Mano a mano

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Do you know what Vikings used to call men without beards?

When he sent me this message on Facebook, I thought Kimani was genuinely asking this for a friend. I did not care who his friend was, or whether he liked his drinks overpriced at so-called upscale lounges because they have been purportedly aged for 40 years, or whether his friend knew Dr. Myles Munroe or not. It was not important. I figured his friend is a film aficionado like me.

No. Women. They called them women.
Do you know what Luos call people like you?
Okuyu? Rabwon?
No…Chwarni. Chwarni madhako.

It is November again. Once again, men with hirsute chests, chins and necks are setting standards for manhood using the fur on their skin. I do not think these people would recognize a real man even if he sat across them at aforesaid upscale lounge.

Immediately I was done with Kimani, I launched into a hunt for answers from my friends. ‘Beard or no beard? What does your beard signify?’

First was my godfather from campus, Rocco Ademba.

Rocco: It signifies freedom. Independence.

Me: Freedom/ independence from what?

Rocco: It’s like dreadlocks…from the demands of society…it’s a symbol of me doing what I want.

Then came Eric Mugendi.

Mugendi: More significant is the memory it brings when you grow your own. Like that weird scratching on your face when your father holds you as a child. The excitement of getting the first few hairs on your chin. Because you’re finally a man.

Me: Does it ever get to a point where you don’t want it?

Mugendi: Like taking it away forever? No. But when things start getting caught in it, like girls’ hair, soup or chewing gum, then I knows it’s time to shave. Right after you shave, it starts growing back with a vengeance. And itches like a bitch. That’s the beard’s revenge. So I want to postpone shaves as much as possible. Also, when people decide that you look like Anyang Nyong’o because your beard is equally patchy and intellectual-looking.

Me: What’s wrong with looking like Lupita’s dad?

Mugendi: He’s a sellout.

Me: Who did he sell out?

Mugendi: Thinking men everywhere.

Then Morris Kiruga (Owaahh). He has a smooth chin.

M: What do you make of Movember?

Kirügå: A beard is a sign of ‘maturity’ among men so there is something there.

M: Aaai. So maturity is measured in beards?

Kirügå: It is not a rational assessment; I think it’s a remnant of our caveman days. That one is not considered man enough if he does not have a beard, or facial hair.

Then my CU Chairman, Teddy Enos Ochieng’.

Ochieng’: I love my beard.

Me: Why do you love it?

Ochieng’: The feeling of touching my beard as I think and analyze stuff is like no other.

Me: That’s all? You cannot think while touching yourself elsewhere?


Next: Aleya. She is not a man, but yeye ni boyz. You get? So her opinion counts. When I asked her what a man is and whether he is defined by his beard, she was busy writing a radio ad for livestock feed. She is a copywriter like me.

A: A man is the best human he can be. That’s my answer.

M: Going by your answer, are you a man already?

A: Hahaha. I just find most definitions of men limited and shallow. And we forget that the first and foremost is for them to be humane. Who gives a fuck about beards? Are you kind?

M: Kind? I think not. I am mostly an arsehole.

Finally, I got a response from my go-to creative non-fiction writer , Jackson Biko.

Biko: Am I being interviewed?

M: Yes. It’s Movember. And I don’t have a beard. So they are calling me a woman.

Biko: Who are they? Wahenga?

M: No. A friend. Not ati insulting me. Just making fun of my soft face.

Biko: Rightfully so. Anyway. A beard, to me, doesn’t mean anything other than the fact that it frames my face in a way that I like. It gives it character.

During these interviews, I heard a lot of reasons why men should keep beards. All of which pointed towards a general conclusion: that having a beard makes you a man. A lady even told me that her hubby is a year younger than her, so she likes him to keep a beard so that he looks older and more mature. In this case, the beard is reserved solely for the sake of marital peace.

Ati sijui men will full beards make better lovers and more protective fathers? Makachieth! I know hairy men with the loyalty of Judas and the moral turpitude of a politician. Okay I am lying. I do not know any, but I am sure they exist.

I am peeved because people say that only real men have full beards. It is as if they have deducted, from their field study whose sample includes the entire male species, that the only people who are worthy of calling themselves men are  those who go feral. People who have rodent habitats on their faces. Now, by that definition, I am no longer a real man. I have been kicked out of this exclusive club by the likes of Kimani, who swear by their beards.

Look, I get that having a beard makes you a man, true. It is part of a bigger system that includes having nuts and touching them when the air is nippy, a love for beer and having a sexy 48” Samsung Smart TV to your name. But you cannot tell me hat I am not a real man ; that I am a fake, a gender hoax, a mwanaume bonoko, a Kanyari because my chin is smoother than the taste of dry whiskey on ice.

I am not even jealous of bearded men. Why? Because, for one, I am cool with being able to carry a baby without making it cry. Because I do not need a beard to look wizened. My broken tooth can tell the tales about the hard life I have endured. Also, the men who keep a beard so that they look older are the same ones who apply wrinkle-removing creams and dye their hair jet black to maintain an aura of fading youth. Pensioners who want to look like young men – or at least have the money to try-are the supreme irony of life.

Most importantly, the reason I am not jealous of bewhiskered men bragging of their grizzly-fleeced faces is because I am comfortable in my own skin.

Despite all this, I still respect the reasoning behind keeping the beard taming equipment at bay every November. Prostate cancer continues to eat into the manhood of many fellas the world over. What I do not understand is why this awareness just has to be raised by growing a beard. It is not entirely representative of all men- it is not universal.

I (and 6,853,246,474,913 other people) was denied facial hair by Mother Nature. Therefore I should be allowed to choose my own symbol of what makes a man, and then use that symbol to create awareness for Prostate Cancer. A beard does not reflect my sensibilities as a man, because I have never known what it feels like to be a Neanderthal. That feeling is lost on me.

But I own a sexy Smart TV. Something exotic from South Korea. It sits in my bachelor pad the way Mutua Matheka’s beard sits on his chin. Proud. Unmoved. In open defiance.

Smart TVs are delicate. You need to handle its sleek, slim and elegant frame the way a real man handles your woman in and out of bed – with warm loving care and the patience of Job of old. It brings out the man in me way more than a goatee would.

Let’s face it, Kimani. What good is your beard if it cannot explain to you what a Smart TV Evolution Kit is, or how it works? What good is a man with a five o’clock shadow who cannot be on the forefront of digital TV migration? Who said a multitasking is purely in the province of women? Clearly the person who said it lived in the dark ages when televisions relied on CRT, had hunchbacks and the Koreans had not come up with this UHD Curve TV.

I know it is unfair of me to say that you are not man enough because you do not have a baby like this mine. It makes me a prick. The same way it makes you an asshole when you say that the only real men around are those who look like Gandalf. 

So let’s skip the pleasantries and talk about the future of our gender, man to man.

One day we will be fathers. Imagine a world in which we are not scared of teaching our little men the basic tenets of manhood. Imagine if we teach them to walk with a confident gait and their chins up (hairy or otherwise); how to walk like goons listening to a beat. If we instill in them the Mukundi discipline; to keep a bushy mane, not just for November but all year long, because Prostate Cancer is not a bout of flu that goes away on 1st December. Imagine a world in which little boys are shown how to be loyal lovers, to listen to their mothers and to always let a room feel better for having had them in it. Imagine if, like Black Ice, we taught them to demand and demonstrate respect when they walk through the door.

Just imagine owning a piece of this future today.

Fellas, imagine a world in which men own TVs from Nakumatt stores; those with Soccer Mode functionality- so that you can tweet the game live when your bundles run out.

Imagine if, as kids, Mr. Bhatt and other men with charmed existences were taught to govern their furies, and to tame their fists around women. What’s the point of kicking an ass that you can just tap? Imagine if the Embassava touts who stripped a woman for wearing skimpy clothes were taught how to respect a woman, regardless of how little respect women give themselves sometimes. (Who the fuck dislikes a healthy pair of thighs on display for free bana?). Imagine if the judge who let the rapist walk free reasoned that the victim exposing her thigh did not have it coming; that wearing a short dress is not asking for it. Imagine if we were taught to comprehend that we cannot criticize what we do not understand.

Imagine if some men were forbidden from holding colourful drinks with little umbrellas on straws. What if men didn’t drink kong’o from straws altogether? Imagine if we did not give a fuck about who other men prefer to love and be loved by. Imagine a paradise in which men do not call their girlfriends bae.

Ladies, think of a time in which men are celebrated for more than just knowing how to put on a condom with the lights off…if your men understood that it is not the size of the boat that matters, but the motion of the ocean. Imagine if all men had wives who put in more effort to set the mood at night; if they didn’t wear the stockings as crowns, or the spandex or the Okoa Kenya t-shirt for Christ’s sake.

Jaber, imagine if your man could cry, or keep his promises, or simply listen to you.

This is not just some imaginary world that exists on some fictional series that you can watch on your Smart TV. A day will come when some junior goon will call me dad. I hope this deviling meets Kimani’s brat, and the latter makes him feel less of a man because nature denied him a soul patch/stubble. I hope he confronts Kimani’s boy mano a mano, and then wekelas him a good one on his egregious hairy balls. I promise not to tell this to his mother.

In between rising and setting suns, I will ensure my little goon understands that being a man is more than just being male; it is about doing it right. I will tell him I love him enough to let him be the man he was born to be; his own man. Because that is the only way he can be a man of nyadhi. A real man. A real G. Just like daddy.


[COVER PHOTO CREDIT: Osborne Macharia of the K63 Studios fame]


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  1. A great read, I love the flow and the choice of style.#SamsungTvMarwa
    … And Liz was tempted to say she loves bearded men

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