How I Met my African Mama, the Smuggler: 2

September 2007, Eldoret, Kenya en route to the Uganda Border

I was mesmerized by the Crusader's Cross tatooed on her forehead

I was mesmerized by the Crusader’s Cross tatooed on her forehead

So after a few more hours of waiting, another plane arrives and takes us passengers to Eldoret, the closest airport to the Kenya-Uganda border. My original plan was to arrive at the airport and hire a car to drive me the 3 hours to the border, then walk across. My friends from Mifumi would then pick me up on the Ugandan side. That was my plan anyway. I thought it was pretty solid.

As I arrive at Eldoret Airport, there were just a couple of drivers, each negotiating loudly with passengers to nail down fares. I was trying to get in the mix, but they were summarily ignoring me. So an older woman, who was also being ignored, pulled me aside and asked me where I was going. I said the border. She told me that it would be much cheaper to share a taxi with her into the city of Eldoret, where I could then take the bus to the border.

Away we go!

Now, going into Eldoret was out of my way, but this woman kind of fascinated me. She looked like a grandmother, had a huge cross tattooed on her forehead, and said her husband used to be a professor in the States.  How could I not go with her?  Bad decision #2 for the day. So my new 80-year-old granny and I get in a hired car and negotiate our fare and head toward the city. She then sees the car and driver who was meant to pick her up, has our cab driver chase him down and then leaves me in the cab alone. I’m not so psyched about this.

Bus stops in Africa are lively places

Bus stops in Africa are lively places

Now part of sharing the cab with her was so that I wasn’t alone – safety in numbers and all that. It was also part of the rationale for me taking a crowded bus and not a lone driver to the border.  So my tatted-up granny leaves me with the cab driver and hops into her friend’s car. She gives me half her fare and the driver and I head to the town of Eldoret so I can be dropped off at the bus station.

When I arrive at the Eldoret bus station and there are a couple of people sitting on the wooden benches outside. I try to buy my ticket, but they won’t sell me a ticket because they don’t know yet if there any available seats on the bus (it depends how many passengers get off when the bus arrives). My new plan is starting to suck big time. And, oh yeah, they don’t know when the bus is going to arrive. “Sometime early afternoon” is their best guess.


It's a big deal when the bus finally arrives

It’s a big deal when the bus finally arrives

At this point

I had been traveling around Africa on buses and knew this was an ominous sign. So I walk around town a bit (but I had my big backpack so I couldn’t go so very far), head to a restaurant, drank a Coke and hung out for several hours. I then went back to take up my position on the bus station bench along with the other hopeful passengers and to wait for the bus to arrive.

I actually enjoy my time sitting on the bench, chattin’ and laughin’ with my new-found friends, until it gets to be about 3:00. As we head into late afternoon, the inevitability of the sun setting starts to become an issue. It’s one thing to be traveling alone on the border between African countries. It’s another thing to be doing so after dark. Darkness in Africa = certain death. So I start to discuss my options with the woman on my right. I’m leaning toward going to the one hotel in town and resuming my border-crossing odyssey the next day.


Another new-found friend at a bus stop

Who knew clothes were such a hot commodity?

New Friends

My new friend has a “better” idea.  She calls her son’s friend who has a car, to come and get me and take me to the border. (You’ll recall this was the original grand plan about 6 hours ago, take a private car to the border).  After much haggling and deliberation on my end, we agreed on the price $75 (more than the $50 I was too cheap to pay at 11:00 am). So this is the latest iteration of my grand plan and big mistake #3 for the day. Her son’s friend comes and I’m sure she’s going to ride with me (we are both going to the border after all and I’m paying for us both). But she refuses. I insist. She refuses. She then whispers to me that she must stay with her bags. I’m clueless as what this means. Then she says, she needs for her bags to be on the bus as she crosses the border, she cannot be caught hand-carrying the bags.  Uh, OK. I ask: What’s in the bags? (Really, I’m this stupid). She tells me clothes. Clothes?
I decide not to ask any more questions.


Who knew clothes were such a hot commodity? And then…

Before I get in the car, she tells the driver that I am her new daughter and he is to take special care of me. I’m hoping “special care” is a good thing and not code for “rape and pillage.”  We exchange hugs and kisses like a proper mother and daughter and I’m off on the latest leg of this never-ending adventure.

Read Parts 1 & 3:

  • How I Met my African Mama, the Smuggler: 1
  • How I Met my African Mama, the Smuggler: 3

This entry was posted on Saturday, November 7th, 2009 and is filed under Africa.

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