As a general rule, and as a need to preserve my sensibility, I don’t hang out in Westlands. But I went recently, to pay homage to a friend who was having a birthday thing, and I was reminded once again why it’s not a place that gongs my bell. At dusk, Woodvale Grove transforms into a green ugly vein of profligacy that throbs like a septic wound. If Nairobi is a body, then Westlands is it’s varicose vein.
It’s the gridlocked traffic at 2am, twisted and whorled together like overnight spaghetti. It’s the horde of drunken underdressed girls in their high heels and blood red lips and vacant looks, jaywalking across the road as they cling onto the arms of their men whose eyes twinkle with ideas. It’s the hubbub of the music spilling onto the streets from all the clubs competing for patrons. It’s the long-nosed young expats standing in the cold outside Bacchus and Havana Bars totally disbelieving of their good fortune at being in Africa complete with a gardener and a slender girl with half her tits in his mojito. It’s the spoilt daddy’s boys from Gigiri who crawl by the street in their latest serpent black luxury sports cars, with interior lights switched on so that you don’t miss the face of privilege. And in the air, the smell of sexual anticipation hangs like Limuru fog in July and will remain so until the dawn sunlight blows it away to Kitengela.
I nipped into the new talk of town Aqua Lounge, and found half of Nairobi there, eager to be counted with the rest of the herd. The music was admittedly great, yes, and the seats were confortable, but the place incited fear, fear to be part of a cliché. And Nairobi is the cradle of clichés. I did an hour then I pushed my way out, past the thick knot of the new breed of hip and young Asian chaps with porcupine-spiky hair who looked at their latest phones more than in their date’s eyes.
(Side note: I’m too negative, yes? I need to stop seeing only the bad in an environment. Next post I will be sunny.)
Outside I run into an old friend I hadn’t seen since campus days in Kampala. He’s one of those chaps who have names that sound like they are odieros only for you to meet them and realise that they are from Karateng (Google that). This guy is called, and wait for it, Martin Smith (seriously?), a banker by profession and a guy who has a sense of humour and will hopefully see the good humour of this mention. Mr Smith (hehe) was a trendy guy in campus, those guys who gave the impression that they were from a well-to-do family; lived in furnished hostels, ate from those UGsh 15,000 a meal places while we ate bijanjaro (that’s beans) and chapo worth UGs 2,000. Looks like he had maintained that “façade” because he still looked the part of someone who was doing as well as he did in campus, if not better. But something was off.
He had a bottle of something in his hands when I met him and later, as he took a small nip, did I realise that it was a bottle of Jameson (300ml). I ridiculed him that he was misrepresenting the brand – Jameson – and that he was behaving like those Sahara-wearing chaps with small bags strapped on their backs who flock to reggae joints downtown carrying harsh liquor in plastic soda bottles. A Jameson guy can at no point see the need to carry a small bottle in his back pocket, I told him. He laughed it off, made small talk, we traded the usual phony and tiresome “let’s get together for a drink soon,” charade and parted ways after exchanging contacts.
But who the hell is a Jameson drinker? Does he use an electric toothbrush? How often does he shave? Does he love dogs? Is he a boobs or ass guy?
I recently interviewed the top dawg of Pernod Ricard, the guys who sell Jameson and I asked him to describe the Jameson drinker and he said, it’s the emerging middle-class with a nose for premium products, a man (mostly) who likes to have a good time with friends. Mmm…
I like the way marketers classify consumers. How they box them in these homogeneous clusters that are supposed to pre-empt their habits and tastes. I might not know who the Jameson drinker is, but I think I know who the Jameson drinker isn’t: the Jameson drinker isn’t keen to be a part of a group. He believes he’s unique, as an individual and as a professional. The Jameson drinker isn’t ready to admit that he craves to be cool, he is easily embarrassed by it. He likes people to think that he is above such social trivialities, but you will see that he tries to be cool from his shoes and watch. He isn’t also ready to accept that he, like his friends, go to Brew Bistro or Quins Bar because he seeks to belong.
If you drink whisky, and if you are a part of Kenya’s Twitteratti that is fast becoming a cult of folk whose egos can’t be adequately captured in 140 characters, then you must have heard of Nelson Aseka. He is the chap to know now if you are throwing a party and can’t afford premium drinks. He drives around with bottles and bottles of expensive drinks in the trunk of his car stalking Nairobi parties at night. I always tell him that I’d pay to see a picture of his liver.
I first met him at a whiskey-tasting do; one of those pizazz where they ask you to close your eyes and describe the taste in your mouth. Unlike the folk whom he fills their glasses with booze, he’s mild mannered and sober, and honestly for a guy who earns his living drinking whisky every night, he is genuinely a much contained chap than you would expect.
If there is one person who knows how Nairobi drinks its Aseka. Aseka knows more people in the social scene than anyone I know. I frequently use him as my yellow pages if I’m looking for a contact because everybody wants to know him. Which in itself can be a curse, me think.
During one of our drink up sessions I told him not to take the overwhelming show of friendship he sees on twitter or Facebook too much because Nairobi sits on a weak-bed of pretence, that Nairobi’s socialites are only your friend if they can get something from you or if their association with you gets them somewhere. Being the guy he is, he nodded sagely, like he had it all figured out.
So when he called me one day and said, “Boss, would you like to go to Dublin for St Patrick’s Day Celebration?” I sighed heavily and asked him, “Does Raila dye his hair?” A week later, I had my Irish visa, another two weeks and I together with three other guys were at JKIA’s VIP Lounge, eating coated nuts and pretending that we flew business class all the damn time.
Because Jameson is a premium brand they live it up. They don’t cut corners, they offer the best. First, we were booked in Emirates, Business Class. I have flown in a few Business- Classes; KQ, Swiss Airline, South African Airways and Brussels Airline, and I can tell you that the folk at Emirates aren’t mucking around when they say “Business Class.” It’s luxury on a different scale.
I’m writing this section of this post as a glass of red wine sits next to me. Of course in business class it’s just not a red wine, it’s got a mouthful name; La Font de Michelle (2010) and has been described as “luscious, silky and versatile” in the in-flight drinks menu. I guess you could say Michelle is a woman. We are about 32,000 ft., cruising over the Gulf of Eden at 552mph. I’m with the irrepressible Arthur Mwai, proprietor of Bob’s Bar, Psys chain of bars and the MD of Mercury Group that own Mercury bars, so yeah, Mwai is also another guy who knows how Nairobi drinks. There is also Wangui Gitei, presenter at Capital FM and lastly Sameer Shah of Nakumat, a great chap who I have to say here dances like an odiero on crack. I’m just saying, mate, he who criticises you only wishes you great moves, er, things.
When you have a long layover, Emirates will pick up – the business class traveller – in a dark limo driven by a darker Asian and put you up in a decent hotel for the duration of time. So we spent a night in Dubai on our way, then another night on our way back. Dubai has never moved my needle a tad, Dubai, although very grand, to me has always felt like I’m using an expensive plastic cutlery.
Between waiting to catch flights we spent time in Emirate’s executive lounges, which offer warm gourmet, and all-you-can-drink bars. Spending all that time in those exclusive lounges I noticed how we are hamsters running a rapidly rotating wheel. In those lounges men and women, all ageing gracefully, tapped on their laptops or worked their phones, talking figures and projections or meetings or mulling over graphs and charts. They barely touched their food or drinks. They looked distracted and blindsided by life. You would think the rat-race reduces the higher you go up the ladder, but those chaps didn’t seem to be enjoying wealth. It broke my heart a little how lost they were in the rat race, made me wonder when really the race ends when at 60 these obviously successfully guys were still looking over their shoulders to make sure that they have created a great distance between them and poverty. But I didn’t dwell on all that for long, I had a glass of champagne to gobble down, and besides, Ireland waited.
Dublin is gorgeous, but it’s pale and unbelievably cold, especially at a time when they were just coming out of winter. The trees in Dublin, stripped off leaves, stick gauntly in the air, in a frozen prayer for the sun. We were booked into a terrific hotel called Fitzwilliam, right opposite a picturesque park. One day, as I strolled through the park wearing a Safaricom hoodie, an old mzungu stopped me and excitedly asked if I was from Kenya (the “safari” in Safaricom gave me away) and if I was Maasai. I said yes to both (I’m a fraud). After some chitchat he asked me what had changed since he was last in Kenya in 1994 and I was tempted to ask, “Apart from Ruto crying like a lito girl?” but I just rattled on about other things that sounded dull even to him.
There were about 30 countries in Dublin on the invite of Jameson coming for the St Patrick’s party and the Jameson radio live broadcast where about 30 radio stations from all over the world congregated at the Old Jameson Distillery for this live affair.
The first thing Jameson did when we checked in was to slap these cool Jameson wristbands on our wrists, this wristband basically gave us free access to all you could eat, and any alcoholic drink you wanted to drink. Problem is, when you are asked to drink all you can, and eat all you can, you won’t.
We saw the city. And we drank. We dined, drank and partied in a former graveyard, under a church. We witnessed the opening of a barrel containing a 17yr old whiskey. Then we drank it. Every night, the Jameson executives took us bar crawling and got us wasted. The Irish do shots of whiskey, which if you aren’t carefully might screw you over. It helped that it was freezing cold, which made drinking sensible. We toured a Jameson distilleries walking through that rich history with drinks in our hands. We drank and partied for about five days and nights under the pretence of work until I couldn’t stand the sight of anything in a glass.
But no matter how much we drank nobody staggered, nobody made an ass of themselves. Apart from Sameer’s dancing moves, nobody did or said anything that would have brought disrepute to our country. That’s because Jameson is a drink that demands decorum of you. It’s not for the restless. It’s not for folk who want to prove that they can drink. If you want to prove that you can drink, buy a crate of beer and step on it under the table. To drink a fine Irish triple-distilled whiskey is to humble yourself before alcohol and realise that you can never compete against alcohol and win.
The Jameson drinker knows this. The Jameson drinker knows when to pour and when to climb off his stool and go home. And between these two vital points – when to pour and when to go home – is where too many men get lost.