I remember in High School we were only allowed to read newspapers in the evening and over the weekends. During that time, Maranda High was still some school somewhere in the bowels of Bondo that was only applauded by the masters of the fish trade. With a gruesome timetable that demanded our attention and most of our energy from 4.00am till 4.00pm, there was little energy left for someone to read anything else. Evening was rest time, as for others like me, games were not expendable. At least my Basketball coach made damn sure of that.
Then there was the library. I never stepped foot in that place except in the weekends. Why? Because of Saturday Nation. I am the kind of cat that starts reading a newspaper from the inside out. That means I don’t give a monkey’s squirt about the political humdrum, the economy’s rocket science and much less, football. So that means I am most interested in the pull out magazine, and in High School the most anticipated one was Saturday Magazine; and even in here, I first skipped the love and relationships brouhaha and headed straight to the Man Talk column by one Oyunga Pala.
If one could marry talent, then I would put a ring on Pala’s writing skills. No homo. And for four years, I cursed the weekends that I couldn’t catch Pala’s column. Here he talked to us men about women. And it’s amazing how he bludgeoned my infant ideology about women using gonzo humour and sharp satire. We grew up imbibing the claptrap from Disney world, and our perceptions were so naïve that we believed that we could be knights in shining armours and seduce a princess using glass stilettos and big shiny rock!
Oyunga Pala taught us how to be men, and then all of a sudden, he disappeared. Without a trace. I am told that after 11 years, he said goodbye and introduced the current blogosphere sensation, Jackson Biko alias bikozulu. I didn’t read that column. For me, he made an Irish exit, and fell off the face of the earth, and we ‘men ‘were soon reminded that in high school, we are still boys. Hell, most of us were still excited because our pubic hair had just begun to show. Pala’s audience wasn’t meant to be high school students, but boys will always be boys and fancy themselves men.
Then one day I saw him on TV- talking to Carole Mandi about women on the Sebuleni show, remember? It would be another five years before I got a link from a high school friend telling me that Pala is back. He was back in deed, with a site that goes by the name and fashion of About Forgotten Men. Pala, I don’t think there is a reader of yours who forgot you.
Long story short, we exchanged a few emails, and last week I asked him for a Q&A session for this campus rag that I edit. He said yes. So I asked him a few questions, and this is what he had to say…
Who is Oyunga Pala? Does the name have a meaning in your first language?
I am newspaper columnist and a man of letters. My writings tend to examine the texture of everyday life, moving away from traditional idea of African men as victims of modernity and disillusion. The pieces commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity against the temptations of worldly success, politics, women and most recently the environment.
My last means knife or blade in my mother tongue Dholuo. It works symbolically because, I slice through the hyperbole and bear reality as it is.
When did you start writing? What’s your fairy tale with pen and paper?
I broke into the newspaper rank in 1996 while at the University Of Nairobi and I have been writing consistently since then. While I better known for newspaper contributions in Saturday Nation Mantalk column and my current column Crazy Kenyans in the Standard Crazy Monday pull out, I have dabbled quite extensively editing magazines. I started with sports publications, African Rugby (1997) and Sports Monthly (2000), held a stint as editor of Adam magazine, a men’s lifestyle rag and currently edit Nakumatt’s Smart Life magazine.
So, what was it with attacking the women folk in Man Talk? You must have made a lot of ladies angry during those days.
Mantalk was a sanctioned chauvinist take on the skewed gender relationships in the city. Men had taken the flak for a long time and I was tasked with the unenviable role of telling the flip side of the story. I became accustomed to hate mail which is an occupational hazard as the critic-in-chief of lovey-dovey industry.
What is the best piece you have ever written?
I will leave that to the readers to decide. As the biggest critic of my own work, I try not to get too attached to what has passed. My mantra is remains, ‘you are only as good as your last story’.
What happened that you had to take a hiatus from journalism?
I took a year’s break after end of my engagement with the Nation as the Man Talk columnist. It had been 11 years on the page and I felt a bit drained. I had also suffered a bad motorcycle accident in 2010 and I needed the time and space to recover. So I used the time out to flee from Nairobi to pursue some of my other eclectic interests in the countryside.
What drove you back?
I never really quit, I just stopped writing for mainstream media until I felt recharged. Eventually the lure of short term glory and a page to lord my opinion were too great to resist and I found a new home at the Standard newspaper and my blog oyungapala.com
About Forgotten Men, what is that all about? The purpose.
Forgotten men is the tag line of my personal blog. It is derives from the notion that Kenyan men are going through a transition phase and the masculinity values of the old are no longer relevant. Many men experience delusion as a result and my mission is to articulate the residing frustrations and aspirations.
Why motorcycling? How did you fall in love with motorcycling?
I only started riding motorcycles in 2005 after a stint in South East Asia where I picked up the bug. Previously, I was into cross country cycling. It seemed like fun until I got tired envying bikers whizzing past. Bikes represent freedom of the open road and they are perfect companion for the intrepid explorer. In the city, they offer the best way around traffic and the speed thrills.
Any new projects in mind? What next after Crazy Monday, Smart Life and About Forgotten Men?
I hope to get a long overdue book out this year, so that is keeping me occupied for the moment. It will be based on my experiences as relationship critic and highlight some of my better works from that period.
What would you tell campus writers trying to make it into the mainstream?
I would say, put your heart in it. I found many budding writers spend too much time yapping about latent talent and not enough time writing.
Like all professions, approach it with the seriousness it deserves, learning the skills of the craft progressively and pushing your work out as much as possible. The industry has really grown and there are tons of opportunity to carve a niche beyond the traditional print platforms.
Writers write, so the sooner you get down to it, the closer you will be to meeting your objectives.