I read an article a while back by some illustrious and well meaning Kenyan writers. The article was titled ‘The Nairobi I Know’ or something to that effect. I found it quite interesting, though I felt that something more could be added about the Nairobi that many of us have known. So I decided to ask my friend, let’s call him Himura, to write about the Nairobi he knows. He is what would be described as a lifer, someone who has burned the midnight oil at both ends of the candle, so I figured he might have something to say. As expected, he refused. I traced him to his fortress of solitude in the countryside, where he now spends his days engaging in noble pastimes such as playing PlayStation and laughing at society. After days and weeks of bribery, cajoling, insults, begging, flattery, ass kissing, blackmail, and pure nagging, he finally acquiesced. Here is the edited version of what he wrote. (Many sections were left out due the fact that as you know this website only carries PG material, and we abhor vulgar language, drug glorification or anything even mildly sexual. We are staunch Christians, just the way Kenya is a staunch Christian nation which abhors and avoids all kinds of sin. Yes.)
Lights, camera… What the hell?
I had lived in Nairobi severally during my childhood, during school holidays mostly. Flashes of Unga House, of Sarit Centre, playing with the elevators in Yaya Centre (and getting promptly kicked out), getting bullied by some cool ‘city boys’ and waiting for them the next day and beating the crap out of them with my pals. That’s just a tiny part of the Nairobi I knew, the Nairobi I know. The Nairobi I want to write about is the one I knew with the eyes of the age of majority, with the eyes of an adult. I’m not sure I qualified as an adult for a very long time, so let’s just say after high school – post 17 years.
The first time I came to Nairobi when I was of age, my brother took me to Florida. The club of course. Also known as F1 or Madhouse, aptly situated on top of a petrol situation, even more aptly situated on K-Street. Little did I know that the most apt thing about it was the nickname, Madhouse. I knew he wanted to show me a good time, but as I grew older I realized that perhaps there was something else he wanted to show me, a lesson he wanted me to see, experience for myself and learn. Thus begins this tale that has been extorted out of me.
The Nairobi I know is walking into Madhouse and experiencing a sensory overload. The music, the perfume, and the sight of the women. Notice I haven’t said women. I said the women. Nothing like I had ever laid my young eyes on. Describing them is pointless, let’s just say that the beauty and variety was like a shocking yet delicious shot of chocolate tequila to a virgin throat. What was even more amazing is that these women seemed to be focused on me. Me. Smiling, waving, calling, uncomfortably long eye contact… I knew I was attractive, but I didn’t think I was that attractive. (Later I would come to be described as devastatingly handsome and incredibly sexy, but I digress). I gravitated to an angel who looked Eritrean or something. She was clad in a sheer purplish burgundy silky dress, I remember. The night flew by. The conversation, the dancing, her beauty, her scintillating scent… I still remember the perfume. It must have been J’adore or Pure Poison. When time came to leave, she told me that it was 3,000 bob. I told her that I had already paid the bill. She laughed and said no, if I was to go with her it would be 3,000 bob. As this slowly sunk in, I could see my brother close by watching us, almost dying with laughter. It hit me then. These were women on the clock, ladies of the night. So much for fantasy. So much for witty conversation and funny jokes. I left, without her of course, feeling a mixture of awe and dejection. Hmmmm.
The Nairobi I know is sneaking onto the roof of the KICC with a girl I had just begun dating, who as fate would have it happened to be part Eritrean. There was a sort of fashion show going on and we had snuck off to view the city from the very top of, well the city. When we were up there, having snuck past various watchmen and workers, the world came to a standstill and for some reason we had our first kiss. There was an army plane flying past and I swear that fella dipped his wing at us. Some romantic shit I tell you.
The Nairobi I know is walking into my first job and getting asked, alongside all the other interns, to take out terms of reference and make changes as we saw fit. Everyone adjusted the duties they could do, responsibilities they should have and what not. I only changed one term. I doubled my salary. The boss glanced through all of our contracts and signed them without a word. Thus I became the most ballingest intern. If that’s a word.
The Nairobi I know is doing volunteer work in the slums at Mukuru Kwa Ruben. Seeing the joy, optimism and hope of the young people who lived there under nightmarish conditions. Teaching them on the side about theatre, drama, plays, writing and producing a play in which they all acted. When they won at a youth festival – I will never forget the sense of pride and accomplishment it gave them, things I took for granted. The Nairobi I know is one of my workmates getting shot in those same slums, and the helplessness I felt cause I had no idea what to do about a bullet wound and I did not want to see someone die, especially not someone I knew. He survived, and went back to work in those same slums. I did not go back.
The Nairobi I know is holding PlayStation tournaments in the hood, playing FIFA and Mortal Kombat. Seeing how boys will always be boys, and how men can get crazily competitive over a video game. Throwing impromptu parties and making punch that would intoxicate you just by its smell.
The Nairobi I know is discovering roast chicken at Jeans in Nairobi West. I swear the first time we went there I ate a whole chicken washed down with a litre or two of Tusker. And then discovering an alley just between West and South C that I swear has the best mutura in this whole country. Also discovering that apart from wrapping meat, newspapers can also be used as serviettes.
The Nairobi I know is walking into campus as a freshman and discovering infatuation. Falling for an older girl and discovering rejection. Cold stone hard rejection that you can do nothing about. Finding out that where there’s a reason, a man’s tears will come. They will come my friend, they will come. Learning what it means to be heartsick, learning what it means to be obsessed. Thank you very much, but I ain’t never going back to that. If I can help it.
A wise man once said that there is a time and place for everything. It is called campus. Eating the most wonderful ugali and meat at Fig Tree market in Ngara. Drinking amazing keg in Ngara. (I guess after the first jug, keg is always amazing) Drinking keg at K1 on the regular mpaka they had tall boys reserved just for us. Stealing tall boys, jugs, ash trays, beer mugs and all sorts of paraphernalia from nightclubs all over the city to adorn our rooms with. Heck, one of my peeps even once stole a whole goat leg from the local. Hehehehehe. Going for BOGOF at K2 (That is Buy One Get One Free, for you unfortunate souls who never lived in such glorious times). Running riot all over Westlands. Leaving Electric Avenue and wondering why the street lights are so bright, kumbe it is morning and those street lights are the Sun. I once ate ten of those eggs they sell on the street with kachumbari. We had a C.A.T coming up the day after, so I spent a whole day on the toilet studying. Insulting the police right at the police station, then running from the same police. Over and over.
The Nairobi I know is hanging out the car window while racing down Uhuru Highway, one hand holding on for dear life and the other one holding a bottle of vodka on the tarmac to see if it might produce sparks, screaming all the while. Discovering that if you shake a bottle of beer, it sprays just like soda. Making this discovery in Carnivore and proceeding to spray my boy with a bottle of Pilsner. The only problem was that in our excitement over this world changing discovery we also ended up spraying four other tables with beer. Tables that happened to be full of people, people whom we didn’t know. Oh well. Deciding on a whim to hop on a bus in the middle of the night and hit Mombasa before common sense gets the better of you.
Getting stoned in Parkie, getting stoned in Westie. Getting stoned in Emba, getting stoned in South C. Getting stoned in Karen, getting stoned in Lang’ata then when the munchies hit making our way across Langata road to get to Uchumi just to have that power sandwich. When I heard that Uchumi was collapsing, my first thought was about how great a shame it would be if we lost the power sandwich forever. Nightmares are made of less scary thoughts. Getting stoned in the loos at the cinema and then watching a movie in real, I mean real, 3D. Hehehehehe. Almost trying cocaine, but after seeing the high it gave to some pals who had done a line or two, decided to give it a pass. Plus those niggas danced for like 12 hours straight and kept talking the whole damn time. No thank you.
Making my first fortune. The most money I had ever made in my life. And then blowing it all. And then, as if once was not enough, doing it all over again. No regrets though, it taught me things that cannot be taught. You feel me?
My phone getting grabbed out of my pocket in the middle of the night at Odeon. Me chasing the thief all the way down the street, then realizing that the guys who were running next to me were not there as good Samaritans. Promptly turning back and discovering that my money was gone as well. Kind stranger paid my fare, and even after I scribbled his number somewhere and called him to thank him, pay him back, lunch, whatever politely declined my offer and said that one day I would do the same for him or another.
The Nairobi I know is me and my boy, during the water crisis, on the daily going to almost every five star hotel in the city just to take a crap. We’d walk in in our suits looking dead serious, acting as though we knew where we were going to and head straight for the loo to drop a deuce, do the deed, number 2 my friend. Believe that.
Checking into Mwenda’s and testing almost every cocktail. And yes I mean testing. Slippery Nipples and Dark Fucks, and the Flaming Lamborghini. Before you cringe, those are names of cocktails. Getting into fights all over. Fights for honour, fights for justice, fights for pride, for ego, for foolishness, for family, for friends. Realising eventually, that pwagu hupata pwaguzi – one day you will mess with the wrong people and get your ass handed to you in an epic unforgettable beatdown.
During the post-election violence, shacking up at my boy’s place – stranded in Nairobi. I think we spent two weeks in the bar. I tried to learn how to chew miraa but it was too much work. Managed much later on with muguka. Hehehehe. Interesting high.
The first time I heard Obama speak was when he came to The University as a Senator. Notice I said The University, so there is no need to ask which one. That is the first time I realized that a special one walks among us. I remember sitting in Q’s on the night of the American election, and seeing grown men cry when it was announced that Obama had won. What it meant for black people, and for Africans, and for Kenyans, was so so fucking much. We will never forget. Glad to have been alive during such times.
Making a foray into elective politics. Time of our lives. Thrilling, exciting, educative, but dangerous. After all this is still Kenya. Getting threatened, more fights, thugs, getting arrested countless times, becoming familiar with various police stations and cells. Oh well. No regrets.
Breaking hearts and having your heart broken. It is even worse when you thought, nay you knew, that you were past the point where your heart could ever be broken. The pain that hurls itself through your body, when you bring tears to the eyes of the one you love and you know deep down that you will continue to hurt her. When you look for a reason to break up because part of you is terrified that this woman will actually complete you, that this woman can be the one, that this woman is… everything. The pain that gnaws at your soul when you know that you shouldn’t have left, you shouldn’t have walked away, you shouldn’t have looked at someone else. The hopelessness that wracks you, along with the occasional sob, when you realize that you cannot change the past, and that in breaking someone, you broke yourself. And what if, the reason that you broke them, is because you are already broken yourself, in ways that you know not?
A friend once told me, over a quiet drink at The Porterhouse, that you’ve never really lived if you’ve never lost your mind. I thought about it and realized there is truth in that statement. But only the brave. Or those who cannot help it. I could write a whole other article about that, but that is another story. That is the Nairobi I know.
The Nairobi I know is maddening, silly, stupid traffic jams. Crime and police harassment. A place where most people are only out to get theirs, are all about money, and actually think that that is a higher form of living. Poverty of ambition masquerading as real ambition. The ugly side of capitalism embraced, flossing, flaunting, lies, ego, treachery, betrayal, pride, hubris, you name it.
The Nairobi I know is good people, who despite all this, still care about the bigger things and work toward them. It is good cheer, laughter, wonder, and something new to be discovered every day. It is hope, it is dreams, it is love. It is family, it is friends. It is memories we’ll never forget, and people who made us.It is the arboretum. It is Eastlands, Buru, South C, B… (I remember someone asking where South A is) It’s the country clubs and the brothels.It is that wonderful chicken, fries, and kachumbari at Sonford. It’s that mutura. It’s that kienyeji chicken made by that Luhya lady just behind the stage at West. It’s McFries. It’s Kenchic. It’s Meditarreneo, The Stanley, Diamond Plaza all those places. You name them, you know what I mean. You know what I’m trying to say. It is how those women and girls dress, always a sight to behold. It is those men with hope in their eyes and a dream in their hearts, and not too shabby too. It is that government official, that police man, who decided to do right. It is many things. Far from perfect, but it is what it is.
I could go on writing but I’m tired, plus there is too much to say. Cheers, another time perhaps.
The Himura Chronicles will someday be a book. Or a graphic novel.