March 13, 2019
I recently moved to a small town for a short-term assignment. The town is so small that there’s no public transport, so my morning ritual has changed. Instead of deciding whether I should catch a matatu or call an Uber, I choose the shoes that will allow me to walk to work comfortably. I chose a black pair of sneakers that were a birthday gift from a friend.
I had been feeling homesick because I missed my bed, my cooking, and my friends. Staying in a hotel was very boring, even if my room was quite nice. I especially liked the curtains, a cherry pink color that matched the duvet, contrasting against the white sheets and walls. The room itself is basic: a reading table and chair, a bed with four posts that hoisted a mosquito net, and a huge window on the opposite end of the room with a view of Nzauni hills.
I left my hotel room and walked to work, munching on a mango. The old lady across the street had her kiondo stacked so high with oranges and mangoes that she walked as if she was about to keel over. A group of men were gathered under a tree having what seemed like a heated debate. I wished I could eavesdrop but I didn’t understand the language they were speaking
I bumped into L, my colleague and deskmate. We walked the final stretch to work, up a steep hill in the sweltering heat. That hike had me thinking that it wouldn’t hurt to add more cardio to my regimen. Despite walking this route for the past two and a half weeks, I’m still winded by the time I get to the top.
We came across two tortoises crossing the road, and L remarked that it was a sign that we’d have a good day. I laughed because he doesn’t seem the superstitious type.
For lunch, L took me to his local joint, a kibanda so cramped, people sat on the grass under the trees. We had rice, chicken, and sukuma wiki, which set him back all of 300 shillings. I thanked him and we walked back to the office before the itis—a near food induced coma—kicked in. I told him how homesick I felt and how desperately I needed a drink and a manicure. To my pleasant surprise, L told me he’d take me to a nail salon after work, one in the same building where he goes to the gym.
The evening stroll from work was much easier as we were going downhill. It was much cooler, too, and we managed to catch one of the most breathtaking sunsets I have ever seen. We found a man roasting maize by the roadside and we shared a cob, heavy on the pepper and lemon rub. The maize tasted way better than I remembered and it made our walk to the salon much more bearable.
L went to the gym as I got my nails done. As soon as I sat down, the nail technician told me I must be new, because there was something about me that screamed newbie. I laughed because I have heard this particular sentiment at least once a day since I got here. I settled for pink and blue nail polish. Her work was impeccable and I also got my brows done.
When I left the salon, L had finished up at the gym so we walked to a local bar he recommended. It was karaoke night. I love karaoke because people don’t judge how you sound, and singers get free shots. After a few rounds of cider—my second choice as they didn’t sell whiskey by the doubles—and a DJ selection of enjoyable old school music, the emcee kicked off the night with his rendition of “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal. I asked for the karaoke book so that I could choose the two songs I always sing: “Mapenzi” by Kidum and “Haiya” by Harry Kimani.
As the emcee gave me the mic, I felt intimidated because the lady before me sang a Whitney song so perfectly that the bar went silent. Nobody deserved to hear my off-key, tone-deaf singing. But by the time I was halfway through “Mapenzi,” everyone had joined in like background singers and we had a swell time jamming. Soon after, my free shot was brought by the waitress and I gave it to L because I didn’t trust myself to wake up the next morning if I took it.
The intermissions were the best part of karaoke night. Everyone, including the staff, was on their feet dancing. I had never felt this much freedom as I swayed to the rhythm of the beat, singing along to songs I had not heard in a long time. At that moment, I realized that maybe sticking out was not such a bad thing after all, as long as I felt like I belonged. I turned to L and told him that he was right, the tortoises really did give us a sign that it would be a good day. We left the bar quite late and as I walked home, I couldn’t help but hum Ice Cube’s “Today Was A Good Day,” because it really was.