Day 355: Motorcycle Bums Lorry Ride to Nairobi
I slept through much of the drive this morning. Photo: Isaac Stone Simoneli
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.
FADING in and out of the waking world as the gray morning light filters through the windshield of a Kenya lorry, there is no pressure to climb out from behind the seats and claim my passenger-side window.
The motion of the truck plodding toward Nairobi lulls me back to sleep each time I wake. When I was a child, there was no place I preferred to sleep more than in a car. Since becoming an adult – we'll at least a 31-year-old man-child – the only thing that has changed is that I've added sleeping on boats to my list of favorite places to sleep. Sometimes, the best part of a day diving in the Andaman was the deep sleep that wrapped me up in her arms as I off-gassed nitrogen on the deck of a dive boat headed back to Phuket.
Yesterdays, physical, mental, and emotional toll left me drained.
Slowly recovering as the sun gains its own strength and early morning gives way to proper morning, I shimmy into a pair of jeans and climb into the passenger seat.
“Good morning,” I say.
“Good morning. You slept a lot,” says Abraham, the driver who's taking Rafiki and me to Nairobi. For a motor vehicle, Rafiki sure does bum a lot of rides.
Shortly after I wake up, we stop in Sultan Hamud for breakfast: beef, ugali, and veggies.
Borrowing Abraham's phone – who would have known how much I needed my phone for these couple of days between Tana County and Nairobi – I message my Kenyan lifeline: Lovince.
“Need a huge favor,” I type, as Abraham is not providing door-to-door services in this beast of a truck.
There's no denying that things could be worse. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
“Bring it on.”
“Bike broke down ages ago. Catching ride with lorry into Nairobi. Should be there soon.”
“Damn! Sorry, bro.”
“Do the seats in your car lie down? Can we put plastic down inside and can you come pick me in Nairobi? We can get the car washed afterward,” I write.
Lovince, coming from a very rural family and hustling his ass off to make ends meet when he landed in Nairobi, is anal about washing his and Liz's SUV. The thing can be sparkling and smell like lemon and pine, but he'll still take it to get washed before some gig – inevitably leading to him running late.
“I think so though, I've never tried it. No prob bro. Where?”
“Abraham, where are we going to be exactly?” I ask.
It turns out that Abraham is offloading me and Rafiki before checking his truck in. It's probably against the rules to be hulling us around – but everyone has a side hustle in this country. We'll be dropped in an area on the outskirts of the city along Mombasa Road, not far from where Lovince and I worked on a music video together.
“We'll be at Mlolong,” I tell Lovince. “You're amazing.”
It's agreed that he'll meet us there at 12:30pm.
“It's best to be there at the same time so we can move stuff direct to the car. Truck won't be able to wait.” I write.
“Am actually getting ready to leave. Perfect, bro. See you there.”
I go to call Lovince back, but we're out of credit.
At the next town, I dance around a muddy lake that recently took up residence at an intersection to buy scratch-off tickets to top up Abraham's credit. I make sure to purchase more than enough to leave him some when we're all done.
A silence fills the cab as we follow the road toward a set of tall hills rising up through a low lying cloud. The thick trunks and wiry branches of baobab trees crawl up into the sky alongside the black, freshly-painted, two-lane highway.
“Do you ever see wildlife out here?” I ask.
“Yeah. This morning, while you were asleep, I saw elephants. Sometimes I see lions,” Abraham says.
Back and forth, back and forth Abraham drives Mombasa Road. He'll have a few hour break once he drops his cargo in Nairobi today, but will then be heading back to Mombasa, pulling a different trailer. His wife and child live in Mombasa. He'll briefly get to see them when he arrives.
“Are you sure your friend knows where to meet us,” Abraham asks. Now that he's taken me under his wing, I sense that Abraham feels a certain amount of responsibility for safely delivering me not just to the edge of Nairobi, but my final destination.
“I think so. He said he was getting in the car right now. Let me call him.”
After a few rings, Lovince answers.
His car broke down. He's headed to the mechanic right now, but might be running late.
“Here, let me talk to him,” Abraham says.
Abraham and Lovince launch into an intense Swahili conversation, of which I only hear one side and understand none of what I do hear.
After four or five conversations, it appears that everything is understood, at least by everyone but me.
Stacks of lorries dominate the wide shoulders along what is now a split-lane highway lined with warehouses in Mlolong.
Lovince isn't here yet.
“Okay, we'll unload everything here and I'll come right back,” Abraham tells me.
“Sure, that's fine. You don't need to come back. I'll be fine,” I say.
“No, it's not safe. Here, I have some a friend, he'll stay with you until I get back.”
Three or four men milling alongside the road, strain to ease Rafiki out of the back of the truck, piling my bags next to her.
A sweeping, torrential downpour unleashes on us, pummeling us. We press up against the side of the lorry, waiting for it to lighten.
Just as quickly as the rains came, the sky clears and the sun begins to conjure steam from the road.
A couple of the men grab my bags, another starts to push Rafiki up a grassy slope to a side road that runs parallel to the highway. It too is sardined with trucks.
“Wait, what?” I say, trying to stop what's happening.
“It's okay,” Abraham assures me. Though he doesn't know most of the men, the one in the yellow jacket is a good friend of his. He trusts him.
A light drizzle forces me to take shelter in the man's semi-truck while Rafiki gets rained on.
I sip on a mango juice, after buying a Coke for Abraham's friend.
Then, Abraham – who is the only person capable of contacting Lovince – returns.
Lovince, however, has yet to arrive. He is supposedly on his way.
After getting completely lost and turned around, despite us being on a straight highway, Lovince's SUV comes rolling up past a pile of discarded tires and comes to a stop next to us.
In his red-brimmed hat and long sweater coat, Lovince gives me a big hug and then shakes hands with everyone else. With Lovince is a young guy in a nice North Face coat who works at the mechanic shop Lovince took his car to earlier today.
“Hey, Abraham, so I didn't realize this until I was packing up all my stuff, but I think these are your jeans,” I say, indicating the pants I'm wearing. “Let me change really quickly and I'll give them back.”
Silly grins breakout across everyone's face. I have no idea what made me think I was wearing jeans the day before when I woke up this morning, but they seemed to fit pretty well, so it hadn't even occurred to me that they might not be mine.
“It's okay. You can keep them,” he says.
“Jeans and a ride to Nairobi for 40 bucks, now we're moving toward this being a really good deal,” I think.
Awkwardly, we manage to get Rafiki into the back of Lovince's SUV with all my bags.
“So what's wrong with the car?” I ask Lovince.
“Yeah, Bro, apparently the engine is being held in by only one bolt right now. The rest are missing,” Lovince says. The vehicle needs to go back to the shop sometime this week before he hits one of Kenya's infamous speed bumps and the entire engine falls out the bottom.
It's nearly 3pm when we hit deadlock traffic on the way back into town.
Unfortunately, we're trying to cut through the city to get to Mike the Mechanic's shop near Eastleigh. Even more worrisome is that it's a Sunday. I'm not even sure if Mike's open. And, without my phone, there's no way to check. I have no idea what we'll do if we get to the shop and he's not open. I can't leave Rafiki there, but I also can't imagine driving across town the next day to try to drop it off again.
“He [the guy in the North Face coat] says that they have a mechanic who is good with Yamahas,” Lovince tells me, for the third or fourth time since I got into the car.
“I don't know man. Mike is the best in the city. It's where all the police motorcycles are taken for repairs. But, we're not going to get there until after 5pm, are we?”
“I don't think so.”
“Okay, let's go to this other place then. You're sure they're solid?” I ask.
“Yeah, they should be good.”
At the next junction, we peel out of the dense traffic and head toward Lovince's house, which isn't far from the mechanic shop.
Situated just beyond the outskirts of the Kibera slum, the shop is in the midst of a lively market. The mostly destroyed road rolls past wooden stalls selling piles of used clothes, used shoes, used bags, and all sorts of other bits and bobs.
We park the car and wait.
Apparently, the mechanic is nowhere to be found, despite knowing that we were coming.
After grabbing a late lunch that consists of a plate of chopped, grilled meat that we dip into a pile of salt before eating, Lovince and I wander back out to the car and Rafiki.
The mechanic is coming.
The short, blank-faced mechanic appears next to a locker where his tools are kept. There are a few bicycles being worked on, but nothing to indicate that this man is good with motorcycles, let alone Yamahas.
Lovince translates the issue. The mechanic says he understands, but he can't give us a quote on the price until he talks to people and sees how much the spare parts will be.
“Can he at least give us a general ballpark? I know the price might change, but I don't have a ton of money right now. I need to make sure I can cover the costs,” tell Lovince.
Lovince does his best to explain the situation, but can't get any solid numbers from the man.
If Lovince didn't have so much confidence in the mechanic who had been working on his car – who is now vouching for this guy – I'd be seriously worried. However, what other options do we have? I have no way to contact Mike the Mechanic right now. And, even if I did, Rafiki is already here and it's only about a five-minute drive from Lovince's house.