March 30, 2011

Awakening

Been in Cleveland, Ohio for a few days now for the Cleveland Int'l Film Festival. It's been cold, so cold I can feel my insides shrinking at every breath I take. Of course in the evenings, have met girls dressed in what would be considered, even in the Sahara, too little.

It has been a terrible experience (not just the weather), but the whole aura of the city too. It's depressing, and hauntingly so. We were staying at the Holiday Inn Express on Euclid Ave and walked everyday to the Tower City Center where the film festival was taking place. And the walk there everyday opened my eyes to the skeleton of what the city, I bet, used to be in 1950. A little history tells me that in the 50s, Cleveland was the USA's 7 largest city, with a population of  just a little over 914,000. Now, its the 43rd largest, with a population of  396,815 as of 2010 census, placing the city to be one fastest-declining cities in the United States.  In the early 20th century, when manufacturing and steel industry was the shit to be in, Cleveland boasted of the famous 'Millionaires Row' on Euclid Ave, where families like the Rockefellers, the Hays and the Hannas lived in mansions. (Google them if you have no idea who they are.)

Walking down Euclid Ave, you do get the feeling that at one time, something used to happen here. The surviving buildings from its days of fame bear diverse architectural design, but mostly the unmistakable neoclassical architecture. It's like looking into the the hollow eyes of a once famous, once beautiful, legendary icon, and kind of getting a glimpse of a light that once shone bright. Or a lighthouse that stands majestically against the sea, defiant still, but without the blazing glory of nights past when it withstood the angry ocean waves and guided weary seafarers to safe harbors.

But that is not just the problem. The people too.  When they finally come out to the almost-always deserted streets, they remind me of a scene from I am Legend. They have haunted looks, empty gazes, pitiful. Maybe Nate and I were reading too much into it, but a few bump-ins with some of them did confirm that. 

Inside the Tower City Center
Like this time we were checking out of the hotel. Nate was pulling 3 suitcases into the elevator. Inside was a lady who worked at the hotel. She was standing close to the doors. As Nate made to enter the elevator, we expected her to move to the back to make way for him. She just stood there looking at him. A few seconds and he decided he had to push his way in. No movement from her. The elevator doors were now beginning to close, the bags half way in. Still nothing. Even an 'Excuse me' from him elicited no response. Finally, he shoved his way in. Under her breath, she muttered. 'Whatever'

A day ago, we walked out of the theater after a screening. I discovered I had left my cap on the seat inside. Nate offered to go back and get it. As he walked back, no one would move out of the way, you know, even walk on the left (or the right) to allow him to move in the opposite direction. It was not that crowded, otherwise he would have waited till everyone left to go back in, but it took him over 5 minutes to walk into a theatre that sits about 400 and had only about 100 or so people. Go figure.

I don't recall if it was the same day, but this time we were waiting for the elevator from the theater with some  2 friends. There was a group of about 6 people in front of us. The elevator clearly indicated that it was going down. The doors open, no one came out. We were going down anyway so we tried to get in. The group of 6 apparently were waiting to go up. But they would not make way for us to get in to the elevator! Not an 'Excuse me' or an 'Are you getting in?' elicited any form of response. One of our friends, (a Clevelander) resorted to pushing between them to catch hold the doors. They looked at him as if they were ready to devour him. I'm sure I exaggerate but that was how it felt.

Nate said it's like they were there, but really not there. They are as depressed as the once famous Euclid Ave. Have the 'used to be something' facade too.

As I did some reading about Cleveland, I came across an article written by an 'iconoclastic (Cleveland) Journalist' who has been writing in and about Cleveland since 1968, Roldo Bartimole about a walk he took in downtown Cleveland in May 2009 and the depression of that experience. Check it here.  http://www.clevelandleader.com/node/10059 .After reading that, I did have a 'phew' moment that this experience was not all in my head. Or Nate's.

Being here has awakened me to a different type of life that I have never encountered. When I talk to people, whether in Kenya, Europe or US about Kibera, they think that it must be the most depressing place to live, what with the lack of social amenities etc. I have tried to explain how the people I have interacted with in Kibera are happy, social, welcoming, helpful despite their obvious unpleasant circumstances. But that has been a hard thing to explain to anyone. Because in their minds, social amenities, good infrastructure, etc makes life easy, happy. And in as much as I know that to be quite the contrary from my experience in Kibera, I had not experienced it from this point of view. From a 'first world' perspective of having things that work (roads, electricity, heritage, public transport, housing, internet, etc) and feeling so depressed by the place, by the people, whose depression and disconnection from life seems to emanate from then as heat evaporates from warm bodies in winter. Suddenly, I wanted the warmth of the people, of life busting from people, the chatter, the interaction, the feeling of activity that Kibera offers, not only to its residents, but to visitors. But Kibera itself, just like Cleveland, does not offer the feeling of belonging or robustness, it the people that give the location that life. The tinroofs look bleak from outside, but life flows on the inside. The

Outside Tower City Center
I am typing this at the bus station in Cleveland. You heard (read) that right. I have decided to take the Greyhound to Cincinnati as Nate flies back to LA. How else I am supposed to see America's underbelly if all i do is fly? Yes, I will tell you all about it. 5 hours in the bus should definitely have a blog post.

March 16, 2011

Very few things in this world leave me speechless.

This one made me leave my jaw on my desk!

March 10, 2011

…is what I am thinking this morning, with my earphones stuck to my ears, laptop on lap, an overpriced plastic cup of Starbucks hot chocolate next to me, sitting next to two snoring travelers at LAX. I am on my way to San Jose. It's also the name of the song I am currently listening to, sang my the soulful Edwin McCain, whose voice i am so in love with. He reminds me so much of the American south, not only because that is where he is from, but it's in Myrtle Beach South Carolina that I got to see him live at the House of Blues. I am sure I blogged about that. Seeing that I am typing this on TextEdit as I cannot seem to connect to any of the few joys of being at the airport - free wifi- I am not able to pull out that particular post.

Beautiful life is probably not the thought people have while sitting on a cold airport bench at 6.15 am. But I am not most people…It's also not a thought that you have the pleasure of allowing to cross your mind if you just had 1 hour of sleep. Same goes if you do not like mornings, like I. I love my sleep. All 12 hours of it. Yep, the 1 before the 2 is real, you did not imagine it.  I can sleep for 24 hours… continuously-- much to Nate's chagrin. That man is annoyingly chipper in the morning. It's like he lies in bed dreaming about morning, while I lie in bed hoping to stretch the night in my dreams. If he was the whistling kind, thank heavens he ain't, I'm sure he would be waking up with a tune on his lips. He wants to get up, get going. I want to get up and speed a few minutes being angry at the sun for showing up. You'd think that by now I'd be used to the idea of the sun rising, what with it doing so everyday for the past billions of years.

Yesterday was a Kenyan night event at Universal Studios. It was an evening of Kenyan food, music, art and film. It was so nice to see so many Kenyans together, that are not trying to show off the little they have amerced in America (read with a Kenyan shags accent). I love my countrymen, don't get me wrong, I  just hate how they congregate to show off once outside the country. 

Case in point.

Our anniversary falls on Valentine day, Nate's birthday is 2 days later and that also happened to the be the weekend that the USA Sevens were taking place in Las Vegas.  The Kenyan Vegas parties were all i saw on Facebook  posts of Kenyans in the diaspora.  The rugby matches are on Saturday and Sunday, but the parties start on Thursday. Apparently it is THE event of the year. Kenyans from all the nooks and crannies of USA take over Vegas for the entire weekend. Vegas being a 5 hour drive only, we decided to check it out, if we had time. Our schedule was all up in the air, which meant we could not book any hotels until we were sure we would make it. This confirmation happened on Saturday, which not only mean we were going to have to go with whatever last minute hotel rate we got, but we had missed the red-carpet welcome of the Kenyan rugby team, the Saturday game and the better part of the parties. Now, this Saturday game is very important. It's the one that our boys win, a friend told me. On Sunday, they are too exhausted from the celebratory partying that happens on Saturday night. And true to that, they did win on Saturday and lose on Sunday.

There are several Kenyan parties that happen that weekend, all trying to outdo the other by having the 'illest' Dj's, MCs, location…all charging between $20-$30 entry charge. They all promise (a) night (s) of mayhem, 'Vegas experience, etc' They all sounded the same to me. A party is a party, right?  And since they will all have Kenyans, what's the difference?

Anyway, I called a couple of friends to get advise on hotels. One told me that she was staying at a penthouse suite that was costing no less than $2,000. Call me cheap but no way on earth I'm I spending that much on a hotel in Vegas. I'd rather take that money, add some, and fly to Montego Bay and stay an all inclusive resort. Did it once, would do it again in a heartbeat. That's just how I think. For me, Vegas represents the kind of fun that superficial, that is blitz and lights and quick- fading. My kinda fun involves exotic excursions, ziplines at 300 feet above the the Jamaican jungle, some sand and sun, 2.00am jerky chicken indulges. So I did the math. The suite is $2,000, the parties are $40 for all 4 days, the rugby tickets about $60 per day. So far, $2,180 is out, and we haven't even had the $18 Margaritas,  at least 2 rounds at the slots, a round of black jack, and the $30 meals a pop.  Then the flight, no less than $200, then car hire, which I don't even have a clue as to how much they cost. All I know is that there is a 'competition' to see who hires the flashiest, most expensive ride for the 4 days. You are looking at spending just under $4,000 in one weekend. And for us, multiply almost everything by 2. No way Jose.

As I talked to her, it dawned on me why most of Kenyans (especially our generation) don't go back to home, or ever send money home, despite the fact that most are here due to fundraisers done by generous villagers or sacrifices made by their hardworking families. Over 90% of them do not make $3,000 in a week. Every time they spend that, they have to spend the next half a year earning it back.  I even joked with this friend that they come back to a diet of water after Vegas, having cleared out their bank accounts. Now, not all will stay in $2,000 suites, but the extravagance is evident.

The women will dress in frocks only seen in movies, the men in bling they probably have to guard with their lives. What was annoying though was that in as much as a lot of thought and time obviously went in to getting ready, most of our lovely Kenyan ladies come out looking like trannies, or worse, hookers on cheap makeup. There is a thin line between trashy and fashionable, methinks this line is invisible at that point.

It's time to board. Rant over.

March 01, 2011

I would love to translate this video for all my non-Kenyan readers. I'm sorry, its just one of those - you ahve to have been there to understand. Fellow Kenyans, especially those who went through the 8-4-4 systems, here's a trip down memory lane.

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