Being Manly Enough Requires Balls

Words: Clay Muganda

I am old.

On 15th February, 2003, just when Kenya had restricted Canada to 197 in 49 overs, and I was watching Kenya chase, I got a call.

It was during the 2003 Cricket World Cup, and my drinking pal then, and at The Porter House that Saturday afternoon, was my creative friend…a man so sharp that he cannot hold a job since he does not understand how other people around him can be so dumb.

You can say he is as arrogant just like his uncle who gave you the Michuki Rules. He can call you anything, anytime, if he feels you are a dunderhead.

He does not drink in hours. He drinks in days. He says so. And it is true. The mothers to his children know that. He could leave the house on Friday, and on Sunday afternoon, I would still find him in the pub. Drunk. But his ability to call people names still intact.

His Baby Mamas always run away. With the child, or children. But at some point they come back. His brains bring them back.

My friend could have survived in the Hyena Kingdom where females choose the males because they do not want weak offspring. Can I say my friend is liked by Fisilets? At times I used to think he was ever drunk because he wanted to give his loins a break. He probably used to stay away from the house because of that too.

Actually, I thought Fisilets bought him drinks so he could, in a moment of weakness, deposit his brains in their wombs. I am not sure. He could call them many names, but you would find him with them in the pub.

“Clay I need a drink,” he would call me at 8am. Or even earlier. Why? “So-and-so passed by here and found so-and-so in bed and she told me to forget about her. Problem is, she still has a copy of the house keys.”

Damn. Change the lock, I would advise.

Why do unmarried men with wandering eyes give their first, second or third partner a copy of their house keys? Why do they give away the keys to their hearts? A man’s house is his castle, and when he is unmarried, it is his fortress.

“I can change the lock but there is a problem” Which one? “I do not want my children to roam the streets. You know so-and-so (he would name a respectable TV news reader)? His children are scavengers outside City Market.”

What’s that got to do with your lock?

“She is pregnant and I already booked the hospital…”

By 10am, my buddy would be in a pub. Not drowning his sorrows. In his life, there is no sadness, just creativity.

“I suggested to that bank how they can entertain their customers who are waiting to be served…”

He would call me, his speech slurring. “Yesterday I went to this meeting at such-and-such media house and people had to introduce themselves to the CEO, but when it got to me he said, ‘Oh, you are the creative guy, I already know you…’”

What was the meeting about? “Their radio numbers are tanking and they need help. I told them for free several months back what they should do ­but the presenters think they know everything. It will not take long before they close shop…”

My friend was in school with some of Kenya’s prominent people. If they crossed his path during the school days, he would befriend them, just to exact his revenge.

Later he would offer them drinks. Half the drink would be the contents of his bladder. He was devious.

“This drink is very nice,” he says they would say, and he would let out a guttural laugh. From deep down his heart. A place where only the love for his children would come.

His contempt for people he deems idiots come from his head. His insults come from his mouth. He does not need to think about insulting fools. It comes naturally.

My friend studied in the UK, but never went to a cricket match. Cricket is Britain’s national sport. If you tell my friend that it is football, he will talk to you from his mouth. You are dunderhead. How can you not have such a useless piece of information?

During the holidays, he used to work in a pub. And if you were a rude drunkard, you would end up drinking something you never ordered before you leave. He just wanted  to prove  that you are an idiot and that he had power over you.

He never watched cricket, but on February 15, 2003 we were watching Maurice Odumbe take the wickets of Canada’s Sattaur and de Groot, to finish with figures of 2 for 41 from nine overs.

Billcliff scored a steady 71, which included 8 boundaries from 100 deliveries before Tony Suji bowled him. That was Suji’s only wicket and he finished with figures of 45 for one from 7 overs. My friend understood cricket because he did not want to be caught flatfooted. He did not want to meet a woman in place where cricket was being played or screened and fail to explain to her what is going on.

“Somebody needs to sell these guys. They are high value products,” he would say of Kenyan players.

There was this thing about him looking for ways to make money. To buy his own drinks, and to feed his children, wherever they were. You can say he is the archetypal man, the one who suffers so the products of his loins do not sleep hungry. The type who fears being broke. The one whose actions, at any one point remind you that being a man is not easy.

Kenya’s innings started on sour note. Kennedy Obuya managed only four runs. It was a boundary. He faced 17 balls, meaning 16 of them were dot balls. Thuraisingam ended his misery.

Ravindu Shah and Steve Tikolo steadied the Kenyan ship. Ravindu scored 61 which included nine boundaries. Steve was trapped leg before by Michael Davison after scoring 42. Odumbe came in at number five and in 31 minutes scored 26 runs from 19 balls at a strike rate of 136 per cent.

Hitesh Modi had come in at number four and stayed on the crease for 78 minutes and scored only six runs from 48 balls at a strike rate of 12.5 per cent. Even with his figures, Kenya was in control because they were scoring above the required run rate and they had wickets in hand too.

Yeah. Bringing up a daughter is hard. Until you get a son.

These guys were out to prove a thing. Their wives and girlfriends and children and parents and siblings were watching them. The nation was watching them. They did not want to let anyone down, even though their journey to the World Cup was not smooth.

They had suffered, but they had learnt from childhood that boys needed to grin and bear it. The society at times lies to boys. Boys do not cry. But they were now men. And there were people who were looking up to them. Boy and girls were looking up to them. They had to deliver.

My friend was enjoying his drink, and the game. Then my phone rang. My first son had strayed from the house, and could not be traced. He had not been seen for over two hours.

“Look around. Maybe he is just playing around,” I said. “Let me know what you get.” I shared the news with my friend.

We had been engrossed in the game, but the news had disoriented us. The barman at The Porter House had seen all kinds of Nairobians and listened to all sorts of conversations.

From sensible bar talk to outright stupidity, this barman had heard it all and had never lost his cool. Men are not supposed to lose it. Men are supposed to be composed. His clients included the high and the low of Nairobi and Bogonko Bosire and people who understood cricket and the law and a lot of nonsense.

My friend’s guttural laugh had disappeared. I was losing interest in the game. “I think you have to go and join in the search,” he told me.

Where could he be; what could have happened? If they do not find him in the vicinity, how will I go through the process of looking for him? I am a man. I should be strong, I told myself. All will be well. I reassured myself. But deep down there was this fear of the unknown. Was it my fault? Where should I start from?

Non-journalists might think it can be easy for a journalist because he has all the resources at his disposal. When I was told that he had not been found in the vicinity, I started working the phones. I informed my siblings. My buddy was concerned because he was a parent too. He had a daughter or more than one child I should guess — in Europe, and he, like many parents, always used to say how difficult it is to bring up a daughter.

Yeah. Bringing up a daughter is hard. Until you get a son. And you forget the meaning of the word easy. You spend all your life trying to instill in him manly virtues and tell him all the things men do.

As a man, you need to have standards. Even at your lowest moment. My friend had standards.

“Clay, I want to stop going out with women who do not drive.”


“So, when they get annoyed with me they can drive away and not harass me to call them a cab.”

“Really? And if she does not have the money to buy a car and you like her?”

“Then I will stop liking her because she lacks the drive to look for money.”


When you have a son, you are tempted to tell him about men’s standards — and you must have a good memory. You call him young man, because, you say, he is just a younger man, and not a boy and in the process tell him that it is not good for a man to be broke, so, he must work hard to avoid being broke in the future.

“Daddy, I am very broke.” What do you need money for and I pay for everything?  “But Daddy you said it is not good for a man to be broke.”

It gets trickier when he asks for your body spray. And your deo stick. Or even your Old Skul cologne, a brand you have known since your high school days and which you stick to even as your nose is bombarded with all sorts of new age scents named after little-known people.

“Okay, we will go shopping I get for you yours.” On the day of shopping, you ask the shop attendant if they have scents for boys because you know such exist even though you never used them. You emphasise the word ‘boys’.

“But Daddy you said I am a young man.”

Then you have to change your brand of body spray because your brand has become his. You hang on to your Old Skul cologne because he is jobless and there is no way you will splash such kind of money on a young man because he wants to smell nice.

It gets trickier when the young man decides that Clarks are cool. Or that Hush Puppies are better than any other type of shoes for people, like him, who are not employed but who enjoy very many privileges. It is worse when his feet are almost the same size as yours.

Imagine getting home and on the young man’s feet is a pair of Clarks you are yet to wear. He was trying them on, you are reminded. Okay young man, you have tried them, now put them back.

You might think that the sentence settles it, but he will ask if he can get a pair like that. You have to find the money. Or a reason why he cannot get something close to that.

Taking a walk with your young man should be fun, but during schools’ opening and closing days, you might think twice. You know those people who say they will buy shotguns to protect their daughters from (school) boys? They are fighting a losing war. The boys are innocent — to an extent.

As my friend can testify, (school) girls know what, or who they want, and they will approach their target whether you are there or not, and you have to give way because, you have no business listening to a conversation between high school students of the opposite sex.

So, what happens when you go to a restaurant to have a meal, and as you walk out, the young man suggests you should stop visiting other restaurants and should be visiting only this new one?

…being a perfect man is easier talked about than achieved.

Was the food good, you want to ask, then you realise that the person who served you is not a day older than 18, and must have sat her Fourth Form exams the previous year.

Sooner or later, you start realising that you are being edged out. Yes, the young man needs to start going places on his own. But you are still a parent, and you have to be protective, after all, this young man once went out, nay, got lost for a whole weekend and your professional colleagues in print and broadcast media went out of their way to help you get him.

“Daddy next term I want to go to school on my own.”


“But there are people in my school who come on their own.”

Most of the time, such antics make you proud; you want to pat yourself on the back because you have brought up someone who can, in a way, wish to fend for himself.

There are times when these antics make you ask yourself questions. Can he veer off to other places when I do not accompany him to school? Why is your judgment being questioned and why on Earth should you, the responsible parent, follow the lead of boys you have never met and let your child travel with them to school when you can take him?

Then you console yourself that it is out of respect. There are things he might want to do but you cramp his space or vice versa.

You remember that being the ideal man is a goal you walk towards every day, but at the end of the day, you cannot shirk your responsibilities.

You also remember the day you and him passed by a group of school girls in uniform and you overheard them say that he has nice glasses. You overheard them talk about his swag. You overheard them ask why you are always with him on opening and closing days…

You also remember that baby who was wailing upon seeing me on Monday, February 17 2003 when a member of a vigilante group brought him to me.

What had happened is not clear, but another mother had bumped in to him two days earlier, when I was watching Kenya play Canada, and took him in, and reported to the office of the neighbourhood watch, or the vigilante group.

Nowadays, that boy wants to be his own man, which is not a bad thing, but you have to make him understand that being a perfect man is easier talked about than achieved.

That boy, who was born a few years ago today, has the confidence to follow me on Twitter, and befriend me on Facebook, but at the same time feels that I should give him his space.

That boy is my first son, Craig. He is named after a cricketer, not a musician.

Oh yes, I am old. Happy Birthday young man.


This article was first published on Ted Malanda’s blog

Oyunga Pala is a Kenyan writer, curator and editor. This blog examines the texture of everyday Kenyan and African life and the challenges of modernity and disillusion. The writings commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity in contemporary society.

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