You know how you remember walking along the beach on the coast at sunset, the small fragile hands of a girl in yours, a girl you haven’t had sex with but one you are confident you will sleep with that night because she has been saying she wants it ‘to be special’ and, you figure, what could be more special than a sunset and a beach? This is a girl you have been wooing for a month and change and she has held you off, saying she wanted to “get to know who you are”, meaning, make sure you are not a conman, an ex-convict or someone who works for KRA. You’d rather not be walking on that goddamn beach if it were up to you. You’d be back in the big white room with a balcony that overlooks the ocean vista and this sunset that now makes her face glow like a sweet bonfire.
But you are here, sand between your feet, you are listening to her, but you really aren’t. Between you and the evening is a long desert that leads to dinner, maybe a cocktail at the bar after, and then your room. You can’t wait but you also want to wait, there is a beautiful and torturous anticipation in waiting before she finally stands before you in nothing but her loopy earrings. Maybe you will faint. Maybe she will ask you, “Why are your eyes so red, are you okay?” But until then, here, before you, is the falling orange sun in the horizon yonder and the breeze and the soothing sound of the waves and her looking back to see her tiny footprints in the wet sand. You know that feeling, fellas, don’t you? That feeling is a state of euphoria, a state of giddiness, a state of suspense.
Now Shoba Gatimu – you might not know him, but you will in a bit – has created a state called Shobanes, just like the state I have described up there. “It’s a state that is like happiness, cheerfulness…ness ness, you get? I create a state of Shobanes.” To mean, if you are in his presence you are basically allowing yourself to be in a state that he has created, the same way a sunset creates a state of romance and beauty. It’s cocky, it’s fresh and it’s beautiful.
I’d never heard of this guy before, or his confidence. I don’t do Twitter or Facebook much. But I hear he’s a big deal there, where he goes by the handle @shobanes. He cooks. A self-taught cook. He does #CookOutThursdays on Facebook Live that, I’m told, is a scream; frying shit, sending shoutouts to viewers, sharing loose, funny banter, cutting things up, boiling things up and generally creating a state of Shobanes online.
Facebook is running a campaign of cool people doing cool shit on Facebook called #RealPeopleRealStories and so they sent me over to his house in Langata. Three floors up block 8. I had gone to his Twitter before but the man who opens the door doesn’t quite look like him but then again who looks like they do online? I once saw Ali Kiba at an airport in Zanzibar and he looked like Ali Kiba’s cousin who is trying to make it.
His hair. My God. Shoba’s hair greets you at the door. It stands thick, jutting, pointing out in all directions, like he had been charging himself in a socket before he came to the door. Or maybe it’s his confidence that’s causing his hair to stand upright like that. He’s short, a fact that he seems to make fun of a lot during the two hours I am there. But you don’t notice it because he’s got a magnetic personality, funny and amenable. He says things like, “Being handsome or beautiful is half your work done on social media as an influencer. If I was tall and lanky, I’d simply post a picture of me holding a product and make money. I’d not even need to say anything, just hold it and smile. But look at me, I was fed a lot of njahi as a child and I look like this, so I have to work much harder to make money.”
Oh, he has a television set the size of a mover’s truck. It seems almost pornographic to have a television set that big.
See, this guy isn’t even a trained chef. He studied law. Something about law is cursed. Lawyers are everywhere doing unlawyerly things. You ask someone doing greenhouse farming in Kilgoris what they studied, and they will tell you they studied law. A guy selling solar lamps in Migori? A trained lawyer. Look at Magunga on social media slowly morphing into a clotheshorse before our very own eyes, donning white pants like he’s some sort of Enrique Iglesias, posing by planes on the runway or in his long overcoats, acting like Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders. Another lawyer doing unlawyerly things.
“Actually, I wanted to study medicine but that year everyone decided to do exceptionally well, so I missed the points. The next plan was to go to Russia to study medicine there, but my dad said no, you are going to Eldoret to study law. I said, “But I don’t want to study law,” and he said, “Well, that’s nice to know, but you are going to Eldoret.” So, Law it was. Then a brief stint working after university while stalling the idea of going to Law School, hoping that by working he would discover his passion. He didn’t. His dad was a banker, his mom a teacher, but his grandfather was a chef and a storyteller. That’s where this cooking thing – and his bubbly personality – comes from. That and his love for dogs. [Maybe we will revisit this later, maybe we won’t].
Here is how this whole food business started. He used to post food pics on Facebook. Nothing crazy; samosas, beef, rice, things. “My mom is Kikuyu, so we didn’t grow up cooking with spices. Just onions and nyanyas and then we were good. Ha-ha-ha. We ate a lot of mukimo and githeri. But I’d often go to the market and buy spices and offer to cook but she’d be like, oh your father doesn’t like spices, don’t use those. Ha-ha. But one time she had a chama and I made these tasty samosas and they loved it…I made like 50 samosas. So, anyway, I liked cooking and posting it on social media and people started eating it up there. Facebook sort of validated my love of cooking because suddenly I had many friends on Facebook wanting to look at my food pics and I thought, what’s going on here? Why are people following me for food? Ha-ha.” He laughs a lot, an infectious laughter. Influencer marketing was just taking hold and he was advised to go to Twitter, which was like leaving Muthaiga to go to Bel-Air. Twitter had its code, man. People spoke English there. And Tweet things that they think will save the planet.
Following the advice of his friends, he moved to Twitter where, ‘because I’m from coast, became quite verbose, eating up the 140-word count. It annoyed people. Then something weird started happening, clients started knocking down his door, asking him to talk about food. “It was crazy! I was being offered money to do things I enjoyed?” he exclaims.
“One Friday I posted on my Twitter that I’d be taking orders for lunch the following Monday and suddenly I had 80 orders. I panicked. I didn’t have the capacity to feed 80 people. I had bitten more than I could chew. I didn’t know about the costing. I struggled with delivery. So the next week I learnt to cap the orders at 30. Over time the people I’d deliver food to would say, “I have a birthday party for my son, about 40 people, can you cater for us?” and just like that I became an events caterer. Ha-ha. That soon led to a gig at 1824 bar where I’d host a weekly session on Sundays, called Sunday School. My job was to grill for and feed people. During those events I realised that there is a difference between a cook and a cook who hosts. I had become a cook who also hosts. People were not only coming to eat my food but to interact with me. I was doing mbuzi fry, chicken platters, choma and also taking selfies and socialising and saying, “Aaah niaje buda, nakuona, but making sure my food wasn’t burning back on the grill.”
Then he started his Facebook Live videos which blew the hell up. How it works is that he films himself cooking. For an hour. “Okay, the first half hour is me goteaing people on Facebook, aaah nakuona Timo, karibu…ha-ha.” [To Gotea = to say hello]. “Some people would say, Shoba, si you send a shout-out to me, and I’d do just that. Then after that I’d start cooking. I didn’t know anything about shooting or framing shots, I didn’t have equipment…in fact, this is before tripods became a thing, so I’d just place my phone against an avocado ha-ha-ha to get a good shot. One time, I climbed a stool – I mean, look at how tall I am – to position my camera to get a better shot and the phone fell into my frying onions, so guys who were watching suddenly saw black but could hear the onions frying ha-ha-ha.”
Oh, this guy was right, he is a state. The state of Shobanes.
What is a day in the life of a man who brings a state? Well, he wakes up at 4:45am every day. It’s a body clock thing that stems from the days in Mombasa when the muezzin would call for faithfuls to pray. He grew up in a place called Bombolulu. Middle-class. “We were sandwiched by the affluent Nyali on one side and the ghettos of Kwa Bulo on the other, which meant that I had friends from both divides,” he says.
“You know, some friends of mine always ask me, ‘Shoba, how come you can speak sheng like a person from Eastlands like that and also speak English so well?’ It’s because I was exposed to both worlds as a child, and both were great experiences. This has shaped how I relate to people. I can do well in a five-star establishment but drop me in a slum and I will adapt as well.”
He sleeps next to his laptop. That’s his baby. When he wakes up, the first thing he touches is his laptop. He could never sleep in silence, so he plays a playlist of documentaries on a dimmed screen, a soothing monotone audio. He checks social media, then makes a breakfast of rice and beans. [He’s a big chapo fan – like everybody else. He can eat five.] “I don’t believe in bread,” he says. He says it like bread is a religion. Or a cult. If he’s not in the mood to cook in the morning he will eat a banana. He will be seated at the dining table in his boxers and vest, scrolling social media. He will plan his day, recipes, while he checks out social media. “I’m always on social media, I spend a lot of time there. I get a lot of inspiration from social media. For example, if I see people hating omena like they usually do, I will decide today is the day I’m cooking omena and making it bomb just to show them ha-ha-ha.” He has an office in his house, so he will sit there and do admin work.
Lunch hour will come because, “Being an adult, time moves so fast,” and he will decide to eat leftovers mostly, or whatever is in the fridge. “I was fat a year or two ago ha-ha,” he says, “Let me tell you a story. One time I was hanging out with my niece in my house, watching TV. You know how a child can just sit and stare at you saying nothing? That’s how she was staring at me. I knew she was about to say something silly, so I asked her, ni nini? She said, will you be mad if I tell you? I said, no. She said, ‘If you fall down, will you roll like humpty-dumpty?’ Ha-ha-ha-ha.” He’s laughing his head off. “That’s how I knew I needed to lose weight. You know you are fat when you must pause while eating in order to breathe. Ha-ha-ha.” He lost weight by walking the aforementioned four dogs. Two German Shepherds and two cross Rotts. He also changed his diet and began cycling. “Being fat is hard, you develop high blood pressure, breathing problems, but then you go online and you have people talking about body positivity, telling you, jipende mwenyewe ha-ha-ha-ha.”
What he absolutely doesn’t do is he doesn’t believe in that shit of eating two to three hours before bedtime. That’s where he draws the line. “I have to eat dinner, then I go to sleep. Because if I listen to people and eat three hours before I sleep, I will wake up hungry in the middle of the night. I have the metabolism of a three-year old ha-ha-ha. Oh, and I put my phone on silent when in bed and my friend always says, but what if there is an emergency? What emergency? If you call me at 2:30am saying that you are in Langata cop station, I will just tell you, sorry bana, I will come see you in the morning ha-ha-ha. Because what can I do for you at 2:30am, I’m sleeping, and you are in Langata police! Ha-ha-ha?”
On and on it goes, his long funny tales, his boyish laughter, his effervescence. You laugh with him and sometimes you laugh at him because he laughs at himself the loudest and he’s such a sport to speak to, such a personality. And when you leave his house, and he walks you to your car and you get onto the snarling Langata road traffic, and you feel your cheeks hurt a little from laughing and you realise then that yes, indeed that was a state you just left, the state of Shobanes.