We rode a matatu from Seth’s village into the provincial capital, Kisumu. As I remember, this Toyota van had twelve seats. My sister said that at one point we had nineteen passengers.
Our first stop was the British Airways office to see what could be done. Not much, once again. It seems that their fax machine was out of service, and somehow this affected my ability to change my tickets. Eventually, we concluded that I should simply get myself to Nairobi and try to make arrangements there. At the worst, I would spend a night in a hotel where I could get a shower and perhaps rinse out my clothes. (This was the fourth day of wearing the same clothes. In equatorial Africa.)
The airfield in Kisumu had been washed out by a recent flood, so we talked about me taking a matatu even farther away from Nairobi to a city called Eldoret. From there I might be able to fly down to Nairobi in only an hour and be there by mid day. Something about this seemed a little too cobbled together though. And given the haphazard way all of our plans had worked and not worked, we decided against it.
That left only one real option: an express matatu directly to Nairobi. I could expect the drive to take up to eight hours, but there wouldn’t be any stops along the way (one for bathroom break) as would have been the case if I took a conventional bus. So Seth took us back to the matatu staging area and bargained a ride for me and my one bag. (He had emptied the bag of goodies and then loaded some gifts of his own in it for me to take back.)
What a ride! Though it took us a half hour just to weave through the throngs of humanity in the two block staging area, the driver made up for it by losing no time anywhere else. He could squeeze that Toyota van anywhere if it meant gaining a foot or two of progress. At one point on the highway when he needed to get past two cars that were side-by-side on the two lanes, he simply went between them rather than around them. We made it to Nairobi in only six hours. Six hours of perching on an undersized seat in a bobbing and weaving vehicle on a busy and bumpy road. Six hours of reggae.
The normal ride to Nairobi ends at the main bus terminal in the downtown, but my arrangement was to go all the way to the airport. Thus I was the only passenger on the matatu when we left the bus terminal. I still had plenty of time, and I guess the driver realized this because he took a detour and ventured farther into the city and the flowing masses of humanity that never seem to rest in the city. He told me that he had to pick up something, and I thought that maybe he was fetching a package to deliver, making a few extra shillings. But that wasn’t the case.
On some random corner he pulled over and jumped out, leaving me alone in the van. Soon after, four large men climbed aboard the matatu and settled themselves in the seats behind me. I didn’t see any money changing hands, so they didn’t seem like regular passengers. But what were they?
The spoke amongst themselves and with the driver, but they were speaking in Swahili or one of the mother tongues, so I didn’t understand a word of it. They did a good deal of laughing however.
Then an idea crowded its way into my mind. I wasn’t going to the airport. I wasn’t going anywhere that I wanted to go. The situation was perfect. A lone Westerner in a van of young men in a strange place at night. A perfectly helpless person who could be taken anywhere and be powerless to do anything about whatever might happen.
For whatever reason, the roads in Kenya are dotted with police check points. During the drive down from Kisumu we were waived through most but stopped at a few. I’m not sure what was being checked. The police sometimes looked cursorily in the windows but generally not. Once or twice I noticed that paper changed hands. Whatever, as long as we were on the road again.
But now I paid better attention to these check points. We stopped at two more, and I made sure the police saw my face in the van. I hoped that the others in the van saw that the police saw my face. Still, whether we were on the road to the airport or to somewhere else I could not say.
You know how this story ends, of course. The driver did take me to the airport and dropped me off at the British Airways station, wishing me a safe trip and then driving off with his friends for I don’t know where.
But I was still a long way from home.
- During deep snowfall, bobcats stay in shelters.