First Prize

First Prize

Adventures of A Kenyan Time Traveler

Muthoni Mucheru (Kenya) 

The experiment has finally worked after years of enormous work and arduous thinking. Doctor Bono pushes me hastily into the time machine while tightly grasping the remote with the crucial red start button. Feeling rather shaky, I buckle the seat belt of the only chair in the tiny cubicle of the almond shaped machine. I resent my fear remembering all that my fellow scientist and I had sacrificed. We only have a few seconds before the only electricity within 80 miles went goes out and won’t be back until another 4 days.  It was one of the usual power blackouts caused by lack of water to turn the turbines that would have generated the much needed electricity. I quickly give him a thumbs up sign and watch almost in a trance, as the heavy lead door automatically closes. From the tiny window on the right, just above my shoulder, I see his huge finger close over the red button. I hear a soft popping sound. The metallic bottom of the machine seems to shift beneath my feet. The window rattles wildly. But even with all this commotion I can still hear the hammering in my chest.   A curtain of darkness falls and I feel myself being lifted higher and higher.

I hear children’s’ laughter at a distance. My body feels numb and cold. My eyelids refuse to open and I long to continue sleeping. The laughter continues followed by splashing sounds. Who could allow their children to play in such terrible weather conditions, moreover near water? I am tempted to continue sleeping. I wish they would go and play elsewhere. There is an endless chirping of what seems to be hundreds of birds. Then it hits me. I am alive but where am I? I unbuckle the seatbelt which slips off easily but the door has a dent. It refuses to open. With what seems to be my last vestige of energy, I ram the door severally with my left hip and after what seems to be an eternity, it swings open. The cold air seeps easily into my light summer coat. The sight of the thick fog is unnerving as it hung’s densely in the air. I take a tentative step outside. I am astounded to see a lush green meadow stretching into the horizon. Immediately my expert eyes spot countless of rare fern species that were believed to have been endangered back in 2011. The squeals of laughter are now clear. I begin moving cautiously. The grass is dotted with dew drops and as I look up I realize that the trees could easily be decades old given their gigantic size. Have I really travelled into the future or has Dr. Bono miscalculated and thrown me into the dark ages? I can feel the pangs of fear slowly welling up again as images of brutal savages run through my mind. I walk faster and before long, I see the source of all that laughter and chatter. They are five in total. A sharp crack of a dry twig gives my presence away. They seem unperturbed as I approach them. They are all healthy perhaps between seven to twelve years of age and dressed quite warmly. Thankfully, in what seems to be modern clothing, what is the date? One of them, who appears to be older, tells me it is the 4th of July 2050.A feeling of utter and complete exhilaration overwhelms me. We have done it, Dr. Bono and I. Wait until he hears this. They continue to chatter excitedly while dipping their tiny gumboots in the water. The stream is no more than six feet wide and so clear that I can see the dark pebbles that line its bed. Suddenly one of the children leans over and scoops some water with his hands and proceeds to drink it. I am horrified at this and rush quickly to stop him before he can take any more. I ask in a mortified tone if he knows the dangers of drinking untreated water. The rest of the children look up at me, their faces filled with consternation.

The older child now steps forward and introduces himself as Omondi. He explains that the water is perfectly safe because the water originates from The Aberdare ranges 100 miles upstream and that the water is completely uncontaminated.

I am completely taken aback. I recall how back in 2011,  millions of children had died of typhoid, cholera and other water borne diseases simply from drinking water straight from the river. Back then, the people washed clothes, their cars or bicycles, bathed and even defecated in any nearby river. The Industries had dumped tonnes of toxic waste into rivers leaving no chance for any living organism to thrive. I recall with sadness how polluted Nairobi River was. It wound its way through Kenya’s major city, Nairobi, black with filth.

I snap out of my reverie when something tags at my coat. It is one of the children. She motions to me to follow them.  Now, I notice that there are two girls and the boy called Omondi, who distinctly resemble each other. The youngest Sheila, tells me in a squeaky voice that I have scared the others off. As we set off across the meadow, I marvel at the multicolored birds that catch my eyes. Fruit trees of every kind dot the landscape. I cannot help but notice how quiet it is. I ask if we are in Nairobi to which Omondi replies that we are on the outskirts of Nairobi.

We arrive at what seems to be modern looking houses, neatly arranged in a linear formation. They are white with the front consisting of two pillars and a huge arch way between them. The houses are no more than two floors. The exterior wall of each house is covered with a beautiful array of ceramic art. I immediately note that there are no fences. A tarmac road runs right in the middle of the houses. The lawns are perfectly manicured and lined with an assortment of flowers at the edge. I am amazed and ask myself if I am really in Kenya. Everything looks extremely clean and in its rightful place. It is overcast and nobody is in sight. We step onto the foyer of the third house on the row. Omondi presses a tiny nondescript button near a huge oak door. Immediately the door is opened by an attractive stout woman in her forties. She smiles warmly and welcomes me into a simple but comfortable looking living room. She asks the children to get ready for breakfast. The room is warm and a delicious smell wafts into the room. I am famished. She tells me that they do not get visitors often. I am amazed at this sign of unquestionable hospitality. A tall lean bespectacled man suddenly appears and firmly shakes my hand and welcomes me to table. The woman says a short prayer, of which I did not hear a word, as countless questions begin to pop in my head.

The man tells me his name is Wamalwa and asks me where I am from. I tell him I am a scientist from Kenya from way back in 2011 in search of answers about the problems that have affected my country for so long. I describe the time traveling machine. He appears to be at ease with all this information.

Later I learn that just a few weeks earlier the 2050 Government of Kenya had sent two scientists on a mission in a time machine pod fashioned in an almost similar manner as the one I have arrived in. I deduce from Wamalwa’s description that the machine is more sophisticated than mine because it can travel 1000 years into the future. I am immensely impressed with this information.

Wamalwa assures me that he and his wife will assist in any way that they can but he urges me to eat first. The breakfast is sumptuous and fruits are in plenty. His wife, whom I come to know as Wairimu, tells me that the food is very cheap and a variety of scientifically modified foods have been discovered over the past many years. She assures me that it is quite healthy and safe. She says that the government of Kenya is committed to investing in research done by local scientists who can come up with homegrown ideas. Actually over the past ten years, the Kenyan government has poured billions of shillings into the research institutes set up country wide and now Kenyans are reaping the benefits of this worthwhile investment. She adds that Turkana is now a rich province on its own.  Turkana is an area that had shocked the world in 2011 with an extensive drought that had cost hundreds of lives. It now boasts a highly and advanced livestock chain of companies that export all types of livestock to the Middle East. Turkana, she continues, now has the largest Canning meat company in East and Central Arica. This is indeed extraordinary. I would never have thought it possible given the harsh climatic condition that had caused the drought in 2011.

When we finish the hearty breakfast, Wairimu asks the children to clear the dishes away. She turns to me and says that the 2011 era was not as bad because it was then that Kenyans began to learn from their mistakes. From the experiences of that time, it had dawned on them that Mother Nature can be unforgiving. She tells me to look back at one of the greatest leaders in Kenya who lived in that era, Wangari Muta Maathai, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Yes, I did remember her. She had died a few days before I boarded the time machine. Indeed Kenya had mourned her. But the Kenyan Government during the one party rule of the Moi Regime had aggressively opposed her as she passionately advocated for preservation of the forests. She had died a hero and is now internationally acclaimed.

After breakfast Wamalwa tells me that he is an economist by profession and that he would like to take me on a tour around Kenya’s three major cities in order to see the latest developments in the country. He tells me that according to him real development for Kenya means the achievement of the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s). These are a set of the world’s main development challenges. He adds that all these have been achieved and now the country is in the process of creating new goals in line with new economic, social, developmental and technological challenges. To this end, the Kenyan government has greatly improved in the governance and management of public resources and in its commitment to implement key reforms in various sectors. Wamalwa points out that what Wairimu says is quite true and that the first MDG, which is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, is now a reality.

Wamalwa tells me that we would first drop the children at the Solartram station. I ask what a Solartram is and why the children were outside on such a cold morning. He laughs heartily before informing me that it is the school holidays and the children could not wait to catch up with their friends who go to different schools. He adds with a grin that the educational system has drastically changed since my time and adds that he will explain later. As we leave the house, he points out that solar panels are fixed onto every home in Kenya to harness the suns energy which is converted into electricity. Every home in Kenya has electricity thanks to this new and cheap technology. He adds that the material used to build the most of the houses in Kenya is renewable and takes only a week to build. Therefore, despite the population of the country having doubled over the past half century and the world population having hit the seven billion mark, there are adequate housing facilities in the country. Wamalwa takes out what appears to be a tiny mobile telephone and lightly presses its screen as we step outside. I nearly scream with terror when from the blue, a dark submarine shaped object appears on the driveway.  It seems to be suspended in the air. Wamalwa quickly reassures me that there is nothing to fear. I still feel uneasy as we approach the object. Wamalwa explains that this is a Solartram which is what is used for private and public transportation in the country. As we get closer one part of the Solartram opens upwards while another part opens downwards revealing a flight of steps. I step closer to investigate this phenomenon. It is suspended in the air! There is no noise, no exhaust pipe producing the usual carbon monoxide that I was used to in Kenya back in 2011, no driver. This is fantastic. The three children Omondi, Sheila and Makena, whom I note is the least talkative of the three, are already inside the Solartram and Omondi begins to jab at a huge silver screen. The chairs are a luxurious plume color and there is a large window at the side of the Solartram. I enter slowly, mesmerized and sit down near the window and take in the surroundings. Wamalwa looks amused. He tells me that the children are directing the Solartram. I ask him if we will be driving it. He replies that Kenya has adopted a new transport technology that allows people to travel faster, safely, and in a more eco-friendly way and of course without the need for drivers. The Solartram harnesses the suns solar power to drive its engines. It works almost like the aeroplanes. The Government introduced this new system more than 10 years ago to curb the accidents that had been claiming the lives of many Kenyans who had been breadwinners in their families.

The Door firmly shuts thanks to a few buttons one of the children had pushed. The huge sliver screen is touch- sensitive and once fed with directions; it uses its automatic navigator system to find the shortest means to any destination all over the world. The chances to being involved in accidents are nil as all Solartrams are registered in an enormous radar system which allows all Solartrams to be in constant communication on their location. Human error that existed during my time is now completely wiped out. When I look out, I am surprised to see that the Solartram is already in motion. I see the houses fly by and before long we are soaring higher and higher. The panoramic view is simply breathtaking. The cushion like clouds which are now more white than grey provide a sharp contrast to the azure blue of the sky.  I can see that the infrastructure is highly advanced. There are a few man-made lakes, which, as Wamalwa points out, are for aesthetic and sporting purposes. I spot other Solartrams at a distance. People in this day and age apparently do not need to travel much. Wamalwa informs me that all social services are decentralized from all major cities in Kenya. Not far ahead, I can make out an immense shopping mall and next to it is a spectacular looking amusement park.

We are going to drop the children off.

Wamalwa informs me that the educational system now requires more reflective thinking from students. In addition the entire educational system is free. The system allows children to interact with their environment to the fullest extent. The system is now called Social Evaluation Process (SEP). Children write reports and try to come up with solutions for the challenges that they encounter. Parents have a major role to play in the education of children from the time they are conceived. Basic principles are instilled and values that promote social cohesion are taught. Values such as generosity, respect for each other and the environment are just some of the few that Parents must instill before they send their children to school. While in school, children are taught on how to appreciate each others diversity and cultural beliefs. The system now allows children to follow their choice of careers from as early as the age of 15 years. This is because by this time, children have been exposed to information that makes the choice easier. Therefore Kenya has not only achieved the second MDG but it has surpassed this goal by providing an educational system devoid of any charge. Kenya now offers quality substantial education to her children. This system is no longer exam oriented. It seeks to bring out talent and the unique character in every child. This sounds simply beautiful to my ears.

The principles that are instilled in the children translate to the respect of each other’s rights despite anatomical differences. The issue of violation of women’s rights is a thing of the past in this modern Kenyan society. There is no two ways about it now. Women and men have equal opportunities and share equal responsibilities in the family setting and in the society at large. The Government does not have to follow up this issue constantly because now children grow up with the knowledge that both sexes are equal. By virtue of being human, the fundamental human rights automatically apply. This completely erases gross violations of human rights such as genocide, crimes against humanity, xenophobia and so on. There is a twinkle in Wamalwa’s eyes as he tells me how Kenya has become a pacesetter for other African countries,( in addition to Liberia) by voting in the first Kenyan female president some 10 twenty years ago. Kenya has achieved gender equality in all spheres of life, yet another millennium goal realized beyond expectation. He narrates tales of how he raises his children with a’ hands on approach’ and how he and his wife equally share duties because she also brings home the bacon.

I look outside and notice the Solartram is slowing its speed and decreasing its altitude. Wamalwa tells me that it is time to drop off the children who look extremely excited and can hardly sit still. He explains that they are going for a hiking excursion in Gatamaiyu, Kiambu Province which is known as an Important Bird Area (IBA). This is an area that is home to thousands bird species that were said to be endangered back in 2011. This excursion will help them gain knowledge in the over two thousand species of birds in Kenya. It encourages them to appreciate the gifts that Mother Nature has to offer and eventually, as they grow, they will strive to protect it. Omondi suddenly begins to tell me about a certain mouse bird that he says perches in a rather peculiar way. He looks totally fascinated by the nature of this bird as he talks about it. I feel strangely humbled to be in the presence of such a fine knowledgeable young boy.

I remember how as a boy, I ruthlessly hunted down birds with slingshots, stones or whatever object I could find or make up. I was a good at it and usually hit my intended target dead long before it spotted me. I had earned the name ‘itimu’ meaning spear from my equally boisterous age mates.

Now listening to Omondi I feel a twinge of shame and I am glad that these children do not live in my time. A computerized voice in the Solartram announces that we have arrived at the Solartram Station, a blue greenish glass building so large that I cannot see its boundaries any direction. The children alight and dash excitedly towards an enormous Solartram that has hundreds of little children milling around it. There are Solartrams in every shape, size and color everywhere, floating midair seemingly waiting for the cue to descend and carry some passengers.

As we get back to our Solartram, I notice that the cleanliness of the surrounding area. The skyscrapers are very artistic. The exterior designs are creative and bright and People are arriving at their places of work in their Solartrams. What strikes me is the beauty of a place with no roads and traffic jams. I only see pathways small enough for people to walk on. I notice that the people all look peaceful and some of them smile as we walk by. Wamalwa tells me that Kenyans living in this era have created a new culture of brotherhood. Kenyans now see through a different paradigm. Tribalism is a thing of the past.

I look back at my life over the past 5 years in Kenya. It was filled with bloodshed and terror as a result of the Post Election Violence in 2007. Many lost their lives and property worth thousands of shillings. Even as I left, there were hundreds of Internally Displayed Persons still living in make shift camps unable to go back to their original homes. Their homes were occupied by the same people who were their neighbors but who savagely turned on them after the hotly contested election turnout. I still cannot make sense of this brutality. Before I left, the post election violence suspects who included powerful figures in Kenyan government were on trial in an international Criminal Court at the Hague.

We make our way in the Solartram towards a hospital in Nairobi. It takes us no more than 10 minutes and before long we are in front of an immense marble building. There is a flurry of activity around the entrance and I notice that new arrivals are brought in Solartrams but which are modified in the interior. Despite the activity everything looks organized and highly efficient. There are nurses in red uniform who are on standby to receive sick patients. The patients are quickly wheeled in with the assistance of what seems to be pediatrics dressed in sky blue uniform. I also observe that the Solartrams are programmed to leave immediately after delivering patients and I assume this is supposed to ease the traffic. We are now inside the hospital building. It is airy and spacious. The doctors are conspicuous in their traditional white coats. One of the Doctors sees us and walks quickly towards us. She welcomes us warmly. Apparently she is expecting us. I look at Wamalwa inquisitively but he just smiles. The Doctor seems rather young with her bright intelligent looking eyes. She seems excited to be showing us the latest technology, which is what I am primarily interested in.  We walk into the children’s section which is filled with large fluffy toys. The Doctor walks towards one of the beds in which a frail looking boy lies. There are wires taped to his head and connected to a strange machine. She announces that the machine is an invention by a Kenyan who had passed on the previous year. The machine can detect what the patient intends to say by deciphering the electromagnetic waves released when the patient is engaged in any thought process. Therefore the machine acts as a voice for the voiceless. The machine is actually a small gadget which helps patients who cannot adequately express themselves due to one reason or another. In addition the machine is portable. But in this particular case the little boy is in need of specialized treatment so he cannot leave Hospital. We are taken into another room that is stark white and very cold. It contains machines that detect and eliminate cancerous cells. I listen keenly as she explains that this new technology kills any cancerous cell in every part of the body at a go. A patient is cured instantly despite the progress of the disease. She reminds me that this is not chemo therapy that leaves patients lethargic and weak through laser treatment. The new technology has no negative effects. I am surprised to learn that this is a government hospital. Facilities here are modern and can serve everyone in the entire province of about 1 million people at a go without being stretched at any one point. The hospital has its own research center in which scientists are hard at work trying to solve certain mysteries that are still unexplainable. She points out that every branch of medicine such as gynecology, psychology; neurology and so on has a department in this hospital. The government fully funds all specialized treatment for those who cannot afford it. Such cases are rare as medical expenses have been greatly reduced through government subsidies. There is a cure for every imaginable disease including the dreaded HIV/AIDS. The cure was discovered by a brilliant scientist from Estonia, Europe some five years ago. The world is a much better place because of this Man. Now, even the Worlds AIDS Day is no longer in existence. I am delighted to see that Kenya has surpassed the fifth and sixth MDG’s of improving maternal health and that of combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other killer diseases such as cancer. It comes as a relief to discover that women no longer give birth at home while under the care of midwives but are now attended to by highly qualified doctors.

By the time I finish making a tour of the entire hospital it is already past mid night. On our return journey, we fly over Nairobi and Wamalwa brings me up to date. Kenya is now a 24 hours economy. People work in shifts. From the Solartram, the city looks alive with activity. It could easily be said to be daytime with all those neon lights.

Kenya is now at the helm of an economic boom that is a result of proper use of its natural resources like minerals such as limestone, copper, salt found in Lake Magadi. Most of these minerals are sold as raw materials within the East African market. The open market system contributes to the movement of labor and raw materials across borders. The exchange of technological ideas has made East Africa a force to reckon with. Moreover, lately, Wamalwa tells me that leaders are making significant progress towards uniting the African continent and are on the brink of signing an accord that would see Africa unite under one Government. This progress goes a long way into achieving the eighth MDG of developing global partnership for development. The Kenyan Government has facilitated the coming together of civil societies and the private sector in a merger that has seen exponential growth in the economy.  Kenya has deserts, lakes, plateaus and savannahs that are home to thousands of animal species, mountains and a beautiful coastal line which has earned the country billions of shillings in revenue from tourism over the past half century. Wamalwa tells me all this as we sit down having breakfast. Wamalwa now puts down the morning paper and turns to me. I have been keenly listening to what he has been reading over the past 30 minutes. I can see my picture on the front page detailing my arrival and purpose of my visit.

I now see that Kenya and Africa as a whole have made great leaps towards becoming an economic giant. Wamalwa tells me that more than half of the African countries export finished products on their own terms. Ghana is a good example of the largest chocolate exporter in the world. Kenya now exports coffee and tea as a finished product, an action that has earned it billions of shillings. Farmers in Kenya no longer suffer in the hands of unscrupulous middlemen out to swindle them of every last shilling. The Government recognizes that agriculture is the bulwark of Kenya’s economy and gives the agricultural sector the seriousness it deserves. This is evident from the support given to farmers in terms of provision of specialized machinery, highly subsidized rates on fertilizers and workshop training on the latest scientific discoveries beneficial to the farmers.

I have spent 2 weeks in this new era and I feel that this journey ought to end here. I am deeply satisfied by the reforms that have taken place in Kenya. The greatest highlight of my quest is the fact that people have adopted a new way of thinking. This, I believe, has been pivotal to their personal and professional success as well as the development of the country.

Wamalwa seems to sense my contentment because he asks if there may be anything else that I would want to see. I feel satisfied with these extraordinary developments and believe that there is now hope for Kenya. I bid a tearful farewell to his family. I am profoundly grateful for their kindness and hospitality. Wamalwa and I walk towards the park where my time machine had landed. I am surprised to see the time machine in the same spot I had left it. However the dent on the door is gone. As I step into it, Wamalwa tells me that this is a more sophisticated version. In his hand, he holds a tiny blue gadget with a pink button. I prepare myself for takeoff and this time the machine only makes a soft humming sound. I look out one last time and watch as Wamalwa presses the blue button. I close my eyes feeling happy and relaxed as I make my journey back to 2011.