Let me say upfront, that there are two things a white girl* needs to successfully walk into town by herself: sturdy shoes and a healthy dose of confidence. Fortunately, I had both this morning. So off I went. I’ve been driven into town several times and I walked once with another missionary, but this was my first solo outing. After standing at the gate for a moment trying to decide which route to take, I headed out.
Now, you need a good picture of what “walking to town” means. I recently learned that the government does not pay to have roads paved like back in the states. So if a road is paved, that means a private company, school, or individual payed to have it done. Which means most roads are not paved. So, what we have is a 20-30 minute trek over rutted, bumpy, red dirt roads and paths. Even when you get to the main paved highway, pedestrians are still making their way in the dirt. There’s just no escaping the dust and dirt. I’m told during the rainy season all the dust turns to mud, so for now I’m thankful for dust.
I decided to take the highway instead of one of the other routes, which are basically dirt paths, not roads. (One is even called “the goat path.” Use your imagination on that one.) Anyway, I decided on the highway for a couple reasons. One, I was more certain of where it would take me, even though I had not walked it yet. Two, the stops I needed to make were closer to the highway than the other paths.
All right, out the gate… to the corner… make a right… to the highway… make a left. Before I even got to the highway, I had created quite a stir. My ten minute walk had resulted in multiple calls of “madam, madam!” and “Mzungu!” which is basically slang for “white person.” A couple piki-pikis (motorcycles for hire) had stopped, “madam, madam, I drive you!” Once I got to the highway, there was another piki-piki offering me a ride, as well as a matatu (a small bus/minivan) that slowed down with a man hanging out the open door with his hand extended saying “come madam, come madam, we will take you to town!” I could only stare at that one. Did he really expect me to just jump on while they were still rolling? Yes, yes he did. I chose to walk.
Okay, so I got to town, now you need a mental picture of maneuvering through town. There’s an episode of Friends where Ross has to get all the way across town in only 10 minutes to teach a class. He’s trying different routes and says of one, “I”m sure I can make it. I just can’t be afraid to get a little bit hit by cars.” That’s a fair assessment. You can’t be afraid to get a little bit hit by cars. You will never move otherwise. And chances are good you won’t actually get hit; you will just be a lot closer than you would like!
If you are sufficiently observant, you can mimic those who actually know what they are doing, aka locals, and get along pretty easily. Crossing a busy street with all sorts of vehicles – from bicycles to transport trucks – is much easier if you position yourself next to a large man with traffic coming at him, instead of you. Move when he does and at least if you get hit, he’s going down first! If you aren’t entirely positive which direction to go, follow the flow of foot traffic. You may not get where you intended but you will certainly find something interesting! Just make sure you pick out a non-moving landmark so you can get back to your starting point if you need to. Non-moving being key in that scenario.
So, I got to town. Made a left at the roundabout. Headed to Uchumis. Followed the foot traffic to the right, and down a lane I had never been down before. Interesting. I tripped on a rock in the street and learned a new word, “polepole,” which means slowly. Made my way to Uganda Road, which is the main road in town. Made another right and headed back toward the highway to head home.
On the way home I heard some children across the street yelling “Mzungu! Mzungu!” so I turned and waved. Next thing I know, I hear giggling behind me. They had crossed the highway and were following me! So I made four new friends today. I could not tell you their names if I had to, but I can show you their faces. They were very happy to take a picture.
All in all, it was a successful trip. I couldn’t find one place and I realized after I got home that I completely forgot about another stop, even though I used it as a landmark. But I made it there and back on my own, without getting a little bit hit by cars. Success.
And my filthy feet as evidence that I did walk to town 🙂
*I say “white girl” cause these Kenyan women will strut their way down these bumpy streets in heels like you’ve never seen so apparently “sturdy shoes” does not apply.