Oh boy- what a morning…..
It took me a full two hours to even begin to think ‘at least it was blog worthy!’
Every single one of my senses is exhausted and I experienced an unusual range of emotions in a period of 3 hours.
At 3 am we woke because of jet lag. Flynn, having been asleep since 5 pm the evening before, was wide awake. I got up too and blogged as he watched Spongebob.
We stepped outside at about 8:25 to wait for James our driver, only to discover he was waiting for us.
The drive into the city wasn’t too crazy as it was relatively early.
On one round about, a man just sat calmly on the road of the roundabout itself, looking calm and spaced out.
After a second very generous tip in two days, James immediately asked if we needed a lift home after and we had the Nai Nani tour guys call him when they arrived to arrange a meeting time. Although the phone conversation happened in Swahili, all seemed well.
We arrived at our tour meeting point far earlier than planned, so with over an hour until our walking tour with former street kids, we risked our lives trying to cross the highway with everyone else, pushing through the thrumming maze of cars to get to the Kenya National Archives.
While the stern security guard was a bit of a deterrent, the lovely tour guide who materialized and indulged us in a whirlwind tour of the contents inside the impressive building, knew his stuff and was such a gentle man.
We crossed cautiously back over to our meeting spot and immediately the first two of our tour guides approached us.
All up we had nearly a guide each. Flynn mainly shared with me, but he hopped around a bit.
We began our tour in a frantic part of the city where being able to cross the road seemed an impossibility; where 2 lanes had sometimes been forced into 4. So many near misses, dear reader. More than two hands worth of fingers.
We walked, our guides were chatting away gregariously. As we descended into grittier parts of the city, they each opened up to their assigned person about the tough background they have come from.
Every crossing of a road felt perilous. Cheddar had a hold of both me and Flynn each time. It is incredible. There is a two way road but seriously, the cars are coming from more than two directions! How is that possible?
We ran for our lives,. Quite frightening now I think of it!
Rather than pointing out a lot of sights, we were instead being shown the places where different ones in our group had slept under a bridge for a time, or the filthy, rubbish-strewn river that they bathed and swam in.
We were the only mzungu that I saw all day and as we got deeper into the areas where the boys had grown up, I saw that we were garnering a lot of attention.
In order to not attract police ( who are everywhere with their guns, directing traffic) and have to pay them bribes, the guys were starting to spread us out a little. I could now only see Kara and her guide.
My foot lifted off the kerb , readying to launch across our 50,000th insanely busy intersection, when a vice grip grabbed my upper arm hard. It unbalanced me. I instinctively lashed out thinking this was it, I was getting robbed! But the grip tightened and I turned to see an angry woman’s face pushed up close, invading every personal space rule pushing and pulling me; to try to pry me from Cheddar Cheese who was now holding my hand tightly. ( my guide’s name, no joke. His name is actually Cheddar so he has added the Cheese). My head twisted every way staring around for Cheddar To try to read his expression to gushed the situation and what to do.
Cheddar wore a relaxed smile and said mildly ‘ ‘it’s ok. Don’t react. Keep coming.’ He grasped my hand tighter and pulled me forward. I noticed he was holding Flynn’s hand tightly too.
The woman reeked of aggression. She pushed in close to young Cheddar’s face, to get him to relinquish me. I pulled free and moved away.
The woman went to fake punch Cheddar a few times. He did not flinch, just smiled like usual. One of her fake punches nearly hit Flynn in his terrified face.
‘Flynn, come over to me, darling’. I said in a calm, quiet voice. He came and I grabbed him by the hand and made to walk away. Cheddar came between us again and took Flynn’s hand, but the space was too narrow.
‘ You keep going, I will walk behind you’, I told him as the woman now came close to me with fake syrupy sweetness and sexual suggestiveness, her aggression barely suppressed as she tried to pry me from Cheddar again.
I looked at all the folk who were watching on, trying to read their faces, to glean if they would intervene if she launched herself at Flynn for an actual attack.
All I could see was curiosity and amusement. I felt like maybe she a known personality in the area, and probably wasn’t violent. But I didn’t get any sense that we would be helped if something bad happened. When Cheddar had been fielding fake punches, everyone had just laughed.
Another forced stop as now she was pulling hard at Flynn. If it was a friendly gesture, I would not have minded, but I could feel this woman’s real emotions so close to the surface and assumed she must be having a bad drug trip or be permanently affective by her drug use.
‘Cheddar continued to smile at her and tug Flynn toward.
The woman now tried to dance suggestively around my poor kid and say- with a saucy wink, eyebrow wiggle and bosom shake she crooned ‘ Come back my room, darlink’.
My ‘ hapana mama, this boy watoto!’ was not acknowledged.
The 3 of us continued pressing forward, stepping blindly over filth as she stayed close and moved with us as one.
‘Don’t worry, Cheddar kept assuring me. ‘ there are a lot of crazy people in Nairobi these days.’
This woman followed us for a kilometer, until we caught up with the others ( who had all encountered her to a less hands-on extent) she danced at us, flirted, pulled at our arms singing out ‘lets go, let’s go, come with me!’ and growled intermittently at Cheddar.
As we approached Kariokor markets, we saw the others waiting. All of them had encountered her, to a lesser degree.
Much later over a couple of debriefs at home, we pieced the story together from bits and pieces each of our guides had told us.
She is a known prostitute, whose last John had not paid. She was drunk and on a warm path. What she had been telling Cheddar was that she was now our guide and that he needed to be the translator so she could guide us and then she could get paid!
Now as we stood in the brink of the Kariokor markets, about 10 new men joined us. This had happened throughout the tour and I just looked at our guides faces each time to get a feel for if these hangers- on were friends or just spectators .
These guys were warmly welcomed by our guides and came up to shake hands and talk to us with such ease that I actually thought they were other guides. We were being ushered unto the covered maze of the market and 2 of the men approached me, one handed me a little basket, saying. ‘ Come and see and look and choose and you can change your mind at any time.’
‘Are you part of these guys? I asked pointing back at ‘Typhoon’ our youngest guide.
‘Yes, yes,’ they soothed.
We all moved down into the bowel of the market, past rows of beaded thongs, Masai jewelry, a bewildering array of choices and colors.
The two men stopped me many times imploring me to choose one at each stall.
‘We will bargain down to a good price af the end’ I kept getting assured.
I could feel anger beginning to bubble up inside me, as I now knew what was coming. A hard sell. And I was angry that our guides had brought us here to be subjected to this, not as a group but separated with 2 on one.
I had expected to see souvenirs along the way but I had NOT anticipated this pushiness.
I decided to just comply at this stage, telling them I didn’t have much money on me and popped an occasional item onto the plate until it was told me ‘Let us now go and work out a suitable price’
I was herded into a little back stall and sat down.
The main guy, who I had come to realize was associated with the market and not our tour AT ALL, worked out all the prices together. As he did so, his professional demeanor slipped. I was seated and he was standing quite close. He started to move his hips and said’ I am man and you are woman.’, as he gyrated.
I glanced behind him and saw Typhoon hovering a little.
The creepy man announced ‘ For you a special deal: 23,00 shillings!’
23,00 shillings!? That is $300?!?! And I knew that probably the others would all be being subjected to the same.
‘I only have 2000 shillings’ I said firmly.
‘What about credit card? Who has more money in the group? We go to them?’
‘I did not bring a credit card and I am the one with the money. ‘ I answered truthfully.
The main guy and his associate now changed. They did not hide their disdain, sneering and laughing at me, spitting Swahili snipes about me between themselves. It was gross.
I called Typhoon in to help me get something decent for 2000 shillings.
I was escorted out then and found everyone was once again reunited. Bodie was furious; every tensed muscle and his gritted jawline gave it away. We all looked a bit shell shocked by the tactics used.
Now we continued walking towards the kibanda where we would have our lunch.
I was so annoyed by the whole market experience, I couldn’t pay attention to anything for about 10 minutes. I actually felt like we had been abandoned in the markets, like it was a set up. And it was.
On the other side of the Kariokor markets, we were seeing quite a few street boys. I don’t remember street boys looking like this. Small child bodies, but with hardened aged faces. A real hard look to them. They have obviously seen and endured too many horrific things with their childhoods cut short.
Most had a cut-down sprite bottle either in their hand or hanging from their lip. The ones with it hanging out their lip, were spaced out. Sniffing patrol or glue, I guess. This is where our tour guides had come from. Horrific!
Just as Flynn whispered that he was thirsty and his legs were aching, we stepped up into the shaded back of a kibanda ( a food shack)
Our meal here was included in the cost. We feasted on chapati and a delicious meat stew with cold soda.
The guides urged us to taste their ugali, which was just like I remember it. Yummmm
The food and drink soothed us and then the guides heard from James ( our morning driver who was coming back to get us) that he was just around the corner.
We got up to go meet him.
We sat for ages; I wanted to guides to go as they needed to do another tour, but they did not want to leave us alone because it was not a safe place.
Cheddar told me ‘ James is s#%* . He is telling lies in text messages.’
Turned out he was being rude to them as he tried to lie and say he was 2 minutes away while he was really stuck in traffic and still 20 minutes away.
Insults were exchanged via text.
The guides needed to leave but couldn’t abandon us so they cancelled James and called 2 Uber’s.
I felt dreadful; poor James, but if he was rude…..
The 2 Uber’s came together. We hopped in, and then Zac said ‘ Oh no Mum, James just pulled up.’
Cheddar ran over to me and said ‘go in the Uber’s, we have to pay them now they are ordered. So we stayed put. I saw James imploring at the first Uber and then shouting at the guides. Then I heard him say ‘ Where is Mama?’.
Uh oh! He came over to me with pleading hands.
‘Oh James, I am so sorry’ I said.
‘It is ok’, he sighed.
Poor James. Seriously, could that timing have been any more awkward? I think not!
We got home and sat like stunned mullets for a long time, digesting and processing. The actual debriefing didn’t happen until about 7 pm in bits and pieces.
At 4:30 we walked 15 minutes to see my old British school Cavina- the one where my sister Robyn was for her whole schooling.
It is still an oasis of a place. You could almost be in England with the greenery and the style of the buildings.
So much of the school is the same.
Mr and Mrs Massie, the principal and his wife have not changed. They revealed their steel trap memories as we visited.
Mrs Massie taught me ballet and History and Mr Massie tight me scripture and Latin.
Our night finished with KFC delivery, a few rounds of Mafia and a final debrief from which we all laughed ourselves silly and agreed it had been a good adventure.
Tomorrow ( well today for me) we go to Carnivore restaurant, shopping, Lake Naivasha cruise and overnight at RVA.
What could go wrong? ……