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Africa Day Four

Part Two

(Monday 12/13/99)

Part two is actually quite short. I just wanted to make it a separate page because I’m going to try and include a map and some pictures at some point and I didn’t want the whole page to take forever to load.

After we left the two boys behind we got a taxi and went to a place called Hippo point. You can probably guess why Hippo has its name, and to answer your question, no we didn’t see any. First things first though, the taxi ride.

Taxis are an interesting experience here. As I’ve already said, driving is an experience unto itself, but taxis are another story. In the States, when you say taxi it means something very specific, often something yellow. There are characteristics that we think of that define what a taxi is. Since the kids from the suburbs may never have set foot in a taxi, here’s a brief description. A cab should have a little light on top of the car that tells you whether or not the cab is available, a fare meter, a little crown or Christmas tree shaped air freshener, a massage bead chair cover for the driver, and maybe a glass dividing the driver and passenger. You get in, you tell them where you want to go and sit and watch the fare grow and grow with each second. I guess there are some more stereotypes of taxi cab drivers, but we can leave those things aside and concentrate on the essentials of a cab.

In Kenya they hang out on the street with little homemade taxi signs on the roof of their car, waiting for a fare. You don’t just hop in to a cab announce your destination and go. You have to negotiate a price for your destination. Just agreeing on where your destination is, and whether or not they can find the place is sometimes a challenge unto itself. In the negotiation of the price you can really do that theatrical negotiation tactic of walking off if they don’t budge on a high price, because there are a dozen taxis in either direction. You settle on a price and them clamber into the car.

I use the term car a bit loosely here. I used to call dented up, barely running cars “beaters.” Some of you who know Zac, know of his penchant for beaters. I can name them all…Sherman, P.F. Lloyd, Green Thunder, and The Maroon One (actually, I don’t know if this current car has ever been properly christened.) Fine cars one and all, and certainly not a one of them to be ashamed of, but beaters. The cars used as taxis here are so many levels below beater as to make the scale nonsensical. With each bump, no matter the size, you can feel the whole suspension system flatten out and creak. The tires are bald, the brakes are worn down to the “squeaky” part, there is no power steering or brakes, the upholstery is worn, sometimes with springs sticking out, seatbelts have gone missing, and the engines! I couldn’t tell you what is wrong with the engines (you know I don’t know anything about cars really,) but something clearly is. They do run, obviously, but they wheeze, cough and splutter through each kilometer. These are cars in constant need of duct tape and baling wire.

So you clamber in to one of these cars and bump and grind your way to your destination. That is, you start driving there. Sometimes you have to stop first for petrol or an errand or something. I’m hoping I can find a map of the neighborhood roads of Kisumu. They twist, turn and wind around each other, changing from tarmac (pavement) to dirt and back again. And the speed bumps are everywhere, the result being that they drive as quickly as possible up to the bump, slow down to go over it (with a groan from the shocks) and then floor it away from the bump. This assumes that they actually go over it, often they will just drive off of the around to go around it. The evidence from the roads without bumps is that their absence allows them to drive dangerously fast. The part of town that we are staying in is particularly labyrinthine and well paved (remember we staying in the nicest part of town.) It is also one of the parts of town that has a large percentage of named streets, not that you’d know from the lack of street signs. So navigating can be a co-operative effort between you and the driver. An effort that is made doubly difficult if neither of you really knows where you are going.

These things were almost all true of the taxi ride that we took on this day (still the Monday mentioned above despite the passage of time on the page. I’m trying to keep it brief I swear!) We negotiated a price of two hundred shillings for the ride out to Hippo Point. We got in to the car and started off. The car was in relatively good shape, but definitely sub-beater.

We drove away from town along the same road that the guesthouse is on (by the way, not a maisonette, we discovered today, oops.) A little way past the guesthouse is the edge of Millimani. We could tell the moment we left because the road turned from gorgeous tarmac to what can only be described as the surface of the moon. It was no longer a question of avoiding potholes, it was now a search for a portion of the road where the wheels on one side were not more than a foot or more higher or lower than the other. I know that we’ve all been on dirt roads before, and I don’t want to exaggerate, too much, how bad this road was, but Wow! I think that the biggest differences between dirt roads in the States and these are that they don’t appear to be graded with any frequency, despite being less than five minutes from the middle of town, and there is no gravel on the road, but there are large rocks, both on the road and in the road, if you catch my meaning. They are also used by a lot of people.

I will say this again and again and again, I’m sure. Every time I think that I have had a “real African experience” or that I have a handle on the place something happens that points out that I haven’t really figured anything out. It is sort of like driving up a mountain range; every time you think you’ve reached the top, you find that there is an even higher mountain behind that, and another behind that. And every time you near the top you think, “this is it, I have finally arrived!”

After walking through the town and the market, I thought I had it. But then when the boys followed us around town, I knew that the market wasn’t it, ah…but this, this is really it. Well, not an hour after the boys, I saw another mountaintop in the distance.

After we crossed the boundary of Millimani, we passed a little distance through some fields, passed the Kisumu Yacht Club, and then into a little village called Dunga. Again, I wish that I had pictures that I could show you. Maybe someday I’ll work up the courage to take some out here, and I’ll add them later. Dunga is basically a village in the real sense of the world. People live in close quarters in little huts, some of which are actually grass, and in shacks with tin roofs. There were little businesses, road-side food stands, markets, hair salons (with a choice of four different kinds of hair cuts as pictured on hand-painted boards), workshops, and tiny, tiny “hotels”.

We drove through this village towards Hippo point and a restaurant called Dunga Refreshments. It turns out that Dunga Refreshments is not on Hippo point but rather a little bit past it on another point. We continued through the village and up to the restaurant. Despite being recommended in every single guidebook on Kenya and Kisumu, the place had closed down. Our cab driver convinced the guard to let us through the gate and on to the point. He talked to a couple of guys hanging around the area and they said that the place had closed down earlier in the year, but if we wanted something to eat they would go get it. We gave them some money for some Cokes, made arrangements for the cab driver to pick us up and went out into the park.

Here’s another part where I wish I had pictures. In one direction we could see Hippo Point and beyond it Kisumu. Straight ahead were the mountains. To the left we could see the beginnings of Lake Victoria proper. Along the immediate shore were huge old wrecked wooden fishing boats nestled in huge masses of reeds, the kind that rest on the surface of the water and bob with each wave (I’ll get the name at some point.) Along the shore to the left were a row of boys and men standing in the water fishing with long poles, casting into the oncoming swells.

As we watched, the sun set into a small fluffy patch of clouds with a golden pink fuzzy explosion. The sun sets really fast here. Kim says we have a very short corpuscular period. If you think about it makes sense, because the Earth is rotating faster here than it does in Michigan. If you look at a globe you can see that Kisumu is at 0.05 degrees South. We are at the largest circumference of the Earth. If you look at Michigan you can see that it is much higher up on the globe and the circumference parallel to the equator (that is the circle of latitude) is much smaller. So during the same period of time, 24 hours, we both have to go around only once. Since we’re going farther during the same time period then it follows that we must be going faster. The practical result of this is that the Sun drops like a rock and rises like a rocket. It makes for beautiful, but brief, sunsets.

With that we went back to the guesthouse and went to bed. Again, pictures and maps are forthcoming….