Tropical Paradise By Evans Kinyua
(Kenya) Revised 9/30/06
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By Evans Kinyua
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TROPICAL PARADISE EVANS KINYUA
If dodging school were an art, then Craig Wilson could have been said to be a genius. His antics made Hucklebery Finn come across as an amateur; his tutors did their damnest to spoil the rod, to utter futility. Craig had a brand new prank every day, the hapless tutors bearing the brunt of it.
Pepper in the chalk dust stung their throats and made rain in their eyes .An innocent pin gingerly placed on the chair , upside down , had the teacher scratching his back side trying to find the source of the discomfort, and his forty plus charges in an uproar of adolescent glee.
Craig’s relatives , well, just his father and his grandmother, suffered fools gladly. Because Craig’s bloodline was gipsy and the great outdoors, with all it’s little distractions, had been for centuries their fort. So his father tried to put up a solemn visage at the numerous summons from the headmaster, but inside he was proud that his son was true to his genes.
We shall not talk about his mother. The only non-gipsy in the clan(she was a French business lady from the oldest profession), his mother had soon tired of the initial appeal of the life-on –the- move kind of living and left to ply her trade in a more stable environment where she could develop customer loyalty. It was said that she had moved to a small town near Lyon, France. Craig was two when that event took place, and it was little wonder that it had left no indelible mark on him.
He loved the little trailer where they lived with his father and grandmother, his first love the old Vauxhall automobile that he and his father tinkered with Monday through Sunday. At an early age Craig was adept at things to do with his hands; mechanized things like carpentry, electricals; hey, he even attempted putting together a broken egg! He did badly at that particular task, but at thirty per cent success it still beat what an average kid can achieve.
But school did not go down well with Craig and it was with little regret that he permanently called it quits at fourteen.
And kept himself busy with various activities; legal, semi-legal and others in that grey area that keeps barristers in employment. A veritable jack of all trades, Craig bought old cars and rehabilitated them, then hocked them for a profit. He broke the hunting laws and sold game meat to the not so discerning customers. The skins made pelt, which too earned some coins. With his knowledge of wood, Craig made chairs and other furniture ware in the open yard workshop outside the trailer, and these fetched some money as well.
The now adolescent boy, dark and long haired, an intense, chiseled face and a twinkle in his eye, could get along with very little in the way of material comforts. What most of us would call necessity he deemed luxury. He was not tight fisted, rather, that was the way he liked to live. He was the proud owner of all of two pairs of faded and torn jeans, and a similar number of T-shirts. His nourishment was his grandmother’s home cooking which he liked very much, with its very basic ingredients. Therefore not much was spent on food. He didn’t fancy the things most other kids fancied; going to the movies, dating excited, giggling little girls, hanging out at the mall.
But his mind, although bereft of paper and ink education , was sharp and clear in a one-with-the-world kind of way.
At twenty one, Craig got his passport, scraped together his paltry savings, and left Belgium to see for himself the rest of the world, in one of his rehabilitated means of locomotion, a souped up old Haley Davidson!
After what can be summed up as a sojourn through many countries, meeting countless new people, sampling many cultures, sleeping in cheap hotels and sometimes in the outdoors, Craig Wilson found himself in Kenya, with every intention of continuing on the meet the world tour. He never left Kenya.
Because in Kenya he met someone who changed the course of his life. A similar kind of restless soul from a totally different background.
By that encounter he may have arrested Craig’s craving for roving, but it’s not because Peterson William Junior, Pete to his many friends and acquaintances, was sedentary himself. Growing up with a carrier soldier for a father and experiencing life in exotic and little known corners of the earth such as Nouakchott, Antananarivo, Ascunsion, Guam and some even more unlikely real estate.
All this Craig discovered when he met , quite by happenstance, the tall, gangly, blonde, blue eyed Englishman at the Buffalo Bill restaurant in downtown Nairobi. It was a dark restaurant, bar really, that exuded quite a character with its mixed clientele of middle class foreigners; Somali, European, American, Indian et al, who fancied the good life without too much money to splash around. The twilight girls , of the more refined kind than those found in the inner city, entertained the foreigners with their uncomplicated company and available flesh.
"You could say that it wasn’t the kind of childhood that creates a studious boy", Pete guffawed through a large swallow of his Tusker lager. "Especially not a kid who wasn’t cut out for books in the first place."
"Sounds like two of a kind to me", said Craig, now long haired and wiry from the physical demands of wild traveling, exposed to the elements and vagaries of nature.
"I spent most of my young life racing bikes with kids I got to know only in passing, since we hardly stayed in one place for more than two years. To wit, things were my constant companions, rather than people. Not very normal, wouldn’t you say?"
"I wouldn’t say. Sounds quite normal from where I am standing. My childhood was not much different." Craig commiserated with Pete, who did not look perturbed at all.
"When I was older, say seventeen, I graduated to sky diving", continued Pete. "I guess it was the boredom. Something to get the juices going. I miss the feel of adrenaline pumping every time I think about it."
"Lucky chap. Never been on a plane thyself. Always longed to, and fly one too," craig said wistfully.
"Did you know that there is a really nice little airport here where they do skydiving and flying lessons on small cessnas and air shows?", asked Pete.
"Don’t tell me. Not Jomo Kenyatta, is it?
"No, no, no. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport takes the big ones. This one is smaller. But I am told that it is the busiest airport this side of East Africa. Lots of small private planes flying tourists to and fro, and lots of Miraa too. How long have you been in Nairobi?"
"The whole of one week already. I intend to stay another week before I consult my palm for the next itinerary. Are there any interesting places here?"
"A gross understatement, my dear Watson", replied Pete, warming up to the little gipsy. "I am sure you are not the binocular and big five kind of fellow, which is what most white visitors seem to crave. I recommend traveling the country and socializing with the people off the beaten track, camping at Hells gate, climbing Mt Kenya, dancing the night away at the Florida discotheque or just simply watching the sun set from atop Ngong hills. The vista is awe inspiring."
"You’ve done all those things?", Craig asked, caught up in the moment.
"And then some." Pete answered, taking a swig of his Tusker and in one motion swatting a passing girl’s ass. She giggled playfully and turned to talk.
"Hi sweetheart. I saw you here yesterday, mind if I join you?" Asked Judy, a beautiful Kikuyu lass.
"By all means. We do not have an extra seat, as you can see, but I will let you use my leg for that purpose," Pete answered as he guided her to sit on one of his impossibly long legs. What will you have to drink?"
Thus the early evening drink progressed into a long midnight party for the trio. That night they slept at Pete’s apartment, all three of them, which was good news for Craig’s pocket given his penchant for saving.
They spent the next two days together, striking quite a rapport. The end of the week came and Pete convinced his little gipsy friend to postpone his journey for another week.
During that week Pete regaled Craig with stories of his escapades in Nairobi. Pete had been in Kenya for two years and already he was tight with some senior government people. Craig wondered how a semi-hippie like Pete could have friends in such lofty places, a question that had the former bursting out in laughter.
"In Kenya it is not about looks. Not when you are a white man. Everyone seems to be sold on the fixation that a white man either has money or the means to make money. That is the ticket to my connections with the powers that be." ……………………………………………………
"Does a gypsy count for white?", Craig queried.
"But of course, my dear. The Indians too enjoy the same treatment, why not you?"
"So where do you get to meet these fellows? They must be inaccessible like most politicians anywhere on the globe," opined Craig.
"No problem. Every single day there are not less than five cocktails going on in this town. Some official, some private. With the right color it is very easy to get an invitation. But you must take a shower and wear a suite and tie."
"I have never worn one of those."
"Then I am afraid you must start."
"Why should I start? I am on my way out of here by next week," Craig informed Pete.
"Oh no my dear fellow. I have a business proposition that I think will interest you," Pete dangled a carrot.
"Which is?", inquired Craig.
"Nairobi is going to boast the first skating rink in tropical Africa," said Pete, matter of fact.
"Skating rink. In this dust ridden pan?" asked Craig skeptically.
"No. A real ice rink."
"I know nothing about ice skating. I am a gypsy, remember. Ice skating and skiing are games for rich white men. In the first place I don’t see the average Kenyan spending too much on skating. Or even embracing the novelty"
"Kenyans are already skating on the streets. Same difference"
"Still I don’t see……………..," Craig began.
Pete cut him short. "Think of the possibilities. The advertising. Ice skating in Kenya, the tropical paradise. People will flock to see and experience it. May be we will draw interest from the continent. Look , not even South Africa has such a facility."
"Whence cometh the capital?" asked Craig, warming up to the idea.
"You may not be aware, Pete, but I am worth not much more than the shirt I am wearing. I cannot even afford that slick suite you suggested."
"Not to worry. When you change your pounds, and after you sell your Haley, there will be enough money. The rest we shall get from a bank."
"You don’t even know the banks. You’ve only been here two years. I think you are deluded."
"That’s not an insurmountable problem. There is a simple solution. We shall get ourselves a politically correct business partner. Non-executive of course. That’s where the connections I mentioned come in", Pete answered.
That is how poor Craig found himself dragged to a party in the Karen suburb of Nairobi, at the launch of a new NGO euphimistically called NPB, Network for Peace Building, at which a great number of top dogs from the NGO world, some moneyed third generation white cowboys and some Kenyan politicians and officionados, distended bellies hugging their knees, were in attendance.
The drinks flowed in copious quantities; all the award winning brands from East African breweries and a surfeit of fine wines and whiskies. Conversation was initially muted, relationships unthawed from first acquaintances, especially for Craig who knew nobody in the group. But Pete was in his element, conversing with the new people he met like long lost buddies. Especially the Kenyans, who seemed to take the ministrations of a white person with gratitude. Or may be just in case he was a potential candidate for some scam or other. But never you mind, if it was the latter, the objective was mutual.
By the close of that particular party, the mood was raucous. Craig witnessed Pete pull aside a number of the Kenyans away from the crowd for numerous tete-a-tetes. He was curious what the details entailed but knew enough not to try to find out at that point. But good old Pete ensured that he introduced Craig to each of them, including those that he had just met for the first time himself. He introduced him as his partner, another source of consternation for Craig because as of then, they were anything but partners.
Craig and Pete attended many other parties after that one, meeting many of the old faces and building up a repertoire of new contacts. Pete always ensured that he called each new contact after a few days, which was always received with pleasure, promising to get in touch soon to finalize plans for the "business we discussed the other day".
It was always good to follow up thus, to make sure that the politician remembered you, just in case he had been too plastered to recall. And secondly , to plant the seed of whatever business you may concoct in future, never mind that you may have discussed nothing of the sort, but the drink induced amnesia had its advantages. Some of the parties were a real drag, with many of the Kenyan cowboys and girls going on and on about the natives, the help, the landrover, the beauty of Kenia, the museum, ad nauseum.
But the cocktail circuit was well worth the effort. That Craig was still hanging around three months later was enough testimony. Pete traveled to the united kingdom, registered a company and came back to Kenya. The company was known as Creative Consultants International UK Limited, and in the next two months they supplied one thousand computers to five parastatals in the country. The margin was exciting, and the net profit exhilarating, given that they only supplied fifty second hand computers but still held valid, signed and stamped delivery notes.
I will not go into the details, but Craig and Pete become a formidable duo, doing business with a number of ministers and managing directors of most parastatals, and of course always giving unto Ceaser what was his.
Craig traded his torn jeans for smart casual(even with his new found wealth he found the standard suit unpalatable) and they moved to Muthaiga, the heart of rich Nairobi.
The ice rink took shape, along Mombasa road bordering the Nairobi national park. Visitors could watch the people skating, as well as the Giraffes, Ostrich, Duiker and the occasional Rhino ruminating in the savanna. What a tryst for two hippie mzungu!
The little gipsy even took up sky diving and gliding, sports only recently he branded a rich man’s past time . But they were rich, no? Yeah, life was bliss until a miss Imre wolfensen happened on the scene.
Imre was an ebbulient, stocky Swedish woman with a pretty face, apt to be found on the ubiquitious cocktail circuit. She found a natural match in Pete, and a wild, if short lived, fling began with a steamy night of lovemaking the very first day they met at one of the parties. Thus began a torrid love affair that quickly became the subject of hot gossip. Through this latest liaison, Pete was introduced to another two ministers in the government of Kenya, thereby enriching his directory significantly.
For six months the relationship between Imre and Pete blossomed, centred around uninhibited sex. That’s the problem with relationships that revolve around the crotch. It started to get tedious within six months Pete’s roving eyes landed on another daughter of Eve with a more appealing figure compared to the pretty but stocky Imre. True to the adage hell hath no fury bla bla bla, Imre became very, very upset, but the fact that the new woman in Pete’s life was a haughty Kikuyu damsel made her positively livid.
That is how Peterson William Junior found himself picked up as he was taking some rookie customer through the skating sport, and booked at the Central Police Station for the night. No record of the purported crime was entered in the Occurrence Book, which may well have been intended. Pete spent the weekend as a guest of the state.
He found himself sharing a 6ft by 6ft cell with thirty other accused. Thirty people in a six by six means that bodies were packed like sardines, sharing whatever little oxygen existed. Fortunately Pete was a tall fellow, by far the tallest, and therefore he had access to the cleanest air up there. The rest of the crowd made do with recycled air .One could almost see excited germs gleefully entering and exiting different orifices with abandon.
The lice matched in battalions six deep, a fat, nauseating variety that defied all efforts to eradicate. Bloated from the consumption of blood, dirt, gore, snot and God knows what other delicacies from the fifty street boys, robbers, car jackers, rapists and all manner of slightly nicer guys that inhibited the cells day in day out, the lice could not have had a better domicile.
On Monday Pete was arraigned in court. The prosecutor’s announcement of the charge, illegal immigration, gave him the first inkling as to why he was a guest of the state. So far he still had no idea who the aggrieved party was. Nay, the aggrieved party was the state, but who the complainant was Pete had no idea. Because his papers were in order.
Knowing that in countries like Kenya, suspicious circumstances like these make for such a mockery of justice that renders the term kangaroo court an insult to the poor animal, Pete still opted to plead not guilty. Another man would have pleaded guilty, because the result would be a fine which one could quite easily afford. His friend Craig, who had somehow traced his whereabouts during the weekend , was in attendance and armed with enough money to pay any fine within reasonable expectations.
But Pete pleaded not guilty, which saw his case set for hearing in a month’s time. That is how the tall British found himself at the remand prison, a kind of purgatory that is between hope of freedom and the hell of a prison term. If conditions at the Central Police Station were bad, remand was incomparably worse. It will sound like an oxymoron to say that life was orderly, more orderly than life in free Kenya. A structured pecking order of governance existed and was strictly adhered to. The newest slept next to the ablution buckets on the cold hard floor. The younger ones provided sex. The oldest and toughest ones enjoyed the comfort of the few tattered foam mattresses and got to enjoy the sex.
Pete has since written a book on his adventures in a banana republic judicial system, which makes for great reading and which is still a central topic in the white Kenya party circuit. Ever gregarious even in dire straits, Pete did make some friends in remand , many of whom told unbelievable tales of having lived in that halfway house for many years without (a) knowing what they were there for (b) enjoying the right to legal representation (c) being formally charged in a court of law. Many die in that nether world after many decades, having lost their human identity; neither free nor prisoner.
A month later Pete was back in court, looking haggard and at least ten years older. It would be a travesty of the language to say that his case was heard. The charge was simply read to him, and the sentence of ksh 20,000 fine and deportation passed by the dour faced judge who was undoubtedly in the grip of a monster hangover. Pete’s picture appeared in the newspapers the following day, a sensational caption completing his embarassment.
Craig frantically contacted their network of government fat cats in a bid to discover what these shenanigans were all about. And discover he did. One Imre wolfensen, the spurned Swede, was the force behind it all. She apparently did not fancy being locked out of Pete’s affections, and even less that Pete had declined to enlist her as a Director of Creative Consultants International UK limited. For that she became a deadly enemy , who would blanche at nothing to inflict pain on Pete. Craig found out that within the first two months of breaking up with his friend Pete, Imre had already befriended and slept with a couple of ministers and other influential bureaucrats.
It was one particular minister, a baleful, short, rotund fellow with reptilian features with whom she was involved in a series of financial scams, on whose instructions that Pete was incarcerated.
It was time to call in favors, and Craig found an ear in no less than the vice-president, Hon Kula Bila Kushiba ,with whom they had a business relationship. By then Pete had already been shipped off to cold London, but the vice president’s terse orders for the reversal of the court ruling did wonders. The bureaucrats fell short of paying a first class ticket for Pete to return to the country.
The December 2002 elections came and went, and the promises of the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) have also come and gone. Pete and Craig, after an initial hiatus in the immediate post-election period when the rhetoric became zero tolerance on corruption and citizens arrested corrupt policemen, are back in business. The fat cats are also back in business and the rot continues, with an even more blatant arrogance. The tropical paradise beckons all ye that wish to dance with the elected wolves, for the party be long and the spoils unlimited.