Last week I’m standing at that CFC Stanbic Bank ATM at Upper Hill Medical Center, right? It’s early morning and I have 30mins to kill before a meeting at The Chancery. I want to grab a hot lemon and ginger – to go – from the Java next door, a slight but steady drizzle falls from a sky as grey as an empty promise. My ears are cold. I’m waiting behind this chap who is spending the last half of his life at the ATM. From the back of his head I can tell he is elderly; the base of his hair is sprinkled with white, like the frothiness as a tide crashes ashore. He has on this quirky checked coat. You could play a game of chess on his back.
This guy is one one of those people who spend three days in a goddamn ATM because they can’t simply read the instructions and get their money out in one attempt like the rest of humanity. So he’s there punching keys, removing card, re-inserting card, punching more keys, punching again, removing ATM card, inserting it again, punching more keys as the ATM constantly spits statements after statements because he obviously doesn’t care about saving trees. And I’m getting frustrated because surely, is Christmas going to find me standing there in the drizzle?
Plus I’m beginning to suspect that the very act of inserting and removing the card from the machine is turning this old man on. Otherwise why would anyone insert and remove an ATM card so many times if it wasn’t some kind of a twisted fetish they nursed from childhood? Ages later he finally finishes and turns – he could be in his late 50’s -and he says in a deep drawl, “Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t know anyone was waiting,” his politeness unnerves me for a second then I hear myself say, “ No problem…nice jacket, by the way.” which is a goddamn lie because that jacket is dreadful but I felt like I had to say something nice to him to pay him back for his politeness. And age.
“Oh thanks!” he says, surprised at the compliment, “My daughters hate it!” Then he chuckles, “I’m surprised you like it, young people don’t seem to like it much.” I turn on my bullshit mode and say, “Ah, young people, what do young people know about high fashion?” I’m joshing with him, yanking his chain a bit, because that jacket can only be high fashion in Maua, Meru.
Anyway, I think he sees what I have just did because he emits this strange burst of laughter that completely surprises me. It’s as if he had someone else’s laughter in custody, like he had kept it for safekeeping until they ask for it. But here he is using someone else’s laughter; it was one of those sharp, surprising laughs that, well, didn’t seem to come from him, or belong to him. It wasn’t consistent with his leathery face, his deep growl or his eccentric jacket.
He then squeezes my arm as he brushes past me and says, “Happy holidays, young man,” in that fatherly way and I feel like a complete jackass for lying about his jacket and playing with his emotions because for all I care that chap could have been Father Christmas in his civilian clothes. That was a great random moment. Here are some of my great moments of 2015:
Because you guys demonstrated (with 7-million shillings) that humanity will never be buried in the biggest rubble of life.
Kim turning two.
He jumps off sofas, half scaring his mom to death. He climbs windows. He’s rough, pushes his sister around, breaks new toys in the first ten minutes of receiving them. He says “juush” to mean “juice” because even a half luo is still a luo. Most importantly everybody says, “Biko, that boy looks exactly like you,” and I pretend it’s no big deal but it’s such a effin’ big deal. Right now he has this huge painful-looking bump on his forehead; fell on the cold floor jana, face first. Cried a river. But he’s back at it, jumping off sofas and climbing windows because he’s a boy. My beautiful boy.
My Best Destination of 2015: Ngerende Island Lodge
I remember walking around barefoot in my underwear in my suite overlooking the Mara River, because the lodge is cast in a panoramic oxbow around this lazy river infested with hippos who when I listened closely late at night, I could swear were moaning my name. I remember the feeling of the warm mahogany floor under my feet and the smell of the woodland. I remember spending my evenings in the private jacuzzi reading a book and listening to the stillness of the evening and thinking that silence indeed is a sound. I remember the bush dinner in the middle of a Mara thicket, a roaring bonfire crackling in the night, the sound of strange animals calling each other somewhere in the ominous darkness, the shadows of the shuka’d Maasai guards in the dark periphery of the clearing and the dancers leaping around the fire as if in a ritual, my glass of Martel long forgotten in my hand. A truly enchanting night. I remember going on a game drive and seeing about 12 lions. 12! You see so many lions you start feeling like you are on a first name basis with them:
Hey Chocolate man?
No, mane, not name!
I remember how the chef came out and bowed to my compliment, a guy who never stepped foot in a culinary school but sat at the foot of a masterchef and learnt about onions from the dexterous hands of the master. I remember breakfasts on green gardens, the day I realised I love green chilli, the morning sun kissed the back of my neck.
I’m very lucky to stay in some of the most luxurious places when I travel for my travel writings but at some point they all become a blur of pillows, rainforest showers and egg with toast. A few stand out and stay with me. Ngerende Island Lodge has refused to leave me. It’s one of the best places I have been to in Kenya.
It’s about 76K a night for two people all inclusive. A bit out of reach for the average Kenyan who struggles to pay for Internet, yes, but if you ever win a big tender, get visited by BAT, or play Lotto and get lucky, please go there. Until then put this lodge on your Bucket List. It’s something special.
My best read of 2015: The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
“Who was it that said that coincidence was just God’s way of remaining anonymous?”– Donna Tartt.
If you are going to read only one book in 2016, please read this book. If you read it and it doesn’t move you in any way whatsoever, then please get a big-checked jacket.
Top 40 Under 40 Finalist 2015
I wore a ridiculous ankara bowtie done by Nick Ondu. For the first time in many moons I wore a suit and couldn’t help feeling like a pallbearer. But that night at the Windsor was magical and it called for the occasion: I was in a room with the some extremely smart fellows, men who had decided to stand taller than their heights. I left before the night was over, holding my plaque close to my nipples, like it was its feeding time. Outside, in the dark night I ducked into the waiting Uber, three double whiskies (and three rocks) ringing in my ears like the drone of a submarine engine underwater. Inside the driver studied my plaque and asked, “What did you do to win that?” and I said, “ I’m not sure.” And he laughed like I had told him a joke.
(Thank you, Antalya)
When I was told I had that clot in my leg I came here and made light of it, christened it Imelda. If you repeat this anywhere I will deny it but truth is, it scared me. For a whole month I was on blood thinners and the whole time I thought, “What could have happened had this little bitch moved to my heart and killed me? Who would take care of my kids? Would they have the same quality of life? Would they remember me 10 years from now? Would the Missus marry again after a year or after six months to someone with a better forehead this time, and would he treat my kids well, take them to decent schools and buy them “sootcases” with cartoons on them?”
Death isn’t some fashion fad you will never be interested in. Death is with us. It sits down with us at the dinner table even though we don’t set a place for it. The irony remains; we live with death.
Again, thank you Professor Elijah Ogola, the best cardiologist (and all time great guy) this side of the Sahara, you are a small god. Keep touching broken hearts.
So I’m in this rubbish running club that does runs every Sato at Karura Forest. We call ourselves The Phat Boys- and Girls. It consists of Eugene Dudu Afande, Luis Indimuli, Philip Mwaniki, Wairimu Maina, Wambui Muriithi and Mbula. Only reason I’m writing their full names is so that you don’t allow them to join your running club because these people are lazy, with exception of Philo, Wairimu and Wambui. Eugene for instance didn’t come for one single run this whole year. Luise has hangovers most Saturdays and Philo sijui had some leg complications. The running group has become a dead dodo.
I’m looking to join a small running group that can train at Karura every Sato. It would be nice if that group didn’t have Kalenjins, because, well, they are “racists.” Inbox me on [email protected]
P.S: By the way, look out for what Weetabix will do next year for this fitness challenge because, well, we will need to shed off this weight come January.
I ran into Connie Aluoch – fashion stylist – at Yaya recently and she said, “Biko, how many years have I known you for?” and I said, “uhm, many.” She sighed and said, “ten years, Biko! I’m your biggest fan, in fact you have turned me into some sort of groupie! And how many times have you even written about me?” I said, “Come on now, Connie, you don’t need me mentioning you, I mean you are Connie!” and she said, “No really, we even share a birthday!” So I took her to Sierra lounge upstairs and bought her a glass of wine and she said, “I think as a dedicated fan I deserve a shout out, I don’t care where you do it, just do it please.”
So here, hey Connie!! Thanks for reading!
The best in the game
Who even listens to those safety announcements by flight attendants? They are mostly repetitive and dull. And the people who read them sound like those recordings in lifts that say in that oriental accent, “second floor, doors closing!” Besides how many different ways can you tell passengers to be careful when opening the overhead luggage compartments because luggage may have moved during flight?
Well you haven’t met Benson Wamwea then, a flight attendant at Jambojet. On a recent flight from Malindi he was cheered wildly after his pre flight announcements because he was funny and witty and he just didn’t read those announcements but owned them. He made them personal and fresh and interesting to listen to.
For example after we landed in Nairobi, a very rough landing, he said, “Ladies and gentlemen we have just landed in Nairobi – in style, as you noticed.” and people laughed, then at some point he said, “make sure you don’t leave anything behind, including children and spouses.” more applause. And he kept saying all this funny stuff and everybody listened and chuckled and clapped and when he was done you felt like you didn’t want to leave the plane. You wanted him to just keep talking in that slow motion way of his and making all of us laugh. The ladies loved him. It’s not everyday people applaud a flight attendant and when they do, you know it’s something something special. Benson Wamwea, keep doing you, man.
The Lady of the Manor
This time I went back home and I found the missus standing by her wardrobe picking out her clothes for the next day and I could tell immediately she was sulking. You can always tell when they are sulking even when their backs are facing you. “The things you write,” she said without looking at me, “I know we have had this conversation before, but sometimes they really really piss me off.” (Those are two “really”s…bad) And she never spoke a word of it again. (Bad again). She hardly complains about what I write (not anymore) but when she does I have to take notice – or I might get killed in my sleep. (Her best friend is from Nyeri…). This is to her for taking my bullshit all year round and for always being graceful.
My best Interview of 2015
I have done about 48 CEO profile interviews this year for the Business Daily. That’s pretty much an interview every week. There are interviews I remember fondly for one reason or the other; I remember Charles Njonjo because it was a scoop, a big fish and I remember how when he invited us into his lair and he sat at the head of the table in his signature pinstripe suit and that elephant bracelet around his wrist and how he stared down at me with his rheumy eyes and I refused to balk under his stare and we ended up being great pals. I remember Christian Turner’s wit in an interview I did recently and how at some point we entirely forgot the voice recorder and just chatted because Turner was a brilliant interviewee. I remember Jeremy Awori, Barclays CEO, because I knew he was going to be dead boring and give me plastic answers when his PR – Ann Nderi – sat in the interview to perhaps “herd” it, but I loved how he toyed with my questions and toyed with me and he expertly maneuvered pitfalls with rhetoric and anecdotes and when I was just getting frustrated he’s drop me a bone and keep me on the trail. He was a masterful interviewee who doesn’t give out too much but makes you feel that he did.
But my best interview for this year is definitely Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr. whom I interviewed in his office on Ngong Road early this January, a fine cold morning, 6:30am on the nose. He sat at his father’s desk and even though I broached his father’s death and I knew he wasn’t going to talk about it, he delved into it, with brutal honesty (some of which went off record for legal reasons) and he was just bereft of any pretence or posturing and he wasn’t afraid to reveal his vulnerability to me in a way that made me want to “cover his nakedness.” Later, he walked me out of his office to my car and thanked me for coming. He didn’t have to be decent to me, but he was. It wasn’t PR either – I can see PR a mile away – it was just who he was at that time. There are people whom I interview and want to get out of their space quickly and gargle warm salty water, and then there are people whom you interview and you tell yourself, “It would be a great disservice to your profession if you misrepresented this person to the public.” Mutula Kilonzo Jr. was the latter.
I interviewed this guy who couldn’t stop talking about his money. How well he was doing. How loaded he was. It was vile. And tiring. And old. But mostly it was sad. He saddened me deeply. There is nothing as sad as someone talking about his immense wealth when they are wearing a bad suit.
My most favourite Nation photographer (after you Salaton Njau) who takes all my profile interview pictures. She’s loud and unapologetic and she always bullies subjects, draws them out with her effervescence and cheek. A good soul. Thanks for being you, Dee. Let’s do it all over again in 2016- Inshallah.
To Vickie and Ciku; the people cross my t’s and dot my i’s here. Thank you. And of course to Magunga who uploads these things every week on time. Asante.
Because she was number 8 this term. But she acts like it’s no big deal. Because she’s my baby even though now that she’s gotten too heavy to carry.
You, le Gang
Because all this would mean squat if you didn’t come to this blog to read. Someone said it here the other day, that they come here for the comments, you know what? So do I! The comments here are hysterical!
You guys make this place home and each one of you is an MVP. If I had a cookie I’d distribute to every one of you, but that’s a hell of a lot of cookies, plus most of you sound like you don’t do junk. So maybe carrots, that is if The Kasaine – the Maasai farmer – can deliver in truckloads.
Thanks a lot for reading, for taking time to comment, for always being very decent and mature even when you don’t agree with what I write here (I have disapproved only less than 5 comments this whole year) and most importantly thank you for your participation and continued decorum. I appreciate it.
Shall we do this again next year, if God allows?
From me and the Zulu Dynasty, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Don’t bloody drink and drive.
Could the last person here please switch off the lights?