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Kenyan air traffic controller makes Afghanistan his home

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WILLIAM RUTHI

By WILLIAM RUTHI
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When Joseph Gathobia first arrived in Afghanistan slightly over six years ago, he had heard the stories, the boilerplate that accompanies most information about that Asian country: “Be careful where you go, who you talk to, where you eat.”

Some warnings were also scary: “A mortar, even a bomb, might detonate when you least expect it”, or “a friendly face might moult into a dead-cold sniper”.

But the thrill of working in a foreign country, dangers notwithstanding, trumped any concerns.

In 2013, Gathobia was 29 years old and, having worked at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) as an aircraft controller handling radio and tower communications for inbound planes for six years, the thought of change was refreshing. And so, he took a leap of faith and left for Afghanistan.

It was no an easy decision. This vast South Asian country has not known peace for decades and remains vulnerable to frequent Taliban attacks.

Western military forces and foreign workers are particularly prime targets. But the lure of working in Afghanistan was too strong.

On his first sweltering night in Kandahar — the second largest city located south of the country — the warnings in the communiqué jumped from the paper and lit into the night.

“I couldn’t sleep.” Gathobia recalls. “There was a mortar attack and it was scary. I was ready to pack and leave for home the next day.”

But, he decided to stay and continue with his line of work. Although he had amassed considerable expertise while working at JKIA, he had to be re-orientated when he began working in Kandahar.

Gathobia’s current job involves maintaining radio contact with on-air military aircraft — both inbound and outbound.

It is a mostly technical task that involves knowledge of flight plans to avert possible collisions, breach of airspace rules and other violations.

While at work, he keeps in constant touch with the communication tower and also with the pilots.

Besides his occupation, he also had a lot to learn. There is a widespread — and not entirely untrue — sentiment that you will find a Kenyan in every country on Earth, no matter how remote or unlikely the location.

Afghanistan is a country mostly known for the Taliban — the radical Islamists who, for close to two decades, have been battling America and allied forces ever since terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Centre in New York, leaving in its wake death and untold trauma.

Afghanistan is also known for its large swathes of poppy crop, the raw material from which opium is extracted.

As such, it might appear to be the last country to inspire someone to have his visa stamped.

But like Gathobia, there are tens of Kenyans living and working in Afghanistan — mostly in camps governed by allied nations, including Germany, Britain, America and Italy, and others working for humanitarian organisations.

“There are Kenyans stationed at camps in the nation’s capital Kabul and Bagram,” Gathobia, 34, tells Lifestyle. “But rarely are there Kenyans involved in combat operations.”

Afghanistan

Joseph Gathobia at Mazar Sharif camp in Afghanistan. PHOTO | COURTESY

Gathobia worked at Kandahar for a year before being transferred to his current base, Mazār-e Sharīf, a camp run by Germans located about an hour’s flight from Kabul.

While Afghanistan is not exactly the most ideal tourist destination and there isn’t a rush at embassies for a visa, Gathobia says that beyond the public perception of that part of the world — shaped by images gleaned from news media of burqa-wearing women and children with frightened eyes — there is a warm side to the country.

“Afghan life right now is much better compared to when the war started (in the early 2000s),” Gathobia explains.

Most of his assertion is picked from conversations with locals and general observation. “Most people are friendly. I haven’t encountered racism. Funny, because the majority of dark-skinned people they have encountered are African-Americans. To them, we are all black Americans,” he laughs.

“But most of them have little knowledge of Africa.” In 2013, when Gathobia and a band of Kenyans landed in Kandahar, suspicions ran thick.

Then, foreigners were generally deemed infidels and, in various camps, gadgets like phones and laptops were banned.

“The authorities were concerned we would liaise with the Taliban and collude to attack the base,” Gathobia says. “But, we have earned their trust.”

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Each camp is operated by a different country. For example, Kandahar is an American base; Herat is operated by Italians, while Mazar Sharif, where Gathobia works, is under the Germans.

But even with the markedly improved peace and state of affairs, caution is paramount. “There are markets inside the army base and that’s where we interact with the Afghanis. It is still considered risky to venture outside,” Gathobia explains.

But once in a while, Kenyans living in this landlocked country gather to break bread, swap camp stories, and reminisce about home.

They have a revolving fund where they contribute to invest back home. Nearly all Kenyans are subcontracted to facilitate inside operations only.

Most of the talk during these rare meetings eventually comes around to cuisine.

It has become unanimous among the brotherhood that there is simply no substitute for ugali, and even the Afghani version of chapati is no match to the Kenyan doughy relative.

The most common dish is rice with sea food and biryani garnished with devil’s pepper. “You don’t know what you miss until you go without it,” Gathobia offers.

It is especially excruciating for those with a hollow leg as sale of alcohol is prohibited. The best one can hope for is grape juice.

Summers are extremely hot, with temperatures spiking to 44 degrees celsius, while winters plummet to below zero.

Over the years that Gathobia and fellow Kenyans have been in Afghanistan, they have attempted to learn Pashto — a widely spoken language in the country — and also mastered a smattering of Arabic.

“Tell me what you make of this,” he told this reporter while displaying characters that make up the language, when he toured the country recently.

Some people, when they learn of the Kenyans in their midst, naturally want to talk about “the land of Obama”, or track legends, but many more are curious about the country’s famed wildlife and acceptable weather.

It is based on this that Gathobia established a tour company that organises trips and manages events back home. He hopes to sell Kenya as a must-go destination.

Gathobia has a particularly favourite memory, one that has remained in his mind for years: As a practising Catholic, he once attended Mass and noted that the priest, even as he prayed and sat at the confessional booth, kept a gun by his side.

“For the first time ever, I learnt there are military priests who preside over Mass while armed,” he reports with a half-chuckle.

Such is life in a country where war has been part of the fabric and consciousness of the country for decades.

Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviets during the dreary days of the Cold War; the subsequent takeover by the Mujahedeen, and now by America and its allies.

One simply becomes inured to danger, which, according to Gathobia, makes Kenya, even with its own tremors, a land close to the fabled Eden.

“Friends I have made: Indians, Belgians, even ordinary Afghanis, ask about us; about Kenya. They want to know about the wildlife. It is pencilled somewhere in their to-do-list.”

“You return home with a keener appreciation of what your country offers,” Gathobia muses.

“Whenever I visit, I feel the warmth of the sun, and the fact that I can travel without restriction. You know, the old thing about missing your water when the well runs dry.”

With his tour company Jeici Safaris, which he formed in September 2018, Gathobia hopes to cash in on the gravy, to market Kenya.

The imminent withdrawal of American troops and its Nato counterparts is seen by pundits as a precursor to anarchy, but there is a generation of Afghanis — especially young people too young to remember the days prior to the invasion and who have grown on rap music — who prefer to look towards the sun.

When Kenyans interact with citizens mostly at the souks (markets located within the camps), the people talk about education and appear genuinely curious about the outside world.

His life is not too bad, he says. At the military camps, there is internet, Al Jazeera and other TV stations, and recreational services.

Life follows a routine, as it does in nearly all countries dotted with the pencil minarets of ancient mosques. At the crack of dawn, the muezzin blares on the speaker, summoning the faithful to prayer.

There are a few churches scattered within the military bases, but after one has heard the sonorous poetry of the muadhan for some time, rolling out a prayer rug doesn’t appear odd at all.

A conversation with Gathobia serves as a reminder that the world is wide and filling with people even where there isn’t a stampede of visa seekers.

“We all return better, with a broader knowledge of the world and where people live,” Gathobia says.

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Singer speaks after attacking lover at WCB signee Zuchu’s star-studded concert

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By Standard Entertainment



56 minutes ago

Controversial singer Gigy Money turned WCB signee Zuchu’s concert into a fight club, hurling shoes at her lover.

On 18 July, there was fanfare at the Mlimani City Hall in Dar es Salaam as WCB signee Zuchu held a thanksgiving concert months after her debut EP, I Am Zuchu. The event dubbed ‘Ahsante Nashukuru’ mainly featured performances by artistes from the WCB stable and attracted the whos-who in the Tanzanian entertainment and political scenes. 

READ ALSO: I’m not behind Diamond, Tanasha split- WCB’s Zuchu sets record straight

However, singer Gigy Money who also performed made the headlines for the wrong reasons after getting into a scuffle with her lover during the much-publicised concert.

READ ALSO: I was bewitched by a friend – Gigy Money

Peaceful arrival, later chaos

Moments earlier, Gigy and her Nigerian man were seen arriving arm in arm at the event whose highlight featured Zuchu receiving a brand new car from WCB head honcho Diamond Platnumz. Donning matching outfits, the couple was spotted on the red carpet as the paparazzi scrambled to capture the moment.  However, all hell breaks loose later and viral videos depict the visibly angered Nigerian arguing with a bouncer at the entrance. After a tense confrontation, Gigy’s man is seen being led by the screaming bouncer towards the exit. Shortly after, a similarly irritated Gigy emerges and follows the pair.

“Gigy! Wewe Gigy wewe!” a woman in the background is heard dissuading the singer from pursuing them but the singer pays no heed and heads for the pair.

“You want to beat me?” the boyfriend is heard asking an approaching Gigy as the bouncer acts as a barrier between them. The bouncer manages to steer the incensed man towards the exit as Gigy follows behind, hurling obscenities.

READ ALSO: I will get a baby with your eldest son – Gigy Money warns Zari

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At some point, a barefoot Gigy turns into a sprint before throwing one of her shoes which hits the man who then responds with an insult. Another bouncer finally intervenes and the two are separated. Gigy then asks for her vehicle so she can head home before warning the press against sharing videos of the incident.

Addresses incident

Though the cause of their tiff is still unknown Gigy later made reference to the shocking incident in a social media post, hinting that alcohol had a part to play in the fracas.  In another post, Gigy shared a photo alongside her estranged lover writing: “My mad man looked handsome before his demons arose and mine arose too.”

‘Running over Ali Kiba’

Gigy is not new controversy and recently said she’d run over her ex, singer Ali Kiba for breaking her heart.

“I will knock all of them down, I mean I will kill them. In fact, I will flatten them like chapatis. The first person I will knock down and kill is Ali Kiba.  Actually, I don’t need a weak car, I need a Fuso so that when I knock him down I will be sure he doesn’t survive,” Gigy told Ayo TV.

READ ALSO: Gigy Money under fire for dirty-dancing with married singer

Dating Kiba brothers

Gigy had in the past admitted to dating both Ali Kiba and his younger brother, Abdu Kiba. She solely laid the blame on Chekecha singer for pursuing her despite knowing that she’d been with his younger brother. Abdu expressed being heartbroken after learning the two had a fling, prompting him to marry.

“I was very hurt on hearing that Ali was dating Gigy Money because I dated her first before she became famous. But it’s alleged that Ali didn’t know. It hurt me for a while till when I married,” said Abdu.

 

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Defunct Nairobi County Council  Nurses Go On Strike, Citing Discrimination By The Government

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Defunct Nairobi County Council  Nurses Go On Strike, Citing Discrimination By The Government

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Why Jahmby Kokai is happy her TV anchor dream never came true

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By Diana Anyango



37 minutes ago

Jahmby Koikai is glad her dream of being a TV anchor never came true.

Popular media personality Jahmby Koikai narrated how her first attempt at auditioning as a TV host backfired and she was sent home on the first day of the audition. Reliving her prime days, Jahmby narrated how she was determined to follow her dream of becoming a news anchor after completing her degree.

“There was a reality show that was running on one major TV channel here in Kenya, searching for the next top news anchor. I’ve always had the knack for news. At the time, I was working at Metro FM. Walked to my boss and asked him if he was ok with me participating in this competition. He agreed to it.

“Auditions were at Film Studios. The queue stretched all the way to the showground. I was at the back kabisa. Imagine 300 people before you. Then we got the briefing paper and it indicated, ‘no persons with experience in a media house allowed to participate in this audition’. Mimi Jahmby Koikai, nirudi home after watu 300 kukuwa mbele yangu?” she posed.

READ ALSO: Jahmby Koikai back in Kenya after a year of treatment abroad

According to the endometriosis survivor, she went ahead to audition for the position despite the warning and was the first contestant to be sent packing.

“So I stayed in line until I got to the audition room. The judges were a few people I was in campus with. I felt a wave of despair. Like I’m here auditioning, yet my classmates will be judging me? I did my thing and I was considered. We got into the house and we were assigned to different groups. I was the group leader and we won the challenge. Later that evening, we were driven back to Film Studios for a briefing. The presenter of the show said some of us have to go home.

“My name was called out first amongst other great people. We were dropped home. I cried. It felt like I’d lost such a great opportunity. My mom and late grandma were so sad cos they loved to watch me do the news,” she narrated.

READ ALSO: Why I’m walking around with a mask- Jahmby Koikai

Second audition

Later, Jahmby auditioned for another TV opportunity only to miss out as well.

“Then came another opportunity over 10 years ago, I saw a TV ad and decided to apply for the news anchor position. I didn’t get the job.”

However, due to endometriosis, Jahmby was forced to put her dreams on hold and concentrate on getting better. According to her, it is as though God had better plans for her and is grateful to not have gotten the jobs.

“I battled severe endometriosis in silence for over 19 years. I think of how engaging the newsroom is and I’m grateful I wasn’t in that space. I’d have utilized all my sick-leaves and off-days and just declared redundant.”

 

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There was a reality show that was running on one major TV channel here in Kenya, searching for the next top news anchor. I’ve always had the knack for news. At the time, I was working at Metro Fm. Walked to my boss and asked him if he was ok with me participating in this competition. He agreed to it. Auditions were at Film Studios. The queue stretched all the way to the showground. I was at the back kabisa. Imagine 300 people before you. Then we got the briefing paper and it indicated, ‘no persons with experience in a media house allowed to participate in this audition’. Mimi Jahmby Koikai, nirudi home after watu 300 kukuwa mbele yangu? Nikasema zi. So I stayed in line until I got to the audition room. The judges were a few people I was in campus with. I felt a wave of despair. Like I’m here auditioning, yet my classmates will be judging me? I did my thing and I was considered. We got into the house and we were assigned to different groups. I was the group leader and we won the challenge. Later that evening, we were driven back to Film Studios for a briefing. The presenter of the show said, some of us have to go home. My name was called out first amongst other great people. We were dropped home. I cried. It felt like I’d lost such a great opportunity. My mom and late grandma were so sad cos they loved to watch me do the news. Then came another opportunity over 10years ago, I saw a TV ad and decided to apply for the news anchor position. As you see in this pic, I got my hair done at Ralph’s Hair Salon, new suit etc. I didn’t get the job. After KBC, I never got to anchor the news again. I’m grateful I did not get the job even though I felt dejected at the time. I battled severe Endometriosis in silence for over 19years. I think of how engaging the newsroom is and I’m grateful I wasn’t in that space. I’d have utilised all my sick-leaves and off-days and just declared redundant. There are many people like me who are bound by chronic illness and cannot do the things they love. I share your pain. But there’s hope. I’m grateful to God for His reminder that He will restore to you all the years that the locusts have eaten. Also Jer 29:11

A post shared by Jahmby Conqueror (@jahmbykoikai) on

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