Africa, The Beginning

By July 14, 2009Africa

I woke up that morning like many (okay, most) other mornings, slightly hungover and thirsty for a breakfast cocktail. The only differences being that I awakened in Janine’s bed, and we were leaving for Africa that afternoon. In preparation of our trip we had a few errands to run after which we hurried back to Janine’s, already a little drunk and sped up having a mimosa brunch and popping some of her narcolepsy medication before we finished packing and headed to meet the boys at the airport. The four of us finished our beers just as the “final boarding call” announcement for our flight came out over the loudspeaker at Dulles. We filed on to the plane to disapproving glances into four adjacent seats: Mladen and I on the aisles, Janine and Justin in the center.

My distance from Mladen was already tangible and before the plane had left the gate I already felt the painfully familiar clenching in my chest that accompanies being in the presence of someone you still love, but also pretty much hate. Fighting the urge to cry, and silently losing, I tried to think of a good analogy to properly illustrate the sorrow of the constant contradiction I had been feeling for the last six months between sense and passion, until I realized, there isn’t one. I can’t recall who came up with that whole “better to have loved and lost…” nonsense, but I assure you – not all loves are worth the loss. Luckily enough, Justin bought a bottle of duty-free vodka in the terminal, and suddenly the wonderfully warm and sharp feeling of liquor drowned – at least for the moment – any thoughts of Mladen and me. Ahhh, the sweet relief of alcoholism. Twenty hours, a bottle of vodka, and somewhere between twenty and thirty of those single-serving bottles of wine later, we arrived in Africa.

We landed in Nairobi relatively late our first night, and caught a cab to the Milimani Backpacker’s Hostel, where we were to meet up with the rest of our crew who had come in from Ethiopia earlier that day. Arriving at the hostel seeing Iva, Barbara, and Lee, a sense of both relief and excitement flowed through each of us. We had managed to find each other on this mysterious continent and tomorrow morning we would begin a trip which, at this point, none of us knew just how incredible it would be. We sat down at the hostel’s outdoor bar, enjoyed a few beers together amongst stories of our, until this point, separate journeys and headed back to the eight-bedded dorm room we were all sharing for some much needed rest.

milimani backpackers hostel nairobi kenya

A round of Tusker at the Milimani Backpacker’s Hostel

Though everyone else managed to find sleep between the two eight hour flights, my insomnia teamed up with my alcoholism for twenty straight hours of consumption. Heading to the dorm at midnight I had only assumed the combination of travel, alcohol, and exhaustion would put me immediately to sleep. Unfortunately for me, some strange mix of excitement for the journey ahead and apprehension over the awkward purgatory in which Matsui and I were trapped kept me from finding any rest. Not to mention those four A.M. roosters. When early morning came and it was time to pack for our two day excursion to Lake Naivasha, it finally caught up with me.

Feeling weak and nauseated, I attempted to indulge in one of the delicious ham, cheese, and tomato sandwiches prepared by the hostel’s cook. That was my first mistake. After throwing that up, there was no turning back. After about an hour, a bottle of water, three sips of a fresh mango smoothie, some Tums, and a different trip to puke for each of the things just listed, it was time to go. I gathered whatever strength I could find knowing that not even the most vile and intense of hangovers was going to steal a minute of my time in Africa. Besides, being hungover about sixty-percent of the rest of my life, it’s something to which I am relatively accustomed.

We started the twenty-five minute walk into the center of Nairobi around nine in the morning and the heat was already unbearable. Perhaps it only felt this way to me as I had to stop every few feet to dry heave into the river of trash along the side of the road, but who can say for sure? The girls quickly took a lead and Mladen and Justin, being the gentlemen that they are, stayed at my pace and offered water or the support of a shoulder as needed.

milimani backpackers nairobi kenya

the walk to downtown nairobi

I could not have made that walk without them. The center of Nairobi was as westernized as any city we saw in Africa and I walked through the crowded sidewalks surprised at the colorfully busy English signage plastered across and in front of every store we passed, like some second-hand Times Square. After a long and thoroughly exhausting walk we finally arrived at the bus station, though I am using the term “bus station” quite loosely. The place of which I speak is simply a long street lined one after another with dozens of colorful matatus which can best be described as minivans retrofitted with twelve cramped seats, and which are often stuffed with twice that many people. We made our way down the seemingly endless line of vans emblazoned with slutty rap video chicks and Obama tributes with offers for bargains flying from the mouths of the drivers faster than Italians cursing.

When we finally found the matatus headed to Naivasha, Janine and Lee immediately began the constantly arduous, but usually fruitful, negotiation process. Hard-edged and firm these two cuter-than–girls-in-pigtails women were relentless as the rest of us stood idly waiting like five open wallets. The odors, the heat, and the hangover (a combination of assaults I was at that point unaware I had only just begun to experience) overwhelmed me, and I began to lean on Mladen for support. Dizzy and wavering on the brink of consciousness, I struggled to drift back to the negotiation and find out why the fuck we weren’t already in a car, on the highway, with the window down.

When I finally found my way back to the conversation, our little negotiators had gotten the driver down to three-hundred Kenyan shillings per person. As this is about three dollars and fifty cents for a ninety-minute drive in a private van, I assumed I was only moments away from the welcome relief of shade and a breeze on my sweating, pallid face. It was at this moment I learned just exactly how fierce of a negotiator Janine really is. Trying to work the driver down another fifty shillings (or about eighty cents) I struggle and fail to voice an objection or offer to cover the difference if we can just get in the fucking van already. Luckily, the driver folded to her hard negotiating and for seventeen-hundred shillings all-in I slid across the seat to the window and waited for the most rewarding ninety-degree breeze of my life.

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