Kericho

I would have asked for one thing only. That I was better introduced to a place so cursed with beauty.

Instead we arrive on the epilogue of a dark starless night frivolously rubbing blank tired eyes just to see two steps ahead, the neon sign of a supermarket offering the only connection to the city life we’ve taken an involuntary recess from. Our bus having been consumed by distance and the imperceptible horizon, we struggle to identify signs of life.

A man we immediately identify as the security guard of the supermarket reveals himself, detaching himself from the background to which he had blended so well he catches us by surprise. Upon quick inspection I notice on him an axe, a panga, a spear and a nuclear football. Sufficiently armed I would say, though you might feel inclined to disagree. He is exceptionally tall and intimidating but all the posturing and tension evaporate as soon as he offers a greeting.

We greet him back and identify ourselves as guests of the owner of the supermarket and seek his advice for the nearest guest house where we tell him we hope to complete our quota of sleep for the night. He duly offers his assistance pointing us to a building that stands a fair distance away, lights from the top floor giving it the ethereal feel of a beacon in the night. He stops halfway, the tension creeping back into his face as a dark covered pickup strolls past, turns a corner and parks a few paces away for the length of time between two hiccups before moving on.

‘You can never trust these small personal cars. Always carrying the suspicious type.’

We inquire whether they’ve given him trouble before.

‘Plenty. Heh, but we always know how to respond, without mercy.’ He swipes his panga across the air.

We thank him for his help and set off to the guest house which initially appears deserted until the security guard there also melts away from the background that had swallowed him (seems to be theme in these parts) and greets us before he and a stumbling receptionist show us to the last rooms available. This exercise, like the rest of the night thus far, is not so straightforward, seeing as the rooms were sparkling new and thus unnumbered and the receptionist also hasn’t kept track of those that were occupied already and those not. We embark on a quest to try the keys yet to be taken on every door on the top floor, cause such a ruckus as sparks a protest from sleeping guests that threatens to set the whole building on fire.

We identify empty rooms for us to occupy eventually. I jump in immediately and set down my head on a pillow that smells of cigarette smoke and itches my cheek like crazy, unaware that in the morning, none of it would matter, as this land in the middle of the greatest of rift valleys would, like a bride on a her wedding night to her groom, dramatically and unashamadely reveal her charms to me.

IMG_20190415_160322IMG_20190415_092550_5IMG_20190415_092501_820190415_154409IMG_20190415_091106_5

 

Advertisements

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.

Kawangware…

AJAB

A toyota canter is parked on a street in Kawangware carrying the newest wheat flour product to enter the market. We’re sitting inside, the driver and I, while the loader, or ‘turnboy’ in more common euphemisms, totters lazily about the lorry, bored . The salesman am tasked with training to use this software for sales automation is somewhere close but outside our view, spreading the good word to the local residents. He’s hoping they take more than just the good word from him.

Parts of Kawangware remind me of the Kisauni of old. Open sewers, dusty murram roads, hybrid houses composed of cheap aged stone, wood and metal sheets, interspersed occasionally by more modern high rises. A church looms large in the background, the glint of its marble exterior and glass windows hard to miss. At just about every corner, hawkers and ‘mama mbogas’ flaunt their wares, including omenaa…I haven’t seen omenaa in ages.

Droves of giddy goat calves skip about, darting between people and vehicles, and causing aforementioned ‘mama mbogas’ way too much distress.

Our driver has the radio tuned to classic 105 and it’s been bleating the works of Lionel Richie and the Backstreet Boys for seemingly forever. I am lost in my usual random sessions of musing when a man approaches the car and inquires of its contents.

We proceed to perform the grandest pitch to ever be performed, hoping to leave him in no doubt that he should buy one bale or he’d be doomed to a life of misery otherwise.

‘Pastries made from this flour can cure just about any disease.’ I tell the man with a deadpan voice. I’ve been moving around with these salesmen for three weeks now, so naturally I’ve picked a few skills along the way.

‘Your man will never leave you if you use this flour.’ Is what our salesman told a bemused lady we’ve served a few streets back.

For some reason though, our pitch doesn’t work and the man walks away…’I cant buy your product unless it’s really as good as you claim’ He protests

Our driver captures our collective puzzlement and disappointment as he calls back, ‘If you don’t try it, how will you possibly know it’s as good as we claim?’

‘Ako mbele ama ako nyuma?’ The turnboy asks about the very absent salesman, betraying signs of growing impatience. Is he ahead of us or behind?

In another context, the same question can be asked to ask opinion of someone about a second person’s level of affluence, capacity for forward thinking among other things.

The driver assumes the second context is implied. ‘Ako nyuma sanaa’ He replies, shaking his head at the customer who’s rebuffed us. He’s way too behind (backward).

‘Uuh’ the turnboy sighs in exasperation and I almost burst out in laughter.

Ajab2

 

 

 

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?