Puff Johnson. Good music. And memory.

Puff Johnson succumbed to cervical cancer last year. It was her first anniversary yesterday.  For those who have never heard of the name, more so those born in the 1990s, she was one of the most beautiful, black women of R&B girl from the 1990s.

 

You can YouTube her popular song Forever More and sample her best track to date.

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Photo: Courtesy

Her other single ‘Over and Over Again’ was the soundtrack of the mid-1990s drama ‘First Wives Club’. She is the sweet voice you hear in Tupac’s Me Against the World. She released her album first album, Miracle, in 1996. In 1997, she toured the Europe as the opening act for Michael Jackson and his nephews 3T (Whatever became of them?). All this happened when she was 24-25.

 

Despite this staggering, if phenomenon start, she never did quite anything remarkable in the way of music or venture into movies as it is the norm in America afterwards. Her Wikipedia page is brief, unlike  the, pages of her contemporaries such as J Lo, Toni Braxton, Mariah Carey, Mary J Blige who serenaded us with bubble gum crap in the 1990s.

 

But Puff Johnson was different. Despite her age, she sung with a rare mature voice devoid of the girlish excitement that would greet the scene when Monica, Brandy and Aaliyah broke into the surface. Her love songs were emotional, persuasive, and as a man made you feel romantic if you are into mushy stuff. Thing with 1990s R&B is that it was full of love, musical and songs were more creatively written than what Rihanna pukes out nowadays lately with her eerily, scary voice.

 

If you think I’m kidding, sample her ‘True Meaning of Love’ jam, which is my favourite song from that debut album. Imagine, if you are a man and a woman says such things to you? See why falling in love was easy back then. Nowadays, guys just screw.

 

I remember Puff Johnson, who was born Ewanya Johnson in Detroit, because I used to imagine that Puff was a male name, more apt for a rapper than a female singer. May be because of Puff Daddy. In the 1990s, my elder brothers used to buy tapes. Some of them were a collection of various great songs by different musicians. Now in retrospect, tapes had a surreal feel about them.  DJs back then who compiled these things had a sense of music, unlike these days where they play a gospel song and switch to Bend Over by RDX without even warning you.

 

Back then you could buy a tape that had music by boy bands. For instance, you would have Backstreet Boys pitied against NSYNC and we would debate many days on end on which band was better. Alternatively, you would have music from the divas of the time and Celine Dion was the most preferred diva. Gosh! There were like 597 different permutations of her collections. Yet in one of those rare collections, there was that ‘Forever More’ single from Puff Johnson that I routinely believed there was an error in the spelling of her name or the song was inadvertently allocated to an erroneous Puff Johnson, a rapper or male artist.

 

Now, our neighbour was single mother of three who was an urbanite and listened to R&B. She was a teacher and one of those people so far ahead of themselves in that given time.  We shared the tapes all the time. Her eldest daughter was one of those kids in the hood, who could speak fluent Swahili and Sheng, and in her we learned who was the latest musical sensation. Her mother, now deceased(bless her soul) once saved my life-story for another day. Now, for some inexplicable reason I will always associate Puff Johnson to that family that was torn apart by that death but glad they are holding it together. Hang in there folks.

 

Now, thankfully to the Internet,  and Wikipedia to be specific, I can just check what my favourite musician has been up to. In the past we relied on newspapers and old magazines to know what your favourite star was up to. In the absence of these credible sources, we had to contend with a lot of hogwash such as;  Tupac’s body was never found and it is not known if he truly died. This stupidity propagated in the village by the boys from towns was pervasive. They used to tell us that Tupac mentor’s Machiavelli had died and resurrected after 14 years and Tupac was pulling the same. These claims were further given credence by the numerous posthumous collabos. Lord, is there any American artist who has not had a posthumous collabo with Tupac? even the gay Elton John, who I still wonder if Tupa would have collaborated with him if he was alive.

 

The reason I’m saying all this is that when I joined campus, I was and still is an R&B person and I had more freedom enjoying the music that was rationed to me as a child. I dug through Wikipedia studying how each of my childhood star was fairing. Now, as children we thought stars were immortal and infallible. As adults, we discover that stars who did not handle their fame and fortune rightly ended up miserable as adults. How many times has Toni Braxton been declared bankrupt? How many of Jay Z and Dr Dre contemporaries are languishing in jail or wasting away in drugs and poverty? Did you know that Dionne Warwick is as broke and bankrupt,  it is no longer news. This is despite decades of unparalleled success?

 

Anyway, a few years ago, I was listening to a mid-morning show on either Easy FM or one of the Radio Africa Group-mostly Classic 105 when a presenter, could have been Angela Angwenyi, Sheila Mwanyiga or Tina Kagia, did mention that Puff Johnson had moved to South Africa. In deed when I checked on Wikipedia, (Puff had a longer page on her then) and I did confirm that she had moved to South Africa and as the presenter had said, she was about to re-launch her musical career, or start a TV show. Or something. Her music is a common staple in our local radio stations, and Maina Kageni often plays her every so often. She was in South Africa because she had fallen in love instantly with the people of South Africa and had decided to move there.

 

I don’t why I had an obsession with her, but I kept checking on what she was up to and as regularly as possible I was digging on her. I had this secret, undeclared crush on her, come to think of it. I mean, she was beautiful even though disease would certainly waste her body in her last years.

 

And then 2012 came. I held a small party at my house and some well shaven, big-headed bugger with studs who happened by the party, you know those people who come from God-knows-where, plugged his flash-disk into my laptop and left a load of music in my laptop. Mostly, trashy rap from  Rick Ross and new generation music.  But he also left some old school numbers including a dozen songs from Men of Vizion who never became big locally and one of those boy bands whose songs are hard to come by. Their ‘Break Me Off’ jam has stayed on top of my play list like forever.

 

In the same collection were two or so songs from Puff Johnson. That April-May, I will try some stuff in Juba, South Sudan and it was a lonely experience. Despite the good company, the real warm people of South Sudan and the generosity with beer, I was very lonely. When things don’t go the way I want,  I like sulking and can be mood and withdraw from the public. But I enjoyed the music and replayed a Puff Johnson song that for some strange reason, I can’t really remember what song it was. But I must have replayed it a thousand times for the two months, I was there. I kept checking what she was up to down in SA, but there were no updates on Wikipedia.

 

I came back to Kenya briefly, before venturing out for the rest of 2012. I came back for Christmas in 2012 and kept checking on her. I can’t remember when I stopped digging on her. What I know is that a month or so ago as Maina Kageni was about to exit his morning show, he said that he was going to play a song “from a lady who unfortunately is no longer with us’ and I wondered who that  might be? Whitney Houston? No that, he always says her name up-front . Angela Chibalonza? Nope, it has been quite some time since she passed on. Who?

 

Then, he played a some love song, ‘Please Help I’m Falling in Love’, to be precise. Frankly, I had never been keen on that particular song. Should have been the first time I was hearing it as well. Then at the end he reminisced how Zain Verjee had first introduced him to the song back when they worked at Capital FM. And then he said, Puff Johnson had died and didn’t state the reason. For a moment, I thought she must have died recently, from an accident.

 

Then I took to Wikipedia quickly, only to learn that Puff did die last year on June 24th. I felt cheated. It is like learning about the sickness or the death of that good friend that you never checked on for quite some time, long afterwards. You hate yourself. I could not believe that it had been a year since I last checked on her. I felt that I had betrayed her and myself. Her death was not widely publicized and just a few South African newspapers wrote briefly about her death. No wonder.

 

Apparently, all along Puff Johnson had tested positive with cervical cancer. Five years ago, she lost her boyfriend to an accident of sorts back in States. In South Africa, she had dated some musician we don’t know on these shores and at some point, she was deported back to America, owing to some visa problems even though I’m not sure if she stayed a little bit longer. I also, gather that at some point a Cancer Fund was set up for her. Don’t how much they collected but she died at a tender age of 40 and I have never been so preoccupied with the death of a stranger so much.

 

Her songs like many good songs on Youtube hardly surpass 80,000 views. Actually many have less than 30,000 views a very poor reflection considering the kind of fame she enjoyed back then. It breaks my heart that Rihanna can shout anything and twerk nakedn and overnight the song will have 232, 335 679 views and a surpass a billion mark later.

 

In the comment section, apparently there were many fans who felt her loss and you can check what people who appreciate great music have to say about her music.

 

The reason for this long tribute to the beautiful soul, is that music plays a significant role to the memories we posses. My girlfriend once told me that the reason why it is sometimes difficult to move on is that you sometimes encounter the song you used to play or listen together and the memories come flooding back. You will remember that song you danced with your crush when you bumped into her in a club, before her not so handsome boyfriend fetched her.  That song you danced to in Kampala, Kisumu or Mombasa or any other town you have been to and enjoyed its nightlife.

 

Personally, I first heard  a ragga version of  BoB ‘Airplanes playing in a Juba bound bus, traversing the Kampala-Juba road at night which is a deathly experience. Given Ugandans like their music, half the music playing was either in Kiganda or any of the numerosu languages in Uganda. The bus was full of sweaty and dark folks, mostly Ugandans and South Sudanese. I was the lone Kenya in between with the usual stupid entitlement even though I was the same bus annoyingly called Bakulu. BoB was the only song that I anticipated every time the playlist repeated itself, it was good relief and the way the kid rapped. Even though the song was already two years too old, I was hearing it for the first time. And now, whenever I hear the song, that dark journey springs back to mind. 

 

Music and smell are two things that can evoke the best and the worst of memories. You always remember how your ex smelled when dirty and when s/he was clean and fresh as mint. Whatever it is, I know you too have certain songs that ignite the happiest and the saddest memories. Music soothes. Music heals. Music cheers. Music hurts. Music excites.

 

I always wonder how some guys go their entire lives without a sense of music.

 

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Bring Back My Country

How about this for Kenyan thriller novel that is later turned into a novel

      A Muslim cleric is killed in the Kenyan coastal town of Mombasa. The fifth one in as many months. 72 hours n     later,         Britain      shuts down their consulate in town, citing security concerns. 48 hours, at 50 Kenyans are massacred in a night of murderous orgy by unknown assailants. Are the events connected? The government thinks it is connected to the recent political renaissance of the opposition leader, recently returned from a ‘sabbatical’ in the United States. The opposition dismisses this official position as nonsense. Al-shabab, have claimed responsibility but ther claims are not easy to verify, besides the government just apprehended a young man believed to be behind the false up dates.

Now, the task of unraveling the truth lies on the shoulder of Makmende(Kenya’s own Jackbauer). Will get he get to the bottom of the matter? Will he stay alive? Turn the page.

Uhuru Kenyata is my charismatic and cool President. William Ruto is my astute Deputy President. David Kimayio is my Inspector General of the police. The confidence of my countrymen in his ability to execute his duties has been waning. Joseph Ole Lenku is the  unfortunate man in charge of security. Many Kenyans think that he is not qualified for the job, mostly because he does not cut the figure of a kick-ass dude. And in politics as in many things in life, perception counts. Remember when Michuki would bark and bite?

 

These are the men presently in charge of our security and the country is literally living in fear, for we don’t know where they will strike next. We are in hat state where in a family where the dad is coward and children have to watch over themselves.

 

Raila Odinga is opposition leader with three attempts at presidency, two of which there is considerable consensus that he was cheated out of it. In his renewed drive he is using the similar approach of mobilizing folks who go to the rallies for the entertainment value (don’t we love his vitendawilis and proverbs, some of which a section of MPs from Central Kenya believe were an harbinger of the attack. And Otieno Kajwang while annoying makes up for one funny bugger, doesn’t he?) more than anything else.  He is promising a storm. He did so in the past with phrases such as Tsunamis and okayed two electoral commissions that he later claimed rigged him out of the presidency. Can he be third-time lucky? Certainly, not with the same approach. And Kalonzo does not sound as sincere having served in the government for more than 25 years. Wetangula is another one.

 

I don’t fancy either political side. But we are stuck with them. Where you have Midiwo, you have Duale on the other side. Where you have Khalalwe, you have Ichungwa on the other end. Where you have Moses Kuria, there is a brigade of CORD whose version of patriotism is to paint the others as bad. Kiuk folks have become a little bit self-protective, the narrative being spurn by their top leaders being that they are targeted. Every one now in the country believes that we are about to descend into unprecedented chaos. Now this is not the country I grew up in.

***

 

Recently, I went to the University of Nairobi for some brief consultation. When entering the Gandhi Wing, the security guard frisked me, whereupon he asked me for my student ID. I told him I’m a journalist with an appointment with a lecturer. He asked for my national ID. Exasperated I fished for my torn ID, gave it to him and he let me in. Just two years ago, I was a student leader in the same institution and walked to every office and building as I pleased.

 

During the last year elections, I helped my cousin who was vying for the Makadara Parliamentary seat strategize at the InterContinental hotel. Back then, you were only frisked at the entry to the hotel. I went there recently, and I noticed that you are frisked at the gate and at the entry to the facility.

 

It is no longer funny. Now every other building and government facility is is enmeshed with meaningless security check that we all know cannot stop terrorists if they come the way they came to Westgate or Mpeketoni. No one can park along Harambee Avenue as ropes and chains cordon the government facilities and the police ever so vigilant.

 

Is it just me, or everyone is exasperated by the ongoing restlessness in the country. Recently the government embarked on increasing the NSSF charge promising a prosperous future but life has become too cheap and predictable in Kenya. If you are not dying in avoidable accidents, illicit brew is dispatching you to your maker and the government can only afford you a coffin. When terrorist are not bombing you, thieves and muggers can plant bullets in you or knifing you just but to get a laptop from you. Why should we pay more.

 

The country is polarized. There were days when our polarity was a best security. No more. Ever since Kenyans joined hands to end the 24 year-old tyranny only for the MoU to be broken before even the ink it was signed on dried, things will never be the same. Ever since, the country has not known what peace is. The outcome of the two elections-2007 and 2013-was contested and Kenyans who stood in the queues  for many hours  to vote for ODM and CORD will always feel disgruntled towards the respective regimes. The fervent Facebook and Twitter discontent pretty much brings the fact home.

 

There were days when we were free. Those idyllic days when life went on just fine without disruptions. Then 1998 bombing introduced us to Modern Terrorism 101. The September 2001 attack on American soil will herald fearful days that now punctuate part of our everyday life. When was the last time you went to the American embassy or traveled by air? The security at airports is unnerving and inconveniencing. Yet every next man is a potential terrorist.

 

In the period after 2002, despite the dishonouring of the MoU, we lived in relative calm, bolstered by renewed zeal in the new government and when Mungiki tried something, they were thrashed and we never heard anything from them until, the 2007 post-election violence. After the February peace agreement that benefited those in power than it did for me and you, we had relative calm until piracy in the Indian Ocean started taking toll on our economy directly and indirectly and we had to go there and address the situation. Ever since, they have been on our backyard. I can count up to more than 100 deaths within the last one year that al shabab have claimed responsibility. That is barring the 50 deaths at Mpeketoni that we now have a plot twist.

4 things I know about our present day quagmire

 

Here is what I know. The current morass we are stuck in is an accumulation of the dirty that we have swept under the carpet since the missionaries set foot in Kenya. Now we are running out the carpet to sweep our dirt under. Missionaries came to liberate us savages and inadvertently developed some areas at the cost of others. The Kikuyus were the accidental beneficiaries of the highest number of schools, hospitals and institutions. When you move to Luo Nyanza, Maseno and essentially the Siaya region benefited more ahead of the folks in the South Nyanza. Essentially, areas that received any piece of infrastructure had a head start and that is why some areas such us Turkana and the entire Northern frontier lag in lawlessness and underdevelopment. Future churches could not venture into the areas as the formative missionaries. Yet they have more resources to evangelise and change the way such communities lead their lives.

 

Presently, you would think that devolution was going to address this, but CORD conveniently have forgotten about that achievement and governors are lining their pockets and MCAs bathing in money that should be dedicated to address the economic injustices. Wonder what the rallies will achieve, but let me wait and see.

 

Secondly, through institutionalized corruption and nepotism,  specific individuals have benefited massively by belonging to the politically correct class. The same politicians know a thing or two about the power of divisively politics. For instance, what is the beef of Luo and Kikuyus. Geographically they don’t share a boundary as to compete for resources. Ideologically, the Kikuyus are more given business and entrepreneurship. Luos are more given to white collar jobs and where they have gone into business their interest are not in direct contention with those of the Kikuyus. A poor Kikuyu and a poor Luo are as miserable as the next poor Kenyan. Yet ideally, they work together to make ends meet. A Kikuyu driver (blue collar) probably trusts a Luo mechanic (blue collar) at Grogon and buys his tires from a Kamba (blue collar).

 

It is benumbing being a Kenya. But with leaders such as Duale, Millie Odhiambo, Sonko, Shebesh and Kajwang and their ilk, you wonder if they ever sit down to worry about the future of the country. As long as our politicians get to access the public kitty, sign for tenders and demand kickbacks, we poor folks have no place in their world. We don’t hang out in the same places. We can ill-afford their neighbourhoods. Their kids don’t even go to the schools we attend, mostly they don’t even sit for KCSE and KCPE. Naah, they are above the poor man’s examining council-KNEC.

 

Thirdly, we all aspire to the same things in my life. My aim in life is to go to work, pay taxes to ensure that I travel in decent roads, afford medical care, and live in a secure environment. To that end, I would like to start a business and that relies more on a peaceful and stable country.

 

At a personal level, I would like to enjoy my cold Tusker and nyama choma as I watch Arsenal punish Man U in pub without fear that the terrorists might surprise me. After that I want to go home, enjoy my novel, with luck-get laid-and live to see another day to repeat the same. This is what every law abiding citizen aspires for. Eat, get laid, work, live and wait for a natural death. I don’t think that the rich enjoy sex and food better than the poor man, despite their epicurean options. A poor man enjoys what he puts on the table through his hard work than what an overpaid civil servant does at the end of the day. Ditto every tribe. We all aspire for the same.

 

Fourth, this nonsense that we are one is a really tired cliché. No amount of inter-tribal marriages, sex and preaching of love can surmount the amount of hatred that we harbor towards each other. What is there is for us to understand that we need each other. We are inextricably intertwined in this country; there is nowhere we will run to. We have functioned as a country for more than 100 years, first as British citizens and secondly as Kenyans.

 

If we had enough educated guys, we should ask the government what it does with our taxes. We should demand for a more equitable distribution of what we call the national cake.

 

Lastly, we were taught in school that politics is who gets what, where and when. When other communities complain about the national cake, they basically want to see more home- grown entities such as Equity, Family, Tuskys, Naivas, KEMU, MKU springing in their regions owned by themselves. Or their clansmen. It is a primitive expectation but one that can cure and quell the tension that has our mental state arrested.

 

I just hope, however forlornly, that I will ever have my country back. The fear will be gone. And in the blind hatred to discover the next man’s life is as important as mine and he is entitled to life just like me. And his existence has never deterred me from achieving my ends.

25 Reminders that Kenya is not all that…

There are things that keep me awake at night. While we claim that we are the best in East and Central Africa, we are not all that we crack ourselves to be. Here are 31 things that should make you think twice before you yap that we are the best.

  1. Matatu seats. As a tall man, there is hardly a matatu seat that I can fit into. Save for Double M which seem to be deteriorating at an alarming rate.

  Matatu seats are tiny, crumpled, dirty, torn and you cannot have white dress if a woman and hope to get to town without a     stain.  

     Citi Hoppa, Citi Shuttle and Kenya Bus have the worst seats when it comes to their big buses.

 

  1. Sonko is the senator of Nairobi. The Capital City. And can be a governor in 2017. Rachael Shebesh is the Women Representative. There is a saying that we only get the leaders we deserve. I don’t deserve either of them.
  2. Nairobi is dirty. Whether you live in an exclusive estates of Karen, Runda or Lavington or outside the CBD, the amount of litter and dirty should strip Nairobi its city status.
  3. Raila still pulls mammoth crowds, in spite taking us through this for three terms. He probably has my vote, but he needs to change tact. Storms and Tsunami, we are pretty much accustomed to them.
  4. Policy issues are normally debated in funerals and after church services. Roadside declarations that were the norm in the 1980s and 1990s are still an effective way of delivering campaign promises.
  5. Individuals have no qualms playing around with pensioners’ monies. A while ago, even some monies made for a cemetery that was  to decongest Lang’ata disappeared. Whatever happened?
  6. Vera Sidika’s delusions of grandeur are a week long preoccupation in the media and our private lives.
  7. FM radio is a disaster. It is like their sole purpose is to market products, play music and be silly. Nation FM are yet to convince me with their Intelligent Radio stuff. To me, politics and sex are the same thing. Plus, Angela Angwenyi has been around the block for quite some time.
  8. Musicians make money from selling call back tunes and ringtones. Never from selling their music and albums.
  9. We cannot afford Trevor Noah or Radio and Weasel into the country.
  10. Otieno Kajwang.
  11. Duale and Khalalwe.
  12. Few contemporary artists have ever dished out an album. Or live off their music.
  13. Traffic jams. In the evening, it is easier to get to Nakuru (150 KM away) than to Rongai (24KM away.) The worse, if it rains the fares can be the same. What a shame.
  14. Uhuru can still end up with Kalonzo and Ruto with Raila in 2017 and we will vote as ethnically convenient as it is possible. Even when a proven Alfred Mutua or Peter Kenneth is available.
  15. Male politicians think polygamy is cool and can discuss the bill as if we don’t have enough problems with disease and poverty.
  16. People actually insist that the watermelon is a good fruit, yet it tastes like sweetened toddlers pee.
  17. MCAs.
  18. We believe shopping in a mall is a sign of prestige.
  19. People die from illicit brews.
  20. Individuals, especially women think dancing to riddims and misogynist ragga music is cool. And yeah, our dancing can do with some little bit of school.
  21. Gor fans.
  22. Ingwe fans.
  23. We still lynch witches in Kisii.
  24. Most adults only read Kenyan newspapers. Not books that can enrich their lives.
  25. The word investigation from the government means that is the last you are hearing or seeing of that thing that is being investigated.

You can add yours. The things that make remind you that we are still a third world country.

 

 

 

The book and newspaper vendor

WARNING:LONG READ AHEAD.SOME 2800+ WORDS AHEAD.

Two years ago, this month, almost to the date, I was a broke, homeless, unemployed young man in my mid-20s. It was almost a year since I had finished my undergraduate from the University of Nairobi, and seven months since I had graduated.

The Higher Education Loans Board(HELB) that had loaned me money to study was getting impatient with me, and was about to start slapping me with Sh 5,000 monthly, as a fine for not starting to repay the loan. It does so to every graduate. Once you finish college, they give you a year to get yourself a job or start a business and start repaying the loan.

I had gone there (HELB offices) to plead with them to extend the grace period. I met some woman who attended to me. She was in her better side of 30s or early 40s, slightly overweight, certainly from maternal obligations. She attended to me perfunctorily. I explained to her my predicament and she told me,

“That is the new policy, you have to start repaying, even if it is Ksh 1,000, otherwise we will be fining you Ksh 5,000 until you get a job.” She said without even looking my direction. Was I smelling of urine she didn’t want to look at me?

 “Like how much is it from Kisii to here?’ she asked and I told her it is Ksh 900. “Well, go put that money in MPESA and send it instead of coming here with an explanation.” She went back to Facebook.

 I tried pleading again, she dismissed me. I have never felt more rejected by my family, friends and now the government. I contemplated walking out to the glass window and throwing myself from the 13th or is it the 15th floor of Anniversary Towers where HELB harasses individuals into repaying their loans. Death was an attractive option. After all, it had started a revolution in Tunisia. But I decided against it.

I walked down the streets of Nairobi feeling dejected. As a man, I was on my own. I was at that state of unemployment where you have become a bother to the family and friends. You have ‘small small’ debts from 15 of your closer friends and 13 not so close friends. All those debts amounted to about Ksh 23, 000. You know that state where individuals start avoiding you or when you meet your friend or relative, he or she gives you Ksh 200 or 500 just to keep a safe distance from you. You know that state when those who think they care send you job recruitment adverts in the newspaper and links as well without sending Ksh 100 needed for the cyber and photocopying the documents.

You know that state where your college wardrobe is aging and your shoes alone can tell a long story. When your shirt collar is either faded or torn, mostly both. That state when you have lost weight from not eating well or playing the physically exhausting game of dodging your landlord. That state where you can’t even enjoy a beer because the last time you had a proper meal was eleven days ago. That state you are so vulnerable that even working for a researching firm that pays you Ksh 200 a day is welcome, but you stay in Rongai, so it only gets to cover only the fare, you give up in the third day without giving your employer any notice. You have been reduced to small errands by family and friends so that you can keep the change.

 You know that state when you start asking whether your degree is worthwhile. You were told that BA is a bad degree to pursue and you now regretting never listening to their advice. Now those who were adamant that you had made the wrong move are having fits of schadenfreude and insensitively giving you the ‘I told you so’ talk. Your pride cannot allow you to take up some jobs like construction or sales. Because your former college mates who took up sales abandoned the job after receiving their first retainer that they used to cover some debts. Times were hard. Men. Self doubt and self-loathe sets in.

 As I walked down the streets, my mind was totally blank. A vehicle would have run over me, and I would have been thankful. Sometimes, death can save one a lot of the world’s miseries. Sometimes you cannot figure out why you exist. You are broke and someone wants to buy you up to ten beers and talk to you about how he gets laid every day and how much he spends on women. Yet broke men don’t get laid as often, unless they have an understanding girlfriend.

 Do you really know when you are broke and some beautiful woman you fancy want to be taken out. You are broke and your siblings want some Sh 300 and you cannot afford. You are broke and your mum or dad is sick and you cannot afford to pay the hospital bill and you have to bank on a relative or a benevolent friend to save you.

If you have never been employed in your life, all this might sound untrue or exaggerated but it happens. I know friends who are not yet employed, three years since we left campus. On top of their HELB loan and interest, they are being fined Ksh 5,000 monthly for two years now and counting. No government or student body can intervene. I mean, there are no jobs and starting a business is not as easy as motivational speakers make it sound. There are young men and women going through hell as they await a job.

The April preceding that June, I had gone to South Sudan to try stuff with a South Sudan friend, but it never worked. I ended up drinking too much Tusker and behaving recklessly in Juba, I had to come back. But, things were not working out and Nairobi was not my home. Now, I had to find a way out of my misery. Crime was not an option. While my business acumen is above average, raising capital was not going to be easy. No one can trust an honest youth without any security.

That weekend, I had gone to visit my boy Plato and I discovered he was fairing just as bad. He only had magazines and hope to himself. We talked ourselves into the night. The following day, another South Sudanese friend asked me if I could go back to South Sudan and try my hand in some social work in the State of Northern Barl-el-Ghazal. That is closer to Chad and Central African Republic. I asked Plato if we should give it a shot. We really did not have a choice but venture out of the country.

Before we left, with the few dollars we had been given for our shopping, we did some small time buying a few shirts and pairs of shoes down at Kirinyaga Road. But of the possessions we bought, the best were two Intelligent Life magazines for Ksh 50.

When The Economist first advertised that they will be publishing a lifestyle magazine quarterly six or so years ago, I was enthralled. That is because The Economist, despite their patronizing, if racist tone, is simply the best newsmagazine in the world. Their inherently sarcastic and satirical way of writing, peppered with endless British wit is what I like the most. It is not easy to write business and economic issues laced with humour, wit and judgment that is often wrong. Their maiden Intelligent Life magazine was something else, but it was expensive, retailing at more than Ksh 800, it was beyond my reach.

We went to South Sudan with the two old magazines from 2010. And a few books, definitely bought from the streets of Nairobi. Life was bad. By the way, we travelled the more than 800KM kilometres from Juba to Awiel by road, spending a night at Rumbek, the central most place in Africa. Ask anyone who have been to South Sudan to explain to you how dangerous Rumbek is?

That night we slept outside the Land Cruiser we were traveling in. We were in the company of some Ugandans who simply could not shut up the whole 27 hours the journey lasted. We got to Aweil two days later, with raptured intestines and a bodies aching from a vehicle traveling on a rough road at a speed of 120KM/h. When people say that they have feel like shit and they have not traveled more than 800 kilometres on a rough road, I wonder what they are talking about.

We did arrive in Aweil and had to take some jalopy of a vehicle that looked like it had it had ferried soldiers during the First World War, to the village we were going to stay, that was another 20 or so Kilometres. We still had to take motorbikes to the actual village that was going to be our home for six months. I felt if we moved an inch we would be in Cameroon.

It was like being in Mars for me. The vegetation was strange. It was a coastal environment in a desert setting. The journey by road had lasted cumulatively 47 hours. You will think we were the only Kenyans there but shock on us, we discovered there were thousands of Kenyans, who like us, had been rejected by the country, trying to make sense of life by working and doing business for the South Sudanese people. There were young and old Kenyans. There were professionals. There were prostitutes. There were those into jua kali. Medical quacks. Name it. All in all, they were trying to make an honesty living using their bodies and skills.

Daily, we dealt with primary school teachers and the NGO types. Now primary school teachers are a handful lot and the most small-minded persons you will have to deal with in the world. Not all of them, of course. Some of my primary school teachers have had an everlasting impact on me, more than a decade later. But the ones we had to deal with were a painful reminder of what it is like to deal with unthinking adults. Like adult politicians who are sycophants. Anyway.

Life in Sudan was tough and shitty to say the least. There were no clouds and the sun hung lower than anywhere else on earth. At around two, you could see the heat waves rising from the ground with violent vengeance. No work would be done in the afternoon, other than sleep under a shade and hope a desert scorpion doesn’t sting you. God, how do guys even live in such conditions?

Now what made our lives worthwhile were the books and the magazines we carried. They changed our lives forever. While an avid reader from when I was young, living in isolation and harsher environmental conditions made me a better appreciator and critic of the written word. It is like giving a prisoner a book or his favourite magazine.

I read Tom Clancy. No one can spin a bigger yarn on International Relations and succeed like Clancy. I reread Nelson DeMille, my favourite writer at the moment and was terrifically enchanted by his dry wit and his main character in his books, John Corey, who is every bit DeMille’s alter ego.

But the two magazines had an everlasting impact on us. Intelligent Life is easily the best elitist and esoteric magazine in the world. It is the peak of excellent journalism. When you read the Intelligent Life, you become intelligent, literally. Their way of writing, topic selection, the way they select their writers is unparalleled.

One feature that changed our lives was a feature by the veteran Guardian writer, Ian Jack. The feature was titled ‘Five Boys’. More than 6000-word stories, about a picture that was taken in the 1930s and went on define the issue of class in Britain for more than seven decades. In the picture were five boys, two from a seemingly rich background about to attend a cricket match between Eton College and Harrow School (the two most exclusive and elitist school in England), and other three from a seemingly poor background.

The two boys from a wealth background were well-dressed in perfect English standards and were regarded as the toffs. There was a snootiness to their mannerisms and a contemptuous disregard towards the other three boys who looked every bit poor with oversized clothes. The three were called the toughs. The poor boys looked at the other two with boyish admiration but knew their place in society. The three hapless ones used to help individuals with luggage or showing direction and other small jobs during such matches.

Now Ian Jack traced the life of the boys and how it panned out. Of the two toffs from the wealthy background, one died of diphtheria in India a few weeks later after the picture was taken. The other developed mental problems and died sometime in 80s. The three from the poor background lived to old age and are all alive (as of 2010) somewhere in England. From that iconic photo, a feature so powerful, it will make you cry emerged. We read the story. And reread it. And read it some more. And for six months, we enjoyed the magazines, no end.

And when we got back, inspired by the story, my boy Plato, a gifted writer of enormous proportions wrote two polemic features that earned him an instant job in one of the leading media house country. Recently, while writing a piece on religion in Kenya, I discovered one such piece was on top Google searches in the country.

That brings me, to the point of this looooong blog:Newspaper and book vendors. The man who sold us the magazines was the old and jaded vendor, who could only sell his wares in the outskirts of the CBD. Probably, he has never read the magazine and will not know that the literally merit of the magazines he sold us is otherworldly in a good way. He just receives the magazines, old and worn out and displays them in the street, where they absorb the dust like a piece of cotton takes in stains. Individuals who sell books, magazines, newspapers and the likes may be like any other person in the demand and supply chain, but they are special.

 

They facilitate civilization. You may think Kenyans don’t read, but you are grossly mistaken. The fact that book vendors are constantly in business, means there is a demand for the books. And sometimes, while you think only you knows the value of a good novel, you always shocked when you discover somebody else who knows the value of a good book or magazine. I once saw someone tweet about Nelson DeMille and my heart skipped a bit.

 In deed when you are a book reader and you found someone who has similar tastes, is like discovering a lover. You discover they love the anecdotes, the sentence structures and even how various authors turn a phrase in the same way that you like them. Personally, I never understand how an adult can go about his or her life without reading two books a month at the very least.

 Yet book vendors don’t know the exact amount of joy they give us daily. Like when you buy an odd book that you are sure you are the only one who owns it in the country. Such book is so rare you can steal quotes and lines and no one will ever accuse you of plagiarism. And buying a good book from the street goes with serendipity and spontaneity. It is pure luck and a question of being at the right place, at the right time.

Book vendors are mostly men. Mostly youthful men and older men. Middle-aged men are not so common. Partly, it has to do with the fact that the youths are the unemployed ones who are trying to make some meaningful living. And older men it seems have been in the streets forever or are the class of Kenyans who go through life without ever getting a white-collar job so they end up in the street selling knowledge and wisdom to us. They ply their trade in the crowded and harsh streets of Nairobi. They have their constant fans. They have random people who stop by. Some read and can occasionally recommend a good book to you.

Rains are a big inconvenience but they have learned to deal with them.

I pray that God blesses the newspaper and book vendors in the street. Not just because they are part of the chain that ensures I keep my job in the newspaper industry. But most importantly they are the biggest conveyor belt of civilization. What they do is more important than what radio presenters and TV presenters do in the country. And is it just me, or part of the job description of a radio presenter in Kenya is to be profoundly nonsensical. They definitely get paid more than writers, but anyway.

We all must appreciate vendors. Books in bookshops are too expensive, for life. Not many of us can afford. And vendors by selling second-hand books to us ensure that knowledge is shared. And knowledge is what will liberate the people from the Duales and the Kajwangs of this Kenya.

The book and newspaper vendor

WARNING: LONG BLOG AHEAD, SOME 28OO WORDS.

Two years ago, this month, almost to the date, I was a broke, homeless, unemployed young man in my mid-20s. It was almost a year since I had finished my undergraduate from the University of Nairobi, and seven months since I had graduated.

The Higher Education Loans Board(HELB) that had loaned me money to study was getting impatient with me, and was about to start slapping me with Sh 5,000 monthly, as a fine for not starting to repay the loan. It does so to every graduate. Once you finish college, they give you a year to get yourself a job or start a business and start repaying the loan.

I had gone there (HELB offices) to plead with them to extend the grace period. I met some woman who attended to me. She was in her better side of 30s or early 40s, slightly overweight, certainly from maternal obligations. She attended to me perfunctorily. I explained to her my predicament and she told me,

“That is the new policy, you have to start repaying, even if it is Ksh 1,000, otherwise we will be fining you Ksh 5,000 until you get a job.” She said without even looking my direction. Was I smelling of urine she didn’t want to look at me?

 “Like how much is it from Kisii to here?’ she asked and I told her it is Ksh 900. “Well, go put that money in MPESA and send it instead of coming here with an explanation.” She went back to Facebook.

 I tried pleading again, she dismissed me. I have never felt more rejected by my family, friends and now the government. I contemplated walking out to the glass window and throwing myself from the 13th or is it the 15th floor of Anniversary Towers where HELB harasses individuals into repaying their loans. Death was an attractive option. After all, it had started a revolution in Tunisia. But I decided against it.

I walked down the streets of Nairobi feeling dejected. As a man, I was on my own. I was at that state of unemployment where you have become a bother to the family and friends. You have ‘small small’ debts from 15 of your closer friends and 13 not so close friends. All those debts amounted to about Ksh 23, 000. You know that state where individuals start avoiding you or when you meet your friend or relative, he or she gives you Ksh 200 or 500 just to keep a safe distance from you. You know that state when those who think they care send you job recruitment adverts in the newspaper and links as well without sending Ksh 100 needed for the cyber and photocopying the documents.

You know that state where your college wardrobe is aging and your shoes alone can tell a long story. When your shirt collar is either faded or torn, mostly both. That state when you have lost weight from not eating well or playing the physically exhausting game of dodging your landlord. That state where you can’t even enjoy a beer because the last time you had a proper meal was eleven days ago. That state you are so vulnerable that even working for a researching firm that pays you Ksh 200 a day is welcome, but you stay in Rongai, so it only gets to cover only the fare, you give up in the third day without giving your employer any notice. You have been reduced to small errands by family and friends so that you can keep the change.

 You know that state when you start asking whether your degree is worthwhile. You were told that BA is a bad degree to pursue and you now regretting never listening to their advice. Now those who were adamant that you had made the wrong move are having fits of schadenfreude and insensitively giving you the ‘I told you so’ talk. Your pride cannot allow you to take up some jobs like construction or sales. Because your former college mates who took up sales abandoned the job after receiving their first retainer that they used to cover some debts. Times were hard. Men. Self doubt and self-loathe sets in.

 As I walked down the streets, my mind was totally blank. A vehicle would have run over me, and I would have been thankful. Sometimes, death can save one a lot of the world’s miseries. Sometimes you cannot figure out why you exist. You are broke and someone wants to buy you up to ten beers and talk to you about how he gets laid every day and how much he spends on women. Yet broke men don’t get laid as often, unless they have an understanding girlfriend.

 Do you really know when you are broke and some beautiful woman you fancy want to be taken out. You are broke and your siblings want some Sh 300 and you cannot afford. You are broke and your mum or dad is sick and you cannot afford to pay the hospital bill and you have to bank on a relative or a benevolent friend to save you.

If you have never been employed in your life, all this might sound untrue or exaggerated but it happens. I know friends who are not yet employed, three years since we left campus. On top of their HELB loan and interest, they are being fined Ksh 5,000 monthly for two years now and counting. No government or student body can intervene. I mean, there are no jobs and starting a business is not as easy as motivational speakers make it sound. There are young men and women going through hell as they await a job.

The April preceding that June, I had gone to South Sudan to try stuff with a South Sudan friend, but it never worked. I ended up drinking too much Tusker and behaving recklessly in Juba, I had to come back. But, things were not working out and Nairobi was not my home. Now, I had to find a way out of my misery. Crime was not an option. While my business acumen is above average, raising capital was not going to be easy. No one can trust an honest youth without any security.

That weekend, I had gone to visit my boy Plato and I discovered he was fairing just as bad. He only had magazines and hope to himself. We talked ourselves into the night. The following day, another South Sudanese friend asked me if I could go back to South Sudan and try my hand in some social work in the State of Northern Barl-el-Ghazal. That is closer to Chad and Central African Republic. I asked Plato if we should give it a shot. We really did not have a choice but venture out of the country.

Before we left, with the few dollars we had been given for our shopping, we did some small time buying a few shirts and pairs of shoes down at Kirinyaga Road. But of the possessions we bought, the best were two Intelligent Life magazines for Ksh 50.

When The Economist first advertised that they will be publishing a lifestyle magazine quarterly six or so years ago, I was enthralled. That is because The Economist, despite their patronizing, if racist tone, is simply the best newsmagazine in the world. Their inherently sarcastic and satirical way of writing, peppered with endless British wit is what I like the most. It is not easy to write business and economic issues laced with humour, wit and judgment that is often wrong. Their maiden Intelligent Life magazine was something else, but it was expensive, retailing at more than Ksh 800, it was beyond my reach.

We went to South Sudan with the two old magazines from 2010. And a few books, definitely bought from the streets of Nairobi. Life was bad. By the way, we travelled the more than 800KM kilometres from Juba to Awiel by road, spending a night at Rumbek, the central most place in Africa. Ask anyone who have been to South Sudan to explain to you how dangerous Rumbek is?

That night we slept outside the Land Cruiser we were traveling in. We were in the company of some Ugandans who simply could not shut up the whole 27 hours the journey lasted. We got to Aweil two days later, with raptured intestines and a bodies aching from a vehicle traveling on a rough road at a speed of 120KM/h. When people say that they have feel like shit and they have not traveled more than 800 kilometres on a rough road, I wonder what they are talking about.

We did arrive in Aweil and had to take some jalopy of a vehicle that looked like it had it had ferried soldiers during the First World War, to the village we were going to stay, that was another 20 or so Kilometres. We still had to take motorbikes to the actual village that was going to be our home for six months. I felt if we moved an inch we would be in Cameroon.

It was like being in Mars for me. The vegetation was strange. It was a coastal environment in a desert setting. The journey by road had lasted cumulatively 47 hours. You will think we were the only Kenyans there but shock on us, we discovered there were thousands of Kenyans, who like us, had been rejected by the country, trying to make sense of life by working and doing business for the South Sudanese people. There were young and old Kenyans. There were professionals. There were prostitutes. There were those into jua kali. Medical quacks. Name it. All in all, they were trying to make an honesty living using their bodies and skills.

Daily, we dealt with primary school teachers and the NGO types. Now primary school teachers are a handful lot and the most small-minded persons you will have to deal with in the world. Not all of them, of course. Some of my primary school teachers have had an everlasting impact on me, more than a decade later. But the ones we had to deal with were a painful reminder of what it is like to deal with unthinking adults. Like adult politicians who are sycophants. Anyway.

Life in Sudan was tough and shitty to say the least. There were no clouds and the sun hung lower than anywhere else on earth. At around two, you could see the heat waves rising from the ground with violent vengeance. No work would be done in the afternoon, other than sleep under a shade and hope a desert scorpion doesn’t sting you. God, how do guys even live in such conditions?

Now what made our lives worthwhile were the books and the magazines we carried. They changed our lives forever. While an avid reader from when I was young, living in isolation and harsher environmental conditions made me a better appreciator and critic of the written word. It is like giving a prisoner a book or his favourite magazine.

I read Tom Clancy. No one can spin a bigger yarn on International Relations and succeed like Clancy. I reread Nelson DeMille, my favourite writer at the moment and was terrifically enchanted by his dry wit and his main character in his books, John Corey, who is every bit DeMille’s alter ego.

But the two magazines had an everlasting impact on us. Intelligent Life is easily the best elitist and esoteric magazine in the world. It is the peak of excellent journalism. When you read the Intelligent Life, you become intelligent, literally. Their way of writing, topic selection, the way they select their writers is unparalleled.

One feature that changed our lives was a feature by the veteran Guardian writer, Ian Jack. The feature was titled ‘Five Boys’. More than 6000-word stories, about a picture that was taken in the 1930s and went on define the issue of class in Britain for more than seven decades. In the picture were five boys, two from a seemingly rich background about to attend a cricket match between Eton College and Harrow School (the two most exclusive and elitist school in England), and other three from a seemingly poor background.

The two boys from a wealth background were well-dressed in perfect English standards and were regarded as the toffs. There was a snootiness to their mannerisms and a contemptuous disregard towards the other three boys who looked every bit poor with oversized clothes. The three were called the toughs. The poor boys looked at the other two with boyish admiration but knew their place in society. The three hapless ones used to help individuals with luggage or showing direction and other small jobs during such matches.

Now Ian Jack traced the life of the boys and how it panned out. Of the two toffs from the wealthy background, one died of diphtheria in India a few weeks later after the picture was taken. The other developed mental problems and died sometime in 80s. The three from the poor background lived to old age and are all alive (as of 2010) somewhere in England. From that iconic photo, a feature so powerful, it will make you cry emerged. We read the story. And reread it. And read it some more. And for six months, we enjoyed the magazines, no end.

And when we got back, inspired by the story, my boy Plato, a gifted writer of enormous proportions wrote two polemic features that earned him an instant job in one of the leading media house country. Recently, while writing a piece on religion in Kenya, I discovered one such piece was on top Google searches in the country.

That brings me, to the point of this looooong blog:Newspaper and book vendors. The man who sold us the magazines was the old and jaded vendor, who could only sell his wares in the outskirts of the CBD. Probably, he has never read the magazine and will not know that the literally merit of the magazines he sold us is otherworldly in a good way. He just receives the magazines, old and worn out and displays them in the street, where they absorb the dust like a piece of cotton takes in stains. Individuals who sell books, magazines, newspapers and the likes may be like any other person in the demand and supply chain, but they are special.

 

They facilitate civilization. You may think Kenyans don’t read, but you are grossly mistaken. The fact that book vendors are constantly in business, means there is a demand for the books. And sometimes, while you think only you knows the value of a good novel, you always shocked when you discover somebody else who knows the value of a good book or magazine. I once saw someone tweet about Nelson DeMille and my heart skipped a bit.

 In deed when you are a book reader and you found someone who has similar tastes, is like discovering a lover. You discover they love the anecdotes, the sentence structures and even how various authors turn a phrase in the same way that you like them. Personally, I never understand how an adult can go about his or her life without reading two books a month at the very least.

 Yet book vendors don’t know the exact amount of joy they give us daily. Like when you buy an odd book that you are sure you are the only one who owns it in the country. Such book is so rare you can steal quotes and lines and no one will ever accuse you of plagiarism. And buying a good book from the street goes with serendipity and spontaneity. It is pure luck and a question of being at the right place, at the right time.

Book vendors are mostly men. Mostly youthful men and older men. Middle-aged men are not so common. Partly, it has to do with the fact that the youths are the unemployed ones who are trying to make some meaningful living. And older men it seems have been in the streets forever or are the class of Kenyans who go through life without ever getting a white-collar job so they end up in the street selling knowledge and wisdom to us. They ply their trade in the crowded and harsh streets of Nairobi. They have their constant fans. They have random people who stop by. Some read and can occasionally recommend a good book to you.

Rains are a big inconvenience but they have learned to deal with them.

I pray that God blesses the newspaper and book vendors in the street. Not just because they are part of the chain that ensures I keep my job in the newspaper industry. But most importantly they are the biggest conveyor belt of civilization. What they do is more important than what radio presenters and TV presenters do in the country. And is it just me, or part of the job description of a radio presenter in Kenya is to be profoundly nonsensical. They definitely get paid more than writers, but anyway.

We all must appreciate vendors. Books in bookshops are too expensive, for life. Not many of us can afford. And vendors by selling second-hand books to us ensure that knowledge is shared. And knowledge is what will liberate the people from the Duales and the Kajwangs of this Kenya.

The book and newspaper vendor

WARNING:LONG BLOG AHEAD, SOME 28OO WORDS.

Two years ago, this month, almost to the date, I was a broke, homeless, unemployed young man in my mid-20s. It was almost a year since I had finished my undergraduate from the University of Nairobi, and seven months since I had graduated.

 

The Higher Education Loans Board(HELB) that had loaned me money to study was getting impatient with me, and was about to start slapping me with Ksh 5,000 monthly, as a fine for not starting to repay the loan. It does so to every graduate. Once you finish college, they give you a year to get yourself a job or start a business and start repaying the loan.

 

I had gone there (HELB offices) to plead with them to extend the grace period. I met some woman who attended to me. She was in her better side of 30s or early 40s, slightly overweight, certainly from maternal obligations. She attended to me perfunctorily. I explained to her my predicament and she told me,

 

“That is the new policy, you have to start repaying, even if it is Ksh 1,000, otherwise we will be fining you Ksh 5,000 until you get a job.” She said without even looking my direction. Was I smelling of urine she didn’t want to look at me?

 

“Like how much is it from Kisii to here?’ she asked and I told her it is Ksh 900. “Well, go put that money in MPESA and send it instead of coming here with an explanation.” She went back to Facebook.

 

I tried pleading again, she dismissed me. I have never felt more rejected by my family, friends and now the government. I contemplated walking out to the glass window and throwing myself from the 13th or is it the 15th floor of Anniversary Towers where HELB harasses individuals into repaying their loans. Death was an attractive option. After all, it had started a revolution in Tunisia. But I decided against it.

 

I walked down the streets of Nairobi feeling dejected. As a man, I was on my own. I was at that state of unemployment where you have become a bother to the family and friends. You have ‘small small’ debts from 15 of your closer friends and 13 not so close friends. All those debts amounted to about Ksh 23, 000. You know that state where individuals start avoiding you or when you meet your friend or relative, he or she gives you Ksh 200 or 500 just to keep a safe distance from you. You know that state when those who think they care send you job recruitment adverts in the newspaper and links as well without sending Ksh 100 needed for the cyber and photocopying the documents.

 

You know that state where your college wardrobe is aging and your shoes alone can tell a long story. When your shirt collar is either faded or torn, mostly both. That state when you have lost weight from not eating well or playing the physically exhausting game of dodging your landlord. That state where you can’t even enjoy a beer because the last time you had a proper meal was eleven days ago. That state you are so vulnerable that even working for a researching firm that pays you Ksh 200 a day is welcome, but you stay in Rongai, so it only gets to cover only the fare, you give up in the third day without giving your employer any notice. You have been reduced to small errands by family and friends so that you can keep the change.

 

You know that state when you start asking whether your degree is worthwhile. You were told that BA is a bad degree to pursue and you now regretting never listening to their advice. Now those who were adamant that you had made the wrong move are having fits of schadenfreude and insensitively giving you the ‘I told you so’ talk. Your pride cannot allow you to take up some jobs like construction or sales. Because your former college mates who took up sales abandoned the job after receiving their first retainer that they used to cover some debts. Times were hard. Men. Self doubt and self-loathe sets in.

 

As I walked down the streets, my mind was totally blank. A vehicle would have run over me, and I would have been thankful. Sometimes, death can save one a lot of the world’s miseries. Sometimes you cannot figure out why you exist. You are broke and someone wants to buy you up to ten beers and talk to you about how he gets laid every day and how much he spends on women. Yet broke men don’t get laid as often, unless they have an understanding girlfriend.

 

Do you really know when you are broke and some beautiful woman you fancy want to be taken out. You are broke and your siblings want some Sh 300 and you cannot afford. You are broke and your mum or dad is sick and you cannot afford to pay the hospital bill and you have to bank on a relative or a benevolent friend to save you.

 

If you have never been employed in your life, all this might sound untrue or exaggerated but it happens. I know friends who are not yet employed, three years since we left campus. On top of their HELB loan and interest, they are being fined Ksh 5,000 monthly for two years now and counting. No government or student body can intervene. I mean, there are no jobs and starting a business is not as easy as motivational speakers make it sound. There are young men and women going through hell as they await a job.

 

The April preceding that June, I had gone to South Sudan to try stuff with a South Sudan friend, but it never worked. I ended up drinking too much Tusker and behaving recklessly in Juba, I had to come back. But, things were not working out and Nairobi was not my home. Now, I had to find a way out of my misery. Crime was not an option. While my business acumen is above average, raising capital was not going to be easy. No one can trust an honest youth without any security.

 

That weekend, I had gone to visit my boy Plato and I discovered he was fairing just as bad. He only had magazines and hope to himself. We talked ourselves into the night. The following day, another South Sudanese friend asked me if I could go back to South Sudan and try my hand in some social work in the State of Northern Barl-el-Ghazal. That is closer to Chad and Central African Republic. I asked Plato if we should give it a shot. We really did not have a choice but venture out of the country.

 

Before we left, with the few dollars we had been given for our shopping, we did some small time buying a few shirts and pairs of shoes down at Kirinyaga Road. But of the possessions we bought, the best were two Intelligent Life magazines for Ksh 50.

 

When The Economist first advertised that they will be publishing a lifestyle magazine quarterly six or so years ago, I was enthralled. That is because The Economist, despite their patronizing, if racist tone, is simply the best newsmagazine in the world. Their inherently sarcastic and satirical way of writing, peppered with endless British wit is what I like the most. It is not easy to write business and economic issues laced with humour, wit and judgment that is often wrong. Their maiden Intelligent Life magazine was something else, but it was expensive, retailing at more than Ksh 800, it was beyond my reach.

We went to South Sudan with the two old magazines from 2010. And a few books, definitely bought from the streets of Nairobi. Life was bad. By the way, we travelled the more than 800KM kilometres from Juba to Awiel by road, spending a night at Rumbek, the central most place in Africa. Ask anyone who have been to South Sudan to explain to you how dangerous Rumbek is?

 

That night we slept outside the Land Cruiser we were traveling in. We were in the company of some Ugandans who simply could not shut up the whole 27 hours the journey lasted. We got to Aweil two days later, with raptured intestines and a bodies aching from a vehicle traveling on a rough road at a speed of 120KM/h. When people say that they have feel like shit and they have not traveled more than 800 kilometres on a rough road, I wonder what they are talking about.

 

We did arrive in Aweil and had to take some jalopy of a vehicle that looked like it had it had ferried soldiers during the First World War, to the village we were going to stay, that was another 20 or so Kilometres. We still had to take motorbikes to the actual village that was going to be our home for six months. I felt if we moved an inch we would be in Cameroon.

 

It was like being in Mars for me. The vegetation was strange. It was a coastal environment in a desert setting. The journey by road had lasted cumulatively 47 hours. You will think we were the only Kenyans there but shock on us, we discovered there were thousands of Kenyans, who like us, had been rejected by the country, trying to make sense of life by working and doing business for the South Sudanese people. There were young and old Kenyans. There were professionals. There were prostitutes. There were those into jua kali. Medical quacks. Name it. All in all, they were trying to make an honesty living using their bodies and skills.

 

Daily, we dealt with primary school teachers and the NGO types. Now primary school teachers are a handful lot and the most small-minded persons you will have to deal with in the world. Not all of them, of course. Some of my primary school teachers have had an everlasting impact on me, more than a decade later. But the ones we had to deal with were a painful reminder of what it is like to deal with unthinking adults. Like adult politicians who are sycophants. Anyway.

 

Life in Sudan was tough and shitty to say the least. There were no clouds and the sun hung lower than anywhere else on earth. At around two, you could see the heat waves rising from the ground with violent vengeance. No work would be done in the afternoon, other than sleep under a shade and hope a desert scorpion doesn’t sting you. God, how do guys even live in such conditions?

 

Now what made our lives worthwhile were the books and the magazines we carried. They changed our lives forever. While an avid reader from when I was young, living in isolation and harsher environmental conditions made me a better appreciator and critic of the written word. It is like giving a prisoner a book or his favourite magazine.

 

I read Tom Clancy. No one can spin a bigger yarn on International Relations and succeed like Clancy. I reread Nelson DeMille, my favourite writer at the moment and was terrifically enchanted by his dry wit and his main character in his books, John Corey, who is every bit DeMille’s alter ego.

 

But the two magazines had an everlasting impact on us. Intelligent Life is easily the best elitist and esoteric magazine in the world. It is the peak of excellent journalism. When you read the Intelligent Life, you become intelligent, literally. Their way of writing, topic selection, the way they select their writers is unparalleled.

 

One feature that changed our lives was a feature by the veteran Guardian writer, Ian Jack. The feature was titled ‘Five Boys’. More than 6000-word stories, about a picture that was taken in the 1930s and went on define the issue of class in Britain for more than seven decades. In the picture were five boys, two from a seemingly rich background about to attend a cricket match between Eton College and Harrow School (the two most exclusive and elitist school in England), and other three from a seemingly poor background.

 

The two boys from a wealth background were well-dressed in perfect English standards and were regarded as the toffs. There was a snootiness to their mannerisms and a contemptuous disregard towards the other three boys who looked every bit poor with oversized clothes. The three were called the toughs. The poor boys looked at the other two with boyish admiration but knew their place in society. The three hapless ones used to help individuals with luggage or showing direction and other small jobs during such matches.

 

Now Ian Jack traced the life of the boys and how it panned out. Of the two toffs from the wealthy background, one died of diphtheria in India a few weeks later after the picture was taken. The other developed mental problems and died sometime in 80s. The three from the poor background lived to old age and are all alive (as of 2010) somewhere in England. From that iconic photo, a feature so powerful, it will make you cry emerged. We read the story. And reread it. And read it some more. And for six months, we enjoyed the magazines, no end.

 

And when we got back, inspired by the story, my boy Plato, a gifted writer of enormous proportions wrote two polemic features that earned him an instant job in one of the leading media house country. Recently, while writing a piece on religion in Kenya, I discovered one such piece was on top Google searches in the country.

 

That brings me, to the point of this looooong blog:Newspaper and book vendors. The man who sold us the magazines was the old and jaded vendor, who could only sell his wares in the outskirts of the CBD. Probably, he has never read the magazine and will not know that the literally merit of the magazines he sold us is otherworldly in a good way. He just receives the magazines, old and worn out and displays them in the street, where they absorb the dust like a piece of cotton takes in stains. Individuals who sell books, magazines, newspapers and the likes may be like any other person in the demand and supply chain, but they are special.

 

They facilitate civilization. You may think Kenyans don’t read, but you are grossly mistaken. The fact that book vendors are constantly in business, means there is a demand for the books. And sometimes, while you think only you knows the value of a good novel, you always shocked when you discover somebody else who knows the value of a good book or magazine. I once saw someone tweet about Nelson DeMille and my heart skipped a bit.

 

In deed when you are a book reader and you found someone who has similar tastes, is like discovering a lover. You discover they love the anecdotes, the sentence structures and even how various authors turn a phrase in the same way that you like them. Personally, I never understand how an adult can go about his or her life without reading two books a month at the very least.

 

Yet book vendors don’t know the exact amount of joy they give us daily. Like when you buy an odd book that you are sure you are the only one who owns it in the country. Such book is so rare you can steal quotes and lines and no one will ever accuse you of plagiarism. And buying a good book from the street goes with serendipity and spontaneity. It is pure luck and a question of being at the right place, at the right time.

 

Book vendors are mostly men. Mostly youthful men and older men. Middle-aged men are not so common. Partly, it has to do with the fact that the youths are the unemployed ones who are trying to make some meaningful living. And older men it seems have been in the streets forever or are the class of Kenyans who go through life without ever getting a white-collar job so they end up in the street selling knowledge and wisdom to us. They ply their trade in the crowded and harsh streets of Nairobi. They have their constant fans. They have random people who stop by. Some read and can occasionally recommend a good book to you.

 

Rains are a big inconvenience but they have learned to deal with them.

 

I pray that God blesses the newspaper and book vendors in the street. Not just because they are part of the chain that ensures I keep my job in the newspaper industry. But most importantly they are the biggest conveyor belt of civilization. What they do is more important than what radio presenters and TV presenters do in the country. And is it just me, or part of the job description of a radio presenter in Kenya is to be profoundly nonsensical. They definitely get paid more than writers, but anyway.

 

We all must appreciate vendors. Books in bookshops are too expensive, for life. Not many of us can afford. And vendors by selling second-hand books to us ensure that knowledge is shared. And knowledge is what will liberate the people from the Duales and the Kajwangs of this Kenya.