The guy on the right has never eaten chicken in his life. He doesn’t know what chicken tastes like. He doesn’t eat chicken. He also doesn’t eat fish. Or meat. He doesn’t know the pleasure of the first sip of cold beer on a hot day, preferably as you lie down under a shade in your swimming trunks. He has brought many things to his lips but never a cigarette. He’s rasta. That’s how he explains all these ‘pleasures’ he doesn’t engage in because they pollute the body and the mind. If you ask him what that is, this rastafarianism? Is it a movement, a religion, a caste? “It’s peace with yourself and other animals.” He will say.
Animals. We are animals. Some animals, like us, eat other animals – like chicken. And fish. That’s not the kind of peace he’s after. That’s how he interprets his religion, which he is fast to add, isn’t your traditional religion that came by ship.
His name is Dennis Kimani but just call him Deno Rasta like everybody else does. That other guy is called Dennis Slim, because he’s, well, slim. For now. We intend to keep checking up on them every year to see if their names will change should Deno cut his rasta and Slim puffs up around the midsection.
The thing with people in dreadlocks is that we imagine we know who they are. But do we? We never know where men have been. You meet them already formed and you imagine this is who they are. But that’s not who they are – that’s who they have become. Becoming is a choice, an often-complicated journey of unravelling and a much better tale than being.
Deno Rasta has done many things in his life. He has farmed maize in Oloitoktok, his shags. He’s sold mtumba in the streets of Nairobi to people rushing home after work. He’s been a shopkeeper, working for his relatives, selling matchboxes and bread and tea leaves. He’s been a mason, a bricklayer, fuelled by his brawn. He has also run a pool table business where young men congregated to pot balls. He also sold them smokies. He has sold women’s clothes in Pipeline estate; bags, handbags, dresses, belts.
His last gig was In 2016; he was dealing in goat heads. Rather, he opened a kiosk selling goat meat and goat soup. A rastaman has to do what a rastaman has to do. He would get the goat heads in a place called Kaimaiko in Kariobangi (Soko ya Mbuzi), carry it in a gunia, dripping blood in the matatu, folk wondering if he was into some form of sorcery. He would scrap the meat off it and cook it and sell it. Then sell the soup. But then the goat head was too expensive for his customers, so he switched to cow head. And business picked until a road expansion forced away his clientele that had kiosks along the road reserves on Outer Ring road. So he called a friend -Mose – who would help him twist his dreadlocks who now worked in a salon and said, I want to learn how to get into that business. So he went in as an apprentice, learning the art of dreadlocks; washing, twisting, waxing…
That’s who he met Dennis Slim who was working at that salon, also learning the art of dreadlocks. What are the odds that a Dennis in dreadlocks who wants to learn the art of dreadlocks would meet another Dennis who’s learning about dreadlocks?
After working for a few years together they said, ‘look, how about we open our own salon and make dreadlocks and stuff? We can do it.” So, they found a space in Lyric House and started Utamaduni Hair Salon. “All you need is a sink and a mirror, to start.” He says. “But starting also is the hardest part.”
Starting your own thing may be difficult but it is often rewarding when you see that that same thing, no matter how small is making a difference to the lives of the people you work with. “It’s always very fulfilling to see young kids joining the Utamaduni family and growing not only our clients’ locs, but themselves as well. Most of the people we employ have a back story that involves some sort of hardship but we’ve provided them with not only employment, but also some stability, some love and the sense of family.”
Deno Rasta is 30 and when he looks back, he thinks of the days he had a gunia on his back, blood dripping on shoes and he’s grateful that he’s earning an easier living now, doing something that he understands; dreadlocks.
Utamaduni Hair Salon is a member of Visa’s small business Hub. #WhereYouShopMatters