In January 2011, I met a nice guy through a mutual friend, he was from Kenya. I found my interest in Kenya increasing as we gradually became acquainted and he talked about his home town, along with the beauty of his country. During this period, it dawned on me that even though I was from West Africa and had lived there for a number of years, I had never been to any part of East Africa. Over the forthcoming weeks, I got to know my new friend better over Skype and so in March, I started to consider the idea of a visit; besides we were developing an interest in each other, or so I thought!
The preparation for my trip to Kenya was different from other trips I had been on. I was practically falling in love with my new friend and I was excited about what that might mean. Unfortunately, it did not take long before the possibility of romance was extinguished. I had already booked my flight and found myself thinking of excuses for not going on the trip. However, despite the disappointment of what might have been, I decided I would still go on the trip to experience the culture and befriend the people.
My experience in Kenya created many first times. I met a wonderful gay Kenyan couple who took care of me and welcomed me to their home, it was my first time exploring and moving freely in an African country. The experience was wonderful and it did not take long to experience the good nature of the Kenyan people. I spent loads of time with friends and colleagues at the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya.
I stayed in Nairobi during my trip and enjoyed the party and club scenes. Three places stood out for gay people as being inclusive. ‘Cafe Des Art’ is an art gallery which became alive and welcoming to party lovers on Saturday night, you can only attended if you are invited. It was in Westland a suburb which hosted many foreign embassies and consulate, the security was fierce, and hosted both foreigners, holiday makers and relatively fewer Kenyans (in my opinion). The car park had many diplomat numbered plates some with drivers, after we checked in with little or no drama, we were greeted with loud music as my friend introduced me to countless people, with each introduction I simply forgot their names. I responded with a loud and bogus smile, whilst swaying to the tune of the music. It was time to dance, there is one golden rule at the clubs in Kenya, ‘be yourself’, but taking note that members of the same sex are not allowed to kiss publicly. I could live with that, particularly as there was bumping and grinding, combined with my weakness for Beyonce’s dance videos. ‘Gypsies’ was another club that got me dancing all night, until my legs started screaming, “I want to go home”.
‘Tacos bar’ was discovered late; otherwise I would have been there each night. Tacos bar is located in the centre of the Central Business District in Nairobi and a place where city workers come to enjoy a beer and chill out, each floor is covered with plasma TV screens either showing football or the news, the lights are dimmed to create a smooth and relaxing scene, the bouncers were friendly, but the waiters rarely smiled. It is not traditionally a gay bar but there were far too many men than women.
In Kenya being gay is outlawed by archaic colonial penal codes, however gay people in Kenya like many hostile cities found ways to create and have fun. For years the gay people claimed the balcony which overlooks the busy street, here you can check the men out and play games on those you fancy. I was told that a few years ago, other patron shared the balcony with the gays and even though the claim to the balcony is unspoken it was obvious, but on one occasion another patron was not happy with the behaviours of some gay customers and complained and got them barred. Soon after, the gays used social network to circulate details of the discriminatory actions of the bar. Months after the incident, the clientele of the bar dwindled to the point of closure, the management had a rethink and came looking for the gays to apologise and gave them a good welcome by reducing the price of the drinks and ensuring that gays can use the balcony without hassle, since then other complaints about gays on the balcony has been largely ignored.
I ventured to one of the tourist destination called “Bomas of Kenya” and the experience was wholesome, I met many strangers who have now become good friends. At Bomas of Kenya, hectares of land exhibit the village lifestyles of the multiple cultures, a setting that would make many Kenyans proud of their heritage, the engineering of the primitive ancestry was captivating and invigorating, the people lived in harmony and families are well catered for, many village homes had a full complimentary shelter which often included huts for the husband, first, second or even a third wife, married son’s hut and boys hut. Each wife had a granary for their food produce and the wives huts where much bigger in size than the husband, I understand that the children of each wife lived with their mother. The engineering vary from tribe to tribe and village to village, I very much admired the Massai village huts, it was different with reinforced concrete and flat roof, which provided coolant against the African heat and keeps the warmth during the cold spells. In addition to the cost is an hour long cultural dance routine, a tribute to the various cultures.
During my trip, I took the opportunity to visit Mombasa. Mombasa is an idyllic seaside city, the first stop after an all night coach ride immediately reminded me of Lagos but as we travelled to my lesbian friends home, the residential became more loving and peaceful, it had rained all night which made the weather a little cooler. By mid afternoon we took on out to the beach and later with friends to Rio bar where we were entertained with Karaoke, the following day I spent most of it with gay boys from Mombasa, (Mombasa gay boys are bad boys!) meeting more than a dozen gay men in one household was intriguing, they had hoped we would spend the night, thankfully we departed to get the coach back to Nairobi. We were presented with coca-cola heavily laced with rum; for someone who does not drink, this was lethal!
I heard about St Sebastian Christian community in Kisimu, inclusive and welcoming to the gay community, I was excited but sadly I missed out on going to Kisumu. Each Sunday I spent in Nairobi I attended fellowship with the community led by Rev Michael Kimindi, sadly each service started more than two hours after the schedule start time.
During my two weeks in Kenya, I found that it was time to put the disappointing feeling that followed the lack of romance behind me. I had enjoyed a time of sheer indulgence, partying, sleeping and waking-up late, no mobiles, no Internet and none of the other modern life distractions. The only drawback with Kenya was mosquitoes – they were everywhere, day and night, hopeless to fight against them unless you were sleeping in a deep cold room! I was badly bitten and had to take an emergency dose of anti-malaria drugs. Having said that, I did have a great time and came back to Europe most relaxed. Besides, I can also now add Kenya to the list of countries I have now visited!
Copyright © 2011 Jide Macaulay. All rights reserved.