Remember Sanga? The friend I wrote about here last year? (Q and A with Mwangolo Sanga). I had a long conversation with him two days ago in which he dispassionately told me that if 2020 was a person then it would be him.
Now, no man decides out of the blues to put himself in the same sentence with 2020 in such a frosty manner. Not when he went to a high school where perseverance was the buzzword for nearly half a decade. Not when he is the happy-go-lucky fellow who finds solace in lame jokes and casual banter.
Certainly not when he is called Sanga. Because Sanga is the kind of name that evokes memories of brave warriors of the past who were revered for their battlefield prowess and adored by girls with gaps on their perfect set of teeth. A Sanga is not one to ordinarily manifest downheartedness or dispiritedness unless something fundamentally went wrong somewhere.
“So what happened?” I asked him.
Before we got to the crux of what the year brought about, he walked me down the memory lane to his younger days in Kilifi.
Suddenly, I could feel the nostalgia in his voice. A longing and yearning that knows no bounds. An emotional reflection that brings out the unconscious paradise of childhood in its bare and unfiltered form.
Growing up as a middle child meant surviving, coping and breaking some rules occasionally. He was one of those kids who could be badass on some days but cool on the next. He trudged on a thin line between being cheeky and reserved. He had a balanced childhood. I couldn’t help being awestruck when he mentioned that he lived a life of striking balance during that period.
Balance is not the kind of word that would be applicable to the circumstances under which someone like me grew up in. Balance for who? And for what? At the prime of my childhood, we embraced cheekiness in full throttle and suffered the consequences in equal measure. It was chaotic all the way and the only manner in which self-restraint or the achievement of ‘balance’ was ever brought was through the wrath of my fierce uncles, some of whom are now ancestors. I’m positive that they rest in peace knowing very well that they decapitated all the naught we had in us.
Inside that sea of childhood exploration, Sanga found a rare passion for music. Okay, he had many passions. He wanted to have ‘em all. But music presented something pivotal and weighty. A key to his childhood. A solace during the hard times. And a bridge to memories of the highest significance. As early as six years old, he had an incidental exposure to songs by Maroon Commandos that took KBC Radio ya Taifa by storm in the early 2000s.
You gotta give it to the guy. Most kids never fancied the idea of waking up for school, regardless of whether Maroon Commandos were rocking the airwaves or not. Some of us just wanted to sleep on those mornings and pretend to be sick in order to escape the boring cacophony of voices that dominated the typical school environment.
His musical obsession would of course land him in trouble with his dad at some point. This was inevitable. His dad had bought 10 new cassettes with expensive releases which the young lad ‘dubbed’ with his favorite jams.
To the folks here who were born in 2005 and above, ‘dubbing’ was a common term back then that referred to erasing the contents of a cassette then recording your new favorite songs from the radio. Are we togeza? So, our good friend here did that and he was spanked silly by the dad. He stills thinks of the whooping to date with so much hilarity in retrospect.
Sanga’s musical awareness did not of course remain in the early 2000s with the Commandos. It took off as his faculties and view of life expanded. He says that it underwent metamorphosis as time went by. To date, he hasn’t boxed himself into a particular genre but has torrents of songs through which he rummages depending on what the moment calls for. That explains why he is currently in a deep entanglement with widely acclaimed Afrobeats.
The music was always a big part of Kilifi. But it was not all. Kilifi presented to him an unusual calm and a beautiful state of chillness. Kilifi, for him, was and still is everything that Mombasa is not. It is the small town with the vibes of a first love. It’s also like a chilling giant with vast swathes of potential lying beneath. Or a small charge waiting for just a little spark to transform it into lightning that flies rapidly across the skies and lands on the blue seas. It provided not just a home but memories. Good and bad. Pleasant and unpleasant. One quite spectacular memory is of a young Sanga crying out loud on a Christmas and resisting photography because he thought that ‘kupigwa picha’ meant being literally smacked on the face with a full camera gear.
Of course he has had life outside Kilifi. They say that you have never lived until you move outside your hometown. Four years at the equator presented the kind of exhilaration that can be easily overwhelming to a teenager. But when you’re constantly referred to as ‘gentleman’, you get the feel that you might possibly be one.
So you start trying out things. Things that are sometimes gentlemanly and other times not-so-gentlemanly. You meet a girl from Kipsigis Girls from one of the many contests that you attend. And you kiss her at some point. And you see bright stars that make you think you’re love. It’s a romantic expedition transcribed from the pure pages of fantasy. It is from this fling that Sanga got his first kiss. Of course the fling ended. They all end. If you are reading this and are still dating your high school girlfriend, crush or fling, please raise your hand so that we can give you a standing ovation. (I see no hands. Thought so).
The more I talked to Sanga, the more I discerned that those past years were some of the easiest and the most uneventful days of his life. The innocence in those years remains unmatched. They scream out loud not only in the small obsessions but also in the cheekiness that became prevalent at some point.
Perhaps, the peak of it all came at the instance when the young lad asked his Social Studies teacher whether touching a plastic Atlas globe at the point where Kilifi lay would result in the emergence of a gigantic finger from the sky that would in turn cover the little town and subject it to pitch darkness. What is that if not peak-childhood-innocence?
2020 came and everything that could go wrong went wrong for Sanga. You never truly get the grip of what can happen in a single year until it happens and you are left helpless. It all started early in the year when his beloved mother got diagnosed with cervical cancer. If this did not already bring misery then it presented a premonition of sorts for the bad things that would follow.
The year took Sanga through a rough rollercoaster ride. He speedily went from rock bottom to peak to rock bottom and to peak before finally landing again in the rock bottom space. He was down in the dumps many a times. He was crestfallen for long periods across the year. Truly, if fate doesn’t make you laugh then you definitely don’t get the joke.
His mother’s battle with cancer took a huge toll on him. The surgery was successful. She embarked on a recovery process but then the cancer persisted. Just when everyone thought that she was in remission, the cancerous cells swung back and this necessitated for chemotherapy which is as brutal as it sounds.
She went about her treatment well and was on the final stages of recovery when Sanga’s dad also fell ill. He ailed for a very short time and then passed on. Death has no punch line, they say. One moment you are blinking, the next moment you’re in a deep well of mourning. It’s tragic. It leaves you feeling like a deserted poetry theatre. It also has the barbaric feel of Guantanamo Bay.
For Sanga, everything happened so fast. One minute he was agonizing over his mother’s health, the next moment he was drowning in molten grief over his father’s death. It was like a sharp spear had passed through his chest leaving behind a thick wave of red emptiness. He felt empty on the days that followed. He questioned life and wondered whether it had any meaning at all. Everything he had worked for was aimed at giving his parents everything they ever wished for and deserved but now he found himself flunked by the tough loss of one of them.
For days, he tried to escape the hollowness inside by watching series and listening to music. He still struggles to date. He still has emotional moments of anguish and dark nights when he cries himself to sleep. He describes the whole concept of losing a father as synonymous to losing your umbrella in the middle of a heavy storm. You are left vulnerable, exposed and unsure on what do. You lose a sense of direction and wander around hoping to find your way towards redemption.
Grief is chaos, he says. One moment you’re in denial. The next you find yourself angry. Most times you get caught up in depression. On good days, you make some strides by leaning towards acceptance but before you know it you are plunged in denial again. It’s a fight for survival.
Despite the horrors of 2020, Sanga is still raring to go in 2021. There are some positives that he carries around on his sleeves. Firstly, he graduated. Everyone who has been to the University of Nairobi knows how much of a herculean task it is to graduate from the institution. It’s even harder when you’re doing architecture and working on final year projects while your mum is at some hospital doing chemo. So graduation meant a big deal.
Another positive thing that lifted his spirits greatly was taking up a lead role in organizing three virtual setups for Aiducation which he aced incredibly. There’s still a lot of fight left in him for this coming new year. He is optimistic about blending his passions of being a DJ, venturing into drone photography and putting his architecture skills into practice. He wants to shatter every glass ceiling above him. He wants to fly to infinity.