Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Kenyan Roads

The Kenyan Roads – My experience on 20th of December 2007

It was a typical evening and all of us had assembled at Elgon view residence after running a few errands in Eldoret town. I had particularly run late that evening while trying to fix the aging Peugeot 505. As a result I could not deliver the used oil to the Tanning farm as the helpers there had requested.
Picture 1- Elgon View Residence, Eldoret – KXX in view

I am told that by applying used oil on the wooden fencing posts, the oil prevents the posts from being eaten by termites or absorb moisture from rain, thus given them some longevity.
When I realized that dinner was going to take much longer and the sun was still up, I asked my young brother, Lattimer and Niece, Linda if they could join me to the farm. This is roughly about 10 kilometers away, to drop off the used oil. The two agreed to join me and off we went.
The younger ones wanted to join, but I insisted that since they had not showered, that they do so in readiness for early retirement for the night. Melanchthon and Baraka bought in and gladly ran to the gate to let the car out of the property.
Off went North-west bound on dusty and bumpy old Nairobi road. As soon as we were west bound on the Nairobi Road, while driving slowly, just past the Moi university campus while the road took a curve of some sort, on our right hand stood a 16 wheeler semi - trailer whose occupants were busy trying to change a flat tire. I saw one gentle man close to the road, but it did not cross my mind that there was a safety concern.
Picture 2 - the 18 wheeler Semi Trailer

No sooner did we arrive at the farm, than it started getting dark. We met the Chesubei’s with whom we had a conversation. Given that the general elections were underway in a few days and their nephew, Kawon and a neighbor as well was vying for a contentious parliamentary seat in Mt. Elgon.
We then made our delivery and excused ourselves to leave because the car we were was anyways unreliable. There had been several occasions that it would cease starting, that we embarked to our primitive mechanical skills of survival. This was a reflection of the trial and error artisans, who claim to do the opposite. Often times that not they made the cars they worked on worse than they arrived in the name of repair.
On our back, west bound on Nairobi road towards Eldoret, while driving at around 45 kilometers an hour, and following another car at a short distance, all of sudden I was awaken to a rude shock. The car that I was closely following suddenly swerved to the right. Not knowing what was happening, given that I was travelling at a slow speed I presumed that I had a good handle of the situation.
What I did not realize is that the car in front of me had barely avoided a tire belonging to the semi which had been laid on the road as a life saver. Because the semi truck had been parked on the left hand side onto the road, as a safety net for the turn boy who was trying to fix change the tire.
What this crew did not realize is the fact that the tar is black, the tire is black too and the roads are not lit. The only way one could see the object that was laying on the road was by touching, or hitting it. That is exactly what happened to me.
Picture 3 - the wheel/tire that was on the road

While the car in front of mine was struggling to regain control and come back to the left side, on the opposite direction there were lights of an oncoming car that was fast approaching.
By the time I realized that the object was right in front of my left wheel, I had hit the object and lost control. The car veered towards the right, while the oncoming car was right on.
Picture 4 - the oncoming car that my trunk collided with

While trying to regain the control of the car, the survival instincts kicked in on being struck by the lights of the oncoming car. I knew that all was gone, out of desperation as I tried to turn the car back towards that left lane. It was then that the trunk of the car I was driving was hit so hard by the oncoming car that the car, that we took a 90 degree turn, heading directly towards the side of the Semi.
Picture 5 - The trunk that hit the oncoming car

All this happened in a fraction of a second. As I held the steering tight, the Peugeot with all that momentum it had accumulated from the spin, rammed into a wheel of the semi. Thank God we rammed into the wheel.
Luckily, for the crew (turn-boy) that was fixing the flat tire, they retreated under the semi; otherwise this surely would have not only have been my death bed, but a death bed for my brother, my niece and the turn boy. I do not remember the actual reaction on the turn boy, all I realized is that he escaped with his life into the young night.
As soon at the left hand side of the car had hit the wheel of the semi, than my car bounced back to the middle of the road.
Picture 6 - the deferential and wheel that I hit

With the shattered windshield falling in the middle of the road, it dawned to me that we had been involved in a terrible road accident, and, and I was still conscious and alive.
The Peugeot 505, KXX 210, was totaled and luckily all of us in the car came out alive. Not only alive, Praise God! But without any major injuries, Alas!
Picture 7 - The shuttered Peugeot 505 - KXX210

Lattimer who had hid under the dash board and whose side had the greatest impact had sustained injures to his upper teeth, bleeding but fine. Linda on her part, who was seated on the back seat, was thrown all the way to the dash board on the passenger’s side of the car was laying over Lattimer.
Picture 8 - The impact of the rear axle on the passenger’s side

After a second or so of looking around and calling on both Linda and Lattimer, we hurriedly jumped out of the mangled car, to safety. Because the car was in the middle of this busy highway, it was unsafe to continue hibernating in there any way.
Picture 9 - KXX 210 was cherished car to my late - father in law

The first thing I did in my surreal state was to contact my cousin brother Joseph Kwalia, who has since passed on during the post election violence. Joseph ran a taxi business in Eldoret town and I hoped that he will respond timely just in case one of us who needed immediate medical attention. After which I contacted a few other friends, my brother in law, Wilson Kiprono and my long time friend David Asige.
After a twenty or thirty minute wait, the first to arrive was Wilson who when I called him had to make a U-turn form a matatu he had boarded towards Ziwa. Jumped into another matatu and headed to Pioneer before getting a car from his sister in Law. After arrival it took another hour for the police to arrive, even after I had informed them immediately.
The Kenyan police strategy is not to save lives, but to document a case which then became an opportunity for them to solicit bribe from the party that is at fault or at times from both parties. All along, I had known this to be the case, yet it had never racked my nerves like it did on this fate full night.
As I started visualizing all the scenarios of what could have been had ours been fateful, God forbid! Whose life would have been saved in such an environment? The value of urgency, and promptness was Nil. A well planned response system ABSENT. Appropriate response and medical attention, in this part of the globe is HEARSAY to say the least.
A lot went on in my small head during the hour before the police stopped by. It is a scientific fact that if for one hour you were left bleeding profusely, that would be enough to send you to you deathbed.
As a first responder at work, I had done all that was necessary to protect lives of fellow employees who were in need. Yet amongst my own countrymen, I thought, when I needed help the most, no one was there, not even the government we so fervently support with foreign exchange monies when we wire the dollar to the motherland.
The question that I am yet to answer is who are you fellow countrymen? Or rather, which country should you be proud of, one that cares for you even when you are an alien, or one that offers lips service even when you are in need of your national and also a tax payers right?
These among other post election events made me re-think about my nationality and not squander the opportunity that the United States of America continues to provide to me and my children. Torn between the roots and the present realities, this became a defining moment of separating dreams from actual facts and possibilities.
The dream was and has always been to give Neema and Baraka a share of my roots. Hoped to do so by living in Kenya for some time so that they could be fluent in Swahili and get to know their relatives and the indigenous culture. The lesson here was yes their heritage was important, but the value of human life was even more important. More so, matters of security and attaining the standard of living that these young Minnesotans are used to, was going to be quite elusive in an environment that I found myself that night.
As we arrived at our residence, looking at the children with whom we did not only share a room but slept on the same mattress and different sleeping bags together; my mind ran to think how the children soundly slept, not knowing what had transpired, that in fact they would waked the following morning only to be told that the Kenyan roads had robbed them of their dad. How sad.
Picture 10 - Mr. Baraka in his Winnie the pooh sleeping bag

This made me angry especially when I thought about the laxity and carelessness that has entrenched that enforcement of traffic rules and regulations on Kenyan roads.
The list of persons whose lives were lost from this pandemic is endless. Cross sections of all Kenyans have been impacted negatively, by this horrible state of affairs. This sad past includes my distant uncle Eng. Kapsondoi who died from a road accident at a prime age shortly after completing his PHD in the USA in the mid 80’s.
After our anxiety had come down did inquire and got to know the fate of the car that had hit initially. On impact to the trunk or boot of the car that I was driving, the other car became air bound. The car flew over a depression on the road side a distance over 70 meters. It then landed on the bushes on the south side of the road, hitting the fence which turned its front to face the road.
The driver of this car as I later learnt was headed to the same locale I had come just from. He was a don at the local university and in fact a neighbor at the farm. The most elevating experience of the night was that Kiplagat as well came out his car without any injury. How the car had missed an electric post, flown over a valley, landed and turned to face where it had come from, was a wonder to us all.
Picture 11- the other car being inspected

When we inspected the semi, there were several older ladies who were so shaken as a result of what happened. The confessed that they weren’t the owners of the truck and that the turn boy on surviving the incident had run in the bushes.
On arrival of the police and the tow trucks, they took their reports and marked the area. After which, we dusted our pants and called it another a gracious moment planted in our lives for reflection and were very thankful to the good Lord as we headed to the police station. It was around 11:30 PM when we left the police station.

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