Wednesday, December 16, 2009

how now?

These are my top three "how now?" moments this month:

1. Seeing a man dressed in an expensive suit seated back left in a TWO door Toyota Rav 4 and watching him unfold his long torso and longer limbs as he untidily climbed out the car with what little dignity he could muster.

2. Turning around 180 degrees in a banking hall line and facing the guy who was riding my behind tightly. I am now nose to nose with him and walk backwards as the line moves. Watching his face contort with disbelief, anger and subsequent resignation as he now has to keep at least 2 feet away from me as the line continues to inch towards the cashier. somehow riding my face is not as pleasant dammit......what's up with the fight for personal space in this country?

3. Observing a traffic cop wearing a 400 thread count sweater in 30 degree celsius weather, and wondering is it that he can't feel the sweltering pounding of sun rays or are there some pockets under there that cannot see the kitu kidogo light of day?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Knowing me, Knowing you.

Panache. That is all it takes to get past any security guard at any gate or building in this country. Simple, refined panache. Why you ask? This was me a few hours ago at an office located in a residential suburb of this traffic demented city this afternoon. I drive up to the gate, and a bulbous, pockmarked extrusion of a nose surfaces for air at the peep hole. It is quickly withdrawn and replaced by one baleful eye, casting its wary glance this way and that as opposed to straight ahead at the intruder. Aha, finally said eye rests its weary glance on my car, a piercing glare that is supposed to thrust a supposedly cold sword of fear through my unrelenting flesh. I strum my fingers on the steering wheel, waiting for this perpetual dance of intimidation that plays out at every security guard's domain of power to end. Having determined that there is no clear and present danger from the imaginary Russian U-Boats, the one eyed bulbous nosed owner emerges from behind the 8 foot high mabati excuse of a gate. His defence artillery consists of a tattered black ledger book and a chewed up biro pen, tied to the book with a fraying string that is about to disintegrate any time now. He shuffles across to my open window and asks with the most serious face he can muster "Unataka kuingia?" I bite my lip and with it the sarcastic response to the idiotic question of whether I want to get in.

Instead I look him dead in the eye and raise my eyebrow, making sure that he sees the steely glaze in my eye and semi-incredulous disposition that he does not recognize who I am. This always, I must admit, work remarkably well in throwing these wannabe ninja turtles off balance. "ehhhh, we ni nani?" is his next muted question, his voice shaky with doubt as to whether this was a career limiting question. "Ni Mimi, ala!" I thunder back, struggling hard to maintain an inscrutable expression, my innards churning with laughter. Ninja Turtle scurries back to the gate, swiftly opening both gates with a sleight of the hand , while the other hand is plastered back on his forehead in what he thinks is the ultimate salute! I drive into the compound, watching him in my rearview mirror and marvelling at how his back is ramrod straight at ninety degrees but his mind must be revolving at 360 degrees of confusion, fear, worry...."is this the mdosi's relative?"

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sharing is simply not caring...

OK this is the deal, I'm actually quite fed up of the typical Kenyan habit of sharing newspapers. While I was raised to believe that sharing is caring, "there come a time" when the thin line between sharing and invading becomes blurred. I will illustrate. Every time when I walk into work, I will read my newspaper cover to cover and then my colleague who gets paid exactly as much as I do, leans over and says "B'ana si you let me read your Nation?" The damn paper costs 35/- and given the dregs of Tusker clouds that linger on his fetid breath, I know the guy downed a coupla bottles last night and could very well have purchased the paper for himself today, and yesterday and the day before as he staggered back home from the pub. So with clear memories of my mother's high pitched shriek of admonishment against selfish acts reverbrating through my mind, I cave in every morning after swearing never to give in again, and lend the guy my paper.
But it doesn't end there. Because his thick fingers - with tips whittled to a smooth hide by the constant pounding on the computer keyboard - cannot turn the pages, he has to constantly lick his middle finger, slavering it with the viscous extract from his mouth in order to lubricate the page turning process. I often have to remind myself that if all else fails, at least I can produce a DNA sample for the police were it ever needed. Ten minutes into the silent reading, I always hear a pen scratching over my newspaper as the jamaa fills out my Sudoku puzzle, the ultimate sign of invasion, nay, acquisition of my property. More often than not, I always tell him to keep the damn paper, it's just not worth the trouble.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Traipsing about the country

I'm sitting at the snack bar in Unit 3 Domestic departures at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. As I gratefully munch on my roast beef sandwich washed down with a Dorman's double cappuccino (Amen to whoever came up with the fab idea of putting Dorman's at the snack bar!) a Kenya Airways staff member announces that those of us who are sitting mindlessly doing nothing need to get our boarding passes checked in. Now this is the deal, ALL of us mindless automatons have simply not bothered to do this, after all it was at least 50 minutes to departure and we were only 10 feet away from the boarding pass check counter. But one should never underestimate the power of a herd mentality. All but one of the patrons shoot out of their seats and scuttle across the vast 10 feet of space to form a crowd at the counter, precariously balancing their hand luggage, jackets, tickets and boarding passes in the two hands they have. The KQ staff member feverishly tries to get the passengers to form themselves into a line, and in bemusement I am reminded of a farmer trying to herd a group of cats on heat.
As I am the only one left munching on my sandwich, I notice the unfinished bottles of Tusker sinfully left standing stiff and lonely on the tables, missing the warm hand that had recently caressed their midriffs and yearning lips that greedily enveloped their rims. I wipe my lips with a paper napkin after polishing off the last delectable bite of my sandwich and slowly walk to the airline counter that has now processed all the passengers. Lo and behold, we are not walking to the plane, we are boarding the new transportation shuttles introduced by the airline. What a relief to board public transportation in Nairobi without the omni-present badly dressed and foul mouthed tout banging on the side of the vehicle. I am pleased to note chivalry still exists as a younger man stands up to give an older woman his seat. Have I stepped into the twilight zone?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Road Rage

It never ceases to amaze me how Kenyans are deeply religious when they are in Church, bashing their bible and spewing quotes from the Good Book as if there will be a "Who wants to be a Millionaire" show based on the Book of Apostles or Phillipians. However the minute they step out of the Church and into their cars, they will overlap the traffic, cut across three lanes on the new Mombasa road and abuse anyone who dares to cross their path. Wait a minute, didn't we just hold hands a minute ago when praying for peace, love, spirituality and whatever 100+ petitions our pastor had in the service a few minutes ago? But Christianity aside, what I find most unusual is those drivers that will not give you one inch of space to enter a slow moving trail of traffic, even if you are clearly indicating that you are going in the opposite direction. Or better still, those that refuse to make eye contact with you when you are begging to be let into their lane, they adopt a stiff neck, sura ya kazi and eyes dead ahead as if looking out for dreaded Pirates off the Gulf of Aden. The absolute worst are the ones who cut you off very badly in traffic and then it is the passenger....yes the passenger, not the driver who gives you very bad eyes!! Kwani? Chinua Achebe put it very aptly in Things Fall Apart, the outsider who weeps louder than the bereaved! Our driving habits are surely very peculiarly Kenyan!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Maddening Thicker Road

it's official, Thika Road has now been designated Thicker Road. And only because it's the only road in Nairobi that can miraculously transform itself from a two lane highway into an 8 lane highway in the same speed it takes a porsche to attain maximum speed 0-100mph in 4 seconds...or something along those lines. I was driving upcountry to Nanyuki to spend a lovely madaraka day weekend. In extremely typical fashion, a guy in a peugot 504 (which have become extremely rare contraptions in this Toyota country) has car problems on the right lane and makes the utterly wise decision to deal with said problems on the spot. To his right, is the road shoulder, not even 3 feet away where he and the other male occupant of the car could have pushed the problematic car. To his left is a long snake of at least 3 semi-trailers heavily laden with goods en route to the North Eastern frontier that have reduced traffic to a snail pace.

In the time it takes to say, what the bloody hell, sixty four matatus have taken the very space that 504 man should have parked his vehicle to form another 4 lanes of traffic to maintain the Soul II Soul mantra of "keep on moving". Needless to say, we came to a complete standstill at the bewitching hour of 1 p.m. A few kilometres ahead, another road block, this time a pedestrian who probably should have been looking right instead of left, lay prostrate on the ground, blood oozing from his mouth and his limbs unnaturally twisted in ignominous death. He had been hit by a Canter whose windscreen was smashed with little else damaged. I said a silent prayer for his family who would be waiting for him to come home that night wondering why he was late.....

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Snot filled Handshakes

Went to see a new client today. He walks into the room holding a scrunched up handkerchief, wet with nasal productivity but still full of utility judging by the way he kept wiping his nose as he strode masterfully into the room. I silently cringed, praying feverishly that he would not proffer his hand for the ubiquitous handshake that is so part of civility in this Nairobi. Frankly speaking, if we had to do without this unhygienic social norm I don't think any one of us would be the worse for social wear. Needless to say, my prayer hit the highway to heaven and was answered in remarkable time (memo to self, send thank you note to God) and he bustled into his seat and started off the meeting with nary a physical acknowledgement. At any other time I would have thought it rude, but now i was simply relieved. A loose piece of snot hung precariously out of his left nostril, accidentally stretched into visibility by the mischevious handkerchief. It took every ounce of my positive Chi to look beyond the client's face to the blank wall behind him, avoiding any sliver of his face within my peripheral vision as my eyes were uncontrollably drawn back to the abomination that plagued his otherwise commanding face. This was definitely going to be a loooong meeting.....

Monday, May 25, 2009

Traffic in the City

if you drive a Toyota Vitz, stop reading this right now and put this blog on your blacklist. I hate Vitz drivers. why? every first time driver who's got a pay rise and can therefore afford to take a car loan from a bank defaults to buying a Vitz. so what happens, the person driving at 40 kms per hour on the bloody RIGHT lane of a two lane highway such as Thika Road or Jogoo Road or Mbagathi way is always A VITZ driver.....arghhhh! the person making a U Turn, yes U turn on bloody Ngong road at 5:45 p.m peak driving time is always a VITZ driver, the person who decides to overtake the slow moving lorry and then forgets mid-overtaking that the rest of the cars behind him are also trying to overtake is always a VITZ driver.....need i say more? And let's not forget trying to get into a parking at Nakumatt Prestige and the undecided driver trying to choose which lane to get into therefore blocking 15 cars of traffic behind him or her is always a VITZ driver. To anyone reading this who hasn't bought a first car yet, please do not default to the VITZ contrary to whatever temptations besiege you, fight the urge, purge the amorous desire, press ctrl+alt+del and flush the impure thoughts from your mind.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Peculiarly Kenyan

Michael Joseph didn't realize the quintessential statement he made when he said that Kenyans have peculiar calling habits. He was pretty much massacred by the press, but the statement was immortalized in the Kenyan Quotes Hall of Fame. This blog will be a testimony to the curiously Kenyan habits, smells, tastes and flavours that make this country of ours hilarious at best and annoying at worst.
To begin with, let's look at entering a lift in any building. You stand on the ground floor, waiting for the lift doors to open. Civilization prevails as those around you blankly stare up at the numbers depicting the painstakingly slow descent of the lift. 5, 4, 3....3.....3....3-who the hell is keeping the lift on the 3rd floor for so bloody long??-2, 1...1....1.....arghhhhhh why couldn't that lazy oaf take the stairs one floor down? ahhh finally, ground floor. Lift doors open, all sense of civility vaporizes as the crowd around you pushes and shoves itself into the lift, without waiting for the occupants to empty out. And since you were in the middle of the crowd, you find yourself physically lifted up and into the vestibule, dodging the filthly looks of the visibly irritated occupants trying to extricate themselves out. Oh goodness, somebody left something in the lift, it's a strong distinctly palpable body odour that is almost a living being, an invisible stalker in the corner of the lift that very nearly engulfs you and assaults your nasal passages! Why don't some people use roll on if they know they throw body odour?