On to Kakamega

I checked out of the Nyanza Club Hotel just after ten in the morning. Gedion, the driver that had been recommended to me, was ready to drive me up the hill. I was in the city of Kisumu (elevation 1174 m above the sea, or 3852 feet) and headed about 50 kilometers north, or 31 miles. Once again, you have to change American expectations of road distance and travel time. Thirty miles of highway travel in Arizona, for example, means about half hour. Our estimated travel time would be about an hour and a half. Furthermore, the elevation of Kakamega is 1535 m above the sea (5036 feet, almost a mile high) so the uphill sections can be slow due to trucks and old vehicles.

We headed out of Kisumu through the market areas that line the roads and slow traffic. Very quickly we were headed up and dealing with lots of road construction.

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A Road Construction Detour as we left Kisumu

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More Road Construction on the Way to Kakamega

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The Kenyan Government has hired a Chinese company to renovate the road between Kisumu to Kakamega. They seemed to be doing a good job.

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This is what the new road looks like.

As we moved along the road opened up. It was very wide, with a good shoulder, but with no center line or shoulder markings. But hey, it was a wide smooth road, so we could go the 80 KPH speed limit (50 MPH).

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As we entered Kakamega, this was the scene. Workers were busy cutting down the large, beautiful trees on the left to widen the road. I wanted to get out and stop them, because in my neighborhood in Tucson I have been involved in traffic slowing measures. In a town or a city, you want to constrict traffic with chicanes or visually constrict wide lanes with bushes and trees to slow vehicular traffic. We have done this on 9th Street in Iron Horse Neighborhood. What they will find, I am afraid, is that when they make a freeway through town they will get a freeway through town, leading to increased vehicular speeds. There will most likely be more vehicle crashes and more pedestrian/bicycle injuries and deaths. But I was here to help with optometry not civil engineering.

I met Dr. Emmanuel Okenwa-Vincent, from Nigeria, and Head of Department of Optometry and Vision Science, at a local gas station as we had planned. I was impressed with his big smile and easy going manner as he welcomed me to Kakamega and the University. We loaded my stuff up into his car and continued up the road, less than a mile, to the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology. It was a large campus, very green with lots of grass and trees. There was also a lot of empty space to facilitate expansion in coming years. Hundreds of freshmen were seated under canvas tents at the new student orientation.

Our first stop was the housing office. I had been offered a free place to stay at the National Housing complex while we sorted out the paperwork. My room was not ready. There were issues with housekeeping and finding the key. We were to try again a few hours later. The next stop was the Dept of Optometry and Vision Sciences, which consisted of a small reception area where Julia, the administrative assistant, greeted guests, students, and faculty. There was the Department Head’s office where we sat for a few minutes chatting, and there was the lecturer’s office that was a small room filled with four very large desks. These desks were for the part-time Kenyan faculty who had just graduated the previous year. Next to the three rooms, and with a separate entrance was a much larger room for lectures. It had about 30 seats. There was a white board and screen in the front, with a digital projector in the middle of the room.

Dr. Okenwa-Vincent was in charge of running the department, there were administrative chores and many University meetings to attend. He was a very energetic guy, and in fact had orchestrated my faculty position with the help of Kesi Naidoo of the Brien Holden Vision Institute and VOSH International. I met Richard Donkor, OD, from Ghana. He was the other full-time faculty member in the department. Dr. Donkor taught many academic courses and was the main teacher in the clinic. At this point we took a tour of the clinic which was in a separate building just a few minutes away. Entering the building there was a waiting room that might hold 15 or 20 patients, a spectacle room with frame board, but no spectacle frames in the slots. A small room served as Richard’s office and I would share that office too. Down the hall nine fully equipped examination lanes sat with phoropter, projector chart, slit lamp, chair and stand. At least six binocular indirect ophthalmoscopes were available.

The existence of the internet has changed space allocation significantly. I arrived with a modern laptop computer, but the department did not have reliable wifi service. Later in the afternoon Drs. Okenwa-Vincent and Donkor took me to Safaricom where I bought a Huawei Android 4.4 phone and SIM card for 9000 KSh, or $90. I purchased 1000 KSh ($10) of data, for a total of $100. The phone acts as a reliable, fast hotspot so I can have excellent internet access anywhere I have phone service, which is all through Kakamega and the University. I have been using the internet for five days and I still have over 4GB of data left. If you do the math, I would have phone and internet service for somewhere between $30 and $40 a month, which I thought was a pretty good deal. I could set up my office anywhere. I could work at home, in the clinic, or at a local cafe if I preferred. I would be expected to show up for meetings a few times a week that are announced ahead of time by e-mail or text, and to give lectures. As of yet, I had not been assigned to clinic supervision. Of course, being around and accessible to the students and part-time faculty was a priority.

We went to lunch in downtown Kakamega at a restaurant known for excellent food at reasonable prices. I ordered the chicken curry plate with rice and drink was 400 KSh, $4, and it was true. The food was very good. As we left, we got word that I could pick up my keys to the room. The idea was that until my job placement came through I could stay here at no charge. Once we picked up the key, we visited another University office that was responsible for the job offer. I could tell that my presence there was helping things along considerably. Seeing me there was prompting people to move things along, and I know that Dr. Okenwa-Vincent had had some trouble getting the paperwork through. By then I was tired and ready to rest.

Dr. Donkor drove me to my apartment, with all my stuff. As it turns out, we were in the same building and five four-story buildings were in the complex. He lived on the second floor, and I was on the third floor. There was a kitchen, dining room, bathroom, shower and bedroom. It was not a five star hotel, but all was clean and furnished. It would do just fine and I was happy. If I wanted to stay here now that I had the job, they would deduct $150 from my salary for the accommodations. It was a pretty sweet deal. As I was getting ready to go to sleep I got a call from Dr. Okenwa-Vincent on my new phone. The letter had been signed by the Vice-President of the University. I had a job!

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Me at my new home at the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kakamega, Kenya.

36 Hours in Kisumu

I woke up in Kisumu, Wednesday, September 2nd feeling pretty darned good. I was still a bit tired from my journey from Nairobi to Kisumu, but the sun was shining and this place was clearly very different from Nairobi. For one thing, it was warmer and humid, but not unpleasantly so. I was staying at a fine hotel after all, the Sovereign Hotel. I showered, dressed, and walked down to the restaurant for breakfast. There was an excellent buffet with fresh mango, papaya, pineapple, eggs, potatoes, and sausage. There was passion fruit juice and hot coffee. After breakfast, included in the price by the way, the first thing to do would be to find another place to stay, however. I was on a limited budget and $115 a night would not do.

I went online and found a place, literally across the street, for $49 a night, including breakfast. It was an old school colonial hotel, 100 years old, called the Nyanza Club. I checked out of the Sovereign and walked my stuff across the street to the Nyanza Club. I will include some photos to give you an idea.

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The 100 year old Nyanza Club

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The Rooms at the Nyanza Club.

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The View from My Room, Lake Victoria.

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Many of the businesses are owned by East Indian immigrants, and in many cases, the immigrants came during the colonial period before 1963 when Kenya gained its independence.

I decided to run a few errands, so walked the half mile or so to town. While not in the city center yet, it was clear that Kisumu had a more mellow vibe than Nairobi.

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Walking in Kisumu.

I stopped at the first shopping mall I found, a small one with a grocery store and other shops. My goal was to get malaria prophylaxis. I had gone online and determined that Mefloquine Hydrochloride 250mg, once a week, was what I wanted. I had used it before on trips to Honduras and it was easy on my system. The vivid dreams were awesome too. Actually, I had a prescription, not the drug but the piece of paper, but forgot to bring it from Tucson. So, I just found a piece of paper and wrote it myself. There are advantages to having a more lax system. Optometry is the same here, it is not regulated. As long as I work in a way that is consistent with my training and license back in the United States, there would be no problems. Still, in regards to the anti-malarial drugs, I was wondering if my approach would fly.

I handed my written prescription to the pharmacist. He looked at it, walked to the shelf with medicines stacked on it, and handed me package of another drug entirely. He said, “This is very similar. It will do.” I declined, and said that the prescription worked well for me and I would go to another place. As I exited the small mall, I asked the security guards where I could find another chemist, as they are sometimes called, and they pointed me towards the city center. As I walked, two boys joined me. They wanted 10 shillings each. I asked them, in a friendly way, why I should give them 10 shillings. Even though I knew I could find it on my own, I suggested that they help me find the pharmacy and I would give them the money. They were excited about their new job.

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Walking in Kisumu as my new friends showed me to the pharmacy.

The boy on the left said, “Why do you need a pharmacy? Are you sick?” “No,” I replied, “I am looking for something that will keep me from getting sick.” Traffic in downtown Kisumu, as in much of Kenya, can be quite busy. As we crossed the streets, the boy on the right with the Ronaldo shirt would reach up to hold my hand, making sure I crossed safely. I held his hand as we crossed, then let go at the sidewalk the other side.

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Streets of Kisumu

The boys found the pharmacy and entered with me. It was run by an East Indian family. I handed my prescription to the pharmacist and she looked for the medicine. “What does the medicine treat?” one boy asked. “It is to prevent malaria,” I replied, “Have you heard of malaria?” Both boys nodded their heads in affirmation. “Do you know what prevent means?” I asked. They looked at each other. One boy said, “To keep away.” “Excellent,” I replied, “I want to keep away the malaria.” Both boys were excited to be so involved in this important endeavor.

She found the right medicine, stacked it in front of me, and did some calculations. “2400 Kenyan Shillings,” she said. I replied, “That seems kind of expensive.” She turned to an older lady, who did more calculations, and without a word wrote “2250 KSH” on a piece of paper in on the table in front of us. I thought about it. $22.50 for a five month supply of anti-malarial drug was a pretty good deal. I handed the pharmacist the money. I thanked the boys for their excellent work and wished them a good day, paying them 10 Kenyan Shillings each.

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My Meflam medicine and the self-written prescription that got it for me.

It was lunchtime and I asked a young guy on the street, perhaps a college student, I thought, where I could find a good restaurant. He recommend “Acacia Premium,” I thought he said, and pointed down the street. I walked and found another shopping mall, explored a little, and sure enough, there was a restaurant called Acacia Premia. As I approached the door, I could tell that it was a five star restaurant and I wasn’t in the mood for that. I walked around a little more and stumbled upon the Nairobi Java Cafe. It too was a bit pricey, and directed towards middle and upper class people, but it looked fine. Perhaps the lunch dishes were in the 700 to 900 Ksh range, $7-9. I read the package insert and it recommended I take the Mefliam with food, so I took it with my meal.

My dreams were quite vivid that Wednesday night. I worked with a Vietnam veteran to collect spare helicopter parts to rebuild helicopters, large and small, for post-war use. It was quite a night with so much detail. From now on, and for awhile, I could count on a cinematic experience every Monday night. Also, that is how I know the medicine was high quality and not fake, which has been an issue in Africa, especially with drugs imported from China.

I went back to the Nyanza Club and relaxed for the afternoon. I was in communication with Emmanuel Okenwa-Vincent, OD, the Head of the Department of Optometry and Vision Science in Kakamega, just 50 kilometers to the north. He invited me to travel the next to day to Kakamega. I was making progress.

Check out was 10am Thursday. I had asked the receptionist help me find a driver to go to Kakamega and she recommended someone I assumed was her friend. While I was having dinner, Gedion showed up and we agreed on 4500 KSh and to meet at 9:45 in the morning. Gedion must have been excited because he showed up at 8 in the morning. Fortunately, I was up. I said, “Hey, Gedion, it will take me 20 minutes or so, but let’s go explore Kisumu for an hour and half.” He agreed. I had read about the Impala Sanctuary and it was a 5 minute drive. Unfortunately, they wanted 2250 KSh to enter and that was a bit pricey for the hour or so I had. Gedion recommended something else. We hired a boat driver, his friend, to take us around for 1500 KSh for an hour near Hippo Point.

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Eric, our guide, and the boat operator.

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Fishing near Dunga Bay

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African Spoonbills and the African Sacred Ibis

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Fishermen starting their day. Our guide Eric said they can be out eight hours or more.

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We found Hippos!

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My guide, Eric, and the boat operator laughed heartily at this little guy, calling him “The Ugly One.” I thought this youngster was super cute.

After our short adventure on Lake Victoria, Gedion drove me back to the Nyanza Club to check out. While I was checking out, Gedion left the car, a silver Toyota sedan. When I returned I got confused, because there was a similar silver car next to his. I saw the trunk was unlatched. I opened the trunk to find 6 live chickens, who were equally as startled as I was. I shut the trunk quickly so they would not escape, without latching it, then realized I had the wrong vehicle. Now we were off to Kakamega.

Nairobi to Kisumu

I woke up at 6:30 in the morning at Kolping House to early morning light and the sound of birds chirping. A few minutes later, I could hear the unlocking of doors and breakfast preparations, just as I had expected. I brushed my teeth, showered, put on my clothes, and packed my bags. Phyllis had arranged for a taxi driver to pick me up at 7:30 to take me downtown to the Easy Coach terminal. I was headed to Western Kenya because it was one step closer to my job in Kakamega, one and a half hours north of Kisumu at the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Department of Optometry and Vision Science.

I walked to the dining room and there were eight American students at a long table, all white. At the smaller table there were four students, all black. I went to the a table with all of the breakfast foods, poured a bowl of corn flakes, put some mango and papaya on a plate, and made some instant coffee. I sat down at an empty space with the black students. Three were from America and we talked about their two week Kenya trip. They would be leaving soon for Nakuru, a well-known National Park. The other student was Kenyan. I mentioned I was going to move to Kakamega, and was leaving for Kisumu in a half hour. She said that if I go to Kakamega National Forest I should beware of the baboons. “Actually,” she said, “I think they are mostly hard on women. You might be okay.” I said, “I think there is another cool spot north of Kakamega called the Eldoret National Forest.” “That is nice and I have been there,” she said, “They have good clubs and I love to party.” I mentioned the Salif Keita concert at Bomas of Kenya. “I was there!” she said, “And I danced all night.”

Phyllis, the assistant to the manager, walked by. “I need to leave soon, and thank you for your work over the last few days,” I said. “You are welcome,” she replied. “I just wanted to mention something. Last night we were locked in. I tried to get out but could not. For safety’s sake, you might want to make sure your guests can get out at night.” “I am sorry,” she said. “You don’t need to be sorry,” I said, “In fact, you were not even here so it could not be your fault, I just want you to know for the future.” “By the way, your taxi is here,” she said. “Oh, great, I will grab my things. Is my laundry ready that I gave you yesterday? And I need to pay for that. How much is it?” I asked. “250 Kenyan Shillings,” she replied, “But it is still not ready. It is hanging on the line and not yet dry. I have not had the chance to iron it.” I got out my wallet and found 250 Kenyan Shillings, and handed it to her. “Then could you please put it in a plastic bag?” I asked. “It is 7:25 and I must go soon.”

Phyllis met me at the taxi with a doubled plastic bag full of pants, a couple shirts, underwear, and socks. I felt inside the bags. They were damp but not too bad, and folded nicely. “Thank you, Phyllis. I appreciate it,” I said. “No problem,” she replied, “Safe journey.” I had a space prepared in my day pack for the washed clothes. I said to the taxi driver, “How much to go to the Easy Coach station downtown?” “700 Kenyan Shillings ($7 US),” he replied. It seemed fair enough, perhaps a tad expensive relatively speaking, but I was not in the mood for negotiating. It was rush hour on a Tuesday morning after all. We loaded my larger backpack with my hiking gear into the trunk, followed by a brown carry on roller suitcase with my optometry instruments, important documents, and laptop computer inside.

Transportation in Kenya is a challenge. The motorbike rides and taxi excursions add up quickly. Poor people walk and some ride a bicycle. Another inexpensive option is the Sacco which is a private minibus, often packed beyond belief with people almost being squeezed out the windows, luggage tied on top. They function in the city and between towns. Longer excursions in the Sacco are possible from what I can tell, but I have been warned that they can be dangerous. Not only is there the issue of comfort, or lack thereof, there is the possibility of road crashes as they stop and go a lot. Another issue is where you might break down, and I have seen a lot of broken down Saccos, or simply be dropped off left to fend for yourself. That was not a good option with three bags, one of which was filled with a couple thousand dollars worth of stuff.

Tourists tend to hire private drivers. When I was planning the Mt. Kenya trek, Lucy Booth mentioned that the four hour drive from Nairobi to Nanyuki would be $150. “That seems expensive,” I wrote to her. She replied, “Transportation in Kenya is expensive. The best option is to fly but there is a 15 kilogram (33 lb.) in country limit, and I suspect you will have more than that.” Fly?, I thought to myself.  How ridiculous! I am not a rock star.

When returning from Nanyuki to Nairobi, David my trekking partner, hired a driver from Nairobi for $110. By the way, he covered the cost of the trip and let me tag along in the back seat, which was very generous. He explained to me that Mwai was his family’s regular driver and hiring someone from Nairobi was less expensive than from the surrounding towns. We had a comfortable ride back. “Mwai, I would like some cold water. Would you please stop so I can pick up some cold water?” he said. Mwai pulled into a local grocery store about half way between Nanyuki and Nairobi. David brought us back a treasure trove of goodies like cold water and peanuts for everyone, and a coke which he offered me. “There is a clean restroom inside,” he said. I just went and it might be your last chance until we reach Nairobi.” “Thank you but I am okay,” I replied. When we got to Nairobi I met David’s family and friends, and then paid Mwai 2,500 Kenyan Shillings ($25) to take me across town to Kolping House.

In Kenya some people like cold water and some like room temperature water. When ordering water, or beer for that matter, it is most efficient to specify which you would prefer. I you do not, you will probably be asked by the server, or you might get the server’s choice. David was an experienced traveler and knew to say he wanted cold water. That way, Mwai would know where to stop, and in this case he chose the supermarket.

I got into the cab. As expected, the traffic was at a standstill. The taxi driver, Bennett, anticipated the busy streets and knew the back roads that would get us there sooner. We arrived at 8:15 in the morning for my 9:00 Easy Coach. I had selected the Easy Coach because I was told is was fast, efficient, and comfortable. I exited the cab, paid Bennett his 700 Shillings and made my way toward the Easy Coach terminal. It was pure chaos. I was walking with a day pack, large backpack, and roller bag. While the weight was not an issue and I could handle the bags efficiently, my width was a problem. At every turn people were bumping into me, jostling me. I squeezed myself and my belongings between a stopped vehicle and wall, then between a vendor and a group of people standing and talking. It was a chore. I saw the sign “Easy Coach Ticketing” and tried to make my way over. Unfortunately, the loading zone was right in front of the entrance and people were cueing up for the next bus. Finally, I reached the downstairs office.

I walked up the ticketing agent and said, “I would like a ticket for the bus to Kisumu.” “Okay, it leaves at 11:00,” said the agent. “The website said 9:00,” I said. He replied, “The 9:00 bus is full. There is another bus at 11:00.” “Okay, then please give me a ticket for the 11:00,” I said. “That will be 1400 Kenyan Shillings ($14 US),” he replied, “And boarding is promptly at 10:30.” I felt like saying that the website said it was 1200 Shillings but I kept my mouth shut. “Which seat would you like? 7A, 7B, and 7C are available,” he said as he showed me the seating chart. “How about 7B on the aisle?” I replied. I bought my ticket and saw a few empty chairs in the terminal. I sat down with my stuff. It was actually fairly quiet in the ticketing office and I would sit there as long as I could, I thought. After 10 minutes a security agent came up to me and asked to see my ticket. “The waiting area is upstairs,” he informed me.

I still had an hour and a half before boarding. I decided to find an internet cafe, maybe I could make some progress on my writing. I walked for a couple blocks, dealing with the same issues with my stuff, and saw a restaurant called African Dishes. It looked like a typical Nairobi diner so I walked up the short stairway and looked around. I saw an empty table with four chairs and headed toward that. I sat down and arranged my things. I looked up at a sign on the wall and it read, “Kindly watch your luggage.” Another sign said, “No unscheduled meetings or outside food.” I ordered the breakfast special which included scrambled eggs, a sausage, potatoes, and coffee for 250 Kenyan Shillings ($2.50 US). The server asked for my money. “Oh, I pay first? I asked. She nodded. As she took my money and turned away I saw the sign on the table, “Kindly pay when making your order.” It wasn’t so much that I was hungry, but that the food and coffee would keep me busy for awhile. There was no wifi service. I pulled out a paperback copy of Ernest Hemingway’s Snows of Kilimanjaro and read that. Every now and then I would look around. This part of downtown Nairobi had the gritty feeling of what I might imagine an immigrant section of New York City in the 1930’s.

Finally, it was 10:15 and time to head back to the station. I arrived at the right time and searched the placards for the correct bus. I found one and it read, “Kisumu 9:00.” “Is this the bus for Kisumu?” I asked someone with an Easy Coach name plate. “Yes, it is,” so I stood in line. I was confused about the time card indicating a 9:00 bus, but I decided to stand in line anyway. I could see no other bus labeled Kisumu. Slowly, the passengers entered the bus. It was my turn. “This ticket is for the 11:00 bus,” said the ticketing agent. “It is 10:45,” I replied. “No problem,” he said, “I will get you on. I am the boss.” “Okay,” I said. He handed my ticket to another agent who was frantically writing on a clipboard, then wrote on my ticket, then wrote once again on a page on his clipboard. An assistant helped me load my roller suitcase and large backpack into an outside rear luggage compartment below the seats. Another man walked up in a crisp suit with an Easy Coach name badge. I thought to myself that he was the boss. The other ticketing agents looked down and all writing stopped, waiting. Finally the man in the suit walked away and more writing ensued. “Seat 7A, get on the bus,” the first boss said. I handed him 100 Kenyan Shillings and said, “Thank you.” I found my seat and sat down with my day pack at my feet. In a few minutes we pulled away from the station.

The bus was quiet and comfortable. I had been told that the Easy Coach bus had a bathroom in the back. I looked around, no bathroom. The other passengers were well dressed and of all ages. They talked quietly, or sat looking out the windows. As we worked out way through Nairobi traffic, I felt the jolts and bumps in the rough roads. No problem, it might even put me to sleep. I placed my U-shaped pillow around my neck, something I take with me on long flights and vehicle journeys, and settled in. I knew why row 7 was lightly booked, it was directly above the rear wheels. A well dressed older man sat next to me, occasionally talking on his mobile phone.

Over time the road opened up and traffic lightened. We passed community after community, with many open markets lining the road. An hour and a half into the journey, I look out the window and saw my first zebras in Kenya. Four were grazing in a large field, with one between the road and the fence line. We passed Maasai shepards herding there cattle and climbing now, a sign that said, “The Great Rift Valley Overlook.” To the south, the valley opened up in a seemingly endless plain. This was going to be a good trip. I turned to the man sitting next to me, “Do we stop between now and Kisumu?” He replied, “We stop in an hour and a half in Nakuru.” I remembered that the Nakuru National Park was a recommended place for seeing wildlife. There was a lake there that had a huge flock of pink flamingos.

We pulled into Nakuru to what looked like a truck stop in the downtown area. There were gas pumps and a restaurant, along with other kiosks and building surrounding the area. There was the usual chaos with people walking in all directions or standing around. As I exited the bus with my daypack I turned to the tall black man to my left and asked, “How long do we stop?” I heard a faint beeping noise to my right. “Fifteen minutes,” he replied as he held out his arm to stop me. I looked to my right as a motorcycle approached rapidly. I felt a flash of irritation, and in a split second did the calculations. Between me and the tall gentleman next to me, we weighed approximately 400 lbs. The little guy on the motorcycle weighed 115 and his bike might have been 70. We had the right of way. I kept walking and he stopped quickly, looking a bit out of sorts.

I followed the crowd to the bathrooms and lined up. I paid my 10 Shillings and found the urinal, a long tiled wall with a trench at the bottom. I thought that perhaps I should try and use the toilet but did not feel the urge. Besides, it is rare in this situation to find a sit down toilet. I looked over at the toilets and they were what I had expected. There was a stall, no door, with a hole in the concrete with roughened concrete on each side. The idea is to squat and aim as best you can, then pull the dangling string to flush. Sometimes a small porcelain bowl is inset into the concrete to facilitate cleaning. I was okay, I thought. I only had 7 minutes left. I washed my hands and entered a small store. I got a bag of roasted peanuts for 30 Shillings and a coke for 70. Perhaps I should get something more nutritious, I thought, and grabbed a drinkable yogurt for another 130 Shillings.

I got on the bus and got settled in. As we pulled away from the station, I drank the yogurt and munched on the peanuts. Perhaps a half hour into the second section of the journey, I started feeling, well, a little full. With every bump in the road my stomach tightened. I felt the familiar sensation of needing to use the toilet. It was mild, just the normal feeling that everyone gets when they need to go. No problem, I can last an hour, maybe two. I concentrated on the scenery around me. We passed Rongai and Molo. There was a mountainous, heavily forested area to the south that was absolutely beautiful. The pressure continued to build. I looked around me. The Kenyans were resting and talking quietly. Children sat quietly or looked out the window. At Londiani we turned left, heading southwest. “Sir,” I turned to the gentleman next to me, “Do we stop again before we get to Kisumu?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied, “We stop at Kericho.” “How long until we reach Kericho? I said. “Maybe an hour or so,” he replied.

It slowly dawned on me. I did not know if I could make it. Every bump in the road tightened my insides. I looked around at the calm and patient people sitting beside me, to the front and back. Even the children seemed at ease. How in the world did the parents prepare their kids for an eight hour bus journey with programmed stops and no bathroom on board, I wondered. I was the only white guy on the bus and I was the only person in trouble. I looked at my watch. 3:42pm. Perhaps if I concentrated on the scenery this would pass. I looked to my left at the dense forest that seemed to go on forever. Truly beautiful. I looked at my watch. 3:44pm. We hit a bump. It was getting critical. I was sure of it, I was not going to make it. Swallow your pride, I thought to myself, tell the bus driver that you are not feeling well.

I looked down the road and saw we were passing a small town. I grabbed my backpack and excused myself, as I brushed by the gentleman next to me. I headed forward down the aisle, leaned down and said to the driver, “Sir, I am sorry but I am not feeling well. How long until we stop again?” I asked. “We will stop in Kericho about a half hour from now,” he answered. I thought for a moment. “Okay, I will do my best to wait until then,” I said, and headed back to my seat. “Excuse me,” I said to the man in the aisle seat and a passed by and sat down. Once again I concentrated on the scenery. Vast fields of manicured bushes extended to the south. “What plants are those?” I asked my neighbor. “Tea,” he replied. “You don’t have tea where you come from?” he said. “No, I have never seen tea plants before,” I said. We hit another bump and I cringed. “Are you not feeling well?” he asked. “No, I am not feeling well.”

I looked out at the tea plantations before me, like sculpted hedge rows that went on for miles of rolling hills. I saw the groups of small white cottages, for the workers, I presumed. Another bump, I grabbed my belly and leaned forward. “You look like you are in pain,” the gentleman next to me said. “Should I tell the driver to take you to a hospital?” he asked. “No, I just want to get off,” I said as beads of sweat formed on my temples. I looked out the front window and we once again were in a village. I grabbed by backpack and excused myself, making my way down the center aisle. I could feel all eyes on the bus were directed towards me. I said, “I need to get off. I have two bags in the luggage bins below. Please save them for me in Kisumu.” I could see a rare crosswalk and raised speed table ahead. “Please pull over here,” I said. The driver slowed, pulled over to the left and stopped the bus. I opened the latch and jumped down to the pavement. As I did so, I felt a warm moist sensation.

I passed behind the bus as it took off. As I carefully crossed the street, a man sitting near the crosswalk said, “How are you my friend?” “Not so good,” I replied. “How can you say that? It is a beautiful day and you are in Kenya,” he almost sang. “I am not feeling well,” I said curtly, heading towards a series of storefronts near the road. I asked a woman, “Is there a restroom nearby?” She had a confused look on her face. “A toilet, where can I find a toilet?” I said. She pointed to her left so I followed her direction. I saw a sign that said, “Pub.” A man sat behind a wire cage with bottles of soda and water at his side. “Do you have a toilet I can use? I am not feeling well, do you have a toilet?” I said. He pointed toward the back.

I went around his booth and walked down a corridor. I could see what looked like a blue outhouse at the end of the hall. On either side of me were small rooms, like bedrooms, with curtains covering the doorway. I walked as quickly as I dared and opened the wooden door. I was confused. It was dark, there was a ridge of raised concrete two feet in front of me and beyond that a slick wet concrete surface. Where was the hole? A white tank was suspended on the far wall with a dangling wire. There was no time for indecision. I closed the door behind me and stepped beyond the raised concrete, almost slipping on the slick floor. There was no place to hang my backpack so I put it in the corner near the entrance where the concrete appeared to be dry. I dropped my pants and let it all go. Most landed on the back wall then slid to the floor. The relief was immediate.

I stood there for awhile looking down at my soiled underpants and at the mess behind me. How was I going to get out of this as cleanly and gracefully as possible? I looked behind me and pulled the wire. Nothing. I tapped the tank on the wall. It was dry. I looked down and could not see anything remotely resembling a hole or even an exit for the waste. I remembered that I had plastic bags and clean clothes in my backpack. I removed my shoes and stood on them, removing my underwear and pants. I would have to sacrifice one of my clean, damp shirts, and in the end it took two. I placed the soiled clothes in one plastic bag and tied it tightly, then wrapped that bag in the second bag, tied that, then put the whole thing in my backpack. I put on a fresh pair of underwear and pants, and then put my shoes on. I walked to the front entrance.

“Sir, I am truly very sorry, but I was not feeling well and I made a mess in your bathroom,” I said. “I would like to clean it up but there is no water in the tank and I can’t find any water or cleaning supplies back there. How do I flush the toilet?” “One is a urinal and the one next to it is the toilet,” he said, “The urinal does not flush.” It suddenly realized why there was no hole. I had stepped into the urinal and taken a dump there. “Is there a way for me to clean it up?” I asked. The man looked at me blankly.

All of my optometry instruments, thousands of dollars worth, along with some hidden cash, a valuable computer, and my hiking gear were on bus speeding towards Kisumu. Time was of the essence. “Look, I want to clean it up, but I don’t see how I can do that at the moment, and I must get to Kisumu as soon as possible. How about if I give you 500 Kenyan Shillings and you hire someone to clean your bathroom?” I said. I knew I was being an ugly American, and buying my way out of a tough situation but I did not see any other recourse given the circumstances. “Okay,” he said. I handed him a thousand dollar note, all I had. “Do you have change?” I asked. He looked into a coffee can, rummaged around, and pulled out four dirty 100 Shilling notes and handed them to me. I decided to forgive the 100 Shillings, as this was not a time to get too picky. “And how can I get to Kisumu?” I asked as I turned toward the road. “Talk with that man,” he said.

I walked toward the road. The “Beautiful day in Kenya” guy was sitting at the crosswalk surrounded by a dozen or so vacuum packed bundles of Kericho tea. “Sir, I need to get to Kisumu. I was on an Easy Coach but was not feeling well and stopped here, but now I need to catch up to my bus.” I explained. “And what brings you to this beautiful part of the country?” he asked. “Well, I might have a job in Kakamega but was on my way to Kisumu, when I started to not feel so good.” I said. “I jumped off the bus and here I am.” “Do you like tea?” he asked. A motorcycle driver approached and dropped off a passenger. “Sir, I’d love to chat but I really need to get down the road. Do you have any ideas?” I said. He turned to the motorcycle rider and said a few words in Swahili. “He will take you down the road, only 5 or 10 minutes to Kericho. There is an Easy Coach station there.” he said. “100 Shillings.” “That sounds good,” I said, “Thank you!.” “Would you like to buy some tea?” he asked. “How much?” I said. “200 Shillings,” he said. I paid him the 200 Shillings, took a bag of tea, and jumped on the back of the motorcycle. “Asante,” I said as we sped off.

It took about seven minutes to reach the town of Kericho, and sure enough, there was a petrol station on the right. An office in the back was labeled Easy Coach. I paid the motorcycle driver his 100 Shillings and walked to the office. When the ticketing agent made eye contact I briefly told my story. “Do you have your ticket?” he asked. “I don’t know,” I said as I rummaged through my pockets, looking in my daypack pocket. I found it in my jacket pocket and handed it to him. He looked at it and said, “This is a valid ticket to Kisumu. We will get you on the next bus.” An Easy Coach bus pulled up near the road with a sign in the window “Maseno.” I wanted to go to the restroom to wash my hands. I feared that I reeked of bodily fluids, some fresh, some stale. “We need to get you on that bus right now. There is one empty seat. Maseno is past Kisumu and the bus will stop there. We will call Kisumu, explain the situation, and they will hold your bags. Go, it is leaving soon,” he said. “Asante,” I replied as I ran to catch the bus.

I sat down in the open front seat. The bus took off. Fortunately, many of the windows were open so if I smelled the odor would be taken quickly away. We were descending now, going through pastures and farmland. I looked ahead and to the left. Through the humid air I could see a vast lake in the distance, Lake Victoria.

We slowed for another speed bump. Kenyan roads are filled with speed bumps, speed tables, and series of small ridges that create bumps and noise. If you think about it, it made sense. No signs were needed which just cost money to install, and the metal would be removed and salvaged for scrap. No salary need be paid to law enforcement officers. The vehicles simply had to slow down. Perhaps the only exception would be for a high end truck or SUV with after market suspension, but even then there were limits.

Once again we began to slow. I looked ahead but where was the speed bump? The driver pulled the bus over to the left shoulder, half way off the road. The diesel engine had died. He waited a moment and turned the ignition. Chug, chug, chug, and nothing. He took off his seat belt, looked back at oncoming traffic, stepped down from the vehicle, then walked back to the back of the bus. All passengers sat patiently. A group of teens chatted and quietly sang songs in the back. I did not hear one complaint. The driver opened a compartment and did something. He went back to the driver’s seat and slowly turned the ignition. Chug, chug, chug, chug, and nothing.

He sat there for a minute, then found two reflector triangles in a compartment, placing one in back one in front. He found a bush, tore off a couple branches and placed them in the road behind the vehicle. He came back to the cab and called someone on his cell phone. He was speaking in Swahili so I could not understand him but is sounded like “airlock.” We sat there a few minutes when another Easy Coach bus pulled in front of us, putting on his hazard lights. I gathered that the bus was going to Kisumu. The two driver’s talked awhile and said “one seat available to Kisumu.” They selected a young woman to take the seat. I was resigned to my fate whatever that may be. For a moment I considered flagging down a passing motorcycle driver, but we were not in town, it was going to be dark soon. Too risky.

I could wash my hands now. There was a wide shoulder available. I would get off the bus, stretch my legs, and use the water I had to wash my hands. I even had some soap in my bag. I descended the stairs and walked the 10 yards or so to a barbed wire fence. A cow stood grazing on the other side. I got out my water bottle and rinsed my hands. I looked up at the bus and almost everyone was staring at me. I heard someone call out. It was the bus driver of the bus that actually worked. “We have one more seat. Come!” he said. I put away my water and grabbed by bag. “There, in the back there is a seat,” he said. Actually there were two seats and a young man soon joined me.

It was getting dark now. Instead of pastures and open land, there were more and more settlements, and more markets along the road. People were burning fires for cooking or disposing of trash. Evening was an active, bustling time with a lot of socializing and trading going on, much of it within 5 or 10 yards of the busy highway. As we entered Kisumu we stopped at a highway, waiting out turn to cross. I could see an opening. The driver pushed the accelerator and nothing happened. We sat there more than five minutes while the driver sorted out the problem. “Does this happen often?” I asked the young man next to me. “My journey was a nightmare,” he said. “My bus left 4 hours late and broke down once. I have been 10 hours on the road.”

When I exited the bus in Kisumu I went immediately to the waiting room where, from my experience that morning, I suspected they had a luggage check room. I showed the attendant my ticket and told briefly told him my story. “We have been expecting you,” he said. “Let me get the key.” He got the key, opened the door, and my two bags were sitting right there. He gave me the bags and I was on my way. “Thank you so much,” I said, and gave him a 100 shilling tip. I found a taxi and said, “To the Sovereign Hotel, please.”

I had done my research. The Sovereign Hotel was a bit out of my price range, costing 11,500 Kenyan Shillings, which is $115 a night. After all, I still did not have a job and was running on savings. But in this case, my intuition was right. I needed a soft landing after the long journey to Kisumu. I would call it a business luxury hotel with unique and modern architecture, spacious clean rooms, and an excellent restaurant. I washed my shoes, opened the plastic bags, thoroughly rinsed out my clothes and hung them to dry. I took a long hot shower with lots of shampoo and soap. I put on fresh, clean clothes and headed down to the restaurant for dinner, arriving a half hour before they closed at 10:00pm. The server who took my order said, “You look tired, I can see it in your eyes.” “I am tired,” I replied, “But I am very glad to be here. Asante.”

Secure in Nairobi

The evening of Sunday, August 30, 2015 I had been Skype messaging with Emmanuel Okenwa-Vincent, OD of the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology. He said that all that was need to move along the faculty appointment in the Department of Optometry and Vision Science was a letter of support from a certain administrator. He was confident that the letter would be signed promptly early in the week. “Should I come to Kakamega?” I asked. “No, that would be premature,” he answered. “Perhaps you would like to take another safari,” he suggested. I bristled at the term safari. I wanted to say the Mt. Kenya climb was a trek and there was a difference. But he meant nothing by it. In fact, while we were in a small store shopping for fruits and vegetables for the Mt. Kenya trek, I had heard guide John Karumba, refer to our adventure as a safari. I had made a note to myself to look up the definition of safari. “How about if I go to Kisumu? It is only about an hour and a half away and I can wait there. “That is a good idea,” he said.

I was ready to leave Nairobi. It was a somewhat dangerous hour-long walk to downtown, and I had little reason to go downtown. Walking in Nairobi means crossing streets and traffic circles where pedestrians have no rights. The rule of the road is “might makes right.” Even John Karumba, a kind man who I respected, would bully pedestrians as he was parking his vehicle. He’d pull in to a spot where someone was standing or walking, creeping forward until they moved. I had already seen the effects of one pedestrian-car encounter outside of Nanyuki. A young woman was left face down on the shoulder of the road, head and chest covered with colorful sarongs the local people had placed over her, bare soles of her feet facing up. All other outings meant arranging for a driver, taxi, or motorcycle, and that involved paying significant amounts of money to get around. Nairobi had the surging energy of movement, covered with a layer of dust, with almost everything in need of repair or renovation.

A hotel employee had recommended the Easy Coach, a private bus company with a terminal in downtown Nairobi. I looked up the bus schedule online. There was a bus leaving daily at 9:00, arriving at 16:00. Perfect, I thought to myself. I would relax in Nairobi on Monday, running a few errands on foot, then leave Tuesday morning on the Easy Coach. I then went online to make a hotel reservation.

For the last several days I had been staying at Kolping House in Kilimani Estates. Kolping was a German Catholic priest who supported social support and job training programs for the poor. On the walls of the old, crumbling one-story house, there were photographs of people learning to do woodworking, sewing, and construction. The staff was friendly and helpful, and the place was secure. It had a large lot surrounded by a secure wall, with large double metal gate in front for vehicles and small pedestrian gate on the side. I had made a friendly connection with one of the security guards. We had chatted for about an hour earlier in the day. I told him I was going to Kakamega to work, and it turned out he was from a nearby village. “The Luhya, we are everywhere in Kenya,” he said. “What are the Luhya known for? I asked. “Farming, he said. The soil is rich and we are good farmers.”

On Monday I gave a few items of clothing to Phyllis, a Kolping house employee, to launder for an extra fee. I still had not figured out how to get laundry done on my own. In my walks around Nairobi, I had not seen any self service laundromats. I also asked if Kolping House used a regular taxi or driver. “Yes, we do,” she said. “Could the driver be here tomorrow morning to take me to downtown?” I asked. “No problem. What time?” she said. “I would like to be there around 8:00 because the bus leaves at 9:00. How about 7:30? I said. “Okay,” Phyllis replied, “I have to go now, we are expecting a large group of guests later this afternoon.” “Asante,” I replied.

I skipped dinner Monday evening. Earlier in the day as I walked Kilimani Estates I had stumbled upon a restaurant called the Kenchi Chicken House, “We are Kuku for Chicken,” they boasted. I ordered the quarter chicken sama, 350 Kenyan Shillings for chicken, fries and a drink, $3.50 US at the current exchange rate. The chicken was good, but roasted then fried, and the serving of fries was so large I could not finish it all. I had watched the employee packing orders to go into orange plastic bags. He put in the fried chicken, then a paper bag packed with fries. As he placed the fries in the plastic bag, he mounded another scoopful onto the fries, and then another scoopful of fries over the whole thing for good measure. Potatoes are cheap in Kenya.

At the local mall, I purchased a new pair of shoes as mine were not quite right. I had sturdy hiking boots appropriate for climbing a mountain, black dress shoes for work or going out, and something very light, akin to house slippers, wholely inadequate for walking the muddy and debris strewn streets of Nairobi. I found a place called Bata Shoe Company and for 2300 Kenyan Shillings ($23) found a pair with good soles and they fit right. I had done well at the Yaya Mall, just a 20 minute walk from Kolping House.

I spent Monday evening writing “Night Life of Nairobi.” There was a bit more commotion at Kolping House than usual. I could hear young voices talking excitedly about their travels. They sounded American, and mostly female, but now at 11:15 at night things were starting to quiet down. I had been writing for hours, and wanted some fresh air. I exited my room, locked the door, and took a few steps across the hallway to the door I usually used to exit the house. Just outside, with a view of the security gates, was where the security guard usually sat leaning back against the wall. The door was locked. I was still holding my keys, four of them, old style keys with a long metal shank and slotted end. I had my headlamp with me from climbing Mt. Kenya. It was a more modern lock that used a smaller key size. Surely, my antique keys would not fit this door.

I walked down a long corridor with windows on my left, the whole way secured with ornate metal security bars. I stepped up into the dark living room, illuminated by my head lamp, and crossed over the the french doors leading to the back yard. I turned the door handle, but it too was locked. Once again, the lock had been switched to a more modern style.

I walked through the living room to the dining room and entered the corridor leading to the kitchen. On my left was a washing machine and on the right a door leading to a courtyard. Perhaps this was my way out. Across the courtyard was a lighted corridor. One of the new guests, a young woman, walked by in a long t-shirt, talking loudly with someone in a nearby room. She was getting ready to go bed, I thought. I looked down at the lock and it was also a modern lock requiring a small key.

I proceeded to the kitchen. The refrigerator was on the left. I felt the wall and found a light switch, pulling it up. A fluorescent light flickered on. A cut watermelon sat on the counter, covered by plastic wrap. Three large ants crawled nearby. Beyond the refrigerator was a door. Was it a pantry or did it lead out?, I wondered. I approached the door, tried it, and it too was locked. It required an old fashioned key and I had some of those. I tried every key. The largest one that worked on my room door was too big. The three smaller keys just spun in the opening. I looked around. On the window sill above the sink there were three rings of keys, some antique and some modern. I grabbed all three and headed back to the door near my room.

One by one, I tried all the keys that had a chance of fitting. Nothing worked. I shook the door quietly, not wanting to wake the other guests but hoping to attract the attention of the security guard. I looked outside towards the lighted driveway and security gate. All was calm outside. I went to every door and tried every key that might work. Nothing. I looked at my watch and it was midnight now.

I went back to the kitchen and placed the rings of keys on the window sill. I reached through the security bars and opened the window. It had rained earlier, and light breeze brought cool, sweet Nairobi night air into the flickering light my lodging turned prison. My only hope now was the security guard, but I had not seen him. I waited. Only a few minutes later I saw him walk through the back patio. “Hey, hey! Can you come over here?” I said in a loud whisper. He came closer. This was a different guy, not the Luhya gentleman I had talked with earlier. “You won’t believe this but I am locked inside. I just want to go out for a few minutes. Would you please open one of the doors?” I said.

“I have no key,” he said. “What do you mean you have no key? I said, You are the security guard. You must have a key.” He raised what looked like a crowbar that he held in his hand, and said, “My job is to keep people out not let people out.” An anger I had not felt in years flashed inside me. “Look,” I said, “you cannot keep people locked inside. This is a guest house not a prison. What if there were a fire or someone had a health emergency? We are locked inside!” “I will call the manager,” he said, and walked away.

I tried the kitchen door again, shaking it loudly. I tested the security bars on the windows. They were strong and left no room for a human my size to pass through. I moved the to corridor door and it was secure, then walked to the metal french doors off of the living room. I tested them. They moved a little. I put more outward pressure on the doors and was able to push them two inches outward. I could feel the strain of the metal. I few sharp kicks to the doors would open them, I was sure of that. The rising panic in me began to subside. I walked down the corridor to my room testing the security bars but all were quite firm. Passing the last door near my room I shook it loudly. I looked out the window to the front gate and saw the security guard disappear into the shadows. He was avoiding me now.

Reason returned. Yes, I could bash in the french doors causing bent metal and broken glass, startling all the guests. I could do that. And then what? I would be outside with some explaining to do. Or I could go to my room and go to sleep. It was almost one in the morning. In five hours, I would see the glow of first light, hear the birds begin to sing. A half an hour later I would hear the opening of doors, and breakfast preparations in the kitchen. These were good people here, they meant no harm. In the morning I would calmly explain my concerns to Michael, the manager, or Phyllis the assistant. I would be leaving for Kisumu at 7:30. I entered my room, locked the door, laid down and tried to sleep.

Night Life of Nairobi

As we sat listening to Salif Keita, my new friend Gerald received a text. Cell phones are common in Nairobi, and almost everyone seems to have one regardless of economic or social status. I have seen people talking and texting while walking, riding a bicycle, and driving motorcycles, cars, and big trucks. It is not much different than in the US, although some US states now have laws against it. I don’t think there is a law against it in Kenya, although the police can stop you for just about anything and I think I heard a taxi driver say he was stopped for talking on his phone. The concert we were attending was sponsored by Safaricom, one of the leading communications providers.

I had just finished my first Tusker and excused myself to get another. “Want anything? I asked. “No thanks, I am fine,” said Gerald. I headed down the uneven stairs to the circular ground level, then up the stairs in back to the bar. “A Tusker, please,” I said to the bartender. “That will be 250 Kenyan shillings,” he said. The exchange rate is about 100 Kenyan Shillings to 1 USD at this time. The US dollar is strong, close to record strength, and goes a long way right now.

I returned with my beer and looked down. Without intending to intrude on Gerald’s privacy, I saw the text “Miss you, sweetheart, can’t wait to see you soon.” Gerald was busy responding. I felt comfortable with Gerald. He was Kenyan, and during high school he had lived in Fresno. He was excited to connect with someone from the US, and even more so someone who had lived in California. His English was perfect. I told him I had driven through Fresno just three weeks earlier to attend my mother’s wedding in Stockton, California.

“So, your sweetheart is out of town, huh?” I said. “Yes, Dan, he is in Europe on business. He will be back in a few days.” “That’s good, Gerald. I am sure you miss him,” I said. “Yes I do, but he is the jealous type and I would not dare tell him I am out with another mzungu,” said Gerald. “Well, your boyfriend has nothing to worry about, Gerald. I am not gay, but have many friends who are gay,” I said. “Oh my god, Dan, that is so refreshing. I miss that about the states. Here in Kenya, I can’t talk about it to anyone except my boyfriend and a few others who I know are gay. I think my mother knew before she died, but we never discussed it,” Gerald said. “I am so sorry to hear that, Gerald. My condolences. How did she die? I asked. “Cancer, a few years ago,” replied Gerald. “My dad died last year, from Alzheimer’s Disease,” I said. “I am sorry to hear that,” Gerald replied.

We sat and listened to the incredible performance. Salif Keita’s voice truly was the “Golden voice of Africa,” and his female back up singers were so beautiful as they danced and sang with their high pitched voices in unison. During the last song, Keita invited members of the audience to get on stage and dance. It was a big, fun free-for-all. Everyone was respectful and having a great time. Keita faded into the background while people danced on stage and then came out for one final bow. “Asante Kenya! he half said, half sang.

When the concert ended we sat and talked, waiting for the crowd to thin, and more importantly the vehicle traffic to clear. “What kind of work do you do? I asked. “I am a manager at a coffee farm,” he said. “Mostly for export?” I asked. “Yes, that is right.” After about half hour we walked out to his car. “So, are you going to show me the night life in Nairobi?” I asked. “Yes, of course, I said I would,” he replied. We drove to the city center, passing Uhuru Park, the same park I had walked to about 8 hours earlier.

Gerald said, “The first place we are going to is a gay bar, everyone knows its a gay bar, but actually it’s a very mixed crowd and if it were known it was a gay bar it would be raided and closed down.” “Is it that bad here?” I asked. “It’s kind of like, ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ and I am sure that bribes are paid to the police to keep it open,” said Gerald. “When people get too bold, like making out in public, then the police will shut it down,” he said, “But if you keep it hush hush there is no problem.” We entered a packed bar with booming dance floor to my left and high tables to my right, each seat taken. “Follow me,” Gerald said, “The restaurant is upstairs.” We passed another bar, also packed, and went through double Western style swinging doors to the restaurant. The place was empty, lights were dimmed, and a female server sat counting receipts. Gerald spoke to her in swahili and she nodded. We sat down at one of the tables. “How about a burger and fries?” he asked. “Sure, sounds good,” I replied. “What would you like to drink?” “A Tusker,” I replied. “You drink a lot,” he said. “I hope you are a nice drunk.” “I can assure you I am,” I said. The server arrived and Gerald ordered the burgers, beer for me, and a coke for himself.

“I am impressed that they let you in, Gerald,” I said. “They know me here. I’ve been coming for years,” he said. I looked through the swinging doors to the packed bar. Most people seemed to be in their 20’s and 30’s. As Gerald said, it was a mixed crowd with groups of men talking and drinking, and groups of men and women. I noticed that Gerald kept looking over at a group of guys. “Do you think those guys are gay? I asked. “Oh, you noticed, huh? he said. “I don’t know,” he replied, “They could be British soldiers from a nearby training base. I would not assume they are gay.”

The most impressive thing to me about this place was not gayness or straightness, it was that people were clearly from all over the world. They were young, good looking, and international. As we passed through the bar I could hear Swahili, English, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, and German being spoken. There were college students, it seemed, and locals, and probably more than one trust fund kid. It wasn’t the kind of place I would normally go to, but it was interesting and lively. It reminded me of the bar scene from the first Star Wars movie that I saw so many years ago.

Our burgers and fries arrived. We ate them, drank our drinks, and talked about all sorts of things. I offered to pay the bill and it came to 2,200 shillings, about 22 dollars. Gerald took care of the tip, normally 10% in Kenya, but I think he left a little bit more. “The next place I am going to take you is even more of a trip,” Gerald said. We exited the bar and I felt a little relieved to be away from the loud music, although it had not been so bad in the restaurant.

We walked the Nairobi streets at night, passing people walking, street vendors, and groups of men gathered on the corners. I was doing precisely what I was told not to do. The difference was that this was an entertainment district. There were people everywhere and it felt safe to me, not unlike an evening out on 4th Avenue in Tucson. “Where we are going now,” said Gerald, “Is an even more diverse crowd. I like it because the music is good and I love to dance. At this place, well, you know what goes on at the bars, right, I mean with the ladies.” I said, “I think I know what you are talking about, Gerald, the ladies of the night, right? I have been warned.” “Exactly. They are going to like you for sure,” he said.

We walked through a wide entryway, between stores, with plate glass windows on each side, mannequins displaying clothing on one side, electronics on the other. People were coming and going. We walked up a slightly dirty white marble stairway. As usual, security checked us out with metal detectors. As we entered, I noticed a wide dance floor to the left, bar on the right. Gerald said, “You pick a place.” I walked along the periphery of the dance floor, dodging people and dancers, to an outdoor covered patio that fortunately wasn’t as loud. It had high rise tables on the left, all full, and a bar on the right. “Oh my, Dan. Here you are going to get hit on for sure,” said Gerald. The only two empty seats in the place were at the bar. I pulled up to the seat on the right and Gerald took the other one. “What do you want? I asked Gerald. “I’ll take a Sprite,” he said. I ordered a Sprite for Gerald and a Tusker for myself. The drinks arrived and I paid for them, with a small tip.

“One more thing,” Gerald said, “Watch your drink carefully. Don’t leave it alone, even for a minute.” “What would they put in it? I asked. “I don’t know. All is know is that you would wake up somewhere with a headache, your wallet with all your money in it, and cell phone would be gone,” he said. I reflexively put my thumb at the top of my beer. I looked around at the scene around me. This was a more diverse crowd, at least in age. There were men and women, young and old, black and white, quite different than the first place we went. “You don’t have to be so obvious, Dan, with your thumb, I mean,” said Gerald. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize I as doing that,” I said.

“I am going to go dance,” Gerald said, “You are on your own. Good luck.” “Thanks,” I said. I looked up at the TV screen in front of me. They were showing a soccer game, and it was a good one, full of action. The woman to my right, in a tight red dress leaned over and said, “You are so handsome. I do not know if I can resist a man so handsome,” she said as she leaned toward me, so far into me that a bit of her straightened hair went into my mouth. I moved her hair away. “You are going to have to try,” I said dryly. “I will have to try?” she said confused. “You will have to try and resist, you know, my handsomeness,” I said. She did not talk to me again.

I drank my beer in silence, watching the soccer game on the monitor in front of me. People kept coming up and ordering drinks at the empty bar stool to my left. The music pounded from the dance floor inside. I could not help but notice another women just beyond the bar stool. She was slender, perhaps 5’4″, in a tight red dress. Her black skin had a slight reddish tone and was perfect. Her nails were painted, each one a different color…red, blue, yellow, purple, and hair was pulled back in a sort of 1950’s Motor City style. She moved to the music, drinking her beer. She did not look at me. As I watched the soccer game, I noticed a man come up to her and talk with her for five minutes. He was a black man, bald, with glasses. He had an intellectual look, like he was quite intelligent, but more like the villain in a James Bond movie than a kind professor. She shook her head and he walked away.

Several minutes later it happened again. This guy was a young black guy. He seemed okay, and they spoke in hushed tones. I watched my soccer match, but subtly monitored the progress. After five or ten minutes he walked away. She gently grabbed her beer, took a sip, and moved to the music. Slowly, she sat down next to me, with not even a hint of interest in my direction. “So, how do you do that?” I asked. “Do what?” she asked, looking at me a bit startled. “Send those guys away like that? I said. “I just tell them I’m not interested and they eventually go away,” she said. “It’s that easy?” I asked. “Not always,” she replied.

“My name is Dan,” I said. “My name is Ja-,” she said. “Jane?” I asked as the music surged. “Yes, Jane,” she said as she moved closer. “I like your nails. Nice touch.” I said. “That is what I do. I am a nail stylist,” she said. “Well, you did a good job.” “Thanks,” she replied.  She looked down at her cell phone. I could see a picture of a woman dressed up in a sassy outfit with colorful tights on, posing for the camera. I looked at the face. It was Jane. “You have a picture of yourself on your phone?” I said smiling. “Yes. I have myself. I must take care of myself so I put a picture of myself on my phone,” she said.

A young woman, bold and a little drunk, came up and gave Jane a hug from behind. “How are you, cousin?” “I am fine,” Jane said, shrugging her off. Her cousin looked me in the eye. “Now you take care of her. She is my cousin, so you take good care of her.” I looked at Jane and she smiled shyly and looked away. “Go away,” Jane said to her. The cousin walked away. “Don’t mind her,” Jane said, “She is tipsy. When she is tipsy she gets like this.”

I noticed that Jane’s beer was almost empty. “Do you want another beer?” I asked. “Sure,” she said. I ordered a beer for Jane, I think it was a Peroni, and I got another Tusker. I could feel that warm, relaxed feeling come over me. I had lost count. It might have been my fourth or fifth beer of the night. The beers came, we toasted to the evening, and talked some more. I asked about her brothers and sisters. “I am second of four,” she said. “We live not too far away.” “Would you mind if I ask how old you are? I am 51 years old,” I said. “Guess,” she replied. “Twenty-three,” I said. She looked surprised, “You are right. I am twenty-three.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a figure walking towards me. I looked up and Gerald veered away, passing by a couple yards beyond Jane. He was looking at me and smiling. He nodded as if to say, “It looks like you are doing okay.” I nodded back. Jane and I chatted some more about Nairobi and living in Kenya. Jane checked her phone again. Another picture came up, this time a close up. “That’s you again,” I said smiling. “Yes, I must take care of myself. These pictures remind me of that,” she said. The music surged from the other room, the boom-boom-boom-boom of the kick drum on every beat. Dance music. “Do you like to dance?” Jane asked. “No, not really,” I replied. “You just like to talk and watch sports,” she said laughing.

I noticed that Jane had moved closer. Part of that warm feeling wasn’t just the beer. He had her arm half way around my back. I took a sip of beer. “You know, I am going to have to go soon,” I said, “I know what is going on and I am going to have to go.” “What is going on? she asked, moving away slightly. I was silent. “What is going on? she insisted. “I don’t know, but I am going to leave soon,” I said. “Are you upset? she asked. “No, I am not upset,” I said softening a little, “I just will need to go soon. For one thing, I have no money left for a taxi and I am far from my place. I just spent the last of my money on the beer. And the other thing is that,” I checked my watch, “it is 3:45 in the morning and I need to find my friend Gerald to take me home. What I know for sure is that I have to pee, so I’ll be back in a moment.” I grabbed my beer and asked where the restroom was located. Jane, pointed to the far side of the bar.

I walked to the restroom and waited in line for a couple minutes. I put my beer in my pocket and covered it up with my jacket. It was my turn, so I found my spot at the urinal, then washed my hands. I slowly walked back out to my seat next to Jane, but did not sit down. “Okay, it’s time for me to go,” I said. “Are you sure you need to go?” she said, “I like talking to you.” “I must go,” I said. “How can I contact you?” she said. I had a pen in my pocket and wrote down my e-mail address on a napkin. “This is my e-mail address,” I said. I leaned over and gave her a light kiss on her left cheek. She leaned toward me. “Good night, you are very sweet,” I said and walked away.

I found Gerald sitting on a bar stool near the dance floor. “I just stopped dancing,” he said, “You have a good night?” “Yes, I did but I think I’d better go home. You still up for driving me to my place,” I asked. “Of course, I’m not going to leave you here with no way to get home,” he said. We walked to his car a few blocks away, and he started driving. “Do you know how to get to your place?” he asked, “Because I get lost pretty easily.” “I think so, Gerald. We aren’t that far from Uhuru Park and I walked to the park today. Just head to Uhuru park and I’ll tell you when to turn right. Then we go up Ngong Road a ways, and you’ll turn right again into Kilimani Estates. I am staying off of Ndemi Road.” Before long we were pulling into the Kolping House driveway. I had already given Gerald my e-mail address, and he gave me his phone number. “Thanks, Gerald, it was a fun night,” I said. “Great to meet you, Dan,” he said. “Wait a second before you leave, okay? I said. It’s probably locked and I want to make sure the security guard is up.” “No problem,” Gerald said as I closed the car door and he flashed his lights. I heard the heavy gate deadbolt slide open and the security guard invited me inside.

Adventure, Light, and Nightfall: An Evening Listening to Salif Keita

It was Saturday afternoon in Nairobi and I was disappointed that the Salif Keita show had sold out before I was able to get a ticket. My new friend who I have not met yet, Simone, had planned for a group of friends to go to the show, but the plans came to a halt when we found out there were no tickets to be had. Instead, I took a long walk in the afternoon down to Uhuru Park.

Walking in Nairobi is not easy. First of all, it must be done in the daylight hours. More than one person has warned me that walking at night is dangerous due to petty theft and muggings. Even though Nairobi is quite diverse in its ethic composition, I stand out like a sore thumb and would be a prime target. There are dirt footpaths alongside the road just a few feet from the speeding traffic, with all sorts of obstacles such as holes, rocks, twisted metal, bicycles, motorcycles, and other people.

Kilimani Estates, where I am staying at the Kolping House, is known for being relatively safe. But it was a long walk and I truly did not know the way, just the general direction and I had studied a map. The suburbs, which is how I would loosely describe where I am, are quite heavily wooded and are in rolling hills. It is easy to get turned around. Every now and then I would ask a passerby, “Uhuru Park?” and point in the direction I thought it was. Everyone was friendly and affirmed my direction, except for one misstep.

I approached an intersection leading to a narrow street with walls on both sides. There was a security gate with two armed guards in green military fatigues, with seven or eight people walking along the passage way. At the end of the street was a heavily wooded area that looked like a park. I was now becoming used to security everywhere, even public parks and shopping malls, so it did not look out of place. I approached the guards and asked, as always, “Uhuru Park?” “No,” one replied, “The White House. The President’s house.” Fortunately, they were smiling. “Ah, Kenyatta!” I said, and turned around. As I walked away they said, “Go left and it’s down the street one kilometer.”

Uhuru Park is mostly for children. There are hundreds of kids running around, supervised by their parents and others. There is face painting, merry-go-rounds, horse back rides, little cars that attendants push around, and even camel rides. By the time I got back home in the late afternoon I must have walked 7 or 8 miles. My legs were tired.

But I started thinking about my time in Nairobi and the adventure of it all, the fact that a great Singer, Salif Keita, was doing a show not too far away. I remembered that Joshua Wood on Facebook had said that he was jealous that I might be able to see the show, and know Joshua has great taste in just about everything. I went on Facebook and was communicating with Don Jennings and he asked if I was going. I replied that it was far away, night time was approaching, transportation was dangerous and I thought I would just stay in. I got off of Facebook and thought to myself, “What a wimp. Just go for it. You are here in Africa and have already taken some risks, take another.”

I jumped in the shower and put on my best clothes, black pants, black dress shoes, and a clean plaid shirt. People dress up here. I put on a light black down jacket. I placed copies of my passport and VISA in one pocket with the name and address of Kolping House. I grabbed 7000 Kenyan Shillings and put them in my other pocket. Roughly, the exchange rate is 100 shillings to the dollar, so that’s about 70 bucks. That was a lot of money in Nairobi, but I didn’t want to be stuck without money for the night, and who knew what might come up. The key to preventing and successfully handing petty theft is to be ready to hand over everything without resistance. If I had my passport and wallet with me with credit cards and cash, I might hesitate to hand it over, creating an opportunity for a violent reaction. I had my important items locked away in my guest house room where theft was unlikely. If I got into trouble I would calmly hand over everything and hope for the best.

Earlier on my walk I had noticed motorcycle drivers stationed at many intersections. My plan was to approach one and find out how much the trip would be to the Bomas of Kenya, a theater on the outskirts of town that puts on traditional African dance shows and has model African villages from around the country.

I was just after 6pm, partly cloudy, and the sun was low in the western sky. I was excited and simply unsure as to how this was going to work out. I was headed out into the Nairobi night to a show that I did not have a ticket for, far away from where I was staying, right into the very night I was warned could be dangerous. Sure enough, just a block from my place I saw a motorcycle driver sitting at the corner. “How much to take me to the Bomas of Kenya? There is a concert there,” I said. “One thousand shillings,” he replied. I knew it was far away and was not in the mood to negotiate. “I have that. Let’s go,” I said. He handed me a neon yellow reflective vest. “Put this on,” he said. “How long to get here?” I asked. “Twenty minutes, half hour,” he replied.

I jumped on the back and held on the the rack just behind my seat. Off we went. Nairobi traffic can be notoriously bad and Saturday evening can be especially congested. Tonight was no exception. Cars were stopped or barely moving for what seemed like miles. My driver used all the tricks. He went right down the middle of the road, between cars, which worked well until we approached other motorcycles and bicycles doing the same. He went off onto the shoulder dodging pedestrians, mud puddles, holes, and bicyclists. As we passed one group of guys, one of them yelled, “Mzungu!” I smiled and nodded my head. I was getting used to this way of referring to white people. Even in diverse Nairobi, I was a novelty.

I began to fear for my life just a little. We were dodging in and out of traffic. I had no helmet on. I wasn’t really sure where we were going. I reassured myself that the driver did this all the time, it was his job, and he didn’t want to die either. In ten minutes we left the smokey, dusty, traffic of Nairobi at nightfall, and entered what was basically a freeway. Hardly anyone was on it. Every now and then a car or truck would pass us on the right going 60 or 70 miles per hour. My driver had the throttle pegged as fast as the little bike could go, and the thing was vibrating like crazy. We must have been approaching 50 miles per hour, and my arms and feet were starting to feel numb, partly from the vibration and partly from my death grip on the rack. The wind picked up and blew my unzipped jacket from my shoulder. There was no way I was going to fix that now. “All is well,” I thought to myself, “This is my life and I am on my path. All is well and all will be well.”

I began to smell something odd and mildly unpleasant, like wood smoke and sewage mixed together. I looked over to my left and in the fading light I could see a sea of rusty tin roofs, with smoke rising from small fires. It was dinner time and people were cooking. This was the infamous Kibera Slum.

Traffic again, freeway traffic now. We were almost to the Bomas of Kenya and there was a line of cars moving very slowly as we entered the park. This was not a problem for us and we sped to the front of the line. There were huge flood lights with the hum of generators. There were two lines of cars leading to a gate. As the cars approached the front of the line, all passengers had to exit and the boot (aka, trunk) had to be opened. Two dogs, a German Shepard and an energetic black Cocker Spaniel, searched the wheels and boot. The German Shepard would put his front legs on the back and sniff around, the Cocker Spaniel would just jump right in.

To the left of the line of cars there was a Bomas of Kenya sign with about 20 people standing there, several sitting. I approached a black man and white woman who appeared to be a couple, “Are there any tickets available?” I asked. The woman said, “No, that is why we are all waiting here,” and they both looked away. “Okay,” I said and walked over to the base of the sign and leaned against its concrete footing, half sitting on the base. I turned to the guy next to me, a smartly dressed black man. “You think we’ll have any luck getting tickets? I asked. “I sure hope so,” he replied, “I drove in from outside of town 45 minutes and I’d love to hear Salif.” “Hey, where are you from?” he asked. “I’m from Tucson, Arizona, and grew up in California,” I replied. “Wow, I lived in Fresno for many years. Went to high school there,” he said. I told him that my mother lived in Stockton and my sister, nephew and his family lived in Porterville. I mentioned that I was there a few weeks ago for my mother’s wedding.

We chatted easily about all sorts of things, living in California and life in Nairobi. I mentioned that I did not have a phone and was waiting for a work permit for a job in Kakamega in Western Kenya. I wasn’t sure about the phone because I did not want to get something in Nairobi then find out the area code was different in Kakamega, had happened while traveling in Mexico once causing minor problems. The area code in Kenya is the same everywhere. You can get a phone now, just go with a large carrier and get a basic smart phone. It should cost 10,000 to 15,000 Kenyan Shillings ($100 to $150). “In fact,” he said, “Safaricom, the people who are putting on this show, would be an excellent choice. They are in the Yaya Malls all over town.”

Every now and then I would turn my attention to the scene in front of me. The line of cars went down the road a half mile or so, and the security team was working efficiently to screen the cars. One security member was especially loud and would occasionally lose his temper. Things would get backed up when the people in the car did not have tickets. No one was allowed to pass the gates without tickets, so the car would be pulled from the line causing things to stall.

I introduced myself to my new acquaintance, “My name is Dan, good to meet you.” “I’m Gerald, good to meet you too,” he replied. “What time does the show start? I asked. “8pm, but there is an opener,” replied Gerald. I looked at my watch and it was 7:30. I told Gerald about my motorcycle ride adventure and he agreed that it could be a harrowing experience, but he had done it too many times. “Do you have a car? I asked. “Yes,” he replied, “It’s parked right there.” “Are you going into Nairobi after the show?” I asked, “I am not going to take a motorcycle at night time, and I don’t see any here anyway.” “Yes,” Gerald replied, “After the show I am going to enjoy the night life, and you can come with me. I’ll show you a good time.” “Thanks so much!” I said, “I am sticking with you.”

“Now we just have to get tickets,” I said. “I have a feeling something is going to open up soon,” as I looked around at the thirty or so people patiently waiting with us. Just then a car pulled up for the security check. A white woman exited the car and walked to the back to a man who was probably her partner, a tall white man who was carrying a ticket. She spoke to him but I could not hear what she said. She nodded in the direction of the group waiting for tickets. I could see what was happening. I immediately stood up and approached the man as he took a few steps toward us. “Do you have an extra ticket? I asked. “Yes, in fact I do,” he replied. “How much? I asked. “How about 2000 shillings?” he said. I had the money ready and handed it to him, taking the ticket. “Thank you,” I said. I turned and walked back to Gerald. “How did you do that? he asked.” “I just could see what was happening and went and got the ticket?” “Wow, can you do the same for me?” he asked. “I think so,” I replied. “That’s some mgunzu magic right there,” he said. Mgunzu is the swahili word for white person. “Well, I’m not going in without you, so if we both can’t get in I’ll sell this ticket,” I said.

Now it was 8:00pm, the show was starting. “How late should we wait? I asked Gerald. “How about 8:45? he replied. “Sure, sounds good to me,” I said. We sat and talked about all sorts of thing about California, Nairobi, and Kenya. I told him about my trek up Mt. Kenya. I kept my eye out for a spare ticket but nothing came up. I looked at my watch again and it was 8:45. “Times up,” I said, “Nothing.” “Oh, I really want to see Salif Keita, can we wait a little longer, Dan?” Gerald said with a pleading tone that children sometime have. The people waiting were starting to filter away. We were down to about ten. “I am in no hurry, and you have the car. I want to get in too. How about 9:15?” I said.

As we waited, two beautiful women walked up and stood in front of us, talking quietly. One was an elegantly dressed, slender and tall black woman. Her friend had skin the same color as mine with orange braided hair. I looked at her eyes. The left eye wandered slightly to the left, and both eyes showed a rhythmic movement back and forth. This is called nystagmus and is an indication of visual impairment, almost always present in albinism to a varying degree. The genetic difference that causes a defect in creating melanin in the skin, also affects the visual pigments in the retina necessary for normal vision. I quietly said to the women, “Are you looking for tickets too?” The woman with albinism answered and said, “My friend has a ticket, but mine is with a group coming in a car. They should be here soon.” “Good,” I said, “We are hoping to buy another ticket. My name is Dan and this is Gerald.” “My name is Brenda, and this is Tisha,” she said, “Good to meet you.” Brenda said to Tisha, “Go ahead, and I will see you inside.” Tisha gave her friend a hug and walked toward the entrance with her ticket.

“We are here with a group that educates people about albinism in Africa.” Brenda said. “There is so much misinformation here, and a lot of suffering results. Sometimes people raise funds for people with albinism and then keep the money for themselves. We give talks at community centers and in schools to educate the people.” I told Brenda about my profession and upcoming job appointment at the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology. “If I can help in any way, please let me know,” I said. “Thank you,” said Brenda, and then her phone rang. Brenda held the phone inches from her right eye and pushed the screen to accept the call. “They are here,” Brenda said. I saw her scan the cars and people in front of us but she did not move. I did the same and saw a group of six people exiting a SUV for the security check. A couple of the people were looking around, and two also had albinism. “There they are, Brenda, in that direction.” She thanked me and carefully stepped in the direction I had indicated. As she walked away, she stopped and turned, “I hope to meet you again,” she said. Her friends saw her and greeted her with hugs. Once the security check was over she got into the vehicle and headed in to the concert.

Gerald said, “Wow, she really couldn’t see.” I replied that she could see but her vision was impaired. I glanced at my watch. 9:05. Time is running out, I thought to myself. There were only two more people now waiting for tickets. I said to Gerald, “If I see those guys start to walk away, I’m going to offer them the ticket. I don’t want to be stuck with it.” Gerald looked up and saw a man walking around with a ticket in his hand. He was on the other side of the security line under a big flood light. “Look, Dan,” Gerald said, “That guy over there has a ticket in his hand. Would you go over there and check it out? Perform your mzungu magic.” “Sure, I”ll go check it out.”

I slowly walked through the line of cars, not wanting to concern the security team. Only five or six vehicles were waiting. I stood under the bright light and looked around. Huh, this feels kind of cool standing in the bright light, I thought to myself. It felt like something good was going to happen, but what? Go with it, Dan, I said to myself. Now, where was that guy? Oh, there he is, but he doesn’t have a ticket in his hand. He seemed to be directing the security team but he was in plain clothes. I didn’t want to startle him so I let him come to me. “Sir, do you have an extra ticket?” I said as he approached. “No, I don’t anymore, but that man right there has one for you,” he said. I turned in the direction that he was pointing. A man stood with an envelope in his hand just a few yards away. I took a few steps in that direction. “Do you have an extra ticket?” I asked. “Yes I do,” he replied. “How much? I asked. “It is your lucky day, for you it is free. Buy Safaricom,” he said as he reached into the envelop and handed me a ticket. “Thank you,” I said and turned toward where Gerald was sitting.

I slowly walked through the line of cars again toward Gerald, ticket in hand. “What happened? Did you get one? asked Gerald. “Yes I did. Here you go,” as I handed him the crisp ticket. “Oh my god, oh my god, I knew something good was going to happen. Thank you, thank you, Dan,” Gerald said excitedly. We walked over to his car and went through the security check and found a place to park in a large clearing made for such events. As we walked through the parking area toward the lights and sound of people, two tall and slender, elegantly dressed ladies were trying to negotiate a drainage ditch in their stileto high heels. Gerald stepped in front of me, said something in swahili, and offered his and to the nearest woman. She took his hand and hopped over the ditch, landing lightly on the grass on the other side. Then he offered his hand to the other woman and she crossed easily.

Safaricom had gone all out on this event. There were long red carpets leading to outdoor food tents, bar tents, displays, and merchandise for sale. There was an air of elegance to the event, with beautifully dressed people chatting quietly as they sipped a cocktail. We headed toward the faint sound of music.

The venue was a circular amphitheater with a rustic domed ceiling. The performance space had tiered platforms with individual chairs along the platforms, with rows of seating in the ground floor. There was a group of people dancing right next to the stage in the front. Salif Keita was singing, and as we entered the doorman said, “Welcome, Salif Keita just started. This is his first song.” The lighting was elaborate, bright, and beautiful. The audience was quiet, almost reverent, as they listened intently. We stopped at a bar in the back and I ordered a Tusker. Gerald declined even a water or juice. “I am fine,” he said.

Gerald pointed to a group of empty seats, stage left, and we made our way down the unevenly spaced stairway. This happens a lot in Kenya where building codes are either non-existent or loosely enforced. It makes for a quaint but challenging descent, although after climbing Mt. Kenya I was up to the task. We then ascended the stairway and found a couple empty seats, perhaps 40 yards from the center of the stage.

I was in musical heaven. Salif Keita is an afro-pop singer from Mali. According to Wikipedia, “he is unique not only because of his reputation as the “Golden Voice of Africa” but because he has albinism and is a direct descendant of the founder of the Mali Empire, Sundiata Keita.” He was in Kenya with his band which included a drummer, electric guitar, two female back up singers, and traditional African instruments including the Kora and Ngoni. After the first song, Salif Keita said, “I am happy to be here in Kenya. Merci!” There was an awkward silence. “Ahh, asante Kenya! he said and the crowd cheered.

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Salif Keita and his band. A big view photograph from the left side of the stage.

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Salif Keita and the adoring crowd dancing

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The two female singers, singing in unison with high pitched voices, were one of my favorite parts of the show. As things heated up they pushed their stools back and danced as they sang.

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All in all it was a magical evening, and I enjoyed meeting and hanging out with my new friend Gerald. At the end of the show we chatted and waited for other concert goers to filter out and clear the roads. A half-hour later, we walked to his car and headed to Nairobi for a night out in the city. And that is another story.

In to Africa: Day 6

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I woke up on Thursday, August 27th to a thin sheet of frost everywhere. There was much more moisture in the air here at Old Moses Camp at 3,400 meters elevation (11,155 ft). I took a walk around and saw a group of Water Buck down in the valley, even at such a great distance they noticed me and started to move away.

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David and I had breakfast and put on our packs for the two hour walk down the road to Simiron Gate of the Mt. Kenya National Park. All along the way we could see wildlife, such as these eagles hunting together on the electrical wire.

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And there were colorful smaller birds along the way.

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We never did see any elephants, but had plenty of evidence they were there. This elephant dung ball was the size of a volleyball. Inspection of wild animal droppings is a favorite past time of guides and nature lovers. There are often discussion of the size, shape, consistency, water content, fur content, and in cases of carnivores, bone fragment size and content. Then there is the final analysis and declaration of what type of animal is was and when they were there. There is no dung like the spherical elephant dung.

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As we descended the mountain the eco-zones kept changing. We went through a section of African Pencil Cedar (Juniperus procera).

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Compared to what we had hiked, the road was an easy descent, but still quite beautiful.

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There were many insects along the way.

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As we approached the gate, we found this sign marking the location of the equator.

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This is a picture of the whole team, except that John Karumba was in the bathroom washing his hands at the time. I have mixed feelings about the porter team approach, but in the end I don’t know if such a rigorous journey would be possible carrying tents and food for the 6 days. It certainly was luxurious having a team arrive early, set up the tents, and cook and clean up for us. In addition, the money we paid for the trip provided jobs for John Karumba, James, and the rest of the team. They definitely seemed to enjoy the trek and every evening had a good time hanging out, laughing, and chatting.

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John, James, and I made the half hour drive down from the gate to the highway leading to Nanyuki. It felt good to be moving while not under my own power. I was looking forward to taking care of some business in Nanyuki, but most of all, a warm shower in my room at Kongoni Camp, along with a good meal in their restaurant. David and I had a wonderful meal with a couple of beers on Thursday night, recounting many of the incredible times we had experienced.

Now it was time to concentrate on my next trek, the teaching position at a university in Kenya. I was told that there was a delay in obtaining the work permit at the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology. It would be best to head back to Nairobi to deal with the issue. David was kind enough to allow me to tag along with him as a driver took us back to Nairobi on Friday. I was able to see Salif Keita in concert on Saturday. Now it is Sunday, August 30th and I am finishing this final entry about the trek up Mt. Kenya. We’ll see what adventures are yet to come.

In to Africa: Day 5

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I woke up Wednesday, August 26th in a shady, cold valley with Mt. Kenya directly overhead. Mount Kenya is the highest mountain in Kenya and the second highest in Africa, after Kilimanjaro. The highest peaks of the mountain are Batian  at 5,199 metres (17,057 feet), Nelion at 5,188 metres (17,021 feet) and Point Lenana 4,985 metres (16,355 feet). Point Lelana is seen on the left here with the reddish tone. John, James, David and I had just trekked up to Point Lenana the previous day. I was certainly a bit rough around the edges and for the first time my legs were quite sore. I had pushed them like I had never pushed them before. Sore, yes they were, but they were not injured and I was ready to make the 14 kilometer (8.7 miles) hike down to Old Moses Camp.

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Before leaving David and I had breakfast in the Shipton’s Camp dining hall. Then we prepared our packs for the walk down the mountain.

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There were other groups at Shipton’s Camp. We met a couple from Switzerland who were going to wake up at 3am and hike up the mountain in the dark with headlamps in order to arrive at Point Lenana in time for sunrise. I admire their courage but that is an adventure I am glad to postpone indefinitely. It was difficult enough in daylight with excellent weather. There was another couple of guys from Ireland who were going to climb Batian, the highest peak. The had technical gear and ropes. The last time I saw them was about 8:30 in the morning when they were having breakfast. They seemed a bit disappointed because their guide had not yet arrived and the weather was perfect. As you can see from the photograph, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky around 7 in the morning. By 8:30, the clouds were starting to move in.

After breakfast, David and I donned our packs and started down the mountain with John and James. As we were walking, John stopped and was making a smacking noise with his mouth as he looked to the left. I turned to see this hydrax staring right into his eyes wagging his tail. This rock hydrax just might be the cutest animal I have seen all year. They are called dassies or rock rabbits in South Africa.

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We were now in a broad valley descending steadily toward Old Moses Camp.

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At one point I passed David, and then looked back to see the Mt. Kenyan peaks behind us.

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The sun was warm but the air was crisp and cool. We passed many areas where clear water seeped from the ground making the trail wet. In certain areas, in the shade mostly, I could see ice crystals in the earth.

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One aspect of the trek that is important to mention is the pristine quality of the mountain. James always carried a bag and a trash pick up tool. He left any paper, which would biodegrade quickly, but picked up plastic bottle caps, bags, and wrappers that had been discarded by careless hikers.

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There was one particular bird we saw frequently that often made me laugh. It was a small puff ball of a bird with long legs. I was surprised it could fly.

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As we continued down the mountain the air became warmer with more moisture. In the morning we had been above the valley clouds, now we were moving into them. Many areas we walked through looked like we could have been in the Scottish Highlands (although I have never been to the Scottish Highlands, this is how I imagine them).

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James stopped and pointed to the ground with his trash pick up tool. “Elephant. This morning,” he said. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to mention an interesting phenomenon concerning the language. Kenyan English is heavily influenced by British English and Swahili. Coming from the British side, Kenyan’s do not pronounce the “R.” Girl would be pronounced “gul,” hurry is distinctly two syllables “Huh-ree.” While staying at Kongoni Camp I looked up at the menu on the chalkboard and it read, “Calmalized Onions.” The person who wrote the menu simple spelled the word as he or she would say it. Swahili on the other hand is spoken with staccato bursts. I was listening to the television on in the other room, perhaps a news program, and it sounded a lot like Spanish from Mexico. American English in comparison sounds sluggish and slow, much like a Southern drawl sounds to someone from New York or California.

I noticed when I spoke normally to Kenyan’s they just didn’t understand what I was saying. My normal way of speaking has even started to sound odd to me when I listen to myself from the Kenyan perspective. That is what I have found myself speaking in staccato bursts without the R, and using few words. I have heard David doing the same thing when speaking to James or John. It simply makes communication easier. If my friends or family from Tucson were to be able to pop in on a conversation they might think I was crazy. All I can say is that it makes sense here. So I repeated to James, “Yes, James. Elephant. This mo-ning.”

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I kept a look out for an elephant but we never saw one. They move quickly and the area we were covering was vast.

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Off in the distance we could see Old Moses Camp at 3,400 meters elevation (11,155 ft), and by 12:30 or so we had arrived. We had lunch and settled in for a relaxing afternoon. I walked around a bit then napped in the afternoon, giving my body a chance to recover.

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I saw several flocks of this bird, moving mostly on the ground looking for insects and vegetation, and I believe it’s a Jackson’s Francolin (Pternistis jacksoni).

James called this colorful plant the Red Hot Poker.

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There was a small store at the Old Moses Camp and David bought us a couple of Tusker’s. There is a tradition called the Sundowner, from the British Colonial days, which is to have a cocktail or beer as the sun goes down, preferably in a spot where there is wildlife. David mentioned that many safari camps have balconies off of the rooms near a waterhole, where guests enjoy their cocktail at sunset. Many of these camps have been established for decades and are scattered about mostly to the south, west, and east of Nairobi. There are so many, I could not name them all, but some of the more well known are Tsavo, Hell’s Gate, Massai Mara, Amboseli, Ruma, Nderi, and of course the Serengeti, which is in Kenya but mostly to the south in Tanzania.

As the sun descended in the western Kenya sky, I could feel that our adventure was coming to a close. The air was warmer now, easier to breath, with the moist herbal smell of juniper and witch hazel. I had made a friend in David. He had done the trek, in part in remembrance of a close friend who had recently passed away. I had done the trek as an introduction to a new chapter in my life in Kenya, perhaps for a year, maybe longer. Tomorrow we would wake and walk down the road a couple hours to the Sirimon Gate, at the edge of the park.

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In to Africa: Day 4

Once again, I laid in my sleeping bag slightly cold waiting for the first hint of sunlight. As I exited my tent, this is what I saw.

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I walked around in the cold golden glow of this magical mountain. Even the birds were chilled and didn’t seem quite ready to move yet.

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This hyrax seemed a bit out of sorts.

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At breakfast I was talking with one of the porters and he said that Day 4 was going to be easy. He said it was going to be a two hour hike up to a junction, then 20 minutes to Point Lenana. Point Lenana is the third highest peak of Mt. Kenya at 4900 meters (16,076 feet). Then he said we’d coast down to Shipton’s Camp and be there by noon, no need to pack a lunch. I don’t know if he was joking, lying, or seriously mistaken. Maybe he was talking about his day, because the porters did not ascend to the peak. They hiked up to a lower junction then headed down to Shipton’s Camp and were there by noon. We had a much bigger day planned but did not know it.

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We left Lake Michaelson at around 8 in the morning. First, we had to ascend back up to the trail we had left the day before at 4200 meters (13,780 feet). The picture above was taken after we had done that, and there was a broad valley with a gentle slope, punctuated by very steep sections. The air was getting seriously thin at this point.

Very high altitude is defined as 3,500–5,500 metres (11,500–18,000 ft) and we were right in that range. The lack of oxygen is sensed by the carotid bodies, which causes an increase in the breathing rate, in other words, hyperventilation. In the attempt to gain more oxygen the body breaths faster, and exercise exacerbates this effect. The heart is likely to beat faster and many people develop nausea, unusual tiredness, headache, lack of appetite, or have difficulty sleeping. I definitely had minor bouts of headache and took ibuprofen to alleviate the symptoms. I sometimes felt lightheaded and even experienced some ataxia, difficulty in walking a straight line. When that happened I usually just had to concentrate to keep my pace and stay on the trail. I made sure to drink a lot of water to help the body rid itself of toxins.

But even though my body was constantly struggling to adapt to the conditions, I was also in awe at the stunning beauty around me. I was passing through a truly incredible environment that relatively few people ever see. David and I asked John if local people ascended the mountain or at times lived on Mt. Kenya. John replied that Mt. Kenya was considered the Mountain of the Gods and was off limits.

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We kept pushing up steep grades, one after another. To say it was physically demanding is an understatement. John and James made sure we were making progress and kept the right amount of pressure up. Finally we reached a junction about 150 meters below the summit and were able to drop our packs. I was surprised, however, and not pleasantly so, that at that point it didn’t seem to make much difference. Walking without my pack was seriously difficult. After six or eight steps I was winded. If I tried to go too fast I simply had to stop to catch my breath.

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The last 50 meters or so involved what I would call scrambling over and around large rocks. Above you can see David and James making their way up about 10 meters below me. If you look over David’s left shoulder you can see a lake far below. That’s how steep it was. In addition, it was cold. All this, and we had excellent weather the whole trip. It took about an hour to do the 150 meters up the final push, but we did it. I could look down on the other side of the mountain at a glacier and lakes below.

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One added perk was that Point Lenana has the highest via ferrata in the world. A via ferrata is a series of guiding cables and permanent steel ladders to assist the hiker to the peak. Mt. Kenya has two higher peaks that require technical climbing skills, ropes, and gear. I am more of a hiker than a climber, so the via ferrata was a welcomed feature.

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But you know, we did it. David and I climbed a very high peak that was quite challenging with the help of John and James.

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I could hardly believe we were there and my head was spinning a bit, but we did get pictures to prove it. My smile was genuine. I was very happy to be at the top.

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We couldn’t have done it without John and James, there is no doubt of that.

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But the challenge was not over. I remember John saying that the climb was more difficult but the descent was more dangerous. We had to watch our step on the way down because one slip could lead to a serious fall. Fortunately, we took our time, watched our step, and made it back to the packs.

For me, however, one of the most difficult parts was still to come. From where we were on the mountain, and I did not know this at the time, the most direct way down (without a lot of backtracking) was straight down the mountain. It was very very steep, and many areas had loose rocks. Point Lenana to Shipton Camp is a 700 meter elevation drop and we did it in an hour straight down a ridge. John showed me a technique that I called the Charlie Chaplin walk. It involves shuffling with your heels together, toes apart, taking tiny steps. If I began to slip the other heel was right there to keep me from falling. It worked beautifully for John, and for me too in the not-so-steep sections. But at my weight of about 200 pounds, in the many very steep sections, the only option was to put my feet in the same direction and hop from one anchor point to another, hoping the embedded rock or tiny not-as-steep section would halt my descent.

My thighs were burning and for the first time in the trip I could feel blisters forming on my feet. At one point, about three-quarters the way down, I looked over at James who was sitting down with his pack on watching me struggle. I said, “Why did you take us this way?” He replied simply, “Mlima.” Translated that means “Mountain.” I understood immediately and relaxed. A few minutes later when I was getting seriously tired, John looked over at me and said, “Concentrate, you are almost down.” The picture below was taken as we approached Shipton’s Camp after the difficult descent and the trail returned to normal.

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As we arrived to Shipton’s Camp I took the photograph below which might give you an idea of the steepness of the terrain and the 700 meters we did an controlled fall down the mountain.

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Once again, the pristine beauty of the mountain snapped me out of my funk. The photograph below is the headwaters of the Nanyuki River. The water simply flows right out of the mountain from the glacier above.

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In to Africa: Day 3

It was a cold night at Lake Ellis, elevation 3405 meters (11,170 feet), and I had another night of periods of sleep followed by hours of laying in the dark. At first light I was up and out of my tent in the cold morning air. Fortunately, others were stirring too and I was able to enjoy coffee and breakfast as the sun rose above the lake.

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Sunrise at Lake Ellis

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We did not stay long, as there would be a 8 km (5 miles) walk ahead of us. We would be climbing steadily and there was no other choice but to go pole pole, slow in Swahili. We were walking through vast grasslands with tufts up to my waist. At times I could not see my feet or the path below me.

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I was seeing plants I had never seen before. This bush had a yellow green globe that in a few days would open up into a pale yellow flower.

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The terrain was open and seemed to go on forever. I could look back and see our progress as we ascended from Lake Ellis.

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The terrain rose steadily as the flora changed.

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This plant, while it looked like a cactus, had soft petals.

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This plant collected water in its leaves. It is the giant rosette (lobelia keniensis) and was the same as the plant shown above, just less mature.

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We kept climbing. This is the view as I looked back at Lake Ellis.

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Perhaps the altitude was getting to me. John called this moss an old man’s beard, so I gently placed it on my chin.

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The landscape became more and more bare as we ascended. We stopped at this plateau for lunch at 4200 meters (13,780 feet), Point Lenana is in the distance.

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As I ate lunch I saw this bird hanging out in this cool plant. The leaves were as soft as feathers.

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After lunch we began the descent to Lake Michaleson at 3900 feet (12,795 feet). John said it was important to climb high and sleep low. This is an ice waterfall on the side of the mountain.

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This is the view of Lake Michaelson as we sharply descended into this valley.

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These are rock hyrax (Procavia capensis) or rock badger. There was one on a rock high above the others making a loud call as we hiked down to the lake. I thought it was a bird call, but one of the porters set me straight and showed me the hydrax that was acting as a sentry.  The closest living relatives to hyraxes are the modern-day elephants, but I was not worried about a hydrax attack.

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I believe this is a Red-Tufted Sunbird. It is dark with a metallic green sheen, so I don’t know why they call it Red-Tufted.

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The water of Lake Michaleson was a deep green.

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As the sun went down on Lake Michaelson, the cold set in.

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One of the porters, in red, took some old nylon fishing line, attached a hook, and found a nearby stick to make a fishing pole. He dug up some worms nearby, and as the sun went down the trout started biting. He caught five in all, and we had fish for breakfast the next day.