Category Archives: Kenya

The feeling of possibility

 September 1st 2017, sometime after 11am.

The world spins around me ever so slightly. I seem to have hiccupped out of sync with the rotation of the earth. Beside me are a bottle of cold water and a cup of hot coffee. I attempt to pour balance back into my body. My mother turned 60 the day before. We sang old 70’s songs, danced till our limbs ached, laughed till our cheeks ached, loved till our hearts ached. For a few hours we escaped into a simple joy. But I pay the price for it now as I gingerly try to navigate out of the grogginess that coats my brain.

I sit in front of the TV watching red robed bodies preparing to speak. Cupping my heart tenderly, I whisper to it in hushed tones, run my fingers over old cracks and remind it that it can heal from this too. This, being the anticipated disappointment from our Supreme Court echoing foreign sentiments that the flawed elections were good enough for us Africans. I steel myself to cushion hope’s fall.

Then it happens. Not all at once. It is gradual. Words. More words. Solemn statements

“The greatness of any nation lies in its fidelity to the constitution, adherence to the rule of law and above all respect to God.”

And even as we wait for the ‘but’, a ripple begins undulating over the skin of the country. Murmurs of astonishment. My brain tries to inform me we are watching history being made, but my mind asks, what is happening? Is it happening? Could it really be happening?

Then it happens.

‘Invalid. Null. Void.’

Three guilty words that flip a switch in Kenya’s consciousness.

I think about how far we have come.

And in that moment, I can’t breathe. I walk around and around the table. Around and around the table. My brain struggles to catch up with my heart. I don’t know what to do with this feeling. This unapologetic euphoria. This possibility. This……eventually I collapse on the floor in a weeping heap. It feels like an appropriate reaction for a watershed moment, to shed water, like the bursting of a dam when enough pressure is applied by enough people who refuse to tire of trying.

I remember seeing this feeling once in my friend’s eyes. Watching him recall when hope was birthed into his being. The year was 2002. Uhuru Park. The dismissal of a dictator. The thing that for many decades didn’t feel possible, became possible. One million people physically connected by a shared feeling of possibility. Not a single pocket was picked. He chuckled when he told me this. It was a different Kenya. Of course, we all know how that went, but I think about how important moments like this are, when we discover what is possible for us.

The ruling showed us that it is possible for systems to work the way they are supposed to. It is possible to demand it and to expect it. It is possible for us to refuse to accept that we deserve any less. This, the extra-ordinary, can one day become the ordinary. I get intoxicated about the possibility of all our systems working. Not so that we can show the world or set an example for Africa, but for us, everyday, here. To make Kenya more livable in every way for each and every one of us.

September 11th 2017 sometime after 11am.

A yellow plumed bird taps away at the window. She is insistent as if trying to send a morse code message. She twists her body into different positions, angling her beak this way and that way to transmit different sounds through the window. I watch her and wonder what she is trying to tell me.

I think about September 1st. I remember the urgency I felt then of trying to capture that feeling of possibility, knowing that if I didn’t give it shape then, it may dissolve when despair returned. I was right. It has already begun to fade. So I look back at what I wrote on Facebook in that moment to remind myself.

Artists….you are needed now. Capture this. Show what it means to the people of a nation. Record it. Document it. Archive it.

Because they may try to take it away from us, change the narrative, smudge away its significance, make us feel like it isn’t important so that we forget that it is possible for us to demand and expect better.

But we need to remember what possible feels like. 

So writers, write…write this feeling down for when we get tired and need to remember what hope tastes like…write this into the tapestry of our history. That we were this too.

Musicians sing it…sing this feeling for us. Let it be an anthem of this moment.

Beatboxers, create new sounds for this new feeling.

Poets give us language for this thing our spirits are experiencing.

Painters, let your brush show us what this new possible looks like.

Dancers, show us…show us with your bodies what this feeeeels like.

DJs create a playlist for our times…this time…a time that many of us thought we’d never see in our lifetimes.

Parents, talk to your children about this. Help them understand why this is so significant. Where we have come from. What it means for them. Let them too taste the joy.

Capture this feeling of possibility because we will need it again.

And we do. We need it again.

All around us Kenyans are showing us our systems are broken. That it is breaking us as a people. The nurses try to tell us. The girls in burning schools show us. The man who publicly proclaims he will rape a woman shows it to us. As does the politician who threatens to take scissors to another man’s genitals.

I think about how every day we are numbed, bribed, intimidated, coerced, silenced, dismissed into believing that we should just accept broken systems.

Yet just 11 days ago, we saw for ourselves that we do not need to accept and move on. That we deserve better. That we must continue trying. That it matters. That we matter. That it is possible.

It is essential to summon up that feeling of possibility again so that we can use it to fight for all our systems to work. In this moment, I go deep into myself and pull it out, that feeling of possibility. I snapshot it. Because if the last 10 days are any indication of the future, we are going to need to tap into that feeling to survive. So harness it. Nurture it. Keep it alive, this feeling of possibility.

photo credit: Lion_Towers <a href=”″>Don’t Stop…</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;









You are not us

This piece was written on August 20th, 12 days after the Kenyan Elections. It was commissioned to appear in the ‘Reflections: Talking to the soul of a divided nation’ series where it was first published on The Elephant. I have republished it here because Chanyado has become a (sometimes) personal commentary of the times we live in here in Kenya. So for archival purposes, I would like for it to have a home here too)

Dear Kenya,

My beloved. Home to my beating heart and 48 million other heartbeats. Beneath your soil, our ancestors sleep, and underneath your sky, our children dream. In you, we walk around, carrying our loves and our fears, taking one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, 48 million pairs of footsteps, everyday, echoing from corner to corner, hoping, always hoping, that you will take care of this tenderness that sits nestled in our throats.

But, Kenya, do you know what things are being done in your name?

Because I don’t believe you would allow the sun to continue to emerge from your ocean and the moon to glide behind your mountains, everyday, if you knew the things that I know.

So I feel I must tell you.

Last week, a group of mothers peered in through the holes of a small room in Kibera, watching their children seated together on the floor. The mothers held their breath as they searched for any light in their little babies’ eyes. Your babies. But the eyes of these little children, your children, had become black holes from sucking in the kind of trauma no little child should ever have to experience.

So we tried to make our children, children again. We played games. But even childhood games take on a sinister tone at a time like this.

Let’s play Hide and Seek.

We begin. The children quietly arrange themselves, instinctively knowing where best to escape being found. A soft mattress covers a soft skull. Silent. To make noise is to be revealed. To be discovered. To be silenced. By now, they are used to hiding, had spent the last few days hiding, listening to the hailstorm of bullets on mabati roofs, and hiding. Clutching each other and hiding. But for some, hiding was not enough.

Kenya, did you smell the fear in the air as your little children watched their fathers being pulled from their homes?

Let’s play Chinese Whispers.

We sit in a row. One of the adults begins with a word. They cup their palms around the tender ears of a little boy and whisper Amani. The little boy turns around. He cups his little palm around the little ears of a little girl and whispers. And it goes on. Little palms to little ears. Until they reach the last person. The little boy speaks out loud the word he has heard. Imani. The word has changed form, from ear to ear, whisper to whisper. Amani becomes Imani. From peace to faith.

Kenya, did you hear the sound of baton pounding bone, as those entrusted to protect became enforcers of peace?

Let’s play Police and Robbers.

We stand in a circle. One hand atop the other. The other hand under another. Interlinked and intertwined. The children sing. They giggle. Finally. One hand receives a smack, then swooshes through the air to deliver another hand a smack. Until they reach the part in the song where everyone falls down screaming when the robber is shot.

Kenya, did you feel the warmth of fresh blood seeping out of flesh and into your soil?

These are the things that are being done in your name.

Yet many say it didn’t happen. They didn’t hear the screams, didn’t see the bodies, didn’t feel the pain. So what do you tell the 3 month old who can identify the sound of a gunshot? What about the 1 month old whose eyes still stream from the teargas? What about the woman whose brain has shut down to save herself from her memories?

Do you tell them they are making the nightmare up?

That their realities are not real?

That they don’t exist?

Move on, they say. But how do we move at all when the very heart of us is broken? Yet they insist, we must leave the past behind, and we must move forward. For you. For Kenya. It’s always about you, Kenya. But what about us? What about us, Kenyans? Don’t we matter at all?

Sometimes I wish you would please just leave us alone.

You are not us.

You are scenic untouched landscapes for foreign tourists to drink up with their thirsty dollars. You are a beacon of stability and peace to show off to the world what new Africa looks like. You are high speed internet and shiny highways.

You are Kenya. And we are just Kenyans getting in the way of your progress.

But it’s not really about you is it? It never was. Yet you let it happen. You allow our pain to be silenced, our reality to be ignored, our fear to be stoked. And I don’t know how to keep living in a Kenya where we pretend we are ok, when really we are so shattered at the core, the splinters keep drawing blood. I don’t know how to keep living in a Kenya where we are as frightened of speaking the truth as we are of each other. I don’t know how to keep living in a Kenya that doesn’t care about all Kenyans.

But what I do know, is that if we don’t confront our ghosts this time, pluck them out of our history, lay them down, examine them, look them in the eye, expose their ugliness and speak them out loud, one by one, we may not have a Kenya next time.

Yes. You may disintegrate, Kenya of mine.

Because in five years time, those little children will be young adults. The trauma that lives under their skin will have marinated into hard bitterness. What they may not understand is that the pain they feel is not fresh. It has lived in all of our bodies for decades, festering and deepening in strength as it is passed down silently and often unknowingly, generation to generation. And one day these grown up children will ask us, when you smelled the smoke, what did you do?

And we will say, we sang our throats hoarse with patriotic songs of peace and clasped our hands tight in prayer breakfasts. Look at how our bleeding blisters weep from building this nation? Aren’t you proud of how we ignored our pain and went back to work?

But when the children try to respond, they will be gasping, all our children will be gasping for air, trying to breathe through the suffocation of despair.

By then Kenya, when they come for you, we won’t know anymore how to speak out, because we were silenced when you allowed this to be done in your name. And you, Kenya, when you say to us, but I am yours and you are of me. They will simply say. You are not us.

And it will be too late.

photo credit: Garret Voight <a href=”″>Lutsen, MN</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;








Kenyans, 10 ways to **** better… #5 will BLOW your mind!

On the night of August 11th, the silence of the Kenyan night was pierced.

In some hoods, the screams were of joy.

In some hoods, the screams were of anguish.

In some hoods the ratatat was from gunfire.

In some hoods, the ratatat was from fireworks.

Less than a week later, all through the day and the night, the silence is now pierced once more by calls to Move On. Except this time we aren’t even being asked to Accept. Just to Move On. It no longer matters whether we accept it or not, the wails of loved ones who were killed, must be smothered by the ka-ching ching of coins pouring into this Kenya rising of ours.

But to expect the nation to just Move On, is like chopping off an athlete’s knees and expecting them to get back into the race. Make no mistake. Whether you acknowledge it or not, we are broken. And if you only notice it every 5 years when Kenya holds its breath, you may well be cushioned by a bubble of privilege. But the fact that we are so terrified of each other speaks volumes. And no matter how much paint we slather over the cracks in our nation, aesthetics alone will not fix it.

Yet, we also can’t exist in a state of paralysis. We must exhale, pick ourselves up and figure out what next. What does Moving On look like if we were to refuse for it to be a return to the status quo and business as usual?

Of one thing I am certain.

It has to begin with caring.

It must start with giving a shit.

If you don’t care about the fact that we are broken, this is not the post for you. And if in order to care, you need a list of all the ways in which we are broken, and how this affects your daily life, this is also not that post. And if you don’t care because the people that were killed do not look like people you call your own, this is most certainly, definitely, definitively not the post for you.

BUT if like me, you are trying to figure out what you can do, at this time, when we are reeling as a nation, when it is easy to feel helpless and paralysed, I present to you, 1O ways to care better, or at least a few things that I think you can do. And #5 will really blow your mind.

1.) Feel all the things you need to feel

Outrage. Grief. Anxiety. Fear. Anger. Love. Hope. All of them. If you aren’t ‘springing’ out of this in the way others around you are, that’s not abnormal. We have experienced deep trauma. And truthfully sometimes we are a people that are impatient with and intolerant of emotions that make others uncomfortable. But remember your feelings are valid.

2.) Bear witness

Our history makes us and we make our history. It is important to call it by its name and acknowledge what happened. It will be the only springboard from which we can truly be able to move on. Record, document and amplify the voices of those who are doing this work. Do this with honesty and integrity. Refuse to allow this part of our story to be erased or smudged out by a single narrative, like so much of what has happened before.

3.) Help in the ways you can

You know that elections stockpile you have sitting at home? Now is the time to use it. The wonderful people at are collecting contributions of all sorts to help the families whose lives have been affected and torn apart these last several days. You can support with money, in kind, your time, your skills. Get in touch with them and ask how.

4.) Practice care

Especially with your words, and I don’t mean be careful. I mean practice the act of care. Ask yourself what does that look like for you? It begins with not denying the lived experiences of others. Just because it isn’t your reality doesn’t mean that it isn’t someone else’s reality. Think about what you can do, every day, in your own life, that makes caring a doing word, something that is grounded in action.

5.) Blow your mind

The action of blowing evokes a sense of movement, of expansion, of effort expended to change the nature of something. In the same way, it is important to educate yourself about the historical context of what has led us to this point. It is essential to understand the nuances and read different perspectives. None of this will have been taught to you at school, so you must go and find this information. Google is your friend. I have been exploring the and finding it very useful. Books are also invaluable. Feel free to drop links that are useful in the comments section below.

6.) Stand in the gap

The best example of this I can find is what Juliani was doing online those nights when people, terrified of the gunshots around them, didn’t know where to turn. He heard their calls and connected them to assistance. Or ResqueBnB who are working tirelessly to support the communities affected. You can connect people with organizations that need their skills. You can connect people that need help with places they can find it. You can be a bridge, connecting the dots to show people different perspectives and ways of thinking. You can prevent things from falling into the deep dark crevice, by simply standing with your arms outstretched and your feet rooted in your truth.

7.) Share beauty

This, my friends is my tool for survival. When the world feels ugly, sharing beauty becomes an act of revolt. It may feel indulgent or frivolous, but especially at a time like now, it is essential to shine light when the darkness threatens to overwhelm. So share the things that may lift the spirits and stir the souls of the ones who may need it, even if it is just for one moment in their day. My little piece of beauty that I share with you today is this,

8.) Imagine

Prompted by Keguro Macharia, I discovered how powerful it is to imagine. To do the work of imagination. And it is work. Keguro offered me a new framework to think about this. So ask yourself what does the Kenya you wish to live in look like? Now go one step further. Paint a picture of it. Try and articulate the very specific and practical things that make up this Kenya. Get clarity around what this Kenya looks like, how it behaves, what it feels like to live there. Now, you have something to work towards, as opposed to running away from what you don’t want. Isn’t that so much more inspiring?

9.) Tie your lesso

We have a lot of work to do. Now is not the time for apathy or complacency. Ask yourself, what are the specific things that you can do help move towards this Kenya of your imagining. For the politics to change, we cannot afford to be divorced from it. From the county level spiralling outwards, get involved. Participate. Engage with those whose vision and values you believe in. Hold those elected into office accountable. From now. Don’t wait for another 5 years.

10.) Don’t let go of hope

Never forget that what you do makes a difference. Even what you don’t do makes a difference. We are all, every single one of us, interconnected and intertwined. It may not feel like it at times, but the actions you take have an impact, sometimes in immeasurable ways. So my friends, do not go gentle into that good night. And do not lose hope, for it is the only shard of light that can help guide us out of the darkness.

If you have any other ideas of what we can do, now, at this point in time, in the Kenya we are in, please do drop them in the comments below. Any comments that go against the spirit of this post will be deleted. Chanyado is not a democracy.

Thank you to all the wonderful people on twitter, who are too many to list, but through sharing their thinking online, have helped me think through this.

photo credit: BONA LUMO <a href=”″>There is Always Light</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

Letter from Kenya’s 44th Tribe

Dear Kenyan sisters and brothers,

At last we are family. It’s been over a century of feeling like the unwanted bastard son that was dumped on your doorstep. Drenched and shivering from the storm, you allowed us to stay, but in many ways made it clear, we were not to overstep our mark with ambitious designs of being part of the household.  So after resisting to acknowledge kinship with us for so long, the fact that you have now accepted us as one of your own fills me with such warmth. Because how can our Kenyanness ever come into question when now the President has recognised the Asian community in Kenya as the 44th tribe. It still isn’t certain whether this was a declaration or simply an acceptance to consider it, but either way it feels momentous.

Because though we were brought here en masse from 1896, we’ve actually been here for much longer, stretching back to at least the 15th Century, where Vasco Da Gama allegedly used a Gujarati sailor from Malindi to help him navigate this stretch of the Indian Ocean. Yet our part in the Kenyan narrative is often smudged out, with our contribution to the country narrowed down to the railway, where four of us died for every mile built. But since then we have sweated, wept and bled into this land. We started the first independent newspaper and laid the foundation of the trade union movement. Like you, we have fought and worked and stolen and loved and betrayed and dreamed and built and destroyed and imagined right here on this land. But it’s been a tumultuous affair where our allegiance has been frequently tested. In 1963, we were given two years to get Kenyan citizenship and renounce any British passports, or leave. And 20,000 of us stayed. Then in 1965 under the Africanisation programme, all Asians were removed from civil service and blocked from owning businesses in the rural areas. And we stayed. Then in 1967, two Acts were passed that required us to get work permits and limiting the areas in which we were allowed to trade. And we stayed. So now, this new designation as a tribe feels like a recognition that we passed the test of allegiance; an acknowledgement of our belonging in the history and identity of Kenya.

For those of you who follow my blog, you will know that I have written about this idea of belonging a lot. Just last year, a foreign white woman living in Kenya asked my why I was so obsessed with writing about the Indian Kenyan identity. She said it almost with disdain and I suppose she couldn’t possibly understand. But I remember thinking how nice it must be to feel so certain that you belong, so sure of your place, so entitled to this land that is not originally yours. I have never felt that. I have asserted it, but it has been a long complex journey to get to this point. And now, maybe my cousin won’t have to carry her birth certificate, mother’s birth certificate, father’s birth certificate, parent’s marriage certificate, grandmother’s birth certificate, grandfather’s birth certificate and grandparent’s marriage certificate along with her to apply for an ID to prove she is Kenyan. And when they ask her what tribe to fill in on that form, she won’t look at them quizzically like I did. instead she will proudly declare, Asian.

But then I started asking myself what does Asian mean? After all, Asia is not a country. Whilst it is commonly appreciated that in Kenya this term is used to talk about Kenyans of Indian ancestry, who after the 1947 partition, could no longer all be referred to as Indians, does the Asian ‘tribe’ include the Chinese and Japanese and all the other 48 countries in Asia? And how can we be lumped into one tribe, when in India alone, there are at least 645 ‘tribes’. Closer to home, within what you see as the Asian community, we have our very own specific groupings with our own messy ‘tribal’ politics and ridiculous stereotypes, from the fierce warriors to the stingy shopkeepers, conservative traditionalists to the pretentious intellectuals. We brought our ‘tribal’ divisions with us from the Indian subcontinent, along with the zambrau trees that pepper the route of the railway and the chapatis that are now considered Kenyan cuisine. And I wonder in amusement, will we too now dance for the President during National celebrations? And if so, will we lift our shoulders up and raise our hands high to the beat of Bhangra, or will we bend low and clap our hands in Raasra?

I have many questions. What does this mean in practical terms, to be considered a tribe? Is there a provision in the Constitution that grants us certain rights that we didn’t have access to before? Do I sniff politics in the air? I share the #44thTribe status on facebook and receive a mixture of sentiments. A friend remarks that the last thing we need is more tribes, that we should be moving towards a more unified Kenyan identity and away from the deep tribal divisions. I get it. As a minority we’ve watched from the fringes how messy and downright dangerous tribal politics is, and many of us don’t want anything to do with it. But the truth is that language frames mindsets. And tribe is the language of belonging in Kenya. So now, maybe we are no longer ‘other’? I think about what it feels like to be named in the language of tribe. Seductive and familiar, it feels intimate, like we are being whispered to in your mother tongue.

But is tribe Kenya’s mother tongue?

I dig down a little deeper and discover that the language of tribe was a creation of the colonial regime. Before that, ethnicity was fluid and evolving, with people moving into different communities, working and living amongst, and loving those that were different from them. Becoming one of them. Until the British enforced the language of tribe to divide and rule. To order Kenya. To assign favor and privilege to one group at the expense of another, manipulating us so they could control us. They divided us physically, creating territories that you weren’t allowed to leave, the Asians in one, the Maasai in the other and so on, designating what our worlds would look like, and making it illegal to go into each others spaces, ensuring that we didn’t weep and love together. But they also divided us existentially, limiting what we could imagine for ourselves and contribute to the country. Kikuyu for labour, Maasai as herdsmen, Asians as shopkeepers, making our world smaller So within this historical context, if that’s what it means to be a tribe, I’m not sure that it’s something to be celebrated. Because I don’t want a Kenya in which our world is made smaller, where we are expected to live in certain places and only fulfil certain roles. I want a Kenya where our world is big and audacious and creates space for everyone to thrive.

So whilst I am uncertain about whether I will take up the identity of 44th tribe, I am extremely gratified by the gesture, for it means I am finally seen as Kenyan and that’s all I really ever wanted in the first place.

Yours in sisterhood,


(This is not intended as an official letter meant to be representative of the entire Asian Community of Kenya, but is a reflection from one member of said tribe. Accordingly, any responses to these letter should be directed at me, the author, and not at ‘you muhindis’.)

Photo Credit: c-u-b  

A Ghazal for Kenya

Tonight l want to sing.

Melodies of pain.

Harmonies of heartache.

Songs of rage.

For I don’t have the words to speak, so all I can do is sing.

Come, my friend.

Is your mouth dry from sighing?

Are you as worn as I am?

Does your soul ache?

Are you afraid?

Let’s sit here outside, under this patch of sky that is momentarily ours before the clouds shuffle away to the homes of our neighbours.

Let me pour you a drink, something strong enough to bring tears to your eyes and a scratch to your voice. But first we must give our ancestors a sip. Don’t be stingy, a little more, after all they too need their tears diluted.

Are you comfortable?

Now let me sing.

I shall sing a Ghazal for Kenya, the music of melancholy that echoes along my lineage, from the shores of Veraval, accompanying my ancestors on the dhows across the Indian Ocean, leading them here, the first piece of soil in Kenya we have ever owned, where on Sunday nights, when dreams reign, my father scratches his beard and soaks his spirit in the sound of Jagjit, a ghazal maestro.

You must forgive me, for I am not accomplished in the specific poetic technique of the ghazal, but allow me to share its sentiment, as no other musical form quite captures the sweet pain of unrequited love. For it is only deep love that can birth a sorrow enduring enough to steal language. It is only the ghazal that can express the pain of separation and intensify it with the beauty of love for the thing we are separated from.

Let me re-fill your glass, for it is an insult to the host for ice to be exposed in its nakedness.

Take your shoes off, let the grass whisper the secrets of the land to your toes.

Before we start, I must tell you, like a ululation that must be answered, this ghazal is a response to the Blues sung by a sister, so that the singer may see she is not alone.

I wish her to know her voice is the solo that urges on the choir.

The first verse begins with a question.

When did we become so angry?

An earnest inquiry whispered between two friends sitting on a balcony overlooking the road, where in 1922 a woman whose torment possibly mirrors your own my friend, stood up to her oppressors, and they were so threatened by this woman expressing her rage by stripping in protest, they massacred two hundred people.

And there whilst the souls of the murdered sway to a dirge played on the natiti by a musician sitting under a tree, the friend answers.

I think it was 2007.  

The first verse ends with another question.

Was that when the anger was birthed, or unearthed?

The second verse tells of remembrance.

A young man stands on stage. He joins a litany of silences breaking, of injustices voiced, of naming those that were murdered in 2007, in Garissa, in Mpketoni, is radical, this act of not forgetting in a nation insistent on moving on, always opposed to reflecting back.

And as dust dances around his lit up figure, his voice rises then croaks, it whispers and breaks, it roars then sobs. Until his rage is exposed, naked and raw on stage and the audience shudders at our normally masked anger being performed in public.

The second verse leaves us shivering and outside on the road.

Let’s take a break to eat some goat trotter curry. It will line our stomachs, as the night will be long, and the song shall go on. Don’t be shy now, there is no shame in sucking the marrow, for the sound of slurping is the vocabulary of pleasure. As you lick the stickiness off your fingers, let me continue my ghazal.

The third verse sings of darkness.

On a city night, following a tail of red lights, a young woman determinedly shuts out the world. She closes her car windows and listens to the radio. The nonsense commentary coming from the speakers drowns out the sound of the pain of a nation. Inside she too can pretend. She sings. She laughs. She taps her fingers on the steering wheel.

Three men appear. Two go to the back of the car. One to the front. He bends down and shoves his hand under the car, shoving and pushing. Her hand presses down on the horn, hooting. Frantically screaming, something, nothing, anything. As the back door swings open and a man jumps in, grabbing her purse, she locks eyes with the man in front. In his eyes she glimpses hell.

The third verse ends with anguish for the too many whom hell has become intimate with.

The fourth verse circles around to the exact same location that the very first verse began, in the spot where enough once became enough.

A departure from the traditional ghazal in which the unrequited lover is resigned to their fate, but continues loving nevertheless, this is a verse swelling with hope and defiance. However to hear this tune of hope you have to listen deeply, beyond the words recited on stage, and instead focus on the heartbeat beneath the story being told. You have to submit to the rhythm washing over and cleansing your jaded spirit in the way only art can.

Two men sit across from each other on a stage that has become a dungeon. The one who makes a living out of killing holds a knife. As the words are spoken aloud about the unspeakable things we do to each other, people giggle. The laughing spreads. An infection of malaise. A reaction that reveals the resignation of a people who can’t cry anymore, so they laugh as a form of rebellion, of taking back power and control. And in the audience, someone wonders when our tears were robbed from us, unaware of the other theft that is soon to be revealed.

Later, a performer yells out his desire for freedom in Swahili, and the audience audibly bristles. Our word for freedom has been stolen. Someone wonders what happens to a nation’s spirit when we can’t call out in our language the thing we yearn for, because it has been hijacked to become something more loaded. Yet there in front of our eyes, in the energy vibrating within those walls, a new language of freedom starts to form in the hearts of those who have just glimpsed the injustice and courage, the protest and defiance captured in the stories of those who came before us, those who imagined a freedom whose shape is unrecognizable from the one we claim to have.

So the fourth verse circles around, reminding us that we are still here, in a place that looks too much like where we were before, but calling out to us to imagine a new place.

And so the fourth verse ends the ghazal not with resignation at our fate, but with determination to imagine a new future.

And that my friend, is my humble ghazal for Kenya offered with deep love.

You look tired. Come, let us open another bottle to rinse away the melancholy.

For the moon is still rising and the sun is still snoring.

Now it’s your turn to sing to me.

Songs of faith.

Melodies of possibility.

Harmonies of hope.

For I don’t have the words to speak it, so you will have to sing it for me.

Written in gratitude to:

Wandia Njoya for your determination to speak truths and reveal new ways of thinking.

Sitawa Namwalie for your courage in continuing to break silence and pushing boundaries.

The entire #TwoEarlyForBirds team for giving a gigantic shit and daring to care enough.

And all of you who resist the stealing of your humanity. 

Photo Credit: Thank you Alice Wangui @alicekombani for responding to my call. 

The floodgates that Modi opened

Until only a few days ago, never in my lifetime had an Indian Premier visited Kenya. So with Modi set to arrive, a whisker away from Netanyahu’s visit and barely a year after Obama’s, the hype leading up to his visit was unsurprising. A website was set up for people to register for a special community reception to be held in his honour. An emotive jingle was produced, fusing the Indian National Anthem with a patriotic Eric Wainaina tune, which the community radio station played repeatedly. In classic Indian dhamaka fashion, our heartstrings were tugged, and I will admit to being a little curious, if also somewhat bemused by it all. Indians know how to put on a good show, and I wondered what sort of razzmatazz spectacle would be on offer.

But I didn’t go for several reasons. On principle I find Modi’s politics incredibly problematic and this was a State visit. I have absolutely no allegiance to India the state, since my only relationship to India is a cultural one. My heritage is Indian. I hold it dear and am proud of it. But that is as far as it goes. I am a Kenyan voter.

And so when apparently 25,000 people showed up to welcome Modi, majority of whom had brown skin, it predictably raised eyebrows. Just why did the Indian Kenyan community, who traditionally shy away from big public events, show up in such huge numbers? With some help, I compiled an evolving list of theories:

  • Everybody loves a party and the hype leading up to the event emitted the promise of somewhat of a spectacle.
  • People are curious about celebrities, particularly larger than life personalities who share something in common with them, even if it is just skin colour.
  • A sense of cultural nostalgia and the attraction to something from a home that exists only in language passed down and fiercely preserved rituals.
  • The visit represented a seemingly profound statement of acceptance by our Head of State towards a minority that has traditionally felt threatened.
  • The bringing together of all Indian communities which is something that is highly unusual.
  • A sense that Indian Kenyans could participate in a National occasion in a way that was comfortable and relevant, but more importantly in a way they felt they had a right to.
  • The idea that Indian Kenyans had the chance to represent Kenya in this State visit, as if one were welcoming their mother and showing off their new home.

Ironically, I believe Indian Kenyans showed up to Kasarani Stadium in all their Salwar Kameezes and jingling bangles, feeling very proudly Kenyan.

However, it didn’t seem like this to some people who were watching. One tweet in particular inflamed tempers; someone who many admire, respect and appreciate tweeted a rather unfortunate accusation.

‘We know where your heart is’.

Whilst it was irresponsible to generalize in that tweet, there was something interesting underneath. A sense that Indian Kenyans were showing up for India in a way that they don’t for Kenya. Here’s the thing. When you are a visible minority, your presence is as noticeable as your absence. And yes, whilst it can be argued that Indian Kenyans don’t seem to visibly participate in political or civil affairs these days, there is a historical context to this. And we show up in other spaces and in other ways; in business, philanthropy and development to name a few. So it appeared as if our very Kenyanness was being questioned. But there is one thing we often don’t pay acknowledge. There isn’t only one way of being Kenyan. Or of engaging with issues in the country. Or even one type of Muhindi. So Indian Kenyans showed up to defend their Kenyanness on social media.

And I felt so tired.

Until I realized. The narrative is changing. In my father’s generation, Indian Kenyans were told to stop interfering with national affairs. To stop participating. Now, my generation is being challenged. We are being told, you are Kenyan, so why aren’t you participating. We demand it from you. This if nothing else is such a profound affirmation of belonging, because if it was felt that we were not Kenyan, nobody would care and this would have just been another expat event. Underneath that tweet was an invitation and an expectation. Show up for us. Not just to defend your nationality, but for Willie and land grabbing, for injustice and change. Show up and help us do the work that it takes to make Kenya better for all of us.

But the floodgates had already opened allowing a deluge of unresolved resentment and defiant defensiveness to pour out. All of a sudden this was about more, much much more than people showing up for an event. Old wounds got ripped open. Amongst the reasoned responses and kind messages of support, there were accusations hurled. Racism. Discrimination. Classism. Insularity. Big words for a lot of hurt.

And as I read the tweets, it felt like a punch to my stomach. Living in my little bubble where it just doesn’t seem so bad, I had forgotten. But I was reminded that bubbling beneath our bubbles is all this resentment and unresolved anger. And it scared me, seeing people that I know say some things that were very painful. Some were true. Some were untrue. But, I wondered, when people see me, am I painted over with that same brush stroke? How many that I call my friends feel this intense hatred towards brown skin? And how must it feel on the flip side feeling that your black skin incites hatred too?

It made me ashamed. It made me feel anguished that a community I belong to causes this pain. I wanted to apologise, but it was not my place to do so. A part of me wanted to distance myself from this. These things that are being said. That’s not me. And I saw others doing the same. It was so easy to say #NotAllMuhindis. But I had to acknowledge that there were truths, even amongst the misconceptions.

You cannot deny a lived experience. When someone says they feel cold, you cannot say to them, no you do not.

And as I watched the Twitter streets get sprayed with mud, I became intensely uncomfortable. So I listened. Because when I am uncomfortable, it is usually a sign that I need to learn something. Or unlearn something.

 Now that the floodgates have opened again, let’s not build up the wall.

Get uncomfortable.

Show up.


‘We know where your heart is’. An invitation has been extended.

As always, this exploration is my personal opinion and as such I represent only myself, and certainly not an entire community.

 This is one of a series of posts about being Kenyan Indian. You can read more here:

Not yet Kenyan

Kenyan and Indian

Becoming an African

Indians are racists

Photo credit


Dear Mr. Njoroge,

We haven’t yet met, but I attended the Imperial Bank depositor’s meeting that you called for in December. I remember looking at the lined faces that filled the room and thinking that if anxiety had a physical form, you would have had to wade through a swamp of nerves to reach that podium. And yet at the same time if hope had the ability to lift, KICC would be soaring towards the searing sun.

There were two things you said in that meeting that have stayed with me ever since, and even then I was struck by how unusual it was to hear them coming from a Kenyan leader’s mouth.

The first was an apology to the depositors for not engaging with us earlier. In that moment something shifted for me. You didn’t believe an apology was beneath you. But even more important than that is you didn’t think of us as just bank account numbers, but real people whose life’s work was suspended by a straining string. That you acknowledged our humanity may appear irrelevant, but in a country where the humanity of its citizens is regularly actively invisibled, it is an act of dissent, a fierce commitment to respect life.

The second started with an admission that CBK itself, either by virtue of negligence or active participation, had to have played a role in this scandal, which by your admission is even bigger than Goldenberg or Ango Leasing. Then, you said (and I will have to paraphrase here) that even though it didn’t happen under your watch, it is now your responsibility. And that for me was the turning point. In Kenya, responsibility is a word that seems only ever to be used when spectacularly ducking it, or throwing it at someone else to apply blame. Yet you claimed it. And my hope turned into belief.

I want to clarify here that I am not talking about the remainder of the money, though I do want to thank you for facilitating the release of a portion. Since you had requested for a grace period of March to communicate the next steps, I shall respect that. And even as you work on a recovery plan, everything you have said so far leads me to believe that you have every intention of going after all those that were involved in robbing 53,000 people of their hard-earned money. That’s what this letter is about.

This is not a letter from me as an Imperial Bank depositor. This is a letter from one Kenyan to another. It is not easy being a Kenyan these days. The newspapers are filled with the evidence. We are being killed. We are being robbed en masse. We are being de-humanised, disrespected, silenced. And whilst this is more acute amongst those who do not enjoy a level of privilege, nobody is immune, except for the political elite who enjoy a distance from the experience of being Kenyan.

But I’ve said it before and I will say it again. This is not the Kenya I want my children to inherit. So I am compelled to do whatever I can to agitate for better. Change starts with us. As Kenyans we have to acknowledge that we simply cannot go on like this anymore. It is destroying us in ways that we can’t even see or feel yet. We have to decide that as a country that there can be no room for this thieving at the expense of everyone else mentality. These are defining times.

A great person who I am privileged to call my friend reminds me that the most effective way of taking back your power is by influencing change in the spaces you occupy, in the communities you are part of and in the spheres of your influence.

Mr. Governor, you sit at the centre of a very large space.

We currently live in a country of no consequence. Every day people are exposed for fraud so mindboggling massive our brains can’t wrap itself around the enormity. Every day people are literally stealing the future from our children. And absolutely nothing happens to them. We shake our heads, crack a joke, start a twitter trend and move on. Yet inside we are screaming as we break apart. The effect that this sense of helplessness has on our psyche as a people is enormous. It steals from us more than our money. It robs us of any agency over our lives. It literally destroys our spirit. And it is happening countrywide.

Even without realizing it, it changes our values, and we don’t recognize the impact that this has on us. Let’s be honest, most people are proven correct in their belief that it pays to be able pay someone off. Yet this whole big mess we are in shows that in the end it costs dearly. None of this is news to you obviously.

But it is profound. It tells us that our hard work will not be protected. And that is very dangerous. Once honest people feel that there is no point in doing the very necessary work that builds, sustains and lifts, we will become a nation full of Emperors walking down the streets buck-naked.

It has emerged that there were several parties involved in the Imperial Bank fraud. Even more worrying is that If CBK are complicit in this one case, where else have they been on the take, and what are the implications of this on our entire banking sector?

So just know, whatever you decide to do, whether you like it or not, will send out a very loud signal that will be heard. The message will either be that it is no longer acceptable to steal and get away with it, or that impunity will continue being the order of the day. I do not envy you. In Kenya, even more than other places in the world, it has become difficult to do the right thing. Not only is it more lucrative not to, sometimes it can be downright dangerous.

But as the wonderful Audre Lorde said, ‘we can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired’. And we are tired. And we are afraid. And you may get tired. And you may get afraid, but know that the people of this country are behind you.

You are at the cusp of making history.

This is the reason I have written this letter to you today. To tell you that in the great Kenyan spirit of Harambee, if you call for justice, your voice will be strengthened by the voices of at least 53,000 people. When I wrote this piece, within 24 hours it was read by over 35,000 people, which is highly unusual for a little personal blog. Kenyans are listening. We are with you.

Godspeed dear Governor.

Aleya Kassam

P.S. to my readers, I am loathe to turn Chanyado into an Imperial mouthpiece, so regular programming will resume next week. I promise.


Photo Credit

Open Letter to Imperial Bank

To the Shareholders and Directors of Imperial Bank,

Exactly one month ago on a cloudless morning, a message soundlessly snuck into our family whatsapp group. It sat there nestled underneath photos of the newest addition to our family – a floppy eared Alsatian pup with a vicious teething problem.

Imperial Bank had been placed under receivership.

Overnight we were rendered effectively broke. Just like that. You see every single shilling our family has is in Imperial Bank. Every single shilling. With only a few hundred bob in the wallet, we didn’t even have the money to pay our electricity bill. And it’s been like that for a month now, with no idea what’s going on or whether we will ever be able to access that money. In the last month entire families have had to beg and borrow money to put food on their tables and pay rent. Children have had to be recalled from University and businesses have been paralysed. To add insult to devastating injury, you have not deigned to issue a public statement, have not bothered to provide an explanation, hell you have not even offered an apology. You see our agreement was with you, the bank. So if you, putting it lightly, messed up, the least you can do is look us in the eye, acknowledge the gravity of the situation and recognise the enormity of the consequences.

But it has been one month. And all we have gotten in that one month is shrugged shoulders. I certainly don’t understand the complexity of the situation. But to me, this is akin to me handing over my money at a shoe store, and the salesman refusing to give me the pair of shoes I bought, but just muttering ‘Aki Woyishee’. So please, help me understand how my money has not been stolen.

You know, just under a year ago, armed men broke into our home, terrorised us and stole whatever we had in the house. It was a traumatic experience, but somewhere deep inside me, the violence of the encounter aside, I got that these were men were overcome with desperation and a sense of helplessness. They may have felt trapped in a cycle of despair, the kind which I cannot, by virtue of my privilege, understand. Our failure as a society to take care of these people had driven them to monstrous actions. That’s why they could do what they did in the way they did it. They didn’t see us as human because they didn’t feel like they were being seen as human. We had decapitated each other’s humanity. And they had to feed their children.

So what was the motivation here? A fancier car, a finer single malt, a more expensive pair of shoes, a bigger house? Greed.

And ignorance is not an excuse. Frankly, as directors and shareholders the buck stops with you. You are ultimately responsible and should be held accountable. I’d like to know, what are you doing about this? Of course, the Government has a role to play, and in some way did play a role. But our President has said we are fine, and we just need to work hard.

Work hard. We know a thing about working hard. In that Imperial Bank account is life savings of five members of our family, three generations, amounting to over 155 years worth of working hard. In that bank is 53,000 people’s worth of working hard. Livelihoods.

You know it is rumoured that a large percentage of our community has been affected. Let me give you some context of what that means. My forefathers left India, carrying nothing but steely determination. They came to Kenya and worked hard. Let me give you more context. One month after we finally moved into our own family home, I caught my grandfather standing in his room furiously turning his tasbih. My grandfather tears through tasbihs at a rate that wears away the thread and sends coloured beads frantically spinning across the floor like tiny little rain dudus that have lost their wings. He had a smile on his face. I asked him what he was thinking about. He said that when he was twenty years old, all he owned was a toothbrush. And now he can’t believe he was standing in his own family home.

Everything my grandfather has accumulated is in that account. His life’s work. What does life’s work look like? He tells me about how he used to wake up every morning at 4:00 am to drive through the misty winding ridges of the Ngorongoro Crater delivering bread. How he lost it all when in the 60s President Nyerere embarked on Ujamaa and his bakery was nationalised. How he stuffed the car with whatever belongings could fit in between the various family members squeezed into the little Volkswagen beetle, and drove off back to Kenya to start all over again. How he ended up in Mombasa and set up another bakery. In a chapter of his life which I call The Haunted Boflo Days, he would wake up in the morning to find the bread he had baked in the previous evening had green mould laced over the perfectly risen crust. Perhaps convinced that the djinns of Mombasa had acquired a taste for his baked goods, he packed up. And they started all over again.

This time they tried their luck with a cafeteria in Nairobi. My now arthritic fingered, silver haired granny would wake up before the sky blushed orange to make samosas. Every morning she would precisely mix the filling of spiced minced meat, dhania, chillies and onions. Carefully she would stuff each samosa, one by one, sealing the corners with the sticky home-made flour based glue so that they wouldn’t explode when fried. It was tedious, finger cramping work. The money in that bank came from my grandma making literally millions of samosas with her hands. And my grandfather would stand all day in the cafeteria, selling these samosas, one by one. Samosas that made them famous. Samosas that when fried had a crispy golden brown pastry that you crunched through to get to the hearty meaty core. And they were popular. Together they built a thriving business. Honest, humble, hard work. Until one year on boxing day, they were forcefully evicted. And they had to start over all over again.

That is just a slice of my grandparents story. I won’t even go into the decades of 10 hour workdays that my working class mother and father put in, with the hopes that now they are both retired, they could live a comfortable life. So you see, we are used to starting over again. But as my dad said last week, at 64 how do you start all over again?

We are fortunate to have a support network that has helped absorb the impact so far, but we are just one of the 53,000 families who have been affected.

It has been one month.

So tell me please, what are you going to do?

Photo Credit


It was 4:18 am and the studio at the office had taken on the dazed stillness of people concentrating on concentrating. Warren G’s Regulator played in the background and provided an oddly comforting soundtrack at a time of night when sanity had started to wane. Everybody was tired. The once dirty jokes had now become merely a little dusty, and as the only woman in an all male studio, I have to admit I was quite relieved. I craved a salted caramel hot chocolate, but settled for sun salutations in advance of sunrise, in the hope that they would wedge out the knifelike pain that had deposited itself below my shoulder blades.

In the middle of a downward dog, I was struck with a thought that seemed rather profound given the pre-dawn hour of 4:23 am. Those pithy quotes attributed to world leaders that we see pasted against a ubiquitous sunrise probably came from some poor writer simply trying to wring out a living. Indeed at that moment in time, somewhere in the world there were other over caffeinated writers hunched over computers, grunting away, engaged in the labour of birthing a piece of writing that they would have to hand over to someone else to take out into the world. Just like me. With Obama’s upcoming visit to Kenya, my every moment had been hijacked to produce the Choose Kenya campaign which would be running in the lead up to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit being hosted in Nairobi.

And with this realisation, the ghosts of ghost writers past came swooping into the room, wailing litanies of unfinished novels, poetry collections, short story anthologies, musicals and scripts that they had laid to rest in the graveyard of abandoned dreams. I could see the skeletons of these pieces of writing rolling around restlessly, clattering and moaning at being trapped in their coffins. The ghosts spurred me on. I was not writing to sell decoders or fertilisers. This was an opportunity for me to write copy that I believed in. Something that people may really connect to, identify with, see themselves in. Something too that would be pasted on photoshopped sunrises to be shared endlessly in annoying whatsapp groups or recited at the beginning of high school debating club speeches. Maybe even literature….ok, too far.

And so I wrote my little pulsing exhausted heart out. Even though I would be pouring my heart into words that I knew would be poured out of the mouth of an administration that I have my issues with, I remembered that Kenya is more than the government, more than politicians, more than beautiful landscapes. It is us. And so I wrote it for us. With the memory of growing up in the 90s and running into shops to escape the tear gas, I wrote it to acknowledge how far we have come. And with the recent memory of school children being tear gassed still fresh in my mind, I wrote it to remind us of the stakes and how easy it is to slip back. When I was done, through the deceptive filter of sleep deprivation, I stepped back and surveyed what I had written. I was pleased. It was honest. It was drenched in soul. It was true to who we are and sincere in intention.

And so I went to bed and dreamed that Obama and I shared pizza on the eve of the Summit.

The next day I faced the dreaded Creative Director. The piece needed severe editing if it was going to fit into the time allocated for the ad. With my fluorescent magenta pen I got to work. With every snip, I felt the nuance of the piece withering up and the soul getting sucked out of it. With very word I mutilated and every line I decapitated, my heart bled in fluorescent magenta stains all over the paper. By the time I had finished, the page looked like a crime scene. My beautiful heartfelt script had been crudely chopped up and my multi-layered narrative had been forced into the very single story that I had been resisting.

You see that piece was disproportionately important to me. But, despite it being flawed, I was proud that it evoked a sense of pride of who we are as Kenyans, which is something we tend to only feel in times of celebration or devastation. One of my favourite things about Kenyans is our perpetual dissatisfaction with the status quo. The politics. The traffic. The corruption. The education system. The health sector. There is always a keen sense that things are not good enough, that we have to do better, can be better. And yet against the backdrop of what it feels like to be Kenyan over the last several years, and the exhaustion of helplessness that you feel at the perpetual mess surrounding us, the truth is that we have come far. And we continue to stride. It is important to me that we acknowledge that. Not to the world. But to ourselves. Sometimes it seems we are trapped in the same single narrative about ourselves, that we push back against with the world. Ironically, we aren’t very good at seeing our own nuances.

So yes.  The Kenya we have is very far away from the Kenya we want. And there are wonderful things about us. And there are not so wonderful things about us. And this can all exist at the same time. And acknowledging one doesn’t vanish the existence of the other. I think perhaps we need to live more in the land of ‘ands’ and less in the land of ‘buts.’ And if you want to see the piece I am talking about writing, it is here.

So Obama came. And he left. And my muse ran away with him. As you may have noticed, I haven’t written for the blog in months. The thing with the advertising industry is that it demands everything from you. The industry is wrapped up in a glossy veneer of glamour and urgency that is designed to trick you into feeling like what you do really matters. And let’s be honest, it doesn’t really. But like many creatives, I need to believe my work matters for me to be able to give it my all. And I need to give my all to my work to feel like what I do really matters. So this self-perpetuating cycle can leave you with very little for yourself at the end of the day. And four months later you are sitting in Lamu in a state of sheer panic that maybe you can’t ever do non-advertising writing again.

I keep reminding myself of a lesson that I learned before but clearly have not been paying attention to. It is important to give your heart to the work that you do, but remember to keep the juiciest parts for yourself, and most of all be careful not to forget it behind when you leave work.

I have sent myself on a forced five day leave to Lamu to write. Perhaps the taarab music, fragrant frangipanis, fresh fresh and the echoing of the adhan will lure my muse back. If not, I shall write without her anyway.

Becoming an African

In the underground tunnels of Montreal I start becoming an African. I join other sandaled tropical brethren as we roam the belly of the city, there where it is warm and heated, where buskers play rhythms that awake the taste of nostalgia in our mouth. Where the sun doesn’t reach us, but the heat doesn’t leak out. It is the winter of discoveries. It is colder in Montreal than Siberia. Snot freezes. It is possible for it to be too cold to snow. If you leave the house with wet hair, your locks can snap off like a dry twig.

And like other shivering Africans, I discover that downtown Montreal is connected by a sprawling of tunnels, so when the city grows icy tentacles, us Africans descend beneath, emerging only at our destination, rarely venturing beyond its radius. Except of course when Angelique Kidjo comes to town. I miss home. I need to feel home.  Benin will do. I can’t find anyone to come with me, so I bundle myself up and head to the wrong end of St. Laurent. It is -40 degrees Celcius, and it looks like God pressed the fast forward button on the city. Everyone moves quickly, dashing into heated shops every few blocks to warm up, before continuing their journey. Only their eyes are visible. I know I am moving because objects keep getting closer, but I can’t feel my legs. I enter the club, peel off my layers, my body tingling as it adjusts to the temperature, and I sit down. There are fifty other people in this club. For Angelique Kidjo. I feel ashamed. I must show her how she is loved. And I do. We do. She whips us up into a frenzy of movement, dancing on chairs, tables, falling into each other’s arms. For the first time in months, I feel hot.

My new friends introduce me as their African friend. I am from Africa. Ergo I must be African. It sounds odd. At home, in my community, the term African is often a crude non-derogatory reference to mean black. It has never occurred to me that I am an African. My British Prep Schooling has determinedly erased any possible idea of an African identity in me. I have not had a single lesson on African or even Kenyan history, literature or geography. Instead I sang ‘Hip Hip Hoorah for the Jolly Good Fellows’ after a Rounders match, before we settled down to cucumber sandwiches. This is criminal. It is unacceptable for a child to be educated in a country and be taught nothing about that country. I don’t care what the educational system is. So when my Canadian friends ask me to take them to an African restaurant, I have no idea what to order. Ethiopian Restaurants save me from shame.

Even in this cold white city, I feel less African than the West Africans. They are so loudly African. Everything about them yells African. Their accents, their clothes, their music, their mannerisms. Us Kenyans are much more discretely African. I feel a little like an imposter. As if I should apologise to my Canadian friends for not being African enough. I don’t really even count as the token African. Maybe the token ethnic person.

But the cold binds us together, us Africans from the East and West. The university sets up a room for us. They warn us about the depressive effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder, aptly named SAD. Something to do with not getting the light that our bodies are used to down at the equator. We are to visit this room every morning and sit under these alien-esque lamps. The room gives me that desperate feeling I get from Casinos. And it is still cold. I discover a more elegant solution. Granted, the receptionist looks at me a little strangely when she hands over the bright orange goggles. Perhaps she doesn’t see many people my skin colour frequenting the tanning salon. I strip off my clothes, put on the crinkly paper underwear, lie down and lower the lid of the tanning bed over my body. And I feel it. Warmth right into my bones. For the first time in months. With my eyes closed, I imagine that I am at the beach in Mombasa, ignoring the beach boys and sipping on Madafu. My family never quite understand why I seem to come home from winter with a full body tan.

During the day, I join other Africans at our African Development Class, rolling our eyes at the saviour complex that is stinking up the lecture hall, unaware of our own that seeps out like a silent fart. We Nkt! over a new awareness we have of white privilege, for now, we remain ignorant of our privilege. At night I seek comfort in the dodgy African club where I am guaranteed they will play Magic System’s Premier Gaou at least once in the night. My brown Kenyan ass shakes to lingala. I feel home. I go every week, until one day a fight breaks out, and jagged beer bottles fly across the smoky room oblivious to who they hit. That night I crawl out of the club on my hands and knees, avoiding what looks like blood on the dance floor.

I can’t find any Kenyans to be Kenyan with. So I will be African with the Africans.

Then I go back home. I stop being an African. I go back to being a Kenyan.  I behave like a Nairobian.

Years later in a shop in Mumbai, the greasy attendant refers to me as an African, and it throws me off. I had forgotten that I am. His words remain with me as I sit in traffic watching young couples huddle by the ocean, their silhouettes in the smoggy haze betraying a physical intimacy that I am surprised to see in public in India. The streets look oddly familiar. As if you could be in Kisumu, where when you cast your eyes above the first floor, the buildings still have a certain colonial patina that has yet to be painted over by mobile phone branding. My sister remarks that so much of the greenery reminds her of Nairobi. We wonder what traces our forefathers have left of themselves in the landscaping of Kenya. I remember my grandfather telling me about how the Jambura or Zambrau trees can only be found along the railway line, where Indian workers and traders planted them to remind them of home. He tells us this story as he buys Jambura by the bucket load, marinating them in a sprinkling of salt, and delighting in the sweet tart flesh of this purple berry.

As the sun sets in Mumbai, we wander out on to the crowded beach. On the other end of the Ocean lies Kenya. I wonder what it must have been like for my forefathers getting on the dhows that would take them to a foreign land. In a time when the world was still unfamiliar. When they had no idea what life would be like where they were going. What would the houses be like. What language did the people speak. What did they eat. Back, when google did not exist. What did my ancestors carry in the bags that they clasped close to their bodies as they boarded the boats for the journey that would last months. Did they think they would ever see India again? I sometimes forget they were economic migrants, looking for a better life for themselves and their children. And so it makes sense that when they arrived in this new land, they tried their best to re-create the sense of home they left. They were not interested in being Kenyan. Or African. They were just Indians in Kenya simply looking to lead a better life.

And so I imagine my forefathers would be rather amused by this discovery of mine.  That I am an African.

I also think they would have gotten a kick out of the fact that Chanyado has been nominated for Best New Blog in this year’s Kenyan Blog Awards. There are only two days left to vote, so if you haven’t already, please do vote here, and spread the word. You don’t have to be Kenyan to vote. Of course I would be utterly delighted if you voted for Chanyado. It would be nice to win.