Master mason with assistant

The ride back round the mountain between Kenya and Uganda becomes easier each week, now the contractors are approaching the end of their work on the sweeping road. It’s impressive work – with attendant immense debts to one of the world’s greediest nations. As I’ve frequently commented: I have yet to see a Chinese charity on this continent – or any other…

Expecting the usual rusted tin-roofed huts of the Kenya immigration services at the border, I rode right past the new mirror-glass office, occupied rather untidily since my last visit three weeks ago, and had to turn back to complete formalities. The old bridge, the one on which both parapets had collapsed on my last passing, is now redundant, bypassed by the new – mud surfaced as yet – concrete monster over the dirty trickle that defines the international border.

I’m known at Suam Border these days, there are no other mzee mzungus passing this way on motorbikes. I’m soon on my way towards Kapchorwa, now less than an hour and a half away – a journey that used to take three or four hours of very hard effort. I’ve delayed leaving for Uganda by a day so I could join Adelight in celebrating her 40th birthday on Saturday. We have a cheerful, noisy event despite an all-day power outage. A dozen or so of her women friends come and demolish a 5 litre box of wine and eat chicken and rice. It’s turmoil for a few hours, but Adelight is happy with her day. I’d planned to ride to Sipi on Friday, to enjoy the weekend with the two children, now schools are back.

I never tire of the magnificence of the road to Sipi

Everyone’s waiting for me at Rock Gardens, although the two children are oddly shy, considering they’ve been constantly asking where their mzungu was. I’ve come to really love these two; two of the most delightful children I’ve ever known – of course, the fact that one of them has all the same names as me helped that bond, but they’re charmers: JB2 more demonstrative and noisy than his very lovely sister. They’re only a couple of years apart, so they make good companions to each other. I needn’t have worried about missing them as Alex has been too timid to admit that he hasn’t money for their school fees, so they haven’t started back yet, missing the first few not very busy days. So I enjoy their happy company for the first two days anyway, until we can go and pay the fees for their relatively expensive private school in Kapchorwa, ten miles away. The fees are increased by the transport – the minibus comes to pick these two – aged four and six – at 5.30 am and drops them home around 6.30 in the evening. I transfer the £300 that will cover their education until the end of April. A third of that is to cover their transport to school in the minibus, ten miles each way. It’s a happy investment for me. That evening by the fire pit, I tell Keilah she can be a doctor, or a pilot, or whatever she wants, in contrast to expectations for a mere girl-child in Uganda…

JBs 1and 2 and Keilah. We’d just made a video call to Leslie in Florida and excitement was high!


It can be depressing to listen to much of the daily life in a rural African community where education is low, ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ rule social life and there is so little enlightenment. One of the most distressing aspects is the total inequality of half the population, the abused, downtrodden, dominated women. So many places live by medieval standards – not discouraged by the Catholic church, the corrupt ‘pastors’, the misogynistic governments and certainly not by Islam… Women are inferior: that half of the population who coincidentally do all the work. Like slaves. So says the myth that upholds ‘culture’.

Under European law (were the – largely male – police more diligent in upholding it in these cases too of course) many African men would be beneficially behind bars. I hear such awful, unjust stories: tales that would be upheld as rape and abuse in legions of cases.

The subject comes up as we sit by the Rock Gardens fire pit in the moonlit evening. Precious is sitting on the grass; I am in the larger Chinese plastic chair that’s usually provided for me as the mzee (old man) and Alex in one of the less comfortable Chinese bits of junk. “Are you comfortable down there?” I ask Precious, “or are you there from ‘tradition’?” with an ironic emphasis on the last word.

“Oh, women should always sit at the feet of men!” she responds, with a slightly embarrassed chuckle. “We should serve or men from the floor and never sit on a chair with them.”

Precious uses the new kitchen stove for the first time, chips ahoy!

So, of course, to make a silly point, I get down on the grass too. She laughs a little uncertainly. And the stories come. Terrible tales of marital torture, abuse, rape; appalling antique attitudes to child rearing; child abuse; the curse of women (never the men to blame) bearing girl children; sexual abuse of minors; male police being engaged to drag women for intimate tests at hospital; men who create so many children with so many women but take no responsibility thereafter, financial or moral. Precious tells me of the insults she has to bear for having only two children; belief of her inadequacies; of how many believe she has only one child anyway, for Keilah is a mere girl and remains uncounted by most.

This is truly a desperately backward country. The frustrations I used to feel that I couldn’t change attitudes in Ghana – a developed country compared to this social mess – is nothing to the anger that begins to grip as Precious continues a litany stories. I feel a cloud of real depression that people must live like this, with these antediluvian social attitudes in the 21st century. To live in this social dereliction, with an utterly corrupt society ruled by a disaster of a ‘government’, and influenced by outdated misogynistic religions; where in practice men have all the human rights; homophobia is at an extreme level and homosexuality remains a criminal offence; where children – even today – are sold for medieval witchcraft; where those engaging in underage sex with children and young girls are considered fortunate for the opportunity; incest is unpunished; children uneducated because the men that fathered them have moved on to other ‘wives’; where drunkenness is so common; families beggared by ‘traditional’ funeral practices…

Thank god I can go home to my comforts, even if we complain of outdated attitudes and uneven application of the laws, of unequal rights of women, of the inequities of economic distribution and so much more. My only sadness is that I leave behind a quite enlightened family whom I’ve come to love, abandoned in this appalling medieval ‘culture’. Maybe Alex’s good sense and my influence may get these two delightful children educated – equally – and make an infinitesimal change in attitudes. They are already known in this backward rural village as the two best English speaking children, bright and intelligent – but no one makes the link between a small family of a mere two children (well, one a and a bit, as Keilah doesn’t count for most) and the stimulation and better education levels that can be thus afforded.

Oh, Africa opens your eyes when you get beneath the gloss and glitz of the animal safaris and extreme sports, the big sights and the luxury tented camps. Come and live in a benighted Ugandan village and you learn the realities of much of the world’s social order. And it’s ugly.


But my relation with the two children is fun and charming. While the money transfers and the school minibus is worked on (they’ve just had a long holiday, and I do wonder why they wait until term starts? Perhaps it’s just that until then there’s no cash in the school coffers either?) on Monday, Alex and I visit the school. I cause chaos: a mzungu in the playground! Hundreds of lovely small children mob me as I talk to Teacher Rose. They are screaming and waving, trying to touch my hands and oddly hairy arms.

It’s quite delightful. Teacher Rose remembers me, even my name, but of course, she has a pretty good clue in her four year old pupil, Jonathan Bean Cheptai! I wonder what they think here? A mzungu granddad, whom they must know is sponsoring these two little people. There seems to be no envy or jealousy, just a realisation that these two have good fortune that so many lack – but these are educated teachers; it’s amongst the ignorant that the real jealousy occurs: people without the understanding that it’s Alex’s integrity and hard work that made us to bond. Sadly, ignorance is rife here in Uganda, almost the norm. There are thousands of children NOT at school, even on our ramblings around the villages. Well, there will be, with the average mother giving birth to seven children, won’t there? And fathers with no responsibility. The ones at Shalom Primary and Nursery are the fortunate ones, who might even have a future in this derelict country…


Hot water is a major step – for me at least.

Tuesday, it’s back to work. I suggest we complete the earth oven and the oil drum hot water heater, and finish off the new kitchen before we attack the latrine block. Tom, the appalling wood butcher is here today. Keep me away from working near him! He calls himself a carpenter but the work’s truly dreadful and bent nails are everywhere. Much of his day is spent on his mobile phone, or talking with friends, the rest in resharpening his ancient saw and sawing very slowly. A carpenter with no tools of his own except an antique saw, a venerable plane and a panga (machete). Why, I wonder in frustration, doesn’t he buy himself a bow saw? They aren’t expensive (£5, I went and bought one myself), cut faster and with far less effort. But it wouldn’t occur to anyone here to invest to accumulate: just not language they’d understand. Fortunately, he’s elsewhere in the compound, making two tables (with panga and saw) in the time I’d’ve made four…

The ‘sunset terrace’ on 1818 bar.

Keilah and JB2 love to get involved with our building works. We’re making a final mix for the earth oven: this one’s made from sand, earth and cow shit. It’s a bit smelly, but inoffensive, and one of the world’s oldest building techniques after all. They love slapping the mixture onto our domed oven, making ‘mandazis’ – mud balls – for Uncle Jonathan (a mandazi is a sort of fried bread ball – A popular schoolchild snack. VERY boring!) and slopping about in the mud-mixing heap in their bare feet. They are utterly filthy and having fun working with Daddy and Uncle. I’m proud of our oven and we’re all looking forward to trying it out. The hot water drum is progressing: I think I’ll be able to wash down in a jerrycan of warm water by tomorrow if the fire draws under the drum.

JB rides the wheelbarrow.


For two nights, William travels to Sipi from Kessup. He can’t come for longer as his precious cow, Dutch, will pine for his attention! He arrives on Wednesday evening, forced to take a boda-boda from Suam to Kapchorwa, poor fellow, as no matatus were available after lunch. He’s quite excited to be on a trip, however short. Most people seldom move beyond their communities – it’s an unnecessary expense. During his time in the police, William visited Uganda, but now he never goes beyond Eldoret, his local city, or Iten, his local town.

William and Alex cross a land slip. It always seems we walk uphill round here…

Now, with both my walking companions in one place, it’s pretty obvious how we’ll spend Thursday. We set out at ten and walk for eight hours again. By six, I am flagging – I’ve got a stomach that is earth-quaking on me. I’ve picked up parasites in my gut. A couple of days later, Alex gets it even worse than me. A hazard of the sort of travelling I do… It’s a bit uncomfortable but it’s not the runs, just grinding and gassy as a jet engine. Hopefully, yoghurt, ginger and a few days will sort it out. It saps my energy and I’m delighted when Alex spots a neighbour in his ancient, battered Land Cruiser and negotiates a ride home the last five miles (no one in Sipi does anything for nothing: there’s no concept of giving a lift to your neighbour).

Once again, we walk to Doreen and Leonard’s home, taking the high route this time, teetering along the very edge of the escarpment cliffs. “It’s a great route to bring guests,” I say to Alex, “but make sure they are fit and have no suicidal tendencies!” The lips of several hundred feet drops are thick with grasses and scrub: it’d be very easy to slip and disappear over the edge… I love this route, one of the best we’ve taken in the dramatic surroundings up here above the apparently limitless plains of central Uganda. Walks here are strenuous, with much climbing – oddly, we never seem to descend by the same amount! It always appears to be uphill here…

Children shout excitedly: they should be in school of course, but when you’ve so many and no money, education is ignored – and a lot of them are girls anyway. “I’m not sending girls to school for another man!” is a scandalous expression I’ve heard several times here. Girls are disposable, and make money for the fathers in dowry, but an educated girl brings trouble and doesn’t increase their value. It’s a very unenlightened community.

We pass through small scruffy villages, ankle deep in plastic refuse that no one sees. Single-use bottles crunch underfoot. It’s horrible, and the plastic extends across the high slopes everywhere we venture; it’s in the fields, piled up around rural homes, stuck on thorn trees. Everywhere. What are we doing to our fragile planet? The irony is, that Kenya passed laws banning plastic carrier bags, and I’m even instructed on the aeroplane flight down that I may not import plastic bags – yet every loaf of bread, every food product, every Chinese item, is wrapped in plastic.

But Uganda’s very green too. We walk through small forests and endless waving matoke trees. Red dust swirls, as always, round our shoes. Those we pass are friendly and cheerful. “Stop torturing your old mzungu! Get him a boda!” some call. Alex and William laugh; William understands the language here. He calls this his grandfather’s home, as his Kalenjin tribe in Kenya is closely related to the tribe here; their dialect is different, but the language is recognisable. His tribe migrated from here at some time. In so much of Africa, people just a few miles apart often have another language. We don’t have to go far for Alex, a very quick linguist, to be struggling with tiny local tongues spoken in very limited areas. And, as I’ve often written, most identify with their tribe before their nationality – which is a major reason for the malfunctioning of so much of African politics. That and outright corruption.

A cheery local woman follows William up the first ladder.
Then it’s my turn.

Through the steep undergrowth and tiny fields on the steepest of slopes, we find our way to the ladder I remember so well from a walk two years ago. It’s about 40 feet high and constructed of nailed branches in an alarmingly informal way. It gets us up a small cliff to slopes on which we can clamber between postage stamp fields and crazy dangerous terraces. We pass through some more villages and then take off on a twisting path across the clifftops.

The view from the top! The ladders begin here.

We are approaching the very tall steel ladders that we now know quite well. They plunge down about 200 feet alongside a very impressive, photogenic bluff, with Uganda spread endlessly beyond. William is a bit phased by these two very long ladders. They’ve handrails – unlike some along this escarpment – but are long and steeply pitched. But we talk him down with a bit of encouragement and then delve off down the rocky precipices to the red road far below.

William wasn’t so sure about the long ladder…

We come off the semi-vertical lands almost at Doreen’s house. She’s surprised to see us, and delighted. We like these two, Doreen and Leonard – he of the father with 60 children, which I now find may be 64! His 25 year old youngest brother, a very handsome young man, last born of the multi-bigamist (not that anyone’d recognise the concept. He’s just admired as a ‘strong’ man) joins us, and seems to think he’s number 64… The old man is 83 and still alive; he lives just down the hill, but we haven’t time to visit now. Maybe he doesn’t know the final count of his profligacy himself..?

Doreen makes us weak milky coffee from her own beans, and Leonard is thrilled to find us visiting again. We agree that sometime Alex and I must visit and stay overnight, perhaps exploring further round the cliff faces with Leonard. As last time, he accompanies us many miles on our homeward journey, a most affable fellow. But by the time it’s coming up to six in the evening, after maybe 15 miles of very hard walking, we get back to the tar road that clambers up the cliff-sides to Sipi, and this is when I’m delighted to see Alex recognise his neighbour. We were about to negotiate for a dangerous boda-boda ride – and I spend time refusing to pay if they freewheel down any hills. “I shall deduct 500 bob every time you freewheel!” Twice, recently, I had to use a boda and was astonished to find that neither rider had the faintest idea how to ride downhill in gear! They’ve never done it until I insist on engine braking. Alex and I never rode so slowly to Kapchorwa and back home! I quite enjoyed looking at the roadside activity for a change…



William hasn’t been in Uganda for some years, and even he is shocked by the differences between it and his country. Kenya is forging ahead in development, while this wrecked country is deteriorating by the day with its corrupt, disinterested, uncaring government that works only for its self-enrichment under its staggeringly wealthy 37-year president. “Eh! If only Alex, Precious, JB and I could each pick a corner of this compound,” he exclaims, gesturing to the green pleasures of Rock Gardens, “if we could pick it up and transport it to Kenya! You’d be millionaires very FAST!”


For a week, I had some trouble starting the Mosquito. I always fear mechanical problems as I’ve so little aptitude for engines. I diagnosed the problem to the starter relay or starter motor, but felt unconfident about even the simplest surgery. Alex found me reasonable fundi (repair-person) who seemed to know his way about my bike. Kato has a small kiosk workshop in Kapchorwa, but came the ten miles to Rock Gardens to work on the machine, taking the starter motor away to open it up. Next day, he’d found a replacement armature and brushes, but still I couldn’t start the engine from cold, so while taking William back to Kapchorwa to find a matatu to Kenya, I called at Kato’s workshop. Of course, all work is done in the dust on the street-side, but he appears knowledgeable and better than most, whose only tool is a hammer. He’s now ordered me a new rear tyre and stopped some of the rattles (the engine was loose!) and so far I trust him. He’s tried to fix the coil connections, which may be the problem, but I’m happy to find a local fundi who seems to know what he’s doing, now Rico is the other side of the mountain.

A couple of days later, the Mosquito starts first push of the button, as it used to. Somewhere, he’s done something right at least.


Trees planted just a year ago are now beautiful.

Then it’s back to overseeing appalling ‘workmen’ at home. Tom, the wood butcher is making doors for the latrine. With him is a so-called mason. Having lost my rag already, I can’t bear to watch. The ‘mason’ is plastering around the crooked door frames, complaining about our cement mix – only about 1:4 instead of about 1:2 – I’m sure as soon as we turn our backs more cement goes in. He’s plastering above a heap of chippings and rubble, into which his fresh smooth plaster falls. It’s dreadful to watch. “For god’s sake, CLEAN up between processes!” I exclaim angrily. “THINK!” He’s here for hours and does almost nothing. I’d’ve finished the lot in a couple of hours. Meanwhile, a sign-writer comes to repaint the sign to go at the roadside in town. He brings an ‘assistant’, who does nothing – very slowly. They buy paint and while the ‘assistant’ holds the sign upright in the middle of the garden, the sign-writer paints both sides and the legs liberally with gloss paint thinned with copious petrol from my Mosquito. “Just watch,” I murmur to Alex, “soon they’ll wonder how to move it, covered in wet gloss paint!” We chuckle as they struggle with the unwieldy sticky board and carry it, paint on hands, to lean it against a tree. “No planning… EVER!” Maybe tomorrow, he’ll paint one side against the tree, then turn it round – or maybe he’ll have the ‘assistant’ hold it upright again… Or maybe he’ll never turn up again.

Hinges fixed with three inch nails and firewood.

Wood Butcher Tom bends nails and bodges brackets for bent hinges from firewood, a four inch nail the answer to all fixings. He hammers nails crookedly through varnished doors and bends the ends over on the inside. He planes door planks and frames from timber that’s so freshly cut it’s damp to the touch. I draw a ledge and brace door for him – a first for Sipi. He looks mystified, but makes three doors for the latrine. They might be the only doors in Sipi that don’t sag and drag on the floor. I explain the dynamics of the door; how the brace goes outwards to support the swinging edge. He hangs the first door, while I oversee. Then I go away to do something else and come back and find him hanging the second door upside down… He’s hammering in three inch nails to hold the hinges; the heads are too big and the door won’t shut. He’s about to beat another three inch nail through the door and bend the end over to hold the bolt. “Use a short nail!” I shout. “Think what things look like, covered in bent nails!” The bolt and hasp for the kitchen door are fixed with THIRTEEN bent over nails. He uses a six inch nail as a chisel to make the hole for the bolt. “You call yourself a carpenter, but you’ve no tools! Buy some tools, make life easier for yourself, get the work done faster, get more work: get more money! It’s economics…” No one looks. No one sees. No one plans.

13 bent nails hold the kitchen door bolt.

And the sign-writer measures the steel sign board with his finger span, for transfer to a computer programme… He hasn’t a tape measure. No one invests in even the simplest tools to aid their work. With forethought, planning and management so rare on this continent and absent in uneducated Uganda, no one sees the advantage to their career as they look at immediate gratification in the pennies they earn from their dreadful work.

I can’t stand to watch: it’s SO frustrating. I could do all these jobs quicker and better myself. Here in Sipi, I often do.

The only tool that is never stolen is the spirit level I bought in Kenya. No one uses one…


The gardens flourish…

The kitchen progresses well, and the toilet block too. I devised a gents and ladies’ urinal, using cement, and we screeded the floors. Butcher Tom managed finally to get the three doors fitted right way up. We’ve employed just young Abraham who, at 16 is a better worker than them all. He should, of course, be attending school, but his father disappeared some time back and has never been heard of again. He’s a tiny, slight lad, but willing and keen. Unlike his seniors, who all know best and certainly don’t want introduction to any new ideas, he follows instruction and even anticipates next steps as we work. He’s the only Sipi worker whom I have seen run across the garden to fill another jerrycan of water! A day’s work in Sipi is rewarded by about £3 for most labourers, up to perhaps £5 for a ‘master’ – of whom there are actually none at all…

Jonathan Bean Cheptai

Shopping for what materials are available is frustrating indeed. Buying the plumbing bits we needed for the kitchen sink took the best part of an hour in a shambolic store. The woman assistant tried to serve three customers at once, knew where nothing was and had to search through sacks and bins of fittings, had no prices to hand, having to phone a remote boss somewhere for all advice and costs. Receipts have to be written in old ledgers with carbon copies; there’s no packaging except the ubiquitous flimsy black plastic bags. In another scruffy concrete block lock-up, we bought tiles and adhesive. I suggested plain white for the kitchen counters, and on getting home, find patterned white. No one cares, except Alex and me, but we’re not prepared to go the ten miles back and argue it out, so the kitchen gets patterned counters. We purchase timber trims: 20 feet or so of sort-of four by three quarter inch wood, cut crooked on a circular saw and ‘planed’ badly from wood so wet it’s almost weeping.

Alex fires up the water heater for our evening comfort.

Back home, I try to make sense of Tom the wood butcher’s uneven, unsquare, crooked woodwork. I’m expected to apply tiles to this mess! Happily, I am resourceful and manage to sort it out more or less. Actually, despite the frustration at having always to correct others’ work, I secretly enjoy this sort of bodgery; I’m good at it: scenery making has always involved a certain informality of work practices. We work into the early evening, and by the end the kitchen begins to look better, with some right angle corners here and there, a novelty in Sipi. I’ve got the trims on, all bodged onto spacers of bits of firewood, and not a screw to be seen: you can’t even BUY them in Sipi, so everything is hammered together with flat-headed nails (you can’t get pins or lost-head nails: no one even knows what they are in Uganda). I do my best and am privately rather chuffed to make a silk purse from Tom’s pig’s ear. Well, maybe not SILK, but order at least…


Overloading is an art form here.

Riding to Kapchorwa one morning, people are running from all corners. There’s been another accident on the road, not an uncommon event in this country in which derelict vehicles often run out of control through lack of maintenance, appalling driving and total lack of care by any authority in this uncaring country. Not many are insured: it’s cheaper just to pay the expected bribe to any police who check. There are well over 1000 boda-boda taxi motorbikes in Kapchorwa, a town of 50,000 inhabitants. I doubt 10% have insurance. In the last two or three weeks, just here around Sipi village, a lorry ran out of control in the night and ended up crushing a house below the roadside, causing the death of a child: the truck’s still there, wheels in the air. A truck knocked down a pedestrian youth and killed him and drove on. A boda rider was killed, racing his friend on the main road – and now everyone’s running in ghoulish excitement and voyeuristic thrill to see another accident. We ride through a throng of perhaps 300 people rubber-necking, with nothing better to do than be titillated by a new horror. A container wagon is wheels up below the road, the cab crushed to a twist of steel. Later, we find that the driver was freewheeling downhill – with a hugely heavy 40 foot container of tyres headed for Kenya, when inevitably the brakes failed. Sadly, in self-administering the death penalty for his stupidity, he’s widowed a boda rider’s wife and orphaned two small children too. Says Alex, “They freewheel to save fuel. Then they can syphon it out and resell it at their destination, because the owner of the truck will have estimated the fuel use…” Of such is the blanket of comprehensive corruption in this extraordinarily corrupt land – where the examples from the VERY top, and all the way down the ladder are that corruption pays much better than work. Junior police officers are frequently tasked with a certain financial target for their desk-bound bosses before they can take their own ‘reward’. I often watch money change hands, without much attempt at disguise. It’s universal in Uganda, the norm. The country runs on corruption. Uganda’s not a ‘developing country’, it’s undeveloping year by miserable year.


The new kitchen. Produced in difficult circumstances in a few days’ work. HARD work…

Just as well that my best relaxation is to be busy, for I’ve certainly left some changes at Rock Gardens. Now we just need customers… I’ve completed the latrine block (both the round thatched cottages have their own simple bathrooms. The latrine is for events or campers); I’ve built from scratch – with help/ hinderance from local ‘builders’ – the new kitchen; created the earth bread oven, and the hot water heater, the lighting of which has become a norm in the late afternoon. It doesn’t take long to warm water for bathing after a long day of dirty hard work. I made a clean concrete water point around the tap. I’ve decorated the sign-writer’s rather boring signboard for the village roadside, and written the new website. And I’ve eaten bread and local honey for breakfast for the past four mornings!

Precious prepares the bread tins.

Some days, I haven’t left the compound. I feel good from all the activity, despite an inability to shake off the pesky parasites that have temporarily invaded my guts; medication doesn’t seem to work and I’m resisting antibiotics as long as I can… My energy is back, which is a good sign and the loss of an inch or more from my stomach is always welcome. Space for decent beer next month!

The first bread production at Rock Gardens.

After two more weeks of working on what’s now as much my investment as Alex’s, I must ride back to Kitale to regroup for the next section of my journey. I must be in Tanzania to direct and dress the filming, and take photos for my American colleagues between the 27th February and the 5th of March. That’s the nearest dates I have as yet. I’ve decided to ride across Uganda, dropping back to Sipi overnight on the way. From here it’ll take me three days to ride to the far border. I’ve determined on this route because In 2017, I rode through the top of Tanzania from Rwanda to Kenya, and had some trouble persuading customs men to allow me to import my motorbike to their country. Confused as to what to do, they allowed me a transit permit only. This time, I can’t afford to arrive at the Kenya/ Tanzania border to find import difficulties, as the journey from there is over 1000 kilometres. If I’ve problems at the Uganda/ Tanzania border, the hospital is only 30 kilometres away. I can leave my piki-piki in Uganda and continue by public means if necessary.

Aunt Khalifa witnesses the first loaves.
Aunt Khalifa, Precious, and young Abraham test the bread.


But, rather more urgently than border problems, I have a difficult ride back to Suam border. My Mosquito is sick. As soon as I ride away from Rock Gardens, I sense that there’s a problem. The bike seems to lack power on hills, even on the slight rise from Rock Gardens. Alex has thoughtfully washed the machine for me before I got up, maybe there’s water somewhere and it’ll burn off. I get to the tar road and am struggling up the hills, but maybe it’s the very strong headwinds? I nurse the machine to Kapchorwa and beyond. It’s straining. Then, after 15 kilometres, it stops. I fiddle uselessly, and then it starts again. Later, it starts to misfire in the middle of nowhere. I creep to the next village, Chesower. I remember that Kato, the Kapchorwa mechanic, had to fit a Chinese spark plug, but in Mbale I remembered to buy a Japanese one. I swap them and for 20 kilometres more, all is well. Still a bit sluggish on hills, but 80% better. I’m happy again.

Six kilometres from the Kenya border, the engine fails completely, no spark… After a while, I negotiate a tow with Wilson, a boda-boda rider. He asks £10, but agrees to £2! We set off, using a locally woven rope. I can’t tie the rope as I’d like, with an ‘escape route’, whereby I can release the tow rope, because of the silly plastic fairing on top of my bars, so we must make do. That’s the cause of my undoing when the rope gets caught around my brake disc and I am pulled heavily to the floor, bending the headlight bracket. Oh well, I bounce, which is all that matters, and we manage to get to the border. “Tow me to the Kenya side!” I call to Wilson, waving an explanatory hand at the police as we pass Uganda immigration. I can’t escape after all, and I’ll come back for the formalities.

The road to Kenya.

Chir-Chir is the Kenyan immigration officer. He’s very obliging. I have to plug in my charger: I’ve 6% on my Bezos phone and I want to ring Rico before I make decisions. Rico suggests I come on to Kitale by matatu, leaving the bike at the border. We’ll go for it tomorrow with his big Pajero. “It’ll fit! And maybe you can ride it if we find the problem.”

So I get the slowest matatu in Kenya and get myself home to Kitale. It’s now seven at night, I left Rock Gardens as 1.00, and I’m tired and out of sorts. At the matatu station I am mobbed: a mzungu who might need transport elsewhere. “GO AWAY!” I shout at the fifty touts who surround me. I haven’t patience any more. I get a boda-boda home. The house is busy, Faith, one of the original ‘Rico Girls’ is visiting from Berlin, where she lives now. She’s with her six year old son, a friend and her son. Then there’s Rosa from Netherlands, who works in Nairobi, an old friend of the family, plus the family, and now me.

Faith is a smart, intelligent young woman. I remember her 20 years ago in Lodwar, the hot, dry desert town in the northern deserts. She’s a Turkana woman, handsome and delightful. Her son has a great head of wavy hair as well. Her mother was a sister of Rico’s first wife, a Turkana woman, Anna, who died some years back. Faith’s father died in a road accident before she was born, and her mother in childbirth. She was born an orphan, and adopted by Rico into this extraordinary extended family I admire so much. It’s good to see her.


Next day, Sunday, Rico and I drive the 30 miles back to Suam border and work on the Mosquito. We think we find the problem: the ignition unit dribbles out water when we lift it out. It’s fitted upside down and Alex’s washing has flooded it. I’m proud that I wondered if the cause was the washing, but I don’t make a deal of it because it could have been me who refitted it upside down! It’s not the only problem perhaps, maybe I need a new coil AND ignition unit. It’s Sunday, there’s nothing we can do but load the bike into the car and bring it home. We’ll have to face it tomorrow: see if the parts can be sent up from Nairobi. I’ve the dealer’s number, maybe they’ll cooperate and I can ride to Tanzania after all, but I must also have a back-up plan of public transport… It’s funny, I’m not reacting well to this idea that I now have responsibilities to others on my journey. It’s not the way of these safaris in Africa: I like the freedom and independence.

So this rather ‘different’ trip enters it’s last phase, less than a month to go now. I’ve not done much joy riding on my Mosquito, just riding between Kitale, Kessup and Sipi: some good rides but mainly known ones. My concentration has been on my friends, some big hikes and work at Rock Gardens.

This next couple of weeks, with responsibilities to others, will be a test of my resolve. My head’s not really in work mode at present… Still, it’ll pay off most of the investment I’ve made at Rock Gardens this year.

Now, I just have to see if I’ll ride to the remote hospital site in north west Tanzania, or have to go by matatu and bus…

One of my favourite photos this year. The mobile phone is such a revolution for Africa, which largely missed the landline years. Now the phone brings fascination, sometimes enlightenment and often misinformation and junk. Here, in an image oddly biblical and medieval, Precious, Keilah and Jonathan and a neighbour’s child watch a video by the fire pit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.