I have a tradition, every year on my birthday at exactly 9:30 a.m. which is the time written on my birth certificate as my entry into this world I go out and I look at the sun. It’s been a year so the sun god is at exactly the same place as the last time I gave him a nod. I let him know that I am still down here and that I appreciate the fact that he is still up there steering his steeds like the world depends on it. Well, at least I lie about it. Except for this year, this year I did it.
This year I managed to do a lot of things that I really wanted to do. I also managed to fail at a lot of other things that I thought would make me happy. I am nowhere near the place I was last year which was halfway around the world in so many ways and yet I feel strangely at ease. I know I shouldn’t and I know I shouldn’t because my faith in the world is shaken to the core with each passing day. My relationship with truth and memory and especially the reality of things that have already happened or are said to have happened is shifting all the time. Case in point today is my birthday but it wasn’t always this way. For the first 14 years of my life my birthday was on the 21st of June. That’s when I ate cake, that’s when I felt entitled and as is the wont of every middle child in the world when I felt neglected. Then I had to produce my birth certificate to register for KCPE and there in cold, hard print was the date printed, 22nd June.
That I guess is the first time I made the choice to trust an anonymous stranger because he had the power to write words on paper rather than my gut feeling and the words of those who nurtured and loved me. An anonymous stranger who I later found out also made a spelling mistake when writing my name down. Why did I think without questioning it that my parents were wrong and random hospital staff number 67382 was right about my birthday? I have no idea but then we have the ability all our lives to trust anything as long as its black on white page, I mean look at the bible.
If this wasn’t true though how much is. If my whole life started as a series of mistakes where what my parents wanted as my name isn’t what I got and what they remembered as my birthday isn’t what I celebrate can you imagine how much more of the things that I took for granted and believed aren’t real. By all accounts 25 was a very bad year. There is a litany of sorrows that followed me around. There was the time I cracked my tooth and the times that the girls I cared about left me in such unceremonious ways that the doom I knew was coming still shook me and left me unsteady. There was the bag that was stolen from me unceremoniously 2 nights ago and the horrible cough that’s shaking my body now. There was a time I woke up in a sewer convinced that someone had tried to kill me and there was a death and the periods of depression that went with these two that were some of the worst ways I have ever felt. But, hey I can go for walks now, long, long walks around Nairobi. Walks that I have come to love and represent a major part of what I do just to do. I can still read wonderful books and, hopefully, my writing is getting better. I can still get excited about women in a way that seems high school but feels wonderful and I daily realise the beauty that can be found in a simple conversation. So I’m happy. Bad things happened but I can’t say that it was a bad year.
I am getting older though and more and more my thoughts turn to death and what comes afterwards if anything at all. A lot of people avoid it but I can’t it’s just not in me anymore to deny the truth of this inevitability. In Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie wrote that we all owe death a life. We do. This week I dropped off before I got to the stage at night because Kileleshwa changes so much if you don’t walk around it you can never hope to know it. There is this road that’s crowned by trees on both sides. Some of the lights are on and the milk of the stars was dripping into it. There was just enough light to pierce the darkness and I remember thinking that this is what eternity must be like. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, just a tunnel. A long, long tunnel with enough illumination that you can pick your way through it and enough light that you can see there is still a long, long way down it. You begin walking and you walk and you walk and you walk and still nothing. You keep walking because all of us are cursed with the worst thing to get out of Pandora’s Box, hope. With this you tell yourself that in just a few more kilometres, another century, a million millennia you will come to the end of this and so you trudge on. Your shoes wear out and the stones begin to prick your feet. Every step is a hobble of incredible pain but you are at a point where you welcome the pain. You like it because it takes your mind off of the crushing loneliness that envelops you at this point, a loneliness born of regret and sadness and the loss of all you loved. That’s one version of hell, the other is the place we live in I can be happy in it but there is a part of me that know is I shouldn’t be.
On less philosophical things I have become more Kenyan this year than I have ever been in my life. This comes with all the good things and the bad things that this means. It means when I buy a packet of crisps it feels better to eat 5 of them and give 5 other people 4 each than to wolf down the whole packet. It means, at least for me that feelings of patriotism are being stirred within me, feelings of wholesale love for a country that might finally begin taking shape. It means that I have the ability to laugh at the absurdity of what’s going on in the world. It also means that I am losing more and more my faith in change. I always knew that MPs would get that pay rise. Well, not really but I saw it as different battle lines than most people did. It was not a war between the leaders and their people but between the executive and their legislature and the executive was neutered.
It also means that I can forget what happens. I can say with a fierceness that sometimes shocks me that my president is not going to the ICC, not my deputy president. The symbols and office of power have cloaked then with an immensity that is huge, too big to get over and it is now possible for me to forget that they are people. That the ones who died were people too and that maybe justice is deserved more than peace. But it means that I still walk around with the scars of what happened last time. Scars so deep that we all think it was our fault and to make sure we don’t go back down that road we will sacrifice anything. We will forget justice and we will forget truth as long as we have peace. I don’t know what the best of these is but we’ve never really had justice in this country. When we had truth without peace I felt like I was being torn apart. As a result when Raila lost and it destroyed me I didn’t give myself a mourning period. What I did instead was what I wished the whole country would do, put the whole thing behind me and face the future. The truth was I thought that a mourning period would be a bad thing and it’s upon all of us to act as we wish others would so I did. A few months later and now we can return to truth. We can say that the election had all of these irregularities and that maybe Uhuru shouldn’t have won. But with the clarity of distance from emotion I feel that he should be president.
And I lost faith in Obama, him with his drones and foreign policy and assassinations and spying. I think a lot of people my age were defined by their faith in this guy and then he went and sold us down the river. But that’s life. You live, you learn and you learn to live with disappointment. The story of everyone’s life is one of heartbreaks and we lurch from one to the next so convincingly, so sure that the last time was the last time because we never learn. Memory becomes something else and as long as we can ascribe it with meaning our lives won’t be purposeless. I love being born on the 22nd because it means I am a child of the summer solstice. That longest day of the year in some places. Its strange this date change because as long as I listened to love I was cloaked with anonymity but when I took the hard print of strangers into my life it suddenly became powerful.
This has been a weird rambling post I know. Nothing about the future and where that will take me. I have no idea. All I do know is I‘ll be doing something different next year and the year after that. That’s enough for me. I don’t need to pierce the fog I can live with it. I love uncertainty and roads that end up in places you never though they would.