Stories we Tell Ourselves

Friends and relatives

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Friends and relatives
It is Christmas; that time of the year devoted to friends and relatives. Memories galore: Boney M and them carols, Atta Mark and Cowboy chapatis, plums and sherries (the yellow plums), new clothes, slaughtering a cock… else, going to upcountry to catch up with relatives and the obligatory goat festival at grandpa’s place. But now, we are grown up, cousins have moved and there is Njaanuary to think of, so, I decide to skip shaggz. Plus, there is always that uncomfortable question of when I am bringing ‘my people’ – meaning wife and kids – to meet their extended family; rather, a very minor excuse.

So out of Nairobi
Really though, my shaggz is near Nairobi and I want to get as far away from Nairobi as possible. If I had the wherewithal, I would go down to Zanzibar or South Africa. See, there is the hangover toxicity of the electioneering period which, coupled with the pressure that is Nairobi living, is enough to kill one. My body is screaming to get out of Nairobi as soon as we close the office to a far-away place to rejuvenate and heal. That, and my bucket list to tour all the counties in Kenya and possibly, in future, tour all the countries of the world – expanding my horizons, so to speak. I am torn between Samburu, Isiolo or Turkana. Fact is, I have checked the routes, accommodations and attractions in all three but I am yet to settle on one. Ideally, my heart pines for Mandera, but there is the Al Shabaab to think of.

Unfortunately, I get a text from a friend who has lost his dad and all my plans change – family and friends come before anything else in my life as these are the people who always got our backs and help us ride out a rough patch. My friend is from Rongo, Migori, though I know him as a Kisii from Kisii when it comes to that as us Kenyans are tribal people in a kind away until elections come and politicians wedge us.

Thus, anywhere around the country, the question of where you come from will inadvertently arise, and not in a malicious way, and you will proudly pronounce your ethnic identity. Accordingly, the further you are removed from the host community, the more privileges will be accorded to you, with the host community going out of their way to accommodate you in terms of dietary or cultural considerations. And it is at this point that I curse politicians for being couth in using the tribe identifier as a political weapon in their quest for power!

Understandably, my grief-stricken friend gives me the sketchiest of ideas on how to get to their village in Rongo, namely, book a ticket at Afya Centre – Transline, or Easy Coach. Knowing how mad travel gets during Easter and Christmas holidays, I opt to book a ticket in advance. So, the day prior to my travel, I board a bus to town to book my ticket. At the Transline stage, things are hectic as the area is swarming with a sea of humanity and their luggage. The counters are squashy – much like a boys’ boarding high school canteen at tea break where only the strong survive. I get an official walking by and extract information from him: fare is this much, we have a bus going to where you are going, no need to book beforehand if you can make it very early tomorrow to be at the stage as buses and minibuses are aplenty…

Meanwhile, I am thinking of where the Easy Coach stage is and I am walking towards a petrol station attendant to ask for directions. I have that feeling that I know where the stage is, though I can’t quite remember. Then, it hits me. Railways. Where you always board a Kitengela bus for your many goat-meat sessions in Kitengela. The human traffic here is not as bad, considering that Easy Coach is considered as a premium operator. That said, theirs is only a marginal increase and their prices are constant as opposed to other operators who hike their prices wildly whenever there is an influx of travellers. Come tomorrow morning and you will get a bus, assures the customer desk. Really, I should book my ticket then, but not me.

There was a time I went to Eldoret and came back to the city with a bad case of malaria. You know, the kind of malaria where you get fatigued and think that it is a result of travel or all that farm-digging, then it gets so bad and you have to be rushed to hospital in the dead of night as you are near-death. Come to think of it, is the phrase ‘in the dead of night’ from that hour at night where people succumb to their illnesses or advanced age? It must be so.

Anyway, now that I live alone, I do not have someone to rush me to hospital should my malaria escalate at night. Plus, my immediate neighbour has odd shifts, so he may be at work when you need him to take you to hospital at night. So, in the spirit of ‘prevention is better than cure’ I decide not to contract malaria if I can help it (Just so you know, it is mosquito season and I am bitten daily. In fact, these bloody suckers must have already drained me of a litre or two of blood. The saving grace being that Nairobi mosquitoes have no malaria – if I can recall my biology correctly).

Me at the chemist’s counter: Do you have malaria prophylactics? Or I may have said prophylaxis. Then I follow up the question with an explanation that I am traveling to Kisumu and I do not want to contract malaria just to be sure that my big words – prophylactics/prophylaxis – do not mean that I get medicine to make my stomach run or bladder to freely flow. Falsar is the name and no, there no contraindications (which I again follow up to make sure the chemist understands it means what I think it means). So, yes, I can toss to the new year.

Rongo here I come
The alarm rings very early in the morning. I am tempted to nap an extra hour, optimistic that I will get a bus to my destination. But then again, the customer desk said to be at their terminus early in the morning. As such, I wake up and move sluggishly about for a shower and teeth brushing. I packed at night as I did mental crossing to ensure that I carry with me everything I need for my light travel. I do not take breakfast as I just finished my meds for a lung infection and which meds seemed to cause me urinary incontinence – the last of my big words, I swear. As a precaution, I pee a couple of times before leaving the house.

So far so good as I get to Easy Coach in good time. I proceed to the booking ticketing only to be told that all the buses are fully booked and that I should have ticketed two or three days ago. Who is me though? (Lakini nani mimi?) I am all over the place pleading and causing a mini ruckus. I was here yesterday and was told this and now you are telling me that… Apparently, the staff have handled all sorts of passengers before. Anyway, they manage to ticket me and assign me a seat number. I board (first though, a quick dash to the pay-to-use washrooms) the bus I am directed to and move to the back as it seems that my seat is that way. I get to the back and find all the seats occupied. My seat is number 11D but the seats end at number 9. I am in the process of alighting the bus to complain, but instead, a staff who has just boarded the bus seats me at the door seat just next to the driver for such a wonderful view all the way to my destination. Kudos Easy Coach (and no, they have not paid me to endorse them, though I would certainly be happy and willing to do so for a consideration – ‘something small’).

A well-fed driver is a happy driver
Our tickets are confirmed, the Easy Coach mechanics do a quick check of the bus and we are on our way. Well aware of the daily reportage of road carnage on Kenyans roads at this festive season, I don my seatbelt. In fact, one of the reasons for settling on Easy Coach is that theirs is a safe-travel brand.

The driver is a well-rounded mound of a person – a person who has settled in life and who looks well-grounded and well-fed in terms of his family situation. In fact, as our tickets were being confirmed, he was conversing with what I presumed to be his daughter judging from what I could gather from the snatches of English and Swahili interspersed in his mainly Dholuo conversation.

‘Mwili haitengenezwi na mbao’ – human bodies are not made of timber as our driver constantly munches on this or that snack – a piece of sugarcane, mangoes, groundnuts, energy drink – for the duration of our journey. Which thing I find oddly fascinating knowing that the constant munching and sipping will definitely keep him awake for the course of the duration even shall all passengers fall asleep. He drives at a sure pace and the only quarrel I have with him is that he briefly slows almost to a stop at Keroka to buy himself some pieces of sugarcane. Ideally, he should have stopped for ten minutes or so and allowed us travellers to buy assorted farm produce as the market was teeming with fresh produce.

The Great Rift Valley View (Or how to get a heart attack)
Travel to Kisii and Migori is mostly hassle free. You exit Nairobi City by way of Uhuru Highway and joins Waiyaki way on to Kikuyu town and beyond. Here, you are joined by other vehicles plying this route as well as those travelling to Nakuru, Eldoret, Western, Nyanza and such other upcountry places. Only that, at some point, you have to take a detour from the Naivasha-Nakuru road by way of Narok. And which means that the road takes you via The Great Rift Valley View. The view is majestic alright, more so, if you are travelling by personal means and have the luxury to stop by and enjoy the unparalleled view. That is one way of describing it.

Another way of describing it is ‘The Great Heart Attack View’ for no matter how many times I use this route, I just can’t get used to it. Kindly google the world’s most dangerous roads or China’s glass bridge for a sample of what travellers via this route have to contend with. See, the road cuts across an escarpment and is a single road, meaning that it is divided into two lanes to accommodate traffic to and from both directions. It is a narrow road and it has no barriers on the edge.

Now, you would think that traffic would crawl to a halt on this stretch with the death view. No, it does not happen that way. As it has a bit of a steep both ways, the sluggish fully-loaded trucks cannot afford to slow down further as they would lose power and grind to a halt. Which, considering the stretch we are talking of, would be a most unfortunate incident.

Enter the personal car owner with a death-wish or the public service bus or minibus driver whose driving is guided by a schedule. Seeing that the trucks are sluggish, some are crazy enough to overtake or attempt to overtake –in my mind, plunging thousands of feet in free fall down the escarpment as they evade a head-on-collision. We are on this stretch and my stomach is in a knot in anxiety as I attempt to focus on the music I am listening to via headphones: an endeavour I simply can’t. At which point, the driver picks up his phone to check time; which means that I die a thousand times for the two seconds his eyes are off the road.

Then again, it is simply impossible to not glance at the Great Valley knowing that you are witnessing one of nature’s greatest marvels. Even focusing your eyes straight on the road does not help matters as the road has twists and turns. The second stretch with the view is a bit improved as it has barriers, the descent is not so sharp and it is shorter. Still, my vertigo kicks in, though I do not lean to my right on reflex as though to counter-balance the bus were it tittering to the right as though to fall of the escarpment. Plus, I can’t recall hearing of an accident here in the recent past as is the case with Salgaa on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway, a very minor assurance, but an assurance nevertheless. We do a lunch stop-over in Narok town and proceed for tens of miles in flat roads that is the Narok plains.

Bottomline? We should petition the government to build an alternative for this nausea-inducing stretch, perhaps, a tunnel. Then, the stretch can be open to pedestrians, with protective barriers, of course, at the edge. A small amount can then be charged for this exclusive tourist view and which can be used for such noble causes as girl-child and women empowerment in the region? Anyone with the President’s/Deputy President’s personal number I text them the idea? Anyone? Alai?

Brendan Collections
In the course of our journey, the driver has to make a few brief stops where Easy Coach has offices – a schedule thing, is my guess. Then the mechanics do a quick check of the vehicle and we are on our way. Now, as we were leaving the plains of Narok for Bomet, the passenger behind me had placed an empty soda plastic bottle on the floor. Some light braking and it rolls to the front near the bus trash can. In my mind, it rolls over and tangles the brakes’ pedal a la Final Destination and you all know what happens next. Anyway, I manage to catch it, though I now look silly holding two soda plastics bottles – the other is mine. Now, it is a matter of timing when the driver will slow down so that I can put them inside the trash can.

At Kisii town, the driver makes a scheduled stop. As he is about to alight, the passenger behind me, the one careless with her soda bottle, calls to the driver. She is not loud enough, so I assist her. She tells the driver to call for her a female guard stationed there. The female guard shows up, they are known to each other, exchange pleasantries and gets my fellow traveller a bottle of water. Then the guard alights.

Meanwhile, the mechanic is checking the vehicle, the driver has gone for a pee and to fill up his water battle. Meanwhile, the smooth operator me is chatting Brenda up – in my mind, 2pac’s Brenda’s got a baby narration – I had stocked Tupac’s collection for listening along the way, but gave up as I could hardly hear the songs over the whirring of the bus via the KQ knock-off headphones.

Opposite Brenda and separated by the aisle is another girl. Next to her is another gentleman. Looking at the pair, you can see that they would have made a cute couple. Then again, none of them is wearing a wedding band so it really is a case of a wasted opportunity and for which I wholly blame the gentlemen. Bored, the girl slept three-quarters of the way. Now, the gentleman and the girl look at me with admiration tinged with jealousy as I chalk up her name and phone number – again, 2pac’s What’s ya phone number, smooth operator that I am.

Brenda. Brendan Collections on Facebook and IG. A lawyer-cum-businesslady. We promise to keep in touch. Later, I will text her and she will take her sweet time to reply and that is that. Meanwhile, I checked her collections and she got fine items of clothing. She recommends Treat House Resort for accommodation. A while later, we stop at Rongo Town. Las Jona complex.

Las Jona Complex
The Las Jona Complex houses an Easy Coach office, a school uniform distributor and a hotel. I alight here, in mind, in search of the Treat House Resort. A few steps and a ‘sukari nguru’ – jaggery – lady accosts me. Having some loose coins, I am obliged to buy some as I relieve fond memories of a charmed childhood that this treaty evokes. It is just as well as Brenda alights me and hands me my knock-off KQ headphones which I had left behind as I had wrapped them around my seat’s armrest. The bus departs and I wave Brenda off.

Now, a few metres away from Las Jona Complex, I am having a cold soda – you feel the heat immediately on landing to Kisumu. The stall is operated by a gentleman and they are discussing football from what I can tell as they code-switch from (mostly) Dholuo to English to Kisumu. I enquire where I can get accommodation without burning a hole in my pocket seeing that January looms large. Treat House for a touristic experience, Las Jona and Opaque if you just need a place to sleep and shower. I head off down the dimly-lit road towards Opaque but give up soon afterwards for fear of being attacked.

Then again, Treat House is out of my range and I need to be around the city centre where I am to be picked up in the morning to attend the funeral. So, Las Jonas it is. Perhaps, texting this to Brenda is what made our phone chat end even before it begins. For all I know, Treat House was a ploy to slay me – the jealous me talking.

Converting the unconvertible
Now, I am at my friend’s place. From Rongo Town, on the Kisii side, is where their home is situated. We pass by some Kikuyu and Borana traders on the Migori said – again, it is bad politicians who divide us as the traders blissfully do their trade despite Kenya coming off a turbulent electioneering period. They are comfortable conversing in their mother tongues – Kikuyu and Borana respectively – just like their Dholuo and Kisii counterparts in the two counties of Kisii and Migori.

We find the funeral programme well underway. And just like any other African funeral, neighbours, teachers, colleagues, friends, family and local leaders are given a chance to speak a few words about the deceased and an opportunity to view the body. The Catholic church is officiating and you can tell the father is also trying to convert the majority of the mourners from the region as they mostly proscribe to the Adventist faith. Judging by his ardour, he will get one or two people to cross over to Catholicism. I am able to follow the mass quite easily despite it being in another language as I am a practicing Catholic.

Well, the thing about death is that it hits hard and stings painfully. There is that moment where you receive the news of the demise and the world stands still. There is that moment of seeing their body and going through the motions of informing friends and relatives to come and share the grief. But where it hits hardest is when they are being lowered down the grave – when it hits you will are not going to see them again. It is at such moments that we realise just how fragile life is – that life and health are gifts, that family and friends is all we have in this world where all are sojourners.

To Kisumu
With the burial over, I travel to Kisumu. I am to check on a friend, a Facebook friend I have been meaning to meet for the last three or so years. That friend you feel connected to at a deeper level via insightful conversations though you have never meet physically.

I board a matatu just outside Las Jonas Complex. The fare is slightly exaggerated, which I found out why soon afterwards. For twenty minutes into our trip, the conductor sells us over to a matatu that is heading to Kisumu, his cut being what he overcharged us. Now, we are packed like sardines but we are content to reach Kisumu.

A lesson for Nairobi girls
I am seated right at the back. A gentleman to my left on the seat window, a lady to my left, and another lady to her right, carrying a kid on her lap. I comment on just how packed we are to the gentleman and soon a conversation ensues. Along the road, the lady with the child will alight and another gentleman will join us.

Now, I am seated to the left of the lady. She has on a leso, a bright blouse and her hair is cropped short, shorn near the scalp in a ‘back-to-school’ fashion. Most endearing is that hers is the very definition of natural beauty – a shy smile, no makeup and modesty. She is simply irresistible, and I have no recourse but to chat her up.

What happens when you chat up a Nairobi girl? She sizes you up and if you do not meet a set criteria – namely, that you are doing well in life, ready pickings, so to speak – she is very curt in her dismissal of you. And considered that men thrive on ego and their egos are easily shattered… then again, it takes gut to chat up a completely stranger of the opposite text.

She says hello to my hello and we engage in small talk before I move to the realm of asking for her number and a lunch date. Ever so politely, ever so cheerfully, ever so graciously, she turns down my overtures and we are soon discussing about other things before I even realise that I have been turned down. I will buy her a bottle of water and we will say goodbyes and my ego will still be intact. Over to you Nairobi ladies.


Devolution is working
Roads are smooth, trade is going on everywhere and houses are made of bricks. And in Kisumu town, hordes of youth operate as boda boda operators. At the Kisumu terminus, I alight near the fish market and enter one of the hotels for a soda as I wait for my friend to pick me up. Faces around me are well-fed and happy and a couple of Masaai men join me for lunch – all which I consider anecdotal evidence that devolution is working.

A meet-up
I am sipping a soda as I observe how the different fish presentations are eaten. I always get embarrassed whenever I order fish as my fellow diners can always tell that I am not an expert at that department considering the amount of fish I waste. In short, the only fish presentation I can do comfortably is the fish fillet seeing to it that I get entangled with my fish bones and flesh. My community embraced fish-eating rather late, with the small fishes being equated to tadpoles, hence my dilemma. Now, we even do fish farming upcountry.

Opposite me is a gentleman expertly tackling his whole fish – from head to tail. Almost absentmindedly. As I continue admiring him, I get a call informing me that my Facebook friend has arrived. I gulp down my soda and ask for directions to where she says we meet.

Now, there is a way we perceive things – mental imagery of how we see those we are yet to meet face-to-face. There is the imagination, then the anticipation and then the reality when you do a blind-date. In my mind, she is short, slim, shy and soft-spoken. Today, we spoke for the first time and she has a rich baritone. Anyway, we meet, she is taller and chubbier than I imagined and down-to-earth, the last of which I attribute to her Eastlands upbringing, another revelation. Which fact makes her Nairobi, and I did not come all the way to Kisumu to meet Nairobi people.

But before that, we go to a certain hotel that deals in meat delicacies as practiced in the region. We order brown ugali made of millet and maize flour and which she tells me its preparation is an artform by itself. The accompanying stew is ‘chuks’ (I may have misheard the name) and which is meat grilled then fried. After lunch, she helps me look for accommodation before we agree to meet up the next day. In my mind, though, she is Nairobi people and I am now not that interested. To be fair, though, judging by her body language, I also did not meet her expectations.

My little observations
During my short stint in Kisumu, I observe quite a few things. That Mirukas hotel need not nip their slippers as they cheapen the hotel to a lodging, otherwise, it is a nice and affordable hotel. The weather is hot and you need to drink plenty of water (the advice to drink eight glasses of water in a day must have originated from a doctor who had a practice in Kisumu) and sleep with the windows open. Pesky mosquitoes abound. People are more hospitable than Nairobi people. Equity agents are hard to come by and you are best advised to do M-Pesa. Standard newspaper was the default setting in hotels and restaurants, perhaps, due to the recent political boycott. That they have Choppies, Tuskys and Khetias for our Uchumis and Nakumatts. That there is an Eastleigh (Garissa) sections for things clothing and electronics. That prostitution is not the kind of in-your-face-thighs-Koinange-like, etc, etc.

Man Useless
So now, I am imbibing on something bitter as I watch the Manu-Southampton match. We are so lacklustre that I find myself tuning out of the match and into the ohangla and rhumba that informs the background. I am in the corner of some club that has four screens placed on corners. Where I am, we are around four fellow and the match is being broadcast in Spanish. We could move to the other corners where the match is in English, but then, why bother considered we are playing like amateurs.

The match ends in a goalless draw and I am thinking that I should move to Man City as a fan with the coming January transfer season. Still, with the drabbing of Everton later on in the New Year, I will opt to sign a new deal with the club as a fan till the end of the season. If things will have not haved improved, then…

National Museums of Kenya
I am at the National Museums of Kenya-Kisumu, which is located on the fringes of the upmarket Milimani Estate. A hundred shillings, the entrance fee. At the entrance, I announce to the gatekeeper and his friend that I am here to learn about the Luo and about Gor Mahia and Lwanda Magere – high time we also promoted our indigenous heroes the way America pushes her comic heroes and Scandinavian and Greek gods dominate the big screen, etc, etc. Says the friend of the gatekeeper to see him at the Luo homestead that is part of the Museum at the back.

The Museum is as you would except of any Kenyan Museum – stuffed and petrified fauna from around the region, an aquarium and a snake park. Plus, notes on Luo origins, culture and mythology. At the back of the museum, there is a ‘dala’ – a traditional Luo homestead. It is here that the African Genres Shield is located; a traditional dance and theatre troupe that is worth checking out. In the course of my visit to the dala, they are gracious enough to do a short traditional dance in my honour.

New year resolutions
I had travelled with a notebook and a pen, intending to sit down in a secluded spot and chart my year. However, the notebook and pen will remain throughout my room at the small table. That said, I have a slight idea of how to run my 2018 – content and commitment, and pray for life and health, and be in a relationship with a marriage at the end of the tunnel. So, if you are potential wife-material, feel free to contact me. Terms and conditions apply.

Sad news
I am supping alfresco on a makeshift hotel. Behind us are a couple of Nairobi-Bound Bus. Opposite me, an agitated gentleman is lamenting about a driver recently deceased. Then, they start reminiscing about the old man who insisted that they simply had to get space for his family to travel. Another gentleman is now cursing NTSA – National Transport and Safety Authority – for their night-travel ban. It is the fast time I hear of the ban and on following up the matter with the gentlemen, I learn that one of their buses had an accident in which 37 people perished. As I leave the makeshift hotel, a drunkard is pounding at one of their buses, shouting that they are murderers. I resolve not to travel with their buses though I am getting desperate as all buses back to Nairobi are booked four-days ahead. I reflect that if I was in Nairobi, I would have tweeted about how Prado-driven-government-fuelled-self-important-transport-officials removed from local realities are in charge of the transport ministry. From the next day’s papers, the buzz word is ‘knee-jerk reaction’ from the concerned officials.

Ahoy captain!
Suffice to say, a visit to Kisumu is not complete without a pilgrimage to L. Victoria. Which sees me in a large boat, clad in a life-vest, being motored about. Well, the big boat has to anchor for the night in the lake, which means that a small boat comes to collect us. At first, I think we are about to collide with the small boat and capsize, but my mind is quickly put to rest by the explanation above. The highlight? The sun dipping into the lake for the night. Unfortunately, my phone camera is unable to capture the grandeur as well as my eyes. At night, we move around and around as we usher in the New Year. I have an early morn and so I avoid liquor as I have an early start.

The Three Musketeers
Things are thick – chaos, actually – in regard to matters travel. Buses and shuttles are fully booked and for those where you book habeas corpus, the fare is increasing by the minute. It peaks at Kshs 3000 and I am thinking of getting to the airport and taking a flight back to Nairobi. In my mind, I have a figure for Kshs 4500 as airfare.

I am now stuck at the booking desk of one of the brand of shuttles that operate in the area. To my left is a dejected lady. Soon enough, another gentleman joins us and us we lament the situation, he suggests a solution. That we connect to Kericho. Then, from Kericho, we do Nakuru, then onwards to Nairobi. His suggestion seems sensible considering that we will be unable to get any transport past 11 or 12 o’clock as bus operators close early, wary to spend the night by the roadside should curfew time befall them before they reach they destination. And that, my friends, is how we reach a wet and cool Nairobi.

Apparently, I have not missed Nairobi at all. Not an iota.





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