I keep a little diary of things that happen to me. The entries are varied. Some sad. Some quite funny. Some just weird. Others life changing. I guess that has been my way of keeping record of the process of growing up. I usually sit down at the end of the year and read the journal I keep and choose the things that touched my life most, the things that stood out of all the others and the things that just make me laugh.
As I read the old journal and pick up events for my Growing Up Diary, I learn and relearn lessons. I laugh at myself sometimes. I cry for what I hadn’t allowed myself to grieve for. I see things in the light of retrospect. And I know that some things I will never repeat and that I would do other things just the same if I were given a second chance. I know what I would do differently if I were given the chance.
So one morning I looked at my diary and it reminded me of the time when fireants invaded my home in Mtwapa, Mombasa. I woke up to the strange rustle of the fireant armies crawling everywhere. In a panic, I peered over the side of the bed and the site of the crawly insects made me do the exact opposite of logic. Instead of staying on the bed where I was safe for at least a while, I jumped off the bed to try and make it to the living room. Bad idea, I soon found out that fireants can move very fast. One found its way somewhere I would rather not have had it and decided to take a bite, too. I tried to get to it but couldn’t do that fast enough. It bit me again and I kept trying to get it off while still running out of the house. Out on the little dusty street in the respite of the morning breeze, I decided that the best way to deal with my furious little foe was to deny it of clothes to hide in. So I took off the one little scrap of clothing I had worn to bed. I heaved a sigh of relief as the pesky little thing fell. Then I realized that my sleepy little village had woken up and everyone was out on the street. All of them….
Then there is the entry for November 10, 2001. It was a day that might have been very beautiful. By 8.00am there was blue sky and ideas of going down to the beach for a dose of beach soccer and a swim. That was cut short when my cousin showed up at the front door. I was excited because he lived all the way in Malindi and his job made him pretty much unavailable, so I hadn’t seen him in a while. But a look on his face killed my excitement and infused a feeling that something horrible had happened. By the time he sat down with my mother, I knew the horrible that had happened even without his saying so. My brother had died. That ushered in a period of denial before I accepted my loss and allowed myself to grieve for my brother.
August 15, 2003 was just weird. I walked into the Public Library on the Island, and bumped into a very short person. I felt a strange jolt of recognition but just could not place the face I saw, a face not old, not young, not unique in any way such that I can still not describe it in detail, yet a face I knew. I ignored the feeling and went into the library for a few hours of reading. When I came out again, I bumped into the same person. This time, he grabbed my hand forcing me to stop. I thought I was being mugged or something like that. But he looked straight into my eyes and said quite clearly, “You will find the answer.” To this day I still think I might have had a minor psychotic episode that day. I never saw that person again once he walked off leaving me feeling shaken. I still think I recognized him from somewhere. I am not sure what answer he meant I would find. But the thought comes to me when I am in pain or uncertainty of one kind or the other. That with time, I will find the answer to it all.
Two and a half years ago, I mourned the loss of a very good friend who taught me more about myself than I ever had the chance to learn on my own. Here’s what I wrote:
I am writing this letter now, not because I have figured the answers out, but I realize that without you, I have to work it out on my own, by myself.
It has been a very long journey, short for you, tall for me. I should have realized that I had very little time to learn from you but I was too busy being a brat to see it. Someday, if I should ever achieve any of the goals I aspire to, if I should ever become a voice of reason, a force for positive change, you will be one of the people who made it possible. I haven’t got there yet, but I have reason to work harder now.
Today, as I took the long walk across the city, I thought of you, and all the lessons you have taught me. It has been very painful over the last few weeks coming to terms with your departure to what you called, ‘the better life’. Today, I could still feel the pain, but my mind was incredibly clear.
I remembered, I cried a little bit, people stared, I walked on, and then grinned aloud with the memory, people still stared, I laughed, then they stopped for a second and I walked on laughing and crying at the same time.
Do you remember the twelve-year old you took under your wings? I don’t think life has ever been as painful as it was then.
But you taught me to look at the best in it, to learn from the pain, to fight against it and be the best I could be. I know I have failed you so many times since then. I give up, break down and lose hope, but you have been here, far away but always close to me, teaching me to get up and back on my feet again.
I will have to do that on my own now; remind myself how to get back on my feet when life throws curve balls at me. Curve balls. I remember watching baseball with you, and hating it all the while. I still have no idea what that American sport is about. You loved it, and I loved you. And you insisted that there is a lesson in everything.
There have been a few more entries since then. Breaking up with a lover here. Some revelation there. A new friend here. Life in general. Keeping my diary reminds me. Decisions. Mistakes. Events. Changes. It reminds me of the course I want to take, and the mistakes I never want to repeat. It helps me to evaluate what is important now, and what isn’t. I can move on, because I can look at my past.