I knew there was a problem when the metal door slammed shut. I froze and watched the bus slowly drive off. Jackson and I were supposed to be on that bus. Jackson still hadn’t arrived. He was with the police; arrested for riding on the wrong matatu, or not wearing a seatbelt, or some such nonsense. . .This is how our journey to Orengo began.
After Jackson escaped from the overzealous traffic police, we pleaded and begged our way on board a bus bound for Kisumu – a city 7 to 10 hours from Nairobi (depending on driver aggressiveness on the crater-filled roads). We made the trip in about 9, but as we approached Kisumu, torrential rains flooded the main city street knee deep. We grabbed our bags and alighted in the rain. Our friend Caroline was struggling through the surging waters in a hired tuk-tuk (golf cart). She motioned us inside and whisked us away to a matatu depot where dozens of travelers were stranded, waiting for a ride. We were fortunate enough to find space on a matatu headed for Bondo.
Matatus are normally designed for 16 people (14 passengers, one driver, and one conductor). However, twenty soaking riders filled our car along with their sopping wet luggage. The vehicle pushed its way through traffic and rushing water, but on the outskirts of the city we were stopped at a police checkpoint. An elderly women sitting on my rib cage began to pray that the police wouldn’t notice we were overcrowded. Other passengers whispered to one another in Ja-Luo. I searched frantically for anything resembling a seatbelt. Meanwhile, our conductor smiled and passed 300 shillings to a police officer. “Have a nice evening” he said. We continued on. We continued on and on and our matatu plucked another 4 passengers from the rain. For a good price they were allowed to force their way inside the wet car and ride. There was not enough room to close the door, so the conductor hung to the side of the van as we drove through the driving rain.
We continued for another hour like this, reaching Bondo late in the evening and in the midst of a blackout. The darkness was overwhelming, there was an occasional flickering fire, but nothing could illuminate the town around us. We left our matatu and found shelter in the awning of a kiosk while Caroline pondered our next move. Because of the rains, the “road” to Wichlum was flooded and impassable. Normally we could take a 30 minute piki-piki (motorcycle) taxi to Wichlum, and from there a boda-boda (bicyle taxi) to Orengo. But now we were stranded. Caroline considered our options and contacted two friends. They came with a car, we piled in, and navigated our way through the dark and mud to a church in Gomba. There we were greeted by the church’s Rural Dean with three of his nine children and invited to stay for the night. The hospitality was amazing. They slaughtered a chicken and prepared it for us, along with ugali, greens, and fresh yogurt.
After resting for the night and taking Chai with the Dean, we continued our journey. Our group descended towards the edge of Lake Victoria, passing fields of maize and millet and wandering “primitive cattle.” We hoped to take a boat to Nyamuua, but unfortunately, as we approached the shore we learned that there were no boats docked at Nango because of an infestation of hippos. Furthermore, the path to Orengo was still too wet for bicycles or motorcycles. We would have to walk. The hike was about 15 kilometers and took every bit of strength in the Nyanza sun. . .We arrived at Caroline’s homestead early in the afternoon. For the next two hours relatives and neighbors came to greet us and pray. Then they offered us a feast of fish while Jackson and I fell asleep in our chairs.