A ‘great cloud of witnesses’ has been on my case this past week over my actual age. And being the African that I am, I chose to be as ambiguous as possible – not that it mattered anyway. See, in Africa, we don’t count ages by years, but by ability and strength. So you can be coming of age, aging well, aged and a plain old geezer. As for me, I think I skipped the first three.
After being birthed, I immediately became an old man. Imagine a toddler with grey hair, misty eyes, leathery skin and crawling with a stroller. Never mind that I was toothless at the time. That was me. And now, I am old enough to be somebody’s grandfather, let alone dad. So I was nearing the grave faster than Kipkemboi running on the picturesque hills of Tugen. This realization hit me hard, literally, the other day. I was getting out of bed when suddenly my back crackled like a crumpled bottle, my knees buckled and my legs locked up. Grand was the word that described my fall. But my poor face broke the fall and the concussion sent me snoozing into the musical world of LaLa Land. And as I lay there, partially paralysed and almost passed out, I started thinking about my past life – way back in the 90s.
Everything was cheap and easy to come by in those days. Toffee, fireworks, walkmen, boombox radios, chips and salsa… even impressing ladies was a ballpark affair. Yeah, you would have more luck at getting girls then than now. Ladies’ standards hadn’t soared past the Stratosphere like these days. You didn’t need a Brazilian leather jacket or Italian shoes to catch a clande. You didn’t need to know the difference between flannel and tweed. You only needed to fold one side of your overall (apielnade) jeans to your knees, wear Timbalands, Bata Toughees or actual Safari boots (called Saunyas), one huge, drapy Chicago Bulls vest and a godpapa, a do-rag or a bandana and you were in for the kill. Either that or have a double-breasted Cotton suit, covering an over-coloured shirt and a pair of Moccasin platforms for your feet. Not forgetting the toothpick which rolled from one side of the mouth to the other as if sweeping invisible chunks of meat stuck between some discoloured and/or disfigured teeth. And if you were more classy, you would occasionally replace the toothpick with a lollipop, Kojak style. If you don’t know Kojak, I am sorry, you were born too late in the day.
In the 90’s we had lesser things to take our minds off the end of the world. Things like tribalism were unheard of. We only knew of our Mother’s and Father’s one finger Party called KANU with our beloved old Moi at the helm. Though sometimes we felt a bit shortchanged since we had never been invited to those parties. I mean, if you have a party, you call people in, have an open-(soft drink)-bar and even a Karaoke machine. Not just name it KANU or LDP. Oh the naivety!. So yes, no distractions to get our minds off the end of the world. Especially with the Y2K scare and the end of the millennium.
Y2K was a sham of laughable proportions – at least I can say that in retrospect. We used to read warnings on those days’ papers with some dangerously pixelated caricatures of spiders and skull-n-bones being traced over the warnings. I could imagine those bugs from Super Mario popping from our home PC screen and terrorizing the neighbourhood. Such fearful thoughts. Plus some more dedicated crazies decided to drink poison in their church so that they would give Christ an easier time to resurrect them when he came. Such weird times.
One thing I loved about the 90’s was money. You had 10 bob in your pocket and you were a baller, stuntin’ like Putin. You could treat yourself to street-fries, get a turn-up haircut to look like the Prince of Bel-air, make a call on the neighbourhood phonebooth, take a bus-ride (or Stagecoach rather), go and have a chill session at Uhuru Park come back to the crib and still have a pocketfull of pennies left. And if you were lucky enough as we were, to stay near the President’s residence, he would offer you cash if you recited the Loyalty Pledge. Still remember it by heart; I pledge my Loyalty to the President and the Nation of Kenya, my readiness and duty to defend the Flag of the Republic… let me not boast.
Kids in the 90’s grew up straight. Up right and upright. If parents right now have zero chills, then African Parents then had negative chills. A parent could slap your cheek making you spin in the air like a ballerina doing a twirl. Mothers were ruthless. Their weapons of choice, their wedges widely referred to as Pams. Wedges were adaptable to the condition of usage. Hard and sturdy enough to knock your knuckles when you were just next to the her, and streamline enough to be launched as missiles when you were far away. They would always land on either your forehead or backhead. Either way you would do a half somersault in the air and land face first. And dare you not return the shoe after that, and have her limp over to get it herself. Dad’s were even worse. Let’s say you came home late and caught a waft of stinky sock smell in the house. Then you remember you had not dug the whole garden as he said. Mind you, you guys never had a garden in the first place. All of a sudden, a ‘ngoto‘ would land on the top of your head, making you sink into the ground like a pneumatic drill. Those were dads. Then the would get you to clean up their stinky Moccasins. And that was the easy part. Now assume you had been watching Kalamashaka on your Greatwall then dad came home then you remembered it was his and not your telly. Futhermore he had gone with the tuning knobs and you became creative enough to use a pair of pliers to tune channels. So in short you were trying to compete with your Father (who mind you, always used to be number one in his class), over who was the man in charge. Just know that a lesser sentence would be pronounced if you got yourself a cane.
The 90’s with no selife-sticks, just wildly impatient camera-men on black mambas,
The 90’s where Facebook was an album of ugly burnt mugshots,
The 90’s where the only thongs people knew were slippers,
The 90’s where you had penpals, and the only sliding that was ever done was down a ramp, not into DMs,
The 90’s where people sang about love and the struggle, not female genitalia, currency and Cannabis,
The 90’s where the only effect on photos was a genuine smile, no filters or digital cameos,
The nineties shall forever be a part of me.