Perceptive Travel - The Day I Did Not Meet Kenya's Prime Minister

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The Day I Did Not Meet Kenya's Prime Minister
Story and photos by Luke Maguire Armstrong



Cheering on Kenya's Harambee Stars on a day where the pursuit of accomplishment is as elusive as a soccer goal.


Kenya soccer

All I knew was that I hated Burundi. Everyone did. Booh Burundi! Two thumbs down! You suck! Your sexually ambivalent women prefer the company of eunuch goats to the flaccid excuses of failed masculinity comprising the lot of your country's males—Was what I guessed Kenyan fans were more or less cheering in Swahili.

It was game on at Nairobi's Nyayo stadium and the national team, The Harambee Stars pitted their best against Burundi's. It was a cup-qualifying match, whatever that meant. I gathered it was weighty. After all, you can live without plates and knives, but without cups, you will die of thirst.

The day was hotter than a polyester chicken suit on a Death Valley July. The sun tortured me like I'd broken into his home, stolen his valuables and added the ultimate insult of clogging his toilet paper before escaping.

Fans were jacked. When play commenced it reminded me of junior high—everyone was giving it their all, but neither side was scoring. The fans followed a pattern of getting really excited, or really anxious, then very disheartened, or very relieved.

I was dressed like Saddam Hussein because I'd forgotten to put on sunscreen. Someone in our group, not wanting to see me turn into Mzungu jerky, lent me his Palestinian scarf, which I wore like a turban to protect me from sun's baking rays. Two spectators in different parts of the stadium yelled, "Hey, Saddam Hussein!" as I walked by. I waved graciously, but the joke was on them. Had I actually been Saddam, they would have been beheaded for shouting at me.

Full disclosure: I'm not much of a sports fan. I love watching the Super Bowl, but that has more to do with my fondness for chicken wings and Little Smokies than for the game.

Kenya prime minister

A Political Football Fan

Before halftime the MC announced that it was his honor to inform us that Kenya's prime minister Raila Odinga was in attendance. He was the first Prime Minister since the post was abolished in 1964. The position was re-established specifically for Raila after irregularities in the 2007 elections led many to believe the election was stolen from him (in some districts voter turnout was more than 100% percent).

This compromise prevented him from forming a parallel government, which could have sparked a civil war in a country known for its stability in a region often fraught with political chaos.

I had just decided that morning to extend my stay in Kenya by six weeks in order to cover the upcoming elections. I was cramming to study up on a political situation layered in tribal complexities.

Burundi stole the ball from Kenya, the ball traveled across the field, Kenya stole it back, the ball returned to the other side of the field, Burundi stole it back. How long do soccer games last?

I had been lied to. I'd been told there'd be beer sold at the stadium. There was not. I bet the prime minister was drinking beer. In true soccer style, everyone got really excited, and then disappointed.

I turned to my Kenyan compadres, "I'm going to go meet the prime minister." This got them to take their eyes off the game for a moment to guffaw at me. Calvin, my adopted Kenyan brother who knew me better, asked, "Really?"

"Yes. I'm going to try my best."

"Just don't get arrested," he told me and I promised to do my utmost.

I took off my Saddam Hussein costume because trying to meet the prime minister dressed like a terrorist would not be wise.

I knew the odds of actually meeting the Prime Minister ranked well below Burundi or Kenya actually scoring. But just the attempt seemed worth it and much more interesting than watching a bunch of grown men playing with a ball.

Kenya stadium

Guys With Guns The Key

I figured the best way to figure out the best way to meet the prime minister would be to talk to someone with a gun. Guys flaunting guns lead to guys hiding guns, and these guys lead to other guys, so badass they don't even carry a gun—these are the sort of guys who could send a message to the Prime Minister that an American writer wanted to meet him.

The closest man with a gun was slumping against a bench, his eyes watching the match with the excitement of white rice.

I tapped him on the shoulder, "Jambo!"

He gave me the sort of nod snowboarders give skiers. Probably every white person who'd ever spoken to him did so solely to ask if they could take a picture with his gun.

"My name is Luke," I said, realizing twenty-seven years too late to do anything about it, that I was most likely an idiot. "So . . . I'm a writer . . . I heard the Prime Minister is here and I am hoping to meet him . . . for the article I am writing."

"I have nothing to do with him," he told me.

"Oh. Okay. Do you know anyone who does?"

"No, I know nothing."

"Okay. Thanks anyways." What the hell, I thought. "Can I get a picture with your gun?"

"No."

He turned back to the soccer match.




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