9/26/09: Nairobi, Kenya
It all started out simply enough…
We were leaving the market after our elephant adventure, and we just needed to get a cab to take us ten minutes down the road. There were seven of us, all walking toward the street with grocery bags and other souvenirs in hand. We were expecting to walk up to the next van cab in line, negotiate a price (maybe 500 Kenyan shillings, roughly $7) and take the easy drive home.
As soon as the cab drivers on the street saw us Mzungus (white people) walking out with our bags, our lives were changed forever. (Well, not forever, but for the next half hour. It sounds better if you exaggerate a little.)
Cabbies approached us from every angle, and amidst the shouting and the pulling, I heard several of the girls we were with shouting, “Talk to Kevin! He’ll sort it all out!” Wait, I’m Kevin! I’m the Kevin that will negotiate a higher price to pay for souvenirs! I don’t want to get involved in this!
But it was too late – they all hit me at once. The next minute was a blur, but I remember somehow getting us all dragged to a van for 40 shillings apiece (about half of what we were expecting). It wasn’t because I was a good negotiator – I’m pretty sure one guy said 40 per head, the next guy agreed to the same price, and while the first guy was getting his cab the second pulled us into his. That’s all I remember.
When I awoke from my stupor, we were all in this pimped out (I don’t like saying “pimped out” but cannot find another adequate expression here) van – purple on the outside with a crazy Minnesota Timberwolves logo on the back windshield, orange and black on the inside with the roof looking like the bottom of a worn out leather couch. Rap music was blasting (the music video playing on the TV in the first row); otherwise I would have thought I was in some 70s disco club in California.
There were 13 seats in the van, and there were about 131 people occupying them. The side door was wide open and two guys were hanging on for dear life as the engine started and we crept down the road. We didn’t make it far – a hundred feet into the trip, another guy got on, then another hundred feet a couple people got off. The side door was still wide open, the music was still blasting, a girl in our group was still shouting at the driver to make sure he knew where he was supposed to drop of off. He didn’t.
About halfway to our destination we had dropped off enough people to close the van door, but the guys who were hanging on now sat uncomfortably in other guys’ laps – other guys who were already sitting in other other guys’ laps. The road became bumpy enough to skip the music DVD a couple times, so we used the opportunity to get the money collector to tell the driver generally where we were going.
We finally hit the road our destination was on, and the seven of us piled out, having actually paid 30 shillings apiece instead of 40. This was about right though, as we then had to walk the last half mile to reach our campsite. Apparently the van doesn’t do turns. (I actually think that it simply backs up to the market rather than turning around. Either that or a bunch of guys lift it and turn it that way.)
In those 30 minutes, I experienced agoraphobia, claustrophobia, vomitphobia and deathphobia, each more than once. But more than anything, I kept trying to picture this happening in America. What if you got in a four seat cab, only to find 28 other people get in behind you? What if you were picked up by a limo that then drove down the road with all its doors open? What if you told your taxi where you were going, then it dropped you off a 10 minute walk away.
Things like this just don’t happen back home. Both Zhou and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
Picture of the Day: They still sell tapes here! And Betty Crocker!