Keeping your distance by @azizmola

I have never seen death up close. Especially death through mob justice. It’s one of those things that leaves you scared for life. Usually no one is prosecuted for this and that leaves you thinking how many murderers are out here walking. This past Mashujaa day I thought I might just experience one – death up close.

As I alighted from the taxi, and bid farewell to Mwende and Lulu, I was still thinking about Sarabi’s performance. Their conscious message kept ringing in my head and I felt it could be a life transforming moment. I would no longer be the passive bystander as corruption and evil ran free around me.

I stood by the road and heard a commotion to my right just outside Yaya Centre. A crowd was forming and with each passing second it grew bigger and bigger. Men and women that you would otherwise pass in the street as just ordinary Kenyans. I knew something was going down.

A sharp scream tore through the murmurs that were coming from that direction.

“Niwacheni (Leave me alone)”

This was followed by shrieks of pain as blows and kicks fell.

“Eh! Mchape! Wametuzoea!”, a woman said.

As the beating kept coming I notice two cars just parked next to the crowd. Curiosity was calling me to go closer. This was mixed with the feeling that i should go do something.

The guy being beaten was lifted off the ground by one of the crowd’s ring leaders as another opened the boot to one of the cars. He did his best to fight the men pushing him into the boot, looking around for anyone to come to his rescue.

I watched from across the road. Keeping my distance.

You never know about these things. Maybe he actually did something criminal and the men in heavy jackets throwing him into the boot were policemen. This is Kenya.

On the other hand he could be an innocent man and the others were staging a kidnapping. Or it could be a hate crime. Someone at the right place but in the wrong time.

As these thoughts raced in my head a City Hoppa bus approached and I boarded. The conductor turned to me as I was sitting and asked me what was happening.

“Sijui amefanya nini, niliona tu akipigwa na hao wananchi wengine (I dont know what he has done, just saw the others roughing him up)”

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Crossroads by @shikongure

“Can I tell you something Cousin Shiko?”

“You are quitting school and joining a cult?”

“Huh? What the…”

“Bananas?”

Laughter

“That’s a good one. What the bananas.”

I am home for the first time in a while. There has been endless chatter since I got here two days back. The children and I have been trying to fit weeks’ worth of conversation into the few hours I have before we are back to short phone calls and word of mouth “I miss you”.

“You look different.”

I pause.

“You don’t look happy. I know you laugh but it is not the same.”

There is honesty found in children that is just beautiful. I perform an elaborate happy dance and leave him in a laughing fit. I leave the house through the back door. I walk around the
compound for a while. It is almost 8 pm.

A few hours later I am seated in the office. Everyone is asleep. I have been trying to get some work done for the last hour. “Is it that obvious though?”

I miss my laptop. It used to be a happy place. Now every single time I turn it on I feel sad. In my attempt to prove that I could be ‘normal’ I signed a contract that is literally sucking the life out of me. I love writing. I used to. Now it literally gives me migraines and sleepless nights. Even worse, it is taking me away from my family.

I have turned into that which I always mocked. I am torn between quitting and seeing this through. A decision has to be made soon. I will take this weekend out and just be, hopefully literally and literary run into inspiration at the Sondeka Festival.

Blue Land Cruiser Blues by @don_mu2ua

“Imagine if a blue Land Cruiser pulled up, the windows rolled down and the guy seated on the passenger side told us to jump at the back for a ride to town. What would you do?” Shrieks and peals of laughter sliced through the otherwise quiet night as we walked down the lit pavements of Processional road. We stopped momentarily; one guy developed a Harlem shake like seizure and quickly progressed to a ROTFLMAO (Rolling on the Floor Laughing My (his, in context) Ass Out) routine. The other two guys I was walking with also seemed to be in a similar fit but on their feet. One held on to one of the streetlight poles as he held his ribs, pain and amusement rocking his body. The other guy just stood there, his hands in his pockets and heaving in intervals with laughter as if what I had asked hit him afresh after every so often. I, well, I just stood there amused and confused.
My question was not supposed to be funny, if I knew it was I would continue with the onslaught of funny questions. I looked around, we were alone. This would be embarrassing if anyone who knew us passed here. A light went on in the nearby apartments, jolting people back to sanity. They shuffled amid snuffles of laughter, continuing our slow procession to the CBD. “Dude, you got jokes!” came the friendly pat on the back. Note to self, add that to catalogue of jokes under “may induce fits and seizures”. Self agrees hesitantly with a raised eyebrow. So once people catch their breath, I invoke my most serious voice and re-ask the question. They laugh again, but I figure the laughter is a way of re-evaluating my seriousness.
I give them time, and it dies down. “You know that’s like a goat hitching a ride on a KMC (Kenya Meat Commission) van or a pig a Farmers Choice van.” They burst out hysterically again; at this point I think this lot has been deprived of laughter for quite a while. I indulge them in the impracticality of such occurrences, silently bookmarking the analogy for future use. I try not to laugh at the thought, but a chuckle betrays my amusement. Then again, what would a goat or pig be doing on a pavement? Or a sane person be smoking to ask a goat/ pig to hop in the back of a van? Would the goat even consider… I shrug and stop to let my serious self catch up with me; he smacks the back of my head in disapproval and assumes command.
I walk on, letting them decide to answer when they do. “I have had enough experiences in Land Cruisers to know that if one pulled up, the passenger will find my bewildered shadow standing here by the time his window has fully rolled down.” He of the goat rides started laughing but the serious tone with which the response came stifled his laugh in his throat. Crickets egg on the guy with a slow shadow to continue with his narrative, he obliges. Turns out he was actually pretty scarred by the passengers and drivers of the said blue land cruisers. He had three experiences, all cases of being at the wrong place at the wrong time but with valid reasons at least to him.
First time, he was a freshman at the University and green to the night life. As all nights go, it always starts with a house/ cubicle bash in one of the hostels. Cheap hard liquor is bought, someone contributes a music system for the necessary ambience and the other procures willing company in form of classmates or random girls. You cannot afford to be picky. Their lack of taste/choice or both saw them headed to Nakumatt Lifestyle at midnight to restock on the supply of alcohol. With the huge turnout of company, the few “mzingas” had run out. Some of them had scored but the girls said they needed to dance before they called it a night. Besides, everyone (except them at the time) knows that clubs allow people in for free past 2 am, with no obligation to buy any drinks.
As the gracious (and naive) hosts, they trudged slowly to town. It was pre-mututho era (I should mention the nostalgia in which he recounted this part), so it was easy to get affordable non-counterfeit drinks over the counter. A few meters from their destination they encountered a blue Land Cruiser, with their equally blue uniformed occupants surrounding it. He continued with normal conversation and approached them; never noticing the lack of response to his questions. The alcohol in his system had made his mouth a motor anyway; he did not pause or care for responses. He also saw no wrong in walking the streets at night, it was Friday and there was plenty of life in the CBD. He was confident he was a law abiding citizen, brazen with knowledge of bill of rights and the constitution.
He was stopped obviously and he quickly realized that once in the snare, escaping scot free was not part of the deal. After a baffling Q&A session that left him tongue tied, he was introduced to the back of a Land Cruiser for loitering as well as being drunk and disorderly. A cold night in a cell and less a HELB procured smartphone later, he went back to school to laughter and mock sympathy. Two other instances happened at home, but less dramatically and he had learnt to walk around with money for “tea” since then. In fact, the other two times he was dropped near his place for cooperation, but in a not so obvious way. His only regret was both times he refused to pick a cab for KSh 1000 from town, only to board a matatu for KSh 100, and part with the same amount he would have spent on cab fare.
In an effort to chip in to Slow Shadow’s story, Goat Rides decided to give an experience he had heard from his friend. Apparently, the poor guy had walked his cousin to downtown where the Coast bound buses are boarded when things turned sour. He had just crossed into Luthuli Avenue heading to Archives to pick a bus home when he was yanked from the shadows and a silver brace attached to his arm. Shocked, he was added to a procession that included drunks, ladies of the night, street kids and other unlucky people like him. He was accused of having evaded capture as a hawker earlier that evening, and the heavily accented boy (man really) in blue might as well have been deaf. That is until he was given a lecture on how hard the blue life was, the long hours, cold nights and thankless public. He asked the man in blue to stop one of the hawkers selling hot tea in mugs. The uneasy laugh and heavy slap that met his jaw nudged him on cue to part with some “tea” money; surely a big boy/ man like him knew where he could buy himself tea without budget constraints.
Some more rambling about Land cruiser blues saw us past the towering AON building and into the bright lights of Serena. I noticed one guy had been particularly quiet, looking at his phone nervously once in a while. I taped him and asked him why he was so quiet. He said he had just asked his dad to pick him up at GPO and that he was almost there. We switched topics, started discussing the traffic lights and how ornamental they looked at the GPO round about. Drivers in Kenya must be colour blind we concluded, as affluent Range Rovers and BMWs led the convoy of Toyotas in running the traffic lights. Our conversation at the bus stop at GPO degenerated to politics, how our salaries (when they eventually arrive) are doomed with taxes for such ornamental purposes and funding protests abroad.
We were too engrossed debating if our two day president was our fifth president to notice a blue Toyota Corolla pull up slowly and a window roll down. The silent guy started saying his goodbyes as we shared puzzled looks. The man in blue waved at us and had a hushed conversation in the car with the silent guy. He asked if anyone was headed to Thika road, which we all declined. The GK number plate disappeared into the night. “So, boys in blue also have sons?” Goat Rides really needed to have a governor in his mouth I thought.

When misery needs company by @theveon

There is something about colourful matatus plying the 125 Route. They are loud, way too loud, but most importantly, they are fast.
When you live in Rongai, getting stuck in traffic is a constant worry. So you will stand at Railways bus stop until you spot one of those colourful matatus, then pray to Dear Father that there will be a vacant seat. How do you know there is one? You listen for the tout’s chants. If the chants are absent, dear friend, you are screwed… but should you hear “Ronga wire! Ronga wire!” smile a little, but not for too long. Lest a mob makes it to the matatu before you do.
This afternoon, 4.00pm found me standing at Railways waiting for a matatu, I knew it was coming. I could spot a vibrant purple in the parking lot that was Haile Selasie Avenue, so I stood with my water bottle tightly clutched, pressure exerted on my toes; ready for flight. I was going to board that matatu; nothing was going to stop me.
After a few minutes traffic lights changed, the parking lot shifted, the purple hall started, jumped then stopped next to me. Luck hasn’t always been mine, but today she was, for that minute anyway. Before the tout was done screeching “watatu wa haraka” I was in the matatu, chest first followed by a forehead that screened the matatu in half a second and decided to skip two seats next to funny looking dudes with thirsty looking hair and sit to this female that was definitely not going to ask for my number… followed by inquiries about my not so smart a phone.
Before I can settle into my seat, the matatu lurches forward, tires squeal, the tout waves to the traffic cop and we are on our way to Rongai. These colourful matatus do not waste time. Neither should I. I take out Andre Dubus’ A House of Sand and Fog, find my bookmark and start feeding my eyes. But they complain. It is too bright. The sun is on its way to Ngong Hills and the window in the Purple hall opens right under it. Sunglasses are called for. Sunglasses are taken out. A head is shifted in attempts to zip the hand bag without disturbing she that sits next to me.
It is then that I notice her.
Her head leans on the glass pane, slightly thrusted forward; wisps of her hair caress her cheeks without moving her. She stares. Into what? I have no idea. You see, the matatu is moving way too fast for her eyes to be fixated on one particular scene, I am convinced that the eye in her mind has conjured a scene, not too beautiful a scene, and refused to let it go.
The girl seated next to me holds her face like a fist, staunchly and refuses to let go. Her eyes glimmer, more than anyone’s should. The heat from the afternoon sun doesn’t bother her, yet my sweat glands are busy producing a dam. She sits there with her fist of a face, and stares.

During my days at The Mary Leakey Girls School, someone kept insisting that staring is bad manners, so I quickly throw on my sunglasses and go back to my book before she catches me taking her in. but I cannot concentrate. So I look at her, through the sides of my sunglasses. I watch the anguish in her eyes, the one her face denies and my curiosity is piqued.
Do I talk to her? Do I ask her what the time is and distract her from her sorrows? Or do I just sit here and take the sight of her in and use it in a blog post some day? I am torn, really.
Before I can make up my mind; her wall breaks. She unclenches the fist of a face and a tear pours. Slowly, like it knows it will be the first of many and will quickly be forgotten in the wake of others. The girl lets it flow until it gets to that point of the cheek where the jaw chisels. Then slowly, as if someone filmed her actions then played them in slow motion, the girl lifts her hand, exposes her naked nails and wipes at her cheek, face still leaning on the glass pane, eyes still looking inside her mind.
I want to offer her some tissue… or just stupid gossip… I want to pretend that if I talk to her, if I feign concern; she will be OK. That she will think of me as a friend that she will speak of her pain, a break up maybe? And I will help her demonize whoever it was that caused it. But I am caught up in my own skin and fighting to mind my own business.
I go back to pretending to read Andre Dubus and let her tears flow without my intrusion until we get to Tuskys Rongai and the purple hall makes a U-Turn, followed by noises of amateur touts screeching “Tao Chwani! Tao Chwani!” Only then does she break her solitude, turn to me and say “aki hii homa”.
I smile at her, a small smile that says we shall pretend it is a cold that caused those tears and the lost eyed look, and then I lift my almost empty water bottle, tilt it towards her a little and say. “Lemon helps.” As if life hasn’t given her enough lemons.

Minding Your Own Business by @azizmola

Have you seen what happens to people who do not mind their own business? The lady who gets harrassed by the matatu conductor because she chose to voice her disagreement with him over raising the fare. The guy who gets beat up by some able bodied men because he saw one of them mistreating a woman in the club and thought he should do something about it. If you’ve seen all these happening in your short time on earth, why should you mind about other peoples’ business? Keep quiet, accept and move on. The world is full of evil people, at least you’re not one of them.

I’ve grown up knowing that if I mind my own business I am safe. A few weeks back, I saw a friend of mind ranting on Twitter. There was the whole Tony Mochama debate raging on and she thought she’d give her two cents. Harrassment happens to women all the time in this country, the Tony thing aside. She didn’t want to talk about that incident but address the whole issue of women rights as a whole. So she starts off by tweeting how women do not feel safe in public spaces these days, both offline and online.

As her tweets keep coming, the effect set in. You can only push an issue so far before someone starts pushing back. Unfortunately, the effect is not always positive. Cyber bullying hiding as social media debate comes into play and she receives a barrage of abuse from men in the online space. “You feminists are part of the problem”. As she becomes more distraught I know I should say something. Not as a man trying to rescue her but as a friend. But I choose to keep quiet. Collective Inertia.

I know at some point, in the near future, something will get on my nerve. I will want to come online and tell the world about it. I will hope that my voice is loud enough for people to hear even if they are not listening. I will be drowned out by the voices telling me that I am a man and these are not things we rant about. Some replies might even get negative. Who will come to stand by my side? Will those who follow me sit by the side and watch it from their screens? Will they choose to mind their own business?

Something’s gotta give by @boogiegirl_

We’re watching the news and a man has been shot at Nairobi Central Police Station for attacking an officer with a panga. The deceased as it turns out was mentally impaired, carrying in his pockets papers from “Mathare”. There’s a previous report of a man also shot for attacking an honourable member with a panga. He also, was mentally impaired. I ask why policemen are gunning down mentally ill persons and no one replies. The next item is something political and conversations ensue.

My condition is kept within clinic walls and a few family members and one day when a lecturer at school asked me to explain my behavior, I did. He asked whether one day I’d decide to strip on the streets and start collecting garbage. I said, no. He insisted that that was what I had insinuated and I eventually agreed. At the registrar’s, everyone wants to know why my registration number is different from the others and when they check my file and the see the attached letter from a PSYCHIATRIST they all walk away with smiles(?) and whispers follow.

The very first time at the hospital all the nurses, filled with curiosity, wanted to see the girl’s wrist. They had never administered “Clozapine” before. I had four doctors, five nurses and a counselor visit me every morning just to see how I responded to the medication. It was curiosity. There was something queer about me that they all wanted to know and share. In the physiology class, I was the case study. My classmates wanted to know if what we learned in class was what actually happened when you took the meds. Everyone wanted to know why my arm was bandaged.

“Ah! We umewatch movie za wazungu. Vitu kama hizi huwa hazihappen.”
But they all wanted to see.

In the new class, the first person to see my arm asked more than too much and shared more than he knew. Everyone wanted to know, to see…
Insanity has a face and it’s not just me.
Insanity is a dirty, half (or fully) naked woman on a street screaming obscenities garbage in hand. Never calm.

I hate how everyone who knows a name for my condition thinks I’ll jump on them and slit their throats. I’m scared that if I ramble on in a conversation people will wonder what’s wrong with me. So I sit silently and smile at everyone because one wrong move and I won’t miss one or two persons curious about life on this side.

Recently, I got a text from my doctor, “Friday October tenth is World Mental Health Day” and I have been and still am wondering what to do on this day. See, I want to raise awareness but someone might come out and utter a phrase so untrue that it grates my soul and once again people will not even be scared of me but just curious (and not in a nice way). Nevertheless, I assume I know what to do because I know I can never be comfortable within my own body unless the people around me come to terms with my funk.

Stop and stare via @don_mu2ua

My phone and bag’s shoulder strap had established an alternating dance of their own; one slid from my shoulder as the other slid from my palm. As they slid, so did my patience; my attempts at keeping calm were being questioned by every person that brushed hastily past me. Nairobi was always in a rush, a bee line of activity until the day ends. I let the shoulder strap slide a bit longer as I grappled with my phone. I hit the redial button and counted the rings. There’s that lady again, as always the bringer of bad news. Curiously, she never called back to tell me she had found my “mteja”, I even doubt she knew when they were available. I stopped and heaved in sweat, smoke and noise as bodies pushed past me in opposite directions. My torso was almost being ripped apart, luckily I wasn’t the tiniest of the lot; some stumbled as they tried to push me.

I adjusted my bag and scrolled down the glistening keypad and punched the numbers again to the protest of plastic. Suddenly, I felt a cold breeze raise the hairs of my neck, a sixth sense of sorts. I felt eyes on me narrowed with mischief, like vultures circling a carcass ready to swoop in. I look around, everything seemed to be normal. People are still walk-racing down the streets, matatus are still hooting and exhaust fumes well… still getting exhausted. There is a cacophony of conversation in the air; hawkers, conductors, people on phone, people on the same street, people shouting from across the street. Sigh, the symphony of chaos that counts for normal in this city! I look around again just to be sure, adjust my bag and pocket my phone. I join the fray of pushing and shoving, cautious at first then I ease into it.

Walking in these streets, I had seen quite a lot of unscripted Hollywood material unfolding right before my eyes. There was an instance where I saw a mobbing of an alleged thief, poor guy tried to plead as he bled. He was under suspicion of stealing a phone, I bet he rued the day he thought of snatching a phone from someone. I stopped and stared at the spectacle and listened to the irate mob, intrigued and shocked at the same time. A burly guy came past me and asked, “Huyu amefanya nini? (What has this one done?)” “Ameibia ule madam pale simu akiwa kwa gari (He stole from that lady while she was in a vehicle)”. Just like that, he had found a justification to introduce the screaming gentleman to his boots. There were murmurs of setting an example with him, while others projected their own losses to the poor guy. Someone smacked my hand from my chin and told me not to sympathize, if it was my phone that was robbed, I would want the same justice for myself. I shrugged and left the place in a hurry.

In retrospect, I think it is an occupational hazard of all thieves in town. They believe in their ability to snatch/ grab and run. They believe in their knowledge of the streets to be able to duck and cover to the unsuspecting pursuers. Believe that surprise can immobilize and give them those precious seconds to be gone with the wind. They believe in the adrenaline coursing through their veins to give them the turbo charge necessary to overcome any form of resistance. Most of all, they believe in the element of surprise. I bet they also realize that they are always on the clock against their “40-day” trial period, and some day they would be pleading like the guy who was being mobbed. Some were smarter, they conned and used brain than brawn; they tricked and played with compassionate and unsuspecting souls. No wonder no one in these streets could give time of day to a stranger asking for directions, genuine or not.

On the flip side, there are those whose 40-day trial period seemed to have unlimited extensions. Those who always left behind a baffled victim; screaming his/ her lungs out, crying, chasing after ghosts, hands over their heads in consternation or just rooted to the ground. Some have tears streaming down their cheeks, some lose control of their lower jaws and eyelids. Some laughed, some sympathized, some asked for the story, others recreated the scene for those who missed it. Then there were those, like me, who wanted nothing of the drama. We just stopped and stared, then hurriedly crossed the street or boarded a bus to look on from a safe distance. We sigh, and lament at how the city is not a place for lambs.

Someone pushes past me roughly, and my shoulder strap comes undone. I scowl but my angry retort is stuck in my throat; the bag is yanked from my relaxed shoulders and flung across the street. Like a scene in a movie, someone else catches it mid-flight and pulls the lapel open while still in motion. He yanks a black object from my bag and runs into the maze of people. My bag hits the pavement and draws attention to the scene that just unfolded. My mind races with adrenaline, but my body is in parking gear except for my eyes. They take in every single action sequence with relish; this could have been a nice action movie scene like “Nairobi Half Life”. Cue in idle onlookers, gasping in disbelief, others very amused by the sudden turn of events. I walk over and pick my bag from the ground; I know exactly what they took, so I don’t bother checking what was left behind. I adjust my sunglasses and clear my throat, crossing the street in a hurry.

I stop and stare at the scene of the crime, my crime. I feel all sorts of emotion, anger, frustration and despair. I can see the commentators are already in their gatherings, pointing to me obviously making reference to their main character. Some laughed, some threw me a sympathetic look, others the look of “he looks like he can get another by evening”. I saw those who stopped, stared and crossed the road. I keep wondering why no one sprang into action for me, like catch the guys or stop them in their tracks and beat them up as I reclaimed my precious laptop.

I wondered if some of them knew who stole from me, or if they were working together. I wondered how my inertia had made me a victim, why hadn’t I done something myself. I had an odd sense of karma, like I deserved what came to me. For all those times I stopped, stared and did nothing. I adjusted my now light shoulder strap and walked on, hopeful that I had cured my karma.