I used to wonder why the sky appeared close when I was growing up. So close often I stretched my hand to touch it. Sometimes the swirl of white clouds in the blue sky looked like rolled up mats rested against the hills. I climbed one hill after another to go lie in those white mats. Other times the clouds shook themselves loose and looked like scattered fields of cotton wool. I kept moving, reaching for the sky. It always shifted, or rather, I realized it wasn’t as close to touch as it seemed from a distance but I never gave up the effort anyway. Reaching for the sky became my fancy, my pre-occupation, especially during holiday time.
Years down the lane I find myself in Senegal, and the sky is way up where I can’t even begin to think of shooting at it. It’s way, way above, unreachable. It is a clearest blue almost all the time. Given the few days it rains in a year, it hardly has dark clouds. In my mind I have registered that the sky in Senegal is very high while the sky back home is close and reachable, friendly to the young.
Christmas time I followed the rift valley home. I’ve always been struck by the East African beauty; the lush green, the graceful hills, sleepy valleys and imposing mountains. This time round I was intensely drawn in and consumed. I stroked the earth, the plants so green flourishing with life, the soils very dark and rich red. Then I stumbled upon reason for my wonder, the nearness of my home sky that has puzzled and tantalized me all these years. The hills, of course! The sky was always close to touch because of the hills. Because I lived in the hills. The Senegal sky is way high because the land is flat. I got so excited and cried eureka—the hills, the hills, because of the hills! It has taken me so many years to figure it out but I am overjoyed like one who has discovered profound truth.
I left Nairobi for Kigali in a wave of reflection. Rwanda has made remarkable progress witnessed in modern infrastructure and cleanliness of the city. But the people look very sad. Even the hills look like they are about to burst in tears. There is a permanent shroud of melancholy wrapped around the hills’ shoulders. Rwanda is one place where taxi drivers do not discuss politics with their passengers. Elsewhere in the world you find taxi men and women selling their opinion of their country politics. In Rwanda, taxi drivers play gospel music. Sad, painful, gospel music like the spirituals, only more intense, gripping and compelling one weep. That is what the genocide did, has done, has left. Everywhere you look you’re moved to weep. Half the people you meet limp. Others are one eyed, no-eyed, plain disabled. But hope survives. There is progress. You see people working hard with their hands. Hard working sad people building a nation.
Kenya too is shaping up after the election violence. My informants—the taxi drivers—passionately launch into debate why things went sour, why it is hard to be Kenyan. Their ethnicity comes first. The country is almost none existent. They are only Kenyan on one thing; money. Show them the money and they will leap to take it and multiply it. Money-making is their number one consuming goal it has reached absurd proportions. They’ll do anything to make the money. Ugandans on the other hand will do anything to receive money. Rwandese without a word will give back balance short of ten percent, especially at a hotel. I was thinking the Rwandan case, again, has sad undertones while the Kenyan ambition is dangerous. But the Ugandan one is fatal. Many Ugandans are not concerned about making money. They are bothered about getting it, no matter how. Those with blue collar jobs, white collar-jobs, church pastors, marabous, they are all zealous about ‘receiving’ money. Sadly, it is this money desperation that uniforms the Africa region. You find it in West Africa, just as it is in Eastern and Southern Africa. It is hard nowadays to be proud of the sub-Saharan riches, the great lakes region, the Nile valley civilization, the Mano river resources, amidst the continent’s poverty derangement. The chaos, conflict and disorganization keep us in shit.
The only thing that has stayed true to its game is my home sky. I can touch it. I feel my hand almost touching it until am cut by words of my classmate, David, who always said ‘almost’ never did anything, almost is the most useless word. “I almost went to the University. I almost got married. I almost got a scholarship…” people say. Useless. Yet comforting somehow to put that useless word before any desired feat. It consoles me to say that even at this time, after all these years I almost touched my home sky. It was beautiful jumping from hill to hill to touch it. I reckon I’ll keep trying in the New Year. A fulfilled new year to all of us.