The end of an era


There is a rock in far away Laikipia. In some ranch. Borana, actually. Have you been? It’s something else, Borana ranch. It’s strictly for the birds, the wealthy. The rich chaps prang their Range Rovers and the wealthy get on horseback. You will see them on their thoroughbred horses doing game-drives, which you can’t call a game drive anymore because you aren’t actually driving, you are galloping. A gallop-drive is what it is. They wear knee-high riding boots. They murmur soothingly at their horses that have a higher IQ then half the people on our roads. From those horses they gallop, looking at eland and zebras and cheetahs and when they are done staring at wild animals and they realise that they want something, a tool, supplies, they will jump into one of their small Cessna planes and “dash” to Nairobi in their khaki shorts to pick the needed tools and maybe some cereal. Blue-eyes.

And it’s there in Borana that they have this huge rock, the name escapes me, but you know that famous rock that is in the movie the Lion King? Yes, it’s in Laikipia. For the life of me, I can’t remember its name. I was there once. A guest of the wealthy. I didn’t have boots, knee-high or any other kind, neither did I know the soothing language of the thoroughbred horses, so I didn’t quite enjoy the gallop-ride, but I loved the place. I loved the game drives where we saw a pride of lions, stirring awake just after 6pm, yawning and rolling in the savannah grass. Beautiful scene, to watch lions stir when they are thinking of food, which means something will die before the sun is up again. Something big. That game-drive was memorable, but what really stayed on my head was that rock. Gaddammit, can someone please remind me the name of that rock?

The rock overlooks the whole park. You go up there for sundowners. They set up drinks and little bitings; finger-food. Nobody will peer at the label of the bottle to ascertain its age before its uncorked because at Borana you won’t just be served any wine. So it pops and it gurgles in your glass as it is poured. The spirit drinkers will hang onto their short-glasses, high-balls.

Then there will be silence as the sun goes down beyond because you can’t speak during that soul-lifting moment. You will forget to sip as you look out into God’s own land. The soft breeze. The sounds of wild animals, either waking up or preparing to sleep. Silhouettes of big winged birds, headed home. In the background the rich orange of the sun drenches the land.

The sun goes down fast. In a matter of minutes. Then the land that was once beautiful is now slowly cast in darkness, and turns enigmatic and mysterious, marking the end of the day, a time. And that’s the irony of the day and of life; it has to go dark for light to emerge. And as the night wears on it will get darker. And darker.  Until only the cats of the night can see.

Then midnight will come, marking the threshold of the new and old.

Back in the city, where will you you be when it chimes midnight? In Borana it will be still and smelling of blood from freshly killed game. But what about here in the city? Life will continue; there will be scores getting born in hospitals. Some dying under machines. Others coming out of comas with their loved ones crying with joy, and promising God that they will forever praise him. Promises they are likely to break. There will be doctors sticking stethoscopes under shirts, and listening to heartbeats. Or lungs. There will be janitor, on the graveyard shift, smoking a cigarette and looking up at the sky, hoping to see a change as 2015 is ushered in.

Out in the streets, a drunk’s head will be hitting the steering wheel, and blood immediately clotting in his brain and his brain swelling and him dying there. He won’t be home for breakfast. On other roads, motorists will honk in unison marking a new year. In bars others will countdown, holding up their drinks. Strangers will hug. Couples will kiss because apparently it will make them stay together longer; Most will break up before Valentine’s Day. The man’s fault. Of course. Some will drive back home and go to empty houses. And empty lives. Others will be on Skype with loved ones, trying to sustain laborious long distance relationships. Others will be on social media, Liking pictures of “friends” they don’t know. In Nyeri someone will be asleep in a ditch, drunk out of his ass. In Lake Victoria, there will be fishermen bobbing on water, with their lanterns, catching school fees for their children. Or catching their next busaa. In Turkana, a wind will be blowing through the stillness. In Narok, Maasais will be rolling in their manyattas while their cows will nudge each other with their heads and stomp their hooves in their kraals behind their boma. In Lamu, the shark hunters will be out alone in the angry sea. In shags, my grandfather will be in bed, waiting for nothing in life but death. In our boma, the flowers around my mom’s grave will bristle in the Nyanza cold.

And in Nairobi I will be asleep because I sleep through the New Year but at exactly midnight, as you watch something from the State House (do they still show that?) television sets will go off. Yes, digital migration. Goodbye analogue, welcome digital. Like the sun in Borana marking and end of a day and the start of another, this will be the end of an era. Our children will not remember what analogue was, just as they never quite saw those ugly humps behind TVs, or cassettes, or the post office, or VOK. I miss VOK. Someone please bring back VOK. It all went with Leornard Mambo Mbotela, the voice of an era.

If you live in Nairobi and you want to watch Papa Shirandula you will have to fork slightly over Sh3,500 (don’t quote me on that) to get the cheapest set-top box to allow you access to local channels. If you are lucky to have Pay-Tv, sit back and sip your whisky. Money is always a great blanket; it protects you from certain inconveniences. Like those Priority fliers who walk the red carpet at check-in counters while you stand in a queue 100meters long. Or Priority bankers who are served fresh coffee and a magazine as someone checks their account balance. Money is freedom. Let the poor sit in a corner. Let their TVs go off until they raise the 3,500.

And they should. Why shouldn’t they? The chaps over at Communications Authority Commission say it offers better sound and picture quality. That the experience will be better. Maybe but try explaining that to my grandmother over in shags. In fact try explaining what digital and analogue is to an average Kenyan. The simplest way is to simply say; it’s the end of an era and the beginning of the next, unfortunately you don’t have a choice to stay in the old era, because like an old day, it will expire and you will be left out of utopia should you embrace inertia.

So watch all the TV you can before midnight if you live in Nairobi and all you can before 2nd Feb if you live outside Nairobi. In fact by this day next year, the whole country will be shutting down the last analogue TVs in the country as we all move to digital.

Look, I’m supposed to be on holiday so I can’t help you much but if you need more answers, visit Digital Migration’s FAQ page, or those social media buffs amongst you can type in #DigitalMigration and someone in a checked shirt and an iPad sitting on a beach somewhere will get back to you. That’s all I know. And don’t look at me like we are simply trying to keep the lights on here, if you don’t mind. Just get your grandmother the damned set-top box.

Either way, see you on the other side of this era. Stay safe on the roads and happy New Year.

[Photo Credit: Ninian Lowis]

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  1. Bwana Biko, forget your story for a moment, as riveting as it is. Your sentences are crisp, like soda on a hot afternoon. Engaging and trans that thing which takes you from where you are to a totally different place, as narrated by the story teller. At my age, 36, can i learn to write like that?

  2. Biko, you need to do a collection of short stories.. I don’t remember the last time I read Kraal and manyatta in the same story. Did the Supreme Court say we can stay with poor picture till Monday next week? Happy new year

  3. “Then midnight will come, marking the threshold of the new and old.”

    What a sentence.

    “… like an old day, [the old era] will expire and you will be left out of utopia should you embrace inertia.”

    Thank you, Biko.

  4. Pride Rock. Though am sure you could also have sort out Dr. Google. But you needed to be sure we were paying attention. How could we but? You write and I sit and I see anti see. In my minds eye.

    And, Game-Gallop, nay, Gallop-Drive. Yes?

    And, you wrote my life Biko, in 5 years: that quick flight in Cessna 90 Dash for supplies or a Coffee and a chat in the City, Hair-on-hide CowGirl hat, Khaki shorts and Tan flat-heeled riding boots, Sunnies (with a Maasai beaded string so they fall to my chest with ease), a worn leather duffel bag (change of clothes you see, lest I need a skimpy dress for a night on the town or an even skimpier swim suit. We over-forty-under-fifty black ladies of leisure require little something’s. Yes?). Oh, and some biography so I look intelligent as I people-watch how city folk live, now that I moved to the Laikipia.


  5. ‘you will be left out of utopia should you embrace inertia.’ Am still debating that line in my head.Happy New Year to all Biko-holics.

  6. We get a free pass as the migration is put on hold….

    And yes money is surely a great blanket.

    See you on the side and have a blessed 2015

  7. happy new year to you too Biko, but wait ……… whats the name of the rock? pride rock? someone….. anyone………….??

  8. Hi,have no idea what rock appears in lion king but most famous rock in Laikipia according to Google is called ‘pride rock’.

  9. Jakom … Happy New Year in advance. At least we share something in common. Sleeping while ‘jumping the year’.

  10. Got me thinking about what bunch I fell under during the new year shenanigans. You have no idea how I have been digging through all your posts. Too fresh! Happy new year!

  11. my saddest moments are when I come to the end of your posts. We want a book Biko. *gun to your head*

  12. i have been saving this article for day 1 back in the office coz i knew there would be no work and i needed to look busy, as usual Biko you did not dissapoint.i plan on being more of a local tourist this yr, so i hope to go too pride rock , i have no simba, maybe ill hold a baby up kunta kinte style and name it or sthing.heh heh

  13. Biko, I love your writing. I was so engrossed when I read your article that for a moment I forgot I was in a train in NYC in the middle of a brutal winter. My mind is transposed to being back home when I read your articles. Thank you for helping escape! Even if for the few minutes it takes me to read your articles.

  14. “I know me you will call me a stalker, but all the same stalkers are also human beings. As usual I went through the essay with a tooth comb. I must say there was no disappointment at the end. Kudos Jackson, I hope this is not the last article this year because I will be looking forward to more before the clock turns 00.00.01 2015.”

    I knew there had to be a piece of art before the year turns. I have got you on this one Jackson. Writers are like sniffer dogs, there was no way you were going to spot a story and wait for the year to end to write it. By the time you would be hitting the keyboard most of the ideas shall have evaporated into oblivion.

  15. Jakom, what should we do to convince you to write a book? Or perhaps sweet talk you to start with short stories? It is 2015- a new normal for some of us, seeing big opportunities ahead and wishing that we will close 2015 with a published Biko book. Think about it….and a happy new year to you and yours.

  16. I have to comment on this. Biko you should incorporate some pics. Since you don’t know the name of the rock you should have gotten the damn pic of the rock.

  17. Biko bana it’s already 12 days and counting into the. Ew year. Plead give us something to read. I have read everything on this blog and in msafiri back to 2013….. No pressure but we are thirsty for something truly Biko….. Waiting…. Btw Happy New Year!

  18. Your reads are truly amazing. I can’t help myself to be lost on the wilderness of your story, only to gather myself together on the last sip of tea. Damn you the thirst need to be quenched kindly make another cup of tea..!!

  19. reading this in retrospect … the digital migration has become rather acrimonious even i cant figure who is right or wrong , but one thing is clear …they should have read your post and internalized the finality of analogue broadcasts.!

  20. Beautifully scripted. The vivid imagery. The smooth transitioning of words and scenes. Splendid. I’ve just recently been influenced to read your pieces. I plan to stay.