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Riding freely: Kibera's sunniest ambassador.

figure By WILLIAM RUTHI The sun is almost setting, and the air is cool. The waning light licks off the roofs of the hundreds of houses in Kibera.

Tens of people trudge home, their shadows long. School children kick balls fashioned from rags and bits of paper, raising dust.

There is an eerie glow the hour where hope either retires or comes alive a time of reunion and stories.Suddenly a motorbike appears, gunning down a dusty road.

The exhaust pipe, obviously tweaked, rips the air. It is an unsettling sound, one with a soul of its own.

As it approaches and comes to clear view, it is apparent that the bike, a Boxer model-normally a standard motorcycle, is anything but standard. And neither is the rider.

On the fly, he lifts the front wheel clear of the road, and he is flying trailed by dust. A few people stop to look, but most keep walking, giving the bike and its stunt-rider only a slight glance.

They know the machine and the man: they are stories, and its the hour of stories.The bike screeches to a halt, but not before the rider gives it a spin, like in the movies.

If there is colour, art, defiance anywhere, then I am in the very presence of it. The motorcycle is an impressive canvas of graffiti, the wheel rims tricked shiny.

The owner takes off the helmet, revealing a head topped with dreadlocks.The side is shaved low and doused in near-ochre.

Earrings puncture the curve of his ears, lobes and his brows too. His beard is lush.

Dennis Andere, known in Kibera by the moniker Baqteria or Ghost Rider, is without question the most popular and recognisable motorbike rider in Kibera and some of the more polished estates adjacent to the slum. His boda boda (public transport motorcycle) stands out among others as a tree amid toadstools.

Andere attracts a near-cultish following in Kibera and on social media. When not ferrying clients, he performs bike stunts that would impress career stuntmen.

Children regard him a superhero.Growing up I was able to do so many things - making toys, fixing things, and later when I got my bike, I would go everywhere, he tells me.

Thats how I got the nickname Baqteria, which is derived from bacteria, because people would say, he is everywhere, spreading like bacteria, he adds.STANDING OUTA casual, detached view of Kibera reveals an endless warren of houses and huts huddled tight as to be indistinguishable from each other rusty roofs, TV antennas wound on spindly poles jutting into the air dusty paths, rivulets of sludge and a general feeling of desperation, with residents trying to just get by.

It fits the narrative outsiders have of the slum. To be sure, that view, however jaded, is not entirely incorrect.

After all, Kibera was not too long ago a tourist destination, a must-stop for celebrities and leaders, from Angelina Jolie, Chris Rock to former UN Secretary-General Ban Kin Moon. Look at all this, look at the entire sweep of it, their minders would explain.

But Kibera, Andere explains is hardly one continuous loop of poverty and despair.Well, you can look over at the iron sheets and conclude everything is the same, but its not, he says.

Just because its the ghetto doesnt mean we dont dream or have talent.He says his goal is to change peoples mindset and prejudices their view of Kibera.

His distinct, singular look is one he employs to this end. At first I was just experimenting with my hair-dyeing it, the locks, then I noticed people liked it, he explains.

Then of course the bike. I was the first to introduce graffiti art among boda boda riders here.

Now, many of them have it.Andere, the first born in a family of five, was born in Kamukunji, a section of the wider Kibera.

Dennis Andere in Kibera for a mentorship drive. PHOTO| COURTESYHis single mother struggled to raise the family on a lean budget.

Food and basic necessities were hard to come by, forcing him to drop out of school when he was in Form Three.My mother couldnt raise the fees for all of us, and as a result I couldnt go on, he says.

This, however, didnt crush his spirit or lead him down the path most people his age took: crime. He did casual jobs in the neighbourhood and saved enough to enrol for a basic electrical certificate course.

Andere, who is in his mid twenties scrapped for work and was able to buy a motorcycle.I was always fascinated with stunts, wheeling.

I would work during the day carrying passengers, then train myself to perform stunts. I also watched tutorials on YouTube, he says.

Soon, his notoriety and look would usher him into a new world. In 2017, Andere was cast as an extra in the Netflix Series Sense 8, which was partly shot in Kenya.

His role involved carrying one of the lead actors to the set in Karen on his bike.The world over, the ghetto has always been a spawning ground for talent part of the story.

Andere, who has been featured in music videos, most recently in the song Hawayani by Nyashinski, mentions rapper Octopizzo, who was born and raised in Kibera as example.People should not see these brown iron sheets here and look down on them.

This place is home to many gifted folk. I am from the ghetto, but you wouldnt know that if you found me outside Kibera.

he says. We have acrobats, we have musicians.

He envisions being hired for bigger gigs - acting and dancing. The bigger picture is to project hope, dreams and possibilities, Andere says, something he is doing by mentoring young people and encouraging them to pursue their passion.

Just because one didnt make it in school doesnt mean one is a failure, he says.Nearly all his pictures on his Facebook account are accompanied by sunny quotes about effort, friendship among other issues.

Be unapologetically you, he says.On a Sunday afternoon, the Ghost Rider hops onto his motorbike.

Its a beautiful day, sunny and easy.The rider pilots his machine - this refurbished Boxer - down onto Thika highway.

He leans forward, as if propelling the bike by his sheer will, then snaps back lies flat on the seat, changes his mind and swings his feet off to the side.He is doing about 110 on the needle.

Inside the helmet a song is playing from a pair of earphones. The song is "I Can" by Chronixx.

It is an upbeat song, in a way a soundtrack to Anderes life.hellipwhere Ive come from, I know I am blessed.

Sometimes I feel like the richest man in Babylon, the song plays on. Related Stories
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Publication:Daily Nation, Kenya (Nairobi, Kenya)
Date:Aug 1, 2018
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