The birth of Junior on that fateful day of September 11, 2001, was an extraordinary event in the life of Wanja and her entourage at the Buruburu Centre. One after another the three potential fathers brought gifts and delivered speeches to mark the occasion. It was a permanent celebration that lasted until the day Junior had to “go out” and be circumcised—that is, until the eighth day. Among the permanent guests at the party was Elizabeth Mukuruu, or Eliza the midwife, who had cared for Wanja during her pregnancy, administering traditional medicines all while observing the signs that enabled her to predict the sex of the unborn child. Without having had an ultrasound, Wanja had known for three months that she would give birth to a boy. We should name him Emmanuel… Also among the permanent guests was Nora, Wanja’s confidant, whom everyone called House Girl, because she was the girl of the house. It was Nora who knew almost everything about Wanja except the circumstances of Junior’s conception, which had occurred after Mollel, a Tanzanian Maasai, had shown up unannounced at Buruburu to see his older brother Olé Kaparo, the security guard at Wanja’s.
Nora knew Koffi, the Togolese from Gigiri, she knew Mwanyumba, the Taita from Barclays, and she knew Joseph Alois Amani, the Hutu businessman from Rwanda who was called the Reggae Man because of his hesitant, rhythmic gait, which brought to mind the movement of reggae dancers, the disciples of Bob Marley: “Get up, stand up, stand up for your right…” “Africa Unite…” Who hasn’t tried! Wanja’s friends were also there almost the entire time, a female junta drawn from a new class of high-flying managers who had carved out a place for themselves in the urban jungle of Nairobi by reinvesting savings that would have been idle if these men were faithful to their wives, as they had vowed to be before church and state…
Reinvesting these savings did require exceptional managerial skills, but the task was made easier for this new breed of managers by the latest communication and information technologies. Instead of being condemned to vulgar prostitution, the hard life of the open-air market with all its perishables, or forced exile, a generation of beautiful East African women had found a way to capture and reinvest a share of the income belonging to UN civil servants, bankers, and other businessmen. Yet their way of adapting to the global crisis was not without its risks. AIDS could always manifest itself and spoil the party. Which was why the conversation in this welcoming atmosphere jumped from whether the baby resembled its father to the AIDS epidemic that was raging across the big cities, not discriminating between races, genders, or religions, or indeed between social classes.
The female junta at Wanja’s, who remind me of the Amazons of yore, chatted about saving for their retirement, when they would no longer be able to organize teams of men and divide tasks between them, following the example of twentieth-century Taylorism. They also spoke cryptically about some of their lover-workers’ sexual performances. Wanja was envied because in her group of men who didn’t know each other there was the Reggae Man, who according to her was an exceptional man, which piqued the junta’s curiosity. The women who were aware of Joseph Alois Amani’s reputation secretly thought of drawing him away or employing his services.
At the informal gathering on 9/11, the first of the three potential fathers to bring gifts, quasi-gifts, and presents, and the first to “lift the baby” was Koffi the Togolese. Through Baliyobora Baliyahura, the security guard at Gigiri, he had rented the Reggae Man’s van to transport his gifts for Wanja’s entourage. He had almost emptied Gigiri’s duty-free store. In Buruburu, part of the female junta deducted some of the fancier items, including the wine and perfume, and of course the bedding for the baby who had just been born. The rest—rice, oil, etc.—was dispatched to a warehouse in Donholm where Wanja ran a convenience store. Incidentally, the Reggae Man, who lived nearby, was the store manager. He was Wanja’s friend, the most dependable of the three men, and he attended to the smooth running of her business. The Reggae Man’s honesty had convinced Wanja to offer him a joint-stock partnership with unlimited liability—he was a veritable partner. The convenience store belonged to Alois, Wanja supplied it, which was easy to do via Koffi, and Alois managed it. The Wanja-Reggae Man partnership followed the unwritten law that said a foreigner can only set up an independent business if they associate themselves with a Kenyan national. But even apart from the store she had in Gigiri, Wanja, a former Public Works official, was an important woman, for she had a network that included civil servants and police officers.
26 May, 2023