The Diplomat

Once upon a time an Italian statesman by the name of Camillo Cavour sat down and thought: No, my beloved country won’t be freed from oppression by mass uprisings. The Austrian armies were too strong. Not many Italians were willing to take up arms anyway. They probably just wanted to put on their toques and make some lasagna.

So what Camillo did, he made friends with Britain and France and organized for more troops. We’re told that he was very hands-on. And a quick Google search reveals he maintained a nice beard. I bet he could make a mean lasagna with that beard.

We’re also told that Camillo made an agreement with France, that, if Austria attacked Piedmont, French soldiers would donate their guns. As it went, Camillo reclaimed Lombardy from the Austrians, inspiring a great revolution that would eventually lead to the unification of Italy.

Centuries later, on a Wednesday night in Nairobi, a spiky-haired boy climbed into a matatu. He staggered. He was drunk. He wedged himself between two other boys. The one on the left was texting a girl called Eve. The other one was scrolling through Facebook. The music playing was, inevitably, Trap.

(By the way I hope I’m not being too extra with this Trap business)

The drunken one blacked out as soon as the jav left the stage. He woke up again on the stretch of the highway. He looked pissed. He was tired. He clicked his tongue. He made a face. But his seatmates took no notice of him.

And then an idea struck him. His eyes widened. The idea grew in his head until it became the most practical thing in the world. The most diplomatic. The most hands-on.

He tapped the boy on his left and said, “Unapenda hii ngoma?”

The boy looked startled. Now what did this unkempt drunk want? He had been snatched away from his thread with Eve. And then he looked at the screen up-front and said, “Huyu Dj hajui kumix.” Eve is typing.

Drunk then turned to the one on the right and said, “Hii ngoma inakubamba?”

“Zii manze.”

Drunk was making some progress now. He already had these two blokes to back him. He only needed a few more signatures for his petition. He was going to lobby for the removal of the dreary music. He would walk up to the tout and suggest they play something a bit more pleasant. Reggae, perhaps.

So what Drunk did, he left his school bag on his seat and shimmied to the front. Drunk and Tout fist-bumped. No one could clearly make out what Drunk was saying, but he was heard asking –as if seeking confirmation- if he had indeed paid his fare. Si nimelipia gari?

And then he directed a hand towards the passengers at the back. As if to say, look here, pal, I’m speaking for everyone. The tout nodded. Drunk went back to his seat –suddenly very pleased with himself.

Seconds later the music was changed. And Drunk felt mighty proud of his efforts. He was seen smiling in his drunken slumber, no doubt feeling like Camillo Cavour.


I’m terribly averse to voicing my complaints. I always seem to think that I’ll rub someone off the wrong way and there’ll be some misunderstanding and I’d end up losing a tooth. I rarely talk about the things that bother me. All my girlfriends have highlighted it:

“You don’t tell me what’s wrong. Now if you keep quiet how am I supposed to know you’re not okay?”

I see conflict and I run away. It’s even worse when I’m in public. I’d rather keep quiet and brave through the unpleasantness. Some might say I’m just being a coward but losing a tooth is not the worst thing that could happen.

The worst thing would be to be ignored. It would be for someone to earnestly receive your complaint, and still does nothing about it –especially if they have direct control over the bugger. You just end up feeling vile and silly. Take politicians, for instance.

They lend us their ears when we complain about unga and the cost of living, and then they say, “Okay. Just vote for us and we’ll sort out everything in a hundred days.” Ha! Utajua hujui.

Once in primary school the headmistress – a short plump woman- said that a Suggestion Box would be installed, and that we could use it as so. Its wooden casing was painted black and was safely secured with a small Tri-Circle padlock.

I was overjoyed. Finally I could tell them what I really thought about the cabbage they served at lunch.

I immediately ran to class, tore up a piece of paper, and penned a letter to the authorities. The cabbage sucks, I said. It’s too watery. Then I folded it and threw it in the box –confident that they were going to improve the cabbage.

They didn’t.

I wrote 3 more letters but nothing changed. And I vowed never to cast my thoughts into a Suggestion Box ever again.

And then, on the aforesaid Wednesday, I sat for an exam that required us to write a complaint letter. (20 marks) As it went, we were to complain about poor service at a restaurant and to inform the management that there was even a case of food poisoning.

It was primary school all over again. And I was happy to just rehash what I had written into the Suggestion Box. Only, this time I used grown-up words like ‘appalled’ and ‘utterly dismayed’. But the thing that bugged me most was the invigilator.

She came garbed in a striped dress. Her knees were showing and her face looked pale and pimply, and I noticed she was preggies. Her strides were short and lazy but she remained hawk-eyed through the entire exam. At some point –while she was seated at the desk in front- she took out a samosa and attacked it like it was nothing.

Cravings, I thought.

The aroma wafted over to me. And I began to wonder whether her hormonal state would change the way she marked the exam. How far out was she, exactly? Would she be more lenient with the marking? Or would she be so appalled by my ugly handwriting that she wouldn’t even bother to read my complaint letter?

And on that note: Congrats to my editor, Bett, who finally tied the knot today.


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