16 January 2012
A long post about a long day
Last week Fred and I went up to Nairobi for a pre-natal appointment at the hospital we’d chosen for the birth. It was kind of a dry run for next month (the baby is only a few weeks away!), and, naturally, almost nothing went to plan. After five years of using public transit here, I’ve experienced a lot in the way of inconvenience and discomfort, but this trip to Nairobi was probably top three in my list of difficult travel experiences.
It started at five in the morning on Wednesday, when we woke up to do final packing and get on the road, hoping to reach Nairobi by mid-afternoon. I ate some toast and coffee, and we walked to town to find a car to take us to Tarime. It’s only a three or four minute walk, but immediately we could tell something was wrong. Town, which is usually starting to buzz at 5:30am, was nearly deserted. There were no buses, no cars, no motorbikes. Fred found out that the police had set up a roadblock between Shirati and Tarime and were turning back all public vehicles whose drivers didn’t have a “new” driver’s license (whatever that is). Usually these roadblocks are just a bribe collection point, but the drivers weren’t risking it, so no vehicles were moving until that roadblock had been taken down. Without leaving immediately, we wouldn’t make it to the border in time to catch the 8am buses to Nairobi, so we had no option but to go back home and take a nap. We were both frustrated that our impeccably planned day had already been derailed, and I said a little prayer that God would be in charge of the rest of the day.
We tried again at 8am, and this time we had success finding a car going to Tarime, which, if you remember from before, is the Wild West junction where I got chased around by a guy yelling about me being a pregnant white woman. Fortunately this time we didn’t have to wait around at all, and just jumped in a car headed for the border. Passing through immigration was similarly painless. (I cut in front of a bunch of safari tourists who were filling out their forms soooo slowly.)
When we reached the Kenyan side of the border, we started looking for a bus to Nairobi. The bus we wanted to take, Transline, was expected at noon, leaving us with about an hour to hang out. Fred parked me in a tea shop, when we found out that there was a Nyamira Express bus leaving shortly, so we bought tickets for that bus, thinking to save ourselves an hour. The bus arrived and it was a piece of trash on wheels, but the ticket guy said there was another bus right behind it, so we should just wait for that one. Sounds good, right? Sigh.
We had great seats, front row right behind the driver with loads of leg room and seats that reclined a bit. So nice to be able to put my feet up and have a little extra belly room, and we hit the road. The bus stopped immediately, before we’d even left the border town, to weld something at the back of the bus. Safety first, right? Sigh.
We sat baking in the sun waiting for the welding to be finished. Then we hit the road…and stopped again. The Tanzanian police weren’t the only ones stopping public vehicles on the road. The Kenyan police were doing random checks for people smuggling marijuana, and there were probably twelve blocks on the road. Fortunately these stops were pretty quick business…until…. We stopped in the town of Kisii for “twenty minutes,” aka eighty minutes, during which time a parade of vendors entered the bus, and every single one of them had exactly the same merchandise, but each one insisted that I must want the lukewarm soda he was selling. Usually I just put in my headphones and stare out the window and they leave me alone. Not in Kisii. The vendors were hitting me on the shoulder to get my attention until I started being rude back.
Finally the driver and conductor returned and we started out again, having added a bunch of new passengers. It turns out that one of those passengers was being looked for by those Kenyan drug police. Apparently he had a bag full of marijuana under the bus. Of course he did. It took a surprisingly long time for them to send us on our way, considering it took about five minutes for the police to find the drugs and toss the guy in the back of the police truck, probably in part because every other man on the bus took the opportunity to jump off and pee on the side of the road. While we sat there, the noon Transline bus that we were going to save so much time by not waiting for passed us. *Fred shakes fist in frustration.*
We would continue stopping to add passengers at every wide spot in the road between there and Nairobi, making what should have been six hours into about ten hours. At one moment, thinking of all the delays we’d been through so far that day, feeling very fat and rather uncomfortable and needing to pee (not on the side of the road, thankyouverymuch), I was a little low. Then we passed the Transline bus, that very one that we had planned on then passed on then got passed by. The bus had run off the road and was tipped sideways into a ditch missing the front axle. It wasn’t a bad accident as these things go, but what a reality check that our best-laid plans are nothing compared to God’s plan for us.
We had planned to stay at the Mennonite Guest House in Westlands, but by the time we rolled into Nairobi it was about five hours later than our initial plan. We reached the guest house to find out that they weren’t going to let us stay there because the office was closed and we didn’t have reservations. The very nice security guard recommended a nearby guest house, so we walked the quarter-mile to that place at ten o’clock at night, where we were also told they couldn’t help us. As we wandered back to the Mennonite Guest House, Fred started calling our bishop, who gave him the number for the local Mennonite bishop, who said he would call the guest house. By the time we got back, the guard asked if we were “wageni wa kawaida” (common guests), and when he found out we work for the Mennonite church, he invited us in to rest while he sorted something out. I rested on an outside sofa, utterly exhausted, while we waited for the verdict. It was very much our Mary and Joseph moment of “no room at the inn”, but between the bishops and the security guard they found a room for us. (It was not a stable and I did not have the baby that night.) We were so grateful, especially when the security guard found us some peanuts and crisps for dinner.
Oh my. After that looooong day (and looooong story), everything else was great. We ate some good food, got to rest a bit in a really peaceful environment, and had a great experience at the hospital we’re planning to go to for the birth. We bought some baby clothes and a diaper bag and I pretty much ate my weight in ice cream one day (which I then regretted). There were a few disappointments, a few setbacks, but the return trip was virtually eventless. Oh, except for the moment when we were disembarking in Migori to see Innocent at school and as soon as I stood up my skirt dropped to my ankles. As I scrambled to pull up my skirt without losing my slip also or dropping my bag, my sandal snapped. Embarrassing for sure, but I only flashed a few people and Fred got my sandal fixed, and it was the last of our adventures for that trip. We reached home in one piece, found some dinner waiting for us (God bless our new, live-in housegirl Jaki!), and got to rest and recover all day Sunday. Now it’s just a hard push through two more weeks of Lahash work before maternity leave starts!