Kenya: Out on My Own

The driver for the hospital ambulance was taking a visitor back to the airport this morning. I needed to visit the office of the internet provider in town so I decided to take the trip with him. On our way there he was requested back to the hospital urgently. This is a most interesting choice for me. Ride back to the hospital and hope the driver has time to take me into Kisumu later or go off into town and back to Maseno on my own. I checked my pockets to see if I had enough Kenyan Shillings to cover the transportation. I asked the driver to estimate the cost for me and he said it would be about 50 Ksh to get there and 100 Ksh to get back. I had about 500 Ksh extra on me, so I figured even if I paid Mzungu Price (basically the tourist surcharge, Mzungu literally translates as “white person”) I would still have enough to make it back.

This wasn’t a hard choice for me. I may not be the most adventurous, but I pride myself on being able to get around in a foreign city with focused observation, intuition, and a little luck. So I hopped out of the ambulance and started walking. I was just across the street from the matatu pickup. Of course two were leaving as I was walking up, but there was a tuktuk approaching. Quick decision here: matatu ride that would stop at the bus station and then [insert unknown] or tuktuk directly to my destination for a little extra coin. I waved down the tuktuk, told him where I wanted to go, agreed to the reasonable rate and climbed in.

The road from Kisumu airport to downtown is one of the rougher stretches of road here. A wider, smoother road is being built right next to this one, but I anticipate it will be a while before its complete. The combination of the tiny tuktuk wheels, the countless potholes, and rickety metal frame interior made the next 30 min feel like an endless thrill ride a the state fair. I definitely think it was the right decision and I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. He dropped me off across the street from the telecom building and the first half of my expedition was complete.

Since the office wasn’t opening for another 20 minutes, I took the time to walk around and take some photos of the people and activity of Kisumu. It was early in the morning, so many shopkeepers were out preparing their stalls. Lots of locals were on their morning commutes, but there was not the sense of urgency that you would see in a larger American city this time of day. When I got back to the office, I took care of business and planned for my trip back to Maseno.

A part of me really likes a challenge. I could have easily asked someone to point me in the direction of the bus station, but I opted to go it alone. I remembered the general direction I came from so I walked that way. I distracted myself from the possibility of going the wrong direction by attempting to read the signs of the shops and admiring the unique fashion sense of the people around me. By this time I had put the camera away because it is very hard for me to turn off my rectangle framed brain when there is a powerful piece of photographic productivity at my fingertips.

Walking through the city felt pretty amazing. There is nothing that makes you feel like to belong here more than a long walk. I found myself in a spot that looked somewhat unfamiliar, but I kept walking anyway. I know that the place I wanted to go was opposite Lake Victoria and towards the hills, so the only option was to turn and walk to the higher elevation. After a few minutes I realized I was in an industrial strip. Lots of car part warehouses and glass and metal working factories. This was an area I recognized, so I kept going. After about 10 minutes down this road the concentration of matatus was increasing. All I needed now was one to have an empty seat and be traveling in the direction I was walking. Because “empty seat” is more of a concept than an actuality this didn’t take long.

Every matatu ride is semi-uncomfortable. There is really know other way for it to be. You just can’t fit all these people into such a small space and have it be pleasant. There was one thing I did notice in comparison with my public transit use in Durham. When I’m on the bus going to work, I am kind of disappointed that nearly everyone is using a cell phone or listening to music. I thought this was just a sign that technology has made us anti-social. But inside a matatu, where twenty people are within conversation distance, there is almost complete silence. I don’t know what that means, but I guess I won’t be ashamed to wear headphones on my ride to work.

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