Beginning To Be Part of Ethiopian Landscape

Africa knows no haste. It is an astute observation. A law that a keen eye visiting the continent has not failed to catch and eventually follow. A cliché used by boring people (that are usually bosses) trying to crack a pathetic joke pathetically bored juniors.

But, not unlike most celebrated sayings, we might still distill a grain of verifiable truth from it. And the truth of it is as follows.

The African Sun is required of by the gods to be friendly for an hour or so daily. That is, a few minutes at daybreak when the birds are happy to warm themselves while showing off their plumages and in the sunset when, not to be outdone, mother nature in her vanity and seeks to show off her glowing coat of many colors among the evening clouds.

But the real personality of the African Sun is quite diabolical. He is not your friend, that cruel bully. He rides upon fiery dragons throwing their flames towards poor African creatures on the savannahs, on open spaces.

Finding respite from the burning poison of these flames and the penetrating rays of our bully’s eyes, mortals are provided with two options. The first and most advisable is to hide under the shadows of houses and trees or if you are a reptile’s descendant, under a rock.

The second measure is a risky affair only to be taken when carrying out a commission that requires extraordinary urgency and this method involves walking ever so slowly. For the sun, the evil bully is always on the lookout for fast-moving objects to attack. Naïve visitors that have hurriedly gone about their business in the open African sun have often and very quickly learnt that the bully and his fiery dragons are quick to catch up with them and in equal haste and with atrocity, inflict sun strokes and sun burns. Or, if kinder, just the severest of thirsts. Thus the African sun is to be respected.

(I say “respected” but I in fact mean “feared”. You see, real men like yours truly do not admit fear. It is a law of chivalry. When beaten to submission, we report the end of the intercourse as having “respectfully” brokered a truce).

Armed with this wisdom, I meant to start riding every morning at five o’clock or thereabouts and set my alarm to wake me at that time. It was a short night. That is not to say I wasn’t happy to wake up soon as the alarm went. A short while later, I check out of the room at the same time the muezzins begun chanting through the loudspeakers atop the mosques.

The Moyale-Ethiopia main street/road alight with street lights was still warm and the tarmac embracing. If you ever observed the moving tread patterns on a tyre while riding under incandescent street lights, you will remember how they made the wheel appear to move backwards. It is a devilish optical trick meant to steal the attention of abstracted cyclists not to realize they are on the lane of oncoming traffic.

This absent-mindedness like most, was rectified by a frightening near-miss with an oncoming taxi whose cursing driver was yet another pointer to prove the theory that all taxi and bus drivers are sadists crazed and angry with the world.

The first moments of my ride on Ethiopian soil was an adrenaline-filled half hour. Not rash though, just apprehensive. What was I going to find in the coming 800-or-so kilometres? What new injuries were going to plague me? How many times was I going to camp in the open? And the realization that now, more than any time in the past, I was truly on my own…

Any which way, I was soon enough stopped at a checkpoint by a Swahili-speaking Ethiopian soldier at a checkpoint a few kilometres from Moyale. We immediately had company of some other three idle young men. I later discovered had been opening by bags as I was being interrogated. You see, I have never held a reputation as an admirer of petty theft or the picking of pockets. It was furiously demoralizing and I swore violence against the ill-informed thieving culprit if it were to befall me again.

Onward I pedalled. The people in Southern Ethiopia are mainly the nomadic Oromo and Rendille and are predominatly slim and dark-skinned.

There are dusty small towns along the way but they are few and far apart. Other than that, they have few interesting features that it would be sinful to dwell on them much. However, cycling past these towns, you are initiated to the irksome habit of everyone shouting “Ferenji! Ferenji! Ferenji!” and “You! You! You!…” as you go.

The next big town that I planned to spend the night is called Mega about 120km from Moyale. The ride is tolerable. The flat and monotonous scenery is broken here and there with tall white ant hills that should only remind one of Lot’s wife turned into a salt pillar.

(By the by, she must have been leading the pack of the fleeing household or no one else would have known that she had been turned into a pillar of salt. For it would have necessitated a turning back of the heads to witness what had befallen their mother. And who would not forgive a curious and caring mother for looking over her shoulders to judge how her trailing household was keeping abreast?)

But I digress. There are gentle climbs and not so gentle head-winds for most of the way until about two kilometres from my target town, Mega.

The town is built beyond the mother of all climbs. The bottom of the hill has a cynically placed police checkpoint. The requirement to stop and the obnoxious questioning by the soldiers takes away one’s rhythm, momentum, feigned patience and lastly the will to breath. The road then meanders ascending at what seems like an upright degree to a battered cyclist.

I rode into the town in a tired delirium and will only remember very few things and which were important to my continued existence then. I asked around for a room at a hardware shop. Among things sold in the shop were leather pistol holsters. A lot of them. I was given the directions to several hotels and to the police station if I failed to find accomodation. Maybe I shall never get Ethiopian jokes.

But first to pacify my angry shoal of stomach worms, I sought an eating place. Supper consisted of the most purtid, sour “anjera” ever made served with finely chopped, very spicy meat. I searched in vain for the wisdom to be learnt in serving a fine stew along with rotting bread.

All lodgings full on account of a high school sports finals being held in the town. By the time I was learning of this unfortunate turn of events, I had already made friends with a tall young man called Abdul, a teacher at a nearby high school. And since my friendship always comes with strings attached, I spent the night at Abdul’s single-room bachelor’s pad. There was no water to shower and even if there had been, my strength would have failed me on the way to the distance shower rooms.

Nor did I bother myself with a change of clothes as I fell to sleep on the mat. It reminds me now that I ought to make another journey to apologize to poor Abdul for suffering a stinking traveller on his floor until morning.

It might have been the reason my host was quick to remember my earlier request to be woken up at 5.30am.

Since Mega is built halfway uphill, I decided to tackle the two kilometers remaining climb before I sat to stretch and have my breakfast.

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A New Land Across The Bridge

Moyale! Finally!

A stop in the hot, dusty afternoon in a stinking little bus-stop made everyone alight from the truck in a truly depressing fashion and in a languid disposition that I trust would bear similarity to that of short-changed Christians descending to hell. Everyone alighted in this sad humor. Everyone, that is, except yours truly. I jumped down with that celebrated “spring in the step”. (Later when I decide to do a video version of this blog, this is where I somersault out of the truck Ninja-style!) All those trite, feelgood quotes must have been uttered by one euphoric cyclist having dodged a string of hardships and written by another who shared the mishaps. Wait for me, Ethiopia!

But hold. There is something to be said of the first impressions of this intriguing border town. There is a small river that cuts across it and serves as the border between Kenya and Ethiopia. That is, the town spreads in both countries but it is considered two distinct towns; Moyale-Ethiopia and Moyale-Kenya. And either sides of the border are clearly distinguishable. A wide, clean Ethiopian tarmac road starts right at the border and at a steel and concrete bridge over the small river. The Ethiopian side is greener. It is cooler and cleaner. Vehicles keep right. And, as I learnt by and by, it’s cheaper. I could not suffer to live another minute on the Kenyan side of the border and be pitied. I pushed my companion towards the immigration offices to have my passport stamped.

I know, my dear friends, that you are not the queer sort that derive joy from reading about obnoxious processes in government offices. It is cruel enough to have to read a blog with a thousand typos. But to be dragged through descriptions of drowsy, ill-dressed Kenyan immigration officers behind dusty and cluttered desks whipping a leaky pens in the air to induce them to write; or to hear of equally slow but smarter, uniformed Ethiopian counterparts whose entire knowledge of the English language is distressingly slight, whose entire vocabulary towards this end is regrettably not more than ten simple words. No, sirs. I would not take you through such descriptions. This story instead continues after having my patience severely abused by the said government officials that I have almost described.

I promptly begun by riding up and down the main street of Moyale-Ethiopia looking for an agreeable hotel to spend the approaching night. Agreeable in this case meant cheap (or free) and with a shower. It is a remarkable thing what political borders can do to a familiar language, culinary tastes and cultures. On language, hotel or “hotteella” means a pub with rooms for rent while “restaurant” is what I was looking for- an eating place. I walked in and out of several hotteellas before my ignorance was remedied by a couple of beauties preparing coffee outside a “restaurant”. I must protest it might not have been their beauty that drew me to them, but the most wonderful aroma of coffee and smoldering myrrh. A most hypnotizing thing as has ever been smelt. But I could be wrong. I now know how easily addictive habits are picked by tired, hungry, thirsty and infatuated people in the afternoons. (How coffee now gives me contented elations like those illicit adventures we used to engage in our teenage years).

Not much achievement can be reported to have been accomplished during the rest of that afternoon for it was squandered trying to learn Amharic and sipping “buna”- the maddeningly strong and bittersweet coffee. I know I should be ashamed by that confession but I trust you will not be quick to judge me, dear friends, when you learn that those services were rendered by strangely beautiful faces. Strange because those kinds of faces are only seen on air-brushed models in glossy girly magazines. And when they flashed their rows of ivory in their mouths, it was enough to excuse the wise King Solomon for growing tired of always being wise after meeting the Ethiopian queen from Sheba. (Or rather, see his transcendental wisdom!). I found my “hotteella” towards nightfall.

I spent the next day cleaning my bags, stocking up on water and sugared snacks that I would need in the following days, while sampling hot and spicy Ethiopian dishes and intoxicating myself with more coffee. Finally forcing myself to rest, I was to start cycling through Ethiopia on the morrow.

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A Good Day In The Desert Is When Leaving

Perhaps the only thing that could give me an upbeat mood like the one that I had that morning as I left Marsabit town is a thing that shall not be mentioned here for propriety reasons. It was the knowing that, even when I dreaded journey on a truck, I was definitely going to be leaving this town towards the border town of Moyale. To add to that, I was happy on account of the bike being given a thorough service by a very knowledgable mechanic and it rode so smoothly as not to be believed to be the same bike that had given me strange depressions only days ago.

Not even the blatant rip-off played on me by the touts and the driver could spoil this. I paid the tourist rate for this trip. That is to say I might have negotiated with the driver to pay a friendlier rate but he responded in his language, I think Borana, that sounded vulgar even though I did not understand a word of it. The touts, all young men, laughed. I guessed he might have said something about my freedom to negotiate with him if and only if I also intended to perform immoral favours on the him. Or something. The touts would never laugh at something that was not extremely vulgar.

We left at eleven in the morning. It wasn’t hot. Marsabit is a town on top of desert mountain ranges. It has a higher rainfall amount than the surrounding areas, which is not to say much, but it can get quite cold. It is usually foggy in the mornings and then a mid-morning wind, like today’s, blows and drives out the fog and in its place, whips up a red dust. It requires superhuman patience and insight to become tolerant, let alone fond of a town whose stubborn dust keeps getting into your eyes and throat. I was happy to leave.

In the lorry full of middle-aged people conversing noisily in a strange language. Sweet-sounding strangeness. Conversing about important things, I think. Or boring. No one laughed or frowned. The dusty journey was now beginning and with it the same complete denial of usual comforts usually experienced travelling in a vehicle. And an extra worry.

The driver of was a young man who had coaxed a most miserable goatie from the bottom of his face and a foul mouth to go with it. That combo came with a topping of a recklessness that we were made aware of when he started driving.

Our journey took us past the infamous Chalbi desert. There’s no place I have been or imagined that’s nearly as desolate as Chalbi. Sandy deserts with their dunes start develop a comforting appeal once you compare them with this place. A disturbing sight without any thing in all directions made more surreal by the distant mirages and aberrations of the horizon by the hellish heat.

Do they ever wish each other a good day in the desert? What would that mean when you lived in places like this? Perhaps that was why peoples living in places like this have elaborate greetings. Greetings that seek to know the latest status of everyone and every living thing owned; as if sure that one of the people or animals related to the person being confronted with the greetings has succumbed to the harsh indifferences of the desert. Typical greetings are as follows. “How is you father? How is your mother? How are your wives? How are your sons? How are your daughters? How are your cattle? How about your donkeys? The plague carried away our sheep. How are yours?” And it may go on like that for minutes.

The few diminuative thorn trees the started appearing as we came towards the end of total barrenness were a welcome sight. As was the report that we were near a small town. If I had known that we were to spend a night there on account of a sharp repetitive sound like a fast siren coming from on of the front wheels, I should have chosen other more improbable things to excite my future hopes. That is to say, we never got to Moyale that day.

I saw Moyale town the following day in the hot afternoon.

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Discussions With The Shaolin Master Called Reality

Everytime I when thought and pictured things going differently, Reality vehemently disagreed and thrust in my path a suprise. Never a particularly bad surprise on any day but those suprises that are definitely possibilities that you look at through that extremely comfortable blindfold called hope. For instance, buying mineral water and leaving it with the policemen HOPING that their parched throats answered to direct orders from the owner of the drink in question but otherwise retrained themselves to superhuman dryness. This is how Reality reminded me that I shared a species with policemen. It was not a dignifying thought seeing as I have had unkind intercourses with -and heard comically sad stories involving policemen as the protagonists. It is also true that better tales would also be gotten from other sources were it not for the unfair rule that dead men should tell no tales.

So I took from their care the lump of things that I travelled with including my bike. The bags had obviously been handled by a curious person. Fortunately though, there was nothing much to be had from them save for food items, tools and sweaty clothes. I piled my luggage near where they said the bus would stop. As I went back to push the bicycle, I thought cynically, “these guys can steal air if they found it wrapped properly.” And hold, the front tyre was flat! I turned to look at the guilty-faced policeman trio and one of them, a full-bellied short man, belched. My air! If I was a more cruel man…. Pardon that thought. Or let us just say that I have since gotten in touch with the pope and presented my papers and case to canonized as the patron saint of stranded cyclists for that singular act of preventing myself from taking more air -all air-from a man who I had reasons to believe had stolen mine.

At around midnight, the bus to the next town, Marsabit arrived. I took care to personally carry the bike and tie it to the carrier on top of the vehicle. (It was a rather over-zealous endeavour as I realized the following morning when it took me more than quarter of an hour to completely unfasten it from other unrelated goods belonging to complaining travellers who wondered what my real motive had been).

Back on the bus, I found that I had no seat. It was crowded and I had to stand. Or perch on an arm-rest from time to time. Or sit on the floor. All were done repeatedly in that and reverse order. Stand, perch, sit, perch, stand, and so on until we got to Marsabit at dawn.

Those who had small luggage that they held to their laps could leave. Others, like yours truly, who had their problems carried on the carrier on top of the bus had to wait until sunrise to get them back. I honestly entertained the thought of just bolting from the bus and leave my every problem thus far, behind but two things stopped me: a seat that had just grown vacant and seduced me to sleep on its blue farce velvet and my master, Reality, who reminded me of the folly of running like a mad man -or a pickpocket-through a strange town.

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Dreamt Of A Bad Dream In A Good Dream

In between my dreams, I think I live. I think, I live and I wish for a mighty lot of things. In between these dreams, I wish I knew they were my dreams. Perhaps I am someone else’s dream; someone crazed by expectations of a judging crowd, someone depressed by unmet goals and outcomes that disappoint the that crowd outside the ring; someone apprehensive and in fear of never being sure-footed, never confident- but confident of never failing to know that they will fail – a confidence that knocks other self assurances surely out. Dreams of a person suppressed by owned debts that were never actively incurred. That is, incurred through naïve blunders of signing on paper tricks. Perhaps this person whose dream I think is my life never enjoys this dream and I pity him. Or her. And I pity myself too for being a bad dream and for being unable to improve it, change it. Perhaps I’m my own dream and perhaps I’m able to change it. But perhaps I’m in a coma, or in some virtual computer drive and all I think I do, I actually don’t and changing this dream is but changing only a dream and never anything else in actuality. However, if I’m someone’s dream, I should let them know that I don’t like my dreamlife and that they should change it, remove some characters in this dream or just make me dream- I mean live- without seeing or interacting with them in any manner in this lifedream or any other my dreamer might chose to dream. Or livedream.

So it was from strange forgotten dreams that I awoke into this main dream that morning in the setting of small town Loiyangalani to find a kind twist in it. There was a lorry travelling north towards Marsabit where I was headed. It wouldn’t get to Marsabit but it would get to the main road where I fancied trucks and buses and four-wheels would be falling over themselves competing to carry my bike and I. It was a good prospect. It was also during this morning that the town hustlers approached me in turns trying to sell me fossil shells, crocodile teeth, some blue and white rocks they called gemstones, goodluck seeds -too late for that now, and weed. Always in broken English and alot of it. I led them on putting on that foreign-sounding English accent and having fell for it, they quoted some figures that brought forth involuntary laughter from me suprising both of us. A few shells embedded in hard shale for two thousand shillings! What could be funnier?

“Kwenda kunia kwa nyasi, fala wewe!” was always my reply. It translates to “Sorry, brotha. Your price is too high.” It also means that I was not prepared to get into any kind of deal with them, however sweet.

One of these loafing experts was a large youngish man with short thick dreadlocks and that ill-fitting round cap that he wore drew my pity. The poor cap must have felt as one must feel making a bed on jagged tree stumps. This is the man that had tried to sell me a sad-looking, thin joint for the price of almost a hundred Cubans and I dismissed him not too kindly. He left promptly. He wasn’t used to people telling him off straight to his face, I gathered, except maybe his “boss” and supplier. He must have put me into this category for he came back shortly smiling and fidgeting to where I sat in the sand with a long-haired blonde young man that seemed as out of place as color white on shit. He introduced us with almost apologetically with false names and left. I was Ras Jack and I never saw him again.

My new friend was an Italian writer and music producer in South Africa. He had a girly face and no beard. I couldn’t help but notice how similar he looked to the female character called Dani in The Scrubs. (The babysitting, younger sister of that tiger, Jordan). He had quit his job and was travelling alone with a small backpack for what felt like no reason at all since May of the previous year and he planned to travel the world until May then he would go back to work. It is hard not to envy that.

By and by, our journey aboard the trunk of this beaten lorry started. There is not one pleasure to be had from travelling this way. There is no dignity to be maintained when being shaken in ten different postures at once, continuously, and for hours. There are no frowns or face lines to be hid when swimming in this fog of dust and smells of sweat and of people getting sick. There is no optimism to be expressed when among the loud unheeded complaints, yours is the loudest curse elicited upon hitting your head on the metal side. There is no greater impatience than that expressed when the driver stops to buy boiled eggs and flirt with a topless Samburu woman in a small market along the way. So many flirting stops even with fully dressed women that I eventually started fearing women on the road.

Our driver was a gifted man at time wasting. It was a misplaced gift to use on us but he was nevertheless determined not to let it go to waste. At one point he spotted a pair of ostriches from a distance not far from the “road” and he drove the lorry into the bush to chase them while in a loud boyish laughter like it was the greatest joke ever played. And the passengers cheered on and occasionally ducked from onrushing acacias, ecstatic at this rare rumble in the jungle. Great fun! Not for me. You see, chasing ostriches and stopping for boiled eggs-timewasting techniques that do not involve flirting with topless girls don’t work for me.

At eight o’clock after dark, we got at the place I was to come off. A small town of Laisamis whose shops and small restaurants were almost taking their last orders. I was happy to get off. Too happy perhaps that I forgot my little inflatable mattress that I sat on.

Everyone was covered in improbable continents of dust but the clown award went to our Italian friend who blinked through openings in his crust as if unable to comprehend what possible cruel judgement had befallen him to deserve a journey that long in one life. Coming off, I beseeched the remaining passengers in the name and for the love of humanity to please take a bath as soon as they got to wherever on the next hell they planned to stop.

“I didn’t catch your name there,” I said turning to leave our friend.

“See you in Addis Ababa. My name’s Dani,”was his reply. Strange dreamlife.

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Followed By The Proposed Site For Hell

The plan of some local god that I had displeased in some mysterious ways while I slept was to send one-million-decibel crickets near my ears , small fruitfly-like insects in their swarms, legions of devil mosquitos and the ants to keep me awake – which did not succeed. What succeeded was his sending me the final plague of possessed children at my “bedside” in the early morning. Children possessed by the devils of giggling, poking, stonethrowing, shrieking, petty theft and obnoxious noise. Fulltime: Me, nil – some lakeside god, 1.

Having been beaten at my endeavours at slumber, I fell back to the realities of my sorry situation and roused my sore self. Our friend from yesterday was at hand to give me the number of the only known car owner. In his usual forthcoming way, he showed me a hilltop nearby on which he said I would get cellphone reception.

“Couldn’t we send someone?” I asked and immediately realized the folly of my question. It was up to me to climb the hill. I sought network reception on a few raised places while holding my phone over my head in an exaggerated way until I realized that I was going to waste more energy or time than I would have making straight for the hilltop.

Once on the hilltop, I remember noticing and being pleasantly abstracted for a little while by how the lake looked ethereal in it shimmering blue-green, how quietly the almost strong cool wind blew, how peaceful the tiny village and its tiny people were and how good living isn’t the same as snobbery and pretentious fine living.

Those fine thoughts were brushed quickly aside when I sought to sit on a boulder to entertain more thoughts like them and happened to look at my bruised and swollen legs owing to the the painful effort that was required to bring myself to that sitting posture. I was painfully reminded that I was only here to beg. And I begged the only person in my world that owned a car and a way out of my trials to come for me. It amazed me that even in such desperation, I still had not forgotten nor could I let go of my incorrigible bargaining habit. We settled at three thousand if only I travelled some twenty kilometres to another village where he would meet me. Twenty kilometres to save my four thousand? Not a problem, sir!

I descended and back to my troubles that had now been dealt quite a heavy blow. At this raised perspective, I laid eyes on a distant herd of camels and immediately thought there was no way I was going to push that bike through the sand again with the availability of creatures that were just dying to work in the desert.

There’s no peace, dear friends, that quite nears that of imminent demise of your troubles. And I felt it. I must have showed it too because the children that had earlier poked me and ran like I was to be avoided with as great wariness as towards a beast with sharp ends, now came fearlessly to to greet me, to test whether I spoke their tongue, and perhaps to see what I had brought them.

It was then that I saw one of the small girls with a badly infected earlobe. It was a piercing gone wrong and the piercing thorn was still in place through the bulbulous wound. I sought to look at it hopefully disinfect it at the very least. You never saw such a brave little girl. She sat on my crossed legs through alot of pain as I pressed the pus out, cleared away the dead tissue, applied the stinging disinfecting solution and finally the antibiotic powder without as much as a whimper; just a few drops of tears running down her face. I gave her an antibiotic and a painkiller to swallow and as I held my bottle of water for her to drink from, I noticed her mother. I saw that she had stood there for a while. I handed her the rest of the dosage with instructions and they left together with all the children in tow.

At this point, my consultant friend came to know if I had been successful in reaching the car owner and I took the chance to ask if I could borrow one of the camels to carry my stuff some twenty kilometres to village we had settled on. No, he said, but I could have a donkey at a small fee that I promptly agreed to. Then he was off for two hours to fetch the donkey from somewhere.

Unbeknown to me, the mother of that little girl went and preached to the whole village that I, the man who had masqueraded as a travelling cyclist, was indeed a doctor and was offering his services for free. Shortly, they were lined up at my manyatta with the little girl’s mother as the translator.

“She says she her throat is so painful she can’t swallow”, come a translation, followed by another about a toddler with a laboured dry cough, and more others and a woman with arthritis. This one about arthritis could have gone past me because the translator tried to dismiss the patient until I insisted on hearing what she had to say by pointing at her. The sufferer leaned backward holding her lower back about to speak when the translator jumped in to tell me that it was no problem; her husband had left her months ago hence her aching joints and that’s not a sickness. Could we please move on to serious stuff? (Would you have laughed?) Despite my continuous protests that I was a fake doctor, I was soon enough left without my large pharmacy of pills and ointments.

The donkey was finally here I was informed, and I rose to put together things that had been scattered about. (This scattering by ravage unpacking, by the way, was to plague me for the rest of the trip. Almost always, I found that something I needed was at the bottom of the tightly-packed bag and there was little chance of getting it out without getting most of things out first).

As I left, I sought to know how the little girl was and was informed by the smiling mother that she was now asleep; she had not sleeped well for days from pain. I felt something similar to what people ( and I mean women of both gender!) say they feel when they shed tears of joy.

But allow me now, dear friends, to skip the unnecessary and embarrassing details about part of my journey that was made with the help of an ass, up to the redeeming moment that came when we had walked just a few kilometres, for I imagined I could still see the tiny village from a distance.

The person guiding the donkey had decided that we should take a short route through a pass between two small rocky ranges. We had not gone far from the “road” when we saw as if from nowhere a car emerge in a mighty cloud of dust and speed away to our right in great haste. A CAR! I dropped my backpack and ran after it like mad – over boulders and sand and thorn bushes shouting, waving hands, and whistling. At that point, I was an world-class steeplechase athlete, a sprinter, a high jumper, a hop-step-and-jump jumper, and the cheering crowd all at once. It helped, this racket, for the driver noticed me and stopped.

It was the man I had spoken to and in act of great kindness had decided to come all the way.

As we drove away, I watched in dazed horror miles upon miles of the god-forsaken landscape that I would have traversed. Not one redeeming feature in it. If I would not have died of thirst, I would have been depressed to death by this landscape, by the knowledge that I might be the only living thing for tens of miles around, and that even the next living thing after that distance might be a carpet viper that would be quite eager to maintain the status quo of being the only subject in such a head count.

The kindness or this man that owned a car did not stop there. He drove me to Loiyangalani town and offered me a place to sleep in his compound until the following morning.

As luck begets more good fortune, that kind and lovely girl that puts up patiently with my stupidity and bad judgement called that evening. She was happy that I was all well and that was all the encouragement I needed to go ahead and make more horrible (but not deliberate) judgement calls as you shall learn by and by.

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With Failure Involved…

I alighted at the rough-pebble shores of Nakwakolea and jumped on my bike to follow the general direction that the few fishermen and village people pointed. In my unwise haste I forgot to wear my padded cycling shorts in case the enthusiastic admiration shown by my new fans got worn by my reluctance. That was my first mistake.

“You’ll make it to Loiyangalani by 4 o’clock,” they hoped for their superman and off I went almost whistling.

What I did not know was that Loiyangalani could only be reached by a meandering general desert route (not even a road in most parts!) that was about 110km long! I had barely done 15 before my rear derailleur for some reason got into the spokes and screeched me into a halt.

You never mistake the feeling in knowing when you are in serious trouble, in which I was – and this before I even started. The derailleur was completely warped and it seemed the end of it. No problem, I thought. I’d just push it and hope I’ll get there by nightfall. It must be a few kilometers, I thought. So I coerced my tonne-heavy bike through sand and boulders ever hoping to see the shining rooftops of the town from a distance. I met just one person in hours- a beaten herdsman who asked for my water by pointing and reaching out for it from the bike. He didn’t even speak Swahili so in much difficulty managed to ask where Loiyangalani was. He only pointed.

After another hour, I met another person that spoke Swahili and who assured me that I could quite possibly be the most lost person on the planet.

“Loiyangalani, my friend, is a place you’ll reach when you’re my age if you go on walking and pushing that thing like that,” said his fifty-year face.

A better way, he coached, would be to turn and follow the very clear footpath that he pointed to up to where it joins car wheel tracks in the sand and head left. It would take me to a village called Soit where I’d hope to find a car to Loiyangalani in a day or two.

“A day or two!” my soul screamed in me. I’d already lost more days than I could afford. But I had little choice and so I did it reaching the car tracks with much difficulty. The village I was to go to was another 10km away on the shores of the lake. Weariness, my dear friend, is better feeling compared to what I continually went through. I grabbed a few opportunities to convince any curious, but rare, onlooker to help me push through the sand even for a few steps. That included blatant impropriety twice: on one occassion, two women carrying small babies and the second, a young pregnant woman herding goats.

By and by, I reached the village and in much difficulty asked one old fisherman who had picked some Swahili somewhere along the way about the car that was known to pass through here and if I could please set up camp in their village. The car, I gathered, wasn’t coming any time soon. It only came to pick sun-dried fish of which there was none and there wouldn’t be for a long time. He then proceeded to lament to me how the lake had been rough for almost two weeks and that was what drove the fish away from their reach.

“However, if you want you can have the number of the person and you can tell him to come for you. He’ll cost you about seven thousand shillings”, said he and promptly summoned a little boy and sent him to a village nearby to go and fetch the telephone number. (Nearby but out of sight, must have been a few kilometres away) It took me a moment to realize that this might just be the cost of retaining my sanity.

All this time, I sat in the sand surrounded by a crowd of village people, not unlike a criminal having been cornered. An innocent self-righteous person who chanced to come upon me at that moment would be forgiven for being tempted to cast the first stone and ask questions later.

After a little while in an act of transcendental kindness, my consultant offered me a half-built manyatta in which to lay my head. He was a very forthcoming man too. He asked me not to expect any food. Of course not, is what I thought and went to my lodging where I dropped to the warm sand at sunset.

Dear friends, no man, woman or beast has ever been as tired as I was and I slept like dead till the following morning.

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