In Retrospect

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For years, I have been passionate about the idea of adding weight and growing some muscles, so that I don’t have to carry rocks in my pockets to prevent the wind from blowing me off the surface of the earth. This idea started in my early twenties, and even God rooted for me to find the strength to hit the gym as I aimed for a body similar to The Rock. This led me to a small gym in the outskirts of Karatina town where everything else was mechanical- it was you, and your strength.

I spent about three months going to that place, thrice a week due to the financial crisis I was in as a student. Since I was living with Simon, with whom I did most things, we went together, each time hoping to see results. I must confess that it was punishing to spend two hours lifting weights. He had a body and packed more weight than I did. On my side, I consequentially suffered under those weights, with my long, thin arms throbbing with untold agony every time I lay on that bench.

There are some guys who came later, boys whose bodies that responded quite quickly to the workouts. While I was trying my best, I registered a little change. Every day I’d examine my body, hoping to see a pound of muscle on my biceps, only to see a minute change. I must have been heartbroken. Many days, my section remained at the small weights that belonged to kids. I liked the place for several reasons. But most of all is because it was less crowded.

As I realized, boys will always be boys- wanting to show off and wanting to be seen as unyielding as any other man. Most of them would be lining up in the deadweight section, trying to take in bigger weights. And they’d be watching me pitiably, from the corner of their eyes, while I struggled with 10kg dumbbells.

After a while, I got used to the place and I began accepting myself. I realized most of the heavy weight dudes started like me. One day, this guy came to me asking how he could get rid of his tummy. I mean he was a giant, with humongous muscles that seemed to pop out of his tight t-shirt. He had worked out for years, but his tummy had refused to go away.  It was not that big, the fact that he had failed to get a six-pack seemed to have tampered with his perfect picture dream.

I had seen him for a while. While in there, most of us took our shirts off due to the sweating. We could not afford the right gear or the luxury of sweating in your best t-shirt. Over time, I had overcome my insecurities because my chest had responded well to the programme. My arms, however, did little to make this better for me.

Therefore, when this dude came over to me to discuss his struggles, it hit me that despite all the good things that happen to us, we still have small miseries that eat away our happiness. As humans, we are after perfection; things will never be enough. We go into the graves without having found contentment. While he admired my flat stomach, I admired his biceps and triceps. I wanted his body, without knowing that he was not satisfied with it. I remembered a quote that says ‘what you take for granted is what others are praying for’.

I took the opportunity to bully him with my misconceptions and idiosyncrasies. I asked him to stop drinking and to monitor his starch intake. I remember telling a lot of bullcrap. I hope it helped him because I never saw him again. When I got broke, I stopped going to the gym and concentrated on my other activities.

This dream did not stop here. Over the years, it has been shelved at the back of my head. Year after year, telling myself that I’ll make a point of returning and finishing the journey.  A few days back I went around looking for a gym, mostly in Lavington because my girlfriend has been battling with weight issues. After pestering her to start working out, I realized she’s like a vault that will never move on itself unless you move it.  Her physician had advised her to work out regularly as her BP has been hiking here and there.

Before I started working out, I used to think that overweight people are lazy. Then after dating some, and getting to know more others, I began to understand that there are more reasons to their condition than just laziness. Also, I discovered that it is very easy to give up even when you know you’re going down the drain. Some days I lack the energy to do even one push up. There are days I wake up to jog only to never end up jogging.

It is the nature of human beings to give up when the going gets tough. That is why there are a few people who are living their dreams. These people persisted despite the challenges they faced. Others were besides people who motivated them. Their environment enabled them to push beyond their fears and limitations to overcome obvious horizons.

I have been pushing my girlfriend to subscribe to a gym. We talked about the subject this year long without getting any results. Finally, we agreed that she’ll have to do something. I decided I’d look for the gyms around her place and then accompany her to work out. While she’ll be working hard to lose weight, I’ll be laboring to gain some. Life can be so ironical, don’t you think?

Therefore, I set on an expedition, moving from gym to gym in Lavington and Kilimani areas, looking for one that can cater for her needs in the ideal way.  Since they are not paying me to advertise them, I’ll not mention them. In there, I found sweaty men and women working on their fitness goals.

Men flexed their muscles in front of mirror shirtless; women paid a keen eye on their asses, while others struggled to feel at home. And those are the people I felt for most, observing their moves silently as they tried to make themselves belong. They admired others who’d advanced with their work out programmes, and you could see a tinge of envy in their eyes. While there were admirers, there were those who looked as if they had already given up.

Defeat had already conquered their minds. They applied the least effort, looking at the mirror after every second as if expecting some magical bomb to come out of that mirror to pump up their biceps with muscles. You could see the horror when they failed to see the expected miracle.

In some gyms, I totally liked the instructors as they instilled the art of patience, hardwork and gaining motivation. I liked their unwavering patience for results. Their unfettered habit of showing people the right way to do squats repeatedly without getting bored of their slow learning abilities reminded me of my younger self. It reminded me of the days I’d lead a group of older men and women in doing work outs, and a number of them would get most concepts wrong and I had to keep showing them repeatedly on how to do one exercise right until they grasped it. It took monstrous effort.

In there, I met people who thoroughly understood what they wanted and were willing to work for it. People who didn’t show off. They used every minute into the work, squeezing every pint of unwanted oil out of their bodies; burning their muscles and feeling their strength leave them. They had a goal and they were committed to that goal, avoiding distractions and giving it their all.

I wondered if my girlfriend could do that. I have tried to help her work out at home.  I then, painfully, realized I could never be of help to her if I was the one coaching her. All she needed is a tough trainer and an environment that knows nothing other than ‘No pain, No Gain.’ As I went around doing inquiries, observing the facilities and talking to the trainers, I realized they also had someone like my girlfriend- defiant and hardheaded.

I asked how they dealt with them. They said you don’t give up on them if you want the best for them.  You have to do everything, your very best, for those that you care about. I asked myself if I was really taking the risk, or if I could go to that extent, and what would happen if someone said No. It would break me. But then, I was doing what I could. The only thing I didn’t know was whether she’d show up once I enrolled her, if not, would I have to drag her from home? And what if she refused, saying it is her life? Would I force her? I mean, I want good things for her.

It is my hope, that come next year, because she’ll be going to Uganda, she’ll get out of her shell and hit the road head on. If she won’t, I’ll keep going since she’s the one paying. I’ll go on and get that perfect body I’ve always wanted. Perhaps it can make her rethink of her choices. And I’ll move on. Oh yes, as Esther says, men are transient.

The year is coming to the end. As it has been our norm, we do a recap for the year’s moments. This year, as I have mentioned before in my story, has been quite difficult for me. I have hit lows most of the time. I don’t remember much of the happy moments I had.

It has been a year of struggle after struggle, sickness after sickness, boredom after boredom, and there are days I felt like letting life slide into darkness. I spent most days in dark holes; holes that espoused boredom, depression, brokenness, desperation and tears. I cried more than any other time in my entire life. I tolerated strange thoughts, like those of killing myself at some point when the going became tough.

It is a feeling many of us entertain occasionally. There are times we wish there was a quiet, painless way of dying. Many of us would have taken it. Dying, however, is a decision no man makes. You’ll die the day your Maker decides, succumbing to whatever sent to drive you home. It can be a disease, an accident, food poisoning, an insect bite, among other things.

The few memories I remember are those of Elsie. She takes the crap out of me, behaving like a woman, loving, and sweet and sometimes, unfettered by my presence. When she is around everything else stops. She gets all the attention. She asks questions no one ever asks me. Genuine questions. Like what I think of her mother.

I get to live by her questions. There are times I wonder why she wants all that information for at 10. But again I get to understand that kids can be inquisitive for obvious reasons. At night, I often review her questions and think that I should have answered them in a better way. When I answer her, I take my time to think about her questions first. Saying the wrong things to your kids can affect their psyche.

When I drop everything to just be her servant, I feel satisfied. I enjoy her company. She can be crazy in her own way, sometimes getting disturbed by the way I live.

I did not make any promises this year. Therefore, I am not regretting not having achieved any. I had dreams though, dreams that have since melted away to the torrid life circumstances. I had planned to buy an old, secondhand car and travel to a few more countries to add to the 24 on my list. About the car, I was barely surviving. Money sources were dry. Opportunities were limited and highly unpromising. I made no money at all to even enable me stay afloat.

About travelling, I had about two flights early and in the middle of the year, lasting a week each. All were about work. My boss had tough jobs that almost left me dead. I came back feeling like a punching bag. After messing up both assignments, he licked my account half of the pay he offers, left crumbs for me. The assignments left me psychologically burnt out.

I spent a few days talking to a counselor assigned to me. I told her lies. The only truth I told her was the accident that left my bladder and nuts fucked up. She suggested therapy and drugs, asked me to have sex regularly and do yoga if I can. I asked her how regular I was to have sex and she said every day if possible. I wanted to ask her where I’ll get that girl to have sex with that regular but I swallowed my heavy words and tried to think about it.

If I didn’t have sex or exercise regularly, I would lose my erection and ejaculation ability for life. I spent days in my hole thinking of the possibility of losing my libido, erection and becoming impotent. It stressed me. Then I started my hunt for sex. I then realized I had lost my libido and I couldn’t control my PC muscles so ejaculation came any time it felt like. Urine knocked any time it wanted and I couldn’t hold it for long.

I went back to my shrink, thrice a week, telling her my sexual pursuits and my embarrassment. I told her of my experiences and how the drugs were driving me crazy.  I told her I was tired of listening to her and also waiting for the time I’ll become formally healed. She then looked at me, cleared her throat and said that there was more.  I didn’t like her tone. It predicted bad news.

She said it might take years to heal. I thought my ears were bad. I asked her to repeat the statement. When I confirmed I was not dreaming or having an ear problem, I walked out of her fancy office and went to have coffee and let my thoughts roam. I simmered in nasty thoughts, going beyond my normal limits. After that, I went back to the shrink and told her I wanted to die but I couldn’t bring myself to it. I asked her if she had a cyanide cap. Horror painted all over her face.

She clocked out and drove me out of Nairobi. We drove for long without talking. I remember asking her if she was taking me to a place with a cliff where I can jump over and become a forgotten story. She looked straight on the road, saying nothing to me.

She drove to a mountain. We sat on a rock. She narrated a story about her life. I must have been bored to listen. But by the time she finished it, my urge to die had completely eloped.

At the end, she said, “If you want to kill yourself, please go ahead. I’ll leave you here. You can jump off the mountain if you want.”  I kissed her that day. A kiss of life because I didn’t kill myself.

Days after that, I went to see her. Things didn’t get any easier. I was restless and stressed even more. One day, I stopped going.

My boss insisted that I go back. I told him he can go and fuck himself. He didn’t say anything. But I could see the anger in his text.  I haven’t seen him in the last two years. I hate the idea that he can hide in posh offices while we clean his mess, putting our lives in the frontline, sometimes escaping death by a whisker.

My sickness moved from my balls and bladder to the head, enlarging my brain. I had to become a common visitor to the hospitals he, my boss, recommended. He foots my bills because he’s responsible for my well-being. I went in for tests, spent time in MRI machines, getting head scans and my vitals being monitored all through. There was draining water from my brain, more drugs and more misery.

I had to keep up with my pursuit for sex. Pursuing sex without money is even difficult than milking a bull, I realized. My girlfriend was having her own issues. She’s one of those when stressed she can’t have sex. We went for four months without sex. There were times I felt we weren’t in a relationship because when I needed her most she was not around.

Life took its share of me. It put me on a pendulum of calamity. I kept swinging from one side of distress to another. One woe after another. My brain stopped working properly. I spent time sleeping. I was lost. I saw the side of me I’ve never seen-desperation. When the boundaries of thinking were broken, I wrote worrying things on my social media handles, even people started wondering if I was in my right mind.

To keep my troubled thoughts at bay, I watched movies. I heaped a number of series on my pc. Sometimes I read to calm my mind. I secretly bought Tramadol. This drug is in the family of opioids so it is like weed, highly addictive with several side effects such as nausea and dizziness. When I took it, I got high, the pain in me scampered. I felt relaxed. I laughed at nothing. I felt good by the way. It made me forget my wretchedness momentarily. Its effect could last a day.

Sometimes I avoided it due to the other drugs I took which could not be taken alongside Tramadol. Unfortunately, I got hooked. I could not live without it. Its withdrawal symptoms were so severe. I felt sleepy all the time, and had unending cravings. I mean like sleep that can wrestle you down anywhere and kill you if you didn’t sleep. I could sleep the whole day.

Days moved on. More checkups. More draining. I got used to my doctors. We had long chats. Some probed to know what was really wrong with me. The smart ones went beyond treatment and said I could be free with them. If I told them the details of my travels, I knew they’d run away, or think of me in a negative manner. I kept saying there was nothing wrong.

My metabolism changed. My body was strange. I had strange headaches. I took more pills. I lost appetite. I took longer walks, though they didn’t have any effect like before. My mind refused to relax. I started listening to more music. I bought several earphones, downloaded and collected more music. I became more withdrawn. I spent time in my little shack, coming out scarcely. Women in my plot wondered why I was staying indoors all day when other men were out raking for a living. I wish they knew how I was feeling, but again I was glad they didn’t know because they’d find something to gossip about.

There were times I didn’t know who I was anymore. I lacked purpose and it bit me. I had no ambition. I did nothing. I got broke. I slept all day. I borrowed a lot. I didn’t say anything to anyone. I secretly prayed to God that he takes the yoke of suffering from me. It became my prayer, asking, and asking, and asking, without ever thanking Him for anything. Sometimes I asked God if He loved me. He never said anything I could decipher.

Somewhere, I felt better. I talked to some of my girl friends. They told me to go out and talk to people. Priscilla took me to a coffee house at Bihi Towers where we had a lengthy chat while we enjoyed a meal. She works with Safaricom, taking and responding to calls. Her voice, soft and barely audible, drove sense. She listened and offered advice. She also shared her share of troubles. It was a genuine talk.

She’s a religious lady. She asked me to join her for an evening fellowship at her church in a building at Kenya Cinema. Well, I trailed her.  We arrived when praise and worship was underway. I had to pretend that I was one of them, dancing and clapping hands. I didn’t know the songs they sang so I minced words the best way I could, sometimes just humming. My feet hurt; I sweated heavily from the action that took almost an hour.

Then the congregation started praying, with everyone praying loudly, casting demons away, others invoking the presence of the spirit, others confessing. Amid all that I was confused so I stood there like a frame listening to others pray, wanting to know what they were praying about. Two things dominated the prayers: they asked God to forgive their sins, and they wanted God to cast away demons that prevented them from being successful. On the major part, I wondered why they couldn’t pray silently. How could they concentrate amidst all that chaos? Was God hearing any of them? If yes, was God a God of chaos? If not, did He ever tell them maybe He could hear them even if they prayed silently? I asked myself so many questions. Questions that never cross my mind.

There were people who behaved as if the Holy Spirit had descended upon them. They prayed in languages beyond my comprehension.

People trickled in. There were cameras all over. I didn’t want any to get my face. Every time one was directed to me, I covered my face and looked down. Then the Bishop came. He was a well-styled man with a wealthy humor. I loved his sermon. He talked of his recent trip to Brazil, his shoes that he received as a gift while there and his dream to buy a jet. He sometimes threw words such rabadashakalamala, shibaalamana! Words that no one understood. And since he was a man of God, no one questioned him on what they meant because they were many and frequent. Even the praise and worship team was using some when singing or praying. I wondered if they believed in the power of those words or they just felt uplifted saying them.

The Bishop was a powerful speaker, learned and authoritative. He belonged to the pulpit, I must say. I felt that his sermon came at the right moment as it touched on both my situation and that of Priscilla.  I went home feeling much better.

I went out with Juventa a week later. She was fun too. I felt she was not on my level of thinking at that time. We laughed though.

Then the draining was done. My head became lighter and stopped hurting. The drugs became fewer.  My visits to the hospital dropped successfully. I only went for monitoring. That was one problem solved. I still had a glaring problem that needed kegel exercises, yoga, regular sex (or masturbation) and thorough counseling.  I went back to my shrink because I wasn’t getting any better. I asked her if I could use Viagra to power my performance occasionally because I was despicable in bed. She was against it, citing that it could hamper the healing process and that it may give me false hope. The thing is that she didn’t know that even false hope to me was more than hope.

She hooked me up with a physiotherapist. A fellow man. When I saw him the first day, I walked out of his office. I went back to my shrink and told her I was more comfortable with a lady physiotherapist. She asked why I was uncomfortable with a male physiotherapist. I lacked the right answer. I told her if she wanted the best for me, she’d rather comply with my request.

I had to make runs to Karen twice a week to get to this seasoned physiotherapist. In her sexy specs, she tried to train me how to do kegel exercises, unsuccessfully. It was awkward for us to talk about certain subjects like tracing the PC muscles which are somewhere between the nuts and the ass. I had to work out and strengthen those muscles. They are the key to everything, she told me. I must admit I found it hard to do the exercise.

We did yoga, which I am, very good at, and tried meditation. Three years had passed since I meditated last. It was like starting all over again. My concentration levels were at the basement. I simply kept stealing glances at her from the corner of my eyes, hoping to learn the secret.

I was simply reduced to counseling and exercises. At home, I did nothing.

When my girlfriend came around, I had already escaped the tough part. We talked, mostly about her troubles. I said nothing about mine, except the part where I complained about not feeling like we’re in a relationship. For the first time, she agreed to take my offer and enroll in a gym.

That has been the year for me. The little happiness I had was consumed by innumerable woes that kept swallowing me.


To all the YALI cohort 22 participants, I salute you. I felt happiness when I was with you.

To a friend and mentor, Benz, who tried to put me on the map. I know our business went into ashes but we shall do more come next year.

To my cousins, Kiddo, George, Cza and Caren. Thanks for looking out for me when I was wiped out.

To the guys who I went to Hell’s Gate with, salut! We had so much fun. I learnt a lot from you.

To Keith Wasike, thanks for nudging me to write. Your concerns made me realize I have a role to play. Don’t stop.

To Boaz Mochama and Igwee Osofina- we’ve seen hard times together and you have kept the fire burning.  Thanks for the support.

To all the friends that have stood by my side when I couldn’t stand, I salute you.

Dancun King’ori, I appreciate the gigs you offered me when I couldn’t get out of bed. Thanks for understanding my difficulties and being patient with me when I failed to grasp simple concepts.

To my big-time buddies, Elvis and Ibra, thanks for the company and immense support.

Special thanks to Hannah Kageche. I highly depended on you to bring sense into my work. You’re my lady of the year. I strongly believe in you.

To Lilys, who shared my troubles with others in the name of giving a supporting hand. You’ve done more than anyone has done for me in years. Thanks too for airing my little story on DN.

To Bella Jaboma, thanks for educating me to respect women. Not many people have the balls to ask others to do what is right in this era. You’re one of a kind.

To Alexa Huggins, a friend and mother to Elsie, thanks for tolerating a man of my kind. Thanks for keeping our daughter safe and healthy. May God give you strength to continue with the good work.

To my Design Thinking Class students, Cohort 1, thanks for the time, love and good time we shared. I hope I touched your lives the way you did.

To Phiona Etyang, thanks a bunch for your relentless support on the Design Thinking Programme.

To Joseph Cooper Ngugi, I admire your writing prowess. Thanks for keeping the blog alive.

To my very loving sister, Asenath, wherever you are, I love you. Your prayers keep me going.

To Dorcas Kageche, in many ways I appreciate you. Thanks for taking in my dumbness all day long, every day. Cheers mummy!

Ruth Wairimu and Esther Wangare, you made me laugh every day. You have a special place in both heaven and hell.

Finally, thank you readers for tolerating our bullshit.  Joseph Ngugi and I have been feeding you our bullshit all year long. You have stood by us, motivated us, corrected us when we went wrong and kept us brimming with fire to soldier on. We hope to expect more support from you next year. We shall keep feeding more and more bullcrap as long as we live.

Happy holidays!

Mzangila Snr

Where shall we who, we who wonder in this wasteland in search of better selves?

Photo Credit: flick

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