Limuru

Limuru1

I find myself where many traditionally end up the week after they graduated, in the countryside (ushago) where tall tales of villages gathering to feast and celebrate their sons and daughters achievements stand up well to scrutiny seeing as how folks here really take their time. The landscape outside is a portrait stolen from the textbooks I used to begrudgingly flip through in primary school, endless green dripping down endless rolling hills. I stare at all that green and lose the past quarter century I’ve lived. I lose my name. I am a free entity floating without purpose or history. I forget about the four hour trek it took to get here in the morning or that one hour of that time I spent stuck in a monster of a jam.

It doesn’t last.

I’m reminded quickly of my responsibilities when we pull up into Limuru town. Calling Limuru town a town is unfair to all the other towns. It’s a strange little open market, flanked by shops and the occasional residential building. Everyone here seems to be selling, you could start a drinking game for every person you spot who is actually buying, if you’re for that kind of thing. The stalls spill over from the shade put up to house them and choke the road. Our driver and, coincidentally, the first of my pair of students complains about this fact and leaves his post to raise issue with a lorry driver who’s gleefully slothing up, having gobbled up the last inch of the road. This mistake by my student is about to cost us dearly.

There’s something so gangster about having a badge flashed at you, even if it be a mere municipal officer’s badge. It stirs the resting Kisauni guy inside of me. I might as well have a rolled up joint in my hand and a rusted panga down the back of my pants. But the man behind the badge is uncharacteristically charming for someone doing this job that he spoils the script for such a setup. He’s so lean and sharply dressed might have passed off as a teacher under different circumstances.

‘Why do you park in the middle of the road, kijanaa?’

It doesnt help that I stutter my response a bit when I protest.

‘Tuende ofisini.’

To my relief my student returns imminently but the look on his face tells me he’s not confident about his chances either.

I leave the two in the car to sort things out. Their private congress lasts well over an hour but by the time its over, a ‘fine’ of 8000 is reduced to a quarter that price. I inform my student that he might have well toppled my mother as the ultimate shopping partner when you’re on a budget. The officer even left him his number to call should he ever get troubled by other county officers while in town. Good of him to secure his client as all good businessmen (public administrators)  do.

The whole fracas has taken its toll. We realize quickly that the day has run out on us. My student hits the dashboard in frustration. ‘I’ve never gone a day without making sales, man! Hiyo pesa amekula, what will he buy with it when we’ve been unable to supply the places he shops at?’

Today everyone has something to learn in that case, I muse. As for myself, I have seen both the good and the bad working Kenyans go through less than three days after graduating. I do not look forward to the ugly.

The journey back thus begins amid morale-hitting acceding to defeat, idle reflection and my dreading of the very long commute that awaits me, and my buns have turned into cold hard steel from sitting in a car for the most part of the day but man the view this place offers me!

You know I think I wouldn’t mind getting stuck in traffic here all day.

Advertisements

We Can Lose Much More…

person-1052698_1920

(Fair warning ahead, parts of this piece describe a scene that might make your stomach queasy)

There are some subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) nuances that define as a people. Cornerstones of our society, so to speak. Tiny, often easily overlooked actions we do for others, things we say that bring a feel-good atmosphere and knit us closer together. They are values that are inherent in all of us even at the darkest of our times.

Lately, it feels like these foundations have been under siege.

Several months back, while heading back to campus from Thika, our bus zipped past a body lying in the middle of the road. I don’t remember where specifically. I don’t remember how the deceased was dressed. I don’t remember if it was a man or woman. I do remember that the head was not attached to the shoulders. I do remember that cars swerved around the body and sometimes over it. I do remember finding it near impossible to keep my food down for the next two days.

Worst of all I do remember that after the initial shock wore off, my fellow passengers got down to work speculating how the body might have ended up there. Had the man/woman been mentally ill? Had they willfully stepped in front of a car, driven by an urge they could not comprehend? Had they actually been murdered elsewhere and dumped on the road to cover up the crime? A consensus, completely uncalled for, was finally reached that there was no way the deceased had not been murdered elsewhere and then dumped on the road.

One thing that, ironically, seemed to escape everyone’s attention was the fact that there was a body on the road, and nobody seemed to care about school kids in other buses and vans who would pass by that same spot and have nightmares that night or that other drivers might be traumatized running over the body, because no one stopped. Always in such a hurry to get to wherever we want to, we don’t care what we throw away, when a simple hazard sign might have well warned other drivers to steer clear.

Fast forward several months and it seems we’re living in a constant spell of expiation for a sin we have no idea about. Our country is being held hostage by an election that just won’t go away. For those of you who aren’t fully versed on this yet, we held our election this August which inspired so little confidence in our judiciary that they declared them as null and void. The repeat elections, which are to be held tomorrow, are being overseen by more or less the same officials who bungled up the original one. Which is why the opposition is having none of it. Which is why for the past few weeks we’ve had demonstrations in the country to oppose the commission. The response of the government unsurprisingly is to use force and as a result more than a few lives have been lost.

But that’s nothing compared to the fact that the people who died are now used as icons of some ‘resistance’. Uncensored images of them in their undignified state have been plastered all over the ether to elicit some reaction from all of us. I see them when am on Whatsapp, they’re in my face when am on Facebook. A more considerate person might stop to think, ‘How will the deceased’s parents feel if they see their son or daughter in this manner on the news or social media? Should I really post this?’ But we seem to have lost that. We traded in empathy for higher resolution cameras and faster internet connectivity.

Then the unthinkable happened last week. One of the officials on the electoral commission, having fled to the States, penned a letter of resignation that revealed much of what happens behind the curtains. That the ‘independent’ commission was only independent in principle but not in creed or action. That her fellow officers were imposing influence on the whole process according to how it benefited their respective party, either way.

Because of people’s irrational party affiliations she’s been mocked, ridiculed, intimidated and threatened. That she fled out of fear for her own life, even as one of her colleagues was kidnapped and murdered under dubious circumstances a week before the original election, that she resigned out of fear for her staff, in the hopes that their security would be considered ahead of the plight of politicians who seek power and nothing else, seems to be lost on us. Whether she’s being honest and warrants our attention is beside the point. Once upon a time the search for truth used to be integral to the whole idea of us being ‘decent’, whether that truth resides within the people we call family or friends or our government. But that too appears to be gone.

As bloggers, as fiction writers, we often include conflict, tension, corruption and scenes of gore in our work, I know I too have been ‘guilty’ of this a few times. But we often add these things to mock them, to deride them, to expose them so we can fix ourselves, but in truth we do not want to see them creep into our daily lives and become the norm. I want to be comforted by the knowledge that if I end up lying in the middle of a busy road for whatever reason, people would be considerate enough to stop and shield my body, and not instead take photos and post them everywhere and make light of the moment. I want to believe that in a position where I possess forbidden information critical to the welfare of the public I would not be mocked and threatened if I choose to divulge such information. I really want to believe in the people I call my fellow Kenyans.

I will not take a stand here about whether or not I will vote tomorrow because that would make this a political statement, when this is far from it. This in converse is a rallying call to all of us, especially right now to all Kenyans, to stop and reflect about where we’ve come from, where we are headed and how we want to be judged by future generations.

Only one person can ever win an election, but all of us stand to lose so much more if we don’t stop to reflect and change.

Stay safe tomorrow everyone and God bless you all!

42 Hours To Arusha And Back.

I have a very vivid recollection of this guy who was on our bus to Arusha, simply because of the way he carried himself. He was clearly drunk. He ambled his way through the aisle of the bus in staggering stages, engulfing anyone in close proximity with a nauseating strong musk of cheap beer. There was no question about it, he’d been tipping bottles that same morning and not the previous evening, but it was the day before Christmas so maybe he could be forgiven. Maybe not. His clothes wore him, in stead of it being the other way around, his oversize washed-out orange shirt flapping impatiently like a flag in the wind. But apparently he had a very, very important role to play amongst the crew of the bus.

The crews of Kenyan intercity buses seem to grow and shrink in number and complexity every season. There’s the driver obviously, chatty and sometimes vulgar and his conductor who does the heavy work, passing out the refreshments or getting your luggage out of the boot if you alight midway to the bus’ eventual destination. But then last year a new member joined the crew, the second driver. When he can’t find an empty seat, he usually lays a mat in that space between the driver’s and the VIP1 seats, then assumes all kinds of hilarious sleeping postures that beg for a photo shoot.

Then there’s that guy who thinks he’s Rambo’s nephew. He swings on the bus door until you reach Changamwe or the bus company’s out-of-town office where he disappears off into the dark night, never to be seen again. For those buses that cross the border, there is another dude who plays a very pivotal role. He’s the go-to guy if you want to cross the border when you’re not eligible to. You have kids who have no passport or vaccination card? No problem, he’ll get them through no hassle. This was the niche that the hero of our story occupied.
After ten or so rounds to the front of the bus and back, he finally stopped at our row and asked for our passports. I hand him mine, he writes down the details he needs, hands it back. My uncle with whom I was travelling wasn’t carrying his passport but that shouldn’t matter because an agreement reached some years ago by East African countries allows for travel across borders with just your identity card, right?

So our man takes my uncle’s ID card, explains the process he would go through at the border and tells him we’d have to pay five hundred shillings to be issued a certain document that would equate to a visa. But we already knew the whole process because we researched before we left and we knew the fee to be paid wasn’t anywhere close to five hundred, more like three, which meant our guy would pocket the excess.

Now, my uncle thrives in moments like these, mind you, where he would confront people who either don’t do their job right, or require you loosen your purse strings a bit more to “motivate” them, he gives it to them cold and flat. But he’d confessed to me a few minutes ago that his head was throbbing with a headache, so I could understand this time round when he decided not to indulge in his thirst to shame this man and instead handed over the requested sum. Our guy continued forward, carrying out his civic duty. A minute later he came back, almost gouged his entrails on the floor, composed himself and said, “This five hundred should be just enough, but you never know with these border guys. They might ask for more.”

My uncle still said nothing, but this time he chuckled because he understood what was going down here. Cheeky. Very cheeky.

The man then moved on and left us to our thoughts. Ahead of us, occupying almost eight rows of seats was an Indian family apparently on their way to a wedding. When they tired of speaking in Hindi, they switched to Swahili, which they spoke with an accent you’d expect from Swahili or Arab folk living Majengo Guraya or Kibokoni, not an Indian family. I feel compromised and vulnerable.

How I could possibly trust my ears again after this betrayal?

Then I remind myself that this is what travelling is all about. You meet people who surprise you, others who try to make a living off of you because you look innocent. On our way back from Arusha, we didn’t even book a ticket for the return trip in advance. We finished our business midday, then returned to the bus station (or stendi as they call it in TZ ) to find it packed with travellers. We fought our way into the best seats of a bus which took us as far as Moshi. From there we took a manyanga to Holili, then a boda boda motorcycle took us through the border post to Taveta. At Taveta we struck gold as a man with his private car took us to Voi. We sojourned at Voi for a while, packed ourselves full of nyama choma and chapati, then hitched another matatu to Mombasa where we arrived weary and sleepy at midnight. But it was all good. A thrilling Kenyan-savannah-slash-Mount-Mau-and-Kilimanjaro adventure that was the refreshing reload button I had been begging for during the long holiday.
Along the way we met more intriguing and curious people including another drunk who engaged the matatu driver and some of the other passengers in a battle of expletives and a Serengeti Maasai man at the border who was told either he stole his brother’s passport or his hand, because the fingerprints didn’t match.
But then on the other hand, that matatu we took from Moshi was so packed with passengers, my face was constantly being pressed by at least two elbows or armpits for the duration of the trip, and that boda boda trip was so bumpy I wondered if I would ever be whole again after that, and during the final phase I had to sit with my knees hunched over for so long they finally caved and started to hurt, and then it took me two days after we arrived to finally wear off the exhaustion from the travelling.

It’s all part of the experience.

Traveling is refreshing. Traveling is exhausting.

I love it. I hate it.

So anyway, we arrived at the border post, which is nothing like the rickety old building I remember it as. A new state-of-the-art building stands over the ruins of the old one. It even has those metal detectors that would set off alarms if you had too much iron in your blood.

Once inside, we present our passports for verification and visa stamping. There are two sets of counters you have to go through, one with Kenyan customs officers and the other with their Tanzanian counterparts. A gap less than a meter wide separates them. If you stand with your feet just wide enough you can be in Kenya and Tanzania at the same time, essentially you’d be in two places at once. If that’s not cool enough yet, if you stand sideways at the gap and suck in your stomach, you’d neither be in Kenya nor Tanzania. You’d be nowhere. Invisible.

Our hero (hope you haven’t forgotten him already), carrying my uncle’s ID card runs off to another office within the building, comes back with the document we were promised, signed and stamped and sealed. So we believed we were all done but we were wrong.

Our half-sober star makes good on his promise to try and make more money off of us by claiming the mabwanas inside want to be paid more. So uncle offered up to go in and talk to the mabwanas himself, at which point our man jumped and said there would be no need for that.

I imagine my uncle wanted to break into laughter over how thin and poorly-planned this scam was.

“Kenya mambo hayaendi bila pesa, buda.” The man finally said, smiling with those half-dented bronze teeth of his. Nothing happens in Kenya if you don’t tip off.

But should it be that way, though, just because it already is, when it doesn’t really have to be?

Then again someone should have told the poor fool, we weren’t even in Kenya anymore. Should we really carry the worst bits about ourselves everywhere we go?

Oh did I mention I love traveling? I do, I really do.


Now then, won’t you feast your eyes on these photos I took with my modest phone camera during the trip?