Big Ali

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I succumbed and bought an Air Fryer. It’s white and it looks like something you can culture bacteria in. “Can it cook chips?” Kim asked. I told him it cooks damn near anything. “Even cake?” I said even cake. 

I’m a messy and impatient cook. I hate the tedium of washing and cutting tomatoes. I don’t think onions have a personality until they start smelling burnt. What use are onions if they are not slightly burnt? I always buy dhania [I understand they are called coriander] but I always forget to use them. Always. If you ever meet me picking dhanias in a supermarket just hold my hand firmly and say, ‘don’t do that. Leave them.’ 

“What is this?” Kim pointed at one of the signs on the machine.

“Shrimps.” I said. 

“What is a shrimp?”

“It’s fish for gentrified folk.”

“What?”

“It’s fish for gentrified folk.” I repeated. 

He wanted to ask what the hell gentrified  meant but he couldn’t pronounce it. [Fatherhood tip] 

I tried air frying some fish fillet. Marinated it with pretentious shit I read on a recipe online like paprika, garlic powder, black pepper, some herbs [gentrified folk pronounce it as ‘abs’], basil, rosemary and thyme. [Ha-ha. Thyme, for chrissake]. Then I sprinkled some soy sauce on that bad boy, zipped it up in a zip lock to suffocate it and threw it in the fridge for a few hours to let it think hard about its life. In the meantime, I tried reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, another phony habit I picked; reading a self-help book. I didn’t do well with it so I put on Peaky Blinders, a tale of thugs in Burghimum, pilfering and killing, doing whatever the fuck they want, a long take of greed and violence and horses. 

It’s as bleak as I love my stories. And I meant this literally and figuratively. The sun doesn’t come out in the whole series. You should watch Peaky Blinders if you love chaos, anarchy and sad endings. You will like Tommy Shelby, the topman. You will love Polly his sister; wise, charismatic and badass. You will like Lizzie, his indomitable wife. I find her sexy like a black girl is sexy. There is a man called Johnny Dogs – one of Tommy’s hoodlums. I like his name. Loyal. There is a new boy, Tommy’s son, Erasmus, from a woman he had a fling with.  What a young brilliant actor. Of course his gritty face helps him. There is Michael, Tommy’s nephew, a little shit with a centipede moustache. 

There is death, often coming in the form of villains [technically everybody is a villain here] called Luca Changreta. What a powerful character. You know he’s a killer because he goes about with a toothpick in his mouth. Well, he dies eventually. Shame. There is Alfie the Jew with his razor wit. Oh don’t forget Arthur Shelby, Tommy’s brother who I have a great soft spot for. There are Nazis and Italians and guns and knives in the hands of men. Everybody wears a suit and a hat even when feeding horses. This is a story about gipsies.

“Are you goin’ to shoot us out here in the streets like dogs?’

Arthur: I don’t shoot dogs. I shoot frkin fascists, love.” 

I remove the fish from the fridge and ask it, ‘are you ready?’ [Consent is everything]. 

I lay it gently in the air fryer, squirt some olive oil on it and fire that female dog up. While the machine rumbles like an incoming train, I go back to Burghimum where Tommy is saying, ‘she’s in the past, the past is not my concern. The future is no longer my concern either.’ I chuckle. Tommy is always lighting a fag while looking forlorn. I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve seen Tommy laugh. Mostly he sneers or, at best, grins. Everybody smokes. Church bells toil in the gloom of fog. Dead bodies are burnt in caravans. The decadence is beautifully bleak. The dialogues are so outstanding. I watch it with subtitles on. Often I rewind scenes, especially of people being shot in the eye or of a riveting dialogue delivered in deadpan bleakness. 

I finished the series yesterday and now I’m bereft. Orphaned. 

The fish isn’t half bad. It smokes when I pry it open with a fork. Kim thinks it’s ‘OK’. He isn’t hot on the spices, though. He wishes I didn’t put any, he says. Well, he’s half Kikuyu, so…

I have tried chicken as well. And baby potatoes. I don’t fancy steak, so screw steak. I like the idea that you don’t have to stand over a stove to cook. That you can just walk away and do your thing until the bell from the fryer calls you. Lazy man’s way of cooking. 

I’m rumbling here.  

I used to think people who buy Air Fryers are wankers, suffering from the grave illness of consumerism. Lazy people. People who can’t think independently, swayed by group mentality. Middle-class toffs. Well, here I am. There is a lesson here, I just don’t know it. Yet. 

Well. Keep warm, Gang. 

Gloriah is here with her small story about sijui Pakistanis. 

Gloriah?

 

By Gloriah Amondi

The three Pakistanis who live in B6 are an odd group. To begin with, they share a single room on the third floor (one of the odd ones next to the staircase) which, unsurprisingly, has two medium sized beds as its only furniture because that is all it can accommodate. Their door is always open during the day, and at night, there always seems to be an attempt to close it, except the door apparently stops right at the moment when it’s about to bolt. They prefer to communicate with each other quite loudly, and they never seem to let whoever is speaking finish what they are saying. Rather, they interrupt one another in their speech and instead of getting angry, whoever is interrupted often gets a little more excited, almost glad to be interrupted, feeding into the cacophony.

Ali- the small one, is the friendliest of them all, which says a lot because the only time he ever speaks (at least to me) is when I meet him alone. He is always on the balcony and often seems to always be on the phone, on a video call, with a woman’s voice on the other end. He likes to have the calls on loudspeaker and if you happen to be passing by and wave, he will briefly wave back then quickly look away. He is also the smallest (in general size) of the three. He is about 5’6, lean and tan. If not for the tough skin of his hands and the lines around the corner of his mouth, he would pass for a much younger man. He likes to wear a particular sweater- a dull green pull neck with a broken zip which he sometimes pairs with a black, woven marvin, even though it’s warm outside. He is the only one who ever speaks to me. When I first met him, he tried to lure me into their house by offering me sunflower seeds. 

The second one, also Ali, is a big, bald man. He looks older than the rest and has an almost fatherly demeanor about him. He often speaks the least, and seems to prefer being silent as the rest yammer their time away. One imagines him as a father of girls, maybe four- all between teenage and early twenties. His baldness, a runway right in the middle of his head, is smooth and ugly- while the rest of the head is covered sparsely by graying hair, not unlike the acacia trees that dot the Mara. Big Ali is a heavy smoker. Every half hour, he comes out to the balcony with a blue packet of Camel cigarettes and smokes two or three sticks. Because of the smoking, his lips look tight and dry and he often- subconsciously- likes to lick them. The smoke clings to his clothes, his pores wafting Camel fumes, so that the smell of smoke lingers a few minutes after he has been on the stairs. 

He was fearless too. Once, when they woke up to a note pinned on their door accusing them of aimlessly spitting pan, Big Ali angrily took it down, stomping towards the caretaker’s tiny house, scaring the man out of his wits.

“Bad, very bad!” he muttered under his breath, while angrily shaking the paper in the caretaker’s face. 

 The sight of an angry, big bellied man first thing in the morning froze him in place. 

The sign read:

“Stop spitting pan (Gutkha) everywhere. It’s DISGUSTING!”

Their other friend (whose name I do not yet know), is a short, bubbly contrast of the two. Although sturdy and a little heavy, he walks lightly. His voice is often the loudest, and his laughter a little annoying. Like Big Ali, he has a fatherly demeanor, but perhaps his comes with age. He appears to be around the same age as Big Ali, or slightly younger. He likes to wear tight, colourful shirts (which he leaves unbuttoned at the chest and with the sleeves folded up to the elbow, he could have been Congolese in a previous life) The rainbow shirts wrap his pot belly tightly, like an overstuffed sausage, the buttons hanging on for dear life. But he has a pleasant smile and a small, odd mustache which he subconsciously strokes when on his phone. He likes to smoke outside at the small corner near our gate, although he often seems to be greatly distracted by the phone, so much so that the cigarettes burn away slowly between his fingers, smoke curling up towards the sky, his fingertip nerves long since singed into numbness. I’ve met him twice on the stairs escorting a woman out in the wee hours, and both times, he looked guilty, his eyes downcast toward his Buddha belly. He is fond of whispering “beautiful” whenever a woman- any woman- passes him on the stairs. He fancies himself a ladies’ man, that one.

The three men, although sharp contrasts from each other, enjoy each other’s company. They walk in and out together, do their things together and almost exclusively speak only to each other. They even (as is rumoured) fuck women together. 

Two months ago, Big Ali failed to return home from a day out on one of the weekends. His friends waited for two days before getting word out. At first, they posted a picture of him looking bloated and self-satisfied outside on the gate with no captions. Then, they started knocking on our doors, holding a similar picture and asking whether we had seen him. Whenever a door was opened for them, they would peep inside as if they expected to see Big Ali, seated by a table somewhere, bloated from eating a heavy afternoon meal or by a window puffing away the last of his cigarettes. When they couldn’t find him in any of the houses, they requested a meeting with the tenants where once again, the picture of a bloated Big Ali was passed around, this time with a quick, handwritten caption:

Lost. Ali Abd al-Rahman. Have you seen?

We searched for Big Ali everywhere. First, at the police stations (there was a persistent rumour that they didn’t have residence permits) then hospitals and some even tried calling morgues. We searched for him at the drinking dens, which was the least likely place he’d have been because he preferred smoking cigarettes, and his picture (the same picture) was also passed around in the mosques. There were some responses, but most of them turned out to be scammers and false alarms. Some claimed they were kidnappers, and they wanted to be paid ransom before they could release him. Some claimed he had been in an accident and a police car took him away, while others simply claimed they knew where he was but were not willing to give up the location without being paid first. Eventually, it was collectively decided that Big Ali must have returned to Pakistan (since he was not in the morgues) and the search was called off.

Last week, a woman showed up claiming Ali was in Uganda. The woman, a trader, travels often across the border to buy her merchandise from there and sells it in Kenya. According to her, Ali accompanied a friend of hers (also a trader) to Kampala, and he decided to settle there. The news breathed new life into the dying search for Ali but, due to the vagueness of the tip, no one could immediately verify his whereabouts. And so, perhaps, Big Ali is somewhere in Kampala, at peace, smoking his fat packets of cigarettes, eating matoke and groundnut stew from the hands of a nice Ugandan woman, or he could be really at a morgue somewhere, cold and dead.

 

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Do you have a story you want to share? Something wild? Ping me on [email protected] If not, just buy my book or join the masterclass. If not then just keep warm and send me a recipe. Something without thyme. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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53 Comments
  1. Gloriah, can we talk about this suspense you’re always leaving us in? Is it the h we need to chase? Now what do we do with this hanging feeling we have? Surely you could give us more this Tuesday. Especially given that we’ve come from a holiday.

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  2. May I speak (consent to write granted..thanks)

    Us kuyos love firifiri. We don’t know what sunflower seeds are. Nadhania ni Dhania fruits. Am quarter Kao and eighth Kuyo…I know these things.

    Finding Ali. Episode 1…season 1. Am game.

    Speaking of women…their women deserve an Oscars. They love bananas…the real ones. They claim Kenya bananas last long.

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  3. “I remove the fish from the fridge and ask it, ‘are you ready?’ [Consent is everything].

    I lay it gently in the air fryer, squirt some olive oil on it and fire that female dog up”

    Haha. Go slow on them drugs Biko.

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  4. Of Air fryer and it’s kitchen magic, I’ve been literally feeding on unevenly cooked food until recently I noticed that the heating element rests on the upper compartment… Woi

  5. I have been thinking about getting an air fryer. Now that Biko has reviewed it without really reviewing it, I’m Sold!!! Getting it!

  6. Tu tung tung tung
    Tu tu tung tung ……

    @Biko – try “Yellow Stone”, if you are not already watching it. There too, will you find horses and death a plenty, but at least there is more sunshine.

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  7. Really Biko … Doesn’t like the spices because he’s half – Kiuk .. hehe
    I’ll have you know that my pantry is as loaded with abs as yours .. I bet you don’t have Marjoram

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    1. How do you make the fish with all the spices and leave out oregano?

      I won’t even touch the Ali story…I believed every single word of it…

  8. What’s the point of the pakistani story? Imeisha tu nde.. If he’s still MIA put his photo here he might be in our neighbourhood who knows?!

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  9. I don’t why but this place is getting rather cold and dry. I do not recognize the page anymore. Or maybe it’s just me..

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  10. I’m also a kikuyu- well 3/4 and I stay throwing down.
    Mexican, Italian, Indian, Mediterranean and definitely East African cuisine make regular appearances in my kitchen. Let’s kill that stereotype please- it’s 2022. Been looking for Culantro, the cousin to cilantro (dhania) – anyone?

    I’m also a proud owner on an air fryer and been loving exploring the recipes. We are those they call early adopters in tech terms – if it makes life easier – gotta have it.

    Meanwhile we hope we can get updates to finding Ali. Have so many questions about immigration but this ain’t the platform either. How does one just move to another country without – nvm

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  11. Biko if your mission was to make some of us start watching picky blinders, then tag it as a successful one. Time to stop being picky I guess

  12. Biko you already used the F word, so how come you tried to be polite by saying female dog that was hilarious.

  13. Didn’t know the word ‘Squirt’ could be thrown around in such a carefree manner.

    Its just Tuesday, but who knows, maybe the negative degree temperatures are driving my brain to nyondos

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      1. Baby Girl,

        How could I say no to an air fryer?

        Let’s start planning our first meal on it already.

        Here: 0722…….

  14. Finally I get to hear of someone who cooks shrimp at home in my motherland. I write so much about shrimp and only get foreigners reading the articles!

  15. ‘tried to lure me inside with sunflower seeds…’ Haa!
    And about Big Ali, hope you find him- enforced disappearance is an actual thing.

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  16. Some memorable Peaky Blinders quotes.

    By the Order of the Peaky F****n Blinders!

    A Toast “May you be in heaven a full half hour before the devil knows you’re dead”..

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  17. Dude, your editor was in a food coma….. ‘Rambling’, ‘ Burmingham’. And yup, Peaky Blinders is the shizzle

  18. I loved/love Peaky Blinders. By a lot. I saw people use this line on social media and made a mental note to use it. I’m impressed with myself. Did the rewind bit a lot, watched with the subtitles so I don’t miss their wit. Polly is Tommy’s aunty- (may her soul rest in peace. Also, she was the wife of that Homeland guy. I was thoroughly impressed when I found this out)- Ada is the sister. Her character morphed beautifully throughout the series. Arthur’s constant battle between what’s right and what’s necessary endeared me to him (or him to me?) “Shrug”. I’m looking forward to the movie.
    Also, say what anyone may, air fryers are truly the greater inventions of our time. what’s with the taliban cooking oil prices! Plus waistlines have been saved.

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  19. Biko, stop introducing your writers, let’s discover after reading that it wasn’t your handwriting. I usually struggle after the first two paragraphs of a new writer….

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  20. Over many years, I’ve read silently. Never bothering to comment ‘first’, nor hit the like button.
    Though I like most stuff posted.
    Today I ask, are all these curse words necessary Biko and Co? I don’t think so.
    Or have we bored you and you’re looking for new audience?