Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Lines Blur (1st December 2010)

Mother, There is a Mad Man at Our Door.
It was an unfinished conversation that began and ended at the same place. It was a Sunday morning with a brilliant shine in the trees outside. And the Man went away just as he had come.

Mother stared at the shut door for a long time. She held in her hand her only recollection of the visitor. It was a tattered piece of paper.

It was a Sunday morning. The kind of Sunday when you would happy to be alive, to be in love, to be living. She was wearing make up and wearing one of her full skirts. You could see the curve of her hips and the slender lines of her legs. She walked in slow paces. She was so happy her wrinkles hid in the happiness the creases made around her eyes. Her black curls were pinned to position around her neck. She felt beautiful.

Her black skin was shinning. Her red lips shone. She was beautiful.

We heard the music play after the door was shut. They were the anthems of the old capital. Loud staccato sounds and laboured voices. Inspired sounds of humanity that grandmother would sing to us. The ones the would lull our souls to sleep and when we woke up we would forget again.

She was dancing to the music. She pretended Father was there with her, holding her hips and pushing her to and fro, to and fro. She was happy.

She would not let go of the piece of paper. She danced with it. Not even Father’s spirit could  make her let go. It was her life in the paper.

We remembered her that day. Maybe it was because she had already forgotten us. She lived in her own amongst her spirits and invisible children. But when she saw us she looked right through us. We were ghosts in her world.

She stopped the music, finally tired of Father’s miscalculated steps. She pushed him away because he was stepping on her toes.

‘You are drunk, man!’, she cried.

She patted her head. She was going to cook for him to drive away his drunkenness.

Pepper and spices. Meat and Chicken. His favourite meal. She made her legendary stew, the one that would leave the sweetness of its scent on our clothes. The one that would leave us satisfied for days. She set the table with the red placemats she reserved for special occasions. Then she brought out the glasses for the wine. She pulled out the bottle that she laid hidden under her bed since her wedding day. It was a hundred years old.

‘Sit!’, she commanded her invisible family.

We sat down sure she would not see us.  Father, it seemed, was sat at his usual place at the head of the table. She was telling him to say the grace and ask forgiveness for his Sunday drunkenness. He must have said one of his blasphemous prayers as mother wailed in opposition then she let out a laugh.

‘  Dis man I married!’, She was showing us the gap between her teeth. She looked beautiful.

‘Eat, Eat’, She commanded the table. We ate in the silence of her madness and in the mystery of the visitor and of the piece of paper now hidden in her bosom.

Father must have asked her to open the bottle of wine. She screamed at him, ‘Not now, Man!’.

She began laughing at Father’s audacity. She laughed to herself for a short eternity.

She stood up in a daze and stared out the window.

‘Look, the wind’, it seemed she was talking to us.

‘The last time it talked to me I was in love’, she began to laugh. She looked back at us and at the empty table and the ominous bottle of wine. ‘I decided to forget him, his name, his face, his being’.

We were silent.

‘He is just a man to me now’.

She walked back to the table and sat on Father’s chair. She began to sing the song that she sang the day he went away. It was a dirge of each of our names. When she sang father’s name she would sing louder as if to say that she would never forget him. Not really.

She began dancing to the tune of our names, in the silence of the empty dining room. She felt the paper in the bosom. She moved her hand closer to her chest and with slow intricate steps danced to the end of the song. She sat on the floor and looked back at us.

‘Why are you looking at me!’, she shouted at us.

We sat silent.

‘You are not supposed to be here!’, she was talking to us.

Neither of us stirred. ‘Are you there, my children?’.


She began the dirge again. It was slower more pronounced as if each of our names were song in themselves. She would clap in between breaths. She repeated the dirge.

Her heavy kohled eyes hid her sorrow. She was smiling at us now, as she sang her song.

She was clapping faster and laughing now. Laughing at her song.

It was a Sunday morning and the death bells began to ring. Once then twice. Three times then four. It began to beat in four beat cycles.

She was clapping to the rhythm of the knoll. She rearranged the dirge to match the beating of the bells.

‘Sing with me’, she called back to the table.


Even Father remained in his place, silent.

She took out the paper from her bosom and kissed it. She pressed it on her forehead. She let it fall to the ground.

She rolled around in the ground without regard for her makeup. Her rouge smeared and her kohl coloured the floor. She threw her hands to the sky and beat her legs to the floor.

‘Come here children!’, she commanded.

No one moved.

The bells continued ringing. The time had come.

She sat still and opened the tattered note. It said very little but too much.

The man died. The children followed

They say sorrow is not of this world. Because the wails that followed were heard only by us in the spirit world.

Mother cried vigorously, screaming and kicking.  It shattered our world and it shattered the ancient wine bottle.

Nothing was real. Only her sorrow.

 And she was beautiful.

M. Shabaya.

October 2010

Last time on Augatora (1st December 2010)

Video: Puppets and Music (No, not singing puppets!)

After a series of Facebook links this is what caught our eye this week:

Lokua Kanza and Nakozonga from the Congolese artist's latest album Nkolo (meaning God). He returns to Congo for the album after years in self-imposed exile. Kanza claims he wrote the song to talk about hope, about one day returning home. We say, beautiful in the least.

Lira Lira Lira

All the message said was, 'this ought to be featured on your site!'. We couldn't agree more. The beautiful music South African artiste Lira Molapo creates is exciting, soothing, electrifying and oddly nostaligic. It fuses African grooves with jazzy beats. You cannot go wrong with a song called Feel Good!

Check out her playlist out on Museke, the blog for the African music fan, HERE.

 Finally, The Puppets!

You might know them as Shakira's back-up band in the World Cup's Waka Waka theme song. Or if you happened to be in the loop like all of us enlightened folk here is the latest single from their fourth studio album, Radio Africa, Chicken to Change. The video features Uncle Bob himself. The band teamed up with ZA News,the super funny political satire show from South Africa (with occassional comment on Zimbabwe!), to make the video. More videos can be found on their website .

Pattni, the Con Man, on XYZ Cribs. If you know about Kenya's Anglo-Fleecing Scandal and the Mau Forest 'Drama' then you should be well acquainted with Mr. Pattni himself!

The XYZ show is the original African political satire show, or so they claim. Check out other clips and webisodes on their Youtube page.

Share with us what caught your eye on the web over the week and drop us a line!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Last Time on The Lines Blur (13th November 2010)

Nairobi: The Second Greatest City After Paris

There is a pothole on Mama Ngina  that will never be filled. I know this because a campaigning politician promised to fix it years ago. It cannot be helped, of course, he had to pay his godfathers first. The politics of city in ruin is, at best, entertaining. However, that is not the purpose of this article. Nairobi, as I so recently discovered, despite its hazardous pollution and ensuing clouds of red dust is a meaningful place to be. Indeed, it is a place that not many will chose to live but it is a place that one will chose to return again and again and again.
Nairobi has it all. It is, after all, East Africa’s cosmopolitan capital.  A city that you will most probably enter via the matatu (14 seater mini-van taxi) system after a never ending traffic jam. They say, however, that Nairobi’s roads are much better than the ones in Lagos.  Unfortunately, I cannot substantiate that claim.
You must learn to be cautious in Nairobi. Because just as you enter the city at the matatu’s main drop off points you will most probably be mugged by a faceless pedestrian. There are many of them on this side of the Sahara.
 If you keep left, no matter where you are, you might just find yourself in little Mogadishu.  Fleeing the constant chaos of their own capital most Somalis  have chosen to relocate and orchestrate what most Nairobians view as “criminal activity”. Fuelling illegal passport rings and other money laundering schemes, Jamia’a Mosque and Shopping Centre is where you will find them sipping a traditional brew and eating better Chappati than you mother could ever make. Indeed, they add an interesting complex to Nairobi life.
Just a corner away from the Somali shopping centre is the Textile Boulevard on Muindi Bingu. It is a rather fitting name as the street was named after a certain Indian named Bingu. All the Shops in the line are owned by Asians. Only tourists shop there, of course, as most locals find that Somalis offer more value for your money and if you are lucky they might just throw in a bouquet of Mira’a (a hazardous drug) to sweeten the deal. The Desi population in Nairobi is proud. Perhaps it is because their ancestors helped build our currently potholed roads and our dilapidated railway lines, one can never tell. However, it is clear that their pride defines the social hierarchies that form Kenyan society as a whole. The Kenyans, or rather the Africans, are always at the bottom.
The latest addition to the Nairobi by-line are the Chinese immigrants that have got formerly protesting University of Nairobi students speaking Mandarin and fighting for Chinese menus to be introduced in University dining halls. If you happen to follow the politics of Chinese foreign direct investment you would understand that this is the understated price we have to pay as a society in order to have a road fixed and a bridge built. They are a generally quiet people, the Chinese, but much nicer than the Desis of Muindi Bingu street.
The rest of Nairobi is a sea of black faces with a handful of mulattoes. We, of course, do not discriminate unless if it is amongst ourselves. Nairobi, depending on where you are from, is a very tribalistic place. The world caught a glimpse of this irrational hate during the post-election violence of two years ago. And so it follows that someone might ask for your surname in a bus queue just to determine your tribe, what follows after that I cannot say but it is usually not that pleasant. Other more experienced thugs, as it were, determine your ancestry just by observing your bone structure. They are mostly right but often confuse Congolese immigrants for Kikuyus leading to unwarranted beatings in alleyways. I cannot say I understand the sentiments of the tribalistic lunatics. I am a mix of two of major tribes in the country with a foreign twang and a Zimbabwean name. Because of this, I often feel safe in Nairobi’s streets.
When Nairobians are not exercising their tribalist philosophies, they are eating chicken and drinking beer. It just so happens that they are exactly five Kenchic Inns, amicably known as Kenya Fried Chicken, within a one mile radius of the infamous idler’s corner. The idler’s corner is a bit of the city where unemployed men come and steal naughty glances at working women passing by. It is directly opposite one of the main matatu drop off points known as Afya Centre and just outside Nairobi’s hallmark Hilton Hotel. There, you most probably buy a five pound meal at a nearby ‘KFC’ and then head down the streets in to one of the city’s 24 hour establishments. Yes, in Nairobi it is socially acceptable to drink during the day.
The city is bustling. There is the never ending battle between motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and livestock. The faster of the group usually wins. The less fortunate find themselves in a long queue at Kenyatta Hospital. Indeed, one must not forget the city’s wildlife not only concentrated in daylight drunkards and wildlife sanctuaries but also in the mugging monkeys just off Koinange street. Depending on who the fool is the loser will invariably become the meat. Again, caution in Nairobi must be stressed as if it is not the faceless or primate muggers attempting to disorient you it may be the ‘sheeping’ phenomenon that seems to fascinate all newcomers to the city. This, of course, takes place when a  group of pedestrians run in a single direction without anyone asking why. Often many are lured in to dark corners and their fate I cannot describe.
Although a cross-section of the city is unashamedly a godless bunch, we pride ourselves on consistently electing religious leaders to political office. Our politicians as previously mentioned are a daft bunch seeking only to fill their offshore bank accounts. The members that meet at parliament house are the highest paid in the world it is a wonder how most of them have yet to graduate from high school.
Nairobi is not a terrible place. In fact, it is quite the contrary. It is the only place that I could think of where everybody knows how to read a newspaper. Then again, our politics is a modern Greek tragedy. It is the only town where everybody is equipped with a Bachelor of Arts in Stone Throwing as you might observe during an unofficial strike. It is a place where you can never feel lonely walking through at night.  It is a place where everybody would love to know you- if you are important. It is the kind of place where you and  your family come first. It is a useless place for a car. It is the only place I know where the policemen are tipped, rather handsomely might I add. You can make a million in Nairobi or even steal one, it is the same thing. It is a place where you can die with some dignity and live with some pride. Where you meet people from everywhere and no where. There are refugees, killers and priests in Nairobi. Yes, there are many things that would bring you back to a city that lies just outside the famous hole in the ground.

But most importantly, the only thing that should bring you back to Nairobi is the fact that it is the kind of place where there is always somebody who knows a good story.

M. Shabaya
October 2010

First Published in the Palatinate Newspaper, Durham University on 2nd November 2010

Welcome to the Archives!

So this where all expired posts on I (WRITE) Africa will end up. They will be posted on, more or less, a weekly basis. For easy access, look up the archives on the sidebar. This will allow you to see the archived posts by date.

Enjoy! And feel free to COMMENT!