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?
The village stared back at us silently. I was in the driver's seat and at some point, the car almost veered off the road as I my gaze lingered at the palm-tree-branch roofed houses that we were driving by at that moment.
The rotting dhania, coriander, sat gloomily on top of the small fridge. It had been a sweet green color just days back in Mombasa when we bought it at Nakumatt, City Mall. But that was then. Now, thanks to a dead fridge when I arrived back in Lamu from Mombasa, it was way past its prime and I reluctantly tossed it into the improvised polythene waste bin that was next to the sink.
The dishes gazed back at me, dirty and weary. I had just taken a shower, so unlike the dirty dishes, I was clean. But like them, I was weary after a phone interview with Radio France International, the best radio station in Europe. I was their Kenyan correspondent and from time to time, I fielded phone interviews from them about the latest significant news in Kenya.
On this particular day, I had been rather lengthy in my answers about the MPs pay dispute and had to be cut mid-sentence. Ouch!
Another ouch was awaiting me at the kitchen sink as my dish-washing venture came face to face with utensils that stubbornly resisted my attempts to wash them. One of them, a small saucer, bore a small mountain of candle wax that refused to depart without a fight. Sitting smugly in the center of the sink was a sufuria, cooking pan that was plastered with the white and brown remnants of ugali. I had forgotten to soak it in water so that the ugali coating could be softened.
Fifteen minutes later, the kitchen was sparking clean, thanks to my concerted efforts. I gazed at the clean sink, clean utensils, clean floor and smiled triumphantly. Got ya! I said loudly as if I had just won the third world war. What is it about men that makes us treat almost every venture as a war or competition?
Though the kitchen was clean, the living room and five bedrooms of the house were something else. I have names for all the bedrooms, but that’s a story for another day. For today, let’s just say that these bedrooms have lives and personalities of their own. Follow me now as I give you a peek into these oh-la-la bedrooms that are part of the Yellow House, so named because of its yellow walls.
There are two bedrooms downstairs, on either side of the living room. We converted one of them, the one nearest the main gate, into the Sasafrica office (www.sasafrica.net). It has seen a lot of banter as computer keyboards clicked over the latest office gossip and strategy sessions. As leader, I was probably the focus of most of the office gossip and not a participant. But I did partake in the strategy sessions that saw us laying down ambitious strategies to transform Lamu SMEs into the next big companies of Africa.
Once during a strategy session, I put on my sober face, looked at my four female colleagues directly in the eye and said without blinking, “this small team here is going to change Lamu!” I paused, and in the silence, sighed deeply as I folded my hands in front of me as if in prayer.
“This small team,” I repeated in a voice so low that they instinctively leaned forward, “is going to change Lamu!”
As Bwak the Bantu Poet wrote in one of his poems about social change, “you cannot change the world if you don’t change the person in the mirror.”
The two donkeys were hurtling towards us with scared looks in their usually expressionless faces. Hot on their heels were three German Shepherd dogs. I stopped in my tracks as did Mulhat. As the man, I tried to look brave and behave as if I met angry German Shepherd dogs every other day. Truth is, the last time I had met with a German shepherd dog was ten years earlier in Imola, Italy as I was strolling down a lonely street.
“Where are those dogs coming from!” Mulhat lamented as she pressed against the fence of the fisheries department as if willing it to open up and protect her. Her green hijab blew softly in the wind as did her bui bui.
A Rastafarian beach boy soon trotted along and nodded proudly when I asked him if he was with the dogs. Mulhat’s pretty face relaxed and we continued walking along the sea wall in bouts of chatter that were punctuated by occasional moments of silence as we exchanged loving glances. Within a few minutes, we took a right turn that led to Dudu Villas and Cottages. It was just after 6.30 PM and as is true of Lamu, it was already dark.
Bang, bang! I knocked the heavy wooden gate. No response.
‘Hodi!’ ‘Hodi!’ I shouted.
‘Kuna watu?!’ Is there anyone? Mulhat shouted. No response.
Just as we were preparing for another round of gate-banging, a couple joined us at the gate. They were staff, and so they proceeded to make a phone call that resulted in quick opening of the gate.
Mbarak, the Manager of Dudu Villas was walking towards the gate, smiling warmly.
“Welcome my friends!” he said and immediately took the small rucksack that I was carrying.
If only he knew what was in this bag, he probably wouldn’t carry it. I thought to myself and exchanged a mischievous look with Mulhat. She adjusted her blue hijab so that not a single hair was sticking out. Gazing at the index and thumb of her right finger moving the hijab closer to her forehead, I felt as if the warm ocean breeze was lifting me off my feet and placing me in the midst of those stars that were bound to light up the sky later that night.
This feeling was still dancing my chest when I took a bite from the doughnut that Mbarak’s wife had graciously offered us. I had never eaten such delicious doughnuts before. Oh my God, they were divine. I told her that and Mbarak’s face lit up with pride.
“My wife is a very talented chef,” he said, “she actually has her own catering business.”
“I will be sure to invite her to my wedding as the caterer,” I said and cast another playful glance at Mulhat. She responded with a smile so imperceptible that am the only one who noticed it. But when Mbarak told a potter, a young man wearing a uniform of grey shorts and a white shirt, to carry the small rucksack to my room, Mulhat’s smile became noticeable.
If only they knew what was in that bag…
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.