From Togo With Love
The only reason we stay standing is because we are under the shadow of our mothers’ prayers. Every day our mothers wake up and put us in the hands of the Lord. And every evening as the light hands the baton to darkness they put us again in the hands of Jehovah. They bow and they mumble: āDear God of Abraham, guide me with your spirit as I pray for my children according to your will. I release them to you so that you can accomplish your will for their lives. Keep me from binding them by my needs, wants and ambitions for them. Get me out of your way so that you can work the life of Christ in them and protect them in the city where they are. Give them grace and integrity and always look over them, Lord. I pray this in Jesusā name, Amen.ā
At the exact time your mom is saying āamenā, you are probably in a bar sitting in front of half a bottle of whisky. You will most likely get into a car and drive drunk and somehow you will get home because apparently the car knows its way home. At the exact moment your mom says āamenā you are probably sitting across this chick with thick lips wondering if she has any knickers on, because you have been staring the whole night and there is no sign of a panty strap on her waist. And if she isnāt wearing any – you will be thinking – does that mean your night might just turn out better? At the exact time your mom is saying āamenā you might be hurtling down the treacherous escarpment in a car full of drunk men and women, headed for a wedding after-party in Naivashaās Wave Nightclub, the best place to dance if there ever was any.
You remain oblivious of how your mom worries over you. How she prays that you will slow down. Or find a new job. Or quit drinking. Or come home more frequently. Or mend relations with your siblings. Or think of your future. Or stop keeping the company that you do. Or keep your ass in school. Or she just wants you to find Jesus. And so she prays for you every night. And she prays for your siblings. And for the sick. And the poor.
She begs and cajoles and implores and bribes God. And even though God doesnāt show you a sign he always leads you away from deep pits. Pits that have swallowed many menās souls, men who now howl to be rescued from the depths of it.
Can I hear an Amen, Gang?
So we continue to stay safe in this city because of our mothersā prayers. Otherwise we would drive into trucks at night and get squashed between steel. Or get shot accidentally by drunk gun holders. Or develop headaches and die in our sleep. Or lose our jobs. Or get burdened by bad debts. Or develop peptic ulcers. Or get gout and hobble to meetings in sandals. Or meet bad women who break our hearts and leave us broke. Or meet bad men who break our hearts and leave us broke with bastard babies. Ā But we thrive because of momās prayers.
And I think when mothers pray, God stops what Heās doing out of respect. He holds His hand up and everything in heaven comes to a standstill for a moment and they all turn to look down at your mom. Angel Gabby – who we are very fond of here in this blog – says, āThere goes Mama Pato praying again. I swear this just breaks my heart, how this lady keeps coming to you Ā Lord and she keeps asking for Pato to stop drinking and keeping the company of those dodgy women with ugly weaves. Lord, when will you intervene, bana?ā And God would mumble somberly, āIām not saying no, Gabby, Iām just saying, not yet. Pato need to learn some lessons first, those weaves are his punishment; after all weaves never killed anyone. ā And Angel Gabby would chortle and say, āYou think? Clearly you havenāt watched Afro-Cinema lately, those weaves are worse than Boko Haram.ā And God would laugh thunderously and say, āOh get back to work, please make sure those harps are well cleaned this time, Easter is here, we donāt want #KOT making fun of us.ā
A month ago I saw five thugs get shot along Thika Road. You must have watched it in the news. I was there. As Kenyans like to say, I watched it āwith my own two eyes.ā As if there are other things that they watch with only one eye.
As it goes, a friend and I are driving to Garden City for a meeting around 11.30am. Lovely day, before this insane heat became a problem. Just before Exit 6 we hear what sounds like āfatakraā (Fatakra is what we used to call fireworks as kids). Iām thinking, āAla, kwani Indians live on Thika road now?ā I then happen to glance in the rearview mirror and what do I see less than 50 meters behind? I see a dozen or so cops in plain clothes and combat gear jumping out of cars and fanning this green car they have forced to stop. Men with big guns and big jackets. A shootout ensues. Have you heard the sound of an AK 47? Have you? You donāt want to. These chaps are shooting at the van they have cornered.
Windows are shattering. Cars behind are swerving to a stop. I can actually smell adrenaline in the air. Adrenaline and death.
I screech to a stop in the middle of the road and turn on my hazards and then turn in my seat to watch. Itās like something from a movie. The thugs are shooting back of course, but they are outnumbered and outgunned. Basically they are about to have a very bad day. Ā The proverbial āmbio za sakafuniā is ending right here at Thika Roadās āukingoniā – whatever ukingoni means.
Of course the cops had been trailing them for a while and this is an ambush. Four are sitting at the back and two in front. The chaps at the back stand little chance because they have to turn to shoot, which is futile because they are receiving fire from all sides. They are getting butchered.
I know how this will sound but I remember thinking how beautiful it was to watch that scene of men facing their death. The tumbling finality of it all. The desperation it embodied. Death is intriguing, thatās why we are all dying to read Paul Kalanithiās book, When breath Becomes Air,; we want to know the thoughts of a dying man because it reflects on our own mortality. And death in itself is an art form, especially when it comes brutally and violently through gunshots.
My heart was racing out of fear and excitement.
Anyway, I see one of the thugs jumping through the passenger window and making a run for it. Heās jumping over the barrier and sprinting across Thika road as cops shoot at him and he ducks and stoops, legs it and disappears. My pal completely freaks out, āWhat the hell are you stopping for Jackson, drive!ā But I donāt because you donāt see something like this on the daily.
The cops pepper the car with bullets. I see one cop, this brave guy, actually stoop and run to the passenger window and while hunched over, stick his gun through the window and spray bullets at the men in the backseat. Men die in that car. They die with fear in their hearts and they die with blood in their mouths. They die shredded with lead. They die.
All this time my pal is mumbling, āOh my God! Oh my God!ā and I tell her, āWe have to go back and see,ā and she shrieks wide-eyed, āAre you completely mad? We could get shot, Jackson!ā
Chicks! (*Roll eyes*).
Iām convinced that nobody is crazy enough to shoot a lady with a great hairstyle and so I drive ahead get off at Exit 6, turn back and join the already building traffic jam. As we eventually pass the scene of shootout, I see the bodies now sprawled on the tarmac and my friend looks away cursing over and over because she has never seen a dead body in her life!
I drove back to see the gore that ensued because I love to look at dead menās shoes. When they show pictures of thugs gunned down I love to see what kind of shoes they are wearing. Iām fascinated to know what shoes men die in. You have many pairs of shoes in your closet but you can only die in one of them. The shoe you will die in is in your closet. Or you are yet to buy it. But itās there. What shoe will we die in?
One of the thugs died in some pretty white sneakers. It shows that he had someone to keep them clean; maybe a house help. Or maybe he lives with a girlfriend or his small sister. Or a wife. Someone cleaned those shoes he was going to die in. He laced up for the last time, tied his life with death.
Later that same afternoon I had a meeting at Ogilvy, CVS Plaza for an Ecobank meeting. Boy was I distracted! I kept thinking about that one thug who escaped death and how my pal had said, āThat guyās mom really prayed for him last night.ā Itās true. That guyās mom really prayed for him.
At the Ogilvy meeting I could still feel the remnants of adrenaline in my system. I could still hear those gunshots and see that man running across the road chased by a hail of bullets. I could still see the dead manās white sneakers. All that time Francis and Jojo were banging on about Ecobank I could barely focus. Also, listening to people talk about financial services is as interesting as listening to a lecture on artificial insemination techniques.
Jojo was talking about their ānetwork advantageā being the largest in Africa covering 36 African countries. āWe have 1,200 branches in total and 29 branches in Kenya alone, 29 branches, Biko!ā she enthused and I donāt know if I was to stand up and bow at these branches. I sat there thinking, either this chick loves Ecobank or she is paid a hell of a lot of money to love Ecobank.
āI thought Ecobank was a Nigerian bank?ā I bluttered. That got her even more excited. She said, āI donāt know why everybody thinks we are Nigerian! We are NOT. We are actually from Togo!ā She kept saying āweā when referring to the bank, like they all went to high school in Togo. I was bored and distracted but I sat up because Tamms is supposed to travel to Barcelona, Spain in October for a school trip and I need 200K for that, so trust me, I was ready to sit in any meeting with anyone. I was ready to sit in a meeting of people Ā selling ice cubes. Or instant shower. You know, Ā I wish someone took me to Barcelona when I was 8. As kids we never went anywhere. The best place we were taken to at 8 was Wimpy for chips. And you wonder we are always so angry in traffic?
āWe have to let everyone know that we are not a Nigerian bank,ā Francis the Account Manager is saying bringing me back from my reverie. Iām fascinated by PR people to be honest, how they can switch from one brand to another whilst still retaining a semblance of loyalty. They will be talking passionately about Nivea in one meeting, then they walk into the next meeting and talk equally passionately about Weetabix and then they step out for lunch and when they come back they are talking about a bank!
I have this thing where I can be listening to someone while thinking of something completely different. Ā I remember that when Jojo was gushing about THEIR bank (which isnāt Nigerian), I kept wondering if they would love to hear my shootout story, or if it would be inappropriate to bring it up in the middle of the meeting. I mean, who wouldnāt want to hear a shootout story, come on we are Kenyans. But then again, they might think Iām trivialising the meeting and their bank and their widest network. So I shushed.
But finally I said screw it and I cut her off in the middle of her āregional collection solutionsā spiel by blurting out, āCan I tell you guys about this shootout I watched today?ā She stopped midsentence, surprised at my intrusion. This was the first time I was meeting her by the way. She shot Francis a furtive look and said, āOookay, sure.ā Then sat back as I narrated the shootout story but they didnāt seem too impressed by it even though it was a better story than Ecobank being sijui 27-years old. Iām sure it was. My shootout story had colour damn it. Someone escaped because of a motherās prayer. How is that not better than a story about a Togolese bank?
She politely asked some questions about the shootout and then sighed and went back to THEIR bank. I was hurt that nobody wanted to hear my shootout story. So I sat there and tried not to sulk.
Anyway, another banking meeting was scheduled with the head of marketing and communication lady at Ecobank. Sheās called Jacqie. I expected it to be a painful meeting. I thought it would suck. But then Jacqie walked into the meeting followed by this massive and charismatic hairstyle, a hairstyle that looked like half Mohawk and half a clutch of braids climbing up and settling at the top of her head in a large fist. Very valiant and arty. It commanded attention. A hairstyle with its own strong opinions.
Iām easily distracted, I have an attention span of a deer, and so you can imagine how that hairstyle distracted me. The whole time Jacqie spoke about their bank I couldnāt stop thinking about and looking at her hairstyle and I resisted the urge to ask her about it. Ā I wanted to reach across the table, cup her hand in mine and tell her, āJacqie, listen to me, this is not you. I know it. You donāt belong here in a bank with that hairstyle. Leave sweetheart, go out there and find you. You are not a banker, escape now, you have time. Run, Jacqie, run!ā
But I held myself back. I told myself, āChocolate Man, donāt ask her about the hairstyle, she might take offence!ā And I chilled for the first forty five minutes. I did. I asked the Lord to hold my tongue but then eventually the voices in my head won and I asked her about her hairstyle and what itās called and if she was by any chance an artist and if she was saying something to the world with her hair. From the corner of my eye I saw Jojo shift uncomfortably in her chair. Francis remained stoic.
Jacqie took it on the chin like a sport and we talked about her hairstyle which was a bit insensitive because the hairstyle was right there in the room. I think itās rude to talk about someone when they are in the room. At least let the hairstyle leave to pick a call outside before talking about it.
(Jacqie if you are reading this, please keep that hairstyle. Itās full of pizazz. It says, āI might work in a bank but Iām not like these other wonks; Iām cool. Iām loose. Iām artsy.ā)
I honestly donāt know if they will give me that gig. I hope they do. Jojo hasnāt said much after that meeting. Actually she hasnāt said a word. I hope Ecobank looks past my blabbering. I hope Ecobank acts like the big person, or rather the big bank they say they are with those 29 branches in Kenya and their presence in 36 countries and from deep down their big Togolese heart they give me this gig.
If itās any consolation to them they wonāt be doing it for me because Iām just a low class wazzock who pokes fun at people in financial services and rudely asks clients about their hairstyle in meetings. They will be doing it to send a little girl to Barcelona. And if they do, I will tell Tamms, āDarling, Ecobank sent you to Barcelona, not me.ā And Tamms will never forget Ecobank. She will grow up and bank with no other bank. If Ecobank starts a charitable run, she will do the 21kms and do selfies on social media. She will even fight people who say Ecobank is Nigerian.
Show your heart Ecobank. Prove to me that you have a heart somewhere living in one of those 29 branches in Kenya.
Ps. Happy Easter, Gang. To all mothers, keep praying for us.