Nothing prepares you for this scene.
South Sudanese men are tall! Very
You haven’t seen a tall man until you see a tall South Sudanese man. An
And it’s this height that you notice even if you don’t want to notice, because it “diminishes” you as a man.
When you stand next to a man and
you are forced to look up at him, the
dynamics of that interaction
Those men are tall. 6’2’’ is average height there.
I interviewed this community leader guy who was a good 6’9’’ with the girth of a Prado to boot. (Hehe)
Goodness, he stood up to shake my hand and when I placed my hand in his, I felt like a flower girl. I felt like those girls in white that used to wait to receive Baba Moi at the airport from his overseas trips. My hand disappeared in his.
He held my hand like I was a young boy. Big men with big hands.
Then they are dark.
A shade of dark that isn’t in the colour spectrum.
It’s the kind of dark in which you can see your reflection.
And it’s a beautiful smooth dark. Their skin has a very lovely sheen – both women and men.
Tall and black and menacing.
Actually nothing prepares you for South
It is hot from the air.
The clouds around the air-conditioned plane interior shimmer in heat of the day.
The heat continues to rise from
The army men with their guns drove around the airport, a show of might.
I felt like I was in a scene from
‘Beast of No Nation’ – only there was no
single person who looked like Idris.
The women fanning themselves weren’t
doing it because of the soldiers but
because of the heat.
When we touched down and our plane
manoeuvred its way around the
numerous special mission planes,
loading and offloading humanitarian
goods, we saw sitting on the hot tarmac
an army van, the ones with the massive
machine guns mounted on its back,
patrolling the airport.
Grim looking blue- black men – not dark, but blue–black men – hang behind this van that had its headlights on, clutching special assault rifles and a motley of other weaponry.
I saw a rocket launcher. A bloody rocket
The men soldiers-they were all thin and long- limbed and risqué. Some were in dark Ray Bans – black glass against black
faces – you couldn’t even tell where the
dark glasses started and the flesh ended.
The sun bounced off them both,blue flesh and dark glasses.
My minder told me not to point at
soldiers: one gets shot around here for such lack of “etiquette”.
At some point over lunch I asked him how one can differentiate a Dinka from a Nuer(the two warring tribes) for instance and he shot me a nervous look and put his
finger on his lips. “Walls have ears,” he
South Sudan is very sick at the moment,a bit like a human body that has suffered a bad bout of malaria and is only just recovering.
There is a bad taste in the mouth and a
sense of lethargy.
The appetite isn’t quite back yet.
It feels fragile. And jumpy.
On the first night we were taken to a bar
called Juba Raha.
There was a band playing rhumba music.
Bands are huge in Juba and they all play Congolese music, which makes me know that indeed the Luos of Kenya descended from there.
They also have an obsession with big
cars and status and titles.
They are tall and dark.
Playing at Juba Raha there was a ragtag band called the Rising Star.
Great vocals. Uber entertainers. Men
smoked shisha. Shisha might be the
preserve of the upmarket here in Nairobi
but in Juba it’s smoked outside dukas
and kiosks. It’s status-less.
At Juba Raha ageing men smoked it, with their endless long legs stretched before them.
South Sudanese people can’t dance even for charity. They can’t.
We went out each night.
Not one person could dance. Not that I’m a good dancer myself.
They just shifted their super tall bodies around on the dance floor, as if they had just eaten a very heavy lunch.
When a man liked a number the band was playing, he would walk up and put a bank note on the man’s forehead and stick it there because of course he would be sweating.
If it was a woman he would stick it in between her breasts. The society is very patriarchal.
If the city surprises you, the countryside
will shock you.
We travelled south to Nimule, towards the border of Uganda.
It’s green and vast and largely
Small bomas made up of huts ran alongside the road.
There were green hills and shallow valleys.
Smoke from charcoal dealers meandered up to the unfiltered blue spotless sky.
Often without warning a small boy in military uniform would step onto the road and raise his thin hand consisting of more
elbow than arm.
Our driver pulled over.
The boy with jumpy inquisitive eyes
would peer at us in the car and speak to
the man seated in the front seat, a lanky
security guy in civvies, who then
produces an ID and mumbles words in
their mother tongue.
I caught “Farming mission” and we are waved through.
There are numerous checkpoints like that ahead ran by boys and young men with no boots and lots of authority.
That and de-mining crew who closed the road with ribbons as they dismantled landmines.
I saw a man at the airport wearing a
By the way South Sudan is the land of Kaunda Suits.
Men love them there.
One night Dickson Migiro took us to this club called Nest and there I saw a guy clubbing in a full Kaunda Suit. Right
in the middle of the club!
It was like seeing a giraffe standing outside that Barclays ATM on Loita Street,downtown Nairobi.
I was flummoxed. I thought to myself, so this guy showered, opened his wardrobe and said, “I’m going to rock in this Kaunda Suit because today I plan to kill them ladies.”
Maybe he had a specific Kaunda Suit for
going to the club with.
Oh, and most South Sudanese ladies have them weaves on their heads.
I’m just saying,so that our Kenyan ladies know that they have comforting company on this with their tall counterparts in Juba.
In fact I turned to the PR girl – Ann – and asked her, “Is it me or do these mamas all have weaves?” and she said, “Oh yeah. They love it.”
Anyway, back to that chap wearing a
Kaunda Suit at the airport.
He was easily 6’11”, very athletic, dark as a taboo, and with a small set of very white teeth running in his mouth.
He had a face that seemed to have been carefully sculpted from a hardwood and then roasted in a kiln. His chin was solid, angular and perfect. His cheeks sunk in the right places, drawing small pools of shadows in the process; and he had these set of high cheekbones that gave him a half- menacing look.
On his high forehead were those tribal incisions and I could tell from them that he was a Dinka from the way they ended into a V shape at the bridge of his forehead.
His fingers were long and tough looking like sprouting roots of a medicinal tree, ending in uncut cigar-like stubs at the end.
Then he had those small, aggressive,
penetrative, and somewhat vindictive
eyes that you couldn’t stare into for too
Eyes that could wear out an enemy
before his weapon did. He was a picture,
We all walk around thinking that we are
very male. We tell each other in bars,
“you guy, you are a man so you can’t
back down.” We say, “mimi ni
mwanaume” when we want to prove a
Then you find yourself next to this
man in a Kaunda suit at the airport and
you know that he is a different kind of
man, the kind that you aren’t.
You feel like a bad wolf sitting next to a lion.
Our flight was delayed so we sat in that
dreadful steaming airport that smelled
of batshit (literally) and this man looked
around in that half bored, half alert way.
He was an elegant man.
And I’m never going to write those words again ever in my blogging career.
I also don’t have to keep disclaiming that I’m straight before I say certain things. Because I am. No, really, I
am. If I was even Bi, I would say it. Or
allude strongly to it. It’s not like you are
going to come to my digs and beat me
up for liking men.
The way he carried himself, I could tell he didn’t belong in that Kaunda suit.
It had been thrust on him.
Clothes were wasted on him.
They simply hang on his frame.
He exuded something primal.
Something primitive. Primeval. Outmoded. An antiquated man.
He seemed like a time traveler
from a past century, grudgingly passing
through a strange modern time.
Sitting next to him was like sitting next
to an electric plant, and feeling it hum
You could feel the manhood hum from this guy, his male- ness filling the air around him.
He vibrated with testosterone. A
Muonyajang, a man of men.
I have seen men like these before, in Pokot and in Turkana.
I once met a 19-year old Pokot warrior during the Rift Valley festivals where they try to bring the Pokots and Turkanas together for the sake of peace and that boy was not a boy at all.
But such things you have to be
there to fathom.
The guys reading this are probably saying, “Oh come on now, Githeri loving
Man, you have a crash on another
You will only say this when the only men you have interacted with wear polo shirts with upturned collars, drink Heineken and say things like, “si you kuja?”
I was telling my office-mate, Gathura, about this guy.
And he stopped working on his
laptop and listened to me with this look
in his eyes.
His mouth was closed but his eyes said “wow.”
In the plane back to Nairobi, I wondered about that main in a Kaunda Suit.
I wondered if a man his type who pays 150 heads of cattle for a woman, a man who can run for many kilometers in the dark during a raid, wrestle other men, walk barefoot on the hot African earth, love his cows more than he loves his woman, a man who is socialised never to back down, to cede to any man, a man like that, does he believe in romance, or even dating?
What kind of fathers are they?
What dreams do they have?Is he the kind of man who will hold a woman’s hand or is this weakness?
Does he cuddle on sofa, or is that a sign of weakness? When does he get
vulnerable? What makes him
vulnerable? How does he show fear?
Does he know fear.like short men do?
And they have a word for such men in Juba. A lovely word that I heard one night, after an altercation at a parking lot where a guy who was giving us a lift – a security agent – scratched a parked car as he reversed and he uttered those words.
He kept saying, “I’m not scared of a
Muonyjang. I’m not scared of a
Muonyjang.” And I asked later, “What is
this Muonyjang?” because it sounded
epic and dusty, something revered and
covered in a banana leaf and kept on a
rafter of a hut. Not to be touched by
A Muonyjang. I was told that’s Dinka to mean “Man of men.”
A Dinka man, believes that there are
men, then there is a Dinka man, a
Muonyjang, a man of men.
I want to say something.
But I don’t want it to mean anything else other than what I mean.
And it’s not like we drink together so you going to never pay my bill.
Sexuality is personal, no man
lies on the bed you make.
But I’m straight, sawa?
Having said that (goodness, ati having
said that, how old am I?) I think there
was something extremely romantic
about those South Sudanese men.
And by romance I don’t mean the romance of love, I mean the adventurous
The romance defined by Webster as “marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of what is heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious or idealised.”
Are we all together there back in Nairobi,the land of short men?