If you are the typical Nairobian, and if you are truly lucky, Nairobi is where you stay and work, but upcountry, shags, is where you truly come alive. Before I became a more or less permanent resident of the Green City in the Sun, I had been to New Delhi, Kolhapur, Accra, Sydney and Perth. I had also passed through Machakos. (Though, four years of schooling at Boys' doesn't seem much like "passing through," does it?) Today, I live and work in Nairobi, but in the fullness of time, when the public service deems my services no longer necessary and gives me a pension to toddle off, I shall settle in the land of my ancestors, God's Own Country, Makueni, on ten acres that will be my final, true home.
When Nairobi was the Green City in the Sun, no neighbourhood was bereft of green spaces; you didn't have to schlep to Uhuru Park or City Park to find trees. My 'hood, Buru Buru, had hundreds of fruit trees. The black plums in our court, Lacet Court, grew on trees that were (probably) twenty feet tall and as children, we spent a considerable portion of our school holidays climbing trees in search of zambarau. There were those courts that had mango trees, orange trees, passion fruit shrubs...all manner of greenery defined our childhoods. Today, Nairobi is mostly the City in the Sun, its green credentials slowly being erased by incessant "real estate development" and hideous billboards advertising odious products that do little to enrich our lives. (Only the Sportpesa and Betway promoters makes any real money.)
I've followed the #JacarandaPropaganda Twitter campaign with interest. It recalls a time when I was a child when my father and his neighbours joined hands to plant more trees in our hood. Those trees that they planted still stand to this day, offering shade in an increasingly sunny-as-hell Nairobi. I will be sad when that day comes and the last of the green spaces that we have taken for granted for so long are erased like so much has been erased that defined Nairobi.
Green spaces are more than the aesthetics or the environmental benefits they provide; green spaces are the civic spaces that becalm roiled emotions, that are accomplices to romantic assignations, that are the promise to future generations that it is not always about money. Green spaces are a signal that it is alright for children to come home with ripped jeans' knees and bright smiles of athletic accomplishment. (Tree-climbing is both an activity and an art form, good people.) Green spaces are a reminder that our lives are not defined by four walls and a computer monitor or spread sheets and bank balances. Green spaces are the souls that we are afraid we have lost to the all-consuming rat race. When they are gone, our souls will die a little and our days will be grimmer, harder, harsher, unforgiving and dark.
As Sunny Bindra says,
Trees and elephants and rivers and oceans and lakes are not ours to exploit. They are the gifts of divinity. They are what give meaning to human life. No monetary gain will help you when you look upon a barren ruin. Nature is our mother, and we must honour and protect her and let no one besmirch her beauty.
One day your rat race will end, your bank balance will return to zero, your computer monitor will go out for the last time, and your four-walled routine will cease. Don't let your retirement be an attempt to recreate these things; let it be filled with the peace and serenity that only nature can provide. (Just remember to keep as far away from leopards and hyenas; they don't play like that.)