no jambo road

there are understandably countless ways to describe an african experience, so as an act of self-defense a traveler may often find story specifics as the best tall tale guide. i, however, have picked the cliches of cliches upon which to focus, the inarguable personal kenyan ‘feeling,’ which we have now packed up and brought along with us. i would like to liken our life there to the sand that hides in the elastics of your underwear, the tiny remnants that cling to you as you change on the beach after a day in the sun. it is that sand that irritates you, rubs you, and continues to remind you through the rest of the day that it is not only there, but that you are there and just spent the day alive and happy to own your particular set of feet on this particular planet. and what’s even more exciting is that tomorrow is indeed another day.

even as such, the discomfort in these parts is widespread and deeply ingrained, as white faces tend not to blend and the class divide is worn clearly and literally on one’s sleeve. still, i think alex and i were able to find the rhythm and step in time while we were in ari’s village, since we took the time to learn enough kiswalli to generate a laugh, as well as to learn enough kiswahilli sign language so as to crudely gesture that a toilet is going to be necessary soon. many of our nights were spent with the boys playing music and the children gathered around trying to sing along or trying to braid my muzungu hair. dinner varied in content and success, but we ended each day well fed and nicely bedded.

the coast of kenya was more picturesque than most available postcards and its arab influence definitely defined the area. the salinity of the indian ocean was only surpassed in quantity by the seaweed, which inhibited easy entrances and exits, but well maintained the surly naturalness of the sea and the wildness of the beaches. serene though it sounds, we did witness a serious case of mass confusion one friday as we ventured into mombasa. matatus are minibuses that provide kenya with public and hair-raising rides, and it was in one of these that we pulled into the city center. upon a roadblock we coasted, until we saw billows of smoke and a mass of people running in the opposite direction. at once, we jumped out, followed the chaos, then faced the chaos, then were swept by strangers away from the chaos. once on a side street, we debriefed and discussed our individual assumptions (megan: a bomb?, ari: tribal violence?, alex: there was smoke?). turns out we were all wrong, and it was a street battle that featured police in riot gear chasing street hawkers (vendors) all afternoon. apparently there were 2 buses burned, but we were not privy to peek. this occurred while on our way to a photo exhibit entitled ‘kenya burning,’ and it most deftly demonstrated the volatile nature that lingers not so far from the smiling surface.

ari’s ‘beach corps’ existence not only enabled us to pumzika (relax) our brains out, but to abuse his connections in other north coast villages as well, which is how we ended up with our own one-love island for the night. in groups of 3 (we added on some rafiki* peace corps), we left the mainland in canoes that were little more than hallowed out and halved trees. crossing completed, we explored the driftwood structures and wrestled in the available quicksand. only ari, alex and i took part in the latter activity; i think our combined size and WWE references were intimidating. the only girl, i went off to do some testosterone detoxing and ended up stalking some birds and in the process soon found myself distracted by a curious growth on the sand. poking and prodding and putting my face right on into it, i was able to determine that i had been totally awestruck by birdshit. dignity destroyed, i returned with the others to enjoy a strange mixture of kenyan chat, calamari, coconut wine, and local greens. after a successful fire pit creation and fire transfer (obviously overseen and ingeniously generated by yours truly) alex and i climbed into a tree house and slept to the sweet buzzing of busy mozzies. return transport proved to be interesting, and not because of the aquatic submersion one might fear. the village nearest to the island was a ways from the main coastal road and matatus will absolutely not leave until they are full. well, nobody’s doing nothing on sundays (except listening to the jesus look-a-like sing louie louie to the village children) and so we sat, sleepless and irritable, waiting to move. after almost 2 hours, we dealt our way into paying for the empty seats in order to leave before another terrestrial rotation could occur. incredulously, as we pulled away, the matatu was able to fill to capacity but our price was not inversely deflated. we protested but for fear of being stranded, we settled on being ripped off. some time around then i had an allergic reaction to unknown variable x and lost ability to breath and talk, until benedryl was obtained.

i think this is the interlude where i explain my own bodily discomforts. don’t be too shocked (even though i have been), but the veggie diet holds up quite well, when we are discussing digestive consistency. i went wrong by trusting my dear friend ari and all his cool african localness. when the general consensus is don’t drink the water, then don’t drink the water, because otherwise you will wake up not knowing which way dinner is coming, but knowing wholeheartedly that it is coming. after that, you will feel a dissociative dizziness but still maintain you want to play with orphans for the day. your friend will constantly check in on your burbs, for fear of a sulfurous smell that leads to an instant ass fountain (also known as giardia) and you will try very hard to discreetly keep him up to date. then, too weak to stand, you’ll sit in the orphan school, belly bubbling, until you think you can get away with a silent slip of the cheeks. almost instantaneously, all other adults will quickly move away from you, making the students stand up in order to check their undies for the caca culprit as a wealthy british lady exclaims ‘it smells very strongly of poop.’ in all reality, it could have been the side effects of malaria meds that produced such an awesome chain of events, but since ari’s unaccomplished and loudly proclaimed goal was to create a trifecta of self-shitters, i tend to think i was set up.

digression deadend.

since the coast was a very comfortable, concentrated area in a texas size land mass, we obviously had to go elsewhere. to do this takes a significant amount of time, so we convinced ari to play hooky to see the namebrand african mountain, kilimanjaro. well even though we were warned nothing could have prepared our respective weak body parts (knees, ankles, balls, and backs) for the journey that lay ahead. there are unpaved roads, and then there are unpaved kenyan roads that have craters and drivers who have no concept of downshifting or braking. so unbeknown to us (though in hindsight it should have been obvious) there was a very good reason why the front of the bus was disproportionately full and why our spacious back seats were available. after every large dip and subsequent cloud of dust, the entire bus would turn around to see how we had fared. some bumps were better entertainment than others, as ari had a full blown in-air head-on-roof-slam, and i had a few pinball imitation moves. i don’t know how we did it, but we arrived safely at ari’s african moma’s place in loitoktok, the site of his peace corps boot camp. we slept well in the light, cool mountain air, and awoke to take our very own safari vehicle into amboseli park. lions and elephants and wildebeest and ostrich and zebra and buffalo and hyena and hippos and giraffes, oh my! safaris are not overrated in anyway, but the stealth of the baboon is most certainly underrated. i found myself degrading the natural ambiance of the park in defense of dear alex’s hamburger, and punching a hominoidea square in the snout! it was only after the 2nd grazing and a well aimed sling shot did he scamper. truf.

we had such a grand time on the prudishly enclosed safari, that our next adventure was to a hell’s gate where we could test the unrestrained relationship between us mammals and them mammals. we rented bikes for the day, and immediately began to question our judgement, as alex rode about 20 feet and promptly wiped the fuck out. equally hilarious and daunting, he surprised us and championed to get back on that bike, avoiding dirt-in-mouth syndrome for the rest of the day. ari was not quite as lucky, as he managed to destroy his 2nd bicycle seat in his now 7 month tenure in kenya. hell’s gate was absolutely beautiful and hiking natural hot springs and riding through herds of wild animals was inexplicable, but what was completely explicable is how freezing cold, pouring down rain can really make the uphill bike ride back pure torture. when this scenario started, i blindly left the boys, hoping to return to the bike station as quickly as i could. muddy, soaking, and totally alone (except for the shop guys who were interesting makeshift companions) i started worrying that perhaps the a’s needed an m for motivation or help. well damn if that thought wasn’t sufficiently squashed by a large blue church bus, which pulled up and started yelling my name. and there, right in front, were the only 2 other white faces around, thankfully familiar and amused.

sadly short of conquering the continent, it is here our african tale detours, so i will direct you to other succulent entertainments (in case this one did not do it for you) until our epic tales return: ari’s freshy fresh blog.

* aside from being the wise old monkey in the lion king, we were delighted to find out that the word rafiki means ‘friend’ in kiswahili.

that's right, baby orphaned elephants.

that's right, baby orphaned elephants.

alex 'biking' in the rain.

alex 'biking' in the rain.

3 morons meet with success.

3 morons meet with success.

viscious food thieves on the prowl.

vicious food thieves on the prowl.

self portrait.

self portrait.

the best safari shot we got.

the best safari shot we got.

local: 'jambo!' weary traveler: 'no jambo!"

local: 'jambo!' weary traveler: 'no jambo!"

a little bonding time at the DMV.

a little bonding time at the DMV.

the now infamous caca cove.

the now infamous caca cove.

a kenyan convoy through the village.

a kenyan convoy through the village.

timboni, africa's finest village.

timboni, africa's finest village.

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5 Responses to “no jambo road”

  1. MEGAN did you really punch a monkey in the face??

  2. SJ Mazer Says:

    I sure hope your tummies are feeling better and that Thai food is kinder to you. Let me know if there’s any really cool jewelry and I’ll repay you. Pearls would be fine. Love Mom

  3. Megan “Poops” Helton

  4. arijaco Says:

    I’m often in search of the “Caca Culprit” myself.

  5. Mumm-Ra: The Ever-Living Says:

    Giraffe!!!

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