Monthly Archives: January 2016

chi-raq

Chiraq.
n.
1. This is a fatalistic name given to Chicago by mostly black people who experience that city more as a warzone than as anything else.
2. A 2015 movie by Spike Lee focused on the tragedy that for a long time has enveloped the city of Chicago and other black projects in the United States.

The drawing of parallels between the deaths of Americans in Iraq and the deaths of Americans in Chicago isn’t a new phenomenon. In the 2011 song Murder to Excellence Kanye West raps:
I’m from the murder capital
where we murder for capital….
Time for us to redefine black power
41 souls murdered in 50 hours…
Is it genocide?
Cos I can still hear his mother cry…
314 soldiers died in 1raq
509 died in Chicago…

Last year was a year when the world heard a lot more about the deaths of young black men at the hands of the institutions that are supposed to protect them in America than ever. The names evoked a place where all you had to do in order to die was to be young and black. The script was always familiar. A black man shot, strangled, killed by the police. A grand jury convened. No wrongdoing on the part of the police. Last year I empathised with black people in America more than I ever have before. All that killing got to me. They are after all my brothers and sisters. We share a heritage that goes further than mere skin colour. Our ancestors have all suffered and been subjected to violence, theft, conditions of enslavement and actual enslavement by people who felt that their technological advances in the art of warfare gave them dominion over their fellow man. Our cultures have both been decimated by these very people. A forcible process of substitution , dilution and dissolution has taken place in all cultures of all black people all over the world in the centuries preceding this. Our religion, our way of life, our mode of dressing, our way of relating to each other has been forcibly changed beyond all recognition. Add to all this they are human like I am. They are my brother and sister as all humans are. It is thus only human to feel their pain. To mourn with them. To rage with them. To hope for change with them. To do my best to understand what they are going through so that I may not pass judgement on that which I do not know.

This is why I watched Chiraq. Also because I read that it’s a damn good movie. And it is. The movie opens with a raging and angry song. A song about a dying city. The lyrics are splashed on the screen in red. They are the words of a man losing his religion. Trying to keep his head up as he is surrounded by nothing but death and disaster. The refrain asks “please pray for my city.”

It cuts to a concert. One of those concerts that my heart prays are not an invention of the screen but an authentic slice of black culture in some places in America. A young rapper holds forth to an audience in a small space that holds maybe 100 people but everyone there really feels the music. They shout back the lyrics; they sway to the beat and, at least in this movie, do it in synchrony. Creating a wave that is as hypnotic as my mind tells me it is impossible. Then the action pauses and an old man walks on the stage.

He speaks directly to the audience about Aristophanes a playwright in ancient Greece who wrote his plays in rhyme and informs us that this movie too will be in rhyme.

The plot of the movie comes both from reality and art. The fictional world inspiring it being one thought up by Aristophanes who wrote a play called Lysistrata in which the title character (who shares a name with the main character of Chiraq) convinces the women of Greece to go on a sex strike to bring an end to the Peloponnesian war. The real world event that it resembles took place during the Second Liberian Civil War. The Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace led by Crystal Roh Gawding and organised by Leymah Gbowee and Comfort Freeman explored non-violent means of fostering a peace in Liberia. They threatened curses, held sit-ins, organised a sex-strike. Through their actions they forced a meeting with Charles Taylor ( you know this is a serious guy because his name sends shivers down my spine and I come from a country who elected as President and Deputy President two people who were at the time being tried for war crimes at the Hague.) they kick-started peace talks and were instrumental in bringing about the end of the war and ushering in the country’s first female head of state. Who went on to share a Nobel Peace Prize with Leymah Gbowee.

Back to the movie itself. As promised the script rhymes all the way through. The application of the rhyme didn’t seem contrived though. It sounded as if the people spoke like that and that things just happened to rhyme as they sometimes do. The first conjugal scene is cut short when the house Lys and her boyfriend (a gang leader also called Chiraq) are in is set on fire. He rushes out with an AK-47 and fires bullets at the retreating car. Lys meets his neighbour, an older woman with whom she seeks refuge after visiting the murder scene of a young girl. It is this woman who schools her on Liberian history and plants the idea for the strike in her mind. Convincing her that only they can do something about it by speaking three lines that hold in them the sad truth about America’s policy as regards guns

Ask the parents at Sandy Hook ,
when they murder white babies and things don’t change
Saving black lives is way out of range

Something sparks in her and she goes out to mobilise her fellow black women. Appealing to their shared grief, the fact that all of them had lost somebody important just now and stood to lose somebody important in the next moments
It’s how we die,
You wanna lose your man in a drive by,
In a pine box fore he twenty-five

And the strike is set. There were two scenes in the movie that stayed with me. The mother of the black girl who was killed takes out a pail of water in order to scrub out the blood that was left on the pavement of the crime scene. She scrubs it and wrings out the water and scrubs it again. It hit me that this must happen. That this kind of thing must happen. When a person is killed on the street the cops will take their evidence and leave. They will leave the stain on the road without cleaning it. If you leave it long enough it will begin to disappear, washed away by rain or faded by dirt. Something will happen to take away the sore on the road. But, if this is your child or parent, if this is a spouse or a sibling, if this is a friend or a lover and this road lies near where you live you will not want to see it. It’s a reminder. A reminder of the spot where they died as if you could forget it. It’s a symbol of the institutional and cultural rot that enables this kind of thing to happen. It’s something anyone would spend hours and hours scrubbing away. Turning it red, orange, faded, streaked, spotted and almost vanished.

The other scene involved an insurance salesman who drops by a house because he has heard that there is a young black boy there. He wants to offer an insurance policy because we all know their life expectancy is extremely low. Can’t you just see something like that happening in real life? Somebody suggesting that they sell this policy because this is an at-risk constituency, a people who walk with the spectre of death hovering above them at all times. The thing is I don’t see it being approved by any insurance company because there would be too many claimants. It would make no financial sense because as it is put in yet another of Kanye’s songs

We weren’t supposed to make it past twenty five

the joke’s on you we still alive

Despite the bleak nature of the movie it still manages to be extremely humorous. There is a moment in there that is like a swallow of spring-water for any fan of the Wire. There are all the reactions to no peace no pussy movement. Men frustrated and counter-protesting. The governmental efforts to turn the women on and make them give in. Men going half-crazy from the lack of release is always a subject ripe for humour.

The movie ends with an emotional moment that gives a nod to history repeating itself as tragedy and it is as sad a closing scene as I have watched in a long time.

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on pocket pussies

I like feminism. In fact I would define myself as a feminist. I believe that women should be afforded equal opportunities in life as men. If they want to be doctors or president, if they want to be mechanics or housewives the fact that they are women should not stop them from doing this.

I believe strongly that nobody should have to go through life with as much dread as women seem to. Nobody should be so scared of a dark alley. No one should have to worry that giving a rejection will degenerate into insults and possible violence. Nobody should be judged and shamed for having a healthy sexual appetite and indulging in the pleasures of the body.

Equality is a long fight and I’m all for it. Women should feel they have just as much right to safe passage and determinative living of this life as men do. The world throws enough shit our way that we should fight self-inflicted sorrows at every turn.

It’s a hard war but there is one place where the strides of feminism and the sexual revolution that contributed to it has made women at par, if not more equal than men. This picture says it all.

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Vibrators and dildos are more socially acceptable than flesh-lights, pocket-pussys, valve-vaginas or whatever we want to call them.

This is simple fact. I have had many conversations where women who I’m not even close to say that they own vibrators. Jokes about batteries and size and whatever else are rampant. There is some stigma attached to owning and using one I’m sure but that is nothing compared to the stigma in a flesh-light. Rack your brain right now and think of who amongst your male acquaintances and friends has ever said that they own one of these devices. The answer is probably zero. The answer may be that weird guy who you don’t talk to anymore. The answer could be a friend who’s so close that he could disclose anything without you turning away from it. But the answer is probably zero.
There is not going to be a group of men at a club talking in mixed (or even not-mixed ) company about valve-vaginas. Their sale is done undercover and only recently have I seen ads for this on facebook.

This may be the only sexual double standard that is skewed against men. It’s not a huge complaint. Not even really a complaint. It’s just something I realised the other day.

I’ve read articles about machines that look like human beings and an ethicist was debating whether or not it would be ok for a guy to have sex with one of these. Install one of these pocket pussys and go to town. The answer for that particular writer was no. I couldn’t imagine why not. It is after all a machine and a machine cannot be hurt. It feels nothing. It is bought and paid for, soulless, lifeless maybe rights less. The guy didn’t argue that it would hurt the machine instead he used what I’ll call the porn argument.

The porn argument is simply that men get desensitised from things. Give them access to this machine and the things they do to it will make them objectify women even more just as it has been argued that pornography does. I can’t argue against this since I don’t have the hard facts, I haven’t done the study, my anecdotal evidence is probably subjective so I’ll just say that it makes sense but also that a lot of things that make sense aren’t necessarily true.

This though can be reached back to the present situation. There is a sense of something wrong with a man making love to a machine. We can feel that there is something off about this. Society should fight it. But, why? There is nothing as inherently wrong with a woman making love to a machine cue the Ministry of Devolution actually having a budget for vibrators. There was an outcry at that. Imagine if they had bought pocket-pussies.

I know very little about the sexual revolution except what I gleaned from watching the first season of Masters of Sex. Basically nobody understood shit about the female orgasm. Women were not meant to enjoy sex (Western culture sucked!) and most of them didn’t even try to because their husbands or boyfriends had no idea that pleasing a woman was possible. Then studies were done and humanity learned what happens physiologically and physically when an orgasm occurs in a man and in a woman. People found out that some women actually fake orgasms. A lot of this research was done with dildos (on the part of the women.)

They used them to please themselves and there was even one with a camera attached to the end that took video of the vaginal wall during an orgasm. (I must apologise that I’m basing all my knowledge of this on a TV show when we all know how much more sexualised those things are than real life.)

Anyway what the show tells me is that the dildo was inextricably tied up to the sexual revolution and the teachings that we arrived at from it. Men on the other hand were given a magazine and on the one held their penises.

There was no great moment of cultural acceptance of the valve-vagina. The dildo has been as much a symbol of emancipation as cigarettes once were. Women can proudly say that I don’t need a man I can do this myself. Men have never been able to proudly say that they don’t need a woman. This is something else in the difference of the genders. Perhaps because we were always taught that self-sufficiency is the norm amongst us there is no need to prove that we don’t need women. We accept the fact that we do unquestioningly need women. Since we don’t need to be emancipated admitting dependence is not perceived as a sign of weakness on our part (something that shows that it will still take time before equality is achieved.)

The fact of its symbolism, the cultural acceptance it has received in songs and in movies and in books stand the dildo apart from the flesh light. They are objectively the same thing just aimed at different people but for some reasons that I have guessed at and a myriad others the situation remains as it is. Perhaps the dildo is the ultimate symbol of, if not a feminist then maybe a matriarchal society. This is after all the one situation in which a man would be shamed for seeking sexual pleasure while a woman would be applauded.

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njaanworry

 

The New Year found me in Kampala. As happens almost everywhere we hadn’t left the house yet. I’m not even sure everyone had showered. We had drinks in our cups, the smokers had cigarettes in their hands and we all carried joy in our hearts. The countdown happened and suddenly it was 2016.

I remember looking out into this darkened street and seeing this old lady burst out in screams and shouts so happy the year had passed. All of a sudden more noise crashed against us. Everyone was shouting, everyone was screaming and everyone was wishing everyone a happy new year. New Years Eve at midnight is the only time you feel entirely comfortable screaming and shouting. It is the only time you can walk around and feel everyone is your friend. It brings humanity together for a brief moment. There was then a huge fireworks show immediately afterwards Lauren Groff wrote that doomed people celebrate peace with sky bombs… no matter doom is beautiful, those rockets going boom and flowering in the sky, showering stars, powering imagination.

 
A new year is after all a granting of our most sacred wish, an answer to our most fervent and deeply held prayer that we should see another year. This is in fact the only New Year’s resolution that counts. Last year I was asked what I wanted and I said it was to see another year. People looked away and harrumphed. They didn’t think this was a good enough thing to want out of the year. Granted it was at an office meeting where professional growth, academic achievement and financial goals were all being spouted. It must have sounded juvenile or just the opposite perhaps I had bared too much of myself for that setting.

Anyway after New Year ’s Day comes Njaanworry. I don’t know if they always had this word but it’s perfect. In a nutshell it describes the economic situation: dire, it identifies the people suffering; Kenyans, it informs of how long this will last; a month.

 

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Is there anything like Njaaworry? When we laugh at our foolish spending habits for making us so poor. Where we cry because for what fucking reason does this month have five weekends? What bombo pussy r’asscloth motherfucking dripping cunt bitch*kind of calendar provides this month so many days for (not) spending money on alcohols and meats?

*apologies to anyone who would be offended by such a beautifully strung together sentence of swear words. Also if you want to read more by the person who first wrote that sentence pick up a book called a Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Truth though njaanworry, like end-month is an alien concept while you are a student. I remember with fondness my weekly allowance. My safety net that meant I stumbled into the house every Saturday night with nothing but coins in my pocket from the 1st to the 30th, from January to December. 2014 introduced me to the concept of end month. 2015 should have introduced me to Njaanuary but I was doing my pupillage back then and I really wasn’t being paid that much (which I promise will make sense). Plus they paid so close to the new year that I didn’t spend that much especially as I was in Nairobi. Then some money came in the first week of Njaanuary for an article I wrote (this was definitely not a lot either but the fact that I was being paid so little meant it made up for my December excesses. ) last year no Njaanuary for me. This year I moved a house full of things to Meru, I paid deposit and a month’s rent and the other place haven’t paid me back my deposit so I really am feeling Njaanuary.

 

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What I am about to say next I would never have written if I couldn’t assuredly establish my Njaanuary bona-fides: not everyone is broke this month. Some people are just fine. They are as level as they have been all through the year. They have just as much to spend in this month as they did in December November (nobody’s entertainment allowance is as strong in Jan as it is in Dec, that would just be ridiculous this month dry of holidays and company where would you spend it all?)

 

These people exist. They fall into three distinct camps with a little overlap between them. There are the financial advice people who genuinely want to help you with your poor budgeting skills, they inform you that there are ways of avoiding this. You can almost see them talking to you, frown lines all bunched up, a worried, somewhat angry look on their faces because you disappoint them. They really want to help and they don’t understand why you can’t be more like them.

(you know you do want to be like them)

There are the January babies. The ubiquity of these babies points towards some very naughty Easters for parents all over the world. The world doesn’t care that they celebrated December, it’s still their birthday and they must turn up. Drink, eat, gift (they have to gift themselves unfortunately) and they learn that in order to celebrate they have to have a little something. That little something is not so much as the previous group.

Then there are the people like I was last year. It just skates over you somehow. And if you are in this group you can’t admit it. You have to complain along with everyone else. Nobody likes a spoilsport and aren’t these Njaanuary memes funny?

How can you bare to be the only person who doesn’t relate. Even if you are fine you need to pretend to be in on the joke so that you can laugh just as heartily. Afterwards go to the bar or for a good meal or go do whatever else it is people do with their money. Its fine you will find people there. There are always people still enjoying but if you want to get the maximum out of your January you need to suffer along with everyone else. It’s a bonding experience. Even if you loved waking up at 5 in the morning while in boarding school you didn’t admit it. You should do the same here. Everyone should, it’s as nationally unifying as unbwogable once was, Kenyans suffer January-it’s what we do. It makes us one.

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This bonding experience is important as are all suffering bonding experiences. In 2014 I did my pupillage. It’s one of the worst times in a young lawyer’s life. I had just gotten out of 5 years of studying law, done one of the most difficult exams I had ever had to do and then found a job. Except it wasn’t paying much. Except the work sucked. Except the hours were not commensurate. In fact I remember reading an article about the mafia that compared that organisation to a law firm: the new members in both organisations get stuck doing the menial repetitive work that their bosses could not be bothered with, for the smallest slices of the pie, with the understanding that if they did the work now they would make money later. (The latter part is probably not true for the mafia either- pyramids don’t widen their tips after all.)

Even if a person enjoyed their pupillage there is no way in the world they would admit they did. I was talking to this lady lawyer about her’s. She did it in a firm that had offices both in Nairobi and Mombasa with 5 other pupils. Two of their pupillage months they were sent to work from Mombasa. The firm rented them a digs (a pretty crappy one true), the house was on the south coast (this meant they had to cross the ferry every day to the office), and a lot of other things that to me sounded like paradise.

A house in the south coast of Mombasa with your friends. Ferry rides every morning, ferry fish every evening. Wow! She hated it. Made it sound like she had suffered. During my pupillage I wrote letters, and letters, and letters because I was working on this housing project- sale of apartments. 47 houses so the same 47 letters save change of name and apartment number. I did what amounted to data entry for a chunk of it. For a larger chunk I was sent to huduma centre and the companies registry to get things stamped. To return with receipts to pick those things up. Work that taught me nothing about how to be a lawyer and in addition was nothing more than lining up with bundles and bundles of documents in my hands. It felt like torture.

I hated my pupillage. However this lady lawyer who was rented for a digs in the south coast of Mombasa for two months of exposure to law practice there hated hers too. We all hated our pupillage it was necessary for bonding. So what I’m saying is even if Njaanuary is not real for you, hate it. Hate it with all your heart. Lack of finances isn’t the only thing that makes us hunger! And hey, an election is coming up so shut up about your financial acumen and do your bit for national unity by sharing another Njaanuary meme.

And hey, it all ends.

 

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the move

I almost never believe I’m going to move. I put off packing for as long as possible believing all the while that it will take me an hour to do it. This works out great if I’m going on a short trip because then it takes like ten minutes, I pack as I brush counting off the days so that i can carry the same number of t-shirts, throw the toothbrush, the deo and the oil in the bag and head out.

Packing to move is different. When you pack to move you pack your whole house. You put away all your clothes and box up your utensils; you collect your books in bags and shove your shoes in sacks. You take apart your bed, unplug your fridge, disconnect your computer and ready your couch. You, at the end walk through the house making sure that nothing is left behind but dirt and those shoes that are never going anywhere with you again. You box up all your material possessions, everything you own you touch at least once . It can be a spiritual experience; you are touching everything you have collected in life except the intangibles. And even those you put away if you are moving to a place far from home like I was. I touched my friends and saw as much of them as I could. I saw family at every occasion I could telling myself how long it would be before I saw them again. I made as many memories as I could. Told people on text. Tried one last time with the girls I wanted to even though this was half-hearted, I knew what I needed was what John Legend sang about when he said “if I can’t have it for long at least let me have it fast.” It’s really impossible to see everyone again. What you can do, what you have to do is touch everything you own as you debate leaving it behind or carrying it with you to the next destination.

So I’m meant to come to report on work on the 6th but a plan to go to Kampala for New Year’s comes up and I can’t resist because I need to pack up some more memories, carry with me a few more moments. Also it sucks to spend New Year’s in Nairobi.

Sunday, the 3rd comes around and I call my uncle to find out if the pick-up I’m supposed to use to move my things to Meru is still available. It’s stuck in Mombasa. So I call around and finally I call the caretaker of the place I’m going to stay in to see if she can find one because as I was told its cheaper to find transport that will go from Meru to Nairobi to Meru than transport that will go from Nairobi to Meru to Nairobi. This is a piece of advice I got from a friend of mine who lived here for a year a few years ago. I hadn’t seen him for a looong time then we had our ten year reunion for my high school and at the bar later I told him I would be moving and he gave me the number of the caretaker of the place he used to live in and urged me to call. I’m glad I did because no one else came through for me when I finally needed a house. I remember that on 17th December when people asked me where I would live and how I would move my things I could honestly say I didn’t know but that I was sure it would work out. This move to Meru had already had too many coincidences that it just had to hold up. It had to work out. And it had to do that without much effort on my part otherwise all the wheels would come off.

Anyway the caretaker puts me in touch with a guy who owns a canta. A canta is simply a mini-lorry. We talked and he told me that he would be in Nairobi by nine in the morning of Monday the 4th. That was fine except I wanted to leave later because I had realised that the lethargy that Sunday seduces us with had laid itself across my lap selfishly lapping away all the goals I had set so far. The next day I woke up and he told me he would be late. That he would come at 1 and I was fine with this. So I had a long breakfast and set my sights for 11 to begin packing.

At 11 I started. Packing a house is difficult. It probably needs more time than I had put aside and more paper bags than any of us could ever accumulate. There was a lot of combing over, going back to a room, re-cleaning, clearing afresh and starting again and then waiting when 1 came and went. There was something about this guy that told me he would be late. There was the way I always initiated contact even though I was the one with the money. There was the number of excuses that he threw at me, the rain, servicing, the speed-cops as if he hadn’t considered all of this before he began his trip. So I sat back and decided to get some movies off the internet to tide me over until February.

February as all salaried folk know is the Promised Land. December wipes the floor with us and January is a month of hangovers. It is the winter of our year and though Khalil Gibran once asked what is winter save sleep big with dreams of the other seasons? we still want sleep to end. I want to live again. January sucks. Njaanuary, especially after moving. It cost me almost four months of the rent that I’m going to be paying here to pay deposits, rent and the moving canta. While this should depress it instead tells me that rent here is pretty affordable.

As I went through the movies on offer as the best of the year I found one called Meru. That was the name of the movie. There was no way in the world I was not going to download this movie to watch while in Meru. It’s a move about these guys who climb mount Meru, except it’s not our Mt. Meru it’s the one in Asia. Except it’s not really a movie it’s a documentary. Either way I chalked this up as yet another coincidence.

At the end of my downloading and general chilling the canta showed up. By the time we had moved everything into it and were ready to leave kasarani it was already 9.

“Tutafika late.” We’ll arrive late
With amazing candour “umuhimu ni kufika.” The importance is in arriving

We headed off after I insisted that they put up the rain covering since almost all I know about Meru is that it rains a lot. They tried to argue saying we could stop if it began to rain but I turned down this idea and they put it up dutifully.

6 hours to Meru. Countless bumps. Two police stops one of which involved a cop asking for a bribe but giving so little of a fuck whether he got it or not that I’m convinced a lot of soliciting is peer pressure.

“fridge ni ya nani?” whose fridge is that
“nahamisha huyu” i’m moving this guy
“usiku hivi? Aya mazuri” this late? Ok, any goodies?
“labda we utupatie unapata mazuri kutoka pahali zote, Nairobi, Nanyuki, Isio…” maybe you give me, you after all get goodies from everywhere, Nairobi, Nanyuki, Isio…
“he he hiyo ni ukweli-mpite basi.” Haha that’s true-go on then

We get to the town and head off to the place where I will be staying. As soon as this happens the heavens open. The rain turns dust to slush in minutes. It makes casual strollers into sprinters and the driest of fibres is soon dripping. We get to the place and hoot for the watchman. We hoot again and again and finally he opens the gate. He motions that one of us should get out and talk to him about what we wanted.

The caretaker had told me she would leave instructions concerning my arrival when I spoke to her at 6 and I hadn’t yet left Nairobi. I get out and get drenched in the thrity seconds it takes to get to his house. I light a cigarette because it has been a long trip and also its raining.

“happy new year.”
“happy new year”
“mi ndio uliambiwa ninahamia hapa.” I’m the one you were told was moving in here
“ok. Lakini kuna shida.” Ok but there’s a problem

I look at him out of the corner of my eyes. I’m enjoying how cool I feel having this cigarette and I don’t really believe in any problems. He, in between words, coughs like a man trying to prove a point.

“mwenye alikuwa hapo hajatoka” the guy who was there has not yet left
“eh”
“”na saa hii hayuko, sijui utafanya nini. Alifaa kutoka lakini bado yuko. Na vitu zako zinanyeshewa.” And he’s not in right now, i don’t know what you will do. He was supposed to move but he’s not, and your things are being rained on.
“eh zinanyeshewa, si mwamshe atoke.” They are being rained on, wake him up he leaves
“saa hii mwenye nyumba sijui pahali yuko” right now the tenant…i don’t know where he is..
“mi ndio mwenye nyumba. Nimeshalipa rent.” I’m the tenant I’ve already paid rent

And back and forth and back and forth as if we are packing up a house. All the while he is coughing fiercely. He reminds me of this girl I used to sit next to in school, she would cough theatrically whenever i came back from a cigarette. I could tell she was faking it though. But her point was put across as was his.

In the end I had to go sleep in a lodging in town and come back the next day. I met the guy who had refused to vacate and he seems like a proper person. I suspect that we will be friends.

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