We started walking. It felt good to say goodbye to the camp and to start putting one foot ahead of the other. The novel would now be almost half way through and my characters hadn’t moved more than few steps forward in their journey.
Matt and Connor were filming. I was making jotting little notes. Mutuku–as always–was singing. When he wasn’t singing he was greeting people, offering smiles and handshakes and introducing himself. Actually, apart from his singing, we were doing the same things Mutuki was. All along the route we were objects of curiosity, amusement, entertainment, and interest. Although lots of white people drove along this road on their way to and from safari on the Mara and though every so often their vehicles would pull over to take a picture, never did they walk. I noticed on more than one occasion the tourists in the vehicles gawked out the windows at us, their drivers slowing down so they could look. I wondered what they were thinking about.
The roadway was busy. One lane of traffic flowed in each direction. Big trucks–lorries–matatus filled with people and piled with cargo, and noisy motorcycles. On the side–where we walked–were herds of goats and cows, chickens pecking away at the dirt, markets, shacks, stalls and stores spaced at regular intervals, push carts, donkey carts, and an endless parade of pedestrians. Often they were carrying bags filled with produce, containers filled with water, and bundles of grass for their herds or wood for their fires. (It was this scene of people carrying wood that created the scene in Chapter 14 where Jata gathers wood for a fire.)
There were always people. Those who weren’t walking or driving were sitting by the stores, or had simply come out to look at us. This was so different than what would have greeted Muchoki and Jata. During the violence people had huddled inside their homes waiting for the storm to pass.
Most of those encountered were friendly and offered greetings, questioning what we were doing, asking what ‘Creation of Hope’ on our T-shirts meant. Little children gave shy smiles or stared without looking like they were staring. Sometimes they were so mesmerized by our arrival and appearance that they would bump into walls, trip and fall down. Others just joined in following along behind us for a kilometer. We’d often offer a few words in Swahili and they’d most often reply in English–I guess they’d somehow figured out that we weren’t from around there.
There was also an element of fear that I noticed almost right away. Our two escorts, special forces police officers with serious looks and even more serious looking weapons, were a guarantee that we would be treated differently. I decided it was important for me to observe things in a more natural state. I doubled my pace, getting in front of everybody except Keli and Mulwa who were often in the lead. But my attempts at ‘blending’ in weren’t particularly successful. Try as I might even away from the guards I was still the very tall “muzungu”–the white guy.
“Muzungu” was the word we most often heard spoken as we passed. I often offered back a look of confusion, pointed at myself and said ‘no . . . Kamba.’ This was most often greeted with a look of equal confusion followed by laughter and a handshake.
Police roadblocks are a way of life in Kenya. Two or three policemen often man these posts. Vehicles–particularly matatu and transport trucks–are pulled to the side of the road and their papers are checked. It is not a secret that the real reason for this procedure has nothing to do with safety or security. Drivers are expected to provide a bribe to the officers to allow them to pass. Most often it isn’t much–a few hundred shillings–but refusal will create a world of problems. No matter how unsafe the vehicle, no matter how irregular and outdated the papers, a large enough bribe will fix anything.
I have never been pulled over. My appearance–the muzungu–offers a guarantee that we will not be stopped. The times I’ve taken public matatus the drivers ask me to sit right up front beside them. This is not a courtesy offered to me but profitable opportunity for them. The police, upon seeing me in the cab of the matatu, will not pull it over.
Are all policemen in Kenya corrupt? I can’t believe that, but if you ask a Kenyan they’ll tell you it’s true.
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