Interviewee: Tell us about your strengths.
Me: *clears throat* Well, in the last eight months I have ridden a wild ostrich and also jumped off a 60-metre tower with nothing but a rope attached to my ankles. I have pictures. I think this shows that I am willing to take risks and will take your company to the next level.
(At this point, the lights dim, neon lights start flashing about, Justin Timberlake and a bunch of dancers waltz into the room, and I join them to do some really smooth moves to a JT song; then this loaded multinational corporation hires me instantly as a highly paid… erm something.)
While the silly scenario I just described may not happen to me in this lifetime, I really have taken those two risks I was telling my imaginary interview panel about. Apart from being the fastest birds on land, ostriches are both tasty and fun to ride. Riding the bird at the Ostrich Farm in Kajiado was a moderately exciting venture. Doubt it was a wild ostrich though, otherwise I would not be here writing about it. Anyhow, nothing I have done in my 25 years of existence on planet Earth comes close to bungee jumping.
Bungee jumping is an activity that involves jumping from a tall structure while connected to a large elastic cord (Wikipedia). Doesn’t this definition sound a bit cuckoo? It was worse explaining it to my mother. The activity is nothing short of crazy. Nevertheless, I have been dreaming of doing it ever since I found out about it. About a week before I did it, I was checking out a few facts about it and was amused to find out that the very first bungee jumpers in 1979 were arrested shortly after they jumped. It was an illegal undertaking then, but I digress (as I’m prone to doing every so often).
It was almost midday when a bunch of excited youths made their way to Bungeewalla at the Savage Wilderness Camp, Sagana in Nyeri county. The journey was largely uneventful. The 14-seater mini-van was filled with snacking, laughter, and cheerful banter. Past the Embu/Meru junction towards Nyeri, we branched into a dirt road and drove about 1.5 km to the Savage Wilderness Camp.
Once off the van, we waited briefly near an area where inflatable rafts, life jackets and other whitewater rafting paraphernalia were stored, as one of us narrated his experience with whitewater rafting. It sounded rather interesting, and a few of us expressed interest in it. Whitewater rafting has been on my bucket list, alongside bungee jumping and other extreme activities, for some time now.
In a little while, Simon, our guide, told us to get started with our first order of business – peeing. After this, we proceeded to the location where the jump takes place. Everyone gathered at a small plot adjacent to the River Tana. Andreas, owner of Bungeewalla Ltd, was going over the safety procedures and rules of the jump by the time I got there (from my first order of business). He is, without a doubt, one of the biggest goofs I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with. “Once you get to the cage,” he said sternly, “I will not answer any questions about life.” We were laughing half the time he spoke. I suppose this serves him well in his job. Maybe someone needs to lighten the mood before you put mind over matter to consciously jump off a 60-metre tower.
Before any of us could go about jumping, we had to be weighed, then sign some sort of release form confirming that we were not on drugs, pregnant and hadn’t had any neck or back injuries or surgery et cetera, that exempts Bungeewalla from any responsibility in the event of a mishap. Very clever Bungeewalla. *wink*
I was curious about how many times Andreas had bungee jumped, having run this operation for more than two decades. He gave me a puzzled look and said, “Are you kidding? Do you know how dangerous this is?” We all laughed at his response as he went up the 60-metre tower, which has 178 steps (Andreas apparently counted them).
The first duo to do the jump was harnessed and started the long climb, one with a significant head start before the other, as we all watched. The first lady couldn’t bring herself to jump and ended up climbing back down about 20 minutes later, even after much coaxing from the group. It’s easy to call her “chicken”, but having done the jump, I think I sufficiently understand her refusal to follow through. On the other hand, the first gentleman jumped off the tower, seemingly without a care in the world. He made it look so easy. I felt excited as I watched him bounce around following his jump. I couldn’t wait my turn!
The group cheered everyone who went up the bungee tower for the jump with such zeal. I loved the team spirit. I was the fourth individual to scale the tower. I was fastened with chest and leg harnesses and clipped onto an ascender. These would ensure that I was supported while I climbed. I enthusiastically began my climb amid cheers of ‘Go Ednaaa!” Up, up, up I went. I felt (and hoped that I also looked) like Spiderman going up that tower. Ten steps later, I was panting like a gazelle that had just outrun a lion. I realized that the pace I had taken going up those steps was akin to sprinting at the start of a marathon. It was also a stark reminder of my unfitness. After a few more steps, my chest was burning up and my legs were nearly buckling from how much I was exerting myself. I started climbing slower, stopping every now and then to catch my breath.
The climb seemed to take an eternity. It reminded me of Jack and the Beanstalk. The guy ahead of me was already in the jump cage getting ready to jump when I was about halfway up the tower. I stopped to observe him as he jumped, also taking in the great view of the landscape.
Andreas helped me into the jump cage when I finally got there. Being the second female to do the jump, I had to reassure him severally that I wasn’t going to back out. I was absolutely sure I wasn’t going to. Not after coming this far! (And paying Ksh 4,500! :D)
After attaching the elastic bungee rope to both my ankles and explaining a few more safety measures, Andreas pointed to a little gate that, he explained, would be opened once I was ready for the jump. Still excited and oblivious of the magnitude of what I was about to do, I asked him to open it then stood at the edge of the cage.
The reality of how far down I was about to jump hit me so strongly; I had to take a small step back. I was 60 metres above the ground! 60 metres! The Tana River shone menacingly in the sun. A few kayakers rowed past. The 15 kg elastic bungee cord attached to my feet felt heavy and tugged me downward as if sensing my fear. My feet wouldn’t budge. I was suddenly very afraid of what was about to take place. How was I going to fall? What if the rope tangled up? Would it hurt? What if I didn’t enjoy it? I couldn’t possibly jump! I wrestled with my thoughts. Twice, I leaned over as if to jump as the group below did an excited countdown, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1! Go Ednaaa!” I retreated into the cage both times. “Oh my God! Oh my God!” I said repeatedly as I tried to gather enough courage to jump.
Ten minutes later, I let go and jumped off the cage, frightened out of my wits. One of us would say afterwards that this jump goes against our very instinct for survival. Certainly so. Down, down, down I went. My eyes were wide open. I didn’t want to miss a thing. The river below came at me rapidly as I fell, then I felt a strong tug as the elastic bungee rope (having reached its elastic limit) kicked in, and I bounced back into the air, defying gravity for a few seconds, and then free falling again. I took everything in silently for the first few minutes, caught up in some sort of pleasant shock and overwhelmed by a giant rush, mixed with anxiety, anticipation and other interesting emotions I cannot adequately describe.
I remember doing a few involuntary somersaults in the air. I enjoyed it more with every passing second, even managing a couple of “Woohoos!” and “Yeeaaahs!” I also spread out my arms and did the Superman thing (I know, I know. Second superhero reference :D) as the water and greenery below zoomed past and our group, now gathered at the riverbank, cheered me on. It was amazing.
In retrospect, I see why one needs an empty bladder before bungee jumping. There is an absolute lack of control that accompanies the jump. In fact, this activity is rather difficult for anyone who has control freak tendencies, much like me.
The bounce dies down after about six to seven minutes and you’re left slowly swinging back and forth like a spider from its web. One of the attendants rowed in a kayak to the spot where I was hanging, less than a metre away from the river. Andreas, who had control of the rope from above, lowered me further down and the kayaking attendant handed me the rope that was used reel me to the riverbank. After being reeled in, I was placed on a small leather mattress on the raised stone surface at the riverbank where I lay with a big grin on my face as the attendants loosened and removed my harnesses, while several people from our group gathered around me, asking how the jump felt.
I was still a bit buzzed for some time following my jump. I was talking animatedly, my body was shaking a little, and I really wanted to do it again. Adrenaline is quite something. I suppose I, to some extent, understand why some people get into extreme sports, dangerous as they can be.
So I have finally ticked bungee jumping off my bucket list, even though I have every intention of doing it again and again, hopefully from an even higher height. Yeah! Also, whitewater rafting, skydiving and deep sea diving, here I come!
One night I spent over an hour poring over old Facebook photos. I laughed and shook my head at the silliness I used to get up to.
Remembered good times spent with friends, some now casual acquaintances, others nearly strangers and others still the good ol’ friends I made years ago.
Ah, the good ol’ days.
What happened to the good ol’ days?
Why do we look back on the past, the happy past, and cherish it so much more than we did at that actual moment?
Do we not recognize happiness in the present?
Does happiness seem more apparent when looked back upon?
Why don’t we cherish happiness presently?
Why does happiness seem to be a faraway construct, etched in the past as the ‘good ol’ days’ or in the future as something we intend to feel once we have fulfilled a certain need or desire?
Be happy. Now.
What’s keeping you away from making the happiness choice?
The words I thought
were all I needed
for the most suitable
seem to fail me lately.
How are you?
Good, I say,
much needed detail.
I worry a lot about the future,
and I think I’m growing shorter.
I may be mistaken
but I think my hair has grown
three inches longer.
And that’s not even 1/3
of my current state of being.
What do you think of him?
Oh, he’s seems nice.
Yet, he’s a great conversationalist
though he stares a lot,
and talks with his mouth full,
is what I meant to say.
Yet good, nice, fine, OK
are the only words
I seem to come up with
what neither a thousand words
could do justice.
This little poem?
I think it’s OK.
It is with great shame (well, not really. Maybe just a moderate amount of shame :D) that I present the third and final instalment of the ‘Let’s go to prison’ series that I did at the end of last year. Ideally, this should have been posted here shortly after the first two but due to many, honestly, avoidable circumstances that prevailed upon me, it wasn’t. Should you wish to refresh your memory, here’s Part 1 and Part 2. Better late than never, right? Enjoy.
Within no time, I was busy sandpapering the walls with a large group that included prisoners and wardens, after which we commenced painting. I really enjoyed painting. Peter Marangi would have wept with pride had he seen me.
I have to admit that all this time I was hoping for a photo opportunity with an inmate. Or some sort of interaction where I’d casually ask, “So, what are you in for?” Then when he responded with whatever crime he was in for, I’d nod nonchalantly and say, “Cool, cool.” I know, I know. Pretty lame. :D I did, however, get both of my wishes a few hours later when someone mentioned how hungry they were. We all must’ve been. We had been working for some time, in the hot sun, sandpapering the outer walls of the hall. *Morris, one of the inmates, happened to be standing nearby and we jokingly asked him what they had prepared for us for lunch. “Msije mkadanganyika. Chakula cha huku hamwezani nacho. (Don’t be fooled. You cannot handle the food here),” he said, loosely referring to the warden’s earlier ‘buffet’ statement. At this point we all got curious about their meals. It was the usual ugali and sukumawiki (kales) with a few pieces of meat, among other meals like githeri. I wondered how bad the food actually was. Soon enough the moment I’d been waiting for came. I asked what he was in for.
*Morris is from Tanzania. He is in for drug trafficking. He was arrested in Kenya en route from Brazil, for heroin possession. He explained to us how theywould swallow 13 gram sachets of heroin, to later pass them out in their stool before selling them. “Eeeeeww!!” Those were my thoughts on that. *Morris is serving a nine year sentence. He’s already done eight years in the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, and currently has a year to go in the medium security prison. He gets out in December 2012.
He told us that he had every intention of going back into the drug business. By this time, a small group had formed around him to hear his story. He went on seemingly oblivious of this. He was not at all willing to get back into employment, he explained, a tinge of arrogance in his voice. We were all saddened by this. We tried to convince him that there were other vocations he could pursue and that he didn’t have to go back to a life of crime. Someone told him about Jesus. I could tell that he regarded us a bunch of silly youngsters who knew nothing about life. He intends to go international. Maybe head to China, where he said that some laws are lax or something to that effect. At this point I had completely drifted off and was busy trying to get a photo next to him without seeming too obvious.
Seeing this, everyone suddenly wanted a photo with him. Copy cats! :p He didn’t seem to mind so we clicked away. I was a bit embarrassed by our behaviour but hey, how many chances do you get a photo opportunity with an inmate? There I go again.
A short while later we were done painting and it was time to kick back and be entertained by the inmates and some of the wardens, who were all rather talented. I was impressed, especially by the acrobats and dancers.
Unfortunately, I could not stay till the very end as I had planned to attend #WamathaiOct. As I left, accompanied by a few members of our group, one of whom was dropping me at the matatu stage (it is quite a distance away from the prison), I noticed at the far end of the prison compound where the cells were located, a few inmates who were locked up trying their best to catch a glimpse of the on-going performances their comrades were enjoying. The warden escorting us out told us that they were mentally disturbed and usually not allowed to mix with the rest of the inmates. I felt sad for them.
The elderly Asian inmate I had noticed earlier on walked past us. I asked the warden what he was in for. Multiple bank robberies. This was his third time here. “A good number of the inmates are repeat offenders and keep coming back for the same crimes,” the warden informed us. So much for rehabilitation.
I was free to leave. I could go wherever I pleased. I had freedom of movement! Do we take this freedom for granted? I thought about all this as I left. I could not imagine how great that first step of freedom felt for an inmate who had served a five or 10-year (or longer) sentence. The air must seem fresher; the birds must sing louder; the grass has to be greener for them. Freedom tastes good! I suppose.
“Come again.” I was told severally as I made my way out. I smiled and nodded while thanking the wardens for their hospitality. I’m not sure I’d like to go back.