We visited Eldoret in the rainy season of August 2011. The rain falls almost every day and the dirt roads, once they can no longer absorb any more water, become mud pits, with trenches of water flowing on either side and rivers crossing the path.
With this reality it is best to learn early on that there can be no rush when traveling in Kenya.
One afternoon, Dennis Kiprop, took us to visit his wife and family. Dennis, who is one of SIA’s Small Business Fund coordinators, had just organized and led our 4-day Coordinator’s Conference, which gathered SIA partners from Uganda, DR Congo, Rwanda, and Malawi together in Eldoret. He has an energetic personality and likes to see the world as a glass half-full with blessings abounding around him.
After the party – he hadn’t told us it was his wife and brother-in-law’s birthday that day – Laban, Boyd, and I climbed into the Jeep from Samuel Teimuge’s Ukweli Training Centre, where Dennis works as a host and event manager, to head back to our lodgings. We set off without a care in the world, thinking not about the drive, but the moment we’d be back at the Centre.
Before there was really time to react or think, we found that the left side of the vehicle was sliding off the muddy road into the river that was the road shoulder. Laban tried going forward and back to get back up the embankment. We were able to go forward a bit, but we soon found ourselves in a river running across the road. We would just have to push forward until we reached the other side of the river.
Skidding forward and back.
Water right up to the exhaust pipe.
Mud sludge seeping under the side doors to meet our feet.
To get across would require more than machine power. Boyd got out of the car to push. But there was still not enough for the tires to grip. There was a woman and two teenage boys walking down the road and Laban called out to them. They dropped their bundles and came over. Now all four were pushing, rocking, dragging the jeep. I held up my feet and prayed.
Soon (actually, it wasn’t very soon – it was at least half-hour later), by sheer force they managed to get the jeep to where it could gain traction and drive on. We shouted with joy and called our thanks to the helpers! Boyd was wet up to his waist and drained from the experience.
It is a classic travel story: at the time of the event I only noticed the stress and it was only with time that it became a story to tell. But even right after we were safe I realized how amazing it was to meet people who were willing to drop what they were doing to help us out.
I came to depend on that kindness of strangers when traveling in Kenya and Malawi. There were plenty of hiccups along the way – broken down buses, missed connections, roadblocks – but just as often there were people to help.
This July, I will return to meet SIA partners in Kenya and Malawi (and Uganda this time). And I’m sure I’ll have many more moments when I’ll be reminded that travel is a practice of going with the flow and expecting angels along the way.