“He told me not be so naive”. Those are Lupita Nyong’o’s words captured in an op-ed for the New York Times in October. Lupita was retelling a sexual harassment episode at the hands of Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Lupita broke her silence after 7 years, joining a long list of Hollywood actresses who exposed the movie producer’s predatory sexual behaviour. That was just the beginning. The Harvey Weinstein case exposed crocodiles lurking underneath calm waters.
A PhD is the highest degree in formal scholarship. It used to have value. The prestige of the achievement got watered down progressively by successive political regimes in the quest for dominance and public compliance. “You do not want too many smart guys asking too many smart questions. That interferes with the smooth running of government”. The pursuit of knowledge was knocked off its high tower, education was dumbed down and intellectuals were slowly silenced. Nowadays, university dons are better known for their public agitation for better pay. So it seems quite appropriate that a Kenyan acronym for PhD would translate to pull, him/her, down. Success lies in a constructive effort to rise above others but through the ‘PhD’ lenses one can only achieve success by destroying those who are better than us.
In this country, the public relishes in cutting tall poppies down to size. It is another of those Kenyan peculiarities, like our recent fascination with quails. Those who occupy positions of envy must always play humble. The politics of envy operates as a social refrain. One is advised not to rise too high or too quickly. When success descends after hard labour, especially the nature that involves international accolades, one is advised to voice their gratitude in this order; to thank God, country and then family. You might be big in Ho Chi Minh city but back in Nairobi, celebrity has to be earned.
Our world celebrated athletes, kings of the podium in global competitions, recognize this characteristic and bow their heads when they land at JKIA ( Jomo Kenyatta International Airport). It is apparent that it takes a lot more than an Olympic Gold medal to earn a street parade in Kenya.
Presently, a shining star in the name of Lupita Nyong’o is getting her Kenyan DNA analyzed. Lupita is the breakout star from the critically acclaimed movie 12 Years A Slave. She has stood alongside Hollywood royalty and most have paled in her shadow. Let’s get this out of the way. She is not Mexican. Lupita’s performance was riveting and she earned her right as an Academy Award nominee. The symbolic gesture of her success, will serve as a major motivational factor for a whole generation of young Kenyans and is a critical endorsement for the arts as a worthy career pursuit. From now on, every Kenyan filmmaker or producer, will always reference Lupita for effect when talking to their Nigerian counterparts. Every living relative with so much as an iota of a blood relationship to the Nyong’os, will self-identify. For dark skinned sisters, Lupita has brought the groove back. Black is still beautiful. Her rise is probably not very good for the cosmetic industry. In one fell swoop she has dented the market for skin lighters and weaves. Very importantly, Lupita has also taken the spot light away from socialites and their press hogging derrieres.
As far as patriotism goes, that is a significant contribution from a 30 year old. But Lupita knows that one slight misstep, a minor incidence of bad behavior, a weak moment of judgment and knives of envy will be drawn. She cannot take a bad picture or experience a fashion faux pas. She also has to fight the perception that she is a beneficiary of privilege as the daughter of a prominent politician and a Yale alumni. These are occupational hazards of stardom.
PS: Lupita won the Oscars for the best supporting actress role in the movie “12 years A Slave” and it does not get any bigger than that in film. Oh My! Oh My! Dreams do come true. What a moment!
We wish her the best in her career. Total class and proudly Kenyan.
There are many ways to keep in shape, attain fitness, cut weight but nothing evokes the same reverence as the gym. Gyms have always represented a middle class aspiration of arrival. There was a sense of arrival when you could afford to join a modern gym. Some guys still believe a gym is a male spa and an excuse to break a sweat to justify use of the sauna. It is also a place to mingle with bored housewives eager trying to lose weight for an event that a year away. However, in these fast food, high stress times fitness has become a necessity. Good medical cover doesn’t come cheap.
Maintaining fitness outside a gym facility seems to be only possible for those who exercise is an occupational requirement. I had no intention of joining the gym but I was forced to by circumstance. I was socialized to think of the gym as a place to add muscle mass or lose weight. A place where beefy types hoarded weights and aerobic fanatics gathered religiously like game at a watering hole. You went to the gym in search of the ideal appearance of the body because that is what adverts promised. Those who sought true inner fitness, played outdoors.
I grew up in a neighbourhood that was dominated by fitness freaks who swore by running. There were no frills. Irrespective of the sport you played, every one ran. The road work philosophy meant hitting the tarmac on early chilly mornings and running hard. In the 80s in Nairobi, people gallivanting across neighbourhoods doing road work was a fairly common sight. Jogging was a normal neighbourhood activity and in some, a rite of passage. If you ever hoped to make your mark in a sport, gain a measure of respect, you had to get fit and to get fit you jogged. There was a near obsession with keeping fit. It was probably heavily influenced by the post-Bruce Lee era of martial arts movies that were popular where the hero character had to pass a fitness test before the final duel.
I tried to relive those days towards the end of last year. I located a mate who jogs regularly and joined him for an ‘easy’ evening run. It was all nice and dandy for the first half until the suffering set in after barely 2 kms in. I was certain I was going to collapse if I did not stop running. My was not willing and the body was threatening to shut down. My mate thought I was being a bit dramatic but it was clearly a bad idea trying to keep up with the pace of a guy who had run two half marathons last year. The next day my body felt like it had been panel beaten by City Council askaris. I tried maintaining the discipline of a morning run but regressed back into procrastination. I needed help. I was not that fit buck that I used to be.
Begrudgingly, I took up a gym membership. When I got back to the gym after a long absence, I was dismayed by the number of guys who take fitness seriously. The average guy wouldn’t venture into the gym without a doctor’s recommendation letter. Gyms are filled with older guys trying to getting into shape mostly for health reasons and women monitoring their weights. Young guys are conspicuously absent and the fitness classes are dominated by women. The only people I see jogging by the roadside in the evenings are typically older, mostly female and largely foreigners. For a country that is known for its male long distance runners, the typical Kenyan male fitness enthusiast is proudly an armchair analyst of the Barclays Premier League. It is a sorry state of affairs.
The standards of manhood have regressed and we seem firmly back to the idea that a man of means will be known by the size of his stomach.
LUPITA AND NEW BEAUTY STANDARDS
Lupita’s hair has grabbed newspaper headlines for the better part of January. The breakout star of the critically acclaimed feature “12 Years A Slave” has got Hollywood royalty lapping out of her hand and Kenyans reexamining their beauty standards. If beauty pageants are to be believed, the ideal Kenyan beauty is tall, thick bottomed and spots a flawless weave. We are sadly drawn back to the great weave debate. To weave or not weave and there is pressure to consider the merits of going natural given that 1st lady is an advocate. Lupita’s exotic appeal is aided greatly by her ‘natural hair’ and given impact of Hollywood on local trends; we expect to see a shift in hairstyle as a result of the Lupita effect. While most men will claim they prefer a natural look, many have come to appreciate the cost benefits of an investment in a good weave. The reality is that not all head shapes are suited to the natural look. It is also pointless to call it natural, if it harder to maintain than a weave. Besides, some of the women are better off hiding their true identity. Dating is all about appearance. You will be judged by the allure of your hair, natural or not.