As I blog I am realizing that I can be quite verbose when introducing my posts. When I did last post I was introducing a story. The introduction grew and became so long that it became an entire post by itself. So I will not introduce this post.
24th September, 1995. I had been sent to South Africa by my then employer (a Kenyan tour firm setting up its operations in South Africa. SA had began opening up. Mandela was free and had now been elected (in 1994) as the President of the country. It was a euphoric time in the history of the country and suddenly it had become a great investment and tourism destination. Anyway, enough of that, this is not an economics/business post.
I arrived at a hotel room late in the afternoon and was just amazed at the country. This was really not a 3rd world country as I had imagined. I have never been to Europe but I felt that the roads, cars and services were comparable. The hotel was the Holiday Inn Garden Court at the corner of Rivonia Rd and Katherine St. My window on the second floor overlooked that very busy junction. People were zooming past each other heading God knows where.
Being a stranger in the land, hearing so many people speak in a language I did not understand, unable to enjoy much TV or radio entertainment, I felt particularly vulnerable. At one point I even started asking myself,
“If the people at the next table are plotting to rob me blind at gunpoint, how will I know before it is too late?”
“What about the laughter at the other table? Are they laughing at me?”
At some point during dinner I couldn’t take it anymore and I stormed out and ran to my room where, being completely alone I felt some degree of security. I could shout in kamba or swahili and feel at home even if I was talking to myself. Then I went to the window overlooking the busy junction and just looked enviously at the drivers zooming past. I remember praying audibly, “God, I wish I was one of them”.
The next morning was a Monday and as I prepared to go to the office, I received a call. It was my colleague in the SA office. He was supposed to basically take care of me and make me feel comfortable and at home. He told me that they had not realized that it was a public holiday and that it did not make any sense to go into the office as all the people I was supposed to be worked with were not in the office. He suggested I just relax, enjoy the hotel and prepare my presentation and that he would come to pick me up the next day.
So that is how I suddenly ended up with a full day to kill. I decided I was not going to get bored or lost. I took walks back and forth from the hotel, each longer than the last, always ensuring that at whatever point I would be able to find my way back to the hotel. Across the junction stood the majestic Sandton City Mall. This was an amazing architectural monstrosity in my eyes. I felt it made Sarit Centre look like a stall in Kalundu Market in Kitui Town.
I made sure I could see the hotel from the entrance into the mall so that I could still find my way ‘home’. I ventured inside the mall and was fascinated by the amazingly modern shopping paradise this seemed to be. They had everything, movie theatres, supermarkets, bookshops, food courts everything! I got carried away in gadget shops, lobby cultural displays, level upon level of all manner of interesting places that it took a while to realize I was no longer exercising the caution I had before out of fear of getting lost. After a while it occurred to me that I couldn’t even remember how I got into this place. I was completely lost. I tried desperately not to worry but instead to just enjoy myself as it was still early in the day. Surely, I thought, by the end of the day I will find my way out.
I had a light lunch at one of the food courts, went through many interesting shops from hobby shops to tattoo salons, gun shops, pet shops and generally decided to enjoy my ‘being lost’ and to worry about it only when it was time to go ‘home’.
That time came very shortly.
At 6:30 pm, what I thought was a small problem had become a full blown crisis as it was getting dark and beginning to get cold. I now started trying to get out of the place. My strategy of choice was to follow people who were carrying stuff assuming that they were on their way out of the mall. As you know, there is something about men that just makes them uncomfortable asking for directions. Most of the people I followed would go into the basement parking and drive off before I could see which direction they went. I found a watchie who I felt was a safe person to ask for directions. For some reason, he assumed I was South African and was just pretending to speak english just to be posh. After a short while he was convinced and stopped talking to me in Zulu. He asked me to follow him and in a few minutes we were facing the entrance to my hotel. I was so excited to see the hotel that I literally skipped to the reception. I smiled at the receptionist and asked confidently for my room key. After a few moments of punching into the keyboard, she looked up and asked me if I was sure of my room number. I insisted I was right but she told me that the guy in ‘my room’ was a Dutch guy in his seventies.
She got on the phone and after a while confirmed to me that I was in the wrong hotel. This was an almost exact replica of the hotel I was booked into. She called for a taxi and I was given a ride to the right hotel. I later realised that the taxi guy had taken a very very long route to the hotel and it would have even been possible to walk me there. I rushed to my room, went to the window and looked again enviously at all those people who knew where they were going and prayed audibly again, “God, I wish I was one of them”
Fast forward to September 1996. Though my initial assignment in South Africa was for a couple of weeks, I had since been officially seconded to our Johannesburg office at the beginning of 1996. I had been working in Sandton for almost a year. I had made many friends some of them even Kenyans. I became a sort of tour guide whenever my friends visited SA. In August of 1996 I had even hosted my brother and his new bride at my house in Jo’burg.
One evening (I used to work very late) I was on my way to my 3 bedroomed town house in an area called Hyde Park speeding along Katherine St. when I looked to my left, and in a flash of nostalgia I looked and could see the exact window of my room at the hotel I had stayed in about a year before. It occurred to me that it was 24th September 1996, exactly a year since I had prayed desperately at that window. I was overwhelmed. Tears flowed freely. I stopped the car on the side of the road and wept like a baby!
“O God, I am one of them, O God, you knew I would pass here today and remember this. O God, you are awesome…”
Those who have seen men or boys cry will tell you that we don’t cry neatly. I was a sorry mess. Makamasi everywhere. I could not imagine how far God had brought me. It was an extremely intense emotional experience. A cop on a bike pulled over and asked me if everything was alright, I tried to regain my composure and assured him I was ok.
Have you had a similar experience? Were your prayers once answered in an overwhelmingly powerful way? Do you tear-up sometimes when you think of where you were 6, 12 or 36 months ago compared to where you are now? Tell me about it.