The Bread Basket
Over the last two years, when ever I had an early flight, I found I usually missed it. Through empirical research I managed to discover the cause of the problem: oversleeping. But it took test tubes, bunsen burners, and schematics to solve this quandry. The best solution I found was partying all night if I had to wake up before 5. That’s the kind of sacrifice I was willing to make for my professional career. Only a few times would I be in a lounge with a bottle of bubbly or JW at 5:30 when a friend would say, “dude, don’t you have a flight in like an hour?” Even then I usually made it thanks to the availability of limos at casinos and a bottomless expense account
So in pure Vegas fashion, a few coworkers had asked that I join them at Carnivore for cultural night. This past friday was for members of the Luo tribe. Having been to Carnivore before, I was impressed with the food, but unimpressed with the club. It was packed on cultural night, two live bands playing, and I had a great time, despite getting made fun of for moving my feet when I danced.
It goes without saying, but I was all bleary-eyed when I climbed in the truck at a quarter to four on saturday morning. Having made it to the truck on time, I tried to curl up and pass out before we even left base camp. Sleeping in canvas covered the passenger seat, though, made coach seem like a king size bed at a Mandarin Oriental. It wouldn’t have been so bad if we weren’t moving, as the roads here would give the board of NJDOT reason to high five and shotgun some beers. As I slouched, resting my cheek against the shoulder strap of the seat belt, I began thinking in hyperbole that the roads hadn’t been touched since they were paved by colonials in the middle of the last century. The thought jostled me awake more than the bumps, as I realized my exaggeration may not have been too far off target.
As if the shaking weren’t enough, the driver would swerve all over the road, avoiding the large potholes which occurred in the most random locations. Speed bumps were also too frequent for no apparent reason. Whilst a Caddy might have been smooth as hell, every tiny bump made the ancient truck creak and squeak and rattle and clank.
All things considered, in my state of exhaustion, I managed to sleep fairly well for the first three hours. I woke as the sky was lavender with morning: low clouds shrouded the sunrise in a veil of milky translucency. Stopping for tea, I drank only water as the driver and the other rider sipped their tea and gnashed at their andazi.
On the road again, I dozed in and out of consciousness gazing out the window at the passing sights. The landscape just outside the city was dotted with well worn hills, rounded and smooth, yet drastically sloped from their peak. The trees had long thin trunks with tufts of leaves crowning their summit. It all looked very Dr. Seusse.
The Whoville hills gave way to foothills densley blanketed in fir and deciduous trees. Through the glaucous virescence, trees with lilac colored blossoms stippled the scenery.
As the morning wore on, the clouds became fluffy and blue sky shone through everywhere. A patchwork quilt of farms and plots of land checkered the scenery to the horizon, pocked only by the clusters of shanties, sheds, and shacks. The hand-made brick structures crowned by tarnished metal roofs that still shined in the mid morning sun contrasted the mud and (presumably) dung structures with thatched roofs of varying degrees of expertise. And in these towns that would be no match for a rich college student’s SUV, there of course lived people. But they all seemed to be along the edge of the road.
Urchins would hold up bunches of carrots whose orange stalks and green tops seemed to glow luminescent against the dusty shoulder. Maize was roasted over small charcoal fires and potatoes were stacked to deliberate peaks in small yellow buckets. Goats, donkeys, cattle, and the occasional camel were herded by young men with sticks or roamed about free. Young girls in pastel Sunday dresses ran about barefoot through the fields. Adolescent boys ran around in the grass but carried machetes. Regardless of age, produce, or weapon, as the people saw us driving by, they’d wave and smile.
More populated places looked very much like Ngong with butchery shops and pubs and lodges and bicycle repairs and farm supply. All the commercial structures were painted brightly advertising Safaricom or Celltell or Farmers Choice Smokies (One is never enough!) or coca cola or Tusker Beer.
Eldoret, apparently the fifth biggest city in Kenya, was bustling all about the thoroughfare. Men walked the sidewalk carrying boards hoarding sunglasses and watches wrapped in cellophane. Women wrapped in brightly colored shawls carried various goods. Shops of varying size and hotels of varying degrees of hoteliness lined the streets
Just past Eldoret was more farms and goats and smiling children with produce/large knives. We eventually drove through a city that I didn’t know. There were no sidewalks, just wide strips of friable dirt adjacent to the road, packed to the brim with vendors offering their wares and vegetables. Such a vast aray of colors assaulted my retinas in contrast to the comaparatively drab landscape of green leaves, purple blossoms, and rusty orange-brown soil. We had to stop for a baby goat lagging behind its family. People everywhere were drying maize on huge tarpaulins laying out in the open air, kicking the grain to an even layer with their bare feet.
We stopped for lunch just past this little village at a spot that probably seen to many people like me eating there.
Cause I have six fingers on my left hand.
I had some chips and chicken and it was just what my recovering body needed.
It was about 4:00 when we arrived in Kitale, a city thronged with trucks along the side of the road, people zipping by on bicycles, and itinerants ready to ask me for money. My driver made sure I got my room and acted very much like a host as he showed me the bed, its mosquito net, and a relatively clean bathroom. I nodded awkwardly in approval as he showed me that it had a functioning shower curtain. I don’t think he knew why, but fully understood that this was all a very new and different experience for me. He very much wanted to make sure I was comfortable, or at least OK with it all.
I said good night, and set out about the town. I had dinner at a little restaurant across from the Bongo Hotel, my home for the night. Ordering chicken curry, I was very surprised to receive a quarter of a chicken stuffed in a bowl of lukewarm curry sauce.
But I ate it anyway. I was hungry and had no idea what the next day would hold.
After reading a few pages, I fell asleep with the light on; not out of fear, but fatigue. Luckily I had already set my alarm for 4:00AM for the next day’s departure.