Friday, December 9, 2011


“How to survive in Kenya” come in snippets of writings and advice followed closely by real life testimonials, usually colorful as stories should be in an effort to drive home examples, but always highly unlikely to happen to the individual regaling in the stories.
For example: “If you are stuck in traffic and talking on your cell phone either make sure you aren’t holding the phone in your hand closest to the window or make sure your window is rolled up.  What they do is walk by and grab the phone right out of your hand and run forcing you to make the decision to let the phone go or run away from your car in an effort to get it back, (followed closely by) My friend was on Ngongo Road yesterday and it happened to him.”..This did not happen to me.

True to the form of any warning coming to fruition, and practicing the very American philosophy of “It could never happen to me”, one of these travel guide warnings came true for us the other night.

Stuck in the most hilatious traffic experienced to date, and in Nairobi that is saying a lot, it literally took us 2.5 hours to travel less than 5 miles. The only requirement for this jam of all jams was humor and the ability to use it to fend off any mounting stress from such an uncontrollable force of Africa. The only thing that WASN”T required was seat belts. In fact they were merely a nuisance, so away they went.

Seat belts were the last thing on our minds as we rolled slowly up to the 2 police officers on the side of the road. The very police officers that used their flashlights to summons us to the side of the road for inspection, no doubt because of the color of our skin (an eye opening side-note of this experience)
Here they did the universal “cop thing” and began to inspect the car and all of us with their flashlights and realized that the 2 of us in the back were not strapped in.
“Why don’t you have your belts on?” Seemed an obvious answer considering the traffic we were in, any impending accident would prevent the opportunity to just leave the car in advance, and based on their childlike smiles, we kind of thought they were kidding. They were not.

They informed us that we would have to be taken to jail and see the judge the next morning. Our local driver pleaded with them in Swahili to no avail. They were only interested in us in the back. We were asked to produce forms of ID and then harassed for merely having a semi light hearted beginning to this experience.
Unfortunately, at the time, my California Drivers License (I never daily travel with my passport) was comfortably wrapped up in 1250 Kenya shillings. However; they were asking for much more than the roughly $13.00 I had. They wanted 5000 Ksh to just make this go away.

As we explained that we did not have that money, they began to open my door and pull me out of the car. This was officially getting scary. I reproduced my meager holdings and offered it up to them which they grudgingly took, and sent us on our way.
We were stunned but UN-hurt and free to go home, and somehow, like we do, we found the humor of what could have been. I thought I should have given him the old California treatment and asked if there was something we could work out besides money, and is that another gun in your pocket? Steve thought we should have just gone to jail for the experience, and Ben was wondering out loud “what just happened?”. If nothing else, I foretold exactly how this story is going to progress as I tell it at Thanksgiving dinner in the year 2056. Rest assured it will involve illegal drugs, gunfire, and prison breaks, because in reality, the whole thing was rather foolish.
But I was reminded, lest I forget that I am in a foreign land with foreign practices.