Thursday, February 22, 2007


When I was young, I was an incorrigible Mall Rat. Now that sort of baffles most acquaintances which is no wonder because the culture of youngsters hanging out at malls is quite alien to these shores. Besides certain of my detractors are quick to wonder what mall I prowled because the closest we got to a Mall in my neighbourhood was a Softa Container and a Coke kiosk against which mama Oti leaned frying and refrying last week’s Omena while Oti, ochieng, Omollo… O- whoever, hang around peddling roast groundnuts; kicking a polythene ball or, as baby Okumu (and baby Onyango and myriad baby O’s after them) was wont to do- swimming in the stygian effluent nicknamed Nairobi River.

But all that is besides the point because Mall or no mall within a twelve kilometre radius of our house, I still found myself one to hang out at.

My Mall prowling escapades were obviously resultant from the blatant misinformation and misrepresentations that Western media sources occasion on Third world Urban Youth. (Conscious of the my growing number of semi-literate readers and wanna be fans, I am avoiding such words as: hegemony). In those days my outlook to life was informed by earlier Black American teen magazines like: Right on and Black Beat that we got from I don’t know where. Later when I started hanging out at the malls, the affluent yoyo crowd introduced me to Vibe and The Source and wasn’t it awesome. …Like awesome, America... awesome!

I mean, all those Pop-stars in full colour. It was surreal, yeah and not forgetting AWESOME! And the conversations as we flipped through those magazines: “You mean Brandy Norwood can get uglier than in her I wanna be down Video? All delivered in a wavering Mid- Atlantic accent.

When I wasn’t at the mall, there was always the Now magazine that came with the standard and the Sunday Nation’s Lifestyle all courtesy of the butcher boy from Sector II. Even in those days, we didn’t have a TV but we were a minority so there was always the option of strolling into one neighbour’s or another’s house to catch jimmy Gathu on the hot new Channel 62. (Aside: Jimmy grew up, aged rather gracefully I must say. Matured. I sincerely hope Talia willl too some day and oh… whatever happened to Esther Mbondo?)

The thing I was picking from all these glossies and the not so glossy and Jimmy-Jam-a-Delics was that Pop-stars aren’t born, they are discovered. Discovered as they hang out at the Mall! Wasn’t that not the Toni Braxton story? Yes, that Toni Braxton who went broke from buying hair extensions. Yani, hair extensions and vile Koki from Sector II, with her 30 bob cornrows, was infinitely more gorgeous than Toni Braxton. Even when Koki had matutas and a dress with a hole that a rat- not Neiman Marcus- put there.

But hair or no hair, Toni could sing. And at the mall, the glossies tell me, she was discovered. (Was it by Baby Face or the other half of LaFace, L.A.Reid? I cannot seem to recall and someone pinched that magazine from my bedside. Pinched it and they will not even read it. Not even use it to light it a charcoal brazier unless it is in their pants.) Anyway, the point is, I believed that by hanging out at the Mall, I would be discovered.

Discovered, yes but not by some mzungu with a King James bible on one hand and a king size gun on the other, like China or Mount Kenya as though I wasn’t always there but by a talent scout.

Frankly I couldn’t sing- though I thought I could- but something inside me burnt with an artiste’s fervour. Maybe I could act or model. Certainly, I wasn’t going to insist on being on a chocolate commercial, my looks would stop sales, but there really was a spark in me a good director could use. Hey, like wouldn’t one need a convincing beast for a rendition of beauty and the Beast?

This was the thinking that carried me all those kilometres to the Mall. The sheer conviction that I was an artist of sorts even though my stick diagrams were uglier than my Primary school’s Arts teacher’s frown. In my heart I was a performing artiste even though the only time I had been on stage was to sweep it. Uhm, well there was the time though when I got on stage as an actor but being a sheep in the Sunday School Nativity play doesn’t count.

But we live by hope. I believed that talent has to be nurtured. I knew that the greatest of them all were apprentices to the maestros at some point. And maestros weren’t thumbing papier mache in stadi wan, or approving the discordant screeches of Sunday school babes.

It is no wonder then that my talent hadn’t been discovered. So far I hadn’t met the maestros. No Readership! The maestros were at the mall having themselves a jolly upper middle class time and occasionally stumbling on talent. And you had to be there for them to stumble on you, right?

Thursday, February 15, 2007


(Issued as a work in progress)

The American Ambassador, Smith Hempstone went native acquiring a legendary taste for Nyama choma and Tusker. When he wasn’t engaging in the Kenyan pastime of barroom politicking he returned to his bunker on the corner of Moi and Haile Sellassie Avenues to receive delegations of anti-government elements. His wholehearted support for Kenya’s umpteenth liberation can never be forgotten; he came, he got drank on his ego and our booze, he wrote the book.

Always the book. Saving Africa is a labour of love; the book is your pension plan.

A few short years later that bunker was rocked by a huge explosion. Many Kenyans died that day. Far more Kenyans than Americans. But the Kenyans didn’t get eulogized by CNN; at least not in the way the American ‘martyrs’ were. The Kenyans were a mere body count. Yet another statistic streaming at the bottom of the page to the mundane dirge of football and NHL scores.

Then 9/11 happened and America forgot Nairobi. Well that is those of them who knew where it was.

9/11: an attack on the civilized by the so called uncivilized. A raison-d’etre for the tyranny of the self-declared civilized.

9/11: more than just a date, an event. A turning point. A veritable monument in the history of man; only rivaled by the death of Christ. Humanity has only known three eras: the BC, the Anno Domini and Post 9/11.


If George Bush could count this would be year 5, P-9/11 in Bushian Reckoning. But even though he didn’t decree that we adjust our calendars, he did adjust the way that we live. In this age, you cannot have a wedding party anywhere from Kabul to Ay-rack without clearance from the Global-Village Chief in Washington DC. And in war torn Somalia, they have learnt that not every low flying plane is on a food drop mission.

Last Christmas at a White House party George Bush overhead an aide state: in Somalia, they don’t know it Christmas. Being patently ignorant of all things African and unaware of that global euphemism for starvation Bush assumed that the only reason they wouldn’t know it was Christmas was because they were Muslims. So in true if they are not for our televangelicals they are against us fashion Bush called in his favourite Navy Pilot.

…and the hapless fishermen, women and children on hearing the sound of approaching aircraft ran into the village square with arms wide open to catch food rations. What they caught was a Christmas present a la George Bush. KABOOM! Shortly thereafter, CNN reported the killing, in Somalia, of an Al Qaeda commander.

The villagers in that remote outpost had never heard of Al Qaeda and George Bush; they never will.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Walking these streets; sitting on these stones, does it feel good to be back? I walk into Mutua’s kiosk and borrow the headlines, just like I used to. Nothing has changed out there- Kibaki and Raila are still the news- so how do I expect anything to have changed down here?

They are still bickering over barroom memoranda that we were not privy to but no one says a thing about what we all heard: 500,00 new jobs. Then again maybe those jobs aren’t a contentious issue, they created them after all, and it is just that we were too young to take them. Oh, but now they realize that this is an election year so they drop us a 50,000/- blindfold.

50 kay, what cheap whore would shag a parliamentarian for fifty ngwanyes? Well, unless that whore is you and me. So young fellows lets us line up for our money; lets get drank and forget. Hopefully we will survive to die another day. We drink coz wo don't got shit... we drink to escape the reality that we don't got shit!

Now my mind wonders back to last Thursday. Last Thursday. Where were you last Thursday? Don’t lie because I saw you on T.V. While I sat at Kamwana’s Video Parlour (Aseno juu), I saw you on T.V. You were at K.I.C.C. You were at K.I.C.C in a suit. In an suit and we all know that you have no job. Of course we know that you have no job because if you had one then you wouldn’t have been at K.I.C.C getting sun-burnt and brainwashed.

Oh come on, don’t tell us you were there because you believe in this government. Believe that this government will give you money. Give you money to change your life. You were there because you had nothing better to do. We saw you in your threadbare suit and that crumbly shirt that you inherited from your late uncle, Baba Betty. For one moment we wanted to imagine that you were out there picking pockets, at least that would have been worth your bread winner while. But who knows that whatever you took from there wasn’t worth it, maybe we missed the applause from your for siblings when you served them a hearty dinner of HOPE garnished with Political Rhetoric that night.

We saw you last Thursday. We saw you clutching that ubiquitous brown envelope. An envelope filled with worthless yet formal looking papers. Papers that you have collected with ease because you are smart and yet that ‘ease’ has been reduced to ‘perfunctorily’ because the papers are of no use to you and your starving kin. They are just tokens, the junk memorabilia of your journeys through a conveyor belt system of education.

We saw you youngster… but can I tell it all to you when you get here... I need to catch a gaff, man!

Thursday, February 01, 2007


“For we know in part, and prophesy in part.” – 1 Cor, 13:19

“What do you want, Timi?”
Timi looks at me. He smiles. It must be the smile. I always thought it was something more sublime…

“Potash, what I really want is a cold Tusker and a UN job…” Timi says.
… yeah something like the way Timi got dreams. How Timi wants to get out of this murk.
“But right now…” Timi continues, “…right now I will settle for another can of Napshizzle!”

Oh no good people! This kid gave up… come on now. What happened to the writing; the trying?

See, I am back in the hood now… but when I leave this place next, there will be no coming back. That is what I want for me; what I will do for me. But what about Timi; Abdou; Njane… the little Shakespeares from down the street…on and on ad infinitum?

Who knows, man, who knows? What I know is; I want out…


Some people call me a doomsayer; a later day prophet Jeremiah. A teller of woe- begotten tales. And indeed I am granted you cannot view life through rose coloured glasses while sitting in a ten by ten shack listening to the animal grants of your neighbour as he lies with his five year old daughter… again! It is not that I have a gloomy mind; it is just that I am a hapless youth caught up in the gloom of my lowly circumstances.

My torment is the ink that stains this paper. Everyday I write hoping that someday I will write, sign and seal my edict to a better life. Maybe these tales will never see the light of day or even the ‘rejected’ mark of any editor; but to be published was never the sole purpose of my writing. I write to escape the ennui that characterises this life bereft of gainful employment.

These tales mirror my reality. I have recently embraced Plato’s school of thought which holds that art must mirror reality. And this here is my reality which to you might sound too far fetched to be true and yet there are people who will find me to be the epitome of privilege. It is the reason then that I apologise to you whose reality is like mine and, thus in my tales find yourself exposed- your dirty linen laundered in public!

As for you who find my tales too woeful to believe, take a deep breath and count your blessings.

If I were to bastardise the words of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in Meditations, “Whatever this is that I am, it is a little flesh and breath and the [writing] part.” Writing is a part of who I am; a seed sown in those English Composition classes of lower primary but stunted in later years by the reckless abandon of street life.

And yet grim realities of that street life are what have catalysed my movement away from the Nietzsche school where art offers an alternative view of mankind. The writings of my early years were filled with phantoms and bogey-men creeping in shadows. Now I write about the shadows of my unemployment and vagrancy and the bogey-men of Poverty, Ignorance and Disease that lurk therein.

I see myself as a Josephine March in Little Women. I want to write and need to write hoping that someday I can change the circumstances of my kind. To achieve that, I have put my swashbuckling tales behind me to write about real experiences to tell tales in which my lack of literally skills can be compensated by an abundance of knowledge.

Maybe, with the goodness of time, these tales will be my redemption. They hopefully, will elevate me from being a mere statistic; another jobless youth. Through them I might survive the curse of these streets and not end up as another youth with a bullet in his head. And upon my redemption, and this I promise you, I shall write such sweet stories as only denizens of ivory towers can.

Each passing day, no matter what side of the breadline I am on, nothing will ever be too complex to crystallize in the written word. Besides, it is in writing that we immortalise thought. It is no wonder then that I believe that someday, in a brighter future, I will look back at these tales and say: “I have come a long way!” That is why I see this as merely a page in the journal of a valiant man’s journey through life. When the good times finally roll my way, all these tales will be but a chapter in a much sought after memoirs, aptly titled: Potash: The Dark Ages.

When I make it to a better life, which is my earnest desire, others will come to take my place. These stones will never lack quorum. It is in the interest of our leaders to keep us here; a standby kamjesh ready to kill or maim other pawns like us in the service of our Tribal Chief. And all that for a few drops of I Don’t Know. Besides, for an extra drop, we are ever willing to disenfranchise ourselves- sell our vote- so fast we cannot even hold our empty tummies long enough to await the highest bidder.

If I ever get out here, I will not take The Stone Zone with me. I do not see myself as a Messiah. At best I am a later day John the Baptist; vox clamantis in this concrete jungle. My story might be woeful but I tell you that there will be others, even after me. Others whose pain I am not worthy to neither bear nor chronicle; children born with HIV and living only to die in their teenage; sexually molested infants ‘blossoming’ into irretrievable sociopaths.

And if ever I want to take The Stone Zone with me, I cannot. I can only take my shit out of The Stone Zone; I cannot take The Stone Zone out of the shit. Redemption can only come to each individual by their own industry at their own time and pace but never to The Stone Zone as a collective. So when my freedom train comes I will gladly say my adieus; maybe shed a little tear or two and hug the ‘little homies’, then bid the engineer ‘full speed ahead!’

At the dawn of my new life, another child will be born to die the next day. Another mother will die giving birth outside a nursing home while another will be wailing over her still born baby. This Nation will get another 750 infections closer to our quota of the 90 Million of the U.N prophesy and yet, in this underprivileged neighbourhood, Anti Retroviral Therapy will still be no more than a catch word in Grant Proposals.

When I am gone these alleys will not smell any better and human waste will not stop flying through doorways and find hygienic sewers.

Nothing will change down here even as I begin a life of toasting with fellow policy makers in mock poverty reduction workshops. Workshops whose budgets can buy enough mosquito nets for this settlement. My neighbours will still be here; their impoverished families getting larger for lack of access to family planning resources and wholesome leisure. They will still be here trying to turn forty eight shillings into a meal for six.

When I am presiding over corruption and lavish ‘Development Partners’ diners, the majority of my lot, now, will still be here; stuck in the vicious cycle of poverty. That beastly molester who at present groans in illicit consummation will probably be in jail for killing his mistress in a chang’aa den; the deflowered two year old girl ,whose current physical pain must blossom into mental anguish in a few years, will probably die at fifteen trying to abort her second pregnancy. Her older brother will be in their shack ‘taking care’ of her one year old daughter: in the only way he learnt from his father! As for their mother- who is now a tolerant wife on her umpteenth pregnancy, and whose sexual health is beyond her control and understanding – cholera, typhoid, AIDS; one or all together is sure to seal her fate.

And I don’t say these things because I do not wish my neighbours well. I do. I want everything for them that I want for myself, yet I cannot give that to them. (The least I can do is telling their story, a thing that I fail in every passing day.) Their cruel destiny- wallowing in poverty, even in generations to come- is the tragedy of life below the poverty line. That is the destiny I desire to change. The vicious cycle I have to break. Break it at least for me!

I have to, by all means, get away and head up west where birds sing and the government works for you and not against you. Where the police smile and swear to protect you from swine like me.

If I do not get away from here, the Gorgon Sisters of Poverty; Ignorance and Disease will petrify me into the hard stone of despondency and abuse. This then is why you must see my dark tales as my redemption- both literally and literary.