A few years ago, at a time when I was teetering at the edge of a world that had spun me silly, a friend of mine, Jefe, someone I love deeply, told me I should ‘go find myself’. The statement got under my skin. Drove me up the wall. There weren’t enough ways to make the phlegm in my throat display my dissatisfaction at such clichéd philosophical arrogance. What infuriated me most was his flippancy. As if we were talking about misplacing my purple striped sock with the holey heel. As if all the glue I needed to stick together the pieces of a disoriented broken Aleya, could be found at that ka-duka on the corner of Biashara Street owned by the moustached oily haired man and packaged in a repurposed Safari Cane bottle, the smell of drowned dreams stifled by the hastily scrawled label ‘Go Find Yourself’.
Go Find Myself. My inner sarcastic monologue was on a rampage. Go Find Myself. Well, I hadn’t even realised I had lost myself in the first place. How careless of me. How utterly irresponsible. Typical really of a girl who is always losing socks and pens and earrings. I wonder how it happened. Maybe it fell out one of those mornings during a headstand, when I was focusing on staying upside down, instead of concentrating on staying outside in. How very absentminded of me. Or perhaps it was my self that was to blame. Maybe, it stealthily crept down the drain to escape my morning screeching in the shower. Gasp. What if it is more sinister? What if it was stolen from me? It could have been those two dodgy guys that day in the City Hall Annexe lift. They wore the look of people who were up to no good! Nobody would even have noticed. We were all too busy gasping and trying not to breathe in the over enthusiastic smell particles from someone’s baked bean breakfast. Or maybe…maybe it was kidnapped by a pair of vodka drinking, sunglass toting, bearded Armenian gangsters with silent s’s in their names. What if one morning I would wake up to a ransom note stuck together from old issues of Taifa Leo saying;
‘We have your self. 1 million dollars. Or we kill your self. Slowly. With hot mercury tipped needles, an old rusty saw and boiled cabbage’
Or worse, I would receive a DVD, which when I put into my computer, would have a blurry image and the shaky terrified voice of my self coughing, crying and hiccupping all at once, the words barely audible;
‘Please. Just give them what they want. I can’t take it anymore. There is country music. And boiled cabbage. …’ and the video would end right there. Static.
I suppose what really irked me is after dropping such a lofty statement, I expected some sort of advice on how one goes about finding oneself. Was there a formula? A technique? A ritual? A choice between the blue pill or red pill? A bottle with either ‘drink me’ or ‘eat me’ on it? Oranges or Bananas? Something? Anything? Please? No. Instead I got that vacant look you get from a man who has stopped listening and is channelling all his brain power into looking awake…and miserably failing.
I wondered, and seriously this time, where had I lost myself. How do I get back to that place where I was last me? Would I know when I got there?
A few days ago I escaped to Elementaita to a charming place called Pink Lake Man Ecolodge, to try and write a musical. That part is a story for another day. On this trip, I armed myself with the writer’s ultimate procrastination tools; books. After reading an excerpt online, I had ordered Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost with an uncle of mine who had come down from Canada. I made myself a cup of coffee, got out my notebook and pen and prepared myself to write. And then of course picked up the book.
It is a luscious read. Thought provoking, meandering, utterly gorgeous in its writing and with the sort of textured ideas that make me want to crunch them in my mouth. I found myself writing whole passages down in my notebook. She talks about getting lost, in place, in time, losing things, losing people, losing self. And then I remembered my friend Jefe’s words.
I thought about what he said as I lay back in the tiny hot springs that seeped into Lake Elementaita, the velvety soapy water lapping at the shore and coating my skin in a sheen that glistened when the cool breeze licked it. I let it swirl around my brain as I stared up at the night sky, the stars hiding under the opaque veil of bulbous mushroom clouds slowly trudging to Narok.
I thought about it as mosquitos noisily swarmed the light in protest after I switched on the torch to investigate (from a distance) the source of that loud grunt that sounded far too much like a hippo, and to look for my clothes so I would not be marked as The Muhindi Nightrunner of Elementaita.
I let it linger in the back of my mind on our drive back, as Edward’s easy conversation meandered, being interrupted only by the startled red eyes of nocturnal animals darting and dancing in the darkness.
I thought about it when sleep stole away at dawn that morning, before the sun could catch her in my bed, leaving a chill in her wake.
I thought about it as I wandered along the jagged edges of Lake Elementaita, listening to the sounds of the ground changing underneath me; from the crunch of thin clay that crackled under my feet like poppadum’s, to the squelch of mud where the lake still lingered, to the crisp cackle of snowflake shaped dried salt, to the hush of the grass speckled green and yellow like the eyes of a man I once loved. Still love.
I thought about it as I sat waiting for the flamingos to come back from their sudden departure when they had heard me coming, their feet skipping along the surface like winged ice skaters, necks elongated, wings spread wide in pink anticipation.
I thought about it as I waited for the sunset, the smell of an assortment of shit hovering around me; from the tiny coffee bean like pellets to the large, swirled meringue like paddy cakes.
I thought about it as I followed one silver ripple fold into the next, as the lake turned silvery like rolling silk, the wind blowing over it as if it thought we were at the ocean.
I thought about it when Peter left; the teenager with firewood on the back of his bike, who had interrupted my solitude with his quiet presence, which turned into a conversation about dreams. With a slight smile on his face, he told me he wanted to be a tour guide, and gave me an impromptu sampling of his skills as he explained the moods of the lake to me, then shyly raised his chin as he posed for a photograph.
I thought about it on my drive back home, as the rain beat down a rhythm on the bonnet of the car, and the trees grew taller, more slender, crowding each other and jostling for space.
I thought about it as I squinted to find my way on a road that was clouded over with puffs of fog.
‘He ceased to be lost not by returning, but by turning into something else’ – A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
Thank you Jefe for believing more than I ever had the courage to.
#UnexpectedKenya – Follow the wonderful journeys of 5 Kenyan writers as they look for the unexpected in Kenya and often find the unexpected in themselves, just as I did in myself.