Wishing is a simple thing. You see something, you desire it, you briefly shut your eyes and utter a few words rich with supplication and conviction, “God, I wish I could get that.”
Often times it rarely comes to pass. Especially if it’s something beyond your control or your unbeatable abilities as a relentless go-getter. Other times, it’s within your power to get what you wanted. But sometimes the wishes are so simple and the resulting answer to your entreaty is one that makes you go, “What the fuck?”
All I wanted was a camel ride. I hadn’t had one since primary school. I missed that rush you get when you’ve mounted the rich man’s beast of burden as it stands. I missed the rocking ride. That warm camel smell that made you think of yourself as some sort of Arabian adventurer in an ancient story. That was all I wanted.
It was an ordinary day. The sun was up in its persistent quest to boil Nairobian brains. The plan was to meet with a few of my workmates in the city centre so that we could commute together to the Paradise Lost picnic site. Of course being African timers, none of them made it on time.
Standing in the stifling heat being gawked at by hapless city dwellers as they went about their business, I and a few other friends waited until we became a large enough number to board a matatu together.
We left the city when we got to 7.
The trip there was uneventful. We alighted at Kasarini, Kiambu and waited at the main road for those who were a few minutes behind us to catch up while one of us went to purchase enough charcoal to roast half a goat, we planned a way to get from the road to the site itself. I wasn’t willing to walk three kilometres in Kiambu’s insolent red dust and the sun that wanted to challenge my melanin.
We settled on taking a ride share. A fact that seemed shocking to my Nairobi dwelling workmates. Kiambu si ocha. I felt the need to remind them, having grown up there. Although with the direction their governor is taking them, it’s beginning to appear as classless as some people would hope it would be. Who in their right mind calls for legislation that forces companies to hire 70% of the “dominant community”? It’s a slap in the face to calls of diversity and gentrification. Forcing Kiambu companies to meet quotas to hire Kikuyus would be just as ridiculous as forcing a company to hire more men. Regardless, our Uber was on time and the driver uncharacteristically kind in dropping us smack in the middle of the miniature park.
After meeting some of the workmates who had already arrived, I was already set on my quest to find a camel. Paradise Lost offers amenities that we took for granted growing up. Boat rides, camel rides, horse rides and a visit to some caves that were used by freedom fighters in our famous quest to gain independence from British rule.
The group’s self-appointed coordinator asked us not to run off.
“I need everybody together so that we can start the activities together.”
I was grumpy. My eyes rolling so far up the back of my head I could see the roots of my hair. I wanted a camel ride dammit. And I was going to get one.
I’ve never been one for team building or group activities to foster cohesion. In my experience, any dissent within a group has never been solved by forcing people to eat together. Plus I suffer from an inexplicable urge to stay away from the general public. It started from a young age, only back then I didn’t know it was anti-social behaviour. My friends just thought I was weird.
Back in primary school when we took a trip to the Coast, everyone else gathered to ooh and aah over a pillar erected in honour of (I guess) Vasco da Gama. I was in no mood for appreciation of Portuguese imports. I decided to go play with the Malindi waves alone. An anecdote that was met with derision by my parents. How dare I have the audacity to enjoy myself alone?
Thankfully, I am 24 now and as Beyoncé so eloquently said, “I’m a grown woman, I can do whatever I want.”
When more of my workmates arrived, a fellow group-work separatist and I set off to find the rides. He was more interested in horse rides, I wanted the camel. But the park boasted of no camel. Just a pale, emaciated horse with fur as tough as the bristles of an old brush. I tried to pat his head but he flinched away from me. Tears springing in my eyes, I finally managed to coax the old beast to a chin rub. He looked momentarily happy. I could have sworn he’d smiled. But his grimace may have been refracted through my tears.
My colleague got his horse ride. I decided to abandon him to his questionable joy. I tried looking out for a camel, briefly worrying that it could be in just as dilapidated a state. But there was no camel. When the horse attendant (or starver as I referred to him in my mind. The heartless bastard) returned, I asked him about the whereabouts of the camel but he said there were no camel rides that day.
I was disappointed. Of all the things to fall through, it had to be what I wished for most? The conspiracy of fate against me was continuing. First it was a chocolate brand. Cadbury’s Old Jamaica- made with rum and orange liqueur. Then it was a perfume, Chris Adams’ Voyage. After years of denials it’s finally culminated as a supermarket chain, Nakumatt. And now I couldn’t even have a damn camel ride?
Thankfully, Paradise Lost is heavenly enough in its resources of fun. I ended up going on the kiddie swings, momentarily reliving my youth as a bit of a daredevil. I couldn’t perform the swinging jump though. I later re-joined my workmates and partook in devouring the half goat that they had bought for us.
There was a lot of hobnobbing, new vows of friendship and fidelity made up and haphazard fun. The self-appointed coordinator got us to go to the river’s edge for his coup de grace. A boat ride. Where we row the boats ourselves. Yippee. In a boat of six, with half of them inebriated, progress was only made when me and my soft spoken seat mate confiscated the oars. Surprisingly, we seemed to be the boat that covered the most water surface area.
Unfortunately our outing cost us precious time and there was no opportunity to see the caves. The day would have gotten a rotten rating had it been a movie submitted to Rotten Tomatoes for a review. It was dull and unimaginative. A patchwork of outdoor activities meant to cement a bond that never existed. I could almost call it a waste of money. But that may be my bitterness at the lack of a camel talking.
We left for home when night blanketed Kiambu. A group went ahead to revel in a night of drunken debauchery. I just went home to sleep, my wet blanket attitude even displeasing my cat who left me a fur ball on my pillow the following day.
I kept wondering about the camel. And with how cash-poor I am these days, I couldn’t help but wonder when I would ever get the chance to ride a camel again. On Monday came what only a foolish optimist would call a reprieve.
As I was heading to work, I encountered a camel. Standing on top of one of Nairobi’s world-famous trash heap- was the camel of Kawangware.
In all its malodorous glory, sifting through the mound of garbage as it sought something to eat. I stared up at the sky and asked, “That’s what I get?”