by Leon Ndekei
They say that if you want to see God you need only look at the work of His hands. This regins true upcountry unlike in the city where the only jungle we see day in day out is the concrete jungle, and where the little pieces of nature that have survived are not appreciated as everyone in the city seems to be rushing somewhere. Therefore there is little time to smell the roses or appreciate the foliage from the trees that are few and far between or even to appreciate ourselves.
Therefore when Kevin Andego invited me for an excursion I had little hesitation in accepting the invitation. The reservations that I had surrounded my fitness level or rather my lack thereof; however these were quickly dissolved when he informed me that it was to be a ‘polite excursion.’ So confident was I in his assurances that I joined the other young men from Satima for a game of football the day before excursion, a decision I later came to regret when fatigue rolled in ruthlessly.
The next day, I arrived at Satima at 9:00am and found most of the young men had already arrived and were patiently waiting to embark on the journey that they had been looking forward to the entire week. Our journey which was scheduled to start at 9:30am began at 10:30am due to unavoidable circumstances and a serious case of African timing by some of us.
Our journey took us longer than we expected because we got lost, this is in spite of the fact three of us (Ochieng, Peter and Kevin0) had been to Ndeiya Hills (our destination), in Kiambu County before. This was a sign of things to come. However after asking for directions from some pedestrians we finally managed to locate the Hills of Ndeiya.
Immediately I alighted from the matatu I was struck by how fresh the air was. Having been born and bred in Nairobi, my lungs have grown accustomed to its polluted air. The fresh air was a welcomed changed. I inhaled a bit deeper than usual to fully appreciate the pure, unpolluted air of the countryside. The view, on the other hand, was met with mixed emotions; it was breathtaking but equally frightening as we could see the journey we had ahead of us. However our fear was outweighed by our adventurous spirit. Therefore we began our journey full of enthusiasm.
We had walked for about half an hour when we met two men who offered to act as our guides for the excursion. It should be noted that all we had requested from them was to be pointed in the right direction and instead they did us one better and guided us for most of our journey. This is a testament to the kindness and helpfulness we experienced from the people of Ndeiya.
With the help of our guides the excursion really began. They showed us to the path up the hill, which was narrow and covered with rocks and thorn bushes. We were therefore forced to walk in single file. In addition it was quite steep, so we needed to be careful to avoid slipping and falling down the hill. Thankfully we managed to climb the hill with only a few scratches from the thorn bushes. Any falls were avoided by a collective effort to ensure that whenever one of us slipped there was always a man to help him regain his balance.
The hill had a flat summit and we had to walk quite some distance before we could reach the other side where we would climb down it. Before doing so we stopped to take photographs and appreciate the view, among the notable landmarks we could see in the distance was Mount Longonot which sparked memories in most of our minds of our individual experiences climbing it ,some memories going back almost a decade when most of us were still in primary school. The mountain stood majestically, a beacon of hope that we could conquer Ndeiya. This encouragement was needed as in the distance we could also see our destination, the limestone mines, which, though not as far as Longonot was still some distance away.
It was at this point that I realised that this would be no polite excursion. Kevin had employed the use of hyperbole in describing it as such. After our short break we carried on with our journey and climbed down. This was challenging due to the thorn bushes and rocks that covered the path not to mention the steepness of the hill which forced us to hold on to the vegetation for dear life to avoid falling and to maintain balance. As a result many of us, myself included were caught in the thorn bushes, resulting in further scratches. We had to ask for assistance from the others to free ourselves.
On reaching the foot of the hill we took another break this, time for refreshments, which were much needed as we had been walking for one and a half hours with the sun shining mercilessly and were dehydrated. After restoring our water levels to normal we continued to walk along the foot of the hill. It was in this portion of the excursion that I got caught in a thorn bush. Having gained some experience with such situations earlier I had confidence in my ability to manoeuvre myself out without any help. This confidence, I soon learned, was misplaced. In the process of extricating myself, my shorts got torn by the thorns.
Initially the tear was small but as our journey progressed it expanded more and more and in the end was from my waist to my knees and looked like I had a slit like those on skirts. Boys will be boys, they say. The others used my misfortune to poke fun. I was asked rhetorical questions like, “Is that Armani?” alluding that I was setting new trends in men’s fashion. However I do not think this trend will catch. However I would not completely rule it out as fashion these days is really pushing the boundaries. I recently watched a music video where the singer, a man, was wearing a skirt therefore my “slit shorts” may not be too radical…
Half an hour later, we were still walking along the foot of the hill. One of us took it upon himself to entertain us with some jokes. By this time we had divided ourselves unintentionally according to our level of stamina of lack thereof, it was at this time that fatigue set in and I found myself in the tailing group with each step becoming more difficult than the previous.
When we arrived at a valley we found the leading group waiting for us on the other side. It was suggested that we end our journey prematurely as we had walked a good two hours already. However when we reached the other side of the valley we could see the mines in the distance and this encouraged us to soldier on.
I quickly found myself in the tailing group again a long with Peter and Kevin. However Kevin found a new source of energy whose location he did not share with us and soon left us behind to join the leaders. At this point Peter and I were really struggling but motivated to complete our task so we journeyed on. We also exchanged stories about our experiences and he shared with me some invaluable advice about University life. We got carried away and before we knew it, two hours had passed and we had finally arrived at the mines.
After four hours of walking and almost crawling at some points we had finally arrived at our destination. At this point I found the source of energy that Kevin had found earlier I jumped up and shouted with joy. I must have looked like an insane man but luckily the mine was abandoned and only the other men from Satima saw and heard me but they excused me as they had been privy to the struggles I had faced in completing the journey. We sat down to have our packed lunch from Satima which was delicious, even more so because the journey we had just undertaken had made us ravenous. We also used this opportunity to have some much needed rest but this was cut short when Cyprian informed us of the time, it was four O’clock and we had to begin our return journey. We feared that we would be caught by the night and none among us had enough faith in their survival skills to risk resting any longer. Therefore it was agreed that our return journey would have to be at a faster pace. We were encouraged when the guides informed us that we would use another route which they promised would be shorter and less tedious.
The new route was flat and therefore less tiring. We were confident that we would make it back before nightfall. After some walking, we hit a murram road. We again divided ourselves as we had done earlier. The leading group, consisting of Cyprian, his brother and the two guides, was around 600 metres ahead of us, within view, so we could easily follow them.
However, this soon changed when the leading group hitched a ride on a pick-up and left us behind. We tried to wait for another vehicle so we could do the same but none was forthcoming. We therefore resolved to walk in their general direction in the hope that we would catch up with them. However in a race between man and pick-up, the pick-up wins majority of the time. The only hope the man has is if the pick were to break-down. However we were not so lucky and the next time we saw the leading group was two hours later, after we had completed the return journey.
With no guides to rely on, we had to lean on the directions from the locals and Kevin’s sense of direction to find our way back. In hindsight the latter must have consisted of lucky guesses and vague assumptions but at the time we followed them like gospel. An hour into the journey and fatigue began to rear its ugly head again; I even began to sign gospel songs for encouragement (never mind that the gift of song was not one which God gave me). I’ve since concluded that during such times we are closer to God as we are forced to rely on faith that all is not lost to get us through.
Surprisingly although tired, thirsty, hungry and lost we did not panic. In fact we pushed ourselves even harder; we doubled our efforts and shared rations amongst ourselves to ensure that we would complete the return journey in good time. Within two hours we had arrived at the hills where we had begun our journey. This was an encouraging sign for us because for the first time we were sure of our path. However as we had approached the hill from a different direction than we had come we were unable to find the path down the hill. We again had to rely on the good people of Ndeiya, who once again impressed us with their willingness to help. We were taken by a young man to the path leading down the hill. Being ‘expert’ climbers by this time we were down the hill in no time.
When we reached the foot of the hill we breathed a collective sigh of relief as we knew the worst was now behind us. Unfortunately we had little time to savour the moment as time was not on our side and the driver had made a phone call informing us that he was impatiently waiting for us. We walked until we came upon a clearing where we saw the sun set in all its glory. We stopped to appreciate the sight and only carried on after Kevin warned us that we would be left by the matatu
Soon we were back at the place where we started our journey; we found the leading group waiting. They encouraged us with claps and cheers to motivate us to take the final steps of our journey. A few days earlier, if you had told me that I would manage to walk for seven hours in one day, I would have laughed and dismissed you as a dreamer. But we had done it. We had pushed ourselves beyond our limits, conquered Ndeiya and in the process discovered that our strength was far greater than we had previously imagined. For me this realisation came heavily, as I realised that I was my only barrier to achieving my goals. All I needed was within me. ‘Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.’ The truth in these words of the late Nelson Mandela was finally revealed to me. It was a great day.