Quarantine Reading

by Philip Muema

I de-clutter my mind reading. It is how I quiet it from the constant buzz of shuttling between the different worlds I operate. In the world of consulting and advisory services, you have to constantly read to keep abreast of different industry sectors and political situations in order to help your client envision different scenarios and develop mitigating strategies or take advantage of the opportunities. My reading therefore, has to be different and light in order to engage my weary mind and revitalize my thinking.

At the beginning of the lockdown, I had assumed the crisis would be over in two short weeks. I really did not know what to expect of it. I must be honest with you and state that my life has turned on its head. My work reading load has multiplied tenfold with the regulatory changes being made and the fact that I sit on advisory boards that provide expert opinion on the legislation. I have to keep up with the changes and numerous opinions submitted by industry heads. Even in the midst of this whirlwind, I must find time to ‘declutter’ my mind.

My first reading is a book by a man who our global team invited to a Global Management meeting; The Operator by Robert O’Neil. His claim to fame was that he was the man who pulled the trigger to the bullet that ended Osama Bin Laden’s life. The intrigue is not that moment. His story is one of perseverance and continual discipline and more importantly – team work. I was fascinated by the intensity of the training that the Navy Seals go through and how that shapes the strength of the mind and its ability then to do more; attain the ‘impossible’. I have not gotten to the part where he shoots the famous shot, so please do not spoil the ending for me.

I have found simplicity and calm in reading Ikigai by Hector Garcia. The concept encourages us to quiet our striving and listen for what the world needs and respond to the need with our expertise and gifts. I cannot explain it other than investing your soul to build your soul, ensuring you do so with balance.

My reading Ikigai lead me to Less: A Visual Guide to Minimalism by Rachel Aust. I have to say I struggle to accept this concept, yet it is obvious. I think my battle with self as I have read it is that I admit I enjoy the finer things in life. They are just things, though. So, there will be a lot of battle with the self before I can conceive embracing minimalism.

The other book is by Ngugi wa Thiong’o – Dreams in a time of War. The trauma that our forefathers endured during colonialism, and the torment to get our country back as our own; not enough has been written about this. We need to know the truth as told by ourselves. Appreciate the pain and struggle, in order to ensure that we protect our sovereignty and participate more intentionally in ‘the course of nation building’. We cannot blindly sit back and pretend to be helpless as decisions are made about the future of our country. We have to be involved. Ngugi’s works tend to put a fire in my belly.

The third one is an Audio book on Audible. I use my commute time normally, to listen to my Audible purchases and podcasts. I am now listening to Blink by Malcom Gladwell. I have always been intrigued by Malcom’s writings about human behaviour, and this one in particular helps me answer many questions about decisions I have taken in the past. It’s about gut feel, and what life experiences, education and knowledge have planted in you that help you make an instant judgement on a matter that is spot on accurate.

Because of this audio, I actually picked up a book I have had with me, Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behaviour by Jonah Berger. By understanding what Malcom Gladwell speaks of in Blink, we then must be well aware of the power we possess in influencing another’ behaviour. This awareness and understanding of how to influence positively is the greatest gift a leader can offer their teams, but that is just my thinking. I have been intrigued by these two works.

My purchases are mainly from Kenyan bookshops. I hardly buy books abroad, since a lot of my travel is for work and I am holed up in meetings with minimal time for shopping. I also have received numerous books as gifts and I think they are my best type of gift. I also enjoy gifting books. So, If anyone is looking to buy me a present, then a book would be very appreciated. I am eagerly awaiting Barack Obama’s memoire on his time as the 44th President. I will take time off to consume that book and savour its pages.

If I did not have books, my mind would be constantly abuzz with thoughts of tax and problems of the economy. They are my release and safe escape. They really help me decompress. I honestly advise anyone to pick up a book; light reading. 45 page books qualify. The kind of writing that allows your brain to wander in a direction different from what life challenges you with daily.


Other than reading, this period has allowed me to reconnect with my kids. They are all teenagers now, so I am not the one dictating their schedules. They are extremely disciplined when it comes to working on their school material. The after school and work schedule is determined by them.

We do a lot of walking together. I have a pack of dogs which we walk and that gives us time to talk about anything and everything under the sun. I enjoy getting to know the young adults I am raising. We also play board games in the evenings. The one we are currently fond of is called Risk. This game has brought out the best, the worst, the most ludicrous negotiations, flared tempers, discussions where four people may be involved, but you could swear you can hear 20 voices, trumpets, alarms ringing and wolves howling. A complete raucous, but a lot of fun.

We play music in the background in the evenings. A lot of Rhumba and Soul music can be heard especially over the weekends.

To avoid consumption by cabin fever, we have taken to bundling ourselves in the car and just driving around to the boundaries of Nairobi. We pack plenty of food and drink, and then drive to where the road takes us. There’s car karaoke, political debates, gossip shared, and sombre philosophical moments peppered by a lot of laughter.

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