I am on fire today. My running pants are tucked into black socks, which makes me look really goofy. I started tucking in two months ago after the lower edges of my trouser became occasionally entangled in my bike’s pedals while I was cycling. The first time this happened, I almost fell of the bike which left my heart racing faster than it had during cycling.
I am not on fire today because of this tucked in look. Rather, am on fire because I am cycling on a new route. I feel like am the first person ever on this route, which puts me in the same league with Christopher Columbus, who discovered America even though American Indians had lived there for centuries.
I didn’t even know that this cycling trail existed until fifteen minutes earlier. Although I was going up a rather steep hill, I was still on my bike determined to keep going for as long as I could. On my right was a dense thicket and a smattering of trees. On my left was a wall beyond which was a residential estate. A few meters ahead of me, I saw a rocky patch of the footpath.
My legs are also on fire now. And not the fire of enthusiasm that was still coursing through my veins because of this cycling trail’s discovery. No, my legs are on fire because for nearly one hundred meters, I have been cycling up the hill. It feels as if I am totally spent, with every energy reserve in my body almost gone. But I can’t stop now. I have to soldier on until am done with this ascent.
Should I get off and walk along that rocky patch though? Just the rocky patch then I continue cycling. Nope. That would mean that I didn’t cycle for the entire uphill stretch without getting off the bike. Then I would not be able to brag to her. As these thoughts race through my mind, I step harder on the pedals. Harder, but not faster. This is when I reach the rocky patch. Harder. Thump! One moment I was high, up on the bike. The next minute I was low down, kissing the ground after my bike skid on the smooth rock and fell. Pain instantly bit every inch of my body.
Bwak the Bantu poet once said of ego, ‘like thunder, it is constantly striking the hearts of men.’ Ego struck me even when I was right in the midst of pain and I shot to my feet instantly. I couldn’t imagine cyclists or joggers finding both me and my bike lying on the ground.
Are you ok? Is there anything we can do? Did you trip or something? It happened to me too.
Such are the comments that I want to avoid completely. So as soon am on my feet, I also lift the bike upright, on the edge of the trail. At that point I feel the pain slicing through my left knee so I sit on a rock besides the bike. If someone comes along at this time, they will think that am just taking a short break, not recovering from a heavy fall.
It occurred to me during those few seconds that was down on the ground that in life, we fall many times and often decide to remain down for extended periods of time. What we should do is to stand up, dust ourselves, learn from our mistakes and keep living.
‘I will walk for most of the 12 kilometers and just run a little bit here and there. That’s because I have not run for the last one week since I was suffering from malaria. I finished my medication - Dihydroartemisinin+Piperaquine (P-Alaxin) two days ago and I feel fine now.’
These thoughts were running through my mind as I fist-bumped Kim the security guard and stepped out of the main gate of our court. The cold was biting so hard that I wondered if it had been sent.
I walked at an average speed along the dirt road, turned right to another dirt road and then onto the tarmac. ‘I think I should run a bit.’ So I started running at a slow jog. My Nike running shoes began making a staccato sound as they hit the tarmac. My 88 kilos were unhappy about this transition from walking to running but I shut down their protest.
‘I will run for a couple of minutes until the first junction on rhino road.’ But when I reached the said junction, I decided to continue running. My legs felt strong, and my heart wasn’t thumping, thanks to the slow speed. ‘I should probably run until Kifaru Primary School, then start walking from there.’
But when I reached Kifaru Primary school, my legs were still feeling good. In fact, I was now seeing Eliud Kipchoge in my mind. I could see him swinging his arm above his chest as he ran along Vienna's Prater Park. I saw his sleeveless white top and the Nike Pro Arm Sleeves and swung my own sleeves-less arms happily.
There was a time not too long ago when I used to detest the arm swing of my running style - I swing my arm in the upper body, not the lower body and for some reason, I thought that wasn’t cool. Then one morning, again not too long ago, I was browsing through YouTube when I came across Kipchoge’s Berlin marathon, the one he broke the world record. I noticed that his arm swing was also in the upper part of his torso, just like me. Great! So now I have embraced my running style fully.
‘I will run until Mama Lucy Hospital, then I can walk from there.’ But after running past the matatu stage in Umoja 2 where colorful matatus were queuing as if in a wedding reception, my feet were still feeling strong, my heart rate still manageable. When I hit the Usain stretch and continued running comfortably, another thought flowed into my mind. ‘I can actually run all the way to Komarock and back home, without slowing down to walk!’ And so I decided to act on this thought. I decided that for the first time in more than a year, I would run at least 10k without stopping or slowing down to walk. 10k is one quarter of a marathon, and I had last run such a distance without stopping back in 2017, when my running was at its peak.
It’s funny how a victory won in the mind can materialize into an actual victory outside the mind. Ordinarily, running the entire Kangundo Road stretch from the Mama Lucy junction is a big breakthrough. But this morning, because my mind had already hooked itself to running the entire 12k from Tena to Komarock and back, I felt like I was just gliding along. I made it. I ran the entire 12k without stopping. Yet this was after a one-week absence from running and two days after recovering from malaria. Of course my speed of 7.39 mins/km was quite slow, but hey, it’s one step at a time.
As Bwak the Bantu poet wrote, ‘one small step forward gets you closer to your destination.’
Think of your favorite gospel musician.
Is it the timeless Don Moen, whose soothing voice has filled many living rooms and churches over the last few decades?
Or is it Travis Greene whose song, ‘He made a Way’ has become a contemporary classic? Or maybe the Hillsong worship team, whose live songs can leave you feeling like you are literally rising to heaven?
For me, it will always be Keith Green, whose CDs, purchased more than ten years ago at South Africa’s O.R Tambo International Airport, are among my most prized possessions. His song, ‘I make my life a prayer to you,’ brought tears to my eyes on numerous occasions. He was an insanely talented pianist who would bang his fingers into the piano keys as if they were drums. He would do that even as he sang with such gusto that it felt as if he was pouring his entire life into every song. He tragically died in a plane crash at only 28 years.
One day, the name Sunil Kadzo Hamisi may just be among the list of your favorite gospel musicians. This 27-year-old lady from Malindi is a cousin-friend of mine and currently one of the worship team members at Nairobi Chapel. I have been a fan of her music for more than a decade. Yes, that’s how long she has been singing.
On 12th October, 2019, the same day that Eliud Kipchoge became the first human to run the marathon in less than two hours, I ran with her in Karura Forest. Well, more accurately, I cycled for ten kilometers alone then walked with her for six kilometers. She did run for the final sixth kilomter, but boy was she tired! What matters though is that she took the first step towards either running or walking regularly. As Bwak the Bantu poet always says, ‘even one small step forward takes you closer to your destination.’
When we were commencing our cycling-walking-running, we came across a wedding procession right there in the forest. The bride was resplendent in a flowing white gown. She looked like an angel in the trees and I silently prayed that the beauty of this moment would spill over into her marriage. These days, too many beautiful weddings end up in ugly marriages.
“Does this wedding procession remind you of your own wedding?” I asked Sunil. Her wedding had been almost one year earlier in Malindi.
“The wedding dress does,” she said with nostalgia.
Thankfully, her marriage to Lenny has remained incomparably more beautiful than the wedding. As it should be.
What causes the dance of a marriage to stop? When the music of love goes silent.
But what exactly do we mean by the ‘music of love?’ Food for thought. Sometimes this music is exultant, lifting you off your feet into each other’s’ arms. Sometimes, it’s serene like a mountain stream, filling you with a peace that leaves your hearts smiling. But other times, it seems to disappear altogether, causing the dance to stop. Why? How can you find that music again? This anonymous quote sheds some insights into this, ‘Do what you did in the beginning of a relationship and there won’t be an end.’
Back to literal music, I am listening to Keith Green’s, ‘Oh Lord you are beautiful’ as I write this. His piano skills were epic, only second to his overflowing passion for God.
Am thinking that the music never departs from the river of passion. So we have to dive back into this river if we want to recapture the music.
All eyes were on the two young people as they filed to the front of Olive Convention Centre’s main auditorium. Their eyes were bright despite the dull Durban weather. Something great was about to happen and they were at its very centre.
Delegates from the length and breadth of Africa shuffled in their seats, curious about this book that was about to be launched. Seated in the front rows were the environment Ministers who had made it for this seventeenth regular session of the Africa Ministerial Conference in the Environment (AMCEN).
Aminetou, one of the two youth, was resplendent in the melahfa, Mauritania’s national dress. Her colleague Victor from Kenya was attired in a dark suit and a bright bow tie. They took their seats at a high table that was waiting for them on the stage. Within a minute, they were joined by Tribute, Yusuf and Marc from South Africa, Egypt and Cameroon respectively.
The Global Environment Outlook for Youth, Africa Publication was about to be launched. This historic Book had been co-authored by the five youth on stage together with nine other Lead Authors and nearly one hundred contributing authors from across Africa. To ensure that its quality was world-class, it had been reviewed by 12 young environmental experts, also drawn from each of Africa’s six sub-regions.
Seated with the five Lead Authors on stage was Cecilia, the Head of UNEP’s Office in South Africa and Damaris, the Focal Point for Youth and Gender in UNEP’s Africa Office. She is the one who had ably steered the process. Next to her was her colleague David Ombisi, then His Excellency Lee White, Gabon’s Environment Minister and outgoing AMCEN president.
After everyone had settled into their seats, Dr Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, the Director of UNEP’s Africa Office began giving her speech. She was bedecked in a dark suit, with a colorful scarf wrapped around her neck.
“One of the biggest challenges that Africa is facing today is unemployment.” She paused as she glanced up at the numerous Environment Ministers from across Africa who were listening to her.
“One third of our 420 million youth aged 15 to 35 are unemployed. The UN Environment has responded to this challenge by producing the Sixth Global Environment Outlook for Youth. This Publication unveils a wealth of opportunities that young Africans can tap into to create green jobs for themselves.”
I smiled, as my mind traveled back to nearly two years earlier when I had been enlisted as a consultant Coordinating Lead Author of the process that birthed this Publication being launched. Apart from coordinating the content production, I was also given matching orders to find the authors who would pen the content. Two Lead Authors for each of the seven chapters and dozens of contributing authors.
The first Authors meeting had taken place in Cairo from 13 - 14 March 2018. In attendance was Brian from Kenya and Tribute from South Africa, together with Nuran, Yusuf, Mayar and Islam from Egypt.It was a small team with a big vision. For two days, this team huddled in a Cairo hotel for hours as we meticulously laid down the framework for the Publication that we were envisioning. We resolved that we would come up with a visually appealing, scientifically accurate Publication that would be authored by young people from across Africa. The twin objectives of this Book would be: to equip African youth with practical knowledge for unleashing green jobs and to showcase innovative sustainable youth initiatives.
For weeks after this Cairo meeting, the clarion call for authors went out by word of mouth, on whatsapp groups, on Facebook, via Twitter and other social media platforms. Well-established youth initiatives like the Young Africans Leadership Initiative (YALI) also played a key role in widely disseminating the call-for-authors.
In subsequent months, there was a groundswell of articles from all over the continent. Somewhere in Nigeria, as the Okada (public motorbikes) sped by, 28-year old Ayobami from Oyo State sat down typed a ‘youth action’ article whose first draft was 1,050 words. The second draft was 1,206 words. This article was part of Chapter 1: Youth-led Green Solutions. Joining Ayobami in adding their voice to this chapter were writers from Cameroon, South Africa, Kenya, Somalia, Mauritius and Zimbabwe. The co-Lead Authors for the Chapter were Olumide Idowu, a hyper-active environmental activist and social media supremo from Nigeria and Sidique Gawusu an engineer from Ghana who was pursuing his PhD in PhD in Power Engineering and Engineering Thermophysics. Rounding up the trio of Chapter 1 Lead Authors was Victor Mugo who identifies himself as a ‘young farmer in a suit.’ He is an actuarial scientist and the Country Coordinator of the Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network (CSAYN).
Somewhere in South Africa, as pap the staple maize meal consumed widely in the country was cooked and served, Buntu a 22-year old graduate of Walter Sisulu University penned an article entitled, ‘How youth can tap into the economic rewards of off-grid electricity.’ The article’s first draft was 921 words. Based on my editorial input, the second draft was 1,317 words. This article was one of those submitted for Chapter 2: A Breath of Fresh Air. Other articles were submitted from Nigeria, Kenya, Burkina Faso and Egypt. Steering this chapter were two Lead Authors: Miyoba Buumba, a young environmental educator who had graduated from the University of Zambia and Aminetou Bilal, one of Mauritania’s most active environmental activists. She founded Selfie Mbalite, an organisation that actively tackles the menace of solid waste. She was also an African Union Youth Envoy serving on the Youth Advisory Council.
The youth voice had also erupted from Niger where Houira, a young woman with a Masters in Environmental Management. She had invested hours into an epic 1,900 word article on climate smart agriculture for youth in Niger. This article was submitted to Chapter 3: Restoring Our Land. When I first read Houira’s article on 21st July 2018, I was in awe at her powerful insights that were grounded in deep research. I told myself that if the future of Africa was in the hands of people like Houira, then better days were indeed ahead. She had been introduced into the process by Awovi Komassi, the co-Lead Author for the land Chapter. She was a young environmental lawyer from Togo. Her Masters was in Environmental Management and Policy. Her co-Lead Author was Dr. Marc Anselme Kamga, a land specialist from Cameroon. This chapter also had article submissions from Ghana, Cameroon, South Africa, Kenya, Mauritania, Malawi, Benin, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. African youth had a clear message - Africa’s land must be a strong foundation for sustainable livelihoods.
Hot on the heels of Houira’s climate smart agriculture article was the longest article of them all - an 11,286 word masterpiece by Sarah Nyawira from Kenya. It was about blue economy opportunities for youth and was submitted to Chapter 4: Our Water, Our Life Force. Sarah poured her soul and mind into that article and wrote it for weeks. Alongside the article were several others from Ethiopia, Sudan, Tunisia, Mauritius, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, South Africa, Kenya and Egypt. This water chapter was flowing with diversity. It was ably led by Dr. Islam Al Zayed from Egypt and Muhammad Khalifa from Sudan.
My mind switched back from this walk down memory lane to the stage where the five Lead Authors were seated. Tribute Mboweni from South Africa was listening intently to the speech. Her white blouse was buttoned all the way to the collar. Together with Brian Waswala from Kenya, she had been the co-Lead Author of Chapter 5: Our Invaluable Biodiversity.
On July 3rd 2018 at 10.55AM, I had been right in the middle of researching for a book on ‘Adventure, Love and Travel’ when an email from the Republic of Congo landed in my inbox. It was from William Iwandza, a thirty-year old Congolese and was entitled, ‘how Congolese youth can conserve forests and benefit from them economically.’ Also streaming in for this chapter were other articles from Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and South Africa. Scattered in these articles were powerful insights on biodiversity and the green economy.
The auditorium was dead silent as delegates hanged on to every word that Dr. Koudenoukpo was saying. I felt little rivers of inspiration crawling up my spine. Through the book being launched, Africa was going to listen to the powerful voice of its young people. One of these voices had come from Elizabeth Lukas from Namibia. On 28th June 2018, she had emailed me an article on ‘bridging the divide between young scholars and the environment.’ This article was submitted to Chapter 6: Youth Potential and Green Policies. The very first sentence of her article took my breath away, ‘To cherish what remains of the earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope for survival.’ What a powerful way to begin an article on a rather abstract topic of environmental policy! This quote was from the 2003 Book of Wendell Berry, ‘The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry.’ Other contributing authors for the Chapter were drawn from Nigeria, Kenya, Namibia, Malawi and Sierra Leone. They all added their voice to the vital issue of youth potential and green policies. The Chapter’s Lead Author was Uvicka Bristol from Seychelles. She was working with the James Michel Blue Economy Research Institute (BERI).
My mind raced back from Seychelles to Durban. I dipped my right hand into my beloved black rucksack and fished out the hard copy of the GEO for Youth Book that was being feted at that very moment. I smiled at the Cover which bore the map of a greenish Africa surrounded by silhouettes of young people. This stunning cover together with the rest of the book’s layout and design had been done by Mohab from Egypt. This guy is literally dripping with artistic talent!
For Chapter 7: A Positive Outlook, African youth had unveiled the future that they envisioned. They did this through a series of letters from the future (2063) to their 21-year old selves. In her letter, Edith Uwineza, a 27-year old artist from Rwanda had memorably written that, ‘I have a lot more to tell you, but am just about to leave my house in Kigali for the 7PM train to Bamako, Mali. Find below a painting that will give you an idea about the Africa of 2063.’ The painting was of four women walking across Africa as the sun rose. She had envisioned a future where sustainable transport across Africa was the norm. Other contributing authors for this chapter were from Ghana, Zambia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. They were superbly led by Yusuf Younis from Egypt. Apart from being Chapter 7’s Lead Author, he was also part of an excellent editorial team that was led by Mayar Sabet, one of Africa’s finest editors. She has an uncanny habit of digging deep into a mountain of words and creating textual gems. Incidentally, she was also the editor of the Africa Environmental Outlook for Youth Publication back in 2005! Consistency and professionalism are ingrained in her DNA.
My mind returned to Olive Convention Center’s auditorium, to Dr. Koudenoukpo’s speech. “I would like to extend my gratitude to these young Africans who have spent almost two years working on this Publication. They have clearly articulated the strong correlation between a thriving green economy and decent jobs.”
Alas, the youth of Africa had indeed provided this articulation. It was now up to them, together with their communities and leaders, to create the green jobs whose footprints could be found in every page of the book.
The ocean’s serene whispers were ringing in my head as the automatic gate slid open. I walked for a minute along Minerva Avenue then turned right into Marion Avenue. On my right were more palatial homes like the one I had just come from. Much as I admired the sheer size of their grandeur, I mostly admired their ocean views. The fact that someone could wake up to the sight of the ocean every single day was simply staggering. And not just a tiny view like the one that I used to have in my house at Lamu Island, but a vast view that stretched for dozens of kilometers. It was far enough to be sweeping yet close enough for the ships and yachts to be distinctly visible.
I looked down at the ocean and hastened my steps, eager to feel those salty waters encircling my ankles as I sniffed at its salty breeze. As I passed yet another residential house, a dog dashed to the gate and begun barking, which triggered more barking from other dogs in nearby houses. I smiled at one of these dogs - a black bull dog with narrow ears that were standing upright - and it grimaced back at me. Wow! It’s bark sounded like it was marveling at my 88 kilos. Wow! How could you gain almost two kilos in a week? It seemed to be asking me.
A silver Volkswagen SUV sped by at the junction of Marion Avenue and Adrienne Avenue. A minute later, a security patrol vehicle also sped by. It was the third security patrol vehicle that I had seen. Looks like this area is really secured! I thought. My heart was now running faster as anticipation built up. Soon, my feet would be treading at a beach that they had never been to. Fizzy ocean water was soon going to be encircling my ankles.
A section of the road turned right into Lynn Avenue but I continued on along Marion Avenue. I began jogging, eager for the whispers of the ocean to filter into my ears. Just a few more minutes and I would be on the beach. As I crossed William Campbell Drive, I wondered who William Campbell was. It’s not every day one gets a road named after him!
Two minutes later, I got a pleasant shock. I turned left into David Avenue. You heard that right, David Road. So there was a road named after me right there in Durban North! I know that the haters will say that there are a million people named David but all I know is that my name is David and this road is named David Avenue. I have made it mama. They are now naming roads after me in the land of Mandela.
Five minutes later, the cold ocean water was encircling my ankles. I was watching with sheer glee as mighty waves raced to the shorelines, into my embrace. Even as their speed and power collapsed into the soft sand, my own joy and peace were rekindled. I marveled at the incessant spirit of the ocean. It just keeps flowing. And flowing. And glowing.
“Just like this ocean,” I whispered a prayer to God, “may I also keep flowing, glowing and growing.”
9.08AM. 12th October 2019. It is seven minutes to the start of Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon at Prater Park in Vienna Austria. In a few minutes time, he will attempt to do what no human being has ever done by running the entire 42km marathon in under two hours. Like millions around the world, I have been waiting with breathless anticipation for this marathon, which has officially been dubbed as INEOS 1:59 Challenge.
I dash to the kitchen to pour some white tea into my silver flask. The one with the black bottom. I want to start watching the marathon with a steaming cup of cardamom-flavored white tea in my right hand and a thick slice of Blueband plastered bread in my left hand. A few minutes earlier, I was at Naivas to buy unsliced bread so that I can slice thick, uneven slices and spread on them thick layers of Blueband margarine. I find the taste and feel of thick self-sliced bread to be better than the thin, sliced bread.
Just as am pouring the steaming tea into the welcoming flask, everything goes silent. The drone of the pump that is pumping water into my tanks goes silent. The voice of the NTV lady who is commentating about the historic race disappears. Fear grips me as I rush from the kitchen to the sitting room. I find to my horror that the electricity has disappeared. That’s right, off all the days that electricity could have taken a break, it chose today, at this historic moment, to do so. I slump into my brown-cushioned cane sofa. I want to cry. The race is beginning at this very moment and am not watching it!
I dash from the sitting room through the veranda into my home office. I would have preferred to watch the marathon on the big screen in the sitting room but anyway I will have to stream it on the laptop, which I hurriedly switch on. As fate would have it, the mobile phone Internet that am projecting to my laptop is so slow that youtube is not loading. I buy more bundles just to be sure that the problem is not insufficient bundles, but that doesn’t help. I am almost crying now.
I run from the house towards Jam Rescue club along Outering Road, eager to watch the marathon there. But when I arrive at the Club, the place is more silent than a church on a Monday morning. There are only two people there, both cleaners who are scrubbing the rough floor tiles. I honestly want to start crying now. This cannot be happening. So I decide to test if the internet on my phone is working now.
There he is! There is Eliud Kipchoge in a white top, running, surrounded by black clad pacemakers. Awesome! I walk home watching the marathon. Feeling as if Eliud can see that am finally watching his race.
I decide to get into The Growler, my car, to watch the marathon from there.
That is where I am sitting now. The marathon is at the halfway mark and Eliud is on course to finish it in under two hours. Am watching this on the official INEOS Youtube channel for this race. One of the commentators is a lady, a former American long distance runner whose voice is absolutely beautiful. I smile at her voice.
Thirty kilometers are over. Twelve remaining. The lady with a beautiful voice says that she can see some strain on Eliud’s face and the two other guys who are commentating the race with her agree. My heart starts to sink. He has to finish this race in under two hours. I tell my car’s frayed black steering wheel.
Joan texts me, saying that her heart is beating really fast, as if she is actually running. I can’t reply. I can’t afford to miss even one second of the race. My small bro Jay calls me. I disconnect. We are into the last thirty minutes. The lady with a golden voice says that Eliud is within ten seconds of the two hour mark. He is on course. My heart joins Joan in racing alongside the champ. The greatest of them all.
Bernard Lagat and several other pacemakers join Eliud in the final five kilometers. Lagat, a longtime friend of Eliud is 44, older than me and still running long distances at fast speeds. This gives me hope.
We are in the final 500 meters now. Eliud springs into life, even though he had been springing along for the entire race. He raises his hands and beckons to the pacemakers to step aside.
He sprints down the final three hundred meters. The finish line is in sight. He raises his hands in the final fifty meters and crosses the finish line in under two hours. 1 hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds to be precise. I shed a tear as I clutch the rugged steering wheel.
I am immensely inspired to run the marathons of my life with similar focus and determination. So help me God. I will also make my own history. I fish out my phone and send a whatsapp text to Eliud. Thank you so much for inspiring an entire generation. May God Bless you.
Yes, I have his number.
When my eyes slummed shut at 12.45AM, I knew that I would wake up in less than four hours, by 4AM. My body knew that the 4.30 morning run was mandatory. So I was not surprised when at 3.45 AM, my eyes flicked open. My phone was hiding beneath the white pillow next to me. After I found it, it informed me the time and I smiled, happy that I was truly the boss, able to tell my body what to do as opposed to the other way round. Alas, little did I know that my body would shortly be sending me a message that I would be inclined to disregard.
Don’t go for this run. These words were initially hazy. So I drank my cardamom tea, put on my socks, slipped into my long-sleeved running top, then into my Nike running shoes. Don’t go for this run. My left leg told me by way of a gentle throb. Nothing painful, just a dull feeling in my left ankle, as if I had been standing on that leg for a while. I descended the stairs, opened the gate and started walking briskly. The security guard with a permanent frowning face was on duty this morning, sitting by a bonfire with a man I didn’t recognize.
I ran briefly on the twenty-metre rough road outside our court’s main gate, just to taste the state of my body. Don’t go for this run, it insisted. I will go for this run, I responded. Today, I was planning to start running at the tarmac, but when I reached it after a brisk walk on a 100-meter rough road, I saw a police van ahead. Thankfully, police nowadays don’t ask any man they meet at such hours for a national identity card like they used to, back in President Moi’s days. But still, I decided to continue walking until that van passed. I turned right onto rhino road and was just about to begin running when I saw another police van ahead, plus two groups of people conversing in low tones. Again, I postponed the start of my run and walked briskly past the people and police van. I wonder what happened here. Did someone die?
I started running.
My footsteps became louder and faster as I slammed into the sandy tarmac. But I felt uneasy. Although my heart was in the run, my body wasn’t. Today, I was hoping to beat yesterday’s record of 7.1 mins/km. But my left leg was leading the rest of my body in a lingering protest at my decision to overrule its clear instructions earlier. So I stopped running but instead of taking a U-turn, I walked for a few meters and continued running. Stop! My body commanded. I finally turned back. It was 4.47AM.
We must learn to listen to our bodies. Although there are times when self-control requires that we overrule the body’s voice, there are also times when we must listen to that voice.
Who would have thought that I would find Uganda in this forest at this early hour of 6.47AM?
Yet there it was. Not the country itself but Warburgia Ugandensis, the tree is that is commonly known as Ugandan Greenheart. Known in the Kikuyu language as muthiga, this is the tree that the upmarket leafy suburb of Muthaiga is named after. I smiled at its pale green scaly bark as I raced my bike past it. Then I saw several other similar trees in front of me, to my right. It was 6.17AM and I was all alone with the Ugandan greenheart trees. Just me, and my sweetheart tree.
After cycling for ten minutes, I hadn’t met any other fellow human being. I felt like an island of humanity in an ocean of trees. It felt good. My heart always dances when am alone in the forest.
I rounded a corner and saw a bushbuck antelope lingering on the edge of the forest just a meter away from the footpath. It’s ears were alert, its legs poised to flee, which is exactly what it did when it saw me from the corner of its small eyes. In the twinkling of an eye, only its long, pale grey horns were visible, then disappeared into the forest undergrowth. Talk of fleeting beauty!
Thankfully to my feasting eyes, another bushbuck came into view a few meters ahead. This one didn’t have horns, which meant that it was a female since the females don’t have horns. Can you imagine if humans were like that! I would be tugging at my right horn as I write this. Thank God He saw it fit to deny Adam a pair of horns even as He bestowed them on bushbuck males. This is fun, I thought. Just me, the Ugandan Greenheart trees, plus other trees whose names I didn’t know yet and two bushbuck antelopes. I am in great company, I said to myself as I pedaled on, faster and faster. Ride slowly. Slowly. The trees whispered, reminding me of.. Forget it. There may be children reading this.
Those bushbucks are simply lovely. The word lovely doesn’t do them full justice. They are like a blooming, gently radiant brown flower with four legs. But because they come and go in a flash, you will be lucky to get a good view of more than a few seconds. It’s just me. I had wanted to tell those two that fled. We are family.
The first time that you see a bushbuck, you will imagine that its a brown goat. But upon closer scrutiny, you will notice that it has more grace and mystery than a good old goat. You will also notice that their bodies are plastered with geometrically shaped white patches or spots.
With those two bushbucks lingering in my mind, I arrived at the slope that leads down to the waterfalls and alighted from my bike. A minute later, I was at the small wooden bridge that crosses over Karura River. I should probably call Neza so that she can hear the sound of the river, I thought of my Rwandan friend. Like me, she likes the sound of rivers; the match of ants across a footpath; a lone dew on a lone dry leaf; the jolly chirp of an unseen bird plus all the sights and sounds of nature that can be found in Karura Forest.
As Bwak the Bantu poet said in one of his poems about the forest, ‘even the dry leaves on the footpath will leave your soul wet with joy.’
The guy running towards me was stocky, probably a good ten kilos heavier than me. But he was running faster than I was, his face barely visible because of a red hood that was covering three quarters of his face. His large frame reminded me of a rhino. So it felt as if a rhino was charging towards me.
I looked at the red hues of the fish and frowned. It was a curiosity frown, one that spreads over my forehead the dozens of times that curiosity strikes me on any given day.
“Huyu ni red snapper sir!” This is a red snapper sir!' Magoma told me in his loud booming voice. I had told him a million times to stop calling me sir but he had persisted. He was our lead fisherman and handy man. Magoma was born in Faza Island and knew everything there was to know about the ocean and the sea life that inhabits it. He is one of the few human beings who have actually walked on the ocean floor.
“Poa!” Cool! I said as I took hold of the red snapper fish and pulled it closer to me. It looked healthy and yummy. Good to look at and judging from the two times I had tasted it, good to eat. It had medium-sized scales and was almost three feet long. Grande! I thought as I looked at it admiringly.
“Hii ni kubwa sana Magoma,” this is quite big Magoma. I said as we placed it on a scale. Three kilos.
“Hii si kubwa sana sir! ” This is not that big, Magoma insisted, “mi nimewahi kumshika red snapper wa kilo ishirini!” I once caught a red snapper that weighed twenty kilos.
If I didn't know Magoma, I would have thought that he was exaggerating. But as someone who has spent at least twenty of his thirty five years doing ocean-related activities, I knew his knowledge of marine life was probably more than that of many marine professors. I think the tragedy of contemporary education is that it often treats people like Magoma, whose indigenous knowledge is monumental, as illiterates just because of their scant formal education.
I gingerly placed the red snapper on top of the freezer and poked it cautiously.
“Nieleze zaidi kuhusu huyu red snapper,” Tell me more about this red snapper, I told Magoma.
“Yuapenda sana kula shrimps na aweza kusihi miaka mingi sana!” He loves to feed on shrimps and can live for many, many years! Magoma answered enthusiastically, his Swahili laden with a heavy Lamu accent. He always finished his sentences with exclamations, as if every word he spoke needed emphasis.
Magoma’s enthusiasm for the red snapper inspired Bwak the Bantu poet to write a red snapper poem whose opening line was, ‘They leave a trail of red thrill in their trail as they roam Lamu’s deep sea waters.’
What do you leave in your trail as you go about your life? Do the footprints of your life leave hope and help wherever they tread?