ahhh yes, how does one describe a glorious 18 hour day while dripping sweat under an improvised bednet that almost increases the chances of mosquito bites in a room with no power in the middle of kisumu's most famous ghetto? let me begin. yesterday in nairobi there was no water, and i gave myself a really pathetic spongebath. my inability to conserve water and energy must be shocking to my hosts and friends. dipping a dipper into a bucket of water, i inevitably fill it up with 3x as much as a i need, pour half on my face, and drip the rest back into the tank, making it unusable. lucky to have such forgiving people around my incompetent ass.
i woke at six. james was looking out the window over my couch. "a walking nation" he said. i joined him at the window and watched the exodus of people marching down a dirt road from the kibera slums to work in town, about 45 minutes away.
packed and out the door by 7:20, through nonexistant airport security by 8:20, 1,000 shilling discount on my plane ticket just for arguing that it seemed more fair to charge 6,000 instead of 7,000. sitting with a coffee staring blankly at a wall at a shared table with two middle aged women. we start to talk. they're both from kisumu. i tell them about raw music, and i mention tony nyadundo, the star of luo "ohangla" music and a celebrity around the country. "tony?" one of the women says, "he's a good friend of mine! email me and i'll put you in touch." exxxxceelllent. the flight halfway across the country takes half an hour, and i watch the cradle of humanity spread out from about 30,000 feet. in kisumu i start to sweat upon hitting the tarmac. it's not even 10 am yet. i take a cab to town and the guy charges me double the usual fare but i go with it casue i figure i owed it to my "getting fucked on fares cause i'm white" karma after the plane ticket incident. i meet brian at kengeles. a tall thin rasta man with square rimmed shades and shoulder length dreads, we get to talking about art and music right away. the family apartment i was supposed to stay at fell through, so brian set me up with his cousin hodi. we jump in a matatu van across town--the toyota buses packed with humans, sharp metal objects, livestock, and killer sound systems. somehow they put my suitcase on the roof of the carrening death trap and a guy held on to it while hanging out the open door and collecting fares. we meet up with hodi and a rasta crew at a dance audition across town. hodi looks like a young gregory isaacs, tiny dreads and all, and is extremely kind. i fuck up the rasta hand shake as many times as mathematically possible. hodi brian and i get in another matatu. hodi and i sit in front. my suitcase goes somewhere. i tell hodi about the show, and he tells me about his work building an arts scene from the ground up. our heads are in the same place and the conversation is exciting. on the ride, hodi tells me he lives in a kind of ghetto. i ask him if my shit will be safe and he guarantees it. "everyone watches out." i believe him.
the matatu swerves to the edge of town and veers onto a dirt road. tin shacks selling things, the classic kinds i've described, kids running around, animals in various states of feral mindset. we get out and climb a stairs, whitey and two rastas. kids stare and i don't blame them. the apartment hodi shares with his girlfriend is very nice and cozy, but my room is completely bare and the power has been cut. no worries though. the first of countless js is sparked and passed about. i realize it's not even noon, then i forget about time. "karibou", welcome, the cousins say between puffs. we talk about the end of the world for a bit and hit the dirt roads. hodi goes back to the dance auditions (whcih he'll be judging later), but brian wants to show me the studio. we take another matatu, further into kondele. in a little turnabout, surrounded by identical looking shopfronts, i see a large rasta sentry and realize we must be at the spot. rasta fist pounds, through a tin door, through a second tin door, into a small recording room, walls lined with what may be couch coushins, a bench along one wall, three nice microphones, a closet size mixing booth, and a sound system that replicates bass with glorious fury. they're bumping kenyan reggae. i've finally arrrrrriivvvveeeddd. more js passed in the back room as i tell the small crew of dreaded out producers, singers, and general music enthusiasts about the coffeeshops of amsterdam. then we listen to brian's latests jams, his afro-fusion mixes. it sounds amazing. i'm not sure yet what i'm listening to. brian lays down tracks. barry will definitely stab me with his ice pick, but i didn't have my camera with me. the doors to the studio close, the fan goes off, the temprature rises by about 20 degrees. brian sings the choruses over a rap song by a local rapper. rarely more than one take, the inhouse producer is at the boards, and a young guy learning the trade and i watch from the bench. good times. in between takes i play along on a 5 string guitar. later, the producer asks me to make use of my american accent and record some radio announcements. i sound like a fool during playback, but it's cool. i'm going to have to pick up the pace. the local mamas came and made us food and brought it to the studio. i drank my first water in what felt like days. we took the matatu back to teh dance studio, then to the grocery store downtown so i could buy some sheets and brian could get some spray paint. then brian took me to his place in the east, the opposite end of town, which he called "the real ghetto."
i won't argue. concrete gave way to mud structures, the roads twisted into each other. we went by brian's room, and then kept going. soon, we were out in real bush. walking along a farmer's foot path, looking at people digging in little plots along the way, we entered a clearing where we could see the trees and hills in the distance. a low bench under a massive tree. we sat down. "this is why i refuse to leave this place" brian says. a local famer comes over for yet another j. we lay under the trees and i just try to convince myself that i'm really here. we dont' talk much. brian tells me an african saying after a ray of blinding sun temporarily pierces our shade. "no matter how hot the sun is on the tree, underneath there is always shade." the sun sets in less than 15 minutes here. it just drops into the ground. as it's going down, a thunderstorm breaks. "it'll be here in 7 thunders" brian says. on thunder 4 we head back toward his place. on thunder 7, the sky explodes and it sounds like his tin roof will collapse. no power, so we light candles and chat. like nairobi, it only takes minutes to leave the vicious pace of the city, but unlike that metropolis, here i felt truly isolated from the world. and then....a party. my body was begging me to sleep. my mind said no. we got to joann's house around 8:30, after the rain, bearing a large bottle of kenya safari, a local rum. joann and her friend had made us a dinner of rice and goat meat (which was glorious) and we sat in her small cozy room, consisting of a huge bed, a tv, a bunch of stuffed animals, a chair, and not much else, and bullshitted and watched pirated dvds of american movies. soon it was midnight, folks were krunk, and we had no ride home. finally brian and i found a motorcycle taxi, and we both piled on the back and he drove us to hodi's place. we had to sneak under a barbed wire fence to get into the compound, and then tap on the door until poor hodi awoke, loud enough for him to hear, soft enough not to wake the neighbors. and now i'm here. there is still no power, i'm on yet another couch, sweat and bugspray are blinding me and my body has never been this tired. can't wait for tomorrow's rasta fun.