“I hope you are not Al Shabab,” graved the driver when he agreed to take me from the border town of Namanga on the Kenyan side of the border with Tanzania.
“I hope so too,” I grinned, settling into the front seat of the single-cabin pickup. He laughed and introduced himself as Sir William.
“I can take you down to the checkpoint and find you a truck to Nairobi,” he said. “But you must play one song for me.”
“Sure.” It wouldn’t be the first time I’d have to whip out Ol’ Red and tickle her for a tune in exchange for a ride.
The morning had started promisingly enough. I left Arusha at 08:00 and began to hitch as I walked along the road that leads to Nairobi. If I was lucky to get a direct ride, it should only take about six hours to hit Kenya’s capital.
A Landcruiser stopped by me as I trekked along the barely visible shoulder lane.
“I’m just around,” the driver said after I told him of my penniless ways.
“That’s cool,” I said. “Thanks for stopping. Safari njema,” I bid him safe travels.
My first ride of the day was with Pastor Israel who picked me up a half hour later.
“I’m only going 15 kilometres down the road,” he said as his young son hopped to the backseat.
“That’s fine,” I grinned. It’s better than walking 15 K’s.
Although it was cloudy and grey it didn’t appear as though it would rain anytime soon. Of course, I could be wrong. It happens on occasion. But only when it rains.
Pastor Israel dropped me off suggesting I speak with the police at the station to help me get a ride.
“Good idea,” I thanked him.
As soon as he disappeared I began to hike down the road. I’ve used the police several times and they do workout on most occasions but I hate being static in one place. I need to be on the move. Besides, I’ve found that the strategy of walking down an empty road carrying my packs is more sympathetic to drivers. I waved at the police and began to walk.
Down the empty road.
Hmm, usually roads that lead to a border will have a few trucks, if not cars, utilising them. This one seemed to carter for tik-tiks (taxi motorbikes) and daladala’s (local suicide buses). The few private cars that drove by completely ignored me. The same Landcruiser that was just around in Arusha flew by.
The day did have its bonuses. For one thing, it was the first time since I’ve been in Africa that the weather was tolerable to a comfortable point. In fact, I was wearing two shirts and had yet to sweat. The abundance of Maasai shepherding their cows and goats along the road were quite friendly, even if a few small kids popped up outta nowhere and with flashing grins begged for money.
I was about to lecture them on how to start a conversation with ‘hello’ first when the same Landcruiser from before pulled over to the side of the road, facing Arusha.
“Come on,” said the driver. “I’ll take you to the border.”
“Serious?” I raised my eyebrows. He nodded as he shuffled some things about on the backseat. I crossed the road, threw my gear in and introduced myself to Njayu. I told him some travel stories. He was particularly curious as to how one could stay on the ocean for five months.
After the questions of marriage and why I think the system is flawed therefore I’d never get married, he threw in the typical, “Do you believe in God?”
I gave him my usual spiel of believing in Karma. A few days before, the same question had arisen at the Arusha Safari Lodge with Nyangusi, the driver for my day at Arusha National Park.
“But you say, ‘Oh my God’, right?” he had asked after my explanation of,
“If I can’t see it, I can’t believe in it.”
“Yes, course I say ‘Oh my God’,” I said. “It sounds better and more fitting than, ‘Oh my Karma’.”
Njayu seemed to respect my answer and left it at that. An hour and a half later he dropped me off at the border. I thanked him, shook his hand and went over to get stamped out of Tanzania, noting that it was the 13th of the month.
I seem to have a habit of entering countries on the 13th. My journey began on May 13th. I entered Namibia on a 13th. I was now a month away from my two-year celebration of non-stop travel. I walked down to the Kenyan side to get stamped in and as I flipped through the pages of my passport I saw that Kenya would be the country that would mark the halfway point on my travel document.
Kenya also happened to be country number 16. The visa stamp was placed delicately on page 16 of my passport.
Huh. Perhaps t’is a sign of good things to come.
I hadn’t really been feeling it for Kenya. The recent Al Shabab attacks may or may not have been hyped up by the media and a power transformer that had blown up at the Nairobi University had caused a panicked stampede which claimed one life and over a hundred students injured, thinking it was another Al Shabab attack.
Before I left Arusha, the police had issued a warning that intel provided by military intelligence suggested a high possibility of an Al Shabab attack on the tourist capital of Tanzania.
At the checkpoint, rather than wait for the guys to get me a ride on a truck, I flagged down every car that came by. The majority stopped but none were heading to Nairobi.
“Just outside,” or “To Bisi,” or “To the airport.”
I waited, watching spiraling whirly willies rise up on the dusty horizon, shooing donkeys outta my way as they grazed by the roadside, greeting the passing Maasai, a few stopped to practice their English with me.
Then Peter’s truck rolled to a stop at about 15:30.
“I’m going to Molonogo, about 20 K’s outside of Nairobi,” he said.
I guess it’ll do. It was getting late and the last thing I wanted was to hit a reputable city in the dark. Nairobi was fast becoming a contender for Africa’s highest crime rate. I’ve had friends tell me stories of how they were held at gunpoint – in the day.
Kenya’s capital was about a 4-hour drive away but somehow, as usual, I managed to hitch a lift with one of Africa’s slowest trucks.
“I’m in no rush,” Peter explained. “I go 40-60 K’s an hour. African time, you know?”
Yeah, I fuckin’ know. “Great,” I grinned through clenched teeth. “Po-lay –” fuckin’ –“po-lay.” Slowly-fuckin’-slowly.
We bumped along the sealed road, the scenery resembling more of an English green fielded country side than the African bush.
I noticed that Peter was eating small green twigs wrapped in newspaper.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Mira,” he said.
Oh, OK. “What is Mira?”
“It keeps me awake,” he blinked wide-eyed. “When I chew this, I can drive 2,500 kilometers.”
“So it’s like a stimulant?”
Hmm. “Can I try one?”
“Yes,” he handed over the wrapped newspaper. I pulled a twig out and went over it. It looked like the top leafy bit of asparagus. “Do you eat it or just chew it?”
“Just chew it.”
I plonked it in my mouth and chewed. A bitter flavour burst onto my tongue. An after taste stuck to my molars. I spat it out. “Bit bitter, isn’t it?” I grinned.
“Yes,” Peter laughed.
“I think that’ll do me.”
We pulled into a service station where he provided me a vanilla yoghurt drink and a packet of biscuits. I thanked him and as the sun disappeared over the horizon I could see the lights of Nairobi. Traffic was building up as we neared the city.
Security was high with armed military forces manning road-spiked checkpoints. These guys weren’t kiddin’ around.
“You have your passport with you?” Peter asked.
“Yes, but I’ve never been asked to present it outside of the border.”
And I wasn’t. By the time we hit Nairobi Peter had said I was in God’s favour. I refrained from going into a conversation about religion with him. Especially since a sticker of JC was stuck right in the middle of the windscreen with the caption, Jesus Never Fails.
I figured best to not point out that he has, indeed, failed in epicmanner.
At the last police roadblock a female soldier wielding an AK-47 asked to see me my passport.
“First time,” I grinned.
Peter dropped me off at a bus station in Molongo after he let me call Megan, my host who I had met at the Sauti Za Busara festival in Zanzibar. Peter then talked with the bus driver, paid my fare and sent me on my way.
“Asante sana,” I thanked him, shaking his hand.
“OK,” he said.
Africans aren’t much for hearty goodbyes. I climbed aboard the blue-lit bus, the interior looking like the entrance to a strip club. Other buses that passed seemed to sport the same interior, fast ‘n’ furious neon lighting designs of a gentleman’s club. The outside of the vehicles were plastered with stickers and sayings like, CIA – Christ Is Alive or Pray Until Something Happens.
I’mma leave that open for interpretation.
It took almost 90 minutes to cover 20 K’s due to the heavy traffic and security checks. I was dropped off in the middle of the CBD. I noticed the Hilton and walked over to ask to use a phone to call Megan for further instructions. The hotel had an X-ray machine at its entrance and heavy, private security. Al Shabab had certainly made their point. After my bags and I were cleared, the receptionist was kind enough to let me use his phone.
“Get a cab to Terranova apartments on Chaka rd,” Megan directed. “Call me from there.”
So I hailed down Anthony who took me to said location where we picked up Megan and she directed Tony to her place. She lives with her boyfriend, Kevin and their friend, Dan – both professional Mui-Thai fighters that have their bouts overseas.
Just passed midnight I hit the sack, curling up in my new Maasai blanket, a barter with Mike back in Arusha. The week ahead would have me on a visa hunt for Ethiopia and Sudan.
And avoiding the vervet monkeys that patrol the neighbourhoods of Nairobi.