As David and I walked through the moonlit meadow, pieces of Kenya that I will miss and bits I hope to forget revealed themselves to me in the darkness.
I trailed the quiet manager of the campground, which is located high on a ridge overlooking Lake Naivasha, as we walked through the meadow and then down a bone-dry riverbed to emerge on a hill above a small market.
All around me, colourful bits of garbage blotted the mud and hung on the needles of an imposing hedge of cactus.
We were on a quest for beer but I was busy drinking in the walk — the hushed Swahili greetings other walkers had exchanged with us under the moon, the faint haze of smoke that hung over the kiosks and the faces of their owners that were only half lit by kerosene torches.
Soon, I realized, this magical, frustrating and endearing place I have lived in will be relegated to my memories. Soon, I will need to capture Kenya in words and stories if I hope to share even a glimmer of it with friends back home.
Every trip overseas reaches a point of reflection for the traveller — a melancholic time when departure looms and when experiences are reappraised, when funny stories are laughed at again if only to savour them properly while they still remain fresh in our minds.
It is a nowhere sort of town one must visit before they can leave. Here, home —wherever that may ultimately prove to be —has started beckoning, and every moment away from it suddenly feels as if it has to be analyzed and classified instead of simply enjoyed.
The difficult times living in Africa tested my patience. Then, Canada called in the way a hole in the wall must for a frightened mouse. Now, those times seem like mileposts in a marathon I am about to complete.
Home is the finish line I have been running towards. But now that I am close, do I continue running or do I slow down and enjoy the view?
In the dark, David and I stumbled down the hill towards the market. All around me moved shadows that became visible only when I nearly bumped into them — a cow with massive horns walking up the hill, two local kids curious about the man with skin that glowed in the night, a drunk with tattered clothes singing to the bushes.
I wanted to take my hand, grab these bits and stuff them in my pocket for safekeeping — a “This is Kenya” scene I could reliably pull out.
And yet, I also wanted to edit the conversation David and I just had out of this happy memory, but knew I couldn’t.
“I knew many friends who were killed in the violence,” he said, just before we reached the hill. “I even knew of one man who was killed in Naivasha Town and left for the dogs to eat.”
My mind flashed to my arrival at Lake Naivasha a day earlier — a beautiful volcanic lake on the cusp of Hell’s Gate National Park, where glass-like pieces of lava litter the ground and geysers belch from the surrounding mountains.
Down a bumpy road I’d come, past row upon row of greenhouses which, last year, grew more than a million roses for sale in North America and Europe to men in pursuit of their sweethearts, and then past wandering flocks of cattle, goats, sheep and bouncing school children.
All of it was like a postcard, clean, glossy and colourful.
The blip in the perfection had appeared and disappeared in an instant. There, in a field, stood hundreds of lifeless grey tents and thousands people living in an internally-displaced-people camp, being sustained by the Kenya Red Cross.
As if it was a hallucination, the van kept on speeding along. Yet another greenhouse appeared on the horizon.
As I prepare to consolidate my Kenyan experience into stories, I must first make sense of its lopsidedness — how the six months before the country’s election, in late December, seem so clubby and innocent and how the three months after it seem so horribly real.
I couldn’t figure out how to do this as I walked with David to the local pub, where we exchanged empty bottles and money for four full beers, and where the smart-ass female owner stood, like the television blaring WWE wrestling to the three patrons, behind a steel cage.
And I couldn’t figure it out as we walked back to the campground, with our beer in hand, talking about the violence with the distance that comes only when there is peace and stability.
David told me he had worried about his family’s safety but the violence hadn’t reached as far as where he stayed. He had feared being shot with an arrow more than hacked with a machete.
“You might not even see your killer,” he said, without trying to impress me. I felt a need to slap myself to fully grasp the magnitude of what he was saying.
Back at the campground, I relaxed outside with a warm beer and looked at the far-away lights of Naivasha Town twinkling on the lake water.
A man camping with his family in a tent beside me walked over, wanting to borrow the electricity in my cabin to charge his DVD player. Camping in Kenya can be plush, after all.
He told me he was originally from Uganda. His family had fled the murderous rule of former president Idi Amin in 1979. And tonight, in Kenya, on the Easter weekend, he was hoping to watch a DVD with his kids.
I realized I have inserted myself at an odd time — likely the most decisive time — in the narrative of a young country still finding its way.
Although it has felt like ages since I arrived, it is impossible to wrap up this short and dramatic experience into a story, or to make sense of it.
The darkness of David’s stories lifted as I more fully understood that people survive terrible things and come out of them, battered, bruised, but still with the potential to move on.
It was a mundane epiphany, less spectacular than the pictures and stories floating in my head from the last nine months. But it’s fitting, in some ironic way, that hope can sometimes look a lot like the things we take for granted.
On this particular night, as I pondered my exit from a country still picking up the pieces, it looked a bit like the bright blue light of the DVD player illuminating the tent next to me.
Tim Querengesser is a former Yukon News reporter now writing in Kenya.