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Lions, Long Walks and a Gold-Digging Trumpeter

April 14, 2010

Petr Karlsson, a Swedish author who was once selected for his country’s national cricket team, had just got back from his most recent trip to India – a 2,000km motorbike tour with his 9 year old daughter clinging on for dear life – and, while we enjoyed a hit of cricket in the Solio Conservancy overlooking the plains below Kenya’s central highlands, he told me that I would enjoy India – “It’s the world in microcosm. It’s got everything,” he enthused. He should know. Petr’s motorbike ride was his twentieth visit to the sub-continent.

If India has everything, then Kenya surely has most things.

Last year’s severe drought led to Maasai farmers guiding their herds through the streets of central Nairobi in search of grass. In England rain is met with polka dot umbrellas and justified moaning. In Kenya it lifts the national mood and brings a bundle of hope and a touch of relative prosperity into ordinary Kenyans’ lives. I was lucky to arrive during some unexpected rains. The hills and valleys turned green almost overnight and I wasn’t the only one who welcomed the change.

Kenya got under my skin and I loved the place. I loved it because of the stunning landscapes – mountains, valleys, extinct volcanoes and rushing rivers – the wildlife, and the gentle rhythm the locals live by. And I loved it despite the standard of driving and the frustrating lack of competent human beings in almost all shops / embassies / cafes I visited.

Here are some thoughts that only begin to explain Kenya, and my time there:

Difficult Lives

My leg was sore from the football accident in Khartoum, but I had been invited to St Andrew’s School, Turi and wanted to arrive after an adventure. I decided to walk there, and it turned out to be one of two long walks I took on while in Kenya. I hitch-hiked out of central Nairobi to begin the walk. I was lucky to spot a car with four wheels and windows approach me, so stuck out my thumb and the driver stopped. I jumped in the back seat and began chatting to (another) Joseph. He was a Ugandan on his way from Mombasa to Mount Elgon on his country’s border with Kenya. He asked where I was going and so I told him about my adventure. When I asked what he was up to, he told me that there had been a devastating landslide on Mount Elgon last week that had wiped out entire communities. He was taking his passenger, a young lady, to where her village once lay. She wanted to see where her family died. It was another stark reminder of how difficult life can be for people living in this part of the world.

A Long Walk

I got dropped off for my walk 25kms from Nakuru, which turned out to be a bustling market town next to the famous flamingo lake of the same name. Time off the bike meant I had some spare energy hanging around – it needed working off. I had been invited to St Andrew’s School, Turi to give a talk to sixth form Prep School kids about my trip, and some of the things I’ve learnt so far. I walked 75 kms to the school over two days, and on the way decided that walking is an even better way of meeting local people than cycling is. I chatted to a lady whose house got burned down by a (former) friend from a different tribe during the post-election violence in 2008, I ate with a retired police chief who lived in a huge mansion with stunning views above tea plantations, and I walked with two 7 year old boys, John and Stephen, for 10 kms from their school back home. John was too much (“hey mzungu, give me money”), but Stephen just wanted to know was why I was carrying a cricket bat. On the walk it occurred to me that it’s almost impossible to meet a Kenyan who hasn’t got an extraordinary story to tell.

Remebering My Journey at St Andrew’s School, Turi

I enjoyed the two days I spent at St Andrew’s School. The weather was English (rain and mist, then sun, then rain and mist), I was well fed by the Headmaster Paddy Moss and his wife, I ran / walked another mile for Sport Relief with the whole school, and umpired the end of term teachers versus kids hockey match without suffering too much verbal abuse. I also enjoyed preparing and giving a talk to the pupils. It gave me a chance to reflect on my journey, and made me realise how much I have packed in to 6 months on the road. Only 8 months to go! I saw my face in photos from the European leg, but it was difficult to believe it was me. europe seems like a lifetime ago. As with my blogs, a lot of the talk focused on kind people I have met along the way. As I fielded questions at the end, one girl posed a good one. “When you were younger did your parents not warn you about the danger of talking to strangers, and if so, why do you always talk to strangers?” A good question I thought, and I’m sure her parents would have been proud had they heard her ask it. I told her that I had tried to learn who to trust, and that if I hadn’t talked to strangers on my trip, I wouldn’t have talked to a single person so far, which would have made the journey fairly boring. I think she understood.

Joseph, the most honest man in the Kenya?

One evening in Nairobi, while I was walking to the main road to catch a local bus (matatu) downtown, a scruffy looking young man with few teeth and glazed eyes told me not to walk this street after dark. Nairobi’s nickname is Nairobbery, so I heeded his advice, and on the way back after dark hailed a cab to take me 500 metres to the hotel. I handed him the fare of 100 KSH (70 pence) and hurried into the hotel. About half an hour later reception called and said there was a taxi driver downstairs who wanted to see me. As I came down the stairs, an old man with holes in his clothes began flashing a 1,000 KSH note in my face. It was the driver who had brought me to the hotel. He explained that I had over-paid him by ten times, and he had come back from the other side of town to give me the change. As I said thanks and goodbye, I did ask myself whether I would I have done the same thing, if I was in Joseph’s situation. I was amazed, partly because I found his honesty untypical of ordinary Kenyans’ attitude towards Westerners and money. Still, if I ever need a cab in Nairobi again, Joseph’s got the job.

Trumpeter -Pervert or Gold-Digger?

I was eating with some new friends at an Ethiopian restaurant in Nairobi when a trumpeter came to play Happy Birthday at our table. After performing his offensive rendition of the popular celebratory tune, he told us he wanted to go to either Germany, Switzerland or the UK to marry a local lady. She only needed to be two things – rolling in cash, and over 90. We politely told him that we were unable to help. He didn’t leave, and instead tried to sell us his CD of Happy Birthday. I can’t remember if anyone bought the CD, but we were less polite in asking him to leave for the second time, so he ambled off to play Happy Birthday at the next table. It was nobody’s birthday.

Warm Coke?

Occasionally I would go into a shop and ask for a coke. It’s a strange one, but Kenya is the only country I have been to where every single shop owner asks whether I would like a warm or cold coke. I wonder how many people have answered “Ooh yes, that’s just what I’m after – a nice, warm coke.” If anyone has an answer to this baffling fact, feel free to fill me in. Why Kenya? Why warm coke?

“Matatu” – the Swahili Word for “Hell on Wheels?”

While in Nairobi I was staying 20kms outside the city centre in Karen, named after Karen Blixen of ‘Out of Africa’ fame. I spent a fair chunk of the week going back and forth between Karen and the Indian High Commission, and the cheapest way to do the journey is by matatu. Matatus are Kenyan minibuses, officially permitted to carry 14. In England they would hold no more than 12. Most of the time you find yourself one amongst 17 or 18, nose buried in a builder’s armpit and paying for the priviledge. There have been times on my journey, like cycling the 10 lane super-highway into Istanbul, when being on a bike has had me sweating nervously, but nothing compares to being on a matatu, overtaking trucks on a pot-holed, sharp bend on the crest of a hill and seeing five speeding matatus and a lorry coming the other way. Next time you’re on the underground in London, just feel lucky that your life is in the hands of someone who is unlikely to be high on illegal substances. Despite the fear, I did get used to my daily matatu rides, and even took a certain pleasure in them, partly because white men are rarely seen using the death traps. Loud reggae, a puncture, a bribe to the police, incessant screaming, screws in the seats / ceiling waiting to tear your bum / head apart, a chat with a local about his coffee farm or his Easter celebrations and a chance to get the heart rate going first thing in the morning. I’ve always looked for such things in a bus ride.

Cricket with the British Army

Jules and Alex Fuller kindly put me up in Karen for a week or so, while I sorted out my Indian and Bangladeshi visas. Jules got me a slot in the line-up to face the Nairobi Nomads and I was pleased to play at the Nairobi Club, where Wally Hammond once scored a century, and where the highest individual score by a single batsman in one innings is an astonishing 628 (amazingly, in the same innings none of his team-mates scored more than 39). My Mongoose got its first proper hit and after a couple of cover drives for four I was dismissed softly. My bowling wasn’t any better, but it was a great day and gave me my third cricket game in Kenya (see pics below – in order, British Army versus Nairobi Nomads, Nairobi; O Broom versus Petr Karlsson, Solio Conservancy, Nanyuki: O Broom and B Morkel versus Game Wardens at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Nanyuki)

Luckily it’s cycling, and not cricket, that will keep me busy in the coming months. I arrived in Mumbai last week and after catching an IPL match last night, am about to set off across India. I have been warned about cycling across the north of the country (tarffic, trouble spots etc) so am heading south for a few days before cycling towards Hyderabad and Calcutta. It’s going to be a long slog in 80% humidity, and if the past week is anything to go by, I’m expecting a few stomach sensitivities too. I’ve got a feeling I’m going to weigh 50kgs at the end of this leg.

If you enjoyed this blog despite its length, then please sign up to receive the next (shorter) entry by email. Please keep the donations going, because it keeps me going and the charities need the money! I got my largest donation this week – thank you, you know who you are! And thanks to Jono who is organising a poker night and Mum and Dad who are having a golf day for my charities – if anyone else has got a good fundraising idea, I’d love to hear it. Thanks and bye.

Oh, and check out the latest photos from Kenya and Sudan on my website’s homepage.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Mum permalink
    April 14, 2010 6:53 pm

    Hi Oli

    I think you know how I’ve been struggling in the knowledge that I’m now 60 but the donation of £10 for every year of my life makes it all worth while! (I can’t thank you enough Jill – I knew you had something up your sleeve!)

    Back from our few days away and loved catching up on Kenya.

    Lots of love

    Mum xxxxxxxxxxx

  2. tali permalink
    April 14, 2010 7:52 pm

    wow oliver broom, you may be looking very thin but your writing is PHAT

  3. tali permalink
    April 14, 2010 8:01 pm

    Seriously pea, great blog, they get better and better. Hope the durchfall stops soon and that you and the newly renovated peggy get on your way soon. Look out for the camels, pooing men, entire families on motorbikes etc as you cycle down those hectic roads. Lots of love xx

  4. Nicki permalink
    April 14, 2010 9:46 pm

    Have to say I am unbelievably impressed at how you keep putting yourself out there and having all these amazing experiences – can’t wait to hear what you get up to in India! 🙂

  5. Big al permalink
    April 15, 2010 10:38 am

    Dude, you appear to be double fisting in that pic. Good effort.

  6. April 16, 2010 10:42 am

    best bloggage thus far mate!!
    enjoy encredible india
    🙂

  7. Viv permalink
    April 17, 2010 2:30 pm

    Your blog too long??!! Never!

    It was quiet in Chalfont St Giles this afternoon so your latest chapter kept me amused.

    Love as always – Viv x

  8. Marian permalink
    April 18, 2010 11:11 am

    Thank you Joseph for being yet another kind person who is looking after you on your trip. Loved this blog. Long but so so interesting!!

    Marian and Jodi(he has just googled ‘Oli Broom’ unprovoked and started watching all you videos.)

    Stay safe.

    Love and hugs Marian x x x x

  9. BENOY permalink
    April 19, 2010 5:11 am

    AM INSPIRED BY YOU OLI KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK

  10. Oli permalink
    November 24, 2010 12:35 pm

    Hi Oli,im Oli too,only just found your blog and i love it,having a good long read now,im in Egypt at the moment,having cycled back after watching the World Cup,i still have Italy and France to do and then im home…as for the warm coke,i too was baffled by this,and laughed when someone asked me on one occasion,which then prompted me to ask why they ask this.The answer was a boring and simple one – which is supposedly,a lot of Kenyans do actually ask for warm cokes.odd.Good luck with the rest of your cycle…
    Oli

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