It was a normal blistering saturday afternoon, feeling exceptionally tired after dancing til the stars had gone to bed the night before. I was at the centre in Mathare early to work with the team. After a couple of hours of sweating and swearing I heard a sound nearing by that sounded too familiar. It was the unmistakable sound of the earth rattling matatu (the local buses, decked out with widescreen TV's and huge sound systems) nearing the centre, blasting dancehall with bass that was trembling the corrugated tin roofed and walled shacks all around it as it passed. This one was particularly special, Bubble gum pink and blue with airbrushed portraits of Aaliyah, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé with a stencil of “Baby Phat” written all over. Every matatu has a name on the windshield and this one was dubbed "PHAT".
"We are going to a memorial. It is one year today that my best friend was murdered by the police." Kaka told me.
I had been here at that time last year and remembered it.
"You should come. We are going up country." Said Kaka
He didn't have to ask me twice. If one spends too much time in this city with out seeing nature one can go batshit crazy (especially a Canadian). I jumped on the bus and was shown to the VIP section, the very back seat left window,which is always my favourite place to sit on a bus. All the girls and guys who are mostly around my age and who I have come to know and befriend crammed on board and in a few minutes we were off.
I thought it was going to be a sombre affair. A time for reflection and mourning. As soon as we hit the main highway, that notion was quickly dismissed. The driver put the pedal down and the music up. The bass felt like we were inside a battleship engine room. All the windows were open and everyone was dancing. Libations were flowing and the bright sun illuminated the smoke filled the bus. I kept my eye on the scenery we were passing outside. Kenya is beautiful and green and lush. Every half an hour someone would lean over and tell me the name of the village we were passing through. The best part was as we passed through the entire villages stopped in their tracks to gawk at the colorful monster blasting music, racing through their only road. The kids especially loved it. All of them stopping from their chores to dance to the music as it passed. Even a group of naked boys swimming in the river started running after the bus.
We stopped about 6 times to refill on water and other liquids. For me it was a little bit embarrassing sometimes when we would stop in a place with the music blasting profain language about body parts a while guys would started running around with their shirts off, smoking, in front old men and women who looked on in complete contemptuousness. We only stopped long enough for the dust to start settling before we were ripping down the road again leaving everyone behind covered in a thin layer of road.
After a few hours of driving and back country roads, idling down steep hills and knocking an old man and woman off a motorcycle and into a ditch (the roads are too thin) we finally arrived.
Everyone had donated money to buy a nice tombstone and it was brought over to be cemented in to the already existing tomb fabricated on the hillside of the families farm over looking the amazing Kenyan horizon. The drunken men argued for a good part of an hour as to how to install it. I walked around, sat on the grass and hid in the shade trying to inhale as much fresh country air as possible for most of the time. The village drunk took a liking to me and he practiced his broken english and I my broken Swahili.
" I want to walk behind you." He said.
"Pamoja" (as one) I answered.
The cementing had been done and everyone took out their phone cameras and took group shots of the family and friends. I was made to stand in the photos and I wasn't totally crazy about that idea but one friend from Mathare named Ibrahim said "You are one of us". I was touched. The date on the tombstone was 1985-2009. The same year I was born. It was emotional reflecting on the life these guys have to endure.
People paid their respects and a pastor said some prayers to another soldier lost to the streets.
This is Karanja, who most of the time is collecting garbage from residences in Mathare. Meaning most of the time he is covered head to toe in garbage juice. He is hard as nails and on this day is looking particularly Mick Jaggerish.
The sun started to go down and so we all crowded back on the party bus and made our way back to the noisy city to make it in time for the Barcelona vs Real Madrid game.
Jesus it was nice to leave the city.