It’s Wednesday and time to meet one of the men who work, live and play in this city. Our Man Around Nairobi today is Eric Otieno aka Rixpoet. Eric Onyango Otieno is a Kenyan poet, born and bred in Nairobi. He is a Social Media Executive when he is not creating, reading, having tea, or dancing. He began writing poetry at the age of sixteen, and has been performing his work in several poetry events including Kwani? Open Mic, A Word & A Mic, Poetry At The Park, Slam Africa, Poetry Spot, Upgrade Poetry, Poetry Under The Stars, Words Galore, among others. He is the Co-Founder of Fatuma’s Voice, an arts forum that brings people together to discuss societal matters using poetry, music, dance, motivational speaking and other forms of art. He is also involved in mentoring young poets across East Africa. ”Rix” is also the founder of Siri Zangu, an organization that’s out to help people use their traumatic backgrounds for the betterment of themselves and their surroundings by having them share their stories to heal.
1. Did you grow up in Nairobi? If you did where and how was it growing up here?
I grew up in many places in and around Nairobi. I was born while my family lived in Kitengela. We moved to Ongata Rongai in 1996 then shifted to Huruma Estate in Nairobi’s Eastlands, in 1998. Huruma introduced me to a side of life I never knew existed. I learnt many games like bano and draughts. We played football on dusty grounds. I looked like a scarecrow each evening I came back home from gaming. Mother never had any of it. My punishment was to bathe with cold water.
Once we also lived in a flat which had a bar on the ground floor. Our one-roomed house was right above it. Those men drank too much. I remember one day some thugs tried to make a robbery there but the Flying Squad seemed to have been tipped on the plan. It was the first time I witnessed someone being shot. On that very balcony, I never missed the show the madman who ran naked put for us with songs and chants. It’s Huruma that introduced me to mutura. I’d make sure I saved a kobole coin for my daily dose each time I got from school. It’s here too that I learnt how to ride a bicycle. I’ve never forgotten that first thud. The barber shop a little up our street opened by 6 am. I honestly wonder who their customers were. They played roots and reggae all the time every morning. I had not yet connected to that kind of music by then but it sounded nice.
We moved to Riruta Satellite in 1999. Being majorly Agikuyu inhabited, I learnt my first Kikuyu words here. The first two girls I had a crush on were Kikuyu. I’ve loved their music and food since then. It was here that I also penned my first love letter and was taught how to bounce a basketball. Here too was the place I first fought a fellow boy in those hood boxing matches (at 12). I vowed never to fight anyone again.
I have many more experiences in Nairobi that still lay vivid in my memories. I shall write a book.
2. What do you love about Nairobi?
I love the fact that Nairobi understands my journeys. I’ve been a street boy here, hustled, performed poetry, been mugged, gone on blind dates, met God; it’s all happened here. There is a sense of freedom that I love about this place. Besides that, it’s the beauty all around; the diversity of people, matatu culture, fashion, art, the networks I’ve been able to establish, and much more.
3. What would you change about Nairobi?
The transport system. Oh my God, it is a mess!
I’d want to see more art in the streets. Like if buildings would be painted with graffiti and more theatres built.
4. As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
Being that I major in the arts, Nairobi is the perfect hub to get things going. Everyone from Eastern Africa comes here to look for opportunities. In fact, what many of us are trying to do is to spread out to other parts of the country so as to reach more people since there is so much happening here. Still, we have not exhausted all the avenues that could be created to help more artists nurture their talents. There are many conversations yet to be started regarding the same and it’s interesting that I am in this era since I am in the best position to be part of the names of those who contributed immensely to the growth of poetry.
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?
First, it would be the people. They have to come to witness the faces that walk here in the early mornings and during rush hour. There are so many poems I have written just out of watching Nairobians. We are a spectacle.
Secondly; the matatus. I have not seen anywhere else you’ll find the creativity put into designing graffiti mounted on our ma-threes. It’s part of our heritage. Some of the music in these vehicles could be too loud, alright, but they are experiences altogether.
Thirdly; me. I’m worth visiting, and I stay here. I have many stories to share about the things I have seen in this city that are worth listening to.
Potentash Founder. A creative writer. The Managing Editor at Potentash. Passionate about telling African stories and stories about the inclusion of minorities. Find me at email@example.com.
“We're all stories, in the end.” ― Steven Moffat