09.06.08 (I)

Today I went to the overpriced bookstore at ABC place, close to Java, about which more later. I had expected that the Africana section would be full of books by well-meaning, indifferent, or exploitative foreigners—this, after all, is one of the targets of “How to Write about Africa,” or “What Kenyans Sell in Their Bookstores.”

The Africana section was really Africanist—in the sense of Orientalist. Row after row of overpriced coffee books, boldly and beautifully created. The Flora and Fauna of Kenya: Elephants, Maasai, Birds, Turkana, Butterflies, Pokot. One should not be amazed, then, that on landing elsewhere the natives ask whether we speak human languages and use forks.

There is, of course, a complex argument to be made about specieism. Am I claiming that juxtaposing humans with wild animals demeans humans? (Are we still allowed to say “wild animals”?) I will note, in passing, that a long-ago acquaintance traveling in these here parts found Kenya, especially Nairobi, incredibly disappointing. It was nothing like National Geographic. Tanzania was more authentic.

Poor Tanzania, forced to bear the cross of authenticity!

I will confess that I don’t have the mental energy to weigh and balance specieism against Africanism. That debate I leave to more agile minds.

Recently, I was told that an affianced couple wanted a fairy tale themed wedding. Among a certain set, themed weddings are all the rage. Looking around the bookstore, I understood the impulse. Little white princes and princesses litter the landscape of children’s fiction. No doubt, in the coming months I will have more to write about the Kenyan Princess set, to which I have no access. But this is Kenya. Stories circulate.

So, thoroughly disgusted by this point, I pick up the Kasuku notebook I need—reasonably priced—and head to the register, where the oh-so-busy shop co-owner looks at my unlaced shoes, uncombed hair, stained pants, and decides that I can wait for service. And I wait. And wait. And Wait.

This I take as a welcome home gesture. One is interpellated through a studied silence. And I wanted a story to blog about. So I waited.

Did I mention that when I entered the store the clerks were prompted to follow me? This much be one of the privileges of blackness.

ABC Place. Overpriced Bookstore. If you want to feel black and privileged.

I pay because I really need the book. Must speak. And the clerk does a double-take that I seem to have mastered English. This, I suspect, is why certain of our population wear tags that read “Very Educated Doctor. Speaks English. And Will Use Polysyllables.”

Oh. Well. After all, Ngugi was thrown out of a semi-posh hotel. And I, too, want my “I was thrown out” moment.

So, Java. Which I had forgotten I should boycott. But Nelly, the young lady who served us was delightful, the passion juice oh-so-good, the fact that my very good friend paid even better, though my sister was wearing whorish shoes and I looked like a tramp.

As for Java, one remains caught in a bind: a symbolic boycott versus the 99% Kenyan workforce, few of whom, I suspect, work there for extra pocket money while living off their trust funds.

Deprived of my talk on the phone with best friend for two hours every day, I find I have become chatty, conventionally so. Must. Find. Abstract. Topic. Soon.