Day 357: Stuck with Skeletal Motorcycle, Ice Skating, and Love in Kenya
The question is whether or not the mechanic is competent enough to put it all back together. Photos: 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.
LINDA wakes up before me, finding her way to a deep, round-cushioned chair with her book. The headache that left her curled up in a ball for much of yesterday evening is gone.
“If you want to come read in bed, I'll cuddle you,” I offer, one-eye still closed, as if clinging to some dream of being a pirate.
She gives me a smile and refuses to be roped into any morning antics. There's a lovely silence to the house.
I should have been back on the road days ago. I should have been letting the die dominate my world as these last few days of Dice Travels appear on the horizon.
However, I am completely out of money, down to a handful of dollars until a payment comes through from Top Journey for some drone work. It was supposed to come on Monday or Tuesday.
Yesterday, when I found that my account was still empty, I didn't panic. I have Lovince and Liz. I have family here in Nairobi who will ensure that I have food and a place to stay. It's that kind of security that stops a person from going crazy. I wonder how many people mentally crack due to economic hardship, how much brilliance it retarded
There's a Skype message from Top Journey. It explains there was a “Buddha Day” – a Buddhist holiday – in Thailand, which caused the delay. The money should be in my account when I check this morning, which is a good thing, as I need to pay a few more thousand Shilling to fix Rafiki.
I don't trust the mechanics working on Rafiki.
In a pinch, I was forced to bring her to someone other than Mike the Mechanic. These new guys have been dicking around for days. Rafiki was supposed to be fixed on Tuesday, then on Wednesday and now, today, Thursday.
I have faith she'll be ready today.
The mechanic has already rebuilt the engine with genuine parts – though there is part of me that doubts the quality of the parts. Over and over again, Lovince and I questioned the mechanic to ensure he was using genuine parts and not some cheap Chinese knockoffs. Outside of paying nearly one third more and getting them directly from the Yamaha shop instead of scoring deals on the parts in the Central Business District (CBD), there isn't much more I can do than hope that he's being honest with us.
A dread is lurking inside me that he has failed to properly rebuild the engine, that there will be something amiss. That there will be something that won't show up until I'm on the road. Even with the Top Journey payment coming through, I'm not stacked with cash. I have enough to travel for a few days before Rafiki and I need to return to Kilifi, where I can finalize her sell – cashing in on my last valuable asset.
Once Rafiki and I part ways and I have the 130,000 Shilling cash in my pocket, things will be sorted. I will be able to completely relax and enjoy my final weeks in Kenya.
Lovince comes in the room, I'm still in bed. He carries two mugs of his fabulous home-made Kenyan chai tea.
Before Linda arrived, he'd been asking me over and over again when the German was coming to visit – I was starting to think that he was the one who was going to date her, despite him being a married man. Luckily, his love for me carries over to anyone I might even remotely care about. The man was trying to figure out what to make us for dinner days before I even knew if Linda was going to visit.
“You're a champion. Thank you,” I say.
“Of course Bro. So, I think we'll just go to the mechanic at 9:30am to put pressure on them to finish. I've talked to him already,” Lovince says.
“Awesome. Let me run across the street really quickly to pick up cash first. The money from the drone work should be in.”
At the mall across the street, past the security screening, I pop my card into an ATM, dialing in my pin number.
I punch the withdraw-cash button. Then, savings. Then, 40,000 Shilling.
The ATM beeps at me: insufficient funds.
“Bro, how much cash do you have on you?” I ask Lovince via Facebook.
I get a reply on the elevator on the way up to the sixth floor of his apartment building. He's got 300 Shilling with him.
Between the two of us, we don't have enough cash to pay the rest of the bill for Rafiki.
“I have money on M-Pesa,” Lovince says. “Don't worry about it. I got you.”
As usual, he does.
Lovince has been patiently battling alongside me this entire time as we try to get the mechanic to fix Rafiki. It's a pain in the ass that he shouldn't have to deal with at all, as, technically, it's my pain in the ass, but without him, I don't know what I would be doing.
We get to the shop. The blank-faced mechanic is grubbing about. My sweet Rafiki is still in piece. The welding on the luggage rack hasn't been done; she's dirty; and the engine isn't even attached to the frame.
She's a skeleton.
“It's looking like one of those days,” I say in the middle of disappointed sigh.
Lovince leans up against his SUV, starring at the mechanic in near disbelief.
“Let's just go man. There's no reason for us to stick around. This is going to take forever,” I say.
However, Lovince doesn't want to go. He's the most patient man, but there's a silent frustration burning in his eyes when he takes off his sunglasses.
The mechanic doesn't say anything. Or maybe he does say something to Lovince, but he doesn't say a word to me.
This has been a complete fucking disaster. If I had confidence in the mechanic, that would be completely different. However, I don't.
“Bro, let's just go. Seriously, I don't want to rush him and have him fuck something up,” I say, finally able to get Lovince moving back into the car.
When we get back, Linda wants breakfast. She and I stroll down the street to the chain cafe Java. She doesn't want to eat alone, but I simply don't have any money.
“It's fine. I really don't want anything,” I say.
“I'm buying you a coffee.”
I sip at the cheapest coffee on the menu, because I prefer an Americano.
“Try this,” she says, giving me a strawberry.
Strawberries are always a good option, at least according to Dr. Rhinehart.
“So we have two options, we can either go to the forest or ice skating. What do you want to do my German Princess?” I ask. “We can roll.”
After a bit more discussion than I'm used to for making a decision, we decided – not the dice – that we'll go ice skating.
The ice rink at The Panari Hotel on Mombasa Road is the only one in East Africa.
Back at the apartment, which we have to ourselves, Linda strips naked and wanders out on the balcony. I follow her to see what exactly she has in mind.
It turns out that whatever she has in mind has nothing to with me. A bit crestfallen from being rebuffed by a naked woman on a balcony in the same apartment as me, I move back to my room and grab a book. I don't understand it. She's running hot and cold on me like someone with an attention-deficit disorder using an Alaskan sauna. It's as if she doesn't really start warming up to me until she feels me drifting away, as if worried about both landing a fish and losing it.
As usual, once she feels the distance, Linda comes back in and makes quick work of my grumpiness.
“Let's go ice skating,” she says.
“Okay, let's do it.”
Before catching a matatu to CBD, I reach out to my Dad. I could grind through who knows how many days waiting for Top Journey to send cash. Or, I could take a small loan to keep things interesting during these last few days.
“Is there any chance I could get a small loan to bridge a pay gap for a couple weeks? Everything should be sorted by tonight, but I keep thinking that and it's not. If not, it's okay,” I chat him.
“Hi, Isaac. Just saw this message. How much do you need?”
“Maybe 200-300... I probably don't need it, but my money from drone footage was delayed. And it's just gotten beyond tight,” I type, also promising that I'll have the cash for them when I arrive in NYC.
This is absolutely only a patch loan to cover up this moment of being entirely broke. The money should arrive in minutes. I can either pick it up in the CBD or The Panari Hotel.
Our matatu drops us off in the thick of the downtown transit area. People mill about, slipping through the narrow spaces between the vans, each with a number and a sign on their roof, which lists their stops.
“Where you go?” a caller asks us.
“Mombasa Road,” I say.
“Oh, okay, take that up there,” he says.
We climb into the throbbing matatu. Rap music blares from the over-sized speakers, causing Linda to flinch. Her face crinkles and her hands cover her ears.
“We can switch,” I suggest.
“No, let's just switch.”
We climb out of the party bus and into a much quieter matatu headed the same direction.
A few more passengers are crammed into the van before we pull out. A couple blocks ahead of us, about 20 protesters are marching down the street. They are carrying a banner, but not blocking traffic.
The banner reads:
No basic commodities
After we pass them, members of the group fall to the ground, laying in the street, chanting.
The ruling government party has allegedly been squeezing supermarkets and other big companies for money to support their election campaign, which has driven up the price of ugali flour, sugar, and milk. The price for 500 grams of sugar has nearly doubled in the last month. Though this doesn't make a difference to a tourist, it's a serious problem for those living at or below the poverty line. Already thousands of kids are sniffing glue in the streets to curb their hunger. Spiking commodity prices can be detrimental to families.
Only last night, I was telling Lovince that at least he was escaping all of this by moving to Arizona with Liz. However, he pointed out that his whole family is still here. He and Liz are doing their best to support the family. So, even while living in the US, he's going to feel it.
The ruling party has allegedly rigged the elections that last two times, which led to 800 – 1,500 people being killed in fighting that tapped into tribal roots and the desire for revenge at the end of 2007. There will be another election this year.
We jump out of the matatu outside of The Panari Hotel, garnished with palm trees as it towers over all the buildings in the area.
Through security, we make our way up to one of the banks that's paying for the premium office space.
The pleasant woman with tattoos on her hands explains again that I need a passport to pick up my money. Technically, Western Union only needs a government ID. Given that I have my Thai driver's license with my name and picture, that should be enough.
The manager gently apologizes, but stays firm.
“Do you have a photo of your passport?” he suggests.
Oddly, I do not. Usually, I have several copies of my passport stuffed in various locations on my person and motorcycle. I'd even considered grabbing one, but I didn't think I'd need it.
“Okay, looks like I'll have to pay you back if that's okay,” I tell Linda as we march back down through the massive building toward the ice rink.
The cold air is like a kiss on our warm cheeks as we clamp on the hockey skates.
“Oh, can I take a picture with you?” asks a Ugandan woman who is here as part of a tour agency promotional trip .
“Sure,” I say.
I put my arm around her bulk and we lean in close like we're about to go to prom together.
“Let's take one out on the ice. Make sure you get the skates in it. It'll look like we're in Europe,” she says.
This is the funny thing about being white. What she said doesn't offend me in the slightest. We've spent too much time on top of a mountain of privileged. However, you run up to some black dude in Europe for a picture and say it will look like you're in Africa, well, that's not going to go over so well.
After we're done with pictures. One of the guys comes out for photos.
Linda and I only have about 40 minutes on the ice, but have both now been waylaid for pictures. There are four of us in some pictures and there are pictures of just me and one of the dudes and pictures of Linda and one of the dudes and pictures of me and one of the women.
“Don't leave me out here,” one of the bigger women says after we work our way deep enough into the ice rink that our whole bodies show up in the picture.
“Don't worry, I won't.”
After edging her back to the rail, I break free of the photo shoot and begin to carve the ice below me.
I've not been ice skating since living in Indiana more than six years ago. There's such a complete freedom as the blades press into the ice and propel me forward.
Flicking my hips, I go for a two-foot, inside-edge stop. The blade catches hard, throwing me into the air and down onto the cold ice before I slide to a stop. A childish grin creeps across my face – this is exactly why I love ice skating. I fall nearly a dozen times before my body remembers how to make that type of stop.
Crossing my right foot in front, I pick up speed in the turns moving faster and faster, then drag a foot to slow down. I could skate all day.
Linda and I do a few laps holding hands, before splitting up and then coming back together.
I want to skate with Linda because this is how you build something meaningful. Experiences knit two people's lives together. It's how you start to know a person. And, if you put in enough time stitching those lives together, you start to create a quilt of beauty. Of course, the final product depends on what you're patching together and how much care goes into each stitch.
“Let's take a couple photos,” I suggest.
There are nearly no photos of us together. I'm enjoying the feeling of having a girlfriend. I like dating. I like having a girlfriend. I want some ridiculous selfies to commemorate the moment.
Begrudgingly, Linda agrees to take a few photos.
“Do you think I know you better or you know me better?” I ask Linda on the matatu ride back to the CBD, which isn't going anywhere fast, as traffic is at a standstill.
“I don't think we know each other very well,” she says in her sweet German accent. “But maybe the same.”
I think she knows me better. I feel like I've pulled down more walls, become more vulnerable – told her more about my life.
Every time I tell her I like her, something I can't seem to tell her enough, I mean I love her. But it's not a scary love. It's a love that doesn't demand anything. A love that doesn't need anything in return. It is not a love that will necessarily last forever. It is not a love that fills me with butterflies. It is a love for a person in a moment. It could be fleeting. It could last a lifetime (though I doubt it). It's a nice feeling to love her in this way.
Right in that moment, Linda asks me what I'm thinking. So, I tell her.
Happily pressed against me, Linda is weighing her own options.
According to her, she's not packed enough socks to be staying in Nairobi for so long. We're supposed to be going on a little adventure to wherever the dice send us tomorrow. However, she's also planning on going home today.
Rafiki should be fixed by the time we get back. It's not a long ride to where she's living. So, I'll take her – it's how I convinced her to spend the day ice skating with me in the first place.
An old man sits next to me at the back of the bus. His short hair is peppered with gray. It's been several days since he's shaved, leaving long white and black stubble across his chin. He's wearing a baggy suit. A vendor selling gum, phone credit, and candies comes on the bus.
The man buys a handful of hard candies and refuses his change. The vendor starts passing out two candies to each passenger on the matatu.
At first, it seems like the vendor isn't going to give candies to the muzungu, but he does. Once everyone has candy, the old man's voice begins to fill the space between the walls and windows of the vehicle.
He's nearly shouting. It's in Swahili, only peppered here and there with English words.
The rectangular piece of candy I'm sucking on takes the edge off of the situation.
He's talking about World War I and then World War II and then something about Independence. There is a soft chuckle from one of the passengers who is listening to the man proselytize; it's the laugh of someone embarrassed by a crazy man.
“Independence not through fighting, but coming to a roundtable,” he says.
I'm pretty sure the Mau Mau would disagree with his sentiments. I wonder from what tribe the man comes. He's a tall man, a bit lighter skinned than many in Kenya.
“He's not relaxed,” Linda points out, looking at the way the man's hands clutch at his pant legs, which the covers the coiled tension in his thighs. I like that she notices the world like this. I hadn't noticed the tension in his legs. Sitting so close to him, I was worried about turning my head to observe him as he spoke.
From time to time, he says something about muzungu – they don't sound like words of praise.
He's talking corruption. He's talking about the President of Kenya and then other government officials are named.
It's our stop.
We jump off, welcoming the less intense, less focused noise of the city.
A dark blue settles over Nairobi as Lovince and I head back to the mechanic to pick up Rafiki. The call came in. She's ready.
Smiling, I kick a leg over my baby and kick start her.
I try and try, but she won't start.
How do you fucking call a client back to pick up a "fixed" motorcycle that doesn't run.
I get off and let the mechanic try. Even he can't rouse Rafiki.
This is a disaster an unmitigated disaster. Already I'll be forced to drive Linda home in the dark, which isn't a great idea.
The mechanic is on the phone. Someone is coming.
A younger man with total confidence arrives by piki-piki about ten minutes later.
He tries to kick-start Rafiki. When she doesn't fire up the first time, he starts tinkering with her engine in the dark. It's hard to see what exactly he's doing, but it works.
A giant cloud of blue smoke bursts from Rafiki's exhaust pipe. He drives off to warm her up.
I settle the difference on my tab. The mechanic hints that perhaps a little something on top, a tip of or some such thing, would be appreciated. Clearly, he doesn't understand why people tip.
Back at the apartment, Linda is ready to go. She's determined to leave tonight. here's some restlessness inside her that makes it necessary to touch base with home before embarking on our next adventure together.