That Old African Sunset

It is an ongoing joke that anybody who visits Africa and writes, will end up dedicating a decent 10% of their text to various descriptions of the ‘African’ sunset (note, Africa, never an individual country, Africa). It was even noted in Binyavanga Wainaina’s hilarious ‘How To Write About Africa’:

‘Readers will be put off if you don’t mention the light in Africa. And sunsets, the African sunset is a must. It is always big and red. There is always a big sky. Wide empty spaces and game are critical – Africa is the Land of Wide Empty Spaces.’

But the truth is, there is a reason for the cliche.

It struck me particularly when I was driving home on the piki the other day. It was coming up to half six and the sun was starting its drop to the horizon, as it always does at this time. Problem with living in the equator, a severe lack of dusk, always dark suddenly at the same time, pretty much year round.

I was driving west, from Nakuru up to Njoro we we stay. We have a magnificent stretch of about 8kms of tar sealed road before you hit the dirt track. This is where I was, just cruising along, when I look up and see, sitting perfectly above the center of the road, that big red ball of the setting African sun.

I was engrossed, possibly not the ideal state to be in when driving, especially if it’s a motorcycle on crazy Kenyan roads, but engrossed I was nonetheless. Here is this perfectly straight stretch of tarmac, on either side spreading as far as the eye can see are the fields of dry crops and farms, and sitting perfectly atop it all is this stunning sunset.

What takes me most about the sunset is the way the light hits the world. Its not like at home, pink clouds peering down. It’s more subtle than that, and yet more overwhelming. The whole world, for the few moments before the sun bids us adieu, becomes filled with this organgy/red haze. You almost can’t pinpoint the sun as the sourse of all this wonder, because despite its prominent spot right there in front of you, it simply becomes a part of the landscape as a whole, losing any individuality it had in the moments before that sky came to match its colour.

It becomes more than a view, more than a sight. For that few moments, that stunning sunset its literally all you know. You find yourself cheesily astounded that the world can offer so much beauty, and that you get to witness it. Then the sun drops suddenly behind that hill, you find yourself peering through a glarey visor into the gloom and dust, and the illusion is shattered. The world is normal and perfectly unromantic all over again.


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