Nakuru – Eldoret – Kitale
We set off for Kitale at 9:45. Once out of the town the railway line with a single track dirt road between it and our black hard top road joins us, the same one that has run with us since leaving Nairobi. I know that a graded road was built alongside the railway for the entire length from Nairobi to Lake Victoria and the branch line to Kitale. Is it too fanciful to see my grandfather Fred driving passed us in the Buick with my grandmother, Emilie May, beside him? Salehe, Fred’s longterm manservant, is sat at the back perched on top of their trunks. They are in holiday mood on their way to Nairobi for a week in the Muthaiga Club dancing, playing golf and drinking with friends and probably spent the night at a favourite hotel at Molo. The photo below is of Emilie May in 1924 when she gets her driving license and drives for the first time.
Before Molo we go onto a new road built with the help of the African Development Bank and bypass Molo. The road is so new that creepers have not time to heal the wounds so red laterite dirt roads lead from the new road to bomas like slashes up the green hills to thatched mud bomas built in traditional style in well tended shambas. There is a permanence to the landscape now. The villages are painted in green for safaricom, red with Open Happiness for Coca Cola – instantly recognisable branding and a welcome splash of colour. We pass women in Sunday best, one in a bright yellow long dress with a black belt, women carrying babies, women caring bundles of wood on their backs, women in the market selling produce. The men saunter in pairs chatting, unencumbered or sit in groups chatting. Kiosks are now selling honey. The shambas have wide fertile fields growing maize, bananas and cassava.
We climb higher, evergreen tress begin to line our road. Sumac and bamboo. Plantations of Eucalyptus for telegraph poles and fencing. The signpost to the right is Londiani, the railhead in 1925 when my grandmother first came here. The railway rejoins our road at Timboroa – according to my great grandfather in his diary, the highest railway station in the Empire.
The road goes sharply uphill, on the ‘sleeping policemen’ young men sell carrots, cape gooseberries, onions – clustering so close that we had to nudge them aside. I’m sorry we didn’t buy the cape gooseberries.
The plethora of churches do good business on a Sunday: Soul Harvesters Church; Seventh Day Adventists; Kingdom Focus Church; Anglican Church of Kenya ACK for short; The Kingsway Church ‘A church on purpose’; Worldwide Gospel Church ‘An Oasis of Hope’ – women especially walking in, the children outside at Sunday school.
At the top of the hill the countryside opens into wide open fertile land, grasslands, plantations of Eucalyptus and woolly hills with bright orange flowers. Combine harvesters and big fields – we’re coming towards Eldoret and there’s certainly money here now as it had in 1925 when Emilie May and Fred came and stayed with Shaw, a solicitor, in his comfortable house with electricity, hot running water and soft beds with expensive linen. Emilie May could not be extracted for three days. This was the same Shaw to whom Fred entrusted his investments, whom he expensively pursued to the English Privy Council – and to whom he expensively lost.
It’s amazing to see real pavements, good drainage, houses of more than one storey made of brick and not painted to advertise Safaricom or Coca-Cola. The towns since Nakuru have had no pavements or drainage. The shops are breeze block behind corrugated iron kiosks where small mounds of tomatoes or green oranges lie on crude shelving. There, rough, mean-looking hotels called ‘paradise hotel’ or ‘Blessed Hotel’ between – are these names aspirational? ironic? or betraying no sense of reality? No wonder The Boma hotel has good security — the Sunday lunch is packed with families in Sunday best, small children eating their weight at the buffet, and ladies tucking into chocolate cake and meringue. There’s free wifi and elevators to take well-fed guests to their rooms.
Kitale is now 49 miles to the west of us on the road to the northern slopes of Mt. Elgon, Suam and the Ugandan Border. On the map, Kitale hangs contained and parcelled like ripe fruit designed by surveyors with rulers. Two short straight artery roads attach the fruit to the road. There are two parallel main streets: the commercial high street and the physical presence of authority contained in the stone-built law courts and government offices. Three short roads connect the parallel right roads; two on either end and one in the middle. The police lines are behind the law courts.
The ordered paper version is very different to the reality of Kitale. The avenue of trees, designed grand entrance into Kitale, is still there but traffic is diverted to a chaos of cars, motorbikes, buses and lorries going east, west and south, to Kisumu, Eldoret, Kitale or beyond, without the benefit of a roundabout – each vehicle launches into the game of chance.
After the grand avenue, the road resumes its intended route. It’s a handsome road – wide enough for tuk-tuk or bus to create unintended overtaking lanes without going on the broad grass verges on either side to high hedges and gates. It is very green.
To the left, we progress passed the Kitale Academy (now Kitale School), then The Kitale Club and Golf Course and finally the Museum with the Stoneham Library set up by Colonel Stoneham in 19–. On the right are a few stone buildings and a very red, modern Total petrol station – our marker for our lodgings for the night.
We turn down a red Murram road into a labyrinth of red streaks laid out on a grid pattern that barricade old bungalows in huge compounds with high hedges. The map from the guest house is hopeless, but the reliable ‘boda-boda’ (motorcycle bus) takes us there for 50/-. It’s an old bungalow with rooms in a big compound. Two children are playing there along with some grazing sheep. Big bougainvillea flowering purple and red form part of the hedge, and yellow weaver birds sing on the hibiscus. I spot a blue agapanthus in the garden – we are meant to be here.