‘Would you like some cocaine? It’s not very nice though’ and more events from the last couple of weeks

Seems like I have failed at this blogging thing. Pity, for a few days I let my flights of fancy take me to a place where I would be raking in the Shillings, my witty and clever social commentary attracting the best of Kenya’s socialites and arty types to my blog. I would be making money writing about the things I love the most: music, food, art, people.

When asked ‘what do you do in Kenya?’ I would say ‘I’m a blogger, food and travel writer’ and I would sound so incredibly cool and hip. Unfortunately I am none of those things, and my career as a blogger seems to be over before it has even started.

The problem is not the lack of stuff the write about. Quite the opposite. In the past few weeks this city has not given me the chance to ever sit back and take a rest. As much as I try to keep up, Nairobi always seems to be going faster, overtaking me and leaving me feeling bewildered, broken and wanting more.

So which have been the highlights from the past weeks/months?

• Sauti Za Busara – I somehow managed to blag myself a press pass and pay a quarter of the price for this gem of a festival. The journey started with a bit of a blip — a very typically Meg Blip– when I turned up to the airport at 6am on a Thursday morning only to be told that my name wasn’t on the list. The story of how this happened is long and boring; all you need to know is that it wasn’t my fault. So there I was, enduring hours of traffic to get back to town, crying to my mum over the phone. Fortunately I have a nice mummy, who, despite being pissed at my usual uselessness, offered to lend me the money to buy a plane ticket. Hurray! So 6 am Friday morning I returned to Kenyatta and boarded a little plane to Zanzibar, my favourite spicy and delicious sleepy little island.

Despite warnings that I would never find a place to sleep without having booked, luck was with me this time and I got the last remaining bed in Manch Guesthouse. 13 dollars a night bought a delicious breakfast and a bed. But the bed had no sheets and I no pyjamas. Using a beach towel to cover myself only really succeeded in making the bed sticky and sandy and didn’t prevent my dorm mates from getting a prime view of my bare pale ass. Not that I cared as I passed out at 6 am every day before re-emerging at 9 to explore the winding streets of Stown Town. During my brief visit I ate enough sea food to satisfy my needs for the coming months, danced till I could dance no more, fell in love with the kora and even more deeply in love with a crazy Ghanaian percussionist. One day we shall meet again and make little dreadlocked babies with an impeccable sense of rhythm.

Jupiter & Okwess International, Ebo Taylor,  Joe Driscoll and Sekou Kouyate, Nomoucounda Cissoko,  HAjamadagascar,  Kara Sylla Ka   and maaaany others.

Waldemar Bastos- Thanks to my moaning about the hefty (but worth it) ticket price, my dear friend Pedro (charmer, man about town, thrower of big parties) let me work on the desk selling tickets so I could get in for free. Great company, two free beers and Waldemar’s seductive crooning made for a great evening.

• Nile Day Festival at Kuona Trust -Nice vibes, great music by Ricky na Marafiki , The Nile Project and Sarabi. My ass jiggling won me a Ricky na Marafiki CD.

• Chilling with Richard Bona at the Safaricom International Jazz Festival- one of the biggest events I have been too here. With the sun came out the oversized sunnies, floppy hats, trendy shorts and African Prints. I must say everyone was looking fine indeed and the atmosphere was cheerful. God must have made cold beer with days like this in mind. The Kenyan music scene was well represented by talented guitarist, composer and producer Eddie Grey , pianist Aaron Rimbui and Saxophonist Christ Bittok – amongs others. Headliner Richard Bona- the legendary jazz bassist originally form Cameroon- was great and got everyone dancing. After the gig some of his bandmates (one of them plays percussions with Shakira and Enrique Iglesias- how cool is that??) invited us to their fancy hotel Villa Rosa Kempinski for a drink. I felt rather out of place in the glitzy bar, having danced and sweated profusely all day. But I forgot all of that when Gilmar Gomes- the percussionist- brought is a plateful of fancy food to share. That’s when I decided I really liked this guy. That was until Ludwig – the drummer- brought us a plateful of mini desserts and I decided I liked him more. Richard is a cool guy with lots of entertaining stories about my fellow Mafioso countrymen. We also know someone in common—my Ghanian afore mentioned friend once played percussions for him. We spent the night jamming at Black Diamond with Rhythm Junks (Belgium)- who had played at the festival earlier in the day. Made it home after 4 and got up for work at 7… It was a great night.

• Sarabi @ Alliance. Great, as usual

• Accepting a ride from a stranger whilst walking at night on Lower Kabete towards the TEN CITIES party at The MALL, then being offered cocaine by said stranger and his friend with the warning that ‘it’s really not good stuff though’.

• TEN CITIES. Nairobi needs more parties like this. If the correlation between a good party and amount of stuff stolen tells us anything then this was one good party. DJs Afrologic (Lagos), Trust The DJ (Johannesburg), Satelite (Lunda) and Just A Band (Kenya). Turnout was so great that Goethe, the organizers, were forced to shut the doors at 11pm.

• Beating four very competitive men at foosball during an afterwork drinks thing at the Heinken Offices. I started off shyly but after beating the first one I gained confidence and by the end my head could hardly fit in the room- -I was unbeaten foosball champion. One of the men I beat was PREZZO, super famous Kenyan musician and Big Brother Africa star. To be honest I initially thought he looked a bit like an asshole. Sunglasses indoors and big gold chains. But he is actually a lovely and very bright young gentleman, having studied both aviation and business management abroad.

Prezzo

I beat this hard looking dude at foosball

 

And what have been the not so great things from the past few weeks?

Looking for a job –it’s really shit.

Nairobian Music Hussie

This weekend started- as most of them do- with Choices.

Choices:  should I party hard this Thursday or save myself for the weekend? Should I go and see my new idol Binyavanga Wainaina and Jamaican poet Staceyann Chin performing in Westlands or go and listen to some quality live music at Treehouse?

As it turns out, the weekend –which for me now starts on a Thursday-, did indeed begin with Choices.

The occasion was the regular Thursday Night Live, easily one of my favourite events in Nairobi.

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Choices is an amazing place. Driving up to it you might think you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere. This little gem is hidden away in the Nairobi’s Industrial Area, behind Nakumatt Mega and alongside a number of boarded up businesses.  You can tell you are close when you can smell the succulent barbequed chicken, the smoke wafting from beneath a massive tree draped in fairy lights.
You enter through a red-lit portico, through a narrow corridor and into the bar where the magic happens. The place has an eclectic, always lively feel to it. Photos of musical legends hang on the pebble dashed walls and the arches and columns the divide the place up give it an intimate feel.

The crowd is a good mix of all ages and not too trendy and self-conscious.

Tonight was even more packed than usual. Not a surprise, since it was Gogo Simo gracing us with their presence. Gogo Simo are a band from Mombasa  led by married couple James and Susan. They blend  hip-swaying chakacha rhythms with Congolese Soukous, Caribbean Zouk and a non -negligible splash of soul and funk.

They were amazing. Susan’s powerful vocals and James’s energy soon got the crowd to their feet. To my embarrassment James at one point jumped down and pulled me into some sort of ass-shaking, twirling dance. If only I could keep up with you Kenyans. You don’t know how blessed you are to have rhythm flowing through your veins.

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It was a  great beginning to one of the most musical weekends I have had in a long time.

I had been looking forward to Friday for weeks, ever since watching and falling in love with the band Sarabi. They would be performing again tonight at Alliance Francaise, together with Eric Wainina, Makadem, Just A Band and Juliani.

The occasion was the release Ketebul Music’s most recent compilation ‘Retracing Kenya’s Songs of Protest’.  This Nairobi based not-for-profit NGO was established in 2007 with the ‘vision to carry out research and promote the diverse fusion of traditional sounds of Kenya and East Africa’, and to this end they have released several compilations which thoroughly dig into the history of Kenya’s various musical traditions, whether it be ‘Benga Blues’, ‘Funky Hits’ or ‘Kikuyu popular hits’.

Their latest release looks at the soundtrack of a country which has been, and still is, on a journey towards true independence, social justice and equality.

I love music for music’s sake. I love dancing, having a good time, drowning out my worries (not that I have many) with loud bopping rhythms.   But the songs that send shivers down my spine, that bring tears to my eyes and make me want to stand up and do something are those which are inspired by social injustice, anger and the need for change. Thankfully the struggle for freedom has been accompanied by powerful soundtracks the world over, thus leaving us with a rich heritage of musical poetry.

The great thing about this compilation –which includes a CD, DVD and book and is now sitting beside me, looking all shiny and beautiful- is that, although it digs deep into the history of Kenya’s songs of protest, it gives a great deal of attention to young artists and their role in fighting the country’s social and political injustices.

The gig kicked off with Eric Wainaina, author of ‘Nchi Ya Kitu Kidogo’, one of the country’s biggest anti-corruption songs and only one instance of his crusade against corruption and injustice. His poppy sounds were a good start to the evening but failed to get crowds to their feet. I was beginning to fear that these trendy looking kids were to cool to dance.

At this point Alliance was seriously filling up and I was bitching and moaning to my friend James because he had chosen a shitty spot. When he could take it no longer we made our way right to the front, underneath the stage and by the speakers.

Makadem was the only one on the line up I hadn’t heard of, and he was an amazing surprise. Although he is actually known for fusing various music genres with his native Luo Benga music, his performance at Alliance had a distinctly Jamaican reggae riddim flavour to it. He ran onstage dressed in military gear, sporting sun glasses (at night. But I forgive him- he’s just too cool) and powerfully screaming out the defiant lyrics of his hit ‘Weka Taya’. His song ‘Teachings’ Makadem attacks politicians for being cheating opportunists, whilst in ‘Mapambano’ he reminds Kenyans that the struggle for justice and equality is ongoing and urges the listeners to participate in the electoral process.  His charisma on stage really got the night going and even the cool kids could not resist getting up to jump about. Maybe I say these words too much, but I LOVE HIM.

Next up were my favourites Sarabi, who, by starting off with Kenya’s national anthem, forced even the most reticent to get their asses of the floor. Talking about on stage presence, these guys have it in bucket-loads, the lead singer twisting and winding his lean body in improbable ways, the skinny percussionist banging out fast paced and entrancing rhythms. It was at this point that I noticed a small guy dancing manically, passionately and with impeccable rhythm right next to me. From beneath his green hood I could just about make out his dreadlocks whipping up and down. Dreadlocks you say? Oh hello ;)

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I hardly noticed him leave, captivated by the first few notes of my favourite song ‘Sheria’, Sarabi’s new track about the state of Kenya’s politics and the failure of Kenyans to take responsibility for their part in it. I was anxiously waiting for Juliani to come out and do his bit when suddenly the same small guy who had been rocking it out next to me bounced on stage.  He was there, the whole time, my idol (yes, I have many idols)!!

‘Ok, when he comes back, I will say something clever to him’;  ‘that was soooo cool’ is what I managed to mumble when he reappeared next to me. Wow. Cool Megan, cool.

Anyway…Sarabi’s performance ended with the crowd screaming for an encore, which was denied by the kind of awkward, posh spoken presenter.

Next up were Just A Band, the trendy looking house/funk/disco/jazz/hip-hop/afrofusion (you name it, they do it- just listen to this mix-tape) collective who brought the tempo down a little  but definitely kept the spirits up with hits like ‘ha-he’ and ‘Huff+Puff’. I love how creative these guys are, not only with their music but with their videos, aesthetics and campaigns. One of the guys- Jim Chuchu- recently left the band but has kept on doing amazing things, many of which you can see here.

Finally it was Juliani’s turn to close the night. As you’ve probably noticed a musical connoisseur I am not- I hardly know the difference between a guitar and a base guitar and, beyond using the words ‘amazing’ and ‘rocking’, I have no idea how to describe a gig. But I am sure that even the most seasoned of musical journalists would struggle to find the words to describe this guy’s performance.  Juliani was so full of energy he was literally bouncing off the stage. His little body would bounce straight back up as soon as it touched the floor, sending him high into the air. If I didn’t know he was ardently religious I would think he was on drugs.

Such energy, his face twisted into a grimace like a growling bull dog,  shaking his head so hard and fast into a frenzy of lashing dreadlocks, you would never guess he’s actually singing gospel. His smooth and fast lyrical flow and his electrifying performance, as well as the socio-political content of his songs and his passionate involvement in a variety of worthy causes have won him a special place in my heart.

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Fast-forward one day and I am at the GoDown gig and there he is, just standing there being all smiley and dreadlocked. As I try and work up the courage to go and speak to him he looks at me from a few metres away, smiles, waves and says ‘hi’.  And what do I do? I wave back pathetically and look down at my feet. Smooth.

The Go Down Gig. Because after making me sweat buckets two nights in a row and turning my feet into blistered swollen hooves, Nairobi still tempts me with offers I could not refuse. The Go Down Arts Centre is a big converted warehouse and exhibition space not too far from Choices and it attracts a rather hip-looking crowd.

The atmosphere was great, it was good to see a few known faces and mingle with the cool kids. The beer was cheap and almost cold, a welcomed if momentary respite from the sweltering afternoon soon.

Dela kicked the music with a chilled and soulful set. It was great, but at this point I had already broken the seal and spent most of the time either going for a wee or buying more Tusker. Tusker baridi sana please.

That stopped being a problem when Yunasi took the stage, as I began to sweat the beer out rather than piss it out. Seriously, I had to keep asking my roomie Aisha whether the massive sweat patch on my back was visible. ‘Hmm…errr, it’s ok’ she lied.

Yunasi are an amazing all-boy band that plays a musical style called Sesube, a mix of Sega, Isikuti and Benga  (the internet says).  With their mix of modern and traditional instruments they manage to create explosive, fast paced sounds that got everyone dancing.

By the time Kidum came on I was knackered. He was cool and I actually recognized some of his tunes but it was his backing singers who really caught my attention. At one point one of the girls turned her ass towards the audience and started shaking it in a way that made it seem as though it was detached. I really don’t understand how one can mover their ass independently from the rest of their body like that. One day maybe I will get it…until that day I will practice in my room in front of the mirror. A girl can only dream…

All photos in this post are by the amazing Quaint Photography

Nairobi by Night….

As I left Aberystwyth behind for one last time I gazed out the window towards the white dotted hills. For such a small town Aber had certainly given me a good time over the years.  With its 50 or more pubs and a few clubs of varying quality (varying from really shit to lovably shit), the little sea side town had become my late night playground.  I was used to running around at any time of night and day, stumbling home to find my front door wide open and any number of friends and strangers smoking weed, napping on my floor and helping themselves to my tea and digestives.

Aberystwyth may not be the centre of the cultural world but it has a pretty decent Arts Centre and a growing miniature music scene: a roots reggae mini-festival on the lush green hills overlooking the Irish Sea, regular electro-swing nights, Balkan- gypsy-turbo-folk, forest raves and rocking Drum & Base and techno events. I enjoyed them all.

With little more than a week to my departure for Nairobi, at the ripe old age of 23, I waved goodbye to my party days and tried to look forward to a new life or responsibility and early nights.

The reportedly perilous Nairobian streets didn’t seem conducive to the kind of free spirited late night gallivanting I was accustomed to.

Furthermore, in my ignorance and from afar, Nairobi just seemed like an ever growing concrete jungle, sprawling and modern, a business hub with little history, never mind artistic or creative spirit.  I hadn’t heard anything like the pulsating sounds of Senegal, Mali or  Nigeria coming out of Kenya. In fact, I hadn’t heard anything, and I was in for a surprise.

Music is everywhere in Kenya. On my first morning in Githurai, as I stood by the roadside waiting for a matatu, I could hear Gospel rising out of the church across the road, old school hip hop blasting out of a parked car and the irregular and fast rhythm of a Kikuyu song being played by a local fruit stall.  Before I could even see the matatu I could hear its deep base beats and Jamaican rhythms. It’s surprising how these minibuses often have filthy and ripped upholstery and broken windows and yet are equipped with the best sound systems.

It is on these crazily decorated buses that I first discovered Kenya’s passion for dancehall, reggae and hip hop. Thanks to my flatmates Audrey and Charles (“what is this guy called? Who sings this song?”) I got to know and love the likes of Redsan (I once dirty danced- bumper up against his crotch kinda thing- with him in Mojos. To this day one of the highlights of my life), Wyre, Jaguar (all Kenyan), Konshens (Jamaican) and Burna Boy (Nigerian).

The first time I stepped into a club in town changed the way I see partying forever. No, jumping up and down with my hands in the air to ‘Call me Baby’ would just not do. In the half dark all I could see were twerking asses and humping crotches, twisting bodies and girls bent double with their fingers to their toes. Now THIS is dancing.

But Nairobi night life is not limited to Djs and clubs. The live music scene is intoxicating, bursting at the seams with a chaotic blast of old and new sounds.

Live music is no longer dominated by  benga, rumba and kavacha, although the Congolese dudes in Simmers with their short dreadlocks and syncopated bass and rhythms never fail to draw a crowd.

Nairobi has attracted musicians from all over the region and resulted in a vibrant explosion of afro-fusion, soul, hip-hop, electronica and Jazz evenings.

Tuesday for example is jazz at K1 in Westlands. Klub House is a great, sprawling bar that is divided into three main structures, one for partying, one for chilling and one big tended area for watching football.  K1 attracts a mixed crowd, from young and trendy 20 somethings to sleek looking business men who play snooker with loosened ties.

But then again, Tuesdays are also hip-hop battles at Choices, in the Industrial area. Now, you might not know this unless you are a mzungu female or a dredlocked Kenyan, but mzungu females have a thing for dreadlocked Kenyans. This is an irrefutable fact. If you are one of the former, Choices on a Tuesday will be a fertile hunting ground for you. One other thing I noticed about these rappers is that most of them seem to be tiny. Like, miniscule. And they like to wear big hoodies.  What they lack in stature however they definitely make up in verbal prowess. Most of the rapping is actually in Swahili and Sheng- Nairobi’s urban slang- so I rarely have any idea of what is going on. But the atmosphere is so lively and captivating that it is impossible not to laugh, boo or whoop with the rest of the crowd.

It is these evenings that inspired me to listen to Ghetto Radio, Kenya’s only official Sheng radio station.  Just let me take a minute here to appreciate this radio station: Ghetto Radio, thank you, you are making my work days tolerable. Secondly, it is thanks to this channel that I am now listening to the likes of Juliani,  Kitu Sewer and Uko Flani Mau Mau. Again, I hardly understand a word they say, but from what I gather most of their lyrics are socially and politically motivated attacks on the ruling class and on the general state of affairs in Kenya today, with two of the major themes being those of corruption and tribal divisions.

Juliani is a particular favourite of mine. First of all, he has a head full of dreadlocks.  But more importantly he is forever actively and passionately promoting some cause or another, from campaigning against Economic Partnership Agreements to donating proceeds from each CD sale to projects in South Sudan. I hear he also plants trees, and I fucking love trees. Right now he is involved in the MtaaChallenge.com, which aims to reward the most ‘informed, happening, relevant, creative & organised mtaa’. Take a look at this fantastic report about mtaa yangu, Githurai and Zimmerman: http://www.mtaachallenge.com/2013/06/gizzim-githurai-zimmerman.html

Juliani  also recently collaborated with Sarabi, an eight man band formed in 2005 in Eastlands.  This afro-fusion collective blends traditional Kenyan rhythms with western sounds and powerful lyrics. Live (I saw them last week at Treehouse, hurray!!) they are a frenzy of rhythm, guitars and sweaty synchronized dancing.  Their latest song, ‘Fuata Sheria’, is about the state of Kenyan politics and the failure of Kenyan citizens to take responsibility for their role in this state of affairs.  The song ends with Juliani saying ‘you are not my tribe, but you are my blood type. But it doesn’t have to take a tragedy to know that’, a reference to the hundreds of Kenyans donating blood in the wake of the Westgate tragedy.  Another wonderful attribute of Sarabi is that almost all of the members have short dreadlocks. Yes ladies, short dreadlocks.

Next Friday Juliani and Sarabi will be performing at Alliance Francaise with another Nairobian band I love. They are ‘Just a Band’, a band (I tried to look for a synonym on thesaurus but couldn’t find one I liked, sorry) that blends together electronica, funk, jazz, hip hop and disco. Maybe it’s because of this eclectic mix of sounds that their style has been dubbed ‘Afro-electro gravy’. Their tracks vary from thumping club tunes to romantic and sweet down-tempo melodies.

I was going to continue by going on and on about all the difficult choices I must make every night here in Nairobi. Wednesday, Afro Rhumba or Ghetto Radio’s dancehall session in Tribeka? Thursday, gigs at Choices or Treehouse? Or maybe an eclectic mix of electro-swing, hip hop and ethiopian electronica in Havanas? And the weekend…is the weekend.

But it’s midnight and I just caught a glimpse of my haggard face and the dark bags hanging under my eyes. Tomorrow a new week of Nairobian partying begins afresh… Dear Lord, this city is going to kill me.

xx

Riots at Roysambu

There are riots happening a few kilometres from my house. I’m sitting at my desk, observing from afar through the constant stream of updates on twitter and Facebook. I hate this feeling, I hate being far and powerless. I know that even if I could be there I would be of little help. But seeing videos on youtube of people, the same people I pass every day, makes me want to be there and… I don’t know, do something. I just wish everyone would calm the fuck down and return to being their usual hustling smiling selves.

Image(photo taken from The Star)

 

The riots are happening in Roysambu, a big roundabout on Thika Highway. Roysambu may not be my mtaa exactly, but it is close and I go through it every day on my way home. Sometimes I change matatus there, have a look at the stalls, chat to the friendly Ugandan shoe seller about his budding music career.

It’s a bustling place, kind of rowdy sometimes, due to it being a matatu hub.  It’s full of shouting conductors, boda drivers and khat sellers. But I walk there often and have never felt unsafe.

I’ve only heard of one accident happening in Roysambu recently, and that’s when my friend Marc stepped out of a matatu right into a two metre-high gutter, smashing his head open and getting covered in sewage.  Some nice people hauled him out and my friend Tom, who lives right there, took him to the hospital (only after making him take a shower. Tom is quite particular about his car’s upholstery).

But Marc is kind of accident prone and these things are to be expected.

Anyway, I digress.

Back to the point:  we don’t go through Roysambu in the morning so we didn’t see any sign of trouble. Traffic was bad, but it always is. First thing I heard of it was through twitter.

Twitter is of course not so reliable, and at the moment it feels like a jungle of hyped up stories, exaggeration and misinformation. I have been trying to distil the true from the bullshit, and from what I can gather a matatu conductor was killed by a policeman in the early hours of this morning. There are several different versions of this story, the most popular being that the policeman shot the conductor because he didn’t want to pay the 20ksh that were being asked from him. This is hardly believable and gods help us if it is true.  

Twitter also tells me that it may have something to do with quail eggs being too expensive…but I think someone must have gotten some facts wrong there.

Tom told me he was woken up at around 2am by the sound of several gunshot blasts, but couldn’t see anything more from his house. This morning matatu drivers, conductors and members of the public were blocking the highway with rocks and burning tires.
 

As I write this the situation seems to be calming down. But the images from earlier today break my heart. What happened is tragic, the killing of an innocent human being always is.

Yet twitter is full of horrible comments attacking one side or the other, or laughing at the whole situation because apparently conductors and policemen are both ‘the lowest of the low’ and they deserve what they get.

This kind of thinking makes me sick. I wonder if I’ve ever met the guy, if he is one of the many conductors who gave me a hand to get down, who smiled at me and turned up the music when I said I liked it. Granted, matatu conductors are sometimes a little on the rough side, they shout, they grab you, try and push you into their vehicle and sometimes ‘forget’ to give you 10 bob change. But mostly they are ok, just cheeky kids with a bit of an attitude problem trying to earn a living.

That guy was alive yesterday. Who knows, maybe his parents were waiting for him at home, maybe he had just said goodbye to his girlfriend. Who knows what he hoped to do with his life, what he could have done. Reducing him to just a ‘matatu conductor’ is to deny the million different aspects and dimensions of his person, of his relationship to others, of the footprints he left on this earth. Fuck guys, life is a big, big thing.  

Here is an example of the tweets (I hate this word) that are get me all worked up:

“I cannot just seat and watch as police & touts fight… I stand up and CHEER! Kenya’s most arrogant & Corrupt groups #Roysambu”

Does this person forget that this is happening because someone died?
Here is another one:

“that clip of the cop beating at Roysambu is hilarious. The police need serious beating…”

This video is actually what made me want to vent and rant to start off with. Look at this guy, look how scared he is. He had nothing to do with the shooting. What kind of sadistic bastard could take pleasure in seeing such fear in a fellow human being’s eyes?  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LetIWmEuoL0&feature=youtu.be

In the words of some other person on twitter I don’t know: ‘Their (sic) is a civilized way of rioting, why beat up a cop and at the end of the day he is still a kenyan like you & somebody’s father’

 

One million reasons and more we should all probably go live in Nairobi

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/kenya/130819/17-reasons-love-nairobi-kenya

Good stuff, except I can think of about another million reasons to put above these. Also, the photo for nyama choma is not nyama choma (tsk tsk Tristan). What about the crazy matatus and their booming sounds? What about the crowded, sweaty, amazing clubs in town? Jazz at k1? The wide availability of delicious mangoes, passion fruits, avocados, pineapples? Divine Indian food at Diamond Plaza? Greasy Bhajias and fried chicken after a night out? Sugar cane? Thursday night live at Choices? Reggae and Riddims EVERYWHERE? Cheap clothes at Ngara? For that matter, cheap delicious piping hot grilled beef heart at Ngara? Boda Bodas with radios and luminescent flashing Christmas lights zigzagging through the traffic, sending our life flashing before our eyes? Chapattis? Twerking and grinding Kenyan mates (it should be mandatory for all us rhythm-deprived awkward shuffling wazungus to learn a thing or two from these guys)? Matumbo? Stoney Tangawizi? Sukuma Wiki? Juliani, Just a Band, Sarabi, Wyre, Redsan… Ok, I am getting carried away, this list could go on forever…

Githurai 44, Nairobi

This is not how I was told Nairobi would be.

It’s almost 1 am and I am suddenly woken from my slumber by someone slapping my knee and telling me to get out. I can feel a lump forming on my forehead where it has been banging against the matatu window, one big bang for each pothole, and God knows there are a lot of pot holes in Githurai.  How did I fall asleep again? Dancehall beats are still blasting out of the top notch music system, there are people talking and scrambling over me to get out.

After checking that my bag and all its contents are still there, I trip-fall out of the matatu , my short dress getting caught on one of the many metal bits sticking out of the minibus of death  and exposing a large part of ass. Oops.  Three or four Bodas rush to my side, all shouting a variation on the ‘you come, we go’ theme. I choose the biggest one, with the most blue and red lights and the loudest radio, and ask him how much. “Ngapi?”. He looks a little confused for a few seconds, like he is fishing around for a random figure. He finally manages to pull one out, right out of his ass that is. “Miambili” , he says, not looking too convinced. “Dude, I live here…don’t take the piss”;  “ahah, ok. Fifty bob. Come, we go”.

His sheepish ‘I was just trying my luck’ kind of smile makes me smile too. How can I blame the guy for giving it a go?  He can’t be older than 20, his short dreads sticking out from underneath a battered red Man U hat, one cheek bulging with Miraa. I can see the green bits in his teeth when he talks to me. Maybe that’s why his eyes are red and- I now realize- a bit crazed. My life is in his hands, at least for the next kilometer, but the deal is done now.  As I contemplate this I somehow manage to drop my bag, the contents of which spill all over the muddy road. Purse, keys, coins, my UN pass. “Pole!Pole!” .I am now surrounded by at least four guys, who all scramble to their knees, pulling out their smartphones and using them as torches to retrieve my stuff from the ground. Oops. Again. These Nairobian evenings seem to be full of ‘oopses’ recently. I am pretty sure the UN guy who gave me a security briefing (“one day, you WILL get robbed…and probably even raped. this is Africa”- but more on that later) would not be happy with this little scene.

After every last 5 bob coin has been returned to me by this crew of kindly gentlemen, I finally mount the bike, the boy turns the radio up, and we’re off. Less than one minute later I am the entrance of Jacaranda Gardens, the guard guy awakening from his nap, wrapped in a big ski jacket, a scarf, a woolly hat and gloves, groggily opening the gate and welcoming me home.

I love where I live. I love Githurai 44, and the reactions I get when I tell Nairobians that this is my mtaa. “Uco seerias?”. Yes, I am serious dudes. But I am also kind of lying . Or omitting some small truths.

I live just round the corner in Maziwa (‘milk’ in Kiswahili), in a lovely gated complex built by the Chinese and inhabited mostly by the Kenyan middle classes, young professionals and a few Chinese families.  The place is called Jacaranda Gardens, and takes the name from the big trees dotted around the grounds. When I arrived in October they were in full bloom, psychedelic clouds of bright lilac. Later, as the petals fell, they covered the ground with a velvety purple-blue confetti carpet. This fragrant canopy provides shade for the hundreds- their high pitched screeches make it seem like thousands- of little children who play football and ride their bikes around the estate.

Until recently we had a kitten with a collar and we would take it for walks on a leash, before it decided to take a leap off our 5th floor balcony (it survived, but didn’t learn its lesson and had to be relocated).

There is a pool with a fountain and a palm tree in the middle.  Children have cell phones. One family has a poodle.

So, granted, I don’t really live in a ghetto.

But step out of the main gate and walk for a few hundred metres and your senses will be overloaded with the sounds, smells and colours of Githurai 44.  Githurai is a slumburbia on the North-Eastern part of town, around 12km from the centre and along Thika Road. It is divided into 44 and 45, probably after the matatus number 44 and 45 which blast their way through it.

In 2009 Mwangi Muiruri of The Standard had this to say about mtaa yangu (my hood): “Those plying the busy Thika Road know that, as soon as they hit the populous Githurai 44 area, they have to quickly wind up their windows to avoid their belongings being pilfered by super quick fingers. While the estate is famous among the low-income bracket, it has gained notoriety over the years for its high crime rate, starting right from its main terminus, which is on your way to the Kamiti Maximum Prison off Kamiti Road”. Frankly,  Mwangi, I think you’re exaggerating a little.

I have gotten lost in the potholed streets of Githurai countless times, I entrust my life to the Boda drivers almost every other night, I have sipped a Tusker at some of the most questionable of establishments. And I’m doing pretty well. A dreadlocked friend of mine (who has now been de-friended, after lying about having a wife and generally being a creepy and obsessive pain in the ass) told me that Githurai used to be dangerous, but during a crackdown by the police a few years ago “pow pow, all the thieves were killed”. So it’s all good now.

I may not actually live in Githurai, but it certainly feels like my hood. This is where I get off my matatu every day, where I buy my chapatis (Thank You Lord for the Humble Chapo), my fruit and veg and where I boogie to the Kikuyu tunes being blasted by the CD vendors.  It is where I snack on mutura (delicious intestine sausage thing) and balls of deep fried fish for 10 bob a pop.  It is where I feast on Nyama Choma. For the moment, I would say, Githurai is where my heart is.

And I feel  it has been a pretty good first encounter with Nairobi. “Nairobi is a tough city, you need buddies to survive out here” my friend warned me before I joined him out here. Nairobbery kind of scared me; I had heard many a third hand tales of car-jackings, kidnappings, robberies. I was under the impression that once the sun was down I would have to barricade myself indoors and not dare put my foot outside.  The friendly UN security guy warned me that I would most definitely- sooner or later- get robbed, murdered or raped.  Because, you know, TIA (This Is Africa).

Well Mr. Security guy, you’re a dick.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful to those affected by crime here. I am not saying that Nairobi is a safe heaven, and I won’t argue the fact that nasty shit does happen, and I agree that everyone should be careful and take precautions.

However, I will go out on a limb ad say that if us wazungus follow all the warnings to the letter- avoid matatus at all costs, don’t go out at night, avoid town, don’t trust ANYONE- there is little point  any of us living in this buzzing city. Sometimes it is a little difficult to get a realistic view of Nairobi from behind the electric-barbed wire fences in Runda and Gigiri. It is a loud, noisy, scary world out there.  Get distracted for a second and you might just fall down a hole or get mowed down by a minibus of death.

But by staying behind those fences and only hearing about that world through the stories recounted and regurgitated by fellow expats – ‘a friend of a friend of mine…’- you will never get to savour the thumping, bustling, thrilling, fast paced, trendy and sophisticated soul of this city.

Sometimes living in (ok, next to) Githurai is like being hit square in the face by this ‘soul’. The cacophony of old school hip hop, dancehall and reggae blaring from the pimped up matatus, their horns, screeching tires and flashing lights; the screaming conductors, the goats crossing the road, the colourful fruit stalls, the smoke billowing from the local nyama joints; the ‘hello sista’’s and ‘Jambo’s, the high fives and fist pumps.

All this is  Githurai 44, mtaa yangu!

So, my first blog post was supposed to be a ‘Hi, my name is Meg and I have recently moved to Nairobi’ kind of post. The fact that I have rambled on and on with no discernible point is probably an indication of the unbridled passion I have for Nairobi and the excitement I feel when I think of all that I still have to discover here. Hurray! Life is good.

I leave you with this gem: