Even Broken Crayons Still Colour – Part One

She walks in with a shy smile and a beautiful baby boy on her hip. She’s recovering from a cocaine addiction and before her baby was born she was a drug trafficker. At some point in her life she almost joined the dreaded Al-Shabaab militia. She seems older than her years, but alas, she’s only 20 years old.

Her story seems surreal for someone so young. She recounts to me the trajectory her life has taken to arrive at this point. Just after she cleared high school, she was approached by a friend who asked her to deliver a bag to a man in Ngong. With the naïveté of youth, she didn’t stop to question what was in the bag. When she arrived at the house, the first thing she noticed were the huge men in suits standing around the house. The place looked like one of those Narcos drug dens, packets of drugs everywhere, guns hidden in plain sight and huge amounts of testosterone flowing in the room. She soon learned that this was not the final destination. The huge men emptied the bag and filled it up again with more cargo to deliver, this time to town, and there began her life as a trafficker. The friend who had given her the bag was also part of the group. On that first trip, she didn’t ask for money because she had not known what she was carrying. When she realised it was drugs they were transporting, she asked for money because the risk was too high. I stop the story to ask why she didn’t run at this point and she said “the money was too good.” The second bag got them paid 70k. For kids straight out of high school this was a lot of money, even split halfway. They were hesitant at first, but quick money has a way of changing your mind quite quickly. They threw themselves into it and the money poured in hard and fast.

She was an impressionable girl, brought up in a very religious family. Shielded from life in a way that only children of religious families can be, she found herself in a new world, a world made that much more exciting because of money. She started attending all the cool parties and living it up. She began to supply cocaine to these parties and the money kept rolling in. Somewhere along the way she started snorting the cocaine and before she could blink she was addicted to the high. Add to this some alcohol and weed, and you have the makings of a hard addiction right there. All this time her family was completely unaware of what she was doing. She would leave the house early in the morning and would be back home before the folks checked in. Life was good and she couldn’t complain. She was a straight-A student, still is, and her grades didn’t suffer one bit. In fact in her own words, she said the coke cleared her brain and helped her think.

At the time she was studying programming at a college in town. She was quite a brilliant programmer and so was her friend. (I think it’s time we gave him a name, we’ll call him Andrew.) Let’s also call the girl, Tina. So Tina and Andrew were coding and trafficking, oblivious to the danger they were putting themselves into. Unbeknownst to them, the police had picked up on them and were silently following them. She would later learn that they had been on their trail for months, following them between Ngong and town, learning all their tricks and planning their next moves. And like every good Narcos story, the police were more interested in the big dealers, and Tina and Andrew were the path that would lead them there.

Meanwhile, her parents had started to suspect something. Tina was always locked up in her room. She left early in the morning and got back in the evening even on days when she had no classes. Due to her parent’s strict influence, she had to be decently dressed; long skirts and head scarves – no trousers allowed. That is still the rule in her parent’s house to this day. Like any other teenager, she would leave the house all covered up and would change into funkier clothes once she got to school or the pick-up point. Unfortunately for her, one random afternoon a woman from her church spotted her in town dressed in a short skirt and immediately called her father. He called her, pretending to find out where she was and whether he could pick her up from school. Sensing a trap she said no and rushed home only to find him waiting for her. The interrogation was ruthless and her parents turned her room inside out trying to find out what else she was hiding. They found booze, weed, coke and another cellphone which she used for the business all hidden in different parts of her room. Her parents were furious – in fact furious is a serious understatement. She was cornered and she couldn’t lie through it, so she decided to tell the truth about the whole thing.

When her father found out he was livid; he promptly kicked her out without an argument. She was 19 and homeless with nowhere to turn. Luckily she still had some of the money saved up from the business and went to live with a friend who was kind enough to host her. Her friend knew her story and tried to help her reform and Tina was willing to try. As part of the reform process, she invited Tina to church and that’s where she learned of a youth camp happening in Marsabit. She signed up and excitedly called Andrew to tell him about it. He was happy for her and seemed genuinely interested in her trip. She gave him all the details about the trip, the stops they would make and all the places they would visit. Little did she know her itinerary was valuable information. For while she had been trying to reform her life, Andrew had been getting deeper and deeper into the crime world. Owing to their brilliance at programming, word reached one of the Al-shabaab recruiters (even she couldn’t answer how) about the dynamic duo and they promptly reached out to Andrew to try to recruit them both. Since Andrew knew she wouldn’t agree to joining the group, he organized for her to be kidnapped in Isiolo. The bus she was traveling on was to be hijacked in Isiolo and she was meant to have been taken at that time. When Andrew later told her the story, she remembered a white pro box trying to circle their bus but it was unable to make their bus stop. She shudders at the thought of what might have happened had they actually managed to kidnap her. Working with a terrorist organisation is something even she wouldn’t touch.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch her parents had no idea where she was. Even after kicking her out, they still tried to keep track of her. Her father went with some CIDs to her college to find out where she went but none of her friends said a thing. The cops started spying on Andrew, following him around and going to the extent of tapping his phone. Unfortunately for her, intelligence had been tailing her for a while due to the drug trafficking. They alerted the CIDs of her whereabouts and they promptly alerted her parents. That’s how she turned around one evening and found her mother standing in the middle of the kitchen at the camp.

She was dragged back home and put on the path to reform. She was too old for juvenile detention and too young for a regular jail so her her parents worked out an arrangement for her case. She had lots of counseling sessions and started getting close to her parents little by little. They paid for her to go to driving school and there is where she met Larry, the great love of her life and father of her baby. That is also where all hell broke loose…

To be continued….

Part Two – Next week.

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The Kenyan Airbnb Experience

So you’ve gotten wind of this neat little invention called Airbnb and decided to check it out. For those who are living under a rock and have no clue what Airbnb is; it’s the new way to find accommodation in a city if hotels are too expensive, or you’d like to add a local touch to your holiday. People who have extra rooms in their homes put them up on the site and charge a certain fee. Travelers can then decide, based on their budget, which place they like best. Hotels are expensive and people have found new ways of accommodating the masses. If you do decide to share your home with strangers, you must be prepared for anything; good or bad. The upside of this arrangement is that you could make some good money and meet some pretty cool people. The downside is that you could meet some really nasty people who could steal your expensive shoes and runaway with your poodle. But hey, it’s 2017. We Uber all around town with strangers and no one has gotten killed. Yet. Airbnb is an affordable way to see the world and is quite convenient once you get the hang of it.

There are lots of people in Kenya , mostly from the leafy suburbs, who have put up their homes on Airbnb. Their homes are in places with names like ‘Bougainvillea drive’ that foreigners can pronounce with ease. However, this shouldn’t stop you from making money. Just because you live on Gachambaki corner doesn’t mean you can’t make an honest shilling.

However, I think there are a few ground rules we ought to consider before we make the leap into this level of familiarity with strangers. We are a developing country and things are very different on this side of the continent.

Here are 10 things to consider as you set up your own Airbnb:

1. Location, Location, Location

Don’t believe all the nonsense that real estate agents say about location. You house on Gachambaki corner is just as good as the one on Muthaiga Road. I’m pretty sure that potted plant slowly wilting outside your front door will give your house character. It’s all bout how you sell it. Throw in words like cozy, affordable, intimate and free breakfast and you will have lots of offers. Do not mention the fact that there is a huge crater outside your house that fills with water every time it rains and threatens to swallow your whole neighborhood whole. They also don’t need to know about the stray dogs that walk along the road in your hood and are probably filled with rabies. Focus on the positives; everything they need is right outside your door, literally. They can get a haircut while buying tomatoes and grab a stray kitten to take home with them. Their home, not yours. It’s really not about what you say, it’s more about what you don’t say…

2. Space

Nairobi landlords are notorious for charging an arm and a leg for space you can barely squeeze your furniture into. If you have an extra room, chances are it’s the size of a shoe box. That however should not stop you for making money off of it. Space is overrated, just ask the Japanese. With a little imagination you can turn tiny into cozy in a heartbeat. Invest in a couple of mirrors; apparently they make rooms look bigger. Convince your guest that having wardrobes means chopping down trees, which you are completely against. They should live off their suitcase even if they’re staying for a month. Mention casually that they shouldn’t travel with so much stuff anyway. Litter the room with African trinkets you’ve bought cheaply at Maasai market. When visitors gush over them, tell them they can keep them. This is the start of repeat customers my friend…

3. Food

Guests can either cook for themselves or eat out. If they choose to cook, then you will have to share space with them in your fridge. It’s important you inform them of our peculiar Kenyan habits to avoid potential misunderstandings. The various ice cream tins filling the fridge do not actually contain ice cream. Some have left over food from three weeks ago which you wanted to throw out but couldn’t find due to the other ice cream tins blocking your view. That white lumpy thing in one of the tins is not some unique ice cream flavor only found in Kenya, it’s stale ugali that has dried up so badly and will chip your tooth if you dare bite into it. You must also inform your guests that the clear liquid in that huge Fanta orange bottle is  not Fanta lemon but actually water you’ve put in the fridge to get cold. Please ignore them when they ask about that water dispenser in the corner that is never switched on and only dispenses lukewarm water. There is a reason why electricity is part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and a top priority of the President’s development agenda; its expensive and we must conserve it. Tell them you are however willing to switch on the dispenser for an extra 20 dollars for their drinking pleasure…

4. Water

Water is a scarce commodity in Kenya. Your visitors will expect to have it running constantly and some might even decide to wash their hair. You must nip these kinds of ideas in the bud. Please tell them that washing hair is forbidden as the hair gets clogged in the pipes and the neighbours end up not getting water. You are only being considerate of your neighbors.Even though that doesn’t make any sense, say it with a straight face and everyone will believe you.  If it’s possible try to introduce them to the concept of taking a bath using a bucket. I can assure you that none of them have ever tried it and they will find it refreshingly primitive. Nobody ever takes too long bathing with a bucket, there’s not enough space or water for that. You must also insist that they brush their teeth with water in a big metal cup. All of these things will save you water and will make your home seem authentically Kenyan…..

5. Bathroom

People generally don’t like to share bathrooms and you are not the exception. However, since you are out to make money, your preferences should be put aside for the greater good. You would not be a good Kenyan citizen if you did not warn your guests of what they will find in your bathroom. Most Kenyans if not all Africans wash their underwear after they shower and hang them in the bathroom. This might seem like a strange custom to foreigners but it is a way of life here. You however must not encourage them to do the same, please refer to water rules above. They can do their laundry when they get back home. However for the sake of your dignity please try to hang pleasant-looking underwear. The comments section of your profile could be your undoing….

6. Doing Laundry

Unless you’re living in the leafy suburbs where they have washing machines, chances are that you or someone else washes your clothes by hand and hangs them out to dry outside. If you are unable to convince them not to do their laundry to save on water, then you will have to show them the ropes. You must let them know of the things that can frustrate you to death about hanging clothes in Nairobi. If you live in a flat and are not living in the penthouse at the top, then you must deal with your neighbors clothes as well. Tell your guest to avoid hanging whites outside otherwise they might be shocked to find them completely blue once your neighbor decides to do their monthly wash of jeans. They should also monitor hanging times closely. They might hang their clothes and just when they are about to dry, find the neighbor has hanged their pink duvet out to dry. Or your neighbor might not have enough pegs and their clothes can keep dropping into your balcony every day. Sending their 3 year old to pick these clothes every hour will slowly drive you insane…

7. Internet

Internet is now a basic need like food and water, you cannot escape providing it to your guests. You might have to explain why the username is “pleasestopstealingmywifijohn” and how your name is coincidentally John. These coincidences happen but the main thing is that they get the internet. Streaming movies is completely forbidden. If they would like to see a movie, you can buy it for them at 200sh and bring it back home in the evening. Since you may not have provided them with a TV in their rooms, you will all have to share the main one. However, not all time is movie time. The main hours are for watching the news. Even if you have seen the 4pm and 7 pm news, you will still want to watch the 9pm and 11pm news even though the stories haven’t changed at all. Discourage them from watching the news; you don’t want them getting scared by the insults and threats been thrown around by politicians in this election season. You also don’t want them to watch Nairobi Diaries and judge us all by this level of ratchetness. If they speak Swahili they should watch Real Househelps of Kawangware, great show and Njugush never disappoints. If they don’t speak Swahili, then introduce them to AfroSinema. They’ll be thankful they chose Nairobi and not Lagos….

8. Neighbors

You will have to warn your guests about your crazy neighbours. There’s Jamo, the heavy drunk. He checks in everyday at around 3am and always confuses your house with his. He will spend 10 minutes trying to open your padlock while singing loudly. When he realizes it’s not opening, he will hurl insults at the gate for another 10 minutes. Finally he will decide to try the opposite door and be pleasantly surprised when it magically opens. This behavior used to scare you in the beginning, now it doesn’t even wake you. Your guest, however, may not share your ability to sleep like a log and will wake up every time Jamo touches the gate. You must try to explain what is happening using moving words like addiction and helplessness to make them not call the police and report you both. You must never introduce them to Jamo; that is a sexual harassment claim in waiting and will ruin your ratings. Instead introduce them to that cute chic downstairs you’ve been eyeing for a while, having foreigners at your place will make you seem cultured and approachable….

9. Security

Living in Nairobi requires you to take security seriously. Your guest might wonder why the padlock on your gate is bigger than the padlocks at Kamiti Prison. You must instruct them to keep the gate closed even during the day. Show them videos of daylight robbery gangs in Eastleigh and they will comply very quickly. You must warn them of the random people who will knock the door during the day and encourage them to use the peephole while shouting loudly through the door. They must never open it. The danger of being sprayed with a sleeping mist is real and you will find your house empty and your guest traumatized. If the Jehovah’s witnesses pass by they can slide the pamphlets under the door. Neighborhood kids who are looking for donations for the school charity run must also slide their forms under the door and receive their coins through the same way. Your guest can only open the gate to take out the trash and run quickly back in. Nairobi is not the place to do things leisurely, life is a mad dash here….

10. Traffic

Traffic in Nairobi is like an ex that refuses to leave you. No matter how many times you break up with them, they keep coming back to torment you. We have acquired a reputation for our nasty traffic. Lucky for your guests, you know just all the ways to beat this menace. You must scare them from using public transport with words like pickpockets and suffocation. Make sure you talk badly about Uber and Taxify, you need them to reach out to you for a solution. You can offer to drive them around in your old pick up at a reasonable fee while showing them the sights. You can take them to the National Park for a game drive. Having a cheetah jump into the back with your guests will earn you a 5 star rating; well, that is if it doesn’t kill them first. You can take them to Mama Oliech and show them where Obama sat when he came to Kenya. Be sure to keep your fuel tank purposefully low so that every time you get caught in traffic you can sigh loudly and say ” This fuel is so little and the thugs around this place carry pangas” there is no need to explain the word panga; the word sounds scary enough as it is. Sit back and watch how quickly you are asked to turn into the next petrol station with contributions coming  in fast…..

Airbnb is the way of the future and we must embrace these new inventions to make as much money as we can. So clean up that old room, hide your embarrassing high school pictures and welcome guests into your home. Hopefully it’s a good experience and you make some new friends and meet your soul mate. If it’s not, then shut it down and go back to making money the old-fashioned way, hustling in this Nairobery.

To be or not to be

It’s been a while since I’ve been here. I took a long unplanned hiatus from my blog and never made it back. I allowed the hustle and bustle of life to overtake my writing and got sucked into this rat race we call life in Nairobi. I used to tell myself “Marion, you really should write something.” and my response to myself was always” Tomorrow, I’ll write something for sure.” I met some friends who always asked why i stopped writing and my response was always that I’d write something tomorrow. That tomorrow never came and a year and a half later here we are.

That’s the funny thing with procrastination, you never realise how bad it is until you look back and see how much time you’ve lost by postponing what you needed to do. I knew I hadn’t written in a while but i was shocked when i saw the stats: my last blog post was in November 2015! That is the horror of my procrastination, I almost wrote to WordPress to confirm whether the stats were really mine. A year and a half! What have i been doing in all that time? I could have written a whole book in that time. If i had a baby they’d be walking and starting to talk. I could be halfway through paying a three-year loan which would feel great! That’s how much time I’ve lost since I last wrote here. It is shocking and sad.

There’s an old cliché that goes “the best things in life are free” which I think is the biggest fallacy of our times. Nothing on this earth is free apart from oxygen and salvation. And if you’ve ever been admitted to one of our fine hospitals you will realise pretty quickly that not even oxygen is free, they will charge you for the plastic bottle they put it in. The only difference is that not all costs in life are monetary in nature. Some things will cost you sleep, others will cost you your determination while others still will cost you mental or emotional energy.

I used to think that becoming a writer meant sitting down and writing a couple of words every once in a while. That you had to wait till a brilliant idea popped into your head in order to explore it further by writing. I thought it was all fun and games and that eventually you’d get to where you were going somehow. Writing is fun, and it should always be fun for you and those who read your work. However, becoming a writer is serious business. In order to perfect any craft you must work at it it everyday. Not every other day, every day! Michael Phelps gets into the pool every single day to practice his strokes. He does this every day even if the competition he is training for is four years away. Usain Bolt runs every single day of his life for hours on end to be able to run a 100m race in 10 seconds. Stephen King, the horror writer writes 2,000 words every day and is able to complete a 180,000-word novel in three months. All of this is impressive, and it emphasises one thing: to be good at anything you have to work at it every day and give it your all. One of Stephen King’s quotes reads:

“While it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely comepetent one.”

Underline hard work, dedication and timely help and you start to get the picture. I recently took Biko Zulu’s writing masterclass, not just to see the infamous forehead, but to learn more about his journey and what it takes to become a great writer. I won’t give away the class, you’ll have to go and see the forehead for yourself.  One thing I will say is this, writing like all other crafts is all about discipline. We who love Biko’s blogs log in religiously every Tuesday to read and never appreciate the sheer amount of work and effort it takes for him to feed our addiction every week. It looks easy sometimes, but it is nowhere near easy, not for writing or anything else.

Everything in life you put your mind to do requires discipline. The discipline to commit to your passion and to make it come alive. I think it’s important to decide what it is you want in life and set out to get it. If you want to lose weight you have to commit to an eating plan and exercise, both of which require discipline to follow through. We all struggle with this part of life in our own ways. We start out great and somehow along the way we give up or slow down and before you know it our dreams are rusting away in a small pile of forgotten plans. Getting back on that horse is sometimes so hard to do; we tell ourselves we’ll do it tomorrow or next week and the next thing you know years have gone by and we can’t go back.

So dust through that pile of abandoned dreams and plans and revive what you’ve always wanted to do. Start that business, join that gym, write that poem, finish that degree or take that long holiday you’ve dreamed of. Whatever it is, commit to it and make a plan to see it through. There’s little we can do to change the past but there’s a heck of a lot we can do to change the future.

So here I am, one and a half years later, getting back on the writing horse. It might be a little wobbly but it will steady in time. I’m developing the character and discipline of a writer by writing every day. I will be sharing my thoughts on this blog every week. I have purposed to do it every week, so help me God.

I’ll see you guys next week!

Shagsmudu

I love my shags. Not only because the roasted maize is to die for or the milk is dirt cheap. Or that the meat is so fresh you can almost hear the cow mooing as you chew. Or the fact that you can pick an avocado right of the tree next to your bedroom window. I love that you can make a full meal out of the things growing in your backyard. That spices are things Nairobians put in their food. You don’t cook your food with spices in shags, everything is just au naturale! The countryside is beautiful, there are large acres of tea farms and when it rains and the tea is blooming, the whole place looks green and luscious. Life is easy in shags. You work, you eat. You don’t work, you don’t eat. It’s just that simple. What amuses me most about shags is the general nosiness though. Most people in Nairobi don’t give two hoots about their neighbours. As long as you don’t wink at his wife, men really don’t care what you get up to. Women are slightly different..ok who are we kidding, they are vastly different! But that’s a story for another day. People greet each other on the stairs very formally and drive off without even thinking about the environment and carpooling. But not in shags, there everyone knows everybody’s business. You have a chama meeting and your neighbours will show up immediately it’s done to munch on leftovers and give you advice on what to buy with that 7,500 you just got. Some will even shamelessly borrow that money there and there. Everyone will know when you buy a new cow or your layers start laying. And if by any chance a new man is spotted lurking around your house, he will be investigated better than Waiguru. You will be pointed in the direction of his home where you will meet his first wife and six kids. This kind of nosiness is good, it has saved many hearts from being broken and saved many a home. But the best part about my shags is the people…….

Have you ever been to Kiambu county? Don’t let the governor stop you from visiting, we are all upright and upstanding citizens with no dark forces whatsoever. Save for our neighbour, Njoro. Njoro is a known thief. He will steal your own grandmother if you leave her unattended. From plastic buckets to pangas and even gumboots, leave them outside the house and they will find a new owner. He will strut around town in his new boots, which you had scratched your name on with a pin, and he will claim Wanjiru is his great uncle’s mother’s name. Njoro is one of those chaps who will harvest your shamba of all its cabbages and leave you one because he knows you have a baby. Suffice it to say, no one knows what to do with him because no one has ever been able to pin anything on him. The guy can weasel himself out of a needle’s hole. He is our very own version of Escobar…minus the drugs(that we know of!). His wife however defends him to death. She claims her husband is a good man and doesn’t understand why everyone keeps making these accusations. He works hard and always comes home with new things he has bought at the market……

Then there’s Karis, the singer. The guy is a Casanova walking in shiny pants and a reggae hat. He loves the fact that advertising his music is so cheap. He can put speakers on his neighbour’s probox and boom his newest vcd while cruising around town. He gets out of the car and dances sometimes and what he lacks in rhythm he makes up for in enthusiasm and laughter. The women love him and are his biggest promoters. He’s the local celeb and he acts like he knows it. Women passing by his boom box will sometimes stop and give him things like carrots and tomatoes they have harvested from their shambas as a token of appreciation. He promptly sells them and buys more reggae hats. Food is for those who lack talent……

Kim the photographer is the town’s resident camera man. He adores his job. And the ladies love him too. Especially since he bought that new selfie stick and now charges people 10 shillings for a selfie. The guy is making a killing off of new technology. He has three wives and two side chics and still says he doesn’t know why the ladies love him. Maybe its because he chases away the guys who come to take photos. He says only women’s beauty should be captured in photographs. Men should just stick to looking at themselves in the mirror…..

Maina is the town shopkeeper. His shop sells everything from toothpaste to car batteries. If you need it, he’s got it. He loves that he can close his shop and pop back home for lunch. It however means that people always follow him home pretending that they’re out of matches only to politely accept Mrs. Maina’s lunch offer. He sees right through these shenanigans but he lets its slide because his wife enjoys the company. She also cooks way too much food and puts potatoes everywhere so he’s happy to share with the neighbours. I think he wouldn’t be surprised to find some potatoes in his porridge one morning……

Then there’s Shiru, the town’s hottie. She’s a brown girl with long hair and the brownest teeth you’ll ever see. All the men in the village have been trying to marry her since she turned 16, but to no avail. She has refused all their offers but has given birth to six children all with different fathers. You would think this would deter the men, but alas no! They still keep coming after her. The village women have run out of new ways to gossip about her and have just accepted the situation. Everyone wonders what kind of hold she has on these guys, but no one can find an answer. Last time i checked, she was heading to Tanzania with a chicken to see her aunt…..

There is a simplicity to life in shags that i like. The cool fresh air, fresh meat and milk, basically everything is just fresh. And the people keep it even more fresh. Sometimes Nairobi can get to be too much. The traffic, the noise, the people, forward travelers, the meat your butcher is trying to pass off as fresh..sigh. It’s good to take a break, step into nature, walk barefoot in the grass and breathe in the sweet country air, feed the chickens and make fire with some wood. There is a beauty to this simplicity that I love. There is beauty in my shags.

East Africa’s Javelin Champion

Click the link to read the article. http://static1.squarespace.com/static/54294956e4b0f39bff3491b2/t/55fa4637e4b0914105336d74/1442465335215/Zinduka_e-Digest_Sept_2015_Issue_No.1.pdf#page=17

Today is a wonderful day. I got my first article published in a digest. For many this might not mean anything. But for me, this means a lot. It means you can dream. You can go chasing after that dream and sometimes if you’re very lucky, you can catch it. It means you can do whatever you set your mind to and the unattainable can be attained. All great writers start from somewhere. They write a little here and a little there and one day they are counted among the greats. And so this is where I start, and hope and pray that the end will be just as good as the beginning. I hope you enjoy the article about one of East Africa’s shining new stars.

P.S. the article has been published in an e-digest called Zinduka Digest which is a monthly publication that tells the East African story. It celebrates the East African people, reveals their struggles and applauds their diversity. It was formulated as part of efforts being made towards regional integration. In this regard, there will be a Zinduka festival for all East Africans which will be held in Arusha, Tanzania from the 23rd-28th November, 2015. It’s a fun and creative space where people can come and share about the things they consider important to them as well as the issues they would like to see addressed in the region. To learn more about the Zinduka Festival happening In Arusha, visit http://www.zindukafestival.com

The Broken Circle Breakdown

I always knew. That it was too good to be true. That it couldn’t last. That life isn’t like that, life isn’t generous. You mustn’t love someone. You mustn’t become attached to someone. Life begrudges you that. It takes everything away from you and it laughs in your face. It betrays you.

Elise Vandevelde – The Broken Circle Breakdown

I love foreign films. There’s just something about people speaking in a language I can’t understand that gets me. Fascinates me even. I’m never bothered by the subtitles. I know people who would never watch a movie with sub-titles. Personally I don’t mind them, if the story line is good they could speak Martian for 90 minutes and I’d still be as engrossed as I would be watching it in English. Hollywood movies nowadays don’t really float my boat. Since I’m not a sci-fi fan or marvel die-hard, this means I’m pretty much locked out of the blockbuster movie scene. The comedies with their raunchy jokes and crazy antics don’t make me laugh either and the love stories just don’t move me any more.

It’s why I ventured into foreign films. To see what countries other than America have to say about love, friendship, family and even war. That’s how I came across this movie: the broken circle breakdown. When I first saw the title I was like…huh? The broken circle breakdown? Is that like some kind of riddle? I couldn’t guess what the movie was about from the title but the description seemed pretty cool so I thought I’d check it out. I make a point to attend the European film festival held every year at Alliance Française. It’s a showcase of some of the best films made in various European countries over the year and I have to say Czechoslovakia makes some pretty good films. Make sure you go catch a film or two next year, you will be pleasantly surprised.

This particular movie was produced in Belgium and the whole movie is in Flemish which is what they call “Belgian Dutch.” It’s a moving tale of love and loss, of joy and pain, of happiness and sorrow. It’s also a movie about acceptance, looking beyond the superficial. To the very soul of another human being and making the decision to accept them as they are and love them forever. I find that acceptance is sorely lacking in the world we live in today. That everyone must fit into a certain box in order to be accepted. That those who are even the slightest bit different find themselves ostracized and despised. There has never been a more unlikely pairing than the couple in this movie. The girl is beautiful, vibrant and bubbly and her whole body is covered in tattoos. She’s a rebel who runs her own tattoo parlour. The guy is sullen, quiet and shy and plays the banjo in a bluegrass band. He’s her complete opposite.

Let me stop there and quickly explain what bluegrass is. I didn’t know what it was until I watched the movie. Bluegrass is a sub-genre of country music where one or more instruments each take their turn playing the melody while the others perform accompaniment. Bluegrass artists use a variety of stringed instruments to create that beautiful melody. Listen to a sample melody here:

http://www.bluegrass101.com/Audio/FSA/BluegrassSpecial.mp3

Beautiful right?yes?..no?…ok bye. I also learnt that in music, a breakdown is part of a song in which various instruments have solo parts (breaks). It’s a popular musical style used particularly in bluegrass music. The title of the movie is still a mystery to me even despite making Google my friend.

Now back to our unlikely duo. They meet and instantly fall madly in love. No inhibitions, no judgement, just two souls that were meant to be finding each other and sticking together. They date for all of five minutes and get married amidst their family of bluegrass singers. Turns out the chic can sing as well and she’s really good. From there, it all goes south and a devastating tragedy that happens to their young family threatens to break them up. It’s a story about loss and how differently everyone deals with it. I think men tend to deal with loss on the inside, never quite bringing their emotions to their surface. Women tend to be slightly more vocal and emotional and sometimes take it out on those around them. It’s a heartbreaking movie for sure. But above all, it’s a movie about patience and gentleness. Heaven knows the world could use a little more patience and gentleness.

Try this movie. It will move you and make you shed a tear or two. It will restore your faith in love. The good kind of love. It will also make you realize the truth of that old blues song “maybe sometimes love just ain’t enough.” It will make you wish you spoke Flemish, because seriously, the language sounds so beautiful. Even when they’re yelling it sounds nice. And if you’re like me and you love country music, then the music will make the movie that much more interesting.

Here’s the link to watch it. It has English subtitles. I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think of it. No spoilers for the rest please 🙂

http://www.primewire.ag/external.php?title=The+Broken+Circle+Breakdown&url=aHR0cDovL3d3dy5ub3d2aWRlby5ldS92aWRlby8wZGpvYTI4YzIyOGQ5&domain=bm93dmlkZW8uZXU=&loggedin=0

To be 17 again!

My niece recently turned 17 years old. As Jeff would say “what an age!” At 17 you’re practically a foetus, standing on the edge of life. You’re probably finishing high school or about to, you will soon turn 18 and be old enough to drink, drive or get married should you wish. You have your whole life ahead of you. The disillusions and disappointments that come with growing up are unknown to you. You are yet to fully grasp the importance of money and all the joys and sorrows it brings with it. You think boys are the best thing that ever happened since sliced bread. You can still eat bread and drink soda at the same time and consider it a good meal.

I was 17 not so long ago..hehe..ok…maybe quite a while back. I didn’t have a cellphone or an ipad, basically I had no gadgets at all. All plans were made via the land line at home which was locked with a small padlock and covered with a white cloth. Did any of you have those telephones at home? Why did mothers cover them with that white cloth? Did they want to protect them from getting dirty or was it just for decorative purposes? And did you learn how to tap it with a fork and make secret calls to your friends? And when the bill came, did you pretend to be just as surprised as your mother was? If you know all this, then you are just as old as I am my friend, and the first half of your life has probably come and gone.

Everyone used to meet outside Kenya cinema back then. You would make a date on that decorated land line and choose a time, and the place would almost always be Kenya cinema. It’s amazing how nowadays plans can’t be made without cellphones, someone must always be on the phone pretending to be near Java but actually stuck on Thika road. Patience has all but gone out the window now. Back then people would wait for hours outside Kenya cinema for their dates. They would spend that time walking back and forth to the public phone booth, trying to call that land line again and see if anyone would pick up. If no one answered then it was a sign that they were on their way and there was hope. When your date finally arrived, off you would go to Mcfrys because back then Mcfrys was the only place that had channel O and so they were always playing the latest music. Or you would go catch a movie at 20th century, making sure to buy enough snacks at Uchumi to sneak into the theatre because the hot dogs and popcorn were too pricey. Life was simpler then. Your date would take you home in a mat and leave you safely at your doorstep before taking a mat back to town and heading back to his home. Chivalry was alive and well in those days. Kids had respect for their elders. They would stand up for old people on the bus and little ones were never allowed to watch the bold and the beautiful.

So back to my niece. She is growing up so fast now, and I think she is curvier now while we were skinny as rails at that age. Must be all that junk food they eat. Whenever I walk with her men stare at her and I must constantly keep myself from throwing stones at them. Cant they see she’s only 17? But alas, we live in Nairobi, where grown men will ogle at 17-year-old girls. What must it be like to be 17 at this moment in time? To be constantly bombarded by the media about what you should look like, what to wear or what is supposedly trendy. I think kids have it tougher in this day and age. There is a whole different kind of peer pressure now and its name is social media. The need to post beautiful pictures in snazzy outfits while posing in exotic locations has affected our young ones as well. And the music they listen to nowadays makes me sad. It is nothing like the good old 90’s music that I grew up with, so soulful and mellow and filled with poetic rhymes.

What would you do differently if you were 17 again? What would you tell your 17-year-old niece growing up in this age. Well if it were me, this is what I would tell my niece now:

  1. When you go off to university, pick something you love. The world is changing and many people are now making a very good living doing the things they love. Don’t just pick a degree that will get you a job after graduation (all B.Comm people raise your hands and say I! I!) So if you like to dance, find a dance school and break it down on the dance floor. If singing is your thing, then find that space and sing your heart out. And if you want to be an entrepreneur then put on your thinking cap and start that business. Set the world on fire and don’t settle for anything less.

  2. Don’t let the world define you. Better yet, don’t let social media define you. There are too many young people taking seductive photos in skimpy outfits just because Nicki Minaj does it. Don’t conform to the world. Find your own unique identity. If you’re comfortable in sneakers then wear them, don’t worry even if the whole world is wearing heels. You’re only young once and it would be sad if you spent your whole youth competing and trying to live up to an image that others have created for you.

  3. Date a nice guy. Yes, I know when you’re young the bad boys make your heart beat a little faster and turn your rosy cheeks pink. They walk, talk and act bad and they will have you head over heels in love with them before they even say hello. Steer clear of these ones. They will break your heart, your sister’s and your neighbour’s too because trust me, he will be dating all three of you. Give that good guy a chance. The one who is a little shy. Who doesn’t wear the latest shoes. Who probably wears glasses and sits at the front of the class. He will write you some nice poetry and blush a little when you look at him. Pick him. He will treat you right because he wouldn’t know how to be bad even if he tried.

  4. Show a little respect. Our generation was raised to have respect for the elderly, for teachers and even for persons in authority. Kids of this age seem to have missed that gene. Houses with teenagers are filled with slamming doors, moody silences and terrible eating habits. Listen to your mother, better yet listen to your grandmother. Obey them, even if you don’t want to. Take out those earphones when you talk to them. Disobedience will harm you in the long run. And always remember, you will get to that side of life someday and you will want your kids to have some respect.

  5. Do some housework for crying out loud! It wouldn’t kill you to do the dishes, would it? Even if your parents have generously employed someone to do that, it doesn’t mean you should spend your whole life stretched out on the sofa, eating junk and flipping through channels. Clean the house and learn how to cook a few dishes. You should at least be able to make tea for your aunties when they pop around for a visit.

  6. Find something to do as you wait to join campus. So much time is wasted before, during and after campus. Volunteer for an organization working for a good cause. Take up that internship and learn a few things about the workplace. Go shagz and learn how to grow tomatoes. You might end up being the biggest tomato farmer this side of the sahara.

  7. And last but never least, find God in your youth. I have met many amazing young people doing great things in various God-centred ministries. Some of them are quite young and you wouldn’t believe the impact they are making in the areas they are involved in. I find them to be more grounded and less likely to be swayed by the world. Sure they will make mistakes, like everyone does, but some mistakes they may never make and that is a good thing. God will guide your steps and lead you down a good path. Trust me, your whole life will be better for it.

What would you tell your 17-year-old niece or nephew for that matter? Let’s meet in the comments and share!

The Green-Eyed Monster

It’s Saturday night. You’re curled up on the sofa watching the Bible series…ahem…power. Your phone pings. It’s a whatsapp message from Lisa. You haven’t heard from that chic in ages. Last time you heard she had moved abroad, to Kigali or Kampala hehe..Her words not mine. Since she left she has never bothered to invite you for a visit. Maybe because you giggled about the abroad thing. But you hold no grudges. Life gets busy, people move away, happens all the time. It’s not like you’ve been inviting people from shagz for a visit either so let’s all calm down and stop with the stone throwing.

Anyway, you open the message to see what Lisa has to say this Saturday night. It’s a picture of her. She looks gorgeous by the way, all sun-kissed and carefree looking fantastic in that yellow sundress. She’s smiling in front of the Eiffel tower. Wait…..what? This must be Photoshop….no?..When did she go to Paris? This cannot be happening. The closest you’ve been to Paris is that café de Paris on Ronald Ngala street. Don’t act like y’all don’t know it, it was the cool joint back in my high school days. And by the way when did greetings stop being the formal way of starting messages? When did we move to pictures? nkt…nkt…and hallo to you too Lisa!

You swallow your annoyance and another unmentionable emotion and continue.

“Hey Lisa! Looking gorgeous dear..aki wewe unaenda Paris na huwezi nibeba!” (insert all manner of emojis here..those things are perfect at hiding real emotion)

“Aki swits it was last minute….si you know how these things go.”

No, I most certainly do not know how these things go. Mostly because I’ve never been to Paris on a whim. Let’s face it, I haven’t been anywhere on a whim. The last place I’ve been to is my shagz, and if you’re from Kiambu like me then basically you haven’t been anywhere. If the price of food in your shagz is the same as that of your neighborhood kiosk then you haven’t left Nairobi my friend.

So, back to the story. You grit your teeth and carry on with the conversation.

“What are you doing in Paris?”

You start to pray frantically that she is there for work. Because if she is there on holiday with her man, you will switch off your phone and go to sleep. Not that the work one would be any less painful, but we have to pick the lesser of two evils here.

The phone pings again. Another picture. Still Lisa, still smiling in front of the Eiffel tower but this time she has been joined by a smiling Adonis. Tall, well-built, impeccably dressed and with a perfect smile. It’s amazing the amount of detail women can pick up from a photo. You momentarily get sidetracked by his dimples. You had promised to switch of your phone and go to sleep if she sent you a picture of her and her man. However, the stakes have gone up. We must now find out who Mr. dimples is.

“Eish mami, kwani you have made friends that quickly in Paris?”

It’s shameless and completely beneath you what you are doing. Why are you being like this? You know very well that is her man. That jaw line is definitely luhnje. And his arm around her waist is a little too familiar.

“hahaha..aki wewe jokes hujawacha! That’s my boyfriend Nick, we’re celebrating our engagement.”

Woi, it’s like being slapped in the face with a wet fish (oxymoron?) Lisa has continued on, blissfully unaware of the mental torture she is inflicting on you. But it’s not her fault. She is just sharing her life with you. Isn’t that what friends are for? To share with in the good and bad moments. Would you have your friends not tell you their wonderful news?

Have you ever watched other people live your life, the life you always thought you were meant to have? Drive that Land Rover Discovery 5 you bought in your head? Decorate that Muthaiga townhouse in stunning ocean blue colours that reflect the depth of your personality? Marry that tall dark and filthy rich ninja that will make you blissfully happy? what do you feel inside? anger? jealousy? resentment? Or perhaps motivation? hopefully its motivation because the reality is there will always be people who have more than you do and others who will have less than you do.

The secret to life is to be content. Sure, we all want to go to Paris on our engagement. But if it never happens does it mean you will never be happy? Everyone is on their own journey each with its own set of trials and triumphs. Their successes may be different from yours and their failures even more so. But we are all united in one thing, we all just want to be happy. Do the things we love, live the life we long for and if we’re lucky, take smiling pictures with our dimpled males in front of the Eiffel tower.

So, be gentle with yourself. You’re probably doing the best you can. And if not, then get off your bum and start doing the best you can. That way you can look back and blame the universe if things don’t work out.

The phone pings again. You are almost afraid to look. Lisa might now be bungee jumping off that darn tower. It’s a picture of her engagement ring. You are blinded by the glare off of that huge rock. You sigh. It’s time. You switch off your phone and go to sleep.

The plight of teachers

I am a Sunday school teacher. Bet you didn’t see that one coming huh? What do u imagine Sunday school teachers look like? Grey pleated skirts, chunky woolen sweaters and wide rimmed glasses? Or do you imagine a bright yellow wig, red button nose and shoes that squeak when we walk? If you chose the latter, then you must have us confused with clowns and that is very offensive! Our wigs are actually brown.

Whenever I introduce myself to people I always lead with that just to unnerve them. Most guys never see it coming and watching them try to navigate that curve ball is a thing of delight. I love to watch the wheels turning in their heads, misconceptions clashing with stereotypes and the inevitable questions that eventually come to their minds. Is she a church freak? What exactly is a church freak? She must be really strict right? Why does she teach a room full of children? Does she want to have a room full of children?

For the serious men, those looking to settle down and make honest girls of the various ratchet chics they encounter, this is usually a good thing. It doesn’t deter them. If anything it sort of eggs them on. I think they believe that teaching a room full of young kids is a testament to having great organizational skills and general orderliness. Perhaps  there are those who want lots of kids and are now relieved to find out that I am among the few who would be amenable to the idea. Quite the misconception there but ok.

The ones I really enjoy unnerving are the not-so-serious type, the so-called bad boys. The ones who 10 seconds into meeting you have already pictured your legs wrapped around their necks. The ones who can’t stop grinning lasciviously at you if their whole life depended on it. Those are the ones who usually stammer and fumble for words repeating the words “really” and “that’s really cool” because they don’t really know what to say to a Sunday school teacher.

Which got me thinking, do we behave a certain way because of who someone else claims to be? I ask this because a lot of these guys on finding out about my Sunday activities now send me Bible verses every night. For some of them, finding out that there is a book in the Bible called Nahum would shock them to their very core, so they stick to the Proverbs and John 3:16. What amazes me is that I know these guys, they wouldn’t send a bible verse to their own mothers. So why do they send them to me? Is it the idea of finding common ground to bond over or a way of putting one’s best foot forward? Does being a Sunday school teacher mean I can’t receive those hilarious instagram memes done in sheng? Or know that Bruce recently changed into Caitlyn and refused to spell her name with a K? hehe

In light of all this, I decided to shed some light on this myth for all those who have met or will meet this delightful creature called a Sunday school teacher:

1. No. I do not want to have as many kids as I teach. That is not a pre-requisite for the job. I actually only want one..two if the first one is super quiet.

2. No. You cannot send me dirty videos. There is a connotation that comes with the title. So deduce, Sherlock. I really don’t want to see what those girls did in masaku 7’s.

3. “There’s a smudge of paint on your nose.may I?”…No, you may certainly not. Maybe I put it there to amuse the kids.

4. “Can i bring my kid over and later we can all go to splash?”..No, No, No…just No.

5. “I can see you love kids.  I have two kids with my ex-wife and one with my baby mama. I was wondering maybe…..” No, your reckless behavior does not need any more encouragement. It’s your “wandering” that got you here in the first place.

6. “Can I introduce you to my mum? you two would really get along….” No, I’m on to you pal! once we get along then what?

7. “You know I like it when they call me Big Poppa….” Sigh…. just go stand in that corner there and think about what you just said. And when you’re done the exit is to your left.

So relax. Just be yourself. You don’t have to change who you are just to conform with this other person. They will like you just the way you are regardless of their Sunday school affiliations. And who knows they might actually enjoy your acerbic wit and Kevin Hart impersonations. Or not. Either way that will be their problem not yours.

Daddy’s Little Girl

Today is the 20th anniversary of my father’s death. This day should make me sadder than I am really. 20 years ago I lost an important figure in my life. But then again, 20 years ago I was only 9. I barely understood his presence or lack thereof. In my mind then, fathers were mostly good for sponsoring school trips which my mother had refused to pay for with no remorse. He always said yes, and that made me happier than you can imagine. I called him “papa” and only recently learned that I was the only one among my siblings who called him that. It makes me feel special in a way, kind of like how I would wash his handkerchiefs everyday when he got home. Parents make their kids do the darndest things!

I don’t remember much about him, my mum sent me to boarding school the following year. Whether the two events were co-related I can’t tell. She later told me that my letters to her were filled with longing for my father. That I felt jealous whenever other girls mentioned their fathers. I remember nothing of these letters but I don’t doubt their authenticity. I thought I was tougher than that, that the regular class beatings in school and paraffin-laced lunches had toughened my hide. But I was 10 then, still too young to really grieve. I can’t imagine the effect those letters must have had on my mother. She must have ached for me, the way only a mother can and it must have broken her heart.

Kids can be mean without even meaning to be. The fact that other kids went on and on about their dads must have affected me back then. I sometimes wonder whether it affects me now. I don’t think I have daddy issues. The need to strip to within an inch of my life and gyrate on a pole in the middle of a seedy club has never really taken hold. But those aren’t the only daddy issues a girl can have. Does growing up without a father make you seek out older, more nurturing and protective male types? Or does growing up without a father make you so fiercely self-sufficient and independent that you don’t crave one? Does it make you want a father for the kids you might have in the future and shy away from single parenthood?

There are many questions I ask, now that I’m older. Things I can look back at in retrospective and analyse deeper. They say you can’t miss what you never had. So I don’t know if I can say that i miss my father. I didn’t get the chance to know him. I wonder sometimes what it would be like if he were still here.

And so I write this letter on his anniversary,

Papa,

Wondering where you are is the hardest question of all. I never knew your religious beliefs, but these are weighty matters best left to the Almighty. I am doing fine papa. I wish you hadn’t left us so soon. I would have loved to get to know you beyond my infantile memories. I studied hard in school and went to University just like you had always wanted. I got a good job and moved out of home, to pursue the bitter-sweet illusion of free will and independence. Also I finally got that bike I cried so hard for, the one you and mum flat-out refused to buy me. They call it a treadmill and it’s at the gym. They won’t let me take it home either. This makes me sad and reminds me of that painful time..

Mum is fine too and we take care of her as best we can. However, try as I might, I haven’t  been able to stop her from watching these mexican soaps. It’s sad that I can’t call her in the evenings because there is always one on and she loves them so. I send her messages constantly just to interrupt her and she has since learned to switch off her phone when Alejandro comes on. Suffice it to say, I have given up and we are all at peace.

I wish you had been there for my brothers, because I think men need fathers more than we do. Sort of a point of reference of what they ought to be or not to be. My sisters don’t say much about you either. They were much older than i was when you left us so maybe they felt the pain of your loss more acutely.

We buried your mum, my grandmother, at a ripe old age and she still spoke so fondly of you it was like you were still alive. The piece of land you left us which was planted with tea now has potatoes. Sadly the Kikuyu cliché continues to haunt us all.

Every time I stop by your grave I remember you as you were when I was nine and that little girl misses you dearly. I love you papa.

Happy belated Father’s Day.