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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…


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