The Interview

I got a message from Biko, late last week, “How are things?”

Kenyans have this unique ability to minimize issues. A man could be calling to deliver the tragic news of his own mother’s passing but that won’t stop him from starting the conversation with “Sema, how are things?”

I knew something was up so I asked him to cut to the chase.  Biko wanted me for an interview and it had to be the next day. Biko has been having these anxiety attacks over turning 40 and had launched into an introspective journey, talking to people who had crossed into their 40s in search of his version of the 48 ways to manage your 40s without the midlife crisis.

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 (www.bikozulu.co.ke) 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.