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Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 01.04.51This year I wanted to celebrate my birthday (Sept 4th) in different style, so I decided to go wild and spend it in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve with one of my best friends, Smiles, who lives there. Like – who lives inside the Mara? Well, she does, and if her home wasn’t automatically mine too, and vice versa – I’d totally hate her.

Sparked by a recent article I wrote on top 5 places to go on a road trip while in East Africa, I thought Mara would be perfect—famed for the big five, it’s a cool and relaxing spot. The timing too is opportune to witness the seventh wonder of the world – the wildebeest migration and also do what I always wanted to do – take a balloon ride. This plan is spontaneous, ambitious and sweet sounding, so I jump forth!

It’s Sept 2nd, Tuesday morning.

I just returned to Kenya, a few hours ago, from an awesome weekend in Tanzania. Sauti Sol was playing at a massive concert in Dar es Salaam hosted by Legendary Music Tanzania. There’s so much work pending but my birthday is imminent, and its plans – more important. As I struggle to meet deadlines to leave in a few hours, I receive numerous texts from my girl Smiles, who can’t wait to see me. I can’t wait to see her either! But somehow, I sort of know that I’ll probably miss my flight, scheduled for 3:15 p.m. Just as I am heading to town, Smiles orders, “Buy us four large pizzas! Promise we’ll eat them all.” It’s terrific Tuesday – buy one and get another free. Yaaay! But I end up waiting so long on the pizzas that should have been ready 30 minutes ago. Crazy queue! “You guys I’ll be late somewhere,” I beg the ladies serving us, prompting them to quickly shove some boxes my way.

And the series of unfortunate events start to roll …

Balancing four large pizzas and my luggage, I grab a random taxi in town. As soon we take the turning into Wilson airport, a policeman accosts us. “Kwa nini hauna headlights? Toka nje ya gari!” The driver begs him to let us go so that I don’t miss my flight but he doesn’t flinch. The policeman takes the driver’s license. By the time the two agree that they’ll meet after I am dropped off, I am already too late for my flight. ‘There is no way in heaven or hell that I am going back home with these pizzas’ – I tell myself. ‘And if I can’t get another flight, I will just sit here and eat them all.’ I am not panicking or afraid that I won’t get another flight. After standing my ground and cajoling Safari Link—they’ve got me a spot!

Finally, leaving Nairobi. Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 01.00.14It’s a hot afternoon, thus the bumpy flight to Mara. I decide to sleep (I do that every time it’s bumpy – I always figured if am ever going down, I don’t ever have to see it happen). Before I know it, about 30 minutes are over and we have landed at Mara North, the first stop. On opening my eyes, all I smell is pizza. I am starving and for a second I wonder, ‘who is serving food in this mini plane?’ Oh! That’s my pizza. Lol. Several tourists, with American accents, board on their way back to Nairobi. They are impressed by this kind of VIP pizza delivery I am running at the Mara, mumbling to themselves how much they’ve missed pizza. Too bad I am not giving anyone a piece.

We finally land at my destination – Kichwa Tembo airstrip, where I am getting off. From the plane’s little windows, I spot an excited Smiles, beside her white Landrover, waiting on me with her camera ready to click. I ask one of the tourists to hold the pizzas so as to prank Smiles. “Shit!! I forgot the pizzas!!” – I regret on alighting. “Nooooo!” She cries. But I am kidding. As the plane slowly takes off, I feel the tourists eyes watching us reunite, hug for what seems like a lifetime, and then toast to a glass of sweet white wine; as they bid Mara goodbye. The last time we were here together, was in 2009, before her marriage and relocation to Germany. But today, she calls this jungle her home. This is the life. It’s official! My birthday week just began, so did my career in photography. Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 01.12.05

After sipping on some good sweet white wine, catching up, surrounded by the panoramic 360-view of the game reserve, and filming another happiness-filled Instavideo; Smiles, impressively in control of that Landrover, drives me home along the bumpy road. It’s about 4:00 p.m. I am lucky my arrival coincides with the evening Game Drive time. Our companion, Paul – a safari guide with Serena Hotels, is kind enough to explain to me the nature of all the wild animals we encounter. Among other wildlife, we spot a lioness, leopard and buffalo—three of the big five, yet I have just arrived!  I think topis and waterbucks are really cute.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 01.19.44When we finally get to the house, I can’t believe how beautiful this place, Smiles and her husband Daniel ( I will sometimes refer to him as Danny) have built a home in, is. A pirates and German flag hang on the wooden walls. Their shelves, occupying the entire wall on one side of the house, have all sorts of goodies. One side has the complete book series of The Hunger Games; and another a host of board games: my favorite – risiko and scrabble. The cats: Mr. Bigz and Bailey, roam around like they really are the owners of this house. The living room couch is made of Maasai Shukas. There is huge plasma TV that no one really ever watches; there is too much to watch out there anyway.

Outside the house is a front view that I’d do anything to see every morning. There is a view of Mara’s horizon, complete with the great Mara River, the source of water and life for a majority of wildlife here. “Sometimes, we see the wildebeests migrating across the river while here,” Smiles tells me. “Oh my! You must enjoy such peace and no stress while here,” I reckon, and she agrees. She walks me to the very front edge of the yard, where there is a cliff. Right before it is large flat wooden plank – “this is where we sit, to watch the stars on nights when the skies are clear – it’s so beautiful out here.” I notice a little bird house tagged “Rock City” hanging by the big tree, as we are getting back into the house. Smiles says, “A pilot who owned this house in the 90s was buried by this tree. When he passed away, none of his family members claimed him so local friends cremated him and laid his ashes around the tree. He was from America’s Rock City, but because he wasn’t taken there, they brought it to the Mara. He really loved the town around here, this tree and bird house is his memory. And shall never be taken down …”

BONUS: I just read my 2010 blog post from my my last visit to the Mara in 2007, and boy! Is it terrible or what? My style of writing was atrocious. But what I absolutely cherish about this post, is how it details the struggles me and Smiles have had through our friendship. There was a time when we had nothing, we couldn’t even afford a local flight, but we always had great times together. Now God has really blessed us. We’ve come a long way, in all aspects. To avoid getting too emotional, if you couldn’t read the post at all, it’s cool – I understand – I leave you with 5 fun facts about world’s 7th wonder

In the continuation of my tales from Maasai Mara during bday week, watch out for Bday in the Wild: Atop a Hot Air Balloon (Part II). Coming soon … 

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DSC_1075Everybody in Hague is tonight jolly, drinking beer and partying! Netherlands (NL) the team we (Sylvia, Danny and me) are supporting just won over Mexico, proceeding to the quarterfinals of 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. We are in such high spirits—we forget to carry the bottle of wine Danny had prepared, as we head out to Lucia’s for dinner.

The roads leading to Chinatown (where Lucia lives), located in Hague’s city centre, are thin and twisted with smooth corners, perfect for Hague’s little cafés and restaurants with intimate patios. On our way there, we walk past the Dutch Parliament Buildings. They really do look like the university Harry Potter should have attended after Hogwarts. Adjacent paths are romantic and decorated by red flowers.

DSC_1084Two three-meters high Chinese gates decorated by sculptured dragons welcome us into Chinatown. “Wow!” I marvel because it does feel like I am in China—or what’s up with the numerous red balloon Chinese lanterns and Chinese people all over? Danny says, “You can actually get anything Chinese here, specialized beauty things like Chinese manicure, even acupuncture – you should try it once.” This is the place that suffered impoverishment after the Second World War; and it was only after a 1970s revamp that Chinese people increasingly settled here.

But tonight it’s not the Chinese but Italians from Sicily—sweet Lucia and her full-of-life Papa—hosting us in Chinatown. Just like me, Lucia’s Dad is in NL for the first time. We first met a few days ago in Eindoven (province of North Brabant in the south of the NL), when the Danny and Lucia (adorable couple) tagged him along to a Sauti Sol concert. Tonight is his last day in NL before he goes back to Sicily. To celebrate that, he has prepared an Italian dinner for us all. Lucia has also invited her Australian friend and colleague, Sarah and her French fiancée, Pierre.

I am starving … Apart from bread, nearly everything I am about to eat is foreign or has been prepared in a foreign way. Lucia is kind enough to explain it all to me  …

DSC_1088DSC_1089DSC_1090There is a yummy starter (not pictured) that looks like ham but is made from beef: Carpaccio, done with Bresaola and Rucola (rocket) and parmesan cheese (Parmiggiano a scaglie)— all seasoned with “a special kind of vinegar”: Aceto Balsamico. Peas cooked with onions, ham and butter make the side dish: Piselli al Burro in Italian. And the mother of them all is the bigass meat loaf that behaves like a multi-flavored lollipop; with every dig, I discover something new inside – cheese, ham then boiled eggs. This is “something we do in Sicily,” Lucia says of the sliced minced meat: Polpettone (In Italian polpetta means meatball so Polpettone literally means grande Polpetta).

It’s a pity that at this juncture of my gastronomical and reading journey, hadn’t got to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Part of Eat, Pray, Love. Now that I’ve completed the book, I know that her Italian experience in Sicily that drove me hungry at first read has got nothing on my Sicilian dinner in NL. As we savour the dinner, we are having conversations about our countries: Australia, Kenya, Sweden, NL, Italy, France and Germany and others we’ve been to. We discuss our varied perspectives of art, public relations, the dying form of physical print magazine issues and new age social media marketing, the latter driving us into a heated debate that is quelled by another bottle of the “very very strong” Sicilian Nero D’avola red wine, typical of Sicily, Lucia explains.

Lucia’s Dad only speaks fluent Italian and French and just a little English. But thankfully nearly every other person speaks bits and pieces of French and Italian to accommodate him. That situation makes me realize how broken and bad my French has become, but I can still comprehend (see what I did there?) conversations going around like the Cherries for desert.

DSC_1105As the night ends, we take pictures and exchange contacts. Lucia’s Dad presents Sylvia and me with two A4 Sized photos (each) of Italy’s red hot and simmering Mount Etna, 2001 eruption. And just like that, I discover that Lucia’s Dad – Michele Sipala is one of the few photographers who got a chance to capture the volcano’s Strombolian eruption in action. Photo caption: from left Danny, Sylvia, Yours Truly and Lucia’s Dad.

I ate the most. And probably drank the most. By dinner’s end, I am tipsy nicely. I don’t want to even think of having to go back to Amsterdam. But as Sylvia and I settle in the train back, I can’t help but nap blissfully in certain realizations—dinner at Lucia’s ends up being my best home-cooked meal during my entire stay in NL, and my first real Italian. I also just had my first global gathering. Italian dinner in Hague’s Chinatown, hosted by Sicilian Italians and attended by globe-trotting professionals: a French, an Australian, a Swede and Kenyans.

We arrive in Amsterdam at about 3:45 a.m.


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On a different day when Danny is in Amsterdam to fix his mac, NL is playing against Costa Rica at 2014 World Cup semi finals. While in NL I am always missing Danny’s calls because I am always out shopping or at a gig and he always misses mine because, well … he works at ICC. Ahem. “Do you realize we just had our first phone conversation in NL, today?” We laugh when he calls me, later meet and end up doing a lot of things including taking pictures with Dam Square’s Grim Reapers and at Rembrandt Square’s 3D Sculptures. We also enjoy some deathly sugar-free Espresso by a random café’s patio before taking a boat ride (where we see a boat full of orange-dressed people – super cool!) around the city.

Later in the evening, we are met by Joe, Danny’s Kenyan friend from Finland, who is visiting Amsterdam for a few days before proceeding to Berlin. They haven’t seen each other since high school days and I am super glad to witness that reunion. We enjoy Joe’s tales of cold Helsinki and there being only about five black people and generally about 20 people along any Finnish street, after which we discuss The Great Gatsby film and book; Finland, Germany, NL and Kenya in relation to careers in ICT and Law. I’ve been to nearly all touristy spots and museums, so I draft a list of Must-Dos in Amsterdam for Joe + Danny practically appoints me as Joe’s guide while here. I don’t mind.

DSC_1753DSC_1761It’s suddenly evening and World Cup time. But all pubs and bars are full and they won’t let in more people, so we start to walk down the streets along Leidseplein Square in search of space. Attendants and owners of establishments act like we are on Kenya’s famed business-minded River Road street, beckoning and begging us to “Come in! We’ve got space and a TV and good food.” We finally find a spot where I enjoy huge Argentine ribs – probably the largest pack I’ve ever seen or eaten.

NL is kind of under-performing and now everyone is crossing fingers hoping we don’t get to penalties. My cousin Alicia in Costa Rica sends a message saying, “Costa Rica guys are going crazy”. But NL people are really going insane; a lot of people have stormed out of premises and others, especially women are crying. Others have taken into drinking more beer. When NL finally wins, even I am relieved. The penalties brought a lot of tension and agitation. Leidseplein Square transforms into a rowdy orange party zone. As we walk home, people are beer drinking, singing and dancing. I can decipher the patriotic serenity that comes with your country trumping another at World Cup; it feels so good; but I can’t imagine how it would feel to lose. I would feel so whack going to bed.

BONUS: A few days after returning to Kenya, I receive a message from Elliot Christian saying, “In your video of Amsterdam at Leidseplein Square, it’s my group of friends in the middle with people on shoulders.”

:-)

I cherish every orange I wore; yell I made at football; and drinks we poured for Holland while sharing the 2014 World Cup moment in NL with the Dutch and my friends. P.S, check out Part I World Cup 2014 from Holland: Going Dutch of this blog post. Look out for more from my Travel Tales.

DSC_1062Like most girls, I don’t like football. But even I know that only fools fail to recognise how big a deal World Cup is. This is the only time, every four years, when football makes the world stop. It’s when everybody must be watching football – if not for the game, at least for hotties like The Boatengs and Origi. However, that Netherlands is playing at World Cup coincides with my trip to Netherlands, doesn’t really cross my mind. But even though World Cup doesn’t feature anywhere in my daily schedule and plan, somehow, it intersects with my plans and ends up making great memories.

It’s Sunday afternoon. Tonight Netherlands is playing against Mexico at 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. It’s a night of firsts.

DSC_1038I am leaving Amsterdam for Hague (where I am visiting for the first time) to meet a group of friends for dinner. Just left my company, all boys, in disbelief that I wouldn’t be watching the anticipated game (in Netherlands) with them in Amsterdam. It’s a big deal because today is the first time Netherlands is playing at World Cup while we’re here. This is also my first time to take a train in Netherlands, and I will be alone. Since my last train ride in Kenya was total hell, I am really looking forward to this while hoping I don’t get lost or something. As I await the train to Hague while at Amsterdam Centraal Station’s upper platform, I panoramically see that everyone, yes – everyone (even little babies in prams) is dressed in Orange—the colour of the Dutch Royal Family and show of patriotism. Now I am certain that everyone can’t wait to watch the game. The orange reminds me of the super nice receptionist in Bergen’s Hotel 1900, where I just came from the second day of the Wedding of the Year, a little earlier on. He was also in orange.
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I walk into a Café to buy coffee and while inside I meet a little pretty girl with kinky hair. She tells her Daddy she would like a photo with me because I’ve got hair kinky as hers. Super cute. “She can’t speak English, she’s German but she says she really loves your hair,” her Dad thanks me on my way out. My heart swells.

I have a fancy plan of how I’ll be reading my book – Eat, Pray, Love – as I enjoy the beautiful scenery from Amsterdam to Hague while in the train. But as soon as I enter the train, my eyelids won’t stop hanging. I try to stay alert incase someone comes to ask to see my train ticket—but no one does, so I slip into a nap that emits nonlinear dreams of sandy beaches and Kenya. I’ve never slept for more than four hours in the past five days but instead had very crazy long days and nights, since my arrival in Netherlands a week ago.

I arrive at Den Haag Centraal about an hour before the game commences. My friend from Kenya, Danny (who before reuniting with in Amsterdam a few days ago I hadn’t seen in more than three years) spots me as soon as I reach my cell to call him. ‘Isn’t anyone ever late in Netherlands?’ – I wonder. Soon, he is pulling his bike along and I am happily galloping, as we head towards some fancy white-coloured apartment building, where he stays – about eight minutes walk from the station. I am astounded by Hague’s beauty. Buildings along Frederikstraat street look like a mashup of Amsterdam’s old architecture and something a little modern yet classic. Also, there aren’t edifices too tall around Danny’s hood; I feel at home.

Serendipitously, along the whimsical roads, we bump into my friend from Sweden Sylvia (who is also staying in Amsterdam over our brief stay in Netherlands). She’s in Hague to visit a friend, who she’s with. Somehow, while in Netherlands, my friends and friends of my friends easily all become friends; so Danny and I end up tagging them along. Danny has planned for us to watch the Netherlands Vs Mexico World Cup game first before heading out to Lucia’s for dinner. But first, we have to go Dutch: “We have to wear appropriate gear, otherwise they will think we are supporting Mexico,” Danny advises. We walk into his apartment and voila! Each one of us has orange paraphernalia. I’ve got a hat and a wristband on.

DSC_1059DSC_1055We are now part of the orange army, and proud to make our way downstairs and right into the intimate Le Moulin Fou  (restaurant that serves traditional French cuisine, situated right opposite Danny’s apartment building), tonight transformed into a pub. The sizeable venue is full to capacity. Seats and tables have been set outside to accommodate the overflowing crowd (98% Dutch or just European). The streets along Le Moulin Fou have been decorated using anything and everything orange, hanging loose or tightly fit.

Their red wine is bad but the game is worse. Mexico is first to score. By the time Netherlands scores a goal, too, 90 minutes is almost over. I can see how bad Dutch people want to win this game; nobody cares anymore for their drinks but cringing and praying. The air feels so tense. Just as Danny and I are standing to assess the situation, a waitress comes up to us with free shots of some drink that tastes like a mix of Martini, lime and a little whisky. She’s got a sad face, “For Holland”—she says, while offering. We look at each other as we take down the shots. Danny speculates, “Maybe these were meant to celebrate a win …We just have to take them anyway even though we are losing.” I agree, saying, “You know what would be epic? Is if this game turned out just like 2014 UEFA Championships League Final and we scored last-minute” – Danny immediately starts to record a video of us and the crowd like he just got sparked by a sixth sense. All of a sudden, the Dutch delight in a turn of events, scoring another goal in the final few minutes of the game—this has put Netherlands in the quarterfinals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. The game has ended! We won!

Pandemonium! Drinks! More free shots make rounds! We are all hugging! All the other people are singing, kissing and hugging and cheering and pouring beer and throwing bottles at each other and yelling—celebrating in all fashion. The whole place is merrily Orange.

As soon as I post pictures and videos of the riot on Instagram, my new friend, Iris from Amsterdam, comments saying that her mother actually lives right by the street where Le Moulin Fou is located. We briefly get back into Danny’s apartment where I enjoy the aerial view of the happy singing crowd, through the window. Some guys are beckoning me to come down and blowing kisses (which I gladly send back). I am still wearing my orange hat and wristband – it doesn’t feel silly or like a show. For a brief moment, I can’t separate myself from the Dutch die-hard support and love for their country at World Cup. I could see even children, seemingly below 10 years, celebrating Netherlands win against Mexico, as if they really knew what it meant. They must have.

We soon leave for Lucia’s crib in Chinatown (located in Hague’s city centre). It’s dinnertime, and in true Italian style … as I am yet to discover.

BONUS: Look out for the final part of this blog: World Cup 2014 from Holland: Going Global (Part II), coming soon. You might also dig another one from my Travel Tales: discovering the mystery behind Lord Egerton’s Castle.

10621785_10152576265477559_623321037_nNever, at any point of my life, have I ever read a book whose breath and pulse mirrored my own like Eat, Pray, Love—a brutally honest and raw tale about “one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia.” It was delightful for the 2006 memoir to have been my companion during a recent trip to Netherlands across Kenya and Turkey.

American author and journalist Elizabeth Gilbert is an ambitious career woman who can’t seem to get her marriage together. So she files for divorce and quickly moves on with a different lover. However, none of her relationships work out. And nothing makes things work – not prescribed drugs, countless nights of crying on her bathroom’s floor or even yoga-for-starters. Sparked by an ambitious plan and an old medicine man’s forecast that she would one day return to Indonesia (where she had visited years back while on an assignment); Elizabeth decides to embark on a 12-month trip across continents, on a journey to scrutinise her inner self – to find the self and discover soul food.

She begins her journey in Italy, the home of world’s best pizzas and pasta makers. A friend, Giulio tells her that Rome’s word is SEX. While trying to find her life’s own “word”, here she submerges herself into the pleasure of food like “airy clouds of ricotta sprinkled with pistachio, bread chunks floating in aromatic oils, tiny plates of sliced meats and olives, a salad of chilled oranges tossed in a dressing of raw onion and parsley.” It’s the first time she encounters the expression: Il bel far niente “the beauty of doing nothing” while learning Italian. While in Sicily, the most third-world section of Italy, she remembers what Goethe said: “Without seeing Sicily one cannot get a clear idea of what Italy is.” This part of the book makes me recall meeting a new friend, Lucia, in Hague. Lucia who hails from Sicily turned out to be the sweetest Italian girl I’ve ever met.

In India, Elizabeth discovers the power of meditation, yoga and silence. After having tasted part of her heart’s desires like forgiving herself and forgiving others, she heads over to Indonesia with an open mind, hoping to find more balance. Here, she ends up buying a Balinese woman a house and finding love, after all. What an intelligently authored book with impressive research on travel and different cultures. In Indonesia, she discovers that the word amok, as in “running amok,” is a Balinese word, describing a battle technique of suddenly going insanely wild against one’s enemies in suicidal and bloody hand-to-hand combat.

The book isn’t as cliché as the sound of its title, or as simple and straightforward as the 2010 film adaptation might have depicted the story. But the ending is. Elizabeth ends up falling in love with an older Brazilian man. But before then, she writes, “I not only have to become my own husband, but I need to be my own father, too.” I really loved that Elizabeth is jaunty and not afraid to share any bit of her personality. She writes like it’s her private diary. From TMI that, sometimes, ends up annoying the reader like mindless chatter would, to the juicy part where she recounts breaking her celibacy – “never have I been so unpeeled, revealed, unfurled and hurled through the event of love-making” – and the dry spell days that drive her to masturbation.

Elizabeth digging into her inner being to identify her weaknesses and how best to overcome them, is my first encounter with the book’s power. Most times, human beings don’t want to be corrected or when corrected – they find it hard accepting their faults. But it is surely something of magnificent power to sit down and analyze your life problems and triumphs; and from that – prescribe yourself a winning life-changing plan. This book has even inspired plans for my next euro-trip :-)

BONUS: She ends up marrying that Brazilian man after the book. They’ve since been together for more than five years. You can also check out my review of another wonderful book Captain Corelli’s Mandolin- Louis de Berniéres Then watch the below video of Elizabeth talking about the film adaptation of Eat, Pray, Love. She’s so funny.

 

81jdBXzYBTLThis will sound freaky, but the book – Eat, Pray, Love by American author Elizabeth Gilbert has changed my life profoundly. The tale about “one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia” took me on a journey this year from Kenya across Turkey and Netherlands. And at every turn of a page, I savoured my trip as I read how Gilbert savoured hers. But what really changed me was discovering Elizabeth’s search for her inner self so as to change her life and relationships, for the better. Her will to connect with God or a higher power and new people also amazed me. Most importantly, learning the essence of yoga, solitude and silence in this book has taught me to keep calm during life’s challenges. I’ve learnt that things will happen, good or bad, there will be storms and deaths and just about anything, while we still exist. So it’s essential to keep calm. It’s an art. Every life difficulty passes, such that even if we die, we should exist. I will stop there and share with you the below quotes that I really loved from the book. Cheers!

1. The classical Indian sages wrote that there are three factors which indicate whether a soul has been blessed with the highest and most auspicious luck in the universe:

  • To have been born a human being, capable of conscious inquiry.
  • To have been born with – or to have developed – a yearning to understand the nature of the universe.
  • To have found a living spiritual master.
  1. A monk said, “The resting place of the mind is the heart. The only thing the mind hears all day is clanging bells and noise and argument, and all it wants is quietude. The only place the mind will ever find peace is inside the silence of the heart. That’s where you need to go.”
  2. Life, if you keep chasing it so hard, will drive you to death. Time – when pursued like a bandit – will behave like one; always remaining one county or one room ahead of you, changing its name and hair colour to elude you, slipping out of the back door of a motel just as you’re banging through the lobby with your newest search warrant …
  3. Questions of love and control all through history are the two things that undo us all, trip us up and cause war, grief and suffering.
  4. We gallop through our lives like circus performers balancing on two speeding side-by-side horses—one foot is on the horse called “fate”, the other on the horse called “free will”. And the question you have to ask everyday is – which horse is which? Which one I need to stop worrying about because it’s not under my control, and which do I need to steer with concentrated effort?
  5. As smoking it to the lungs, so is resentment to the soul; even one puff of it is bad for you.
  6. About fighting your own personality and trying to change your inherent tendencies, the ancient Pythagorian philosopher said, “The wise man is always similar to himself.”
  7. Your treasure – your perfection – is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the busy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart.
  8. Liz’s guru says, “People universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it.”
  9. The yogic sages say that all the pain of a human life is caused by words, as is all the joy. We create words to define our experience and those words bring attendant emotions that jerk us around like dogs on a leash … To stop talking for a while, then, is to attempt to strip away the power of words, to stop choking ourselves with words, to liberate ourselves from our suffocating mantras.

BONUS: My review of Eat, Pray, Love, is coming soon … You might also like 12 Quotes from 100 Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The history of Amsterdam’s coffeeshops, where marijuana dealing is legal, dates back to the early 70s. And since, for most tourists, it’s not a complete taste of Amsterdam’s diverse culture without a good spliff. I am finally seated inside a coffeeshop with an Amsterdam native to oversee my experiment-cum-experience. We haven’t started smoking yet but I already feel like I don’t want to leave, more than I want to smoke. The freedom of it being legal here is grippingly unfathomable. But I keep calm and act like a trooper.

DSC_0577The self-service at Café 420 is simple: order your weed or coffee, or both – pay and sit down for a roll and sip. Dealers assume that smokers know how to roll weed. If you don’t, you can instead buy spliffs already done, for a few more cents or euros, depending on type. But my company, who I will refer to here as my Amsterdaman, is an expert at rolling. Tonight it doesn’t matter that I’ve never liked weed or that it stinks; I am about to have some. And if it works the same way a cigarette does after a satisfying meal, then after the kind of massive dinner we just had, I should be okay.

There is a very big black cat, lingering around like it owns this place. Sometimes, it’s sitting on one of the big stools by the bar, prying into private conversations. When it gets bored, it gracefully walks on top of the counter and impressively jumps across the bar into the shelf where it cuddles the old school stereo, smoothly emitting sounds of Kings of Leon, 30 Seconds to Mars and A Tribe Called Quest.

10536493_10152557457412559_1434802227_nThe harsh smoke smoothly grazes down my throat. “Take it easy,” Amsterdaman urges me as I cough. But with every sip of cappuccino, the next puff feels better. In fact, I feel irie. My head is slowly spinning in light of the moment and every micro situation emerging from it. We start to catch up; it’s been about four years since the last time we saw each other. Then we become silly. We jest about what could possibly be the black cat’s soliloquy. It’s funny. But it’s even funnier knowing that we are being silly but we can’t help it. We laugh out loud. I notice that everyone in the not so big café is calm and collected. The roar of our laughter and the riot we make out of the sheer pleasure of reuniting – is my only surrounding. I feel the need to take away something for myself, or someone, so I head over to the counter and buy a Café 420 Lighter and a fancy slice of lemon weed cake, for a friend at home.

DSC_0593We happily walk out of Café 420 and into the city for a walk, where we admire the beautiful illuminated canal rings (shining by night), and slanting buildings. I wonder if the buildings are really slanted or the weed’s high is rearranging architecture. It’s about 11 p.m. and finally pitch-dark. We end up at the only club I fall in love with while in Amsterdam—Bitterzoet, where we meet other friends. This is the place where I discover the world’s classiest and sweetest Rosé beer – the only thing I would end up drinking, almost entirely, throughout my trip in Netherlands. Soon, I’ve lost my people. Looking for them, I head upstairs into the smoking room. It’s crowded here worse than at mini coffeeshops. It’s like a smog storm going down; I can’t see a thing and the air inside is humid and dense—a mixture of all sorts of smokable things. I locate them after a few seconds and dash out immediately. I have finally embraced my two-faced vagabond spirit, I don’t care that the smoke probably has my hair smelling like shit. It’s never that serious.

DSC_1345DSC_1364DSC_1257DSC_1277As my stay in Netherlands elongates, I attend festivals, concerts and walk around town, hawk-eyed, checking out coffeeshops from a distance. Smokers are all over. There’s yet another weed crowd and cloud at Gyptian’s concert at Keti Koti Festival. However, there aren’t as many peeps smoking weed here as there would be in Nairobi, if Gyptian performed at Uhuru Park or KICC. On a different night, before heading out to Wiz Khalifa’s concert, I eat a yummy weed chocolate muffin in respect of Khalifa’s status as rap’s weed prince (Snoop is the King or Lion). At the concert, Wiz Khalifa’s full band is performing while smoking kush; half the crowd is smoking up too. I am hypnotized more by the fact that I am at Paradiso (one of Amsterdam’s legendary concert venues transformed from an olden church building) attending Wiz Khalifa’s concert. At some point, his Taylor Gang Crew stop the concert to make him smoke up the biggest spliff I have ever seen—it looks like a barrel-sized Cuban cigar. Amsterdam people cheer on! “Arrr rrr he heee heee hee hihihi” – there goes Khalifa’s sheepish signature high-on-weed laugh. My night is made. I’ve already had a couple of Vodka cocktails, and the weed muffin I took is finally starting to manifest. Wait. Wiz is singing: So what we get drunkSo what we smoke weed … We’re just having fun … We don’t care who sees … So what we go out … That’s how it’s supposed to be … Living young and wild and free …

The muffin doesn’t get me really high till about six hours later. After which I am hungry every 30 minutes. By the end of the night, I’ve disgusted myself, having eaten like four starved men would. I vow never to eat weed muffins again. Interestingly, with time, my perception of weed slowly transforms, from the stinky stick to just another thing equivalent to a cigarette or cigar. I think I am also getting high just off the ever-present weed clouds above the city’s social scene horizon. This must be why I am constantly laughing out loud while in Amsterdam.

DSC_1317On my last day in Netherlands, I am up to no good. I am also pressed for time but I have to meet a new friend in Amsterdam. I ask him to take me to so many places including a “a not so full” coffeeshop. He says,  “You’ve got so much to do in such little time,” so we end up at the 1984-founded Siberië (Siberia). This place, older than I am is perfect and private – there are only about 10 people in here. I like its café-style light mahogany furniture. But I don’t like the dealer behind the counter. He barks at me for answering my cell inside the coffeeshop (apparently cell phones are not allowed in here), so I step out. On returning, he asks to see only my ID – this is a requirement for anyone, if called upon. Rules into coffeeshops only allow 18 and over and if too strict – you have to be over 21. But don’t I look older than that? Grrrrrr!! Free at last, we end up checking out Siberië’s detailed menu, before embarking on discovering each other’s world over some coffee and hash (spliff made from concentrated THC (tetrahydrocannabinol): cannabis most active ingredient—“positive weed,” my friend calls it.

Lighter down the throat; hash hits the head faster. I am now a trooper. We have a great conversation revolving around South Africa, Kenya, Netherlands, westernization and African cultures. It’s a dope coincidence that we both work in music entertainment. There’s so much more to share and talk about but tonight my friends from Europe have organised my last-supper farewell dinner by the sandy beach at Scheveningen (district in Hague), so I have to make it there. Lost in the creation of a new bond, I end up missing my train to Hague, and almost missing the train after that. When I finally make it in, my Kenyan friend from Finland, accompanying me to Hague, won’t stop laughing at my newly acquired lisp thanks to hash highness. I also can’t stop laughing, and talking while simultaneously thinking about how an 85-minute long date left such a grand and lasting effect ;-)

Within no time, we have arrived at Den Haag. The slightly over 50-minute train ride from Amsterdam today felt like it lasted a mere five minutes.

Read the complete Love, Sex and Drugs series below:

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part I)

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam Red Light District (Part II)

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part III)

BONUS: The above series only account a section of my adventures and experience and should not be confused or mistaken for condoning salaciousness or the use of marijuana or any other substance.

 

 

DSC_1514Everybody loves Amsterdam because it’s marijuana haven, with hundreds of coffeeshops where smoking weed is legal and taking alcohol – prohibited. Coffeeshops are indicated by the display of an official, green and white sticker on the window (which nobody really looks out for – you just know a coffeeshop).

But weed and I have never had an amicable relationship. It smells like shit, makes hair and clothes stink, and then I’ve heard myths about substandard weed in Kenya. So ‘Why?’ I always thought, ‘Should I try what’s possibly not the real deal?’ Plus there was that time, about two years ago, when two policemen in Kenya planted weed in a friend’s car parked outside a club in Nairobi. Then they accused us of having in possession the biggest rolled-up bundle of weed I have ever seen. After holding us hostage nearly all night, turns out all they wanted was a bribe and to keep their weed. Because of these scenarios … visiting a coffee shop doesn’t make it in my list of Must-Dos while in Amsterdam – though at the back of my mind, I know that at some point I will have to act like am in the Rome of Netherlands. ‘If I’ll have to, I have to be accompanied by an Amsterdam native and smoker’ – I tell myself.

On my first day in Netherlands, while walking towards the apartment building where I am staying, I find myself staring blankly at three different people, a guy, another guy and a lady. They are fashionably dressed, leaning at several sections of the old building’s walls, smoking. Part of the smoke they emit is foreign. A little later I realize that it could have been weed. I am fascinated by the freedom to generally smoke along Amsterdam streets. It’s really cool yet annoying, if you can’t tolerate smoke. In IT Crowd and certainly Nairobi, you have to puff at a designated smoking zone, and you have to be so bad to smoke carelessly along any public place because you risk getting arrested.

On my second night in Amsterdam, I accompany friends into the first coffee shop we encounter along the Red Light District. It’s the most beautiful little shop I see throughout my whole stay in Netherlands. Decorated by multi-coloured graffiti, this is the Bulldog No. 90—we just stumbled upon what happens to be Amsterdam’s first coffeeshop, converted from a wine cellar. This explains why inside dozens of people are squeezed into a space probably designed for ten. Walking in feels like walking into a smoke machine. I can hardly breathe or see, so I step outside. My company returns with weed cakes and spliffs. I don’t smoke or eat any. We are met by more friends as we proceed to the supermarket to buy drinks to complete the supplies for a random chillax plan right around Rembrandt Square. I am happily shocked at how cheap wine is in Amsterdam. There’s an offer to buy two bottles for 4.50 euros or single bottles for a euro or up to five. I could buy my mother a barrel of wine but we only grab beer cans and a bottle. After an hour or so of enjoying my first uninterrupted sight of summer’s bright of night over laughs and conversations with friends, suddenly all the smokers are super loud and seem to be on a higher level than those drinking. The smokers soon bounce for home, without a goodbye. It’s so abrupt and unexpected. The rest of us head out to a classic Jay Gatsby-themed about 100-year-old Café Schiller; and later, to the only strictly hip hop bar in the city, which totally has that Choices Baricho Road vibe. I thoroughly enjoy my second night in the new city alongside an old and new friend.

DSC_0550Because of its coffeeshops and general restrained liberty, I think Amsterdam is cool. I have even bought some weed hoodies at the flea market, and several marijuana fridge stickers and lighters at the souvenir shops. But that’s as far as it goes. Regardless, a few days later, I meet up with a great friend of mine from Amsterdam. We first have dinner at Hannekes Boom while sitting outdoor, where there is a great view of the Amstel River overlooking part of the city. “What else do you want?” My friend is so sweet and the best host. I find myself requesting to be taken to a classy coffeeshop “with not so many people and so much smoke hovering.”

We end up at the perfect 420 Café, which balances with ease a café and bar feel. Its aesthetic and vibe makes our date even better. The ambience is to die for—dark wooden interior with low and high stools or chairs to choose from. Several huge framed old school tobacco posters make the café’s crème-coloured walls vintage.

DSC_0573DSC_0574My Amsterdaman (yes – I just created that word) actually used to live across the street, very close to Café 420. He schools my fascination: “In the early 20th century, smoking and tobacco were still quite exotic for the masses. It was also the onset of mass consumption and the birth of advertisement posters. Cigarette brands played on the exotic edge that was in fashion those days with advertisements geared to appeal to this. Cigarettes were associated with countries like Egypt or the cultures of the Far East, with images of ancient Egypt and other themes used to sell products. The 20s and 30s had their own Jugendstil – the style of the youth. So the owner of 420 Café uses his profits to buy an enormous collection of old cigarette posters just out of love for these – almost – pieces of art, that he constantly puts on rotation of different days.” We take a high table not too far from the entrance, that way we can also steal a glance of the dark of summer night creeping in through 420’s huge glass doors.

In the continuing series of my tales from Netherlands, read:

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part IV)

BONUS: This post is solely an account of my adventures and experience and should not be confused or mistaken for condoning the use of marijuana or any other substance.

Dreams of Greatness

When art breaks, paint spills. When my heart aches; it’s because not even pills would heal me of your portions. I can’t see any other mural or painting better than ours; but what we have isn’t the real deal. I can’t be a solo artist without your direction, yet I have to. I can’t ignore what we made, yet I want to. So I can’t help but thank the strokes of your brush; for when I was empty – you filled me. When I was undiscovered – you saw me. When I was ruined – you fixed me. And just as I was starting to glow in your light – you left me, illuminated.

— Your piece of work.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 10.05.33While in Amsterdam, the word Sex is like the word Tea or Majani in Kericho. Part of the Dutch pride and fame for sex is synonymous to the kind of global advertisement our tea has done for Kenya. In Amsterdam, sex is cool. It’s rich. It’s okay. It’s liberating. Because of the legalization of prostitution, it draws tourists. Together with the legalization of weed; prostitution is part of the Dutch toleration for things, otherwise, not legal in many parts of the world.

On my first day in Amsterdam, while walking down the shopping district, I bump into the Sex Museum. It’s right between tourists’ souvenir shops, food joints and a kid’s toy (no pun intended) store. And it’s only four euros in. As soon as I tell one of my friends that I am staying right in the CBD close to Amsterdam Centraal Station (CS), they say: “That’s very close to the Red Light District (RLD), make sure you take a trip there!” I end up visiting RLD at different times on different days, thus noticing different things, every single time, day and night.

From the start, I have no imaginations of what RLD is like, apart from a place where it’s okay to pick up a prostitute when in lust and with money, or a street where you can easily spot hookers. On my first evening in Netherlands, accompanied by friends, I take my first walk down Amsterdam’s RLD, known for high-profile hookers. The buildings along RLD boast part of the city’s charming 14th century architecture—not what I had ever pictured. The District is located along one of the most beautiful parts of Amsterdam, with long alleys with a few twists and turns. It’s about 9:00 p.m. and still quite bright because it’s summer. Most of the large and long windows or glass doors through which prostitutes show up, from the classic buildings, still have curtains. The streets aren’t jammed. Prostitutes, in sexy lingerie and truckloads of makeup driven by bright or deep red lipstick, tease streetwalkers. As if made a tad shy by the bright of night, they dramatically jump in front of the curtain, revealing a leg or their torso, and then quickly jump back. Some prostitutes just peep out of the window, smiling and waving or beckoning passersby by the index finger.

“Good gracious!’ – my first thought. What a wonderfully liberal world this must be. For these women to be as proud as they are, up for sex, and not being jeered or stoned or arrested but being adored and marveled at, just as any other product on sale would be window-shopped.

There are gay bars, pornography cinemas, an Erotic Museum of Prostitution and a Sex Theatre (where you can view live sex – yes!) along RLD. There’s also the Condomerie, Worlds First Condom Specialty shop, first opened in 1987. Photography here, and generally along RLD inclusive of the signs and prostitutes is prohibited, but I still steal some and the video below:  .

DSC_1690On a different day I visit Condomerie with a friend. We marvel at the naughty post cards and joke about how it would be cool to see if a receiver would put two and two together if sent the wittily designed cards. But none of us wants to experiment. The tiny sex shop, full of curious (in all ways) customers and tourists, has ALL shades, sizes and flavours of condoms. And then there are toys and probably whips and chains. We don’t stay in too long. I am already in trouble for being spotted taking a photo.

On a different day – the end of the night Netherlands win against Costa Rica in the World Cup, together with my two male friends (names withheld for obvious reasons), we decide to head over to RLD for two reasons: to find a bar with good beer and simply assess business. Why not? Especially after Netherlands beat Costa Rica by luck at the penalties. We are curious if this result will influence an influx or decrease of clients at RLD tonight. Although there are celebrations and a lot of drinking beer and singing in town, most fans (read – everyone including me) are still not too happy by Netherlands performance again. The game against Costa Rica was just like their previous match against Mexico, too much struggle and still failing to score in 90 minutes.

DSC_1689“It’s going to be a bad night for the girls. Or should I say, a good night?” One of my friends jests, adding, “The prostitutes will probably make a lot of money, still.”

We have arrived.

Tonight I see the RLD in different light. (It’s the busiest I’ve seen any street, day or night, during my entire stay in Netherlands). It’s the first time I am experiencing human traffic. There are so many people, among them, more than half dressed in orange jerseys, walking up and down RLD lanes. Everyone (the Dutch and tourists alike) has been wearing orange all day, in support of Netherlands at World Cup, so there’s no way of knowing nationalities of people along RLD, tonight largely dominated by men. My friend says a lot of the guys down RLD are usually Brits. And leaning on that statement, I overhear several British accents along the crammed and jammed street. I wonder if there are male or homosexual prostitutes too, somewhere. They can’t miss to have their spot in a place like Amsterdam—the city with something for everyone. We spot a couple of policemen along the canal bridges dressed in their “Politie” jackets, standing at bay watching people stream in and out of the district. They are possibly looking out for trouble. But there is never trouble.

It’s way past 1:30 a.m. The prostitutes are not afraid of the dark of night – they seem to be encouraged by it. They are on display just like meat hangs by the butchery windows or how mannequins pose by windows at the malls. There are no curtains here. As you stare at them, the more they lure you while touching themselves and demonstrating skills and positions, some smiling as innocently as virgins. All this happens through the life-sized windows through which I can see single rooms lighted up in red, blue, violet and even green. The rooms have beds layered with white towels and numerous toys, some looking like gadgets. Some rooms seem to have doors in the back.

We are standing next to a group of three girls and one boy staring so hard at one of prostitutes demonstrating her prowess by mocking her viewers from across the window. The foursome stares so hard as if they are watching a silent movie. I can now see that most of the prostitutes have done a boob or mouth job, or both – it’s so evident. The prostitutes clearly represent different nationalities. Some look Indonesian and Korean. There is also a lane with black girls. Here is the first place I see big -sized prostitutes. We also pass a window where several men are queuing for one prostitute and there is a bouncer, (or should we refer to him as a pimp?) ensuring that there’s no pushing and pulling or jumping the line.

Most pubs and clubs have red-lit signs gleaming and popping with witty names of the places. Sex Palace. Banana Bar. Moulin Rouge. And so on. We finally find a club that is full enough to handle us (the others are overflowing). I just want some of that good rose’ beer. My boys are soon turned off by the fact that there are only four girls (me included) in this club so we leave soon after …

In the continuing series of of my tales from Netherlands, read:

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part III)

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part IV)

BONUS: Prostitution is legal in Holland with most of Amsterdam’s business running in the Red Light District. Window prostitutes have been allowed to legally display their trade since October 2000. PS: RLD hasn’t always been known to be the safest place in Amsterdam. From time to time, several crimes have been reported from there so while visiting, make sure you have company and be watchful.

 

10559344_10152507852712559_1010258845_nMy arrival in Amsterdam is in many ways synonymous to the story of the village man from Luhya Land who got a chance to visit Nairobi, for the first time, after winning millions through a Safaricom competition. As soon as I take my first walk from Amsterdam Centraal (CS) Station to our apartment building, along De Ruyterkade (five-minute walk from CS), I realize that I am a different kind of villager here.

I have seen tall buildings, but not buildings grandiose and sophisticated in form of medieval architecture as Amsterdam’s. I can’t help but stop every five steps, to take pictures of the cityscape always adjacent to canal waters and bridges. This happens every time I am out of the house, all through my 16-day stay in the Netherlands. One time, my friend Sylvia notes, “You are just like Chinese and Japanese tourists” because we spot them (especially men) taking pictures all over town. Only difference between my photography and theirs is how advanced their cameras are. While taking a boat ride once I spot one Japanese tourist with a selfie-stick (look that up).

10536950_10152507856977559_1886306721_nI have never seen streets and roads so neat, clean and perfect – you could literally lay your picnic on bare ground, and germs wouldn’t be aware. I am fascinated by the fact that during my entire stay, I don’t see even one person littering. Well, maybe that’s because there are mini and huge trucks simultaneously cleaning (washing and drying) city streets, day and night, every hour. Amsterdam saves me from the fury of having to see someone throw banana and orange peals or naked maize combs on the streets, like is such a Kenyan bad habit. Could it be that Amsterdam people don’t eat fruit anyhow? Or maybe they don’t litter anything at all?

What Amsterdam however seems to throw around carelessly is Love. I have never seen so much Public Display of Affection (pda) at one place. There is a couple holding so close at the Rijksmuseum – if I had a man holding me like that while trying to critic a piece of art work, I would have certainly preferred to take our display somewhere else, probably with more life … There is a constant dark veil between lovers and the streets or people. Lovers don’t care if anyone is watching them and people don’t care for couples. Another couple is kissing so passionately by the hundreds of bikes parked by CS. He’s got his hands entangled in her sweater and she let’s go of her bike; its fall nearly messing up the perfect linear parking of the rest of the bikes. The couple stops and start to laugh out loud.

Even elderly couples seem to be deeply in love. By Amsterdam’s famous Dam Square, I spot a couple of oldies holding hands while strolling. Some are kissing and others are leaning on each other while sitting on the stone benches at Dam. One afternoon after a shopping spree so tiresome my back is aching, I decide to take a break and rest on the Dam stones. This way I can also get a central viewing of pda. Funny thing happens. The 40-something year old man sitting next to me starts to talk to the 50-something year old woman. She asks me for a pen and a paper. Obviously no journalist walks without those two. As I reach my handbag I realize that these two just met on this stone and are exchanging contacts. Finally! I play cupid, thanks to Amsterdam.

10559091_10152507853217559_282060868_nOne time, while sitting with my friend Danny at the patio of a restaurant located on Rembrandt Square (another famous spot in the city); right after an afternoon pour, a couple stops right in front of our view and start to make out, so hungrily. I am afraid he will rip off her clothes right before our eyes. I notice that I am the only one caught in their make-out session. Passersby walk past the scene, and care more for the famed Night Watch (Netherland’s most celebrated painting by the artist Rembrandt van Rijn) sculptures in 3D, a few steps behind the kissing couple. “Is it that couples show more love to each other in Amsterdam or do stuff and visit places, more together, than at home (in Kenya)? Or that people in Amsterdam are in love deeper than love experienced in other places?” I ask my Kenyan friend Danny. Already accustomed to the Dutch lifestyle, having lived at Den Haag (Hague) for more than two years, now, he simply cautions, “You haven’t seen anything yet … you should go to Rome,” adding, “This pda is really nothing as compared to Rome.”

I am convinced that Amsterdam is a city of love because I am here to work and play but most importantly, attend my friends’ Wedding of the Year. If numerous people carrying lovely bouquets of flowers on their bike carriers; almost half the town is kissing and holding and rubbing each other’s butts, really is a sign of Love—I see it everywhere in Amsterdam. On the streets, at restaurants, museums, parks and pretty much anywhere I turn. It’s like a constant scene off a romantic movie filmed in Paris’ famous parks with couples fondling on the benches. Only this is real life. It is baffling why, from outside Amsterdam, I haven’t seen movie makers associate Amsterdam with love and pda, like they do in films shot in Rome, Paris and London.

10523292_10152507852912559_1414496986_n-1One time, while in Eindhoven, North of Holland – not even the rain could stop yet another couple from pda-love-games. The dude is pushing her and pulling her hair. The lady runs so fast from him, for a second I start to think that they are not really together. He catches up with her; she kicks him so hard. They have no umbrellas and don’t seem worried by the rain or that they are probably inflicting slight pain on each other. As they fade away from my view, I half-see them laughing and leaning over to share a kiss, while waiting for the traffic lights to turn Green.

It seems like Amsterdam is always All System Go for Love. In one part of town, there’s a lone piece of graffiti in white with the words “Love Me”. Just as I am taking a photo of it, another couple (holding) walk into my shot—a perfect image for the backdrop by the canal waters … I email my sister Emma, who lives in Miami (Florida) my observations. She responds, “You are experiencing some culture shock ..” Maybe I am.

In the continuation of my tales from Netherlands read:

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam Red Light District (Part II)

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part III)

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part IV)

BONUS: You might also fancy reading how it went down at my friends’ Wedding of the Year.

 

Bergen, north of Holland (about 45 minutes drive from Amsterdam), is really the place you want to wed. There, roads are winding, extra leafy trees stand tall and close together, the beaches provide warm and sunny weather; and houses (all stand out, in shape and architecture) are designed to build homes. Mine is the only bedroom (I think) located on the lower floor of the little yet charming 114-year old Hotel 1900 (where we are staying over the wedding weekend). It’s the most beautiful Saturday morning I have seen, since my arrival in Netherlands. A bright shy sun light with tenderness and assurance seeps in through my window. I know this will be a more than a good day. 10540657_10152506767507559_1733602766_n10529635_10152506780942559_1786459364_n From Hotel 1900, it’s a five-minute walk to the most beautiful remains I’ve ever seen—Bergen’s Ruïnekerk (Ruined Church). Surrounding the chapel’s front yard are high ruined walls made of golden brown bricks. The walls have holes, where there used to be cathedral windows. Epitaphs lean on the walls, as lifeless as high fashion models pose. A clay pot with lovely lilac and white flowers is sitting pretty near the church’s main entrance. The church provides a Holier Than Thou aesthetic gratification. The ceiling is so damn high (even higher than normal cathedral ceilings). Half its length is wooden brown and the other half – painted pure white. The windows are so large – all four Teletubbies could certainly jump through, at once. Several golden chandeliers dangle with church candles, or lights shaped as candles, burning slowly. In the fifteenth century, this used to be the largest church in the province of North-Holland. However, during the 80 years war against Spain, it was looted and burned down by Dutch Protestants. It was later rebuilt to its current state (making it now more than 300 years old). Wow!!! 10528039_10152506763562559_960094254_n10527929_10152506869552559_1729024944_nIt’s about 3:00 p.m. The Bridal March song goes off. Dressed in a simple non-lacy and non-flowing wedding dress with a white mini jacket and a statement Ankara belt, Nynke (the bride) walks in smiling. Her Dad is holding her hand. Such cute little flower girls in Ankara dresses just walked in front of them. Her man, Steve (the groom), is dressed in a cream-coloured tuxedo, a snow-white shirt with a matching smart bow tie. A twosome so different yet elegant—I assert – to myself, “Yes! Those are My Friends!” After what sounded like a Catholic mass and mostly conducted in Dutch, Nynke and Steve are just about to be married. The Father asks, in English, “Anyone with any reason why I should not unite these two; speak now …” A bad, or good joke (we previously discussed) comes into real play. From the very back, Bien stands up and shouts, “I have something to say!” All eyes on his serious face: “I know Nynke … She is a very good woman – that’s all!” The church bursts into laughter, more like a collected sigh of relief. After the You May Kiss the Bride speech, the couple kisses for an eternity. I like that the Father’s sermon for the couple is sweet and very Catholic-esque short. “You don’t need sunshine but someone by your side, always. Look out of the window, we expected better weather today but you don’t need blue, but trust… ” Later, Steve sings to Nynke an acoustic (only accompanied by a piano) version of Donny Hathaway’s A Song For You. (Isn’t that like one of the sweetest love songs ever?) She surprises him, and all of us, when she sings for him an olden (I think) Dutch love song, from the balcony of the church, accompanied by the beastly organ music instrument. Even though I can’t comprehend the lyrics, I feel the emotion pouring out of her, and then from me. I’ve never heard Nynke sing with such heart and soul. My eyes feel like I just rubbed red-hot Indian chillies on them. I feel like running out of the chapel to be free of this captivity. I look around the church and all (Yes – all) the women are sobbing – so I succumb. It’s embarrassing, but thankfully I didn’t wear mascara so I am not worried that I will look like the grim reaper after this. I told myself that I wouldn’t cry but these tears turn out to be my first, at any wedding. Sauti Sol throw a killer concert right in front of the church’s dais, transforming the peace and holiness into something else. They sing all their wedding songs and Pharrell’s Happy, led by Nynke. Later Steve and Nynke’s Paps both give such precise and wise speeches—I am awed. So is the church. There’s too much love, fun and freedom inside this Catholic church—I can’t wait to tell my mum (a staunch Catholic) of this liberty. 10550203_10152506740052559_1293265614_o10552187_10152506713877559_1455828313_o10536834_10152506829017559_795525125_nAfter a few minutes, there’s a cake cutting ceremony at a gazebo outside church. The cake has several storeys. Its colour matches Steve’s tux. It tastes like sorbet and everything nice. This is the first wedding I’ve attended without cake-hoarding servers. It’s a dream-come true for the kids. It doesn’t matter that I hate cake; I join their greedy game of relishing large portions to come back for more. Going around is plenty of champagne, congratulatory hugs and kisses to the couple, meet-and-greet pleasantries, and fashion. It is about 6:00 p.m. guests return inside Ruïnekerk for dinner. The church space is now like a scene from Jesus’ Last Supper table. The tables, laced in white cloth, have gourmet Kenyan and Indonesian (if my taste buds don’t fail me) finger-licking dishes. Sierano and me even share a second plate. Just as the wine is kicking in, Nynke and Steve are at the front of church with an announcement to make. But only a music mix kicks in, for a choreographed dance session from the two, now in different outfits. Azonto. Jika. Happy Dance. Dombolo. B-Boy Dance. There isn’t one cool dance move that misses out. It’s super dope! Suddenly, guests are standing on seats, and cramming, trying to steal a picture or if lucky – get a video. Watch Nynke and Steve’s super Dope First Happy Wedding Dance, recorded via my phone camera.

A group of friends then present a song and another choreographed dance to the couple, who join in the FUN. The after party (from a sunny and bright Summer 9:00 p.m.) is private and by the beach. The wooden white coloured establishment exudes the feel of a former beach house. The walls are made of glass. There’s a patio with a view (overlooking the vast North Sea) to die for. This is a scene off OC. The sand here is so clean and so soft it makes feet sink so deep. The water is super cold. Only sound close to the North Sea is the laughter from the party, fading music and water-sand back and forth motion as tides rise and fall. Good vibes, drinks and a lot of dancing to the killer DJ and the most private and heartfelt concert delivery I’ve ever heard Sauti Sol give. 10543229_10152506748782559_477459719_n10544478_10152506816007559_883111188_nAfter a super cute daughter, and years of anticipation, Nynke and Steve have finally made it official. Nothing about this couple is ordinary. She is super cute, super hardworking and super stylish. Steve’s voice and everything is smooth. He’s fashion forward and super industrious. Look up Free Spirit and Roho Safi in the dictionary—their faces show up. They are creative. Crazy. And fun. And accommodating. And loving. They’ve got such big hearts; if merged together and thrown like a meteorite from space into earth, they would form a love crater. 10544950_10152506846842559_725385406_n10552000_10152506715347559_2145560543_n Weddings generally make you feel sorry for yourself and your singlehood or dysfunctional relationships. But this one felt different. It was more of a global gathering of friends and family—guests came from Netherlands, Germany, Kenya, Brazil, USA, Dubai, Czech Republic, France and pretty much every corner of the world. It was surreal to be at one place with ALL our friends, and for it not to have been a funeral. There was nothing to think about but savour every single moment. More than Nynke and Steve’s celebration of love, their wedding was a massive and grand celebration of love, life, friendship and family. It ended up lasting another two days, following Sunday (back at Ruïnekerk) and Monday (at the Bergen home).

BONUS: So honoured and glad to have been part of your celebration Nynke and Steve – congrats to that and the awesome wedding dance. Because of your wedding, I ended up spending weeks [meaning it’s not infatuation] falling in love with Netherlands; reuniting with you, nearly all my friends from Europe and making new alliances. I am so inspired by the power of the beautiful thing we are all looking for. It’s called Love, and You are it!!

You might also dig: Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part I), the first of the four-part series: Love, Sex and Drugs – my tales from the Netherlands.

10401419_10152412678212559_3675525569351012732_nMaya Angelou wrote like a prosetry goddess. From the first page of her 1969 autobiography: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, to the last, words rhyme and dance as pages turn. The book details Maya’s early years— an incredible and moving tale of how an African-American woman defied rape, racism, segregation, black skin, ugly kinky hair and all odds, to find closure, forgiveness, and become outstanding.

The story kicks off soon after three-year-old Maya and her beloved brother, four-year-old, Bailey Jnr. are sent off like cargo, by their separated parents, to Stamps, Arkansas to live with their larger than life grandmother Annie Henderson, whom they refer to as Momma. “The town reacted to us as its inhabitants had reacted to all things new before our coming. It regarded us a while without curiosity but with caution, and after we were seen to be harmless (and children) it closed in around us, as a real mother embraces a stranger’s child. Warmly, but not too familiarly.” Momma, popularly referred to as Sister Henderson by many, is the only Negro owning a store in Stamps that stocks all sorts of essentials for all, from canned fish, beef, flour to thread and sugar.

Momma’s famed store, church and school, become the only world Maya and Bailey know while growing up. They also live with Momma’s son, their crippled uncle Willie. It’s the 1930s and racism is at its high. Being black is hard and bad enough. When a white duo, teachers from a nearby school come into their store, for the first time in her life Maya sees her uncle struggle to stand still and upright, pretending not to be crippled. She writes, “He must have tired of being crippled, as prisoners tire of penitentiary bars and the guilty tire of blame.” This, she says, was the first time she felt like she understood and empathized with him the most.

Certain aspects of the book are insightful and carry with them circumstances that shape Maya’s future policies and identity. Born Marguerite Annie Johnson, the name Maya comes about as a result of Bailey’s inability to refer to his sister by name. To him, she was just his. “After Bailey learned definitely that I was his sister, he refused to call me Marguerite, but rather addressed me each time as “Mya Sister,” and in later more articulate years, after the need for brevity had shortened the appellation to “My,” it was elaborated into Maya.” While aged eight, Maya is raped by her mother’s boyfriend – a situation that traumatized her to the extent of being dumb for years. “Just my breath, carrying my words out, might poison people and they’d curl up and die … I had to stop talking … I was called impudent and my muteness sullenness when I refused to be a child …” This begins to be Maya’s relationship with scrutiny, silence and literature.

Maya’s interest in reading and poetry is mentored by a Negro, the fancy Mrs. Flowers, whom Maya credits as the person who gave her the first of lessons of living: “She said that I must be always intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and even more intelligent than college professors.” Growing up in Stamps, then a little unknown town in the countryside, allows Maya to later look at the world differently and appreciate every single bit of what it offered, while blind to tragedy and prejudice. She says, “The resignation of Stamps’ inhabitants encouraged me to relax. Their decision to be satisfied with life’s inequities was a lesson for me.”

One time, the only white dentist in Stamps denies Momma and Maya an appointment just because Maya is a black kid. This is despite Momma having lent him money in the past, a favour he hadn’t returned. When Bailey witnesses the uncovering of a Negro murdered and dumped while tied up like a mummy, Momma moves Maya and Bailey from Stamps to city life with Vivian Baxter for good.

MayaAngelouQUOTEEvery difficulty and disappointment Maya encounters while growing up, until teenage years, moulds her razor-sharp memory, strong character and gift of forgiveness/arbitration. Despite growing up hardships and the difficulty of healing from rape, Maya still finds strength in the power of love, and family (even though disjointedly). She goes on to build a solid relationship with her brother (whom she refers to her Kingdom Come) and mother, Vivian Baxter. “To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power. Or the climbing, falling colours of a rainbow,” she writes in escape of words to describe Vivian’s flamboyance, beauty and guts.

By the age of seventeen, Maya becomes the first black person to operate a streetcar in San Francisco. She’s also slept in dumped cars, lived with street children, and got herself a baby boy— Guy Johnson. Her mother’s mentorship, belief in her greatness, together with Maya’s long-term assertiveness and power of knowing intelligence and wanting to only associate with greatness, must have been the propellers of Maya’s great legacy-to-be.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings reminds me of To Kill a Mockingbird, because of the juvenile narration, by younger Maya and nine-year-old Scout Jean Louise, respectively. Both books heavily feature themes of racism and segregation. There’s a lot of beauty in the narrators’ innocence and impression of adult behaviour and the power they’d have had if things were to run their way. This style of literature challenges us all to tap into our inner innocence and realise that like a bird; free or caged—it’s up to us to sing whatever song we deem fit.

BONUS: May Maya rest in eternal peace. And her books, poetry, drive and powerful words and that trembling deep voice continue to inspire us all. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the most highly acclaimed of Angelou’s autobiographies. The book, one of a seven-volume series ends just as Guy is born to a young single and happy mother. Watch the below video of Maya’s son response to the question he’s been asked 1000 times.

 

 

 

 

Rules of Attraction

Light Swicth

Like electricity wires; red, yellow, green, white and black – we are so different yet can’t work without one another. We are so hot, even when times are cold. We are so on, even when the lights are out. We are so happy, even when the world isn’t. We are so bright, even when it’s dull outside. Inside, our light burns so bright, even without fuel. Short circuit or perfection, our only rule of law is to dream big, and make love.

 

When The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin was released in 1981, I hadn’t been born, till a couple of years later. My love for TV and film (starting soon in the 90s) was cemented by my family’s video library business. The Owoko’s Library was enormous and rich in content. As a little girl, I would marvel at the hundreds of videotapes lined in cabinets in genres and alphabetical order. We had all the Jackie Chan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme action-packed films, with male packs that left me knowing that bonafide movie stars had to be box-shaped.

Our library also had musicals like Thriller, Sound of Music and Kidd Video. I adored cliché rom coms like Pretty Woman. Back then it was all about Hollywood, Bollywood and Boyz N The Hood. Must be the reason why I don’t remember much of African movies our library stocked, apart from those that had African themes like Coming to America and Cry Freedom.

But I do recall watching The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin, a film that detailed the atrocities of Uganda’s former dictator, Idi Amin Dada (during his rise to power in 1971 until his overthrow in 1979 as the result of the Uganda-Tanzania War). It was the first film that left me curious and hungry for more of African films or films with Africans with characters I could relate to. It was also the first film to freak me out most, but I still couldn’t stop re-watching it. It had an arresting power and shocking factor that, to my oblivious young-self, displayed an African appetite for voracity, power and impunity. The film’s display of Idi Amin’s dirty administration and inhumane acts was appalling. Its themes tapped into my inner most soft spot at an early age. The scene where Amin’s guards throw a crippled man in a river of crocodiles haunted me. I cringed at the sight of Amin eating people’s body parts. I was scared shitless for his girlfriends, as I knew they didn’t have a choice, but love him how he demanded or die.

A beautiful thing about childhood is the innocence that comes with thought; it’s like the first light of day, sharp and clear. I recall not understanding the consciousness of art, if at all there’s such a thing. From the very start I always invested all my feelings in the development of any story I read, song I heard or film I watched. For a long time, it baffled me what sort of career acting was. At first I thought I knew that all actors were just enacting roles. But Joseph Olita’s role as Idi Amin Dada is what made my conscience have to balance on a thin line, wondering if film was reality or fiction. Because Olita was so bad that he made my heart thump for a scared nation, and he looked exactly like Idi Amin, for some reason I first thought, without a doubt, that somehow he was the real Idi Amin. But then I started asking myself a million questions like: If Amin was that bad, why would he agree to document his actions for a film? What kind of crew would want to work with such a person? And then I deliberated that it couldn’t have been the real Amin in the film – but to act out like Amin, I decided that Olita had to sign up to be completely like Amin. But what would happen when he’d have to die? Would he die for real? This was the first time as a child I honestly thought that being the greatest actor in the world had everything to do with getting into character, even dying if you had to. I believed that movie stars were paid so much money then that it was a worthy sacrifice to always be watched in films and leave a lot of money to your family—wealth and legacy. As a young film buff, I believed that real movie stars were martyrs to large extents.

aminI kept on re-watching the film wondering how on earth such atrocities could have happened, and especially in Uganda, a country so close to Kenya. Of course, personal myths were shattered later after asking my sisters, Dad and mum questions about the realness of Olita’s character. That’s the first time I remember bowing down at an actor’s prowess and intuitively knowing that they were just great, with or without direction. This realisation made me watch the film even more and read a lot about the real Idi Amin. I was amazed at the striking resemblance between Amin and Olita; from looks, to earth-shaking personality and that assaulting roar of a laugh. As soon as I had this understanding, and that of Olita’s art, I remember fearing for Olita’s life. How did the real Idi Amin react to the film and would he come after Olita? Olita must be very brave man, I thought.

I met Olita in real life once, at our local shopping centre (Nairobi), about two years ago. As soon as I saw him, I saw Idi Amin and then I remembered, “It’s that man who played Idi Amin!” Keen not to embarrass myself I walked up to him and explained how vital his film was to my memory of African films. He was very graceful and seemed impressed to still command fans. He agreed for us to take a photo, which unfortunately I can’t trace. When I heard that Joseph Olita has passed on, a part of me departed. I must have stopped clutching onto the early memory of Olita as Idi Amin and allowed him to be human. What I can’t forget is Olita’s brilliance as an actor and ability to immerse into characterisation. He was the first African actor I identified as great.

He rose as Idi Amin and now Olita falls to grace.

BONUS: The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin was a co-production of the UK, Kenya and Nigeria, with most of the filming done in Kenya. Olita also featured in the film: Mississippi Masala as Idi Amin. Masala is a 1991 film starring Denzel Washington.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lemonade

Like bees are to sweet-smelling flowers, my body gravitates towards your hues. Your soft pastels fused in my crayon make me lose control in a kaleidoscope. I can’t cope with you, and I can’t cope without you. But I can Warhol us into some kind of work. I am not sure if it will make it into any sort of hall of fame but inside our little frame; it matters a lot that we are Impressionists. We want to paint using the colours of love even in pain. We want to pay for more even in loss. We want to recreate our dreams and repaint our sorrows. We want so much, yet a little bit of us lies between our work table. More for less.

Because some parents think that Cancer is a certificate to death, they abandon their suffering children. I recently found out that there isn’t any conclusive statistics or research done on number of children in Kenya suffering/dying from cancer or abandoned with cancer. However, I talked to Mr. Ithai Simon, in charge of Communication Affairs at Kenyatta National  Hospital (KNH). He confirmed that KNH admits over 500 children in all pediatric wards. At any one time, the hospital is caring for over 30 children abandoned children. Majority of those abandon are very sick or those with congenital deformities. He says, “KNH medical Social work keep contacts with home seeking for placement of these children. But there are limited homes for boy child  than girls. Majority (78%) of KNH patients are poor and cant afford the subsidised specialised healthcare. While KNH upholds the constitution on access to healthcare, the increasing no. of those who cant afford and do not have NHIF cover have increased the Hospital financial burden to more than 4 billion of debts.”

You can read these stories I filed from KNH on children abandoned with cancer

Also, find the below list of places/details, people with children suffering from cancer can get help. Please share. There is another way. Children, actually no one, deserves to be left alone.

  • Daisy’s Eye Fund

This organization is dedicated to bringing life and sight saving care to every child with the curable eye cancer retinoblastoma. They also offer families of the affected counseling service. Email: eafrica@daisyfund.org or call +254 720 729 936

  • Hope for Cancer Kids

The institution volunteer at the KNH Children Cancer wards by hosting parties for the children and buying them gifts and toys. They also help parent’s source funding to pay for NHIF. Email: info@hope4cancerkids.org or call +254 722 663 592

  • Keemokidz – Beyond Cancer

KeemoKidz is the only organization in Kenya, focused solely on meeting the emotional, social and financial needs of children diagnosed with cancer, from direct practical financial assistance to raising awareness and building capacity for the development of local treatment facilities and human resources. Visit http://www.keemokidz.co.ke, email sheba@keemokidz.co.ke or call +254 708 284 575

The Fund’s core mandate is to provide medical insurance cover to all its members and their declared dependants (spouse and children). The Fund is governed by the NHIF Act No. 9 of 1998. NHIF membership is mandatory for all Kenyan residents who are employed and have attained the age of 18 years. Call Toll Free + 254 (0) 20 272 3255/56 or email: customercare@nhif.or.keinfo@nhif.or.ke.

Provides information about available local and international medical treatment and offers packages to assist cancer patients in making informed health care decisions. Situated at 5th Ngong Avenue Office Suites, 8th Floor, Nairobi. Call +254 (0) 20 234 4295 or email: smasinde@akglobalhealth.com

  • Texas Cancer Centre

Texas Cancer Centre (TCC) Ltd is a leading private Cancer Care and Treatment centre in Kenya. They charge up to forty percent lower for services compared to other private hospitals, making it the centre of choice for many Kenyans. Email: texascancercentre@gmail.com or call 020 2623605

It’s Thursday. As soon as I arrive at the hospital, I know my 13-year-old friend; Paul Macharia (suffering from leg cancer) did not make it – his bed, located at the far left corner, is empty. For a second, my world abruptly stops and then my head starts to slowly spin.

Just a few hours ago, I was in town, running around like a headless chicken, trying to make sure I bought Paul everything he’d asked me to bring him. He wanted snacks, fruits, chips, Mbuzi Choma, toys and clothes “to wear when leaving the hospital” – he’d specifically requested.

Just a few weeks before, I’d met Paul (March 18th) during a visit to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) Children’s Cancer Ward while filing a story on children abandoned with cancer. We became friends by default. I was only drawn to him because he was too weak to get out of bed. And as the rest of the children took a drawing and colouring class in the playroom facilitated by my hosts, the Sarakasi Trust Hospital Project (STHP), he couldn’t join in, making me move closer to him.

IMG_0111After spending about an hour or two with Paul and Brenda, his art teacher from STHP, we all clicked as they painted some fancy birds. As the blinding afternoon light and Nairobi’s heat engulfed the ward, I suddenly felt like it carried with it a silent promise to the children of a brighter future. Paul was hoping to get out of hospital and go back to school … The boy was very inquisitive and bright. He wanted to know the origin of all the pictures in my camera, and take pictures with me. He caught me off guard when he asked, “So when are you going to come back and see me?” I promised, “Soon, I will communicate with your teacher.”

When I left KNH, I felt grateful, for my good health and family. I had found out that Paul had been abandoned by his parents. He told me they had never visited him since his admission to hospital. It’s a very tough conversation to have with a child. Later, Paul would have Brenda call me every day during art class sessions, asking when I would go see him and always reminding me to bring him the stuff he’d asked for. We passed each other messages and talked on phone once. But on the weekend that I was scheduled to go see him, I fell terribly ill with pneumonia. The following week, on Tuesday afternoon, when my Blackberry’s battery did the best it could to die, the boy had been trying to call me urgently. When I arrived home to charge my phone at about 5:00 p.m., I received seven notifications that he’d tried calling me using Brenda’s phone. On calling back, Brenda said, “It’s too late. Paul really wanted to talk to you urgently today.” I told her I’d be visiting him during oncoming weekend but she warned, “It might be too late, he seemed too weak today.”

I decided that I would go see Paul on Thursday.

Unbeknownst to me, the boy had died on that same Tuesday.

Back to present day: as Brenda and I stand next to each other at the ward’s entrance, silent, knowing too well why Paul’s bed is empty; one of the nurses summons Brenda after which she move towards me asking me to sit down. I know what she is about to say. I just feel like I should have made it on time. I start to wonder what I will do with the shopping and clothes I got him. One of the nurses calls me into the main office and tries to give me that mumbo jumbo counselling talk. But all I want is for them to take Paul’s clothes and make sure they get to his mother, who hasn’t yet come to the hospital since her son died. The nurses won’t take the clothes, because, they aren’t sure when and if the mother will come – they say. They give me her number to call and make arrangements but her phone is off.

Disappointed, I am standing at Kenyatta hospital, carrying a shit-load of stuff I don’t want to go back home with yet I don’t want to leave them with anyone if not Paul. The nurses won’t stop cajoling me to leave the stuff with the other children, “many are abandoned and orphans,” they bribe me. I don’t flinch. Just as I am leaving the nurses’ office, one of them suggests, “You can go see Paul at the morgue if you want.” After sitting with Brenda on the ward’s only bench for a few minutes, we decide to make for the morgue. A lot of people travel with corpses on Fridays to arrive to the burial sites by Saturday. Explains why, on this Thursday, we were met by a monstrous queue.

One queue is for paying about KES 300 to view the body, and the other is to get a number, to issue the morgue assistant to help identify the body. Brenda and I decide to take turns. I take queue number one (to pay). While she takes the last one, I sit on the wooden bench underneath the blaring sun. For the first time since coming to hospital, I shed a tear. I realize that I am glimpsing at life’s nothingness. I am looking at countless gloomy people, here to take their loved ones, one final time. Some women come out of the viewing room screaming and crying frantically. I start to freak out and text my sister Jackie, explaining my circumstance. She texts back, “Are you really sure you want to view a dead body? It will traumatize you.” Brenda is just about to get to the teller but I call her. She asks the guy in front of her in line to reserve the space. I ask her if she thinks we should back out … “No let’s just do it!”

When she gets back in line, she hears the guy she spoke to a little while ago, about reserving her position on the queue, say to the cashier, “Yes – Paul Macharia, that’s the name.” Brenda goes, “Hi – you know Paul? My friend and I are here to see him too.”

Turns out the guy has come (from the organization that had given Paul up for adoption) to represent the family and help with clearance. As the stranger walks away, Brenda calls me, pointing at him, “He’s here for Paul. Get his number!” I am so confused and in the moment, I lose him in the crowd. We sit on the bench waiting for our turn to be called by the morgue assistant to get into the viewing room and the guy just reappears from nowhere. We approach him and introduce ourselves properly. He says, “Even Paul’s mother is here. Let me just call her.” As he reaches his phone to call her, a friendly but shy-looking woman wearing knitted sweater despite the heat approaches us— Paul’s foster mother.

I can’t comprehend how we all just met miraculously, in such a crowded space.

We introduce ourselves to Paul’s mother as Brenda recounts Paul’s last moments. “On that last day, alikua amechoka sana. Alikua ananiuliza nipigie tu Anyiko, alafu vile hakushika simu, akaanza kuniuliza kama naona aki-breath. Mimi nikamwambia yeye ndio anaweza niambia vizuri, lakini alikua anaongea tu vizuri … (He was very tired and kept on asking for Anyiko. Later, he kept saying he was experiencing difficulty with breathing).”

The boy died on Tuesday, at approximately 5:15 p.m. soon after Brenda left the hospital.

Paul’s mother looks at us with gratitude so colossal, words can’t express. She smiles and says, “Nilijua alikua na marafiki na ni vizuri nimejua ni nyinyi.” Without a second thought, I know it is the moment to do the necessary. I give her all the bulky shopping I have been carrying around the hospital. I am still clutching onto the neatly wrapped funky jungle green African shirt and matching shorts I had got Paul at an Indian Shop inside Hilton Arcade. It’s hard to explain to Paul’s mother about the clothes but I try. “Mami, Paul alisema nimletee hizi nguo, za kuvaa akitoka hospitali. Ni bahati mbaya sikumpata leo lakini tafadhali chukua labda utamvalisha …” She takes them with open arms and blesses us: “Mungu awabariki!” We exchange numbers as they tell us of their intention to leave Nairobi with Paul’s body, same day. Just as they are leaving, the morgue assistant emerges shouting, “Watu wamekuja kuona Paul!!” We all stand still and look at each other. “Twendeni” I say … But the family (Paul’s mum and her sister) is hesitant. Together with Brenda, we move stealthily towards the small lifeless cold viewing room. Paul is at the corner, wrapped up in some dirty hospital clothes. “Songeni karibu m-confirm kama huyu ni Paul!” The morgue assistant prompts us. As Brenda and I move closer, I realise that Paul looks like he died peacefully. He just seems like he’s sleeping. Not scary. I also realize that his family are no longer in the room.

Are they abandoning him even in death?

My heart is at ease as we leave the hospital soon after. A few days later, I receive a call from Mama Paul. She tells me that the funeral went well and that she dressed Paul in the clothes I bought him. She says, “Ata kama Paul hayuko, nataka ukuje Nyandarua unione.”

IMG_0113BONUS: The guy from the morgue told me that Paul was an orphan who had been given up for adoption. He said that most of his older siblings had gone on to become chokoras (street children). Quite often I think about Paul and why his mother didn’t show him much love at the end of his journey. I have visions of Paul’s brilliant mind and for some reason, I feel like he would have become  a computer expert, had he lived on.

Writing this was a balance between thought and tears.

I keep wondering what Paul had wanted to say to me. Nevertheless, my heart has since found rest in my mother’s words of encouragement: “If you had gone to see Paul on Wednesday, you wouldn’t have met his mother. And maybe you wouldn’t have been able to leave his stuff anyway. If you had decided to go see him on Friday or Saturday, you’d have found his body taken. If you hadn’t decided to go to the morgue on Thursday, you wouldn’t have met his mum by chance. Lastly, if you had given in to giving out his stuff at the ward, you wouldn’t have given them to the mother later. Paul wanted his clothes and for you to meet his family, and it happened. You’ve done your work.”

Read the original story I went to KNH to file for UP Magazine: “A Visit to the Children’s Cancer Ward at Kenyatta National Hospital”

My Apology

As I gaze at lost scenes, in which we used to star in, and the things we used to do, I feel sad. I feel bad that we knew what it meant to love but never met each other half way across the journey. I am sorry I lost you. I am sorry you lost me. I am sorry you don’t see my beauty anymore. I am sorry I don’t see your charm, candour or through your eyes anymore.

Wu Tang 2Been wondering, how can music as an art, be equated to visual or tangible art. This is obviously something legendary hip hop group, Wu-Tang Clan, have had on their minds for a long time. News emerged last month that they are planning to sell just one copy of a new album. Their main muse is the fact that this century has seen music become way commercialized than any other piece of art. And sometimes, it doesn’t come back to the singers.

Art always seems to have an appreciating value. A few years ago, Intelligent Life announced that Andy Warhol had sold the most pop art than any other artists, dead or alive. But why is it the case, that for some music groups like SWV and TLC, one of the biggest selling girl-groups of all time, despite having reached the height of their career, at some point in their lives, their music continued to play on the radios and royalties were sent to ‘someone’ not sure who, but the singers themselves went broke, some even bankrupt.

Recently watched an Ashanti interview on Arsenio Hall, she was very serious while saying that most musicians are not making money off music anymore, and you are lucky if you receive royalties for song-writing like she does.

“The Wu – Once Upon a Time Shaolin” is a 31-track double album that the band is said to have worked on for the last six years. The album will be packaged in a hand-carved nickel box by Yahya, British-Moroccan artist. According to the album’s website, it will be “available for purchase and ownership by one individual only.”

After touring festivals, museums and galleries, for fans to catch a glimpse of the box and hear Wu’s music, the album will be ready for sale. However, the album’s website does not list an expected selling price, but the group are determined that shall they sell it to any one individual, they will be responsible shall it be exposed it to piracy and distribution.

Now that’s a tricky situation, hope they can earn several million dollars. In the mean time, closer home, I am really digging the fact that you can buy art work online in Kenya. Please save us all from waiting eagerly for Tuesday and Saturday Maasai Market. Interested in sharing some of the awesome things you don’t want to keep? You can Post ads free here

What are your thoughts about selling a music album as if it were one piece of art?

 

Chasing Shadows

Why must I see your shadow everywhere I go?

I spot a man in a well-fitting suit and think of you. I wonder what kind of style you dig; and if love is a type of ocean, how deep would you sink? Would you float in emotions and let it carry you away? I see a man in headphones and think of you. I wonder if I’ll forever be alone or like the music he listens to, soothes his heart; you will be to me, you will be mine. Like fine wine, I want a love that matures into fruition. I want a love that takes me to a place of no contemplation but satisfaction and guarantee that my partner will be by my side; to tuck me in, hold me close, make me tea, share everything; from life’s teachings and challenges to achieving the highest chi.

I spot a man holding his partner lovingly and think of you. I wonder what kind of arms and hands you have. I wonder if they are strong enough to shelter me from the storm. Are they able to carry me home when I am injured, hurt, lonely, troubled or in need of our silent and peaceful place? Your hands must be made to fit in mine, for I haven’t yet met someone whose hands locked in mine, felt perfect. I haven’t yet met someone whose love fused in mine felt absolute and doubtless. I think of your lips. How will they taste in mine? Maybe as fresh as our love or tasteless, for we will be one of the same in disguise of a kiss.

I spot a smart, caring, brilliant, supportive and understanding man and think of you. Are these some of your qualities? Are these the qualities that make a man? I need you to be more than these qualities. Your presence will be a rarity, for like a gem you must be; hard to find and hard to tap. Like a game I must be, hard to pin and hard to trap. You will be man enough to say you are sorry and man enough to prepare a meal for your lady. I will be woman enough to surrender to all your needs. Your first job will be taking care of me and us, before anything else. Your drive will be my passion and together with our love we’ll mould our relationship’s strongest quality.

For a brief moment human beings brush shoulders with déjà vu. All of a sudden, people, places and things start to exist within us. Like hues, we can see what can’t be touched. We can taste and tersely grasp at what we don’t have. In the moment, the dead come alive. We create new people. Unrequited love is requited. And lost ones like moments return. Nostalgic songs and voices become brand new—the magic hardly lasts. In this moment, the skies are blue and the breeze is whispering into my ear. In this moment I stop to gaze at the world. I stop to gaze at myself though the mirror. Inspired, I realize that I write you love poems, but you never read any. That’s just because I have met nobody but your shadow.

 

IMG_5481Dust is a strong literary sign of a new breed of Kenyan writers to reckon. The sophistication with which Yvonne writes is not for English-starters. She’s got many great quotes like, “To name something is to bring it to life”; and melodic lines like, “Selene returned to Kenya in tears, just as the Nandi flame trees were in Crimson blossom.”

Well-articulated and intricate, Dust comes off as well thought out and thoroughly edited. It’s another feat for Kenyan writers, and Kwani Trust (publishers of the novel). Winner of Caine Prize for Africa Writing, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor released her debut novel in a mighty cool event hosted by Kwani Trust in December of 2013, just as Kenya was about to celebrate her 50th anniversary. Dust wouldn’t have come at a better time as the book’s storyline revolves around various sociopolitical issues that Kenya has faced in the past 50 years.

Moses Odidi Oganda, a middle-aged brilliant mind turned thug, is shot in cold-blood by police after a cat and mouse chase on the streets of Nairobi. The sudden death shocks many and leaves his family left with a great loss. The general election results are announced and a president declared despite harrowing evidence of rigging. Odidi’s family gather in Wuoth Ogik, in the outskirts of Northern Kenya to bury their son. It’s a journey that takes the characters and readers into another world, of discovering untold stories, secrets and a family’s heritage that includes Kenya’s history.

Straight from the Mau Mau uprising, to the promise of a new nation, Dust’s climax mainly revolves around Odidi’s only sibling Ajany. While the nation struggles with untangling herself from challenges of development and modern-day struggles like corruption and devolution, Ajany is searching for her brother’s lost life. “My stories sip from rich human repository, and also cater to my obsession with guessing reasons for human choices and their consequences—particularly the bad ones,” says Yvonne of her love for featuring history heavily in her literature.

The beauty of how Yvonne’s storyline is intertwined is phenomenal. Every character the reader encounters is a link to another. And through their lives, the reader is enthralled by the history of a coral-coloured house and all kinds of love, including the forbidden. Through the book, the reader is introduced to magical Kenya. From the terrains of Naivasha, all the way past the deserts of Turkana, Kenyan destinations have never been painted as marvellously.

By the time Odidi is finally laid to rest, so is the weight most characters in the book carry. I really want to expound on this but if I do, I will spoil a major one. Let me just put it this way—I really enjoyed the strength of Yvonne’s characters. They were the essence of grit and strength.

Dust is highly recommended for literature buffs and those who want to discover a new writing style. And the best past of it all is, Dust starts on a high note and ends in an even higher and dramatic one. A must read!

BONUS: Dust was first released and published by Kwani Trust in December 2013. It’s available for sale via Amazon or in any leading bookstores or Kwani offices in Kenya.

Quirkology  ImageHow can you tell that someone is lying? What do you know about the psychology of love and attraction? Is February the 13th really doomed? Is the world really as small as many people refer to it? Does it matter that he is tall? What’s the true measure of a real smile or a funny joke? And what’s the secret to cooking the perfect cup of tea? The book: The curious Science of Everyday Lives, details Professor Richard Wiseman’s social experiments and some by psychology professors and psychoanalysts. They all tackle all these questions among other fascinating aspects of everyday lives.

1. How to tell someone is lying

The more information you give away, the greater the chances of some of it coming back to haunt you. As a result, liars tend to say less and provide fewer details, than truth-tellers. On the contrary, some liars tend to talk a lot and exaggerate details. Instead of only looking at information given, check out for body language signs like how comfortable do they look while talking? Are they trembling, shaking or sweating. In the end, there is no conclusive research that has specifically discovered how to tell a liar from a truth-teller.

2. Secret to perfect tea making

The water in the teapot has to remain between 180 – 190 degrees Fahrenheit. It has to stay eight minutes in the tea leaves. This and the right proportion of Ketepa, milk and water mixture will save you from angry guests and spouses. Tea really is everything to me.

3. What’s the measure of a true smile?

Lifelong success and happiness can be predicted by the simple crinkling around the sides of the eyes. It’s that simple.

4. Is the world really smaller?

“People often develop magical believes about the world because they have experienced something seemingly weird. With the concept of coincidences, events appear to coincide in a way that both seem meaningful, and defies the odds.” It turns out that most people who tend to see the world as small know lots of people, and so are, without realizing it, making their own good fortune by constructing, an especially small world. This idea funxed with my mind a good one. I honestly think, this world is really small.

5. Does height matter?

“Although height no longer offers physical advantage, our primate brains hold onto their evolutionary past, and so still associate tall people with success. The psychological relationship between height and status works in both directions. Not only do we think that tall people are more competent, but also that competent people are tall. That’s why people are often surprised to discover that some Hollywood stars are below average height. Perceived height of a person can change with their apparent status.”

6. Ghosts and other weird feelings

Infra sound or low-frequency sound is deeply strange and can be produced from ocean waves, earthquakes, tornadoes and volcanoes. Animals are said to detect these sounds, they are said to be possibly the reason why animals fled the 2004 tsunami in Asia. These sounds can sometimes be produced during concerts or at church depending on a building’s acoustic. So the next time you think you saw a ghost, it might be the building’s lighting, ventilation and acoustics coupled with your wildest imaginations clouding your mental judgement. The next time you think a singer’s voice takes you to heaven or you were touched by the angel while at church—it could have just been infra sound or low-frequency sound waves. Very Freaky!

7. Psychology of compatibility

Do not meet someone on your first date on a high bridge or in an area above normal sea level. These kind of heightened environments makes the heart generally beat faster, so that fools the brain and you will tend to feel like you are more attracted to your date. Avoid overly soothing experiences like smooth music, country and wind chimes. Your best bet will actually be a horror film, a roller coaster or a rock concert. They will generically draw you closer.

If you’re a follower of Psych Today, this book is literally a longer version, complete with several chapters and sub headings. Everyone should read this book for some amazing and quirky life lessons, including why bad musicians always win at competitions and how comes incompetent politicians always get elected. This book asserts the wise words of the psychologist Arthur Conan Doyle: “Life is infinitely stranger than anything the mind of man could invent.”

BONUS: Professor Richard Wiseman is Britain’s only professor for the public understanding of psychology. There isn’t anything true about Friday the 13th being a bad omen, despite many recorded incidences in history of bad and freaky things happening on the date. That said, avoid road trips and being anywhere an accident could happen on Friday the 13th because the fact that people are conscious of the day’s said bad omen will most probably make them nervous and thus suffer cognitive dissonance, making them cause accidents or mishaps. Sharp ey?

Toni + BabyfaceThe coming as one of Toni Braxton and Babyface is such a sweet thing. Who doesn’t want to hear two legends of olden R&B in a joint fresh album? I guess there isn’t a feeling as strong as experiencing love, marriage or divorce. It must be so strong that despite Babyface and Toni having had irreconcilable label differences back in the day, they have clearly put all that behind them to collaborate in this stellar album (released Feb 2014), dedicated to the life and times of their real life personal relationships.

They both shine is solo tracks. Babyface’s “Hope That’s You’re Okay” is a smooth as a The Tony Rich Project modern-day tune. Toni’s “I Wish” is bitter-sweet. Her operatic and sensual voice comes out sweetly, cursing an ex and wishing upon him nothing but hell. Guys – make peace with your exes. Off the album’s 11 songs, every single song is replay material. Don’t miss out on the hauntingly beautiful, lovely and poignant divorce song: “D- Word” and the well-written “Reunited.” – Back to the business of love, the duo sings. This album is a must-have! If it doesn’t win a Grammy in the song writing category next season, it’s okay – it already won my heart.

1. Roller Coaster 04.24

This is such a lovely intro to the album. Such a funky R&B beat laced with some sensual piano chords, mellow drums and a nice kick! It’s amazing how the people you love most, are the ones who will, sometimes, make you most mad. “Today I got so mad at you, I couldn’t control myself. I was done with you, but I knew that I couldn’t love somebody else”- goes Babyface in the opening verse.” Indeed, love is a roller coaster. One day, you feel like you are on top of the world, another day you’re down under hurting. Guess what will matter is how well you bounce after the roll has left you all dizzy and tingly.

2. Sweat 04.28

Sometimes in relationships, you find that you get tired of fighting or talking or solving issues and the only way out is hopping into bed. “If you really wanna fight, let’s take it to the bed tonight …” goes the chorus. This one is a good makeup sex song, plus the smooth R&B beat is for keeps, all night long.

3. Hurt You 04.11

Anyone ever realised how similar heart you and hurt you sound, yet evoke very different emotions? That’s exactly how thin the line between loving and hurting someone is. Tricky thing is, most times, no one really sets out to break anyone’s heart– “God knows I never meant to hurt you…” This one is for all of us; we’ve been hurt in one way or another by a life experience. 20 years ago, this is exactly how Toni and Babyface’s sound meant to unfold in the future. Just enough.

4. Where Did We Go Wrong? 03.37

This is it, my favourite song from the album; R&B reminiscent of 90s music. We all have been through that perfect (for a moment) relationship that ends flat on our noses, leaving us wondering – what the hell went wrong? This is the message of the song. Sometimes, the love you give will never be enough for somebody else and vice versa. When you find that it’s not working for you, just move on. At some point however, find out where it all went wrong. I love that the ballad is stripped down and is acoustic for most of its running. The guitar is lovely and exactly a continuation to Babyface’s “Every time I Close My Eyes”.

7. Take it Back 04.06

“If we do not like our story, we could write it just the way we want” – Toni sets the pace in the song’s opening. How powerful is that line? If there’s something you don’t dig about your life, nobody will change it other than yourself. Something about the guitar chords sound like the hands of Sade’s guitar Juan Janes. Oh what a sweet and groovy jam! The song is about one longing for the olden good days of a relationship now gone bad. “I know we can get it back to where it was,” sings Toni in first chorus. Then Babyface comes on in the second verse talking to Toni more than singing, “There are many things that will Test—Us.” Love this one, replay material. It makes me wonder if these two can’t just fall in love already. No for real, they are both divorced.

BONUS: Babyface discovered Toni Braxton, back in the day. What a lovely story. Check their super cute interview on Arsenio Hall.

You might also dig my review of Kameron Corvet’s new EP: Darker Than Gray

 

 

 

Proportions of Love

I love the way it feels. This thing called happiness. It’s like a long-lasting taste of Apple Waffles and syrup. It’s like a non-hasty affair that leaves the inner soul able to feel free. I love the way it feels. This thing called friendship. It’s like a strong old rope, passed on land and into the seas, beat and weathered, and we are its strands intertwined. It’s like how good wine feels down the throat, and unrelated, how secure it feels just to stand by you. I love the way it feels. This thing called music. It’s like the drug I never took that leaves me high and sometimes jet-lagged, yet I never really left the ground. It feels as good as when we sway to the beat. The same way, I want to hear your heart beat, rhythmically. I love the way it sounds: Bang. Bang. Bang. I love how the business of loving life, and loving you feels. It’s like a great song without any words. Portions of love, easier felt than said.

photo (34)Where are my manners? Last week, or the last one before that, Black Roses was chosen by Travel Start Kenya as one of 25 Great Kenyan blogs to follow. Someone mentioned to me yesterday, that in the compilation, Black Roses was the only blog that specializes in arts and culture. Isn’t that dope? And I must be blind to have let that pass my eyes.

I thought it would be great to share with you the article, read it here and take this space to say, I was so elated and I am so thankful.

You know what that means, there is no stopping. Don’t want to spoil or jinx anything but just so you all know, forget about the Train Ride from hell, there might be a couple of interesting Safari  Tales to share this year.

I just want to say thanks to all the followers of this blog, you are genuinely awesome. Sometimes, I feel like I write gibberish, things only I would understand but then I find that some of you have liked such posts or just read. I am very glad that this blog is serving me well. This was supposed to be the ultimate expression of my deeper self that few really understand and I am happy that I feel understood and equally get inspirations from stuff you write me, see these powerful comments on the Natural Hair debate. Shit like this makes me alive and aware of the fact that we are not as solitary as we think we are.

THANKS for reading, keep it here.

bmj 3What’s not to love about Gabrielle Union? She’s gorgeous. She’s also the star of BET’s most successful original series to date: Being Mary Jane (BMJ). I really love black series (the likes of Martin, Soul food, Girlfriends and The Game) because I find them extra soulful. I relate to them.

The soundtracks in BMJ were excellent! They even played Lianne La Havas “Elusive” and Jessie Ware’s acoustic “Night Light”. Also loved that most of the songs were by black artists. When I tweeted that, someone called me racist on Twitter and added *Trevor Noah voice*. Now I didn’t know whether to argue with them or just move on, but just to set the record straight I am not a racist and I am not ashamed to declare that I am naturally inclined to drum beat towards black stuff, as the famous saying goes, Black Don’t Crack.

There were a couple of times, when I felt like the whole professional egotistical crazy black woman persona in BMJ was going a little far and was making me feel exhausted, but in the end I really loved how ordinary yet dramatic the love life stories in BMJ were, among other themes. Here are my five lessons from the series that I felt everyone could pluck a piece from.

1. Never Ever Fall In Love with a Married Man

The problem with love is that you don’t know, and can’t avoid who you will love. And in Mary Jane’s case, she started falling for Andre (played by the yummy Omari Hardwick) before knowing that he was married. But she continued to pursue the relationship anyway. Such scenarios will always end up badly. And every woman should consider sacrificing a man she loves for the sake of the togetherness of an entire family, including kids. Just get your own single man. Side note – why do they always give Omari Hardwick the suffering roles? BMJ. The Last Letter. For Coloured Girls. Dark Blue. Why oh why.

2. Check Your Sex Game but Don’t Steal Sperm

BMJ takes the crown for the steamiest premiere. The first 10 minutes of the first episode, with Andre and Mary J making out to Rihanna’s “Cake” creates a thrilling anticipation for more. Through Andre we get to know that men don’t like lazy head and care that women aren’t generally lazy in bed. By the time Mary Jane gets the balls to face her ex boyfriend David (played by the yummy Stephen Bishop) and talk out bottled up issues, like why she stole his sperm—she’s literally nothing but just another crazy black woman, drunk and a nuisance. When you want to talk to an ex, wait till the feelings have subsided, avoid it if you just hooked up with them, and lastly – don’t be under any influence. Finally, do not steal their sperm. As David says, “If you want a baby, just ask.”

3. Forgiveness Is Key

At first, Mary Jane is blinded by her own version of perfection and impression of how people should live their lives. It’s until Mary Jane is able to forgive her weakness and see her faults that she can apologize to those she hurt along the way. It’s another of life’s little rules. Forgive yourself, ask for forgiveness and then you will find closure, and later on – what’s you’ve been praying for. I really loved what her momma said when she found out that she was having an affair with a married man. “Cry tonight because tomorrow is a brand new day to make it right.”

4. A Job Isn’t Everything –Success Is

Mary Jane is a local celebrity and a recognized face among many Americans. This makes it very hard for her to socialize with everyone. This makes it harder for her to allow herself to fall. She is constantly under scrutiny, at work, at home and even on the streets. It’s very unfair that her extended family is lazy and she has to foot nearly everyone’s bills. She is caught up in maintaining people’s lives. Her pregnant niece asks her, “Where’s your man? Where is your baby and happy ever after” She realizes the importance of taking time for the self. A job is what pays the rent but we also need to align a lot of things that surround us. Take time to relax and enjoy yourself away from work. Make living your life and cherishing moments also part of life. Part of the reason why Mary Jane breaks up with her former boyfriend is because she was so caught up in the mindset of having to find an ideal man who makes as much or more money than her. Although money means a lot, appreciate other life’s simple pleasures like love and happiness.

5. Black is Beauty

No matter what anyone says about black skin and black girls, black girls will always be viewed and reviewed in relation to black identity. That’s because black is diverse and the skin also comes in different shades. We can’t help that other people associate black with ugly or weak and it’s unfortunate that some black girls have taken it the wrong way too. Whether you are in Kenya, America or abroad, your black skin is beautiful. Be proud. Let it not define who you but you must identify with it. Be your best person. If you don’t succeed, as Mary Jane says, “Stay at number BMJ 4two position. You are almost there but not yet.” Here, there isn’t as much pressure. Be patient and take time to learn and you will make it to the top. No matter how men or the society take professional women, or women who have everything a man has, or can do everything a man can, that doesn’t matter. Be respectful to all sexes but most importantly, don’t forget to do you.

P.S: Adored the male casting and fashion/styling in BMJ. Can’t wait for Season Two!

BONUS: It’s a little interesting that Gabrielle Union really is a Mary Jane in many aspects. It’s been widely reported that her fiancée Dwyane Wayde cheated on his ex-wife with her and still cheated on her (Gabrielle) with another woman and even got a baby. I don’t want to judge, but that’s messed up. Now watch this video of Lupita Nyong’o talking about Black Skin and Beauty.

You might fancy my article on What Hollywood and Kenya Thinks of @Lupita_Nyongo (Patsey)

photo (27)“Music is passion. It’s life. It’s medicine. It helps the mind relax and be organized. I am a better person; happy and physically stronger when I play music,” states Habib Koite.

With a rich discography boasting over six albums (solo and collaborative), successful international tours—having played at prestigious music festivals like WOMAD, a record high-profile interviews (including on David Letterman and Rolling Stones); Habib Koite is a certified African star.

About an hour to meeting the man, I start to wonder what he would be like in person. I arrive at the Sovereign Suites (where Habib is staying) about 45 minutes late for my interview and pretty agitated by how far the hotel was—way past Kiambu, Google maps lie. Habib’s dreadlocks are so thick and full. Just like in a myriad images of him on the internet. He has just about an hour to his sound check, in preparation for his debut Kenyan concert. The time factor and a little nervousness makes me speak very fast while talking. We are sitting across each other, only separated by a small round table at one of the hotel’s serene backrooms.  “Take it easy,” he cuts me short. Casually dressed in Nike shoes, a dull pinstriped t-shirt and denim trousers while reading through my anxiety, he adds lightheartedly “I also want to talk to you”. Before I know it, we are enjoying a conversation that turns out to be surreal and undisputedly my most classic interview to date.

I had too much music

Brought up in a musical family, Habib Koite can hardly recall when music wasn’t part of his upbringing/life. “My father was also a guitar player and we (together with his siblings) started by playing his guitar,” he reminisces. After elementary school, Habib joined Mali’s Institute of Art to study music—his passion. Unbeknownst to him, this would be his unprecedented stint at being a long-serving music teacher, something that he had never dreamt, even thought of becoming. In his fourth and last year at the institute, the head Classical Guitar teacher at the institution passed on. Soon after finishing his course in June of 1982, the Minister of Culture and the institution enthroned Habib, as the institute’s new replacement for the Classical Guitar teacher position. “They said that I was the Best Student, and in October I was the official teacher with a responsibility to teach. I didn’t think I could do it.”

The then budding musician would balance between his new job and pursuing his career in music. “Every night I would go home and perfect the guitar chords that I would teach the next day. I didn’t want to be ashamed in class.” He would also use his precious night time to regularly perform at various local clubs, a move that garnered him fans and followers by the day. “Some people came from the village to the club or institute, just because they liked me,” he affirms proudly—the first time, during the interview when I get to see his excitement of being, The Celebrated Habib Koite.

“No more cigarette!” The Big Break

After Habib Koite spent each day of his 18 years at the institute (four years studying and fourteen years teaching), his first notable sway to becoming his own master at music came after winning a France-organized music competition in 1991. “The prize was to spend a week in a studio with a sound engineer to record two songs (to be pressed into 1,000 copies) and a music video,” he says of the project that produced Habib’s first international hit, his debut single and video: Cigarette Abana. “It immediately made me famous beyond Mali and is to date my biggest hit.”

He would later record four versions of the same song, just for the kicks and an ode to where it all began. Two years later Habib, won at Radio France International as the Best New Artist as voted for by international journalists. “That was big,” he says of the opportunity that sponsored his first stadium show. “It was the first time I played in front of an audience of 25,000 people.” Soon, Habib’s status changed from being just a Malian singer to being sought after by the world stage and international media like CNN and Nat Geo. “I am probably the first Malian to have been on David Letterman. But if you tell a Malian that, they don’t know what you are saying. I was bigger outside than at home. But people in Mali and Africa slowly started to know me.”

On Composition & Bamada Longevity

For an early acclimatization to the grand meet-up, before the interview I start to listen to his album Afriki. Something weird happens. My favorite song N’Tesse, suddenly makes me emotional for the first time, even though I don’t comprehend its words sang in Bambara (Malians native dialect). It kind of makes me feel thankful for my life, every little or outstanding achievement ever made and the people who support me. I immediately decide that I would have to ask the singer of the message behind the song.

“That’s one of my Most Loved Songs yet I never play it,” he says musingly, pausing and smiling. And then surprisingly asks for his guitar to play me the song. But his entourage cautions him that there isn’t enough time. Nevertheless, he breaks into the song while playing imaginary chords. His voice is so smooth and evocative.

My private concert.

“So, you won’t play it tonight at your concert?” I ask.

“We hadn’t planned to play it. If we have time to rehearse it during sound check then we might play it. Now you have inspired me to write a song. When I leave here, I will write a song immediately.”

“But what does N’Tesse mean?” I finally ask.

“I am the middle child out of a family of 17 siblings. Such homesteads are common in Mali. When you have been brought up like that, you realize that you could never do everything alone. I can’t do it by myself—that’s what N’Tesse is about. It’s also about a village that must help its elder,” he says of the song written in the style of traditional griot Malian music (originally based on storytelling).

Habib also talks about his song Afriki, another one of his loved songs. “I feel like Africa has done so much for Europeans. We [Africans] have even gone to war and died. But it’s always looked at as if they (West) help Africa the most. It’s true that Africa also asks for a lot of help too but now that’s enough. Africans have to help this continent, and we can do it in solidarity.” He also expresses his confidence regarding Mali (his country’s) slow rise from the 2013 insurgence and instability. “Mali is now fine; nothing to worry about.”

You will mostly hear of Habib Koite & Bamada more than just Habib Koite. Well, Habib has been with his six-man band for 25 years now. When I ask about their secret to longevity, I get a very unusual answer—Life and Death. “There are times and things in life that we can’t help. Like if someone’s heart is not where it wants to be. But for as long as my band’s has been with me, I am with them. However, there are times when even the heart can fail, for example if someone dies. You can’t fight that kind of separation. But nobody in my band has died, so we have no reason of separation.”

A song like Fimani flaunts Habib & Bamada’s composition skills. Here, only their wealth of traditional instruments like the calabash, talking drums and violins sing. Its live performance at Habib’s Kenyan concert is perfect. I simply can’t understand how catchy it gets with no words to sing to. “It’s my rendition of a popular Malian song. When I play it, I don’t have to sing as everybody sings along.” It must have been shocking for him to see Kenyans sing not to Fimani but the rest of his songs in Bambara. I recorded the below footage of Finami at the concert using my cell phone :-)

Just as we conclude the interview, he compliments my Maasai earrings. “My daughter would love these,” he notes, adding “I wish I could stay longer in Kenya to see this place.” Meeting the personality behind the legend of Habib Koite was super awesome, only regretting one thing: I should have given him my earrings for his daughter.

BONUS: Habib Koite’s latest album Soo (Home) was released in February 2014.  Thank you very much Abdi Rashid for the chance to interview Habib.

You might also dig my Interview with Anthony Hamilton

Black-Couple-ArguingWhy women leave their things (mainly panties) behind, and what that means, is part of the intriguing conversations with male friends, I’ve had this year.

I decided to blog about it, hoping some man will make me understand why men are passionately repulsed if a woman visiting or staying over at their crib will either: leave lipstick stain on their shirt/cheek or random paraphernalia behind. Also blogging to try explain to menfolk why, some women might leave things behind.

It all started when a few of my colleagues invited me over for a heated discussion wanting to try understand why, while visiting at the opposite sex, women will always leave behind their personal effects like shower gel, tampons and little garments like lingerie and panties.

I am not afraid to say that I don’t have a problem leaving my things behind. Just because: it’s less cumbersome and easier – to carrying things around all the time like it’s always the great wildebeest migration. And as a real woman, I love to feel comfortable and self-sufficient wherever and whenever I am visiting.

There’s a thin line between the neediness and surrender that comes with any sort of relationship between two. So guys, you need to understand that it’s not only about you, but also about what the woman wants. Even though she might be visiting your space, and staying over, not leaving her things behind isn’t a sign accurate enough that she isn’t clingy. Tangible things like bras and bags are easily replaceable, and most women own lots. So, leaving things behind isn’t either the ultimate sign that she is clingy. Instead, focus on the intangibles, like – do you make her smile? Does she make you smile? Do you both share moments like cooking together? Did you enjoy each other’s company? Do you like to have her over?

Leaving things behind, as I found out, is mostly interpreted by guys as a way of women stamping their identity and declaring probable recurrence, within a male-dominated space. Most guys do not like this. Sometimes, it’s not paranoia but a reality that a new situation is building up. If she’s left nearly a suitcase worth of stuff behind, maybe it’s time to move in or be presented with Her Wardrobe. On the other hand, it’s sometimes, a woman’s way of gently communicating to  her man, saying: “I want to come back” or “I feel safe knowing my things are with you.” It’s a sort of sign that she entrusts you.

But most guys can’t and won’t see it like this. So what do guys really want?

Special HUGGuys don’t want to have to read signs, yet they are first to read into signs of a woman leaving things around. If a woman should return, men feel, it’s their obligation to decide or that they should be first consulted. Guys don’t want to be ambushed or caught off guard, especially pants down. “Whose are these?” They don’t want to keep making excuses when confronted by other women and having to use the same old excuse: “That’s my sister’s thong!”

But on the real, no serious woman will forever be carrying bags as big as Mary Poppins’ every weekend, just because you might ask her to pop in or she will have to literally carry the world with her when leaving. Quite frankly, that doesn’t reflect well on your character or hers, either. Any serious man will make prior arrangements with a woman, this allowing her enough time, to pack appropriately, shall she be headed over to visit, for some hours, weekend or days.

Turns out that guys have two main issues: letting go of their personal space and sharing it with a woman. My advice to guys: before you welcome a woman into your bed or space for that matter, you should have already been prepared to see more than just clothes. So don’t freak out when she leaves teeny-weeny things like earrings, veet, toothbrush, perfume and deo behind – think of what you will do if she leaves her feelings behind.

Guys will argue that because their space is their throne, nobody is allowed to leave their personal effects if not asked to or officially crowned the queen. But we all know that sometimes, this is used as an excuse to cheat or simply see other women. A clever man knows that women invited over will sniff around like trained bitches and detect any signs of the presence of any kind other female within that vicinity, from a mile away.

waiting_on_this_empty_room_by_petrichor_ish-d349ti1What this means, is that the annoyance men have for women leaving things behind is simply a grand scheme to being eternal bachelors. If you dig her vibe, don’t hustle to invite her over to torment her departure by asking her to pack up everything. Instead, be prepared to be a good courteous host. Prepare to be left with a lipstick stain, perfume scent or the burden of putting together her things left behind. It would be wise to have one place for such paraphernalia. And if you have more than one woman visiting you often, to avoid drama, ensure that the majority are related to you. Either way, create different cabinets for each woman, where you store things left and found. Keep it secret, this is where you magically find her stuff when she asks, “I might have left my toothbrush here last month.” Ladies don’t only want to be treated right, but want their things treated just as well.

Ladies: on the other side of the coin, to avoid being tagged as clingy and to cement the notion that you’re indeed self-sufficient, come with your things and carry them with you, when you leave. However, sometimes you find that the unwanted cycle somehow continues: he invites you over and you keep leaving your things over, thus annoying him. In the end, note: guys love women who won’t leave everything around but will additionally carry themselves with class and dignity.

Part II of this post, coming soon. In the mean time, guys – would love to hear from you, women alike.

BONUS: You might want to check out this old but fun post I co-wrote with Wanjeri Four Kinds Of Men or Is It Puppies?

KameronCorvettDarkerThanGray“Focus on your working, don’t allow yourself to be distracted theoretically with women.” Best intro to any EP, hands down! Additionally to that sexy falsetto, Kameron Corvet gets major points for pulling off Common’s swag by featuring his Dad, and mum in 3 interludes, in between the 10 songs in Darker Than Gray EP (released March 4th 2014).

Any artist’s nightmare is living up to their last work of art. If that’s anything to go by; Kameron’s new release is masterful, well written and a solid sequel to his 2012 EP: F_uck Love! Via an exclusive interview with Black Roses, Corvet says, “I like to make sure my work has a certain relevancy to who I am, what I’ve been through and my search for that understanding.”

Self-produced with the expert collaboration of producers: Pierre Medor (has worked with the likes of Usher, Mario, Mary J. Blige, Brandy and Monica) and Kennard Garrett (has worked with Cee-Lo and Sean Garrett among other artists), Darker Than Gray, stands out as a grown and mature sound.

Through Kameron’s simple yet deep lyricism, his songs tell a continuation of F_uck Love!; a relationship’s challenges, from the good, to the bad, and memorable. The EP is packaged in ballsy productions, and beautifully intertwined vocal arrangements. This one will hit R&B fans real hard, the Miguel kind of alternative and cool way.

There are four excellent must-listen R&B productions here, starting with Help Me (The other Side). Then check out: Remember How, Bad For Me and Led Me To You.

1. Complicated 03.54

The bravado with which the first lines of the EP’s first song are delivered, prepares the listener for a grown and sexy R&B experience. “Let me look at you, turn around, it’s so hard to choose how to take you down” … and we thought TGT’s Three Kings was Adult Music – definitely a favourite off the EP and replay material. It has that feel-good laid-back yet up-beat R&B instrumentals complete with a sick bass. Relationships, sometimes, become complicated. “I love how you feel when we make love … I know it feels right but it’s not real … Don’t forget am messing with you …” – Kameron sings in the chorus. At the end, Paps, advises: ‘That sex thing is tricky though.”

2. No Love Allowed 04.09

Such a soulful R&B jam. This is exactly what happens when complicated relationships are left to grow. One person finds themself deep in a race fit for a duo, but solo. “It’s a dangerous game we’re playing every time we are laying, no love allowed.” The falsetto on this one is simply – everything!

3. Take it Back 03.21

Listen to this song. It’s got that avant-garde yet traditionally edgy R&B vibe. I love it so much and can’t exactly point out why. It’s got that Usher Caught Up vibe. Brilliant!

Something awfully lovable, funky, edgy, risqué and bouncy in two songs: Round Of It and Take it Back. “I’d like to get a rapper or two on Round Of It, the right type of flow would add another element,” says Kameron, I agree. This one has no limits, at all.

5. Loosen Up 03.48

After Help Me, this is it! Probably heard this song 30 times already, it’s everything. Pierre kills it in the production. Funk. Rock. Futuristic. All in the name of R&B. I picture the video of this song having some sexy dancers, somewhere in a street party, out at night. It could also use a rap, would have loved to hear a laid back rapper like TI on this one.

Kameron11. Did It For You

This is my stand out most beautiful track of this EP. Sometimes, you look at the phone, wishing someone would call. But then sometimes, you are forced to be over that sort of roller coaster ride. You end up alone and in this instance, like many others, after losing a close relationship/person; Kameron sings, “If anybody asks me, I am gon’ tell them – I did it for you.” Sometimes, we do sacrifice our love, for those who we love to be happy. It’s a little twisted. Such a deep song – this would be usher’s favourite song.

Never had such a grand problem settling on favourite songs and reviewing any album; it feels great to know that Kameron shares my sentiments. He says, “Hoping everyone has the same difficulty deciding as well,” throwing in a hint to the inspiration behind the EP’s title: “Between love and lust is a ‘Gray’ area that I’ve lived in at several points in my life. It’s murky but, it builds character.”

Ladies, what’s better than an honest man, with a falsetto, who can craft dope songs inspired by real life? Though we are bad for him, this one’s for you. And for all, like my good friend Nruff says, “R&B is still alive.” Thanks Kameron for the exclusive interview and such a great record; a rich addiction to the genre’s collection of 2014.

BONUS: Listen to Kameron’s latest EP Darker Than Gray <—- here (released March 4th 2014).

You might also like my review on TGT’s debut album: Three Kings

Image (1)We all have secrets. Bravery is what makes the difference between all of us, and those who recounted their real life stories in the book by Kevin Mwachiro: Invisible – Stories From Kenya’s Queer Community. “Being gay is not a crime in Kenya. However, there is still the penal code that outlaws homosexual acts or acts against the order of nature between men,” notes Kevin in the prelude.

In just 18 chapters, the reader is welcomed into a world unimaginable, but one that we live in and is a reality. From the corners of Turkana, the shores of Mombasa to the big bad Nairobi city, this book cuts across different regions in Kenya, painting faceless figures from all tribes, professions and of varied religions; telling stories we’ve heard before, but not like we’ve heard them before.

Many people will relate to these stories. I related with the narrators as many times as I despaired with them. I guess that’s because experiencing up and downs in all sorts of relationships, and being able to share compassion and empathy is only humane. However, these stories don’t leave the reader in pity but in awe at how some gay people have dedicated their lives to the struggle of understanding and fighting for their rights, sexuality and their relations, despite societal prejudice and discrimination.

“I can only be who I am and be the best that I can be,” reads a passage in a letter titled Dad, from Your Son. I enjoyed Qat’s poems and most accounts, especially that of Jackson, a bisexual living in Nairobi, whose experience in digging both sexes has brought him scrutiny from both from the straight and gay community. “I guess I have to fight this on two fronts. It is easier being gay than being bisexual—though people believe it is easier to come out as bisexual.” The story of a Turkana boy from an ordinary family, growing up with feelings of liking boys, even without knowing that the term ‘Gay’ ever existed, among other earlier discoveries of queer feelings among the narrators from both sexes, indicate that being a homosexual isn’t really a luxury, or choice, or a western phenomena, or city thing, as some people insist it is. I randomly wrote down the following 10 things and themes I felt emanating from the book as I was reading: selfless, brave, strong, letters, freaky, naughty, information, insightful, interesting and myths.

ImageThere are many quotes that I want to share from the book, but I also want to hoard a lot so you can all read it. Nevertheless, will share some: “There are lots of Kenyans who are gay and all we want is that our rights be respected, be granted freedom of association and have easy access to basic amenities.”- Yash. The letter, “To the Father of my Sons” was charming. Here’s an except, “The things I want to do to you will make you spineless with pleasure …  I think you are the one.” It’s almost like while reading it, you want to hide, as some stories make you excited or very sad.

Kevin Mwachiro’s first book is powerful and can’t be put down until completion (I read it in hours). Whether straight or not, trust me – you will enjoy this book and reaffirm your faith in the notion: information is power. Voiced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Kenyan individuals, this book really is a queer compilation and not like anything you’ve come across, in reading.

This book couldn’t have come out of Africa at a better time; with the recent Ugandan anti-gay bill, Kenya’s Maendeleo Ya Wanaume protest among other anti-gay campaigns across Africa. I am not an activist but a firm believer in love, respect and equality for all human beings. Plus nobody but can really dictate or direct who or what you love, and want to be with.

BONUS: I am having one of those “Proud Mama” moments, looking at how my big-hearted buddy Kevin used his journalistic skills to help people, otherwise shunned by the society, tell their story and have a voice. That is selfless and part of making history.

You should also read my review on Harper Lee’s classic: To Kill a Mocking Bird

 

Train StationThe only other thing worse than having nobody wish you lovey-dovey sweet nothings on Valentine’s Day (V-Day) is taking a Makadara Train. Trust me. Despite coming across dashing red outfits, rose flowers and disgustingly in love couples, my V-Day had been awfully ordinary. For a spicy ending and to dodge traffic and rain, after work, I decided to take a train accompanied by a colleague Debrah.

Setting out to relish every second of this short ride, I marvel at the cheap tickets (KES 30 for one passenger). The ticket sellers are swift as they pass change and tickets back and forth, to the mob of people, all hurrying in. My heart skips a beat in excitement and anticipation as I hold onto my ticket. We rush into the Railways Station and leisurely settle on the stone benches. As we wait for our train to arrive, Debrah tells me train stories; some nostalgic and some tragic. She recalls childhood train games, playing cat and mouse chase together with her brothers to avoid paying for rides from school. A sign at the station reads ‘Give Yourself Time to Catch Train’. I read it aloud and Debrah tells me of a childhood real horror story. An elderly woman missed the train’s steps and unfortunately tripped under. She didn’t make it. “Haven’t you ever taken a train?”  She asks. The last time (about three years ago) I took a train was to Molo accompanied by my sisters; and then I really wasn’t keen on the journey’s features, note to self.

Several people, including Europeans carrying humongous back packs (of Amazing Race calibre), walk helter skelter in all directions. At the far right end of the station, is an old restaurant, half-filled with tourists drinking chai, probably marvelling at how old school the Kenyan train station must look. I like it. “In all those years, this place has never changed one bit,” notes Debrah as we take the stairs down to our train’s terminal. She freaks out at the sight of an already half-full train, “Shit! When did all these people get in? We’ll have to sit near the door so you can easily alight.” My stop should be before hers.

As soon as we get into the train, I see so many eyes on me and no space to sit. After walking through several booths, we finally get separate seats, mine being closer to the door. Time is approximately 6:05 p.m. The train leaves in 25 minutes.

The Long Await

photo (17)Time seems to move so slowly, as I eagerly wait for the choo choo to go off and the rocky motion to set. Several hawkers (all women) are parading the alleys selling sim sim, tooth paste and snacks. Some are singing, others are shouting, others have a rhythmical way of peddling, as their waists and voices sway: “Haiya bas sim sim hapa! Sim sim? Haya bas, hii hapa!” I really wanted to buy sim sim, but I felt like everyone was staring at me. Maybe I was just nervous. I took my phone back into the bag because as soon as I got it out for a photo – everyone stared even harder. 6:10 p.m. and passengers are still trickling in. Some are already standing as all seats are taken. I wonder if they won’t fall at the journey’s onset.

The cabin’s seats are designed in the ‘Face me – I Face You’ style. People standing take any space available, even between groups of five or six people sitting facing each other. That annoys me so much because I am not sitting next to the window, and so I will miss to see passing scenery. Soon, I can’t even see where Debrah is sitting. Though we are in the same train, we start to text each other. It’s 6.22 p.m. I ask: “What time do we leave!? Do the lights in the train work?” She responds: “6:30 p.m. They don’t work, why?” I reply: “Because it’s getting dark. Just can’t wait to leave.”

Two train staff members get in and start ordering people standing, to move inwards to reduce the number of people crowded at the door. Those sitting, including me, are suddenly smashed like meat in between burgers. The lady standing beside me has a box-shaped hand bag that keeps bumping into my head. The woman standing among three other people in between the six of us sitting at a booth is offered a seat by the man sitting next to me. Quite the gentleman! “Kwani nyinyi ni avocado hamuezi songa? Ama mmepandwa kama mti? Msonge ndani!!” The guys who check tickets have arrived, uncourteously, with their Nokia Mulika Mwizis.  It’s starting to get dark. After several verbal exchanges with passengers and rearranging them like books in an already-full shelf, at about 6.44 p.m. they give the captain a go-ahead and we finally set off.

The Miserable Ride

By the time the train leaves, I am so tired of the commotion, I can hardly breathe; my head is constantly being hit by the box-shaped handbag; it’s dark; am clutching on my handbag, afraid that someone might pick pocket me; I can’t see outside and I can’t read my book (even if I wanted). I start to daydream about bus rides. They always allow me to read my book. I can’t wait to alight.

About six minutes later, the train breaks down for a minute or two. People start to murmur while some close to the door get off to join the crew. “Isn’t this a stop?” I ask the box-shaped bag lady, after which I offer to carry it, to relieve my head. “No stop here, there is a problem.” Suddenly, the train jerks forward. One must feel differently while in motion, when in a space full to capacity or in a spacious one. When I last took a train with my sisters, we had a private cabin and not one single push or throw wasn’t uniquely felt. Now all I feel is a wobbly left and right sway.

It’s a few minutes to 7:00 p.m. and it feels like I have been in the train all my life. In the other cabin, a preacher bursts into a sermon. “Haleeeeeluyah!! Amen!?” He shouts, after every testimony. “What have I got myself into?” I contemplate. Soon after the preaching, he starts to sing as a soloist, “Baraka za Mungu kweli … Ni za??” Nearly half the train eruptions into a thunderous reply in unison, “Ni za ajabu … kwenda juu … kwenda … chini …” I find myself and the bag lady joining in the choir. Debrah texts: “I didn’t know there was a church group in the train. Be ready, you are alighting after the Makadara Station” I respond: “I am even singing. Sawa, I will be fine thanks.”

The Real Nightmare

When we get to Makadara Station, hardly anyone alights. It is stark dark and I can’t even see the newly-opened and lighted up station. So many other passengers with heavy luggage are added into the mix. By now, some women standing are already wailing from the cramming and jamming. We will be at Mutindwa stop in about three minutes. I am afraid that I won’t find space to alight in the nine-minute break train stop. And there is no way in hell or heaven that I am finding myself in Kariobangi (the stop after the next). Sijui leo tutashuka na dirisha!?” I yell, as passengers standing near us quarrel with a man who entered the train with a sack as large as life, that he put on top of the rails, and now is a danger to life, if it falls on anyone’s head. Someone has also farted.

I try to stand to force my way towards the door but the woman sitting next to me warns, “You will suffocate! Wait till the train stops; I am also alighting at Mutindwa.” A few seconds later, we have arrived. I don’t even realize that the train has stopped. She commands, “Stand! Force your way out, now!” As I fight my way through the darkness, it becomes apparent that those standing near the door are at the same time fighting theirs, towards taking our sitting space.

Somehow, I finally get to the door but the distance from the top to the ground seems longer. I can’t see the steps or hear the woman’s voice direct me. My heart is beating terribly fast; terrified of the chance that the train might start to move any time or that I might jump and fall.

I jump!!

As I walk home, I look back only once. My legs are numb. After a few steps, I notice that I am limping and have a stitch on my right knee. It’s 7:08 p.m. As soon as I get home, I text my mother: “Today I took a Makadara Train to avoid the rain and for some change. We paid KES 30 but it was a nightmare. Cheap is expensive.” She calls laughing, and after our conversation she comments on my Facebook status: “Haha! That was how the 3rd class train system worked in the 90s, from Nairobi to Kisumu—very interesting that you will never wish to board it again.”

I mean, how can such an efficient time-saving mode of transport be as horrendous? Not again, especially on Valentine’s.

BONUS: My 7 Must-Dos of 2014 (Ride in a Train is No. 4)

Pieces

If you can read, that’s because I can write for you. If you can feel me, that’s of course why I can see through you. And if you can see through this, then we are free. Like two artists, let’s paint a picture of our world to share with the world. I will be the canvas,and you will be the brush. I will follow your lead and you won’t need any more paint or materials. Let’s use the colours of pain and the colours of love to create immaterial art that couldn’t be sold, even for a million bob. For beauty and inspiration is not like gold or silver but priceless. Like a white candle, let’s burn the rekindled flame carelessly yet gracefully.

 

A Grand Love Theme

I am thankful for the sun, because it’s rays inspire me to shine as bright. I am glad when it rains because, I feel like I am not the only one who cries but the clouds too have a story to tell. Wet earth smelling of chocolates reminds me of freshness. It reminds me of the careless disregard we sometimes have for life’s simple pleasures. I am thankful for the morning breeze, swift and whispering, it tells me that it’s a brand new day and that tomorrow will not be the same but a better day.

I am thankful that everything is interconnected and that our essence is the appreciation that we are all brothers and sisters. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, or if you are right or wrong. It only matters that we are all humans, prone to fault and fall. But like Maya says, we rise. The sunset makes me aspire to rest easy and gracefully. It lasts just minutes or seconds but leaves a profound feeling that lasts till daybreak. I want to leave that kind of impression, for our lives are brief, yet filled with beauty and awe and pain and lessons, that don’t really matter at the end of the day. What matters is how our light illuminates.

I am thankful for family and friends. I am thankful for fans and black roses readers. Your little thank you’s and comments make me want to walk more on this path of life. They make me want to write you more and more sweet nothings. Your smiles and little gestures make my heart big. You make my heart beat. Because of that my soul gets inspired to dance to the beat of the music that everyday endeavours plays me. I am thankful for the music that inspires me, for the books that taught me, how little can be more and how less is more. I am grateful for the man whose interests were cemented in mine, and mine echoed his, even when is gone. I shine in his absence and therefore make him present in me.

Wall Graffiti

Dear KK,

For you birthday, I decided to do something different. Leave some graffiti on your wall in form of a poem. Today you are older. You are wiser and smarter. Yesterday you were all these things but a little less. Embrace the growth that comes with each day. As you take onto another year, cherish the abundance of life’s simplicity. Take a train, take a matatu ride, take a ballon ride, take a tuk tuk, take a chance and then take a risk. Like the rocky motion of travel is life, necessary for any journey we take. Challenging, sometimes spicy and enchanting. Be ready to be challenged. Cherish simple networks and friendships, ignited by chance sometimes they start a spark that shines brighter and longer than we expected. Thanks for being a great friend and I wish you well today and always.

Rosey.

That Thing on Your Head

photo (40)What do men who aren’t hair stylists really know about hair? The answer is nothing. They do have personal taste, preference and right of choice, like all human beings, but that doesn’t give them a green light to bully ladies in weaves. A real woman will have on: a short do; natural hair; braids; locks; weave; even a horse—practically whatever she sees fit and feels comfortable in. And that’s got nothing to do with you, especially if you’re not buying it.

Hair Anatomy

African hair is many things. It’s like a baby. No matter the style, it always requires thorough treatment and care. It can be best described by the Swahili proverb “akili ni nywele, kila mtu ana zake”—intelligence is like hair, everyone has their own type. Indeed, few Africans are blessed with soft and easy-to-comb hair. Most are literally hard as steel wire. This leads to countless means of treating hair, ideally to make it easier to maintain, despite the irony that going short or bald would actually be the easiest and fastest route to maintenance.

But thanks to changing trends, ladies will lock, braid or weave their hair instead of going short. Some simply go natural. Different moods or seasons will influence different hairstyles.

Ladies, You Are Your Hair

Here is why – hair is personal. Like we all have a favourite side of the bed, we have a preferred side of our hair to pat while combing. And if we pat the opposite side, only we can realize that we look different. “I am not my hair,” sang India Arie. We all sang along and still do. But ladies, if we really were not our hair, we wouldn’t care so much about what people say about it. We wouldn’t care to spend loads of time and money on fixing hair. If we were not defined by our hair, then we would all have gone bald or kept shaving like men do. If it didn’t matter, we wouldn’t care to go short after failed breakups as a symbol of a fresh start. Hair is sacred. It’s connected with our being and feelings. Because it’s very much part of every bit and strand that makes us complete, we care about it, regardless of whether it’s natural or not; short or long; kinky or straight.

A good hair massage for ladies is the equivalent of what good head is to guys. It reaches your toes. When you find that your best massager is not at the salon on the day you visit, you’d rather not do your hair. If you find a man who can give a good massage, hair or otherwise, trust me you’ll never lose him.   A woman should treat whatever is on her head as her hair because:

1. It’s yours, you bought it. And if he bought it for you, well it’s yours now.

2. Anything on your head that’s not a hat or a bucket or pot is your hair. Even a squirrel.

With the above premise, it would be very wrong to treat your hair as if it’s not part of you and your personal cleanliness. Having an ugly coloured weave or hair dye is doing no justice to your visage and image. Having smelly hair, braids or weave, just messes your personal grooming.

Parting Shot

photo (42)Any woman must be neat and clean; from head to toe. Constant visits to the salon or bathroom for a good hair wash, manicure and pedicure are advised. Invest in a good weave/hair products that smell good. No no no to Sulpher 8. Every girl must have a hair salonist and/or stylist – who understands your hair’s personality. This will save us vexing the opposite sex and still be at our best at all times.

Women, you should know the difference between synthetic and human hair weaves.  The latter are washable. So do not be found with a synthetic weave on for a month and a half without a change or wash. You are smelly and a disturbance to the peace and your scalp must really itch. Wearing a weave to avoid cleaning your head, doesn’t make you a real woman but faker than how men view weaves to be.

Ladies, we can be more than our hair. Like nails, hair is just an extension of who we are. And anytime can be cut or trimmed or altered. Hair is also a means of expression and defines personal style just like clothes and shoes. That’s why Lupita’s natural short do has struck Hollywood as a stamp of simplicity and confidence; a state a lot girls struggle to attain. But just because a black girl wants straight long hair or a weave, doesn’t mean she wants to be like a white girl. Just because a girl like Lupita rocks a short do doesn’t mean, she represents the jungle. There’s a thin line between your expression being misunderstood or understood.

Guys Quit Hating

Every girl deserves the freedom to choose whatever she deems fit. If the woman’s hair is dirty and smelly, she probably has more dirt where that came from. True love is honest. Simply tell her, “That thing stinks.” Otherwise do not hate on all women rocking weaves, just because you encountered one or two foul weaves. It’s offensive to women who invest in good weaves (which cost a fortune to buy and get done) and cleanliness.

As far as the discussion goes, if it’s on her head, it’s not a weave or whatever you want to call it but her hair. As long as she likes it, you don’t have to like it too but respect her choice. You can give constructive criticism like, “I prefer kinky to the long straight one because of the feel but I think your natural hair rocks.” She will pout her lips and act indignant but she listened and took notes. After all, you know what they say about change.

BONUS: You might like this:

Throwback post – The Weave Menace

What Hollywood & Kenya Thinks of Lupita’s Style and Shine

Lupita has baffled Kenyans and the world at large. The actress and film director has made history as the first Kenyan and pure Black African to win the coveted Oscars and garner critical acclaim and numerous awards from one film. Her role in 12 Years a Slave, a film based on the true story of Solomon Northup (an American free man who was kidnapped into slavery where he spent 12 years in captive) is celebrated. Because of that, she’s now brushing shoulders and taking selfies with the biggest of American celebrities; from Kanye West, Oprah Winfrey to Leonardo Di Caprio. She’s a darling of this season’s red carpet fashion and film critics. In the film she plays poor Patsey, a strong-willed yet broken pretty little thing born a slave. Patsey is caught in between a cruel and masochist master and his jealous wife, who makes her life even the more, a living hell.

Lupita-Nyongo-MustardHollywood isn’t only wowed by her extraordinary performance in the film but everything she represents inside and out. Her skin has got that very dark shade that clearly represents the black race, a very authentic look in the casting for a film on slavery. Her roots are particularly intriguing. Born in Mexico of Kenyan parents? And how to pronounce the name: Lupita Nyong’o? Sometimes they just call her Luppy. Few women are confident enough to cut their hair short and Lupita’s natural do flaunts her effortlessness and confidence. It’s a declaration that Black Girls Rock. She’s a role model. In fact, the hard-to-impress Joan Rivers, host of E!’s adored Fashion Police called red-hot Lupita in a Ralph Lauren gown “the first African super woman”, right before declaring her Best Dressed from Golden Globes. Her surreal beauty and bold fashion sense intrigues Hollywood. An unknown artist even made an animation of Cinderella Lupita.

A lot of Kenyans watched 12 Years of a Slave from late January 2014—quite the pity that they didn’t get to share in the conversations about the film and Lupita with the rest of the world as soon as it premiered worldwide (last quarter of 2013). However, to catch up, many (like me) have been forced to first watch pirated copies. So to those busy critiquing the film and Lupita before watching it – just shut up.

Nevertheless, the collective response on Lupita’s performance and acclaim in Kenya is varied. I’ve come across unhappy Kenyans claiming that by not mentioning Kenya and Kenyan art in most of her interviews, she doesn’t support Kenya. Soon after Golden Globes, another troupe on Kenyan social media started an anti-international designers crusade, cross-examining why Lupita hasn’t yet worn a Kenyan designer on Hollywood red carpet. Others have come out to disregard or rubbish her performance in the film, citing it overrated. Others admit that they are adamant to celebrate her; afraid that she might be a one hit wonder while speculating that all the attention from Hollywood is because she starred in a racism-themed film. They suppose that had she acted as a normal, free and better person (not a slave) in the society, then she wouldn’t have gotten all the acclaim. Others claim that she’s been identifying herself as a Mexican more than a Kenyan and they don’t like that.

The other group (a majority) is generally very proud of Lupita. From her role in the film and everything it presented to her like the awards, nominations and meeting the crème de la crème of Hollywood. They appreciate that for once E! News and American entertainment is not obsessed with the Kardashians and celebrity babies but the Kenyan girl who leaves a fashion stamp on any red carpet she graces. Many admire her acceptance speeches, charisma, eloquence and humility.

Lupita critics; give the girl a break. It’s no mean feat trumping legends like Julia Roberts in any kind of nominations. It’s any actor or actress’s dream to be as successful in a debut film. No matter what anyone says, this is Lupita’s time to shine and she deserves it. Having featured in a largely celebrated film makes it no miracle that she reached that status. The film and its cast have been leading with nominations in various awards and categories all season. It’s your prerogative to think she’s overrated but also note: she is just a supporting actress. The film is not about Patsey but Solomon Northup played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (another actor with nominations as many as Lupita’s). Having been adapted from a memoir, the film’s directors and producers made sure the story was balanced and every character supported the main protagonist – Northup. With such constrains, I agree with some critics that Lupita’s role of Patsey in the final parts of the film is minimal. However, I still find it remarkable. Together with Chiwetel, the duo’s portrayal of how Solomon and Patsey share solitude, suffering and pain is heartbreaking. From apathy, empathy to sympathy; their joint performance evokes all sorts of emotion; I really really really sobbed when they hugged goodbye.

Poor PatseyLupita is getting a lot of credit for her role in 12 Years a Slave because she’s a first-time actress in Hollywood, from Kenya yet she gets the American accent correct. She’s very learned. Yale School of Drama is no joke. She acts out a silent emotional wreck. She’s a slave. Slaves don’t speak unless spoken to. She is thrown at bottles, raped and burnt with objects but doesn’t speak. Its how she begs Solomon to take her life for her; how she begs for mercy; how she cries from whips and the pain their wounds bring. It is how one woman, without talking much, acted out the part of another suffering woman, bringing the original Patsey’s spirit alive.

To Kenyans blindly critiquing Lupita negatively, recognize and respect that she’s the first Kenyan to reach Hollywood’s highest peak. Whether or not, she is being awarded for being black or acting a suffering role, she acted it pretty damn well. About rocking Kenyan designers, have they tried to contact her? I believe there are plenty of fabulous local designers like Poisa and Blackbird that she could wear to a red carpet. Shall the hook up can happen, that’s a guaranteed great exposure for Kenyan fashion. In the meantime, Lupita can wear whatever designer she fancies plus it’s part of showbiz and a formality.

Through Lupita, Kenyans now eye Hollywood differently. Because of her, Kenyan actors and actresses like Melvin Alusa, Nick Ndeda, Sharon Mina, Dennis Amunga, Mkamze and Nini Wacera, must believe, now more than any other time that they can make it to Hollywood and reach a world audience. Through Lupita, Hollywood eyes Kenya differently. “Are there other amazing actors back in Kenya?” Jimmy Kimmel (American Talk Show Host) asked Lupita in an interview. We are not just the fastest marathon runners and the home of Africa’s largest wilder beast migration but also a wealth of talented artists, who can produce bonafide film stars. Because of Lupita, another African breaks through into Hollywood.

Lupita Brad v2Whether or not, she is cast for more films is nobody’s business but hers. And even if she decides to retire and return home, she has already done many proud. If she didn’t mention Kenya in some interview, so what? Most international press like any other will edit information to fit whatever their audiences want. They probably don’t care much about Kenya, but Lupita—the striking fascinating creature with a great sense of humour and fashion beneath a brilliant actress.

In reverse, the Kenyan audience craves to see Lupita home. They want to hear her talk about Kenya and how it’s where she started out. They want her to talk to them, maybe dedicate an award or two to them. Let’s not alienate her or act too clingy just because she is living her dream, Far Away. She’s forever our ambassador just by the virtue of being Kenyan. Let’s learn to be inspired by our very own while appreciating them. She was born in Mexico, belongs to the world but at the end – she’s OURS.

BONUS: Her Oscars Acceptance Speech was everything!! Everything.

Phone EtiquetteYour ringtone says a lot about you; so does your ring back tone. People, especially strangers, will read a lot into the kind of person you could be, just from how your phone rings. The next time your phone rings to Wale’s Clappers or Ken wa Maria’s Fundamentals or whichever tune; think about what your callers are enduring or enjoying, to get through to you and the impression left. Unfortunately, our best songs might not necessarily reflect on our personality and image the best way. They last a few seconds but can influence how accommodative the other person (especially potential employers or future partners) at the end of the line will be to us. Regardless, the phone will ring, and you will answer.

Many times we receive calls from genuine wrong numbers (forget about Kamiti prisoners text messages that read— “You have won 100,000 cash money, call this number to send 25,000 to come pick your prize”, or dubious people calling to say they wrongfully sent you credit or Mpesa). Genuine wrong number callers can be as hilarious and annoying as it gets. Once, a Somali man called me angrily demanding, “Tulituma ngamia, wapi pesa ya ngamia? (We sent the money, where are the camels?)”. Most recently, I was vexed by the food delivery man at our office for selling me some strange type of half-cooked beans instead of peas. I read out and dialed the man’s number from the food company’s brochure furiously trembling, and started ranting at hello, “Chakula chako hakiliki, I need a refund or the food I actually ordered for and won’t take any other thing!” The guy on the other line, shocked at my persistence and the wrath of a hungry and angry woman (double tragedy) shuddered, “Aki mami niko Eastleigh, walahi sijawahi uza chakula (Wrong number, I have never vended food). After an embarrassed apology, I thought that was over and done with. But the guy would keep calling and texting me insistently. One day he sent me a text – “Are you married, I am single”. I had to reply, “Yes and my husband doesn’t like me texting you” and he forever retreated.

Then there’s the nightmare of losing and acquiring phone contacts. Because of this, we all receive calls/texts from foreign numbers. What do you do or say upon answering? Usually I politely ask, “Who am I speaking to?” or state “Sorry I seem not to have this number.” A normal person should always introduce themselves on and off phone, it’s just courteous. However, there are people with the below 5 bad phone habits who obnoxiously think they are exceptions to the rules.

1. “Guess tu ni nani?”

In such times of economic hardship, if you are going to start calling someone for teasing purposes in the middle of the day, then you ought to get a job or at least spend your credit money wisely. Nobody has time for such old tricks. And when they do, it gets particularly awkward if the receiver guesses at least thrice wrong or a name that the caller recognizes and doesn’t remind them of good things. For instance ex-boyfriend Alex (random name) tries to change voice to see if you might guess it right and then you end up guessing its ex-ex-boyfriend Joe (another random name).

2. “You don’t have my no.!? Kwani you deleted my no.!?”

The only people allowed to ask such questions should be your family (parents, wife, husband or children). What makes some people outside this mix feel like they are too important that you must have their numbers? You will find that you already have most numbers that are important to you, and if there is anyone else so important that you must have their number, when in need – go get it! Recently thought I exchanged numbers with a colleague but unfortunately didn’t get to saving his. After responding to his “Bible quoted” Happy New Year text message with a “Thanks, sorry I don’t seem to have this number,” he responded – “Now you don’t have my number yet I gave it to you just the other day!?” If you’re going to be mad at me about your text message, at least custom draft mine before that.

3. You have 10 Missed Calls 

Sometimes you are taking a dump, or in a noisy as hell matatu, or in a very important meeting, or church even but on the other end of the line, the caller just won’t stop calling. The other day, I got some serious bashing from my buddy Bien for calling him five times. “Rosey – you don’t call me five times on seeing that I am busy, you wait and I will call you back!” He barked at me. But when I told him that I couldn’t have waited a minute longer to tell him that our former house help had given birth to a baby boy named after him, Bien Aime Alusa Gift – he forgave me. If it’s not about death, new life or something that’s life changing or threatening; try dropping a text when a call goes unanswered.  It’s as simple as “Hi. I am so and so and would like to talk to you regarding such and such. Kindly return my call or let me know when is best to call.”

4. “Just saw you, you look nice.”

It’s not romantic but creepy to send girls text messages wherever you see them at the bus stop, at the club or wherever. It’s actually courteous to walk up to them and say hello. That’s the essence of bumping into each other. I am just about done with the “I can see you” texts. I can also see a lot of people but if you’re not going to add, “Was in a hurry or didn’t want to disturb your peace or whatever else” to that text; keep it to yourself.

5. “Are you asleep? Where are you?”

A booty call is a booty call. No man or woman calling/texting you any time after 1 a.m. wants to just check up on you. They probably want to check in as well. The sooner we all learn to ask for what we want, the faster we’ll get it or move on to someone who will give it to us. In 2014 this business for always asking people if they are awake at 2 a.m. should stop.

Parting Shot

Phone Etiquette 2So when does phone etiquette start and end? It must be from the moment you hold your phone. Have you seen some people talking through the phone while it’s upside down? Or shouting at it as if it’s on speaker while it isn’t? It’s so sad that in 2014, the year of Digitalization in Kenya, these kinds of scenarios still occur. It’s going to be an uphill task following through etiquette if you can’t even hold your phone right.

Upon calling or being asked to reveal your identity, introduce yourself and the reason for calling, that’s perfectly alright. Return texts and missed calls in due time.

It’s very rude to be on speaker phone in a public place like a bank, work place or a matatu. Nobody wants to hear your conversations; they have theirs too, via the handset.

You have an iPod to throw all your musical picks to be heard at your convenience. So for your every-day attitude, ringtone and ring back tone; pick one that you and the world at large can stomach. There’s a very thin line between making a person’s day and ruining it, so let not your tunes play part and parcel, undesirably. If all fails, leave on your phone’s generic tones or vibrate.

Be humble and remember that in the eyes of the world’s millions of people, we are mere ants, working themselves around their colonies, trying to make ends meet. We will never all know each other but the more we do, the better we make the world. So no matter how many times you have had to introduce yourself to someone on or off phone, just keep doing it. Other people might actually be meeting more people than you do on an average, and if you don’t leave a lasting first-time impression, congratulations! You have the chance to re-work the magic at your phone’s first ring.

BONUS: You might also like to read: What if Courtesy had a price?

Why 2013 Rocked – My Story

2013 was the year that elevated me to the status of a super woman.

When I started out in January, I had just quit as Label Manager at Penya Africa a month earlier because I found that I wasn’t happy working in that capacity in the music industry. To my relief, Sauti Sol decided to still maintain keeping me as their Publicist.

By March 2013 (exactly a year from the time I quit my job at UP Magazine as a Staff Writer to be a Label Manager in 2012), I got a call back from UP, asking me to return– but this time as an Associate Editor. I started April 2013 and so far,  it’s been very cool and informative. My education background is Broadcast Journalism; the only Print training I got was from this blog, my stint as Features Editor for Anvil (University of Nairobi newspaper during my tenure in campus), and my mother (a retired English teacher who made me help her mark Standard 8 compositions from the time I was in Class 6). Oh boy! Habits generally die hard. “But I am not an Editor,” I responded to the call. “We wouldn’t call you for the job if we wouldn’t think you had everything it takes to do it,” they said. So I took the leap. We all need to learn to take in everything people say, criticism and ovation, and master the art of separating the wheat from the chaff. Sometimes people will see in you what you’d never see in yourself, even if you stared in the mirror for 100 years.

Every year, since 2012, I collaborate with an artist to curate an art exhibition. In 2013 I joined forces with talented artist Edward Manyonge for his debut art exhibition Pieces of Fortune held at Safaricom’s Michael Joseph Centre. I had the amazing Andrew Wambua and KIU performing at the opening launch. There’s so much satisfaction in presenting such an opportunity to a deserving artist. And I knew that my job was done as soon as we first set up the exhibition successfully, guests arrived and we sold art.

Oki and IBeing chosen as one of Kenya’s Top 9 Fashion Stylists from mainstream media by Deacons Kenya Limited, to put up a Zara fashion show collection during the parallel launch of the fashion line brand in Kenya was awesome! I thank Okinawa, who was my assistant and my graceful models. Check out more photos via Fashion Notebook where all my models were featured as follows: Photo 1 model no. 1. Photo 2 model no. 2 and the last, my favourite Bohemian-style model no. 3

For the longest time, I have been doing PR for Sauti Sol. But this year I got so many requests from artists and institutions wanting to work with me but with a schedule as busy as mine, I am certainly allowed to be choosy. Working with rapper Rabbit on the weeks leading up to his new album launch, and Kwani Trust during their 10th Year Anniversary Book Party was dope! The latter project allowed me to meet and get books by two amazing African writers: Yvonne Owuor Adhiambo and Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi. “Hello you, you look very glamorous!” – I will never get over the first thing Chimamanda said to me on our first-meet up *blush* She’s a pretty tough nut and strong-willed lady. Exactly the qualities I aspire to nurture moving forward into the world.

IMG_7706 (1024x683)Interviewing and meeting former East-African music King Mr. Nice, legendary Kenyan songstress Mercy Myra and Grammy-award winning American soul/R&B artist Anthony Hamilton (see my story on Anthony Hamilton here) among many other artists was really something. Becoming buddies with one of Hamilton’s vocalists Tony Lelo was pretty cool. Check out his music here. In the coming months, I am trying to work a song collabo between Tony and Mumala through Sauti Sol’s Producer/lead guitarist Polycarp.

Other highlights of 2013 included my safari to Malindi, being a judge at the Lavish Lounge’s 8-week Search for Miss Lavish Diva (FYI there might be a Mr. & Miss CBD coming up in 2014), mceeing at Safaricom Sevens and Sawa Sawa Festival, and getting a request from an American author to have one of my poems published in her upcoming book on poems about love by men and women.

Uhuru GardensLastly, in 2013 December I marked four years of hosting Grapevine TV Show in grand measures. In Dec 12th, I got a rare request from the head of KBC TV to report live for the national broadcaster at Uhuru Gardens during Kenya’s 50th Independence Anniversary at the hoisting of the Kenyan National flag, at the same place where 50 years ago it was first hoisted. Being part of that historical moment will forever remain dear to me. It was also my first time to be on TV live and thankfully, I was a trooper.

I can’t really tell what 2014 will bring but if it’s anything close to 2013 – I am down. It’s probably going to be big because of a lot of personal/work projects that I am determined to fulfill. I am very thankful to all the people who gave me all these opportunities, family and friends and God for this beautiful life and marking five years of black roses blog.

BONUS: Another highlight of 2013 was being fooled by love and making a new Somali friend :-)

You might also like my post on My 7 Must-Dos Before 2014 Ends, inshallah.

I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. As I grew older, I realized how silly it is to put myself up to a list of things to do while I am just another mortal incapable of ever fully doing that, but more than just that. The faster we all realize that all human beings are powerful beyond their wildest imaginations, the faster we’ll have a world of champions. Nevertheless, it won’t hurt to still write down some things, however grand or small, I want done.  I want to view the sun rise in space from above the universe just as much as I want in on that terrifying ride at Disney World. However, this year – I am going with the most tangible must-dos that I should have already.

1. Milk a Cow

Cutting kukus heads is too main stream; I don’t have to do that (hope my future husband is not a Luhya man reading this). Originally coming from Kenya’s white highlands (read Molo) where farming literally provides bread and butter; you really are the black sheep of a family if you don’t know how to milk a cow. Plus there must be additional cool points when a girl like me (with perfectly manicured nails 365 days a year) is found entering a cattle’s stable in the village to milk a cow. I doubt if there’s any job application that will need cow-milking experience but if you come from where I’m from; this is one of those womanly skills that every woman should have. I just need to learn some defense skills; some mad cows can really throw a mean kick. That leads me to the next point.

2. Learn Taekwondo

Thankfully, didn’t experience much of Nairobbery in 2013. However, together with Wanjeri, we were forced to go all Jicho-Pevu on some Naivasha folks who had stolen my handbag during a visit to a resort, a few months ago. When everybody insisted that the thief-turned-remorseful-man caught should be slapped if not taken to the police station, I let him go scot-free because he had confessed and returned my handbag safely. But coming to think of it, now that I didn’t kick that man or let anyone kick him, he probably will try stealing from another lady. And who knows when I might need to unleash the skills while trotting down some of Nairobi’s alleys? Also with Taekwondo skills am fit to throw a fair fight shall a mad cow attack me whilst milking.

3. Do It Like Mutua Matheka

I have an eye for photography. I go deeper than my selfies and this year, it’s time to show myself and the world what I am made of. I have a clear direction and enough inspiration to revive my tumblr. My inspiration is the awesome Mutua Matheka (Founder of the #Kenya365 series) and because he’s a good fellow, I am sure he won’t mind mentoring me. A good camera and a click or two a day is a good way to start.

4. Ride in a Train

The last time I took a train, was to Molo from Nairobi with my sisters. All I remember is we took forever to get to our destination but the private cabin was cool. However, the rocky motion coupled with the choo-choo squeals and hissing sounds during constant stops was a tad tiresome, annoying and a disturbance to the peace. But I think life if like a train in many ways and we can learn a lot by relating the two. Would love to take that ride again and document it. Maybe I should take a train to Mombasa or catch the Makadara Train to or from town.

5. Take a Break

I don’t want to be too old too soon. Usually when you are younger, age catches up faster if you work too hard and don’t find time for yourself by taking a break. And then when you are older, roles reverse; age catches up with you faster if you don’t keep yourself busy and fit. It’s a thin line between balancing work, life and play. This year I am going to be asking myself ‘Why not?’ a lot more, rather than say NO to things that don’t feel right at first utterance.

1962779_10152207381012559_857647419_n (2)6. Murder a Secret Track/Hip Hop Karaoke

I keep recounting tales of my childhood rap skills (back in the day when I use to jam to Craig Mark and Tupac). I was that kid. Now everyone wants me to get into a studio and sing but the truth is, I tried once and it didn’t work. Honestly, I am only good at choirs and straight up – I am now too hip for that vibe. So here’s what I am going to do, this year – I am working on a secret track with super cool Producer Kagwe Mungai and then head on to a hip hop
karaoke and tear down the house.


7. Do It Like Queen of Zamunda, Blinky or Heisenberg

I need that hat that has personality for days. You know like Breaking Bad’s villain or JAB’s super cool Blinky Bill. I have decided that if no one will fall in love with me this year, they will love my new style. I will be rocking more hats and turbans just like the glamorous Queen of Zamunda. Check out my turban tales via my IG

BONUS: You might fancy a throwback into Why my 2013 Rocked! Read it here.

Coming to America: Prints & Turbans in Contemporary Fashion

Sentimentally Covered

nakedIt doesn’t matter that it’s raining today. Inside my heart you always reign and just your sight brings me sunshine. We can cuddle under the duvet and watch the raindrops paint our window gibberish till our names somewhat reflect there. Because the mood is liquorish, we can eat up some liquorice chocolates then sip on some whiskey. Drunk in love like Jay and Bey, we can walk to the beach and make the night count. Like it’s the last day to feel the ground, we can make a castle and then draw our names in the sand. We can be reminded that like the sun rises and must set is life; as brief as our footsteps in the sand last.

It doesn’t matter that the phone is ringing. Inside my heart only thing worth picking is you, only habit not worth kicking is you. Even without calling me, I reckon that you are thinking of me. And like telepathy, I can’t stop thinking of you. Let’s get on this love train and never stop. Let’s go sight-seeing and visit the world. Let’s enjoy the rocky motion, as we rise and fall in love. Let’s allow this emotion to be the captain till we reach our destination. Let’s cherish our relations like it’s the first day. Let’s take it to the parish on the last day of this trip and make it official that we want to be uncovered.

BONUS: You might like this post’s prelude Sentimentally Un-covered

IMG_7694 (1024x683)“Music to me is like blood, air and food. It’s that serious to me. If I wasn’t able to do music, I would be miserable; I probably wouldn’t even talk to people. I would be so upset and unhappy,” confesses American soul singer/producer Anthony Hamilton. In 2009, Anthony won a Grammy for the song “You’ve Got The Love I Need” with Al Green in the category of Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance. From his 2011 album “Back To Love” the song “Best Of Me” has got two nominations for Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Song at the upcoming (Jan 2014) Grammy Awards. The prolific singer confirms that he’s already recording his seventh album, which will feature his past-collaborator (in the song “I’m Cool”) David Banner. He says that he might also feature some new school cats.

Anthony has got a great sense of humour. Sitting across him at Hemingways Hotel (Oct 2013 in Nairobi) for my TV show’s link up segment interview, I hush up a small crowd (hotel staff and journalists) gathered around us, just to get another glimpse of the big-voiced singer. They all go silent, and then I clear my throat signaling Anthony who asks the crowd, “Did y’all hear that? You might wanna link up with her! Aaiiight go ahead babe.” Everyone bursts into laughter and I immediately reckon that I am in the presence of a great yet humble man.

As we start to converse, I ask him to demystify the notion that soul/R&B artists are this decade experiencing a rough time, thanks to rise of dance and pop music, in comparison to the 90s music era. “It’s not hard for me as I’ve done it for so long and I have a solid fan base who are willing to go with me to the end. However, it might be hard for other R&B/soul music acts that want to get into the music industry now. It’s going to be harder now to prove to people that they have it but it’s possible.”

“Back To Love”, my iPod’s most replayed album is a must-listen. I tell him and that my favourite song there is “Life has a way”—he seems pretty impressed at that and retorts pensively, “Yeah, that’s a great song of mine but “Coming From Where I Am From” (2003 sophomore album) is just that song and album for me. It’s the first song that came out at the point of my career when I was tired and fed up. I needed to be heard – that’s my once upon a time.” That album sold platinum and its second single, “Charlene” also did remarkably well. I still adore that song.

IMG_7706 (1024x683)Anthony’s story is inspiring; especially to indie artists: “A lot of time, we [artists] have aspirations and dreams and don’t pursue them. Be creative; don’t be afraid to be different; don’t be afraid to be yourself 100 %. I have done it and stuck with it. It takes a little time, but if you stick with it and it’s something people want to connect with, do it. It takes time but it’s paying. People want something that’s real, something that will make them feel good.”

Anthony has worked with the best of new school soul singers including D’angelo, Marsha Ambrosius, Keyshia Cole, Angie Stone, Jaheim and Musiq Soulchild among others. “I love working with many artists but Jill Scott is the mummy of soul music. Jill and I are pretty cool. Not only do we work together well on stage and in the studio but from time and again, we check on each other and talk.” The self-professed huge lover of hip hop says, “Sometimes I am happy, excited, mellow or chilled out while in the studio, depending on my mood and that of my producers. I also like music without any words and it doesn’t necessarily have to be jazz.”

Visiting my country has clearly left him in awe. “[Being in Kenya] is one of the moments in my life when I feel like God is just opening a way for me; I am starting to see the world. It’s my first time in Kenya and I am excited. It’s beautiful to be part of such a country that’s growing and is strong. We look to you guys, your beauty, and the success you are having in your country. We want to bridge the gap; you guys can come and stay with me in America.” It’s great to tap into Anthony’s open mind and craft. “In terms of what’s out now on the radio, I think it is fine. Young folks are finding a way to express themselves and exploring with music creating different genres. It’s attractive, I might take a few bits and pieces, and I might do a song with Future or Chris Brown. It’s just interesting when two different styles collaborate.”

I am left satisfied and thankful for the interview (so much soul food and life lessons of humility), right after which Anthony personally scribbles his contacts on my note-book as his bouncers, manager and entourage look on curiously.

BONUS: I have to write another blog post about Anthony Hamilton’s mind-blowing band and Kenyan concert. In the mean time, check the concert story I filed here:

Photos courtesy of Japheth Kagondu. 

It Happens

flying_love_heartsDistraught, I left my emotions bottled in a container.  Caught up, you left your house to the shop to buy a new container, only to pick the one that shielded me. I was granted a new lease of life by the buyer stranded by love, eager to be released into a new existence. For a second, you owned me and I belonged to you.

Like an antique, you kept me guarded. I was your way out when you wanted to cherish something and way in, when you wanted to talk to something. I found myself inside your fears, happiness and tears. I forgot to live my own life and asked myself, ‘how could I have let this happen?’

But like an addiction, my story can’t do without you. This is not fiction but a real malfunction without you; without us. I found that I pride myself in the surrender of your touch. I found that I smile by myself in the remembrance of your hands; the way they feel in mine – perfect.

I found that my container was wide open. All my secrets were told unto you. Whether they were stored safely, I couldn’t tell.  Finally, at liberty, my emotions were left roving in the open when you left. That was theft of a part of me, just as I reside here with a part of you. It’s over. It happened. But I won’t let such love happen again.

Lessons of Love

Rose  HeartLike warm cotton, our hearts basked in the glory of sunshine. But suddenly darkness struck, and our lives were on the line. There was no time to cover our cloth, the rain caught on as fast at the storm. And to dry again, and feel as good on our skin is difficult for the cloth – now wet and tattered. Putting together the pieces and wringing out the water is a task too daunting, daring and haunting. But from a far, the horizon is promising to open up memories. We must remember how it felt to be happy. We must remember how it felt to love. We must remember what it means to find closure. We must remember the good time; that brought us here. That little light opening in the dark skies is the reason why, our once prestigious cloth, now torn – can be mended. We are hurt. We are confused. We are clueless. We are in great loss. But what’s greater is our collective strength and art. That can help remake our cloth a new.

BONUS: A tribute to everyone we lost at the Westgate Mall Terrorist Attack (Kenya) and those who were left hurt, physically and emotionally.

 

Vibin

Say that you understand me, even when I am crazy like this. That even when I am left alone waiting, you will stand by me. Like the sounds of a quiet storm guitar, promise that you will keep me warm and feeling this good. Promise that you won’t be too hood to love and need me. 

 

Rollercoaster

Carnations 2We are like an interlude to a song, not too long or too short – just enough, but not a song. We are like electricity, necessary for lighting up the fire within but therein are too many wires we couldn’t fix, even if we wanted. We boast to both be technicians but we are haunted, there isn’t anything we can mend, and all that is left is our dreams in technicolour. We have not one distinct colour but resemble a rainbow, beautiful and eclectic yet eccentric. Like the break of dawn, we are a mix between dark and light – never really one – lovelorn; together but lone, we are love clowns. But this isn’t comedy because how you make me feel is remedy to everything. Despite our nuance and our nuisance, nothing matters. We don’t care that we are wasting time. We don’t care that we are like a ship sailing way off course. We don’t care that we’ve spun over and over again. We don’t care that we lost it; we only care that we love it, and the spur it gives.

All Figured Out

“Today I woke up and realized every day gets shorter. Every minute turns to the longest second – never-ending. Age is nothing but a reminder that doesn’t tell you how old or young minded someone is. We all start at the same starting point of a woman’s legs but each have our own finish line. Understand that this never ends and the only way to be immortalized is to be remembered, hopefully for right than wrong. It’s better to be in the hall of fame than shame, whether it exists for what you do or not; we create this world so we make what exists. It isn’t about the awards, it’s about the rewards of being immortalized and remembered for all the right reasons. Mistakes are forgotten. When it’s so late that it’s early and you need to drink and the bar is closed; remember why you do what you do. Despite the coldest drinks, the fastest cars and luxury, remember the adrenaline rush of creating what you think about with who thinks about you—your family and team. The joy of looking back and saying that you did it, is winning the game: it’s the hall of fame,”— Big Sean.

I don’t know what I am thinking about. But I am entangled in a personal bout – between thinking whether I have or haven’t stopped thinking about you; believing that I have; and if what I am writing makes any sense. I might get hurt or injured by the time I am leaving the ring—less likely but highly probable. But whether I win or lose, I will still remain an honorable player of this self-inflicted sport.

Send me out

I will go into the world. And touch a child’s life. I will not hold down, when I am weary, but give my all when I can and stay caring for those who depend on me. I will not be afraid when it’s time to get married and start a new life or when it’s time to go, for I already enjoyed my time here. I will strive to leave a mark in the universe, even if it’s just by letting loose; to inspire and be inspired. I aspire to decipher right from wrong, evil from good and real from fake. God; I pray that you send me out so I can use my heart and soul.

Serene Resorts, excellent for getaways; Italian bistros, cafes and restaurants; perfectly tanned Italian settlers and tourists, young and old; modest locals who know no other foreign traits but Italian—all this make Malindi, undoubtedly Kenya’s little exclusive Italy. The beautiful coastal town is my personal favourite destination because of its sleepiness. There, life literally moves slower than in Mombasa, providing a sense of privacy. Recently, took the weekend off to Malindi, together with my girls. And I discovered just how anyone can enjoy a super vacation in Malindi in just 24 hours, or more.

photo (14)While in Malindi (one of Naomi Campbell’s top destinations), if you can’t stay at the pricy resorts, check out the brand new super classy and reasonably priced The Village, that’s just as superb. Located practically about 10 minutes to every other place you need to go, from the airport, to the beach, clubs or to town in the traffic free town. A cathedral Swahili wooden gate welcomes you into Mwembe (Swahili for mango) Resort leading into The Village (the two are merged). Mwembe’s property boasts monstrous mango trees and hundreds of comfy home-style cottages. The Village on the other hand, is quite the sight. The entry of each one of the one-bed roomed and two-bed roomed self-contained townhouses of The Village has a picturesque patio, upstairs and downstairs, the latter having a set of tables. You know, where you can have a late night snack or drinks with friends and family. This is the place for you.

There are two big swimming pools and an outdoor Jacuzzi, with floors made of Mazeras. In case you didn’t know, Mazeras hoards up warmth from the daytime so swimming at night in the pool becomes a warm-affair.

So, from my experience at The Village, here are 10 quirky steps on how to vacay in Malindi in just 24 hours:

Saturday Afternoon

  1. After lunch, take a flight to Malindi

We departed JKIA at about 1.30 p.m. and by 2.30 p.m.; we had landed and well on our way to Malindi’s The Village Resort. Remember to travel light, you don’t need a dozen suitcases like you are the Prince of Zamunda.

photo (9)2. Have a glass of Sangria,  and bitings on arrival at The Village

A cold glass of Sangria to quench your thirst and relax you from the Malindi humidity is like ‘The drink of life’ at this juncture. Ask the staff at The Village for the marinated chicken drumsticks and fish cakes. Best fish cakes I have ever eaten all my life!

3. Head out to town for an espresso and a bottle of Italian Wine/Champagne

Enjoy the shaky ride as you take a tuk tuk into town. Ask them to drop you off at Bar Bar Restaurant. While there ask for an espresso. Their espresso is simply rich and fulfilling. The outdoor setting of the restaurant also allows you to enjoy a view of the beautiful town and its weather. Pop into the shop right next door, it’s a little Italian supermarket; grab a bottle or three of your favourite Italian champagnes or wines for drinks later at the cottage. We went for three dry Proseccos.

photo (13)By 6.30 p.m.

4.  Take a shower and change clothes

Put on a sexy loose dress. It’s pretty hot at night so ladies, go for shorts, short skirts or a flowing dress. Guys, go for shorts and vests. Sit at the patio with friends and talk away life’s problems and blessings as you down the bottles. Oh me, Susan Q, Susan Lucky, Billy, Kaleche and Adelle really tried but we only managed to down two.

5. Lorenzo’s for dinner

Head over to the main restaurant at The Village, Lorenzo’s, for dinner. You have to order Italian pasta and white wine. I had Tomato Pasta with Parmesan – it was heaven on a plate.

By 11 p.m.

6. Hit Club Papa Pata

This is the best club I’ve been to in the Coast of Kenya. Outdoor and white tented décor mixed in black leather seats; a dance floor huge enough to house the whole town; a DJ Booth with caged raging fire on each side; great music; beautifully dressed people and if you walk on the outside of Pata Pata’s back side, you will be met by the white sands of the beach. This is the best way to spend a night out in Malindi. Please note, after being inspired by a couple of drinks, you can decide to have a walk by the beach with your friends or partner if not find a spot to just chill and stare into the big disco light that points out into the dark skies.

You can party till day break; revelers don’t stop checking into Pata Pata. Sometimes, renowned musicians from bongo or the coast region are playing here.

photo (12)Sunday Mid Morning

7.  Have breakfast at The Village; make sure the chef makes you frittata, an Italian omelet. From there, you could either dip into the Jacuzzi for some inspiration or take a tuk tuk to Rosada Exclusive Italian Beach Bar & Restaurant for a nice morning beach walk, which will provide you the real inspiration.  Don’t forget to draw your name on the sand. It’s always a reminder of part of a text I recently read that says, “A footprint on the sand in the seashore, here and then gone, is an inescapable symbol of our brief lives.” The beach at Rosada is as white as cocaine; don’t forget to carry your shades otherwise your eyeballs will be burning all through. Also carry a book or a notebook so you can sit and read or write the thoughts rushing off your mind. Ask the staff at Rosada to get you a Bloody Mary or some kind of cocktail.

By 1.p.m

8. Head back to town for Biriani – kindly note: It’s a crime to be in Mombasa, Voi or Malindi and not have Biriani and Chai ya tangawizi.  Ask for Simba Dishes, it’s a little hidden café in town that serves the best Biriani. They are so affordable, for KES 300; you will have a meal fit for two.

CIMG19339. Don’t miss your flight back. If you decide to stay for another day or so, do not miss Rosada’s beach party every Monday nights. Come ready to mingle and soon forget anything that might happen, because trust me, a lot will happen :-)

10. Take a minute and relax in Malindi. Trust me, such a holiday, whether brief or long, will wipe away all your life problems and magnify all your blessings afresh.

It was great to hang out with my girls, Adelle, Susan (Q & L), Kaleche, and Clara (who lives in Malindi). I hadn’t been to Malindi since 2011, when I was there filming the annual Malindi Kids Festival. I adore the place, and now with the discovery of The Village (that btw only costs KES 10,000 a day, for a self-contained house that can house up to five people and only KES 35,000 a week), I am set to return soon.

BONUS: If you don’t like the tuk tuk much, The Village offers free shuttle bus service to and from the beach clubs to town. The Village officially opened in October 2013 and is nearly fully booked for the Christmas season. S/O to @goplacesKE @TAC_Village

For more info on flight bookings, accommodation in Malindi & Kenya’s most exclusive properties, visit http://www.theafricancollection.net Regarding tours & travel in Malindi email rayatravelmld@gmail.com

Fatally Crushing

black_roseHusband. That’s what I would like to call you. But that’s not who you are; to me. Like a sailor in the stormy sea, you seem in control of the situation, but even you have lost bearing. Like a tailor at the market, I am sewing and making any possible amends on our cloth but it still isn’t looking too good. As much as I keep hearing potential customers saying that, I am deaf. I only sew and see you.

When I think, I am left alone, you are always there; calling me, saying sweet nothing. At the end of our conversations, you are the skilled con who always leaves me feeling happy to be robbed. You have instilled in me a sense that we are on, so I am happy to be tricked. I am indeed a silly girl and surprisingly, happy to be sick of this. I am happy that we are as in sync, on the streets and between sheets more than in reality.

In summary, you keep paying my heart a courtesy call, playing it like a guitar. The music that we produce is good for the ears now but worthless years from now. My Producer, my engineer and my technician – just why couldn’t you have discovered my talent earlier? It feels like my career is way lost, even before taking off. I endear this way more that I should. And you my dear lead me way faster than you should have.

Now, when I look at you and your lovely family, you seem way cooler than when I look at us. And I realize that I am the loser. I am the dreamer, unable to decipher night from day. Though leaner, my heart delivers a message everyday, that it’s cleaner without you. And like an aeroplane lost in the clouds, the truth is I am unable to land.

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