If you are reading this as soon as soon as it’s posted then I’m probably 39,000ft somewhere over West Africa, barreling towards the motherland in a KQ Boeing 787-8, non-stop from New York. If all goes to plan and someone important sends an email to another important person I will have ended up in Business Class, which will make the 15-hours much happier. New York City was cold but kind to me.
Here is a truism: You will pack your bags and go to distant lands, places with buildings taller than buildings at home, places with a transport system that works to the minute, places where they don’t hold harambees, places with bright lights. But there is just something about coming back home. There is something about home, period. Going abroad is akin to the first dates when you only see the best of the other person because the other person only shows you the best of them, when the air of intrigue and discovery is rife. When words like “please” and “thank you,” and “kindly,” and “would you please, darling?” are being used. When they sneeze loudly and they say, “excuse me,” and not, “ngai fafa!” When they don’t keep you waiting because they are with the boys or cancel dates because Manchester United is playing (and losing). When they are not ordering in and instead whipping up something hot with their hands and with their hearts.
But then you start dating and then you realise that they snore. Or sleep walk. They come to bed in a Jubilee promo t-shirt. They don’t open the car door for you anymore because suddenly they realise you grew a pair of hands. They cuss. They suck passion fruit loudly. They become normal. Faulty. They become themselves.
That’s what home is. Home is what you know; the good and the terrible. There is never going to be something that will happen that will surprise you. It’s a relationship. It’s normal. It works. It’s someone thrusting the face of a baby into your car in traffic jam to ask for money. It’s idiotic matatu drivers. It’s people who treat a red at traffic lights like a favour to humanity. Punks who drive on the wrong side of the road because they are driving big cars or because they know someone who knows someone who knows someone who says they are pals with the president. This is a relationship we signed up for and normally you would take time off from it and go as far away as possible and flirt with a different country, probably in a bar, a country seemingly without warts and a country that doesn’t snore with its mouth wide open. But then at some point you really are dying to come back home, to all the things that are not working and all the things that are working and you can’t wait to land because when you land at JKIA and those KRA guys are rubbing their noses on your suitcase you know that you belong; that you are from here with your people. And it’s a sacred feeling, to be home and to know that you don’t have to catch a train to go eat naan in an Indian restaurant, the closest you can get to getting chapos. Instead you can just call Ben of Three Dee Restaurant and say, “Ben, sasa? Funga chapo mbili, napitia kuchukua….er, ya brown.”
Since I’m airborne and it’s Tuesday I don’t have a post because I was on holiday. But I have a gentleman here who attended my masterclass and he’s a cracker. He will be filling in for me this week. He’s young and cheeky and naughty and he thinks he will never grow old. I like him. I asked him to write something very random about being 23-years old.
Gang, meet, Mike. Mike, put your bag over there and tell these people what your life is as a 23-year old.
By Mike Muthaka
Dating feels like a waste of time, which is funny because I thought my last relationship would go all the way to the altar. In fact, I’ve felt the same way about every girl I’ve been with.
I fall head over heels for them. I cook up blueprints for our collective future. One wanted a house with wooden floors. Another wanted five dogs and just as many kids. Ha! You should have seen me doing the math. I don’t even like pets, for chrissake.
Still, I jump over fences for these girls. I go to great lengths to make them happy. Sometimes I end up doing the complete opposite. I refuse to acknowledge their flaws. If they cause me an ounce of pain I take it on the chin and say it’s all in the name of love. I get excited as hell about them. I write them letters. I introduce them to friends, and when the girl goes to the loo, I lean closer to my pal and say, “I’m going to marry that girl.”
Then, when they break up with me, I’m left fumbling in the dark, wondering if life is really worth it if I don’t have someone to call at 1am for a spot of phone sex.
According to my friends, I’m a typical ‘Ted Mosby’ (you must know who that is, surely). Have you met Ted?
He’s the character played by Josh Radnor in ‘How I Met Your Mother’ (HIMYM). Theodore Evelyn Mosby, the gentle tousle-haired architect professor who took nine seasons to find “the one”, only for her to die in the season finale. That part kills me.
I’m a complete sucker for HIMYM. I watch it when I’m sad. I watch it when I’m happy. I watch it when I couldn’t be bothered watch anything else. HIMYM is to me what Star Wars was to Ted. HIMYM is, I think, the best depiction of what it’s like to be in your 20s, when it’s time to leave the nest and start laying your own bricks -the good, the bad, and the downright silly, all jumbled up into one memorable rollercoaster.
I like Ted. I like the way he bleeds on screen. He gives me hope. But as I get older, I want to become less like Ted –the hopeful romantic- and more like Barney, the charming playboy who holds relationships at arm’s length. Barney is awesome. Barney is always in a suit, unless he’s boning some floozy he just met at McLaren’s Bar.
Barney also says no guy should be married before 30. And he’s dead right.
What’s the hurry?
I’m 23 now. Thirty seems like eons away. I don’t want to be in a committed relationship before then. I don’t want to be tied down in my 20s. And I don’t want to make proclamations of love to a girl I barely know, because at 23 I barely know myself. Of course, there have been girls who’ve made me doubt this decision, but if there’s anything we can learn from Ted, it’s that girls will always be there.
Girls are everywhere. They’re the most beautiful things we have. Girls are right up there with sparrows and trees and blue skies. They’re in offices and they’re at the downtown kiosk. They’re seated next to you in a matatu, and they’re at the point of sale at your favorite supermarket. And now there’s even a cab service solely for girls, all geared up towards female empowerment.
I’m certain there’s one girl out there who wouldn’t mind marrying my ass. But unlike Ted, I won’t sweat it. I won’t go looking for her. Far better, I reckon, to spend my energies building a career –writing stories, drinking vodka and going where the stars take me. (Am I a romantic or what?) Mostly, though, I want to leave the nest, a decision half-formed by impatience and a little guilt.
Twenty-three feels like guilt. I’m guilty of not having my own place. I feel too old to be under my parents’ roof, and I wonder if they think so, too. I’m guilty of not learning my language (kyuk). And, according to my Catholic roots, I’m guilty of having sex.
I’m writing this at my desk, in the corner of the room. It’s Friday. I’m wedged between the wall and my dresser. Our house sits somewhere in the middle of Kitengela and Isinya. We’re surrounded by dry grass and a bakery to the right. I have loving parents and a kid sister who loves to sing.
My bedroom window overlooks the front lawn and a chicken coop. I have a cock and a hen in that coop, the last of the survivors. Initially I had 50 chicks, but a serious case of bird flu wiped them out, one by one, sometimes reducing me to sniveling tears. The cock is blind in one eye, and the hen eats all the time. When she’s in the mood she’ll lay some eggs. But the cock might not make it to Christmas. I wonder what a blind chicken tastes like?
There are three books on my nightstand –The Personality of St. Paul, which is older than I am; The Vendetta Defense, from the school library; and Memoirs of a Geisha, which I’ve never quite finished. They’re piled next to a brown lamp and a Sayona radio.
I listen to XFM and HBR, mostly. The afternoon presenter on XFM gets on my bloody nerves, and the voice of G-Money in the morning gets me all tingly inside. Sometimes I kill the stereo and stew in the silence of my room, listening to the kids playing across the fence.
Next Monday I’ll make a class presentation –a speech in honor of Bett, my mentor and editor at Craft It. My weekly column is called Dusty Rugs. (Sound familiar?)
I’m a third-year Communications student. The ratio of girls to boys in my school is 6:1. It’s heaven on earth. I get along with girls easier than I do with guys, but when they start to talk about Snapchat and Kim Kardashian and faux locs braids my mind wanders out of the room and comes back to this desk.
This is where I spend most days. Writing is my bread, my butter, and my noble excuse for not replying to text messages.
I’m wearing a fedora. It’s a two-year-old hat, with stripes running front to back, and it makes me feel like a classic journalist. The only thing that’s missing is a pencil behind my ear, a typewriter, and a smouldering cigarette.
My ex didn’t like the fedora. She called it ugly. She said she didn’t want to be seen with me if I insisted on wearing it. I caught feelings. How could she not like this hat? Perhaps that should have been the first red flag.
I also have a newsboy hat on the dresser. This one is black, and it makes me feel like a moonshine smuggler.
(Oh wait. I already wrote about the newsboy hat on Dusty Rugs.)
Anyway, at 6pm I’ll leave the digs and board a 14-seater bongo-playing matatu and head to church. I’ll share a seat with a school boy. Half my bum will remain suspended in the air. I’ll have to clench the other half so I don’t fall off the seat. By the time I de-bus my ass will be on fire, and I’ll think: “Boy, I should have skipped Mass.”
Like most people, I have a love-hate relationship with God.
The morning of my 23rd birthday, on a calm Saturday, mom found me smoking in the compound. She waited until breakfast to bring it up.
“What were you doing with that lighter?”
“Were you smoking?”
“Why? Are you stressed?”
“Michael,” she said, “just leave your burdens to God.”
But I’ve never liked church. Church showed me God was to be feared. Everyone always wore a somber face in their Sunday bests. People turned into the most pious beings, with their heads bent in surrender before the imposing wooden crucifix.
Jesus had red paint spilling from his palms, and his face had tired lines, heavy with all the sins of the world. All those murderers and fornicators; all the thieves and the crafty businessmen who don’t give Caesar what belongs to Caesar, all the coveters and masturbators, we all had a hand in Jesus’ misery.
But there was hope for salvation. At least, that’s what his messenger –a white-garbed priest of Indian origin- was sent to tell us.
Boy, did I hate church.
My earliest memory of church is a profile view of the congregation at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Jericho. I’m on Mom’s lap, and my head is resting snuggly on her bosom. We’re seated on the back bench, next to Dad, who is cradling my kid sister–wrapped in pink- who is too young to be bothered about the length of the sermon. Birds chirp and sing in the roof. The choir belts out ‘Utukufu kwa Mungu’. My eyelids weigh a tonne. I feel sleepy. The drone coming from the pulpit is diminished to mere background noise. I’m barely five years old. No one holds it against me for sleeping in the Lord’s house. And I don’t feel guilty about it.
Now I’m too old to make use of Mom’s lap when I get a bit sleepy in church. Heck, I’m old enough to decide whether I want to go to church or not. So I usually don’t go, because I know I won’t get much from church that I don’t already know, and that I will have spent the entire Mass staring at the meek-faced believers while wondering what I’ll have for lunch.
I like the Friday evening mass, however, because it’s short. We don’t even give offertory. Just a five minute homily, the breaking of bread, and then it’s time for the final blessing. I’m usually back home by 8pm, just in time to catch Hullabaloo Estate on Maisha Magic East. Today is the season finale. (How underrated is Makokha by the way?)
Then, at around 10pm, I’ll turn in for the night. I’ll draw the curtains, switch on the lamp, and leaf through The Vendetta Defense before falling asleep. This is the tableau vivant of my nights at 23, unless I’m too bored to read, at which point I’ll enjoy an episode of How I Met Your Mother, with absolutely no guilt.