Mark Kaigwa

Archive for December, 2008|Monthly archive page

Mbugua Gets a Good Look

In Perspective, Real Talk on December 29, 2008 at 8:15 pm

I had the honour of christening my barbershop in South B ‘GoodLook Barbershop’ this evening. My barber- Mbugua was one of the hundreds of people affected by the government’s amazingly orchestrated demolition scheme in South B.

Destroying all standing structures on the ‘Road Reserve’ their tact was simple but effective. Tuesday whilst collecting occasional bribes and mingling with the residents they hear the familiar jibe “We’re coming to bomoa (demolish) you guys next Monday, you know.” Amidst banter, negotiation of kick-backs, and such.

They came that very Friday, and didn’t leave a single standing structure, save for the Container turned Shop outside Zanzibar Lane, and the Butchery – They had to really jitetea ( plead their case) with meat that would go bad, fridges, and other amenities. So they stood, and I came that evening to find my barber Mbugua gone, his partner barber Sam gone and Mbugua’s mentor, and probably the most popular barber in South B- Kinyash gone.

Sad, and with a gruff, hairy face I went my way. I enjoy getting cut at the barbershop. It’s a social thing I guess in its own way, with witty discussions and all the repartee of a salon, this is the testosterone-filled equivalent.

So, it broke my heart the next morning to come and find Sam and all the other people affected by the demolition. They had a little protest march. I got glimpses through the white gates of Zanzibar Lane. I met him at the matatu stage and I told him to stay strong. I promised that if he set up again that I would pass by and ‘promote’ him and Mbugua- they had been partners at this barbershop for little more than 8 months. But Sam’s brother is the one who owned the business.

He gave me his phone number. And with a meeting tomorrow where I just had to look the part, not alongside all this gruff, rugged and manliness crawling over my chin and jaws. It’s too distracting to the common mwananchi, but it’s a great disguise with all the attention I seem to be drawing from a popular billboard right now 😉

I came this evening, they had electricity, but alas, Mbugua and Sam who were the tag-team that formed ‘Lucky Barbershop’ were no more. They were together but in separate shanties. A shrewd lady had actually demolished her own wall, built up shanties and was to rent out these kiosks to the previous owners, at twice the price of the rent.

She was now renting it out at Ksh.7000 a month, that’s around $90 a month. Meagre it may seem, but imagine paying that from when you paid around $30 a month. It was a leap, but like in any business, Mbugua and Sam stuck to their individual guns and would stick it out.

So I pass by Mbugua’s and it’s barely complete, he just got the electricity done, two fluorescent lights strapped hastily across the mabati roof. It’s 8:30 PM, the eerie light bathing the piles of sand and ballast outside his barbershop. I see the words ‘Barber’ painted in a fading red, probably the something oxide used that morning to make sure edges of the mabati doesn’t rust.

And I get my cut. And yes. It’s a good look. But in between our conversation there’s the feeling that he’s going to have to really compete with Sam on this one. I haven’t been into Sam’s, but I can even feel that Mbugua’s clippers aren’t as sharp. My hair doesn’t give him any problems, but if I had nappier hair I wouldn’t be smiling. Sam’s also has music, the radio plays and leaks into our stall. It’s got some bass so I know he’s got something decent on his side.

I look at Mbugua’s side and I see a speaker with wires showing while it sits on top of a wood base around a foot and a half off the ground. ” We’re going to do it big this time,” he says “I’m going to get a DVD (LCD Screen with a Video CD Player) and I’m going to play whatever my customers want.” So if I’m feeling a little mellow that day, he’ll play me some blues as I get my cut, or some reggae to ease my soul after the troubling day.

Good Look is on it’s way to looking better. Let’s hope it works out for him.

Mbugua’s got dreams, and God know we all do.

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Christmas: Turkey, Tradition and the Passing of a Great Woman

In Perspective, Real Talk on December 27, 2008 at 2:23 pm

What a bittersweet holiday. It’s been amazing to be able to give, to receive, to continue to help those less fortunate, to deny little luxuries, while indulging in others. It’s been an immersion in the true meaning of Christmas, exploring Christ, continuing the walk, affirming oneself. Humbling oneself before Jesus and surrendering more, while being thankful for the spiritual development made.

This has been the most amazing year of my life, I feel like I’ve savoured it rather than it just blazing through. Like it’s about time it ended, and yet already nostalgic, and wishing I could relive some of the experiences that made it what it was.

But bringing all this to the context of today, it’s been bittersweet. I found out that my great-grandmother Maitu Bella passed away this morning. The word Maitu is a Kikuyu word that figuratively means ‘mother’ but since Cucu is grandmother, there’s no word for great-grandma, so it starts all over again. She was 92 years old. And she was amazing.

She still had all her teeth, dressed up every once in a while. She was physically fit, loved to stroll around, and would love to tell stories, or just kick it with you under a beautiful leaning tree in the front parking lot on her red chair, as she basked in the swaying rays of sun underneath the shade. Though old age had it’s effect on her, in some ways, with her suffering a stroke sometime back – she’d never exactly been the same – but she’d always been so much fun to be around. I consider it one of the greatest blessings bestowed upon me to be able to see, hang out, and interact with my great-grandma, and I’m happy she’s moved on. Happy for her because I’m sure of where she’s headed to. Knowing she had accepted Christ personally.

When I tell people that my shags or rural home is in South B – a popular suburb in the city – people get shocked, or think I’m joking. But it’s true. My grandparents, a pair of real town folk if there ever were some, have lived in South B since the 50’s or 60’s and my mother and siblings grew up there. They also have made some developments around their land, some 4-storey flats being their best achievement. I come over ever other week to chill, they have a great spot for me there that’s real nice, and they are fantastic company to be with. There’s little goings on in this city that’s news to them.

Besides Maitu Bella’s passing on ,there was also the 17 year old tradition fulfilled this year. My mother’s side of the family goes to the Railway Club at the Railway Station here in Nairobi for lunch every year. And I’ve never been more glad to celebrate tradition than I was today. It was amazing, I felt a part of something great, being there and having the same meal – the buffet – for 17 years might sound old hat, but it enchants me.

To see family, cousins and relatives I hadn’t seen in a while, others visiting, and being able to share that meal with them was a blessing. To reminisce over times we’d fought in the past, us younger ones, or times we were disciplined for something someone did. Or even over how my cousin would always ask for tomato sauce and whether they had chips, everywhere they went. From how I can’t get enough of their croquette potatoes.

Besides that there’s what happens the night before that really tells you it’s Christmas. For as long as I can remember, My Tata always would have a great dinner on Christmas Eve. All of my Dad’s family would sit outside on the patio, with all the creepers crawling down its sides, and make merry under the stars. She’d make stuffed turkey, pork, grated carrots peppered with raisins and honey, salads and do not get me started on the desserts. Just rich, lip-licking, overindulgence under the stars. And afterwards, there’s the familiar sugarcane, and sweet bananas from my Dad’s shags to ease our already full stomachs.

It was so funny this time, I was with cousins outside at around midnight and everyone was so drowsy from all the eating, and we were all cracking up from talking randomly. We came up with classic lines such as ‘ Just one piece of sugarcane? Such a lie!’ and ‘ Here, just one sweet banana… Such a lie!’ Because we were all so full, but couldn’t understand what could be causing our hands to work so mechanically to ensure that the sugarcane, nicely diced, was all but over chewed.

With all this said, it’s too easy to come to the conclusion that this is the norm. It may be over these two days, but in between all this, generosity – and I don’t mean just fiscal – but that of time, love, and compliments has been at an all time high. I met a lady the other day outside the Uchumi with her beautiful baby strapped to her back, asleep, unaware of her Mum’s plight, and needless to say me and Mum had a nice little chat agreeing to make things better for the little one.

Lucas, my friend, wasn’t anywhere to be seen today, I assume he’s with the wife and kids. But God knows how I love the guy. He has the most amazing smile you ever saw, and even just coming up to him to chat with him for a bit makes him just fill you with the contagious joy he possesses. A father of six, his being blind hasn’t stopped him from being a great Dad to his children, and I admire him so much.

Christmas for me is about reflection, looking and examining oneself and one’s relationship with Jesus, acknowledging shortfalls, putting things at the foot of the cross. And celebrating Christ’s birth, while ensuring that you begin to develop consistent charity and generosity, making it less seasonal, and more personal and intimate with those you aid.

Be blessed, and don’t forget what Christmas is all about.

Pamoja Mtaani : Breaking New Ground in Gaming and Social Awareness.

In Perspective on December 17, 2008 at 1:17 pm

It’s been 11 months since the inception of this Warner Bros. Project, now debuted and launched. Named, Pamoja Mtaani (‘Together in The Hood’ in Swahili) it’s unprecedented territory as far as both gaming and Social Awareness on HIV/AIDS is concerned.

Pamoja Mtaani Animation Screenshot

The PC Video game “Pamoja Mtaani”, developed by Virtual Heroes and Published by Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment (WBIE) is part of the HIV Free Generation Project made possible by PEPFAR ( The President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Response). I will state unashamedly that US President George W. Bush has done more for Africa than any other president in history. There is little to debate on this matter.

Obama may hail from Kenya, and remain it’s talisman, but it is hard to see him ever coming close to reaching the touchstone that President Bush has reached. With economic hardship, and the American people demanding change, his mandate is to serve his country; we will respect that. But what’s for sure, is that we’re really proud of him and we are sure that with PEPFAR and the HIV Free Generation Programs in place, we’re in good hands.

With Pamoja Mtaani, what we are witnessing is a radical and most certain an unprecedentedly bold approach to combating HIV/AIDS. Targetting the younger African generation, starting in Kenya, addressing them where they are at. With this project in particular, the beginning of the HIV Free Generation Initiative, the youth are being engaged on a level not before envisioned here in Kenya. Through players engaging and fostering a creative and communal approach to challenges in the game, it’s been rolled out at three major locations in Nairobi to start with: the National Youth Service HQ, The Hope Worldwide Center in Mukuru and Micato Safaris St. Mary’s Church in Mukuru as well.

The game is a RPG (Role-Playing Game) which was designed to be played by 5 characters at a time over a LAN (Local Area Network). The official statement from WBIE (Warner Bros. Interactive) sums it up.

“The game follows five strangers who are brought together through unforeseen circumstances, losing what is most precious to each of them. Working their way through various East African neighborhoods, players must recover the stolen items and help an injured woman on their quest. Along the way, they will experience barriers and facilitators to behavior change through a variety of missions and mini-games. ”

Writing the videogame was a challenge, and one of the most insightful, and demanding projects I have ever been involved in. And I loved the opportunity to create, and adapt something this visual and this visceral for a market that hasn’t been approached in this way before.

One of the most interesting things for me was ensuring that the videogame was able to achieve the Behaviour Change Communication (BCC) Objectives. With each character crafted with an arc, to which they gradually transform and fulfil during the game. We had BCC Expert  Nichola Harford, currently based in Zimbabwe working with us, as well as several other teams on both continents.

My trip to the U.S at the beginning of the year to study meant that my schedule would change slightly, and I would be away from home. With that, seasoned writer and thespian Cajetan Boy was selected to write the game from Kenya, with Nicola and I forming the rest of the writing team. This turned out for the best. We were in constant contact, the time difference was cut back significantly for me (From +10 Hours to +3). And best of all, I was able to harness the power of ‘real’ broadband to teleconference, send and download Giga-sized chunks of material at will.

To integrate sheng (local slang- a blend of English and Swahili) into the game, as well as translate the entire game into sheng was something I relished. Sheng, I believe is the epitomy of popular youth culture in Kenya. It is dynamic, unashamed, and defiant. Sheng conforms itself to your reality. So much so that it is by no means restricted to it’s transcribed form. It’s written form cannot keep up.

It continually defies the rules set to govern it (sound like your member of parliament?), and it fluctuates in punctuation and inflection between neighbourhoods, street corners and cities. An example, that’s already outdated by the fact I can write it down  : some words get reversed at a moments notice, and their reversed and revised editions replace them. Most times indefinitely, but then there is no indefinity in it, is there?

There were also 5 CG Short Films developed to debut with the game, and give players and the masses quick views into the characters lives. They were directed by visionary animation director Chris Bailey and were produced by Aaron Parry of Mainstreet Productions. I had the chance to do writing and consultation on part of the project, and you can view them here on the HIV Free Website hosted by Warner Bros.  (http://hivfreegeneration.warnerbros.com)

The entire process of writing both the Short Films and the Videogame was a revelation. Being able to see scripts go from being marked up in their 10th version, and being able to meet on a middleground between our different cultures, yet staying relevant to Kenya’s was amazing.

There is hope that with the game, and the large amounts of data that will be collected from it, we will be several great steps closer to achieving a HIV Free Generation.