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Checking out Berns – Stockholm’s legendary concert venue on the day of D’Angelo’s concert.

I am with Sylvia, finally headed to D’Angelo’s concert. We have been waiting for this moment all our lives; it finally dawns on us. We arrive at the concert venue – Stockholm’s Annexet arena at about 8:00 p.m. This is where The Second Coming Tour stops in Sweden. In fact, the concert starts in about 30 minutes.

There are thousands of people outside the arena queuing for ticketing and security check. I need to get my VIP passes to the backstage at one of the many box offices around the arena. We quickly rush to the one indicated Press Office. “Hi. My name is Anyiko Owoko and I am here to pick my Second Coming backstage passes for the concert tonight from D’Angelo’s Management,” I put on a confident face while on the inside I am freaking the hell out.

I am not a celebrity or movie star – why would his management be so kind to me? How many journalists would die for such access? What if they forgot to leave the passes or someone decides to hoard them from me? There are a million questions racing in my mind.

Two friendly officers send us over to another box office with a fierce-looking lady separated from us by a thick glass window. “What’s your name again?” She asks while carefully examining some eight white envelops sitting on her table. “Anyiko Owoko,” I respond while crossing my fingers so tight. And voila! She has found my name. She glares at the writing on the envelope and then right back at me with that kind of ‘but-who-are-you-look’ – then hands it over.

DSC_0988I am on top of the world! Excitedly I rip the envelope open right there and then. It has two tickets and two backstage passes each indicated Guest. I quickly hand Sylvia’s to her. The VIP passes make us feel different and special; we’re not about to take that damn queue. We head back over to the Press Office, flash our guest tags and the guard quickly leads us into the arena using a back entrance – just like in the movies. It’s a split second in slow motion leaving me a little tipsy. Am I in Nairobi or getting this VIP treatment in a foreign land?

My journey to meeting D’Angelo is like a hurdle race. After every successful jump, is another hurdle to encounter. It was such a hustle getting through to his management. Now that I’ve finally got the backstage passes, my new challenge is how to get in contact with either Cleo of The Vanguard or Alan of D’Angelo’s Management, and eventually D’Angelo.

DSC00198Annexet’s inside is designed like Amsterdam’s Paradiso but its four times bigger than Paradiso. I love it! Not small and not too big. People stream in as we make our way towards the front left area facing the stage. Now that we’ve secured a standing area, I am trying to find more information about these backstage passes. Several security guards eye me with careful scrutiny when I flash my backstage pass asking, “Where does this lead me to?” Most of them don’t really know (weird – huh?), and direct me to their colleagues. I finally get a response from one guard. “This takes you to the backstage and D’Angelo’s dressing room,” he confirms, adding, “But this is a bad time as the concert is about to begin. Make sure you wear it after the concert. Ask any guard in blue to get you someone from D’Angelo’s Management. Only they can escort you to the backstage.”

Wait. Did he just say that this pass leads me to D’Angelo’s dressing room. Oh glory kingdom come! With that assurance, for the first time – I feel like meeting D’Angelo in person later tonight might become a reality.

Dimly lit in orange-ish light, Annexet is charged. The crowd roars and claps after every song the DJ plays, as if in other words protesting “We want D’Angelo!”

Check out: How I met D’Angelo Part I

Look out for the continuation: How I met D’Agelo: Second Coming Review Part III

11082501_965598620131992_3887513584481505353_nIf you are a journalist like me – you constantly have to deal with PR people. They can sometimes rub you the wrong way because of always demanding results, even without employing the best means of communication. But my friend Cedrick Lumiti was never like that, he was king at PR.

We first started communicating via email and phone around 2009. From the get-go, even before meeting Cedrick in person, I gravitated towards his passionate approach towards work. His humour and the sincerity of his laughter was a bonus. Soon, I would start to realize that his style in practicing PR was quite different from the norm – it was very personalized and custom-made, almost for anything he was up to.

In communication, Cedrick covered all loops. He left no room for doubt. He also brought fun to work. After sending an email, he would always quickly follow-up by calling. We would almost always start chatting about everything non-work related before getting to business.

When we finally first met, Cedrick was a little intimidated by my towering figure. I admit that I was a little shocked that a man only four feet, six inches tall had such a big voice, strong demeanor and colossal drive. Thankfully our friendship would emerge tallest.

For the show I host on KBC TV: Grapevine, I hardly missed to attend any event or function that Cedrick managed during his tenure in entertainment-related PR. Some of our great moments at work include covering the Safaricom Lewa Marathon, twice. In a crowded bus to Lewa, full of rowdy journalists, I remember Cedrick shutting down someone’s idea for us to all eat at a fancy hotel. He instead took us to a famous meat-eating kawaida place, and even offered to buy drinks. He knew when to work and when to play – even though sometimes the two wouldn’t be far apart.

When we traveled with him to Eldoret for the 2011 Niko Na Safaricom Live Tour, he helped me hustle for an interview with Redsan before his performance (even though it was against Safaricom tour rules for artists to be interviewed before show). In many ways, we were the same at work—never blinking or letting an opportunity slide. Our friendship was cemented on the mutual admiration for each other’s drive.

On our way back to Nairobi from Eldoret, I convinced Cedrick to allow the driver to take a detour into Molo so we could visit my mum and eat some of that yummy Molo lamb. The man I introduced to my mum as my friend and the media liason for the countrywide tour, loved his shoes clean, but was walking barefoot. It had been a rainy and muddy morning in Eldoret and at some point he threw his dirty shoes away, and then his slippers too because they didn’t look good on him – he thought :-)

During one of his trips to his Kakamega shagz, he would later call me to ask for mum’s contact for her to organize some nyama. “Oh no! Your friend who came to visit me without shoes!? He was so happy and pleasant and had promised to send me credit,” mum remembers Cedrick.

Screenshot_2015-03-21-13-05-29In times when I needed footage at weird times like Sunday night to ensure that I had the news in time for Monday night show, many PR people promised to deliver but didn’t – Cedrick always personally delivered. Whether or not I covered his events and even after leaving entertainment-related PR, he constantly used to watch my show and pass a comment usually by calling. I appreciate that.

His departure from entertainment-related PR in pursuit of further education and growth into bigger PR firms was a very sad thing for me. Nobody else took PR in entertainment as seriously as he did. He also understood how much Arts and Culture meant to me. After his move, he would still send me invites– call–challenge and cajole me to broaden my view of a story angle. His thoroughness in PR has shaped my own career.

Your passing is a great loss to the PR and Communications industry in Kenya. It’s a greater, even immeasurable, loss for me. Cheers to the great times, lessons and memories!

BONUS: My condolences to Cedrick’s friends, colleagues and his young family. May his spirit forever guide us.

Journalists are like vultures to leftovers when around story opportunities. In a few days, I am headed to Sweden to attend D’Angelo’s Stockholm concert (part of the Second Coming Tour in Europe). And even though I haven’t got his contact, I DSC00143am planning to meet and interview the Grammy Award-winning neo soul/R&B singer while there.

I have tried to get through to D’Angelo’s management via several emails, Facebook and tweets but no response. It’s a little frustrating but I won’t relent – I know that either way I will file a feature or two on his triumphant return.

Growing up, my mother never allowed us to get out of the house, unless you were going to school, church or shop. We worked around what we had – which was only finding the world through films and music. My sisters, especially Emma, always had great taste in music—introducing me to grown music at an early age. Even before my teens, my definition of music was synonymous to Tupac, Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, Maxwell and D’Angelo. The rest didn’t matter much.

The thought of meeting D’Angelo then or now is still so foreign to me, a girl born and raised in a small town (Molo). But with my wealth of contacts (perks of being a Publicist) in an increasingly shrinking internet-world, I am doing my best to make it happen. I start to stalk all my European contacts for the hook up and thankfully my girl from Paris, Cleo, puts me in direct contact with The Vanguard’s keyboardist Cleo “Pookie” and D’Angelo’s management :-)

The rest is history.

From the day I arrive in Stockholm, I am almost never chilled out because I can’t wait for D’Angelo’s concert day to meet his people. Is it really going to work? Anxious, I send his tour manager several emails alerting him that I am already in Stockholm and would like to get full details leading up to the Feb 28th concert. But they are quite taken by the Second Coming Tour. I am surprised to get a response. One email says, “You will find your tickets and backstage passes at Stockholm’s Annexet concert venue at 7:30 p.m. on day of concert,” assuring me, “It won’t be complicated.”

So I wait.

I know how hard it is to get through to D’Angelo. As I move closer to his concert day, the more the idea of meeting or interviewing him sounds crazier. But I do have a strong feeling that it might happen. To avoid any jinx, I keep it all under wraps. Only his management, my editors at Nation Newspaper and a few friends know what I am up to.

Read: The Return of D’Angelo: Black Messiah (Album Review)

DSC_0946On the day of the concert, I am with Sylvia in town for some shopping and museum rounds. I spot D’Angelo concert posters everywhere. Today I feel all grown up because amidst the addictive pleasures of travel, I have brought myself this far to work and play.

Whether or not I meet D’Angelo, I am chasing a couple of Kenyan stories in Sweden and will still file a review of The Second Coming Tour concert. And for the cherry on top – I am reuniting with my friend Sylvia at her home in Sweden. Last November we bid each other adieu in Paris, jesting, “Who knows where we’re going to meet each other next …”

Seeing D’Angelo in concert is something I would always want to do at any point in my life. I just never thought I’d ever meet him, especially this way.

In the continuation, check out: How I Met D’Angelo Part II

 

 

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“The best-selling story of a negro teacher in a tough school in London’s East End”

To Sir, With Love is such a wonderful book. E.R Braithwaite has written an autobiography so sumptuous with its many life teachings – making it really one of those tiny books that will change your life. This is one of those books I’ve read a lot about, making our acquaintance sort of like meeting the old friend that you never had.

After studying and graduating in England, Braithwaite works for two years pro bono as a Communications Engineer for the Standard Oil Company before wanting to change jobs. He receives letters for different appointments for the same position at three different firms. Despite his qualifications, he is however always turned down because of his black skin. One time, employers note that he is overqualified saying, “[White people] might resent the posh way you speak …” A dejected Braithwaite sets the scenario, “To many in Britain, a negro is a ‘darky’, ‘nigger’ or ‘black’. [When] one sees Negroes as doctors, lawyers or talented entertainers, they are somehow considered ‘different’ and not to be confused with the mass.”

Sir Falls. Then Rises.

The book’s driving force is when a sad and idling Braithwaite serendipitously meets an old man, disguised as another “garrulous old crank” at St James’s Park. He gives counsel, “A big city cannot afford to have its attention distracted from the important job of being a big city by such a tiny, unimportant item as your happiness or mine. It’s no one’s fault.” Their small yet valuable and powerful conversation turns Braithwaite’s sadness into new inspiration making him apply for a job at an education opening. He becomes the first negro teacher at Greenslade School. His class is the most unruly and has the oldest children in the school. The children have driven numerous teachers away with their bad attitude and rude remarks. But after everything Braithwaite has been though to get a job, he’s determined to stay.

Braithwaite slowly teaches the brats life lessons like how to respect themselves first before other human beings, irrespective of colour. When he gets injured once, one of his students sees his blood and gasps, “Your colour is only skin deep, Sir.” As the older students start to refer to each other respectfully Braithwaite asserts that this is something the younger ones would aim at. He writes, “Every now and then I could overhear the now familiar ‘Sir said …’ expressed with positive finality, a constant reminder of the great responsibility I had undertaken.” Their relationship slowly transforms from bad to worse; then to amicable, and finally such fondness. The class even surprises him with a vase of neatly arranged flowers “collected from the tiny backyards and window boxes of their homes … the most wonderful bouquet in the world.” Even though Sir always subscribes to such exquisite etiquette and the finer things in life, equality and nobility is at his heart. When a local newspaper wants to feature the school, they want to interview Sir as a show of the school’s tolerance to supporting British ideals of equality. Sir however, turns them down not wanting his achievements to be aligned to his skin colour.

The book’s life lessons are many; the most profound being – respect begets respect. For instance, in the ruggedness of the kids, Braithwaite finds their style and individuality. “I could understand that such clothes merely reflected vigorous personalities in a relentless search for self-expression.” One of Braithwaite’s colleagues applauds his efforts, “You’ve made good of this job, you treat them with kindness and courtesy and what’s more they’re learning a lot with you.” This book teaches us that even those who seem most undeserving of anything deserve to be given a chance and be treated with respect.

Sir Falls in Love

When Braithwaite falls in love with a white lady, Gillian, he sees how their association exposes her to “vindictive faces and hard stares”. He writes, “It seems as though there was an unwritten law in Britain which required any healthy, able-bodied negro resident there to be either celibate by inclination, or else a master of the art of sublimation … We were to be men, but without manhood.” They are faced with difficulty if they stay together and even more difficulty if they don’t.

Braithwaite writes almost as beautifully as his own love story unfolds, “Life followed no pattern, no planned course. Before tonight I had not even kissed this sweet, beloved girl, yet now, for good or ill, the die was cast. I was afraid of this sweet person prepared to link her life to mine. But others had met this problem before and had succeeded in rising above it” She tells him, “I am not very brave about what people will say and things like that but I do love you completely. I’ll try to be good for you, I think we can be happy together.”

The death and funeral of a parent of one of Braithwaite’s students’ is the book’s ultimate gift of redemption. Seales’ mother was a white lady married to a negro. But still, most of Braithwaite’s students say they can’t go to his home to pass their condolences when Seales’ mother dies, because of what “the rest” will think of them visiting a black person’s home. This disappoints Braithwaite. He feels that they should have borrowed a leaf from the new ideals he’s taught them. Their headmaster warns, “This is a community with many strong racial and religious tensions and prejudices, most of them of long-standing …” Braithwaite decides to go to the funeral solo. Depressed by thoughts of his class; meeting them there, after all, becomes the book’s turning point. He sheds a tear, thinking, “These brutal, disarming bastards, I love them …” Braithwaite always has a sense of humour even in despair—some of his frustration in the book always bursts into comic relief.

Like life – To Sir, With Love isn’t perfect. Being told from Braithwaite’s experience and impressions, we don’t encounter a lot of other black people never subjected to prejudice or up against it; neither do we get a chance to get into the minds of those strongly against racism. There is room to question the objectivity of its themes. I am disappointed that the Sir in the book’s title isn’t the old man who sparks Braithwaite’s wits in teaching and mentoring. However, he writes, “I hope that he may one day read these pages and know how deeply grateful I am for that timely and fateful meeting.”

To Sir, With Love is timeless. Over 50 years later and we can still directly link it to the core message of the Black Lives Matter Movement. “It is easy to reach a gun or a knife but then you become merely a tool and the gun or knife takes over, thereby creating new and bigger problems without solving a thing. So what happens when there is no weapon handy?”

BONUS: It’s fitting that Sir Sidney Poitier who stars in the movie adaptation of the book To Sir, With Love – happens to be the first black person to win an Academy Award for Best Actor (for his role in Lilies of the Field). After To Sir, With Love, Poitier went on to star in two other acclaimed films dealing with issues involving race: In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

 

maxresdefaultJ. Cole isn’t your typical rapper. He’s probably the most strategic in the game in recent times. In his second album Born Sinner, he writes a song for hip hop legend Nas – Let Nas Down – yet in his latest album: 2014 Forest Hills Drive (FHD) he raps about having No Role Modelz. In FHD, J. Cole replaces the s with z in songs like Wet Dreamz, A Tale of 2 Citiez and Love Yourz – just like Tupac did in songs from one of the greatest hip hop albums All Eyez on Me.

It’s weird trying to review J. Cole’s calculations. Maybe I am being too critical but FHD feels a little more structural and thought through than his previous albums: Born Sinner and Cole World. However, of all albums FHD is the expression that finally graduates Cole into the school of real rap and independence. Most notable is the fact that this is the first all Cole-World album, featuring no guests or collaborations.

Unlike J. Cole’s mixtapes, albums before FHD had some straight up feel-good music like Can’t Get Enough, Lights Please and In the Morning. But FHD is a move back towards the mixtapes raw vibe. FHD is no mainstream bubble gum music. “The lyrics are powerful,” noted my good friend Jojo, adding, “I was never a die-hard J. Cole fan but this album is perfect. If you’re looking for turn up tunes you’ll be disappointed but if you’re looking for music about real situations then this album is a gem. He spits about angst, fake people, being black in America, happiness, dreams, success, romance and hustling.”

The bravado in Born Sinner’s Villuminati takes new shape and form in FHD’s songs like Fire Squad and G.O.M.D. Plus you don’t just call a song Get Out of My Dick. In songs like January 28th Cole namedrops rap geniuses like Rakim, Kendrick and Drake—some well-crafted egotistical rap, synonymous to Kendrick Lamar’s Control verse. Songs like Apparently and Fire Squad are such dope songs!

FHD is some type of masterpiece but still not the best of Cole. My gut tells me. I feel this is as close as he’s ever come to legend status. Hope he hasn’t disappointed Nas here :-)  In summary I love Cole’s evolution, I really can’t wait to hear what’s next.

I am very selective when it comes to rappers. I look out for the skill of rap, the delivery, punch line originality and the story, Most of my ideal rappers are those that have mastered all these qualities: Tupac, Wale, LL Cool J, Pusha T, Lil Wayne, etc. A die-hard Tupac and Eminem fan, I am biased to the idea that good rap music should have dope rhymes and punch lines and still make sense. No doubt – J. Cole is a legend in the making.

 

dangelo_wide-79c17be966d05cf20c4eb86d01d85b7bf43a3c63-s1100-c15D’Angelo no longer has abs for days like he used to but his long-awaited new record and return is just as sexy, if not sexier.

The album: Black Messiah is a sophisticated-near-futuristic reminder of some type of music rarity and timelessness that I can only relate to his past albums: Voodoo (2000) and Brown Sugar (1995) or Maxwell’s debut album Urban Hang Suite (1996).

The return of the former R&B sex symbol – to me, is like how it would feel for die-hard Jesus followers when the real Messiah returns. In a statement included in the album, D’Angelo reveals that the title Black Messiah was inspired by events in Ferguson and New York. “Black Messiah title is about all of us,” he writes, adding, “It’s not about praising one charismatic leader but celebrating thousands of them.”

So what exactly makes Black Messiah such a gem and so damn sexy? It’s not really because of any utterance of sex in the songs’ lyrics but a slewed mesh of musical elements and strong messages. Black Messiah isn’t about one genre but such multi-dimensional songs and sounds, delivered with a punch that leaves you feeling a little dizzy and sometimes drugged. By the time 1000 Deaths gets to the end, the electric guitars make the song sound exactly how a cultic ritual would if music was involved. Ain’t That Easy is such a sweet entry into the album. D’Angelo has said severally that Prince is his biggest music inspiration. This song is rock–it is Prince.

Certain elements in the album enhance the general narcoticism of D’Angelo’s music. Betray My Heart is at the peak of it all and its theme – at the height of the art of loving someone. We normally strive not to break others’ hearts but when who you love is your definition of love, and you make that synonymous to your heart – surely you can’t hurt your heart.

With a twist and swing to it, this is probably the sweetest and deepest song (after Really Love) in Black Messiah. This song is proof that only D’Angelo’s instrumentation speaks almost as loud as his lyrics. As his ad-libs to “baby – stay right here…” rise in falsetto, the guitars and drums scream sexually with an ascending pace to the lyrics. Please tell me this isn’t sex.

If you’re looking for a really great and well-written song, Really Love it is. What is love? This song and books like Love in the Time of Cholera have taught me that love is different for everyone. Love is what you want it to be, and you can find it in the simplest of places or the extremes of suffering. “When you call my name, when you love me gently, when you’re walking near me, Doo doo wah, I’m in really love with you …” –sings D’Angelo in the first verse. Now I’d love to be in really love, such deep love that will make me talk in tongues like ” Doo doo wah …”

If you’re looking for some dope neo soul Till its Done (Tutu), Back to the Future (Part I), Prayer and Suggah Daddy are must-listens! The Charade is some type of odd sound that only music weirdos like me will really enjoy.

While Black Messiah sometimes sounds like one piece of music, every song ends up having it’s own uniqueness, edge and vibe. You’re guaranteed that loads of elements in the album will leave you bopping your head in surprise that all these elements fit in one place.

While D’Angelo was away, ladies worshipped sex gods like Miguel, Trey Songz and Usher. Other legendary figures in neo soul like Maxwell released albums – read a review of Blacksummers Night. But ladies never really forgot about D’Angelo’s olden sexy demeanour in his famed racy music video: Untitled (How Does it Feel).

To make a return just as sexy without that bod is proof that D’Angelo’s music is more than the visual aspect. It’s a psychological thing that the image of nude younger D and his music has since planted in our minds since we saw that video.

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After two decades of missing a very important figure in neo soul music, call it bravado or cocky but D’Angelo and the Vanguard couldn’t have named this return anything better than the Black Messiah. Its title and release (December 2014) has been associated with the Black Lives Matter Movement. Inside the album D’angelo writes, “Not every song in this album is politically charged (though many are) … Black Messiah isn’t about one man. It’s a feeling, that collectively, we are all that leader …”

After struggling with drug addiction, surviving a fatal road accident and taking a sabbatical from music—this return, so solid and soulful, has proven to the world, at a time when speculations run wild about the slow death of R&B and evolving genres, that D’Angelo is a Messiah of sorts. Maybe most accurately – the Messiah of R&B, neo soul, funk, jazz and still– sex.

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Electrafrique can throw some mean parties!

2014 is the first year I have felt bad to leave behind. Full of surprises like a piñata, mine was filled with small joys like meeting new friends from around the world and establishing classic bonds with them in record time. When all this was broken by unsaid goodbyes, we were all left in celebration of life’s little pleasures.

This year I bid farewell to employment. I work for myself and with whom I want. This has made me extremely dependent on my creativity, ideas and instincts. I have become a slave to my own schedule; so I can stay up all night and sleep all day or take a week off to travel off to wherever I deem fit. People think that this arrangement allows you to sleep more hours, you actually work more hours – if you’ve got stuff to do like I do. Setting up my PR agency and working with other artists like Suzanna Owiyo, Lynxx and Chidinma was dope! Working with Electrafrique was another dope thing about 2014. I already have a few dope artists confirmed for 2015, so it can only get spicier! Also pimping the company, it’s just about time to handle bigger gigs.

Starting to write for Nation this year is one of my major accomplishments. I am so glad I now have a wider platform to share all these amazing Arts & Culture stories from Kenya and around the world. Check out some of my articles below:

Project takes African film to world

Winners of Slum Film Festival headed for big screens

Why vernacular plays rule the stage

Why Kenyan music misses the cut

First local play on Westgate horror staged

In the seven years I have worked with Sauti Sol as their publicist, 2014 was the height of our union. Winning Best African Act an MTV EMA Award was priceless. And to be the first Kenyans to do this is historic. Their video Nishike being declared by Google the Most Viewed Video in Kenya in 2014 was awesome! When I first heard the news I remembered its release day so vividly, it’s the one Sauti Sol release day that I never slept one wink for more than 30 hours. Sleepless nights pay off. Touring Europe with Sauti Sol and attending Nynke and Steve’s wedding in Netherlands was really special. Check out Wedding of the Year!

Tales from Amsterdam

Fulfilling another one of my dreams – visiting Paris, in 2014 was dope! I still can’t believe I saw the real Mona Lisa, the Eiffel Tower and sampled some of that yummy French cuisine.

Tales from France

Travelling to Turkana this year marks a checklist off my life’s to-do lists. I have always wanted to see all parts of Kenya. I can’t be more content knowing in 2015 I have a couple of upcoming projects with organizations working in Turkana.

Tales from Turkana

Travelling to Dar es Salaam was also great. I got to compare and contrast bongo’s entertainment scene with Nairobi’s. Read all about it!

Maintaining old friends and making new ones was a beautiful thing. As you grow older, you really feel like you’ve had enough of close friends but this year taught me something—it’s just never too late for new stuff. So thank you to all my old friends. I am only going to mention the new lot :-) Sylvia. Iyobel. Lucia. Brenna—I adore you guys!

Uniting with Brenna

Letting go of others gave me room to accommodate other people and just be happy. Love shouldn’t ever cause anyone hurt. And I’ve figured you’re better off without hurt and love, rather than have one and not the other. But I want to be at my best.

dannilouiseTransparent5One of my poems was selected by Daniella Blechner, a London author, and published into the anthology: 7 Shades of Love – “a collection of poems written by women and men globally”. Like what? This one has made me so happy! :-)

Get the book via Amazon or via www.daniellablechner.com

2014 has taught me to believe in myself, and those who believe in me. It has taught me to listen to people and follow signs. I grew up when I had to travel around Europe alone in one week (I owe you guys this blog post). It’s taught me to spend on the intangibles – to cherish the untouchables. It’s taught me to keep giving, and that way I keep getting more in return. It’s taught me to love, and taught my heart to forgive and let go. I just don’t care as much as I used to. And then sometimes I care just a little too much.

My hustle being appreciated by a couple of publications was dope! read some of them below:

In The Cottage With: ANYIKO OWOKO

MEET: Multi-talented media genius Anyiko Owoko

Meet Anyiko Owoko, Celebrity Publicist to Kenya’s Afro-pop Sauti Sol

My best friend Bunny getting engaged to her boyfriend from our high school days was a major inspiring moment. Love is true – forget what anyone said. My new nieces Nya and Chrissy and my nephew Santa have brought me such happiness.

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 16.04.34Celebrating my birthday in the wild was something! Plus there’s nothing like taking a balloon ride. Read about my bday celebration with Smiles and Daniel.

For a music lover like me, tracking down 22tracks and meeting Tabu Ley’s son in Paris was just it! Enough.

I could go on and on but at the end the accomplishments and experiences of a whole year couldn’t be summarized in one or two blog posts; words can’t even do justice. In summary, this is my best year yet and with this kind of vagabond energy I am ready to do everything and nothing. I am ready to live in the moment and not be tied down by anything or anyone. After all – it’s my life.

 BONUS: Thank you to everyone who touched me this year. Thank you if you let me touch you :-) Thank you Black Roses subscribers – we are at over 9,000 now! Big Fam Yo!

Wish you all a Kickass New Year!

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When in Paris – eat EVERYTHING at Paul Bakery. Thank me later.

I should be arrested for not having French toast while in Paris. But life is meaningless without breaking rules or committing any crime. Excuse me but I hardly ever have breakfast while in Europe or any other foreign land. I normally need at least a month to adjust to new places. I am normally sleeping in during breakfast time. Brunch is my thing. Plus I eat so many yummy baguettes in Paris.

On my second day in Paris, I am hanging out with my friends. We are pressed for time. There’s so much to do but such little time. Instead of visiting several museums and some romantic places like Pont des Arts, the romantic lovers’ bridge with countless padlocks; I’ve decided that we are going into town to find a great restaurant serving some good food.

I am10867234_10152856994762559_1813695895_n with Sylvia, Nynke, Steve and Chimano – the usual suspects. It’s a warm Sunday afternoon, and somehow most restaurants aren’t opened but we are determined to get a nice place to eat. We finally end up at café Benjamin, not too far from The Louvre. We sit by the patio and it’s perfect because we can feel the warmth of the shy sunshine and glimpse at fashionable street walkers (no pun intended). I want to have Steak-frites, a common dish served in Brasseries throughout Paris and Europe.

The waiter at Le Benjamin is so jolly it’s insane. He looks like a Chinese yet he can’t speak good English or French. He keeps shouting while talking gibberish and laughing out loud for no reason. ‘I really want what this man is having,’ I tell myself. Our food accompanied by a couple of glasses of beer, wine and espressos arrives. It’s all heaven. We savour it down as if it is our last day at eating as we exchange global stories from our respective countries: Netherlands, Kenya and Sweden.
10846947_10152856992697559_1382437728_n10841365_10152856998992559_456766178_nIt’s also Papa’s birthday – Steve’s bro in Mombasa. Steve pulls out his cell phone and we all record for him a Happy Birthday song. This distracts the elderly couple sitting next to us. They are Chinese and ask us where we are from and what brings us to Paris. We start to exchange stories. They say that they’ve been in Paris for the past two weeks and today is their last. They are excited to hear that some of us are from Kenya because they’ve been to Kenya’s Maasai Mara once and they loved it. They look like a stinking rich duo from China – travelling the world in 365 days. “We travel a lot,” the lady says, adding, “It had been a while since I returned to Paris, The last time I was here I was 14 years old.” She’s now in her 80s but looks like she’s 65—what good life does to you.

Later on in the night, we join the rest in visiting Sacré-Cœur Basilica, located at the highest point in the city. Walking down from the basilica, I am astounded by the beauty of Paris bistros located along the narrow roads down the hill from the basilica. We find an Italian restaurant where we have some really dope Italian and French food. Funny thing, we have had such a long day and a lot of wine that nobody cares to check the restaurant’s name. It’s located on the right side of Montmarte hill if you’re heading down along Rue des Martyrs, one of the busiest streets of shops and cafes in Pigalle area.

I have eaten the most steak I have had in my life in the three nights I’ve dined in Paris. I want more spice and chillies and the waitress presents me with an oily wine chilly in a bottle. “Just pour on your food,” she instructs. We dine with Cleopatra, the awesome lady who has played an instrumental role in organizing our trip to France. She’s so cool and classy and tells me a lot of stories about living and dining in France. For instance, the French don’t serve sausages or frites for breakfast. In other words, this is no city for chips funga – only love.

10863549_10152856990397559_797722014_nA few days later, I pass by Lille, a lovely city north of France. I am not a sweet tooth but decide to try out a pretty little cup cake from a bakery at the shopping mall. It’s the most explosive little thing I have ever encountered. Bursting with freshness and goodness, I even discover some sweet gel inside of it. France has restored and fed my appetite.

In the flight back to Nairobi, while leaving Paris, I am stuck in a flight headed to Seychelles via Abu Dhabi. Several Korean and Chinese people are inside. They must be tourists globetrotting. The hostesses have served me the best potato salad in the world. I wish I could ask or more or ask someone for theirs. But I am embarrassed. As if the gods really do hear us out, the Korean man sitting behind me taps me to hand over their salad. Like a silent mafia transaction, he doesn’t say anything other than hand it over and I don’t say anything other than receive it. People only offer you food when you ask or if you look like a street child or beggar – things I don’t look like. I don’t know why he gave me his food but anything Paris gave me – I gobbled it down without a second thought.

Thank you Cleo and Brenna for being such awesome company and guides.

BONUS: A survey of over 500 people through rsvp.com.au considered French food to be a turn on and a French restaurant was more romantic than an Italian meal. And the fact that French people care less for how much you eat is my driving force. The customer service I received was delicate and delivered with tender care, almost as if I owed the restaurants something.

Read the complete To and Fro Paris with Love series:

To Paris with Love (Part I)

To Paris with Love (Part II)

From Paris with Love: The Eiffel Tower (Part I)

From Paris with Love: Amitié (Part II)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part III)

10841567_10152855080632559_21613601_nThe last few days of 2014 have seen my appetite turn from okay to wild. I don’t care that I am so busy trying to finish up work pending in 2014, I want food when I want it. I blame this to the French cuisine I recently sampled in Paris. The French don’t care for calories or time it takes to make a meal or wait to be served but that it’s made at par with food for kings and queens.

On returning to Kenya, I start to wonder how I am going to satisfy my food cravings. There is crazy traffic getting in and out-of-town, especially during this holiday season, so making my way to my favourite restaurants or food joints is a NO. NO. Well, not any more since I discovered hellofood.

hellofood don’t deliver food to the route where I reside but that’s okay because when I am at home I can cook up whatever I want. In a city with such slow service, a foodie like me would rather whip it up myself or stand by the counter to cajole the chef. So I am trying out hellofood on my last day at my office job this year. I desperately need something to eat and I am under a lot of pressure. I want to see if the food will arrive on time and just as I had specified.

1c8b642It was a great experiment on a crazy Monday trying to complete my stories on KBC’s Grapevine TV Show. It took seconds to download the app on my cell phone and a minute to find all the restaurants close to my location in Nairobi CBD. I think I want to have some yummy grilled chicken, salad and chips. And it’s been ages since I had anything from Steers.

The registration is so fast, no email notifications or confirmations – nobody has time for that. The app says it’s free for my food to be delivered and that it will take about 60 minutes. It takes less than 30 minutes (well my office on Harry Thuku Road is pretty close to Steers – but still). It’s great cropped-logo21to find an app I can trust with my food.

BONUS: Check out hellofood’s service. For more on my food tales from Paris, check out From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part III)

10866683_10152854035642559_784345967_nI am surprised that Paris food didn’t get me pregnant. There’s nothing I do as much as enjoy French food while in France. French cuisine has taught me something about my basic needs. My perfect world doesn’t have to have Blair Underwood in my bed but fresh and soft French toast and fresh baguettes for breakfast.

My love for French food and voracious appetite starts as soon as I arrive at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) when the taxi man (who only speaks French) Dennys buys me a chicken sandwich in baguette. This thing is the best sandwich I’ve had all my life! The baguette has parmesan and cheese. The bread is so soft and fresh with an outer crust so delicate, crisp and crunchy (the good-kind that doesn’t graze the inside of your upper mouth). The chicken is almost better than the 6-month old Kienyeji kukus from my mother’s farm. It’s so yummy the ooooohs and 10846981_10152854039547559_1361421982_nahhhhh and ummmmmms won’t stop. But I bought this at Paul Bakery – it isn’t even a restaurant and the food is this good?  I know I’ll enjoy food here.

I haven’t had a real meal in more than ten hours. I am really looking forward to my first meal at Le Suffren. I love this restaurant because it’s right by The Eiffel Tower. Walking inside somehow feels like a Parisian experience. It has a typical bistro feel with glass walls and wine-coloured vintage furniture. I am those kind of eaters who tell waiters, glaring at the table next to mine, “I want what they are having!” But today I can’t decide whose food I want to eat, because we’re all too close to each other–I like to window shop from a distance. Despite Le Suffren’s spacious design, its numerous tables sit close to each other, providing an intimate kind of vibe.

10872230_10152854052257559_596523713_nThe waiters here barely speak English but thankfully the menu is in English and some French. There is so much I want to try out but I settle on Beautiful Charolais sirloin with pepper sauce, fried potatoes and salad. Yes! I will have any food with “Beautiful” at the front of its title. Only in France! The waiter is either a chef or a food expert. He wants to know if I’d like my meat well done or not. He won’t take any unorthodox or un-matching orders, according to French cuisine. “Et du vin, mademoiselle?” He asks. “Oui, white sweet wine, not dry please,” I order. “No! We don’t do that here!” He yells at me. I am shocked at his rudeness and everyone at our table wonders why as he struggles with his English. “This is France. We never eat meat with white wine, never!” Hey, but I don’t like red wine, I try to explain to him. He won’t listen and let me have whatever I want, even though I am paying for it. He wasn’t really being rude, I was just a little offensive :-) We finally reach a consensus and he brings me some young sweet red wine which I absolutely adore.

Red wine is the supposed answer to the French paradoxical fact that French people have low rate of chronic heart diseases despite high saturated fat diet.

10846854_10152854035367559_266574505_nThe garnishing of food at Le Suffren is enough to make me never eat it just to look at this beautiful art of food.

My Charolais sirloin is the kind of perfect that makes you bite at your tongue. I later discover that Charolais originates from a cattle beef breed in Charolais, around Charolles, in France. The serving is a lot yet just enough to make you not want more yet not feel disgusted by your indulgence. We (Me, Marek, Chimano, Polycarp and Bien) also sample Le Suffren’s costly sea dishes. It’s my first time to eat Oysters and I love it! Marek says they are aphrodisiacs too.

I end up missing nights out and sight-seeing in the next few days because I am out eating. This is the first time I am in a foreign place and won’t compromise food for anything. I now know that food is the only way to any woman’s heart, too. What’s the best cuisine? The Jan/Feb 2015 issue of my best read, Intelligent Life, poses in the Big Question as seven writers champion their favourite of distinct national cuisines. The food writer Bee Wilson celebrates the carelessness and perfection of French cuisine. What’s the best cuisine? “Its genius can be seen in delicate fish soups with a dollop of fiery rouille; rare onglet steak and salds of green beans; tiny wedges of big-tasting cheese. It’s there in the habit of avoiding snacks between meals, not from self-denial, but because hunger is the best sauce,” she writes. I wouldn’t have put it any better.

People who really know me, know my love for food but they will be surprised to hear that Paris is the only place that actually shows me how much I love food. All this time I thought I just liked food but now I am open to travel extensively just to love food. I wouldn’t mind relocating to Paris for a year, just to eat. I think I would care less if I ate too much in France and added weight like Elizabeth Gilbert did during her time in Italy.

I have even added just a little weight from the three days of indulgence in Paris. “Your bod’s new look is refreshing!” A friend from Nairobi notes after seeing me after the trip. Another asserts after my tales, “Italian food has got nothing on Parisian food. You’ve had the best!” My relationship with French cuisine starts on such a high. It’s so engrossing, I can’t even think of any other thing. It’s not even birthday week but I am about to discover the best little cake I’ve ever had all my life in Lille, a city in the North of France.

Check out the complete To and Fro Paris with Love series:

To Paris with Love (Part I)

To Paris with Love (Part II)

From Paris with Love: The Eiffel Tower (Part I)

From Paris with Love: Amitié (Part II)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part III)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part IV)

BONUS: This post reminds me of the time I enjoyed a Sicilian dinner at the Hague.

10866972_10152845400072559_782372086_nStepping into the Louvre Museum is like stepping out of a poster. The Louvre’s famed large glass pyramid and the two other smaller ones look as spotless clean and surreal just like in the post cards and French textbooks. This futuristic and avant-garde edifice looks almost like it just dropped from a UFO inside Louvre Palace with architecture so classical and vintage.

 

On my second day in Paris, I am hanging out with my super awesome crew: Sylvia, Chim, Nynke and Steve. After lunch, we are off to Musée du Louvre, world’s most visited museum and one of the largest of all. When we arrive, I am astounded by Louvre Palace that houses the museum. Originally a fortress in the late 12th century, this is how royalty looks. I want to walk but my feet are stuck as my senses try to adapt to an environment so grand and so inspiring, I am left speechless. It’s the same feeling I felt the first time I walked into Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.

 

 

Meeting Sylvia again in Paris, just a few months after our awesome time in Netherlands (NL) this summer is a dream come true! If I didn’t have her in my life, I wouldn’t know it, but now I know that I would have missed out big time. Sylvia is the only person on this planet who understands my fascination for real art, as I understand hers. For us, art is in every detail of life. From the shoes we wear, to the pattern and soul of the streets we walk. Art is like a butterfly or chameleon; hard to stay put or define but keeps metamorphosing. A few months ago, we visited all top museums in Amsterdam. But we’ve also found art outside museums, like in words, sounds and scents. Sylvia is the only person I know who describes scents as if they were champions or freedom fighters. One time she describes a Channel perfume as radical. She would really enjoy Intelligent Life features and poetry on perfumes or jewels. In Paris, she’s brought me almost all perfumes she could find with my blog’s name: Black Roses. Rose Noir is really dope!

For more on customised scents & fragrances, check out Sylvia’s Sense of Scent

 

10877524_10152845417957559_152188571_nAfter queuing, getting tickets and passing security check, we are finally inside the Louvre museum. Hundreds of people are streaming in. When I look around me and above the cathedral ceilings, I start to think of Louvre’s 35,000 works of art in eight curatorial departments. I am suddenly overwhelmed! We won’t do it all, even if we wanted, so we quickly decide to go see the most visited work of art in the world—The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.

 

10859657_10152845428132559_801170955_n

Sylvia, is that your hand? :-)

On our way to where she is located, we pass by The Greek, Etruscan, and Roman department displaying pieces from the Mediterranean Basin dating from the 6th century. The statues here have so much personality, I feel like they are Gargoyles. Above the flight of stairs, we see the Winged Victory of Samothrace (Nike of Samothrace). It’s one-winged but for reasons only art can describe, it looks stronger than a Boeing. Created to honour the goddess, Nike; it conveys a sense of triumph and grace. And even though it’s made of rock, its drapery still seems soft and flowing.

 

The Mona Lisa

Walking towards the museum’s Salle des États, where The Mona Lisa can be viewed is like a pilgrimage. There are so many people clearly following the directions along the corridors to the masterpiece’s resting place. I am glad we can take pictures and videos but a little disappointed that the real The Mona Lisa isn’t as big as I had anticipated she would be. The art piece, older than 500 years, is displayed inside a thick bulletproof glass is quite small, maybe just a little bigger than an A4 Size.

 

The Mona Lisa is listed by the Guinness World Records as having the highest insurance value for a painting in history and assessed at US $100 million. In 1911, an Italian employee stole Mona Lisa to keep her safe in his apartment. Several artists including Pablo Picasso were held in suspicion of the theft and later released. After two years, the culprit was arrested when he tried to sell The Mona Lisa to museum directors in Italy. He is said to have believed that Mona Lisa should have always been in custody of Italians because it was painted in Italy. The theft is what first made Mona Lisa hot property within the art world.

 

 

On our way out, I pass by the Louvre bookshop. It has just about everything with a stamp of Mona Lisa. We don’t have much time here but I grab Mona Lisa postcards, mug, fridge magnet, bookmarks and Louvre postcards. Need to send some to my nieces Zuri, Nya and Rose.

As I walk out of the Louvre, I still can’t believe I am right at the place where Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code touches on the myth behind the pyramid’s supposed 666 panes of glass. The sun is starting to go down and reflects beautifully on the waters along the pyramids floors. Such magic! As we make our way out, a French photographer stops me. She wants a picture of me by the pyramids. I let her snap away, vicariously living my dream of being a supermodel.

10847004_10152845436617559_1406930081_nThe half-length portrait of The Mona Lisa might be small but its mystery is grand. She continues to be a fascination and study of work. Her expression so imposing, is often described as enigmatic. She really is looking at me from all sides. She’s also mad at one point and then seems to throw a smug face all at once. Even though she freaks me out, I am glad I saw Mona Lisa.

BONUS: Thank you Nynke, Steve, Sylvia and Chim for the super time and company. I love you guys. Wonder where we are going to be all together, again :-)

y’all look out for my series of blog posts on my art museums expedition in Netherlands with Sylvia and Chimano. Starting soon …

You might dig my other tales from Paris, check out From Paris with Love: The Eiffel Tower (Part I)

 

 

 

France venueNever been with Sauti Sol (Best African Act 2014 MTV EMA) to a venue more magical than where they are performing tonight in Paris—Les Calanques.

Shaped like a ship and glass-walled, the venue lies along one of Paris serene water canals. At night I see a white ship cruising past in slow motion. There’s an all-white party with tables inside covered with all sorts of food, fruits and wine. It’s not summer or Christmas yet but people inside are having a merry time. How I’d give everything to be on a cruise (note to self when I go visit my sister in Florida). They are probably going to end up at Amsterdam harbour, just near where I was staying last summer.

SS Live in ParisThis Saturday night is beauty. Paris golden lights glitter through the glass from the back of the stage where Sauti Sol is performing like it’s their last. Right in the middle, I can see the The Eiffel Tower standing strong among skyscrapers. It’s always great to see Sauti Sol this content and confident while doing what they love to do. Managing backstage interviews, pictures with fans and celebrities in Paris, is one of my toughest times working as Sauti Sol’s Publicist. But we all pull through :-)

Having my friends (from across Europe) with me tonight makes me feel like I am not as far from home as I am. In fact, for some seconds, I don’t really know where we are, other than exactly where we want to be. The last time I felt like this was at Steve & Nynke’s Wedding. Home must be wherever you belong. Just the other day was with my Kenyan friend, Emo, in Nairobi and now we are partying in Paris. Same with the rest Nynke and Steve (Amsterdam), Sylvia (Stockholm) – from a happy summer in Netherlands, we meet again in Paris. I am in the city I always dreamt of visiting. And my first time couldn’t be any better with this kind of company.

BrennaIt’s also an amazing feeling to finally connect with my journalist friend Brenna, who lives here and works at France 24. We have the most meant-to-be-reunion. It’s almost like we always knew each other. And as it would turn out, this meeting only makes us closer and better friends. Brenna is the prettiest girl I’ve seen in France throughout my stay. I help facilitate her interviews with Sauti Sol for France 24 and RFI. And we can’t help but giggle at nearly every one of our conversations and discoveries like how much she resembles my Swedish friend Lisa. It’s so freaky, even Lisa comments on an Instagram photo of us saying, “I thought that was our TBT.”

Check out On the edge of stardom with African MTV winners Sauti Sol via France 24.

Lift friendship

My darling sweeties: Chimano & Sylvia meet Brenna.

I adore Brenna because I see myself in her. She’s as passionate as I am in journalism and a true lover of discovery and challenges. I just love how she mixes work and play, exactly how I do. She does part of the interview at the hotel and picks up every tiny detail along the way, even things I say in passing – this is my exact style.

We have a ball at the concert! When we are together, we can’t stop with the creative ideas on features we could file together. We have in the past shared a lot of stories and ideas, and even collaborated on some but our meeting makes us plan on doing our first official joint juxtaposition feature on Paris/Nairobi in 2015. We’re going to do something for radio and print—that’s all I can reveal for now.

Read Brenna’s feature on Children with cancer abandoned at Kenya’s largest hospital for France 24’s The Observers, inspired by a story I filed from my Visit to the Children’s Ward at Kenyatta National Hospital Children’s Ward.

Brenna sort of reminds me of my best friend Bunny. She’s got that cool I-don’t-care-I’ma-do-me vibe. She’s the kind of friend you can always count on, even when you haven’t seen or given them a call for a year. She’s true. Even before my arrival in Paris, she wants to know everything I would like to do so she can help in every way. “I want to take selfies by The Eiffel Tower,” my first request. “You’re pretty cheap,” she jests. A few days later, I see her true colours. When I almost miss my bus to Netherlands, she offers me a place to stay. When we think I am about to miss my flight back to Abu Dhabi, thanks to the grand affair that is Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG), she offers me a place to stay. All these times, she is constantly texting and calling if not accompanying or receiving me at one end.

She’s like the best friend I never had, but could still have. Plus she’s met and interviewed one of my favourite musicians on this planet Lianne Le Havas. Keeping my fingers crossed so Brenna can come to Kenya in 2015 so we can work on that feature and I can show her around my country, city and hood.

BONUS: Thank you to MVC Events Paris for hosting Sauti Sol in Paris.

Check out the complete To and Fro Paris with Love series:

To Paris with Love (Part I)

To Paris with Love (Part II)

From Paris with Love: The Eiffel Tower (Part I)

From Paris with Love: Amitié (Part II)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part III)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part IV)

10841221_10152834053202559_489482431_n“It’s an honour yet a challenge to be Tabu Ley’s son. People want me to be exactly like my Dad. But it’s impossible because I am another man,” says Pegguy Tabu Ley, a musician in his own right. His father is the celebrated Congolese singer and songwriter, Tabu Ley Rochereau, famed for his inimitable song-writing skills and extensive discography (250 albums).

I first got introduced to Pegguy’s music by Cleo (one of the ladies organising Sauti Sol’s concert in Paris tonight, where Pegguy will perform too). I found his voice extremely sweet and alluring making him one of the people I am looking forward to meet when I arrive in France.

When I am finally around him at the concert venue before kick off, nobody introduces us to each other. He is however kind enough to come introduce himself (just as Pegguy). We speak some French. I don’t recognise him from the music videos though I assume he’s just another awesome singer. It must be events that have occurred in the past 24 hours. To get here, I have just spent over 16 hours between airports and haven’t slept one bit since arrival.

Read the series: To Paris with Love.

I like his headphones and style. His harem sweatpants are dope. He’s very keen when any type of music starts to play in the room. And zones out in a dance when Sauti Sol run soundcheck. He seems pretty excited by their sound. I explain my work as their publicist, after which he tells me he would love to work with them. I only discover that Pegguy is Tabu Ley’s son after I’ve left the venue. Polycarp of Sauti Sol tells me, “You know that was Tabu Ley’s son you were talking to…” No kidding! I retort. This is long after we’ve already exchanged contacts.

Seeing Pegguy perform later on leaves me speechless. In Swahili we say, sauti ya kutoa nyoka pangoni. He’s got that kind of voice that will get you hooked like superglue. It’s almost like old meets new. It’s got some of that Tabu Ley finesse and a crispy run that can give Fally Ipupa a run for his money. Sometimes, he sounds just like Tabu Ley.

Tabu Ley is credited for pioneering Sokous (African rumba) music and mentoring some great Congolese singers like Papa Wemba (who I met and interviewed this year. I need to finish that report). In 1985, Tabu Ley composed for M’bilia the song “Twende Nairobi” (Na Ke Nayirobi) for their friends from Nairobi, after the Government of Kenya banned all foreign music from the National Radio service. The song soon became a Pan-African hit and one that resonated with many Kenyans forcing the then President to lift the ban. “My father had more than 3000 songs,” says Pegguy while trying to recall the song. I refresh his memory, “It means let’s go to Nairobi.” He remembers it quickly declaring his love for it.

“When Tabu Ley played, my life nearly came to a stop,” says Leonard Mambo Mbotela about Kenya’s attempted coup in 1982.

Renowned Queen of Congolese rumba, M’bilia Bel rose to fame after being discovered by Tabu Ley, who ended up marrying her. “Is your mummy M’bilia?” I’ve been itching to ask Pegguy. “No. My mum is Mundy, Miss Zaire in 1969. My father had many songs about her.” I see where he gets the looks. “And she is still beautiful,” he adds cheekily. Tabu had many women and many children (up to 68), the latter whom Pegguy says he knows most of. In fact he’s been working closely with his brother, French rapper Youssoupha.

Pegguy moved to Europe as a young boy together with his family. He is now based in Luxembourg. 2008 was the first time he returned to his native Congo since the move. He says, “I found my own way through my father’s music but Congo made me discover my real music identity.” Despite having worked as a composer and producer with some top artists in France like Vitaa, Diam’s and Booba, Pegguy is now concentrating all his efforts towards his solo career and reaching out to Congo. He has started a series of shows “Pegguy Tabu sings Tabu Ley” that shuffle in between Luxembourg and Congo.

In a few weeks (Jan 2015) Pegguy will be in Congo to promote his music. By the end of 2015, he will have launched his first solo album -“a mix of European, American and African music.” He sends me his new Lingala song,”Limbisa” (Forgive). The baby-making song is a distant relative to “Signs of Love Makin” by Tyrese. It’s unreleased and might be his next, he tells me. It’s got that Rico Love quiet storm R&B vibe, and vocals that will make the ladies wonder where Pegguy has been all this time.

tabu-ley-hidden-gems

“If you want success, you must be in the service of people.”- biggest life lesson Pegguy says he learnt from his Dad.

Tabu Ley died in 2013 while undergoing treatment for a stroke he suffered in 2008. Pegguy reveals that his Dad’s gregarious character and humour is the one thing the world never knew of Tabu. He says he also misses his Dad’s counsel the most.

A reveller comments after a Pegguy 2012 concert in Congo, “Pegguy is not a continuation but the resurrection of Tabu Ley.” While Pegguy can’t run from being constantly compared to his father, he’s on a mission to define his own sound. It’s a thin line that sometimes excites him just as much as it brings frustration. He beams, “People in Congo were impressed by the similarity of my voice to my father’s.” While many people want to hear just Tabu Ley in Pegguy, he’s cut out from a cloth that draped him for a bigger garment. “My Dad wanted me to be a singer for the people,” says Pegguy, who seems content living his Dad’s wish—just making music for people, irrespective of where they are from. In fact, he is interested in my PR services to promote his singles in Kenya, a venture I am considering very seriously.

Tabu Ley was my late father’s favourite singer. For the first eight years of my life, only Tabu Ley music played the most at our house. I tell Pegguy, who only responds with a “Cool!” Tabu Ley was and still is the King of rumba for so many of our parents; could you imagine the number of people who say that to any of Tabu’s kids? Either way – meeting his son makes me feel a tad little closer to the stuff that make legend.

BONUS: When I ask Pegguy if I could blog about him and his Dad, I am not sure I will be getting a yes. But he’s cool and even says cooler things about my Black Roses :-) Pegguy Merci beaucoup!

10834003_10152827237672559_2137975466_nI totally understand why an American woman, Erika Eiffel, ‘married’ the Eiffel Tower back in 2007. The thing is a keeper. Only problem I’d have with it being my husband is the fact that its erection must be shared with the whole world.

I expect to see the Eiffel Tower as soon as I step out of Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) Airport. Like many people who dream of seeing the iconic structure, I think it’s the first thing you automatically see when you get to Paris. I discover that Paris is even more grand and swankier than I had imagined it would be. The streets are as beautiful as you could ever dream but wider than you’d suppose. They’ve got so many mini bistros, and bakeries with Baguettes hanging out like flowers in a flower shop. Just like in the movies.

It’s tough love that the first person I encounter soon after my arrival, Denys, the taxi man, doesn’t speak any English. As we make our way out of the wavy tunnels of CDG, I am too fascinated that I just can’t keep my mouth shut. So I grapple and fumble all I can with my French. “OMG! Paris c’est trés belle!” I marvel. Denys smiles and drives a little slowly every time we pass somewhere I could take a photo. “C’est la premier fois pour toi?” He asks and I explain to him that this is the one place I always wanted to visit. I have made his morning because his eyes twinkle. “Nous avons voir la tour Eiffel quand nous arrivons?” I want to know which side the tower will be so I don’t miss to see it but Denys tells me that it’s way off our route, and that the other taxi man, Faker (yes – quite the name) will drive past it a little later.

The weather isn’t as harsh as how everyone here had described it to me before my arrival. It feels exactly like the temperatures in Molo, my hometown—I associate with this kind of cold. The air smells as crisp as Mountain Dew and the shy sunshine’s rays make me want more.

N**as in Paris

First group photo in Paris! From left, Tito (Sauti Sol Bass guitarist), Denys, Izzo (Sauti Sol electric guitarist), Amani (Sauti Sol Drummer), Cedo (Sauti Sol Keyboardist), Faker and yours truly.

This surrounding makes me ecstatic and can’t wait till am surrounded by all my friends later today. We had the best time in Netherlands (NL) this summer during World Cup 2014, not knowing we’d soon be uniting in the city of love. It’s a bummer that part of my badass European crew: my cousin Judy from London, Danny and Joel from Hague and Helsinki, respectively, couldn’t make it here. However, the adorable couple: Nynke and Steve are soon arriving from Amsterdam. My lovely Sylvia (the best person I’ve met this year) is arriving from Stockholm. I am also excited to finally meet my long-time journalist friend Brenna who lives and works in Paris at France 24. Since her request to interview Sauti Sol years back, we’ve kept in touch, thanks to work-related features from around the globe. She Whatsapps me, “Welcome to Paris, Chérie! How are you, fatiguée? Now you have to end your messages with bisous like the French.”

I am planning on taking a power nap when I arrive at the hotel. For a split second I forget that there is no room for napping when you are on tour with Sauti Sol. They are like vampires, who won’t only last longer than Energizer batteries, but never need to recharge. They are just about to leave the hotel when I arrive and give me an ultimatum, “Stay here and sleep or we’re giving you 15 minutes to get ready if you want to come with us into town.” Of course I am ready to leave in 30 minutes :-)

The Eiffel Tower

A drive into Paris makes me feel like a kid in a candy factory. I want it all! I want to know how everything was made! I am staring at anything and everything. After shopping and driving around, at about 2:30 p.m. on our way to lunch, we drive by Paris water canals and glimpse at a replica of the Statue of Liberty – you know, the gift the people of France gave to America. If I didn’t know better I’d think I am in New York because this statue standing tall overlooking the Pont de Grenelle bridge looks like the real Statue of Liberty of New York.

We are about to drive by the Eiffel Tower—finally! This is probably the most touristy of famous places to visit while in Paris. As tall as an 81-storey building, this tower is strong and beautiful. The streets around the tower are so crowded as thousands of tourists are taking selfies and pictures of it. I am in such awe of the structure – definitely the most commercialised and sold out yet most wanted memento from Paris.

Parisians must be the luckiest people on earth. To live close and drive past this massive allure everyday. The queue of people wanting to go up the tower’s lift or stairs is horrific. It’s like a long python snake spilling into the streets. You probably have to be here quite early to avoid the long wait. ‘It’s never that serious.’ I think to myself. Plus I know of another spot from where I can view the tower and the city’s panoramic view.

The next day past midnight, we decide to pay the Eiffel Tower a late visit. The tower’s iron has transformed into a chic and classic golden-lit affair. In 1985, 336 projectors were set up to light up this Tower by lighting engineer Pierre Bideau who, since, has sparked an inspiration for nocturnal monuments around the world. We want to catch the tower’s wonderful lights that flicker every five minutes every hour till 1:00 a.m. (I think). We want to stand straight under it but Faker says, “I’ve got a better view for you”. He takes us to Champ de Mars where we get to face the tower’s front view. It looks and feels different at night. It’s like Night at the Museum.

"I call it magic!" *Coldplay voice* #EiffelTower by night

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

The Eiffel Tower’s golden lights start to sparkle and dance in blue and white lights while its beacon shines over Paris. I don’t marry the tower after all. Neither do I go up or down on it. I don’t dine above it either—that would cost me a fortune! Plus I have to book six months in advance. It’s one of the coldest of autumn days and the official first day of start of winter in Paris but this moment right here is priceless. Best things in life are free. I am standing right in front of one of the world’s most famed structures—the 125-year-old Eiffel Tower. Shhhhh …. No noise or disturbance, just static yet transient magic.

Check out the complete To and Fro Paris with Love series:

To Paris with Love (Part I)

To Paris with Love (Part II)

From Paris with Love: The Eiffel Tower (Part I)

From Paris with Love: Amitié (Part II)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part III)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part IV)

BONUS: I took all those photos of the Eiffel Tower. I call it channeling my Mutua Matheka :-)

DSC_1639I don’t know about other languages or other people but I find French – sexy. It’s seducing and seduces. Not saying it right or nailing the accent and intonations takes away a huge chunk off its gist. It was the one language I always had to learn but of late I haven’t been confident expressing myself in French. It’s been about four months since I conversed with a real French speaker, and years since I held a good conversation in French. A few days before leaving Kenya for France, I tell my good Kenyan friend Robert (who speaks French as good as the French, if not better) that I can’t pronounce the name of the hotel we are staying to him because I don’t want it to sound wrong. “Rosey! C’mon!” He cajoles.

A welcome sign just as I am walking into Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) immediately makes me feel at home. I haven’t shared numerous live updates of my travel tales via social media and it’s itching me because I am finally in France, but first—the boarder police. I am here for work and all my documents are legit but you never know with countries you’ve never been to. As I am about to get on the queue for passport check, I realise that I haven’t even checked the name of the hotel where we are staying so I start to freak out. But two extremely hot policemen flash me a smile as they take my passport, “Bon matin mademoiselle!”

*Stamp*

“Merci! Bonne journeé!” I respond. My system is automatically going French.

After baggage claim, I make my way to the arrivals lobby waiting to see all my people in France here to pick me. Turns out ni**as in Paris went ham last night and no one can make it to the airport to receive me this morning. Only thing I receive is a text with the taxi man’s number. No way I am roaming with exorbitant Safaricom. And for some strange reason, my cell won’t connect to CDG Wi-Fi so I also can’t Viber. I am standing in the middle of CDG, feeling like I am the lone contestant in Amazing Race stuck at the airport even before the race begins. I need to find myself a cell phone or French line so I can call the taxi man. As I calculate my next move, I notice that most taxi men at the airport are black dudes and there are several super cute couples hugging, kissing and rubbing each other’s butts at every corner of the airport.

DSC_1640The long-braided African girl, firmly holding her travel bag and several magazines—I must look a tad stranded. A black dude walks up to me: “Taxi? Tu parles Français?” I now know that I have to unleash all the French I’ve learnt in the past, S/O to Kenya’s Alliance Française. “Oui, mais pas trés bien juste un peu,” I respond. Even though I state clearly that I won’t need his service, the man offers to give me his cell phone to call my taxi man.

The beauty of life is in its experience and its even better if you can share it with someone. I say this because in the recent past I’ve heard more nasty stories than good ones from France. About how French people are rude and are snobs. But since arrival, I am getting nothing but love from every person I’ve brushed shoulders with. No taxi man at Nairobi JKIA airport will give you a phone to use for free to call another taxi man. This gesture is only as noble as letting the person you love go and be happy to see them with someone else—now that I am in the city of love I will be using a lot of such comparisons.

When the taxi man assisting moves position (leaving me with his phone), I see him eyeing me from the corner of his eyes, like he’s worried about me. Every time new passengers flood the Arrivals terminal, I see his eyes darting looking out for business. I feel like he’s been far too kind and I need to let him go. I ask him about where I can buy a French line but he offers to run to his car to bring me one – for free! Only problem is it doesn’t have credit that I still have to buy so I ask him to please let me go buy one.

This is France. The dudes at the phone shop don’t speak English. This moment here puts me in a position of no vulnerability – kind of like the place you are when you tell yourself, “I am ready for love’. So with all I have to recall, I am able to get myself a new line and talk to the lady and gentleman at Café Lavazza close by to help me register and put in the credit. They are so nice to me. It’s been nearly two hours of calling my taxi man whose name is so interesting it has made me forgive him for not being here and not picking his phone. He’s called Faker. Miraculously, Faker picks up at the first call using my new line. He apologizes for mix up as a different taxi man, Denys, should have picked me up.

On calling Denys, he tells me that he speaks no English at all. I explain to him in French, slowly, where I am located. Turns out he’d also been at the airport all this while. It takes him about 30 minutes to get to my terminal from where he was. Another black dude, cool! “Denys can hardly speak English.” I text Faker, who replies “Sorry, but I don’t speak English well too.” (Guys don’t even dream about going to France without basic French). As I unite with Denys, the taxi man who helped me earlier looks over and salutes me goodbye. I wonder whether I should have tipped him for his kindness and later regret not asking his name.

DSC_1652We find Izzo, Sauti Sol’s guitarist (also here for the concert tonight) who landed on a different terminal. Denys is kind enough to buy me a Chicken Baguette at Paul Bakery. It’s the best sandwich I’ve had all my life! And this just came from a bakery not even a restaurant. I am about to discover that in this city French food is the closest thing that will get you pregnant, if love won’t. I am also about to take my first ride into Paris! So exciting …

Check out the complete To and Fro Paris with Love series:

To Paris with Love (Part I)

To Paris with Love (Part II)

From Paris with Love: The Eiffel Tower (Part I)

From Paris with Love: Amitié (Part II)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part III)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part IV)

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The Journey is the start of the Adventure

Paris has always been my dream destination. Just the idea of arriving and leaving after a peak at The Eiffel Tower and a walk down its love parks, still drives me nuts! I also want to have some nice French cuisine and walk down the lovely streets of the city of love hoping to bump into all the famous people who live in Paris like Kim Kardashian and Daft Punk.

When a work trip to France surfaces, I grab it with open arms. Goodness! Perks of working as Publicist of Sauti Sol. The last few months have possibly been the craziest we’ve had in Sauti Sol’s schedule this year and it’s about to get crazier as we are planning their premiere concert performance in Paris. After recently winning the Best African Act award at 2014 MTV EMA, this is also time to make the best of Sauti Sol’s France media contacts. I am also looking forward to making actual contact with my long-term journalist friend Brenna, who lives in Paris and works at France 24. For about four years, we have stayed in touch, sharing current affairs stories across the globe after first making contact regarding a Sauti Sol interview, back when she used to work for a UK publication. She will be helping me co-ordinate a couple of Sauti Sol interviews in France this weekend.

It’s Friday morning about 9:00 a.m. I haven’t really slept well because I was up almost all night packing and planning work in advance because I will be away for a whole week. I am bummed that I have a separate flight from the rest, who already left. I am scheduled to arrive in Paris on Saturday morning of the concert day. I’ve never had to travel far alone; I wonder if all will go well. Especially because I just came up with a last-minute plan for a European tour. I will be flying from Nairobi to Paris via Abu Dhabi. After France, I plan to head over to Netherlands via Belgium. That’s three continents and a trip around four cities. My ambition is priceless.

10836388_10152816152947559_421943054_nAfter a hospital run to see my sister’s new baby (such a cutie!), I am off to JKIA airport anticipating the Etihad experience. No shots being fired but last time I flew Turkish Airlines was the last time. Airlines are like the open house you have to camp in when you are homeless. So general service and new acquaintances aboard will be part of an experience forever etched in your mind. I normally care most about food and drinks (upcoming food blogs will attest to this) so Etihad better stuff me up.

It’s a four-hour flight crossing over to Middle East with around three hours time difference (Departure: 1:30 p.m. Arrival: 8:40 p.m.). I am wowed by Abu Dhabi’s beauty atop United Arab Emirates (UAE) skies. Bright lights bring skyscrapers and bridges to life, clearly displaying the intricately designed cityscape. It’s nothing far from Utopia. This is the capital city of UAE. I really wish I could leave the airport and go walk into the city – plus my head is playing J. Cole’s rap in the Beyoncé Party record, “We out in Abu Dhabi, we like to party, we don’t cause trouble we just ride Bugati.”

It’s a busy weekend in Abu Dhabi. Prince Harry is here for The Sentebale Polo Cup, a charity polo event he founded in 2010. Abu Dhabi is also hosting Grand Prix F1 World Championship, sponsored by our airline Etihad. (Notice how I am fast clutching at ownership? :-) Etihad’s flight magazine directs me towards Abu Dhabi’s top sights. They include the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, “a stunning piece of architecture” built in 11 years, and the Yas Marina Circuit, home of Formula 1 where you can race cars. How cool are these people? If this circuit is what I saw from above the skies, it’s lovely!

If only something would happen to our connecting flight so we’d have more hours in Abu Dhabi, to allow me to sneak into F1 and meet Lewis Hamilton …

I have to come back for an experience. Just as I am daydreaming about a day in Abu Dhabi while heading over to a different terminal, I spot Russell Brand—yes, the hilarious British actor, also Katy Perry’s ex-husband. Dude! He’s right in front of me! He’s quite tall about 6′ 1″ and has ragged long hair. He’s wearing a kilt, black boots and a tight black tee, with quite minimal hand luggage and security. We are on the same escalator going down. I know this is Russell Brand because he looks back at me and we lock eyes, his saying something like, “Don’t start screaming my name please”. I am calm and start to film him from behind using my phone’s camera. I am planning to accost him with that cliché “Hey, you really look like a famous movie star” line. But just as I am about to get to him, he takes a turn into the Gents. I’ve lost him. I could only camp outside the Gents for my hubby Usher Raymond.

Some of my friends are not convinced that I bumped into the real Russell Brand just because I didn’t take a selfie with him but the guy already has business with Abu Dhabi. In August, Russell is said to have hinted a possible reschedule of his 2013 Messiah Complex tour that was due to open in Abu Dhabi last year but got cancelled. Plus who else apart from Russell Brand would be rocking a kilt in Abu Dhabi? He’s probably here this weekend to do something like smoke hookah with Prince Harry or party with Lewis Hamilton after the F1.

10847138_10152816154217559_992330598_nIt’s been four hours of enjoying Abu Dhabi International airport’s coffee, sandwiches, magazines, Wi-Fi and the sight of handsome Arab men dressed in crystal white thobes. It’s about 1:30 a.m. when my flight to Paris finally departs. Around 7:20 a.m. still a little dark outside, I hear the flight attendant announce our arrival at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. Yaaaawn! Yaaaaay! But wait, did she speak in French? Damn! I forgot to practice my French before leaving Kenya. But what the heck! I am here already – ready to receive love and découvert …

Read the complete To and Fro Paris with Love series:

To Paris with Love (Part II)

From Paris with Love: The Eiffel Tower (Part I)

From Paris with Love: Amitié (Part II)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part III)

From Paris with Love: French Cuisine (Part IV)

BONUS: Super awesome blog with stories from Abu Dhabi, check out LISA REINISCH | CLIPPINGS AND BLOG

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My mac loves it too!

For a self-proclaimed music lover like me, discovering new music is like the shopping of shopaholics. I am addict. So when in 2011 a friend introduced me to one of the world’s leading music websites (22tracks.com), I’ve been getting hooked to new, cool and funky stuff since. I’ve found my own modern-day jukebox. Only its a free service and  intangible. This is my all-time favourite music site but I missed to visit their head office in Amsterdam last time I was in Netherlands (NL), a few months ago. So when I found myself back in Amsterdam last week, this was definitely a must-do this time.

Accompanied by my friend, Iyobel (an artist who also works as a Manager in music entertainment in NL), we are on a mission to find the head office of the music discovery service. I don’t really know what I will do when I get there – I just want to pick the genius brains behind the platform. After identifying their location online, we start to track them. We are somewhere along Radarweg street, near the city centre police station. It’s an extremely cold autumn afternoon around 4:50 p.m. Darkness is slowly starting to creep in. I am afraid that they might be closed for the day when we get there so instead of a 20-minute walk, we take the metro. On arrival at Nieuwe Prinsengracht, I recognise the street from the last time I took a boat ride around Amsterdam. “This is the rich people street!” I tell Iyobel, who wonders how the hell I have such information. In the 17th century, most of the rich Dutch merchants resided here. This former residential area now houses a couple of banks and a few serious offices. I am guessing 22tracks aren’t too bad off.

10841721_10152813428347559_1406075166_nWhen we bump into the building we think is the one, it’s another eureka moment! When I see a sign with 22TRACKS on the left side of the door, I can’t believe we finally made it! I press the little round black doorbell twice and after a few seconds, the door automatically pushes itself open. On the second floor, there’s a plain door with the sign Sound of Amsterdam. After doing my Happy Dance, I start to freak out and pant. Iyobel encourages me, “Just open the door, say hello then introduce yourself as a journalist and a fan.”

I do it!

Two guys are sitting behind their desks. One has the kind of hair you want to ruffle and the other one’s head is clean-shaven. They seem cool. The office space is all white (exactly how I’d pictured it would be). There are loads of iMacs with the one at the reception area with 22tracks on the big screen. Some cool original 22track-inspired artwork pieces are hanging on the white walls. “I’ve got twenty two tracks but the bitch aint’ one”—I like this one. I see a couple of trophies on a shelf. In the mini-boardroom at the end of the office, there is another huge black and white picture of a dope-looking party on one side of the wall from the Paris launch of 22tracks. Interesting sign because I just came from Paris yesterday.

I arrive unannounced but Gilles de Smit, co-founder of 22tracks tells me, “Right now is a good time! We love when genuinely interested people walk in. I wish everyone were here to meet you.” Their warm reception makes me chill. I introduce myself just like Iyobel asked me to and within no time we are having a great informal interview. They offer us drinks and Chupa Chups (super cool office).

Tracking the Genesis

In need of morphing an ordinary music site into a unique platform for discovering new and expertly selected music, Vincent Reinders (Venz) founded 22tracks in April of 2009. Venz also owns a clothing line and hosts a national hip hop show and writes for several magazines. “It quickly started to roll, and six months later I joined forces with him to officially launch in Amsterdam,” says Gilles. On the first year, the platform was run by DJs from Amsterdam and Brussels. Now, five years later, 22tracks has expanded in three other European cities: Paris, London and Brussels.

So how does 22tracks work?

10841312_10152813448657559_1071371046_n22 local top DJs from the cities of Amsterdam, Brussels, London and Paris share their 22 hottest tracks of the moment in order of genres. These make 22 tracks in each playlist for your selection. 22tracks management has nothing to do with any of the music selection across the cities, if it’s not sponsored or a partnership. “Only the DJs and city curators have the power and freedom to choose this,” says Gilles. As much as 22tracks DJs won’t miss out on popular or hot artists like J. Cole and Usher; you won’t believe the number of amazing artists (most indie or underrated) that get featured. Via 22tracks I’ve discovered countless artists and DJs most of who aren’t well known outside their regions/fan base. Roses Gabor, Rochelle Jordan, Szjerdene, Lianne Le Havas, Fullcrate, Kaytranada, Blonde, Years & Years, Mars, August Alsina, Mack Wilds, Rudimental, Jessie Ware, Submotion Orchestra, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Jhene Aiko, Ephemerals and Tanya Lacey. The list is endless.

Tracking Technology

In an increasingly crowded cyberspace and controlled mainstream media, finding fresh music curated to suit your taste is a task. But never too daunting for the real music lovers. And now with 22tracks, we’ve got this era’s own jukebox. Just like the olden jukeboxes, 22tracks has the latest songs and a way of playing music on demand without commercials. A Top22 playlist from top trending tracks being played across the platform in different cities is updated on the site every day. Gilles says, “The only way artists can get themselves on Top22 is by promoting their music via our site. That will possibly make their fans keep sharing and listening more.” Like jukeboxes, 22tracks has also offered listeners a means of controlling what they want to listen by the option of creating your own playlist, MY22. Sometimes they also have exclusive tracks that you won’t find anywhere else. A new playlist, Tip22, features hidden gems collected from newly released tracks or those that you might have missed.

10799310_10152813448352559_1105949860_nJurian van der Hoeven is responsible for all content and city management at 22tracks talks about keeping up with the tracks. “I find special DJs who can fit in our platform. We are currently working on our London and Paris contacts, we already have new people in London, some who have big names in reggae.” However, the work never stops at finding curators and the music. He says, “We are down to every detail, even concerning who is sharing 22tracks on Facebook.”

It must be some crazy tech sophistication to manage a business that permanently and fully depends on the net – a playground for malicious rivals and hackers. Gilles recalls, “One time, our site was messed up someone could basically download all the tracks.” The website has also experienced downtime in the past because of power outages and working with hosting companies that couldn’t manage the kind of tech advancement required from the start. “We have now moved to a bigger company hosting five of our servers. There are huge costs of running 22tracks but we had to change into more reliable servers to enhance security after being hacked a couple of times,” says Gilles.

Tracking the Trajectory

I don’t think you could dig up this kind of music selection and not have some sort of clairvoyance for future sounds. Gilles says, “The point of it all isn’t just discovering new sounds but supporting those that can potentially be the next big thing. For instance, Drum & Bass Amsterdam playlist isn’t that popular with everyone but we choose to keep it because it’s a genre that might come up and pick up especially in the clubs.”

The sprouting growth of the platform and emerging financial ventures like advertisements and collaborations with software companies, has empowered 22tracks to provide music while running business in different cities – what Gilles calls “taking a different approach.” Through a recent Microsoft deal, 22tracks has partnered with Internet Explorer to create a sound spectrogram that responds best via touch screens. The app is situated on the far right upper side of the website. Gilles says, “We never knew we’d get to such technology. Now we have a testing team in charge of that. This gives us the freedom to solely concentrate on music curation and strengthening the sound of this city outside the platform. We are big in Dutch clubs!” 22tracks is now “exchanging value” with various media partners, music labels and festivals. All either pay for selected playlists or barter trade, confirms Jurian. They have also collaborated with NL hotel CtizenM to play guests 22tracks during stay.

My favourite DJs on 22tracks are Amsterdam duo: Fullcrate and Mar (who are musicians too) can’t wait to see them one day in concert. I also love Paris R&B/Soul curator JP Mano. I tweet him saying I forgot to send him a shout while in Paris recently. He replies, “What a pity! Don’t forget next time, it will be a pleasure.”

10846586_10152813473067559_1646672204_nAbout having more of African music spilling into the European-based platform for the delight of music lovers worldwide, 22tracks occasionally have an African playlist curated by Fiona Okumu from Afripop. Gilles confirms that 22tracks is already planning on launching into the cities of Berlin, New York and Cape Town—first African city. Gilles says, “We are definitely interested in more sounds. We are watching Nairobi too as it’s one of the emerging markets in Africa.”

Double Yaay for my city!

We both like the idea that maybe through me 22tracks finally got their Nairobian contact. I tell them about some edgy sounds from Africa I suppose they would dig, and that I work as a Publicist for Kenyan band – Sauti Sol (Winners Best African Act 2014 MTV EMA). Shock on me, they know Sauti Sol too well. In fact, Gilles sings to me their Swahili song Mama Papa. “How did you know them?” I marvel, soon realising that I asked the wrong person the right question … This is home of discovery.

BONUS: S/O to Iyobel. I am so happy I was at 22tracks outside my comp! Plus they gave me some cool merchandise. Thanks for errrrthing 22TRACKS!

If you like this, you might also dig my Love, Sex & Drugs tales from Amsterdam.

 

10833773_10152808467332559_2079984471_nLiving in a remote Turkana village is as sticky as being the nut in a peanut butter bottle—you must feel constricted by the heat, aridity of the area, lack of food/water and high illiteracy levels. “Villagers here are like a child dishonoured by their parents, brought to live in a dry land far from River Turkwel,” says a Turkana elder. This tremendously sad simile describes the hopeless situation most Turkana people have found themselves in while staring at hunger at the brink of disillusionment.

It’s damn hot this afternoon. I am finally at Nakukulas village in Turkana, about 12 minutes drive from Tullow Oil’s main operating hub at Lokichar. Accompanied by my colleagues and guests hosted by FoLT (Friends of Lake Turkana), we are here to meet and greet the villagers of Nakukulas. Tullow Oil just took us through a presentation in which they cited their relations with the local community as amicable. Whether they admit it or not, after getting exploration licences and discovering oil, Tullow Oil’s success in running their business pretty much depends on their relations with the locals. Curious to hear from them.

Most Turkana villagers don’t have cell phones or any form of communication other than word of mouth that spreads as fast as fire. When the Land Rovers, Pickups and Jeeps we arrive in at a clear gathering among a few trees, it doesn’t take long before about a 100 Turkana men arrive to greet and welcome us to sit near them under one big tree—the village’s main meeting point.

Most of the villagers are dressed in loose sarongs either tied on their lower body area or hanging loose around their torso. Some men are carrying a little wooden stool “ekicholong”, that they use to sit on or place their heads while lying down. Others are wearing a wrist knife that can pass for a fancy bangle. This can be used for fighting or to cut stuff. I am told by one of the guests of Turkana descent that “ekicholong” or wrist knives, just like every other Turkana cultural regalia, aren’t for anyone, “you have to earn its respect more than attain a certain age or age group.” A younger man wearing silver loops and another rocking some dangling beaded earrings tell me that Turkana men got style.

10818748_10152808481447559_1607944622_nThe children and women walk into the meeting about 30 minutes after all the men have already settled. It is the custom that women come after the men and don’t speak. If they do – it has to be after the men. We sit facing the men and the women and children all sit behind us, making it look like they are not part of the meeting. But this is how sitting arrangements work around here.

This afternoon I’ve learnt that there are three main stages in the business of oil discovery—the licensing, exploration and development; the latter can take up to five years. This means that only until the fourth quarter of 2017 will Tullow actually be able to have the final product from their current investment. But most of the local villagers don’t really have information broken down to them like this. It’s clear as soon as they start to air their sentiments. But they have more pressing problems. The first one says that people from the Pokot tribe have taken all their village’s livestock and killed people too. “We have no food; we are finished! We are mad at Tullow Oil because they are okay and going about their business!”

All the elders speak in Ng’iturkana (there’s a translator).

Another elder says, “We saw Tullow Oil coming to set up without consulting us. What is oil? They say it’s for fuel but we didn’t know how it’s extracted and manufactured till it gets to that form. They say that the government has granted them the permit to run business here and that our returns are sent to the county government of Turkana but we’ve never received anything,” posing, “If the place of finding food is ours, then why are we dying of hunger?” This man is so furious he’s trembling and spitting like hungry Nairobi bus preachers at every utterance. At this juncture I just wish we came with some representatives of Tullow Oil. If they felt this volatile mood among villagers of Nakukulas, they would know better how to handle these locals. Or maybe they do.

Our session with the villagers of Nakukulas leaves me feeling like they tend to blame all their problems on anyone close to them (Tullow Oil, included). Tullow provides some locals with employment and the communities with water tanks. Is that enough? And when is the government of Kenya called to action?

The only woman who stands to talk on behalf of womenfolk seems quite old, maybe in her 70s. She’s got loads of beaded necklaces on her neck, that commanding granny presence and a posture worthy of a woman only half her age. Her speech is precise. “There is no life here; we are only talking about death because everyone has been killed by rival tribes. They even behead children [that’s why] most people here are newcomers,” she says, adding, “Anytime we see cars approaching, we think its assistance. We really need help curbing insecurity in Turkana. Now our lifestyle is nothing but taking chances.”

IRG_0827BONUS: While at Nakukulas, I get to show a group of Turkana kids how to use a smart phone – read take selfies :-) We have such a ball! Never met kids with as much personality and swag. They also request to have my bottled water, after which I watch them running up and down the village with it, carrying it up like a trophy and ululating in laughter while thumping fists. Like what? Won’t they even drink it? I conclude that I have no life problems.

Read the complete To Turkana and Back series below:

To Turkana and Back: The Heat and Women (Part I)

To Turkana and Back: Visiting Tullow Oil (Part II)

To Turkana and Back: Returning (Part IV), coming soon.

 

Sheila Bett of FoLT and AnyikoOn my first visit to Turkana, I am lucky to be visiting Tullow Oil—leading independent oil and gas exploration and production group that has pitched tent in Kenya’s remote Lokichar area since around 2012 (soon after the first announcement of oil discovery in Kenya).

There has been intense interest in the country’s oil and extractive sector and even more mystery surrounding exploration groups like Tullow Oil. Not much about their operations and the kind of deal they have with Kenya’s government, especially relating to incentives for the locals of Turkana when and if the business makes returns, is public information.

The journey to Lokichar, Tullow’s base in Turkana starts from Lodwar as early as 5 a.m. We arrive at around 10.00 a.m. This is part of FoLT (Friends of Lake Turkana) plan of activities for us during their first Natural Resource Conference this week, where I am working as one of the communication consultants. It’s the roughest road trip I’ve ever had. Pedo, our driver from Lodwar, seems to be thrilled by the bumping and grinding; because the worse it gets, the faster he drives and blasts some crazy hip hop that you wouldn’t expect to be blaring off a Turkana Land Rover. Like older 50 Cent and the likes. DSC_0304DSC_0305

It’s so hot, I envy a Turkana woman I see walking bare-chested as our entourage of big cars blow off desert dust blocking anyone from seeing her from the back. After passing a few villages and being shown some water tanks set up by Tullow Oil by our guide, we have arrived at the exact place where Tullow rocks Turkana oil.

It’s a large space – about 12 acres (the size of any one of of Tullow Oil’s camps). I can see are a few large tanks, machines and tents. The security check at Tullow Oil is as strict if not stricter than that of any serious establishment in Nairobi. Cars have to drive at 40 km/h or less – there are security guards all over. As soon as we get into their premise, we are asked not to take any photos (of course I rebel) as we all register our names/companies to be issued with guests tags that we have to wear at all times. As we get prepared for the special orientation at a nearby tent, we are read to ground rules. “Shall you hear a siren, please lie down as there might be a security threat, either from the extraction or tribal wars between locals of the area,” we are also warned.

Today Tullow Oil will demystify itself to us. Turns out that Tullow’s facilitator Huma is an acquaintance of mine; we’ve shared the dance floor a few times during Electrafrique parties at the Carnivore. It’s an awkward coincidence. You don’t really expect to meet the guy you danced with once in Carni all the way in Turkana, for whatever reason. There are professors, filmmakers, journalists and mostly researchers from organisations interested in investing or helping communities from areas with natural resource finding like Turkana, among FoLT guests. DSC_0302

The Tullow presentation starts off on a good foot with Huma doing a lot of PR for Tullow while at the same time opening our eyes and minds with priceless information. For instance, I get to learn that the government grants tenders to explore natural resources all over Kenya to various other similar companies, after which the highest bidder takes it all. Tullow has placed itself strategically as the leader in Kenya’s oil exploration. During their excursions, they have bumped into a couple of other natural resources like water and gas and subsequently handed them over to other companies interested because their main focus is oil.

There are a lot of questions from the audience, concerning the transparency of the tender issuance, what’s in for the locals of Turkana and much more. Do locals know who Tullow Oil is and what kind of permission they have been granted to access local land? At some point, the session becomes so heated that Huma has to stop taking any questions. It’s a very healthy discussion we are having because we are just a cross section of educated Kenyans and professionals who don’t get this new oil business in Kenya; what of Turkana people? Most of who have low literacy levels due to factors such as inadequate infrastructure for education, mobility due to nomadism, economic marginalisation and cultural practices.

By the end of the presentation, we’ve already spent more than five hours at it yet there is still so much to discuss and to expound on. Huma calms my main worries and curiosity by stating that Tullow Oil has hired a number of locals to help communicate Tullow’s mission to Turkana locals on a daily basis. This, and any other means of integration between companies in the extraction of natural resources business, locals of the areas and government policy makers is paramount for so many reasons – the main one being to avoid conflict, now or in the future. DSC_0313

When the session ends, Tullow are kind enough to share with us their presentation and serve us with some luxurious lunch, for Turkana. It’s a four-course meal, complete with ice cream and cookies. Serving ice cream in Turkana really is something like discovering oil in the region—eureka moment!

It’s perfect that Tullow had time to host us and aren’t as hostile or oblivious to circumstances around their Kenyan business as they seem to the outside world. Tullow Oil seems to be working towards compensating the locals of Turkana for their exploits by providing them with water sources and jobs. But is that enough? Is it just a hoodwink mission? And is Tullow just being nice because this is actually the work of Kenya’s government and not theirs? After lunch, we are heading to the local village to meet and discuss with the villagers these same issues…

In the continuation of my tales from Turkana read To Turkana and Back: Villagers of Nakukulas (Part III)

BONUS: For more info on the first Natural Resource Conference Hosted by Friends of Lake Turkana (Oct 22nd – 23rd 2014), kindly visit FoLT’s site

Kenyan women are not kids or students to be reprimanded by men, like teachers and pastors do to boys sagging pants. We are adults with rights and the freedom to express ourselves without having to be subjected to judgments or punishments. We deserve and demand to be dealt with as human beings and not the weaker sex or sex objects. If I decide to wear baggy jeans or mini skirts, no one has a right to attack my dressing or strip me. And yes – despite it being a reality that this society will judge you for what you wear, like many other societies will – with that knowledge, what I wear is still my choice.

Even though orchestrated by a women body, My Dress My Choice campaign supersedes the current women stripping shame issue. Dressing doesn’t only mean to wear a dress but general clothing. This campaign has been mistaken to be another feminist rant or a women vs men face off but to me; this campaign champions gender equality, human rights and freedom of expression for all. So all your reasons for why women stripped could have been stripped or why in some scenarios, you could be stripped because of how you are dressed – are null and void. There is no justification for violence against any human being, for whatever reason. To those who call the stripping shame a lesson to women – you are not teaching us anything but stripping us of our dignity and leaving us forever traumatised.

This stripping shame reflects on our society’s culture and how lenient we have become—to allow gangs and criminals, purporting to be teaching women lessons, destroy our freedom and demean women. If it was the case that women scantily dress, is it a crime stipulated by Kenyan law? If so then people found in the wrong should be arrested and not taught lessons by mobs. Instead of trying to make womenfolk change their ways of dressing, deal with those terrorising women. No civil society becomes a people who teach people lessons.

To those who feel like Kenyan women in non-traditional dressing are un-African or disregard our culture; carefully go back to our history. The African culture primarily has less clothing. I just came from Turkana recently and women in their society still walk bare-chested or only tie a loose cloth around their torso. Why don’t their men view them as objects ready to be pounced at? Theirs is a culture that respects women and doesn’t judge them by their anatomy, physical dressing but character. Oh by the way – fashion is suddenly dangling out of an open window! While women dressing will outright and scientifically be more attractive to the male fancy, women too fancy male dressing – so men do not make women dressing a unitary taste affair only suited for you, because women also dress for women, and when we fancy or find your dressing provoking, like you say of ours at times – we don’t go stripping men.

Strip. Stripper. Stripping—all these mean different things but only you know who you are and how you want to strip or be stripped, if that’s the case. But for someone, for a rowdy mob to attack and strip you the way Kenyan women are being cornered is wrong. It’s shameful. It’s hurtful. It’s haunting. It’s demeaning. It’s frightening. It gives me chills.

To all the Kenyan women out there, it’s a reality – now we have to watch how we dress according to where we are. We shouldn’t have to feel this way and it shouldn’t be like that. Any society should protect its people but ours has failed in protecting women. We have to be our sisters’ keepers. When men feel like we are to blame for what befalls us, it means that they most probably won’t protect us, even if they were in a position to. To the real Kenyan men, you can’t play nice sitting by the fence—protect Kenyan women.

Because I was brought up knowing a respectable brother, and a dad who always treated my mother and his four daughters with utmost respect, I believe that not all men are wild or perverted as some claim. Not all men are turned on by the mere look at women’s bodies, exposed or not. No normal man will strip a woman walking down the streets of Nairobi. The school of thought that indecency deserves a punishment or stripping is uncouth and barbaric. To those who support it—what’s the morality/decency weighing machine? What length of a skirt is too short or too long? What pants are too tight or too loose? And so forth …

Clothing is a mere form of expression. Dignity is in essence all we have, and it’s plain sad for someone to take that from you. The indecency card leaves us at the risk of condoning a society thriving off ambiguity and hypocrisy. We are in danger of moulding a societal groupthink that suppresses freedom, creativity and liberty; a society that silences any form of expression. I crave for the liberty to always express myself and have others do the same, in whatever way. I am not my clothes and neither is she. And if I were, it’s my choice.

BONUS: A group of protesters against the recent ‪#Stripping Shame‬ incidence of Nairobi men stripping women apparently “indecently dressed” match in the city in support of ‪#‎MyDressMyChoice‬ campaign.

Turkana WomanI discover that in Turkana, breasts are like Ricky Rozay’s moobs. It’s okay to show them off, no one really cares. I see a woman walking bare-chested once and many others with lose clothing or wraps that leave their breasts sagging or peeping. Traditionally, Turkana people wear wraps made of rectangular woven leather materials made from animal hide. Women wear two pieces of cloth—one wrapped around the waist while the other covers the top. Some actually don’t wear anything on top.

It’s an interesting trip. The flight to Turkana from Nairobi is almost as long as a flight to Dar es Salaam—yes, it’s that far! It will take you two days travelling by road. I am headed to Kenya’s most north-western county—the farthest I’ve been to in Kenya, so far. I am so excited that I miss Wiz Kid’s Nairobi concert just so I don’t miss my flight check in at 4:00 a.m. on the same night/morning. I actually pass on sleep.

Magical Kenya As we arrive at Lodwar airstrip, I am amazed at Turkana’s beautiful landscape. I see lovely clear skies and hills above the horizon – just like in the storybook endings. I am lucky this Mashujaa Day morning isn’t as sweltering as usual, my company tells me. I am here for a whole week, during which I will be working as a publicist and communication assistant at a 3-day conference hosted by Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT). I am using this trip to also discover and learn more about the people of Turkana.

The first thing I notice about Lodwar is that everyone and everything (including tea cups at restaurants) is colourful. I am constantly oooh-ing and aaah-ing at the sight of colourful Turkana women, walking down the dusty brown roads. Because I am new here, somehow I find it hard, at first, to ask our drivers to stop so I can take a picture of River Turkwel or the women. I am also afraid the women might take offence and I wouldn’t find a way of explaining to them, that to me – they are the most beautiful Kenyan creatures I’ve ever seen.

Granny from another LifeA typical Turkana woman is dark. Her skin as smooth as moulded black clay ready to dry into a pot built to last. Her hair is shaved or very short with different Mohawk styles and sometimes, different hair colour. Some attach beads to the loose ends of hair just near the forehead. She never wears a bra. As her breasts hang loose; her neck stands tall, surrounded by a tower made of multi-coloured beads and necklaces. I later discover that distinct neckpieces on women reflect on different identity and age group. And the more a woman’s neckpiece; the more desirable she is. Side Note – In line with my general love for beads and beaded things, I think I would be a very hot thing if I were from Turkana.

The venue of the conference is at the newly constructed FoLT Lodwar conference centre, with an excellent view of the origin of Turkana County capital’s name—Mount Lodwar, just a few meters away. Locals tell us that Lodwar means “something extremely bitter”. I am astounded by how surreal and close the mountain seems, “Wow! We should go hiking!” My colleagues warn me that we wouldn’t even get to half of the mountain because of the heat and security concerns.

Rocking LodwarAfter much observation over a few days, I realize that even more than Turkana people’s culture for disregarding the torso’s covering, it works all ways for them because the heat there is ridiculous. I’ve been to hot cities like Dar es Salaam and Kisumu, recently, but there isn’t a place as hot as Turkana – trust me! The weather goes up from about 35 to more than 40 degrees. The heat and humidity even makes your senses operate slower. By the third day, I find myself tying a shuka across my body back in the hotel contemplating if I should walk bare-chested the next day. I really suffer the heat because I didn’t pack light in fear of looking indecent, little did I research on this culture. But now I know ;-)

On my second day, I already feel like I’ve been here long or that days are so long and basic. I can’t figure out what day of the week it is. It hits me that I never felt or saw any sort of commemoration for Kenya’s Heroes’ Day, yesterday. This place doesn’t feel like shagz, it just feels neglected and far from the rest of the Kenyan think tank … But for some like FoLT, this is home.

In continuation of the series: To Turkana and Back read:

To Turkana and Back: Visiting Tullow Oil (Part II)

To Turkana and Back: Villagers of Nakukulas (Part III)

BONUS: You might dig my 2010 blog post on my Samburu Safari, where my folks used to live about 34 years ago.

DSC_1939My paternal grandmother, Dani Emma Awuor Owoko, was a simple woman. It gave me so much gratification that her funeral was as simple as the life she led. She had a big boma and many acres of land, but spent the last thirty years living in the small three-roomed house her son (my father) built her. Dani Emma had all the characteristics of Big Momma. When I was younger, I would get lost in her close embraces and suffocate in her scent of Dettol or Rob. I would be amazed by her whitish grey short hair (every time she took off the white or blue kitambaa on her head) and smooth light skin.

Dani’s flair for storytelling and unique voice stood out. Most of her stories were of journeys she had undertaken in the past, extraordinary people she had met, or made like my Dad, and dreams (some of which were premonitions or sort of apparitions). Her voice was alluring yet commanding. At certain intervals, it would be deep yet high-pitched. The sound of her speech was almost as if the kind that would be produced if a person with a stereo for a stomach swallowed a microphone. “Choke!” was one of her favourite exclamations. “Yao rangach!” was one of her favourite things to shout. Opening the gate for her visitor’s cars was dirty work she never liked. So she would shout at anyone on sight to open her own gate.

Fun Fact: I was named after Dana’s mother, Anyiko.

In her final months, Dani lost her speech. Quite the epitome of life’s ironic twists for any storyteller. But through eye contact, touch and smiles, for months, we managed to communicate. During this time, I only saw her a couple of times and only heard her speak once calling me, ‘Mama na’ (my mother) when I introduced myself as Anyiko.

I remember when I was younger (below 10); Dad and granny were still alive. We would always leave home (Molo) so early in the morning for dala (Ugenya) to arrive at dusk after a Kericho tea-stop and Kisumu fish-stop. It was such a long and tiresome journey but I always felt like the destination was a special place. I loved the plants around Dani’s homestead and the smell of herbal trees around it. At night, there was the roaring sound of Dad’s hearty laughter around the boma. In the pitch darkness of Ugenya skies, I recall savouring every moment of the magic that was shooting stars and dancing fireflies.

Another Fun Fact: I once left my beloved cat at Dani’s during one of our trips and later got word from her that the cat had fell into her pit latrine. That shit broke my heart. Why I hate cats.

Old Family Portrait

Grandfather Owoko Miyayi, far left. Granny Emma Awuor, next to him carrying the babe – posing like she invented that pose.

In her heyday, Dani and her husband, Miyayi Owoko, made such a stylish couple. I heard somewhere that before finding salvation, Dani was a badass traditional beer brewer. But all my life, I knew her to be a unwavering Catholic (Katolik – she called it) and servant of Christ, as she would have loved to be introduced.

Arrivals and departures at her home were strictly officiated by rosary prayer and the sprinkling of Pii Hawi (holy water). Her casual prayers were nearly as long as the length of a full Catholic mass. In fact, when younger falling asleep in the middle wasn’t such a strange thing.

Returning to dala a week ago for granny’s funeral was an emotional roller coaster. More than the sadness that comes with having to say goodbye, it was a reminder of the few but special moments I shared with my late Dad during earlier dala trips and the long-gone simple childhood days. Like a child’s umbilical cord is cut off their mother, is granny’s departure. It’s left me feeling detached from whatever little I was grasping at in the already hollow cleft left by Dad’s demise.

As we lay Dani to rest next to my Dad’s resting place – one glance at my mum and like looking into a mirror, I see her pained more by the reminder of the day she had to bury her beloved husband, right here.

All her life, even in dementia, Dani talked endlessly about my Dad, the beloved son she lost. I was only eight years old at my Dad’s funeral but I remember clearly that I couldn’t figure out why it was my grandmother who cried and cried and cried, as if she was the one who had lost her husband, and not my mother. If this departure by any chance brings Dani closer to Dad—those two are going to have a serious reunion party.

While en route to dala for the funeral, I am chatting with my sister in the States. She is named after granny, Emma Awuor Owoko. “I am so sad because after this, there won’t be anything left in dala,” I confess. Emma says, “I am so sorry, but you are wrong, the great memories we shared will always be there. Dad is there and Dana is still there, just not in body but in spirit.”

True to her word, Dana is felt yet missed all through the trip. Plus I only spot fireflies once, on the night after her burial :-)

BONUS: Wrote the below poem for Dani Emma on her farewell day.

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Today, for the first time, we are in dala, without you.

But instead of tripping, we see you at every glimpse of your homestead.

With every memory we recall, we see you grandmother – smiling and narrating your enchanting stories (some of which you repeated without knowing).

With every corner we turn, we feel your warmth.

With every prayer we mutter, we hear your strong voice, silently whispering among us.

                  With every soil and flower we rest at your place of sleep, we feel at home.

Now, you’re back home where you longed and next to your beloved son, on your right.

Must be nice.

10628306_10152674425038713_3171467631350492403_nIn the 48 hours I spend in Tanzania (TZ), I never hear TZ radio playing a single Nigerian song or American hit single. My ears don’t suffer like they do in Kenya. In fact, I never even hear them play songs from East Africa but only their own, even though a lot of TZ people tell us that Sauti Sol songs: Soma Kijana and Shukuru are fan favourites. Once, I hear Sura Yako off a radio Saturday Mix.

The Kenyan music industry is still tied to the constant debate, about whether artists are producing shit songs or it’s the DJs who are not playing local content but instead forcing into our ears too much of foreign content. Because I am journalist and a strong believer in local content and creativity, I always put myself and my peers in the first position to take blame. Kenyan media hasn’t yet achieved what other successful and self-sustaining music industries have done for their own artists. In this instance what TZ media has done for Bongo artists.

On a fine Saturday afternoon, it’s so hot in Tanzania (TZ) and the traffic is maybe worse than Nairobi’s. But the venue where Sauti Sol is performing tonight, Escape 1 Mikocheni, just by the beach is so fly; we can’t wait for the show. After visiting TZ radio stations, we’re here for sound check. Before show time, at about midnight, I present the organisers with Sauti Sol’s hospitality rider. The organisers actually ask me if there is anything else the band needs. This is unlike many Nairobian promoters or event organisers who after paying artist performance fees, they care less about artist’s entertainment prior and after the show.

When we arrive at the event’s venue, the gentle nature of TZ people really shines. Nearly all mainstream photographers are generally obnoxious. They will click into messing the sound of your recorded interview and even get into your shot or trample you over at a press conference just to get a perfect shot. Well, that’s really like the softer version of real paparazzi but when Sauti Sol arrive at the backstage, several photographers and event promoters come up to them; stand at the side to ask me and the event’s organiser, Amarido, for permission to take photos with them or greet them. Like, what?

Outside I see a lot of people sitting patiently waiting for the band. And when they finally get on stage, the audience maintains it’s cool, while still not so up tight not to dance. It’s a really mature and cool TZ crowd and Sauti Sol really enjoy this. After the show, instead of being crowded by groupies, we meet a couple of radio producers and presenters backstage. It is a general Kenyan attitude that if you are not one of the biggest acts in the entertainment industry, every single person will act like they don’t know you, even when they do. Did the 8-4-4 system subconsciously teach Kenyans that art is shit? I am not that kind of journalist or person who will act like I don’t know you, when and if I do. I take pleasure in introducing myself to people and using the power I have through my journalistic voice to expose talent. But most Kenyans seem not to want to acknowledge talent or even some established artists. That’s why it’s very simple for many to shamelessly parade that fallacy that a majority of Kenyan musicians produce shit music, instead of taking time to give an ear to underrated artists with great albums like Jemedari, Chizi and Atemi.

Maybe, it’s true that a prophet is honoured everywhere except in his own hometown. According to my quick survey about TZ’s music industry, I discover popular opinion has it that Ali Kiba still is the biggest act in TZ and not Diamond (though still beloved) as it seems from outside TZ. Few TZ artists have crossed over to Kenya’s music industry. Even fewer Kenyan acts have done the same in Bongo. However, what Bongo has done for their artists is what should be emulated in Kenya. It doesn’t matter that you’re not Diamond or Ali Kiba, you get airplay and to perform at Serengeti Fiesta (TZ’s biggest show bringing together different artists, big or small, from around the country), that recently ended in such grandeur by having T.I as the main act.

Bongo music rocks because they have found a way of supporting their local acts and even when most of them don’t cross over to other regions, they are accepted and get airplay at home. This has in turn, made artists localise their stuff to appeal most to local consumers. Authenticity in this industry is key. TZ promoters and organisers are trustworthy and know how to treat artists. Kenyan artists shouldn’t have to beg Kenyan media and DJs to play their songs; it should be the media’s duty to support local. Support will be directly proportional to better quality of productions; and the same way, other factors in the industry will only get better.

On landing back to Kenya, I quickly think about my observations and recall the constant arguments and battles I keep having online with Kenyans, trying to explain to them why they should support Kenyan music and why it should be their responsibility. “Why the hell wasn’t I just born in TZ and found myself working in the TZ music industry?” I wonder, but because I wasn’t, it’s my duty to make this better. A luta continua!

During my short trip in TZ, I am so tempted to jump into a ferry for Zanzibar, I have even prepared the fare and all but I save it for another time. I will have to do it when I have ample time.

Read the first part of this blog post here: To Tanzania and Back: Bongo Love (Part I)

BONUS: Read one of my articles on music entertainment published by Daily Nation on Why Kenyan music misses the cut.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 00.33.29I think its ridiculous that most Kenyans haven’t been to any or all East African countries yet we harbour dreams of traveling around the world. As I head over to Tanzania (TZ), can’t help and think how ridiculous it is that before this trip, I hadn’t got myself to visit my brother who works and lives in TZ. It’s even more ridiculous that my brother had to be on leave and back in Kenya on the weekend that I am finally scheduled to be in TZ. We end up missing each other.

It’s always exciting to be around Sauti Sol, working as their publicist and discovering new places while at it. For this trip, I am accompanying them additionally as tour manager to their premiere big TZ concert. I am particularly keen to juxtapose Kenya’s music entertainment business with that of TZ’s, while there.

We depart Nairobi on an early Saturday early morning and land in TZ’s coastal city of Dar es Salaam, a few hours later. After Ebola screening and paying for work permits, we’re in and immediately TZ feels like Kenya’s coast! Our hosts in TZ, Legendary Music, have organised a mini-press conference at the airport. They’ve got larger than life bouncers for each Sauti Sol member.

The celebrated lovely nature of Tanzanians “Bongo Love” and the old adage that TZ people are slow – starts right at the airport. The officers handling our work permits seem to take an eternity. They keep eyeing us curiously. By the time, the last of us, Savara, gets back his passport, the officers start to sing Soma Kijana. They all want to take pictures with Sauti Sol and welcome us affirming, “tumewakubali sana hapa Bongo.”

Traffic from the airport to town, Southern Sun Hotel (where we are staying over the weekend) is atrocious—quite similar to Jogoo Road’s mid-morning Saturday traffic. However, this is worse because of the heat synonymous to Mombasa’s. As the boys fall into sleep, I am listening to the radio blasting some dope Bongo Flavour while fascinated by how ugly TZ public transport vehicles (matatus) are. In comparison to Kenya’s hip javs, they have no sort of graffiti. But the way people are carried in excess, with some standing, is probably worse than in Kenya and only similar to route 36 -Dandora matatus.

It’s really great to arrive in a foreign country and immediately feel at home.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 00.42.01On arrival at the Southern Sun Hotel, we quickly freshen up and brunch. At the hotel’s Baraza restaurant, one of the chefs comes out to appreciate Sauti Sol, saying, “Hapa bongo tunawakubali sana! Kwanza ile nyimbo ya Shukuru ambayo mlifnaya na AY”. It’s so nice for the band to be away from home and be treated like they are home. Just as we are leaving the hotel, the chef desperately wants to know our schedule. I tell him every radio station we are headed to and he says the entire kitchen staff will tune in. He would later run up to me the next morning to say Thank You because he caught Sauti Sol on radio … Soon we are headed into town for the TZ version of Sura Yako Media Tour that kick-started in Nairobi.

We first head over to 100.5 Times FM where we meet the awesome DJ Dommy and TZ media personality C Da King. I really love the questions they throw at the band. But even more, I love how sweet their Swahili is articulated.

At a different station: Clouds FM, we do a couple of interviews and drops. However, we notice that it’s almost a ghost office. “Everyone went to Fiesta,” someone mentions to us. This is in recent times, TZ’s biggest gathering of music artists and fans, happening every weekend in different counties. Fiesta brings alive artists of all calibre and different genres of music. “Oh so that’s why, all radio ads either have Fiesta or Beauty & Music Night Show (where Sauti Sol is performing tonight),” I note to myself. While coming from Clouds FM, our chaperone, Richie, tells us about how big Fiesta is and how it has managed to include all sorts of music artists, even the upcoming lot. There is a live link on the radio and a reporter is interviewing a hip hop artist we’ve never heard of.

Reporter: “Ni kipi kipya ambacho unaweza ukawaeleza wale ambao wanakusikiliza nyumbani ili wafanye kuja Fiesta kuona show yako?” (What would you like to tell those listening regarding what they should come check you out at Fiesta?)

Rapper: “Yaani mimi kwa kusema ukweli siwezi nikataka kuchukua pesa yako kwa bure kwa hivyo nakusihi uje leo unione na nitakupa bonge la kiburudisho” (To be truthful, I don’t want to take anyone’s money for free, so I beg you all to come see me and I will give a performance truly worth your time and effort).

Only in TZ do you have rappers talking like angels. But as we would later find out, almost everyone in TZ really is an angel.

In continuation of this post, read To Tanzania and Back: Why Bongo Music Rocks (Part II)

Restart

I thought I was falling. But instead, I was floating on thin air. And like a dancing piece of paper, I was flown left and right. Like a fancy leaf during spring, I bounced happily but sadly, I had to fall. Now desperately, for no reason whatsoever, can’t wait for next season. To fly again, or maybe shyly drop. But if I fall, like Shai, I will be sure that we are friends.

IMG_0822On my birthday (Sept 4th) this year – I wanted to do it small and intimate. I wanted peace and silence. I wanted no crowds or surprise parties but to witness the great Wildebeest Migration—World’s Seventh Wonder. My super sweet girlfriend Smiles, and being in the Maasai Mara gave me a week to do this.

On the morning of my birthday, I decide to pass on a balloon ride at 4:00 a.m. to sleep in. Yes. Imagine that. At about 10:00 a.m. Smiles comes from work, photography during balloon rides. She rushes in, “Hurry! Out! The wildebeests are about to cross the river,” she in a frenzy. “I haven’t even showered!” I retort but she isn’t hearing any of that. “Oh! It is your birthday!” She remembers, gives me a hug and we are off. Hopping into her Land Rover, we are headed towards part of the Mara River where a Safari Guide just tipped us of a potential wildebeest river crossing.

When we arrive, several Safari vans and tourist Land Rovers are parked close to the riverbank by the dirty brown water. We get a fairly nice spot. All the cameras and binoculars start to come out. I thought our camera’s lens was boss but boss! Suddenly, I see lenses so big; they could easily take a crisp shot from a mile away. I am so excited just by the thought that I will, on my birthday, witness a scene off Nat Geo, live. I can’t wait till the wildebeests start to jump and run across the river. The vehicles aren’t too far from each other and shouting in the park is prohibited so I can perfectly hear most foreign tourists whispering and asking: “What? Where?” Some of them have never even seen zebras, so this should be exhilarating for them too.

IMG_7947I’ve got binoculars on and Smiles has the camera. We alternate these two – our most important tools while outside the house at Mara. I can see a herd of wildebeests on the other side of the river. Unbeknownst to me, this is going to take loooooooong. It takes the herd of wildebeests led by zebras at least 30 minutes to move 3 steps towards the river (there are at least 20 steps to the water). We’ve been here for more than two hours already. I’ve seen hippos, crocodiles and vultures, all lurking in and around the Mara River but not a single wildebeest crossing the river.

An hour later, the wildebeests and zebras stealthily advance towards the water. Finally! I can’t wait to witness the dramatic crossing, you know just like it happens in the documentaries. We’ve got all the cameras ready! Finally! The first and bravest wildebeest starts to insert their hoof into water and the others follow suit, slowly. Suddenly, the vehicles from across the river start their roaring engines to move closer to the scene, for the tourists to get better shots and a view of the spectacle. This annoys us so much because the sounds start to distract the animals, now starting to retreat.

 

 

I still pray so hard that they cross. And just as the dramatic cross attempts to begin, a more dramatic thing happens – a leopard jumps onto the herd, across from a nearby bush. It’s serious chaos as the wildebeests and zebras run fast, drawing back into the clearing away from the Mara River. Standing on our Land Rover’s rooftop, through the binoculars I can see thousands of wildebeest herd formation, adding a beautiful darkness to Mara’s horizon. It’s my birthday and I don’t think I want to spend the whole day waiting on wildebeests to cross a river. “Let’s just go home,” I tell Smiles, who reluctantly drives us off half-heartedly. She really wanted me to see the show I had anticipated on my birthday. But I have already seen the wildebeests migrating from atop a balloon ride and seen hundreds of them run in full speed when we’re driving across the park. It’s still breathtaking.

 

 

We head home, where Smiles’ hubby Danny and his friend John are preparing a barbecue for my Bday Late Lunch. I manage to steal some time to read all the awesome birthday messages left by friends and Skype with an important someone before lunch. The lunch is perfection – the best chips and burgers in the entire Mara. We sit at the patio, overlooking a beautiful view enjoying the yummy meal. “Do you realize you’re dressed like you’re going to a party and you’re wearing lipstick in the Mara?” John points out, looking at me in awe. But with every bite and crunch of my food and sip of the sweet white wine – I realize that my life is really about nothing but what simply makes me tick—Life’s Little Pleasures. Spending my whole morning doing nothing but waiting on wildebeests to cross the river; wearing my fancy dress and lipstick how I like it, not caring that I am in the jungle

DCIM100MEDIARight after lunch, there is a huge down pour (blessings in the African culture). I take a nap. Late evening, we head over to Serena Mara for sauna and a massage. After dinner, later in the night, Danny, Smiles and John teach me how to play Euchre, a trick-taking card game commonly played by four people in duos. I am paired with Danny and we end up winning! “You’re so lucky!” John keeps saying that about my naive moves, that always knock his opposing team out. Well, I consider myself lucky to share a birthday with my beloved late Dad and to have celebrated my birthday this year, alongside such loving people :-)

I couldn’t thank you Smiles and Danny enough for the joy our friendship has continuously brought into my life. Thanks for making my Bday this year AMAZING.

BONUS: The Serengeti Mara ecosystem consisting of Tanzania’s Serengeti, Kenya’s Maasai Mara, surrounding conservancies and ranches forms the stage for the biggest show of wildebeest migration, yearly. All migrations differ in exact time and character. Food and rain remain a constant push factor despite the mystery surrounding why wildebeests migrate and cross Mara’s deadly waters, even when their current location has perfectly lush grass and water. This is the World’s Seventh Wonder.

I also wrote for DStv some 5 fun facts about the wildebeest migration Read my complete Bday in the Wild series, tales from Maasai Mara below:

Bday in the Wild: To Maasai Mara: (Part I)

Bday in the Wild: Atop a Hot Air Balloon (Part II)

All photography: yours truly, except for the first by Smiles. And yes, she witnessed that.

 

 

 

10703992_787706441276339_1274066966158109720_nWhen a gig was too good that you couldn’t find the right words to describe it – then someone else did! Dickson Migiro on Sauti Sol …

“Let’s face it. Last night’s Sauti Sol gig at Tree House brought together a large group of like-minded strangers. For Social Skydivers (people who like to meet strangers) it was a gem. Digits were swapped, sweat broken and drinks bought. I first saw Sauti Sol perform at Alliance in a John Sibi-Okumu play circa 1999, I fell in love with them then and just when I thought I couldn’t fall any deeper, here I am posting. Over and above their music, which manages to be both old school and fresh, they seem to bring together a certain mix of people that even though they come from such diverse backgrounds have a common thread. They like experiences, they have traveled, they hate Kanye West and all that theatrics that pass for the music industry. These people want connection, they want to try a new cocktail, go somewhere new, meet someone new… Flirt without it having to go anywhere. Flirt for the heck of it and the unintended results that that has. And it is not always sex. No one fought. Everyone was gracious. There was some pushing and shoving as one would expect on any self-respecting dance floor. There was otherwise proper girls who dissolved into giggly fans. I liked it. It made a resonance with me. It re-affirmed my love for this really talented boy band … We live in hope.”

BONUS: No edit. This post is a replica of my good friend and writer Dickson’s Facebook post following another one of Sauti Sol’s successful concerts over the past weekend.

Signing out,

Proud Publicist.

DSC_1494You’ve heard a lot of people call others their doppelgänger or siblings from another mother. When it comes to our individuality, what really constitutes our solitary self as human beings? Who are we? What are we made of? Who are you? Who am I?

The self is an impalpable topic, which fascinates me. The 2014 publication, Self, is probably the most interesting yet strangling philosophical text I’ve come across. Barry Dainton, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Liverpool presents to the reader several scenarios that require you to channel your sixth sense.

In the prologue, he makes you the subject of an assumption. Imagine waking up in the morning and realising that something above your head- your brain is missing. Your computer has a message left by the kidnappers that reads, “You will receive an email from us shortly – your brain will be returned to you.” Beyond mind-boggling, this context serves as a central part of Barry’s belief and argument. Barry constantly refers to theories and texts by olden philosophers and scientists on the quest to understand the self, while constantly making assumptions. In the end, a couple of things that probably constitute the self of a human being arise. Our consciousness make us more than just physical beings. But we are also more than just consciousness. Barry terms part of the self as our stream of continuous consciousness (C-System).

The self is more diverse and elusive than we think or has been deduced, because the exact point of the brain that owns the mind and how it synchronizes all other bodily/mind functions hasn’t yet been conclusively and unanimously been identified. Barry writes: suppose you lost all consciousness or you are dead in dreamless sleep – would you still be yourself or someone else? If you were to teleport, would the other person who arrives in the other destination, worlds apart, still be you or someone else with certain aspects of your self? If you had an accident and lost all consciousness and your memory, should you be considered to be a new person? VR_simulation_room_axe

Regarding how future technology might affect the self, Barry presupposes that shall technology find a way of working closely with the human brain in the coming centuries, human beings would simply use memory chips with other people’s C-systems. And if you had this chip, you could at a moment live inside the mind and consciousness of whatever personality you fancied from the past or future, even Michael Jackson or Napoleon. “These virtual reality trips to the past would certainly be used occasionally in history lessons, and future historians will no doubt make more use of the facility, as would novelists and others with a particular interest in what it was like to live at a certain period.”

A more advanced technology would have future people either have a way or extending life cells and lifespan in general or immerse minds, through memory chips attached to computer software or technology simulation, into a virtual world, where you could create your world or rebuild your existence anew—pretty similar to architectural simulation of the film: Inception. (This part of the book shikas me a good one!)

Barry is convinced that if technologies like global wireless internet connection on mobile devices, something that seemed like magic centuries ago, was invented – there are so many more innovations similar to magic that could be invented. Barry writes: It is very important to appreciate just how powerful the most powerful computers of the future might be. He refers to Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom’s simulation trilemma argument:

  1. The human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a technologically advanced stage.
  2. It is unlikely that any advanced civilization will run large numbers of simulations of their own history.
  3. We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.

But to what extent will technological simulation on humans be survivable? If you could get into a virtual world, teleport, acquire or exchange personalities and consciousness, would you return to your original self, dead or alive? Barry speculates. The self remains a subject as deep and vast as the ocean. In summary, Barry asserts that the human will is self-driven. It is possible that you could survive almost anything, in life and through afterlife – but only if it’s what your mind wants and determined to achieve.

The self can’t be defined solely though physical attributes or the pumping of a heart but by the memory’s composition, and how this is influenced by past and present social and genetic factors. The present, however, seems to trigger most our autobiographical memories, even more than video recordings and pictures. “Psychological research has shown that our memories are not passive replays of (mental) recordings, but active re-creations, which typically involve a sizeable number of fictional elements.”

DSC_1492I bought this awesome book in Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum Bookshop. It isn’t for the light-minded. Expect to encounter jargon and some uninspiring diagrams. But if you can keep up with Barry’s book and your mind’s interpretations of this information; you will be a step closer to understanding the self and it’s facets like souls and how it all evolves though continuity and streams of life.

BONUS: You might dig my other post on ‘what’s your self without Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram?’ Cyber Space Obsession: when is time to hit delete?

I found a review of Self + other similar books. Read here: “Is there such a thing as the self? Teleportation and LSD trips could help us understand the nature of personal identity”

Intelligent Life Sept/ Oct 2014 writes:  the point of life is to bring about more consciousness.

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 03.28.10This year, my vision of marking a new year in different style, started at treating my birth day celebration as a one-week affair. Since my arrival in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, on a late Tuesday afternoon; every single minute and second of the week feels like its mine, to celebrate and note that it’s my birthday (4th Sept).

This year, I didn’t want a party or some kind of celebration in the city, so I ran to the serene wild, where one of my best friends, Smiles and her hubby, happen to live their happily ever after. It’s great to reunite with Smiles and her hubby Danny (also referred here sometimes as Dan or Daniel) who is a pilot. I also meet his pilot friend John. Smiles works at Mara as a balloon ride photographer alongside Danny, who flies balloons. They have already booked me for a balloon ride tomorrow morning.

I am so excited about this ride; I can hardly sleep on my first night. I am however, already dreading how early we have to get up tomorrow morning to prepare for the ride – 4:00 a.m.! “I’ve been doing this for years and I’ve never got used to waking up that early,” Smiles confesses. Danny’s strong voice acts as our main alarm system on Wednesday morning– “Girls! Time to get up!” I am not a morning person but boy! Am I excited or what? Quick shower, warm clothing, some hot tea and minutes later, we are outside the Serena Hotel, joined by several Norwegian tourists. What nobody (except for pilots) ever realizes is how meticulous the journey of steering a hot air balloon is, even before takeoff.

First, the pilots explain to us that we’ll have to take a 25-minute drive into the bush, into a flat and open area, safe for the balloons to take off. And how, when we arrive, they will have to ascertain that the weather conditions (not rainy) support takeoff. As we drive off into the wilderness, it’s still pitch dark; it must be about 5:00 a.m. now. Some wild animals like Antelopes and Gazelles are graving. They stop to watch the lights from the safari vehicles disturbing the peace. When we arrive, passengers marvel as the pilots start to operate the two balloons flying this morning. But before that, pilot Daniel gives us all instructions while a balloon assistant demonstrates how to enter the rectangular-shaped balloon box, now lying on its side. “You have to enter the box while lying down. Ensure that your feet are attached to the strings inside and if you have a handbag ensure that it’s between your feet – to avoid it flying off or hitting you, during landing. (Why – oh why – did I carry a handbag here?).

During takeoff and landing, ensure that your head is placed on the board of the box, to avoid yourselves bumping into each other or being shaken tremendously.” This is harder than I thought it must have been for balloon pilots. I have heard all the rules, now all I want is just to hop in. It’s time! It’s a little awkward though, lying upside down and turning your neck backwards, to watch the pilot blow the balloon with cold air, then hot air. It is around 6:00 a.m. now. It’s bright and I can finally see how grandiose a balloon really is. It’s nearly five times the size of a basketball court, and nothing as small as they seem in pictures above air or in the movies. After what seems like a dangerous hot and cold air blowing mission, complete with fire blazing, the pilot alerts us that we are about to take off. The balloon starts to swell and rise upward. Its strength raises the wooden box decorated by reeds. Within no time, we start to slowly rock, left to right; and then we start to slowly rise above. A crew of around 20 men and a tractor, out of the box, are holding onto the balloon, propelled by strong ropes, pulling left and right – until the pilot feels it right to takeoff and signals them all to let go. DCIM100MEDIAWe are slowly flying up. Yeeeeei!

We slowly ascend further and move towards north of Mara. As the pilot blows air into the balloon, there is a constant alternating “Hoooooooov!!” sound above our heads, after which there is a short period of enjoyed silence. We spot Topis, ugly vultures above trees (with beautiful nests resting on their heads) and a lioness on top of a rock. She is later chased by two Buffalos. Then we spot dozens of zebras, next to a herd of migrating wildebeests along their milky curvy shaped path. That hovering sound off the balloon scares the wildebeests, which take off in speed. I just witnessed part of the wildebeest migration! The pilot turns out to be a safari guide just as brilliant. He explains to us the nature of all the wild animals and their behaviors, we see. What a sight!

The beauty atop the game reserve beats anything! It’s like a game drive from above. It’s something everyone has to partake. I turn back to check out the other balloon, a couple of metres from us and there it is – the sunrise. I’ve never seen a more striking sunrise. The clouds have opened just like in those ‘what heaven is like’ pictures published in the Jehovah Witness books, usually issued for free. After snapping away a few pictures (which I don’t have now, because at the time of this experience, my phone has just a few days before it gets acquired by a forceful new owner – let’s call it Nairobbery), I am dire need of a nice selfie, so I ask the Norwegian woman next to me to get into the shot. It’s such a beautiful morning and feeling that I have already forgiven her for having asked me during takeoff– “Do you speak English?” But I can’t really blame her after all, seeing I am the only black person/Kenyan on this balloon. All the others, holding onto the balloon, were left on ground. I probably could speak and write better than her. I actually do speak better English; I discover as we strike a rapport.

We land in the middle of nowhere, the border of Kenya and Tanzania – somewhere in between Serengeti National Reserve’s Lemala Kuria Hills at about 8:00 a.m. The grass here is taller than I am; so glad I wore my worker boots. I am dazed from the spectacular view and the pilot’s art of steering the balloon/smooth landing– everything that got us here. As the balloon’s crew is back at disembarking, from afar I hear Pilot Daniel calling out my name, “Anyiko! Are you okay? Uko sawa?” When was the last time I had such a good morning? I converse with my inner self– ‘Oh! It’s Wednesday morning—the eve of my birthday. At approximately this time, I could have easily been in Nairobi’s polluted traffic or at work, but I am not. I am lost in this Bday week bliss.’

DCIM100MEDIAEven though I wasn’t in the same balloon ride with Smiles, she knows what this means to me and understands when I can’t respond to her question on ground, “So how did you like your first ballooning experience?”

The Serena Hotel crew has set up a magnificent breakfast buffet somewhere by the bush. We start off by tossing to a glass of champagne before the real deal. From afar, I can see a towering beautiful giraffe grazing into the jungle. “It’s not even my birthday” *Insert Riri Voice*

BONUS: Later this afternoon, we are heading over to Narok at one of the ballooning pilot’s farewell party, at his crib. Tomorrow, my birthday should be super chilled. We have only planned to catch the wildebeest migrating across the Mara River …

In the continuation of my tales from Maasai Mara during Bday week, read Bday in the Wild: The Wildebeest Migration (Part III)

. Coming soon …

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

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

It’s Sept 2nd, Tuesday morning.

I just returned to Kenya, a few hours ago, from an awesome weekend in Tanzania. Sauti Sol was playing at a massive concert in Dar es Salaam hosted by Legendary Music Tanzania. There’s so much work pending but my birthday is imminent, and its plans – more important. As I struggle to meet deadlines to leave in a few hours, I receive numerous texts from my girl Smiles, who can’t wait to see me. I can’t wait to see her either! But somehow, I sort of know that I’ll probably miss my flight, scheduled for 3:15 p.m.

Just as I am heading to town, Smiles orders, “Buy us four large pizzas! Promise we’ll eat them all.” It’s terrific Tuesday – buy one and get another free. Yaaay! But I end up waiting so long on the pizzas that should have been ready 30 minutes ago. Crazy queue! “You guys I’ll be late somewhere,” I beg the ladies serving us, prompting them to quickly shove some boxes my way. And the series of unfortunate events start to roll … Balancing four large pizzas and my luggage, I grab a random taxi in town. As soon we take the turning into Wilson airport, a policeman accosts us. “Kwa nini hauna headlights? Toka nje ya gari!” The driver begs him to let us go so that I don’t miss my flight but he doesn’t flinch. The policeman takes the driver’s license. By the time the two agree that they’ll meet after I am dropped off, I am already too late for my flight. ‘There is no way in heaven or hell that I am going back home with these pizzas’ – I tell myself. ‘And if I can’t get another flight, I will just sit here and eat them all.’ I am not panicking or afraid that I won’t get another flight. After standing my ground and cajoling Safari Link—they’ve got me a spot! Finally, leaving Nairobi. Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 01.00.14

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 01.12.05 After sipping on some good sweet white wine, catching up, surrounded by the panoramic 360-view of the game reserve, and filming another happiness-filled Instavideo; Smiles, impressively in control of that Landrover, drives me home along the bumpy road. It’s about 4:00 p.m. I am lucky my arrival coincides with the evening Game Drive time. Our companion, Paul – a safari guide with Serena Hotels, is kind enough to explain to me the nature of all the wild animals we encounter. Among other wildlife, we spot a lioness, leopard and buffalo—three of the big five, yet I have just arrived! I think topis and waterbucks are really cute.

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

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

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

In the continuation of my tales from Maasai Mara during bday week read:

Bday in the Wild: Atop a Hot Air Balloon (Part II)

Bday in the Wild: The Wildebeest Migration (Part III)

DSC_1063

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.

#worldcup #Netherlands #Hague #Celebrations

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the complete Love, Sex and Drugs series below:

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part I)

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

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part III)

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Sex and Drugs: Amsterdam (Part IV)

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

Dreams of Greatness

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

— Your piece of work.

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

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

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

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

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

They have a shop for just about everything and anything in Amsterdam. #Tourist

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

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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, in 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_n

It’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. 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, my phone camera takes a mean video.

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).

At the beach. It's 22:12 pm and it's that bright. #summer

A video posted by black roses (@anyikowoko) on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Rules of Attraction

Light Swicth

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lemonade

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

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

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

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

  • Daisy’s Eye Fund

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

  • Hope for Cancer Kids

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

  • Keemokidz – Beyond Cancer

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

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

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

  • Texas Cancer Centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

I decided that I would go see Paul on Thursday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are they abandoning him even in death?

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

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

Writing this was a balance between thought and tears.

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

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

Check out this story’s spin off via France 24’s The observers: Children with cancer abandoned at Kenya’s largest hospital

My Apology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chasing Shadows

Why must I see your shadow everywhere I go?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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