It’s Wednesday and time for another Man Around Nairobi interview. Today’s Man Around Nairobi is Morris K who prefers to go by the name Owaahh. He is a writer, researcher and eater of bananas. He blogs at www.owaahh.com. He has a fetish for history, the more bizarre and badass the better, and lives to tell stories. As if he was there too. Sometimes he eats bananas.
1. Did you grow up in Nairobi?
Oh no, but I grew up in the metropolis, just about 30 bob away. It was eons behind in everything though, including the fact that vernacular was one of the core subject areas in lower primary. Kiambu is a cold place stuck between several weather patterns, so you never really know exactly how cold it will be. Sometimes it rained, hard, just at the end of evening prep. Our class teacher, the old Mrs. Dorothy, would dutifully lock all our bags in her cupboard and we would walk home in the rain. Skidding and rolling in the mud, with abandon. Knowing we could get away with it. Sometimes we didn’t.
- What do you love about Nairobi?
Nairobi’s rather intriguing story. From a deserted marshy swamp only good for perennial grazing to a small Indian township that grew around a railway depot, to a small town, to its first bout of bubonic plague that caused the entire Biashara Street to be razed. For a city with as little a futuristic masterplan as Nairobi, this city’s ability to become probably defines the entire Kenyan story. In a century, what was once a swamp has become Kenya’s melting pot, where you can get mugged on one street and find a man selling Jesus on the other, and then find a naked boy outside the city’s highest court.
- What would you change about Nairobi?
I wanted to say everything, including the traffic gridlock and mass of human sweat that threatens to sway my tiny frame as I try to make my way to the Archives. But no. There is little I would change about this town, and most of it would revolve around just making sure systems work. Nairobi has everything it needs but good city fathers. There’s a dream of some sort, but nothing is sacred. So everything gets nibbled on until all that works simply does so by some mysterious, divine, magical power. I would be making something sacred. I am not sure what.
- As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
Nairobi is a tough mother to writers, yet it is the one place where we exist, where we can at least. It lacks the solitude I need to write, but all the pockets are within or around the city. The city is open, most definitely, but it could grow. It could definitely be more receptive to new ideas, and perhaps to a little criticism, because Nairobi is quite emotive, and with her, you need to be careful, almost delicate. Nairobi needs to be as wild for writers as it is for half-baked DJs.
5. If you had a tourist friend coming in from outside the country what three things would you say to sell them the idea that Nairobi is worth visiting?
a. Nairobi is a facade. Enjoy her as she is, do not attempt to understand why she floods.
b. It might not be the city in the green sun anymore, but she has secrets she doesn’t tell anyone. She has a history her current dwellers know little about, of bloodshed and carnivals once held in the deep of the city. Ignore point a. above, there might be something to the facade.
c. If you are ever in Nairobi, you must see and talk, in as bad Kiswahili as you can master, to at least one Nairobian. See the panic on the said stranger’s face, but walk away as fast as you can.
If you love Kenyan history then you should check out Owaahh’s blog www.owaahh.com. You can catch up with him on Twitter at @owaahh.
Man around Nairobi: Oliver Mathenge