Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A(nother) Nice Laugh at Aid Inc.

The Aid industry takes a ridiculous turn more as a rule than as an exception. This ridiculousness finds a zenith point- one that is quickly multiplied- the moment the Aid industry makes contact with Africa. The reason is simple: Africa, still remains, the great unknown. At least in the eyes of your average Westerner. What becomes clear is that while philanthropy in Western soil is a direct response to clearly discernible dispossession; an attempt to ameliorate the self-evident vagaries and social-economic divides that Capitalism inevitably produces, with Africa that philanthropy responds to a different reality. That of the imaginary.

The problem with Africa, in the eyes of the average Western philanthropist, is that which citizens of the West first imagine and then declare to be the problem. And for where there is a problem as solution must be provided. So the Aid industry comes in, bungling on its way and making the rules as it progresses, with solutions to Africa’s problems. But no one really asks the Africa: what is your problem?

In the end, for every imagined problem, an imagined solution. And because every Westerner who has a mind to can come to Africa and become the change, then for every Westerner in Africa a set of imaginary problems and one of imaginary solutions to match. Suddenly, in a crowded field of solutions, the need to be groundbreaking arises and since all the sane things have been done it seems as though the competition begins to be one for the most ridiculous solutions.

It is all so funny that I have always felt that, with the mounting critiques of the Aid industry, the only response left to some of us is satire. Why, I ask, should I bother with learned critiques while the Moyos and the Easterlys can do a far much better job of it? It really is the reason why I (N.M) set up the Black Campaign and borrowed the line this blog, Don’t Come to Africa, Send Money. (That I haven’t done a good job at keeping the satire coming is a different story all together).

That aside, it is always refreshing to see Bill Easterly come up with the sort of hilarious post he did this Tuesday where he wrote:

“An expert commission of African leaders today announced their plan for comprehensive reform of music band U2. Saying that U2’s rock had lost touch with its African roots, the commission called for urgent measures to halt U2’s slide towards impending crisis.”
That aside, I must admit that I love Bono the musician while Bono the activist makes me gag. Well, of course I mean Bono the activist for Africa because the Bono (and U2) of Sunday Bloody Sunday did once speak to the social conscience of my youthful years. And yes, I still do like to listen to U2. Oh, and didn’t Adam Clayton live in Kenya for a bit when he was little?




Apart from the final four paragraphs, this post is culled from the draft of an incomplete essay by Njoroge Matathia.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

AS I SLIDE DEEPER INTO OBLIVION

Writing, I have learnt, is about a time and a place. I am not claiming to speak a universal truth, just what my experience has taught me. It could be a truth about others, and then again it might not be. But it is a truth about me; a self-revelation and maybe, especially in times of drug induced self-analysis, an epiphany. That truth, simply, I write better when here. Here being the ‘old neighbourhood’. The place where what later became known as A Kenyan Urban Narrative began. The space, next to and a little to the left of Mutua’s kiosk, where we sat on stones, sipped on Napshizzle and wrote.

I have spent the last few months in and out of this place. In and out of this place trying to track old friends and make new acquaintances with the hope of reconstituting The Potash Book Club. In and out of this place trying to find an entry back in and be able to, once again, call this home. My successes have been way too few and far in between. Most of the old friends are long gone; most of the new acquaintances are too young and ‘intellectually’ distant from me. It really is a shame about the kids that hang out here now, they idle away their time just like we used to, but they do not indulge their mental faculties in the same way we did. They drink a lot more than we did and read a hell of a lot less. Which is polite for: They read nothing.

In truth, I have had only one real success, here, in the last two weeks. I have been writing. Writing seems like the only way I profit from being here. And when you think that it is the writing that took me out of this place, to begin with, and about the only thing I took with me, then it seems as though that has always been the worth of this place to me. But it isn’t and it shouldn’t appear to be so. This place gave me writing and a lot else too. A lot else like friendship and the camaraderie and firm bond of a shared experience. Family. At least all that when it lasted because I do not feel it anymore.

Trying to reconnect with this place, I feel like all the things that this place gave me have been stripped away and all that is left is the writing. The writing that seems to come to me, words and sentences instinctively forming in my head, the moment I enter this neighbourhood. The only thing being that then more I stay, the more time I spend talking to people here, the swifter the words and sentences arrange themselves into paragraphs.

Over the years, after I first left, I felt as though my writing was getting bland. Worse still, I felt as though I had lost familiarity with my writing voice. That I had even no story left in me to tell. Sometimes, agonised to tears, I would come down this way. Come down in search of both the muse and voice I believed I had left behind. But nothing. All these trips turned out to be were pilgrimages to the past of a writing me. A past not grand in itself but at least one that was insurmountably better than my present. A present of more craft and less art. A present of words correctly spelled, sentences well punctuated and, alas, no story.

It is then that I realised that the audiences might be out there but my writing lived down here. So, with big little steps, I have been working on my return. My return to this place where what later became known as A Kenyan Urban Narrative was born. A place where audiences will elude me but my writing will get better. A place where I can write and write and hope to be read, at least, when I am dead.

And with yet another, perfunctory Hello World of a blog post behind me, do allow me to return to the real writing.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

THE STRAIGHT MAN'S BIBLE OF KINKY SEX?

I have long learnt the folly of using the Bible as an excuse/ explanation/ Justification for anything. When I was a young boy, growing up in a very Christian family, I was taught that the Bible was the word of God. “In the beginning was the Word,” the Gospel according to John begins, “and the Word was God.”

Then I grew older, read a lot more than the Bible, and suddenly it was like Jesus Christ himself was standing before me yelling: Ephphatha. Open up. And the eye of my mind become open to the fact that if the Bible was indeed the Word of God, then God is man’s literary plumbing. The truth of the Bible became to me not the words but the words and meanings that men put into it. And there could be as many truths in the Bible as there were men who would care to read it. I could find my own version of truth in the Bible as much as the next man could find theirs, or in some cases, the lack thereof. The Bible thus became for me not the word of God but an oracle as crazy as its next reader.

I still read the Bible, but now only as an exceptional work of literature and philosophy. And to this day, the book of John remains one of the texts I admire the most. From a literary point of view, of course. The Jesus in the Gospel of John has the eloquence of Khalil Gibran’s prophet retold in the mystical realist voice of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I say these things because one of my Facebook Friends brought an interesting website to my attention. Sex In Christ- Sexuality according to the word of God, a site that argues that threesomes are scripturally, kosher as long as it is a husband and two women (two men and one woman is homo, silly!) has to be read to be believed.

This site, which reminds us that sex between two men is condemned by the Bible but that joining your wife and her girlfriend in bed is holy in matrimony, must have been written by a heterosexual male pervert who uses the Songs of Solomon to jerk off. If it was up to me, the site should be called The Straight Man’s Bible of Kinky Sex.
But before I let you go and leave the site to speak for itself let me tell you why, according to that site of course, anal sex (before marriage, no less) is in accordance with God’s will:

“Are you saving yourself for your wedding night? The Devil wants you to fail, that’s why he puts stumbling blocks in your way. But God wants you to succeed, and that’s why he has given us an alternative to intercourse before marriage: anal sex. Through anal sex, you can satisfy your body’s needs, while you avoid the risk of unwanted pregnancy and still keep yourself pure for marriage.

You may be shocked at first by this idea. Isn’t anal sex (sodomy) forbidden by the Bible? Isn’t anal sex dirty? What’s the difference between having anal sex before marriage and having regular intercourse? Let’s address these issues by debunking some myths about anal sex and God's will.”


But no, why don't you go find that out for yourself... I have drugs to abuse!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

CONSTITUTIONS DON’T MAKE HOMOPHILES

“That's what the niggers don't realize,” says Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed (2006), “If I got one thing against the black chappies, it's this - no one gives it to you. You have to take it.” It is the same problem with Kenya’s gay activists, or so thinks our guest blogger. Njoroge Matathia of The Black Campaign returns to these pages with a demand for a more forceful political and social engagement on gay issues in Kenya. Arguing that in the eyes of the Kenyan public there are no homosexuals here, he concludes that the gay community has itself to blame for the perpetuation of that misconception. Matathia then proceeds to call for a more public approach to activism and falls slightly short of demanding that the gay movement radicalise.

We share these opinions, our emphasis though being on the need for radicalism, but if he has failed to express them succinctly in his rather long essay then the fault is his and not that of this blog.

***


by Njoroge Matathia

“The union is abnormal. As an African and a church leader, I am ashamed. We should advice others not to do the same,”1 Anglican Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, said. He was responding to the news of a wedding between two Kenyan men held in London recently. A wedding that, according to media reports, Kenyan religious leaders have described as “unacceptable and unnatural”.

The Archbishop’s point of view I respect, it is his collation of Christianity and ‘Africanness’ that I sneer upon. I desired to respond to that, point out the irony in a casual call to ‘Africanness’ by someone whose job description begins with ‘Anglican’ but I held back telling myself that I, like him, would be missing the point. The point being: A wedding.

People love weddings. Love weddings because they are a celebratory rite of passage into that much revered social status of Married. Weddings usher in marriage, the only state within which societal sanctions allow you, nay, consider you respectable enough to have sex and to raise a family. Ideally, weddings are seen as a celebration of love between two people. A love so deep and special that those that share it declare it publicly and make a commitment to love and care for each other until death parts them.

Weddings let the whole world know that X loves Y. Weddings say: Charles Ngengi loves Daniel Chege Gichia and promises to do so, forever after. Love and companionship are the dominant tropes weddings sell with sex remaining a subtext too subtle to be discerned by the youngling flower-girls and pages who these events are meant to and do inspire.

But when Njenga wedded Gachie, the tables turned. Sex was elevated from subtext to issue- the only issue. Worse still, it was as though a sexual pervert had stood up in public and threatened: I, Charles Ngengi swear I will bugger that Chege guy to death! And over the next few days our MSM (pun intended) and online media spaces proceeded to work up and host what seems like a national disgust at the idea of, not just any men but two Kenyan men having sex with each other. For once an opportunity, to see and hopefully discuss homosexuality as more than sexual intercourse between people of the same biological sex, was ours to grab. Kenya, as a nation wasted that chance, the Kenyan gay community- its so called activists, specifically- squandered it.

The Kenyan gay community had a chance to say, look it is not just about sex, it is about human relationships. If we must talk about sex, then let us begin with the fact that two gay girls can meet, date and fall in love without ever having had sex. You know, just like with ‘normal’ people, if one partner is not ready then she just is not ready. And if you really care about that person and that relationship then you, well, wait. Sometimes a gay boy sees another boy and is filled with lust for him- you know, just the way a straight boy would feel about a girl- he propositions him and if the other is good to go, then he is good to go. Bottom line is casual sex is simply that, casual sex. If the issue is sex, then all sex is sex regardless of where your penis ends up. Thank you very much for your questions but we must now move on to a more important conversation: Sexuality.

Gay folks, in Kenya, did not do that. They neither pre-empted public debate’s, predictable, slide into how gross gay sex is nor attempted to shift it back to sexuality and lifestyle choices when it did. Right from the get go, the homophobes came out to play and for now the ball remains in their court. Maybe until Moreno Ocampo arrives next week and Kenyans can forget that small bit of gay silliness and get back to real issues: politics. Get back to politics the deafening silence of the Kenyan gay community having once again established the fact that there are no gay people in Kenya. That there are no gay Kenyans, just a few misguided youngsters who knowing no better allow themselves to be fooled by mzungus and their money into allowing themselves to be sexually abused. I mean, wasn’t that Ngengi guy lured by a mzungu guy to London? Now he is recruiting for them and we do not know what to do but leave our children to the grace of God.

Granted that, in truth, there exists a huge gay community in Kenya, nobody is gay in Kenya. A paradox it may seem until you consider that physical existence is never a guarantee of social existence. In colonial Kenya, the Africans it was said were to be seen but not heard, it is worse for gay people in Kenya today- they can neither be seen nor heard. In those days, the Africans lived at the social periphery- their existence known but their presence ignored- but gay people are living in social cemetery- unheard of and unknown. Gay people in Kenya are not ignored, they do not exist.

Because gay people do not exist in Kenya is it not preposterous to enshrine gay rights in our constitution; protect the interest of homosexuals as a distinct category? As we speak the Committee of Experts on Constitutional Review, charged with preparing a draft constitution soon to be put to referendum, has stated that they will not include gay rights in the draft. In a telling, if slightly ironic statement, the Nation reported a member of the committee, Mr. Otiende Amolo, as saying that

“[t]he new constitution is supposed to cater for the interests of both the majority and minorities, […] but same-sex marriages had been rejected by all religious groups.”2
Of great import too is the manner in which the issue of gay rights was, allegedly, presented to the committee. Mr. Amolo, it is reported, said:

"On several occasions some British MPs have approached us on the gay matter. They wanted us to include homosexual and lesbians' rights in the draft. But we told them that such a thing cannot happen because if we did so, a majority of Kenyans will reject the draft during the forthcoming referendum."3

Assuming the Mr. Amolo was not misquoted, then two things become self-evident. First, that consensus amongst all religious groups (their leaders to be precise) means consensus amongst all Kenyan minorities and majorities. Second, that gay rights were only put on the committee’s agenda (not by any Kenyan or group of Kenyans) by foreigners. By British MPs, specifically, in whose country two Kenyans have already found a safe haven for their ‘unnatural and unacceptable’ union. The two points together speak to the argument- proven through deduction by the lack of any memoranda from gay Kenyans to the committee- that there are no gay people in Kenya.

Big jump, maybe, from weddings to constitution making but with it a significant reframing of the homosexuality debate. To begin with, though the stance against homosexuality taken by the religious groups is based on their moral and doctrinal perspectives, by arguing these points in a political space, they politicise homosexuality. By not responding- in political spaces- to the politicisation of their way of life the Kenyan gay community cedes any political ground there is to be won. Importantly, by not being the first to politicise their interests, the gay community becomes relegated to the unfortunate place of second guessing the political agenda set by their opponents.

It can be argued that their existence being, technically, illegal in Kenya means that homosexuals cannot publicly present memoranda. But truth is that declaring oneself to be a homosexual in Kenya is not in and of itself illegal. While Kenyan law criminalises acts- sodomy and the cryptic ‘acts against the order of nature’- it is society that anathematises homosexuality as a concept, identity and lifestyle. Thus, a public declaration of ones homosexuality puts you in danger of social ostracism and mob justice rather than criminal prosecution and jail. Therefore, if the written law and social values were two cats, gay rights a mouse and we had only one bell, which one ought we to bell first? The more vicious one of course; social stigmatisation of homosexuality rather than the laws that purportedly criminalise it.

And the first steps towards fighting social stigma are a broader public awareness of the stigmatised social reality coupled with, hopefully, a level of acceptance or, at the very least, tolerance.

Unfortunately, acceptance or tolerance are processes rather than events; fortunately, what is sought is not universal acceptance or tolerance but a modicum of it. It is in this environment that changes in the law begin to make sense. Laws in themselves do not change people, reason does. If it were, by any wild chance, possible to enshrine the rights of sexual minorities in the Kenyan constitution now, the only thing the gay community would come out with is the lesson that constitutions do not make homophiles. Just look at South Africa and their much celebrated gay friendly constitution and then look at their statistics on the ‘corrective rape’4 of lesbians.

But all is not lost. The rights that gay Kenyans deserve can be achieved but they will have to be earned. They will have to fight for them on two fronts, the social and the political. In the social, an intense public awareness campaign around gay issues must be embarked on. One that begins with the subtle and progresses towards the blatant. Think of a move from pamphlets, stickers and other merchandise in not only English but also Kiswahili and other languages. These can be dropped at market centres, people’s doorsteps and such places. Guerrilla social marketing, if there is such a thing. With time it will even be possible to have a gay character in a local TV show. The key thing, though, is to target rural areas more than the urban ones.

The political front is the hard part. The Kenyan gay community will need martyrs for this. It must be borne in mind that all significant political change in this country has been cut with blood. Why should gay people hope to be any luckier? They must get out on the street and march for their freedom, wipe off the spit and blood from their torn bodies and souls and march again. History has taught that easy civil rights victories are few and far in between. In the meantime gay Kenyans must ask themselves not what laws are against them but what laws are for them.

What laws protect them not as homosexuals but as both citizens of Kenya and human beings? Does the Sexual Offences Act limit rape to actions against heterosexuals? Does the penal code say, categorically, that the assault, infliction of grievous bodily harm or the murder of a homosexual is not a crime? Because lawyers, judges and policemen are products of our homophobic environment, it means that crimes committed against homosexuals do not get prosecuted, do not find their way into civil court and if they did the offender could claim the victim’s sexuality as a mitigating circumstance or cause for extreme provocation. But for how long can a precedent setting prosecution remain elusive? Haven’t we seen one yet?

It is alongside laws that rights and responsibilities exist. One great argument proposed by sexual rights activists, and one that I have used often in other writings, frames sexual orientation within the language of rights. That sexual (orientation) rights are human rights. Unfortunately rights are a moral issue that can only become legally relevant when they are politicised. And as we have seen, the Kenyan gay community has lost both the moral and the political argument. They have lost by default merely by not being seen and heard, in any significant way, enough to count as a constituent demographic group in Kenya. They have lost the advantage of having drawn first blood; stepping up and stepping out to frame the public discourse on homosexuality in their favour. They have refused to exist validating the myth of their non-existence through inaction.

It is this lack of political action and a refusal to engage the public on their issues that irks me the most about gay activists in Kenya. If they are involved in any activism at all then it plays out in formal spaces socially and intellectually distant from the broader publics they need win over. They play safe- talking heads at conferences that preach to the converted- while the world out there is living in the blissful heathenism of homophobia. “We are here, we are gay,” they whisper to each other inside their closet and then wonder, at the next exclusive conference, why no one knows they exist.



1. http://www.nation.co.ke/News/-/1056/673614/-/uo10l1/-/index.html
2. http://www.nation.co.ke/News/-/1056/674074/-/uo1kcr/-/index.html
3. http://www.nation.co.ke/News/-/1056/674074/-/uo1kcr/-/index.html
4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corrective_rape



Njoroge Matathia is a Nairobi based writer and social scientist. He can be reached at http://theblackcampaign.org Check that site over the next few days for a downloadable PDF version of this essay.

Friday, October 30, 2009

NAIROBI NIGHTS: URBAN BEATS- The Party

It has been one of those times when the Nairobi cultural scene has more to offer than the time one has. And when I, who has so much idle time in his hands, says I am pressed for time, then you know it has been an intense schedule. The German cultural weeks, beginning October 18th and ending tomorrow have been particularly charming. But I only managed to attend two events: the screening of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others (2006) and Wanuri Kahiu's 12 minutes long sci-fi Pumzi (2009) at the Goethe Institute. Too bad I cannot be bothered to write reviews because they are both really important movies in their own rights.

On the 27th of October, I was back at the Goethe Institute for the opening of IngridMwangiRobertHutter's exhibition, Intruders. Ingrid Mwangi was born, to a Kenyan father and German mother, in Nairobi in 1970 while Robert Hutter was born in Ludwigshafen, Germany in the same year. Together they form the 'artisticly inspeparable identity', IngridMwangiRobertHutter, through which they do their art and, as Hutter puts it, 'other things together'. Those other things include raising their four children. Intruders, on show till the 12th of November at the Goethe Institute, is IngridMwangiRobertHutter's first solo show in Kenya.

At the opening I met up with Andy Teichmann and Sasha Perera. Andy, who I did a night out with back in February, is one half of the techno DJs unit Teichmann Brothers while Sasha of the Berlin based eloctronic band Jahcoozi. The Teichmann Brothers and Jahcoozi will alongside the b-boy artist Raphael team up with the Kenyan acts of hip hop DJ Bob of Headbangaz, house and techno DJ Drazen and the Swahili hiphop crew of Uko Flani for a party to draw the curtain on the German Cultural Weeks. Christened URBAN BEATS, the party will be held at the Marshall's service workshop in the ground floor of Marshall's House on Loita Street from 9.00p.m on the night of October 30th.


*Unfortunately, I can neither post the event poster nor attach links because either blogger or bad internet will not allow me. I cannot even format the text!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

POTASH BOOK CLUB: Letter to a Convict

Then he answered and spoke to me, saying, "This is the word of Potash to N-, saying, 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says commander of Armies.*


House,

Some people say that jail changes you, and it should. But that only if you are a criminal; a menace to the public, judged so by a system that is both fair and just. If on the other hand you are a prisoner of conscience, put away- the machinations of the unjust working in overdrive- to silence you, prison should not change you. Must never change you.

True revolutionaries; earnest believers in a just cause, can only be judged not by what they said before they went to prison but by what they say after. What did Kenyatta say when he left prison? What did those tortured under Moi say when they, finally, took over the reigns? What will you say, when tomorrow they set you free? That God is God all the time, huh? So let us forgive them for they know not what they do?

God is good, indeed. The God otherwise known as Capital.

It has been a long road since November 1997 when a third column was presented to you. Many have been martyred that no one will ever know of, many have sold out who history will judge harshly.

But one thing is certain, the Potash Book Club will rise again. Damn well it will, and this I swear by the spirit of our forefathers.

Potash


*Proper attribution for this quote is problematic. Early on in this decade, a slew of photocopies of handwritten texts were to be found circulating among the youth of several low income areas in Nairobi. Many of them contained lengthy passages from both Shakespeare and the Bible reworked with Kenyan characters and situations. With every subsequent photocopying, came redactions as is evident from this quote that is obviously originally sourced from the book of Zechariah, 4:6.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Homosexuality: A Brief Rant

Nothing irks me more than a bigot with a bad argument. With the reports, in the last week, of a marriage between two Kenyan gay men and the introduction of an Anti-Homosexuality Bill into the Uganda parliament, this type of bigot has come out to play. The basic argument: Homosexuality is both against Christianity and Africanness.

Previously, on this blog, we have had a quick read through of what the Bible- the foundation of Christianity- has to say on homosexuality. That we insist is our own reading of the Bible and respect the fact that others can choose to read it differently. Anyone can read the Bible and find in it justification for all manner of hateful behaviour and that, whether it be slavery or homophobia, we respect. Respect it in the same way we respect all other opinions even when they significantly diverge from ours. To respect the opinions of others does not make them right, but it calls upon them to respect ours too or at least gives us the right to demand that our opinions be respected.

The opinion, held unwaveringly on this blog, is that up there with other recognized freedoms, id est, speech, religious belief, ownership of property, et cetera, lies sexual orientation. Whether people are born homosexual or choose to be so is moot our concern being that there are human beings who are homosexual. Irrevocably homosexual. And because they are does not mean they deserve special rights. What they deserve is equal rights. In the language of rights, homosexuals should not exist as a distinct category, because they belong in the same one as Ours: human being. In the same vein, there should be no category of laws that address homosexuals, specifically.

We, also, hold that the greatest sexual crime is non-consensual sex; where consent is established- between adults of a sound mind- the law can go jerk off.

Rants aside, we hope to engage you more on the Bahati Bill in Uganda and the whole business of homosexuality and Africanness soon. With time, it can be hoped that our region will arrive at a decent place where you do not have to be a cow to demand that cows be slaughtered humanely. But before then, universal human rights, must claim martyrs. Stand up and be counted.

Tweet your vitriol to @Potash

Friday, October 16, 2009

JUST A BAND ALBUM LAUNCH




Self-effacement might have led Just a Band to describe themselves as an Experimental Boy Band but what they have turned out to be is a cult. That is a thought, I must return to on another day, but for now I have to go hustle because money, El Nino or the lack of a ride cannot get in the way of my attending the launch of their sophomore album kesho. The album, simply titled 82, will be launched at The Godown Arts Center, Industrial Area.

Here are the details, also available on Facebook:

“We've just released our second album - 82 and we'll be putting it out there with song and dance. Join us on Saturday 17th October from 7pm at the Godown Arts Center till much later (with the help of DJ Drazen). The album will be on sale for... Kshs. 500.

Advance tickets: Kshs. 400
Gate tickets: Kshs. 500

Advance Tickets available from:

The Sound Africa Store,
Ground Floor, 20th Century Plaza
Mama Ngina Street
CBD, Nairobi

The Bonk Store (opposite Steers Westlands)
Bishan Plaza, below Black Diamond
Mpaka Road, Westlands

The Godown Arts Center,
Dunga Road, Industrial Area
Nairobi.

AND from any of us band members, should you meet us. :D

With the gracious support of Penya Africa, The Godown Arts Center, ESL, bONK, Kiss FM and Kiss TV.”


Just a Band is as Urban Kenya as it gets, and this blog is proud to big them up big time, now and in future.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

THE NUBIAN QUESTION IN KENYA

Only about 300 acres of the original over 4,000 acres of settlement land granted to the Nubian community by the British in Nairobi remains. That is one of the claims made by Khamis Ramadhan’s 27 minutes long documentary The Nubian Question in Kenya. Premiering this Monday, at the Alliance Fran├žaise, “the film brings forth the plight of the Nubians who reside in Kibra (now known as Kibera). The production revisits history and discusses the origins of the community, the struggle to own land and their effort to preserve their identity and culture.”

Nairobi is the Aid industry capital of Eastern Africa and the Great Lakes region and at the heart of Nairobi lays the crown jewel of that industry, Kibera. Kibera- where poverty and deprivation are only spoken of in superlatives- where your humane purse is coaxed open, not by a voice or face, but by a statistic. Wherever you are in the world, Kibera will find you and demand that you take urgent action now to save Them. Them that live in the biggest slum in, depending on the Aid Agency’s penchant for grand statements, Africa; Africa outside South Africa or East and Central Africa. Kibera is always about size and numbers, never about a people and their way of life. It is no small wonder then that the troubled, warped and complex histories of Kibera remain blurred by the infamy, nay, notoriety of its present.

It is thus by focusing on a people, their culture and their origins that Ramadhan brings one of the few noteworthy cinematic expeditions into Kibera in recent times. This is no more-slum-shots-from-Fernando Mierelles or Nathan Collett saving Kibera one Red One at a time but engaging social commentary. I am not saying that there is no social consciousness in The Constant Gardener or Kibera Kid; just that its rhyme and reason is wasted on Kenyan’s. Kenyans see their lives their lives through politics and politics is what, in the end, Ramadhans film delivers.

And Ramadhan, through the voices of his interviewees, makes political statements that, while at times grand, are pertinently Kenyan. Central to his documentary is the one thing that Kenyan blood has been and will continue to be spilled for the most: Land. If poverty, tribal animosity, ignorance and disease are the demons that haunt us, then land, to borrow an Edgar Poe phrase, is their avatar and seal. Kenyans are land poor; Kenyans fight each other over so called ‘ancestral land’; Kenyans want to live in the blissful ignorance of a long gone subsistence agriculture and pastoral economy that access to land is the only way to livelihood; Kenyans lack proper health care because public land earmarked for health centers has shifted to private hands. And in Ramadhan’s Kibera, decent housing is not the issue, as one of his interviewees notes, it is not that we are unable to build permanent houses here we just do not do it here because we do not own title deeds to this land.

The question of land in Kenya is immutably tied in with those of ethnic identity and the British colonial adventure in this region. The Nubian question in Kenya, as the documentary suggests, is one that becomes a volatile mix of all these. The documentary argues that there are about 200,000 Nubians living in Kenya today with twenty per cent of them living in Kibera. Importantly, all these people are direct descendants of Imperial British soldiery.

This last claim, as we see it, is important in that it pre-emptively rules out the needs for a screening in case restitutions and reparations are made available in future. It is one of many, of an astute activist nature, that raise further interest in Ramadhan’s work. Work that seems to paints a portrait of a community that served both the British Empire and the people and people and government of post-independence Kenya. A community that was in the end ‘marginalised’ by both.

Take the Nubian contribution to the struggle for independence, for instance. During the Emergency years, Nubian elders were approached by the British and requested to lend their support to the war against Mau Mau. The Nubians, according to this film, refused. If the implied claim ‘if we weren’t against these freedom fighters, then we were for them’ does not suffice, then there is more. Did you know that many a times Jomo Kenyatta would hide out here? Yes, the documentary, casually mentions Jomo Kenyatta as having, at one time or other, been dressed up as a Nubian and disappearing into Kibera.

What about that cockerel in the KANU flag? Do you know where it comes from? According to Ramadhan’s film, Tom Mboya used to spend time in conference with Nubian elders who used to wear blazers (maybe as part of some regimental dress) with a cockerel on the breast pocket. Later on as Mboya went on to form the PCP and with the emergence of KANU, he took this symbol and incorporated it into their signage.

Originally from the Sudan, the Nubians arrived in Kenya as soldiers, guards and porters loyal to the British crown. Principally, recorded history has the Nubians as- having been recognised as formidable warriors by the British- being hired to support Britain’s East African campaign at the end of the 19th Century. In the early years of the 20th Century, they became a part of the regiment known as the King’s African Rifles (KAR) formed in 1902 to protect British interests in East Africa and beyond. These forces not only saw action in numerous wars of occupation and the gorier ones of ‘pacification’, all the way to Uganda, but also fought gallantry in the two World Wars. The film tells us that the British always maintained comprehensive records of all Nubian males of a fighting age and fitness, who they considered a reserve force, and called on them in times of war.

To brand them mercenaries is to use a far too broad brush-stroke, for many of them, the film claims, had been forcefully conscripted. One interviewee tells of how large tribal dances would be organized and in the middle of which loud whistles would be heard and shortly heavily armed soldiers would surround them and take them captive. They would then be forced to join the British colonial army and sent to serve in far off places. The film states that that today Nubians can be found in places as far off as Burma.

Those in Kenya, who served alongside the British, have documents acknowledging that service but nothing more to show for it. Though Europeans who served in the World Wars were well rewarded- with among other things, large tracts of lands in Kenya- the Nubians who served alongside them, as with all the other Africans, received very little by manner of gratitude and or compensation.

The film claims that part of what the Nubians got was the land that they called Kibra. That land stretched from Dagoretti Corner, all the way to Wilson Airport on one side and bounded by the National Park and the Department of Defence on the other side. The only problem is that the British never gave them title deeds to that land. Neither did the Kenyan government. Why not? is the real Nubian question in Kenya. Or as one old man puts it: if the Indians and the Europeans have acquired land and citizenship, why not the Nubians?

Whichever way, The Nubian Question in Kenya might invent and reinvent history; no matter how much I see this as yet another Royal cock-up for Kenyans to deal with, one thing remains clear to me, the Nubian question is ours to deal with. And no matter how few our options are, only those that are just; those that have Kenya- the modern state of Kenya- beginning on the same day for all of us, no matter the road that brought our ancestors here, should be considered.




Note: Apologies for lack of text formatting, they are Blogger's not mine!

*PCP here refers to Tom Mboya's Nairobi People's Convention Party, which even his perennial rival Oginga Odinga admits to have been the best organised political party in Nairobi, in the late fifties and before joining KANU at its formation in 1960. (See, Oginga's Not Yet Uhuru, Pg. 147, 161, 181, 183, 193, 203)

Friday, October 02, 2009

Takhzin Diaries: You Never Chew Alone

One cardinal rule, broken again and again even by old hands who should know better, is to never chew miraa alone. Miraa is generally considered a mild stimulant but, as with all drugs, threshold levels vary from one individual to the next and so does the intensity of the physiological and psychological effects. Also important with miraa is that because it is consumed in its natural state, with absolutely no laboratory processing, determining the potency of the product is still much of a fluke even for the self-professed connoiseur.

The active ingredients in miraa, Cathine and Cathinone, are ingested through chewing of fresh twigs and leaves of the Catha Edulis plant. These twigs and leaves are harvested all year round and, naturally, the crop from the dry season is bound to vary in potency and ease of consumption from that of the rainy as well as that of the cold season. The geographical location, age of the plant, the nature and extent of the plant husbandry, the lack of or the existence of inter-crops (and the nature of these crops) among other things are all conditions likely to mildly-to-significantly alter the potency of the product.

The unpredictable nature of miraa though has been demonstrated to me though by the observation of variance between what its chemistry says and what I have seen in real life. The most active ingredient in miraa, Cathinone is believed to decompose within forty eight hours after harvesting. This is to say, and all effort is made to ensure that, the product has to be delivered to the consumer long before the end of this period. Chemistry aside, everyone swears by fresh miraa and your supplier goes to great lengths to convince you that his stock was plucked and delivered on that same day. Yet, I have sat, chewing with a bunch of four other people who got mighty high even though they were chewing miraa that was at the very least, two days older than mine. Also, I have to admit that one of the very few times that I have had a head-rushing kind of miraa high, a feeling I can only occasionally induce with the smoking of the cheap, unfiltered Rooster cigarettes, was when I was chewing stock that had lain on my floor for at least five days. This days-old miraa, referred to as kilalo in allusion to its state of having ‘slept over’, seems quite as potent, albeit a little rough on the palate, as the fresh pick.

And reverting to the idea of solo chewing… I for one spend long hours chewing alone. Usually, I am seated in the same position reading or, as in the case now, writing. I cannot for a fact say that it enhances my productivity but the down time occasioned by post-chewing lethargy is significant. Then of course there is the anorectic effect which when coupled with the sore mouth makes eating a decent meal- assuming such can be found- quite a chore.

Maybe, because my mind is constantly focused on the reading and writing, at times even when chewing in a group or the fact that miraa affects me in a different way- I do not become hyperactive- I have not experienced certain things that many others have reported to me. It is common, for instance, for many people to get home while still chewing and clean their houses inside out. A story is also told at my regular chewing base of this guy who was chewing all alone in his house at night when he started to feel all sweaty and dehydrated. He got up and went to the corner of his bed-sit where a pack of jerry cans stood, Nairobi style. He picked one, took a massive swig from it and poured the rest on himself. It is the burning sensation in his mouth and the distinctive odour of paraffin that quickly enveloped him that brought him to his wits and sent him gagging into the shared toilet outside.

Of course the veracity of most of the stories you hear in the course of chewing, especially those from second hand sources and those that you hear different versions of in different chewing bases is impossible to ascertain. But attempts to poke holes in them are not only silly but bad form because story-telling is the Big G that binds the takhzin. If you have to take them any other way but as truth, then it must be as plausible.

The next story though, told to me last night is straight out of the mouth of a horse of my acquaintance. A few years back, my boy Ngure, used to chew out on Kirichwa Road in Kilimani. One night, at about two a.m. he decided to drive to his house, and as he had a bunch of sticks left, chew on his balcony for about another hour, screw his wife and then sleep. As he was driving, he started to hear this persistent humming sound and became convinced that he had a puncture. So with the one-track-mindedness that miraa induces he stopped the car, right there in the middle of the road at that ungodly hour. He stepped out of his car and inspected every single tyre, twice. Nothing. Vexed, he stepped back into the car and only then realised that what he had thought was a humming sound was actually his car’s stereo. Laughing loudly at himself, he set about lighting himself a cigarette and then as he was pushing his gear into drive, realised that he was parked on a bridge.

He was in Kikuyu, headed out of Nairobi in the opposite direction of his Langata house.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

LETTER TO THE GREAT AND THE DEAD

Dear Timi,

Here I am little brother. Incoherent I might be, but damn well I am right here. Right here where you and I spent long hours dreaming. Here where I watch one tear after the other dribble down my face and mix with the earth. Drib! Drib! My tears go, just like your blood did, for hours- from dusk to high noon- the day they stole you from us. Plucked you, that was a glorious blossom in the rocky garden that is my life, out.

It has been such a long time since. Far too many places I have been to, in the meantime, way too many things I have seen. None of them could make my memories of you any less fond. I might not spend hours starring vacantly at your grave. (Hell, they probably sold your cheap grave in Langata to someone else.) But in my mind, as a gentle thought, you have repose and every fair word that stumbles out of my pen I dedicate as an epitaph to you.

Then sometimes, when the road feels a tad bit to rough, I take a pause and shed a tear. And another… and another. Sit and watch the tears, like your blood, mingle with the earth. This earth that we always seemed fated to walk on but never own a piece of.

The pain gets much deeper whenever I return to this place. Not just the old neighbourhood but the Stone Zone, specifically. This place where we spent our days sitting and talking, pretty much watching the world pass us by, for lack of either gainful employment or leisure.

Sometimes, in mid-conversation, our imaginations would get the best of us. Then we would imagine ourselves as the greatest Kenyan writers of our degeneration and rush over to Mutua’s kiosk, take biros and foolscaps on credit and then spend five, six, seven… ten hours writing. At times we stood as we wrote, other times we knelt and then there was the times when we asked any one o the other boys to bend over so that we could use their backs as our desks.

Such anger as flew out of our pens no words, phrases, similes or metaphors I can invent today can best describe. When I think, and I often do, about the texts we churned they seem like dirges. Dirges to us. We the living dead to whom the future tense was a luxury.

Then the cans of Napshizzle would run dry. Our pens too. Then we would stagger, each to his hovel, slump on those sagging Vono beds and let the alcohol take us away. The next day, or night depending on how long or how much we had drunk, we would wake up, read what we had written and (maybe shamed by the emptiness of our own existence that stared us back through our own words) set it on fire.

We used to claim that the writing was cathartic, but how come it was, at the end of the day, the alcohol that lulled us? Is it because our drunken sleep was the place for dreams and the writing a place for making portraits of the frightful nightmares that stalked our wakefulness?

That though is not the question that bothers me the most but one of whether the goodness of time and life would have proved you to be the greatest of Kenyan writers? It is such a shame. Such a shame that I, who was given the time, life and chance to prove myself, failed. That is the reason why, after all my upstart journeys into the writerish world out there, I keep coming back here. Return to this place, brooding and prostrated by my inadequacies. Come here and mourn you, wishing that you instead of me had had half the chance that I have had.

I do not know kid, but I feel like all the writing is done. But for you, and all the little ones that looked up to us, I will keep trying. I will keep trying, not from the fanciful lairs of the bourgeoisie writer class, but from down here. This neighbourhood is, for me, both home and muse. If to write we were called to, pray I be the least of your avatars.

If to own a piece of this earth that we, merely, walk on be rightful, then let the words that ooze out of my pen run deeper than the blood that our ancestors spilled that we may have it.

Affectionately yours,
Potash

Friday, September 25, 2009

BREAST STROKE

The other day, there was news about this cop who got drugged and the 25 mili or so that he was escorting got jacked. That reminded me of the sequel to my hangover review that I had promised a friend I would write but never came round to. Well, I actually did write it but never got a chance to put it up here and now it is all gone as it was in one of the notebooks that got drenched last weekend.

Anyway, I was talking about my experiences, and those of others close to me, with roofies- date rape drugs- here in Nairobi. One incident involves a cousin of mine. Dude called me up on a loose Tuesday night saying that he was in Tropez and if I was up to it, he could buy me ten beers or so.

I jumped into a matatu and headed his way. On arrival, I found that the guy had three Guinness bottles on his table and I am like, kwani umekuwa jaluo? Of course not, he replied, this one is mine and the other two are for those women. I think they both want me, he added.

No dude, what they want is your money, is what I meant to say. What came out was: Okay, where are those ten Tuskers? The guy suddenly started to act funny; you know all that I-am-buying-these-chicks-drinks-and-I-hadn’t-planned-for-it-business. Man, I hate it when boys act like that. I mean, here I was, bila bus fare nini nini, and I was not even going to get a consolation soda. Is sawas a guy, I said to him and spotting a guy I went to primary school with on the next table walked over and pulled fifteen beers or so out of him in the name of catching up.

Some point in the night, my cousin came over to me and told me that the girls had asked him to their house. Where do they live? I asked. Huko sides of Kilimani, he said. Can I come, I suggested, tag time like this? Is bila, he laughed, who needs a wingman when the eagle has landed.

Polite

I saw the guy a month later but by then I had heard about four different versions of how he had been seen staggering home at midday on a Wednesday afternoon wearing lodgo slippers. (Si you know those slippers: one of a pair is blue and has the front part chopped off and the other is red and has a hole drilled in the sole). I sikizaed the dude kidogo and he kubalied to give me the full 411. like that tu bila ati kachumbari and mob things.

It is like this.

The chicks were hookers he had meet huko in the bar. Kidogo, after he has bought mingi pint, they were like: do you want something something. Like hell yeah, he semaed. They negotiated and after two more Guinness each, sealed the deal at 2 Gs for both of them. So when he told me that he was going to their place in Kilimani, he had lied and was actually going with them to a lodgo.

The idiot, horny and drunk, broke the first rule of picking malayas: never go to your place or theirs (that is wherever they suggest). They told him that they knew of a 4 soc lodgo sides of River Road. He agreed. They jumped into a cab. He remembers the cab guy asking him whether he was sure of what he was doing and him telling the cab dude to suck himself.

At the lodgo, he gave one of the hookers a thousand bob to pay for the room and he does not remember getting a receipt or his change back. They went up to the room and one of the hookers, quickly, undressed and jumped onto the bed. The other stood behind him and pulled off his pants. The one on the bed grabbed his penis and pulled him towards her.

The one that had undressed him joined them in bed and started to rub his back. You look like you can handle us, big boy, she said to him while pushing a finger up his anus. He looks like he will hurt me, the naked one said, still not having let go of his penis. You have to make us wet first, the other one said. Yes, turn me on, the naked one said to him while pulling his face towards her breasts. The only way to turn me on is to lick my breasts.

***

And he licked them and whatever else she had rubbed on them.

***

Heavy pounding and yelling outside his door is what woke him. It is eleven o’clock, whoever was outside barked, we want the bed sheets.

***

There was no one else in the room with him and he had absolutely no recollection of having sex with one woman, leave alone two. And he hadn’t.

***

The last thing he had seen was breasts.
Till today, he is haunted by breasts.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Untitled Rant

Sod’s law is, in the IT age, your laptop dying on the eve of a public holiday and with nonnegotiable deadlines starring you in the face. You work hard to find a technician and as soon as you have one, you realize that your ATM is not working and you do not have enough to pay the guy. Which is all good since the technician is willing to work and take payment later but there is the small matter of finding you a replacement part for your computer. That just means that you just have to wait till the next day, for the banks and the computer shop to open. Oops... but Tuesdays are rationing days at the technician's workshop! Ack, your deadline is a contract not a Muslim so Idd is not working your way. How sad the saying mwana mzuri hufaidi siku ya Idi considered; have you really been bad?

Wish that was the story of my life, though, and not just an excuse I had to give to this dude who was expecting 800 words from me before Monday. It is the kind of excuse I always have to come up with when the realities of my existence get in the way of occasional work.

Picture this:

It is Saturday afternoon and I am sitting at Vaite’s veve Base. I have been there since the night before and in between chewing miraa and bullshitting, I have managed to explain the Global Economy part of the Global Economic Crisis (I do not understand the Crisis part, either); write a review for our first Potash Book Club reading and 800 words for said dude. Basically, I am within deadline. Most important of all, I have what I had promised the readers of this blog earlier on in the week. All within the time it takes to get high. All that is left is to find this chick that, between one shag and the next, can be relied on to get that stuff typed up and posted/ emailed.
So I start walked, nay, staggering to her place but I am feeling mighty antsy from all the chewing so I decided to get a quick drink to fight the miraa. I enter the nearest supermarket and grab a can of Kane Extra, down it and hit the road.

Then it begins to rain.

I am somewhere between high and drunk. Damn drugs got a hold of me.
To make a long story short, I made to jump over a ditch, tripped and fell. My two notebooks got mighty soaked and all my doodles went down the drain. What is a guy to do in that situation but go back and get mighty wasted if only to keep pneumonia at bay. So here I am, a couple of days later, trying to pick myself up and make up a plausible- and acceptable in a yuppie’s world- excuse for not having met my deadline.

As for you my reader, the truth about what happened explained, you just have to wait a couple more days until we can get to work on those Potash Book Club readings. As long as it takes, of course, for me to approach a modicum of coherence.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

ROOTED IN COMMUNISM: THE POTASH BOOK CLUB

If you don't know it, then go ask your mother, Kenya died in the early nineties. Well, not died died, but when Moi has got a vicious arm around your neck and the World Bank's grip on your balls is tighter than the pliers of a Nyayo House torturer, then you are as good as dead.

There I was, transitioning from primary to high school with white-collar dreams as the only wind in my sails. Such is the folly of youth it blinded me from the fact that the formal economy was losing jobs by the thousands. Our parents, having been coerced into taking early retirement, took their golden handshakes and made a beeline for Dubai. They came back with panties of the same colour and television sets of the same make to sell to...er...who?

It is as they sat in exhibition stalls, in between long waits for customers, that self-employment quickly became a euphemism for unemployment. (Everyone you met on the streets was doing Biashara and, every one of them, was trying to pull a fifty out of you for bus fare). But maybe, as they sat in those stalls trying to keep up with the Onyango's, and the lower than cost price tags they had put on their Gushi hanbags, they wished they had followed Mr. Onyango's lead into sampling Mombasa's carnal delights. Do it, beginning with the more exotic thrills at the beach resorts, working down to no-frills Mtwapa and all the way down to Makadara Grounds, as their money ran out.

In the meantime, for those who still had jobs, a lot more shilling was paying for a lot less filling and only Chinese merchandise and the kadogo economy could save them.

Then the mid-nineties came. That age found my peers and I too wrapped up in our school work to see the anger and frustration that had consumed our parents even though the only thing it had left to gobble up was us. And it eventually did but at that moment we were looking forth into the future an unusual shade of hope glinting off our eyes. We were, after all, standing at the eve of our Tomorrow. The tomorrow that we had been harangued, ad nauseam, that we would be the leaders of.

Tomorrow came. The system spat us out, into the Kenyan economy. But the Kenyan economy had long found rigor mortis.

It has been over ten years now, for me since high school. Ten years of, at the risk of sounding fatuous, trying to play poker at the table of life with the foul hand that time, space and the circumstances of my birth had dealt me.

In those days, there were many of us running through this city, like headless chicken, trying to figure out the next step towards making ends meet. Ends that, somewhat, felt like they were tied to two bulls charging in opposite directions and us stuck in the middle. And all this while, more and more, like us and with the same dreams, were pouring into the city.

We did what work could be found, when it was to be found; we ate what there was to eat and often it was nothing. We spent so much time walking, searching for work, and then we spent a lot more time talking, for lack of gainful employment. Many of us turned to despondence, more and more turned towards illegitimate means of goal attainment. Those of us that had read a little bit more outside of the required readings in Nyayo Philosophy started to suspect that maybe that fellow Karl Marx was right, after all, and imagined ourselves the proletarian victims of a historically stratified society.

Suddenly, we wanted to know more; read everything that we had hitherto been disallowed. So we started to scrimp and save, cut deeper and deeper into our alcohol money- alcohol that was our primary escape vehicle from the harsh realities we were living in- in order to buy and rent books. That is how the thing that would later come to be referred to as the Potashian Book Club on this blog was formed. This of course being an abridged version that avoids details of our (or maybe mine, specifically) fallouts with individuals and entities that would, later on at the beginning of this decade, define the popular/ public perception of lower class youth in this city,

It is all a long time ago and some of those, at least those of the fifteen or so core members who have lived to see today, are no longer at the same place we were then. Not in ideology, in levels of desperation or even in a desire for a just world where everyone can find their basic needs fulfilled.
The only person, that I believe would still stand with me, (now, as then) and who would probably have been a far better chronicler of those days than I can ever be is Timi. But Timi is dead, having taken a stray bullet to the head.

Njane, Mumo and Vanga are dead too. But those ones took bullets (ten in Mumo's case) that left the Eldoret ordnance factory with their names stamped on. Dimosh (formerly of Dimosh's Kinyozi) died of tuberculosis last year- or AIDS related complications, if you insist.

Kari, as well.

Bobo is a mother of six and lives in Mukuru kwa Reuben with a paraplegic beggar. I am willing to take a DNA test to prove that none of those children are mine, a simple sight-test will tell you that they were not fathered by the man she lives with either.

Dan, Toma, Dudi and Jamo (not their real names) are in Kamiti. Or so I thought but I saw Toma, last week as I was taking the route eleven from Kangemi to Kawangware. I took a long pee behind a bush but felt terribly ashamed of myself later. But, frankly, I did not feel like I had something to say to him and neither did I have a fifty bob or so to give him for a Kane.

The only people left around that can afford more than just reminisces but also the time, and other resources, to write are Mambo, Dinda and NM.

Mambo got hit on by this American researcher who came down to the old neighbourhood to interview us on whether the music of the then wildly popular Hip Hop act, Kalamashaka, represented the voice (or maybe it was the political reawakening, no, it must have been Empowerment) of Nairobi's slum youth. She ended up with more than a PHD. One day Mambo brought her to the neighbourhood and they smoked tonnes of weed and flushed it all down with Napshizzle. Then he took her to the room, at the back of Mutua's kiosk, where we all used to take the girls that we figured 'deserved' to be shagged on a bed rather than in a phone booth. Earlier on in the day, he had borrowed a couple of condoms from someone and, with a drawing pin, put holes in them. Needless to say, all the condoms broke, that night but the girl was too lost in the rapture of drug enhanced ghetto sex to notice.

Next thing she knew, she was pregnant.

The American girl loved Mambo to bits and, even though she was not ready for that level of responsibility and commitment, she decided to keep both the boy and the baby. The next thing we knew, after a year of getting drunk and laid on her cash transfers, Manga was on his way to America. She invited him over for both a visit as well as, as she put it in an email to his recently opened email address, “...an opportunity to see, how we can make this work.”

He went over on a three month visa but by the time that was over, he had not only dumped the girl but also any idea, if such a thing could have existed in his mind to begin with, of returning to Kenya.

Mambo joined the ever growing horde of Kenyan baby daddies pursuing the burger-flipping dream and not paying a single cent in child support. We haven't spoken in eight years now but two years ago I got his email address from an old acquaintance and wrote him. He replied. The body of the email was blank but the subject line was a Western Union Control number. I shrugged my shoulders and collected 50USD. I still do not know where in America he is or what exactly he is doing there but every time I try to email an inquiry, he responds in the same way. And I collect 50USD. I just try not to make a habit of it.

As for N.M and Dinda, much has been said about them on this blog, it is unnecessary to repeat.


Unfortunately, Mambo, N.M and Dinda are the ones that were never really with us, ideologically. I am not just saying this with the benefit of hindsight but because I always felt it: these were people who the circumstances of physical and social proximity, more than ideological parallels, had thrown their lots in with ours. Or maybe there is a sense in what N.M said last weekend, when they had invited me to chew miraa with them at Dinda's Westlands apartment, “... it could be that it is easier to be drawn to Communism when you feel unable to access capital.” And they, somehow, accessed it.

Anyway, I write this now because I would like to read with you, my dear reader, the books we read way back in the mid to late nineties. Way back before the smart kids- the ones who could explain Dialectics- and the quick ones- the once who could raise a little extra money to buy the books- left the neighbourhood and we went back to reading out battered copies of Shakespeare and the Bible, and the occasional popular fiction. I can only hope that those of the original group- those that actually know what it was called back then- who can read and write will weigh in, with their opinions that a more educated than mine.

Maybe, I could interest you, the reader, in the books themselves. What I hope to do, though , is attempt a resurrection of The Potash Book Club. On this blog. Very soon.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mourning Semenya

Semenya's only crime was to be born the way she was, Athletics South Africa's president, Leonard Cheule, told the media at the 2009 Athletic World Championships in Berlin. Cheule was responding to what, beginning as murmurs at the 2009 African Junior Championship, had grown into loud protestations that Caster Semenya was a gender cheat. That she, Caster Semenya, winner in the Women's 800m Final, was actually a 'he'. The response from her camp and supporters was a miffed one, and acceptably so, had it not been drowned by the standard fare — racism & sexism — of the international kneejerk protests brigade.

As all this was happening and the most intimate details of this teen were speculated and fought over by strangers across the globe, the people expected to protect her betrayed her, her fans and her sport. Athletic's international governing body, IAAF, (having more leaks than the Kibaki cabinet) revealed that they had ordered gender verification tests on Semenya. With these revelations, Semenya's privacy was cast out of the window as even idiots generally incapable of an opinion made categorical remarks on what lay beneath the pants of a stranger they had only seen on TV.

Now the farce has quickly turned into tragedy as once again, on IAAF's watch, information on Semenya's supposed gender has been leaked. The news, emerging from the Australian press and gobbled up by the rest of the world is, brace yourself, that Semenya is neither a man or a woman. That Semenya, despite having the external genitalia of a 'she' has no womb and ovaries and instead, internal testes. Semenya is, technically, a hermaphrodite.It has neither been confirmed or denied, but the international media has alleged it and that is now a truth.


Fine. But why in hell did I need to know that?


Somehow, in the light of Semenya's humanity, all the arguments and counterarguments I have been having with myself and others about 'undue advantage' don't seem to matter any more. I am beginning to worry a lot more about this young teen who had a great future ahead of her and who will now lose it. I am thinking about what it means to be that person that grows up with one conception of the self and then has it shattered and smeared with public humiliation. But most important of all, I realise that because I know and you know what Semenya is then she has, in own foul sweep, died and been resurrected in public as a freak show.


The punishment for the crime of her birth will not be gentle. Semenya has been accused of and charged with being born different. Whatever the verdict, in official spaces, will be, the court of public opinion has sentenced her to a lifetime of self-loath.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

HANGOVER MEETS THE YOUNG URBAN POLYSEXUAL

Hangover, the movie, is like my life dressed up in a tuxedo. You would feel the same way too if you were to watch it from beneath a mushroom cloud of cannabis smoke, stale alcohol, constipated farts, smelly socks and whiffs of sweat with that tangy odour of last night's sex in it, like I did.

There is something about Kamwana's Video Parlour, where I watched this movie last Friday, that manages to peel the glamour off Hollywood; turn all that tinsel into post-midnight Cinderella. I used to think it was the bad quality DVDs, you know, those grainy 40-in-1s with subtitles- that you cannot disable- in a language that appears to be Chinese with an English accent. But now I think otherwise. It must be the social and economic distance. The distance between the actors and the spaces where their made up realities are played out and us and the spaces from which we observe them.

Anyway, it is not like we a reviewing a Warner Herzog film for the New Yorker or something, so let us cut the quasi-intelligent musings. Hangover is one hell of a funny movie. Even when you are watching it on a camera copy dubbed by an idiot who decided to: a) Sit too far left of the movie theatre giving you more theatre wall than screen in most frames; b) Enjoy the movie rather than film its screening and as he laughed into his mike gave the movie the feel of a broken fourth wall and with his body shaking with glee, the camera calls attention to itself like a bad version of that scene in Children of Men (2006) where blood from the shoot splashes on the camera; c) sit behind an incontinent guy who when he isn't getting up and walking right through your screen, manages to keep his long, shabby hair in it all the time. Simply put, this movie is straight out hilarious, no technical challenges in watching it can get in the way of the laughs.

Hangover doesn't pretend to be anything but a comedic guy flick, thus to judge it outside of these parameters is not to do it a disservice as much as to hoist it on a pedestal that it neither deserves or demands. If you are looking for a movie that will, above all else, make you think and or engages your social consciousness then get Kibera Kid, or whatever, Hangover is not for you. It is also not the movie for you if you are looking for that new; edgy; ground breaking comedy. That is unless you have never heard the phrase, 'what happens in Vegas stays there,' or watched a movie premised on amnesia.

With writing credits including the John Lucas & Scott Moore duo that gave us the the considerably hilarious Four Christmases, Hangover's plot is quite simple. Doug is getting married to Tracy Garner and so his boys, Stu and Phil, decide to take him to Vegas on his last night as a bachelor. Tracy's brother, Alan, Stu and Phil's reservations not withstanding, tags along. They head out in Tracy's dad's treasured old school Mercedes Benz convertible, which he has graciously entrusted to Doug.

Once in Vegas, after checking into the Caesers Palace, the guys go to the roof to toast to a great night out. The next we know is that they are passed out in their hotel room with a chicken clucking about, a tiger in the bathroom and a toddler in the closet. Two things are conspicuously missing from this tableau that is evidence of tremendously wild night out: everyone's recollection of the past night and the bridegroom. The movie then turns into this epic of hilarity as the present trio seek to find their memories and the bridegroom with only a few hours to go before the wedding.

Even as I laughed right through this movie, I couldn't help checking myself every time the thought of the number of times I have woken up in weird places and situations and with all the events over the past couple of hours or even days being able to fit in one blank slate. I do not even remember which of those moments it is that I have written about on this blog, but one particular one comes to mind. In a post titled Young Urban Polysexual, I recollected:

"I came to this morning at Jamo’s house as sticky between the legs as an SJ whore. To shower or not to shower, that was the question. I skived shawi but I had to have loads of alcohol to wash away the taste of semen and after shave from my mouth."


How I had ended up at Jamo's I have still never been able to explain and neither can I answer the question: with whom and how did I have sex.

But my life is paralleled by the movie Hangover only in the amnesia. The setting is totally withdrawn from my reality, what with the fancy car, the luxurious suite in a Las Vegas hotel and the fact that a guy can just put USD800 on his credit card on a whim. Man, if I just had the USD800, here in Nairobi, I would give myself permanent head damage.

The heartbreaking part though is the realisation that for this guys, Vegas, the big night is just this one night when they get to do something silly. For me, for all of these kids down here, this is what we try to do every day. At the end of the movie, the guys return home to a wedding and their normal lives of wives, jobs, cars and dogs. For us, when we come to, there is nothing to return to. Nothing but all that that we were trying to get high enough to forget, in the first place.




Blog Trivia

Posts that mention Kamwana's Video Parlour:

1. Return of the Sleazemeister
2. Last Thursday
3. The Night of the Rattlesnakes
4. Frm Grass to Grace

Sunday, September 06, 2009

TIPS FOR KENYAN MEN WHO CHEAT

People who have jobs tell me that Sunday is an easy day. Some spend the morning sleeping in and probably having lazy sex, possibly the only sex they have with their wives or live in girlfriends all week, while others head out to church, not to communion with God but rather to make amends for the sins of the past week and hopefully earn a pre-emptive forgiveness for the sins of the next. These people then spend Sunday afternoon with their families.

I lack the luxury of engaging in such an ordered life. I know no routine beyond trying to exist, one day at a time. I do not have a wife, a steady girlfriend or a live in girlfriend, unlike most of the guys of my age and acquaintance. That allows me a moment of self-righteous indignation at their promiscuous ways.

Your average Kenyan guy cheats on his partner. Incorrigibly so the anthropologist might be tempted to opine that men cheating is culturally acceptable in this society. I do not know that that is true or not but I know it is in my observed experience. (Note that I am not convinced there is such a thing as 'Kenyan' culture and so every time I say Kenyan, let it be assumed that the word is in quotes. So all of you who do not cheat in your relationships and those of you who believe that they are not cheated on, please leave me alone, I am not talking about you and your partners).

The young urban professionals that I know have, consciously or unconsciously grown up into their fathers. They wake up and go to work every weekday morning. In the evening they report to the local bar, or more likely, especially for the better paid lot, a trendy bar downtown or in either Westlands or Kilimani. They have a couple of beers, discuss work and who is sleeping with who and maybe chat up and exchange business cards with the the skirt suited girls in the next table. Though these guys will flirt with the waitresses, unlike their fathers, they are unlikely to end up sleeping with them. Aside from the women they will occasionally pick up in strip bars, Koinange Street and Florida clubs, and pay to have sex with, Kenyan yuppies will make an effort of having sex within their class. But it has to remain clear that the more licentious among them will still end up in bars like Rezorous and Tropez during the weekend intent on picking university, college and even high school girls for one night stands.

That is what Friday night is for. Boys, Booze and Babes. Most people work on Saturday morning so the girlfriends will be content with a Java coffee on Friday evening and maybe a quick drink at Tamasha or Bacchus leaving the boys to their own devices.

Hello Chips Funga!

Now chips funga and whores raise one problem for those guys who are married or living with their girlfriends: where to shag them. Forest Lodge on Forest Road, is a good option. I mean, if you just want to be in and out and do not insist on clean bedsheets, then that there is your Vegas: what happens there, stays there, as they say. As for the Herpes, please! Get over your American movies hangover and be a Kenyan for once; who the fuck in Kenya worries about herpes? So, condom, check; room, check.

Smack that!

But remember, as one of my uncles told me, never, ever shower in a lodging or hotel after clande sex. The soap smells, idiot, and it is unlikely to be the same as what you use at home. My advice is, use a lot of damp tissue paper to clean your penis and makendes. Then jump into the shower as soon as you get home. I mean even if your girlfriend or wife is up, it is not like she meets you at the door and gives you a hug. If she does, tell her to cut that crap.. that shit is too mzungu, and the consequences are emasculating. The ideal situation, though it works for only those with cars, is too keep an extra bottle of the deodorant you use in the car. There is no reason for the girlfriend or wife to see it, unless she is looking in which case she needs, like the girlfriend/ wife that answers your phone, to be replaced.

The one thing, though, that you are never to forget is that you are human. You can make mistakes. Here is what happened to my uncle referred above. He was drinking as usual and hoping to end the night as always with a clande in a lodgo. Naturally, by the time he was goading the clande upstairs with his elongated appendage, he had had too much to drink. So he entered the room, hit it drunkenly, and got dressed.

My uncle got into his car and engaged the autopilot. The car, as it does every night, found its way home. Once there, he banged on the door until my aunt let him in and staggered into the bathroom. What happened next is as clear to him as the mind of a drunk idiot. The last thing he remembers is seeing a condom on his now flaccid penis. Maybe because the last woman he had seen was his wife, the lone brain cell left standing told him that he had just had sex with her. He dropped the condom into the toilet bowl, pissed and obnoxious as hell, walked into the bedroom and slumped into bed.

He woke up the next morning to the yells and curses of a mad woman. The cobwebs in his eyes cleared immediately he saw that that woman was his wife and there was a used condom dangling from the edge of the kitchen knife she was holding. In their ten years of marriage, they had never used a condom.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

WHY I DO NOT READ MY OWN BLOG

Let us get this straight, I generally, do not read blogs. I used to until I realised that the blogosphere panders to two distinct pathologies: Voyeurism and Exhibitionism. It is a totally symbiotic relationship with bloggers intent at showing off, what they imagine to be, their incredibly exciting lives and their readers so dead set on hearing about it.

Blogs are like porno with bloggers as performers and their readers as goggle-eyed watchers. Bloggers are the wraiths of human experience's equivalent of a bigger penis. They are the kids with all the cool toys, having all the fun. Readers of blogs are the everyday folk who cannot experience life unless it is processed and canned. Sometimes, they even need it garnished with a slice of demographics. Bloggers blog and porn stars perform while their audiences can only hope to live vicariously through them.

This of course I present hypothetically, whereby in the absence of any scientifically derived data that I know of to support my claim, you can proceed to call me another idiot with a blog. Furthermore, I have to make it clear that, though the fact that I keep a blog suggests it, I am not trying to mark myself out as one of the well endowed.... with exciting lives, silly! (But I sure have lived an exciting life, thank you for asking). All I am saying is that I often have more important things to do with my limited internet access other than read blogs. Yes, downloading porn ranks high up amongst the useful things I do online, probably right at the top, but there are other things that, just because I cannot pin them down, doesn't mean they do not exist.

There are those rare moments, though, when I read blogs. In times like those, I will read anything and it doesn't necessary have to sound like Inside Karen Lucas, Lolita Goes to Brazil, Blacks on Blondes or any such thing. (Well, Lolita Gang Bang is a top Keyword search of mine with Blacks on Blondes as a close second but that only for video and not text).

What I do not read though is my own blog. God, only narcissists do that! Yes, I am a narcissist but not to the point of absurdity. Narcissism is a virtue greatly tainted, nay, desecrated by the kind of person that reads their own blog. That kind of being (beast, suggested) is right at the bottom of the human food chain. (I mean in terms of social graces, of course, and not privilege in which case I will consider myself as having it worse than even someone who is black, female and Muslim).

The only type of person that can be considered lower than the kind that read their own blogs is one who updates his/ her Facebook status and then 'Likes' it. Are you for real? But at least, in my reckoning, these kinds of people are merely socially deviant. There is worse. The lowest of the low. Down and out sociopaths. Those who to term deviant is to soil other otherwise fulfilling actions, such as the occasional indulgence in psychedelic substances, that are generally referred to as deviant. These: people who update their Twitter six times an hour. With inane details of their personal lives. Yes, Twitter exists to answer the question, What are you doing?, but details of your ablution? No way!

@potash: WAITIN For BathTUb to Fill UP

Dude, how about: Get a life, PERVERT! And a girlfriend while you are at it. Honestly, unless you are a Twitter god like Ashton Kushter, no one really interested in even six updates in one day from your private life. And it is fine, if your fifty or so followers are in acceptance of their Voyeur selves, but to constantly remind them is an insult.

Hmmm... I have run out of miraa and I am terribly antsy so I will have to go. But you know you can catch my peep-show on Twitter

Saturday, August 29, 2009

TAKHZIN DIARIES: Hypnic Jerk

Have you ever fallen asleep and had a rather lucid dream where you were all naked and tied, firmly, to a thick post? Then someone approached you with the intent of chopping off your penis with a large, battered and blunt pair of scissors. Just as the scissors were about to make contact with your favourite toy, your body made an involuntary twitch jolting you out of sleep. That is called a hypnic jerk.

“Hold it right there, Potash,” I hear the reader say, “Thanks for the lesson and all, and we totally get the picture, but your phallic obsessive dreams are not universal.”

Please, I say to the reader, pardon my Freud but it is all about the sex: its availability; the lack of it; the desire for it; the inability to rise up to the occasion of it. Now the fact that in your dream you are falling off your bike, does not make it any less sexual. Neither does the fact that, in your dream, you are actually falling off a ladder. Maybe that is because while for me sex is an act reduced to its basal functions, for you it is a means to other ends such as social climbing.

But if you will allow me to return to the matter at hand: Hypnic jerk. I have had at least three of those in the last six hours. That because, as I write this, I have been up and about for the last forty eight hours. Eight of those have been spent trying to raise some money for miraa and the other forty, chewing miraa. This stuff is meant to keep you awake, but would it really be a drug if its effects were predictable?

So what is happening now, is that a couple of uniformed policemen just walked into the base. Uhm, I think we have a problem here.... [Typist's note: Potash, your handwriting has become increasingly illegible, your narration incoherent and your habit of using the lit end of whatever you are smoking as punctuation totally unacceptable. I cannot read the rest of the paragraph.]

Er, excuse me while I pop my eyes back into their sockets. Man, miraa does that to you. Half the time you cannot see a thing because your eyes are dangling in your line of sight. Really does the writing no good and the fact that you need both hands to stick the twigs in your mouth, hold a cigarette, slip a wee bit of chewing gum or a groundnut into your mouth, sip on some Coke, et cetera. All at the same time. It is no small wonder then that sometimes I find myself holding two lit cigarettes. And that is just the fair moments. Better than this time when I lit a cigarette then flicked it casually into a ditch and stuck the used matchstick into my mouth. “Half life,” my boy Njeru said to me.
Sawa,”I replied.
***
Tihiii, so what has a thatthingic jerk got to do with you 'smoking' a matchstick?
Eh?
What?
What, what?
Hypno... Hyphen...
Hypnic jerk.
Hypicnic jack.
Hy p nic. Hypnic. Dude, are you stupid or what?
Zimeshika...
Kuna vile.
Unatema saa ngapi?
Sijui... Wewe?
Ninakesha.
Sawa. Pia mimi.
Si tugawane tuongeze half?
Hapana
Utatoa soo basi?
Zii
Finje?
Doo
We Potash wachanga kuwa hivo...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

TAKHZIN DIARIES

“Warya! Warya! Saidia mate/” Brother, brother, lend me your saliva.

That is yet another punchline from a miraa chewer's oeuvre. The best part of chewing miraa/ khat, I have realised, is not the drug's high but the camaraderie in the process of getting there.

I have hang out in numerous drug dens. The quest for the ideal poison for me to write to has taken me through myriad journeys into intoxification. I have journeyed, variously, as a participant, an observer, a participant observer or even, with alcohol and nicotine, as inveterate consumer. Many substances I have become acquainted with; many delusional trips I have taken with them, but none surpasses miraa.

My recent adventures into the, largely indeterminate world of the miraa high demands an entire series of its own on this blog, but before I can take you there I have to tell you the 'lend me your saliva story'.

For those who might not know, part of the miraa chewing experience, takhzin, involves the telling and retelling of moments of highness that soon take on an aura of urban legend about them as chewers trade them from one chewing base to the next. So this version of the story is as it was told to me at my regular base and there is no guarantee that it is an accurate rendition or even that I will retell it in this same way the next time I chew.

The story goes something like this: A Somali guy has been hired to drive a lorry from Kisumu to Mombasa. As is the custom with a significant number of long-distance drivers on Kenyan roads, the fellow, who we shall call Hassan, is an incorrigible miraa chewer. So he grabs his three Kilos and tucks them on the seat between his legs. He fills one of those plastic Coke bottles with water from a nearby sink and tucks it in a compartment in the door on the driver's side of the cab. He throws a few bags of roasted groundnuts and some of cloves onto the dashboard and he is now good to go. He begins to chew on a few sticks as the engine idles, then drives of.

The thing with chewing miraa is that it dehydrates you: your mouth gets progressively drier and your lips begin to crack. That explains why most miraa chewers need to keep sipping on something. Ironically, because most people use sugary soft drinks, coffee or alcohol, their dehydration increases and their lips crack some more. To deal with that, most people apply petroleum jelly on their lips.

Some people, on the other hand, use cooking oil or whatever oily substance that is easily at hand. For Hassan, all he had was brake fluid.

So Hassan was driving. Hassan was chewing. Hassan was getting high. High. Higher. Highest. Every time he felt as though his lips were too dry, he dipped his finger into a can of brake fluid and smeared some of it on his lips.

Having got exceedingly high, Hassan begun to imagine that he had a puncture. So he pushed the lorry easily until he got to Nakuru where he pulled into a service station.

Hassan stepped out of the lorry and checked out all his tyres. They all looked fine. But he was convinced he had a meddling tear on the right rear wheel. The best way to prove it, as he knew, was to apply a bit of saliva on the tear and wait. If bubbles begun to show, then he would be certain that he had a puncture.

So he lunged a finger into his mouth. Hassan attempted to raise a mighty gob of spit from his mouth. Nothing happened.

Hassan hacked. Nothing happened.
Irritated, Hassan begun to yell at one of the station's attendants, “Warya! Warya! Saidia na mate...”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ON THE WAGALLA MASSACRE OF 1984

I spent the entire afternoon in conversation with a friend I have not seen in over 12 years. S. Abdi Sheikh, his name is, has been quite busy raising a family and running a couple of businesses. Most important of all he has been writing. Most recently, and this being the particular reason I sought him out, he has published a book that examines the events surrounding yet another horrendous moment in Kenyan history, the Wagalla massacre of 1984.

I will let the blurb from the book, Blood on the Runway: The Wagalla Massacre of 1984 ,speak for itself:

“In February 1984, Kenyan security forces rounded up and detained over 5,000 men from the Degodia clan of the Somali tribe, confined them at the Wagalla airstrip, stripped them naked and held them without food and water for four days. Blood on the Runway is the story of what happened and over 20 years of the ongoing struggle for the justice for the victims and survivors.

The Wagalla massacre story has every bit of a horror movie; blood and scattered brains, severed limbs, rotting flesh and mass graves.

The story of Wagalla is filled with intrigue. There is a conspiracy at every turn and nothing seems what it is. There was a master plan that was drawn up and implemented; it failed at the last minute; what was thought as an easy job of slaughtering 'sheep' became a nightmare. The 'sheep' scattered and bleated loudly, waking up the nearby villagers. Hiding the feast in the bushes became the only hope for the hunter. But scavengers had already smelled the blood and were turning every corpse around. The mortally wounded hid in the bushes only to come out at night and die in the open fields. For a period, the confusion created confounded even its creators. As the drama unfolded something strange began to happen. The world turned around and saw the sorry state of Wagalla. The story could not be killed. “

There is a time and space for commentary, but for me, this is not it. I have a book to read. For those that might want to engage with this issue, and there are legion it can be hoped, please go out and get a copy from your preferred Nairobi bookshop. For a briefer analysis of the issues and events surrounding the Wagalla massacre, KenyaImagine has this week published an opinion piece by the same author.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

WHEN I WAS HIGH...

This is a vignette in search of a writer, a tableau in search of an artist.

Every tooth hurts. Usually I have cavities... now they feel like something the scope of a moon landing vehicle picked up.

The neighbour is playing Stevie Wonder's Fantasy Paradise and I am humming along. No, truth is I am mouthing the words from the hook of Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise. In my fantasy Island I am calling that a fuck you to that old neighbour for being so old... me, I came of age in the nineties.

Now the old boy is playing Otis Redding. Wait a minute, how do I even know this music? I think I am a time traveller.

I just burnt myself with the Rooster cigarette I was smoking. Damn it is stuck to my finger. The middle finger. Now who is getting a fuck you?

*X&^... Wait! The burning cigarette has fallen on the mattress. Looks like it will cause a fire. And maybe these notes will survive. And then I will find fame, lauded as a latter day Beatnik. Nairobi's first and last Situationist.

Posthumously...

Some louts just need to die to make a statement.

I need to pee...

Guess what, you know thing they say that God takes care of drunks and children, watch him now. He just sent me a fire extinguisher: a penis. A penis has never been put to much better use. I mean penises have been known to create life but saving one, now that is new!

“Get on the good foot...” James Brown wails. “Come on...”

But I only have one foot, or so it feels, and it is not a good one. I crash on the smouldering mattress. I am still holding a miraa stick and I continue to chew.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Happy Birthday Barack

Dear Barack,

I do not know you but I Know of you. I have heard a helluva lot about you. The most important thing I have heard is that you are, currently, president of the United States of America. That, if what I am told is true, makes you the most powerful man in the world. (In the big world out there, of course, and not my little one here where the most powerful man in the world is the Administration Policeman with a gun on my head and a paw in my pocket).

Now here is the deal, I live in a small corner, of the big Island of Africa, called Kenya. That Kenya where, the internets keep reminding me, your roots run deep. Good for you. Good for you, I sometimes think, that all you have here is roots because most of us that have more than roots have a lot less than you do. Because you have the world beneath your feet and we don't. We have roots, trunk and head in Kenya (and maybe because of that)we cannot see the world for all the shit that is above us. That does not mean that I am not proud of Kenya, just not a fan of myriad of its everyday realities.

But why am I wasting rare and expensive internet time to write you? It is simply because today is your birthday and I was once told that birthdays are important dates in the West. There seems to be a problem though, some people think that you were not born in America but here in Kenya. That maybe a big deal, I do not know, but beyond suggesting to me that today might not even be your birthday, that matter does not change my life. You only affect my life as much as the next US president. And as long as you remain in office, then it is the great influence that you will continue to wield over the entire world that will always have an impact on my life and not the small matters of your place of birth, your wife's favourite colour or the fact that your grandfather and mine were kicked by the same pair of boots.

I do not know if I am making it clear enough but the name of the place you were born is as valuable to me as knowing whether or not Mwai Kibaki has a second wife. Well, I have lied there because if Kibaki has a second wife, then I want to know whether or not I am paying her rent even though I do not have a house of my own... But you get my general point, Barry, no?

Anyway, I really have to go, and meantime you do your thing son and lets hope that all the wacko people in the internets can go back to providing me with what I follow them for: Good Porno.

Happy Birthday Barrack (alleged or else)

Potash