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Sunday, July 8, 2012

goodbye kristiansand

But he descended the hill, sadness came upon him, and he thought in his heart: How shall I go in peace and without sorrow?...
Too many fragments of the spirit have I scattered in these streets, and too many are the children of my longing that walk naked among these hills, and I cannot withdraw from them without a burden and an ache.
It is not a garment I cast off this day, but a skin that I tear with my own hands.
Nor is it a thought I leave behind me, but a heart made sweet with hunger and with thirst. - The prophet by Khalil Gibran



Sometimes I know exactly where I’ll write a certain piece. Long before I sit down I have thought of the place that would capture its emotional intensity if I can just give justice to it, the frame of mind I need to be in, the feelings these scenes and the environment can bring to mind. I see a quote that captures it in brief that communicates all the variant and disparate emotions and thoughts that make treadmills on my soul, trying their best to shed the weight that they have carried , trying to fit in  my heart and the space I have there for grief, sorrow and parting. Once in a while I find the most fitting epitaph. I find the thing I wish I had written that in its brevity and magic weaves together all the strands of the story I want to tell, providing a tapestry so intricate that the truth is you don’t have to read much more than the part in yellow but I want you to. I want you to come with me as I write my pathetic excuse for a goodbye  as I try to turn my sorrow, regrets and lessons, my joys, happiness and memories into nothing more than words on a page as I say those most painful of syllables goodbye.

Right now I am on a bus from Kristiansand to Oslo, where I will take another to the airport and then fly home, back to Kenya after nearly 6 months. This was the place I wanted to write this. On a bus with Norway whizzing past my peripheral vision glimpsing the trees and the mountains, the roads and the lights as my most favourite of journeys is turned into one I may never take again. I read the book the prophet and was astounded by its insight into human nature and how to live it showed me that a  point of writing can be to put into words all those things that our souls speak to us but we can’t quite… we can’t quite name and that book names it. That passage foreshadowed what I would feel as I left Kristiansand.

Yesterday was a day of cleaning. Before you hand over an apartment you clean it. You sink a sponge into every corner and squeeze out all the dirt you had left. You pack and piece together your life into 23 kilogram size bags and one 10 kg hand luggage. You make things look as they were before you moved in. and cleaning is no joke, I did a bathroom- kitchen combo, and I was looking forward to the rewards of that kind of work, to  gleaming rooms but I had cleaned for 3 hours and all I got was 3 hours older. To add to this I had no music, my computer chose just that moment to fail me and leave me with silence and my work. Time to think as I scrubbed under the sink and swept away dust and dreams and devils. All the things that haunted me as I lived here. There is a point in Teju Cole’s Open City  when he meets a marathon runner walking home alone, he sympathises with him for making it this far and not having anyone to pick him up:
There were no friends or family present to celebrate his achievement.
But he is walking around town alone too and finally muses:
It was I no less solitary than he but having made the lesser use of the morning who was to be pitied.
It touched me this passage made as I too was solitarily cleaning my house. Scrubbing it sterile making it feel like it never had me. How can I have lived there if I don’t know where the next guys will put their knives and the ones after that their pans and their pots and their plans and how it pans out. How can I have lived there if all it has of me is a scent of the detergent that I used to use, no more of my sweat, my food, my every single thing that I had to do to live. How can I finish the marathon with no trophy, no memento?

But here’s the thing it was no marathon. A marathon requires feats of endurance. It needs you to “hold on when there is nothing in you except the will which says hold on.” This...was a sprint. It was the passage of time in quick. Fast clips of this week and the next, of this trip and that day, of cold and hot and dark and light, intermingling in a collage so discernible I can’t tell if it was 6 weeks or 6 months.

How can you be happy about going home when in truth the place you are living becomes your home. I moulded to Kristiansand. It fit me like a glove. Where to go, what to buy, what to expect and what not to. It was always exciting to be on my way from there to another destination but always comforting to come back. Now I may never come back. The road looks no different, grey and indifferent to the plights of people on it but I feel different.

The beach is maybe 300 metres long. There is barely sand on it, but give me a shiny day and I will find an excuse to visit it.
In winter when we left Norwegian class at 7:30 the streets would be empty. Devoid of all but us, spectres in the snow, ghosts in the glow of lights that had been on four hours. Back then the city crunched under my feet and it felt like no one lived there. The silence was deafening. The warning not to walk beneath ledges because the icicles may fall off and harm you were so ominous and scary and new. That town has almost nothing to do with the place I left today. It's not dark, ominous and cold. So much more than just the weather has changed in those months. warm days with warm smiles and long days that lead to long  conversations and long friendships


There are fewer goodbyes in the world more touching than the words “I hope you won’t forget me.” There is a fear in that sentence that speaks of openness and vulnerability but the fact that this fear could be voiced also screams of intimacy and comfort. Of roads travelled together and hopefully travelled forever.

Make sure you tell your family that you met me and I welcomed you into my house, it would really mean a lot to me. This said with a searing intensity that can’t be doubted is another goodbye that strikes to the heart of the matter. Let them know their son was loved and taken care of, that the world has a place for everyone in every single one of its incarnations

On my last actual day I was taken on a walking tour and shown the sights of the town with irrepressible enthusiasm. A cynical part of me wanted to have asked that this be done earlier but the better part of me rejoiced in the obvious joy shown in showing off little known corners and places I hadn’t seen. The bubble of youth expanding into every experience. It’s not only when you see it that you like but also when you show it.

It’s difficult to say goodbye and I scrape over a list of remembrances and memories littered over a mind half formed. Living here seems to have been the most profound experience of my life.

Now we are connected, you never know we may do something together in the future.

It grew into my bones and my blood. It took over me as surely and swiftly as any desire can. It was the place of endless joys and numerous regrets. It was 5 months that felt like none and now as i edit this a week later it still haunts my dreams. Huge canvases of people and places occupy my sleep leaving me unsure of where i am, of when. I wake up from a dream that i am back in kenya to another that i am really in kristiansand before i really do wake up and look around the unfamiliar in truth it was not a garment I cast off that day, but a skin that I tore with my own hands.