It’s Saturday afternoon. iIm late. I always am for things like this. It just happens and am not unduly worried, it’s Saturday afternoon and on Saturday afternoon there are no worries. The weekend still stretches away in promise, bathed in hope and heart and if you take just some of that it will all be ok. Am going to Safari Sevens. It’s been a while since I went for one of these events. They increased the price of attendance every year on the year for so long that the pleasure I got from going could not offset the pain I received from paying.
Sometimes I believe in omens or at least I like to. It’s nice to think that the world knows what’s going to happen to all of us and keeps whispering it in our ears, a prophet that we don’t listen to . . As I walk past Kenyatta Avenue a place which is normally teeming with people, people streaming here and there, walking back and forth, balleting around cars and bodies, I suddenly find myself in the midst of silence and loneliness. The cars have all stopped for me, the people too. For a 5 metre radius I am all alone. It feels like am walking here at night except the sun keeps beating down on my brow and it’s that angry sun, the kind that draws a bead of sweat from your forehead slowly and patiently wringing it like water from a stone. That and this 5 metre radius that lasts just as long as it takes to get across the road. Then i get to Downtown. It is a different animal than the rest of Nairobi. It’s almost a different city, flooded with life, a pestilence of people stream up and down it. The sound of Nairobi here is markedly different. Hoots of cars mingle with whistles mix with shouts. Conversations bounce around the city here. They cross streets with you, noise chases you down corners and there is no space for anything. Every piece of earth has been reclaimed, a mat laid down and someone is selling books or clothes or sim cards. And these were my two omens for sevens if you believe in that kind of thing.
Safari sevens has a proud history. It has been the premiere social event surrounding sports in Kenya as far back as I can remember. The sports is the glue that holds the excuse together because for many people sevens is about alcohol and people. It’s about seeing and being seen. It used to be held around my birthday and I always went back then. Back when it was held smack dub in the middle of the year. At a time when universities all over the world had closed for their summer holidays. Everyone who had left Kenya was back. Everyone who had disappeared into their books for that dread time was out of it even if just for the weekend. Libations were poured, lust was sated and the old gods of spring were satisfied in this hedonistic ritual that surrounded one of the most dangerous games in the world. Then the event was moved from June to November, leaving me to hypothesize that this was the reason that one year back we were still freezing in our breeches in august.
Because there is something magical about sevens. I entered with a friend of mine and we grabbed a six pack each of beer. I put them in my bag, a backpack that I carry everywhere now because convenience tramps all. We went to watch one match, well just to see what was happening inside. The crowds were suffocating but happy. The sun reached down and gave everyone the jollies or maybe it was the alcohol. The crowd demanded single filing and still you had to walk sideways to knife yourself through it. The noise just ballooned and ballooned. On the sevens website they had claimed that it would hold almost 20,000 people. I have no idea how to estimate the size of a crowd but Nyayo Stadium was full. Almost all the seats were taken. And it’s nice to see a full stadium in Kenya. I kept looking around dazed by all these people. In the middle of so much life. There’s a part in the bible where it says where 2 or 3 are gathered… there I shall be (I heretically paraphrased and condensed that quote because otherwise it would fail to make the next point.) now imagine how much more of something divine there is in a gathering of people so huge. In a movie I once watched, Before Sunrise, one of the characters says that she believes God lives in the space between people. This may be true and can you imagine how much space there was between so many people. Not the unconquerable gulf that exists between two people no matter how close but the striving for closeness. For laughter, for pleasure, for something no matter how short lived or superficial .People laughing and talking, drinking and reminiscing. A mass of people that looked like a sea of milk if milk was made of all the colours of the fabrics playing down there. I love this kind of thing; sometimes it's easier to find yourself when you are in the middle of a crowd. This could have been the omen of downtown.
Then there were the moments of serendipity. The crowd I have described was vast and that was when most of them were in the stadium proper and a good number in the grounds with the bar and such other important distractions. When the last game (also the first game in my mind) ended they were all belched into the entertainment area. And thousands of people streamed out in the beginning twilight. There were floodlights switched on, huge Sauron-like eyes of white and like the way he always found the ring it was promised to us to find everyone we knew. You see sevens for me has always been, always since I began going, a high school reunion. I know I will find the old boys as alumni are called arrayed there in force and run into each other we did. Everywhere like magnets were attached to us. In the lines streaming out I fell in with a crowd of them and we exchanged all the information that has become magically interesting once again because what people are doing with their lives post education is always much more interesting than while they were in university.
Then it hit me that I was now alum of two educational institutes when I was hit by someone from law school. This was much more surprising since I didn’t really expect this to happen and there standing in a circle was the biggest group of my former classmates I have seen in a while(ok since graduation.) this state of serendipity is much more astonishing when you consider how many people there were there. How much space there was to spread out in and somehow I found classmates both from university and high school feet from each other.
Now the night air was driving away the heat and the chaos of the day. There was still noise, music blaring and the rising murmur of drunken talk, but in some moments you don’t really hear it. In those moments when you run into someone you hadn’t seen in a while someone who you didn’t really realise how much you missed until you didn’t anymore. In those moments when memories of affection and time spent overpower the present it feels like for a 5 metre radius there is only silence.