It was few minutes to four and I was still stuck in traffic on Limuru road. This meant there was a possibility I would be late for my 5 o’clock meeting. I started becoming nervous so I removed my ear phones from the inside pocket of the leather jacket and started listening to Liquideep. The music calmed me.
When I arrived, it was a few minutes past five and like any typical African event, this meeting would be late by at least 30 or so minutes. I proceeded to the balcony at the topmost floor of the building to observe the fading skyline and the setting sun as I waited for the engagement to start. At that time of the day Nairobi looked beautiful from my point of view.
My eyes drifted to the horizon as the sun rays struggled to stream through the spaces between towering buildings and establishments in town. I watched with an unwavering gaze, as the fiery red ball of light slowly sank beneath the Nairobi horizon, and threads of light lingered in the sky, mingling with the rolling clouds, dyeing the heavens first orange, then red, then dark blue, until all that was left of the sunset was a chalky mauve, and then that melted away in turn as stygian darkness took over the sky.
I don’t know how far I stood there, engaged in endless thought. It might have been an hour or so until someone came, patted me at the back and told me the event was kicking off. I slowly walked downstairs to the packed hall. I had a seat reserved so I headed there directly and waited enthusiastically for the man of the hour.
“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons…
His voice startled me from the concentration I had on my phone on which a clip of ‘Lucifer’ starring Tom Ellis and Lauren German was playing. Being a poetry event, he was trying his hand on the art. His deep voice evoked some sighs from the numerous number of ladies gracing the event. Few whimpered on their seats as the evident masculinity from deep within his soul brought the auditorium to a deathly silence. I was wowed by the manner in which he captured everyone’s enthrallment.
I am not the type that adore celebrities but I had always wanted to meet the face behind ‘the three sides of a coin’. I had hankered to engage his intellect for as long as I can remember. Finally here was the man – In blue jeans, a tucked crispy white shirt and a half coat. He was darker than the cameras admitted but the voice was as I had heard it since 2008 when I started listening to him.
His story of 25 years that started on air was a galvanizing one. His desire to tell African stories had taken him to the most dangerous of African war territories that included the Niger Delta. In his words it was far much better for an African to tell his story – whether inspiring or heartbreaking than a white man do it.
That urge is what had pushed him from a calm, first world United States to some of the most dangerous conflicts that Africa had endured raging from the civil war in Liberia to the Darfur conflict in Sudan to a face to face interaction with the aftermath of the LRA’s actions in Northern Uganda. He was a man that pushed beyond boundaries and CNN says that he also reported from Baghdad on the post-war insurgency, reconstruction and the historic 2005 elections in Iraq.
Can you imagine that? Baghdad? Iraq? From the movies I have watched, those places are depicted as some of the most dangerous in the world. I imagine landmines are scattered allover. You have to weigh your steps lest you need the ‘Strike Back’ team to come save your ass.
During the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, he apparently visited the country. In one of the places he dropped in, the bodies of the victims of the heinous crimes were still there. Unmoved. Skulls and bones. The atmosphere reaked of death and fear. It was a sight meant to remind the Rwandese populace of the dark hole they had crawled out of. Since it was a church, the Bible was still open at the pulpit… No one had moved it in 10 years.
Due to the lack of objectivity that has characterized Kenyan media and its journalists, I have always taken a back seat when the professiona is being discussed. But that day gave me an opportunity to hear from a journalist who had seen it all. Travelled the world and beyond to tell the story. Of the 50 plus African countries, he had been to 47.
With a Mercedes G series parked downstairs, this guy was in every aspect of the term successful. He had excelled in a profession that has been left to socialites and comedians. He had chosen to tell a different story of a continent whose script was one of desperation, anarchy, civil disobedience, tears and war. He chose to tell the other story of a people who seemed to be on the wrong side of nature by telling the Niger famine story in ‘Starving in Plain Sight’ and the famine calamity in Malawi through ‘Desperation in Malawi’.
Over time I had been tempted to conclude that he was where he was because of the background he was born in, but through his narration, I recognized hardwork, dedication and God’s favor as what had catapulted him to the stage he was now in charge of.
As the streets some minutes away became deserted, the silent crickets started their melodies of the night, as the heavens darkened by every minute, the voice echoed and the movie like chronology of his career was consumed by the packed crowd.
Wannabe journalists learnt from one of the best, socialites took photos and posted on IG, Twitter bigwigs started hashtags and spectators like me listened expressionlessly.
I was proud that Kenya had one of its own who had achieved something in current standards. One who had played on the global arena and made a significant impact.
As the event came to an end, everyone scrambled for a selfie and I understood why. Most of the times I don’t understand the hullabaloo around taking pictures with celebrities. Unless you have ‘boss lady’ as your second name, I don’t see why you should struggle.