The sun rose early welcoming another beautiful day in the African countryside. The clouds saluted each other respectfully as they joined hands to embark on their daily sojourn across the vast and endless sky. The birds exchanged their morning greetings cheerfully as did the cows and goats on their way to graze. The dew rested easily on the grass revealing their overnight nourishment. The trees stood majestically spreading their branches in all their glory, their rich green leaves swaying delightfully in the mild wind. The smiling flowers, having woken up from their slumber now bask in the warm morning sun.
I took all this in as I prepared to participate in a 62-kilometer (40 miles) trek across the low-lying hills of Kenya’s Eastern province. This was not a charity walk. It was a stretch experience meant to teach us lessons about life. Excitement had built up to euphoric proportions; this was an opportunity to test our limits and show our true mettle. Our zest, in tandem with the nature around us, did not betray our unpreparedness for the task ahead.
We took off promptly at 8 a.m. We were exuberant as we marched off in unison like an army platoon, a swarm of excited adventurers out to test the limits of mother nature! We walked lazily at first, giving in to the draw of the animated conversations and the uncontrollable laughter at the rib-cracking jokes. Oblivious to the passage of time, the nature lovers paused to soak in the fresh air and tune in to the surrounding beauty, while the creatives attempted to find the tongues in the trees and the patterns in the skies. Our camp soon disappeared into the distant horizon as we ate up the miles.
The dust on the ground, disturbed from its peaceful rest, rose and filled the air around our invading feet as we stamped away. Now several kilometers in, the initial bustle gave way to chit chat as we broke into smaller units. The few driven ones were at the head of the pack as if engaged in a hitherto unmentioned race. The nature lovers were still trailing behind, unwilling to resist the sights and sounds. Most of us were in the middle, trying to engage in meaningful conversation while wrestling with the lingering realization that we might have bitten off more than we could chew.
It was nearing midday. The sailing clouds now huddled together like sheep seeking some respite from the merciless sun. Like a cruel task master, the unrelenting heat rained continuous blows on us as we trudged along. The wind had stopped blowing, leaving us at the mercy of the static moisture-laden air. The leaves, once confident, were now drooping like an elephant’s ears. The birds were nowhere to be found; their earlier chirping and singing now a dreamy hum. The hills that were once beautiful now stood before us like giants, daring us to move forward. The winding road ahead of us stared back wearily, as if to warn us that the worst was yet to come.
The conversation had all but ceased. As we sat down to rest and eat our packed lunches, I was convinced this had been a very bad idea. I was not alone; many others voiced their regret. Unfortunately, there was no backing out now. We were 30 kilometers into the trek on a path across the countryside. Going back to the camp was just as difficult as going forward since walking was the only available mode of transport. Self-proclaimed pundits among us tried to assuage our fears by giving tips for successful trekking, but it was too little, too late. As we painfully picked ourselves up to continue, we knew that our long and now bleak day was about to get worse.
That final leg was pure torture. The sun had started descending, bidding the day goodbye as it prepared to sneak back east. The singing of the birds, interjected by the chirping of crickets creeping out of hiding, sounded like an endless dirge. High up in the trees the leaves swayed, but on the ground, the grass was silent, limp and unmoving. The elements were ganging up against us to blithely mock our initial bravado. We thought we could conquer mother nature, yet here we were walking like zombies. Refusing to be defeated, we pressed on towards our destination. Our legs were now heavy, resisting our attempts to lift them off the ground. Most of us were silent in our personal pain. Some of us were on the verge of tears. Our feet were sore, and with sore feet came sore attitudes. We wanted an end to this ordeal. Step after painful step, we dragged our weary bodies forward anticipating the site of our camp; hope looped with despair in a seemingly endless thread.
The night stars were making their appearance when we finally arrived at the camp. The sense of relief among us was palpable, as we finally allowed our tired bodies the rest they had been begging for. That night I did not talk much while I reflected on the day’s events. The journey had been arduous and left me with more questions than answers.
In a sense, this trek mirrors the godless life. At the beginning, it is pregnant with hope and expectation. The younger years are full of a joy oblivious to the happenings around them. Days are spent playing in the fields, enjoying the gifts of mother nature. The worries are few and the laughter is loud. Life is lived in the moment; new friends are made and good company enjoyed. When the day finally ends a night of delightful dreams awaits.
With age, this carefree life slowly gives way to a new reality. The youthful days are filled with worries about looks, identity, acceptability and worth. The feeble minds are inundated by thoughts and emotions. The blissful image of the world is quickly shattered by a rude awakening of an unforgiving world that demands more than one can give. Clinging to the joy and simplicity of childhood is like trying to swim against the tide. Soon all is swept away by the cares of life. Sorrows and regrets color life and weigh down the soul. There is no place for solace from the harsh world. Reaching out to those that seem to have made it is futile, for everyone is caught in their own endless pursuit. The sudden reality that one is all alone lands like a sledge hammer upon the already weary soul.
The middle ages might offer shade upon which to reflect on the journey. Some complain and shift blame, while others quietly contemplate their next steps. Their relief is short-lived as life drags one back to the road. The latter years are either better for the knowledge gained or worse because of it. The innocence is long gone. The burden on the soul is heavier than ever, for much has been picked up along the way. Now closer to the end, yet farthest away from those early days, they are richer in experience and maybe in wisdom too. As the curtains fall, some think they made it, others know they did not, and yet others are just glad it is over. Their future remains a mystery to them. ∞
Jerry Rawlings Opiyo is a 1st-year M.Div. student from Nairobi, Kenya.