Incident on a Train

dinner service.JPG

When I was in Kenya, we took the night train from Nairobi up to Kisumu, which is the capital of the province where my son teaches. Though the distance is only about a hundred miles, it is an all-day journey no matter how you arrange it. So Seth had suggested that we take the night train and spend most of that travel time sleeping so that we could devote our waking hours to seeing Africa.

Because there were three of us traveling, we booked two adjoining compartments. To do so, we had to travel first class, but this meant that we wouldn’t have to share a compartment with a stranger in order to fill the extra bed. Along with the first class traveling compartment came both dinner and breakfast as well as bed linens.

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The train embarked from the Nairobi station on time (which surprised Seth), and we were quickly settled in our compartments, watching the outskirts of Nairobi zipping past in the fading light. Part of the reason the train takes all night to travel a mere hundred miles is that it stops at every little hamlet along the way to pick up and discharge passengers. Some of these stops are brief, but others lasted twenty minutes or more.

As we were waiting at one stop — night had fallen by then — sitting in our compartment chatting about whatever, there came a loud wailing and jabbering from down the line. It sounded like a drunk man was getting into an argument with someone. He was so loud and out of control that he sounded as though he was in our car, though we soon learned he was not. Seth instantly pushed the door to our compartment shut and went on casually chatting.

The wailing and jabbering continued, but Seth cautioned us just to mind our own business. Soon the porter came along to tell us that dinner was ready and that we could ajourn to the dining car.

The dining car was an odd place. There were perhaps a dozen battered tables on either side of the aisle, and all but one were filled with Africans — families, old men. There was one table, however that was different from all the others. At the far end of the car an empty table awaited us. It had a linen tablecloth as well as china and cutlery and trays of condiments and various glasses. This was the table reserved for the first class passengers, of course, and we were, apparently, the only first class passengers on the train that night.

We seated ourselves, and soon the dinner courses began. We started with a thick, tasty bread that I might have slathered with butter were I not now trying to eat more sensibly. Then came the soup course. The waiter arrived again with a tureen and a ladle and served us each individually, spooning the vegetable broth soup into our bowls. Then he bowed and stepped away. We took up our soup spoons and began delicately sipping the delicious liquid.

And all of this might have felt like an indulgent treat had we not still been parked in the village station. Just outside our window, the wailing and jabbering man was continuing to carry on. But now I could see the incident better.

The man was rolling on the ground beside his pack of things, screaming and pleading in Swahili. Seth was able to translate his words as something about needing to board the train so that he could go see his mother and father.

Standing over him were two guards carrying automatic weapons.

We were sitting raised above him in the dining car, at a linen-covered table with fine dinner service before us, delicately sipping our tasty soup, and I thought that this was probably how revolutions begin.

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8 Responses to “Incident on a Train”

  1. Wayne Says:

    The last dozen posts have been greatly enjoyed, Pablo.

    Your treatment here is interesting, though not surprising. I suspect, from what I know of you, and that you noted it in the first place, that Ol’ Pablo would have been more comfortable without the linens and special treatment. I suppose you end up being the unwilling beneficiary of the multitudes of tourists who would have been miffed at not getting what they wanted. The difference of course is that they wouldn’t have had armed guards standing over them!

  2. karl Says:

    being obvious recipients of a decadent life in comparison to most of the rest of the world, it also makes me uncomfortable when i am so blatantly confronted with enormity of the gap between us.

  3. Florida Cracker Says:

    Uncomfortable no doubt, but I’ve seen similar displays in American airports by disappointed travellers. For awhile they even had a reality show which seemd to showcase traveller frustration behavior.

    You are quite the travel writer.

  4. robin andrea Says:

    What a moment, pablo. The disparity between your sumptuous table and the pleading man with guns pointed at him, couldn’t be more poignant. A perfect encapsulation of the world in which we live. Our home tables are just as rich, and the poor are still rolling in the streets somewhere, we just don’t hear them.

  5. Dave Says:

    What robin andrea said. This is exactly why I never go first class, even if it means losing sleep and being subjected to all sorts of indignities.

  6. bev Says:

    Travel into strange lands (even here in N.A.) reveal many things. I had a couple of “incidents” of my own on my latest trip. Teaches you a lot about how societies work (or don’t work, as the case may be).

  7. Cathy Says:

    Can’t imagine the discomfort. Lucky that Seth could translate – at least it helped you frame a context in which you could try to psychologically manage the chaos.

  8. Burning Silo » Blog Archive » recently read, seen, or heard - and enjoyed Says:

    […] * The next is a group of posts made by Pablo of Roundrock Journal following his trip to Kenya. The trip didn’t go as planned, but you can learn more about that as you read his most interesting account. Here are some links to get you started on your journey: Risky Behaviour — Incident on a Train — Kenyan Sojourn, Part One — Kenyan Sojourn, Part Two — and, well, keep on reading as there are more installments to the saga. […]

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