The ride in the small, old 4-door sedan was becoming increasingly uncomfortable as the bumpy dirt road slowed us down to about 7 miles per hour, and clouds of dust forced us to roll up our windows. We were about two hours outside of Nairobi, past Kijabe and well-off highway 104 or any other main roads. What started off as a gloomy morning had quickly evolved into a warm, sunny day with very few clouds in the sky. This was typical, though, once you left the capital of Kenya. Nairobi seemed to almost always be enclosed in dark and dreary weather while a cheerful, azure sky would welcome you just a few miles outside of city limits.
The anticipation was killing me. After two months of scouring the land and asking drivers, maids, friends, strangers, and anyone else I came in contact with, where I could find a legitimate African Shaman (mganga as they call it in Swahili), I was finally about to meet him. It wasn’t easy but I was hoping it would be worth the wait. I had no idea what to expect.
Nobody thought what I was doing was a good idea. The locals definitely didn’t think my undertaking was safe. Sure, I was a little nervous. But I had been on too many hikes in the Kenyan wilderness in search of my mganga, put in too much effort, and gone way too far to turn around now. These are the moments I live for. The unfamiliar, the uncertain, and the mysterious. My ultimate hope was to receive a spiritual cleanse; with some luck, I figured with the aid of the Iboga plant I would have a true spiritual experience.
Finding a genuine, native shaman proved difficult because of all the commercial mgangas in the city demanded exorbitant prices at the tune of $3,000 or more per session. Old, weathered flyers could be seen posted on telephone poles at many street intersections advertising their ability to predict your future and bring you good fortune not too different from that of the more familiar tarot and psychic readings offered in the US. Unemployment and, thus, poverty are big issues in Kenya. Many will try anything to make a shilling, including scams, and one can’t really blame them. But I wanted to interact with a genuine shaman, like Carlos Castaneda seeking out Don Juan. I figured a true mganga would reside in a remote area and be selective about who he helps.
Just a couple of miles away from our destination, we stopped to pick up our translator, Paul, who was working at a Chinese gravel mining and manufacturing plant. Almost everyone in Nairobi speaks English and Swahili, but in remote areas uneducated Kenyans often don’t speak either. The area we were traveling to was so isolated that we needed an interpreter who spoke the Maasai language. Paul only had an hour for lunch break so we had to keep moving. We weren’t going far but had to drive at a snail’s pace because roads seemed more like tracks. In some places, I wouldn’t even consider our route much of a footpath.
When we arrived, I looked at my clock. We had been travelling for 3 hours. An older gentleman awaited us at the entrance draped in the customary shúkà attire. I couldn’t decide if I was anxious or excited to meet this mysterious man. When we spoke to him, he said he had been waiting for us but revealed he was merely guiding us to the shaman. I relaxed a little. The temperature was perfect. The scenery was a beautiful backdrop to the Maasai Kraal (African village). Several inkajijik (huts plastered with mud and dung) homes were surrounded by the large traditional fences made of twisted, thorny acacia branches. I was escorted to a tiny, wooden seat that looked like it might have belonged to a 3-year old. I was offered chai as I waited patiently for the mganga. The anticipation grew as did my anxiety. I must have been a spectacle because all the young children surrounded me, speaking to me and asking questions in a language I didn’t understand, only raising my heart rate.
I recognized him as soon as I laid eyes on him. I just knew he was my shaman when he approached me. He sat down on an animal hide that he had placed on the ground and asked me to join him in a spot about a foot in front of him. I was having a hard time keeping calm and still. Like any good journalist, I had several questions prepared that I had written in the “notes” app of my phone. I suddenly forgot all of my questions and turned to my phone to try and keep my composure. As soon as the ritual began, I was overcome with an exquisite tranquility. He shook a container made of some sort of root filled with charms, jewels, and stones like a percussive instrument before throwing them in front of us like a person rolling dice. He smiled and told me I was the first white man he had worked with. The mganga’s rapid speech was a fascinating, inarticulate mumble to me. The questions I asked evoked unenthusiastic answers from the older man. He finally asked, “Why did you actually come here? What do you really want to know?”
I searched for a minute, trying to dig deep for an honest answer. “What is my life purpose?”
As if I’d answered correctly, the shaman responded in a more animated tone, “Now, that I will tell you at the end.”
The shaman proceeded with his ritual and explained to me that I needed to believe first. He began rattling off intimate details of my life. Things there is no way he could have known. Things I hadn’t told almost anyone. It got to a point where I was panicking. How could he have known these things about me? I went from comfortable to filled with fear. He shot me a look that gave me a nervous cold chill. For a split-second I questioned his intentions. I could hear the warnings the locals had given me about the “witch doctor” replaying in my head. It’s not so much that I wondered if his plans were malignant, but that I felt exposed and vulnerable. This must be why therapists speak to their patients one-on-one. I wanted him to stop. I nearly told him I was done but remembered how far I’d come just for this very experience. The African mganga would reinforce my belief in the process. There was no problem there. And then somehow, his words described a reality he couldn’t know. I had failed at all my ventures because I didn’t believe in them enough, he explained. My very next endeavor would be a huge success and I would be involved with helping people. He added that I already knew what it was and needed to start right away. The mganga pointed out that I was overly stressed because of a recent breakup and he would heal me from that. He finished everything up with a spiritual cleanse. Through tiny cuts he made in my forehead and abdomen, he rubbed different root powders in them. He then gave me a black and white powder to keep in case I wanted to use it for protection and good luck. Then the man looked at me with a sincere and gentle smile and told me he was looking forward to seeing me again when I returned.
I spent the entire ride back to Nairobi reflecting on my experience. I did know what my mission was. I felt refreshed. Energized. Basically, I learned that I had to whole-heartedly believe in myself. To live with good intent. To act with conviction. That the entire universe is conspiring to help. Ultimately, fate is in our own hands. We ourselves mold the clay. And nobody and nothing can stand in your way if you make a bold decision. If we are going to live this life anyway, we might as well believe thoroughly in and live what we love.