Dear Janine

Narissa Allibhai Backpacker Diaries, Voices, Whimsical Whirlings 8 Comments

It is the dark of night, and the time has come. I pick up the red candle, berry-flavoured,  full of life and sweetness like you. Upon lighting the candle, we sit down in the universal triangle around it. I take a deep breath, relax my body and mind, and sink into a meditative state.

In a flash you appear! It is as though you have been waiting for this. Your spirit is dancing and laughing. “Narissa,” you tell me. “Any time you need me, I am here.” As your joyful soul bounces and zig-zags above my head, you come close to whisper “I exist to spread joy. That I have done here. Now I am being called to spread more joy where it is deeply needed.” And with that, your spirit dances away, your laugh echoing…”

Turn on this backtrack to the following letter: Photograph – Ed Shereen

Dear Janine,

We always said that we knew each other before we were born. Surely our souls did. And we will continue as soul sisters now beyond death.

I was scrolling through our messages at 4:30am last night, and found this old message from you (complete with our youthful texting grammar), quote: “Do you know why i love you so much!?!?!!? not just because ur my bestest friend in the whole world but its because you listen to me when i talk to you and i can come to you with anything without having the fear of you judging me… :) No I’m not drunk lol, im just feeling a lil sentimental and thought id share my love for you because your such an awesome person and iv never met anyone as caring, loving and thoughtful as you!”

Of course my tears poured reading that. And especially because this is what I have been thinking fondly of you these last few days. You are the person whom I opened my soul to, told every little embarrassing thing. And you never judged me. Even when our personal opinions differed, it didn’t matter. To you, I was perfect. And to me, you were perfect.


You know more about me than anyone on this planet. And I you. I know your every crush, date and heartbreak. Your times of struggle and sadness (that of course, you never let the world see). Your times of excitement. Your times of exploration. Your times of joy.

Our life outlook has always been the same – chill out, have fun, and live life to its fullest! We never bothered with make-up and fancy clothes unless our mums forced us to. Marriage was never a priority. Experiencing everything life had to offer was our mantra!

That being said, I remember a Skype in which you said “Narissa, we’ve been through so much together – we must be there at each other’s weddings.” Hmph. Thought we were going to grow old together babe! And the best thing about us, we would put each other first before everyone, especially boys. Those came and went. New friends were made. But we were always there for each other. If we had gotten married, we  would have totally ditched those husbands for each other at the snap of a finger.

A life together

From the moment we knew existence as wailing babies, we were together. Our parents were close friends, so we grew up as sisters. Endless sleepovers for which we shamelessly invited ourselves to each other’s houses. Every RE festival, BUI class, Al Ikhwan…we would only go if the other was going. I honestly do not know how to navigate Khane without you dude. And how I pretended to be 1 year younger so that we could do every class together – art, rounders (so we could chill and skive off a bit). Performing a dance every year, once with Alisha, once with Sadaf, several times with Alina (who almost gave up trying to teach us her complicated Bollywood moves)… We were literally GLUED together.

And then we got a little baby sister, whom we loved to take everywhere with us – she became part of our sleepovers, and our Khane “skwad” as she giggled cutely in that pink baby shawl.

Our baby sister

Every family outing or holiday, we would try drag the other along. Dinners with Alu at China “Patel”. Lunch at Ma’s stuffing ourselves with her amazing prawns and crabs. Sunday pancake breakfast tradition at mine. Hiking trips, biking trips, you name it. I remember a sleepover at yours when we played Monopoly late into the night and then your parents came home! Dhammal!! How we rushed to try pack it away, but still got caught, up past our bedtime.

Then you went to England for your A Levels. While you were struggling to adjust there, I was here pining for you daily. I wrote to you saying how “I dint fully appreciate u till u were gone” – how those words have taken on a new meaning now. Because I mean seriously, how much do you appreciate the existence of your right arm? You are born with it, it’s so essential to your existence, and it’s a part of you! You don’t expect it to disappear suddenly, do you? Or your favourite comfy pair of old PJs that fit you so snugly and comfortably. Yes, I am describing you as my right arm and my old comfy PJs, spirit-punch me if you will 😛

And thus started our “long-distance” friendship/sister-ship. We planned that one day we would travel together – to Spain of course, because that’s where the hot guys were (reminds me of that hottie at coast that we ‘wooed’ one New Years). Years passed – we finished high school, university, started working. And you, crazy lady you, at the age of just 24, were sporting manager positions at top-notch hotel Marriott. You had your apartment in London, a sweet ride, and started the dream travels. Through the years, we never lost touch, continuing to update each other on every little thing that happened in our lives, getting each other’s advice and support on every decision – through all the mediums of Facebook, email, WhatsApp, Skype, and way back when – MSN Messenger. Ah, and I joined SnapChat just for you, and you became my one Snapchat “friend.” Scrolling through our messages at 5am yesterday, I noticed they are full of “I MISS YOU”s. Ati now you’ve left me to miss you alone? Idiot.


Every visit back home to Kenya, we’d camp at each other’s places because of course “your home is my home.” And we did get started on those worldly trips. You came to visit me in Montreal. I came to visit you in Vancouver and Whistler. Amazing soul sister reunions, with many secrets that are ours to keep.

Our last trip was in May 2016. Lamu. We found discounted tickets to this magical Swahili island, and off we went. Upon arrival, your charm and ridiculous bargaining skills got us a sweet hotel room at a giveaway price. Then came the pigging out on seafood, making friends with locals left right and centre, meditating on the sand dunes, taking a boat out in the rain, peeing off the side, crashing into a bush, catching our own fish, and later eating them for dinner. We swam in those rough scary waves as you laughed and encouraged me. We rode donkeys into town and came away with red sores on our butts. You left Lamu a few days before me. Cheerfully waving goodbye as your boat sailed off, little did we know this would be our last painless trip together.


Come 2017, I was heading off to South America on my dream backpacking trip. We had been eagerly making plans to meet up in Ecuador in March. But in January, you were diagnosed with cancer. Cancer. Cancer… And my sweet Janine did you fight valiantly for 10 months. I remember you messaging me saying “I am not going to die, Narissa!” You were determined to overcome it, and we all believed you would. Shock on us when the chemo didn’t work. When the reality hit that your days were numbered. That your light was needed elsewhere sooner than we expected. You said you were coming to Nairobi in November 2017, and we had so many plans. Well, you did come in November, but in a coffin.

Beyond Death, Love Lives On

A week before D-Day, I called your dad and he said you weren’t reading messages or really able to communicate. I was shattered. Was I never going to speak to my best friend ever again? I cried and wept and shook daily. But you wouldn’t go without saying goodbye. The night before you left us, I sat down to do a meditation for you – described at the top of this letter. Sorry for keeping you waiting!! And thankyou for that special goodbye. On Tuesday morning, I woke up and knew it was your day to go. Through the afternoon, I felt a weight gradually being lifted off my shoulders. And then you left us, taking your last breaths in the warm presence of your idol and loving big sister Tash.

It has been 2 weeks now since you left us, and I miss you intensely. Not a day has passed in the last 3 weeks without shedding fond tears for you. I keep looking at our photos and wondering, are you actually gone? Is this whole year of your fight against cancer a long terrible dream? Are you going to text me tomorrow and say “Hey Nari, I’ve booked my flights over. Woop woop! See you soon!”? Seeing the light in your eyes, feeling the love in our hearts for you, I struggle to understand why you had to leave us at merely 25. You have always been so full of life, how did this nightmare of a year take place until death finally knocked on our doors and took you from us?

The number of people whose lives you have touched, Janine, is incredible. You have brought so much love, joy, and life lessons to your friends and family the world over. I never really thought of you in that capacity beyond being my closest friend – but now I realise that you were a source of soulful fire to people the world over. People have been describing you as a bundle of joy, always happy, full of life, kind, positive, selfless, honest, radiant, vibrant, lively, sweet, caring, smiling, laughing, an angel, a beautiful soul. You will be deeply missed. Lakini you instructed us in your will to celebrate your life – of course you did. And so we will. We will remember and appreciate that love and joy you brought us, and treasure it forever.


A part of me wants to be mad at you for going, but I can’t be – you fought. Hell you fought. With every ounce of your being and life and spirit, and more. You did not want to leave us. In our last Skype 3 weeks before you left us, you said that you wanted to do more backpacking trips. But your joyful spirit was desperately needed elsewhere, and I wish you all the luck there my dear. One day, I will go on our backpacking trip to Ecuador. And there I will await a sign from you <3

Janine, you know something? You have inspired me to follow my heart, no matter what. I will live my life beyond the fullest, in your spirit. A few months ago, you told me that no matter what happens, you have no regrets – you never held back, experienced every single thing you could. And I will follow your example.

Till we meet again,

Our love reigns strong.

Go well, go vibrant, Janine.

With the deepest love,



Comments 8

  1. Anon

    I met Janine at Al-Ikhwan. Think that was about 10 years ago. And although there was no contact ever since, I remember her being such a gentle soul. The fact that I can remember this even after a decade is unbelievable.

  2. Galina

    Narissa, this is truly an inspiring tribute to Janina. She is a special soul . May you always find comfort in the beautiful memories she has left behind

  3. Ezmina

    Soul connections…truly special!! Thank you for sharing this journey with us as Janines spirit lives on…you have built wonderful memories. A great reminder for all of us to live life to the fullest & appreciate our lives one’s around us.

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