Nairobi — John Telewa is a man on a mouth-led mission. The Kenyan wants to make it into the Guinness World Records as the man who has kissed the most women in the world.
"It all started off as a joke at a get-together with friends, when I kissed a girl and posted the pictures on Facebook," says Telewa, recounting how the project began. "There were lots of reactions from people as to whether she was my girlfriend and I decided, since they are asking many questions, I should post another picture kissing another girl. Then I kept posting more pictures kissing more women."
Before long, he began getting feedback "from as far as Europe, Australia, Asia and America", he recalls. "This is where the idea of kissing the most women in the world came from."
So far, the 28-year-old graphic designer from Nairobi who calls himself the Kissing Bandit has pursed his lips for 675 women. But he'll have to do a lot more of that - and efficiently. Telewa has given himself three years to accomplish his goal: to kiss a million.
Objects of affection
To reach his record-breaking goal, Telewa will kiss any willing woman. He has been known to approach ladies on the street, in supermarkets, at malls, anywhere. He explains his raison d'être to them and, if given the green light, puckers up.
The photos on his Facebook page show plenty of innocent-looking smooches on smiling women's cheeks, though an occasional mouth-to-mouth image appears too.
"Of course I will definitely kiss this guy," says Claire Wanja, a web manager. "He is a man on a mission to break a world record. I will support a fellow Kenyan any day."
Even if a woman is accompanied by a man, be it her husband or boyfriend, Telewa does not, however, seek the partner's consent. He believes it is the prerogative of the kissee to either accept or reject his proposal.
Nairobi-based journalist Abraham Marita questions that strategy. "How can he [do that]?" he wonders. "That is certainly looking for serious blows if he tries that on my woman, I think this guy is just looking for trouble."
Telewa does have one caveat: he only kisses those he considers women - that is to say, females above age 16.
Not one to be deterred, Telewa says he has approached authorities at Guinness World Records and gotten a four-digit claim code for his mission, thus "patenting the idea of being the first man on record to kiss a million women". At the time of writing, authorities at Guinness were yet to confirm they had received the Kissing Bandit's request.
The project is sometimes misunderstood in what is a fairly conservative country like Kenya. A cross-section of interviewed Nairobi residents reveals mixed reactions.
For starters, not everybody wants to be kissed. "I cannot allow him to kiss me just to be famous," says Sophie Ngele, a recent college graduate. "Why should I? It's all about how we have been socialized. For some in this country, public display of affection, like even holding hands, is taboo. Tell me about being kissed by someone you don't know. What is the motivation here?"
Some Kenyans look at this mission with scepticism. Is it an attention-seeking stunt, they wonder.
The Kenyan kiss
So what does Telewa cite as the reason for so widely spreading his affection? He says he wants to become an ambassador of the international language of kissing.
His family rallies behind him. "I've known my elder brother all my life. He is a super-extrovert who cares less about what other people think. There is nothing much that he is getting out of this. He is just being open-minded about breaking a record, that I am sure he will [break]," says his sister, Christabel Telewa.
Over the last months, some women have welcomed the Kissing Bandit into their personal space, while others have turned him away. He has been confronted by the minders of Kenya's famous. And he has also become an object of spite by many a jealous partner.
But Telewa and his lips persist. Inspired by the universal recognition that the French kiss has achieved, he promises that by yearend he will come up with an authentically Kenyan kiss. Many are curious as to what exactly that will entail. If things go his way, a million women will soon know.