Once upon a dream and a nightmare of growing old


In Nairobi, we love our sarcasm and our little sneering “so-what”. I thought I had successfully avoided writing about Obama’s coming to town last week. So what if a guy comes from Kogelo to Nairobi? I do it several times a year, coming from even further west through Busia, Sega, Jera Ugunja and so on. In any case, Obama had left behind one of my main reasons for admiring him — Michelle!

But one little thing pushed my resolve beyond its breaking point. No, it was not the “new” lovely green grass on the roundabouts and the road islands. Neither was it the hauntingly beautiful tranquillity of Nairobi’s central streets when cleared of their traffic, noise and all the atendant madness. We who arrived here in saner times, 50 years this July in my case, used to take the neatness, order and sanity of the “Green City in the Sun” for granted.

What made me break the self-imposed silence was a more mundane aspect of the visit. It was the sheer sight of those two (strikingly tall) sons of two Kenyan fathers, standing side by side, talking to the world, to their fellow Kenyans and to one another, or even “at” one another as occasionally happened. It was irresistibly symbolic.

Symbols and dreams are very much a part of our staple fare in Literature. Dreams, we say, are the eggs out of which the great events of history are hatched.

As Abdul Kalam put it, “you have to dream before your dreams can come true.”

As for symbols, we go back to the Bard. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in all your philosophy.” (Did I hear “dreamt” in there as well?) Whatever might be experienced in our lives probably has a significance way beyond what our senses can detect.


The dazzling Uhuru-Barack footage was not just video bytes or paparazzi treasure hoards but a sterling vindication of those who dared to dream in the past and a soul-sustaining inspiration for those who hope and trust in the future.

Uhuru the Born-Free and Baraka the Blessing (regardless of the vagaries of orthography) were not, in this vision, just two quinquagenarians (I know a few big words, too) for whom we had either voted or not voted. In the deep recesses of our memory, they are the hatching of a mysterious destiny that has been, and still is, threading its way through our Kenyan-African reality to the top of the world.

One might have been dreamt of and conceived through Kiambu, Moscow, London, Kapenguria and Lodwar, the other through Kogelo, Hawaii, Indonesia and Chicago’s South Side. Boundaries and birth certificates matter very little. What dieth not is the dream.

Nor is it just the dream of “my father”, but the collective vision that keeps “turning and turning in the widening gyre”, with different people of vision contributing to it at different times and from different angles.

What we saw last week, for example, was born not only of the monumental suffering without bitterness or the restless feet of the airlifted youth racing halfway across the globe. It was also the fruit of the swashbuckling young leaders of the early sixties, Tom Mboya of Rusinga and John Kennedy of Massachusetts, who masterminded the “Airlift” that eventually led to Obama’s being here last week as the most powerful man in the world.

Even for the “accident” that the spaceships of history should dock in Nairobi, we should be grateful. I was touched and startled when my friend and disciple, Humphrey Jeremiah Ojuang, revealed that his father, too, was a product of the Airlift. I, too, could have been one, if I had been born a few years earlier, and a few hundred kilometres east of Kampala.

In any case, I was a beneficiary of the generosity of Tom Mboya’s friend, John Kennedy. First, I was taught English at high school by his Peace Corps volunteers, and maybe they did not do too bad a job. Later, I was honoured as a Kennedy Scholar at university in Dar es Salaam, sharing this distinction with J. Rupani, the property mogul, who was eventually my landlord in Westlands in the 1980s. Strange, indeed, are the ways in which our fortunes intertwine.

For the futurists, I suppose the Nairobi event is a symbol of the imminent arrival of that other dreamer’s vision of a time when people will be judged more on the content of their brains than on the colour of their skins. The seamless world seems to be here, and regardless of where we come from, whether Kogelo or Gatundu, it is ours for the taking.


But wait a minute. In Kiswahili we speak of dreams as night visions (ndoto), daydreams (njozi) and nightmares (jinamizi).

My dream was gradually melting into a daydream when it was suddenly rattled into a nightmare.

I heard Ms Katie Hopkins, a fashionable young Englishwoman (of 40) and a former Big Brother House contestant, propose that a “final solution” should be found to the staggeringly large number of old people who stubbornly refuse to die. Would euthanasia help? Why not put them down like expired dogs?

Indeed, posits Ms Hopkins, a mother of two, specially-designed vans should be collecting these old dodderers, rather like the old chupa-na-debe practitioners used to collect household extras, and delivering them to extermination chambers.

Was this tongue-in-cheek, like Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal? We have no word yet about that, and the lady who put it forward says she never apologises for what she says. We do not know how long the plan will take to put into action. But it should have been perfected in about 30 years’ time, just around the time Ms Hopkins turns 70, and qualifies for old-age benefits. But what will happen to the memory of humankind?

Meantime, when you hear Ms Hopkins’ van rumbling and trundling around the mtaa, alert me in good time, so I can duck. Otherwise, there may be no “Reflections” next Saturday!