It was a terrible night’s sleep – a 14 hour bus journey from Kampala to Nairobi: I awoke cold, cold and achey. The speed bumps shuddered us awake every few minutes. I swear I woke a hundred times.
A few glasses of Waragi (it was my birthday after all) would have knocked me out, but I daren’t drink too much when I know (from the equally long bus ride to Kigali in Rwanda) that the bus drivers have bladders like camels and only stop once, twice if you’re lucky, on the whole journey.
As night became day, I heard Chinese say “Nagawa, look!” and she pointed to a beautiful caldera (volcano), tinted pale brown, with a pale blue sky and mist in the distance. What a magical sight.
An hour outside Nairobi, I watched people walking to work: a man carrying enormous lidded baskets over his shoulder, donkeys trailing box carts, a man lying on the earth inspecting his bicycle. Stalls sold cowhides displayed at the roadside.
The bus sped past the ‘Master Kitchen Hotel’ and ‘Hotel Paradise’, two-room shacks painted in bright vertical stripes. Despite their simplicity, I enjoyed the variety of the architecture, in contrast to the uniformity of Uganda.
As we passed tree plantations, I thought of Professor Wangari Maathai founder of the Green Belt Movement and wondered whether they were her work? She died just a few days before we travelled. Since 1977, GBM has planted over 45 million trees in Kenya, and thousands of women have been empowered to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. In 2004, Wangari Maathai became the first environmentalist and African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. I’d been thinking about her all week and what an incredible role model she was so it was quite moving to be racing through Kenya and seeing plantations of young trees.
In Nairobi, street sweepers’ brooms have handles! – unlike the back-breaking work in Uganda where the ladies are bent double, laboriously sweeping the roads by hand, as rush hour traffic speeds past inches away from them.
Despite the grubbiness of downtown Nairobi (why do bus stations always take you to the shittiest parts of town?) I had to smile at the wonderfully named shops ‘Recovery Pharmacist’ ‘Arise and Shine Fashions’ and ‘Best Care Housegirls.’
Our group stumbled, bleary-eyed, out of the bus and jumped in a matatu (slightly less battered than the Kampala ones!) and headed to our hotel in a leafy part of town. I couldn’t believe it when we pulled up next door to the HQ of the Green Belt Movement! The Hashers made for the bar; I made for the condolences book and paid my humble respects, alongside tributes from governments and politicians from across the world. I couldn’t believe the timing – I confess I’d only recently known of Professor Maathai’s work and here I was staying a few metres from the base of this fantastic operation, during the week of condolences.