Friday, June 4, 2010

doing my best headless chicken impression

I had one day in Nairobi to get ready to go to the field in Tanzania. Thankfully, I had 8 1/2 hours of sleep behind me, so I was feeling full of energy. The day went something like this:

[By the way, I never use last names in my blog posts, to protect the innocent -- and the guilty.]

- Have breakfast at the hotel.
- Go to the museum - see lots of old friends and colleagues (Emma, Purity, Mary, Chris, Musyoka, Tima, the taxi drivers, the guy who brings newspapers...).
- Get into the storeroom where all of my belongings are kept in locked trunks, and I rifle through them, putting aside a variety of things I'll need: field clothes, maps of East Africa, binoculars and animal guides, etc. It's a little bit like re-finding buried treasure - my favorite field pants! A nearly full bottle of sunscreen!
- Get some things organized for our Kenya field season, which will begin in late June.
- I head to the Sarit Center (a mall in the Nairobi suburbs of Westlands) to get some cash, grab lunch, and send a few quick emails to let my loved ones know I arrived safely.
- At this point, I hear that the repairs on my car are proceeding, and that it should be ready by 2pm. Of course, that means it was actually ready by 5:30pm. But hey, at least it was ready that day. It looked a little rough around the edges, but OK. Little did I know the car adventures in the field that lay before me...

As I drove the car back to the hotel, with one of our project mechanics (he wanted to make sure everything seemed kosher with it), the adventure of the day began. The traffic is absolutely horrendous (soul-sucking is a good way to describe it). At some point, as I'm negotiating my way between matatus (public buses) whose drivers manage to defy the laws of physics by actually creating space to inch up into where there is none, I hear a bang. It didn't sound like a gunshot, but it also didn't sound like backfire. We were near a big bus stop. People started running away, and covering their mouths. I turned to Muthengi and asked him what was going on. He calmly said "Oh, it's just the police firing tear gas. The hawkers (people selling things) want to operate near the bus stop, and they are battling with the police who don't want them there." He said this had been happening frequently lately. It was at that point that I started to notice that the air we were breathing was beginning to taste strange. It still took 15 minutes or so for us to extract ourselves from the roundabout and head towards the hotel; thankfully my eyes weren't affected by the tear gas. I must admit was pretty relieved to close the car door, walk into my hotel room, and lie on the bed for a few minutes. Thanks for the warm welcome back, Nairobi!

I ate an uninspired dinner at the hotel, not having the energy to drive anywhere after my afternoon adventure. Later that evening, Will called - he'd arrived in Nairobi and was on his way to a nearby hotel. I walked down to meet him (no, thanks, I don't want a taxi - I'm just walking 100 feet!); we had a few drinks and planned our early morning departure for Tanzania the next day.

And then the Tanzanian adventure began...