Like Malchkeoun, Mwas was born in Nairobi …
“Nairobi has the worst people,” Mwas ineffectual father warns, “the whole society is as rotten as Babylon.”
An aspiring actor from Kenya making a living selling western action films tries to follow his dreams of becoming successful in a big city Nairobi
The old Slavic story of a naive country bumpkin’s rude awakening upon arrival in the big city.
It is shot through with fresh social and stylistic energy in Nairobi Half Life, a dynamic crime drama set in parts of Kenya’s capital that visitors generally would choose to avoid.
The young Kenyan Mwas has a dream: to tread the boards as an actor. In order to realise this dream, he leaves his village and heads for Nairobi, but is overwhelmed by the loud and wild city. One day, he is robbed and left completely helpless on the streets.
Placed in this existential predicament, Mwas slowly slips into Nairobi’s underworld. What begins with petty scams and minor drug deals, ends with more serious crimes. When corrupt police begin to threaten him, he has to decide between fast money and his dream. NAIROBI HALF LIFE is one of the few Kenyan features created during Tom Tykwer’s East African “One Fine Day Films” project.
If Eden – the new Nairobi address that is equal parts hotel, urban sanctuary and artistic hub – feels like a home, that’s probably because it once was one. Anna Trzebinski, the German-born, Kenyan-raised fashion designer, and her late husband, Tonio Trzebinski, built it by hand almost 30 years ago, as newlyweds in their 20s. The coffee tables are salvaged wood from a sunk dhow that washed up while Tonio was surfing on their honeymoon. There are collages on the walls by Peter Beard, a friend and neighbour, depicting the artist Francis Bacon and the Queen.
Trzebinski has packed a lot of life into half a century: two fathers, two husbands (Tonio died in a headline carjacking-murder case in 2001; her former second husband is a Samburu warrior and guide), the opening and closing of a bush camp, three children. Her meticulous embellished accessories have been taken up by brands such as Paul Smith and Donna Karan. “I am 56, and independent Nairobi is 58 years young,” she tells me. “We are growing up together.”
Turning her family home into a hotel wasn’t exactly in the game plan, but nor does it lack sense entirely. “The extraordinary thing is that bringing together all the threads of my life here has set me free,” she says. “This feels like a new beginning.”
Trzebinski spent much of the pandemic in firefighting mode, dealing with the collapse of her incomes. An existing rental contract was suddenly terminated on her home, and lockdown put a block on the trunk shows that sustain her niche couture company. So she auctioned her entire stock online, at cost, raising cash to keep her all-female artisanal team afloat. “No one lost her job; no one took a salary cut,” says Trzebinski. “We have worked together for three decades, given birth together, married, educated our kids together, buried husbands together.” In six months, the team (more used to embellishing exquisite suede coats) helped transform Eden’s handful of buildings from a family home into a creative sanctuary and arts hub that might offer a new kind of hospitality. They sewed the mosquito nets, painted the butterfly murals that connect the communal areas, polished the hardwood floors, and draped sand-coloured netting across the signature fibreglass terrace roofs to filter sunlight.