It started as an idea. An idea of telling stories about what I am passionate about. An idea of sharing the knowledge I had with the world – well, my small circle of friends, or so I thought because it has grown in glorious ways.
On the evening of travelling back home after finishing my internship at Tsavo East National Park – 2012 was the year – my uncle picked me up from the bus stop at the famously known Tearoom where buses coming from the Coastal region drop passengers. Unbeknownst to me, it was going to be the beginning of a beautiful creation. The beginning of Nyika Silika as it is now. A simple ride home that was filled with stories of my experience at the largest National Park in Kenya.
I remember, my uncle, asking me, “how was your internship?” As I was sitting in the front seat, passing through the Central Business District during a traffic hour to get out of Tearoom into less crowded areas, and passing through Parliament Road before we connected to the main highway heading to Kiambu Road. I narrated my experience at Tsavo East in detail, and to be honest, that was the first lengthy conversation I had ever had with him.
This is a conversation that sparked so much joy within me – visibly. I even talked about the night I was to join rangers to go ‘chase’ elephants that had crossed a farm within the boundaries of the park but I had missed the opportunity. I remember him saying, being in the field I was studying in I would experience it one day. Indeed, I have even come close to elephants at night while at the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy.
This conversation lasted for more than an hour thanks to traffic along Kiambu Road which until now is still in existence. I may not remember all the details as many years have passed by, but I do remember him telling me I should share my experiences online. I also remember him saying how excited I looked sharing my experiences pointing out that this was something I was passionate about. Him being an educator, he added that many people need to know about this.
At first, I was hesitant. But then, when we got home and after careful – I’d say not so well thought-out consideration, I decided to open up a WordPress account and start a blog – then in 2012, it was called Wild Instincts. A name I had thought of out of the sheer need to just start and trust the process of what will become of it. My first stories were not even about my experiences during my internship at Tsavo East because I didn’t feel as confident enough to share them. It was until 2013 that I started to talk about Tsavo and in 2014 wrote about an emaciated elephant which I had narrated to him first-hand two years prior before I shared it with the online world – with you my fellow readers.
Later on, I changed the name. I’ll be honest I don’t even remember when I did. But one day as I sat looking at the magic I was slowly creating, I thought, maybe I should give this blog a Swahili name. Why? Deep down I knew I was creating something big and I wanted it to stand out – as it has. Also, I thought, this would be befitting considering I was living in the same house with a Swahili expert. So why not. I remember creating several Swahili names because luckily I had resources at hand to look for every single word in nature, wildlife or environment that could be converted from English to Swahili.
What I haven’t mentioned is that my uncle was a Swahili author. Having authored and co-authored Swahili books for both primary and secondary school levels, which I believe many of you have come across – at least once. This meant I had access to all the Swahili literature I needed on finding a name that I liked. One that felt unique and authentic.
After picking names that didn’t feel like me, as we say today – wasn’t a vibe, I was drawn to what was exactly in front of me. Why not change the English version of Wild Instinct to Swahili? And thus Nyika Silika was born. Nyika means Wild and Silika means Instinct. Honestly, if you do search for the direct translation of Silika, I bet you will not find instincts. That’s because, Swahili as a language is quite multifaceted, and many words are yet to be correctly and distinctively translated to English vis-a-vis Swahili. This is because I found the more illustrative direct translation from an old – the book was brown and smelling old – English to Swahili Dictionary published in Tanzania. Hopefully, Swahili being recognised by the United Nations will make significant linguistic differences in the present and future.
This particular piece is a tribute to a great man who led me to start something that most people know me for. Writing this has been a battle for me. I’ve been contemplating whether to write it or not. Maybe because of the many emotions that have come and gone over the years. The emotions that filled my soul in the last days I had the chance to spend with him.
Maybe because of the fear of the unknown and whether it makes sense to give someone flowers when they are already dead. Maybe because I thought my words couldn’t fit in a eulogy booklet (this is what I meant when I said I have something to say but I won’t say them in the booklet, Aunty). But what has led me to where I am now is that I do know I made him proud. I have also felt, that these are words I need to release into the world and let them flow where they shall.
It was in his last days, with 2022 being the year I focused on family – intentionally when I went home regularly and I remember him saying, randomly – not even orchestrated, how he was very proud of all that I had achieved through my platform. That I am doing great work and I shouldn’t stop. Unfortunately or fortunately, these are the last words he did speak to me, words that I will reflect on especially on days that seem the hardest and I don’t even know the direction I am going with Nyika Silika. To know that it is okay not to know what happens next.
All I know is I didn’t rest on his words for me to start an online platform and share what I am passionate about with the world. If I didn’t listen and take it as just words, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be writing this. I wouldn’t be reflecting on the many good things I have accomplished both personally (from finding it difficult to write 300 words to now effortlessly writing 1000 words and more) and professionally (this can’t fit into one sentence), just because I said yes to the inevitable – to the unknown.
Go well, Uncle! The only Uncle who remains the main Uncle – technically, every other of my uncles is followed by their name or first-born child. Not this one. The same way a Dad is Dad.
Featured image: My Uncle, Mr Gichohi Waihiga, on the left and my Aunt, Mrs Rose Gichohi, on the right during a graduation shoot.