Stories we Tell Ourselves


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“Hi guys. Have you heard the news? Mandela is dead?” Ronaldo dropped the shocker on us. The year was 1998, a week after the August bomb blast in Nairobi Kenya. It really was a bad month for us. See, when the news of the bombing was announced on the radio, 1pm news bulletin, Essendi’s mother had gone to town and was supposed to be transacting business near where the bomb blast occurred. Fortunately, she came back in the evening, unscathed. She had completed her business in good time and went downtown to do her shopping. However, Baba Bruce was not so lucky. Though he had escaped cuts and bruises from flying glass, he would keep getting full body tremors every now and then due to trauma. That, and the fact that he was a small fellow with a big bodied wife who would resort to physical violence every time he came home drunk.

So now, we were fetching water at the communal taps when Ronaldo – a moniker as he sported a hairstyle similar to the hot Brazilian football player (circa the 1998 World Cup) dropped the shocker. Now, we were served by three taps, about 60 households, and so you can imagine how long it took to get water. Not so Ronaldo, a bachelor, for as we continued down the trajectory of a dead Nelson Mandela, the engulfing confusion enabled him to fill his jerrycans and attend to other business.

Mwende. Mwende had a sister, Mueni, and a brother, Mutuku. She was the lightest of the three, with her younger siblings progressing to a darker hue. Mwendi and Mueni were friends with my sister. I don’t recall much about Mueni, but Mwende I do. She was a real beauty. More importantly, she was the one who taught me to tie my shoe laces after I bothered her one too many times. Mutuku was their wild brother and the usual victim of our childhood ‘panel-beating’ games; a sadistic game that can only be described as mob justice.

Coast. I have happy memories of the place. Not Mombasa’s coast, but Nairobi’s. There was the singer Dynamq ( who operated from here. And Mwangi, Mathenge’s – who would later transition to Izinde , Mathenge, that is – ( brother who was stabbed to death at a jam session at City Hall as he would not part with a Bob Marley themed bandanna sent to him from abroad. And Daudi Kabaka’s ( residence burning; ever jovial, he used to play us songs on his guitar with us never knowing just how big a personality he was till we grew up. Then, Bora Bora Club was sizzling hot, hosting artists such as Jacob Luseno ( among others.

Then, adults could walk into clubs and pubs with their kids and have a cold one and smoke cigarettes (with one or two sporting a pipe) as their kids did sodas. There being no delineation then as to smoking and non-smoking zones, my chest troubles must have begun then. So, we listened to reggae and rhumba and participated in ‘malako’ – Christmas’ song and dance competitions. And Dada Mary just had to bring Jesus to our hood (!

Once tribeless children, we grew up to be tribal bigots with a deep suspicion of those not like us. From neighbours, we turned to hey!bours; a quick greeting when we bump into our neigbours, but in our hearts, enemies. More so, when elections come. Now, I can tell all my former neighbours by their tribe and wonder how we were friends back then. Now, I filter my friends carefully. Very carefully. And for that, I am much the poorer for it. For when I knew tribe, part of my soul died.


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