Binyavanga Wainaina is a Kenyan writer and journalist. In 2002 he won the Caine literature award. He is the co-founder of the literary magazine Kwani?. At the moment he lives in America.
Ngugi wa Thiong'o. I tried to struggle through his work, but the problem was I turned 18 in the 1980s. That's when I first walked into Bubbles Discotheque in Nairobi wearing a second-hand Hugo Boss jacket and realised I was worth nothing because I did not have a shimmering white jacket with big shoulder pads. Or a maroon shirt underneath it. Also, my shoulders didn't know how to pop up and down.
My best friend lived next door to Bubbles Discotheque. And one hung-over morning he gave me a copy of Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Decolonising the Mind to read. The book was very annoying. Did Ngugi know Neneh Cherry's inspirational story? Did he know that Kenya's richest man - Ketan Somaia, the man who tried to buy Mpumalanga - wore a suit made of gold and sat on the patio at Mount Kenya Safari Club with celebrities and Moi insiders? What did they do there? Sex. They would clink glasses, sequins would clatter to the ground and Hollywoody people would say, "Ohhhh, Ketan, Ketan, let's flashdance … "
So, that night we went out and drank in Bubbles and shimmered in white things and hitchhiked to Munyiris Take Away at four in the morning to eat the worst chips in the world. Did Ngugi read Harold Robbins? Did he know what kind of mind-blowing sex you could have in Los Angeles with cocaine rubbed on your genitals? Did he read inspirational literature, like I'll Take Manhattan, where a cute, girly-woman with czu ... cho … chutzpah had good sex, found love, beat the evil somebody-or-other who looked like Alexis Carrington and then climaxed with a career orgasm all over Manhattan? Even the Statue of Liberty winked.
Did Ngugi read Wilbur Smith, who introduced the idea to all my peers that all Africans have very big penises? Three times, he said, the size of a white man's. And Wilbur would know. After all, he loved Matebeleland. Why didn't Ngugi have a sailboat on the back cover of his books, where he would be shown wearing a white suit and discussing Afro things over a bottle of champagne? Did he know that I texturised my hair so that it would be easier to manage? Oh Ngugi. You know, adults would say, sorrowfully, the problem with Ngugi is that he is so … ideological.
So, abruptly, arrives the end of a global season of naked market-worship. These past few years people were conscious. The contents of a frappuccino didn't offend any peasants in Afghanistan. In fact, it is, as you sip, building a school for girls in Kabul. You can go online and watch, each brick being slapped on with each sip. Rich people in their thirties and forties in Accra, Lagos, New York and Copenhagen all wore their hair natural and read books with titles like The Secret to Your Soul, or Water Symbols for Natural Wealth. When not reading stuff like Ancient Tibetan Secrets to Conscious Money Harvesting, they pampered themselves with spa treatments which promised that the mud wrap was hand-milled in a battered women's shelter in Congo.
I watched a TV show online last year in which a woman went to Los Angeles and got a makeover. She was hesitant and wanted to "look natural". They glued new lashes to her eyes, then highlighted them gently to "bring out" her cheekbones; then various scourings and balancings and panel beatings were performed and she emerged looking windswept and free and organic. It took a whole day. Our best and our brightest announced victory over the future. Me, I have been working on achieving washboard abs for months now. I travel with my own coffee beans and fantasise about having a house full of Apple iTables, iChairs, iBathrooms and iToilet seats that are all interactively connected wirelessly to iTunes.
The market still rules our life. I know that buried under our frappuccino consciousness are billions of people who are hungry and angry. Our present illusion will be replaced by another one in the future – who knows hat will make us happy in ten year's time. One day we will look back and find ourselves just as ugly as Michael Jackson after his 38th nose job.