Friday, December 02, 2005

Overtake, but never be overtaken

This seems to have been the life philosophy of the shuttle driver this morning. I'm in Nairobi after a harrowing 5-and-a-half-hour ride by matatu/shuttle/minibus/taxi. Actually, I tried to relax as much as possible and read a book most of the way so that I didn't pay attention to what was happening around me on the road.

Though I had booked a seat in the second row on the 7:30 shuttle, I was asked if I would kindly fill the last remaining seat on the 6:30 shuttle since they were waiting to fill up with passengers before they would depart. My new seat? Front row, in the middle. Fortunately neither the driver nor the gentleman to my left were of particularly large stature. Though we sat like this for the whole journey, I didn't get to talk to either, really, since
a) the radio and engine was too loud for anyone in the bus to make conversation
b) when stuck in a very small space between two strangers who happen to be men, I prefer to be safe and not strike up a conversation. They were courteous, and so was I. But I was thankful that my trip back to Eldoret would be by air.

Why? You may ask... I heading to Nairobi just one week after arriving in Kenya? The Iowa team is arriving this weekend, and I am here to meet them and accompany them back to Eldoret. ELI always sends someone to meet guests in Nairobi. The first team member (Dave Martin) will arrive tomorrow morning just after 6 am. The rest of the team will arrive a day later, on Sunday morning. I'll take them around Nairobi for the day, then we'll fly to Eldoret in the afternoon.

Road rage
Actually, other than ONE vehicle which seemed to have been driven by some official-looking men, no one got upset, regardless of whether drivers were cutting others off, or whether they were driving in the wrong lane on the 2-lane highway in order to avoid potholes (and changing lanes often just feet before colliding with the oncoming trucks). Our shuttle passed trucks, donkey carts, other shuttles, sometimes even on the shoulder of the road, literally OFF the road! The only vehicle that managed to drive faster than us was the official-looking one filled with men in suits. The first time they passed us, the driver had reason to be upset. Our driver--obviously not used to being overtaken by other cars--didn't seem to have looked in his rear view mirror before changing lanes to pass a bus. He totally cut off the Land Rover, and the driver did a very un-Kenyan thing: He honked and honked until they had finally passed us.

Since I was engrossed in my book (to avoid stress, I think!), I didn't notice when/why we passed the Land Rover, but since it was unusual for anyone to pass us, I noticed them overtaking our matatu on three (maybe four) occasions. The last time, the other driver was waving his cell phone out the window as if to say, "I'm going to call the police if you pass me again!" Our driver later told me that he has no idea why that man was so upset--he (our driver) never drove more than the speed limit of 80kmph. I do believe that, since speeding on this particular (hilly) highway is not only virtually impossible when you're in a packed shuttle, but it's a tremendous hazard due to potholes.

Hakuna matata, eh? No problem. You avoid potholes by either zig-zagging along the highway, driving in the oncoming lane, or going off road. Like I said, our driver did all three, depending on what may have been the most suitable at the time.

Road kill
OK, this is gross, but I have to tell you about the not-so-usual road kill I noticed, the first being a gazelle. It had been beheaded, probably by a semi. Even in South Africa, where we have a lot of wildlife, all the wildlife live in national parks or private game ranches, which are all fenced. One colleague told me, "Eh? We cannot put fences around the parks! It will cost too much." And so, whenever you're in the vicinity of a national park, you find more than just donkeys on the side of the road. Today, I saw several herds of zebra, some gazelle, a few vervet monkeys, all just hanging out next to the highway. And though these aren't wildlife, there were even more sheep, goats and cattle grazing along the busy road. Hence the headless gazelle.

Next, I saw a donkey, legs up. It's amazing how many donkeys you find on the side of the road, grazing and being watched from a distance by its owner. This donkey was the first one I saw that had chosen a bad time to cross the highway. Uff-da!

Nicer things
I also saw flocks of flamingo in the distance as we passed Lake Nakuru. And the scenery in and of itself was more breathtaking than the driving manners of everyone on the road. To get from Eldoret to Nairobi, you have to pass through the Great Rift Valley. There are places where you can see for what seems like hundreds of kilometers far. Beautiful indeed.

Back at Eldoret
I went to say good-bye to the children before leaving for Nairobi this morning. Winsome came to ask me, "Danette is coming today?" (Danette made an impresson on Winsome last year since she held her when Winsome had some terrible infection and we had to take her to the clinic.) The kids promised that they will make the wageni (visitors) feel very welcome when they arrive on Sunday evening. It is a tradition for the kids to gather and sing to welcome guests, and one by one, they come and give the visitors roses as a welcome gift. I'll take photos so you can see!

Flora Hostel
I'm heading to my hostel now, the same place where Pat, Lori and I stayed last year. It's a Catholic hostel, with some VERY strict rules (like, you cannot be late for dinner. You have to be there when the bell rings and sit down for dinner, or you may not be served...) Can't say I'm very fond of this hostel, but it's clean. And for the first time in a week, I'll take a HOT SHOWER! Ah. The thought of that makes me smile.

Enjoy your hot showers for me. (I hope to figure out the Rogers' solar heating system sometime soon so I can take warm showers at home!)

Hey, after a week here, I'm now used to brushing my teeth under the African sky, looking at the milky way. In fact, I need to remember to take some photos next week of where I am currently living so you can get a better idea of my life here.

The fact that you're still reading now means you really care. Thank you. I love that you're on this journey with me.

Bwana asifiwe! (Praise God!)

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