In my last post I introduced you to the interesting environs that would serve as our home base during our three-day tour of schools in equatorial Africa. We haven’t even seen a school yet on this leg of our journey, but it has already been quite educational! 5:30 AM comes pretty quickly, with the unexpected alarm provided by the local mosque broadcasting LOUD Alladinesque music that signals it is time for the faithful to get moving; there are prayers to be said. Once I figure out what the racket is all about, I wonder what might be the reception in the neighborhood of our own church if we played loud praise music at dawn and dusk, blanketing the southern fringes of Amarillo. I also wonder how long I’d have a congregation if I demanded that they stop everything several times a day and bow down when the music played. Interesting thoughts, these. After a long and short first night here, daybreak at the Hotel Tourist Bungoma brings light, and brings to light certain confirmation of what we suspected in the dark about this place we are staying during these days of our African adventure. The morning reveals clearly that a very large–in fact an entire wing of the hotel–has the look and feel of something you might see on the six o’clock news in some third world country; it appears to be mostly uninhabited, if not mostly uninhabitable! It’s early and darker still inside than out, as the hotel is powered by a generator which they seem to use very sparingly. The sun inches higher, and I can see across the courtyard that the back windows of the kitchen area are mostly missing, which gives one pause for thought about the sanitation of the food prepared there, along with a second thought or two about the lack of electricity and perhaps refrigeration. Some things are best not dwelled on too long, if dwelled on at all!
This hotel once had a heyday, but it was a long time ago. An old sign thrown in the bushes near the front reads proudly, “Hot Spot Internet Cyber, Photocoping (a strange new kind of Xerox therapy, perhaps?), and Detox Therapy.” It’s an interesting mix, but I always do try to stay in finer hotels with detox facilities; it makes life so much more relaxing! There are few words among our group as we cluster toward breakfast; we all need coffee or chi, which is a strange but wonderful version of African tea. Only a few in our group have ever been here before, and the rest of us are just trying to soak in what the light of a new day reveals. There is some suggestion that this hotel was damaged during a war-like period of civil unrest that inflamed Kenya several years ago; it certainly looks like there was a war here!
We make our way into the hotel restaurant, our second meal at the Hotel Tourist Bungoma. We ate here last night in a room dimly lit by a few surviving functional light bulbs. We can see better today with the sun leaking into the room through shabby drapes that cover broken windows; I’m not sure the light is an improvement. Last night at supper we hungrily poured over the menu with some 100+ possibilities. Having only been in Africa about 72 hours, it already seemed wise to order something foolproof, which we did en masse settling for “kuku and chips”–the African version on Popeye’s chicken and fries–with a few braver souls opting for fish and chips. There were dozens of other options for chicken, including “wet fried” and “dry fried”—(I was sure hoping for Kentucky Fried!)—but simple seemed better at this point. And safer. I like food I can recognize! (There was one very intriguing menu item we noted last night, and it seems more appropriate for breakfast. It is number 79 on the menu, enticingly described as “romantically garnished bacon.” No one was brave enough to order that…
This Tuesday morning finds us a little tired and travel weary, overloaded with sights and sounds and emotions connected with the amazing things we’ve seen already, coupled with expectations for the things we’ve yet to see. Exhausted anticipation I suppose. We are slowly getting acclimated to our new routine, the prime rule of which seems to be that there is no routine. Breakfast is thankfully somewhat faster than supper. The choices are easier, too, as breakfast in Kenya is much the same everywhere, very British in its efficiency: Tea and coffee, fresh fruit, toast, grits, bacon, sausage, eggs, mango juice. Last night we ordered, and even though we pretty much all ordered the same thing, it took about an hour from order to plate. The pace at this restaurant is evolutionary….
But that would seem to be the rule and not the exception in Africa. Already we have experienced much waiting…. lots of waiting. I’m not especially good at waiting. Someone has already reminded me of a Kenyan truism: “In America people have watches, in Kenya people have time.” My African brother Francis has a large wristwatch…that doesn’t work! It is but one more way in which the Kenyan people may indeed be more blessed than Americans—that they are not driven by the tyrannies of the clock. I once heard someone say something I thought profound: “The worst thing about earth life is that there is no time; the best thing about heaven will be that there is no…time.” Maybe the Kenyans have a little head start on eternity, already much freer from the constraints of time than their American friends.
One of our group has ordered something not on the buffet table, something exotic like a poached egg. We are all mostly finished with breakfast by the time it arrives from the windowless kitchen. Our non-existent schedule is already lagging behind and we haven’t even hit the road yet. But it doesn’t matter. We’re in Kenya! We have time.