Sunday, September 23, 2007

Internet Charity and Miraa - Day Two

Continued from Day One

I do not consider myself a 'frequent flyer' but I do put pile up more road/air time than most of my colleagues. However I still have not managed to get over the "where the heck am I?" feeling when I wake up the next morning in a strange bed. It was no different that Wednesday morning, and my sore jaws did little to help with my morning disorientation.

After a full English breakfast, we headed out to Laare to rendezvous with Eric who was at the centre already. Dru took the wheel and I fished out my digicam hoping to get that Pulitzer winning shot but in the end settling for Meru mementos. It was good that I had struggled but familiarized myself with the road the previous night because I started suspecting that we were on the wrong route. I figured Dru must have missed a turning somewhere when I saw a sign for Meru National Park. A quick call to Eric confirmed my suspicions and we quickly turned back to join the right turning. (bless the mobile phone invention!)

Few minutes later we were at the church and decided to use the car to transport the PCs from the church to the centre (a distance of about 300 metres). Our lack of physical exertion in preference of vehicular convenience was to prove to be a costly mistake, as we would discover later on.

Allow me now to briefly berate what I think is American arrogance. What is it with Americans having different standards from the rest of the world. I mean why ounce/pound instead of gram/kilogram; NTSC instead of PAL, 110 volts instead of 240 volts, soccer instead of football, center instead of centre; and in this case: two-prong electrical extension cables instead of three-prong?

All the extension cables generously provided by MIT were two-prong and could not interface with the equipment. We had no choice but to see if we could get three-prong extension cables. Now Laare is not Dubai or even Luthuli Avenue and I was apprehensive on whether we would get the cables. So I, in my infinite wisdom, decided we take the car to do our shopping. So in typical Nairobi fashion we piled into the car to go shopping over a 500 metre radius.

Surprisingly it did not take long to locate an electrical shop stocking the cables we were looking for. The blaring speakers at the front of a shop were a dead giveaway for an electrical goods store, sadly for that shop owner his next door tenant also had an electrical shop without the annoying loud music. (Remind me later to write a post on offensive marketing techniques). So we bought from the quiet shop and got back into the car for the return trip of half a kilometre.

On Day One as we drove around Laare at night I did not mention that we encountered some crazy drivers speeding down the main street with their pre-nineties saloon cars. I did not make much of it then, my second mistake, I should have.

I've already mentioned that miraa is the hot commodity in this part of Meru; but miraa has one major challenge as a product. It is only stimulating if ingested within forty-eight hours from picking. Since a large market for miraa is in Somali; the picking, transport, and delivery has to take the shortest time possible. Miraa is usually picked early in the morning; packaged in fresh banana leaves to preserve its moisture; packed in pick-ups and driven at high speed to Wilson airport in Nairobi where it is flown onwards to Mogadishu for sale.

So forget matatu drivers, miraa drivers are a breed oftheir own. The drivers I encountered the previous night were probably miraa drivers out on some recreation. Imagine now a miraa driver who means business; he has to cover 400 km in 4 hours and he is carrying millions of shillings worth of perishable goods. That's a recipe for disaster and I was to get a helpful serving that day.

As a driver you pay much attention to the environment around you and anticipate what other's actions will be in order to act cautiously on the road. It gets that you are so good at it that you put much faith in your cognitive abilities.

As I turned into the church compound that cognition told me something was wrong. We were heartily joking and then there was silence. Unadulterated silence, still, calm and lasting only a split-second. Instinctively I straightened the wheel ever so slightly and not a moment too soon as a heavily laden miraa pickup flew a hair's breadth by me at over eighty kilometres per hour. My reaction had not been complete and the truck's bullbar rammed into my front right wheel and also plucked off the side light. Even in my immediate precarious situation I marveled at the spectacular image. With massive momentum pushing it on, the truck literally flew over a bump and came to a grinding halt just five metres from us inside a culvert.

We quickly got out of the car and after confirming that all passengers were unhurt assessed the damage to the cars. A curious crowd was steadily gathering excited by the mid-morning mishap. The miraa driver had been overspeeding and was willing to pay for the minor damage I had suffered. As we discussed it, another truck, came and collected the miraa to continue the trip to Nairobi; business had to go on after all. The other driver offered a decent price but I was haggling hoping to get enough to do more than just a localised repair. That was my second mistake of the day.

Being a small town it did not take long before a traffic policeman turned up. I then go my first live experience of a CSI and with that out went my option of settling with the other driver.
Painfully slow the policeman went about sketching the accident scene in his note pad while using a tape measure to calculate the distances for his sketch. In Nairobi since such fender benders happen so often the policeman would have encouraged the drivers to sort it out on their own, but in Laare things were different.

Eventually I ended up at the police station with the other driver facing a possible charge of careless driving. I was pretty certain of my innocence but when the policeman told me I would need to leave the car at the yard for two weeks to wait for the motor vehicle inspection unit I knew I had to do something. Luckily he provided a solution; as long as both drivers were willing to share liability and since no one was injured we could close the matter by mutual consent. I realised that this was the best offer so both I and the other driver signed a statement accepting to share liability equally. I was also warned by some very conversational bystanders that it would be hard to get a fair trial against the miraa lords. Guess I'll never find out now.

So after three hours of excitement we came back to the centre to continue our work. Moral of the day: don't drive if you can walk. The parish priest generously offered to meet the cost of repair at the local garage and we continued with setting up the internet at the centre.
Things went on pretty smoothly and by dusk we had managed to connect a few computers to the internet and even had one of the committee members send an email.

My plans for returning to Nairobi had to be put off for later so we took some time to enjoy some roast meat Meru style while reliving the day. On Day Three I'd take stock of my Meru trip and what made it so memorable. Watch this space.

Look! It's a car in a ditch.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Bambanet Application a Headache

Unfortunately I have to take back my laud of the new Internet connection product from Safaricom. Two weeks after my application and I am yet to get my Bambanet connection. Safaricom have really let me down on this one after promising that it would take a maximum of 48 hours. Hopefully I will have it by Wednesday as they've promised, let's wait and see.