Monthly Archives: September 2014

rvf part 2

The first act we caught were Makadem. I remember that they were amazing. They had a performance that included so many Kenyan languages that I was never really sure where they were from. They would begin to sing, and it was this huge band, in a language I didn’t know but could vaguely remember from all my past attempts at eavesdropping. Then they would seamlessly transition into one that seemed more familiar. There were stages where I wasn’t sure what language they were performing in but I could sing along to it. Then there was the time I knew the language and the tune and could sing along and then there was the time I could understand what they were saying and sing along to it. This was happening at the main stage, a huge place, as fisherman’s camp is. Green and outdoors so that the fact that there were so many people there did not at any time make it feel cramped.

Off to one side of the stage there was a video playing. It could probably be better described by a person who was less intoxicated than I was. to me it was an impression of images moving over and over. There seemed to be a story. A story told in red and black. There were human beings and tentacles. There were deers and brains. There was a story. There was an impression of deeply artistic work put into that moment that kept playing over and over yet I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

After they performed there was a musical intermission. I had been dancing and shouting for such a long time that my jumper and that of everyone I was there with was on the floor. We had surrounded our clothes and our alcohol and we were dancing in front of this little altar we had built from the fibres of animals and vegetables. Shouting incomprehensibly, moving rhythmically, tranced and a little out of the world. When the music stopped it was like a spell was broken. Fire was immediately used. Cigarettes lit and joints whiffed. This was when I paid the most attention I could to the video on the screen. It wasn’t that much attention though.

Then the mc made us excited about Wyre. I was in just the right state to see the love child come on stage. We were teased just enough and we had begun mentally rehearsing what we would sing back to the man on the stage. Then he came on stage and he and his dancer just did this amazing step that consisted of moving their arms up and down but doing it with such vigour that everyone was soon imitating them. Then Wyre would tease us. He would sing the chorus of an old song and then stop. Then do this over and over again. I remember he began to sing chuki and I was in just the right state of mind to hear that song. I had just the right relationship to remember, my soul was ready for this and then all he played was the chorus. And then I realised that what we were seeing was a shadow of what we had expected. Here was a Wyre who couldn’t remember or even worse wouldn’t be bothered to remember the songs that he had written and performed for us all through our youth. We got short snippets and a ghost of a former great jumping around on stage. Every time a new song almost started we would have a breath of expectation sure that this time, this time he would play that song that we loved. That he would sing it just like he used to and with the power of music he would take us back to a place where things were more innocent and music more alive. All we got was disappointment though the flip side of nostalgia, the tip of the tongue of the lover we had missed and nothing more. In the end he congratulated us on being such a great audience and then gave us one song to show us how much he appreciated our love. The dj went into the Bob Marley jam iron lion zion and now the crowd went wild. The non-Kenyan section of the audience was involved now and people had their lighters up they had their hopes and again they had their hopes dashed when it all came to naught but those beats over and over again.

I walked away from that stage. Walked right not sure what i was looking for until I bumped into yet another stage. This was a tent set up like a club. In the corner of the club the performers were set up to dance and entertain. Immediately you got here there was a different atmosphere. It was smaller and more intimate. I felt like they were performing directly to me as if I could reach over and touch them. Request a song and hear them play it. It was darker and edgier. Less in the open and it wasn’t the end of my adventure.

I walked on a little and came to this container that was being used as yet another dance floor. It was an import container and you could identify it by the music and the endless stream of people going in and coming out. There seemed to be no end to the revellers. Inside it was filled with smoke because this being Kenya of course it was ok to smoke inside. Here a dj held the power and the music was made to make people dance. And dance we did. When the cold would come calling this was the best refuge because in a few minutes there would be sweat dripping down your neck and a need for fresh air.

In between these dance floors there was all the space to forget where you had come from. A moment in the night arrived when I had no idea what was happening but that if i was tired of it I could quite easily take myself to somewhere else.



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back and there- rvf part 1

How long had we been together at that point? Hours? A day and a few hours. A number of hours that would only just begin to want to lie about its age because it was still living at home or all of its friends seemed to be getting married or it couldn’t lie to itself that its love for alcohol and pursuit of a good time was still a symptom of youth.

It felt longer though. It felt like it had been days when we checked back into Nairobi. I had bought a beer back in Naivasha to keep me company on the road back and had promptly fallen asleep, somewhere near the great wall a bump or pothole had caused it to fall out of my hands. I remember the jarring sensation as something that I had become intimately moulded to left me. There was a fizzing sound as it fell and skidded towards the front of the matatu. There was a feeling that my fellow passengers would say something in disapproval of my blatant drunkenness and finally I got that feeling you get on the way out of the house when you are sure that you left something behind but have no idea what. Then all I felt was sleep.

The matatu snaked into town and the first of our merry group of wanderers got off and left the rest of us. We said goodbye more accurately we felt goodbye. When you have been on a journey with somebody a kind of bond is formed between you. A tightening of your souls because the experiences you had together you had with nobody else and they will never have with anyone else at least not exactly the way it was then, maybe that’s why sex is such a glue. Another one of our party said,
“the first one to have her journey end.”
We dropped her off and it felt like her journey was over. Her experience had ended and all she had was the way home. The way home alone. A way home that she had had many times before. The matatu went on snaking through town. Downtown Nairobi has a certain beauty at night especially if you aren’t used to it. The streets look so different than they do in the daytime. Getting lost is simple. Getting found by someone you don’t want to be found by seems theoretically more easy but I can’t remember ever getting robbed there so I can’t speak to this from personal experience. Still there’s a hint of danger and menace. There’s much more pedestrian life than there is in the other parts of town. There are more sources of light and all of them are territorial tiny globes marking their spacce like a pissing dog before darkness takes over again. A matatu from Naivasha takes you right through this.

Silence prevails and pervades. It’s everywhere. The energy of the weekend and the festival and the trip there are gone. I remember reading in The Godfather about the kind of silence that exists between people who live in the same household and are at peace with each other. Total and comfortable the kind that cannot be pricked by any bubble. That kind of silence exists at the end of a journey too. You look around and smile. The energy to laugh is too much and the need to show pleasure to the whole world has disappeared, this silence and comfort between you is all you need The next person left, we said goodbye.

I was wondering when the journey ends. As long as I was with someone else I felt like I was still carrying the torch. The shire was my destination and as long as I was with at least one other hobbit I still had that chapter about its scouring at the end. The rest seemed to have dropped off from our adventure. We said goodbye to the next person and all that was left was me and a neighbour of mine. I sat in that matatu in the silence and thought that it was perhaps incorrect for me to think that only I carried the fire of the festival because I was keeping it alive with somebody else. The three who had gone may have had some more journeys out there. It’s entirely possible that a car backfired, that a tyre was punctured, that a party was crashed, that they saw fireworks. Something on their trip home that would indelibly be linked with the rift valley festival in their minds. While all I was having was some quiet time and contemplation.

The matatu took off and because she was dropping off before me I had this jumping feeling in my gut that I would be the last. The last survivor. That it would only be me who saw the collective journey to the end. We had the most mass of it, the most memories, the most souls, the most experiences. In that matatu we were the most so the trip was still us, was still with us. Then the conductor passed by her stage and promised to bring her back and I felt cheated of something. I could have been the last and then I wasn’t.

Just one day earlier……

“I’ve never been to the Rift Valley Festival” is not something I can say anymore. Because. This. Year. I. went. And I have absolutely no regrets.

Well, except working on Saturday which meant we couldn’t leave till the afternoon rolled by. At that time we bought some travel companions: bottles of alcohol and soda. Then we went off in search of a matatu to Naivasha. I had for a long time believed that a trip to Naivasha is the easiest one to make however this was being done on the same weekend as a massive rugby event happening in nakuru. All the matatus immediately switched to nakuru matatus. This means two things:
1. There are no matatus to Naivasha
2. If you want to get to Naivasha you have to pay nakuru prices with no complaints.
So we did just that and a quick fluid trip later there we were in Naivasha. A rumour immediately began to circulate that you could enter the event with alcohol. This is always a preferable way to attend any event. Having your own alcohol is so much cheaper no matter what brand you prefer and it opens up the doors to so much more variety than having to depend on the bar and its provisions. After another alcohol run followed by a huge serving of fries at the kenchic near the Naivasha stage then it was time to go.

We got into yet another matatu, we had missed all the daytime festivity as there was a curtain of darkness all around us. We sat and waited for the matatu to fill up as the conductor jovially informed us that in Naivasha people rode four to a seat. There were these guys at the back who were waiting for or convincing one of their friends named Carlos to enter the matatu. The conductor would tell them over and over that it was four to a seat and they would announce that they were waiting for Carlos. In the meantime my friends and I had sat down and were also now waiting for Carlos. Another of Carlos’s friends entered and due to Carlos being the obvious alpha male gave up his seat at the back for him and went to sit in the air, you know that hole in the middle of two seats that matatus have? Yep . Carlos wasted no time at all in reminding this friend of his that he was sitting in a hole.

“Unaudhika na gava na we ndio unavunja sharia. Ungefwata sharia tu tungekuwa mbali.”

The matatu starts and goes a small distance, a kilometre at most, stops at a petrol station and the conductor asks us to get off and go to another matatu parked nearby. We rush there and in the game of musical chairs that this always engenders nobody has their original seat. Carlos was in the hole. Sitting with his ass in the air and him being supported by the thigh bones of his two neighbours. His obvious misfortunes were noted and laughed at for all of the 5 minutes we sat in this new matatu before we were moved back to the other matatu.

We eventually got to and into the rift valley festival with all of our alcohol. I can’t to this day say whether or not this was allowed and I prefer to live in ignorance of this.


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Can i just say that i am falling in love with Bavaria 8.6. The smooth taste, the sweetness that isn’t actually sweet and the way that this makes it so refreshing. Plus and here’s the kick(er) its alcohol percentage is 8.6%. it’s double what other beers provide for the same price and a taste that almost makes me unpatriotic (Kenyans know that we owe more allegiance to the tusker than to the flag.)

Last week i was enjoying my alcohol very responsibly except for the fact that i like to drink on the streets. I love it. It’s almost like peeing outside except that nothing is like peeing outside except having sex outside except that nothing is like having sex outside. I love the open air especially night air. There’s something especially freeing about doing all these activities that modern life has confined to the indoors while you are outside. The night has something limitless about it, when you look up at the sky and see that vast darkness or the lighting of a million stars you don’t need the scientific facts to know you are looking at something amazing. The scientific facts in themselves are amazing, those small balls of fire are so big and so far away that we had to come up with a whole new way of measuring distance, we had to measure distance in time so that we wouldn’t run out of paper and zeros when talking about them. Even a child who has no knowledge of this feels the spark of the divine when they see the night sky. It can make you feel both infinite and tiny. A part of something huge or so small that you don’t matter. It reflects back to us an answer to a deep question that we didn’t even ask. It’s important to drink, pee and have sex outside under the night sky. Don’t get arrested though.

How I wish I had taken my own advice. Some plainscloth policemen slapped handcuffs over my wrist. I hate handcuffs. I really do. They are metal. They are cold. They are small. The thing about them is you feel them all the time. It’s like a bangle you can’t get used to. I was handcuffed to the front and they began to walk me towards the police station. In all honesty I never thought about running into somebody who knew me (I should mention I was not by myself and so I couldn’t really believe that I would spend the weekend in jail) Kenya is not really a country where getting arrested or the fact of handcuffs over your wrist is something that makes you ashamed. I remember learning a long time ago that part of the way the justice system works is by making people ashamed to be criminals, hence all the scenes in American crime or cop dramas where the ultimate embarrassment is to handcuff the bad guy in front of his kids. But different countries have different moralities. In Kenya it’s easy to assume that the cops were wrong, it’s simple to excuse the potential criminal conduct of our citizens. We know the police did worse things, we know the pastors did worse things, we know the politicians did worse things and so when we see one of our own being led away in what should be a degrading and humiliating manner we don’t really seem to mind. Unless it’s a violent crime our sympathies lie more with the one being caught than with the one doing the catching unless of course I am projecting myself on an entire nation which is generally possible.

A bribe later I was let go. I went straight home or should have. Went to a club where I could not bring back the promise of Friday night, got in a tuktuk and found halfway home that I had been pickpocketed, felt the pinch of not having m-pesa as well as the joy of having friends in the middle of the night who are a call away so I got the driver some money and went to bed.
I was late to work the next day. Because I work on Saturdays. The boss was in and I got asked to write a letter explaining why I should not be summarily dismissed. Never had to do that letter before and so I went to sit down and think of how to craft it. I sat at my desk and the accounts lady started complaining about some accounting faux pas I had done. One of my colleagues started telling me to prepare some documents before Monday, I was getting noise from the administrator because I had not being clearing files from my desk.

My answer in my head to all of these other people was that I had more important things to do than to clear up these accounting mishaps, or prepare these documents, or put files away. I couldn’t understand how they didn’t realise that I if I didn’t sit down and write this letter none of these things would matter. The accounting discrepancy, the drafted documents, the free files… I would never have to worry about them again. All of these small stresses and would fall away from me. I would be free of these particular accounts, documents, and files. It would really be somebody else’s problem. How were they unable to realise this?

Then I realised it. It would be somebody else’s problem. There was a way out. I could just leave and all that went with work there would end forever. I could just float away. I could follow the light at the end of the tunnel and that would be that. I remember I went for a writing forum once and the writer leading asked us what our deaths would be had we the power to choose. It came to my turn and I remember that like a flash it came to me. I want to throw a huge party at my house. A big, big one. Invite everybody I know and ask them to invite everybody they know ad infitum. There should be alcohol and there should be drugs. There should be outside sex. There should be indoor puking. The house needs to look a mess. The furniture broken, windows cracked, doors gone. Then at some point when I have completely satiated myself I want to have a last swig of what I’m drinking and a good long look at the woman next to me a good deep drag of the cigarette in my hand. Then look at my house and think, “ha! Somebody else’s problem.” Then drift away.

I had forgotten about this till I was given a chance to just walk away again. And I have to say that I begin to understand the temptation of just walking away. Of picking up and leaving. If I lived in that country where I would feel guilty for being handcuffed I may have been a drifter. There are all these stories of Americans who went for the cigarettes and never came back but then there’s always the pain of leaving your family behind. Can you imagine doing it without dependants? Just tired of this town and its traffic and police and shitty by-laws so you go. You just leave. Maybe I wouldn’t have been because I wrote that apology letter however the temptation was there.

How many people get this temptation to just leave? I’m not talking about suicide which is an active act but a choice at some point to leave or live. To be at a point where it doesn’t hurt and I can almost imagine some kind of god telling you that you were careless or unlucky or that you had it coming and now you’re dead. This god then tells you that you can go back into your body all you have to do is write a letter explaining why you should not be summarily recalled. Then you sit there and look at the amazing writing device he gave you, maybe its old school like a stone tablet and chisels and of course muscles to manipulate this(he’s a god) then he leave you there.

How many people at that point look at the chisel and the stone and try to think of the words and then remember that the world is really shit. It’s full of pain and sadness. You can be sure that there’s another betrayal in your life, some more sorrow, some more heartbreak. You can be sure you’ll laugh and rejoice in life too and think it’s the best thing to ever happen to you. And maybe thinking of the latter makes you chisel away. Some people, I think a lot of people, say fuck this. No more stress. I don’t have to deal with the ledger of human emotions and paybacks that’s always unbalanced and leaves me unsatisfied any more. I don’t have to work at drafting the documents of meaning in life never sure I’m doing the right thing ever again. I don’t ever, ever have to touch the files containing all the evil people did, all the evil I did to people, all the sorrow that I feel and all the sorrow that everyone else does.

I can say deuces, drop the mic and bounce. If this is how it went I can’t imagine the death rate would significantly reduce


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