Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Sabbatical Day 19 (12 August)

Correction: the mathematicians among you will have spotted a mistake in my currency conversion. The gift of 12,000/- from the folk in Nansana is in fact £3 not £4. Paradoxically that makes it seem even more significant to me.

And now… ‘The Day that Time Forgot’.

Above and Naiomi and Thomas Leremore. Away from Nairobi at 6.45am. Thomas has reason to be in Nyahururu himself and gives me a lift. Also in the car is Meshak, a Prison Warder who is also getting a lift to the prison. This is great as it means I don’t have to get the bus: young Silas Leremore (2½) gives me a parting gift – a page out of his colouring book. We arrive without incident three hours later. On the way, while I made comparisons in Uganda with home, here I find I am making comparisons with home AND Uganda. The Leremore’s home is near the Presidential Palace and hence in a better off area. But Nairobi as a whole seems to be at a better material level than Kampala, perhaps reflected in the fact that while there are 4000 Ugandan shillings to the pound there are only about 130 Kenyan shillings – and I assume that under the British Empire they were once of the same value.

However, on leaving the city I notice the same kind of shops as in Kampala, and some looking equally poor. Going against the commuter flow, there is a steady stream of people walking into the centre of the city. It will take some 2 hours to walk in, but they can’t afford to pay for any other way, and of course it will take them 2 hours to walk back home again.

The churches don’t have the same wacky names as in Kampala. There are a lot of Presbyterian Church of East Africa churches, schools, clinics etc. PCEA is the largest protestant denomination in Kenya, whereas the Anglican Church is the largest in Uganda, perhaps reflecting levels of Scottish and English church influence when colonisation took place. Before day ends I will have a preference for Uganda over Kenya, for why you will discover if you read on.

We head north-west to Gilgil. As a railway buff I’ve noticed railway tracks beside the road most of the way, but certainly after Gilgil they appear disused, appearing to be blocked in some parts. This will be the old East African Railway, again connected with the British Empire.


The terrain what grows on it is quite different from Uganda. The soil is not as read and there are more open spaces. We pass a herd of zebra – as you do! Exciting to see big African animals in the wild for the first time.

 I notice a viewing point into the Rift valley which states that the altitude is 8,000’. That’s why it’s not too hot, even though we are at the equator.

At Gilgil we fork right to head north to Nyahururu, passing the equator again just before the town. It’s not made so much of here as it was in Uganda. Just a simple sign at the side of the road.

We turn off the main street in Nyahururu to find that, as elsewhere, the other streets are not tarred. Just bare earth. The street we stop in is behind where the matatus come and go. These are the same as the minibus taxis in Uganda, but they’re not called taxis. We’ve arrived just before 10 and soon after the lady who is to accompany me to Maralal arrives.

She is Faith Kasoni (right). She is accompanied by Rose who is returning home from college where she is studying to be a plumber. Rose was dressed ready for an expedition to the Arctic, and while she complained later in the day about the heat she never took her parka off. Kasoni is an indispensable help to Stephen Cowan’s work in Tuum (pronounced the same as Toome in NI). She has been at a 3-day revival meeting nearby in Nakuru. The problem with this is that 4.2 million (yes!) other people have also been there, and all the matatus to Maralal have already left full. Kasoni investigates and speaks to Stephen on her mobile. Mobiles are everywhere, and coverage is excellent. There are two options. 1) There is a car going to Maralal but the clutch is being repaired – it will be ready in half an hour (Kasoni doesn’t believe it will). 2) There is a GK vehicle going to Maralal later in the day at an uncertain time. This is the more likely option.

We wait in the street, using the benches provided by a lady who sells fruit and near where these men are selling shoes. Who needs a shop?

She peels and slices it for you, or makes a salad which you eat with a spoon from a metal plate. There is pineapple, banana, mango, avocado, guava, watermelon, mango and more. The least popular option, was apples. I don’t think they’re a traditional fruit – in the past they had to be imported from Europe or South Africa. I note some hygiene issues. Once the salad is eaten the plate and spoon are put in a bucket of water which has some detergent added. After several items accumulate the lady rubs them with a cloth and places them in another bucket of water to rinse. After a while they are taken from that bucket, wiped dry and used again. People kept knocking into the boxes the apples were sitting on and some would fall to the ground. She simply placed these back on the pile. When someone bought an apple she would rinse it in another bucket of water before giving it to them. At the same time watermelon and mango would be lifted by her left hand in cling-film like polythene, sliced with a knife held in her right hand, and given to the customer with the polythene still on it. Kasoni bought Rose a fruit salad. I declined the offer, considering discretion to be the better part of valour. I did later buy a banana, which should be safe enough (10/- = about 8p).

When we started the temperature was pleasantly warm. The sun kept coming and going. I had made the mistake of thinking I would not need a hat as I would be in transport all day. However, time ticked by. It was now 12 o’clock. I was beginning to feel my forehead – a touch of sunburn starting – so moved over to the other side of the street to get some shade. The car that would take half an hour to fix had not materialised, nor had the GK car. In contact with Stephen again, Kasoni reported that there was a Land Rover from Tuum that was 2 hours away and would take us if everything else failed. So that was option 3. At about 2.30 the GK car appeared – great rejoicing on my part. The luggage was loaded on, I was asked to get in which I did. And 15 seconds later I was told to get out again. The driver needed to have lunch and we were advised to go for lunch too. Kasoni led us round the corner to the EMMS cafĂ©. I suspect this was originally the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society which I had encountered in Israel some years back. We had lunch, the driver joined us, and we then went back to our ‘look-out point’ on the street about 3.30pm. The GK car has gone. I said to Kasoni that I thought we would be spending the night in Nyahururu. For a moment I think she though I WANTED to, but I soon corrected that. I’m a bit disappointed in myself here. So far in both Uganda and Kenya I’ve coped well with changes of plans, disappointments and frustrations. I’d been told about the African way of doing things and had tried to ‘go with the flow’ or more often the lack of it. However, I was beginning to get not so much impatient, but despairing. Kasoni and Rose continued to be serene and joked and laughed with each other and different people who came to eat fruit. I’d noticed though, that Kasoni hadn’t eaten anything since I’d met her just after 10: at lunch she just had a cup of sweet milky tea.

5pm the GK car turns up again. Yea!!! J We’re told that it’s not going to Maralal after all. This and the fact that the Land Rover that was 2 hours away at noon has not turned up just knocks the heart out of me L. Kasoni speaks to the GK car people. They WILL take us about an hour up the road where we can meet with the Land Rover which will take us to Maralal. Spirits begin to revive but I won’t believe it until we’re under way. By 5.30pm we are, although I note the driver is NOT ‘the driver who had to have his lunch’. Total time waiting in Nyahururu: 7½ hours. We will now not reach Maralal in daylight.

So an hour later we rendezvous with the Land Rover. There are 5 men in the back and 3 women in the middle seats, along with a lot of luggage. Rose leaves us, I sit in the front passenger seat and Kasoni sits between me and the driver with her legs either side of the gear stick and with nothing to support he back. The LR is driven by Abdillahi who lives in Tuum and is well known to Stephen. After the rendezvous the tarred road stops and we are on ‘beaten track’ that is an earth surface that is compacted by the traffic using it. It develops humps, hollows, ridges, furrows, pot-holes, and rocks sticking out of the surface. It’s the sort of off-road experience that people pay good money for an hour’s worth at home.

Did I mention that it began to rain after we left Nyahururu? It came on quite heavily at times which meant that the track became very muddy and slippery. More than once the Land Rover slewed round as if it were on ice. Night fell about 7 which made driving on this type of road even more ‘exciting’. Abdillahi has driven it many times before and seems to know the road well. Remember, no street lights. After a while we see the most amazing thing: there, only a few yards ahead, picked out by the headlights is a giraffe, crossing the road in front of us from left to right, walking, then half-running in that elegant way giraffes do, and then lost in the darkness it’s gone. Amazing! I notice in the far distance lightning, and the rain comes and goes. We come across the droppings of what be a large animal, but see no signs of the animal itself. The rain gets heavier, and heavier still in the way that it does in the tropics. These photographs will give you some idea, but they don’t convey the full picture as they were taken the next day after the roads had dried and in daylight!


We are heading uphill. At many points the road goes over a culvert, and at that point you can’t see what’s on the other side of the culvert as you go up and down as you go over. We go over this culvert to see the road on the other side has become a river and a large volume of water has gathered at the bottom. The engine stalls. And won’t start. We discover later that the person the Land Rover is borrowed from had forgotten to tell Abdillahi that the battery isn’t holding its charge very well. Abdillahi says ‘This is dangerous’. Not exactly re-assuring! The men take off their shoes and get out to push. That doesn’t work. They try pushing the LR backwards. That doesn’t work. We are stuck and the water is half way to the knees of the men. The rain comes and goes. I’m wondering how waterproof my suitcase is, as it’s on the roof with the other luggage. Never mind, we’ll phone Stephen. He knows someone who lives nearby who can come and pull us out. Mobile phones out. No signal! We’ve been getting signals along most of the journey as the mobiles of the women on board haven’t stopped ringing. I try mine. A faint signal which comes and goes. Eventually it rings Stephen but then gives a recorded message saying all the lines are busy. Try again, same again. Try again – a different message saying his phone is not on the network. Again Abdillahi says ‘This is dangerous’ (does that mean it is twice as dangerous?) Leave it for a while – it’s now after 9, and try again. It rings! Stephen answers! We tell him the problem and he says he’ll contact these people who live nearby and also come to us from Maralal where he has been for a few hours.

Just then a truck comes up behind us and stops about 100 yards away. Abdillahi goes to speak to the driver. Eventually this man turns up in Wellington Boots with a battery. It’s connected up, I turn the ignition and it starts first time! Oh joy. Abdillahi mentions that on his way to the truck he heard a lion roar nearby. The good reason not to get out of the LR that the water was too deep around it has been superseded by an even better reason – don’t get eaten by the lion! Once the engine is running the LR’s own battery is reconnected and we are on our way again after 1½ hours. More deep water but we pass through it without incident. Not long later though we have a puncture! I can hear the hiss of the escaping air. Another half-hour to change the wheel. At least we have a spare. As we get on our way again I jokingly remark to Kasoni that all we need now is to be charged by a rhino. (You know what’s coming now, don’t you???) Kasoni didn’t seem so cheery now, and, while all day she had been urging me to eat stuff even when I wasn’t hungry, and she hadn’t eaten herself, she now asked me for one of my energy bars.

GOT YOU! There was no rhino. No more dramatics, apart from the drama of driving on slippery bumpy roads in the pitch dark. At least the rain has stopped. And the stars are amazing, with some I have never seen at home. At one point, totally random to me, but clearly deliberate, we stop and let off one of the men who literally goes ‘off the beaten track’ to some unseen destination as he disappears into the dark. Later we leave the women off and we arrive in Maralal. This is the first town I have been in my life where there is no tarmac on the streets. They are all earth like the roads, but because there is more intense traffic in the town they are even more rutted. There is even an earth surfaced roundabout! The remaining men are dropped off and we arrive at our accommodation at 1am. 7½ hours since leaving Nyahururu, 17¼ since leaving Nairobi! And Stephen has told us we need to leave for Tuum at 5am. And that, my friends, is The Day that Time Forgot.


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