Raini  |  He/Him

NOW and Then

Tropical and Subtropical Grasslands, Savannas, and Shrublands

Session 8: March 25, 2023

I loved my childhood. I really loved it. It was more clear and hopeful. In the mornings, I would wake up very early—much earlier than I wake up these days—and run barefoot in the wet grass, and play in the morning mist with my brothers and sisters and friends: we’d pretend that the mist came from a demon underground, smoking a cigarette. And when it rained, we’d go to the red soil, kneel down and smell the petrichor—it smelled so nice. At times, we would hold these puny bugs with grains and go around feeding the birds. It all felt so good. 

Other times, early afternoons mostly, we would run up the hills through clouds of butterflies, or fly our kites among them. It felt so free, and there was joy and happiness and hope for our future. I remember sneaking through our neighbor’s orchard, stealing his ripe mangos and eating them with salt. The old man, called Okemo, would catch us running around, and, funnily enough, he would give us a bucket of mangos to take back home. In the evenings, we would go to the nearest swamp and try to catch mudfish, and leave time for games and mischief. I remember, a number of times, we would throw something at a swarm of bees resting nearby. You know what happens after that! We would go home, take garlic that was fresh from the farm, smear it on the bee-sting wound, and everything turned out OK. 

And suddenly, now we are adults. Most of us have moved to different cities around the world, and we live in these concrete mazes that are close to noisy pubs or car repair shops. In the morning, we are not woken up by birds singing, but by cars rushing to the city center. And the petrichor of the earth has been replaced by the stench of gasoline, smoke, trash. Nowadays, the demons don’t live underground—they live among us. In the evenings, I sit here on my couch and order chicken nuggets and fries, because other foods are a luxury, and vegetables are just, like, medicine. 

Sometimes I go back to the village, and I don’t hear the birds anymore. How many years has it been? Close to twenty now. And the birds are no longer singing in the morning. Sometimes I say that they woke up late, or that they are demonstrating against their low wages. And when I talk to my grandmother, she says that they went off on holiday. The bees that used to sting us are no longer there either—again my grandmother jokes that they have been employed by the sugar factory nearby, the one that replaced the forest where we used to play hide and seek. There’s a network mast, a massive one, red and white, sitting on the swamp where we used to catch mudfish. There’s no orchard where we would get fresh mangos—instead, there is a massive building. It belongs to the sugar factory.  

And I just walk around thinking about all the joy that I had and sigh, and then I go back to my little apartment in town. I tend to my two dying plants, then I sit on my couch again and order chicken nuggets and fries, because what else can I do? I sit there, hoping that my two plants will end up growing and surviving—unlike the forest we had when we were kids, which has been replaced by the sugar factory. 

And I try not to lose hope, because I honestly believe that’s the only thing that I can confirm I truly own. That’s the only thing that nobody can take away from me.

Hailing from the western highlands of Kenya, Raini describes himself as a Creative-in-Learning and a storyteller working towards amplifying ignored and silenced impactful voices. He is a 2022 Future Rising Fellow at Girl Rising and a Climate Justice Squad Fellow with 350.org. He is currently undertaking his postgraduate studies in Sustainable Development at the University of St. Andrews.