It is six hours on the clock on an extremely cold Friday morning on the 20th day of December 20, 2013. I have just arrived in, for obvious reasons, my favorite city, the city in the sun. For such a time, it is disheartening that I am tired already but after nineteen hours on the road, it is inevitable, and will have to be fathomed during the course of an eventful day that awaits me.
Several phone conversations are made, to calm the fears of those back home, and to inform my connections of my arrival. A short while later, I am, with my very loyal travel bag on my lap, uncomfortably seated in an old matatu, and headed to the foothills of the Ngong to freshen up and enjoy breakfast with an asleep, I am certain, but expectant old mate, Ombura.
After the exchange of salutations, a much needed shower and fresh clothes, comparison of notes over warm mugs of the very rich Doormans coffee, and a promise to his aesthetically pleasing brothers – to take them to Kampala for a meet and greet with their favorite Ugandan artist, Maurice Kirya, at his The Sound Cup, one which they have only heard about – Ombura and I are on the move.
We, literally, circumvent through the luxurious villas in the rich man’s village that is Karen where we spend our mid-morning, and have lunch in a humble kibanda before checking into the dusty diaspora that is Ongata Rongai in the quest for a house I will turn into home when the new year is here.
Our mission is easy to accomplish. All I ever want is a house with enough interior for my ulterior motives.
A few smokies are munched, much to the pleasure of our demanding stomachs and then we are on the road again, into town where we meet a friend of ours, an idiot by the name of Owang, and a couple of Ugandan girls with whom we share a booth, and without a thought about the now unfortunate kuku, chips masala and sodas before us, commence a destruction of no mean degree. We are hungry. And tired.
Relaxed and energized, we drag our heavy and dusty feet into a curio shop in the Hilton Hotel basement, make several purchases, and escort the girls to a travel company’s booking office where we see them off and wish them a safari njema back home. Of course, we can scarcely bid them goodbye.
The sky begins to darken as the evening approaches. Ombura, Owang and I walk quickly through the darkened streets which are now filled with more than enough people. This is the city. Everyone is a suspect. You can’t trust anybody lest you will help contribute to the never ending tales of what has become known as Nairobbery, especially on a Friday like this one.
Ombura and I agree to link up with Owang later on in a suburb which is also the party district, Westlands.
However, we are not here to party, in the strict sense of the word. We are here for Terry’s graduation party. Well, Ombura is because he is invited. I am, thanks to a sudden turn of events, only doing something I never intend to do; tagging along.
It is rush hour which enables me to watch news and more from people I follow as we find our way past the magnificent ABC Place on Waiyaki way, and my former home, inside KARI on Lower Kabete road and finally alight and walk into the overly vast Nairobi School where we successfully manage to get ourselves lost after failing to misinterpret a simple, handmade map.
“I think after the second roundabout, we should take the turn to the right” Ombura suggests.
“You see. I told you. We were supposed to continue moving forward, and then take turn to the right of the third roundabout, not the second.” I retort.
“Don’t worry. It is somewhere here. I have been here before” he assures me and adds “Let’s continue and see what is happening where we see that light.”
“You man! Can’t you see? Hakuna graduation party hapa” I remind him. “I am dog tired. Let us ask those two people over there for proper directions.”
The two residents, are not that helpful. We can tell that even though they are aware of where we are headed, they can not ably direct us there.
We use all leads left for us on the map and end up at a place where a good number of really expensive European cars are randomly parked outside.
“Ombura. I believe this is the house we are looking for.”
“I don’t think so. I told you I have come here before and this is not the place.”
“Why don’t you call Terry and find out. I see people moving about. She could even be that lady who has just walked into the house while making swish-swash moves on her phone.”
“Sawa. Let me call her.”
As he makes the call. I, like a giraffe, elongate my neck and notice that on the other end of the house a tent has been set up. A sign that this could surely the place. Something I draw to his attention when he is done. And indeed, we are welcomed by the same lady I had seen shortly before. She introduces herself as Terry.
As it is with most celebrations, we greet everyone we are introduced to and are directed to the dining area, where a chef who has been hired is present to serve his well prepared buffet. I am filled with nothing but regrets of why I had eaten earlier. I should have taken Ombura’s warning seriously. I may not do this meal justice.
“What is this green stuff? The one with potatoes, greens and maize mashed together?” I ask.
“It is called mukimo.” Ombura tells me. “It is a meal popular amongst the kikuyu.”
“No. He is lying to you. Everyone can eat it. Try it. It is a delicacy.” A soft voice intervenes.
I turn my head for a visual. It is a pretty, bespectacled, light skinned face. One that I instantly categorise as a beautiful challenge. Another that I will not face until I have a better appreciation of the strange language she is speaking. Poor me!
We saunter into a tent where Terry’s dad, the hilarious Mr. Kimono and his mates are eating, and making themselves warm as they listen to three impressive little girls who are reciting poems in honour of Terry.
One of the poems that rings like a peal in my ear is Cousin Terry…
Cousin Terry, cousin Terry,
Yes cousin Terry.
Very gifted and talented.
Always looking smart, even upstairs.
Cousin Terry, cousin Terry,
Be our friend, please,
We need to know more from you.
Stand with us all the time,
And be generous in passing that knowledge.
How blessed you are cousin Terry!
Wow! Wow! Wow!
Cousin Terry, cousin Terry,
Don’t wait for the next stanza
How blessed you are cousin Terry!
As the evening gets colder than the souls of some men, we applaud the youngsters and are encouraged to relocate into the yard where red hot charcoal has been been filled into metallic pieces of drums halved for the purpose of warming us.
It is here that we are joined by our mates Owang – the idiot, Makoa and more guests, and a comical master of ceremonies assumes a position from which he keeps everyone involved in the proceedings.
Almost everyone has something they think is relevant to say but it is two people who make my evening. Terry’s dad, Mr. Kimono and Mama Mboga. Mama Mboga because I do not get to know her name and I believe she must be a Mama Mboga, at least for her family’s benefit.
Mr. Kimono makes a simple one. He acknowledges the power of a united family, shares a few memories and fills everyone with hope for a brighter future. Just like any parent would at a typical graduation ceremony.
He tells us of how he went to a University in Uganda and…
“I asked the Vice Chancellor, Stephen Noll, to return my USD 2000 because my daughter had not started the program but he refused. I told him to go fuck himself and walked out of his office.” He says before revealing that “It is not easy for a secondary school teacher to lose his USD 2000.”
Filled with excitement, he gets each one of us laughing when he, at the top of his voice tells us…
“Terry, you have made your mum proud. The last time I saw her this happy was when she was a girl, before you were born.”
And promises his support by making more statements such as…
“They say the sky is the limit. You are beyond the sky.” and “Whatever you want, we will do. Even if it means selling a kidney.”
When Mr. Kimono finishes, he gives Terry an option. To choose between an ATM card or cash as her graduation present. The choice comes easily for her. Cash. Much to my disappointment for it is general knowledge that as the reserve an ATM is, there is always more where the cash came from.
We listen to more people who speak and offer presents in either hefty amounts of cash or cheque form.
An overly exited traditional lady, one who is surely still stuck in an ancestral age illustrates for us an Akamba saying to the effect that even though a child achieves much, he or she cannot be greater than the parents. Most of the hip blokes let her sit without an applause which all the others have received.
Mama Mboga chimes in to motivate the youngsters with her passionate speech characterised by statements like…
“There is nothing as inspiring as employing yourself. You cannot get rich off a salary.”
She reminds us to be aware of a transition from their golden age when jobs were readily available for graduates to this unfortunate one where the many who graduate find it difficult to make their degrees useful. She concludes by asking us to call her up so as to help her skyrocket her carrier in encouraging and motivating the youth.
It is when she is done that the master of ceremonies rises to make an important announcement. He asks us to brace ourselves for a package that will be arriving from inside the house. And indeed it does arrive a moment later. An extravagant, colourful cake baked by, I am convinced, the crème de la crème of chefs; one from Hotel Serena who is also present in the audience. He makes a few remarks in which he explains to us how he managed to finish up the cup with an icing that in a picture format perfectly depicted Terry’s facial features – receding airline and all, and clothes.
The MC warns us to behave ourselves and take considerable time savoring this piece of art because “It is not every day that we eat cake from Serena.”
The cake is eaten in silence which is testament to its richness. The ceremony progresses quite well that we can ably predict that the next phase will be much better when he asks us to keep quiet for another important announcement. In precise words, he says what, apparently, everyone has been waiting for…
“We are done with speeches. Now, let us open the drinks.”
Crates of Tuskers, White Caps, Pilsners and Pilsner Ices are popped, and a bop starts in the ensuing minutes.
They say a child who behaves badly at a family barbecue receive a slap. That will not happen today. Everyone is extremely exhilarated. We join parents and relatives in watching one of the highlights of the evening; one of their daughters twerk out to Busy Signal’s Watch Out For This (Bumaye).
By four o’clock in the morning, I am as good as a spent match. Useless. I do not want to be alone but I want to escape from the drunk ladies asking me about my banana republic, and a rich lawyer bragging about his spoils. I want to be left alone, in a room, dead asleep so that I can stop embarrassing myself by sleeping in public, again, with a bow like I am deep in thought; before they they think I am stealthily peeping at the yellow thighs a mini skirted lady before me is trying to warm; and away from Makoa who has, with my help, of course, turned me into a laughing stock.
Seven o’clock finds Ombura, Owang and I in the yard, wide awake listening to a drunk Mr. Kimono who, over a breakfast like no other – warmed up beer for him and mandazi and tea for us – expresses his disapproval of our not drinking alcoholic beverages.
“What kind of young men are you if you do not drink alcohol? Have fun. Drink.” He says.
While pulling off his balaclava, he adds “Young man kutoka UG, do not be perplexed. Look at me. I am fifty six years of age but have no grey hair. I am full of life because I do not allow stress to affect me.”
He is a hilarious, widely read, traveled and wonderful father figure who in various languages learnt in the countries he has been to hands down just enough advice to help us become successful people in the future. He promises to take us to take us to his sanctuary in Machakos which has animals including giraffes, zebras, and warthogs with balls the size of his shoes. We can’t help but wait.
A few hours later, on a trip back to the scientific centre of my world, Rwanyanshando, to join my family in celebrating the birth of Christ it occurs to me; it was a wonderful experience.