Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How The French Ruined My Christmas (A Burundi Experience)

When I was younger we used to play a certain game that would require us to muster some skill in grammar or face the humiliation of being laughed at by a bunch annoying know-it-alls that would have gladly been recruited by Hitler in his grammar Nazi army. The choice of words you made would determine whether you would be the coolest kid that day or well… the dumbest. So the game would require us to stand in a circle, then think of an adjective that has the first letter as your name. So there’d be all sorts of cool adjectives like Danger Dave, Atomic Adam even Elegant Esther. My turn would come and I’d say Rey Misterio Ras. Then everyone in the group would pause with blank face except for Humorous H who I think the only humorous thing about him was his name Hanningtone. “You know, Rey Misterio from wrestling…?” I would say, my dignity coiling up in a bunch as everyone burst out in laughter; including Hanningtone.

It was then that I decided to change strategy. They already thought I was dumb and my love for wrestling did nothing to add to my ‘street rep’ so every time it would be my turn I’d say, “Amazing Mengesha!” and with confidence. Everyone would look at me, including Hanningtone and I’d say, “The A is silent….” Even Hanningtone was impressed.
Having said that, I spent last Christmas in the lovely tiny country that is Burundi…and yes it is tiny…okay in a cute at least-we-have-a-chance-to-all-know-each-other way.

 My departure date was a day after the Kampala Coach bombing and I have this philosophy that I feel the need to share with you… If it rains, stay at home. If your annoying friend who talks to you incessantly and keeps slapping your back as punctuation to all his sentences invites you for a date, stay at home, if you are sick, stay at home; if a bomb explodes somewhere remotely close to where you are, stay at home…or very very very far away (from the bomb, not home)! This time I however had to break protocol and go down to the explosion site…I used ‘I’ and ‘Explosion site’ in one sentence… L God save us….
The journey would take two days, with a stopover in Kampala for dinner (at 3 AM!!!). We would leave Kenya; go through Uganda, through Rwanda and finally Bujumbura the lovely capital city of Burundi.
The trip wasn’t as smooth as it looks. Bus companies should not allow people to travel with some things. These include: Small radios, Extremely spicy food (so spicy you can tell what it is by smell), annoyingly loud children, people who put their legs over the front headrest and end up tickling your ears with their disgusting feet and drivers who do not understand the biology of liquids and the human anatomy.
Many hours later and we were in Bujumbura. For a moment I thought I was in Mombasa; palm trees (in some parts), humidity, warm nights, polite people, and beautiful ehh… people … if you love Mombasa, then you will definitely love Bujumbura. Now we are even Burundi. My host was this cool Dj (name withheld because I only know how to pronounce it and that was hard enough) so we’ll call Him Dj. E. He was a cool guy. Flat screen television mounted on his wall, cool box seats only a bachelor would have, a mini fridge for those special nights and the mayonnaise, a 6 by 6 bed…he had goals.

Dj E is too cool to be drawn so I put a picture of Freaknik instead

Bujumbura is a great city to walk around. It’s like Nairobi without the tall buildings. Everything else is just like Nairobi they even have their own Muthurwa (open door market in Nairobi – for y’all reading this in Cyprus and Greece). I spent most of the time in town buying things and roaming idly and then I got arrested. Yes I got arrested…okay I accompanied an officer to the police station because I had broken a law…by definition I was arrested.
Policeman: (Random Kirundi)
Me: I don’t understand you…
Policeman: (Random French)
Me: I am Kenyan…Mimi ni Mkenya. (I am a Kenyan)
Policeman: Unaongea Kiswahili? (Do you speak Swahili?)
Me: Ndio (Yes)
Policeman: Wewe ni musoja…? (Are you a soldier?)
Me: Huh?
Policeman: Wewe ni musoja? (Are you a soldier?)
Me: Hapana. (No)
Policeman: Kwanini umevaa kofia ya musoja? (Why are you wearing a soldier’s hat?)
It was then that I realized I had my army camouflage hat on. I tried pleading with him to let me keep it but apparently it is against the law to have anything army if you are civilian. In my defense the material on the hat was only enough to make an army bandana… not a rebel uniform! So they took it…and that was that.
I told Dj. E my ordeal and he said a lot of things in French-Kirundi influenced Swahili loosely translated to, “Don’t worry dude…be coooool them popos be jumping homies all over town….” Of course Dj. E won’t see the joke in that because that is not what he said, but hey, that’s what I heard.
So Christmas came… and for some reason I thought it had left without me. Everyone was happy, kids were dressed up, churches were testing their new sound equipment but not even one person, not even on T.V. said Merry Christmas. I was confused and you cannot blame me. So Dj. E comes looks excited and says to me “Joyauex Noel!” and am like “What?” then he musters all the English he can and says, “Joyous Noel!” and am like, “Oh! I didn’t know your name was Noel, I know that game but it looks like you are not that good at it. So I proudly state, “Amazing Mengesha, the A is silent.” He looks at me blankly, smiles and walks away.
Later am in church and the locals find out am a Kenyan and are all over me (Am sure Dj. E wouldn’t call that snitching…nkt!). This guy walks up to me and says Noeri Nziza! and am like oh Dj. E your namesake. “Ras Mengesha” I say as I give him my hand and ignore the weird look on his face. Another one come and is like “Joyous Noel” and I reply “Amazing Mengesha, the A is silent.” It doesn’t take long before I notice that almost everyone is introducing themselves as Joyous Noel. So either that game we used to play is the in thing in Burundi or something is terribly wrong. A few more people introduce themselves as Noeri Nziza and I finally ask Dj. E how comes so many people are called that. He drops his cool, laughs at me so hard that for a moment I see Hanningtone standing there pointing his index finger at me laughing away.
Moments later he tells me, still laughing, Joyaux Noel is Merry Christmas in French and it is also said Joyous Noel; and as if that wasn’t enough, Noeri Nziza is Merry Christmas in Kirundi! No wonder everyone has been looking at me weirdly! But I don’t blame the fine people of Burundi for my humiliation. It is not their fault that a fine phrase like Merry Christmas doesn’t exist…imagine Santy (that’s what I call Santa Clause) Yelling, “Joyous Noel, Joyous Noel” Imagine how many joy-filled Noels would be like, Yes Santa?! Wassup!!! It’s all your fault France!
I really enjoyed writing this post beacause of the many memories that (cliche alert) came flooding my way. It was however a lot of fun filtering them all to come up with a string that would form this story, that I really hope is well written...if not, feel free to book a Kampala Coach bus (on a bomb free day) go down to Bujumbura and see if anything as awesome as this will happen...okay I am going on and on about nothing.

A Mengesha's Colors first: Special shout out to Janet Nyongesa, Rose Odima, Natalie Abondo, Julian Kamau, Sue Abby Neondo, Mercy She, Christine Wanjuhi, Charlo Chiri (thanks for balancing the equation)and the chick who I have honestly forgotten her name and my Burundi family Dj. E, Herve (pronounced something like eghhhve), Claudine, Cynthia, Ninette, Ella, Christoph, Onella, Phinnie, Joel, Dirck and the whole of Hope Ministries.

I know you'll be reading this, so there....

I really had fun in my head drawing this...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Kenya 28 Feb (Form the Patriotic Horse's Mouth)

It is quarter to 1 and I still haven’t come up with an escape plan. I’ve been looking at the clock since noon and for some reason the clock seems to be literally in a hurry. There is no way I am going to miss out on this. I have pictured it for over a month and finally the day has come – February 28th the day Kenyans unite to sing the national anthem.
I still do not see how my boss will let me go to town just to sing, and singing all by myself, as patriotic as it sounds, seems wanting in glamour and flare and being a sucker for both, I have to be where the action is, Kencom. So I decide to take an early lunch; I will deal with the boss later. Just as I get to the door he pokes his head out of the office and hands me a package to deliver. My destination, the K.I.C.C.

with a deserved detour through Kencom. I literally run all the way from Lusaka Road, Industrial Area to Kencom. Not even the stupid Pro box driver who pulls over unceremoniously almost running me into a ditch can stop me. I give him the eyes and keep running; across the Kenya railways foot-bridge, through the Kenya Polytechnic fly over then I walk between the Times Tower and Central Bank of Kenya (I do not think it’s a good idea to run in some parts of the city…no matter how late you are). I get to Kencom at 1.05 p.m. and my heart breaks.
I missed it (at least I thought so) there is nobody singing no fists raised, no tears shed. For a moment I am tempted to raise my fist and sing; there is no way I’m going back to the office with this overwhelming feeling of emptiness. Today was all about this one moment, when I would join random people and friends and sing the national anthem, at least the first verse – I would lip-sync the other two verses but still, I would have accomplished my goal. Not being one to give up easily I make my way to the crowd and find some fearless Kenyans singing some zilizopendwa patriotic songs, not even my lip-syncing can help me. I then decide to take photos at least to get a few memories.
Just as my phone was raised taking (very low flying) bird’s eye view photos of the crowd, it started. It got me off my guard and for a moment I thought the music was in my head. “Oh God of all creation, bless this our land and nation…” I had made it. I was singing the National Anthem with random people in the middle of the city, fists raised and all. I sailed through the first verse, mumbled the second and third then did it all again in Swahili.
I must admit I was a bit skeptical as to the effect of this little act of patriotism. It wasn’t much, didn’t cost me much (okay apart from the fact that I ran all the way across the city) but at that moment when I looked around to find the dreadlocked dude standing next to me singing with all his heart and the dude holding the ‘Bunge la Wananchi’ (People’s Parliament) banner who didn’t know the words of the third verse but did a stellar job moving his lips accordingly, it finally came to me…this was it. This was Kenya; an amalgamation of diversity, culture, intellect, physical appearance, (and in this case) voices. We were one. We might have been one 5 minutes before but the realization that came at that moment brought it out so clearly, we are one.
As I took photos of random people and some not so random (I still insist stalker tendencies do not make one a stalker…okay that is debatable)

 I thanked God for that moment, for the old man asking me for a match while still holding his flameless torch as if holding on to his nationality,

 for David Mckenzie and all repoters who hopefully will let the world see this simple act of nationalism, as well as all the cameras, eyes, ears, voices and souls that made it possible for Kenya 28th Feb to happen. God bless Kenya.

Still I cannot stop asking myself, how will we manage to unite the classes? For while I stood at Kencom singing and praying for my country, people in South B’s Fuata Nyayo slum were looking on in horror as a fire destroyed everything they heard including their hopes for a better Kenya and a better tomorrow.  

BONUS (Just Cause I love Kenya So Much...)
Due to popular demand (we'll call it pressure), I drew an illustration for this post in as much as I didn't intend to. This is for anyone who didn't get a chance to sing or just didn't see the need to. This is how patriotic you would have looked....