I haven’t been to church in four years. I was born in an SDA church, not literally of course, I mean our family is SDA, and as children we would be forced to go to church every Saturday. Church started around 9am and ended shortly after 1pm. I found it long and painful. For the longest time I couldn’t describe it as boring because I thought that would hurt God’s feelings. This was before I realised that God was cool and wouldn’t get hurt by such things. That he had bigger problems, like people blowing up his church or selling babies. He’s God. So later I admitted that church was boring, I’d be there, sitting in the pew, but my mind would drift away and so I’d be in church but I’d also be in a supermarket or in a nice car or in the office. Then I became an adult and my mom couldn’t force me to go to church anymore because I was now paying my own rent, so I stopped going to SDA church. Then I got married and found myself in the Catholic church and when you are married you tend to go to the church your spouse goes to. So I’d go to Don Bosco. Even though there was a lot of kneeling and standing and singing and the sermon lasted only 30 mins or so, my mind would frequently drift away. One moment I’d be humming the hymn, the next I’d be thinking about how Karura forest gets so muddy when it rains a little and your running shoes get caked with mud. Or where I was going to fuel after church. Just useless things. I’d really try to focus but it would be hard. They had a kickass choir and that helped but the church was full of hot women and I don’t know if other men struggle with this, but don’t you feel really guilty looking at a hot girl in church and thinking, “Oh, I’m really going to burn for this?”
I get bored so quickly, not only with church but with other things. My attention span is short, I drift away fast. I’m like a child. A meeting goes over an hour and my mind is out of that room. I would tell God, “But Lord, you say you made us in your own image and likeness, so you must understand what I’m going through.” Someone told me to try out Mavuno church because it was a hip and fun church and I’d never get bored but I didn’t because I have always thought Mavuno is a hip church, a place where cool children gather. I’m no cool child, I never sought to sit in the cool children corner, so I passed on Mavuno.
But then years ago I met Pastor Gowi Odera at Spielworks Media, where I was helping with some scripts. He had come for a meeting and as he was leaving Dorothy’s office, she introduced me to him and we stood there and talked and talked and Dorothy said, ‘Okay, I will let you gentlemen talk.” She left and we spoke some more and exchanged numbers. I liked him. Although he was a pastor I didn’t feel like I was talking to a pastor. So we started meeting up for breakfasts and then we started meeting in his office at Greenhouse at 6:30am every fortnight and we’d sit in the room and talk about life. I was going through a difficult period in my life and Gowi was there, to offer guidance, to challenge my decisions, to ask me questions I hadn’t confronted. He never once offered judgment, he spoke his mind and when I disagreed with him he didn’t hit me over the head with a bible verse. We spoke not as a man and a man of God but as men, but with his theology direction. Then he’d pray for me.
Then he moved offices, to South C, and our meetings reduced to a trickle. But once in a while we’d talk on phone briefly, or have the odd breakfast. The last time I ran into him he had a beard. He looked like Rick Ross’s vegetarian cousin. Gowi shifted my bar of pastors and one day I will write more about him.
But today let’s talk about another (former) pastor called Gadd who someone recommended for this series.
We arrange to meet on a Saturday.
It’s raining heavily outside when he checks in, wiping droplets off his shoulders. He stands in the middle of the room, looking for someone with a big forehead. The room is full because it’s warmer inside than out on the terrace. He’s hungry, so I recommend the highly acclaimed cheese samosas. He sends for a cold Redbull. “I’m sorry I had to drag you into this madness,” I tell him and he says, “Oh, this is tame. I’ve been to worse places.”
“I grew up in Dandora and Kayole,” he says. “Growing up in these rough neighbourhoods it was never about chasing girls, or trying to impress girls. It was about fighting other boys. Which gang are we fighting today? Can you hold your own? Are you brave to face another boy with a knife or an iron bar? Can you defend your honour? Will you blink first or will the enemy blink first? We never chased girls, we were either defending our territory or we were taking over others.” Which is something Samuel L Jackson would say only he would say it differently: “Will you blink first matha**** or will the enemy blink first? We never chased no girls, you were either defending your matha***ing territory or you were taking others!”
When he was 9-years old his father took off with another woman. He never came back. Rather, he would resurface very briefly in different periods of his life, mostly technical appearances. So his father figure was the neighbourhoods and his boys. His teenage was filled with running battles and brushes with the law. “When we moved to Kayole and Komarock we fought off Somali gangs for territory. I saw a pal get shot and bleed to death because he stole two ironboxes. I saw my friend go crazy from smoking pot, like go mad literally. There was gun violence, knife violence, beatings, intimidation, it was always these boys trying to show those boys who was more manly. If you were weak you lost. We belonged to a notorious gang called Ombidho, have you heard of it?”
“No,” I say over the loud music.
“Well, we were the founders of that gang, and now it has offshoots all over Eastlands.”
So he grew up not ceding, standing his ground and pushing back and showing the rest that he was unbowed. “We called it ‘roho juu’…just false bravado.” But he also somehow, in the midst of this mayhem, was drawn to books. He loved to read. He’d go out and swing iron rods at someone’s head and then later in the evening curl up with a book. He also loved basketball. And dogs. He raised big-ass dogs. “In these tough neighbourhoods you need to be known by something you do. That’s how you gain the respect of your peers. That’s how your legend goes beyond your neighbourhood. I was known for raising these big dogs but the one thing I think solidified my reputation was that at 16, I single-handedly castrated a dog.”
“The hell did you do that?” I ask.
“So when you castrate a dog they grow much bigger in size. So my dogs were always very big. But this one time I did it myself, with a crowd. It’s a dangerous thing to do, but I did it and I was a hero.”
He went to Upper Hill school. His gang activities reduced when he joined the Christian Union, which was interesting because his rowdy brother was in Pumwani High and everybody knew of his brother’s badassery and so he was always feared for that but also respected for being this staunch CU guy. “I had a nickname; Kauzi Ameokoka,” he chuckles. His cheese samosas are set before him. As he wipes his hands with the hotel towel he says, “but I mentioned that I liked reading and I was a great student, I have always been a great student throughout the gang life and whatnot, and so it wasn’t any surprise when I passed and joined University of Nairobi to study Political Science, Public Administration and Literature. By the time I was getting in uni, I had stopped the gang life. I had found God and I was very committed to the life of a Christian.” He bites into his samosa and chews gingerly. “Well?” I ask a little too early. He munches and says, “I will give you my review in a bit.”
See, because he never chased girls in the neighborhood when all of us were chasing girls (he’s 41-years this year) he was a virgin when he met his girlfriend in church right before he joined uni. “She was light skinned and very beautiful and we dated throughout my time in Uni.” He says. “She was a very quiet girl, which worked perfectly because I’m not a quiet person.” He chuckles.
He’s now eating the second samosa but hasn’t offered me a review, kwani how long does someone decide whether something is good or not? A day? Should I ask him again after twenty minutes? Thirty? Should I ask him when he turns 45?
They never had sex while dating. Because you know, church and things. They would go on dates and I don’t know, hold hands and crack jokes, rather he would, she was the quiet one, and he would kiss her on the cheek and say, “I will see you tomorrow, my love,” and that would be it. For nine years they dated they never had sex. The wedding happened in a church in Umoja in 2005. That night be broke his virginity. He was 27-years old.
“Damn,” I say. Which is something someone like me who broke his virginity at 13/14-years would say. “Was she also a virgin?”
“Yes.” he says.
If this story were to end here, I’d give it a different title; Two Virgins. But it doesn’t. They move in together, husband and wife. He describes her as a loving person. “She was very loving, someone who stood by me through everything good or bad, she was always in my corner. She was also very…” he searches for the words, “ mysterious, yeah, with intrigue, I guess because she’s very silent, bila drama.”
Post university he worked a lot with the uni guys, training them on leadership. He would also work together with a pastor in these youth programs and eventually he started apprenticing to become a pastor at Mashariki church in Eastlands. He joined Nairobi Chapel where he also used to sing. He was appointed as the Creative Arts Director. He did that for a bit before moving to Mashariki Church in Eastlands. They moved from Greenfields to a bigger digs in Ngong Road, commuting back and forth. “I was your typical poster child of a hard working pastor hustler.” He says.
“I was making money off the gospel. You preach. I was leading praise and worship. We moved to two-bed in Ngong Road, we were moving on up.”
They had already gotten their first born in 2007. A baby girl. “I was in the room when she was born. She was born with her eyes open,” he says. “She had the prettiest eyes, like a deer’s eyes, beautiful smiling eyes. I remember how she locked eyes with me at that moment and I felt like we had a moment. But even later, as a baby, you would be carrying her but she would be following me with her eyes.”
Things were going okay after the baby, only that there was no migwatos. (We are going to call sex migwatos for today because I suspect some children to be reading this). He thought that perhaps it was postpartum depression or that it was the stress of being a new mother. “I was being that understanding husband, you know? Being supportive. I didn’t want to add my own personal needs to her stress of being a mother when she would say she doesn’t it feel like.”
By the way, please note that by this time he hasn’t even told me what he thinks of the cheese samosas. He intends to keep me waiting. It’s okay, we shall wait.
For the first year after getting their baby they didn’t have migwatos. Of course he was frustrated sexually. I ask him if he thought of getting laid outside, if it crossed his mind. “I couldn’t. I was respected in the church, people looked up to me as a model man, as model husband, how could I betray that by trying to even try something with anyone? I couldn’t even tell anyone that I was not getting laid. I had the curse of the gifted.”
“Curse of the gifted, I love that. I’m going to make it my header.”
“Please, use it.” He laughs. “I was in a very interesting position where I was feeling deprived of conjugal at home and it was frustrating me because I had needs as a man but also I had to be this guy that people respected as a church guy, they put me in a pedestal and I had to live that life. So I sucked it in and said God would find a solution for me whenever he saw fit.”
At the same time he started experiences financial problems. His salary was getting delayed upto three months. He was defaulting in rent. Auctioneers came knocking on his door once and then twice, the letter demanding payment of arrears in 18 days or they would come and haul everything away. “So I started selling households, basically things that I had bought and didn’t need, like the hometheater…”
“Throwing things overboard to keep the ship afloat.”
“Exactly.”He says. “But it’s the principle of debt, you get money to pay off a debt and you remain with another debt to contend with.”
“Did your wife know that you were having money issues, that auctioneers were knocking?”
“No. Where I come from, we handle our stuff silently. So I would take care of it silently. Of course she knew we were having challenges but she didn’t know how grave it was.”
When nothing was promising to change, when the church was not going to make his rent, he started considering to a side hustle. And what better hustle than what he understood, what he knew. Dogs. All those years raising massive dogs in Dandora made him understand dogs and their temperament. He taps into their emotions. “Dogs are like the mob, you get in but you can’t get out, man.”
“What makes you so good with dogs?” I ask him.
“I love them. To breed dogs you have to love dogs beyond the love you would accord an animal. Dogs helped me during my time in Dandora, they brought out my compassionate side as a young man living in a place without much compassion. It was also a great way to distress because my environment was high stress environment.”
“By the way, did your father taking off and growing up without him make you bitter?”
“Bitter?”He actually laughs at that. “These are emotions that I only now hear people assign to childhood experiences. It was life how we knew it; your father left, you remained with your mother, nobody tried to interpret that because it wasn’t something uncommon. It was life. In Eastlands there was no time to process bitterness. It was life.”
He started breeding dogs in their backyard. Big-ass dogs. He took to it like he never stopped, his dog muscles kicking off like he never stopped. After a few months he would sell off the dogs for 65k a pop. “I paid off my debts after a few months, I wasn’t scared of rent anymore. I had extra cash.”
Homefront was struggling. Mostly it was migwatos that was the problem. “It was intermittent.” He says and I don’t know why that word – intermittent – when referencing migwatos sounds so odd. Intermittent would be something that describes the rain. Something large scale farmers use. Or folk in the weather office. Some words were just meant for each other, sex and intermittent are strange bedfellows.
Somehow amidst this they discussed a second baby and started working on it. This time round they were living in a bigger house, still on Ngong road, for space for him to breed more dogs. The baby came in 2012 just as he was getting into Mavuno as a Care Pastor. “A Care Pastor does just that. He hatches, matches and dispatches. So dedications, marriage and then we bury you. We do life. We were walking with people in all stages of their lives. The reason why I’m telling you that this bar is tame compared to what I have seen is that sometimes I’d be called by one of our church members at 3am when they are having a meltdown and I’d have to go to him and get him from the bar. We were doing life.” Life became good. “I was driving a Mercedes 124, presidential blue in colour, sunroof, music system and having a ball doing what I was doing.”
In 2013 there was no migwatos. The whole year. Neither was there migwatos in 2014 and in 2015. “I never cheated.” He says. I might have him a cynical look, because he raised his hand up and said, “I swear. Never. Remember the curse of the gifted? I couldn’t. I was a monk, you guy.” Life trudged on. The marriage was love less, on both sides. They were just moving along, like tired donkeys with luggage they don’t even need on their backs. His dog business on the other hand was doing so well. He was now leasing dogs to security companies. He had bought a Passat then a Pajero, moved the family into a much bigger house. “I quit my job in 2015 thinking that perhaps if I spent more time at home we would get close. Nothing changed. Same bed and no intimacy. I was spending more time with the children though, because now I was working from the house.” He suggests that they try seeing a counsellor, she’s adamant. Doesn’t see the point. She says there is nothing wrong with the marriage.
Eventually after 11-years he said, enough, we can’t live like this. “She wasn’t moved, she was very easy about it. I remember she said, ‘that’s fine, you can get married again if you want, it runs in your family anyway.” He chuckles. “ It’s because my brother has remarried twice.”
He moved to Thogoto. There is actually a place like that in Nairobi, or rather its outskirts. As the name suggests, it’s past Kikuyu. Greenery. Red soil. Men in big brown jackets. Children with mavins on their heads. Rolling green hills, small farms, cows, someone driving past in a pickup with the words on the door, “Kariuki James, P.O Box, 345, Kikuyu.” You get the picture. He got a big house and a big compound.
“Those were dark days. I missed the kids. I missed my dogs. I was lonely. But that experience taught me one thing; to listen to myself. I have lived my life as this loud guy, there has always been a lot of noise in my life but for once I was confronted with silence and I had to listen to myself. I had to learn to love myself. In fact, being there got me closer to God.”
“Does God hate divorce?” I ask him.
“Yes, God hates divorce.”
“But why?” I moan.
“That’s a hard question.” He says and leaves it at that. Which means he owes me the answer to the cheese samosa question and the answer to this divorce questions. But who’s counting?
“What I know is that I was crumbling and I was talking to Him more than I was before.” He says. I ask him what all these means, what lessons he has learnt. “Foundation, I think I should have laid a better foundation for the marriage. I also should have gone into marriage with no expectations. You know, friends are shocked we broke up. They ask me what I did.”
“Not her, for sure.” I say and he laughs loudly.
“Would you say your marriage ended because of lack of sex?”
“Yes.” He says.
“Why do you think she wasn’t interested in sex?”
“If I asked her why your marriage ended what do you think she would say?”
“We spoke about it one time and she said that the spark was gone from the marriage. I don’t know if she understands that it ended for me because of lack of sex. [sips his energy drink.] But funny you should ask that. There was a time long after we broke up I went to pick up the kids now that we are co-parenting, and she told me people ask me why you left, what should I tell them? Do you see what that means?”
I honestly don’t. All I want to know is what the hell he thinks of the damned samosa. It’s now raining outside. The parking is full. A lady from the next table comes and says hello to him. Someone from the church, he explains.
“Was she happy?”
He wipes his hands with a napkin. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. Obviously.”
“Are you happy now?”
“I am, but I hate being alone.”
He has his dogs now. When his children are over he watches them play with them. He says that he uses the dogs to read his children’s emotions by the way they respond to the dogs. Because dogs give love and dogs except love, they get out of their way to receive the love and they have a way of tapping into human compassion. “I will know if my children are sad or insecure or worried about something the moment they start to interact with the dogs.” He says. So he uses the dogs to interpret his children’s emotions.
That night just before lights out, I stay up for a bit thinking to myself; that bugger never told me what he thought of the cheese samosas. Sunday morning, I wait till after 8am to text him: By the way, you never told me what you thought of the cheese samosas?
“Excellent!” He Whatsapps back.
This story has been slightly amended after confusion that our subject was pastor Gowi. (Who finds this hilarious).
The registration of the Creative Writing Masterclass is still on. (firstname.lastname@example.org) Last call for men with marriage stories that we haven’t heard. (Bikozulu@gmail.com)