March 5-6, 2019

DAYS 12 & 13: TRAVEL DAYS

The alarm I set goes off at 5am on Tuesday morning. I rise and shine. This is my last morning in Kenya. I open my door. Lavender and Irene are sound asleep on the flat mattress in the living room. I jostle Irene awake. She asked me to get her up, so she can help Ana prepare the hot water for showers for George, me and herself.

Irene is making the journey back to Nairobi with us. A classmate called her on my phone yesterday to tell her that some mandatory classes and assignments were coming up. Naomi’s laptop is still in Nairobi. She didn’t have room in her bag to bring it with her when she left the hostel after our funds ran out to keep her boarded there. She has left everything at her friend’s house. We do not have the funds right now to pay the $130/month for her to be at the hostel. Her friend has said she can stay with her for a week or so to catch up on getting all her assignments and attend the mandatory class. This will make it possible for her to stay on the same schedule as her classmates and not have to repeat this semester of classes.

As we go to start the car, the engine will not turn over. Somehow the battery has died. I smile to myself. George had wanted us to stop at Naomi’s mother’s house in Eldoret, to have a bite to eat and enjoy some of her homemade fermented milk (kefir). As he shared this information the day before, I pointed out to him that it might not be the best idea for us to stop this trip, as we need to make sure I get to the Nairobi airport in time to check my bag. I booked two separate round trip flights (Denver/London and London/Nairobi); if my bag doesn’t make it on the flight with me tonight, it will be stranded forever in London.

George is stubbornly insistent that we make this stop, as he wants Naomi’s mother to meet me. As God would have it, of course, He has other plans…so the car doesn’t start. A young mechanic comes with a separate battery to give it a dry jump start. No dice. I remind George that his own attachment to us stopping in Eldoret may be creating resistance in this situation. He laughs and agrees and releases his attachment to our Eldoret visit. In that very moment, his phone starts ringing. It is his neighbor, Phillip, calling to say he has found another neighbor who has a car and they are on their way to the house to jump start us. The car starts in a jiffy of course and after a last minute round of hugs from everyone, off we go, down the road and around the corner.

It’s now 9:30am. We fill up our gas when we reach Kitale town centre, but we do not check the fluids. This will prove to be an interesting choice. It didn’t seem unusual not to check the fluids at the time. We’ve had no car trouble the entire trip. An hour before Eldoret, however, the car starts to overheat. We use the downhill coasts to get to a gas station that has coolant. I tell George we need to get a large bottle, and I point to a rack where I see a “gallon-size” bottle that says coolant. The attendant keeps telling George they only have oil in the larger container, not coolant. I tell him to bring her to the rack. While every bottle on the rack looks identical, the label is different on the bottle closest to me, which is facing me and clearly labeled COOLANT. It turns out to be the ONLY large bottle of coolant there, which mysteriously appeared on the rack, as they only had ordered large bottles of oil! That’s how we roll, after all, right?

While we are there, we refill the water bottles that we have already used up. People in Kenya are used to being stuck on the road for hours in hot cars, so traveling with a few extra litres of water is standard operating procedure. We continue on our journey.

We’re not sure what exactly is happening with the radiator; it continues to overheat every 30 minutes or so. Several times, we manage to get into a small village area where the local roadside mechanics gather around, all peering under the hood and helping out, and assuring us there’s no need for us to change to a different rental car in Nakuru, as this repair will take care of the issue. The positive reassuring attitude of the Kenyan. No wonder my friends there declare that I am a true Kenyan.

At one point Irene, George and I create a prayer mantra that we begin chanting: Thank you God for the cool breeze. Thank you God for the shady clouds. Thank you God for the rain. We continue chanting, without ceasing, and the breeze picks up. Then the clouds grow fluffier. At one point we actually wind up traveling along with a small rain cloud which cools things off a bit for us. It’s all an adventure.

Along the way we drive through the “Idaho” of Kenya – where potatoes grow abundantly and are sold inexpensively by individual farmers along the side of the road. We stop at one point to cool the car, right where a farmer is sitting. I had given Irene a 1000Ksh note for spending money in Nairobi, the equivalent of $10. For a mere $2, she was able to buy a half bushel of potatoes which she will use to make chips – what we would call fries. Her college mates all love her chips and pay for her to make them, which generates a little spending money for her. When Irene and I were hanging out at the wi-fi café yesterday, we talked about ways to make that venture more profitable for her, so there will be no need to send her funds for any living expenses while she’s in school – and may even help offset her hostel costs.

The car keeps overheating. We keep pulling off the tarmac to sit and let it cool. I’ve tried to check in with British Airways and I’ve mustered some donations to make sure I have funds in case I need to stay a night in Nairobi, or if there’s any upcharge for having to change my tickets. The phone connection keeps getting dropped as we travel, so I’m assuming that either I will make my plane no matter what – or that it will all get sorted out once I get to the airport.

It’s past 4pm when we make it to the outskirts of Nakuru – the center of which was to have been our lunch stop with Naomi, at the Midland Hotel. We kept postponing when Naomi should leave her training to take her meal break – so she arrived at the restaurant close to 3pm.

George had agreed with Irene and me that if the car acted up before we reached downtown Nakuru, he would make a call and arrange for a different car. It has taken me several hours to finally get George to explain to me why he was hesitant to call the original car rental place. It turns out this is the only car the man owns. In Kenya, they have a peer-to-peer car service, much like Turo here in the US. This is the service George used to rent out his farm truck to make money to get the children back in school for another month, in January. It’s the same service he got this vehicle from. Knowing this, I suggest that maybe there are some other folks in Nakuru he may know from all his years there, who may have a car. He starts making calls – and arrangements are made for a gentleman to meet us at a gas station, not too far from the Midland hotel restaurant.

We coast into the gas station, having had to restart the car several times as it was now on its last legs. George goes inside for a minute and Irene and I stand outside the car, grateful to stretch our legs. A sedan pulls up and two men get out and are standing idly by, as if they are waiting for someone. I ask if they are looking for Pastor George Kaye and the more robust of the two men turns and starts to say yes. At the same time, I blurt out, “Hey! I know you!” He laughs and says he knows me, too!

It is Cleopus – one of the congregants at George’s old church in Nakuru, when I came and spoke for a month, 13 years ago! We both remembered each other clearly. The other man, the owner of the new car, is Peter.

We are beyond grateful for the new, reliable transportation (although George had begun joking that maybe the car was acting up because God wanted me to stay in Kenya a bit more)! Our time together always goes so fast – the last time we saw each other in person was in 2014 when George was in Virginia and came to a three-day intensive training workshop I held in Roanoke.

We transfer our belongings to the new car. Peter and Cleopus hug us and wish us well – they will wait for the owner of the first car to arrive, so we can go on to meet up with Naomi at the restaurant. It’s past five o’clock by now. George wants to know if we should just get “takeaway” from the Midland Hotel and continue on our drive to Nairobi. I ask him, “How long has Naomi been waiting for us at the restaurant?”

“At least two hours,” he replies.

I tell him there is no possible way we are stopping at the restaurant, giving his wife a quick hug and then bolting without having her join us for a sit-down dinner after she’s been waiting for us for so long. He laughs and nods in agreement that this will be a wise choice, even though it’s clear we’re both on pins and needles about whether or not we will make it to the airport.

With a new car, the odds are in our favor – but it’s still going to be a close call. British Airways closes the boarding process for checking in bags an hour before each international flight. And the new security measures the airport has enacted are unknown to us both. We have no idea how long it will take for me to check my bag once we arrive at the airport.

As we wait for dinner to be served, Naomi and I catch up. She is overjoyed with the continuing education and “brush up” of her skills she’s experiencing in Nakuru. She is much more confident in her skills – and even felt comfortable enough to administer medication to a patient earlier that day, for the first time in 7 years. It’s wonderful to watch her being empowered and her excitement at the prospects of being able to contribute once again to the family’s financial upkeep. She’s already started submitting applications to hospitals. Nakuru has a much larger medical industry than Kitale, so her chances of finding employment are much higher.

As we wait for our chicken dinners to arrive, I share videos with Naomi that I took yesterday of Paula and Paulette reciting poems. This makes Naomi’s day. Two moms away from home, understanding the importance of connection with their children. By the time dinner is over, it’s full on rush hour. We head away from downtown, toward Nairobi, and drop off Naomi at the cross road to where she is staying, so she can catch a quick boda boda to take her to her friend’s home. The sun is starting to get lower in the sky, welcoming the approaching dusk.

It is dark and nearly 7pm by the time we get through the traffic on the outskirts of Nakuru and are headed to Nairobi. It’s roughly three hours to Nairobi center, and another hour to the airport. This will put us to the airport right around 11pm – with 15 minutes to spare for me to get my bag checked. My flight is scheduled to leave at 12:15am March 6.

Every time we hit traffic, the collective energy in the car sparks. We are blaring George’s favorite gospel song “Anybody Wanna Pray with Me” by CeCe Winans. This has become our go to “play it again” sing along song this trip. If you want to Jam along with us as you read, you can listen to the song on this video.

For the first time this trip, we begin to be stopped at police roadblocks. One officer says he pulled us aside because our gas flap was open – and then proceeded to attempt to extract a bribe from George for his kind gesture. We used up all our cash on the car repairs and gas, so George truly doesn’t have anything to give the man. As we take off again, Irene starts laughing from the back seat. It’s the first time she’s ever heard anyone refuse to give a bribe to a police officer, and it was done with such authentic kindness that the officer asked George to kindly remember him the next time he’s passing through. Each delay makes us hold our breath. Will we or won’t we get me to the airport on time?

On the other side of Nairobi, we catch a break. A car in front of us is headed our direction. He is extremely good at navigating the construction areas and always signals his intentions, whether he’s changing lanes to go around a car, or to wend his way through the construction cones. He leads us in a high speed convoy for a good 15 minutes, getting us through spots that might have slowed us down. We dub him “our personal person” – a joking reference to a line from a Nigerian comedy – and we send him enormous blessings when he eventually veers off onto a side road.

We begin to see signs for the airport. The night is dark and there are no street lights along the highway leading to the airport. The area has been built up much like Arlington, Virginia, with some towering buildings that appear to be “sky scrapers” even though they probably top out at 15 floors. The signage is vague. We miss our turn and wind up on the bypass, which takes us on a 15-minute detour before we are able to get pointed back to the airport. The minutes tick away. It’s now almost 11pm.

We reach the edge of the airport property. Immediately we see a sign directing us to security – and instructing all passengers in the car to alight. What? This is new. And unexpected. Irene and I bolt from the car, as George drives past the security pavilion, where the car and he will be screened. We wait to go through scanners, and then jump back in the car. This is all part of the higher level of security that was required in order for Kenya Airlines to get approval for non-stop flights between Nairobi and JFK Airport in New York.

The airport itself has a bit more light than the approaching highway did. We find our way around the airport to the parking area for Terminal 1B. We see people lined up all along the sidewalk in front of the terminal – the line stretches more than a quarter mile. We’re not sure what’s going on or where we need to go. A taxi driver points to the long line and tells us that’s where we need to be in order to check my bag. We confirm this is the right line. It’s now past 11:30pm – yet the security guard I spoke to assures me that if I get in this line, I and my bags will make it on the plane.

How is this possible? It turns out while we were traveling for 14 hours today, there was an airline strike – which caused all the planes to be delayed. In fact, we’d even missed a bit of a skirmish between police and airport workers – complete with tear gas. My second close encounter with tear gas during my trips to Kenya. Not nearly as exciting as a ride on a boda boda, but certainly a bit of Kenyan trivia.

As a result of the strike, we’re not late at all. We’re right on time. Irene and George take my bag down to the end of the line to secure a place for me in the queue, while I pop into the Barclays Bank kiosk to grab some cash out of the ATM. This will insure George has enough money to get back to Nakuru tonight and then back on home after that. George and Irene want to stay with me until I get through security. I assure them that I’m perfectly fine on my own at this point, and that they should head on out, so George can drop Irene off at her friend’s home and head on back to Nakuru for the night. As it is, it will be nearly sunrise before he will arrive back to Nakuru. We hug our goodbyes and promise to see each other in July when I come back for the service safari.

I’m in queue along with everyone else for my flight to London, as well as three other international flights. By 1:30am I am finally through the baggage scanner area, then through the baggage check-in area where you actually check into your flight, then through the immigration area for international departures, then down through the terminal to the gate – where there is another personal scanner and another scanner for carry-on luggage. I get nabbed for having a bottle of water in my backpack. I take it out and toss it into the trash can, at the same time the agent tells me that unopened bottles like that one are okay to carry on. Rats. I’ll have to wait until water is served on the plane to quench my “road trip dry mouth.”

Fortunately, I’m on my plane AND even more fortunately, the plane is only about half full. So the center seat is open in my row. I settle in for takeoff, read, eat dinner and fall fast asleep. I wake up about 4 hours later, half way through my flight to London.

While it’s now morning in London, it’s still March 6.…We’ve made up good time in the air and are only about 30 minutes late on our scheduled arrival time. I’m up and out of the plane quickly. I make my way to the baggage claim, grab my suitcase and head to customs. Within an hour of landing, I’ve departed the terminal, walked around to the other side of it and re-entered, to check my bag for my flight to Denver. I still have four hours left before my flight home departs.

I am eternally grateful that both my arriving and departing flights today are in Terminal 3 at Heathrow. Here, my next stop is already preplanned – and has been since I first booked my flights. I make my stinky way to Lounge 1 where travelers can enjoy hot showers.

When I first flew to Kenya, in 2007, I discovered they had showers in Terminal 3. At the time, the showers were small rooms, with a two-sided fiberglass shower stall, a concrete floor with a drain and an overhead metal shower curtain rod and curtain that only covered roughly half the shower space. No towel, no shampoo or soap. A bargain to have a hot shower for 6 Euro, regardless.

Today, the showers are inside a fancy lounge. I opt for just the shower – I pay 15 Euro, then go through the glass doors where silence, soft music and a whispering attendant greet me. I’m escorted to Shower #5. The place is high end, fully tiled, with a sitting bench, linens, hair dryers, a full lineup of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion and a cascading overhead shower.

I spend a full half hour inside, peeling off the clothes I’d been wearing for almost 30 hours since we first left Kitale, taking a long, hot, hot shower and donning the extra change of clothes I’d packed in my carry on. I am in heaven.

With a clean mind and body, I’m now ready to undertake my most important task: buying as many bags of Cadbury Nibbly Fingers as I can find. I score 4 bags; Cooper will be over the moon. I also grab a 5-egg box of the original Cadbury Crème Eggs. I’m over the moon as well! I stash these in my carry-on bag, and head to the food court to wait out the announcement of which gate we’ll be departing from.

I return to my now favorite breakfast spot, Eat, where I enjoy a hearty porridge breakfast and sit still for a few hours reading. The plane gate is announced, and boarding is a quick and easy process as the flight has few passengers. In fact, I am the only person in my three-seat row. I make a note that flying back to Denver on their Wednesday flight is a brilliant idea for future travel. This trip to Kenya has been incredibly productive and hopefully has laid a foundation for us to get people involved to help purchase the homestead and to come join me on the July 2019 service safari, so we can work on farming projects, home improvements and get a new well put in at the Bungoma hospital project.

I stretch out across the seats and fall fast sleep, knowing my next stop will be home.

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