A few weeks ago as I was hovering around the internet, I read an article from The Guardian that challenged me to make at least two friends every week for the next six months and see how intriguing and fulfilling it is. The message from the article was pretty simple and straightforward. The challenge it posed was that you go out there and approach any person then try to establish a common ground and be friends. Sounds simple right? The truth is that the exercise is not as simple as it seems. When I embarked on it, I thought it would be fun. I have watched tones of movies where people strike up random conversations in streets, bars, alleys and sometimes end up being best of friends. Some go to the extent of being each other’s best men at their weddings while there are those cases with happy endings where the friendships are transformed into beautiful relationships. Just to be clear, I decided to do this not as a quest for some happy ending but simply to quell my curiosity as well as test out whether Gabriel Connor’s article had some truth to it.
So the first day I started out this ‘mission’ coincided with my first day on judicial attachment. I was in court following proceedings. I schemed through the courtroom keenly looking at the characters all staring at the magistrate as if she were some Greek goddess. I couldn’t help but notice high esteem through which they held her. In fact anyone could tell just by the way they bowed for more than three minutes when entering the courtroom. Anyway, I run my eyes around and spot an old lady sitting at the back left of the room with a walking stick right by her side. I tell myself that she is the first person I am starting off with. I chose her because she reminded me of my late grandmother. Besides, she looked eighty years old and I have no friends that age. I guess God was giving the opportunity to add an eighty-year old to my friend list.
I started writing a few things in my notebook. The clerks in front of me probably thought that I was making some notes about the ongoing proceedings. Little did they know that I was wracking my brain as hard as I could while trying to make a possible profile of this old lady. I was writing things like “I think she might be having 17 grandchildren” or “I think she might be Luo”. My guess would later emerge right. The truth is; it is quite difficult to find old Giriama or Arab ladies in this part of the world so it’s much easier to assume she was Luo. I also wrote some few questions I could ask her.
When the court went for a recess, I didn’t hesitate for a second to walk towards the lady. When she noticed me coming her way, she gave me an eighty-year old look that might as well have meant that I should not make any more steps further. I got nervous a little bit but what was I to lose? I just wanted to make a new friend. So I said hi to her in English and she gave me a cunning look. I figured that was a stupid move and shifted to Luo. I could have written the conversation we had here in Luo but some of my friends like Mitchelle Robinson, Faith Wangari and Tobias Olaibon have refused to learn Luo. So I’ll just translate all of it here.
“Hello” I muttered in a low voice.
“Are you CID?” responded the old lady. ( This part came out so sweetly in Luo.)
“ Hahaha. What ? No. I am not. Besides it’s called DCI nowadays. CID is gone with the old days” I exclaimed.
“ Are you an advocate?” She asked
“ No” I replied. This is probably the most suspicious person I have ever met in my life. I went out to her with questions but instead she turned the tables and was now questioning me like parents do to an undisciplined child who has been caught stealing.
“ Then who are you?”
“ My name is Brandon and I want to be your friend and ……”
“Have you been sent by the judge?” She cut me short before I could fumble my way to the end of the sentence.
This old lady was unbelievable. She acted like she lived in Iran where people are always suspicious of other people being suicide bombers in explosive vests. I almost told her that I was not wearing an explosive vest but figured that would bring an unnecessary argument that I wouldn’t wish for in a courtroom at 10 am with a complete stranger. I was however so determined to earn her trust. So I figured it’d be wise to change tactics. I looked around and noticed that her walking stick was on its deathbed. It was so old and rusty.
“ My family runs a walking stick business. I could get you a brand new one if you want.” I lied to her. Her eyes lit up at that sentence and for a moment she stayed silent contemplating what to say.
“ Really? You could do that ? For free? ” She asked me obviously filled with joy.
“Yes of course. I could get you one for free. In fact, I could persuade my mum to give you one made in America.” I continued lying. I figured it’s the only way I could strike up a conversation with her given that she wasn’t interested in anything but walking sticks.
Her next question was how my family decided to venture into such a business. I have never fumbled like I did that day.
“Well…mmm..aa.. My mum was walking one day and then she…she fell down so hard that she decided she needed a walking stick and the idea struck her that many others out there might also be needing them. Hence she decided to start importing them from countries all over the world like America and Panama.” I narrated feeling so guilty for adding lies on top of lies. But this seemed to be the only thing that made her tick. I took consolation in that.
As soon as I completed my response, she burst out into a huge laughter that drew the attention of everyone around. Everyone looked into my direction wondering what I had just said to her. It is then when a young man in his late twenties moved closer and took her arm then hurriedly whisked her away and I never saw her again. I was left surprised at what had just happened. Later on in the day, one of the clerks told me that the lady had mental health problems and that she usually came to court almost every single day because she thought her late son who used to be a judicial officer at that station would someday reappear miraculously long after death. The guy who whisked her away was her grandson who took care of her most of the times.
The disappointment I felt after getting that story can only be compared to the numerous feelings that the astronauts at NASA felt during their many failed attempts at landing Apollo II at the moon before finally succeeding in 1969. I felt foolish thinking that I had found the lady’s weak point to be walking sticks. All the initial feelings of triumph vanished with the winds out of the box windows and flew as fast as they could westwards into Lake Victoria. As I retreated back to my sitting position, I consoled myself that life is not for the faint hearted.
For the rest of the day, I listened to lawyers in bright suits making fancy arguments in favor of their clients. I couldn’t help but noticed how they came alive in courtrooms. They talked with passion. They looked at their files with great admiration. It’s like some of them grew up knowing they would be spending their lives making submissions in courtrooms. I would share my exciting experiences with lawyers some other day in this platform. Anyway, back to my mission. My second attempt at making a new friend came unexpectedly on a Saturday afternoon.
I was out at the Impala Sanctuary just by the lakeside. There’s no better way to spend a weekend afternoon in a hot lakeside city than chill at the Sundowner Viewpoint within the sanctuary and wait for sunset. So as I relaxed around, I noticed that the guy next to me was having problems with his phone. His Whatsapp seemed not to open because it was out of date. He looked to be in his early fifties. So I greet him and offer my help. I found it strange that he had been trying to update his Whatsapp all along with the data off. So I assumed he was either so much disinterested in stuff to do with technology to the extent that he didn’t know the basics or he was just world class ignorant.
His name is Jack and he has a wife called Jacky. We chat for a little while after I have helped him sort out the small issue. He speaks in a deep ancient British accent. He is a dual citizen. His full name is Jack Omollo. He was born in the flood-pronged plains of Kano in Kisumu County. He went to classrooms with mud walls and survived on a meal a day for nearly eight years. He had a single mother who later passed on a few days before he sat for his KCPE exams. He was a bright boy then but the shock of losing his only parent made him score 298 marks which was way below his potential. He couldn’t proceed with his studies after that because no one took him up after the mother’s death. His uncles abandoned him. None of the aunts was also ready to live with him. All his relatives turned their backs on him and showed him the middle finger like relatives do most of the time. One day he managed to find his way to the streets of Kisumu. The streets became his new home. He begged for food in the day and slept in the cold at night. He suffered till he got used to it. At some point he made peace with the fact that the streets were his domain and that he would die there someday.
Jack says that one day as he was collecting garbage at the dumpsite behind Mega City Plaza, a white lady took notice of him. He happened to have been singing the Amazing Grace and that caught the attention of the lady. The lady was a UN Special rapporteur conducting some feasibility studies on the importance of devising innovative ways of recycling plastic wastes. The lady asked his name and wondered where he learnt how to sing the Amazing Grace so well. I would definitely get curious too. I mean it’s not every day that you find a street urchin who can sing so well at such an odd place. So the lady took a liking for Jack’s story. She arranged for him to be hosted at some hotel around where he bathed for the first time in months. He also ate some good food and was amazed at how clean water tastes so good. The lady had the heart of Jesus within her. She saw a potential in the young miserable Jack. Over the next year, she arranged for him to acquire some of the necessary documents like a birth certificate, an ID and a passport.
When all those were ready, she organized for his flight to Oslo in Norway where a whole new interesting chapter of life unearthed before his eyes. In Oslo, he was lucky enough to be admitted into a program that fully funded the education of young immigrants. How life could change within a span of a year. Not so long ago he was a hopeless street urchin who slept in the cold while facing the dark night sky. The next moment he is getting enrolled into a prestigious life changing program at a country and city he had never heard of. Is there anything that is impossible under this sun?
At this point, we have talked so much and time has elapsed so quickly. It is evening and the bright orange rayless sun is slowly sinking in the western horizon. Kipruto is busy walking around telling people that it’s time to leave. He is quite a lad Kipruto. Such a nice guy. He’s worked at Impala Sanctuary for some hell of a time now. Jack isn’t done telling me his story but we have to leave. So he tells me that he has a lunch date with his wife Jacky at Urban Coffee the next day which I could join if I’d like. Of course I accept. Though I tell him that there’s a nice kibanda he should try out. It’s called ‘Kwa Mama Hassan’. He’s definitely down for it. He’s been in the streets before so the mention of a kibanda augers quite well with him.
The next day came quick. So I go to Mama Hassan’s at around 12 noon. I am relieved it is opened. Mama Hassan’s was the place we would set camp in on fee breaks, half terms and closing days during our high school days. The bhajia prepared at that place is an absolute marvel. The prices are still as student friendly as they used to be. The last time I was at the place was after our form four prize giving day. It was perhaps that last time I got the chance to spend time with most of my former school mates. I miss those lads and their craziness occasionally. Mama Hassan complained a lot that day saying that most people threw away the certificates they were given at school at her place.
Jack and Jacky arrive at exactly one o’clock in the afternoon. We all order for platefuls of bhajia and some pineapple juices. Jacky talks a lot. She’s a Luhya girl from Mt. Elgon. Her full name is Jacky Namisi. She’s is probably forty-two years old. Or slightly beyond. She looks twenty eight though. Jack and Jacky met at a library in Oslo, Norway. When Jack saw her, he approached her and asked her name. This might sound cliché but it’s the truth. When he learnt that she was called Jacky, he said to himself that he was definitely going to marry her. True to his word, they got married five years later at St. Olav’s Cathedral Church by the city center on a cold Friday morning. The wedding was attended by Jacky’s parents who also live in Norway and some two friends who lived with Jack. It was a very simple but an emotional one. There were no flower girls or bridesmaids lining up in blue dresses. Neither was there an R-Kelly song playing in the background. He wished his mum was around to witness his transition into a holy matrimony.
We ordered some more bhajias as we talked more. We talked life in Oslo. I learnt that Oslo was once known as Kristiania. The weather there is harsh at times but there are wonders all over the city. Jack describes it as a museum of its own. The architecture is evolving and the people are friendly. The winters are cruel sometimes but when spring comes it’s nothing short of delight. And nothing is as beautiful as the autumn leaves. There’s cheap beer too just as in Panama City of South America. There’s the Vigeland Park and the Viking Ship Museum within the city that attracts tourists from all over the world. Jack adds that if Oslo was a human being then it would be that nice uncle that owns a prestigious home in the capital and is as kind as Mother Teresa. I am awed by his comparison. I decide to make a note in my phone to look up this marvel city later on in the day.
By evening that day, I felt like the three of us were best friends. I have never laughed and had so much in fun in a long time. Interestingly, the two are dual citizens and they were just in Kenya for some one month vacation before retreating back to their life in Norway. Norway is everything to them. In as much as they were both born in Kenya, it is Norway that gave them the true meaning of life though at different times and in different circumstances. Sadly, they won’t be able to have any kids of their own because of some complications that Jacky had in her early days. But they have made peace with the fact that they truly adore one another and that they don’t need kids to validate their love. They might adopt a child some day after their retirement but right now their focus is purely on each other.
As I left them to head back home, I told Jack to be serious with life and learn how to update his Whatsapp. You cannot be living in Norway and have trouble updating your apps.
So I made a friend. From a random conversation. Thank you Guardian. You should all read The Guardian. It has some mysterious insights on how to navigate through life. I hope that my next attempt at making a random friend will turn out a success as this one did.