Kericho reminded me of Juba at first because I walked through the “industrial” part of town right after arriving. The concrete structures with painted signs offering welding, iron works, wholesale of foodstuffs, and mechanics fixing cars on the sidewalk, jumpsuits torn and oil-stained. But then there are flowers and palm trees. Clearly not like Juba.
The matatu ride here (south east of Kisumu) was nice except for when the lone smelly straggler tried to shove his way bit by bit onto my seat after failing with two other guys. It was Sunday morning so churches are going at it full swing. Added a nice touch and a bit of a soundtrack to the journey.
There was a bit of banter during the ride, especially about the issue of bribing the police at checkpoints for various reasons including but not limited to: having an extra passenger than was legal, and permission to use part of an unfinished road (the detours next to the tarmac are bumpy and muddy and slow).
Man #1: “We need to stop this corruption, this bribing of police!”
Man #2, wedged up against Man #1 on the bench: “Pole pole*. We will get there.”
Man #1: “Where is it? I do not want stages I want it to be here!”
During the ride I was thinking about my comfort level with traveling. Specifically why it is so backward. I get so nervous and tense and uncomfortable when I ride around in nice cars in places with dirt roads. Maybe because I see every little injustice done to the people who aren’t sitting comfy in their SUV. The accidental splash here, a startling horn honk there, maybe even cutting off a bicycle. It just feels unnatural that I’m sitting in aircon while the rest of the dusty world rolls by outside. But put me on the back of a motorbike and I am happy as a clam. The wind in my hair, hearing and seeing what’s going on at ground level, waving at people surprised to see a mzungu on a motorbike. No hassle with parking, no gas fees, and $0.70 for a 15 minute ride? Yes please. Tuk tuks I don’t like quite as much because they’re loud and bumpy.
Even the matatu to Kericho – I’m glad I couldn’t see the odometer but we were going fast. Even with the roadworks it took only 1 hour and 45 minutes to go 84 kilometers. But I was so relaxed and happy and not nervous or on edge at all. I even like the informal payment system. It’s fun to banter and joke for awhile to get to a price (in limited quantities obviously!). it’s just people at their best. Unfortunately this kind of travel makes it more likely that you will also see people…not at their worst, but not how they want to be seen or how you want to see them.
At the beginning not 500 meters from the bus stand, while we had stopped to try sorting out the issue of the matatu selling more tickets than seats, there were three boys sitting in the gutter. Literally. One had on a moldy suit, one plastic sandal and one sneaker with the sole held on by a rubber band, and one trouser leg tied around his ankle which what looked like a strip of a plastic shopping bag. This is what people do when they drink the local brew (changa’a) because it messes you up so badly that you often lose control of your ability to relieve yourself. Pant legs are tied so your piss and shit don’t run down onto your shoes or the floor. Charming, I know. It’s milky brownish-looking and served in a clay pot on the floor and men sit around it and rink out of long reed-like straws. This guy had the most miserable expression on his face and once in awhile put his head on his knees and pulled the collar of his suit jacket up over half of his face.
Clearly I was not paying much attention to what was going on in the matatu at this point.
The two other guys couldn’t be older than 15 if that and were visibly twitching. Bottles of Kenya King glue were stuck to their lips. Sniffing glue helps keep hunger away. Many street kids are addicted to the stuff. You see empty Kenya King bottles anywhere there is litter.
The Tea Hotel, supposedly the nicest place to stay in Kericho, is crumbling away. It seems as if nothing has been maintained in the past 20 years. The farther away it gets from Independence the more it fades. The roof tiles are falling off. The patio slabs are cracked where the grout should be. The piano is out of tune. Safari hunting trophies are stuck haphazardly on the lobby walls. But the gardens out back are immaculate – perfectly proportioned, manicured and a riot of color. Perfect for exploring.
It was really cool sitting here on a Tea Estate, having a delicious lunch, drinking tea, having the rain pour all around. Quite the contrast from the start to the day. I don’t feel guilty, but I do feel…odd. Like I shouldn’t be witness to either scenario.
All the hills around the inhabited areas of Kericho are filled with tea estates. Doesn’t seem like there is a whole lot else going on economically. Can’t help but wonder if the local residents would rather that the land had gone towards food production instead of a mainly export crop. I asked Herman, my guide for a tour through one of the Tea Estates, and he said that people would rather the tea companies be there because they provide jobs as well as housing, schools and medical care for their employees and their families. Fair enough.
The hills with the tea are so stunningly green and amazingly fresh. It was a joy to walk around.
*Slowly slowly. Pronounced poe-lay poe-lay. Basically the theme of the region. As in the song by the late, great E-Sir: “Moss moss moss moss, pole pole, mos mos… haraka haraka haina baraka.” Basically means “slowly slowly (etc)…..hurrying does not bring blessing.” Moss moss (pronounced moes moes) is Luo for pole pole.