The Iron Curtain
Warning: Long post ahead.
I reached out to Joe Black. Remember him, the prodigy boy from the slums of Kitui who came here with his dazzle and muzzled his way into your hearts with his lively prose? I said, âJoe, readers have been asking me where your ass at. I thought they would stop but they keep asking where the great Joe Black at. Do you want to write a guest post for next week?â He said, âWell, sure. What should I write about?â I said, âAnything you want. Tell us what you have been up to? How is life in Uni, drugs, cross-dressing, girls, stuffâŚâ
So we set a Saturday deadline. On Friday he asked for an extension to Sunday end of day. I said sawa because I know the nature of writing. I travelled. Sunday midnight I whatsapped him a reminder and last night I got a whatsapp from him reading:
âBiko I donât know how to put this but Iâve run out of juice. Iâve been struggling with copy till now and I still canât come up with something worthy. I donât think I will be able to make it for this weekâs post. Too rusty. Need more time. Sorry for the inconvenience mate.â
I understood, even though he didnât append a comma between the âinconvenienceâ and âmateâ What is a comma amongst friends? I mean, why let a comma come between mates? (See what I did there?)
Itâs 3:48am in London as I write this from my hotel room. I have only caught 25 winks. The guy who checked us in Mowlid was this very pleasant Somali guy with a heavy British accent and a hairstyle that reminded me of Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Iâm with another dapper gentleman (and great conversationalist) called Shukri Nunow who works for Turkish Airline. He upgraded Shukri and I to the top most floor.
During check-in I heard them talk swiftly in Somali, âhakru budakah hukri haaack haaajhaack, eastleigh, aye? Aye? duulimaad dheer, aye ayeâŚIlaah ha idiin barakeeyo, aad semeyn sida halkan ka shaqeeya, aye eye? Mashallah..aye, bananas, yes, two bananas, aye, aye, ayuu aad u jecel yahay banaas, laakiin waa Luo….aaa sarirta jilicsan…mashallahâŚmashallah…â
I thought they were fighting but then Mowlid touched his heart humbly, bowed a little and boom we got an upgrade! He turned to me and said, âYou are all my brothers.â Â
âAye!â I said.
Hell, for an upgrade I will be anyoneâs brother. Even sister if you want.
And so itâs with this fantastic view of London at 4am (I never close my curtains when I travel) that I woke up to read Joe Blackâs whatsapp while in bed. I understood him completely. First he was having performance anxiety because you guys have put him on a pedestal, second he had let his talent to sit inactive for so long without nurturing it and he didnât know how to get it up. Maybe he had found other passions. Maybe Uni had taken a toll on him. Maybe he had gotten bored of writing and moved on to gardening. You never quite know with these millennials. They imagine that the world will always bend to their whims, that the universe owes them shit and by God, they will get it. That, by Â narrow extension, is the folly of modern youth, this complete faith in the worldâs ability to align towards them, not the other way round.
We wrapped up a successful âBikozulu writing Masterclassâ last Saturday at the Crowne Plaza. (They have a new wing called The Annexe; four floors of meeting rooms, office space and accommodation…) This was our 10th class. The masterclass is a revolving door of budding writers who come in wanting to pursue writing seriously. They are diverse; folks in communication, people in transition with their careers and want to take writing to another level, media students keen on print media, new mothers who want to start mommy blogs, an occasional bored housewife with money and time to kill, people who want to author books, sponsored people from marketing departments of corporates, people who want to confirm how large my forehead is so that they can one day tell their grandkids about its sheer size and how it choked all the light in the room, and people who want to start specialised blogs and so are keen to find out if it writing is lucrative and is even worth their time.
It always promises a very interesting mix of people. (Register for June class by emailing email@example.com). There is always a feminist in the class, a much older woman with teenage kids, a student, a born-again, someone on career transition, NGO person, bored person, another bored person, someone troubled etc.
I love the class because of this diversity and how human beings come with their stories tugging along like jaded shadows. In our previous class we had a girl with mental health issues who wrote dark things. In the last class we had a girl who declared she suffered from depression and battled alcoholism. She wore a choker twice to class. I can pick these types out quickly before they tell me their stories; they have that faraway look in their eyes, they say a lot with their clothes and when they laugh their laughter normally sound like the snappy crack of a whip; a moistureless laughter. They come to escape through writing and the most beautiful stories, I have learnt, are written in (and from) darkness. Happy people make for boring writers. Mostly.
Almost all of these students who come for the Masterclass have something in common. They think itâs going to be easy. That they will get into that room and I will tell them this deep secret that will immediately shift something in them and when they leave the room they will be excellent writers. The truth couldnât be further, because nothing comes easy. At least nothing important.
We all want things today but we donât want to put in the time. We donât want to go to the trenches, or to use the words of the Godfather, we donât want to âgo to the mattressesâ and fight it out. I told a lady in the last class who wants to start this Motherhood blog that she will have to post stuff every week for at least two years before her blog even starts showing as a bleep in the vast wasteland of blogosphere, and she was taken aback by that.
This blog is going to be 7-years old this year, some people forget that we started at the basement in what we lovingly called High School, a pre-First-To-Comment era when we were a small community and we knew each other and we borrowed salt from each other. A ton of people have since moved on, more moved in.
I have always stayed here, putting in work even during days that I didnât feel like because I loved it and Iâm passionate about it and the other option is going back to Kendu Bay and fishing but there is hyacinth now, plus my mom isnât in shags no more. So we slog and we put our backs into it. And it pays off, slowly at first, then rapidly.
The students who come to the class come to âlearnâ how to write because there is great redemption and salvation in writing. Writing is like attaching two massive wings against your shoulders. You can fly. You can go to places people canât reach you. Sure, weed might do that as well, but weed might also make you remove your pants in the middle of Muindi Mbingu Street. Writing wonât.
The most beautiful thing that ever happened to me is my writing. Itâs made me meet tons and tons of wonderful people and some really pretentious ones who Iâm sure are wonderful in their own way. Itâs opened numerous doors for me. Itâs made me see the world. Â Itâs given me confidence. Most importantly, it feeds my children, and clothes them and takes them to decent schools. Itâs made me buy things I want to buy and drink the whisky I want to drink. Itâs made me be in the room with people I otherwise wouldnât even be in the same building with. Two weeks ago I interviewed Peter Ouko who was in Death Row for 18-years and he said, âItâs an honor to finally meet you. I read you while I was in Kamiti.â And it touched me to the core. I almost hugged him but I was strong.
The Good Lord has blessed me abundantly because of writing and so when I see kina Joe Black, folk with great potential let it sit, it pains my toe.
I mentioned that Iâm in London as I write this. Yeah, yeah yeah, the Brits finally gave me a visa. Old hat, guys. I donât know if I Â would have made it to London had I continued working in a medical lab. Maybe I would have, maybe I wouldnât. I will tell you how ridiculously rewarding writing is by explaining how I ended up here in London.
Listen to this.
Barclays Bank of Kenya have introduced this amazing product called the Multi Currency prepaid card. Because I travel quite a bit I have used various pre-paid cards and Iâm versed on how they work or donât work. Most have dollar, Ksh and British pounds. This one holds Dollar, Euro, Rand, Canadian Dollar, Australian Dollar, Indian Rupee, Japanese Yen and the Ksh. You go to Japan and use this visa card and the card automatically detects which funds to utilise saving you those ridiculous conversation rates. So travelers and business people can use it. You can save your money for travel there, instead of waiting for November to ask, âWhat can we do in Dec?â
Plus if you have overspent you can always whatsapp someone back in Kenya and have someone load it by Mpesa. âJamo, si you Mpesa 20K into this card, Iâm sort of stuck here kidogo.â Then Jamo will ask, âI hear a chick laughing in the background, who is that?â and you will say, âHuyomoto.â
âAti ni moto?â
âNo, thatâs her name, Huyomoto, si you know these Japs and names?â
âOoh, sawa. Get me a fridge magnet.â
âYe with small needs.â
The beauty is you donât even have to be a Barclays account holder to get this card, because really sometimes you just want to stay with the devil you know.
How do I come in? Barclays Bank put some money into this card and said, âwe want to send you to London to shop, but you have to use this card and see how it works. Tell us your experience.â
So I said, sawa, but how will I get to London? Surely, not by boat.
Enter Turkish Airline.
They go to London via Istanbul. Four flights daily from Istanbul. They offered to fly me down. I said âBusiness class, I hope?â (Because now Iâm spoilt) and they said, âOf course. Check out our CIP business Lounge in Instanbul, it will blow you away.â I thought to myself, yeah, right, I already saw Qatarâs Business Class lounge in Doha, what else can come close? I didnât dare tell them this because people catch major feelings when you say somethings. They might not even talk to you forever. They might put up a small photo of you in all the loos in their planes saying, âTurkish Airlines does not and will not do business with this gentleman. (And we are using that word with our tongue in cheek). If you see him in any of our planes, please report to the nearest security desk. Heâs an ass.â
So I asked the guys, âWhere will I stay?â They said it will be taken care of. Initially these guys called Kwese had bought tickets for a premier league match to watch Wanyama play. We were to watch it the other weekend but my priority Visa delayed so I didnât make it. (I suspect that was the Queenâs people reminding me who’s the boss. You can run your silly blog, but we are the Brits… mate!).
So my job was to come to the UK, shop, eat and write about it. Thatâs it.
You see how kind writing has been to me? I mean, I keep experiencing things that keep blowing me away. For instance, Turkish Airlines were right, their Business Lounge in Instanbul is a surreal 3,000m2 monstrosity. I think airlines are now just comparing their cojones; who is going to build a shinier and sexier lounge.
The CIP has two floors and can hold up to 2,000 passengers in a day. They have showers, billiard room (you Kenyans call it pooltable hehe. When you cross seas the name changes), business center, Â private relaxation rooms that are darkened and have stars in the sky to soothe you to sleep because you are a honcho and you work so hard and you deserve silence and comfort. There is a private infant room, where you can hush your wealthy baby and breastfeed him without creepy people staring at your boobs. Their is a complete movie theater that plays movies. (Complete with popcorn,) There is a section for playing golf, with a green carpeted tee. They call it the Turkish Open. I mean itâs ridiculous. I saw execs, sleeves folded, teeing off as they burnt time waiting for their flights.
There is a media hall where you walk in and there are these numerous screens telling you what part of the world is talking about what on social media at a glance. A massage room which you donât really need because their business class is so large you can raise a family there let alone sleep comfortably. They have this formula one race car track, where executives are allowed to become children again and race each other on a small track.
Then there is a napping room, darkened and clean white Egyptian cotton sheets sijui 1,000 thread count (because if itâs below 1,000 you will dream of monsters eating your plane midair). Then there is the food and drinks and wine everywhere you look and chefs in white grilling and blending and searing and mixing and a grand piano plays from the middle of the room as people wheel bags about and smell their wine under well coiffed and cultured eyebrows. Turkish Airlines Lounge in Istanbul is such a show of Â might, privilege and opulence that the Huffington Post called it a âdestination in itself.â
When you sit there with these wealthy and accomplished people, it changes you and it changes how you look at life. It makes you feel small and that lights up something in you, not a fire, but this candle that doesnât go off even in the wind, this hunger to get better and ask for better for yourself and from life. You demand from life. We have to demand from life because then life knows we want it badly.
I remember getting off the plane and going through the Fast Track at the immigration in exactly 5mins while a mass of humans, âthe watusâ, waited in winding queue, because when you are in Business Class what you donât have enough of is time. So they save it for you. Even the immigration guys in Heathrow talked to me in a way that immigration doesnât talk to me when I travel economy, because who would want to sneak and disappear into their kingdom on a business class ticket?
I remember telling Shukri that money accords you such greater flexibility and saves your time and gives you comfort. âOnce you travel business, it spoils how you look at air travel again, it changes how you travel economy because you know how much better it can get.â Â
Yes, you know how people live on the other side of the Iron Curtain, which is what I call that curtain that separates business and economy.
Would I have been exposed to these luxuries had I stayed in the laboratory, bleeding people, peering at amoeba in peopleâs stools, handing patients plastic bottles for them to bring warm urine samples in them, taking vaginal swabs, trying to find fat babyâs veins to bleed them for blood samples, breaking news to bewildered girls that their PDT tests came out positive and they will be mothers? Or staring at malaria protozoa through a microscope and it staring back at me defiantly with a cocky shrug. Would all these have happened?
To be clear, getting here has not even been about talent. Itâs been about dedication and consistency and passion. In that order. (God, naturally is the first in that order, and he knows it. Donge, Nyasaye?) Itâs been about showing up and putting in hours, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and not falling off the wagon no matter how uncomfortable it felt. You show up and you put out your heart in the soil and God waters it. But first you have to hand God that seed and you have to help him help you grow it. Can I hear an Amen, people?
Joe Black is a highly talented boy, I tried calling him on Whatsapp but he lengad me because he thinks he has disappointed me and Iâm calling to give him a hiding. Since he wonât pick my calls, I will tell him (and this young generation of millennials who want things to happen TODAY). That talent means shit if you donât work on it. A hybrid seed wonât grow if you donât put it in the soil and water it daily and prune it and weed it. Put in time. Donât listen to folks who tell you to work smart, that is rhetorical garbage. You are young, talented and you have wifi, work hard, damn it! It never killed anyone.
And a lot of young folk write to me and say, âI admire your life, how can my blog get me those things you do?â And I want to tell them that, first, (why do some kuyos say firstly? Ama itâs just a Muranga thing?) nobodyâs life is ever as good as it seems online, and secondly, there are four years I did on this blog without making a single cent or going for a single trip as a result, just slogging away, daily.
The tragedy? One day Joe Black will show up at Pearly Gates and God will ask him as the Big Book says, âWhat did you do with the talent I gave you?â
âI wrote on Bikozuluâs blog.â
God will roll his eyes, turn to the angel on his right and mumble, âJesus, man!â
The angel will say, âIâm not Jesus, heâs gone to the loo.â
God will say with a tight jaw. âIâm God, donât you think I would know if you were my son?â then turn to Joe Black and say, âApart from thisâŚâwaves his hand dismissively, â…Biko guyâs blog, what else did you do with your talent?â
Joe Black would stare at his feet like a schoolboy while God taps his foot impatiently. âNothing?â
Then Joe would start sobbing and God would take a deep breath and mumble, âOh God.â (Hehe).
Joe would be led away by someone in sandals, where upon Jesus would come back and sit on his right side and ask, âWhat did I miss?â
âJoe Black.â God will say.
âOh, the guy who wrote on Bikozuluâs blog?â
God would then pinch the bridge of his nose tightly like heâs having a bad headache and say, âWill you guys stop calling that guyâs name here. Itâs such stale vibe!â