|Title:||missing the train|
|Location:||nairobi, kenya (1746m)|
|Text:||53 194 kilometres on the road
we were stuck. right after the taxi picked us up rain had started to fall and within a minutes nairobi's already slow traffic had turned into chaos and ground to a halt.
through the rainy windows ralph, mercy and i witnessed the situation descend into anarchy: where there had been two lanes into town and two out there were now four or five rows of cars squeezing and fighting their way to the city centre while the outgoing traffic forced soaked pedestrians off the sidewalks and into the mud.
every now and then a matatu driver would give up all hope to get downtown, dismiss its passengers, and try to turn around in the middle of a maddening mess of hooting, short-accelerating cars that competed for every inch. in the twilight of the approaching evening and with the rainy grey sky, cars, houses and people turned into one massive shadowy silhouette moving in a secret rhythm, like in a bad dream.
"when it rains the police don't work" was our driver's short and convincing analysis, "no one guides traffic and bad driver take advantage of it". then he lamented about the fact that, with the current situation, the agreed price for the ride was utterly low for a trip that would now take over an hour, rather than the anticipated 30 minutes.
mombasa looked ever further away. we had tickets for the night train to the coast, where we hoped to escape rainy nairobi for a couple of days. the train would leave nairobi at seven and, leaving home shortly after five, we were sure to make it to the station in time and to get a decent compartment in a wagon somewhere near the food carriage.
but by seven o clock we had just about reached the city centre. we were now less than a kilometre from the train station but it would have been crazy to try and walk there. as in many cities, the railway station is not in a safe area and with the sun already over the horizon you'd have to be mad to leave the taxi.
by seven thirty we were at the memorial site for the 1998 us embassy bombing, a little park, just down the road from the railway station. many locals i had talked to were upset at the fact that there had been hardly any mention of the 200 kenyans who had died in the attacks, while the 12 american casualties made repeated headlines, attracted world-wide sympathies and received a memorial park in their name.
we were far behind schedule when we finally got to the train station. "but, hey, this is africa!" i thought, "no train here will ever leave on time; and we'll probably still be looking at the stations platform from our window at midnight."
"the train has left the station at 19:00 sharp" the station manager told us with a certain hint of pride. "i am sorry, but you'll have to travel tomorrow". there would no surcharge to be paid for showing up the next day and there would be no problem to use our old tickets. "just show up at the ticket office tomorrow at 18:30 and you'll get your vouchers" he said with a satisfied smile, obviously proud of the perfectly organized railway system.
ralph, mercy and i stayed in town for diner and washed down our disappointment with a bottle of wine and several rounds of sambuccas. we choose a pizzeria in the city centre because it would have been silly to hope for a quick ride back to lavington now.
as we drove to "la trattoria" in a taxi i watched the crowds of kenyans who were waiting for a matatu to get home: there must have been thousands of them, lined up in queues for hundreds of metres along the side walks, waiting, quiet and patient. the scene had something surreal, impossible, like in a sinister movie, as the shapeless mass moved simultaneously in the darkness of the early evening, step by step through the remaining drizzle, towards a chaotic system of transport that would carry them away. it had something endless and definite, something sad and hopeless.
i was so overwhelmed by the sight that i was surprised to find the sidewalks deserted and quiet when we left the restaurant around midnight. it was dry and warm and nothing in nairobi indicated the nightmare we'd witnessed just a few hours ago.