MOMBASA DIARY…Chronicles of a woman in search of herself.

DAY ONE: TUESDAY 16TH APRIL 2013.

5.56am.

Mombasa Raha. This is the first thought that cross your mind immediately you start feeling the blistering heat. And it sort of helps you adapt to the hot environment quickly.

The crimson rays of the early morning sun softly caress the chilly blue top of the Indian ocean, the rather luxurious bus which brought me to this festive town hoots loudly as though in a self- congratulatory fête. We enter the city and ten minutes later, I am picking my luggage and welcoming myself somewhat cheerily to Mombasa.

I am here for three reasons. The first is a mission to make sense of this whole life equation. It is called the 25th dimension. Because this is my 25th year, my silver jubilee, I’ll eat life with the proverbial big spoon. For just a year, I’m putting away my rather conservative, prim and proper nature. And embarking on a random journey of self discovery; it started off with me giving up my corporate job in upper hill and taking up a teaching career in a secondary school in a forest in a remote part of the rift valley, Baringo. Follow your passion, they say.

Secondly, I am here for the drama festivals. During the first school term, I wrote a play for my students newly formed drama club. Late night rehearsals and sleepless nights earned us third position, a most original play certificate and the best male actor in the county.

Thirdly, I have been fruitlessly trying to read my Kwani? Literary journal. The majuu edition. It is about life abroad. Since pwani si Kenya (the coast is not part of the Kenyan country) I hope to get an abroad-ish feeling as I navigate the numerous pages of the voluminous book.

The streets are already filled up with people. Most having breakfast at open roadside eateries. Low lying tables with piles of mahamri, chapatti-mayai and other foods which I’d never seen before have happy clients feasting. Friendly laughter and stories accompany the dishes yet it being a weekday, I miss the rush and traffic jams that are a part of the Nairobi Morning Madness.

I am with my girl, M. she too is here for the festival. We check in to a little Bed and breakfast place in town. The caretaker, a young man of Somali origin, is friendly and gives me a room to freshen up. ‘I’ll get you another room in the evening ,’ he says.

My jeans outfit is absolutely inappropriate. The heat is searing. I wear a little white cotton dress that is blown away in the coastal breeze then off we go to find the venue and some breakfast.

We find ourselves in a little restaurant inside an orthodox church premise. Their viazi karai (irish potatoes dipped in wheat floor then dip fried )is amazing,. We are given a jar of water even before the breakfast. We stroll off to the Aga Khan High school, the venue for the high school competitions.

Navigating the waters to my Kenyan Career

Getting lost and finding my ‘True North ‘

In my last year of undergraduate studies at the University of Nairobi in 2010, my friends and I would spend late evenings downing endless cups of coffee and poring over what fate had in store for us.
We plunged ourselves into a new world of possible excitement, now officially entering adulthood for the very first time and discoursing over the little thrills of earning a living, getting our own places with no parents and meeting the right ‘ones’.

Inevitably, life questions were slowly claiming their fair share of these contemplative coffee evenings. Would we be successful? Would we ever get jobs or were we likely to fall into the bottomless abyss of ‘tarmacking’ and ‘dropping’ CVs for years?

These thoughts bothered us so much because the worldwide statistics for joblessness kept going up. The world markets had crushed around that period and even workers in the financially strong continents, Europe and America were facing massive layoffs.

Thinking of it right now, I wonder why my college mates and I, even after studying a couple of units in entrepreneurship , never bothered to form a group and borrow the Youth Fund that was being lent out, interest free by the government. We wanted to be salaried folks, very fast.

The 4th year class was in frenzy those last few months. Being government sponsored students from all over the country; most vowed never to return to the villages. Everyone had the intention of staying in Nairobi and starting a life because the city offered ‘more opportunities’.
Endless hours were spent in the computer lab of the university. Curriculum Vitas’ sent to each and every employer whose address could be found online.
‘My African career.’, ‘my jobs eye’ and ‘Brighter Monday’ were the most frequently checked pages and not academic research sites. No one in my Bachelor of Education class wanted a teaching job, we all wanted ‘better’ corporate careers because we wanted to climb up the ladder of success fast; two steps at a time!
Some of us, armed with professional papers like CPA-k alongside their degrees were lucky to be called for interviews by big firms like KPMG , Delloite and Price water house coopers . The less lucky ones walked to the schools around and asked for BOG teaching positions that paid them 10,000 a month. Others called friends who worked for research firms and if lucky, were hired as casuals to carry out research projects.

As I ‘trans-nighted’ (read throughout the night) to ensure I passed those final units, I had no clue about the career path I would take.
For one, the Joint Admissions Board (JAB) had selected me to study a bachelor of education degree. That meant I was in university so as to become a teacher. I could never become a teacher ! I vowed.
When it came to subject selection, I couldn’t decide between literature and business studied.

Literature because I had an insatiable appetite for books and anything literary. I devoured books with the ferociousness of a lovelorn woman who’d gotten another golden opportunity to kiss her lover goodbye.

Business because I enjoyed development issues so much and I believed I had one of the keys needed for poverty eradication in Africa; (don’t all bright eyed over-enthused university students do?) Also, in my free time, I obsessed over Donald Tramp’s ‘Apprentice’. I badly wanted to crack impossible tasks and go to fiery boardroom meetings that got my adrenaline up.

Because one wouldn’t study literature and business together, I opted for Business studies and geography. I didn’t need a degree to read books, I thought. Even so, I went through my lectures utterly clueless career wise. (That Kenyan high schools never offer career training is a serious issue that should be addressed.)
I’d write love poems and scribble little notes in my books and note pads through the four years. I’d be fascinated by well told stories on TV and Radio. As my classmates partied, I’d simply curl up in my bed, reading a book, fantasizing about winning a literary prize and receiving it in Oxford and listening to ‘the strand’ an arts and culture program on BBC or interviews of award winning authors. Over holidays, I’d visit my grandparents and get lost in my grandfathers’ hefty collection of the ‘readers digest’(he subscribed and has been receiving them monthly since he came back from the USA in the early 1960’s). Or my uncles’ comical collections.
Even then, it never occurred to me that one could become a writer. That writing too was a pursuable career.

In second year, I volunteered at my local church to teach the children’s’ class. This was because I enjoyed children’s’ books, songs and movies so much and a part of me hoped to influence these children to read. Besides, bible stories were pretty amazing when read to a children’s’ audience. Even so, it never occurred to me that I was yet delving into my other passion, working with children and teens.

In third year, I immensely enjoyed the marketing class. Especially the psychology of marketing. The lecturer was superb. He always related the theories in the books with the real world happenings. I found immense scholarly stimulation from analyzing the advertisement on local TV and discussing them in class. And in all those theories about how music and color and pictures could be used sublimely; to advertise to an audience that wasn’t aware.
I walked skeptically in supermarkets, wiser now. Understanding why they put sweets and chocolates near the counter. Knowing why, with soft easy music in the background, I’d find myself spending more time in a supermarket and hence buying more.
I devotedly read Malcolm Gadwall’s books; Blink’, ‘Outliers’ and ‘The Tipping Point’ for case studies on psychology of marketing. I wanted to be able to tell when the tipping point of a product had reached , when , in the words of Shakespeare’ sellers had to take the tides while they were strongest so as not to lose the once in a lifetime opportunity.

I had a career , and I was going to become a name to reckon with in the Kenyan marketing circle.

In fourth year, I had a unit in development studies and economics. And yet another interesting tutor. Case studies of Malawi and Singapore. Books like How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Population versus economic growth, the gap between the rich and the poor. The world politics I so much loved to discuss. I was once more thrown into another deep end. I devoured political pieces with an endless hunger. I read the newspapers and listened to international news whenever I wasn’t in class.
I questioned and questioned the ideals of the ruling class in Africa.
I had watched a political transition of leadership while in form two, I had listened to tribal utterances and watched as Kenyans butchered each other and as the student body at my university (SONU)voted on tribal basis(there were unconfirmed rumors that this university elections were being funded by government politicians). I had sat with my campus mate George Oulu famously known as ‘GPO’ in a friends room in campus and had been fascinated as he passionately spoke about politics,leadership and the future of Africa.(GPO was later on killed on state house road in a mysterious saga that had something to do with the civil society, an outlawed group and the police. The representatives who attended his burial said that he, being of a humble background; had been the hope of his family…..
I decided that I badly wanted to become a developmental expert ‘. To be in the line up of those who fought for a better society and better leadership in Africa. I surfed the internet, and read about the UNDP, local NGO’s that were involved in development in Malawi and Singapore’s magic economic turn around. I watched the enthused Richard Quest, my favourite CNN business reporter of ‘Quest means Business’and imagined about an African Wall street. I had it. My African career.

I moved back into my parents house shortly after writing my final 4th year exam. I depended on them for money to move about town job hunting. I was very scared. I didn’t know where to look, or how. So I went to an international NGO I had volunteered with while in University and applied for an internship. A while later, they offered me an an internship and a very low stipend.
I was ecstatic. I had a job. A place to start.

I went round Nairobi and Central provinces. Recruiting and training volunteers for the high school entrepreneurship program the NGO ran. I supervised the students’ business projects and wrote reports on the same. I worked hard. Very hard. Because I wanted to get a ‘real’ job with them, and a good salary of course.

Three months later, and a week to the end of my internship. I got a call from a local blue chip. An insurance company. My friend had accidentally ‘dropped’ my CV there. They offered me a job . In the corporate branch, Customer service.

I was elated. I would actualize my apprentice dream and besides, the salary was much better than the stipend I received at the NGO. I walked confidently, head held high, into the glass doors that led to the boardroom of the firm. There, I had it, my first really ‘real’ job.

AFTER A TIME IN AMERICA, KENYAN IMMIGRANT WRITERS NEED TO COME HOME

Reading Taban Lo Liyong’s interview last week, I unreservedly agreed with one of his arguments, ‘That African authors and literary critics who emigrate to the western capitals stop speaking to the audiences in their homeland.

Like Anthony kamau in his article ‘African scholars wasting their time abroad, ‘ it worries me that many African writers ,once they hit the ‘fame’ button take the next flight out of town(literally and figuratively).

Save for the offer of writer in residency that some prizes like the Caine Prize come with, many African scholars seem to be on a mission to move to the Wild West. Akin to Lo Liyong, I am concerned that once these writers move abroad, they start speaking a different language.

No longer aware of their ever changing native homes, these writers stick to writing about what happened in yester years. They give up authenticity and start to see Africa through the eyes of the west. Their world view changes from an appreciation of the everyday ‘hustling life’ lived here to a sort of high handedness. Beautiful tales that they once coined, of university life and happy childhoods swiftly turn to ugly disconcerting tales of unimaginable poverty, crime, war, and incurable diseases. It leaves us, the readers who have been born and raised here, wondering just how horrible our childhood were and why we, unlike the writers, only remember the good old days.

Except ,we know the truth that there are pretty yarns about Africa. Of when we go to family get togethers and slaughter mbuzis, of how we meet up friends on weekends, and spiritedly discuss the politics and economics of Africa till the sun goes down; of when we plan weddings and spend up to one million on this ceremonies . Yet such stories are rarely written in the New Yorker’s African Story section.

Once these immigrant writers start conforming to the western ‘standards’ they lose the African and in so doing , they stop speaking to the audiences in their homeland; they start to feed the fantasy of the western reader who strengthens his resolve to visit the ‘poor’ continent after retirement.

In an earlier interview, a well thought-of Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie of the ‘Purple hibiscus fame; passionately spoke of how she wanted to write differently about Africa. She wanted to move away from the ‘single story’ and speak of the middle class Nigerians who were rich, empowered and generally happy with their lives. And she did a great job at that, in her first book ‘ Half of a Yellow Sun ‘ which tells the story of the Biafran War through the eyes of a well off middle class young Woman Ollana , her scholarly husband and their friends. The book is so well written, the events in it so ‘authentically African ‘ that a reader is left yearning for more, more of the story or even just a taste of the jollof rice she avidly writes about.

Regrettably, I do get the same feeling I got as I read her latest book ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’. In this collection of 12 short stories previously published in popular magazines like Granta, the New Yorker and Iowa Review, I get the feeling that Chimamanda is careful, very careful in her selection of themes and characters. With every stroke of her golden pen, she seems to be painting her characters quite guardedly, and probably against a backdrop of Binyavanga’s ‘How To Write about Africa.
Nevertheless, she is good. Her writing carries with it the fluidity of one who truly appreciates the developmental issues and politics of Africa. That she is so careful to say the right ‘things however, kills her creativity and leaves, me, her African reader, with a sort of anti-climax.

There is a good reason why BBC gets an Egyptian to do a documentary on Egypt after the uprising. They know that when one lives in a place, they get the mood of the people, the changing languages, the little rumors, the private jokes and secret hopes of the place that a stranger ‘ who visits the place for a little while cannot see regardless of how carefully they look.

Chimamanda herself , in a recent interview said that she was shocked when, during a visit to rural Nigeria, she heard a village girl walking from the river cursing in a very obscene ‘white’ manner. Had she not been in Nigeria , she wouldn’t have imagined that such curse words could be used by a villager meaning she only got the real picture of the local lingo because she was home.

The latest kwani? Journal, the ‘majuu’ edition comprehensively tackles issue of writer immigration. In a bid to answer the question of whether scholars going abroad is good, one of the contributors to the anthology, @roomthinker in his piece ‘Having your cake’ tells the Kenyans in Diaspora that sending money does not build Kenya. That the only way to build Kenya is to come back and work here.
The rest of the stories in this ‘7th Majuu ‘edition attempt to answer the question ‘why’ through its writers. Besides the famous ‘Tom Mboya airlifts after independence, Some writers go to look for greener pastures as in the case of Doreen Baingana in her story ‘Two Airports’, others seek political asylum like Isaac Otidi in ‘Waiting for America in Kampala’ yet others to pursue scholarships as in the comical case of Kalundi Serumanga’s ‘of Fridges and Exile Movement’

The troubles of visa applications and the lengths to which some go to ensure their green cards are not revoked makes one wonder whether this hope for a better life abroad has turned us into ‘hope-fools’ as Ngwatilo Mawiyoo says of the persona in her poem ‘After a time in America.’

Whatever the reason for their immigration,(and we do understand that the heart has reasons which reason cannot explain) these writers should, like their founding father Binyavanga Wainaina, reach a place where, after quenching their green card thirst, they swiftly pack their bags and return home, to write about this place. Assuming, of course, that they do not find ‘home away from home’ like Phylis Muthoni says of Stephen Partington in her poem in the same journal.

However, moving back is becoming even more unlikely since just this week, the USA senate has been debating on and seriously considering giving illegal immigrants legal documentation and even green cards after a couple of years, and what’s more? The New York state wants its green card holders to be involved in decision making and voting! Talk of greener pastures!

VIVA FOREVER DAVID BECKAM

So former England captain and Manchester United’s fly-est name David Beckam; who has won 115 trophies , has hang up his boots. Beckam, also a renowned ‘fashionista’ announced this week that he is retiring from the sport and leaving Manchester United, twenty years after making his début as a footballer for the team.

Most of his fans (some not even football fans) termed him a charming personality with good looks, qualities that made him a brand ambassador for many products.

The husband of former ‘Spice Girl’ and fashion sensation Victoria Beckam aka ‘posh spice’ is estimated to have a net worth of 250 million dollars. Last year alone, he earned 46million dollars.
Together, the dream couple is worth about 600million dollars.
His coach said that when he saw a young Beckam, he knew the boy would succeed because ‘ David was desperate to make his début as a footballer.’

His new career.

Beckam is now China’s new ambassador for developing and promoting football.
One word from me to him; from an old spice girls’ song, ‘Viva Forever’ Immaculate David Beckam.

WHY SOME BRAZILIANS DON’T NEED THE ‘WAKA WAKA ‘ WORLD CUP DRAMA.

SPORTY-SPICE

If someone was to strongly oppose the flamboyant renovations that are being done to the stadium that will host the coming world cup in Brazil, You wouldn’t expect it to be an ex football star turned politician. However, that is exactly what Rimario Dsouza , the president of Brazils’ committee for tourism and sports, is doing. He argues that the 2 billion dollars being spent on the renovations of the world cup venue should be spent on more ‘important’ issues like education and health.

Now if it was any of the Kenyan politicians speaking, then we would have easily dismissed them as just busy payukaing’ but Romario is a very well respected MP with the best attendance record in the Brazilian Parliament.

It would be of use for you to know that in the past, Romario was an absolutely adored player. He was so famous that international media houses referred to him then as a football god.
When he quit football and decided to join politics, many people dismissed him as a ‘blonde’ who was addicted to fame and didn’t know the first thing about politics. However, he proved them wrong by working so hard and clearly emerging as a top notch achiever even in politics.

Romario says that his inspiration to join politics was when a child close to him , was born with down’s syndrome . this made him spend a lot of time in the company of parents and older relatives. ‘I then realized that these people had no one to represent them.’ He says.
He was very good on the pitch, he is even better in the Brazilian august house. D’souza has proven that he wasn’t an empty headed footballer .

David Beckam, since you also recently retired from football, are you reading this?

WIERD WEIRD WORLD NEWS : Glo’s This and That

LIBERIAS’ COME BABY COME SAGA.

So Liberia isn’t so liberal after all. Early this week, a close member of President Sirleaf’s government went all out threatening journalists who dared criticize the government. In a press conference with them, he is recorded saying, ‘if you dare criticize us, we will come after you .’

As thought to answer him in a ‘come baby come fashion, Liberian media completely refused to report on government issues . They gave the government a total blackout for a while. Moreover, the newspaper headline the next day had a picture of a gun titled government facing a pen called journalist. Ouch!

Now there is a smarter way that serikal should have used. For one, they should have borrowed from our dearest neighbor one Jakaya Kikwete famously known to Tanzanian Youth as ‘Jay Kay’ who on being criCIzed by the youth , termed them ‘unpatriotic ’ . Perhaps this would have madde them feel a bit guilty.
However, because its rather late for that, lemme throw in a word of advice for you Sir and Mrs. Sirleaf; ‘If you rattle a snake, it will bite you.’

SOUTH AFRICANS RITES OF PASSSAGE KILLING YOUNG BOYS.

In a rather unfortunate ending to a coming of age ceremony, 20 boys have died in an initiation school in South Africa. These young boys are usually taken to a forest to undergo the transition to manhood together.

Just last year, 50 other boys died at a similar initiation ceremony. There events are carried out by cultural entrepreneurs who do it for a profit. Maybe the South African government needs to intervene and prevent these unfortunate occurrences. And the children should be taken to proper hospitals and then undergo the ceremony after they are healed. Anything, to save the large number of young lives lost.

For they are Jolly Greedy Fellows, These MPs we have!

Someone argued that the Kenyan middle class is the single most important hindrance to development. I beg to differ. That has to be the Kenyan political class.

We stood, a few years back, braving the sun and rain and hunger to usher in a new political era. We voted pro a new constitution and later on went to watch as the president waved the scroll to the masses. we were happy. We were free. We had saved ourselves. Some even wept.

Kenyans are a most enthused group. We were confident in the new system. We had every intention of letting sleeping dogs lie and moving on towards a new and better Kenya. The courts were working. We had a new Chief Justice who wore a single stud and was as non-partisan as they come. Brand Kenya revamped their effort to sell Kenya as a great investment hub to financiers.
We partied hard. We vetted public servants on live televised interviews. We sent home the assistant CJ who dared pinch the nose of the taxpayer who fed her. We prepared the country for a new system of governance. Majimbo, they called it.

Most of us didn’t understand what the hell it was. All we were informed was that it was like the one used in America(and so its very good), and it meant more power to the people.

To show just how serious our leaders were at listening to the cry of the common mwananchi or mwenyenchi if you like, they set up a body to look into the issue of the salaries of our legislators. To cut it down to ‘normal’ standards . We were quickly being transformed into a democracy.

But, It was not yet Uhuru. We had group of people who were not too happy about it all. The legislators. Seeing that their days were numbered. And that change might be as good as rest for most of them (who wouldn’t make it to the new august house ),They went all out, amending numerous sections of the constitution, changing clauses that didn’t suit them . They lowered educational requirements to accommodate their not-so-learned friends; they indulged their indecisive party hopping habits and even attempted to get a hefty send off package for themselves. They predicted their demise and cried for state burials (which they got! Thanks to one Boniface Mwangi of Kenya ni Kwetu! )

It there was evening, and there was morning, the 50th Year!
We awaited with baited breath for the 4th of March to reach so we could exercise our constitutional right. We commented on face book just how fast and easy it was to electronically register.

We got free t-shirts, and free reflector jackets. We watched live presidential debates on TV, and waited keenly for the poll research firms to show the effect of the debates on each candidate. The media went into a frenzy, reminding us that we are one. We are all children of this great land. That tribes did not matter. That we shouldn’t fight.

They launched manifestos. Shirts arms folded like Obama to show they were a working ruling class . They campaigned alongside their beloved wives, husbands and children. They talked fondly of how being grandparents had transformed them. They promised digital solutions to our analogue third world problems. They embraced nationalism like an invisible cloak. And feigned surprise when asked about tribalism.

The new electoral body banned elections bribery and so they simply went round giving us well-meaning ‘gifts’ and tokens. ‘More will come if you vote for me’ they said. So we voted them back into power. Even thought the VBR Kits, purchased with our hard-earned taxpayers’ money, failed miserably.

Like a cat that had been given another life, they are at us again, meowing and scratching and making disturbing cat sounds. ‘Moooore, we want Moore pay,’ they cry.
Just in case you think this is a request you are mistaken. It is a demand.

Less than a month after they were elected to ‘serve’ the people, they descended with threats of disbanding the Salaries and Remunerations Commission.
They need to get back the campaign money they ‘gifted’ us with. They need to repay the loans. They have mistresses to maintain. They have husbands and children, they have wives…..you just don’t understand. You wouldn’t ……..you are just an ordinary mwananchi with few basic needs, and lots of primitive energy to slaughter pigs with.

A newly elected county Representative argued that if we pay them as little as the Salaries commission recommended, then they would be easy to bribe. Excuse Moi? How much money will make you un-bribable so to say?

Another old legislator complained that now they will have no money to dish out to constituents (someone define for me what a bribe is! ) yet Ipsos Synovate just released a poll showing that very few if any constituents benefit from the heavy pockets of the waheshimiwas.
If you didn’t know, the MPs constitute 1.6% of the Kenyan working class and yet they take up 50% of all salaries paid out monthly. Meaning? The rest of Kenya’s public servants who make up 98.4% i.e teachers, doctors, nurses etc share the remaining 50% amongst themselves. How now?

And I am not talking about allowances, benefits or the 7 million car loan they are entitled to. Just a simple sweet salary.
They have many needs, our MPs. And kshs. 530,000 a month is but peanuts to them.

Per capita income
So, the new rule was, the MPs will be paid according to the countries’ par capital income.
A comparative analysis was done with other countries to establish just how much they should be paid.
France has a per capita income of USD 29,000per annum. Their legislators are paid Kshs. 520,000 salary.
Ghana has a per capita income of USD 1600 per annum, their legislators are paid Kshs 320,000 per annum.
Kenya has a per capita income of USD 1500, our legislators are paid approximately Kshs. 530,000.
Per capita income refers to the average income per head per year in a given country.it can be said that per capita income is national income attributed to one person (per head income.)
Its calculated as follows.
Per capita income= national income
Total population

They, Kenyan MP’s are paid more than the French legislators whose Per capital income is over nineteen times more than ours. And yet they goad for more when their pay should be placed below that of Ghana at around Kshs. 300,000.

Paper money and plastic money, that’s the stuff Kenyan Mps, are made of. I dare say.