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A cynic visits the city…

Slaying Smaug the Corrupt: Police Vetting is a Waste of Time


Every evening at my local, a police vehicle drives in and parks near the gate. No one comes out of the car. Instead, a waitress, always the same one, walks to them and has a conversation that never lasts, in my estimation, more than three minutes. Since it is a joint in the same line with several others, it’s easy to see the police vehicle move from one to the other. The ritual is always the same.

When this conversation came up during a discussion on the ongoing police vetting, it hit me that we have allowed the police force to turn into our very own Sicilian Mafia. It runs its own parallel taxation system that we have learnt to live with as long as we are left with a little to fend for ourselves or get home. It has, in turn, made police officers who earn a paltry salary millionaires many times over. We live near this cadre of the rich with their palatial homes, new cars, smart phones and disposable income made from the hard-earned sweat of those who prefer freedom to justice. It is passivity, not an omerta, that sustains this side economy.

Like the Sicilian Mafia, they collect what amounts to protection fees from any joint that has been unlucky to fall in Mututho’s scope. The good man, in trying to stop our sure destruction by the bottle, has created, enabled, and encouraged that mafia system. Each bar, wines and spirits shop and club away from Nairobi pays what might look like a paltry KShs 50 every day while those within Nairobi pay KShs 100. If there are 1000 such joints within a jurisdiction that amounts to KShs. 50, 000 per day outside Nairobi and KShs. 100, 000 per day within Nairobi. Every. Single. Fucking. Day.

This amount covers a ‘license’ to break all Mututho’s laws. Once you have paid your daily tithe you have leeway to close the place when the customers leave, not when the official closing hours end. You can sell pretty much anything, even allow drunkard parents to come to the club with their young children. No questions asked. Live and let live. Pay first though, then live.

In a week, the accounts go up to Kshs. 350, 000 and Kshs. 700, 000 outside and within Nairobi respectively. Every week. This does not include the money other groups such as boda boda riders, taxi drivers, matatus, shops that stock illegal or banned items, and such pay weekly or monthly. These amounts have to be paid religiously if one is to continue doing business within any area. The only businesses exempt from this parallel tax are those owned by members of the Mafia itself, and those owned by the powers that be.

The amount does not include the money collected from bribes by motorists and other offenders. There is a running joke among my friends that one should always include a small fee for bribes after budgeting for fuel and car service. It is impossible to be a motorist in Kenya, especially in Nairobi, without paying the powers that be, so the joke goes.

A small lapse in judgment, like speaking on the phone when the traffic has stalled, will get you within the scope of a smiling uniformed man. The moment you are flagged down, your mind doesn’t run with thoughts of prison or unimaginable fines by a magistrate. Instead, one thinks of how much disposable money is in the wallet and the car, in the MPESA account, how near the nearest ATM is.

A small estimation of how much our Sicilian Mafia is making in a week thus runs into amounts greater than KShs. 2 million per police jurisdiction. Even if we make the assumption that given the ‘taxman’s’ share, and money lost as the kickbacks move up the system, and assume each County boss is left with that KShs. 2 million per week, it means the parallel taxman is earning KShs. 94 million bob. Every week.

There are no operational costs because you and I pay for the fuel used to run this syndicate. We all see it happening but we are fraught to do anything about it. We have poured billions into slaying the ‘dragon’ of corruption, as a hapless former anti-corruption boss famously described his work. We have, it seems, failed. But we still yearn for a Nirvana where we do not pay two taxmen with the little we make.

It is probably time we started asking the moral questions. For example, one of the police bosses was taken to task on why he had received KShs. 900, 000 from David Rudisha, 800m world record holder and in, in typical Kenyan style, a police officer himself. No one has taken the athlete, who is now a strong brand himself and on numerous advertisements and commercials, to task over why he sent the money to his boss.

We like our heroes flawed, like the rest of us. With success comes great kickbacks. We all know what it was and, being the patriots we are, justify it by thinking Rudisha probably made much more than that 0.9m he paid his boss. Our reaction to public vetting should be “Hahaha, we see what you did there, guys.”

I guess the question is who holds more moral responsibility, the bribe giver who ‘only wants peace and to move on’ or the bribe take who is ‘underpaid but willing, with a little chai, to do his public duty’? Does the extent of moral responsibility even matter? I portend it doesn’t, because morality has never been our best attribute. Consumerism seems to be our most recent catch though.

Consider the fact that the ‘chai’ Eric Wainaina sang about a decade or so ago is now a full-grown racketeering system that rivals the Yakuza and the Sicilian Mafia, headed by godfathers we still pay six figure salaries to avoid taking the very bribes that fuel their cars and pay their children’s school fees. That chai system that started with fifty bobs hastily folded and put in an empty matchbox, and thrown at traffic police officers who would try to take them as inconspicuously as possible is now Smaug himself. Tolkien describes Smaug as a ‘…most specially greedy, strong and wicked dragon.” And he is growing.

Smaug: [laughs] I kill where I wish and none dare resist! I laid low the warriors of old and their like is not in the world today - then I was but young and tender, now I am old and strong! My armor is shields, my teeth swords, my tail a thunderbolt!

Smaug: [laughs] I kill where I wish and none dare resist! I laid low the warriors of old and their like is not in the world today – then I was but young and tender, now I am old and strong! My armor is shields, my teeth swords, my tail a thunderbolt!

Today, the bribe taker will openly bargain for a bigger bribe. The euphemisms of chai and kitu kidogo are no longer necessary, neither are icebreakers, this is the way of the land. Any bribe lower than 1000 bob for a traffic offense in Nairobi is considered an insult by and to the bribe taker. The cost of living has driven everything up.

If you do not have loose money to pay the agreed amount to go back to your important business, change is available in the form of 50 bobs and 100 bobs taken from earlier bribe givers. It is possible that since Smaug has now grown so big and so greedy, there are account books run by jurisdictional bosses to make sure the minions are not thieving. Because, honor among thieves.

Baggins: I did not come to steal from you, O Smaug the Unassessably Wealthy. I merely wanted to gaze upon your magnificence, to see if you were as great as the old tales say. I did not believe them.  Smaug: [strikes a pose] And do you, NOW?  Baggins: Truly songs and tales fall utterly short of your enormity, O Smaug the Stupendous...  Smaug: Do you think flattery will keep you alive?  Baggins: No, no...  Smaug: No, indeed!  Image sourced from [www.jambonewspot.com]

Smaug: Let me tell you, I ate six ponies last night and I shall catch and eat the others before long.Image sourced from [www.jambonewspot.com] 

Public vetting without a thorough soaking and wringing of the little moral fabric we have left is a total waste of time. All it will do is make bribe takers more wary of leaving a paper trail and lo! and behold, a money laundering system will emerge. They will save money under the names of their spouses, children, parents, friends, hand househelps They will make purchases in cash and register them under dummy names. They will invest it in business where they know it will be long long before anyone ever catches them. They are actually already doing this.

As consumerism infiltrates the central national ethos, devolved into a burgeoning middle class with a large disposable income, the opportunities for the parallel taxation system to make money grows. More cars equals more motorists that increase the statistical possibility of multiple traffic offenders willing to pay a quick KES 500 to avoid being lost in the maze that is the Kenyan judicial system.

So, all hail the parallel taxation system. Pay your bribes and be a good Kenyan. Avoid crime and silly mistakes but if you must, be ready to oil someone to look the other way. Do not worry if you do not have enough in your pocket at the time, someone will accompany you to the ATM to withdraw the money, or even loan you some credit to call your people and get the money. They will helpfully point you to the nearest MPESA if they are actually aware of the perils of a money trail. No rush here, bribe giver, says the bribe taker, it’s not as if we are paying rent or anything, or building roads and paying teachers.

All this happens in the span of a few minutes, or a few hours, and each side appeals to the other’s sense of greed and primal survival instincts. The transaction is a marvel as the driver’s license is given back as soon as the bribe is honored (this is now a thing, by the way). It is not happening under our noses, it is happening right before our eyes and to our wallets, and we are in it, deep deep in it.

Maybe someday we will feel the itch to reclaim Erebor; to finally do something more substantial than stage a public surgery to cure a cancer so far spread that it no longer feels like a terminal illness but a way of life.

 Owaahh©, 2013  

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Posted by on January 7, 2014 in Causes, Kenya, Nairobi Review, Politics

 

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7 Kenyans Who Made it in Hollywood before Lupita Nyong’o (Part 1)


Lupita Nyong’o’s role in 12 Years of a Slave (2013) is a milestone by itself. Although it represents the achievements of Kenyans and Kenyan-born actors on the global film scene, she is not the first Kenyan to make it that far. In fact, there are about eight decades between her and the first Kenyans to act in a Hollywood movie.

You can read Part 2, another list of 7 Kenyans who made it in Hollywood, here.

 #7 Kipsang’ Rotich in Star Wars

Kipsang

You probably know that episode in Star Wars: Episode VI-Return of the Jedi where Nien Nunb says something in an alien language that happens to be the Kikuyu language. But did you know that the guy who voiced Nien throughout the episode is Kenyan? And not even Kikuyu? Kipsang Rotich  is not credited for his role in the film.

However, we know that Rotich replaced some of his scripted lines with dialogue from Kenyan dialects, which would explain the Kikuyu line which, translated, means “All of you over there, come here.”

Nien Nunb is Lando’s first officer in the Death Star run in Jedi. The rest of his lines that sound gibberish even to the Kenyan listener are actually in the Haya language spoken in Tanzania. Since the Kikuyu line is missing from the episode’s script, we can’t tell whether it was still Kipsang who voiced it or someone else.

#6 Mary Oyaya in Star Wars

Originally a model, Oyaya’s only claim to this list is the Star Wars character she played in two Star Wars movies. She played the role of the Jedi Master Luminara Unduliin in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.Her modeling agent hooked her up with the Luminara casting role and she was an automatic fit when she first went to the Fox Studios for auditions.

She is a Kenyan-born globetrotter who has lived in Kenya, Sweden, Canada, and Australia.

#5 Benjamin Ochieng’ in The X-Files

The X-Files (1999), Tears of the Sun (2003), The Shield series (2005), The Anatolian (2007), The Disciple (2008). Benjamin Ochieng’  is Hollywood’s go-to actor for Kiswahili lines. Benjamin’s claim to stardom has actually been his proficiency in Swahili. After playing 50 to 60 roles as an extra, he told the Associate Director on X-Files that he spoke Swahili and was hired three minutes later for his first speaking role.

He is now an actor with an impressive filmography and is fast making a name for himself as a producer and sound editor. With 20 titles to his filmography that include a voice actor in Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, Ochieng has also worked in movie crews as a sound editor and a writer. He has also directed two short films: Mr. Brewer’s Difficult Day (2011) and MISSInformed (2013).

#4 Kiran Shah and Deep Roy in almost every movie

I bet you didn’t know there is a Kenyan-born actor in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, Titanic (1997), and Alice in Wonderland. Wait, did someone say Titanic? The Titanic? …and all three Lord of the Rings movies?

The man with such a splendid filmography is Kiran Shah. Shah was born in Kenya in 1956 but moved back to his parent’s native India when he was only twelve years old. A stuntman and actor, he first featured in a movie in 1977. His most recent role is as Goblin Scribe in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Which Kenyan-born actor has starred in Doctor Who, Star Wars, and Star Trek? Hint: All the Oompa-Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are digital replications of him? No, it’s not Kiran, its Deep Roy, also credited as Roy Deep or GorDeep Roy. Ignoring the fact that reading those names aloud sounds like making bedroom noises, Deep Roy is also of Kenyan-Indian descent. He was born Mohinder Purba in Nairobi but emigrated to Britain.

Deep Roy

Here is a good list of Roy’s most prominent actor roles. In the Doctor Who serial Talons of Weng-Chiang, he plays Mr. Sin. In played Droopy McCool in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, and an Ewok on Endor. In Star Trek (2009), he plays the alien Keenser.

Kiran has 31 Titles in his filmography and Deep Roy (we can’t get enough of the name) has 46.

So, why are these two actors often mistaken for each other? There is the obvious similarity that they were born in Kenya, at around the same time, immigrated, then launched their careers in the 1970s. But there is something more apparent. They are both dwarfs! Roy is 4 ft 4 inches and Kiran Shah is slightly shorter at 4’ 2” or 1.26 meters tall.

Now, guess which one of the two was Elijah Wood’s (Bilbo Baggins) body double in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

#3 Edi Mue Gathegi in the Twilight Saga and House

Gathegi

I know. We shouldn’t be proud of one of Kenya’s sons making it to Twilight. Not since the series made vampires look so timid and mushy (and one spent his immortality vibing an underage highschool girl). But if you think about it, given our proven acumen on the track, we would make superb I’ll-even-give-you-a-head-start vampires. Gathegi is already making it happen.

Born on March 10, 1979 in Nairobi, Gathegi has acted in X-Men First Class (2011), Crank (2006), House, Gone Baby Gone (2007), and Twilight (2008). In Crank (2006), Gathegi is the Haitian cabbie; in Death Sentence he is Bodie; Darudi in The Fifth Patient; Cheese in Gone Baby Gone; He is Dr. Jeffrey Cole in House; Laurent in Twilight; and had a guest star role in CSI: Miami. Most recent roles include Atlas Shrugged and Family Tools.

He took up acting because it was an ‘easy course’ after he injured his knee playing basketball. When he first auditioned for his role as Laurent, he had not even read the Twilight books—understandably-and had no idea that the character was a vampire.

#2 Charles Gitonga Maina in The Air Up There

charles_gitonga_maina_2009_12_15

This 6’10”giant of a man was born in Kenya 1976. His claim on this list is The Air Up There (1994) where he co-starred with Kevin Bacon and Yolanda Vazquez. Maina stars as a tall basketball Winabi prince who is spotted by the main character, Jimmy Dolan, played by Kevin Bacon, as new talent for his college team. After seeing a home video of Saleh doing his signature skyhooks and reverse slum dunks, played by Charles Gitonga Maina, Dolan travels to Africa to recruit him. 

For the Saleh role, Maina and his friend were selected at the final auditions in LA. His natural talent got him the role and a basketball scholarship at Lynn University.  He moved back to Kenya after being unable to return to the US from Greece where he had gone to try out for a pro-team.

Maina also acted in SeaQuest DSV as Professor Obatu.

 #1 Mutia Omoolu and Riano Tindama in Trader Horn

1931. That’s when the first Kenyan-born actors made it to Hollywood. Trader Horn (1931) is a story about the titular character, Trader Horn’s journey to an unexplored area of Africa. They find a missionary has been killed and her daughter abducted by a native tribe. Nina, the daughter, has become their queen and Horn’s role is to ‘bring her back to civilization.

The movie was shot in Kenya and the reshoots at the MGM Studios in California. In the Kenyan set, Mutia was the unofficial casting director for the Kenyan crew. During the shooting, a crewman fell into a river and was eaten by a crocodile. A boy was killed by a charging rhino-and the scene was captured on camera and is included in the movie.

Mutia and Riano got very stereotypical roles. Mutia’s role in the movie is Horn’s Gun Bearer while Riano is a Witchdoctor; Riano is not credited in the film. They moved to California for the duration of the reshoots.Legends grew around their presence in Hollywood, including one popular, but fake, anecdote of how Mutia once threatened his boss at MGM in an alleged love triangle involving a Central Avenue prostitute. Mutia is said to have protracted a venereal disease from such sexacapdes.

The bigotry-oozing article titles as “Jungle Actors are the Unhappiest of Film Stars’ tell the modern reader much about the culture shock and racial stereotypes the two faced. In the article Mutia is said to have shed tears when his shoes became too tight. It goes on to say that their only savior from the culture shock was the set where they enjoyed acting with a ‘childlike innocence.’

When they returned to Kenya, Mutia started a business with his money but never talked about the film again. Riano simply disappeared from the streets of Nairobi and from history.

 Owaahh, 2013.

 

 

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No Country for Skinny People, and Stories of Stolen Phones


Once I regained my composure, I realized that the moment when you it hits you that your precious phone is gone is an epiphany of sorts. You arrive at a quagmire where you have to make a life decision-do you scream, react, slap someone, ask for a hug, run after the thug or just sit there trying to soak it all in, like I did? When you have to go through all the stages of mourning in a split second, time slows down, and for a moment you can almost reverse time-travel, have the phone in your pocket in that moment, then acceptance.

I lost my last phone in Githurai 45, the place where phones go to die. At the time, I did not realize that I had joined a small and growing population of people who have fallen victim to that little town’s phone-snatching menace. It is when I first shared the story of the theft with my friends that everyone first sympathised with until I mentioned where it had been stolen. It turns out that losing your phone at Githurai is like getting mauled in a lion’s cage.

It must have the highest number of people per square mile with the guts to snatch your phone through the car window, run and stop thirty metres away and stare at you-as if daring you to alight and go after them. Githurai 45 is so insecure that any matatu or bus conductor worth his job is likely to start staying “Chunga simu! Chunga simu” as you arrive at that little stopover. You might have heard the saying “Your girlfriend is so insecure we call her Githurai 45 (pronounced ‘FORE FAE’). Any bump on the road is a potential risk area because of obious reasons, and any open window is an invitation to treat.

There are 10 phones being stolen in the scene in this picture. Go ahead, look more closely....

There are 10 phones being stolen in the scene in this picture. Go ahead, look more closely….

Losing you phone in this city, contrary to popular belief, is a good thing. It is a good thing for the economy, and for the phone companies. Some of us would stay with the same phone until the last button on the keyboard dies or the battery swells (Yours truly has had both, and still won’t let go of that one). Once your phone is stolen you have to buy a new one, injecting much-needed money into the economy and making the middle class look good. Getting your phone stolen is your civic duty, and I suspect that in the long queues of the eagerly anticipated March 4th elections, thieves will not only be getting elected to office, others will be in your pockets. The economy has needs, and no one can deny the economy what the economy wants.

We have reached the point in the economy where anyone who has a cheap phone is automatically assumed to have lost a smartphone and had to use the spare phone as the primary phone.

My phone was snatched by a guy who was inside the mini-bus, as opposed to the common victimology where the phone ‘goes through the window.’ Why didn’t I just scream and grab the guy in a matching blue T-shirt and cap? Because he was standing at the steps and I was seated in the inner aisle, and have you ever heard a man-scream? That, plus my adrenaline takes its time to kick in, it just slugged its way as the phone left my hands in the middle of a Tweet (I should have ran after him crying out “Finya OK! Finya Ok!’ huh? The most annoying thing was not even losing my phone 1t 11 AM the day before the end of the year, but the lady seated next to me. She started telling me ‘Aki nilikuwa nadhani ni yangu anaiba’ (I swear I thought he was stealing mine). Who does that? Who tells the victim of a crime that she feels lucky it wasn’t her. I should have slapped her in the mouth the way mother used to but I couldn’t because my slugging adrenaline was not yet in port.

A friend of mine once lost her phone when using the washrooms at Kenya National Archives. As she removed her pants to begin her business, the phone slipped out of her pocket and fell below the door. Since the business at hand could not be stopped, and there was hardly any movement outside, she decided it was safe to continue and pick her phone on her way out. She never found it, and even the janitor swore by his mother’s grave that he had not seen anyone take the phone.

Because no one wants you to walk out of the house without skills...

Because no one wants you to walk out of the house without skills…

I know someone else who dropped her phone when alighting from a bus. She heard the sound of something hitting the ground, look behind and saw someone bending to pick something and decided it could not be any of her business. Until later, when she realized it was her phone.

The art has been so well perfected that I suspect there are Yodas of the art now, taking on apprentices and showing them how to spot a mark and make a move, or a snatch, if you will.

The pick pocket is the scariest of all phone thieves, at least to me, because they take a risk that involves skill and patience.  I fear the heart attack that follows the moment you realize someone was in your pockets without your knowledge; so much for being conscious.I think being robbed, in the literal sense of the word, gives you time to accept the loss. Time that being pickpocketed or conned does not, it just of tosses you inside that den of lions and expects you to cope.The phone snatcher is also a marvel, he is almost always wearing a cap so all you see is a blur. Some people manage to scream ‘Mwizi! Mwizi! until their voices are hoarse. The most ingenious ones I’ve heard of was a group of three that lifted a laptop off an acquaintance of mine in a bus. 

If you want to see the thief brought to justice then you need to grow a pair of boobs, because that is all you need to have it easy….or a millitary ID, either of them will make grown men act at your behest. In fact, if you are already endowed with a pair of the tits, and your phone is snatched in the matatu, and you play your cards right, you can leave with a new smartphone from a Don Juan-there is no scarcity of men seeking damsels in distress to prey on in this Nairobi. I suspect that had I had been blessed with a pair myself, the conductor would have no qualms chasing after the thief and getting me my phone back, but not before dialing his own number and telling me his name. Sadly, however, this is not a country for men, and we skinny men are at the bottom of the tier, the lowest rung of modern middle class-driven society.

Unless they are fat too, then the dynamics must change...

Unless they are fat too, then the dynamics must change…

You would think thugs would target fat people-its only logic because they are heavier, and cannot make good running mates-but they target people like us, the skinny, because our society hates those who have succeeded in keeping their body mass below 60 Kgs. It is almost a crime to be skinny in this country, although there are many people in the gym right now fighting to join the Skinny Party. Our African culture tends to relate having a kitambi (beer belly) with riches- and a loving woman or barmaid. You will get served faster if you have a big tummy, and people will respect you more. Cops will even be more polite to you, at least at first, before you open your mouth and ruin your own luck.

If you are skinny then you have to make an extra effort to get the teller to believe the money you are withdrawing is actually yours and you are not a thief or a boy toy of some old rich woman. The onus, and the pressure, will even force you to buy a newspaper once in a while so people can give you an ounce respect. Most people, including the phone thieves who are themselves skinny, do not even know they have a ‘skinny people bias’. Fat people look rich, or endowed, and will be served before you in a restaurant. In the man world, if a 50 Kg man sits on a table next to a 90 Kg man who looks nine months pregnant, the bill will be brought to the latter. To women, that is completely normal when they are on a date but to men, there are ego issues to sort out.

Disclaimer: This is only a hypothesis, the would-be sample population is not exactly forthcoming with data...

Disclaimer: This is only a hypothesis, the would-be sample population is not exactly forthcoming with data…

Note that this mostly applies to males, although there is a pecking order in the female world too. At the top of the chain are the lightskinned medium sized middle class women with more products on them than an aisle in a beauty shop. At the bottom of the ladder are the skinny colourless girls with too much geek to shop for a good bra. The obese women with serious self-esteem issues are slightly above. Men will give them seats in a matatu because they are afraid of the possible impact, not for chivalry.

...or the next best thing, a man with man boobs...

…or the next best thing, a man with man boobs…

Back to skinny males, culture expected a man to grow a tummy once he was married and rich. It was and still is regarded as a sign of opulence, that one is now too settled to want to see their own reproductive organs. You will see it with men who rub their tummies during a conversation, sending subliminal messages that they are hungry, and bored, and important.

If you are skinny then the shop attendant will be rude and hormonal since her first assumption is that you are just windowshopping. If you have the kind of egos they are giving birth to these days then you might even buy a car, three cars even, to prove to the car dealer that you are not toying with him trying to find out why a Vitz is more expensive than a Probox. The pressure to tip the waitress is immense, because the sneer on her face everytime you distract her asking your fat friend whether he wants a refill is more scary than annoying.

"Did

"Did

The skinny guy will have to work harder to get the ladies attention because the first impression is that he is a high school or young campus boy with nothing to show. He is best left as a boytoy, never for anything of meaning.

The bouncer at the entrance to the club will most definitely freeze you and demand your ID, and even then illuminate your face to confirm. A fat person will, unless they have small boobs, just walk through. A tummy also implies you did not use public transport, and that you can afford your own beer and meat.

You can’t even fit in the space between seats in a matatu, where you will be inevitably forced to sit if you use public transportation in Nairobi. Where a ‘buff’ person can comfortably anchor themselves on the seats on either side, leaving only the crack in the middle, a skinny guy can only anchor on one side. Its sad, having to hold on to the person seated next to you and with one cheek in the air as you grab the seat next to you with your butt crack. Being skinny is a crime!

Actually, if you are skiny you might as well tell the butcher to sell you steak because you are in for a good duping. The size of the bone the butcher selects is subjective and is dependent on how much he thinks you know about meat; being a skinny thing the first assumption is that you are gullible and therefore unlikely to to complain when half your order is nothing but connective tissue.

Discrimination on the basis of body mass; survival for the fattest.

Discrimination on the basis of body mass; survival for the fattest.

I challenge you to go and shop for pants or belts if the only thing on your waist is your pelvis. Its the skinny man who must use up a great deal of his lifetime getting the tailor to reduce the waist size on his pants, and the shop to reduce the length of his belt, while the heavyset pregnant-looking man can focus on more important matters.

There are so many people walking around with a fat person in them waiting to be fed into existence. Thieves do not want you, neither does the government, or even the women, being skinny is a curse, you should cancel your gym subscription and stock your fridge with GMOs.

Where you would think evolution would have discriminated against fat people-for obvious reasons-it seems skinny people are now in the outliers, waiting for the inevitable mutation or extinction. Maybe the zombies will restore the balance of nature as Darwin perceived it.

Owaahh, 2013.

 

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4 Randomest things Ever Done by Settlers in Kenya


We all agree that the colonial times were dark days, we gained religion and cultural diversity, and lost everything else. History has a knack for leaving out randomness, frankly because it does not fit into the fabric of the sane society we purport ourselves to be…Have you ever wondered what the settlers did in their spare time, for fun, and for the random kick?

#4 Peter Harold Poole
Enter Peter Poole, born in 1932. His Wikipedia page indicates that he was an engineer from Essex who ran an electrical shop on what is now Moi Avenue.
“On October 12, 1959, he was charged for killing Kamawe Musunge in Gordon Road,Nairobi. Musunge had been riding a bicycle when Poole’s two dogs stopped him. Musunge threw stones at a dog, for which Poole shot Musunge dead with a Luger pistol [3]. Musunge was Poole’s houseboy [1]. Poole was executed on August 18, 1960. At the time Kenya was still under British rule, and the verdict was received dismally by white settlers in Kenya, who could not accept that a white man could be sentenced for killing an indigenous African”

The drama continued...

The drama continued…

A man died for throwing stones at a dog, the story does not even say he hit the dog but one Peter Poole put one through him—-a bullet that is. The hanging was covered extensively in the US and the UK, including Time Magazine with the title ‘White Man Hangs’.
Poole was regarded as a matyr by the white European community, and his hanging got some coverage later when Tom Cholmodeley was convicted of manslaughter and jailed for 8 months. 4 years before the Poole case, Leo Hoyle had been sentenced to death “…for raping and killing an African woman to ostensibly “ end her agony” of being kicked out of her house.”  . Col Etwart Grogan killed two Africans infront of a magistrate but was only convicted of assault and sentenced to two months of hard labor.

#3  Lord Egerton
Every living Kenyan knows Lord Egerton, or at least the Egerton University that stands on land he donated to the institutiton. As such, most of the details of his private life are lost in his single act of generosity. Lord Maurice Egerton of Tatton, fourth Baron Egerton of Tatton in Cheshire (not to be confused with Galbraith Lowry Egerton Cole) died in 1958 childless and unmarried, but not by choice. It is said that he was spurned by an unnamed woman; the same woman for whom the Egerton Castle was erected at great cost (Turns out flowers and chivalry ran out of style a long time ago).

With a face like that, even a castle wouldn't work...

With a face like that, even a castle wouldn’t work…

As proof that testosterone has been the death of men since time immemorial, the Egerton Castle was built to impress this one woman, to make her change her mind.
“ He conceived of a castle that would have no comparison in England or any other country for that matter.
Dressed stones and zinc tiles for the roof were shipped from Europe, the builders from Europe and Asia. The result, in 1938, was a stupendous four-storey edifice fitted with some of the most up-to-date mechanical and electrical gadgets at the time, including an escalator.”
Upon completion, the peer threw what was billed as the biggest party ever seen in pre-colonial Kenya, with guests coming from as far as Northern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe and Nyasaland, now Malawi.
The cheers and congratulations, it was to turn out, had come too soon. When the woman for whom the castle had been built came back to Kenya and viewed it, she dismissed it as “a museum” and a monument to vanity.” (Benson Riungu, East African Standard, 2004).

There was a time when it would take an escalator to impress a woman?

There was a time when it would take an escalator to impress a woman?

Rejected by a woman? Sounds common, we have all been friendzoned at some point in our male lives, right? So, he did what we all do and went to a bar to brood over his troubles, right? Actually no…
“Being spurned appears to have changed Lord Egerton in a fundamental way. Thereafter he seemed to live in a fantasy world.
He furnished and ran the castle as if the family he had envisaged actually existed. Nobody but the house servants was ever allowed in.
But an even more far-reaching chance was in his attitude towards women. He developed such a passionate hatred for them that he banned them from his castle and put up notices warning female trespassers that they risked being shot on sight.
Visitors, including friends, were to leave their wives and daughters eight miles away from the castle. And when he planned to visit the quarters where his African staff lived, he would issue a two-week notice so that all women could be vacated.” (Riungu, East African Standard, 2004).
Wait! What? So being spurned made a man ruined pleasure for everyone else? …and he thought that donating his land to a university would somehow atone for such a sin?
Remember that house by the way, it will come in handy later…

# 5 The Ju Ja Incident
This is one of the least known signs that the settlers were mad. It is not included in any school curricula history books, nor will you find it in most stories about Teddy Roosevelt’s Africa expedition.

I don't know about the outfit though...

I don’t know about the outfit though…

To understand the gist of this story some background is necessary.
Enter Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States (1901-1909). Almost all historians of ‘badassery’ agree that Teddy is the most badass president to ever occupy the White House. Reading his acts makes James Bond look like the fake character that he actually is. First, Teddy had a moustache which was a NWC Police Commisioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of NY and other things. He had a black belt in Jujitsu, was an accomplished championship boxer, expert marksman and, as if all that was not enough, he frequently skinny-dipped in the Potomac River (Yup! They all saw his balls). Did I mention that in 1912, while at a campaign rally, someone shot him as he was giving his speech. The logical thing would be to rush the president to the hospital, right? No,, not when you are Teddy; when you are this guy, he refused medical help and finished his 90 minute-speech, with an open wound on his chest.
So, why does this matter?
In Northrup-The Life of William Northrup McMillan, Judy Aldrick follows the story of McMillian and Teddy Roosevelt during the famous African safari in 1909.

We now know who invented the cool pose...

We now know who invented the cool pose…

The seven-month visit included a long stopover in Donyo Sambuk, a village near Thika town.The ex-president had a big entourage, even by today’s standards, which is estimated to have had over 500 porters carrying all manner of items ‘…including collapsible baths and cases of champagne.’

A collapsible bath huh? Guess who is carrying it...

A collapsible bath huh? Guess who is carrying it

Among the dignitaries was Kermit Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt’s third and favorite son. McMillan, the host in Juja, accommodated the party at his 19, 000-acre estate. When the former president and his son Kermit were not hunting, they would drive to Nairobi, specifically to the Norfolk Hotel, to party. On their way back they would pass through Khoja, and often marvel at the newly constructed Ismailia Mosque. Now this is where it gets interesting

Aldrick includes a relatively unknown story; that they stole the stone lions that had been placed on either side of the Ismailia Mosque gate. They took them back to McMillan’s house where they remained unnoticed as a conflict was brewing in Nairobi over the theft. In what qualifies as a conspiracy, the government official who had first noticed them in the house organized to have them buried on the farm to avoid embarrassment.

Teddy and Kermit, pictured here not stealing two carvings of lions...and seemingly sober.

Teddy and Kermit, pictured here not stealing two carvings of lions…and seemingly sober.

About 29 years later, in 1937, the farm was owned by the Nettlefold family. Their workers discovered the lions and assumed they were stone idols from West Africa (the gods Ju and Ja). The connection between the former president, his son, and the two idols was made many years later, by which time both of them were dead and history could not judge them harshly. The name of the –mistaken- gods, however, remains as the name of Juja town.

Oh, and where Egerton gave up after asking a girl out twice, TR asked Alice Hathaway Lee to marry him and she declined, he did more badass things, like getting his mother and sisters in on the proposal (not building a castle with an escalator in 1938, that’s for weak guys), and the second time, she said yes-because the badass guy always gets the girl. His exact words when she rejected his first proposal? “See that girl, I am going to marry her. She won’t have me, but I am going to have her.” That would count as a rape threat today, I’m guessing.
#2 Patrick David Shaw

A ‘ 300 pound school assistant administrator who freelances as a terrifying white cop in a black neighbourhood’ sounds like something in an action movie trailer, doesn’t it? Something featuring Bruce Willis and Denzel Washington to be precise?

Granted, Patrick David Shaw was more of an immigrant than most of the others in this list. His father was a prominent London doctor but the younger Shaw had moved to Kenya as an agricultural officer in 1955 and became a naturalized citizen in 1971. He was famous for his brutish policing ways and the fact that he was always first on the scene, driving his cream Mercedes, license plate KFH 845 and carrying a .38 pistol.

When he died in February 1988, his death was covered by international media and his funeral in March was attended by Pimps, thieves, prostitutes, top police brass and the Chief Justice (the list is a bit redundant though). His legacy is shootouts, car chases and a string of dead men. He rarely ever slept, according to some accounts, because of a glandular disorder that accounted for his chronic obesity. His Mercedes had a special seat that allowed him to sleep, which is said to have been no more than two hours. His only other known venture was running a boy’s orphanage, he never married, and he never took a vacation. His pastime activities were reading FBI manuals, ‘Wanted’ posters and the Kenya Penal Code.

Not Pictured: PD Shaw

Not Pictured: PD Shaw

It is said that his name replaced the ‘boogieman’ whenever mothers scolded their children. “Be good, or Pat Shaw’s gonna get you.”
Pat Shaw’s kill ratio was remarkably high, even in today’s trigger-happy police force. He is rumored to have been involved in the murder of J. M. Kariuki, a murder that has a much better plot and intrigue than most movies.
He joined the police in 1959 but gained national fame in 1977 when he shot and killed Duncan Gachui, one of Kenya’s premier bank robbers. The ensuing gun battle happened in South C and “The officer shot the gangster dead through the mouth.”
His next big kill was the infamous Wakinyonga ‘The Killer’ who was cornered in a bar in Kangemi where he was partying with his girlfriend.

Over to you Makmende, what have you done?

Over to you Makmende, what have you done?

In 1979, a Ugandan outlaw named Walimba murdered a Nairobi family. Shaw was at the murder scene so quickly that Walimba was still there. He shot Shaw in the shoulder and fled. Shaw drove himself to the hospital, was treated, and then drove home.
From then on, Shaw was never without his .38 special. He switched last fall to a 9mm Beretta automatic, wanting a faster-firing weapon.

And did you know, one of Starehe Boy’s School’s boarding houses is called Shaw House? It was named after Pat Shaw because he was the assistant director in administration at the time of his demise.
By the comment thread here  it turns out some people think of him as the original Makmende.
5025184_700bHe was always the first to arrive at a crime scene, often when the crime was happening, and would always shoot first.
Wait, did I mention P.D Shaw was actually never a police officer? He was merely a member of the Kenya Police Reserve. Did someone say Waiganjo?
#1. The Happy Valley Set Murder Mystery
You know how our parents never miss the chance to tell us how morally rotten our generation has become, given that we now have a style called ‘twerking’ and there is a search engine wholly dedicated to porn? Well, the Happy Valley Set will make all that look like child’s play…
The Happy Valley set is called that because they settled in the Happy Valley region of Wanjohi Valley.  The exploits of the group were covered extensively, and even immortalized in books and films such as The Happy Valley and the White Mischief. Among them was Hugh Cholmodeley, 3rd Baron Delamare, who is credited with being one of the original members of the Happy Valley Set and Lord Errol, the unofficial leader.

One against three, Alice could handle....

One against three, Alice could handle….

The group first came to international spotlight in 1941 when Lord Errol was killed in Karen. His purpoted murderer, Sir Jock Delves Broughton, had hunted him down to avenge the cuckold horns Errol had made him wear. The label of the Happy Valley set was ‘….louche parties, fuelled by alcohol, drugs, and sexual intrigue.
“These men and their wives were not uniformly champion adulterers, although Gwynned Gooch, née Brooke-Meares (1875–1964), and a neighbour were found naked in the back seat of a Buick during a party at the Errolls’ house, Oserian.”
“Beryl Markham was first married at sixteen to Alexander (Jock) Purves (d. 1945): each time she took a new lover, he hammered a six-inch nail into the wooden frame of their front door.”
Jack Soames was a voyeur who drilled holes in the ceilings of his bedrooms to watch his copulating guests.
At Clouds they played the ‘sheet game’: a sheet would be strung across the drawing-room, half a dozen men would poke their penises through strategically sited holes in the sheet, and the women on the other side would select their favourite appendage. A head start in the competition was enjoyed by Julien ‘Lizzie’ Lezard (1902–1958), a lover of both Idina Sackville and Alice de Janzé, who was so proud of his long member that he also liked to display it, along with his cards, when he got a full house at poker.

Pictured here totally not doing drugs and each other...and bed sheets.

Pictured here totally not doing drugs and each other…and bed sheets.

When Evelyn Waugh stayed with that ‘fine desperado’ de Trafford at Njoro in 1931, the latter was trying to organize a scheme to capture gorillas, which he believed he could sell at £2000 a head to Berlin zoo: ‘he got very drunk and brought a sluttish girl back to the house’, then ‘rogered her and her mama too’. De Trafford, Waugh reported, in words applicable throughout Happy Valley, ‘fights & fucks and gambles and gets D.D. [disgustingly drunk] all the time’ (Waugh, Letters, 63–4; Diary, 347) .

Suddenly, that Truth and Dare you played at the random party does not look so daring does it?
The Muthaiga Club was their hang-out joint where they held the sane day time games such as polo matches and race week. The saying in England was ‘..are you married or do you live in Kenya…’, an obvious allusion to the spouse-swapping that took place during the racy parties.

The dealer was Francis Greswolde-Williams (1837-1931) who lived in the Kedong Valley. He fit into the role of the drug dealer because he was not as attractive, sexually at least as the other males in the Happy Valley set. Historians describe him as being “…too fat and drunken…notoriously coarse mannered and sporting a black eye-patch…”
One must take into account that all the members of the H.V set were damaged, at least emotionally or in Lord Delamare’s case, both emotionally and physically. One intriguing character is Alice de Janze who shot her lover and then married him (Because how else does one fall in love?) to Idina Gordon who ‘…funelled lovers to her younger husband to keep him amused.’ Alice de Janze was known as ‘the wicked Madonna’ and is thought to have killed Lord Errol in 1941.

Alice de Janze, the wicked Madonna, quite pretty when she was not shooting her lovers.

Alice de Janze, the wicked Madonna, quite pretty when she was not shooting her lovers.

The protagonists here are real, with Lord Broughton being charged, and then acquitted, for the murder. He was one of the first suspects because Lord Errol was virile, which means he just plain screwed anything that wore a skirt and was still warm. He killed himself later, in 1942, at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool. The other suspect,  Alice, shot and killed herself the same year after she had been diagnosed with uterine cancer. Recent investigations have uncovered seemingly convincing but largely circumstantial evidence that Anne killed Enroll. The most likely motive is as dark as was her life, that ‘they would be together…forever…’

“Alice appeared at the morgue where Lord Erroll’s body was resting. In front of witnesses, she lifted her dress, rubbed her hand between her legs, wiped her fingers on the corpse’s mouth, and said, “Now you are mine forever.”

Owaahh

 

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Kenya Needs an Age of Reason, and a Bath


It is only befitting that the deadline for voter registration should be marred by torrential rains. The argument in recent days, all over the news and prime-time television, on radio, driven by celebrities and all people of note [sic!] has been that all good Kenyans of age, should register to vote. The euphoria surrounding the activity, and the propaganda and peer pressure (if you can consider all voters equal, in some sense) has been amazing. The result? Nairobi and the metropolis have recorded the highest percentage of registered voters while other areas lag behind. One might then ask, what ails the Nairobi area, or what ails the other areas? The actual question is dependent on where you stand on the philosophical basis of voting in a sham democracy. If you stand on one side, the Nairobi voter is one sheep in  flock, driven to the registration centres by constant media and peer influence. If you stand on the other, the ‘rural’ voter is apathetic, unwilling and uncaring about whether this country goes to the dogs. The truth is, this country went to the dogs at Independence, and the dogs are still gnawing at whatever is left. In actual sense, the ‘rural’ voter has done more to explore his or her conscience before voting than the Nairobi +metropolis voter.

Google ‘Bad leaders are elected by good citizens who do not vote’ and you will see how much this quote, often attributed to Plato, has been (mis) used in the Kenyan media and blogosphere. Its use is basic, it implies that all thinking men and women must partake of the voting process for it to be legitimate. It also assumes that the voter is spoilt for choice, that there are good leaders and bad leaders. Anyone who seeks to understand the human soul knows that good and bad are engraved within each beating heart; Hume used this to explain why deities, in their portrayal in Christianity (and Islam), cannot be right even on the very basis on which they are built.

Is the apathetic (non) voter the only thinking man in this country? No actually, there are people who have weighed the matter and seen it fit to participate, and it is well their rights to do so. The large majority has followed the African way, to make and make make-that one’s civic duty is not done until one’s neighbor has done likewise. The logic is right, methinks, but the methods are all wrong. The apathetic voter, like the quintessential atheist, has good reasons for being who he is. The registered voter feels that it is within his rights and responsibility to barrage the unregistered with memes, constant barraging about how his action is of significance and, if all else fails, force and denial of rights. Way to go Kenya, deny a man or woman his rights to make him fulfill his civic duty, there is no better campaign for the democracy we strive to be like that. There is a thin line between an online campaign and cyber bullying.

Is the rural voter wrong to question the Biometric Voter Regsitration kit? The questions are often apathetic, and reek of propaganda, but at least someone questions the process. The BVR  database will contain, at the end of elections, at least 14 million records of Kenyans above the age of 18. The CID’s database currently contains a little over 4 million records of criminals, a manual system that has taken over two decades to build. The BVR process has collected double that in a month or less. So where do your records go when all is said and done? In an age where we are becoming increasingly paranoid about biometric data, does it matter? Should we ask? The average voter, herded to the registration center, would say no, that we should trust the government institution to do right by us. True, Hobbes’s basis of a social contract was that we have to give up certain rights, here the right to privacy, to build and sustain a government that would in turn protect us. Is the government protecting you, or me, for that matter?

Kenya is a peculiar country, even for the region of Africa where it is located. With the age of the Internet, the man of reason is becoming a fossil. Consider the advice from the Ombudsman to lock out two MPs from vying in the next elections. The two, one would say, have acted in an uncivilized way in a civilized country; they have ignored the law and acted like men who have escaped from the confines of an asylum. That is what we would say if we were a civilized society, which we are not, no modern society is civlised in  sense of the word. The truth is that constituents of Embakasi and Makadara have perhaps had more of their issues taken care of, the crude methods notwithstanding, than most constituencies. What the Ombudsman’s office implies is that the other 222 MPs and ex officio leaders are fit to run for office. Which then begs the very question asked at the start of this exposition; are bad leaders really elected by those who choose not to vote?

The current crop of leaders vying to be the chief executive of the land are all, except a few candidates whose propects are too low to even consider, members of the prestigious August house. If we have all agreed that save for a few good laws, all our leaders are selfish and conniving, how then can a good citizen be made to choose between bad leaders? Does it even matter, one might ask, when we all know that Kenya as a country is suspetible to repeat the Tharaka-Nithi debacle (anyone who had both eyes and ears aleart in 2007/8 knows) where our votes were made inconsequential by the stroke of a pen.

Democracy, at the scale we try to operate, does not work. Athenian democracy, the purest form of them all, failed and was replaced by an empire which survived for longer than the democracy had. Even Plato’s work in the Republic implies that what we need is a philosopher-king. I would argue that a monarchy cannot work in our fractured society, but we need men and women of reason to vote, as opposed to everyone who can. We are a banana country, where survival outside the core group, whether tribal, age or gender-based, sexual orientation-based, social-media based, or any other, is improbable. As a society, we are already bound to each other in more ways than one, but we have made reason a collective instead of an individual process. Now, men of reason are considered apathetic, uncaring about their future and that of their children. To others, individual thinking is almost a crime, and that participating in the voting process is of some significance in determining the future of a country.

The bitter truth has been that in giving up our rights to constitute a government, we did not envision that we would be shafted so. At least in a dictatorship you know the government is shafting you all the time, and you become a full-time skeptic, in a democracy you wake up feeling sore, and you are never sure whether your neighbor or the government did it, and whether you gave your consent when you cast your vote.

The legal maxim ‘the burden of proof lies with him who asserts, not him who denies’ best characterizes this situation. If you registered as a voter, why did you do it? Think, its not illegal yet! Think outside the generic argument and social conditioning, think beyond the flock mentality and the memes on your timeline.

When all is said and done, we are masters of our present and future, our decision to vote notwithstanding. The man who chooses not vote does so in his own right, and he should not be forced, either passively or actively, to participate in a process he does not think is of any significance to his life. To force such a man into the flock is to proclaim the fallacy of democracy, that whereas the minority will hardly ever have their way, they must be seen and heard for the process to be legitimate. The decision of who will lead this country will be made in a boardroom, and then passed down through the media, traditional and digital, and fed to us through different channels and methods. Like willing sheep we will elect a new crop of leaders from an old crop of leaders, and then the process will begin again. In the background, the man of reason will know better than to expect the voting process to be the grand solution to the many ailments that continue to shaft this country.

Our country reeks from years of being shafted by a political class that is representative of our rotten self-interests We reek of being herded to validate decisions made in the interests of a few. We are so used to the stench that we do not know how to live without it, so we rise up each morning and hope we will find out it has all been a bad dream. Our country needs a revolution of thought and reason, a break from social and poltiical conditioning where each man and woman can be his own. We need to wash ourselves of the flock mentality, now made easier by the lynch mobs on social media. We need a shower, or a bath, whichever we can do without being afraid, desperately.

(Interesting, that when I am done righting this someone inboxes on social media ‘Jee Rafiki yangu wa fb, una kura?)

Owaahh

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2012 in Causes, Despair, Discourse, Events, Nairobi Review, Random Musings

 

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The Barmaid and the Boy who Kissed an Inexperienced Bed


To the creative writer, there is something morbidly inspiring about morgues and barstools. Morgues because dead men tell no tales, as the saying goes, and the man looking for inspiration wants to tell tales. Barstools because, well, just barstools.

I often wonder how all the people who work in morgues live without a daily dose of writing about their experiences, about the different people they meet every day. But barstools are the place to be, partly because you do not look like an insane person when you talk to the person on the other side and partly because imbibing has a way of opening up the creative juices. The bar is morbidly relaxing, if you enjoy the sound of your own thoughts or if you are lucky enough to have good, non-demanding company.

Its times like that that seemingly small things become writing ideas, and you sit at 5.30 AM in the morning, with pains in places that probably should not hurt, and pen a story about the struggles of writing and the barmaid who might not know she is a shrink of sorts.

Immortality would not be good for any species, especially our kind for whom sated primal needs such as food and sex are not enough to keep our non-existent sanity. In case you do not bother to be regaled with stories of a man looking for inspiration, here is a link to flexible women, everybody likes flexible women, I am not so sure about pregnant women doing the split though.
I am thinking about sitting at the bar because I met Joyce this past weekend, a barmaid with a keen eye and a soft motherly look. Actually, I called her ‘mami’ several times before she gave me the evil eye and said ‘Ninaitwa Joyce’ (my name is Joyce) and someone pointed out that she actually had a tattoo of her name on her left arm. I had already been imbibing before I sat at the bar so a little blindness was allowed.

I like to watch barmaids/men work, there is something about the woman or man behind the counter passing out poisons to men and women looking for escapism that is intriguing. The barmaid at my kalocal, a heavy woman called Mumbi, or something like that, was a scary woman I used to stare at through the grills and wonder whether she enjoyed her work. She had no life in her, no spirit to make conversation, except when talking to older men who looked to have a woman listen without necessarily having to listen to their bantering in return.

Mumbi, or whatever her name was, was replaced by a thin thing with absolutely no life at all, even when an smiling old man bought her shots of things strong and potent. I have not cared to know her name, partly because I ‘bonded’ with Njeri, a waitress who has a happy face. Okay, I think she has a permanent smile but in actual sense she has one of those teeth structures that make the teeth stick out of the mouth at all times. I am sure you know someone with teeth like that, an oddly smiley face. I always wonder how people who look like that kiss without harming the other party.
Talking about risky kissing, I recently recalled an old story from high school. A student sleeping on the lower bunk was woken up in the middle of the night by a sharp searing pain in his upper lip and an odd weight. The weight was the upper bunk, complete with its occupant, which had come off the hooks on the ‘head-side’ and fallen on our protagonist. Sharp pain, and the weight meant that he could not scream, or he could, but it would emerge as a muffled cry like that of screamer with a pillow on her mouth.

For the few seconds it took the occupant of the upper bunk to realize he was now sleeping on his bunk mate, and not in a good way, our protagonist had a wound that required about fourteen stitches on his upper lip. On the bright side, my high school is next to a world-class hospital with a lot of hot nurses and doctors-hoping a good friend of mine does not read this because his sister works there-and a higher than proportionate number of white staff.

On the dull side, however, he now had to spot a bandage for a few weeks as the wound healed. Anyone who went through high school knows that there is a special place in hell for the kind of sadists who walk around in high school uniforms or with chalk imprints on their jackets. One of those men was Mr. Kiroko, a burly man who could chew on a blade of grass like there was a gift somewhere in the middle, and ignore the dripping drops of saliva, and overly disgusted students, trying hard to ignore him.

Granted, he was a Physics and Metalwork lecturer, perhaps the worst combination of disciplines for anyone hoping to be sane. Mr. Kiroko walks to our bandaged friend and asks

“Joseph, nini lifanyika?” (Joseph, what happened to you?”
Since there is no way of answering the question without it coming out as plain weird…
Joseph: Niliangukiwa na kitanda (The bed fell on me)

Mr. Kiroko (laughing): Ooohhh, I thought you had been kissed by an inexperienced person.

Those are the kind of men who deserve to burn at the stake for making sick and injured people laugh their way back to the theatre.
Okay, yes, barmaids. Njeri is special, she reminds me of the barmaid at another kalocal in South C who does not mind placing a lid over my unfinished beer and keeping it until I go back, even when it is a few days later. I first met Njeri on my birthday, when three girls raided my house and dragged me to a bar to stop mulling over my first major event as a single guy. She could not get over the fact that I had three women in a bar on a Saturday when the bar lacks any despite being in the residential area next to a public university.

I think I made around ten friends that day, men giving me the evil look because I seemed to be hoarding a precious commodity. Old men, to be precise, with clear worry lines on their face that only come from having two children, mortgage, a nagging wife, a demanding concubine, an old car and loans from all banks. They are the kind of men with tired looks on their face like the weight of all the people in the world has been placed upon their shoulders. They love sweet young things who can marvel at their experiences, and who are impressed by their seemingly fat wallets despite the fact that half the weight is just business cards.
I saw the kind at a club some time when I misguidedly decided to see what goes on in the dark side of Corner House. On the table next to me was a young girl, probably what Waga Odongo call’s ‘girl’s born in the multiparty era’ with two old men who could only have been her dad and uncle, or vice versa. One was fat and stubby, wearing the kind of coat you are sure your dad either looted from a stall during the 1982 coup or has had since his university days when Sabina Joy was still cool.

The other guy was younger, probably in his forties but was not interested in the particular girl. It was weird because she was dancing along, and she had moves from an alien planet, the kind that make you wonder whether the dancer has any bone structure at all, especially a pelvis, how can someone survive without a pelvis? The guys, on the other hand, were doing moves akin to swallowing a Taser gun and a raccoon with untrimmed nails.

Njeri still marvels at that, and every time I am hit by my withdrawals and I need to sit among strangers and block out the world, she always asks me why ‘my women’ are not with me. I smile then, because I do not want to tell her I have noises in my head that need silence in the middle of all the noise, and a fixation like counting the drinks behind the counter. I know she means well, so I buy her a beer, a Guinness Kubwa at the lower limit of Mututho time and shake my head as she tries to make conversation. She is hard to read, partly because her teeth are distracting and partly because I do not care to do so. It would not help either of us, she believes I am a pimp and I am happy to let her think so.
I met Joyce on Saturday, the barmaid with a tattoo of her name on her hand. That’s either vanity, or there is some sort of kidnapping ring going around in Kenya where people are tattooed their own names for easier identification. Maybe the bar is her prison? Think about it, she does not move from the bar, so maybe her legs are chained to something underneath so she does not move outside. She has to say in her circle, figuratively, and semi-circle, literally. It could be a project by the evil overlord, he of the all-seeing eye in the form of a bouncer who stares at your date like you are a chicken sticking its neck out begging to be killed. The thought crossed my mind, but I could not save her even if she was. She is not exactly hot, and the good lord, or evolution, or wherever it is we wretched beings came from, saw it fit to give me an untamed mind in place of smashing princely look. I do not think her parents are royalty so ours would not be a Shrek-kind of a story, so I let her be, and followed her with my eyes as she did her job.
There is something intriguing about the barman/barmaid and the way they maintain sanity in the middle of madness. Joyce even has a system behind her, which I noticed when I tipped her and she took the note and placed it on a tumbler on one of the shelves. The tumbler had her name, and there were other tumblers, probably five or six, with names of people I guess are the waitresses. The system seems pretty simple, given the madness of a bar, so everytime anyone gets a tip they take the money to her and she, hopefully faithfully, places it in the respective tumbler. I sit there and try to guess what led her to this life that is still not fully appreciated as an art in our country.

Is she happy about what she does?

Does she have kids?

Do they know their mother is pharmacist with a limited inventory who cures the worries of men by feeding them on what they order?

If she is a slave, does she have any sexy stories about why she is now behind the bar?

Like she tried to run away and her captors chained her there, so her way of asking to be saved is to tell me her name so I can stop calling her ‘mami’?

I missed the cues then I guess, and she is destined to live in captivity behind a bar her entire working life.

Owaahh, 2012.

 

 

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Hell’s Academy: A Review


A group of people find themselves in hell and they need to know why they got there. So the play is made as a series flashbacks for the main characters. For a play lasting about three hours and about 25 people in the cast, it was quite a show. The play is actually a musical of sorts. Yours truly generally avoids musicals because his simple mind cannot get why you should merge two art forms as primary elements. Hell’s Academy did not really change his mind but the music was good, and actually felt relevant. The music and vocal coordination were exemplary too, I think it would be safe to say I sat through a musical, of sorts. It, however, has very visible issues with continuity and some parts, the art appreciated, are illogical.

The plot connects a primary religious theme with numerous sub-themes including culture, politics, economy and complacency. The issues pointed out with continuity are easy to fix areas, the constraints of a live performance notwithstanding. The guy in front of me laughed exactly three times while another guy behind laughed so much at one point that he started screaming ‘aki wacheni!’ As someone who sheds tears when he laughs too hard, I totally understand him.

Hell’s Academy cast

Most of the issues with continuity are easily attributable to the fact that this was a large cast-25 people- and multiple storylines. For the keen eye though, continuity issues spoil what would be the most creatively hilarious scenes. For example, when one character is caught in a compromising situation with his student, a Deputy Principal, the villain of the play, uses his phone to capture the moment. When he wants to show them to the principal, the two ‘lovebirds run back to their previous position and freeze. Cheesy, right? Only till you notice that the Teacher was not wearing his coat when the picture was taken but in the ‘photo moment’, he has it on. Its flimsy I know but there is a reason why a set should have a continuity girl/boy on set whose work is to be flimsy.

Another point in continuity is where one character has to forgo a scholarship because Joseph, the Deputy, has impregnated her. The village agrees to send him instead so they do not have to condone him anymore. Later, he has become a doctor at a posh island hospital. The girl gives birth and the child has issues so the village decides to call on him. Simple logic tells you a timeframe is missing. Here, a medicine course would take six years by which time the child would be on his feet and in school.

The costume also had some issues including the fact that the backdrop had an image of a horned and winged devil but the character had none. In fact, he only had a hat, red garb and face painting to make him look scary. Anything else but that could have worked. I am tempted to think that he was selected because of his height but any good director can turn an actor into the character he desires. A set of horns, made from anything, including well cut carton or any other hard paper, could work just fine. Get the guy a pitchfork, make him look scary and intimidating. Include a voice over of a villains laugh, the whole ‘mwahahaha’ as now permitted by the Oxford Dictionary.

As a self-confessed ‘Grammar Nazi’, and sitting next to one, the issues with diction and voice with some characters was also prominent and at times, distracting. A director, I think, should create characters with specific actors in mind and then let them personalize the language so the vocals are natural and not Morgan Freeman-wannabe. Two characters stood out, the principal and the girl whose mum dies and she is caught in a compromising situation seemed to struggle with the wording. Compared, the attempts to get our cultural mess of language into a script always works well in any comedic plot.

My favorite scene? Two actually, and my opinion here might be biased. One is the scene. In the video play where Juma, a good friend of mine, plays Pastor Project Fame-a parody of Judge Ian Mbugua and Samuel Gitau married into one hilarious character- and then sings ‘Thriiiiira!’

There are many others, including why the very funny chaplain character is condemned for being the Ian Mbugua equivalent in a show which he wins. How does he become a chaplain? The scene is hilarious and satirical but the logic behind it is wanting. Two, the scene where the chaplain calls God using a landline and talks to him with a Luopean accent. The last scene is illogical too, a hanging in hell? How many times can a man die? Even the concept of a Judgment Day following the Rapture implies that only those who are pure at heart will be rapture/taken away. How then the characters are ‘raptured’ and end up in hell…and yes, I over think things.

The beauty of watching the everyone forget that the national anthem has three stanzas and not one as high school made us all think. It’s a predictable reaction, just wait until the first stanzas is done and then look around at all the people who rush to sit before the second stanza starts and they shoot up again. Patriotism and conditioned amnesia, it would seem, are not very good friends. It also makes everyone, including yours truly, sing the first stanza over and over again before quickly mouthing ‘natukae na shukrani.’

Owaahh ©

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2012 in Events, Nairobi Review, Pages from the Past, Review

 

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