Working in an advertising agency is an experience that I was never really prepared for. Neither did I ever know nor picture myself being a part of that world. My naiveté and I were anything but ready for the whirlwind of experience that would mark the commencement of my professional life at twenty two years of age. What had started off merely as an internship opportunity for my school project quickly morphed my absorption into the agency way of life.
It was when my probation period had elapsed, some four months in, that I began realizing some insights into this multi-faceted way of life that existed in advertising. A life professedly so glamorous that a good number of Nairobians had lumped all ladies that worked in ad agencies into a basket and had even coined them a term as ‘agency girls’, a term that seems surface and innocent to any passing bystander. But for those that understood the goings on of the industry knew that the almost derogatory term often carried a heavy dose of shade and side eye shenanigans.
The tomfoolery that associated with the title was not for nothing. Agency girls were a festive and luxurious breed, perceived notorious and always seemingly carrying with them an air of self-importance that was mighty expensive and intimidating to an intense degree. You know, like the Christmas season.
They were assumed to be mostly light-skinned size eight stick figures. ‘Rangi ya thao’ would be the deliberate term, a double entendre for their complexion and ‘wealthy’ status. They likely have a ‘guy’ who can source them 16-32 inches of a variety of cultures’ weaves for parties that happened every other Friday; Peruvian, Malaysian, Indian and Brazilian. The longer the better, a motto they swear by in cackles akin to witches. And speaking of witches and birds, the acrylic painted talons they keep enables them to tap away at literally anything from keyboards to glass walls in airy sophistication. You will never catch them ‘slipping’ without a face full of makeup, beat to the gods, designer purses and matching stiletto heels. As for their social media, well those are peppered with flowery affairs of vacation trips in exotic locations with some fraudulent celebrities in arm. Evidence can be traced to agency girls as the bourgeois originators of the ‘xaxa’, ‘you guy’ and ‘my G’ lingo that is the vexing Nairobi uptown sheng that you’ll ever so often catch being thrown around
With all these things considered, it’s no wonder that I stuck out like a sore thumb. Not the least because I didn’t deem myself pretty enough by any beauty standards. I may be a bit on the chubby side but I like to think of myself as curvaceous if not tantalizingly voluptuous. Plus the degree to which my abrasive melanin pops did not allow me to be categorized with the cool kids of ‘rangi ya thao’. Nevertheless, I don’t think I do as bad in the department of looks per se. It is the other departments that I simply couldn’t compete nor compare.
For starters, I have my head shaved bald, and for a shaky moment there I had felt like I had stripped myself of my allure. My perceived disadvantage at the time led to me putting up a poster of the big-headed Amber Rose in my room and would religiously look up at her on my wall, willing myself some of her confidence and seductress ways at being so bold while bald.
Additionally, the way my bank account was set up did not allow me life’s vast pleasures of copping matching designer this and designer that. What I did excel in was spectacular thrifting. So unabashed is my talent in thrifting that I have been infamous with the Toi Market sellers for my tenacious negotiating and very seasonal shopping. Every time they see me, they go like ‘Ah, the cheapskate has come.’ All thanks to my extraordinary and top-notch Kikuyu bargaining skills. That along with my sister who’d double up as my ‘guy’ doing my nails on the weekends had me looking albeit expensive on the flimsiest of budgets.
As for my Instagram feed, shit was as dry as the Kalahari Desert, occasionally posting cliché motivational quotes and cat pictures. In case you failed to read between the lines, that translated to me being as single as a dollar bill with absolutely zero prospects knocking at my door, to the chagrin of my parents who expected me to be married off with kids by the time I was twenty five and I quickly was running out of time. Technically, it was my mother’s door because the peanuts I received at the end of the month as my salary could hardly afford me taxi fare leave alone rent, bills and utilities.
It seemed to me therefore that I barely had my life together. While most of my work colleagues would magnificently swagger whilst dangling keys to their automobiles and condos located in the posh Kileleshwa, Hurlingham and Lavington suburban locales, the only thing I had my name on was my bank account and key to my bedroom. Despite myself, my defense mechanism (that I could always bank on as my best offense) would kick in and the best I could do was to cower in silence, especially on Monday mornings when everybody exchanged juicy stories of their fun-filled weekends.
Yet what I did best in response was lend the deceivingly keen listening ear even when I was so uninterested and could detect some exaggerated truths. This is when I came to terms that most of these self-indulging types just want a therapist. They could talk your ear off literally. That’s where I came in. All I had to was interject with a ’that’s crazy’, ‘are you serious’ while clutching at my imaginary pearls or my favorite ‘no you did not!’, and the dam let loose profuse waters of half-truths, daddy issues, frustrations and hoe-ish tendencies. They could just go on and on, sometimes for the pleasure of hearing themselves talk methinks. And that’s fine; judgment is solely reserved for The Lord. Besides who wanted to hear my boring stories of my Netflix and sleep or about my mother still ruling over me and permanently staying in my business anyway?
Looking back now, I stifle a giggle in apparition at just how much I wanted to actually fit in and be part of the crew. Even if at the time, I would have denied vehemently that I secretly craved and yearned for some form of validation. I am definitely the wiser now at 27, thank God!
There was this one time though I got way too excited that I got an invite to ‘hang’ with the cool kids at the bar. Never mind that it was actually by default because it was the end-year festivities that saw the office closed for the Christmas holidays. You see it’s the norm for most if not all, ad agencies in Nairobi to have a smoking corner and a bar. It’s almost mandatory because supposedly the creatives have to reinvigorate and stimulate their ‘processes’. And that’s not just some fancy way of skiving your cubicle neither in order to stack up your billable hours, I kid you not. Plus how else can the clients be entertained if not at the bar throwing drinks, making bad decisions and blaming inebriation in the consequential aftermath.
So excited was I that on that last Friday morning, I took extra time in the mirror. Rarely did I get to wallow in my vanity simply due to the fact that I wasn’t built to dedicate two hours being still so I can rub on layers of foundation, powder, concealers, primers, lashes and the list goes on. My self-diagnosis courtesy of web MD because I had no medical insurance, had proved to me that I was suffering from ADD, attention deficit disorder. But on this special day, I laid my IDGAF attitude to rest and indulged my inner princess. Nobody however let me on to the fact that my end result was more clown than it was princess. But I was feeling myself and no doubting Thomases could halt the pep in my step.
The day proceeded quickly amidst a flurry of activities. Between exchanging gifts and attending last minute meetings, it was a festival of mess. Christmas was in the air and the office was visibly amped up. By 3 pm, we were all assembled at the bar. And when someone in senior management in his spick and span suit and tie waved his hand and declared, ‘chafua meza’, the magic was on like donkey Kong. Alcoholic beverages with names I could barely pronounce were congregated before us at the beckoning of the cool kids. Naturally, I couldn’t go ahead and order my staple drink, a Tusker baridi
In my perceived sophistication, I felt I had to prove my salt by showing out my alcohol intolerance levels and bravado. I should have known that pride comes before a fall.
I started downing shots like there was a prize to be won at the end of it. Every time I would take a shot, there would be cheers and hoots and I would be caught cheesing so hard like a Cheshire cat. And so the cycle continued.
Someone had appointed themselves the resident DJ and had plugged on his music selection courtesy of an aux cord and a speaker. The party was grooving hard amidst some Afro House music and people had made a dancing floor of whatever space could be rummaged up. This one girl whose sleek red bottom 4 inch shoes I had been caught fawning over during the day, invited me to join her dancing. I did not need telling twice.
I joined her and was showing off my disjointed two-left-feet ‘nobody-can-stop-reggae’ with fingers in the air dancing. By the videos that circulated later on, it was highly embarrassing but my inhibitions had flown out the window. My partner had gotten into her jiggle so much that she had to rid herself of her shoes. She put them next to the outside plants and rejoined me on the dance floor.
Some fifteen minutes into it and I started feeling woozy and a migraine was taking residence. I must have stumbled because my partner grabbed a hold of my arm and asked, “Are you feeling okay?” To which I petulantly nodded and responded in a near whisper, “I think I need to sit down.”
No sooner did I make it over to a seat than that wretched queasiness feeling magnanimously took over with a whoosh. I bowled over and all my packed lunch that I had enjoyed earlier came tumbling out. In the background I could make out snickers in cynical amusement, “Ha! Is that ‘githeri’? Yuck!” “Poor girl can’t handle her liquor”, “Ushamba haina dawa.”
Turned out, the universe had taken a challenge and proved that the situation could proceed to get much worse and find a new rock-bottom low. It was a hysterical shriek that got through my blurred reverie, “Not on my freaking shoes! Those are new. I will need to be reimbursed.”
And that’s when my world really came to a screeching halt. In my head, engines collided, the sound of crunching metal mixing with the smell of smoke. Or was the smoke coming from my ears? How long would it take me to pay off those bloody shoes? Do I need a payment plan? My migraine was getting worse.
I mumbled quite a few sorry ‘sorrys’ to everyone and no one in particular as I excused myself and staggered my way into the nearest latrine to hide away my ever growing shame and at least try to gather myself. The latter ended up going down the toilet even as the next bout of nausea had me reeling over the nearest WC, drowning out all the pomp and merry-making that was still ongoing. To put it mildly, I was not the shit as earlier in the day envisioned.
I felt the blood drain from my face. If I hadn’t been already sitting down, I would have collapsed to the floor. Never had I felt so discombobulated and undignified. And in the face of my work colleagues no less. How did I get so cringe-worthy? I fished out my mobile phone to make a call to my mother, only for my phone to slip and fall into my dreaded vomit. When it rains it definitely pours in buckets. I let out a long sigh in despair as my superstitious self started wondering which spirits I had recently pissed off.
In my dispiriting wonderment with my palms enclosing my face in humiliation, rubbing off all the layers of cosmetics I had bothered to apply, I did not realize just how on the verge of sleep I really was. I took one long blink and succumbed to the exhaustion. When I woke up I came to a pair of sympathetic eyes from the cleaner who graciously helped me to clean up. There was no saving my phone that was still drenched in puke. To my rude awakening, the cleaner confirmed that it was six in the morning. I could not believe I had passed out for so many hours and nobody had bothered to see to me. But my most sobering thought that had me racing out of the latrine was, Crap! What am I going to tell my mother?
I was not a happy camper during what was supposed to be happy holidays..