So, you wanna know what happened on my birthday? …

Got up lazily, but early, and shaved my head. Always a nice thing to do.

Received an sms from a colleague at the college who wanted to talk to me about something he was doing and he would be over at noon. I replied that I might be able to help him but not until sunday afternoon as my plan was to go to Machakos to meet up with the other volunteers and have a bit of a party.

When I was ready to leave it still fealt like morning so I stopped off at my colleague’s house on the way and talked abotu what he was up to and had a drink there. It feels nice to know someone’s home here and to be able to drop in on my way somewhere like that.

On the bus to Machakos… well, it broke down! We stopped to let an old lady get off and then, before you know it, they have chocked the rear wheels and turned off the engine. There was a trail of black engine oil down the road behind us. The conductor walked back up the road a way and then got on the back of someone’s bike and went off boda boda back the way we came. Some of the passengers got into a matatu that stopped to see what was the matter. Others, like me, stood under a tree and waited to see what would happen next.

The driver was holding a small hose in his blue-black engine-oil covered hands.
“Nothing is wrong”, he assured me, “the pipoe came off, we will put it back.”
Next thing I knew they had pulled a couple of spare inner tubes out of the back of the bus and someone was cutting one up. Over the next half hour I saw various blokes holding a strip of inner-tube rubber and stretching it to assertain its elasticity. It had not been fitted to anything when, after that half-hour had passed, another matatu tuned up bearing the conductor who was, in turn, bearing several bottles of engine oil and a small hose!

Sadly, the small hose born to us by the conductor was somewhat smaller, in internal bore at least, than the one it was required to replace. At this point, the bus-staff started to pack their passengers into the matatu that had brought the conductor. Some fitted and some, including me, had to wait for another bus, which didnt take long. The conductor of our bus had to pay our fare to the new bus and they argued somewhat over the number of passengers and whether the mzungu had really been traveling on the bus in the first place.

All this meant I didn’t arrive first at the Hotel Ikuuni as I had expected. I got a phone call, on my second bus (gotta love mobile ‘phones!), from one of the other VSOs who said the hotel staff were playing games with them because they had rented out to someone else the rooms I had reserved. I got a text from her later to say they had negotiated to share some of the remaining rooms at reduced cost (though the hotel staff still tried to charge us for extra breakfasts come sunday morning). What they were not told, however, was that the hotel rooms were located above a bar/night club that plays music for dancing through until 6am.

We all met up and ate lunch at the Sa Sa Centre, a posh, and still mostly empty, new shopping cenre that is alledgedly built on land acquired illegally under the previous government and therefore doomed to be bull-dozed by the new government as part of their campaign against corruption. Seems a shame since the place is very nice, but it would be a casualty of a war that needs to be fought (never thought I’d hear myself say that of even a metaphorical war, so much so that I’m not even sure I mean it). Soon after I arrived I got a phone call from Prof. Mungbean, yay! Happy birthday me! 😀

Six of us (Sheila, Jackie, Christine, William, Theresa and Me) dumped our bags at the Ikuuni Hotel, and passed through the bar — over the dance floor, in fact — on the way out. Made our way to the very posh and very expensive Garden Hotel for drinks and dinner. Will had smuggled a bottle of wine in with him (well not really: he showed it to the waiter, after we had enjoyed a round of beers, who went off and brought us glasses). I had brought my home-made cake (we showed it to he wiater who went off and brought us plates and forks and napkins). I had to do the decoration there: I had choc peanut spread to use in place of butter-icing, and cooking choc to grate on top with my grater (which had clearly been manufactured by, to quote Monty Python, putting it on a bit of wood and banging a few nails through it). There are photos of this part but I have not yet uploaded them. It was a lovely fun and relaxed evening, even after one of the other new volunteers described the problems she’s having wiht her placement, and we heard stories of questionable behaviour by some of the local VSO staff. I ate some vegetable thing, which might have been a mistake. But the food was generally ok and the atmosphere wonderful.

Walked back to our hotel in the dark. When it gets dark here it gets dark, on account of there being very few lights of any sort, and certainly no street lighting. (Well maybe there is in parts of Nairobi but Im not currently making a habbit of walking about there at night). But we had no trouble locating Ikuuni Hotel: just follow the noise! The bar was in full, erm — I was going to say swing but that’s a loaded term in this context — thing! And it was still early: before 9pm I think. We drank some more (I was drinking local ginger pop by this time as beer and wine had already made me feel fine) and danced some… someone in the gang (and I think I can guess who) had told the DJ it was my birthday so I was delighted to hear several dedication to “Mark Sky-per and the volunteers” (name for a band?). Some time before midnight we were tired and couldn’t hear ourselves speak over the music. We retired to the restaurant for tea. I felt very sick (due to either the ginger pop or the vegetable thing) and Sheila walked me up and down in the fresh(er) air outside (keeping in sight of the few lamps at the hotel) until I felt well enough to sing “Young At Heart” which:
a) must mean I was feeling better
b) is a lovely thing to do on your birthday!
Soon after that I left the party and went to bed exhausted but, I think nobody slept very well that night since even after the music finally stopped at 6am, the staff were noisily doing a whole load of god-knows-what outisde in the courtyard.

Over breakfast we argued playfully with the manigeress about paying for breakfast. We maintain that we had negotiated full board for all our party and not just for one of each of the pairs who ended up sharing. We added that under the circumstaces, considering the noise, it might be appropriate to view this disagreement in our favor. It was all done in good spirit, however, and the waiters continued to serve us and bring us bills.

Made our ways to the bus station, the others were mostly going off to Nairobi, I took the bus back to Tala via Kangundo. (you can see these places on the map). I got a fat mamma in the seat next to me: she couldn’t do up ser seat-belt (seat-belts in busses are a topic for another whole blog entry that I have been planning since I arrived here). I wished my shoulders were narrower and that my legs were shorter. I don’t know what she wished for. It was a pleasure to get out at Tala Market and walk the lat 1.5Km, stopping to buy potatoes and cabbage on the way.

On the dirt track that leads to college, and my home, from the main Nairobi road a group of young boys, who I must assume go to the school near by and hang round the college gates during dance lessons, gave me the most unexpected greeting so far: having shouted to get my attention, they performed the “Ooh! Aah!, Ooh! Aah!” part of the Charleston Stroll! What have I started?

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