I reported to work that morning and was introduced to colleagues. I was just relieved to be there after four months out of work (The Year of Return – Part One). I can’t remember if I went for lunch that day, but at around 2 pm my phone rang. It was a UN number. I excitedly picked knowing it was probably a friend calling from his desk.
1st Lady’s voice: Is this Mr Brian Wesaala.
Brian: Yes (It’s not who I thought)
1st Lady’s Voice: This is Madam 1st Lady, and I am here with Madam 2nd Lady from Human Resource.
2nd Lady’s Voice: Mr Wesaala, we want to inform you that your contract is null and void as you do not possess a valid residence permit.
Brian: (Shaken) Eh I have been working for the Kenya Mission and…
2nd Lady’s Voice: No, Mr Wesaala. Your contract is null and void. You should return any items that have been assigned to you and vacate the premises immediately.
Brian: (Trying to calm my nerves) The Swiss Mission is fully aware of my situation.
1st Lady’s Voice: Is it? Then we need written communication from them before you are allowed back into the office.
Brian: Okay. You will have it this afternoon. (Hangs up).
Immediately I call Balozi to inform him of my predicament.
Balozi: Yes Brian
Brian: HR has nullified my contract because of the residence situation.
Balozi: Come to my office. (Hangs up)
Within ten minutes, I am in Balozi’s office, and we are drafting a note verbale to the Swiss Mission. He asks precisely how I want it written, and I dictate to him. He adds some diplomatic pleasantries and asks one of his assistants to have it typed on official letterhead and sent immediately.
Balozi: You should be fine. You can refer them to me in case of anything. Si, you were working here?
Brian: Yes Balozi. Thank you. (I leave him to continue with his work).
Such was the man — helpful, understanding, ready to listen (and TALK), efficient, DIPLOMATIC, forthright, a mentor and an impeccable dresser.
On many occasions, we sat at L’Annexe (the small restaurant, turned into a Kenyan local) and he was liberal with his advice, especially on matters life, career and finance. He told me I should be okay to move on after seven years in the UN. He cautioned me against land investments (in Kenya) since the world was now a digital estate. He recommended a book on investing, The Most Important Thing Illuminated by Howard Marks.
He loved his Heineken and I would play rumba so that we could enjoy his company and he would teach us more rumba and boast that he could speak Lingala. He was a Barcelona fan (and an Arsenal supporter), but at times I struggled to correct his knowledge of football so I would just nod along. He told people I went to school with (Victor) Wanyama. His farewell party was the biggest L’Annexe witnessed. We made sure we did something special for l’ambassador as Zidane the restaurant proprietor referred to him.
While back in Nairobi, he would occasionally send me the full digital newspapers. He was an ardent reader.
Whenever I visited, I would always make a point of calling him, and if he were in Nairobi, we would meet for a drink. He still drunk his Heineken and listened to (live) rumba.
When I moved back to Nairobi, I looked for him to catch up and explain why I left Geneva and what I was up to, The Football Foundation for Africa. He was interested and supportive, and we met on a couple of occasions to discuss.
On our last meeting, I brought him two documents I had prepared. He skimmed through and pointed a couple of corrections. He promised to read them later.
We made our lunch orders. Mine arrived first. There was a problem with his, and by the time his food arrived, I was almost done eating. He had barely touched his food when excused himself. He had lost his appetite. He apologised to the waitress. She took away our plates, and we continued to chat as we finished our drinks, Sprite for him and water for myself.
Once we were done, he offered to drop me back at the office as usual. When we got to the car, he excused himself to go to the restrooms. He looked a bit frail, but I did not give it much thought. He was a slim man, and I thought age was also starting to show.
We were to drive down to Malindi the following week. I needed a break, and he had a place. He was excited at the prospect of showing me his house and Malindi town. “And you will meet my sisters. One works for a bank, and the other runs the school.”
The following week I called him to confirm Malindi plans, but his voice was slightly off. He cleared his throat and explained he was feeling unwell and had done some tests. They had given him some medicine for stomach bacteria. He promised to inform me once he was better.
One morning I woke up and got his missed call. I called back, and he asked if I could drive to which I responded in the affirmative. “When was the last time you drove?” he asked. “A couple of weeks back when I drove my dad from upcountry,” I responded. “Okay. Nitakupigia.”
His condition had not improved much, so he wanted me to drive him down to Malindi. I looked forward to the trip. But then he went silent. When I next called him, he had undergone more tests. He informed me that he had lost some weight. He postponed the trip to early the following year (2020). I took it as a cue to let him rest and perhaps enjoy the festive period with his family. His sister was cutting short her stay in Malindi.
One morning in mid-January, I decided to check up on Balozi. When a lady’s voice responded on the other end, my heart sunk a little. She informed me that she is Balozi’s sister and that Balozi had been hospitalised since the beginning of the year. I immediately reorganised my day and went to see him at the hospital that afternoon. He was in the HDU ward. For a moment I could not recognise the man I was with about a month ago.
I felt weak. I was lost for words. A mutual, more mature friend arrived, and she knew better how to handle the situation. I sat there and looked at Balozi. He talked, still wanting to be part of the conversation as we engaged his sisters. After a few minutes, he asked to rest, and we left him.
My second visit was similar to my first, but he had been moved to the surgical ward. He was improving, and he told me he would be out soon. He could even walk. He was still very frail, but I felt more positive. He always asked, “What’s new outside?”
On my third visit, he still looked frail, but there was more strength in his voice, and he had started eating. That day I got the courage to shake his hand when I arrived. He asked about the tournament. I told him plans were progressing well. He told me he had looked forward to attending, and I assured him there would be many more to attend. His sisters arrived, and after a quick exchange, I touched his pale, frail hand and bid him farewell.