I’m strapping my luggage to my motorbike when a guy in a djellaba summons me to his taxi. His name is Omar and he’s a Somali. The wars in that country have pushed one million of Somalis into Kenya. He’s trying to make a living as a taxi driver. He’s been up for 24 hours straight and he’s planning to work even more, until 9 pm (it’s 8 am in the morning). I’m astonished.
“how do you manage stay awake so long?” I ask him
he grins and shows me a bundle of green sticks.
“This my friend is Miraa, also known as Khat, I chew this and I can go on all day and night!”
After working the whole night, he has been chewing it early in the morning at home in front of the tv and now he’s ready to start the day. Khat or Miraa is a sort of amphetamine. But you need to eat a whole bush of it to get the proper effect. That’s why it’s not very popular in the clubbing scene. Taxi drivers, night guards, for them it is a more potent alternative for coffee. I try one of his sticks.
It tastes quite bitter and I feel my mouth getting a bit numb. That’s the effect sofar but I can remember that chewing on a whole bundle must give a rather large amplification of this effect. The downside of Khat is that it gives you brown teeth. It’s cultivated in Kenya, however it’s consumed mostly in Somalia. Because the Khat effect expires 72 hours after harvest, the plants are loaded on airplanes in Nairobi to transport it to Somalia.
Omar,the Khat-chewing-taximan, wishes me good luck and tells me to watch out on the road to Mombasa because all his fellow drivers are lunatics. He speeds of to look for his first client of the day. I wonder how many accidents these sleepless Khat chewing drivers cause.
The road to Mombasa could be described as thrilling and dangerous. There are two lanes on the road but nobody sticks to his side of the road. I’m driving on my side of the road when I see very far away a truck trying to pass another truck. At that point I’m very relaxed. However as the two trucks comes closer I start the realise that his manoeuvre isn’t going as fast as planned. I start to signal him with my flares. I can see the driver now and he has a determined look in his eyes. But so do I, I’m not going to be driven off this road, so I stand my ground. It’s start to look like a Duel in a western. I squeeze my eyes. The truck draws nearer. I’m calculating what the chances are off him to back down and he’s probably doing the same. There’s a hundred metres between us and we’re both driving around 100 km an hour. My hearth rate is also definitely above 100. Just when we’re about to collide I swerve to the left in the gravel. After a quick calculation it deemed to me that he would only loose his front bumper and I would loose my life. In those moments you just have to swallow you pride and back down. This sort of show down repeats itself 15 to 20 times on my road to Mombassa.
Riding out of Nairobi I have to laugh again with the Chinese-African international relations. I see a billboard with the announcement of the construction of the “Athi river super major bridge”. I wonder if the Chinese words above say exactly the same. The landscape is very green, gradually the landscape becomes more and more withered. In the middle of nowhere a guy signals me to stop. It’s the first time there is really no way of communicating. But it’s clear that the man wants a ride. About 15 km further we ride into a small town.
After a lot of gestures I find out that his name is Barre or Barri and that he’s from Somalia. I have so many questions for him. What was he doing there in the middle of nomans land? Does he have a family? Why did he come to Kenya?
Those open questions are very frustrating but I’m going to have to live with it. The further I will go up north the more communication will become an issue. In Uganda and Kenya, English is very common but in Ethiopia, Sudan? I will have to find a solution to tackle this communication problem. (unfortunately his picture got lost somewhere in the digital process of copying the pictures to my computer)
In Mombasa I can stay at Manu’s place. Manu is a colleague and friend of Grant, my friend and host in Kampala. I planned to stay one night but I end up staying 3 nights because I can update my blog and because Manu’s place looks like the suite of a 5 star hotel with a view on the Indian Ocean. He takes me out paddling on his surfboard. Just in front of his apartment is the Mombasa marine reserve with amazing corals. I tried to film it a bit with Manus’ gopro:
Manu works for a cargo company in Mombasa but he’s also from Belgium. His parents used to own a hotel on Lamu, a famous Island up north along the Kenyan coast and my next stop. Manu’s very welcoming and hospitable. Hanging out with him for the weekend was a real pleasure.
Mombasa is a city of old white men with young black women. For century it’s also been a melting pot of Indians, Africans and Arabs. It also has quite a corrupt governor, mister Ali Hasan Joho. His brother happens to be the biggest drug lord and pirate of the region. Mister governor flew over Chris Brown for a concert in Mombasa. The tickets were 10.000 shilling a piece (100 dollars), a month’s salary for some people in the city. But all the rich families got a vip invitation. Word has it that soon Nicki Minaj will come to perform for the happy few in Mombasa. When we drive through Mombasa the billboards against drunk driving intrigue me. The message is completely suppressed by the huge picture of the governor himself. It looks more like a campaign poster, most probably produced with public funding. Another thing that intrigues me are the amazing quotes on the rear window of the innumerable matatus (minibuses). A short selection of the most remarkable ones:
– I’m getting hot, to burn my enemies
– don’t be a worrier, be a warrior
– Hate the game not the player
– My swag is up to myself, my behavior is up to you
– gotta fin myself some new haters cause my old ones are beginning to love me.
Not only the quotes are mind-blowing, also the ornaments on the buses are amazing, things that I’ve never even dreamt of like a rear spoiler on a rear spoiler. Most matatus look like the A-team van on steroids. I didn’t see an awful lot of the city during my three day stay, but it was just nice to be relaxing at Manu’s place and to update the blog.