The strangest things establish pop culture as mainstream. The strangest things. In 2008 there was an economic recession ,this was before the sneeze of the American economy had given the whole of the western world (and Botswana) a raging cold. I was watching CNN in its glory days of Monita Rajpal and Jenny Harrison, the movie American Gangster had just come out and the words Frank Lucas were on everyone’s lips as Denzel played the type of character it seems he was meant to, a menacing, dangerous and in some way likeable figure who we do not want to cross. They were talking about the weakness of the dollar and they gave the example of this Jay z song, (I think blue magic)when he showed off with euros instead of dollars. This in the middle of world reports featuring past and present economic theories including the one by the guy who said that during a recession jobs were the most important thing, you have to get money into the economy and it doesn’t matter how you do it even if you hire people to dig holes and hire others to fill them back in again.
This is my way of saying that I like jayz finally got my hands on some euros. We had travelled to Brussels and endured that 8 hour trip to the airport, the 2 hour flight to Chaleroi and then taken a taxi that drove at speeds of 150 km to the city centre. We chilled around a little, bought a 750 ml of beer and just took in the sights.
Finally our friend comes over and he asks us if we would like some beers, we sit down in this place that’s outside and order some good Belgian beer. I can’t say I know the names but it was dark and cheery, not cherry that comes later. Then we went off to drop our things at home. I was going to visit two of my friends from Kenya, my boys, people I have known for years in a context completely different from Europe, so far removed it wouldn’t occur that we would be meeting up here again, except we were all in aiesec.
But the bonds of our friendship were forged in the central police station canteen. Almost no one else in the world drinks in a police station and all the time anyone asked me my favourite place in the city I itch to say central . The seats are red and orange and you can move them around so you can all sit close to each other for maximum exchange of conversation and alcohol. It is budget drinking at central police station, budget drinking. At 7 pm though you may have to hush since the police like their news. Don’t get too loud since you may be thrown in (in a police place being thrown out is definitely the better option.) and carry your wit with you, be versed on world affairs and history, have strong opinions on the state of the nation, the affairs of our politicians, the mismanagement of economies and the propaganda machinations that led to the Arab spring and of course punctuate this with girls, girls and girls and some of the most inane blather that finds itself out of your lips and don’t worry if you want to be the smartest one in the group show up an hour late when people are already sloshed
Every Thursday in University I would go there at 5 30 or 6 and sit down. Beers were frowned upon since this was soviet Russia and the true bane of communism is a bottled beer. In Soviet Russia you have a bottle of Kenya king or napoleon. You buy with it a soda or you don’t it depends on the strength of the economy at that particular time. Then you and 1,2 or 3 people pour this bile drink into glasses and begin the festivities. The festivities that welcome you when rich, poor, sober, drunk. The festivities that are happier when a woman or two is around or 5 that’s the best,well ten. But if it was just us boys we would pour drinks and begin to talk. I loved it when it rained, when I had to run from the university all the way there and my clothes were a little damp. I loved that I would take a shot of liquor and immediately feel warmer, then we would begin to talk, the volume of the conversation proportional to the number of drinks poured. And we would drink and talk the rain away and leave this place more times than I can remember staggering onto roads and thence on to raves.
The immensity of discussions I have had at central defy easy description. The stupidity of some of the banter would shock even the most wilfully ignorant. The warmth of this police canteen is splashed all over in the reds and yellows bloating its walls but like all the best places there is a hint of anger, there is a captain who gets angry at all these youth throwing their lives away and commands us to shut it. There are also characters who the booze flows in, people from great big novels, complicated people held together by the shoestrings of cheap liquor. There is this one guy who walks around with a parrot on his shoulder. A parrot on his shoulder. He will let you carry it but do you really want to? Have you seen the scars that come from carrying a parrot on your shoulder? They have claws that dig into you, the kind of thing no one knows about like that all guitar players bled at the thumbs before their skin got tough enough to handle strumming metal over and over again. Without central I wouldn’t know this.(not about the guitar players.)
The comforting hubbub of increasing sound may be my favourite Nairobi noise. My friend gets up in the middle of a rowdy multi-person conversation, he taps his glass and looks serious and we keep quiet. “I just wanted to see if that would work.”
I think central was my home away from home. I knew it was there. I left the house with not one question of where I would go, I knew. It would start there and if there it ended I would still be happy. And I was, I always was. There were the heartspills of that place, all the pain that comes of such long voyages into each other’s minds. All the anguish of such frequent goodbyes, the stolen chairs that are still hidden somewhere never spoken of. I met more people that I liked and could talk to, converse with in that small area of space than almost anywhere else in the world. If you could measure real estate and the value of land not by gold or oil deposits(which I read we now have in Kenya hallllla!) but by intellectual forays, emotional connections, stupidities transcended, lives made central would be the most valuable piece of real estate in the whole country.
I get homesick for central, not for much else but I get homesick for central.
And here I was with my two friends from back there in Brussels, a cold rainy European city. With not much hope for weather change while I was there. But Easter is about family and this was so close it actually was family.