The Shy Whistling River of Kenya

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Seriously, that river was something else. Kept me cool when it was hot. And boy, it sure was hot during the August holidays.

You see, every holiday, the day after the schools closed, Papa would see to it that we boarded the train for a fifteen hour journey that would deposit us right into our local town.

‘100 years ago,’ papa usually told us whenever the train hooted as it approached the dusty, green town, ‘the railway was so tired when it arrived here that it stopped here and refused to go further.’ I believed him then and even today, I still get the sense that the poor railway just had to call it a day when it arrived there. Fifteen hours from Nairobi. This is the time the journey from the capital city to the village town took. Fifteen fun-filled hours.

The first thing I did within an hour of arriving in the village was to sprint to the shy whistling river. It was right where I had left it three months earlier. In the middle of trees whose names I still don’t know. The trees towered over thickets from which they grew.

I stood there, unable to move forward. My legs, hands, nostrils and my entire body parts were mesmerized by the transparent brownish waters before me. It was whistling. Sssshhhh... the waters whistled. My, my, my.. I had missed that whistle. I closed my brown eyes. Clenched my fists as if afraid of something. But it wasn’t fear. It was awe.

Sssshhh...the whistle was even louder with my eyes closed. The thought that soon, I would be right in the middle of that whistle flicked open my eyes. Rustling. This is the word that best describes what I had at that moment.

“To make a succession of slight, soft sounds, as of parts rubbing gentlyone on another, as leaves, silks, or papers.” This is the description I got when I entered ‘rustling’ into the search box of

It is a description that brings back what I would feel a quarter a century ago whenever I stepped into the hallowed banks of River Firatsi. There was a succession of sounds – crackling leaves as thicket creatures crawled left and right; distant mows of cows approaching the river to quench their thirst; soft thuds of fellow boys as they raced to the river to do what I was about to do; hushed sounds of leaves kissing each other as the river breeze brushed by them. And the staccato beat of my heart as it danced at the utter joy of the flowing river.

Finally, I step forward. My fists unclench; my heartbeat mellows; my lips part into a wide smile; my brown denim shorts drop to the moist riverbank sand; the Kimbo T-shirt covering my eleven-year old chest is yanked over my head and thrown behind me as I jump gleefully into the shy whistling waters of the river.

The climax comes when I dip my head into the cool waters. For a few moments, I can see and feel nothing. Zero. I am in the arms of the river and everything else ceases to exist. A moment later, my head bursts back to the surface and I feel as if the little grey bird that is perched on the branch of a nearby tree is cheering my union with the shy, whistling river.

The river Firatsi has at least fifty-six other siblings across Kenya. There are many more but these are the ones I know. Sadly, some are no longer whistling consistently. That’s a story for another day. For now, meet these queens of refreshment:

Gura River. Nzoia River. Yala River. Nyando River. Sondu Miriu River. Awach River. Itare River. Kitare River aka South Awach River. Gucha River aka Kuja River. Migori River. Riana River. Mogonga River. Mara River. Suguta River. Kerio River. Lokichar River aka Lomenyangaparat. Turkwel River. Suam River. Olarabel River aka Ngusero River. Molo River. Perkerra River. Njoro River. Gilgil River. Malewa River. Turasha River. Southern Ewaso Ng'iro. Seyabei River. Lagh Dera. Lak Bor. Lagh Kutulo. Lagh Bogal. Ewaso Ng'iro. Isiolo River. Naro Moru river. Milgis. Dawa River. Tana River. Kathita River. Mutonga River. Thiba River. Thika River. Kiama River. Ragati River. Kururu River. Muhuhi River. Galana River. Athi River. Mbagathi River. Ruiru River. Nairobi River. Tsavo River. Tudor Creek. Voi River aka Goshi River. Umba River. Jipe Ruvu River. Lumi River.

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Published in Freshwater

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