Category: Real Talk


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 for 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 p.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 continuation of my tales from Netherlands, read Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part I) here. Look out for Part III coming soon.

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.

 

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.

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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.

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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), in the series of my tales from the Netherlands.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

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)Times 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 buggers. 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)

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?

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