"Ex Africa semper aliquid novi", quoth Pliny the Elder. There is some debate about what he really meant, but most likely he meant trouble. In this sense has the phrase been used most often since but I hope to reverse the trend and on these pages bring you the exciting, novel and curious out of Africa.

And wherever I am I hope to remain,
Ex Africa Semper Yours,

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Northern Exposure II: I am waiting

(Continued the next morning, after a few hours sleep on the planks stored on top of the lorry – bloody uncomfortable)

It seems that our driver’s mission was successful and he had found help in the next village called Karacha. It was only 8kms away and he came back on another lorry which they are now loading with our cargo in hope of making our lorry light enough to be pulled out of the hole it’s stuck in. With survival chances thus improved I can peacefully proceed to recount the rest of the story.

Where were we? Ah, yes. I left the company of Asaaska and our friends early on Monday to make my way to the local metropolis of Marsabit. I arrived there just after midday and was hopeful I will be able to catch a lorry to Loyangalani , on the lake shore, the very same day. I inquired at the petrol station and after some going to and fro I was led to a ‘stage’ where they usually leave from. I was informed that there should be one going from the Caltex garage that day at 4pm. I was very happy. Left my luggage at the hotel, went to do some shopping and internet browsing (yes there is an internet café there) and had a lovely lunch, courtesy Joseph, a fellow passenger on one of the ‘means’ (of transport) that brought me to Marsabit and decided to be my cicerone for the day.

When I went back to the garage at 4pm it turned out that the lorry that is supposed to go to Loyangalani belongs to Hakim (and so does the garage). Now Hakim is quite a someone in the area. He is a businessman and contractor, the richest man in town and an influential personality. He owns many trucks and tankers and has an impressive network of men all over the county. I had met him at Asaaska’s place – he is a friend of the family – and we chatted a little about the chances of meeting an aardvark. It was obvious that if Hakim could not help me get to the Lake, no one could. I was invited to wait for the lorry with Hakim and his men.

We sat outside, the men chewed khat and we chatted for a while. Most importantly, it turns out it is possible, although very hard, to see aardvarks in the area. In Rendille they are called Awahtoto - gravediggers. It is a rare thing to see one and the Rendille believe meeting one means that you are going to become a very rich man. The Somburu, on the other hand, believe meeting one is a very bad omen and will turn around and go back from whence they came if they encounter on their path. In any case, it does not happen very often and an old man, Godana, who seemed to be most knowledgeable on the subject had only seen twice in his life. But he promised that when I come back for Asaaska’s wedding we will go and try to track them in the bush. Got it scheduled for August.

Other than that they all thought me insane to try to proceed to Sudan through Lake Turkana but were divided in their opinion on the feasibility of the plan. None of them had heard of the boats in Loyangalani. We waited till six when Hakim came back with the news that unfortunately the truck that was supposed to go wouldn’t after all. Maybe the next day. We talked more about the plan. Hakim was sceptical and they kept repeating it would save me time and money to go back to Nairobi. But I think my enthusiasm for adventure and seeing new places was contagious for after a while they started devising alternatives to my plan. They reckoned it might be better to head even further North, right up to the Ethiopian boarder, to a very remote town of XX. This town is dependent on supplies from the other side of the Lake, which is also much closer at that point. It is harder to get to than Loyangalani but easier to leave by boat. We decided to try that route.

Hakim started making phone calls. It took a long time but I guess by now I am used to sitting and waiting. I did not want to push Hakim but I was desperate at that point to have some kind of plan or idea what I should do next. Maybe I should go back to Nairobi after all. Hakim just kept repeating: “just wait”. So I did and after a few hours, I don’t really know how, I found myself with the entire route to Kolakol arranged by Hakim. I would join one of his friends lorries to North Horr the next day, arrive there at 3am, will be put in a hotel and wait for Hakim’s lorry which leaves the next day at noon, in Illaret I am to call Hakim and he will put me in touch with a boat person. I will not pay for the lorries but I will have to pay a little something for the boat. On the other side there should also be a transport to Lodwar. And now I should go and sleep.

I found myself in a car with Shalom, Asaaska’s sister, who unexpectedly appeared there too. She said she will put me in her friend’s hotel where she will also be staying. We will share a bed. We will eat together in the morning and I will not go to buy a soda – a hotel guard can do it. Thus dis-empowered by the overbearing, limitless and touching Kenyan hospitality and generosity I laid myself to sleep trusting that with a little help of my new friends I can make the crazy Sudan plan work after all.

The next day, I spent going between town and Hakim’s garage and waiting, waiting, waiting. Nothing is certain when it comes to transport in Africa. Truck may come, may not, might leave, might not, it could be at this hour or another, it might take me or not… I am told that the inoffensive term mzungu, now meaning ‘white person’ comes from a verb ‘to wander, to move about’ and captures the impressions the Africans had of the restless first explorers. I cannot speak for all Europeans but I for one certainly do not have the African capacity for patient waiting and I was at my wits end that day, pacing to and fro, picking up a book, chatting, climbing on Hakim’s bulldozers, eating without appetite and trying desperately not to ask after lorries all the time. If it wasn’t for Hakim’s reassuring grumbles I would have fled to Nairobi on the first southbound truck in shame. But if I had I would have never found myself on this broken down truck, in the middle of the desert and that certainly would have been a crying shame no matter what happens next.

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