Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Day 34 – Visiting Athah’s family and fighting the bandits

I had the idea that we had to see at least one touristic place in this trip, and zeroed in the Kakamega forest north of Kisumu. Before heading there, however, we paid a visit to Athah’s elderly parents. He is the oldest son, so his place in the family is quite high and formal, so the visit was a bit “formal”. He took the chance, however, to explain the protocol involved in bringing his second wife to the parental home (Elizabeth had never been there, and I think she had never met the parents): The oldest or “first” son builds his house to the right of the house of his parents, and he can bring his first wife to live there (but the wife has to cook with the mother in the main house, as some sort of apprenticeship). If the son takes a second wife, however, he is expected to build his own homestead, with a main house for the first wife, and a second house for the second wife. He is stuck, however, because his first wife left him so there is no one to build the main house for. Fortunately Elizabeth and Athah are a modern couple, and they have their own house in Nairobi, but I have the feeling that for his parents the issue is still pending.

The trip to the Kakamega forest was a wash, because once we got there it was raining cats and dogs, the entrance to the national park was an outrageous 50 dollars per person (plus a mandatory guide), and it was already 4 pm. So we had to turn back with our own honors, and Elizabeth plaintively asked if we could return to Nairobi that night. It was a crazy thought, since we were a good 10 hours drive from Nairobi, but for lack of anything else we agreed on starting on our way back, subject to the possibility of taking a hotel for the night somewhere along the way.

After 3 or 4 hours of a miserable road I was ready to quit, but Elizabeth volunteered Athah to take the wheel. “Fine”, I thought, “if they want to suffer I will just go to sleep”. So Athah drove and drove, through pouring rain and thick fog, while I slept unconcernedly. I woke up around 11 pm. We were in a dark and lonely “road” out in the sticks, moving at about 10 miles per hour. All of a sudden we came to a block in the road, and all the horrors we had seen about people being dragged out of cars and lynched became suddenly real. We stopped about 50 feet from the rocks that had been used to block the road, not sure about what to do. It was pitch dark. All of a sudden a big truck came from the rear, and about 100 feet behind us made a big swing as if to make a u-turn and blocked the road. Athah said under his breath “Kikuyus!” and remembering that he and Elizabeth are Luos we all felt cold panic creeping down our spines. Athah made a tight u-turn, so we were now facing the truck blocking our retreat, and at that time a rock was thrown from the dark and hit the car. OK, this was it; we were going to die! But Athah kept as cool as ice, stepped on the accelerator, and swerved the car into the mountainside to bypass the truck. We almost tipped over, but we made good our escape!

We went back a few kilometers to the next town, and stopped to report the incident at the local police post. “Ah, yes”, they said, it was a well known trouble spot operated by a gang of petty thieves. They thought the rock had been to scare us away (they did a great job at that), so they could plunder the truck at their leisure. They would send a patrol at daybreak. So, business as usual in Kenya!

Against all good sense we continued on our way (through an alternate road), and by 3 am we finally made it to Elizabeth and Athah’s house in Nairobi. What a relief!

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