FOREWARNING: If your gut tells you you’re about to experience a saucy poetic piece in any way whatsoever similar to part one’s, you’re on the wrong flight. Pardon me in advance people. This is flight (insert any recent M-Pesa code) direct to Gossip City!! Welcome aboard J (Btw did you know the M-Pesa codes are not random number thrown around?)
First things first, if you’ve ever mailed me back in high school and told me to “salimia backbenchers” just know that I have never forgiven you.
Number two, Chelsea won the premier league and I’m not happy about it. Three, Kenyans are busy discussing the age at which kids should be allowed to own mobile phones. Yeah, diaspora guys, it’s a national debate. True story. Don’t I just love being Kenyan! If you asked me, I would say we should also discuss the age at which kids should be allowed to stand on balconies or own ropes for hanging themselves. I think these are the real causes of suicide, to be honest. But you haven’t asked me, so I won’t say it.
Sometimes I wish we had a national exam for promoting people to the next country. Like, we have a curriculum for being Kenyan (composed largely of how to perfect corruption techniques) then we have an exam at the end of, say, five years then we are promoted to Tanzania or something.
On to matters of less importance, which so happens to be my main story today, now.
“Wildest Dreams” by Taylor Swift is playing in the background as I enter the room. It’s my first time on the internet in like two months. Feels like it’s been forever though. The past two months have been the epitome of physical and metal exertion like I’ve never seen before in my life. If you’d told me at the beginning of this year (in a party I’d been dragged to by my brother) that I’d ever find myself in the Kenya Defence Forces cadet school, I’d have probably shot you dead. The other option would have been that I would have dropped dead at the prospect of so high a calling…but here I was people.
The two months of close to inhumane activity have taken their toll on me that I have almost forgotten my sim card’s PIN number. Oh, when I mean close to inhumane activity, I’m not talking about within the borders of humane. It’s on the outside. At any point in the training, inhumane would be, to us, considered a holiday. You really don’t have to believe me anyway so yeah.
The beauty of having someone on the inside is that I have been getting the rare opportunity of communicating with a few of those outside, however rarely. I have been intelligent enough not to call my parents though. I stare at my phone for the first time in two months and it looks exactly as I left it. Nothing has changed. My screen protector has partially peeled off on the top left corner like it was in February.
My mind is lacking in options of what to do with the gadget in my hands. It’s on Sunday and both my parents’ phones have been switched off. My inside man has sneaked me into the phone room for “extra duty” that should keep me here “working” for at least one-and-a-half hours. I try Temple Run and it does not evoke as much adrenaline rush as it used to. I scroll through instagram and notice nothing new really. I want to post a ridiculous photo of me in a navy blue “ngwati short” and a dusty grey t-shirt but I know better. YouTube tells me Kendrick Lamar dropped a new album and I honestly don’t like it that much. Ed Sheeran’s is lit!! Nothing new from Jermaine though. I log in to facebook and catch up on recent blog posts by the other three writers. I also notice it’s been changed to two. I realize one subtraction must be me and really pray everybody else is alive.
It’s interesting how they tried to answer the mystery behind my whereabouts, going as far as I went to India for a facial reconstruction. Oh lord! Were there really no other noteworthy things to say about me? Like, I’ve gotten over my phobia of heights, I learnt how to swim even in muddy water and I can handle the recoil of an M-16 against my shoulder, although it hurts every time but pain is an enemy we’ve learnt to keep closer than our friends. I have learnt the art of shaving using a knife and how to go with one meal and hope a day, not without an impact on my body weight though. I have learnt how to gain strength without accumulating muscle to attain a perfect balance between agility and power.
I realise a friend of mine was knocked down by a car and passed away. It stings me as I try to relive the memories we had together. I remember a day we played prefects’ soccer in high school and he scored a goal from the centre of the pitch. I had given the assist and I was more excited than him actually.
Three weeks’ experience with weapons of mass destruction gives an insight into how flimsy this body is. Few things shake you when you witness your friend drop breathless in a 60 kilometre trek in the wilderness with a log of wood on her back. She doesn’t come back and no one tells you what became of her. Even worse, you can’t ask. The chain of command is stronger here than the chains that bound Kunta Kinte to his name in that infamous flogging.
When training is the real deal, rehearsals could very well mean your life and the only thing standing between you and the other side from the front is you. At your back is a completely random person whose name you’ll be lucky to know. A stranger guarding your back in a crossfire and you know you have to guard his, because to get to him, a bullet will have to go through you first. I have always been clumsy with hearts but never really fancied the prospect of gambling with my own.
Deadlines for projects here mean as close to literally as they can. Three seconds to change a round of ammunition could be the only reason you sleep on your bed and not the infirmary. Sometimes you weigh between which of the two types of discomfort you would take- a flogging or a late night and early morning of uncertainties. Problem is, the flogging too, here, is uncertain. You could take an intentional fall to skip jungle march drills the next day and they postpone your flogging. I have a friend who has a pending flogging and it drowns him in thought so much we are never sure he will survive another day at training. You certainly don’t want to be drawn with him as partners in a shoot-out.
While here, you learn to live life everyday but forget to live everyday life. The challenge is staying mentally strong even when your body has given up and pain is the only emotion you crave anymore. To stay prepared and knowing that it can always get worse but it is worth it as long as you’re alive at the end of the day. That you gather at night in whatever it is you’re sleeping in/on and laugh at how you could have died that day. you try as hard as you could to estimate the date and what could be happening outside the mortal walls you have created for each other meaning for them to be impenetrable by whatever may be thrown your way. To some of us musical enough, we lead the rest in singing songs this exercise has not managed to delete from our consciousness. We stand and dance Lipala, our strongest shoulders aching against the weight of our backpacks and guns that we have learnt to hold dearly to us as if they mean the difference between laughing one moment and laying breathless on the dirt the next, because it is.
On nights like this, I think of the people for whom we brave these cold nights. I think of a nation sharing in problems much deeper than the ones we fight against. I think of the enemies from outside at whose hands we lose our men every dawn. I compare them to the enemies we left behind us who account for more deaths than those whose caves we rush into, never to come out. I think of the young man who tried the recruitment four times and was successful on his fifth but never got to enjoy his second salary and for what? For people back home to have the freedom to kill each other on the basis of tribal inclinations? For leaders to safely embezzle cash to use to bribe us to vote them back because that’s the only language we listen to?
On nights like this, I want to speak to every person out there. I want to go back in time and take back all the nasty things I ever said about people who hailed not from where I did. I want to make a video of the things we brave for you free Kenyans out there. I want to make a monthly bill and let you know just how expensive peace is. That for you to sleep in your bed tonight, someone’s son, husband and dad is out in the wild, happy that he is breathing, albeit dusty, cold air. The laughter that rises like sparking embers from the fire that we bleed from our hearts for the souls of tomorrow; low, slow, distant, a sacrifice to the gods above hoping they’ll hear us one last time, everyday. Just enough to keep us alive one more day. Tomorrow is a gift, best used in any way rather than remind fellow Kenyans that someone’s worth is eternally tied to his or her second name. For tonightwe close our eyes, having made peace with the fact that it could the last time we do so.
On nights like this, I feel like this country is not worth my sacrifice anymore. I feel like however much we give our lives to prevent its destruction, it will still find ways to destroy itself anyway. On nights like this, I think it must be so great to feel so safe that we have to invent new ways of putting ourselves in danger. On nights like this, I feel like this insecurity could have done us better. Isn’t it beautiful how we all come together to mourn when tragedy strikes? Why, then do we bring up our children to believe that our tribes are no longer pleasant enough to die for, but terrible enough to kill for?
On nights like this, I want to drag each one of you into a battlefield so that you learn that sticking to the ultimate goal is literally a matter of life and death. That you will stick with whoever has your back regardless of what tribe they come from because…you lose, you die. It’s that simple. On nights like this, I want to pack my bag in the middle of the battle and rush back into the arms of those who love me, for I think y’all can fight your wars anyway. On nights like this, I hold back a tear and balance a bitter lump in my throat as I stare into the vast expanse of a dark sky. On nights like this, all I want is for the wind