By JJ Moriasi
No one is looking at me. No one is looking at all. I am walking without attracting any sort of attention. It is a busy street. I am brushing shoulders with other pedestrians who are coming from all directions. I begin looking at them, the men dressed in suits on their way to some office, girls boasting their wardrobes, as they are dressed in the latest of fashion, kids in uniform on their way home from school, my head turns left and right to see if even one person bothers me there. No one is. Everyone is minding their own business.
I look at the cyclists, drivers and passengers on the road adjacent to the pavement I am walking on, no one looks at me; no one at all. I reduce my pace to come to terms with what is going on. I feel like I am invisible, like I am there but not there physically. I slow down even further. A smile on my face begins to develop. I look up, the tall buildings tower above me, their windows shinning and reflecting the sun’s light. The white scattered clouds move slowly on the blue sky. It is quite a bright day. Everyone is out and the city is buzzing with life. Motorists steer right to left, traffic officers lift and wave their hands aiding the traffic lights that change colors trying to give order to the crowded city. Vendors sell their merchandise, city council men empty trash cans, kids hold tightly to their parent’s hands for the city is merciless, police patrol the streets to keep us safe, beggars and vagabonds are there too, to get their fair share of the jungle made of bricks that is Nairobi. It is only when some delivery guy rushing with food in his hands hit me that I realize all this time I am standing in the middle of the street.
I turn round and round coming to terms with the fact that I am in Nairobi, the city I was born in and not Istanbul. My skin color is not attracting unwarranted attention. My hair is the least of concerns to anyone. I feel like I can lift my hands into the sky and shout; the joy of being home after a while. I have not been feeling this free for such a long time. I am feeling weightless, like I can fly, itâ€™s as if all the eyes back in Istanbul adds weight to my body and holds me down to the ground.
I am smiling from ear to ear. I looked at the passers-by again and despite my exhilarated state I am still attracting insignificant attention. This time I just look down to confirm I am not floating. What a feeling this is. I once again look at the other Nairobians; do they know how I feel? Are they aware of the joy I have for standing there? Do they know how beautiful a country they have, with such beautiful people? Do they show each other love like they were supposed to or any interaction was another chance to vent out piled up anger? Do they appreciate their homeland or take their country for granted because the busy city lifestyle makes them forget that they have a place they called their home, a place and a language they called their own?
It is always good to learn as many languages as you can. However much I am happy to have learned Turkish, it still has its disadvantages. I am tired of hearing and understanding what people are saying to each other. Everywhere I go to in Istanbul; most of the people are speaking in Turkish. I hear stuff I would normally not want to hear; from a domestic fight of an unsatisfied wife to the multi-million Lira business deals of a rich man. In elevators, while guys cling onto their girls like lions on their captured but yet to die prey, the cheap talk they give and the stupid answers they receive. In school corridors and canteens, classmates speaking of their yester night experience at the club with people you would rather not mention. In the cafe next to my favorite shop, old men complain about the government, its policies and affiliation to some religious cult. And probably the worst of all depending on my mood, the stupid gossip of me right in my presence. I have to endure all this because most Turks only speak Turkish.
Not that it is a bad thing to speak a common language; it is just that sometimes you don’t want to hear some things. But here I am, in the middle of a big city, millions of people from all walks of life, many speaking in different languages; of the forty two indigenous, I only speak one. However, we all share the easy to the tongue and pleasant to the ear Swahili. The rest of the languages help me reduce excess baggage that came from unnecessary information. I am now walking in the street, seating in the bus, drinking my coffee in the cafe with a highly reduced probability of me hearing a husband saying he was still at work, a daughter saying she was in the school canteen and a lot of nonsense that will mess with the serenity of my thoughts.
I am wearing a light T-shirt. The weather is wonderful. It is neither too hold nor too cold. I am not sweating like I was the day before in Taksim square on my way to Havatas. Maybe, because unlike everyone, else I was walking. Most of the people on the square stood still. It was quite weird, but the excitement of going home made me not bother. It was summer time when I left, the blazing heat kept students indoors till late in the afternoon, when they were already too lazy to leave the house. They would prefer to watch TV series and movies till the sun rose again the following morning. This was summer time. Winter also kept us indoors because of the cold. I remember how I was so much hyped about snow, only to realize it got dirty, did not always remain white, turned to ice or melted away, you could not play with it for a long time and it came with a very biting cold. For the first time, a grown up man like me was wearing pants inside my pants! And not just for a day, for months on end until the sun decided to come back. How I dressed was more controlled by the temperature rather than what I felt like.
I board a matatu on my way home and another passenger sits next to me. He is sure going from a place to another, he sure has a sad and a happy story to tell, he sure has a father and a mother, he sure breaths air and eats food, he sure has things to do and a life to live, he sure has issues to solve, he sure wants peace of mind, he either beliefs in a some god or not. I look at him; I try to be curious about him and his life. What about him could make me break the ice? I think for a while and nothing comes to mind. So I sit there looking ahead as the matatu speeds on the busy street, sipping on the bottle of pineapple juice I have in my hands. I slowly drink it, closing my eyes, letting its cold refreshing taste take its time on my tongue and down the throat to enjoy its every milliliter, for I had seriously missed it.
After a while the guy turns to me and says “You sure do love pineapple juice, I prefer passion fruit.” I smile and tell him how I think mango juice is better than all the rest. Our talk continues for minutes jumping from topic to topic until he alights. I bid him farewell and wish him a nice day. After he is gone is when I realize, neither him nor me asked the other personal questions. We had a good time talking without even telling names. It then hits me, that I was slowly starting to forget being social without getting intrusive. I get a good reminder that most Kenyan’s would ask names at the end of the talk; that is, if you were interesting enough for them to want to remember and probably want to see you again. Casual talk is a common thing and not some interview.
The driver, matatu touts and young men speak in a slung called sheng, that I was well conversant with, but even a month away from it could have you lost in a conversation. With many months away, I am seriously lost. I will need a few weeks to get back on track, so I stick to my fluent Swahili that everyone would understand. It is sure great to be back home after a while. To have no one looking at me because I look different, no one concern about my religious beliefs, no one too curious about my dad’s salary, number of siblings or the nationality of the girl I would marry. To have an engaging conversation, without even mentioning my name, to hear but not understand the visibly angry lady’s talk on the phone, to see people happily talking in a language I did not understand. To know my favorite meal was just a walk to the kitchen away and not the careless mishandling of luggage by an underpaid baggage handler at a terminal in some Arabic country.
To be reminded blood is thicker than water. To be reminded that you really don’t have to spend time or money to be loved. To be reminded all we have and work for makes no sense if you do not have a people to share with. To be reminded not to forget to rememberâ€¦. East or West, North or South, home is better than all the rest.
To read JJ Moriasi’s stories and experiences visit his blog