December 9, 2012

Allow me to acquaint you

It’s chaos in Nairobi. 

Or, rather, it was chaos for a few days, but people seem to be moving on now.  Though that’s hardly as gripping a statement as It’s chaos in Nairobi!  And I don’t mean the everyday, predictable chaos that gives this city its flavor.  I mean something specific, something special:


Sure, they’ve already been on strike at least twice since I returned, but this time they mean business.  Or, rather, no business (…it’s a strike-related pun). 

For those who know what matatus are, you'll know how crippling a legitimate strike can be for Nairobi.  And for those who don't know what matatus are, allow me to acquaint you:

While there are also buses in Nairobi, matatus are the primary form of public transport.  They're vans with 12 seats (in 4 rows).  Based on this physical capacity, they carry 10 passengers, 1 driver, and 1 conductor.  That's in Nairobi.  In Kisumu and other areas of Western Kenya, matatus carry 1 driver, 1 conductor, and about 15-20 people.  They're no larger than the matatus in Nairobi, but they do a lot of lap-sitting, and they use wooden boards to create seats across the isle.

Give or take, matatus look like this:

That's a pretty generic looking one.  Often, they're decorated with various stickers or graffiti tags.  It's like the van your friend's older cousin used to park across from the high school and smoke weed out of during calculus class.  The inside is always battered and seats are torn.  Yet, they're often souped up with big speakers and more decorative touches.  The ceilings are padded, I assume to prevent concussions when going over bumps.  There are no seat-belts.  

From the inside.  Blurriness corresponds to bumpiness.  

Tricked out with lights, speakers, and a TV screen.

The conductor rides in back with the passengers and is responsible for collecting money enticing people into the van.  He either sits in the seat next to the door, hollering out their destination (TOOOWwwn!  TOOown!), or to be more efficient, he just keeps the door open and hangs outside of the matatu shouting at people on the sidewalk as they drive along.  

All conductors fold money the same way.  Even flapping outside in the wind.  

Conductor riding outside of the van.

So, back to the point at hand- why were the matatus on strike last week?  On December 1, Kenya implemented new traffic laws and penalty fines that are, supposedly, outrageous.  For instance, you can't "overlap," which means creating multiple lanes, where only 1 is supposed to go.  And you can't drive on the sidewalks.  Outrageous, I say!  How are people supposed to get anywhere without driving on the sidewalks??

This is supposed to be a 2 lane street.

Anyhow, they appear to have returned to work by end of last week, at least in the areas that I frequent.  But you can never really tell.  I’m told that the police are also on strike, but they keep showing up to work to get paid and avoid a governmental reprisal.  But they just stand at their post, wherever that may be, and don’t work.  For me, until otherwise informed, I can’t discern the difference between this and their normal work routine. 

So you never really know.

December 4, 2012

In the good way

If you're camping in California or elsewhere in the U.S. and you see a sign that says, "Don't leave ANY food in your tent or bears will eat you," it's not a joke.  Don't leave ANY food in your tent, or bears will eat you.

I suppose we should have paid similar heed to the signs warning us not to leave ANY food in our cabin at Diani Beach last weekend.  But we felt pretty safe, ensconced in mosquito netting and wooden slats, and hey, apples don't really smell that pungent, do they?  Apparently, yes; to monkeys they do.  Which is why we woke up on Sunday morning to a Colobus monkey sitting on the cross-beam of our roof, eating an apple, and pooping all over the floor.

Don't leave ANY food in your cabin.  Lest the monkeys consume and poop.

We also learned that politely saying, "Go on, Monkey.  You need to please leave now.  Just throw your apple out the window ahead of you and then go after it," doesn't work.  (N of 1 = proof!).

Luckily, that was the day we were leaving, so we didn't have to spend a weekend with excrement, and the rest of the time was quite lovely.

The requisite dawn flight to the coast.  Over Mt. Kilimanjaro.

At the Kenyan coast, you can be as lazy or as active as you want, and this weekend I was lazy.  So lazy the trip can be summed in 5 words: sun, sand, ships, swimming, seafood.  Or, simply, sloth.  In the good way.  And that meant that it was all about the beach:

 Splashing along the shallow tides.

 Sinking steeply into soft white sands.

We bought some wine, bread, and cheese and took it out to sea in a glass-bottomed boat, dropping anchor at a sandbar several hundred meters from shore and splashing about in the knee-deep water.  We touched and befriended huge pincushion starfish and creepy-crawly spider star-fish.  We kept wide berth from some sea urchins.  We lay on the sand reading as camels traipsed by.  We ate fresh prawns from the Indian Ocean and attended a James Bond party on the beach.

Glass-bottom boat.


 Beach bar by day.

 Beach bar by night.  

And by night, after the parties were finished and the sun long since set, we ran back into the ocean for swimming by stars.