Monday October 5, 2009
Listening to Hugh Masekela’s Greatest Hits
Tomorrow evening I will be in Nairobi, being treated to dinner by my friend Kumiko.
But knowing Kumi, that dinner might just turn out to be a nyama choma feast at The Carnivore. Kumi, in the most unlikely event that you’re reading this, scrambled eggs and some Ketepa Gold tea will do just nicely, thank you very much. But, I know you won’t be reading this so, go on and cook up a feast, I could use the extra pounds. Kilos I mean, mbu pounds, as if I’m in England. Ha!
I’m going to Nairobi because I haven’t been for ages. I’m going to Nairobi because I’m at a crossroads and every fork in the road looks good and the Good Lord is taking his sweet time pointing out the way in which I should walk. I’m going to Nairobi because I want to fall in love again. And I’m going to Nairobi because I should have been getting wed this Saturday but as fate and a whole host of other stuff would have it, that will not be happening, so I’d rather not wake up in my own bed and think, “today is the morning that I would have walked her down the aisle.” And Kumi asked me to go and I haven’t yet met Loice’s baby, or her husband come to think of it, and I hear Aunt Margaret’s kids are all grown up now and I’m dying to walk down Valley Road and reminisce about simpler times and happier days. Did I mention Akon will finally be in town? No, well, now I just did.
Nairobi’s always had a fascination for me. The sort of starry eyed fascination that my cousins in deepest Kisoro probably get when they think about moving to Kifumbira in Kamwokya to live with their big brothers and make money selling tomatoes in the market, the kind of fascination that Kampala bred kids have with moving to Boston, LA, Houston, London, Stockholm and Brussels. I wonder why none of them wants to move to Taipei or Venice or Paris or Bangkok or Madrid or Buenos Aires or Havana. I wonder! I’ve spent a couple of nights in beds and cities far from my own and none comes close to giving me the thrill I get walking about in Nai, whether it’s in South B or Riverside, Muthaiga or Embakasi.
Part of this fascination is because for the longest time growing up I thought we were Kenyan. We lived in Jinja and in those days, the late eighties, it was easier to get stuff from Kenya than it was to get it from Kampala. My mum got The Nation, The Standard and Taifa Leo every single day so of course that’s what I read and as far as I knew, George Saitoti was my Vice President and Baba Moi was the President but we all knew he’d had Tom Mboya killed. Wahome Mutahi was the funniest dude alive and if you didn’t read “Whispers” growing up, you were short-changed! Calvin & Hobbes, what was that?! Then I grew a bit older and went away to boarding school and the reality of Uganda set in and life was never the same again.
The other part of my fascination with Nai is that, with the exception of my first and second visits – with my mum, en-route to other African parts – every other time I’ve gone over on my own, by bus, I’ve fallen in love. There, I said it, there’s my dirty little secret.
The first bus trip, the ‘Vac workmate and I came clean with each other on a cold stone ledge, underneath the bright stars, outside the main Hall at the Daystar University Valley Road Campus. Ours was the great love that never came to fruition, we were two ships continually passing each other in the night and Valley Road was our final port of call far from home before we both retired to spend the rest of our days becoming rust baskets … I think I’m taking this ship allegory a bit too far. Then there was the trip where my best friend and I sat together on the drive back – thank you Alf for graciously moving seats by the way – and talked and talked and talked all the way back to Kampala. I talked the woman into falling into love with me and we flipped from being best friends to well, best friends with benefits (of the Christian sort). That lasted all of 4-ish years until I pulled the plug for reasons I don’t remember, suffice to say I think we’d reached the point where we could’ve either gotten married or broken up, so we broke up. Doubtless we made better friends than lovers. That’s my side of the story. Then there was a trip on which I discovered that, a guy and a chick – in constant emotional and physical proximity – can never be just friends! That was the genesis of my whole friends with benefits phase, which was most beneficial I must say. Most beneficial and I hope, mutually satisfying – some of them read this drivel I write so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
The last time I was in Nairobi was to shop wedding stuff for Myke and Char and at their traditional wedding is when I met the young lady that is now my ex – this was about the same time that Ex-bestfriend girlfriend had just emigrated to Canada, when she called the afternoon of her departure to bid me adieu, me I told her how I felt about her then she also told me how she felt about me then I wished her Godspeed and she left on a jet plane. So there I was, had just quit my job, flunked my very first Client account, Ex-bestfriend girlfriend’s gone and I’m finally past that; Ms. Ex is as if in the picture making it look all rosy and Myke and Char are going to Nai to get their gown and rings and teabags (those guys buy their milk and teabags in Nakumatt – Kenyatta Ave, none of this Capital Shoppers business). Of course I went to Nairobi – to clear my head – came back and asked Ms. Ex out and the next 2.75 years went past in a blur. With a fair amount of ups and downs and in-betweens. And somewhere in there I stopped blogging.
So, as you can see, I go to Nairobi to lick my wounds and come back roaring like a lusty lion. And now I’m listening to Eric Wainaina and remembering when he had hair shorter than mine and haven’t we all just grown so much older and none the wiser?! Here I am hoping to recreate the magic of youthful exuberance by sitting on a bus for hours on end because that’s the way it always happened in the past when it would just be faster and a lot more comfortable if I just hopped on a plane. But that wouldn’t leave me with hours on end to read my new Terry Pratchett or gaze upon the rice paddies of Kibimba, the tea estates of Kericho and the amazing sunset over the Rift Valley escarpment at Kijabu; that wouldn’t leave me with nowhere to go but inside to the deep dark places wherein dwells the truth of Sir Francis Bacon’s words, “great changes are easier than small ones”. Someone suitably wiser than me – and believe you me, there are precious few of those around – said, “in youth we learn, in age we understand”, there’s a busload of stuff that I would like to forget, like how could I have been so … mistaken … for so long? Or refused to see what those closest and dearest to me were afraid to tell me and how I failed to see their fear, for what it was. Was I, dare I say it, wrong? Should I have gone for form and substance not bright lights and potential? Should I have voted for Mama Miria Obote and not Dr. Besigye?
It’s going to be a long ride; Lord help me. I will return even more sorted, of that there is no doubt. I don’t go in search of answers for those I have. I go in search of confirmation of which answer(s). Will I return with that confirmation? I know not yet but this I know; I will return with a suitcase full of dirty laundry, a massive sleep debt from all that partying, a camera full of the proof, a severe case of constipation from all that nyama, and Eros willing, a notch or two on the bed post.
Delay is the deadliest form of denial – C. J. Parkinson
See y’all on the other side.
P.S. If you read this and idly wondered why I didn’t mention you by name, that’s because;
1. Your continued friendship is near and dear to me
2. You might very well be one of my answers in need of divine confirmation
3. I might want some benefits pretty soon