The first day looks like we landed on the moon from different countries. And from our space gear, we salute each other and try to get to know each other. We forget our mission momentarily and have a seat on the rocky surfaces of the moon, unsure of what our excursion will look like. We trade banters and exchange long pleasantries. Out here, no one knows what happens the next moment so we have to stick together.
I place a sign at the end of my name and Gloria hands me the key to room 34. I take the staircase to the second floor where my room is. I haul my bag along. Along the corridor, different men and women are also getting to their assigned rooms. I throw my bag on the floor and sit on the bed after I open the door. My roommate is not yet in. I take a few moments to slurp some air as a sigh of relief. Basically, I am exhausted. The day has been a drag.
To be honest, I don’t know what to expect next. I just survey the room- the wardrobe, the study table and the washroom. I also let my eyes wander all over the tiny room even as my hand feels the beds. Everything is perfect. I decide to take the bed near the door and leave the one near the window for my roommate. I unpack my bag into one compartment of the wardrobe. I yank my kicks and throw myself on the bed with my back on it. My mind is worked out; I try to relax it a bit.
I’m not quite sure when my roommate shows up. He’s got a huge traveling bag and other smaller ones. As a traveler who loathes carrying a lot of stuff, it is unsettling when I see someone with big bags. Many questions ring through my mind.
‘I am Enku.’ He says. At first, I think he is Somali. ‘From Ethiopia,’ He concludes clearing my doubts. I have shared a room before with a Somali guy during my hey days in high school and ended up with horrendous experiences. My hope is that he is not a Muslim because my Muslim friend never used tissue paper during his long calls. And that was scary especially when I had to imagine he would use his hand to wash shit off his ass and then greet people.
‘I’m Justine, Kenyan.’ I tell him.
‘Oh, you from Nairobi?’ he asks.
‘Sure, from the other side of the city.’
As someone who has worked in various sectors of life, I am a very observant person. To survive in the field of spying, one needed to have sharp eyes, humble personality, and private life. So when I observe my guy, I suddenly realize that someone might have told him something bad about Kenyans.
He is wary. He locks his bag and wardrobe as well. I don’t care if anyone steals stuff from me. I’ve lost bigger things in my life before. Things are not there to stay anyway. It is what I tell myself.
We have a few conversations on this moon. I am not the kind of person who is interested in people’s business unless you’re my person of interest, but I try to sound like I care and want to know people more. It is easier to talk with men; they hardly sieve out what they talk about (I might be wrong) and they make conversations easy.
In the evening we saunter to the restaurant. There is a buffet. We serve and both of us sit at the same table. And then we meet David Kiragu. Now David is one of those guys who can cup your interest quite fast. He tells us he works with the DHL. He listens and develops an interest in knowing people. Such kind of person is lovable- an exact opposite of me. Why should I know you?
David is a social person. He informs us that he is residing at the KUCC restaurant, to which we laugh as everyone else has been assigned a room at the KUCC Annex. Our talk eats into the better part of the evening. We break and leave David as we head down to Annex to catch a wink for the night.
There is much to discuss when we reach our room. Of course, Inku is a talkative person as well, which puts me in a position I usually like being in. He tells me he is a software engineer… good, I tell myself. He talks of Ethiopia in a way that makes me not to ever go there. He makes it look so shitty. The fact is that most of our Kenyan millennials can’t survive in Ethiopia because of the low quality of internet services which are offered by the national telecom.
His fascination lies in the technological aspect. He confesses that he came to Kenya mostly to visit places such as iHub and other technological hubs in Kenya. Apparently, he’d so many positive stories about Kenya, except that one about Kenya being full of thieves. At around 11 we bid each other good night and roll over on our beds to sweat the sleep away.
It is hot and very uncomfortable. Sleeping becomes an uphill task because I’m sweating all the way to my last pore. Same as my friend and he stays up most of the time.
I get bored. I don’t want to wake up and switch on the telly just right in front of me because then I’ll inject my friend to disturbance- I know he’s trying hard to adjust to the unsettling warmth so that he can get some sleep.
“Hey, Alexa.” I type on my WhatsApp. The wifi is very weak and it takes ages to reach the other end.
“Hey, you! “She texts back.
“Wassup! You guys up? I wanna talk to Elsie.”
“Its winter in London and very late. She’s snoring already. She texts back with those ‘I’m sleepy emojis. It is been a while since I talked to Elsie. And the thought of that gnaws me. I like seeing her chubby face when we face time. I love her tiny teeth when she laughs. As a man, I get excited when I see her chin because that’s the only physical similarity we both have- a sharp chin that can dig 5 acres of a farm. Everything else is from Alexa.
“Alright then. Greet her for me when she wakes up.”
I place my phone on the bed table and roll over once more.
I decide to sleep naked. I draw the mosquito net and sleep beautifully with my nudity smiling at it all night. And this becomes the routine for me for the remaining 29 days.
Also Read: A conversation with self
Monday is a bright day. It is bright because it is an opportunity to get to see who the others are. We both leave the room at around 7.20 am and head to the restaurant for breakfast. With the morning shower, I am feeling fresh. We keep chatting as we saunter towards the restaurant.
There is a buffet. I serve myself a cup of coffee, some cereals, a sausage, one egg, and a slice of bread with peanut butter and jam on it. I also get some fruits on the side. Thereafter, we take the bus to the centre where the induction is done. There is a guy called Imran who tries to scare us that if shit happens you’ll be sent home. Of course, I am past threats; I got nothing to lose anymore. A mere programme won’t make my life terrible if I missed it- but again I tell myself, what worse could happen if I behaved for just a month? And so I do.
That afternoon, we pass by the Annex to pick our bags as we head to Brakenhurst in Limuru. Kenyatta University (KU) buses take us there. In the bus, there is this Kenyan guy with a very excellent American accent. I swear I like it. He talks a lot and in a matter of seconds everyone in the bus knows him. He seems to know a lot of stuff about Kenya and generally the world. He calls himself Ace.
We spend the next two days at Brakenhurst. Still, we’re all green and new to each other. I prefer to stick with my crew- Inku and David. It is not that I can’t make friends but I need to cool down first and make space for new friends.
This article would have penned all the events that happened in Yali but again that would take a book. Who wants to write such a book? Right now that is not my business.
I enjoy Brackenhurst because of the cool weather. Limuru being a highland, the weather is friendlier in most cases. The dense forests surrounding Brackenhurst make it a very serene place to have a good time. It is a very good place to meditate, have a nature walk or even do your yoga nicely.
My roommate and I are assigned to the same room. It has two beds and a double-decker. I take the king size bed because life is unpredictable. You have to enjoy its joys while it lasts. Being tall disadvantages me for one reason. I have to lie diagonally to fit into a bed. I somehow love this bed- for once I sleep in a bed that appreciates my upward length.
Although the room stinks, we’re able to catch a wink and find our ways to dreamland. Unlike KU, the climate is friendly and we have ease of sleeping. I place the hot water bottle between my feet and say a brief grace. I don’t think I finish it. I only say Amen when I wake up the following day.
On the eve of Valentine, there is a bonfire in Brackenhurst for us. The previous day had been full high ropes. Today was filled with selling ourselves and our ideas to others. I realized whatever I was doing was not unique enough, or not uniquely written. You see as a practiced loser, I take humiliation very well as it helps me learn.
Never have I been to a bonfire before, simply because I love my bed more than anything. I tell myself, it won’t hurt. Maybe great things might happen while I am there. I find a crowd seated by the fire. There is a session being conducted my Mr. Energizer (Collins) from Uganda. I don’t follow much because as you’d expect, there are people who always think they’re past some things. These people think that they’re mature enough and others are kids. So they will always try to make sure they don’t participate. They’ll be holding small meetings of their own and making noise or simply thwarting the efforts of the guys in charge. And in this bonfire, these people were in plenty.
Two things happen in this evening. Gloria from the land of M7 confesses her undying liking for my roommate and asks him if he can be her valentine. Gloria’s heart must have been heartbroken when the guy loudly said no in front of all of us. We all feel bad- how do you blatantly say no to a lady like that?
The fire is brimming and I can feel its warmth pressing against my clothes and the bare skin of my arms and face. I like it. Looking around, I can see shiny faces against the flames.
Some of us have never embraced days such as Valentine’s day simply because the bitch died long ago and we don’t even know how she looked or what she did to be celebrated. While men struggle to send their women gifts and sorts, I bother less. It is not that I don’t appreciate the ones I love. I do that every day. A single day won’t be enough for me to express the kind of love I have for her. Besides, this shit is imported from the western countries and we want to make a big fuss about it. I don’t buy it.
The night ends on a high note. Having grown up a Cassanova, or having been raised by one, has taught me how to make quick kills. So this night I get to steal a few hot kisses in one of the small bushes near the gate. We would have liked to make out with this foreign chick but unfortunately, I don’t have protection. As a man who knows how fast things can escalate from bad to worse, I am usually careful not to let my emotions override my conscience. But we leave each other hot and high… with our weapons of mass destruction throbbing with humongous desire. We comfort ourselves with “tomorrow is another day.”
Also read: The story of his life
We return to KU on Wednesday. The week ends quite well. Each of us is given a stipend of 40 dollars on Friday, to which I send all that money to my guys to finish a few tables I left unturned.
I organize an excursion to town. Initially, I wanted to organize a tour to various destinations in the city but Ace had already aced it and many Ethiopians had bought it. I was wary of the price tag he gave them against the places he envisioned to take them. But one thing is clear-many Ethiopians are hardheaded. As much as they think in single file, they also like learning from experience.
I organize a tour to town. In this Nairobi, there are so many places to see. With a group of 10 or so, we hit the road. We’re three Kenyans, the rest are foreigners. I let Bella be the tour guide. I am good at delegating roles. It absolves me of responsibilities (it’s the burden of having to serve high positions while young before you could know what it feels like working at the lowest of the food chain). Now, Bella is a sweet lady and knows her way. She has a good map of the town and that helps us because it would have been tedious for me.
I get to connect with Ariel quite easily. He is the eldest in the group, my guess. He comes from the Central African Republic, a country many of the participants had never heard of until they stepped into YALI. He has a great sense of humour and easily likable. Funny people are. I don’t know where I rate myself. I got the dry humour, unless you are at my level.
Then there is this smiling machine of a guy called Silvanus. He has this smile planted on his face any time of the day; smiles that are followed by laughter. He is a humble and lovely guy. He ends up becoming one of the best friends I make at YALI.
I want to talk about my nights in KUCC. Of course, there are complaints that Kenyans were being treated with a lot of disrespect in all corners, starting with the kitchen staff to the soldiers (otherwise gate men) at the gate from fellow Kenyans. Not once do I hear this but so often that it becomes a song.
I am not a victim of any of these claims. My interactions are rather friendly with most of them. Every morning I greet the mama serving eggs and sausage “How are you mom? You had a fantastic night?”. She will wear this broad smile and respond back calmly. We talk at other times when there is no line behind me exchanging pleasantries as I like her.
During lunch and supper, I will greet the guys serving chicken and fish. They will ask me if I want more and I will decline respectfully “asante, hii itatosha.” One day I get sick, food poisoning. It whips my stomach and I have this dreadful diarrhea. I finally get over it after two days. This is around the second or third week. I tell them about it. So every time I pass there they ask me if I am alright to which I smile and tell them I’m fine now that I got meds. Our friendship flourishes and the last day they tell me “uwe unakuja kutembea bana. Usitusahau.” I only smile because I’m not sure it is a promise I wanna make.
At Annex, I will hang out in the lobby most evenings just to use WI-FI on these tablets given to us. I spend most of my time on YouTube, email and WhatsApp. At most this would be one hour. At around 9.30 pm, I would go to prep myself for yoga.
I have not been doing yoga for long. If anything, I am still a rookie in it but have progressively indulged with it over the month. Ariel coined it. When it began It had a different meaning- which was to make out (have sex for those who don’t get it). I quickly embraced the meaning with which Ariel penned it down with. I immediately started sessions in my room- Private Sessions because it was not the normal yoga. It involved a bit of yoga, a bit of massage and a big bit of making out.
For a man who likes making out often, dry spells can be detrimental. Ariel referred to this as starvation. Apparently, both men and women starve equally. While men are open about it, women are obscure about it. You only have to find a way to make them come out…and my yoga was working out.
Well, the meaning radically changed after two weeks now that my starvation was no longer kicking. Soon I was helping some ladies learn yoga. I remember only two showed up often. During the last week, no one shows up. We’re busy dealing with our final presentations. Everyone is utterly exhausted and even myself I am not up to the task.
Every morning I have to ensure I wake up early than Inku. He takes too long in the washroom. And when he comes out, the washroom is flooded. You’d think it rains every time he is there.
In the second week, I remember asking him where the water on the floor was coming from. In the most genuine reply, he said he doesn’t know. I also didn’t know.
At first, we would get out of the room together. We would stay together for most of the things we did. Then as days progress, each of us starts leaving at his own pleasure and catching up later. This becomes the trend we embrace. We’re no longer a duo. We’re each man for himself, the room 34 for us all.
Also Read: They are just children. Story of Arnella
I start to wake up in the morning at around 5.30 am to go and have a jog. It is my custom. My mind freshens up quite well and I become super active. Who else isn’t looking forward to starting a day on a high note?
Of course, some don’t because they spend their nights in drinking dens till 5.am in the morning when they stumble into the annex to grab a pint of sleep. Their days start like “my head is heavy, I got a sloppy hangie, my eyes are heavy”. And I am there like, bring it on baby.
There are people in this world who never have time to rest. Some worship bars, others alcohol, others movies, others blacking out, others making out, others twerking all night; people whose lives are pegged on something that makes them happy, without which nothing else makes sense. Most of their time is spent on planning for their evenings rather than their days- People who fancy darkness. And when you tell them you don’t club or drink or smoke they feel you don’t know the kind fun you’re lacking, some see your life as empty, some see your life as sad, some see your life as lonely, and others just think you’re a very unhappy motherfucker- so that they’ll try to seduce you into going out, and drinking and having fun, as they call it.
“I’m the one who will foot the bill (Ni mimi nitalipa),” they’ll tell you. And if you’re not someone who understands themselves and has principles, you’ll be wooed. Who knows, maybe it might be the last day you ever have a normal life.
I am one of those cat guys. You see a cat doesn’t care. So long as it eats. It will curl itself and sleep, no matter what is happening in their surroundings. They love peace and comfort. It will never follow you even if you own it. It will wake up anytime and go hunting. Once it is full even if it sees a fat rat napping by it won’t budge.
My nights are spent online, in my room, talking to Elsie or just reading. Sometimes, I am reading a book. My friend has got a very nice collection. And my best pick is things I wish I knew when I was 20. It is basically a book on design thinking in a way. And it gives me new and deep insights before I leave my 20s.
Other times, I am in the common room. I always find Tigist seated before her pc working. We can talk. She has this beguiling smiling and she is open-minded. She is not afraid to talk. Although her English is somewhat confusing because of the accent, we get along well enough. Sometimes I’ll bump into Shimaa. Now she is the woman I like. Her accent also is making our communication hard and complicated. She might seem cool from face value, but she can be a parrot. She can talk. She is a compilation of beauty that surpasses stunning. Being a sharp shooter, I confess to her that I like her. She is the second one I am telling so in the same surrounding.
With her, it is different. It is someone I would like to marry. My worry is whether she can marry a non-muslim. She tells me I have to take a flight to Sudan and convince her parents. It is a risk I would take if I had that assurance, for sure; that she would marry a non-muslim or that her parents would be open to the idea.
I would then saunter to my room and slide into my duvet. Somewhere in the night I would throw it away and get naked because it is hot and I am sweating. Often I will draw my laptop from the table and watch a movie till I sleep. My friend would sneak out of the room to go and use Wi-Fi. He has to offload the heap of work assigned to him. Later, he would slide in when I am asleep.
Our lives are completely different. When we go to sleep, we no longer tell each other stories. There are none or each of us has a stray chain of thoughts lingering in our minds. Under the mosquito nets, we would tell each other good night. With the heat, you don’t sleep immediately, you will watch a movie or read something or chat till sleep chases you down.
Once in a while, we will tell each other stories about encounters we had with some of the girls in the programme. And sometimes we would find out we’d been in shit with the same woman. Of course, we would laugh it off as we roll over to catch the train heading to destination sleepyheads.
I keep an itinerary of people who have birthdays. Somehow, I get to know who has it and when so that I can organize for a washing ceremony. This role, I take it without coercion or appointment. And I run it well because out of the people with birthdays in that month I am able to wash all of them except one who was unwell.
Friday finally comes. He packs everything during the day and ensures everything is in its place in the evening. The Ethiopian team is leaving for the airport at around 5.00 am. What ungodly hours to travel? He throws himself on the bed with shoes on. He sets the alarm and reminds me to wake him up if I hear it ring first.
When the morning comes, I don’t get out of my bed to bid him bye. I just sit on it and wish him well. I wanna get up and see him out before I hug him but again I know I will shed tears. I don’t wanna be that emotional. Not to my fellow man. But I wish him well and hope we meet some other time.
Borrowing some line from this serial called The 100, I say to myself- may we meet again.
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Where shall we go, we who wander in this wasteland in search of better selves?
Photo Credit: US Department of State
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