Crispy Chicken Burger + Chips
Crispy Chicken Burger and Chips combo. Enjoy it across Java House branches at 790/- and tantalize your taste buds as you bond over delicious food with your special someone all through the month.
All the warmth and positivity you need! Treat yourself to a Cinnamon Dawa for 240/- all February long.
We once saw a painter paint. He was a skinny man with cheekbones that trapped light and a faraway, haunted look. The type of look artists wear to give the impression of being unearthly. That they are not from here, merely passing through with their gift.
Anyway, this particular painter never allowed anyone to watch him paint but after a month of begging he let us in but with strict instructions; not a word. Not a question. No touching anything – including him. And no standing in his light.
He wore old jeans and an apron over a long black cotton shirt. He started painting at 7am in a wooden shed where he lived. His dog, a shaggy beast called Shaggy napped at his bare feet. He worked with no music, the door closing out the outside world. He sat on a stool, surrounded by paint and brushes and a pencil stuck behind his ear like a carpenter. He looked tortured, even in pain, as he painted. Every stroke on the canvas seemed to scratch his soul, revealing bits of him in colour. We sat still, watching this theater of anguish and beauty wondering if it was magic or masochism. It was both beautiful and sardonic to watch, like watching a cow give birth.
He painted for four hours only taking sips from his water, his back as straight as a road to heaven. Even though his face was placid with stoicism his eyes burned like a lantern in deep unyielding darkness. When he was done he cleaned his brushes silently and washed his bony hands from a bucket then hang is apron on a hook before slipping out the shed without looking at the painting or asking us what we felt about it.
And so sometimes when you see a painting like this, when you sit and eat under it or just gaze at it, you wonder about the artist and all the demons and angels he left on it. Quite often we understand the painting less than we understand the artist. And that’s okay. Art isn’t meant to be understood, it’s meant to provoke, intrigue or even puzzle. Just like the artist’s cheekbones.
Beverage Special – Iced Blue Curacao
Spread some love through out the month of February with a deliciously rich Iced Curacao Latte or Mocha at Ksh.370.
The women are making fun of Debbie’s jean pants. Debbie is the lady hanging clothes. The other women don’t like her much. They say she thinks she’s better than them. Because she wears weaves like Beyoncé. Because her sister sends her things from Boston. Because her husband is a supervisor in the quarry and goes about with a pen stuck in his breast pocket like he went to school. Everybody knows he didn’t.
Mama Subi, tells her. “Debbie, is that how they make jeans in America now?”
“Boston.” Debbie says. “Yes in Boston.”
“What’s the purpose of that line running down its length?”
“It’s the fashion of Boston.”
The others laugh scornfully. Every Saturday they wash clothes by the government water tank. It’s on this day that they get to know if Debbie got new clothes from Boston or not. Her clothes stand out in the clothing line by their colour and personality. But the rest think of her clothes as ridiculous and mostly scandalous. Clothes you wouldn’t wear to your mother-in-law’s. Ungodly clothes with splits running right up to the waist, short clothes, clothes you can see through skin, clothes that are so tight one can see the dimples on her thighs. She has some she calls lingeries that she wears for her husband, they look like strings tied together. But Debbie cares not. Debbie thinks this is Boston.
She also refuses to have a child. She says, “children will spoil my shape.” Indeed she has a shape of a Coke bottle but her nose is the size of a baby’s fist. Maybe she will get a smaller nose from Boston. Who knows?
Mercury, Manufacturing Manager – Foodscape
I wasn’t to be named Mercury. My mom wanted to name me Majory but during certification instead of Majory she wrote Mercury. Not a bad name anyway. Mercury is the smallest planet and closest to the sun. I don’t know if that speaks anything of my personality. I don’t even know if I have anything in common with the chemical element Hg, but what I know is that I had chemistry with cooking from the time I was a child.
What I also know is that we are products of other people. We are stems, shooting off to find our own destinies, finding ourselves. I shot from the roots of my aunt. She worked at Jacaranda Hotel as a chef. She was regal, always in white chef’s uniform. She looked important. Her fridge at home always had ingredients; fancy cans, fruits and condiments. She had beautiful cookery; delicate, flowered, shiny. All these made an impression on my young mind. You could say she
cooked up a storm in me.
Before that I had fantasy of being a journalist. I loved writing and grammar. I loved books and how they smelled. I loved beautiful sentences and their rhythm on paper. I loved how one word could mean different things when it joined another sentence. The infinite power of language fascinated me.
So there I was caught up between two lovers; words and food. I mean food is an expression of love or of self and words are the food that feeds our souls. I dabbled in journalism in high school – journalism club etc – but when it came to joining a higher learning institution the decision was taken away from me when my dad got sick, with no money to pursue journalism I joined Utalii College to study Food Production.
After college I joined Java in 2003 as a cook then got promoted to Line Chef in 2008. I moved to Assistant Branch chef then to Multi Unit Chef running five branches. Then sous chef, then product chef. Now I’m a Manufacturing Manager at Food scape. Where an I going? The top, maybe. Or maybe one day I might open my own restaurant.
What happens to Journalism? For now it’s like memory you have of your first love.
“My potato baby.” “My sweet potato.” That’s how popular potatoes are; the fact that people compare their loved ones with them. Because the romance of potatoes is unrivaled. Well, second close is a banana, “my sweet banana.” But bananas ripen and go bad if left out in the open for too long. And to what good is a love that goes bad? But Potatoes? Nope, the love of potatoes endures time. Let the choir say amen!
There are people we know (no names here) who can’t look at a potato in the eye because of their irresistibility. Then there are those who exercise no self restraint and add them to anything. Who can blame them? Because potatoes are versatile, they are eager to please you. They can come as spicy chips, homefries (the height of potato temptation), lyonnaise, they can come roasted or mashed, or even in jackets because potatoes are fashionable. I mean what other vegetable would you say has a statement outfit?
Also potatoes have a clean rap sheet. Unlike wheat they have relatively Great social goodwill. We’ve never heard of anyone who is potato intolerant. It’s like saying you are intolerant to water which would mean you can’t stand hydrogen or oxygen. Come on, even vampir…forget it.
But truly, if we speak about a group of people who have an express pass into sainthood, it’s our chefs and their mastery of the potato. From chips masala, to loaded fries (Oh baby, nirvana in the mouth) or just spicy chips with your ordered burger, you can never go wrong with your potato order.
So today is we celebrate potatoes in all their forms. Visit us today for a taste of heaven.
Let us know what your favourite potatoe meal from Java is.
The Couple & The Cake
The couple sat around a cake, as if warming against the imaginary fire of romance it emitted. She had a dimple on her left cheek. He had a weak heart for that dimple. They used one spoon to excavate the sides of the cake. She wasn’t a sweet tooth but he had insisted that the cake was everything. That’s actually the word he used, “everything.” He liked using that word, she noticed; that song was everything, the road-trip was everything….
For a first date it was a bit unhygienic to share a spoon. I mean, she didn’t know him. Yes they had talked a lot about everything in the weeks leading to the date but they hadn’t discussed oral hygiene. Also, Covid. But you know how love is; love is greater than a virus, greater than a plague.
His knees were long and they constantly bumped into hers under the table. It seemed like a very romantic gesture. It’s one of the things she would remember that night in bed; how long and bony his knees were and how when they rapped against hers under the table. It felt like there was a cow under the table honing her knees. He wasn’t funny like she liked her men, just attentive and warm. She chewed slowly, the cake and his attempts at jokes, rewarding him with an occasional tinkle of her laughter.
At some point he scooped a piece of cake and fed her. She blushed and looked away. “Do you always feed people like this?” She asked coquettishly. “Yes,” he said. “I work for an NGO that feeds homeless people.” He wasn’t joking which was funny. She found him funny without meaning to. In the end they couldn’t finish the cake, so he asked for it to be packed for her. Oh this sweet man with a sweet tooth.
You come from so far, from Huruma, that when you look back from you have been it seems like your are experiencing vertigo. You started in 2010 a steward, washing dishes because your mother always said that it matters little where you start, what matters is where you are headed.
Being a steward is back breaking, almost dispiriting. It’s about resilience, about beating monotony. You keep your head up so as not to lose sight of where you are going. You want better so you become a barista and then assistant head barista, the horizon is suddenly opening up, your confidence boosted, it all seems possible. It can be done, it can be done, you tell yourself daily.
Things get better, you fall in love and you get married then you get a baby. When your mother prays she thanks God profusely, for shining on you and her grandchild, she thanks your sunrise. But then it rains; your husband dies and you are shattered. Suddenly it feels like you are starting at the very beginning. You look at your son and you cry, not for yourself but for him because now he has to grow up without a father. And it breaks your heart. You are suddenly buried so deep in sadness you don’t believe you will ever see light.
Your mom never stops praying. You walk in this shadow of grief until finally you realize that there must be worse things on earth, so you slowly start picking the pieces. You look back at the things that have worked for you; your health, your mother, your son who fills your cup of love, your job and a position that you wouldn’t have imagined having. You look at all these and it seems like a miracle.
And to imagine it started with doing dishes…
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Painters. You wonder what goes through their heads while painting. It’s a puzzling beauty, some paintings. Take this one in Java Kigali. There is a protagonist with a small head. Someone must have shrunk his head, a furious chief, perhaps. Or he was hit with a club and it never regained shape. Anyway, he decides to take off with his niece’s bicycle. He cycles to town, to look for a comb because his comb broke while combing his small patch of hair.
It’s a good day to look for a comb, blue sky over a din of honking and beeping. He’s wearing his cool pink (size 4 l) shoes because why the hell not? As he cycles past a salon he sees a clutch of beauties holding court outside. They are quite sassy, these bunch. Long wavy hair and all. City girls his mommy had warned him about. He brings the baby bicycle to a stop and steps on the ground with one leg.
“Greetings, beautiful beasts!” He says. There is voluptuous one in devastating yellow dress leaning against the wall. She ignores him. She is the troublemaker, he can tell. The one seated on the floor being braided says nonchalantly, “Alo.”
“I’m looking for a comb.” He tells her.
“For what?” Yellow growls. Her voice full of cigarettes, late nights & bad decisions.
“To cut my grass,” he retorts. (He might have a small head but it has a mouth on him.) “What do you think?”
Yellow scoffs “You hardly have any hair on that beady head the size of an orange.” She says. “I imagined maybe the comb was for your dog’s fur.” The other ladies giggle. He stares at Yellow who stares back unblinkingly. Finally he says, “I might need a comb for my hair but you need soap for that mouth.” The ladies chortled loudly as he pedals away.
Shelmith, 26 – Java Gigiri
Some people will come and say they want a cappuccino and they will stand there scrolling through heir phones, brows creased, not looking up to the world. Some people will say, “double latte” and they will stand there and watch you make their beverage. So they will be offered a double barista. The steaming and frothing and pouring.
Unbeknownst to them they will be watching your dream since the days growing up in Thika to parents who were farmers. They don’t know that the first time you ever learnt about coffee it was on TV. That when you saw people drink coffee you knew you wanted to make coffee even before the smell lured you in.
They don’t know that even though you love what you do now your first love was to be a digital marketer but there is a great distinction between a dream and a first love. You can dream of your first love but also your first love will always know about your dreams.
One day you want to open a small coffee house, a grab and go. A small quaint place with few cool staff in canvas shoes, a place where during cold days people gather in to pick their coffees and linger for brief warm conversations.
But all that is in the future. Now you are doing your time. You are having fun, fun being watched pursuing your dream.
Mercy Odweso – Senior barista
Mercy Odweso – Senior barista
Born and raised in Makongeni, of a colonial history, of an emerging class of people from the days of the white rule, of men in ties working in government offices then a gradual slow slide into desperation that lived in the rumbling inner city; boys getting into crime and young girls getting into maternity hospital, a cycle of survival that always seemed to spin round and round like laundry in a washing machine.
That’s what she remembers growing up “mtaani”, parlance for “hood.” Dad died. Mom owned a kibanda in the neighborhood; chapati, madondo, matumbo, hot tea of a kettle, that kind of thing. She attended Makongeni primary then she joined Parklands high school. Her day; wake up at 4am, help mom in said kibanda, quick shower at 5:30, walk to town, pick a matatu to parklands, matatu to town after school, walk back home, change and work in the kibanda, doing dishes, serving, closing up, then homework at half-mast, sleep with mouth open. Repeat again and again.
“I wanted to save myself,. Didn’t want to be born there, to be a mother there and die there like all girls I knew.”
Ironically, Parklands opened her eyes to another world, how the other side lived. She shared a class with Indians. “Whilst we winged it, I saw how they planned and organized. I didn’t have a plan but observing them I started having a plan about life.” Then she started clawing her way out of that hole.
Now she is here. Moved out of mtaa. Got two kids – 13 and 17 years old now -, got mum out of that kibanda because the labour was affecting her health. “Most importantly I fell in love.” She’s talking about coffee.
“Getting to be where I am – head barista – is hard work and passion. But I owe all that to the early mornings and late evenings working in the kibanda. It builds your muscles for work because everything is about how big your muscle for work is.” Metaphorically, she means.
A Barista’s Journey
Barbra Gichiri 26
Three tattoos so far. Two represent death and one represents life. On my arm is a palm tree. My best friend, a fellow barista, walked into a busy highway in Bahrain and killed himself. The news of his death felt like I had been hit by the 18-wheeler truck that killed him. It staggered me. It welled in me difficult questions in the still of darkness.
The second tattoo is on my neck is for Amira, my two year old daughter. Amira in Arabic means princess. She is on my neck because my neck keeps my head up. She is on my neck because you can see my heartbeat on my neck and I want the world to see my heartbeat.
The last tattoo is of a coffee plant. It represents where I come from- Muranga – the home of coffee. I grew up around coffee. It’s also where my parents are buried. See, I’ve been an orphan since I was six years old. I’m 26. One day mom and dad and my little brother were coming back from Nairobi when they got into a nasty road accident. Mum and baby brother died on the spot, dad not long after. I don’t remember them much, just flashes of hazy memory. But when I go to Muranga and stand on their graves surrounded by coffee plants, I feel like I knew them.
I was raised by my hippie grandmother, a slender (like me), talkative (like me) free spirited (like me) lady. All I have learnt about freedom and life and courage comes from my grandmother, which means it also comes from great tragedy and loss. Grandma doesn’t sit in one place; life is motion, you stand for too long and the ground eats you. You move because when you move you learn.
I was destined to be a barista. I always knew I wanted to make coffee like they did in movies. After catering school I once saw a van calling our for baristas in traffic, like a calling. I applied and got into a barista school. Now here I am at Java, the home of coffee. I’m incomplete but also I’m completed in the ways that I should be completed. I come with scars and tales and I come with my tattoos. So when I make you a cup, I’m not just serving you coffee, I’m serving you a part of my journey.
When She Tells You She Is Not Even Hungry.
She tells you she is not even hungry. She’s never hungry. She just wants something ‘light’. She says, “Babe I’m actually not hungry.” Babe, she’s hungry.
She says she’ll have anything. Greens. Veggies. Salad. Something. There is no shame in diving into a pool of indulgence and getting what you really want, you want to say. She insists on eating kale, like a weak-hearted vegetarian who grows faint at the sight of animal flesh.
Eating is hard on the teeth, and there are secret vegans everywhere. Speaking of, she’s insecure about her teeth. Those teeth that were moulded specifically to eat burgers. Those teeth are a flosser’s wet dream—standing straight, close but not touching, like co-workers forced into a company photograph. Social distancing, if you may, but for teeth. They’re also just teeth, too bad they are wasted on salad. Salad!
She asks you what you want to have. I’ll have whatever you have, she says, which is Morse code for please take away this morsel of guilt from me. You like your food solid, thick, and bloody: a beast with a voracious appetite and a body that suggests the opposite. “I like their chicken curry but their burger is to die for,” you cajole. “Light but with a heavy touch, especially if you’re not hungry.” Something that would not only fill her stomach, but her soul.
She pouts, in a mouth position that looks sultry, but not slutty. You stay Taliban.
It’s a complicated business, eating. She is a habitual food thief – she orders one thing, but eats from your plate —stealing the last piece of crispy meat you’ve been saving for last, without an iota of guilt. Or shame. She thinks it’s some playful charm, a forgivable, even lovable quality about her behaviour.
Your advertise your take-charge attitude and ignoring her wants, needs, or deadly tree nut allergy, you go ahead and order her a garden salad (dressing on the side!) and a burger for you.
For yourself, the Big Kahuna, you want to take the ‘Buy 1 Get 1 Free’ Java burger offer. In fact, you want to order two. Feintly, in the background, like a mercifully whisper, you hear: “I’m not really hungry,” as she slides the words in your ear, “but just order two,” she adds.
And the salad?
Actually, today is my cheat day, she says.
And, it’s two for the price of one? It’s quite literally, eating your burger and having it too. Hehe? Besides, I’m not even thaaat hungry.
A Coffee Cupping
Some men’s job takes them into this room at Java’s commissary. Here, is Tito Azenga, the bazenga of Java coffee. He’s Java’s Head Master Roaster, started with the brand 22 years ago. Then there’s Mutie Mbalo, Group Head Barista, 18 years on this grind. Over there is Pater Kariuki the Coffee Sales & Quality Manager, 15 years. Then Tolex Tajawuo, the only Maasai in his village who knows more about coffee. He’s a roaster with 10 years. Collectively there is almost 70 years of coffee congregated in the room.
Every month they meet in this room for a coffee cupping (or tasting) session. Before them are about 100, 12gms coffee samples from coffee millers in 200 cups which they have to all agree is good enough to be sold in their cafes. Nobody leaves the room until they agree. And no fighting, or sulking if your preferred coffee isn’t picked.
There is a lot walking up and down the high working top, smelling of dry aroma and smelling of wet aroma & studying the quality of the coffee beans. A lot of cupping the cups of to the face with eyes closed, smelling the aroma of the coffee, the soil it came from, the rainfall and sunshine it had and the love and toil of its farmer. The room fills with the sweet smell or roasted almonds and peanuts.
Then comes the slurping; scoop spoonful, slurp it, swirl it, spit it, record on a form. And banter. Sometimes politics sips in the banter because we are Kenyans. They josh. They laugh. They spit. They talk coffee.
Later, they review. Tito says, “1501 was a C for me.” Or Mutie says “2109 was a bit dirty for me.” They all agree or disagree to buy because palates are different. Good coffee is citrus in nature, you will learn. Many hours later, they will have decided on which coffee to buy from which millers and a different process will start which will end up with a barista at the branch making you a fresh cup of coffee.
Happy #InternationalCoffeeDay #JavaLove
A Traditional Girl
She’s a traditional girl; she likes tea and bread. When he had said “for better or for worse,” in their wedding he didn’t know that the “worse” part was her love for tea and bread. She drinks tea and bread all the time and she is always leaving cups or tea and half eaten plates of bread in every room in their house. This is because she carries her tea and bread in every room she has business in and she forgets it, then makes another one which she carries to another room. With all those plates of bread scattered in rooms of the house, often it feels like their house is one big mouse-trap experiment.
She also has this condition where after 5:30pm her legs swell as you can see from this photo. Two in every a million people have this condition in the world. It’s almost like all the blood drains from her neck and goes to her legs. Its not painful, though, just heavy and annoying because she always has to tell guests that it is NOT Elephantiasis. So its always easier not to have guests over past 5pm. Or eat out. Which means he always has to cook dinner which he never minds because he loves to cook for her while she lounges on the sofa reading him jokes from old Readers Digest magazines that she inherited from her mom.
“How does Moses make tea?”
“A man tells a doctor, “doc help me I’m addicted to Twitter!” The doctor says, “sorry, I don’t follow you.”
“Did you hear about the actor who fell through the floorboards?”
“He was just going through a stage.”
They would laugh so loudly at these jokes.
That, for him, is the “better” part of their “for better or worse” wedding vows.
This painting is at Java Rosslyn.
Java House Featured in Endeavour Magazine December 2019 Issue
Read the full article here.
This Man, The Baton
He remembers his mother’s lover. Not the unique features of his face but his presence, or rather, his moment of impending absence. At 6-years, he didn’t know what a lover was. All he knew was this man whom he and his sister called Uncle. This man, who had lived next door to them in the tea plantations where they grew up, was frequently over. Uncle was frequently over because his father never was. His father was never over because he died before he was born, in the second trimester. To mean, he was born in mourning. But worse than being born in mourning, he would soon discover, was to be born in poverty.
When they buried his mom and the crowd was dispersing, he remembers clinging onto his mother’s lover, because he didn’t want to remain alone in the village, he wanted to go back with him to the tea plantations in Kericho. But Uncle couldn’t go back with him. He was not his son, not his kith or kin. Uncle was just a tea picker who had fallen in love with another tea picker, who was now dead and buried. That’s all he remembers of his mother’s funeral; him crying as his mother’s lover left him behind to live with his grandmother in a rural village called Wamba.
I knew you’d ask – Wamba Village is in Bondo and Bondo in Siaya County. Siaya County is not Kisumu. Kisumu is a city with roundabouts and all. Wamba village has no roundabouts. It’s a small village that overlooks Lake Victoria.
In his grandmother’s modest boma were three houses; the one room main house where granny slept with her younger sister Mercy, the small kitchen which was a hen’s pen at night and lastly the one room house where he and six male cousins slept; cousins he had just met who belonged either to dead aunts or uncles he had never met or aunts and uncles who had dumped their children there. These houses had mud walls, iron-sheet roofs and floors made from cow dung.
They had very little. They walked barefoot. They fished for their food in the lake. Chicken was a delicacy, a preserve for important visitors. He learnt how to row a boat by the time he was seven years and they would row into the lake to fetch drinking water daily. They bathed by the shore and dried by the shore. They did dishes by the shore, washed clothes by the shore. (Not that there was much to wash.)
“I owned one pair of khaki shorts and three shirts, one of which included my school shirt.” They called these shorts, Ojebo. It was a special pair of shorts sewn through the dexterity of his grandmother, with the sole objective of outliving the owner and quite possibly the planet earth and all its inhabitants. It was made from this very tough khaki that could withstand rain, sun, lightning, earthquakes, a nuclear attack and a knife stab. Because these were the only shorts he owned, every three days he would wash it by the lake by laying it on a stone and scrubbing it with a swatch of nylon and a slice of bar soap, then leave it to dry by the shore as he and his friends went into the lake – naked – to fish or fetch drinking water. They’d be gone for a few hours and when they’d return, he would find his shorts there, on the stone, because you never stole someone’s Ojebo. That was the lowest of lows. You could steal someone’s goat but you never stole his Ojebo because then you stripped him of any decency, you left him naked, literally but also figuratively. Because the Ojebo was heavy duty, it would take ages to dry, so he would hang around the shore, waiting for it to dry. The Ojebo never waited for you, you waited for the Ojebo. And it took its sweet time. Time, as a commodity, was in abundance in the village. Nobody rushed anywhere. There was no massive dream to chase, no deadlines to meet, no proverbial time ticking on your dreams.
For the whole of his primary school life he wore that one Ojebo, changing the three shirts occasionally. Barefoot, he walked daily to his primary school – Wambasa Primary School. It had less than 150 students and sisal plants as a fence. Goats roamed about inside the compound. Although the motto was somewhat cliché – Forward Ever, Backward Never – they had some very dedicated teachers; teachers who, unfortunately, had shown up for that dogfight with a cock.
You might not have heard of Wambasa Primary but it’s the school Prophet Owuor attended, a fact which could mean a lot or could mean nothing. Fees was one thousand Kenya shillings a term – that is, two doubles of Oban whisky. Many defaulted and were often sent home. His grandmother was struggling with all these grandchildren and so the responsibility of going to school lay squarely on you. But since school is based on the dream of a brighter future and in his village dreams rarely rose beyond the earth, most dropped out of school. He stayed on because he was smart and books “agreed with him.” So to pay the fees, he would go into the forest to fetch logs then sell them in the nearby Usenge beach for the fishermen to fry the fish with. A batch of twelve pieces tied together called “Wich” went for 10 bob. To fetch this firewood sometimes he had to venture into the forest belonging to the government of Kenya and the wardens would grab him and beat him up. Raising the one thousand shillings was always an uphill task.
KCPE results came out when he was bobbing on a boat, shooting the breeze with his friends. He was told he was the top student in his school- 332/500 marks. He broke the news to his grandmother that evening as she sat outside the kitchen, by the three-stone stove. She was blowing the fire. She sat up and looked at him, her eyes watery from the smoke and asked, “Is that a good thing?”
“It is,” he said.
“Does it mean they will call you to secondary?”
“Yes. But we need twenty thousand shillings for fees.” [Per year]
“Eii yawa, nyakwara,” she sighed. She said it was impossible. There was no way they could raise that kind of money. Her whole life she had never held twenty thousand shillings in her hands at a go. Plus there were his cousins and sister to feed. [His sister was later to get married across the lake to a man who owned a motorbike ]
At this point being a top student lit a small “what if” in him. A little spark of hope. Something so weak you could blow it off with a sneeze. But it was there; the what if. What if there was actually a chance he could go beyond life in this village? What if a miracle could happen and he could be like those people in Bondo town who rode motorcycles and wore ties? But when nobody else has ever gone to secondary school in your family lineage, when dreaming means going to the moon in a Maruti, you don’t dare stand in that sinking sand of hope. In his village nobody dared to dream big. “You can only dream if you have a way out. We had no way out, so dreaming meant disappointments.”
So he carried this little hope in his pocket, a little secret, a rare coin with no value but one that represented something bigger.
He continued with his hustle of playing hide and seek with wardens in the forest, selling firewood, fishing and waiting for his damn Ojebo to dry. One day his primary school teacher sent for him and told him that they had a small miracle; KCDF, (Kenya Community Development Foundation) in conjunction with Chandaria Foundation was offering twenty thousand shillings to sponsor the top student. So he joined Got Abiero Secondary School, quite a distance from his village. Fees was eighteen thousand shillings a year. The extra two thousand shillings he used to buy his uniform.
For the first time he owned a pair of shoes and socks. “It was so difficult adjusting to wearing shoes after walking barefoot all my life. It felt strange, awkward. Sometimes I’d remove the shoes and walk carrying them.” He lived in a small house with a friend who was a shamba boy and caretaker for a man who lived and worked in Nairobi. When you are disadvantaged, you make friends who can help you, so he made friends with the headmaster, Humphrey Opondo, but also with his wife Jane Opondo who worked in the school. She would give me handouts; a hundred shillings here, or two hundred there, dried maize, millet. “They were very kind people, they helped me a great deal.”
His expectations of life then was to take a day at a time. To see what this education might bring. “I was afraid to expect too much from life because I didn’t want to be disappointed. I was just happy that God had gotten me to where I was. That someone was kind enough to pay my fees, people who didn’t know me.”
KCDF paid for his entire secondary education and he emerged the best student at Got Abiero High School scoring a B plain. How he wished his grandmother – now dead two years – would have been there to see it. For the first time he thought he had a shot at life. That perhaps things could be different. That maybe he could be something more than someone who sold firewood. He started thinking about possibilities. How things had changed overnight!
When applying for university, he had used his primary school post box; 54 Usenge. When his calling letter from Egerton University came, it was mailed there. He heard the news about his university admission when he was in the forest, three days later. A boy he ran into in the woods told him that he had heard his name announced in their primary school assembly. “He told me that everybody cheered.” I was the first person in my whole village to ever be called to university. I was scared. Scared because I knew I was going to be hurt by my success, hurt because I was too poor to afford university.” University wasn’t for them. It was a heavy word on the tongue.
By this time he had moved out of his grandmother’s boma into a small rental house by the lake, going for three hundred shillings a month. He was struggling to pay rent. “How was I going to afford sixty thousand shillings in university fees?!”
These immense possibilities paralysed him. The astronomical figures made him curl into a ball at night. Plus where the hell was Egerton University anyway? He had never left his village. The furthest he had been was Bondo town, not even Kisumu. He had heard of Nakuru and Nairobi, but they were just names like Songdo-dong in South Korea or Kortrijk in Belgium. No way you imagine you will ever visit these cities. Someone told him to seek help from the government. So he started knocking on doors, hat in hand; local MCA, local MP, the church.
“I was an undesirable sight. If I showed up in your office, you’d have to open all the windows. My clothes were old and tattered. I looked really miserable. I was always so scared to knock on the doors to look for money and was ready to be chased away. Had that happened, I wouldn’t have been shocked. What actually shocked me was when someone even gave me an audience given the way I looked.” Those visits came up short all the time.
He then decided that he was going to come and try to get admission even just to say that one day he stepped into a university compound. Just for the record. He had no suitcase to pack because you don’t carry mangoes in a suitcase. You only own a suitcase if you own clothes. He had a few old clothes, so he printed out all his documents, put them into a polythene bag and set off to the bus stage with the one thousand shillings his teacher – Eric Ogwambo – had given him. Bus fare to Nakuru was seven hundred shillings, but he met a guy he had been in school with, who got him in the bus for five hundred shillings on condition that he would have to give up his seat when necessary.
So, for the first time he got onto a bus and for the first time left Nyanza and saw Kisumu through the windows of the bus, a loud bustling metropolis with honking cars and brazen bodaboda chaps. He stared out the window the whole ride, looking at a country he didn’t know whizz by and got to Nakuru at 2pm. He found his way to Egerton University. He had never seen anything like it before. How beautiful and green everything was, green hills rolled into greener ones. Self-assured university students roamed about in white sneakers looking studious and important. Everybody looked so clean. And the girls. My God. The girls! How does one even speak to a girl like that? What do they eat? If they touched you, would you still have a heartbeat?
“I was very intimidated. I felt like a lost animal that had wandered into that compound because everybody looked so clean. I mean, even at their dirtiest I didn’t think they would look like me. I was afraid to ask someone for directions, so I asked someone who was trimming the hedges because he looked like the least likely person to judge me.”
He registered but skipped the payment section and when he was done in the evening, he faced a conundrum; money to get back. He had also forgotten that he was hungry. He only had four hundred shillings left. He roamed around the grounds in his sandals, searching for faces, hoping to see one with kindness. He saw one eventually, and narrated his predicament to him. The chap took him to his mate in the hostel called Mike who loaned him three hundred shillings and off he was on the night bus.
Back in the village, every lead went cold. The MCA, the MP, everything. Classes started. Weeks fell off the calendar. He thought, “What was I thinking?! There was no way I – a village boy – would ever join the university.” What nerve did he have to want more for himself? He admonished himself. He deserved the heartbreak, he told himself. So he went back to what he knew; fishing and selling firewood. More weeks passed.
Back in Nairobi I took the elevator to the fourth floor of Morningside Office Park on Ngong road and waited for a briefing meeting at KCDF’s small meeting room. For the past year I had been commissioned to interview and write stories for KCDF’s beneficiaries. So this was just another routine briefing.
Natasha, a petite lady with quick steps and an unexpected smile slid into the meeting room. She’s the communications officer at KCDF. She asked me if I would like something to drink and I said, "Sure, black tea, no sugar." Natasha came back moments later with white coffee and sugar. I said, “Oh my, Natasha, I never imagined anyone could botch up an order of black tea with no sugar.” She laughed and said, “I swear, I thought you said coffee!” The communications manager, Melvin, walked in as we went back and forth about what I said or what she heard. I have always written his name as Melvine with an ‘e’. One day he told me, “Biko, my wife always asks me ‘But why does that Biko fella write your name with an ‘e’?’ I keep forgetting to ask you. Do you mind not including the ‘e’ to my name?” Of course I don’t mind dropping the ‘e’ – anything for peace in Melvin’s household. What’s an ‘e’ between friends?
So no more ‘e’ in Melvin. Bad, bad ‘e’.
They briefed me on this assignment to Nyanza to interview more beneficiaries. This time round, we would go with a camera crew to record the interview.
Back in the village this boy was told to avail himself for the interviews at some local community trust offices by 10am. This posed a predicament; he didn’t have nice clothes worthy of sitting in front of a camera of “people from Nairobi.” His high school shoes had fallen apart but he had these old, tattered bathroom slippers, which he quickly mended with a wire. He then got some mismatched buttons and patched together his only tattered shirt. He would wear his faded brown trousers whose hems were undone at the bottom. The zipper was spoilt so he sewed it shut the next morning after wearing it.
The next day he was a bag of nerves.
He got there over an hour early because he didn’t want to walk in and draw attention to himself. The other beneficiaries streamed in just before 10am, mostly confident girls who were now in universities. He sat alone under a tree with all his dog-eared papers from primary school. We drove in and set up after some small talk with guys from the trust. I started the interviews.
He was third and after he was mic-ed and when the camera guy said, “Recording,” I asked him to introduce himself. He said in a whisper, “My name is Kennedy Olwana.”
He couldn’t even look into the lens or at me. As he spoke, I looked at the state of his clothes, how they seemed to fall off his body. A scarecrow could have outdressed him. I saw how he instinctively tucked his feet and those tattered bathroom sandals under his chair from embarrassment. His feet looked like tree stumps. He acted like he wasn’t worthy of being before us. The sound guy kept saying, “Please speak a little louder.” But he couldn’t because he wasn’t used to anybody listening to him. He wasn’t used to many people seeking his opinion. He looked scared. His self esteem was so low it could preserve blood platelets. He felt unworthy, looked unworthy and looked like he couldn’t wait to go back where he “belonged.” He broke my heart. I thought, shit, how low can a human being, an orphan, sink? What kind of cards are these this boy was dealt?!
After the interview I called him aside and we chatted; I asked him where he lived, who with, how he was surviving, who his relatives were, what his dreams were. He said he really wanted to join the university but he couldn’t afford it and he had reached the end of his rope; nobody to turn to for help, no relatives, no friends. He had pretty much given up. He didn’t have a phone so I wrote my number on a piece of paper and told him to send me any number I could reach him on. I then gave him a thousand shillings.
I thought about him the whole way to Nairobi and many days after. I’d get my bill in a restaurant and think, here I am eating food worth this much and that boy is stranded. Unbeknownst to me, he misplaced that slip of paper with my number and so I waited for him to text or call until two weeks later when I reached out to one of the teachers in the school, who tracked him down. At some point I thought to myself; what am I ever going to do with my life if I don’t help this boy? What, buy another car? Buy my children more shoes that they don’t need while that boy walks in those tattered sandals? My conscience stalked me. I felt selfish and undeserving.
Long story short, I said I’d help him if it’s the last thing I do. So I took over his welfare. A week later he joined the university to study Bachelor of Animal Health Management – Veterinary Medical and Surgery. This was in 2015. I got him a small phone to stay in touch, and bought him clothes because you know how university is. Then I called a contact at HELB and asked for a special favour, you know, see if they can look into his application. They said, "I can’t do much, but I will try to work the system."
This was in 2015.
I wrote his story HERE (https://www.bikozulu.co.ke/pay-forward/ ) and soon afterwards a reader -Deborah Mate – touched by his story, emailed me and said, "I want that boy to come visit me and my family – I have four kids. My family will host him over the next holidays." I met Deborah to make sure she wasn’t in the organ business. So Ken came to Nairobi for the first time, to their home in One RedHill, a gated community, the very leafy suburbs.
“It was like nothing I imagined. The house was so beautiful. I saw a gas cooker for the first time, how you could light it without a matchstick! I didn’t even want to touch it," he says. “They had a fridge, a big television and nice beds. They were so kind to me. So so kind to me, a stranger.” Most impressive to him was the idea of a family, a unit. “I had never had a family before and living with them just opened my world drastically to the possibility of having my own family. It really changed me and my idea of a family.”
One day Deborah’s husband, Sammy, told him to get in the car, they were going for a long drive just the two of them. They took a long drive around Nairobi while Sammy gave him a pep talk about life. “What I remember most about that conversation was Sammy telling me that although I was in that situation, an orphan and disadvantaged – it didn’t matter any more, my circumstance. What mattered was what I would become, not what I was then. He told me never to feel sorry for myself and that sometimes doors open in the darkest of corners and that I needed to be positive that things would change. He spoke to me like I was a peer, like we were two men talking. I was so touched by that conversation and although to him it was just a conversation, to me it was inspiring. He might never know what that drive did to my life. I felt like I could change my life. That it was possible to be like him one day and have my own family. He is such a good man.”
Wavi came through. He got a student loan.
I then called the two Powerpuff Ladies of Java House. They are the gatekeepers, they run shit there. I told them the story of this boy and they held their chins sadly as I narrated this tale. When I was done, they were almost in tears. I asked them if they could allow this boy to work at Java, any job at all, to earn a little money for upkeep. They gave him a job as a steward in Nakuru. I told him, “Ken, now you have a fishing rod, now fend for yourself and only let me know when you are completely stuck.”
“A steward at Java cleans dishes in the kitchen. While some might have found it difficult or beneath them, I was just thrilled to get a job in a restaurant. And don’t forget that my previous job was walking barefoot in the forest looking for firewood. Cleaning dishes was so easy.”
He cleaned the dishes until you could use them as a mirror to shave. He cleaned dishes at Java for a year after which he was promoted to be a barista. “I didn’t know what a barista was. I didn’t know what coffee was. But then I was trained to make coffee, something I had never tasted in my life!” It’s at Java that his life took a turn. It’s also at Java that he first interacted with his first mzungu. (A big thing for him). And it’s in Java that he met chaps who held his hand even when they didn’t have to.
“You know, when you are in the village you are told how Kikuyus are thieves because you have never met any. There is a gentleman called James Njuguna, one of the baristas I worked with at Java. Njuguna [He since got a job in Qatar] taught me everything I know about coffee. He didn’t look down upon me as this shady Luo boy from the village. He treated me like I was his brother and was very patient with me even when I wasn’t learning fast because I was also afraid. Most people would have given up on me but he didn’t. He was a very nice guy, very nice. I was so surprised that this Kikuyu guy was not anything we thought Kikuyus to be in the village. In fact, I learnt that we are the same save for our names.”
He’s also deeply indebted to one of the Java managers, Kevin Ogola, who was always very understanding of his school schedule, guiding him and giving him advice beyond just work. “I don’t see Kevin as my boss but as a mentor. Someone I can talk to when I have a problem.”
The biggest thing about working at Java is how interactions with customers has built his confidence. He loves it when a customer – a coffee lover – walks in and asks specifically for Ken to make his coffee. Someone knows his name. Someone chooses him. Suddenly he’s somebody who can contribute. His speciality is Malindi Macchiato. He makes a mean-ass Malindi Macchiato now, a boy from Usigu, Siaya.
He was in Nairobi this past weekend. He is a far cry from the boy I met four years ago; he dresses well, he walks with head high, he’s confident, he laughs easily, he makes eye-contact. He graduates in a few months, after he goes for his attachment. When he is done with university, he intends to settle back in the village. “I want to go back and help someone because I have been very lucky.”
I have been lucky to know him and been very proud to see him turn into this man. On behalf of Ken I want to thank everybody mentioned in this story for seeing this boy cross the rubicon of poverty, for changing his destiny and the destiny of his children. There is a video of Tyler Perry’s speech at the BET Awards doing the rounds, about helping someone cross the road, about knowing that there are people whose lives are tied to your dreams, so you should own your shit.
I love that speech. I mumble it in my sleep. I taste it on my tongue.
The people mentioned in this story for me show that it doesn’t take much to help someone cross the road. It illustrates how the power of small acts of kindness from normal people can change a life and destiny. Because that’s all it takes; a word, the equivalent of a bottle of whisky or a plate of mushroom chicken, your time, mentorship.
Out there are many Kens waiting to cross the road, hordes of them, standing barefoot, with not a chance in their hearts. Some will never cross, but others will. If you give them a hand.
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Java House opens 2nd outlet in Rwanda
Kigali, Rwanda 11th February, 2019…East Africa’s leading coffee and food chain, Java House Group has today launched its 64th branch in Remera, Rwanda. The branch opening is in regard to Java’s robust expansion plan where the group intends to expand its regional and international footprint.
Rwanda has in the two decades gained notoriety as one of the few sub-Saharan Africa’s fastest growing economies, with higher than global average gross domestic product (GDP) annual growth rates, driven largely by expanding food, agriculture and services sectors. Java Groups take the opportunity to invest in this fast growing market.
Since the group’s inception in 1999, Java House has revolutionized how Kenyans perceive coffee while influencing gourmet coffee culture in East Africa.
“Our goal is to carry the finest East African coffee to the rest of the world – but first, to “fill” the regional market, hence explaining a move to expand to all corners of the East African Community.” Expressed Java House Chief Executive Officer, Paul Smith.
Java House has invested in over a billion Kenya shillings and a big share of that investment goes into opening new branches across East Africa. This month, Java intends on opening the 2nd Express model innovation in OLA – Kenya.
Java House Group brands are; Java House, 360 Degrees and Planet Yogurt.
About Java House Group
Java House Africa is the leading food chain in East Africa with 73 stores in the region.
In 1999, we introduced coffee drinking and gourmet café culture to Kenya. As we grew, we created more spots where people could enjoy the Java experience conveniently.
For Further Press Information contact:
Communications Coordinator, Java House Group.
Cell: +254 710893038
Java House Group opens its 62nd branch in East Africa
Nairobi, Kenya 19th December, 2018…East Africa’s leading coffee and food chain, Java House Group has today launched its 62nd branch in East Africa. The branch opening is in regard to Java’s robust expansion plan where the group intends to expand its regional and international footprint.
This comes after Java House recently opened its latest Express model innovation at the Nairobi Hospital. Since the group’s inception in 1999, Java House has revolutionized how Kenyans perceive coffee while influencing gourmet coffee culture in East Africa.
“The opening of this particular branch is significant to us as it serves the diverse Parklands community. With every branch opening, Java house contributes to economic sustenance by the creation of jobs and most importantly serving the community authentic delicacies”. Expressed Java House Chief Executive Officer, Paul Smith.
Java House has invested in over a billion Kenya shillings and a big share of that investment goes into opening new branches across East Africa. Early January, Java will be opening its 2nd branch in Rwanda after opening its first 360 Degrees Pizza outlet over the past week.
Java House Group brands are; Java House, 360 Degrees and Planet Yogurt.
About Java House Group
Java House Africa is the leading food chain in East Africa with 72 stores in the region.
In 1999, we introduced coffee drinking and gourmet café culture to Kenya. As we grew, we created more spots where people could enjoy the Java experience conveniently.
For Further Press Information contact:
Communications Coordinator, Java House Group.
Cell: +254 710893038
360 Degrees Artisan Pizza opens its doors to the Rwandese Market
Kigali, Rwanda 11th December, 2018… 360 Degrees Artisan Pizza, a sister brand of Java House, today announced the launch of its first branch in Rwanda during the opening event held at Kigali Heights in the city’s capital, Kigali. The branch will be the first of its kind in the region. 360 Degrees Artisan Pizza is an upscale fine dining casual restaurant serving authentic Neapolitan Pizza in a warm and lively modern atmosphere.
The extension of the brand into unexplored markets such as Rwanda, is part of the Java House Group’s five year robust expansion plan that is set to create more employment for the youth in Africa. Java House Group’s brands are namely; Java house, 360 Degrees Artisan Pizza and Planet Yogurt.
“We are excited to continue expanding in the Eastern Africa region and offer a conveniently located destination for Rwandese individuals and families to enjoy our handcrafted dishes,” said Paul Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Java House Africa. “Our signature handcrafted, 360 degrees Celsius flamed pizza is a crowd pleaser and the core of everything we do at 360 Degrees Pizza. We’re truly looking forward to sharing our flavorful meals with the Kigali community.”
The brand’s pizza and wine pairing is what makes 360 Degrees unique and authentic crave-worthy Italian-inspired entrees. Whether guests are looking for a family chicken meal, pastas, salads, brunch options, 360 Degrees Artisan Pizza has a wide variety of flavorful offerings on its menu.
About 360 Degree Artisan Pizza
360 degrees Artisan Pizza is a Neapolitan pizza restaurant that is under the giant food chain Java House Group.
Named after the nature of our pizza which is cooked at above 360 degrees Celsius, we opened our doors in 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya to offer a unique upscale casual fine-dining experience.
Our pizza pays homage to old world Vera Pizza Napolitano traditions, but is a contemporary take on the style. The pizza arrives still steaming from our Stefano Ferrara wood burning oven. The crust is thin, with a blistered cornicione—the raised rim of the pizza that’s the outer crust of the pizza — about an inch thick. It is neither thin and crispy nor thick and soft but chewy and crisp all at once. Because it is handcrafted, no two are exactly alike. The toppings are fresh and natural with each ingredient tasting very much like what it is. Our pizza strikes a careful balance among crust, sauce, and cheese with not too much of any one component.
For Further Press Information contact:
Communications Coordinator, Java House Group.
Cell: +254 710893038