Uko wapi? On 05/07/2017, Naijographia, an exhibition curated by Bethuel Muthee, Mbuthia Maina and Jepkorir Rose opened at the Goethe-Institut Nairobi. In a text that accompanied the exhibition, BM says, “Uko wapi? This question and other variations of it are a part of daily conversations over mobile devices. To answer is to situate yourself. It does not have to be the truth. In some cases, the placement made is not of location but of circumstance, as some have been heard saying while driving, ‘Niko karibu na polisi, acha nitakupigia.’ Niko Nairobi and we are on the same page.”
Months later, BM and Clifton Gachagua revisit the question of ‘Uko Wapi?’ In his memoirs of Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk walks us through his city, introducing us to The Bosphorus and the huzun of the city. BM and Clifton walk in Nairobi, and try to locate themselves in Kenya, in East Africa, in Africa. Or they drink and write poetry. Or they hang out and talk about life. Or they sit down and live. Or they chill and be themselves. Or whatever.
Read poetry by Bethuel Muthee here.
Read poetry by Clifton Gachagua here.
BETHUEL MUTHEE: What is the importance of being in this conversation we are having this day?
CLIFTON GACHAGUA: What conversation or dialogue?
BM: This, that we are here, and we are talking, and that this may be the only of our conversations that is being recorded.
CG: I mean, my question is why does it need to be important? Aren’t we just living? Aren’t we just being alive, and you and I are alive, and that’s what is important. For me, having this kibao is more important. Being alive right now. But beyond that, the and then. I don’t know, I mean, it’s feels nice to be here with you. But I am the one doing the interview, so I am the one who is going to ask questions. At some point, to some extent, everyone interviews, so Muthee, first of all, how are you doing?
BM: I’m okay. I am happy it is a Sunday, I am I’ve been busy, I am with a friend, I am in very different mind-states, going through places, seeing things, so, yeah, I am happy.
CG: what mind-states are these?
BM: There are mindstates that are driven by places where I am, so, like, what did it mean that we were at that place we drunk in town and having a beer. What does it mean that we were in the matatu at that time we were, and moving through places. So mind-states is I am tipsy, I am happy, I am confused, I don’t know what will happen next. I am in this space that people call in-between, I don’t think it’s in-between; it’s everywhere. Because to be in-between is to be confined almost.
CG: What are you confused about?
BM: What am I confused about? Who am I? What does it mean to be a poet, to call myself a poet, to call myself an artist, to associate with artists? Am I part of the audience, or am I part of the work? So, am I confused about where my next drink will come from? That is a genuine concern and I am confused that I don’t know; there are options.
CG: So, do you separate yourself from um, is there like the work, or is there Muthee? Is there like a thing between that? Or are you both the artist and the work?
BM: I have no separation of that, the artist and the work, and also the audience and the work, because I think that it’s something that we are continually making, so when you ask, “Am I in the work,” is it, where do you place BM in this work, and where do you get this person who comes across this work? Poetry is the thing I work with, and I learn from Lorde that poetry isn’t a luxury, it’s a way of life. Can you separate the artiste from the poet, the poet as the teacher as friend? That distinction is what I am really trying to work against.
CG: Are you saying that poetry is not or cannot be a luxury?
BM: Poetry has been a luxury. Poetry is a luxury for some people. That’s what it is.
CG: What is luxury?
BM: Luxury, um, this space where this thing, and this owning of who, and the time, and the place that you can say, “I am outside the time of what produces me, or what I produce.” So, poetry is a part of my life, and poetry should be a part of our lives. It’s the same thing as I don’t see why poetry should be separate from this thing called art, if you want with a capital A. It’s life. I believe I live this poetry. I might not write it, but I am in it, and being in it is not simply just this ‘I’, but also the people who are within this space that I am in. We’re all getting to this making, and seeing, and questioning, and just being, and that is poetry.
CG: Alright, cool. Circle back to our thing, because for me this is important. Tell me about your day. How did you wake up? Where did you wake up? What did you have for breakfast? Did you take a mat to town? Let’s talk about the everyday life.
BM: I woke up at around ten. I went to the folks’ house because I didn’t have the keys to, there has been repair work at the place where I’m moving to, some electrical work, and I woke up, and the thing that was on my mind was I don’t have a job. I don’t where I’m going to get something to make this day start. It is Sunday. I left, I walked to some place, waiting for a bodaboda, caught a bodaboda into town, and…
CG: Into town? From Runda?
BM: Yeah. No, no, a bodaboda to Kiambu Road, to the stage. From the stage to town and from town I went to Jevanjee, and one of the things I was looking for was a space where I could read and wait without spending money. So that’s apart from my everyday I have to go do this, how much do I have, what do I need to do.
CG: I don’t know how much you like booze, or how much you like a high, but to be high you have to be constantly spending money. How does that work with you?
BM: How does that work? Um, I am constantly chasing a high.
CG: So what happens when you don’t have the money?
BM: Um, I start looking around for people I know understand more. Nitajipata, on a day kama sina kush, nitajipata Kariuwa. Nitaenda Kariuwa nitaongea na ule msee wa hapo, nitaget mali yangu. Ka ni mogoka, najua naeza enda niongee na jamaa flani nimwambie niaje chwani, nitakupatia fifty bob baadaye, nitakutumia kwa simu. Of course, the question of cash is important and…
CG: It’s always after where we are after, it’s always following us.
BM: Where do I get even the books, or where am I getting this poetry from. Am I going to buy books for myself, am I going to get them by post, am I going to buy them on the streets, because that’s a fix. I need that. My life constantly needs this new, is it new or is it this rediscovery of things, and cash comes in because I have to find ways, and I learn ways from people.
CG: Alright. So, I know you are part of this conversation that has been ongoing for weeks about Enkare. Is it part of a bigger conversation on the continent or is it just a Kenyan thing? Are you guys interested in what’s happening beyond East Africa? Kenya? What’s happening?
BM: I came into Enkare much later. My entry into Enkare, to be honest, was after Redscar.
CG: The shit about Redscar? The plagiarism shit?
BM: Yeah. So Redscar has been part of this thing that has been started, it’s very young, and they’re looking for a poetry editor. So, in the sense that what is happening, where do I put myself in this whole situation, I constantly ask if it’s said to be a Nairobi-based literary journal, that’s what the tagline says, but what does basing it in Nairobi mean for these other places? I have questions about what is happening in Doula, what is happening in Yaoundé, and I don’t know. How do we reach out to that? It’s been one of my questions, because what does it mean to say I belong to a place? Does that mean I also have the knowledge of this place? I’ve lived in Nairobi my whole life, and I don’t feel like I know everything of Nairobi.
CG: So, do you think you are part of the conversation, or should be part of the conversation that’s happening in Dakar, in Bamako, in Yaoundé, in Windhoek, in Grahamstown, in Harare, some places in Malawi. Are you part of the conversations that are happening in Kigoma, in Dar, in Jinja, in Khartoum, and there is a festival that just happened. Are you part of that, first of all, as I know you, as a poet, and not as someone who is part of Enkare. Do you think you are part of that conversation?
BM: I try and stay part of what is happening, but I also acknowledge where I am coming from, the local, because if I’m learning from Yaoundé, I’m learning from Bamako, I’m learning from Dakar, I am learning from places I have not been to, in languages I can not speak. They are telling me things, I am learning things that are happening there, so why shouldn’t I have to speak my language? And that comes to something I find really important which is opacity.
CG: What do you mean by opacity?
BM: That do I have to be transparent in everything that I will give Nairobi, I will give Kenya? I do not come from that point where I say I know Kenya, I know Nairobi, but I give what I know, and from that even the language that I come with has an opacity that whoever comes across it has to be active. And in the same way that I learn about these other places, that if they say something in another language, they say places I don’t know I will look for them. It’s an opacity not necessarily because I work towards it, but because this is a different space.
CG: So for you is it a struggle to reconcile all these things, is it something you want to?
BM: Yeah, a part of me wants to, because I’ve spent time with you and you’ve asked me, and I’ve asked people who I’ve worked with, why Nairobi? Why do we need to keep it Nairobi? It’s always been Nairobi. Trying to reconcile that I do not know any other space, I have not lived in any other place.
CG: But are our imaginations limited to the centre of the city? Do you have to live in Kinangop or Lokichoggio or Kakamega or Busia? What becomes your centre if you are not born and raised in Nairobi?
BM: Where you come from becomes your centre, I think. I don’t know. When you talk about imagination, imagination is something else. I’m trying to see what could happen with imagination, what is imagination? So, you create an image of a place and I’m even going to speak about something you’ve said, that you think of the second city but with the memories of the first, of the things that you lacked in the first. So, my imagination of other places is mostly places I have not been to. I’m geographically limited. My experience of places has been through text and images, of course all of them mediated by someone, so I do not know the veracity of what is being said.
CG: The veracity of what is being said, what does that mean?
BM: The truth of, if I see something on BBC, or on Youtube about Tanga in Tanzania, does that tell me this what happens on a day-to-day in Tanzania. So, if…
CG: So for you, you have to be in Mwanza and Tanga and Pemba to experience it.
BM: No, I don’t have to, but I imagine it from that. So from there I also ask can’t I make someone else imagine all these other places that is not simply Nairobi, that is what my Kenya is, that it’s Nyahururu, that it’s Githunguri, that it’s been Nyeri, that it’s been all that, and then the language, the truth, that I put into it.
CG: Alright. Is there something to be said about, do we carry origins and places with us? Do we carry these things around with us, and are they yokes around our necks? Do we carry these places with us? Are they important?
BM: That’s probably one of the things I ask myself constantly. Is it happening, what traces do we even take of where we are? Going back to that point where I will start with what I know. With Nairobi I find that there are a lot of historical things that the traces are lost, and they are lost in the sense that we don’t speak about them, but they are also kept in terms of what is perpetuated, what goes on. So yes, we do carry place, and that’s why someone like Yvonne (Adhiambo Owuor) saying that is why we roam because sometimes we are places and not people. We, wherever we are, what we move through becomes us, and what would you say, don’t you carry the traces of where you’ve been?
CG: I definitely do. It’s interesting that you’ve brought up identities, where we’ve been, and the places that we’ve carried our bodies to, because I wanted to go back to you and walking. Just a little bit about that
BM: Um, my idea…
CG: Let me just talk a bit about my ideas of walking, and how I started walking. My mum moved to Dandora phase one, my dad was in Bangla, it was quite a distance, especially for a kid my age. I think I was in class 3. Yeah, so, I learnt how to walk. So, my mum didn’t want me to go to my friend’s. So, I had sneaked out, and I didn’t have fare, so I had to walk. This is the story of my walking, and how I learnt how to walk in Nairobi. So, tell me about you and walking, and the city, this fucking city.
BM: Walking started with trying to get away from home.
CG: Why were you trying to get away from home?
BM: To be honest, I can’t tell you why at the age of six I packed a shirt and wrapped it around a stick. I was ready to go like I had seen on TV, a hobo, and that was in Mihash, Utawala.
CG: That’s far
BM: So, Utawala, by the time I was getting to the river, neighbours had already seen. That time it was really empty.
CG: I can imagine.
BM: Why is this kid, and everybody knows me, mbona BM ako pekee yake na ako na hizi nguo? But that’s not walking. I think consciously walking was when I went on one of these forums that were on back in the early 2000s, and people were talking about neighborhoods in Nairobi where they grew up, and someone told someone else, “You live in this city like a middle-class tourist.”
CG: (laughs) Where was this?
BM: Kenyalist. And it bugged me the fuck up. What does it mean to live in the city you were born as a tourist? And there were all these places I had moved through, and why do I go through them. I wanted to walk and go and that’s what I have been doing. I still don’t think I am done. So walking was one of those ways to find myself in things that happen, in performances, to find myself in the performance of also being caught in buying things, in sharing stories. But walking has been that one way that I have also taken time to see and learn what happens, what moves people, asking myself what makes a place, how a place is made, what is the difference between space and place, what’s the histories that carry place, that carry space.
CG: Is it expensive to walk in Nairobi?
BM: It is the cheapest thing to do, because I literally just walk.
CG: Does it have a toll on you, on your body?
BM: It does.
CG: So there’s a cost there, isn’t there?
BM: At the end of the day, my ankles will crack. The bones just have their own thing going on.
CG: Which is?
BM: My ankles, they just, the pressure is there, but beyond that it’s also the things I see or the things I try not to see, because of where I come from.
CG: What do you mean?
BM: Born in Eastlando, raised in the West side of town.
CG: That’s Uhuru Highway.
BM: Yeah, and the expectation, this is who you are supposed to be, you are supposed to go make something out of this shit, that you know all of these people, but I’ve never felt the need to identify with one side of town, which some people call Am I Lying. People ask, are you lying BM. People don’t know who you are, but this is who I am. I just walk.
CG: It’s interesting. Can you talk more about that, when people ask if you are lying? You have family in certain places, what exactly do you mean?
CG: Actually, let’s forget about that. Let’s go back to other things. Tell me about how you felt when you lost your camera.
BM: Photography is one of the things I constantly ask what I’m seeing because what I am seeing is also who I am seeing. Trying to understand where I am, and also that the camera also attracts attention to this person who tries to stare away. When I lost the camera, or when I got the news that the camera was stolen, was, I can’t change anything, because that’s probably one of my relationships. A performance, of course. I lost my phone last weekend. Not lost, I don’t lose them; they are stolen.
CG: Is there a difference between performing loss and losing?
BM: That’s important, I don’t know. That’s important, because, is it performing it when you know it is inevitable, that it’s written into this script, that you’re just there? So that I know I should have a certain phone, so that I don’t feel the pain of having to replace it, because I can’t afford to replace it. So I keep my phones to nothing more to 1500 (Ksh). I don’t perform loss.
CG: I’m just wondering about the difference between performing it and experiencing it. Or is performance also a kind of experience of loss?
BM: Do we perform life? There are people who would say we perform our gender.
CG: Yeah, in a big way. Apart from our unexamined life and performing life, I feel like we do perform life.
BM: So, if we do perform life, is it the actions we come across that we perform, or how we react to these actions that happen that make the performance.
CG: Alright, cool. So, does a performance not become important because it is performance. Is performance life in itself?
BM: Which is pretty much what I think, and that is why I don’t think poetry has…
CG: If I can act happiness, does it mean I’m not happy, or does it mean I am happy?
BM: What are you performing?
CG: Let’s say if I perform a laugh right now, (laughs) does that make it less than a laugh, because I performed it? What if whatever laughter does to the body happened there and then, what does it mean? Wasn’t I laughing, or what is this laughter, is it important to me? I don’t know what I’m talking about (laughs).
BM: I also don’t know what you are talking about, but I think the idea of performance, I learnt from Alex Mawimbi, formerly Ato Malinda, what it means to perform, what it means to put this body into a space, into an action. We constantly perform life. We’ve been taught that a boy doesn’t do certain things. And I learn from this script how to perform my man, my boy, whatever. So, when I perform loss, it’s not anything rehearsed, or anything with any thought ahead. It’s just because this is what we have…
CG: It’s not premeditated.
BM: Yes! I perform so many other things every day. Which is why I go back to what we started with, that poetry is not a luxury. We all perform in this space of language, in this space of seeing, in this space of sensing.
CG: We have to go back to a definition of the word ‘performance.’ Is it less real if it’s performed?
BM: No. Because a performance, it’s fixed in time…
CG: It can be fixed or not.
BM: It can be, and why not? Because, also what is the real? If you say the fictional, are you putting it against something that is supposedly true or factual. So, where is the fictional in our lives? Aren’t our memories fictional? Aren’t we making them up?
CG: They are, they are. I think they are. Back to your camera, you don’t think about those images anymore, what would have been.
BM: They’re gone. What can I change?
CG: Nothing. But they’ll probably find their way, somehow, if the thief is intelligent enough.
BM: And they could seemingly just disappear like that, like they never meant anything. That memory card could be thrown.
CG: It’s an expensive thing, isn’t it?
BM: Maybe the thing I’ll miss most is the building of the work, making the exhibition.
CG: I’m curious. Can you really think of it as loss, just losing this camera, I mean, even your phone, by the way. You lose contacts, you lose messages from friends and lovers alike. And these losses, how do you move from that to the next thing?
BM: I don’t know. I don’t think it’s something we should get used to, or people should ever get used to.
CG: Losing shit.
BM: No, losing shit in that way. People ask me, why don’t you have my number, you’ve lost my number, and I’m just like, yo, it’s lifestyle. So what do you mean by lifestyle? I’m just like, given how I live I know I’m going to pass through a place where I’ll lose my phone. My phone will get jacked. For the camera, I wasn’t expecting it; I’ve always been very careful about my camera. But, so, what is poetry? Can I ask you what poetry means to you? Is there a point of loss? Is there a point of gain?
CG: First poems I ever wrote were in terms of lyrics, and I was in love with this girl, she was in class eight. Kamba girl. Eh! Biggest eyes I’d ever seen. I was so in love. So, I’d come back home, and I’d write these things in an exercise book. I wasn’t aware of what I was doing. This is the same time I was getting into music. I liked listening to music seriously. Akina Boys 2 Men, um, there’s someone she really liked at that time, I’ve forgotten his name. I really didn’t know what poetry was. I felt like it would get me a girl.
BM: So, yeah, is poetry this thing that joins you to this other person? You are the interviewer.
CG: No, we can have a conversation. One thing about me is that I never have any definites. I can never say this is what poetry is or poetry is not, or what life is, or life is not. But I don’t know. There are certain days you get a warm feeling in your head, and that’s what poetry is for me. Just kind of warm, feels nice sometimes, sometimes it doesn’t feel warm, sometimes you’re frustrated, sometimes you’re content. But in a big way, it’s a reason to live.
BM: So is it a big enough reason to live just to read it, because I’ve been called a poet, but is that what I do? Or do I just treat this shit like every day, and a lot of the thing is pretty much a lot of not just if I have a poem or two I can read. And there are times I really just read one thing for a week
CG: Like one poem.
BM: Yeah. I can simply go through it over and over. And that’s why I really have, finishing collections, I can’t. It takes me time. So, I’ve been thinking about ethics. The ethics of a poet, or the ethics of poetry. And I go back to Poetry from Poesis which means making. So what do we make, and who do we make with? Because I grew up knowing that someone like Mochama was someone to look up to. A literary gangsta. Do I want to do that? Is that what you want to be? What do you think being a poet means? Or is it just being another human being?
CG: Are there any uses for poets in the modern times we are living in? As, first of all, Nairobians, and then Kenyans. Actually, let’s get rid of this idea of being Nairobian, because I don’t like it. The more I say it, the more I realize that I don’t like it. Do we have any uses for poetry, and being poets, as Kenyans, as East African, as Africans, as citizens of…
BM: Do you have any uses of poetry for yourself?
CG: Like I said, sometimes it gives me a warm feeling in my heart, you know. Having lived in this city, a warm feeling in your heart is an important thing.
BM: It is.
CG: It keeps you going, for a phase, for a while, but beyond that. I got an email today in the morning from The Sun, and they want like ten poems, and they might pay. If they do, I’m thinking it’s around, maybe, 5 to 10 G’s. I can use that for rent, for Zuku, that probably is my budget for kibao for a month. So in that way, poetry is important.
(Reads BM’s poem)
BM: So is that poetry? Last year March 18th was the first time I went to Maasai Mbili, was the first time I was meeting all these people together in the same space. We’d met before. Someone like Jepkorir says she’s not a poet. I can’t believe that, I really can’t. But is that me? Should it be about ‘I’, that BM does not believe Jepkorir is a poet. So, we are not in Nairobi, but we’re thinking about making. But what is being made even across other places. Do we expect the people in, somewhere else, to make what they are making from Nyeri, that they are making the same thing somewhere in Windhoek or somewhere.
CG: Can I just interrupt you for a bit?
BM: Go for it.
CG: Do you think that to be a whoever you are is to choose to be infinitely alone?
BM: To be is to be infinitely alone. Constantly, I ask myself what’s the purpose of this thing called language. There are times I wish for silence, and if not silence, at least an eloquence, at least an articulation of things I want to say. But it never happens. Ama I don’t know how to…
CG: These things that you want to say would be said in language, or silence as well. Or in sign language, or in body language, in whatever kind of language.
BM: Yes. So now that’s the thing. How are they said, and are they important to be said? Do they matter, or are they just things that don’t need paying attention to? Why should these ones be paid attention to? So yes, I was saying I went to M2 last year in March, and I have met these people who make, and they make together. Rada? So, getting there, no one has ever asked us for, you guys use our space every weekend. Kamjengo. No one.
CG: Why is that?
BM: I don’t know. I keep asking. In fact, it’s the opposite. People actually give us, come with more seats. So when you ask what poetry does, or when I asked myself what poetry does, I don’t think of poetry as changing the world. I think of poetry as this thing that, you say it warms your heart, now imagine that for me, I go with this thing that most times poets should be learned by heart. To know these things. So that when I walk, and when I am just moving, there are people who are actually bothered that I walk with no, sinanga tenje iko na ngoma, sina earphones, so what do you listen to. But imagine if you are trying to remember poems and they’re not coming in order. It’s not one poem coming in, but you’re mashing up things. Who are you Clifton?
CG: What do you mean who am I?
BM: Who are you?
CG: I’m aware that I am inconsequential. Whoever I am doesn’t really matter.
BM: Inconsequential when?
CG: in the now, the right here.
BM: Where? What makes you inconsequential? We are all inconsequential, considering like, what are we thinking.
CG: I don’t know. I was just thinking, I think one of the biggest mistakes of human beings is that we think of our lives as having true meaning. And I recently became aware of the fact that I could die today, and it wouldn’t matter to anyone. There is no meaning in my life. It doesn’t matter if I wrote two sentences.
BM: What if I told you sometimes I’m walking, and I think that I’ll find it there. Or maybe I do.
CG: So then, what’s it like to you?
BM: I don’t know, it’s very confusing. I’m trying to answer myself sometimes. Is it putting yourself in a situation unajua hapo kutakuwa na ngori.
CG: Are you seeking it? Places where…
BM: No! But unajipata.
CG: We haujatafuta? It just happens to you.
BM: Lakini saa zingine pia, saa zingine pia unawishingi. Badala ya mi nijimalize, si unajuanga jamaa ako na ndeng’a? Mwambie ni accident. Si anataka tu doh. Nikimkanja, nimwambie tumemalizana. Pa! Pa! So, walking. Walking in Nairobi I walk in Nairobi as a man, so that’s already…But even why walk, when walk.
CG: What’s the latest you’ve walked, in Nairobi, timewise?
BM: Last weekend, ikielekea saa sita na kitu.
BM: Tulikuwa tumetoka studio. Tulikuwa mimi na Mbuthia. Tulikuwa tunajaribu kupata mat ya kuingia tao.
CG: Hiyo time hakuna makarao. Hiyo ni main road?
BM: Iko. Makarao? Tumeachana nao wapo.
CG: Wako kwa ndai ama wanatembea? Ama zote.
BM: So, sijui kama nimekuambia hii siku tulikuwa tunatembea, na mimi ndio nilikuwa nimechocha Mbuthia tuende tuchukue Ketepa. Mbuthia hajali, ni yangu pekee yangu. Tuende tukirudi hapa, Makina, tutembelee beshte wetu anaishi huko, Makina. Hiyio siku kulikuwa na arusi. Ngoma hadi usiku. Mi nimeenda tumechukua jaba, nimechukua jaba yangu na ya huyu dem, ju huyu dem anashikisha. Tumeenda kwake tumechoma tumechoma. Saa nane, acha sisi tuzame. Tumerudi huku juu, Ayany. Tukienda, tumeenda poa. Madingo wako, si uongo, lakini wanatuitisha vitu ndogo. Mko na fegi, ama ngwai? Tumeenda, tukifika mahali tumekutana na majamaa watatu wamekaa kando ya barabara. Wamefungua jacket. Strapped. Ma-AK, Uzi and shit. Unacheki ka hii kofia vile iko? Haifai kutoka kwa kichwa yangu. Ni kitu lazima ukuwe vigorous nayo ndio niitoe.
BM: Ah-ah. Kunakuanga na ingine ya green. Kujeni hapa! Saa ni mimi. Nimepigwa bare, kofia ilitoka, kushakuwa kamechacha. Niko na ngwai nusu ndani ya packe ya fegi kwa mfuko ya shati. Lakini tumeshikwa ka tukiwa wengi, juu wasee wanatembea wasee wakitoka kwa arusi. Watu hoi! Madem. Watiaji, Wanubi. Wametoka kwa arusi hao, wanarudi kwao. Ka ni arusi ya cousin wako si utaenda? Na mnaishi mtaa moja. Tumeenda tukapigishwa magoti kwa ka-chochoro. Eh warasta! Sa huyo ni mimi na Mbuthia. Mbona mko nje saa hizi ehe ehe? Sa hao madem lakini ndio wamehandwa zaidi. Mtu mmoja amepiga arafat amejifunika. Ameaambiwa atoe hii kitu akasema enyewe mi siwezi toa mimi ni Mwislamu. Akaambiwa wewe kweli? Hata mimi ni Mwislamu. Mbona mnarudi hii time mmekatwakatwa hivi? Akaambiwa karibu ati alalie drain, mahali mtaro iko, maji chafu na nini. Walipiga hao madem, hao makarao. Mshipi ama nyaunyo, hatungejua. Ju umeambiwa ulale chini, ikiwa umeangalia down. Usijaribu kuinua kichwa. So latest I’ve walked? Si time ya walking; ni chenye hu-happen. What happens in the walk. What is a metaphor? What is this link between images and worlds?
CG: I don’t know. I don’t know how you feel. Are we poets who seem like they have a lot of things to say? Then I think about my own self, my own work, and I’m happy to say, I don’t know if I’m qualified to say anything, What does it mean that I don’t have anything to say, or whatever I have to say is not important in the bigger narrative of things.
BM: Our detours, and the ufala that you just read, that I don’t have anything to say, and is it that I don’t have anything to say or isn’t what I’m saying also important because it’s something that I’m living. I really like Kevo Stero, and the Jobless Corner Campus. What is that, that an organization set up for emotional sustainability, our feelings, what do we feel. Yesterday we were asking what is thinking? I went back to Lorde, and I think she says something about the white fathers, and I think therefore I am, but I say I feel therefore I can be free. What is that? Like, can I be free? And to be free of what? Man, Nairobi’s full of bullshit I can’t be free of cops. Constantly motherfuckers on your case. Siwezi ingia mahali na hii bag. Lazima niperembwe, niache Ketepa, niache njugu. Vitu za ufala. Like really, I know the fucking rules of the club! If you don’t want me to chew, I won’t chew. It’s not like you know, you don’t want me to be in this space doing these things. So why do I find this space? So where is this poetry ever going to, is this poetry ever going to just live in books? Is this poetry, what images does it raise, where does it find itself in language, does it really need to find itself, or is it just there? And there are always these things about I do this, I do that. I fix myself in a certain practice. But what is practice? How do I speculate on practice? Like yes, so I’m tired of all this shit. Cliff, you want to go? Where? What do you want to do? I wanna go to Nyahururu but does that mean that this is over? But not in the wrong way like I would say like it’s no matter that he did nothing wrong just because. He did what he had to do. How much of ourselves do we put into the work, how much of our work is us, and how much does it connect with other people? Pretty much right now I feel like if anything is ever going to be about BM then fuck it, I don’t wanna do that. I really prefer a ‘we’ situation. If I can say that…
CG: What situation?
BM: We. It’s not I, me, I did this. We did this. And that doesn’t mean that I abstract myself completely, but it just means that whatever was happening, it met other thoughts, and other feelings, and it made something. The idea of making. What is to be made? What can be made?
CG: A learning, kind of.
BM: So, yeah, why does it have to be that we are central to what things are?
CG: Is that a bad thing?
BM: That’s what happens. Like the question of making. Clif, what do you make?
CG: What do I make?
BM: What makes you?
CG: What makes me? I have no grand ideas about what I do, or who I am. That’s why I’ve been reading about suicide, because I understand at the core of things that, really, who I am does not matter in the great scheme of things. So, I am not making anything.
BM: What do you control? Do you control anything?
CG: Let’s think about it in this way. Let’s say, you, you want a relationship with a woman, and let’s say you hook up maybe with one, and then you find them a house somewhere in, I don’t know, Doni, Athi River. Then you get a kid. What happens is now you’d have to get a job because Pampers is expensive. So, like is that the only thing we have? Is that the only option we have? If I am to hook up with anyone, am I thinking of this life of Pampers, and mortgages, and buying a house.
BM: Is that what you want? Because I really don’t think, it’s never…
CG: It’s not really what I want. How many options do I have?
BM: It’s never that bad of an accident that ati, “Whoops! This is what I just got myself into, that I’m in a famo, and this is where I want to stay. No. It’s just that, what do you want, man? And me I ask myself…
CG: No, Muthee, I mean, even if you don’t want a family, and apparently she gets pregnant, and she wants to keep the kid, then it becomes what you should want.
BM: Sometimes I feel like we go out in wide circles, trying to find what we are doing, trying to save, and I’m just like, can we be that’s where I want to be. Can I just chill and be BM?
CG: Yes, let’s do that.
BM: And I am BM, and I wanna chill, less talk, music.
CG: Sure. Fair enough. I respect that. I want that. I love that. Yes. Let’s do that.
Clifton Gachagua is a writer.
Bethuel Muthee is a member of Enkare Review.