I don’t remember the exact moment I left for Murang’a, but I went there because I was fed up. And not fed up in the normal way where a blunt or a shot of alcohol or sex with that person that makes you burst numerous nuts makes you better. I was fed up in the way that was slowly eating into my soul, making me question why I was still alive, making my favourite food taste like mud..I was fed up in a way where the grave of the woman that I loved the most was only just growing weeds in a village in Kangema, my new job hadn’t picked up and my social and romantic lives were falling apart.
I remember my friend Oloo sent me Ksh 3,000 that day, and I bought earphones, a blue and red ‘Nigeria’ bag, then I called my grandma’s sister and let her know I was taking the next ‘Murang’a Shuttle’ home (I think everyone needs a friend like Oloo, and to be an Oloo to someone. He’s taking a trip to Sri Lanka on November 3rd to become a devotee of Buddhism, and I might never see him again, ever. Fuck, life really is fleeting). The journey home was unbelievable, like I was a hostage being taken home, but I had grown to like the soup and bread I assume kidnappers feed their captives. As I watched the matatu eat up the tarmac, and leave behind Kenol, Saba Saba and all those small towns that all look alike on your way to Murang’a, I probably had the thousand yard stare on my defeated, ragged face.
My asthma acted up that first night, and I had to puff my inhaler as deep as I could into my usually dependable but now faulty lungs. My duvet, which had taken up 50% of the ‘Nigeria’ bag, (the rest of the luggage were shoes, books, a camera, and clothes) still smelled like the Dove deodorant I loved, but couldn’t afford. I didn’t cry myself to sleep if you’re wondering, but I stared up into the darkness and asked myself if this was the peace I wanted. I didn’t get the answer(s) that night, all I got was the sound of my stomach digesting the dyed-in-the-wool Kikuyu meal of maize and beans, and cows mooing in the distance, the violent ‘thud’ ‘thud’ sounds of them dropping shit into the sheds they’d sleep in making me think how little stress they had. I needed peace, and this starch and protein diet which I hated, the cud-chewing, milk-producing background music, and poor internet connection, was the price I had to pay for it.
Over the 30-odd trips I made to Nairobi and back, I fought my demons with trips to River Kayahwe, where the descent was scenic but the hikes up were hell (Murang’a is one of the hilliest counties in Kenya), podcasts on anger and healing, so much marijuana I almost became the demons I was trying to fight and endless amounts of soul-snatching, existential-crisis-causing sex when I was in Nairobi. I’ve seen young people across the world take sabbaticals and travel to foreign countries to ‘find themselves’ and at the risk of sounding like a spoilt, kid from a home that serves caviar (which I am sadly not), I think everyone should take such a break at least once in their lives.
A few weeks after I got to Githiga, the village where I was born into, and where my grandmother’s grave was, I realised it was coffee season. My grandma’s sister, needed help to pick the berries from the coffee trees. It’s an exhausting task, not in the task itself, picking coffee is quite simple; get the red berries into your bag and come back next week. It’s exhausting because we’d pick the berries in the rain, in the heat, in the mud but the actual money wasn’t ours. Not that they wouldn’t pay us, or the thousands of other neighbours who has coffee trees on their farms (a clarification before the coffee mafia sends shooters to put bullets in my cranium), but because coffee farming, tea farming, or any other form of farming across Murang’a is controlled by a mafia-like cartel (Denzel would sleep two hours max everyday, if he took his Equalizer persona to Murang’a btw).
Agriculture, the backbone of the county, that which my grandma and thousands across the county pride themselves in, is a sabotaged game where those who put in the most, get the least, and those that put in the least, get to buy their toddlers the latest iPhones as hard-working adults, tasked with providing, sell off family heirlooms and deny themselves the basic joys of life, to educate and feed those they love.
You know how they say Kikuyus are so money-minded they’d kill you in your sleep for a few coins? I found that to be the biggest misconception about my people that I’ve ever heard. In that sleepy little village, I saw people raise money to educate the brightest among them, and hotel owners feed those they knew would starve if they didn’t get that toast and mug of tea. I saw women work all week to contribute towards one of their own who needed life-saving medical care because the government, national and county, had failed them.
I realised, with a heavy heart, that Africa will probably remain the same for the next 100 years, unless something as seismic as the French Revolution happens, and given how divided we are culturally , religiously and politically, it probably will never happen. It was a moment of sadness, and I stared out into the horizon of hills and green eucalyptus and avocado trees, thinking about the years of potential that have been wasted, and will keep being wasted, and it pained my heart, but I rode the wave of sadness until it passed. Then I went back to walking barefoot, eating those salt-and-fat avocadoes and creating content calendars for my clients in New York and Santa Fe (btw if you’re struggling for work, and you have reliable internet and skills that can be applied online look up https://optimate.co/ they pay $4 an hour and they are very honest people)
I didn’t have any sex while I was in Murang’a, and over the periods of enforced celibacy, I learnt that it was an activity that I enjoyed a lot, too much actually, but that I could live without. Quality over quantity kind of thing. But just because I wasn’t having any, didn’t mean others, especially those that shouldn’t, weren’t having it. Too many school-going kids, born into homes where everything is prayed away, even temptations that can only be tamed by practical lessons on delayed gratification and self-control, were having unprotected sex. Unprotected because too many kids are dropping out of school to take care of kids when they are kids themselves, and the cycles of poverty remain active.
I also saw first hand how religion has my people in a chokehold, and practical solutions, condoms, birth control and vetting a politician’s track record, is discarded for the theoretical solutions; prayer, tithing and more prayer. It really was saddening to see four huge churches, and only one small dispensary and a dusty, neglected primary school. The version of Christianity that is applied in rural Kenya just takes and takes, and only stops taking so it can find new, and more complete ways of taking everything that the people have. My friend broke his leg playing football, and because there wasn’t any service available even at Kangema, had to be taken over thirty minutes away in Murang’a, but hey, the village has four massive and modern churches.
To relax and to fight the demons telling me hauntingly dark things when I was alone, I’d play football by day and use twitter like Escobar’s clients used his product by night. Occasionally, I’d smoke a few puffs of marijuana and the maize and beans I hated with a passion tasted like Ombachi’s cooking. Eventually I had to call myself for a meeting because when the demons in my head got a figurative soundbar, I tried to smoke them out of my head. It didn’t work for me. Instead, I almost became the demons I was fighting against, and as hundreds of dollars flowed through my account, I didn’t have meaningful destinations for them.
Although I did buy a phone that takes really nice pictures and documented the Safari Rally here, and also went to Uganda and had the time of my life. I also got into my most organised and industrious mode over the time I was in Murang’a. I’d wake up at 10 AM and my grandma would have already achieved so much, it didn’t make me wake up earlier but I made sure my hours counted when I started to work. I also learnt how to split firewood, cut napier grass, pick coffee beans, and give medication to cows and chicken. I really became a ‘kienyeji’ and it made me appreciate the small things about life.
I officially came back to Nairobi a month ago, after a three-month hairdressing course where I stayed with my friend Ben at Weteithie, a town just before Thika where you win with rent and food prices but lose with the distance to Nairobi. I have a magazine on football now, and I know that my path is to be a culture writer, to examine how people live and to play my small part in documenting the early 2020s and for as long as I’ll be alive.
I don’t know what the city has for me but I learnt how to be self reliant, to use money wisely, to control my private parts and that marijuana is only a small part of your plan to fighting my demons. When was the last place you took a break to? I’m sure someone would benefit from hearing your story on how you healed yourself without having to take out a loan to do it.