the 87 slaughtered elephants were killed just a few weeks back, all in order to harvest their ivory. They were found dead near the famed #OkavangoDelta #wildlife sanctuary in Botswana, the country with the highest numbers of African elephants on record. “I’m shocked, I’m completely astounded,” Dr. Mike Chase, the director and founder of EWB, told BBC News

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Tourism in Africa

Why tourism in Africa is on the uprising: Thanks to #lowcostairlines, new #tourism #infrastructure, and visa rule changes, #Africa is becoming more accessible. The #WorldTourismOrganization sees a bright future for Africa. Over the next dozen years, it projects that the number of #tourist arrivals on the #continent will jump from about 50 million to 130 million. A growing number of African #countries and regional blocs are taking steps to make travel there easier to plan, safer and more streamlined. Low-cost airlines are making inroads, and in the process, they’re making it simpler to travel around Africa on a tighter budget. What stands in the way of this development? In the past, when something happened in one part of the continent, it cast a shadow on other parts as well. Take the #Ebola crisis of 2014-2015 as an example. The outbreak was in #WestAfrica, but the entire continent saw a drop in tourism. But the Ebola outbreak, as well as terror attacks in #Egypt and #Tunisia, proved something else: the tourism industry in Africa is more resilient now than it has been in the past. In the years following the tragic events in West and North Africa, tourism arrivals have rebounded.#giraffe #elephant #lion #IAmTheSonOfAfrica

The Pink-Lipped Lion

Emily is a beautiful, young, lean American lady with deep thoughts and a slender body. I was told we have two things in common; a magnanimous heart and a crazy love for heavy engine vehicles, precisely the Jeep. We both have Jeeps. Hers is matte-black, Rubicon Convertible Jeep Wrangler SUV. I’ve forgotten the specifications of mine. I see it in my dreams but wake up when all the details are lost. Anyway, during our  safari, Emily asked me, ‘which animal best describes you Danstan?’ 

‘Lion!’ I replied Zealously, ‘if all you did was sleep 18 hours a day, had plenty of sex and did very little by way of chores (i.e hunting), life shouldn’t seem too bad.’

‘So why are male lions so grumpy?’ she said as she watched this cub from a male’s pride inched up nervously to him on the unlikely chance that he might be willing to engage in a little play fighting. Instead he was greeted with a loud growl with a clear message: do not disturb. However, so stunning was the male in appearance that it was easy to forgive his faults with the blowing wind emphasizing his magnificent mane. This was just a video clip we were watching.

We are in the open-sided vehicle with a wrap-around panorama that extends all the way to the blue-grey shoulder of the Oloololo Escarpment. We’re driving through one of the dozen or so conservancies that borders the famous Maasai Mara National Reserve. Here, where the rolling plains are known as the Maasai steppe, the land still belongs to their ancient guardians, the Maasai, and  a 360-degree scan reveals not a single other vehicle in sight. And herein lies the magic, because where the conservancies score over the national parks is by being able to control the number of vehicles allowed on to their land. And this delivers two great advantages – firstly the wildlife itself is less harassed and therefore more relaxed, and secondly, we have it to ourselves.

It is our third game drive and we’ve already ticked some of the ‘Big Five’ boxes. But the lion is proving elusive. No matter: there are other sites to see. ‘Hippos!’ says the driver suddenly. He points to the river, which has been snaking alongside us for the past few minutes. Its banks, steep and muddy, are hard to see over. So we draw up close. The water is chocolate brown and flecked with creamy foam. There are whirling eddies in the water, but no sign of hippos. Until, that is, you look more closely. Then you see the round raspberry-pink ears. As we watch, an enormous head emerges from the water and splits open into a pink-lined yawn set with huge, ivory-yellow teeth. Following their leader, the rest of the hippos rise from the water to survey us. Amazingly, the river has concealed around twenty of the huge beasts. One has a coronate of weeds on its head.

Letting in the clutch, the driver eases the heavy safari vehicle back on to the track, which winds its way back on to the savannah. The light is fading now and the activity on the plains is picking up pace. There are great herds of wildebeest that cavort and skitter as we pass. Zebras stand tall to nose and stamp their feet. Plum-colored topi perch atop termite mounds and survey their territory. Antelope flick their striped tales and emit their warning ‘zick zick’ as we pass. And a pair of ostriches are having a flouncing mud-bath. We’re traversing a small valley. A couple of old Buffalo bulls, their great bossed-horns lowered, are meandering through the low, shrub. We halt for a photograph.

And then we see, something very large and golden, lying at the bottom of the little glade. It is very still. So still that someone suggests it’s dead. The driver laughs. ‘Better not investigate,’ he says, ‘You’ll regret it.’

The lion is lying on his back, his great paws clutched around his snout and his pillowed on a clump of bush. He’s fast asleep with his back legs splayed and his creamy-white underbelly exposed. He seems beguilingly defenseless: a huge, almost tickle-able kitten. The tip of a pink tongue protrudes from his muzzle. ‘The pride must be near,’ says the driver. ‘He is digesting. But the lionesses and cubs may still be eating.’ These driver-guides know their wilderness. Or better put, we Africans know our animals. We know our lions.

We don’t have far to go: a few hundred meters away, on a stretch of khaki-colored ground above the river, there are two lionesses. One is suckling her three cubs. The other is sleeping: or trying to. A pair of older cubs scramble over her rib cage. They’re mock fighting, batting each other with tiny paws and snarling to show miniature teeth. The lioness raises an idle paw to swat them away and they roll away fused into a furry ball of paws, claws and tails. In the foreground is the half-devoured carcass of a zebra. Its ribs, chewed clean, are stark white and its yellow teeth are barred. Lionesses and curbs alike ignore us. ‘Can you see the other lion?’ the driver asks casually. The other lion?

You’d think a lion would be hard to miss, but such is the camouflage of pale yellow fur against dense thickets of long dry grass, that it takes a while to locate him. Languidly, he raises to his feet, yawns, swings his dark-brown tasseled tail to and fro and emerges from the thicket. Fully revealed, he’s twice the size of the lionesses. And he’s walking very deliberately in our direction.

There’s a communal intake of breath. The vehicle is open sided. Now the lion is a couple of meters away: less. There’s a swagger and swing to his walk. But we’re too awed to reach for our cameras and record it. For a split second he looks our way. The amber stare is chilling. Then he changes direction, pads away into the long grass, and disappears from view. But he has made his point.

It’s not until you see a lion in the wild that you appreciate its sheer glorious majesty. And it’s not until you engage that impetuous yellow gaze that the ancient race memories resurface. And then the fear kicks in. And it kicks in HARD.

“Very softly down the glade runs a waiting, watching shade; And the whispers spreads and widens far and near; and the sweat is on thy brow, for he passes even now –  It is Fear, O little hunter, it is Fear!” Rudyard Kipling

I feel this fear to date, when I try to comprehend the fact that my teenage son and daughter might never have such an opportunity to experience such a profound wonderment of seeing such majestic, magnificent animals yet so full of serenity. Within the next two decades, there could be fewer than 10,000 lions across the world. The wild lion population is in rapid decline due to matters that we can control; conflict with people. Decline in natural prey. Increase in lion bone trade. Loss and conversion of habitat. Trophy hunting.

When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.

Maybe it won’t be as bad anyway. Maybe we’ll be able to create better lions by putting on make up and posing in the jungle as well-cultured lions. Dear future son and daughter, brace yourself for pink-lipped lions.

All is Vanity

Below is the transcript of the talk of Dr. Richard Teo, who was a 40-year-old millionaire and cosmetic surgeon with a stage-4 lung cancer but selflessly shared with the D1 class his life experience on 19-Jan-2012. He passed away few days later on 18 October 2012.

Hi good morning to all of you. My voice is a bit hoarse, so please bear with me. I thought I’ll just introduce myself. My name is Richard, I’m a medical doctor. And I thought I’ll just share some thoughts of my life. It’s my pleasure to be invited by prof. Hopefully, it can get you thinking about how… as you pursue this.. embarking on your training to become dental surgeons, to think about other things as well.

Since young, I am a typical product of today’s society. Relatively successful product that society requires.. From young, I came from a below average family. I was told by the media… and people around me that happiness is about success. And that success is about being wealthy. With this mind-set, I’ve always be extremely competitive, since I was young.

Not only do I need to go to the top school, I need to have success in all fields. Uniform groups, track, everything. I needed to get trophies, needed to be successful, I needed to have colours award, national colours award, everything. So I was highly competitive since young. I went on to medical school, graduated as a doctor. Some of you may know that within the medical faculty, ophthalmology is one of the most highly sought after specialities. So I went after that as well. I was given a traineeship in ophthalmology, I was also given a research scholarship by NUS to develop lasers to treat the eye.

So in the process, I was given 2 patents, one for the medical devices, and another for the lasers. And you know what, all this academic achievements did not bring me any wealth. So once I completed my bond with MOH, I decided that this is taking too long, the training in eye surgery is just taking too long. And there’s lots of money to be made in the private sector. If you’re aware, in the last few years, there is this rise in aesthetic medicine. Tons of money to be made there. So I decided, well, enough of staying in institution, it’s time to leave. So I quit my training halfway and I went on to set up my aesthetic clinic… in town, together with a day surgery centre.

You know the irony is that people do not make heroes out average GP (general practitioner), family physicians. They don’t. They make heroes out of people who are rich and famous. People who are not happy to pay $20 to see a GP, the same person have no qualms paying ten thousand dollars for a liposuction, 15 thousand dollars for a breast augmentation, and so on and so forth. So it’s a no brainer isn’t? Why do you want to be a gp? Become an aesthetic physician. So instead of healing the sick and ill, I decided that I’ll become a glorified beautician. So, business was good, very good. It started off with waiting of one week, then became 3weeks, then one month, then 2 months, then 3 months. I was overwhelmed; there were just too many patients. Vanities are fantastic business. I employed one doctor, the second doctor, the 3rd doctor, the 4th doctor. And within the 1st year, we’re already raking in millions. Just the 1st year. But never is enough because I was so obsessed with it. I started to expand into Indonesia to get all the rich Indonesian tai-tais who wouldn’t blink an eye to have a procedure done. So life was really good.

So what do I do with the spare cash. How do I spend my weekends? Typically, I’ll have car club gatherings. I take out my track car, with spare cash I got myself a track car. We have car club gatherings. We’ll go up to Sepang in Malaysia. We’ll go for car racing. And it was my life. With other spare cash, what do i do? I get myself a Ferrari. At that time, the 458 wasn’t out, it’s just a spider convertible, 430. This is a friend of mine, a schoolmate who is a forex trader, a banker. So he got a red one, he was wanting all along a red one, I was getting the silver one.

So what do I do after getting a car? It’s time to buy a house, to build our own bungalows. So we go around looking for a land to build our own bungalows, we went around hunting. So how do i live my life? Well, we all think we have to mix around with the rich and famous. This is one of the Miss Universe. So we hang around with the beautiful, rich and famous. This by the way is an internet founder. So this is how we spend our lives, with dining and all the restaurants and Michelin Chefs you know.

So I reach a point in life that I got everything for my life. I was at the pinnacle of my career and all. That’s me one year ago in the gym and I thought I was like, having everything under control and reaching the pinnacle.

Well, I was wrong. I didn’t have everything under control. About last year March, I started to develop backache in the middle of nowhere. I thought maybe it was all the heavy squats I was doing. So I went to SGH, saw my classmate to do an MRI, to make sure it’s not a slipped disc or anything. And that evening, he called me up and said that we found bone marrow replacement in your spine. I said, sorry what does that mean? I mean I know what it means, but I couldn’t accept that. I was like “Are you serious?” I was still running around going to the gym you know. But we had more scans the next day, PET scans – positrons emission scans, they found that actually I have stage 4 terminal lung cancer. I was like “Whoa where did that come from?” It has already spread to the brain, the spine, the liver and the adrenals. And you know one moment I was there, totally thinking that I have everything under control, thinking that I’ve reached the pinnacle of my life. But the next moment, I have just lost it.

This is a CT scan of the lungs itself. If you look at it, every single dot there is a tumour. We call this miliaries tumour. And in fact, I have tens of thousands of them in the lungs. So, I was told that even with chemotherapy, that I’ll have about 3-4months at most. Did my life come crushing on, of course it did, who wouldn’t? I went into depression, of course, severe depression and I thought I had everything.

See the irony is that all these things that I have, the success, the trophies, my cars, my house and all. I thought that brought me happiness. But i was feeling really down, having severe depression. Having all these thoughts of my possessions, they brought me no joy. The thought of… You know, I can hug my Ferrari to sleep, no… No, it is not going to happen. It brought not a single comfort during my last ten months. And I thought they were, but they were not true happiness. But it wasn’t. What really brought me joy in the last ten months was interaction with people, my loved ones, friends, people who genuinely care about me, they laugh and cry with me, and they are able to identify the pain and suffering I was going through. That brought joy to me, happiness. None of the things I have, all the possessions, and I thought those were supposed to bring me happiness. But it didn’t, because if it did, I would have felt happy think about it, when I was feeling most down..

You know the classical Chinese New Year that is coming up. In the past, what do I do? Well, I will usually drive my flashy car to do my rounds, visit my relatives, to show it off to my friends. And I thought that was joy, you know. I thought that was really joy. But do you really think that my relatives and friends, whom some of them have difficulty trying to make ends meet, that will truly share the joy with me? Seeing me driving my flashy car and showing off to them? No, no way. They won’t be sharing joy with me. They were having problems trying to make ends meet, taking public transport. In fact i think, what I have done is more like you know, making them envious, jealous of all I have. In fact, sometimes even hatred.

Those are what we call objects of envy. I have them, I show them off to them and I feel it can fill my own pride and ego. That didn’t bring any joy to these people, to my friends and relatives, and I thought they were real joy.

Well, let me just share another story with you. You know when I was about your age, I stayed in king Edward VII hall. I had this friend whom I thought was strange. Her name is Jennifer, we’re still good friends. And as I walk along the path, she would, if she sees a snail, she would actually pick up the snail and put it along the grass patch. I was like why do you need to do that? Why dirty your hands? It’s just a snail. The truth is she could feel for the snail. The thought of being crushed to death is real to her, but to me it’s just a snail. If you can’t get out of the pathway of humans then you deserve to be crushed, it’s part of evolution isn’t it? What an irony isn’t it?

There I was being trained as a doctor, to be compassionate, to be able to empathise; but I couldn’t. As a house officer, I graduated from medical school, posted to the oncology department at NUH. And, every day, every other day I witness death in the cancer department. When I see how they suffered, I see all the pain they went through. I see all the morphine they have to press every few minutes just to relieve their pain. I see them struggling with their oxygen breathing their last breath and all. But it was just a job. When I went to clinic every day, to the wards every day, take blood, give the medication but was the patient real to me? They weren’t real to me. It was just a job, I do it, I get out of the ward, I can’t wait to get home, I do my own stuff.

Was the pain, was the suffering the patients went through real? No. Of course I know all the medical terms to describe how they feel, all the suffering they went through. But in truth, I did not know how they feel, not until I became a patient. It is until now; I truly understand how they feel. And, if you ask me, would I have been a very different doctor if I were to re-live my life now, I can tell you yes I will. Because I truly understand how the patients feel now. And sometimes, you have to learn it the hard way.

Even as you start just your first year, and you embark this journey to become dental surgeons, let me just challenge you on two fronts.

Inevitably, all of you here will start to go into private practice. You will start to accumulate wealth. I can guarantee you. Just doing an implant can bring you thousands of dollars, it’s fantastic money. And actually there is nothing wrong with being successful, with being rich or wealthy, absolutely nothing wrong. The only trouble is that a lot of us like myself couldn’t handle it.

Why do I say that? Because when I start to accumulate, the more I have, the more I want. The more I wanted, the more obsessed I became. Like what I showed you earlier on, all I can was basically to get more possessions, to reach the pinnacle of what society did to us, of what society wants us to be. I became so obsessed that nothing else really mattered to me. Patients were just a source of income, and I tried to squeeze every single cent out of these patients.

A lot of times we forget, whom we are supposed to be serving. We become so lost that we serve nobody else but just ourselves. That was what happened to me. Whether it is in the medical, the dental fraternity, I can tell you, right now in the private practice, sometimes we just advise patients on treatment that is not indicated. Grey areas. And even though it is not necessary, we kind of advocate it. Even at this point, I know who are my friends and who genuinely cared for me and who are the ones who try to make money out of me by selling me “hope”. We kind of lose our moral compass along the way. Because we just want to make money.

Worse, I can tell you, over the last few years, we bad mouth our fellow colleagues, our fellow competitors in the industry. We have no qualms about it. So if we can put them down to give ourselves an advantage, we do it. And that’s what happening right now, medical, dental everywhere. My challenge to you is not to lose that moral compass. I learnt it the hard way, I hope you don’t ever have to do it.

Secondly, a lot of us will start to get numb to our patients as we start to practise. Whether is it government hospitals, private practice, I can tell you when I was in the hospital, with stacks of patient folders, I can’t wait to get rid of those folders as soon as possible; I can’t wait to get patients out of my consultation room as soon as possible because there is just so many, and that’s a reality. Because it becomes a job, a very routine job. And this is just part of it. Do I truly know how the patient feels back then? No, I don’t. The fears and anxiety and all, do I truly understand what they are going through? I don’t, not until when this happens to me and I think that is one of the biggest flaws in our system.

We’re being trained to be healthcare providers, professional, and all and yet we don’t know how exactly they feel. I’m not asking you to get involved emotionally, I don’t think that is professional but do we actually make a real effort to understand their pain and all? Most of us won’t, alright, I can assure you. So don’t lose it, my challenge to you is to always be able to put yourself in your patient’s shoes.

Because the pain, the anxiety, the fear are very real even though it’s not real to you, it’s real to them. So don’t lose it and you know, right now I’m in the midst of my 5th cycle of my chemotherapy. I can tell you it’s a terrible feeling. Chemotherapy is one of those things that you don’t wish even your enemies to go through because it’s just suffering, lousy feeling, throwing out, you don’t even know if you can retain your meals or not. Terrible feeling! And even with whatever little energy now I have, I try to reach out to other cancer patients because I truly understand what pain and suffering is like. But it’s kind of little too late and too little.

You guys have a bright future ahead of you with all the resource and energy, so I’m going to challenge you to go beyond your immediate patients. To understand that there are people out there who are truly in pain, truly in hardship. Don’t get the idea that only poor people suffer. It is not true. A lot of these poor people do not have much in the first place, they are easily contented. for all you know they are happier than you and me but there are out there, people who are suffering mentally, physically, hardship, emotionally, financially and so on and so forth, and they are real. We choose to ignore them or we just don’t want to know that they exist.

So do think about it alright, even as you go on to become professionals and dental surgeons and all. That you can reach out to these people who are in need. Whatever you do can make a large difference to them. I’m now at the receiving end so I know how it feels, someone who genuinely care for you, encourage and all. It makes a lot of difference to me. That’s what happens after treatment. I had a treatment recently, but I’ll leave this for another day. A lot of things happened along the way, that’s why I am still able to talk to you today.

I’ll just end of with this quote here, it’s from this book called Tuesdays with Morris, and some of you may have read it. Everyone knows that they are going to die; every one of us knows that. The truth is, none of us believe it because if we did, we will do things differently. When I faced death, when I had to, I stripped myself off all stuff totally and I focused only on what is essential. The irony is that a lot of times, only when we learn how to die then we learn how to live. I know it sounds very morbid for this morning but it’s the truth, this is what I’m going through.

Don’t let society tell you how to live. Don’t let the media tell you what you’re supposed to do. Those things happened to me. And I led this life thinking that these are going to bring me happiness. I hope that you will think about it and decide for yourself how you want to live your own life. Not according to what other people tell you to do, and you have to decide whether you want to serve yourself, whether you are going to make a difference in somebody else’s life. Because true happiness doesn’t come from serving yourself. I thought it was but it didn’t turn out that way.

Also most importantly, I think true joy comes from knowing God. Not knowing about God – I mean, you can read the bible and know about God – but knowing God personally; getting a relationship with God. I think that’s the most important. That’s what I’ve learnt.

So if I were to sum it up, I’d say that the earlier we sort out the priorities in our lives, the better it is. Don’t be like me – I had no other way. I had to learn it through the hard way. I had to come back to God to thank Him for this opportunity because I’ve had 3 major accidents in my past – car accidents. You know, these sports car accidents – I was always speeding , but somehow I always came out alive, even with the car almost being overturned. And I wouldn’t have had a chance. Who knows, I don’t know where else I’d be going to! Even though I was baptised it was just a show, but the fact that this has happened, it gave me a chance to come back to God.

Few things I’d learnt though:
1. Trust in the Lord your God with all your heart – this is so important.
2. Is to love and serve others, not just ourselves.

There is nothing wrong with being rich or wealthy. I think it’s absolutely alright, cos God has blessed. So many people are blessed with good wealth, but the trouble is I think a lot of us can’t handle it. The more we have, the more we want. I’ve gone through it, the deeper the hole we dig, the more we get sucked into it, so much so that we worship wealth and lose focus. Instead of worshipping God, we worship wealth. It’s just a human instinct. It’s just so difficult to get out of it.

We are all professionals, and when we go into private practise, we start to build up our wealth – inevitably. So my thought are, when you start to build up wealth and when the opportunity comes, do remember that all these things don’t belong to us. We don’t really own it nor have rights to this wealth. It’s actually God’s gift to us. Remember that it’s more important to further His Kingdom rather than to further ourselves.

Anyway I think that I’ve gone through it, and I know that wealth without God is empty. It is more important that you fill up the wealth, as you build it up subsequently, as professionals and all, you need to fill it up with the wealth of God.

Hey, You Need A Quick Fix?

Alone.

When was the last time you were alone? With nothing but the distinct thumping of your heart, the ragged sound of your own breaths? When was the last time you realised even silence has a sound?

Society has romanticised the concept of being with someone to a stifling degree. It’s always made to be shown like you constantly need someone with you. Be it a lover, a friend, a parent, a sibling, an acquaintance – but you just have to have someone with you constantly. Why? Society forgets, that being alone isn’t the same thing as being lonely.

And it doesn’t stop there. You need to be able to hold a conversation well. You need to be abreast with current issues to sound intellectual. General knowledge ceases to be a thing of curiosity or keenness to learn; it becomes a standard for judging someone’s IQ. You need to be fun, interesting, goofy, witty, sarcastic, humorous; when did human interaction cease being natural and start resembling a job profile? Why do you have to know every current pop culture reference to “fit” into a place? Why do you have to always have a topic in mind to be with someone?

When did benefits of human interaction turn into criteria for choosing humans for interaction?

Stop.

Stop trying to fit in. Stop trying to chip off the edge in you to conform to the old that society gives you. Stop letting the weights that life throws your way succeed in weighing you down, leaving you gasping and spluttering in the water, desperately trying to catch a gulp of air and getting a mouthful of salty water instead. Stop yourself from having to sigh as you type “yes” to a group outing while you’d really like to just stay in your pyjamas with a bag of greasy, salty chips and tie your hair up in a messy bun, the entire evening spent burrowed cozily in your blanket with some movie.

Be.

Be alone. Be with your own thoughts – an entire swirling galaxy of numbing thoughts and ideas just waiting to be heard by you. Be with the quiet of your soul and the raging inferno of your spirit – feel the pull between the two as the stretch makes you feel alive.

Look.

Look at the momentous times you’ve had – the time when you were with your friends and all of you were almost broke but chose to go for that movie anyway, because it would be the last day of college together, before you saw each other after a period of over three months. The time you couldn’t sleep at night because you were that moved after having watched Dead Poets’ Society, a lump in your throat as you tried not to cry after the film ended. The time you stayed up all night writing something because the bug in your head was too insistent to get rid of, your body humming with a tired ache, but your mind active like never before, the words rushing over each other to get penned down as soon as they could. The time you got a grade worse than anyone you knew, a sinking feeling of guilt settling in your conscience even as you couldn’t help but resent the happy faces around you, realising that they didn’t know what they had. The time you felt so isolated and excluded from everyone around that you didn’t mind stomping on your self-respect and ego repeatedly and appear chirpy and curious about their activities, the broad grin on your face just a cover for the actual hurt you felt. The time you pretended like you didn’t hear them make plans without you, despite you being a mere couple of steps away from them as you pretended to be busy on your phone just to avoid an awkward situation with them.

Realise.

Realise what an insignificant speck of dirt you truly are in comparison to the vastness of the universe, nothing more than a wing of a mosquito compared to the gargantuan size of the universe. Realise how privileged you are to be able to have a roof over your head, a meal thrice a day, water that you can drink without the fear of falling sick, the assurance of proper medical treatment even if you do fall sick.

Realise what powers lie within you – be it the ability to dip a brush in some colours and bring a blank white canvas to life with myriad shades and hues being created by your hands. The ability to recognise the beats of a song and with some dips and turns of your hands or feet or hips, break into a scintillating dance sequence. The ability to reach octaves higher than most can, drop to a pitch lower than possible, to develop a falsetto almost as strong as someone’s real voice. The ability to put the thoughts in your mind to coherent words and pour them all out, a gushing waterfall of emotions each time. The ability to perceive the truth in someone’s eyes even if their actions speak otherwise, to be able to just sit in silence with someone and let them talk, be the support for their shuddering outburst of truth. The ability to be able to dispel any discomfort with some humour, to feel blessed to be the cause for someone’s laughter, someone’s joy.

The ability to be you. A privilege, an honour to have. One reserved particularly for you.

Seize that opportunity and live up to it. Don’t lose sight of the person your younger self would’ve been proud to emulate. Chase every goal you set for yourself. Stumble, fall, trip as you fail to do so. Dust yourself. Get up and run at it again.

Live.

Take your time and be fully present in every moment. Sometimes the people with greatest potential often take the longest to find their path because their sensitivity is a double edge sword – it lives at the heart of brilliance but it also makes them more susceptible to life’s pains. Good thing we aren’t being penalised for handing in our purpose late. The soul doesn’t know anything about deadlines, so I will take my time sit here and enjoy this view.