“Take only memories, leave only footprints,” Chief Seattle.
If you want to beat traffic jam in Nairobi, hit the road on Sunday. You will be embraced by empty roads and overcrowded churches. That has always been my wrong perception of the city in the sun. It is a sunny Sunday morning and traffic gridlock is real. Most major roads have been closed, thanks to the Stanchart marathon. We are crawling on traffic, hooting and hurling curses at impatient motorists.
Instead of 30 minutes, it has taken us exactly 2 hours to drive from the CBD to Uhuru garden. Uhuru gardens is the highway to Kenya’s history. It is the largest memorial park in Kenya where the first ‘Uhuru’ (independence) celebrations were held under the leadership of Kenya’s first president, the late Jomo Kenyatta. I am here to particularly commune with history, art and nature. I bid my Uber driver farewell and jump-start my mission.
“Hello, what is the entrance fee?” I ask the ticketing officer.
“We only charge motorists a parking fee of Ksh 200,” he says giving little attention to me.
I walk past him. A cool breeze blows my body, weeding out any feeling of fatigue . There is a sea of humanity in this vast park, seeking haven from the hustles and bustles of the city. Religious people praying silently, love birds cuddling each other intimately and curious foreign tourists capturing everything and anything around them on camera. I flow with the mass towards a picturesque monument. The main features of the monument include: People raising the flag of Kenya, a dove, heart, clasped hand and a man standing alert.
Literature cast on the foundation stone of the monument reveals that it was commissioned on 12th December 1986 by Kenya’s second president, H.E Daniel Arap Moi. The dove signifies peace, the heart stands for love and clasped hands symbolize unity. The human sculpture signifies the readiness to defend Kenya at all times.
A shrill scream suddenly shakes me to the core. I turn back to catch a glimpse of a teenage girl running away. “What’s up?” I ask a startled senior citizen shaking her head.
“This harmless warthog was sniffing at her shoes. Poor girl, she thought it would maul her to death. Anyway, maybe she is warming up for the Olympics games,” She responds.
“That is the tragedy of watching one million horror movies and reading zero books,” I rub onto her face my reading campaign.
“There are two types of readers: ordinary and critical readers. I have mad respect for the latter and indescribable contempt for the former,” she says smiling at me.
She gets an Oppo Smartphone from her pouch and requests me to take a selfie with her in front of the historical monument. I honour her request.
“I visit this place every Sunday to re-live the bitter-sweet Jomo and Moi regimes. You millenials will never understand our past pain and pleasure,” she says as she scrolls through the photos on her phone gallery.
“I read history books,” I disapprove her.
“History books will never tell you about my feelings towards the introduction of the multiparty system in Kenya. History books will never tell you about my dad’s admiration of Moi’s Nyayo philosophy. History books will never tell you about my elder brother’s displeasure in Moi’s leadership style. History books will serve you exaggerated facts without any pinch of human feeling. History must be humanized.”
Silence ensues. A light aircraft zooms past us towards Wilson airport. “By the way, I am Philomena Chacha, a retired teacher of history. You are the people to rectify the grey areas in our history textbooks,” she says.
“What do you mean? You must be kidding!” I exclaim
She responds by clicking and granting me a contemptuous head to shoes look before walking away.
Her unusual utterances and bizarre reaction render me speechless. I compose myself swiftly and walk towards a mugumo tree in front of me. On my way, I pass by an olive tree planted by president Uhuru Kenyatta on 11th October 2013 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Kenya’s independence. Coincidentally, the mugumo tree was planted in 1964 by president Uhuru Kenyatta’s father, H.E Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. The tree is of historical significance since it was planted on the spot where the colonial Union Jack( British flag) was lowered and Kenya’s national flag first hoisted.
It is already noon. The bright sun has already been hidden by dark-grey clouds, threatening to release a heavy downpour. Rains are catalysts for chaos in Nairobi. I swagger back to the parking lot, scared of the impending traffic snarl but pleasantly amazed by the 1 -hour moment of enlightenment. Thank you Uhuru gardens for teaching me history through art and nature.