Last week I traveled to Nairobi by myself for the first time. I had two items on my agenda: the first was to volunteer for UN International Volunteers’ Day (December 5th) and the second was to visit a Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Clinic and shadow a dietitian. My trip from Tala to Nairobi was quite interesting. I didn’t end up leaving Tala until 4:30pm, by which it was prime evening traffic in Nairobi. The trip usually takes an hour, but two hours later we were still stuck in the suburbs of Nairobi not moving more than a foot every 5 minutes. As it was getting darker and darker voices of VSO Jitolee popped into my head, “You shouldn’t be out in Nairobi after dark, especially by yourself…” Dammit. Then, of course, the matatu gets a flat tire and pulls over to the side of the road. With the sky getting darker and traffic getting worse, options started running through my head. Contrary to my normal emergency plan, my instinct was telling me to get out of the matatu and get in another one heading downtown.
As I boarded my second matatu I envisioned roaming around downtown Nairobi alone at night with no sense of direction as to where the matatu to Westlands (where I was staying the night) was. Sitting next to me was a nice Kenyan woman, probably my age, who could tell I was worried about getting to my destination on time. She asked where I was going and offered to help me get there. By this time it was pitch black and there were hoards of people outside. It seems as though three times as many people come out after dark, which makes Nairobi seem even crazier than it usually is.
When we got into the bus to Westlands I thought I was home free, but that was not the case. As we were approaching Westlands I noticed the bus driver was not slowing down. I signaled the caller (the guy who lets people on and off) to pull over, but he didn’t seem to care. He just kept pointing up to the ceiling, and I didn’t have the slightest clue what that meant. Then I noticed a small red button on the ceiling that apparently you have to push so the driver knows to stop. This is unlike a matatu where you just tap the caller and he signals to driver to pull over. As I went to reach for the tiny red button it became apparent that I was about 2 feet too short. So here I am, hopping up and down in the bus trying to push that damn red button. When the bus finally stopped I was well past my destination and wasn’t too excited about walking the distance to my friend’s house. Then I remembered one of the last purchases I had made in California before coming here. Pepper spray! I flashed back to standing in line at Big 5 Sporting Goods with Alan, thinking, “I probably won’t ever need this, but it’s just good to have.” I quickly pulled it out of my purse and held it firmly in my hand, ready to spray anything so little as an insect that should happen to come within 10 feet of me. Thankfully I made it to Westlands with no problems, save having to cross two major roads with racing matatus on either side.
After a good nights rest we woke early to go to Nairobi River and pick up trash for IVD. When we arrived we were given trash bags and gloves. For the next two hours we walked along the river, picking up trash and avoiding the feces. I know it’s a little graphic, but the problem with the river is it’s the dumpster and bathroom for the neighboring slums. On the other side of the river is an even bigger pile of trash, which may make you feel like, “What’s the point?” but the side of the river we were cleaning up used to look like the other side. It’s still sad, any way you look at it, but at least we felt like we were making some sort of impact.