Morris Kiruga is getting cabin fever. As he writes in the rain, he harks back with nostalgia to his childhood, and wonders if he can ever recapture that simplicity of nature.
I haven’t travelled in a while, and it’s beginning to show.
A few years ago, I set a personal challenge to travel at least once a month. It didn’t have to be for work or holiday. It didn’t even have to be far out of town. But it needed to be mostly random, and to a place I’d never been before.
It has been just a little over six weeks since my last trip, a single night in Machakos, and I am feeling the wear and tear.
There’s one Band Aid for this, and that’s finding green spaces around Nairobi.
When I was a kid, I had a secret hideout in my neighbour’s forest. It wasn’t a big forest, just large enough to hide within it a child with a budding wanderlust. Every once in a while, I would walk through my parents’ coffee plantation, cross the old fence, and then the next one, and I would disappear for hours.
Forests are not quiet. Not if you listen. There’s the chirping of birds, the sound of leaves falling, the water flowing in the distance, and, every now and again, the sound of a tree falling. There’s the crackle as you walk through dried leaves, and the sound of an animal you can’t quite place.
It hit me that I spend my withdrawal months trying to recapture these scenes.
My first hideout, just a five-minute drive from the house, is a park called Paradise Lost. There’s a forest, a cave behind a waterfall, and most importantly, a lake. Now and then, I will place the dog and a cold beer in the boat with me. Then we will row to the middle of the lake and just let the boat drift. We will try to ignore the kids happily swimming on the other side, or even the women doing their laundry on the very edge. I wish I could say the Furry One helps me with the rowing, but she mostly just stares into the water.
Then there’s the walk to a little enclave I even named, where the only path is treacherous, and the only other route is by boat. Once, I dragged two friends there and we might have hijacked a pastor’s surprise proposal. Or rather we became the extras in the life-changing decision.
Perhaps the best part of being freelance writer is that I can do this on a weekday. Most places around Nairobi, like Paradise Lost and Karura Forest, are quiet on weekdays. But go at the weekend, and you will find yourself standing in what feels like that area around the Tom Mboya statue on Moi Avenue.
Try a Wednesday though, and everything is as Wangari Maathai intended.
Lately, I’ve replaced these with sitting on the balcony and watching the rain. It reminds me of Mrs. Dorothy, my primary-school teacher. Whenever it rained, she would make us leave our bags in class. That meant no
homework, and no books to worry about for the walk home. Which, if you grew up in shagz, was code for fun.
We would walk home in that rain, fast enough to get home before dusk, but slow enough to wade through rivers and skid down hills. More than once, my mother made me strip at the front door before she hosed me down and then guided me, like I had leprosy, to the bathroom.
If you live in an urban centre, then the hunt for green, quiet spaces is often more of a feeling than a decision. If you find a corner, like me, you treat it almost like a bunker. You feel jealous if you find anyone else there,
although they paid the same entrance fee as you. You introduce your friends to it like it is some kind of contraband, and they have to pass the ‘peace and quiet’ test to be trusted. It helps if they are furry and are more interested in sniffing rocks and pissing on trees.
I know at least one person who walks for 10 minutes to have his lunch in Uhuru Park. He says it calms him down and helps him forget, if only for an hour, how he would really rather be anywhere else but work. I know another whose favourite watering hole overlooks Karura, and he sits there for hours as his beer warms.
Is it an endless pursuit of a place we can never go back to? A wanderlust inbuilt in us from our hunter-gatherer days? Because there are few things more calming, in the middle of a withdrawal month or a tough week at work, than nature.
Once, when I was in Loiyangalani, we drove for hours to get to an oasis. It’s a slice of green in the rocky nothingness that is Turkana, and there is even a crocodile. Because it’s in a valley, it is hard to see. Add to the fact that moving over a rocky terrain will do a number on your back, and it is too dusty for comfort, and you can imagine the joy of finding some green again.
I think about these places a lot, and sometimes even scroll through my Instagram to just feed the nostalgia. It might be unhealthy to feed my addiction, but if there was a monster I didn’t mind having, it is the desire to be on the road.
Wait, an email just came in. Kampala is calling!
Morris Kiruga blogs about travel, culture and more at owaahh.com