Enjoy Simple Things In Life To Prepare For The Unknown

There are two ways to be rich: one is by acquiring much, and the other is by desiring little

Jackie French Koller

Being alive is unpredictable.

Every day provides its fair share of challenges and opportunities that can turn a life around in seconds. This cannot be truer than what we experienced in this pandemic. But what matters is not what happens, but how prepared one is to respond to lack of luck. The response primarily comes from preparation. Even those who seem good at it were not born with it. They have knowingly or unknowingly learnt to cope better. Those prepared for hard times have found it easier to survive and spring back. And a recent, random visit to Kitui reminded me to remain prepared.

Kitui, the land that humbly separates progression from isolation in Kenya, has triggered me to retrace my evolution. My first time in Kitui was during my early college life. Back then, I was an active, roaming volunteer. I got to widely travel and discover how beautiful Kenya is and how wonderful its people are. I spent most of my college holidays backpacking and hitchhiking to help develop remote villages across the country. And Kitui was one of the places I loved.

Kitui is the land of endless love and humility.

The warmth, generosity and humour of the Kamba people are on their level. I envy their tenacity and resilience to the toughness of the natural environment. Their gift in traditional art and handcrafting is world-class. That is why my fellow youngsters from all over the world loved to volunteer and live here for weeks. Besides the endless night walking and cavorting in bright, magically starred, and moonlit nights, there was a lot to learn and enjoy in Kitui.

The food was scarce and basic, but the givers had the biggest hearts we had ever seen. The farm and building work overflowed with endless song and dance. We walked for long to fetch turbid water from tiny hand-burrowed puddles at the edges of shaded, sandy riverbanks. We waited and watched tear-like oozes from the ground and meticulously fetched it with sand-polished calabashes. Repeatedly emptying into a container while paying attention not to scoop or pour a grain of sand. This was new for a boy raised by a river that never ran dry. And the rest who had running water in their homes.

We lived and communed with the villagers for weeks.

Eating their food, drinking their water, doing their daily chores. We tilled the land, dug wells, made terraces and planted trees. Built schools, churches, and footbridges. And walked for miles to labour, teach or visit families. When occasionally hosted at homes, we devoured tasty mũthokoi. The locally handcrafted succotash. Made by soaking dry maize, then meticulously pounding it to remove the indigestible skin. Then slow-cooking with green or dry nzũũ, the earth-tasting pigeon peas. This was served plainly dry salted or fried with homemade ghee. The meal was a mighty wonder from gĩtheri back at home. Our extreme version is endlessly boiled without love or attention. And served floating in thubu, a sea of colourless and tasteless soup.

We downed mũthokoi with kalũvũ or mũatine, similar to mũratina of the Kikuyu. The drink was slow brewed on the fireside in kĩmee, a large gourd with a flat base that made it extremely tasty and potent. Because Kambas are skilled and passionate beekeepers, kalũvũ was sweeter from generous portions of honey. When unchecked by our hosts, we overdrank, staggered, sang, and puked for miles back to the camp. The morning-after sickness was again treated with a concoction of local herbs drafted in honey. Because everything to eat, drink or play by day and by night is served sweet by the Kamba.

My visits to Kitui changed over time.

When I left college, my job occasionally took me back to Kitui. Only that this time, I was an engineering officer cruising in a funky, red Land Rover. The car depicted power in and out of the government. I changed from a volunteer sleeping in dusty, windowless classrooms to an occupant of cheap lodges.

Becoming an officer meant no more volunteering at the weaving centre in Matinyani. I no longer had time to help the women dye and dry sisal fibre, nor hand weave or spin the looms. Nor help weave carpets and syondo – the colourful sisal baskets that prove the superlative artisanry of the Kamba people. I became too busy to stop and bond with the woodcarvers of Wamunyu, and marvel at their artistic transformation of dryland ebony and rosewood. I could no longer visit the high-spirited and chatty akala makers. The hardy used tyre shoes ingenuously invented by the Kamba. Because Kambas are the only known trade masters of used tyres in the world!

The brew and the music morphed too.

The middle class doesn’t drink or dance traditionally. There was no more mũthokoi. Instead, meat and other urbane foods were served in crappy restaurants. Homestead kalũvũ was replaced with bottled beer, enjoyed in dimly lit bars served by maids without morale and decorum. My companions were no longer people who seeded benevolence but those who afforded to make merry. My life started to be defined by income, not by purpose.

There was no time to learn how to beat drums and dance kĩlumĩ. The therapeutic, spiritual, and ritualistic power night jig. Performed during special events to celebrate good tidings and appease demanding ancestors. The open sky drumming, singing, and rhythmic dancing was replaced by loud nickelodeons in dingy bars in Zombe and Mutomo. The jukeboxes played high-pitched and fast-paced guitar rhythms of Kakai Kilonzo, Peter Muambi and Kyanganga Boys Band. With drunkards shouting profanity, slur singing and stagger-dancing mũsonge. The rapid foot fleeting and hip gyrating modern-day Kamba dance.

I was back after a long time and found many things had changed.

More than twenty years have passed since I last visited Kitui. The roads are better, and the landscapes are greener. The people, too, seem busier and healthier. Kitui town is no longer a degraded, earthly flatbed. Instead, I observe its lightly wooded and hilly terrain. That may have become greener over time, or maybe more apparent to a sober, intentional, middle-aged tourist.

I notice how people and homesteads have changed. A fusion of language and culture is a significant change from its erstwhile mono-ethnic society. Beautifully coloured adobe shelters have replaced the round, grass-thatched huts with a wooden roof spire. The land is no longer barren, and ripe mangoes are raining from giant, luscious trees that enshroud my path. I do not see scarcity. Instead, I see beauty, prosperity and abundance.

My choices and options have also mutated.

I am staying at a classy hotel paying a lot more than in the ‘lodgos’. The places with tiny rooms in a row behind a noisy bar. The ones with deeply stained towels, mismatched flip-flops, plastic basins and inconsiderately measured and folded toilet paper placed on the seemingly innocent bed. The rooms where no sober client can sleep due to deafening sounds of shouting drunkards. Who reserves to hurriedly bargain and loudly make out with pretentiously drunk and unenthusiastic whores.

My food and drink choices are way different. I am not eating as much, because my stomach and brain have become better friends. I think more about what to eat before I choose what to eat. This is time not about whether to afford it or not but to manage the guilt behind my choices. That is why I am not indulging or partying this time round.

My body and my needs are different.

I can no longer find sleep in loud places nor nap into late morning. The slightest noise and sunlight are my sleep’s instant killer. My energy reserves are limited. So I cannot enjoy a bubbly late nightlife and afford to carry my weight in the morning. I must sleep early like a baby so as to afford a tiny fraction of a baby’s sleep. And even then, I must rock my body and mind hours before hitting the sack.

No more do I wake to guzzle litres of water to soothe and cleanse my liver from overnight bingeing. Neither do I start the day with a glass of milk. To calm the violent conflict of bacteria and acid in my tummy. Instead, I rise to walk and watch the sunrise. Because I crave to see the land, rub my feet against its soils, and connect with its landscapes.

Unlike in my previous visits to Kitui, I am in a lovely company this time. The people on our walking route are kind and chatty. And one of them, a lady probably of my age, thinks we are the age of her children. Mainly because of my ‘rebellious’ hairstyle. She delves into questioning who we are and where we come from. She knows places because she visited Nakuru in 1981, and she’s heard of my birthplace but with no idea where it is. She also knows that girls from Kakamega make good spouses. And if one finds love there, they must be ready to travel day and night to get to their other rib. This conversation ends with an invitation to her lovely homestead, where she gifts us a sack load of juicy, native mangoes.

Being here is a big opportunity to reflect on my life journey.

I have seized the opportunity to throwback on how my life has transformed. I am older now, and my choices and circumstances have changed much. And so have the people of Kitui and the place. I discover that things may have changed, but I am not that different. It is only that I am at a different stage in life. But still on the same path that I was on twenty-something years ago. And I now come to understand that the more some things change, the more others need to remain the same.

I figure that things are constantly changing in life, but the basics have to be maintained for life to remain meaningful. My physiology and social-economic status have evolved. But deep inside, I now desire the same things I did back in the day. Walking barefoot, basking, sleeping early and eating basically. I want to be in peaceful places like I was years ago. My soul now detests crowding and yearns for tranquillity and solitude. I am now needy of the things I took for granted back in the day.

And this got me thinking, was the migration worth it?

I go on and on, trying to figure out whether I have been a dumb village dropout all along. Why did I have to convince myself that the village was not a good place to be? Why did I have to work so hard to earn a living that I am slowly retreating from? Would I not have been wiser staying in the same place, other than going and returning in a quarter-century? Do we crave for what we do not have just because we do not have it?

In the end, I conclude that I made the right choices. I am on the right path, only that I lacked proper orientation, missed steps and lost direction at some points in my life. And therefore, discarded a big part of the true human in me. My life must change as I age, and so will my perspectives. And I must remain to infuse deliberate change throughout my days of walking on this earth. I must continue to grow and thrive without losing or condemning my past and enjoy life with what brings true happiness. And for me, it is primarily the things money cannot buy.

I can now see how my past, present and future connect.

I came from scarcity, which is what I was running away from. I wanted money because the money would save me from the pain of poverty. But now, money is losing its meaning as I grow older. The privilege I was looking for must have some limit. Because I have come to learn that absolute privilege corrodes the body, the mind and the soul. It makes us less human and downgrades the quality of our lives. worst of all, it makes us more vulnerable to unpredictable moments of scarcity from what money can or cannot buy. That is why I have deliberately gone back to the basics, even though I can still afford most of the things I am abstaining from.

I am better off here than if I remained back in the village or spent the rest of my life as a roaming volunteer. I am thankful that I have been granted most of the things I ask for. But the experiences of poverty and volunteerism remain dear, for they laid my foundation for a less vulnerable life at this point. And that is what I need to build on now. By learning how to enjoy life with simplicity like I used to. Walking, talking, dancing, sleeping on a mat, and eating plain with joy and gratitude.

Socrates said, “The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” This visit has reminded me that no matter how prosperous I may become, I have to deliberately take myself back in time. Because a happy life requires humility and simplicity. And by knowing that, I intend to walk more, travel thriftier, spend less, eat smaller and create more time for loving people and places throughout this year.

I want to become more human and prepare for whatever this life may throw my way.

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Published by Kariuki Mugo

I live cherishing the outdoors, especially green, rugged and watery spaces, but still enjoy the city life. I dedicate in and cherish a family system that provides the foundation for nurturing strong, loving relationships. I trust in thriving communities that provide a better life for everyone, and I am highly committed to creating knowledge. I am a husband, a father, a friend, a development worker, and a teacher to many!

2 thoughts on “Enjoy Simple Things In Life To Prepare For The Unknown”

  1. Anne says:

    Quite a sobering reminder of my life’s journey. Funny how, I am now learning how to pray for God to give me what He knows I need, rather that praying for what I need

  2. Grace says:

    Lovely read and very timely. I’ve laughed, been thrown into a great sea of thought and picked some very important lessons.
    – “sea of colourless and tasteless soup” – thubu – great description of githeri in many households.
    – Tiny rooms in a row behind a noisy bar – reminded me of a lodgo I stayed at in Makindu
    – stomach and brain have become better friends – this is a very healthy friendship
    – I need to learn to infuse deliberate change in my life – goals will come in handy here.
    – Greatest lesson- humility and simplicity even as we grow and move from one level to the next.
    Thank you for this. #Eyeopener

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