Category Archives: Event

Music that moves you

When a retired high school head teacher stood on the stage in the middle of a performance by five time Grammy Award winner Victor Wooten and declared “I am the reason why this is happening” my curiosity was piqued.

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The retired head teacher was a high school teacher in Western Kenya in 1978 when an American showed up at the school and asked for a teaching job. The American had made a trip to Africa to find himself and the teacher helped get him a chance to teach Math and Physics.

After a stint teaching in rural Kenya, the American went back home to do his Masters and 40 years later is now the third president of the world famous Berklee College of Music.

Francis Lutomia was the teacher 40 years ago while Roger Brown was the American looking to find himself.

Four decades later this unlikely relationship has birthed an even more unlikely relationship between Kenya and the Berklee College of Music through Francis Lutomia’s son, Sam.

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According to Francis, Roger gave his son a job at Berklee and Sam in 2011 went on to found the Global Youth Groove (GYG) whose mission is to transform the lives of youth in Kenya through music primarily by a cultural exchange program involving Berklee students and alumni and Kenyans.

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For six years Global Youth Groove has been doing the exchange programs and after three years of planning Sam had finally managed to get the hugely in-demand Wooten and Berklee Bass Department chair, Steve Bailey to come to Kenya together with several of Berklee students and alumni.

At first glance, Wooten dressed in a bright African print shirt – that he was gifted by Kenyan jazz artiste Ricky of Ricky na Marafiki – and spotting dreadlocks covered by a black woolen cap can easily pass for a Jamaican roots reggae musician.

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That is until he strums his bass guitar and magic happens. His hand motion is at times fast, at times slow and at times barely noticeable but what is constant is the brilliance of a man at the peak of his skill.

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For 50 of his 52 years Wooten has been playing the bass guitar and seated at the front side row of the Michael Joseph Centre I was blown away by the melodies he coaxes out of his bass guitar. It was easy to see why Wooten who also teaches at Berklee has been named at number 10 in the Top 10 Bassists of All Time by the influential Rolling Stones magazine.

On his part, Bailey a blonde haired, wiry man who would not be out of place in a country music band run to the stage high fiving all the VIPs sat in the front row and cracked jokes with ease. He then went on to strum a six string guitar that is the hugest guitar I have ever seen.

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Bailey who is 57 started playing the guitar when he was 12 and the unwieldy instrument was like jelly in his hands.  Watching him manipulate it to produce delightful sound was like watching a painter produce a masterpiece from scratch.

Wooten and Bailey mastery on the guitars resulted in a sensory experience that was amazing. Imagine two guitars having different animated standpoints on a conversation that covered a variety of issues and you begin to picture the amazing chemistry.

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Backing up the two musical geniuses was Martin, a second year Berklee student on the drums who played with the confidence of a professional and the abandon of a teenager.

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The intimate invite-only evening of jazz was hosted under the auspices of the Safaricom Jazz Festival with several Berklee associated musicians taking to the stage.

A gentleman named Ricky who was dressed like a Southern pastor engaged the crowd in singing a catchy song which had an American south churchy-feel to it. “People make the world go round” was the audience refrain as Ricky crooned and Wooten, Bailey and Marten jammed.

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Then come Leonna dressed to kill and looking so young and sweet until she began singing and her sensationally beautiful voice made a lady sat near me shudder in bliss and almost get into a trance.

And finally from the Berklee crowd was Sky Bridge band with Japanese vocalist and composer Utako Toyama backed by two other ladies of colour. Their song ‘We declare peace’ was about global unity and they also got the audience quite engaged.

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Singled out for possible Sainthood by an enthralled Bailey was Elizabeth Njoroge, the brains and heart behind Ghetto Classics. The visiting Berklee musicians had visited Korogocho a day earlier and were wowed by the taking of classical and jazz music to the youth of a highly disadvantaged neighborhood.

Quest for sainthood aside, heartfelt pledges of support were made by Bailey on behalf of Berklee for the betterment of Ghetto Classics to which all the proceeds of the Safaricom Jazz Festival go to.

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A special mention goes to The Don Ouko, a brilliant Kenyan saxophonist who was backed by a vocalist, drummer and a guy on keys and who was the curtain-raiser to Victor Wooten, Steve Bailey and the other Berklee musicians.

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I was also quite wowed by Jacob Asiyo who was a guest at the concert and who totally delivered when he was ambushed with a request to play the keys for Wooten and Bailey.

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The Master of ceremony was the delightful Kavutha-Mwanzia Asiyo who incidentally is also an alumni of Berklee.

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At the end of the two-hour jam session all the artistes who had graced the stage through the night went back on stage to jam in a lovely improvisation.

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Quite a lovely evening spent with music that moved me.

GOD BLESS KENYA!

PS: Images via @SafaricomLtd, Google.


Films from the heart

I am more of a books than film, movies or series kinda person. However, every year for well over a decade now I attend the European Film Festival (EFF) at the Alliance Française every May.

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This year was the 26th edition of the EFF and for that I say Merci beaucoup to the French Cultural Centre in Kenya.

My plan was to watch seven films and to attend a musical performance on the week between 16th May and 20th May.

Juggling work and life managed to watch 5 films and half-attend the musical gig which I reckon is a pretty good return.

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The first movie I watched was the Tiger Theory by Czech film-maker Radek Bajgar. It was a totally awesome watch that hilariously dealt with serious life issues. Premise is a man who gets himself admitted into a mental hospital to achieve freedom.

The musical performance was spoken word artist Checkmate Mido who’s gig I have never attended. It was set up at the cafe at Alliance and 10 minutes in, I had to leave as the acoustics did not quite sound right. Hope I get to watch a Mido performance soon.

The second film I watched was Notes on Blindness a British documentary based on the life of John Hull. It was an intimate and touching insight into blindness. I wear spectacles and so the documenatry touched quite close home. What if? Then what? There is a lot we take for granted as sighted folk. Quite thought provoking.

As a prelude to the screening the country director for the British Council in Kenya did the introduction with lovely British wit and humour. Joked about UK being United Kisumu while noting that perhaps that was not the best idea with Kenyan elections upcoming. Then talked of Brexit and stated that Britain has left EU but it has not left Europe.

The country director while showing off his Kiswahili fluency also hyped up the East Africa Arts program.

Under this program and in partnership with Judy Kibinge’s Docubox two Kenyan films have been made and whose trailers were shown:

The Letter – by Chris and Maia von Lekow which is about killing of ‘witches’ at the coast which is essentially about disposing old folk of their land.

Thank you for the rain – which tackles climate change from farmer’s eyes.

Looking forward to seeing their premiers.

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On Saturday I indulged in an afternoon of film watching three films at a go.

Labyrinthus – when gaming and real life overlap, Diamantes Negros – football & human trafficking and These Daughters of Mine – family ties, how they are fragile and how easily they are stretched due to ill-health or death.

What strikes me every year is how European film makers have mastered the art of telling stories that are raw and real.

Methinks Kenyan film makers and content creators can learn a lot from EFF.

When you watch a Nigerian film or listen to Tanzanian music there is no doubt as to where the content is from, but when you watch Kenyan film or listen to  there is nothing that stands out as Kenyan.

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Kenyan film makers and content creators need to figure out what is Kenyan content. Do you know what that is? Me neither.

So maybe that is why we start…

GOD BLESS KENYA!


Tech for Governance

These are notes taken at the Code for Africa event in November 2016.

The panel was made up of @roomthinker and @gathara with Catherine Gicheru moderating.

**It happens under the hashtag – #hhnbo

The conversation largely unfolded as follows:

Mzalendo – Started as a database for parliament. Evolved over time
Most active constituencies were rural
Tech is Nairobi centric, how do you give voice to Wanjiku
Info is everywhere. We are just desensitized.
Tell the story in a way that engages the person
Are we digital warriors. Just talking and talking?
Digital conversations are valid. You don’t have to go to the streets. Kitambo we went to bars, whispered in the different spaces. Now we talk online
MPs are getting on Twitter
What of the people who ain’t on social media?
How do we give a majority of Kenyans a voice through tech?
We have come from far where there were gatekeepers. But social media has made more gatekeepers.
Danger is democratisation of truth where everyone has their on truth and facts
Another danger is folk talk to folk they agree with so create an echo chamber
So how do we link the groups?
Objective of mzalendo is to give public a voice
Knowledge is a genie which once it is out it can’t be put box in a box
Mzalendo gives you a diverse info – minister for health in 1970, Hansard for a long time, etc
How do you change narrative to be for more people?
How do you tell a story away from from the hard facts and into digestible bits?
Egovt has grown in a big way.
Info is there for folk to read
My car was hit, went to a cop station, the cops chucked an exercise book to write, shock on me.
So how do we use tech to help this? Because egovt is there but the basics aren’t there.
Tech is there but it is not helping
How do we complete tech process?
Illusion of information, illusion of participation
We need to craft systems to fix this
How did NTSA arrive at 50kph. Zero engagement
Do you think govt uses any of its social media to communicate
Empower – a way to show that there is a problem. An app that enables you to take pics, description, then upload. Through tech I can be able to share the pic with people in power. Then it can be used to fix.
So response happens but then the fix is superficial.
Impact – as a journalist you are looking at impact. How do you measure impact. Kanjo kingdom aired. We talked and talked then nothing happened.
Democratisation of free speech. It gives an insight into spaces.
Click-bait  is king
How do we devolve information, civic duty?
Why should I care?
So what?
Tax clock – shows what how much of my tax is used for x.
It is sobering that most money goes to debt payment
taxclock.codeforkenya.org
What is tax on a beer
Pay for nhif but still pay aar
Pay for cops but pay for g4s
How do you formulate policy
Public participation can be vague
But how can we tell people about when the interactions are there
Can we get an app for when things happen
Can we break down the information numbers
Uraia is doing stuff
How do you make people govt literate through tech
Representation being bettered through tech.

Code for Africa has come up with:
biscuitindex.codeforkenya.org
pesacheck.org

Questions that members of the audience had but were not addressed:
How do you hold folk into account?
Is it to get good people or to make the system good?
Can we tell both the bad and good stories?
How do I keep them on the straight and narrow?
****

***After here I kinda zoned out.***

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*****My thoughts after the entire event.*****

1. As a content creator I loved the digital tools on offer to enable me to tell stories.

2. I have written about Talking Shop before.

3. It is a feel good opportunity to come together, talk amongst ourselves as folk interested in governance but it is an exercise in futility if we are just preaching to the converted. How do we get the information out to the mwananchi wa kawaida? How do you get the masses involved in the civic conversation?

4. It is great to talk about tech for governance/accountability but less than an year to an election the plan, focus has to be geared towards a) enabling folk to make good decisions at the ballot b) having credible folk on the ballot. c) ensuring the polls are free and fair.

5. Kenya’s problem is a crisis of values. Folk see leadership, being in government as an opportunity to enrich themselves not to serve. How do we fix that?

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If you have read all the way until here them you are a serious person who deserves a treat :-).

Someone more serious than me, wrote about the event in a more fancy way. Enjoy!

GOD BLESS KENYA!


Saving the Railway

When you think the railway you think of something old. A relic that belongs to a museum and whose time is past in this age of smartphones and driverless cars.

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Tayiana Chao is a stunning contrast to that thought.

Tall, slim, with long dreadlocks, afro jewellery and an infectious laugh she would pass for a uni student who moonlights as an model.

I met her in in a gallery but rather than her being the subject it is her photographs that are under the limelight.

Still in her early 20s, this retired computer scientist has a story to tell and she has already written her first chapter – Save the Railway.

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Save the Railway is an exhibition that is ongoing at the ShiftEye gallery.

It is the fruit of Chao’s 3 years labour of love.

Chao was picked to go to JKUAT and study Computer Science but instead of Juja she was sent to the Voi campus. Her first instinct was to say no but as a history buff and introvert, Voi won her over.

Being away from the city was heavenly and in her weekend exploring she stumbled on the Voi Railway station.

The picture of the Voi Railway station is stunning. A house built with red bricks, with a tree on the side and with the horizon endless. It stands bang in the middle of the exhibition taking pride of place as her first love in this project.

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Chao puts it brilliantly “…it takes you to a different time…the station exactly as it was..not in the present time..grand… antique..

With that a dream was born. To tell the story of the railway. Not as an item in the history books but rather as a living being.

Everyone knows about the railway start in Mombasa and end in Kisumu but what of its impact? Basically, what did the railway do for Kenya and Kenyans?

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Through her journey across Kenya searching for and photographing railway stations Chao learnt just how much the railway was part and parcel of people’s lives.

It was not history for the people who lived next to the railway but rather a living breathing thing.

She felt the emotional aspect of the Railway. The lives touched, the grievances, the poverty, the lingering hope. And she learnt that the Railway mattered. Life for many Kenyans revolved around the railway and you can not put a value on the Railway’s importance.

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Chao’s journey is curated in the Save the Railway exhibition that runs from the 19th of August to the 2nd of September at the ShiftEye Gallery at the Priory building on Arwings Kodhek Road.

What started as a hobby has taken a life of its own.

“..someone come all the way from India to see this! I felt so honoured…” gushes Chao.

She graduated as a computer scientist but she has taken time off being a programmer to think of the way forward.

She wishes to write a book on her experience chasing down Kenya’s forgotten train stations. She also wishes to complete taking photographs of the off-road train stations.

But that is just the second chapter of her book.

Computing for heritage is where her book will anchor next. As a techie Chao wishes to do culture tech and believes that restoration of history through tech is the way to go. Chao envisions a day when Gedi ruins will be mapped and one will be able to relive the 13th century.

With Kenya in the middle of the SGR hype, I had to ask if she has plans to photograph the current history being made.

“..why did the old railway fail? Even as we do SGR let us ask ourselves that. Development is great but we need to learn from our past..” was the deep response.

Chatting with Chao feels like taking a walk down memory lane as well as how the history looks at the present.

What made her achievement even more amazing that is that this was mostly a solo-project with Kenya Railways chipping by providing permission and transport for the first phase of the project.

The bodies you would expect to be involved the National Museum, Brand Kenya and even the government ministries were not.

Now to the twist to this tale of Kenya’s railway.

Hilary Ng’weno is Kenya’s best known historian. A nuclear physicist turned journalist turned historian Ng’weno has curated much of Kenya’s history. Makers of a nation anyone?

His daughter, Professor Bettina Ng’weno runs a production house and she is working on a Hollywood style movie – Last dance in Kaloleni.

The movie which is in the funding stage will look at life in African railway quarters in the early 1920s-60s.

How the railway as one of the biggest employers in the colonial time impacted in the urbanisation, the arts, the politics, the music of Kenya.

Chao is also involved in the movie and when I asked her if she will be an actress, she laughed her infectious laugh and said maybe as an extra.

My gut says that when Kenya’s history in the next 5o years is written, Tayiana Chao will be a name worth noting not least because she will have photographed, written and technologically curated it.

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Be sport. Go check out the Save The Railway exhibition.

 

GOD BLESS KENYA!


Les Mangelepa at 40

Words are read but music is heard so it is hard to write fluently about a musical experience.

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But this story is about more than just music.

Since November 2011, Rashid of Roots International has hosted a live music gig at Choices on Baricho Road dubbed Thursday Nite Live.

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A glimpse on Nairobi Now that gives me the ‘in’ into Nairobi’s art scene revealed that the legendary Orchestra Les Mangelepa would be performing on Thursday 16 June.

I battled Nairobi traffic, got to Choices at 7.45pm and snagged a good seat that would enable me to get a good view of the stage and also of the crowd.

The crowd was a mix of young and old itself a testimony to the endearing and enduring nature of the music of Les Mangelepa.

The gig was set to start at 8pm but in typically Kenyan fashion it did not. Not complaining though as I got to overhear a conversation that was as funny as it was informative.

Three members of the ORIGINAL Orchestra Les Mangelepa can boast of forty years of marching to their step.

The three are Kabila wa Kabanze Evany, Nzazi Kalenga Kibawa Vivy and Kaniki Lutulu Macky.

The band members of Les Mangelepa walked into Choices and their humble bearings meant that many did not recognize they were the stars of the night. From my vantage position I observed them, picked out the trio of legends whose dressing revealed they are sapuers.

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At a quarter past eight Kenyan cartooning legend Paul “Maddo” Kelemba went up on stage and wore a new hat. That of the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Ketebul Music which is a not for profit organization that seeks to curate the music traditions of East Africa.

Maddo proceeded to give his audience an education on the origin of Les Mangelepa. His mastery of Lingala and the in’s and out’s of Rhumba in Kenya was a marvel to behold.

After the impromptu lesson it was time to invite Les Mangelepa to the stage. Maddo started with the new band members before completing with the three living legends – Kabila wa Kabanze, Nzazi Kalenga and Kaniki Lutulu.

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Les Mangelepa then gave a brilliant performance. The first hour went by so first. The dance moves of the three oldies were breathtaking. The trio then took a 10 minute break and performed for another hour getting the crowd on their feet.

Personally I was blown away. It was wonderful listening to hits like ‘Embakasi’, ‘Maindusa’, ‘Nyako konya’ and ‘Safari ya Mangelepa LIVE.

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Rhumba bands fragment every so often so for a band to mark its 40th birthday is an AMAZING feat.

Félicitations Orchestra Les Mangelepa!

The legendary band is marking 40 years in the music scene with a tour of Europe.

Hope they will celebrate their four decades in music with a performance in Nairobi West.

Long live Muziki ya Bakulutu.

GOD BLESS KENYA.

 


Skywalking in Ngare Ndare

Do you have a fear of heights is an interesting question which I rarely know how to answer. See I have done a picnic atop KICC and had a ball but I also think of what if a flyover gives way when I am crossing the road.

So when I was confronted with a canopy walk made of wire mesh and rope that is 25 metres above the ground and half a kilometre long I was torn between hell yes I want to go up and hell no, what if the canopy walk snapped.

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Seeing an old man walk up the steps and begin walking made up my mind to walk the canopy. The oldie was John Fox.  John is a travel writer who has been writing about Africa for close to three decades. His articles feature on the Sunday Nation under the banner Going Places.

I am not a small man. So stepping on the wire mesh was a leap of faith and I held on to the sides with a vice like grip while looking straight ahead at John.

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Step after step and I finally believed the canopy would not break and I was able to enjoy the unique birds-eye view.

It was exhilarating seeing nature up close with huge 200 year old trees, fresh air and sounds of the Ngare Ndare forest for company.

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Aside from John, his two sons and I, our pack of six also included two crew members of a production house, a director of the Northern Rangeland Trust as well as Ranger Ibrahim Maina.

Ibrahim is a walking encyclopaedia on Ngare Ndare Forest. He regaled us with descriptions of the many indigenous trees, told us of the herd of elephants that had visited in the morning and what kind of wildlife visited the mud bath at Ngare Ndare.

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The Ngare Ndare Forest is an important corridor for elephants and other wild animals that links the Lewa Conservancy and the Mount Kenya region.

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In 2015 I had visited it as one of the legs of the Safari Rally was held there in a very old road which appeared to have been built at least 70 years ago.

This time round I was visiting it as part of my visit to the Lewa Conservancy and the management of the Northern Rangeland Trust wanted publicity for it as part of the Safaricom Lewa Marathon.

As part of the 2016 Safaricom Lewa Marathon participants and visitors are encouraged to day a trip to Ngare Ndare Forest.  The delights are the exhilarating and terrifying canopy walk as well as a mud bath (for the wildlife), stunning waterfalls and camping opportunities.

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Ngare Ndare is Maa for water for goats.  There is a stream that crosses the forest and a bridge to cross over was built in 1947 by the Italian Prisoners of War. It is still in use and quite a delight to behold for a history buff.

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Driving out of Ngare Ndare we gave Ranger Ibrahim and his two colleagues a lift to the nearest town where they live. At one point we have to share the road with a huge herd of domestic animals and Ranger Ibrahim explained that the community is allowed to graze in the forest in a rotational format to ensure a win-win situation for the forest conservancy and the community.

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Aside from the two Kenya Wildlife Service/NRT rangers was Joy, an intern from Egerton University who was on attachment at Ngare Ndare. She incidentally played a starring role in convincing someone from our party to walk across the canopy.

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40-something year old J suffers from phobia of heights. But in an amazing display of mind over mind Joy pep-talked J across the canopy walk and J was eternally grateful for the memory.

Many of my friends upon seeing the pictures of the canopy walk and finding out that I had walked across asked the same questions:  1) Were you not scared? 2) What if it snapped? 3) Are you crazy?

I am glad I walked across the Ngare Ndare Forest Canopy and I will definitely walk across it again upon my return to take in the waterfalls, mud bath and campsites because there is something quite liberating about staring at fear or doubts and overcoming.

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Ngare Ndare Forest is a lovely unique getaway.

Go on!

Visit it :-).

GOD BLESS KENYA!


Of fairy tales coming true

On Sunday 1st of May 2016 the eyes of many football fans in the world were fixed on Old Trafford to see if Leicester’s fairy tale would reach its climax at the Theater of Dreams.

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A win and the 5000/1 underdogs at the start of the season would be crowned EPL champions at the home of the twenty time champions.

I had a front row seat to witness this unlikely spectacle and I was living a fairy tale.

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Walking in Manchester on match day was akin to Nairobi on Mashemeji derby day. Fans decked in their club’s colors, singing and chanting. The visiting Leicester fans were the noisier and livelier.

In the tram to Old Trafford, chatted with 50 year old Steve. For 43 years, he had been going to Old Trafford. Began with his dad and never stopped. Tradition inculcated. Steve bleeds Red for Manchester United and his passion is life and death.

Outside the Old Trafford tram station met Denise. A Leicester City season ticket holder who despite living in Dubai had attended all but two home games. She is the embodiment of the Leicester roots that had sprouted the fairy tale that had captured the world’s imagination.

Walking towards Old Trafford with the thousands of fans was like making a pilgrimage. Stalls selling merchandise, open trucks offering fast food and beer on the go, hawkers calling out for their wares, fans singing all made one forgot the freezing rainy weather.

Several searches and into the stadium I went. “This is it! This is it!’ was the mantra I continually chanted under my breath as I searched for my seat.

I could not stop shaking. Perhaps due to the biting cold but mostly due to the overwhelming sense of occasion.

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Seeing the teams warm up, seeing at close range the players I had only ever seen on TV so close was exhilarating.

The teams then went back to the changing rooms and I settled back on my seat watching the stadium fill up.

A few minutes before 4 and the teams lined up at the tunnel to walk into the stadium. The atmosphere was electric with 75,275 fans attending the historical match and the noise levels hitting a crescendo.

As the teams began their walk into the stadium, the announcer said “Ladies and Gentleman, Welcome to the Theater of Dreams, Manchester United and Leicester City.”

I screamed. The fan next to me screamed. Everyone screamed. I have never heard so much stadium noise. Words cannot do justice to the atmosphere at Old Trafford. You have to experience it to understand.

Antony Martial’s early goal got me flying off my seat. Wes Morgan’s headed equalizer and the unbridled joy of the 3,000 traveling Leicester fans was a sight to behold. The first 45 minutes flew past breathlessly. In the second half the pace was less frantic but the drama was still as intense. The second 45 minutes were topped off with a red card for Leicester and penalty denied for Manchester United.

The match ended 1-1. An apt result for the player’s endeavors on the pitch and in my mind as a Manchester United fan as well as a Friend of Leicester.

Leicester players walked across the pitch to acknowledge their fans. Manchester United fans gave Leicester players and fans a standing ovation. I marveled at the delightful touching moment of sporting camaraderie.

Outside the stadium, Leicester fans were in great cheer. They may not have bagged the three points to win the title but they had got a point and anything other than a Spurs win the following day and their team would be champions.

So they sung and sung and sung. In praise of coach Claudio Ranieri, in praise of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez.

“We are going on a European tour..European tour..European tour” was chanted repeatedly.

Amidst the boisterous traveling Leicester fans were Kenyans and Burundians. Surprisingly. I talked to them in Kiswahili and they spoke of their over ten years support for Leicester and the delight of seeing them almost be champions of England. One of the Kenyan gentlemen again from Mombasa proudly informed me that he was the barber for Mahrez and showed me pictures to prove it. Fairy tale things.

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This is a story about fairytales. Watching the game in person was the furthest thing on my mind when I sat watching Leicester City’s 4-nil win over Swansea on Sunday April 24th.

“Ulloa again. 3-0. Three points seemingly bagged without Vardy. 8 points ahead with 3 games to go. Your move Spurs. #FriendsOfLeicester

Is what I tweeted after Leonardo Ulloa scored the third goal in that match.

“Next Sunday – Man Utd v Leicester. Teren. Top 4 chase v Title chase. #FriendsOfLeicester tings will be tested :-).”

Was my follow-up tweet.

What I meant was that my decade’s long love and support for Manchester United would be tested by my season long love of at that point runaway league leaders Leicester City.

Manchester United after a topsy-turvy season were somehow still in contention for a top four finish in the English Premier League and a chance to play in Europe. A minor fairy tale given the nature of the season with manager Louis Van Gaal in charge.

However the bigger fairy tale was the almost being relegated to top of the table exploits by Leicester City. A collection of castaways, journeymen, and nobody’s who had somehow not only managed to escape relegation but to everyone’s shock sat atop of the English Premier League.

Imagine my joy when the following day, Monday, I learnt of an opportunity to travel to the United Kingdom to watch the Manchester United versus Leicester City game at the Old Trafford.

But there was a twist to my taste of a fairy tale experience. I needed a UK visa urgently. Tuesday was spent filing and dropping the application while Wednesday and Thursday were spent praying, crossing my fingers and refreshing my email.

An email from the visa processing office on Thursday had me running across town to Westlands to get the results which to my eternal delight were positive. My joy knew no bounds. My fairytale was on track.

Lift off from JKIA was Friday lunchtime. Touchdown in cold and rainy Manchester was Saturday morning.

The tickets availed required dressing up and thus a trip to Primark to suit-up was the first order of business. Three hours, two carry-ons bags and a MacDonald’s detour later I was back in my hotel room.

A quick shower and out I went to navigate Manchester. First port of call was the mecca for many a football fans. Old Trafford. A stadium and museum tour were the goal. Got myself to the tram station after several wrong turns, managed to buy a tram ticket from the automated machine and I was on my way.

Three stops later I alighted at the Old Trafford station. Purposeful strides. Heart beating faster. Mind on overdrive. Imagine my shock when the first signage I saw was Emirates. Did a double take and realized that this was the Manchester Cricket Grounds. Sharp intake of breathe and off I went again. Couple of minutes later and I was at the Sir Matt Busby Way. A motley of fast food joints and a pub aptly named Trafford were begging to be sampled but I had my eyes on the ball.

And then finally there it was. Old Trafford. In its magnificent imperious splendor. The Theater of Dreams. I was in dreamland. Spine tingling. Mouth agape. Hands on my head. Heard myself chant Oh My God repeatedly. Sat on a bench to steady my shaking legs. This was it. This was my fairytale come true.

After halfway composing myself I made my way in. Stewards in the black uniforms and bright yellow reflector coats stood at the entrance standing between me and my goal.

With thousands of fans in Manchester for the historic game to my horror the stadium and museum tour was sold out. I was in shock. So near yet so near. Fairytale was turning to night mare.

As I stood there for who knows how long to catch my bearings a steward brought the news that there was an opening for a 30 minute tour. Oh joy! I jumped on the opportunity faster than Bolt at the Olympics.

Started with the museum tour which was orgasmic. The trophy room is overflowing. The memorabilia from Keane, Cantona, Schmeical, Giggs playing days was a marvel to behold. The video reliving the 1999 UEFA champions’ league final win gave me goose bumps. Seeing the three trophies from the treble year as well as the three jerseys from each of the treble season competitions brought so much pride.

Then was the stadium tour. Walking in and reading the “You are now entering the Theater of Dreams” sign on the wall almost made my heart stop. Short flight of stadium and bathed in glorious sunlight was the stands and pitch.

Standing at the Sir Alex Ferguson stand, facing the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand with the Stretford End on my left. A sea of red folded up seats. The pitch in impeccable condition. Sensory overload as an old gent gave us a speech on the different stands and cracked us up with dry British humor. Time stood still as I absorbed all these then flew as the old gent abruptly announced it was time to leave.

Traced my steps back to the museum and relived the memories. Then finally grudgingly walked out of the stadium.

 

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As I sought to say thank you to the stewards who had given my dream life and to ask for directions to the merchandise shop another fairytale experience awaited me.

“Habari yako” asked one of the stewards. Kiswahili at Old Trafford was surreal. “Mzuri,” followed by “Ala, hutoka wapi wewe?” Was my reply once I got over my shock.  “Wewe wafikiri natoka wapi? Huko huko utokako” was the swift reply.

With the ice broken we chatted for 15 minutes. Mohammed from Mombasa left Kenya close to thirty years ago to study in the UK. For 25 years he has worked at Old Trafford in his own words, kutafuta rizik. When I marveled at the fact that he must have seen all the Manchester Legends up close, his reply was simply, wanatalanta…lakini si ni binadamu tu…What was a magical dreamy experience to many was routine day’s work to others. Grounded me.

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Different from Kenya where the full buffet of EPL matches is on offer to football fans, in the UK very few pubs show the games. So when I walked into Trafford Pub run by Stacy and Sarah and found the Arsenal Norwich game on-going I pulled a seat and soaked up the British pub experience.

Still walking on cloud nine I made my way back to the hotel with a spring on my step.

The title deciding Chelsea versus Tottenham game would find me 30,000 feet in the air as I traveled back home on Monday night.

Having watched a game at the Old Trafford I now broke new ground. One of my traveling companions streamed the game on the plane and my fairy tale continued as I watched Spurs throw away a 2-nil lead at the break to draw with Chelsea.

Eden Hazard’s beautiful equalizer was met by loud cheers and the final whistle and the ensuing brawl by high fives.

Incredibly Leicester were champions of England.

A fitting end to an incredible UK tour that was the stuff of fairy tales.

GOD BLESS KENYA!

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PS: This trip was part of a promotion by gaming platform mCHEZA to reward its customers by giving them fully paid for VIP trips for European live match experiences. Other games lined up for the lucky winners are the UEFA Europa league 2016 finals on May 18th and the UEFA Champions League Finals on May 28th.


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