Every morning, I’m plucked out of dreamland by the loud barking of my neighbour’s dogs. Every single day, and sometimes in the middle of the night, I wake up to their extremely loud noises, and every single day, I start my day cussing, invoking scary names from a Nigerian film. My persistent suggestion to have the noisy little canine creatures put down for good have fell on deaf ears every single time, even though I had offered, out of the goodness of my heart, to shoulder the cost of carrying out the act myself if the owners were to be kind enough to hand them over to me. When that didn’t work out, I compromised by demanding they at least be tested for severe rabies. I was told that there was no need to, because they were harmless cute little creatures. I refused to give up.
Saturday was no exception; and the noisy dogs didn’t disappoint. The incessant barking plucks me out my dreams. Alailopolo ewure oshi! May evil strike you, I curse in impeccable Yoruba, as I sit up.
I’m wide awake. The first sound I hear, just like your average Somali, is that of Bob Dylan singing ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’. I must have nodded off before I shut the computer off the night before. I scan the room, the light from the sun illuminating everything. The clock says its 10 am. I’m still wearing the macawiis (kikoi) I had slept in, ditching my sweatpants for it; it had been a long week and I wanted something very comfortable.
I put the television on, feeling too lazy to get out of bed. I quickly flip through the channels. The world is falling apart. The times are indeed changing. A major bank has been declared to go under receivership, confirming my innate mistrust and fear of banks. Just like any other decent Somali and I consider myself one, I suffer from a rather not so irrational mistrust of leaving my hard-earned cash in a stranger’s hands, and by association, banks. I do not like having sleepless nights worrying whether someone is opening a strip club somewhere with my cash. But luckily, I was not a customer of the bank. So I quickly send up a prayer thanking God for not falling into the palms of that gorgeous sales rep from Chase Bank, who had, a year ago, put a strong case (mostly with a bewitching smile and a lovely posterior) on why I should put every last cent I own with the bank. A lot of men, and even some women (probably lesbians) including CEOs and MDs of major companies had unfortunately struck a (raw) deal with the bank, not because of its financial assets and impressive balance sheets, but because of the impressive assets flaunted by its curvy sales reps, and now it’s come to bite them in the ass. My Ayeeyo (grandma) had in the past advised me not to trust my money with any one, especially banks.
I flip to the next channel and another drama is unfolding, weirdly relating to the financial industry as well. The so called Panama Papers, I was freaking out a little as I watched the whole thing unfold, because my secret plans of becoming a money launderer extra-ordinaire were not as safe as I thought. It was not a viable alternative career anymore! It made me particularly sad that I’d not be able to offer my excellent and highly discretionary off-shore banking services to our esteemed African leaders, (cue Mugabe and Museveni) who have countless important issues to worry about rather than where to put their hard-earned billions without anyone prying. As a staunch Pan-Africanist, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to offer my fair share of contribution to the narrative of the Continent.
Suddenly the phone rings, plucking me from all the drama on tv. It’s my Ayeeyo. She is in Garissa.
“Hello”, I greet her.
“It’s not Hello, it’s your grandma. And who is this Hello you always confuse me with?” She replies in Somali. She doesn’t speak English.
“Of course; my mistake Ayeeyo. I’m alright. How are you doing?” I ask. She’s been having back pains for some time.
“I’m ok”, she replies. “Just still having pains, there’s a spear rooted just behind my left kidney. And my waist is being held. But I can’t complain. How are you? Are you eating well? I hope you’re eating real food now and not those potato chips folks over there are obsessed with. Oh and I hope you’ve become a good boy and shaved your head; you cannot get a good girl to marry with that bird’s nest of a head, you know? I’m still looking for a nice girl for you to marry but it is becoming difficult.” I’m quoting her exact words here. It totally makes sense in Somali. Body pains and the like can only have effect when they are described with a bit of drama, like comparing it to the pain caused by spears, so that the person being told can get the seriousness of the situation, without the person telling appearing to be melodramatic or complaining too much. I could totally see her pointing at her lower back and kidney, as she twitched her eyes, and gazed into the skies.
“I’m doing great; I’m trying to eat well. I have shaved my hair too. By the way Ayeeyo, people here have lost all their money because banks are collapsing. I don’t know where to put my money.” I reply. She doesn’t buy the hair thing for a second. I sense she’s making a mental note to have a prayer session held for me, which occasion will also be graced by the village barber, who will pretend to be in deep prayer but his fingers would be itching for my scalp the whole time. She never passes up the chance to remind me that her likelihood of her having a great grandchild is tied to my getting rid of my bushy hair.
“Do not place your hard-earned money in the hands of somebody else. Do not put it in a bank, especially those that are not owned by our people. It is foolish to do that. In fact, I’m going to make you a nice leather purse so that you can safely carry your money with you. Is that why they teach you in school? And have you finished yet? You know your peers are leaving you behind, most of them already have two wives and a number of children.” She clearly has never been to Nairobi. She tells me that my cousin Osman, an eighteen year old who has just finished high school, is on his way to Nairobi from Garissa, and that since he has never been to the city, I should pick him up. I tell her I will head to Eastleigh to pick him before she hangs up.
I take a quick shower, slip on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. I then quickly scan the kitchen for something to shovel down but I find nothing- the maid had taken the day off. I head out, and luckily traffic is mild. I’m extremely famished, as only skinny folks can be. I haven’t had anjeera for three days now, and I’m going crazy with craving. Three days! My mouth is already wet with the thought of it.
Very soon I’m in Eastleigh, or “Little Muqdisho”, as it is called, due to its undisputed status of a vibrant business empire largely run by Somali traders. It looks just like any of Muqdisho or Hargeisa’s business districts. I have a devoted attachment to the place. Just like any other Somali in this town, I usually find myself in this neighbourhood a little too often. I come here, with binding obligation, to send off a home-bound loved one and to quench my thirst for news from the “Hinterland”, as I call it. Sometimes I come here just to sip a cup of camel-milk tea and whistle just for sport. You see, to many, Eastleigh is a home away from home.
The sun is blistering hot, hotter than the rest of Nairobi, as though the sun is closer to the earth here, as it usually is wherever the Somali people largely inhabit, as though deliberately punishing them, as though it’s got a mind of its own.
I’m greeted by a sight like no other. There are the loud compelling calls for departure of buses. The new and glittering shopping malls share space with the old rusty buildings. The sparkling malls and five-star hotels is mostly popular with Somali elite businessmen, technocrats, highbrows, politicians, power brokers, as well as the visitors from the diaspora. You can still sense, even now, a feeling of danger and uncertainty, because of its reputation for grenade attacks, even though things have been calm in this neighbourhood for some time now. So, to claim to live here is seen among non-residents as a dare-devil venture.
Tenth Street is lined with hordes of side-walk Ethiopian restaurants with cute Amharic angels serving coffee, who smell of the delicious aroma of Ethiopian coffee. Most customers here are miraa chewers who sit outside smoking and sipping coffee, generally being unproductive. They listen to the Somali music blaring from the speakers and gawk at the honeys passing by to get them to cloud nine. And when the sweet, hoarse musical effects of the legendary Hassan Aden Samatar comes on, coupled with the stimulating effect of the miraa, few can resist the urge to stand up and dance in the middle of the road! It will interest you to note that a lot of Somalis who were born in the 70s, 80s and even 90s were born thanks to the panty-dropping (or should I say dera-dropping) music of the legendary Samatar! So he is quite an influential figure, because, by inference, he is the ‘father’ of almost the entire middle-aged Somalis spread all over the world. One could rightly argue that he has been responsible for creating the necessary atmosphere for the “siring” of more babies than Sinatra, Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye combined ever did. In fact I do not have the slightest doubt that Samatar, with that voice, could convince the American people to elect the good Dr. Ben Carson as President instantly, fish out (oops, that was unintended) President Obama and put him in the White House, while the rest of the candidates are stuck somewhere in Iowa or God knows which other state!
A few meters from the old men, on the same street, some youths with bright-coloured socks and an aura of hip hop culture are also chewing miraa. In stark contrast, they seem pre-occupied with their smart phones, most likely dishing out miraa-induced vibes to unsuspecting girls, shaking their heads to the words of Rick Ross (no Samatar here) as he ‘talks to the Holy Ghost in my Bugatti.’
Nearby, a mad man, who, curiously, looks decently dressed for a lunatic, passes by. Perhaps a former military commander of former Somali dictator Siad Barre’s regime, he’s loudly conducting a parade, saluting and shouting orders at imagined soldiers. He looks exactly like a character straight out of a Nuruddin Farah novel; tall, dark, disheveled, distraught, haunting sunken eyes, and bony as a Kalashnikov. He walks on, saluting frantically, leaving a cloud of dust behind; forever stuck in a long gone but ever-haunting time capsule.
After strolling through most of Eastleigh’s business hubs, I feel exhausted, and my stomach growls in deep protests; I do not have the necessary fats to have a ‘back up energy system’, being skinny and all. I check the time, and luckily, its pm; my cousin Osman should be arriving anytime now. So I head to the bus terminal, making my way through the crowds and the blaring horns of speeding cars, avoiding collision. A few moments later, I reach the Garissa Coach offices and join a number of travelers waiting for their bus or to receive a loved one, like me. As I’m trying to figure out a way of escaping the persistent hawkers, someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn around and I see it is Osman.
I take his bag as I size him up. He look ik he has grown double his size and height in on year, just like any other eighteen year old. I’m relieved to note that he is not wearing rubber flip flops and a knee-length kikoi; instead he’s donning a pair of sneakers and pants. But I’m not too excited about the phone hanging loosely in his front shirt pocket. My OCD is nagging me to remove it but after a few heavy breaths I let it go.
I’m also not too excited about the envelope and the newspaper clutched under his arm. You see, the envelope (which is used to carry “important academic documents and resumes”) and the newspaper are a powerful symbol of education and sophistication in North Eastern Kenya. You are likely to see them being flaunted in any urban street that side of the country, because it shows you are a class above the other locals. In fact if you manage to complete your look with fashionable spectacles, very nicely tailored trousers and “open shoes”, you are considered serious and learned. You’re quiet a catch; highly eligible. In fact, any elderly mzee worth his nuts would be willing to give you one of his daughters who are waiting to be married. Dowry will be “discussed later.”
Due to this, I used to believe that spectacles are only given out to the crème of the society, who have developed eyes problems due to burning the midnight oil studying and developing land mark theses! As a result, whenever I had eye problems due to watching too many Samatar videos and Bollywood flicks growing up (twerking videos finished the job later on), I couldn’t muster the courage to visit the optician for fear that I would be informed that I did not need glasses, because I was not contributing anything meaningful to the world. It was much only later, in Nairobi that I learnt that there was a string of opticians who were willing to dish out designer specs even to raving idiots for a small fee. I was elated, as you can imagine, and as a result of this I am roaming the earth in very nice glasses masquerading as one of the crème of society (I’m yet to develop any theses, landmark or otherwise.)
Anyway, back to the story at hand. We find a restaurant on Twelfth Street and it’s crowded with patrons, mostly Somali, having tea and conversing loudly. I ask Osman about the journey as we sit down at a half-occupied table, squeezing in next to two gentlemen who, with bare hands, are putting away a large plate of rice and boiled goat meat (alesso), leaving a load of mess on the table. Table manners, you’ll be told, are a reserve for white folks who do not appreciate the true value of a meal, and pretentious Somalis and other Africans.
After brief niceties, I ask Osman for news from home, as I’m dying for news.
“It would interest you to know that Qulay from our village has been shot”, he says in a matter-of-fact way, as he scrolls through his phone, probably updating his Facebook status.
“The daughter of Mzee Billow and the sister of Gedi has been shot? Why? Is she ok? Who would harm such a kindly, innocent and good-natured girl?” Qulay was one of the girls we grew up with back in Garissa. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I had a crush on her; but I’ll admit she was one of the first girls who initiated us to interesting the world of boobs other than those belonging to females in my immediate family. So I’m sure you can understand my concern.
“Calm your nuts bro”, Osman responds. “Your former crush is doing extremely well. Your Somali slang is wanting by the way; when was the last time you were in Garissa? She hasn’t been shot as in with a gun. She is pregnant; in fact a bouncing baby is expected in the next two weeks. And by the way, as Somalis say, no woman is innocent. If she has a set of boobs, she cannot be described as innocent or too young; kind, good natured perhaps, but not innocent.” Aah, Gerrraaarrraahhhiaaa! I’m relieved, I’m clearly behind in my Somali slang. What is the world coming to though where when a girl is pregnant; she is referred to as being shot?! What is with Somalis and their clownishly insensible gun references? What relationship do guns have with babies, for God’s sake? I ask myself as I take note of the vital ancient wisdom from our forefathers on women; that an innocent woman, just like the unicorn, is a fictional character!
“You callous and conscienceless son of a gun! You had me there.” I respond, but unashamedly using a gun reference.
“But seriously, I didn’t know she was married, let alone being shot!” Osman informs me that she eloped with Saleebaan, the village Cassanova (who has always built the undisputed reputation for leaving the biggest trail of broken hearts everywhere he went, not even sparing married women), from across the street; because the Mzee’s cordial approval was, for obvious reasons, not forthcoming. But of course the kids wouldn’t be told; by whom? So they went off and made a baby.
Finally the waiter arrives at the table next to ours, expertly balancing four plates of order on each arm. We make our order of two large plates of anjeera and camel milk tea each and soon the meal arrives. Before I dig in, for a few seconds, I stare religiously and even erotically (I lack the gene that makes a person feel shame) at the large sexy white thing, with aching desire, greedy eyes and breathless eagerness as I appreciate God’s hand at work.
She lies before me. I dig in, with bare hands. Goodness, she’s a beauty! Scew you, table manners. She talks to me, whispers to me. I savour the taste, moaning almost erotically, in a delicious throng of sensations. A few minutes later, five to be exact, the two plates are clean as a whistle, prompting the bewildered waiter to give us looks of askance, as to where the food he served only a moment ago had magically disappeared to. We simply continued to obliviously sip the camel-milk tea, full to the brim, relishing in delirious ecstasy, in a fashion akin to the way Kermit the Frog sips tea, watching our reflection in the steel plate, resisting the urge to start whistling. I swear if we told him he only served us clean empty plates, he would have run back to the kitchen, reprimanding himself and would have brought us two fresh plates. I felt completed, like a plant that has been watered.
After finishing the meal and helping ourselves to more than enough toothpicks as though we’ve eaten a cow, we walk around looking for a cab, the toothpicks hanging nonchalantly (Cue Steve McQueen’s cigarettes.) I’m silently praying Osman does not hold my hand as we walk! Fortunately, he doesn’t, perhaps because of lack opportunity since I have managed to put a mile of space between us. I would have strangled him with my bare hands if he did. We finally get a cab home.
As we are heading to town, my phone starts ringing. It’s my friend Okongo. He asks me what time I’m due to come for his birthday party, which he is hosting in a club in Westlands. Damn, I had totally forgotten that. Since it is already 8.30 pm, I tell him that I would have wanted to stop by before heading home, but because I have to get my cousin home first, I tell him I’ll see if I can stop by later on in the night. He insists that we both pass by as he would also love to meet Osman. I tell him we shall do so. I quickly discuss it with Osman, expecting he’ll object to the idea of going to a night club since he obviously has never been to one before. To my chagrin, he insists, with energetic enthusiasm, that we pass there as he is curious to discover Nairobi. He is adamant. I ask the driver to head straight to Westlands.
Soon we are passing Museum Hill and on to Waiyaki Way. The tall glistering towers swoosh by, breathtaking and incredibly picturesque in the night light; a distant sea of stars paling into insignificance in the background. I can’t help but notice the look of dumbfounded amazement on my cousin’s face. He is taking everything with wide eyes, dazed, half-breathless murmur of amazement escaping his mouth. I can’t help but feel envious of his innocence and uncorrupted mind. I’m reminded of the first time I came to the city, several years before. Did I have the same look of inflamed curiosity at the city’s artistic elegance? Did I feel intimidated by the imposing mien of the skyscrapers, out of place even? Did I persistently ask what this or that was? Have I gotten used to everything so much so that nothing shocks me anymore? Is my sense of curiosity so lowered that I don’t appreciate the beauty displayed every day before my eyes anymore?
I’m suddenly awoken out of my gnawing thoughts by the loud noises of cars hooting. Looking out the window, I realize we are already at Woodvale Grove and I can see the myriad of night clubs and patrons crowding the streets. We alight from the cab and make our way towards SkyLux Lounge, just a few meters ahead. There are throngs of youths making their way to and from the clubs. Osman is few steps behind, gawking at everything around him. We reach the entrance of the club and the large bouncers, looking curiously at this two odd species that have come to pay them a visit, ask us for our identification. Feeling as welcome as a fart in an elevator, I still produce mine and they allow me to enter. Osman however, is not lucky, because he does not have identification yet, and his attempts to show his waiting card is met with a flat denial by the bulky figures blocking the entrance. After pleading with the bouncers to let him in with they don’t listen, I call Okongo and explain the situation. A few minutes later he emerges looking as happy as a priest at a wedding. He says something to the bouncers in Dholuo, grinning at us, followed by hearty laughs and quick fist pumps amid exchanges of the word ‘Donge’ and the bouncers allow us to enter.
The place is warm and dimly lit; it’s spacious and chic, with a warm blue finish. The music is deafening loud as it usually is in these places. As we make our way through the crowd heading to the table, I can’t help but notice the looks thrown our side, well, for obvious reasons. We find the table and after greeting the friends seated, including Okongo’s girlfriend, Fiona, who is so adorable bordering, almost doll like. She usually blinks a lot, with large eye lashes, when she is uncomfortable or worried; but bites her fingers frantically when excited. We sit down, around a table full of bottles of Guaranas and Heneikens and a horde of other drinks. Okongo offers to join in the meal of fish but we both decline stating that we do not have the bravery of eating anything that can choke you while staring at you dead in the eyes. I notice Fiona blinking profusely, and Okongo whispers to me that it’s perhaps because she has never sat in the same table with two Somalis.
I look around and notice all the ladies strutting their stuff, in short skirts and dresses. I notice that Osman is agape with wonder. I get the sense that he too, just like any other gentleman, considers the female posterior as poetry, and we were in the company of a great anthology of one. I couldn’t tell whether it was fear or excitement though. After making conversation for a few moments, I bid adieu to the folks and wish Okongo a happy birthday.
As I am ready to leave, I suddenly notice Osman is not there! He must have felt out of place or bored. I’m quickly overcome with worry that he may have gotten lost. After looking around for him, I finally see someone that could only be Osman, but to my chagrin, I cannot believe the spectacle before my eyes: he is on the dance floor dancing to a Jamaican dancehall song, grinding one helpless girl with rare and inexplicable personal energy, skill and bestial ferocity! What have I let loose to the unsuspecting public?! I have never seen such incredible swiftness; such mathematical precision! I was not sure if was to feel proud or terrified. How am I related to this dance machine here when I have two useless left feet? I was worried that by taking my cousin to a night club, I was going to spoil him. Little did I know that I was the one to leave there scarred and traumatized for life! If my Ayeeyo were to witness this, she’d have had a heart attack.
I quickly call Okongo and Fiona to witness this event, and we all laugh. I had never laughed so hard in my entire life. Okongo is speechless too. Only word escapes his mouth; “Saitan!” Looking over at Fiona, expecting her to be disturbed and to be blinking uncontrollably, I find her biting her fingers, in excitement. What the hell? She is loving this? Were my ancestors right when they said nothing with a set of boob is innocent?
When the song ends, I quickly run to him and grab him by the hand, and the ladies protest, busting their bubble. I allow them a few minutes to finish their seductive whisperings. Despite his angry protestations, I drag him but o the building. We get into the next cab waiting and head home.
On the way, I notice the glittering Nairobi night life; the marvel of the night sky,with awakened curiosity, taking it all in; breathing in the air, absorbing in the scent and murmur of the night as the city speeds past us, as Charlie Sheen, next to me, is asking me when we are going to return for another round. When I do not respond, he accuses me for not being “fun.” I have to ship him back to Garissa as soon as the sun rises, I think to myself.