Barfly: Revolution Starts at The Country Club

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Barfly: Revolution Starts at The Country Club

Five glasses of gin and tonic later, coupled with what must have been more than a litre of bloody mary’s over lunch, decided to slow down. The Bloody Mary’s were a bastardisation of a recipe provided by Columbo, a Nanyuki-based inspector who insists on using fresh ingredients. He would never have approve of my improvisation of his recipe, he is after all Jewish and one of my key ingredients was bacon grease. I was keen to make a good impression later on at Christmas dinner in front of a university friend’s family and their invited guests. Yes, Christmas dinner in mid August with the works; a turkey, Christmas ham, mince pies and a smattering of seafood. The seafood is easily explained, we were after all in Kilifi, right on the creek. Pre-dinner conversations in Kenya have the inane habit of drifting towards our country’s politics and corruption — discussing your golf handicap one second and the next your frustration with your government’s inability to get its act together. Just before dinner, my friend’s father approached me with a rather interesting solution to this, social ostracism.
My hosts were pretty well-off by most standards, although they would prefer to think of themselves as ’comfortable’. They, to my knowledge, earned their comfort by honest means; much unlike some of the people they found themselves interacting with socially. High profile figures in Kenya who’ve been found guilty or have been suspected of corruption, gross mismanagement or deliberate negligence lose their jobs and slip out of the limelight the minute the media hounds catch wind of another juicy story. Later they emerge once again on the board of a parastatal, in a ministerial position or as president of the local Rotary Club chapter. Meanwhile, they and their families will have continuously enjoyed lives of unbridled luxury, earned at the expense of livelihoods, and sometimes lives, of the common mwananchi.

“Writing, speaking and protesting in the streets is getting us nowhere really. What you young guys are doing is great but these people aren’t bothered by a couple of headlines, not here in Kenya. It’s time they were held accountable by their peers,” he said, offering a beer.“Professional bodies and private clubs should have ‘codes of conduct’,” he leaned forward almost conspiratorially as he continued, “ if someone is found guilty or is under investigation then their membership should be revoked or at least suspended, pending review. Think about how wonderful it would be if they were worried about how their actions would affect them and their families instead of some hapless guy in the street who has no idea why his sugar cane is rotting in the field.”
He left me at that and went off to chat and mingle with his other guests and I couldn’t help but imagine the scenario in my head. Found guilty of sticking his grubby fingers in the Constituency Development Fund? Ban him from the golf club indefinitely. Nearly collapsed an airline through deliberate mismanagement? Don’t let her park her yacht in the marina. Ran over someone with his car and bribed his way out? Stop tithing at his church! No one should be spared, even their kids will eventually come home one day and ask why Mummy and Daddy don’t take them to lunch at Nairobi Club after Sunday Mass anymore. The sins of the father/mother shall be visited upon their children until they dare not sin anymore.

Exclusive private schools in Rift Valley and Nairobi’s outskirts should reject applications for admittance if one or both of the students’ parents has been found guilty of breaking the Code of Conduct.
The first few victims of this new form of justice will serve as warning signs made from severed heads on poles outside a village called ‘corruption’. “Social death to all ye who enter!”.

 

members-only
Soon they will be on the phone to the chairman of the Bird Watchers Society, the Wine Appreciators Club and the Rotary Club asking why they were taken off their mailing lists. The revolution will not be televised, it will happen in board rooms, ball rooms and over Sunday brunch at the club. The kawaida mwananchi will no longer have to stand alone in the face of corruption and general buggery from the ‘upper echelons’ of society.

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Barfly: Musings on The House Husband

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Barfly: Musings on The House Husband

We’ve often considered it, but never out loud and most definitely never to the previous generation, born just before or after independence. If they can’t get over the concept of a President from a different tribe, then evidently they’d shit bricks if they found out some of their sons were seriously considering being house husbands or stay at home dads. Gender roles in modern day society, especially around urban areas, are slowly being eroded; hearing about a male nurse no longer instills giggle fits in twelve-year-olds and the female matatu driver is no longer such a novelty that she gets the prime spot on the 9 o’clock news.

The subject of many pub conversations and fireside chats is the role of women in the homestead. Should the role of primary caregiver remain with his royal hubbiness? is it possible to flip the traditional roles and have her bring home the bacon? Aside from an aversion to washing dishes, I did think I could pull it off, sit at home, invite James over for a glass of whiskey before lunch (it’s four o’clock somewhere in the world) and gossip about who said what on the ‘Kilimani Husbands’ Facebook group. Before my wife/ husband/life partner got home, I’d hide all the used glasses turn on the telly to something mindless like Tim Njiru’s TV show and complain about immigrants getting into Kenya. Sounds like the perfect life not only would my responsibilities be more than halved, but I’d have more time to experiment in the kitchen and on my writing. Being a kept man sounds like…well, Fun. Aside from the obvious blow to the male ego that comes with being a dependent, it sounds like a pretty sweet life. Of course stereotypical living situations created and perpetuated by a media obsessed society that glorifies the Kardashians and vilifies the not-so-famous lady in the short skirt, would think that early morning drinks and lazing around make up the bulk of the housewife’s day, never taking into account running the household proper, figuring out why the tap in the downstairs bathroom doesn’t work, balancing the house books, running endless errands — from finding a vet for Simba to getting the right gluten-free flour because one of the demons you birthed and love so much  developed an allergy to gluten and his body doesn’t care that ‘gluten-free’ is an alien word to most supermarkets in Africa.
Considering all this, office life isn’t too bad, either. I feel like I’m less likely to pull out my hair if my editor cuts off an entire paragraph than if my daughter comes home with headlice and the conviction that only homeopathic solutions will be used in her hair; “It’s great that Chimamanda convinced you that chemicals are bad for your hair sweetie but Daddy doesn’t have time to go out and look for lavender, tea tree, rosemary, geranium, lemon and ylang ylang. You’re getting Johnson & Johnson’s and you’ll like it!”
See we always figure that getting time at home with no official work designation will be the easiest thing to do. We lie to ourselves that we’d have more free time to figure out how to make a banana daiquiri that doesn’t taste like ass and not more time to learn how to fix the plumbing in that damned downstairs bathroom since Njoro, the plumber, wants to charge Ksh 5000 that you don’t have and an article in “Home and Living” called it an ‘easy fix’ (which of course was a gross over-estimation of your wrench wielding skills). I feel like coming home to a drink after a long day at work to relax would be better than having a never ending work day at home that essentially would drive me to drink more than I normally would out of stress. Being a kept man (or woman, for the ladies in the house) is great in theory, but in practice I think I’ll stick to trying to create a more balanced household where everyone is involved in the house stuff and not just little ol’ me who just wants to maintain the tipple all day long.

Barfly: Getting Down and Dirty In Nairobi

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Barfly: Getting Down and Dirty In Nairobi

Nairobi is filled with normal people who lead normal lives, went through four years of university, got a good normal job, married nice respectable people, got two or three normal kids and have already planned out their retirement down to the shamba they plan on buying somewhere in Syokimau.
I’m bored as f*** of them, in fact I’m bored of just being around them. They feel like they are just the cogs in the machine that is our capital city. I want to meet more of the grease that smoothens the process; prostitutes, artists, gangsters, graffiti taggers, pimps, painters who live hand to mouth because they sell out, drug dealers and everything in between down to the chang’aa brewer. Sin and creativity go hand in hand and can be found in plenty in the dark underbelly of Nairobi City.
I’ve been away from big bad Nairobi for months hiding away in the
sleepy creekside town of Kilifi convincing myself that Kenya’s den of sin held nothing for me. The smells, the traffic, the brusque nature of everyone in the street and the sheer vastness of it couldn’t compete with sundowners on a giant dhow with beautiful people whose capacity for love and generosity is unfathomable. I was done with Nairobi, to the point of job hunting in Cape Town and Zanzibar. However my idyllic life of living where gin and tonics were a proper accompaniment for a bacon and egg sandwich at 9:00 a.m. were shattered by one thing, I was bored. I missed Nairobi and all its accompanying degeneracy, crime and profligacy. In truth, I wanted more. Not just of the city’s dark side though, more of what emerges out of it.
My second New Year’s resolution is to dive deep into the murky water that is Nairobi’s dark side and find out just what makes it tick. How does it create artists who can create pieces of spectacular beauty while still churning out murderers who wouldn’t flinch at stabbing you for your cheap wallet filled with 20 bob coins? To go down to the region where gloom produces colour and tenebrous souls and get absolutely shitfaced drunk because the world viewed through the eyes of a drunk person is completely different.

The sober person may see a seedy bar with skimpily dressed bar maids whereas the drunk guy sees lower alcohol prices. Banned brews such as chang’aa are the drinker’s bungee jumping, the risk of your rope cutting being replaced with the threat of probable blindness, a total adrenaline rush. It may be dangerous, this seemingly pointless endeavour into Nairobi’s seediest regions, but I’ve met people who’ve come out seemingly unscathed after similar adventures, with the exception of one gunshot wound and a drug addiction.

I’m convinced that armed with my press pass and sufficient beer money to get me sloshed but not attract muggers I’m sufficiently assured of safety and if not f*** it, Carpe Diem.

This first appeared in UP Nairobi

Naming and Shaming the Venice Curators

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Naming and Shaming the Venice Curators

It seems China is in the news for all the wrong reasons again this week. We have the blatant racism vis-a-vis African patrons in a local restaurant, the usual litany of woes regarding their perceived involvement in poaching and more recently the furore that has erupted following the news that they are officially representing us in one of the biggest art shows in the world, the Venice Biennale.

It really should frustrate Kenyans and the rest of the world that the Venice Biennial Kenya pavilion has more Chinese stuff in it than a dollar store. Have no idea what were on about? Well read on.

In 2013 there was an uproar in the arts community after it came to the attention of Kenyan artists that at the 55th Venice Biennale Kenya had a pavilion. The Venice Biennale has often been called the Olympics of the art world and brings together critics, artists and art lovers from all over the world. Each country participating gets a pavilion to showcase art from that particular country. At least, that is what is supposed to happen.

Kenya’s pavilion in 2013 was in the news all over the world. In fact all the African pavilions garnered a lot of media attention; South Africa for having one of the largest groups, Angola for winning the Golden Lion for national participation at their first appearance and Kenya for having barely any Africans.

Critics say the works themselves are stereotypical: Primitive-looking African paintings by Kenyan Mbuno Kivuthi and “tribal” sculptures by Italian Armando Tanzini in a small room; hi-tech digital works by several Chinese artists in a much bigger one -The BBC

The theme for the 2013 Kenyan pavilion was collaboration, so we could conceivably laugh it off as showing how Kenya, Italy and China worked together to create our display. Fast forward to this year though and you have a similar grouping of people once again with minimal Kenyan presence. Kenyans this time round are furious. Perhaps, they used the same logic that was used for the infamous restaurant: don’t trust an African unless otherwise accompanied by a large group of Europeans/Chinese.

The theme of the Biennale this year is Creating Identities. At this point this seems to be a laughable concept seeing as Kenyans have never been allowed to showcase the existing identities that they already have.

KENYA
Creating Identities
Yvonne Apiyo Braendle-Amolo, Qin Feng, Shi Jinsong, Armando Tanzini, Li Zhanyang, Lan Zheng Hui, Li Gang, Double Fly Art Center
Commissioner: Paola Poponi. Curator: Sandro Orlandi Stagl. Deputy Curator: Ding Xuefeng. Venue: San Servolo Island
soi 2

The shame in Venice 1 300 by 100 cm acrylics mixed media on canvas 18th march 2015 By Michael Soi

As if to rub salt in the wound, OkayAfrica reports that the Kenyan Minister of Culture snubbed a meeting organised by artists and art stakeholders the point of which was perhaps to tell him off, or conceivably to get more information out of him concerning this massive snafu. A meeting was set by the Minister’s office for Friday afternoon, when he was conveniently unavailable due to his being a Muslim and requiring to be at the mosque. You cant get any slicker than that.

Tiw this all off with two quotes, one from a petition that all Kenyans need to sign and with the words from a Facebook post by everyone’s favourite satirist of Western portrayals of Africa, Binyavanga Wainaina

It should be noted that the Venice Biennial carries with it a profound global significance. For Kenya its cultural scene and its contemporary artists, Venice is a big deal and big business. It brings with it the absolute potential to launch the careers of artists, curators, writers, cultural entrepreneurs, cultural managers, collectors, art educators, patrons – both individual and corporate and many other players to monumental heights.- Petition to renounce Kenya’s fraudulent representation at 56 Venice Biennial 2015 & commit to support the realisation of a national pavilion in 2017

Is Armando Tanzini a Kenyan citizen? A legal resident? Does he have a work permit? Does he have letters of authority from our government to represent us internationally? Why does the Venice Biennale accept his credentials again after the previous scandal? Is somebody qualified to write to Okwi Enwezor the Nigerian curator of the Venice Biennale about this? What action(s) are our arts institutions formally taking about all this? I am speaking about Kuona, GoDown and more. What is the position of our Minister of Culture? When will this position be made public? What is the position of our Foreign Ministry. Our Rome Embassy? What action has our Rome embassy taken since 2013? How come we are back at zero? Who has been in touch with them? What are they saying?- Binyavanga Wainaina

This first appeared in UP Magazine

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Fear and Loathing in Stone Town

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Fear and Loathing in Stone Town

As I bribe the immigration official to let me off the island, it dawns on me that that last beer may not have been worth the mad dash to the crowded port. In the space of five minutes I have sweated out every last drop of alcohol and I am just as dehydrated as I was before.

From dodgy drug dealers in crack dens with antique doors, to the ever present Tusker, Sauti Za Busara and by extension Zanzibar, has it all. One thing however which might bother an habitual abuser of the liver like myself is getting a hold of alcohol. Over the past weekend it hasn’t mattered which town we were in, getting sloshed has been a constant challenge. The closer we get to the ocean and it’s Arab/Swahili past, the harder it is to find that ka-liquor store. Seeing a tired, frustrated Kenyan wandering the streets of Stone Town trying to find his way to the liquor store is not only common but expected.

Somewhere in this image is a liquor store. Cant spot it? Neither could we

Somewhere in this image is a liquor store. Cant spot it? Neither could we

I have to hand it to the Tanzanians though. For a very conservative society they sure do have a large selection of liquor (once you find the shop that is). Stepping into the liquor store there is like a journey into heaven. Far from the four beers that here in Kenya we like to call premium and the overpriced craft beers crafted exclusively for expats, Tanzania has at least 16 different beer brands and one of the worst was sent over there by us.

Here’s quick run through of the beers you can find when you set out to locate a liquor store as an alternative to passing out from heatstroke and being nibbled incessantly by sand fleas on the Zanzibar beach. Safari is Guinness’ ugly little cousin that tastes like someone dunked a shot of brandy into a lager; its 5.5% alcohol content made it an obvious choice for most of us trying to maximise our high and reduce our costs. Buying a Safari was never really about the taste, if you wanted to get drunk you’d grab one. Kilimanjaro was another favourite among our group, Kenyans have the odd habit of asking for the beer that tastes closest to Tusker when abroad and some wily local waiter lied to us that this was it. It’s not as strong as a Safari but it has a nice bitter finish and starts of with piney notes before it goes down.

The third beer on our list is Serengeti or Chui Mfalme, Tanzanians rave about it but I honestly feel like it is drink syrup added to beer. Sure the bottle is pretty but near black bottles tend to look better than green/brown. Another popular beer in Tanzania is Tusker but it tastes like piss over there so I won’t bother expounding.

As we reveled our way into the night, of course we moved from beer to the harder stuff. In Tanzania this is inevitably Konyagi, a local spirit which essentially tastes like a “pimped-up” chang’aa. Despite a reputation for having a wonderful taste, Konyagi is not a drink to be trifled with. Gregg Tendwa, of Santuri Safari fame, ploughed me with four of these during Mim Suleiman’s performance and all I recall is wandering back to my hotel, completely missing it and ending up on the wrong side of the city. Greg still raves about it actually, his last three posts on his Facebook page are about the percussion discussion, his rooftop sundowner with Iddi Aziz and a bottle of Konyagi captioned with praises.

Konyagi, probably a misconstruction of cognac is some fine Gin from Tanzania that is sure to give you a memorable height + hangover. Thanks to the ujamaa spirit of Konyagi, we are now connecting East Africa since Sondeka fest 2014- Greg Tendwa

Konyagi, probably a misconstruction of cognac is some fine Gin from Tanzania that is sure to give you a memorable height + hangover. Thanks to the ujamaa spirit of Konyagi, we are now connecting East Africa since Sondeka fest 2014- Greg Tendwa

 

To sum it up, I am glad that I made an effort to get to know the culture of the country that hosted me for such a brief time. Don’t go to a foreign country and drink the exact same thing you have day in day out back home, explore with your liver not just with your mind.

#FutureofMen – Who sets the Agenda?

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That session has been bothering me since i left. sigh

My Side of the Street

Storymoja Festival ITW 2014As I write, I am back and forth with a distraught mother whose son left rehab last week and he hasn’t been home four days. Thing is, knowing a bit of his background, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has relapsed. Relapse is very much a part of the recovery process. My main recommendation on his admission to rehab was that he is helped to resolve his relationship to his mum and his absentee dad. I have seen the way he treats his mother – with deep disdain. Repeatedly.

He has anger issues, abandonment issues, rejections issues (and all those issues we think came from the west) and he takes it out on himself, his mum and the world. Thing is, the world will not care very much.

Believe me, I know.

This brings up my, well, bizarre experience at the Future of Men session on the last day of…

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Causing Damage For Popularity

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Been tired of seeing shit like this pulled off by Kenyan blogs for ages. the kenyan Daily Post, Nairobi Wire and all of those f*cks need to stop!!

will this be a problem?

Now, before I start, I feel I should say that I’m not necessarily opposed to celebrity news/gossip sites. It’s not my cup of tea but a lot of people are clearly interested in what they do. There is a market for it and they have moved in to take advantage of that. Good on them. That’s not something I have a problem with. What I want to talk about is how some of them do it.

This is not going to be one of those articles where I tip toe around who I’m talking about. While they are certainly not the only guilty ones, I’m going to be focusing on Ghafla. They’re one of the most popular and if it has to start with somebody it should probably be them.

Over the past few days, there’s been talk about the whole Tony Mochama incident. In case you’ve somehow missed it…

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