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Escapades of city night runner

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By Jennifer Muchiri | March 9th 2014
Nairobi: A Night Guide through the City-in-the-Sun. (Photo: Courtesy)

By Jennifer Muchiri

Thoughts of night running usually evoke images of scrawny men and women running about the village naked, throwing pebbles on their neighbours’ roofs and banging their doors. No self-respecting night runner allows themselves to be seen, or to have dawn appear when they are still going about their business.

But Tony Mochama has created for us a different kind of night runner — urban, urbane and not afraid to declare his ‘occupation’ to all and sundry. In his latest book, Nairobi: A Night Guide through the City-in-the-Sun (Goethe-Institut and Native Intelligence, 2013) Mochama takes us on a journey through Nairobi’s nightlife.

This book is some kind of travelogue, with Mochama, the self-declared night runner, demanding that we wear our running shoes and run with him as he traverses Nairobi at night, and occasionally have the day creep on us as we get carried away by the activities of night running. On a few occasions, the night runner shares his experiences of nightlife in other towns in the country and cities around the world.

Mochama’s book is an exploration of Nairobi’s entertainment spaces and how people behave when they are in these spaces. It also offers a comparison of services rendered in different entertainment places in the city. The author records a kind of personal narrative based on his experiences in Nairobi and its environs at night, but he suggests that he mostly goes night running on Wednesdays.

The night runner takes us from the dingy reality of Modern Green, which he calls ‘MG’, and whose curtain, he swears, was last washed 8,532 days ago, to the sophistication of the Carnivore. He observes the twilight girls of K-Street, and the job seekers of Tom Mboya Street, who check for vacancies in the obituaries.

Then we head off to various popular ‘joints’ in Nairobi West, South B, Westlands, South C, Eastleigh and the central business district of Nairobi, where his favourites seem to be Psys, Hooters and the Wine Bar at 20th Century Plaza.

We watch as he and his friends drink, dance and debate passionately about every imaginable topic at the Carnivore, Florida 2000, Crooked Q, Deep West and Katrina, among other entertainment spots.

In between, we get to be invited to listen in to conversations by inebriated Kenyans from all walks of life. Mochama moves us from one part of the city to several others in the course of one night, watching English soccer, listening and dancing to different kinds of music, and meeting all sorts of people.

In his activities from Nairobi to Athi River, from Naivasha to Lamu, from Gachie to Ngong Road, and from Mombasa to Donholm, one thing is certain — the night runner likes his vodka and will take it in any place where it is peaceful.

Mochama paints for us a collage of the different faces of Nairobi, represented by the different kinds of people who inhabit the city. As he goes around entertainment spots collecting stories, the night runner runs into the different kinds of people who make the population of Kenya’s capital: Drunkards, journalists, muggers, bankers, sex workers, lawyers, musicians, doctors, police officers, artists… All of them are to be found in entertainment spots at night, drowning their miseries, selling their dreams and inventing new hopes.

SHARP-TONGUED

When he is not night running, or perhaps when he is not too inebriated, the night runner becomes a sharp-tongued critic, analysing the social and political status of the country.

But the night runner/night watcher’s stories are not just about drinking and getting wasted; these tales are at the same time deep commentaries on the social, economic and moral fabric of our country. The teller of fables also talks about the unemployment, crime, corruption and disillusionment in Kenya.

A Night Guide through the City-in-the-Sun is really a kind of travel guide, and visitors to Nairobi would be advised to read. Mochama has a way with words, and weaves a story that leaves you yearning for more. You may not agree with or approve of the night runner’s love for his drink, but you will definitely like the stories he tells.

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