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Archive for the ‘Just saying’ Category

Here’s another story that I wrote many years ago while living in Botswana.  After reading it again after so many years, I feel that I’ve come a long way and that my style has evolved a bit. I’ll, however, let you be the judge.

RG

A parking at the Red Dot

The Red Dot is a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a quandary. I have long thought that description to be the sort of mouthful that belongs only in the realms of poetry and other such dark arts that are not much encumbered by reality. I, therefore, would never have thought that I would ever stumble across a real place of such description. The chance of this for me was less than that of me walking through my closet and emerging in Narnia or some other such fanciful place of fantasy and yet, somehow, the Red Dot managed to achieve such transport in depositing one in a place you would not have thought possible.

The Red Dot is a bar in Gaborone that has had many other whimsical adjectives attributed to it as it continues to grow and change in ways that require quite the accepting imagination to appreciate. It is, in my opinion, such an unusual place that I feel the need to take the time to record its presence in history and spare the archeologists and the anthropologists of the future from having to explain why so many empty bottles and cans were buried there.

Having lived next to it for a year now, I’ve watched it evolve into what can only be described as a phenomenon that simply should not be, but quite doggedly persists in being.

Allow me the podium for a moment as I attempt to explain this place.

If you’ve never been to Botswana before, you’ll not be surprised to learn that it shares many cultural characteristics with its other southern African neighbours. There are differences, however, and the one difference that I base this piece on is certainly unique to the country. Everything runs normally as is typical for the region save for the activities surrounding one glorious weekend at the end of the month when a mass euphoria grabs the country and joy is expressed in a very unusual way. This carnival-like weekend is the weekend during which the Red Dot has grown into what it is today.

Once a month, parking lots across the land fill up with cars of all style and craft. They spill in from chains of traffic connecting homes and workplaces to what are expectedly full shopping centres and lending an unusual energy to the normally slow and laid-back capital. Everyone and everybody, as if to the report of a starter pistol, goes out to the shops at the same time. Curiously, the numbers of shoppers in some of these malls are often quite out of proportion with what the rows upon rows of freshly cleaned vehicles parked in the dust would have you believe.

The Red Dot is in one such shopping centre in the Gaborone suburb known only as Block 6. It is a small centre that houses a supermarket and a few other businesses but most importantly, it is home to the elemental pub properly known as The BEE pub. At first glance, this pub looks like quite the ordinary place and one might even be lulled into thinking that it is not a very popular place because of the many empty tables in it. This thought, however, is soon completely put aside when you eventually link the place with the very full parking lot outside that is teeming with life. Only then do you notice the steady stream of people to and from the very busy bar counter.

For some reason that I’m unable to explain, the City’s dwellers tend to prefer sitting outside in their cars outside a place of festivity like the BEE pub, rather being inside it. It may have something to do with the stifling heat of the seven month long summer, or even perhaps with the fact that many people drive cars that are often far fancier than the establishments outside of which they are parked. Whatever the reason, it is established behaviour that can be observed across the country and now a cultural norm.

This pub and its parking lot have, in the past year, grown so much in stature that the surrounding businesses have literally ceased to exist in the public’s eye. When you mention the Red Dot to the average month-ender, there are no thoughts of the supermarket, butchery or hair salon that are also in the complex, but only of the pub and its surrounding parking-lot. The pub, in its popularity has become the only known destination in this mall and thus has become one and the same with the centre. A very unusual anchor business for a mall I would think.

You see, once or twice a month, the city of Gaborone gathers in this very parking-lot to celebrate the fulfillment of the contract that binds employees to employers when most wages are paid out. The mighty paycheck is heard bellowing from the within the pockets of the Batswana as they congregate on the asphalt and dust to spend their hard-earned money in this rather unusual ritual.

It is a thing of mysterious beauty and indeed a sight to behold. There are people everywhere, sitting in and out of their cars. Loud music is heard from cars that are sometimes worth less than the stereos they blare and the fancy wheels with which they are shod. Beer-filled ice boxes sitting on the dust or in the back seats; the spaces in the boots filled by fearsome speakers that scream out the current kwaito hit. “Taku-taku! Taku-taku! Taku-taku! …” sings the hip-hop pantszula.

When I first moved there, the pub was a nondescript little place not even worth the pixels on this page. It was the sort of place that had little more than a handful of regulars who were all clearly within spitting distance of their homes and only there because there was nowhere else to go. But then someone – no doubt, a visionary – noticed the vast unexploited parking area around the shopping centre and its fortunes changed forever.

The first sign of things to come was the setting up of a car wash in one corner of the lot which was soon followed by the braai (barbecue) area that the pub previously could not have supported. The clearing of the surrounding bushland sealed its fate and it progressed on to become the number one parking-lot in the country.

Someone from the local brewery tells me that it consistently records the highest beer sales by volume in the country and this is evidenced by the growing size of the delivery trucks that I see regularly drive by my gate.

They’ve have now even built a stage upon which a fellow with an impossibly girlish voice eerily sings Hotel California in an endless loop. To be fair, he does sing other songs, but for some reason or the other, the only one that ever carries over the noise is Hotel California. This could be Heaven, or this could indeed be Hell.

Often on a Sunday morning after yet another month has ended, I watch as they sweep up the debris from the previous nights jaunt into a giant pile of aluminium and glass. It looks like a great and inexplicable war was fought and lost there. A future archeologist’s nightmare.

The scattering of people lying passed-out in their cars have morphed back from the supermen that they were the night before, back to mere mortals again. The hip-hop pantszula also mellowed and the great boot speaker hissing its relief.

Why people continue to spend their hard-earned money in this parking lot continues to baffle me and remains the enigma wrapped in the quandary. Perhaps this is the actual location of that fabled hotel in California, because as the Eagles put it in the tune that haunts the place, “You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave!”

2006-10-20

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http://pocketcultures.com/2012/05/11/roger-kenyan-living-in-south-africa/

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KLM have now gone and done it! In one of the usual barrel shoots that occur at airports all over the world, KLM have gone and slugged the wrong fish.

Recently, while on his way to a conference in Brazil, a senior UN official received a right bollocking at the airport in Nairobi and he is not taking it lying down. In fact he has sat up and launched into a flying kick of a response – spearheaded by a prominent Nairobi law firm, Murgor and Murgor – that has left the airline scrambling for cover and engaging the equally prolific law firm, Hamilton, Harrison & Mathews, to buy them time as they compose themselves and presumably to find, debrief and distance themselves from the idiot that did not realise that this was no ordinary third-world passport bearing pleb – for whom carte blanche on harassment is generally granted – but one of those big-wigs for whom they had a separate rule book.

Bakari Kante, the director of the Division of Environmental Law and Conventions at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi is, in my opinion, the victim of the very same problem I spoke about in an earlier blog. He just comes from one of those places that people at airports have inexplicably decided should not be allowed free travel.

According to the Business Daily, Kante was stopped by KLM security officials who accused him of having a fake Brazilian visa – in his diplomatic passport no less. What made the situation even worse was the fact that his Austrian assistant was allowed through without them even looking at his visa which was probably endorsed onto his Laissez Passer at the same embassy and at the same time as Kante’s.

Kante and his lawyers are accusing the airline of discrimination along racial and religious lines.

I’ll be watching this case very closely as finally, a champion for my plight with significant enough profile has emerged.

I wonder if they demanded a yellow fever certificate?

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Earlier on in the year, while querying why African superheroes were so thin on the ground, I introduced a notional champion that I hoped to incubate and eventually hatch into a credible African man of power. This story is a foray into the possible life of the superhero known as the Shizzle.

Titus Keroda, a denizen of Murang’a – an idyllic town nested in the central highlands of Kenya that really should need no introduction- is the Shizzle.

Not the Murang’a of “Paris, London, New York and Murang’a” fame, I hear you ask? Yes, the very same one I tell you.

This pearl of a place now has its very own masked defender patrolling its streets and shining the bright light of justice at those who would lurk in its coffee plantations and other such places where crime is rife in this metropolis that is just a shade short of sprawling.

Titus, until recently, was a very ordinary fellow living a very unremarkable life as a small-scale farmer bouncing between his patches of produce and the local markets eking out a meagre living from the soil of his beloved Mo-Town (Murang’a Town). The only break in his dull routine was the occasional jaunt into town when he visited Thengeini bar and where he held court for as long as his money lasted, captivating an audience more interested in his generosity than by his broken words.

On one very such day, Titus’s life was to change forever. A string of very unlikely events combined together and altered the course of his life away from its humdrum path to one that would lead him away from his fields to the skies of Murang’a.

On this fateful day, with an unusual amount of spurious liquor coursing through his veins, Titus fell into a pit latrine and was then struck by lightning setting off reactions that altered his physiology in amazing ways and giving him extraordinary abilities.

He really should have died on this dark night in that beautiful town, but for some inexplicable reason fate rescued him from that grisly death and chose to give him another chance at life. On closer examination though, perhaps fate really did end his pathetic life that day and deigned to replace it with a newer and much more interesting one. Mr. Keroda was born anew that day.

Imbued with great power and new sense of justice, he set off to change his life and that of the society he lived in. He meant to give it fresh purpose and meaning and to accede to the responsibility that he felt accompanied his new-found vim. He knew that he had been chosen to serve his community as the indomitable Shizzle.

Having watched all the superhero movies that had found their way into the local open-air film theatre, he felt compelled to test the limits of his new prowess by mimicking what he had often seen on the silver screen.

Bounding from building to building did not work quite as he would have liked, but in trying the great leaps, he discovered that he would easily survive the fall by landing with a loud squelching splat that left only rather dubious looking stains on the streets in between.

Neither could he read the minds of his foes, but his presence never left him in any doubt at all about what people were thinking. The Shizzle was a very terrifying presence indeed.

Another power that he found that he had was an encyclopaedic knowledge of all known toilet graffiti and in several languages, but he had yet to find a practical way to use this in his campaign against the underworld.

His greatest power, however, was the ability to influence the onset of bowel movements in his enemies. A power so effective that he had once stopped a riot at the local town hall by causing a mass evacuation (pun regretted) by the rampaging workers leaving only a rather smelly but empty hall behind. It is a power so great that one can even conceive of its use in ending wars.

Titus, the Shizzle, is yet to discover the full extent of his new abilities and has still to devise a suitable costume that befits his prowess. He’s found that capes tend to stick to his back and so for now he simply wears a diaper.

The local police have still to be convinced that he is a something more than just a nuisance with a hygiene problem. And so for now, our hero battles not only the forces of evil but also for acceptance from the community that he places himself at risk for everyday. He longs for the day when they will shine a light in the sky with his insignia whenever there is trouble.

That day is not here yet and so Titus patiently continues squelching in between the buildings of Murang’a and fighting crime alone while trying to figure out a way to convert toilet graffiti into a main-stream art.

He is certain that his day will soon come.

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Taste shoe leather!

A while ago, the Marvel Comics Group decided to retire Peter Parker as the alter ego of the Amazing Spiderman and replaced him with a new, improved and quite black, Miles Morales. This, I gather, was in an attempt to widen the appeal of the web-slinger across to a new demographic.  Miles was received by the comic book fraternity with mixed feelings and the debates about the black Spiderman still rage on.

This got me thinking about why it is that most, if not all, superheroes come from and live in the western world. Do we in Africa not need spandex-clad men of wonder streaking through our skies and saving us from the ever looming catastrophes of that make-believe world? Are Africans incapable of spontaneous combustion and feats of superhuman strength when subjected to cosmic rays or irradiated spiders?

But then I remembered. Buried deep in my subliminals were very faded images of just such African men of power. I had not read, seen or heard tell of them for over 30 years and hence the scant recollection. Where are they today? Have they been retired like Peter Parker? Have they been replaced with new ones who’ve escaped my notice? It is my sincere hope that this is the case and invite anyone who reads this to point me to where I can get news of our new caped wonders. Until then, let me tell you a bit of the ones that I do remember.

My earliest memory of an African superhero dwells around an erstwhile 1970’s photo comic book icon called “The Son of Sam”. A super-strong do-gooder imbued with gravity defying powers and bullet stopping gloves that helped him along as he battled the ever present powers of evil.  An extended google search for this renaissance superman of colour yielded nothing. Absolutely nothing! Neither did a search for his compatriots the Tarzan-like “Fearless Fang” and the super agent “Big Ben of London” produce any hits. Only a search for the smooth sleuth “Lance Spearman” (in picture) yielded a result; a result so meager that it is not even worth mentioning.

No trace remains of these men of grit that filled the newsstands of my youth as I’m sure many children of the sixties and seventies will affirm. Whatever happened to these giants of men? Have they been committed to the doom of living out the rest of their lives beneath the dusty Nairobi coffee tables that sometimes spit out the prehistoric copies of Drum and the African Film Magazine that have recently started appearing on Facebook nostalgia pages? Do they not even rate a measly google hit?

It is time we got some new superheroes then is it not? If you happen to know a graphic novelist or are one yourself, let me share a possible plot with you. This superhero was birthed by a friend of mine and I while sharing a beer and he remains very dear to me and perhaps one day he will get the expression he deserves.

Scene: a dark and stormy night somewhere in rural Kenya. A man walks out of his hut and staggers to the nearby outhouse looking to relieve his full bladder. As he shuts the door behind him, a clap of thunder hides the sound of the creaking floorboards. He pauses to laugh about something he remembers and the storm outside rages on. As he gets on with his business, a sudden calm surrounds the shack as the eye of the storm arrives and leaves only the sound of his steady stream splashing after the long drop into the pit.

This calm is shattered by a loud crack! Outside, the storm has not resumed, but inside another resounding crack sees the floor of the outhouse completely cave in and fall into the yawning abyss and with it taking the screaming man.

The storm resumes and the thunder rolls as the man desperately struggles against the putrid morass that is hungrily sucking him in. His screams go unheard as the wind outside howls its fury and he continues his descent into that terrible pungent sludge.

His head finally goes under and he can no longer scream, but he clings to a desperate hope and continues to reach upwards through the muck.

A final clap of thunder is heard and a simultaneous lightning bolt licks its way down from the heavens and cleaves through the flimsy shack and into the pit where our man’s hand is all that remains above the surface…

The next morning, the remaining rubble stirs and from beneath the smoking embers emerges a new being of great power…

Several names have been suggested for this new man of might, including Captain Bog and The Stinkster but my favourite remains, The Shizzle.

Is there anyone out there who would care to illustrate and bring The Shizzle to life?

2012-02-16

Update

He sleeps with a pillow under his gun.

I’ve just been reminded by a friend about an African hero whose name it is dangerous to omit. In fact, it would probably be said he is the only actual superhero on this planet.

It is with great pleasure and fear that I present the veritable superhero of superheroes, Makmende. My apologies for not properly recognising this great bastion of justice.

Hiss?

I have also been sent this hilarious picture that no doubt had to be dusted off before it was digitised to give a forgotten African heroine one more day in the sun.

I must admit that I know nothing of the Cobra save for the obvious fact that this magazine was printed in Rhodesia.  Does anyone have more details on this serpentine heroine?

The cover still has me smiling.

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