It's funny how memories tend to fade away when years pile up. Sometimes this makes me wonder if it is worth it living great memories only for them to fade away forever. Remember that utterly delicious meal that you had last year when you went for dinner with a friend? At the time, it was a sizzling meal, a wonderful time with your dear friend. But now if you try to remember that meal and what you laughed about during the meal, you can barely remember anything.
I have been to Rome, the former capital of the world only once. I stayed there for about two weeks and had memorable experiences. Sadly, I have to think long and hard to remember what exactly I did while there. At first, I stayed in an apartment block that I shared with Rouna, the shy, beautiful girl from Mauritius and a guy from Austria whose name or face I can’t even remember. There was also a fourth person, a lady whose name, face and nationality have totally escaped from my memory. It was in this house that we reached a deal with Rouna that although she was dating, we would allow nature to take its course. That night, I recreated our wedding so vividly in my mind that I dreamt about it. It was at All Sanits Cathedral in Nairobi. I was wearing a blue track suit. In my own wedding, because as I indignantly explained to Msonobari my brother, “where is it written that people have to wear suits and stuff in weddings?”
Rouna was one of those Mauritians who have some Indian, some Arabic and some African in them. Her chocolate complexion and wavy hair lived long in my heart long after we had parted ways. Oh, the memories we made with Rouna in Rome, Sicily and Imola. These memories may be faint but you know what, the beautiful thing about memories is that they never really go away. They only retreat to the sub-conscious where they lie in a coma until something or someone awakens them. Now that I am writing about this, trickles of Rome's memories are beginning to drop into my mind.
Gelato. Italian ice cream is utterly breathtaking. Almost daily, it took away the breath of Rounda and I. There were only seventy euros in my worn out brown wallet and I didn't always have the luxury of buying gelato, so I had to keep faking reasons why I couldn't buy it whenever we walked by an ice cream place. My most common excuse was that I had a stomach ache, which I blamed on Italian food.
“My stomach just doesn't like some Italian food,” I would say even though the truth was that I adored most Italian food.
I also remember how Rouna and I once sat cross-legged in front of a bearded guitarist who was playing the guitar so divinely, I held my breath for a few moments eager to gulp the entire melody that was pouring out of his guitar. His right hand would pluck it in a super-fast manner as his left hand massaged the chords even faster. The result was a stunning melody that angels must have been dancing to. Rouna, the only angel that I could see, would always gyrate to the tunes of that guitarist.
Never had I seen such remnants of war
Bullet halls decorated gorgeous buildings
Brazaville the capital city of Congo
Discovered by Brazza from Belgium
And named after him
Were there no people in this city?
Before the Belgian came?
I decided to call the city, Yetu
Yetu, Swahili for ours
I wrote the above poem on the morning of October 4th 2006, I woke up with a smile lodged firmly in my heart and on my face. I threw aside the blue bed cover that I often preferred to use instead of the woolen blanket beneath it. Every night when I climbed the stairs of my bungalow in Funguo Estate off Mbagathi Road, I would dive onto the well-spread bed and lie there until I started dozing, then I would toss aside the blanket and fall deep asleep beneath the bed cover.
On October 4th after emerging from the warmth of this bed cover, Laila was on my mind, hence the smile. I had met this dazzling Egyptian lady a few months earlier in a workshop that brought together members of the Africa Network of Environmental Journalists. Drawn from across Africa, this group of environmental journalists had come together to validate and provide input into a UNEP Handbook whose content production I was coordinating – Environmental Reporting for African Journalists. (Click here to download and read this Book).
After this workshop, Laila and I took off for Maasai Mara to explore the nature that we both adored. That morning when I woke up with Laila on my mind, I decided to write some poems for her since like me, she loved poetry. I called these poems, ‘A poetic journey through Africa’ and started with a poem about Congo Brazzaville, a country that I had visited earlier that year to attend the launch of the Africa Environment Outlook for Youth, a Publication that I had been working on for close to three years.
Upon arrival at Congo Brazaville, we were ushered to the VIP section because we were part of the UNEP delegation. VIP sections of airports in Africa are usually places that you can only glance at and envy the big-tummied government dignitaries as they saunter in and out of them proudly. On the many times that I had passed by VIP lounges on my way to the common people's waiting lounges, I had often wondered why VIP sections are needed to start with. I am not a big fan of that term - VIP. In my book, everyone is a VIP. Yet even as I lashed out internally, I would often wonder what it would be like to enter those VIP doors and enter lounges where I food, drinks and extreme comfort were free.
On that particular afternoon, I didn't have to wonder anymore. As soon as I alighted from the Kenya Airways flight in Brazaville, the capital city of Congo, I was ushered into the VIP section of the airport. Cool! I thought. I am a VIP after all! I looked around curiously as soon as I had strolled through those doors of Very Important People. Soft couches for your weary body, water dispensers for your thirst, coffee machines for your beverage cravings, soda machines for your sugar weakness, buffet bowls full of steaming food for your hunger and other VIPs for your snobbery.
I nonchalantly attacked the soda machine first. Luckily, I had discovered how to operate them on a trip to Dakar, Senegal when I became bored at the airport and decided discover how the coffee and soda machines operated. There wasn't much to discover because it was really just about slotting in coins and waiting for the paper or aluminum cans to be spitted out. Can you imagine if there were happiness machines, where you can just slip in coins and find yourself supremely happy? That would be… crazy. I actually think that real friends and family should be like happiness machines, only that you both need to invest time into building memories, and as you build those great memories, happiness will hug you, flow into you.
Back to Brazzaville, after I was done with two cans of Coke, I made my way to the bowls of food. We were only two of us there, all of us young. I reckoned that the other VIPs were snubbing the food as they didn't want anyone to think that it had excited them. Just as I was settling down in my soft couch to eat my hot food and drink my third can of cold Coke, a bevy of beautiful girls sashayed into the lounge and proceeded to announce in both French and English that, 'all the UN officials who have arrived for the Africa Ministerial Conference on the Environment, please follow us.'
It turned out that at that moment, I was the only such UN official so it was my great pleasure to forsake my food and follow the lovely ladies.
One of the streetlights along rhino road, Tena Estate’s longest road, wasn’t working and the moon was nowhere to be seen. It was in this dim light that I saw her was running running towards me. A bull dog glared at me from the first floor of an unfinished building on my left. She was now barely ten meters away from me since I was running in the opposite direction.
My running app informed me that I had just finished 11.5 kilometers in just under one hour, twenty minutes. This meant that I was on track to run my fastest time this year. But only if I hastened my steps, which is exactly what I did even though my legs were protesting. Its at this point that I met her. She was wearing a black track suit. Her track jacket was hooded, leaving only a small portion of her face visible. Despite that, her beauty shone on her countenance and in her brown eyes as they smiled. This jolted me into a faster speed and I rounded the final bend into a road that would deposit me into my court after two hundred meters. A student in a red raincoat gazed up at me with curiosity and said something to his yawning mother after I had passed them. They were waiting for the kid’s school bus.
Barely forty minutes earlier, I had rounded the Kangundo Road bend that led me into Komarock Estate. Sitting moodily to my right was T-Mall, the shopping mall that doesn’t seem to have caught fire despite having been completed a couple of years ago. I was in a good mood because I was having a good run. My legs were riding on the wings of the dawn breeze. For the first time this year, I had run the entire one-kilometre stretch of Kangundo Road without walking even for a second. Although I had previously run along this stretch non-stop, it was always in the opposite direction from Komarock, never towards Komarock. Alhamdulillah I could now tick this goal.
There were three small uber cars parked next to T-Mall but I was too focused on my run to throw a quick glance into them. I usually did this just to get an idea of what the driver was doing at that early hour as they waited for clients. Most were usually leaning back in their seats, catching a nap. I slowed to a fast walk to catch my breath and saw the young girl who is always out on the road whenever I pass here. It was 4.45AM and she was walking towards her usual location on a roadside concrete bench where she normally sits. I have always wondered why her father, mother or any grownup doesn’t normally escort her as is common with other kids who are out this early.
“If those kids are at the road before 5AM, what time do they wake up?!” My Rwandan friend Neza recently asked me. Good question.
As I sprint down towards the two-hundred meters that will lead me to a bridge where a four-meter ascent will commence, I find myself wondering about my own kids when I get them (after first finding their mother). Will they also be waking up at 4AM just so that they can catch the 5AM school bus that has to come that early because: a) it is trying to avoid Nairobi’s notorious traffic jam and b) it has to pick dozens of kids who stay all over the city. I pray that Seven and Saba (the imaginary names of our future two kids) will not have to wake up up at these crazy hours because we shall be dropping them to school ourselves or we shall also be living near that school and will just be strolling there with them.So help me God.
By the time I reached my blue gate and stopped the running app, my legs were almost weeping. But it was worth it, because today, the 8th of October 2019, I had run my fastest time this year - 7.1 mins/km over a distance of 12 kilometers. I know that this is still slow, but hey, don’t forget that I still weigh 88 kilos and until three months ago, I hadn’t run for more than six months.
As Bwak the Bantu Poet said in his epic poem, The Finish Line, ‘even one small step forward gets you closer to your destination.’ Keep taking small steps forward.