Phoenix

Naivasha in Evening Light I'm glad I saw it now, because in a way, this country is dying. It's what people say and it's what you can see in their eyes. There's something shifting, and even if you've never been here before you can feel it. There's an emptiness. People aren't staying in the lodges and hotels anymore; everywhere feels as if it's bleeding, or been bled already. "The US Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Kenya". Unpredictability turns men wild-eyed, and now, with wild eyes, we witness the demise of a place.

Or not a place. Not exactly; for the soil remains, the infrastructure (or some of it), the cities and roads. It's the demise of an era, a certain Kenyan state of mind. The reign of the white Kenyan is over, of course--it has been for some time but now it is surely on its very last, trembling legs. It's strange to be here now, to hear the Europeans say with such certainty that their place is gone. Even the buffalo know it; they're slowly encroaching, staking their claim, chasing the humans into smaller and smaller spaces, emboldened, made fiercer by their successes.

It's a poignant place in time, for an outsider who had a dream of the place, rooted in antiquated ideals, and who has been lucky enough to catch just the tail end of how it was. Everybody talks about how different it was even five years ago; never mind the Happy Valley nostalgia, which is like a drug--this final stage of sickness has been so sudden, so powerful, that parts of Nairobi are unrecognizable to even old residents. Here on the edge of Lake Naivasha, there are the flower farms, which sprang out of nowhere; the thousands of employees, the projections of thousands more to come, the light from the city at night, which gives off a dusty glow of change.

Earlier I had this thought about the nostalgic places. Oxford is one; here is another. There must be others still. I would like to write about this. I think there is something in it. Every place has its own nostalgia but some seem to thrive on it, build themselves around it, up out of it, become what they are because of it. So here I am in another of the nostalgic places on Earth hearing people saying "This is Africa. It's different. This is Africa." And yet the nostalgia transcends even that; and even that cannot save it now, and even that cannot let us see what it will become, and though whatever it is now is something mired in corruption and memory and shock, and so whatever it will become will be rooted in that, you do get the sense that the buffalo maybe are right, and it's about the land. It's always been about the land, in a way; it's always been about how, in a place that seems to go on forever, in a place where land looks like an infinite resource, space is actually limited. Property has been claimed and reclaimed a thousand times by a thousand people. As if something in the soil infects everyone who comes here; it's never enough just to be here, but you must also own it, as it owns you. And now what will happen, now that the memory of it owns so many, while the reality of it breaks their hearts?

Seeing this place, you know: it's dying. And simultaneously being reborn. In the end you can't possibly know what form the rebirth will take. But here it is anyway. A phoenix, just before it bursts into flames, turns to ash.