Travel Light


There was an eerie feeling in the air.

I had taken an afternoon nap, as was my norm. My roommate once jested that I could be carried away and sold off to a far land in my sleep.  This didn’t change anything; I still loved my sleep, especially, in the afternoons. It didn’t help that I never really enjoyed afternoon lectures. It would be hot, the kind of weather that would cause your eyes to become heavy in a jiffy. At that time, even the loudest lecturer’s voice would sound like the sweetest of lullabies to my ear.

So I had just woken up but something wasn’t right.

I was a first year student at Egerton University and I knew, campus was never that quiet. You could hear a pin drop in that silence. I looked around and saw that my roomies weren’t in. Even more suspicious was the fact that the door wasn’t completely locked. Mose’s (one of my roommates) bed was rather ruffled up; some of his clothes were still on the bed. It was like he had left in a hurry. I got out of bed and walked to the door.

I could hear frantic steps. When I opened the door, I saw a student, I didn’t know him, backpack tightly strapped to his back, literally fleeing. The guy threw a glance at me then shouted mid-flight “Msee! Unafanya nini hapa? Makarao wanakam! Haujui kuna strike? Notice ishatoka!” The last bit of his words I heard in a faze because he was traveling almost faster than his words.

It suddenly hit me what he meant. There had been rumors of an impending strike all week long. Back then, if your ears were big enough and firmly on the ground, you’d know when a strike was coming. To say the least, my ears were nowhere new the ground and as I took my nap, the strike had started. It had escalated and the university management had already issued a vacate notice. That meant that all students were expected to leave the campus with immediate effect.

I had never experienced a university strike before. I was a peaceful person. I didn’t (still don’t) understand why people had to result to violence to handle issues. I am still of the opinion that violence is not the answer. But university students then believed that the best language university management understood was a strike and there were never peaceful strikes. Don’t get me wrong, all strikes would start as peaceful demonstrations. It would just be students in their numbers trying to voice concerns. But almost all of these peaceful demonstrations would end in total chaos. Let’s just say that a combination of Kenyan police and university students would always lead to a nasty exchange.

So I froze for a few seconds before I sprang out of it and realized that I needed to get moving. I had heard of how uncouth anti-riot police were and I was sure that I didn’t want them to find me there. So I got back to my room and frantically pulled down my humongous suitcase. I flung open my closet and started throwing in my clothes. I had not been told that the last thing that you should be worrying about during a strike is clothes and what to carry. I just knew that I needed to leave and I wasn’t leaving anything behind.

I threw everything I owned into my suitcase, and then I wore my shoes, zipped up the suitcase, heaved it up my shoulder and started on my way. The weight of that suitcase, on a normal day, could have broken my shoulder or back but not this day. I had to go.

I started on my way. The distance from my campus room to the gate was quite a distance but again, no one was thinking distances then. I had to get off campus. I was so busy trying to get off campus that I didn’t notice that I was probably one of the few people who was carrying a huge suitcase. The rest seemed to have traveled really light. But I trudged on; the thought of merciless anti-riot police beating the living daylights out of me gave me a very strange energy. An adrenaline rush of sorts.

I finally got to the main gate. It was now a little after six o’clock in the evening and I was beat, very beat.

The place was more of a market place than anything else. This usually happens when you ask all five thousand students to vacate the university at the same time. It was also an opportune time for the matatu guys to make a killing. The fare had suddenly tripled and no one was complaining, no one had the time to complain anyway, we were all just trying to get home.

I needed to get to Nakuru and then get to Nairobi, to the one place that I knew in Nairobi. It hadn’t hit me that I could sleep over in Nakuru or find a friend around campus to host me. I just didn’t want to be beaten up by the police.

I needed to make a call. It is at this point that I need to let you know that I didn’t have a mobile phone. Mobile phones were very expensive then, dad had decided that a phone wasn’t a priority at that time. So I got my first mobile phone when I was in second year. I largely relied on a borrowed phone for most of my first and second year. And borrow a phone I did. I made a call to my friend in Nairobi West to let him know that we had been ‘chased’ from school and that I was on my way to Nairobi. I also told him that I would be late and that I had very heavy luggage. He promised that he’d wait for me at the bus stop.

It wasn’t easy getting a matatu because of the crowds, but I did. A boy’s gotta find a way, right? I got to Nakuru after 7.00 p.m. Again, because of the huge traffic from campus, there were fewer mats and more people. So as you might guess, the fare doubled. I sat pensively, clutching onto my big suitcase waiting for a mat to come my way. It finally did, an hour or so later. It must have been past 8.00 p.m. when we started on our way to Nairobi.

The Nairobi-Nakuru highway was terrible those days. What with the potholes and heavy traffic caused by trucks. It would take you not less than two and a half hours to get to Nairobi from Nakuru. At times, it would take a whole three hours. So I was traveling at night, with no phone and counting on my friend to wait for me at the bus stop as promised.

I got to Nairobi very late. I knew it was late because the streets were very clear. There were a few people walking briskly, probably rushing to catch the last ride home. I joined in the frenzy, heavy suitcase on my shoulder and walked from the Molo-line stage to the Nairobi West stage. I got there only to find that the stage was clear; neither my friend nor the matatus were there. My friend had given up on my coming and proceeded home. Because I had no phone, he couldn’t inform me that he had left.

I was reliably informed that the last matatu to Nairobi West had just left. My only viable option now was to board a Langata bound Matatu and alight at the Nairobi West junction and then find my way to my friend’s place. This I did without a second thought.

I alighted at the Nairobi West stage, pulled down my suitcase and looked around. There were no boda bodas then and I didn’t have enough money for a cab. So, I picked up my suitcase and started walking to my friend’s place. That walk must have been a little over five or so kilometers. I was walking in the dark, at midnight, carrying a huge suitcase in Nairobi. I wasn’t even scared, I just wanted to get to the house. In any case, the only thing in my suitcase were clothes and trust me, there was nothing precious about those clothes.

I finally got to my friend’s place. He had given up on me and even gotten into bed. When he opened the door, I got in and dropped the suitcase on the floor. He had questions but I was too tired to even say a word, I just wanted to sleep.

I learnt something from this ordeal. I learnt that in this life, we carry so many unnecessary things with us. We carry along dead weight in friends, we carry hate, envy and pain, we carry discouragement and life’s disappointments, we even carry memories of successes of the past that are not necessarily useful to us in the present. We travel very heavy.

So when I got ready to go back to school after the strike, I didn’t carry that big suitcase. I don’t even know where it is now, I left it at my friend’s place. I learnt to travel light. I carry only what I need for a particular season in life. I try to detach myself from the past, whether successful or not, and focus on the now. I drop things that weigh me down and lower my productive; I am now a light traveler.

How about you try it? Travel light you’ll enjoy it better.

  1. As I read, I imagined the weight, the distance walked, the time gone to waste and the threat that suitcase posed ……. while the only contents were oversized jeans and t-shirts ……. and then you said it “we carry so many unnecessary things in life”….”detach from the past whether successful or not and focus on the now” Thanks, it’s an excellent read.

  2. Wow, I got lost in the story I dint even see the actual message coming. Truly we carry posts of unnecessary wright with us, relates a lot. Amazing read.

  3. Nice read Mwendwa. I am that team that travels heavy. Let me try travel light!.Thanks,its a mantra i will hold dear.

  4. Waoh! As I read this story I could not help remembering my days in Egerton university. For us girls strike days was a really risky affair. Once a friend jumped from the first floor of mama ngina for fear of encountering the cops. She ended up with a broken. what the ‘unlucky’ ones went through still bring tears to my eyes

  5. Waoh! As I read this story I could not help remembering my days in Egerton university. For us girls strike days was a really risky affair. Once a friend jumped from the first floor of mama ngina for fear of encountering the cops. She ended up with a broken back. What the ‘unlucky’ ones went through still brings tears to my eyes

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