Big brother from Kakakmega
People go around calling other people cuckoo to mean they are nuts but they never really know why a cuckoo is nuts. I figured you are too caught up with new year resolutions to check, so I did you a solid. First, for those who are wondering, a cuckoo is a bird. It looks harmless but it’s a real piece of work. It will have sex but not take responsibility when it falls pregnant. [Of course, all cuckoo males are deadbeats.] What the female cuckoo does is that because she couldn’t be bothered with babies and diapers and shit, she sneaks into another bird’s nest when they are out doing what birds do and lays her eggs in her nest because she is the kind of bird that tricks other birds to raise her children. Once the egg is in the nest she doesn’t stick around, she sods off, never comes back to see what happened, she just leaves and goes back to partying and drinking and kissing other strange birds on the beaks. You think you are YOLO, you haven’t met a cuckoo. No frrrks at all. She never checks if her eggs hatched or they fell off a tree. What happens with the egg is that it hatches faster than the other eggs in the nest and then grows faster than other chicks, eating all the food, sending the smaller chicks to their early deaths.
I read that and thought, damn, what a bird. What a goddamn bird. Then I think the internet figured I like stories of shit birds, so it led me by the hand to sparrows. Sparrows are sociopaths. They are the most jealous birds you will ever meet. What a sparrow will do is hunt down all the other sparrows its husband slept with. She won’t even need their two names, just one, and off she will go, flying from tree to tree, looking for the rest of the hussies her husband had a thing with. After she finds the nests of these other mothers, guess what she does? She kills all of this bird’s chicks. Every last one. Drives a dagger into their thin chests. And twists it, just in case. She then moves on to another nest and does the same. Nest to nest, blood and gore until the last chick is dodo. It’s carnage. It’s bedlam. Savage.
Which naturally brings us to Eddy. But what has Ashioya got to do with birds? Well, nothing, apart from his skinny limbs. But there is that little fact that he has been living in this nest for four years now and the time has come for him to fly off and find his tree and make his own nest. He has to leave because he has had a good break, an important break. He’s taking over the Mantalk column in the Saturday Nation starting this Saturday. I think it’s a big deal—writing a column for the main newspaper is a big deal. It’s also daunting. But I think he’s ready. He is imaginative and creative but most importantly he’s hungry. My only fear, the only tragedy, is that he’s going to take his Luhya jokes to the column. Maybe even send salamus to his relatives in shags.
Whatever the case, he’s done very well here. I wish him well.
The nest is now empty and I’m looking to fill it with another bird, a female one this time, preferably. Someone with better jokes, someone who stays on the horse, someone who doesn’t want things overnight. Some grit. And character. And a better hairstyle than Eddy.
I shall see you folk next week. For now, I think it’s only fair that Eddy says the last word.
Eddy….no talking about your father. Again.
Kakamega is not Nairobi.
Kakamega does not try to look like Nairobi. Behave like Nairobi. Or be Nairobi. Kakamega just is.
Kakamega is not what you think Nairobi is. You have to understand: Kakamega takes its time. Takes your time. It’s like a double Chemistry lesson. In the sweltering heat. After eating Githeri.
So yes, this story is about Kakamega. But actually, you don’t have to know Kakamega or have been to Kakamega to get this story. Because this story is really about dreams. In Kakamega or ‘Ingo’, or ‘Kach’, whatever you want to moniker it, there’s not a lot of things to aspire to, it’s true. But we are dreamers. We’re born that way, I think. Maybe it’s because dreaming doesn’t cost much. In fact, it’s free.
So, can I trust you? Can I tell you my story, and will you really listen? Biko used to question me every time I sent him what I considered, at the time, a Pulitzer-worthy piece of work.
“What’s the story?” I had spent days writing and he’d shut me down with one sentence. Three words. Three! And it’s not even my favorite three words. (‘There’s more food’—those are my favorite three words; in case you are wondering.) I’d curse him and put a spell on him but change my mind at the last minute.
Funny how that works.
Back to the story. I was born in Kakamega District Hospital, when districts were in vogue. My father had me at a fairly young age, which explains my youthful face (does Science work this way?) even though I am staring down the barrel of the 30s in a couple of years. Me? 30? What happens at 30 by the way? Do people suddenly grow kneecaps? Or do they start getting wise? Is it even legal to be 30?
My grandfather was a District Commissioner. Imagine that. That means, if he’d played his cards right, I wouldn’t have needed to work a day in my life. Neither would my kids. But here we are, me sweating my knuckles off, banging copy when I’d rather be on a nondescript island with my knuckles resting on someone’s daughter’s bum as she shoots TikTok videos and captions them #loveyourlife #godspeed #trusttheprocess. Anyway, trust the process.
I grew up in Kakamega, and for a long time, I knew this was my life. What is that saying? He who does not travel thinks his mother is the best cook? I am Luhya, so the stereotype checks out; I love food. And I love loving food. All I wanted, mostly, was to own a boda boda.
This is such an embarrassing story that I hesitate to tell it! But since I promised you honesty, then I guess I have to.
I don’t know whether it’s a genetic strain, or maybe there is something in the water, but as a Westerner, me, I love boda bodas. It’s my preferred means of travel. If you’re looking for a car guy, then I’m not your guy. In fact, red flag. There is freedom, on two wheels. But as life would have it, I am one of the last two remaining Luhyas who either doesn’t have a boda boda…or a boda boda license. Fun fact, my father, after thirty years, has recently bought a boda boda. I was like, you too? They broke him, poor gozo. But I understand. I do. Eventually, the bug bites you and you have to scratch the itch. So if someone’s daughter is reading this, I want you to know, we are getting that boda boda. Soon.
Before I tell you about Kakamega’s intricacies, let me tell you about how Kakamega smells.
It’s important because that is the first thing you learn about Kakamega. Kakamega has no particular scent—you only realize it when you leave Nairobi. Or Kisii. It’s like Bethlehem, everyone knows there is something great happening in Bethlehem but nobody can pinpoint what it is. Bethlehem is just…Bethlehem. That’s how Kakamega is. It just is.
There is actually a rule in Ingo that everyone understands. It’s tattooed in your brain when young. If you walk down the street and meet five guys, but you are only familiar with one of those people, you have a choice: You either wave and walk on, or you go over and shake all five hands.
If you walk across and shake only the hand that you know, then the other four people will know who you are. They will never forget you. And not in a good way. It’s second nature, something in the water. That’s the code we live by. Nairobi, on the other hand, is cold, man. In Kach, you learn values that go beyond etiquette. We’re all different, you learn to treat everyone the same, because you’re all in the same pot. You all dream the same dream.
Now, one of my dreams is coming true. Someone called me. Said they had some news for me. I told them, “Shoot.” They shot. Hit me right in the gut. Now I am sprawled here on my patio, with a pipe in my mouth, a belly full of wine and words on my fingertips, living my dream. The news? Oh, sorry: We want you to write for ManTalk. I almost screamed out loud and did a little jig but I had to keep it stoic, keep it 100. Me? A columnist. What will people from Ingo say? I am actually going to follow a path that Biko has blazed. The fourth Reich in this ManTalk Bizness, a stint on opinion’s hottest seat, the media equivalent of jury duty. Truth is, I’m kinda scared. But I’m also excited. I tell Biko he is my Michael Corleone, if you haven’t watched The Godfather, you wouldn’t get it. But you should. The Trio Mio to my E-Sir. Prodigy with an asterisk. This to me feels like Steve Jobs returning to Apple, Muhammad Ali returning from years of exile, Christ rolling back the stone–transforming you into what you were always meant to be. I look at how my life has panned out and I realize I am truly blessed. My life turned from water into wine.
Maybe if you’re not from where I’m from, you cannot understand this.
It’s from this town that I am most proud of. Where the men rode away every morning, every day, to presumably build the nation, and sauntered back at 8PM to find their dinner ready or past 10PM because only darkness can clothe a man. Even while young, I knew there was rampant drinking, alcohol is cheap in Kakamega. I remember the women adroitly forming chamas, or going to church—not because they loved Jesus, but because they had been failed by love, failed by their willowing husbands and the hellions that their children were evolving to. As alcohol became an escape, the families they had hoped for and dreamed of became the place where their hope went to die.
I know of friends who got worn down by the weight of waiting, and some became matatu touts, others boda boda riders, others went into business, hustlers of the night, and day – professions that their parents dreaded, and loathed – paying homage to that edgy civil disobedience that couldn’t give a cuckoo’s tail about schools and order and following the same trajectory, trajectories through university and a ‘meaningful’ place in Kenyan society. You know what I‘m saying?
So you can see why this matters a lot. Why this means so much.
Bazu here was giddy; I think I detected a tinge of admiration in his voice but because we swore a blood-oath, he will never say it.
“You got this,” he spoke in his deadpan voice. He said it with so much conviction, so much belief, it changed my mentality. It was kind of genius, I think. Because I felt like I had to prove him right. First we make decisions, then decisions make us.
See, when you’re putting words to paper, it’s fluid, it’s like… what’s the word for it? You know, when you meditate?
It’s really like nirvana for me.
I’m making it out because of hard work, belief, honesty and the generosity of one man.
“What’s the story?” I still carry that lesson with me everywhere I go. He knows that my head tends to dangle in the clouds, so he makes sure that my feet are still firmly planted on the ground.
It doesn’t hurt to get a little counsel, to observe grace in action, to receive the occasional nudge toward what is right. I err towards risk aversion, so I tend to mull a lot, and get feedback, a wise word here and there from those who came before me, success stories, innovators—from family, friends, foes. Occasionally asking them—mercilessly and plainly—to assess things for me. What do you think? What should I do? What would you have done?
There always seemed to be someone. Someone who has been on that road, who’d become what I wanted to be, something to aspire to. There’s always someone who has done it before. You just have to do it…different.
You have to learn fast, because, sooner or later, the world expects that the die has been cast, that you have arrived—that you are finally you, for God’s sake. And just like that, you are a mentor—everybody’s big brother, doesn’t matter if you’re good at it or not.
There is a lot of advice strewn around. The only other thing that outscores advice in these streets is short girls with plastic water bottles. A lot of advice is hogwash; wrapped in irony, especially if you get yours from Twitter. What it lacks in range, it makes up for in rage. You know the ‘Trust The Process’; ‘Godspeed’; ‘Manifesting’. There it is: This is my contentiont. I despise the shopworn aphorisms, the empty code words, or dopey hooks from dopey pop songs; I hate how they are used interchangeably as a substitute for sound advice—garden-variety inspiration, and an opportunity to remind the world that you alone among them was right all along. I hope I am not hitting too close to home.
How did I manage to get out of this place? In short, I got lucky.
And along my path, I have felt the hand of destiny many times. Fortuitous son of fate. There is a reason it’s all happening, I mused. But I do not confuse destiny with divine intervention, or the Hand of God or anything like that. I was not special as a child, nor was I vastly talented like the other boys. No. I’m not from the ghetto. Neither am I a hippy. I straddle that fine line. It’s like living in Amboseli; depending on who you ask, and when you ask, they are either upper Kawangware or Lower Lavington.
I love writing on this blog a lot, not least because you guys seem to live in beehives—it’s the way you drip sweet words—that I sometimes fall for the hype. One of you, and I will not name names, but Lilian, has even propositioned me for marriage. I wanted to know what she is bringing to the table and then she said, ‘The table’ and that scared me because I am against deforestation.
Besides, it’s my job to be the funny one in the relationship. Anyway, good luck, Lilian.
I promised to tell you one more thing, right? Here’s what Bazu told me: Stay on the horse. Poignant. That’s what a mentor does sometimes, no? Reminds you of how you got where you are so that you can figure out how to get where you’re going?
Whenever I go back to Kakamega, I meet up with my friends. And they are all brilliant. Sharp chaps. But for one reason or another, they just never made it. Made it out. I listen to their stories and it is clear that sometimes talent isn’t enough. The gods choose who they choose.
That changed my perspective, too. Changes you. I think about my privilege and luck, despite everything.
Everyone takes hits.
But that’s a distraction. It’s not about the fall.
It’s about how you get up.
We believe in an honest day’s work. No matter how far you go from Kakamega, it will always be with you. In you. Her tenderness and vulnerability, the torn flower of her beauty, the scent on your path.
Slowly is the fastest way to get where you want to be. And so, at times, the horse doesn’t move. Sometimes, the horse goes nuts. But it’s still a horse. Your horse.
One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil. When the boy looks in the mirror and sees this man, will he be proud of the story he is writing? My family taught me that. Biko taught me that. Kakamega taught me that.
Maybe I am naive. Maybe I am a crazy young geezer.
But what’s life all about?
We all know damn well that this life is for dreamers.
That a boy from Kakamega can dream of rainy sunsets, that he can stay on the horse, that the best part of a story is writing it.