EAST AFRICA SAFARI – THREE

DAY 18/19/20 MONDAY, BOXING DAY, TUESDAY 27th, WEDNESDAY 28th DECEMBER 2016. KITALE, KENYA

Life goes on much the same. I am in the heart of this happy family, welcomed warmly, eating their simple but tasty meals, playing Scrabble, riding to town in vain efforts to get strong internet access (it’s not even strong enough these last few days to upload an episode of this journal), and working on the big swing project with Rico.

I’ve little interest in working with metal. It seems to me such an unsympathetic material, but I have found that working with Rico, who has so much confidence and knowledge of machines and methods (and the tools required), that I’ve been quite enjoying the process of stripping down a huge chunk of industrial machinery piece by piece. It’s always satisfying to watch skilled people at work. Maybe I’ve learned something – not much danger of becoming a mechanic however! We have now reduced the three enormous pieces of very heavy structure to their component parts and manoeuvred them into the garden with jacks, wheels and rollers. Now the girls will prepare them and we will paint them and add the top bar for the swings. It’ll be just about the sturdiest swing in east Africa.

*

Frustratingly, motorbikes still seem to be elusive. I suppose I was over optimistic to imagine that international money transfers would happen over Christmas, with half the world on holiday. I am faintly encouraged in the fact that a transfer I made at the same time to my ‘son’ Dennis in Ghana is also undelivered. At least it means that there’s no particular problem with my transfer to Nairobi, for the system to Dennis has worked well on previous occasions. So I just have to hold myself in patience still longer. I wanted to be on my way by next Monday at the latest. At present I have no idea if that will happen. Another holiday weekend is approaching so if it’s not here by Saturday, it could well be the first days of January..! Almost a month. All I can do is wait. Huh.

It’s funny how nervous I become at this stage. Far from the intrepid traveller of some readers’ imaginations, about now I become apprehensive of the journey to come; of the unknown that I profess to enjoy so much. It’s quite different sitting as a passenger in Rico’s Land Cruiser looking out at the crazy antics of African traffic or African towns; passing the cheap ‘hotels’ with which I will have to haggle, and the prospect of negotiating it all myself; of overcoming all those fears, probably apocryphal, of robberies on the road, bad roads, wild elephants, disintegrated bridges, foaming rivers, and all the hazards of the tales that abound over our beers.

Of course, once on my way, even the first miles, it will all become a new journey filled with observation, nothing very dramatic to cope with, just living on my wits – that I know from past experience can deal with pretty much whatever befalls, usually with fun and interest. Much of it will be boring, some of it fascinating, and a very small percentage – the bit that makes all the discomfort and effort worthwhile – will be absolutely exhilarating and wonderful, memorable and the stuff of my future stories!

All as yet elusive…

*

On Wednesday afternoon I received an email that the money transfer company needed to speak to me in person, with a London phone number. It makes me appreciate just how easy that sort of action is from home… Not so easy from a rural town in western Kenya. By sitting in the corner of the garden behind Rico’s house I was able cheekily to piggy-back his neighbour’s connection and make a Skype call to London where, it seems, it wasn’t the large sum that you would expect to ring the alarms as it goes to ‘Nairobbery’, that caused the problems but the small sum I sent to Dennis, that I have sent often before. Oddly, that same transfer also triggered a fraud warning from my own bank that I had to deal with a few days ago. Well, it seems to be sorted and I am awaiting, on Thursday morning, the confirmation from the Nairobi bank. “I have to tell you that since you are using the money for purchase of goods, WorldRemit cannot be held responsible for any defective products,” the pleasant young man informed me from far away London. “That’s a risk I will accept happily when the money goes through!” I replied. It made me think: when I started my world travels in 1973 there was no way I could just phone home, transfer money to remote places or be in contact with anything but the world immediately around me. We certainly live in a different world fifty years later. Remember travellers’ cheques? Remember envelopes and stamps? Remember telegrams? Remember Telex? Come to that, remember Fax..? Doubtless, we will soon raise an ironic eyebrow and say, ‘Remember email? How SLOW it was’..!

DAY 21/22 THURSDAY/ FRIDAY 29th/30th DECEMBER 2016. KITALE, KENYA

FINALLY, at 4.35pm on Friday we had a call from Yuri, the bike owner, that the money had shown up in his account. We now had 25 minutes to transfer £80 to the transport company in Nairobi! Talk about ‘up to the wire’ at the eleventh hour! I gave Adelight 10,000 Kenyan Shillings and she jumped in the car and drove to town to send the money with her mobile phone. If we could get it to Titus, the transport fellow down in Nairobi, it would be on tonight’s Wells Fargo delivery to Kitale. It made for a nail-biting half hour, but at last, soon after six, we had confirmation that my ‘wheels’ should arrive by noon on New Year’s Eve! Wow. What a saga it has been. Early on Friday I discovered that I had missed a digit from Yuri’s bank account number and the transfer had failed – again.

Well, I suppose all’s well that ends well!

*

Meanwhile, we have constructed the swing for the children, spayed it this morning and even made a seat and had our first swingers enjoying the considerable work we have put into it over the past few days, activity that has maintained my sanity during this very frustrating period. It has been voted a success by the girls! A practical Christmas present for them all.

Thank goodness for the happy family around me that has kept me surprisingly content these past three weeks. It’s such fun to be part of this very cheerful group, one of the truest families I have ever been amongst, despite the fact that so few of them are actually blood relations…

DAY 23 SATURDAY 31st DECEMBER 2016. KITALE, KENYA

The last day of 2016, and at 10.45 the bike arrived! Phew, what a struggle it all has been. So now I can begin to plan my journey. Tomorrow, New Year’s Day, we will work on the bike – some brackets for my panniers, some new handlebars that Rico had for his old BMW GS, some brackets and bits that need attention. The bike seems alright and Cor, who has lots of motorbike maintenance experience, reckons it’s as good a buy as I would find here. It’s a bit small for my height, but it’s light too; it IS, though, the most expensive vehicle I ever bought, reckoned per cubic centimetre! Even my big BMW 1200GS cost only a quarter per cc! But that’s the way it is here: a ten year old, 73,022 kilometre small 200cc bike has cost me, including transport from Nairobi, just pennies short of £2000. But Rico and Cor reckon it will sell for as much when I am done with it.

Now, or soon, my safari can begin. Probably a shortish journey in Kenya to kick off before I depart for foreign parts.

*

As I grow older I wish New Year could happen at about 9.30! 2016 ended in a happy crowd at the Kitale Club annual New Year celebration, an event into which they must put a lot of work attended by the great and good (and, this being Africa, the corrupt and uncaught!) of Kitale glitterati, including the Rico family and guests. Squeezing all fourteen of us, plus baby Liam, into the Land Cruiser, we set off in full party rig, the girls dressed to kill, including their spray-on trousers, short skirts and elaborate hairstyles – looking great! We old white blokes couldn’t quite keep up the side…

Rico deserves unbounded respect for the way that, now with Adelight’s understanding, he has heroically created one of the truest ‘families’ it’s been my privilege to join for a few weeks. There is so much love, mutual support and delight in each other’s company amongst these girls and young women. There’s very little competition, no bickering, no mean-spiritedness – just a very cohesive spirit. It’s been a true lesson to witness this family life, for only a couple of them are related by blood, the relation that we, in the ‘developed’ world, count above all else. Family and community have so much more to do with generosity of spirit, acceptance of others and openness, mutual support, unselfishness and liberality than it has with mere kith and kin. Once again I applaud and honour the extended family system, probably the one aspect of African life that I admire above all others. Surely these profound human relations, this kindness and acceptance, this generosity embodied within such an extended family is the real meaning of life itself? Shy, quiet Rose, rescued from the street, is as much part if this FAMILY as anyone, equal, sharing and taking her part in a group that seems to be without hierarchy, rivalry, or strife. How have we, with our so called ‘development’ got it so wrong, become so aggressive, competitive, mean-spirited and self centred?

And 2016 must go down as one of the most mean-spirited years in history. Brexit, Trump, the rise of far right parties across the globe, ‘religious’ wars, greed and self interest; attitudes to refugees, outsiders, strangers; ignorance and ‘post-truth’ politics; people closing ranks to look after their own interests – surely one of the least generous years of my lifetime? Narrow, unquestioning ignorance, mean rhetoric exploited by liars and ambitious leaders and immoral corporate greed, abusing the vulnerability of the uninformed, whipping sentiment and alarm from the poorly educated and marginalised – it’s been a year worth putting behind us. Not a lot of which to be proud…

Although I have little hope that 2017 will actually teach many of us in the arrogant ‘advanced’ nations the lessons that I see about me on this ignored, misunderstood continent…

*

We sat beneath the decorated awnings and tents beside the 18th green, ubiquitous Chinese plastic chairs camouflaged in white nylon and ribbons, a good barbecue and buffet supper washed down with lots of pale gassy Tusker amongst several hundred folk, many of the adults poring over mobile phones to the detriment of bored small children. The young people of our considerable party were off behind the swimming pool where disco music thumped, more to their taste than the African beat of the live band entertaining our party, one singer’s awful voice tempered by her astonishingly mobile backside, gyrating in a frill like I have never seen! Small Shamilla and Sherry dozed, heads on the table as we waited the midnight hour. Then, at last, we saw in the New Year with the usual hugs and exclamations and eventually piled, fourteen of us, back into the car for the couple of miles home. By now Orion (the constellation on its side here on the Equator) now high overhead and a slight chill to the night air as we all fell into bed about one o’clock.

And so began 2017. Where, I wonder, will it take us all..?

*

I’m beginning to feel a trifle grubby. We have been without water for three days now! No internet and occasional power cuts. You have to adapt to live life in Africa. Just imagine the angst in a household of eight or nine pretty young women in England if they couldn’t shower and wash their hair twice a day!! Haha. I like to imagine that!

DAY 24 SUNDAY, NEW YEAR’S DAY 2017. KITALE, KENYA

Now that my safari gets to be a likelihood I am strangely reluctant to leave this happy family and relaxed lifestyle! But by Thursday Rico is off on a new contract in South Sudan and all the girls start school this week, so it will be a natural end to this most enjoyable holiday and the start of another journey. I will have been here most of a month, a third of my trip. But of course, if I want to I can later extend my stay a bit. It is limited only by my visa, which is easily extended here apparently. There’d be a charge for changing flights but I won’t make the decision for a few weeks until I see how it all goes and how the little blue bike performs and how I am enjoying myself in the new countries.

Rico and I fabricated an efficient rack to hold my pannier bags – well, I say Rico and I… of course, Rico did the making, I just did the observing and painting! Tomorrow we will fix new handlebars and attach the headlight properly; currently it is held on with cable ties. The clutch lever needs work and then we have to reregister the bike in Adelight’s name and get a local lawyer to make up a simple but bullshitting document that it is on loan to me. It has to be registered to a Kenyan citizen and Rico is still battling through the arcane system for his Kenyan passport. Then there’s the insurance to sort out too. I also have quite a shopping list: lock and chain, spare tube, mirror, spare key, replacement petrol pipe and the like. It’s an expensive option, owning your own vehicle in foreign lands. And I am certain I will be buying another in South Africa too! I am missing Lesotho and the free and easy travelling down there. I’m sure I’ll be back.

But for now, by Wednesday or Thursday I will be on my way at last to explore Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania! Lots of new people to meet…

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2 thoughts on “EAST AFRICA SAFARI – THREE

  1. Happy New Year, Jonathan. So lovely to read your news and cannot wait for the magical mystery tour to start on your motorbike! I have just begun my Christmas cake, so plenty to munch on over tea whilst catching up on your travels. Keep safe. Love, Francesca xx

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