Shady Booze, Luo Blues / by Cyrus

We spent they day drinking homebrew at a local club deep in the ghetto behind Ozzy’s house. As luck would have it, a Luo legend, the great Dishon Olima, was playing guitar for 20 shillings (25 cents) per song while we were there. As Brian and Ozzy learned more about Olima, they got more excited. “Man, I can’t believe he’s here!”

From what we could gather, Olima is blind, has been playing guitar since ’66, and, as several old drunk men told me at extremely close quarters, he knows the names of every bird in the area, 43 in total.

Olima started playing. A glorious scene. Complex repetitive guitar lines and a voice that went from a low moan to a high pitched howl to a sly joking tone in seconds. He had two metal Freddy Kreuger claws fashioned out of metal that he used as picks, one for his thumb and one for his forefinger. Several of his strings appeared home made. He looked like the Kenyan Ray Charles (as Brian observed) and smoked his cigarettes with astonishing relish. He sang the names of all the birds he knew. The chorus, in Luo, was something like “If the birds can see, why can’t I?/If I could see, I’d watch the birds.” Kenyans call their country the motherland (“welcome to the motherland,” they tell me, “welcome home”). If that’s the case, we were witnessing the motherland in musical form-- there’s no doubt this is where we got the blues.

The rest of the club was a scene in itself. Busa, the drink, is a mix of fermeted maize and millet, cooked for several days and served hot in aluminum paint cans, which can’t be good for you. It has a strong sour taste and a grainy texture, and for several hours afterwards it was the only taste in my mouth regardless of what I ate. I tried hard not to be a stuck up child and just pound the shit, but it wasn’t possible. I had to sip and bear it.

The patrons were aware that they had a legend in their midst, but it appears this particular legend showed up a few times a week playing for their hard earned money, so people felt free to talk and give him a hard time. But there was always an definite feeling of respect. The busa drinkers were old and young, farmers and rastafari alike. People really liked Brian and Ozzy and their pet white man, and it didn’t take too long (or too many 25 cent rounds of busa on me) for people to loosen up and start kicking it. People asked Brian to play the guitar when they found out he could, and the young rastas in the crowd sang along to a rendition of Marley’s “Redemption Song” that would make every jam-band loving loser from here to Boulder shit granola with joy.

A young lady kept buying me rounds of busa, and then getting pissed that I couldn’t drink them and giving them away to random people. While I was filming, face pressed against the camera, I suddenly smelled a form of funk I hadn’t previously come across (a rare occurance). I looked down with dread and saw a man holding out a steaming plate of wiggly meat. “Have this my friend, our specialty!” I never want to turn down an offer, but this jiggling mass looked rough. “What is it? Cow liver?” I asked. “No! It’s fried cow blood.” Well shit, it wasn’t too bad, even with a busa chaser.

We walked back home through the ghetto. My ghetto criteria is evolving rapidly. When I first got here and Ozzy told me he lived in “kind of a slum”, I thought shit was rough. No water, dirt roads, children everywhere. But now that I’ve gotten used to it, it’s pretty comfortable (my sponge bath went well today, for those keeping score). Today, we walked deeper into the endless expanse of improvised housing stretching out to the west of Ozzy’s place. Every time I thought things were bad, they got worse. The structures went from crumbling concrete to rusted tin to improvisational wood shelters. The roads went from packed dirt to mostly sewage. And although the buildings got simpler and lower to the ground, the population density somehow increased the deeper we went. I’ll be more careful now--there is a big difference between “kind of a slum” and “ghetto,” and I’m learning fast.

Ozzy, Emma and I had a nice dinner of rice and a bean called “green grubs”, and now that the power is back we watched the American sitcom “Psych” on TV. I bought a mattress earlier in the day, it’s raining hard against the windows, and I’m looking forward to my first night of sleep not on a couch since arriving in this fine country.