Impressions and appearances

The place was really stuffy. I never really cared much about places like these. Kengeles Nairobi West. There must have been a football match that everyone just had to watch. I feel nothing about football. Life has a funny way of throwing us out of our comfort zones to teach us things. I love my comfort zones. They feel safe from all harm. The problem many people (except ourselves of course) have with comfort zones is that we hardly learn anything there. When we do not learn we do not grow. When we do not grow we find it difficult to cope with change and generally struggle with life as it comes. Anyway, I digress.

Kengeles was just outside my comfort zone. That particular time, with the match and all made it even worse. There was so much noise, Mututho laws did not exist at the time. It is not really the poshness of the place that bothers me. The have good food and really nice full serviettes unlike some places. Maybe it is with the impressions I have in my head about the kind of people who go to such places. I could hardly hear myself think. The patrons ranged from rich, spoilt brats, children of prominent Kenyans who would struggle with the concept of a quiet weekend at home on one extreme and wannabes who for some reason think it matters who they are seen with and where they are seen on the other. Then all manner of permutations thereof in between. From yuppies who have too much money to spend to confused beings who think knowing the entire Barcelona or Man U lineup somehow qualifies you into a clique of Kenyans that are a cut above the rest. From those who drove themselves there to those who walked or took a matatu to get there. From those who ‘drink responsibly’ to those who will wake up then next day with no idea how they got home remembering only tidbits of the events of the previous night. I just felt completely out of place.

I think it was rather ambitious to think that I could get a seat in there so settled to just stand in front of the big screen, actually I think it was just a huge projection on the wall of the football match. Once in a while someone would tap me on the back and gently gesture that the couldn’t see through me and that it would be better if I moved. So I would move to inconvenience others. I struggled to get the attention of the busy waiters to see if any of them could serve me those grossly overpriced sodas but none seemed to notice me. It was as though even to them I was out of place. I started to wonder whether there was some code or password that ‘members’ used to get their attention.

I looked at the time. It was hard to believe that I had been there only seven minutes. Time hardly moves when you are busy judging people and being uncomfortable. I thought of calling Julius who had suggested we meet there and tell him that I will wait outside at the parking lot. It was clear that the really important meeting we were going to have could not possibly happen there. It was even likely that he was already there somewhere. I walked around the place trying to look ‘with it’. Once in a while I would be startled into a near-panic by shouts as the crowds in the place tried to synchronise their excitement with that of the crowds on the screen. After making sure that Julius was not inside the place, I started making my way out. The anticipation of being out of the place as I looked at the exit somehow hastened my steps almost like a fish at the prospect of water. I knew that once I got out of there, my comfort zone wasn’t far.

Standing out there was almost heavenly. The air was fresh, the noise was significantly lower and I could now think. I took out my cellphone and started to find Julius in the phonebook to tell him to just buzz me when he got there as I would be sitting in the car round the back of the place since there was no place to sit. Just before I dialled, some big group vacated their table. I dashed an sat down so fast you’d have thought I was playing musical chairs.

It wasn’t really a table. It was more like a wooden barrel with stools around it. I must have looked silly rushing to sit there since there was really no competition. It seemed like a waiting place for those wanting to find a place to sit inside where they could see the match better. Anyway, since I felt nothing about the match, I was quite happy to sit there. I looked at the time again and it was five minutes since the last time I looked. Why wasn’t time moving?

For those of you who do not know Kengeles Nairobi West, it is actually part of the forecourt of a petrol station. So I was now watching people drive in to fuel, watch some get into arguments with the attendants. These petrol pump attendants don’t seem to realise how far more important we motorists are than they are. Hmmm… It seemed more fun to sit out there judging motorists than it was to watch the match inside. Some of the motorists would even look at me and also judge me. I suppose it was only fair. I almost caught a waiter but he brushed me aside and promised to return, obviously adding a sprite to the list of drinks he had just memorised from the next table would make him forget everything. I couldn’t even get him to clear my table on his way back in. I looked at the time again.

Then it hit me, not a car, silly, but it may as well have been. I had been sitting for eight minutes at my table, all alone, trying to order a sprite. All this time, the table was full of empty beer bottles left there by the group that had been there last. No wonder the motorists were looking at me funny. This realisation struck me so hard that I actually stood up. What was I going to do? Twelve or so cars had passed and all the occupants had seen me sitting there like a complete drunkard. How was I going to explain to all of them that I was not the one who had emptied all those beer bottles? Who were they going to tell? Did any of them come to our church where my wife and I were serving as elders at the time? To this day, I don’t remember even whether Julius eventually turned up or not, leave alone the important things we were meeting to discuss.

We all want to be viewed positively, in good light. It seems to be an inbuilt aspect of our lives. We generally gravitate effortlessly towards people and circumstances that make us feel good about ourselves and that we view positively. Companies and individuals spend lots of time money and energy to project a positive image of themselves. Many times, the image we project and the impressions we like to give are not real.

This year I have been praying for two things about impressions and appearances. One, that I would see God as He truly is and two, that I may see myself as He sees me. A lot of our problems stem from not having these two in place.

Tuendelee kuongea.