Day 341: Motorcycle Throws Tantrum, Again

Rafiki, baby, why you got to treat me like this? Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli

Daily Updates are not edited and function more as daily journal entries – so if the plot seems to be all over the place or missing entirely and the tenses changes faster than a kaleidoscope, well, that's just the way it is.

I POKE the 10-year-old kid hard in the chest.

“You give me your money,” I say.

He's the boldest of the three kids that stopped me on the sidewalk during my morning errands at the border town of Namanga.

“Give me my money,” the kid says again. The phrase is one parroted by children throughout the country – perhaps one if the first phrases they learn in English.

“You give me your money,” I say poking him the chest.

I'm tired of these little shits acting like this: stopping you in the street and demanding money from you because you're white. They don't do it to rich black people; they only do it to white people.

“Give me my money,” he says, his right hand having instinctively moved over his chest to provide a little protection from the oncoming poking.

If you poke the same place hard and enough times, it really does start to hurt.

“No, you give me your shoes. Look at my shoes,” I say, pointing to the tattered flip-flops wrapped with black duct tape and red electrical tape on my feet. “Give me your shoes.”

It's the third or fourth time I've made a move on the kid's shoes, which wouldn't even fit half my foot.

At this point, I'm bending down pretending to try and take his shoes.

The string of frustrations that had been drawn tight from the disaster that is Rafiki and the reality of constantly being on display as a white person in Africa snaps, releasing me.

The little fights to keep his shoes on. However, I pick up him up and start tickling him as I throw him over my shoulder.

The little boy's smile catches the morning sun and his laugh rings out like church bells in the ears of a believer. I tickle him harder. He laughs harder. The sky is a cloudless blue above us.

His laughter is a reminder that they're just kids. The feeling of laughter washes all this silliness about demanding money from his mind.

I put him down. He's grinning from ear to ear before, then runs off with his friends – making no further demands of the white man in tattered shoes.

The first order of business today is securing a new SIM card, as my Kenyan SIM was stolen with my phone on Zanzibar. Once I have the SIM, I'll be able to lock into the internet, communicate, and plan. The second order of business is to stop being dead broke, which means I need to dip into the Western Union in Namanga to pick up $400 dollars.*

Namanga, at least this part, is a horseshoe-shaped shanty town, gently curving around the modern cement and glass Immigration Building. With nearly every wooden shake and business along the looping road pained a bright green, it's as if the entire town is owned by the telecom company Safaricom. It was a strange sight when I came through last time, and it remains a strange sight today.

“Come, I'll show you,” a young man in a dirty t-shirt says, trying to drag me to one of the Safaricom booths and probably get a small slice of an inflated price.

“It's fine. It's fine. I'm only looking,” I say. “Thank you.”

I walk the other way, doing my best to ignore him.

In my wallet, I found some credit for AirTel, a Safaricom competitor. However, there isn't an AirTel store insight.

“Hi, can I get a SIM card please?” I ask a middle-aged man behind green chicken wire stretched across the window of a tiny store selling detergent in small packets, cookies, crackers, soap, and Safaricom credit.

“Sorry, I don't have.”

I try the next vendor down.

“Can I see your national ID card?” he asks.

“What? I've got my passport,” I offer. It's no surprise that he needs official government identification to register the SIM, as the number will be tied to my name. However, me? A Kenyan national?

“I need a national ID card.”

“I don't understand. I got one a couple months ago and there was no problem using my passport.”

“But I can't do it now. Not here. We can't sell them to foreigners. You have to go to Nairobi.”

“What? There's no way I have to go all the way to Nairobi to get a SIM card. That's just ridiculous.”

It turns out that there were protests in Namanga a couple of days ago. Something about foreigners being deported because of a minister, at least that's the best I could glean from what the man is telling me.

I hadn't planned on going back to Nairobi. In fact, I was planning on letting the dice decided on a route to Kilifi. Thankfully, I'd yet to roll.

Further into town, I try a more respectable looking Safaricom. There's a modest line standing on the tile floor waiting to withdraw money or make a deposit or register a new SIM.

The man behind the glass parrots out the same information as the man who told me I had to go to Nairobi. He shrugs at my disbelief and turns to another customer.

Flummoxed, I head to the Western Union. There's some confusion about what forms I need to fill out, but we manage.

I sit down in the dusty bank building with bucket chair seats bolted into the tiles and wait. About fifteen minutes later, I sign for a wad of dirty Kenyan Shillings. I stuff them into my pocket and head back to the hotel.

I pat Rafiki's blue saddle as I walk past her. The air in my room is stale and heavy with the smell of oil and gas.

Though she's been spitting at me off and on for the last couple of days, Rafiki wasn't spewing fuel when I woke this morning, which was a good sign.

“Maybe I can wait to get to Nairobi before I clean the carburetor,” I think.

In my room, I'm able to catch enough signal from Tanzania with my phone to jump online and start arranging accommodation for the evening.

“Can I crash at your place tonight? I can only get Kenya SIM registered in Nairobi,” I write to Lovince.

“My internet is sketchy and I can't get a new Kenya SIM here.

“I think I remember how to get to your place.

“Bike is having issues, but hopefully we'll make it and I can work on it tonight. I'm in Namanga right now. Hope to leave town by 1pm, if the bike is feeling up to running.

“Don't think it's too far of a drive.”

It's a Saturday, so Lovince is in church. I don't hear back immediately.

On the tiled lobby of the hotel, next to a miniature go-cart and a stack of dusty bicycles, I flick the petcock from reserve to the full tank.

Rafiki gushes gas at me, like a teenager dumped on prom night.

Looking as mentally healthy as ever. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli

“Fuck,” I mutter, turning the petcock back to reserve. I really am going to have to pull the carburetor


Sitting in a fresh puddle of gas, I begin taking her apart, trying to remember what I'd seen mechanics checking these last few days. More gas comes spewing out at me as the cook, who's been especially helpful, decides to loom above me and talk at me.

“So, people don't understand that they really don't pay us much,” he says. “I don't like being in the front and meeting customers. I like to stay behind and just cook.”

Up to this point, I'd found the man particularly friendly and charming, but this hardly seems to be the best moment to chat me up.

“But when I'm only in the kitchen, nobody sees me and nobody can give me a little something extra.”

I ignore the comment, but he comes back to the fact that some customers don't leave any money for him at all if he doesn't meet them in person.

“Are you seriously talking to me about tipping right now? Does this really seem like the best moment to be asking about money?” I snap.

“Oh, sorry. Sorry,” he says, as if finally arriving in the current moment and realizing that I'm covered in gas, frustrated, trying to focus on something besides his tip.

“That should do the trick,” I tell myself, having made the necessary adjustments.

Proudly, I climb onto Rafiki. It takes a couple kicks, but she comes to life and then takes off, me clinging to her as we go.

I pull the clutch to slowly disengage the engine and prevent her from ramping over a dirt and gravel speed bump.

We turn around.

After another forty minutes of fiddling, I ask the cook if he can call a real mechanic to come look at the Rafiki.

The mechanic shows up with the bare minimum in the ways of tools and starts doing exactly what I already tried. I do my best to watch and learn. However, the hours slip by and progress is slim. I step inside and have beef and ugali for lunch.

After crafting a small replacement part from a smashed coke bottle lid – got to love bush repairs – the mechanic spots the tiny silver disc that was missing. It's sitting on the engine, where I must have left it when I failed to properly put everything back together again.

So that doesn't look good. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

However, even that doesn't fix Rafiki's problems. Her seat comes off. Then, her tank comes off, leaving the black skeletal remains of my temperamental friend.

“Come here. Look,” the shaved-headed mechanic says. “This here. This is no good.”

His fingers run across the frying wire of the throttle slide.

“Oh, I have a replacement with me. Hold on.”

I rush to my bags and dig out the cable, ecstatic to finally be prepared for something.

After removing all the wire, the mechanic goes to replace it. He and the young man helping him, pull and pull, but it's too short. It won't reach.

It turns out that because Rafiki is a self-lubricating two-stroke, the throttle capable is, in fact, three cables, one going from the handlebars to a tiny rubber box, where it connects to a cable that regulates the oil and one that manages the petrol.

Why on earth when I asked to for a replacement throttle cable at the Yamaha dealership in Nairobi did they only sell me the top? They didn't even ask if I wanted the other cables. Hell, I didn't even know there were other cables.

“Will the old one be good enough to get me to Nairobi?” I ask.

“I think so, but you need to replace it immediately.”

That explains the throttle issues, the fraying metal line was catching and sticking, making it unresponsive when I twisted the throttle on the handlebars.

“Do you know how much he's going to charge?” I ask the cook, who is standing with me back by my bags in the lobby.

“Okay, I'll go talk with him and get you a good price,” the cook says. The two men bargain for a bit. Then, I use the price they settled on as the starting point for my own round of bargaining, which saves e a few more dollars.

I'm suited up and ready to go.

Rafiki is packed.

It's time to ride.

I pay the mechanic a little less than he was hoping for, but enough. Then, I pay my tab with the cook, leaving a reasonable tip.

“Let me get your change,” he says.

“No, it's fine. That's for you. Thank you for your help,” I say.

He beams at me, delighted. Over and over again I forget that what seems like a reasonable tip can quickly add up to ten percent or more of a person's monthly wages here.

It's late in the afternoon. It will be a race to get to Nairobi before dark.

It's a race I lose.

However, finding this awesome lizard crossing the road was certainly a need. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

Without the internet, I'm forced to navigate into Nairobi from memory. Arriving at the city itself is easy enough – the directions are basically: head north.

But once I'm inside, the roads start tangling and it's just as easy to end up in the Kibera slum as it is to find Lovince's place.

Running on fumes, and M150, a Thai-energy drink that was miraculously in a gas station on the way back into the city, I sputter into a Java cafe parking lot near Lovince's apartment.

One of these Thai drinks was a welcome blast from the past. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli

I need their internet.

“Sorry, I'm getting in so late. Okay, if I come to the house now?” I ask Lovince.

“Bruv, it's no problem.”

“Have you checked with Liz?” I ask, wanting to make sure Lovince has cleared my landing at his place with his wife before I show up on their doorstep smelling like I've been rolling around in Satin's sulfur, especially as he won't be there.

“Yes, mate, my house is your house. Anytime,” he says.

Bags slung over my shoulder, black motorcycle gear smeared in gas, I knock on their apartment door.

Liz opens it.

“Whooo! You smell hun. You know I love you and you know the routine,” she says.

Boots go on the balcony, dirty clothes in the washer, and I jump into the shower before Liz is forced to quarantine the entire apartment.

It's good to be back with family.

* ED - The previous sentence read: "The second order of business is to stop being dead broke, which means I need to dip into the Western Union in Namanga and pick up the last $400 dollars I have in the world." However, it later came to light that there was an additional $560 dollars in that account. The error is regretted.

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