Out of Nairobi

Burdened Woman Along the Uhuru Highway. The shacks, the corrugated roofs, the painted tin walls. The schools and the strange vestiges of Christianity--7th Day Adventist Church, Gospel Choir, All Souls, Jesus Saves All! The blooms of pink flowers, the yellow-blushed buildings. The greenery and red dust paths. Dirt-brown sheep graze alongside the tarmac. Half-built (or half-collapsed) towers protrude from rows of long rusted huts. People stand, at ease; or else they stroll along the highway, make a farce of the notion that we must always get somewhere quickly. That we must always get somewhere at all.

Then it opens up. There are still markets and schools and a strange trickle of walkers; but fewer, further between, like a leak, dripping out of Nairobi. Painted buildings, in exotic Crayola hues: Safaricom green, Naivasha purple (later, I will tell you about the purple lake). Bars, caf├ęs, little conveniences everywhere. Brown and white cowhides hung on wooden fences, labeled "For Sale", though no one seems interested in them. Now sheepskins, too, and what look like raccoon-tail hats.

Light is fading. We swerve around a roadblock. The rules here are unwritten, unspoken, and largely unknown-so everyone is just flying by the seat of their pants, all of the time. Even us, even them.

Fruit stalls. Live chickens for sale. Laundry hung on lines like so many coloured sweets--my eyes are overwhelmed. A sign: "Karibou Lari District". Welcome. Vegetables, and more fruit. Bright rhubarb. Who are these people, these people who live in these pockets of colour and decay, whose lives are so incomprehensible to me? Where are they going? I find that the vocabulary of my imagination is too limited even to guess. Do you know what that is like? To find a blank space in your own mind? I get a piece of Tennyson stuck in my head--And in the dusk of thee, the clock/Beats out the little lives of men--only the lives of men are never little, I think. Suddenly the lives of men seem impossibly large. All of these men we have passed have lives far greater than I am able to guess at. This is a strange feeling; and I think I like it.

Then there is a ruined building to the right and the promise, but not really the manifestation of, a spectacular Rift Valley view. My first Rift Valley view. Everyone says, when you tell them where you're going, that it will take your breath away. It's part of the shared experience of being here. But for now, all is shrouded in blue-gold mist.

We suck on sweets. Werther's Originals and powdered berry-flavoured lozenges. Spikes, roadblocks again. Forests of strange trees. Men standing at the spikes and the roadblocks, spitting, strolling, strutting, holding their guns like it's the most comfortable thing in Earth, to be here in the waning light, miles from everywhere, with cold metal and the hum of passing matatus for company.

We drive on, deeper and deeper into a thickening fog. The Great Rift Valley. Through the haze I discern a certain, unspecific vastness. A green, cloudy vastness. There are women in pink, bent double against their burdens. The blue lines of tree-encrusted hills. And then Naivasha, sparkling in the remnants of the daylight, silver like the raining sky. Wide space.