By Alex Roberts
Two journalists turned loose in a carnival, surrounded by the slow moving desperate boredom of the idle rich.
The feeling was unshakable: where did all these people come from? Surely the Nairobi ‘scene’ would imply that I’d have seen them at least once, but now wherever you turned, gaudy, monstrous hats dotted your vision. They were wrapped in faux-silk bows, in various shades of light salmon, egg-shell white, and emotionally abrasive turquoise.
Now that the gin had checked in, the world was turning quite a bit. I’d snuck it in earlier, tucked against me inside of my sport coat while sporting a good-old-fashioned-stupid-mzungu-grin.
Who could deny me despite my hidden cargo? At this party, the unacceptable was rapidly becoming the norm. With every passing minute, the bourgeois leash was loosened a bit more. I, as is natural, was fashionably late, having covered some tepid dick measuring between prominent Kenyan political leadership for the better part of the afternoon. I thought of this, as I bumped into a man, carrying a sixer of Tusker who I’m fairly sure I’d quoted in the morning’s lead story.
Now, three hours into the raucous bash, everyone’s veil was beginning to slip under the hanging branches. Who was on stage? No one seemed to care. Drinks were swilled back wildly in the daylight with voices growing louder and more and more children seeming to be walking around the grounds aimlessly lost.
A perfect time for substance abuse, to be sure, one hour past church and a half mile from home, out in the middle of a decadent forest festival in the heart of the Green City, all of reality just outside the fences.
This was less of a concert than it was an excuse. Tits bounced lazily ever outward; lustful eyes flitted back and forth over the top of high-end cocktails served in desperately cheap plastic cups. The dramas of high-end clubs in Westlands, Upper Hill, Kilimani and most-definitely Karen were just transferred over in venue.
Under the massive central tent you found a mad house; people who had forgotten themselves by 4:00 p.m. One poor soul stumbled out from the din, barely standing, clutching two thirds of a bottle of sweet rosé wine and a dress stained up to her upper-shins with mud.
No one looked twice at her. The chemicals set in with force.
Kenneth, my cohort in this dark tableau, muttered under his breath, “My good lord look at these women.”
Yes, indeed. All pretense was washed out with the rain. Nearby, seven muscle bound members of the sevens rugby crowd’s fringe yelled out lewdly: “Don’t you want a real man!” one blurted out, his eyes caked with whiskey driven intention. A group of curvy ‘artists’ passed by the table in pastel dresses and were quickly scooped up like candies.
“My friend here,” said one man, tottering steadily towards an inevitable drunken stupor, “he wants you, why don’t you go to the backseat of his car?”
She giggled at the prospect, throwing wine up into the air. No one looked when it splashed down near a table of children.
It was time to walk, for I couldn’t quite tell anymore whether this bawdy sense of lust was going to manifest itself into a violent display of ‘superior’ family wealth. Daddy’s expense account must be represented, by punches if necessary.
To my dismay, it became apparent that the sentiment was everywhere. Even a quick bite was becoming an exercise in showed privilege.
“You don’t know how to do it!” one Chardonnay-dipped socialite in wraparound bug shades told a hapless hostess, who was slinging out 1300 KSh burgers to leering drunks as fast as her hands could fly.
The white and British boss was quick to descend, throwing scalding insults at her employee, spurring them on to serve more and more overpriced sandwiches.
“Sorry!” The boss was now leaning out over the table, giving a meaningful look to this pit of vapidity to my right, just out of earshot from her labouring work force. “They never quite GET IT when it comes to service, you know?”
A loaded statement to be sure. Everyone inside of the crudely set up tarp fences seemed to get it exactly. Inside of here, all things are valid. There are four more hours of guilt-free excess and the clock is rapidly dwindling.
I found Kenneth sitting alone, pouring more gin on top of a gin and tonic. “This woman she is just on her own,” he says, stewing in anger. “She keeps leaving her stuff behind with me, talks to me like I’m the HOUSE HELP.”
The woman in question may have been the wife of a prominent business figure, suddenly let loose from the usual Nairobi decorum. She had knocked back an entire bottle of Jack Daniels by herself and now was on the prowl for temporary excitement.
“We should go!” Kenneth exclaimed, jolting me out of my stupor. Yes, indeed, it was time for our own moment of strangeness. Here we were, two journalists turned loose in a carnival, surrounded by the slow moving desperate boredom of the idle rich.
The walk to main tent got more intense, people falling about left and right, a man openly palming the ass of an Afro-clad girl in a miniskirt forming an obstacle for us heading towards the main stage.
Now it was time for the main act, Ali Kiba, flown in from over the border in Tanzania to entertain the Nairobi polo brigade.
Every move the man made on the distant stage seemed to intoxicate the crowd further into frenzy although the music was far and away second to the drink.
The alcohol fumes and sheesha smoke mingled with wisps from overpriced imported cigars and the massive tent seemed to shrink to become some sort of show tent. I kept losing track of Kenneth; he would become distracted walking and I’d spot him minutes later, grinding on women in various shades of decadence.
The concert finished with a flourish of musical precision, but the crowd was in no mood to return to big empty beds in the suburbs. Vodka shot taking broke out with challenges of drink swirling throughout crowd.
My phone laden with new numbers of women I’d never call, it was time for exit. Outside cops lay in wait in the woods for whoever wandered off the beaten path to solicit bribes for imagined urinary crimes. One man in an imported Navy polo shirt fell for the ensnarement, and his comrades left him behind as though he were a soldier who’d fallen dead during a WWI charge.
“Vineyard, it’s our night, where are the BITCHES!” yelled out one tool of a guy wearing a pair of reflecting designer sunglasses.
“Forget them! We’re getting bottles, you know those Nairobi ratchet can’t resist!” his friend yelled out through the window of a Land Rover.
Of course it was their night, as every night is for the trust fund brigade of this fair town. In the meantime, ‘premier’ concerts will remain ‘oh-so exclusive’; the same 3000 people fucking and hating each other; same as always and on to tomorrow’s front page.
The Carnival was just another blip on Nairobi’s weekend radar; one that can be full of meteoric drunken bragging, excess, musical compromise and just enough booze to be dismissed as normal from those who stumbled across it.