Staring Death in the Face on the Drive to Jomo Kenyatta Airport

After a week of Digital Indaba polemics, entertaining outraged comments from South Africa, I had my moment of Outrage on the way to the airport yesterday morning. My flight for Addis Ababa from Nairobi was scheduled to leave at such a time as made it necessary for me to be at the airport by 5.30am. As is always the case in Nairobi, this departure was heading toward the ‘one for the road’ till flight-time script. But Sohos where we were downing beers – and which I dislike and yet for some reason keep finding myself patronizing – closed early and I was forced to return home in good time to pack and get some sleep. The plan was for K____, my usual taxi driver, to turn up in good time and so he did. As I got into the battered Toyota, I noticed he was quieter than usual, that the front end had a new largish dent and that he seemed to have forgotten the way out of my place. But then I thought it must be the late hour and that perhaps even the curious slowness of his driving was due to his having woken up earlier than usual. This working theory, plus the mild hangover I was suffering all fled as we were pulling into Mbagathi Way (a highway under construction so that both directions of traffic have to share a single road.) My dear K____ was at the stop sign for a full minute though the road was quite empty of traffic. He only decided to pull out, with excruciating slowness, the moment cars were bearing down on us from both directions. They came screeching to a stop and one of the drivers rolled down his window and let go such a furious – and at such an early hour, impressive – flood of curses. K_____ merely nodded his head slowly from side to side as if in sadness that the other drivers could be so unreasonable and unskilled. It was only when he proceeded to drive in the middle of the road, seeming to weave toward the path of oncoming cars, as if somehow their headlights were what to aim for, that I realized that K____ – he of the frequent lectures on the importance of responsibility and punctuality in the working man – was roaring drunk.

‘K____,’ I asked carefully hoping not to distract him further, ‘have you been drinking?’ Silence. ‘Have you been drinking, please tell me,’ I pleaded knowing by this time that the answer must be in the affirmative. Oncoming cars were hooting and driving half on the road and half off it to avoid the Grim Ripper who was clearly now in control of that Toyota. And K____ was his angel of death. What with his sleepy answers, sunken, darkened cheeks, that now as I looked at him made me realize that for the past year I have been getting rides from a man who has ceded much of the flesh of his body to cheap liquors and late hours. I knew that we were never going to make by the time we got to the roundabout near the Barbados Children’s Home, about two kilometers from my first realization that he was drunk out of his mind.

‘I think I must have eaten something that disagreed with me,’ came the reply after long minutes of waiting. I have myself used this never-to-be-believed phrase and the next one as well. ‘I think I am just really sleepy, I have been having such a tough time sleeping. I even scrapped a gate on my way to you.’ The grave for mmk it was, even before the end of the Digital Indaba talkfest. Perhaps this is what comes of questioning do-gooding. That God, the lover of justice and empowerment, sends a drunk driver to your doorstep who crashes you head-on into an oncoming truck. Maybe K____ too had been rude to White South Africans as he carried them from the airport and so Justice was going to kill two birds with one stone.

‘Pullover K____, now!’ by this time I was hysterical. What a bad way to go.

Long story short: he stopped and I took over and drove to the airport with him fast asleep and even snoring in the back. I parked the car with him still fast asleep in it and took my flight. Once again Nairobi having ushered me into its curious blend of terror and comedy, on the way to Addis Ababa where dangerous driving such as K’s would not even make me twitch an eyelid as common and normal as it seems once I am here.


The Headbutt From Heaven and How Zizou Rocked

It was perfect wasn’t it? The moment that Zinedine headbutted Materazzi the curtain parted and revealed the immigrant’s European journey. I did not have a moment of doubt that Materazzi had made a racist comment: that he had somehow managed to bring up the subject of Zizou’s Algerian origins in a derogatory fashion, which indeed turned out to be the case. And I celebrated wildly that Zizou had chosen to openly and violently refuse to endure such insult. He did not sneakily get back at his tormentor. No, it was his final game and he was going to play it on his terms – using his rules. No more taking of a high moral ground that in reality means self abasement or a turning of the other cheek only to have it struck as well.

He had endured this kind of thing before. Listened to the Jean-Marie Le Pen‘s and other racists deride the team of immigrants he led to victory in 1998. He had grown up with the knowledge of France’s brutal colonial war in Algeria; of the racist limitations to Algerian immigrant aspirations. His millions in income and his fame did not insulate him from the knowledge that his society prized him as a football player and little else. Zizou held hands with any immigrant who has stolidly endured racist insult to try and fit into their new society while trying to achieve their goals. And so when he unleashed that headbutt, the millions who had just taken their commuter trains to whatever nasty neighborhood they live in, under the baleful stare of the police and the sneers and jeers of many of their new countrymen leaned into Materazzi’s chest with him. I felt elated that this man who had bestrode the world stage and received its every honor had chosen instead, with premeditation and commitment, to refuse to take that shit anymore. He did it when it mattered, as billions watched and with the biggest sporting prize within reach. That is why Zizou for me has taken his place with the likes of Mohammed Ali and Joe Louis in being much more than a sporting icon. In his final game he rejected the role we want for him – refused to just play and shut up – and instead decided to be his own man.

But this post really would not be complete without a celebration of the mechanics of that headbutt. The way he jumped into it without hesitation. The decision to aim for the chest and not the head which displayed a brilliant understanding of the mechanics of surprise and forward movement during an attack. If you ever attend a Vee Arnis Jitsu class in New York City (as I did for some years before I left for London), you will realize that you have to move forward on the attack. That in fact your safety, in a manner of speaking, is behind the man in front of you and that you have to get through him to find it. Zizou understood this well. He might have gotten the red card and France did lose the game, but I think that his wellbeing, his sense of having stood for himself, lay behind Marco Materazzi who he went through. Like a hot knife through butter.

What would have happened had Zizou chosen to teach Materazzi some further lessons? Clearly the stomp would have come into play. In fact that was the natural follow through to that headbutt. But let me not get gory or sink too low because in fact Zizou did not want to hurt the guy. It was more to show Materazzi that while he coveted the trophy enough to dishonor himself by making racist comment, he, Zizou, thought that the prize was not worth his honor.

(Check out a delicious post by Daniel Davies on the (sublime headbutt)

Dr. Evil Gets on the Couch


We’re in the middle of a group therapy session, containing
six or seven FATHERS with their teenage SONS. It is
emotionally charged. A lot of pained expressions and coffee
in Styrofoam cups.

I love you, Dad.

I love you, Son.

(They hug. Everyone APPLAUDS. We see Dr. Evil and Scott.)

That was great, Mr. Keon, Dave.
Thank you. OK, group, we have two
new member. Say hello to Scott and
his father, Mr….Ehville?

Evil, actually, Doctor Evil.

Hello, Dr. Evil. Hello, Scott.

(into it)
Hello, everybody.

So, Scott, why don’t we start with
you. Why are you here?

Well, it’s kind of weird.

We don’t judge here.

OK. Well, I just really met my Dad
for the first time three days ago.
He was partially frozen for thirty
years. I never knew him growing up.
He comes back and now he wants me to
take over the family business.

And how do you feel about that?

I don’t wanna take over the family

But Scott, who’s going to take over
the world when I die?

Not me.

What do you want to do, Scott?

I don’t know. I was thinking, maybe
I’d be a vet or something, cause I
like animals and stuff.

An evil vet?

No. Maybe, like, work in a petting
zoo or something.

An evil petting zoo?

You always do that!
Anyways, this is really hard, because,
you know, my Dad is really evil.

We don’t label people here, Scott.

No, he’s really evil.


No, the boy’s right. I really am

Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re
here, that’s what’s important. A
journey of a thousand miles begins
with one step.

I just think, like, he hates me. I
really think he wants to kill me.

OK, Scott, no one really wants to
“kill” anyone here. They say it,
but they don’t mean it.

(The group LAUGHS.)

Actually, the boy’s quite astute. I
am trying to kill him. My Evil
Associates have cautioned against
it, so here he is, unfortunately,

We’ve heard from Scott, now let’s
hear from you.

The details of my life are quite

That’s not true, Doctor. Please,
tell us about your childhood.

Yes, of course. Go ahead, etc.

Very well, where should I begin? My
father was a relentlessly self-
improving boulangerie owner from
Belgium with low-grade narcolepsy
and a penchant for buggery. My mother
was a fifteen-year-old French
prostitute named Chloe with webbed
feet. My father would womanize, he
would drink, he would make outrageous
claims, like he invented the question
mark. Sometimes he would accuse
chestnuts of being lazy. A sort of
general malaise that only the genius
possess and the insane lament. My
childhood was typical.

Summers in Rangoon, luge lessons. In the spring we’d make
meat helmets. If I was insolent, I was placed in a burlap
bag and beaten with reeds. Pretty standard, really. At the
age of twelve I received my first scribe. At the

age of fifteen, a Zoroastrian named Vilma ritualistically
shaved my testicles. There really is nothing like a shawn
scrotum. At the age of eighteen, I went off to evil medical
school. From there…


C’mon, admit it’s funny

Now Scott, tell us about your father. Share with us.

Well he’s the head of an evil organization that has aspirations for world

And where is your father right now?

He’s in outer space, like frozen in a giant egg and stuffed inside a Big Boy
rocket with his cat, Mr. Bigglesworth.

Really? Well, we have a surprise for you, Scott. Let’s bring out Scott’s
father, Dr Evil.

Dr Evil enters.


Hello Scott, I’m back.

I can’t believe you’d do this to me on national television!

They offered me a free makeover.

Dr. Evil, we’ve seen a lot of the fathers here today open up to their sons,
sons to the fathers. Is there anything you’d like to share?


Yes, don’t you have any secrets?

OK. I have a vestigial tail.

It’s more of a nub, really. The spine just goes on a little longer than it
should. Also, I’ve dabbled. I mean, perform fellatio once and you’re a poet,
twice and you’re a homosexual. I remember once I was being fisted by Sebastian
Cabot- but here’s where the story gets interesting. He was
lactose-intolerant. He could eat red meat all night long, but one sip of milk
and it was gastric hell. And I remember we were caught in fragrance delicto
by Henry Kissinger, and you can imagine my humiliation at having Hank hear me
say, “Mr. French, no teeth.”One of my greatest disappointments is that I never
became a song and dance man. I could have been a quadruple threat, kind of
like a despotic Ken Barry. Dancer, singer, actor, and I would possess nuclear
weapons, the latter being the most threatening of the four. I once sat on a
bus and tried to will myself a menstrual cycle. All I ended up with was a
sense of failure and a mild neuralgia in my incisor teeth and perhaps a
grudging respect for the weaker sex. I love toe cleavage. For the most part I
distrust dogs. I slept in a horse once. It was quite roomy. On second
thought, it was the Ritz. I named my left testicle ‘piss’ and my right
testicle ‘vinegar’. I wrote “It’s Raining Men”, or so the Christmas babies
told me. Oh yes, I also made a Marzipan voodoo effigy of The Fonze while I was
in coma after smoking some Peruvian prayer hash, but who at the end of the day
can honestly say they haven’t done that?

(The Springer audience is stunned, slack-jawed and for once quiet.)

Classic Scene 2


Number Two smiles weakly, breaking into a sweat on his brow.

May I add, I appreciate you reinstating me after our little…misunderstanding.

Frau Farbissina. Wie gehts is

We see Frau. She looks a little more ‘masculine’ than before.

Zehr gut, Herr Doctor.

How are things?

I have come to embrace the love that dare not speak it’s name. To my right is
my lover.

We see a severe-looking German woman with one continuous eyebrow.

Her name is Unibrau. I met her on the LPGA Tour.

Right on. Welcome, Unibrau.

Dr. Evil takes another sip of cappuccino, making the frothy milk mustache even larger.

Doctor, you have a ‘milk mustache.’

(wiping it off, embarrassed)
Oh, I know. I know.

Dr. Evil, I’d like to introduce
the Greek assassin, Oedipus.

(We see a swarthy Greek army guy.)
Welcome to my private army, Oedipus. Excited?

I could give a shit.

Kiss your mother with that mouth?


Of course you do.

Dr Evil begins to press a button labelled “Oedipus” on his control panel, but Number Two interrupts.

(clearing throat)
Dr. Evil, as you know, the rate at which you liquidate henchmen far exceeds our
ability to replace them.

I have so few pleasures left to me, Number Two. The key to life is to rotate
your vices. One day it’s executions, another day it’s creamy French cheese.
It’s like frickin’ heroin.

My Best Friend’s Wedding

I just got back to London from Washington DC where my close friend was getting married this past weekend. Now this is a friend I have had since boarding school in Nairobi; we went to the States for university at about the same time; and roomed together in Brooklyn for some years. BK or Fort Green to be exact was one party after the other, ‘shots all around’ being one of our more frequent utterances and of course where there is alcohol and testosterone, seeking the company of women was par of the course. Because of so many years spent as close friends we had developed our own private language. One of its more important concepts that we repeated like a mantra was ‘standards and rules’. These were applied to women. We carefully calibrated our individual preferences, analysed them over many beers and over time codified our romantic desires and how to go about satisfying them.

It was quite juvenile really but I think very serious for all the jokes we made about it. Sometimes I think it was an attempt to create some kind of order in the chaos of being single in New York City. We formed a little community with its ethics and battlegrounds even if they were only located in lounges and the succession of parties we frequented. Our enemy, I think, was loneliness. The feeling of not being wanted in a city built on the principle of aspiration and the conceit that only those who are weak or unworthy do not realise their every dream. New York has a way of inflating or redirecting your desires. For example, you may have thought that you wanted to date a funny and down to earth person when you got off the bus from some small town or country. A few months later, you would be telling your friends that you wanted to only date funny and down to earth supermodels willing to share you with their supermodel friends.

The city makes you believe that your most fevered imaginings are just a Thursday night away, just a matter of being at the right place at the right time. That place of course being yet another darkened lounge playing the same relentlessly funky jams and filled with people who manage to simultaneously seem completely unique and uniform. Fun is what it was. So much fun that I had it coming out of my ears so that it stopped being fun – like being made to laugh continuously without being able to stop or tickled for hours on end. Our standards and rules created ever finer distinctions. Before I got to New York, I had not fully appreciated the Eddie Murphy character in Boomerang who rejects a woman because her feet have cones. With the benefit of hindsight and at a distance, I now realise that I was actually having an almost sexual relationship with the city itself. I desired it as it was reflected in all the people I used to spend time with. Proof came when I left the city for London with my mobile phone holding hundreds of numbers. A few weeks after settling in London, I scrolled through these numbers and could not recognise two-thirds of them and had no desire to speak to more than a handful. Yet these other strangers were people I had spent many hours with, shared all manner of experiences, slept with some and argued with others. But it was really never about them as much as it was about being in love with the city that forced them into the same lounge I was in or even into my bed. The city demanded fidelity and very rarely gave anything that did not sharpen your appetite for its other (waiting) charms.

When my friend and his girlfriend decided to get married, it was an act of rebellion. It could only have succeeded once they removed themselves from their relationship with New York, which they did since they now live in Washington DC. He threw off ‘standards and rules’ which allowed him I think to see that these never had the ability to help him find his bride who is so much more than what he had thought he wanted when we were in Fort Green. His asking me to be best man forced me to turn away from the language that we had honed for so long since it could scarcely help digest the course he had chosen for himself. And what has been so great about it in the last year is realising progressively that our friendship which most people who know us would think is entirely based on partying was filled with all this other good stuff which had been getting built parallel to our life of tequila shots and thong analysis.

The wedding had about 80 people and was very simple. I got to be MC and so spent most of the day stressed that I was going to drop a clanger and be forever damned. I did drop several but I think only a few people noticed them. The more I think of it and our previous friendship as single men in NYC – since we are now in a different place – the thing that makes me happiest for him is that he has looked within himself for what he wants and not allowed external standards and rules to make the decision for him. I suspect something special happened to me this past Saturday as well but time will tell, for now though I know it was one of the happier days of my life.

Fasting Diary: The Path (Back) to the Warrior

I have been fasting for the past six hours and cannot think from the hunger. I am delirious with it and cannot imagine that I will be able to maintain it for a week. My stomach after hearing that Head Division had ruled the start of a fast went into full scale battle mode. It immediately initiated a civil disobedience campaign of sharp unexpected intestinal twistings and loud, rumbling cries of ‘no food, no justice’. The sight of a portly man eating a brie and ham sandwich as I walked by him in search of Miso soup made me hurriedly close my moaning mouth just before a gob of saliva escaped. By tomorrow, the odds are that I will be lying on my couch with harly the strength to use the remote control. But with the ever valiant and dictatorial (to the rest of the body) Head Division on duty, I am sure there shall be orders to the fingers to provide periodic updates to you decadent types with your sandwiches and breads and pies, beers, ice creams, steaks…damn you all!

I used to fast occasionally to try and give my ever-working tummy a rest. Does it not sometimes rankle how cow-like eating is, the endless munching and swallowing, the helplessness of needing to eat or die, the boring predictability? Since I have been in London, the training regime I used to have in New York fell apart. I could not find a dojo that I enjoyed and for the life of me cannot get myself to run consistently in the grey weather. My willpower – or the little there is of it – used to be expressed mainly through goals I set myself in Vee Arnis Jitsu. Not anymore. Now it occasionally pokes its little head from its hiding place to will the writing of bits of my thesis and the occasional short story. The bastard can last for weeks without raising the slightest murmur of protest at my procrastinations. Enough I said to my brother last night, enough of this self-indulgence that has turned my body into the soft, spoilt, library-visiting, tiring, weak lump that I used to hold in contempt (and fear). Back to the lean warrior ready to run all night to besiege and lay to waste a city by day. My brother of course laughed heartily and cruelly; he does not think I will last more than a day.

The goal for the week is to limit myself to light liquids. It is to be Miso soup and its brothy equivalents, water, teas and possibly, very possibly given I have business meetings to attend in the evenings, vodka. (Just got some anonymous advice on eating occassional bits of fiber-filled veggies that I will follow.)

Stay glued to this spot for updates as I attempt a return to the path of right, to reclaiming my body from the forces of laziness and weakness. Back to the world of willed pain to build strength and endurance. Back to the jujitsu throw and to the skinned knuckles of Arnis stick training.

In these days of fear-mongering as argument, I expect that some reader will think to chime in with advice about how unsafe this plan may be. Or even how ‘insensitive’ I am being at a time when there are people actually starving to death. But I will only be listening to those who actually advise me how to get through it as planned. Wish me luck.

The bitter tears shed when I compare my trip from home to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport and from London’s Heathrow to my flat.

Back to the African Bullets & Honey monster after more than a month away from its ravenous hunger. I only got back to London early this morning after a month in Nairobi. Allow me to once again – because I believe I have blogged about this before – give you a glimpse of the inevitable culture shock that I always have when I compare the trip from our Nairobi home to Jomo Kenyatta Airport and then from Heathrow to my London apartment.

Nairobi 28th February:

Flight leaving at 23:25 meaning that I am meant to check in at 21.25 latest. But of course I only leave the house at 21.15 in a two-car convoy carrying friend, sister and mother – well three cars when you include my other buddy meeting us at the airport. This little posse is not only an outpouring of love; the airport trip to the middle class Kenyan, since the economic hard times of the 1990s, is like a confirmation that an escape route exists to hope, to a rebirth, a fresh start. The first time you are escorted to it, there are tears of sorrow at your departure, others of envy at the supposedly better life you will have abroad. We get to the airport at 21.45 and spend the next 15 minutes or so chatting by the curbside and saying repeated goodbyes that are interrupted by some comment. Then the hugs, the misty eyes (none by yours truly; I am a tear-less ninja except when it is time to blog when I shed with the sheer frustration caused by the AB&H monster’s cruel hold of me) and the final shouted goodbyes. Naturally, being the African-with-a-chip-on-his-shoulder, I hate flying British Airways and avoid it whenever I can. Not this time though, revolutionary principles must after all yield to cheap internet fares. Imagine my surprise – and disappointment – when with my teeth bared to attack any sign of British condescension, the manager instead decides to upgrade me to premium economy. Next stop: the friendly immigration officer who admonishes me not to stay ‘out there’ too long. After a cup of java coffee and a slice of carrot cake, I move to my seat next to a development consultant who (I swear this) spends the eight hours of the flight reading a long, hair-pullingly boring development report. He must be worth every penny, that poor SOB. But this is a story for another day…

London 1st March:


‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain, thank you for flying British Airways.’

‘London today is quite cold, under zero degrees.’

‘We hope you have enjoyed our service and that you will enjoy your stay (you poor suckers hahahahahahaha…)’


‘Where are you from?’ (peering intently at old stamps and visas. You are one of them: the illegal immigrant, the African with a behind crammed with ecstasy…or at least cocaine or heroin.)

‘What do you do here?’

‘I am a student’

‘Of what?’

‘War studies.’

‘What? Did you say war, like fighting?’

‘Yes, I study how to yank out immigration eyeballs with the peace sign…I bet you always thought the sign (as in ‘peace dude’) was … like, um, peaceful. Right? Well let me tell you something you poor, 5.30AM African harassing, passport caressing, squinty eyed, nose picking-with finger-that-then-touches-my-passport-photo-bureaucrat, the peace sign is kung fu for the eye-stab move. Bet you didn’t know that. And yes, I have no intention of remaining in your country forever when there is a three-car convoy filled with beery people waiting to pick me up at JKA.’

I wish that is what I had said because the European IMMIGRATION INTERVIEW is an absurd, hypocrisy by a west that speaks the talk of open boundaries to goods and capital when it cannot stand the same for people. The 21st century meeting point between African Livingstones and Lugards and Europe’s petty gate-keeping chiefs. Just beyond the immigration officer’s shoulder are little offices which if you ever have the misfortune of visiting always have a scared looking African seated patiently awaiting some grim fate. You don’t make conversation since it is clear to both of you that the other is a criminal and must be consorted with. But I digress.

‘How long were you away?’

‘Too briefly, I wish it had been forever.’

‘When does your doctoral course end?’

‘When the sun burns itself out; when the hens come home to roost; when the Fat Woman sings; just a moment before the grim reaper strikes me down; (sobbing) why must you ask such hurtful questions?’


Illegal Nigerian Taxi Driver at Arrivals Terminal:

‘Taxi? Looking for taxi?’ (whispered with averted gaze that immediately pulls you into the kind of conspiracy that the IMMIGRATION OFFICER suspected you of being mixed up in.)

‘Yes. I want to go to Elephant and Castle. How much will it be?’

‘Forty pounds alone, thirty pounds if you wait for me to pick up another passenger.’

(I realise why this negotiation always discomfits me: it feels like I am a john trying to pick up a prostitute so – not that I would know what that is all about by the way.)

As I stand trying to decide whether this is a better deal than lugging two large suitcases up and down stairways, seating for an hour in a cold tube train and the ten minutes walk from the station to my door, another taxi driver sidles up to me, trying not to be noticed by the first one who is shouting into his mobile phone.

‘Where are you going?’ he asks ‘I will be cheap, cheap.’

‘Elephant and Castle’

‘Ok, thirty five pounds. We go?’

‘Sure, but only for thirty’

‘Fine, fine. Go to that elevator there and I will meet you inside. Don’t tell him that you are coming with me.’

Struck by guilt, reeling from the cold, bumping shoulders with angry looking people who never meet your eye and lugging my massive bags, I limp after him to the taxi. A traitor and a cheat within 30 minutes of getting to London, and feeling what a john must feel: tawdry, embarrassed and broke.

The ride takes an hour in traffic and I read a newspaper whose headline announces that the European Union has just introduced legislation that kids as old as eleven will have to be in car safety seats or fines of upto £500 can be levied on the driver. I have arrived. Back to the fire.