Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Episode 47: The Sex Cause

Late in my high school years I was a rebel without a cause. After listening to some Millie Jackson I reasoned I could develop a feeling bitchy attitude like her. Or look like her in that cover jacket where she is seated on a toilet bowl with her pants down. Certainly there was nothing I was to achieve by acting Millie Jackson. Anyway being a bitch and grumpy was part of the attitude, but such could not survive around my full of life and well, bitchy mother. So it was only sometime after I joined campus that I decided to become a rebel again, this time with a cause.

I had gone to university very psyched up to "change the world." However it didn't take long to realize that most of the comrades were more interested in sex, parties and CATS than in changing the world. And the students who were changing the world didn't seem like true believers; they spent time in meetings; all talk no action and only pretentious anger at the "state of things". After watching Holy Man, a feel good Eddie Murphy film, I was inspired to go solo. My cause was ambiguous; a combination of human rights, going green and protecting the ozone layer. I started by vowing never to take tea because I had read somewhere that tea workers were paid peanuts. It didn't matter to me that one cup of tea might not make much difference. I believed " It starts with you" the catch phrase of those in solo protests.  Then when I told my mother about my tea boycott he laughed and informed me in jest that a cup of coffee at Starbucks was $ 2 while the farmers here were not getting even a dollar for kilogram of cherry. I boycotted coffee too, not sure how that was going to make farmers get better prices.

Around the same time I read about farm to fork. A campaign to ensure that what is eaten is produced without harming the environment, and all those in the production chain are adequately rewarded. My farm to fork campaign involved creating a lot of fuss whenever I went to buy greens, fruits or sometimes even eat in a hotel. Of course few in this country have the patience for such fuss. So I relented. But to compensate for the guilt I  felt for failing to trace the food I ate from the farm to the fork, I decided to recycle polythene bags in a big way; carrying my own papers even when going shopping in supermarkets.

Well the first protest lasted only a few months. The fire ebbed because I could not see the reward of my protest, and well I missed tea. Lets not talk about principles. But I still wanted to change the world. I still wanted to be a rebel of some kind. Thus after some few months I decided to take on the sex cause. As a woman I felt I needed to do something about our lot. I reasoned there were two ways to go about in approaching sex as a cause. One was to campaign against the portrayal of women as sex objects. And two was to empower women sexually almost literally; women to use sex as a weapon. There were already people doing the former so I settled on the latter. My mantra was simple: If a woman was to have sex with a man she should not only get the pleasure but also some material gain. The challenge was how to communicate the message without sounding a sort of desperado. And well we were in university where sex just for the kick was part of the experience. The idea became a cropper. But to make up for my failure I vowed not to have sex with men and engaged in a lesbian affair.

All this came to mind yesterday when in the process of doing something else I saw  my university notebook that I used to plan my causes. I had even toyed with some slogans for the sex cause. When I read them now they seem a joke:  A condom & a cent. V for Value.  Dont just open your legs: Open your bag. You make a weapon everytime you part your legs.  Sex is power.  Then there was the classical : Women of the world unite, you got nothing to lose other than your..... . I could no come up with a punchy phrase to capture what I intened then.

So much has changed in the world  and in me since then. At the moment I have a different opinion about that sex is power cause, and I am not sure I would advocate for it. But thinking of it on a lighter note and in light of how I earn my living, I didn't sell out. I am leading from the front. I am one of those rare hands on rebel leaders. ;)

-I have answered 26 more questions. I will answer the rest soon. 

-If you had paid for the Illustrated Book and I haven't refunded your money kindly email me. I will refund you the money asap. The Illustrated book will be available free of charge sometime in October.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Episode 46: A Banking Dilemma

Today I am facing an economic problem. More like a banking dilemma. I have heard banks that issue credit cards are in a sort of Catch 22 situation.  You see there are those customers who pay their credit card bills on time, and then there are the others who go past their limits and are late to pay. The former are charged high interest, penalty fees and other amounts banks are fond of. The defaulters and over spenders rake in the profits, while the disciplined customers provide stability. When the economic times are good the banks will prefer the defaulters, but when the times are bad they wonder how to chase the defaulters away in as polite manner.

Like I mentioned before almost every girl on the Street has a husband; the regular customer who only asks for that particular girl. I have several of them, which is nothing odd. My husbands fall into two general categories. There are those who are 'mature', cool and undramatic men. Then there are the others, rough, unpredictable, full of life men who treat girls like well, prostitutes. The cool guys are the gentlemen among the johns; but then they are sort of boring. Almost everything about them is as routine as their visits. Even their pay is fixed and rarely give a bonus. But these men provide security.

On the other hand the rough character regulars seem to act by the moment. Sometimes they time their visits sometimes they don't. Its like they just seat in a bar  watching football then miss me. So they get into their cars and come looking for me. These are the men who are as likely to take me to a dingy downtown hotel as they are to take me to a four star hotel. They are also the ones who will pick me past midnight and to take me to a drinking spree in Naivasha, where they proudly introduce to their friends as poko wangu ( my prostitute), or using some other funky name which hints at my trade.  Their sex is rough and very experimental . These are the men who are most  likely not to pay me, or under pay. But they are also who are most likely to pay me much more than the usual, and occasionally throw me a gift, never mind the not so sweet words and actions that accompany it.

Like some sort of bank, I need both of these customers. And overtime I have played my cards well so that I really don't have to choose between the two. But today I have to make a decision. Earlier in the week one of the cool guys, picked me and later fixed a date with me for today. Then yesterday one of the roughs passed by and said he wants to show me the world today. Despite their shortcomings I need to keep both of them.

At the face of it, it might seem an easy choice, apparently because many believe we don't have a work ethic. So I just go with one and then give a silly excuse to the other. Yet girls want to bring each other down here. So if I go with one of the men, then the other comes and ask for me, the girls will tell. And don't believe what men say, even in the comments here, they actually get their egos hurt when a prostitute slights them. So the man I ignore wont be happy. He will just pick me one more time to satisfy his ego, then never see me again. In times like these every man counts.

Anyway I will see what to do. It looks like it will rain today, and hopefully one of them wont turn up.Luckily I no longer have a business telephone number.

To all who answered my questions thank you so so much. I really appreciate. I will be replying and commenting on them soon. Do have a lovely weekend. 


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Episode 45: The Present Tension

The Street is an ecosystem of sorts. Though not delicate everybody who is part of it knows the importance of maintaining its balance. The Street ecosystem looks more like a union of the low of society. Low in terms of income, power and perceptions. There are the Street people and children. There are also the watchmen and late night hawkers. Then there are the clients and us. Others who form the ecosystem include the city council askari and police who we consider parasites.

Its we girls who give meaning to the Street at night. Without us Koinange would be just like any other lackluster city street in dark. All those cars which drive past would not be there. The odd hour hawkers would have nobody to sell to. The watchmen, with nothing to excite them, would be like the many others in the city, sleepy and with no drive. Thus one would expect us to be at the top of the Street hierarchy, but we are not. At the top are those who feel the Street belongs to them. The competition here is between the Street people and the watchmen. The former feel more ownership because apparently they have been born and brought up in the streets, while the latter believe they have the official mandate to protect, not only particular properties but also the Street in general. Occasionally these two clash, either verbally or physically. However most of the times they find ways of accommodating each other, knowing very well their strengths. The Street people are not really governed by any code of conduct, and have little to lose.  The watchmen, on the other hand have the law on their side, a reputation and a job to think of.

When a girl comes to the Street she blends with both of these. It happens fast and without any coercion for it does not take long to know who owns the power of violence, which matters a lot here. A girl needs to feel protected even when on the Street. She also needs to be informed when she has dropped her guard and the police or city council askari are around. Also once in a while a man in a car or walking will come and try harassing a girl. Or a girl pinches the pocket of any of such during a promised cozy session in a dark alley or car. A man might discover and try to manhandle a girl. She only needs let out a cry and the man will not know what befell him. Rungus, fists and shoes will land on him.  By agreeing to be at the bottom of the Street chain of command vis a vis the ecosystem, the girls are guaranteed of the protection. Still sometimes a girl has to pay for the protection. The method of payment depends on a girl. Sometimes it’s in cash or kind.

I talk of these because after being away for about a month I went back and found there is a new street order. The Street people around the area I operate from have changed. There is a new group, more forceful in their enforcement.  They want a girl to pay a certain amount daily whether she turns up for work or not. They are also violent and I hear they have beaten a girl or two. On the hand girls are becoming increasingly impatient with them, and soon one or all of us will face of with them. The plan is to refuse to pay their extortion like    protection fee, the results might be a deadly face off.

The new Street people claim to offer more protection both against the City Council and the police. But they are not very smart in the way they do it. I hear a notorious city council askari who does the rounds was beaten on his way to his house about a week ago. A city council vehicle had one of its tires deflated. Stones were hurled at another. More is said to be in the works. Of course in situations like these we know the askari are planning some sort of crackdown or revenge like they usually do. The watchmen are intimidated, and the police operate at a higher level. The City belongs to the City Council and as much as we girls hate them we know the trick is not to be violent in the way we deal with them. We prefer to be more innovative, or play cat and mouse games with them, until the day one of us will emerge the winner. If it comes to violence they will always beat us.

The situation is quite tense, but then no one can come in between, not even the law. What is of the Street will be solved here. Such tensions arise once in a while, but unless you work here you may never suspect anything is wrong.  All signs are that the resolution will somehow happen very soon, and hopefully a stable power equilibrium will be established.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

UP Nairobi: Who Is More Street?

I still pen a monthly article for UP Nairobi magazine. Having passed through the hands of an editor the articles are  not as roughly cut as those appearing here on the blog. Below is an excerpt from this month's issue titled ' Who Is More Street? '

Once in a while I catch the television segment Who Owns Kenya? A crude version of it is replayed here on the Street almost every single day. The Street version is not Who Owns Nairobi? But more like Who Is More Nairobi? The reasoning is this, just like citizens of a country enjoy some privileges as compared to non citizens, those who are “more Nairobi” should also enjoy some extra benefits by that virtue.

Such benefits, unlike those of citizens, are not clearly stipulated, but generally have to do with competition for clients. Not that girls sit down and discuss who is more Nairobi than others, it’s rather more manifested in their usage of statements which tend to be exclusive or imply ownership. The most common of the statements is always; “What do you know about Nairobi?” which is always said in a dismissive manner. A girl may drop such a line to intimidate another in order to win over a client.

The criteria for deciding who is “more Nairobi” is always an issue in the streets.  ...... Read the rest of the story here.

(Up Nairobi is distributed FREE of charge.)