A few evenings ago, just after sunset, I asked the lodge’s caretaker if there are leopards around the property. I was standing at the terrace hanging over the lip of a valley in Kajiado.
Beyond, in the ominous darkness, hills rolled and folded like an old man’s blanket. The caretaker, a Maasai in a maroon leather jacket and a stick to stoke the fire he was making for us said there were leopards that roam in the valley but they never come up the lodge.
Trying to stay calm (and brave) I asked, “Have you seen them with your own two eyes?” [As if sometimes he closes one eye to see things.] He laughed, tossing a log in the smoking fire, and said actually he has, and that leopards don’t bother anyone unless they feel threatened. I was disbelieving.
I’ve heard of tragic tales of leopards that attacked people who only wanted to enjoy the scenery, drink wine and eat garlic bread.
And the problem with leopards is that you don’t hear them until they are at your feet and are chewing on your leg.
Leopards bring the kind of fear to me that lions and snakes don’t. Plus, legend has it that you can’t stare at a leopard in the eye.
“How sure are you that they won’t come up here?” I pressed him. “Maybe one leopard will decide today that it’s had enough of these humans who come here smelling of perfume and laughing loudly into the quiet night, disturbing their peace and the peace of their children.” He straightened up and said evenly that no leopard was going to come up here. Have a goodnight, he said, and left us to the looming darkness and all the mystery that lurked in it, including conspiratory leopards and things that crawl up legs.
I was there to work on my 2018/2019 planning booklet. I know that sounds like I’m a super organised and focused Kenyan but the truth is that it was the first time I was doing something like this.
Every year I just start my year and wing it, roll with the punches, do what I have to do and let the universe do the rest because what’s the work of the universe? I always scoffed at those busybodies who sit down with a pen and paper every new year and write down their plans and ambitions and dreams as if they are going to war. It seemed like much ado over nothing, a tad dramatic. My philosophy is that life happens when you do your part. But then I realised that I was the only one who wasn’t projecting my year, all my “serious” and “successful” friends were doing different and they were shocked I wasn’t.
The booklet was useful in that it made me think of things like, “the wisest decision I made last year” and “the biggest lesson I learnt” and “the best thing I completed,” and “what I’m most proud of,” and “successes and challenges of the past year”. Simple things that make your reflect.
Others made me really stop and look at my life. For instance, the document asks, “what is the most important thing you did for others in 2018?” And then you realise that you really don’t do much for others. Rather, I didn’t, because you are so caught up with staying afloat and counting pennies and coins and building on your dreams that you don’t stop to look at someone who needs a bit of a helping hand. Individualism, I think it’s called. I really struggled to fill that section of what I did for others and it broke my heart.
Eventually, I wrote, rather weakly, that I helped my help with her daughter’s hospital fees.
And then for Christmas I got her a solar lighting system, which isn’t quite anything because I didn’t buy it; I asked a friend who works in renewable energy to give me a unit, which she did for free.
I also once helped an old woman move her shopping trolley from the lift to her car. Oh, and convinced a boy with cancer to seek treatment.
Other than that, I didn’t help anyone worth noting. Thus I concluded that in 2018, I didn’t do anything important to help others. Invariably I had to put that down as one of my failures of 2018.
This failure gave rise to another important question; what success is. And this all-rounded document makes you realise that, yes, you might have done well in 2018 because you achieved your goal of starting your chicken and pig business, but you failed at being a decent and humane human being.
And at the end of the day, chicken and pigs get slaughtered or die from strange diseases, and you can buy other pigs and chicken but being a bad human being stays with you.
You can never buy another soul. Unless you make a decision to be better and do better.
So one of my 2019 goals is to help someone or people. It would be very nice not to be eaten by a leopard while at it. What’s are your new year's goals?