Turning the steep bend around Mt. Marsabit; the elation is so strong I feel it even now. It is the sublime and always new feeling of coming home, of arrival. The suddenness of the vista, the impassive canopy with filigree Spanish moss hanging from tall trees, bring back sounds and smells. For a split second I consider how elusive this image is, how easily it vanishes from my memory. But with that one view, it all comes back, flooding my mind and overwhelming my heart. I am engulfed by nostalgia and the happiness of home. I expect a singular reception.
This image and feeling stays with me, but it gradually becomes uninspiring. The elation wears off and the place catches me in its rote. In a few months, I become ambivalent. I want to love and leave the place again.
Afraid of becoming nothing, coupled with post-college restlessness, I discover that home isn’t the romanticised place in which I had pictured myself. This realisation estranges me from the town I had known intimately. I begin to walk calmly in town; to re-see and re-learn. I am shocked by my discoveries.
Coming back, I relapse into old ways and routines. Around me, boys sleep with the same girls and call it “zero grazing”; there are animated, khat-fuelled conversations in a shop, a khat base or a friend’s room – a cager. Life, in its laidback bubble, seems to lack both creativity and originality; it is a time-warped reproduction of the past.
Wedding parties, like karaoke nights, blast hits from the seventies and eighties, Sikulangi hits are replayed, tweaking old music on new guitars and still failing to match the metre of its past glory. Even so, I attend weddings, dance for hours around dusty amplifiers perched precariously on rickety chairs and loudspeakers mounted on trees; we dance with neighborhood girls, six boys to a girl.
My friend G says:
“If you stay in Marsabit and maintain your own discipline, to do your things your way bro, you must be very strong…. there are no limits to what you can achieve.”
“But that will come with a cost too – you will be an outsider – you will be viewed as strange.”
Those who were born in the town, second and third generations, interpret it in their own images. One says “This town is a ship sailing on water”. Another, with a mirthful chuckle, “This town is a midget carrying a 200 litre drum full of worries.”
G yearns for a collective emblem. “We should ask the government to bring back Ahmed the elephant and mount it on the roundabout in town”, he says.
Ahmed’s original home was Marsabit but the elephant came to international fame when in 1970 the Kenyan President assigned it 24-hour security because of its impressive tusks. Today a fiberglass replica of Ahmed is a major attraction at the Nairobi National Museum.