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Ships in High Transit


ISSUE:  Winter 2006

Stupid Japanese tourist. During breakfast, on the open-air patio that faced the plains of Lake Nakuru National Park, he saw the gang of baboons, saw the two large males, fulfilling with every grunt and chest bang every human cliché about male brutality. Here is an aspect of reality as consensus: the man has spent his entire life watching nature documentaries. He said this to Matano, with much excitement, over and over again, on the van to Nakuru last week. How can he remind his adrenalin that these beasts can kill, when he knows them only as television actors?

So, he hid a crust of bread and, when everybody was done with breakfast, threw it at the group of baboons outside, and aimed his camera at them. The larger male came for the bread, and then attacked the man, leaving with a chunk of his finger, and decapitating the green crocodile on his shirt. The baboon was shot that afternoon. A second green crocodile replaced the first.

That was last month.

Then there is Matano’s boss/business partner, Armitage Shanks, of the Ceramic Toilet Shanks, or maybe the Water Closet Shanks, or the Flush Unit Shanks. Or maybe a Faux Shanks: it is possible he borrowed the name. Matano had never asked. He knew that Shanks carried a sort of hushed-whisper weight in Karen and Nyali and Laikipia, together with names like Kuki and Blixen. Matano also knew that somewhere in The Commonwealth, some civil servant shat regularly in an Armitage Shanks toilet.

Shanks lives in Kenya, running a small tour firm, hardly heroic for a man whose family managed to ship heavy ceramic water closets around the world. But he hit on a winning idea.

Some dizzy photographer woman, Diana Tilten-Hamilton, had been telling him about the astrological history of the Maa people, told him about her theory that they were the true ancient Egyptians, showed him her collection of photographs, just days before they were shipped to the publisher of coffee-table books: photos packed with pictures of semi-naked Maa astrologers, gazing at the night sky, pointing at the stars, loincloths lifted to reveal lean, scooped-out, copper-colored buttocks.

He found his great idea.

Heirlooms.

So he hired ten of the best woodcarvers from the Mombasa Akamba Cooperative, hid them out in a small farm in Laikipia, and started a cottage industry. Masai heirlooms. The spin:

Thousand of years ago, in the great Maa Empire, Maa-saa-i-a, a great carver lived. It was said he could carve the spirit of a moran warrior from olivewood. At night he occupied the spirit of the bull. During the day, he spins winds that carve totem spirits out of stray olivewood.

When the Maa-saa-ia Empire fell apart, after a great war with the Phoenicians over trade in frankincense and myrrh, the remaining Maa scattered to the winds. Some left for the South, and formed the great Zulu Nation; others remained in East Africa, impoverished but noble. Others fought with Prester John, and others became gladiators in Rome.

The great Carver, Um-Shambalaa, vanished one night in the Ngong Hills, betrayed by evil spirits who had overwhelmed the ancestors. He waits for the Maa to rise again.

Until last year, nobody knew the secret of Maa-saa-i-a, until Armitage Shanks went to live amongst the (rare) Highland Samburu. He killed his first lion at seventeen, with his bare hands (witnessed by his circumcision brother, Ole Lenana), and saved the highland Samburu with his MTV song, “Feed the Maa” (sung with his former rock band, the Faecal Matyrs). Shanks was asked by the Shamanic Elder of the Greater Maa to be an elder. His name was changed. He is now called Ole um-Shambalaa—“The Brother Not Born Among Us.” The elders pleaded with Ole um-Shambalaa to help them recover their lost glory. They gave him all 300 of their ancient olivewood heirlooms to auction. To raise money to make the Maa rise again . . .

This was how Matano came to manage WylDe AFreaKa tours. Shanks was now a noble savage, and could not be bothered with tax forms . . .

Or Airport Welcoming Procedures:

Dancing girls in grass skirts singing: “A wimbowe, a wimbowe.”

Dancing men singing: “A wimbowe, a wimbowe.”

Giant warrior with lion whiskers and shiny black makeup walks on all fours towards clapping German tourists, flexing his muscles and growling: “A wimbowe, a wimbowe.”

In the jungle . . .

Actually, Shanks lost interest in WylDe AFreaKa right from the start. Apart from an annual six-month trip to wherever Eurotrash were camping out, to “market” (where he avoided all the Scandinavian Snowplough Drivers and Belgian Paper Clip Packers and Swiss Cheese Hole Pokers who were his real clientele, and spent time in Provence and Tuscany and the South of France), he generally worked on other projects. First, there was the constructed wetland toilets (it is hard for a Shanks to keep off the subject), then the Fecal Martyrs, who got to number eight in the charts on the Isle of Man and toured Vladivostok (“Feed the Maaa-aaa-aah, let them know it’s Easter Time . . . ”); then the Nuba Tattoo Bar he started in London, opened by a cousin of Leni Reifenstal. The tattoo bar had naked Nuba refugees operating the tills, before the SPLA threatened to bomb him (Shanks claimed in a BBC interview). Then there was the spectacular failure, Foreign Correspondent, the Nairobi coffee shop that failed because people complained that they kept losing their appetites in a place decorated with grainy black-and-white pictures of whichever Africans happened to be starving at the time. In between all these ventures, Shanks was learning tantric sex, polishing off a bottle of Stoli every night, and keeping away from Mr. Kamau Delivery, his coke dealer, who he always owed money. Lately, though, he has been more scarce than usual. Sombre. Matano knows this is a phase, a new project, which always means a short season where more money will not be available. He paid out salaries three days early, before Shanks could get to the account.

*  *  *  *  

The van leans forward to the ramp, as Matano prepares to board the ferry. He looks at the rear-view mirror. The couple he has just picked up at the airport stop gesticulating excitedly; their faces freeze for a second, they look at each other, the man’s eyes catch Matano’s. Jean Paul turns away guiltily, and says to his wife/lover/colleague:

“Isn’t this great? What a tub? Wonder when they built it—must be before the war.”

“Is it safe, do you think?”

Matano smiles to himself. He looks out at the ferry, and allows himself to see it through their eyes.

Stomach plummets: fear, thrill. Trippy. So real. Smell of old oil, sweat and spices. So exotic.

Color: women in their robes, eyes covered, rimmed with Kohl; other women dark and dressed in skirts and blouses looking drab; other women sort of in-between cultures, a chiffon blouse, and a wraparound sarong with bright yellow, green, and blue designs. Many people are barefoot. An old Arab man, with an emaciated face and a hooked nose, in a white robe, sitting on a platform above, one deformed toenail sweeping up like an Ali Baba shoe. A foot like varnished old wood, full of cracks. He is stripping some stems and chewing the flesh inside. There is a bulge on one cheek, and he spits and spits and spits all the way to the mainland. Brownish spit lands on some rusty metal, pools and trickles, slips off the side onto some rope that lies coiled on the floor.

The tourists’ eyes are transfixed: somewhere between horror and excitement. How real! Must send a piece to Granta.

Same scene through Matano’s eyes:

Abdullahi is chewing miraa again, a son of Old Town society: banished son of one of the Coast’s oldest Swahili families, who abandoned the trucking business for the excitement of sex, drugs, and Europop (had a band that did Abba covers in hotels, in Swahili, dressed in kanzus: Waterloo, niliamua kukupenda milele . . . ). Now he is too old to appeal to the German blondes looking for excitement in a hooked nose, and cruel desert eyes. To the Euro-wielding market, there are no savage (yet tender) Arab sheiks in Mills and Boon romance books anymore; Arabs are now gun-toting losers, or compilers of mezze platters, or servers of humus, or soft-palmed mummy’s boys in European private schools. There are no Abba fans under sixty, now that everyone listens to Eminem and Tupak. Now Abdullahi has become a backdrop, hardly visible in the decay and mouldy walls of Old Town, where he has gone back to live . . .

Matano’s cell phone rings, jerks him out of his daze.

“Ndugu!”

It is Abdullahi, and he turns to look at him. Abdullahi smiles, the edges of his mouth crusted with curd from the khat. He lifts his hand in an ironic salute. Matano smiles.

“Ah,” says Abdullahi. “Your eyes are lost in the middle of white thighs again, bro. You’re lost, bwana.”

“It’s work, bwana, work. Si you know how it is when the mzungu is on his missions?”

“So, did you think about the idea? I have everything ready. The guy can come into Shank’s house tonight.”

“Ah, brother, when are you going to see that I am never going to play that game?”

“Sawa. Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you see my Porsche, and my house in Nyali, and my collection of Plump Giriama sweetmeats. You swim too much in their waters, brother. I swam, too, and look what happened. Get your insurance now, bro. They will spit you out. Dooo do . . . brother! This deal is sweeeet, and the marines are arriving tonight, bwana.”

Abdullahi sends a projectile of brown spit out into the sea, and laughs.

Matano shakes his head, laughing to himself.

Poor Abdullahi. Ethnic hip-hop rules the beaches: black abdominal muscles and anger. The darkest boys work the beaches, in three European languages, flaunting thick, charcoal coloured lips, cheekbones that stand like a mountain denuded of all except peaks, dreadlocks and gleaming, sweaty muscles.

Abdullahi makes a living on the ferry, selling grass and khat, chewing the whole day, till his eyes look watery. These days he isn’t fussy about how he disposes of his saliva. They used to hunt white women together. Once in while, Abdullahi comes to Matano with some wild idea—first it was the porn video plan, then the credit card scam, always something proposed by his new Nigerian friends.

Abdullahi forgot the cardinal rule: this is a game, for money, not to seek an edge. Never let the edge control you. The players from the other team may be frivolous; they may be able to afford to leave the anchor of Earth, to explore places where parachutes are needed. This is why they are in Mombasa. The Nigerians would discard him as soon as he became useless, like everybody else.

Matano once got a thrill out of helping Abdullahi, giving him money, directing some Scandinavian women to him, the occasional man. Being Giriama, Matano resents the Swahili, especially those from families like Abdullahi’s, who held vast lands on the mainland, and treated Giriama squatters like slaves. But Abdullahi was a victim of his own cultural success. How are you able to pole-vault your way to the top of the global village if you come from 3,000 years of Muslim refinement? You are held prisoner by your own historical success, by the weight of nostalgia, by the very National Monumenting of Old Town, freezing the narrow streets and turning a once evolving place into a pedestal upon which the past rests.

Matano, the young boy in a mission school, from a Giriama squatter family has not got this sort of baggage (the our-civilization-has-better-buildings, more-conquests-than-yours baggage). Every way directs him upwards.

*  *  *  *  

He hates the ferry. As a child, on his way to school, sitting on his father’s bike, he would get a thrill whenever they climbed aboard. These days, he hates it: hates the deference people show him, their eyes veiling, showing him nothing. They know he carries walking, breathing dollars in the back seat. Once, a schoolboy, barefoot like he used to be, sat on one of the railings the whole way and stared at him—stared at him without blinking. He could taste the kid’s hunger for what he was. Sometimes he sees shame in people eyes, people carrying cardboard briefcases and shiny nylon suits, shoes worn to nothing. They look at him and look away; he makes their attempt to look modern humiliating.

Then there is the accent business. Speaking with the white people with so many people watching, he always feels self-conscious about the way he adjusts his syllables, whistles words through his nose, and speaks in steady, modulated stills. He knows that, though their faces are uncertain here, on this floating thing carrying people to work for people who despise them, he will be the source of mirth back in the narrow muddy streets of the suburbs, where his people live. They will whistle his fake mzungu accent through their noses, and laugh.

In a town like Mombasa, his tour-guide uniform is power. He has two options to deal with people. One: to imagine this gap does not exist, and be embarrassed by the affection people will return. Behind his back they will say: such a nice man, so generous, so good. It shames him, to meet wide smiles on the ferry every day, to receive a sort of worship for simply being himself. The other way is to stone-face. Away from his home and his neighbors, to reveal nothing: to greet with absence, to assist impersonally, to remain aloof. This is what is expected. This is what he does most of the time, in public places, where everybody has to translate themselves to an agenda that is set far away, with rules that favor the fluent.

Of course, he can be different at home, in Bamburi Village, where people find themselves again, after a day working for some Kikuyu tycoon or Gujarati businessman or Swahili gem dealer or German dhow operator. Here, people shed uncertainty like a skin; his cynicism causes mirth. He is awkward and clumsy in his ways; his fluency falters. His peers, uneducated and poor, are cannier than him in ways that matter more here: drumming, finding the best palm-wine at any time of night, sourcing the freshest fish, playing bao, or draughts with bottle-tops, or simply filling the voided nights with talk, following the sound of drums when the Imam is asleep and paying homage to ancestors that refuse to disappear after a thousand years of Muslim influence.

What talk!

Populated with characters that defy time, Portuguese sailors and randy German women and witches resident in black cats, and penises that are able to tap tap a clitoris to frenzy, and a padlocked Mombasa City Council telephone tweaked to call Germany, and tell your SugarOhHoneyHoneyMummy, oh baby I come from the totem of the Nine Villages. Warriors (growl) no women can resist us, how can I leave you baby, so weak and frail and pale you are, my muscles will crush you, my cock will tear you open, we cannot be together, you cannot handle me in bed (sorrowfully), I am a savage who understands only blood and strength, will you save me with your tenderness? Send me money to keep my totem alive, if my totem dies, my sexpower dies baby, did you send the invitation letter to immigrations, I am hard baby, so hard I will dance and dance all night, and fuck the air until I come in the ground and make my ancestors strong. My magic is real, baby. Have you heard about the Tingisha dance, baby, taught by my grandmother, it teaches my hips to grind around and around to please you? Will you manage me? A whole night, baby? I worry you may be sore.

You must be entertained. Material is mined from everywhere, to entertain millions of residents in whitewashed houses and coconut thatch roofs, who will sit under coconut trees, under baobab trees, under Coca-Cola umbrellas in corrugated iron bars. Every crusted sperm is gathered into this narrative by chambermaids, every betrayed promise, every rude madam whose husband is screwing prostitutes at Mamba Village, every leather breast, curing on the beach, every sexcapade of every dark village boy who spends his day fuck-seeking, and holding his breath to keep away the smell of suntan lotion and sunscreen and roll-on deodorant and stale flesh stuck for twelve months of the year in some air-conditioned industrial plant.

*  *  *  *  

The village is twelve huts living in a vanishing idyll. From the top of the murram road, where Bamburi Cement Factory is situated, there is a different territory: the future. Beyond the cement factory, an enormous constructed ecology, Haller Park, incredible to all, but not yet larger than the sum of its parts—it still needs a team of experts to tweak its rhythms. There are also enormous ice-cream-cake hotels, crammed rooms in hundreds of five shilling video halls, showing ONE MAN, ONE MAN, who can demolish an entire thatched village in NAAM, with a mastery over machinery full of clips and attachments and ammo and abdominals. Even the movements are mastered and brought home, the military fatigue muscle tops bought in second-hand markets, the bandana, the macho strut, the lean back, missile launcher carved from wood, lean back and spray; the sound of the gun spitting out of your mouth.

“Mi ni Rambo, bwana.”

“Eddy Maafi.”

Video parlours rule. With Chinese subtitles.

The couple at the back of the van are still talking. He is lean and wiry and tanned and blonde and has a sort of intense, compassionate Swedish face, a Nordic Nature lover. He has the upright American accent continental Europeans like to adopt. He is wearing glasses. She is definitely an American and looks like she presents something on TV, something hard-hitting, like

60 Minutes. She has a face so crisp it seems to have been cut and planed and sanded by a carpenter, and her hair is glossy and short and black. She is also wearing glasses. They are the producers of some American TV program . . . Shanks told him to give them the fat Sultan treatment, which he defines as, “Grapes, recliners over a sunset, hard-but-honest barbarian boys, or voluptuous barbarian girls, and Anusol suppositories always in the glove compartment.”

“The place is a bit cheesy, but the food’s great, and anyway we’ll be roughing it in Somalia for a while. Jan said he hasn’t found anywhere with running water yet. We mustn’t forget to buy booze—Mogadishu is dry, apparently.”

“Shit. How many bottles can we take in?”

“Oh, no restrictions—there’s no customs and they never bother foreigners.”

“Do you think we’ll get to meet Shanks? He sounded great on the phone . . . ”

“He’ll come across great on camera. He does actually look Maasai, you know, lean and intense sort of . . . ”

“The red shawl won’t work though. It’s too strong for white skin.”

“It’s amazing, isn’t it, how real he is? I could tell, over the telephone, he has heart . . . ”

“Do you think he’s a fraud?”

“A sexy fraud if he is one. He hangs out with Peter Beard at his ranch in Nairobi. I saw it in Vogue. He drinks with Kapuscinsky.”

There was a brief and reverential silence as they digested this miracle.

“Should we call him Shanks, or Um-Shambalaa?”

They both giggle.

When they met Matano at the airport, they said they were thinking about doing a film here, although wildlife wasn’t their thing. They say they like Human Interest Stories—but this is all sooo gorgeous. So empowering. We must meet Um-Shambalaa, isn’t he positively Shamanic?

There is something about them that Matano dislikes. A closed-in completeness he has noticed in many liberals. So sure they are right, they have the moral force. So ignorant of their power, how their angst-ridden treatments and exposes are always such clear pictures of the badness of other men, bold, ugly colours on their silent white background. Neutral. They never see this, that they have turned themselves into the World’s ceteris paribus, the invisible objectivity.

He puts on a tape. Tina Turner: Burn, baby burn …

“Looking for something real,” they keep saying.

Twenty years he has been in this job, ever since he took it on as a young philosophy graduate, dreaming of earning enough to do a Masters and teach somewhere where people fly on the wings of ideas. But it proved impossible: he was seduced by the tips, by the endless ways that dollars found their way into his pockets, and out again.

He has seen them all. He has driven Feminist Female Genital Mutilation crusaders, cow-eyed Nature freaks, Cutting Edge Correspondents, Root-Seeking African Americans, Peace Corps workers, and hordes of NGO-folk: foreigners who speak African languages, and wear hemp or khaki. Dadaab chic.

Not one of them has ever been able to see him for what is presented before them. He is, to them, a symbol of something. One or two have even made it to his house, and eaten everything before them politely—then turned and started to probe: so is this a cultural thing or what? What do you think about Democracy? And Homosexual rights? And Equal Rights?

Trying to Understand Your Culture, as if your culture is a thing hidden beneath your skin, and what you are, what you present, is not authentic. Often he has felt such a force from them to separate and break him apart—to move away the ordinary things that make him human—and then they zero in on the exotic, the things that make him separate from them. Then they are free to like him: he is no longer a threat. They can say, “Oh I envy you having such a strong culture,” or, “We in the West, we aren’t grounded like you . . . such good energy. . . . This is so real.”

*  *  *  *  

Da-ra-ra-ra.

Ai!

All those years, the one person who saw through him was a fat Texan accountant in a Stetson hat, who came to Kenya because he had sworn to stop hunting and start takin’ pictures. After the game drive they had a beer together and the guy laughed at him and said, “I reckon me and you we’re like the same, huh? Me, I’m jus’ this accountant, with a Dooplex in Hooston and two ex-wives and three brats and I don’ say boo to no one. I come to Africa, an’ I’m Ernest Hemingway—huh? I wouldn’t be seen dead in a JR hat back home. Now you, what kinda guy are you behind all that hoss-sheet?”

*  *  *  *  

The van lurches out of the ferry, and drives into Likoni. What is a town in Kenya these days? Not buildings: a town like this is nothing but 10,000 moving shops, people milling around the streets, carrying all they can sell on their person. The ingredients of your supper will make their way to your car window, to your bicycle, to your arms, if you are on foot. If you need it, it will materialise in front of you: your suit and tie for the interview tomorrow; your second-hand designer swimsuit; your bra; your nail-clippers; your cocaine; your Dubai clock radio; your heroin; your Bible; your pre-fried pili pili prawns; your pirated gospel music cassette; your stand-up comedy video; your little piece of Taiwan; your Big Apple, complete with snow falling, and streets so pure that Guiliani himself must have installed them in the glass bubble.

The hawker’s new sensation is videotapes. Reality TV Nigerian-style has hit the streets of Mombasa. Every fortnight, a new tape is released countrywide. Secret cameras are set up, for days sometimes, in different places. The first video showed a well-known counselor visiting a brothel; the next one showed clerks in the Ministry of Lands sharing their spoils after a busy day at the deed market (title for the highest bidder, cashier resident in a dark staircase). Matano hasn’t watched any of them yet. He hasn’t had the time this tourist season.

The Swedish Nature lover, Jean Paul, looks out at produce knocking on the van window. His face seals shut, and he takes a book out of his bag. Jambalaya, the Water Hungry Sprite. Matano has read about it in a New Yorker magazine that one of his clients left behind. A book written by a voodoo priestess (and former talk show host) who lives in Louisiana, which had the critics in raptures. The Next Big Thing. The movie will star Angelina Jolie.

Matano’s blind spot—

Extract of a conversation that Matano had with one of his annual Swedish lovers, Brida, who adores Márquez:

“What is it with you white people and magic realism?”

Brida runs her nails down his chest, and turns the page in her book. Matano jerks away.

“Don’t you find it a bit too convenient? Too guilt-free? So you can mine the Ashrams of India, or the Manyattas of Upper Matasia, or Dreamland Down Under, with a didgeridoo playing in the background, without having to bump into memories of imperialism, mad doctors measuring the Bantu threshold of Pain, Mau Mau concentration camps, expatriates milking donors for funding for annual trips to the coast to test, personally, how pristine the beaches aren’t anymore . . . ”

“Don’t be so oppressed, darlink! I’m Swedish! Can we talk about this in the morning? I promise to be very guilty. I’ll be a German aid worker, or maybe an English settler’s daughter. And you can be the angry African. I will let your tear off my clothes and . . . ”

“Why should it bother you? You come every December, get your multicultural orgasm, and leave me behind churning out magic realism for all those fools. Don’t you see there is no difference between your interest in Márquez, and those thick red-faced plumbers who beg for stories about cats that turn into jinnis, flesh-eating ghost dogs that patrol the streets at night, the flesh-eating Zimba reincarnated. I mean, every fucking curio dealer in Mombasa sells that bullshit: ‘It is my totem, ma’am, the magic of my family. I am to be selling this antique for food for family. She is for to bring many children, many love. She is buried with herbs of love for ancestors to bring money. She was gift for great grandmother, who was stolen by the ghosts of Shimo La Tewa . . . ’”

Brida laughs and puts her book down for a moment.

“It is life, eh? Much better way to make money than saying: ‘Oh, I be sell here because I be poor, my land she taken by colonizer/multinational beach-buying corporation/German Dog Catcher investing his pension/ex-backpacker who works for aid agency . . . ”

Brida runs her fingers across his forehead, clearing the frown.

“Don’t spoil my book, darlink. I’m in a good part. In the morning we talk, no?”

“Why should I make it easy for you? Why don’t your read your own magic realism? At least you are able to see it in context. You nice, liberal, overeducated Europeans will look down on trolls and green-eyed witches and pixies, though these represent your pre-Christian realities, but you will have literary orgasms when presented with a Jamaican spirit-child, or a talking water closet in Zululand.”

“You think too much, Matanuuu. I shall roll you a joint, eh? Maybe we fuck, and then you can present your paper at the Pan-African Literature Conference, while I finish my book in peace.”

Matano laughs.

*  *  *  *  

Jean Paul turns to the Sixty Minute woman, and says, “God her prose sings. Such a hallucinogenic quality to it.”

She looks dismissive. “I prefer Allende.”

She leans forward towards Matano, and slows her drawl down, presenting her words in baby-bite sized syllables:

“So, which Kenyan writers do you recommend, Matanuuu?”

“Karen Blixen,” he says, his face deadpan. “And Kuki Gallman . . . ”

Ngugi is only recommended to those who come to Kenya to self-flagellate; those who would embrace your cause with more enthusiasm than you could, because their cause and their self-esteem are one creature. They also tend to tip well, especially after reading Petals of Blood.

When he is alone. When he is alone he reads Dambudzo Marechera, who understood the chaos, understood how no narrative gets this continent, who ends one: “And the mirror reveals me, a naked and vulnerable fact.”

He remembers the name of the Sixty Minute woman: Prescott Sinclair.

There is nowhere Prescott has been where the sea smells so strong, and she opens the in-flight magazine one more time just to look at the piles of tiger prawns being grilled on the beach, and the fruit cut into fancy shapes.

She is irritated at Jean Paul again. She likes to work with him outside America; he makes a good and harmless chaperone. But she finds his matter-of-factness annoying. He motors through everywhere and everything at the same pace, disinterested in difference. He reads the right books, is perfectly accommodating to her moods, is never macho, bossy or self-serving. He is apologetic about his fastidiousness. She has tried, many times, to goad him to reveal himself, to crack. She is starting to think the person he presents is all he is.

Brynt, her boss: the work maniac, sex maniac, and ulcer-ridden, seeker-of-mother-figure (who must come) wrapped in pert breasts, fat free. He is exactly the man she has constructed herself not to have to want. She cannot resist him. He wears her out, demanding she leaves her skin behind with every new job, becomes somebody else, able to do what she never would. In bed, she must be the tigress, the woman able to walk away purring while he lies in bed, decimated. Sex for him is release: he carries electricity with him everywhere, but can’t convert it into a memorable experience. She has in her mind, whenever she thinks of him, the image of a loose electric cable, writhing around aimlessly on concrete, throwing sparks everywhere. She can’t leave him alone—his electricity continues to promise but always fails to deliver, and often it feels as if it is her fault: she isn’t being for him what he needs to convert his electricity into light.

She broke up with him a month ago. Has avoided his calls. Taken her work home. Volunteered for jobs abroad. Jean Paul must know, but hasn’t even said a word. Why is he such a coward?

The driver who has been quiet since she tried to make conversation with him turns to them, smiles and says, “Welcome to Diani! We are now turning into Makuti Beach Resort. Karibu!”

*  *  *  *  

Does the person define their face, or does one’s face define the person? Matano often wonders why it is that people so often become what their faces promises. Shifty-eyed people will defy Sartre, become subject to a fate designed carelessly. How many billions of sperm inhabit gay bars, and spill on dark streets in Mombasa? How does it happen that the shifty-eyed one finds its way to an egg?

Trust can have wide eyes, deep-set; mistrust is shifty, eyes too close together. Or is it? Among the Swahili on the coast, it is rude to look at someone directly in the eye; one must always be hospitable, hide one’s true feelings for the sake of lubricated relationships, communal harmony. Smarmy, an English person may call this, especially when it is accompanied by the smell of coconut oil and incense.

Armitage Shanks, by the born-with-a-face-personality-theory, is a martyr. Eyes that hold you: sea-green, with mobile flecks that keep your eyes on them whenever he says anything. Spiritual eyes: installed deeper in the sockets than usual, little wings on the edges of the eyelids lift them to humour, and lines of character. He would be a spiritual leader, a man whose peers would come to seek quiet advice from. If he were a Muslim, he would be interrogated at every airport in the West.

What sorts of mechanics define these tiny things that mean so much to us? What is done to the surface of the eye, to make light gleam on it in such a liquid manner? Are there muscles that are shorter than most people’s, attaching the eye to the face, sinking the eyeball deeper into the face? What child was born, a million years ago, with the eyes of an old and humorous man? What words were whispered around the village? About this child’s wisdom, his power to invoke ancestors, so women threw themselves into his bed as soon as his penis woke up and said Hello to the world?

Ole um-Shambalaa’s face is lean, ascetic, lined, and dark, nearly as dark as Abdullahi’s. The hair is blonde, closely cropped. Ole um-Shambalaa is not supposed to be frivolous. Anymore.

He leans forward to open the door of the van, and smiles. Prescott and Jean Paul make their way out, both flustered by the heat and by the fact that they are not sure what rules he plays by. Will he bow down to greet them? Or kiss their noses? Would shaking hands seem terribly imperialist? Shanks does not guide them; he stands there, still, in a way only Eastern religious people in films or certain animals can be: muscles held tense, smiling with enough benevolence to awaken the belly. Wings of warmth will flutter in the stomachs of these two guests.

A millisecond before Prescott blurts out her learned Maasai greeting, he reaches both his hands to her, and takes her hand. He does the same with Jean Paul, looking shyly at the ground, as if humbled by their spiritual energy.

He turns, without greeting Matano, and heads for the lobby, tight lean buttocks clenching as he walks. Prescott is shocked at her thoughts. It seems sacrilegious to think of sex with this man; but she wonders, despite herself, whether he practices tantra or some exotic Maasai form of spiritual Orgasmism. Oh shit, don’t they practice FGM?

Matano makes his way to the staff quarters. He always has a room at the hotel, but he uses this only for what Shanks calls Vagina Dialogues.

The staff houses are all one-roomed: cheap concrete and corrugated iron structures, arranged in an unbroken square. Matano finds his colleagues seated on three-legged stools in the inner courtyard, playing bao.

“Dooo . . . do. Matano mwenyewe amefika. Umepotea ndugu.” “You’ve been scarce, brother.”

Outside this courtyard, Otieno is known as Ole Lenana. Every day, shining like a bronze statue, dressed in a red loincloth, with red shoulder-length hair braids, he heads off to the beaches to get his picture taken by tourists, a pretend Maasai. He used to be a clerk at Mombasa County Council. He receives a small pension from Frau Hoss, a 50-year-old German lady who comes to Mombasa for two weeks every year, to paint her wrinkles tan, and to sleep with a darker tan.

Otieno swears by vunja kitanda: Break The Bed. A combination of herbs he insists gives him stamina, even with old, gunny bag breasts. Matano has something to tell him, about Frau Hoss.

Matano says his Hellos, then goes into Otieno’s room. Inside it is partitioned with various kangas. The bedroom is a curtain stretched across the side of the bed; the living room a money plant in a cowboy cooking-fat tin, three cramped chairs, covered in crocheted doilies and a small black-and-white TV. There are photo albums on the coffee table. In a trunk under the table are Matano’s books, most given to him by tourists, maybe half of them in German. He picks out one that he received a week ago. He has been waiting since to see Otieno, to show him Frau Hoss’s book.

He strips, puts on his black swimming trunks, wraps his waist in a blue kikoi. He joins the rest, sits on a stool, legs left higher than his shoulders, kikoi curled into his groin for modesty. He can smell coconut milk and spices. Women are cooking at the other end of the courtyard, chatting away, as they peel, crush, grind, and plait each other’s hair.

“So, did you see Um-Shambalaaaa?”

The group of four burst out singing: “Um-Shambalaa, let’s go dancing. Ole um-Shambalaa, disco dancing . . . ”

Matano laughs. “He has lasted till lunch without coke? He is serious about this maa-neno?”

Otieno turns to Matano. “He is paying me, bwana, to be Ole Kaputo, the Maa chief’s son.”

“Nooo! Ai! This deal must be of much money! That is why he was afraid to talk to me. There’ll be bumper harvests this time. I think these ones are television people. From America.”

There is silence as the rest digest the implications of this. America. The bao game proceeds, and conversation weaves languidly around them.

Matano passes the book around. Kamande, the chef, takes one look at the cover and hoots with laughter. Otieno is on the cover, body silvery, courtesy of PhotoShop, kneeling naked facing the mud wall of a manyatta. Everything in the shot is variations of this silvery black, his red Maasai shawl, the only colour, spread on the ground. Two old white hands run along his buttocks, their owner invisible. It must be near sunset: his shadow is long and watery, a long wobbly shadow of cock reaches out to touch his red shuka.

Otieno looks bewildered, then grabs the book. His eyes frown, confused: who is this person? Recognition. Gasp. The books changes hands, all round the circle, and everybody falls over themselves laughing. The women come to investigate. Fatuma, Kamande’s wife looks at it, looks at Otieno, looks back at the book.

“Ai! Why didn’t you tell me you had a beer bottle in your pants? I will find somebody for you if you learn to use it properly! Not on these white men—what can they show you?”

The women laugh, and carry the book away to pore over it.

Otieno turns to Matano: “Where did you get it?”

“A tourist left it in the van last week. Frau Hoss said she taught you—tantric love.”

“I will sue!”

“Don’t be stupid,” says Matano. “Write your own book. Let’s write it, bwana! The publishers will eat it up! African sex is hot in Germany . . . you will make a killing! Call it My Body Defiled. Then make sure you sit without your shirt on the cover looking sad and oppressed. ”

They laugh.

*  *  *  *  

Prescott sits with Jean Paul at the Pool Bar next to the beach, watching the sunset, having a drink and waiting for Shanks.

There is no barrier from here to India. There are scores of short muscular boys silhouetted against the dusk, covered in and surrounded by curios, doing headstands and high jumps and high-fives and gathering together every few minutes to confer. Sometimes they look at Prescott; one winks, another bounces his eyebrows up and down. Then she is relieved as they spot a tourist, gather up their wares, and go to harass someone else. There is music playing at the bar: some sort of World Music for Europop fans. “Jambo, jambo bwana, habari gani, mzuri sana . . . ”

From a well-known guidebook: “The Kenyan’s smile is the friendliest in the world. He will tell you Jambo, and serve you dawa cocktails.”

The beach boys cannot come to the hotel, but Prescott has been told that they will be all over her in six international languages if she crosses the line of the coconut trees.

One of the boys walks towards her, managing to bounce off the balls of his feet with every stride, even in the sand. He has a brief chat with the security guard and walks up to their table. She looks at his lean face, eyes like a startled giraffe, with thick stiff strands of eyelash.

“Jambo!”

“Jambo. I’m afraid I’m not buying anything today. No money.”

Jean Paul is shut away, among characters that talk like blackened fish, and look like bayous, and make love like jambalaya. Somebody with a banjo is searching for the lost gris gris bag.

Beach Boy frowns, and slaps at his chest, puffed up. “Us, you know, BEACH BUOYS, it is only money! We want to sell you Bootiful Hand-U-craft of the Finest T-u-raditional Africa. Eh! A man like me, how it feels to run and chase white mzungu every day: buy this, buy this? I dig to get cool job, any cool job: garden, office, or bouncer in Mamba Village Disco, even Navy Offisaa. I have diploma, Marine Engineering, but Kenya? Ai! So now t’fuzz, the pow-lice, they chase homebwuoys. And the hotel, they chase homebwuoys. But this beach—this is our hood. Dig? So you want special elephant-hair bracelet? Is Phat! Very Phat!”

He isn’t smiling. He is looking out to sea, tapping his foot on the ground like a glass vase of testosterone, just waiting to be shattered. In Philadelphia, she would have been terrified of him. She would walk past, her tongue cotton wool, a non-racial smile tearing her reluctant face open. Now she wants to pinch his cheeks and watch him squirm as his friends look on.

“I want a necklace, a Maasai necklace. Can you get me one?”

He looks at her with seamless cool, and raises one eyebrow, then frowns. “Tsk tsk,” he seems to say, “that is a hard one.” The silence lasts a while, then he looks at her and says, “For you, Mama, because you so bootiful. I will try.” And he bounces back to his mates, one arm swinging with rhythm around his back like a rap artist walking to his Jeep.

She laughs.

Jean Paul says, “God, look at that sunset . . . ”

Prescott says, “It’s never as good as the postcards, is it? Fuck, poets have a lot to account for. They’ve killed the idea of sunsets, made meadows boring, and completely exterminated starry nights. Sometimes I think they’re just as bad as Polluting Industrial Conglomerates Run by Men.”

Jean Paul smiles patiently and looks across at her, compassion in his eyes. She wants to slap him. Brynt hasn’t phoned. Though she isn’t taking his calls, it’s important that he calls, so she can get the satisfaction of not taking his calls.

Shanks appears from the glass doors on the other side of the pool. He has tucked his red Maasai cloth into his shorts; his torso is bare, and his arms are draped over an ivory walking-stick that lies on the back of his neck. His silhouette is framed by the last vague rays of the sun, the postcard silhouette of the Maasai man who the Discovery Channel will introduce, deep voiced, as “an ancient noble, thriving in a vast, wild universe, the color of shadow.”

He squats on his haunches next to them, and glides his eyes around them both. Smiles.

“Peace.”

Prescott smiles vaguely. Jean Paul has cracked already: his mouth is wide open.

“You have eaten?”

They nod.

“Come . . . ”

They follow him. His walk is not graceful, like Prescott expected. Rather, it is springy: he bounces to one side on one leg, then does the same on the other. It is a distantly familiar movement, again something from Discovery. Some walk some ethnic peoples do somewhere in the world, and they are noble.

They leave the residents’ area of the hotel, and cross through a gate; before them, sitting under a huge baobab tree, is a huge whitewashed mud-and-wattle hut, with a beach-facing patio constructed of rugged acacia branches, stained-pine colored. There is an enormous apple-green couch shaped like a toilet, with large sewn lettering that reads “Armitage Shanks.”

Shanks points to it. “My great-grandfather had a great sense of humor. He furnished his drawing rooms with seats that looked like toilets.”

They sit on the cushions on the floor. Shanks crosses his legs as he stands, and lowers himself straight down into a cross-legged sitting position.

A very tall man walks out of the hut, carrying a tray. He is introduced as Ole Lenana. It is Otieno.

“My circumcision brother.”

Shanks and Ole Lenana chat away in a strange language. Ole Lenana joins them, unplugs the beaded tobacco pouch hanging from his neck, and starts to roll a cigarette.

“Did you know . . . ” His voice startles them, suddenly the voice of Shanks, not um-Shambalaa. “In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, before commercial fertiliser was invented, manure was transported by ship, dry bundles of manure. Once at sea, it started to get heavy, started to ferment, and methane would build up below deck. Any spark could blow up a ship—many ships were lost that way. Eventually, people began stamping the bundles ‘Ships in High Transit’ so the sailors would know to treat the cargo with respect. This is where the term ‘shit’ comes from. Ships in High Transit. Many of those around these days . . . ”

Prescott is wondering whether this is how the Shanks family sanitises their history. Fecal anecdotes that have acquired the dignity of a bygone age, presented in a dry, ironical tone.

“The Maasai build their houses out of shit. This is a house built from the shit of cattle, mixed with dung and wattle, and whitewashed with lime. You know, forget the bullshit in the brochure. That was for Vogue. I can see you two are not from the fluff press. I don’t really believe this Maa-saaia mythology stuff because it makes no sense to me. I make myself believe it because I need to. Maybe, being a Shanks, it is the shit that attracted me. Maybe it was to do something that would give me a name and a life different from something branded in toilets around the world. Maybe I was tired of being a name that flushes itself clean with money every new generation. Maybe I like the idea of having the power to save an entire nation. Or maybe it was just for the money. All I can tell you is that I want to help save these people, that these heirlooms you will see tomorrow are the most exquisite creations I have ever seen. The world must see them.”

Prescott says, “But don’t you think there’s something wrong with that? Isn’t it like taking ownership of something that isn’t ours?”

She is thinking, “Houses of bullshit, my God . . . ”

Shanks says, “I earned my membership, like any Maa. They trust me. I am one of them.” He was Um-Shambalaa again, and stood and he and Ole Lenana gripped forehands and looked deep into each other’s eyes, and Ole Lenana fell to his knees, and muttered something guttural, emotional, and grateful.

The cigarette is being passed around: Jean Paul, Prescott, um-Shmabalaa. Dope. She looks up, startled by a shadow. It is the tour guide, Matano, his torso bare, muscles gleaming. He is drinking beer.

“The sisters are here to sing.”

They walk in, women shrouded in red cloaks, singing. Voices, mined from a gurgly place deep down in the throat, oddly like percussion instruments. This is a society that lives laterally, Prescott thinks, not seeking to climb up octaves, find a crescendo, no peaks and troughs: ecstacy sought from repetition, as the music grabs hold of all atmosphere, the women begin to bleat, doing a jump every few moments, a jump that thumps a beat to the music, and lifts their piles of necklaces up and down. Up and down. Ole um-Shambalaa stands up, Ole Lenana joins him. They head out to the garden, and start to jump with every bleat. Prescott has an image in her mind of the stomach as a musical instrument, bagpipes squeezed to produce the most visceral sounds the body can. She finds herself jerking her neck forward and backward, to the beat. The tide must have risen, for the waves seem to be crashing on the beach with more fervor than she can remember. Damn him, damn Brynt. She will not cry.

The women have gathered around Jean Paul’s cushion. There is an expression of mild panic on his face, which he can’t shut out. They grab his arms, stand him up. He starts to jog himself up and down, a tight smile on his face, his eyes wild, looking for a way to bolt.

None of the women singing know a word of what they are singing. Not three hours ago, they were chattering away in Kiswahili, while cooking supper. After dark, they don beads and kangas and practice in the servant’s courtyard, heaving and gurgling and making all kinds of pretend Maa sounds. This is why the hotel allows them to stay in the quarters with their husbands.

Matano is watching Prescott. She is just about to allow herself to be reckless. He slowly makes his way towards her, stands behind her chair, allowing his presence to occupy her space.

At the airport he caught her standing alone, looking bewildered about this new place. Those eyes, her skin so white, made him shiver. He has in his mind the constant idea that white women are naked, people with skin peeled like baby rabbits, squirming with pain and pleasure in the heat. It is always profoundly disturbing to him that they are rarely like this in reality, so forward and insistent, interrupting his seduction with demands. THERE! THERE! Grabbing his face, holding on to it, making his tongue work until they are satisfied. Many of them have no faith in his abilities, feel they need to manage all his activities.

Was it Anais Nin who wrote the erotic story of a wild, giant beast of a man, an artist, and a brash and demanding woman came on to him, and he rejected her, and she chased and chased him, learning to be demure. One day, long after she had submitted and become who he wanted, he jumped on her and they molested the bed for the whole night.

Jean Paul has succumbed. It started with the women laughing at him, as they watched his body awkwardly trying to find a way into the rhythm. He burst out laughing at himself, and his movements became immediately more frenzied. Now he howls, and jerks faster, a string puppet out of control.

An hour later, Prescott sits with Matano at the edge of the camp. Ole um-Shambalaa is sitting cross-legged in the garden, absolutely still. Matano wraps his hand around her waist, and is singing a Maasai song in her ear, ever so softly. Behind him, the women’s self-help group are still singing. Their eyes have become glazed: they look like they could go on forever.

She can’t seem to stop shaking. It must be the dope. And the music.

She jerks out of his embrace and says, “I’m sorry, I’m just wiped out. I’ve got to go and lie down.”

He shrugs and turns her to him and smiles, looking at her, looking at her. Then his large hand reaches and pushes her hair behind her ear, his wrist leaving a smear of sweat on her cheek. She is singed by it, and immediately afraid.

*  *  *  *  

She can’t sleep. Her heart is thudding in her chest and when she lies on her back, an enormous weight seems to force her down, pushing her into her bed, and she has to struggle to breathe. It must be the dope. She stands. It is quiet outside; they’ve all gone to sleep. She stumbles out of the tent, her legs numb, stinging like pins and needles. The feeling spreads over her body and she goes to the bathroom and looks at her face in the mirror. It looks the same, a bit wild, but not much different. She sees the Maasai necklace hanging out of her toilet bag and takes it and puts it around her neck. She looks in the mirror: on her it looks tacky. The strong colors suck up her face.

There is a message from Brynt on her cellphone. “Did you find Shanks? Call me.”

What reigns you back in, she wonders, what makes you want to be what you were again? After this mindbending magic, how can Chicago compete with this primal music, with bodies rubbing themselves against thick moist air?

Maybe truth is always a consensus. Maybe it doesn’t matter what kind of proof backs up your submission; maybe your submission has no power without being subscribed to by a critical mass of people? What is the truth here?

Back home: there is fear so far inside fear you don’t feel it. Mortgages, a lifeline that cannot escape upward mobility: you have to be sealed shut from those who live laterally to thrive. If you cannot maintain openess to this, you can always control it. Packaging. Sell it, as a pill, a television program, a nightclub, a bonding retreat, a book, jambalaya prose. Control it. Make the magic real. Allow it only to occupy a certain time. This is the human way—the rest is animal. But tonight, it will be real, it is real, Brynt is a faraway myth. It will be different in the morning. But now, she heads back to um-Shambalaa’s.

*  *  *  *  

Matano finds himself thinking about Abdullahi’s proposal. A week ago, Abdullahi took him to meet the Nigerians, who intimidated him, strutting like nothing could govern them, buy them. Noticing his scepticism about the deal, one of them laughed at him.

“You Kenyans! You let these Oyibos fock you around, man. Eh! Can’t you see your advantage, man? You know them, they know shit about you. So here you are, still a boy, still running around running a business for a white guy. So stoopid! I saw him in the inflight magazine when I was coming from Lagos with new stock. Ha! Um-Shambalaa!”

The group of Nigerians broke into the Kool and the Gang song on cue: “Let’s go dancing. Um-Shambalaa, disco dancing . . . ”

“So do you dance for um-Shambalaa? For dollars? We’re offering you real money, man. Four hours, you let our guy in, and you have enough money to fuck off and buy a whole disco, where you can dance for German women the whole night, brother.”

Matano wonders for a moment why this deal is worth so much, then remembers the numbers. The thousands who gather under baobabs to listen to stories of the strange hotel tribes. The closed loop system the Nigerians have devised to reduce piracy. All the videos are released to the Video parlors on the same day. At the same time. FM stations who have taken to advertising in the videos. Politicians who pay to feature in the urinal breaks. NGO’s who pay to send Wear Condom messages between sex scenes.

Matano looks at the group on the grass now. Jean-Paul is slow dancing with (Ole Lenana) Otieno, who will argue in one of the afternoon sessions in the courtyard that the best way to get his revenge is to fuck them.

“There is nothing more satisfying than making a white man your pussy!”

The rest will laugh and call him “Shoga.”

They will all make sure Fatima does not hear them speak. They value their lives. Kamande will look back nervously to see that she is otherwise engaged.

For what, Matano thinks: fifty dollars? Maybe a watch? Why should Jean Paul give a shit how he is judged in the laugh sessions under baobab trees? Who, in his circle of peers, in his magic-made-real characters, will care?

He calls Abdullahi, and says, “Send them in, bro. Bring in the guy, the back door is open.”

He sees Prescott walking towards him. He will perform on the sofa of um-Shambalaa’s house. The drinks are laid out, the dope. Servants wander in and out and are soon invisible in the revelry.

Morning is another part of the lottery. The sun will rise. Somebody will receive a call, Chicago will roar back into her life, down a telephone line. She will wash Matano’s smell off her, sit on the toilet and cry, still stuck to chasing the spewing electric cable. Jean Paul will see a pile of tacky plasic beads on the floor, red-hair dye on his pillow, will smell stale nakedness on his sheets. That Lenana is no other reality in the morning. He wants money, is listening to Kiss FM, has splashed himself with Jean Paul’s cologne, before examining the shadow of his penis with some satisfaction. He must spend the next few weeks practicing his German. He will be on German TV soon, if all goes according to plan. Jean Paul is itching for him to leave, for the chambermaid to come in and clean last night away. He will sit on the beach and escape to the Bayous. Tonight, he will only see um-Shamabalaa’s reality through a camera, for their program “A World of Cultures.”

Fatima and her troop of women share the spoils in the morning. Ole um-Shambalaa paid them an extra bonus, just to make sure there was no mischief. Fatima cannot stand um-Shambalaa, and is not afraid to hide it: he cannot do without her. She is the most plausible gurgler and Kamande, is the best chef this side of the Island, and because he has the same name as Blixen’s badly spelled “Kamanti,” is worth more in drinks-before-dinner anecdotes. Fatima managed to get thirty dollars from Jean Paul, by threatening to take his shirt off while they danced last night. About three dollars of this money will be offically declared to husbands; the rest will go to their communal slush fund. Things will appear in the household, conveniences explained away. School fees are mysteriously paid.

“Ai! Don’t you remember? It was a gift from mama so-and-so, after I helped her cooking when her relatives went away.”

The nest egg is growing. Every three months, each gets a lump sum. Khadija is planning to leave her husband soon. She works as a chambermaid, and will return, after the morning shift, with a collection of forensic stories: red hair-dye on a pillow, how Otieno smells just like Jean Paul’s bathroom, and Matano, when will he leave those white women alone? It is definitely time they found him a wife . . .

Abdullahi is thirsty. The ferry smells of old oil. Last night, after the operation in um-Shambalaa’s house, he took an old lover to bed and performed like never before, surrounded by Abba, incense, and cocaine. Today, he will buy himself a car.

The practiced will thrive in the morning: both made their transitions before dawn. Matano left um-Shambalaa’s room, after carefully pulling strands of her hair from his short dreadlocks. He made his way back to the courtyard, lay out on his kikoi watching dawn and counting the stars, the way he used to with his mother as she cooked in another courtyard, not five miles away. He reads Dambudzo.

Ole um-Shambalaa is in his small plane. He woke up at four in the morning. He sat on the art-deco Shanks toilet and expelled. Sunrise will find him in Laikipia, talking to the elders, tracking an elephant, chatting to the young morans, learning new tricks. He will visit his factory, explain to the greediest of the elders how they can benefit from it, dish out wads of cash, enough to buy a goat or two. He will call his new enterprise a Conservancy. The Maa Conservancy. He will return at dusk, when his color is hidden by shadow, ready to play for Prescott’s cameras. Tonight, he will show them the heirlooms.

Abdullahi brings Matano the tape and his cut in the afternoon. Two hundred thousand shillings. Not enough to buy the disco, but just fine thank you. They sit in the TV room of the hotel, with some of the staff, and laugh and laugh and laugh at the lateral gurgles and drunken sex talk. For the next few months, this will be the main feature in every video hall at the coast. Sold to them, one time, and in a closed loop to limit piracy (as if anybody would risk pirating the Nigerians), for 500 shillings per tape. Ten bob entry, sex, imitation Maasai women, and “Um-Shambalaa, let’s go dancing.”

Fock the copyright, we’re Nigerian.

Someone is shouting loudly in the lobby, drunk. The first marines are checking in: ship landed today, exercises for Iraq. Matano smiles to himself, and catches Abdullahi’s eyes. Which one of them will call the Nigerians?

“Hey Bud, did you see them honkin’ hooters hanging at the pool-bar?”

“I wanna beach-view room, you stoopid fuck. Fucking Third World country. Fucking Ay-rabs everywhere.”

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