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Echoes: The first and last day of witnessing a rally race

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By WILLIAM RUTHI
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Nearly everyone peddles the idea that theirs was the best childhood, an argument attended with the proclamation that ‘kids nowadays know nothing about life’. It’s an utterly defeatist, even conceited idea.

Yet there’s something comforting about that belief, because no matter how narrow it allows for something wired tight within human beings: a longing for what will never again play out in the motion picture of life, days of innocence and discovery are waters touched once.

Nostalgia is the art of throwing haymakers at adulthood and its demands; it’s a winding road that often ends up with the open pages of picture album. Photographs are the place we travel back to; to the continuum of our happenings, to rivers, to our teenage crushes, to toys. In my dreams, in the cameos of my boyhood are toys, toy cars that featured in the pages of newspapers, jumping later onto the black of tarmac of a speeding road.

They carried — or rather, were carried — commanded by names distant and near; difficult and easy: Björn, Kirkland, Preston Jr, Biason, and Njiru. My generation came to with the roar of the Safari Rally circuit, in the ancient years when car rallying wove narratives all across the country. At first the devilry played out in the turbo-charged echo of exhaust pipes, distant and close, and we longed to reach out and touch the magic and madness.

“Too young for you to go see,” parents cautioned.

It couldn’t have happened at a better time, and looking back if the leash hadn’t been loosed, I would have lived only with the ghosts of horsepower tearing across the land and the pictures in the sports section of the papers. Had I missed it, I would have lived in a room with its roof yanked off in a driving rain.

When permission came, it came with a caveat: An essay chronicling the happening. It was the voice of God, my father’s. He was an English teacher straight out of Charles Dickens.

It was the year I turned 13, that age of new frontiers and new voices and weaning. No, car racing did not end that year; it would never end of course, it simply found other routes, other towns. We did not know this as we went to bed to wait out the dawn.

There was a time — what seems like a lifetime away — when car racing in Kenya was pencilled in granite; it was not an event, it was a happening. The names of the drivers were superheroes and we appropriated them. If I was Mike Kirkland, my desk mate was Patrick Njiru.

On the day our route was scrapped off the rally calendar, we woke up at 5am. That is not entirely correct; one can only wake up if he slept. I had only slept fitfully. Sleep and wakefulness collided as echoes of past rallying seasons flooded back. All night, the sound of speeding cars wheeled like crows in my mind.

For a kid growing up in the country, the Safari Rally season in April was unquestionably the most thrilling, maybe even the most anticipated event of the year, if you left out Christmas. The treacherous adventure drew legendary names from the region and outside the continent such as Björn Waldegård and Shekhar Mehta, Miki Biason and favourite son, Patrick Njiru.

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The cars, as reported in the itinerary and also over the radio would be flagged off at the Kenyatta International Conference (now Convention) Centre (KICC) in faraway Nairobi City. The other stops along the race track meant little; the only stretch of consequence for us was our route.

We set out before first light. The viewing point was at Tambaya, a tiny shopping centre across the river in neighbouring Mukurwe-ini Division. We had to cross the river, swollen in April, over a slippery log bridge, ascend a steep slope and join the tarmac.

The adrenalin, the promise of those tiny cars was fuel enough, food enough to last a whole day.

We arrived at 5.40am and already people had lined up along the road. It was a stunning sight. All these people, had they slept at all? We must have met in our revelries in the night; they too must have sat up late in their beds, their own hearts, like mine beating against the cage of their ribs. Men, fathers, sons, brothers, even a few schoolgirls.

It must be said that nearly everyone standing along the road — and even those who stayed behind in bed — was rooting for home-grown hero Patrick Njiru of Subaru. He was in the papers: Handsome, hair trimmed to a box and most importantly, the rich melanin of his pelt. For a long time, car racing’s top dogs were either white or Indian. True, Ian Duncan was Kenyan, but oh well….

Presently, the frightening roar of the first car broke the dawn, rearing down the valley, louder and louder as the car flew across the bridge, blinding lights picking out the cheering throng.
“Here he is!” our minder shouted. “Björn!”

Then another and another, and then this: “Patrick. Patrick Njiru!” the people knew it was him. He was the only driver who slowed down his car a fraction of a second to wave, and even look out the window. That was him, and that was it.

Later, I sat late in the night, the brilliance of the morning vivid yet. The instruction had been to pen an essay, but now as pencil touched paper and the words came to me, the story took on the character of a love letter. Then the pencil moved on to a white drawing paper, crayons filling out the doors, the bumper, Mike Kirkland’s car coming alive with each stroke.

It was all there: the rapid-fire staccato of exaggerated exhaust pipes, the exchange of gears, the glove-hand acknowledgment of the spectators by Patrick Njiru, the devilry of it all. Facebook, Instagram and the magic of Real Time and YouTube and blogs were ideas — apparitions yet to roam the earth; so far away as to be considered blasphemous.

There’s no picture of us kerbside, no picture of us waving and cheerleading; at least not the kind that can be slipped into the pocket of a photo album. But they exist, yet. Everyone remembers the first time. My first also happened to be the last.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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