I come from a place where men are men and women like it that way.
I don’t actually know what that phrase means, because our societal notions of masculinity are thankfully changing constantly (what, did you think you were going to get an entire article from me without a feminist slant? Fie), but I once heard a man say it, and if any man was talking about the definitions of men, it felt like it should be him.
This man was a tall man, with an understated elegance that oozed every time he walked, or spoke, or sat. It wasn’t that his clothing was pretentious, or his manner was overt. It was just in the way that it seemed like everything around him moved to accommodate his form, take it in, and place it on a pedestal. Make it shine. He was the very epitome of what Hollywood likes to call a silver fox. Streaks of white ran through his hair, and his moustache, that on anyone else, would have looked ridiculous, but on him, looked like a better blacker version of Tom Selleck. Three Men and a Baby Tom Selleck, not the other version. Hot Tom Selleck.
Of course the first time I met him I was completely taken in by his honeyed voice. Those voices matured on good whisky, you know what I mean? The type comfortable in a bar brawl, as well as the greens of some uppity country club. The type of voice you want to whisper in your ear, but you also want to make purr. Just to hear what desire sounds like in bass.
Look, clearly I was completely taken in. And it took me a while to wean myself off the drug that was…well, I can’t say his name, now can I. He’s very married, and very nice, and his partner is very nice, and I didn’t do anything really, about my crush except tell everyone around me and immortalize his words at the next opportunity.
A place where men are men. I do actually come from a place like that, though. I might be biased here, but the men who come from where I come from are incomparable, in my humble opinion. They possess what I and Margaret Ogola, author of one of my favourite books, the River and the Source, like to call nyadhi.
Nyadhi, loosely translated, can be equated to elite style, or unequalled carriage, but English is inadequate to explain the swag that drips from this word. When a man has nyadhi, he barely has to speak before he enters the room – his presence enters before him. His words alternate to fit any occasion, whether it requires humour, or intelligence, or quick-minded wit. His nails are always clean, but not so his mind, deliciously so. He’s basically, the complete package. Which makes him very, very dangerous. Fortunately or unfortunately, they are all related to me, and so I am spared the scorched earth of broken hearts left behind them, incredulous at how women even believe these guys in the first place. Then I remember, that these are Karachuonyo men. Even the most careful of hearts and the most cautious of spirits stand defenceless in the face of their erudite suavity.
Aaaanyway, one of these dangerous men, my cousin Kev, was being dangerous, as is his usual form, in a club that has now been closed down because someone clearly has a bone to pick with the owner of the establishment. You cannot tell me that places with boisterous crowds located yes, close to residential areas, have been allowed to exist, and indeed, thrive, but the authorities only notice particular institutions with incredibly stylish waitresses?
I digress. Where was I?
Kev was being dangerous. He’s a dangerous looking type of guy, this one. You should be able to tell, but they never are. He’s already very amicable, groomed, beardganged, but then now when he turns his smile on you, you have no chance, really. Again, I’m biased, but it’s a great smile. And then Kev does this thing of looking at you as if you are the only person with anything worth saying in a room full of geniuses. It’s interesting to watch his effect. The Karachuonyo Effect. (TM)
So as he was doing his thing, he noticed that someone was looking at him, kind of following him. He turned, and it was a lady, whose eyes had been on him for a large portion of the night. He assumed that she was just standing in a long list of ladies waiting for attention, and turned back around to his current audience.
That was mistake number one.
The night progressed and the revelries continued. No cops had shut down the party, yet, and Kev was just getting started. The spot was packed to the brim, as this spot tends to be, and good times were being had by all. Kev went to get another drink.
Mistake number two.
The lady sidled up to him. Asked him what he was having. Got familiar. Turned on her charm. And Kev is just a man, you know? A Karachuonyo man who loves the ladies, ha. And the ladies love him. And he had absolutely no reason to assume that this was anything other than a simmering mutual attraction.
That is, until he agreed to leave the club with her. Mistake number three.
That’s the last thing he remembers.
When Kevin woke up two days later, he was in a hospital bed, feeling woozy and disoriented. He looks around and he had nothing on him – not his phone, his wallet, or the clothes that he had left the house in. There was a drip attached to his arm. Then his brother walked in and slowly, painfully, he began to put the pieces together.
He’d been drugged. The girl and whoever she was working with managed to take him from this club, relieve him permanently of his valuables, but thankfully not his life, and then proceeded to text everyone on his phone book asking them to send him money on Mpesa. Mng kindly send 8k have in emergency plise will refand by evening, the message said. They sent it everywhere. Even to my mother, who promptly ignored it. Tough crowd.
I, of course, panicked when I got that message. I was like haiya, what the hell happened to Kev? I was freaking out. I didn’t want this to turn into one of those stories for ‘ but I just saw him the other day, I can’t believe this happened…’ So I was validly anxious. But before I went into full blown red alert I read the message again. Mng? Kevin would never text ‘mng’. His favourite phrase to chastise me when he thinks I’m being extra is ‘Abi, maintain decorum.’ A guy who uses decorum in everyday conversation would not text me ‘mng’. I think not. So I texted back, ‘What’s happening? What’s going on? Let me call you.’ I called, and he didn’t pick up. Now I knew for sure something was not all on. There’s not much I could have done, anyway – I had like 200 bob in my Mpesa!
It’s important to be careful and not act out of that panic I was feeling. Conmen know which buttons to press and what to say to whip people into a frenzy. If he was really in trouble, though, we could have rallied together, the same way people do on social media and by word of mouth – when I say word of mouth, I mean Whatsapp. Every time there’s a campaign of some sorts, the messages go out with a rapidity that is astounding. You remember Kenyans for Kenya, and how we came through to feed a nation? Then of course there’s initiatives like Homeless of Nairobi – Clifford and Shamit’s boys – who they’re trying to get into schools, trying to get them fed, trying to make their lives better. Clifford’s boys survive on donations, primarily. Donations that are sent to Clifford’s Mpesa.
How did Boniface Mwangi fund his campaign? By sending out messages, reminding us that sending only 10 bob, or even 100 bob, on Mpesa, is free, and telling us all he needed was 10 bob from everyone for the final push. And because you can track payments, he later showed us exactly how that money was spent. Which is what we want in this dream for a more transparent Kenya. For a politician to be able to show us how that money was spent. There was the other day when students in Kibera needed to sit for KCPE and they didn’t have the tools necessary – those mathematical sets that no one really thinks about until you don’t have them. But a callout on Twitter and Facebook by Resque BnB changed everything. And the money messages came in and put those children in the running with a fighting chance.
Now here’s the heart-warming part – unfortunate but heart-warming at the same time. In the same way that Kenyans show up for their own, when ‘Kev’ texted all his friends that he was in a terrible situation, and he needed them to Mpesa him 8,000 shillings, a lot of his friends actually sent him that money, regardless of the hideous un-Kev-like grammar. Sure, it’s a bad place to be in, but the silver lining here is that nothing is as comforting, after the fact, now that we’re sure he’s hale ad hearty, to know that your friends have your back in a dicey setup. And have his back they did; they kept sending and sending until he reached his limit for daily transactions. If you ever wanted to put a price tag on friendship, I guess that would be it. ‘May your blessings overflow above and beyond your MPESA transaction limit.’
When he was telling me the story later, the first thing that came to mind was, that’s how you know who your true friends are. You know by how many people come through for you when your chips are down. Later, when he went to report the whole ordeal at Safaricom, so that these crooks can be caught, he went over the list of his Mpesa messages. It read like a list of his truest friends.
Have you ever actually looked at your Mpesa records, though, to see how many people you send money, or who sends money to you? You can do that, for example, using your M-Ledger, and you can also kind of see it on the Safaricom app. The app records which your most frequent Pay Bill and Buy Goods numbers are. At a quick glance, I spend money most on cabs, fuel, food, electricity and more food, hence the 7 kgs I put on in 2017. On M-Ledger, with records that are backed up all the way to when I joined Mpesa, I know exactly who sent me money when I didn’t have anything to eat that night, or who bought be units because payday was really far away. Not just in January, too. Payday always seems like a distant dream by the 10th of each month.
I think it’s reassuring too that everyone has to register their names with Safaricom when they’re getting new Sim Cards. It helps in cases like these when there’s a possibility that the people who might be awful enough to steal from you can be caught. I’ve heard multiple instances of crooks being captured because they told someone to send the money to this and this number – and the number was registered to them, or to someone who knew about their criminal activity. More fool them. Even with those small thefts where unscrupulous Kenyans refuse to send incorrectly sent Mpesa back – you have their numbers, and you can immediately text 456 to get the money back – which is such a relief, because more often than not, people are trying to be nice about returning your money.
It isn’t easy being an adult in Nairobi – in Kenya, really. So many things are happening at the same time to all of us. There are almost too many ways to fail, and too many watching to see you do so. People are getting robbed all the time, like my cousin. Getting from point A to point B at a time when the CBD is what it is is proving to be a feat to be celebrated every time you get home in one piece. People are constantly getting sick. And this is one of those countries that you can’t really afford to be sick in. None of us can, really. It would take a person with means, to survive a potentially terminal disease.
Modesta Akaki, aka Mama Westlands, is not a minister. Or an MCA, or a City Council boss. She doesn’t secretly run a cartel. She’s an ordinary woman with extraordinary love around her. But even love isn’t going to pay the way through an Avascular Necrosis (AVN) diagnosis. I know, it’s a mouthful. It’s when your bone tissue dies due to a lack of blood supply, and it can be lifelong. Mama Westlands has had it for 7 years, and it has caused her debilitating pain, so much so that she is almost crippled by it. So she’s doing what we all do – calling on her community to raise 1.5 million to send her to India. That’s all we can do at this point, really, because only we care for us. Check he poster below for details. You know the drill.
The thing is, a week doesn’t pass by without me seeing a request for a harambee, because someone was in hospital and the family can’t handle the bills, or someone has to go to India, or someone needs an urgent surgery immediately and insurance has been maxed out. Everyone has a story about someone special in their lives who they’re trying to save. We’re just trying to survive here.
The hope in this darkness that we all live in is that there is always someone willing to help, when you reach out. I know they say money isn’t everything, but money goes a very long way. And even more important is the fact that they don’t have to be physically there to lend a hand – all they need is a line with something small on it. It’s easier to send that something small grows into more, because it’s easier to find an agent and do what you need to do to get on with this life thing and roll with the punches. When I look through my ledger, it isn’t just a documentation of how much money I’ve gotten – and lost! It’s a ledger of the people who won’t let me fall. Just like Kev.