Friday, August 3, 2007

Kenya - That Was Close!

It was my second day in Kenya and eager to get my feet wet in this far away land, my new friends and I decided to hire a driver for the day to take us to sites on the outskirts of Nairobi. Little did I know that by the end of the day I would be drenched in Kenya. This capital city really does not have any major sites, but there is a Giraffe Center, baby elephant orphanage and this cultural dance center (where I had hoped to see the African Ant Eater Ritual). We found the driver through the Hilton and he told us he would pick us up out front at 10am. So we were there promptly, not yet understanding what “African time” means. So for about an hour we watched the cars get checked for bombs as they pulled in front of the hotel, and waited for Bob the driver.

Once he picked us up, and totally unapologetic for the tardiness, he proved to be an informative and friendly driver. He even took us to Carnivores for lunch where I had my first sampling of Ostridge balls and crocodile (dining on Zebra has been outlawed in Kenya so we didn’t get to push to the outer limits of the African exotics). And while the giraffe center doesn’t really have anything to do with the story, it is worth pointing out that I did put a piece of giraffe nibble between my lips and this giant giraffe licked it right out of my lips. It was tongue unlike any I had ever experienced. Okay, so back to Bob. After a long day, we headed back into Nairobi where he was going to drop us off at a local Massai market (recognizing it would violate a cardinal tourist rule by buying souvenirs at the beginning of a long trip). It was rush hour, or as they say – jam. The jam seemed to clear up and we started very quickly picking up speed. “Watch out!” screamed Jodi from the backseat! Boom. Too late, we slammed into the truck in front of us. Bob looked over at me in the front passenger seat and says in a typical Kenyan English accent, “Whoah,that was close!” Close? Did he just say close? This word must not have universal meaning, because where I hail from, if you crash in to the car in front of you, and the hood of your car is smoking, that is beyond the threshold of close. We all just sat there, a little shocked at the turn of events. Then the instincts kick in and we quickly discussed which was more likely to result in our demise, staying in a smoking car or getting out of the car and standing on the side of the road in the most dangerous city on the continent, in which case we may as well put some kind of “rob us” target on our heads. So in the car we stayed. Bob swiftly put a orange flag on the road behind us to deter anyone from having a close call with us. In a matter of minutes Bob bribed the driver of the truck into not calling the police and settled the matter. Now if only our car would start…

Traveling in a third-world country is guaranteed to put you in the type of situations that your parents warned you about. Stranger danger, wreckless driving, drugs and thugs. Pretty much the full gamut. To survive, the key is to keep your wits about you and evaluate the situation quickly, then make the best decision you can based on the information you have. It’s not just about surviving, but about turning these experiences into a new adventure. After Bob pushed our smoking car to a place that was reasonably safe (so something along the lines of hanging at the El train tracks at 4am around the most dangerous stops in Chicago) we were able to go on foot. We gave Bob an extra big tip that day; after all, he just gave us a great story.

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