We used to say it was a soft day when it rained at home. It’s been soft as a baby’s bottom, as the ad used to say, here in Nairobi for the past week.
Rain really seems to bring out the worst in people. And in countries. Just as Britain grinds to a halt because of a little snow, despite the fact that it’s pretty much an annual occurrence, so Nairobi slithers to a muddy stop when the rainy season kicks off. Each year.
Nothing works. The power flickers off, the roof leaks, the roads turn into rivers – the daily traffic nightmare takes on an apocalyptic quality as the skies split open with lightning, thunder booms and highways and roads turn into sludgy parking lots.
Undeterred by the rain and the chaos, we went camping last weekend. It was our first camping trip as a family, and my first ever.
* Beer banishes all camping woes
* You should always go camping with campers. When you emerge bleary-eyed in the morning, and realise that there isn’t a kettle plugged into that acacia tree and anyway you forgot the coffee and the coffee pot, you will be able to sidle up to the experienced campers and beg for a brew – just act dumb and grateful, and be very admiring of their stove/gas cooker/knives/general superiority to you.
* When the thunder clouds loom, pack up. Rain is coming.
* Hippo meat is, apparently, very chewy.
* You have to actually tell children not to put the marshmallows in the ash. This does not seem to be apparent to the under-7s.
* If you do not bring head torches, your friends will think you are quaintly inexperienced. Your children will despise you.
* It is not a good idea to leave the childrens’ trainers outside the camp even if at bedtime, this seems sensible because that way they can get them easily if they need to go to the loo. This only works if you are camping where there is no rain. Or potentially if you are the kind of parent who has more than one pair of trainers per child.
Despite a little overnight rain, and an inexplicably soggy mattresses, and explicably soggy trainers, we had a great time. The threat of rain added an extra frisson. But there was a reminder the next day in the Daily Nation of the deadliness of the rainy season: seven young adults from a church group were killed in a flash flood at Hells Gate National Park. Apparently, the KWS has now sealed off access to the Gorge for the rest of the rainy season.
In a way, the rains accentuate all that is wrong in Nairobi – poor infrastructure, no drainage, poor housing, a lack of respect for authority, or maybe that should be a lack of respectable authority. And careless driving.
On our way to Naivasha on Saturday, we passed an accident on the Nairobi-Naivasha road. It was difficult to understand what had happened. There was a truck across the opposite lane, and inside a crowd of people, my husband caught a glimpse of a matatu with no roof. I saw a slight woman on the edge of the crowd, wiping her tears away with her shirt. We didn’t know til later that 13 people had been killed.
There have been a lot of accidents recently, and perhaps one of the most poignant cases involved the death of Ghanaian-born cartoonist Frank Odoi who was killed when the matatu he was travelling in rolled over. He used to draw a comic strip, Driving Me Crazy, about reckless driving by matatus.
In other news, the ex-Mungiki leader Maina Njenga is back – arrested after the assault of policemen at a church. Apparently, three policemen were beaten up when they responded to a distress call at Njenga’s church. They were called to arrest a man found with a firearm in the church compound – apparently, this man told the congregation there was a plot to assassinate Njenga. Probably best not to do that when you are carrying a gun.
Assassinations, or rather attempted assassinations or alleged/threatened assassinations, have been a regular feature in the news here recently.
First there was the bizarre story of MP Gitobu Imanyara who told parliament that armed men stopped his car at night in Nairobi, made him kneel facing the direction of Mount Kenya, and told him to swear allegiance to Uhuru Kenyatta, the presidential candidate and deputy prime minister who is facing charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. If he did not support Uhuru, he was told he and his sons would be decapitated and their heads sent to Imanyara’s wife.
Then there was the alleged assassination plot against Prime Minister Raila Odinga – the plot was revealed by joint government whip Jakoyo Midiwo and he is now under investigation for making false claims. Police wanted to arrest Midiwo when he comes back from official duties abroad, but his lawyers have blocked that.
It is still nearly 11 months til the next election, due in March 2013. But there is a certain feverish quality to political life already.