The year is 2008. We are in our first year in Campus. I go to check on my boy Flex at Prefabs, in the University of Nairobi. Reason: to get some music and the video of Basket Mouth that widely circulating at the time.
Prefabs are wooden hostels at the University of Nairobi where future engineers, environmentalist, doctors and all those who scored As and strong A-s with an appetite for scientific courses are housed. Also, those in Arts who arrived late.
There is something contemptuous about the prefabs.The reasons they were not offered to female students. I can bet in their first years, engineers and all those housed in the prefabs never got laid. No woman would dare step in there. What does it benefit you to work so hard in high school and go to university to study one of the courses that every high school student dreams about only for you to be consigned to a wooden structures with toilets on the far end of the dormitory, not any different from a high school in Kitale. Meanwhile, those of us who went for BA ?(Bachelor of Anything), the lowliest of all in terms of points, were admitted into the imposing Hall 5, a clean and permanent structure.
Prefabs-which means prefabricated houses- I gather were built in 1987 or thereabouts when the intake to the university was doubled. They were supposed to be temporary structures as a more lasting solution was being sought. But I read a quote in a Political Science book at the JKML library that said, “there is nothing like a temporary structure put up or a temporary law to contain a short term problem. Both never go away.” Some cheeky students had put an hyphen at the end of the quote and indicated –PREFABS.
Prefabs is where life took place, despite the filthy nature and the pervading theft. Those guys fixed their own cooking coils, while we had to take our coils to Club 36 (a small informal market where we used to buy sukuma wiki and Kiuk students minji) to be fixed. Prefab guys were toughies. The best stone throwers in the event of a black out. Arts guys were a little soft. Contrary to the popular opinion, it is not the Arts guys who lead strikes in Universities. It is the engineers and the science-courses’ students.
Anyway, my boy Flex used to live in Prefab 10, room no.23. He was an Arts student staying with an ex-Mangu boy who studied Actuarial Science. The other roommate called Gilbert studied some course in Chiromo, I forget. But I will not be surprised should he become the head of KEMRI one day, you know humble beginnings like prefabs produce the best brains in the country.
Photo: Courtesy: Look at how ugly the prefabs look.
Back in 2008, Nollywood had hit big in Kenya with their films. Nkem Owoh-he of Osuofia in London hit- was our favourite, beloved for his method acting, so palpably real. I believe Citizen had started running Nollywood films half the day. We had discovered that Nigerians were laughably poor at action movies. Their guns let out the funniest sounds. It was insulting watching a Nigeria action movie. Even house-helps felt cheated. Another thing that we were yet to discover was the comedic side of Nigerians.
Enter Basket Mouth. That fateful night I went to prefabs, everyone was cracking that famous ‘in this world, there are two-things involved’. It was the most original thought-process joke from Africa I have ever listened to. We borrowed the comedy on flash disks-Smartphones were not yet here. In fact, having a 4GB flash was the equivalent of an iPhone today. Never mind the viruses. We laughed. And laughed. And we begun to think that he was the only export. A one-hit-wonder. But no sooner we finished wiping the tears off our eyes, than Klint The Drunk appeared from the left side of the stage.
He had an original act: Acting like an inveterate drunk who tells uncomfortable jokes. We laughed. His joke on how reggae music is created became a classic of our times. As big a joke as any told in our lifetime. We gave it to the Nigerians. If you found their movies bland-personally I rarely watched a movie without Genevieve Nnaji and Ramsey Noah- their comedy was uplifting, told African humour and African stories. It went to show the universal appeal of humour. Back then, I thought Klint was actually a drunk person and I kept wondering how he even memorises his jokes.
One night, not too long ago, I was without sleep and was flipping through the channels and I came across a movie on Citizen that seemed to have starred all the popular male actors. The movie was premised on good-for-nothing men who spend all their time drinking. One of the men was henpecked and used to be beaten and even chased by the wife and it was upon Klint to call them out, in his permanently drunk state. I respected his act not just the great lines, but his ability to act like a naturally drunk person. It is not easy to pull of such a personality that almost becomes your second nature.
I never, even in my distant dreams, thought that I will ever have an evening with Klint. Neither did I think that he is actually as sober as a judge on a normal day. Thus, when I spent an evening with Klint last week, it was truly blessed evening. Before he takes to the stage, he is a quiet, laid back chap who seems to be humble. Not pretentiously humble or faking humility for the sake. He is down-to-earth, for real.
See, the worst aspect of our job as journalists are the interviews. We need to go out talk to politicians, the so-called celebrities and socialites. Mostly, people with money or in the public space have stinking attitude. Very conceited. And interviewing them often drains all the haemoglobin out of my blood.
But occasionally you come along cool people. Way too cool, they restore your hope in humanity. Personally, I like people who are genuinely humble. Egoistical people who lord it over everyone or who behave like they fart oxygen have a way of giving me blood pressure.
Yet, there are people whose pride blinds them. I always respect those who always tell me,
“No, Silas, I don’t speak to the media” and leave it there. Not those who tell you they don’t talk to the media then proceed to give you a lecture that belittles you so much you doubt yourself. People so drunk with power or stature. It makes me want to quit.
There are people who don’t talk to the media because they are genuinely private people. People like screen siren Greta Garbo retired from a successful career in Hollywood at the age of 35 and never once granted an interview to the media. Novelist J. D Salinger out of principle never spoke to the media since 1980 until he died in 2010. Novelist Thomas Pynchon has never spoken to the media all his 77 years on earth. Same with Harper Lee, she of the “To Kill the Mockingbird Fame’.
While this is selfish, for the media with all its imperfections, it enables people to meet the people they admire or hate. The true measure of humanity is how we share our lives with others. Others share through teaching. Others through preaching. Others through business. We are inextricably intertwined. Hence the selfish characters somehow baffle me, but I always respect their choices.
The second category that does not like the media are people who lead shady lives. You know people with questionable sexual orientation (not that I really care about anyone’s private life), but generally they don’t like talking to the media, lest you ask them that the question they dread the most in a country where we are yet to fully accept gays, but we have accepted land grabbers. Corrupt politicians and shady businessmen also hate the intrusive nature of the media because they don’t want any form of scrutiny. These are the ones likely to lecture you why you will remain poor for the rest of your life if your business is following people around and asking them silly questions.
There are also people who don’t know what they do, despite their claim on business cards that they are experts. They believe in the time-honoured advise from Mark Twain “it’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt. But why the business cards with fancy titles?
Finally, there is a seedy category that I hope burn in hell moments before the haul over Abacha and Hitler. This is the special bunch of sh*t who will never pick your call, nor reply a text. Some are public figures paid by our taxes. Yet, they are so full of it.
So for a writer or a journalist when you meet someone who is truly down to earth, you don’t take it for granted. I have met Ngugi wa Thiong’o who marveled at my height, accepted a quick photo with my boy Komu and cousin Patrick. I have met Micere Mugo, incredible woman, still beautiful into her 70s. I have met Binyavanga Wainaina, a very bright, spontaneous and engaging person you will ever meet. He speaks his mind. I have met Billy Kahora, great fellow who minds his business. I have met a one of the best self-made hoteliers in town and it was humbling. He had nothing to hide given his wealth has been accumulated through sheer hard work and street smarts. I have interviewed nominated senator Martha Wangari, an incredible woman, never afraid of the media. All these are never afraid of sharing their lives, knowledge so that others can learn from their accomplishments and mistakes as well.
So, the other evening when comedian Klint first said Hi to us, I thought that it was his twin brother. He came across as a natural humble person. When we sat down for dinner, he came over to our table and also had a few words with us. When his time came he took to the stage bare feet and ‘drunk’ and started his act. We were a reasonably small crowd and trust me, telling jokes to smaller crowds is a very daunting task. Yet, Klint is a true celebrity. He pulled off a show as if we were an amphitheater full of people.
As someone deeply passionate about humour, I followed his thought-process looking for originality and spontaneity and scored greatly on that account. He gave his all, and at some point I laughed my tonsils sore from laughter, which is what a comedian should do in any case.
Afterwards, he caught up with my boy Flex and discussed some business stuff about possible Kenya-Nigerian collaboration on the comedic front and he didn’t put up any airs. He was cool and I was touched and I prayed that all the public personality were like him. I will enjoy every day of my work life.
And it was like a dream come true. From the days when we would share his craft with flash-disks back in the prefabs to being with him in the same and taking photos together, it is one of the beauties of our job. You never know when you are going share a room with Obama, or better still, become friends.