On 12th May 2018, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the National Tree Planting Day under the slogan “Panda Miti, Penda Kenya”. It was another of those Jubilee-ese slogans that ring hollow. The event took place in Kamkunji sub-county at the Moi Forces Academy in the Eastlands part of Nairobi. This was the government’s knee-jerk response to the heavy long rains season that sparked an environmental crisis around the country. There were 32 counties affected and over 300,000 Kenyans were displaced. In his official speech, the President repeated the familiar pledge to achieve at least ten per cent forest cover, as required by the constitution, and to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Ojuala is a ball made of strips of compacted plastic bags and held together by interwoven sisal rope. These balls were well crafted. They bounced off walls and let out a resounding thud when they connected with a striking foot. Young boys reused and recycled in the days of scarcity and kicked ojuala balls around Nairobi estate roads back when Maradona was the big name in football. Plastic bags were not the standard fare in the 70s and 80s. Supermarkets packed sugar in brown bags, chips was served on square strips of plain paper and meat was wrapped in newspaper. Hence the phrase, “Gazeti ni ya kufunga nyama”.
There was an acquaintance I used to know. He was a friend of a friend who I tolerated because I try not to impose limitations on the friends of my friend, especially when he is the host. But I had issues with this chap because he seemed to get a kick out of the shock value from guests who wondered why a burly man with the demeanour of Santa Klaus had to be so lewd. He was basically vulgar. Every second line had some sexual innuendo and he was forgiven because it was seen as a bland attempt at humour. In those social circles he was dismissed as ‘naughty’ even though he was more of the creepy uncle who unconsciously scratches a persistent itch in his nether regions in a middle a family funeral committee gathering.
In the early 90s, I had my first encounter with the unique private taxis of Kisumu known as Kondelez. The name is derived from Kondele which is Kisumu’s version of Soweto township in Johannesburg during the struggle for liberation, the epi-centre of the country’s socio political unrest, second only to Kibera in Nairobi. The taxis would ply from the town centre to Kondele-Carwash and back.
The Kakamega road was potholed and narrow. The taxis, were beat up Peugeot 404 saloons, commonly referred to as “opija”. Passengers would be squashed into them like potatoes in a sack. Five passengers in the back seat plus a tout who practically had his upper torso sticking out of the window. Oddly, looking out for more passengers. Four people would occupy the front seats and the driver usually had only enough leg room to work the pedal. The passenger seated next to him would sometimes be charged with making the gear shift. “Omera!, Rwak ane namba ariyo kanyo” ( My man, engage the second gear).
The last two months have seen Kenyans conduct a long running public debate on rain. El Nino has had the same traction as Obama’s homecoming. It is every third discussion topic after, “The latest (fill the blank) financial scandal and Governor Kidero’s never ending Nairobi county challenges”. Nairobians have been anticipating rain (read inconvenience) for weeks and the anticipation has turned everyone into a weatherman, peering into the skies at grey laden clouds searching for clues. Rain and El Nino are now identical words. Children of this generation will grow up reducing the El Nino phenomenon to long rains preceded by panic. Much like young people born in the 90s who grew up believing former AG. Amos Wako’s first names were Attorney and General.
I love the rain and not in the cheesy “I want to sing in the rain” way. The smell of earth moments after a downpour is one of my favourite natural scents. It conjures up pleasant memories of a time when parents expected healthy kids to be out kicking ball in the rain. My affiliation with water from above has more to do with practical stuff like planting trees and raising farm crops. For any struggling amateur farmer, the cycle of nature is invariably linked to bottom-line figures. Years of subsistence rain-fed agriculture taught me to appreciate rainfall.