Category: Arts + Culture


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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.

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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