DAY 25 MONDAY, 2nd JANUARY 2017. KITALE, KENYA
I came to Africa to travel about in my customary restless, footloose manner but find myself quite remarkably content in this charming household, wrapped in their warmth as I have seldom been. There’s so much difference between the small ‘nuclear’, European family life and that of a large, sharing extended family. Of course, that’s what I always found humbling in Africa. It’s a great gift, to be so accepted. I find myself totally at ease, comfortably welcome – and sleeping ten hours a night.
Soon I will be off on my own. Today I have had the benefit of two enthusiastic, knowledgeable mechanics working on the little blue bike – ‘expedition preparation’. We have made new brackets for the headlight, fitted much better handlebars which will be, coincidentally exactly the same as those that I have used for almost 35 years on my old friend, my African Elephant. It is good to have Cor and Rico working on the bike, giving it a good check up and inspection. I am further delayed by the extended holidays: we went to town this morning carrying a long list of parts to find and fit, but few shops and no businesses were open. It’ll be still a couple more days before I get going.
DAY 26/27 MONDAY/ TUESDAY 3rd/ 4th JANUARY 2017. KITALE, KENYA
Days go by. Weeks go by in Africa, and so far as actual achievement is concerned, it’s about the same thing!! Adelight, Cor and I spent no less than seven hours in the chaos of town trying to sort things out. The progress we made was slight – and made me appreciate just how simple it was to set up similar expeditions in South Africa. I hope that some items are successfully on order and may arrive tomorrow in Kitale. The bike couldn’t be registered to Adelight since the ‘system was down’ at the post office all day.
Back we go on Tuesday morning… Earlier this time: at the licensing office soon after nine. It’s a tiny, cramped office behind the post office that has obviously changed use from some form of internet cafe. There’s a large desk taking up most of the space between the old terminals; just about knee room for five plastic chairs and a large photocopier. Everything happens at snail-like pace as one fellow sits at a computer besieged by customers leaning on his desk, thrusting papers and ID cards beneath his nose as he appears to work on multiple applications. All the time more people come; everyone leans over his screen. Meanwhile the day’s newspapers are passed around… We sit… Time passes… Conversations are made into mobile phones on all sides… We continue to sit… Most of it is a mystery to me… On the computer it appears that Adelight’s ID has been recorded with someone else’s photo and phone number… She has to use her own phone to have the details changed on the ‘system’ (something of a misnomer, it seems to me)… We sit… Ten o’clock passes quietly by… The ‘system’ goes at the speed it goes… At least we are sitting down and it’s cool as yet… At any minute, of course, the ‘system’ could collapse as the internet goes down… Well, it’s still not a month that I’ve been here, trying to set up my motorbike safari… Adelight keys in numbers on her phone to change her citizen details, hands over the phone and they are copied (I assume) onto ‘the system’… We wait… Ah, the fellow at the computer asks for the logbook… A request for money, 2210 Kenya Shillings (£18), but we’ve no change now since I just gave the fellow at the other computer all my change – this in a post office… Adelight goes to the street for change… 10.15 passes… People come and go… At least Kenyans are quiet and unexcitable; in West Africa this’d be hell… Will the internet hold up..? Might as well read the paper… Gridlock in most towns yesterday as the holidays ended; matatus charging double fares to get people home and children to school. But the season’s over and hotels complaining that occupancy will be very low. Good news for me as I can bargain for better rooms. There are few international tourists coming now; Africa’s seen as too ‘unsafe’ (despite terrorist attacks in Europe, but people don’t rationalise these things)… It’s 10.30 – and we sit… Everyone’s on the phone just now. No one goes outside for this, of course… Read on… Controversy about elections, well, what’s new? This is an election year in Kenya. Should there be so much reliance on electronic voting? Here!?? Where ‘the system’ can’t even get Adelight’s picture and phone number on the same page as the rest of her details? 10.42. Something seems to be happening! Adelight’s entering the charges on her mobile phone cash transfer! We have paid eCitizen our £18! Not yet two hours, we’re doing well… When this is over, we still have insurance and a lawyer’s letter to authenticate the ‘loan’ of my motorbike to myself from Adelight… Ten more minutes pass… We have a print-out of a receipt… Documents – the logbook, no less! – handed along the line to the fellow at the second computer… We might get done under two hours..? Queries; Adelight looks concerned… Discussions, papers waving… Problem? Not sure what’s happening, but we seem to be leaving.
Not done yet though… “What now?” I ask as we exit to the bright sunshine in the dusty street. “We go to the bank to get my Kenya Revenue Document. Then we to to the lawyer and make photocopies…” Then, it seems, we send Patrick, who’s been in the back of the car these two hours, down to Eldoret, fifty miles away, to change the insurance documentation. That’s the nearest office of the insurance company Yuri used in Nairobi…
It’s 11.05. Two hours. I’m left in the car in the busy street. Adelight’s getting the next of the documents we need. At least I can watch the activity of the street while I wait this time – in the sunbathed car… Thus far, we have one document we didn’t leave home with. I wonder if the parts arrived from Nairobi? I bet there’ll be a problem there too… A small woman begs at my window. It’s always an attraction – a white skin. Fortunately I have a twenty-bob piece. Still called ‘bobs’ here! She needs it more than me, I guess. Africa makes you ponder wealth and poverty; there’s not much of one and a lot of the other. At least she blesses me. Not sure which god though, probably Allah with that headscarf… A man fills the pavement in front of me with a large heap of boxes of Twyford ceramic tiles. Next door is the ‘Botanic Studio’, digital prints. ‘Claxks Collection Boutique’, ‘the best quality you ever imagined’, not so hot on the spelling though, shares the shop, some dated mannequins on the pavement, oddly pink in Africa where all the customers are brown. The same small shop, about nine feet wide, seems to house ‘Cheringani Eye and Optical Services, Daktari Wa Macho’, the optician I assume, and ‘Stellar Cask Wines and Spirits, stockist, distributors, wholesalers, and retailers’. And I can see a sign that tells me that rooms 57 and 58 – in a store with a nine foot frontage! – holds the ‘Cheringani Nursing Home Out-patient Clinic’. In front of it all are four piles of cheap panel doors, a parked pedal cycle and a woman sitting in a ubiquitous Chinese plastic chair turning the pages of a large calendar in front of Simba Telecom. I have described about 25 feet of the view from the car!
11.22 and Adelight has the tax paper. Now to the lawyer… He’s on the first floor of a small shopping complex amongst dress shops and beauticians, a brushed aluminium and formica booth in a bigger office. A kind looking young man with a tidy mop of black hair and a friendly smile, ‘Kidiavai and Company, Commissioners For Oaths Notaries Public’. Confidence-inspiring piles of law books on the desk. Neat suit and tie, bare feet and flip-flops under the desk, I notice. An efficient typist and an easy manner, he taps out an affidavit to bullshit the authorities along my way. “I want lots of stamps and big signatures!” I joke with him, “I know they impress African policemen! Plenty of extravagant detail.” I couldn’t work in here all day, no natural light, just a tantalising glimpse in the central well… 12.05. Three hours and Ronny, the lawyer hands me an affidavit: …’being of sound mind competent to make an oath’ (after several hours of this torture there’s an argument to be made there…); ‘currently I am in Kenya on a safari/ visit… have borrowed a Motor Cycle Registration Number KMCF 482H… and blue in colour… from one Adelight Nanjala Barasa, a Kenyan citizen of National Identity Number… intend to use the said motorcycle to travel within the East African Community Countries… sworn at Kitale on this 4th day of January 2017 by the said Bean Jonathan… before me Aggrey L Kidiavai…’ Then he charges me another £40. This is my most expensive motorbike ever.
Ronny tells us there’s an agent of the insurer right opposite his office! Is this our first piece of serendipitous good fortune or is it too good to be true? Does Patrick have to go to Eldoret? We cross the sunny, congested road and enter a gloomy warren of security screened offices. Kenya Orient Insurance HAS an office. Lit by a single tube, three desks, two operatives and a fellow lounging on a chair playing a game on his mobile, ‘ping, ping, pung’. Tired paintwork, an old manual typewriter, the like of which I haven’t seen in years, big adverts on the walls, worn paint, stickers all over the desk fronts, ‘informally’ dressed agents, it doesn’t inspire much confidence, but if it works, who cares? Buckets and mops in the corner, floor cleaning rag draped over the security grilles. More customers enter, handshakes all round. Kenyans are polite. Our papers are taken away. We wait… Adelight is so patient, she’s used to it. 12.25. The insurance can’t be transferred. I need to buy it again! It’ll be another £25 – £40… Now we have to try to get the money back from Yuri. Fat chance… Why did he take insurance in his own name for a bike he was selling to someone else? Who knows? I suppose I could use that old excuse, so often repeated, ‘this is Africa’…
12.45 at Kitale Auto Spares. They didn’t put through my order yesterday. Why? Who the hell knows? Nothing will come until tomorrow… Twenty eight days since I left Harberton. What have I achieved for my journey so far? The counter fellow goes off for some information he says he got from a friend who ‘knows all about Suzukis’ about inner tubes. “Stay here! Don’t go.” I wait again. Ten minutes pass. Where is he? Down the street somewhere. Fifteen minutes. Then it’s one o’clock. He’s back with a tube he swears that his friend who’s an expert on Suzukis says will fit. It’s bloody expensive. Another £24 – for an inner tube! It’d be about a tenner at home. Now long phone calls about the front tube. No one does anything unless you are standing there. We discussed this 26 hours ago but nothing was done. I wait… The upshot..? No answer. He will try to get the information, but I know he will forget the minute I turn my back. I appeal to his better nature, “I have been here in Kenya one whole month trying to get my safari started!” Maybe he’ll have the information tomorrow. Maybe. We part with many greetings and exclamations about the way I once rode from Cape Town to Lokichoggio, the end of Kenya north of here. He is Charles and I now have a number for him, his ‘hot line’, he calls it, in case I need help or to talk to his friend who ‘knows all about Suzuki 200 piki-pikis’, he says.
Then we have shopping to do and school fees to pay. But everyone leaves this until the final moment possible – and it’s the end of the month and most Africans live hand to mouth, queues long and snaking round banks to get their salaries on the last days of the month – or in this case, the first after the holidays. We will wait hours in queues to pay the school fees of four of the girls. It’s not cheap, either. A whole year at most of the girls’ schools costs about £400, that’s for their harsh and basic boarding fees, poor food and tuition. Adelight has to supply washing soap, laundry soap, mattresses, sanitary products, shoe polish, pencils, paper, books and even erasers. Yesterday I trolleyed a huge load to the car from the supermarket. At home all the girls were having their elaborate holiday hair styles reduced to school regulation weaves. Scovia was scathing about the reduction of her fancy styles to this rigorous convention!
It’s hot in this, the third bank. Adelight’s about eighth in line here. At 2.15 she makes it to the pay desk. That’s the second school bill paid. Only two more to go! Every school uses a different bank… The cashier counts. 19,000 Kenya Shillings. Rico’s only paying a term at a time just now until his new contract brings more money. Caring for all these young women takes a lot of cash. At Barclays the queue is seventy or eighty people long. Four cashiers. Say three minutes a transaction, minimum, and that’s at least an hour, but it doesn’t look to be moving THAT fast! Fortunately, in African style, Adelight has an introduction to one of the security guards and maybe we can cut this corner? She wants lunch! We wait…
We are done! Except (always a qualification here!) we must come back for a receipt. It’s 2.40. We left home at 8.50. At last it’s lunchtime – at the Iroko Hotel, a balcony bar above the chaos. Some very dead sheep and fried bananas. The meat’s not exactly butchered, more thrashed to bits, little bits filled with shards of bone, perilous territory for my weak English teeth, the front one that just maintains my smile wobbling in anticipatory fear. I flick a fly from my juice. In Ghana they always say you can tell three stages of white men’s adaptation to Africa: when a fly settles in a tourist’s beer, he calls for another beer. When a fly settles in a frequent visitor’s beer he pours off the top. When a fly settles in an adapted traveller’s beer, he flicks the fly on the floor and continues to drink! The waiter has a great smile: no problems with breaking teeth and sheep bones for him.
Twenty past three. Back in Barclays the queue’s still fifty strong. We’d probably still be waiting. The little schoolgirl with whom I joked an hour ago still sits by the window. “Have a good time at school! Work hard!” A shy smile. She sits on patiently. Perhaps a parent is in the long snaking line? But in Africa who you know is paramount. We’re here for the receipt from Adelight’s contact… We wait… Adelight’s patience seems bottomless. Long inured, I guess… The contact is not around… We wait… 3.30, she spots him. “He’s comin’!”. 3.33, we are done with school fees.
“Now, we just do some shopping and we go..!” Well, that came as a bit of a surprise: ‘we just do some shopping’!
We push our way into a seething Indian supermarket, crowded surely beyond any safety limit. It’s the last day of the school holidays. Everyone, everyone and her daughter or son, are shopping, all the same things we had in our vast trolley yesterday: soap, sanitary towels, loo rolls, shoe polish, tin trunks. It’s bedlam. We buy some school shorts and a shirt for little Shamilla. I get a tee shirt to replace the increasingly holey one that’s had four trips in Africa, perhaps hand-washed 100 times. We are done! But no: “I just buy some tomatoes!” Adelight’s a great one for springing surprises, just as well she’s such good company! “You wait here..?” and she leaves me penned in amongst shopping trolleys at the foot of the stairs, watching people in a contented manner I’d never manage in Totnes Morrisons. Ten minutes pass. The tomatoes have multiplied to a full basket of goods. We sneak back upstairs to less busy tills to pay…
At 3.59 we are done! It only took seven hours. I’ve shaken hands with dozens of strangers, stayed remarkably calm and observed a lot of African life, packed humanity, dodged the floods of unlicensed motorbike taxis, tripped over the uneven pavements – even picked one poor old woman up off the floor. I am hot and weary. Adelight’s still smiling: “but I feel headache…” I’m not surprised. For me it’s all something of a novelty, quite entertaining. She does this several times a week.
4.15 and we are home. And I thought that what we’d just been through was bad. Rico has spent his day with a patchy internet connection trying to work out how he can receive his 40 foot container of personal effects that’s coming from Holland. It’s got to Nairobi today. They insist he must bring the original copy of his passport to customs. He’s leaving for South Sudan for three months tomorrow! With said passport… ‘Oh, this is Africa’, goes the old excuse that changes nothing, just perpetuates this astonishing, arcane inefficiency and bureaucracy, and wastes millions of man/woman hours…
Thank god it’s only 45 minutes to Beer O’clock. Another day has passed in Africa. I haven’t ridden even a yard on my – now becoming almost two and a half thousand pound motorbike – yet! I’ve been in Kenya a month, come ‘tomorrow next’ (a Ghanaian idiom)…
Will tomorrow advance my piki-piki safari? Who knows? ‘This is Africa’, always with a half-amused shrug…
Thank goodness for ten minutes’ of magical, antidotal Schubert’s ‘notturno’ trio on the iPad and I know I’ll sleep like a log in the garage office, for a month now my haven.. I’ll dream lengthy dreams (but remember none): I always do in Africa…
DAY 28 WEDNESDAY 5th JANUARY 2017. KITALE, KENYA
One thing achieved a day – if you’re lucky. I bought insurance for the bike, deciding just to ignore the wasted £40 already spent on the utterly useless policy that Yuri took in his own name and invet another £25 in this most expensive of all my motorbikes. I just haven’t the energy to fight that one. Not now. I want to get on with my journey. I am determined to leave on Saturday. In fact, I am astonished at my patience and general satisfaction at my time in Kitale. It’s a testament to the warmth of Rico’s extraordinary family.
Today Rico left for his contract in South Sudan. I am missing his comfortable friendship and his support in the practical matter of the bike. I haven’t the same commitment from Cor and have spent the evening trying to put the bike back together myself with the parts that finally arrived at Kitale Auto Spares. However, I just cannot adjust the clutch! I am dependent on Cor’s knowledge, but he is diverted onto other matters concerning the container from Holland, the paperwork for which takes hours and hours about town. I just hope he will spare me time to fix the clutch in the morning… I haven’t even ridden the bike a yard yet. And I mean to set off on a several thousand mile trip on Saturday. Once again, it’ll just be a matter of hoping for the best… Well, it won’t be the first time I set off on long motorbike expeditions totally unprepared!
The bureaucracy that the whole process has involved has been boggling. Everything has to be written out, photocopied on cranky copiers or elderly scanners, authorised, checked, taken to other departments, paid for elsewhere, receipted, countersigned, listed, entered into computers and ledgers, signed and sealed. The shameful thing is: we British brought all this nonsense to Africa, probably to control the ‘natives’. It’s ghastly, arcane and incredibly frustrating, open to corruption at every level and wastes millions of working hours. If I’d known how much energy and mental anguish would be involved I’m not even sure I’d have started. And that’s not even to consider the cost. How can a ten year old, battered and well used, not very impressive old 200cc Suzuki from pretty low down the range of motorcycling style have possibly cost me – so far – about £2270? I wouldn’t have paid £600 or £700 in England without raised eyebrows. It would have cost me no more to have imported a bike from home – a vastly better bike – on a carnet de passage customs bond, including air freight. I know it was fifteen years ago, but it cost me £400 to ship my Elephant to Durban and £250 to fly it back from Mombasa. Today I spent over £85 on a not very high quality – certainly not an original Suzuki part – clutch lever and clutch lever handlebar bracket. I’d have refused with derisive laughter if I’d been charged more than say £25or £30 in Europe for a similar poor quality casting, probably made in China.
I hope for Saturday, I really do. Watch this space. I hope the next entry will have a new header address!