Last December, one of my aunts passed away. I was asked to write a tribute, but I initially declined. My reason was simple: I barely knew her. I had last seen her in 2002. And in 2002, I was a shy 12 year old boy who had just discovered that mentioning adults’ names was not a capital offence. Now, at 27, I was being asked to write a personal tribute for a lady I had not seen or heard from in 15 years. And even in 2002, she had come briefly for a couple of days. Both of which days I had been in school. So we only interacted for a night. And that night, being a child of decent upbringing, I had to stay silent when adults were talking. Before that I had seen her in 1998, when I was an eight year old boy with a feminine face. Again for a couple of days.
Anyway, it was decided that since I pretend to be a writer, bothering people with long posts on Facebook and blogposts that have neither head nor tail, I should exercise the art and pen down some lines. I had one fond memory of her. She is the one who brought the first piece of chocolate that I tasted. 1998. Being a village boy, I had never seen chocolate before. I kept wondering why grandma kept the brown thing that looked like some foreign bar soap locked away. Until she finally cut a piece and gave it to me, and my taste buds went on a riot. This particular sabuni must have unlocked areas of my tongue and throat I didn’t know existed.
So I worked around this memory, grabbed numerous adjectives and used them to pepper the memory to make a short tribute. (On this Wednesday evening, just before I made the first draft of this article, I passed by my friends Edwin and Auma’s place. I mentioned I couldn’t stay long because I needed to get home and write. Edwin asked if what I write is true or I make it up. Auma pointed out that I write mainly fiction. Which is largely true about this blog this year. But Edwin, here is the thing. When I do non-fiction, whether here or as #LongPostAlerts, the story, like this one, is usually true. I just grab adjectives to bring the story to life. See, if Auma one day, in a moment of temporary insanity while making Ugali, decides to put curry powder, pepper (and all those other things in small bottles that I see in Munagi’s kitchen) into the water, the end product will still be Ugali, donge?)
Anyway, on the day of the burial, we went to pick the body from the mortuary. Now, before the coffin is closed, there is viewing of the body. As I looked at her remains, I reflected on the tribute I was going to read in the funeral service. My aunt’s burial was largely a family and village affair. People who had hardly interacted with her in her adult life. But I am sure she had many friends in the course of her life. In all the places she had lived: Nairobi, Malindi and Kampala. But I doubt any of them came to see her in the months she was in the village, unwell. Yet she had spent the prime of her life with them, at the expense of family.
So as I looked at her remains that morning, I reflected on my own life. At 27, life is gathering pace for me. I find I have more responsibilities, and less time. And because of lack of time, there is hardly time to nurture relationships. It is tempting to get content with shallow relationships, which we give nothing for. As long as you like and comment on my Facebook posts, and I do the same to yours, we are BFFs, no? As long as we can briefly chat outside church and share a joke, we are friends, isn’t? In fact, as long as I know you, and we are in good terms, you are my friend, no?
I think not. I think the term friend has been misused (let us not even get to bff). Most people we call friends are acquaintances. People we know. Just that. Because friendships take time to build. And friends are family. And family should be friends. So, as I stared at my aunt’s remains, I realized I was getting caught up in this conundrum where I am too busy for my own good. I could not take time out to be with my siblings. Last year I went home to mum twice. Yes, twice. Easter and Christmas.
My relationship with my mother is one of my better relationships. In fact, one of my strongest. Because mum, like me, is a texter. So we chat a lot on text. I know what is going on in her life at any a particular time. I love chatting because I can reply to a text while working, reading or even in a noisy matatu. But calling is a different thing altogether. I have to stop what I am doing to make the call. So we can hardly have a lengthy conversation, because again, there are other things to do. Unfortunately, very few of my friends are texters. So I keep promising myself I will call so and so in the evening. But I get to the house tired, and I hardly remember. Except of course, for the individual who has held my cardiac organ captive, hence we talk on phone daily. And this, of course, is because of reasons that have to do with cardiovascular malfunction and hormonal imbalance. Anyway, I promised myself that I will be calling my friends and family more often. But I am still not doing thaaat well in that area.
And now we are talking about calls. Yet true relationships require face time. Relationships are often built around memories. And the most enduring memories come from experiences. And most experiences are enjoyed together. I went to see my dad and brother this past Sunday. Again, because of many things to do, I did not intend to spend the night. But we had such a wonderful time that I ended up spending the night. (Which is how I ended up in the office on Monday morning with an Ankara shirt. A lawyer gone rogue? Somehow, I still have my job). We slept late, especially my brother and I. I had to wake up early, because our house is in the outer margins of the city, on the way to Kangundo. If I were to get to the office on time (which I needed in order to atone for the Akara shirt), I needed to beat traffic. And to beat traffic means leaving the house super early. I intended to leave the house at 5 am. My brother didn’t have to. He is still in college, and the lecturers were still on strike. But he woke up early and made me breakfast as I got myself ready for work. Then he escorted me to the bus stop, before going back to sleep. Now that is an experience that I will remember for a long time.
This Tuesday I met one of my aunts at Kaldis Coffee House, Ralph Bunche Road. A stone throw away from the Nairobi hospital. We weren’t meant to stay long. But we started talking and catching up. While she took her yellowish soup that looked like anything but soup, I stuck to tea and a chocolate cake. So much for watching weight. Anyway we talked for long. Then she sweet talked me into taking her to Hurlingham. No, we did not board anybody’s vehicle. We walked, talking. We ended up at some Ethiopian restaurant, near Chaka place. The good thing was that it was around lunch time. But we finally had to force ourselves to part, because we needed to get back to work. But I doubt any phone conversation would have been adequate to create that experience.
There are friends who are like family. Of my existing friendships, the oldest are Arnold Karani (11 years) and Valarie Munagi (7 years). And these have not been 11 and 7 years of liking each other’s Facebook posts. Effort has been made to nurture these friendships, which is how these two are now like my siblings. When I get married and have kids, I want my wife and kids to get to know who I am. And this will not happen by me writing a memoir and a guide to it and handing it over to them. It will only happen if I spend time with them.
Creating time to nurture relationships is not as easy as I may want to make it sound. It requires sacrifice. I have had to slow down my schedule. Like I mentioned in my last post of last year, I do many things. But this year I have had to slow down. I took leave from the worship team. I routinely turn down responsibilities and only pick up selected causes to pursue. In the process, some people get offended when I say no. But I am still persuaded that cultivating deeper human relationships is a worthwhile venture. Otherwise I may turn into a functional robot. Why don’t you take time this weekend to be with that friend or family member you haven’t seen in a while?
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