“Hey Nashibe!” I shouted to my sister through the window, “I’m going to Turkana!”
She opened the door for me smiling, “so, you are going back to Turkana after two years. Same place?”
I explained to her that this time round, I was going to Kakuma refugee camp, the biggest refugee camp in Africa. Two years earlier, I had been to Kaikor, a small village deep in the arid Turkana heartland.
“At least eighty thousand refugees live in Kakuma!” I said excitedly as I removed my beige cotton coat and slumped into a three-seater wooden couch that was occupying most of the space in our small living room.
After serving me one of my favorite meals – green grams and rice – my sister grabbed her handbag, wished me a safe journey, made me to promise that I would bring her a gift and left for Utalii College, where she was pursuing a diploma in hotel management.
I was going to the Refugee camp in my capacity as the Chairman of Kenya Voluntary Development Association (KVDA), to officially close an international work camp that had been ongoing for almost three weeks.
During the few days I would spend there, I was hoping to find out exactly how all those thousands of refugees lived and how the refugee system could be improved.
I was eager to talk to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) people and find out from them more about their limitations. I also couldn’t wait to talk to South Sudanese youth and find out about their hopes for their beleaguered country. In the same vein, I wanted to know from Ethiopian refugees why they hadn’t gone back home after the war stopped. As for the Rwandan refugees, my burning question was, “do they think the emotional wounds of the genocide will ever heal?” I really wanted to brainstorm with them ways of healing those scars.
When I reach Turkana, I am going to have deep conversations with each of the thirty-five international volunteers about their experiences with the refugees. I thought as I cleared the last grains of rice from my floral white plate.
A few hours later at exactly half past seven, I arrived at the Gantaal Bus Service station in Eastleigh suburb of Nairobi. The driver was revving the engine as he geared to depart for the long, twenty-four hour journey to northern Kenya.
I took my seat in the left side of the bus, mid-section and we set off within minutes. To my dismay, my seatmate was a rotund Somali man and not a gorgeous Ethiopian lady as I had hoped.
Across the aisle, in the three-seater seat, were three young South Sudanese men. They stood out from the crowd, not just because of their tall height but also because of their amazingly dark complexion. They also had the typical southern Sudanese initiation marks on their fore heads. It was as if innumerable dots had been poked into their foreheads. Just behind the Sudanese trio, was another Sudanese trio; two elderly women and a teenage girl.
The girl was holding two infants in her slender hands. I looked at her curiously and promised himself to have a chat with her later on. I wanted to know her story. Was she a refugee returning to Kakuma? Were those babies hers? Where was the father? Why weren’t the two women seated next to her not helping her to carry one of the baby?
Was there anyone in this whole wide world who would take a bullet for her?
We picked George at a small town along the Kitengela-Namanga road. He was a lanky guy with a spark in his eyes. The kind of spark that says, ‘I am ready to take on the world and will stop at nothing.’ I liked that. I am always on the lookout for such a spark, so that it can hopefully combine with my own and light up a world in dire need for change.
I was seated in front of my brother Mpasua’s double cabin pickup, while my close Rwandan friend Uwineza was seated behind. George joined her in the back seat and immediately began telling us about Njoroi, the locality where he came from. We were headed there so that I could interview a local women group about their beadwork. The Maasai community is famed for their elaborate beadwork that is laden with meaning. They have been weaving this beadwork for centuries, even if the material used to weave the beadwork has changed over time.
It took us almost an hour to cover a distance of less than ten kilometers. This slow speed was occasioned by the slopping, rocky terrain that only allowed a crawl from the car. At some point, about a kilometer from our destination, all we could see were expansive plains and rolling hills. Plus a few zebras and gazelles. A stunning sight.
George regarded these wildlife as if they were merely goats. He was used to seeing them on an almost daily basis. But Uwineza couldn’t hold back her excitement. Neither could I. I may have seen wildlife countless more times than her but zebras, gazelles and their fellow wildlife still take my breath away every time I see them.
We arrived at Njoroi to find a group of about thirty women sitting on the ground in a huddle. A few meters away was a manyatta, the loaf-shaped traditional Maasai House that is made from mud, sticks, grass and cow dung.
“Can we enter that traditional house later on?” Uwineza whispered in my ear.
“Sure,” I answered and added with a mischievous glint, “but only if we shall use it to experience love.”
All the women were bedecked in colorful bead-work jewelry that looked dazzling in the late afternoon sunshine. One of the them was Miriam, George’s mother. She was wearing Nborro, a long necklace with blue beads. Also among them was Elizabeth Kanyuaya, a jovial octogenarian with a beautiful wide smile.
The old lady talked about her lifelong relationship with Maasai jewelry, “since my childhood until now, I have crafted all manner of beaded jewelry. When I was still young, we used to make even more different types of these bracelets. But times are changing and everything is changing. Back then, we used to make belts using raw cow hide and not processed leather as is the case these days. Nowadays our beaded jewelry is a lot more commercialized.”
Her words triggered in me images of centuries gone by when the Maasai weaved these beadwork jewelry purely for their own cultural and ornamental use.
The advantage of commercializing this jewelry is the fact that Maasai culture and fashion have now spread all over the world courtesy of these incredible beaded Maasai jewelry.
I went on to tell the women that through Sasafrica.Shop my African products E-commerce website, we would find for them a wider global market for their products. So help me God. I will ensure that the stunning beaded Maasai jewelry will spread like wildfire across the world.
And one day, I hope to experience love in that Manyatta.
The one-meter waterfall was gushing with unending ferocity. Whether you showed up at 6AM in the morning, noon or midnight, you will find this baby waterfall cooing tirelessly and loudly. Such consistency is a constant of all healthy rivers – and healthy lives for that matter.
“I wonder why the water is brown,” I said to my friend Uwineza. She is perfect company for such explorations into nature. I love going with her to Karura Forest because she is tuned in to nature and keeps noticing little wondrous things about the trees, spiders, leaves, twigs and a million other things that most people don’t.
She was lost in her own gaze of Karura River and so didn’t share any insights on why Karura River’s water is brown. Thankfully, its light brown color isn’t like Nairobi River’s dark slimy color. Incidentally, this river that the two of us were ogling is a tributary of Nairobi River. It’s sad that these healthy waters become sick as soon as they pour into the heavily polluted Nairobi River.
After I tore my eyes away from the baby waterfall, I looked to my right and saw stunning purple and greenish flowers growing in slender twigs of a shrub that was slightly taller than me. The shrub resembled the bay laurel shrub, known scientifically as laurus nobilis. But I couldn’t be sure.
I wonder if our Deputy President William Ruto would know if this shrub is indeed the bay laurel or not? I thought to myself as I took a photo of the shrub.
“I could gaze at those small purple flowers all day long,” Uwineza said. A strong morning breeze fluttered her eyebrows, causing her to close her eyes fleetingly.
I grabbed hold of Moja my bike and we walked on. But I had to stop after a few meters to admire the rough bark of a tree known as thorny elm in English and muyuyu in Kikuyu. It’s scientific name is chaetacme aristata. It’s a little guy that rarely grows over ten meters. But it’s a towering giant in Karura because it seems to be everywhere I look.
Tuesday 14 July. Aaaaah! Those are buttress roots! I said when I glanced to my left and saw horizontal roots protruding form the wet soil. They grow horizontally so that they can buttress a tree even as they suck in more nutrients.
I wish I could just know which tree this is without having to look at the label. I thought. As I write this now, I am resolving that by September 30th, I will be able to identify all trees in Karura Forest.
I was cycling at Mau Mau Trail and had already covered six kilometers. With each peddle, I was storming a different part of the forest, reveling in an avalanche of trees on either side of the track. I was now in my seventh kilometer and bristling with energy. It’s not surprising that I ended up covering this seventh kilometer in 17km/hr.
A few meters after the staircase that descends into Mau Mau Caves, I stopped the bike and hopped off to take a photo of a one-foot wide cobweb that had trapped dewdrops. Although I had seen this natural phenomenon countless times both in my childhood and adulthood, I only became captivated with it during a recent cycling ride when my friend Uwineza pointed it out to me.
“Where are you?!” she had asked urgently on phone, alarming me because she is not one to exude urgency in her voice.
“I am three minutes away,” I had answered confidently, knowing that riding from junction 30 to junction 32 on Wangari Maathai Track would take me less than two minutes. This is one of my favorite cycling segments in the entire forest. It has a subtle downward slope that enables me to peddle furiously and watch the bike gather speed.
“Am not where we normally sit,” she said, “but near there.”
Within two minutes I had caught up with her. She was standing by the side of the road with a big smile in her eyes. She excitedly pointed two cobwebs with dewdrops floating within them. Looking at them, I couldn’t help but admire how dewdrops were evenly scattered within the cobwebs. It was a combination of an intricacy and simplicity that defied logic.
That moment left me smitten with these dewdrop cobwebs. So I just had to pause my fast ride and take photo of yet another one.
After crossing Karura River at junction 28, I pushed my bike up the steep hill, in readiness for fast furious cycling on Wangari Maathai track. Few things in the world beat the feeling of wind massaging your face as you cycle in the middle of a forest with trees cheering you on. I immersed myself in this feeling along Wangari Maathai Track, not knowing that in less than three minutes, this feeling would be replicated, thanks to a trail that I had never taken before.
When I reached junction 32, I decided to turn right and discover the trail on the right. After about one hundred meters, the steep ascent became a steep descent and I let go. The bike roared down so fast that I had to grab hold of the brakes since I had never used this trail before. When I saw Muhugu trail smiling at me about fifty meters ahead, I released the brakes and raced downhill into the familiar trail. The momentum from my downhill descent kept me going at top speed for more than a hundred meters as the wind whipped my cheeks. It was surreal.
A short while afterwards, nature decided to reward me further. I came across several dewdrops gathered delicately on the leaves of a two-feet tall plant. Indeed, the fools say in their heart that there is no God. How else could such beautiful, bountiful nature be designed?!
I must have taken more than a minute admiring this spectacular marriage of dewdrops and leaves.
This image stayed with me for the entire 43 kilometers that I cycled in Karura Forest.
It’s 3.32AM and am wondering if, when I leave for my morning run in an hour’s time at 4.30 AM, I will manage to break my current record of 5:46 minutes per kilometer, for the 12k distance. Am hoping I will, because I tend to break these records on Mondays. In addition, I am listening to Gravity, a song by John Mayer. Until one hour ago, I didn’t know that this musician existed. I had never heard of him. But after watching Hellen Ibe the spectacular Nigerian guitarist playing one of his songs, I decided to check him out. And boy, is he good! Especially his guitar accompaniment! Hopefully this delicious guitar rhythm will carry me to a fast, rhythmic run this morning.
It’s 8.34AM. I know you are sitting on the edge of your seat, dying to know if I broke the record. Take a guess. Well, I didn’t. But no worries because it was a difficult run that could have ended with much worse time. As soon as I began running at Kamuti’s butchery, it felt as if someone had tied two-kilo weights on each of the thighs. It must be the two helpings of rice and beans that I had yesterday, I thought with a frown, unhappy with myself for having eaten a bit too much during that lunch.
When I reached the end of Rhino Stretch, mapmywalk informed me that I had run in 5:31 minutes. Not bad. I thought. But my chest was thumping and legs dangerously close to a jelly state. Yet I had only covered one kilometer! Man! This is crazy. After the usual fifteen second rest as I walked, I burst into a fast run. Hmmm… I thought. Not bad. Looks like the two-kilo weights around my thighs are disappearing.
I stormed into Moi Drive and tore down for fifty meters, but had to stop to pee. When I proceeded with my run, I noticed that my left sole was having cramps. Not a good sign. Am in the middle of the second kilometer and my body keeps throwing issues at me! So I slowed my pace but kept going. Is it because of the 42-kilometer cycling that I did in Karura on Saturday? I wondered. But I dismissed this thought because the previous Tuesday, I had cycled for 45 kilometers and no cramps assaulted my legs during the morning run two days later.
At Usain Stretch, I decided not to pause at all until the three-kilometer mark. My left sole was now in better shape, but my chest was heaving up and down, as if an invisible hand was drumming it. Thankfully, I managed to run this third kilometer in 5:36 minutes. The fourth kilometer was even better. I ran it in 5:34 minutes, two seconds faster.
Unfortunately, I was a bit burnt out by the time I ran the sixth kilometer, so I only managed to cover it in a paltry 6:15 minutes. From that point on, I put my best foot forward as much as I could. When I finally arrived back at White House, I checked my phone to see that my average speed was 05:53 min/km. Considering how this run had started on a difficult note, I patted myself on the back.
Let’s hope that the Thursday run will shatter the 5:46 record. And that tomorrow, my cycling speed will be at least 13 kilometers per hours.
The cycling remained rather slow at 10.5 kilometers an hour. Am wondering how I can increase my cycling speed!
I had just finished depositing my cheque and was about to walk out of SBM Bank Donholm when I felt a tap on my shoulder. When I turned around, I saw one of the biggest boyish grins ever. It was my first cousin George. Our mothers are sisters.
“John!” he shouted, the grin growing even wider, “what are you doing here?!”
“Soi!” I shouted back, referring to him with his nickname, “this is my bank. What are you doing here?!”
Turns out that we shared the same bank. We also shared the same birth year, though am a May child and he is a November child. We stepped out of the banking hall and talked for almost thirty minutes. He told me about a restaurant fire accident that gravely injured his son and only child. He explained in detail how it happened and thankfully, how the boy had eventually made a recovery after staying in hospital for weeks.
He told me about his flourishing business. Something to do with contracting. One of his ongoing projects was at a mall in Karen. There was fire in his brown eyes when he talked about this business. He was obviously very passionate about the business. This was yet another vindication for my strong belief that if you are truly passionate about something, you will invest time, blood, sweat and tears into it and will undoubtedly reap a bumper harvest in the fullness of time.
When my sister Nashibe was born in the late seventies, my mum had gone to stay with Mama Margaret her sister and George’s mum. She did so because Mama Margaret’s husband was a doctor, so he could take care of her in the run-up to the delivery. George had been born about one and a half years earlier in a place called Soi, so this town of his birth had become his nickname.
On several occasions during our primary school years, my big brother Peter together with our younger siblings Nashibe, Kuka and Ondiri would spend our holidays in Karatina, where George’s father hailed from.
I still recall the extreme cold of the place and the sighting of Mt. Kenya every morning. Another sighting that my brothers Peter, Kuka and I reveled in was the hourly sighting of Wairimu, George’s sister and my sister Nashibe’s age-mate. She had a very light complexion that we were not used to, so we regarded her with a mixture of curiosity and platonic admiration.
When our childhood transitioned into our teens, it took more than ten years for me to meet George again. We met during his wedding to Salome and we picked up our friendship from where we left it. Together with his wife Salome, they visited us in our then house at Funguo estate several times. Salome even took part in ‘Graceful and Grateful,’ a documentary that I directed and produced. It was celebrating the African women and her potential to change the world.
Several weeks after that, George drove me to Karatina to film another documentary entitled, ‘Old is Gold.’ This one entailed interviewing elderly people and capturing their wisdom on camera. George happily interpreted my one million questions to cũcũ, his grandmother. It was an incredible time and an amazing road trip with him and Salome.
After this period, we lost touch again for almost five years. We only reconnected when we were traveling after a funeral we both attended. His car broke down so my brother Mpasua and I gave him a lift. It was another amazing road trip. He kept teasing Mpasua for being too slow. Considering that Mpasua is the fastest driver in our family, Soi’s teases said a lot about his own speed! He had once covered the 500 kilometers between Nairobi and Mombasa in four hours! I am proudly slow in my driving. Every time my speedometer hits 100 kilometers, I usually feel like I have conquered the world. Yet for people like Mpasua and Soi, 100 kilometers per hour is their slow speed.
On the night of 30th June 2020, George aka Soi, breathed his last. Cause of death - Covid-19. Just like his driving, his life had sped by too fast. But his wide grin, vigor for life, passion for business and deep commitment to his family will always live on.
Thanks George Gicheru Muriuki, for the life that you lived and the powerful legacy that you have left behind. Thank you so much cousin.
The baby hippo looked kinda cute. She smiled at it. All I could say is, ‘there is a baby hippo.’ As if she couldn’t see that indeed, there was a hippo. Thankfully, she didn’t joke about my obvious observation. She simply smiled. A beautiful smile.
It was almost 2PM and we had just walked into Nairobi Safari Walk. I had last visited this place almost two years earlier in the company of Awovi from Togo, Marc from Cameroon, Brian from Kenya, Joan from Kenya and Wanji from Cameroon. On that occasion, Brian, an accomplished biodiversity expert, had given us expert information about every wildlife we were seeing. Unlike today when all I could say is, ‘there is a baby hippo.’
In fact, it wasn’t a baby hippo but a pygmy hippo. Brian had clarified this when Joan pointed out that a baby hippo was before us. When I read the inscription before the enclosure, I also got to see that it was indeed a pygmy hippo. But on this day, I neither read the inscription nor remembered what Brian had said. Bellisima was consuming my mind. She would consume yours too, because she is a very beautiful girl. That’s why I call her Bellisima, Italian for ‘very beautiful.’ The best thing about her though is that her beauty extends to her spirit.
‘It’s so big!” I exclaimed when we entered an enclosure from which we could see a massive rhino. I wanted to add a remark related to big sizes but I decided not to.
‘Wow,’ she said with a serene smile and leaned on the wooden railing. I could tell from a sideways glance that she was truly enjoying the sight before her. I liked that.
“I have a question,” I said, unable to hold back the naughtiness swirling within me, “how can rhinos that are this big make love?”
She smiled and blushed slightly as she answered, “once on a college trip to Lake Nakuru National Park, we came across two rhinos doing it.”
“Really! How were they doing it?”
“There is a way that the female parts her legs and…”
Although she was an articulate explainer, I was a bit distracted by the content of her explanation and the twinkle in her eyes as she narrated her college travel adventures.
When we arrived at the boardwalk overlooking the river and vast swathes of Nairobi National Park, I noticed with dismay that a large section of the boardwalk was inaccessible as it was under restoration. The wooden planks had been completely yanked away leaving behind only the cold, steel poles.
We leaned on the wooden railings and gazed at the feast of nature before us as we talked and talked. Our conversation spilled over from one hour to two hours. We talked about the small coastal town of Kipini, where she had recently returned from, and a thousand other things. I gave her a typically Bwak pep talk about her potential. On numerous occasions during the conversation, my eyes would stray from the silent river before us, to the angelic sight that she was.
I was immersed in beautiful moments.
I don’t think I will run a sub-6 12 kilometers today, I thought to myself. Or maybe I will. We shall see. Unlike the anniversary of Bob Marley when I was determined to run a sub-6 12 kilometer morning run, this time I wasn’t brimming with confidence. On three occasions, I have been one minute away from running a sub-6 12k. And on two of those occasions, I ran so hard that I thought I had actually made it. But nope. My best time until now has been the two 6.05 minutes per kilometer that I ran in mid June. So we shall see how today goes.
As I approached our residential court’s main gate, I could hear Rayvanny crooning his song, ‘Te Amo.’
“Shepu sinia, kiuno kijiko. Chumbani wanipa madiko diko.Ukifungua Coke, yaani ni mafuriko. Umeniweza.”
When I reached the gate, I saw Kemboi my favorite security guard holding a tiny radio as he listened to the Tanzanian crooner.
“Jonte!” he greeted me in his usual cheerful way.
“Kemboi!” I replied.
Funny how sometimes our greetings in Eastlands sometimes comprise of simply calling out each other’s name. You just have to add oomph into the name and the greeting is complete.
A few meters before Kamuti’s Butchery, I fished out my phone from my pocket and turned on mapmywalk, my running app. It was time for the run to begin. With the first few steps, I had a feeling that this would be a good run. My legs were well rested over the weekend and were springing along. My arms were swinging at my chest level, the way Eliud Kipchoge’s usually do.
I ended up covering the entire one-kilometer Rhino stretch in only five minutes and 28 seconds. This was a record, and a very good sign of what lay ahead.
Two hours earlier, I had sat on mi cama (my bed in Spanish) and analyzed my previous run. I had purposed to run the first five kilometers in below six minutes. That would give me powerful momentum to finish the 12k in decent, competitive time. This resolution was ringing in my mind as I turned left into Moi Drive, eager to run my second kilometer in great time. I managed to run it in 5:57 minutes. Not great, but good.
“Wawili twende! Wawili twende!” Umoja-2’s one-time newspaper vendor was shouting in his massive voice when I ran past the matatu terminus. This place had been home for so many years that a part of me still views it as home.
I smiled alone in the darkness as I raced on towards Usain Stretch. I love this stretch. By the time I reach it, my body is usually all warmed up and is raring to go.
As I race down Usain Stretch, I can tell from my shadow that am moving fast. Not as fast as I have done in the past but fast enough. Ever since I learned about pacing, I no longer run as fast as I can, for as long as I can. That burns you out.
I slow down just opposite the Administration Police camp and walk for fifteen seconds before bursting out into a sprint. A short while later, that female voice in my phone informs me that I have just completed the third kilometer. I did it in 5:45 seconds per kilometer. Nice! This means that I have run the first three kilometers in under six minutes.
At Kangundo Road, my feet are alternating between flying and striding. Once I pass mama stop, I am mostly flying for about two hundred meters. I know that am running really fast when a fellow jogger running in the opposite direction hastily makes way for me when I barrel towards him. I manage to run this fourth kilometer in 5:46 seconds per kilometer.
The fast pace lingered on for the rest of the run. By the time I was arriving back at Whitehouse, my running app informed me that for the first time ever, outside Jaffery Sports Club, I had run a sub-6 minute 12k. 5:56 second per kilometer, to be precise. I almost kissed my phone in glee. Yes! It felt really good to cross this barrier.
This time, I was not in Karura Forest to walk, run or cycle. Rather, I was there with Keya, my new Executive Assistant for an official photo shoot. I was the director and photographer of the shoot while she was the model. Naturally shy and uncomfortable in front of the camera, I had to convince her that she had what it takes to model our newest collection of brass jewelry. So we sauntered into the farthest corner of Amani Garden picnic site.
Her hands were resting calmly on the green wooden table. Wrapped beautifully around the slender wrist of her left hand was an adjustable double brass cuff bracelet.
The bracelet was enjoined at the apex by a black bean-shaped horn that was encased in brass. Keya moved up the sleeves of her navy blue blazer so that I could get a good view and shot. I gazed up from the viewfinder into her eyes and she smiled shyly. Back into the viewfinder, my heart skipped a beat. The sunshine was pouring gently into her chocolate wrist and further illuminating parts of the bracelet. This created a pleasant bracelet shadow that I felt like scooping.
She placed her arm on her chest after I requested her to do so. A Mona Lisa smile spread on her lips as her left palm grazed her right arm. The nail polish on four of her fingers was a light shade of purple. Only her ring finger was spotting classical pink nail polish. Then came the chocolate complexion upon which the double cuff bracelet was resting. Click! I looked at the photo and smiled with satisfaction.
It’s time to make out with the tree. I told her. A blush parted her lips into a sweet smile but I missed capturing it on camera. She stood up from the bench and walked to a silver oak tree that was a few feet behind us.
“Hold the tree tight,” I told her, “hug it like you love it.”
She did so with a shy look on her face. The brown and black thick tree trunk provided a beautiful background for her brown hand and the golden cuff bracelet on it.
I noticed then that the bracelet’s black horn encasing matched very well with her dark blazer. It occurred to me that the cuff bracelet was actually following in the sustainability footsteps of the tree. It was made from recycled brass and reclaimed horns. These two materials would have made it to a dumpsite somewhere if Kibera’s skilled artisans hadn’t used them to craft this stunning cuff bracelets and all the other brass jewelry in Sasafrica.Shop’s portfolio.
I decided to blur the tree and go for a close-up shot of the cuff bracelet. Instead of simply zooming, I took three steps forward and leaned closer to her wrist. Oh my God! This internal gasp was occasioned by the sweet golden color of the bracelet. It shone beautifully on the smooth surface of the double bracelets. Click! I smiled at the result, and looked up at Keya with a smile so bright that she had to smile back.
The warm glow that am feeling in my spirit has nothing to do with chicken biryani, one of my favorite meals. Rather, the warm glow is stemming from a sip of sour porridge from Gatanga. Every sip seems to set ablaze a joyful campfire in my heart.