Selected Yambient Words

Friday, January 12, 2007

Week 9: To Everything Turn Turn Turn

Week 9: To Everything Turn Turn Turn

Firstly: Shout-outs to the amazing people who sent us DVD's of the
Eastenders Christmas specials. Big up yourselves…

I'm turning into an alpha-male. It started last week, a little, with
the introduction of touch rugby into my life. In the last week, I've
lit barbeques, played football, been a football coach and started
'torching fat' with the aid of a lad's mag supplement. Next week, I
plan to wrestle a crocodile, burp the theme tune to Match of the Day
and read some Andy McNab books, before hunting some deer and starting
a fight at my local. All the while this strange change is happening,
I'm living in a block we have dubbed the 'woman's hostel.'In 9 flats
in our block, there are 9 women living here, and one guy… me. I am the
protector of the Mombasa Academy Woman's Hostel, the only bloke
around. I feel so male here. It's strange that I should be leaning
towards alpha-male-ism though. Surrounded by female teachers, all I
hear is talk of students, make-up, celebrity gossip, make-up, boys,
the benefits of different types of bra, make-up and periods. And we
watched a Hugh Grant film last weekend. And I laughed a couple of
times. These girls are trying to turn me into a sissy.

So there is a strange battle raging in my head. The Alpha-Male versus
the Pansy Boy. I'm not entirely sure who's winning. I know the soft
sensitive poet in me is suffering. He can't take all this conflict and
is hiding in the corner, whispering 'It's going to be okay' to himself
over and over again.

It is a strange feeling though. Much as I exaggerate my alpha-male
behaviour, I do find myself missing male company. I never thought that
possible. All of my friends out here are female. I miss talks about
stupid videos on YouTube or a particularly vicious Jimmy Carr quip or
just good ol' fashioned blood'n'guts. Or do I? Maybe I will emerge
from this whole experience a lot more feminine.

I have getting more and more involved in school life in the last week.
Today I start a Rap Club for young'uns in the school, where I will be
doing workshops in positive lyrics and hopefully getting the kids
involved in some slam poetry competitions as the term moves on. I have
also been asked to help pick the school football team, seeing as I
play football with the kids twice a week. Shame I know next to nothing
about football beyond see ball… kick ball… score goal… elaborate

I have never had any interaction with Katie's students before, so it's
bizarre being in such close proximity to them. I'm not their teacher,
yet they still address me as 'sir', unsure of my level of authority.
They then go and whisper and gossip that I'm going out with one of
their teachers. Other teachers refer to me as 'Mr Shukla'. I can't get
used to it. Even when I was doing workshops in schools last year, I
was 'Nikesh'. I am not a teacher, so prefer some level of familiarity
as a workshop leader. The kids here can't deal with it. They feel
uncomfortable calling me 'Nikesh', so 'sir' or 'Mr Shukla' it is. I'm
a little nervous about Rap Club. I've only once run workshops on my
own. It should be fine. But this time, I'm walking into the classroom
with a stigma attached to me. I'm going out with one of the teachers.
It's common knowledge. It's hard not to notice. We live on campus at
the bottom of the school field. Kids have been curious and asking
Katie why on earth her boyfriend would be running a Rap Club. People
will turn up out of curiosity, just to see what on earth I think I'm

Another curious thing I am finding is the lack of interaction with
black Kenyans and Africans I am having. There appears to be some sort
of segregation going on, along class and race lines that I am not
entirely comfortable with. The whites hang out and live with other
whites and they all live in white areas and go to white-friendly bars
and clubs. The Asians hang out and live with the Asians on their
walled and fenced and secure compounds, and go to each other's houses
for dinner, and the black Africans… well… I see them out and about but
have no idea what they do or where they go. My life is mostly dictated
by the school and school life, as I live on campus. Not many black
Africans can afford to go to the school. Sadly, the most interaction I
have with black Africans is through our cleaner, Gladys. It doesn't
compute in my brain how this social segregation can still exist.
Appearance-wise, Mombasa looks cosmopolitan. There is a healthy mix of
black, brown and white faces, through residents, economic migrants,
ex-pats and tourists… yet they do not mix. They aren't really seen out
in public together. A friend's dad was moaning about how when he had
gone out for lunch with a business associate, a black female, his
friends had assumed that she was a prostitute. He was appalled at the
insinuation that anytime anyone white or Asian is seen with a black
male or female, there must be some sort of transaction happening
there. It's an appalling stereotype and mostly perpetuated by the
immigrants here. The Brits are the immigrants here, the Asians are the
immigrants here, and they really are 'stealing jobs, stealing women…'

Whenever I get on a matatu, there is a double-take…. Why is an Asian
man taking public transport? Shouldn't he have his own car and driver?
This makes people clam up. Whenever I am walking about, people do a
double-take at my smiley face. Shouldn't the Asian man be in a car?
The assumption is that the brown and white people want to segregate
themselves in their cars and their compounds and they want nothing to
do with the black Kenyans, so I look out of place doing what is deemed
normal back home (walking and taking buses). Much of it, I am sure is
not down to race itself. I think a lot of these problems are down to
money and class. All the Asians and whites out here are incredibly
wealthy, and have servants and cars and gated houses. The majority of
the black Kenyans are not. It's sad. People made to feel like second
class citizens in their own countries by economic migrants, who have
turned the indigenous population into their workers and their slaves.
It's incredibly sad.

Last weekend was incredibly quiet. The teachers were so shocked by
having a month off and then back to school again for three days that
by the time the weekend rolled around, everyone was tired and in
desperate need of somewhere to sit. We spent evenings watching telly
and eating, grazing… and days by the pool or at the beach. It was
incredibly lazy.

This week, I have been working more and more on my Britishness
project, which is starting to really take shape. I have been reading
articles and articles about the notion of Britishness and getting a
notion of where this project is headed. The folk album continues to
take shape as songs are being rehearsed and fine-tuned. There are
about 12 songs finished. They need to be recorded. Vee-Kay has kindly
offered to mix the album at his Sweatbox on my return. I have also
booked my return flights. Back in the country in March for a short
break, and then back for good, Take That-style, at the end of July.
Life here is slow and quiet and different and occasionally
frustrating, but there is something comforting in the solitude I am
experiencing. I am teaching myself discipline. I am learning to be
entirely self-sufficient, creatively, professionally and emotionally.
I have no one creative to bounce ideas off. I have no 'boys' to be a
boy with, just my girls. It's a simple life, akin to that of an
ascetic. Except with occasional Eastenders DVD's sent out to you. In
the absence of the constant entertainment/numbness of television, we
are making our own entertainment. The website
has given us much hilarity and we are now in the process of using our
block of flats to finesse some of our own house gymnastics to win us
the much-coveted prize of 'move of the month'. Lack of television is a
glorious thing.

To everything… turn, turn, turn…

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Week 8: New Years, No Tears

Week 8: New Years and No Tears

This last week has been without incident thankfully. There have been no attempted muggings, corrupt coppers or hospitalisations. It has been relatively quiet, and all the more enjoyable for it. Now enough time has passed and all our friends are back in town, we are able to laugh at our disastrous holiday. Otherwise we’d still be crying. Luckily, it’s starting to be funny. This week has been pretty quiet compared to the last few weeks.

We spent most of our mornings at the airport, doing airport runs for various returning teachers, all bringing back with them tales of home and tales of Sadaam’s execution (we are a little news-starved out here) and NME’s and cheese. The cheese was greatly appreciated.

Friday night saw us visiting a friend’s dad, who lives here, for drinks. He has a flat on Nyali beach and a vast selection of red wine. He had friends over from Canada and the UK, and invited us to join them for a few drinks. Sitting with his friends drinking and discussing the finer points of Nyali’s restaurants, talk soon turned to my dad living here in the 60’s. Both of the friends lived here in the 60’s, one even went to dad’s school. I fished for information about the school and the off-chance of whether the guy knew my father. He did not, but gave us precise instructions on how to find the school, and confirmed that it still existed. This filled me with hope. The one thing I have yet to do here is retrace my dad’s footsteps and live in his shoes. I have mostly been living in Nyali, not really venturing into the city centre for much, aside from exchanging traveller’s cheques and giving bribes to coppers. We drank copious amounts of red wine and chatted with these amiable Gujarati fellows. My friend’s dad talked of the past, and of growing up. He even told us some of the stories that inspired my friend to write a song about them. When I informed him of the existence of the song, he was quietly proud of his son.

More booze was drunk, and talk soon turned to that Gujarati sore spot of race: do we like Africans and Muslims? A heated debate emerged about whether you could accept a black or Muslim into your family. My friend’s dad and one guy said of course you could. The other, the more he drank, became quite stubborn about his beliefs that it was essentially not right and whatever you told your kids, deep down you would always know that it was wrong. The others argued with him that he needed to evolve and adapt to his surroundings or else he would find it hard to deal with the events before him. Katie and I sat back and watched the debate. It was much more interesting to see these old dogs fight rather than get involved. By playing Devil’s Advocate, I got a clearer insight into the older generation of Gujarati men than I will ever have I think. We took our leave shortly afterwards to go to the airport to pick up a friend. A phonecall en route told us that she was stuck in Nairobi for the night and would be back the following day.

The next day, we returned to the airport and picked her up. We feasted on cheese on toast in the afternoon, revelling in the creature comforts of a toaster and a block of extra mature. We tried to get into the New Year’s Eve swing of things and started planning what party frocks we would all be wearing. A trip to the beach and a hot sweaty day full of heavy air and heavier food meant that by the time dinner rolled around, our eyes were drooping and we were all ready for bed.

We headed out up the coast to Splendid View Café (which turned out to be a misnomer as there was not a splendid view of anything). Splendid View was offering a buffet dinner till half midnight, at which point it would close. We were with some other older teachers for dinner. Our plan was to stay with them till midnight then head up to a haunt up the coast called Il Covo, where they have loud cheesy music, cheap drinks, and the social life of the local white community seems to revolve. Splendid View Café was empty. Which was surprising as the tunes the live DJ was spinning were suitably cheesy for New Year’s Eve and the buffet was tasty, if a little meat-tastic. We stayed and chatted and ate and ate. The venue was practically empty and we were right next to the food so it was all too easy to go and refill your plates. By 11, our grazing had taken its toll and we were in need of serious dancing. We looked up and found we were the only people left in the venue. And we were all flagging. Too much food, sitting and wine had made us all extremely tired. We needed to dance. However, the dancefloor (and the venue) was empty and the DJ kept shouting an embarrassing cry of “The Place To Be For 2007”. We decided to leave at 11.45pm, to find a vantage point on the beach to watch the fireworks that most of the hotels had at midnight. Traffic going up the coast towards Il Covo, where we were hoping to end up, was at a standstill, so we headed back towards our beach. We headed to a Shiva temple on the beach, speeding along the dirttrack, trying to ignore our driver’s erratic fast driving. We reached the Shiva temple. It was closed. Plan B was quickly formed at 11.57: head to our beach at the school. At 11.59 we swerved on to the tiny path that led us down to our beach. At 12.00, the car parked as far as it could go up the path. At 12.01, we realised it was 2007. At 12.02, we decided that without a torch, taking the treacherous steps down to the beach was a little foolhardy. At 12.03, the house we were parked behind starting doing fireworks right on the other side of the fence to us. We saw rockets lift up and explode through trees, we saw the glow of roman candles between the brickwork of the fence. It was a strangely serene moment, subdued, but calm and all the more poignant for it. We had been so up for having a large night out to dance away the demons of our disastrous holiday, that we forgot what we were celebrating: The passing of time. And here we were, stood with everyone who really mattered. We all hugged for the 07 dream and headed back to our apartment block to watch more fireworks from the roof. We sang ‘Auld Lang Syne’ along the way, well, hummed the melody. Not much firework action was going on. We decided that perhaps it was a little silly venturing out now seeing as we were all knackered and headed to bed early.

The next day, we were fighting fit and up for a party. We headed down to Diani Beach on the South Coast. This is a beautiful stretch of beach further down the coast. You have to take a ferry to get there from the other side of Mombasa. We drove through Mombasa at midday, revelling at how much of a ghost town it was. It was amazing. My favourite time in the city centre. No cars, no traffic, no matatus. Diani Beach is gorgeous. The sea is gloriously blue. The waves are choppy. The reef is further out so there is hardly any seaweed. We parked up at a beach bar called 40 Thieves, and ran into some Nyali friends still revelling from the night before. They were all a little worse for wear and still drinking. We swam, drank and listened to a calypso covers band sing multiple versions of “I Will Survive.”

The rest of the week involved all the girls preparing for the return to school and me preparing to get stuck into work. Just as I was getting into it last term, the holidays started and my routine was broken. Wednesday saw me playing football with the schoolkids again, scoring a spectacular free kick goal and colliding with the heaviest guy on the pitch, winding me thoroughly. In the evening, I indulged some alpha-male impulses and went to play touch rugby for the first time. Even though I am rubbish, I managed 3 tries. And because I was rubbish, my team only passed to me when absolutely necessary, preparing to showboat and team up with each other. It was fun playing touch rugby, and though there was a little of the overly masculine attitude on the pitch, I managed to keep my sensitive side intact. The next day, I ached. Two and half hours of exercise and my body was killing me. Muscles that I didn’t know existed ached. Muscles in my feet, in strange parts of my arm, multiple hamstring muscles all ached. Maybe touch rugby isn’t for me, I wondered.

Not much doing this week, thankfully. It has been quiet and slow and relatively free of incident, which I’m proud to say. More to report next week.