Monthly Archives: July 2012


On Tuesday I was going home and sat down to wait for a matatu of more economic leanings when a friend of mine said my name in shock. I stood up and we began talking, turns out we knew each other for a year ten years ago when I was in form one at Maseno School. We reminded ourselves of  times there. The familiar names. The rigid customs. The strict discipline. Nostalgia hadn’t washed away enough of the grime to make our memories rose-tinted and awry.
Maseno was a hard place. Every day at exactly 4.50 am a ding would ring out over the school grounds. Ting! It would say. Fading away in the predawn into echo before another ting! would ring out. It travelled unaided through the air, moving in ripples ever outward reaching the furthest corners of the school before it rebounded on itself and another ting was heard.
By the third one everyone was almost awake. Not really awake though that was not a time for young men to be alive and we were far from it. We would shake the sleep  off our eyes, weary, bleary in the eerie atmosphere of people pulling on their school uniforms, shaking out their pyjamas. It was something that you could become very efficient in given time. Soon you didn’t really need to be there to change clothes a part of you was trained to give the rest some more time asleep as it took over  motor functions while the almighty ting rang forth.
When this was done you spilled onto the pavements and began to run. There was an inane rule concerning running as long as a bell had been rung. You had to run everywhere and at 5 in the morning you could see these wraithlike figures running away from their dreams towards their toil. Shirt hanging out and being tucked in, tie being hastily made on the go, curses muttered under the breath too scared to come out and face the cold full-fledged. 
Every other school in Kenya called these 5 am study time dawn preps for reasons requiring no elaboration. In Maseno they had a different name. knock! The ting of the bell gave readier association to the activity than  the breaking of the sun; it was that loud, it was that jarring, it was that ubiquitous. And knock was a hard time. You sat and batted away sleep trying to read, but what can you read in first form. And sleep was never too far behind always ready to creep up on you and take you to a land of warmth and wonder. If death creeps that shadowy among its victims there really is nothing much to fear.
Breakfast would eventually roll around and we were one of the few schools in Kenya that actually gave you bread to eat. A loaf quartered by a fellow student and a cup of scalding tea.  I never imagined thinking this about my school mates but we were nimble, how else to explain the lack of second degree burns from that tea in those plastic cups.
I felt like we were always running. A life controlled by bells. You never needed a watch in school a bell would ring for every conceivable occasion. The one for assembly sounded just like knock and if you heard this bell it did not matter where you were or what you were doing you dropped it and began running to the assembly ground. The number of assemblies on Saturday always shook you out of any planned weekend revelry. It took you away from sleep and washing, it took you away from conversations and games, and it took you away from letters and plotting. It plucked you out of whatever plans you had made for yourself and gave you new ones. Even during those functions when we actually saw girls your smiling, bumbling, shy attempts to act nonchalant would be interrupted by that bell. And even if you had finally got it. If the conversation was finally flowing and smiles and laughter were surrounding all of you would hear that bell and go stiff in expectation of the run. You would smile apologetically or excuse yourself gruffly depending on personality and begin to run. Cursing everyone under your breath, cursing the bell ringer, cursing the prefect who called this assembly on what you were sure was an idea he struck on after reading the story of David and Bathsheba. You cursed yourself and your weakness. Your dependency on this bell. The whole pavlovian existence you had been reduced to. This bell was shit.
It was rang using a metal rod clanging against sheets of iron hanging rustic and rusted under a tree near the dormitories. Once the rod disappeared and rumours flew around that someone had thrown it in the toilet. That was a fate it deserved and for one day we weren’t ruled by the bell. They found a replacement but we had some extra minutes of sleep, the pitch and timbre of the sound was different as well announcing a breeze of change around the school. I remember the toilets in Maseno and for those of you who are of a weak disposition please skip the next chapter because if there was ever anything deserving of graphic description it was them.
They were arranged near the fence of the school. A set of pit latrines one after another. Dominoes just waiting for an effect. You entered and it was dark. The hole stood as unknowable as Pakistan waiting for your drone strikes. Am not sure what other people did but I soon found a way of half standing half squatting just above the hole hovering there until some of the shit had been squeezed out. I never completely evacuated myself because the muscles in my legs would begin squeezing, contracting, seizing. My nose would be affected by the putrid smell of the place and the effort that comes from both holding your breath and pushing, pushing, pushing away. In a few months you learned to strip before you got into the toilet. It served the dual purpose of preserving your clothes from the smell and hanging a do not disturb sign outside the toilet. I used to go during knock preps at around 630 because I hated those preps and I have always been a fan of metaphor. Without fail as the term drew to an end the effect would start. The dominoes would begin falling and the toilets would start to fill up. What announced the arrival first? The boarding up of the toilets or the much more subtle but at the same time less tactful pool of green you would see as soon as you entered a latrine. Am not sure. They seemed to go hand in hand. I would enter a latrine and close enough to touch was murk and sludge and all this green shit. Why was it green? I asked myself over and over. This is not a healthy colour. Your drone strikes would become more careful. You didn’t squeeze them out anymore you let them slide down the chute. You let them gently plop since if they didn’t the splash would be writ large all over you. This latrine would be boarded and the next and the next until we had 3 working latrines and days and days without bowel movements. People saving it for home.
It was to that that the knock rod was thrown (I hope, talking about it even back then was an invitation for punishments unimaginable.)
The inspections were shit. I hated those things. The prefects would disturb beautiful slumber to rummage through your belongings. Looking for drugs? Contraband? Or simply a white shirt without the school badge on it. I had two of these and like the good boy i used to be I went and reported the situation, said I wouldn’t wear them and stowed them away. My bunkmate needed a shirt one day and I gave him my white shirt to wear. He returned it dirty and it was sitting in my bag when I came into my very first espionagic interaction. Someone somewhere told a prefect and I had an inspection, a personal inspection. My shirt was confiscated. Towards the end of one of the terms I had another private inspection. My housemates began looking at me in wonder. Surely if they suspect something there must be something to suspect. There is a dangerous allure to being thought of as bad. There is a seductive quality to being looked at as dangerous. And I felt it then. It’s possible to feel it now, to feel it forever. “Bad boy” has never and will never be an insult.
The diet was the same week in week out. And I can almost remember what we ate when. It was all bad is a simple truth but the quantities were delicious. You had to be dressed up to go to the dining hall. There was a long line to get to the front and here there was an opportunity for inspection. Was your tie straight, was your shirt tucked, were your shoes shined, was your hair combed. Were you a pretty and perfect picture of a growing school boy? I was not. Neatness was not for me. I cannot touch it. It avoids all of me especially then it took a different turn to the one I went down always and forever. So I got suede shoes somewhere and when I was asked why they weren’t polished I would just say “they’re suede.” This is not a reason for unpolished shoes. This not a reason for anything it just came out naturally and they bought it a lot of the time.
Of course a lot of the time I had punishments. I would grab a slasher and cut down grass in all different areas of the school. Soon I knew just how to hold it. My technique improved and my golf swing would send things everywhere. Slashing here, slashing there.
Towards the end of the term I had an excess of sugar and milk powder as well as cocoa and I would mix all these things together to make a chocolatey paste whose taste said more than anything else that I was going home.
It’s strange I can look back on all these things and more. Remember them as if it’s happening right now but I haven’t had the curse of nostalgia rained down on me yet. It was school. But I can’t say it was good. There were great times to be had but a great time was not had. At the same time it put together so much of the person I eventually became that not having gone would have lost me too much for me to begrudge that decision.


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Africa steels her daughters

So, a bunch of us were challenged to write a reply to the short story Africa Kills Her Sun by Ken Saro-Wiwa.  It was a great story that everyone should read and sadly prophetic too. I wrote up a reply and here it is, but if your choice is between this and the original, please read the original. linked here;

Dear Bana,

I have thought of you too, often and long. On dark nights when hope was nothing but a memory, a fling I once had with a faceless stranger who moved on to the true love of his life leaving me down in the dregs. I am not the girl who you wrote this letter to, life is too cruel and strange to allow any of us to continue untested and untried all that’s left to us humans is to remain forever untrue.

A few years after we met I became a prostitute; I thought I could be amoral and divorce the act from the emotion demanded by it. Once a young man came up to me, he was obviously lost and he sat there as we finished and his face was blank. He asked me my name and I told him one. He tried to talk to me and I could tell he was one of those people who believe that sex leads to truth, that the conversation had after is the only true time of fish in golden ponds. It hurt me that I couldn’t give him this; it hurt me that I couldn’t give it to myself. It’s not that some people choose to be prostitutes it’s that life chooses some people.

This is why I can’t judge your life doesn’t give us all choices. Not here, not anywhere. When we knew each other I had such high hopes for you, I prayed the war wouldn’t kill you but it seems like life did or Africa did long before the bullets cut you down.

This letter seems pointless even more an exercise in futility than the one I got from you but I always said I would reply if you wrote me. Happiness is found more in memories than in actual moments. It touches me that you would remember me at what may be the most important time in your life as the clock ticks slowly and more surely than it ever has before. As time approaches clad in the black, dusty shoes death can gift it. It makes me sad but it makes me happy in a way that I can’t explain. It’s as if with all the misery surrounding me now life only means something when am morose, it’s morbid but it’s all I have.

Before me stands the picture you asked of me. I can see the sculpture in my mind’s eye. He is as I had imagined you would be. Bent over his stick clutching to it as word clutches to truth, sure that faith ingrained in its fibres will be enough to lead it anywhere. I can see how the sculpture stands now and I added some details to your description. I can see a pond and fish playing at your feet, I can see you surrounded by golden rays of sun as another day arrives to say hello to the Dark Continent. It can be as you would have wanted it.

The thing that makes me saddest is that I could keep a promise to your friends but not to you. I cried for Jimba and Sazan and you. I read the newspaper the day after you died. They reported your shouting at the priest, a sensation, a scandal, a soul to hell they said when it was just that all the words you had spoken rang so true. I saw your friends beside you and I cried the tears of a young woman, tears born of a young love.

Your sculpture can be as the girl you wrote the letter would have had it but that is not me anymore. It is not only her sons that Africa slays and it is not only in the eternal night that we can lose ourselves. I am glad that you turned to me as a shelter from a world that I couldn’t shelter myself from. I am weathered, withered and grey. A bitter old woman before her time and bitter old women cannot give way to sentimentality, not in a world this hard not in a place this harsh. I am sure you would understand for what is my taking of the money except just another bank robbery? It’s not that I have to explain it to you but there is some taste of the bitterness of life in why I needed the money, the day I received your letter was also the day I received the news that I was pregnant. As I wrestled with that Sazan’s words rang through me. And this is what I need the money for I will not give this world another son or daughter who turns into you or me. A life lost before it is lived, I will not.

I read about the official who stole 7 million. As you lay asleep, eternally a-slumber it came to light that he had stolen a lot more. Our electricity grid, the beacon of hope in all this desolation was a myth. It has disappeared as so many things do into the gloom. Africa kills her Sun but leaves it so much harder, colder and darker for the rest us. And the worst thing is that even the best of us are still the worst of us.

Your epitaph you will get. That much I can give. I am sorry for the rest but while Africa kills her sons she steels her daughters.

Yours, Zole.

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being back

Nothing fits quite like it used to, nothing feels at all as it should that’s the truth about how it feels to back home after a long time. Everything is familiar enough to make you feel like you know where all the pots and pans are and then you open drawer after drawer in search of knives and can’t locate them; if you’re not careful enough home will take away your fingers. Just because it looks the same doesn’t mean it is and even if it was just because it is the same doesn’t mean you are.
I had a roving first week trying to touch base with as many people in as many locations as I could. And what struck me was the immensity of Nairobi and the necessity of public transport. Trying to get from Kileleshwa to Rongai a mind map just laid itself out and the distances were outstanding, I walked everywhere in Kristiansand and now I was going to walk those distances just to get to the matatu stop. The immensity of the place related to time too. Not just time in traffic which is the best lullaby in the world nothing saps my energy like traffic does, I try to read and tire of it and then study the scenery and tire of how static it is then I feel like dozing and put my eyelids against my eyes and sleep for just a bit and jerk awake. There is another type of waiting i had forgotten about though, the waiting for a bus to fill up. There is no clock on this, there is nothing you can do about it, you can’t rile against human inadequacy you just wait because you must be patient in Kenya.
Am trying to get to Rongai and I ask the conductor how much to Barclays and he says
“park place mbao” twenty shillings to parkplace
After I get in I tell him “nilisema Barclays” I said Barclays.
“oh huko ni 40.” oh, for there its 40
“we wacha hizo, ningejua ni 40 singeingia” ah, forget that if i knew it was 40 i wouldn’t have come in.
“relax, ata hakuna music hapa kelele yako kila mtu anaskia” relax, there’s even no music on this matatu and everyone can hear the noise you’re making.
“hiyo ata ni poa nimeleta entertainment, hawa wasee wote wanacheka wacharge 5 bob 5 bob ya kicheko alafu mi nilipe mbao.” that’s even good i brought some entertainment then, all these people laughing charge them 5 shillings for the show and let me pay twenty.
This did not work, but I have missed travelling in Kenya. I forgot where everything is though and it doesn’t matter since all you need to get anywhere is the number of the matatu and the name of the place. This Norwegian girl who’s been here for 6 months points out it’s the same in Norway and for the first time it hits me that it is the same, exactly the same. As long as you know what number to take and where to get off you can get anywhere. So why does it feel so different? There’s a flavour of human interaction in the way you do it here. You know the name of the place and you have to tell the conductor or a fellow passenger to warn you when you get there. You have to depend on other people’s kindness and goodwill to get anywhere. Nairobi is notoriously a place you don’t trust anyone  but is this really true when we build our whole lives on backbones of trust like this and hope that the system isn’t paralysed by too much weight.
Also it’s cold here. It’s really cold especially indoors and especially at night. During the day the stone houses keep the icy breath of the Kenyan cold season frigid. It blows in the doors and windows and even if those are closed it passes through the walls like a spirit and my teeth are always a-chatter wondering what happened to Kenya and all my fond memories. At night when the sun has been gone for a few hours and we are still a few hours from dawn I feel like am back in Norway. It’s too cold outside and to dark always too dark. Same Norwegian girl tells me,
“on the bright side it’s only getting warmer now.”
It hits me that I have heard this sentence, this exact sentence for a whole year, I heard it in January in the midst of winter and in February as her clutches slowly withdrew from the world. I heard it in April when what passes for spring in Norway rained me down, I heard it in June as I froze my ass off every night and I come back home to hear it in Kenya? I don’t believe in warm weather anymore. Maybe it never existed and we just lied to ourselves about it.
There are things I have to forget, I have to forget about street lights, I can’t use them to cross roads anymore. I used to think that a zebra crossing was like a piano on the road, a place of beautiful stillness where a pedestrian was for once at peace. Here it’s a different kind of piano, a symphony written to chaos and speed and randomness. It’s looking right and left and still scurrying across, its taking the time to listen to the other warning sounds, the hoots from the cars, the shouts from the people, your own gut that still remembers at least partially how to keep you safe.
I missed how loud people talked and how every conversation had so much potential to turn into a discussion on your family and where they are from and how you are doing and the price of the dollar and…
I missed the throng of people. The almighty rush of millions and millions (or so it seems) going about their daily business in town. Rushing here and there trying to make a living. It gives the air a certain tinge, a certain urgency as life moves to this rhythm. This quick paced, life laced  beats that strum through the air with every shout, with every shop that blares music out of its premises, with every matatu conductor having an argument with a passenger.
Sunday I woke up and went downstairs to get breakfast. “if there’s none over  there it’s over.” This was my first day back home and already it felt like I had never left.
The best moments are the quiet ones. Once you know someone for long enough, when you’ve lived with them for years and years words don’t mean so much. Presence is all that’s needed. I can be busy in the sitting room, writing or reading. Eating or thinking and just next to me is another member of my family absorbed in their own world, maybe sharing conversations I can’t be a part of but there’s an unaffectededness to it, a quiet tenderness, this too is time spent together. The feeling of comfort that disappears after a few hours of wakefulness, when I have shaken away the demons of the night that haunt me so much now, dragging me back and forth and everywhere, after being awake for a while I know exactly where I am. Am in a place that needs you to wear a sweater indoors, in a place of complete comfort of quiet and of noise. And most importantly the peace that comes in the chaos of being home.
Last night I went out and lost my phone. It’s a common enough occurrence if not in Kenya at least for me. When I finally woke up I switched on the instant water heater(it took a while to stop turning taps the other way when water comes out cold but I got used to that too.) this heater doesn’t work too well. Am used to the water steaming me up and while this one is warm it’s not hot. And there are coils around the shower head, for every few drops one begins to coalesce there and become cold so two times a minute or so  a cold drop of water will fall down and shiver you up. It’s not completely comfortable but it’s ok. Add to that we are having temperatures of 15 degrees in the day. The thing about water being just so is that you don’t want to come out, when it’s hot enough it’s hard to leave but nothing like this, here your mind freezes into inaction you need to step out and know you’ll feel better once you dry yourself off but you can’t move. The water is just cold enough to remind you how cold it is outside the shower and just warm enough that you can stand there for a bit longer, just a bit. This is how Kenya feels. It’s not completely comfortable, it’s not entirely safe, you can lose your phone on a night out and there are vast stretches of road without light. Places of abyss where only fools tread. But it’s comfortable enough. You don’t want to leave, you never do. There’s a breath of life in everything. Every step feels more meaningful, tinged as it is with danger and fatality. Life is much more immediate here, much louder, much more chaotic just muchier. I probably feel like this because am home and it is home but sometimes this thought runs through my mind and it feels exaggerated and mildly false but every once in a while I will think, “I have never been as in love with anything as I am with Kenya right now.”


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goodbye kristiansand

But he descended the hill, sadness came upon him, and he thought in his heart: How shall I go in peace and without sorrow?…
Too many fragments of the spirit have I scattered in these streets, and too many are the children of my longing that walk naked among these hills, and I cannot withdraw from them without a burden and an ache.
It is not a garment I cast off this day, but a skin that I tear with my own hands.
Nor is it a thought I leave behind me, but a heart made sweet with hunger and with thirst. – The prophet by Khalil Gibran
Sometimes I know exactly where I’ll write a certain piece. Long before I sit down I have thought of the place that would capture its emotional intensity if I can just give justice to it, the frame of mind I need to be in, the feelings these scenes and the environment can bring to mind. I see a quote that captures it in brief that communicates all the variant and disparate emotions and thoughts that make treadmills on my soul, trying their best to shed the weight that they have carried , trying to fit in  my heart and the space I have there for grief, sorrow and parting. Once in a while I find the most fitting epitaph. I find the thing I wish I had written that in its brevity and magic weaves together all the strands of the story I want to tell, providing a tapestry so intricate that the truth is you don’t have to read much more than the part in yellow but I want you to. I want you to come with me as I write my pathetic excuse for a goodbye  as I try to turn my sorrow, regrets and lessons, my joys, happiness and memories into nothing more than words on a page as I say those most painful of syllables goodbye.
Right now I am on a bus from Kristiansand to Oslo, where I will take another to the airport and then fly home, back to Kenya after nearly 6 months. This was the place I wanted to write this. On a bus with Norway whizzing past my peripheral vision glimpsing the trees and the mountains, the roads and the lights as my most favourite of journeys is turned into one I may never take again. I read the book the prophet and was astounded by its insight into human nature and how to live it showed me that a  point of writing can be to put into words all those things that our souls speak to us but we can’t quite… we can’t quite name and that book names it. That passage foreshadowed what I would feel as I left Kristiansand.
Yesterday was a day of cleaning. Before you hand over an apartment you clean it. You sink a sponge into every corner and squeeze out all the dirt you had left. You pack and piece together your life into 23 kilogram size bags and one 10 kg hand luggage. You make things look as they were before you moved in. and cleaning is no joke, I did a bathroom- kitchen combo, and I was looking forward to the rewards of that kind of work, to  gleaming rooms but I had cleaned for 3 hours and all I got was 3 hours older. To add to this I had no music, my computer chose just that moment to fail me and leave me with silence and my work. Time to think as I scrubbed under the sink and swept away dust and dreams and devils. All the things that haunted me as I lived here. There is a point in Teju Cole’s Open City  when he meets a marathon runner walking home alone, he sympathises with him for making it this far and not having anyone to pick him up:
There were no friends or family present to celebrate his achievement.
But he is walking around town alone too and finally muses:
It was I no less solitary than he but having made the lesser use of the morning who was to be pitied.
It touched me this passage made as I too was solitarily cleaning my house. Scrubbing it sterile making it feel like it never had me. How can I have lived there if I don’t know where the next guys will put their knives and the ones after that their pans and their pots and their plans and how it pans out. How can I have lived there if all it has of me is a scent of the detergent that I used to use, no more of my sweat, my food, my every single thing that I had to do to live. How can I finish the marathon with no trophy, no memento?
But here’s the thing it was no marathon. A marathon requires feats of endurance. It needs you to “hold on when there is nothing in you except the will which says hold on.” This…was a sprint. It was the passage of time in quick. Fast clips of this week and the next, of this trip and that day, of cold and hot and dark and light, intermingling in a collage so discernible I can’t tell if it was 6 weeks or 6 months.
How can you be happy about going home when in truth the place you are living becomes your home. I moulded to Kristiansand. It fit me like a glove. Where to go, what to buy, what to expect and what not to. It was always exciting to be on my way from there to another destination but always comforting to come back. Now I may never come back. The road looks no different, grey and indifferent to the plights of people on it but I feel different.
The beach is maybe 300 metres long. There is barely sand on it, but give me a shiny day and I will find an excuse to visit it.
In winter when we left Norwegian class at 7:30 the streets would be empty. Devoid of all but us, spectres in the snow, ghosts in the glow of lights that had been on four hours. Back then the city crunched under my feet and it felt like no one lived there. The silence was deafening. The warning not to walk beneath ledges because the icicles may fall off and harm you were so ominous and scary and new. That town has almost nothing to do with the place I left today. It’s not dark, ominous and cold. So much more than just the weather has changed in those months. warm days with warm smiles and long days that lead to long  conversations and long friendships
There are fewer goodbyes in the world more touching than the words “I hope you won’t forget me.” There is a fear in that sentence that speaks of openness and vulnerability but the fact that this fear could be voiced also screams of intimacy and comfort. Of roads travelled together and hopefully travelled forever.
Make sure you tell your family that you met me and I welcomed you into my house, it would really mean a lot to me. This said with a searing intensity that can’t be doubted is another goodbye that strikes to the heart of the matter. Let them know their son was loved and taken care of, that the world has a place for everyone in every single one of its incarnations
On my last actual day I was taken on a walking tour and shown the sights of the town with irrepressible enthusiasm. A cynical part of me wanted to have asked that this be done earlier but the better part of me rejoiced in the obvious joy shown in showing off little known corners and places I hadn’t seen. The bubble of youth expanding into every experience. It’s not only when you see it that you like but also when you show it.
It’s difficult to say goodbye and I scrape over a list of remembrances and memories littered over a mind half formed. Living here seems to have been the most profound experience of my life.
Now we are connected, you never know we may do something together in the future.
It grew into my bones and my blood. It took over me as surely and swiftly as any desire can. It was the place of endless joys and numerous regrets. It was 5 months that felt like none and now as i edit this a week later it still haunts my dreams. Huge canvases of people and places occupy my sleep leaving me unsure of where i am, of when. I wake up from a dream that i am back in kenya to another that i am really in kristiansand before i really do wake up and look around the unfamiliar in truth it was not a garment I cast off that day, but a skin that I tore with my own hands.


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Buda and Pest

You make the most of it. You are not where you expected to be, the visa requirements for Romania are much huger than you have time for. 60 euro to apply, there are hostels right here in Budapest that would cost about the same for 6 nights plus you don’t have the invitation letter. Romania was a dream and it stays like that. So you become practical, you wake up from the dream and exchange some money, you walk into a bar and have some beer. Then you go to the cyber and begin looking for a place to sleep. At the same time you talk to all the Hungarian you know, maybe he has a house you can sleep in, maybe some advice. The thing you don’t do is panic. It can be worse, it can always be worse. I can’t imagine how right now but it can be.
We finally ended up staying at a place called 11thhour hostel. A name for people just like us. I was knackered, travelling for almost 30 hours and not reaching your destination, in fact being told that you can’t ever get there is one of the most exhausting things in the world, but I showered and went downstairs, there seemed to be a miniparty going on and I just looked around and immediately made some friends. The hostels in Budapest are amazing. The culture of the place, the laidback-we-are-all-friends culture has an effect on the people staying there. Everyone has time for everyone and invites you for a seat and asks how you came to be there. Maybe it’s just a traveller’s culture but the people at the hostel were also some of the most friendly I had met. The hostel provided a bottle of vodka for its guests to begin the famous Hungarian pub crawl nights. I sat down amid 5 British girls (6 days in Hungary taught me that it’s a favoured destination of the UK met more English people than Hungarians.) maybe because of living in Norway my mind is now attuned to seeking out English, trying to find out what group of people isn’t Norwegian and won’t cut me out with a smattering of the local language, it’s different here than in Kenya. In Kenya everyone has heard their friends speak English, school requirements make it compulsory and we are all anglophilic in Kenya having forgotten the sins of colonialism we embraced so much English culture that tea at   4 pm seems the most Kenyan thing to do, we spice it with milk of course but it’s an inherited habit. So it’s easier for Kenyans to tone down the Swahili when in the presence of one who can’t understand I can see Norwegians try sometimes but it doesn’t come as easy to express themselves in English to one another, they can to people who can’t speak Norwegian but among each other they revert to the default setting immediately. So my inner ear pricks at English and I could at this point identify the English accent from a mile away.
We played games with some Dutch guys and Swedish girls and then began the pub crawl. Walking from destination to destination, stopping long enough for a beer and a piss before we walked on to the next one. Ending up at this club that really doesn’t close. Upstairs was an open air flat roof and when you went up the sun had risen and it was daylight but downstairs it was still night. The dj was riling people up singing along to the songs like we were at concert and the crowd loved it answering back and buying drinks way past Norwegian closing time. I found myself trying to find my way back to the hostel walking around Budapest asking for directions at what felt like 10 in the morning, I hate being geographically disabled sometimes, never finding my way to places as if my mind doesn’t hold a map of any sort. There is no internal GPS with me and the thing I can assure people of is that I get lost, I will, I have and I will again. Finally I slept, the sleep of the dead.
The thing about Budapest as we were told is that every night is a Saturday night, “the city is very rock and roll, like berlin in the 90s, foreigners are always trying to settle here” a local guide told us. It was true one night this American guy, old, in his 50s couldn’t get enough of telling us how much he loved this place. The women=beautiful, the culture=friendly, the attitude=permissive, myself=buying land here as soon as I can.
And I could see why. I think Eastern Europe is the best, I love it, I am so enamoured by it. Was talking to this other American and he loved Western Europe, he liked the sense of order and accomplishment. And I think for most people the part of Europe they like the most is the part that reminds them of home. I like the noise and chaos of the eastern part, life almost fraying apart because we have a government we don’t trust and so we have to depend on society a little more for our needs. The warmth, friendliness and hospitality reminded me of Kenya, so did the uncross able roads, the dilapidated buildings falling apart one stone at a time and the walls looking like someone had forgotten to clean up after a fire.
On one of the walking tours(the walking tours are a great, great invention- a group of independent tour guides got together and every day they walk people around their city telling them about various places and the history associated with them, the tours are in essence free but even scrooge would scrounge up a tip at the end.) the guide points to a luxury hotel and said, “that used to be a prison but things change after communism.” It’s weird when you think about it. That little metaphor could tie up all the difference between attitudes and ways of life in communism and capitalism. When before people were physically imprisoned and had their rights taken away by things that were huge and much more than just a symbol, an actual place, actual handcuffs, actual censorship, now we are imprisoned by other things. By the seduction of luxury. The promise of material gain. Fear of the place we don’t want to go has been replaced by a lust for the place we do and these  do the same things in essence, they are both tools that could be used by a corrupt power to completely subjugate a people, maybe I had had too much beer when I made this connection though.
I had no feel of Hungary though, nothing of the Hungarian people, I met some but I met more brits, I met more people on holiday, more tourists than I did citizens. Even the people living there that I met were not Hungarian and it felt ghost like. Passing through a place without it leaving a mark on you feels more like a spirit than passing through it without you leaving a mark on you. It’s the great conundrum of staying in all these cheap hostels. You get to meet great people, one Norwegian guy had been travelling around Europe alone for 5 months. Wandering from country to country on an interail ticket. Weird thing is that was not that uncommon. Many more people just get their backpacks, track their itinerary and go. It’s one of the best places to travel in, a few kilometres that way and you have a new language and a completely different culture. The people look different and sound different. They are Nordic, Slavic, Germanic and a whole slew of other terms I couldn’t get my fingers on. They are warm and cold and friendly and distant and all it takes is a few kilometres. The borderless existence makes life much easier. You don’t ask yourself about much more than train times between. For example we were going to Romania to visit my housemate’s friend and when he heard that we couldn’t make it he got on a bus and came to see us, simple.
He came along with a friend of his, a Romanian girl who had the most affecting beauty I have ever been in the presence of. I’ve been around beautiful girls before but this time it was like an overwhelming presence. A ticker tape just kept running in my mind, she’s so beautiful over and over again. And I finally understood how guys get tongue tied. Nothing else seemed to matter except her and a small part of her to be honest because she was a lot of other things, she was funny and spontaneous enough to get on a train for 7 hours on a whim, she owned her own wine shop at 20 no less, she was ambitious and genuinely fun to be around but for the first five minutes a fog descended over my sense to comprehend anything else. and like some tennis beginner playing Federer at his height the stakes in my mind began lowering, if only I can make one point, return one serve I will be happy. Scoring is meant for better men than me people who have studied this game and put in more hours of practice, world professionals, the bests in the world. And when she left and I studied what effect she had on me I wanted to ask her if it was the same on other people. If it was how could that feel? Being that universally beautiful, having everything else subordinate to that aspect of your life, she obviously hadn’t let it determine her character and path since she seemed sufficiently ambitious beyond that but once in a while it must be a hindrance to be seen as your beauty first. Or to be seen as only your beauty as no doubt happens. The whole world has pains  and though it’s a silly habit to get into sympathy for the beautiful because of their beauty once in a while it’s a good thing to consider that side of things. The side that means all your other hard work is shielded from all but the most inquisitive and persistent of eyes, I guess am saying, oh I wish I  had gone to Romania, damn!


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