Turning 27

I wanted it to be a different day, a time I could live with for the rest of my life. Maybe, I thought to myself, we should try make each day of our lives memorable. The only birthday I remember celebrating was when I turned seven. Mama baked a caked that I stayed up all night watching as it cooked on the jiko. All my friends dressed to the nines, having looked forward to that evening. Vennah, my ‘girlfriend’ was there too, sitting beside me. I think that’s all that mattered. She blew off the candles. The only other time my family did something for me on my birthday was when I turned seventeen. Father bought me an African themed shirt that I treasure dearly to this day. Yes, it still fits me perfectly. Funny thing is I have had fond memories of this day only after each decade since turning 7.

When Storymoja’s Start-A-Library called out for Reading Aloud Ambassadors for an activity that coincidentally fell on the date of my birthday this June, I saw it befitting one of my wishes of the day – to spend time with children. The Storymoja Read Aloud exercise is an initiative that sets out to break the national record of children reading out loud from the same text at the same time as part of Day of The African Child celebrations. I missed participating in last year’s session where the record was set at over 160,000 children in 422 schools in 12 counties reading. The text in context was from Muthoni Muchemi’s ‘Attack of The Shidas’, in which the essence of unity is strongly emphasized.

You can read more about it here: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-31058486and http://www.startalibrary.org.

When Grace Wangari, the program co-ordinator, okayed my registration for Rose Gate Academy, I was elated by the imagination of experiencing something new. Never before had I done such a thing. What she didn’t know though, was that the school is owned by my parents and the person she spoke to in the office while communicating about the reading exercise is my father. I don’t spend so much time in the school as I used to when it was starting out five years ago and I felt like surprising him and the 416 kids.
The children received me so warmly.  Their tuneful enthusiastic response when I greeted them at the parade melted my heart. To imagine that I was once where they are, looking all innocent and incognizant, and that I have grown this much, really, was reason enough to thank God for all those breaths I have taken over the years. We had a beauteous time together as we engaged in questions and little conversations. The exercise sure took more than the 15 minutes officially allocated for it, but who cared? We were enjoying ourselves. They are having their annual Sports Day this Thursday and had come ready for another day of rehearsals, so we had some time to spare.
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I left Mlolongo town at about 10am. Got home, took a shower, had breakfast, danced a little around the house (inside) before setting out to Kitengela where I would take a matatu to Kajiado. I needed to spend the rest of the day alone; reflecting, talking to God, walking and eating.

Namanga Road is so smooth you could lick it. The journey was short. I saw very beautiful houses and learned of universities I had never heard of that are still under construction. There is so much land being sold those ends and for some reason, I imagined myself coming to settle there with my family in future. I could not help notice the serenity that engulfed the county, even from the nature of the trees that swayed so humbly as if to say that is how home should feel like. I wonder how drivers hack that stretch without dozing off.

My parents first met in Kajiado. Both my grandfathers worked for the Railways. I was last here in 1994 when we were burying Jael, my late sister. I wished I could trace those graves. My aunties used to take me on walks by the stalled trains. I remember liking the scent of the fuel that came from their wheels. Ironically, to date, I have never been on a moving train. I dream to travel in one to Mombasa with a special woman someday – first class. Yes, we’ll hopefully arrive sober.

My mother’s father stayed longer in the town as my dad’s family moved to Ugenya after grandpa retired. So I visited the latter more and somewhat grew closer to him than the former. He’d make sure I ate eggs on each sojourn. His house had a wired telephone and a huge TV. My uncles and aunties – mum’s siblings, stayed up late nights telling stories and giggling in their rooms. They were quite a happy lot. Grandma had such a motherly heart I wondered where such human beings came from. Perhaps she just had the strength to hide many unsaid things in her smile, you never know. I didn’t even know I was human that time. A child, maybe, but alive. I could see things and drink lots of uji.

2015, grown and bold with a fast balding head, I got to Kajiado. I felt good. It is June but I felt like I’m ahead of time. Like I’m in August or something. So much has happened to me, it’s a miracle I am sane. But I was determined to keep the bad things buried; forgotten. I have been through a heartbreak that threatened to go with my life. Oh yes, depression is real. Only God can explain what I’m still doing here.

It was time to take a walk through the town. The sun was mild, and a gentle wind blew. The weather married the town’s atmosphere – quiet, slightly busy and seemingly happy. It felt like a place of intimacy. I wondered how making love here would feel like. I heard more murmurs than the sound of passing cars. People were talking under trees, by cobbler and tailor stalls. The boutiques sold clothes with screaming colours – a bloody red here and an intense sunny yellow there. There were older men than younger ones walking about, dressed in their trademark shukas and the women in intricate jewellery. No music boomed from anywhere. Not even from the bodaboda operators whose noise has become a nuisance in some places with their little radios that can transverse painful music kilometres wide.

I had nostalgic moments walking past the field I suppose my uncles played football in their yesteryears, wonderfully poised beside the road as a public arena. It was no secret people watch football here. I walked further outside the main centre to quieter places, marvelling at God’s creation and venerating the complexity of the humanness He built me with. I did think of the journey that my life has been, how I have redefined my understanding of happiness over time. I thought about my future family and my need to grow closer toward God; learning to forgive those whom I feel have wronged me and how to get sustainable energy for that. When a series of hurtful occurrences happen to you, you unknowingly grow resentful even to harmless things, so blindly that darkness becomes the only beauty you know. You grow walls around yourself in your quest for emotional protection, seeing every kind deed as a threat to exposing your vulnerability. You stop thinking clearly, feeling truly. Then with time, vagueness becomes your peace of mind, and a deceiving comfortability; some illusion of happiness. While in a painful storm, seldom do we sit to think that perhaps we are the ones in dire need to change than the people who hurt us.

These impressions played in my mind. I thought about the essence of pain; my understanding of Christianity and the true face of my faith, my leadership roles and the heart I need to grow to serve people more. I thought about my purpose, the woman I’ll marry and the man I ought to be before she gets here. I wondered what my children will grow up to be, if they’ll look back someday and be proud of their father. The time is now to set things straight.

There is a lot I am yet to give the world. Perhaps all that I’ve been through was a blanket of the beginning, to prepare me for the great commission. Perhaps the end could also be sooner than I think and so I live each day enjoying the gift it is. I will work to manage my anger and bitterness. I want to love people more, to use my words more carefully, pray more, read widely and be an active citizen. I want to tell stories of where I’m from to everyone – young and old, and to proclaim the Good News to many more souls first by the nature of the life I lead. I have learned over time that my actions are my strongest sermons. Words can go deep or cut through a soul. Actions can dig a grave or kiss ugly lips.

By the time I was getting nearer back to the main centre, my legs were getting weary. I made a new friend, Derrick, who I asked to take a photo of me. He is a Form 1 student. Short and seemingly witty. I found a 10 shilling coin just near the tarmac road that looked rather lonely. Seems the owner had fell it unknowingly. But does money really have an owner?

Settling at Central Hotel felt calming. I savoured a plate of ugali and goat meat which nourished my body. The waiter came and asked the man sitting behind me, ‘’Utatumia nini?’’
I was fascinated by that diction. It translates to ‘’What will you use?’’ as though it is a drug. But here it means ‘’What will you have?’’. This is the land of the Maasai. It’s the only place I’ve seen butcheries following up each other like pubs in Mlolongo town. I saw a lot of happy faces, unlike the busy Nairobi streets where people walk in expensive clothing but gloomy faces. There was no sign of women strolling in revealing clothes or young men killing their bodies in suicidal pants that barely let their groins breathe. Do not be mistaken, I love it when Nairobi is amassed with red lipstick and the bewitching behinds that pass through Mr.Price, just beside the Tom Mboya statue, on Friday evenings. But you somewhat get this feeling sometimes that the city has robbed us of our lives. We have allowed it. We are lost in trends and demeaning conversations that ruin our minds.
Perhaps the other intriguing thing I saw was Al Huda Muslim Primary School motto that says, ”You reap what you sow.” I’ve never seen something as sharp and direct in a school motto as this.
I slept on the journey back, letting my phone’s playlist ride me to slumberland with old African music, some soul, ohangla, Ice Cube hiphop and Ella Fitzgerald’s jazz. Look for this song – I Get a Kick Out of You. It has several renditions.



Home, 6:30pm. Back to notifications, inboxes, DMs, mentions, comments, poems and You Tube. I am officially 27 and happy.

Olari le Enkai – The Year of our Lord




Post Author: Eric Onyango Otieno

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