Who do people say I am?

What is that one thing someone called you that you felt was a total representation of yourself then later got to appreciate the truth it held?

Sometime in my late teens or early twenties, I went on a camping trip with a couple of church folk from my church. I think there were two others visiting from elsewhere. We had a great time, playing games, eating, praying, telling stories and dancing around bonfires.

Soon, it was time to head on back home. On the last night, seated around the fire, one of the visitors stood up to give a vote of thanks or something…I can’t quite recall. He then said he wanted to say something about everyone of us and what impression we had had on him.

So he went round, and finally, it was my turn. Literally saving the best for last! Yey! (This can either be interpreted as vanity or self love. I will go with the latter 🤣) So I sat up, my ears all perked up ready to hear this man dropping some honey and crunchy almond truths.

I wasn’t prepared for what came next.

“Trezer. Trezer is an enigma.”

That’s all I heard before I zoned out into a couple of minutes of gut wrenching disappointment.

First of all, it was the first time I was hearing that word, ENIGMA. I love discovering new words. I still remember how beautiful I thought the word ‘mirage’ was when I first heard it in a Physics class in high school. It rolled off the tongue effortlessly and I kept saying it over and over. To date, I get so excited when I see the representation of a mirage on tarmac on a hot day. I always want to ask the next person in the car, “Do you know what a mirage is? No? See thine life! It is the most intriguing thing ever…”

This is not the feeling I had with enigma. I don’t know if it was the context in which it was said, but I thought it very harsh. Even the pronunciation was rigid and straight to the point. No waves on the tongue. I searched people’s faces for answers to this enigma thing this guy was talking about, but they seemed as confused as I was. I was the youngest in the group too, so I expected them to know because si older people always know better? (sic)

This guy was not even smiling. He had this look that I now think was genuine curiosity. I caught him say,

“It would take more than a couple of days to figure her out.”

I mean, who ever has anyone figured out in three days anyway? But you had nice nice things to say about everyone else and then give Trezer enigma? Sigh.

Anyway, I don’t remember how this awkward moment ended, but I thought about that incident a lot in the months that followed. I was actually really scared of looking up the word in the dictionary. I did not want to feel any worse, even though there was a chance it wouldn’t be so bad.

When I finally looked it up, it said;
“a person or thing that is mysterious or difficult to understand.

Wow. Where was the love?

I let it go and lived life.

Years later, I see this same guy in another church and the memory resurfaces. It should have been about a year or so after I graduated from university. I went home and read that meaning again, and suddenly I realized what a beautiful mystery my life had been. Still is. (Issa Testimony)

Sometimes, I get mini panic attacks when I come across a person (s) that doesn’t quite get me. I want to say, I am such an open book (well 🤔) or how do you not see this part of me that I have laid so bare for you (😥😏)? Why yoi you no understand me? But I am reminded that my responsibility is to work on myself in pursuit of the purpose for which I was created; first for myself and then for that ripple effect – for humanity’s sake.

The onus, (I have wanted to use this word for the longest time!!) the onus is on you to either sulk over what people think about you or get out and live. Live. Whatever this means to you. Push boundaries, scale those impossibly high walls. And when you can’t just take it slow, rediscovering pace and time.

I really like the idea of being mysterious though, even to self. That everyday is a chance to learn more about you, to unravel thoughts and little gems that make up the greater you. To straighten folds amd creases.

To be in constant curiousity about self and the potential that lies therein is one of life’s greatest blessings.

I should know.

Yours truly,
Enigmatic Trezer 😜


The Kisumu Museum

The last two weeks have seen me cover (though not extensively) five out of six counties in what is formerly ‘Nyanza Province.’

Kisumu. Homabay. Migori. Kisii. Siaya.

Nyanza is beautiful.

A sight for sore eyes. Cliche, I know, but it really is.

So many things grab your attention as you drive through. If it’s not the women expertly balancing loads on their heads at Adiedo, it is the beautiful Lake Victoria glistening at a distance, the acres of rice and sugarcane farms. The glorious sunsets!! During the trip, my driver would interrupt the silence with interesting tales of why this place was named so and precious nuggets about the rich culture in this part of Kenya. Story for another day.

..And this is why I was extremely disappointed when I finally made my way to the Kisumu Museum.

After the grueling but pleasant round trip, I was eager to go to the museum and dig deep into the culture and traditions that I had only glossed over during my road trip. Woe.

The information there is Google material. I didn’t learn anything. Well, not true. I learnt that a third wife is called reru. I know the assumption would be that being from the Luo tribe, very little would surprise me anyway. That could not be further from the truth. In fact, I kid you not, any one from any other tribe who went through the 844 system would be bored silly at the regurgitated information from the GHC text books.
What did I expect? I will tell you.

1. The Obvious
Of course. The Luo homestead, the gallery showing the way of life back then (some still relevant today). Then the usual snakes. There were two crocodiles and tens of tortoises too. I didn’t expect the aquarium though, so that was a pleasant, though forgettable experience.

2. Music
I wanted to hear beautiful sounds of the Orutu and Nyatiti as I walked through the halls. The voices and foot thumping of the Ramogi dancers. Eh. How about Benga/ohangla tunes playing as you move from one section to another? Music and dance is a huge part of the Luo culture. Why would it be absent in a museum. Oh, by the way. There were traditional dancers in the Luo homestead area, only that they were dressed in modern clothes and were busy just beating stories. When we entered the ‘husband’s hut,’ we found two ladies plaiting each other’s hair inside the hut. I think they need to take part in an exchange program with the the Mijikenda to see how these things are done.

3. I should say at this point that Nyanza was/is not exclusively inhabited by the Luos. There are other nilotic groups like Kuria and Abasuba found in Migori County and environs. How about dedicating a section to them as well. The widespread intermarriage between the Luo and Abasuba is threatening to make the latter past tense. The community is actually almost extinct. I met a kind fisherman on the shores of Lake Victoria at Muhuru Bay who confirmed this. He taught me the basic greeting. Here:

Salutation: Warai
Response: Bukei

4. Speaking of diversity, the Luos are quite unique in their own regions. This is especially evident in the tales and folklore told in different areas. In Kendu Bay area, you will hear the story of Simbi Nyayima and Nyamgondho wuod Ombare. So fascinating I tell you. In Kano, you will hear of the legendary Luanda Magere. And there are many more. How difficult would it be to get a dani or kwaro to narrate these stories and have them recorded then played at a section dubbed “Sigana” or something better. I’m sure these could be translated and narrated in English too. Am I being too ambitious? Well. I am allowed to dream.

5. Kisumu Museum should be and is mostly one of the first stops for local and international tourists in the region. It should, in my opinion, be sort of a road map; where to find what, why is that interesting and why should I brave the sweltering heat to explore a certain area. As it is now, it lacks the charisma the people of this region are known to have. There is no talk about the stunning bay areas (Kendu, Homa, Muhuru); nothing about Rusinga Island, or the Simbi Nyayima site. What about Yala Falls or Kit Mikayi and the story behind it? Onge!

I am not quite sure how these things work, or who is in charge of what, but I do know there is a county minister of tourism and culture, Kisumu County. What is his scope of work? Can he work with his counterparts in the neighboring counties and the national Ministry of Tourism and Culture to influence a revamp of the Kisumu Museum? If ‘Nyanza’ foresees a future where she is not just known as a fish eating destination, more will need to be done. I think the museum is a great place to start.

Have you visited the museum? What do you think? Any suggestions?

Mercy Nairobi, Mercy.

Nairobi is unashamedly brutal.

Gitonga thinks so, and quite frankly, I agree.

Why? I’ll explain in a bit. Let me begin by telling you how I met Gitonga…

The Nakuru Whole sellers Market has not changed much. It is still the market of my childhood. My siblings and I would fight for a chance to come to the market to help mama with Saturday shopping. Not that we loved the experience. If anything, it was quite tiring, but the allure of a Lyons Maid ice-cream treat after shopping was incentive enough. My visits here are now far and in between, mostly in December when I am home for the holidays. I am here today to buy some fresh green maize for nyoyo, a popular Kenyan dish made by boiling a mixture of maize and beans. I am trying out mother’s recipe, replacing beans with chick peas. It is healthier and a welcome reprieve from the beans that always leave me bloated. I ask a woman wearing an apron in a material strangely similar to my primary school uniform where the maize section is.

Habari Madam? Naweza pata wapi mahindi mbichi?

She points out and adds. “Na uchunge usifungiwe huko ndani” I look at my watch. 2:30pm

As I make my way towards the maize dealers, I suddenly become aware of my look; too clean. I am conspicuous in my orange knee length dress and sea blue sandals. One does not simply clean up this well when heading to a farmer’s market. The more well dressed you are, the more you will be charged. It is a proven concept. The sellers size you up from head to toe then determine the market price. Reminds me of the Engarasha (also bend over boutique) hawkers who change the price of the shoe as soon as they see my number 9 self approaching. One minute he is hollering “Mia biri, mia biri! Kiatu mia biri. Camera!” As soon as I express interest in a rare No.9 shoe he did not even know he had, the story changes. “Msupa si unajua tu hii size vire ni ngumu kuget? Nimekufanyia bei poa. Chukua na soo nane. Nayo ni kitu sawa. Itakuserve.” How the price shot up from Ksh. 200 to Ksh. 800 is not quite the mystery. Shopping for us #BigFootInc, a team I have chaired since I was 10, can get quite frustrating. Anyway, I make peace with the fact that today, I fall victim to that misguided formula. But it is Sunday, the 1st day of January 2017. One must hope. The seller is probably a Catholic faithful who visited the confession booth this morning and told the priest how sorry he was for taking (read stealing) from his brothers and sisters this past year under the economy dip guise. The priest, after listening patiently had assured him that his sins had been forgiven.

“Go and sin no more.”

This side of the market is mostly abandoned. My nose soon gets used to the smell. It is a fusion of fresh onions, rotting tomatoes, sweet overripe mangoes and dampness. A light breeze throws my rosy perfume into the mix. For a brief second, I notice a man doing I don’t know what. I keep moving. The men at the maize section do not seem too eager to make a sale. Maybe it is the heat. Though offering some reprieve, the heat under the iron roofed shelter is almost as unforgiving as the one beyond. I ask again and someone points me to a small hill of green maize.

“Tatu twenty-five hapo madam, Chagua.” Three cobs for twenty-five shillings seems fair.

A young man speaking with a slight lisp offers me a gunny bag for twenty shillings. I decline. I start my selection process. I want maize worth a hundred shillings. I pick one, part the fresh green covers and feel the maize inside. If it is too hard or too soft, I throw it back. I put the chosen ones next to my right foot and repeat. That man I saw doing I don’t know what approaches me and offers to help. I know he will ask for some sort of payment when done, so I tell him I am alright. This is the season Kenyans like to call ‘Njaanuary,’ loosely translated to mean ‘a starving January.’ The hustle is real. The wallet dry spell is common during this first month of the year, coming hot in the heels of an extravagant festive season.

“Ah, utaninunulia tu chai.” He says with a smile.

I know that he does not literally mean chai. Who, except my brothers and sisters from Western Kenya, can drink tea in this heat? Anyway, it is New Year’s Day; I should be able to buy a stranger a cup of tea.

“So what’s your name?”


Minutes later, he offers to carry the load for me, again, ‘free of charge.’

“Wewe hukuenda nyumbani mwaka mpya?”

“Aii. Going home between Christmas and New Year is a waste of money. The fare to Meru, my home is double the normal price. Then when I get home, everyone expects this working class of a man to share his wealth. What wealth? Anyway, I would rather go when status quo resumes. These matatu guys will soon be begging us to travel home.”

I nod in agreement, thinking of the extra two hundred shillings I had to pay from Nairobi.

“Haiya! Georgie amefunga gate!” It is a few minutes past three. The gate is closed. The woman had warned not me to stay too long.

“Georgie is a stickler for rules. He will not open this gate till 3.30pm. We’ll have to wait.” Gitonga adds that the wholesale market hours have to be regulated to allow the retailers to sell their goods. Customers are aware of the price difference between the two sections so naturally, they throng the wholesale area deserting the retailers.

I look at my watch again. Ten minutes past three. Gitonga sits on a dirty crate. He reaches into a black polythene bag he just fished from his pocket. Miraa. I should have guessed. Merus and Miraa are like Luhyas and tea. Inseparable. A green leaf finds its way into his mouth. I notice his dry, slightly cracked lips. Maybe he does need that tea. Unlike other miraa consumers I have come across, he does not have  any drink with him. I watch, a little intrigued as he continues chewing on his Khat. I admire his carefree nature. I still have a long way home, so I remain standing. We do not want to mess up our Sunday Best now, do we?

“Miraa is better than alcohol. A man who eats miraa never fails in bed. I can’t say the same for an alcoholic.” He says when I inquire about this habit.

I try not to look bothered by the high jump our conversation had taken. I had simply asked him why he felt the need to eat miraa. Sex drive tena? Ghai! I successfully shift the conversation to livelihood, but not before he makes it clear that Meru men never need a “10 Natural Ways to Boost Your Libido” article because they never fall short in the first place.

“So what exactly do you do here in the market?”

“My day starts early. I am always here by 5:30 am. There are truck loads of food arriving from different parts of the country. I offload the goods then stick around the whole day for odd jobs here and there. Sometimes, these traders give me goods they feel would not be as fresh the following day, at a reduced price of course. I then wait till rush hour when I head over to the bus stages and sell them to the ones who were too busy to come to the market. I can make up to Ksh. 2000 on a good day. On a bad day, I walk home and hope my wife had better luck. She is a good woman, that one. Are you buying anything else? You had better make use of this time. There are tomatoes and mangoes there.”

I assure him I have all I need.

There are three other men waiting for the gates to open. One of them says, “Ni vile tu nina njaa, ningekuwa nimeruka gate.” The other one warns him against it, and goes on to narrate an incident where a man lost his ring finger while trying to jump over the gate.

Gitonga asks why he has never seen me in the market before.

“You can’t possibly know everyone who comes to this market.”

“I know, but you are hard to miss.”

I smile. Gitonga is on a mission.

“I work in Nairobi”

“Really? I have worked in Nairobi before. Weh! That city is not for the weak. Even the strong are not strong enough for Nairobi and her tribulations. I used to be a hawker. We would engage the City Council officers in running battles. When you are caught, you are either beaten to a pulp or shoved into their old rickety vans and transported to the council cells. The lucky ones would negotiate and bribe their way out before they get to the cursed holding cells. When you allow yourself to get to that point, there is no telling what they will charge you with. God help you. But we always went back to the streets. Watoto lazima wakule. You get used to it. I think no one should have to get used to such a life. I’m glad I got out. Weh! Nairobi showed me!”


Hawkers in running battles with city council officers.  (Photo: Internet)

I have a feeling I have not heard half of what this man went through. Just then, the gates fly open, and a man standing tall at over 6 feet and wearing a faded brown coat calls out, “Haya, watu waende nyumbani.”

Tom Mboya Street is its usual chaotic self. The new year did not bring any surprises. Different commuter buses still pack here. People queue up waiting for buses still stuck in Nairobi’s notorious traffic jams. There is one particularly long winding queue. The Kikuyu one is always like that. There is never a queue with the matatus I use. Only two seats left at the back of the one that’s waiting. I opt to wait for the next one.

I look around to see what wares the hawkers have today. There are fruits, clothes, shoes, toys, among other things. They are all laid out on both sides of the pavement, making it very hard for pedestrians to navigate through. Suddenly, a mini commotion. A group of men, one of them dread-locked, is moving from one hawker to another demanding something. Two of the guys in the group are carrying big polythene bags. If someone resists, they take a few pieces of their wares and move along. They get closer and I hear the guy with the locs, seemingly the leader say, “Fifty bob!” A woman places the money into his palm and he goes to the next one. As they pass by, I see a woman tugging at one of the paper bags. She is screaming.

“..but I have paid! Rasta? Si nimekulipa na huyu amechukuwa vitu zangu. Mwambie anirudishie.”

Rasta is too busy collecting money to hear. Now a few meters ahead, he notices that someone in his entourage is not with him. The woman is still putting up a fight. Rasta runs back, quite agitated and starts roughing up the woman. She is relentless. Rasta is getting impatient. He gives her a final shove that almost sends her to the ground. The group moves on. The woman, not more than 5 ft tall is at a loss. She stands rooted to the spot and says over and over again, “I paid them. 50 bob! And they still took my stuff.” Heartbreaking. Her colleagues just look at her, faces empathetic but mostly helpless. Their loud wooing calls to customers soon drown out her voice.

Meanwhile, rasta is quarreling with a man. They are now standing nose to nose, and I fear a fight will break out. It doesn’t. They both head out in opposite directions. As the man walks past me in a huff, I ask him, “Kwani Kanjo wanafanya job usiku?”

“Hawa si kanjo. Nkt! Mafala hao”

I have seen enough. I get into the bus, now halfway full. If rasta and his troupe are not the city council, who are they? Thugs terrorizing and milking people of their hard earned 50 shillings? Are they any different from Mungiki and other criminal groups who controlled the transport industry in selected hoods in Nairobi a while back? I can’t shake off that woman’s high pitched cry for help. But this is Nairobi. Every. Man. For. Himself. Everyone else is too busy avoiding the trap to help. Even our President does not know what do. Mercy Nairobi, Mercy.


Does Kenya Need a New Independence Day?

12th December is Jamhuri Day in Kenya.

Jamhuri is the Swahili word for “republic” and the holiday is meant to officially mark the date of Kenya’s independence which happened on 12 December 1963.

A majority of Kenyans however, do not feel like the past 53 years offer much in celebration, what with corruption scandals being the order of the day. The health sector is in crisis, and the country mourns the death of at least 40 people killed in a highway explosion this past Saturday. In fact, as the President leads the country in celebration at the Nyayo National Stadium in nation’s capital, a group is at the City Centre, protesting. According to a poster doing rounds online, they are urging citizens to “#TakeBackKenya and take a stand against corruption.”

(As Reported by Standard Media on Twitter) BREAKING NEWS: Police use teargas to disperse a protest dubbed #TakeBackKenya along Moi Avenue, Nairobi; three people arrested

So is Kenya really free? One Dr. Wandia Njoya, a lecturer at a local university, offers her thoughts.

“Jamhuri Day, 2016. We’re supposed to be celebrating independence and nationhood. But Kenya feels less like a nation and more like a den of hustlers and crooks. The majority hustle while the minority loot. Nationhood is supposed to affirm our maturity and our ability to plan and run our own lives. Instead, we now suffer a medical strike about which we were forewarned, and 40 people have died in a road disaster that was shocking, but that has been in the making. We Kenyans have been unable to build a civilization, planting trees under whose shade we will not sit.

The United States celebrates its independence on 4th July, when some white men, some of them slaveholders, wrote a declaration of independence. France commemorates its revolution on 14th July, when French citizens stormed the Bastille prison, an icon of the monarchy. Haiti celebrates independence on 1st January, when Dessalines declared the nation of slaves to be free, and renamed the country after the indigenous people who had been wiped out. It is only in Africa where independence is celebrated on the date when the oppressors shook our hands and pretended to “hand over” nationhood to us. No wonder Lumumba had to remind the Congolese that they were not receiving independence from Belgium; they were commemorating their struggle.

We need a new date for independence.1 One whose pictures are of Kenyans raising fists in the air, or asserting their own freedom, not of Prince Philip handing over a paper to Kenyatta because the head of state, Queen Elizabeth, did not even consider Kenya a state with a head whose hand was worth shaking.

When Kenya has the revolution, I hope she will change the date of independence from the date when Prince somebody handed over the colonial mantel to Kenyatta, to a date when Kenyans asserted their freedom and humanity. A day besides the 12th of December whose fruits of independence are not even bitter. They’re poisonous.”

Dr. Wandia Njoya

An egg and a bangle

There is nothing as satisfying as gradually seeing a child’s face go from “I really don’t know what you are talking about” to lighting up with understanding. To see eager hands raised ready to answer questions or ask some more. For anyone charged with passing out knowledge and skills, this (in my opinion) is the ultimate.

We were out on an education trip in Samburu County, an area called Chumviere. As usual, I was there to document, in photos and video, the mobile education lessons that Save the Elephants conducts up north.  My back was killing me, thanks to the rocky path that we like to call a road. I enjoy these sessions, but on this particular day, I simply wanted to get back to camp and rest. Just before we ended the lesson, my colleagues suggested I take over the question and answer session, to test the students’ comprehension and grasp of the topic. We had gifts too. So anyone who answered correctly got some sort of stationery item. Soon, the classroom was a delightful spectacle; with  hands flying, students running to the chalkboard to label something and trying to outdo each other on speed tests.


Photo: R.J Walters

It wasn’t long before we had run out of gifts. To wrap up, I decided to give a short pep talk on sharing and gratitude. I love it when I have a chance to impart more than curriculum to the kids. Values will take you further than anything you might learn from the normal school syllabus. I think.


“Teacher Trezer!”

I heard someone call out as I walked back to the car. I turned to see a tall, slender boy running towards me. I wondered what I had forgotten. I felt my pocket for my mobile phone and did a quick scan inside the brown box I was carrying; I couldn’t tell, so I waited.

He was almost out of breath when he got to me. I sensed some hesitation as he reached into his pocket and held out towards me a yellow bangle and an egg. I looked at the contents of his hand, then at his face. What was this?

As if sensing my unspoken need for clarification, the timid smile on his lips gave way to these words…

“I thought about what you said in class, about giving even when you could do with more yourself, and always saying thank you. Please accept this as my thank you to you for coming to Chumviere today.”

I stood there, lost for words, as his eyes pleaded with me to accept the gifts. I did. It took a lot not to tear up…(I can be a cry baby :D)…because this was, and still is the sweetest gesture anyone has ever extended to me. Raw and genuine. A bangle and an egg don’t seem like much, but coming from this young man, they spoke volumes. Eggs are such a luxury in these parts. I could even imagine the kind of meal he had envisioned  having after school, but here he was giving it to me. I don’t know why he chose the bangle though; maybe he thought the egg would be too little a gift by itself. Whatever his reasons were, I was moved.

I wore my bangle immediately and didn’t take it off for the duration of the week long trip. Every time I got frustrated about the heat, dust storms and long days, my yellow bangle would remind me about the ‘why’ and the impact on these great minds. This young man’s small act had succeeded in getting me to appreciate that what would seem like ‘just another day at work,’ is in fact an opportunity to inspire.

What a world it would be, if everyone of us was as receptive as this boy was! If each one of us acted out on what we know as right, and strive to see, do and commend the good around us. What a world it would be! How about I start practicing what I preach? Here, catch!

“Thank you for stopping by and taking time to read 🙂 I hope it was worth your time. Remember,  you’ve got the ammunition to make someone smile today. Do it! You will be happy you did :)”



Remembering Tom

Everyone knew Tom. He was the dark-skinned guy who sat outside a tailoring shop along the infamous Kanu Street in Nakuru County. He sat on the ground, always surrounded by heaps and piles of shoes. His little space was fenced by three wooden benches, where clients waited while he worked. Next to him was a shoe shiner.

Tom owned a bicycle, which to me was the only indication that he was not crippled. Not once did I see him up on his feet. He worked on the shoes throughout the day. His hands had over the years been darkened and hardened by the leather and glue. His index finger was like a glue stick, he could never wash that stuff off. I knew he came from my tribe, because sometimes, I heard him speak the same language my mum and dad spoke.

Tom was a constant. I think he went to church on Sundays… I am not sure, but other than that, he never missed a day of work. He would be there when I came home from school and on Saturdays too when the neighborhood kids ran round the dusty Freehold Estate. In the evenings, men would gather at his base and discuss politics. My father was one of the men. At dusk, Tom would pack all the shoes into a sack and store them inside that tailoring shop.

My family was neither poor nor rich. We were not average either. If there is a class between poor and average, we were it. My siblings and I would be required, by circumstances, to be extra careful with our school shoes. School shoes would by extension serve as Sunday best, especially for the boys. It was therefore paramount that they last till we outgrew them. We loved playing football, so we found a way to play bare feet. No hustle. But kids will always be kids, and we would forget and kick at rocks and climb trees till the shoes laughed. We would get a good beating, and then get sent to Tom with two shillings, sometimes more, depending on how hard the shoe had laughed. Our shoes survived the 90s because, Tom.

Once, my father, who worked for the government, got a transfer to Oyugis town. We parked our bags and moved from the Rift Valley to Nyanza province. When we moved back two years later, Tom was still there. For over 15 years, he sat with the shoes during the day, entertained guests in the evenings and then went home when the sun went down.

Then Tom died.

I was in the university when I got the news. I didn’t cry. I can’t quite describe what I felt, but if I am to try, I would say a profound sense of loss. When Tom died, he took with him a chunk of my childhood. He was one of the few connections I still had with a childhood I treasure so much. In hindsight, no one ever said they wanted to be Tom when they grew up. We all wanted to be doctors and engineers and pilots. We did not think anyone could do Tom’s job. It was his. Tom was an institution.

People like Tom are not supposed to die.

I found out today, while reminiscing about Tom with my mum, that he was Ja Kano (one from the Kano plains in Nyanza). That is where he was buried. My father is Ja Kano too, which makes me Nya Kano. Mum says Tom’s work was so good; there wasn’t another cobbler for miles. Everyone brought their shoes to him. He was diligent, faithful. During the weekends, a cobbler friend of his, Ja Alego, would move from his base in the Central Business District and come sit with Tom. The unspoken truth was that Tom was king, and he had quite a following.

Today, as I sat on a bench in Nairobi, waiting for Onyango to repair my blue sandals, I missed Tom. It is six years since he passed on. I see him now, his long experienced fingers intricately stitching my Bata shoes. He doesn’t say much. His short hair is brown from the notorious Nakuru dust. Now I notice the lines on his forehead. I think of his throne back home. His son sits on it. He lives.

Today, 20th October, is Mashujaa Day in Kenya; Heroes Day. Today I remember Tom.

#WorthMoreAlive: I like that we are talking about elephants, rhinos and wildlife conservation in general…

For about a month or so leading up to the April 30th ivory burn at the Nairobi National Park, wildlife conservation discussions have been trending. Local media houses have been assigning some much needed and deserved, airtime and attention to this important conversation. With increased coverage, came increased interest about human wildlife conflict, poaching, Eco-tourism and development. Kenyans started asking questions, giving opinions and suggesting solutions to identified challenges. I have always held the opinion that only a select few care about the Kenya’s wildlife heritage, so it was quite refreshing to watch as people actively partook of the conversation online. As the historic date drew near, the conversations began revolving around the ivory burn. Was it the best option? How was burning the ivory, rhino horn and other illegal wildlife products going to help stop poaching? Was it an exercise in futility?

When President Ian Khama of Botswana unveiled an elephant sculpture made of ivory in July 2015, it stirred up the conservation circles somewhat. Some thought it a brilliant idea that Botswana had decided to put up this monument, while other were of the exact opposite opinion. Botswana’s Minister for Environment is quoted as saying, “It serves as a reminder to people who pass through this building each day that conservation of this iconic species is our collective responsibility. Complemented with a conservation awareness message, we are saying that one live elephant is worth so much more than all the art made of ivory. The statue is a lasting memorial to raise local, national and global awareness of the devastating impact of illegal ivory and the determination of Botswana and the global community to put an end to it.” After about a fortnight of ensuing debate, the noise settled. The towering monument still greets guests at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport.

Ivory elephant

BOTSWANA , Gaborone 16 July 2015, Botswana president let Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama officially unveils the live size Elephant Sculpture of ivory at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport in Gaborone on 16 July 2015. The ivories come from the elephants which died naturally. (PHOTO/MONIRUL BHUIYAN)

This week, almost a year later, the photo of the monument started popping up on my Facebook timeline with captions like, “This is very creative, maybe Kenya should do this instead of burning the ivory.” One particular post had over five hundred shares. The reactions were as varied as they come. Majority felt enlightened and immediately endorsed the idea; maybe a museum of sorts would work? Others said no. Then there was a group that said, “Why bother? Everything in Kenya is stolen. Soon, the only thing that will remain is the glass surrounding it.” Ha! There is always that breed of people, you know, ones who seem to have resigned to some sort of self imposed fate. Before putting my thoughts down on several posts, I just took a moment to be grateful the WE are actually talking about this! In mass! Now, we just need to arm ourselves with the right information.

It is now hours after smoke filled the skies at the Nairobi National Park as President Uhuru Kenyatta led his Gabonese counterpart Ali Bongo and other dignitaries in lighting up the 105 ton heaps of ivory, rhino horn and other illegal wildlife products. The debate is still as hot as the fire that still burns what is estimated to include the remains of 8000 elephants and 345 rhinos. Why burn? Why not a museum?

Gamzo on Ivory burn.jpg

I must admit, up until three and a half years ago, I was completely oblivious of the plight of elephants and rhinos in Kenya, and indeed Africa. As I took up an internship position at an elephant conservation NGO, I told myself that it was only temporary; that I would soon get bored an take up something better. I did not anticipate falling in love with elephants as I watched BBC’s ‘Secret Life of Elephants,’ sobbing as Maasai girl’s two calves nudged their dead mum to wake up. The roller coaster of emotions being extended to the field, looking in awe as they walked majestically into the sunsets or, in more tragic situations, staring at one lying in a pool of blood, half its face chopped off. I was never quite the same. I started caring. I caught feelings 😀

My interest grew with every passing day, discovering and learning about why we bother about saving elephants. Today, I speak from a point of information, and most importantly, I reckon, real experience. There are people who will speak about the economics of poaching, a really important aspect no doubt, but I like to appeal to the heart. Pick up a documentary that will show you uncensored footage and photos of mutilated bodies of elephants/rhinos lying in a bloody pool. Watch elephants mourn their dead. Then take a trip and see them, alive, in their splendor. If you still feel nothing…if you are still giving that ivory monument a moment of thought…Doing what Botswana did, I think, just makes ivory look attractive. It breaks my heart, but to other twisted people it displays class. I see no difference between that and a carved piece of ivory in a living room in China. I prefer a live elephant thriving in a national park, living to its old age. Now that’s a worthy monument.


Elephants at the Samburu National Game Reserve Photo: Daryl Balfour

We, Kenyans, have come of age, having such discourses. I hope the media does not stop with the coverage after the burn. Pray, we need to keep talking about this within our circles, engaging each other on how to make things better. Read about all the organizations working on the ground and read about what they are doing. I feel that if we, Kenyans, start caring enough we will hold our leaders accountable for things as corruption and consequently, poverty and other factors fueling poaching. We need to stop thinking about ivory conservation and re-ignite efforts aimed towards wildlife management and conservation. To purpose never to have a day like this one, because there will be nothing to burn. In a nutshell find a spot, in your own capacity and #Stopthekilling#StopTheTrafficking and #StopTheDemand for ivory and other wildlife products. The burn alone might not achieve the desired results, but with collaborated efforts between governments (this means you and I, as it does elected leaders) and conservation groups, as well as embarking on conservation education, I am confident of success. The economist will chip in. You will get involved. It will be a concerted effort, everyone doing what they can. This way, we will proactively work towards ensuring future generations SEE these species in their full glory, ALIVE, not lifeless, as a heap of ivory. That, in my opinion, makes more sense than an ivory museum. Otherwise, people will keep killing and we will keep confiscating and building ivory towers. It is pointless. As someone rightly said in one of the Facebook posts,

“Ivory for any other purpose than being on a live elephant is repugnant.”

Elephants and rhinoceroses may be large, heavy and thick-skinned, but they are being threatened with extinction in the wild by poaching for their ivory or horn, and by human impact on their habitats. You need to join the fight and help secure their future.

Pssst! I’ll start you off with sites you need to visit 🙂

  1. http://www.savetheelephants.org, Save the Elephants on Facebook
  2. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
  3. Tsavo Trust
  4. Amboseli Trust for Elephants