Tag Archives: africa

Welcome to Samburu County – Maralal


Last weekend, I was invited to spend a few days in Maralal. The spelling is MaraLAL, and not MaraRAL, as would be kinder on the tongue. I consider visiting a place like that a once in a lifetime opportunity because even though Maralal is about 350 km from Nairobi, it’s not exactly the kind of  place that you can go for a weekend barbecue. It’s not the kind of place you go to unless you have serious business there or you are one of those die hard tourists determined to go off the beaten path. And off the beaten path it is.

Nonetheless, Maralal is beautiful. And it is a special kind of place. The kind of Kenya we hear about on the news but can hardly conceptualize. The kind of place that foreign film crews visit to make a slice of ‘Africa’ documentaries that irritate urban Africans with digital tv. The kind of place where little girls and boys don’t swat at the flies covering their eyes and noses. The kind of place where brightly dressed morans saunter into town without anyone batting an eye.

source

source

Heading to Maralal is cutting a line right up to Kenya’s center. From Nairobi, you drive upwards to the rift valley. Past the donkeys in Limuru and the mysterious plantations in Kijabe. Past the hysteria of Soko Mjinga and past the panoramic views at the Rift Valley View Point. Mount Suswa on your left, passenger cars and trailer trucks acting out video games on the winding road before you. You bypass Naivasha town and push ahead into Nyahururu.

You go further still and slowly the fertile hills so coveted by colonial farmers ( now little patches where thousands of Kenyans were resettled after independence, payable in installments and demarcated by redwood ciders) give way to Laikipia’s ranches and acacia trees.

Rumuruti marks the end of ‘Kenya Kenya’ and marks the beginning of what I call ‘greater Kenya’. Even before independence, that settlement marked the spot where the road abruptly shifted from the deep greens of the Rift valley and took a sharp turn into the seemingly hostile, parched pastoral lands. Where, like the colonialists before them, the Kenya government is reluctant to venture into.

The wild.

Not much has changed because just after Rumuruti town, the tarmac gives way to what is still technically a road, but really isn’t. It’s not gravel, or murram or even plain old sand. It’s hard, jagged rocks poking out from the ground and daring you to ruin your engine’s suspension. At this point, you have covered half of the journey in 2 hours. The remainder could take 4 or 5.

Laikipia

Laikipia

Now the lushness of the Rift Valley gives way to the dryness of the scrub lands. The maize plantations become less frequent and the agroforestry approved trees give way to acacias and thorny bushes. Soon the tin roofed houses give way to thatch and then to nothing at all.

The people disappear. In front of you and behind of you, is nothing but grass and the road stretching endlessly before you.

You spot a man with a herd of white cows. Where did he come from and where is he going? Because there is nothing in sight except for the road. And in the far distance, low undulating hills.

At the back of your mind, you worry. Because the Morans are now called bandits. Because now, livestock market days means that gangs of young men slinging AK47s can jump in front of your lone vehicle and bundle you out.  Because police men dare not wander out that far. And even when they do, they go in peace to negotiate with the Samburu elders. To beg them to ask their troops of thirsty young men to leave innocent tourists alone.

But you drive on. On and on; even here, reckless matatu drivers speed by in garrish minivans – the only difference is that theirs have massive ground clearance and lorry tires.

You wonder, who’s ancestors consciously decided to settle in these wastelands?

There are only two towns between the long forgotten Rumuruti and the promise of Maralal. Suguta and Kisima. Calling them towns would be generous. Like calling Nairobi a megapolis. Both are nothing more than a few shops on each side of the road. Mpesa is here though. As is coca cola and plastic bags.

Kisima is 38 kilometers from Maralal. But it will take another hour and a half. By now the scrubland ceases to be exciting. Sure you spotted a few antelope, maybe some giraffes and possibly the dark outlines of elephant herds in the far distance. At this point all you want is food and rest. And for the moment of when you will be finally be released from the rattling vehicle. Your back hurts and your legs are stiff. There hasn’t been a single petrol station or kiosk in sight for the last hundreds of kilometers.

The road that doesn't end

The road that doesn’t end

How do people survive here?

Subtly, the landscape shifts around you. The odd maize field and fenced yard appears. The first stone houses since Nyahururu begin to materialize. Buildings, too. A girls’ high school. A church. A dispensary. All brand new and presumably courtesy of the Samburu County Government.

Maralal is a typical rural town. There is evidence that the colonial government had a plan for the town. Uniform police houses surround the Maralal Police station. They are now in disrepair, the windows are boarded up and the grass has grown wild. Washing lines run between homes because people still live in them.

There is a petrol station staffed by Somalis and men from Nyeri, all chewing mogoka. Laikipia university proudly proclaims its presence with a campus housed in one building. Equity Bank, KCB, Faulu and KWFT too have laid their stakes here. Apart from World Vision, there are no visible NGOs here.

What else is in Maralal town? Where the government stopped, private developers took over. Rows and rows of tin shacks line the road, selling those brightly colored shukas and blankets so loved by the Samburus. Lots and lots of miraa. A couple of cafes selling milky tea and ‘food food’ and not nyama choma.

Boda bodas, cows and ancient cars with reckless drivers, who no longer care about the damage the brutal roads caused their shock absorbers.

The bus station, with all the accompanying seediness and chaos that bus drivers and conductors carry with them. Hidden in sight are dozens of boarding places where you can get a room for 250 bob a night. But you probably shouldn’t.

A few hundred meters out of town is the Maralal Safari Lodge. It is on 5 square kilometers of land leased from the county government. It is an animal sanctuary where guests can watch eland, zebras, impalas, bush bucks, warthogs and the odd stray cow from the comfort of the lounge.

Unlike other over the top Safari Lodges, they keep it real over there. It has recently been renovated and has shed most of it’s stiff colonial decor. Bright orange lampshades and big, comfortable couches.

20150614_112058

The lodge is run by a father daughter team and is host to the kind of characters you would expect to find here. KWS rangers, residents and the odd politician. The conversation too, is fitting of such a place. Nairobi is a distant memory.

Turkanas are becoming a problem, sneaking into Samburu to poach their precious wildlife. Members of parliament gave away gazetted land for private development and now the wildlife corridor is slowly disappearing.  The best way to show your wife that you love her is to give her a good beating every so often.

Kenyatta House is a little three bed roomed property managed by the National Museums of Kenya. It is remarkably well preserved and is Maralal’s long forgotten but biggest claim to fame. During the war for independence, Mzee Jommo Kenyatta spent years in jail – in Lodwar and Kapenguria, which are even more remote than Maralal.

Maralal's legacy

Maralal’s legacy

Jommo Kenyatta had this dial up phone

Jommo Kenyatta had this dial up phone

He spent his last year and a half under house arrest in Maralal. It must have been a big improvement because he finally had the luxury of going to town to fix his shoes. He was given a little bungalow where his wife and daughters (Jane and Christine) could live with him. He could receive groups of friends and associates. Eventually, that little house in Maralal is where the British government negotiated Kenya’s transition into an independent nation. The care taker also claims that Uhuru Kenyatta was likely conceived in that house.

Mattress ya makonge

Mattress ya makonge

Maralal represents an uncomfortable kind of truth for me. It represents the facts and the statistics that we read about but don’t understand; that Kenya is mostly arid and semi- arid, that most of Kenya is rural, that most of Kenya is barely serviced by the government. That our national symbols are less lofty than we like to imagine – miraa, mPesa and trash. And yet, where our governments fail us, we pick up.

I hated leaving Maralal. Not just because of the 8 hour drive ahead, but also because I would miss how I felt in Maralal. I would miss the lack of responsibility and obligation. The feeling of novelty and freedom. Most of all I would miss the wide open spaces. Maralal made me fantasize about living in the wild (but somehow still have access to services and convenience). It made me wish that I could own a property that I could escape to on occasion.

Advertisements

Why African ‘traditionalists’ should be the loudest supporters of feminism (including #mydressmychoice)


If you listen to discussions in the public space for and against all the the poor women who have been stripped, humiliated and molested in Kenya’s public spaces, you will see a strong and predictable thread that blames ‘modernization’ for society’s ills. This basically means that tv and media have transformed our women from the submissive angels they were into scantily dressed part-time prostitutes who’s sole mission in life is to confuse men by tapping into their wild and untamed sexual desires. These women are asking for it, and the problem is modernization.

Except it is not.

When we talk about traditional African values, we fall into this little happy place where we can fantasize about what it meant to be African. For the loudest and most ignorant, it simply means a society where women were passive, subjugated and at the mercy of their men. It was a world where male power went unchecked, and half of the society lived in misery. For others, it is not so clear- hence the comments about Africans being barbarians and the civilizing influence of Jesus. In this space, fantasy rules and everyone can find arguments to justify their half baked ideas.

I remember reading Koigi Wamwere’s autobiography and I was very surprised at his explanation of his childhood. I paraphrase but he said: Violence in society came from the top and filtered to the bottom. The man of the house would spend the entire day, humiliated by his colonial masters and unable to fight back. His masculinity was challenged every single day. He would go home and take out his anger on his wife,beating her senseless for perceived wrong doing. The wife, unable to fight against her husband, would take her anger and frustration out on her children, punishing them for petty things that children do in the most brutal ways. And the kids, they would kick the dog. 

Then I read Wangari Maathai’s autobiography and she had a little paragraph were she describes the perils of her childhood: We always had to be careful when going to the river to fetch water or coming back home in the dark. There were boys from the village who would lie in wait and force us to have sex with them.

I asked my own mother about this: she is not as old as Koigi and the late Wangari. This is what she said:

YES!! We learnt how to fight from a very early age. Those boys would try force themselves on us and you had to kick and scream and run away. Growing up in the village was tough. 

She also has scars on her legs from her brothers throwing burning pieces of wood at her. And she remembers being locked up in the latrine by her father and brothers on more than one occasion for her ‘wrong doings’

Hmm how about my generation? Some of my cousins tell me that the boys in the family gave them sweets and biscuits so that they could fondle them and try have sex with them. Yes, keeping it in the family indeed.

Let’s get some academics to back me up:

‘Hellish existence in the colonial world carries with it both the racial and the gendered aspects of the naturalization of the non-ethics of war. Indeed, coloniality of Being primarily refers to the normalization of the extraordinary events that take place in war. While in war there is murder and rape, in the hell of the colonial world murder and rape become day to day occurrences and menaces. ‘Killability’ and ‘rapeability’ are inscribed into images of the colonial bodies. Lacking real authority, colonized men are permanently feminized.’

Spot on.

So, is this the traditional culture that people are screaming for? Well, let me tell you that it is alive and well. Just move your family out of Nairobi and get your daughters raped in the name of upholding your culture.

What we know as “African tradition” is nothing more than a perverse system of distorted value and misplaced anger. We should not accept it.

How about pre-colonial Africa?

If these supporters of “African culture’ would only dig deeper, they would find out some crazy stuff.Look at this  particularly romantic description of women: ‘Women were treated with unparalleled respect because they were seen to be closer to the creator than men ever had the potential of being. This is because women themselves had the ability to create due to the fact that they were able to give birth. As creation of life, they were charged with the sacred responsibility of caring for the needs of the next generation, and because of this, they can be regarded as the originations of the idea that is now known as sustainable developments.’

And

One of the consequences of the advent of colonialism is the erosion of gender equality which characterized traditional African society. Both men and women had different roles they played in families and the society at large. But the case became different since the contact of Africa with colonialism…But since the era of colonialism, women have been placed on the lower rungs of the proverbial ladder by the dominant forces of capitalism, and now globalization, which emphasizes this need for power, superiority and compartmentalization of roles and responsibilities with different values attached to them

African society, like large parts of the world, was patriarchal. That is clear and we cannot deny it. However, ‘The positions of women in pre-colonial…differed according to ethnic divisions and the existing occupational divisions and roles of women within the economic structure and prevailing kinship systems. Women’s roles during pre-colonial times were perceived as complimentary to men rather than subordinate.’

What our traditionalists forget is that at the time, European civilization was characterized by some very rigid gender roles. These were they days when women were fainting in their corsets. When they were not allowed to leave their homes without male chaperons. When they had to cover their entire bodies lest an exposed ankle drive a man into wild, uncontrollable lust. When they were not allowed to vote (until the late 70s for some…)and were still being diagnosed with ‘hysteria’ and treated by being manually stimulated by their doctors. When lobotomies were an acceptable way to ‘treat’ a woman with too many emotions.

These are the values that were imprinted on us. Through violence and emasculation. These are the values we are fighting for today as though they were our own. This is how we made that massive leap from the little skirts and swinging boobies to a society of people who cover their heads and insist that you wear skirts of a decent length (preferably pleated and shapeless) in the space of a few generations. The rest of the world has moved on. We haven’t. We have dug our heels in and are taking out our anger and frustration at society’s most defenseless people:

 Fanon analyzed how colonial violence influenced the colonized to be violent. In the first place he noted that the abused and violated colonized people ‘manifest this aggressiveness which has been deposited in his bones against his own people’. In the second place, he explained that the colonized person’s confrontation with the ‘colonial order of things’ places him/her in ‘a permanent state of tension’. In the third place, Fanon argued that: ‘The native is an oppressed person whose permanent dream is to become the persecutor’.

The way we think about our women, the way we talk about them, the way we allow them to be attacked and abused, it is a measure of just how much our minds have been conquered. It is a measure of how powerless our men are, that they have to attack and justify their attacks so that they can feel slightly more powerful.

Some people think that all this drama in the city is overrated. That we should be focusing on the girls being forced to get married at 13 in the villages. The girls who are being circumcised by their own aunties and mothers. But I say we are part of the same struggle. Injustice is injustice and they have the same roots.

Saying yes to this nonsense means that your mind is still colonized. That you are still enforcing Victorian values that were rammed down your parent’s throats through violence and abuse. That you are willing to live in ignorance and spout half baked nonsense to justify your bullshit. That, at the end of the day you are emasculated and you know it.

Clearing up a few things: notes on the human condition


Travelling gives you perspective. When you live and work in a culture different from your own, you get to expand your horizon. It can be enlightening, annoying, frustrating and sometimes downright awful. You probably don’t find yourself, but you do get a better sense of how the world works. Here are a few things that really stuck with me.

1. No-one cares about your country: Local media is astonishingly egocentric. It makes you think that the world is focused on you. That, of course everyone knows your history and your current affairs. It is easy to build conspiracies about how the world is out to get you, because of course everyone is focused on you and what you are fighting about.

Occasionally, I found myself starting discussions with phrases like ‘everyone knows that Kenya…’ Turns out no-one does actually. I mean, once, my classmate came to tell me about the cool book he read about how the mau mau terrorists were so brutal. I was absolutely enraged and insulted until I realized that I had absolutely no idea about anything that happened in Croatia. And that he spoke to me in the same way- assuming that I have, at the very least a comprehensive knowledge of his country’s drama and history. Specifically, he and his fellow Croatians would always talk about THE WAR. Over and over again and in capital letters. And I had absolutely no idea what they were on about. My mind did not make the connection between the news I heard in the 1990s that inspired me to nickname my little sister Sarajevo and what they were talking about.

Every country is obsessed with its own internal politicking and everything else is just a passing affair. Pages will be dedicated to whatever local bullshit is going on, and international news gets a few lines. If you think about it though, it makes sense. With the exception of people majoring in political affairs, few people have the time or the emotional energy to follow every little story coming from every corner of the world. It’s impossible.

2. Everyone thinks that their weather is unpredictable: I had a Belgian colleague who loved to use the phrase ‘Belgium is the only country where you can experience four seasons in one day.’ Noooo….no it isn’t. For me, Belgium came in two seasons: cold and rainy, or just rainy. I honestly don’t understand why people are so proud of this.  And it’s not just the Belgians. South Africans, the French, Kenyans, literally everyone. I mean, really who cares? The weather happens, lets get over it already.

3. Magic exists in the world: I have had the great fortune of meeting three people who made me feel like I had reunited with a long lost best friend. I don’t know why or how but we just gelled almost from the word go. Despite coming from profoundly different worlds, these people just got me in a way that was unbelievable. There was none of that awkwardness about trying to be politically correct. They did not have to modify their vowels and neither did I. I could make a joke and they would get it, and vice versa. They were my partners in crime. People I could sit with in silence for hours or have long, elaborate arguments about fuck-all. And also do the most incredibly stupid shit possible and get away with it together. It’s like finding a part of your soul that was missing and it is pure magic. (This is not gender specific by the way)

Also, I have to mention the astonishing kindness that people treated me with on so many occasions. Virtual strangers who went out of their way to help me. For example, my first night in France was a comedy of errors that led me to being homeless for the night. My neighbors were having a party and they took me in, gave me champagne, good food and a place to sleep. When was the last time you hosted a scared looking foreigner who’s name you couldn’t pronounce? People can be awesome.

4. People are overly concerned about their accents: Every time you open your mouth, you announce to people where you came from. Where you went to school, your social class, your level of education and quite often, the region that you came from. And it makes people uncomfortable as hell. In every country I have ever visited, certain regions are mocked for their backwardness (and often, implied bestiality) and they are mercilessly mocked for their accents. Then you have people who speak French, Spanish, Hungarian or whatever as a first language. Some of these people go to the UK for six months and as a consequence, speak in a bizarrely contrived ‘English’ accent for the rest of their lives. It sounds just as awful and as painful as a Kenyan guy trying to speak American. True story

5. Food is astonishingly political: If you grew up on beans and maize, the food is just fuel that gets you by. If your country has more than 300 types of cheese, then it is perfectly acceptable to get into arguments with other people about what region produces the best cheese. You can have a beer with your friends, or you can sample wines and complain about the lack of body and therefore imply that your friend has poor taste and is therefore a pleb, probably with a back water accent and incest running in the family.

6. The world is deeply racist: yes, yes, not everyone is racist. Sit down. Even within your own borders, you harbor some deeply held beliefs about people from other regions. Luos waste money on stupid things, Kikuyu bosses will work you to death. People in Paris are arrogant, people from the south of France only care about plastic surgery and getting tans. South Indians are not very smart, North Indians are arrogant racists. This is all on a national level. When you go international, things get even worse. If you want an example, scroll down to the comments section of news on immigration, ebola and other third world concerns. Such thoughts and opinions are the result of years of deep conditioning. I doubt very much that people’s opinions have changed from the 19th century on some things. Different words are used now, like ‘developing’ instead of ‘savage’ and the like but the basic idea remains the same.

7. We are all slaves of our culture: Politicians in Africa have a tendency to shout about how African culture is somehow superior to others and that we should maintain our ‘culture’ because it is pure and unadulterated, unlike the rest of the world, which is drowning in moral decay, weekly abortions and rampant ‘gayism’. Everyone is having the same discussion. Culture is not something that can be controlled in a laboratory. It evolves and changes and it informs everything you do in your life. Everyone is worried about the erosion of their culture, and is, to a large extent, convinced that their culture is somehow superior to the others.

8. You will never be as happy as you are right now: Life can be easier or more convenient in places where the government functions. Life is good when your family and friends are intact. But your outside surroundings will never make you happy. In fact, the added stress of being in an unfamiliar culture can make you downright miserable. Sure, the adrenalin rush of adventure and novelty can distract you from whatever is going on in your mind and soul, but generally, your state of being is a constant. If you are unhappy at home, then you will find reasons to be unhappy, no matter where you go.

So yeah, and that is that, I would say. I still have hope in humanity.

A brief summary of African Ideology: the pub version


Yesterday, I had a very strange exchange with a fellow on the Twitter, who posted an article by that loony scientist Dr Richard Lynn (of the black women are ugly because of too much testosterone fame) claiming that atheists are more intelligent than the average Bible thumping, Jesus loving uneducated cretins running loose in our streets.

I told him that  using this man’s research to prove a point is a slippery slope that leads to weird Nazi like arguments about race, intelligence and the value of human beings. Stuff that you really don’t want to get into.

Somehow, the argument descended into a flurry of links with information about the colonized African mind and misinformation about the great black race, with lots of references to the Egyptian civilization thrown in for good measure.

These things reminded me a lot of myself when I was in my late teens- obsessed with Bob Marley, slavery and finally discovering the truth about Africa. With the obligatory shaggy ‘fro, questionable sources of information and lots of beaded jewelry. (We all deal with teen angst in different ways, okay?)

This got me thinking of the debate about Africa, the different forms it has taken over the years, and my changing opinions about African identity, nationhood and other ways we try to make sense of a world so hell bent on proving that we are doomed for eternity.

And since I love lists so much, here is my list of  philosophies that you are bound to come across in bars around the continent:

1. The ones living in the Past before the Past

I’m talking about the past before the past here. Before pre-colonial times to that space where information is scant and fantasy rules. These are the people who like to argue about whether or not Ancient Egypt was ruled by black Pharaohs, and in that way, shielding themselves against anyone who thinks  that Africa was a bush-land populated by people a few degrees smarter than monkeys.

The fact is, there are no known written languages originating in Sub-Saharan Africa, so we will never really know what went on before international trade began (8th Century?) All our information therefore comes from traders, missionaries and slavers, so yes, the objectivity of their reports can be questioned.

The past before the past philosophers use this lack of information to lay fantastic claims like ‘Africans discovered science but rejected it because they realized it was evil’.

But why this obsession with Egypt, when there are plenty of other examples across the continent? Is it just a way to hide an inferiority complex by clinging on to an example that fits the  ideal of a classical empire considered to be powerful and civilized?

This is dangerous territory because it makes you look like a nut and eventually people will avoid you.

2. The Pan- Africans

I blame this one squarely on those books we were forced to study in high school. As much as I respect our post-colonial writers, I don’t think we should be feeding this narrative to impressionable young people 50 years after the end of foreign rule.

I’m talking about the people who think that colonialism in to blame for absolutely everything. That, before the 1800s, we lived in a utopia where men and women were equal, everyone lived in harmony and died peacefully in their sleep after a life well lived.

This is often followed by an idolization of leaders such as good old Bob in Zim and the late, flamboyant Gaddaffi because they are supposedly finally kicking out the evil colonialists and freeing their people from oppression.

Once again, it is difficult to tell fact from fantasy and colonial propaganda because we were not doing any recording of information ourselves.

Sadly, whether or not the Pan Africans are right, it is virtually impossible to go back to this kind of life. I suspect that the damage done to our cultures and values by the violence, humiliation and subjugation that came with colonialism means that what we have today is a mangled culture that is doing more damage for us than good.

And of course, playing the blame game means that taking responsibility is conveniently avoided.

3. The Afro-politans

The source of this term is an article about life in the diaspora for young, educated and well off Africans. Despite it’s playful and entertaining tone, it provoked some measure of outrage from the kind of people who concern themselves with these debates.

I’m not sure I can be objective about this one, because I do check many of the boxes here. However, as some people have pointed out, ‘Afro-politanism’ looks more like cultural commodification (think chic leather bags and handmade jewelry), rather than an actual identity.

It is also useful for people navigating different cultures,  and suits the ‘Africa is rising’  crew because it makes us look a little bit more glamorous and cool and civilized.

4. The ones who just don’t care

Thank God for pragmatic people. Thank God for people who are more interested in working and living and not endless naval gazing. Thank God for people who don’t live in their heads but face life for what it is without making excuses.

These people probably never even finished reading a single book by Ngugi. They aren’t interested in the dusty past and whether or not Egypt was ruled by black people.

They want things to work, but they don’t really care how.

They have a point though,  I mean, is this kind of debate even useful anymore?

Objectively digging into the past is useful in order to understand the present. But doing it in order to find excuses and avoid responsibility? Not so much.

The Truth Behind Randomness. And Claude Monet. Again


I don’t know much about art. I come from the ‘new world’, where the oldest building is a colonial relic less than a hundred years old, and all the history I need to know happened during my grand mother’s lifetime.

Art is hip, and sometimes a passing but annoying fad- I’m talking about ‘spoken word’ and ‘contemporary dancing’…maybe even Kapuka. Art is over the top dramas staged by Heart Stings Kenya actors, who make up for their lack of talent with enthusiasm. Or the more sophisticated but decaying Phoenix Players.

Art is alive.

But in crumbling Europe, art is ancient. Art is history. It is hours at the Louvre and Gothic cathedrals. It’s learning about the Renaissance and Impressionism and the different styles of nude marble statues. It’s straining to admire the roof of the Sistine Chapel while slowly succumbing to a sensory overload induced headache. It’s walking in museums crammed with geriatrics and reading reassuring signs that  defibrillators are available in the building….just in case anyone’s heart stops.

Consequently, my visit to Monet’s village had nothing to do with art and a lot more with lazing away a pretty Sunday afternoon. And why shouldn’t it have been? Like the average literate person, all I knew was that Monet was dead, very famous and that his pictures are often reprinted on postcards.

I might as well have spent the day taking pictures of rocks in formation, because you can only appreciate what you understand.

Has anything changed since then?

Well…Yes and no….

Jesus said we have eyes but we cannot see. And something about a candle not shining if hidden under a basket. He wasn’t just talking about heaven.

My salvation was a bouncy haired girl who had the dearly coveted ‘true’ appreciation for art. The ability to tell the difference between Monet and Pissaro. The ability to have a ‘favorite’ painting. And in those dark places we all love, she explained the fundamentals concerning Monet, and by extension, modern art as we know it. (or, as we should.)

Monet was a revolutionary. He did something that others did not dare.

He began painting with his feelings, as opposed to reproducing stiff, picture perfect and slightly boxy images that were in vogue those days.

The modern day equivalent?

Try asking a studio photographer on River Road to adjust the light  to accentuate your cheek bones, as you will tilt your nose to the right and look over your shoulder to show your good side, as opposed to his standard hands-crossed-on-lap-painful-smile pose for your photo.

Then go uptown to those studios that have reflectors, black screens, golden filters, and two million different lenses, with a dreadlocked guy playing trendy neo-soul abstract-ish music, who angles you to ‘catch the light in your hair’ before frantically clicking away for an hour.

Monet was the first of the dreadlocked guys.

He was the trend setter. The bad boy of the 19th century painting crew.

And he just happens to be in Normandy.

Hence, 19th Century Normandy was forever captured by the impressionists. Boats and towns and rivers and the odd explosion from sexual repression in the form of naked women picnicking with fully dressed men.

Like most people under 25 admiring smudges of boats and rivers and flowers at Monet’s museum, I suspect we were there mostly because it was free for students (and really old people).

There are some things my limited knowledge do not allow me to understand. Such as, who decides what good art is? Its been caricatured in movies. Everyone stands around looking puzzled at some confusing and apparently meaningless portrait, before the most effeminate man in the room stands up and, in between gasps of pleasure and tears of joy, flamboyantly declares he has never seen anything more beautiful. Then everyone else claps and pretends to understand.

Think about it. Who decided skinny jeans and shorts with hideous pleats and bulky seams are cool again? When will they change their minds again?

My art buff explained to me about HER visit to Monet’s garden. She studied art for a couple of years, and was ecstatic to stand in the very same spot where Monet stood as he painted her favorite painting of his. For her, the paintings came alive. Or maybe she was taken back in time.

I still don’t understand art. I don’t even understand poetry. But since I can only draw stick men, I do appreciate people who can recreate 3D on a piece of cloth and then have full museums dedicated to them.

And, of course, we all love revolutionaries.

Before You shake the red dust of your continent…remember remember….


I was going to write something really witty and sarcastic about my final dinner with my family.

I even toyed with the idea of using the last supper as an analogy, but I figured that writing ‘and W said, take this and eat this…’ was stretching the whole poetic license thing a little too far, especially since I still entertain fantasies about going to heaven.

Anyway, what happened at my dinner floored me. The sarcasm disappeared. With it, the irony. You know what was left?

What should actually have been there. The feeling that the clan proffered its blessings upon me as I departed from the fold. (And, while lugging 40kgs worth of luggage around in Paris, this was actually quite comforting.)

All I needed was a lunchbox with Ngwaci and a minivan decorated with banana leaves and singing relatives to take me to the airport.

So, I finally got my graduation/farewell dinner. A celebration of my achievements, for the hard working daughter of the clan, right?

WRONG.

Ok, sort of…

It was mostly a plum chance for the clan matriarchs to rub their progeny’s success in each other’s faces. Something like, ‘Yeah, just because I caught her smoking at 17, doesn’t mean she became a drunken little whore…but Im not pointing fingers….’

No need to get into the details of how I was really nothing more than a glorified waitress at my own party, and that we had lots of hangover inducing box-wine instead of my favorite Merlot. (Yes, I’m showing off, but ZA IS wine country, and when in Rome….)

Or the side shows provided by the cute blonde girl and her Marine detail who wolfed down the nyama choma like they had been starving for days, pausing only to wash it down with gin (WTF!!!)

No, let’s get to what was really important.

The hour after all were fed and well lubricated with said cheap wine, the matriarchs fell silent and called for order. And the advice flowed:

From Mama W’s fashionista bff (who’s entourage included a girl-boy who vowed to come visit and a little sister in the throes of a love affair with gin): some PG stuff about having fun and working hard. Then W fixed her another drink that got her tongue loose and she pulled W aside…

‘W…I don’t know how to say this….when you go to another country, the Africans tend to stick together…and start dating…every year new people arrive, but pretty soon you have all dated each other…the problem comes in when someone gets sick…it can spread to everyone.’

Translation: don’t hook up with the Africans, you might get AIDS.

Hands down super creepy, yes?

So, I bade farewell to my fantasies about tall, dark Senegalese men. (Fine, and the odd, florid Congolese sharp shooter.)

One Aunty F, who has been a family supporter since before W knew what bras were used for,  really laid it on thick…’I know you will succeed…you are our daughter, and a role model for the others!'(meaningful look at some less illustrious individuals in the room)

No, no pressure there, None at all.

Aunty A, who’s home is where we discovered baked beans, frankfurters and such exotic foods, was the soothing balm, all like, ‘if you need anything at all, we are here for you.’

In light of her recent circumstances, I shall leave it at that. God bless her dear soul.

Floating around there somewhere was talk of working hard but also having fun and opening  up to new experiences, ‘living a little’: basically, obscure references to their own crazy days in college.

Crazy cousin K, who embodies many of the finer qualities of a bona fide Kikuyu woman made a speech she had been preparing for hours that just got me all choked up.

(If i ever get this emotional again, please shoot me.)

Then, a voice from the rabble said, ‘And remember God is with you’.

If these were the olden days, our house would have burned down, given the unprintable jokes that were given life by that statement.

And, from Mama W, ‘You are going to be cold. Very cold.’

Now that’s some practical advice.