The smell of smoldering charcoal mixes with uninhibited exhaust from a two-stroke, three-wheeled tuk-tuk engines rev with the anticipation of passengers. Red rooftops protect the interior of wealthy homes whose compound walls differentiate the rich from the impoverished. Broken glass embedded in the final concrete course dares any to enter.
Deep, red earth mixes with muddy brown. Greens dark against a cloudless sky only to find bold African rain beating down a few hours later. Tall, thin Sudanese women walk in slow, flowing grace, their faces dark faces a full head above the others. Kenyan women balance sacks of produce on their head. Men transport their loads on shoulders and back.
Bicycles have been replaced, for the most part, with imported Chinese motorcycles since the last time I was here in 2008. The bota-bota displaced by the piki-piki, emitting more fumes and again increasing the danger to the driver and passenger. I miss the two seater bicycles with carefully adorned seats, battery powered lights and sound systems. There was a creativity in those taxis that is absent in the gasoline powered replacements. I refuse to ride on a motorcycle without a helmet and so Bernard and I walk several kilometers each day to conduct our errands.
Nothing truly functions here in Kenya, at least not as it was intended. At the same time, nothing is so fully broken so as to not function without creative application of a tool designed for another purpose. Electricity is not a right, nor even a privilege. Rather, the power to light a room with a single, bare bulb is a desired outcome as unpredictable as the rain in the Rift Valley, recently afflicted by global and local, micro-climate transformation.
Children whose feet are dry and cracked due to lack of protection or sanitation beg for food with one hand cupped beneath the other. The gang leaders stand watch in order that donations of money, clothing, or food are not immediately consumed or taken for personal gain.
The glue boys hold empty bottles to their noses to stave the hunger they have felt for years. Attempts at blocking the sale of toxic adhesives for purposes other than those intended has found little footing. Those who have fallen through the cracks are invisible to the eyes of the locals, children whose future can be described in just a few, bleak words. Empathy has an expiration date at which point the average human heart and mind no longer harbour capacity for more.
Perfectly composed women in high heels and tight jeans and flowing dresses walk elegantly, careful to avoid potholes and sidewalks which terminate abruptly. The contrast of styled hair and expensive wardrobe to the backdrop of the dusty streets whose traffic is more an example of chaos in particle flow than civil engineering. Their poise and look says, “I am better than this place. Just passing through.”