Mark Kaigwa

Archive for the ‘Real Talk’ Category

Mawulire ki Kampala? Here I Come!

In Film, Happenings, Perspective, Real Talk on July 9, 2009 at 11:22 am

It’s been a minute since I hit up the blog, I know…but in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been pleasantly distracted by Posterous and Twitter, on which I proclaim you can follow me much closer, and much better. Blog is for big news, like this news. With that, I might as well make it formal: I have good news. I’ve been selected as a finalist in the Annual Maisha Filmmakers Lab Program for 2009.

Maisha lab snippet

The Maisha Film Lab is arguably the best Filmmaking and Technical Lab in the region and it’s main lab is it’s Annual 23 day lab in Kampala, Uganda. This is one of the greatest stepping stones for filmmakers in Eastern Africa with many Maisha Alumni going on to chart out some serious headway in their respective film industries. Besides the Annual 23 Day lab, they also conduct 4 shorter Screenwriting Labs (8-days) at 4 Regional Film Festivals (I was a part of last year’s at the Kenya International Film Fest in Nairobi.) I’d encourage you, if you’d be interested in filmmaking or writing for screen to participate and apply for one of their labs.

So I leave for the beautiful city of Kampala from the 25th of July to August 16th. Hopefully, if I don’t actually direct my film, I’ll assist in directing someone else’s. (fingers crossed) Directing is something I’ve really wanted to get into for the past couple months. I’ve been patiently writing, and though I’m yet to see a film through to production, it seems this might be my chance to do both. A quick recap into how I got into screenwriting.
In December ’07 I attended a Theatre Company Playwriting workshop with Playwright Roberta Levitow. I wasn’t a selected participant, but with some free time on my hands after finishing uni, I was so glad that Keith Pearson and Mumbi Kaigwa let me attend as the Go-pher :). I ended up participating and eventually writing a comedic play on an altercation I had with The Kenya Police regarding a safety-belt in what could (only in Kenya) be referred to as ‘The Crackdown Era’ – Where The Great Matatu Reforms of 2007(R) occured. The skills I learnt there were (and continue to be) invaluable to me. They were the best foundation and exposure anyone could ask for. I served some great tea as well, by the way 🙂
From then on, I went on to co-write the Warner Bros. Interactive  Project ‘Pamoja Mtaani‘ (Part of the HIV Free Generation Project) and work on 5 Animated Short Films. Cajetan Boy worked with me on Pamoja Mtaani, and he introduced me to Maisha. I sent in an application to the first Maisha Screenwriting Lab at KIFF (Kenya International Film Festival) and was accepted into the week-long screenwriters lab. I kept excellent notes and learnt plenty. I also developed a couple better screenplays, not to mention Radio and TV Scripts for Advertising (The industry, I’m slowly beginning to call House – not Home i.e. you can move house, you can’t move home… But no lie, it’s growing on me. 🙂
Of that lab, came out Writer/Director Paul Ekuru’s The Dance for Wives (Which premiered in Kenya at Alliance Francaise on Monday 6th July after screening at the Zanzibar International Film Fest and The Rwanda International Film Fest…I was at the premiere and uploaded pics to my Posterous. View them here) I’m so glad to see Paul’s film get the attention it has had. It was nominated for two Kalasha Awards recently, Best Short Film and Best Leading Actress (Karen Lucas aka Kaz)
So, long story short, applied as soon as I found out about this years lab, back in May and I got the call on the 2nd of July. Can’t wait to see what will come out of this Lab. I don’t know all of the other finalists personally, but I know that my friend Bernadette, also at last years Maisha Lab @ KIFF and Richard from Big Brother Africa 2 were selected.
Can’t wait to meet, study, re-write, re-write, re-write and make movies! Wish me luck!

The Gathering (TED Viewing)

In Happenings, Perspective, Real Talk on June 15, 2009 at 6:32 pm

Carrying on from where I left things with the Sneak Peek.


It was slightly hectic for most people who I approached to host the event. It was a week to the date, and most venues were either booked, or had a strict booking policy. All of which was understandable. This was an impromptu event with a minimal budget.

I hesitated to invite all the people I knew would want to come, partly due to the short notice, and the fact that I hadn’t organised a projector and a sound system yet, let alone get a venue. After Joshua and I sending out emails to all the connections we knew, all that was left was to make phone calls and hope for a confirmation or interest in hosting. They weren’t able to come through.

Over the weekend, though, I met with  Phares Kaboro, an active member of Skunkworks-Kenya who reminded they would be hosting their weekly meeting the following Tuesday, at Teleposta Towers. I let him know about the impromptu TED Video Screening idea and he seemed interested. He in turn floated it the Skunkworks team and bada bing! We had a venue.

So, with a venue, and a day to ‘wrap it all up’ it became a matter of arranging for a projector or TV. My brother has an awesome (and quite portable) speaker system he uses in his studio, so I knew I had the sounds, all that was left was to source for the elusive projector. It was time to think on my feet, after placing a number of phone calls to hear people charging alarming rates for projectors I double-checked the situation with none other than my Mom to hear her thoughts. All this time, I had forgotten about the office next door to my Mom’s which rents/sells laptops and projectors – personal friends of ours too. I got a great out-of-this-world deal on a projector, and we were good to go. Only thing was by the time this was ‘landing in place’ it was three hours to the event.

This partly explains my reluctance to do more than tweet about the event, I apologise to those who I wasn’t able to inform in time.

The Event

That evening, it rained. And for anyone in Nairobi, whether you understand Nairobi or not, you understand that rain breeds the longest, noisiest, most disorganized choking and clogging of all arteries out of the Central Business District. Some refer to this as traffic, but the definition of ‘traffic’ doesn’t cut it. Needless to say, the rain didn’t dishearten many a TED fan. I arrived to find Phares making preparations, and we quickly gave the whiteboard a sprucing up. It was to welcome (and direct) guests to the event.

I got there semi-soaked actually, but in one piece. Luckily, Erik was in Westlands where the sound system and projector were awaiting pick-up from my Mom’s office. He gladly picked them from there that afternoon.

Guests began streaming in slowly as the downpour outside turned into more of a light drizzle. Things did start a little later than expected, but they began on a good footing. The crowd, for an impromptu event, was impressive. I spotted +25 people there including all of the other TED Fellows I mentioned.

Quick intros, and with the gadgets fired up, we proceeded to start with Andrew Mwenda’s controversial but very poignant piece on what he calls ‘The African Question.’

…to look beyond the media’s stories of poverty, civil war and helplessness and see the opportunities for creating wealth and happiness throughout the continent

This talk was at TED Global in 2007 in Tanzania, and it set the tone for plenty more strong protagonists of the Dead Aid school-of-thought to emerge. It’s an amazing talk that I had watched once, but got plenty of insight this time around, I’m sure you will too.

It was between Erik and Joshua to pick some of their favourite speakers from TED Long Beach 2009 Next, we watched Nathan Wolfe’s mind-blowing take on pandemics and the micro-biological work he’s been doing. Interesting stuff, lots he

…outwitting the next pandemic by staying two steps ahead: discovering deadly new viruses where they first emerge — passing from animals to humans among poor subsistence hunters…before they claim millions of lives.

Following this, was one of Sheila Ochugboju’s favourites, Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on Creative Genius – a new way to think about it…I don’t really know how to describe this, and I know I don’t want to spoil the surprise. It was one of the highlights of the talks, provoking the most chuckles (several being from me) especially coming out of a creative field, much of what she said resonated with me, and yet she still kept a broad appeal from the audience, while being remarkably unique and genuine.

…muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk.

Erik at this point, challenged the crowd to whether they would prefer to watch a video from TED Global or another one from TED 2009. The crowd was highly in favour of the TED Global Talk. This talk could be considered an African classic by firebrand economist George Ayittey. It is a must-watch if you’ve never heard his talks before. Here he gives his famous Cheetah vs. Hippo Generation Talk, which so happened to be the very first TED Talk I ever watched.

(When it got to the Fisherman/Boat story, for time concerns, we moved on – though I’d still recommend you have a look at the story) Quite something, isn’t he?

To cap the night off, was one of the most watched TED Talks around. Bill Gates hopes to solve some of the world’s biggest problems using a new kind of philanthropy. In a passionate and, yes, funny 18 minutes, he asks us to consider two big questions and how we might answer them.

Great event so far, and I believe the official event will be in July (This was an impromptu gathering, which just so happened to occur when quite a number of TED Fellows were in town)

But I look forward to your thoughts, if you were there or not, and if you’re new to TED, do let me know what you think. Big thank you to Joshua, Phares, and everyone who came out.

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See No Evil, Taste No Evil, Shave No Evil

In Perspective, Real Talk on May 11, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Every week I head over to Mbugua’s for my ‘cut’ it’s one of the highlight’s of my week. I usually arrive anytime between 8 and 9 PM.  clip_image001

The fluorescent glow seeps through the chicken wire of Mbugua’s barbershop onto the South B’s macadam road. And like flies to a flame, there’s always activity in the busy nano strip-mall of shacks and hutches. As you already know, Mbugua has his place right next to Sam’s. I tried to be diplomatic, going to Sam’s every once in a while, especially when I saw that Mbugua’s place has one or two customers waiting. But great stories and a guaranteed laugh locked me down at the ‘Good Look Barbershop’ for life.

It’s funny because Sam’s is actually a better looking barbershop. It has a better sound system, Mbugua didn’t have one for a while, and the collage of 2 inch-thick boards that separate them don’t do much as soundproofing, so if at Mbugua’s you have the pleasure of sharing Sam’s sound. That’s changed recently, with Mbugua getting his own sounds, but his dreams are still a while away. It’s always interesting trying to have a conversation in between two wanna-be sound systems. As if matatus weren’t bad enough. It makes either for an amusing conversation, or a frustating shouting match.

clip_image002So each week I step into his cozy, yet awkwardly leaning barber chair I ready myself to hear what a week he’s had, and what the latest is. This particular time, I found Mbugua at the video library next door to the butchery playing ‘poker’ with a couple guys. (In Kenya people know ‘Crazy Eights’ as ‘Poker’) I take one look at him and thought ‘Wow, things must be going well for him, he’s put on some weight, his face and his cheeks are looking a whole lot rounder’. I watched the game as he ‘ate’ their proceeds. I went ahead of him to wait for him at his place as he wrapped up the game. I hear an outcry that Mbugua has to come back because this guy has no money left. Mbugua had pocketed a cool Ksh. 800 ($10).

Mbugua arrives with an awkward smirk on his face. I took a closer look at his face, and saw some disparity. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something looked off. I asked Mbugua how he’d been, and staring at his face through the mirror in front of me I realised one side of his face was swollen. He still had this smile on his face, so I didn’t ask, but it was hard not to stare. There was no visible bruising, so I became curious to what might have caused it.

" Mzeiah huskii meno yangu ilikuwa imenisumbua.

(Man, you wouldn’t believe how my tooth was killing me)" He said. "

Sikuwa nikikula, natafuna na side moja.

( I was barely eating; chewing with only one side of my mouth)"

I proceeded to laugh, he says things in such a farcical way I couldn’t help it. It didn’t take long for me to realise this was a bit of a serious moment, but he’s never to be taken too seriously, so I laughed again.

I told him I thought he was doing well for himself, putting on weight. He chuckled. Mbugua said he’d not been able to sleep for nights and had trouble eating, as his face got swollen, and the pain got worse. He found himself in a quandary between removing the tooth ‘kienyeji’, which amounted to removing it himself, or going to a dentist. I kept bursting into laughter as he continued to narrate his experience to me.

" Nilishindwa kulala. Siwezi lalia uso side hii

(I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t lie down on the swollen side of my face)" He said.

He had to lie on one side of his face at night, he said. And his mouth became so hot, he had a big jug of water next to where he lay on the floor, waking up every 10 minutes to take another mouthful to cool him. My laughter at this point almost cost me another haircut, he almost made a ‘mistake’ so I decided to hold it in as he continued the story.

"Eh, sikuwa veri. Asubuhi  Asubuhi nikachukua ma-painkillers na bado. Naskia tu kichwa ni ka inalia ‘pu-pu-pu’"

(Man, I wasn’t in great shape. In the morning I took some painkillers and I still wasn’t good. I felt like my head would throb ‘pu-pu-pu’."

He later realised that he had to go to the dentist and proceeded to book an appointment with one. I asked him what kind of dentist this was, he didn’t say much. But I was pretty sure it wasn’t some loony with a couple syringes and some of those ‘toothbrush branches.’ You know, some kook with some mwarubaine for anaesthesia and other ‘herbs’ with a ratchet/secateurs for ‘tools’…Scary.

So he got the tooth removed, and Mbugua was quick to tell me I hadn’t seen anything yet. Things had looked far worse the day before. I quipped asking if his head felt heavier on one side. He gestured that his clippers could make a couple mistakes on my head to make it ‘heavier on one side.’ I went silent. For that moment.

He said it was better now; he had become a bit more used to the meds. But for his unlucky clients the day before, he was feeling much drowsier from the first doses of the medicine. It also didn’t help that he didn’t have a mirror up. ( So the clients had no idea what he was doing)

"Kwanza huskii niliget customer mwingine hapo mpya! Hajainyolewa na mimi. Nikamskiza mastory, nikamweka kut poa.Karibu nimguze maskio. Si ningeitana. Hao wengine hata walisema hawajali, wataniamini tu."

(Can you believe I got a new client? (with no mirror) He’d never been shaven by me. I talked some stories with him and gave him a good cut. But I almost sliced his ear, aww man, I would’ve had it then. For the other (customers) they said they didn’t care. They would trust me."

I could imagine going, getting a shave, and trusting him without ever seeing the finished product. I’d trust him. I wouldn’t think twice about it. Don’t know how the new guys felt about it that day.

This is probably the edited version of his travels, but it was such a hilarious story I was compelled to share. I continue to witness to Mbugua one step at a time. He’s a bit of a showoff and doesn’t hesitate to tell me that he has a sugar-mummy or his total disinterest in marriage. So it’s all baby steps. Baby steps.

See no Evil. Taste no Evil. Shave no Evil

Penguins by estherdh


Photos by Oaxania, Lotor-Matic and Esterdh

“Do Work, Son!”

In Perspective, Real Talk on April 20, 2009 at 9:26 am

Do Work by d.danger

If you’re unfamiliar with the popular phrase, it was coined by a man known as Big Black; real name Chris Boykin. A personal bodyguard to pro-skater Rob Dyrdek.

You might know them from the MTV show Rob & Big. If you have/had no idea it doesn’t matter much because what I want to talk about has nothing to do with MTV or Rob & Big.

I was going through 1 Chronicles 28 and 29 and it’s the end of David’s life, and he’s giving out what ends up being his last address to his people, but it’s the very best of his people, among them his famous Mighty Men.

So it goes that King David was supposed to build a home for The Ark of the Covenant i.e. God’s temple but God said to him ‘You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood.’

Great, so here’s an old David who can no longer build the temple, he’d set out to build quite some way back. Instead, it’s his son, Solo (soon to be known as The-wisest-man-on-earth King Solomon) whose job it is to build the temple.

It’s what David says that I wanted to share. Verse 20 says

“David also said to Solomon his son “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you…” 1 Chr. 28:20 [NIV] (emphasis added)

You can see where I got the title from. King David then goes on to honestly admit (in front of the whole assembly)

“My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced. The task is great because this palatial structure is not for man but for the LORD God.”  1 Chr. 29:1 [NIV]

By the way, King David goes on to make one of the most generous and challenging donations recorded in history. If you wish, read the rest of the chapter and do some pre-recession mathematics here.

This challenged me. Usually, its way more than easy to let opportunities to reach out, to help, to stand for something or to just believe in God pass us by. I am by no means experienced, though I have learnt my share of lessons; lessons from both action and inaction. The best lessons have come from action, and you could say I’ve been privileged to see God do some great things.

So my point to you is simple. You heard it: Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do something for God. Make something count. It’s no secret that there are plenty of people who could do with some cheering up, with you being the bigger person in the relationship, or with you simple taking time to recognize their existence. There’s something you can do, and you know it.

Get out of your comfort zone.

This may apply more to me than to you, but neither age nor experience is a factor here. The phrase to sum it up may not be the most politically correct, but “Do work, son!”

Photo courtesy of d.danger

Back to the “Old School”

In Perspective, Real Talk on April 15, 2009 at 7:02 am
My High School Trunk...Just kidding!

My High School Trunk...Just kidding!

Taking it back to when it all began, while rumbling through my casket of a boarding school trunk,and finding the inaugural issue of The Laiser Beam. The very first magazine I ever wrote for, the first place I ever got published.

Published ‘by students for students’ in July 2005, the copy was an unbelievable 38 -pages long, and the first publication of any kind coming out of the school. Held together by 3 staples along it’s spine, and highly pixelated pictures with plenty of unrecognizable class pictures. It was a smash-hit with the students.

A budding writer in my final year of government education, I was glad to have two articles published in the issue, a first for the young 17 year-old journalist and soon-to-be blogger. And for your reading pleasure, here is the first one verbatim.

A slight caution before you read this article, what you will read will change you permanently. It will change the way you view the student body completely…Consider yourself warned! There are plenty of sayings to put the point across, “Only the strong survive”…”Survival for the fittest” and “It’s a dog-eat-dog world.” Well, they all apply now.

Welcome to break-time in Laiser Hill.

As soon as the bell rings, the mind slows and shuts down and begins calculations as the seat becomes harder and harder to sit on. The second the teacher sets foot outside, it’s a dash for the door. Looking at the tuck-shop all the way from class and it hits you that you’re already too late. People are shouting and squeezing through to give their orders.
But you don’t stop running, no, you can’t. Lest you have to spend half your break time shouting and jostling to get your order heard by ‘Madam.’ Physical fitness and endurance are a must. Nothing is bought or brought on a silver platter.

FACT: If you don’t break a sweat, you get no break.

There are at least 12 people, most being sweatier and of larger stature than you, constantly moving in and out of the window.
But not so fast, you need to look for a stepping stone or be ready to get your shoes muddy. As soon as you’ve balanced well on a stone, with your money firm in your hand, you need now to get to the window. Not forgetting that time is running out. The hardest is yet to come as you nudge and budge your way through the army of red sweaters you see the window and manage to finally squeeze your hand through one of the bars.

By then, you realize that you are partially deaf on one side because of someone, lets call him Mr. Pre-mandazi-breath both salivating and shouting into your earlobe trying to catch the attention of ‘Madam’

FACT: With your soft voice, you will be there until lunch but a deep commanding voice gets you a full stomach.

After buying, getting out is twice as hard as getting in, with your hands full, you don’t want to drop something or trip. You are now ready to go eat where the boys are at. There are way too many ‘bases’, behind the library, in front of it, under the tree, ‘parents park’…

With everybody and their own weird mixture of foods, crisps, drinks, powders and biscuits its no surprise that the nurse is always open at lunch time. And she’ll need all the luck she can get.

The thing I love about this article is the fact that it was sincere, witty and expressed moments that everybody in the school was familiar with. It was probably one of the best received articles I wrote, especially because I never presumed it would garner as much support as it did. Teachers, students, and even ‘Madam’ of the tuck-shop. She secretly thought I was trying to uncover her evil ring of chips-smuggling, where she would bring in French-fries by night and sell them to students, under the administration’s nose…Oops, there I go, ratting her out! How could I when I was one of the people who would leave her with a ‘deposit’ and take things on debit, or credit.

I need to tell you the names for our food combinations, or “combi’s” as they are referred to. We had “Mo-fire” a thicker type of mandazi made with extra flour, “Ndao” a regular mandazi.

Definition: Mandazi – A triangular, or rectangular (in Laiser Hill) shaped donut of sorts.

And the combinations ranged from a mandazi and a sausage, or mandazi and a samosa (both of which are very popular to date), chapati-sausage, to the outrageous ‘budget combi’ which was mandazi-crisps or chapati crisps, or mofire-crisps.

Definition: Crisps – thin deep fat fried slices of potatoes with added spices, packaged with nuts, and chevda-like additives.

The crisps-combi’s were hilarious, but became so popular. Started by students trying to be frugal, it caught on and became a fad, much like how ankle socks and slippers became a huge fad in school. Oh, to be young again…

These are smudges in my memory of high school. What are some of yours?

<a class=”owbutton” title=”Bookmark & Share” href=” Kenya HighSchool History Nostalgia TIA Serendipity“><img src=””></a&gt;

Thank You

In History's Future, Perspective, Real Talk on March 4, 2009 at 5:11 pm

I’m broken, weakened, distraught, irritable at times and fickle emotionally from time to time. I’m human. I’ve cried, I’ve sneezed, I’ve blown my nose, I’ve laughed, I burped while laughing which made me laugh even more and I have smiled. From the passing on of my later father, Major (Retired) George Murakaru Kaigwa, it hasn’t been easy. But it has certainly been manageable, thanks in whole to God himself, and in great part to the amazing and inspiring people he’s so warmly surrounded my family with.

People I never knew cared, people who I thought cared, People I never knew cried, people I never knew, cried. I am humbled beyond measure, because to declare ‘I’ am strong is to err. ‘I’ am only because ‘He’ was before me. By He, I mean the great God I serve, whom is within me, but also the realest example of another human being, otherwise known as my father, he put before me.

It’s funny how God can prepare you for something. And we all know that death, is tough.I have experienced the death of 4 friends over the past 2 years (all under 22years of age, the youngest being 19), I have had the chance to see and experience, in part, the grieving process. To understand that denial and anger can come before acceptance. It was this whole time that my walk with Christ took more lefts, rights, ups and downs than a Nissan on a Moi-era tarmac road. But He knew this would come, and it was all prepared for.

But I’m more because of the ‘we’ around me. You, your words, your prayers, your encouragement, your thoughts and your presence. It’s a whole lot easier for me to stand and say I’m strong, because I have strong people all around me holding me up.

All I can say to you is

Thank You.

You pray for me, I am privileged, but I am more honored to also pray for you and encourage you. For you to see this amazing strength in me is not only a testament to who Jesus has been to and through me, but it is also a result of your very prayers. Bless you.


P.S. I couldn’t believe the amazing response from the Tweetmosphere. They really came through with messages, condolences and encouragement. I don’t know most of them personally but PinkM, Intelligensia, Ngeny, EdObie, Miano, Knocternal, SoleAddict1, Kaboro, 69MB, DKomo, SwMaina and others. Thank you all from me.

The Barbershop Professor

In Perspective, Real Talk on February 24, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Originally uploaded by DanieVDM

I coined a saying, though I might not be the first to have come up with it “There’s a professor in every barbershop.”

As many as there are stretchered couches that the pyschiatrists and therapists will have you lie on to tell all your problems and dilemmas, there are barber chairs and stools and seating arrangements in barbershops across the neighbourhoods of Nairobi and this African continent.

Ng’ang’a is my barber-barber. I might do you well to explain just who a barber-barber is: A barber-barber is a man (or woman, these days) who cuts hair and beards as a trade, and has cut a particular customer’s hair for over 10 years. Like I said, Ng’ang’a is my barber-barber. This man has known me longer than I’ve known him. From hi-t0p fades to ‘Jordan’ to Afro trims, from blowouts to curly-kits and those hair-gone-wrong days he’s been there.

I haven’t been to Ng’ang’a’s for over two years, but it doesn’t erase the fact that he’s been my barber-barber for over 16 years. Giving stories as he cuts my hair, barbers seem to have a savoir-faire that’s pretty darn good. And they need it to stay in business. I have countless recollections of telling Ng’ang’a all that was going on in primary school, all the thrills and spills of pubescent life, not realising he was actually becoming a confidant in some way.

Ng’ang’a’s was always the place to be in the large neighbourhood, and he moved shop like two or three times, the clientele always remained faithful. Even as his prices went up 200% as he accustomed himself to the new ‘relaxing routine’, that dominates barber-world of haircut, wash, massage, and a rubdown to the head, clientele remained faithful.

I can be said to be one of the ones who just moved on. With a barber-barber you don’t move on, you just ‘take a break’; it’s strangely like a marriage. No one knows how to cut your hair like he does. Regardless, when he changed to incorporate the ‘relaxing routine’ I changed too. I like all that jazz, but keep it under 100 or 200 bob for me, it’s just a haircut!

Needless to say I’ve found another barber, and if you read about Mbugua and Sam’s breakup. I went to Sam’s yesterday, since Mbugua’s was a little busy, if you consider two people in line busy. I was only going for a cut-which is where he doesn’t cut the hair, but the edges of the hair along the forehead, down to the ears and round the back of the head. Thinking about it, I don’t know why it’s called a ‘cut’ then…Anyways, he did a good job.

It was our convo that really got me sure that there is a professor in every barbershop. He always has a story, an analogy or in most cases an allegory -hence my referral to gossip above- to keep the exchange flowing. With me we talked many things, among them death, and passing on, as you’ll find out more in the Thank You post coming soon.

And if you pick up a phone call in there, it’s likely you’d be grilled or teased (depending on how the barber feels) and the second-hand speech will be used against you by all means.

I’ve been to a couple different barbershops in my days, I’d say, but in life, it looks like you can’t really have that many ‘barber-barbers.’ If you think of it like a marriage, you want it to all work out the first time, and hopefully things get easier, and hopefully better with time.

Gents, are you taking lectures and discussions with your ‘professor’? Ladies, is this true for salons? Wouldn’t be surprised if there were similarities.

The Village Near the Valley

In Perspective, Real Talk on February 11, 2009 at 11:40 am

A while back my church had a mission trip to a not-too-distant  slum/village called Mji wa Huruma. The slum is located in the Runda area. A sharp contrast to its’ surrounding area, with lush carpeted and trimmed lawns, fountains and yellow-bricked driveways.

This is a more humble area, and it’s a village. By village I mean a small community of people who have goings on in, and possibly around, the Runda area. And the dynamic in the village is notable, I would say that possibly 3/5 of the village are children between infancy and teenage years.

Changaa Brewing

The mission was simple: For a week, bring the message of Christ: love, forgiveness and redemption to them.

Forgotten, almost, by their immediate neighbours, the church’s duty was to bring and show love to all, and to bring ties of friendship to the community.

It was business as usual when they first entered Mji wa Huruma, which when loosely translated means the "Village of Pity". An assessment of needs, engaging the youth through sports, and ladies and mothers speaking to fellow ladies and mothers in the village.

However, for the men there was also one unique challenge that presented itself. One of the things that goes on in plain sight was the preparation of chang’aa [chah-ng’-aah] which is an illicit brew that’s made and sold within small communities in varying degrees of strength. When I say in varying degrees of strength I mean strenght enough to kill, strength enough to paralyse, and strength enough to blind a man.

I might rephrase that to say that it doesn’t occur in ‘plain sight’ but rather since it happens at a valley (it must often occur near a river) it’s never really in plain sight, it’s just not hidden from anyone’s attention.

It’s preparation is simple, but very effective. Mastering the age-old technique of distillery, it’s preparation happens by a river. Always. And at Mji wa Huruma it was no different, a select group of men, 4 of them, taking turns every now and again, on an unwritten rota with an unspoken set of rules.

Preparation requires a drum, old oil drums made of iron are preferred in this case, their oil-stained insides along with their rusty charred exteriors are perfect, and they conduct heat well. The drums are then cleaned out, or not. But usually an effort is made to ensure that they aren’t poisonous, but not in all cases.

The oily cask is placed by the river, and stands on a custom-made holder comprised of yet more old iron, or stones, it sits on a tripod of sorts; one that will remain unburned, but can take some heat. Old, metal seat frames are used at times. This is what supports the drum as it’s put upright. Once balanced and supported, the drum is placed a slight angle toward the river.

Below it is what ought to be a perpetual flame, and an array of items can be used, some being more harmful than others such as plastics or other inflammable objects being burned to keep the heat on the base of the drum. From old foam from retired mattresses, to garbage, though wood is of course the preferred kindling of choice.

Next, the drum needs contents, the contents that form this wicked concoction vary, but the staple ingredients are usually water, sugar and yeast. The variables include the oil in the drum and what possibly is the most devastative and corrosive element: embalming fluid. Either embalming fluid, or embalming powder, call it what you will. It’s effect is just as potent.

Oh, and I might just mention, that this is what is known to be in the nefarious potion. No one can know what it doesn’t contain if you catch my drift.

It is usually served in small (or large doses) about a glass that goes for Ksh. 10 or Ksh. 5, 15, 20.

You might have wondered at some point about the police. WE’ll they’re in on it. They come down the hill to the bottom where the brew is being boiled and brewed, and as if to literally add fuel to the fire, they pick up a bribe, give a smile or two and leave. This was witnessed unashamedly by our team.

I did hear, though, in fairness to them, that they came through the place sometime and shot up the drums that make the chang’aa.

As I wrote this post, someone asked me, Mark what is the purpose of posting such information, intricate and detailed as it is?

I answer him in the same way I would answer you if you asked me the same. I write this not so I can condone, glorify or justify the creation of such, but if in some way we can provide a sustainable solution, I know people working in places where it has been hard to reverse the culture of such a mind numbing drink.

What I may not have mentioned here are other examples of people who’ve given more to see people work themselves out of this. The work of another good friend of the church, Dr. Ndung’u who not only pastors and leads a church in Ruaraka, but he also practices dentistry there and treats and heals the physically and spiritually sick, so to speak.

Or perhaps of the projects going on in churches in and around peri-urban areas and areas afflicted by poverty e.g. goat-rearing, livestock farming and even rabbit-keeping which, along with the Gospel, and great follow-up, has seen men deep in the chasm of such alcohol freed and released with mighty testimonies.

It is of worthy note, I believe, that at the end of the mission week, we renamed or rechristened the village, ‘Mji wa Baraka’ which means ‘Village of Blessing.’

I challenge your thinking to give me a way around this practice in some way, something that I could propose.

Your comments and musings are appreciated.

This Mother Tree – A Poem for ‘Maitu’

In Poetree, Real Talk on January 23, 2009 at 6:36 am

This is an original poem I composed and performed at my Great Grandmother’s funeral service.

———-This Mother Tree———

God made a seed.

He said to himself

This… will be a great seed.

God planted the seed.

This Mother Seed, He said, will truly be a Great Seed.

He planted it on the most fertile ground.

Small in size, the seed was.

God said

This Mother Seed, will be of great stature of heart.

God watered the seed.

With love.

He fed the seed with faith at His feet.

And God was happy

As This Mother Seed flowered and grew


This seed grew to be a tree

This mother tree, God Said, will be a great tree

A grand tree for all to see

This mother Tree bore fruit for all to see

They bathed in God’s warm light

And the shade of This Mother Tree.

Giving shade to new seedlings

Nuances of light

Enough to grow strong

Standing tall, This Mother Tree

Taught how to thrive and be strong.

Bringing life to all.


This Mother Tree bore fruit.

Fruits of laughter.

Fruits of joy

Fruits of Girls and Boys

Fruits of Gifts from Above

Fruits of Bundles of Love.

Seasons came and seasons past.

This mother’s influence and love has last.

This mother Tree


Peacefully in the wind.

In us is a seed.

And This Mother Tree remains


In You.

In Me.

Thank God for His little seed.

Love you Maitú Bella.

© 2008-2009 Mark Wambugu Kaigwa. All Rights Reserved. And all wrongs reversed 🙂

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.