Monthly Archives: April 2012

the weather

Dmitri Medvedev, the former president of Russia. I can’t say I know much about him except that Putin still holds almost all the power. I remember when he became president and he was walking down the aisle to his inauguration, it was a really long coronation carpet and he was walking, walking, walking down it. The daily show made fun of how long this thing was showing him walking, walking, walking down it and then out of nowhere they transpose this video of a Kenyan marathon runner overtaking him
“And the Kenyan takes it!” yelled Jon Stewart.
In Oslo we were hanging out with this half Russian, half Belgian when of course this story came out, one of the guys told him he doesn’t really seem Russian,
“Well that’s part of my training.” We laughed. He then told us about this video of Medvedev that was taken by a phone camera during an alumni event he attended for his university; it’s a video of Medvedev jamming to a 70’s version of American boy, doing all these classic soul moves.
“But wait what if you really are a Russian spy? Maybe we shouldn’t laugh so hard.”
“Yeah am taking video of this right now.” We laughed again.
Then he said that if he was a Russian spy he could just keep telling us h was and we wouldn’t believe him, just laugh along to the jokes that we chose to hear at this admission. Then I remembered an article I read about Putin in the Time magazine in 2007 when he was named person of the year, the journalist said the most disconcerting thing about talking to Putin was that he had taught himself not to blink.
“Then we know how to make sure he’s a spy huh?” said this Mozambique guy.
We turned to the guy and saw him blink ten times in ten seconds before he burst into a rendition of American boy complete with moves and goofy smile.
Thursday the 26th and I hate Norwegian weather, the sun doesn’t even peek out to smile, sure there’s light till ten at night but it’s filtered by clouds, stoppered by rain and I hate Norwegian rain, it’s so cold, so very cold. The water is always almost freezing, it finds exposed skin with complete ease and it just pricks apart your resistance. It doesn’t stop ever.
Same weekend in Oslo and am talking to this German guy who’s doing part of his degree course in Norway, Germans are sick when it comes to engineering which is what he’s doing and his university is so strict with requirements they said he would need to do a PhD. Course in the university here if they would recognise his credits.
And I begin to wonder why so many of my conversation stories don’t involve Norwegians. The other day I was in a bus and the driver didn’t stop at the stage. This guy runs in front of the bus, cigarette dangling from his lips, smoke dangling from the cigarette, he waves his arms maniacally and the bus stops, he point to the stage and says something. The driver waits for this show to stop and then drives on. I burst out laughing and everyone in the bus who doesn’t silently ignore the whole episode silently turns to me like I am the crazy one. Maybe that’s why they don’t. They don’t really seem to get me. They don’t really seem to want to. I used to think that the most common jumping off point for foreigners was how expensive everything was, but you get used to that and now it’s just dry humour. The thing that doesn’t go away is the bitching about the social acceptance of Norwegians. They are cold. So cold it finds all the unprotected surfaces of your skin and pricks it till you feel like you can bleed with loneliness.
I don’t know why. 
When I travelled to Poland I saw so much happiness and warmth in everyone’s face, so it’s not the weather that makes people like this. There were also potholes in Poland, a government that the people don’t really trust, political issues that needed fierce debate and a need to make the society better. I had this idea then that the reason people in countries struggling are so warm to each other is that they need to be. You need family and friends in Kenya since the time will come when the government will screw you over. You need that in Poland and in Belgium, them of the 541 days without a government. Not so much here. You can live life in your hut and if you have a heart attack don’t worry just call and you will be lifted off to a place with all the facilities needed. Maybe when we can’t trust our government we need to trust other social institutions. But I’ve been here 4 months I can’t already have put my finger on the pulse of what’s wrong, I can’t even really call it wrong. 
I read this book review a while back of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and the reviewer loved the book, you could see it in every word and if the book is half as good as the review of it then it’s a pretty awesome book, I haven’t read it yet but I will and the story of my search for it is a story. Anyway the reviewer talked about the problem with liberals and culture accepting types, “Liberals, no less than conservatives — and for that matter revolutionaries and reactionaries; in other words, all of us — believe some modes of existence are superior to others. But only the liberal, committed to a vision of harmonious communal pluralism, is unsettled by this truth.”  
But I don’t like Norwegian weather. All the promises of spring are disappearing under the cloud of rain and cold and constantly numb fingers.
I went out Friday and I began talking to this girl, long black hair, and the hint of a ring just where her tongue meets the cavern of all the rest that’s within and eyes that  draw you in like a vortex.
“Do you like it here?” she asked.
“Well the weather is shit.”
“That’s just this week, next week it goes to 20 degrees”
Ok. That’s warm here, that’s really warm, that’s get in your shorts and sandals and frolic in the beach warm. But it’s not really warm, 20 degrees back home people are afraid to leave their houses. However it’s much better than those prickles of rain and loneliness. The worst part about 20 degree weather here is that the sun is at this acute angle meaning a shade is cast over the street at all times. You walk in between two buildings and you are cast back to 8, 9 degrees. The weather is an illusion broken by man-made obstacles.
I really enjoyed talking to her and I wanted to see her again, and when I asked for contacts I got the most apologetic boyfriend admission ever.
“I’m sorry but I have a boyfriend, it’s a really bad time for me.” Well two things at least for me, it shouldn’t be a bad time. You should be happy and why oh why do Norwegian girls think that all interaction between people of opposite sexes has to have romantic connotations. What happened to friendship and a cup of coffee and a hook up with your friends who don’t have the same bad time? I think for me the worst part about it is everything in Norway is reduced to one night stands, walk too far away and the magic of a moment disappears forever. By the next day everything turns to ash at the butt of a cigarette. Stray too far away and the manmade obstacles block out all the rays of warmth that the sun promised.
Two nights in a row I went to the same club and the same bartender or bouncer was there, she seemed so professional and she was beautiful. I wanted to talk to her, am not sure about what, I wanted to tell her she was pretty and that I thought she was doing a good job and I wanted to tell he that even though we didn’t know each other I thought she was a good person and that the world needed more people like her if it was going to be a better place but that I wasn’t sure the world deserved to be a better place. But she lived in it and she deserved a better place to live in. You can’t say all this to someone you haven’t met, you can’t even mean it but  I was writing in my head and the sentences, they just strung  each other into a kite of expectations flying so high there’s no way the wind could support  it. At that point the thoughts weren’t even about her anymore it was just things that I wanted to mean to someone one day. I could have told her the first part at least, maybe I should have but I didn’t I was frozen in inaction and then I felt this inaction was the best action. There was a me who would not have hesitated but he only lives in bursts and flashes of daredevilry, he’s not constant and he wasn’t there then. He’s not with me much in Norway and i miss him. Sometimes he’ll come along with me and then I’ll meet someone interesting but more and more feel like I left him at the airport, and that am waiting to pick him up on my way to wherever’s next.
But as I write this the weather is nice, there’s warmth everywhere and the sound of fountains. Am actually outside. The sun changes all of us into better versions of what we are. Maybe that’s why so many metaphors of good are represented by light. Today I saw a butterfly, life in a yellow winged creature. And on the bench next to me a flock of seagulls has landed. They caw and search for food, unencumbered by anything like fear or culture. There’s a fountain and there’s birds and grass. My favourite moments in Norway have always been the ones away from all the man mad obstacles. When am out in the sun or a park. When a Norwegian has finally drunk enough alcohol that it washes away this cultural upbringing that says to them their winter weather is the perfect example of how to live their life. It’s still sunny today. Its 20 degrees or something out and I can’t be unhappy with this. The worst thing is to blame anyone else for what could be a fault with yourself.
Today the sun came out not in a spark but in a constant uninhibited series of rays and maybe that’s what I should do get the guy from the airport the one who would have told that bartender she was pretty or that she was doing a good job who would have thought that saying something nice to someone is a reward in itself a risk worth the potential rejection. For a compliment costs just a few words and in return you can get a heart melting smile. With 20 degrees being as warm as it gets anything that melts any part of you is probably worth it all.

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An i-pad winning story(convert)

You don’t gotta tell me that you feeling this shit/ I can hear what am saying i know am killing this shit-50 Cent.
It takes special balls to be a rapper, to go on the same scene with people who are your heroes, your influences, legends in your mind and then say you are better than them. The above statement is an example of this, a snide casting aside of the need for affirmation and adulation. I wish I could be like him but I need to be told every once in a while, I live in the shadow of insecurity and what-ifs and yes I have my moments when I don’t need it but every once in a while… which is why it was great to read what the judges in the fk-world blogging competition said about me:
His writing is funny, poetic and metaphoric with literary quality to it. The reader is drawn into his descriptions of what it is like being from Kenya and living in Norway, and the blog is filled with interesting reflections. Gragory manages to integrate knowledge even in the anecdotal and includes lots of good advice to his reader, eg “Convert. Don’t convert” – allowing for puns and double meanings.

And what is “convert. don’t convert” ?, here for your consumption is my award winning post:
So, how do you learn to live in a foreign country, one so vastly different from home that your experiences, culturally, socially, economically have absolutely no bearing on anything you have seen before?
Try not to convert.
How can you bear it when a beer in the club costs 58 kroner, the equivalent of almost 1,000 Kenyan shillings. In Kenya this was 5 beers in the club, in Kenya this was the money I used for a whole week as a university student. But you can’t think in Kenyan money otherwise you won’t eat.
Don’t convert.
How can you bear it when its defined as a warm day simply because the weather is at 5 degrees. In Kenya I was shivering at 18, 15 was too cold too bear. The June and July seasons were a nightmare of numbing proportions thoughts of frostbite actually entered my head as my hands entered my pocket. So 5 degrees is warm? But you can’t think in Kenyan weather otherwise you won’t move.
Do not convert.
How can you bear it when your definition of planning ahead is shot to hell. Book a ticket 2 weeks in advance and you’re cutting it close, 3 weeks in advance, ah you’re catching up, 4 weeks in advance then you begin to reap the benefits of the price tags of early tickets. Back home this kind of planning was futility. A bus ticket may have been available that far in advance but who would take it? Who can say with absolute certainty that on the 23rd of December he will be travelling upcountry to see his parents even though its already the 16th. Who knows what will happen?
In this regard at least we seem to be guided by the story of the man, the king and the horse, a man is sentenced to death and he tells the king in his desperation, please give me a year of life and I will teach your horse to fly. The king being possessed with curiosity grants him this boon. The man walks out gaily. He is asked what he thinks he gained by this reprieve and he says;
“in a year the horse may die, the king may die, I may die and who knows the horse may even learn to fly.”
In three weeks the mountain may very well come to Mohammed and the prophet will be stuck with a ticket up country that he can’t use. But you can’t think in Kenyan uncertainties otherwise you won’t save.
But don’t worry
Directions here are simple, a street name, a number and you can find anything. Put this into google maps or use an actual map. You will be told what tram to take and what time it gets there, how many minutes walk it is to the place and if you actually get lost ask for directions and trust the person you are asking, the honesty to say “I don’t know” is a Norwegian characteristic that will save you a lot of time. In Kenya directions begin with, “do you know the grey building? Ok now walk ahead until you see the other blue one, turn around until you see the old guy selling newspapers and next to him there’s a guy shining shoes now squeeze between them and… ” if you ask a guy on the streets for directions he may pause in puzzlement and frown his lack of certainty at you, if you still feel like trusting him follow his fingers on a wild goose chase to the ends of your wits.
But.
Sometimes the loneliness is gnawing. Away from home, away from friends, away from family, away from everything that’s familiar. You begin to ask yourself if you are the problem, you haven’t made as many friends as you thought you would, you haven’t had as much fun, haven’t fallen as in love as the excitement of leaving home left you thinking would happen. When you are making more money in one month than you thought you would be this close to your birth. And nothing makes sense. Don’t convert.
Then there’s a random smile in the street and a telling glance, there’s a beer bought and enjoyed, there’s a flight bought and paid for, there’s a friend made and spent time with, there’s a new family being formed, a new home being built and a new love being felt.
So do convert.
Home is where the heart is but it can also be converted to home is where the hat is and right now my hat is in Norway. I think in kroner not shillings, in maps not words, I look at clothes to determine my activities not weather .
Its only when you allow yourself to convert that you realise the beauty of anything new. Only when you stand the cold of it can you see the beauty of the snow. When you hear a Norwenglish sentence like “those which want to go…” and its inflection stirs a little something in your heart then you are beginning to convert.
Convert.
Convert your expectations, convert the way you talk and the way you act, convert the things you expect and you will find a way to enjoy the things you receive.
There’s a world of familiarity of hope and comfort that comes of a stranger saying to you I hope you have a good night, but this is not a stranger anymore, this is a friend, a conversation converted that way of thinking too. A talk about borders and wealth, about disparity and inefficiency, a talk about differences which in the end is always a talk in similarities.
The world too converts
And as the winter is converted into spring the days get longer, the sun gets warmer, the smiles get wider, the walks get slower. The flowers bloom and it feels good. It feels like this is where my heart is.
After all who wouldn’t be at home in a country where the verb for being married is the same as the verb for being poisoned. That sense of humour is a Norwegian gift(gift in Norwegian is the verb spoken about.)

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here’s a toast to the douchebags

On December the 15th2010 or thereabouts I was mugged. Before this incidence occurred I hadn’t really written in a while and below is a transcript of the events that occurred and my reason for writing about them as written nearly 2 years ago: (for everyone who already read this on facebook just skip to the end to find out the reason am trudging up this piece of my past.)
The reason I’m writing this is so that I can avoid telling this story more than once. I didn’t enjoy the experience and I could not find anything worth laughing at and for those who know me this is a big deal. So if you will ever be inclined to ask me how I lost my phone read on, if not cool, but there’ll be no encores of this experience. 
On Wednesday night I had attended a musical concert at the museum and there was this lady there who could play the violin like a siren, it screamed for attention and sang like nothing I’d ever heard before. At the end my cousin and I decided to walk the small stretch of the path between museum hill and chiromo to get a matatu home. It was a very easy walk conversation flowed and we were completely at ease, completely. Then it began, I have thought severally of how to best describe this moment because it was  most severe, like the breaking of a storm on calm waters or think back to that old gag in TV shows where a glass door is so polished that someone walks right into it, yes exactly like that except instead of falling back and rubbing my forehead in bemusement I crashed right through the door and the sound of breaking glass and the sensation of a free fall and the pain of the splinters was my life for the next few minutes. Not knowing whether it would or could end. 
They came out of nowhere, they rose out of the ground and I was grabbed in the classic “ngeta” style elbow around my neck, lifted off the ground and deposited like a broken marriage’s engagement ring on the floor. Hating to use the cliché  I sensed rather than saw the four guys surround me and the other two run ahead. Then I began to struggle kicking and screaming and clawing and seeming like I would never give in. But. If you’ve watched the watchmen you remember the scene where Dr. Manhattan splits himself into 3 when he’s in bed with that chic. It was a violent version of that, there were hands everywhere searching every one of my pockets as I continued to kick and scream and claw. As I kicked I felt the sole of my shoe start to come undone and amid this violence this is what came to my mind, my shoes will be fucked in the morning. Totally fucked. Then one of the hands cupped a sensitive area and I stopped fighting not wanting to doom my lineage “they can take my money my phone but I will not give away my family jewels”. 
So I lay docile as a lamb and became a victim. I have to confess something about me here I have never been caned in school and have never received violence I did not deserve and it’s a whole different ball game. I lay there under a deluge of blows, I never understood that expression till just then they rained blows down on me and I remember this one guy stepping on my stomach over and over  and even now as I write this bile rises up in me he didn’t have to do that. They had my phone and my money and they would not let me go. They continued as I lay there curled in the foetal position letting go some of the most curdling screams I could muster hoping for a saviour finding none. And the fact that it was undeserved just augments the situation I was being beaten for no fucking reason and for once reason failed me completely and chaos took its place and my mind was assaulted much more than my body there. finally I was let go I could feel the cut on my lip as some of the skin sloughed off and I had only 3 distinct memories, the beginning as they grabbed me, the soles of my shoes coming apart and this fuck stepping on my stomach. I stood up and walked away dazed. 
I don’t like talking about this so this is my one and only press release I included all the details I could remember and I don’t think I have anything to add, except maybe an overlay of that violin music.

And this incident was what set me back on the path of writing, a lost phone and a beating. Well I entered this blogging competition on the fk website(fk is the Norwegian peacecorp program, the same one that’s funding my internship in Norway.) and I won. I won an i-pad. To think that if they hadn’t taken my phone away all those years ago I would never know what it’s like to win an i-pad, so this one’s to you boys, hope you enjoyed the phone, hope the, at most 1,500 shillings that a nokia as old as the one I was carrying around kept the 5 or 6 of you happy for some time. Enjoy your spoils because am going to be loving mine!

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the need

Over the dates of 29th march to 10th of April I had a punishing schedule. I love to travel, I do but I don’t like the trip. I don’t like the long hours, the uncomfortable trains, the airplane seats and the airport lounges. I like the places not the process.
On 29th March I got on a train at 9:14 am and got off a plane 11 hours later, fresh in Poland. I hadn’t seen the church of St. Mary’s yet or the inside of a polish prison, I hadn’t drank more vodka than at any other time in the year, hadn’t met all those polish girls or seen all those polish sights and then a few days later I was going back home, scarred by experience, sobered by excess. On the 1st of April I landed back in Norway. The plane got there at 11 a.m. and I had to wait until 5:54 to get a train back home. In the morning as I waited I saw the picture of addiction. There was a mother there who needed one last smoke before she got on the plane, just one little stick, a hit of tobacco, a whiff of nicotine. She waited outside in the cold as she smoked. And it was cold, the rain came down not in torrents but European winter rain doesn’t need to insist. All it does is straddle the line between 10 degrees and 0. It waits there to pinch you awake with pinpricks of ice. Her daughter was maybe 4 years old, she could stand but she couldn’t stand the cold. She shook violently and cried her face turned red and puffy, “mama mama” I could imagine her say. But mama needed her cigarette and the half-hearted hugs the daughter got were not nearly as warm as the kiss of the fire on her mama’s lips.
I got home 8 hours later. Cooked. Slept. Went to work. Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday morning I had another train to catch this time to the airport to go to Brussels. The train was at 5:25 and we woke up late. We ran for it my roommate and I. but we were there at 5:27 I checked the time on the railway clock and it was that. However there was nothing, the train had left us behind and it dawned on us that morning that we may miss our plane to Brussels. The tickets had cost us quite a bit since it was Easter and they were much more expensive. We hang around the bus stop looking for a solution. Variously cursing and coughing with no idea what to do. Then a bus came that was going to Oslo and we jumped in. from here we missed everything by 2 minutes, got to Oslo fully 2 minutes too late to get the first train to the airport meaning with the next one were on edge until we got there on time.
Ryan air has no seating and we were so late that we couldn’t really pick a place to sit. I always sit at the back of their planes anyway. It’s less hassle on all parts. It’s close to the toilet, it’s close to the entrance, it’s close to the exit. Sometimes the front is booked for priority people and also for some reason passengers don’t like the back of planes so it saves me on so much. I plonked down next to this old Muslim woman who was sitting in the middle of a 3 person seat, my roommate forged ahead and I was so relieved to have finally sat down on the plane  I didn’t want to call to  him. So I sat on the aisle because I  use the loo a lot and I don’t like asking people to move so much.
“excuse me.” I heard. I looked up and there she was. She was beautiful. The kind of pretty that i like to call marred by intelligence. A line ran down her mouth, a thought line, as stress line am not really sure which. The kind of wrinkle that means a lot of cynical smiles have been forthcoming in her lifetime and I am a sucker for a face with cynicism. Don’t know why. So I try to get up to let her in, and the Muslim lady moves in meaning I’ll be sitting down next to this girl. I am so excited I can’t undo the seat belt. I can’t I try to stand up and am snapped back down. I sit I fumble, I hope she doesn’t move on or extrapolate this shameless display of non-dexterity to what  i could do with a bra. Finally she sits down. And she takes out a book. A book. This was one of those non wasted moments, introductions done and she’s from Romania, she’s impressed that I know Transylvania and of course as happens on these trips she’s not really a girl I have a chance of seeing again. She’s just passing through Brussels on her way to another Belgian city then back home to Bucharest.
Brussels like Poland was an orgy of drinking and partying. Not one night wasted from Wednesday to Monday  we went out. We got some beers some nights then we didn’t have any money and pretended we quit alcohol. 
On Tuesday morning we leave the final club, trek back home, one hour, get our bags and begin the trek to the place where we can get an airport shuttle. It’s a long way. It’s worse since no one in Belgium knows where anything is. It’s better since we’re not the only ones. Tourists everywhere are also looking for this place. Their suitcases running ruts in the streets of Brussels. Finally we found it. It’s an hour to the airport. For me it was a minute. I closed my eyes I opened them.
Charleroi is ridiculous for how disorganised it was. We got on the plane. I looked out for any Romanians, I saw none. Closed my eyes. We were in Norway. We had to wait 4 hours for our train. I closed my eyes, it was now forty minutes. We began talking to these Greek girls. University students leaving Oslo to go to Poland. They complained about how expensive Norway is and we nodded sagely. We told them our train was a t 1 pm. What time was their flight? 7 am. Tomorrow morning? Yes. These girls were going to sleep in the airport and continue their journey the next day. European girls are so gangster.
Eventually we said goodbye after a promise to visit Greece of course. We got on the train and I slept. We got off the train at Oslo to take one to Kristiansand and I slept. I slept till 6. I woke up I peed. I slept. All  i did was sleep. For if this post is anything it’s a chronicle of lack of sleep. It documents nearly two weeks of only sleeping when the sun was out. Only sleeping on trains and planes and airport panes. I got home and slept but not really there was work the next day.
All through the day I was a zombie I couldn’t imagine why I wasn’t sleeping, it was all I wanted to do. All I wanted to do. Got home at 5 pm and slept. Slept, slept, slept. Got up for food and slept. Then I slept and slept and slept…

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Brussels

It’s hard to beat someone to death, its brutal and bestial, it’s bloody and barbed, its base and bastardly. I did it in a videogame once and this is how it looked.
I never wanted to do it for real after that, it puts paid to all those who say that games provide incentive to do this. When I played this game I felt it, I could feel the rage needed to do it, the pain as his body was bashed against rock, his brain ripped through rained on by punches and headbutts, kicks, loss of blood, eyes and finally life.
On my second day in Brussels someone beat to death a traffic controller. Maybe it wasn’t this brutal, but someone still beat a man to death, there was an accident and in the middle of negotiations anger turned to action that turned  to anarchy and finally to another state of life. As a result there was no public transport in Brussels for the whole of Easter.
Make no mistake Brussels is a tourist town. The most common sight in our days there was people peering into maps and trying to make sense of the mazes therein.
“make the map look like the world”
I would say once meaning turn the map around so that everything was properly aligned. You see it would be a walking trip my trip to Brussels. I used the bus and the metro two times or something. Once at night when we were already drinking and we felt immune from the fine promised for not paying. As we sat at the train going to this karaoke place we fell into conversation with this Liberian, fell into because I have no idea how we began to talk just that we did, his English was wanting a lot of things but somehow we communicated and my friend being the kind of person he was offered to buy him a beer at the store. 
Near the place we were living was this corner store run by an Indian and his ten year old son. The son was the friendliest shop assistant you ever met; smilingly correcting us “bon jour is for morning, bon soir is for evening.” He was pleasant and engaged us in conversation about cricket and French, smilingly shaking his head whenever we went for another beer run. How could I tell him they weren’t all for me when I was going there for a ten pack the third time running. Once in the store I ran into this really drunk Belgian, he was happy to see me but I spoke English.
“Fuck the British,” he said.
“Am not British, am Kenyan.”
Then he went on to state an obvious fact,
“You’re black. And I’m…” then he looked at his skin, it hadn’t been tanned by exposure to the sun, paled by lack of it, but yellowed by steaming in alcohol “… well I’m yellow.”
I laughed.
He laughed.
Now we were friends because that’s how it is in Belgium.
“I live just around the corner come to my place have a beer, a cigarette we can talk.”  the logical way I am writing his speech does away with the fact of the speech impediment that alcohol had served him.
He was maybe 50 years old, maybe more maybe less, when skin has been yellowed like that guessing an age is a blind man’s game and so I did not. I went to his place and he woke up his French friend to say hi to me. This guy was Obelix with Asterix’ moustache. He was a Gaul and he was hangover. Bitching about his bitch of a sister the whole time we were there until after 5 minutes I left the place.
The European parliament is found in Brussels, the EU commission is found in Brussels. The people working for these institutions are referred to as Eurocrats. There is such a glut of foreign influence in the city that only over half of the people who live there are from Belgium. And even if they are… Belgium seems a divided country, divided by language. There are three official languages. They speak French, Dutch and German. With this many foreigners from this many places it makes sense to know English too. People from one side of Belgium can travel within their country and have a harder time getting directions than I did. The street names in Brussels are in both French and Dutch what happens if you’re from the german side? Better learn English.
I had a conversation with this Brazilian and he felt that the people don’t really own their city. It’s too mashed up. Too much foreign influence, too much division and import of cultures that you can’t really say what someone from Brussels is. Where else is someone beaten to death over a traffic accident? He also told me about the world cup preparations and that he feels the people there are taking the government and fifa for a ride, they wait till the last minute and say they need more money if the stadiums will be up on time. If this happens in February for a June world cup the money will flow in.
There is a place in Brussels called Delirium with over 2,000 beers. That’s a lot of barley. There’s a down stairs and an upstairs, there are taps into every conceivable corner and a line round them all. Here you can just walk up to someone and ask for a recommendation. And I don’t get it but it seems mandated that everyone will give you some of their time, a minute or 5. They will tell you where they are from and ask you the same. They will be interested and maybe it’s the fact that so many people are away from home. Here we are all strangers in a strange land except that Flemish dude over there and he’s a stranger too, the only city where the locals are actually celebrities one of my friends told me. She was from Madagascar but had grown up in France and so she spoke in the sexiest French accent you ever heard, it evoked images of a feather duster and stockings even as she rolled her own cigarretes in preparation to face the cold. One of her roommates was from India, he told us that he learned and loved English because it meant money, he said that we had to settle down in Europe, “you know you do.” And as we said goodbye he told us, “we may never meet again but here’s hoping we do.”
The guy we were staying with has a Hungarian girlfriend and she spoke on the subject of ugali. She said that hearing about it from Kenyans it seems like a dream, a wish on a plate, the best thing you ever tasted and the last you will ever want to. Then you have it and it has no taste, nothing at all. It feels rough in your mouth and squishy in your hands and really is that it? She said it must be some kind of home fulfilment it probably is because when I eat ugali out here, when am making the bowl and I can feel the grains in my palms it doesn’t feel like food anymore it feel like home.
We spoke about the self-destroying tendencies of the great minds, the dreamers, the artists, the people with the power to make all of us happy but who are unable to heal themselves. Unable to bring themselves down from the cross of suffering on which their great talent has left them hanging. That’s why there are so many addicts among artists, so many heart attacks among CEOs. I don’t understand it fully. Maybe seeing the world as clearly as the best of us can makes you not want to live in it. Maybe it’s easier to be looked at as someone who could have had he tried than someone who tried but couldn’t.
In Delirium a Spanish guy was so happy to be speaking Spanish to this girl and finally he burst out in astonished speech he just couldn’t believe that “I am talking to an Indian girl from Dubai who spent a year in Colombia.” Brussels will make you believe that things like that are possible.
I always felt secure in my course, happy I studied law. It meant no matter what group of people I was talking too I could sound like an intellectual. I don’t have to be smug about it, just certain and that was ok. Then I met this Russian couple, what are you doing in school?
“A masters in aerospace engineering.” wow, I fumbled the three letters in my mind and in my mouth but I felt better when she said, “that’s why am going to Amsterdam next  I need space cookies.”
“Being cool may work in Paris but here the word chic is an insult.” One of the rules in a handy guidebook that tells you how to act like a local. A guidebook that tells you to try this beer that feels like you are puking beer instead of drinking it, but that’s what you have to do to be a real brusselsian? Am not sure what the name is. On the next to last say as we are buying bread to eat who do we spy from across the road but the Indian guy from earlier, we hastened to say hallo and marvel at the coincidence that is life
Oh and it rained all easter. It rained as we walked from place to place, it rained as we talked to face and face, it rained the last night when we had to say goodbye to these girls from New York who after making fun of my phone(i love it to death) made fun of how young we were. Its nice when people do that, makes me feel fresh. It rained as we searched for the bus to the airport,us along with dozens of other tourists trying to find their way home
I loved Brussels it’s a place to finally grow up, to come into your own without feeling like you are being rushed into responsibility. It’s the last respite from the rat race. You live in an international community doing all these internships and jobs. You can lay down roots but most people don’t, many see it for what it perfectly is, a holding space. The apartments tell you so. They are not homes just places to lay your weary head and sleep. No comfort aimed for, no permanency achieved, this is a city on the move and you will fall in love. There is no question about that but for many she is the girl who got away, the one who you can always say what if? about and we all need that fork in the road when the road not taken is surely the one we should have. She is that period in your life when you were stuck between studenthood and the last real job you have. It’s the time when you live in a place where you will meet such a multiplicity of nationalities, ambitions and expressions, feel such an upward surge of energy that you never want to leave, but most have to.
Eurocrats get transferred; interns move to real jobs and only the crazy try the delirium of 2,000 bottles of beer. That’s part of the magic of the city, not a university town but a young professional town. And not a town where people pretend and give airs, remember being cool is not cool. This is a town where you can start. 
So to Brussels, hope we meet again.

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easter

The strangest things establish pop culture as mainstream. The strangest things. In 2008 there was an economic recession ,this was before the sneeze of the American economy had given the whole of the western world (and Botswana) a raging cold. I was watching CNN  in its glory days of Monita Rajpal and Jenny Harrison, the movie American Gangster had just come out and the words Frank Lucas were on everyone’s lips as Denzel played the type of character it seems he was meant to, a menacing, dangerous and in some way likeable figure who we do not want to cross. They were talking about the weakness of the dollar and they gave the example of this Jay z song, (I think blue magic)when he showed off with euros instead of dollars. This in the middle of world reports featuring past and present economic theories including the one by the guy who said that during a recession jobs were the most important thing, you have to get money into the economy and it doesn’t matter how you do it even if you hire people to dig holes and hire others to fill them back in again.
This is my way of saying that I like jayz  finally got my hands on some euros. We had travelled to Brussels and endured that 8 hour trip to the airport, the 2 hour flight to Chaleroi and then taken a taxi that drove at speeds of 150 km to the city centre. We chilled around a little, bought a 750 ml of beer and just took in the sights.
Finally our friend comes over and he asks us if we would like some beers, we sit down in this place that’s outside and order some good Belgian beer. I can’t say I know the names but it was dark and cheery, not cherry that comes later. Then we went off to drop our things at home. I was going to visit two of my friends from Kenya, my boys, people I have known for years in a context completely different from Europe, so far removed it wouldn’t occur that we would be meeting up here again, except we were all in aiesec.
But the bonds of our friendship were forged in the central police station canteen. Almost no one else in the world drinks in a police station and all the time anyone asked me my favourite place in the city I itch to say central . The seats are red and orange and you can move them around so you can all sit close to each other for maximum exchange of conversation and alcohol. It is budget drinking at central police station, budget drinking. At 7 pm though you may have to hush since the police like their news. Don’t get too loud since you may be thrown in (in a police place being thrown out is definitely the better option.) and carry your wit with you, be versed on world affairs and history, have strong opinions on the state of the nation, the affairs of our politicians, the mismanagement of economies and the propaganda machinations that led to the Arab spring and of course punctuate this with girls, girls and girls and some of the most inane blather that finds itself out of your lips and don’t worry if you want to be the smartest one in the group show up an hour late when people are already sloshed
Every Thursday in University I would go there at 5 30 or 6 and sit down. Beers were frowned upon since this was soviet Russia and the true bane of communism is a bottled beer. In Soviet Russia you have a bottle of Kenya king or napoleon. You buy with it a soda or you don’t it depends on the strength of the economy at that particular time. Then you and 1,2 or 3 people pour this bile drink into glasses and begin the festivities. The festivities that welcome you when rich, poor, sober, drunk. The festivities that are happier when a woman or two is around or 5 that’s the best,well ten. But if it was just us boys we would pour drinks and begin to talk. I loved it when it rained, when I had to run from the university all the way there and my clothes were a little damp. I loved that I would take a shot of liquor and immediately feel warmer, then we would begin to talk, the volume of the conversation proportional to the number of drinks poured. And we would drink and talk the rain away and leave this place more times than I can remember staggering onto roads and thence on to raves.
The immensity of discussions I have had at central defy easy description. The stupidity of some of the banter would shock even the most wilfully ignorant. The warmth of this police canteen is splashed all over in the reds and yellows bloating its walls but like all the best places there is a hint of anger, there is a captain who gets angry at all these youth throwing their lives away and commands us to shut it. There are also characters who the booze flows in, people from great big novels, complicated people held together by the shoestrings of cheap liquor. There is this one guy who walks around with a parrot on his shoulder. A parrot on his shoulder. He will let you carry it but do you really want to? Have you seen the scars that come from carrying a parrot on your shoulder? They have claws that dig into you, the kind of thing no one knows about like that all guitar players bled at the thumbs before their skin got tough enough to handle strumming metal over and over again. Without central I wouldn’t know this.(not about the guitar players.)
The comforting hubbub of increasing sound may be my favourite Nairobi noise. My friend gets up in the middle of a rowdy multi-person conversation, he taps his glass and looks serious and we keep quiet. “I just wanted to see if that would work.”
 I think central was my home away from home. I knew it was there. I left the house with not one question of where I would go, I knew. It would start there and if there it ended I would still be happy. And I was, I always was. There were the heartspills of that place, all the pain that comes of such long voyages into each other’s minds. All the anguish of such frequent goodbyes, the stolen chairs that are still hidden somewhere never spoken of. I met more people that I liked and could talk to, converse with in that small area of space than almost anywhere else in the world. If you could measure real estate and the value of land not by gold or oil deposits(which I read we now have in Kenya hallllla!) but by intellectual forays, emotional connections, stupidities transcended, lives made central would be the most valuable piece of real estate in the whole country.
I get homesick for central, not for much else but I get homesick for central.
And here I was with my two friends from back there in Brussels, a cold rainy European city. With not much hope for weather change while I was there. But Easter is about family and this was so close it actually was family.

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lonely rigging

Right now its 12 midnight and am sitting at the Oslo rygge airport. My flight from Poland arrived 30 minutes ago and I had a small dinner: 2 slices of bread, cheese and ham. I looked around the airport: one toilet, lonely travellers and a kind security guard. And I thought about the life of travel: loneliness, a remove from reality and perhaps an addiction you can never quite shake.
Airports.
There are very few places of such joy and sadness, places that can turn hollow, utterly hollow. Even my surroundings are a metaphor for all this, no computer so for the first time in a long time am writing this with paper and pen, the shadow from my head half obscures the page and there’s a deeper penumbra where my fist lends it a helping hand (there is not as much joy in this pun as there usually would be.) my companions wear no shoes; socks and patience their only shields from the thoughts no doubt assailing us.
In the life of travel is there really anything worse than not being picked up at an airport?
It’s worse than a really long stopover, it’s worse than people being late because it’s an announcement of arrival that the world denounces as a rival and does not deign to accept. It’s the other side of the journey that nobody but nobody told you about.
Kapuscinki wrote “there exists something like a contagion of travel and the disease is essentially incurable.” An addiction.
Why thoughts so morose, turns so melancholy? I had the trip of a lifetime, adventures that turn to myth in the lives that heard about them, cautionary tales for the next generation of polish children, “you will not believe what happened to this guy from Kenya on his second night here.”
But this it, is there ever anything we can’t forget that we don’t regret? Plus am tired and alone in the airport, 4 and half hours to go.
And this I realise is the true face of constant travel, travel is also heartbreak. How can you travel without falling in love? How can you fall in love without breaking your heart? How can you sit for 6 hours with a broken heart and not have dark thoughts come unbidden?
A life of travel is a life of loneliness; it is never putting down your roots and never letting anything grow. It is the most amazing memories a lifetime can give, it is the most heart-breaking goodbyes a soul can live.
I think about what I want to do with my life and law seems shot, travel that seductive siren has sung me her song, am not sure how I could do it yet or what job provides me such an opportunity but my heart is filled  with a yearning to live here for a year, there for another, to work somewhere else and only touch base at home. But my heart can also hear as if in tune with it the beat of the airport; it is a slow, soulful sound. A long, silent sigh. A well-deserved why. It is loneliness distilled. The awful truth that for every journey there is an ending. And if you go on enough journeys they begin to look like an airport.
People leave the plane and there is noise and joy. There are yelps of excitement, long hugs, warming kisses. The crowd begins to shrink and it gives you more time to think as the people disappear one by one. In the end there is silence, the airport stands morose and melancholy. An occasional cough pierces the air, a sniffle, the closing of a bag, a page turn in a magazine and strange people with no shoes; just socks and memories.
The worst thing is if you have this contagion you have it and almost nothing takes it away. It’s all worth it because the end is never really the end and tomorrow there will be a bus, a train, a plane and tomorrow people will leave the plane to noise and joy and warm hugs and longing kisses.
As I transcribe this its past midnight on the 4thof April. My Easter holiday starts tomorrow and the light from the computer screen gives a glowy sheen to my skin. Tomorrow I get on another 8 hour train trip, my third in 7 days. I go to another airport, (Rygge for life) and I go to another country. Belgium, Brussels and beer. I am excited and pleased. My life is a dream I had longed for long before and here I am living it. The loneliness of travel cannot overcome its experience at least not yet. The contagion has not run its course and it never may.
Oh and I got this message a couple of hours ago from my hosts in Brussels “fellas I cant host you guys till Friday…we are full house till then….looking for alternative places but for now look for alternatives” so… yeah!

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