The Kenyan Spectrum: The Good, The Bad, & The Just Alright – Part I

The Ethiopian/Kenyan Overland

Kenya came with a crush and departed with deep rejuvenation.  To extrapolate, my fiancée Lily Brewis and I entered the East African country along its northern limits.  The day prior was spent rumbling along the nonexistent infrastructure of Ethiopia’s southern roadways before arriving to the border-town of nowhere-Moyale.  We checked into a dump, ate, drank and passed out to the smells of our squat toilet, which emitted fumes of someone else’s noxious bile.  Then we rose, left disgustedly, stamped our departure passes, strolled across into Kenya, more stamps, pens and papers—then KABLAAM! We were in Kenya surrounded by tall, beefy, tall, lanky, short and muscular, drunk and squeamish Kenyan men.  Inside the country for all but thirty minutes and already witness to two fistfights and a handful of aggressive arguments breaching the borders of hostility.  This is the furthest north, another nowhere-land, the Moyale side of Kenya, and we had 1200 kilometers of terrain before reaching the comforts of Nairobi.

“You need truck, so I give you 2500 schillings to Nairobi.”

A tall bald Kenyan was approaching us.  In fact, Kenyans of all sizes and proportions encircled, drawing tighter.

“No, not Nairobi.  Marsabit,” I announced.

“Okay,” he said.  “Hakuna matata.”

And there it was.  The first of many, numerous, overplayed, overused, most obnoxious little phrases carrying little-to-no meaning due to its prevalence.  Hakuna Matata—the No Problem of Swahili made infamous by Disney’s The Lion King and the hotshot Kenyan Beach Boys with their red eyes and slurred English.  “Hakuna matata,” the bald man repeated.  “I give you two seats atop for 1000ksh each.”

“500 each,” Lily rebuked (1000 Kenyan schillings is equal to approximately $15USD).

The man and his lot would not have it.  We moved on.

Sure enough, we were soon on our way, headed south to the next nowhere-town of Marsabit.  And we had a view for 500ksh each, which included fresh air, sunshine, rain, wind and a grid full of bugs.  Let me draw you a better picture:  1000ksh total bought us our two seats atop a lorry truck, which consisted of clasping a cylindrical metal tube that was part of a skeletal frame enclosing a truckbed loaded with one dozen 600 pound disgruntled bulls.  These beasts mingled below us like drunken Midwestern poker players, mavericks as aggressive as the Kenyans of the border, heaving their horny heads into the meaty sides of their counterparts, cramming for space as they pissed and shat themselves for the 3-day trek to Nairobi.

Appalling?  Unnerving?  Thrill-seeking?

Yes.  Yes.  And yes.

And the first leg lasted ten hours.  Six hundred minutes seated on thin metal piping thru the roughest, most untamed dirt roads of the Dida Gulgalu Desert.  Translation: it means Desert of Rocks, which includes the barren pathway we traveled that ran through its heart.  Simply, the road was wretched.

Somewhere in the journey, one of the bulls fainted and fell to the floor.  Other bulls stepped on it, trampled it and stumbled while we rumbled.  Eventually, the caretaker riding with the meager fare atop noticed, jumped down into the fray and reached his hand into the creature’s mouth.  His hand and forearm sunk in up to the elbow, where in he grimaced, twisting and turning his limb as if arm-wrestling a maniacal tongue.  As we watched the spectacle with alarm, I imagined what the tongue looked like.  It was a deep crimson red, the color of blood as sinewy gobs of phlegm and puss dripped off its sides.  Large suction-cup pores spit hot liquids like miniature volcanoes, fending off the foreign hand with bursts of flame.  The tongue hissed and slithered under its grip.

My nightmare was shattered, or merely altered, when the caretaker dislodged his arm from the bull’s throat to reveal a twelve-inch worm as black as death.  It was enormous and repulsive.  I looked at Lily in reproach.  She winced.  And together we turned to our neighbor.  His name was Hussein.  Our expressions said everything.

“It is a parasite.  Coming from water.  It grows until killing the cattle.”

There was a long pause.

“This one,” he continued, pointing at the bull now on its feet, “Almost died.”

The caretaker then crushed the worm in his hands, obliterating the monster into oblivion.  Actually, that’s a fabrication.  He threw it into in the dry brush where a passing raven would spot it and ravenously pick it apart.

Marsabit.  We were overjoyed, more so than any cakewalk winner at your local fair.  Lily and I climbed off, unloaded our backpacks, turned from the beasts in the truckbed and those seated in the cabin, and walked away.  Next, we checked into the JeyJey Centre for accommodation and looked into the mirror.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall…”

Appalling, unnerving, thrill-seeking?

Our faces appeared like we were from the coalmines, emerging after a twelve-hour shift some two miles beneath the Earth’s surface.  In fact, we were pasted with coal because two hours into the trip, our driver felt the urge to pickup some 80lbs of charcoal, which became strapped directly behind us.  Thus, with wind the black powder swirled around into the air and covered our bodies.  Then add a heaping tablespoon of sun, a kilo of dust and a few barrels of rain for effect.  We were gruesome.  I’ve never been so dirty, nor in love with a woman that looked like a brute in for hard labor.

And this was day one out of three.  The following consisted of the same, this time on a lorry loaded with goats that looked comparatively feeble, along with the recipe of wind, sun, rain and grit in the form of dirt and more insects.

Day Two—ten hours later we reached Isiolo.

Day Three—we entered East Leigh, the northeastern district of Nairobi.  Shortly, we stepped into ecstasy.

To be continued…


  1. OH MY GOD. I love your writing, CAM – this is a book…. with photos. Wow. Amazing. Lily, I love you woman!!! can’t wait to see you both. I hope, at least, you got a photo of the two of you in the mirror!!! Stay safe, I’m sure that is a given – the worm bit hit me hard… I’m on my 2nd dose of drugs for parasites. DON’T DRINK THE WATER…. wish me luck this time. I don’t want eric to have to put his fist down MY throat!

  2. Sandy hilton says:

    I can not wait to hear about your stay in Nairobi. Geez anything woud be ecstasy after that brutal journey….

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