The Trees of Health and Joy

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That Silver Oak tree in Karura Forest was partly responsible for my brand new weight of 82 kilos. Just five months earlier in February 2020, my weight had ballooned back to 95 kilos, causing me to resemble a buffalo. A balding buffalo.

One morning in late February, I had walked into my home office to continue writing my latest book, ‘The Fallen Tree.’ After sitting at my desk, I glanced up at the king-size mirror on one of the walls and it revealed a stranger. For a few moments, I wondered how that fat guy in the mirror had sneaked into my office! Then I realized with both amusement and a sinking feeling that the fat guy was me. I was no longer the toned leopard that I had become less than a year earlier but had instead metamorphosed into a buffalo. I wasn’t a hippo yet, but I was sprinting towards that direction.

Funny how kilos sneak into our bodies through innocent grams. Before you know it, you are one kilo heavier, then ten kilos heavier. The horizontal growth keeps surging on. That’s what had happened to me. After losing seventeen kilos two years earlier from an all-time high of 99 kilos in 2015 to 82 kilos in 2017, I had somehow slid back to 95 kilos. In early March when the coronavirus pandemic flooded into Kenya and shut down the country, I decided that I would use this national hibernation to get back into shape. The choice was clear – Leopard or hippo.

Karura Forest was going to be a major enabler of this resolution. Its earthen trails, whistling shrubs and waving trees created a serene atmosphere that was perfect for revamped cycling. And so I dusted Moja, my bike, oiled it and started 40-kilometer long weekly cycling sessions in Karura and 12-kilometer long morning runs three times a week. I also gave up dinner completely and replaced sugar with honey. Should you choose to revamp your workout and diet, start small and be consistent.

Thank you. I whispered to the Silver Oak tree. Because of you and the hundreds of other trees in this 2,570 acre Karura Forest, I have been drawn to cycle here regularly. And that is one of the reasons why the buffalo has slowly but gradually walked away from my body. The leopard is now clawing back. Oh, the sweet agility of a leopard. It doesn’t lumber from side to side like a buffalo, it strides, moving like an eagle on ground.

Do you want to lose weight, replenish your energy, refresh your spirit, reset your mind or to simply keep fit? Just fall in love with nature. Go for long walks in the forest and hike the hills. Climb Mt Longonot, Mt Kenya or any hill that will trees of joy 3challenge your legs. Kiss the 5AM breeze through morning runs or morning walks. If you are not into running like my sister Nashibe, grab a jembe, walk to the farm and plant some food. Plant amaranth (mchicha) or any of those deeply nutritious African leafy vegetables. Just plant your heart’s desire, then weed, tend to the farm and harvest. Kiss the soil and it will reward you, not just with fresh food, but also a fresh body. That’s what my brother Mpasua did. His weight had also climbed into the 90s. Then he dove back into farming, the love of his life. Now he is 78 kilos.

But whether you farm, run, walk or cycle; whatever the vigorous physical activity you will embrace, watch what you eat.

Don’t starve yourself, just go slow on oil, starch and processed sugar. These three are Siamese twins with grams. They will sneak into your body extra grams. No need to stuff yourself with two plates of white rice when one can do. And you don’t have to fill that one plate to the brim; rice will not cease to exist tomorrow. In the words of Bwak the Bantu poet, ‘food portions are the magic potion of weight control.’ So for the Luhyas in the house, there is no scriptural requirement for you to devour ugali that is bigger than your fist. At least not daily!

To all of us, it is not inscribed into our DNA that ‘thou shall dine on bread every morning.’ There are one hundred different ways to cook much healthier, more delicious breakfast options of sweet potatoes, cassava, arrowroots, yams and such natural carbs.

If you are like me and are deeply in love with bread, mahamri or any of their wheat siblings, you can always reward yourselves with such sizzling delights over the weekend! That’s what I do, so weekend is a great time to visit.

There are those who believe like my friend Mulhat that ‘maisha ni fupi, kula utakacho!’ Life is short so eat whatever you want! Indeed, nobody should put a barrier in front of your tongue. But just remember that physically speaking you are exactly what you eat. Mentally, you are what you think.

You are ultimately the steward of your life, so steer it well because God entrusted it to you. Your body is a major part of that life. Actually, your body is the physical vessel of your life. So make your body the best possible version of your body. But have fun as you do so!

The Silver Oak, Nile Tulip and all other trees out there can help you to replenish your body. Nature is your natural ally. Embrace it and don’t let go. 

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