Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bikes, Bandits, Crashes...Just Another Day in Kenya

Bikes....I love bikes, I love getting people on bikes, I love riding MY bike.  I am completely obsessed with bikes.  I really enjoy working for WBR.  I just hired two new sales reps and WBR has given me the freedom to "run" a business here with all the support I need.  Every day I travel around Nairobi and the outlying countryside (which I much prefer) talking about the advantages of our Nyati Bike.  We are in the process of finally getting the last 400 bikes out to World Vision thanks to the delivery this week of our container.

Ah...the container, the saga...

Our container with 835 bikes was supposed to be here over 10 days ago and it just arrived.  I have heard some crazy stories in my food distribution days of product delays due to truck issues but truly there is nothing like transport in Africa.

The container was initially delayed when it wasn't transferred from port.  I believe it was temporarily misplaced because it is easy to misplace a large 40 foot container, isn't it?

Finally gets through customs and on a truck days later.  

The truck the container is riding on gets in an accident on the road in between Mombassa, the port city, and Nairobi.  The truck is totalled, the driver taken to the hospital and the container is sitting on the side of the road.  We get reports it's still intact.  

The container sits on the side of the road for two days guarded from bandits by the local police (and that's not always a good thing either).

Container gets picked up and put on another truck and then spends a day at the police station as more reports must be filed.

The container finally resumes its journey to Kisumu.  Kisumu is where the WBR assembly plant is and is also on the opposite side of the country from the port of Mombassa.

The truck hauling our elusive container breaks down outside Nakuru (nowhere near Kisumu).  After a "Come to Jesus" phone call between Transeast (the shipping company) and me and Jameel (my freight forwarder) and me, Transeast agrees to drive straight through and wait to off load the next morning.  Transeast as well as most trucking companies do NOT drive at night due to the plethora of unsavory characters along the roads waiting to pounce on unsuspecting prey, i.e., your typical African Road Bandit.  Transeast decides to drive at night.

The truck is attacked by bandits.  I am serious, I cannot make this up.  The drivers fend off the bandits and keep our container safe.  I think they were afraid to get a phone call from crazy muzungu woman!

Container finally makes it to Kisumu all cargo intact and apparently unharmed from the accident and the bandits.  

To continue our theme of bikes and crashes, I successfully combined the two last week on my Tuesday Urban Assault Bicycle Ride of Death through the streets of Nairobi during morning rush hour.  Luckily it was more a bump and me pounding his hood, I was already anticipating the slow speed connection of biker and car, so I was prepared.  As much as I love to ride, as much as I need to ride, this riding is not helping.  I was so stressed by the time I got home I collapsed on my bed and sobbed.  I hate riding in Nairobi.  I know "hate" is an extreme word, but it is the word that best describes my feeling and dilemma of riding here.  I'm still on the hunt for a safe, decent place to ride that doesn't entail sitting in traffic to get to for hours, however, it still comes down to not riding by myself, which I actually like.  All the safety factors are just overwhelming at times.  Traffic, bike jackers, bad neighborhoods....hell, can't a girl just ride a bike!

So to complete the circle of crashes, Thursday I had an incident with the WBR pickup truck.  I was driving from downtown to my place, a 30 minute walk, a 45 minute drive at rush hour.  It was quickly approaching the witching hour.  I enter the Cluster F Roundabout off the major highway up to the road leading to my apartment.  I am in the far right hand lane, exactly where I'm supposed to be.  (Not that any type of road rule or etiquette or common sense apply in Kenya).  I go around and start to leave the CF Roundabout and in the corner of my eye I see this SUV coming at an angle right at me.  I figure he's just another one of the thousands that has cut the roundabout and is trying to squeeze in creating the ever present gridlock.  He's coming right at my front wheel.  Next thing I know I have a moto taxi on the side of me yelling at me that I hit the car.  I look in my rear view mirror and see a SUV still at this crazy angle and the bumper lying in the road.  I turn off on the first dirt road only about 50 meters up from the CFR.  I sit there for over an hour waiting for the person I hit or the police or anyone to tell me what to do.  George, Head of Logistics for WBR, finally arrives on foot and laughs when he sees the side of the truck.  He said it is obvious that the guy hit me by the scratch down the side of the truck and he probably picked up his bumper and left because he didn't want to pay for my truck damage, which was actually quite minimal.  Of course George laughed at my visions of Midnight Express and told me to go home and be careful.  All I can say, running boards are a MUST in Kenya!  That and a big ass bumper with a gnarly trailer hitch!

Yesterday, I decided to make a break from all the chaos that is Nairobi and headed to Mt. Longonot.  It is an old volcano with the top blown off that you can hike up to and hike around the rim.  There was not a better feeling than leaving Nairobi at 5:45am sans traffic and escaping into the wild of Kenya.  The further I get from this city the more I relax.  The hike was steep but when we reached the rim the view was unlike anything I had ever experienced.  Nairobi is right on the edge of the Rift Valley.  The Rift Valley is the most awe inspiring sight I have ever witnessed.  The expanse is ALL Africa.  If it was clear, which unfortunately never seems to be the case due to the pollution and smoke, you could see for hundreds of miles.  

My guide was this really interesting young man, Daniel.  We talked Kenyan politics, life outside Kenya and his dreams for his country.  He was also impressed that I did not suck on the hike.  Unfortunately, American's lack of fitness continues to create a very negative impression in tourist areas throughout the world.  The more we hiked the more he pushed, like we were in a race, which was fine with me.  I'm not a meanderer hiker and like to hike for fitness.  I can look at all the beauty and still hike with a purpose.  I like Kenyans, they are ambitious, outgoing and very friendly people.  They are fun to be around.  So, my adrenalin is pumping and we're cruising around the back of the rim of the crater far from the actual "park" area when we come up on two charcoal runners.  THIS is why I would never hike alone.  Charcoal burning is decimating the forests and wreaking havoc on the environment in Africa.  The charcoal trade in the DRC is actually killing people over the rights to the charcoal.  These are not friendly social people.  They are dangerous.  We meet two of these guys and they are both carrying machetes.  Daniel obviously is cautious.  I am thinking I am going to die over a piece of charred wood.  They exchange a conversation in Swahili and we are on our way.  Daniel said it was good that he was with me.  WHAT?  Like skinny white girl is going to fend off two charcoal runners?  I am not Lara Croft!  He explains that because I am obviously a tourist they do not want to harm anyone that might draw attention to what they are doing.  I am "off limits".  As much as I was thinking this was like a hike in Las Vegas, make no mistake, it was a hike in Africa.  


I just watched that movie "Julie and Julia".  (I know, this is an ADD transition and this conversation doesn't go with anything).  Of course I loved it because I love everything FOOD!  Love eating, love cooking, love cooking shows, chefs, restaurants.  I am a consummate foodie.  But, that has nothing to do with this...I liked the premise of the book/movie, that Julie wrote every day about each recipe.  I like to write but I always seem to be stymied because so much happens in my life here, so much craziness and emotion and frustration and joy that I simply don't know where to start and then weeks pass and it gets harder to write because there is more and more stuff to write about and then I shut down and stop writing. is my pledge.  There are 82 days left between now and the end of the year.  82 days...82 blogs....82 stories big, small, insignificant, life changing...every day a story.  

This is my life...

1 comment:

  1. Kimberly-- Mt Longonot and Rift Valley are wonderful. Have you been to the walking safari on Crescent Island at Lake Naivasha? Access through the country club :-) No predators, yes grraffe, zebra and more. You motor over in little boats and are free to wander the island. Really peaceful and beautiful.
    Curious if you will be treking to Rwanda in November. I think I am purchasing my airline tickets on Monday and will be in Kigali 10th-22nd. Another too short trip... but enough to get some good work done and reconnect with friends.