Thursday, May 20, 2010

Busia to Kisumu,the harder way to take on a day time journey.

We had been in Busia-Kenyan side for now 30 minutes and we have spotted everything a stranger would spot on arrival in a new town. There was nothing much to keep us in this township. We made a choice that we will eat our lunch in Kisumu. We calculated time and made a mental note that by 1pm, we will be in Kisumu. It was now around 10:45am. There were many matatus heading to Kisumu and all other major towns in Kenya. We made a mistake by simply jumping into the next matatu without checking if there were other matatus that had several passengers than this one.

We were influenced by the fare which was 250 (7000 UGX), we thus felt that heading to the taxi park will make us pay more. There was a passenger in the front seat which accommodates two people, when the matatu touts  sensed that we wanted the front seat, he requested the other passenger to swift to the back seats.  I was frustrated by this, but later learnt that other passengers were not heading to Kisumu.  They were short distance travelers and he didn’t want to miss this opportunity. The matatu had only four passengers and was moving up and down,if we were in Kampala,we would have had a reason to feel unsafe. Currently there’s much robbery in Kampala matatus.  You must be very cautious of those matatus that have only three to five passengers; chances are very high that you will be robbed.

The Driver of this matatu impressed me by hitting the road without full board passengers and was wondering how he calculated his moves and fuel, but that was none of my business, I kept quite. He drove like a kilometer while his co-driver is shouting for people walking on the side of the road if they were going to Kisumu. None of them was heading there. I knew that we have made  mistake but couldn’t have a way of jumping off this matatu. After sensing that no passengers, he made a U-turn and got back to the starting point, thankfully, when we got to point A, there were some travelers heading to other towns like Luanda, another municipal town which is bigger before arriving Kisumu.

The driver was a darker average guy who spoke very good Luganda. I asked him if he was Ugandan driving matatus in Kenya and he said yes he was, I asked why? His answer was that it was easier to make money in Kenyan than in Kampala; and from my observations, he was right. There were more people traveling in Kenya than in Uganda. It felt good to be on the road to Kisumu. I was in the front seat and felt depressed because the camera was not working, I had bought new batteries from the Ugandan side but what in the hell stopped it from being switched on?!  So I will not be able to take photos of outstanding scenes.  This was most unsettling.

After being on the road for some minutes and drove like 10 kilometers, the matatu stopped for a group of people that looked like a bandits. I know Kenyan roads has this problem, but I wasn’t worried for one simple reason, this was a day time taxi and the driver looked presentable and very calm, so there was no reason to worry.  Instead it turned out to be that the driver was handing the job to another guy. This is also very common in Uganda.

The new driver was a brown guy, looked more like an Ankole guy from western Uganda. He put on a cream-coloured T-shirt. He looked more peaceful, healthier, friendly and logical guy than his counterpart. His names were Charles Omondi. He spoke good English. We discussed almost everything. He narrated how life is harder for matatu drivers; apparently the Local Admnistration had introduced new taxes on matatus.

Every time a matatu enters a township, the driver is charged 50Kshs in road taxes (1400Ugx).  The other vehicles were exempted from this tax which I found to be unfair. The road was in its worst state: full of potholes as deep as ancient St Goorge churches in Lalibela  in Ethiopia. I asked why then do local government  introduced this tax? Charles’ answer was "corruption".

Apart from paying huge taxes to almost all towns in Kenya, from my count, this matatu paid 300 Kshs (8400 UGX) for the journey from Busia to Kisumu without what they gave the Police officials. There’s a huge number of traffic and Police officers who wake up very early in the morning simply to grab money from trucks, matatus and buses for no particular offense and most drivers in Kenya consider giving these officials money as an obligation. I hate to say it but my heart goes to poor matatu drivers in Kenya. It’s too much compared to what we complain about back home (Uganda).

We cruised through large and small villages that had electricity and looked more organised and civilized than their opposite in Uganda.  All villages and towns on the road had electricity and some kind of business activity than in Uganda. It looked nice to see women burning maize on strange charcoal stoves on the roadside.

It was refreshing to see the greener environment and hilly tops that represented good life to the other side of the hill. I asked Charles why there was almost no food in Kenya (90% of food that feeds Kenya comes from Uganda) yet the soils looked fertile and it was raining, his answer was that people own very small piece of land, hence only grow food for home consumption and those who had huge chunks of land were extremely lazy.  I asked myself, "What incentives get Ugandan farmers to produce that are not present to get Kenyan farmers to produce?" I had no answer.

As we approached Yala township and Yala River, Charles wanted to share with me about his Jesus. I listened to him and when I revealed to him that I was atheist, he felt sorry for me and disturbed, but discontinued the evangelisation mission and resorted to share with me about his home village which was good.

He grew up near Yala. He felt proud to be telling about his life. He also shared with me about his marriage of five years now and had three biological kids and those other laggage (read children) from his extended family that he takes care of. This is very common in Africa where relatives simply create babies and send them to other relatives simply because they cannot take care of their offspring.

This beats my understanding why one would procreate when one is very poor to raise a decent child.  What I don't understand is how two people (or even just the mother) can fail to realise that bringing a child into the world is a very serious matter.  If you don't have the resources to be able to feed the child well so that its brain develops, enabling the child to be as intelligent as possible, and then to make sure that the child is well educated, then why have a child at all?

KK spent most of this journey taking pictures with his phone camera.  The camera I had was useless weight--and depressing me to a degree.

As we approached mid-day, we arrived in Luanda and Charles diverted to the local taxi park to drop some passengers. Luanda Taxi Park is the photocopy of Entebbe town Taxi Park.  Before I said anything, KK noted that and shared it with me. We spent few minutes in and got back to the road. It's in this town that KK paid our fare to Kisumu, apparently the conductor was aggressively asking money from us in the initials of the trip, but we told Charles, we will only pay the money after covering half of the trip. Luanda was between Busia and Kisumu. Charles approached us and politely asked if it was okay to pay.  KK agreed, and handed him a 1000 Kshs bank note. He then brought our balance.  Charles was refueling at the only Petrol station in the area.  I took upon myself to take the balance which was a 500 note--Kenya money.

As we drove off the station, I spotted an aging Kenyan woman shouting “Njugu..njugu…njugu” Swahili word for ground nuts. I like taking boiled seeds of Gnuts.  She had both roasted and boiled ones.  I shouted to her  "Njugu..njugu" and she came running as if I was buying a kilo of it. She didn’t have small notes to change the 500 bank note I had, so Charles ordered his conductor to pay 20 Kshs (560 UGX). The initial cost of a cup of Gnuts was 10Kshs, so Charles paid 20 for me and KK .  He told me not to forget return the 20 Kshs on arrival to Kisumu. I answered that I will not forget. He smailed back to me.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
I must say that I enjoyed riding with Charles.  He was warm and friendlier than I expected. Most Kenyans who are not educated are so rude and my readers that have traveled to this beautiful country will agree with me, but we rarely hear one refer to people like Charles who are working very hard to secure a better reputation of Kenya. When we were about to reach Maseno, Charles said "I will point you to the Equator".  I felt happy for this.  I have traveled to Kenya several time and never spotted the Equator. Maseno is a small agricultural town right on the Equator.

At this point, the conductor requested me to pay his 20 Kshs that he lent to me to buy Gnuts. I gave him a 500 bank note, he gave me 470 instead of 480. I wanted to let him take my 10 kshs, but knowing that we were on a budget trip, I felt it like it was not wise to leave money behind. This is a very common habit in Kenya, even in restaurants; they pay half of less money, especially when the change cash accommodates coins. I truly feel that this habit is dishonest. I requested my 10 Kshs and he paid it back to me. I smiled to him and he replied “sawa” Swahili word for ok.

Maseno township celebrates its association with this bit of geographic trivia by naming several businesses in town after it. There was an Equator kiosk, Equator butcher shop, Equator coke and many more. There was a time when this sort of thing would have interested me. I probably would have stayed a few days to search out any equator moments, conducting experiments to see if water did go down the plughole in different directions (the Coriolis effect) on the different sides, but we wanted to reach Kisumu by 3pm and I was tired. The Equator point in Uganda is well developed and I had visited it before and done all the experiments.

Maseno also accommodates Maseno University which was a teachers college before. As you leave Maseno, you start seeing the outskirts of Kisumu. It’s a lovely scene. We drove very quickly from Maseno and arrived in Kisumu 15 minutes to 3pm. We were indeed tired, but honestly, I expressed my appreciation to Charles  by saying thank you to him for being a good driver who was very careful on the bad road. He answered that “You have made my day and made me proud, you are the first passengers to thank me” We were now in Kisumu. The air was fresh and lively. 

Look for my next edition of this trip.


Ashley D. said...

I loved reading your account of this trip. I look forward to reading the next edition. :)

Keeranl said...

The way you've narrated your story Quitstorm enlightens people like me who have not traveled much. Keep the stories coming. I await your next segment.