Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hope Ever Springs Anew... Hopefully

What is hope but a thought in the mind, entirely divorced from grim reality?

Having too much time on my hands, I went strolling in my former neighbourhood, in which I transitioned from childhood to adulthood. Nostalgia propelled me from one event landmark to the next: the stony soccer pitch that scraped my skin and bruised my body almost every weekday, old friends' former residences, the café at which we often hung out and learnt early to spend money we didn't have, trees we met under and occasionally climbed, the dusty streets on which cheeky children played non-stop, random mad wanderers.

My walk inspired some good memories, like all the years The Ex and I shared in these places, alternately 'single together' (that's what we told people) or in a relationship. Mostly "it was complicated" as we circled each other like butterflies in hot pursuit, or spied on one another like CIA and KGB. We relied on informant networks - family and friends - all the while we acted, and claimed to be, disinterested/disillusioned.

Certain bad memories stood out as well, especially of alternately running and hiding in long misadventures, searching for food during the seige that post election violence (December 2007) turned out to be. Angry faces scowled everwhere, raging fires lit spontaneously, columns of thick black smoke poured skyward, gunshots rang out from near and afar. Mobs of livid men and women held sticks and stones aloft as their eyes looked to destroy something. Often, stampedes of panicked runners swept into view and vanished round the next turn as they fled from either of two known dangers. First, there were wild-eyed dedicated looters in those days who roamed about, raping and robbing. Nights were nightmares of apprehension. I had the misfortune of spotting the bloody corpse of one of their newly-killed victims, laid out in the street in grisly display. Twisted. Secondly, one could cross paths with armed cops wound up tight after running battles with these young Kisumu louts, self-styled Ninjas. The cops were said to disregard all bystanders' pleas of innocence, their modus operandi was allegedly to shoot key suspects, arrest the rest and then clobber only a few lucky survivors who escaped on foot with a furious dog hot on their trail. Either way, if a stampede in the open street came your way, you tried to outrun or overtake them - the danger, whatever it was, was at the back.

The few retailers who dared to trade in such a battleground quadrupled their prices.

One did well to stay indoors, even if the TV exclusively broadcast images of angry political lieutenants taking hardline positions in the face of eminent international mediators.

Yet even in those dark days I had hope. I was just starting university: one semester down, nine to go. The electoral fracas found me in Kisumu on holiday. The Ex and all our friends were available as well. Amidst the violence all around us, we found that we had too much unsupervised time on our hands. We managed to make an instrumental album, despite hunger pangs from skipping meals as a food rationing measure. One couple went the family way during this period. But those were happy days in our little enthusiastic perhaps ignorantly relatively carefree corner of Kisumu. (We were not demonstrating, peacefully or otherwise; just waiting it out.) The fracas would pass, the future would shine again with alluring prospects.
Six years later, when nostalgia lured me back to the scenes of my adolescence, I found that the biggest change that had changed was me. I have finished my undergrad only to get disillusioned with myself, the future don't look too bright no more, I'd probably go out and demonstrate for democracy and human rights now.

I forget: what is hope?

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