I grew up between Mombasa and Nyeri but went to school in Nyeri. At least two of the school holiday, my siblings and I would be bundled into an overnight bus or train and moved to Mombasa to spend the holidays and we mostly could not contain our excitement as we packed for the trip. Our excitement would be at fever pitch on the day of travel when we would leave home around afternoon, get to Nairobi early evening and wait for the 10pm bus. Nothing seemed to bother us about waiting for the bus for hours. There was a lot to occupy ourselves with since we each carried story books though we never really got to read them. We just talked and talked and I can’t tell what we were talking about. Just being in the big city was enough for our young selves, never mind that we were confined within the bus station.
The overnight travel was also so exciting, and we would go chattering most of the way, chat ourselves to sleep somewhere before Mtito Andei where we would wake up to buy snacks with the little pocket money in our possession, before filing back into the bus and sleeping till we were woken up by the heat and humidity that signalled arrival at the coast.
That was then. When even the simplest of things filled our hearts with joy. Fast forward to adulthood and whenever I think of going to Mombasa, the first thing that comes to mind is how fast I can get there. Nothing on earth can make me get to the bus stop early evening for the 10pm bus. Now given a chance I’d want to be there minutes to departure time. Never mind that I’d be fretting in the cab/matatu all the time that the bus would depart without me. Gone is the patience and excitement of chatting away for hours and catching up with simple story books. Gone is the childhood idea of throwing just a few clothes in my suitcase. Now I agonize over packing and end up packing stuff that I do not even need. Catch me dead having just a little money in my pocket for a trip to Mombasa. Now I’ll sooner postpone a fun relaxing trip to the coast than not have enough money even for unnecessary things.
Gone is the idea of going to Mombasa and just moving with the flow. Now I go there with such adult agendas that I could almost write a holiday to do list! My visits there are more of duty filled than exciting. Even the beach has to be so planned for and slotted at a certain day and time unlike in the past when we would wake up carefree, walk there and just frolic. The story books we used to carry as children have now been replaced by endless catching up on social media.
What gave? Why did we replace those simple childhood joys with such heaviness in life? These days by mid morning my mind is pretty much gone! Who decided that being an adult is equal to living a mostly stressed out life? Fine there are bills to be paid and people to be taken of but there is still a case to be made for taking more time to enjoy the simple joys of life.
My fond memories do not end at travel. Even going to the neighbor’s house to watch TV was fun and nothing to make much of. Or passing whole afternoons making each other’s hair with my sisters and cousins. Where did this simplicity go?
It is no wonder that the world is becoming unhappier with time, with Kenya ranking particularly low on the happiness scale. It is no wonder that mental illness is taking hold of society, partly because we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves and feeling like failures when things don’t meet the high threshold that we’re continuously setting. Not to make light of mental health problems that do need professional help, but some simple strains and stresses can be resolved by taking a simpler approach at life. Taking time to rekindle past ways of doing things. Rediscovering what made us happy without requiring too much of us. Starting with myself, the next time I plan on being stuck indoors with a phone or tablet to my face, I’ll take a walk, breath in some fresh air and notice new things.