I'm on the local African 'Whisper Service' bus! I grab the seat by the open door, and sit and wait, here in the market, for the 11 o'clock bus to Eldoret to leave town. Street traders, beggars and hucksters keep coming on the bus or try to sell me things through the open window. I could buy cold drinks, biscuits and peanuts, both in their shells and roasted, sold in newspaper cones. Also on offer are socks, condoms, aspirin, SIM cards, Aloe flavoured toothpaste, bananas, CDs, T-shirts, Viagra tablets (in this country, with its soaring birth rate?) … street food (fried and very greasy … and no, I don't want dysentery); Bibles, sun glasses, cheap watches, even cheaper plastic jewellery; hair nets and coloured beads … gosh, I could buy all my Christmas presents here in February!
11.30 … bus still waiting … I am shocked to the core when another huckster tries to sell me an assortment of tablets and capsules in their bubble packs … I assume more aspirins, but no, he assures me they are American ARVs … the drug used for HIV treatment. I assume they are in reality vitamin pills, or just sugar pills. And anyway, ARVs are free to AIDS sufferers from the hospitals..
12 noon …. we are still here; the bus driver hoots regularly to try and attract more customers. It's getting hot … over 30C, but having paid my 350 shillingi, (about £3 for the 150 mile trip) I don't want to get off the bus to sit in the shade and risk losing my seat.
A number of large sacks are dropped off by the bus … charcoal, from the mess they make. The bus boys climb onto the roof and haul up the sacks. There are already 60 water drums up there, and other assorted bundles tied on with rope. A couple of men drive up in a pick up and off-load 7 sacks of what I can smell are the tiny dried fish, much loved of the Luo people. A shower of tiny fish and fish scales flutter down as the sacks are put on the roof with the charcoal. The scales come drifting in the open window and stick to my sweat. I shall soon have a different smell.
12.30 …. we are still here, but the bus is slowly filling. A man has just walked past blowing his nose; it's very clever, he breathes in deeply, then snorts it out through his nose, where the snot lands on the spilt fish.
Hey … its 12.40 and the 11 o'clock bus is finally moving … but only around the corner to the garage for petrol. We eventually leave Kisumu at 12.50. The route leads out through the slums to the north, and climbs the Nandi escarpment, where the temperature drops a little with the added altitude. Tea is growing in a few places; probably part of small scale co-operatives. Purple paint, a blinding almost glowingly vivid paint seems to be the latest colour and used mostly for 'hoteli' which are bars for beer and good time girls. Is the purple paint the local version of a red light ?
I have decided not to drink anything on the journey … but when the screams of a three year old stops the bus, he gets off with his mother for a pee, and then climbs back on with his shorts in Mum's hand. I really shouldn't have had two mugs of tea at breakfast. They are beginning to make themselves felt. We cross a wide river … I ask the bus boy 'What is that river?' He thinks hard, and tells me 'It is water, Memsahib' … A road-side sign announces we are crossing the Equator … I'm back in my own hemisphere for a day or two.
Finally, reaching Eldoret at 4.45 instead of the expected 2 pm, I stagger off the bus with a numb rear, and try to decide how to find my friend. Still, one mzungu lady stands out in an African town, and my friend soon finds me, and we drive to her home for a loo, a large cup of tea and a shower to remove the fishy scales stuck all over me.
A great day …
Lyn Harper was in Kenya, working for Hands Around the World, a local (to Monmouth) charity that works mainly in Africa, building classrooms, health centres, workshops. Last year she was doing physical building; this year she was there to assess the progress and write reports, as well as visit friends!