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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.

 

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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.

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“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.

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