Tag Archives: Nairobi

NAIROBI TO MOMBASA BY TRAIN


Nairobi Railway Station

Image via Wikipedia

I do my best avoiding the still water filling the pots holes of the sidewalk and the street. My shoes and the cuff of my jeans are muddy.

The sidewalk is going about his business with vendors selling the ‘farmer choice” brand sausages filling their carts, shoe shiners wait for clients and readers are busy perusing the headlines of the latest corruption scandals.
I maze myself out of a puzzle of passenger vans, small and large buses taking every inch of the road.

My bladder pressing I swerve into the entrance of the public toilet and paid my five shillings to the cashier. The place is full of men squeezing elbows in front of a tiled wall … the urinal. The lack of privacy annoys me and the strong putrid smell of urine and feces choke me to the point of  leaving without utilizing the service. My clothes feel stained by the stench.

I finally conquered the fastidious four hundred meters from Haile Selassie round-about through a bus station to reach the Nairobi Railway Station.

At the right of the entrance I see the office for the upper class booking. I smile at the sign and found the words pedant in a proletariat world.  Africa is fond of pompous names and acronyms and it is the reason this one has outlive it colonialist past.

The woman behind the counter is nice, smiling and talkative, and upon her explanation I opt for a one way ticket to Mombasa, second class with bed and breakfast. The cost is 1,940 Ksh (less than US $25) for a 15 hours journey in the heydays of railways history. Yes, the train travels 500 km narrow tracks at an average speed of 35 km per hour.  The TGV from Paris to Marseilles travels the 700 km in 3 hours.

A man tells me the trip is worthwhile since the rails go through the Kibera slums, the second largest in Africa, and the Tsavo National Park.
I am not too sure about the Kibera slum. I don’t believe that poverty should be an attraction dignified by touristic voyeurism.

It is 9:30am and departure is at 7pm. I take refuge on a white bench on platform 1, next to an underpass to platform 2 and 3. The platform is clean but shows wear from lack of maintenance. People do not use the underpass to get access to the other platforms. They simply cross the tracks.

The worn station subtly shows its history. The office of the station master reads Chef de Gare and Bahnhofvorsteher.  The left luggage office is also the Bureau consigne des baggages and Gepaeckaufgabe.

On a far track I look at an old green diesel locomotive with yellow and red stripes. The conductor stops next to a group of eight idle men and up from his cabin chats a while with them and go ahead on its tracks.

I am getting bored and still need to relieve my bladder and walk toward one end of the platform and reach the second class lavatory for gents informing me that Nairobi is at 5453 feet of altitude. I enter and notice that dame as in the public toilet the squat latrines are still in use. The smell lingers but is not as bad as the public toilet and high altitude peeing has no effect on my bladder.

On the way back to my bench I visit the upper class waiting room. It is furnished with one large old wooden round table and a small sofa but the toilets are spotless clean with only a mild smell of urine. My nose has regained its primal instinct and now rates toilet’s adequacy by its scent.

Another green locomotive, on platform 2, comes into the station pulling 15 dilapidated passengers cars. None of the wagons have windows or doors. The train has an allegoric look, like a death trap waiting to grab the moment to a sordid fame.
The train is from Kahawa, which I am told is about 40km from Nairobi, and let his passengers off on the tracks.

It is 10:30am and now the station has activities. Men wearing green overalls marked Rift Valley Railway look under the carriage of each railway car while cleaners line trash cans in between the tracks.

At 11am another train pulls on platform 1 with slightly better cars maybe made in the 60s.  The train is from Mombasa and one end let off its mostly white passengers and the other end the passengers from third class. All the passengers from third class are Africans. It is economic segregation.

Suddenly, I am the focus of attention.  The private guards and workers in attendance on the platform are asking me questions. I have been here since early morning. They don’t understand what I am doing here on the white bench where I have taken refuge with my small backpack. I explained that I will be a fixture for the day since my train to Mombasa leaves in the evening.  Everyone smile while I show them my ticket and my audience dissipates satisfied of my answers and leaving me wondering what was the fuss about. Don’t I look like a passenger?

It is noon and feeling stupid of all the interest I decide to walk to the railway’s restaurant. The doors are well shut and peeping through the grim windows I do not see any signs of activities. The thickness of dust on the tables and the furniture shows that the last dish was served decades ago.

I dread the idea but I decide to again fend off the activities in front of the station to have a meal in town.
I walk to Mama Ngina Street and decide not to eat at Java House or Dorman’s. Java house is an American style coffee shop full of idlers taking the best seats in the house. Dorman’s, in the same style as Java house, has a better etiquette but I am looking for food not for fast food or snack passed as food.

I cross the street to Tratorria, an Italian restaurant which has become a fixture in this part of town. The street terrace is full of idlers having a cup of brew to give importance to their never-ending non-consequential meetings.
I sit inside at a brown marble top table near a trio of important looking Somali men and a duo of South Sudanese.
The waiter gives the menu which looks like a novel and I order risotto with prawns. He brings a basket of assorted fresh bread and tomato bruchetta.  The risotto is very good and the portion filling.

A well dressed man wearing a suit and an oversized tie take a seat in front of my table.  The waiter comes and he orders without looking at the menu.  He places his two expensive phones on the table ensuring they are seen but safe from thieves.
The idlers have also very nice suits.  The labels are still sawn on the outer part of the sleeve jacket.   One has a very large white square wrist watch with the dial studded with glittering diamonds. The diamonds must be glass. In Nairobi you show off only jewelry which can be stolen.

I have lost the strength to fight off the buses and people on the way back to the railroad station and negotiate a taxi fare.

I am now greeted with smile by the guards and the workers when I enter the station. I take back my place on the same white bench and as soon as I take comfort two cars marked BM security drive on the platform.

I look because I have never seen cars driven on railway platforms.  I mean the cars drove on the walkway used by passengers and stopped not far from the police station at the far end of the platform to fetch, I assume, some valuable cargo.

As soon as they leave I walk toward the police station. It has a better appearance than the one I have seen in other part of Kenya. I smile at their ingenuity of storing disabled or acquired vehicles on the platform.

Actually, the station is void of vagrants and I do not see people using it as a shelter.

The station’s activities at the approach of the evening are increasing.  More dilapidated trains come letting out waves of human cargo on the tracks.   The platforms are filling with humans whose hands are carrying bags and heads balancing loads of whatever.

At exactly 6:30pm the Mombasa train pulls in the station and back-pack on my shoulder I look for coach 2305, climb on, squeeze in the narrow corridor and open the door to compartment A and slowly feels being sucked into the past.

My compartment is two large light-beige fake leather banquette facing each other and separated by a sink and each with a berth on top. The ladder to climb to the berth is above the door.

At exactly 7pm the train leaves Nairobi Railway Station for his 15 hours voyage to Mombasa. I am alone in my compartment.

The compartment is near the toilet and the passageway connecting to the other wagon.

I check the toilet and they are very clean but then they have squat latrine.  I think that you must be endowed with extraordinary balance to use them without making a mess of yourself.

The train is noisy and sways and bounces like a car with bad shock absorbers. Also, from the compartment I hear a kitchen battery falling off a shelf, again and again in rhythm.  I check and it is the metal door connecting the wagons.  The door flaps in and out banging on the metal frame.  I try to close it but the lock does not work.

Within a short time after departure a young man comes into my compartment with a large green bag. The bag has my bedding which he nicely lay out on a banquette.    I lie down and enjoy the pillow.  It is dark outside, I cannot see anything and as an adult I have never slept 15 hours. I can sleep with sound but I never slept with the noise of a door banging in and out of its metal frame.
I did not bring something to read.

I did not see anything interesting and 15 hours is very long but must admit that I enjoyed my adventure.

The trip back to Nairobi was exciting.  A galloping giraffe was in a collision course with the train. I looked with my head outside the window awaiting the impact.  The train stopped, the giraffe ran across the railroad track and continued her journey.

It took another 15 minutes for the train to start again but we all made it safe.

Patrick-Bernard

KENYA EASTER RANT


Slum Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya.

Kibera Slum in Nairobi, Kenya

Today, Easter, the Kenyan police issued a terror alert. It seems that al-Shabaab is threatening an attack on some public places. It is nice for the Kenyan police to tell the mass. Usually,  they protect only the rich and affluents.

Being Kenyan is not a happy moment.  According to statistic they are most unhappy and adding salt to the wounds they have extra judicial killers roaming the streets, politicians accused of crime against humanity and now, again, al-Shabaab.

I don’t understand why the Kenyan government is increasing its tourism propaganda. Yes, it is nice seeing animals roaming freely in their natural habitats but animals have a better chance of surviving a drought than tourists looking at a grenade in a crowded bar of Nairobi.

The price of fuel and foods has gone up the roof.  The president stuttered a nice Easter speech, his lips move faster than his words, by assuring that all Kenyans, even the ‘most vulnerable in society”, will be protected from high cost of living and hunger.

Of course, he blames others for these problems.  The manipulative members of parliament and their staff, which are the source of almost all grand scale corruptions hence in part responsible of the high cost of living, are arguing and calling each other kettle black.
The president is an innocent man. His innocence won him a rigged election.

It is official; the prime minister will run for presidential elections. He announced it in California, not the California estate  in Nairobi but the one in the USA.  He said it at a private venue for sickle-cell anemia in Malibu, not the drink but the city,  and instantly his candidacy received an international dimension.  Sickle-cell anemia damages certain human organs as well as the brain.

The Easter beach party in Mombasa, due to terror alert, stopped at 6 pm.  The country with its citizen and tourist was held hostage by a Kenyan intelligence still trying to figure out who are the drug dealers in their government after The US ambassador to Kenya gave them all the information.

Then an educated man wrote in a newspaper that the market will slow down for Easter.
Hello, how much business can one do when everything is close, under a looming treat of terrorist attack and everyone is asked to vacate the beaches after 6 pm?
People like to write about the obvious so the gullible mass can call them guru.  

The Nairobi metropolitan minister is looking for 10 billions Kenyan shillings to refurbish the sewage system.  The slums have no sewage and he wants a ban on slum tourism .
Praise to the tourism ministry, they have done a good job highlighting the plight of the poor in the slum areas. Perhaps, the poor will witness the slow death of the flying toilets.

Talking about infrastructure the water management should do something too. A baby’s bladder exhort more pressure than the water coming from the city pipes. Most household have to use water pumps to lift the precious liquid.
Water pump use electricity which is, like water, so precious in Kenya that you can wait days for it.

Tourists with dialysis portable machine are advised to visit Kenya with their own generator, a flash light and jerrycan.

Happy Easter.

Patrick-Bernard

CHEAP FLIGHT RANT


Kenya Airways Boeing 777 at Nairobi Internatio...

Image via Wikipedia

I checked the cost of a one way economy ticket from Nairobi (Kenya) to Entebbe (Uganda).   I used flight24.com to get the information. 

 I clicked the button and was given 8 choices:

  • 2 low-cost no-name carriers offer the trip at US $125 inclusive of tax.
  • 3 scheduled flights with United Aviation at US $165 inclusive of tax
  • 3 scheduled flights with Kenya Airways at US $286 inclusive of tax

Separately, I found out that Air Uganda has a round trip fare for US $199 excluding taxes. That’s rounds trip and the others are one way.

Kenya Airways is a whooping execrably expensive US $286. No wonder they make so much profit.

Anyway, today being Sunday, relax and listen to what my friend, Edward, posted on his face book account. While you listen, think about Kenya Airways. I don’t know why they charge so much considering the majority of their staff, except the top honcho, get lousy pay compare to their associates KLM and Air France.

Thanks Edward.

I LIKE AMERICA


A lone giraffe in Nairobi National Park.
A giraffe -Nairobi in the background

I have been with my mother for about a week.  She lives with my stepfather, in Durham a small city of 230,000 inhabitants in North Carolina. I lived in the US then moved to Nairobi, Kenya. I may bruise some people, but America is way ahead of Kenya and Durham, not a capital, swallows Nairobi in efficiency.

In Nairobi the roads are sprinkled with different sizes, in width and depth, pot holes. The asphalt is so thin that during summers it melts forming waves grabbing your care tires in unwanted directions.

The traffic lights have moods, when not broken they do not work. When they work, policemen direct the traffic without taking into considerations the traffic lights and create monster jams.

In Durham the roads are smooth, tires glide on the asphalt, the directional signs are clear and precise and traffic lights tell you when to make a right or left turn.

In Durham,the sight of a police reassures. In Kenya it worries.

In Durham they use blowers to move the autumn leaves off the curb onto sidewalks and the grass on roads is manicured by workers riding on lawn mowers.

In Nairobi, roads are cleaned with brooms with no handle, and then debris is picked up with ungloved hands. Sometimes, in the capital, herds of hungry cows mow the lawns.

In Durham electricity is continuous, stable and regulated without fluctuation. The few power poles are well grounded and supported by cables covered with yellow sleeves. My mother has beautiful large burned-orange candles for decoration in her house.

In Nairobi candles have a purpose; they give light unless you have your own generator. When it rains , transformers attached to poles spakle like fireworks, emit flames then explode or electrocute.

In America water, flow cold or hot from taps direct to your sink, the pipes do not rumble, they are quiet.

In Nairobi, water pipes thunder when corked by air bubbles and when the capital stops providing water you buy it from the same capital at exorbitant prices. 

In Durham, shopping malls have free magazines and newspapers for you to take at your leisure.  I pick one up with all you need to know about gay rights, gay health and gay life style, gay business, gay clubs and information on gay political representatives and activists. I did not know what the magazine was all about; I read it in full view of passerby. No one bothered.

In Kenya, I would be lynched for publicly reading such media, the newspaper burned, the shopping mall closed, my face would be plastered on the evening news flanked by smiling policemen.

In Kenya it is not allowed to be different, you must be a carbon copy of each other, that’s what society dictates. I like America, it protects diversity.

It is voting time for America’s officials and on the media politicians rant, verbally abuse their counterparts, promote their good deeds and agenda.  They curse or praise the president’s policies. They allowed to do so in the name of freedom of expression.

America voting

In Kenya you cannot do that, expression has a limit, you can go to jail or sued for your life earnings for publicly voicing negative opinion about someone with political importance. 

Voting is in Durham public school’s cafeteria.  The place is spacious with chairs and tables. My parents go in a short line, their names is checked on a list against identification and they are given a form which is scanned and a ballpoint.  They sit at a table, make their choices, people with questions are politely and patiently provided with information. In a private booth they cast their ballots on a computerized plate , and drop the ballot form in a box by the exit.  This evening they will sit in front of the TV for the results.

Kenya voting

Democracy in Kenya is different; they form a line of tightly clustered people, armed uniformed men hover around baton in hand showing authority. The authority can make you bleed and it hurts.

The ballot papers are late and the citizenry may have to wait hours in line.  The counting is slow and the results can take days to come.

During the last presidential elections over 1200 people died in riots .  That’s when citizens found out that politicians stuffed ballot boxes or doctored results in their favor. Yes, the culprits are the same politicians in power now.

I like America, I like Durham… Mwah, mwah!

Patrick-Bernard

MY FINANCIAL ANALYSIS – COUNTRY KENYA


Slum Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya.

Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya / Image via Wikipedia

Waw! Impressive! Kenya economy is improving
Local TV news show Stock Market graphs with numbers and coloured arrows going up and downs next to acronyms of big cement company, communication giants, banks and other financial institutions.
Then flash excerpts of conferences, meetings in plush hotels with close up of sheepish bored journalists and smiling big wheels.
Well dress speakers, flanked by sweating officials, in front of podiums boastfully read ominous script full of superlatives telling the economy is recovering and all is honky-dory.

In Africa, financial analyses are an index on how well the rich are doing.  You know, the finances of the 10% of people holding more than half of the country’s wealth or the well-known families where at least one member is or was in the government.

Some even write books on “How to become rich in Africa” while the money donated by “Western” government to buy school books is stolen.

In Kenya the average family income is $250 per month and that’s generous taking into consideration the “unofficial” unemployment rate of 30%. 
A mere $250 per month for rent, food, transport and other necessities required for basic dying living.

The average monthly rental of a 3 bedrooms flat in a nice average neighborhood of Nairobi is $1,000. I wish I was kidding but I am not in the mood.

So, business is really improving. The rich expatriat their children to fancy expensive universities abroad.  While the poor has to sweat to buy uniforms to send their offsprings to government free schools.

The rich, when sick, fly off to hospitals in Europe while the poor must do with medicine suggested by pharmacists or be admitted in public medical facilities with not enough beds and where drugs are in short supply or not available.

The house, of 50% of Kenyans living below poverty line, is a one room wooden frame roofed by corrugated iron sheets and permeated by the smell of kerosene used for cooking; the walls are plasters with old newspapers.
The dining, living, sleeping quarters and the kitchen are all there, squeezed in that one room. The water, if available, is from a communal tap in the center of the compound. That’s home!

Don’t forget that Kenya is the “inventor” of the flying toilet.
You poop in a plastic bag, the toilet, tie it up when you done and throw it as far as you can and that’s the flying part. I think it is ingenious in time of adversity.

Construction is booming and new roads are built to ease traffic jams for the executives going to offices in chauffeur driven Hummer, Mercedes or big fancy 4X4 while the poor walk kilometers or cram matatus (public transport) to their destination. 

When the economy goes up one notch so does the cost of the poor’s basic needs, eating more into a monthly salary which remains static. They eat fewer calories as not to inconvenience the rich building up their economy.

Bwana’s (Mr. in Swahili) second-hand suit shines its ten years anniversary, the shirt collar is worn off from too much washing and the fake leather shoes of yesterday’s fashion are to hide the holes on the socks.
Bibi (Mrs.) wraps a scarf on her head to hide hairs maintained by seasons; her dress has flowers which no longer exist and the everyday faded canvas shoes painfully hold the rubber soles.
The watoto’s (children) best are hand-me-down from a kind employer. They are too small or big but beautiful and the best are kept away for the special weddings or funerals.

The Kenyan politicians are among the best paid in the world, their salary is comparable to the one received by the leaders of the 10 most powerful economies.
Look, look towards the bottom of the economic totem pole. You see! Kenya’s economy ranks somewhere there.

The rich Kenyans, the 10%, will surely reach, if not done already, the economic development vision for 2030.   Congrats!

  Patrick-Bernard

 

HELP! I HAVE BEEN HELD HOSTAGE BY KPLC


Pole carrying electricity, Cable TV, and telep...

Image via Wikipedia

  
I live in Kenya and lately, my life is totally controlled by a company called The Kenya Power & Lighting Company Ltd, in short KPLC. (KPLC / Keeping People Lunatic and Confused)

KPLC kidnapped me and I am their hostage.

– On Sunday, due to routine system maintenance, I did not have power from 8am until 7pm. An update: for the same reason, the next Sunday, I had no power from 8:30am until 5pm.
– Monday, the same from 3pm until 4am because a truck hit the overhead cables. Yes, Nairobi, a capital, still uses wooden poles and overhead cable.  If they cannot figure out how to make sidewalks*, forget about underground cables. 
– Today morning, at 6am working on my desktop the power went off for half an hour.

A few months back my refrigerator, TV and 2 DVD players fried due to KPLC overload and almost the same for some of my neighbors.

The worst is when I checked my bill which is Ksh 3,239.40 for last month and I am thrifty on using power.  My consumption is only Ksh 1,687.50 .  The difference, a whopping Ksh 1453.58 is for the following taxes and adjustment as follows;

  • Fuel Cost charges (318.40 cents/Kwa)             
  • FOREX adj. (85.0 cents /Kwa)
  • Inflation adj. 10.0
  • ERC Levy 5.00%
  • VAT 12.00 %

I am a average person when it comes to all this numbers and acronyms. I do not know how to calculate percentage, I was not born a calculator but it looks that the taxes and adjustment are about 80% or more of my consumption.  It is outrageous!

Nicely enough, I receive an e-mail from my Embassy with a beautiful color attachment, informing the signing of a commercial agreement with KPLC to upgrade their network.  So, if I understand correctly the French Government is aware that my bill his high and that KPLC charge the highest electricity rates in Africa. 

It is confusing; it is not KPLC letting me know of the matter but the French embassy in Kenya doing so on their behalf.

Wow! That’s efficient!  The information did a round trip to Europe then came back to me who lives about 10km from the Embassy and 3km from KPLC.  Therefore, I think, I will no longer bring my concerns to KPLC but to my Embassy.  Thank you!

* I notice that lots of people are not familiar with the word “sidewalk”.  I assume because there is so few here.  However, they understand the “side of the road”.  It does make sense; you cannot stand on a sidewalk if they do not exist, so you stand on the side of the road.  For further information check my post “Where are the sidewalks in Nairobi

Patrick-Bernard

MY BROTHER, PARTNER, NEIGHBOORS AND FRIENDS GET TOGETHER


They are gone. My brother and his partner are gone. A van picked them up about five minutes ago for their next journey into their vacation in Kenya.

I ran out of milk so I put sweet condensed milk in my coffee. Hmm! It tastes good.
I enjoyed the three days they spend with me.
I wish it had been longer but hey! That’s life, I can’t complain.
I finish my coffee so I light up a cigarette. Why not, I feel empty and puff while looking at my garden.

I like my neighbors, a gay couple, it was the first place I took my brother and his partner to and they hit it off right away.
We drank some, they smoke some and the rest was an across the border cultural chit-chat, smiles and joy. The best was that, within seconds, they arrange a get together the next day at my house. I mean, for the novice Nairobi does have a thriving rainbow culture.

We finish the night at Havana, a bar, for more drinks, then Gypsies, another bar, where I met whom I call, since he knows everyone, the mayor of Nairobi who invited us for more drinks.
Their flight with the stop over was 20 hours and yet, tired, they managed to dance to nirvana.
I got drunk and my brother drove us home. We are all tired and happy, they took off their shoes, went to sleep but the shoes kept on dancing. OK! I’m drunk but that’s what I saw!

Next morning, I am up at before 8 am; drive off the house for grocery shopping for the party.
My jaw drops to my knees, all supermarkets are close. Today is voting day for the new constitution, that’s good! But all stores are shut!
In Parkland, workers are cleaning the inside display of a butcher shop. I make myself ugly and lick with pity their window.
Success! I have a raw tongue but who cares, I’ve two legs of lambs.
Early afternoon, we get the rest with my brother. Little snacks and booze and we will do with what we have.

It is 4pm and my neighbors are the first to arrive with a bottle of wine and Jelly beans, I love Jelly beans and look like one too, then one more guest arrives, more, more and more in groups or solos, around 20 in total.
All shape, colors, nationalities, looks, languages, ages and with three things in common; braiiiin, panaaaache and so Gaaaay!

The affair was up class, small musical chairs of groups sharing their intellectual thoughts, interest and light moments punctuated with laughter and even dance lessons. The conversation topics were eclectic; fashion, religion, music, travel, antiques, work and culture.
No one kept quiet; everyone had something to nicely blah, blah, blah about.
Everyone was at ease (I don’t accept shyness) making drinks, playing with a friendly stray cat or munching on the roasted lamb leg. Everyone was hot, without anxiety and free being themselves.

Neighbors, friends and all of you made this get together truly enjoyable. My brother and his partner are thanking all of you, even Olly who made a short appearance and scared the cat up a tree.
If you go to France, get in touch with me for their contact. By the way, they ask me to offer a special mention to the person who gave them a puff of their cigarette.
What brand was that?

Patrick-Bernard