Dying To Go Shags

 The word shags is one of those few slang words that has endured from the 80s. It really should be in the sheng graveyard alongside words like Sonyi  and Wuch from its era. I guess it holds a lot of sentimental value for many Kenyans.  Shags is where the grandparents live, where your parents refuse to go after retirement and from where they emigrated to the cities to raise uppity kids who suffer from a culture shock every time they are forced to return to their roots. Indeed, the Kenyan dream resides in the city where we are programmed to keep reaching for the next rung on the prosperity ladder.

Whenever my former colleague Biko ( calls, he consistently starts the conversation with, “So how’s shags?” His tone betrays a touch of concern. He refuses to let me off with a nonchalant response such as “Shags is good”.  He prods. He wants details. I typically share the routine stuff because living on a farm can be a very hands on experience.

Days can get quite engaging. Talk of dumb sheep tangled in ropes that need my attention. A vet who was supposed to show up two days earlier to vaccinate the chicken has me worried.  A sudden disease outbreak brought about by the two roadside chickens I thought I got for a good bargain is spreading like bird flu and threatening to wipe out my stock. Meanwhile the cow needs a stronger tether. Second time in a week it has strayed into the shamba and mowed down strips of green maize. Both times, a case of negligence, from an absent minded herder sneaking off again to the shops 3kms away to buy a Bamba kumi scratch card. As you can imagine, the shags life has it highlights.

I was that kid always eager to go shags during the school holidays because it represented a space for endless adventure. I had imagined that it would be greatly fulfilling to live and work out of shags but that desire felt whimsy. However after years of wishful thinking I was jolted into action by events beyond my control. Life basically happened while I was making career plans that would ‘move me to the next level’.

My turning point happened on Tuesday 19th October 2010. It was a beautiful day to be on the motorbike, a Yamaha 750 XTZ even though I was having a day from hell. I had no money and my fuel gauge was reading red. I rode all the way to Langata to find my client had conveniently forgotten we had an appointment. On my way back to Lavington through State House road, I noticed a driver in a Toyota Hilux pick up truck staying a bit too close to my tail. I figured he was another of those arrogant drivers seeking a speed duel with guys on big bikes. As we swung around the bend past the president’s residence, I turned on some gas to get breathing room from the guy sniffing my tail. I realized too late that the car infront of me had come to an abrupt stop. On one end was a raised curb that would catapult me straight to the Statehouse fence and on the other side of the road, an oncoming lorry. I instinctively hit the brakes and in that instance got bumped from behind.

The impact knocked me off the bike onto the path of a speeding car trying to skid to a halt. I took a smash like a train and found myself logged under the sump guard of a pick-up truck. Someone one had the good sense to ask the driver to reverse off me.

Lying flat on the tarmac on Statehouse road, I was actually surprised that I was still alive as I did not register any pain on impact. My only recollection was a deafening bang and white light (the famous white light). It did not lead up a tunnel with a stairway, no hark angel voices came from above, nothing expect a clear conscious pondering, “Is this how I die?”

It promptly hit me that when the body is trouble, the spirit can be very quick to move on. I tried to move but I was frozen. Around me, good Samaritans were tagging at my feet threatening to dislocate my limbs almost choking me as they tried to unfasten my helmet.

Then an angel appeared, a Kenyan mzungu biker called Simon Cox who just happened to be riding through and had previously survived a motorcycle accident.  Simon took charge and immediately diagnosed that I was lucid

“Are you ok?”

Like the typical macho type I replied,

“Yap, just my back killing me. Turn me over”.

He helped move into a fetal position that allowed me to breathe more easily. I took several deep breaths, sucking as much life as I could into my paralyzed body. The next thing I asked Simon was, “How is she doing?” he reassured he had my bike was not badly damaged and I found that hard to believe. I heard someone shout, “Call an ambulance!” and  instructed Simon to get my phone out of my pocket that mysteriously did not crack and scroll down to the name Dorothy, a doctor at the Aga Khan hospital.

“She will know what to do”.

Enter the second angel. Simon called Dorothy using my phone and just laid it out, “Oyunga is lying on the tarmac and says you are doctor. He needs urgent attention”. There was a traffic jam building on Statehouse road as I could not be moved until the medics showed up. I had become another statistic of why it is nuts to ride a bike in Nairobi. The ambulance appeared within 10 minutes. Before I was lifted into the vehicle I turned to Simon to thank him and he assured me for the umpteenth time that my bike would be safe. I was rushed to the emergency unit with siren blaring where I found a friend waiting. Tears of gratitude flowed for it would have probably been a very different story if I had landed in Kenyatta hospital’s casualty wing.  I had an ugly flesh wound that nearly ringed my waist. The miracle was that I did not break a single bone despite being run over literally. This is a strong testament to the fact that proper gear will save your life. I was discharged that same evening to be nursed back to health by my sister and concerned friends who have since forced me to sell my motorbike.  It would take a month for the flesh wounds to heal and another month before I could climb stairs without grimacing.

I would need a place to slow down and let the body recuperate and where I could be fussed over.  It was an easy choice. As soon as I could drive, I hit the road to the place I called shags.

It is now one 1year and seven months since that move. I am a permanent resident in Sinaga village, East Gem, Siaya county. I live out in a farm eking a living, trying to make an honest buck and like all new ventures it comes with its fair set of challenges.

Some have asked whether I was angling for political position? As the educated one, it is assumed that I must have some advantages. I know in some counties in this country, a university degree might be a big deal and little professional clout has its perks. But in Gem a degree only means you went to school. You need at least a doctorate to even claim you are educated.  I hope to build a greenhouse and make a lot of money selling fresh produce in Europe now that Kisumu has an international airport.  Meanwhile, I continue to churn out stories and strive to live a balanced life and make a meaningful contribution to society.

As a jaded city sleeker who finally got it, sometimes it is better to a field rat than a mouse working a wheel. There is life outside Nairobi. Ultimately, shags is what one makes it. The important thing is not who we are and how much money we make but rather what we spend our time on earth doing because our lives are not limitless.

Oyunga Pala is a Kenyan newspaper columnist. The blog examines the texture of everyday Kenyan life and the challenges of modernity and disillusion. The writings commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity in contemporary society.


  1. Wabe.

    About a month ago I was seriously considering moving. City life is not for all. Got me thinking again.

    Great to see you found a way to keep at it. You really did have an honest following on mantalk though I must admit, you messed me up once or twice thinking your advice was the gospel truth. Lol

    • Wabe Jo!

      It is the trouble with working with words and sometimes we succumb to our own hype. Live and learn and don’t forget, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

  2. Hi O.P,
    Nice to read from you again, I do not always agree with what you write but you always make a good read.
    I hope you really do enjoy ‘Shags’? I am not in Nairobi anymore too but i am not in shags.. I am in a cosmopolitan city with less the madness of Nairobi. I agree with you, its nice being out of there.

  3. I am glad to have you back, slightly bruised but nonetheless back.
    Pole for your injuries, glad to hear you’re doing well.

    I took the therapeutic break in shags once upon a was good for me, but I soon realized I’m a city girl. The same might not apply to you… you sound like you’re having fun chasing vets and chicken.

    Once again, welcome back. 🙂

  4. You are a man after my own heart. I would give up city life (Washington, DC), a vibrant and successful career, and America’s bright lights for simple village life. I can’t up and leave though, because the one thing I can not leave behind, my Man, does not share my dream! So enjoy shags for all of us who dream it and see it but can’t grasp it.

  5. when you mentioned shags, I got fantastical visions of beautiful vistas, clean air, tranquility and lazy days…then you started on the hands-on experiences and I was transported back to my school days, where farm chores were handed out as punishment…poof went my visions. I love the feeling of both truth be told. The City pace & chaos sometimes leaves me feeling beautifully on edge and the Shags experience is soothing…

  6. I still insist that Gem is not shags. We have that area next to Sagam hospital that my parents fondly refer to as the Muthaigi of Gem. The bypass from Nyagondo to Ng’iya market through Ulamba is almost complete, the murram being firmed up. Across Sawagongo on the other side, Yala is holding fort and the tarmac road from Ndori to Ng’iya is almost complete. I heard rumours about a supermarket as I passed Wagai last weekend. Mavoko has nothing on Gem! Hehehe

  7. Great read!
    However, you need to make your paragraphs shorter. I can see that you are making an effort in this post but your last posts had very long paragraphs.
    Don’t give up the fight .

  8. Oyunga Pala! What a pleasure to have your writings at our disposal. I found out from BikoZulu that your website is up! ..And good to know you are still alive 🙂

  9. This is amazing. Breath of fresh air.

  10. Oyunga, I’m so happy you’re still writing (thanks to Biko). I grew up reading mantalk religiously and I always had dreams of meeting you and writing like you someday. Glad to hear your well. I say all the time ni athi dok dala but that’s easier said than done.
    You describe a very idyllic lifestyle, one with a lot less stress than this city life. Anyway, maybe one day I’ll make that switch.
    Be Well

    • Ogola, thanks. It is also nice to reconnect. About stepping away from a comfort zone…thoughts are powerful, keep them in mind and one day they will manifest into reality. Remember what they say, be careful what you wish for.

  11. Good to find you here. Hubby will be excited as we had missed u. hehhee

  12. Shags sounds good to you OP, it’s serene and no hustles like the city, but there is just away shags scare me, i always feel like it could bore me stiff, like i could really struggle to fit. Maybe someday it may interest me, meanwhile keep well and keep writing and connecting to us

  13. I picked up the link from Biko’s website and am already loving this. Keep writing bro, I hope now you believe there is a God after surviving that accident. About shags life, I completely feel you, I grew up there, I could go back in a minute if I figured out how to make money!

  14. I am privileged to know your spirit…you inspire me to be. Just be…wherever, whenever, BE.

  15. Awesome website you have here but I was curious about if you knew of any user discussion forums that cover the same topics discussed in this article? I’d really love to be a part of community where I can get advice from other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Bless you!

  16. Goodstuff O.P.
    Just wondering… Is it okay to call you “mshamba” now that you’re “permanently” based in shagz? Seriously, keep writing man. You’re an inspirational many. My self included.

  17. Way to go OP. Going through mid-life crisis and was having thoughts of buying a bike…….guess I won’t now…….Cheers

  18. NotsoAnon

    My brotha you broke the first rule of tailgating, never speed up to escape; as an avid biker, wrecking is my biggest fear. Glad you got away with only a few scratches!

    • Tell me about it, experience is the best teacher and Nairobi motorists can be mean to bikers.

  19. Great works Oyunga, keep going!

  20. I have always dreamed of shags, a place to go and find peace because of the fresh air, am sure one day my dream will come true too just like yours….am much looking forward to it now that there is electricity in the rural areas

  21. Anonymous

    Greetings! I’ve been following your blog for some time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Kingwood Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the good work!

  22. jeffsayz

    Nice to have you back dude.You have a nice way with words:Do what you know,right? I’m glad you are okay.

  23. Nyar Yimbo

    State House. 2004. You must hang in there to win the damn nobel!! Great to read you again.

  24. Hi there ex-mate,

    Like the elephant that you are (big in spirit), you went back to your birth place; continued pulling strings from there…just like in the old days. I’m happy for you chief; of course will give you a shout when I pass by your shags for a simple drink.

    I’m quite disappointed though that you sold the bike without letting me know, though you didn’t give me a chance to ride her, I really did admire her; maybe you should get yourself a 250cc just to keep up your spirit.

    Keep writing chief!

  25. I am not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens. DJ Nunta

  26. Joshua Kerrigan

    This is a great post, I think you should turn it into a 2 or 3 part series.

  27. But in Gem a degree only means you went to school. You need at least a doctorate to even claim you are educated…… true, I think we Luos are like the people who place a premium on education.In my case I was told I will read and go to school until there is nothing left.So to being the next professor. cheers keep writing

  28. Joy Anyango

    Funny how people generally feel that one cannot make it in shags especially after living in the city for decades. the first question they should be asked is; ‘Where does the food they eat come from?’ Certainly not from the tarmac in the concrete jungles we call towns. Those who live in shags do have a life, and a more wholesome one at that. With the fresh air, fresh food, peace and quiet, I believe they are better placed than city dwellers. I for one would love to live in a farm.

  29. Hi there OP, Your article was an interesting mix of humour, reality and also inspirational the ‘gweno’ ( chicken) incident got me laughing. My perception of ‘shags’ has always been mixed more so leaning on the nostalgic angle & the proverbial final rest station.
    You got me thinking to look at ‘shags’ in a different light as a home or rather a second home devoid of the urban middle class Kenyan’s perception of the shags life. ‘ Then an angel appeared a Kenyan mzungu called Simon Cox…….’ LOL!!! No pun intended you had an encounter with a white angel

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