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A random trip to Embu!

July 30, 2012 14 comments

Like any other working human, there’s that awesome feeling that envelopes me every week when Friday 5pm is looming. So last week on Friday at around 4pm I was sitting on my desk trying to look busy when a colleague walks up to me and excitedly tells me that there’s a plan for Embu. “Is there transport?” I ask. That’s all that mattered. See I’m one of those people that were born ready for whatever. If a plan sounds solid, as long as I’m not in the ICU, you can count me in. So when he confirmed that there was transport, Joey was game.

Embu couldn’t wait till 5pm so I had to come up with an ingenious emergency exit plan. My manager sits a few steps from me so there’s no way I was going to walk out with my laptop. The plan was to switch it off, lock it in my locker and bolt, claiming that I was going to a department on ground floor. Sounds easy right? It is, as long as you do not forget to mute your laptop before shutting it down. Yap the genius in me forgot to mute the damn thing so as it was shutting down that Windows tune sold me out! My boss looked up and I was like, “For some reason this thing keeps restarting itself. Must be a virus.” I had to switch it on again and re-take the whole thing. The second time around everything worked out and I was on my way downstairs ‘to see a colleague’.

Joey was free as a bird.

Funny thing is that even after cleverly pulling a disappearing act, we were not out of the office until 6pm. We passed by Total, bought drinks and peanuts then set out on our road trip. The driver was drinking sprite while the rest of us drank something that had a little sprite and too much Gin. We were a bunch of five boys in that vehicle so you can imagine the kind of stories that were being shared. Especially a few kilometers later when the drinks started taking effect.

At about 8pm we got to Embu and headed straight to the famed Izaak Walton Inn. When we got there everything was just chilled out. The music was a bit low and people were seated in small groups discussing their bosses while sipping on pint. We picked a table and ordered for drinks. The guys just had to do it the Kenyan style. You know where one guy does a round of two for everyone and suddenly his peers feel the need to return the favor instantly. In the end the table ends up looking like a mini bar.

The common name for the joint is Kenol (t’s adjacent to Kenol petrol station). I’m told it’s the place to be around there. For the Embu peeps, Kenol is like Rafikis, Sailors and Skylux all rolled into one. Okay the chicks do not exactly dress like the kind you would find in these joints but you get the point. Heck they do not even sound like the ones in the aforementioned places. A few misplaced Rs and Ls made it very clear that we were not anywhere near Nairobi. But at least no one was drinking their beer using straws. Anywhere up in Embu, they know that if you plan to have a fun night, Kobil is the place to be.

My eyes wandered around the place as revelers trickled in. As usual seated in a corner was a lady that was constantly making calls and shouting angrily on her phone. I suspected she had been stood up. Girls in this region are well known for their flaring temper so I was vigilant just in case a beer bottle comes flying over.

By 10pm the club was packed and the dance floor was a beehive of activity. By 3am some revelers had blacked out on the tables while one or two would even throw up after their insides could no longer hold in the toxic substance. But the dance floor never cleared up. Embu folks like to get down. And they have amazing endurance. There were folks that danced for seven straight hours!

I was leaving for Nairobi at 11am. Mind you I was meant to be in the office at 9! And the journey even became longer because the ladies I was traveling with would stop at every town to buy whatever the inhabitants offered. From rice to papaws to tomatoes. Heck I even thought they might try to purchase a child from its mother. But I have to admit that food is ridiculously cheap in those sides. There was a woman that walked up to us with a bunch of so many papaws and when we asked her how much they go for she said ksh150! For a minute there everyone was confused. You would think she’d answered in Mongolian.

Traffic was crazy a few kilometers to the CBD. I think it took us longer to get to the city center from Ngara than it had taken us to get to Ngara from Embu! We sat in traffic for so long I could feel my beard sprouting. We were so frustrated no one was uttering a word. Well apart from the occasional Nks and Mscheews from the girls. Then I spotted something very fascinating as I stared out of the window:

In case you are reading this from the phone and the photo is not legible, it reads:

DEENDAYAL BHAVAN

VIVEKANAND BALMANDIR

(NURSERY SCHOOL).

At first I thought I was so exhausted and so sleep deprived that I was seeing my own things but then I confirmed with a friend. As in that’s the name of a freaking nursery school. I took out my phone and took a photo then sat there wishing some kid would walk out of the gate so I could stop him/her and politely enquire where s/he goes to school. How does a three year old get that name into his/her tiny head? I mean by the time the teacher gets to the third word the kid is probably thinking about teddy bears and his mommy. Any child from there that can state the name of his school is a genius. He should just go ahead and apply to MIT or one of those Ivy League institutions.

Anyway it was an eventful weekend for me. Save for the fact that I do not foresee the employee evaluation going in my favor this time around. I guess this is where the hedonists say YOLO!

Categories: Places Tags: ,

Proud to be Kenyan!

July 25, 2012 21 comments

In this post I choose to be optimistic. I choose to see the glass as half full.

Kenya harbors some of the most talented people in the world. If you don’t believe me, you wait till the Olympics kick off. You will believe me as you watch Kenyans sweep medal after medal. You will believe me as you watch our Kenyan Athletes stand majestically on the podium as our National Anthem is played over and over again. If you’re not a Kenyan and you’re frowning at this, you will believe me in a week or so when you find yourself humming the Kenyan National Anthem as you take a shower in the morning.

Our Kenyan athletes make us so proud. The epitome of a proud moment is when Ezekiel Kemboi won gold in the 300m steeplechase in Daegu then took off his shirt and exposed his skinny frame before proceeding to do a comical jig. I imagine ‘a great feeling’ is not a good enough description of the feeling that goes with being the best in the world. Heck some of us never became number one in a class of a few guys let alone win anything noteworthy. These Kenyans top the whole damn world! Isn’t that awesome or what?

My pal toured Brazil after winning the Guinness Football Challenge and he came back with a very interesting tale. He told me that one evening as they were strolling about, some Brazilians walked up to them and asked where they were from. On revealing that they were Kenyans, the Brazilians were so excited that they called their compatriots to come over and meet these Kenyans. The thrilled Brazilians then challenged our boys to a sprint. A Brazilian guy won the race and from what my pal told me, the guy leapt in joy. He was ecstatic. He couldn’t believe he had outrun a bunch of Kenyans (Albert, kutuangusha hivi). Dude was in a state of euphoria. That could as well be the proudest moment of his life. I am sure he found a new pick up line as of that day. That story alone is enough to get him into the Brazilian national athletics team.

That’s how proud our athletes make us whenever they outrun everyone else on the track. By the way what’s up with those snail-paced folks that get overlapped before the whole world? Are these folks really the best in their countries or were they selected randomly – maybe based on how long their legs are? How do you even go to an international event to get humiliated like that? Have you seen the look on their faces as a Kenyan whooshes past them (for a second time)? If look closely the look says, “What the hell dude my wife and kids are watching!” Jeez man if someone was so mean as to overlap me at the grand Olympics I would reach over and smack him so hard at the back of his head he would turn around and start running in the opposite direction.

Team Kenya, make us proud in London!

Right here in Kenya we have a spectacle that is one of the Seven Wonders of The World! I am talking about the spectacle that is the Annual Wildebeest Migration. I am still not sure why people enjoy watching hapless wildebeests getting their asses bitten off by vicious crocs. I guess humans are naturally sadistic. But no one can argue that watching this phenomenon leaves your jaw hanging just above your thighs. By the way those wildebeests are either extremely starved or extremely dumb! I wouldn’t dare step into that water if I was promised free supply of KFC chicken for the rest of my life. Those crocs are so damn huge and they don’t mess around! Anyway the fact that Kenya features in the Seven Wonders is enough to make us very proud of our motherland.

Any journalist worth his salt already knows that Kenyan journalists are topnotch. Last week our Journalists made us proud by bagging numerous awards at the 2012 CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards. Not only did two Kenyans (Tom Mboya and Evanson Nyaga) bag the top prize, several others went ahead to win in various categories including the Sport Award won by Waihiga Mwaura and Jepitha Mwai Mwangi; the Television News Bulletin Award won by Nimrod Taabu and Charles Kinyua and the HIV/AIDS Reporting Award won by John Muchangi Njiru! Our boys ran the show in Zambia and we are so very proud of them. These folks do not do guess work in front of the camera/print.

Did you know that our very own Tusker has won fifteen gold medals at the prestigious Monde Selection International Beer Awards. Tusker Lager is brewed right here in Kenya using the highest quality malted barley grown in the scenic Kenyan Rift Valley. It’s no surprise that you will see a tourist enjoying his tusker at 9am in the morning. As a matter of fact, Sainsbury’s, the third largest chain of supermarkets in the United Kingdom stocks the famed drink. In a bid to support our local brand, I propose employers approve that on Fridays we are served Tusker instead of the 4PM tea.

The blooming of mobile money in Kenya is also a source of national pride. It has given our country a remarkable global profile. Even Hillary Clinton wondered why this “brilliant innovation” is not available in the USA. Some time back, MIT researcher Nathan Eagle regaled the audience at some conference with tales of technical innovation from East Africa. “Kenya has some mobile phone services that are years ahead of what we have right now,” he said. If you doubted that we have brilliant people in Kenya, now you know. There are approximately 60 million mobile-money users in the world meaning almost 1 in every 3 is a Kenyan, and half of all these mobile money transactions take place in Kenya.

God knows I love my country. I really do. But the truth is that Kenya is no utopia. We still have a very long way to go. Here’s to hoping we can all work toward building our country and making it a better place. Joey is proud to be Kenyan!

Swinging with the rich… and a few wannabes

April 2, 2012 16 comments

Last week I got season tickets to the Kenya Golf Open.  I was not there because I possess a heck of a swing, I was there to work. The event was taking place at the prestigious Muthaiga Golf Club.  This is the place where prominent and wealthy Kenyans go to unwind. The course itself is picturesque. It is beautifully contoured and the green patches make it scenic. The landscape is accentuated by the presence of ponds. I guess that’s where affluent ducks go for a swim on weekends.

Then there’s the clubhouse. Not just anyone would go in there. To get into the clubhouse you needed to have a VIP tag. There’s food, drinks and snacks being sold inside. But even a VIP tag and your lousy money won’t buy you any sandwiches. You ought to have a card before buying anything in there. In the Clubhouse you speak to a waiter in Swahili and he replies in British English.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the guards are under strict instructions to turn back proboxes and all other vehicles that don’t look like BMWs, Mercs and fuel guzzling SUVs. The cars in the parking lot would make you drool. I’m sure those participants that flew in for the event are still wondering why Kenya is regarded as a third world country.

On Friday morning I had some errands to run in town and on my way to Muthaiga I got into one of those matatus that head to Kiambu. On informing the conductor to drop me at Muthaiga Golf Club, he mocked me and said, “Boss huko watu hawaendangii na mguu,” People in the matatu laughed. I waited for the dust to settle and replied, “wauziacha tao ama?” Non-Swahili speakers, I’m sorry that’s one of the jokes that just can’t be translated.

Funny thing is that I lost a phone at Muthaiga Golf Club! Worst part is that it was a cheap ass phone that only sees the light of day when I need go get cash from M-Pesa. My salary had delayed but I still had an unfading smile on me since I thought I had a fall-back plan. Shock on me (and the M-Pesa agent who had to deal with my curses). Clearly I was not the only hustler to have graced the event.

Back to golf. I observed that golfers don’t carry their own equipment. Each golfer has a guy following closely behind him carrying this huge bag on his back that contains different kinds of golf clubs, gloves, towels, hats, umbrellas and God knows what else. The sophisticated ones have trolleys while the more sophisticated ones have golf carts. You would imagine that having to follow your ‘master’ the whole damn day would be somewhat displeasing, but the smile and bounce on these caddies tell another story. I was tempted to stop one and ask him how much he earns just to see if I need to reconsider career.

I have to admit that I know my golf just as well as I know my astronomy.  I’ve never had any interest in the game. I hear folks saying they’ll be teeing off over the weekend and I assume they’re planning on spending their weekend on the verandah just sipping on hot tea. I used to giggle whenever I heard folks talking about ‘hole-in-one’. Until last week, I thought it was something to do with a one night stand or chips funga (you wouldn’t really blame me, Tiger woods… hole-in-one… get it?)

So here I was amidst the elite trying to understand what the hyped sport is really about. I figured asking questions there would be like going to Nyayo stadium for a Gor vs AFC match and asking what a red card means. I therefore got onto Google for some answers. Reading the rules got me yawning so I won’t bore you with that. But here are some important rules worth mentioning: While on the course, you are not allowed to use your phone (can’t wait for Monday I tell my boss why I wouldn’t pick up his calls); you are not allowed to wander aimlessly (if that golf ball happens to fall on your head you will put yourself in an ambulance and drive yourself to hospital); you are not supposed to make any noise that would distract a golfer (all you fart-freaks out there keep off golf courses). You breach any of these rules and you’ll be fined straight to Eastlands.

I’ve always assumed golf is an easy game. I mean after slashing grass for years in high school, how hard would hitting a golf ball be? But after watching the pros do it, I realized you would have to be one of Tiger Woods bastards to be a pro without much practice. There is a good chance of driving that ball right into the spectators if you are an amateur. That’s if you manage to get it off the tee.

Golf spectators don’t cheer like rugby folks do. In rugby when the fly half is about to take a conversion, supporters of the opposing team will jeer and scream like sorcerers in a bid to distract the player. In golf it’s the opposite. When a golfer is about to tee-off, an official lifts a board with the word ‘silence’ written on it and everyone obeys. Spectators will clap if the golfer sinks the ball, or exclaim sympathetically if he misses. So you can imagine my surprise when my friend Ellen shouted and jumped up and down out of excitement after a ball went into the hole. Christine and I had to cover our faces.

Golf is all about accuracy. Experience is key if you want to be a pro. You are your own captain on the course. Unlike many sports you cannot just hang around and wait for the star of your team to do the job. There’s no Van Persie in golf. You clutch that golf club and all eyes are suddenly fixed on you. It’s a tense moment.  The pin-drop silence makes it even worse. If you drive that ball into the forest (or even worse, into the water), people will whisper words of ridicule and derision. That’s what made me fall in love with the sport. I can imagine that rush that goes with that level of control.

The finals were taking place on Sunday. By then I had taken significant interest in the game. Some golf jargon would still fly past my ears but I tried to catch up thanks to google and my amazing eavesdropping prowess. Once in a while a spectator would turn to me and say something in golf language and I would chuckle and mumble something inaudible. I was determined not to give away my naiveté.

A Briton named Seve Benson won the tournament and I was embarrassed on behalf of all those folks that walk with their noses pointed at the sky because they play their golf at Muthaiga Club.

The President was present at the finals. Men in black were all over the place ensuring no rebel tried to take a swing at the president’s head. The authority and respect his security detail commands is intimidating. Every G4S security guy wishes he grows up to be like these suited folks. You could tell they felt like little virgin boys around their suited counterparts.

After the games some sponsors offered drinks to guests. If there’s one thing that Kenyans love more than drinks, it’s FREE drinks. In fact if this post turns out to be remotely interesting, it’s because I talked about free drinks. A Kenyan would rather spend 2K on fuel to go to a place that has free drinks than spend 1K at his local. Whether it’s a Monday, a Friday, or a Sunday, as long as there’s drinks on the house, people will always turn up. We had fun. As I write this, it’s Sunday night. I am a few Lite bottles away from my mind (get it? Light years… light bottles… I think that’s genius). I am having fun. Some lines I’ve typed got me giggling. In case you read through and nothing makes sense, just know that it sounded funny in my clouded mind. And your mind is boring.

PS: I wish you all a Happy Easter. I know for most middle class Kenyans it’s either Nakuru or Mombasa. Let’s party hard. You rich Muthaiga people that have had travel agencies book you into elegant, secluded lodges; I hope you get bored out of your designer socks. I have one or two avid fans that would want to see my head on a platter if they came here on a Monday and did not find a post. Be forewarned guys: If you come here next Monday and there’s no post, just know that my mind was willing but my body was weak.

An exciting tour

February 27, 2012 11 comments

At exactly 1pm on Friday I alighted from a bus in Kisumu city. As soon as I stepped out the sun hit the top of my head so hard I could feel my brain cooking. You can actually feel your brain turning into pasta. I tell you each morning the sun in Kisumu rises with a mission. It’s in that part of the world where the sun realizes its full potential.

I’d never been in Kisumu before. I was in the company of my lady and we were excited. We simply couldn’t wait to get to the shore of Lake Victoria and have some of that famed, lip smacking fish. My friend Linda had praised the fish so much I had put it in my bucket list.

After settling in, we found our way to the shores of the lake. I could swear the women who prepare the fish are gifted with special powers. They have a special ability of sniffing out potential customers. They were all over us even before we alighted from the tuktuk. A woman with a big body won the battle after successfully daunting her competition.

She led us to her shack and directed us to a table that had an assortment of roasted fish that had been grouped according to size. The modus operandi is you select the size that you think will fill your stomach and then you take a sit and wait for it to be fried.

The waiting part is the hardest. It’s a nail-biting situation. My stomach was rumbling and I was salivating so much my tongue was afloat in my mouth. My girl and I were both silent in anticipation. She was aware that I was getting impatient and about to get very fussy, and was smart enough to ease the anxiety with one brilliant line:

“Here is what really gets my goat…”

We laughed heartily at the joke. For a moment there I was distracted. If you didn’t get it, refer to this link. Remember to come back here.

Our little mirth was interrupted by the sight of a woman approaching holding two platters on each hand. My neck stretched to its elastic limit. I had a broad smile on me as she walked towards our table. But the smile soon turned into a sneer when she walked past me and placed both plates before my girl, completely ignoring me. One contained a huge mountain of ugali, and the other was the real deal: It contained a mouth-watering whole fish that had been fried with some greens.

It is wrong to subject your customer to such agonizing torture. I should have asked to see the manager and raised hell. The management needs to hire more attendants so that meals for couples are brought to the table at exactly the same time. That’s all they need to do to be the number one fish spot in Kisumu.

I dug into my food as soon as the plate landed on the table. The ugali was so hot but that did not deter me. My fingers learnt how to tap dance. The fish! The fish was something out of this world. It gets to your mouth and your tongue climaxes. That mean chef from Hell’s Kitchen would be so impressed by the lakeside women’s ability to prepare such scrumptious fish. If ever you need to reward your mouth for whatever reason, take it to Kisumu. It will forever be indebted to you.

Kisumu is such a hassle-free place. I’ve never been to a more relaxed town. Traffic flows freely and streets are not as crowded. You can walk freely without people bumping into your shoulder. The residents are polite and friendly. I need not mention that the fish epitomizes all that is wonderful in Kisumu city. Sighting of a probox is yet to be recorded in this part of the country.

The next destination in our itinerary was Eldoret. On Saturday morning we left Kisumu for Eldoret. My mission was to meet up my special friend Fabian. It had been four years since I’d last seen my first year campus roommate. He was back to Eldoret from his impulsive trip to Malindi, and I was eager to see him.

Fabian came to pick us shortly after we’d settled in. I was pleased to see him. He’s not changed in the least bit. Even his specs look the same. He leads us to the family hotel, Cicada. When we get to the entrance the guards greet him respectfully and then proceed to search him before searching us. I find that very amusing.

The hotel is exquisitely furnished. Everything – from the choice of furniture to the fittings – is of impeccable taste. We walk past the lounge on ground floor and climb up to first floor where there’s a pub. An attendant comes to our table to take our orders. I ask for water. Fabian makes it clear that everything is on the house and my order quickly changes. He even buys us lunch and I’m like, “ooh you didn’t have to.”

We reminisce on the times we’ve shared. We talk about work, ambitions, prosperity, women (this he dominates), and so on. Fabian is the most engaging guy you will ever meet. He talks with such gusto and has a great sense of humor. Four hours fly by unnoticeably. We agree that we would go refresh then meet up later in the evening.

At around 8pm I call him and he tells me he didn’t even make it to his place. As he was going home he met some friends and they went back to the hotel. We agree to meet him at the same place and we set off.

When we get to the hotel, he is in the company of four other revelers: Two ladies and two gentlemen. All of them seem a bit liquored up. We join in the fun. That afternoon I had suggested that Fabian brings with him a female companion in the evening but he’d brushed off the idea saying that ladies no longer tickled his fancy. He implied that he had changed and he no longer bothered chasing after women. His conduct that evening did not corroborate his claims. In summary, that evening, his friend had warmed a bath only for my friend Fabian to bathe in it. Evidently, old habits die hard.

On Sunday morning we traveled back to Nairobi. My tour was awesome. I had a great time. I saw a lot and learnt a lot. I also got to be with a special person. I had created memories.