Kenya Day 2

Another exhausting day.

Our day started early at the Marble Arch Hotel which was somewhere in the middle of Nairobi. Our hotel was clean, safe and the staff was very nice but it did feel a like an older hotel. It was located down what seemed more like a back alley but actually turned out to be a major hub for bus traffic. At any given time, there seemed to be 30+ buses lined up and down a street which seemed to me to be big enough for about one lane of traffic. However, there was parking along one side, two directions of traffic, full size buses attempting u-turns in the middle of the street, motorcycles whizzing by every direction and hundreds of people running out everywhere. We stood out on our balcony for about 30 minutes totally amazed at the bee hive of activity.

After a delicious breakfast we took a short walk around the block and we are still discussing whether or not that was a bad idea or a great adventure. The traffic on the sidewalks was a constant flow of people going both directions with little sense of a left or ride side. Then add in those who were going in and out of the little shops and the pedestrians risking life and limb to dodge the street chaos while trying to get from one side to the other made for an interesting stew of people all trying to go different directions. The sidewalk was also really uneven which added to the excitement.

That trip around the block was also our first exposure to some severe poverty. There where several people with severe deformities or diseases sitting on the sidewalk hoping for donations. One lady sat there hitting a drum and singing. There was a guy not far from her that had his legs folded underneath himself and his ankles where very thin and twisted around. Next was a lady with some kind of skin disease on her left breast and she had it uncovered and hanging out probably for extra sympathy and then the next person as a lady with, what we are calling, “elephantized” feet; they were puffed up to about the size of bowling balls. It was the first time of many that day that I found myself choking back tears as I thought about this being their life, every day with no hope of anything different.

Our instructions where to be in the lobby ready to leave by 11am when the van would come to get us. He arrived at 12:30pm and we have been talking about “African Time” ever sense.

Thus began a 9 hour journey from Nairobi to Kitale. That was an experience to remember. Suddenly we are in the middle of that vehicular bedlam that we found so entertaining from the balcony. The view point above it was exciting and entertaining, now in the middle of the fray we were fearing for our lives. 2 lane roads had four lanes of traffic with motorcycles running in between us. The pedestrian traffic came from everywhere. In the middle of the intersections the people were walking right through the middle of the cars and then all along the street they would come out from every direction and just cross. Everyone was fighting for their spot and you had to be aggressive to get anywhere. No one seemed angry at other drivers or cart merchants or foot soldiers they all understood that it was the way things worked.

We finally got out of Nairobi and made our way along the highway that would get us to Kitale.

The countryside was beautiful to see. There were many farm animals at various houses tied up to a stick or even free ranging along the highway. Cows, chickens, turkeys and donkeys we very common. But we were surprised to also see a lot of zebras and gazelles outside our windows too. Maybe a couple hours outside of town we stopped at a view point overlooking the Ridge Valley. Unfortunately, it was a foggy day and we did not see very far but it still was beautiful.

Another surprise was at the viewpoint stop. There was a half dozen store owners there and they swarmed us when we exited the vans. Bonnie came up to me and introduced herself and then said she would show me a good spot to look out over the valley.  I didn’t ask for a guide but I had one just the same. Apparently I only needed to look at the valley for about 20 seconds and then she began to direct my attention to the souvenirs that she had for sale. A few moments after that I was being escorted into her shop and the negotiations began.

For me, I hate haggling for prices on anything. But this was particularly difficult as I was standing in the open air, mud floor shanty still fresh off the plane with money in my pocket and knowing that a sale for Bonnie today probably determined what she and her family would be eating this week. And it did not help my timidity that she and her partner where aggressive. A ‘no’ from me only meant ask again. And the answer to my assertion that “I don’t have that much money for shopping” was “check your pockets and see how much you have.”

A strange moment was when Bonnie asked me to buy from her because “this is how you promote me.” I wondered what she meant by that. At first I thought she wanted me to go back to our group and tell them about her shop so that they would buy from her. That is how I understand promoting in our culture; word of mouth advertising. But then I understood she meant something different. We were a small group outnumbered by the shop owners. They would not all be making sales and this was a serious competition for a few customers. If Bonnie got a sale, I would be promoting her by helping her survive.

We saw that phenomenon the rest of the trip. Dozens and dozens of road side vendors all selling the same products and fighting over limited resources. They work very hard for very little pay. Michael, our guide from Heart For the Land the host organization on our trip, said they will hand carry their goods out to the highway and back every day, standing there all day long just in the hopes for a sale. And not just them. There where taxies everywhere trying to pick up a few passengers. Probably 10 motorcycles for every 1 passenger. And I must have seen at least twenty car washes and only 1 car being washed. It was like a pond full of geese fighting for that single piece of bread thrown in the water.

It was 9:30 that night that we finally arrived at our Guest House in Kitale. My rear end was flat from sitting and my knees where locked up from the cramped seat rows. We were all tired even though we napped a little on van. We left the church parking lot at 4am Monday and here is was Wednesday night…late..and we finally arrived at our destination.

But we made it. God has been good and everything we need has been provided. To think that we are on the other side of the world just up the road a few miles from the church in Kiminini that we began this relationship with years before. Again I found I would be fighting back tears as I thought about it.

Michael turned to me at one point back our drive along the highway and asked if I ever thought when I first met him that one day I would be driving along the Ridge Valley highway here in Kenya. Of course I said no but then again I have found myself in similar situations and similar conversations many times before. This was certainly the most drastic adventure to be sure but God has led me into unexpected situations before.

My response to God is just to say “YES” and then prepared for Him to do amazing things. It is not always easy to follow the Lord but it is ALWAYS for good and I am always blessed. This trip has been tiring and it has been emotional. It is even physically taxing. But being here is a great privilege and now like never before I am reminded of the privileged life I have been given. How can I do anything less than give thanks to my God by giving Him my life.

Posted by Cary Peden

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