What on earth is happening!
I exclaimed to my cousin Joy when I noticed that we were stuck in a long traffic jam at Mau Summit in the Great Rift Valley. It felt as if the Jam had been copy-pasted from Nairobi’s Uhuru Highway.
Joy was seated in the back seat with her lovely four year old daughter Giana. Mother and daughter both had beautiful dark skin that seemed to radiate in the bright noon time light.
‘Giana means God is gracious’ Joy had told me three hours earlier after we left our village. I hadn’t met for a decade so we had a lot to catch up on which made the cruise even faster. But now, all that was threatened by a misplaced traffic jam.
‘Nini mbaya huko mbele?’ What’s wrong in front there? I asked a carrots hawker.
‘Ni Owuor anahubiri!’ It’s Owuor who is preaching! She said excitedly even as she tried to sell the healthy looking bunch of carrots to me. The gap between her upper teeth reminded me of Ihuoma, that unforgettable character in Nigerian writer Elechi Amadi’s epic book, The Concubine. She too had gap teeth that Elechi would describe so beautifully that for a year after reading the book, I found myself falling in love with all girls I encountered with gap teeth.
The so-called Prophet Owuor is a renowned preacher who attracts large crowds and long convoys wherever he goes. His flowing black beard and immaculate white suits give him a ‘man of God’ look that is further accentuated by a booming voice that is often calling on the Nation of Kenya to repent or face God’s wrath. He is so influential that in the run-up to Kenya’s 2013 elections, he convened a prayer meeting at Uhuru Park that was attended by most of the leading presidential candidates.
A matatu in front of me made a sudden U-turn almost scraping my bonnet. I was enraged but I smiled. The whole pandemonium had a surprisingly calming effect.
The mostly female hawkers would tap at my window from time to time and hold forth the robust carrots. I have always wondered whether Mau Summit is Kenya’s carrots capital because they are gigantic and plenteous.
Drivers behind and in front kept honking as if that would somehow dissipate the traffic jam. In an earlier visit to Rome, Italy I had noticed with an amusement how Italian drivers also have a liking for honking. They would honk so consistently and loudly that it felt like a honk orchestra, reminding of the movie, ‘August Rush’ where the little boy hears music in every sound.
In the midst of all these honks, a rattling sound came to my ears and slightly unnerved me. Could it be from my car? I wondered. I doubt. I didn’t want history to repeat itself.
Almost one year earlier, my car broke down as I drove back to Nairobi. I was racing to arrive in my house before dusk mostly because my girlfriend had promised me a sizzling dinner of Katoko, a Ugandan delicacy comprising of bananas mixed with matumbo (entrails). And so every time the sight of those blessed steaming bananas came to my mind, I would press on the accelerator.
I had just passed Nakuru town and was half an hour away from Kikopey the famous nyama choma (roast meat) place along the Nakuru-Nairobi Highway. Many are the times tears of utter joy have come into my eyes whenever we stopped at Kikopey and tasted chunks of delicious roast meat from different grills as the traders jostled to entice us into their respective joints.
It started raining and heard a loud rattling sound. I assumed that maybe a borehole was being dug nearby. But the sound persisted and I only knew that my car was the source when it suddenly started shaking violently as the engine lost power. Within moments, The Growler, as my car is baptised, slowed to a crawl and I drove to the side of the road.
I had ended up spending a week at Kikopey as the car’s engine was repaired. It had overheated and blown its gaskets.
That is why I listened again keenly at the stubborn rattling sound even as the Mau Summit jam finally inched forward. The rattling was much softer than the previous time, as if someone was tapping softly on a metallic object.
When we finally passed the scene of the prayer meeting that had caused this traffic jam, my cousin Joy and I launched into an angry talk about Owuor. We both felt that whenever focus shifts from God to a man or woman of God, then there is a big problem. We took issue with the fact that many adherents of Owuor often feel that they are the only ones driving on heaven’s highway and everyone else is lost.
As we ranted on about Owuor, the rattling sound became louder and my heart sank. Oh God, I prayed. Please, please don’t let history repeat itself.
I drove to the side of the road and inspected all the tires. Everything seemed fine so I jumped back into my seat and drove off. My only comfort lay in the fact the engine temperature was just fine, so whatever problem lay in the bonnet, it wasn’t engine related.
After five minutes, just after I drove past the Njoro junction, I had to pull aside again because the noise was too loud and the vehicle felt unstable.
‘Gari yako inamwaga mafuta.’ Your car is leaking oil, a plump female hawker with an orange head scarf told me as she tried to sell me a bunch of cabbages. She offered to call a mechanic and I gratefully obliged.
A few minutes later, three stocky men walked towards The Growler. One of them was wearing blue overalls with greasy stains all over them. The trio immediately lifted the car and dove beneath it to discover what the problem was. As they did so, I called Alex, my mechanic in Nairobi and explained to him the situation.
‘Diff imechapa’ the diff has completely malfunctioned. One of the mechanics told me after wiggling out from beneath the car. A diff is short for difference and it is a car part that regulates the speed of the tires.
‘Oh God,’ I prayed silently as yet another hawker approached me with another bunch of lush green cabbages.