Are They Too Strong and Wise To Put Away?

November 10, 2009

By Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye

The other day I came upon an English poem that seemed to summarise the feelings of many people under the coalition government in Kenya. The form and vocabulary are dated, but this reminds us that similar situations and responses occur throughout history: literature is not the work of the super-sensitive bestowing enlightenment upon the masses. It is the words and images that those gifted in expression make available to those who share the same griefs, passions and bewilderment but may not have found a way to ventilate and come to terms with them.Read more at Kwanionline, the new Kwani? blog.

Ishmael Beah talks to Kwani?

August 26, 2008

Ishmael Beah, the 28 year old charismatic former Sierra Leone child soldier was here for the Kwani? Litfest.If you missed out on one of the public lectures by this gifted soldier turned author, whose memoir, A Long Way Gone, has sold close to a million copies, then do not worry.He talked to Kwani and you can listen it all here.

Vain Jango - spoken and written

June 16, 2008

A spoken version of Vain Jango, the Kwani? 01 classic, is now available here, for free; we’ve also reproduced the print version below, in case you’re the kind of person who likes to read along.

Vain Jango Letter

The other Sato I was chilling in Cactus. My skinny butt was perched precariously on a bar stool as I sipped my Tusker baridi as per kawa while I watched a Premier League match between Man. U and Southampton disinterestedly. I hate Man. U bro. I mean, why would those clowns want to win every damn English title?

Anyway back to my storo – my Tusker had started to ingia my system and my mind embarked on those lager-induced intelligence flashes. I mean, but do I say!, ain’t we all kind of intellectually stunted (wacha, if you think you are intelligent why don’t you invent something moto, like a TV that has scents with the picture) and emotionally blackrupt.

Ngoja, this bay with some serious bootie ingiad the pub and proceeded to sit on a bar stool right next to me (shit I almost whoooooped out loud). The jamaas in the pub were all shamelessly gawking. Baby had bootie and she knew it.

Well, she panda’d the barstool as gracefully as a mbuta swimming and guess what gentlemen? She was wearing a thong – si ulevi, ni ukweli. Yanii you could see the whole damn sexy thing peeping proudly above her jeans waistline, I almost fell of my stool and sobered up in a rush.

I gave her a brief accelerated detailed examination, now, the works, yanii checked out her hooters, her tummy (flat) her hips, her toes (aha don’t you hate twisted toes that suggest that jiggers once ruled there?), her face and the works … aha… baby had an Alicia keys imitation hairstyle too (now, I have this Alicia keys pathological obsession/ fixation, that is another story)

Well, it was time for JFP (Jango Floss Power). I pulled my battered cell phone out of my pocket and made poseur calls to my brother explaining to him loudly for all and sundry to hear that I had decided to sell my battered Toyota Corolla and was finally gonna buy that BMW coupe we had seen at the Nyayo Stadium car bazaar last Sunday (My bro was absolutely flummoxed, yaani a guy didn’t know what the hell a jingo was talking about!).

Anyway, after hanging up and placing the cell conspicuously on the table, I ordered a Tusker JUG, a guy had defected from bottle to jug in a flash. Next stop bought a packet of Embassy and placed it on the table (don’t even smoke, just in case baby did, u dig? Hell!)

Relax na mambo badoo, JFP still on, I paid for the whole shit with a crisp 1000 bob note, you know that one that never leaves your wallet except for such situations? Even though I had enough small change and coins to feed 10 street kids, then proceeded to tip the barman too( how many times do you do that in NBI)

Alafu I chewed the pose, you know the one where you look like you aren’t the least bit interested and are looking at everything and anything BUT HER yet you are drooling at her through the corner of your eye? U gitch?

Hebu a Jango was on top. Time for the games to begin, I hauled my butt of my stool and asked her could she politely watch my stool and other shit for me? Going to the gents briefly, baby smiled and said sawa, no problem.

Rushed to the loo, checked out my face in the mirror, si mbaya. Next checked my teeth just in case some sukuma wiki was stuck between my molars, si mbaya.

Went to the urinal, pivoted my left buttock and unleashed a loud and satisfying mshuto (stop flossing, kwani u don’t do that?), took a leak and zipped up.

Took that ki-emergency ka-small sample bottle of Polo sport cologne I got from Dubai duty free and splashed it on then hoofed it hurriedly upstairs.

Maneno si mbaya so far, baby has turned her stool and is now facing my empty stool, okay, but do I say, progress!

So I panda my stool and proceed to complete fishing, the bait that has been swallowed, now to reel mbuta. So what is your name baby? Would you like a drink? Hold on, here comes the shit now! Kwanza the baby has a deep rural Okuyu accent you know the one where the Rs and Ls are kabisa interchanged. Oh no!

I can live with that, you are fine girl! Next, okay baby, what do you do day to day? Fake coy smile. Hakuna I am just there in the digs, AHA!.

Read: Idler, vagabond, lay about, loser, pigeon. I mean, please, can’t you at least go to college if you can’t get a jobo and do any course just for the sake of the CV, like I learn French for instance? (Now how would that change the number of sufurias of ugali that you eat? Except make your CV acceptable.)

Okay, I ask, what are your qualifications baby, yaani I sympathize coz there are no jobs in Kenya. I fika’d form two in Kiamirithi girls school (mimi sijui huko ni wapi, usiniulize!). What? For real, okay.

By the way all this time a jango’s interest is slowly diminishing. Usishau!

Okay, so baby what do you think about the Constitutional Review Commission of Prof. Yash Pal Ghai? She gave me a blank dumb stare, she probably thought that was one of the explorers who discovered Africa, AKA Livingstone

What about the elections, who do you fancy? Another brief hesitation, and then a quick smile like a bulb has just lit in her head – Moi of course, well, a subtle reminder from yours truly that constitutionally he cannot run again, baby is bewildered.

Okay I ask, what do you think about the September 11 events in the NYC? Baby is completely flummoxed, apparently she is the only person in the world who never watched the events unfold on CNN or at least listened to the radio – what about even reading the Nation? Hell no! Baby was probably in the salon fixing her hair or sitting in the loo.

The whole time I was getting disinterested. So what are your goals in life? Here comes the response, I could have sworn I could see it coming ….. I want to go to Stato- shit! To do what? It ain’t a public toilet for any Njoki, Njeri and Jennifer to slither to.

Okay, maintaining social etiquette and moral decorum, I ask instead, so how do you intend to achieve that, know the visa requirements? No, my homy will panga for me. I almost wept. Sheeesh. Are these the kind of clowns we export to be our cultural ambassadors?

Anyway, it was time for a hasty retreat, I hurriedly told her that I needed to pick some things from the car and would be back in 5 mins… I sacrificed the half jug of my beloved Tusker that had bakia’d and hightailed it out of there. I quickly jumped into my moti and drove off in a hail of dust headed towards Kengeles on Koinange street.

I sat on yet another bar stool in Kengeles, ordered yet another Tusker baridi as per kawa and continued with my musings, while looking around for any interesting babies.

What is a beautiful woman? Is it the one who looks good on the outside but is a total empty shell o the inside, a certified dunderhead who cannot tell the difference between shit and pudding? Would you rather have an Alicia Keys duplicate with ugali for brains or an Alek Wek (don’t be ignorant, she is one famous ugly model from Sudan) look alike who is studying for her Ph.D. while working part time with some HIV-related NGO as a volunteer?

Well me I postulate that when you are taking care of your business… But do I say, you are not just rarua-ring the bootie but you are also rarua-ring the mind. I mean, wouldn’t you feel like a true jogoo if you raruad Condoleeza Rice?

Peace. Majamaaa. Have a tusker and stay Kenyan!

Vain Jango Reply

I had to show them. That stupid old shit of a father – who used to say I was his good gero, ati how I would go to Oxford! Yaani, be a doctor. But after uprooting his coffee, didn’t he become an over-aged Mungiki? Said the girls had to leave school.

Did I sleep in his house again?

Instead, I waited. To get my first ten thao. And watched. So easy to go to Nairobi thinking you are mambo yote – ati-coz people in Kiambu were just dying to know me. The rebel. Fifteen. And so kabisa stacked, yaani my body made grown men grin like peeled cobs of roast maize.

Lakini, I learned.

I was ready to go. It cost me ten minutes of bad breath on my face as Mwangi huffed and puffed on the back seat of his matatu. Me, I was just thinking – is this it? Is this what makes men so stupid? For this, my father was so weak?

Mwangi gave me his boss’ chapa in an envelope and got me drunk at Blue Post. Breathed on me again – choo-choo! Haki, if it wasn’t for the smell I would have thought he was the night train. To Nairobi.

Nairobi, ehe, I bought shiny-shiny Dubai dresses and mitumba that looked like new. Sold them in Kiambu. Customers bought! I borrowed ten thao from Mwangi, more of his boss’ chapa

In a month, I made twenty thao.

Twendelee. I selected the best outfits, cleaned them, put them in a suitcase and carried them to offices, banks salons – for sale. What did I know? Nairobi chillies are tough! All the time talking through their noses of Cactus, Carni, Kengele’s but it’s your fault if the dress doesn’t make them look like Janet Jackson’s twin! Then they spy my body and decide to get revenge by finya-ring me on price. And when my natural aras and eroz strip and stride or ofer the prace, they giggled hee-hee just like those tao classmates of mine did in Kamirithu Tech.

Nilichomeka!

I kata’d my losses and bought men’s ties. I zeroed on those ma-pot bellied tycoons, the fathers of those same girls who looked me up and down, mpake I felt like a snake and had to shwee shwee away. Lakini, si I know men? Ati me – shy mwiritu – I wore tights, but no lipstick. You know, to seem like a virgin from shags ripe for plucking, yaani you’ve got a chance if you keep her happy by buying her little ties. They bought and bought and bought.

Yaani, I fika’d

My plano was to take myself to a top class place one day. Like that Cactus sijui Kengeles. Yaani where fika-d guys heng – buy my own voddy, feel good, you know. Feel on top. Kiambu mwiritu on top!

I was ready

Si I’d been studying my customers. The ones whose clothes are imported fresh-fresh from London sijui New York via me, myself, personally. I decided to kill. Spent two thao in Gitush. Even bought those ma MTV Shakira stylo bum creepers that make men finya breath.

Alafu!

Cactus. Wawa! My heart hammered just like in those long-ago nights I used to wake up to hear my father beating my mother. Cactus, me, myself and I – Will I pass? Will I pass?

Lakini, the way I walked in, you could have mistaken me for Kabaka’s wife!

Nobody laughed. They ate me with their eyes! Women stared with maximum mathaa! Me, I just smiled aka-secret inside-inside smile, yaani those women were giving me power. I swayed my madiabs, the tights rubbing swish, swish, swish all the way to the bar.

Didn’t I climb a stool knowing exactly what to show? Ehe….

Next to me sat this jingo sporting a Kenyatta market fade – you know how those barbers kata lines to look like those American stylo waves on MTV? Lakini this jango’s lines were kata-d too wide, looked like a tractor had ploughed across his head. He reminded me of my old Blue Post gari-ya-moshi.

Me, I remind myself I’m here for my beer.

How was I to know even maendeleo’d guys act stupid when they see ‘meat’? I saw him sneaking looks where, where? Jango’s eyes criss-crossed up, down, round until dripping saliva burned a hole in his blue shirt!

Now if he had just said , “Hello, is it me you are looking for?” I would have said, “Sindiyo!” then we would laugh and talk like real people. But – ai! Instead he plays this see-through jingo story. Ati talking on his mobile, about ati new Beemer, ati slipping me a line – ‘Mind my seat for me, baby!’ such a try. And jingo thinks ati with his game, his building a tarmac road leading to true love.

But, ukweli, he had one power:

When he opened his mouth I knew I was finished. Knew he would judge me from my eros and aras, just like those tao girls at school. Enyewe, these type of people scare me. When he talked, my mind became a piki piki togio-togiogioring. Thinking Ai! – how soon will he crack up and laugh at me? Ati me, clad to kill, sitting in front at a bar, those mathaa women watching, willing me to fail. They will see him laugh at me. Ai!

I try to concentrate on what he’s saying. Ati. Yo yo what do I do? “Nothing.” Now, does he think I am going to tell him I sell mitush? Me, who is still dreaming about wearing a doctor’s coat? If I tell him that he’ll laugh mpaka tomorrow – yaani, a doctor-to-be who hasn’t even fikad from three!

Yo. Ati what qualifications? My mind is on this one so the answer shoots out quick, quick. “Kamirithu Tech, form two.” I see the shock of horror pass across his face before he fixes it in a dismissive grin. Kwani lack of higher education is infectious.

Jingo is spoiling my plano. Why can’t he just bounce – bounce back to where he came from? Go and yo yo yo another women, run his finger across his nose at somebody else instead of poke-poking in my direction.

Ati, yo yo, Constitutional Review! Now, why would I want to come all the way to Cactus to talk about Constitutional Review? What does he want me to say? That me, a Kikuyu can believe anything that threatens those fools in government will survive? That we burnt a mountain of coffee beans when they came to Kiambu? Smoked them out kabisa?

Ai! Ati yo yo, September eleven? Now, he wants to justify himself that he is not leaving because of my accent! He wants me to be tongue-tied. Asking me about September eleventh. Me, I’m trying to stretch like a giraffe in mind to see how many words I can put together without an R or an L. By the time my mind is back, my mouth, my tongue is having cramps. September when? I say. No Rs.

Does he think I will talk free-free while he smirks at my accent, as if all those generations of his jingo ancestors, with their fishy ways and funny accents have suddenly become like animals because he watches Channel 9! YO YO? I wonder if this is the way he talks to his rural relas. Me, I wonder, is this the Kenya we want?

I see he is mis-leading my silent disgust for ignorance. I let him. Yaani, if it makes him feel on top, sawa – if only he’d let me do the same

Ati, Yo, future plan? My turn to have fun. I speak soft-soft like a virgin. I tell him my homy is organizing Stato papers for me. Jingo hops off the stool up like he’s been shot. I want to laugh, yaani, jingo thinks he’s a better representative of Africa than I?

Anyway, me I think I want to have more fun than a poke poke place like this can offer. As I head out, I hear, “Yo! Onyango is looking fat? Did you hear he is buying a Bee-Em?”

The girl who says this has one of those faces, you know, smooth skin, black shiny mpaka you want to touch. Ma-cheekbone like that Italian actress, lips like fifteen kisses on one mouth, plus space for parking. Yaani a Jango beauty – like that ka-model Alek Wek earning dollar money. Lakini, you thin ma-men will notice a chile showing her tribe with such uchungu? Apana! The thing that sumbuas people’s mind is that you can’t afford where she comes from. Now how did looking African become ati- ugly?

Fat? Jango looked skinny to me

I hear there is a one-man-guitar in west. Let me go there. But you boy, in your virtual BMW, let me tell you this. I am hungrier than you. I have more to prove. While you are doing your sniff sniff, everybody say hey, Onyango twende kengele; me I’ll be making cash money.

Come sniff sniff in my office when you’re looking for a job. In five years. And I’ll be twenty. Laughing at you, laughing at my father. I won’t be ‘fat’. I’ll be rough and lady. Here, there, in Stato, anywhere.

24 Nairobi

March 11, 2008

24 Nairobi - pilot project of 24 Kenya

24 Nairobi is the pilot phase of a larger project titled 24 Kenya. The project is a showcase of alternative, innovative, realistic and professional African aesthetic and perspectives. The project idea evolved out of a general fatigue with dominant and stereotypical images and narratives that purportedly express Africa, its abilities, realities and peoples.

24 Nairobi brings together local, regional and international creative professionals to interact and work to evolve powerful, realistic images and narratives that would reflect the life, diversity, cultures, energy and dimensions of a city in Africa. The team will develop, create, produce, showcase, publish, distribute and archive a body of artistic work that portrays the immense dynamism and depths of facets of Nairobi’s life.

24 Nairobi will display the work of contemporary image and story creators, who will portray, interrogate and communicate the immense dimensions and varieties of life, expression, meaning and being in Nairobi in gritty, realistic imaginative and stimulating ways. The project uses the work time formula to reveal Nairobi and its distinct urban character. It is the first stage of an image and narrative project that shall engage artists and others to explore, subvert, challenge and transcend prevailing image and narrative stereotypes.

24 Nairobi is a Kwani Trust project, with eight participating writers and photographers. It is curated by Nicholas Ysenburg & Binyavanga Wainaina, and is a collaboration with arts, heritage and culture sector partners in Kenya.

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