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Thursday, September 20, 2012

the little things


This is one of those things that should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. I can’t read maps; I can't arrange them right; I don’t even know where Vihiga and Voi are. I was not much made for geography, not my strength. Why  care about places and things when they have no stories attached to them? I like stories and I like them to have some conflict or human emotion, a mountain erupting by itself somewhere resulting in some parts of the country having rich volcanic soil is a crap story. There are no stakes, nothing happens, it only becomes important because of the human consequences of it and not the actual happening. It may be fun to watch but it’s not for me. I have used maps in the past and it reminds me of doing home science in primary school and taking 30 minutes just to thread the needle. Here I take just as long making the map look like the world, how the hell do people do it? How do you make the streets on paper align with the ones in your hand?  It’s better for me to just walk around until I bump into someone I know and this has been proven to work. When I was younger and got lost in town I would tell myself that if I walked long enough it was statistically impossible not to find the Hilton, there’s a place like that in every city. And then there are the fictional maps. Have you ever read a book with a map in it? You know the way some books have the cast of characters all on the first page so you can remember the relationships and names as you refer back over and over. Some guys put a map in there. I have no time for fictional maps. Even if it’s a non-fiction book I have no time for maps. I pass over that page faster than the first blank page that all books have. I don’t care where Mordor is or the relative distance from the Vale to King’s Landing or even if the north is really to the north. The place names have nothing to do with their locations, in my mind they are just connotations and relationship and people and conflict and actual stories.

Which is why I am extremely proud of myself today. For today I write with the aid of a map. I ripped the image right out of Google and I recognised almost everything there. Which is expected since it’s the most used route of my life, just about every day in Kenya I go this way or come back. But to the story, below is a map of western? Nairobi for reference.

So am going to town. I have just a left a good friend’s house and am using a matatu 23 to get me into the city. We have just come down Wayiaki Way which is in the northwest corner of the map and we are approaching the museum hill overpass-roundabout thingy. My stop is university way (south of the map) and I hope foolishly that the matatu will go straight down Uhuru Highway. This is the fastest way for me to get to where am going but this being rush hour more often than not there is a crippling traffic jam on this road, a mass of cars so thick and stationery it reminds me of that time I spotted an elephant penis.
yer... i know.

Caption (I know right…)

Because of this traffic the matatus usually take a detour and follow the museum hill road and come out near Ngara. From my remembrances of using this road there are no actual stops until you get to Odeon cinema. Odeon is so far out of my way it doesn’t even show up in the map. It is the wasteland of we’ll-never-be-there-so-why-bother-drawing-it. From Odeon it is a long, hot walk back to university way. Speaking of hot, what the hell is that thing in the sky? Who told the sun we missed it that much. It’s like she doesn’t know how to be perfect either she leaves you entirely for another place or she clings to you obsessively like she does now, it’s suffocating and all I want, all am really asking for is some space. It’s ok to be there but do you have to be so much? Remember the power puff girls episode where the mayor says, “ girls, girls, There’s a giant ball of fire in the sky.”? That’s where we are.

So the matatu takes the detour and goes down Ngara road. There is an illicit stop I can make here that would cut my journey in half, but am sitting at the back of the matatu and touts are not as daring as they used to be, police don’t have as many blind eyes to turn and i am not nearly as limbre as a few years back so it makes no sense to do this unless am close to the door. I look off to the side and it’s that perfect orange sun, I figured am looking to the east because I can see the reflection of the sun in some windows and it’s beautiful.

Every city no matter how poorly planned in the end has some beauty in it. All you have to do is step back which is true of everything. No matter how little beauty there is in the constituent parts of one thing when taken together they seem to add up to something pretty or at least pretty from far. The buildings all thrust phallically into the air. The air itself could be seen too. It was dust balls and smaller dust particles surrounding them. It was these things being speared by the dying of the light of the sun and dispersing the golden yellows of a Nairobi sunset into everything sort of like a rainbow that doesn’t refract. Dust and gold and brown and sun is how the air looked. Filtered through these golden glasses you could see the buildings in the back. I could make out Lillian Towers (I think it’s called) and then there was the building of glasses. Am not sure what building this was but it had windows all over its side. There was nothing uniform about these windows as it always is in an office building, some were closed, and some were open. There was no pattern to this at all except the varying tastes of humanity in regard to their stuffiness. Nevertheless it made a piano of light as the setting sun struck them differently and was reflected off them. Now it wasn’t just the dust balls dispersing light, it was also being played back to them and to me. Some things can be almost heartbreakingly beautiful. The heart-breaking part is that there was no one else there who felt the same way, no one I knew no one I could see was going through this experience with me. In this perfect moment i was alone And beauty shouldn’t be that lonely. “The sweet sadness of being in love” Vasily Grossman once wrote.

And then we broke through this section ad we passed illicit stop number one. There were still a number of likely illicits that I could get off at. There was one at Ramesh Gautama road east of the map; there was another at Government Road near the fire station. But now I was gripped by a secret hope. I hoped with all my heart that vision 2030 which had been laid on Nairobi’s infrastructure would be real enough to have an effect on me. I was hoping we would swing round under globe flyover (it’s in the middle of the river’s trajectory) and come back up near Adamali House eventually going to Moi Avenue where I could get off from.

This secret hope, this private prayer I whispered only to myself and not even consciously. Then you know what happened? We swung around globe flyover (it’s in the middle of the river’s trajectory) and came back up near Adamali house eventually going to Moi Avenue. The effect of this was that I was closer to my destination than I would have been if I had gotten off at the University Way stop.

It’s the little miracles that count.