Let’s talk about sex was a hit song from the American all girl hip hop trio, Salt-N-Pepa released in 1990. For the conservative nature of the times, it went straight to the banned list. But anyone alive and young during the 90s remembers Salt-N-Pepa for this song and not because of the safe sex message. Talking about sex in the 80s was stuff of taboo. We only talked about what was wrong with sex in public and regurgitated borrowed notions of what we imagined was great sex from popular media in private. The 80s and 90s were incredibly traumatizing times for young people in the blossoming stage of their sexuality. The ‘killer’ disease AIDS was ravaging lives in Africa and the dread of sex went viral. The HIV virus had weaponized sex to kill and the 90s gave birth to a sexually repressed society burdened with the shame of sexual desire.
About 5 year ago, I encountered a turtle by the banks of the river Yala in Gem district whilst doing farm work. We were five men busy digging, preparing a patch of land by the river to plant arrow roots, when one of the men nearly struck a solid shell that moved. He had discovered a turtle. In all my years since childhood, I had never seen a turtle in these waters and I was pleasantly surprised. The turtle, true to its nature, retreated into its shell as we gathered around to contemplate the best course of action. Two of the men debated on whether it was edible. Perhaps it could be sold for a tidy sum to a group of Chinese road construction workers reputed to pay premier rates for exotic dishes. Another suggested instant death launching into overdrive with his bad omen theories.
There is an old African saying, “Character is like pregnancy. It cannot be hidden forever”.
A young man, called Hoze, in his late 20s finds himself embroiled in running battles between the police and demonstrators in a rural Kisumu county. It is October 26th 2017, a day scheduled for the repeat Kenyan elections. In his home village, protestors have blocked all the main roads leading to the primary school serving as a polling station. They are determined to prevent arrival of the ballot boxes in the unshaken belief that the elections are rigged. He has never seen so many enraged and agitated people. Thousands, gathered on the main highway ready for battle. Word had gone around a week earlier that no one should remain indoors because stories from Nyalenda and Obunga in Kisumu had returned of police raids, involving rogue elements who break into houses targeting civilians. Even babies were not spared. When the police arrived, everyone would be profiled as guilty and served with the same brutal treatment. No one wanted to be a sitting duck.
Ezekiel Mutua, head honcho of the Kenya Film Classification Board has earned a reputation as the king of censorship. He polices our TV screens like a vigilante, protecting the innocents from pornography in our liberal society, where citizens won’t let anyone infringe on their right to sexual arousal.
Ezekiel Mutua’s censorship stance, comes across as detached from reality, akin to a story I heard about a herdsman who came to Nairobi city to collect his money after selling 30 head of cattle. Well aware of “Nairoberry”, he came to town prepared, carrying a sturdy metal box, fastened with a solid padlock. After the transaction, the money was arranged neatly in the metal box and securely fastened. The herder tucked the key into his socks and went to catch the next bus home at the busy Machakos terminus. As he waited, a trio of young hoodlums, snatched his metal box and varnished among the horde of commuters. Two curious onlookers surprised by his nonchalant attitude queried why he was not running after his belongings. Without missing a beat, he announced,
“They are wasting their time, I have the keys”.
Every Nairobian has a part of the city instrumental in crafting their identity. A place where they truly came to appreciate the essence of Nairobi and found belonging. For most Nairobians, it is the neighbourhood they grew up in but I found my inspiration elsewhere.
My favourite part of the city is ensconced in the area around the University of Nairobi’s Main campus. From Uhuru Highway onto the University Way, down Muindi Mbingu Street, connecting the grid to Kenyatta Avenue and all the way around to the Arboretum Forest and back. It is packed with endless memories and makes a fascinating treasure trove for history lovers. I was in the University for a four year pursuing a Bachelor degree in Anthropology and spent a good deal of time crisscrossing this part of the city. My daily commute cut across Nairobi University main grounds, past the fountain ‘of Knowledge’ on the same path that Senator Barack Obama walked on his way to address students about a hopeful future at Taifa Hall in 2006 when it seemed ludicrous that he would be elected as the first black President of the US.