Nelson Ashitiva's love for movies and Isikuti 'possessions'


Shakespeare rightly observed in his pastoral comedy ‘As You Like It,’ spoken by the melancholy Jaques in Act II Scene VII Line 139 that ‘all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.’

The scriptwriters of Nelson Ashitiva’s life then could not say they have hardly tried. How many roles can 41-year-old Ashitiva play then?

He is a lawyer, business leader, and corporate governance expert with more than 15 years of experience.

He is also a family man, a role he seems to revel in, like Don Corleone in The Godfather, the paterfamilias who holds the strings of his family together and yet manages to pull strings in other facets of the corporate mafia world.

Or perhaps he is more like Tony Soprano in the flesh. (Soprano, in the span of a day, could go from a murder scene to a family dinner without an iota of remorse).

Not that Ashitiva teeters on megalomania—hardly—he is chill and reserved, like the fun uncle who lets you drink with him but still gives you solid life advice.

He is a film aficionado, and talking to him puts you right in the middle of a scene, only it’s your scene. But what strikes you most is that despite his love for the big screen, he says, life is more of a television series than a movie.

You can have different seasons.

He used to be the star of his, but now he is taking a more behind-the-scenes approach, still at the centre but far enough not to steal the spotlight from what really matters. Family.

"Whenever we are out swimming,” he says, “Simply know I am not anywhere near the water. It’s for my children and family. My job there is to control the music.”

So, what do you love then?

“I love watching movies. I am not a sportsperson. I love plays and used to script them at university and later at the Alliance Française and Kenya National Theatre.

Most of my friends are still in that world, we learned a lot from that season. The arts teach us to have a conscience and value things, poetry and music to put value on and repair the moral fabric of society.

Think of Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Chinua Achebe, and Francis Imbuga.

What’s your ideal weekend like?

I try to catch up with sleep on Saturdays. I hardly schedule any meetings then unless my back is against the wall. I have breakfast with my daughter—my son by then would have already gone to play football.

I may have a 10 o’clock meeting followed by another at 12; ordinarily, it would be with a student, a young lawyer, or someone seeking mentorship, or with my friends who we have other business ventures with.

Saturday afternoons are my 'me-time'. I usually get a haircut and watch a movie or just go window shopping for art and paintings.

I come back home in the evening to my son who insists we have to watch a movie with popcorn and candles—I know—and by halfway through the movie, he’ll be snoring.

I don’t think he likes movies that much. I think he just wants to spend time with me. [chuckles]

And Sundays?

We go to church as a family and later have a luncheon. It’s also my time to pick my wife’s brain, just to get her perspective and check in on the relationship.

Around 5 pm we drive home, and I watch a movie with my wife, who loves action-thriller movies.

I am into historical bloody combats and bone-shattering films. We believe in the church of Liam Neeson. We have dinner, pray as a family, and power down for the week.

Do you cook for the family?

I am a terrible cook. I hate cooking and you can taste it. In my defence, I know where the best chefs are found.

The art of food is like lovemaking. The better it is, the more guilty you feel once you are finished. Oh? [chuckles]. Yes, I learned that from a movie.

Now that your life seems so structured, what is the one thing you wish you could do better over the weekend?

I wish my 'me-time' was a little more prolonged. When I have free time, it allows me to withdraw from activities and prospect how to do things better and harness [resources] and strategise better.

It helps me be more productive. Alone time would be great.

This year I will get six days every other month to withdraw from the city—alone—to introspect and rejuvenate and rewire my thinking. It's sort of like stepping aside to be more involved.

What is the last thing you do before the lights go out?

I pray.

Do you have a treat for your close friends or family or just yourself?

Once in a while, I have a chef over. Lately, I have picked up the habit of inviting a saxophonist to entertain us when we are enjoying the food.

It’s a close-knit thing, just my wife's sister, my best friend, not more than three couples, and then the children.

You sound like an introspective and chill guy. How do you let your hair down?

When I go to the village and the true Isikuti (a traditional celebratory performance practised among the Isukha and Idakho communities of Western Kenya) is played, it awakens something in me. You see me in my element.

There is a way that it is played that connects with my spirit and vibe. My wife says at that point, it’s like I am a different person.

When her parents came to my home for the first time, and I was on the Isikuti role, it was like I was possessed.

Maybe you were?

Maybe, we will never know. What’s that thing about taking the boy out of the village? Haha!

What's a weekend hack you wish more people could learn?

It is very important to power down and think about the bigger picture. Especially for leaders. We usually introspect after our season in a role is over, but it would be better to do it regularly.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair talks about this a lot too. You can’t have the big picture thing if you are too involved in the smaller things. Step aside.

The greats have always known this. Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and even Jesus. If you can have time with family, time with God, time with friends, and time alone, that is a successful model for any weekend.

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