I just turned 30. Please, take it back. This is not what I signed up for. I’d like to return it back to sender. To press rewind and have another go at turning 30. I remember last year at a time like this, I told myself that I have one more year to get my shit together, and back then it seemed like I had a lot of time. Because 30 always seemed like a deadline, you know? Then COVID happened and all my plans went the way the plans of mice and men often go.
I do not remember caring about turning 10 or 20; if anything, I did not even notice. We had all the time in the world, so I spent my twenties on youthful flimsiness. Leading with my heart. I started that decade in campus, and there I did everything but study. To be fair, our education system has always been about memory, not understanding. I quickly realized that I could pick up a handout two weeks to a CAT or exam and do just as well. So the rest of my days were spent playing campus politics, starting and writing this blog, editing a college magazine, running a column on the Monday Standard called Campus Rover, and shooting pool in the TV room.
I finished uni and immediately quit the law to become a fulltime writer, and because of that, my mother did not even attend my own graduation. I would’ve quit it sooner, had Bikozulu not told me to stay in school and get that degree. Second Class Honours, Upper Division. We longed for it while at school but these days it means nothing, I dunno where that paper is.
I left home. Well, I snuck out of home with nothing more than my own clothes and a duvet my father bought my mother that I’d coveted since childhood. She never used it anyway, so I figured she wouldn’t miss it. And just like that, I moved in with Oscar. Together with my gang, we branded ourselves The Real Bachelors of Langata. Didn’t speak to my old lady for the rest of that year.
It was a season of rebellion for me. I felt like everyone was against me at the time. Broke up with my then girlfriend because of it (don’t think she ever knew why I left). If I could cut my own mother off for this, then my girlfriend could go too. She was great, just clearly not for me at the time. It didn’t take long before I fell into the hands of another. We clicked because we were both rebels. And she was a writer too, with a book and everything.
This one time we were invited by Chivas Regal for a dinner at Lord Errol. To me it was this fancy, uppity place in Runda where people taste wood when they drink alcohol. I did not read the invite; I seldom did. Just checked the time, date and location and showed up. I remember walking in and everyone was dressed in black suits and dresses. Ties strangling their necks so hard that the arteries in their heads might explode from the pressure at any time. There I was, walking into a black-tie event in a pair of jeans and a Safaricom branded hoodie, and sneakers whose soles used to be white but now looked like Ezekiel Mutua’s timeline.
Truth is, had I read the invite and saw that it was a black-tie event, I’d still have showed up almost the same way. Part of my rebellion from everything about the law was me giving away all my suits and shirts and any clothes I owned that would be worn in a workplace.. I wanted to be a writer, and writers are meant to be odd looking, scruffy individuals. Because I am supposed to impress with my writing, not my wardrobe.
So even when the writing didn’t go as I hoped, I took up an office job at Belva Digital. . I would show up in sandals or open shoes. I was there as a community manager handling a generator account. The client wanted engagement on social media, so I had to sell generators on Twitter. Do you know how difficult it is to influence for generators in this country? Kenyans hardly need generators at home because this is not Nigeria where power disappears as often as their president. I’d go hunting for people tweeting about blackouts and slide into their conversations.
To be honest, I did a horrible job at it. But I needed the money to make rent. With my elephantine ego, there was no way I was going to tuck tail and go back to my mother’s house to accept defeat. To make extra coins, I managed Biko’s content for a while. I would transcribe his interviews (he sat next to me in the office), and moderate his blog. Until people started getting constipated over me always being the first to comment.
Speaking of blogging, this one did not do so badly. At least not at first. If you ask me what happened to it, I wouldn’t know what to tell you. There was a time it was in the top 1000 websites viewed in Kenya. I would come here and tell stories about being a bachelor in Nairobi, relationships, rant about the government, host other writers, profile people and what not. It did so well, it started paying my bills, so I did not have to sell generators or spend 4 hours transcribing a 45-minute interview. People would come here, read, share, subscribe, comment and come back the next week for more. Once in a while, the website would crash because it was overloaded with visitors. You guys scrambled to get in, and when you were too late for the show and couldn’t find seats, you either stood in the back or watched through the windows.
Hell, we even started an online bookstore here. The kiosk.
Then all of a sudden, it stopped. I do not know where you guys went. This place became a ghost town. Like Malindi. I’d come here to tell stories and only find a small bunch of you. The bunch that only read and leave. Those who never say anything, and I would only know they were here whenever I checked the backend.
When I think about it, it started happening when content creation and consumption took a turn. Twitter and Instagram became more popular. The era of blogs – for the sake of entertainment – came to a swift end. Think about it. There was a time when Biko’s stories would trend every week. Ghafla would be causing a ruckus. Mutua Matheka’s blog was the go-to for photography. Then there was Nancie Mwai for fashion. There was a time myself, Owaahh, Aleya, Biko and Ian Arunga would take turns telling stories. No, it was not planned, it was a kind of uncoordinated relay. The annual race for getting those statues from BAKE Awards would be cutthroat. I lost most of them, because there was no competing with Biko (even when he asked his people not to vote for him, they still did hehe), but I ended up bagging three.
I know they say that we should not judge our art by the amount of applause it gets. But when you guys disappeared, you went away with a good chunk of my confidence. As in, kwani the stories became boring? Were you no longer impressed with my weekly 2500 words? I started writing less. And less. And tweeting more. And taking pictures more for the gram. Before I knew it, this blog was on its deathbed, breathing through an oxygen mask.
Sometimes I wonder if I would have stayed here were it not for the money. The money followed you to Twitter and IG. Agencies and clients were willing to pay more for me to send out ten tweets and a couple of IG posts, than for me to write their stories on here. So in a way, my words lost value. If money talks, then this spoke to me rather eloquently. It said it was time to adapt. Though, every so often I turned my head back for those who read. .
The other day I went to an event, just before my thirtieth birthday, and the lady at the entrance said they had me down as a Fashion Influencer. I remember thinking, the fuck? Kwani nobody knows me as a writer anymore? One- or two-colored pants and I am now a fashion influencer?
I often sit back and shake my head at the irony that this decade has been. Somewhere in the middle, I locked horns with my mother because she wanted me to be a lawyer fulltime. You can write part time, she said. I refused because I wanted to write fulltime. Now look at me. I am a social media creator full time, and I write part time. Actually, to say I write part time is kind of a stretch because I cannot remember the last story I wrote before this.
To assuage myself, I tell myself that I am still a storyteller. I just no longer use just words to tell my stories. I use videos and pictures and clothes. But as soon as that thought crosses my mind, I giggle coz can you imagine the bullshit?
My 20s weren’t all that grim though. There were friends. That lot we called Bachelors of Langata. We had a good run, though it gets to a point friends grow apart. Life happens. They get engaged, they get kids, they are chasing that KEMSA tender. Or the 2billion bob up for grabs today. There was love. There was the what could have been had my hat actually got in the way. I started an online bookstore when others were still stuck on brick and mortar, and we did so good we got featured on The NewYorker. There was travel. There was Cuba and Greece. And there was Tanzania. There was Capture Kenya. There were second chances. The podcast. There were cocktails. And now there is Jambojet, Peter Braxton, Pau Shinski, Brian Babu, Gufy, and a YouTube channel. There was reconciliation with my mom, and acceptance.
There is Kamala. My Sony A7iii.
There is Lakwan, and by God, I hope I do not fuck that up.
But even with these, there was still that looming sense of under-accomplishment. I look around and wonder what I have achieved that would not go up in flames in a second. By the age of 30, my parents were raising two families and my mother was done giving birth and had a degree. Others – who came into this scene after me – have done so much better in less time. Yes, I started an online bookstore, but it’s….complicated now (long story). The cocktails gigs stalled. The podcast didn’t last very long. The blog withered. I got my dream job of writing a column in the paper and that too crumbled like bread that has been out in the sun for too long.
Basically, much of what I am proud of about my 20s, are the same things that I failed in. The common denominator in all of them was me. Dunno if I bit off more than I could chew, or I am just fond of starting shit and not seeing it through.
Other over-30s say “Nobody has their life figured out by 30.” As if it is any consolation. You not having hit your targets by this time does not make my failure feel any less disappointing.
I am writing this from Nanyuki, at a place called Shepherd’s Hut. Outside my window, Mt Kenya peeps like a voyeur. There is a girl besides me. Asleep. She doesn’t get much sleep, this one. I took out my laptop and started banging the keyboard waiting for her to come around. Now she has, and I have to go. If this article feels all over the place, jumbled up, like it has come a long way yet it has no sense of direction or plan, and you are wondering what’s the point of this? Then, good.
That is exactly what turning 30 feels like.