I am in Africa. I am alone. I am alone in Africa. Today I went for a hike with a friend and left him on Mt Kenya to keep climbing so that I could come down to meet someone who would not arrive. I am reading books and drinking chai because somewhere India got mixed up with Kenya.
My guide down the mountain was Samson, a 25 year-old Kenyan, shorter than me with skinnier legs than mine. I had teased him on the way up about smoking cigarettes and being a mountain guide and he laughed. On the way down in English without articles we talked about how many babies women in America have and how proud Barack Obama’s Kenyan family must be and if I have a English football club I follow and cigarettes. He brought them up. He asked me why they were bad.
I explained that cigarettes are bad for your lungs of course but also your eyes and your stomach and your heart and your skin and your mind and a few other things. He asked how to quit. He said he tried once and it was really hard. He smokes 10 cigarettes a day.
I have no basis for this other than quitting diet coke a few years ago, but I told him do the following. Start tomorrow and have only 9 cigarettes a day for a week. Then go to 8 for a week, then 7, and so on. If he gets to a sticky point at say, 4, and breaks the rule and goes up to 5, just try to stick at 5 for 2 weeks, then go down again. Try to avoid other smokers too. He said, yeah but when I pass guys on the street and smell the smoke I want one. Yes, but it’s ok, just try to go down to 9. He smiled and when we got to the park gate started to light up but then looked at me and smiled again and put it away. I have no idea whether he felt inspired or guilty or afraid of offending the girl who was supposed to tip him or something else.
In med school we are told to measure someone’s desire to quit whatever their vice is in some oblique way, and if the vice is alcohol and you need to assess the overall life-affliction quotient, to ask the “CAGE questions” - Have you ever tried to Cut down on your drinking? Has anyone ever Annoyed you by asking you to cut back? Have you ever felt Guilty about drinking? Ever needed an Eye-opener?
To me these are for doctors who have an emotional IQ of negative and need formulas for everything.
Vices are about needing to feel. Passion is somewhere between fear and sex, and without war or religion or love it is hard to find passion, but there are drugs and alcohol and cigarettes and diet coke and bad relationships that go on when they should be quit; all modicums of feeling, temporary ones.
Motivation comes from feeling differently about yourself than you did before. A change in course in the ever shifting mapless interior self. Where this comes from is up for argument. People disagree with me on this but I think it comes from experience rather than intellect. You travel, someone dies, you fall in love, you are loved or recognized in a new way. Someone you care about cares if you smoke or not. You suddenly believe yourself to be someone who deserves to not be smoking. Or maybe more accurately the ego decides it would like to think of itself in a non-smoker’s light.
I don’t think it comes from someone explaining to you why smoking is bad for you. And if Samson quits it will have nothing to do with me and if he doesn’t it won’t have anything to do with me either. But I still hope he finds the motivation, discovers his passion somewhere else. Cigarettes or whatever it is, I hope we all do.