Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Of Tweed Coats and Toilet Paper Part 2

So after the ceremony, we all went out into the garden, still a very pleasant afternoon. We sat around and chatted about the ceremony, I asked people about other ceremonies they’d heard about or experienced. There was one family insisted on half a million shillings ($6,600) for their daughter and the man had to pay it. These are of course the more wealthy to do families where such requests are not unheard of.

Anyway, as the afternoon progressed, B2 and I were checking our watches, anxious to hit the road so that we could get to the pub in town where we’d planned on meeting some friends and watching the game. (The game being the FA cup final between Arsenal and Manchester United.) We didn’t bother to hide that fact with B1 and Bf and Bw was ready to leave as well. But B1 was hesitant about offending the new fiancĂ©e by suggesting he leave early to go watch a game. Be warned future Mr. Crazy Kenyan, whoever you are, our life will revolve around a sports schedule including weddings, births of children, graduation etc. She is a Chelsea fan…go figure. She already had two pieces of silver on her cabinet while we were scrapping for one. Anyway, when the topic came up about an hour later, 20 minutes before kick-off, she was indeed quite offended. She came out roaring, "Will you die if you miss this game?" B2, Bw and myself were screaming "yeah" in our minds but we kept quiet. So we sat outside, enjoyed some beverages, promising ourselves we’d get the second half. By now it was almost six in the evening and the festivities showed no signs of letting up. Most of the representatives from our side had already left because where they had to go, the roads became impassable once the rains came. It is the rainy season right now in Kenya and since a lot of the roads in rural areas are dirt tracks, they become rivers of mud even after a few minutes.

We were now looking heavenwards, pleading I think for a few drops to fall in order to hasten our departure. Meanwhile, our friends from various watering holes around the country kept calling, "Are you watching this game? It’s awesome, wow, did you see that?" and then hanging up. Grrr. At about 6.30 we concluded that we were probably going to miss the game but since it was bound to be a nail-biter, it might go into penalties so we’d catch that action instead. (How prophetic). Finally, the sky opened up and we took that us our cue and loaded up into two vehicles: both Bs in a pick up truck and myself and Bf and Bw in a Mercedes. We waved goodbye and proceeded down the driveway. That inside 25-degree angle corner to the main road was suddenly a challenge. The merc sits very low so there was a lot of scraping of the bottom. It was quite dark now and the rain was pouring much harder. The pick-up having better traction and what we discovered less fogging of mirrors took off at an impossible pace and pretty soon we found ourselves slipping and sliding in the mud. Thank God for cell phones. All of us had them so we took turns calling the Bs and telling them to slow down. We got to one point where we got thoroughly stuck and called them to come back, but they’d just taken a particularly bad corner and there was no way they could make it back because it would have been an up-hill battle.
So we managed to slide out and came to the corner in question and found B2 standing in the rain in his suit and soon to be infamous tweed coat, waving us over to a better section to navigate. We told them they had to slow down because we needed their backlight to figure out which way to go. So begun a slow arduous journey back to the main road…. not even the city. We just wanted to kiss tarmac.

Well, it wasn’t going to be for a while. The road was horrible. It was so bad, I would actually prefer to drive on ice. Ok, maybe not true. (Christmas 2004…wow) We tried our best to keep up with the pick up but their traction was way better and we just kept sliding all over the place and getting stuck. After about half an hour, we realised we’d only gone less than a mile and it looked like other vehicles, few and far between were having their own problems. Whenever we got stuck and a vehicle was coming up behind or ahead of us, they had to gun their engines and speed through where we were bogged down and by the time they were through, the road was in worse shape so they couldn’t backtrack to help. We tried calling the people who we knew were still at the party but the signal was so spotty and couldn’t quite get through. The bitter pill was that our friends back in Nairobi, safely and warmly ensconced around big screens could call us screaming out exciting plays of the game which had now gone into extra time. Figures I would miss the most exciting game of the season.

Oh yeah, don’t drink beer if you suspect you will be caught in a torrential downpour and driving through mud. We all had to pee, frequently which was no problem for the boys, bushes and darkness are a plenty. For Bw, and myself not such an easy issue to address. For one, you really don’t want to go into any Kenyan bushes to pee, not because of creatures but because of the plants. There’s a stinging plant called Kimelit that can cause a burning itchy sensation whenever your skin comes into contact with its broad leaves. It’s quite indigenous in that part of the country so we had no choice but to pee whenever we got stuck (all the time) and right in front of the car because itchy stinging butts (good band name?) were not on our agenda. I was worried because of approaching cars and for some reason, people decided to ride their bicycles at night with no flashlights so you never had a warning. So all of a sudden, you’d attend to nature’s call, in front of the headlights of the lead car or at the back of the stuck car and a whistling cyclist would squeak by, almost crashing when they realised there was someone attending to some urgent business. Lol. Bw told me to stop fussing; it wasn’t like I’d see these folks again. What I couldn’t understand was the fact that it was raining heavily…I’m talking about Singing in the Rain Hollywood rain where you get drenched in a matter of minutes. Yet it seemed the ideal time to take the bike out for a ride.

Bf, quite the pessimist, who was already calculating sleeping arrangements in a pick-up and merecedes for the night in the middle of nowhere, kept sliding forward then said something that made our hearts lurch. "We have a flat." We couldn’t believe it. It was raining buckets and on top of getting stuck, we had a flat tire. So I called the pick up and told them to stop, about 200 metres ahead. They did and we all got out and they started to change the flat. More pee breaks. They were actually quite good, taking care of it in less than five minutes and we were soon on our way…for 100 metres and then got hopelessly and irretrievably stuck. B2 came over and I got out of the merc and went toward the other vehicle, with the honest intention of looking for a rope. I started to look in the back when I realised the game was on the radio and oh my, it was a penalty shootout. I looked back discreetly at the other car and realised no one was watching me so I hopped in and turned the radio up, my ears glued to the commentary in Swahili. Lol, "Cole anachukuwa mpira, amaweka chini, ana rudi nyuma, ana rudi nyuma, anaenda mbele, ana piga…. Goal!!" (Cole takes the ball, he puts it down, he steps back, moves back, runs forward, he shoots….Goal!) I punched the steering wheel angrily, tooted the horn accidentally and my companions realised I was playing hooky and yelled at me to find some damn rope. So I pretended to look for rope by climbing out and looking behind the seat, my skirt now saturated. I kept my ears glued to the game, rooting around for nothing and my heart dropped when I realised we were a goal down. I glanced over and saw B1 coming through the rain. I hastened my search and yelled out, "I’m still looking for…Goal! Yes! I mean, rope, is there any?"

B1 jumped in the car and realised what I was doing and started to berate me but then Arsenal prepared to take the fourth shot. He too looked around and shut the door and said, "It’s almost over, let’s just listen." I saw the other car hopelessly spinning its wheels but the bad crazy Kenyan that I was, was determined to listen to at least the last few minutes of the game I should have been watching comfortably from the confines or a watering hole. Anyway, the loser team won, we lost but as Pele said, "You can play the better game but only the champions create the winning shots." Or something like that. I got out of the car and yelled, "We lost!" to no one in particular and Bf screeches back, "Who gives a flying f$#! We’re sleeping here!" B2 scrambled over again to the lead car, "Do you have toilet paper? I need tissue paper, toilet paper." I kept asking for what and he ran back to the other car, "Tissue paper, do you have any?" At this point the sheer absurdity of the whole trip and his request made us quite hysterical with laughter. "What do you need it for?" He then kept asking for his Tweed jacket, which he must have taken off and didn’t know where he’d put it so asking for both at the same time had us in stitches. We asked and after five minutes of this garble he said, "My glasses, I can’t see." Really quite sad because he honestly couldn’t see but when he kept asking for it we thought he had a call of nature emergency, not a spectacle issue. I was in the truck with B1 and he kept murmuring, "I’m going to have to hit it, I have to." "Hit what?" I asked but he kept saying it over again without clarifying.

B2 ran back again, "Newspapers! Lots of them. We get newspapers and twigs and we put them under the tires, they’ll get traction." We both looked at him like he’d lost his mind and he kept repeating his requests and we said, "Take them, take the tennis racket in the back as well if you think that will help." At this point I began to think maybe the boys had lost it because one was murmuring about hitting a car and the other one intended to go pull twigs off wet trees and find newspaper to put under the tires of car that was practically submerged in a red river of mud. B1 then called Bf and said, "I’m coming in from behind, be ready!" Yes, any other day, I would have laughed at that comment but I realised he truly was going to hit his own car from behind. (Btw, we’d only gone less than 5 miles and still had about 10 to go on this road before we hit the main highway.)

So I jump into the pick-up, having traded places with B2 and strapped myself in. We did a 20 point turn (not kidding, stop laughing) and drove back slowly over the same treacherous spot that had claimed the mercedes. We came in from behind, hard and rammed into the back and….nothing. The wheels on both cars spun, kicking up mud so it felt like it was raining from above and below. Our car started to slide, sideways so our bumper took on a 45-degree angle, engine still revving, tires spinning and the merc going nowhere. B1 kept ramming into the back, we’re all yelling incoherently at both cars to move and finally, it did, pulling out of the suction that had trapped it and slipping and sliding yet forward. Except the pick up was now stuck. Lol, there was no way we were going to get help from the other car so B1 gunned it and mercifully, it got out of the grooves that had claimed it and we powered on, toward the bushes as we were facing the side of the road. Stop laughing. He quickly turned around and we got out of it and went ahead of the other car as their windows were completely fogged up now and needed our rear lights.

We kept looking for signs of light but we couldn’t see any. There’s no electricity to many of the rural areas, again another political thing (the government has failed to address that, incompetency being their motto) So no street lights, signs or indications as to where we were. I remember reading the signs of different shops on the way earlier that afternoon so I was looking for the first Relax Hotel. (there were two within a mile and hotel is a loose term for a two room tin shack.) I need to do an entry about the various names Kenyans have been creative with in naming their enterprises. Really inventive, like the Internet Butchery, or the Battery Chaching shop (The locals, particularly Kalenjins will get that last one.) Anyway, I finally spotted the first Relax Hotel and yelled out to B1 that we were not far from a tiny shopping centre that was home to the other Relax Hotel and within a few miles of the main road. Sure enough, we pass the centre and were all greatly cheered. The poor folks in the merc were freezing however because the car had began to die a slow electrical death. Too much water must have seeped in at some point so the radio died first, then the lights started to dim so they had to switch off everything that wasn’t in use in order for the lights to function and the car to keep running. Up ahead in the pick-up, I’d began to curse my future in-law because we’d missed the game, were thoroughly drenched, had a bum vehicle and had not seen the main road yet. On top of that a school bus, was approaching from the other side of the hill we were starting to descend, right down the middle and he was not, going to give way. The driver stopped right dead centre, his light glaring at us and refused to budge. The problem was the water running down hill had formed deep gullies on either side of the road so there was no way both vehicles could pass. The idiot however gave us little room to pass and insisted since we were the smaller vehicle, we had to go first. So we did, very gently and carefully, all the while cursing at him. The merc mercifully made it as well but only after the battery had died and had to be charged.

About 10 minutes later, I looked over to my left and saw lights wheezing by. "The road! I see the road!" B1 tried to call the car behind us but his battery was in the process of a slow painful death. Both Bf and Bw had run out of credit on their phone and B2’s phone was already dead. I had Kshs. 80 on my phone ($1.10) and each call costs 10 shillings per minute. Lol, do the math; so I had to be conservative because I didn’t know whether we would have another emergency. We still couldn’t call anyone at the party and I’d sent text messages earlier saying, "STUCK BADLY, NEED HELP!" of which no one replied to. Oh well, we made it out and we sped toward the city. The back car shivering miserably, the lead car worried now about fuel. I didn’t realise the merc had a problem with fuel as well because ¾ of the way there, they overtook us and pulled us over into what looked like a gas station…no lights anywhere so you really can’t tell. Pumping is done by hand. Bf, resident pessimist, said he wasn’t sure if there was enough gas but we decided to just keep driving, if it died, we’d still be closer to the city and a few minutes ride in the back of a now smelly pick-up would be fine.

Glory, glory, 2 ½ hours later from start to finish, town lights came into view and I could even hear the audible sigh of relief in the back. We stopped at a gas station that was open 24/7 and filled up both cars and dropped the flat to be fixed. We drove on to our hotel which I called a hovel the day before but represented paradise and all things warm and comfortable to me now. Our bedraggled crew came into the main area and the receptionist burst into laughter. We looked at ourselves and had to smile. Bw had lost broken the straps on her shoes in the first push-the-car effort, Bf was complaining of wet underwear because of the amount of water that went in while he changed the flat, B1 was soaking wet and muddy all over, B2 was complaining about his tweed jacket and the fact he’d only brought one pair of shoes for the whole trip. (My luggage was extra heavy because of my boots but I was the only one there with dry footsies. Ha!) My calls to nature in the middle of the road had left my wonderful khaki skirt with red mud all over the place and my shirt, also spotty was quite red. My wonderful boots were caked with mud from heel to calf. We all took off to our rooms, had incredibly uplifting hot showers and ran to the hotel bar for much needed "Hunder’s Whiskey." (Hunter’s Whiskey…again, a Kalenjin thing)

At this point, we recounted the evening with much laughter, so much so there was a lot of back-slapping, tears running and frequent choking. We tried to text the people we’d left behind to tell them not to come but they’d now received my frantic calls for help so had decided to leave and just come back to town as most were staying in the area. They too got stuck occasionally, though not as bad as we did but showed up much later. The following morning we woke up still chuckling and met up at the vehicles which had now been wiped down. The dents at the back of the merc were quite impressive and the truck had survived fairly well. B2, who’d insisted I was carrying too many shoes was now left with only a pair of sandals as his only pair of shoes were completely soaked. So off he trudged into town, on Sunday to go find a pair of shoes. He came back a few minutes later with a remarkably hideous pair, which he found for only 200 shillings at one of the four Indian shops that were still open. Shy at first, our model warmed to our laughter and soon began to pose for the camera phones saying, "No paparazzi!" Lol, he did look good.

Still laughing when I think about it now but my story is just typical of what happens during the rainy season. Not so funny though when you’re in the middle of nowhere by yourself.
The drive back to Nairobi was uneventful, I got to see my animals again! We drove straight to our F1 pub to watch the Monaco grand prix. If the race wasn’t as exciting as it turned out to be, we would have pooled under the tables and gone right to sleep. We were absolutely exhausted and fatigued but too much life had already interfered with sports and damn it, I was going to enjoy the race, even though I had to prop my eyes open with my fingers.

2 comments:

ArsenalGal said...

You are an amazing writer! I've been ROFL the entire time. Kudos on the account. I feel as though I've been through the mud and downpour as well and need a hot shower! Great job!!!!!!!

X said...

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